Vorpal: Gyre and Gimble #1

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Vorpal: Gyre and Gimble

My name is Stephan Arceneaux. In certain circles, I am called by Mister Voice instead.

This is not my story.

Perhaps in time, I will either accumulate such deeds as to deserve to have my story told, or such infamy that I need it, but I am content simply to be myself. And in the course of being myself, I find myself unable to ignore the sea of agony that my dearest friend drowns herself in.

Someone must set the record straight and she is unwilling to look into herself for fear of monsters dwelling there, real and imagined. What follows is for her and only for her, that she may know the truth of herself from my eyes. And though my information gathering network is extensive, I do not know everything. My hope is that my dear Alice’s memory will fill in the gaps.

It begins with a crisis of conscience that was heard around the world, one which would give birth to another crisis, which for too long has been suffered in darkness and solitude.

It is time to show the truth of what happened to Zoe McNamara.

***

January 2, 2065

“Give it!” A childish squeal rang out through the apartment, accompanied by two sets of running feet. One set was noticeably lighter than the other, even if the other wasn’t clomping around in huge, black hiking boots.

The boots got to the open kitchen door first and their wearer skidded into view. She was almost fifteen, but so skinny and at the moment, acting so childish that she looked younger. In addition to the hiking boots, Zoe wore black leggings under a denim skirt that reached past her knees, a white T-shirt with a red eyed, horned smiley face on it, and an old, gray hooded jacket.

Gripped tightly in her hand was a strip of black cloth with two rough holes poked into it.

“Hold on a second, I’m fixing it.” She insisted over her shoulder as she darted into the room.

“No you’re not, you’re being a jerk.” Warrick Kaine did his best at stomping into the room. At nine years old, he was, like Zoe, small for his age, but he managed to stomp quite well thanks to having his rain boots on. The rest of his outfit was no less ridiculous; a cape made of one of Zoe’s tank tops with the arm straps tied around his neck, a plain green shirt with a ‘K’ made of duct tape on the front, and some terrifying sort of apparatus made of Popsicle sticks and rubber bands strapped to his arm.

Zoe hopped up on the kitchen counter and opened a drawer, fishing around until she found a pair of scissors. “Here we go.”

Warrick shrieked in a pitch only young children were capable of, the kind that should have been featured in every high school health class on contraception. “No! You’ll ruin it!” With that, he charged at her, only to be held at bay by a boot placed gently, but firmly into his chest and held there.

Ignoring him, Zoe snipped away. “I’m not ruining anything. You can’t see out of these eyeholes you made, so I’m widen—OW! You twerp!”

Stymied from a physical attack by her foot, Warrick had switched to using the contraption on his arm for a ranged attack.

Zoe picked up the projectile that hit her in the neck from where it landed in her lap. It was nothing more than a folded piece of paper. Her anger ebbed into confusion. “How did you get paper to hurt so much.”

The boy shrugged. “I dunno. Fold it a bunch of times?”

“Wow.” She commented. They she laid aside the scissors and paper and held up the strip of fabric. The holes in it were larger and more clearly defined. “See? I didn’t ruin it. Here.” She hopped off the counter to tie the mask around the boy’s head, completing his superhero costume.

He beamed at having his secret identity once more protected and at being able to actually see while maintaining it. “Thanks, Zoe.”

Grinning, she reached down and ruffled his hair. “Who’s your favorite cousin?”

“You.”

“Damn… um, darn right.”

“It’s okay. Daddy say ‘damn’ all the time for work.” And about work, but not in front of the young ones.

“Yeah, but Auntie S would kill me nine kinds of ways if she thought I was being a bad influence.” She punctuated this by drawing a finger across her neck and making a rather graphic sound.

Warrick dutifully imitated her, making her laugh.

The door in the main hall opened shortly thereafter and Sandra Kaine entered, leading five year old Talia (who was being called ‘Tammy’ far too often for Sandra’s taste) by the hand. As usual, the little girl had her thumb firmly in her mouth and a glare that dared anyone to attempt to convince her to give it up. Those who tried it forcibly got bitten, often and hard, sometimes days after the initial attempt.

“In here, Auntie S!” Zoe called. She was side by side with Warrick, grinning as Sandra and Tammy came in.

Sandra held back a laugh. “Well hello there, Zoe… that is you in those clothes, right Zoe?”

“I’m a beautiful fashion disaster, I know.” Zoe laughed for her. “But he insisted that I had to be ‘in costume’ too if I was going to be Evila, the vile, vulgar vigilante-turned-villain. The, uh, alteration is mine. I wanted to play partners too, but someone had a problem with that.”

Warrick sniffed, offended. “I don’t want to be your sidekick.”

“I was more than willing to be your sidekick.”

“You can’t be my sidekick, you’re taller than me.” Warrick rolled his eyes at the clearly absurd idea of hers.

“Kid logic.” Sandra chuckled. “When you grow up and have kids of your own, you’ll get used to it. So what does the ‘K’ stand for?”

Zoe giggled. “He won’t admit it’s for Kaine, so he’s K-man. So either he’s the misspelled defender of the islands, or the really misspelled protector of alligators. But you’re right: kid logic.”

Still smiling, Sandra set her purse down and rummaged in it for her phone. “Isn’t it, just the best? Are you all packed?”

The teen nodded. “Yeah. I’m not going to be happy leaving or going back to school, but I miss mom and dad, so I guess I’m ready.”

“You’re not gone yet.” Sandra noted, producing her phone. “There’s still time to get one more wholesome American meal into you. How about I whip us up a good old fashioned call to the delivery place; what’s your pleasure: Thai? Italian? Chinese?”

“Can’t go wrong with some General Tso’s Shrimp.” Zoe said. “The place back home doesn’t even have it, so I better enjoy it while I can, at least until I’m back this summer.”

Sandra started dialing. “That’s going to be great; getting the whole family together again finally.” She never understood why her cousin Mina, Zoe’s mother, felt the need to go all the way to Brazil for work. Moreover, she was more than a little concerned about the saber-rattling going on between America and Brazil over the last few years. If things got any worse, a full blown cold war would break out and who knew when she would see her extended family again.

***

“Good evening.” President Norman Claybourne’s voice was heard on thousands of TV sets and internet newscasts across not only America, but the globe as foreign news agencies got wind that something big was happening in the Americas. Reports had been coming in for the past few hours, but none were confirmed.

“This is a difficult subject to broach, so I won’t try to dress it up with slick words or fanfare.” Claybourne was a naturally gruff man, but still managed to have the charisma needed to win elections and provide coattails tot he rest fo his party. “Two hours ago, a United States reconnaissance craft located off the coast of Natal, Brazil was attacked by a land based railgun system and sank with all hand aboard.”

What he neglected to mention was that the craft had suffered a failure in its stealth system and got caught out in the open in Brazilian waters. Still, the ship was sunk without a single hail or warning.

“Efforts are being taken to rescue our brave sailors, but this event underlines the terrible truth we’ve been avoiding for far too long: Brazil, our long time ally, is no longer our ally. For over a decade, the Brazilian government has stockpiled dangerous military technology, some speculated to be many time more dangerous than the atomic bomb, without an ounce of international oversight.

“America has tried to lead the way in responsible and globally conscious technological development, but every overture made to the Brazilian government has been met with indifference and hostility. If they are allowed to continue down this path, it will lead only to bloodshed and pain.”

Again, it was ignoring nuances. There was no proof about the ‘more dangerous than nukes’ weapon. What worried the US and it’s allies most was Standing Field technology: essentially a configurable forcefield, which apparently had been protecting their largest cities for years before detection. The Brazilians claimed that the configuration they used was an advanced air and UV filter, but the applications in terms of missile defense were the main sticking point. Mutually assured destruction wasn’t effective doctrine if someone in the world could sell forcefield tech to one side.

The bare fact was that Brazil was outpacing the US, the EU, Japan and China all in the tech race. The War on Terror and Arab Spring at the turn of the century resulted in something not unlike the end of World War Two: Tyrants and former strongmen with lots of money and connections fled to South America, where their investments and the passage of time created new markets and this time, a tech boom larger then the one that hit Japan during the Korean War. Brazil’s already strong tech industry became an unstoppable juggernaut of an empire by the 2050’s.

Now that empire’s success was seen by the President’s party as a threat to the US economy and national security. The sinking of the spy ship was just the thing that brought events to the tipping point. They had been ready with their own tech and PR experts to sell the war. Most of the speech had been written the month before.

“It is a sad thing that American lives were lost.” Said Claybourne. “And at any other time in our history, we would have met blood for blood. But as saddened as I am for the need, I stand proud tonight as I tell you that today is the day that America takes the first step past the era in human history when war necessarily means bloodshed.

“If the enemy has no weapons, he cannot fight and we need not slay him.” He raised his hand and before his podium appeared a holographic screen depicting a flying wing aircraft. “This is the USAF R-17 Full Stealth Bomber, its designation: Jabberwock. It is the latest in stealth technology with minimal detection profiles to radar, thermal imagining and even visual identification. This plane is as close to invisible as modern technology can create. But it is her ordinance that will bring us forward into a new age of war:”

The image change to that of a sleek bomb. It was shot through with odd, clear windows filled with blue, glowing liquid.

“Codenamed, Groundwire, this device is capable of permanently disabling any electrical system over a large area. It can neutralize eighty percent of all military technology currently in use, knocking any enemy to America back to the stone age in one shot.”

Some of his advisers, including one of the project’s scientists warned him that the device needed more testing. Some of his military chiefs pointed out that there were still plenty of low tech guns in the world. As far as he and his best advisers were concerned, they were being overly pessimistic and lacking in faith in American ingenuity. Nowadays, they were far too advanced to have to worry about such things as hundred year old firearms and guerrilla warfare.

Norman Claybourne knew exactly what was right for his country; the party line. The Brazilians needed to be shown that their tech was nothing compared to America’s; that they simply would not be allowed to isolate themselves from the world community that (according to his party’s doctrine) America built while holding a fist full of wild cards. And he’d show it to the entire goddamn world live. With a show of strength and domination in his pocket, the re-election that November was a forgone conclusion.

“At this very moment, the Jabberwock is approaching the city of Juiz de Flora, a major military target and where railgun weaponry like that is produced in Brazil.” That was an outright lie. Railgun devices were mostly American and Japanese designs and it was almost a certainty that the weapon that sank the spycraft was made in America. “Their mission is to use the Groundwire device to cripple manufacturing in the region and show the Brazilians that if they continue aggressive action, we can stop them right in their tracks. And we will do it without spilling a drop of blood on either side. Then we’ll let the Brazilian people decide who is right and who is wrong.”

The image on the holographic projector transitioned to a live shot of the Jabberwock’s cockpit with the instrumentation blurred out digitally in the twelve second delay.

Claybourne drew himself up, chest swelling with pride. “And we’re transmitting this event live, because I want the entire world to see what America has become under my leadership.”

***

“Camera just went live.” Air Force Major Noel Gibson said to his co-pilot, Major Margret Borstein. “Smile for America.”

“Are the mics hot?” Borstein asked, refusing look as Noel flashed the thumbs up to the unwanted tagalong. He had practiced everything he was going to say twice already, as if he was going to get his fifteen minutes of fame from it. With his flight suit, helmet and goggles on, all anyone could see of him was the bottom half of his dark skinned face.

“Not yet. They’re probably talking over us.” Gibson laughed.

“Then I just want to say that this is probably the most demeaning thing we’ve ever done, including all of basic.” Borstein said sourly. “This is a retaliatory strike for the sinking of a ship with service men and women abroad; it shouldn’t be made into a damn TV show.”

“Tell me about it.” Gibson said. “But orders are orders and the pres wants to make us look good. Plus,just because the mic’s not hot doesn’t mean out flight recorder isn’t and that thing is going straight to the Smithsonian. I don’t want a tape recording of my insubordination going into the history books, you know what I’m saying?”

A red light came on in his head’s up display. “Mic’s hot now. Let’s make this look good.” He whispered before toggling his com. “Jabberwock to Javelin Base. Come back, Javelin Base.”

“This is Javelin, Jabberwock. What’s your estimated time to target?”

“Coming up on five minutes. Sending you final weapons check and requesting permission to make Groundwire hot.”

Borstein opened the retrofitted firing console for the Groundwire and started running the checks. The process made her uncomfortable; they only had two weeks of training with the specialized fire controls of the device and no one seems to be able to tell special nuances to the thing yet beyond depending on the computer to do its job perfectly. In her experience, no computer ever performed perfectly.

Still, everything came back green and she had no verifiable reason to doubt it. “Javelin, fire controls say go. Permission to go hot?”

The com was silent for half a minute as the information from their check was relayed to the scientists in charge of Groundwire. Thirty seconds was a long time based on their drills, something wasn’t right.

“Jabberwock,” The voice from Javelin Base came back eventually. “You are go to make Groundwire hot. Proceed to target zone and release on the mark. Once you do, throttle up to full, you must be at least twenty kilometers out before detonation. Thirty would be better.”

“Got that, Javelin. Time on target, two minutes.” said Gibson.

“Alright, Jabberwock. Good hunting.”

The ship tore through the dying light of a South American summer toward the bustling town of Juiz de Flora. They saw the halo of city lights reflecting off the slight haze of moisture gathered by the Standing Field before they saw the city itself.

Hitting the whole of Juiz de Flora was out of the question; the municipality sprawled across almost two thousand square kilometers, Their target was the most dense industrial sector, specifically the heart of their tech industry.

“Coming up on the target.” said Gibson. “Do the honors, Bor, I’m ready to put the pedal to the metal the second the cargo’s away.”

Borstein nodded and keyed in the fire commands. “Release in 3..2…1. Clamps are loose, Groundwire is away. Twelve second to detonation.”

The Groundwire device didn’t plummet like a normal bomb. The second it was released, small fins extended at odd angles from it, forcing it into a slower, tumbling fall above the city. The clear portion emitted a blue light, which intensified as it fell.

Twelve seconds after the Jabberwock sped away, the casing on the Groundwire blew open, revelaing a system of servos and hoses that blossomed into an almost beautiful configuration with the blue glowing nodes at its core and edges.

Electricity began to form brilliant purple arcs between the nodes, swarming over the entire structure. The arcing reached a crescendo and exploded in an invisible pulse. Invisible, that is, until it encountered the standing field.

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About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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