Saturday, April 08, 2006

Ink Magic 10


Ink Magic (part 10)

Somehow, somewhere, I had passed from the world of bright matter into the world of dark matter. I could only hope that it was as easy to move back. The implications of my discovery stunned me momentarily, and I had to sit down on the steps to think about it. I'd assumed this was not possible. Absently, I put a sick of gum in my mouth and began to chew as I stared out at the red ocean, thinking.

Maybe it was impossible. Yes! I had jumped to conclusions. Couldn't this all be an illusion? The thought cheered me. And then, oddly, it frightened me. Not the fear of illusion but the fear that I had not crossed over into another world. I realized that with the fear and uncertainty, I had felt a surge of excitement when I realized that I had discovered a new world. This was the stuff of my favorite childhood stories: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Dragon and the George, Another Fine Myth, Magic Castle For Sale.

Of course this was the real world, where adventures were only adventures in the unlikely event that you survived to tell the story. Until then it was an emergency, a crisis. An adventure was a long drawn-out period of unpleasantness. Not only was your life constantly in danger, none of those fantasy adventures mentioned that medieval kingdoms don't have toilet paper.

My GPS unit had a display of the number of GPS satellites that it could read. It took three satellites to get location information and I been getting four when I first entered the canyon; now there were none. So either the illusion covered GPS receivers, or this was no illusion. Now that I thought about it, this would make no sense as an illusion. The dark forces had used illusion so far to mask things, not to attract attention. And this view could do nothing but attract attention. No, I had passed into the dark world. Not dark so much as red. This place had shades of reds where my world had shades of blue. The reds and ochres produced a macabre scenery. A thrill of excitement and dread made me shiver in the hot red sun.

So I was in an alternate world. There was no reason to think this alternate world was medieval like the ones in the stories; since I had tracked a person from my world to this, it was obvious that there was travel between the worlds. And if travel, commerce. And if commerce, then technology transfer. Most likely, the bad guys in this world probably had not only magic but also machine guns, motion detectors, and infrared viewers. In other words, I had no chance at all.

It would be completely foolish to go on, much as I wanted to. I took out my binoculars and examined the natural rock tunnel I had passed through. That was probably the gateway between worlds. I was going to have to retreat, to climb back down the stairs to that tunnel, pass through back to the real world, get on a plane and disappear, never to know the answers.

I sighed with disappointment as I stood up and put away my binoculars. This was simply out of my league; a man's got to know his limitations. Discretion is the better part of valor. I turned for one last look up the stairs. At the top was a whole new world of mystery and answers that I would never know. A moment later I spat out my gum and started climbing. Screw discretion.

At the top of the cliff there was a breeze, not as chill as the breeze in the world I had left, but was enough that I could put my trench coat back on. I didn't want to be carrying it, and the cut-out pocket might give me an advantage.

The ridge was covered in high brush and a few trees, many in unusual shades of yellow rather than green, and well-maintained trail led off in the direction of the house. My GPS still showed no satellites even here in the open; I had expected no different. Oddly, the attached compass seemed to be reversed, the north arrow pointing south. I couldn't have gotten turned around with the ocean clearly visible. A quick shake showed that the compass was if anything even more stubbornly pointing south than it had pointed north in the bright world. Was this a geological difference in the worlds, or was there some strange polarity switch in the dark matter? Would electrons be positive here? Would there be any way to tell if they were?

I was lost in these rather irrelevant speculations when the monster attacked. This was not one of those odd dark mercury golems, but a solid, respectable, flesh-and-blood troll. Or ogre. Something big and hairy anyway. I wasn't really up on monster taxonomy.

This thing was about eight feet tall, with legs like an NFL tackle, arms like a gorilla, fangs like a saber-tooth tiger and a face like a train wreck. It was possibly the scariest and ugliest thing I have ever seen, and I've seen Hollywood's best. It was fast, closing from cover much quicker than any human could move. As it charged, the world seemed to go into slow motion and it seemed that I had time to evaluate the situation, estimate the monster's speed, judge the possibilities of escape and find them wanting, then bring up the Gatling gun touch, the trigger to activate the laser sight and then squeeze off a quick thirty rounds into its chest.

I loved that little .22 Gatling gun. With the motorized attachment, it would put out over fifty rounds per second. That's three times what your average submachine gun will do and it was carefully balanced so that you could put ten rounds into a square inch if you loaded consistent ammo. I didn't have consistent ammo. Instead, this ammo belt was loaded with alternating 45 grain jacketed hollow point and 45 grain full metal jacket bullets; the theory being that the FMJ ammo would penetrate and then the JHP would cause damage.

.22 Magnum rimfire isn't exactly a power cartridge, but thirty pieces of lead in the chest is thirty pieces of lead in the chest whether it comes from a .22 Gatling gun or a shotgun. The theory seemed to work because that troll/ogre thing dropped like a sack of potatoes. I was pleased. Relieved and pleased.

The incident with the troll (as I had decided to categorize it) caused me to momentarily rethink my decision to continue the adventure; I only had a couple of hundred rounds and I had just spent thirty to put down one enemy. In the end I decided to continue forward until my ammo was half gone and then start back. Seventy rounds to go in the forward part and that should drop two or three more monsters. Maybe four if I'd lighten up on the trigger a bit.

After the shots, I stood perfectly still for two full minutes, watching and listening to see if any more nightmares were about. Then I went over to the troll and poked it with a stick. It didn't move so I poked it hard in the eye with a stick. If it was playing dead, it was doing an impressive job.

I had an urge to dissect the thing --dissection was my favorite thing in college biology classes-- but I didn't want to take the time, so I did a cursory external exam. It appeared to be a male mammal with a healthy coat of coarse hair and healthy omnivorous teeth. The pupils were horizontally slit, suggesting nocturnal habits; maybe I had disturbed it during its rest. Both feet and hands had five digits with what looked like two semi-opposable thumbs, one on each side of the hand/foot. There were huge spade-like nail on all fingers, suggesting that this was a burrower. That fit nicely with my theories of troll behavior. The relatively large, straight legs and my still racing heart suggested that the animal could also move well on the surface. It had charged me on two legs, and I didn't think the arms were long enough that it could walk on all fours like an ape.

The one thing I really wanted to know was whether this was a solitary or social animal. If solitary, it would likely be territorial and I wouldn't be seeing another one. If social ... well then I likely would be seeing more. I couldn't think of any gross anatomical clues to social behavior though.

If I knew anything about pests in this world I could check to see if the creature had more pests in the areas it could reach than in the areas it could not. If it were solitary, it would not be able to groom its own back. I did a cursory check, but I couldn't see any pests at all. Had the pests abandoned the corpse already? Were there no pests? Or ... an unpleasant thought occurred to me: was this a domestic animal? A guard-dog troll? Or a sapient creature? A hired guard? There was no sign of technology. No fillings or collars or weapons, but still ...

I suddenly felt a great need to be away from that place before any other monsters showed up. Here's something you learn when you play paintball in large outdoor areas: speed is stealth. You have to know how to move quietly and invisibly, yes, but only when you are close to the enemy. Most of the time there is no need for moving quietly and invisibly because there is no one around to see or hear you. That's when you want to be moving fast. The point is that they can't find you if you aren't where they are looking. Use the time when you are out of range to move as far as you can away from where they think you are.

That's why I ran. Not down the path, but ninety degrees away from it for about three hundred yards --if I'd only been worried about humans I would have gone only half as far. Then I turned inland and continued running until by my estimate I was about five hundred yards from the house. I was going by dead reckoning without my GPS, but I've always had pretty good sense of distance and direction.

I slowed to a fast walk and continued forward, catching my breath but not trying to move quietly for another hundred yards or so, keeping to low areas. That's when I thought of trackers. I'd never played paintball against anyone who could track, so I'd never had to conceal my trail. On reflection I decided that this was a non-issue. Tracking was a slow process and since I intended to keep moving, I didn't have to worry about anyone finding me that way.

At the next hillock, I walked to the top, looking all about me carefully every three or four steps, with special attention in the direction of the path and the house. Near the top of the hillock I could see a tower of the house and I took out my binoculars to examine it. I didn't see anyone behind the windows looking back at me with binoculars. That was good.

What was bad was the glass in the windows --high quality, modern-manufacture glass. Yes, I was going to be going up against illusions, high-tech detection equipment, machine guns and guard trolls. Time to go home. Instead, I searched for a better vantage point and found another hillock closer to the house. I headed toward it.