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Authors: James Axler

Reality Echo (6 page)

BOOK: Reality Echo
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Brigid grimaced.

“I’m not going to rain on your parade,” Kane said.

Brigid squeezed her eyebrows. “Just drop it, Kane.”

“Consider it dropped,” he answered. “Besides, what’s that you called us once upon a time?”

“Anam-chara,”
Brigid said. “Soul friends. That’s if I buy into that jump-dream memory you had of rescuing one of my other incarnations. We’re bound together, but nothing you’ve told me says that we’re some kind of
cosmic lovers. Good grief, I’m trying to apply logic to reincarnation.”

“Enlil reincarnated. Fand and Epona recognize my old soul,” Kane offered.

“Where’s Daryl with his soda?” Brigid muttered.

“The nozzle popped on his soft drink,” Kane said. “He and a couple of the other members of the geek squad have the dispenser disassembled and are arguing over how best to rebuild it.”

Brigid looked over her shoulder and saw Morganstern. The young scientist shrugged, looking pained at the brown, soaking stain on his chest. Brigid gave him a smile that she wasn’t particularly feeling at the moment, and he waved at her before walking toward the table.

“Sorry. It looks like we’ve got our emergency to counterpoint whatever crisis you’re dealing with,” Morganstern told her.

“Who says we’re in the middle of a crisis?” Brigid asked.

“Kane’s injured, and CAT Beta is preparing for a jump back to the Poconos,” Morganstern noted. “Grant’s going with them.”

Kane nodded. “I know. I hate being sidelined, but DeFore told me I have a concussion.”

Brigid sighed. “I’m sorry, Daryl.”

“That’s all right. We still have our date scheduled for tomorrow night. Running into you and Kane was an unexpected surprise for the day,” Morganstern offered.

Kane nodded toward the soft drink machine. “It looks like one of your buddies is upset.”

Morganstern looked back, horrified. “Wynan! No, we are not going to waste valuable platinum on diet soda! I’m sorry, Brigid.”

She reached up and grabbed Morganstern’s shirt, kissing him on the cheek. “Thanks for understanding, Daryl.”

Morganstern chuckled nervously, his dimpled smile glowing beneath blushing cheeks. “Brigid, I want to thank
you.

Brigid turned back and saw the smirk on Kane’s face. “You say another word, and I will peel the flesh from your bones and tell everyone that I was certain you are a death pod person from Dimension Fifteen. And they’d never blame me.”

Kane covered his mouth to hold back his laughter. Brigid hoped that in her mock rage, she hadn’t given form to a dangerous prophecy. The man’s stifled amusement seemed to echo in a haunting taunt to her doubts.

Chapter 6

As Grant went over the gear stuffed into the pouches of his web utility belt, Domi remained silent. The two had come a long way since their first meeting in the Tartarus Pits of Cobaltville. Originally Domi had fallen deeply for the dark ex-Mag because he was the first person ever to show genuine concern and affection for her. Since then, both had found the true loves of their lives, and their relationship had matured. Domi herself had matured, and the love she felt for Grant wasn’t something that was based on sexual attraction.

If anything, Grant was a nurturing father figure that she had grown up without, which was why Grant had felt so uncomfortable with her fleeting advances, and then her campaign to scandalize and make him jealous. More than once, she had wanted to apologize for giving him such an awkward time, but Grant wouldn’t hear anything about it. They had both found partners, and now with that stumbling block out of the way, Grant no longer felt aloof toward her.

They could have these comfortable silences together. Though Domi could see a million questions and doubts
storming through his mind, Grant focused on preparing for the mission back to the mountain range. It was enough that Domi was there, and though her vocabulary had grown greatly since her arrival at Cerberus, her silence spoke more deeply than anything else. Grant strapped his Sin Eater onto his forearm last of all, and he tested the holster mechanism. A quick whirr and the machine pistol snapped into his palm, then withdrew.

He looked at Domi who was ready for action. Her big, ruby-red eyes, startling globes of crimson, searched his face.

“If that’s the wrong Kane, we’ll find the right one,” Domi said softly.

Grant nodded. “He’s lucky like that. To have us come in as the cavalry and rescue his sorry ass.”

“He’s done it for us enough times.”

Grant took a deep breath and slid a Kevlar-lined load-bearing vest over his shadow suit top. The photocell camouflage of the remarkable uniform wouldn’t be needed, and Grant wanted plenty of pockets and some extra armor to augment the protective abilities of his uniform. The vest’s bullet-resistant fabric was reinforced with lightweight ceramic trauma plates. He’d heard the kind of firepower that the Fomorians were packing, and the AK-47 fired a notoriously difficult round to resist with conventional body armor. “’Course, it would be like him…”

“Shut up,” Domi whispered.

Grant’s eyes flashed with annoyance, but he remained
silent. It may have been silly superstition on Domi’s part, but she was not the kind of woman to tempt fate by talking about the worst that could happen. The loss of Kane from Cerberus would be a crippling blow on so many levels. It was his courage and compassion that had redirected and refocused the fight against the barons after Lakesh’s years of quiet, desperate machinations. Kane had forged the bond with the local Native American tribe, and had been instrumental in rescuing societies from corruption. He’d saved everyone’s life a dozen times over.

Domi remembered how Kane had, in a moment of desperation, plucked her from the brink of annihilation with the technology of Thunder Isle. It had been during a fierce battle to escape Area 51. Domi had helped Kane escape a forced breeding program where he sired a new generation of children with superior genetics and all of Kane’s phenomenal physical and mental attributes. In the battle to break loose, Domi had been trapped in the path of an implode grenade, a powerful weapon that by all rights should have turned her into a smear of plasma.

Instead, Kane had discovered the Thunder Isle temporal matrix. He pushed the staff to lock on to her position at the moment just before the grenade’s detonation. In Domi’s mind, she had simply blinked, leaving behind the underground complex and appearing in the time scoop. She’d lived simply because Kane had not given up, because his supersharp perceptions noticed that her supposed death was not how it
should have been from a grenade detonation. His faith, his willingness to defy the laws of physics and consequence enabled Kane to wrench her from the jaws of death.

That same undying loyalty had been the impetus to save others. Kane would never think that someone was dead and lost. He’d fight with the Grim Reaper himself to protect those he loved. Without him, the glue that united Cerberus would dry, crack and come apart in a spray of brittle crumbs. Domi would never admit to any possibility that Kane was dead, and she wouldn’t allow others to even breathe that doubt into existence.

It was stubborn and superstitious, but Kane had been too bullheaded to allow Domi to be murdered.

Grant swallowed hard and recovered his ability to speak, but this time, he skirted the issue. “You might want to take some extra equipment.”

Domi patted her crossbow, a large steel one with a reel crank on the side. It was an upgrade of the small pistol bow model she often carried. “Shot through tree trunk with this.”

Domi blushed as she realized that she’d dropped back into her abbreviated outlanders speech. Grant smiled, then pretended that he couldn’t detect the nerves made all too obvious when she spoke.

“This crossbow’s rated at 416 feet per second for a bolt,” she said, fighting down her clipped verbosity. “And the crank allows for fast reloads.”

“But it’s not going to be ideal if a Fomorian comes
into close combat,” Grant said. “I’m not so much worried about me or Edwards—we’re as big as they are.”

“I know,” Domi said. “But I’ve got my Detonics .45.” She patted the small pistol on her hip. “There’s a MAC-10 in my bag, too.”

“I hope that’s enough.” Grant sighed. His mind had already let go of the logistical issues of their upcoming trip and had returned to his best friend. It had been a feeble effort, trying to distract Grant from his true fears by delving into the musketry necessary to bring down Bres’s mutants. Still, it was a moment or two where he had been distracted from worries.

Domi took Grant by the hand and gave him a quiet, loving embrace. Her slender arms squeezed around his shoulders with far more strength than they would have appeared to, and Grant responded with a gentle tap on her back.

“Go get the rest of your team,” Grant said. “I want to make one last check with Brigid and him.”

Even as she left him alone in the locker room to check on the status of her CAT Beta Team, Domi noted that Grant couldn’t bring himself to say his friend’s name. Though she remained skeptical of “supernatural” abilities, she’d survived in the Outlands and the slums of Cobaltville utilizing instincts that couldn’t readily be defined. Grant’s instincts refused to allow him to call the man everyone recognized as Kane by that name. The bonds of friendship were strong, and they ran deeper than simple blood chemistry and genetics. There was a
hint of falseness, an imperceptible doubt that shouldn’t exist after retinal scans and fingerprint matching.

Domi hated that her own hunter’s senses didn’t pick up anything worthwhile, except that she could tell that Grant didn’t quite trust the version of Kane they carried back through the mat-trans. Whatever the menace Thrush had placed within their ranks, it was something that had been an absolutely perfect duplicate, right down to healed scars and a jawbone implant to attach a Commtact. The similarities were so fine that even Brigid Baptiste’s eidetic memory couldn’t find enough incongruity to give more than a vague doubt on her own.

The balance of the three Cerberus heroes had been altered, and they weren’t certain if it was due to head trauma. Brigid herself had suffered a skull injury before and had taken a while to recover. For a brief period, the three people weren’t at their top game on missions, part of what had inspired Lakesh to form a second Cerberus away team to take up the slack. Domi had done her best to emulate the kind of team formed by her friends, but Kane, Grant and Brigid were a magical combination, a one-in-a-million act of emotional and mental chemistry that went far beyond the sum of intellect and raw muscle. Lakesh had pointed out many times before that their union as a team allowed them to defy the laws of probability and defeat threats that loomed so large, they could swallow the entire solar system.

Domi simply had to rely on skill, knowledge and well-applied brute force for CAT Beta. It had carried
them through a few missions, and they’d even been able to contain the rage of a technogoddess gone mad before she utilized an ancient Threshhold device to teleport her from a stony tomb in which she’d trapped the bitch. Even then, though, they’d had Brigid Baptiste’s aid while Kane and Grant battled a rival god and his army.

Together or apart, the three of them in coordination had been a focused force, and any goal they sought to achieve usually ended in victory. Bittersweet ashes from a Pyrrhic win were rare; for the most part, a win was a win.

She didn’t want to think of the torment and horrors that would lie ahead if the three heroes of Cerberus were ever to split up. Kane liked to point out that the core of the human resistance was formed by everyone’s free will, an indomitable spirit. He’d even brought out the old American flag to wave as a banner in the face of the Annunaki when Enlil sent his forces for the first open warfare that had broken out after
Tiamat
’s return to Earth. The cloth had meant much to the people of the moon base, but Domi’s loyalty wasn’t to a striped piece of fabric. She’d bled and wept with Kane and his allies. They were family. And with family came a fealty that couldn’t be broken.

Edwards raised an eyebrow at Domi’s approach. The big former Magistrate was clad in a shadow suit, like all the members of the away teams, but like Grant, he also wore a Kevlar-and-ceramic-laden load-bearing vest. Sela Sinclair also had one over her shadow suit, but she didn’t look as bulky as the two former Magistrates.

“Trouble, boss?” Edwards asked.

“Just worried about what we’ll find in the mountains,” Domi said. She checked her wrist chronometer, still a little uncomfortable with the device that threw off the balance of her hand somewhat. She had never really taken to wearing chrons, but as commander of a team, it helped her to be more precise at telling time and coordinating with her subordinates on the team. “And don’t call me boss.”

“You’re the boss,” Edwards answered with a mischievous grin.

Domi opened her mouth to say something, but realized that the big man’s joke formed a logical loop that started to make her head hurt. “Remind me to kick your ass in the next sparring practice.”

“Again?” Edwards asked.

Domi’s eyes narrowed. “You do not want to get on my nerves today, Edwards.”

Sela rested a hand on Domi’s shoulder. “What’s the deal with Kane? Why’s everyone acting so weird?”

At first, Domi wondered at the logic of having a woman, especially a freezie from another century, as a member of her away team. It wasn’t a matter of sexism on Domi’s part; in her experience with strong and capable women like Brigid, Fand and Shizuka, among dozens of others, being female wasn’t a detriment to ability. However, Domi had started out at Cerberus alienating other women because of her blatant sexuality. She had also experienced a brief bout of intense jealousy against Shizuka when the lady samurai and Grant first
became involved. Domi didn’t know if she’d be emotionally compatible with a woman as a teammate, but now, Sela seemed to have a way of sensing her distress, and actually be able to talk about it.

Edwards was more perceptive than he’d seemed, hence his needling over calling her boss. Right now, Domi preferred the understanding approach of Sinclair, but Edwards’s sarcasm was comforting, as well.

“Just watch your fire when we get to the Appalachians,” Domi ordered. “And don’t trust your eyes, okay?”

Sinclair and Edwards shared a conspiratorial glance, then nodded to their field commander.

“And watch each other’s back. Right now, we can’t trust just anybody,” Domi continued. “Me and Grant, and yourselves.”

“This isn’t anything like those ghost things we had trouble with a while ago?” Edwards asked.

“Not that, no,” Domi answered.

“Okay,” Sinclair replied. She checked her weapon, an M-16 with an underbarrel grenade launcher. If the assault rifle, loaded with armor-piercing ammunition, wasn’t enough to handle the Fomorians, then the 40 mm packet of explosives that the launcher fired would definitely do the job. It was a bit heavy for a rifle, but still under ten pounds. Edwards, by comparison, went for a cannon. A large multichambered revolver-style grenade launcher and pouches for spare shells adorned his uniform, in addition to his traditional Sin Eater machine pistol in its forearm sheath.

“And the Fomorians are really that bad?” Edwards asked.

“Grant saw them. He shot at them. They’re not invulnerable, but they are tough enough to pound Kane pretty badly,” Domi said. She wished that she could have said Kane’s name without the word sticking in her throat. Her teammates noticed that pause, the pained halt in her speech.

Given how cryptic she had tried to be, Domi cursed herself for dropping the ball. She didn’t want doubts about Kane’s identity to cloud their minds.

“All right, what is going on?” Edwards asked bluntly.

“We returned with Kane,” Domi said. “Kane informed us that when he was down among the Fomorians, he encountered an impostor. We ran a check to confirm his identity, and he’s the same person we have medical records for. We’re heading to deal with the Fomorian mutants and to catch up with this duplicate Kane.”

“But you want us to check our fire,” Sinclair said.

Domi nodded. “We’d like to take the Thrush-made fake—”

“Thrush, that android dude who time travels and shit?” Edwards asked.

“Yeah,” Domi answered. “Big time scary, with technology that’s almost magic.”

Edwards nodded.

“It’s so much easier in
Star Trek.
” Sinclair sighed. “If you’re a duplicate from an evil universe, you’ve got a funky sharp goatee.”

Domi raised an eyebrow at the twentieth-century woman’s reference, not because she didn’t get it. Indeed, Sinclair had made her sit through the ancient television show for a few episodes. It was a form of bonding. To Domi, the snacks were the real draw, and anything that showed up on the video screen was far removed from the real wonders she’d encountered. She’d been to space, she’d traveled to other times and dimensions and she’d encountered aliens and gods. The reality she’d slammed into made those old stories seem hokey, although some of the tales and the basic themes still had resonance. “Duplicate from evil universe. Time and dimension traveling android. Do own math.”

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