The Orange Blossom Special

“Look a-yonder comin’
Comin’ down that railroad track
Hey, look a-yonder comin’
Comin’ down that railroad track
It’s the Orange Blossom Special
Bringin’ my baby back…”

The Orange Blossom Special by Ervin Thomas Rouse

Russia 2077: Look Into The Close Cyber Future By Evgeny Zubkov
Anthrax Ripple sat in the infamous Money$hot Lounge, dark end of the downstairs bar, waiting for nightfall.  The right moment. His special purpose. A neglected cig smoldered between his fingers, yet he didn’t sense the burn as flesh turned yellow then brown then black.  Synthskin, complex biopolymers that could be made to resemble the human epidermis down to the whorled grooves of the fingerprints—Anthrax personally had no use for such identifying marks—but contained only the most rudimentary approximation of nerve endings. The left side of Anthrax’s ravaged shell was a mass of prostheses, servomotors, semi-organic plastics, metal plating, steel rods, nuts-&-bolts, wires and dials, a clicking, buzzing humming synthesis of hi-tech cybernetics and jerry-rigged life support.  The unnatural extremities and artificial addendums were the result of a lifetime’s struggle with his dear ol’ Dad, pitting the innumerable agents of his father’s relentless vendetta against his own inexhaustible and nearly superhuman will to live, if only out of spite. 
            Well-armed, well-paid assassins tracked and attacked him wherever he went; he evaded, thwarted, and disposed of them in nearly every region, province, state or nation on the North American continent, various locations throughout the Western Hemisphere, and one particularly hi-profile incident aboard the Monolith InterSystems Orbital Waylay. If he hadn’t been under contract, and subject to the constraints of a closely scrutinized expense account, Anthrax would seriously have considered fleeing to a far corner of the planet, even off-world, though he thoroughly, and not unrealistically, anticipated that the death merchants in his father’s employ would find him out, no matter how far or wide he might travel.
            Ironic, in some respects, that an evolutionary dead end like Anthrax could so casually dispatch such a tremendous number of the world’s most highly-trained, if not highly motivated, killing machines. Anthrax acknowledged that his grafted enhancements, despicable and hideous though they were, gave him an edge which most mere mortals did not possess; he was painfully aware that he would be dead several times over without them. ‘We can rebuild you,’ They’d told him once, the first time he submitted to Their wretched scheme. ‘Make you better/stronger/faster/a real/Ubermensch/andallathat/blah/blah/blah.’ Despite the maniacal laughter, They weren’t kidding. Of course, nothing was ever said about making him happier. Once a said-and-done deal, contract signed, permission granted, it was out of his hand. They didn’t own him outright, just the parts, and if he reneged in any way, They’d send the repo men to take back what was Theirs, far more than an arm and a leg. He was Their boy, all he owned were his thoughts, and he was pretty sure those were at least monitored, if not outright controlled. They were as good as Their word, he had to admit; whenever he took damage, on the clock or off, They were on hand with the requisite compensation: replaceable parts, digit, limb, or organ, running the gamut from state-of-the-art to total wonk-sci.  He’d had so much work done, he wasn’t entirely certain where he ended and They began. Whether he oughta thank Them or go kamikaze and kill Them all. In truth, he didn’t even know exactly who They were, or where to find Them. Some unholy coalition of Nazis, Mafia, and extradimensional intelligence, more than likely, headquartered in the churning bowels of Hollow Earth. No matter, so long as They kept him running long enough for one last father/son chat.
            Nick Ripple returned from his tour in ‘Nam with a bum left leg, a bleeding ulcer, a morphine habit, and a not-altogether irrational fear of his own seed. His platoon was just one of many whose collective service to God and country entailed a generous—if accidental?—dousing with the military pest repellent known as Agent Orange. Though he now existed, lingering, on the outermost periphery of the US Marine-World, he was privy to rumors, dark, absurd, inconceivable. Reproductive malfunctions, in the tactful words of a combat acquaintance. Monsters, a more emphatic warpal declared. Abominations, exclaimed another former trenchmate in impassioned vehemence.
            Mutants, freaks, evolutionary mishaps, whatever they be named, they were defective, and Nick toed a hard line when it came to the differently abled, especially where the Fruit of his own Looms were concerned. Considered them weak, pathetic, offensive to behold. Don’t piss in the gene pool, that was Nick’s stance. And though he desired heirs, he wasn’t about to let any so-called abominations swim past him.
            Nick’s double-edged fatal flaw would be his own undoing, however; weak links in his chain of resolve regarding potential progeny. Nick had an eye for the ladies, too much so to remain faithful to his predictably long-suffering wife. Worse, he found himself quite consistently drawn to strong-willed, self-preserving women, the sort who preferred to make their own decisions as to whether or not they were ready to endure the dubious bliss of motherhood; those who chose inevitably proved rather obstinate and uncooperative when it came to the subject of their precious treasures being treated as abortions after the fact. Even the previously unquestioned influence he wielded over wife Travalia was put to the test and found wanting when, the night of her return from the hospital, she discovered Nick in the kitchen preparing to suffocate and dismember their firstborn, Anthony. Though the child had exhibited no signs of abnormality, its presence in the house made Nick acutely uncomfortable, and he regretted allowing it to come to term. Val took the child and fled to her parents’ home in Connecticut. Nick found them a week later; indifferent to reconciliation, Nick came only to kill the child. In the struggle that ensued, Val’s father was killed, and Nick went to prison. He was out in five, and a month later, little Tony disappeared from the playground at his preschool; no body, or any other trace, was ever found.
            In all the years before and after his internment, Nick took no special precautions to ensure that his family tree not flower on far-flung, hard-to-reach limbs. Nor did it occur to him that a simple vasectomy would nip any such unwanted offshoots in the proverbial bud. His exposure to Agent Orange had indeed wrought havoc upon his chromosomal makeup, yet was anything but detrimental to his potency. Of the twelve children Nick would sire over the two decades following the war, eight of them would come to term, though only two would survive him. One of these was little Anthony.
Anthrax didn’t like it, not in any way, shape or form. Going after Pentler was one thing, a personal vendetta fully sanctioned by the corporate overlords whose bidding he did with such vicious aplomb. But this one, the intended target for which he’d received his brainfaxed orders not an hour before, was his friend, as much as he allowed himself to have any. A man he respected, whose body of work spoke for itself; a man who never judged him, never treated him with the kind of thinly veiled disgust, contempt, and fear to which he was accustomed from his other employers.  Those members of the Consortium who consistently attempted to distance themselves from the copious gore which puddled at their own feet, stained their clothes and soiled their fingers to the subdermal layers. Bob Buck was cut from a rougher cloth, reserved his considerable disdain for the pretentious elitists with whom he was forced to consort by virtue of his own ill‑gotten fortunes. The kind of man Anthrax could drink with, not just a casual cocktail in some glass-walled Babylonian tower, but an honest‑to‑God street‑level bender, dangerous inebriation, wasted mayhem, all night and all day and again until the weekend when the real partying would begin. And now he had to kill him. No question in his mind as to whether he’d do it; orders was orders. Just seemed a damn shame, that’s all. He wanted to ask why. But that wasn’t his biz. He did what They told him, and They covered his ass. Hard bargain.
            Buck wasn’t at the ranch house.  That would have been too obvious.  He knew they were onto him, a man who’d put out and personally pulled that many contracts had rear‑end heat sensors to pick up that shit a million miles off. Then again, Buck wasn’t one to run, more than likely to find an open field and take em all on at once, boots on in a blaze of glory.  The only way.
            Anthrax tracked him easy enough, hating it every minute as he waded through a slew of Buck’s hired guns, rendering each of them eternally inert. They died in silence, for the most part, true pros, not candy‑ass salaried security chumps and suckers, guys he knew, old Joes and dogs‑o‑war who’d pulled his out of the fire more times than once, boys he owed his life and so what, they all saw him coming and treated it like any other ugly deal, didn’t pull their punches or hold their fire, for all the good it did them, steely precision and a lifetime wasted wallowing in the mire of sponsored violence earned them no mercy in the end. Corporate casualties, every one, causeless deaths in the meaningless name of a biz they didn’t understand. And Ripple was no different, just better at it, souped‑up skills engineered to serve no other purpose but this insensate brutality. A master of death. And so what.
            Buck was waiting, sure enough. The blasted remnants of his private army smoldering in his assassin’s wake, and Buck just sat there, laughing behind his desk in DalTex Buckwagon/BEEFCO headquarters, North end of nowhere, a rusty bastion of corrugated steel and old‑fashioned barbwire.  Like he didn’t even care, neither surprised nor pissed by this betrayal.  Buck ensconced in three‑piece grey flannel, 10‑gallon Stetson, alligator shitkickers, surrounded by a miniscule sampling of his personal armory, Colt revolvers, Smith and Wesson’s, Browning automatics, Walther, Luger, Mauser, Berreta, Glock, Uzi, Russian, Arab, Israeli, Chinese, Japanese, German and good ol US cobalt, titanium, matte black and metallic grey, nickel‑plated, silvery‑blue, the full ultraviolent spectrum.  Launchers for rocket and grenade, c4, tNt, plastique, nitro, round after round after round.  In his lap, Bob cradled his beloved Winchester, the one that had hung unused above the mantle of his manse these many long years since it had served to scatter the thoughts maintained within a Democratic cranium, as unlikely a sniper’s rifle as any agent‑sinister might have devised.  Over his vested chest, crisscrossing bandoliers filled with Cuban cigars, some final irony which Anthrax could sense but not quite get. Buck rose slowly from his leather-backed chair.
            “Well, son,” was all he said, completely unwilling to plead, no sign of weakness to make this any easier.
            Anthrax felt his trigger finger jump, brain afraid that another word might be enough to make him reconsider.
            Bob Buck stood his ground; he always had before, and he saw no reason to stop now. The first shot took him in the stomach, left a hole like a rouge‑lipped mouth hanging open in shock. He staggered back a step, from the force if not the pain, and his cigar popped out of his mouth. He shook his head, admonishing Anthrax with a cluck of the tongue, somewhat disappointed that he wasn’t dead already. The head, Anthony, c’mon, my brains on the wall, Zapruder jumpcut, I’m not some gook in black pj’s like yer daddy usedta deepfry in the rice paddies, ya kill me once so’s I stay dead, doncha know. But the poor kid had lost his nerve, useless now to the company, might as well a sold ‘em out and pledged allegiance to BEEFCO if this was how he meant to play it. BANG. Like an m80 in a tin can when Buck was a kid wranglin’ punk fun out in the boonies. Groin shot. HA. Hurt like fuck, no lie, more’n likely lethal but his skullcap was intact as he sat down hard on the cold cement floor, found his smoldering stub between his legs before his seeping blood could extinguish it, plenty of time to roll it between his fingers, even take another puff as Anthrax stood there lookin’ like he wasn’t quite sure what he’d just done or if he even wanted any part of it anymore. Buck reachin’ up to touch the lit end to the tip of a fuse that wound its way through the powderkeg backroom and yeah boy ol’ Tony Ripple’s jaw did most certainly drop  at the sight of that, suddenly  shit-scared at the prospect that Unca Bob Buck had done him just as sure as he’d just double‑plugged the ol man sittin’ gutshot on the stone cold in a puddle of his own blood. BANGBANG two aimless rounds as he backed out the door and the fuse followed him fast like some hissing sidewinder faster than he could run almost and goddam Bob Buck wasn’t even dead yet was he had to go back but no way Jose and holy shit if that sulfurous snakefinger wasn’t ahead of him three steps already gimme three steps mister which had to mean that whatever was supposed to blow was somewhere up in front gimme three steps toward the door so maybe doublin back was the way to go but WHOOSH some force aflame propelled him just enough and gimme three steps he almost caught up with the taunting fuse and BOOM you’ll never see me no more…

More Will Be Revealed: The Secret files of the dept.

How Prohibition made us more reliant on the income tax - Don't ...
After two disastrous attempts at creating mind-controlled combat slaves, the DEPT. temporarily abandoned the project and turned to more theoretical, not to mention political pursuits. Laboring in self-imposed exile and under a veil of secrecy to rival that of the Masons, the DEPT. embarked on its most ambitious undertaking–some would say overtaking–yet.  They were also about to make their biggest blunder to date, one that would come dangerously close to revealing their existence and agenda to the larger world.
In the 1920’s, the DEPT. managed to plant an inside man in the very home of the nation’s chief executive.  Neither a cabinet minister nor an adviser, the man who would come to pull the presidential strings with all the moxie of a latter-day Rasputin was none other than Dr. Cygnus Salem, the president’s analyst.  Salem, who had studied under Freud in Vienna, came to the administration with impeccable credentials.  Not until four generations had passed would it be revealed that Cygnus Salem was in fact the reincarnate embodiment of a sorcerer who had been burned at the stake in the Massachusetts town from which he apparently took his name nearly three centuries before.
The DEPT.’s plan was diabolically clever. Using methods that had been employed in Cuba, Dr. Salem and other agents hypnotized or drugged the President and key congressional leaders and used the power of suggestion to influence their respective opinions, and votes concerning the constitutional amendment that would outlaw the sale, purchase, possession, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Evidently, the powers that be at the DEPT. felt that major resources of man-hours and mental energy were being waylaid and usurped by the demon alcohol.  They wanted to harness and channel the suppressed psychic faculties of some 150 million suddenly sober Americans. Inevitably, the rest of the world would bear awed witness to the undoubtedly positive changes taking place in the States and follow suit.
But it was not to be.
Prohibition, while an utter boon to the Mafia and other crime syndicates, was an abysmal failure for nearly every branch, faction and aspect of the Federal Govt., not least the DEPT. T. Magnus Reid, A Top Secret History of the United States (2nd Edition)

The CIA's Appalling Human Experiments With Mind Control | HISTORY
The DEPT. had scored a major victory for the forces of good over evil, not to mention for the interests of the US.  Their fearless and unflappable savvy in the face of the unknown and the unlikely did not go unnoticed in the invisible circles that constitute the true American govt.  While their methods and beliefs were still largely held suspect by the nation’s upper echelon, their carte blanche was extended, their access to intensely regulated information and heretofore off-limits facilities increased, their tireless efforts on behalf of the undiscovered nether regions coming due in increased influence and notoriety.  Unexpectedly, and tragically, years of suppression and isolation had caused fetishes, obsessions, and resentments to fester in the souls of the DEPT. agents Allowed a glimpse of daylight, these malignancies grew and spread in several of the members, manifesting in addictions to alcohol, narcotics, and other altering substances acquired from shaman, yogi, medicine men and quack pharmacists all over the globe, not to mention subversive behavior, sexual dysfunction, social retardation, and brutal, even murderous tendencies.  Dr. REDACTED, asst, deputy sub-director of the DEPT. from 1940 until 1963, (when he was quietly dismissed for his rather public presumption about who–or more precisely, what–really pulled the trigger on JFK, and later found dead of curare poisoning in a motel room in Galveston, Texas), would later claim that the afflicted DEPT. employees were under the influence of malevolent forces seeking retribution for the defeat they had suffered at the hands of the DEPT.’s spook troop during the War.  True or not, this was the first time any DEPT. member had openly claimed–at least as much as their secretive position would allow–that nonhuman powers beyond our control and comprehension could and did willfully direct the actions of those susceptible to such forces.  It was speculated that these extradimensional invaders had long sought an expansive enough access point to provide easy and unguarded passage between their world and ours.  Ironically, the DEPT. formed the ideal nexus at which such a gate way could be established.

A collective of absolute believers, even the most cynical and jaded amongst them were thoroughly convinced, whether by evidence or conviction, of the existence of uncharted dimensions of space and time, and that these regions, which could not be located on any map, were densely populated with beings both wondrous and horrific, beings whose ultimate intent might well be the subjugation of the human species, or even its utter destruction. T. Magnus Reid, A Top Secret History of the United States (2nd Edition)
In the late sixties, such bastions of yellow journalism as the New York Post reported on a series of incidents in which a self-described “freelance subatomic particle fetishist” appeared unannounced in a honeymoon suite at the MGM Grand in Vegas, the living room of a retired dentist in Seattle, Washington, a Dunkin’ Donuts employee bathroom in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and in a passport photo booth at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. The man, whose accent suggested an Eastern European origin, would give his name only as Satellite, and claimed that he had traveled from his homeland-, and from point to point, not by air, sea, or superhighway, but rather via a dimensional portal of his own design.  He turned up in Washington, DC, perched on Lincoln’s lap in the Memorial, and attempted to patent his invention, of which he would disclose only the blueprints and a blurry Polaroid of what he called the Transspatial Enabler, or Doormension, as Satellite was nothing if not consumer conscious.  The photo resembled nothing more than a black square, just the right size that a medium sized man could squeeze through with some small effort, provided that it wasn’t just a shiny square of acrylic tile adhered to the wall.

Satellite’s bold claims and grand entrances created a low-key buzz amongst a population hungry for light shows, parlor tricks, miracles, anything of entertainment value in the overwhelming midst of social upheaval, assassination aftermath, and the nightmare of jungle warfare.  Satellite sightings were almost as common a phenomenon as glimpses of undead superstar Elvis Presley would come to be a decade or so later.
Though the Enabler’s existence was neither proven true nor exposed as fraud, despite the best efforts of everyone from the DEPT. to their archnemeses, the infamous World Skeptic’s Society, Satellite ignored and refused all challenges to present hard evidence to support his boasted feats of dimensional daredevilry for public scrutiny, even when promised big bucks and endorsement possibilities.  Eventually, the public lost interest in the shamelessly self-promoting dimensional drifter and he vanished into the back pages of historical obscurity, the D.B. Cooper of quantum breaking-and-entering.
Top fedgov officials, agents of both the NSA and the CIA, and other lifetimers in the inner sanctum, who paid scrupulous attention to such anomalies, however absurd or even comic, speculated that Satellite might have been nabbed by the boys at the Spookhouse, as they could not help but think of it. T. Magnus Reid, A Top Secret History of the United States (2nd Edition)
Why the Story Behind the Manson Family Murders Is Suddenly ...
Meanwhile, the DEPT. had their hands full with the Manson slayings, an orgiastic rampage of West Coast psychosis that had left a seemingly endless stretch of unsolved, unclaimed, and unidentified homicides.  And in Vietnam, after 75-some-odd years of trial-and-error experimentation, the DEPT. of Paranormal Affairs had, with a certainly qualified success, succeeded in fulfilling the legacy of their founder, Dr. REDACTED REDACTED. 
Dubbed the Suture Soldier Project, the foray into reanimation science involved reassembling and reviving the corpses of soldiers whose mangled bodies were deemed too toxic to be returned for burial in home soil.  The first Suture Soldier unit, which consisted of a dozen troops stitched together from the bodies of some 32 men blown to Heaven during a VC ambush on a convoy of armored personnel carriers.  Their lieutenant was a green and fresh-faced officer school type, very much alive.  He thoroughly expected to provide a fleshly feast before his troops even encountered action.  The zombies’ supposedly insatiable thirst for human blood, however, was only ever evidenced, and perhaps sated, in swift and decisive combat maneuvers in which the emotionless and rather single-minded undead units were almost invariably the victors. Their pain centers had all been detached; bullets chewed them up a bit but did little by way of slowing them down. The lieutenant, who received a Distinguished Service Cross at the end of his third tour, and subsequently the first and only military personnel ever to be elected to the DEPT., reported that his initial fears were soon abated when he discovered that most of the soldier’s in his charge were vegetarians. Only once did he witness one of the suture soldiers eat meat.  Powdered steak. The zombie spit it out.
He was so young. They all were': 'Picturing Nam' shows America's ...
The Suture Soldiers were an over-the-wire legend in the embattled cities and sinister jungles of Southeast Asia. As one GI pondered at the time: “If they got dead guys can fight this war as good or better’n me, then what the hell am I still doin’ out here?”
Why didn't we get a future where swimming pools have pinball tables?
While a nation turned its lonely eyes to NASA and Watergate, Patty Hearst and boogie fever, the DEPT., cocky and brash after a round of supersecret successes, turned their singular minds to ever-more ambitious attempts at traversing the dimensional boundary and gaining access to the NeoAtlantean continents of limitless unmapped reality planes. Professor Boston Faraday, DEPT. director since 1963, knew that the only greenlight for his proposed experiments would have to come directly from the American people.  He wanted desperately to go public, but endowed with a more pragmatic brand of wisdom than his departed predecessor, Dr. REDACTED REDACTED knew that widespread awareness and mainstream acceptance of his organization’s existence, and its radically sidereal agenda, could be achieved only by way of a meticulously planned, surreptitiously staged media event that would result in inevitable worldwide coverage and unquestionable exposure of the DEPT. and its eccentric staff of dimension-straddling ethereal pioneers.
The Culham Laboratory Open Days. Photograph by Retro Images Archive
Dr. Lucius Blakdragon first developed the Karmometer in the late 1950’s, in an effort to establish the validity of his theory of Karmatic Physics (now known as SupraQuantum Physics).  He foresaw his machine, a crude assemblage of jerry-rigged gauges, wires, voltage meters, tickertape machines, WW2-era computers, and an authentic witches’ cauldron (acquired from the estate of none other than the legendary Cygnus Salem), as a technological breakthrough that would eventually lead to the inevitable wedding of secular science and applied metaphysics. 
Retro Science Fiction
Dr. Blakdragon, in an address to the London Guild of Apprentice Sorcerers and the Oxford Academy of Science -‘In 1957, described his machine thusly: “The Karmometer, which I have developed almost solely at the expense of myself and a small number of key private investors, performs a rather quite simple task, irrespective of its daunting size (the Karmometer took up nearly the entire space of a two-story barn on the Doctor’s New England estate).  Its sole purpose is to measure the karmic weight, volume, and density of a particular object, and to determine the level of negative or positive karmionic energy emitted from said object.  This enables the owner or prospective owner of the given item in question to determine what type of power the object holds, with regards to whatever psychic baggage has been acquired in the time since its production, and whether or not the object’s influence serves or hinders the interested party.  While the Karmometer has yet to be tested on more advanced life forms, a series of successful experiments recently conducted by myself and my anonymous colleagues on several species of insects and small rodents suggests that my machine’s potential for enhancing the quality of terrestrial existence is not only tremendous, but quite possibly limitless.”
1953 ... emergency in space! | by x-ray delta one
While Blakdragon’s proposal garnered little attention from the “serious” scientific community, the metaphysicists curiosities were predictably peaked.  While celebrated theorists from Altvgeld to Einstein derided him as a “crackpot egoist” and a “20th century snake oil huckster”, Guild members and others in the occult community plotted in secret to wrest control of the Karmometer from the playboy superscientist, to what end one can only speculate.  Whether his pet project was a shameless scam, a profound discovery, or a noble failure, the world would wait 30-some-odd years to learn the truth; Blakdragon’s research came to an abrupt halt with the disappearance of the Doctor on October 31st of that same year, a date which the significance thereof was not lost on either schooled occultists or the simply superstitious.  While investigation into Karmatic theory did continue, it did so on a much smaller scale; Blakdragon’s associates, perhaps fearful of their own fates, or possessed of disturbing information regarding the mystery, went underground, and the scientific community, obsessed with cancer research and the space program, all but forgot the spectre of Lucius Blakdragon until the emergence of quantum theory.

the dept.

nazi rocketeer 3 by IOEFXPROCPP2323 on DeviantArt
It has been widely known for some time that Hitler had agents scouring the globe for legendary objects reputed to possess tremendous supernatural power, ranging from the Holy Grail to the Monolith of Io. During this period the DEPT. established a tenuous camaraderie with the covert limb of the US Armed Forces operations in the European theater. Setting out from the neutral territory of Switzerland, DEPT. agents followed the lead of the SS, seeking the same objects and power sources as the Nazis, hoping, if not to beat them to the coveted items and sacred locales, then at least to prevent their misusing these potentially terrible weapons in their heady grab for world domination.

Thanks to the expedient evolution of technology which entered full swing during the Big One, the once-sequestered unofficial records of the DEPT.’s movements and motives begins to be more consistently documented during this period.  Extensive tapes, photos, and file footage have been uncovered, revealing some extremely shocking occurrences that popular history ignored, or missed completely. Horrors so profound they could almost make the death camps seem like playgrounds…


Perhaps the greatest act of selflessness and heroism to which any of the DEPT.’s agents could ever lay claim occurred on August 3rd, 1944, more than half a year before Hitler’s suicide and the Germans unconditional surrender. Despite the shroud of mystery and the vows of silence that kept it from becoming even a footnote to the struggle until now, the Battle of the Hollow Earth was instrumental in deciding not only the course of the war, but quite probably the fate of humanity.  For the time being.
According to sources, members of the DEPT. had utilized their vaudevillian mind control techniques on a number of grunts, selecting the malcontent, the indifferent, and the agnostic to make up their ragtag platoon of supersecret footsoldiers. In late summer of 1944, this motley assemblage of soldiers scientists, and DEPT. operatives encountered one of Hitler’s occult teams at the mouth of the tunnel that led into the core of the planet. Rumor and legend had it that the hollow interior was home to a race of extraterrestrial superhominids who had become stranded on Earth sometime dating back at least as far as the Egyptian empire. The opposing factions, equally determined in their respective goals, clashed at the site, and by chance, an explosion and subsequent avalanche sealed the tunnel entrance, and the Nazis were foiled.

Corroborated testimony from the debriefings suggests quite strongly that the DEPT. had finally succeeded in engaging the services of an actual combat zombie, a prototype at the very least, which was destroyed in the conflagration.  Thus, it can be said that one of the unsung heroes of the Second World War was in fact an Undead Soldier. Yet there is no gravemarker nor plaque to commemorate the selfless, and quite likely mindless, deeds of this khaki-clad Frankenstein’s monster.

T. Magnus Reid
A Top Secret History of the United States
White space shuttle illustration, science fiction, artwork, retro ...
You have to understand, the very nature of their work, work so abstract, so intangible, so bizarre that it placed them beneath legislative consideration. Most of their funding came from private citizens, perversely wealthy eccentrics who had traveled and studied extensively yet never been able to draw their own conclusions about a blessed thing.  This caused resentment, even hostility, towards the DEPT. from under-funded federal agencies whose work, in a societal sense, was far more practical, if not important.  But the boys at the DEPT. were crafty and sly, and had methods at their disposal of which most of us can at best hope to dream.
T. Magnus Reid,
A Top Secret History of the United States
Higher dimensional beings -FreeBeats- - YouTube
“I don’t know what’s over there, but it’d sure be a trip to fuck one.”

Baba “Doc” Octagon
Practicing Herbal Shockhealer

7 Strange Cases of Interdimensional Travel (With images ...
“Wild rumors have been circulating regarding these regions. That we have encountered hostility, that we are or will be at war with these…foreigners. Such rumors should, I think, be disregarded, no more true than the outlandish and absurd claims made by less ethereal conspiracy theorists. All contact, albeit limited, has to this date been utterly peaceable, and we have no more reason, save understandable caution in the face of the unknown, to doubt their intentions than they do ours.”

Ronald “Rusty” Mudbathe
2nd Dept Undersecretary
DEPT. of Dimensional Transport
Pin auf deep dream instagram collect
“Take us to your dealer.”

Dubious missive reportedly
received by Dimensional
Communications Faxline
DDT (origin unknown)
Steampunk'D — spacetalin: American Bombers in England, WW2
“I’m really sick and fuckin tired of all these limp-wrist, soft-shoe, ball-less, gutless, namby-pamby pussyfoot mama’s prodigal college boys wasting perfectly good air time and column space for free forum bitchfests. To hear them tell it, every civil servant in this country would mortgage his Grandma’s house to pay his gambling debts. Well, sometimes these things have to be done. It’s a wild kingdom out there, and somebody’s gotta pay the zookeeper.”

Lt. Cmdr. Hunt Rheingolden
Global Armed Services

Billboard for Pepsi Cola Modern (1970's to Present)

“I hear Pepsi’s in contact with their man over there.  Apparently, these…beings…are crazy about the stuff.  Not so much as a beverage as an apparent fuel source.”

Barney Actman
American Association
of Convenience Store Operatives
Forget Mad Men | Used cubicles
“I believe the possibilities for growth and expansion in the extradimensional marketplace have yet to be fully explored.”

Farley Weege
Global Cartels Board
File:Industrial High School, Science Class, Demonstration of an ...

  “The problem, as I see it, is that you have a number, a growing number, of  shockingly ordinary individuals, men and women quite limited in capacity when it comes to matters involving practices, rituals, involving very ancient, even sacred, arts. What more attuned, less ‘civilized’ societies have been achieving through real magic, without benefit of quantum theory or sophisticated technology, since time immemorial. The intrinsic difference being that these pre-cultures have developed tremendous respect and profound understanding of the realms of transcendence, and that access granted, whatever the limitations, is a gift from the Gods, an opportunity for acquiring knowledge, not for exploiting this rich resource, as we so-called advanced societies seem hell-bent on doing.”
Dr. Small Ajax
Extradimensional Research Team
Harvard University
Cold War espionage paid off—until it backfired, East German spy ...
“Of course the administration was aware of the DEPT. Everyone who was anyone in Washington’s real inner circle knew about it. They were the subject of gossip, the butt of jokes, considered crazier and more dangerous than most CIA field ops. But it wasn’t kosher to admit that you believed any such nonsense. Paranormal phenomena were outré in that realm. And the boys from the DEPT. were persona non grata, except of course for that brief, triumphant period at the end of the Second World War, when the DEPT. was instrumental in stopping the Nazis from gaining access to the Hollow Earth.”

T. Magnus Reid
A Top Secret History of the United States
gif portal light Black and White creepy MY EDIT b&w clouds tornado ...

“Ladies and gentlemen, congressmen and senators, Mr. and Mrs. President, and all the ships in orbit…everything we feared, everything we imagined, everything we disbelieved, is true. We have evidence that certain…we’ll call them… entities are entering and leaving our dimension and acquiring various goods and returning with them to…the other side. We have reason to believe that these entities have nuclear capability, that they have indeed stolen, or perhaps even purchased, nuclear weapons from this dimension. We have no idea at this time what the effects or outcome of a trans or even multi-dimensional nuclear conflict might be, so we want to be certain that we test it first.
We feel that there would most likely be losses, acceptable losses, mind you, though we don’t know exactly whose losses, nor to what extent. Due to our inability to as yet enter the gate between our world and the next, it is apparent that a toll may well have to be paid. A taxable toll. And that tax might well come due in human lives. In the name of the human future, we’re prepared to meet that cost.
I’m an extradimensional engineer for Biocorp.  I design portals, entryways, into different…ah, I’m not sure what the company’s calling them these days.  A rival research organization has already copyrighted the term Dimension. In fact, I’ll probably get sued just for saying it then.  We’ll call them territories, if you will.  Paranormal territories.  Subreal regions of as-yet-undetermined space, mass, and volume which we feel could be…I hesitate to use the word exploited.  No, I don’t, actually.  Exploited to our gain.  We feel that these dimensions are already being exploited but not by the right groups.  You see everything is available to be exploited, it merely depends on who is doing the exploiting and we know when we are doing it, the end result and ultimate goal is for the good of us all.  Not just on a national, but a global, perhaps even universal level.
I’m working on a portal right now that is triggered by a chant, a very primitive chant that I’ve recorded from people’s indigenous to the region that was once the Brazilian rain forest.

There are many indigenous peoples who are traveling in and out of these dimensions, I’m sorry, territories.  Illegally in my opinion. Indigenous and non-indigenous. Non-indigenous beings who have followed the indigenous footsteps, creating a transindigenous superhighway between this plane and others.  We at the facility refer to this as “The Gypsy Flyway”. And that is a licensed trademark of Biocorp, for the record
We’re talking about losses of billions of trillions of dollars in revenue due to this virtually unfettered intradimensional travel.  We’re talking about gypsies from another dimension, stealing our nukes, stealing our jobs, stealing our children.
The DEPT. of Paranormal Affairs, really, is about jobs. We’re for jobs. The more jobs we’re able to provide, extradimensional engineers, plasmonauts, inner space cadets, alternate reality clerks, subatomic regional managers, commissioners of entity affairs, the better service we do for this country and the species as a whole, and the more this DEPT. has proven its worth in the eyes of the American People.”

Prof. Arvin Schock
Address to the Senate Subcommittee on Historical Revisionism
Famous Private Detectives in Novels, Movies, and TV
“I didn’t useta believe in any a this stuff.  Wolfmen, vampires, ghosts, the walkin’ dead, creatures from deep space. I thought that was all just midnight movies and funny books and tabloid hoohah.  A bonafide skeptic.  But all that changes when ya see yer partner devoured by an unnameable thing while you stand there screamin and soilin yer Bugle Boys. When ya see the people ya love still livin, but not in human form.  That tends to shift the ol’ reality plane a few centimeters to the side.  Some go insane.  That’s cost us a lot.  We lost a lotta good people to the madness. We’re often forced to institutionalize them. Then ya don’t wanna see em again cause, y’know, well, it’s embarassin. And of course it’s top secret.”
Damon Ross
DEPT. agent (unspecified)

Ronald Raygun by Jason Rutledge on Dribbble
“I met the Reagans in 1954, debriefing them after their first UFO encounter. I recommended their astrologer.  In fact, I did Nancy’s first star chart, and after that she was sold. Darlings of the White Wing, and New Agers to boot. Whoda thunk it?”
Batheson Greeley
Former Director


Another short story scratched out in a fevered rush sometime pre-y2k, intended to be a sort of noirish crime thriller about the bordertown on the edge of the 6th dimension. I never quite got the full balance of Twin Peaks-meets-Lovecraft weirdness I was trying for, but you can get an idea of what I was going for. The bones are there, as they say.I could slap a digital cover on it and throw it up on Amazon for free or .99c, but I’d rather reward my half-dozen or less loyal readers with a chance to peruse it for free right here at the source. Besides it’s just an old first draft, and publishing it would inevitably mean polishing it, and god knows I barely have time to put that kinda work in on the new stuff. So have at it.


“Sometimes, it’s hard to tell which side you’re really on…”

I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one.

Okay, okay, so maybe I’m being melodramatic, and anyway, I stole that line from Apocalypse Now. But just by the fact that they gave me the job, I knew it had to suck. Considering my most exciting gig since coming to work for Public Health was chasing down a pack of pasty-faced neoGoths who fancied themselves vampires, called themselves Hemogoblins (I think they thought they were a band, too), and absconded with a Red Cross donor van as part of a scheme to slake their self-imposed “need” for human blood, I knew this had to be a milk run. Not that I wasn’t interested in getting a peek at the almost-mythical Bucket’s Door, if they even let me near it, but I could do that kind of thing on my own time, should I choose to vacation in the asshole of the world. Or in this case, Texas. But seeing as my supe had me shitlisted three ways from Fat Tuesday, it wasn’t like I had much of a choice.

Portaltown’s spontaneous emergence was neither an accident nor a miracle, more like an organic outgrowth, a tumorous little burg that bubbled up to meet the needs of a new era. The scientists came first, to investigate the phenomenon of Bucket’s Door, as the portal itself was quaintly dubbed. The first free-standing, unregulated interdimensional access point, result of a lost prototype rediscovered and subsequently entered by a renegade quantum physicist and paranormal private dick name of Dr. Frank Bucket, whereabouts unknown. Apparently, the good Doc passed through the portal and into the 6th dimension, and in his excitement or demise or whatever went down, left the gate open for any and all who might happen upon it. A couple of enterprising rednecks, since trampled into ignominy by the stampede of history, stumbled across it first, tried with all their might to turn it into some kind of roadside tourist trap, never mind it was miles from any highway. Suffice to say, the government got in on the operation, shut the bubbas out, bought the land out from under and militarized the whole area. An economic boon to the community either way, as local commerce became a function of serving the researchers and posted troops.

Then came the private interests, small-time operators and big biz types alike, looking to exploit the regional phenom in any way they could, establish franchises, vie for rights, squabble over resources. The major corps, Monolith and their ilk, were the most far-reaching in their concepts and strategies, hoping to plunder the uncharted realm for whatever unknown and untapped veins of commercial possibility it might yield, maybe even establish trade links with the entities on the other side.

Next to arrive were the zealots, the New Age spiritualists, the Bible-bangers, the cult-crazies, some convinced that the Door was a link to our manifest multiversal destiny, others certain that it was the entrance to Hell. Not a religious man by nature, I was kind of on the fence in respect to its true significance.

Finally, the tourists showed up; once the powers-that-be, seeing that the news was out and there would be no way to stop them, determined that the portal posed no threat to the general public and vice versa, there was little choice but to open the place to curiosity shoppers, make Bucket’s Door an adjunct of the National Parks system, and reap a little excess revenue in the bargain. For awhile, PortalTown flourished as some kind of Fed-run metaphysical Disneyland, but once the joyriders realized that there would be no guided tours into the Realms Beyond, they moved on to the next big thing and that biz dried up quick.

That left the dregs, the peddlers, pushers, pimps and prostitutes, the luckless would-be-opportunists, the sadsack drifters and career fringe-dwellers, desertheads and looney tunes, the core civilian populi of poor old PortalTown, along with a tiny core contingent of Army regs and the researchers whose project they were duty-bound to safeguard and protect.

Colonel Winifred Tempe was everything one would expect from a career military woman. No nonsense, no makeup. Friends called her Freddie, or even Fred, and no one, not even her husband, called her Winnie. I’d known her almost seven years, since we served together as advisors on a Biological Terrorism Response Committee, and I called her Colonel. I found her at her HQ, an Army mobile control unit that looked pretty much like an International Airstream trailer, situated about three hundred yards from the Bubble, the ominous geodesic structure that served as shelter and defense for the portal site.

“Mr. Ross, it’s good to see you again,” Tempe greeted me, with all the warmth she could muster for an estranged former biz associate.

“Likewise,” I replied, wincing at her kung-fu grip.

“I understand your visit is something more than a routine facilities check,” Tempe said, getting right down to biz, a trait I admired in anyone.

“That’s true, Colonel. The Department’s received word that a serious leak has occurred at Bucket’s Door.”

“I can assure you, if there had been any incidents of leakage or spillover, excepting the permissible trace amounts, not only would I know all about it, but this entire township would be under complete lockdown.”

“I’m talking about more of a security leak. No offense.”

“None taken. Yet. Please explain.”

“Now, this may or may not have anything to do with the people in your command, but I have reason to believe that certain members of the exploratory
teams, whether private, military, I don’t honestly know, have been smuggling materials back from within the 6th dimension.”

“That’s just not possible.”

“Colonel, not only is it possible, it’s happened. And our evidence suggests that these materials pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of the American people, and by extension, national security.”

“Forgive my skepticism, Ross, but what kind of evidence are we talking about?”

From an inside pocket of my government-issue trench coat, I produced a vacuum-sealed glassine vial. Inside was a small silvery droplet, very hi-viscosity, maybe a centimeter in diameter, resembling nothing so much as a blob of mercury.

“What in the world is that?”

“In this world, nothing, at least according to what the labscan can tell us. It was discovered in the apartment of a young man in Schenectady, New York. Poor guy had turned into a puddle of goo, or maybe glue. Everything below flesh level was more or less molten. There were traces of an unknown substance in the mess, the same foreign elements we detected in this globule. So, obviously, we presume a connection.”

“But what makes you think it comes from here?”

“You know a Corporal Zehta?”

“Of course. He was assigned to me until about six months ago. You’re saying…?”

“What were his specific duties?”

“Portal patrol.”

“Uh huh. So, it’s safe to say he had access.”

“Yes, he was frequently onsite. But he wasn’t cleared for crossover.”

“Any idea why he requested transfer?”

“Personal matter. He needed to be closer to home.”

“He showed no signs of illness?”

“He had a thorough examination and total deep-clean before he left the region. It’s standard.”

“Apparently, your methods aren’t quite thorough enough.”

Tempe sat back, fingers steepled beneath her chin, tried to stifle a sigh.

“I suppose you’ll want to pay a visit to the Bubble.”

Portaltown existed in a perpetual miasma of bilious orange, a pumpkin-hued fog that swirled and eddied through the streets and around the buildings that comprised the seedy hamlet. Most of the buildings looked like temporary structures, all corrugated tin and plastic, plywood and pasteboard. Considering the whole site was less than two years old, it was rundown, raggedy, suffused with rot. Colonel Tempe assured me that the haze was just atmospheric runoff from the Door, stuff that didn’t entirely dissipate within the Bubble; onsite researchers tested regional air quality on a semi-regular basis, and so far nothing notably hazardous or in excess of admissible toxicity levels had been detected. Of course, none of that accounted for the globule in my pocket.

The Bubble itself acted as a kind of filtration/purification system, as well as a protective shield, and a secured containment area. Once there, we suited up, standard full-body anti-contamination rigs, just like the ones we wore in those absurd nontox test runs all those years ago. We entered through a kind of airlock, a semicircular corridor of some amber polycarbon, had me feeling like a hamster in a Habitrail tube. The whole outfit was kind of cheesy, like the rest of PortalTown, not what I expected considering the miraculous mystery within. Still and all, my heart was doing a trip-hop beat and I was sweating in my yellow spacesuit, not quite sure if I was ready for this.

The Bubble wasn’t quite the hubbub of buzzy activity I’d anticipated, but then again, the gov had cut funding for almost all its scientific programs, and the portal project was just another victim, all but dormant until the corporations could wrest ultimate control of the operation. Dim inside, that orange haze really thick there, shrouding even the overhead flourescents. And smack in the middle of it, a shimmering, pulsating oval of iridescent orangello, like a lava lamp reflected in a funhouse mirror.   The Door itself. Maybe seven feet high by four across, in 3D measurements. Freestanding, it seemed to hover a good foot and a half above the hard rubber flooring of the Bubble, as if simply suspended in air. It had no apparent thickness, a self-contained slice of another world.

The Door was flanked on either side by a pair of space-suited guards, armed with vicious-looking, trident-tipped lightning guns, stolid and stoic as two suits of armor in a museum hallway. Tempe led me right up to it, and I could tell she was still somewhat in awe, even after all that time. She’d never been in, so she told me. That wasn’t part of her job description. And I wouldn’t be going over either, didn’t have a high enough security rating, which was alright with me. I felt too close to the damn thing already, right there at the threshhold.

“See this?” Tempe’s helmet mike squawked. With one gloved hand, she was indicating the magma-like encrustation that formed the frame around the Doorway. I nodded. Tempe picked idly at the crust, but it was gelid, irremovable. “This is the reason for all this.” She gestured at the surrounding enclosure. “Under all this glop somewhere is a Model Sporesby Doormension 6. One of the prototype series. As far as is known, this is the only one that’s ever worked. Of course, that’s the official story, so you know how far you can throw it. But once the general public got wind of this, they had to come up with something. Of course, it didn’t do much to appease the religious nuts and other seekers, thrill or elsewise. If they could have, I’m sure they’d have shut it off, packed it up and hauled it somewhere nice and secret, like one of the Nevada Black Labs.”

“How’d it get here in the first place?”

“No one knows. Some say Dr. Bucket brought it here himself. He was part of the original design team, but his contributions were mostly theoretical. So I hear. We get a lot of rumors out here, and not much else. And we’re ground zero. But, hey, I’m a dedicated employee of the US government. I’m used to sifting through the subterfuge.”

I heard every word, but I had no more to say, staring into the roiling, burbling midst of the ethereal elsewhere.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Creepy, I was thinking.”

“Funny. As children, we’re terrified of the dark. As adults, it’s the light we’re most afraid of.”

“Hey, Colonel, you’re not turning into one of those religious nuts, are you?”

She laughed, a fairly rare occurrence in my experience.

“Hardly, Damon. But even we atheists experience a capacity for wonder.”

“So, who goes in, if not the US Army?”

“Scientists, full clearance, top-level, probably Bucket’s old research cronies. Real freaks, most of them, more atrophied social habits than even I’ve developed, but then, I’ve always been a people kind of person.”

Now it was my turn to laugh.

“Any of these freaks still hanging around?”

“Dr. Stopper, freakiest freak of them all. I can drop you at his lab site on the way back to base.”

I found the Doc in his lab, a plastic quonset hut located about a half block off the main drag. Right away, I sized Stopper up to be one of those premillennial relics of science geekdom who mistook the graying ponytail backing up his pathetic combover for some kind of concession to cool.

I flashed him my credentials.

“Always pleased to make the aquaintance of a fellow Fed-schlep,” the Doc said, offering a fishily unfirm and bloodless hand. “I’m Dr. Stopper. Friends call me Rob.”

“What’s up, Doc?” I couldn’t help myself, even got a kick when he winced.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Ross?” His tone a few degrees cooler.

Never much of one for small talk, once I’m down off the barstool, I got right down to biz, producing the same plastic vial I’d shown to Tempe. “Dr., what can you tell me about this stuff?”

Stopper’s demeanor was less that of the kindly man of science than the blissed out guru dude. “My, my, my, what have we here?” he asked, with the sleepy smile of a lifetime stoner. He played it unfamiliar, like he’d never seen the stuff in his life, taking the ampule from my hand and examining it in the fluorescent lablight. Yet I couldn’t help notice, as he uncapped the container without a care, and let the mercurial contents slide out, that he seemed utterly at ease with what I’d brought him.   Downright paternal, I’d say, taking the little globule gingerly onto the end of one forefinger and seeming to caress its silvery surface with the other.

“You ever seen this before?”

“Oh, yes. It’s in quite plentiful supply, over in the Sixth.”

Now I was getting somewhere.
“What can you tell me about it?”

“Some kind of fungus, I believe. It grows everywhere in there, like moss on trees.” He peered closely at its shimmery surface. “It’s really quite beautiful, isn’t it?”
I could only shrug. “I suppose. You’ve tested it, I assume?”

“Oh, goodness, no. So far, our sample research has been entirely limited to inorganic and inert materials. Rocks, fossils, crust. By strict regulation, and in light of our uneasy truce with the less-than-approachable denizens of 6D, we are strictly forbidden to bring back organic matter in any form. Even the simplest plant life, which this most likely is, cannot be removed, at least not at this point. And while I would love to have access, for purposes of pure research, I suppose it is best at this juncture to maintain a cautious policy. After all, nobody knows, or at least didn’t until now, how this substance would react to oxegynation, whether it would expire, implode, or worse.”

“Yet you took it out of the container without a second thought.”

“Oh, well, I just assumed…after all,” he indicated the vial, “it’s not as if this little baby were airtight, right?”

“True enough.”

“So, how did you happen to come by this?”

“The details are all on this jump drive, along with the results of Department testing.”

“Oh, may I?”

“I assumed you would want to.”

“Thank you. And the sample? May I hang onto it for further study?”

“Of course.”

He visibly shivered with excitement. “Ooh. You have no idea how long I’ve waited for this moment.”

“No,” I offered, “I guess I don’t.”
After I left Stopper, I checked into my motel, the Dementia Inn, a dirt-lot cul-de-sac formation of Bucky Fuller geosheds styled as miniaturized replicas of the Bubble. Once ensconced, I raided the minibar, downed half a liter of O’Buggles whiskey and snacked at the satellite feed trough before drifting into a stuporous approximation of sleep.

I was cattle-prodded out of the Land of Nod by the digital chirp of my lobephone, a viciously overamped interior noise that rolled over my brainscape like a thresher come to harvest all the dead cells. Tempe on the twine, barking incoherent, only in replay did I understand it was one of those “Get yer ass over here NOW!” kind of messages. Forced myself not to pass back out, dragged my liquor-drenched corpus to the bathroom and ran a lot of water through it, laughing bitterly at the tiny dying voice inside begging me for the umpzillionth time to please never do this again. Only when I was outside my cabin, hearing the snick of the lock and just knowing my passcard was still in there somewhere, did I realize that I had no idea where I was supposed to be going. No matter, Tempe knew me and my habits well enough, she Jeeped up practically rolling over my feet before I could even choose a direction.

The apartment building was nothing more than a block of stacked shipping crates, fully mobile temporary housing units, second hand scrape motored down from some abandoned research outpost in the faraway Arctic. Tempe led me up a flight of plastic stairs to a third-level unit, a couple of post-adolescent MPs hovering in the doorway looking pale and sick. A strong odor emanated from the unit, human funk distilled with something darker, heavier, a roasted carbon stink. Inside, on the floor, a creature that might have been a girl once, alive, if that was the word for it, barely audible but utterly pitiful noises coming from somewhere deep within her. Her head, losing shape, had sunken down into her shoulders, and below where the neck used to be, she was a fleshy blob, limbs flailing uselessly, connected only by the encasing skin. She’d evacuated from every possible orifice, everything from the evening’s dinner back to pabulum and primordial soup. A tub of goo, no way to tell what she used to look like, except maybe from photos. Nearby, on the short-nap carpet, was a mucky greenish-brown stain, mottled with tissuey chunks in haphazard array around a small pile of ashes.

“What have we got?” Tempe asked one of the MPs, who looked ready to do a bout of evacuating himself.

“Name’s Annabel Fritz,” he responded, trying not to look, unable not to. “One of Kitty’s girls. Near as I can gather, those firepit remnants, that’s the boyfriend.   Doorman at the Rupture, weekends only. Didn’t do much else, not on the books anyhow. Jon something.”

“Trefoil. Jon Trefoil.” It was Tempe’s biz, knowing those things.

The girl made more horrible sounds, tears streaming from sunken sockets. Annabel was definitely on the fritz.

“Where’re the fucking medics?” Tempe wanted to know, visibly shaken. And it took a lot to faze the Colonel.

“On their way,” the kid corporal responded.

“When? Sometime this weekend? Jesus, doesn’t this rate emergency response time?”

“Understaffed, I think. They don’t have enough medtechs for a round-the-clock detail.”

“Goddamnit, what kind of shitass assignment is this?” Tempe almost shrieked. About to lose it.

“I was just wondering the same thing myself,” I offered, none-too-helpfully from the look she gave me.

“Well, let’s try to make her comfortable at least,” Tempe’s brilliant suggestion.

I took another long look at the fleshy mass quivering and sobbing on the trailer floor.

“How do you propose we do that?”

We did what we could, and for what it was worth she was still showing vitals when the meds finally came and took her away, though the awful noises had long since ceased, Miss Fritz fully lapsed into staring, slack-mouthed catatonia. Almost comical, watching the medtechs puzzle over where to pick her up, how to load her boneless body on the gurney and keep her there. Almost. Once they were gone, I gave Tempe the biz.

“Colonel, other than moral support, why’d you call me out here?”

“What else, Ross? C’mon, you must have noticed the resemblance between her condition and my noncom in Schenectady.”

“But that guy pretty much melted.”

“Well, Fritz wasn’t exactly rigor mortifying, was she?”

“But…she was alive.”

“Yeah, I don’t know why either. Must affect people differently.”

“What must?”

“Your contaminant.”

“How do you…?”
Tempe bent over the plastic crate that doubled as the coffee table, scooped something up with one short, manicured nail, showed it to me. Metallic and glittering, the same alien substance I’d shown her that morning. I nodded grimly, not half as surprised as I wished to be. I glanced down at the table, saw a small plastic pouch bulging with a large glop of the stuff, and beside it, something strange, a doubled tube of burnished steel, machine tooled, maybe five inches long, with a pistol grip and trigger device.

“That’s the smallest damn shotgun I ever saw.”

I reached for it, but Tempe snatched it first. Turned it over and over, checked the action, peered the wrong way down the barrels.

“Holy shit,” she muttered, then pointed the thing at me.

I took a look, first thinking that someone had done a bad soldering job, realizing slowly that the little globs were residue of the same strange substance. Tempe cracked the little blaster open, checked the chamber, we could see more of the stuff packed in there, clinging to the sides. It hit me where I’d first seen one of these rigs.

“The NeuroSatanist,” I muttered out loud

“Excuse me?” Tempe’s brows shot up in wonder.

“In college, I had this roommate, one semester, going for his PhD. In neuroscience. Got himself hooked on megamphetamines, part of his study routine. Lost all interest in his field, got all up into numerology, the cabala, Crowley. Just before finals, he disappeared. Dropped out, last I heard, to become a full-time student of Satan. Hence the nickname. Anyway, he used to have a shooter like this, used it to put away his study aids. Little too extreme for my likes.” I got a thought, shuddered. “You don’t think…?”

“I’m the wrong person to ask, Ross.” True enough. Belief in a Supreme Being aside, the Colonel was straight as a Southern Baptist.

“Well, who do I talk to?”

Tempe handed me the rig, let me pocket the pouch, too.

“In a case like this, it’s probably best to start at the bottom.”

The sky was an unnatural shade of lavender, with creeping tendrils of pink and rose, as I tooled Tempe’s Jeep out to the South ass-end of PortalTown, where I found the lone freestanding structure, a sloppily spruced up and elaborately neoned old farmhouse that served the community under the banner of the Sexy Terrestrial. The proprietress was within, counting the earnings of the evaporating evening in a dingy lamplit office with all the gaudy Victorian trimmings. Even the tattered glamor of her ratty maroon dress was a nineteenth-century knockoff, retrophiliac kitsch meant to lend her the air of an un-Reconstructed Southern dame. Engrossed in her bookkeeping, she didn’t seem to hear me come in.

“Kitty Darling?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer, just to get things moving.

“Sorry,” she drawled after giving me the barest glance. “All my girls are tucked in for the night, else otherwise occupied. If you was a regular, I might be able to…squeeze ya in.” An indifferent innuendo, a concession to her career choice.

“Thanks, but I’m here on a different kind of biz.”

She paused in her accounting and looked at me for real.

“Ya ain’t the law are ya? Cause I’m all flush, where ya’ll’re concerned. I’m very scrupulous in that respect. Course, ya can always take some out on credit.”

“Maybe later. Anyway, I’m not the Man. I’m with the federal government.”

She dropped her pencil on the desk, pouty and put out. “God, not another audit.”

“Nothing so mundane.” I showed her my ID.

“Health Department? Look , mister, all my gals are tested regular, for every known transmittable offense.”

“I’m not here to investigate your establishment, Miss Darling.”

“Then what? Please, I’m very busy. And goddamn tired.”

I produced the shooter, the pouch, dropped them on top of her receipts and credit slips. “Know what these are?”

Kitty nodded, solemn for a whole second, then gleaming. “Sorry again, but I never partake past the witching hour.”

“You employ a woman named Annabel Fritz?”

“You mean Lady Spite? Uh huh. But again yer outta luck. She’s got the night off.”

“The first of many.”

That got her interest. Kitty decided to play along. “Whattaya mean?”

“Annabel, if she’s still alive, is currently residing at whatever passes for a hospital in these godforsaken parts.”
Kitty was quiet for awhile, then sighed heavily. “Shit! That stupid little bitch! She better hope she ain’t alive. Like I kin well afford to lose another worker now.” After a short, epithets-under-the-breath reverie, Kitty noticed me again.

“So, what’s all this gotta do with me?”

“I’m just curious why one of your employees is laid up with a spinal condition that’s turned her into a glob of Concord grape jelly.”

“Oh Lord. Okay, sure, so I knew she was usin, most of my girls are on somethin. But she swore up and down that she had it under control.”

“So, you’re telling me that this is some kind of drug?”

“What? TRIX? Of course. You don’t know?”

“No, ma’am. But I’m learning fast.   You say it’s called TRIX? Is that just a street name? Does it stand for something?”


“What’s it do? I mean, besides deboning off-duty prostitutes?”

“What ya think? Gets em high. High as freakin Chinese box kites. Suborbital.”

“You ever use it?”

“Mr. Ross, at my age, I pretty much done all the self-medicatin I’m gonna. Not   really up for any more experimental research. Gimme a nice bottle of bourbon, leave the science projects to the high school kids. Know what I’m sayin?”

I had to admit I did.

“This stuff, TRIX, where’s it come from? Is there a lab, or…?”

“Mister, you got more trouble puttin two an’ two together than I do balancin’ these here books. What is the sole economic and cultural hub around which this sordid ciudad revolves?”

“You mean the portal?”

“Give that gentleman the key to the city. He’s really catchin’ on.”

“So, what, it’s synthesized from materials they’re mining over there or…”

“Do I look like a goddamn scientist, Mister? All I know is since that shit come over to this side, this whole place been gripped in a fever. Even my regular customer base been dryin up, folks vanishin or succumbin or whatnot. High weirdness everwhere, and spooky spook types pokin around, keepin tabs on everone.”

“Spooks? You mean DeepFed?”

“Maybe. But I don’t get the feelin they’re investigatin much. More like, lookin for a marketin angle. More than I know, really, and probably more’n I should say. Anyhow, they don’t spend no money in here. Now, if you’ve got all ya need, I really do need to finish up here.”

“Yes, I’ve…Thank you, Miz Darling. You’ve been a big help.”

“Uh huh. Sure. Come up an see me sometime an all that. Bye now.”


I Jeeped it back into PortalTown, full-blown megaton Texas sunrise turning the horizon into a shimmery mirage. In my exhaustion and at a distance, it looked like the whole world was flooded with TRIX. Dropped off the vehicle at Tempe’s HQ, and hoofed it home to the Dementia. Raised my supe on the twine, figuring it was time to call in some backup, this all suddenly beyond my area of expertise. I gave her the lowdown, and I’ll be damned if Diz didn’t sound downright gleeful. She was even being nice to me, in her way.

I finished bringing her up to speed, and she gave a low whistle. “Whoo, this is big.”

“Yeah. Too big for me. Look, boss, we need DeepFed, the DEA, ATF, somebody with a little more jurisdiction.”

She was having none of it, but she was still playing it upbeat. “No can do, Ross. This is our baby and you’re our boy. Budget review’s coming up in a month, and we need something to show them. Besides, since when does an unregulated substance not warrant a serious public health threat?”

“But, boss, I don’t know where to begin with this, much less end it.”

“You’ve come this far, Ross. And frankly, I didn’t expect it.”

“So, why’d you send me?”

“It was a low-priority gig from the outset. Nobody had any idea it would blow wide open, least of all me.”

“Listen, just get me one somebody, an experienced sniffer, a fucking K9.”

“Sorry, Ross, this is our baby. And you’re our boy.”

And that was that. I could expect no help on this one. Cut off, cold-shouldered, left to my own outmoded devices in the toilet of the world. At least there was Tempe. She could help. Between the two of us, we could unearth enough rot to force a major investigation, have PortalTown requarantined until the TRIX mystery could be satisfactorily resolved. Or so I hoped.

“I’m telling you, Ross, there’s nothing I can do. The higher-ups have been steadily eroding my powers of persuasion since the day they stuck my ass out here. I’m just a puppet authority, a show dog. We’re only here to see that everything functions smoothly until the privatization.”

“Privatization? You’re telling me the gov’s going to auction off PortalTown to the highest bidder?”

“The deal’s pretty much done, what I hear. The rest is just details. I’d say I’ve got about a month left before my transfer, and truth to tell, I’m simply counting the days.”

“But Colonel, as long as you’re still in PortalTown, you’re the law in these parts. Isn’t it your duty to see to it that the flow of TRIX is stopped at the source?”

“I used to be an idealist, Ross. I used to be a true believer. There was still a little bit left of it when you met me. But times have changed. I’ve seen the light, what little there is of it. The gov’s on the way out, not just of PortalTown. It’s a global phenom. Or hadn’t you noticed? The real power in the new millennium belongs to the corporations. I’m a figurehead. Not much more.”

“You sound pretty resigned.”

“Not much choice. If I fight it too much, make too many waves, they’ll just get rid of me. I’ve got twenty-two years in the service, Ross. I wouldn’t know what else to do. The way I’ve got it figured, better they should strip my power little by little than have it all yanked away at once.”

“I never thought I’d be feeling nostalgic for the armed forces.”

“Me neither. Not while I was still in em. Try not to hold it against me, huh?”

“I understand your position. What I don’t get is mine. Why am I here then? If the gov’s throwing in the towel on PortalTown, why bother?”

“Who knows? Maybe they’ve got you in here under everybody else’s noses.   A last gasp attempt to stanch the flow before they lose all control.”

“If that was the case, you’d think they’d want an undercover.”

“I don’t have any answers for you, Damon. I wish I did. But I’m just a functionary, sad to say. I just want to finish up my tour of duty and get the hell out of Dodge.”

“C’mon, Colonel. You still know where the strings are. Pull em. Get me one guy, military intelligence, someone who can help me on this.”

“You don’t think MI knows about this? And if they don’t and find out, what? They’ll just be looking for a way to exploit it, use it against the enemy of the week. TRIX warfare. Imagine the possibilities.”

“At least then it’d be outta my hands. Please, you must know somebody. The last honest man?”

“You mean besides you? I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks, Colonel.”

I’d be paying a visit to Dr. Stopper soon enough, but since he likely wasn’t going anywhere in too much of a hurry, I had a hunch I wanted to follow up first. Made sure I found out from Tempe who was black market savvy around here, the number one look-the-other-way vice peddler and procurer of illicit goods. The Colonel, wise as she was to the ways of her world, put me on to Murch.


.           Madman Murch’s Discount Outpost looked kind of like a firecracker stand the size of a semi trailer, garishly painted and cluttered outside and in with every conceivable piece of useless doodaddery and unwanted Americana I’d ever tried to get rid of, forget about, or otherwise ignore. I could tell by the setup that Murch was too cheap to hire help, and thus had to be the skinny, cancerous, gray-faced bonerack loitering under the awning and choking on his own sidestream smoke. I braced him straight away.

“Damon Ross. DPH.”

“Public Health? Aw, cheezits, whattaya guys want? I already had the CDC, the FDA, the FBI, the IRS, and the BPA on my ass, and that’s just in this fiscal quarter. I’m tellin ya like I tole alla them, I’m runnin a legit distribution service here. Strictly on the up and up.” I could tell his Brooklynese was a put on, some kind of affected dialect meant to give him character, make him sound tough and worldly.

I came on a little heavy, badcop without a partner. I figured this was one guy who might still be intimidated by an agent of the American government, even one as totem pole lowly as me. “What do you distribute? Exactly?”

“Y’know. Goods. And services. Fully approved. My paperwork’s in order. My license is good. What else?” I could see he was flustered, just keeping up appearances. Tourist season was over, after all, he couldn’t cover a bribe, much less any fines.

“It’s come down the twine that stuff’s been passing through the portal. Non-reg stuff.” Still I had to wonder how he stayed operational. And why.

“I don’t know nothin about that. Not my biz. Sides, it ain’t possible, what I know. Or ain’t ya seen the kinda security they got at the Door?” I wasn’t sure if he just wanted me to think he was a big man in P-Town, or if maybe he really was.

“Yeah, well, my sources, highly informed, tell me more than one someone is on the take out here, and in my experience, it doesn’t cost alot to buy off non-coms and duty boys. A few bucks, a good buzz, a free hummer, they’re more than willing to look the other way.”

“All well and good and true, but ya can’t bribe sensors, scanners, elemental detection systems. These are sensitive instruments.” I’m not sure either one of us really knew where this confab was going.

“Hey, machines go off line, data gets erased, lead-lined containment units get flagged through without so much as a cursory check. Systems are made to be circumvented. Designed as such. Always a back door, a breach.”

“Yer talkin bout corruption from the top alla way down. So who’s to say this ain’t how it’s sposed to be, huh?”

He had a point there, but it wouldn’t do me any good to let him think so. “I got a job to do, Murch. Anything coming through the gate unchecked, unregged, is a threat to global security, the public welfare, and the health of the human populace.”

“Well, la-de-da and hi-de-ho, Mr. Shinin’ Armor. Everything made by God or man under the sun is a potential danger to our well-being, or hadn’t ya noticed?”

I’d somehow slipped from my ready-to-rumble persona into the self-righteous tones of a spokespigeon for true believers everywhere. Which I most definitely am not.

Still, I couldn’t help myself.

“True enough. And we’ve got our fists plenty full without adding any extra-D flotsam into the mix.”

“It’s the natural course of things, G-man. What difference whether it’s some ET virus brought back from Venus, or some prehistoric bacteria growing in an African cave, or some undifferentiated lifeform creepin over from 6D?”

“None, maybe,” I admitted. Murch was making more sense than I wanted him to, and whether it was the early drinks or the smog from 6D, I was getting a headache.

“But I’d rather err on the side of safety.”

Murch laughed so hard he got to hacking, threatening to give with a lung. “Get with it, Ross. There ain’t no more safe side.” When he regained his composure, and saw he still wasn’t rid of me, he decided to throw me a bone. “Only one guy I know could get in ‘n’ outta 6D without gettin noticed.”

“Who’s that?”

“Name’s Beauchamp. Bodacious Beauchamp. Crazy Creole mothafucka, fringe-drift, no legit line, hangs out at a bar called the Rupture, when he’s around.”

Murch turned away from me, pretending to arrange his junk, and I figured that

was all I was going to get from him, this round.

“Thanks for the tip.”

“No prob, Healthnut. That one’s onna house.”

Maybe Murch was right. Maybe the lines were being erased, the walls coming down. No good, no bad, just biz, in its many sticky forms. Whatever the deal, he was elbows deep in it, him and maybe every other two-bit hustler and four-star general in Portaltown, not counting the Colonel, of course. Could be the corrosion ran so cell-deep here that my job was just another officially sanctioned lost cause, and me just another PR pawn sent in to keep up appearances.

Between that thought and Beauchamp, I had one more excuse to get good and ripped.

After making the local rounds, nosing here and prying there and turning up exactly nothing, I found myself developing a powerful thirst. I stopped in for the liquid lunch special at an alcoholic black hole called the Rupture, one of those dustlit pits of entropy and despair where time seems to stand still until all of a sudden someone yells last call out of the clear blue haze. Somewhere before that awful moment but well after the end of happy hour, I managed to make a drinking buddy. A displaced crazy Creole of indeterminate age whose short-syllable speech pattern belied his infinite wisdom. He was a lanky, well-toned giant of a man, swarthy-complected, maybe a quarter Black, I couldn’t be sure, some kind of voodoo swamp doctor from the bayous around New Orleans, name of Bodacious Beauchamp. He was as much a local legend in PortalTown as he must have been in Louisiana, though at the time I thought he was just another booze-sodden shitspieler. After all, the gossip was that old Bodacious was a veteran traveller between this and the neighboring dimension, and not as a member of the official team. In fact, if the regional wingnuts were to be believed, rumor had it that Mr. Beauchamp had been spotted by members of the sanctioned exploratory units on more than a few occasions, wandering casual as could be around 6D without so much as a drymask.   Despite my skepticism, and fueled by a day-wasting gin bender, I figured I’d play along with the local mythos, and do some pretend private dicking to make up for all the lost time.

“So, Beauchamp, you’ve been over there, right?” I asked thickly, around burps and hiccups.

“Uh huh.”

“What are they like?”

“Who?” Playing dumb, apparently a PortalTown custom.

“The…y’know…the 6D’s…” Forging ahead, against my better judgement, long gone anyway.

“The sixties? I don’t remember.” A sense of humor, too, this one.

I was undauntable, a common function of my drunkenness. “No, y’know, our counterparts. On the other side.”

“Oh, they’re not like us,” and now I couldn’t tell, was he still having me on, or was he giving with the honesty? “But not so diff’ent.”

“Well, that’s plenty vague,” I slurred around a mouthful of sloe.

“Dey bigger. No, deeper. Longer. Ex-spanded.”

Whatever. “They got arms, legs, eyes? All that?”

“Could be. But not like we know dem.”
“Ah.” Mysterious son-of-one.

“You got to see to know. Some tings you can no explain.” That much I could almost fathom. Almost.

“I’m not so sure I wanna know.”

“But you not sure you don’t?”

“Right now, I’m not sure of much.”

“You wise man, Damon Ross. Wiser than most, leas roun here.”

“Why you say that, Beauchamp?”

“You got second thought, tamperin with cosmos forces. These others, they got no idea what they messin with, but they go right on messin.”

“What do you know about it?”

“I know they be bringin tings back wit em, back from de otha side. Tings dey ought not to touch, if they knows what’s good fo de Universe. But dey don. Dey don know at all.”

“What kind of things?”

“I tink you know, Damon Ross. I tink you know damn good an well.”

Maybe I did. But it was getting hard to think by that point. I almost showed him the stuff, my sample, probably would have, fuck the regulations, but I remembered I’d left it with Doc Stopper. I got an eerie vibe from Beauchamp, not bad, not evil, just a sense that he knew way more than he let on, maybe more than anyone in PortalTown. Then again, I was skunked, utterly.

It’s pretty much cutting-room floor from that point.


exhausted all of my ready options, and I’d waited long enough. It was time to revisit the freaktent.   Time for another chat with Dr. Stopper.

I stormed into Stopper’s office, a dervish without an invite.

“Ah, the Sanitary Crusader. I’ve been expecting you.”

“TRIX, you sonofabitch. Tell me.”

He still wanted to play.

“It’s some kind of drug, right?”

“More or less.”

“Either it is or it isn’t, Doc.”

“Then sure, yes, for simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’s a drug.” Stopper was amused, smug and certain, having long-decided he was smarter than me, and just about everybody else for that matter.

“So, what’s it do?” If he thought I was stupid, I wasn’t going a long way to disprove it. “Aside from the obvious.”

The Doc leaned back in his swivel chair with the smug look of a man totally in his element. His voice took on the impersonal, authoritative tone of the seasoned lecturer.   “It would seem, for all intents and purposes, that the substance Trimonium Xenide, known on the mean streets of Portaltown as TRIX, has effects well beyond the simply euphoric and hallucinogenic.”

“So I’ve noticed. What I want to know is how. Why.”

“Well, from what I’ve been able to observe, the drug’s core properties are physiological in nature. Which is to say, it affects the user most deeply at the moleculocellular level.”

“You mean…”

“TRIX is only tertiarily mood-altering, or mind-expanding. More than an organic compound, it is, I believe, a living thing, whose purpose it is to bind with the user, to merge and intermingle at the very core, and restructure, integrating and assimilating itself until it is one with the host body.”

“Host? You’re saying this stuff, this thing, is some kind of parasite?”

Stopper sighed, growing weary with the inarticulate lug whom duty compelled him to indulge. “It is much more than that. You see, when TRIX is used casually, ingested in small doses, the effects I’ve mentioned are temporary, even somewhat benign. But with prolonged use, or in a single massive dosage, the bond between substance and user becomes more affixed, the influence of TRIX more profound in its manifestation, until a kind of fusion, perhaps irreversible, takes place. Thus, where once there were two distinct beings, there exists only one, and in a form quite different from whatever either existed as before. Thus, TRIX addiction becomes, in effect, a kind of intradimensional mating ritual. If you will.”

“So, you’re saying these things, they’re trying to…take us over…to infiltrate…”

Stopper raised a condescending hand to silence me. “It would be pure hubris, especially for a scientist, to speculate on the intentions of a heretofore unknown lifeform. For all the little we know, this could merely be their way of learning more about us, if we presume to ascribe intelligence to these beings. Perhaps the biological metamorphosis is purely accidental, a side effect.”

“Some side effect.”

“Or perhaps, as you suggest, our otherworldly counterparts are attempting, with mitigated success, to assimilate themselves into our culture. Though we have no reason as yet to suspect that their intentions are hostile.”

“Not hostile? I saw a kid turned to jelly on this stuff.”

“No substance is meant to suit everyone. He had the wrong metabolism, maybe. Or just a weak constitution.” He spat out the word weak like it tasted foul in his mouth.

I’ve seen many other subjects who’ve had little or no problem adjusting…”

“Subjects? What, you’re testing this stuff on people?”

“All in the name of research and recreation.” I guessed by the way he said it that I was meant to laugh at his joke. I didn’t. “It isn’t difficult, in a place as isolate, indeed, desolate, as PortalTown, to find a suitable number of denizends willing to play labrat in return for a promising rush.” He paused, seemingly deep in thought and pleased with it. “I could show you right where it comes from, you know. If you’d like to see it.”

I didn’t get him at first, but it dawned soon enough. “You mean…”

“Sure, I’m project coordinator. I could take you in there. Such wonders to behold. And a motherlode of this.” He caressed the globule yet again. I pondered the unexpected possibility, but my heart just wasn’t in it. And something about t he gleam in his eye told me Stopper wasn’t being friendly, the offer a screen for some sinister intent. I imagined being led into that smoldering hole, abandoned there, a hapless drifter on the wrong side of PortalTown.

“Uh, no thanks. I’m not much for adventure.”

“Suit yourself. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, though. You’ll be kicking yourself later.”

“Okay by me. As long as I have the legs to do it with.”

The god of science laughed heartily at this mere mortal. I did what I could to get the conversation back on track.

“So, Dr., you’ve seen what this stuff does to people?”

The question seemed to excite him.

“Oooh, yes.”

“And you keep giving it to people?”

Another stupid question, where he sat. “I ran out of animals.”

“They’re turning humans into mutants. And you’re helping them.”

“Perhaps, but to what end? Couldn’t it just as well be that they are preparing us for further exploration of their realm? Could these genetically altered few be the metanauts who will boldly traverse the limitless expansions of the neighboring dimension? And even more optimistically, might this even be the much-anticipated next phase of our long-stagnant evolution?” It was almost refreshing to meet a man whose apparent contempt for humanity exceeded even my own. Almost.

“I don’t think most folks are ready to make that leap. A lot of us still haven’t adjusted to our climb down outta the trees. Me, I’m pretty content with this post-simian stage I’m in. I’m not so eager to pass through genetic puberty just yet. And while it’s all well and good to speculate, from a scientific viewpoint, as to what TRIX is or does or wants to do, I’m going to see to it that this thing or stuff or whatever is classified as a dangerous substance until we have a whole helluva lot more data.”

“Mr. Ross, in all due respect to you and your department, which I admit isn’t much, I think you are making…”

“A giant fox pass? Maybe so, but I’ll sleep a little better knowing I did everything I could to keep this stuff off the global market.”

“The only hope you have of that, I’m afraid, would be to close that portal forever.”

“Thanks for the suggestion, Doc.” Stopper knew alot, but he didn’t know enough to be sorry he’d said it.
Hearing my supervisor, Diz, chew me out over the cyberoptic was almost enough to make me homesick. Almost.

“Close the Door? Are you out of your mind, Ross? You’re a fucking civil servant! Just like me. We don’t have that kind of pull. Not anymore.”

“Well, what would you suggest, boss?”

“Finish the investigation. File a report. Go back to chasing down vanloads of plasma junkies. Don’t go pissing into windmills. You’re not there to stop traffic. You’re an observer. Realize, Ross, there’s no room in the current system for crusaders.”

“How about kamikazes?” I didn’t know what I meant, but it sure sounded good.

“What are you–!?”

I hung up on her. I saw how it was, how it would ever be, and maybe always had been. The whole world arrayed against me, the world I was trying to save. A world not worth the effort. But I’d save it anyway, just for the hell of it, system or no. Like, I say, systems, they’re made to be circumvented.

Back at the Rupture, working my way through a litter of Pit Bulls on Crack, trying to get the right head on for the job at hand.

“How do I do it, Beauchamp?” I queried my taciturn Cajun friend. “How do I close the Door?”

“No way, not once it’s been opened.”

Was there nowhere I could turn for a single word of encouragement? “Ah, not you, too.”
“But you could seal it,” Bodacious offered after a long silence, partially restoring my faith in human nature.   “For awhile,” he added, by way of a reality check.

“How long? How?” My desperation showing, me not giving a rat’s balls who knew it.

“Who knows?” Beauchamp shrugged, taking a long pull off his Spatterbrau.   Just like that.

That was it. All the incentive I needed. Beauchamp vanished soon after giving me the advice, smart fucker. He had no stake in the operation, no real ties to PortalTown, probably just as soon see it all go, up or down. After all, he didn’t need any Door to cross over, not to 6 or any other dimension. He could go any time he wanted, and anywhere. Full clearance, valid passport, good old black magic. More power to him. He only hung around Portaltown to see how wrong we could get it. Just keeping an eye on things already well out of hand. Not that he wasn’t concerned. After all, he had friends over there.

I went to Tempe first. I hadn’t spoken to her since I’d tried to enlist her aid. Two days of loitering and not a word, I had to assume her efforts had been unsuccessful. If she’d even had the balls to try.

She wasn’t at the HQ, and the woman at her desk was somebody I didn’t recognize, a civilian from the look of her, and the demeanor.

“Can I help you?” asked around a fake customer service rep smile.

“I’m looking for Colonel Tempe.”

“She’s been…ah…reassigned.”

“What? When?”

“Late last night. It was very sudden. I don’t have all the details. Apparently, she was needed elsewhere.”

“Did she leave any word? A forwarding APO?”

She pretended to check the desktop. “No, nothing. It was all very…hush-hush.”

Still giving with that phony paste-on grin.

“So, who are you?”

She extended a hand, like I was supposed to cross the room just to shake it.

“Marta Loft. Marketing Strategist. Monolith InterSystems.”

The times, they had a-changed.

Walking through town, it became apparent, exactly what had been bugging me all day. No soldiers anywhere, not a one. Like they’d all pulled out, sometime while I slept. I couldn’t believe Tempe would just split without leaving some word for me, even just so long and good luck. And what military emergency could be so big that it wasn’t all over the twine? PortalTown seemed busier than ever, alive again, full of renewed purpose. Fresh faces everywhere, most of them grinning like Miz Loft, the rest giving me hard stares from behind impenetrable shades. The place was a buzzing hive, back on the map, and I was the sole outsider, more alone than I’d ever been.

Back at the motel, I checked my slaptop for e-missives, hoping for a message from the Colonel, but all I had was a hot note from Diz, ordering me back to DC, mission aborted. I wouldn’t have minded, right then, but it was already too late for that.

I figured I’d reconnoiter at the Rupture, try to catch some news of the shift from the local gossip twine, but somebody had other ideas. I hadn’t even cracked the door on my way out when it blew back at me, knocking me headlong to the foot of the bed. Three suits came through it, identities obscured beneath latex masks, each a hideous caricature of an American president. Shamefully, I could only name two of them, Deerborne and Reagan. The third might have been Clinton, or Carter. I only know it wasn’t Kennedy.

I tried to sit up, got a wingtip in the ribs for my trouble. The Deerborne mask kneeled down on my chest, just enough weight that I couldn’t get up or quite catch my breath. He stuck something in my face that I recognized as a White Noise gun.
Reagan, standing up, spoke to me, his voice altered electronically, but couched in some kind of put-on tough-guy dialect. “Word around town, Mr. Ross, is you been stickin your nose where it don’t belong. Askin lots of questions, makin all kinda threats. Well, Snoop Dogg, we’re here to tell ya, that kinda behavior ain’t welcome aroun PortalTown no more. Things have changed, in case ya ain’t noticed. You an yours ain’t got no more friends aroun here. No one’s gonna talk to ya, an no one’s gonna help ya, so ya might as well move on.”

“Who the hell are you people?” I wheezed.

“We represent certain innerested parties, who have a bizness type stake in this community, an who pay us a regular salary to insure that those innerests remains protected.”

“What are you, the Mafia?”

Reagan laughed, and the others joined in, a cacophony of staticky cackling.

“Not hardly,” he said, once the fun was over.

He opened his suit jacket, showed me his badge. SecuriTech. Not Mafia, Monolith. My worst fears confirmed. The gov was out, the company was in. PortalTown was now an official subsidiary of the largest, most powerful multinational on the planet. I was very far from home.

“Do we have an understanding, Mr. Ross?”

I nodded dumbly. What else could I do?

“Fair enough. Okay, Tomy, zap the bastard.”

“What? No, I–!” Whatever I might have said, it didn’t much matter.

I woke up in the same spot, as lost in the world as a defrosted Neandertal, unsure if I’d lost an hour, a day, a week, a year. Thirty-six hours, as it turned out, a day and a half on the Plane. Once I regathered my remaining wits, I was determined not to lose any more.

The twine chirped. The desk clerk calling. Something had come for me. My walking papers, more than likely. I jogged over and got it, not the slim official envelope I’d been expecting, but a cardboard box, about the right size to carry my head. Maybe Diz expected me to send it to her.

I went back to my room and tore it open, spilling foam popcorn and tearing away bubble wrap until the contents lay revealed. An oblong black object, hard plastic, slightly larger than my slaptop, covered with meters and dials and toggles. I had no idea what to make of it. As I lifted it from the box, a recorded message began to emanate from the object. Tempe’s voice, no question about it. I turned the thing over in my hands until I spotted the tiny viewscreen, a toonish pixellated rendering of the Colonel’s face delivering her secret missive.

“Hi, Damon. Sorry I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. Everything came down kind of suddenly, part of the plan, I think. Anyway, from what I’ve been able to gather here in Washington, you’re really on your own out there. That is, if you haven’t done the smart thing and bailed on your own account. Public Health’s prepared to disavow any knowledge of your actions, they’ve backdated your walking papers, persona non grata, tabula rasa, the whole nine. So, you see how it is. And seeing as the Door’s private property now, even a full-blown TRIX epidemic won’t be enough to secure a shutdown order. But I don’t want you thinking that the whole world’s sold you out, pal. Use it as another excuse to drink yourself into a self-pitying stupor. Or that my lack of nerve before my untimely departure presupposes an empty conscience. So, I did a little research and reconnaissance of my own, and managed to secure you something that just might help. What you have in your hands is a preregulated PalmHandy Duty Nuke, some kind of wicked instrument for close quarters scorched earth combat. Apparently, these babies are what the BPA used to decommission the Sporesby’s the first time around, and my source in the Bureau swears they worked like a charm. It comes with prerecorded instructions, which you can access as soon as this message self-deletes. So, get to the task at hand, young man. And Godspeed. For what it’s worth. See ya somewhere, sometime. I hope.”

So the good Colonel had come through for me after all, and beautifully. On further investigation, and with the help of the talkbox guide, I discovered the folding stock, the telescoping blast tube, and the reserve of plutonium bolts. Kind of an atomic grenade launcher, if I followed correctly. Granted, the thing was jerrybunk, premillenial field artillery, a real piece of scrap. Strictly last year. But so long as the fusion coils were good, and the plutonium bolt didn’t misfire, I was good to go. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time or space enough for a field test.

I needed a few more things, and Murch was the man to see, the guy who could get things, and for the right price he would, no questions. Never mind that his livelihood was about to go up in a mushroom bloom. And maybe him along with it.

My expense account had been cancelled, so I traded my slaptop for a pen-sized lightning gun, figuring I’d want a short-range hand weapon in case I caught trouble.

“What, don’t tell me, ya found roaches swimmin in the deepfat over at the Burgatory? Gonna bust in there like the Orkin man, give em the bugzap?”

I wanted to smack him, just on general principles, but I decided to save my anger. I was going to need it. Anyway, he was more than happy to get the gov-ish PC, no use to me anymore, and he even threw in the canned goods and camping supplies, just to show he was a magnanimous fellow.   I played it grateful, left the poor schmuck believing I was just another satisfied sucker.

I found a secluded spot on a ridge, next to an old abandoned weather station, packed in some breakfast, and camped out overnight, beneath the corporate constellations, a half-mile from my getaway hopcycle. Gave myself a pre-dawn wake-up call and waited for the rosy pinkish glorious glow to overtake the aqueous blue in the sky before I settled down sniper-style to take my one and only possible shot. Sighted on the opaque semisphere of the Bubble, indifferent to the scuttle of human activity within the projected blast perimeter.

“Pow,” I said, and squeezed the trigger.


Not a fizz, not a spark, just the dry click of the firing pin. I toggled the instruction unit and waited to hear what was wrong.

“There is a metastatic jamming signal emanating from the target site. The signal must be decoded, desequenced or otherwise disrupted before the duty nuke can be utilized.”

I tried my best to word my query in the proper jargot. “Is there an emergency backup alternative for this scenario?”

“The combat option may be employed, but is recommended as a last resort only.”

“What is the combat option?”

“The duty nuke can be manually detonated in the immediate vicinity of the intended target.”

“How much time would that give me?

“Please rephrase or clarify the question.”

“How do I set the timer?”

“The timed detonation mechanism is not included in the combat option.”

“What? How come?”

“Please rephrase or clar—“

“Why can’t I employ the timer?”

“The jamming signal is likely to affect all automated functions of the duty nuke. In order to guarantee target obliteration, detonation of this device must be carried out manually.”

“You mean I have to be there?”


“Forget it!”

So I run. What else can I do? No one else is going to save the goddamn planet, probably not even me, but if nobody gives shit one either way, why shouldn’t I? Try to kid myself that I’m just doing my job, but this is obviously above and beyond the call. No room for crusaders, Dez said so, and I’m not, I swear to God. But I move toward the Bubble at a dead run, a man enmeshed in his destiny. Somebody’s got to make a choice, some poor bastard’s got to take a stand, why not me? I’m not afraid to be a statistic. I’m not married and I don’t own anything anybody’s going to fight over. I’m out of a job no matter how it’s sliced and all I know is I couldn’t live with myself in a world further ruined by my own inaction. The time has come to stop following orders and do something. So I run. With the duty nuke banging against my side, clutching the shoulder strap in one hand and my lightning gun in the other, I headed straight for the Bubble, the smoky dome, a cauldron of wicked magic about to boil over. Sensors tripping, tipping off the sleepy SecuriTechs to my approach. Suddenly I’m thinking how stupid is this? If I wanted to do it this way, I could have gone straight up to the gate, flashed my DPH badge, and set it off with a smile while they were still scanning me for clearance. Dumb dumb dumb. Corporate soldiers coming up fast, I hear a megaphone bark that seems to come from all around me like a grunt from God. One unintelligible syllable, then bullets and blasts and beams all around me, zigzagging not to get hit, but a few do, a burn on my shoulder, or through it, a slash on my leg, a numbing sting in my lower back, but I’m close godamnit I’m almost there when a kevlarred soldierboy pops up from nowhere right in my path and without breaking stride I give him a happy zap, a sparking arc of blue, the crackle of atmospheric electricity being channeled, focused, directed right into GI Schmoe, who leaps five feet at the sky and drops back flat in a smoking heap and I keep moving, even as the burning numbness spreads down my arm and I drop my little bug zapper and a million pins and needles sting me everywhere like a swarm of African bees and when I’m there right there about to run smack into the side of that big plastic blister I thumb the detonator switch and tear a piece of the world wide open…

I am engulfed in unholy fire, standing ground zero in a contained burst of pure fusion, the eye of the firestorm. I feel the force, but see no flash, nor do I hear the mighty nuke boom. I am not knocked backassward so much as dragged, as if two strong hands reached down from the sky and pulled me backward, which in fact they did. When I open my eyes it isn’t God or Lucifer, not St. Peter or Charon, but the beatific beaming features of Bodacious Beauchamp that to my wondering eyes appear. I try to move, to speak, but he stills and shushes me with the merest gesture.

“You safe now, Damon Ross. And no, you not dead. Close maybe, but we fix that. These friends.”

All of a sudden, I’m aware of shapes, vague through my pain, hard to make out or even comprehend, living things, I think, all around me, hovering, murmuring, not deigning to touch me. For which I’m grateful.

“They want to thank you. You do them a great favor today. Now maybe they don lose so many chillun, huh?”


“All in good time, Damon Ross. In good good time.”


“Where you think?”


“Uh huh.”

The 6th dimension. I’ve crossed over. Reason enough, I think, to pass out.

Beauchamp heals me, the Al Schweitzer of holistic remedies, the Jesus, the Dr. McCoy. Then does his best to bring me up to speed on the view from this side. Seems Doc Stopper was wrong on all counts, save one. TRIX was alive alright, and sentient. But it, or rather they, were no more intended to meld with us than we were them, and were in fact just as much in danger from the fusion. See, those little globules, they were seedlings, cell clusters, fetuses, inseminated tissue in an early stage of development, some kind of self-gestation process that I still don’t understand. Black market babies, stolen and sold on our side for the sake of recreational self-immolation. And my suicide bombing, successful from all reports, effectively put an end, or at least a temporary stopgap, to the kidnapping and consumption of the children from 6D. So while back home I’m a villainous monster, a mass murderin dog presumed dead, over here I’m a hero, a warrior, a savior of millions of tiny lives. Funny how things work out sometimes. In light of events, I might just stay awhile. It’s not so bad. Different, but not so much. I know, I know, I should try to describe it, but some things just have to be seen.