Episode 8 - Escalator Music

Suzanne Marshall pressed the buzzer on the door to Gene Kirricort's office and waited for the indicator to show that the door was no longer locked. Thirty seconds passed, then a minute. She did not press it again, simply retrieving her special keycard from the bag she carried instead. A quick swipe made it possible to pull the door open and shift into the large room, but a quick glance revealed that her employer was not at his desk after all.

Gene Kirricort lay on the large plush leather couch lined up against one of the room's white walls, appearing to be asleep. Suzanne sighed, and attempted to confirm this with a light psionic poke. Gene's reaction was to mutter 'I'm up' without opening his eyes, prompting Suzanne to sigh.

“Why sleep here? Not only is it probably less comfortable, it is also technically less professional.”

Gene shifted, sitting up, “I tried to nap in the lounge but people kept finding me and asking me about things. It seems I can't get a moment of peace unless everyone thinks whatever I am actually doing is more important than what they want done.”

Suzanne laughed, “You should just tell them that your afternoon nap is most important. Anyway I won't disturb it, I only came to give you my preliminary report from the trip.”

“No, no, that's fine. I woke up a bit before you opened the door, actually. How did it go?”

Suzanne moved toward the couch, and Gene shifted to one side to give her space to sit. She produced her data pad from her bag, the advanced tablet computer activating in a little less than a second. She began to access files.

“I don't have to read, do I?” Gene interjected, “I just woke up.”

Suzanne blinked at him with a flat expression, before sighing again and gesturing with her hand to indicate that he would not.

“The portable recorder still needs work, as you surely guessed. It either picks up too much ambient psychic 'noise' or nothing at all, most of the time. When a particularly intense game is going on, I can change the setting so it gets just that, but it's a little conspicuous since I can't do it from the Meiro,” she explained, her last word referring to the tablet she was currently using.

“Interference? Maybe we can get you a modded control for it with a frequency that isn't disrupted by their play. Though I suppose most things would still be, as you said, conspicuous.”

Suzanne nodded, pulling up a file and turning the screen to Gene for him to check the images.

“These are the duelists I made notes on. That reminds me, even if you gave me a modded control, there's still the issue of data from the recorder needing to interface with Relativity, so you're still dealing with problems in calibrating it.”

“Yes but that's not really relevant,” Gene muttered, reaching out to touch the screen and cause the images to slide and change before his eyes, “The only person who can't run Relativity themselves given your input file and the data feed is my father, so we're really just humoring him by having you run that software directly on the Miero.”

“I should send the data to him, actually,” Suzanne noted, letting Gene take the tablet from her while she rummaged in her bag again.

Gene stopped looking through digital photos, to comment on that.

“I still have not figured out why he even wants it. He never seems to care about balance issues or any other news from R&D, only that sort of thing.”

“Well, 'the game you are designing is turning people psychic' is probably the most intriguing part of it, for him,” Suzanne countered, taking one of the tiny digital memory cards out of the case.

“Yes but this is my father we are talking about. He doesn't even pay attention to the sales figures for this game, yet he wants the entire detail on this aspect of it? He can probably hardly interpret most of this data. He is up to something.”

Suzanne handed the memory card to Gene, expecting him to put it into the Miero.

“You told me that your father is always 'up to something', that's why he is so successful.”

Gene pocketed the memory card rather than putting it into the tablet to begin the data transfer, causing Suzanne's own projected thought, full of inquiring tone, to press into his mind.

“I think I will deliver this one personally tomorrow,” Gene explained, handing the Miero back to Suzanne, “I have not visited my father in quite a while anyway, and this way, I have a bit of a bargaining chip to see if I can get him to explain to me why he wants this data so badly.”

“What if he doesn't 'bargain' for the information at all?”

“Then I'll assume that he either expects someone else to make sure he gets it, or he really isn't that interested and there's less to worry about...”

It was almost precisely noon on the following day when Gene Kirricort stepped out of the car that had delivered him to the 'KC' ranch. Designer sunglasses shielded his eyes from the glaring vision of the sprawling white ranch house. A thought occurred to him and he stuck his head back into the vehicle rather than closing the door.

“It's almost lunch time, Gregor, you coming in? I'm fairly sure they'll have something you like.”

The driver thanked him and nodded, indicating that he would be in as soon as he parked the car. Gene, satisfied with this answer, continued up the walkway to the house, and was greeted at the door by a member of his father's extensive personal staff.

“Hello, Mr. G,” the young man greeted, with a smile that Gene immediately mirrored, “One more for lunch? It's just baked potatoes and braised vegetables with beef stew, today.”

Gene nodded, “Two, actually, I'm fairly sure Gregor will like that. Where exactly is my father?”

“I'll take you to him right away, he is in the upper study, working on cards again. Normally we do not interrupt him but I believe he knows you were coming?”

Gene nodded again, “I know the way. Gregor will be along shortly, let him in and check whether or not he has any objections to the 'lunch menu'.”

Gene continued on through the abode, greeting house staff as he passed, and ascended the stairs that would lead him to the modified study room that Tyberius Kirricort had converted into his personal 'Design Library'. A sharp knock on the door got the expected response from within, and Gene called out “It's me, Dad!” as answer.

“Come!” came the voice, followed by coughing, as Gene opened the door and stepped into the room, closing it behind him. The faint smell of cigar smoke made his nose twitch, and his temper do more than 'twitch'.

“You're an idiot, you know that?” he addressed his progenitor with a scowl.

“Now now, a life without pleasures isn't a life at all,” Tyberius countered with a grin, looking at his son over the top of his sketching table.

“I would think a man who understands investments would have found a different one to replace the one that was cutting his own life short,” Gene answered tersely.

“And I would think a man who understands risk management would know that since I don't actually have lung cancer, just old age respiratory problems, that my cigars aren't necessarily a contributing factor to any decline in my lifespan, and therefore don't need to be shunned.”

Gene sighed, sitting on one of the scattered chairs in the room, “You're only sixty-six, you shouldn't even have 'old age respiratory problems'.”

“Yes, well, life is a funny thing,” the elder man said, smiling mischievously, “So, what brought you all the way here? You never only come to visit, that's a little less efficient than you like to be.”

Gene nodded, “That's true. I came to bring you the latest data from Suzanne's trip, and to check the hardware you are using to see if it can handle running Relativity itself instead of you just getting the compiled data from us.”

Tyberis Kirricort slowly stood, revealing that age had not quite been kind to him. Lightly built, like his son, his body was now more frail than one would expect even for his age. He crossed the room towards one of his other desks, as he spoke.

“Oh? Why is that? I manage fine with what you send.”

“I thought that perhaps whatever you use it for, you could manage to do better if you could set the analysis to run on your own terms,” Gene explained, “Also it would save us the trouble of developing a new portable monitoring system.”

“And you didn't just send someone from R&D to show me because you know I won't want them fiddling around with my system...” Tyberius added, inwardly smiling at the thought that his son knew him so well.

“That, and I wanted to ask you, why you are into all this as much as you are, in the first place.”

Tyberius looked at Gene with a confused expression, then seemed to sink into thought for a bit before answering.

“What do you mean 'why'? Because it's fun? I had to do something after I retired or I would drive everyone around me crazy, you know that. A man has to do things to keep his mind active, at my age, but not things that stress him out. Speaking of that, care to duel?”

The abrupt change in both vocal and conversational tone caught Gene off guard, and without thinking, he answered “I don't have my deck with me.”

The grin that crept across his father's wrinkled face made him uneasy immediately.

“Your deck, eh? Don't worry, I have plenty of cards here, I'm sure you can come up with something that you can manage to at least entertain your old man with.”

Tyberius' response only served to further unnerve his son, giving Gene the same feeling he had growing up, when his father's sharp mind had cornered him and exposed his lies despite his best efforts to cover his trail. He put on a smile and brightly said “Sure.”

Tyberius watched with great interest as Gene rifled through the boxes of cards strewn around the room, quickly collecting a usable deck.

“Take your time, son, you don't need to rush, contrary to your constant worrying, I'm not on a short timer for life or anything, you know.”

Gene dismissed this teasing with another cheery explanation.

“Actually I know exactly what I'm building, so that's why all I need to do is find them.”

This answer intrigued the old man even more, so much so that Gene could actually sense his father's excitement in response to him pulling up a chair opposite him at the now-flat table.

“You go first then,” Tyberius smiled, his eyes practically twinkling. Gene nodded, then teased back.

“So, since we've got no tempo markers, is your mind still 'sharp' enough to track it in your head?”

“Ha!” Tyberius smiled, “I'll bet you'll lose count before I do!”

“We'll see. One tempo, then. Your turn.”

Gene felt a shift. The familiar shift of a duelist who could use that part of their mind. This did not surprise him, but he did find himself wondering who exactly his father would have found to play against, to develop the ability, out on the ranch.

“Yes yes. One tempo. Your turn. So, how are Carol and Ryan? You should bring them to see me.”

“Ryan keeps saying he wants to come, actually,” Gene noted, simply playing the Brave Hessus J without bothering to announce tempo, “But his extracurricular things make it hard to find a good weekend, and school takes up the rest of his time.”

“Ah yes, education,” Tyberius nodded, playing a Legann Band, “Can't live without it, and don't get much time for life while getting it.”

The flickers of joined mindspace began, at the edge of Gene's consciousness, but the younger man made no effort to enhance the imagery, ending his turn without playing any other card or attacking. Tyberius played a Falcon to join his Griffon. Ahrival's presence made the union of mental imagery a bit stronger, giving Gene the feeling of being in a valley with steep inclines on either side. He tested the waters by letting the form of Slim Jackson appear in the valley, but neither the Sky Pirate nor the Marauder moved.

“So,” Gene continued, “Can you tell me a little about what you actually use, out of all that data Relativity generates for us to send to you?”

Tyberius grinned, played a Jet Paradox, and instantly, almost forcefully, formed the conceptual manifestations. Light now blazed down into the valley, both from the sun, and from the luminous electrical form of the Sparkball. On each side of the valley, perched on the slope, his winged ones watched the 'intruders'.

“The idea of it is fascinating overall,” he answered, “People becoming aware of something through my work, is very inspiring to me.”

“You say that very calmly,” Gene noted, “But this is not exactly a minor thing, you know. Victoria Gale, the Gifted, on your Jet Paradox.”

Gene's play demonstrated the meaning behind his words quite clearly, with the powerful imagery of the Wind Sprite arriving to join Hessus J and Slim, and with a powerful blast of wind, distorting the form of the Sparkball until it was forced to 'retreat'.

“See? Just like that? Isn't that amazing?” Tyberius marveled, his wonder appearing almost childlike, as he played a Steady Aim, and a Slipstream, then declared Brave Hessus J as the target of his Ahrival's effect, then attack. The Falcon's deadly swoop was far more dangerous now that it was focused in on its target, and talons rent the body of the Marauder easily.

“So you can see it too, then...” Gene accepted, “Don't you think it will become a problem?”

“I don't see how...” Tyberius said, sounding slightly confused, “End turn.”

“A lot of the cards you design... well, the imagery for how they fight is violent at best, savage at worst. We are selling this game to children, after all. Cast Hurricane Force.”

The sky darkened, blotting the sun, and as if from nowhere, the wind howled now with extreme force, easily lifting the Sky Pirate and Sprite and flinging them about. The Griffon suffered a similar fate, yet Ahrival seemed to stand strong.

“Back to four tempo, five when you end,” Tyberius noted, explaining with those words why the hurricane had not driven Ahrival out of the conflict as well.

“I end, then,” Gene said, his mind taking in the level of detail that his father was putting into the mindscape. Gene had mentally generated the Hurricane, but the 'reactions' of the slopes and valley to the winds had been all from Tyberius.

“Legann Band again, and Steadfast Aviator, and end. Continue with what you were saying.”

“We've been keeping this fairly secret, but it's only a matter of time before this effect becomes widespread knowledge. We are looking at potentially one of the biggest changes in humanity in perhaps thousands of years, Dad.”

Slim Jackson now reappeared, floating down from the sky and alighting gently as if the Hurricane had been nothing more than a gentle fun breeze for him. The sound of a Mammoth Trumpeter now echoed between the mountains as the creature emerged from the mountain pass.

“Astounding...” Tyberius muttered, “But, why would that be bad? This is wonderful! We are pioneering what might be the next stage of human evolution! Well... if you ignore the fact that people have been claiming to be able to do these things for thousands of years.”

Gene revealed the card he searched through the Mammoth's effect. Balamar, Ruler of the Skies. Tyberius' mouth made an 'o' shape, though he made no sound.

“Dad, if this is even remotely likely to go beyond what we are here doing now, whether it is supernatural or scientific, the problem is that it will become mainstream, and the only result of this can be conflict. The world isn't ready for whatever you seem to have caused to happen.”

“Son, the world doesn't even need to know,” Tyberius laughed.

“And how do you propose to possibly hide this?”

“Psychic Incite,” the old man declared, playing the spell and simultaneously 'making his point'. He chose the Balamar that Gene had just retrieved, to discard, and proceeded to choose Lunar Projection as his 'locked' card. Then, for emphasis, he played another of the same, discarding Amir Landau, King of Pirates, and preventing the other Mammoth Trumpeter in Gene's hand from being played to solve the problem he had just caused. The Legann Band flitted down the mountainside to reach the mountain pass where Gene 'stood', striking at his luminous Grid aura.

“If you were trying to make a point with that,” Gene began, looking at the card he now drew, “Then it seems my deck is equally willing to counter your point. Precisely so, in fact.”

“Oh?” Tyberius smiled, “I wonder what that means. Show me.”

“It means that you can't just expect to control everything, even if you think you know all the factors there's always something you can't be prepared for. Balamar, Ruler of the Skies!”

The leftover clouds parted forcefully as the heatwave heralded the massive War Dragon's arrival. Balamar flapped slightly, hovering above the valley by the power of his own thermal.

“And furthermore,” Gene continued, “Free From Oppression!”

The spell now let him draw two cards to easily replace what his father had just discarded. Tyberius scoffed, but then fell serious, even though Gene ended his turn without attacking.

“I suppose you have a point. And yet, you did not move. Why is that?”

“That is unrelated. Just a matter of a son knowing his father. I can see you, 'King of the Air'.”

“Was I truly that obvious?” came the Griffon's cackling laugh, “And to think you knew all along...”

“Oh, I did not. The Legann Band was the first clue, and your lack of destructive spells, the other. After that I just had to think of the type of man my father perceives himself to be, and it was clear there could be only one card he had made, that he would identify with.”

“Even so, I am also attached to the sort of being you seem to be. Very fond.”

With those words, Tyberius Kirricort placed his Elemental Warmage Rainboa into the conflict, and began to carefully sort through his deck to retrieve the spells he wanted. In the end, he selected two Fleeting Force and a Quickfire Sedative, and ended his turn without any further attack.

“I suppose I'm glad to hear that, actually,” Gene admitted, letting the resonance of Iris Memoria spread through his energy field freely, at last, “Tailwind Scarab, and Victoria Gale, to return your Ahrival to your hand.”

Even the Falcon's mighty wingbeats could not stand against Victoria's powerful lifting winds, and the appearance of Genesis, the Divine, made things even harder for the elder Kirricort, as Slim moved in to guide Genesis' blast of fire. Legann moved to intercept, and Slim's sacrifice took the Griffon with it, as the War Dragon's breath reduced them both to ash.

Balamar now made a move, assuredly safe from the possibility of being instantly set upon by a potential Simur. The flame seared the rocks around the golden sphere that protected Tyberius, weakening it as well, but a flash of energy in the form of darts was the instant reaction.

“Quickfire Sedative, on your Tailwind Scarab. You see, son, not everything is as simple as 'move against those who control things, with the power of your conviction'. It takes more than that. Simply charging in causes things like this...”

Tyberius did not bother to declare his plays, leaving it all up to the perspective they now shared. Ahrival returned now, as did Jet Paradox, but that was not all. Rainboa appeared to cast three spells, of Lightning, Radiance, and Wind. The Action Bolt charged and focused Jet Paradox, Fleeting Force granting all of the creatures 'Blocker', and Fair Wind causing the gusts to turn in their favor for the time being.

Gene Kirricort braced himself as his father's previously sedate, slightly wavering energy spiked and became focused, with the words, “Jet Paradox, attack Balamar, Ruler of the Skies!”