the ladder - synapse city (part 4)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment. Better yet, subscribe by eMail to ink [and] ashes and get The Ladder delivered fresh to your inbox!

Note: I will post an organized list of links to all episodes of The Ladder to date next week so you can revisit episodes you may have missed or catch up if you're new to the series. As always, I appreciate your feedback and comments.

Though the Equation knows something about Dr. Lumen’s work he doesn’t elaborate, citing instead the need to gather confirming evidence. His partners, frustrated but accustomed to the Equation’s caution, leave him poring over the holographic display with a notepad in hand. Yawning, The Effect takes to the kitchen, raiding the fridge for a bottle of Chardonnay, and heads off to her sleeping quarters to read a science-fiction novel before going to bed. The Engine works out for an hour, lifting weights that would make most men squirm, then settles on the red leather sofa in front of the large flat-screen television. He doesn’t tune in, however, choosing instead to slip on earphones connected to a portable CD player. French lessons.

Shortly after midnight, however, an announcement on the police scanner catches Delphi’s attention. The hypercomputer promptly notifies the Equation, who sits at a console analyzing data from Dr. Lumen’s information map.

The radio, with a scratchy woman’s voice: “All units converge to 221B Cooke Street. Possible break-in in progress. Over.”

Various police patrol cars check in. The Equation, thunderstruck, hits the alarm button and the Equilibrium Trio’s headquarters fills with the two tones – one bass, one high – of the emergency call to action.

“What’s going on, doc?” says the Engine, who wakes up from his improvised nap on the couch like a panther ready to pounce.

“I’d like to know too,” says the Effect, who has traded her dress for black jeans and a turtleneck. “And thank goodness that chard tasted terrible.”

“Gear up and I’ll explain on the way,” says the Equation, already headed to the equipment lockers.

The Slicer cuts through the city night, a black phantom automobile that people only seem to register in their peripheral vision. Synapse City is asleep, but with one eye open. Characters lurk in the shadows.

“Cooke Street…that’s Dr. Lumen’s lab.”

The Equation looks at the Effect and nods his head. “Without the disc, they’re getting desperate. Dr. Lumen didn’t leave any hint of his whereabouts…we know that much. Either they learned something new, or”

“It’s a trap,” the Engine says, gritting his teeth as he takes the Slicer around a tight turn.

“Probability favours that scenario, yes.”

“So what’s the plan?”

The Engine offers another question: “What was Dr. Lumen working on?”

“That map,” says the Equation, “contains all known metafictions. He was sorting them, looking for something…but what…I don’t have enough information yet.”

A sudden deceleration sends them into their seats. The Engine reverses gear, backs up, then puts the gear in forward as he drives the Slicer down an alleyway. The radio scanner goes crazy with traffic; roadblocks, helicopters, the thin blue line gotten a whole lot thicker.

“There are more cops here than cavities on children’s teeth after Halloween,” the Engine says.

“Quite,” says the scientist. “But we may have to risk it. If we’ve missed something, if there is some clue as to where Dr. Lumen has gone, we have to take it. The consequences otherwise…”

“Speculate?” says the Effect.

“Dr. Lumen was, of course, known for his work on teleportation,” the Equation says. “A breakthrough, combined with the metafictional map…”

“You mean…”

The Equation nods his head again before turning his attention to the computer console. “A breakdown of barriers.”

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