03:11:15 - Unforgivable

The sound of the great Calling Gong was still audible as they hurried through the far sub-basement of the temple. Ritual prayers and invocations were ignored as the Acolyte tried to help his superior with his robes.

"This is most unusual," the elderly priest complained as he struggled with an ornate sleeve. "They are not supposed to arrive for another three generations."

"Yes, your Eminence, but perhaps we have reached the Seventh Plateau earlier than we expected." the Acolyte offered as he straightened several of the garments and tried to cover the fact that two were on backwards.

"Balder," the cleric dismissed as they entered the Portal Chamber. The room was filled with the barely organized chaos of acolytes and lesser clerics racing about, performing ceremonies in a matter of minutes that normally required days of preparation. Sacred candles were lit in whatever order they could be, ancient scrolls were flung across the floor. All the while the Great Portal continued to grind its indecipherable workings together. Huge gears of alien stone and metals turned in a dance they had not performed in recorded memories. Symbols glowed with cold fire marking the closure of each step. With the last symbol there was a thud that seemed to echo across the planet, and with it, the room fell into deathly silence.

Mists of dancing power started to drift to the center of the Portal. The Cleric began his slow ascent of the ramp that lead to the center of the swirling mass. "Ye of the Beginning who did come to us at the time of our greatest darkness, who did provide us with the one true way, who gave unto us the light and foretold of their triumphant return, we welcome you with open arms. Pray give unto your most humble of servants that which is your--" a light green object shot from the vortex and ricocheted off of the Cleric's forehead. The Cleric keeled over backwards from the unexpected blow, but was quickly surrounded by others as the Portals energies collapsed and it once again went silent.

The Acolyte, seeing that the old one was being taken care of, picked up the strange gift from the portal. It was about the size of his hand, but had a most unusual shape. It was long and round with one part tapering down to a small opening. The outside appeared to be decorated with unknown symbols, symbols that were different from those on the portal. Inside the vessel appeared to be a small parchment. The Acolyte shook the container gently and the scroll fell out. It too bore the same sort of markings as the container, but appeared to be done in a hasty, sloppy manner.

The Acolyte studied the script. A message such as this must be of greatest importance.
"It was a what?" Roger said with a mixture of delight and bewilderment.

"An ad for an herbal penis enhancer." Jack repeated, "But it's got most of Atlos-Mita in a fury. The bottle of Rolling Rock it was stuffed in beaned their high priest so bad that he spent a week singing "I'm a little teapot.". We're also looking into that."

"Trafficking ear woms is a felony in that sector." Phil whispered to Carla.

"But our first priority is to shut down whoever is doing this."

"Jack? Are we sure that he's using a Portal?" Roger asked.

"Considering that Portals are a closed system as far as we know," Shimo said, "it's a darn safe bet. And if he did manage to crack them we'd need to find him so that he'd get the Tivar Award."

"Have they finished counting how much money that is?", Rhino asked.

"No, I think they gave up and put down 'more than enough'.", Roger replied.

Carla still had no idea what they were talking about. "Wait, what are these portal thingies?"

"We're not sure, really." Shimo said, "We know that they're old. Older than pretty much everything in the galaxy. They work as a passageway between two locations. You enter a code into one and it opens a connection to another one somewhere else. The best minds have yet to crack how exactly they work."

"So how many of them are there?"

Jack picked up the tutorial, "Again, nobody is totally certain. Portals are incredibly dangerous, but also very difficult to operate since you know the precise code for where you want to go."

"So, can we trace the call?"

"Yes and no. We know which gate is responsible, but we can't seem to connect to it. We know that the gate is located somewhere on the planet and most likely in the United States."

"Great, that just narrows it down to around three million square miles or so.", Roger grumbled.

"True. Good thing we've got a whole week to find a twenty foot diameter nearly untraceable ancient artifact before several non-aligned cultures decide to drop by and help."

Phil grew suspicious, "And by 'drop by to help' you mean..."

"Drop asteroids from orbit until they're certain that it's no longer a problem, yes." The moment of highly uncomfortable silence was followed by a fury of statements about analyzing network traffic, power infrastructures, multi-spectral filter scanning, and asking Madame Futura who ran the Tarot shop next to the donut place.

"If we are going to be bombed out of existence in less than forty eight hours, why can't we search for the gate somewhere like New York, or Bangkok, or Paris?" Roger whined.

"Because none of those places are in the U.S." Phil responded. Her attention focused on a few meters and displays.

"Isn't New York part of the U.S.?" Carla asked, surprised by the recent news.

"Depends on who you ask." Phil replied. "We're getting close to the signal."

They had spent the better part of four hours trying to find the town of Immokalee, Florida, and once there were monitoring the power lines. The portals were untraceable from more conventional tracking, meaning that most of the space born monitoring devices couldn't locate it, but it did require power. The team had divided up and started looking for every suspicious power signature they could find. Generally it wound up being indoor pot farmers and miniature railroad hobbyists. Both of which were reported to the appropriate authorities.

The list continued to shrink, but not as fast as the amount of remaining time. This lead was slightly more promising since it also happened to match up with a police report of someone in the area stealing bottles from a recycling bin. Now it was simply a matter of finding the right house.

"Wait! I think we've got it. Turn around and go back a few houses."

The van circled around and pulled to a stop outside of a pink one story bungalow. A 1972 Cadillac was parked in the driveway and several faded pink lawn flamingos stood watch over some neglected azalea bushes.

The team quickly grabbed their gear and took positions around the house, ensuring that no one would get out. Phil spotted the power meter, it was spinning like a buzzsaw. She nodded toward the front of the house.

Roger rang the doorbell.

"Just a second" an elderly voice called out. There was a great deal of shuffling and latch throwing before the door creaked open.

"Good afternoon." Roger said as he turned on the charm. "I'm with the power company and I'm afraid to tell you that I've some very bad news.

"Oh?" the woman said, "what's the matter?"

"It seems that you're in violation of Galactic Treaty T-655, ST-689, subsection 12, paragraph 2 regarding the unlicensed distribution of commercial advertisements resulting in religious head injury." Roger stated as he pushed open the door. "Right, where is it?"

"Where is what? Who are you?" the old woman protested, "Get out! Get out!" She started whacking Roger with her cane.

"Right, we'll -ow- add -ow- resisting arrest -ow- and... where's the -ow- basement?" He asked, suddenly rather concerned.

"We don't have a basement you commie!", the woman replied angrily, then continued hitting Roger with her cane. "Get out! Get Out!"

Roger looked in all four rooms, content that no where in the tiny house was a portal that would have easily stood over the house.

"Roger? Come in! We've got the wrong house." Phil's voice said from the radio.

"Well -ow- you bloody well -ow- could have mentioned -ow- this earlier! -ow-"

"Roger? Are you ok?"

"Yes. -ow- I'm simply -ow- getting ready -ow- for having things -ow- hit me."

"Well, get out here. We know which house is the right one."

"Wonderful. -ow- Would it -ow- happen to be -ow- in Vancouver? -ow-"

"Just get out here."

Roger turned again to the woman and turned on what little charm he could muster. "Ah, dreadfully sorry about that. Simple mis-understanding. I'll be on my way." Roger quickly walked back out followed by a torrent of words that would not be acceptable speech in any Bingo parlor.

He grumbled his way to the back of the house. "Right, so other than the fact that there's not five feet of portal sticking up out of this one story home, what was the give away?"

Phil simply pointed one end of her cannon toward the orange extension cord that lead away from the house, through the backyard fence and into the neighbor's two story garage.

"You know, if she weren't such a charming old brak'rt I'd be half tempted to unplug that." Roger remarked.

"You do before we shut that portal down and you just might be able to see Vancouver", Phil added. "as you cross over it."

The team clamored over the fence toward the garage just as the homeowner emerged with an empty bottle rack. He dropped the rack and reached a beefy hand back toward his gun.
He stopped when he felt the slight warmth of the targeting laser of Phil's Proton cannon trace a six inch circle in the middle of his chest. The weapon of choice hummed menacingly along with a great number of other just slightly smaller caliber weapons. He knew that if he were lucky, he might get one shot off before he was reduced to ash.

This, of course, wasn't exactly accurate. At most, he'd get one shot off before being reduced to a fine mist of quark level material. Sure, it's a small detail in terms of larger scale things, but it's important to be accurate.

The target of the various targeting devices was a man who obviously enjoyed food as much as he enjoyed living a hygiene free lifestyle. His clothes were either the utmost in custom styling or simply stained beyond recognition. He wore what some would term a "wife beater" sleeveless t-shirt and torn blue jeans, poorly.

"Whutdahaylharyewdunarnmabakkard?"

The universal translators had to spend a few minutes trying to decipher "redneck".

"We're with the power company." Roger stated, once the translator offered a possible meaning.

"Pawrkupnee? Yallainnogaw dampawrkupnee!"

"Ah, very astute." Roger smiled, "Yes, our shoes are very black. We're here to investigate why you've been stealing power from your neighbor."

"Awhell sheedonnowshit! Isegosserpermishonnshit."

Roger looked confused. "No, I believe it will rain today."

"whua?"

"But none the less, we must investigate." He headed toward the garage.

"Ay! Yallgawafukkenwarnt? Yallkantgohin widdoutafukkenwarnt!"

"Yes, and I believe the same goes for your mother. Phil, keep an eye on our friend please."

Phil rested the barrel of her cannon on the man's chest.

"Yaohkay, nowarnt. Yallergawntaeerframahlawyar!" the man yelled out.

Roger tapped his translator. He was quite certain that it was not raining ducks but still looked toward the sky, just to be certain.

Carla couldn't help but gasp at what she saw inside the garage. The portal was huge. Portions of it were covered in purple grease making it able to shift through it's motions faster and quieter than a great many others of it's like. The powercord was attached to a splitter, several leads went off to power the portal, one went off to power a laptop that appeared to be entering random codes into the Portal and a third fed a modifed pitching machine. The portal would quickly cycle through to a given code, coalesce the energy mist just as a message bearing bottle would launch through. Then the cycle would start all over.

"Thatthares prahvatproptee! Isegotsitsahneebay!"

"Well, that explains why we couldn't connect up to it." Phil noted. "Carla cuff our host."

"Ay! Ahwannatalkta ahfukkenlawyarr!" the man yelled as Carla cuffed him. Phil shut down the pitching machine and then the computer, the gate cycled closed.

"Awgotsfarstammenmentrahts!" the man screamed and tore away from Carla.
"Yallkantdothis! Iseayooesssitzen! Iseanentrahpnoor!" The man stood on the ramp in front of the Portal, screaming incoherently about cheese and rubber spoon ducks. At least that's what the translators were reporting.

The gateway started up again. With the grease it was far quieter than normal. Phil ran to grab her cannon, not knowing what to expect out of the other side. Carla and Roger also leveled their weapons. The man continued to stand screaming on the ramp, his eyes shut tightly against the spray of foam coming from his mouth. The portal fixed it's location, the plasma mists formed and from it slithered several angry looking tentacles. One appeared to be holding a bottle.

The man stopped screaming when he noticed the weaponry pointed beyond him. He started screaming again when he saw the tentacles wrap around him and kept screaming until after they pulled him through the Portal.

The mists dissipated.

Phil lowered her cannon first. "That's an awfully low portal number." she remarked as she examined the symbols.

"I'm guessing we can consider the problem solved, then" Roger said with a bit of nervousness in his voice.

The gate began cycling again, and once again weapons went up and to the ready. This time, a rather annoyed looking being with a large bottle shaped purple bruise appeared. "Hey! You mind telling me what the 'Praq is the big..." He stopped when he saw the GC shields.

"Sorry," Carla said, "looks like you just missed the person you were looking for."

"Don't think he'll be much of an issue in the future." Phil added.

"Well, I suppose that depends on what sort of digestive process is involved." Roger noted.

Grand Imperiate! We have what we believe is a proper translation of the message we received.

Speak.

It is a request from the planet of Nigeria for assistance in moving several million dollars.

Interesting. Where is this Nigeria?

We are uncertain. Likewise we are not at all certain what a dollar is, but we would be allowed to keep a portion of the proceeds.

And of the vessel?

It appears to be a liquid container. The outside speaks of the virtues of the contents and analysis of the interior does seem to indicate that it contained a vaguely alcoholic mixture. We believe the vessel is an advertisement for the content.

A what?

An appeal to us to purchase and consume the content.

Why would we consume alcohol?

It is not known, my Imperiate.

Still, I find this concept intriguing, the idea of sending advertisements via the Portal. It is an inexpensive way for us to distribute information about our goods, and even if only a few were to accept... My Brok! It's utter genius! Quickly, larLAAhg, prepare a fleet of disposable sales-bots. There is money to be made!