Face of Infinity
by Michael Mendoza

   The residents of Nice, France have many folk tales about the Mount Alban fort, which lies about two kilometers to the east. Their fables lurk in filthy pubs and morning rosary groups, coastside cafes and dusty bookstores. Kidnapped children, murdering gypsies and the spirits of seventeenth century soldiers are their typical fare. These stories are mostly aimed at wealthy foreigners.
   One of these foreigners was Nyla Shapire, who walked along the footpath that circled Mount Alban on an unusually cool and breezy November evening. Her steps were even and deliberate, as if she had rehearsed them a thousand times over in her mind. After passing a moss-covered rock which resembled a clenched fist, she left the path. Nyla plunged into the thick, twisted foliage which lay between the path and the cliffs which overlooked the Mediterranean Sea. Wild roses scraped against her, futilely trying to hold her back.
   Finally, Nyla stood at the cliff. The cool wind breathed over her and the crashing waves sang its hypnotic, enticing song. Nyla's thoughts of family, of friends, of life itself slipped away. Then, a pulsating red light from below the cliff illuminated her. She stumbled away from the cliff in shock and watched the strange crimson glow dim and brighten.
   As Nyla slowly approached the light, she wondered what fables would be inspired by this night. "...and the rich American girl, who thought her wealth protected her from all misfortune, foolishly walked to the beckoning light. It was just another leisurely distraction to her, but it would be her last. Waiting for her was an unspeakably alien beast. The massive creature clung to the cliff with its four clawed limbs. It had a gaping mouth where its back should have been, with row after row of razor-sharp teeth. And mounted on its powerful shoulders was the head of an innocent babe..."
   Nyla stopped walking the instant she saw the wraithlike pyramid floating in the air. And somewhere in the twilight, a frightened sparrow flew up from the wild roses.

   Later, two lovers stumbled across the deck of a yacht that floated below Mt. Alban. Both wore bathrobes and the young man carried a blanket.
   "Throw the blanket here," said the even younger woman.
   He picked her up and they both fell onto the blanket laughing. "Oh Mark," she sighed.
   "My name's Max."
   She giggled. "Whatever, Mike."
   The lovers didn't notice the figure above who jumped off the cliff until a sparkling light engulfed the figure. The flying form laughed as it flew toward the sea and shot within an arm's length of the two lovers. Then, it sprang back up toward the stars and disappeared amidst the clouds.
   The couple crouched silently, looking at the clouds. "A UFO," whispered the young man. "That's what it was." Their breathing slowed down in wonder, then quickened again as they looked at each other and smiled.
   Thirty minutes later, the sweat on their bodies dried in the cool wind. The young woman turned to her partner and asked, "If that was a UFO we saw, why was it laughing?"

   Nyla locked the door to the penthouse in Nice which she shared with two childhood friends. She carried a large red duffle bag in her left hand, on which she wore a shiny silver glove. Looking around, she saw a note posted on the answering machine. It read "Went to Robert's place. Meet us at the Silver Desert around 11 - Lexi + Jen".
   Nyla tapped the message button on the answering machine. There was one message from her mother, who spoke with a voice that carefully treaded over broken glass. "Hello, Nyla dear. This is your mother. Your father and I just wanted to see how you were doing. Call us back whenever you can. I love you. Bye."
   Nyla closed the blinds in the spacious, ivory-carpeted living room. She sat on a sofa and placed the duffle bag on the glass table before her. Breathing tensely, she counted to five. Then, she thought the duffle bag out of existence. Only its contents remained - the red-haloed pyramid that she found on Mt. Alban. Nyla gazed into the reflection of her awestruck eyes on the pyramid's smooth surface.
   Rubbing her face, Nyla mentally reviewed the events of the past few hours. She remembered only fragments of the speech delivered by the pyramid, which called itself a Recharger. The Gauntlet. The Patrol. The Code. Civilization. It was hardly credible - the stuff of comic books and megalomaniac fantasies. Yet before her sat a wondrous device clearly forged by no Earthbound agent.
   Without fully understanding the high duty to which the Recharger called her, she reached out and accepted it. On its bidding, she plunged her hand within the Recharger's heart. From its warm liquid bosom she gained a second skin over her left forearm. This was the Gauntlet - her link to the Recharger and Infinity itself. She desired light and a sparkling nimbus surrounded her. She desired flight and she soared off Mt. Alban. Nyla reveled in the intoxicating rush of power as she flew over the French coastline. Her force of will allowed her to accomplish the impossible.
   Finally, she recovered her senses and returned to the forests as discretely as possible to retrieve the Recharger. She brought forth a duffle bag from the stuff of Infinity to hold the Recharger. She walked to her jeep and drove back home.
   Now, Nyla sat before the Recharger. She reached forth to touch it with her Gauntlet hand. Her fingertips penetrated the Recharger's red glow. Instantly, her hand was drawn to the silver pyramid. Startled by the Recharger's invisible grip, she quickly drew back her hand. For another minute, she stared at the Recharger and nervously nibbled her right hand's fingernails. Then, she wrapped her right arm around the Recharger and picked it up against her chest. She took care not to touch the Recharger with the Gauntlet.
   Nyla carried the Recharger into her disorderly bedroom. She put the Recharger down on her dresser, next to a statuette of an angel. The sculpture was engraved "Happy 16th Birthday to My Dearest Daughter Nyla." Out of a desk drawer, she took out a small key which lay next to an unopened letter from the University of Michigan. She picked up the Recharger again, put it in her closet and locked the door.
   Nyla stared at the full-length mirror on the wall. She saw a young woman with curly brown hair, olive skin and tired blue eyes. She pressed her palms against the wall and drummed her fingers against it as she stared into her own eyes.
   "What's happening to me?" she whispered.
   Nyla paced aimlessly around her room, breathing deeply and kicking aside clothing which laid in her path. Then, she laid down upon her bed, brushed aside a hardcover book titled "The Rosemaiden" and visualized a golden sphere in her mind. The sphere appeared over her and flew around the room on her command. The sphere became a green diamond, and then a cone which alternately flashed red and blue. Nyla smiled as she explored the abilities of the Gauntlet, and nothing else mattered.

   A week later, Nyla flew over the Mediterranean waters. She had been skimming the sea surface for about an hour, ever since sundown. She covered her body with a dark blue sheath to keep dry. Whenever she used her Gauntlet to fly, she felt wondrous.
   Earlier, she practiced her Gauntlet manipulation skills in a cave she found outside Nice. She had missed an appointment with her psychiatrist, but she didn't care. By now, she could conjure more complex constructs: sports cars, fanciful unicorns and so on. Her constructs still lacked a realistic texture, so they seemed more like crude computer animation than real-life objects.
   She returned to Nice in a manner that had become routine these past few days. About two hundred feet off the shore, she took a deep breath and altered her sheath to cover her head as well as her body. The, she dived under the water and shot forth at an incredible speed. When she was about a hundred feet from the beach, she slowed down and swam to the shore. Anyone who saw her would have assumed that she was just another beachgoer who preferred full-body surfing apparel to more typical beachwear.
   Nyla returned home, where her housemate Lexi was cooking stir fry. Lexi was tall and lanky, with crystal blue eyes and short- cropped blond hair. "Hey, stranger!"
   "H'lo, Lex. How're you doing?"
   "I'm alright. Where've you been keeping yourself all day?"
   "Here and there. Spent some time up in the woods. Went swimming. Saw Dr. Valenti."
   Lexi's enthusiastic tone sobered. "Oh yeah? How'd it go?"
   "Okay. Same as usual. Where's Jen?"
   "Out with a friend. You know, the rich handsome one."
   "Oh, that friend," Nyla chuckled. Most of Jen's friends were rich and handsome.
   As Nyla walked back to her room, Lexi said, "I've got enough food here for you if you're hungry."
   "That'd be great. Thanks!" Nyla locked to door behind her. She opened her closet and picked up the Recharger. She placed it on her bed and then completely dissipated the sheath around her body. She formed a tendril from the Gauntlet and used it to fetch a t-shirt and jeans off the floor. She dressed and then touched the Recharger with the Gauntlet, which melted off her hand into the Recharger where it would replenish its energy.
   "Nyla, you have demonstrated competency in wielding the Gauntlet." The Recharger's telepathic voice was cold and synthesized. "You are ready to begin your duty as a Patroller."
   Nyla sighed. "Actually, I was hoping for a little more prep time. It's been only a week-"
   "A week in which you have spent every spare moment using the Gauntlet."
   Nyla whispered, "But that doesn't qualify me as an agent of your Civilization. I mean, I've heard of other Patrollers, like Solar Flare, the Cosmic Defender and that guy trying to keep the peace in the Middle East, but is busting heads supposed to be the way to bring about global peace and understanding? And what do I know about fighting crime in the first place?"
   "Nyla, wielders of the Gauntlet inspire a great amount of awe. The threat of punishment from a being as mysterious and powerful as a Patroller is a very effective deterrent to Uncivilized precepts. More effective than you might expect. This mystique is a vital advantage in your confrontations with Uncivilized actions.
   "As for your first concern, law enforcement is only one of the duties of a Patroller. Deterrence through fear of reprisal is effective for many sentients, but a higher level of moral persuasion is necessary for Civilization to take root on Earth. Not only must you be a warrior, but also a teacher, a diplomat and more."
   "But what exactly does that entail? What am I supposed to do?"
   "Nyla, my purpose is to supply energy to the Gauntlet, as well as information and, when necessary, discipline to its user. I do not provide direction. That is your duty."
   "Great. Look," Nyla sighed. "You can't imagine how fantastic this past week has been. The Gauntlet's power was incredible. But... I can't handle this. The responsibility... I was crazy to even think... I'm sorry. I really... Oh Christ." Nyla turned away and folded her arms. "Sorry I'm such a disappointment," she whispered.
   The Recharger's crimson halo pulsed once. When the Recharger "spoke" again, its telepathic voice became more soothing and full. "It sounds like you've given your commitment to the Patrol a great deal of consideration, Nyla."
   "Hmph. You're talking like Dr. Valenti."
   "You are free to relinquish your status as a Patroller at any time, Nyla, but consider this before you decide. The Gauntlet can create energy constructs, but that isn't its only ability. It can bring out the extraordinary in those who consider themselves ordinary. One who wields the Gauntlet knows the sense of ... competence its power provides."
   Nyla laughed. The Recharger knew exactly what to say. "You got that right." She turned around and touched the Recharger. "I've never been so happy in my entire life," she said. She smiled as she watched her Gauntlet flow onto her left hand, and she breathed a sigh of relief.

   A half-hour later, Nyla and Lexi were cleaning up the dinner table. "So, Nyla, how are you doing?"
   "Okay. How come?" asked Nyla as she wiped the table clean.
   "Just curious. We haven't seen much of you lately. Just wanted to make sure everything was okay."
   "No, everything's fine. Really, thanks Lex." Nyla smiled.
   "Oh, great, great." Lexi put the dirty dishes into the sink and folded her hands together. "Say, tonight's movie night. I actually found a copy of 'Storm Master IV: The Search for Cessitrale.' Wanna watch it with us?"
   "Ha! If I have to watch another one of your cheese movies-"
   "Oh, you know you'll love it!"
   "Seriously, I can't. Prior commitment. Sorry."
   "That's okay."
   Nyla heard a slight tinge of disappointment in Lexi's voice. "Let's do something tomorrow night," she said.
   "Yeah, let's."

   That night, Nyla flew over the streets of Nice. She had covered her entire body, except her mouth, with a force field sheath. Her arms and head were covered in silver, and the rest of her was covered in bright red. She also surrounded herself with sparkling little orbs which circled her in a preprogrammed pattern.
   She tried not to worry too much. All she had to do was find a crime and stop it. A simple token to show her Recharger that she was committed. Besides, she had the power of her Gauntlet backing her up. What could go wrong?

NEXT: The Big Time

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Copyright 1995, 1997 by Michael Mendoza