Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Epilogue: Alexander Dalton

Alexander Dalton was being held in the Edwards Air Force Base containment bunker. Steel walls, electromagnetic pulses, and constant monitoring. It would be nearly impossible to escape. Dalton knew, because he had designed it.
Dalton didn't regret his goals. He knew that he was right. And deep down, the rest of the world knew it too. That's why they designed such elaborate prisons. You only spend a half of a billion dollars on several different prisons around the world if you think they will be used.
But even given the extent of the security surrounding him, Dalton was expecting visitors. He wasn't disappointed.
The room had one door. It required two different keys to open. The locks were significantly more than a human armspan apart. The door weighed over eight tons, and was packed with explosives that would kill both Dalton and his visitor if the wrong key was inserted. Dalton couldn't help but feel impressed as the door creaked open.

Alexander Dalton sat back in his chair. He didn't have many other options, as both his hands and legs were bound to it. Fortunately, his jailers hadn't seen fit to gag him. Dalton addressed the interloper. "Hello, Oliver."
His visitor slammed the door shut. "Oliver Dalton died in a fire. My name is Oberon."
Dalton smiled at his little brother. "I see you decided to jump your ship."
"Of course. Your actions forced me to doom my greatest creation to either explode against the Earth or recede into the sky. But thanks to a brilliant invention called autopilot, there was no reason for me to be aboard when that happened." Oberon paused. "You cannot imagine how much it pained me, losing Titania. You know how I am with machines. You know that my head is packed with computers of its own. Imagine the long hours I spent with her. Try to imagine the long hours I spent with her. How deeply, how intimately, I connected with the greatest machine ever built. Only to lose it to your sanctimonious attempts to rid the world of genius."
Dalton absorbed his brother's statements. He expected as much. "I am curious what you plan to do with me."
"Curiosity is a good trait. I'm glad you have it. If you hadn't also been burdened by a crippling fear of scientific progress, perhaps you might have accomplished something."
"I would hardly call it a crippling fear, Oliver. I am responsible for more technological developments than anyone else in human history. Including you."
"If you call a thousand drugs, each a one percent improvement to the status quo, each still a decade from deployment, a great technological development."
Dalton looked at his sibling. It had been 1416 days since they had last spoken in person. Oberon was shedding his armor, revealing his distinctive face. As Dalton looked at his flesh and blood, he saw the mechanical eye staring back at him. He heard the in and out breathing through Oberon's gas mask.
"Oliver, for such an intelligent person, you have rather simple notions of how to change the world. Do you think that your actions will ever result in a better world. even for MADs? You have no sense for how people think." This reminded Dalton of something he had been wondering for a while. "Is it true you once hijacked a plane because you were frustrated with security."
"Yes, Alex. A simple demonstration of the fact that in intelligent hands, even a laptop computer is more than enough. It isn't my fault that the TSA drew entirely the wrong message from that."
Dalton sighed. "Yes, Oliver, it is. Any reasonably intelligent child could have foreseen their reaction. I can't help but imagine that you did too. But Oliver Dalton, my little brother, felt the need to make a spectacle, prove how smart he was, and, most of all, to take out his frustration by taking over a plane."
Oberon leaned in closer. Dalton could hear the air moving through his mask. In and out. In and out. "Let me make something clear, Alex. If you call me your little brother again, I will tear your head off. I am not Oliver Dalton. I am not your little brother. If you wanted to be my brother, well... you had your chance."
"What would you have had me do?" Dalton was curious what Oberon would say.
Fortunately, Oberon seemed to have a response prepared. "Consider Allegra Complex. Consider her brother. Imagine how little Gabriel must have felt. He was, what, fourteen when his sister was taken away. Not an easy age, and then his sibling vanished from his life. An older sibling. One I expect he admired very much. And then, a few months ago, he noticed that everyone around him was stupid. That, all of the sudden, everyone needed every detail explained to them. That nobody could remember anything anymore. That the entire planet has lost its common sense. And slowly, he began to realize that maybe the world hadn't changed. Maybe the change was in him." Oberon paced across the metal room.
"But our Gabriel had a loving older sibling. One who had already gone through the transition. One who could teach him our ways, who could teach him to embrace and channel our complex mentalities. He had a mentor who could teach him all that he desperately needed to know. He had an overseer to prevent him from, say burning out his own eye, his own lungs."
Oberon clenched his fist. "You know how advanced my nanotechnology has come. You've seen me regrow limbs, you've heard how I can cure cholera with a touch. Why do you imagine I still use this mask. Why do you think I still keep my mechanical eye?"
"As a reminder of how I let you down."
Oberon seemed surprised. "What? No. No, it's a reminder of how dangerous the world is for new MADs. Of how they can harm themselves without guidance. I try to aid them. I take on proteges. But I can't help but think I would be a little better at if maybe I had had a mentor myself. If only I brother had been a MAD. If only he had recognized the change in me before I did." Oberon's voice cracked ever so slightly. "IF ONLY YOU HAD CARED ABOUT ME!!!"
Dalton didn't try to defend his actions. He knew that his brother's fate had been his fault. He had been too busy observing Oliver, taking notes, to realize the danger the young genius had posed even to himself. And now that young genius was an adult mass-murderer.
Oberon regained his composure. "I know that I have done harm. But I will rebuild the world. I will create a place where every MAD is free, and safe. I will turn this planet into a paradise."
"That is an admirable goal," Dalton said. "But I worry about the methods you will use to achieve it."
"Actually, you yourself are the source of most of them. Now that I know there is a vacancy for the position of President's MAD Puppetmaster, well, I will see it filled." Dalton snorted. Plenty of others would be applying for that job, and most of them would have greater interpersonal skills than Oberon. "Yes, your control of the government was impressive. But you came up with something even better. A miracle drug, called Quionizine C."
Dalton sighed. "I'm not proud of what I used that for-"
"Nor should you be- it was cruel what you did to Allegra. The fact that you resorted to such depraved tactics so quickly... and people say I'm the sadist." Oberon flashed a brief look of distaste at his brother. "But the drug has its uses. And I have no doubt I will be able to improve upon it. And then imagine what I shall accomplish. Fleets of starships! A paradise of nanotechnology! With your help, Alex, I will bring about a golden age."
Dalton thought about his brother's goals. They seemed almost... attainable. Dalton ascribed to him a ten percent chance at success. And a twenty percent chance at causing the apocalypse. "How did you learn about Quionizine C?"
"Reading an old file. I never really managed to bug the Basement. And I doubt much of note will occur there after what you have done."
"The files never said how to synthesize the drug."
"I know. There is probably only one person on the planet who understands that process."
Oberon tapped Dalton's head. Dalton felt a fluid well up underneath Oberon's finger. He felt Oberon absorb that fluid. "Did you know my nanobots can scan a human brain? I have a map of every neuron, every dendrite. I'm rather proud of the technology."
"As you should be. You plan to go through my mind, and isolate the formula for Quionizine C."
"Nuclear codes might also be interesting. I heard the government is having some issues with those recently. And I'm sure you have a great deal of other knowledge, but scientific and otherwise, that I will find fascinating."
"I'm sure."
"Now, this puts me in a rather awkward position with respect to your meat body. I really don't want you warning your captors about me. They still think I'm dead or in exile, and I would prefer to keep a low profile for the time being."
Oberon made a series of quick gestures with his hand. Dalton suspected that his brother was drawing diagrams, thinking some some abstract problem during their conversation. Dalton wasn't surprised. He did the same during most of his conversations.
"So," Oberon said, "I need you silence. But it would have to be more than a verbal silencing- you're smart enough to use sign language, or blink in Morse code, or talk to them by wiggling you damn toes. So I would need to relieve you off all motor control. But that is simply cruel. Alexander Dalton, you need to die. But, in yet another constraint, I don't want them to know that you were killed. I have no choice but for you to die of natural causes." Oberon grinned, pulling a small vial out of a pocket. "Fortunately, I can cause natural causes whenever I want. Goodbye, Alex."
Dalton didn't feel any need to beg, or sob for his life. It would be pathetic. He knew there was nothing that could sway Oberon. He had always been stubborn. "Goodbye, brother."    

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


I slept through the night. But it seemed the rest of the world stayed awake. I awoke to find that the sky had cleared up, and that Oberon's ship had passed the Earth by. I also found I had Gabe and Daniel to explain it to me.
"So, at the moment," Gabe said, "the Earth is completely safe from powerful MADs who want to commit genocide."
"It is more than that," Daniel continued. "Oberon's ship has shone no signs of acceleration over the past two days. It is quite possible he burned through his entire fuel reserves in an effort to annihilate Dalton as quickly as possible."
"Meaning that he can't turn around," I said.
"I think he's gone forever." I thought for a moment. "That doesn't seem likely. He can filter more hydrogen out of deep space. It might take him a while, but he'll be back eventually."
"If he wants to come back," Gabe said. "I like the idea of him building a new life in some other star system."
"In the direction he's going, he won't reach another star system for over eight thousand years," Daniel corrected. "His ship isn't that fast."
Gabe rolled his eyes.
"Is Tom still being held."
Gabe's face darkened. "Yes. A screw-up this magnitude requires as many scapegoats as possible. Tom is in line to be one of them."
"It is objectively the case that he broke a great many laws," Daniel admitted.
"Yes, but he doesn't deserve the treatment he's getting. Dalton fooled everyone from the President to a labful of MADs. So why is Tom getting all the blame?"
"The President will receive his share of blame in time," Daniel said.
This brought me to my last line of inquiry. I swallowed, and asked my question. "W-what happened to Dalton," I asked. I didn't want to think about the man. But, at the same time, I needed to know. "Where is he?"
"A hole in the ground," Gabe said. Daniel looked at him. "An alive-people hole. Like, he's still alive. He's just being held in a hole in the ground. A heavily fortified hole. Not a grave. He hasn't been killed."
"I understand."
"Oh," Gabe said. "One other thing. Have you ever googled your name?"
"Not recently."
"Well, I searched mine a few hours ago. You want to know what I found?" He handed me his phone. The page was bustling with articles. Most of them were about me. I checked a few. They were ridiculous. Silly. They painted a picture of me bravely walking into the lion's den, and dragging the lion out. They called me the savior of California. There was talk about giving me a medal, and argument about what sort of medal to give me.
"They... They think I'm a hero."
"You are a hero," Gabe said. "That doesn't mean your Wikipedia page should come before mine when you search my name. It's showing off, is what it is."
I told them the real story. I told them how I lay amid a pile of dead soldiers, waiting for Dalton to control my mind. I told them how the only reason Dalton survived was that I lacked the conviction to kill him. "I only got him because he was distracted. He was working on his virus. And... and even then, it was him who managed to call the surface. Even when I do something good... I'm still his puppet."
"So saving the day wasn't as glamorous as some people believe. So you felt doubt as you saved fifty million lives. So there wasn't an awesome theme song in the background as you wrestled a bear. You're still a hero."
"I concur," Daniel said.
"You don't understand."
"I think I do," Gabe said. "I think you have trouble seeing what you accomplished because you were, you know, doing it."
I tried to explain again. How weak I felt. How powerless I was against Dalton, even with a gun in my hand. But I couldn't.
"You're being too harsh with yourself," Daniel said.
"And even if you aren't, the world has decided you are a hero," Gabe added. "You can do more good by accepting their respect and using it for good than by explaining how weak you are."
I nodded. Gabe had a point. It seemed like MAD popularity had taken a rather gigantic hit over the past two weeks. Perhaps I could do something to reverse it. There was one other thing I wanted...
"Do you know what happened to my armor?"
"No," Gabe said. "Why?"
"Because when I wore it... I bonded with it. It was a part of me. I think that I could repair it, and use it again."
"Are you sure that is wise," Daniel asked. "It was designed by Oberon."
"I know. I'm aware that there is risk. But at the same time, I want nothing more than to to feel my thrusters and engines again."
"My guess is that you could just ask for it," Gabe suggested. "You could probably ask for the Washington Monument right about now."
"That is an exaggeration, but I agree with Gabe's overall point," Daniel added.
So I asked. They said yes.

The armor had a total of eleven connections with my body. Only three of them seemed at all capable of functioning. I took the other ones apart, and tried to figure out how they worked. Looking at them under a microscope, it seemed like they relied on nanotechnology to connect to my nervous system. Fortunately, the nanotech seemed to be mostly undamaged. It was more large-scale structures that needed repairs. Things I could synthesize without help.
I started work at 11:23. At 3:20, Samuel R. Barton interrupted me. "How are things," he asked.
"Things are going considerably better than when we last talked, mostly for reasons you already know."
"What are you doing," he asked.
Internally, I sighed. Was this Barton's idea of flirting with me? "I am attempting to repair this armor. I am currently encountering difficulties, since I do not have access to the materials to repair the damaged fusion reactors." I don't know why, but I opened on up for him. "The reaction here is contained by a magnetic field, but it is also held this heat-resistant carbon-metal composite envelope. It looks like two of the reactors had their envelopes ruptured. Among other things, that meant they melted a lot of the nearby circuitry. My problem is that I don't know how to fix them. I have never seen any material like this, and have no idea how Oberon synthesized it on the molecular level. I'm having similar problems with some damaged superconducting wires. Although I suppose I borrow Tom's formula."
Sam leaned in. "I can't help you with any superconductors. But I think I may know the person who invented the carbon-metal thing. A woman named Pravina Srinvasa. She owes me a favor."
"Do I want to know why?"
"I broke her out of a psych ward."
"I see. And you would be willing to call in this favor on my behalf?"
Sam smiled. "I guess you'll owe me a favor instead."
"You have yourself a deal. Assuming the favor you ask for is reasonable. If not, I will probably slap you."
Eight minutes later, Sam showed me detailed files about how Srinvasa synthesized the container walls. It would be difficult. But not impossible. I got to work.

I heard from my parents today. I had been in touch with them only sporadically since I left to find Gabe, almost a month ago. Like the rest of the world, they had been watching with horror and fascination as events in the Basement became public. Like the rest of the world, they thought I had done something really impressive. I didn't even try to correct them.
I told them that Gabe and I would fly over soon. I said I wasn't sure if we would be living in Boston or California or somewhere else, but promised to let them know as soon as we decided. Then, I returned to my suit of armor.

It wasn't done. Not by a long shot. I only had one functioning reactor. I would only be able to see in one eye. I was barely capable of flight, and my armor would probably fall apart if I crashed. But we MADs like to live dangerously.
I felt a euphoria as I regained feeling in my thrusters, as I regained sight through my cameras, and as I felt the steady hum of my one fusion reactor. Feeling my legs, even at a fraction of their full strength, gave me such a sense of power. At that moment, I was, if not complete, at least far greater than my frail human body would have allowed.
I flexed my fingers. They moved so smoothly, so beautifully. They should, since I had spent 48 minutes replacing every electric motor inside of them with ones from Tom's stash, and oiling the whole thing, to boot.
I picked up a glass test tube, and held it above a trash can. I could control the force applied down to the millinewton. I loosened my grip, until the test tube was just starting to slide from my grasp. Then I increased the pressure a thousandfold, crushing the test tube to dust. I grinned. The sparkling flecks drifted downward.
I made my way to a parking lot. A few people questioned why I was tramping through the Xcom building in a powered suit of armor designed by an evil genius. I didn't dignify such foolish questions with a response.
It was still wet from several days' torrential rain. But the sky was clear.
I looked up. I could only see parts of the spectrum, but it was enough. I plotted out a course, lots of loops and twists.
I launched into the air, overcoming the pull of gravity. I could feel the air streaming over my chassis. I could feel myself accelerating. I screamed with joy. "YES!"    

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Climax

Well, diary, this was it. The last full day of this nightmare.
Things started off well. At 10:43 AM, the drill broke through into Level 45. A SWAT team was sent down to apprehend Dalton, alive if possible. We didn't hear from them again. At 11:24, we sent down another SWAT team. At 11:49, we sent in a Special Operations and Reconnaissance team. This is apparently very different from a SWAT team. These guys were equipped with a radio connection to the surface. Which meant we all got to hear them screaming.
At 12:04, after we had already lost close to three hundred people, someone finally agreed to send down a few cameras, so that we could get a look at what was going on down there. What we saw was not encouraging.
Large robots, probably twenty feet tall, stood guard. The men sent in to storm the base were lying on the ground, blood seeping out of their bodies. The drone lasted about eight seconds before it was destroyed by machine-gun fire.
The decision was made that Level 45 needed to be bombed. The only problem was the lack of any explosives more powerful than a small artillery shell. And bringing in something new wasn't really an option. The rain had picked up further still, cutting us off from anything more than a few miles away. (I actually did some calculations. If we diverted as much water as we could, we could flood Level 45 in a week. Not bad, just not good enough.)
So the conversation shifted to building something that could survive the robot assault. "Tom had robots on Level 36. He was trying to build Cylons."
"How fast can you have them up and running?"
"I don't know. It would be a lot faster if Tom were here, obviously. Even getting him to draw up the plans would speed things up immensely."
"Carter. Make some calls. See if you can get her what she wants."
I realized something. I was in charge. I had spent days complaining about the President's decision making. I had criticized, and speculated about how I could do better. But now, the President was out of ideas. Everyone was out of ideas. Except for me. My brain would never be out of ideas.

At 2:12, I figured it out. I turned to whatever lieutenant had been drafted to shadow me. "Call Spectrum. Video call. Top priority."
It took eleven minutes for the call to be set up. It was an exceptionally low-quality video call. Understandable, given how much of the city was without power.
"Well, Allegra. It seems you need my help."
Why was he acting so smug? "Of course I need your help. More specifically, I need to get someone into your armor."
"I see. Dalton's defenses are too much more a normal army." Spectrum sighed. "Well, it's going to have to be a MAD."
I swallowed. I was the only MAD in the building. "W-why?"
Spectrum noticed my nervousness. "It was designed to interface directly with the brain. Our brains are different. Better, and different."
"If you send me the schematics, I can modify it-"
"How much do you know about the chemistry of brain-computer interfaces?"
"I could learn."
"How much time do you have?"
"16 hours, 42 minutes until your boss kills us all."
Spectrum got serious. "Do you note-taking tab open? Unless you're confident in your eidetic memory, you're going to want to write this down."
"Ready," I said, three seconds later.
Spectrum explained how I could safely disconnect the armor from the facility's power grid. He walked me through the process of hooking it up with a computer, and explaining to it that it had a new owner. There were over a dozen passcodes, one of which was close to a thousand characters long. "You have that memorized," I asked.
"Yes. You sure you wrote it down correctly? Send it back to me, I'll read it over."
I sent it, he read it while carrying on the conversation. He explained, in broad strokes, how the interface would work. "It will drill into your arms and legs and your spinal cord and your optic nerves. Oh, and clothes. I have specially made clothes with holes in the appropriate places. You're probably just going to want to go without."
Interesting. "Is it cold in there?"
"You can set the temperature anywhere from 280 to 320 degrees Kelvin." I mentally converted to Fahrenheit. A more than adequate range. Spectrum continued. "It should take you some time to come to grips with the new senses and body parts you will have. Practice flying. Be aware that you are a novice flier, and might fly into something."
"The armor has a laser, and a small gun. The later will likely not be effective, and the former is quite an energy drain. Make sure it is fully fueled."
"And Allegra..." Spectrum sighed "Oberon would say I'm being superstitious for saying this, but good luck."

Have you ever stripped down to your underwear in a room full of hundreds of people of the opposite gender, with most of them staring at you? I have. I didn't care. I was too busy being completely terrified.
The last time I had been in Level 45, I had been defeated. I had been drugged, and made to serve Dalton's will. I knew the circumstances were different. I knew that this time I would be wielding a weapon that would make Dalton's robots look like... robots that are slightly effective but not that effective. I knew that Dalton wouldn't catch me by surprise again. But, nonetheless, I knew of the risks. Dalton was smarter than me. He had had years to prepare Level 45's defenses. He knew I was coming. He might well know that I was coming in Spectrum's armor. He might be watching me right now, as I stand half-naked above a robotic suit of armor I whose workings I only barely understood. I entered the final commands into a laptop, and was encased in metal.

It was more painful than I expected. And, just to remind you, I was expecting to have a machine drill into my arms, legs, spinal cord, and optic nerves. I would have doubled over, but the suit prevented it. I was blind. I was paralyzed. I was in agony. And then, it was over.
I saw more than I had ever seen. My cameras let me observe everything from ultraviolet light to far infrared. I flexed my servos. I was powerful. And, with trepidation, I fired my rockets. 0.6 seconds later, there was a new hole in the ceiling.
I struggled to stay in control. My rockets were so much more powerful than I expected. I found myself arcing. I realized I might crash into the ground. I fired my stabilizers, and set myself back on course.
156 seconds after I first exerted my new body, I was back in the Xcom building. I was panting. I was straining myself. But I was in control.
I needed to test my strength. I scanned for something to lift. Aha! The now inert power station to which the armor had been connected. I strained my servos. I lifted the tanker. And fell over. No problem. My rockets brought my out from underneath the mess. I landed in front a car. I pushed it across the Xcom building. I knew I wasn't powerful enough to lift the car into the sky. So I punched as I hard as I could. The car was pushed forwards, and I shot backwards. I rammed into another car. I felt a brief dull ache. Not just in my flesh body, but also in my armor.
After eight more minutes of property damage, I judged myself proficient in the use of my armor. I tested myself against soldiers with machine guns. I punched out commandos without doing permanent damage. I bent steel beams with my bare hands. Well, bare is a relative term.
Eventually, there was no more preparation to do. No more test I could convince myself to run. It was time to go down that hole, and face the nightmare at the bottom.

The fight was brief. Dalton's robots were slow. They were no match for me. I whizzed back and forth, landing punch after punch, while they struggled to target me. A few quick slices with my laser, and Dalton's sentinels were sporting very large holes.
"Allegra." I heard Dalton's voice over the speakers. My heart started to pound. "Why are you doing this?"
"Y-you know why. Don't make this another at-attempt to convert me to your sick philosophy."
"Is there nothing I could say that could convince you? Are you so entirely confident in your love of MADkind that you cannot conceive of an argument that would sway you?"
"I am sure."
"Very well, Allegra." Some switch somewhere was flipped. A magnet turned on. My metal body was slammed into a wall.
No. I was strong. This... this couldn't happen. I pushed against the wall as hard as I could, first with my limbs and then with my rockets. Nothing. I began to feel... a combination of light-headedness and terror. I felt my circuits begin to fry. Meanwhile, my biology was beginning to fail as well. I felt my exoskeleton creak. My flesh was crushed beneath it.
"I'm sorry to do this to you, Allegra. I realize I have been cruel to you. And I realize now that you will never live to see why my actions were necessary. But please understand that I mean you no harm."
He could say whatever he wanted to me, and I couldn't do anything about it. I was trapped against a wall. I would die in a few minutes, either crushed or killed by the magnetic fields. I began to lose consciousness.

It was only as I lost feeling in my servos that I realized what I needed to do. I was at loathe to do so. It would by tantamount to cutting off my own arm. But I gave the order. I shed my armor. The plates and wires reorganized themselves. A few of them cut against my skin, as they moved under far more pressure than they were designed for. Eventually, I dropped to the ground, my armor still hanging from the wall.
I was bruised and cut. But that hardly mattered. What mattered was the feeling of loss. My cameras, my thrusters, my servos. my fusion reactors, and my stabilizers. How did Oberon do it? How did Spectrum surrender his this suit so casually? It was a part of me. It was part of him.
I crawled away from the magnetic fields. I found myself nestled among a pile of human bodies. I didn't care. I could barely see, my eyes were leaking blood. I could barely feel my legs. I was in a pool of warm blood, and only some of it was my own.
I was without my armor. I was without clothes, even. I was unarmed, against Dalton, who was probably about to walk in and shoot me, or, worse yet, drug me again and force me to work with him. I had failed. I had failed everyone. Gabe and Tom and Daniel and every other person in California would die because I had stood around in front of an electromagnet without noticing.
I felt a something cold against my leg. A gun. Once owned by a soldier who had given his life trying to stop Dalton. I pondered shooting myself. At least that would keep me out of Dalton's hands. But I had a better idea of what to shoot.

It took me four tries. My hands kept shaking. But, eventually, I was able to destroy the electromagnet. My armor clattered to the floor. I put it back on. It was badly damaged. Only one of my fusion reactors still worked, and most of the armor's motors were blown. I was only slightly stronger than a man made of meat.
I was blind. I could deal with that for most of my trip. I knew where I was, and could follow the map in my head to a 't'. And I could order the helmet to come off, and let me see Dalton as I shot him.
The problem was the pain. The armor was trying to give me sensory information, but it was badly damaged. It filled me with agony. I tried to push it to the back of my mind. With a gun in each hand, I made my way towards Dalton. I moved towards the room I knew contained him. I ordered my helmet down and, vision restored, punched down the door.
Dalton was still there, seemingly engrossed in his work. He seemed startled to see me. It was the first time I had ever seen him startled, and it subsided quickly. "Allegra. Interesting. You disabled the electromagnet. And I see that the armor is at least partially functional. Give Oberon credit where it is due.
I lifted my guns. "This will be interesting," he said. "Allegra Complex has killed before. But can she do it on command?"
I... couldn't. I couldn't do it. The man had violated me more than I had ever thought possible. Threatened the lives of millions in an insane quest. But I couldn't kill him.
I lunged towards him. I used to be so fast, with fusion powered thrusters pushing me through the sky. But now a middle-aged man was able to evade me. I chased him around the room, finally tackling him. I dragged him away from his laboratory. "Y-you... you once said that you would break my legs to stop me from escaping."
"Yes, and I bet you could do that. Those metal hands of yours are probably numb, you wouldn't feel the bones cracking beneath your hands."
He was right.

I picked up a radio. "Th... this is Allegra. Allegra Complex. I- I have Dalton. Please come and get me." Only static. "Please?" There was nobody on the other end.
"Please!  I did my job! I stopped Dalton! You need to get me! You need to tell Oberon!" Nothing.
"If I may," Dalton suggested, "you might-"
"Nonsense. I want Oberon to know of my defeat as much as you do. My laboratory is still connected to the surface. Bring me there, and I will instruct you."
I was suspicious. I did't trust Dalton. And I hated him. But I had no choice. I hated having no choice!
I carried him into his old laboratory. I followed his instructions. I sent a message to the surface. "This is Allegra. I have captured Dalton. Retrieve me at once, and make sure Oberon is informed."

I was saved fifty-eight minutes later. I was brought to the surface. My armor was pried from my skin. I'm writing this passage to test my fine motor skills. Very soon, I will go to sleep.            

Sunday, November 29, 2015

It Goes

A virus was released today. I wouldn't say it was the virus. It must have been an early attempt. But four MADs in New Delhi reported severe fever. Analysis revealed that the infectious agent was a virus. It was clearly not natural. And to me, it was sickeningly familiar.
I didn't know what to do. There were no Medizi facilities in New Delhi. It seemed Dalton had other means of propagating his microscopic killer.
Meanwhile, I was charged with helping run the drill. I was given a Sargent to report to. I was the Corp of Engineers' go-to MAD. I know, diary, you are probably surprised. Why wouldn't they go to Tom? Well, Tom is in jail. That's right. A crazed scientific genius is threatening to blow up the West Coast while another crazed scientific genius works to build a supervirus, and the one man who can stop them is in handcuffs.
So, at 11:48, when an engine in the drill jammed, I was at a bit of a loss. "What do you mean you don't know what it does."
"I don't know what that part of the drill does," I said.
"Do you know how to fix it?"
"I can try."
"What do you mean, try? Thomas Markovitz built this drill in a day."
"I am not Thomas Markovitz. You hauled Thomas Markovitz to prison when the world needs him."
I started taking the engine apart. I tried to avoid thinking about how I had 43 hours and 24 minutes before a spaceship vaporized everything from Hollywood to Yosemite. "How soon can you fix it?"
"I have no idea," I snapped.
I knew I wasn't being fair. The President had a lot of pressure on him, and a lot of decisions to make. He was making most of them correctly. I'm sure he was doing the best he could do. It was just so... frustrating!

It took me 43 minutes, but I got the engine working. It was a minor issue. Tom would have fixed it in a moment.
After that, I sat in front of a computer, reading Tom's notes. Hopefully the information would come in useful the next time the drill broke down.
But Tom's notes weren't a textbook. They were the result of an engineer far more capable than I will ever be jotting down diagrams without the expectation of anyone ever reading them again. I was interrupted by a angry looking army officer. He wasn't my commanding Sargent. He looked to be five or six notches higher in the military pecking order. "Do you know what happened to the U.S. nuclear codes."
"I do not. What happened to the U.S. nuclear codes?"
"I'm not authorized to say."
"Okay. Well, my guess is that Dalton was entrusted with them some time ago, and he used his authority to surreptitiously change them. You found out about this because the President wanted to nuke his way into Dalton's bunker, but learned the hard way that he wasn't able."
"I can neither confirm nor-"
"No need, general. No need."

As a matter of fact, that wasn't the end of Dalton's infiltration of the U.S. Army. "Do you know what happened to the drones?"
"If I had to guess, I would say that Dalton deactivated them. No- scratch that. He launched them all. I would check if they are converging on this location."
My hunch was correct.

I wasn't there to see it. But I heard people talking, and why not write down a little hearsay. I heard that the sky darkened with unmanned drones. I also heard that there were only six of them. I'm told quite a few men in uniform died. They did their best to fight the onslaught from the sky. But despite the fact that the Xcom building had become the fifth largest military installation in the continental U.S, nobody had brought any anti-aircraft weapons. I'm told that most of the building was destroyed. I felt the power go off, as Oberon's fusion reactor made the acquaintance of a small missile.
Then, dramatically swooping in, came a hero. I heard comparisons to Superman. He flew in, a knight in his armor. He blasted through the sky, shooting down the drones with a rain of guns and lasers. Their bullets bounced off his. Their missiles barely set him off course. And, single-handedly, this man defeated our assailants. At this point, six helicopter gunships arrived. The cavalry must have been rather late.
Well, I guess the cavalry didn't like being shown up. "Unknown individual in unidentified flying apparatus, you must land."
The man had been able to shoot down drones. But now he was looking down the barrels of some much higher caliber artillery. I'm guessing that he weighed his options. His suit was fast. Could he escape before any one the men could hit him? He doubted any tracking missile could keep up with his armor. But as he surveyed the damage in front of him. He judged that they still needed his help.
He landed. "Remove your armor," he heard. "If I remove my armor, will I be shot?"
"Remove your armor."
"That sounds suspiciously like a 'yes.' I want some assurance that I will not be hurt."
It must have taken a moment for the man's question to make it up the food chain, and for the answer to make it back down. "If you remove your armor, you will not be harmed."
Spectrum removed Oberon's armor. "Your power station has been destroyed," he said, at the top of his lungs. "My armor outputs enough energy to run your drill. I can hook it up."
"Your armor is an unidentified power source. Unless you can prove that your armor has been inspected through the proper channels."
"In less than two days, Oberon will kill everyone here. You don't want that to happen. Which means you want Tom's operation to go as smoothly as possible. That means you can either use my suit, or, better still, let Tom dig up whatever power plants you made him turn off. Which do you prefer?"
"We do not have the expertise to reactivate Mr. Markovitz's reactors."
"Why the hell not." Spectrum came to a realization. "Was Tom killed by the drones."
"No, he is in prison."
I'm just guessing here, but I suspect Spectrum wanted to punch someone. That's certainly how I felt when I heard the news. "Well, I suppose I ought to have been reading the news, instead of saving your lives. My recommendation is that you bring Tom back, but if you are too stupid to do that, at least let me take over."
"That will absolutely never happen."

Nobody trusted Spectrum. Why would they. He was a known associate of Oberon, who was just about the least popular man in the world at the particular moment.
So I was brought in, to verify that there was nothing wrong with his armor. As if I could possibly understand that technology. "We call it the Explorer 1.2," Spectrum said. "Oberon sent me specs to upgrade the model. It can interface directly with my nervous system. Much better control than I had before. Easier to learn, too. Oberon wants to recruit more people to use these." Spectrum looked wistful. "You should feel it. You can see through the armor's sensors. Flesh those muscles like they're your own. I finally learned what Oberon must feel like every day."
"I think we should concentrate on the power aspects," I said. Frankly, I found all the aspects fascinating. The armor had a direct neural interface. How I ached for a look inside...
"Right. Miniaturized fusion reactors. Two in the chest, and one near the spine. A few inches apart. A few hundred megawatts each, maximum. We'll need a steady supply of deuterium, the armor will run out in about an hour."
"We can get that, easy."
Spectrum gave me a brief walkthrough of how the fusion reactors worked. They were different from the ones Tom and Dalton had built. I didn't know if that was because they were designed to be smaller and lower power, or if it was because different engineers had solved the same problems in different ways.
"Sounds good," I said. It was short work for Spectrum to hook his armor into the power system. It wasn't long before things were up and running again.
"Is it just me," he asked, "or are they being inconsistent. They lock up Thomas Markovitz, the most benevolent MAD in the history of MADs, but I am allowed to walk free."
"I'm sure they'll lock you up soon enough."
"I suppose when a foolish man makes decisions under pressure, one can't exactly expect great consistency."
I had the strangest impulse. I wanted to defend the President. I had spent the entire day thinking that he was a buffoon, but hearing Spectrum criticize him reminded me that I was actually in favor of most of his policies. Funny how that works.

My prediction was right. It wasn't long before Spectrum was hauled away. Word was they were going to give him the trial of the century. I suppose if they couldn't arrest Oberon, his disciple was the next best thing.
I don't know how I feel about Oberon. I can never condone his callous destruction of tens of millions, of lives. But... at least he's consistent. He protects MADs. He thinks we are the future, and that we are necessary, and he acts on his belief. Some part of me wondered if he was bluffing. If he and Dalton were playing a game of chicken. But I doubted it. I had seen Oberon. I had seen the conviction, the certainty in his one organic eye as he gunned down a half dozen neurotypicals to free three dangerous MADs. That eye would never blink. He would kill a billion people before he let Dalton have his way. I just hope it never comes to that.          

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Yesterday, Oberon helped us. He offered us technology we desperately needed, and the entire Basement is running on his reactors. He earned himself some of my goodwill. I guess today he decided to go double or nothing.

I had been asleep for his big spaceship launch. But he has a gigantic fusion powered rocket. He called it the Titania. It was the most powerful spaceship ever developed. There was no zero-gravity aboard the Titania. The ship had one gee of acceleration. At noon today, the ship had reached the halfway point on its trip to Saturn, and was cruising away from Earth at nearly one percent of the speed of light.
Tracking his progress wasn't difficult. The ship's engines were so powerful, they were brighter than Saturn itself. There was a lab in Australia charting his progress. At a little after one o'clock in my time zone, they reported that Oberon had turned off his rockets. Twenty minutes later, they said that the rockets had returned, nearly three times as bright. Ten minutes after that, they confirmed that Oberon was turning his rocket around. "Strange," Tom said. "Of course, he needs to slow down his ship if he wants to explore Saturn, but why is he slowing down so suddenly, with such force?" Tom said a lot of other things too. Most of it was speculation about how you could have a fusion-powered spaceship detonating the equivalent of an atomic bomb every eight minutes without melting itself. "Of course, this is clearly not a deuterium rocket. Only proton-proton could accomplish that sort of kick. What I wouldn't give for a peek inside. A metaphorical peek I mean. A literal peek would turn my face into plasma."
At two in the afternoon, Tom got a video call. It was from Oberon.
"Tom Markovitz. It seems that your partner is not the saint you thought he was. I am glad you at least have the wits to do something about Dalton's treachery. Trying to blast into his secret lair." Oberon's eyes filled the screen. I got the sense that he was making this call from inside his armor.
"Excuse the rather poor camera-work. My beautiful creation is uncomfortably warm at the moment. Even I, who have pushed further than anyone past the limits imposed by human biology, would struggle in the oppressive heat and under such might acceleration."
From how Oberon's eyes moved, I suspected he was attempting a smile.
"I wish you the best of luck in your attempts to breach Dalton's fortress. I have even offered some aid of my own. But while I would like to believe in you, Tom, I cannot say that I do believe in you. So I have a backup plan. The Titania will crash into the Xcom building at 7:25,  December 1. It will put a stop to Dalton's plans in a rather dramatic fashion."
"Needless to say, Tom, I do not wish to die. I do not wish to pass into the abyss, destroying both my greatest creation and yours. So, if by 7:18 you  can convince me that Dalton is stopped, I will be able to redirect my path. If not... at least MADs will survive. I tell you this so that you can alert the trained monkeys who think they rule the world. Tell them that their efforts should be devoted to stopping Dalton, not to foiling the strange lights in the sky."
"That is all, Tom. Work hard, Tom. Both of us will die if you do not." The video ended.
I turned to Tom. "Can he do that?"
"Yes," Tom said. "That is most definitely within Oberon's capabilities. And it will stop Dalton. In fact, it will stop all of California."

Tom told the world what Oberon was planning. Everyone realized that the only way to avoid an unprecedented catastrophe would be to band together to stop Dalton. There was a public outpouring of sympathy, Tom was given his pick of the planet's tools, and all restrictions were lifted.
Yeah, just kidding. There were panics all throughout the west coast. There were riots in Los Angeles. MADs were lynched in San Diego. Lynched. Literally dragged from their homes and killed by disturbingly large groups of people. Both Tom and myself received death threats. Nobody seemed to understand that both Dalton and Oberon had done their best to make the threat of a bullet seem extremely tame.
Speaking of Dalton, I heard from him today. I guess our efforts to cut of his communications were predictably unsuccessful. He appeared on a gigantic screen. I was in the room with Sam Barton, General Hardiron and three of his underlings.
"Allegra," he said. "I was expecting to speak to Tom."
"You can call back later.
"No, you're the one I want." He turned to address the General. "Rip, you likely do not remember this, but we actually met two years ago."
"Until three days ago, I had never heard of you."
I felt something strange in my stomach. Was it some poison? No. No, it was fear. It was fear of Alexander Dalton. He had outmaneuvered me. Beaten me, and trapped me. He had drugged me, and bent me to his will. And even days later, knowing he was trapped behind hundreds of feet of rock, I couldn't look him in the eye. "D-did you hear about O-Oberon," I managed to stammer. Sam put him hand on my shoulder.
"Yes, I did. I heard about his December 1 deadline. And I believe I can beat it. If I did not think I could finish your work, Allegra, and proliferate this virus sunrise on the first, I would, of course surrender. I would give up, and let Oberon spare California. But I believe that I can finish this. I believe that I can end M.A.D.N.E.S.S. once and for all. And I believe that is worth any price."
"You're a monster."
"I am. So are you. So is Oberon. I hope you see that now. You know firsthand what we are capable of. You know it is only a matter of time before someone far worse than Oberon emerges. There is only one way to stop people like us." Dalton stared into my eyes. I looked at the floor. "Join me, Allegra, and we can finish this sooner. Oberon will see what we have done, and California will be spared."
"Have the strength to admit what Tom cannot. Have the decency to end this reign of M.A.D.N.E.S.S."
"Do what is necessary to preserve this world."
"NO!" I ran out of the room. Sam followed me.
"I... I am fine."
"You weren't fine in there."
"I am still not entirely comfortable talking to Dalton. I am fine now." For the record, diary, that was a lie. I was still pretty shaken. Dalton scares me. I can admit that. Alexander Dalton scares me.
"Are you sure?"
"If you ever need to talk to someone..."
"You will be about the eighth person I will call." After my estranged Aunt Esperanza.

I returned to the first floor of the building. Tom had said he needed my help with something. Most of my mind was consumed with the idea of a vaccine for Dalton's creation (unlikely. Impossible in the timeframe available). I wasn't really paying much attention to what was going on in my immediate vicinity. Until I almost collided with a crowd of 12 generals with a total of 27 stars. It looked like Rip Hardiron was no longer the ranking officer.
Meanwhile, I counted a total of five news teams. And...were those protesters outside. I Dalton's pet thunderstorm didn't bother them.
Meanwhile, a man in a suit was talking to Tom. It took me a moment to realize that he was the Governor of California. "Listen, Tom. This isn't your show anymore. I'm not even sure if it's my show anymore. A lot of these guys take personal orders from the President."
"Bill, I honestly do not care which politician thinks he is in charge. What I care about is that you seem to think you have a better idea than my drill. If you really are so smart, you should have told me about it days ago."
The Governor sighed. "I'll be honest Tom. If it were up to me, you'd have free run of the place, and everyone in the goddamn city would be taking orders from you until we have Dalton in handcuffs. But this isn't my show. The President thinks that the Army Corps of Engineers should be handling this."
"I know. And it is enough to make me regret ever funding his campaign. Does he really think that there is a single Engineer in that Corps who could even understand what I am doing?"
"I think he does."
"Well, then he is an idiot. Which I have long suspected. I know why he is doing this. He is doing this because he has some image in his head of a great president. He thinks that when crisis threatens, the president's job is to get in front and take charge. Which is a problem, since his brain is literally not developed enough for him to fully understand the situation."
"Listen, Tom, I've already talked to the President. You've already talked to the President. This isn't going away."
I butted in. "I think Tom has, frankly, better things to do that keep up this conversation. My name is Allegra, and I am Tom's mouthpiece in situations like this."
I took over the conversation. Then, I talked to the generals. It was useless.
I actually started to understand Oberon. Not his plan to vaporize California. But I understood how he must have felt, after years of working for neurotypicals. Years of brilliant ideas. Years of having neurotypicals in suits tell him no, even when they couldn't understand his work. Years of being able to solve every problem, if only they would accept your solution. But things wore on. Tom thinks that even with the delays, even with the army manning what should be an automated drill, we can still break into Level 45 before Oberon's deadline. I pray to whoever is listening that he is right.  

Friday, November 27, 2015


Well, things got bad today. Things started going bad when the power went out. It had been pouring for four consecutive days, and today, we finally got to experience blackouts throughout the San Francisco area, including the Xcom building.
Now, in any reasonable world, this wouldn't be a problem. The Xcom building has a rack of fusion reactors in the basement. But ever since Topeka, neurotypicals have had their hang-ups about fusion power. So as soon as the army came in, Tom needed to hook up to the power grid.
So Tom was trying to move in generators. Which was difficult, because planes can't land in torrential downpours, and it isn't exactly easy to drive in this weather either.
 So I was called in. Tom had faith in my ability to talk some sense into the military. "Sure, telling the military what to do. I'll come right over."
Coming right over wasn't easy. Downpour, remember. Most of the city had been shut down, staying at home in the dark with neither their internet nor their telephone. Tom owned several cars. But the garage door weighed over five hundred pounds, and the power was out.
So I spent a full ten minutes rigging a car engine to pry open the garage door. By the end of it, I was dripping both grease and water. I entered into what was probably a million dollar car, hoping that I would live to hear someone complain about how I messed up the upholstery.
I reached the Xcom building, and staggered in. I was wearing a raincoat (which I could only assume belonged to Tom). I had no idea where to hang it up in the busy corporate center/ mad science emporium/ construction site, so I just left it near the door. With any luck, someone who needed a coat might find use for it. I would just have to brave my way when I wanted to leave. Good thing that I never take long to find my car in the parking lot.
The elevator was working. I wondered if Tom was running it on one of those experimental batteries he had been developing.
I reached Tom in Level 12. He seemed to be cannibalizing at least a dozen different inventions. I counted the permanent magnets from a particle accelerator he had been making, the metal canisters from a chemistry lab on Level 21, and the plumbing from a bathroom that was being installed on the fourth floor of the Xcom building. Tom was talking to a man with two stars on his uniform. Neither of them looked happy. "Talk to me about safety! My power plants have been running for years without incident. You want some untested technology? Try a gasoline-fire power plant constructed in the pouring rain consuming two gallons per second through pipes I stole from a toilet. Every hour, some poor guy is going to have to drive a truck laden with gasoline right through the front door of my building- and I do mean through the front door, at least the first time. We're going to have to set this up in the lobby. Or, we could use the technology of the future, six little balls of limitless energy that could single-handedly power the entire bay area."
"You know," the general said, "maybe this is a sign that a building like this should have some backup generators."
"Oh, clever retort. How many lieutenants did you have to ask before one of them came up with it? Well, as it happened, I had six very powerful backup generators, until you shut them off!"
"They're illegal. They're highly illegal! I ought to have you arrested."
"First of all, they are only mildly illegal. Second of all, if you have arrested, I and every other MAD will be dead by New Year's at the latest, and you'll never have to worry about limitless free energy for as long as you live." Tom turned to me. "Allegra, you know how to talk to these people. Make him see reason."
Sure. I know how to talk to generals. "Ummm, uh, hi. My name is Allegra. Why don't you tell me yours and we can talk without distracting Tom here."
We left Tom's room. "My name is General Rip Hardiron."
Rip Hardiron? What a ridiculous name. I decided I would steal it, and use it in my fantasy novel, if I ever decided to work on that again. "Should I call you Rip?"
"Call me General."
I wondered if I should make another call to President Walsh. He had given in to my demands last time. But something told me that blackmailing the president was a thing you should do no more than once per week. "Okay, General. Here is what you need to understand. Tom is the smartest man I know." Both Dalton and Oberon might take issue with that statement. But I take issue with the fact that both Dalton and Oberon are deranged murderers. "If Tom says his reactor works, it works. He has been running six of them for years without any problems.  If he turns just one of them down, he could power not only this entire building, but the entire block."
"Or he might just vaporize the entire block."
"With all due respect, general, that is not a possibility. When Prometheus blew up Topeka, he was working with what he knew was a very dangerous device, deliberately designed to explode. The machines Tom has... he couldn't make an explosion even if he wanted to. At any given moment, each machine only has a megawatt-hour's worth of hydrogen inside. The fuel is stored in a separate container on the other side of the room."
"How can I believe you?"
"Well, I could take someone who actually understands this sort of thing and show it to him."
"Listen, Allegra. Despite what I'm sure you think, I'm not an idiot. I know that there isn't a single man, under my command or any other, who could understand what you've built down there."
"Okay. Well, let me point this out. Tom didn't need to tell you what those machines did." If he knew how you would react, I'm sure he would have lied. "He could have told you they were high-tech washing machines, and you would have believed him. So, tell me, why would he tell you what they were only to lie about them the next day?"
"I don't know," the General admitted. "That's the problem with you. You're the smart ones! How can we ever know what you're planning? How can I ever know why you say what you say?"
I didn't have a good response to that. But I didn't get to make my pathetic excuse, because I was interrupted by some soldier. "Oberon is outside, right now. He wants to talk to you."
"I'll be right up," the General said.
"No, not you. Allegra."

There must have been thirty guns pointed at him. I doubted they could hurt him. He wouldn't have come if he thought they could hurt him. Of course, I would recommend firing them anyways.
The whole situation seemed strange to me. Last I'd heard about Oberon, he was sitting on top of the most powerful rocket ever built, ready to explore the moons of Saturn. Now he was in a parking lot in California?
The General spoke into the loudspeaker. "Remove the armor, come quietly, and I will tell the President we've taken Oberon alive."
"I wouldn't do that." The voice sounded tinny over the armor's speakers. "First of all, you aren't taking me. Second of all, I'm not Oberon."
"Well then. You'd better explain real fast why you just flew in here in his armor."
"My name is Spectrum, and I am also called Jackson Romero. Oberon is lending me his armor after mine was rather embarrassingly damaged. I am speaking on his behalf since he is not currently on this planet. A fact, I might add, that you should have been aware of."
"And why the hell are you here?"
"I am here because Oberon wants to help you. He says I should talk to Allegra Complex, and that if she isn't here, I should talk to Tom."
"Well, Allegra is here, but you'd have to be stupid to think I'd let you talk to her."
Spectrum turned around and faced me. "General, what makes you think you decide who I talk to?"
He rushed at me at what must have been twenty miles per hours, decelerating before impact and then accelerating as soon as I was in his grasp. Was this payback for when I ran into him with a car?
In 125 seconds, we were forty-one miles away, standing on one of the towers of the Golden Gate bridge. "How am I going to get down from here?" Perhaps that shouldn't have been my first question.
"I'll drop you off. They won't have a chance to shoot at us."
Seemed like a reasonably good plan.
"Sorry about the weather," Spectrum said. "Although I suppose that is really Dalton's fault."
Was he saying this storm was Dalton's doing? Was he really that powerful. I didn't want to think about it. "Why did Oberon send you to talk to me?"
"He said you had a good head on your shoulders. Frankly, I got that impression too. Not many people have been on my bad side twice and beaten me both times."
"I'll be sure to put it on my resume."
"Great. Now, let's talk business. We want to help. Now, the tin soldiers don't want you accepting our help. Luckily, they are idiots. So, here is what we can give you. First of all, we have no fewer that four planes that are capable of landing in your parking lot. Probably the only planes that could land anywhere near you at the moment. We can get you any sort of supplies. Just say that Tom built them. They'll believe you."
I thought about what Rip said. They really would just have to take our word for it. They were out of their league and needed to trust us. Could really I violate that trust? What implications would that have for all MADs? On the other hand, we needed the planes. "Very well. I assume they can fly themselves. Tell us where they are, and how to operate them."
"Just emailed Tom. What else do you need?"
"Well, there is a blackout. And they shut down... what we were previously using."
"Fusion. I know. Tom and Alex aren't idiots. Of course they've cracked that nut."
Yeah. Anybody who isn't an idiot can build a fusion reactor.
"So, if I know Tom, which I do, he is building some crazy machine to power his whole building."
"You know Tom."
"Well, this is great. We can spare a fusion reactor. A gigawatt is enough for you, right?"
Could I give away that sort of information? "Yes." I thought for a fraction of a second. "You think we can just stick a fusion reactor in the middle of a pile of hi-tech garbage and they won't figure it out?"
"Do you disagree?"
"I suppose not."
"One other thing. Oberon realized that Dalton must have some method of communicating with the surface. That is most likely a wire. He designed a fleet of robotic probes that will try to dig up said wires. They, too, will be on the planes."
"There is, of course, the matter of payment."
"No, there is not. We are not paying you. You die just as much as we do if this mission fails."
"Oberon will be on Saturn. This armor could take me to the moon."
"We still aren't paying you. I don't trust you."
"It isn't a large price. Just a sample from a class of drugs call Quinozines. They are the first step on a project Oberon has been pondering for some time."
My heart stopped. Is that why Oberon wanted it to be me who would negotiate? He knew I was scared of the stuff. That I wouldn't to think about it, to argue about it. He knew that I would give in just so I wouldn't have to think about it. Or was it just a lucky guess? I tried to calm myself. I had spent three days as a puppet of Quionizine C. I would not be a puppet again. "W-we decline. You- you can't have those drugs. If you really believe the things you say, about MAD rights, you'll help us anyway."
Spectrum laughed. "Calling our bluff, eh? Smart. You get the aid we promised, for free. We aren't the monsters they say we are."

Spectrum dropped me off, behind the Xcom building, and I managed to run away before anyone tried to shoot him. One of Tom's machines scanned me for any sort of surveillance equipment, and I spent to rest of the day moving Oberon's magical planes around the world. The Xcom building is once again fusion powered, and nobody is the wiser.       

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Strange Encounters

Well, it was an interesting day. Chris said that he had discovered that Dalton had visited four Medizi facilities over the past month. Two in North America, two in Europe. "I'll have someone check them out," I said, "but..."
"But what?"
"Well, have you been following the public reaction to all this?"
"Not really," Chris admitted.
"There are people who think Dalton is in the right. A lot of them. Even if Dalton doesn't have the opportunity to synthesize the virus himself, someone else might."
"Maybe," Chris said. "I suspect the people with the capability to do such a thing are probably MADs themselves, or at least disproportionately likely to be pro-MAD."
"It only takes one." Dalton, for instance, was not pro-MAD.

Another cab ride through torrential rain, and I was in the Xcom building. Tom had knocked down a wall, and torn through several layers of floor. Miniature cranes, some operated by men in uniforms, but most working on their own, were lowering bits of machinery into what had once been The Basement. I was told to look for Tom in one of his offices, on Level 12. I rode down. The elevator was a lot slower than I was used to. Tom had probably taken some parts out of the old machine. I got off, and walked into his room.
 "Glad you're here," Tom said. "I need someone to look over some plans."
"That's not why I'm he-"
Tom snapped his fingers, and four different screens began displaying beautiful designs. "So, we should reach Level 44 about 1 AM tomorrow. At that point, we'll need to start getting through bedrock. Now, I'm already using the elevators to get some of the materials down there, but we won't really be able to do anything until we can move much larger machines down there." He gave a rundown of the hundred different parts he was planning to assemble into what he said would be the most sophisticated earth-moving machine ever created.
At this point, I realized something. I had never really worked with a MAD who was smarter than me. I mean, Daniel was better than me at math, but I certainly wouldn't say I was outclassed when the two of us worked together. Dalton only asked me about my own work. I never really got to see him in action. But now, as Tom explained his plans to me, as I watched him improve them in real time, I knew that I was out of my league. Tom was a brilliant engineer, and he had been a brilliant engineer for over a decade. If there was anyone on the planet who could keep up with him, well... that person wasn't me.
"So, that should work right? I'm just worried about cooling. Oh, no of course, I have spools of high-temperature superconductor that can transport heat into some sort of sink. Right?"
Tom paused long enough for me to speak. "Tom, I have to admit I didn't really understand any of that. You should have someone else look over your plans. It should take them at least three hours. I am here to get some papers signed, of all things. It looks like the army needs your written permission before they storm Medizi buildings."
Tom wrote down his name on a few separate sheets. "This seems like an awfully long way to come for some signatures."
"After this, I am going to get to set up a ground-piercing radar system. One of the benefits of always knowing where you are is that you know where to put the various antennae in order to maximize the range without needing to constantly consult a map."
"You know," Tom said, "I have never encountered another MAD with your sense of bearing in time and space. I have met people who can multiply twenty-digit numbers. I have met people who can read a page of information in a second. I've met people who pick up foreign languages like you and I put on clothes."
"To be honest, those abilities seem better to mine. Mine can be replaced by a watch with GPS."
"I just thought it was interesting. It must be cool. I don't really have any mental abilities like that."
I left, chuckling. Poor Tom, with his lack of mental abilities.

I rode the elevator with three soldiers. "Why are we here," one of them asked.
"We're here to help  Mr. Markovitz breach Dalton's base."
"No, I know what we're doing here. My question is why? So Tom Mookovitz's friend wants to kill of all the mooks, and now a gang of mooks are trying to stop him. This is their fight. Why are a bunch of human soldiers getting involved."
"Technically they are human," the third one said.
"Yes. The only difference is in the brain."
"Brain is part of what species you are."
"Actually," I said, "your species is determined by your genome. Nobody has yet discovered a genetic cause for M.A.D.N.E.S.S. MADs are very much human." Yeah. I know. You're right. I was dumb to day that. But you know what? You're a diary. You're made out of paper. You don't get to criticize.
"Who the fuck are you?"
"Shut up, Jim. She's just some secretary."
"The hell she is. I've seen her face before." Recognition dawned. "You're that mook. What's your name? You had a funny name. Murdered a bunch of people with that virus."
Shit. I had thought everyone had forgotten about that. My notoriety had lasted about two days, and it had been years ago. I guess some people just have a knack for faces of people they think are less than human.
"This one's a mook? Hey, what are we supposed to be doing here?" I counted down four seconds, The elevator doors opened.
I moved to step out of the elevator. "Where the hell do you think you're going?"
"Yeah. Fucking mook."
"Excuse me," came a voice from outside the metal chamber. "I think you should let her go." The three professional tough guys made way, as I walked out of the elevator. I looked at my savior. Samuel R. Barton.
"You okay," he asked.
"Yes. And if I wasn't okay, it would not be because of them."
"I've never heard anyone talk like them."
"Really," I asked. Oh, of course. "That's because you're a neurotypical. Nobody ever has any reason to say the words 'fucking mook' around you. Whereas I have heard them so many times they have lost all meaning. I have heard it from policemen, and lawyers, and complete strangers, and people I thought were my friends." Technically, the policeman had called me a 'dirty rotten mook.'
"That's terrible."
"Plenty of aspects of M.A.D.N.E.S.S. are terrible." I stopped in my tracks, and taped a radar probe to a wall.
"What are you doing," Sam asked.
"Daniel is going to use this to try to figure out how Dalton is electronically connected to the outside world."
"It is, isn't it."
I walked over to the location of the next antenna. "Why are you following me?"
Sam looked uncomfortable. "I'm not sure how to say this. I've never really been in this position before. Allegra Complex, I think that you are a very attractive woman, and-"
"You are pretty and funny and smart-"
"And I tried to kill you with a genetically engineered virus that locked onto your DNA."
"Yes, we've had our differences. But-"
"I have a mental disorder that causes me to uncontrollably design dangerous technology."
"I don't consider that a problem."
How could he not consider that a problem?
Sam smiled what he must have thought was a charming smile. "I guess I just want to know. Do you feel the same way about me?"
"I do not."
"Are you sure?"
I realized something. Sam was good-looking. He was strong, but gentle. He was intelligent, at least by neurotypical standards. He could cook, was an excellent poker player, and a good dresser. Ever since kidnapping me, he had gone out of his way to be courteous, even kind. He had risked his life protecting us from Spectrum, and had been willing to provoke three gun-wielding men in order to stop them from bothering me. But, still, he had kidnapped me. He had held me at gunpoint, and tried to sell off both myself and my brother. "No, I do not find you attractive." I said. "I am only partially convinced that you are a decent human being."
Sam took that surprisingly well. "I... I see. I think I should go."
"I concur."
Should I have been more gentle with him? I don't know. I haven't really been active in the dating scene recently. But I expect that in most quarters, kidnapping is still not considered desirable.
I guess what confused me is how Sam could possibly think I would reciprocate his feelings. Was he just used to all women finding him attractive? Did he think that doing nice things for me could somehow make up for the fact that he had kept me locked in a room for several days? If so, he was very, very much mistaken.

I returned to Tom's mansion. I didn't mention my conversation with Sam. I didn't really trust Daniel's romantic judgment, Gabe had never had a girlfriend, and Chris was still basically a stranger. I helped Daniel write a program to sift through data to try to aperture-synthesize a good image of where buried cables might be. That took most of the afternoon. We ordered Chinese takeout. Nobody mentioned that moo-shoo pork was not a very traditional Thanksgiving meal. Then again, we weren't really in the Thanksgiving spirit.
Right now, I'm laying in bed, alternating between thinking about exotic tactics Dalton might use to broadcast the virus genome, and pondering the first guy asking me out in over two years. Neither of those thoughts are very comfortable ones for me.