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.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Drill Baby, Drill

I woke up at 9:33 today. After sleeping for almost the entirety of the past 36 hours, I felt more or less whole again. Someone had moved me to a more suitable bedroom, and brought me a change of clothes.
I made my way to the cafeteria, and spent a moment taking it all in. "What is this," I asked.
Tom looked embarrassed. "I... should have taken your warnings more seriously. I could have stopped Dalton when he was in the same room as me. But, at the moment, he is barricaded in Level 45."
"He smashed the elevator?" I had noticed that the elevator seemed cleaner than usual today. I suppose Tom would have needed to install a new one overnight.
"Yes. And filled the shaft with concrete. We actually can't get to levels 40 through 44 either. At some point, I guess I have to dig them out.
"So, right now, your plan is to drill all the way through through the Basement, including the three hundred feet of bedrock above Level 45."
"Yes. You don't happen to have a better one, do you?"
I thought about it for a moment, while Tom turned on a very loud digging machine. "Well," I shouted, trying to make myself heard above the din of the machines, "I don't suppose you could reconfigure those fusion reactors to melt through the ground. But I assume Dalton has some sort of communication with the surface, and plans to somehow broadcast the virus' completed genome. You could try to cut the cables."
Tom thought about that. "I could try, yes," he spoke as loudly as he could. "But how would I know if I have them all?"
"You wouldn't. But it is still a good backup plan. Similarly, do we know how Dalton plans to distribute the virus. I assume it is through technology you own through Medizi. Was buying it his idea or yours?"
Tom turned off his drills. "Umm... hard to say."
"That means it was his. Now, Medizi is a leader in organic and biological synthesis. We are going to need to check every single one of their facilities, and see if they have been coopted into Dalton's plan."
"So, it seems like I should keep working on this. Because the drills we have right now aren't going to have an easy time getting through the bedrock. You and Daniel and Gabe and Chris can focus on cutting off Dalton's other resources." Chris? Who was Chris? I had an eidetic memory, why couldn't I place him? Oh, right, mathatically inclined MAD also in the Basement. Hopefully I wouldn't misplace any other facts. I returned my attention to Tom. "I don't think we are getting Camille and Joanne back," he finished, "so its just the two of us and the three of them against Dalton."
"Where are Gabe and Daniel and Chris?"
"One of my houses. About two miles from here."
"I'll call a cab."

It was pouring. I walked up the steps to Tom's mansion- sorry one of Tom's mansions, and rang the bell. All three MADs came to open the door.
My brother threw his hands around me. "Are you okay," Gabe asked. "No, silly question."
"I have felt better," I said, coming inside. "But I am well rested, and we have work to do."
"Are you sure you are ready," Chris asked. I shot him a look. "I mean, I don't know you that well. But you have been through a lot. Nobody would begrudge you a few days' rest."
"People need me," I said. "I have the chance to undo some of what I did under Dalton's influence. I will seize that opportunity. So, fill me in, what has been going on here?"
"Well," Daniel said. "I have been helping Tom design a more powerful drill. The only constraint is that we'll need to make it almost entirely out of car parts at a factory Tom owns."
"Do we have any airplanes we can cannibalize," I wondered aloud.
"Three," Daniel said.
"Okay. Chris, Gabe what have you been doing?"
"I've been helping Daniel," Gabe said.
"And I've mostly been talking to the government," Chris added.
"So the government knows about this? Do they know everything?"
"Everything we know," Chris answered. "But nobody has gone public with it, yet."
"Interesting. And can we count on the government's help."
Gabe chortled. Chris didn't seem to consider this a laughing matter. "The government is being incredibly obstructive. They are trying to stop Tom, saying he does not have the necessary permits for what he is doing, seemingly ignoring the fact that Dalton is trying to make a supervirus."
"I see. Tom thinks he can handle the drilling on his own. We are focusing on attacking Dalton's infrastructure. Once he perfects the formula, he will need to broadcast it from his lair. That will require some sort of wire to the surface. Probably more than one. We need to find that. Does anybody have any idea how to do that?"
"Could we pick it up on sonar," Chris asked.
"A wire would have a minuscule radar signature,"  Gabe said.
"No," I said. "Dalton didn't just stick a wire through the bedrock. He would have needed to drill. The wires are probably in tunnels at least a few inches across. That ought to be doable."
"What do you think about an EMP," Chris asked.
"Even ignoring the difficulty of procuring such a powerful device," I said, "even without considering the consequences of disabling all the transistors in the middle of Silicon Valley, I am doubtful that would be effective. The wires probably extend a tremendous distance from the Basement."
"Very well," Daniel said. "Gabriel and I will see if we can detect Dalton's communication array."
"Chris, Dalton is going to be using Medizi's protein synthesizers to create the virus. I want you make sure that every machine Dalton could use is broken in half. You are probably going to want to get in touch with someone at Medizi. Ask Tom to hook you up."
"What are you planning to do," Gabe asked.
"For now, let's see what I can do about this government obstruction."

"Hello, this is Allegra Complex."
"This is the President.  Who are you, and why exactly am I talking to you?"
"I am an associate of Thomas Markovitz. I know why you are standing in his way."
"Tom is a dangerous MAD and is digging up his own illegal lab in Silicon Valley. My administration finds this suspicious. And, wait, are you the girl who was working for Dalton."
Well, technically, I suppose I was. But that was beside the point, and I wasn't entirely ready to talk about it. Least of all with President Walsh.
"Mr. President, you are facing a tough election. A very tough election. You realize that this will be a game-changer. And you know that the only way you make it through this crisis with even a chance at reelection is if Tom is lying, there is no underlying problem, and you put a quick stop to Tom's nefarious plan. So, no matter how unlikely it seems, that is the plan you are pursuing. Tell me I'm wrong."
The President sighed. "Are you about to tell me there is some other way I can win, and it involves doing what you want?"
"No, I am not. I am telling you that if you don't allow Tom to go about his business, I will tell all of your political rivals to look into you dealings with one Alexander Dalton. With a no-longer-secret adviser like him, who, let's be honest, has been pulling most of the strings behind you administration... well, I just hope your successor decides to pardon you." There I was. Blackmailing the President. The most powerful man in the world. Well, the person who most people thought was the most powerful man in the world.
"Miss Complex, I don't take kindly to that sort of threat."
Shit! He was calling my bluff. Shitshitshit! Where was Gabe. Mister Poker-face. "Mister President, I don't care how you take my threat as long as you stop aiding Alexander Dalton is his quest to annihilate millions of people."
Walsh seemed sounded surprised. "Millions? How many MADs are there?"
"About fifty thousand, worldwide. But this virus will not be that discerning. There will be many, many collateral deaths. I would guess eight million. Which, yes, would make this worse than London. So, Mr. President. Should I go tell the media about this?"
"It will come out eventually, and we both know it. I'll make the announcement. And yes, Tom is now leading the official government effort. But, Allegra, if Tom really is up to something... I will have you sent to a hole in the ground that makes Guantanamo Bay look like a tropical resort." He hung up.
Well, that went better than expected.

I watched the President come up to his podium. He didn't look confident. He looked tired. He looked defeated. He looked like someone you wouldn't want to vote for.
President Walsh cleared his throat. "It is my duty to report to the American people that a terrorist named Alexander Dalton is threatening our world. Dalton is a man of great mental gifts, but is also deeply troubled."
Well, that was a nice euphemism for it!
"In the past, I counted Alex as a friend. But over the years, I have watched his condition worsen, and have tried to get him the help he needed. Dalton has rejected my offers of assistance. Most recently, he has barricaded himself beneath the Xcom building in San Ramono, California. It seems that Thomas Markovitz, owner and CEO of Xcom, has been his unwitting collaborator. They have been working together on several projects, many of which were illegal, for a period of at least six years."
Throwing Tom under the bus?
"Dalton's goal is simple: the murder of several million people, at the hands of a virus designed to target MADs, as well as innocent civilians who happen to have the wrong DNA."
Not quite right on the science, but what do you expect?
"Rest assured that the United States Government is doing everything possible to stop this dangerous madman. I will not be taking any questions. God Bless America."
Still better than expected.    

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Interlude: Thomas Markovitz

Thomas Markovitz didn't know what to do. Knowing what to do was never his job.
Tom knew many things, of course. He knew how to create a solar-powered drone that could store up enough energy to last through the night. He knew how to build a camera small enough to fit in the eye of a needle, and how to built a nuclear power plant that could power a city. But knowing what to do... that was Alexander Dalton's job.
And now, Alex was standing right there, talking, and Tom didn't know whether he could trust his own best friend.
"Did Allegra say anything," Alex asked. "When I last checked up on her, she was exhibiting signs of paranoia and schizophrenia."
"Something barely coherent about a virus. You were involved, somehow." A half-lie. Tom had a test running. In about an hour, it would indicate that Allegra's blood had never contained any Quionizine C, but instead contained byproducts of a neurodegenerative disease. After that, Tom go back to trusting Alex, hand Allegra over for proper treatment, and feel silly for ever believing the girl's deranged claims.
"Well, have her sent down to Level 45 as soon as possible. I will need to resume her treatment."
"Of course. And you are confident that nobody else could have been infected."
"The disease cannot be transmitted unless you shared some sort of bodily fluid. From you account, you were in a room with her for approximately a minute. It is near impossible that you contracted the disease."
"That's a relief."
They parted ways.

Tom was trying to design an X-wing fighter. He had wanted one for years, and he was fairly certain that recent advances in aeronautics would make one entirely plausible. "At this rate, I might actually get that time-travelling DeLorean."
Tom thought about climate change. It was a problem. One he hadn't done nearly enough to solve. There was always the method of cutting fuel emissions. But that was boring. Tom didn't want to waste time designing yet another better engine. What would be a more fun solution? There was that idea of putting reflective particles in the atmosphere. Or... a gigantic semiliquid membrane large enough to blot out the sun over the entire planet, but thin enough so as to be almost transparent. Tom began doing calculations. One could finely tune its effects. Make the polar latitudes more comfortable, and the the equator cooler. Tom began to consider the details. What substance could be controlled in such detail even when spread so thin? It would need to react to electrical signals. Tom worked it out in more details. It would be like a bubble, held on a frame. Tom began to calculate how ripples would spread. Not for any practical purpose, just for fun. He checked against the possibility of the bubble bursting. Could the membrane collapse? Yes, unless the skeleton was well designed. Tom got out his computer. There was a notification on the top of the screen. 'BLOOD TEST RESULTS'. Tom opened them up, and absorbed the information.

"I shouldn't be too hasty," Tom muttered to himself. So Allegra did indeed have traces of Quionizine in her blood. So there was no sign of this neurodegenerative virus. That didn't mean that Alex was necessarily at fault. Perhaps she had been experimenting on herself. Alex lied in order to deflect the disappointment. Gabe would be heartbroken when he found out.
Bullshit. Tom knew that idea was bullshit. The truth was staring him in the face. He just needed to be willing to stare back. No. He needed to do more than stare back. He needed to do something.

Half an hour later, Tom was examining a squadron of six terminators. They were instructed to take Dalton alive, and hold him for question. Tom was still holding on to the hope that this was all some big mistake. He allowed himself a brief glimpse of Alex's bemused expression as the two of them realized what had happened. They would laugh about it in the future. Tom would laugh significantly more. Tom sent a message. Coming down w/ allegra. b waiting.
Alex responded I will be prepared almost immediately.
The six terminators entered the elevator. A few seconds later, Tom's phone began to ring. It was Dalton.
"Tom, why are six of your terminators coming down instead of you and Allegra Complex?"
"Is it because you believe what she is saying, and are trying to stop me from, what was it she thought I was doing again? Ah, yes. A virus designed to selectively kill MADs."
Tom couldn't think of a lie. He was never good in stressful situations. "To be honest... uh... I just wanted to check. They'll look around. Just a precaution."
"I see," Dalton said. Tom heard a sigh on the other end. "Allegra is telling the truth. But hear me out."
"You mean.. you are planning on murdering tens of thousands of people? How-"
"MADs are dangerous, Tom. You have been largely shielded from the dark side of M.A.D.N.E.S.S. To you, it is simply a tool for creating marvelous machines. But that is because you have not seen what I have seen. I have encountered truly vicious individuals. There are MADs who would make Oberon look benevolent. There are MADs, in other countries and even in the United States, designing weapons that would make anything Prometheus ever made look like a toy. There are those who consider Lucas Holloway an amateur. Imagine the harm that someone like Seth could bring if he decided it suited his interests. Or Gorgon, or Madam Srinvasa."
"No, no, you are wrong. Earlier today, I just solved global warming three different ways."
"That is admirable, but the neurotypicals will never trust you enough to implement your solutions."
"That isn't my fault. It's theirs."
"This is not a matter of blame, Tom. This is a matter of the greatest good for the greatest many. Will you help me, Tom?"
"No. No, absolutely not. I'm going to drag you from that lab, and I'm going to lock you up until you see reason."
Dalton sighed again. He sounded almost exasperated. "Do you not realize how many lives I will save?"
"We could save more together, Alex. We could end climate change on our own. Launch a partially reflective semiliquid barrier into space. What could they do to stop us? What would they do if we got on a boat and just started handing out all the medications we invented."
"They would arrest us, Tom. And Oberon would go on killing people."
"We could do the same thing he does, but in reverse. Get a base somewhere at the bottom of the ocean-"
"It is harder to secretly help than to secretly harm."
"Tell you what. In a few seconds, my robots will bring you back up, and we'll talk about this in person."
"Tom, your robots have been smashed to bits. The elevator hit the ground at almost sixty meters per second."
What? How was that... Tom sent out a signal, demanding a status report. He received nothing back. "Do you think those are the only robots I have? I still have the Transformers, the Battle Droids, and the Sentinels."
"And, as of this second, I have over two hundred feet of fast-hardening concrete. I thought I might one day wish to seal off Level 45 more permanently. Only I had assumed it would be to contain a disease, not to create one. Goodbye, Tom."
"Not be a longshot, Alex."

Thomas Markovitz didn't know what to do. So he asked. "You need to tell people," Daniel advised. "You probably cannot stop Dalton on your own. You will need help."
"Daniel is right," Gabe said. "This is important. We need help. We need to get the entire U.S. Army banging down Dalton's door. We need the the whole world looking to find out how Dalton plans to spread the virus from a bunker beneath the Earth. And, it will take Oberon off the headlines."
"Did he do something," Tom asked.
"Yes," Daniel said. "He launched a fusion-powered spaceship from a volcano in Antarctica."
Tom tried not to think about how cool that was.
"You need to go public with this," Gabe said. "People need to know what Dalton is doing."
"I'll see what I can do."

Tom sat alone in a room, surrounded by the best technology that genius could design and money could buy. He knew what would happen if he went public. If he told the world that he had a secret laboratory where he harbored fugitive labs. If he went public about the fact that his closest friend was using that lab to kill millions, with help from Tom's bank account. If everyone got through this, the world would need a fall guy. And Tom had a sneaking suspicion he knew who that would be.
There would be no more fun experiments. No more fancy food or cool cars. Tom would be lucky if he was sent to prison. He would probably spend the rest of his life in a straightjacket. Or perhaps he would even get the death penalty.
But it was more than that. Tom had done good. A lot of good. So much had been invented in the Basement. And if Tom were to go public, the backlash would do far more than send him to prison for the rest of his life. It would mean an end for MAD business owners, for independent MAD researchers. Even if Dalton failed, he might do more to harm the world's MADs than anyone since Prometheus.
But Tom knew he was out of his depth. He was about four hundred feet out off his depth, and those four hundred feet were filled with rocks and concrete. Tom didn't know how much time he had until Dalton finished Allegra's work.
Tom knew someone in the military. A general, who had overseen a weapons system Tom designed. Tom dialed that number. "Matt, is that you? I have a bit of a problem."        

Monday, November 23, 2015

I C-Can D-D-Do This

By now, I know the drill. I woke up. After a crappy breakfast, I was assaulted, and pumped up with the worst substance ever invented. I felt its affects coming. I walked to my new station, and listened to the sounds of my progress.
I no longer felt miserable as I toiled under Dalton's powers. I just felt numb inside. My mind head felt like it was being pulled in four different directions, my nose and gums and palms were bleeding, and I just felt numb. I drew clumsy diagrams on the screen, slowly playing into Dalton's hands. I wrote equations, and listed procedures. All the while, I avoided thinking about what was happening to me.
My mental clock had long since left me. My mental map was deteriorating. My hands were shaking, and far too much blood was leaving my body. I barely cared.

Eventually, one of the terminators left to fetch my lunch. And I noticed something: the machine had failed to lock the door behind it.
My mind raced into overdrive. What could I do? There was still one robot monitoring me. I would need to disable it. How long did I have. I didn't know, my sense of time was gone. How far was I from the elevator? I would need to navigate over a hundred feet of corridors to get there. I looked at my sole remaining watcher. Inspiration struck me. "E-e-excuse m-m-m-me? Could... could.... could y-you r-r-read the... equation for m-methylating p-p-prosonase?"
"Very well, Miss Complex." The machine walked to the other side of my board. I could hear its heavy steps. ThumpThumpThump. I felt the rhythm. My perfect timing was gone, but I was still able to push over the board while the robot was on one foot. The robot and the board stood frozen in the air for an amount of time I couldn't determine. Would it work? And, slowly, the robot and the board fell backwards.
I knew that these machines had difficulty getting up, when laid on their back. Their arms weren't designed for it, and their center of mass wasn't in the right place. I rushed out the door, slamming it shut, and hearing a satisfying click as a very formidable lock was put in place. And I knew where the only key was. It was picking up my lunch.
I felt alive. I raced to the elevator, stumbling more than once. I reached the elevator, and pressed the button. "Authorization needed."
What? What? I had used this elevator a dozen times on my own. It had never needed authorization. That was it. I had no chance. I fell to the floor, curled up. No longer was I numb. Now I felt the magnitude of my blunder. The machines would find me. They would break my legs. I would never escape. I would never see another human being. I would die in a hole in the ground, a miserable cripple. A broken mind in a broken body.
But, a few seconds later, my mood swung in the other direction. I couldn't give up this opportunity. My mind revved up again. What tools did I have at my disposal?
I had several computers. I raced to the nearest one, and sent emails to Gabe and Daniel explaining my situation. But I doubted that they would be able to spring me from Dalton's clutches. And by the time I could be rescued, I would likely be a broken husk. Even more of a broken husk.
What else did I have? There was a laser two rooms over. I ran over, and turned it on. It was large. Probably immovably so. I turned it on. A beam almost too bright to look at issued from one end. It extended a few feet, to be absorbed by what looked like a superconducting heat sink. I would need to cut a steel plate thirty feet away.
Mirrors. There was a microscope in the room. I broke it open. Mirrors and lenses galore. I began to visualize the space in my mind. This would require incredible precision. I sat in front of the laser. I imagined how the beam would travel, and stared at the surfaces of the mirrors. I calculated angles in my head. I was engrossed. To engrossed. "Allegra Complex. Come with us."
Not one, but two the Terminators. Interesting. That meant that the one with the key hadn't known about my escape until it had found its brother locked in the room. That meant that the terminators weren't networked.
"Allegra Complex. Come with us." The robots started to advance. No, no, no! I couldn't have them moving.
I moved my forehead in front off the laser. A lock of my black hair was sheared off. "Freeze," I ordered. "If my head moves forward three inches, I will sever no fewer than four vital centers of my brain. For every step you advance, I will move forward an inch." I realized I would actually do it. After all my waffling last night, there was no doubt in my heart now. I would die before I let Dalton degrade me any further. I had the means for a quick and painless death. I would do it.
And the robots believed me. They stood still, unsure. There was nothing in their programming for this. I worked quickly, calculating angles, how the light would bounce off the mirror. Finally, my calculation was complete. I thrust a mirror into the beam, and rotated it. Both of the machines were sawed in half.

Dalton knew what I was up to. I heard him on the loudspeakers. "Allegra, you know that I have more than two terminators, don't you? If you surrender to me now, you punishment will be far less severe."
I didn't know if he was telling the truth. And I didn't care. I wasn't going to surrender. I had an out. I knew I wasn't going back to my cage. At the very worst, I would learn what a megawatt laser tastes like.
I arranged the mirrors, and turned on the laser. With shaky hands, I turned a mirror, making a jagged cut through the wall. I looked at the circuitry, parts of it still smoking. I tried to rewire it. I pressed the button. "Authorization needed." No dice. More wiring.  "Authorization needed." More. "Authorization needed. Authorization accepted."
I got into the elevator, and was on my way up.

I stumbled out of the elevator on level 22. I walked around, as if in a daze. Eventually, I came upon Tom and Sam. "T-t-tom? I need to... tell..."
He turned away from Sam. "We'll continue our discussion shortly." He looked at me. "Allegra. You are obviously not well."
"Dalton making... virus." My adrenaline was gone. The mere mention of the virus started my mind working on it again. I didn't hear what Tom was saying. "...mentioned that you had been exposed to a neurodegenerative, and that he was containing you in order to spread contamination. Please leave before you endanger both myself and Samuel."
"No! No. Not... sick. Dalton wants... to make us... sick."
Tom stood up. He was not a physically powerful man. He was in his late forties, and probably hadn't lifted any weights in the past decade. But he was still strong enough to knock and quivering, shaking mess like me into a locked room if he wanted. "Allegra..."
"Let's hear her out," Sam said.
"Look at her. Shaking, bleeding from a half dozen places. She is clearly sick." To late, I realized. Tom was in on Dalton's plan. I should have tried to backtrack. Talk my way out of it. But I couldn't. I just ran at him, hoping to kill him with my bear hands. It didn't go well. He held me against the wall.
Tom was talking. I didn't listen. I assembled the words in my head. If nothing else, I could tell Sam. Someone would need to stop these two. "Dalton was forcing me to create a virus that would kill all MADs." The effort of saying those thirteen words almost knocked me over.
"That's impossible," Tom said. "Sam, this room is airtight. I will quarantine Allegra here. The two of us will be quarantined separately. Hopefully we weren't infected with whatever she is carrying."
"What the hell are you talking about? Quarantine? Allegra needs help. She must have just escaped Dalton."
"She is clearly hallucinating."
"Why don't we hear her out?"
"Proof..." I said. "Given Quionizine C... you helped make it..."
"Well," Tom said, "it is odd that she knew the name Quionizine C, but not nearly-"
"S-s-still in m-my b-blood."
"I'm not going to give you a blood test."
"You're right," Sam said. "You're going to give her the rest she clearly needs. And you are going to believe her, and put a stop to whatever the hell Dalton is doing."
With that, Sam picked me up, and carried me to the nearest bed. I was asleep before he left the room.

When I next woke up, Sam was sitting next to me. "Hot chocolate," he offered.
"He is looking into it. My job is to look after you. How are you feeling."
"I need a dose of clodizine. And something to stop the shaking. Perforamine? No, polyacylthalimine. I do not need hot chocolate. And..." the power of speech left me. "And b-b-boranine. S-so I can t-t-t-talk again."
"Whatever you went through... it must have been tough."
"Tom won't let him in here. Just in case you really do have a neuro-whatever."
"N-need to write down."
"S-stutter when t-talking. But still can write." At least, I had been able to write on the board earlier today.
Sam found some paper and asked for a pen. I saw Gabe on the other side of the door, as he passed the pen. I wanted to talk to him. I wrote a quick note to him, explaining what had happened to me. I wrote a more detailed one, just in case Tom really was on our side. And I decided to write another entry for my now-lost journal. Next, I will go to sleep.      

Sunday, November 22, 2015

In The Darkness

Another day. Another terrible, terrible day. I don't know what time they woke me up. My mental clock isn't working anymore. But I do know that some time this morning, two robots came into my room, shot me up with that horrible, horrible drug, and offered me some bread with butter on it, and a bottle of orange juice. I would have thrown it in their face, but I was starving. I ate it all up, as I felt my mind slip under the influence of Quionizine C.
I imagined the food traveling through my stomach, slowly being degraded, digested by the toxic environment. It felt almost autobiographical. I thought about the robotic guards. I wondered how they kept balance. They seemed very top-heavy.
My hands were trembling. Why? Was it simply fear? Was it a side effect of the Quionizine? Was the issue localize in my brain, or some other part of my nervous system? I stumbled along, as the two robots guided me to my torture chamber. I passed what looked to be a laser. I wanted to touch it, to take it apart and see how it worked. The terminators held me back.
I saw other strange chambers, filled with experiment I didn't even understand. But how I wanted to understand them! I struggled against the terminators. I wasn't struggling for freedom. I wasn't struggling to save every single MAD from annihilation by a terrifying virus. I was struggling because I wanted to see what that satellite-looking thing was for.

I was in a laboratory. I was under Dalton's control. Working on his problem, doing his will. I tried to stop. I wanted to think about something else. Anything else. I tried. I designed elevators, and tried to derive an equation for heat flow in the sun's corona. But I was always drawn back to studying a virus that would only affect MADs.
I was so frustrated. I hated Dalton so much. I wanted him to suffer for what he had done to me. I wanted to hurt him. But I couldn't. He was in Brazil, probably surrounded by a secret service detail. I was in a basement in Silicon Valley.
But my brain had found a problem, and it demanded a solution. Maybe I couldn't hurt Dalton himself. Could I hurt something he valued? No, I was locked in a room with nothing but a bunch of interacting white-boards.
Could I hurt the terminators? No. The walls, the ceiling? Pointless. Slowly, of course, it dawned on me that there was something in that room that Dalton cared about. Something he needed. Me.
When did I realize that I wanted to die? I don't know. I don't remember. But the more I thought about it, the more desirable death seemed. I could leave this hell, and be free of Dalton forever. I might stymie Dalton permanently, or I might delay him. But I would certainly be better than being will unwilling tool for however long it would take him the complete his virus.
I would be saving millions. With one death, with the end of one useless, pathetic, miserable life, I could be a hero.
I had made up my mind. I would do it. It was merely a matter of how. Could I smash my head against a table. I pictured it cracking like an eggshell, my overgrown brain pulverized. But I calculated how hard I would need to hit my head to provide a quick painless death. Impossible.
It is anatomically impossible to strangle ones self. I needed a knife. What if I could smash open one of the terminators. They were made out of steel, so it would take a lot of force. What sort of machine could do that? How could you calculate the force needed to break a metal bone? Or a real bone? With a real bone, you could use a virus. How would you make a virus to only affect MADs? I walked up to a whiteboard, only to catch myself. I began to cry. Was I this far gone? That I couldn't even focus on committing suicide. I felt the tears running down my cheeks, warm. I tasted them. Salty, but I knew there were other chemicals. Tears contain immunoglobulin, a protein that my virus would need to get past. Perhaps if it degrades immunoglobulin, catalyzed by chemicals only found in the brains of MADs. An impractical idea, to be sure, but worth investigating. I began to work it out. Then, I came up with a better idea. And another one. Then, I started working on two more ideas. My head hurt as I tried to switch back and forth. I don't know how long I worked on Dalton's problem before I realized what I was doing.
I took a step back. My hands were shaking. My senses of time and space, once so reliable, were now gone. My vision was blurring, and my memory was fading. Dalton had tested Quionizine C before. He knew what affect it would have on me. And yet he was willing to drive me into the ground for a chance at his bioweapon.
A robot brought me lunch. A sandwich. Not a useful tool. Unless I could find away to unbind the proteins. Then I could make so many things. A poison would be easy. I could make steroids. I could probably rearrange the sandwich's component to make a small animal. Although it would probably be dead.
Could I make a virus? Of course. What about a virus specifically designed to NOOOOOO.
I needed to focus. Could I hang myself? I had clothing. Would it support my weight? Probably, but what would I hang myself from? And the machines would notice me turning my shirt into a noose.
I could refuse food and drink, and try to starve myself. But that would take a long time, and I would be detected and foiled.
How closely monitored was I? Was Dalton watching me 24/7? Of course not, he needed to sleep. Or did he? The right mixture of chemicals could remove the need for sleep entirely. Dalton could probably accomplish that. And maybe he did decide to always tune in to the Allegra Complex show. Have a live video feed, showing faintly in his glasses. Or maybe he just receives up-to-minute notifications. Or did rely on his AI terminators to monitor me? Or some combination of the above?
I pictured all that data flowing around the world. How, exactly, does the internet work? How much would it cost to replace all that copper wire with fiber optics? Could fiber optics be made more efficient if they moved to a higher frequency of light? You would need a different medium to transfer them. And such a medium would need to fit so many other criteria. I started imagining it. But I also wanted to know how you could treat cancer with a specialized virus to attack tumor cells. I tried to think about the two complex problems, but it made my head hurt so much. I just wanted it all to end.

Eventually, the drug wore off once again. I could have fallen to sleep in the laboratory, but the robots moved me back to my room. One of them offered me my diary and a pen. And an idea struck me.
I've been writing this entry, diary, trying to work up the courage. The willpower, to drive that pen into my eyeball, to lacerate my brain and to end my life.
My fingers are tightening around the pen. I feel the anticipation. Any word I write might be my last. I will put an end to Dalton's madness.
But I know I can't. If I were going to kill myself, I would have done it by now. I'm not strong enough. I'm not strong enough to fight Dalton's influence. I'm not strong enough to end Dalton's influence. I wonder how he would react if he knew what I'm thinking. He would probably tell me that everything that has happened to me, all my suffering these last two days, has been necessary. He would tell me that if I were to simply cooperate with him, there would be no need for these horrible, horrible drugs.
Should I give in? Should I raise the white flag, and tell Dalton that I'll work for him of my own volition? No. No. I need to fight him! I need to see my family, and tell the world what Dalton is doing. I need to stop this! I need to escape!

What was I thinking? I did better than I thought I would. I rammed into one of the robots. We struggled briefly. It was much stronger than me, and much faster. But eventually, it was on the ground. I returned  to my feet. As the machine tried to get up, I turned around, to face the other robot. It grabbed my arm, vicelike. I struggled against it, but my adrenaline was already gone. The machine barely registered my movement. "Alexander Dalton has said that if you try to escape more than once, you legs will be broken." The machine spoke in a Dalton's voice. I hate that man so much. "This has been registered as you first attempt."
The machine lifted me up, and dragged me into my bed. "Stay put," it ordered. It then turned and helped its partner to its feet.
The other machine disappeared briefly, returning with a zip tie. My arms were bound to the bedframe. I barely bothered to struggle. I am tired, and defeated, and Dalton isn't going to use a zip tie unless he is sure it will hold me.
I'm writing this part of the diary by dictation. I'm speaking out loud, stuttering, struggling for words, while a metal man writes it down. I don't know why. I guess I just want part of today's entry to be written by a steady hand, a sure hand.      

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Worst Day of My Life

I hate you! I hate you, diary! And I hate Alexander Dalton, and Thomas Markovitz, and Oberon, and President Walsh. I hate every person is this stupid, fucked-up world. But most of all, I hate myself. I hate how weak I am. I hate how powerless I am. I have never felt like this. The moment I learned I was MAD- ecstasy compared to how I feel now. My trial, where I saw the families of the people I had killed- I'd rather spend a year there than go through today again. But I will go through today again. And again and again and again until Dalton has what he wants and everyone is dead. I hate Dalton. I hate myself.

I didn't sleep last night. I was too scared. Too busy thinking of all the ways Dalton might try to convince me, or force me, to work for him. But I never imagined what would happen.
At 7:45, I heard my door unlock. It opened, and Dalton entered, a terminator on either side. "Hello, Allegra."
"Hello, Dalton." That was my witty comeback.
"Have you seen reason? Will you help me make the world safe for humanity?"
"I will never work with you."
Dalton seemed saddened. But only for a brief moment. "I am sorry to hear that. I am not, however, surprised." He reached into his pocket, withdrawing a syringe. "This is called Quionizine C. I created it in the hopes of alleviated the symptoms of M.A.D.N.E.S.S. You, however, will find it actually has quite the opposite effect." The machines grabbed me, holding me in place. Dalton injected the strange substance into my arm.
I began to feel its effects. The voices in my head, the ones which speak night and day of science, began to grow louder. Was there some way to quantify the effect the Quionizine was having on me? Perhaps by measuring the volume of sodium flow through the broci channels? No, that wouldn't work.
"How do you feel," Dalton asked.
He sounded almost mechanical. Was Dalton a robot? How would you go about trying to make a Dalton-like robot? You would likely need human flesh over a robotic endoskeleton. But that barely counts. So you would want some sort of synthetic material that behaves like human skin. Permeability, sensitivity. It would need to regenerate when cut.
"How do you feel," Dalton repeated.
"I feel fiiiiine. The compound, or mixture of compounds isn't having any effect. How does it work? It must be a complicated molecule. How does it enter the brain so quickly? Does it have proteins facilitating it? Did you inject me with nanobots? How long is the shelf life? It must degrade pretty quickly. If it contains any collodinoids, those would become poisonous. You checked for those right?"
Dalton smiles. "It seems that the Quionizine had the desired impact. Don't worry, Allegra. Very soon, nobody will feel like this."
The robots dragged me along. I calculated the energy required to do that while I wondered about what would happen if you gave Quionizine to a neurotypical. Meanwhile, another part of my brain was thinking about alkaline batteries, and a fourth part was screaming in frustration.
"Now Allegra," Dalton said. I calculated how much of an echo would be bouncing off each of the walls. "I still don't know how to regulate that virus. And I admit you are more talented in that area than I am. So, how do I get you to work on that problem?" How indeed. I started coming up with ideas.
Dalton gestured to the whiteboards that filled the room. "These will display the progress you have made so far. I have several speakers rigged to repeated ask you about the subject. I think there is a seventy percent chance this will work. If not, I will come up with something better."

It worked. I didn't want to help Dalton. I knew what I was doing. But the question he was asking would just build in my head. They would build and build and build until they split my skull and I just had to go to a board, I just had to try to solve them.
I wanted to think of something, anything else. I thought about how the robots must work. I tried to deduce the workings of Quionizine C. I devised the horrible ways I will kill Alexander Dalton when this is all over.
I was his puppet. Off the top of his head, he had thought of a way to make me do the thing I least wanted to do. I was his puppet. He had me tied up in strings and was exerting forces on them to move my arms. I thought about puppets. It must be hard to control them accurately. How would you go about making a marionette capable of complex motion? You would- How do those whiteboards work? How far apart are the pixels? How could I measure that? And those speakers! How small could you make a speaker and still have it be audible? What was the relation between size and power?
I was on the floor, weeping, trying to ignore the stimuli around me. I couldn't. I tried to focus on the pattern of tiles on the floor. I thought about the symmetries it had, and how it was like a crystal. You could bounce x-ray off a crystal and figure out its structure. Maybe you could bounce microwaves off the floor? What would be the symmetry group of the floor in higher dimensions. What effect would the floor patter have if I spilled water? What about oil? Blood? What would be a good way to figure out my red cell count. Could I do it by watching how blood spread over the floor. What about measuring the rate of mutation of a virus? I could make a virus that only affects MADs. NO! No, I could modify bird flu. A virus. Could I make a virus that only affects MADs? It would need to tune into our brain chemistry. But how? A complicated problem. I would need to work it out on one of those boards. But I knew I shouldn't. But I needed to know. But I couldn't. But I had too.
I got up. It wasn't to work on Dalton's problem, though. No, I would do something else. I would work out the melting point of every element on the period table. That would take forever! It would keep me occupied.
Halfway though lithium, I got bored. I needed to do something else. I could write a program to play chess. I started, but I really wanted to think about viruses. Maybe I could design a virus that would only affect MADs. I jotted down some ideas. NOOOO! I tried to erase them, but the computer had already taken note. Soon Dalton would see it, and add it to his list of facts to torment me with.

I tried to clear my mind. I could do it. Just keep my mind empty. Like the vacuum of space. Nothing but one particle per cubic centimeter. And the photons from background radiation. The Cosmic Microwave Background. Not quite isotropic, but is it uniform? Hard to tell. We could look at its reflection off- no that would be silly. We would need to determine it theoretically. A quantum relativistic model of the early universe would need at least four terms in the Lagrangian- NO! Quiet! Quiet like the absence of sound. No, because then I could Dalton's voice, his evil little voice, asking me to betray myself and everything I care about. And I gave in. I hate myself.

The machines brought me food. Bags of chips and dried fruit. I opened them. I tried to think about them. I read the nutrition facts, and wondered if I could make a Dorito out of its constituent elements. I thought about the chemistry in my apple juice. But it was all to no avail. I soon found myself returning to Dalton's problem with a renewed vigor.
I tried everything. I wanted nothing more than to silence my mind, to be free of Dalton's influence. But I couldn't.
I wanted to take a blood sample. To try to analyze this Quionizine C. But I didn't have any of the tools I needed. I was alone with interactive whiteboards and terminators.
I wondered if I could cut the power to the whiteboards. I looked at them, but I didn't see where they were plugged in. I guess that meant they ran on battery. I briefly wondered what sort of battery, and how they were recharged, before I tried to smash one. Immediately, I was dogpiled by my two terminator guards. I tried to figure out how they worked. How had they been programmed? I started wondering about a virus that could only affect MADs.

Eventually, it began to wear off. I began to enjoy some piece and quiet in my head. I was escorted back to my makeshift bedroom. One of the robots spoke to me, in Dalton's voice. "Please understand that it gives me no pleasure to do this. I want nothing more than for you to cooperate. But also understand I will have you down here drugged up to your eyeballs for a decade if that is what it takes. We made valuable progress today, but not enough. I am sorry I could not be here for you in person, but I have a rather pressing engagement in Brazil."
I hated that thought. Alexander Dalton was probably sitting on a beach in Brazil, splitting a piƱa colada with the President. He was probably smiling, laughing at me. I hate him. I hate him so much. But not as much as I hate myself.
I'm his tool. His puppet. Right now, my strings are slack, but tomorrow, a machine will come, and grab me, and fill my veins with a chemical I don't even understand. And I will sing and dance for my puppeteer, and he will laugh as he sets the world on fire. I hate him. I hate myself.