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."