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.       

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