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.