Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Epilogue: Alexander Dalton

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

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


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

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

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

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