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."
"Oh," Gabe said. "One other thing. Have you ever googled your name?"
"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!"