Epilogue: Sound and Fury

Depending on how you looked at it, the hour was either very late or very early. Since she had been up since before five in the morning, for Mandy it was very late. Her body was craving a shower and something hot to drink before she turned in. She was making her way to her quarters to get some much needed rest and she was looking forward to being able to sleep in a bit the following morning.

The halls were nearly deserted, and so she was a little surprised and perplexed to hear music as she crossed the atrium of DexLab Headquarters. Mandy paused, listening. Someone was playing the piano. She knew there was an antique baby grand piano on the first floor, in the lounge that doubled as a lecture hall and movie theater. Her curiosity piqued, Mandy changed direction.

The door to the hall was slightly ajar and she paused to listen to the music filling the room. No fan of classical music, Mandy did not know the melody or the composer, but it seemed to her very well played. It was a strong, powerful, complex piece, like a thunder storm on the horizon. She slipped inside the hall, and as her eyes adjusted to the darkness she let herself be surprised when she realized it was Dexter at the keyboard.

The purple gloves and lab coat had been cast aside and he was completely engrossed in playing. She recognized this level of concentration in him and she knew there was no disturbing him until he was done, so she took a seat on one of the couches and sat back to listen. Even though they lived and worked in the same building, Mandy had not seen Dexter in almost a week, though he sent her regular updates on his research and she had Computress keep track to be sure he remembered to eat. He rarely ventured this far from his laboratory. She watched him now, trying to gauge his condition. Playing the piano was apparently quite a physical workout, and she realized that for him to do so his hearing must be mostly if not all restored and his joints must not ache anymore. He was back to being a recluse, too, which since it was normal for him, Mandy supposed was a good sign.

The music wound up to a triumphant, almost ecstatic climax and then the last note faded away. He sat still for a few minutes, catching his breath and flexing his fingers to work out any lingering stiffness. Carefully he closed the cover on the keys before he scooped up his lab coat and gloves. Dexter turned and stopped dead in his tracks when he spotted her, seeming almost embarrassed at having been caught indulging himself.

"That was the 1919 version of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite," he offered, donning the white coat and not quite meeting her eye. Somehow his Russian accent made the names even more exotic-sounding to her ears, and his voice still had a husky edge to it from the injuries to his throat and larynx. He gestured at the antique piano. "The keyboard in my laboratory was destroyed. I haven't replaced it yet."

"Didn't know you played," Mandy replied.

"It was my mother's idea." Her resident mad scientist shrugged, climbing the few steps to join her. "I took lessons for a little while. My problem is a lack of expression. I simply play what's written without incorporating any emotion."

She realized only now that he had no sheet music. He had played the whole thing from memory. Why wasn't she surprised that a handful of lessons would render him a concert pianist? "Most people wouldn't see that as a problem. Sounded decent to me."

He dropped into a chair and worked at pulling on his purple gloves. "I just see music as another application of math. I drove my piano teacher up a wall, especially when I reduced Bach to a three-page calculation. She didn't appreciate that, but I was pleased."

"Fancy you driving anyone out of their minds."

He huffed a small laugh. They were silent for a few minutes, both of them exhausted but too weary to move. Finally Dexter hung his head back and softly asked,

"You got my last report?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry I keep -"

She held up her hand to silence him. "Don't apologize. Just keep revising your reports when you remember stuff. Too much happened for you to remember it all at once. I get that, Dexter."

He leaned his elbows on his knees with a sigh. "I want these revisions kept confidential, Mandy."

She lifted her blonde head to give him a narrow-eyed look, offended at the unspoken suggestion that she might ever break a confidence. She may be manipulative and a tyrant, but that did not mean she would break her word or do anything to expose him. She needed him too badly and besides, Dexter had sacrificed enough of his dignity writing the reports in the first place. Such painful honesty deserved every bit of protection she could offer. Woe betide the person that spread rumor or said anything against him – Mandy would bury them too deeply ever to be found.

"All your reports are confidential and top secret, Einstein. Maybe three people ever see them and the first idiot that talks is going to find himself on a year-long mission to Antarctica." A frown creased her face. "So you're pretty sure that Fusion of yours didn't pick up on our defenses and weapons?"

"I don't think he learned nearly as much as he could have," admitted Dexter, removing his glasses and closing his eyes. He had a headache just thinking about the mind probes, and he wanted to shudder at the notion of the Fusion being his. His memory of his captivity, faulty for a while, was coming back in spurts. He was remembering odd details here and there and he had been updating the reports he'd submitted every time something occurred to him. "He didn't seem to care so much about our organization. He seemed . . . obsessed not only with the Omnitrix, but with the concept of emotions. He . . . he wanted to understand love. Those were the memories he concentrated on the most."

Mandy frowned. "Sounds pretty unstable for a Fusion."

"Or more advanced than the others. We know they have basic emotions, but usually they're negative."

She snorted. "Love's a negative emotion in my book. It's messy and inconvenient, just like a nose. I'm a bit more concerned about it being so obsessed with you and its feelings, frankly."

"Yes, how did I get so lucky?" he returned, not about to touch on her opinion of love.

"Number Five said those Mechs back at that steel mill were doing their best to haul your sister off without hurting her. It must have been on your Fusion's orders since they were trying to kill everyone else."

Dexter looked away, trying not to think of what that meant or what could have happened to his sister. He had relayed everything he could remember of the conversations with his captor, every action and abuse no matter how painful or degrading it might be. It could not be a coincidence that the Ur-Dexter had tried to keep DeeDee. Not after his desperate attempts to comprehend what motivated Dexter to endure such pain and humiliation.

As if she could read his thoughts, Mandy gave him a long, keen stare. "I've said it before, I'll say it again - Fuse is gunning for you big time, pal. Watch your back. And just for the record, you weren't lucky this round."

"Oh? What do you call it then, Commander?" He blinked at the blur that was Mandy.

"I call it being smarter than the enemy. Activating the Invasion Protocol, catching Bloo, your glasses, not analyzing the Omnitrix – very smart, Dexter."

"Thank you."

Her gaze never wavered and her voice was stern. "Stay smart. That's a direct order."

Dexter smiled a bit as he put his glasses on again and promised, "I will do my best."

OoOoOoOoOoOoO

The crater was huge and deep, an unnatural scar on the face of the devastated land. He climbed down its jagged edge, leaping lightly from ledge to ledge. Since he could not be injured, nor was he afraid of heights or falling, he picked up his pace without a thought to his own safety. His ankle turned as he landed and was instantly healed. He paid it no mind. Very soon he would be next to invulnerable.

Deeper, deeper he moved. The surface was growing flatter and less rough, making his going easier. The ground was muddy, the last dregs of the Infection mixed with the exposed earth to make a foul, dark muck that clung to his feet as he made his way to the center of the crater that had once housed the steel mill, river valley, and part of the Allegheny Mountain Range. It was all gone - consumed, digested, refined by the Infection he had so carefully engineered and deliberately released.

Despite his failure to gain knowledge of the Omnitrix, the Ur-Dexter was not displeased with the results of his attack on Earth Force's Headquarters and his time spent with his human counterpart. He had learned a great deal of what he wanted to know. Moreover, his battle with Ben Tennyson had been most profitable – not only had he been given a chance to study an Aerophibian, but he had collected some of its DNA when he had laid hold of its tail. He would use this blueprint to make a Fusion version of the alien. With this new strain of Fusion Matter that he had developed, the Fusion Jetray would be loyal and obedient to him and him alone, not Fuse.

The muck grew deeper as he came nearer to the heart of the pit he had created, reaching all the way to his knees. The smell didn't affect him, nor did the acrid fumes the Fusion Matter by-product gave off.

Dexter. As he picked his way through the lake of murky liquid, he thought back on his interaction with the human, his human. A strange glimmer of satisfaction filled the Fusion's glowing red eyes at the knowledge that Dexter had most likely survived despite all attempts to kill him. A new sensation stirred in him at this thought. He did not know enough about his own feelings yet to recognize pleasure, and he realized that ultimately he did not really want to destroy Dexter after all. What he wanted, rather, mastery over him. Dexter's endurance and willpower were astounding, and the Ur-Dexter could see the source of his own determination, patterned after that of the boy genius. Fascinating, really, to what ends mere feelings would drive these humans. His cruelty had been a deliberate test, and his desire to comprehend love was genuine. He had watched with great care what Dexter suffered to protect his sister and friends. It seemed to him that love was a thing to be used, another weapon in this war, but he would have to study it first. The escape of DeeDee was a regrettable loss, but he found himself less interested in her than her brother. So much intelligence driven by such deep emotion – what could explain that? What was love to give Dexter such strength? Why could it only be given, not taken? And why would Dexter refuse him? Was he not, like DeeDee, part of Dexter?

He needed to know. He would know. And Dexter would be the one to show him. No one else would suit his needs and purpose. No one else was intelligent enough to grasp his intent.

The doppleganger stopped in slimy muck halfway up his thighs, staring at the scummy surface. Here. It was right here. He leaned over, feeling about, and his fingers closed over a misshapen, solid object just large enough to fill his hand. Standing, he looked at his finished project.

The super-refined Fusion Matter was an ugly gray-green color, darker than his skin or gloves, and looked like some kind of rotten fruit. It pulsed with power and it was incredibly heavy for its size – even with the extraordinary strength of a Fusion, the Ur-Dexter had difficulty lifting the object. He would have preferred to have put more time into its development in order to make it more powerful still, but it had been the perfect counter to drive off the humans during their rescue mission. Square miles of the planet, everything organic and inorganic, had been reduced to this one, small block. It was not like other Fusion Matter. It was stronger, adapted faster, and it was absolutely unique. There was nothing like this on Planet Fusion. Nothing to compare. And it was all his. His, not Fuse's. His own creation for his own ends.

With a wicked smile he closed his hand tightly over the mass, absorbing it into his own form. When he opened his hand again, the Fusion Matter was gone from sight. He could feel it spread through this body, binding with it, improving it, making him stronger still, separating him a little further from Fuse's control. A laugh bubbled up in his throat, a harsh and angry sound. He curled his fingers into a fist, feeling an intense, primal pleasure at this triumph.

First Dexter, then the Earth, then Fuse. They would all be his. All of them.

But of them all, he wanted Dexter the most.

Fin?