Chapter 0.5: System Failure: Re-Initialization
"A king, realizing his incompetence, can either delegate or abdicate his duties. A father can do neither. If only sons could see the paradox, they would understand the dilemma."
"We're losing him! Circulate coagulation serum. The damage is deeper than we thought!"
"No! No! Don't take me! What are you doing!"
"His life isn't important. He is no one, not anymore. Just the artifact. Besides, he won't live once the life support is taken offline. "
"Very true, but it's not our place to decide that. We'll do what we can."
They could never go back. The fragile balance of power that had held up for a millennia had been burned to cinders with the fiery torches of revolution. It had been the final straw on the camel's back that snapped it clean in two. Now, everything was gone.
From their mounted position on the laboratory wall, lit computer screens made from recycled plastic components flickered as the news feed struggled to break through the martial moratorium on communication from the beleaguered capital. The aftermath of the coup shown even though the undoubtedly heavily-edited footage: a line of Hailfire tanks moved along Terra Avenue to the Magnet Train depot, Mainland Defense Force soldiers patrolled the tops of the government skyscrapers, firefights between the revolutionary army and the dwindling loyalists raged on the top floors of the Silph industrial area, air assault ships hovered above the chaotic city, and a massive plume of tar-black smoke billowed from the burning capitol complex fueled by the rage of the mob-rule that had taken control of the outer grounds.
The camera feed faded and was replaced by a man and woman sitting behind a desk, their appearances and features looking calm, but their eyes emanating fear. The well-dressed man in a suit clicked on a small screen to his left and the screen behind them suddenly restored the live feed from the capital.
"And we're back. As before, we are not sure of any details, but sources tell us that the fighting has ceased in the outer sectors of the city and the capitol appears to have been thoroughly subjugated of terrorist activities. No word yet on the whereabouts of the Senators and President Radic, but reports are saying-" The screen suddenly blinked and was replaced with a dark picture, the sound cutting off as well.
A young man of about twenty-five sighed as he clicked the newscast out of his own personal existence. Regardless of what the reporters said, the situation had not calmed down at all since the first shots were fired in that morning. At least, for him it had not. He ran a hand through his unkempt black hair in a weak attempt to release some of the nervousness that had been building up inside of him all this time.
He turned his attention back to the computer flatscreen in front of him. Images of electrical blueprints and circuitry danced before the man's exhausted eyes as he motioned with his hand over one of the blueprints. The sensor read the movement and opened the model. The man rotated his hand slightly, and the model followed suit. The Displacement Coils inside the machine were as they should be, that wasn't the issue. He tapped on the glowing, blue, outlines of what appeared to be a metal ring. The man's brown eyes narrowed as he traced a wire from the back of the ring.
"There. That's the issue!" He motioned with his hand towards a switch on the opposite side of the room as he looked up from his seat out the wide observation window —made entirely from reinforced, recycled plastics. There was an audible click as the communication system between the upper and lower chambers of the testing room came live.
" Henry! The third wire, that's what's causing the fault! Reroute it directly to the source and it should solve the problem! Quickly!" the man eagerly shouted as he keyed in the simulation on the model after said wire was rerouted. The diagram of the machine became animated as simulated electricity ran into it.
Simulation Successful: I.G Is Operational. Parameters Exceeded: Do Not Attempt A Short Charge Experiment.
"Doug, for the last time: I am not an electrician; I am hurrying as fast as I can. I know you want your inane plot to work, but it will take some time," Another scientist, this one considerably older and with considerably less hair than Doug replied from the lower floor as he leaned behind a real-life representation of the model.
The balding man wiped his sweating hands on his dirtied lab coat as he switched the connections within one of the panels on the backside of the ring. The silver-colored machine itself was an impressive display of the final strongholds of industrial capability the Realm could still offer.
Suddenly, what amounted to an earthquake ripped through the facility. Both scientists gripped whatever was nearest to them -a recycled metal desk and the outer plating of the machine respectively. The reinforced concrete walls around them sprouted thin spiderwebs of cracks as dust rained down in small clouds from the ceiling. The flatlights plastered on the ceiling flickered as the power system was temporarily compromised.
As soon as the floor stabilized, Henry calmly finished making the final adjustment to the connection. The monitors behind Doug began flashing bright red in warning of impending doom.
"Doug, you and I both know the reactor won't remain stable for long. The containment is going to fail in a few minutes," Henry reported as he tapped a screen in the wall and the auxiliary lights in the chamber shut down. "We have just enough time to get out of here. Please, Doug, listen to me!" he suddenly shouted as another small quake rattled the floor ominously.
Doug simply shook his head as he got up from his seat and walked across the observation deck. The young scientist waved his hand at the scanner and a door smoothly slid open leading down to a elevator which connected the two chambers. With another dismissive wave, the metal doors slid shut and the freight elevator slid downwards the ten feet to the lower room.
"W- where ... Where am I? What is this place?"
Another seismic blast resonated through the massive science facility's foundations, threatening to sever their fragile connections. The elevator ceased moving as the tremor continued -a standard safety procedure. A monitor in the corner of the small chamber flickered to life with a snap of Doug's fingers.
A shot of the burning capitol again. This time it was a section of footage from several hours ago. Gunships screamed over the smoking top of the capital, their electric engines whining as their pilots maneuvered them through sniper fire. Doug attentively watched the scene -the mission that had caused this mess in the first place. The airships circled the besieged capitol complex, their outer guns flashing as bursts of heated plasma rained down upon the revolting military units.
Two of the ships landed on the burning rooftop of the senate hall. Gunfire enveloped the scene as a mob of figures dashed across the open space between the roof access hatch and the awaiting doors of the gunships. An eruption of static overtook the camera and when the picture was restored, the gunships were swiftly departing the burning capitol, smoke trailing from their wounds on their sides.
It almost succeeded. We were so close. And now ... Now we're paying the price, Doug thought as the elevator began to descend once more now that the rumbling had stopped. The doors opened and Doug calmly walked out into the chamber -foregoing usual procedures dictating he be sanitized beforehand.
"What was it you always said about politics?" Doug asked as he briskly walked over the piles of wiring and forsaken computer monitors that littered the lab floor, his worn shoes scuffing themselves on the rough metal grates.
"That getting mixed up in them is a death wish," Henry said without a second's pause as he pushed his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose once more. "Now, about leaving this deathtrap," he began before Doug placed a hand on his shoulder, silencing him.
"Henry. You may have heard what Eliza and the others said, but you can't leave. We were assigned to watch over him, and I'm not going to evacuate until he is safely out of their reach," the black-haired researcher declared as both of their gazes shifted to a steel gurney set up in the exact center of the room. Upon the object lay a seemingly-lifeless boy, the graces of late-teenage youth still present in his features and short-cut brown hair. In the teen's stark clothes several blackened scorch marks burned through the fabric and left ugly welts and scars on the visible skin.
Next to the table, a series of apparati were stacked on top of each other like a miniature building. Wires and tubes from their fronts connected to various places on the teen's body, such as a breathing mask and other monitoring devices. If it were not for them, Doug was certain that there would be little more than a corpse on the counter.
"Henry. He was one of two people they brought back. He didn't deserve any of this. And you're content to just ... Just leave him here?" Doug shouted. The other scientist looked over at the teen, a thick shadow of guilt weighed down his aged face. Suddenly he pulled away and curled his hands into fists.
"Listen to me, Doug: I have a life up there. I have a wife. A family, Doug. Friends. I have something worth going back to. Something you seemingly don't have or care enough about to go return to. I already lost my grandson, Doug. I'm not going to let the rest of my family feel that pain again from losing me," the senior scientist viciously spat as he brushed away Doug's hand off his shoulder. "If you excuse me, I will take my leave now. Good-bye, Douglas, you stubborn son of a bitch," he huffed as he stormed towards the elevator. Doug took a deep breath. He knew it would come to this. The guilt card with the teen had been Plan A, but now there was no other option.
"They won't take prisoners, Henry." The older man froze mid-step, his hand millimeters from pressing the button to call down the lift. Slowly, as another quake shook the floor and caused another hail of ceiling panels, Henry turned around.
"What - What are you talking about?" he asked, his voice stuttering for a split second. Doug continued to stare at the man.
"They overthrew an entire government for one thing, Henry. They sabotaged the reactor for it. Do you honestly think that they won't hesitate to shoot you the moment you get in their sights? Be reasonable. There's no way out of this for us." He slammed his palm on the gurney, inches away from the teen's face to emphasise his point. He dug around his coat pocket, and after a second more of searching, he pulled out a small, folded piece of paper. On it, were the images of an older looking woman and a younger woman sitting side-by-side. He gently showed it to the older man.
"See? I have family out there too, so don't think I don't care, Henry. Because I do. It's probability, Henry. We're probably trapped." The ceiling shuddered as a large chunk of rock suddenly fell in between the two scientists, missing them by inches as the wind generated by it stung their eyes.
"There is a way out for him, though. That's why I need your help," Doug implored as an alarm klaxon rung from somewhere on the burning world above. Henry closed his eyes and pressed his hands into the front of his face before huffing loudly.
"No! I refuse to lay down my life for a child who's already dead! I have too much to live for, Doug! I'm not willing to give up the rest of my years for you or him!" Henry turned away once again, his torn and singed labcoat making a sharp swishing noise as he quickly waved his hand in front of the sensor to activate the elevator. The older man faced him one final time as the elevator doors sealed shut with a resounding clang of metal locks.
Doug felt like someone had punched him in the gut with an iron glove, he couldn't breathe, and his vision seemed to go in and out of focus. After the year he had spent working with the veteran scientist, Doug was certain the two shared a sort of friendship, and it was that bond that Doug had gambled on. Now, as the doors shut, Doug knew that not even the illusion of brotherhood could keep a man from thoughts of self-preservation.
"I guess it's just you and me now, huh?" he asked the lifeless body, his own voice becoming weak suddenly and nearly catching in his throat. A deep rumble shook the facility again. In the corners of the chamber, chunks of ceiling displaced themselves and smashed on the ground. Doug shook himself out of the semi-trace Henry's swift departure left him in as the announcement system buzzed to life once again.
"Warning: fusion reactor core containment fractured. All Rogue Industries personnel are ordered to- to-to-to-t-t-t-t-t- Warning: core containment fracu-fr-fr-f-r-f-f- Power grid demands now exceeding supp-p- ... ly," the digital male computerized voice stuttered as the mainframe was bombarded with radiation and heat from the fires that raged around the facility.
The flatlights and life support monitors flickered for a split second before returning online. Doug's breathing ceased for the entire second the machines were dark. His eyes noticed that the heartbeat rate for the teen was increasing ever so slightly. He was waking up. No, he can't see this.
Quick as a flash, Doug grabbed a small syringe labeled "Thiopental" off the surgical table. The medical tool abandoned by the team of doctors who attempted to save his life. Doug fumbled around with the needle for a moment before adjusting it according to the specifications on the data screen so the injector measured the correct dosage.
The scientist aimed the needle at an exposed vein in the teen's left arm and plunged the syringe into it. He clicked on the release valve and allowed the numbing agent to work its magic. The results were swift, as the heartbeat indicator on the screen instantly cut down to half and kept dropping until he was firmly unconscious once more.
"Who ... wait! What are you doing? Don't leave me here!"
"Forgive me, but you can't know. You can never know," he whispered as another cataclysmic blast hit the facility, disintegrating the holdings for the high-voltage electrical cables that hung near the top of the chamber.
He didn't even have time to scream as several of the cables dislodged from their positions and swung down towards him, lethal sparks trailing from their ports. The thick metal wires slammed into the scientist, knocking him clear across the room.
Doug felt like he had collided with the grill of a magne-train. His breath was cleared from his lungs and replaced with the sensation similar to drowning. His spine nearly fracturing as the dense concrete surface rushes to meet it. His entire world went dark for several seconds though his other senses remained fully functional: the bitter smell of singed clothing assaulted his nose, while the groaning of metal support beams played an orchestra of pain against his ear drums.
However, despite every other sensation he observed, there was something that was very much lacking from coming into contact with the business ends of high-voltage cables: the utter agony that was associated with being electrified to death. Slowly gaining the courage to open his eyes, he saw that his numbness to the electricity was no mystery, for the dangling cables were completely lifeless.
"This is number seven, I believe?" Henry's tired voice buzzed over the intercom. The old man himself visible in the observation deck, his hands tapping the holographic keyboards as he commanded the technology to his will.
Doug leaned back against the wall, his black hair gathering a coating of chalky powder from the shifting foundations. Taking a labored breath to refill his lungs, the man chuckled.
"Six, the time with the turbines hardly counts as I saved you from falling immediately afterwards... I knew you wouldn't leave," Doug mumbled as he shoved himself off the wall and stood to his feet. Shaking his head, he returned to the operation station in the center of the chamber.
"There was a fire blocking the hallway leading to the elevators, that's why I couldn't leave. I still think your plan is horrible, but, it seems I have no choice but to go along with it. What do you need?" Henry explained matter-of-factly as he tapped more sections of the glowing keys.
"I need this room and his life support taken off the main supply and patched into the emergency grid. The core is going to melt through the turbines in a few minutes, so we can't rely on it forever," Doug said, doing a quick calculation in his head as he switched the apparatuses around the teen back online. As soon as the monitors beeped with the faint pulse of the boy, Doug let out a sigh as he backed away from the table.
"Doug, I still have every intention of getting out of here alive. So, get yourself up here and start the procedure. Or else I'll regret shutting down the power to those cords." As Henry said this, the elevator doors slid open on a signal from the balding man above. Taking a final up close look at the teen, Doug reached into his coat and pulled out a small object wrapped in a layer of cloth from his inside pocket.
Pulling away a portion of the cloth, he saw the thin gleam of blue shine forth from the item. Nodding to himself in satisfaction, Doug rewrapped the cloth and gingerly placed it in the teen's open hand. The scientist gently curled the unconscious fingers around the cloth as he whispered a silent prayer for success.
Turning around, Doug jogged across the chamber and entered the elevator once again. The flatscreen was silent this time around as the lift cranked upwards without issue. Just as the steel doors slid away to allow his egress, the melting core deemed it fit to throw another tantrum to signify its rapid death spiral. One of the most prestigious buildings in the entire Realm, taken down by a few jarheads with guns and a successful coup d'etat ... his thoughts reflected bitterly as Doug attempted to retain his balance on the walls aside the elevator.
Henry held a stance of stone as he weathered the rocking like a well-accustomed sailor to a mega-storm in the Puel Sea, off the coast of the remnants of Alima. The veteran researcher continued tapping the halo-keyboards, shifting both chambers to the private-yet-smaller energy grid even as unstable plasma energy from the fusion core disintegrated several of the many turbines Rogue Industries had installed in this facility.
"We have roughly seven minutes, Doug, until the plasma eats through the secondary containment and kills us. We stand a strong chance of not going to make it out of the blast radius," Henry reported, pushing his crooked glasses up on his face once more. "Now, let's get started."
Doug nodded as he wiped a thin layer of sweat off his forehead as he approached the consols. He pressed his hands together and bent his fingers until they popped slightly. He didn't need to loosen them up, but the feeling helped him deal with the immense stress building in the air. The monitors flashed incessantly as they impatiently awaited to execute the commands.
"Let me out of here! Let me go! Let me go! Please!"
Charts and graphics danced across the flatscreens, the status of the machine below wavered on the edge of stability as the rocking facility subsided for a brief reprieve. The statistics presented by the graph did not work out in their favor, and the odds decreased with every passing moment. Doug knew Henry could see the odds just as well as he could. The machine had never worked perfectly, even in its prime operating capacity it suffered faults -the most serious of these disintegrating the test subjects even before they were able to step through the gate. The only glimmer of hope was the fact that the past models were even worse with their survival ratio.
No. It won't happen this time. It'll be a clean get-away this time. Doug stated in his mind as his fingers began to move in the air over the holographic keyboard. The computer reacted to his actions by pulling up a login screen displaying the Rogue Industries company seal: a lone iron gear from the archaic days of the first Industrial Revolution crossed with two artifacts associated with that era- a majestic, forged-steel longsword and a humble, rusted hammer.
"Henry, you were here when they shut it down last year. What was the source code they used? I can't get past the firewall without it," Doug inquired without even looking up from his monitor. Henry grumbled in discontent as he turned from his own monitor and consulted a small device he produced from the front pocket of his pants. The grizzled man stroked his short cut beard in thought, his other hand accessing the memory files in his miniature computer.
"Here, I found it. Take a look and see for yourself, as company policy prevents me from speaking that code aloud under threat of death," Henry replied, turning the rectangular device so Doug could read off the seven-character code on the screen. "Got it! We're off the main grid. Emergency power won't last long, but it'll be enough to get us through," Henry reported, a small twinge of excitement slipping into his voice. Just then, the machines around the room flickered for an instant as their energy instantaneously switched to the private turbine located within the maintenance tunnels behind the walls.
Doug grinned as he continued to stare ahead at the glowing screen, his fingers moving as if possessed. "Thanks ... Now, just to add that in ... Accessing mainframe ... Reorienting server ... And we're in!" Designs and charts popped up on the screen as Doug swiftly sliced through the cyber barricades put in place by his superiors.
"Oh, no..." Henry suddenly muttered as he enlarged a video feed on his own screen. "Doug, the military is evacuating. They know the reactor is going to detonate..." his voice trailed off as despair seemed to take over the scientist. Before Doug could even attempt to try and console his co-worker, his screen flashed in tandem with the blaring intercom system.
"W-W-Warning: R-R-Radiation levels exceeding safe exposure amounts. All Rogue Industries p-p-personnel are ordered to take shelter in the Omega, Beta, or Sigma anti-radiation chambers located on Decks: E, E-Two, F, F-Two, G, G-Three, H, H-BZZZZZzzzzTTT!" the computerized male droned before cutting off in a harsh static cry. Both scientists cringed as they instinctively covered their ears with their hands. The sharp electronic pitch issuing from the unseen speakers continued to blast for well over thirty seconds, during which time, Doug was almost certain he'd never be able to hear out his left ear again.
"The military has taken control. All employees of the Rogue Industries Celestial Range Research Facility are vacate the premises and turn themselves in at any MDF checkpoint immediately," the ever-friendly voice had turned dull and emotionless, indicating someone had managed to tamper with its normal programming. If Doug had any doubts about Henry's statement, they were put to rest with the announcement system's garbled suggestion.
"It hurts! It hurts! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Please!"
The ground gave a slight jolt beneath their worn shoes. Doug shot a knowing look over at the older man, who nodded in reply. Silently, the two Rogue Industries employees typed in the alpha commands. The circular, steel gate of wires and conductors sparked in the chamber below as energy flowed into its long-unused components. Readings popped up on the screens and were quickly adjusted to fit their parameters as they drew closer to initialization.
"It's the last thing. Henry, disengage the failsafe retrieval protocol," Doug breathed as the final prompt opened on the screen, asking for a eight-digit passcode. He tapped his fingers impatiently against the cold, steel desk.
"I know I'm going to regret this, but very well," Henry sighed as he tapped his fingers across the shimmering number keypad. The system let out a soft ding and proceeded to adjust the parameters of the experiment as the electric currents in the chamber below cackled with voltage.
Doug pressed a few more buttons in ordered sequence as the inner sides of the gate began to spark with arcs of energy along the terminals. Vibrations began to ripple across the faux-stone as the machine began to pulsate with raw energy. Doug gripped the sides of the desk tightly as he watched the initialization of the most unpredictable, dangerous, and all around most lethal machine in the Celestic Range facility.
"Doug. You know the statistics as well as I do. Scores of people have been taken by the gate, by one model or another. What makes this any different? What is with this ... kid that you feel so compelled to put your own life on the line for him, even though he's as good as dead?" Henry inquired as he fiddled with the power levels. The teen below remained completely oblivious to the lightning that was starting to rain about him.
Doug looked out over the chamber through the glass. He didn't know why he was doing this. He just knew that there was something that was altered this time. An acute variation in the scheme. A slight discrepancy in the story. A mutation in the sequence. A difference in the variables this time. A discontinuity removed.
It was an unobservable observation -rather paradoxical it seemed in hindsight- but one that made all the difference in the world. Doug just knew that he had to do it. He had to save this teen at all costs. There was no scientific reasoning behind it, rather, most things in science would scream at him to disregard the notions.
"Henry, I honestly have no idea," Doug mumbled as a flash of brilliant white light commanded their attention in the chamber below. The gate, the result of the greatest minds of theoretical physics, dimensional science, and engineering coming together across the shattered Realm to forge what amounted to an exit door to their prison. Steel and other impossibly strong metal compounds were combined into a large standing ring in the chamber floor, just waiting for another sacrificial victim.
The ground shuddered again as the liquefying Fate-class tri-fusion reactors competed with the Gate for the most ground disturbance. Metal beams and mounted monitors crashed and shattered on the floor as both power sources threatened to shake the room to pieces.
The equipment around the two scientists flashed the traditional deep red that most-often alluded to a high chance of ultimate danger. The announcement system blared another fevered command to abandon the complex before it was incinerated in a nuclear fireball, but both scientists paid it no need. The finest machinery in the entire world shuddered as a webs of energy congregated and spread to cover the open center of the Gate.
"Stabilize the heat exhaust! We can't let it overheat! Not now!" Doug ordered as he dashed to the monitor residing on the opposite side of the observation deck. Heat rippled in tormented waves as the machines down below were pushed to their upper limits of operation. Sweat beaded profusely on Doug's brow as he switched open the vent system. Its effect wasn't noticeable to the naked eye, but made all the difference in the world to keep the instruments from undergoing spontaneous combustion.
"Let me leave ... I want to leave ..."
"Raising energy of the Coils to one-hundred and five percent of current levels. Dimensional radiation should reach ignition point in about twenty seconds. Doug? Are you absolutely certain? This is an event horizon; there's no going back. Not for him, not for us, not for anyone," Henry asked, his stern voice quivering with worry as his hand hovered over the action keys.
Doug was about to open his mouth as the announcement system gave a loud, static popping noise as the pre-recorded intelligence started to speak once again.
"Attent-Attention-Atteentiionn -BZT! The experiment initialization you are currently requesting has a ninety-seven percent chance of being against Rogue Industries: Celestial Range Facility Operational Mandates, otherwise known as the R.I.C.O.M clauses. Security teams will be notified unless shutdown procedures are enacted immediately in accordance with the R.I.C.O.M clauses. This has been your final warning, [insert employe names here]," the orderly voice boomed, oblivious to the background apocalypse that raged just a few floors above and beneath them. Doug silently nodded his head. He had no idea what or even where he was sentencing the boy, but it hardly mattered. Even the burning depths of hell would seem a reprieve when compared to the atrocities being committed against them only a few hundred feet above their heads.
"Oh, just shut it already!" Henry snapped at the system as he then grew serious, his features becoming pale as blood was flushed from them. The old man swallowed hard as he closed his eyes and tapped his finger against the glowing circle that triggered the activation.
The thicket of wiring above and around them hummed with raw voltage as they threatened to suck the backup generator dry. The Displacement Coils inside the the Gate pulsed with a rhythmic energy, causing the cracks in the foundation to widen and split. Chunks of falling stone pelted both levels of the chamber, the scientists holding their arms above their skulls in a meager means of defense against the collapsing masonry.
"Security forces are currently occupied. Please step away from the machine voluntarily and assume the surrender position until Rogue Industries officers arrive to detain you for your disobedience," the computer voice chirped over the PA even as a section of the observation deck floor crumbled; leaving only a crater of twisted metal supports and pieces of concrete.
"Doug, are you certain? There's still time to reverse the charge..." Henry trailed off as Doug tapped the projected screen in a sequenced order that only raised the energy charge rate.
The black-haired man keyed in the final code set, the final piece the the algorithmic puzzle that had perplexed the minds of passing eras. "If I wanted to back down, I would have left long ago. Deep down, you feel the same way. I know it."
Henry swore sharply at the younger scientist before giving Doug an exasperated sigh. He put up his hands in mock surrender. "You know? Being right doesn't mean a thing if you're dead, Doug."
With that somewhat philosophical remark, the threshold was reached. The air in the lower chamber pulsed as if it was waves on a stormy sea. The event horizon was crossed and both men knew there was no way back as the monitors cheerfully chirped that the Displacement Coils were ready to radiate the dimensional radiation necessary to power the Gate.
"No ... Please, no ... No more tests ... No more surgeries ... Just let me die ... Please..."
Both scientists' gazes were glued to the thick observation window as a radiant blue light erupted from within the tunnel-like machine. Beams of pure energy bathed the lower room as another section of the ceiling landed on the medical machines connected to the boy. Doug let out a cry as he nearly jumped forward into the glass.
Without those machines running, the teen probably had less than a minute left in his lifespan before death claimed him with his scythe. The floor beneath his feet suddenly subsided three feet, throwing the desks around him off balance and their contents clattering to the floor. Doug's legs were torn out from beneath him as his face kissed the crumbling stone floor.
He felt the skin on his nose and right cheek scrape against the rough ground and tear. He tried to brush off the harsh stinging associated with the rough abrasion. Alarm klaxons blared throughout the entire facility as the automated voice calmly explained the protocol for a proper in a nuclear fusion supernova. Above them, bolted metal passages screeched as they slammed into the stone walls on their way to the ground. Gas and electricity supply pipes split in two from the tremendous pressure of half a ton of rock and wiring crashing down on them.
Suddenly, the lights died. The entire world was sealed underneath a coffin of eternal darkness punctuated only by the ethereal, pale white glow of the Coils beneath the thin metal sheeting that covered the gate. Doug hardly dared to breathe as a cloud of dust from the fragmenting ceiling entered the final stage of collapse. Flashes of bright red swiftly illuminated the room, bathing the wreckage in the color of fresh blood.
Doug felt hands grasp the lapel of tattered lab coat and ungraciously hauled the near-witless researcher to his feet. He shot a quick glance over at Henry. From in between the quick flashes of red light, he saw the man now sported a small gash on the bridge of his forehead and a bloody sleeve of his coat from his attempts to stay the bleeding. His glasses sat awkwardly on his nose, their lenses cracked beyond all hope of repair.
Neither man had time to speak as a wall of eternally while light engulfed them from the chamber below. The Coils had reached singularity with the Seal at last. As the dimensional wavelengths equalized, the less-than-miniature earthquakes intensified inversely to the length of the span of the disparity.
Doug just stood there; his entire mind enraptured with the stark white apocalypse streaming through the reinforced glass as it purged the heinous evils from the realm of their desperation-fueled actions. Phosphenes appeared before his eyes as the pure light seared into his brain. Henry screamed something that was lost in the screeches of the dying facility. Doug didn't even feel it as the other man slammed into him, his thin frame somehow managing to knock Doug off his feet and sent them both crashing to the floor.
"Finally ... An exit ... The outside ... I'm fre- "
There was little he could do to soften the impact between his torso and the crumbling ground except pray that his lab coat was thicker than he gave it credit for. His front collided with the concrete and sent a harsh burning sensation through the uncovered patches of skin on his hands and arms. He vehement curses to the obsolete gods of the Senex Tempora were muffled as the air was flooded with the ear-shattering blasts of energy disassociating from the Coils to the Gate.
Energy pulses ripped through the thick window, the glass becoming like burnt paper against the raw, uncontained power that beat against it with furious rage. Not even splinters remained as every fragment of glass was vaporized before it could even reach the floor. Both scientists felt the star-like heat of the violent reaction occurring mere feet above their backs. Their lab coats were drenched with sweat that evaporated instantly and their skin on the verge of boiling.
Their vision was completely white, their eyes unable to process even the smallest wavelength of the searing light flooding the room. Doug felt Henry push down on his side, trying to get both of them closer to the ground. He could only imagine the agony the older man felt being just a few inches closer to the incinerating radiation of the energy, if Henry hadn't irradiated to the point of certain death already.
Doug was vaguely aware of the ground heaving underneath him, only noticing the wounds fatal of the foundation opening in the concrete skin when it was far too late to run. Metal crunched, rock splintered, wiring snapped, and electronics died as the entire floor achieved the structural integrity of a stick of melting butter.
What happened in the next ten seconds would become a complete blur to both scientists forevermore. All Doug knew was that when he woke up exactly ten and a half seconds later, he was laying haphazardly across a shattered flatscreen monitor in the subsidiary control room for the water, gas, and power lines that sat directly underneath the observation deck like a weary adventurer under a tree.
The evacuation and cessation alarms never stopped even as they were melted by heat found usually in the deep geothermal vents of the Mare Fervens trench near the ancient caldera in the western islands. Dust and sparks choked the air like smoke, forcing Doug to cover his mouth with his dirtied sleeve as he struggled to free himself of the tendril-like electrical cords. His feet and legs were constantly attacked by the debris of fallen concrete chunks and broken metal that penetrated his clothing and scratched at his skin.
When he finally managed to break through the cloud of raining dust and heat, he could hardly believe his eyes. Henry had, despite his age, managed to already free himself from the wreckage without too many visible lacerations and cross the auxiliary computer-lined room.
"Screen shows radon gas contamination in the access passage. There's masks and RNS's in this storage closet, though, so we should be able to make it through to the transfer sector easily," Henry noted as he commanded a severely cracked flatscreen to power down with a wave of his hand.
Doug stumbled over the last of the piles of wreckage listlessly, unable to force himself to be concerned with his own safety. He slowly glanced at the hole in the ceiling that they'd fallen through. Somewhere through that, was the stellar fireball that was the Infinity Gate -it had been the best of the dimensional transversing technology they had available that revolutionized the use of the Dimensional Coils as a conduit for the energy flow - now, millions of government credits and even more precious resources were burning through the floor and containment unit.
Doug couldn't break free of the overwhelming wave of guilt that threatened to crush him. He tried to tell himself there was no way they could have prepared for this. That machine needed days to charge up, not a few minutes, and they didn't have that time. There was no possible way they could have known about the coup, the infiltration, and the brutal operation.
He let out a hard laugh as he pressed his hand against the steel-plated walls of the lab. There was no justification for this. No amount of his persuasive argumentation would stay the consequences of his actions. It had been him who put in the order. It was him who deactivated the safety procedure. And it had been him who refused to give up until his inane plot was set in motion. Heat pulsed like a vile organ above them, beating down on him as he stared up at the ruins of the increasingly decaying experiment chamber.
"I killed him, Henry. He's gone. H-he didn't even have any say in it! I just killed him! And he watched me do it!" Doug's voice grew from a hushed whisper and then broke into a yell. Red-hot fragments of metal dripped down from the hole in the ceiling, sizzling on the cooler concrete and electronics on the floor. Henry apparently ignored the younger man's outburst as he slipped the clear, plastic mask over his nose and mouth and opened the microfilter shortly before snapping a watch-like machine on his right wrist. He then grabbed another mask and walked over to the grieving scientist.
"Doug ... Weren't you the one to tell me that 'he was better off dead' rather than returning to the surface? So what if he's dead, then? We have no visible proof that he is dead as neither of us saw the results. So, even if he is gone or the Gate, by some miracle, actually worked, then either way, he is in a better place. Now, unless we want to die ourselves, you'd better get your sorry rear over here and take a mask," Henry stated, giving Doug's shoulder a strong shake. The wizened man held a mask and watch-like machine out, indicating for Doug to take them.
"He watched me murder him. He saw me sedate him and then pull the damn switch. Oh, God, what have I done?" Doug's voice dropped again to barely above a whisper as a huge glob of molten metal dripped down from the ceiling. A small fragment flung into the air and zipped through his coat, burning a clean hole through it, and passed onto the floor. Henry sighed and firmly grasped Doug's shoulder with an unoccupied hand once again.
"Doug. Listen to me right now. You did the right thing. Just imagine what the soldiers would have done to him. If anything, you gave him the most humane way out possible. Now, we have to go right now! Take a mask and RNS and let's move it!" Henry reassured as he clapped Doug hard on his shoulder blade. Doug took one final look at the hell seeping through the ceiling above and swiped both apparati from Henry's outstretched hand.
Doug looked at the plastic piece of technology, anything to keep the guilt away. The mask was nothing impressive. Covering just the nose and mouth, their eyes would be suspect to anything the dying facility outside the bulkhead could throw at them. At least the filter is up to code, Doug noted as he strapped the mask over the lower part of his face and switched on the filter. The next device, however, was on the bleeding edge of safety equipment.
The Radiation Nullification Shield was exactly what it said it was. A weak field of stable electrons that projected over the area of a human body like a jumpsuit, held in place by the minor gravitational pull the human possessed. Alpha, beta, and gamma radiation was immediately absorbed and neutralized by the massive amount of free valence electrons within the field. Doug strapped the RNS to his wrist and tapped the glowing screen. Instantly, a flash of translucent, electric-blue enveloped him and spread entirely around his body -completely covering his shoes and the mess of black hair on his head.
Once he had both safety features activated, he gave Henry an affirmative nod that he was ready. The other man nodded himself as he keyed in the access code on the holographic pad on the side of the heavy, metal door. The bulkhead shuddered as the minimal power still present in the system sluggishly deactivated the electric locks and anti-surge field. As the door groaned along the tracks in the floor towards the wall, both men rushed out of the small command room, the smell of burning electronics swiftly filling the air.
The hallway was carved out of the mountain stone and lined with steel pipes, wiring, and monitors. Glancing down the darkened corridor, Doug hoped that there wasn't anyone laying in ambush within the pitch black areas of the dimmed passage. Although invisible and virtually undetectable to them, their RNS's flickered blue around their bodies as the overwhelming presence of radioactive radon came into contact.
Unhindered by the debilitating gas, the two jogged down the hall, passing scores of abandoned metal supply crates and various forlorn gadgets strewn along the path. The ground shook violently again, sending both men into the smooth rock walls. As soon as the core had subsided enough, Henry shook himself off and took the lead. Doug tried to keep his mind in check and focused as they shoved aside wayward boxes and kicked away wreckage. The guilt from earlier hadn't been completely removed by Henry's encouragement, it only festered inside him and began to snap at his insides like a ravenous beast.
The corridor ended abruptly at a locked door. The access panel flashing red in alarm that signaled immediate and present danger was just on the other side of the six inches of metal. Unfortunately for them, their only means of escape was also in that direction. Not daring to even breathe, Doug aligned the floating numbers, and watched as the barrier slid into the wall, trailing sparks as it ran along the tracks.
The room ahead was a perfect picture of the pits of hell. The gates leading to the many elevators were smashed open, the transports themselves spouting small tongues of demonically burning fire, sparks leaped through the air from ruined computer modules and severed electrical cables, and radiation alarms blared and flashed green on the ceiling. Though neither men paid much attention to any of those details as they looked at the floor.
Bodies, both of men and women. At least a dozen were slumped against the wall, ugly black burn marks from the soldiers' plasma weaponry scarring each of them. The overwhelming smell of smoldering flesh struck Doug even through the filters. He felt his head start to spin as he nearly vomited inside his mask.
This wasn't a sudden onslaught, Doug realized clutching his dazed head, They were executed while we were hiding in the chamber. He saw another body laying on the opposite of the room. Based on the complete set of armor and visored helmet that adorned it, Doug could tell it was one of the soldiers that had been sent to slaughter them all. A pool of blood sluggishly widened underneath the helmet, the front of which was smashed inward, cracks appearing in the strong plastic visor. A bloodied pipe wrench was cast aside on the floor nearby.
At least they put up a fight, he grimly thought as he shut his eyes to the sight and smell.
"Doug! Come quick! Hurry!" Henry shouted. Opening his eyes, Doug pushed through the horrifying smell and saw the greying head of his friend crouched near the line of bodies. He waved his wrinkled hand and yelled for him to come quickly.
As Doug approached, he saw exactly what Henry was bent over. It was the body of a man that Doug estimated to be even older than Henry by the looks of his completely greyed hair. The only problem was that this body was still moving and talking.
"Oh, God ... Thank God someone found me at last..." the man whispered before a violent cough ripped through his weakened form. Doug knelt down on the man's left side opposite Henry. Despite the flickering light, Doug suddenly realized that he knew this man. Through the blood spattered clothes and bruised skin, he remembered his enthusiastic director of the Dimensional Studies Department, Matthew Gideon. The man who had given him his job the very day he graduated from the University of Phenac, and who had assigned him to his post as Assistant Researcher under his colleague Henry Hall.
"Mr. Gideon, sir. Are you alright? What happened?" Doug knew the first question was an obvious 'no', but he had to ask.
"N-no, Douglas. I am not quite at one-hundred percent as you can possibly see. I would be better off if you could remove that weight from my chest, though," Matthew wheezed as Henry obediently reached down, hefted the "weight" off the downed scientist, and carefully laid the male body on the floor away from the director.
"Much better ..." Matthew groaned as he leaned up against the wall to examine the damage to himself. Doug's head was getting woozy again from the thick odor of burnt skin, but it immediately cleared up once he laid eyes on the injured man's torso. A wide circle of charred skin was located about the spot where his stomach was supposed to be.
"Damn. That's going to need more than a first aid kit to sew up," Matthew cynically observed as yet another cough shuddered through him, breaking open some of the hardened, burnt flesh in his wound, allowing fresh blood to flow once again. "Those soldiers weren't taking any chances with any of us."
"Save your energy, Matt, please. Let's try to move. The wound isn't that bad," Henry urged as he tried to get his arm behind Matthew's back. The old man was met with a swift slap to his arm by the even older director. Doug watched with slight bemusement at seeing someone put his stuffy co-worker in his place.
"Leave me be. My eyes still work just fine, thank you. I can see that I'm not going to get out of this one." Henry was about to interject when Matthew held up his hand. "No. You both will listen to me now. I have one question that I demand an answer to first and foremost: Did you get rid of it?" Henry's gaze shot over to Doug for a moment as he cleared his throat.
"Sir, Doug did it. But, please, let us help you u-" Henry admitted. Matthew slowly turned his fatigued head over to Doug.
"Shut up, Henry. Doug. You used the Gate, didn't you? Good, good. Now that's cleared up, I want both of you to know something," Matthew whispered, raising his arm to catch his cough. Specks of blood peppered his sleeve once he pulled it away. Both Doug and Henry leaned slightly closer.
"The exits are all patrolled, Eliza and the others already took the last tram out, and the hanger has been sealed off. You both will have to go through the administrative areas and get to the delivery bay at Gate A. Those are locked down, so you'll need my access card to get in," he explained all in one breath as he brandished a sleek, plastic card from the tattered pocket of his coat.
Henry reached forward to take the card, but the older man suddenly jerked it away, the sudden action causing him to grimace in pain.
"Not yet. I need something in return. Doug, would you be so kind as to grab that pistol and bring it here?" Matthew requested calmly, as he clutched the outside of his gaping wound. Doug immediately knew what the director was planning on doing, but nevertheless, slowly got to his feet and shuffled the three yards across the floor to the fallen Mainland Defense Soldier. The plasma pistol was still firmly in the dead man's grasp. Doug took a deep, reassuring breath of filtered air as he crouched down and pried the stiff, gloved, fingers off the weapon.
"Gideon! What do you think you're doing? We can still get you out of here!" Henry shouted as Doug solemnly returned with the gun. "Doug, don't give it to him!" Henry's panicked protests were immediately silenced as he was met with bitter stares from both men.
"Henry, you told me the same thing back there about the boy. It's your turn to let go," Doug angrily snapped as he gave the handle of the pistol to the dying man, who in return handed over his card.
"It's my time, Henry. Not much will be able to change that. Just get out of here. Go back to your family and tell Charline I said hello, would you? The other facilities should have gotten the distress signal by now, so hopefully someone will be around to rescue you two once you get out," Matthew sighed as he grasped the weapon and eyed it curiously. The ceiling above them groaned under the pressure as cracks laced through it.
There was little more Henry could do to sway either of them of their convictions. Doug pulled Henry to his feet by his arm and motioned towards the door that lead to the access stairs across the room.
"Goodbye, Mr. Gideon. Thank you for giving us a chance to escape," Doug tersely said as he pulled Henry away from his old friend. The aged man pushed against Doug's grip, but calmed as Matthew spoke for the last time.
"Henry, thank you for everything. It's been a one hell of a run between the two of us. Now, you'll have to finish without me," Matthew wheezed as he switched the safety feature off on the weapon.
The walk to the stairs was completely silent as Doug ushered Henry inside the stairwell. Doug looked back once more at the fallen man before sliding the thin, metal door shut. They waited one moment before a bright light flashed through the small, ash-coated window of the door and the muffled sound of a single discharge echoed through the crumbling facility.
As if sharing its lament over the loss of its employee, the massive building groaned as the concrete ceiling caved in on the transport chamber, giving Matthew at the very least an impromptu burial underneath several tons of the facility he had loved.
Doug looked back at Henry; the older man was leaning over the metal bar of the stairs whispering a prayer into his gas mask for his friend. Whether the omnipotent being in the sunless sky above would hear his prayer was up to debate, but Doug respectively waited until he was finished to suggest they move upwards.
The next few moments passed relatively quickly. Without words, both men sprinted up the creaking, welded steel, staircase. With every floor that they passed, the danger only increased.
"Warning: Electromagnetic containment fields discharging. Seventy-two and one half percent change remaining. Seventy-two and one third charge remaining. BZT!" the voice chimed before cutting out again. The announcement only spurred the men even more. Despite Henry's age and brief exposure to the radiation, he was keeping pace with Doug's sprinting up the countless flights of stairs. Adrenaline and the threat of instant death kept fatigue away as both men flew through the twenty underground stories to the surface floors.
They dashed past more execution sites with eyes closed, not letting anything else distract them from their task. The hallways of the office were completely deserted except for the occasional battered body of a burnt scientist or bludgeoned soldier killed during the invasion.
Matthew's card had proved useful as they swiftly barreled through the double glass doors of the administration area, narrowly avoiding the automated plasma bolts of the turrets placed in the lobbies. The bolts sizzled in the blast-resistant glass as both men caught their breath for one moment before moving once again.
Together they vaulted over desks and office computers, Henry losing little ground to Doug even with his age. Hallways and offices blurred together as the two kept following the directional signs. Rogue Industries prided itself on efficiency, a virtue Doug was glad it had as the paths were straightforward even as the facility entered its death throes.
Quicker than they imagined, they were pressing the access panel to open the miraculously unguarded Gate A. Red alarms continued to flash and flood the air with a loud klaxon as the metal door screeched away into the walls. The delivery bay was completely empty except for the smoldering remains of three magnet trams and the looted bins of cargo they possessed. Henry and Doug climbed over the large metal containers as they drew ever-closer to the wide exit of the Gate.
Nodding to each other from atop a crate, both men suddenly leaped. Doug managed to tuck in his shoulder and roll over it upon impact with the ground while Henry jarred his legs painfully when he hit the pavement. Once he completed his maneuver, Doug ran back to assist his companion who was struggling to get to his feet.
Henry winced in pain as Doug put his hand around his back and made the limping man lean on his shoulder. The older man attempted to counter by saying he didn't need help, but Doug refused to let go as they slowly but surely inched away from the Celestic Range Facility.
The ground suddenly quaked violently as the muffled voice blared that the containment field had only ten percent charge left and was draining fast. The unchecked reaction in the nuclear fusion core would blast through the facility in no time at all once the electromagnetic field failed. Panic began to set in as both battered scientists immediately picked up the pace of their limp, despite the immense pain it brought Henry.
Cragged, majestic mountains surrounded them and offered the promise of a safehaven if only they could reach it in time, their lofty peaks pointing towards the orange tinted skies of the darkening horizon away from the heinous crimes against the heavens occurring below. Both men heard the humming of the electric motors long before they ever saw the gunships they belonged to as the graceful, steel birds flew around the base of the mountains in a tight formation.
Hoping against hope that their tiny forms wouldn't be picked up by the military radars within the craft as they stumbled haphazardly across the gritty pavement that lead out of the delivery bay. Though, their concerns hardly mattered, for at that moment, the world seemingly leap six feet into the air and a roar akin to a host of demons breaking free of the chains of hell exploded through the mountains.
Doug and Henry were violently thrown ten feet forwards, the blast and quake slamming into their backs like a Magna-Tram and kicking their feet out from under them, leaving the men little protection from the insane whims of the explosive force. Doug flew in a graceless arc through the air, his limbs loose and flailing as he tried to stop the world from spinning.
His wish was granted soon enough when the rough pavement rubbed the skin on his legs and arms raw with the impact. The angered giant of sound shook the earth as it marched from the epicenter of the reactor deep underground. Doug barely had time to focus on his own immense pain as he heard a soft thud beside him as Henry was thrown into the base of a lofty pine tree.
It was then that the fallout hit. A hellish mixture of debris and radiation rained down upon them from the tumultuous clouds. Sections of concrete walls slammed into the ground like drops of water, flash-burned masses of half-melted metal flew further from the erupting facility and stuck to the sides of nearby mountains, and the giant blades of the turbines impaled the rock as if it was a knife through bread.
Their RNS's began beeping erratically as the volatile atoms broke free of their unstable forms within the core and sped through the countless layers of lead and rock up to the surface. The watch-like machine flashed red as the field was pelted with an assault of thousands of radioactive particles, yet the shield did its job and maintained the barrier between the lethal dosages of radiation and the two battered and broken humans depending on them. Heated metal shattered once it connected with the cooler rock, sending razor-esque shrapnel slashing through the air.
Doug weakly lifted his head as the roar gradually died down, the beast responsible content with its show of force and ready to slumber in its den once more. Considering he had not been flash fried by the intense heat of the uncontrolled reaction, he could only assume that the containment had held it long enough to mitigate the apex of the blast so that it would be cancelled out by the sheer volume of concrete, steel, mountain rock, and lead.
He gave a low sigh, again, Rogue Industries had seemingly prepared for nearly every possible scenario and a way to either counter or alleviate the effects of said scenario. Doug raised his head up, weakly pushing with his arms. The downpour of lethal hail seemed to have subsided except the gentle snow of papers somehow not scorched in the fireball. He turned to the side, gazing a few feet away where his companion was groaning.
Henry had, in a show of sheer will, pushed himself up and was now leaning against the base of the spindly evergreen. The old man was breathing heavily and clutching his right knee while ignoring the plethora of angry, red abrasions along his arms, legs, and under his tattered labcoat. Other than those issues, however, he seemed to be alive and that was what mattered now.
Doug gingerly flipped himself over so he was lying on his back. He felt a shooting pain travel through his chest. There was something a mess in his ribs, he knew that fact well enough based off the immense agony associated with moving. Doug was so preoccupied with his injuries that he did not notice the increasing volume of a static hum and rotating blades from the sky.
The metal birds had not been scared off by the beast's roar, and had quickly reformed and were diving in fast towards the ruined facility. The flock sliced through the dust cloud that settled in the mountainous valley, their bright searchlights scanning systematically over the rocky plateau until they came into focus over the two scientists on the outskirts of the military occupation zone.
They might as well have been loaves of bread to the hungry flock of metal raptors as one of the gunships swiftly descended into the radiation cloud from the dusk-colored sky. Thoughts of immediate self-preservation ran through his head and became a painkiller of sorts as the fatigued young researcher leaped to his feet. The metal vehicle settled on a patch of ground not punctured with fragments of offices and laboratories and only kicked up the dust further as its engines died down with a whine.
The gangway doors flew open with a mighty swing that blasted the dust away. Like parasitic fleas, soldiers in the very same uniforms both men had encountered inside leap from the interior of the diseased bird. Their tinted visors glinted in the dying light of the day as the five men swung their weapons about the clearing leading from the wrecked delivery bay.
Doug could only watch in silence as the men swiftly surrounded both him and Henry. Not even the threat of death could get him in a state to outrun the speed of plasma bolts. Doug gave a low groan as one of the armored men walked up to him.
"Your identification beacon says you are Doctor Douglas Strickland. Is that you?" he inquired, his voice sounded like it was being forced through a radio. It wasn't a question that could be avoided, not with two other men holding him within their aim the entire time. Doug shot a quick glance towards Henry, who was receiving the same treatment from two other MDF soldiers.
"Y-Yes. I am," he squeaked, his fear-laced voice barely escaping his bone-dry throat. The soldier simply gave a quick nod to his two squadmates and turned away. Before Doug had a chance to react, he felt the heavy butt of the plasma rifle smash into his back and again into his skull. Stars exploded in front of his vision as the combined forces of exhaustion and the blows made his body fall like a rag doll.
Only one thought persisted in his mind as his body failed and the soldiers jeered: You made it out. I know you did. Good luck. Doug's body then went limp and his head fell against the rocky ground.
"This one ... This one ... This one ... ... ... Just might work ..."
In a world far away from the chaos. Separated from the radiation, the violence, and the torture by a great web of dimensional energy. Within this world, a sudden blast of blue lightning enveloped a dying wheat field outside of a small village.
The ground shuddered as blue-colored electricity flashed through the dried stalks of swaying wheat. For an instant, dimensional singularity was reached and a harsh sonic boom echoed throughout the lands. A thud was heard as something soft impacted with the dried and cracked earth.
A pained groan in the darkness was heard as the soft thing weakly raised its head. He attempted to push up on his right arm slightly, but as soon as he contracted the muscles in said arm to move it, a sharp pain sparked from his chest to every single nerve ending in his body. Spots danced before his already blurry eyes as pure pain lanced across his entire being.
Unconsciousness threatened to overwhelm him. His vision tilted and twisted as memories and thoughts evacuated his traumatized mind. His childhood, his family, his friends, his home, all vanished in an instant, replaced by a desperate yearning to remember.
Flashes of light, someone calling out to him, fire, a ruined city, a destroyed world, a key to the barrier, and a phrase whispered from somewhere far away and long ago as his vision died and head slumped to the ground:
"He is no one, not anymore."
End Chapter 0.5v2