Issue #43 – Love You Madly

This entry is part 8 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

The power of Love is a curious thing / make one man weep, make another man sing / change a hawk into a little white dove / more than a feeling, that’s the power of love.” ~ Huey Lewis, The Power of Love

Love is a powerful force. It binds us together, inspires us to be creatures of more than base selfishness and survival, and drives us to become more than just ourselves. It is the beauty of the soul and it has been one of the driving forces of humanity since our inception.

More words have been written on the subject than any other.

But for all it’s virtues, love is a thing of chaos. A person can no more control who they fall in love with than they can who their family are or laws of nature. And in this, sometimes love can be unexpected, strange. Sometimes, it can be simply mad.

***

Warning tones sounded and yellow caution lights strobed as a platform lift neared the end of a slow, grinding decent down inclined rails from the surface. The lights played off the smooth surfaces of thirty six steel cylinders, carefully secured to a pallet atop the platform.

Above, the blast doors from the level above rumbled closed, sealing with a hollow thunder just as the platform came to rest and the warning signals stopped. A dozen figures in hazmat suits moved quickly to assess the cargo with geiger-counters, spectrum analyzers and olfactory sensors.

To the other personnel at the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate, they were known as the submariners, mole-men, or tunnel rats because in a facility already bored six hundred meters into a mountain, the tunnel rats worked in a section of the base that dropped down an additional three hundred or more into the heart of the earth.

The lift room was necessarily built large to accommodate not only the elevator and its hydraulic machinery, but the bulk of that level’s ventilation equipment. The resultant din made the room practically vibrate with sound.

Cheyenne Mountain’s deepest level was referred to as The Bore and was the last stop for what nuclear waste that still defied attempts at reclamation. Almost one thousand meters underground, in a complex walled with layers of steel, lead and ceramic, the cylinders would be arranged compartments and covered over with concrete.

Most of the cylinders at least.

An instrument in the hands of one of the workers warbled a high pitched tone. He leaned closer to the cylinder he’d been examining and gestured to his superior. “Sir, we’ve got a red-cap here.”

“One here too.” A female voice among their number said.

The superior nodded. He’d been informed of their arrival and the facility was ready to receive them. “Alright people, this is the real dangerous stuff. Leave the other cylinders for now, let’s get these things down to isolation and sealed. There should be four of them.”

Months of drills went into effect as the inspectors flew into action. Heavy duty hand trucks were wheeled in and with the utmost care, the cylinders emitting the red-cap beacon were clamped to them and moved deeper into the facility.

The commanding officer of the group, Col. Jack Anderson, watched them work. To the rest of the base, he and everyone under his command were part of the Army Corps of Engineers, but in reality, they had taken over for ACE months earlier. They were really with the Rogue Operations Counter-Intelligence Command.

Over the past year, more and more criminals were turning up bearing technology, psionic powers, or, Jack hesitated to even think the word it was so ridiculous, magic that civilian law enforcement and even conventional military forces couldn’t address head on.

It fell to the so called ‘heroes’ with psionic powers or similar dangerous abilities and the ROCIC’s own Superhuman Intervention Units to stop said threats. Sometimes, paraphernalia and arms fell into the ROCIC’s hands.

Most of that was immediately sent for study or assigned to SHI operatives in the field. Some of it, however, either proved too dangerous to let fall into even the best of hands, or in some cases even too dangerous to even study. Disguised as nuclear waste, such items were sent to Cheyenne Mountain to be entombed.

“What have we got?” Anderson asked his aid, Daniel Shanks, who was jogging along beside him.

Daniel consulted the data being sent to his tablet from the heavily encrypted beacon inside each of the red-cap cylinders. “RC-1381 is the core of a suspected radiation based weapon retrieved in Wichita by SIU-2. It’s been neutralized, but any attempt at reconstruction has been deemed a national security threat.”

He flipped down. “RC-1592, an sealed container bearing organisms of non-Earth origin retrieved from Arizona by Zero Point, Majestrix and The Descendants. Contents are beyond either of our clearance levels. RC-2445 is a non-human originated amber orb, retrieved by The Descendants and SIU-3 in Mayfield. It’s marked as a neural hazard so we should keep our blockers up until it’s fully in the ground.”

Anderson nodded before reaching back to make sure that his own blocker was still securely clamped to his hazmat suit, near the base of his neck. “And the last one?” They were following the hand trucks down into the deepest part of the base where a deep pit had been cut into the floor and lined with the same material as the rest of the level.

Inside the pit was a structure resembling a honeycomb; hexagonal cells arranged in a tight, uniform pattern. Except instead of being filled with honey and capped with beeswax, many of those cells were filled with translucent, non-Newtonian fluid nicknamed ‘liquid diamond’ by the staff, and capped with the same carbon alloy composite the comb itself was made of.

At regular intervals, cells were left empty, the future homes of tactical nuclear devices meant as a last ditch method of preventing the opening of the cells. It was an extreme measure, but it was better than the alternative: unleashing the devices stored there on unsuspecting future generations.

“RC-2015, an amplifier device for tele—” Daniel was interrupted by rapid fire beeping from one of the scanners.

Anderson jogged down to where one of the hand trucks had stopped. The staffers there were All scrambling to secure the cylinder even as the security personnel in the pit was rushing up to provide assistance. “What’s going on here?” He asked the first person her came to.

“It’s 2445, sir.” reported Samantha Tapping. She was in the middle of checking her own neural blocker. “Sensors caught a neural burst and now the entire array is scrambled.”

Anderson glanced at the cylinder. It looked exactly the way it did when it came off the elevator, but that meant nothing. “How’s it doing it and how do we stop it?” He asked her. The lights overhead flickered.

“It’s a guess, sir, but I’m guessing it’s some sort of electromagnetic waveform that our instruments aren’t shielded against. Possibly one our science isn’t even aware of.” Tapping was once of the scientific envoys tasked with keeping the base upgraded for maximum security against the things stored there.

Anderson frowned. “Not shielded? As in all of out instruments? Does that include the neural blockers?” Through her suit’s faceplate, he saw her eyes widen in shock. That was all he needed to see. “Sound general evacuation!” He bellowed. “Now!”

The warning came too late. The security detail was hit first. Their expressions twisted in sudden, dizzy elation, their eyes rolled back int their heads, and they crumpled to the ground in mid-stride. They were followed seconds later by those closest to the cylinder.

A wave of fear hit Anderson and whatever had overcome his team fed on that, elevating his fear into mortal terror. As his brain abandoned hope and found solace in shutting down to protect itself from the hurricane of emotion, he saw the cylinder start to melt and run like warm wax.

***

Nikolia Petrov accepted the tray pressed into her hands by one of the ancient, dour-faced women that worked behind the lunch counter with a barely perceptible nod and walked away.

It was Friday, she thought grimly. She didn’t have much use for marking the day of the week, but the evening’s repast; a grilled chicken breast, carrot medallions, steamed broccoli florets and a sliced pear, was the same as had been served every Friday evening for the past year, save special holiday meals.

The quality of the food was neither bad, nor good, just uninspired like the surroundings and the view. She supposed that she should count herself lucky that the food was that good, the Solomon Center, the place she’d called home for more than a year, being a mental institution and all.

Not that she was mentally ill, she quickly reminded herself. The entire arrangement was a ruse set up by the owner of the Center, Vincent Liedecker: In exchange for plying her trade as an electronics and robotics genius in Liedecker’s employ, he stacked the legal deck concerning certain actions the courts were calling mass false imprisonment, attempted armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon (among other things), and had her declared insane instead.

Nikolia was more often than not working in a laboratory beneath the Center rather than being medicated and attending therapy.

She still had to take meals with the general population though; and the vast majority of them were at the Center for completely legitimate reasons. For months, she’d tried to spy out others like her, but to little success. What few she did uncover were introverted and unengaging.

Until the previous summer, when a new arrival showed up in the cafeteria. At first, he seemed to be faking some kind of obsessive compulsion, but over the course of a week, Nikolia deduced that he’d observed the others not bothering with the charade and relented by measures.

Now, months later, they talked at every meal. His field was archeology, or at least that was what he was most vocal about. Nikolia didn’t know what use Liedecker could have with an archaeologist on the premises, but one ruse her mealtime companion refused to drop was the notion that he had no idea who Liedecker was.

Their friendship was a comfort to her. The novelty of working covertly on her inventions from inside the walls of a mental ward had worn off within weeks of her arrival and long before he had arrived, she’d been on the verge of cabin fever from lack of intellectual stimulation.

It didn’t help that she was starting to suspect Liedecker was spying on her work. It was an uncomfortable thing to feel such paranoia while she was technically serving out a sentence under an insanity plea.

She shook off those stray, bothersome thoughts as she found him sitting at their usual table.

Madrigal Madigan was a stark man, not the kind Nikolia would call handsome, but not for lack of trying. Deprived of his favored grooming products, he kept his obsidian hair tied back in a rough ponytail, which only served to emphasize his widow’s peak and hooked nose.

He sat with even more of his usual haughty dignity than usual, deigning even to indulge in his nervous tick of running his fingers through his hair. Still, he offered her a gracious smile when he spotted her. More than gracious, more like elated.

“Nikolia.” Madrigal greeted her.

“Madrigal.” She returned his greeting with a smile of her own. “You’re not eating today?” She gestured to his untouched plate.

“No, actually.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Sit a moment, will you?” Something in his bearing changed from quiet arrogance to uncertainty; something alien to all of Nikolia’s experiences with him.

She did sit, but while wearing a look of concern. “I was going to. Is something wrong?”

“No. No, everything is right, actually. Perfect.” Madrigal sighed. “But I’m concerned about that. I have to tell you something, and there isn’t a great deal of time. I’m concerned that you won’t believe me when I tell you.”

His sudden shift in manner and bearing hearkened back to the first few weeks after he’d arrived. Nikolia wondered if he wasn’t planning to run some sort of the scam on the staff. Nevertheless, something about it worried her.

“Why wouldn’t I believe you?” She coaxed, “You’re the only person in this damn place with enough sense to hold up your end of a conversation.” A nervous laugh escaped her. “Not that delusions are all that uncommon around here.”

He took a deep breath, fighting down the slight offense he took to that line. There had been far too many people waiting to call him delusional when he told them about what had happened to him before he landed in the Solomon Center.

“It’s not a delusion, Nikolia. Listen, I’m almost out of time.” She started to speak, but he held up his hand to stop her. “Before I came here, a friend sent me something from a dig. She thought it was Greek in origin, but it was something more—something amazing.”

This was familiar ground between the two, but the glint in his eye was unnerving.

“I know this is hard to believe—I didn’t believe it myself when it happened, but it gave me great power. At least it did until the Descendants took it away.”

“You never told me that the Descendants are the reason you’re here.” Nikolia said, trying to process the strangeness of the conversation.

“Yes, I didn’t want any more people thinking I’m insane.” Madrigal said with an edge. “But that’s not important.” He paused to collect himself; he knew he was getting excited and it was likely hurting his message. “What’s important is…”

His gaze flicked up and he tilted his head as if hearing a distant noise. Whatever he heard made him cut right to the chase. “Nikolia, I don’t belong here. And I will be leaving very, very soon. I don’t think you belong here either and in deference to what a valuable companion you’ve been, I’d like you to come with me.” Without further preamble, he stood up, face to the ceiling.

Nikolia blinked. “If you could really get us out of here, of course, I’d go, but—“

“Good.” Madrigal said in a bright tone. With that, he thrust his hand into the air, palm up like a child preparing to catch a foul ball.

In the next instant, the ceiling shattered. Dust and debris and a few patients unlucky enough to have been occupying the halls above the cafeteria fell through a ten foot wide crater that started from the roof and ended in Madrigal Madigan’s palm.

Yellow light poured violently down the gaping hole and filled the cafeteria. A powerful wind kicked up, buffeting the falling debris and humans away from Madigan and Petrov’s table without so much as moving Nikolia’s hair out of place.

In the eye of the storm, an amber sphere fell like a thunderbolt from the heavens, faster than the eye could track. It stopped instantly, without decelerating, in Madrigal’s hand. A change took place in the man and his attire, starting with the hand grasping the bauble and traveling rapidly down his person.

The Center-provided uniform, resembling surgical scrubs, melted and transformed into a fine, black, tailored suit with crimson silk lining, matching shirt and a scarlet monogrammed ‘M’ on the breast. The light slippers became genuine alligator dress shoes and matched, leather gloves encased his hands. His hair became properly styled with the slick look he was accustomed to.

The amber luminescence in the room lessened; not so much fading as receding into the orb. Madrigal lowered his hand and thrust it out to the side. There was a flash of amber light and the orb suddenly sprouted an ebony cane from its nether end with itself as the head. Now that the light was gone, Nikolia could make out the eye of some great hunting beast lurking beneath its glassy surface.

Beaming with pride, Madrigal brought the tip of the cane to the ground. There was a pulse and the room and everyone inside was suddenly covered over with gold save Nikolia.

“God, that felt good to do again.” He sighed ecstatically. “Don’t worry, it’ll wear off before they suffocate.” A gesture with the cane caused the destruction the orb’s arrival had wrought to run in reverse; the people and pieces of floor and ceiling floating back up to where they should have been.

An unnatural laugh escaped him as he offered his hand to Nikolia. “We should get going though; so I won’t have to do anything… unpleasant to the guards when they wake up.”\

Series Navigation<< Issue #42 – Metal XIssue #44 – It’s Official! >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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