|This is the First Place winner of TSAT's third writing contest. Don't read it until after you've read the opening sequence it's a continuation of!|
Descent into Hades
by Draven Darklight
©2003 Draven Darklight -- all rights reserved
She had severed the connection, not that I blame her, I was staring at her breasts. On the other hand I was actually listening to every word she said, even though she was right, and I was picturing what we might do tonight, and remembering all the other nights. It's not like I can help it, she knows that, it's not my fault this time the docs gave me such a heightened libido. My next scheduled treatment is in another two weeks, and hopefully they will fix it then, though I guess I should expect some other minor "accident" to occur yet again.
A red light next to the outer room was lit so I switched one of the monitors to the fairly nondescript closet. The door outside said "Highly dangerous machinery, do not enter, authorized personal only" in as many languages as we could think of, which meant the warning covered pretty much the whole door. Then once you got inside was a different warning in an equally vast number of languages that said "The dangerous machinery is various types of weapons guarding this very secure area, please leave." It used to say something else both more boring and vague, but since the foundation took my advice and put up the new sign only one person has "accidentally" entered the room and got themself killed, and we won that case since it was obviously clear enough that you weren't supposed to be in there. It's so much more trouble when someone actually cares where someone is, and is a position to call the police for aid. Still no one can accidentally open a lock that complex, no matter how much of a genius they are, and it sure as heck wasn't left open like that kid's mother said. I can't believe she put her own son in that much danger.
Whoever the intruder was he wasn't in that room anymore, a quick scan of the garden room revealed a black catlike figure barely visible in the dark room, especially since none of the cameras are aimed directly at him, or maybe her. That's another thing the docs have got to fix next treatment, though this is a real mistake on their part, they messed up my night vision when they were improving my acuity, sure I can read a magazine page twenty feet away with ease, but I don't need that for my job, unlike the night vision. Even though I'm almost sure he's a guy he sorta reminds me of Susan even though she most assuredly was not a man, or at the very least wasn't one when I walked in on her.
I quickly begin the think of all the things she could do with a body like that and realize I'm letting myself be distracted again. I see the red light for the inner room in on as well. None of the invaders ever really understand the genius of our security system. While it is the most amazingly complex and all inclusive thing money can buy, it's the simple things that really keep us secure. Like the fairly complex, but entirely mechanical devices than flip on the red lights whenever the doors open without a single electrical impulse until it turns on the light in this room. Then there's the cameras, everybody hacks the cameras and turns them off, but they never notice that the real reason they are so well hidden is to shield their EM emissions, and just because the computer turns them off or loops the feed, doesn't mean I can't use them anymore, since the wires that go to this panel are completely separate from those that go to the computers, and turning them off via computer only turns off the EM emitter out side the shielding, and the camera only until I notice it's been shut off.
He begins walking down the hallway eyes glowing, but doesn't pay the black columns lining the walls every six feet much attention, on the other hand that he thinks there is anything strange about them speaks very much to his skill, or just extreme paranoia. I scratch at the fur growing out from between the scales on my hand. That is of course my own damn fault for not really thinking things through, I need to specify smaller scales next time. He seems to be looking at the statues and paintings that fall in-between the pillars on the walls. He is just passing the cameras in pillar set 23 so I trip the walls just in behind pillars 20 and 27 to drop, wait a few seconds for the mechanisms to do their work and then hear the satisfying clank of the doors dropping, but hear a few other more unusual noises as well, including a loud scream and a horrible crunch. I switch to 20 expecting he heard something and doubled back, but see nothing, then switch to 27 and shocked to see most of the panther guy sticking out from the base of the door with only part of one leg below the knee under it. Damn he's fast.
I turn toward the videocom and dial Tasha's work station, she answers almost immediately. She looked very apologetic, but I was still having a hard time concentrating on her face, so it quickly faded. At least she didn't start yelling at me again. Of course the second I saw her I started daydreaming again, the way the white stripes that weave through her blue fur every which way swirls around her breasts, the way her tail accents her rear just the right way, that slight muzzle that I think is ever so sexy, and the way she moves if I rub just the right spot behind her ears.
"Max, I'm sorry for earlier I know it's not your fault, even if it is annoying. I should have caught it them super charging your libido, and I should have caught them lowering mine too, but they've tried so many other times the other way I forgot to check. I really am sorry."
"Well the sex sure makes me feel better, but don't worry about it that much. They were doing this to me before you got here, and besides they got you once before."
"Too bad it backfired on them. I always wanted to be taller, and I got used to the breasts."
"I got used to them to."
She giggled, then said "Oh, good news. The Foundation has moved up your next treatment to next Tuesday, apparently they agree that between your decreased night vision and a libido so high you can hardly concentrate at times, your job performance might be affected enough to warrant it."
"Only two more days, that's great."
I remembered that I had not called Tasha as a social call, but because she might be able to get me out of this mess. Crushing someone's leg for no good reason is very bad, especially since he's gotten the farthest of anyone, except for Tasha of course. The docs hate it when a specimen is damaged unnecessarily, especially if they make it past most of the security. They'll probably make me all squiddy as punishment again, unless they're really mad and decide I should be insect like again. Using the form preference files to turn you into the forms that most upset you is a really nasty, if very efficient, trick. I was about to tell Tasha why I called when she said something that temporarily banished all thought of everything else from my head, which considering what the treatments have done to allow multitasking is quite a feat. I mean I was still watching the monitor of the intruder, and watching the genome scanner try to match him to his identity.
"And there is one other thing, the reason I called earlier is I got my treatment moved up too by convincing Sam to give me his slot, I'm back to normal, all except that little addition you've been begging me to get. I thought it was just for you, but you were so right, I'm already enjoying it a great deal."
The heat saw was quick and sealed the wound to boot. I guess I'll need to get a new leg after this on top of getting all this junk out of me and reversing the modifications. Oh well, if I could pull this off without getting myself killed it would all be worth it. A life of ease in the arcologies. I can picture it now, sleeping in a fully climate controlled room without a hint of pollution in the air. No worrying about if the acid rain might be so bad you can't go outside. Animals other than cockroaches, rats, and some of those heavily modified freaks, though I suppose I almost fit that label now. The beautiful gardens one always sees when they interview someone with real money. Those gardens are proof of the wealth of the arcologies, all the plants are always so alive and healthy looking. Earth supposedly used to look like that in parts, but now it's just a death trap that is slowly killing everything that's left on it. But I can leave this decaying ball soon, assuming I survive.
The curve of the hall was obvious after only a few steps, but it wasn't until I slid under the closing door I realized it's been sloped downward the whole time as well, it's very subtle. Doors that slam down via force of gravity alone, very low tech, but obviously very effective. LIZA then beeps and tells me some kind of weird EM field with a fairly full spectrum of various radiation in various amounts. They must have all their computer systems isolated from one another, smart, very smart, but not smart enough. Systems can be isolated from one another, but once you get a hold of one part of the system you have it all.
I dragged myself over to the wall, attached the palm box interface, and pressed it against the wall. A minute later LIZA beeped and replied "no device found. Damn, that means the thing is either out of reach of the monofilaments or moves into position to work, then retracts. I certainly can't go back that wall looks to be at least a foot thick, and whatever it is will take forever to cut through I'm sure. I guess I have to go forward, hope I can download the file into their computer system like the old geezer's employee told me to, and get the hell out of here all without one leg. Oh well I never quit a mission I've accepted unless the client has underpaid me, lied to me, or I find out they want me to do something for some horribly wrong reason. Though I am beginning to believe I was slightly under paid.
I tried thinking unsexy thoughts, but I still could hardly pay attention to what was going on. Then I remembered the least sexiest thing I had ever seen. I don't remember what the web address was that I thought I was typing in, I just know I got it wrong, oh so wrong. Instead of whatever fairly innocent thing the address someone had sent me was supposed to point to, it sent me to a picture of the ugliest fat woman I've ever seen. It wasn't any one thing, it was the combination. Her hair was merely very unkempt, her skin was a hideous pustule filled mess, her face made me understand the old saying of "she could break mirrors" to be true, for surely even glass would recoil in horror, but the worst was the fat. Now I have seen many fairly overweight woman before, but if you put every fat woman I've ever seen in the same room, when she entered every one of them would recoil in horror and amazement because she's just that morbidly obese, I honestly think she must live in zero-G somewhere or she would have crushed by her own weight long ago. Even worse is that the fat seemed to distributed in an almost random dispersal making her all the more hideous. There were two things that made it even worse, one being she was completely nude, the other being she was clearly displaying her crotch for all the world to see. This was made all the worse by the mounds of fat she had to push out of the way so it would be visible. I draw a complete blank on the appearance of her crotch, whether it was a fairly unremarkable female crotch, or something too horrible to mention I do not remember. I thank whatever deities that exist that I passed out after a single second of viewing the image as it is already burned into my brain, and more time to study it surely would not have made things any better.
As usual my thoughts are no longer remotely sexual in nature, but I have the urge to retch instead. Tasha is staring at me a bit. I didn't think she was still talking to me, oh well back to business, I really need her help with this intruder.
"Uh, actually I called you because we have another intruder."
"You were thinking of that picture again weren't you."
"Yea, I was. Is it really that obvious?"
"Yes, so is there enough left of his brain to restore, or at least enough flesh for a good tissue sample?"
I turned a little so I could see the body scanner panel, one of these days I have to get the techies to explain how it worked, I mean not only does it identify the genetic code of any part of your body, but sorts out the biologic from the mechanical.
"Actually he's 57% bio, 21% tech, and 12% other, with one leg severely damaged a bit below the leg."
"Other is the semi-organic components right, I just got assigned to assess use you know."
"Yes it is, and yes I do."
"So how did he damage the leg anyway, and how severe."
"Uh, I kinda crushed it with one of the doors."
"Oh, that's why you called me specifically, you don't want to get in trouble."
"Well yea, Thull may like being all spineless and weird, but I don't."
"You're calling him weird."
"Look, can you help me or not?"
"Yeah, just take off the leg and send it down in a specimen bag. I'll insist on taking out the tech parts myself using the current generation of nanobots; they should work properly this time, and if they don't they'll just miss semi-organic stuff. Too little is better than too much."
"So you're saying the body won't vanish this time?"
"No, it won't vanish. One little mistake and nobody lets you forget it! It's not like it was a living person either, it was just a corpse. Oh yes -- speaking of the Lovecraftian horror wannabe, Thull is going to test the whole lack of sleep thing soon, and though it's not official yet I think I convinced the Foundation to start right after the end of your shift, and I don't have to go into the lab much either the next two days so..."
My concentration slipped for more than a moment, and by the time I got back from the bathroom after throwing up because I had to think about that horrible picture again, and wiping off my chins I went back to my console. I then noticed something very bad, the intruder was gone. He cut off his own leg and kept going, who is this guy. I then take a closer look at the DNA identifier panel and see the name "Incisor" at the top of the page. That's not a name, it's a tooth job description. No past, no present, he's a ghost, hardly leaves a trace, and what is left only matches crime scenes and nothing else, that last bit is new. Seen in the vicinity of one of Gregory Alfredo St. Claire's men, the most likely source of payment. Jeez, we should just kidnap the guy, fix all his diseases and make him twenty again like he wants. It would be so much easier, and for that matter safer. The first 30 or so guys he sent weren't so hot, the next 80-something were fairly close, and the last 15 have all gotten to the door panel. The last guy who went through the river even got the door open. But Incisor is really a grade-A master criminal. Too bad my job is to keep him out, or at this point make sure he never leaves.
I was cycling through the hall cameras, and decided forget all subtlety and turned on the hall lights and tried again. Let's see what other info Intel has gathered on him. Noble sort, steals from other criminals more than anything, with large business institutions and government right behind. Paranoid and suspicious, thinks the whole world is full of rotten people and anyone doing something remotely nice has an angle, including this place most likely. Ah there he is -- damn, that's right outside the door. I guess I might as well let him in now that he's so close, though it should still take him a while to get past the lock. Wait, I wonder how he'd react if I told him exactly what St. Claire really wanted and why, and what we're doing? I think this is going to be fun, and I get to try to convert someone again.
That was strange, this lock was as poor as the one on the outer door, why would security ease up as you got further in, but before the security measures ended. The lights came on because they were obviously tired of trying to see me in the dark, and I was obviously trapped. I can't believe I didn't notice the odd pattern of the slightly curved roof before, it's so obvious now, but it was a very regular pattern, maybe even every single deformation in the ceiling is one of those accursed doors. I crawl into the huge room at the end of the hall and wonder if this is really a good idea, sure I can drag myself along fast enough but unless this place is unmanned I might be in trouble. I stop at the base of some huge smooth metal interior wall with numerous slightly humming fans in it's surface, it must be some sort of supercomputer, maybe this place really is automated, what a lucky break.
LIZA reported the EM emissions were that of a high voltage computer, but that was a little strange, because some thing this big should be a supercomputer with more memory and processing power than the rest of this entire stinking hole of a planet. It was almost like it was simply an overly large personal computer or workstation, but that made no sense. I used both arms and my good leg to move around the thing as quickly as I could, but slowed when the curved wall abruptly stopped. I peeked around it and saw that the thick wall was really more of some large crescent shaped device, with a pillar of some sort in the center. I decided that must be the access port and crawled over as quickly as possible, I may get caught but at least I can up load the data and bring these fakers down. Then I looked up.
I screamed for all I was worth for awhile, but quickly got a hold of myself. I would stand tall, I would take it, and I wouldn't scream again. Sure I was doomed, but I wouldn't let it have the satisfaction. Sure the three heads were smiling at me, maybe even in a pleasant manner, but I was still pretty sure it was about to eat me. It looked vaguely like a wolf, but the black fur sticking out between red scales ruined the look. It was wearing a gray toga on what I assume to be a human frame even though I can only see to about it's waist. He must be at least twenty feet tall. Then he began to talk and I shivered at the echo as all three heads said the same thing only slightly out of synch. I have definitely been underpaid, now if can just get out of here alive I can explain to St. Claire how that makes me feel.
I forgot Tasha is such an incredibly strange person. Now that I think of it she was the only one that asked me "are your heads separate minds, or is there just one person with three separate heads?" first thing. And most people do scream, though that's the docs' fault because they never tell them who they're meeting or prepare them in any way. One of these days I might remember who started our little prank war, and what did for that matter, and try to end it> Until then, I'll give as good as I get. Of course they really got me good when one of my treatments "accidentally" turned me buggy again despite my file saying that psychologically that was a really bad idea, but that backfired on them just a bit. I don't remember what I did after a while but I think the docs have just paid off the debt the Foundation billed them for doing something so stupid, and I was still just barely over 8 feet at the time, I wonder if we even could rebuild this place it they tried that now.
I smiled down over my workstation at the tiny looking one legged man who still looked scared out of his mind but neither tried to escape, or beg for mercy. I even scare the heck out of Thull sometimes, no one expects something as big as I am can move so silently. It was kind of funny watching him skitter around the desk, sad too, but also funny. I wonder what he thought it was, he obviously didn't think it was giant security station.
"So, you are the legendary criminal Incisor. As you may have noticed we have a mix of the most advanced technology ever created, and simple mechanical devices to keep out intruders, and as you can see they even have a guard dog. Of course the Foundation went truly ancient for my basic design, and since this is our own personal little underworld, who better than the guardian of Hades to guard it? But since the original Cerberus was not available, they recreated me in his image."
"This is insane. Your whole organization is insane."
"No, just Thull, he wants to be a Lovecraftian horror. Well... and Sam, he's trying to figure a way to give himself the full range of the X-men's powers through genetics, or at least discover the X gene."
"You people claim to be preserving the genetic material of species about to become extinct so they might one day be restored, but instead you create monsters."
"We do want to preserve the species so they can be restored! We just plan on doing it as soon as possible, and try to recreate a few of the species we couldn't possibly have samples of as well, like dinosaurs for example, oh, and of course the graceful dodo."
"But how does that explain you being thirty feet tall you freak?"
"That isn't the point at all. I mean why are you a heavily modified giant."
"Oh, well the scientists figured since they were playing god anyway why not mess with humans some too? They started with just themselves, but then started branching out to most of the underground staff. Eventually they decided that as foolproof as my security system was, sometimes things just went wrong and they needed someone to stop anyone from getting any further than this room. I elected myself and Thull. He may be a tad deranged, but for someone who wants to become an embodiment of fear and darkness he really is a very good worker and fairly agreeable person."
"You're saying you are the result of scientists saying, why not do something a little worse?"
"Well I wouldn't put it that way, especially to Sam and the other docs, they will start pulling pranks on you for sure. And you don't want to suddenly end up a porcupine for no reason, though other than the quills being a big hassle it wasn't so bad. And you might like being a porcupine, for all I know."
"What are you talking about, I sure as heck don't want any more modifications, and even if I did why would you give them to me?"
"Oh, you think you have a choice. You don't still think you might ever leave here do you?"
Crap, now it all makes sense. The security system isn't designed to keep people out, it's designed to keep them in. First you have to sneak past the guard, then down a hall lined with cameras and walls that drop from the sky, then through the most dangerous room ever constructed. If you're trying to break in here you just happen to be unlucky enough to have to get through the room first. Wait, that almost makes sense, but something still doesn't fit.
"This place is designed to keep people in more than out, right?"
"You just figured that out?"
"Okay, then if you don't care if people get in that much, why do you let so many people die in that room?"
"Oh almost none of them die. The room is designed to knock you out or otherwise disable you. Granted this includes having your legs severed from your body, but only if you do something weird or stupid do you die, like trying to crawl through the room on hands and knees or if you happen to be only three feet tall. I keep telling the Foundation to upgrade the targeting computers but they never listen to me."
"But then what happened to all those people that..."
"You just got it, huh? Yep they're all still here, some are pretty much just prisoners while others work here. For instance my girlfriend is the only one to get farther than you, she even opened the door behind me. The problem was her method was to turn off the power and move really fast, I caught her the second the lights came back on. That was when I got my night vision improved and stopped relying on heat sensors on the cameras for the dark room."
I just stared at the freak of a security guard, shocked. He couldn't really be implying what I think he is, could he? And if he is, why?
"Are you saying you want me to work for your freak show of an organization?"
"Not quite yet, no, but I was getting to that. You would have to do a little scut work and take some psych tests until we are sure you can be trusted and are in line enough with our ideals, but with time absolutely."
"Your ideals? The Foundation has ideals?"
"Yes, as I said earlier we do want to restore the earth to a better state and repopulate it."
"Actually, no you didn't, but what about all the people living on this stupid ball of dirt."
"Well, they either leave or get turned into squirrels."
"Okay, not specifically squirrels, but you get the idea. You know, some appropriate animal. Honestly, squirrels are probably too small, more than likely most would be turned into stuff like horses, goats and deer."
"So you're planing to evict the entire population of Earth."
"Well some who could be trusted could live underground, but that is about the plan, the members of the Foundation already own about a quarter of the land on earth, they could legally evict some people right now if they had someplace to send them, or we could give them another option. That's really what's holding them up right now actually."
"That's less of an ideal, and more of a plan."
"I suppose. Of course the big thing is the sanctity of the body."
"You mean no one in the Foundation drinks or does any sort of drug?"
"No, I mean no cybernetics of any sort, and before you ask, yes not even an ID chip."
"But how is that possible?"
"It's not like you have one, but I know what you mean. You can get one of the old ID bracelets if you get a bunch of special permits, that's what I did."
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah, in fact now that I think of it that's what started this whole feud between me and the docs. They were getting sick of my preaching on and on about it and my next treatment had a little error of some sort, then I gave them a minor hassle with their security clearance and things escalated."
"What are you talking about?"
"Nothing all that important to you, I suppose. Now let's get you in a cage."
I turned on the recorder and tried to be as composed and professional as possible. Sure there were at least three other reports that degenerated into sex talk, but there doesn't need to be any more.
"Dr. Natasha Gregory, this is chief security officer Maximilian Cerberus. The most recent specimen is contained and ready for shipment. He shows no signs of having any discomfort with his current form, but has a clear dislike of modifications, both inorganic and organic."
"This is perfectly acceptable, as long as he shows no destabilization in alternate forms he is acceptable."
"Furthermore he has a very high pain threshold and an amazing stubbornness. While this may make him difficult to convince of the rightness of our organization, he is worth the trouble, and like all mercenaries money can be used to speed the process along, but a certain amount of loyalty must be acquired first. A heavy mod treatment that only we can safely reverse may be enough to facilitate the proper result, but a full mental analysis is needed to determine the accuracy of my initial analysis."
"What is the damage on the subject and progress into the base?"
"His leg was removed my the garden room, but he continued to the outer door of the guard chamber. I let him break the lock if he could so I could capture him personally and not remove other security officers from their posts."
"Very well, prepare the specimen and bring him down immediately."
"That would leave my post empty, please explain."
"Officer Thull is at this moment there to relieve you early. You would have been informed of it in another minute if you hadn't called me to file your report."
"CSO Cerberus authorizes this report."
"Dr. Gregory concurs."
I turned off the recorder and disconnected. Then I just laughed at the two of us being so professional. I looked at my prisoner who as time wore on seemed to be looking less shocked and confused and more pissed off. The cage he was in was really a standard treatment take with a portable air supply system attached.
"You think I didn't hear that?"
"Of course you heard it, I would get in trouble if you didn't."
"It doesn't matter what you hear. We want you to work for the Foundation, and we're going to try everything we can to convince you to do just that, and we pay much better than St. Claire."
"I seriously doubt that."
"Oh it's true all right. The Foundation has two parts to it, the charity that has its main offices above this facility, which most people just think is a more secure block of offices or computers with our secure files, though those really are down here too. Then there is the organization that funds the research that happens in our own little underworld, which is really ironic in a way, this is the area below the foundation after all. Get it, under the foundation?" I say, but don't really expect him to get it, nobody does.
"You're just another cult that will do anything to get what it wants."
"Well, yes. But considering what we are capable of, the Foundation has shown amazing restraint. The only question that remains is will help us reach our goals and get whatever you can imagine, or will you refuse and remain our prisoner until we succeed?"
He didn't say anything of course. Above all else, mercenaries do things for a price, you just have to be willing to pay enough. Then I remembered something important.
"How did you get through the garden anyway?"
"I used the lake."
"Funny, you don't look like you have gills."
"You mean the nanobots don't rip you to shreds?"
"No, they just give you gills in place of lungs, making it really hard to get anywhere. Especially since they're such poor gills and you can hardly get a breath in the pond."
"I used a skinsuit with a self-immolating feature to get through the pond."
"So may I assume by your cooperation you want to help the cause?"
"Yes, you might."
One chance. I play nice, earn their trust, get my leg repaired and hope I get a chance. I don't think I could get out without a lot of preparation, but I got in, and now I really know what security there is. Now I just have solve one more question: How to not only get across that room, but get past the guard. Then I realize a problem, there is no door in the room other than the one I entered from, but that makes no sense.
Cerberus picks up my cage and pushes against a portion of the wall. With the sound of metal scraping metal it slowly opens. The door is completely manual, and is so big the giant wolf is the only creature I have ever seen who could possibly move it, and the type of machinery needed cannot be hidden or easily moved.
"In case you're wondering I said Tasha got through this door, not that she opened it. She developed the fastest nanobots ever made and bored through; since she was only about three feet tall at the time and very much lacking her current curvier figure, it was a fairly small hole too. This door is new and is four times as thick."
The door had to be at least seven feet thick, and was probably eight. I could never hope to open that door. But then I saw what lay beyond. The sun and sky had to be simulated, but I couldn't tell about the rest. A huge garden swept out before me, with the occasional rocky outcrop, jungle, or forest to break it up. And everywhere there were animals, some I knew, but so many were completely alien to me. It was a paradise. At what cost it was procured I cannot say, but surely it rivaled even the gardens of the arcologies. No, it downright made them look like simple rocks compared to this diamond.
"I did say this was our own little underworld, but I neglected to mention we only have the fields of Elysium down here -- or at least a fairly good facsimile."