Tuonetar 3.7

I squinted as I looked inside, happy that the sun was blocked from this angle.  A knocked over coffee cup, a computer.  After a moment, I could make out a button up shirt on the computer chair.  Other than that… nothing useful, just like the others.  With a slight frown, I braced myself, took a deep breath, and let go while kicking out.

The wildlings had learned to give me my space after the first time of having to scramble away.  The feeling of falling was liberating, but it didn’t last nearly long enough.  All too soon, my feet hit the ground.  Instantly I was rolling back, tucking my head in.  As the roll brought my feet to the ground, I pushed up, redirecting the energy.  That put me into a nearly vertical jump, expending most of what energy remained from the drop.

The landing still hurt my knee, though.

“Anything?” Sarah whispered as she handed me back my halberd.

I shook my head.  “No sign of wildlings, though.”  Small favors.

She frowned a little.  “She wouldn’t have sent it if we wouldn’t have a way in.”  We’d checked several windows and all of the doors on both buildings.  Nothing opened.  “There’s got to be something that we aren’t thinking of.”

I racked my brain, trying to figure it out.  The old lockdown procedures for when power was completely lost ran through my head.  They stated that it would take a special encoded magnetic key that would provide power to the door in order to get inside, one that was kept in several other PRT buildings around the country.  Obviously, we didn’t have that.  Truth be told, there were probably none remaining anymore, not with twenty years passing.

So there had to be another answer.  Some way to circumvent normal lockdown procedures.  But the PRT here hadn’t been as dumb as the ones in Brockton Bay — they  were super careful about a lot of things.  My brain wasn’t coming up with anything.

Instead, I tried to imagine the place when it was up and running.  I imagined the people coming and going, trying to see how they would maneuver around everything that I’d seen, both PRT and Protectorate members.  The roof was one possibility; the people who had served here included a couple of flight-capable tinkers and a flying mover.  But it would be neigh-impossible for me to climb to the roof, even if the flying wildlings didn’t take note of me and attack.

A mental image of Tim flashed through my head.  I remembered seeing faded pictures of him as a Ward in his costume, so it wasn’t hard.  A useless distraction, though, and I tried to focus on the task at hand…

…only to realize I was.  Combined with the mental image of PRT members, an idea was forming.  I grinned suddenly, moving to the wagon.  “C’mon.”

Sarah didn’t argue, and neither did the wildlings.  They followed me dutifully out back between the garage and the PRT building, where there was a small alleyway.  Dumpsters were in the back, but I hadn’t paid much attention to the door before now, nor the large pot that had been next to it.  Even the brick had been below my notice.  The door itself wasn’t that important, not in my first examination.  No handle to open it meant that there wasn’t much chance to get inside.

Instead, I focused on the pot.  I’d originally assumed that it had held some sort of flowers, but that had been naive of me.  There wasn’t enough sunlight here for that.  Instead, I began to move the soil that had accumulated.  After a few moments, I’d found the proof that I needed.  I turned to Sarah, holding up a cigarette butt.

She tilted her head, and I could imagine the dubious expression on her face.  “And this is going to get us inside?”

“Maybe.”  I fished my flashlight off of my belt and shined it on the door frame.  There wasn’t enough of a gap for me to see between the door and the frame, but I finally found some scrapes on both.  I glanced up, noting a small hole up near the top.  Just big enough for someone’s finger.  “I need a wallet.”

“You need a…  What?”

I dropped my pack from my shoulders.  There might be something in there — my knives were too thick.  “A wallet.  Check the cars, see if there’s one open and clothes inside.  Get me a wallet, or their badges.”

She took off quickly, a contingent of wildlings going with her.  As I looked in my pack, I came across a cloth bundle that I hadn’t packed in there, marked with my name.  Strange, but it wasn’t what I needed at the moment.  I went back to hunting.

By the time that Sarah came back, I was getting my pack back in order.  Everything I had was either too thick, not wide enough, or too flimsy for what I was thinking.  As she drew near, I quickly got it back on my shoulders, forcing myself up.

“That was awkward,” she said as she handed it over.  “What’s going on?”

“Security holes.”  I pulled out a card at random — I had no idea what a Mastercard was, but it fit the bill right now.  It was about the same size and shape as the RFID card.  I turned back to the door, carefully inserting it where the scuff marks were and carefully moving it around.

“These facilities are government property, and there’s no smoking inside federal premises.  Smokers, naturally, would come somewhere out of sight to smoke.  Hence the rock.  But there’s always going to be mistakes made.  That’s the nature of the universe.  Someone’s going to come out here, maybe once a month, and forget to prop the door open with the rock.  So, at some point, someone might have come up with a way for employees to get back in.  And…”

I heard a click and quickly reached up to the hole in the door, putting a finger in and pulling.  Even after the decades, it opened easily.  No oxidization to hamper anything, a small boon to our favor.

Almost immediately, I was greeted by an open security gate and a plethora of EMP-protected security measures.  But we were in.

“Bro, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.”  Sarah got the battery out of the wagon, more than a hint of admiration in her voice.  “You’re a goddamn genius.”

“Bah,” I said quietly.  “C’mon, let’s get moving.”

It took longer than I cared to admit to move through the facility.  Some routes were locked down, forcing us to detour.  It was purposefully built like a maze, though for the life of me I couldn’t remember why.  I’d probably been distracted in whatever class we’d discussed it in.  But with our way guided only by flashlights, and the possibility of wildlings attacking, it was slow going.  The lack of working elevators made it even slower.

Finally, however, we found the stairs into the sub-levels, and soon after, into the emergency power center.  Later, I’d feel awed by all of this, but right now I needed to focus on the task at hand.  This was a tinker’s wet dream, and here we were, walking into the middle of it.  Popular culture told you that it should have cables running all over the place, complex machinery woven haphazardly, and no real sense of any cohesion.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yes, there were computer bays and access panels all over the place.  Yes, there were banks of switches on the walls.  But it all had a sense of purpose.  My flashlight reflected off a window that took up most of the wall.  That was our destination.  Carefully, we maneuvered to it, then found a doorway off to the side to the room beyond.

These large batteries were safe for the most part, but like almost every other piece of tinker technology, there were conditions where things could go catastrophically wrong.  This room might be at the base of a very well-armored and protected building, but it had extra layers of armor to protect everyone if one of the batteries had something go bad.

There were four slots for the batteries.  All four were empty.  That made me frown a little.  I wasn’t sure about the exact procedure as to these things, but in an emergency such as the lead up to Scion attacking the city, I couldn’t make sense of them removing all four.  It simply didn’t make any sense.

Wich left other, more disturbing possibilities.  I tried to push those out of my mind for the moment.

“Slide it in that one.”  I watched as Sarah approached.  “Turn it around the other way.”  I could barely make out her helmet turning to look at me, but she turned it the other way before sliding it into the slot.  As soon as she stepped aside, I pulled the lever to manually connect the battery to the system.

There was a click, a whine, and the lights in the facility began to flicker.  I pushed past Sis, barely avoiding tripping over wildlings as I hurried to the main room.  Despite two decades, monitors flickered to life like they were brand new.  Computers in the room booted, and after a few moments, I watched as diagrams of this building and the Protectorate building came to the screen.  Sections started to turn green, slowly at first, but with a quickening pace.  Maybe some sort of protective measure?  Basic electrical knowledge told you that if you turned on the juice, the entire building should have lit up at once.

Finally, after an eternity that must have lasted less than one minute, the satellite dishes turned green.  I let out a breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding and chuckled softly.  Things were working, and my excited grin grew until my head threatened to pop off.  If nothing else, it was nice to see the room in total, without having to use my flashlight.  I quickly turned it off.

“Cool,” Sarah said, lifting her faceplate.  “Both the buildings have power.  Awesome.”  She looked to me.  “Now what?”

My smile dropped instantly.  “Crap.  I, uh, I hadn’t thought about that.  Um…  We should probably find the server room, or head upstairs and find a desk for comms.  Hopefully, we can-”

“There’s no need for that,” a voice said.  I whirled around, leveling my halberd.  There was a small chuckle in the air.  “Relax.  I’m in the system.”

Oh.  Oh!  I felt my cheeks warm until they must have been glowing hot red.  Quickly, I put the butt of my halberd on the ground, standing at attention.  A moment later, one of the monitors changed, displaying a woman’s face.

“Sarah Abrams.  Jordan.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.  I’m Dragon.”

“The pleasure is ours,” Sarah said in her professional tone.  “I’m sorry if we took longer than anticipated.”

“Honestly, even with Miss Alcott’s numbers, we doubted this would happen.”  She actually looked… embarrassed?  “The fact that you’ve managed to pull this off at all is incredible.  Even if you did get here, get inside, and set everything up, you probably would have needed another week at the very least.  The information I’m transmitting to New York is already getting quite the reaction.  I’m afraid that you’re likely to have quite the reception when you get back to Twain.”

“We can handle that,” Sarah said with a nod.  “How are we looking?”

The face on the monitor frowned.  “The battery is good, but it’s only got so much power.”  There were a series of clacks behind us.  “I’m shutting down…

“Wait.”  A tone of alarm entered her voice.  “Sensors tell me you’ve got wildlings in there with you, and more outside-”

“It’s fine,” Sarah said quickly, raising a hand.  “They’re with us.  It’s fine.  It’s a long and complicated story, but they’re friendly.  If there are any others, though…”

“I’m detecting movement in the tunnels connecting the buildings, but other than that, we’re clear.”  She frowned at us, but seemed to accept our explanation.  “I’ve shut down power to everything that doesn’t need it.  I’m going to shut down even more here in a few minutes.  I’m afraid that this satellite won’t be in position much longer, and we’ve lost a good number of them.”

“Alright,” Sis said with a nod.  “So-”

“-to collect any computers you can,” Dragon said quickly.  I blinked.  Another seizure?  A horrible time for it.  “Laptops, desktops, cell phones, whatever you can get your hands on.  Bring it to the server room so that I can strip whatever data I can off before the battery runs out.”

“How long do we have?” Sarah asked quietly.

“I’m going to lose you in about five minutes.  After that, everything will go to minimal power for the next hour and forty-five minutes until I’ll be able to make a more long-term secure connection.”

Sarah turned to look at me.  “Can we do it?”  When I didn’t respond, she laid a gentle hand on my shoulder.  “Bro?”

“Yeah,” I said quickly, shaking myself out of my star-struck state.  “Yeah, sure, we can do it, no problem.  We might have to pull stuff in as she’s transferring files from other things, but yeah.”  I looked to Dragon, almost afraid to speak.  “But if we’ve lost enough satellites that you’ll be out of contact for that long, won’t we only have a very brief window to contact you?”

She looked embarrassed again.  “We didn’t actually believe you’d pull it off, and our last attempt cost us four suits.  It won’t be that long until we have satellite coverage again.  Defiant is currently modifying one of our transports to hold position in the thermosphere to act as a relay between here and New York.  It should be that long before the modifications are made and the craft is in place.”

I nodded.  That made sense.  If random gaps might happen, taking extra time to ensure a stable connection might be best.  “Alright.  Can you unlock the front doors?  That way, we don’t have to worry about whatever’s moving in those tunnels.”

“Already taken care of,” Dragon said with a smile.  “I locked down the tunnels for extra measure.  I’m not detecting any nearby wildlings outside, either.  You should be free and clear, but I’d still advise caution.”  The main lights went out, leaving the building lit only by emergency lighting.  “Sorry, I have to save as much power as I can.  The system wasn’t designed to operate on only one battery.”

“That’s fine,” Sarah said.  “What you’ve got on now is more than we had before anyway.”

“Elevators?” I asked.

“I’ll leave them operational, yes.  That should speed everything up for you.”

“Thank you,” I said sincerely, bowing my head.  “Okay, rather than stand here and waste our last few minutes, let’s get to work.  Sarah, leave the wounded one and the mother in the server room if you can to stand guard.  You take this building, I’ll take the other.”

Sarah turned to the wildlings.  “Most of you are going with him.  Just because there aren’t any more nearby now doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way.”

We had a plan, and we had mission objectives.  That was good enough for me.

To say that the wagon was heavy would be an understatement.  My knee was absolutely screaming, working only through force of will.  My arms and chest were hurting from pulling it as well, a process made that much more difficult from the precarious tower of computers I had.

This was far from my first trip, and I’d grown to abandon the power cords for anything but laptops and phones.  Towers were quickly disconnected from everything and piled in there, but they weren’t the only thing I was hauling.  If it looked electronic, and I could find a cord for it, I’d grabbed it.  I had no idea what all was a cell phone, what all was a tablet, or even some tinker-made gear.  I was flying blind, so I was grabbing as much as I could.

As I made my way into the server room, the lights were already on and the racks already working.  There was a blank spot where two racks should have stood that bothered me, but I couldn’t focus on it.  Hopefully, Dragon would come up with something.

I’d heard them talking, but the conversation cut off as Sarah met me at the door, taking the handle for the wagon.  “That’s your last trip,” she said sternly.  “Take a seat.  I’m getting good at this.”

I wanted to argue.  There were still two more trips worth of stuff that I could have grabbed, not counting a suit of armor that I’d found laying on the ground.  It might have had data in it that might give an idea as to what exactly happened when Scion used his power.

Still, I moved to a chair and settled into it with a wince.  Almost immediately, the closest screen changed to Dragon’s face, offering me a sympathetic smile.  “It looks like you’ve had a rough time of it.”

“I’ve had worse,” I said.  It wasn’t humility, either.  I really had suffered worse than this.  “How’s the data collection?”

“Good,” she said warmly.  “I’m compressing it before the transmission, which is saving time.  I’d rather be pouring over it right now, but I’m more focused on the transfer than active analysis.”

I nodded.  That made perfect sense to me.  They’d waited a long time to get at this data, had lost some of their high-tech suits trying to get it.  It was better to get all of it and look at it later than let a little impatience get the best of them.

Sara spoke up as she unloaded the wagon.  “Is Defiant in that craft thingie of yours?”

“No,” Dragon confessed.  I frowned a little.  I would have loved to meet him, too.  “We didn’t have time to properly modify the craft, so it’s environmental integrity suffered.  He’d be fine up there for a while, but depending on how long this takes, he might end up suffering for it.  No, he’s working in New York, helping them out.”

“Pity,” Sarah said, glancing at me with a smirk.  The moment passed almost instantly, though.  “What are you hoping to get?”

“This site was more than just the main cloud for the PRT and Protectorate.  It was also a major link for Cauldron, and how they kept an eye on Parahuman activities.  I was never able to access it before, but now I’m also hoping that it will fill in some blanks and give us more information.  We know that there were a couple of secondary vial caches that were never found, as well as some community creation kits.  Hopefully, this will give us a lead on them.  I’d rather not have people stumble onto those vials unawares.”

The fact that Cauldron had their fingers in so many parahuman groups, especially the PRT and their parahuman counterparts, was more than a little disturbing to me.  I couldn’t imagine how such a small group of people could have such a large conspiracy.  Somehow it had happened, though.

Their vials, though, were the main concern.  She was right.  With the chances of death or mutating into Case 53s so high, not having those vials that granted powers on the loose was smart.  The community creation kits, though, might not be much use.  Time probably had done a number on them.  On the other hand, any resource was a good thing, and if anything in that kit was still usable, it would be worth its weight in at least salt, maybe even gold.

“There’s all sorts of other data that I’d like to get as well.  There’s a lot of tinker designs that we might be able to filter through, adapt, or send to Masamune for production.”  Dragon smiled at us. “Just designing the next iteration of armor for the Dragon’s Teeth is a full time job.”

Dragon and Defiant weren’t exactly high profile anymore.  Rumor had it that they had their own dimension that they were safeguarding.  For the most part, they were interacting heavily with the Dragon’s Teeth — despite not being part of the official chain of command, they were in charge of the design of the Teeth’s tinker tech armament.  Since there were no paras in the Teeth, they were vital to keeping the Teeth able to fight on equal ground to the paras.

At least, that had been the official stance.  In the years before Gold Morning, Dragon had done a wonderful job of hiding her existence as an AI.  She’d been shut down just prior to Gold Morning, and had her programming hacked by the villain Teacher and his so-called students soon after.  Both she and Defiant had been completely quiet for some time after that.

The question that people didn’t voice out loud, due to respect for the efforts of the duo both prior to and during Gold Morning, was what the effects had done to her.  Could an AI suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder?  Could Defiant?  Had they been spending their time quietly trying to repair her code?  Nobody was sure.

I wasn’t about to ask.  She was a legend, someone worthy of awe and respect.  Having her help us alone was a wondrous occasion — we were still nobodies.  To have her here, talking with us like we were equals along the lines of Legend, Chevalier, Tattletale, Bitch and the rest…  No.  I wasn’t about to pry on any part of her life.

To be fair, I couldn’t even summon up words if I’d wanted to.

“Actually,” she continued.  “I’m interested in your armor.  It must have been expensive to commission.”

Bull.  She knew, she had to know, but she was being polite.

Sarah, though, smiled politely.  “Our brother crafted it.  Christopher Abrams.  He occasionally makes blades for the Dragon’s Teeth.”

“Ah, yes.”  The face on the monitor smiled warmly.  “I’ve had a chance to study those, and to figure out a few things on how it keeps its edge and strength so well, but the process behind it is still a bit beyond me.  At least, for casual inspection.  I’d delve more deeply, but I’d rather respect his work, one tinker to another.”

“Much appreciated,” Sis said, bowing her head slightly.

“I’d like very much to talk with him some day.  His work has quite the reputation; the power generators, water filters, the oil creation system… Didn’t he sell something to the Orphanage that helps them carbonate soda?”

That got Sarah to laugh a little.  “I’m surprised you know about that.”

“He’s on a watch list, and not the bad kind.  Once he began selling some of his more interesting items, we determined that he might be targeted.  Your parents were, and probably still are, capable fighters, but the local Wardens are dedicated to helping ensure that he stays safe.  We’re paying attention, but giving him his space.  It’s also part of the reason why we’re helping fund the transportation grid to Burlington, so that we can have a rapid response team ready if he gets attacked.

“His specialty is interesting and seems to have a wide range for application.  If we could reach an agreement, we’d like to work with him.  But we also understand that he has further plans for himself and the two of you, and would rather not pressure him.”

My heart was hammering in my chest and I could feel a bead of sweat trickle down the back of my neck.  My eyes felt like they were about ready to pop out of my skull.  She wanted to…  They wanted to work with Chris?  There was a tinge of envy there, but also a feeling of elation.  They wanted to deal with Chris.  Dragon and Defiant wanted to deal with him personally.  Holy crap.

Sarah was silent a moment before a wry grin crossed her face.  “If you do, the two of us have to be there as well.”

There was a pause before Dragon’s image turned to look at me.  “Ah, I wouldn’t dream of excluding you.  I’ve seen your transcripts, Jordan.  You’re a bit of a cape fan, aren’t you?”  It wasn’t just my cheeks that warmed.  I could feel my ears get hot.  “Every level of Parahuman History, Parahuman Theory, Paraphysics, engineering, programming, science courses, languages, notes about combat training that’s as extensive as your schoolwork, and then dance, a little acting, a host of other hobbies…”

She chuckled softly.  “I’m looking over the transcripts right now, and I have to admit, I’m a little surprised that you had time for anything else.  That’s quite the heavy course load for someone your age.”

It took me two tries before I finally found my voice.  “M-my grades, uh…  My grades should r-reflect that.”

“Now, now.  There’s a few courses here that you were either top of your class or second.  But you are right, you had a general average ground for most of the courses you passed, and I think you would have been better served with a lighter course load.  Still, for how much you were taking, you did amazingly well for your age.”  She smiled warmly at me.  “What’s your weapon of choice?”

“Um…”  I swallowed hard.  “Halberd, ma’am.  I like the versatility it gives me, and a polearm gives me added power to, uh, to help offset how hard it is for me to bulk up.”

“Defiant would probably like to talk with you about that.  Maybe even spar with you.”

I looked away, blinking to try and keep tears from forming in my eyes.  “That’d be cool.”  It would never happen.  He was far too important, too busy to spar with me.  But she was being very, very nice for saying he might.  A thought hit me randomly.  “Um…  H-how do you have access to my transcripts?”

“Lisa Wilborn had requested it, and I asked if we could get a copy.  She’d put a lot of effort into convincing the Dragon’s Teeth into supporting your mission, and they asked if we could offer some insights before deciding.  I discovered some lies she’d told them, but Defiant and I decided that the two of you would engage on this mission anyway.  It was better to offer support than not.  If we could somehow give you an edge in survival, it would mean two less deaths out here.”

I could respect that answer completely.  While there were people who looked down on her for being an artificial intelligence, until it was revealed she was considered one of the greatest heroes alive.  Considering what all she’d done for humanity both before and after Gold Morning, I personally thought she was still in the top three heroes who ever existed.  Considering the checkered actions in his history, some would be surprised that I put Defiant right behind her, though for different reasons.

Chevalier, of course, was number one, with Legend being number two.

There was a long pause before Dragon tilted her head a little, her expression becoming a little more serious.  “So, what’s your assessment of the city so far?”

I glanced to Sarah, but she waved me off, preferring to focus on setting up computers.  “Um.  Well, uh…  Even if we were to clear out all the wildlings, the city itself isn’t fit for resettlement.  Its immutable nature means that initial settlement would go well, b-but the inability to modify the existing buildings and structures would cause too much difficulty and long-term strain on the residents.  Then there’s the electricity issue, that you’d have to power the entire city.  It just wouldn’t work in the long-term.  Not unless there was a high enough population base to support the entire zone.”

I swallowed nervously, but it was easier to talk about this sort of thing.  “I never got to study the existing research on previously recovered items, but if a proper recovery effort were able to be made, we’d be able to offer a significant boost to reconstruction efforts.  The fact that recovered materials won’t wear down or burn offers us a great deal of options.”

“Computers alone would help out greatly,” Dragon said.  “As I hack into them so we can withdraw the data, I’m removing passwords so that they can be used later.  I’ve already gotten a few done that were tinker-built; I wouldn’t mind getting one or two of them when-”

“Done,” I said quickly.  “As soon as we get back to Twain, they’re yours.”  Sarah looked up at me, and I thought she’d complain about me giving something as valuable as that away, but she simply smiled a little and got back to work.  I felt myself blushing again.

Dragon’s smile was warm.  “Thank you, Jordan.  It’s greatly appreciated.  Now, what’s your analysis of the wildlings?”

“We’ve seen no less than eighteen breeds since coming here, and I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  While the terrestrial wildlings are the more immediate threat, it’s the flying wildlings that pose the greatest threat to the attempts at recovery.  As we’ve already discovered, they frequently wait until a battle is fought before swooping in to pick off the defenders.  Honestly, the best bet would be to use wide-scale thermobaric bombardment in order to clear them out, but I don’t think there’s enough of that kind of weaponry left to sufficiently clear the city.”  Not after so many had been used against Scion.

I looked to the wildlings cluttering the floor, content to rest and watch us for the moment.  “Um, the discovery of these guys only complicates matters.  Thinkers are going to drive themselves crazy trying to figure this one out.  Friendly wildlings don’t make any sense.  But, uh, I think…  I think they might be the reason why our probability of survival was so high.”

Dragon made a thoughtful noise, a hand reaching up to brush her hair back.  She’d put a lot of time and effort into rendering her virtual appearance.  I was impressed.  “I’m inclined to agree.  Once a month, the Teeth put in a request with Ms. Alcott on the chances of successfully retrieving the data here.  We’ve never had anything above an eight percent.  When I learned that the two of you had almost thirty percent of surviving your journey, I was amazed.  Do you have any theories as to why?”

I could barely see Sarah frowning deeply, but I couldn’t put my finger on why at the moment.

“Besides the fact that they attached themselves to us?”  I smiled a little.  “I think it’s breeding season for them.  They left wherever their nest is to collect a larger stockpile of food so that they can survive the brutal winter months.  With fuller bellies and their young born, they’d go back to their holes and either wait out the winter, or go back to their normal feeding habits.  Or, perhaps, they’re a new breed that has recently spawned, and our probability would have plummeted again because without attaching themselves to us, they would have been eliminated by the local ecosystem.”

A smirk appeared on Dragon’s face.  “So you think they’re artificial somehow?”

“No,” I said quickly, shaking my head.  “I mean, maybe.  I’m not sure.  These guys would suggest it, but there’s also a growing theory that perhaps they’re from an alternate earth, or maybe multiple earths, that somehow have an unstable dimensional portal.  Our wildlings put doubt on that in my mind, but still.

“There’s thinkers and scholars and people who have spent years studying this thing.”  I chuckled a little, shaking my head again.  “The idea that someone who’s put almost zero thought into it and have barely studied them could suddenly offer an answer is… preposterous.  I’m just hoping that whatever data we can bring back will be able to help the professionals figure it out, you know?”

“How very mature of the two of you,” she said with a wide grin.  “And here I was, expecting a couple of cocksure mercenaries.  You continue to impress me.”  I bit my lip, feeling myself blushing again.  “Now, tell me about these wildlings and what you’ve discovered about them.”

“But I thought you said it was dangerous.”

I winced a little.  “Well, yeah.  But that’s the thing, the combination of quantity and temperature is what causes the danger.  With so much of the population living on Earth Gimmel, though, it would make deployment that much easier.  The winters aren’t as harsh there as they are here on Bet.  The room-temperature superconductors would speed up the processing power of the suits the Dragon’s Teeth use considerably, and with how little would be necessary for the front-side-bus and the processors, the danger would be extremely low, lower than what Burlington faces every day from the generators.”

I leaned forward, putting my elbows on my knees.  “Plus, with proper study of the tinker-built computers, access to those superconductors, and working in tandem with Defiant, I’m fairly certain that you could improve your own processing power considerably.”

Dragon laughed, shaking her head slowly.  “Yes, technically speaking, it would.  But only if we could convince your brother to make it for us.”

I nodded slowly.  “Even with all of the gadgets and samples we’re bringing back to him, Chris is starved for exposure to new powers or designs.  He always seems to get more ideas when he can read diagrams and sees powers used first-hand.  If we were to arrange an exchange of data for his materials, it would probably only serve him in the long run.”

Sarah looked up from Goldie in her lap.  The little fella had become demanding for affection about an hour ago and hadn’t stopped.  We’d finished the last computer probably fifteen minutes ago, and the three of us were more than content to just chat for a bit.  “We could probably convince him that if he were to sell anything he created that was sparked from sharing the information, the Teeth would get first dibs.”

“We’d have to clear that with their financial department first,” she said quickly.  “To be honest, though, they’ve been after your brother’s work for ages now.  They’ll jump on it, I’m sure.  We can try messaging him about a week after the two of you get back.  I think that the three of you will need some time to rest after this excitement.

“Unfortunately, the battery is almost depleted, so I’m going to have to go.  Thank you, both of you, for doing this.  Defiant reports that they’re already getting a wealth of data, and they haven’t even had a chance to do an in-depth analysis yet.  I’m probably going to have my hands full for at least a week when everything is said and done.”

“You’re welcome,” I said quickly, grinning from ear to ear.

“Two things before I go.  First of all, this is going to be all over the newspapers.  Would you like your names to be included, or would you rather we leave it as two mercenaries?”

“Our names, please.”  Sarah snapped back into professional mode.  “Though we’d prefer it if our wildlings weren’t mentioned.  We don’t want to cause confusion before the professionals have a chance to properly take a look at everything we’ve discovered.”

“Of course,” Dragon said with a nod.  Her smile turned wry after a moment.  “And the boost to your rep should be significant from not mentioning it, too.”  Ouch.  To be fair, that probably was what Sarah had in mind.  Sis’ smile only grew a little wider at that, though, taking the teasing well.  “And secondly, is there any message that you’d like me to pass along to your family?  From my understanding, your parents have joined Chris in New Brockton.”

“That we’re safe and well,” I said.  “We’ve discovered a lot of things, and are probably in for one heck of a debriefing.  We miss them, and love them, and can’t wait to see them again.”

“We’ve also got a good portion of what he needs,” Sarah added quickly.  “We should only be another week or two, so don’t worry.”

Dragon flashed us a warm smile.  “Alright.  I’m going to leave the emergency lighting on so that you can find your way out easily.  Stay safe, you two.  I wish I could provide more backup than this…”

“It’s fine,” Sarah said with a smile.  “We’ve got this.  Take care.”

“You too.  I look forward to seeing you again.”  Her face blipped off of the screen, followed by every other monitor shutting down.  A moment later, the lights went out, leaving us only in the dull lighting of the emergency lights and exit indicators.

I moved to one of the wagons, quickly sorting through things.  We had a large amount of laptops, along with a couple of towers and flat screen monitors.  It was going to be an amazing haul, enough to make a lot of people happy for a long, long time.

Sarah, though, began sorting through the tinker gear.  She glanced to me, and I flashed her a curious look.  That brought a smile to her face.  “If this stuff is affected by the same effect as everything else in the city, both Chis and everyone else would give both nuts to get their hands on it.  Just think, Bro, advanced tinker tech that doesn’t need maintenance.  Worth every fucking coin.”

She made a good point, and I was a little embarrassed that I didn’t think of it myself.  “I saw some tinker armor in the other building.  It’d probably be worth a lot to someone, but with how much we’re bringing back this trip…”  My words trailed off and I offered her an apologetic shrug.

“We’ll make a return trip or two. It’s worth it.”  Which meant the wagons would be loaded to the brim.  I felt bad for our mercs — it would be a cramped trip back.  “Did they have anything else Chris could use in the other building?”

“Some amazing fabrication equipment.  Some of it looks tinker-made.  Incredible.  But…”  I frowned.  “Even with your strength, there’s no way we could haul any off it back.  Way too heavy, even if we could get it out of where it’s mounted.”

“Your multitool won’t do the trick?  Or with other tools?”

I shook my head.  “The bolts have some sort of coating over them, so, no.”

“Damn.  Fine, come here and help me figure out what all is tinker made.”  As I made my way over, she looked up at me with a sly grin.  “So…  You were blushing a lot while Dragon was talking to you.”

“Shut up,” I whined.  Her laughter echoed throughout the empty building.


5 thoughts on “Tuonetar 3.7

  1. Thank you for reading this chapter.

    This was a hard one for me, and one that I had to rewrite almost from scratch. Originally, a member of the Dragon’s Teeth in Twain was going to be their contact. A computer programmer and hacker by the way of Penny. (Yes, a subtle reference to Inspector Gadget.) She’d end up not-so-subtly suggesting a threesome between them, to which the two siblings would react with horror and disgust.

    The thing was, other than shoot shippers in the head with an ICBM, it didn’t achieve much either for character development or story purposes. There was style to the scene, but no real substance. All flash, no burn. It felt blatantly anti-fanservicey.

    I discussed the scene with Eevee, and his wandering hobo brain immediately came up with Dragon. I wanted her to appear, but not until far in the future. At the same time, I couldn’t deny that it was a good choice.

    Dragon can be pure business, but the trait that I most associate with her is her mothering instinct. Strange to attribute that to an AI, but it remains true. Looking at her interaction with Canary and Taylor, she repeatedly acts in a mother-like role. Personally, I attribute this to her original design.

    In this case, it was natural for her to start out in such a role, then switch to something else when Jordan was overcome by her presence. Her assessment was right, he’s a total cape nerd. (This is why the meeting with Tattletale had to be from her perspective. Nothing was lost by keeping this from directly appearing to the reader, and it allowed moments like this to remind them that Jordan, for all his simplicity, is incredibly complex. I expect everyone to be learning more about him even after I’ve played all my cards.)

    So to put him at ease, Dragon switched gears. She went from mothering and complimenting over to business-friendly. By removing either one of them from the equation, she was able to have him deal with her as an equal, which is what she wanted. Once I realized these basic things, the chapter wrote itself. I’m much, much happier with this version.

    Before wishing you all a good week, I’d like to address one of my readers. Just for this one reader, I’m including 80% more blushing in this and all future updates. Every three paragraphs, Jordan will be required to blush, even if he doesn’t appear in the interlude. I am a kind and benevolent author. Also, at least one of your thoughts on the story is dead on, though at least one of your thoughts on the story is dead wrong.

    Feel free and bring up any problems you might have with the story as a whole. I’m always open to constructive criticism. Even if I don’t agree with something you say, I will always keep it in mind.

    That’s it for this week. Take care!


  2. I geeked out as soon as Dragon spoke. AI’s are always some of the coolest characters in fiction, and that awesome feeling when one of them just shows up in a dark situation is just great.


    • Dragon is a personal favorite character from Worm, so I will gladly include her any chance that I reasonably have. In this case, it turned out to be horribly cute to me as a writer.


  3. Damn, I’ve caught up.

    Beyond that, I’ll say what I’ve said elsewhere – this is a downright excellent story that does a fantastic job of capturing the feel of post-canon Worm as I’d imagine it to be. The characters are well-written, complex and interesting, the setting is broad and with more depth to it than I could possibly hope to match in my own writing, and the story flows naturally and progresses at just the right pace to grab your imagination and pull you in.

    I am very, very much looking forward to where this will go. Colour me incredibly interested.


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