History, as I have often pointed out, can be a great template for your writing. Take the life and times of that young go-getter Tutankhamun, who by the age of 9 had already become Lord of all Creation. How many nine-year-olds do you know who make the sun rise? Not many, I bet.
But that’s not really who I want to talk about today, just a good example. Righyt now I’m thinking of Napoleon Bonaparte. French guy, you may have heard of him. I kind of feel like him right about now, out on Elba, separated from everyone and everything he knew. To put it mildy, that most have sucked.
More accurately, rather, my current status should be better compared to his time on Saint Helena. No hope of return, people actively trying to keep me out, that sort of thing. But, you know, since no one actually reads anything I put on here, it probably doesn’t matter.
Anyway, today I’m going to share a rather lengthy excerpt from The Path to Ascension. This belongs to one of my favorite stories, and is probably my favorite section of that story. I hope you enjoy it, though since as we’ve established, no actually reads this stupid thing:
“Are you sure we’re allowed to do this?” Cloud asked as the car sped down the long desert road.
“Do you think we’d let not being allowed to stop us?” Jason replied. “There aren’t even any guards on this place, what’s standing in our way?”
“The fact that if we’re caught, it could have some profound legal ramifications that I now find myself worrying about?” Cloud suggested.
“Then we won’t get caught,” Hunter snarled. “And if we do, I’ll handle it, the only patrols out here are military, specifically the one which I am commander and chief of.”
“But don’t you still have to follow the rules like everyone else?” Cloud countered.
“I do, but in this case, it’s a question of clearance levels,” Hunter explained. “The required level for a place like this isn’t high, since there’s no security; and since I have the highest level anyways it doesn’t matter.”
“You’re sure?” Cloud said cautiously. “This isn’t abusing your power or anything?”
“Cloud,” Hunter said matter-of-factly. “You of all people know I abuse my power, that’s what it’s there for, right?”
“Why the hell did they ever make you a Slayer Dragon?”
“Because I abuse my power for the right reasons,” Hunter grunted and pushed his foot down hard on the gas pedal, accelerating the little vehicle to over one hundred and twenty miles per hour. “Now let’s really open things up.”
He pulled his hands off the wheel momentarily and crossed them over his chest. His hands glowed golden momentarily and he gripped the wheel again.
The motor cried out in pain and then settled into a high-pitched purr as the car increased speed further still.
“Is this safe?” Cloud shouted over the whine of the engine and the roar of the wind.
“No,” Hunter replied.
* * *
“I think there was a good reason I took a desk job,” Cloud moaned as he fell out of the car and onto the sand. “I am NOT good at things like that.”
“You used to do Hyper Launch and time travel with us on the
,” Jason laughed. “Taking a rental car up to four hundred fifty miles an hour is nothing.” Saratoga
“The rental company isn’t going to be giving me back my deposit,” Hunter sighed as he closed the door. “Let’s take a look at this place. Cloud, you have the map?”
“Right here,” Cloud said as he pulled himself up and yanked the paper out of his pocket. “The main buildings up ahead are the reception area and corporate headquarters. The campus to the right is the manufacturing plant, and the buildings further back in the canyon are the labs.”
“Then let’s head that way,” Hunter nodded. “I wanna see what they were working on when they shut down.”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Cloud began as he followed Hunter and Jason up the marred cement path. “Towards the end, the company was taking out all kinds of loans and selling off assets like crazy to fund some new project, something they said would change the face of mech battles forever.”
“Any idea what?” Hunter asked.
“Well, the exact nature was a closely guarded secret that was never released,” Cloud shrugged. “It was either a new model of mobile suit or some kind of companion system, maybe an armor CASTS. I think they called it the ‘Ultimate X’.”
They arrived at a closed gate running across the road. The canyon narrowed at this point and there were buildings built into the rock face on either side. A few upper stories of these buildings completely crossed the road above them, and the fence went all the way up to that.
“Got the keys?” Cloud asked.
“Right here,” Hunter smiled as he walked up to the side of the building and kicked in a door. “Hey, neato!”
“What is it?” Jason asked as he followed Hunter inside. “Did the Red Storm Corporation leave behind anything cool?”
“They left behind everything,” Hunter laughed. “Seriously, I don’t think there’s even been any looters!”
“In two hundred years?” Cloud shouted incredulously. “Can’t believe it!”
Inside, the room was weather beaten and decayed, but looked largely untouched. The windows had been broken by some long-gone storm, the furniture was ruined, and the walls were sagging and bulging. But the structure was sound, and if you ignored the weather damage it was hard to believe people hadn’t just left.
There was a large sign still hanging on the wall, it’s faded letters held some kind of apology. The table beneath the sign held the remains of what may at one time have been cake, and some almost new looking Styrofoam plates. There was a broken plastic tub next to the table full of rainwater and debris blown in by the wind.
Hunter plunged his hand into this and came out holding a muddy drink canister which he cleaned off in the water and opened with a satisfying puff of carbonated air. Glancing uncertainly at his companions, he took an experimental gulp.
“Damn, carbonation’s the one thing that will never give to the ravages of time,” he grinned and took another sip. “Well, that and Styrofoam.”
Jason retrieved two more cans from the murky container and handed one to Cloud.
“Never guessed I’d be drinking two-hundred-year-old soda when I woke up this morning,” he shrugged as he popped it open.
“Kendrick probably would have,” Cloud laughed as he opened his and drank deeply. It felt good to come in out of the hot desert sun and enjoy a cold drink, even if it was a two-hundred-year-old one.
They walked on up into the building through a series of rooms that all had the same weather-beaten but untouched feel to them. It wasn’t hard to imagine what this place was like, two hundred years earlier when it was a busy center of industry.
This particular area looked like it had been meant for recreation. They passed through several small libraries full of comic books, a few rooms of exercise equipment, and lots and lots of very old couches.
Hunter stopped in one room and hopped on an exercise bike, and despite its incredible layer of rust managed to get the pedals around a few times.
The place was simply pristine. The last inhabitants had closed the doors and walked out, and that had been the end of a dynasty.
And the start of a legacy.
The Red Storm Corporation was legendary. Two hundred years ago they had been at least three hundred years ahead of any other company out there. They had managed because it was the scientists who owned the company, not businessmen.
Red Storm had been wildly successful in the technological arena, but was ultimately doomed by their business sense. The government didn’t want the weapons they were developing available in the private sector, and the company didn’t want those same weapons in the hands of the government. Red Storm took few, if any military contracts, and the ones they did take were never for their latest and most advanced systems.
If the UESAF had had its way, they would have equipped the entire military with Toras, but that was before anyone knew how the suits were actually made. Historically, it was better that the Red Storm Corporation sent most of its business to the private sector, but it had made them enemies of the government.
Not just their practices or their genius, it was the way in which the company was ran that helped it do so well. Employees worked flexible schedules, had full benefits, and at work, had the luxury of recreation facilities like the ones they were currently wandering through. If the workers were happy, they worked harder, and the company did better. Red Storm put its money back into the employees, and year after year had more money to do that with.
That was how they went in, and that was how they went out. In its final days, the Board of the Red Storm Corporation sold off most of the companies assets, but rather than divvy the money up themselves and flee, they paid it all out to the employees as severance bonuses. Then the company went under and the heads of the company were arrested. Most of them died in prison.
That was how the technology had been lost. Since the chairmen owned all the patents jointly, they weren’t allowed to sell them off after the collapse; something to do with the complex laws concerning how a criminal could not profit from their crimes. By the time the last chairman died, the data had been lost. Technology like Toras was gone forever, until now.
They finally reached the other side of the building and broke through another door back out onto the paved street. The Red Storm Company was located out in the desert, in a very secluded region. There was probably no one around for over three hundred miles, and even then settlements were sparse.
There was just nothing worthwhile out here, except for sand and solitude. The Red Storm Company had built itself on top of an old mining complex, using the minerals to build its suits. By the time the rich veins ran dry they were too deeply invested in the site to consider moving, so they had stayed, and grew.
It was close to a mile up the road before they reached the outbuildings of the research sector. They’d been climbing steadily up the side of the canyon ever since passing the headquarters building, and now they were quite high. Far below another, much larger, access road led from huge doors at the base of the multi-story building ahead of them.
They were coming in somewhere on the top levels of what was a massive complex. The experimental hangars were at the bottom, but there were probably every manner of labs all the way through, all built right into the stone of the mountain.
“Puts my place to shame,” Cloud whistled. “I mean I’ve got this much square footage, double probably, but I don’t have buildings that look this cool. Stupid flat land that’s easy to build on.”
“Cheer up pal,” Hunter said and clapped him on the back. “It’ll all be yours in a couple of days.”
“I think I’ll call it Site B,” Cloud smiled. “Or maybe rename the old place Site B and make this one my headquarters. I’ve been wanting to divide my strength for a while, this seems like a nice place.”
“You could probably do it here,” Hunter nodded. “From what I understand, Red Storm had to be almost as big as you guys, back in the day.”
“That day was two hundred years ago,” Cloud sighed. “Hard to believe its all still standing.”
“Not really,” Jason shook his head. “These buildings were just designed to stand forever, plus they’re all sheltered in this canyon. Mobile suit companies don’t go under very often, it stands to reason that they weren’t anticipating the collapse.”
“No one ever does,” Hunter said. “No matter what, you never start something like this planning to fail.”
“Yeah,” Cloud nodded. “And they wouldn’t have failed if they hadn’t been crushed.”
They reached another door which Hunter promptly kicked down and walked inside to the reception area of the laboratory complex.
“You know, you don’t have to kick all the doors in,” Cloud said cautiously.
“I don’t?” Hunter asked incredulously. “Ok, I get it. You can knock the next one down if you want to Cloud; it’s your building after all.”
Cloud sighed heavily and walked over to the desk. The secretary’s computer monitor had imploded at some point, but there was an open binder on the counter. The glass doors to the reception area had been sheltered by the building and were undamaged before Hunter’s improvised entrance, and the binder’s location had protected it from the sun. After blowing off a thick layer of dust, Cloud could just barely read the yellowed pages of the appointment book.
“Seven thirty PM, mothball Ultimate X,” he read. “Nine PM, lock doors. They had it all planned out.”
“So the Ultimate X is still here?” Hunter asked carefully.
“It might be,” Cloud replied. “We have no idea what the government investigators took.”
“Where do you suppose it is?” Jason asked.
“The book just says ‘Conference Room BC24,’” Cloud said. “Come, on, I think it’s this way.”
They worked their way through the maze of offices and cubicles until they reached the afore-mentioned room. It was lit by wide windows of very thick glass that let in the afternoon sun through a haze of dust. No wind, not a breath, had disturbed this room for ages. The sunlight had warped the wooden table and tanned the once comfortable leather chairs, and dust clung to EVERYTHING.
It was as pristine as the rest of the building. One day two hundred years earlier the last person had shut off the lights, closed the door, and gone home.
“Hard to imagine,” Cloud said as he crunched across the decayed, dust-encrusted carpet. “They just walked out. Maybe they thought they’d get to come back the next day, maybe they didn’t. They just… walked out, not knowing what the future would hold.”
“And it took a bumbling, incompetent, democratically elected government two hundred years to sort it all out,” Hunter finished as he picked up a binder off the table. “Here we go: Project Ultimate X.”
“Funny, you’d think the most highly classified top secret projects would be better hidden than this,” Jason sighed as he picked up another binder.
“There isn’t any actual information here,” Cloud said. “This is just a project timeline and information about mothballing it.”
“Says here they put it in Lab 6, Sub Level 28,” Hunter read. “Also says Dr. Langin was the lead on this project.”
“So where, to?” Jason asked. “Sub Level 28 or Dr. Langin’s office?”
“Office,” Hunter chirped. “I wanna figure out what this thing is before we go traipsing down to someplace with the word ‘sublevel’ in the name.”
* * *
It took the better part of an hour to find the doctor’s office. The part of the building they had entered was well preserved, but the other areas were far worse off. The specific part where they found the head scientists’ offices hung out over the canyon and was missing a sizeable part.
The rooms were water-stained and the floors buckling, and they had to move slowly and carefully for fear of more of the building giving way. When they finally found Dr. Langin’s office it was quite far from the sound areas and the floor was sloping uncomfortably.
“This part, I remodel,” Cloud said definitively as they stepped into the office and heard the floor moan disquietingly.
Hunter took a few steps away from them, carefully testing the floor as he went.
“Stay back, guys,” Hunter cautioned. “It’s really unstable here.”
“File cabinets over there,” Jason indicated with a flick of his chin. “I’m the lightest, how bout’ I go get it?”
“Not by much,” Hunter said as he stepped back to the slightly more secure part of the floor. “But I’m the fastest; what do you guys think?”
“I think I’m letting you guys do the dangerous work,” Cloud said nervously. “I haven’t done anything like this in years.”
“I think I go because Hunter’s the Pendragon,” Jason said casually. “What do you think Hunter?”
“I think I’ll delegate,” Hunter nodded. “Just try not to get killed over this?”
“In our entire history, have I ever once tried to get killed?” Jason asked. “You know what a cautious guy I am.”
With that he edged carefully out across the floor, testing its tolerance with a slow tapping of his feet similar to what Hunter had done. He worked carefully and methodically, always ready to spring back at a moment’s notice.
Hunter could see the walls straining and hear the building crying out beneath them. This section had been hanging on by a tenuous thread, and would fall to the canyon floor far below on the very next rain.
They were now putting undue strain on the thread.
Jason reached out with the steady calculating hand of a bomb squad veteran, his fingers touching the rusted surface of the filing cabinet. Slowly, he eased his hand around the handle and began to pull.
The drawer would not budge.
Jason exhaled slowly, and yanked hard. The filing cabinet grated painfully and the entire room shook as he pulled it free. The floor dropped several inches and the sounds of breaking supports began to resonate through the empty complex.
“Come back Jason, it’s not worth your life,” Hunter commanded.
“Easy now, nobody’s dying yet,” Jason breathed as he began to thumb through the files. “Found it!”
As Jason pulled the file free, the floor dropped another few inches and began to bend.
“Run!” Jason suggested as he bolted across the floor.
Hunter pushed Cloud back through the open door and waited for Jason to reach it before following.
They could feel the entire overhang giving way.
Up ahead, Cloud reached solid ground and turned to wait for them. The hall was long and clear, and the slope was all too evident.
Hunter and Jason were already running up a steep hill.
Moving side by side, they leapt as the building broke away and the clear blue sky became visible overhead.
Together the two old friends sailed through the air and landed hard next to Cloud.
“Now that’s what I call big fun,” Hunter panted as he went to his knees and stared out at the hunk of building falling into the ravine far below.
“At least we didn’t walk away empty-handed,” Jason gave one of his rare and somewhat disturbing smiles as he held up the folder with the words TOP SECRET inscribed across it in red.
* * *
Despite the inches of dust and decrepit state of the conference room, Hunter, Jason, and Cloud sat in crumbling leather chairs around the warped table, just as they so often did for meetings at Victory Facility.
The file they had retrieved was laid out on the table and they were all reviewing various bits of it.
“This still doesn’t give us any real information,” Hunter said. “This is just a more detailed project timeline and status reports. We’d need the actual data to make sense of it.”
“They keep referencing the Arkinoid,” Jason said curiously. “But there’s nothing explaining exactly what it is.”
“Even the project outline is really vague,” Cloud said. “It mostly talks about how the Ultimate X will change the face of mech battles, but it doesn’t really say what the Ultimate X is.”
“Here we go!” Hunter said and leaned forward. “The term ‘Ultimate X’ was used as a propaganda ploy, X being short for Xtreme. They generated revenue for the project by advertising the ‘Ultimate Xtreme System’ and saying cool things like ‘it will change the face of mech battles forever.’ At that point they had no idea what the hell they were actually going to build, so the project was simply code named ‘Ultimate X’, and the head scientists started working on something that would fit the description, that’s when they developed the Arkinoid.”
“And we don’t have a clue what the Arkinoid is,” Cloud surmised. “At least their propaganda program worked, I’d invest in something called the Ultimate Xtreme any day.”
“Me too,” Hunter admitted. “Looks like even two hundred years ago they’d figured out that if you tack words like ‘Xtreme’ and ‘Ultimate’ onto things, it’ll attract guys like us.”
“You guys are lame,” Jason sighed. “It’s the epitome of the concept, they didn’t even have a basic outline of what they were building; they just put the words ‘Ultimate’ and ‘Xtreme’ together and tacked system onto the end, because they knew people like you would buy it!”
“Admit it,” Cloud smiled. “You’d buy one to if you saw it advertised.”
Jason sighed loudly and tossed the paper down on the table.
“Yeah, I know,” he growled. “Anything with a name that cool can’t be all bad.”
“Well let’s go see the real thing,” Cloud said and stood up. “I’m covered with dust, I nearly died, and I drank two hundred year old soda; how else can we make this day complete?”
“By seeing if they left anything in the fridge in the break room,” Hunter replied. “Come on.”
Hunter led them deeper into the building, to an area where there were no windows. Experimentally, he flipped a light switch; and to their astonishment, two-hundred-year-old halogen bulbs flickered dimly to life.
It was a small wonder this desolate place still had power after so long, but one easily explainable. It was hundreds of miles to the nearest population center, and the Red Storm Company had literally built its own town out of the desert. Part of the reason the mine the main facility was built over had dried up was because they had started hitting pockets of volcanic gasses deep beneath the earth. These converted easily into geo-thermal energy; a clean, reliable power source that lasted literally forever. Red Storm had built its plant so well that without maintenance it was still functioning after two hundred years.
This area of the main building somehow seemed more decayed than the outer edges. Here, leaking pipes and crumbling plaster had created a sort of sludge on the ground, and the edges of the halls were lined with bits of frames that had once held awards and commendations. The flickering lights gave the place an eerie feeling, suggesting that perhaps not all the life had left these empty halls.
They reached the break room without much effort. Apparently, this was the part of the building were the secretaries and analysts worked, the people with desk jobs who never saw the inside of a lab. It was certainly not like any ordinary company, but it was still just offices.
The break room had a well-preserved linoleum floor that was surprisingly clean. It was also firm, which made the group of intrepid heroes feel quite a bit more relaxed.
Hunter approached the large refrigerator in the corner and opened it without hesitation.
Instead of the ordinary assortment of racks and bag lunches one expected to find in a company refrigerator; they found a gaping maw filled with razor sharp teeth that roared at them fiercely when the inside light came on.
A long green tentacle covered with cruel claws whipped out and yanked the door quickly, and decisively shut.
“I am TOTALLY putting that refrigerator in my office!” Cloud shouted as the three of them laughed like schoolboys and walked quickly from the room.
“Two hundred years in a refrigerator,” Jason chuckled. “I wonder what it was?”
“You’re the doctor, you tell us,” Hunter laughed. “How does a thing like that happen?”
“A lot of reasons,” Jason shrugged. “Apparently when certain types of mold reach critical mass it only takes a dose of thermion radiation to begin a series of cellular changes that can eventually result in that.”
“It’s been done before?” Cloud blinked.
“Never on purpose,” Jason explained. “This sort of thing has happened a number of times in refrigerators near laboratories, but no one has ever actually succeeded in duplicating the process under controlled circumstances. There’s a number of theories on why, but nothing conclusive.
“Its important to understand that the thing is not ‘alive’ in the sense that a dog or a cat is. It’s more like it’s living on borrowed time, waiting for an action hero or rag tag team of high schoolers to come and obliterate it.”
“But what IS it?” Cloud asked.
“It’s a kind of link between a fungus, a plant, and an animal,” Jason began. “What’s interesting to note is that it can actually contain cells recognizable as belonging to all three kingdoms, and mimic capabilities of each one.
“The DNA is also non-uniform, each cell only contains a piece of the genetic structure, specifically the piece pertaining to the kingdom to which that cell belongs. One could actually argue that the entity is at once a separate animal, plant, and fungus.
“By its very nature, it defies any kind of reasonable classification. This unique kind of creature has only been documented in refrigerators. It’s been decided by the scientific community that they do not exist in nature. Since we’d have to reorganize the entire classification system to include them, they are generally regarded as an exception to the rules.”
“What do you call them?” Hunter asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Gross,” Jason shrugged.
They had reached a section of the building where a flight of stairs wound downward endlessly. The stairs were solid but the hall they’d used to reach them had collapsed and they’d walked on support beams. It was strange the way parts of the building were strong and sturdy while other parts were teetering on the edge of ruin.
The sub levels began just below the level they had entered on, but they were still two stories beneath the canyon floor by the time they reached Sub Level 28.
Lab 6 was somewhere under the main road, and the floor above them had apparently collapsed. Some light filtered through cracks and holes in the ceiling, and the electric lamps still worked.
The door to the laboratory was welded shut, they even found they remains of a plasma torch sitting next to it. With the aid of a rusty crowbar and a lot of swearing, they broke through the shielded entrance and into the lab.
As the three stepped through the door they looked up in awe at the thing before them. The lab was damaged severely, but in the center a huge glass and stainless steel pod housed something alive.
“The Arkinoid…” Hunter breathed as he touched the surface. “They had an actual prototype.”
“What the hell is it?” Jason asked. “Some kind of artificial life form?”
Cloud knelt down and scooped something out of the floor detritus.
“Here we go!” he said victoriously. “Let’s see what we have here.”
* * *