10: Echoes of the Past II:
“Good morning, Mr…?” the man behind the desk trailed off questioningly, looking at Olin Shanning with a bit of confusion and even suspicion. It wasn’t so much that the grey-haired man seemed all that sinister, as it was that it was that the receptionist’s job was to be suspicious of EVERYONE, especially everyone that came to the Vanhele Center asking about the Mammon Project.
“Victor.” Olin said, running one hand through his now-short grey hair and passing a small data card to the receptionist. “Victor Irvin. And this is my wife, Leena.”
“Last name the same on her?” the receptionist asked, not even looking up as he popped the data card into a computer terminal.
“Of course.” ‘Victor’ said, snorting. “We’re engineers, not movie stars.”
“Standard procedure, Mr. Irvin… it looks like your data checks out, yeah.” The receptionist handed the small card back to Olin, and pointed to an office door nearby just down the hall from the huge, ornate lobby they now stood in.
The sight of it, of course, had quite overwhelmed Darrell, who had been to the building several times to study in his youth. Of course, every time he didn’t think he could watch anymore, a sharp, angry voice in the back of his head – or whatever metaphysical facsimile served him in this form – rebuked him for his weakness.
“Good, good. Thank you.” Olin said, nodding to the man, then rolling his eyes as soon as he and Julia got out of sight, walking towards the office. “I swear, what a moron. ‘Last name the same on her?’ Honestly.” He mumbled, shaking his head.
“Oh, hush, ‘Vic’. You’re just ticked because him saying that made your heart leap into your throat for a moment, and you know it.”
“No I wasn’t!” Olin protested quietly. “I’m just still pissed about my hair. I don’t see why I had to cut it.”
“Because it would’ve been stupid to assume that no one saw you land on planet with a different set of identification, Vic. You know that.”
The young spy from Riven sighed and nodded. “Yeah, I guess so. I’m probably just worried about Darrell. I don’t like the idea of leaving him in a day care center.”
“And neither do I, but you know he’ll be safer there than we are here, especially if the council was right.”
Their hushed conversation came to an abrupt end as they reached the office they’d been directed to. Olin knocked on the door, to hear a muffled voice from the other side bid them to enter.
They were greeted by the form of a rather young man decked out in the blue-black, gold-embroidered robes of a Union statesman. His hair was a dull brown, and his blue eyes were covered by a pair of thick spectacles.
Olin bowed as he saw the man, and Julia followed suit. “Senator Vanhele.” Olin said simply. “It is a pleasure to be able to meet you, sir.”
The senator nodded, politely receptive to the compliment, and motioned to some chairs in front of his desk. “Do sit down, do sit down.” He said, hurriedly.
As they did so, the Union’s representative for Zion pulled out a small laptop and opened up several files, presumably information forwarded to him regarding ‘Victor’ and ‘Leena’ by the receptionist in the lobby.
“So, tell me about yourselves. Where you were born, what your qualifications for this job are, and so on and so on.”
“Well…” Olin began, “my wife and I were both born in the town of Dale, about 40 miles from here.”
Vanhele nodded. “I know the place.”
“Seeing as it was a small town, our parents sent us to board at the academy in Pellegorne, about 60, 70 miles away. That’s where I met and fell in love with my wife.
“After our general education was completed in 4473, we were engaged and went on to college at Medran Tech, where we both majored in computer engineering. I also had a minor in electrical engineering.”
The senator nodded. “And I would assume you graduated in ’77. What have you two been doing for the last three years, and what made you want to come out here to Asgard?”
“Well…” Olin said, scratching his head, “To tell you the truth, after all that school, we wanted a break. We got married in the summer of 77, right after graduation, and moved back to Dale to start a family, living with my parents. But… about a month ago, my dad died, and without him, my mother was left with no way to support herself. That’s why we moved out here, so that we could make some money to help her.”
Vanhele cocked an eyebrow. “Why not find work in Dale?”
“With all due respect,sir, we didn’t really feel like working at the local gas-mart, and that’s about all there is.” Olin said, winking conspiratorially as he did.
The senator seemed to find this opinion amusing to no end. “Ha ha… how very entertaining. Not many people know this, Mr. Irvin, but I am originally from Newport… probably only about ten miles from Dale.”
Olin grinned outwardly, and smirked internally. This had been planned, through and through. And now, from the look on the senator’s face, Olin had him. Hook, line, and sinker.
“I know just the place you’re talking about sir, but I hadn’t heard that, certainly. I mean, Newport’s even smaller than Dale is!” the Riven spy said, feigning surprise.
The senator just smiled, laughed, and told some boring little story about how he’d left Newport, one that Olin all but ignored. It was more Julia’s thing to get EVERY bit of information on a person, and she could always summarize the tale for him later.
Not too much later, Vanhele stood up in his chair, and proferred one hand. “I believe, having looked at your requirements, that you two should do just fine. Welcome aboard.” He shook each of their hands in turn, then walked over to the office door. “I would assume, from the information given on your resume’, that you’d be glad to start today…”
Julia spoke up. “Why, certainly, Senator. We’d be happy to.”
The man smiled and shook his head. “Oh, no, of course not. I was going to say that I wouldn’t dream of making the both of you start today. I was just going to show you around the facility you’ll be working to, and introduce you to some of the people you’ll be working with.”
The three walked back out into the hallway, and proceeded farther down it. The senator stopped at intervals to greet various people, as well as to give introductions for his newest employees.
A few minutes later, they stopped before a large elevator, a security keypad next to it. Vanhele looked at Olin and Julia gravely. “Now, what the two of you are about to see is highly confidential. You must not tell anyone about this project… but I trust that you won’t, given your background.”
Olin nodded. “Certainly not, sir. My loyalty to the state is not something I take lightly.”
Julia rolled her eyes subconsciously, and Darrell tended to agree with her, standing as he was, watching the whole scene go by.
‘What… what’s going on? What secret project did they have going here?’ he thought.
‘Oh, shut up, Darrell. We’ll find out soon enough.’ Another voice within his head, the voice of Id, returned.
‘You know, I’m going to be very glad when this is all over, and you can’t correct me anymore.’
When Darrell had turned his attention back to the scene, Vanhele had already opened the elevator by entering some sort of password, and the three of them had gotten on already. Olin and Julia jerked slightly as the thing sprang into motion, moving downward at a high rate of speed. Despite that speed, though, the trip still lasted for over a minute.
“The facility certainly is a long way down.” Julia noted.
“Yes, well, that is because…. You’ll see.” Vanhele mumbled, seemingly lost in thought.
Then the elevator jerked to a halt, and the doors sprang open to reveal a huge complex of steel, circuitry, and computers. Olin’s eyes widened as he looked to the center of the sprawling, open room.
There, seeming to float in mid-air, was a half-finished device of a most curious shape. It was crafted of a strange red metal, and – even in it’s unfinished state – seemed to radiate an unsettling presence.
“Wha…. what… is that?” Olin stuttered, temporarily losing his composure.
Rather than answer himself, Vanhele called over one of the scientists who had noticed their arrival.
“Doctor Masters, I’d like you to meet our two newest engineers, Victor and Leena Irvin.”
The doctor nodded at both of them, proffering a glove-covered hand. “A pleasure, I’m sure.” The man said, his accent vaguely marking him as not a native of Zion.
Olin was the first to shake hands with him. “Ah, the pleasure’s all mine, good sir.”
Masters seemed a bit taken aback by that, and raised an eyebrow. “Er… yes, certainly.”
Vanhele grinned. “Oh, don’t be so uptight with these two, Doctor. They’re clean; their records passed on every point.” Masters still seemed unconvinced, but the senator went on anyway. “I brought them down here so you could tell them a bit about this project… about our wondrous machine.”
Masters nodded simply, and pulled a clipboard from a nearby desk. “Very well. I shall tell them whatever it is within my ability to tell. But where to begin…”
Olin spoke up. “Well, I’d appreciate it if you’d tell us what on earth that big machine is.” He motioned toward the huge scarlet creation in the center of the room.
“Ah, yes, that. That is the center of our project… and in fact the center of our future itself.”
Vanhele cut in suddenly, his eyes seeming to glint with an inner light. “We call it the Mammon Machine.”
Julia’s breath caught in her throat as she heard those words, and Darrell was certain that subconsciously, Olin’s had as well. But why…
“Yes, the Mammon Machine.” Masters said, scowling a bit at the interruption. “You see, by the language of old, ‘mammon’ means money. Money is equivalent to power, and this machine… represents the ultimate source of power.”
Olin scratched his head, determined to put on a good show, despite his astonishment – and now, fear. “The ultimate power source? Just… what do you mean by that?”
“Deep within our planet,” Masters began, seeming to relish the telling of the story, “sleeps a being of incredible power. We know not whence it came, or why it’s there, but… the energy within it is enough to sustain most of the border planets for years to come, even enough to overcome the constant threat of the Dominion.”
Olin’s eyes widened in feigned shock, and Darrell was glad to see that what was obviously going on down here hadn’t completely impaired his father’s ability to act. “Overcome the Dominion?! Incredible…”
“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” Vanhele said, almost giddy. “And it can all begin just as soon as this machine is complete.”
“Which is where you two, and others like you, come in. You see, while we have already finished the Dreamstone shell of the machine, we have yet to finish all of the inner circuitry and AI coding that will be necessary to make the machine self-sufficient.”
“Self… sufficient?” Julia said, genuinely puzzled.
“Well, yes. You see, as it currently stands, it would require a constant team of people to be around the Mammon Machine around the clock to monitor energy input and output. By inserting AI code, it can regulate the flow of energy itself.”
“Incredible, isn’t it?” Vanhele said, clapping both Olin and Julia on the shoulder. “So you get a rought idea of what you’ll be doing here, I’d think. If you’ll come in tomorrow… say, 9 AM, we’ll get you started. The man at the front desk will let you in with this.” He handed each of them a small keycard, then nodded to the elevator. “Have a good day, both of you, and welcome aboard.”
Olin nodded. “It is… our honor, sir.” He turned and got back on the elevator, followed closely by his wife.
“Gross idiocy such as I have never actually had the displeasure of SEEING in all of my life!!! Drawing on the power of what they MUST know is a lavoid!!! The fools!!!!” Olin spoke as loud as he dared, pacing angrily around the livingroom of his newly-purchased two bedroom apartment. Julia sat on a small couch next to him, holding little Darrell – and somehow trying to get him to sleep despite his father’s tirade.
“Olin, you knew this would be the case, right down to the name of the machine. This process has been repeated countless time, on almost every planet with a long-term infestation. The Council warned us it would be the case here.”
“I don’t care!! Can’t they see that they’re walking on very, VERY dangerous ground with this?! They’re going to wake the thing up, and send their entire planet to blazes, and they don’t even CARE! It’s all about their money, their ‘mammon.’”
Julia rubbed forehead with a free hand, and sighed deeply. “Olin, that’s why we’re here. All we have to do is sabotage the machine, and the lavoid’s energy will never be drawn on in the first place.”
Olin nodded, and leaned up against a small window, looking out across the night-bathed skyline of Asgard. “Still, I get the most unsettling feeling about all of this… like something’s involved beyond our control.”
“All too common a feeling when dealing with a lavoid, I’d say, dear.”
Hours had passed, and Darrell now wandered the halls of the Vanhele Center. His incorporeal form had little better to do in the long night hours, after all; one could only watch people sleep for so long. On top of that, something about this building drew him. Something… that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
The halls were all totally empty, being that the facility was closed, and Darrell was beginning to think it’d be best if he went somewhere else to finish out the evening. Just then, the harsh sound of boot heels clicking on marble sent him whirling around, worried until he realized that no one could see him in his current form.
So he walked over to the sound of the walking, and was shocked to see Vanhele, looking rather tired and haggard, rushing toward his own office. In of itself, that wasn’t so surprising, Darrell supposed. It was the strange man with Vanhele that was throwing the young intellectual off-guard.
This man with Vanhele wore a long black traveling cloak that reminded Darrell of the pictures of the medieval warriors one saw in history books. A face plate concealed many of his features, but his ice-blue eyes were such that Darrell doubted anyone could see this person and forget him. On top of all that, his hair was an incredible shade of silver, almost more vibrant than Lucia Meleraii’s eyes, and certainly more alive. These silver coils ran down his back like live serpents, and, guaging from how tightly the man’s hands were clenched, the man himself was just as dangerous as such an animal.
They walked into Vanhele’s office, shutting the door behind them, but Darrell had little trouble following them, taking advantage of his incorporeal state of being to walk right through the wood and steel frame.
Vanhele was standing behind his desk, nervously eyeing the black-clad man before him as though he were a hungry tiger.
“Grey, why do you continue to torment me? I told you, the designs of the machine are not yet to complete!” Vanhele said.
“How casually you refer to me, Vanhele. You know why I continue to speak with you. And if you think of this as torment, you have hardly felt the extent of my wrath.” Darrell was chilled by the man’s voice. It was like a black wind…
“But I can’t simply hand you the device until the Mammon Machine has been proven to work!!”
Grey crossed his arms and snorted. “I should kill you now for insinuating that the design plans I gave you – and remember, above all else, that I gave them to you, boy – won’t work.”
Vanhele swallowed hard, but seemed to find some measure of courage within himself by the way he replied. “But you can’t kill me, Grey. Oh no, not yet. Because without me, you’ll never find it. I’ve hidden it far too well.”
Grey’s eyes flashed with an inner fire, and his fists clenched all the tighter, but he made no move toward the senator. “Perhaps you have, boy. But you should certainly know better than to cross a Wanderer.”
Once having found the courage to speak against Grey, Vanhele kept on finding it in further supply. “You’re not even a true Wanderer, Grey! A true Wanderer has the ability to cross the dimensions of the Multiverse by his own magic, not through some piece of machinery.”
Grey did make a move now, putting his hand beneath his cloak and pulling out a long sword before Darrell’s eyes – or whatever passed for them – could properly register that he’d done so.
“Regardless of how I cross the threshold of time and space, I have the power, Vanhele, and never forget that. I want that device back, and soon. I have kept up my end of the bargain, by giving you the designs to the Mammon Machine. And you will give back what you stole from me by sheer chance so many years ago.”
“Will I, then? And without even testing this machine to make certain it works?”
Grey’s cold eyes narrowed, but he resheathed the blade. “Yes, Vanhele, or there shall be a reckoning such as your planet has never felt.”
“You shall have your device, Grey, but only when I am satisfired with the Mammon Machine.” The senator said as Grey turned around to walk out.
The cloaked man looked down at the floor, and Darrell thought he could see a twisted smile on his face. “Be glad, senator, that I have such a great degree of self-control. Be very glad.”
And, with that, he was gone. Vanhele sank down in his chair, and stared up at the ceiling, undoubtedly lost in his own thoughts. Darrell, seeing that the senator would offer him no further information, turned to follow Grey… only to find that he’d completely vanished just after walking out the door. There was no sign of him anywhere.
‘This is… insane.’ He thought to himself, and for once, Id gave no rebuke.
“I’ve sold my soul for this
power.” – Artemis Entreri.
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