The helicopter hovered over an otherwise-unimpressive building in the southern burrough of Empyreal City. I looked down on it, briefly wondering if they’d renamed the neighborhood recently. Blow it up, rebuild it, blow it up, rebuild it. So much of the city’s been replaced recently, it seems pretty meaningless to keep the same name.
I jumped out of the helicopter. The cape didn’t do much to break my fall, though the glass skylight and vinyl floor helped. I landed in an upstairs hallway of the fifth-story. Five above ground, two below. My target would be aboveground. As I looked around to figure out which way to go, I caught a glimpse of the place’s logo: a giant handing fire to really tiny people. They’d taken the size connotations of the name “titan” quite literally when depicting Prometheus. It’s a good thing for them I don’t keep eagles, otherwise I’d be tempted to emulate more of that legend.
No alarms went off as I headed down the hallway. My sudden approach may have been surprising and destructive, but this wasn’t like a lab developing chemical weapons or advanced AI. Everything I’d read about Titan Labs showed it to be the kind of place trying to revolutionize life in less violent ways. Food production, non-toxic lubricants and cleaners, and better water purification. I hear ya on that last point. I don’t like seafood anyway, let alone when they’re loaded full of anti-depressants and birth control pills.
A place like this probably had security that would look into the helicopter and my sudden arrival, but I didn’t expect anything too tough to handle. I’d landed on the cleaning level. The worst challenge ahead of me was the testing they did in the hallway. I came around a corner to the elevator and spotted a pair of people in coveralls, with hoods, surgical masks, and bags covering their shoes. They ran for it away from me, then dove and slid along the floor. Vinyl floor is a little conducive to sliding, but these people just went on and on and on. Further along the hallway, two groups of people in similar outfits cheered the slider on their side as they approached. A quick check of the rangefinder showed the finish lines were a hundred and fifty yards from where they started. It wasn’t a question of if they’d make it, but which one first?
I’ll have to raid this place again if I give myself a truly massive wang. In the meantime, I had a scientist to kidnap. I put on some music, an older song called “Old Time Rock & Roll” and ran for the elevators. They were along the corridor that had been slid along. I found out how that worked as I got close and felt my feet try to fly out from under me just as the piano was starting up. I maintained control long enough to stay on my feet, but skidded right past the elevator. I had to punch into the wall and stop myself, then flying myself back that way. The second pass of the piano and the elevators worked out.
Truth is, that kind of lubricant would make an astounding area denial weapon. It’d make an attempt to sneak up or charge into risky business.
The people were puzzled by my appearance, but the approach of the racers proved more important. Before I could hit the call button for the elevator, it lit up with an arrival. I stepped to the side and projected invisibility. It’s not so much invisibility as an extremely accurate projection of the environment around me on different sides to the extent that it doesn’t look like I’m there. It worked wonderfully on the two guards who stepped briskly out of the elevator and onto the floor, then landed hard on their asses.
I didn’t have to hide from them, but then I’d have missed moments like this. I stepped in and pushed the door close button until it finally closed on me. Once that was done, I scanned the corners of it for a camera. Found the little son of a gun and pulled out a spray can. The monitor watching it would have gone dark almost instantaneously, followed by a little bit of additional white letters that read “Out Of Order”. Once I’d finished that little masterpiece, I dipped the brush in some odorless paint thinner and beat it off against the corner of the elevator, ending the invisibility projection in the process.
They’d installed one of those security keycard readers to restrict people’s movements to whichever floor they were headed to. I slipped off a glove and fingered the slot until my body worked its magic. “When I get that feelin’, I need sexual healin’,” I said, cutting the music in my head. But only after I’d already done some singing, for safety’s sake. I didn’t have the external speakers on, or else the infrasound of my voice may have caused vomiting, headaches, and anal leakage. It was a tight fit, getting my fingers in there, but the biological merge worked and let me worm into the system.
They didn’t make it as simple as labeling the floors, but I had time to fight my way through if need be. And I hoped no one would be stupid enough to work on water purification on the upper stories of a building with unrelated labs underneath it. You’re asking for a flood.
Next floor had some special restrictions in place to keep people out. Seemed as good a place as any to start. It turned out to be amazingly white and clean. The place looked new, except for the polished bones of a skeleton laying on the floor. Maybe it’s some sort of statement about effectiveness? I didn’t have to guess long. I tossed a sphere the size of a baseball out that bounced off the wall and landed on the floor. The clear plastic rolled along, an internal pair of cameras staying parallel with the floor. If I can take an eyeball out and use it to scout a room, I could afford to make a cheap scout capable of moving on its own.
It moved along, rear and fore cameras giving me a remote view. Before I could even really get that far along, though, a siren approached it. One of those thick disc robots, like a giant Roomba, came around the corner in front of it. The thing shot my scout with a hard stream of some gunk that began to dissolve the plastic around it. Then it moved forward to finish the job with scrubbing brushes.
It appears I’d wandered into some sort of testing zone for cleaners. I think they’d made the stuff a bit too strong if it can eat through plastic. A mite indiscriminate too, if the skeleton’s any indication. While a fun diversion, though, these were not the droids I was looking for.
The next floor was more my style. My armor detected high levels of methane and shit almost immediately. Fertilizer. Could cause a lot of chaos if I grabbed that cleaner bot… but nah, I still needed to make sure this was the right place. Just in case this floor had patrolling robotic cows that destroy scout drones, I tossed a few of them out. They spread out along a few corridors, but I soon found the place was primarily centered around a few large rooms where all the action happened. It was a little bit like the farming cult back on my island of Ricca.
I stepped out to see what plants they were messing with in these indoor fields.
On one side of me bloomed a gigantic cocoon, or so I took it for at first. As my gaze traveled up it and I saw the cocoon had split, I found myself staring at a corn cob. A humongous corn cob. And despite the size of the cob and the leaves, the kernels were all of normal size. On the other side of the hallway, cocoa pods hung from trees growing beside sugarcane plants, but it wasn’t a greenhouse. There were no heaters, no stronger lights. I slid a window open and my armor registered a decent 74 Fahrenheit.
“Cool beans,” I said while poking a cocoa pod.
Suddenly, a door at the end of this corridor opened and a man stepped out. “What’s this?” he asked. At the same time, he pulled out an eggplant and threw it at me. Not threatened by eggplants, I didn’t try to do anything in particular other than swat it aside. It burst and poured thick purple smoke around. I ran on through and caught a tangerine that exploded, presumably with flavor as well as concussive force. It knocked me back a step, I must admit, but then I ducked low and kept on going. I could see the fruit chucker pulling back to toss a watermelon at me, so I went to go re-invisible and found the projectors had been stained and unable to function.
He didn’t have enough oomph to get the watermelon very far. It fell and broke apart into a mass of vines. The reached up and grabbed me as I jumped over. Part of the melon grew up and opened into halves, showing off rows of dark seeds that gleamed wet. That was a surprise, so I used one of my own. A cable shot out from under my left forearm. It lit up with electricity as I whipped it from side to side, slicing through the watermelonster. I retracted it, then pulled the vines off.
The fellow assaulting me with plants tried to run past, but I shot out the cable again, sans electricity, to knock him off his feet.
“Please don’t hurt me!” he shouted as I pulled him up to his feet.
“Hurt you?” I brushed him off. “This was pretty fun, actually.” I looked him straight in the face, getting a positive ID. “Dr. Quincy, I see. Just the man I was looking for. Nice to meet you.”
“Are you here to kill me?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m here to offer you a job.” I punched him in the gut just enough to double him over, then whipped out the zip ties. With him secure, I had time enough to break into his computer and steal as many files as possible. He even had a refrigerator there with important-looking samples. I laid Dr. Quincy against it,
I saw the elevators ding open and a large force of security guards take up position. I distracted them with the scout bots rolling under foot to trip them up. Then I radioed the helicopter. “I’m ready. Set depth for floor three and then drop.”
Above me, the crew of the chopper punched in the setting on the barrel of a rocket tube and fixed a cable from a spool to a hook on the rear of it. The lackey aimed down at where an augmented reality site showed I’d set a target. They fired, launching a tapered rocket at the building that fixed onto the target. It punched through two floors, creating a larger hole in its wake. Then it bounced against the floor there in front of me. I dragged Dr. Quincy and his sample fridge out, attached both to the metal end, and gave it a tug.
The device had been designed to hold the weight of my armor plus another person, so a small refrigerator didn’t hurt it. I just didn’t go up with it. I jumped through after it, landed on the roof, then made the leap up to the chopper on my own to help load the wriggling, panic scientist in.
“Trust me, Doc. You’ll love your new country,” I assured him. “Plenty of room to grow all these nifty plants, and you’ll live well. Yep, you’ll be shitting in high cotton. Just not in the cotton you design to smother people when they least expect it, alright?”
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