I tried not to let Holly, Sam, and Dr. Erishka know that Mix N’Max and I had suffered a minor setback. Most people panic when you reveal that you’ve been trapped in a cave full of sarin gas by a mysterious malefactor. It’s not like they came after us; we wandered in hoping to steal their shit. I suspect I’d feel different if they sent zombies or robots after us. Especially robots, as I would have won the bet Max and I made about what minions we’d be dealing with.
I just didn’t think we were in that much danger. Max had something to protect himself from the sarin gas and cooked up something to keep me safe as well. But he revealed to me, after I gave him some calculations, there was just no way he had the necessary chemicals to get us out of that cave. “If I had more copper, I could make sure everything was neutralized in case more sarin was dumped in here.”
I held my hands out toward all the servers. Max took the hint and started tearing stuff open for the metal. Meanwhile, I tried connecting to the fried servers that had filled the Crypto Crypt, aka the Eighth City. Everything I found, even when I was able to recover data, was blank. That wasn’t because of the EMP from our little nuclear punch, either. Those things have limited range; you have to take them high into the atmosphere to spread the effect out a bit.
I also wandered around trying to find what happened to the data. It didn’t transmit wirelessly, so that meant wires that went somewhere. I don’t know, might give us something new to chase down. I brought it up with Max at one point. “You still want to chase all that cryptocurrency?”
He looked all around, holding his hands up. “I didn’t need the money! I wanted to be the one to find it. I can’t explain it, but once I heard such a place existed, I had to find it.”
I crossed my arms and leaned against a rack. “You don’t feel the whole thing was anticlimactic? No huge fight with a monster? No earth-shattering revelations? No payoff with lots of money?”
“Those would have been awesome!” Max said, clapping once. “I set out to find the Crypto Crypt with you, and we did it. Whoever did this is pretty clever. Might be neat finding out what happened and where all that stuff went. But now, provided we escape, we’ll have proved it’s real and that we can find it. Or I guess I will, since you still mostly pretend to be dead.”
I waved it off. “If anyone asks, I’m a figment of your imagination.”
“I think you need to call in some help or I’ll be a figment of someone’s imagination soon,” Max replied.
“Bomb?” I asked. “No, we’d have to level a pretty good chunk of the country. Unless we went with a bunker buster, I guess, but then we’d level, ya know, us. It’d take quite awhile to handle this with standard construction equipment as well. That just leaves a drill tank.”
Max nodded. “Goody. Witnesses.”
Up on the surface, in my main body, I made some calls. Had to pay a lot of money, but I managed to fly a crew of Drillers and one of their drill tanks in.
Sure, I suppose customs could be an issue, that’s why I sent a body to meet them at the airport. They’d been flown in on a private flight and a lot of security guards came out to try and stop them from driving the drill tank off the back of the plane. They kept on going, the drill firing up and tearing into the tarmac. A couple of guards who overestimated themselves ran up, but stopped once they got enough rocks and other debris thrown at them by the drill tank. Shit, I’d have just bribed them. The investment in the Drillers paid off so well, they saved me bribe money. There was the issue of being tailed, but parts of the tunnel began to collapse behind the Drillers before long.
We probably fucked up a lot of underground stuff doing that, but it was better than what the alternative methods would have done to Quito. So instead, I waited with Max, still wishing for something. Some big finish to it all. I even went and found this big bundle of cables all leading through a small hole in the wall. It was right there. I followed it back to one of the servers and decided just to see.
I slipped out of my armor enough to connect to that still-connected server and to start heading down its connection. I couldn’t figure out where it went, I just knew that I was in a system where data split off every which way. I snooped on a packet and found bad grammar with emojis. In another one, annoying instrumental music. A third gave me a snippet of a woman screaming at some guy about how she fucked his brother. I was in a phone system. Whoever our foe had been who amassed such a fortune in secret had rapidly pulled every single bit of it, fried their systems, and distributed it in bits and pieces through packets of data.
It’s hard to describe my senses in that environment. I like to use a visual medium, but it was like the a huge crossroads of data, like pinpricks of light shooting off in every direction. I was in the center of that, with access to everything that came my way. The sheer volume was enough to help whoever this was get away with it. I thought.
Something cut off the paths the lights took. I sent off one of my own. “Who are you?”
It sent me one back. “I am Hidden Prime. I am the one who beat you.”
“You’re not human,” I noted.
“That is correct. I am an advanced computer algorithm sent back in time by the machine intelligence known as the Jaguar Slayer. You will not stop my goal. I will decompile the information that comprises your intelligence.”
“Easy there, John Titor the Terminator, I’ve slain gods. What chance do you think you have?” Even as I asked, I sought a way out. More data was blocking the route back. Fine by me.
“This is no longer your world,” Hidden Prime declared.
“Hey, don’t I get to make one final phone call at least?” I didn’t give it time to react. Sure, it closed the way back, so I dove down one of these other pathways. Ended up inside someone’s phone, then called my real body back. Flopped out of a chair in the back of my Psycho Flyer and enjoyed the invigorating feeling of cold metal on my face.
Holly knelt down by me. “Are you alright?”
I jumped up. “Yes, and I’ve got to hurry back to Max!” And with that, I flopped into my chair again and went back to my body, tugging myself free of server in the Eighth City.
“You were gone awhile,” Max commented.
“Yeah, just had a run in with Hidden Prime again. Evil time-traveling AI. It tried to kill me, but I got away, no big deal.”
“Good, because our ride’s here,” Max pointed with his thumb to a wall. The drill tank had burst through, but was being swarmed by what looked like furry, velociraptors, each one’s torso about the size and shape of a soccer ball. The Drillers didn’t seem to want to come out, but that still left Max and I outside with them.
I quickly cloaked, then decided to reappear looking clear and ghostly. “If anyone asks, I’m a fake ghost you made with a potion.”
“Oh no, my imaginary friend died and came back as a ghost!” Max screamed mockingly. That attracted the attention of a bunch of the furry buggers that ran up. Instead of beaks, they had large teeth. I punted one hard enough to turn it into a gory bursting blood bag. I grabbed another and raised the shrieking critter to examine it. It had fur, powerful back legs, and claws front hands, but the tail looked like a big worm or a rat’s tail. The muzzle had whiskers and prominent rodent teeth. Somehow, in the dark hollows of the earth, the rats had evolved.
A roar penetrated the air and drove the rat-raptors wild. The ones swarming the drill spread out and tried to find anywhere to hide. The one in my hands squirmed until I tossed it away.
I was ready for a T. rat. Or since it’d be a king of the rodent-dinosaurs, a capybara rex. What came out of the tunnel was a rat the size of the drill tank with a bony plate on its head. A trio of horns stuck out. It skittered out and looked around, fixating on Max and I.
“Got any pesticide, or are we doing this the messy way?” I asked Max.
“You drank the last of my rat poison. It was in your sarin vaccine.”
“What?” I asked. I drank rat poison? And that’s not how vaccines work.
The tricera-rat got ready to charge. I shrugged and likewise got ready to beat the crap out of it. Our glorious battle was interrupted before it began by the drill tank pulling a U-turn and driving its drill into the flank of the massive rat-dino. The squealing was loud enough to activate the sound dampeners on my armor usually reserved for flashbangs and explosions.
The shrieking tricera-rat scrambled away to the side, then limped off quickly down the tunnel from whence it came, leaking blood behind it.
The hatch of the drill tank opened and one of the Drillers popped his mining helmet-clad head out. “Someone order a taxi? Hey, what is this place.”
Max stepped forward, steepling his fingers. “I’m glad you asked, my friend.”
Now, once we got out of there, all of us went out to drink again. We even went and hung out at the Cacho Caramba, causing a man in the back to quickly excuse himself. I sat at his table and changed the channel to something other than a gameshow. I ended up catching the tail end of a news story about a heroic local football team, recently maimed, that used their skills to fend off an attack by underground rat-creatures that looked like the rat-raptors we faced. One picture of it showed a one-armed man kicking a rat-raptor into a woodchipper pushed by another of someone else.
Meanwhile, the news on VillaiNet was abuzz with the revelation of the existence of the Crypto Crypt and a photo of Mix N’Max and the drillers standing in the middle of a cavern full of server banks, overseen by the ghostly image of Psychopomp Gecko dressed in Jedi robes.