As far as they could tell, the inmates were running the asylum at the base. When the soldiers of Project Myrmidon had emerged from beneath the base, Diane had suggested they call in what was happening there. They wouldn’t even need to stop to do it. It had seemed like a good idea, until Roger had pointed out that they had already gone AWOL by abandoning the base. Absent without leave while carrying a tactical nuclear warhead. Even for their top tier super soldiers, the Amy would probably look poorly upon that. They’d want to ask questions.
It would delay them.
So they’d grabbed a Humvee and taken off, following the sound. They’d abandoned it after a few hours, once they got to Death Valley. It was too obvious, and there was no telling how long it would take for the army to oust Bast, or for Bast to send…something after them.
From here, they had to go on foot.
It had been quiet going. Trekking across Death Valley with minimal supplies wasn’t easy work, even with their new enhancements, but the real reason was they didn’t want to lose the sound. The idea was unimaginable. So conversation and speculation was at a minimum, accept from the occasional…
“We should have stolen a damn car,” Arnold grumbled from the back, his voice a low rumble.
“I swear to God, Sanders,” Diane growled without turning, “If you bitch about it one more time, I will shoot you non-fatally. In the leg or something.”
“That would slow us down,” Roger said, also not turning. “Shoot him in the hand if you need to.”
“You both can’t see it, but I’m giving you the middle finger. Turn around and you’ll get a nice good look at it.”
Diane snorted. The sound was still there. “I think we’re far enough away,” Diane said.
Evans checked his power supply. “I’m a thirty-two, where’s everyone else?”
“Twenty four,” said Diane.
“Forty one,” Arnold said, stretching his hands. “Looks like I’m better at conserving power than you two.
“Or just lazier,” Diane said with a grin. Arnold laughed, gestured, and tore open a hole in the earth. Slowly, carefully, they lowered the crate containing the nuclear warhead within. Arnold sealed with another gesture. To the outside observer, the ground was impossible to tell from any other random patch of Death Valley. To their eyes, however, the presence of a complex mechanical device not too deep beneath the Earth was obvious. It wouldn’t be hard to find again.
“Assuming we even need it,” Roger said, checking his watch. Not that it mattered, they weren’t really on a schedule, but leaving the humming alone…he shifted from foot to foot. “Let’s get going.”
They set back out, moving as a brisker clip now that they weren’t worrying about damaging the cargo. It took most of the day and night, but up ahead, the bright lights of Los Angeles shown through the dawn air. “Think it’s in the city?” Arnold asked, squinting at it.
“Of course it is,” Roger said, excitement making his voice a bit harsher than he intended. “Unless it’s in the ocean. We’re close though.”
“Then let’s keep moving,” Diane didn’t wait for either of the other two, pushing ahead before they could respond.
Los Angeles was not a small city, nor was a quiet one. If they hadn’t been so close, the humming might have gotten muffled by the hustle and bustle of the city of angels. As it was, they still had to pause before turning now and then to make sure they had the best direction. It took almost as long to wind through the city as it did to cross Death Valley
“We’re here,” Roger said as they rounded the corner.
“Of course we are,” Diane muttered, her forehead creasing with her frown. “There’s even a welcoming party.”
It had been a few days since the battle outside Isabel’s apartment had taken place. Work crews had relocated the crashed helicopters, with only a sprinkling of broken glass and chalk outlines on the pavement to show something terrible had happened on the ground. Of course, the damage to the apartment building was still visible – the floor that had been destroyed had been boarded over. No lights shone from any window. Roger idly wondered how much money the government had paid to the residents to relocate them. Probably not enough.
Of course, even if you somehow missed all of that, the presence of a pair of tanks on the streets would make it clear that this wasn’t somewhere you wanted to wander.
The tanks were experimental DARPA fourth generation machines, a successor to the XM1202 that had been discontinued due to budget cuts but reactivated and retrofitted to handle the current crisis. To be specific, the XM1203 was a hasty tank designed to go against mythological threats. The smoothbore cannon had been replaced with a more compact next generation firing system, an automated rapid tracking minigun. It was able to keep a fix on the fast moving targets mythological creatures posed, and its ammunition was tipped with silver since no one was certain what would or wouldn’t help. Every XM1203 was a unique machine since the army had been literally putting anything they could think of that would hurt beings from myth and legend. Rumor had it, DARPA had even brought in a team of respected folklorists, mythologists, and cryptozoologists to try to come up with new weapons that could be used against these new threats.
“What the hell are we supposed to do against that, huh?” Arnold asked, almost directly into Evan’s ear. “How the hell are we going to take down a pair of tanks?”
“You really need to get more imaginative,” Roger said, glancing at Diane. “Munoz, you got the one on the left?”
She nodded. “Cover us, Sanders.” They stepped forward.
Immediately the guns started tracking towards them. Speakers started crackling to life, demanding names and identifications, letting them know were in a restricted area…Roger tuned them out. We’re about to commit treason, he thought.
To his shock, he heard Diane respond in his head. We stole a nuke. We already did. Do you care?
No, he thought back, deciding to worry about how they were communicating telepathically anyway.
Y’all better commit treason really quickly, or the only thing you’re going to accomplish is making a mess.
Arnold was right. Roger and Diane both extended their hands towards their respective targets. They could hear the hum of the railgun warming up. Don’t kill them, Roger added as an afterthought.
Not unless I have to, Diane replied.
When they discovered how their powers worked, that it was based off manipulating mathematical equations, they were given crash course in physics to make sure they knew the best way to use their powers. Arnold had been abysmal at it, but the others had excelled. And the tanks were complex machines. Dozens of equations swirled around them.
Roger reached out and altered one of the equations, the one governing the attraction of the iron atoms. With a flick of his wrist, he turned that attraction off.
The result was the tank abruptly going from a solid to a pile of iron dust, leaving the soldiers sitting exposed among the wreckage of the non-iron components. One of them reached for his gun, and Roger turned his hand towards the man. “Don’t make me.”
The soldier looked at Roger, at the gun, and slowly pulled his hand back. Roger flicked his hand in a dismissive gesture to all of them. “Go.”
They looked at him, and then looked over his shoulder. Diane had also dealt with her tank by altering the iron. Instead of altering the attraction, however, she’d directly changed it to gallium. A metal so soft that it would melt in your hands did not fare well in the hot Los Angeles sun, even without Diane cranking the ambient temperature around the machine up by an extra twenty-five degrees. Soldiers were pouring out of it by literally pushing through the now semi-liquid metal, covering their eyes and mouths as they did.
In seconds, they had turned two tanks built specifically to deal with people like them to a pile of dust and silver, respectively. The soldiers knew better than to fight. Their orders didn’t involve throwing their lives away stupidly – command might be desperate for a win, but not at the risk of throwing more men into a meat grinder. They turned and ran.
Roger’s harness chose that moment to give him a low power warning, a similar one coming from Diane’s. Arnold came running out. “They’re going to be calling backup. We need to move, fast.”
“Maybe. Come on.” They didn’t have much further.
They all reviewed the records of the failed attempt to take out Ryan. They knew this spot from those reports – the exact place Crystal had emerged from a doorway.
Sitting there, unnoticed and undisturbed, just outside the search area – too far to have been easily spotted, but too close for civilians to stumble across them – were three small black wedges. Each one looked g like a third of a sphere but imperfectly cleaved. Damaged, but not jagged like something broken – smooth breaks, almost organic. They look cancerous, Roger thought as he began to reach for one.
They were the source of the humming.
There was no confusion as to who got which, no argument as to if it was a good idea or if it was safe or if it was even sane. As one they reached for the cancerous shards and clutched them tightly. Instantly, Roger felt amazing; better than he ever had before in his entire life. A rush of power and energy like nothing he had ever imagined.
The humming stopped at the same instant the harnesses beeped, letting them know they were at full power, then the indicator gave a warning chirp to let them know it was overloading. Roger glanced at his indicator. 120%. 150%. 200%. 600%. ERROR. ERROR. ERROR. He shrugged the harness off, letting it fall to the ground before it could explode. Diane and Arnold did the same. We don’t need them anymore.
No, we don’t. Diane responded in his mind, then shook her head and spoke aloud. “We probably shouldn’t get too used to that.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Arnold was eyeing his suspiciously, though Roger thought Arnold was getting the same heady feeling as he and Diane were. “What is it?”
“It’s a nulliverse,” Diane said with absolute certainty. “Did you get the name when you grabbed it?”
Roger and Arnold shook their heads, but Roger said, “not the general name. I think they’re broken, imperfect. But I got the names of them, individual ones. Like they’re…”
“Sentient,” Arnold said, shocking both of his companions with the word. “I got that from the nulliverse. Sentient.” He turned towards Roger. “Well, don’t leave us hanging, Evans. What are they called?”
“I think…” Roger cocked his head at the sound of an approaching engine. Another tank. He smiled. “I think that’ll have to wait. Unless you want to go back for working for Uncle Sam?”
“Oh, hell no,” Arnold said, cracking his neck with a quick back and forth motion. “Let’s give these boys our letters of resignation, yeah?”
Roger smiled and turned towards the oncoming tank. This time, the alteration to reality was simpler. He just turned the roadway under them to liquid hydrogen. It would evaporate quickly, but the machine’s moving parts immediately began to break apart as they were cooled to near absolute zero. “I think they got the message,” he looked back at his companions.
Diane had opened a doorway in reality, a sickly tear of a doorway that lead to some kind of twisted, pulsing plane. “I think…I think we can move a bit quicker. Let’s go.”
As they stepped through that rotting doorway, Arnold turned to Roger. “So, what are their names?”
“Oh.” Roger pointed to Arnold, Diane, and himself in turn, naming each as he did.
“Litura. Inedia. Potentia.”
“Sounds right,” Diane said, and Arnold nodded. She continued. “So, where next?”
“Time to see about finding this Antichrist. Just because we quit doesn’t mean we need to abandon the mission.”
Diane walked over to the controls and passed her hand over them, “I think I know just where to start, then.”
That rotting doorway in reality closed behind them.