All the layers of the onion just keep going ... and going ... and going
|And there it was. Threw the switch and this tomb-long-forgotten, though it be the nerve center, this massive inner sanctum, roared to life once more. I descended the low stair to the wide floor. My attention fell and locked upon the wall of dust encrusted displays to my left. All those screens darkened and forgotten now whirring to life. A central progress bar slashed across the largest and centermost through a dirty film of residue. |
I crossed to the keys and replaced the ergonomic recliner at the counter. Heaved a sigh and was suddenly saddened.
Monitors left middle and upper right alerted onlookers they were "Synching". Lowermost left one fell into a subroutine. Dialing into the Global Stock Exchange most likely. Defense department liaison portals right middle and bottom corner prompted access codes, ID designations and passwords. CyberIntelligence worldwide, all collecting, correlating, and gathering for the archives.
Upper left spooled into a digital map of the manor grounds above. No little red pings or bleeps or anything. Seems we were alone.
Small lights on the control panel set to the rear of the countertop blipped, flashed and undulated ... signaling a brief powersurge. I toggled a switch, retracted a slider a fraction until the angry reds gave way to cooler greens and blues. Not unexpected considering the amount of time the system had been down. The world continues on, after all.
Central screen split in two. Left side designated a series of interface toggles suggesting file selections. Right side prompted a request for coordinates. Satellite control. Why piggyback all the available resources when you could take control of everything with an orbital device of your own after all.
After a time, I grew tired of watching it all. Satisfied the system was up and running nominally, I turned upon one heel and surveilled the rest of the room halfway expecting he might be standing right behind me yet knowing at my core, it was an impossibility. I could still see him standing there frowning at everything with superhuman confidence. So bold. So righteous. The embodiment of justice in all his blacks and his grays. With that thing emblazoned across his chest like a target.
I warned him. I stood there, and I told him having that symbol stretched across his torso in such a way was going to get him killed one day, but he refused to listen. So stubborn. So SO frustrating.
I clenched my teeth remembering and squeezed a tear between a thumb and a forefinger. Snorted back an abrupt breath and drew myself up.
"Now." I sputtered to myself. "Nothing left except to get to it." Knowing that wasn't exactly true. This whole place really and truly needed a once over.
I could wipe away all the grime in about a month or so with a cloth and some elbow grease. And a ladder or two. But the system would require maintenance. I glanced back at the overlarge screen behind me. It was working fine at a cursory glance, but if we were going to do this right, we would require an expertise beyond my paygrade. All this was conceived of, installed by and custom coded via that singularly keen superhuman mind.
The man who beat a god. Hard to believe but ... dammit, it was true.
And the revelation hit me. No way I could do this. Not on my own. No way anyone ...
My head snapped around to the one spot in the room. A small, square counter. Separate from the rest with an oddly shaped handset cradled in a heavy, outdated, analog base. Five buttons total. Started out with one, but over time ... you make friends.
And you make enemies. Very very smart enemies. A small planet's worth.
I stared at that preposterously narcissistic contraption.
Fortunately, I had been the one orchestrating all the upgrades to the crude, little device. And fortunately, it had proven to be such an unfaltering, unfailingly powerful tool. No one could do absolutely EVERYTHING all by one's self after all. Having such a device and refusing to use it would eventually lead to failure.
So I crossed the room, snatched up the handset, puffed up my cheeks and exhaled one tremendous breath. Pressed the 4th button. And waited.
The tone reverberated in my head like a claxon. It rang twice.
And I slammed the receiver down.
That was stupid. That was really stupid.
Arching my eyebrows. I slid my sleeve up my wrist a fraction. Turned my watch toward the computer screens and squinted at it like the old man I was.
6:12am. Had I really been up all night? Again?
Had I really been wandering around these "catacombs" for more than an hour? Hour? More than a couple of hours?
Guess time flies ...
I snatched up the received again. Pushed the button again. Kept the earpiece firmly against my ear.
2nd ring, this time. Click.
"Jeezus dude. WHAT?"
Woman's voice. Huskier than I remembered, more mature. Like silk forced through a cheese grater.
"C'mon man! You wake me up ... and ... hell, what time is it anyway?"
"6:15 in the morning." I felt compelled to answer.
Met by silence. And a couple of slow shallow breaths.
"You're not him."
"No Madame. Sorry to say I'm not."
"What the hell? Where is he? What's going on? Put him on the phone."
"Sorry to say, that would be quite impossible, but if you would ..."
"What? What did you say? Impossible? How?"
You could hear the dread in her confusion.
"If you could take a moment."
"... ok ..."
"I think we should meet."
Two quick breaths, and her throat hitched. She swallowed.
"But. I don't ..."
"When do you normally take your evening meal?"
"Eveni ... you mean dinner? When do I eat dinner?"
"A little before 8. Why?"
"Can you meet me for dinner tonight?"
"I suppose ... but wh ..."
"Come outside an halfhour after you normally dine and look up."
"But what's this ..."
"Come dressed per usual. Follow the beacon."
And I replaced the handset gently. Stood there staring at it.
Had it truly been so long? Nothing more to it. Needed to get going.
I tromped back over to the outmoded elevator. Pulled to doors together with a clang and threw the lever all the way back. With a solid jerk and a thump, the car began to rise.
Would need a shave, a shower, a change of clothes. Arrange the furniture in the grass beyond the patio. Nice umbrella in case of weather, maybe a heater or two to keep the young miss comfortable. Decent menu. Nothing too heavy. And a bottle of wine, a brandy for after.
Comfortable and conversational.
This would be hard, but this I could do.
Would need to pull that damnable contraption out of storage. Rig a power source.
It would be a start. And maybe with a little luck, a solid foundation for a future.
I grinned to myself. Sure. My mother would be proud.