They had made it back.
Tired and worn out they had unceremoniously crammed the knocked out scientist into the isolation chamber. The unspoken decision was to pass out.
The next morning seen the MTF rousing from sleep around eight a.m. There had been no alarms in the middle of the night. No calls to arms. For once MTF PHI 7 had simple slept.
Fern awoke to the smell of eggs and bacon. The scientist sat quietly on the small bench in the back of the isolation cell. She wrapped herself like a burrito and trudged out to the common area.
Arturo was busy in the small mess making food. Dan sat at the table cleaning the Rev and eating a plate.
Pistachio headed down to the gear locker and began replacing his missing field gear. Milt handed him a copy of his .300 BLK.
Fern shuffled to the bench and sat. She held her hands out in a cupping motion but said nothing. Arturo brought her a cup of coffee. It disappears into the mouth of the burrito.
“Did anyone speak to the scientist yet?” Arturo asked.
There was no quick answer.
Tempe was eating and going over the files recovered from white sands.
Pistachio walked back in to the room and dropped his new gear bag.
They ate breakfast and joked about the last few days. A few comments were made about changes to the bus. It was decided that the bus needed a cattle pusher on the front.
“Charles Terry,” MINERVA chimed in, “He is a moderately well-known geneticist. He has worked on several government projects and his last known employer per his security clearance documentation was Weyland-Yutani.”
The group finished breakfast and headed to Fern’s lab.
Dr. Terry was sitting on the bunk still. He watched the walking burrito walk to the port and pass a cup of coffee through.
“Thank you.”, Dr. Terry stated as he took the cup.
“Why were there so many Pistachios?” Arturo asked.
“Pistachios?” He asked uncertainly.
Arturo pointed to Pistachio, “Why were there so many of him?”
“Oh, The Anomaly.” Dr. Terry answered.
“That’s cute.” The burrito offered.
“Oh great.” Tempe said
“Who are you guys?” Dr. Terry asked as he looked over the mismatched group.
“That’s not really relevant right now.” Dan replied.
“You guys realize I work for Weyland-Yutani, right? If you don’t kill me, they will.” Dr. Terry replied.
“You can choose to die now or die later.” Dan offered.
“Well I guess I choose now and they may leave my family alone.” Dr. Terry walked back to the bunk.
The MTF walked away from the cell to regroup.
“Someone is going to have to play good cop.” Fern said quietly.
“Well that’s not me.” Dan said sternly.
Tempe walked back to the cell.
“Is there anything you can tell us?” She asked.
“There are lots of things I could tell you.” He said flatly.Arturo paced around the cell; maybe he should change and shock the hell out of this guy again…
Tempe returned to the group.
“We have other, less palatable ways to try and get something from him.” Dan voiced, not liking the option himself, but understanding the pragmatism of it.
“Or,” a lesser heard voice offered, “We can have MINERVA find his family and get them first.”
Everyone looked at Pistachio.
“Yeah….Yeah MINERVA, can you locate his family?” Fern asked.
“Are we kidnapping his family or protective custody?” Arturo asked.
“We will decide when we have them.” Dan cut him short.
“I have his last home of record found. There is every indication his family is still there.” MINERVA answered.
“They are in Vermont. A small town called Harrisburg.” MINERVA clarified.
“Can we send someone to extract them while we are on the way?” Tempe asked.
“I will contact local authorities to contact the family while you are in route.” MINERVA offered.
Fern approached the cell.
“If we can get your family into protective custody, would you help us?”
Dr. Terry looked up, “If you can keep my family safe, I’ll give you anything you want. Weyland-Yutani is a job.”
“Done deal.” Arturo said.
“We will get your family.” Fern told him as she walked away.
A monitor in the lab was turned for Dr. Terry to watch. A few words with MINERVA and things had been arranged.
The live feed from the officer’s cam came on to screen. As the officers exited their vehicle the house blossomed in flames. Automatic gun fire cut the officers down before they could respond. The officer fell against his car showing the area still but in an askew tilt. Several men ushered the family to a waiting van. Three other armored men approach the fallen officer.
“Yeah he has video feed.” The lead man said.
The other two walked to the van then returned. A tossing motion from one of the returning men was accompanied by a simple, “We have them.”
The men walked away and the van departed.
Within minutes another responder arrived, the officers at the scene where all dead. The house was a charred, smoking husk. The thrown object was the hand of Dr. Terry’s eight year old daughter.
“What the fuck…” Fern breathed into the heavy silence.
Dr. Terry was ashen, “She played violin…” He said softly as he began to cry.
Tempe turned to him, “We will get them, but you would have to help us.”
“I worked on projects all over the AU mainly on Project Expendable. When word came that we had recaptured the anomaly, they set up the base in White Sands and we were flown in.
“Ok the more you give us the better chance we have to save your family.” Fern tried to facilitate the flow of information from Dr. Terry.
He suddenly looked cold and hard as diamond, “My family is dead. I will give you anything. Just… Just promise me that you will kill every one of them.”
Fern turned the terminal in the isolation cell on.
Dr. Terry’s hands flew across the keyboard. The only sound for 5 minutes was the hammer stroke of his fingers on the keys.
“There. That’s access to everything I have saved remotely and all of my passwords.” Dr. Terry said as he stepped away from the terminal.
“I’ll continue to help you in any other way. My main focus was on Project Expendable, the last 15 years. The Anomaly,” He pointed casually at Pistachio, “was the only outlier. All other products did exactly as expected. The Anomaly broke out of storage, freed all the lab animals and slaughtered everyone at the facility. We have been looking for him for two years.”
Tempe moved away from the cell, “MINERVA, can you have them do a full forensic evaluation on the hand?”
“I will have it forwarded to you when local authorities complete it.” MINERVA said quietly in conspiracy.
“Is the Anomaly a clone?” Arturo asked.
“They aren’t really clones. There is no original. They were created from an amalgam of sampled material. They are all identical though.”
“Who were the suits in the back when we picked up Pistachio?” Dan asked
“The Emissaries from the Dynastic Empire. They were effectively there for quality control. They were at White Sands already when I arrived.”
“Deep Shit huh?” Dan commented.
“My understanding is that the Russians have nearly lost the country and that the Dynastic Empire is concerned about the same problem encroaching them. They funded the entire project. There are approximately 1300 of the Project Expendable Products fielded in Russia.”
“What’s happening in Russia?” Pistachio asked.
“No one is sure. The Russian government has not been heard from in eight years.”
Dan was looking over the video feed again. No mistaking it. The first man in the shot was Buzzard. His armor still had the patching from Copper Flight.
Dan looked up, “Team, this man is Florintino DeHard. He is a god damned monster. If we go I am killing him.”
“MINERVA can you get a jet ready for us at the local airport, flight plan for Vermont.” Pistachio asked.
“The flight will take 6 hours.” MINERVA answered. “I am currently monitoring all forms of transport for any Weyland-Yutani movement. I have limited information for DeHard. He served in the AU army during the first conscription. He was an unremarkable soldier and served in South America. He left the Army and started a career in the PMC field. He joined Copper Flight and served with them until five years ago when he announced his retirement and intentions to start a private investment firm.”
“Can we get any leads on his supposed company?” Pistachio asked.
“Yeah, follow the money.” Dan added, understanding what Pistachio was thinking. “Any fallout from the local LEO’s?”
“It is a shocking event for the small town. All responding officers were killed. They have recovered the van, seen in the video, at a local dock facility.”
“What about the van? Who owns it?” Fern asked.
“It is a rental. It was rented by Benton Salvage. It is a company that does not seem to exist. The same company has a rented slip at the docking facility.” MINERVA answered. “The vessel in the owned slot is not even sea worthy. It is still there.”
Fern began going through the data, helping chase leads and look for the money trail that would lead them to the captors. The team slowly scattered to get ready as no instant results were forthcoming. They had their own tasks to attend to. Hours past, but Fern kept picking at every stray lead she could find.
“Bingo!” Fern yelled out. The team hurried to her lab to see what discovery had been made.
“Benton Salvage has a facility on Eagle Island New York!” She explained as the last team member walked in.
MINERVA was already pulling up the data from her satellites. The picture showed a facility with one main building. A boat landing was the main access.
“This is the only holding they have in North America. I will update the flight plan.” MINERVA added as she showed all angles available.
“We head out in the morning. If the LEO’s find anything we can head there. If they don’t have anything we go to Eagle Island.” Dan laid out the plan.
“The house looks isolated. No major out buildings. I think this should be our main point.” Fern stated.
“All right, let’s get our gear and head there.” Arturo spoke up.
A private jet waited on the tarmac. A flight time of two hours seemed to drag on for days. MINERVA kept her attention on the sight.
MTF PHI 7 transfered to a patrol boat and headed to thier goal on Eagle Island. The boat cut its way across the bay. There was no sign of them being noticed from the house.
There were cameras on the outside of the building covering the area. Fern began to tap away at her devices and in short order, the views from the cameras showed up in Fern and Tempe’s visors.
Pistachio walked to the front door and swung it wide open.
Inside on the floor of the empty building, laid the bodies of Dr. Terry’s family. Patience was not a vertue thier captors had possessed.
Tempe instantly reacted, “MINERVA cut feed to Terry’s monitor!”
“I am sorry Temperance, I do not belive this will be a concern.” As she said the last word, she began to play a video loop. Dr. Terry had hung himself.
Arturo shifted to Crinos and sented the air. He could smell the life that had been here. The scent of a light oil layed across everything else. The group spread out to look for anything they could find.
In the far corner of the room Arturo and Pistachio found a small torn page of paper. The paper looked like a cross between the bible and a technical advisement bulletin. As Fern held it up in her camera view, MINERVA identified it as a page from the tome of engineered enlightenment, a holy text of the Church of the Broken God.
“This passage deals with the toil of the small workers to rebuild their god.” MINERVA finished.
“So their god is a spaceship?” Pistachio asked.
The search turned up only 4 spent casings, the three family members and a dead Copper Flight mercenary.
“MINERVA, do you have a physical address for this church?” Dan asked
“There are many throughout the American Union. The closest is four towns away from your location. 2262 Gear St., Piedmont, New York.” She answered.
They exited the building and searched the grounds. Nothing. They loaded onto their patrol boat. They headed to Piedmont to go to church. An hour and a half later they drifted to the dock and tied off.
MTF PHI 7 went to church.
The Church of the Broken God was housed in an old Sears in a Strip mall that had seen its glory days pass by. As the strip mall had lost its customers, the old Sears building lost its namesake. It changed hands from the religion of the dollar to the religion of gears.
They approached the building, it was quiet and unassuming. The doors were unlocked.
“Tracking movement for the last 1.5 hours shows that the building should have one inhabitant.” MINERVA passed over the coms channel.
The gang gave each other the Scooby-doo shrug and began to cautiously approach.
Pistachio drew his short shotgun. When he received a disapproving look from Arturo, he shrugged, “Its bean bag rounds.”
In the former alter to consumerism, a stage had been set up. A rag tag assortment of chairs and pews surrounded it. The walls had old shelving converted to hold church pamphlets. Tables held assortments of gears and tubing that could only be described as a steampunk wet dream. A chime sounded as they entered the door.
After a few minutes a man in his early 30’s, dressed all in white approached them from the rear of the building. “Can I help you folks?”
Pistachio looked him dead in the eye, “Tell us about your Lord.”
“Uhm, what would you like to know?
Fern held out her hand held, “Have you seen this man?” DeHard’s face was there in its malicious grin. The still was taken from the officer’s cam feed minutes after the animal had cut off a little girl’s hand.
“I have never seen him before.” The man in white replied.
The questioning continued and the man answered with little reservation. His name was Reverend Jacob Moore. He has run the church here for 5 years. He gives Pistachio the corporate office of the Church of the Broken God.
“Do you have any rallies or meetings on Eagle Island? Any other chapters?” Dan questioned.
“Not to my knowledge. You would have to ask corporate.”
“Do you have a list of members?” Pistachio asked
“Of course for my area I do.”
“Can we get a copy?” Pistachio asked again
“Not without a warrant. I am sorry but I have to respect my member’s privacy.” Reverend Jacob answered.
“MINERVA, can you look deeper into the links between Copper Flight and the Church of the Broken God?” Dan asked.
“I will look into it.”
“Looks like we are headed to Oregon.” Dan said and the group
“Fucking dirty hipsters…” Fran mumbled to herself.
Pistachio pocketed a bottle of oil from a table.
As the group began transit they began to research the Church of the Broken God.
The Church had a lucrative income from numerous patents that were used throughout the tech industry. They were big money.
MINERVA prepared a bigger brief that described their belief of tech as the way to god. Think Steven Hawking running a religion like Joel Olsten.
Upon arrival they are helicoptered to the corporate office. They had dressed down from their full tac gear for the business meeting.
As the helicopter landed they are met by a sharply dressed man. On him Fern sees multiple pieces of wearable tech. Very cutting edge stuff, better than hers. He motioned the group to follow him away from the helicopter pad. He led them to a nearby meeting room.
“My name is Thaddeus Kain, I was told you’re from the government.” The man finally spoke.
“We are.” Dan answered. “Is your organization involved with a Paramilitary security company named Copper Flight?”
“I believe we have used them to guard some of our missionary groups.”
“Do you presently employ any Copper Flight teams?” Dan continued to question.
“I would have to check with security. I don’t make those arraignments personally.” Thaddeus answered.
“So make those arrangements then.” Pistachio told him.
Thaddeus stared at Pistachio for a few moments, “Please allow me to. Do you wish to rest here or would you like to accompany me?”
“I think we will all go with you.” Fern added to the discussion.They are paraded through the facility to a Security Manager’s office. The Security Manager spends a few minutes searching several databases to tell them simply no.
“There you are we do not currently employ any PMC security from Copper Flight.” Thaddeus answered with his politician’s smile.
“May I ask you when the last time you employed Copper Flight” Fern asked.
Thaddeus gestured to the Security Manager.
“Looks like the last time was about 3 years ago in South America.” He chirped.
Fern’s eyes stayed focused on the men in front of her as MINERVA came over the team’s com.
“I have found a third tier banking account that is still making payments to Copper Flight. They had two shell companies in-between, but the Church is still holding on to Copper Flight’s leash.”
Dan visibly stiffened, “How about you stop jerking us around and come clean on the ongoing payments to Copper Flight?”Thaddeus stood straighter. The friendly politician was gone. “You have seen our records. We have shown you what you asked for.”
Dan didn’t back down, “It’s hardly the first time that finances have been hidden in shell companies.”
Thaddeus didn’t give any ground, “We are a church, not a corporation.”
Dan smirked, “Pretty fine distinction.”
“Everyone pays their tithe.” Fern added.
In a sudden break in the tension, Tempe asks, “Can we get a tour of your building? I love the architecture.”
Thaddeus does actually look thrown off by this, ‘Yes I can arrange that.”
He walks away and begins to make some phone calls.
“It was a pleasure to meet all of you.” Thaddeus closed and left the room.
As they sat there with security and the door closed Dan looked at Arturo, “I want to throw him through a window.”
“Excuse me?” a bubbly friendly voice asked. The group turned to see that through the other door a young woman had entered.
“I’m Kelly; I’m here to give you a tour of the building.”
The group followed Kelly as she began to walk them around the building. They said nothing to their young guide but subvocalized signals to each other as they seen cameras and other security provisions on the tour.
After they had toured a few floors, Tempe started to act as if she was sick.
Fern picked up on her play and put her arms out to help her friend, “I’m sorry is there a restroom around here? My friend isn’t well.”
Kelly quickly showed them a restroom.
As soon as the door closed Tempe was on her radio, “Bono where are you?”
A series of clicks told her he was still on the helicopter, forgotten by the staff.
“I need you to get down here and pick up a package, then take it and find the server room.”
Affirmative clicks came back across the radio.
Outside the restroom, Kelly waited impatiently.
Fern turned on audio of the worst noises she could find.
A furry hand appeared from the air duct.
Fern jumped up and handed the small paw a dongle. It disappeared and reappeared giving the ok signal.
“I may start liking you yet.” Fern added as she herd him scurry along.
Back outside Dan started to talk to the girl to try and distract her from the passing time. “So what brought you to the Church of the Broken God?”
“I was raised in the Church.”
“And what exactly are your beliefs?” Dan pushed
“We believe that the only thing that makes sense with everything that is wrong and plagues the world, is that this is a simulation or it is in fact an engineered existence, and something has gone wrong.” Kelly happily answered him.
“When you say raised in the church, do you mean that you were raised by the church community or an organization?”
“No my parents are both members.”
“You mean like a Jonestown commune or something?” Pistachio asked with his typical smoothness.
“No I’m not some kind of odd person.”
“Tell us more about the singularity your writings mention…” Dan tried to keep their guide occupied.
“What we believe is that in the past a greater construct, or entity larger than anything we can even conceive of, was in charge of all creation. As a part of that construction it created the most random event generators it could. That random event generator was humanity. In our random chaos that we bring we caused the downfall of the creator.” Kelly told him.
“God makes man. Man destroys god.” Dan surmised.
“Basically. We at the Church are trying to remake that creator to help correct the problems we have caused in what we call reality.”
“Using Tech?” Arturo questioned.
“It’s more hands on than abstract prayer with measurable results.” Kelly smiled at him.
“So no need for faith?” Arturo prodded.
“I see the results of my faith when I am rebuilding a broken circuit board.”
“What else do you do besides intern here at the Church” Arturo asked.
“Do you believe in abstinence?” Pistachio asked.
“With you, Yes.” Kelly said with the ice in her voice an audible quality.
Clicks sounded around the coms.
“Bono is at the server room!” Tempe translated.
“Do you have any alternate jobs?” Arturo tried to restart the conversation after she had shutdown Pistachio so quickly.
“Yeah I’m still in collage. My Doctorate is in Theology and Quantum Mechanics.”
“Your theology studies, are they only on the Church or other religions too?” Dan asked trying to help Arturo keep her talking.
“I’ve studied other religions and they all just seem like pale comparisons to church doctrine from a time when tech wasn’t understood.”
“Right they just didn’t understand tech so it was magic and miracles. Dan commented.
“Well if your technology is advanced enough, tell me the difference between it and magic.” Kelly looked down to check her watch.
“Keep her busy!” Fern hissed into the coms, “We’re only at 6%.”
“So quantum mechanics, do you use torque wrenches in that?” Pistachio asked.
“No.” She laughed and smiled while checking her watch again, ‘It’s about the basic way the forces of the universe interact.”
“Do you find a lot of spill over between your faith and your science?” Dan asked.
“If you look at quantum mechanics on its own, it is self-defined. As a member of the Church I believe that its own self-definition is from the underlying structure laid out by the broken God.”
“Your able to rectify your faith vs your education because”, Dan started but Kelly cut him off.
“I don’t find it needs rectifying.” Kelly finished.
In the restroom, the two women cursed under their breath as they watched the progress bar stall at 6%. It achingly jumped to 11% and they both let out a relived sigh.
“The man we spoke to earlier said there is you guys have some major tech that is ahead of the curve. You guys have some amazing stuff here in the church?” Dan struggled stringing out the question as Kelly looked to the bathroom door again and checked her watch.
“We develop a lot of tech in house and beta test it among our faithful until we feel it is ready for general release. Then we typically license it out for production. The more people we have working on research and development that faster we reach singularity.”
Arturo began to form another question when Kelly’s hand went to her ear. “We are on floor four.”
A short burst of clicks cut through the coms.
“Guys something has gone south.” Tempe translated.
Kelly stepped into the bathroom with a slight nock, “Ladies?”
Tempe began to fake throwing up.
“I’m so sorry she is not feeling well at all.” Fern called out.
Pistachio tapped Arturo on the shoulder and pointed away from the bathroom. The two began to slink away down the long hallway.
An elevator dinged and two suited men began to walk towards Dan.
Tempe subvocalized on the radio, “Bono find a vehicle! Start creating a scene!”
Along the hallway, Pistachio looked at Arturo, “Come on Scooby! It’s time to get in the shit.”
Arturo shook his head and his body rippled. He shifted into his Crinos form.
Bono crept around the parking garage and his eyes stopped on a smart car. He smiled, that would fit in the elevator.
Dan muttered to himself, “Fuck it.” He pulled back and kicked Kelly into the women’s room. She screamed and Dan slammed the door and braced against it.
“What is going on?” Kelly yelled, scared and confused.
Fern leaned out of the stall, “I’m so sorry.” Fern brought her gun down as hard as she dared and knocked the girl out. She began searching Kelly for her I.D., Communications and anything else that could get them out of there.
As Fern searched her a parking ticket fell out of her pocket.
“This is a really bad day for you.” Fern said consolingly to the unconscious girl.
Arturo and Pistachio ran around the connecting halls. Arturo realized he was faster and grabbed Pistachio up to run with him.
The elevator dinged again and the sound of a small engine started to fill the area.
Dan held the door as the guards pushed against it.
Arturo pulled back to throw Pistachio and as the man shifted in his grip he lost balance and threw Pistachio into the ground short of the guards.
As the sound of the noise, and chaos the guards turned away from the door.
Dan felt the resistance relax and jerked the door open. The guard had a split second to see Dan slam him in the throat. The guy began to clutch his throat as he passed out.
Pistachio picked himself up and charged down the hall, he leapt and slammed the shotgun into the face of the guard. The man crumpled and Pistachio hit the ground sliding on his knees past Dan and into the bathroom.
The car zipped down the hall and Bono tapped on the horn.
The Ladies filed past and loaded into the car. Fern looked at Bono, “To the server room.”
Bono sat there staring at her.
“Fine you can drive!”
Bono managed to bark his wheels on the carpet.
Arturo seen the smart car barreling towards him and leapt upwards for the car to clear
under him and felt his back go through the false ceiling.
The boys crammed the unconscious guys into the toilet. Dan had the MP7 that Tempe took off the guards.
“Let’s go find the Camera room.” Dan said to the other two.
They made their way down the hall and took the elevator to the first floor.
The other elevator binged and an engine could be heard idling inside as it went down.
The doors opened and Bono gassed the car out of the elevator, through the door to the server room. The engine coughed and went silent. Fern rushed to the servers to patch in. Tempe and Bono covered the doors, waiting.
Fern started to type furiously on the keyboard and watched the percentage begin to climb.
“Guys good news and bad news. We are in the server room, but the car is dead.”
“Still rally in the loading docks.” Arturo answered.
The boys arrived on the first floor. Dan held down the hold elevator button. The boys moved down the hall being as quiet as they could. As they seen the front lobby, they could see a contingent of Copper Flight coming into the building.
Dan grimaced he knew the first two Harrier, and Osprey.
They could hear the guards arguing with the Copper Flight mercs as Pistachio began to open the door to the camera room.
“Call Mr. Kain. He called us here!” Osprey bellowed at the guard.
In the room, a man lay curled up and sobbing under the desk.
“Docks are clear.” Pistachio put out over the call.
The boys started to retreat down the hall. They pressed the button for the docks.
Bono headed up to the dock and began to look for a car.
The download meter flashed at Fern 50%.
As the boys stepped out Bono honked the horn on a delivery van.
They pushed a car into the elevator they exited. No one was going to be using it. They loaded into the van.
The other elevator dinged.
“Help! We need help. We are only at 50%” Fern shouted on the coms.
Fern hid behind the desk and watched the bar reach 65%.
She quickly navigated the menus, and shut down the power. The elevator jerked to a stop.
She rapidly locked all of the doors in the building and reset the only access to Kelly’s ID she had in her pocket.
Shouts and yells originated from the elevator and the distinctive sound of a mini-gun spinning up. Bullets ripped up and down the face of the elevator and a sharp ting as the cable was hit. The sound of the crash rang through the building.
Fern’s hand held chirped at her, 100% download complete.“GO !” she shouted as she ran for the door. Tempe was hot on her hills. They ran up the stair well to the loading dock and entered the van with everyone else.
Bono hit the gas and MTF PHI 7 was reunited and headed home.