Hive 18-Vignette

Millions Of Voices.

The man known as Ulster stood with his arms folded behind his back, and stared at the future.

To either side of him, metal catwalks stretched off into the distance, then disappearing around square corners. To the left, a dock extended out from the thinner walkway, a large flat metal platform equipped with clamps for some currently-absent piece of machinery. Below, stone, and beyond that, darkness. Despite the cavernous depths below him, and the comparatively flimsy barrier between him and it, he seemed unperturbed.

On the other side of the cavern, about ten meters away and lit by the fluorescent strips built into the rock, were rows and columns of high-tech storage mountings. From those mountings hung capsules. Larger than two people put together (normal people; not ones the size of the man observing them), they were smooth ovoids with only a single transparent panel breaking up the chrome. Beyond their front half, one could vaguely see less aesthetically-pleasing components, including the mechanism that held them to the mountings. They were all exactly identical, save for one thing: the panels. To be more accurate, what was behind them. Through every one of them, energy could be seen. Some buzzed and crackled, some floated languidly, some were perfectly still. Some weres solid colors, vibrant primaries and secondaries, while others were more muddied, a swirl of conflicting colors or mixed together into duller shades. To Ulster’s eyes, it seemed as though, if he squinted, he could almost make out people inside the energy, faces or bodies or limbs. Pareidolia, that was all it was.

The clanging of shoes on the catwalk from behind him distracted him from his line of thought. He didn't turn, but he didn't have to.

The clanging stopped. “I'm sorry to interrupt, sir. Various updates.” He said nothing, merely inclining his head slightly to the side. The woman, standing just behind his left shoulder and wearing a prim business suit underneath a thick labcoat, took that as the sign to continue that it was, and there was the sound of papers being shuffled around. She found what she was looking for, and began to speak. “First, the storage transfer is now at 70 percent-,” she paused, shuffled a few more papers, “-although I suppose you knew that already. Dr. Magnusson has asked me to inform you that his department has run into a snare with regards to some of the Class Sevens. His wording was ambiguous, but it seems that when introduced to the new storage systems, some of them have begun… well, adapting, to the system. None have taken any action or disrupted the systems in any way, but Dr. Magnusson believes that it is not outside the realms of possibility. He also included a very detailed breakdown of the exact changes that are happening, and a very, very detailed theory of why the interaction with the neural systems have only produced this in Class Sevens. I've taken the liberty of having both sent to your desk.”

Eyes still on the capsules, Ulster began walking to his right down the catwalk, footsteps slow and measured. The woman followed behind unabated; she was used to him. “On the topic of security, Gunnar has made a note that the patterns of our resident walking natural disaster have been drawing closer to us in recent weeks. He'd like permission to implement a few of the more experimental repellents.”


She nodded, and made a short note on her clipboard. “I’ll have the formal request on your desk by the time we get back. Circling back around to the storage transfer, we're beginning to approach the end of our current stock of primaries. It seems like a poor time to be harvesting directly, so I propose we send a collection team to…” she checked her notes, “South Africa. There's been a large wildfire there, and we shouldn't have any trouble being unobtrusive.”

He shook his head. “Tsunami. East Japan.”

She nodded. “Understood. On to less pleasant topics, then:  the Theta sample.”

Ulster stopped, mid-stride, and slowly turned to face her. “You have found it?” he asked, voice low and deliberate.

The woman sniffed and adjusted her glasses, seemingly unconcerned. The slight flickering of her form, though, like an image on an old screen, betrayed her nervousness. “No, sir. It seems in this case, we may have quite literally out-done ourselves.”

The tiniest flicker of comprehension flashed across his face. “The security measures.”

The woman nodded, the flickering ceasing. “Yes. I've been told that some combination of the various experiments has produced the unfortunate side effect, among others, of making it completely undetectable to our current tracking methods.”

“Begin working on an alternate method immediately.”

“Already done. Dr. Magnusson stated, however, that it would not be a quick process. As far as we are aware, UM signatures are the most efficient way, and so this might involve a step sideways, or possibly even backwards.”

“As long as it gets done. What are the projections that it has bonded?”

“High,” she admitted. “Without a neural network to connect to, we should have been able to identify its general location by now.”

Ulster creased his brow, ever so slightly, and began walking again. “The instant it is found, I want a strike team assembled to recover it.”

“Which, sir?”

He considered for a moment. “Four. Treat it as a test for them. I am interested to see if the infusions have made any noticeable difference.”

“If it has bonded, should we keep the subject for easier integration into storage.”

“No,” he said with a wave of a hand, “too much issue with contamination. Set aside one of the current stock for that eventuality: I do not want to reach the time and find our stocks depleted.”

“Then I believe there is only one more thing. Unfortunately, it's the New Chicago situation. We still have not been able to locate the datapad, first of all. I suspect that the Americans had something to do with this; as the situation has become clearer, they've begun stepping up their involvement.”

“Bold. Bold, and out of character.”

“Perhaps not. All reports indicate they are exclusively operating through proxies, hirelings or coerced criminals. One of their Specialists has been coordinating: I have, of course, given instructions that they should be eliminated if any opportunity arises, but I suspect such a thing will not happen. Shame; the things we could glean by getting on a table.”

“Perhaps not as much as you might think. Their methods are inefficient, crude. Wasteful.”

She didn't question how he knew this; it simply wasn't done. “Still, it would be interesting. Strangely, the expected Tower interference has not appeared; either they are biding their time, or are simply unaware of its existence.”

“And the asset?”

At this, she frowned. “On shaky ground. The manipulations are holding, for now, but I am frankly uncomfortable with the tenuous hold we have. Especially considering he is our only real asset operating there currently, and is… less than stable. Also, on a personal level, I have to witness his work, and it is rather disgusting.” She sniffed, adjusting her glasses. “My personal recommendation is that we activate the termination measures and deploy some actual assets. Or at the very least, imitate the Americans, and use reliable proxies.”

“Denied. The entirety of New Chicago is a fallout zone waiting to happen. Disposable tools only.”

“That bad?” she asked, sounding surprised.

Ulster halted, turning to face the opposite wall of the cavern. This one still contained capsules like the others, but it was not full. There was a ring of empty spaces, eight of them, and in the middle, a solitary capsule. It looked rougher than the others, more cobbled together and primitive, but it still had the same transparent port as the others. The energy within was violent, thrashing and twisting and curling.

And utterly, totally black.

“Worse,” he said grimly. 

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