38. Showdown at 5280 Feet (Part 2)
Spliff told them that my call had come from the Mullet, so they didn't question it when he told them they were being reassigned to the second floor, even though the second floor has been vacant for the last year and a half, awaiting remodel. The lab coats, for their part, were too absorbed in running the final tests on the converter to notice one more security guard stepping out of the shadows.
Once we were on the elevator, Spliff told me, "Luckily, we still had your retina on file. Dude, did you know about this 'optical scrambler' we've got? It can fry an intruder's synapses right inside their brain pan..."
"How's that, now?" I coughed.
"No, you're cool, man... I swapped our profile stats with a couple of bigwigs who're on a plane to Atlanta as we speak. We've got access anywhere in the building."
"So I'm trusting my synapses to your data entry skills," I mused, "well, that’s okay, I guess. Did you find anything out about Gwen?"
"Check it out: I was looking through the security logs for last night: no assignments for the top floor. Pretty weird, seeing as that's Vaig's executive suite, right?"
"We're going to his office? Are you sure that's where...?"
"Makes sense, doesn't it?"
No. But what does, these days? "What about Vaig?"
"Won't be here 'til eight. And he's going straight downstairs to make a statement to the press before activating the converter, himself." he said, rubbing the palm of his hand against his holster. Maybe it comforted him. "What do you wanna bet she's conscious, too. You know how Vaig likes his witnesses. Everybody's off the phones to watch the closed-circuit feed they're sending out to the news stations."
Innocent bystanders; added insurance, in case the Agency actually sent someone to try and stop Vaig. All those people, oblivious to the fact that history was about to change - retroactively.
But not Spliff and me. We knew exactly what was at stake. And we had convinced ourselves that somehow, that made us different from the rest of them.
Vaig's lair was a cross between a luxury hotel suite, and the lobby for a hotel that offered nothing but luxury suites. The top three floors of building had been gutted to make a single, open space. Mirrored windows curved elegantly into the high ceiling, creating a half-cylinder of one-way glass that looked out onto the Denver skyline. The view was wasted on Vaig: throughout the room, membrane-thin monitors hung from the ceiling.
In the far corner, above a well used wet bar, the largest screen was completely horizontal, pointing at the ground. On couch beneath it, we found Gwen bound-and-gagged with duct tape.
It maybe wouldn't have been the worst idea if we removed the tape from her mouth last. It was hard enough, just cutting her loose with a paring knife and corkscrew.
"Are you guys crazy? When will the Agency be -"
Admittedly, this probably wasn't the most opportune moment for me to plant a passionate, chock-full-of-tongue kiss on her mouth, but I was just so relieved to find her unharmed. Plus, I had sort of failed to mention to Spliff about my less than helpful conversation with AVI.
When her arms were finally free, she shoved me off the arm of the couch. "Wait! What's happening?"
Spliff pulled a clump of lint-y tape from her skirt. "We're going to pull the fire alarm, and get everybody out of here before the Agency strike force shows up."
"They better get here soon. I found an email from Vaig saying he's going to activate the Hyperconverter today."
"Yeah, we know," Spliff said, "they announced it on the news last night."
My hands were on her shoulders, directing her toward the elevator... but she wouldn't budge. "Wait, though... that doesn't make any sense. If the Agency knows what's going on, why aren't they already here?"
Spliff turned his head to me, tilting his head like a cocker spaniel. Busted.
I threw my arms up. "Okay, look - they'll be here, all right? I contacted them. I'm just not entirely sure whether or not they believed me." I said, looking at Gwen. "I just - even if they don't come - I couldn't leave you here."
The day before, she learned that not only was the hypercollider completed, but that Vaig was actually planning to use it, as well. And here I am, telling her that I'm the last thing she's gonna see before the end of the world. Honestly, that's the reason for the glaze over her eyes, regardless of what she says.
Spliff broke in, "Lets just hope they do show, and get this place cleared out."
"Exactly," I said, looking up at one of the news reports. Vaig was expected to arrive at any minute. "That's exactly what you need to do. Get down to one of the lower floors, somewhere there won't be too many guards, and... wait a few minutes before you pull the alarm."
"Joel...?" I had never noticed how much she could sound like my mother.
"I'm going to find Vaig." I answered, moving behind a lounge chair, so it would maybe block my way, if they managed to change my mind. "Confront him, man to man. Not fight. At least I hope not. I think I can reason with him. I think I understand him."
They started to protest, but I pushed my way to the elevator. "Just go, all right? I know what I'm doing..."
It seemed to be taking a long time, but then I realized that the doors had already opened, and I was facing a barrier within. A living, breathing slab of concrete that smelled like Old Spice and brimstone.
Gwen screamed as Deacon Struck ducked through the door.
"Lookee here... we got us a sheep that's lost its way," he grunted, the words dripping with a deep, southern drawl.
"What's going on?" From out of the man-mountain's shadow, Alton Vaig stepped into the room. It took him a second to recognize me, with the figures draped over my head. "Joel! Very nice," he was smiling, nodding his head, as if he was listening to a brand new U2 song on KBCO, "I am impressed, my friend. Please, have a seat. All of you."
When Vaig had crossed to his desk, the Deacon shoved me face-first into the ottoman that went with the couch that caught Gwen and Spliff when their knees buckled.
"Looks as though I'll have an audience, after all. All this acting in secret - it's not me. Know what I'm saying?" He called across the room. "Tim! Get your tubby ass in here and make me a drink!"
A few seconds later, Tim skulked into the room, white as a sheet. He walked to the bar, looking as shocked to see us as we were to see him.
"Yes sir," he stuttered, "you want...?"
"Scotch, neat," -then, before Tim could ask - "with no ice."
"But..." Gwen said, staring at the monitor overhead. 7news; showing an image of Vaig stepping behind the console downstairs.
"Pre-recorded. Alas. There'll be no revealing of my master plan this time. No speech." he sighed. Then he bounced his head a little, remembering something. "No chance of a last minute rescue. I'm learning."
"Did you kill him," Gwen asked, "Macguffin?"
"Of course not!" Vaig answered, clearly offended. "What I did was offer him a job. I learned of his unique employment history after acquiring a collection of Tesla's papers on the black market last year. Of course, human resources handles all the interviewing and that."
The Deacon didn't notice - or didn't care - that he was being talked about.
He stepped around his desk and touched something underneath. The floor opened, allowing a sleek console to rise up into the room, like the drum platform at a KISS concert. It was identical to the one on-screen.
Tim nervously handed Vaig his drink. He poured the contents of the glass down his throat, then called out, "Is everything ready?"
"We'll need another five minutes to calibrate the particle harmonics," a disembodied voice answered back.
"Fine. Loop the footage until then." He admired his image as it turned dials and pressed buttons. Then he looked over at us, as if remembering we were there.
"Oh, what the hell..." Walking around the console, he called out again, "Send a team of guards to my office, code red," With a wink to us, he added, "Just for old time's sake. My gift to you, Joel, for your effort here today. Pointless as it may be. But you put up a good show, and you deserve one in return."
I stood up out of my chair, surprised as anyone else in the room that I did so.
The Deacon looked to Vaig cautiously... but he was just watching me, an amused expression on his face.
"Wait," I said, "you can't do this. Look at what you've created here. There's no denying that you're one of - I mean, you're probably the greatest scientist of all time. If Alphamale or anyone else has kept you from achieving your goals in the past... whatever. Nobody can take what you have accomplished away from you. I know what it's like to feel like you're just some insignificant cluster of DNA, while gods are flying around overhead. But I'm learning to live with it. I'm learning to do what I can, when I can. You know, we really aren't so different, you and I."
The room was silent. Spliff and Gwen - maybe even the Deacon - they just watched me.
Vaig held his chin for a long time, deep in thought.
"Us, I mean." I added, helpfully.
Finally, he roared with explosive laughter. "Are you fucking kidding me? I am one of the ten wealthiest men in the world. I have an IQ of 286 - the same amount, in pounds, that I can curl, by the way. I've made love to 14 different women in a single night, their screams of ecstasy resulting in 14 separate calls to the authorities. And I am the greatest scientist of all time. If the cosmic fart that brought you into existence actually happens again, in my new timeline, you'll probably just... work for me! If you've learned nothing else in your pathetic life, know this: we are absolutely, positively nothing alike. The only thing I've ever failed at in my life is ridding the world of the ridiculous 'heroes' who continue, over and over again, to overshadow the one who truly deserves the glory..."
Across the room, the Deacon looked solemn, his head bowed.
"Amen, indeed." Vaig responded, rolling his eyes for my benefit.
Just then, a team of fifteen security gaurds burst out of the elevator, surrounding us in a practiced formation. They kept their firearms close, except for the two men at either end of the line, who were poised on one knee, their rifles trained directly on us.
At the rear of the troops stood the commanding officer, her face the color of a bruised plum. The Mullet's burning glare was for me alone.
Vaig sighed. "Can you believe it? Nobody's coming. No Alphamale. No Ultraphenomenon. Not that I can blame them. I mean, this is flyover country. Nothing ever happens in Denver..." he called out to the ceiling again. "Control Room... go ahead and roll the speech. Everyone! Watch!"
The guards did as they were told, watching the monitors like they were guests at a Super Bowl party. Everyone except the Mullet; I could feel her eyes burrowing into me, as I watched Vaig's hand hover over a glowing red button, ready to drop...
And then: the sound of glass, shattering into a million pieces... and the entire world went horizontal.
Next Ish: Part 3!