Arthur’s footsteps echoed futilely through the black site’s mostly empty corridors.
The majority of personnel who had been stationed underground had already been relocated for the cleanup. For the surface, that meant clearing as much space for the crews as possible, putting out fires, tending to structurally unsound buildings, disposing of debris, gathering bodies. For the underground, however, it just meant clearing out before the immediate shutdown. Such a mass relocation was easy enough since, in a way, all other stations in the black site were superfluous. The secret facility beneath the air base existed only to house the contents of 85-11. But all of that was over now.
He felt like a ghost, wandering the place he had hoped to inhabit forever. Nothing around him really registered, not even the people who tried to greet him as he passed. His destination was all that mattered. He would gather his personal belongings and prepare the lab’s equipment to be moved to the freight elevator. The data he had collected while at Nellis had already been backed up to a number of secure NSA hard drives under the Pentagon; everything here Arthur would be forced to delete himself.
Seventy years of research, of learning from a civilization far more advanced than any Earth had ever produced—and, as fate would have it, he was the one who would put an end to it all.
Perhaps, however, one day, decades from now—a century, even—they might reopen those NSA hard drives. Maybe some future generation would be able to handle 85-11. Those were the platitudes Arthur consoled himself with. The prospect of leaving behind a legacy was moving to him; his only regret was that he would likely not live to see its realization.
He punched in his alphanumeric code at the blast door, and stepped onto the catwalk.
The hissing and sparking of engineering arms busy at work caught him by surprise, knocking him from his daze. On the level below, the mechanical arms carried materials from one end of the lab to another; they were assembling small, intricate components which they then carried to the armor trussed up at the center of the room.
Knowing he had scheduled no project like this, Arthur ran for the emergency shutdown. Stomping his way down the metal stairs to the lab’s ground level, he sprinted for a red button on the wall, lined in yellow and black. He hit the switch and waited for the crashes of the busy arms dropping their equipment, but the crashes never came. Instead, the arms continued their work, running laps between various stations and the suspended armor.
Hitting the shutdown switch a few more times to be certain, Arthur still received no response. He made his way into the fray of engineering arms, dodging them as they blindly continued their project—whatever that might be. Stopping at his own computer, near the armor, he decided that if cutting the power to the level wouldn’t work, he would have to shut down the procedure manually. However, the computer refused each of his commands, eventually shutting itself down, its screen going black.
Straightening up, he watched the arms continue uninterrupted, unbothered by his presence. He eyed what each arm was carrying, wondering what they could possibly be up to. Some pieces he recognized; they were items he had pored over for months, though he was never able to complete them, having nothing more than fragmentary specs. Yet here they were, seemingly complete, being implanted into the armor with all the precision of a factory assembly line. Other items he didn’t recognize, ones which pulsated with light, as if filled with something like a shining blood.
“Isn’t it amazing?” asked a mysterious stranger.
Arthur could see her across the lab, walking toward him, passing through solid objects as if they were not really there. He squinted at the woman, straining to see her. It was like staring into the sun; she didn’t look like anything more than a blurred, impressionistic silhouette.
“Who are you?” Arthur demanded to know. “How did you get down here?”
“For years and years, I gave this world so much,” the woman continued, stopping before Arthur, no less obscure. “But you, Arthur, you were the one who did the most with the gifts I granted. You took these designs farther than anyone else could. I was astonished to see how little assistance you needed.”
She seemed to turn her head as she spoke. Arthur looked to where her gaze had fallen—the suspended armor.
The arms twisted all about the metal body, closing up their incisions, welding them shut with intense light and heat, well beyond their typical output. With the armor sealed, two mismatched eyes glowed—one blue, one violet—as lines of the same colors circulated over the rest of the body.
Staring at the body coming to life right before his eyes, Arthur wondered if he should be terrified or mesmerized. He almost seemed to forget about the mysterious stranger altogether, nearly enraptured by what he assumed to be her handiwork.
His shock having changed to wonder and awe, he turned back to the obscured woman.
“Who are you, really?” he asked her.
“I’m the one who’s seen your good work,” she said sweetly. “I’m the one who knew your love, your love for what others saw as merely a machine. I’m here to thank you, Arthur, and to recompense you for your devotion.”
In an almost primitive way, Arthur’s heart unexpectedly raced, as if he was in the presence of a predator. He stepped back from the woman but ended up stumbling over a short tray table, tumbling to the floor along with scraps of unused metal.
The armor began to move, first in twitches, then in violent, though controlled motions. Wrenching its limbs from the trellis, it fell to its hands and feet. Moving like an animal, it gradually approached Arthur, who felt paralyzed, unable to do anything but stare into the eyes of the suddenly living being as it prowled slowly toward him.
“What do you want with me?” Arthur asked the woman.
“I simply want to let you know you’re dreaming an insane dream,” she said with the same kindness as before. “And that that insanity is all the joy you’ll ever need.”
The armor lurched back on its legs, splitting open vertically like a gaping mouth, its unhinged jaws lined with shredded metal. The body threw itself at Arthur, and in a number of snaps, it ingested its prey—its new operator.
Symbiosis was achieved in a matter of seconds, and what remained of Arthur opened his eyes to the world, seeing it as if for the first time.
As he leapt to the catwalk and ripped the blast doors open by hand, making his escape, the Infinitude of Truth watched with satisfaction.
Arthur had never felt more alive. It was as if the world were more real than it ever had been. It was as if nothing else existed but the present; no past, no future, only that very second. This was fantastic, the opportunity of a lifetime. He had never been happier. This was it, the moment to redeem 85-11. He would show them, all of them, that the piece of trash the Enqelin girl and her family had created was nothing. Earth didn’t need a Reded-buster to keep it safe.
As he sped through the halls, anyone he encountered, he split in two with the greatest of ease. Before anyone could really announce his arrival or presence, they were rendered into nothing but piles of meat, splintered bone, and blood-soaked cloth. Only a few people managed to survive, to radio the situation up to the surface, but only because Arthur had no interest in them, not if they weren’t in his way. He didn’t care for killing these people.
No, he had something else in mind. A test was in order, something to show them all how right he was.
Demolishing the freight lift on his way, he scampered up the shaft, to the surface. Bounding across the aircraft hangar, he blew his way nonchalantly through the bay’s gate and out into Nellis.
A number of people stopped when they saw him, stunned by the sight. Some were horrified that a repeat of what had happened earlier that day was imminent. But Arthur quieted their troubled minds; these individuals would never see it themselves, but he would show everyone else who would survive that he was not a mere repeat performance of the day’s disaster.
He was this world’s salvation, messianic deliverance from monsters like Ridarin. They would see that soon enough, he would make sure of it.