Don't read this if you haven't finished Terminals book two: Regression!
She enlisted the aid of Rubix and Kovacs to help guide the ten-ton, computerized metal-fabrication machine into the vacant hanger adjacent to K hall, then shooed them out.
It had only been sixteen hours since their return from Albuquerque. To say that her designs for the use of the machine had met with approval would be an understatement. If she had listened closely, she probably could have heard the cash register dings inside the heads of those higher-ups who had given their approval.
The thought that she couldn’t have gotten this machine without the death of Kami and Bomber kept her quite sober. Not that jumping up and tapping her heels was anywhere on her list of things to do, but she was very glad for the manipulating that she had done to see that Colonel Sidney Mitchell was her commanding officer. It had taken a lot of research to find the right man, the man with both the tactical mind and the connections to get things done fast.
If they had succeeded in taking down The Balrog last night, it would be a different story. Why spend the money on a team that won? Why did they need anything at all? But they had lost, and that gave her the leverage to show the need for more equipment. True, she could have sent the designs for her power supply over a month ago when she’d completed them, but she hadn’t been ready for the attention at that time. The number of people who would know about her and her team would grow exponentially.
Defeat had also given her the leverage to demand access to FBI files. She’d spent most of the intervening hours writing code to sift through the mountains of data, and it had paid off. She had found The Balrog. Well, she had his name and his history, and she had narrowed down his original home to Colorado. The man fit the profile she had generated based on her direct observations and the reports of The Balrog’s activities since the Red Event.
The biggest hit was a crime scene discovered only two weeks after the Red Event in Gainesville, Florida. A home invasion, with mother and father found gutted and buried in the backyard, and a daughter of ten found half-eaten and burned over much of her body. It turned out that cannibals were a really short list on the unsolved murder sheets.
She had backtracked that hit through a string of home invasions, always young families, which left the parents immediately dead, with the children dying a week or more later, through torture and particularly burning, usually with a disposable lighter. A man named Bob Wallace had left lots of DNA evidence at these scenes. He would pick a family, kill the parents, torture the children until they eventually died, then leave the house a week or two later, its kitchen and pantry bare.
From all the evidence, Bob Wallace liked to come in right after the mother or father came home from grocery shopping. That way he could live in the house as long as possible, until the food ran out.
A trail of these home invasions stretched from Denver Colorado eastward. The first four had been tightly bunched in Denver. After that Bob apparently got wise and went on the move. He’d been a big man, a bit overweight. Last known address was in Alamosa, Colorado, a house his mother had owned and he had grown up in.
He had a long list of authorities who were hunting him. His trail had, understandably, gone quite cold after the Red Event.
They wouldn’t find The Balrog and Jill in any warehouse or structure where people had any chance of seeing them. But that left a huge area of remote, almost inaccessible locations in the Colorado Rockies. True, with the ability to teleport, Bob hadn’t many reasons to seek a hideaway in Colorado, but he had even fewer reasons to seek a hiding place anywhere else. He could go home, or close enough to it, without fear of being captured. That it served a desire in him to remain hidden was very apparent in his history. That placed all the highest weights in her calculations upon remote areas in Colorado.
There existed another means of finding him, one that she had thought of after his attack on Austin. Now that she had a smaller area to search, statewide rather than nationwide, this method suddenly became quite viable.
This morning, upon reading her findings, Colonel Mitchell had wanted to mount a huge hunt immediately, and he had the connections to do so. At Abby’s insistence, he did not. They had one chance at The Balrog before he would teleport elsewhere, taking Jill with him. All bets were off as to where that would be. Instead she had asked for every bit of live thermal imaging data that could be gathered from satellites for the entire state, and into New Mexico. With the haystack much smaller, the needle should stand right out to a metal detector.
“How are you going to take him down when you do find him?” the Colonel had asked.
“I’m going to make a weapon, one that utilizes the power supply I sent you the designs for last night.”
The Colonel had gone a shade whiter at that. “I take it your timeframe is based on how soon you get this manufacturing equipment?”
Abby had nodded. “That and how close to the front of the line a friend at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN can put an experiment of mine. I need the results of that to put together the power supply. But nothing can start until I get those machines. Once I have them, I think I can have a working prototype within two days.”
“You’ll have everything on your list by the end of today.”
Now she had the first machine in front of her, the metal-fabrication machine. It was a large, automated milling machine, made for shaping complex parts out of solid blocks of metal. It struck her as funny that a fabrication also meant a lie. Humor seemed to be the one emotion she had the easiest time holding onto.
She closed the hangar doors, laid out white sheeting all around the brand new machine, and grabbed her tools. She had two or more hours before the multi-material 3D printer was due to arrive. Two hours should be just enough time. First she removed all the sheet metal panels encasing the machine, laying them out against the wall, and then she began dismantling everything. Every part, down to the screws and washers, found a place on the white sheeting. This served two purposes. She gained a complete understanding of the workings of the machine, and she could examine each part for extraneous devices. The likelihood existed that someone up the chain would try to observe her work.
When she had the machine completely dismantled, she found two separate devices meant to relay data through the base’s WiFi. She set aside the devices and began putting the fabricator back together. As she did so, she made careful notes in her laptop. After her prototypes were complete, she would set to work making a far better fabricator.
Once she had the last panel back in place, she began reverse engineering the control software with a program she had written on her laptop. It would take a while for it to churn through the hundred and fifty thousand lines of assembled code before it spat back out something she could fiddle with and reassemble into something better.
She had just set it running when the two-ton 3D printer arrived, with several more tons of chemicals and raw materials for it to work with. At some point during her dismantling of her new toy, Furlong came with a tray of dinner.
“I shouldn’t ask, should I,” the tall redhead said after seeing the array of parts meticulously laid out on white sheeting.
Abby chuckled, but kept her focus on the work her hands were doing. “Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to me that I can’t just take all of you apart to see how you work, then put you back together?”
“That sounds rather mad scientist of you, lieutenant. Is there anything you need help with?”
“Yes, Furlong, there is. I haven’t been able to check on Ribero since this morning. How is he doing?”
Furlong visibly relaxed, with a slight drop of her shoulders and a turn of her hip. Abby congratulated herself on finding the right emotional feedback circuit in the woman. Furlong operated on an emotional level, and yet she was very clever and tactically astute. She also had an uncanny feel for the emotional state of the people around her.
“He’s doing much better. He is driven to regain his strength in time to join the mission to retrieve Jill.”
Abby nodded. Jill had captured every heart on the team, and Abby had been quick to reinforce that, encouraging everyone to see her as their little sister. Of course it hadn’t hurt that Jill was sensitive and loveable. Once again she prayed that the girl would come through her experience with The Balrog with her psyche largely intact.
“I’m sure he will,” she said, “but please be sure he doesn’t push himself too hard. Until I can find a fix for the lethality of their transformed cancer, all of our specials are at risk if they strain themselves too hard.”
Abby paused. A forced pause, just as she forced herself not to talk too quickly. She engineered it to hold Furlong’s mental focus.
“Speaking of our specials, we have a new one joining us tomorrow. His name is Harold Davies, an eighteen-year-old out of Baltimore. Because he is fit to travel, he will be coming here to receive the mutagen treatment. Can you see that everything is prepped and ready for his arrival at eleven hundred hours?”
Furlong put a hand on her hip. “Any idea what he’s going to be?”
“No idea,” Abby lied. “You know the effects of the mutagen are incalculably random.”
“Let me rephrase that. What do you hope he is going to be?”
Damn the woman. Too clever by half with her emotional mind. It wouldn’t serve to deliver a reply that was overtly ambivalent. Nor could Abby deliver the plain truth and miraculously get it right. A compromise then. “What I’m hoping for is another powerhouse. Kovacs and Parcelli are tactical giants in the field with the advantages they give the team in many situations, but we really need replacements for Kami and Grappler. Other than that, perhaps a special we haven’t seen before, one with psychic abilities. What would you like to see?”
“That’s easy, a fricken teleporter,” Furlong said with a chuckle. “I’m so tired of that damn helicopter I could spit. It’s way too slow to get to the action that’s not close by. We were damn lucky to have made it up to Chicago before Headless Hank, the Mighty Metal Manipulator, got his shit together.”
Abby laughed. Yes, humor was still easy. A faster means of transportation had been on her to do list for some time. Now that she had her workshop started, things could start heading that way. A special with teleportation would be an incredible longshot. So far only The Balrog had exhibited the ability.
“All right, Furlong. Thanks for bringing me dinner, but as you can see, I’m up to my chin in widgets and machine oil.”
“I’ll shut the door on my way out, lieutenant. Hey, if you put that back together and there’s a piece left over—I’m telling the manufacturer you voided the warranty.”
Abby returned a natural-sounding chuckle as Furlong shut the door behind her. The 3D printer promised to be incredibly powerful in her hands. Even as she dismantled it, learning its inner secrets, she knew where she wanted to go with her improved version. Between it and the metal fabrication machine, she had two tools which, used together, could replicate themselves. With her improvements, she would be able to make next generation devices by the following week. By the week after that, her next inventions would be in full swing. Now, even to her own mind, she sounded like the stereotypical evil genius—‘and tomorrow, the world!’
The printer went back together without any missing or surplus parts, not that this surprised her at all. She could accurately tell the manufacturer the required torque to properly tighten any of the machine’s five hundred and forty-eight screws, and tell them which seventeen screws had been overtightened at the factory. Three of those seventeen screws would have caused a consistent thousandth of an inch variance if she hadn’t found them.
In the next generation of the machine she would make, that thousandth of an inch would seem like a mile.
With both machines up and running, she began work on her particle cage, a handy device that would trap and contain, in stasis, the subatomic particles released by the Large Hadron Collider. As it stood, the scientists there could track the pathways that released particles made. It was akin to only having a photo of an exploding hand grenade then using that photo to determine how the firing mechanism worked. She had used their data to go leaps beyond the answers they had gleaned so far regarding quantum physics.
She spent three hours building and assembling her particle cage. She had to borrow the use of one of the mess ovens to chemically magnetize several key pieces before final assembly. The process was of her own devising, and improved on the magnetic power yielded through high voltage techniques by several orders of magnitude. This forced her to work very fast to get the magnetic pieces in place before the chemical process had fully actuated.
She packed and crated the completed cage, and then called for Lieutenant Epstein to pick it up and have it placed on a military transport bound for Switzerland. From there, she had already arranged for it to be picked up and hand-delivered to one of her acquaintances, one whom she had worked with on the issues of securing the world banks from lucky one tampering.
Within thirty-six hours she’d have the particle cage back in her possession, and it would contain the subatomic particles she required. To build her own device to break atoms into the same particles would have required over three days on top of the time it would take to make the next generation fabricator and printer.
As it was, that would give her four hours for the final assembly of her prototype before her two-day time estimate expired. Ideally, she would have used the high energy accelerator at Fermilab, near Chicago, but with power still out from the Braidwood Nuclear Power Plant in that neck of the woods, they were currently out of the picture. Los Alamos, less than two hours away by flight, unfortunately didn’t produce the type and number of particles she required.
When Epstein arrived to pick up the particle cage, Abby had already set her machines to building the fundamental pieces of her power supply. She fed the 3D printer designs that she had been refining for months. She had toyed with the idea of Zero Point Energy long before starting the strike team project. It didn’t work. Her calculations proved it to be the same myth as the old quest for a perpetual motion machine. Now, messing with the Higgs field to switch subatomic particle mass off and on would produce incredible amounts of contained energy she could tap.
Her first idea for the mechanism and its cold conversion of mass to energy had been antigravity, but for now that had been shelved. The first application of the power supply she called ‘the bounce box’ would be a weapon. It seemed that when you could remove the mass of particles, you could turn that effect sideways and remove other fundamental forces, and capture the energy released from them as either mass or more energy. Her observations of the abilities of her team had really firmed up her theories. Jill, with her growth metabolism of converting energy to matter, had sealed the deal.
Oppenheimer had really been upset that his research had gone toward making a bomb, but for some reason, Abby found pleasure in setting the first pieces together for her disintegration gun.