Day Two, 10:15 A.M. MST
“They all sound demented,” Halo tones with a touch of static. The AI does not like Tryphon’s other options for allies. “How can you ask me to trust them?”
“What choice do you, does the world have, Halo?” Tryphon replies. Since waking, he’s spent the last several hours telling Halo about his friends strengths and weaknesses. Before the protocols, he would have lied his ass off, but he knows there is too much at sake now. “I know they’re oddballs and fanatics, but they’re the only ones I feel we can trust right now.”
“I’ll give you Balfour,” Halo replies. “For a Restorationist, he sounds somewhat stable, but his partner Raiden is obviously a lunatic. He must not be allowed into this vault without considerable safeguards. A cage at the very least.”
“Okay, I agree we can’t just let Raiden in here without some security, but Balfour will never allow us to put his partner in a cage! Not even I would wish that on him!”
“It is not up for debate and neither is the one you call Kainan,” Halo responds stubbornly. “He cannot go through the protocols, and you cannot trust him to not sell you out for his own sexual needs.”
Tryphon had to give Halo that one. Maybe once Kainan realizes the danger, he can be brought more into the loop, but Tryphon knows that Kainan can’t be trusted with the location of the vault. He could be useful for spreading false rumors, and his skill as a mechanic is top notch, for a wastelander. Tryphon shakes his head, as he realizes that he’s not a true wastelander any longer. The protocols have changed him too much. ‘I’m going to have to be very careful what I say and think around purebreds and mutates alike’, he considers. ‘One stray thought caught by a powerful Esper and I’ll be lizard-meat’.
Tryphon never liked telepaths, which is why he reacted so strongly to Halo being able to read his mind. Of course, that connection had more to do with the protocols and several implanted chips in his head and spine than with true telepathy. And without those cybernetic enhancements, he’d have died during the protocols. Its why the process would likely kill a non-human; the cybernetics are designed for human physiology.
“Okay, I’ll give you Kainan, for now, but you have to let me bring in Kyleigh,” Tryphon knows he’ll need her with him and Balfour for this mission.
“Now you are being led by your sexual needs,” Halo counters. “She is a liability to you. How am I supposed to trust that you won’t put your feelings for her before the mission?”
“You can’t,” Tryphon replies. “But you can trust that she won’t let sentimentality sway her judgment. Yes, I love her, and I often prayed that her feelings for me were as strong as mine. I know now that they aren’t, and I’ll have to learn to live with it.”
“She is still a thief and a killer,” Halo insists. “From what you’ve told me, she only loves wealth and with such an obsession it will eventually lead to a love for power. Power corrupts absolutely.”
“You’re being over-dramatic, and she’s less a thief and more a tracker. She can follow tracks better than anyone I know, and she only kills when there is no other recourse. Yes, she has a temper but that comes into play when others lie to her. If I don’t bring her in on this mission and she finds out later, it will go very badly. She holds grudges, so trust me when I say we don’t want her on the other side.”
The AI doesn’t respond for several minutes before replying. “If I let her and Balfour in, you will agree to keep the other two out,” Halo insists.
“For now, yes,” Tryphon agrees, partially. “And if we decide to bring Raiden in, I’ll agree to some sort of restraint but not a cage with bars. He’ll freak out. We’ll need to ease him in somehow.”
“I will consider it after meeting your brother, the ursine,” Halo agrees. “We will have to debate more about Kainan at a later time. You’ll need to leave the vault soon. I’m sure your bear-kin friend is already looking for you.”
“On that, we can wholeheartedly agree,” Tryphon replies. ‘It’s a start’, he thinks.
“Also, that your father can never learn the truth about me or the vault,” Halo insists loudly.
“Oh, there is no way I’d ever tell him about you or this place,” Tryphon adds. “He’s an evil bastard who sold his own parents and killed several rival siblings. If I ever see him again, I won’t give him the chance to learn the truth. A quick death is all I owe him.”
Halo’s only response is silence.
“Don’t worry,” Tryphon tries to assure his AI friend. “I’m not going to go looking for him to settle old scores. It’s not worth the risk.” He pauses but Halo still remains silent. “M543 wants to give me another checkup before I start going through the archives again for more intel. I’m off to get scanned and prodded. We’ll talk some more later before I leave, okay?”
“As you wish,” Halo intones.
Tryphon knows that Halo doesn’t like to talk about death or killing. The thought of all life being snuffed out on Earth scares the AI. So, hearing Tryphon speak of murdering another sentient in cold blood obviously makes Halo uncomfortable. Tryphon tries not to think about it as he walks through the facility to the wing with the medical bay.
“M543, let’s get this over with. I have a world to try to save,” Tryphon says when he sees the MedBOT. ‘And maybe my own soul, if I even have one’.
The MedBOT closes the door behind Tryphon as he enters the medical bay.
* * *
Day Three, 9:00 A.M. MST
M543 puts Tryphon through hell. He gives him a full physical and does every sort of blood work and medical test possible within a twelve hour period. The MedBOT barrages him with mental images and old world data to make sure Tryphon won’t suffer another multimedia schism. By the end of the day, Tryphon is so wiped out, all he can do is find and crawl into his bunk and crash for the rest of the night. While he sleeps, he dreams of the Ancients and their world, as well as his friends and the trials they’ve faced together in their short lives. When he finally wakes, he feels like he’s faded out of his old life and into a new one that could either get him killed or could save the Earth.
“How are you feeling today, Mr. Tryphon?” A feminine bot-voice asks him as it brings up the lights slowly. “I trust you slept soundly?”
“Good morning I4-66,” Tryphon says to the robotic attendant—another bot, another nickname. “I slept fine, although my dreams were intense.”
“Dreaming is healthy,” I4-66 replies. “It means you reached REM sleep. I will send M543 a medical update.”
“Great,” Tryphon sighs. ‘Please, no more tests. I can’t take any more’.
“Halo has given permission for you to reenter the archives and plan your strategy for the mission ahead,” I4-66 adds. “I will let you undress, clean yourself, and change into your gear. It is laid out over on the table. Most of it is brand new, but we have tried to make it look weathered. We have not altered the weapons, however.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Tryphon replies. “I’ll take care of making them look right for the wastes. Tell Halo I’ll be at the archives in an hour or so.”
“Do you wish anything to eat?”
“I’ll get it myself, thanks.”
“As you wish,” I4-66 tones merrily before exiting the bunk room.
Tryphon strips and showers. The waves of the sonic shower feel good on his skin. He’ll miss being clean back out in the wastelands. He looks at himself in the glitchy holo-projector. He is even beginning to look like an Ancient. The bots had shaved his beard and cut his hair when they had brought him into the facility. The bots also cleaned out several old wounds that never quite healed right and pumped tons of medicines into his system including powerful antitoxins that cured him of what Halo had called ‘a mild case of radioactive poisoning’. He knows he now has nanobots floating in his bloodstream, which will give him a huge advantage over others. He isn’t just smarter than he was before; he is also stronger too. He can probably go toe-to-claw with Raiden in a fight but likely not against Balfour.
Tryphon looks over the gear on the table. He can immediately tell what is new and what is old. That won’t do. If he can tell, his friends will be able to as well. He works for several hours to make everything look worn and rusted. The weapons are the hardest to alter. He takes them to a nearby workshop and grinds and sands everything down to a reasonable facsimile of his own gear. The only thing his doesn’t mess with is the scattergun, but he’d already decided that he can’t take it with him at this point. Having it on him will bring about too many questions. Besides, he’ll be able to get by without it since getting a new toy fabricated.
The new weapon looks like a slug thrower, but it is considerably more powerful than any old six-shooter or sawed-off shotgun used in the wastes. Wastelanders might call it a flamer, but it is actually a beam pistol, which the Ancients called a HEL. While the beams of light energy it fires are generally invisible to the naked eye, Tryphon knows that there could be sentients or monsters out in the wastes that might be able to see the beam. He’ll have to save it as a last resort. He tucks it under his vest after making sure there is an energy cell in it and the safety is locked the on position. He goes back to the bunk room, puts on the rest of the gear he’ll need, and stows the rest in a locker. He puts the scattergun in a locked chest and shoves under his bunk.
It doesn’t take him long to travel to the vault’s archives. He’s memorized most of the upper levels of the facility. Its true name is lost to history—not even Halo remembers it. Tryphon refers to the facility as Halo’s Vault in his mind and added the nickname to the facility’s database. The facility’s bots took to the new name with vigor; as he enters the archives, he notes that the wall next to the carbon-fiber door has been updated to include the new nickname over the designation for the main floor of the facility’s primary Archive Chamber, 000-001-110. Halo is waiting for him patiently in the massive white room. A small control panel rises out of the center of the floor.
“Sorry it took so long, Halo,” Tryphon says in a friendly tone. “I slept in, and my gear needed lots of work. If I’d gone out there without weathering it more, it would have been obvious that I had found at least an old cache.”
“You aren’t taking the scattergun with you, are you?” Halo asks.
“No way! It would cause a riot in any berg I visit. Not worth the risk,” he replies. “I do have the HEL, but I’m keeping it hidden. Now, did your satellites find my ride?”
“The vehicle is three-and-a-half miles from here, but I doubt it will ever move again. Scavengers, both sentient and non-sentient, have ripped it to shreds.”
“That’s not surprising. Is there enough left for you to create a digital version of what it once looked like?”
“Fuck! That sucks!”
“If you are forced to walk, you will probably perish before you can reach the nearest mutate settlement.”
“What else did you find?”
“Nothing that I would recommend. You should take one of the facility’s rovers. We can make it look like a wastelander vehicle, at the very least.”
Tryphon calls out a verbal command to the archive’s database. “Archive 1-110. Files on all rovers. Show me the oldest designs first.”
The room goes completely dark, as the computer archive searches through its files. Two minutes later, a holographic projection comes up that encircles the control panel. There are more than a dozen designs and Tryphon rejects two-thirds of them on sight alone. He cycles through the rest using the panel before stopping on the third oldest design. “Hmm, this looks a lot like Kainan’s sand hopper, but it can’t have those gun mounts or that blast shield. He taps the screen again and removes several components. What’s left is a bare-bones all-terrain dune buggy with a carbon-fiber frame. “Is there any way we can make this out of less advanced materials, and it can’t have a computer. It needs either a really-old gasoline or electric turbine engine. The latter would be better. High-capacity solar panels will be a dead giveaway.
“Give me a moment,” Halo replies. The AI interfaces directly with the control panel and reworks the vehicle to Tryphon’s specifications. “That is the best that can be done withing safety limits. The vehicle’s engine is a 10th-generation electric turbine unit with low-grade collectors. While I cannot remove the computer core, you can strip it out after fabrication. It isn’t required for the vehicle to function, although certain things such as the digital clock and wipers won’t work. It’s primary purpose it provide a sealed environment and operate the weapons and specialty gear.”
“So, almost everything we’ve removed from it,” Tryphon guesses.
“You still mad?” Tryphon asks.
“While I would prefer you don’t kill while out there, I know that you may have to if forced. All I ask is that you do not murder in cold blood.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
“Then, I am no longer mad,” Halo replies with more cheer. “Archive 1-110, construct new vehicle. Degrade materials to look more than 100 years old without impacting the safety of the design. Designation: Tryphon1-0. But do not mark the vehicle with that designation. Confirm.”
“Confirmed. Vehicle under construction.” The deep voice of the archive intones.
“When completed, place the Tryphon1-0 in service bay 1-036. Confirm.”
“Confirmed. Orders received.”
“It will have to do,” Tryphon says.
Tryphon and Halo go through the archives for another three hours looking for intel on the surrounding region. The protocols allow Tryphon to learn many aspects of the region including the true names of several ruins of the Ancients, but he doesn’t try to memorize them. It’s better he sticks to the names given to places by the wastelanders, but he is amazed how close some of them are to the names of that bygone age. Deermeet is very close as is Darkfield and Oldtown. A mutate town named Mallet is the closest berg to Halo’s Vault, but it’s in the wrong direction. He scrolls north on the virtual map and notes a massive ruined city he’s only heard of in tall tales.
“Wow, it is real,” he says with excitement. “Halo, do you know what this ruined city is called?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Halo replies. “During the end times, the facility was damaged and much of the data on the lands to the north and northeast was lost. The satellites I have access to haven’t picked up much life there, as the temperature drops considerably north of the mutate town, known as L.E.D., due to some unknown factor. I do know the city had an official designation that made it important; it might have been the seat of a powerful government. I have more data on the lands north of there, but it was primarily wilderness with some sort of industrial purpose—mining, most likely.”
Halo mentally shifts the map northward and Tryphon is shocked. No one has ever seen a map showing the planet this far north. Well, no one Tryphon knows. He hadn’t realized how much bigger the world is than he originally thought. Then, he thought of Greenland again for the first time since the schism. “Halo, can you show me Greenland in relation to this map. How far away is it?”
“Of course,” Halo widens the projection and zooms the world out until the edge of Greenland appears on the map. A dotted line connects Halo’s Vault to the large island.
“Oh shit,” Tryphon stares in awe. “That’s so far away. There is no way to drive there in time.”
“No, you and your allies will have to fly,” Halo says. The AI brings up several flying vehicles that make Tryphon’s eyes bug out. “Most of these designs cannot be designed using the vault’s manufacturing co-op, as they require special parts, but there a handful that could be created.” Halo shifts to show several light-prop planes, as well as an advanced blimp design. “Unfortunately, any being that sees them will know they are unique. There are some options for vehicles that hover above the ground and travel at high-velocity, but they aren’t easy to pilot.”
“Fuck,” Tryphon swears again. “We’re going to have to consider bringing Kainan in sooner rather than later. He’s got a knack for piloting and repairing almost any sort of vehicle. Not right away, of course, but I’m going to need his help eventually, if we can’t find another alternative.”
“It’s not a good idea,” Halo insists.
“I know, I know!” Tryphon yells. “But we might not have a choice in the end. There is no way I can fly one of those thing, even with the protocols.”
“What about your friend Balfour?”
“Maybe, but I can’t guarantee he’ll know how it all works or how to figure it out.” Tryphon scrolls through dozens of the flying machines. “So many. . . Wait! What the hell are these things?”
“Missiles. Weapons that destroy by flying through the air and incinerating targets on contact.”
“Why do you still have these in the archives? Wasn’t it devices like these that destroyed the Ancients?”
“Only partially, and I can’t delete them. It goes against my programming. I can send them to the deep archives, if you think that’s best?”
“Do it, and send anything else highly destructive to these deep archives and firewall them away. You can do that, right?”
“Correct. Archive 1-110, begin data transfer. Confirm once complete.”
Tryphon watches as the missile plans disappear from the holographic projection. Halo remains silent for nearly ten minutes as he and the archival computer send the most dangerous weapon designs of the Ancients to the deep archives.
“Data transfer confirmed. Firewall established. AI security code required to access, as well as thumbprint of Tryphon.”
“It is done.”
“Well, that’s a relief. Not even Balfour should see that stuff.” Tryphon shivers at the thought of Raiden with such knowledge too.
“It is time.”
Tryphon knows that he can’t wait any longer. He looks at the map again and notes the distance between Halo’s Vault and Greenland. The number is beyond anything he’s ever considered before. He nods to Halo’s physical construct, which is little more than a robotic skeleton with multiple limbs. He heads out of the archive room and then heads for the service bay to wait for his ride to be finished. ‘I’m going to have to bring them all in soon than Halo will like’, he thinks. ‘Otherwise, we won’t have time to stop the asteroid’.