Almost done. Just one conclusion bit left to write after this.
â€œThis had better be good, Redhill.â€ Colonel Dillinger practically growled the statement as he strode into the research lab, still in the process of buttoning up his military jacket. â€œIt is very, very late at night.â€
â€œGood?â€ Redhillâ€™s answering laugh had a trace of hysteria to it. â€œInteresting choice of words. No, it is not good.â€ He gestured to the row of screens in front of him. Dillinger followed his gaze with a frown. â€œWeâ€™ve lost them.â€
â€œLost who? The cameras are workingâ€¦â€ Dillinger broke off abruptly, looking at the camera covering Kien Makâ€™s room, watched as the soldier went through the same pattern of breaths six times. â€œTheyâ€™re looped?â€
â€œGot it in one.â€ Redhill said with a shake of his head. â€œSomeone looped the cameras. I noticed because I was following Coleâ€™s progress, seeing if he was going to make it. He wasnâ€™t, incidentally. Started raving and talking to himself, staggering into the medlab far too late to do anything about itâ€¦ and then the whole system went haywire for about five minutes. We thought it was technical, and I started working on it, but... when it cleared, Cole was gone, Makâ€™s camera was looping, and most of our elites arenâ€™t in their bunks. I took the liberty of having Sergeant Hammer bring down the two we can still find, and sent a squad to Makâ€™s room while I waited for you, butâ€¦â€
â€œIt was a good decision.â€ Dillinger reassured him, thinking furiously. Behind him, he heard the door swishing open as Hammer arrived, on cue, with his two charges. Black and Jackson. Interesting. â€œEvery second counted in an emergency like this. Are there any other looping cameras?â€
â€œNo way to know without an in-depth study, if thereâ€™s no motion in them.â€ Redhill shrugged helplessly. Before he could say anything else, the labâ€™s comm system buzzed. Dillinger reached over, triggering it to the speakers.
â€œReport.â€ He said crisply.
â€œWeâ€™re on site, sir. Mak and Tate are present, and dead. Thereâ€™s a hole in the wall â€“ looks like someone really pounded someone else. No sign of Brooke or Cole.â€
Redhill swore. â€œI donâ€™t understand.â€
â€œI may.â€ Dillinger said thoughtfully. Could his master have decided on a champion already? He turned his attention back to the speaker, raising his voice. â€œSecure the perimeter, and evacuate the clerical staff. Then arrange patrols.â€
â€œYes, sir!â€ The soldiers ran from the room, leaving only Hammer, Arland, Cameron and ten guards. Minutes passed, along with reports of more damaged or destroyed passages. Dillinger started to look more and more impatient.
â€œWhere are they?â€ He growled. â€œI want them found!â€
Before anyone could respond, the far wall of the lab imploded. Chunks of masonry and shattered steel cascaded across the room as Jamie Cole was propelled into it. Rolling along the ground as he landed, he looked up and grinned mischeviously as he wiped blood from his forehead. â€œOh, hey. The gangâ€™s all here. Cool.â€
Stepping through the ruined hole she had made, Sarah Brooke glared at him, then glanced over. â€œSir. I caught Cole trying to cover the murders of two of our fellow officers. Iâ€™ve been trying toâ€¦â€
â€œOh, shove it, Sarah!â€ Jamie yelled. â€œItâ€™s too late for your games. Youâ€™re out of time.â€ He turned to Dillinger and saluted. â€œSir, I would like to report an epiphany.â€
For a moment, the entire room was still. Arland Black goggled at Jamie. â€œI didnâ€™t think you even knew that wordâ€¦â€ He mused.
â€œDidnâ€™t. Until a few minutes ago, when I received an honest-to-god divine intervention.â€ Jamie smirked. â€œProjectâ€™s over. Mission accomplished.â€
â€œWhat the hell are you talking about, Cole?â€ Sergeant Hammer was staring at Jamie with the same confusion as the rest of the staff. Quickly, Jamie glanced around the room. No one knew what he was talking aboutâ€¦ except for Dillinger, who was appraising him. And Sarahâ€™s furious expression could mean anything, really. How much had she figured out? With another shrug, he stalled for time.
â€œJust what I said. This whole project was a front. I think Iâ€™ve got it figured, now that Iâ€™m all divinely empowered and shit.â€ He said. â€œSee, back in the day, divine heroes were hot stuff. Way stronger, faster, smarter, whatever than normal folks. But then we got technology, and superheroes, andâ€¦ well, hell, every cityâ€™s got folks in it tougher than any godâ€™s champions.â€ He looked insolently over at Dillinger. â€œStop me when I stop making sense, sir.â€
â€œStop? You never started â€“â€ Arland Black began angrily. Dillinger waved him off.
â€œContinue.â€ He said.
â€œAlright. So you want to make a superhuman, then give them god powers. Way tougher than a normal superhuman, and able to take out whatever. And then you kill the leftover project members.â€ He gestured over to Arland and Cameron. â€œThatâ€™s you guys, by the way. Sucky position, but weâ€™ll work through it.â€ As they stared at him, he shrugged. â€œI miss anything?â€
â€œNot particularly.â€ Dillinger smiled triumphantly. â€œAnd how did you figure this out?â€
â€œI told you. Iâ€™m divinely empowered, now. How do you think I survived Sarahâ€™s little poisoning attempt â€“ and incidentally, not telling me about that? Low, sir.â€
â€œHang on a minute.â€ Arland took a deep, angry breath, and grabbed Dillinger by the collar. Behind him, apparently convinced by the way Dillinger hadnâ€™t even tried to refute the charges that they were expendable, Cameron had drawn his guns on the officers. â€œYou think youâ€™re going to toss us ahead? Weâ€™re loyal, man!â€
â€œEveryone hang on a minuteâ€¦â€ Jamie started.
â€œNo need. Weâ€™re done here.â€ Dillinger nodded his head minutely, and Arland suddenly spasmed, releasing the colonel as he collapsed to the ground. Beside him, the same happened to Cameron, and Sarah collapsed into the rubble with a choked-off cry of rage. Dillinger looked to Jamie, who was looking around in shock. â€œThe last test, Cole. Only actual divine empowerment could have removed the machines we attached to your brains.â€ He smiled grimly. â€œAs you said, these three are now a liability.â€
â€œHoly shit.â€ Jamie whispered. Around him, the soldiers were frozen, watching the unfolding drama. â€œThatâ€™s not cool, Colonel. Theyâ€™re your men! Turn it off!â€
â€œTurn it off?â€ Dillinger looked over at Doctor Redhill, who smirked back. â€œEven if I could do that, even if it werenâ€™t already too lateâ€¦ our lord was very specific. All failures have to die.â€
Jamie looked down at the ground, as Sarah shuddered and went still. When he spoke, his voice was strange. â€œYeah. Yeah, I see how that works. Because they could still be chosen, only by other gods.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Dillinger said suddenly, eyes narrowing.
â€œOh, but he didnâ€™t mention that to you, did he? That there were other options?â€ Jamie was trying to keep the anger out of his voice. â€œThat this fancy process you were making, anyone could hijack it if they found the right person. Because he didnâ€™t want you thinking there were others out there who were like him.â€ His smile looked more like a snarl than anything that had seen pleasure. â€œI never said it was Ares that chose me. Sir.â€
â€œGuards!â€ Dillinger shouted, backing away and drawing his gun. â€œTake him down!â€
The guards might not know what was happening, but they knew trouble. Two dozen guns rose simultaneously, drawing beads. Jamie was faster. As bullets began to rain down where he had been, he had already reached Dillinger. Leaning in, he added, â€œAnd one more thing. It was going to wait until everyone was out, but fuck it and fuck you.â€ He raised one hand, holding a remote detonator. â€œWhile Sarah and I were running back and forth across the complex fighting? I dropped bombs in the walls.â€
The explosions drowned out any reply that might have been made.