The Forgotten

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The Forgotten

Postby Miki Yamuri » Tue Jun 05, 2018 6:22 pm

The Forgotten

by Miki Yamuri and LilJennie

Scene: Deep in a steamy remote jungle area in another pointless war

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Tony cursed silently as he crept slowly through the thick overgrowth of this forgotten jungle. In his mind, he wondered just what it might have been that made this place such a hotspot.

He stopped and knelt behind a large banyan-like tree as he sipped on the tepid water in his canteen. Slowly, he looked around and took a keen eyed look at where he was. If he didn't have his compass, he knew he would be totally lost. Everywhere he looked was exactly the same as everywhere else.

Tony checked his 552 assault weapon to make sure it was clean and fully functional before standing up slowly and creeping forward one step at a time. After about 3 dozen steps, the ground suddenly wasn't there and he was falling head over heels into some kind of hole along with the rotten debris that had covered it.

He landed heavily with a thump. Tony lay there in a daze for a time before he was able to sit up and take stock of his new surroundings. Far above, he could see the shaft of light filtering in and lighting the area he had fallen into.

In the dim light, Tony could see many carvings in the stone all around him, complex work that depicted ... things that could only be described as super way beyond even current thinking. They looked like the circuit diagrams he remembered from electrical classes, but far more complex and using symbols he didn't recognize at all. The traceries couldn't possibly have been made with primitive stone working tools. And yet near them were carvings of faces and heads with monstrous features, much like those he'd seen at other ancient ruins in this area. But the ones on the surface weren't accompanied by these insanely complex traceries.

He wasn't sure how he was going to get back to the surface -- the stone walls were carved but also vertical, and he couldn't see much except for where the light from the hole fell, as he had, nearly straight down. Luckily it was the middle of the day -- there were still hours of daylight. At night this place would have been pitch black.

As his eyes began to adjust to the mostly-darkness, he suddenly realized that the stone walls stretched all the way up to the surface and were entirely covered with these carvings -- whatever they were. But suddenly he heard a sound, a scratching somewhere in the darkness.

He wasn't alone down here.

He froze, then slowly, quietly turned in the direction from which he thought he'd heard the sound, pointing his rifle in that direction. It wasn't a well or shaft that he'd fallen into, not entirely. There were openings in the stone walls, and as his eyes adjusted he could begin to see them. They were tunnels leading into blackness, and in that blackness could be a threat. He was here in this jungle for a reason, and that reason wasn't peaceful. The enemy could be down here just as easily as up there.

Tony crept slowly and carefully towards one of the openings he thought he had heard a sound. The closer he got to the tunnel carved perfectly in the stone, the darker it became as he got further from the place light entered.

Just as he crept up to the opening, a bright band of white light encircled the outline of the opening, lighting up the entire chamber bright as day. It was more than obvious now that this huge chamber had been a cathedral of some sort. He could see many places that looked like pedestals and others that looked like podiums with some sort of arched dome over the top.

He turned his head back to the opening. What he saw looked like a huge theater. A very large dark screen hung on the far wall amid several rows of benches apparently carved in the stone. Now that darkness wasn't an issue, he entered the room and looked around. Except for the large screen, the carved stone benches, and many years of collected debris and dirt, he saw nothing.

Tony walked over to the center most seat and sat down. He sort of had aches all over from the fall. He was very grateful for the body armor he wore even though the heat made it difficult.

He sat back to take a short break and assess the dilemma he found himself in. Without warning, something lowered over his head and rested on his shoulders. The screen in front of him lit up, massive waves of overwhelming sensations ran all through his body .... He knew things now he had never imagined in his wildest dreams.

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Tony opened his eyes. His body tingled all over rather intensely. The large filthy screen on the wall in front of him flickered momentarily, filled with static briefly, then a Human male face appeared. The video quality was rather poor and there were many places where wavy lines and static washed through the unstable video.

A voice spoke. Tony knew immediately it wasn't any language he or anyone he knew had ever heard before yet he understood it perfectly as It said sadly, "Greetings. I bring you news and technology from the past.” the picture pans out and the large cathedral room behind him was visible; "In this, The Hall of Knowledge, We have stored the grand sum total of all this world's knowledge.”

Tony was flabbergasted as he saw many items and strange devices he had no idea what were appear on the screen for a bit, before the face of the man returned.

The image continued, "To set the record straight right off, I am of this world, not some strange visitor from another world. Due to our inability to control ourselves and our greed .... We have set in motion devices that will utterly destroy the world as we know it.”

The picture changed and showed a large very beautiful futuristic to the point of fantasy city for a few minutes, then a huge blue white spark appeared in the very center of the place. A tremendous sphere of bright light flashed outward, then vanished. The image took a few seconds to clear. All that was left of the city, was a huge flattened totally destroyed garbage pile with tendrils of smoke curling up from the massive debris.

The image wavered and static filled the screen as the sound of white noise rose in pitch for an instant, before returning to the image of the man who was leaned over with his arms over his head as dust and debris filtered down around him, "I had hoped we were smart enough to realize we can't survive a war like this.” he sat up and took his arms from his head, "That strike was directly overhead, many miles above us. Please, do not let us be forgotten. I don't know how many years have passed. I do know this world will never be the same again ...”

This time, something went wrong with the screen as smoke and sparks began to fly. The man's face and voice came back just long enough to tell Tony how to activate the items in the next room, before the screen totally self destructed in a dazzling display of pyrotechnics and flames.

A small panel slid open next to his hand, and some sort of faceted crystal rose from it. Tony was totally shocked as he stared at the finely faceted crystal as it sofly pulsated with inner fire.

As the voice from the past had told him to, Tony reached towards the panel and its crystal, which glowed slightly as his hand neared it. He picked it up - or tried to. The moment he touched the crystal, it vanished. But Tony had a sensation that it was somehow still with him. The harness-like device lifted from his shoulders.

He rose from his seat and approached a part of the wall that appeared featureless, but the voice had told him this was the right place. He reached toward an area of the wall that didn't look special, but it glowed as his hand neared it, looking as if the vanished crystal was now beneath the surface. A circular outline appeared around the crystal, a white tracery that expanded outward until it was the size of the doorway he'd entered through. Then - a circular section of wall vanished. He walked through the opening.

In this room was a large circular counter around the far wall apparently carved from some sort of similar crystal as the first he had seen. The voice had told him to walk to this counter's middle and place both hands on top of it palm down, fingers splayed.

Tony placed his hands on the amazingly smooth surface palms down. He could feel the coolness of the crystal through his palms. Without warning, it felt as if something had grabbed him by his hands. He couldn't remove them from counter's now brightly glowing surface.

From this counter, along the many intricate traceries covering the entire chamber ran a bright yellow / green fluid like substance. It traced rapidly along each tracery causing it to glow and filling the large chamber with an even eerier light than before.

When this liquid light had completed its journey through all the carvings throughout the huge room, four lines of it came together exactly on one of the central pedestals. Another explosion of blue white light. This time, the face of a young woman appeared within the glowing cloud.

The figure spoke, "I am the Oracle of Knowledge. Ask your questions. If within my database the answer resides, I will give it to you. If not, I will seek to find it.”

Tony was absolutely mind blown by this time. Although he knew there were legends of temples from centuries past that seemed to contain some sort of mysterious being, he had never given any thought that they were more than that.

But what to ask? With all the fantastic knowledge that was probably at this entity's fingertips, most of it was probably beyond Tony's understanding. How about something that he could understand? "How long has it been since -- the war?”

"Unknown, as I have only just been reactivated. Seeking more information -- yes -- yes ...” The eyes in the young woman's face seemed to focus on a point in the far distance for several seconds. Then she continued, "From the positions of the planets and nearby stars, I compute that it has been 373,190 years since the war that ended the civilization that built this place.”

"Do you know -- what's going on now?” Tony asked. "There's a war going on up there right now. Not the same kind of thing that happened back then, of course ...”

"War has survived as well?” asked the Oracle of Knowledge. "A shame. But -- I detect -- yes, I see. The nation that has developed above ground has built a nuclear fission weapon. And you are separated from an expedition sent from another nation to destroy it. The destruction of weapons is an act of wisdom. But I detect that your nation has many such weapons, and nuclear fusion weapons as well. It is good that you have not yet developed the weapons that come beyond them. I suggest you do not ask me about them.”

Tony asked, "Why not?”

"If your people build them, chances are high that your civilization will suffer the fate of the builders of this place, which was far more advanced and yet destroyed itself nonetheless. It is best that you know nothing of them.”

"But if I asked you, you would have to tell me?”

The Oracle reluctantly answered, "Yes.”

Tony paused. He mentally reeled. He had the power to destroy the world in his hands. To rule it, as well, but in this case they were one and the same. Being the king of a burned-out husk of a planet seemed pointless.

Maybe another line of inquiry might be better at the moment. "Do you know if any of the enemy know of this place?”

The face responded, "By ‘the enemy,' I assume you mean your enemy, the nation that has developed above this location. No. There are some among the native peoples of this region who have discovered this place, but they have wisely remained silent.”

"I see. Is there a source of freshwater down here?”

"There is not. However, if I might guide your inquiry, you might ask about a device which can extract water from humid air using only minimal energy.”

"I would be fascinated to learn about such a device.”

"Excellent,” said the Oracle. "Here is information about how to construct such a thing. Please visit the fabricator to create it.”

Tony suddenly had a complex schematic in his thoughts. There was also an image of a wall panel in his mind, and he saw exactly such a panel in this room, not far away. He went to it, and again the image of the crystal appeared behind it until he touched it, and suddenly it activated, opening up a spherical chamber about the size of a soccer ball next to the panel. He somehow knew that he should think about the schematic while touching the panel, which he did. The chamber glowed, and white beams focused from many directions upon a point at the center of the chamber, where something began to take shape. When the lights and beams subsided, there was a small silvery disc floating in the air. He reached in to take it.

He squeezed it lightly, which he somehow knew would activate it. It suddenly grew very cold, and water from the air began to condense on its surface, dripping to the floor. He squeezed it again, and its temperature began to equalize with the room's.

"Amazing,” he said to himself. "I think ... yes.” He opened his canteen, set it on the floor, and set the device edgewise across the opening, squeezing it to activate it again. It began to drip condensed water from the humid air into the canteen. "OK. Maybe I won't die down here after all.”

"Unable to detect a question,” the Oracle said.

"Is there a way back to the surface?” he asked it.

"Traversable passageways to what is now the surface do not exist,” repled the Oracle. "There is, however, another device which can be fabricated that would permit vertical mobility.”

After constructing this device, which was a coiled strip that appeared to wrap around his waist, he asked, "All right, now that the basic questions of my immediate survival are dealt with ... what's the most efficient way to neutralize a fission weapon?”

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The Oracle looked directly at Tony with a wry smile, "Not make them would be my best advice.” It cut its eyes from one side of the cloud to the other before continuing, "A fissionable material can actually be transmuted to other forms that aren't fissile.”

Several of those liquid light traceries ran down a far wall and across the floor to another pedestal. A flash of light, and this time something appeared that looked like the screen he had seen earlier, the one that had shorted out. This one was different, though. It appeared to be made of some form of solid light.

The screen glimmered for an instant, then something that looked like a video manual began to slowly flip through its pages. Tony was totally floored when he realized this device actually transmuted uranium either to lead or from there to gold. If the fuel that fires the reaction is no longer a fissionable material, there is no bomb.

Suddenly, the screen changed its orientation and lay on its back ... then shrank to something the size of a notebook. Tony picked it up and looked. Across its face were the same detailed plans for the device. It was more than obvious how to make it flip through pages. Tony started messing with what he perceived as the device's controls and was discovering how to get it to display particular pages on demand.

The Oracle said softly, "Care must be taken when using that device. It is theoretically possible to transmute all nuclear items to non-nuclear if one isn't careful.”

"Or non-radioisotopes to radioisotopes?” Tony asked.

"I am forced to answer truthfully,” said the Oracle. "Yes. Although there are safety interlocks to prevent this from happening accidentally, they can be circumvented.”

"I don't want it happening either,” said Tony, "but I'm concerned if this device falls into the wrong hands.”

"As am I,” said the Oracle. "But ... you have a task to complete.”

"Let's talk about a few safeguards ...” Tony began.

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Tony slowly stepped forward from the tree branch he'd been standing on and drifted forward toward the next tree. As it approached he readied himself, then grabbed hold of a vine with one hand and a thick branch with the other, stopping himself. He could see where he was going from this height, and with any luck at all nobody could see him. Although he was using the Oracle's antigravity device to float through the air, he wasn't fully above the trees, so there was still a lot of greenery obscuring him from aerial view, and he wasn't approaching on the ground, so any patrols down there wouldn't see him. He wasn't moving quickly and making lots of noise. There was no way the enemy would spot him. Or so he hoped.

He was more worried about remaining unseen once he reached the research base where the nuclear experimentation was going on, according to all intelligence reports. It was coming into view in the misty distance now -- its entrance was surrounded on three sides by tall fence and by a mountain face on the fourth. There were no trees within the fenced-in perimeter. It would be dark soon, but there were bright lights everywhere. Naturally the lab was underground -- where else would they be able to perform nuclear test blasts?

The Oracle had said that the device would have to be within "about 50 of what you call meters” in order to transmute the radioisotopes into inert matter. Tony was going to have to infiltrate the facility somehow. But how? As he slowly approached the base he thought about what he would do once he got there.

He slowly approached the outer fence, then froze. He saw the security camera before it saw him. He looked around slowly. He noticed a rather large culvert drain pipe with a metal cover on it. He smiled. He removed a large tube of thermite gel from his belt. After carefully removing the top to the tube, he made a thick line of it in an arch across the grate. A quick strike with his knife started it fizzing. Like a fuse, it ran around the line he had made. He kicked a large arched slab of the grate loose. It fell with a heavy metalic clanking thump.

Tony froze. Between the smoke and the sound, he feared he might have been heard. Seconds dragged into long minutes as Tony listened to see if anyone had been alerted. Only the same activities going on before he cut the grate.

Slowly, Tony inched his way through the pipe until it came out on the other side of the electric fence. To his amazement, he saw a technician standing by a door that had been blocked open with a small barrel of one kind or another.

Tony smiled as he crept forward and took the tech down silently. He stashed the body in the culvert before entering the door and the side entrance to the lab.

The hallways were lined with concrete, very acoustically live. He could hear footsteps from far away, but so could they. But ... he set the anti-gravity belt to a very low setting and took one step, drifting through the air down the hallway without touching the floor until just before he reached an intersection, when he turned it off and landed on both feet as quietly as he could. Whatever that had sounded like, he hoped it wasn't too much like footsteps.

There were corridors to the left and right, and this one continued ahead, but there was also a shaft going down with metal ladders on the sides. He'd memorized the partial map that earlier recon missions had been able to provide, but it hadn't included the side entrance that he'd entered through. Tony had a few guesses about where he currently was, but he wasn't sure. However, he didn't like the fact that he hadn't seen any guards or cameras yet. Why were these hallways deserted and featureless? Were they built for future expansion?

He decided to go down. Again he used the anti-gravity device, to prevent tiring himself out and because it was absolutely silent. It got darker as he went; apparently they were saving money on lighting by keeping it sparse in this shaft. He stopped and grabbed hold of a ladder when he came to another intersection. Still nobody. Why was ...?

He then thought of a perfectly good reason why this section of the facility would be empty. This was where a nuclear test would be held. They would set off a device and see what effect it would have on these concrete tunnels, in order to gauge the effect it would have on similar constructions at a target location. And the reason why it wasn't patrolled right now ... would be that such a test was about to happen.

As if on cue, the lights turned red, and an alarm echoed through the hallways. Tony didn't know how long he had, but he wasn't sure there was time to get out. There was another option -- but it involved finding the nuclear device before the test. He opened his backpack and took out the notebook-like screen the Oracle had given him.

The Oracle had told him how to scan for high concentrations of particular isotopes; its scan function had a considerably larger range than its transmutation function. He set it for uranium 235 and found some, but his training had told him that it wasn't a large enough quantity. He tried plutonium 239 and found ... a lot of it. There was a nearby highly concentrated quantity of it, which had to be the device. But it was too far away for the transmuter. So he let go of the ladder and controlled the anti-gravity belt.

Down he went, and the scanner said he was getting closer ... but now he had to cross another intersection. Was it also unmonitored? He couldn't imagine there would be any guards closer to the bomb, if there weren't any farther away, but were there any cameras? He decided not to waste any time being stealthy. The scanner said he was now level with the plutonium. But which way was it? He grabbed a ladder and pulled himself toward it -- no, it was the wrong direction! He kicked away from the ladder toward the opposite side of the shaft, and the scanner said he was almost in range.

The corridor on the other side got darker still, except for the flashing red lights. He pushed off the ladder into the tunnel, then turned the anti-gravity off so he could run. Tony momentarily wondered why he was so certain that running toward a nuclear bomb was a good idea. Finally he reached a metal grating. Beyond it he could see a large round chamber; there was a device in the center. The scanner said he was almost in range. He pressed the notebook-like screen against the grating in desperation.

The display suddenly changed. "Transmutation ready,” it said, in the ancient language that somehow he now knew how to read. He would wonder about that later. He activated the transmutation function -- and saw the plutonium disappear from the scanner. The bomb now contained a mixture of other elements, none of them fissile, though many still radioactive.

But there was still a problem, and Tony knew it. He ran back down the tunnel away from the grating, jumped into the air, and turned on the anti-gravity belt, rising quickly out of the direct line of sight of the bomb. Down in the tunnels below there was a large explosion -- not a nuclear one, but the bomb still contained a lot of conventional explosives designed to propel the fissile material together to spark the nuclear reaction. The explosives ripped apart the container and spread the mixture of radioisotopes into the air, and Tony wanted to get as far away from there as fast as he could before he breathed something he'd regret later.

Tony scrambled as fast as he could to remove himself from area of over splash of the explosion. He began to sweat as the temperature within the tunnel began to rise. He found another door and managed to pry it open. Within the small room was a red and yellow area all painted. He ran to the ladder and began to climb. Tony adjusted the anti-grave device and floated up the shaft. The shaft took him to another grate at the top of what would have proven to be a very long climb.

The electronic lock on the outer side buzzed loudly, then seemingly destroyed itself in a small shower of sparks and fire. Tony realized with a moment of understanding, the anti-grav device also nullified other types of magnetic fields. Or caused some type of feedback loop that burned out the lock.

Tony really was grateful it happened. He had no idea at this point how he was going to open a locked grate. He pushed the heavy grate open and looked carefully around. Apparently no one was very interested in this particular exit -- or perhaps they were distracted by the results of their nuclear test. He floated carefully out and lessened his physical weight. This allowed him to run faster and jump farther. The high barbed wire fence he came to was an easy challenge as he cleared it with feet to spare. He caught a tree branch and adjusted the altitude limiter to treetop height as before, leaping from one tree to another in the direction of the ancient cavern's entrance.

If he hadn't memorized the location, he'd never have found it again; it was completely covered with underbrush and invisible from above. Lowering himself back down via the anti-grav belt, he landed softly and silently at the bottom of the shaft, then made his way back to the Oracle's room.

"I noticed that you neutralized the nuclear device just in time,” the Oracle said. "Scan data indicates that they do not currently have sufficient fissile material on site to construct another.”

"Well, I don't know how much they have elsewhere,” said Tony, "but that'll slow them down for now as they try to figure out what happened. I don't think I was spotted.”

"It appears that the world's current level of technology does not support transmutation on this scale,” the Oracle said. "The failure of the device will likely confuse their scientists for some time.”

"Well ... that means I've accomplished my mission -- with your help,” Tony said. "Tensions between this nation and others won't escalate, for now. But ... then there's the matter of this site. How do we prevent others from finding out about it? Let's say ... irresponsible people. Those who would use your knowledge for destabilizing purposes?”

"I can design an improved surface entrance,” said the Oracle. "With your assistance, it can be installed at ground level, covering the opening and giving me the ability to be selective about the visitors I admit.”

"OK, I'll help with that,” said Tony. "What about ... some kind of robots? Remote-controlled drones for doing work?”

"If you will help me fabricate one, I can use it to help me fabricate more,” said the Oracle. "Then I can return this facility to a much improved state of repair.”

"Yeah, I think one of your screens kind of exploded in the other room,” Tony said. "I'll help with that too.”

So it was that there was soon a repair crew consisting of a few dozen anti-grav drones with multi-tool arms busily drifting around the underground complex, fabricating parts and repairing everything. Tony had only had to help with the first one. He watched as they installed the new entrance door up at the surface -- nobody else would be falling down the hole, at least not unless the Oracle deliberately allowed it to happen. The drones had many access panels open, simultaneously fixing underlying equipment that Tony had no hope of recognizing or understanding at this point.

He had nothing to do while this was taking place other than talk to the Oracle. "What will you do, once all your systems are back in shape?”

"I will continue my primary function,” said the floating holographic face. "I will continue to preserve my creators' history and final messages.” It paused for a moment, then asked him a question. "What will you do, now that your mission is accomplished?”

"A good question,” Tony said. "My unit got separated in the jungle. They probably think I'm dead. Some of the others probably are. We were supposed to meet at the rendezvous point, but nobody was there. If any of them got captured ... I've gotta rescue them. But ... how do I do that without revealing your existence?”

"It matters to you, then, to keep my existence a secret, even from your own nation?”

"Well, it kind of has to,” Tony said, thinking this through. "I'm sure you're not gonna let me go quietly unless you're reasonably sure I won't tell the world about you. By the way ... I'm absolutely sure that would be a terrible idea. As much as I know that historians, archaeologists, chemists, physicists, and engineers would go into an absolute frenzy if they discovered this place, we're not ready. You'd agree, I'm sure. You've seen how we handle nuclear technology. Our world can barely keep from destroying itself as it is. I can only imagine what it'd be like if we managed to weaponize this level of stuff. I don't want my nation, or any nation, to blow up the world. Again.”

"You are uncharacteristically wise for a soldier,” the Oracle said.

"I'm just thinking realistically. I love my nation, but we've got a democracy. The guys in charge right now aren't the wisest people ever -- and there's always the chance that in the future, people will elect someone even worse.”

"Ah, democracy, the worst form of government, except for all the other ones,” the Oracle commented.

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Tony began to watch one of the educational files the Oracle had in its vast database. The more he watched, the more he realized the people from so far in the past, were not much different than him. He also wished he could bring some small part of this tech back to his people, if only they wouldn't just find a way to turn it into a weapon.

Tony asked, "Is there some type of device that maybe could help us solve some of our food production issues?”

The lovely young face within the glowing cloud smiled and said, " There most certainly is.”

With this, another of those finely faceted crystals appeared from the arm of the seat Tony was in. This one glowed brightly in a candy-stripe swirl of blues and reds.

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In what the present scientists and national leaders thought was a secret installation, a major investigation was underway.

"But Overmeister,” complained one of the many scientists present as he slid a thick binder over, "those results show everything was perfect up until 56 seconds before detonation.”

Another scientist came to the table, opened the binder to a particular page, and picked up the briefing from there. "From what these readings show, the fissionable core suddenly changed consistency, weight, and even physical properties.”

The Overmeister picked up the thick volume and adjusted his glasses. He looked over the figures and the many photos. Next, he looked over the post-test data, and his eyes opened wide. He wasn't a physicist by any means -- however, he knew that matter, even a fissile material, doesn't just change character like that. He also noticed the strange anomalous energy reading that none could identify or had ever seen before. Theory didn't predict any such waves. "What is your explanation for this?” he asked. He was a short man who was losing his hair and thus always wore a traditional hat, similar to what they might call a newsboy cap in other countries. "Your fission reaction did something that no fission reaction can do. Unless there was sabotage by spies!” He turned to the general in charge of security.

"Sir!” the general said. "We captured two enemy agents, as you know. But we've discovered nothing new from them since my previous report. They will reveal nothing but their names, ranks, and ID numbers. If there were more agents, they left no evidence of their existence. No one accessed the reaction chamber before the test, or there would have been security alarms. And I do not see how anyone could have sabotaged the test without accessing the chamber.”

"Go over the security logs again,” said the Overmeister, "and do not forget to examine the logs from the days leading up to the test. They could have sabotaged the device before it was ever placed in the chamber. Never forget that we face ruthless enemies who would stop at nothing to destroy our great nation!”

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"Is ... is there a way that I can rescue my fellow agents without their knowing that it was me?” asked Tony.

"There are multiple strategies for accomplishing this,” the Oracle replied. "They range from disguise, stealth, and misdirection to remote-controlled drones.”

"I've been thinking,” Tony said. "I don't want anyone to know I'm still alive. If they knew, they'd ask why. Something would get out about this place, about you. What happened to your people -- I don't want it happening to my country.”

The pretty face of the Oracle smiled. "I can totally erase all record that you ever existed, if you wish,” she suggested.

Tony's eyes got large in surprise, "Umm ... I don't really want to go that far.” He was not ready for that. Sure, he had no living family, which was one reason why the black-ops agency that he worked for had chosen him for this mission, but he had friends. Besides, he didn't know the limits of this machine's technology -- he couldn't be sure that it didn't actually have the power to alter the past, not just records of the past as he had initially assumed.

The Oracle replied, "That's fine. It will appear as if you were killed in the initial assault that resulted in the capture of two of your companions and the deaths of the rest.” The Oracle's cloud shifted as several more of those liquid traceries shot across the floor to another pedestal and converged once again. Several things happened at one time. The entire structure seemed to vibrate for an instant as Tony felt tremors beneath his feet. "I have provided for a simulated corpse that will be identified as yours. Patrols from the military base will eventually find it. As far as anyone is concerned, you were killed in the initial action.” There was a flash of light, and an opaline black device that looked like a watch appeared on the pedestal. "I would also like you to wear that. It will aid you in your journeys and allow you to return here anytime you choose.”

"Oh ... OK,” said Tony, picking up the device. It was flexible, like a watch band with no watch. He placed it on his wrist, and its ends joined together and pulled themselves snugly taut. It was like having a rubber band around his wrist -- he could get a finger under it if he tried -- but it didn't try to pull any tighter.

"Now, if you are seen, they will see someone else,” the Oracle said. "Among other things, this device is a holographic emitter. Please select an appearance by tapping the band.” A nearby screen lit up, showing an image of Tony like a mirror.

Tony tapped the band, and suddenly instead of himself he saw a local man, a villager, dressed in the native clothing of the area. He moved whenever Tony did. He tapped again, and the image changed to that of a woman, although a tall one, again dressed like natives of the region. He tapped a few more times and got several other plausible appearances, finally settling on another native-looking man. "All right, that's amazing. But this one will do fine.”

"Very well. Image selection saved,” said the Oracle. "There is also a stealth mode.” Tony was astonished to see himself completely vanish from the screen. "Deactivating stealth mode.” He saw the nondescript villager's image reappear.

Small quadrupedal robots scurried up to him carrying other objects -- a black carrying pouch and a clear wraparound visor. He picked up the pouch and put it on, and the villager in the image seemingly picked up a messenger bag that anyone might have. He put the visor over his eyes, and the villager appeared to have put on a pair of glasses. But the visor suddenly activated, and he could now see information displays overlaid upon his vision -- currently it showed the time of day in modern hours and minutes as well as the compass direction in which he was facing.



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A small squad of heavily armed men crept through the dense foliage. Their orders were to insure no other infiltrators had managed to get by security. One of the men came over to the edge of a small gully. In the bottom of the gully lay a body of a soldier. It had on body armor, but the mangled corpse looked as if it had been shot multiple times with a heavy automatic weapon.

The man standing on the edge of the gully called back, "Hey, Sarge, I think I found one. He didn't get too far past the outer perimeter before the autoguns got him.”

A large muscular man with an equally large MG came up beside the first man and said, "I just got word from the Captain. According to internal security, they found a culvert with the grate cut and the missing technician's body hidden inside. Normally that place would have been overlooked except for the animals that had gathered to eat the corpse.”

The first man looked down at the mangled body, "You think he managed to get into the test facility?”

The sergeant looked at the body one more time. "He might have gotten into the compound, but there's no way into the facility without proper credentials and biometric compatibilities.”

The first man shrugged then jumped into the shallow gully. "Let's secure this mess and take back what we can. I'm sure the Obermeister will want to examine this himself.”

Several of the squad slid into the gully and began to gather up the remains and put it into a body bag. If they had found someone alive out here who wasn't supposed to be, they would have killed him for precautionary reasons.

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Tony watched this with mixed emotions. Sure enough, that body did look like him. If they IDed him, they'd probably notify his own country just to try to worsen the diplomatic incident they'd all known this would cause. But they had two of his comrades in lockup somewhere, and he had to find out where. "Activate stealth mode,” he said into the wristband, then lowered himself down from the tree branch with the anti-grav belt. He'd learned from practice how to bring himself softly to the ground without making noise -- nothing he carried made him bulletproof.

"West Patrol reporting in,” said the sergeant into his radio. "Found a body of a probable enemy infiltrator. Returning to base.”

"Roger that, West Patrol,” said a voice from his radio.

"Back to base,” were the sergeant's orders, and the troop took off heading south of east, heading of 96 degrees, according to Tony's visor. He followed about 20 meters behind, moving as silently as he'd been trained to. These guys weren't from the test site -- but he knew there was a military base of some kind to the east somewhere. That was probably where they'd taken his companions.

Tony slipped through the base's security like a shadow. None of the men he followed had a clue he was anywhere around. After they entered the base, the men carried the "body” into a large room and laid it on an exam table.

A man in a bloodstained smock came from an office and said, "You guys must have been busy.” He unzipped the bag and looked in. His eyes grew large as he saw the mangled remains, "This body looks like it was caught in a cuisinart.”

The sergeant laughed. "No, I think the outer perimeter autoguns got him.”

The man in the smock shook his head as he removed the body from the bag for autopsy.

The sergeant turned and said to the rest of his men, "I think it's time to interrogate our prisoners. You two, come with me ... the rest of you report to Gunny for further duties.”

Tony followed the sergeant and the two men deeper into the base. Tony realized as they entered a reinforced lift that most of the base was underground. That made things more difficult ... but not much more.

Tony stood in a corner of the lift as it descended, then stopped. His visor showed him a map of the base that was updating as he went. The sergeant and his two men got out and went left; Tony exited the lift right after them, gave them some time, then followed. They were walking down a corridor that was clearly full of holding cells; there were doors on both sides with shuttered windows in them, all closed. The sergeant stopped in front of one door, and the two others took up positions flanking him as he took out keys and unlocked it.

"Good morning, gentlemen,” the sergeant said to whomever was in the cell. Tony wasn't sure yet that it was his two companions -- perhaps these were other prisoners, or perhaps only one of them was in the cell. He edged down the hallway, standing right behind the two guards that had followed the sergeant -- they were facing the door -- and glanced into the cell. Yes, he recognized both of his fellow agents.

Tony knew if he took out the three men, getting his companions from the cell would be a snap ... the problem was how to explain how he was invisible, and not dead. Nope, Tony decided, best way would be to divide and conquer.

Tony looked around. He could hear the sergeant beginning to get a bit rough with one of his companions -- Henderson, from the sound of it. That wouldn't do. Guess divide and conquer was out. Tony crept in totally cloaked and came up to the burly man who had just knocked Henderson down.

Tony tapped the sergeant on the shoulder. The huge man turned with an angry scowl on his face, before it turned to wide eyed surprise. The man looked to both sides in total amazement; the only people in sight were his two men, one near the door, the other to his far right in the cell guarding the other prisoner.

Tony said, loud enough that only the sergeant could hear, "This is a Guardian Angel. Didn't anyone ever teach you how bad it is to strike another?” And then he sucker punched the muscled man square in the face with the butt of the weapon the huge man carried. As soon as Tony hit the sergeant, Tony allowed the force of the blow to carry the weapon off, and it clattered to the ground amid a splatter of blood from the man's broken nose. The large man crumpled to the ground in a heap.

The other two men snapped their weapons to the ready. Their hard combat faces broke into expressions of wonder.

"Hey, Sam ... do you see anything ... you know, out of the ordinary?”

The other man nodded his head slowly as he replied with a strange tone in his voice, "Yea, man ... I do. I see one of the nastiest commandos I ever seen, lyin' on the floor with a broken nose that he apparently gave himself.”

"Good,” replied the other man as he began taking tentative steps towards the sergeant, and the prisoner lying sprawled on the floor next him. The man slowly crept up to the large prostrate sargent and knelt. "Lie easy Sarge ... if you can hear me. I know you didn't do that to yourself.” He patted the big man on his shoulder.

While the soldier was distracted, Tony, swiftly and silent as any ghost, came up to him and basically kicked him in the head with all his might. This was, after all, war.

The soldier flipped over backwards, his weapon flying off to the other side of the cell. The other prisoner, McKendrick, stood up and backed up to the far wall. The remaining soldier turned and leveled his weapon at McKendrick.

Tony wasn't going to take any chances as he dashed up, took the weapon by its barrel, and lifted as he punched the soldier in his face with all his might with the other hand. Tony felt the weight of the weapon as the soldier went limp and crumpled into a heap. Tony dropped the weapon and looked over. McKendrick stood with obvious awe written all over his face.

Tony wanted very badly to reveal himself, tell his comrades in arms what to do now, or explain the layout of the base to them, but he knew he couldn't. He'd have to let them figure it out for themselves. But he could still help.

"You OK?” McKendrick asked Henderson, who was getting up off the floor, his lip cut and bleeding.

"Yeah ... what happened?” Henderson asked. "That big guy was kicking me, and then ... it stopped. And there was fighting, I guess?”

"I ... have no idea,” McKendrick said. "But the time to figure it out is later. This is our chance.” He was picking up one of the soldiers' rifles, slinging it over his back, and searching the sergeant for keys to their leg chains. He found them and unlocked his ankle, then tossed the key ring to Henderson, who had picked up another rifle.

Tony was keeping watch in the hallway in case any guards showed up. None appeared before his two companions dragged the remaining soldier into the cell, locked all three of the enemy inside, and closed the shutter over the window. "Sweet dreams,” said Henderson. "Now how do we get outta here?”

Tony had already called the lift and was holding the door open for them. He just hoped they went the right way. Then the elevator started making a beeping noise because he'd been holding the door open too long.

"What's that?” McKendrick asked and carefully edged down the hallway and peered around the corner to see the elevator door open. "Elevator's on the fritz, I guess? Whatever, as long as it kinda works it's our way out.”

"Yeah, be careful though,” said Henderson. He ran out in front of the elevator, gun at the ready in case there were any enemies inside, but he saw only an empty elevator car.

Both men quickly got in and saw a button already pressed, the button for the ground floor. Tony hoped they didn't second-guess their luck. "I dunno, Henderson,” said McKendrick, "I kinda think somebody's lookin' out for us.” The door closed, and the lift began to rise.

"Guardian angel or something, you mean?”

"Something like that.” The lift opened, and Tony got out first, swiftly and silently moving ahead down the hallway.

A guard was stationed in a position to see them as they came around the corner, but before he could do or say anything, Tony simply shoved his head hard into a nearby concrete wall. The guard crumpled. Tony's visor showed him a map of the part of the base he'd seen and the location of every guard who had been posted on the way in. It also showed him where security cameras were, and he had some interesting gadgets in his carry-all.

"Sleeping on the job?” whispered Henderson to McKendrick when they found the guard.

"Somehow doubt it,” McKendrick whispered back, as Tony stood on a desk and stuck a translucent disc onto the lens of a camera. It would hide them from view, showing nothing but the walls and floors to whomever was watching on the other end.

Henderson looked around another corner and saw a guard coming, sliding back behind the wall and gesturing to McKendrick. As soon as the guard turned the corner, there was Henderson, grabbing the man's head and introducing it to his kneecap with considerable force. He relieved the guard of some his extra ammo and tossed one clip to McKendrick.

Tony knew this next part would be the worst: getting out. Not only was the entrance guarded inside, it was guarded outside as well, and the exterior guards couldn't be seen from within. And there were cameras. Henderson had already taken a few glimpses and was describing them in hushed tones. "I see two guys by the door, and at least one more on patrol,” he said. "Don't know how many are outside, but we'll have to get by them too.”

"Yeah, and as soon as the door opens they'll know something's up,” said McKendrick, which gave Tony an idea. After putting the image discs on the security cameras, he pressed the button that opened the interior door, then quickly moved into the vestibule and pressed the button for the exterior door, then came back inside before there was a reaction.

"Huh?” the guards said to one another. "What's ... hey, anyone there?”

The outside guards were similarly confused. "Hey!” one of them shouted into the entrance. "What are you doing in there? Don't mess with the doors!”

"We didn't do anything!” shouted the guards inside.

"Oh great, the doors are messed up again,” said a guard outside. The doors started closing.



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Tony came up the small incline until he had a clear view of the other two guards. Considering they wouldn't see him, this was going to be easy. Tony adjusted the antigrav unit and lessened his physical weight. This actually afforded him more usable strength and speed. Tony had started to feel comfortable with his new toy as he came to the top of the incline and jumped. His reduced weight allowed him to launch himself. He flipped over behind the first guard, raked his legs from under him, and in the same fluid motion knocked the guard out.

Tony rolled and sprang like a cat. Again he launched in a flip. This time, however, the other guard had already drawn his sidearm and stood. This caused Tony to land directly on top of him, knocking the pistol out of the guard's hand. It rattled down the incline. Quick as a striking cobra, Tony had hit the Guard several times with his elbow before springing up and giving his head a hard kick. The guard went totally limp.

Tony could hear McKendrick's shaky voice as he said softly, "Man, this is getting to be really weird. How can a pistol just sort of fall out of the sky and no one there?”

Henderson replied in the same tone of voice, "I don't know, man ... All I can say is not to question it until we are far from here.”

"Well there are probably guards outside, and ...” began McKendrick, but then the doors opened again -- first the interior ones, then the exterior ones.

"OK, that's it,” said one of the exterior guards, coming inside, "I'm calling the repair crew ...” He stopped when he saw an unconscious guard on the floor. "Sound the al-” That was when Tony pushed the guard's helmet down over his face and wrapped his forearm around the guard's neck. He struggled, then went limp.

"What --?” said other guards, coming into the doorway from outside, and that was when McKendrick and Henderson opened fire. Tony hit the floor, but a bullet grazed his shoulder, and he felt a dagger of pain. His stealth mode faltered for just an instant. The rest of the bullets passed above him as he lay there, and when they'd stopped and he looked again, the rest of the guards were unconscious, dead or dying. Tony got up and ran out the door, looking for other guards or cameras, saw a camera, and placed another disc on its lens, but didn't see any other guards.

Reaching into his carry-all, Tony took out a first-aid kit that the Oracle had given him -- a small square of some sort of advanced biomaterial was all it took, and the kit had several of them. He reached through the hole that had been torn in his clothes, pressed the material against his bleeding skin, and suddenly the pain and bleeding stopped. He'd look at it later.

From a point a few feet above the ground, Tony watched his comrades leave the base and carefully approach the perimeter fence. There was a guard post, but Tony was able to disable the guard -- somehow they hadn't thought to lock the door, which was inside the fence. Henderson and McKendrick looked at each other, mystified, when they saw the unconscious guard slumped over inside the post, but they just turned and quickly ran into the cover of the jungle.

Tony followed. He knew they had traps, including autoguns of the sort that had supposedly "killed” him. His visor showed him where they were, and the Oracle's bag of tricks included scramblers that would disable the autoguns for around an hour, then dissolve into dust that would then in turn dissolve into the air, like the camera lens discs. Tony continued to play guardian angel for his friends until they were well out of danger.

They finally stopped and rested. "We're gonna make it, aren't we?” asked Henderson.

"Not gonna make any predictions,” McKendrick replied, "but it sure looks like it. Somebody's watching over us. I don't know who, and I don't know how.”

"Just for a second, back there,” said Henderson, "I thought I saw ... Tony. Thought he didn't make it. Maybe he did ... or maybe he didn't. But I think maybe he's somehow looking after us.”

"Look, I don't know anymore,” said McKendrick. "It's a crazy world. But we're at the checkpoint. There's a beach 50 yards past those trees. The sub's supposed to pick us up at nightfall. That was the plan. And somehow we're here. Whoever's been takin' care of us ... thanks, buddy. We owe you one.”

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Within the next couple of hours, a major investigation was underway at the nuclear test facility and it's secret underground military installation Several bodies and ever weirder accounts of some strange spirit or force that came through some of the most highly trained troops on the planet as if they were toy soldiers.

None of the security cameras, and there were many, showed anything out of the ordinary except for one experimental camera that had been hidden in a recess high on a wall. It was a different type of night vision camera the techs had been testing. What it showed was several of the guards suddenly appearing as if they beat themselves up -- and what was more, in places where other cameras should have seen this going on, except that the conventional ones had recorded nothing but the walls, floors, and furniture at those times. The technicians had gone over them carefully, but they appeared to be in perfect working order.

All of the many garrison guards told fairly much the same tale. Out of nowhere some sort of force was just ... there, and that was mostly the last thing any of them remembered until they woke up. The guards at the entrance, both inside and outside, agreed that the doors had been on the fritz, opening and closing for no visible reason, even though they were locked electronically.

"Locked?” the Overmeister blustered. "Obviously they were not, then!”

"Well, no, Your Excellency,” said one of the technicians, named Lin, "it's not the only possibly conclusion. They open easily from inside --”

"Clearly they were malfunctioning!” said the Overmeister. "Have the locks replaced immediately!”

"Err, yes, Your Excellency,” said Lin. "A very good idea.”

"Now, this all happened right after Sergeant Sho brought in the enemy corpse he found in the jungle, yes?”

"That is correct, according to the chronology, Your Excellency,” said a general. "None of the unusual events took place before that, at any rate.”

"Obviously something came in with that corpse, then!” the Overmeister shouted. "The ghost of that enemy spy! We must exorcise the base immediately!”

"But Your Excellency, there's no such thing as --” Lin began.

"Immediately!” repeated the Overmeister as he banged his fist on a table with force.

"Uh, yes, right away, Your Excellency,” said Lin sullenly. He left the room and consulted the data network to try to find any kind of exorcist, psychic, or spirit medium in the vicinity.

"Astrologers ... palm readers ... tea leaves ... I Ching coins ...” Lin muttered to himself as he read his phone screen. "It doesn't matter, anyway. No such thing as ghosts, so whoever we get will be equally successful ...”

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Tony arrived back at the hidden underground Oracle Facility. The interior of the place had changed drastically since he had fallen into it. It now looked like a super advanced electronic facility of some sort. He sat at the table in what was obviously a high level dining room and sipped on some of the most delicious coffee he had ever tasted. He knew for a fact that his "death” had been reported. He also knew he had access to an awesome array of things he could use to make this world a better place.

He sat back and tapped in the now familiar code so he could view another of the history videos the Oracle had so many of. It totally amazed Him that his own people could have advanced so far technologically, yet remained so far behind socially. He made a face as he nodded his head slowly, and that self same attitude is what's caused the war they are now in.

An Oracle sphere appeared with the face of the pretty young woman within. It looked at Tony and asked softly, "What is your question that so diligently you search the old archives?”

Tony thoughtfully took a sip of the delicious coffee as he thought it over, "Would it be ... you know ... possible for me to have something constructed like ... I don't know ... some kind of power suit or powered armor I could wear? I kinda would like to help make this world a better place if I could in some way.”

The Oracle smiled as its image turned to the direction of the new fabrication screen. Tony smiled as he saw the very technical diagrams that depicted a powered armor many centuries beyond any of the primitive animation-inspired mecha his country had thus far been able to produce.

Tony smiled. Perhaps from the forgotten past, he could help to build a better future. Tony raised his right hand and said aloud, "In remembrance of the Forgotten.”

The Oracle looked at Tony with an expression of surprise as it said, "And as it was foretold when I was first activated, so now you have spoken the Admin words. All this is now yours.”

"What?” asked Tony.

"Your words have unlocked full administrative access to this facility,” said the Oracle. "Of course, the original passphrase was in the language of those who programmed me. But what you just said translates perfectly into their meaning.”

"I ... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ...”

"It indicates that one such as you was who they had in mind,” the Oracle said. "The likelihood is that you will make good and just use of the technology that is now in your hands.”

"You would tell me, right, if I made a terrible choice?”

"I cannot predict the future,” the Oracle said. "I can make forecasts based on the data I have on hand and the plans you describe to me -- but that is as close as I can come.”

Tony sat and watched the many images of the lost and forgotten civilization play out across the screen. So many advancements lost, so much suffering and destruction.

By serendipitous accident, he brought up a series of files that told how to build a powerstation that utilized nothing more than water, salt, and sunshine. Tony also knew the next file, the Oracle had warned him not to view. He couldn't help it. Something about the title of NR beam intrigued him.

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McKendrick and Henderson arrived at the proper pick up point right on time. Offshore, they could make out the roiling water as the sub surfaced. It wasn't long before four Navy SEALs came to the beach in an inflatable raft, picked the two of them up, and returned them to the sub.

After a good meal, a bath, medical attention, and a few hours sleep, Henderson and McKendrick found themselves in a briefing room with the captain, first mate, and a secure conference interlink. The unfortunate news of the deaths of Tony and the others, and especially the fact that the enemy had found Tony's body, were things the President didn't want to hear. Now ... this was going to become a major incident as explanations for their being there would be denied.

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Tony, though, had a plan now. He hovered unseen above the jungle, wearing his powered armor in stealth mode. The functions of the visor and antigravity belt were built right in, as well as lots of other features. What was more, the suit was ultrastrong and ultralight, easy to move in.

"Oracle, now that you've expanded your sensor network, can you detect any other nuclear weapons tests in preparation stages?” Tony asked. "Any concentrations of fissile isotopes?”

"Negative to the former,” came the Oracle's voice, her translucent face appearing to the side of him, though Tony knew he was the only one who could see or hear her, "but affirmative on the latter. Of course, reactor fuel rods also fit that description.”

"How's the expansion going?” he asked.

"I have blanketed this nation and part of the surrounding terrain with my subterranean sensor web,” said the Oracle. "At this rate I will have the ancient sensor network fully restored in under a week and will be able to take data anywhere on Earth. Other planets will take longer, but I gather that there is no human activity elsewhere in the system at this time.”

"None that I know of, at least,” said Tony, landing on the beach. He walked, aware that he was leaving footprints behind him, despite stealth mode. Walking was easy due to the suit's lightness. Granted, he wouldn't exactly fit into a crowd with it on, unless that crowd were at some kind of science fiction convention, but it did still allow for ease of ground movement. He looked out at the sea, knowing that his comrades had been picked up and gone on to other assignments.

He smoothed out his footprints with a thought as he took off again. "Oracle, please notify me if you detect any other nuclear weapons development -- in nations that don't already have them, of course.”

"Understood,” the Oracle replied. "But there are other sorts of weapons that are capable of causing mass death.”

"Right,” said Tony. "Biological, chemical ... can you detect those too?”

"I can extrapolate the effects of poisons and organisms on human bodies given a large enough sample size from which to simulate,” said the Oracle. "But the sheer number and variety of microorganisms makes this calculation prohibitive. I can begin this process. It is possible that I will be able to cut down the computation time by grouping similar organisms and eliminating harmless groups.”

"Sounds good,” Tony said. "I'd like to be able to find and disable those as well.”

"Understood. Preventing the death of your civilization also implies preventing the use of such pathogens. There are also cyber weapons, prions, and weaponized memes to consider.”

"Weaponized ... memes?”

"Oh, yes. Concepts with a deadly psychotag attached, transmissible by psionic contact, but beware, because they also have a chance of being transmitted verbally. Any who hear or read the message and understand it are compelled to spread it and then become suicidal. My systems are heavily inoculated against them, but I gather that today's humans have not rediscovered this form of weaponry.”

"No, thank God,” said Tony, "and if there's a way to covertly inoculate people against them, and we do it to enough people, maybe we'll never develop those.”

"There was a way to do this,” the Oracle said. "I will see if it can be extended to the humans of today.”

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In a super secret underground mountain facility, many men and women sat around a huge conference table. Many screens filled with complex schematics stood all around the chamber. Many volumes of data lay in neat stacks all around the table.

A thin man with thick glasses came to a chalk board and began scrawling far advanced mathematics and symbols.

He turned and said in his mousy voice, "As you can see, this simple modification to the fuel core will produce many gigatons in ⅓ of the space we now use. Will kill all life in the blast area, but leave the buildings. Little to no residual radiations ... so reoccupation could begin within days of blast.”

A murmur ran all through the large chamber as the many people began discussing this new weapon. They were absolutely positive this would be the thing to take out any potential enemies, but leave all the infrastructure intact. They talked a lot about a particular tropical rogue nation that was rumored to be working on a nuclear weapons program and could become a global threat.

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"Envelopes containing white powder sent to the president's residence ... scanner shows they were talc.”

"Affirmative,” said the Oracle. "The scanner network is now nearly worldwide.”

"Let's just see what else there is,” Tony said, scrolling through the display. "Some nation is transporting a deadly strain of bacteria? Seems like it's for research, but some terrorist could easily steal that.”

The Oracle replied, "Yes, but my analysis shows that the bacterium, even if it escaped, is useless as a weapon. It is indeed deadly to anyone exposed, but it spreads poorly.”

"Any cyber attacks?”

"Thousands going on at any given time,” the Oracle said, "but nothing that would destabilize a government.”

"Looks like these guys are working on an ERW,” said Tony, pointing to a location on the world map that showed on the display. "I can only wonder who they're making plans to use it on.”

"They are worried about the nation on the surface above us,” said the Oracle, "as well as a few others. They are trying to jockey for political position.”

Tony nodded. "The usual ongoing game. But they're not to the point of testing one yet?”

"It would appear not yet,” said the Oracle. "I predict -- wait.”

"What is it?” asked Tony.

"My sensors are detecting a stockpile of a deadly nerve agent, one that is banned by international treaty,” the Oracle explained. "It has apparently been in this location for some time; my sensor range has only just expanded to include it. The site is quite remote.”

Tony looked at the display and the new note that had just popped up. "That is remote,” he said, "but ... yeah that agent has been banned for decades. Did they just never destroy it?”

"Insufficient data,” said the Oracle. "The age of the equipment at site indicates that it is quite old. It is possible that they simply never had the budget to destroy it and just hid it away instead.”

"Maybe I should do it for them,” said Tony.

"The subterranean tunnel network is not yet complete, but I have a stealthy airborne vehicle that can get you there in 28 minutes.”

"What? That would take a supersonic jet fighter 8 hours,” said Tony. "Now I've gotta try this.”

"Very well,” the Oracle said, "I will prepare the vehicle if you will suit up.”

Tony walked into the device chamber that assembled his new combat suit on him. As it ran the diagnostics before departure, a small visual appeared in his display. It basically showed the huge chamber the agent had been stored in for so many years. Tony knew his work to try and make this world a safer and cleaner place to live was going to be a total uphill fight.

Tony used the antigrav and floated rapidly down the long corridor and then down a long shaft to a sub level. He looked around. Off in the near distance he saw a wonderfully elegant looking needle-shaped aircraft. Tony smiled, this would definitely cause a real UFO scare if anyone saw it. It tickled him when he thought about it. Sure, and why not? He deserved to have some fun too, like anybody else. After all, he'd given up the life he knew and was pretending to be dead.

Tony stepped into the small lift beneath the fuselage and was lifted into a fantasy land of electronic marvels. He sat in the very comfortable pilot's seat and took hold of the control handles on each arm rest and placed his feet in the cupped peddles on the floor. Everything seemed to conform to his body as several black tentacles fasted themselves to the back of his suit.

The flight deck came alive as all the feeds came clearly and concisely into his consciousness. Tony smiled, he loved the way he just "knew” things now he had this suit too. He ran down the startup sequence, then enguaged it. A large door off in the near distance slid open, the aircraft launched. All Tony could see out the canopy were streaks of light as it gained speed and left the tunnel from the side of a high cliff. The aircraft nosed up and flashed off into the sky. By the time it had reached 150,000 feet it had already gone ultrasonic and seemed to be still accelerating. Tony marveled at the fact there was no sensation of motion or low pressure in the least.

Within minutes, he was settling into a thick jungle growth on the shoulder of a mountain. The Oracle's voice came over the craft's sound system as the craft landed among trees in a spot that no airplane or helicopter could possibly use. "Sensors are showing the storage facility is in what appears to have once been a mine of some sort. It was converted for military use, and the supports were renovated, but it looks to have been some 50 years ago.”

"So be careful of cave-ins,” Tony said. "Got it.”

"Affirmative,” the Oracle said. "Sensors are also showing minimal military presence, but not nil.”

"OK, stealth mode it is,” Tony said. The lift deposited him beneath the craft and rose back into it, leaving a barely-visible shimmer in the air above him. His suit made him appear the same -- one would have to know what one was looking for and where to look in order to see him, even at close range.

The entrance to the storage facility was blocked by a pair of large rusty metal doors, closed with a chain and padlock, also rusty. This probably meant no military presence inside, but outside ... Tony waited at a distance for any patrols, and eventually one did come by, two men on motorcycles coming up a steep mountain road. They must have a camp down the hill, he reasoned, because there was nowhere in sight for them to take shelter.

He simply waited for them to make their rounds -- one checked the chain and padlock, one surveyed the area with binoculars -- and then one spoke into a radio, and they left. Immediately Tony went up to the doors and examined the chain and padlock.

"I think this thing wouldn't even open if I had a key,” he said to himself. "If I break it, they'll know I was here. If I replace it, a new lock would look suspicious. I can't replace it with another rusty lock.” Suddenly he had an idea. He used the transmuter on one of the chain links instead, turning one side of the rusty steel into nitrogen, then simply slipped the next link off the C-shaped piece that remained. He didn't think he could use the transmuter to manufacture anything complex like a lock, but it might be able to fabricate a section of rusty steel chain link, which was much simpler in shape.

After removing the chain, he carefully pulled one of the doors open -- his powered armor made it easy. But it made noise, and he hoped the patrol had gotten far enough away. Of course, they were on motorcycles, so if they were close, he'd hear them, and what's more, they might not hear this noise for the same reason. He entered the dark mine tunnel and closed the door behind him. It was pitch black. But his visor lit up with a perfect, though synthetic, view of what was ahead of him. "Thank you, Oracle,” he said quietly. It was even clearer than the view through night-vision goggles -- and it had a map of the area superimposed upon the display, with his destination and current location highlighted.

His suit began registering the seismic disturbance even before Tony realized it was happening. The aged old part of the tunnel he was in lurched suddenly, then a major portion of the roof just in front of him collapsed. Massive debris fell after that.

Tony slowly picked himself up off the floor and scanned his situation. His sensors told him about 25 feet in front of him was obstructed by the cave in. He looked behind him. At least the way out wasn't blocked, although it was filled with debris. Tony wondered if the storage area full of those canisters survived, if not ... just what was he going to do about it.

Tony sighed, no time like the present to determine just what his new battle suit's capabilities were. He bent down a grabbed a huge chunk of aged rebarred concrete, then crushed it carefully to dust to minimize obstructions.

Tony thought to himself, "There has to be a quicker way to do this.”

As if a dream happened, Tony saw a list of abilities his suit could offer. How those were used was up to his imagination. He selected tractor beam, leveled his hand at the mass before him, and fired. He also gave it a bit of finesse with a twist, and found himself "holding” a mass of pulverized rock, floating in the air before him. He arranged it into a column shape stretching from floor to ceiling, then used the transmuter to transform it into solid diamond. There was now an incredibly hard support holding up the ceiling.

He repeated this process, and as he went, the way in front of him changed. A large cleared space he could walk through formed, dotted with glittering diamond supports -- at least, he supposed they would glitter if he was seeing them with light as opposed to whatever the visor was using to sense his surroundings. He stopped when he came to another set of huge metal doors, bolted to the solid rock. The heads-up map on his visor display, which he supposed was generated by the Oracle's sensors, told him the storage area lay behind the doors.

These doors were far less rusty and were locked with an actual locking mechanism, not a rusty chain and padlock as the exterior doors had been. But it made no difference. He reached out, seized the handle of one door with his armor-enhanced hands, and pulled it free of its locking mechanism, which remained, attached to the other door. There was a loud groan of twisting metal as he did so, but the door was open now. He entered the storage area.

He saw a vast chamber, supported with riveted steel pillars, full of huge cylindrical tanks. Perhaps it was a 1970s-era nerve toxin, but they had made a lot of it, and rather than destroy it as international treaty demanded, they had merely buried it here. He used the sensors in his armor ... it had partly decayed into less toxic chemicals, but it was still 80% as effective as it would be if it were pure. Scanning a few other tanks gave him the same figures. It had to be neutralized.

Well, he could transmute it into water ... that would be harmless. He focused the transmuter beam at one of the tanks, knowing it would take its cue from his thoughts and transmute the contents of the tank without affecting the tank itself. He activated the beam ... and saw the sensor readings change. Sweeping the beam across the tank, he transmuted the toxin inside into pure water, with some difficulty because the water would diffuse into the toxin and mix with it. It took about 5 minutes to reduce the concentration of toxin below the danger threshold.

Well, there was nothing for it -- he would just have to do this to every tank. One by one, he neutralized the contents of each tank -- until he came to a tank that was different. He scanned it twice. He frowned.

Tony opened a communication channel to the Oracle, I'm getting some, strange readings from this canister. It isn't nerve agent. Could you tell me what these readings mean?”

The Oracle's voice returned with a tone of wonder he had never heard before, "I have no references in my database as to what that substance is.” Tony realized a small period of time had passed. This was unusual ... the Oracle never hesitated like this before. The Oracle's voice returned, "That is a rather sophisticated explosive. It is designed to cause maximum over pressure and release this agent into the environment. Scans indicate a small rivulet runs directly beneath this area. It would have eventually contaminated a huge portion of the planet before anyone realized.”

Tony knew he would have to deactivate this explosive somehow. Without warning, many of the containers around him he had not changed, began to foam around the opening's seal. They must have been damaged by the tremors caused by the cave-in. Time was growing short.

Tony knelt and laid his hand on the bomb container. Within his mind he could see the wire traceries down to the very thing that made up its trigger. He transmuted the picric acid trigger into lead salt. No detonator ... no explosion ... no danger.

But there was still a lot of escaping toxin. He swept the nearest and leakiest containers with the transmuter beam, changing the toxin to water where it was closest to him, when the Oracle sent him a message directly to his visor. It was the molecular structure of ... he didn't know what. He willed the transmuter to transform the toxin into -- that. He'd ask what it was later.

And as soon as the transmuter beam touched the toxin, his sensors saw the concentrations of neurotoxin drop dramatically -- just as he started to feel woozy. He was worried. Had he been contaminated with the toxin? He swept the entire cavern with the transmuter beam ... and then everything went dark.

He woke up in the Oracle's familiar chambers, on top of a rectangular table-like surface that had been extruded from the floor. Several tubes were attached to his skin. "I apologize,” the Oracle's voice said. "I should have given you the formula for that catalyst sooner.”

Tony mumbled something, still feeling nauseated and weak.

"To explain, yes, some of the tanks containing the nerve toxin had been compromised, and some of it had escaped into the air in the form of microdroplets. Some had made skin contact, and you had inhaled some as well. I activated your emergency return remotely so as to neutralize it in your system. It still did some damage, but nothing that can't be repaired. I got you back here in time.”

"You saved my life,” Tony said.

"Your goal of saving the world from itself cannot succeed if you perish,” the Oracle said.

"The toxin,” Tony began.

"The formula I gave you was that of a catalyst that converts the toxin into ... well, not completely harmless substances, but at least ones that are not nearly as harmful. It is not consumed in the process. If there had been more time, I would have constructed a catalyst that converted the toxin into more of the catalyst.”

"You can do that?”

"Given time to calculate the precise molecular geometry,” said the Oracle. "But there wasn't time. In any case, the concentration of neurotoxin in that cavern will continue to drop as the catalyst continues to work. Sensors show that it is already below toxic levels.”

"How long was I unconscious?” Tony asked.

"19 minutes, 43 seconds,” the Oracle replied. "Not all of that was due to the toxin. The process I used to remove it from your bloodstream would have been unpleasant to experience.”

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Several months had passed. Many mathematical formulas were checked and rechecked. Several concept devices were built. It was now time to test out this weapon. A 90,000 pound device was loaded onto a specialized bomber. Target: A tiny island in the South Pacific teeming with tropical life, but uninhabited by any known humans.

The aircraft flew quickly, at supersonic speeds. The pilot looked at his chronometer; flight time should only be about 30 minutes there and back. He would actually be flying past the island, turning around, and then dropping the "test device” while traveling homeward in a straight line at full speed. It was his only chance at being outside the blast radius when it hit the ground. Of course, that meant that the drop had to be precisely timed, which was why it would be released by a computer. He wouldn't be sticking around to take photos or readings; automated ships were already in place for that.

"Lima two niner, coming around to two seven zero,” the pilot said. "On course. Accelerating according to plan.” The engines roared as the plane reached the prearranged running speed, which the pilot kept perfectly constant ... and a moment later, a light on the control panel was the only indication that the device had been dropped. Now that it had happened, the pilot couldn't help accelerating the plane to even faster speeds. He knew what was coming, and he didn't want to be around for it. He was already on course for the carrier; his only concern was getting there as soon as possible.



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Tony didn't realize the enormous speed his suit afforded him as he rapidly approached the device Oracle had marked as seriously dangerous, which was strapped to the belly of a supersonic plane. Easily keeping pace below it, Tony activated the transmuter beam. He had been monkeying with its properties using something he had discovered in the archives called an NR beam. Using different frequencies of the combined beams produced very interesting results ... it also gave the transmutation area more distance and accuracy.

Tony had gotten into the habit of pointing his finger. It really wasn't necessary, but it did afford more accuracy. He pointed in the direction his visor's reticule indicated. A red and yellow splatter mark appeared when his fingertip was on target. Transmutation happened instantly within the neutronium cobalt shell that housed an inert form of radioactive carbon. And then ... the plane dropped the bomb.

Tony left the area quickly with the non nuclear overpressure wave following ever further behind. While Tony sped away and vanished, many sensors reported their findings back the instant prior to total destruction. An anomaly none could explain appeared, although leaders demanded answers.

One young scientist remembered something in one of the more classified reports he had been reading. A similar thing had happened during a fission weapon test in another country, intelligence agents had discovered. There were unexplained deaths and a rumor ... about an unseen force. He'd always had this belief in ghosts or spirits of some kind, wherever they lived. He watched the many comparative videos from different cameras show what had to be just that.

He watched one video replay of the device test in total astonishment. From far away there was just some kind of shimmer in the air that caught up to the plane -- a supersonic fighter jet -- hovered there until the bomb was released, and then moved away at a similarly high speed. What was it? It had to be a spirit of some kind. He kept this theory to himself, however, only sharing it later with his friends on the internet.

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"I had not considered combining the transmutation beam with NR energy,” said the Oracle. "This concept requires further testing and study. It is possible that it could yet be improved -- perhaps greatly.”

"Yeah, the farther away from a possible thermonuclear explosion I can be in order to prevent it, the better,” said Tony. "Right now my only plan is don't miss.” He was still flying back from the South Pacific.

The massive intellect that comprised the Oracle's knowledge bank was the culmination of all knowledge the previous civilization had amassed before it's destruction. With this large collection of knowledge to base it on, It saw the genius latent in Tony. As much as such an entity could it smiled within itself.

The Oracle began to study this new combination of transmutation beam with NR energy. The concept was radical, especially the part of how at certain frequencies, the NR beam held itself together while repelling the transmutation beam.

With a little tweaking of the current simulation model, the NR energy could be used to project the transmutation beam. The NR energy would act like a conduit allowing the transmutation beam to reduce its dissipation rate to nearly nil, increasing its range tremendously. The NR energy even created some sort of unexplainable tunnel from weapon to target that seemingly increased the impact.

The more the Oracle experimented with this, the better her ideas on what to do with it became. She had finally found the missing item and how to utilize it, to add a major safety feature to Tom's battle suit. A forcefield with a mesoscopic mesh would protect him from deadly prions and microorganisms and most poisonous gases while still permitting air circulation.

Tony was working on the sensor console, a large screen driven by many inputs such as the Oracle's sensor web and various decryption processors. It turned out that, like other technologies, the Oracle's builders were far beyond modern humans in encryption and decryption technology. There was no message sent by any modern encryption system that was hidden from the Oracle's eyes, so she and Tony had simply written code to scan the constant stream of human communication for mentions of weapons of mass destruction. However, the mere mention didn't necessarily mean there was actually an attempt to develop such things -- they had to filter out politics and fiction. The real problem wasn't getting access to all the information that was out there -- it was filtering out what wasn't important. Fortunately, their filters were getting better.

"Looks like the Overmeister had his military base exorcised,” Tony said. "Once that story leaked, the country up there became the laughingstock of the world -- or at least their current government did. Sad, considering that its people were once one of the world's great civilizations.”

"Their scientists continue trying to design nuclear devices,” the Oracle replied. "Nothing is currently past the design stage.”

"Looks like our friends in the South Pacific are still trying to figure out the results of their experimental data,” said Tony, "and of course the guys with the mountain base full of neurotoxin aren't even aware that anything happened yet.” Tony had returned later and re-transmuted the diamond support columns back to rubble and restored the chain outside to its rusty-but-unbroken state. "Haven't run into anyone developing bioweapons yet.”

"Well, they are quite impractical,” the Oracle said. "It is quite difficult to unleash a plague on one's enemies that doesn't also become a threat to one's friends.”

"That's true, but unleashing is one thing, and developing is another,” said Tony. "But if anyone's stockpiling genetically-modified anthrax or smallpox, we're not finding it.

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Several scientists deep inside a mountain laboratory examined the data observed from the failed test. According to the data, everything was proceeding normally until seconds before the drop. The readings of the weapon's core changed suddenly just as it was released by the Supersonic bomber.

One of the scientists had been chatting with his friends on the interlink. The story he told had gotten back to the investigative team, who in their own turn, started looking at the more external sensor recordings.

Dr. Jeremy Johnson scowled at one of his investigative team, "And tell me why you chose not to report this kind of anomaly?” The video replayed the seeming energy anomaly that approached the aircraft at tremendous speed, then vanished away after it dropped.

The young man fidgeted nervously as he replied, "There are other reports of similar mysterious happenings. There's only one explanation, and you will probably have me locked up as nuts if I told you.”

Dr. Johnson looked at the younger man over the top of his glasses as he said sternly, "You had best come up with a reasonable excuse for not notifying me about this before I have you shot for treason.”

The younger scientist quickly called up the Secret files that showed what could only be explained as some kind of invisible force that none of the cameras but an experimental one could see. The experimental one depicted what looked like well armed men, beating themselves up.

The younger scientist said, "Those clips show a spirit or a ghost of some kind. There can be no other explanation. If I told you that before the current investigation, you would have said I was nuts.”

Dr. Johnson replied as he bent closer and examined the films, "You are nuts. However, in this instance, it appears you are right on the money.” he stood and looked at the younger man, "And now, it falls to you and your team to come up with a way we can track and possibly capture ... a spirit.”

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"How's the transmuter web going?” asked Tony.

The Oracle replied, "16% of existing sensor nodes now equipped with NR transmuter devices. Progress is slow but steady. I predict the world will be covered within six months, but the process is limited by the rarity of certain lanthanide elements.”

"Can't you just transmute them?”

"The beam emitter must filter for certain material matrices to avoid self-reactivity ...” The Oracle knew Tony didn't have a physics background and did not elucidate. She would have him educated in time. "The transmuter can't transmute what it's made of, or it would transmute itself out of existence.”

"How about a special transmuter that's made of something else?” Tony wondered.

"Unfortunately those are the only known elements that work. Feel free to attempt to discover an alternative. It would revolutionize the technology.”

"You haven't experimented?”

"I have been offline for many millennia,” the Oracle replied, "and now that I am back online, there has simply been too much to do. Regardless, my creators experimented with a wide variety of emitter materials without success, and all materials available now were also available then -- along with a great many more.”

"It's gonna be a slow project unless we can speed it up.”

"Affirmative.”

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The Commander in Chief sat at his desk surrounded by his many advisors. He looked up and said with obvious irritation in his voice, "So, what the greatest scientific minds in our country are trying to tell me, is that something supernatural is causing the cores of our most powerful and secret weapons to turn into ... what?”

One of the men opened a thick binder and replied, "From every piece of data we have recovered, " He pushed the binder over, "our intelligence personnel managed to acquire these satellite and other sensor pictures and data. They clearly show some kind of unknown force as it takes out many well trained and armed men, not to mention neutralizing a weapon attached to a supersonic bomber aircraft.”

The Chief adjusted his glasses and perused the many glossy photos. In each one, it clearly showed something ... although what it was, was not only invisible, but the energy signatures it gave off were totally unknown to science

"We can't allow this to continue to happen,” said the Chief, looking up. "Without the most powerful weapons in our arsenal, we'll be sitting ducks for whatever enemy attacks us.”

"Unless the same happens to them,” said an advisor.

"Can we count on that?” asked the Chief.

"I don't see how,” the advisor admitted.

"Then we need to make sure that whatever is doing this regrets it,” said the Chief.

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"Latest plans for Nation 10 show a density-based booby trap built in,” said the Oracle.

"Won't work,” said Tony. "I'll just transmute the trap first.”

"Indeed,” the Oracle said. "And these people developed nuclear weapons?”

"Meanwhile, what about these data weapons?” asked Tony, pointing to a map showing current cyberattacks on the Internet.

"Hardly capable of causing painful death,” said the Oracle.

"Shouldn't we try to discourage them anyway?”

"I'm not sure it would be worthwhile,” the Oracle said. "There are so many.”

"Even so,” said Tony, "maybe there should be a way to discourage all these cyberattacks. Retaliating against a few might deter them.”

"It would be simple to disable any computer that initiated one,” said the Oracle.

"But what about hackers who take over other people's computers and use those?” Tony asked.

"I meant to disable the computers from which the attacks originally initiated,” the Oracle explained. "For me, finding them is simplicity itself, even if it is difficult or impossible for the analysts of your era.”

"Oh!” said Tony. "I guess that makes sense. But hackers whose computers get disabled in some way will just buy new ones, especially the ones that are backed by rogue states, or corporations, or organized crime. What if ... you instead made a trail that law enforcement could follow?”

"Preventing their identity-concealment tactics from functioning,” the Oracle mused. "This would not guarantee that law enforcement would necessarily capture them ... but it would lead to some arrests, and not only would those criminals be captured, but others might think twice.”

"And law enforcement would go after the big ones first,” said Tony. "The ones that have big backers. They'd be the biggest targets for the cops. I like this plan. Just don't do anything that can be traced back here.”

"Of course not,” the Oracle said. "Meanwhile, the country above us, designated as Nation 1, has commenced construction of their latest design.”

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In an underground laboratory, a young computer nerd sat at his favorite console and played with a code he had dreamed up. He had witnessed how certain tones and frequencies of light projected through digital sound and HD videos could influence certain involuntary actions.

He sat with a wicked grin on his face as he programmed a Coop / multiplayer combat simulation that used his newest technique to entrain the mind, then through binaural frequencies could program someone and turn them into a sleeper kind of operative.

The young man sat back with a smug smile on his face. He knew if somehow this game could become super popular, his country would win the next war before it even began. And with what it did to the players' minds, it would easily become the most popular game in the world shortly after release. The only problem was how to get it onto the global market.

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"So,” asked the Overmeister, "how are the labs coming with the latest test weapon?”

"They're reporting 12.5% progress, Sir,” said Lin, the former nuclear technician, who had been inexplicably promoted to head of development after having a military base exorcised by a spirit medium.

"What? Unacceptable. Weren't they at 10% last week?” The Overmeister stood up as if someone had insulted his mother.

"Nearly,” Lin said, calling up the progress charts and documents, which appeared on the screen in the meeting room. "It's true that the trend shows a slow in progress, Sir, but it's not unheard of to run into difficulties in early stages of a totally new --”

"What part of ‘unacceptable' do you not understand, Lin?” shouted the Overmeister. "Get down there and motivate them! Get to the bottom of this! Before I do!”

"Er, yes, Sir, right away!” said Lin quickly.

"Go! Now!” the Overmeister shouted, and Lin scurried out the door. "Now, the rest of you, go about your business. I have ... important matters to attend to.” He barely waited for the generals and admirals to leave before he went back to playing the latest video game he'd downloaded.

Lin, meanwhile, burst into a nuclear engineering lab to find the technicians working hard at their computer screens ... no, they were playing some kind of game. It looked like a first-person combat sim ... though the screen seemed to flash unnecessarily quite often. Why would a game be designed like that? Well, it didn't matter; they weren't supposed to be playing games during work hours. He reached for the light switch and flashed the ceiling lights on and off. "Hello?” he said loudly, because they hadn't heard him come in -- no doubt because of the headphones they were wearing. "Does anyone feel like working today? Because the Overmeister's going to execute anyone who doesn't finish his new test bomb!” Technically, the Overmeister hadn't said any such thing, but he'd been known to execute people for less.

"What?”

"Oh crap!”

"Aw, darn, I was winning!”

"No! Why did I let you guys suck me into this thing?”

The technicians all pulled their headphones off and exited from the game, hurrying to their respective tasks. "That's better,” said Lin. "Now, play all you want at home when you're off work, but you're here to do a job. For the glory of the Motherland!”

"The Motherland!” they all shouted, but Lin saw how their eyes glanced back at their computers as soon as they thought he wasn't watching.

"Good. Keep it up,” said Lin, and left the room. But he went to the security center. He was suspicious. He checked the security monitors, looking at the cameras in all the labs. Around half of them looked to be playing computer games instead of working -- no, it was all the same game. "That's odd,” he said. "We haven't had discipline problems like this before. What's this game they're playing?”

He zoomed one of the cameras in on the screen of one of the players and watched, hoping for the title screen to appear. More of that unnecessary flashing. Of course, Lin wasn't hearing any sound, as the cameras didn't have microphones and the players were mostly using headphones anyway, and he wasn't seeing any color, as they were black and white cameras, but he didn't see why there was a need for all that flashing. But finally he got a glimpse of the game's title. It was in some other language, something in Cyrillic characters -- Russian, or a language from one of the former Soviet republics. Translated, it meant something like "Battalion Leader.”

"Hm, we're going to have to do something about this game,” said Lin to himself. "Battalion Leader is causing us serious problems.”

And he didn't know the half of it.

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Simulation Monthly Main story: Battalion Leader. In a most stunning video rendering this reporter has seen in many a year, Battalion Leader commander has taken the gamer arena by storm. Sales are skyrocketing as more and more people discover this new action packed coop / multiplayer. The scenes are crisp and are rendered with such a quality they appear to be real. If this particular game keeps gaining in popularity it will break all time ...

A young man's eyes suddenly glaze over. In his mind he has the absolute knowledge of what he must do. He turns off all his equipment, gathers up his hunting rifle including all the ammo he can carry, then proceed to the nearest mall. He smiles. There are many targets to choose from. He sees 3 women all huddled in a group. A smile crosses his face as he brings the weapon up and aims .... Oooo such large extra kill points ...

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"Another mass shooting,” said Tony. "All too many of those, but why are you showing me this one?” He watched news coverage about the mall incident on a dozen channels at once.

"This shooter was also a victim,” said the Oracle. "His social media show absolutely no motives. He had a firearm that he only occasionally used for seasonal hunting. He showed no signs of preparation. He just decided to take his rifle and shoot at people, as if he were playing one of the violent video games so popular in today's world -- correction: As if he were the main character in one of these games.”

"The main character ... who is played by someone else,” said Tony. "Am I taking your meaning correctly? You think he wasn't himself?”

"I have been scanning. There are many popular games that involve controlling an armed character and shooting at human or at least humanoid targets. It would be a mistake to simply choose the most popular one and assume it is to blame. More evidence would be needed before one could come to such a conclusion.”

"And you have more evidence?” Tony asked.

"Unfortunately, yes,” said the Oracle. "I have obtained a copy of this game -- untraceably, of course -- and analyzed its gameplay. It contains brainwave entrainment patterns and binaural signals that are more commonly found in meditation or self-hypnosis software -- but here they are far more refined, designed to deeply penetrate the player's subconscious mind and implant new programming.”

"That's military-grade psy-ops stuff,” said Tony. "What's it doing in a game? And besides that, what's the programming do, as if I weren't already guessing?”

"There is audio,” the Oracle said. "It is designed to set a trigger signal in the player's mind, and once that trigger is received, the player is to perceive himself or herself as the game's character and others nearby as enemies in the game, targets to be terminated.”

"The signal goes out, and the victim goes all FPS on whoever's nearby,” said Tony. "What's the goal here? And what's to keep just anyone from hacking the game, getting the trigger signal, and setting off anyone they want?”

"The trigger signal is heavily encrypted,” said the Oracle. "It would take someone with the decryption key to extract it -- or the original programmer, of course. Or encryption-cracking software so advanced that its like will not be developed by this civilization for over a thousand years.”

"Assuming it survives,” Tony finished. "So ... is this a lone actor? Or a terrorist organization, or rogue nation, or something?”

"Signal was sent from this location,” the Oracle said, bringing up a map of central Asia, a former Soviet republic. A flashing point appeared, and the map zoomed in to reveal nearby cities ... but the point was clearly within a military base. "The sender of the signal is either part of Nation 7's military or has somehow infiltrated this military base to send the signal from there. Multiple techniques were employed to thwart packet tracing, but nothing resembling what it would take to hide from me.” Lines appeared on the map, showing the paths of the signal's packets as they ricocheted around the globe and converged on their destination: an innocent gamer halfway around the world.

"Let me throw in another data point,” said Tony. "Nobody runs a test without a way to take data. The sender was somehow watching the victim. He's not gonna rely on news reports to tell him what happened. News reports can be censored or suppressed. He chose a victim he could watch.”

"Perspicacious,” said the Oracle. "Searching victim's home for cameras. Most obvious target: the webcam on the victim's own computer. Affirmative. The game software activated the victim's webcam and sent a video stream ... back to the signal's sender, via an obfuscated path.” Lines appeared on the map again, tracing a convoluted path around the globe back to the sender of the signal.

Tony donned his improved battle suit. It had new weapons and defense abilities, not to mention some the Oracle refused to tell him about. It seemed to indicate it wanted them to be more of a surprise that happened at the appropriate moment, than an insufficient knowledge of what they were. The Oracle seemed to think this would allow Tony a better understanding of how and when such upgrades activated which allowed him to avoid certain situations he might find himself in.

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In the Overmeister's office, the supreme leader of his nation was frantically playing Battalion Leader, all his attention on the action. Suddenly, his eyes dialated to black and the expressions on his face became blank. He stood up, walked to his desk, opened his emergency defense package, removed the automag weapon, and charged it.

Lin's voice came from the intercom, saying, "Sir, there's a problem.” The Overmeister walked stiffly to the door, advanced rifle at the ready. "Sir?” Lin's voice continued. "Sir, they told me you were inside. I hope you're not resting, but this is an emergency.”

Outside, Lin released the intercom button. Something was wrong. He looked at the security guards, who shared his puzzled expression. Suddenly, the door was thrown open, and Lin and the two guards ducked for cover. The Overmeister sprayed the corridor with high-caliber rounds, shattering concrete and denting steel. He looked like some kind of zombie, with his blank facial expression and pale skin.

Behind a column, Lin and one of the guards pressed as far into the wall as they could, knowing their assailant could come around the corner any second and riddle them with bullets. "I can't shoot him!” the guard rasped, gun in hand anyway. "He's the leader!”

"OK!” Lin shouted breathlessly. "Options! We keep hiding and wait for him to run out of ammo! We tackle him! Or we try to escape! Door's down a long hallway, and we'd be sitting ducks if we tried that! Tackling him is suicide! One option left ... how many rounds does he have?”

"Standard emergency kit only has enough rounds for about ...” responded the guard. Suddenly the gunfire ended. "... one minute of continuous fire,” the guard finished.

"Now!” shouted Lin, and he and the guard jumped at the Overmeister. The other guard, who had taken shelter on the opposite side of the corridor, took that as his cue to join in. Heedless of them, the Overmeister was apparently searching his clothing, perhaps for more ammo. They soon had him on the floor and disarmed, but he continued to thrash, trying to kick or punch anyone he could.

"Hold him!” Lin shouted. "I'll send backup -- I hope! I'll be back with a sedative!”

When Lin left the executive corridor, he realized he was in trouble. Guards were everywhere but their posts -- shooting at each other. Their eyes were dilated and glazed over, their faces blank, their skin pale -- just like the Overmeister. He retreated back to the corridor.

"Change of plan!” he shouted. "Everybody out there is just like him! Retreat to the Overmeister's office!” Lin helped the guards drag the struggling Overmeister back into his office and closed the door just as the door at the other end of the corridor flew open and bullets started ricocheting audibly off the door's reinforced steel.

"What the hell is going on?” one of the guards asked, still trying to hold the Overmeister down.

"It's this damn game,” said Lin. "Battalion Leader -- it's dangerous! I think it's some kind of psy ops attack! Probably one of the central Asian rogue states!”

"But why would they attack us? We don't even share a border with any of them!”

"I don't think it's just us they're attacking!” said Lin. "But for right now --” He pulled the power plug on the Overmeister's desktop computer. "We've gotta figure out a way to survive this. And we need our leader back. He can't keep this up for much longer. His body only has so much energy, and he's burning through it quickly. There are more of us than him -- we'll wear him down. I'm not military, but I still exercise daily -- I'll help.” And the three of them continued to keep the Overmeister subdued as bullets riddled the bunker door and unseen hands pulled ineffectually at its handle outside.

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All around the world, except in one very conspicuous location in an Asian country, what appeared to be total insane anarchy started to break out. Young and old alike had anything that could be used as a weapon and were attacking anyone they could find. Of course much property was being destroyed and burned along the way as more and more joined into the frey.

The Oracle looked at its many data feeds and isolated one single location that had the highest probability of being location prime. It contacted Tony and gave him the map coordinates.

Tony flew to a very thickly foliated location and settled in among the may branches of the jungle just outside what appeared to be a research facility buried neatly into the side of a mountain. Tony's scans showed the facility's structures ran deep into the earth.

In full stealth mode, Tony settled to the ground and proceeded to what appeared to be the main gate. Two very heavily armored and even more heavily armed men stood guard. Tony smiled as he walked up to the closest one and tapped him on his shoulder.

The man swung around rapidly bringing his weapon to bear on ... nothing. The man's expression changed to one of incredulity as he looked around for who it might have been that patted his shoulder.

Tony said softly enough that only the man he was standing next to could hear, "Hi, there, big boy. Just so you know, I'm a Guardian Spirit, and I have come to put an end to this place.” With that, Tony clobbered the man with all his suit enhanced strength.

The startled man never knew what hit him as the force of several freight trains smacked him in his face ... rendering whatever he may have looked like unrecognizable. The ragdoll limp dead body flew off against the wall beside the other guard and sort of made a squishing splat noise, then the bloody remains slid down the wall into a pile leaving red streaks on the wall. Needless to say, the other guard felt a true fear run up and then back down his spine as he looked sharply around for what might have done that to his squad leader.

Tony might have felt bad about what he had just done, but right now millions of people were dying around the world, being gunned down by millions of others, and all of them were innocent victims of the plot that had been hatched in this base. He couldn't waste time. The Oracle's sensor network told him he had to get downstairs fast, and short of burrowing through rock himself, the only way to get there were through the already-dug elevator and stair tunnels. The chaos caused by the death of the guards' squad leader would allow him to get to those tunnels with minimal chance of detection.

The guards were shouting into their radios in the local language, sounding panicked, as Tony slipped past, ripped the stairwell door off its hinges, and crushed the metal staircase within all the way to the bottom, leaving a pile of twisted metal. He knocked all the other floors' stairwell doors off their hinges as well, for good measure. They'd think some kind of bomb went off inside the stairwell, and they wouldn't figure out the sequence of events until later.

Sensor data indicated that he needed the lowest exit, so he took it. There was a map visible on his heads-up display, as usual. Several crucial pinch points were heavily guarded, but he'd just have to deal with them.

He walked silently up to the first guarded corridor, where a squad of men stood ready with -- rocket launchers? Really? This far underground? He targeted the loaded rocket of the nearest one with one of the Oracle's energy beam weapons, causing it to go off in the tube. The explosion was distinctly not stealthy, but the armor protected Tony, and this group was quickly dealt with. He passed through the smoke to the next point -- no rocket launcher this time, but he targeted a grenade on one of the guards' ammo bandoliers -- and that squad was also dealt with.

"You are compromising your stealth by giving them a clear view of your path, even if they cannot detect you directly,” came the Oracle's voice in his earpieces. "Recommend path obfuscation tactics.” Several other guard groups that were not in his path were highlighted on his heads-up display. Taking them out would make it less clear to the enemy where his destination lay.

He destroyed two other guard squads by detonating their own explosive weapons, then went directly to the room where sensors showed his target lay in hiding. He had weapons, along with guards, and the room was lined with explosives, probably designed to kill whatever entered as a last resort. But Tony wanted this guy alive. Well, the Oracle did -- for some reason.

Tony ran by the door and casually pulled it off its hinges with his augmented strength. Bullets riddled the corridor wall outside the door, but Tony was not there. When the guards and his target realized they were firing at a concrete wall, they ceased, and he heard them reloading.

"You are not going to be taking me alive,” said a voice, echoing down the hallway, in heavily-accented English. That meant that this guy thought he'd understand English -- did he have some idea who Tony was? Maybe he'd heard Tony's little speech to the guards' leader somehow? Or was he just assuming that English was most likely to be a mutually-intelligible language? Tony wondered about this for about half a second. "Even if you get past the guards, the explosives will destroy both me and you.”

Tony did not respond. The programmer's only purpose in speaking was to delay him, and that wasn't going to be happening. He just needed some way to stun everyone in that room ...

"Gas grenades online,” said the Oracle's voice, and he felt soft clicks as the grenades were loaded into the launch tubes in his armor. "Guaranteed non-lethal, effective in seconds. Sensors show targets not wearing anti-gas equipment.”

Tony ran by the door again, launching both gas grenades into the room. They exploded into dust, leaving no shells behind and delivering their compressed payload so quickly that the breeze blowing through the door somewhat dissipated the dust from their bullets impacting on the concrete wall. He didn't stay to watch the effects, but there were sounds of panicked fumbling with gear and then silence.

He returned to the door to find four armed guards and a fifth man, the target, slumped on the floor within the room. They had gas masks in their hands, but there hadn't been time to put them on. But there were the explosives to consider -- motion activated, dead-man switch, or whatever, he had to act very quickly. Or wait -- no he didn't. The Oracle's sensors showed him where the explosives were, hidden within the room's walls. He used the new NR-boosted transmutation beams and changed them to water.

With small rivulets of water seeping through pores in the concrete walls, Tony finally entered the room and picked up the limp body of the programmer. Now all he had to do was leave.

"Extending stealth field,” the voice of the Oracle stated, as the target also became undetectable. And back down the corridor Tony ran, into the stairwell, launching upward, and exiting not through the upper door where he'd entered, but through solid rock that he transmuted to nitrogen as he flew.

The journey back to the secondary base that the Oracle had constructed was rapid and taxed the programmer's cardiopulmonary system, but he survived, and soon they had him strapped to a table, in a place that no one could trace to the Oracle's location, for whatever purpose the Oracle had wanted Tony to bring him there for.

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Jerimy awoke with a jerk. He realized immediately he was nude and strapped to a table. He had been a computer nerd for many years; however, as he strained to look around, this place was something out of his wildest nerdy techno dreams.

A funny clear blue cloud formed and an extremely pretty young woman's face appeared in it. The image seemed to look directly at him as it said, "So, you're the fool who released this plague upon my world? Now, I promise, you will tell me why you were so foolhardy as to bring this kind of devastation onto mankind.”

Jerimy didn't know what to think as he looked at the technological magic surrounding him, "I ... umm ... I mean ...” he looked around again, "Where am I and ... what was that that came into my safe room?”

The face laughed, "Safe room? I feel you are about as safe from the Avenging Guardian Spirit there as you would be in his personal space.”

"A ... Avenging Guardian Spirit?”

"You seem to forget who is asking the questions,” said the face in its ethereal voice, now completely emotionless. "Why?”

"Why ... what again?”

"WHY?” said the voice, in exactly the same tone but amplified to the level of jet engine noise. Jerimy was desperate to raise his hands to protect his ears but could not. He shouted in pain.

"F-for victory! To crush our enemies! I'm a patriot! That's why! Wouldn't anybody want his country to win?”

"No one wins this kind of war,” the face said. "You see what is happening in your own nation?” Moving images hovered in the air, video from places Jerimy knew, familiar and famous landmarks of his own country, where blank-faced zombies armed with high-powered weaponry strode through open areas firing at anything that moved, occasionally getting into firefights with each other until only one survived, with the non-combatants either lying dead in pools of blood or in hiding, nowhere to be seen. "You thought your own people somehow immune to your manipulations?”

"I ... could control it!” Jeremy protested. "It was never released in my country!”

"Yet you designed it to be so addictive, so popular, that many humans wanted to have a copy,” said the face. "You didn't think they would spread it?”

"It has copy protection --”

"Which lasts until one person, somewhere, breaks it, and is then useless. What will you do now?”

"W-what?”

"What will you do now? How will you undo the damage you have caused?”

"But -- people are dead already! I can't undo that!”

"Quite true. You do not delude yourself about that. Perhaps there is yet hope for you. What will you do?”

"The sequence,” he said, "the off switch. The programming has an off switch for emergencies. But they have to hear it. I'll play it over the emergency warning systems. I can get access. The military authorized me. But I need to get the audio files.”

"Where are they?”

"On my c- oh.” A screen appeared before him -- the screen of his own computer, which was somewhere else, but which somehow was connected here. A virtual holographic keyboard appeared in front of him.

Some sort of fog appeared around Jerimy just as the straps restraining his arms and chest seemingly vanished. He sat up and took a good look around the huge and extremely otherworldly advanced items within the room. He looked at the face within the glowing cloud. The expression on it sent fear rushing all through him to the point he began to type furiously.

Within a very few minutes, the proper instructions were entered and transmitted, then the EMS began broadcasting the emergency exit protocol. The oracle also transmitted this signal to all satellites in orbit and any other comm stations receiving.

All across the planet, people began to come to their senses. In shocked horror, they all stared at the destruction they knew they had caused. All across the planet, the people began picking up the pieces as an emergency health recall on all of the copies of Battalion Leader went out. It was said to cause severe health issues in the recall.

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In a padded cell in a high security hospital, the Overmeister opened his eyes. His head had cleared. He looked around. He was not only in a straitjacket, but he had been secured to a wall with many thick carbon fiber restraints.

A door opened. "Sir,” asked a doctor, "are you yourself?”

Some kind of strange noise was echoing through the halls of ... wherever he was, probably some sort of hospital ... and he could hear it now that the door was open. It seemed to help his head feel clearer. "I ... what happened? I was playing ... a computer game ...”

"Yes, much like many others who experienced the same symptoms,” the doctor said.

"Sir!” said Lin, rushing in the door. "They told me you were lucid! That game, Battalion Leader, contained some kind of mind control programming. We think it came from one of the former Soviet republics.”

"A video game that mind-controls its players?” asked the Overmeister. "That's ... brilliant!”

"Not that brilliant,” said Lin. "The country it came from was overrun by it too. That kind of attack is difficult to control. Relies too much on people to spread it themselves. It's like a biological, really -- you have to find a way to reliably immunize your own people before releasing it, and then you have to make sure the vaccine doesn't get out while the pathogen does.”

"Oh. Maybe not the best idea.” The Overmeister paused for just a moment to think. "Why am I still locked up? Get me out of here at once!”

"Oh! Yes, Sir,” said Lin. "Doctor, please release him. He's obviously recovered.”

"Certainly,” said the doctor, unfastening the Overmeister's restraints. "We'll get you to the showers, Sir. Your uniform has been cleaned and pressed.”

"Lin! What progress have you made on the weapon?”

"Err, Sir, half my research team is dead, killed by the other half of my research team, and they've been busy with, um, killing. It's been a very difficult time ...”

"I want the perpetrators of this outrage punished!” the Overmeister bellowed as the doctor led him to the showers.

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"Ugh ... I had the weirdest dream ...” said Jerimy, waking up.

When he sat up, he knew something was different. He looked around the room he was in. The walls seemed to shimmer with some kind of unearthly irridecence. He looked down, he was no longer restrained, but even the bed he thought he was lying on was totally strange to him.

Jerimy shouted, "Where am I? What happened? Let me out of here.”

That weird cloud Jerimy had thought was a dream appeared with the pretty woman's face in it, "You are nowhere. Letting you out ... would not be my first choice. Since you are the one who created the mess, I thought perhaps a certain leader of a certain country would like to have you as a gift.” Jerimy screamed, The image smiled, "But on the other side of that self same disk, you have certain knowledge that cannot be let loose on this world again.”

Jerimy broke down into tears, "I ... I'm sorry. I promise I didn't do it to destroy this planet.”

The Oracle replied in its really weird voice, "I intend to make sure you will never endanger this planet again. However, I'm not cruel and think a good mind wiping would do the trick. I think you would make a wonderful young woman, I believe your nation is so socially backward that it won't encourage a woman to learn about computers, and I know those men at the bar you are going to frequent will find you delightful.”

Jerimy didn't have time to react as a beam flashed from somewhere and hit him between his eyes. His thoughts and perceptions began to change ...

Jerimy looked down at his new body. He couldn't believe it. Something he had wished for and knew was totally impossible had just happened. He was ... she was a girl. She looked like she was still probably in her 20s, and in good shape, and ... how had she gotten here again, exactly? Where exactly was she?

She was in some kind of bar. She was dressed in a short skirt and halter top and carried a small white purse. Checking inside, she had a little money, an ID card with her picture that named her Jasmine, and some makeup. "I've got to find a computer,” she said to herself. "Gotta find out what's going on.” She got up from her seat.

"Hey, darling, where ya goin'?” said a man, standing up from a bar stool and blocking her way.

"Excuse me, I just have to check the Internet,” she said.

"Well, why would a pretty thing like you need to ever touch one o' them computers?” the man asked. "Besides the fact that it's against the law here for women? Just let the men handle that complicated stuff and have a good time.”

And as her old memories faded, Jasmine didn't remember exactly why she needed to get online in the first place. Her very first sexual encounter as a woman with a man was very pleasant to say the least ... for both of them.

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"As the worldwide mass panic subsides, people everywhere are questioning their leaders: what happened? Why did innocent citizens of all nations suddenly take up weapons against their fellow men and women? And why did it suddenly stop, the killers seemingly having no memory of doing what they did? Are the rumors true, that this was some kind of contagious madness somehow spread via the Internet? All we can say at this point is that we at MegaNews will continue to investigate.”

Tony turned the volume back down. "It seems the world is more resilient than I thought.”

"Indeed,” said the Oracle. "The worldwide death toll is 384,726, I have calculated. 56,912 people have been arrested -- the ones who became shooters but didn't themselves become casualties. All in all, it could have been far worse.”

"It's going to happen again,” said Tony. "Will we be better prepared?”

"Worldwide transmuter array progress continues,” the Oracle said. "There were a few areas where I was able to transmute the shooters' guns into water before they shot anyone, but they merely continued trying to kill others using improvised weapons or their bare hands. Transmuting their clothes into solid plastics helped others subdue them -- but again, this was only possible in a few areas.”

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The Overmeister sat at his desk and placed his hands palm down on its surface. His mind was in total turmoil. From what the preliminary reports showed, someone had written a very advanced piece of infectious code and placed it into a video game

All the copies, including his own personal one, had become so corrupted their best cyber forensics team couldn't glean any usable code, let alone get the game to play again. He opened the folder that contained what used to be his copy. The computer reported the actual game file was empty of all code.

The Overmeister slammed his fist on the desk. Someone had actually discovered a way to remove all evidence of their actions ... but managed to destroy his entire weapons research project.

All the scientists were either dead or seriously wounded. He had to find a way to recreate this weapon. He reached over and flipped a switch on his intercom. "Millie? Have the head of R&D come to my office ASAP.”

"Yes, Sir,” was the only reply

The Overmeister smiled.

"You wanted to see me, Sir?” asked Lin.

"Yes, Dr. Lin -- our country is defenseless! What are you doing to get the weapons research project back on track?” He banged on his desk and stood up.

"But S-Sir, the military suffered only minimal losses due to their isolation from the Internet --”

"I asked about the weapons program!”

"Y-yes Sir, the few researchers who are able to continue are working as hard as they can!” said Lin. "But there are only a handful left ... so many of my friends died ...”

"Yes, well, I'm sorry about that; it was quite a tragedy,” said the Overmeister, softening for a moment, all too brief. "But we need that research to continue! Hire new staff!”

"Yes, Your Excellency,” said Lin. "We've had applicants -- we'll fast-track their hiring. But there are procedures -- background checks --”

"Good! Fast-track them!” The Overmeister thought. "But don't skimp on the background checks. We don't want to hire any foreign spies.”

"Of course not, Sir.”

"Increase your advertising budget if you have to -- get those labs full! Dismissed!”

"Yes, Your Excellency!” Lin practically fled from the office. The Overmeister was obsessed with their country's becoming a nuclear power. Lin was a bit worried about what their leader would do with nuclear weapons once he had them, but he was more worried about what the Overmeister would do to him and his career if he didn't do this work.



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Tony sat at one of the consoles in his new facility. It was the only thing he could think of to call it. He watched as weapons beyond anything he had ever witnessed before, lay waste to entire countries. Tony wasn't real sure how some of the images he watched were taken. The massiveness of the devastation was incredible. He also now knew why the southern region of Mars appeared to have had a massive something explode. The crater really was a massive explosive site. There used to be a military base there at one time ... until all trace of it was vaporized by a weapon called a Tunneling NR Disruption Torpedo.

None of the data on the weapon's mathematics or construction meant anything to him. It was as far above him as the sky above the earth ... and he wasn't a stupid grunt by any means.

"Oracle, your people's civilization had bases on other planets?”

"That is correct,” the Oracle's voice came, its face swimming into view.

"What exactly is a tunneling NR disruption torpedo?”

"I ... wish you would not ask this question,” the Oracle said.

"Why? Is it ... traumatic?” Tony wondered.

"I'll be forced to answer,” said the Oracle. "That is one of the most devastating weapons my creators ever invented -- and you've seen some of the effects of the technology they created.”

"The Mars colony ...?”

"... was vaporized by one such weapon, yes. Just one.”

"... We can't let the modern world develop that.”

"Agreed,” said the Oracle. "But nothing they are researching comes even close.”

"What about this Dr. Lin in Nation 1?” asked Tony.

"He is still recovering from the video game incident,” the Oracle responded. "He is trying to reconstitute his ranks -- most of his team was either compromised or killed, or both.”

"Do you think he has any chance of making an NR disruption torpedo?” asked Tony, who had a bad feeling about this.

"I am monitoring his research,” replied the Oracle. "Currently he is working only on a thermonuclear device. Bad enough, but nowhere near the NRDT.”

"Well, keep me informed if I have to go out and stop Lin, or anyone else for that matter, please.”

"Rest assured that you will be the second to know.”

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The Commander in Chief stood at the slit in the massive concrete bunker. In total awe, he watched what appeared for the world like a huge bolt of lightning streak down on top of the small target town the research team had constructed.

The Commander in Chief had seen the video's of how fission and the newer fusion weapons acted. The result of those strikes always ended in the tell tale mushroom cloud amid massive fireballs intermingled with intense radioactive debris.

This was by far more scary. The large streak of light impacted the earth. There was a momentary nothing, and then a huge ball of burning plasma boiled out in an ever widening circle, eating everything in its path until all the items in the makeshift target town had been totally vaporized. The plasma fire extinguished when it had run out of enough reaction mass to feed itself.

The Commander in Chief couldn't believe his eyes. The entire target town was simply gone when the flash fire of plasma had consumed itself. All that was left were the small fires of whatever remaining items hadn't been instantly turned to ash. No fallout, no deadly burst of ionizing radiation, no lasting radiation or other chemicals. Just a huge glowing crater in the earth and an occasional chunk of flaming debris.

Scientists in protective suits slowly approached the area, carrying instruments and noting their readings. "They can't get any closer yet, Sir,” said Dr. Pfeizer, leader of the project, "not because of radiation but because it's simply still too hot. The temperature where they are is over 500 degrees. The suits can protect them there, but not if they get any closer.”

"No radiation? No fallout?” asked the Commander in Chief.

"The readings are showing some radiation, but not much higher than the background that we get everyday,” said Dr. Pfeizer. "That's much less than a fission or traditional fusion device. It will fade in a few days, according to our calculations. And there's no fallout -- the heat from the event did raise a great deal of dust into the air, but it's just the remnants of what was destroyed. It's not radioactive.”

"I'm not a nuclear physicist,” said the Commander in Chief, "but how is this possible? I thought only nuclear reactions could be this powerful, and I thought there was always radiation when those happened.”

"Well, I've explained it before, but I'm not afraid to explain it again,” said Dr. Pfizer. "What we just saw was a new type of fusion reaction. Initiated without the use of nuclear fission, a new form of high intensity lasers heated its fusion material to a plasma, and once that fusion reaction ignited, it likewise caused everything in its radius to undergo fusion. The limiting factors are the sizes of the nuclei being fused together -- when they get too big, they start absorbing more energy than they give off -- and the lack of containment. The heat causes everything to expand, and when that happens, it cools below the temperature needed for fusion. It's self-limiting. But by that time, it's destroyed everything within a radius that we can control very confidently.”

"You've just destroyed a small town,” said the Commander in Chief. "If it had been populated ... that's perhaps 30,000 human lives.”

"And we could make it much larger,” Dr. Pfizer said, nodding. "Of course, this isn't a weapon we'd want to use unless forced to. Not unless we were the victims of foreign aggression and had to defend ourselves.”

"Of course,” the Commander in Chief said.

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In another location across the world, a large collection of scientists and engineers were feverously studying the most recent intel their spysats could give them. From the best they could tell, the satellite in question was armed with a new form of laser in the 40 petawatt range.

None of the scientists nor the engineers could explain the massive power output of the impact. It was far more powerful than nuclear, but the resultant explosion acted more like a hungry beast than an explosion. All watched in total awe as the plasma fire consumed what they would have thought of as a medium sized town. To their total astonishment, it ceased to be a conflagration and dissipated exactly as the town ended.

The Commander with all the gold stars and adornments all over the front of his uniform looked up from the piles of data and said, "Gentlemen, and ladies, we have a serious problem. From what all of you have told me, none of you can explain how that new weapon works.” the rest of the large group of people all looked sheepish and shied away from any type of answer, "I thought not. I am now putting our entire country on high imminent attack warnings. I suggest each of you make proper arrangements.”

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"So it would appear,” said the Oracle, "that Nation 2 has managed to invent spontaneous plasma fusion, and, in the grand human fashion, has started developing it as a weapon rather than as the fantastic source of energy that it can be.”

"I'll bet the rest of the world is all in a panic,” said Tony, looking at the Oracle's readings of the test.

"The nations whose intelligence agencies are aware of it? Yes,” said the Oracle. "There are, of course, more of those than Nation 2 imagines, although each of them thinks it is the only one who knows.”

"This isn't just an outgrowth of nuclear weaponry, is it? It's something entirely new, right?” Tony asked. "I'm not a nuclear physicist.”

"You are aware, yes, that as a result of your association with me and my technology, you know more than every nuclear physicist on Earth?” asked the Oracle archly. "But you are correct in a way. This is an outgrowth of fusion research, not directly related to nuclear weaponry. It is a way to create a fusion reaction in open atmosphere. Any fusion reaction generates great amounts of energy, which immediately tries to escape, so powerful containment is required. Within stars such as the Sun, the gravitational force of octillions of tons of matter provides this containment. Current fusion reactors seem to be attempting to use magnetic fields to keep the plasma contained, which works reasonably well because plasma consists of charged particles. What Nation 2's researchers have managed to do is remote spot containment -- they have started fusion in a densely-packed sample, containing it at a distance with powerful lasers as the reaction builds, and then simply releasing the containment. In this way they can create an explosion as large as they like with minimal ionizing radiation. Other matter near the ignition point is drawn into the reaction, helping it to expand rather than blocking it. Air, soil, living matter, it all contributes.”

"But this could be a great source of energy, you say.”

"Yes, far more efficient than fossil fuels,” said the Oracle.

"So ... the tricky part is discouraging the weapons research without discouraging the research entirely,” Tony said.

"Yes -- if only people would work together to build a better future for everyone, instead of expecting that everyone else will try to kill them and take their future.”

Tony sat with his face buried in his hands as he thought about this quandary. He finally raises his head and asked, "What do you think about this idea?” Tony proceeded to lay out a preliminary plan to appear to the world that some sort of guardian spirit had come to the earth.

The Oracle said softly, "Let us hope this works. I will make some adjustments to this plan. I think this just might work if people learn that their efforts to create weapons of mass destruction will be stopped by a force they cannot understand.”

Tony stood and walked into the room that assembled his Combat armor on him. As the systems came online and did their routine checks, Tony used the ever more powerful Scanning network of the Oracle. He narrowed in a particular satellite, only to discover there were many such in orbit. This weapon had to be neutralized.

"Oracle, how well does my combat armor work in space?” asked Tony.

"After the last toxic gas incident, I ensured that it functions as a pressure suit,” the Oracle said. "You have eight hours of oxygen, which automatically replenishes when you return to atmosphere. Its thrusters function just as well in vacuum as in atmosphere. The issue of matching velocity with a satellite is the greatest problem.”

"You're reading my mind,” said Tony.

"Not at all, just realizing our plans may be parallel. The second greatest problem is micrometeoroid impact, but both problems require only a minor redesign.”

The next day, the Oracle told Tony to try out the latest armor design, so he got ready to don the armor. The robots assembled it around his body as usual. "Hmm, it seems a little bit stiffer, but not enough to really be a problem,” he said.

"Good,” said the Oracle. "I've replaced the protective polymer skin with a more advanced material, an endergonic self-healing polymer that can actually derive energy from meteoroid impacts, and I've installed stronger thrusters that can accelerate you to orbital velocities -- automatic systems will limit their power when in atmosphere.”

"Excellent!” said Tony. "Now, about what I should be doing to their satellites ...” They made their plans, and then Tony prepared for liftoff.

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Tony found it easy to set course for the satellite that he could next rendezvous with, and the armor launched him into near-Earth orbit and matched velocities with the thing almost before he realized what it was doing. He attached the Oracle's device to the satellite carefully, without coming into range of the camera that the suit's sensors told him the satellite had. It wasn't a surveillance satellite, so it only had a camera as some type of security measure. It probably wouldn't have been able to see him anyway, as he was using stealth mode, but it was best to be cautious.

He set course for the next satellite -- technically the one whose course would be easiest to match with based on his current position and trajectory -- and the suit went into action again. He soon found himself within arm's reach of another one, this one cylinder shaped, with its small dish antenna and solar panels protruding. He carefully attached another device to this one.

"That's two,” he said. "Ten more to go.”

The Oracle's voice responded in his earpieces, "You are ahead of schedule. Neither fuel nor oxygen should become an issue before your mission is complete.”

"Good to hear, Oracle,” Tony said. "Now enroute to next satellite, though you probably know that already.”

"Affirmative, but I am aware of typical mission communication procedures,” the Oracle replied. "Also, communication assures me of your current continued health and well-being.”

"I'm touched that you care, Oracle. That's the third one, then. Moving on.”

It took a few hours, but Tony got all twelve satellites adorned with the Oracle's special packages, and soon after he was on his way home. Reentry wasn't like what current spacecraft did, he realized. The antigravity device meant he didn't have to fall through the atmosphere at high speed. The thrusters simply matched his velocity with Earth's rotation as he started to enter the atmosphere, and then he just descended normally with no heat of reentry. The instruments said it was quite cold out there, then quite hot as he passed through the stratopause, then cold again, but he didn't feel it at all.

And it was good that he was coming back just now. "Update,” said the Oracle. "Nation 2 is planning yet another plasma weapon test. If you arrive at these coordinates -- transmitting to your suit's systems -- we can test the devices.”

"Sounds good,” said Tony. "Proceeding to coordinates, remaining under stealth.”

It took the better part of an hour to travel across the world to the specific test location, but he got there before the test began. As before, they had set up a facsimile of a small town -- no inhabitants other than the occasional bug or snake, perhaps a vulture or two. He hovered over the test site and tuned in to their supposedly top-secret broadcast channels.

"Satellite alignment in five minutes as of ... mark,” said a technician.

"Delivery missile checks complete.”

"Commander-in-Chief now present in observation bunker.”

"Power optimal.”

Tony waited until about two minutes remained, then broadcast on every speaker his sensors could detect -- he didn't bother to hijack the communication systems; he just directly vibrated the speakers. "Attention,” he said. "All development of weapons of mass destruction will now cease. The Forgotten Ones and their Guardian Spirit wish for humanity to know a world without such abominations. We will now limit the scale on which you can wage war, for your own good.”

He continued to hover above the mockup town, invisibly, while he monitored the reaction. "What was that? Some terrorist ultimatum?” "How did they do that? There wasn't a single data packet.” "Systems show no sign of trouble.” "Good. Proceed with countdown.”

The moment approached. "Launching delivery missile,” came the announcement. Tony saw the missile approaching the center of the town below him. Its arrival came at the same instant the satellite in orbit above was set to fire its lasers.

"Now activating,” said the Oracle.

High above, every one of Nation 2's laser satellites had suddenly been changed. Their molecular structure reconfigured. They were now completely different devices -- fantastically advanced, beyond the wildest dreams of modern human science. And they were fully under the control of the Oracle.

"Nothing's happening,” said the Commander-in-Chief. "What's going on? That voice -- is there a saboteur? A spy? Did the terrorists sabotage the test?”

"I don't understand, Sir,” said Dr. Pfeizer. "All readings were normal up to the moment that should have been activation. Measurement teams, proceed to ground zero and report status.”

"Dr. Pfeizer, we're at ground zero. Where the missile and its reaction mass should have been ... there's nothing. It's gone. No evidence of impact. But ... we saw the missile launch. We saw it flying.”

"The Forgotten have spoken,” said Tony again, his voice coming from every headphone, earpiece, and speaker within a mile. "Weapons of mass destruction are now forbidden. Attempting to develop or use them is now a waste of time and resources. Our advice to you: find a better way.”

He returned to base. That would keep them busy for a while. And the Oracle's new orbital robots would take care of the rest of the military satellites, which every international space treaty forbade anyway, and every new non-civilian one that anyone put into orbit. Most of them would just be changed into new robots for the Oracle.

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The League of World Nations immediately convened a secret emergency session. The topic: the voice of the Forgotten.

The speaker stood before the leaders of many nations. Cameras were not allowed by mutual agreement. They had to decide what to do, and although many nations had freedom of the press, one purpose of this meeting was to decide exactly what to tell the world so as to prevent mass panic.

The speaker said in a steady, clear voice, "Leaders of the world. We have convened this gathering to discuss the new limitations set on us by a force unknown to mankind.” There was a round of loud murmurs in many languages as the interpretations were made. "I know that it makes many of us fearful, but there are also those who breathe a sigh of relief. I have heard many reports of this particular force being used against different nations' weapons of mass destruction.”

A hand went up from one of the other industrialized nations. The man was called, and he stood to ask, "Does this mean we are now under some mystical force's command? Are we to be slaves to some ... thing?”

A large flat screen flickered to life, displaying many satellite images in many frequencies. The speaker pointed to the screen, "The Forgotten, whoever and whatever they may be, haven't given us any commands or orders. They've just said that weapons of mass destruction won't work anymore. We have corroborating evidence from many sources showing that's exactly what appears to be happening. It might behoove us to disarm. I'm not quite sure mankind is ready to take on whatever this force is. We can't even identify what energy form it is.”

"There was a ... psychological attack recently, in the form of some sort of viral video game,” said another world leader. "Do we know what stopped it? Was it also the Forgotten, or their Guardian Spirit?”

"Considering that the nation from which the attack originated has so far not come forward to claim responsibility,” the speaker said, "it is difficult to say, but given what we've learned of its nature, there doesn't seem to have been a way for it to just go away on its own ... and yet that's what appears to have happened. Just speaking for myself, it appears to be at least a possibility that these Forgotten may have put a stop to it.”

"This is ... some form of paternalistic imperialism,” said another world leader. "I don't see how we can just knuckle under to these terrorist demands.”

"I don't see how we have any choice,” said yet another. "After all, do you know how to stop them? Do you know where they are or how they're doing what they're doing? Of course not. No one here does. If anyone knew, they'd be taking action, not sitting here talking about it.”

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In a small country that had just managed to acquire several advanced mobile ICBM launchers with fully armed missiles, the leadership had begun to fret over the many weird reports from their spy network. They too had seen the many video captures of some mysterious force that had attacked many places and destroyed their weapons systems.

The leader sat at his war council and said sadly, "I'm not so sure about this spirit thingy all the rest are babbling about.” He turned and indicated the blurry ripple on the video that was in the process of attacking a group of well armed guards. "I will not be kept in fear by some wild tale over a new type of weapon. I am therefore ordering an immediate strike against these targets.”

A map of the globe appeared with several target indicators. Fear could be seen on the faces of the many high ranking generals and other officers present.

"But ... but Sir,” began a seasoned general with hesitation.

"I'm sorry you feel you have to dissent, Glenn,” the leader said. "Guards, take General Hadari to the detention area.”

The guards hesitated.

"Apparently someone needs to be reminded who is the leader,” said the man who had killed everyone who had opposed him politically. "I thought I had removed everyone from this room who was disloyal. Apparently I was wrong. There are, however, loyal men outside the homes of every guard here ready to kill the families of anyone who disobeys me. They can all hear this meeting right now.” The guards looked at each other, and two of them converged on General Hadari, each taking one of his arms.

"This will spell the end of our land!” the general protested as he was dragged from the room. "Those targets -- they're the biggest cities in the world's biggest countries, and all of them are nuclear powers! They'll destroy us!”

"Is there any other dissent?”

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Tony's study of current events over the many feeds the Oracle's newly repaired global network offered was interrupted by a new feed. The new data showed many missiles launching into high orbit. They were not only nuclear and had hydrous warheads, they were loaded with some of the dirtiest nuclear weapons and other isotopes to create massive fallout.

The targets became immediately clear as Tony hurried to the room and had his battle suit applied to his body.

The voice of the Oracle spoke loud and clear in his mind, "You must hurry! Once those rockets reach perihelion of the arc, it will only be 10 minutes before impact. If just one of those warheads explodes, the resulting radiation cloud will contaminate most of the planet.”

Tony's armor hadn't even finished its pre-launch checks before he had launched and was on the way to the closest missile. His suit was indicating the massive frictional heat the external of his suit was absorbing due to ultra hypersonic speed he was traveling, ironically more than when he had re-entered the atmosphere from orbit.

The leader had an ace he hadn't said anything about. Massive amounts of data was being recorded and transmitted back externally and internally for all the missiles including each individually targeted warhead. This time, there would be plenty of data to peruse. He was positive this was a new kind of weapons system ... he didn't believe in avenging spirits.

Only issue with the Leader's plan ... none of the data made any sense. The amount of data they were getting was huge -- and completely unknown to current science.

"I'm not going to be able to save all the targets,” Tony realized. "If I go to Target 3, I'll be able to get to Target 5 in time, and then Target 4, but Targets 1 and 2 ...”

"The missiles en route to Targets 1 and 2 will be in range of two of the orbital robots,” said the Oracle. "Suggest that you handle Targets 3, 5, and 4, as you said.”

"We might just pull this off,” said Tony. "Target 3's missile in detailed scanner range. Readings confirm long-range scans ... hey, these missiles have far more instruments than I'd have expected.”

"I hypothesize that Nation 6 is extremely interested in ... us,” said the Oracle. "Their curiosity is laudable, but their methods despicable.”

"Missile in transmuter range,” said Tony. "I don't have time to be precise. Missile is ... now primarily made of helium. Changing course to intercept Target 5's missile.” As Tony sped away, a few scraps of titanium steel drifted toward the ground; nothing remained of any radioactive material, and the rest of the missile was also mostly gone.

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"I'm getting an incoming intelligence report that I have to share with the League,” said one of the world leaders. "As we're all aware, Eastern Medea's government has chosen not to be present, and they've launched a nuclear attack on Yulingrad, New Ivy, and Nobu, among others.” There were gasps in the room, and some delayed shouts from those who were listening to similar reports from their intelligence services.

"They're ... mad!” said the Speaker. "What could they possibly hope to gain?”

"Perhaps they thought to take some sort of advantage of the situation?”

"Well, our early-warning systems detected missile launches. But ... radar isn't indicating any incoming missiles.”

"We saw a missile incoming, but then it just vanished from the screens,” said another leader.

"We're detecting a signal ... but it's dropping straight down, toward the ocean,” said another.

"Another ... just exploded in the air above Nobu, but ... there's no sign of fallout or radiation.” This leader breathed a deep sigh of relief.

"This doesn't change the fact that Eastern Medea has a great deal to answer for,” said a leader angrily.

The Speaker said, "Please ... until we have any news that anyone has been hurt, let's not go declaring war. These Forgotten seem to be primarily interested in saving lives.”

"I move for immediate economic sanctions against Eastern Medea!”

"I second!”

"Motion is made and seconded,” the Speaker said. "Discussion?”

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"Nation 6 is a rogue nation, as your people put it, ruled by an unstable dictator bent on self-aggrandizement with no thought of his own people's well-being,” said the Oracle.

Tony sat in silence. He totally agreed with the Oracle on how much Nation 6 had to answer for. What they did was highly dangerous and would have created a global disaster had but one of those warheads gone off.

An idea formulated in Tony's mind as he watched a short Bio clip on the leader of nation six. A broad smile crossed his lips as he read that part over the notions of spirits and ghosts.

Tony thought to himself, "So, Mr. Fearless Leader doesn't believe in spirits, does he now?” Tony said out loud to the Oracle, "How bulletproof is my Battle suit?”

The cloud with the pretty face of the Oracle appeared, "Based on what I've seen currently in world stockpiles, you might not be very happy about it, but you could probably survive a normal ordinance attack. The depleted uranium bullets with cordite charges could possibly damage the suit. Again, you wouldn't be happy about it, but I am sure you would survive. Nuclear, on the flip side, I have little hope you would survive that at ground zero without shelter. I am working on a way to shield you better, but currently the interphasic neutrino waves are highly unstable due to their intrinsic nature of not reacting with other atoms or energy forms.”

Tony stood and headed for the suit room. "That's all I needed to know.”

As the mechanoids assembled his suit on his body, Tony knew exactly how he was going to handle this. He wasn't too sure how stable the Leader of Nation 6's mind would be, but he knew for a fact his attitude on Guardian Spirits would have a radical change very shortly.

"Scanners indicate the current location of Nation 6's leader is at his mountain chalet,” said the Oracle as maps appeared on Tony's visor screen.

"Setting course and preparing for takeoff,” Tony said.

"Launch via Tunnel Gamma,” the Oracle suggested. "Even if you are somehow tracked, you will emerge some distance from base.”

"Roger that, Oracle,” said Tony, as his suit lifted off the ground and launched toward the suggested doorway.

As he flew toward the indicated country, the Oracle continued with its scan results. "The chalet is two stories, mostly exposed, but there is of course a tunnel into the mountain, where there is a protected bunker in case of attack. Nation 6's leader is as paranoid as the average dictator. He has a personal guard of eight men, hand-picked for loyalty, who go with him wherever he goes. What passes for modern human technology would have difficulty accomplishing what you intend.”

"Let's hope you've got the right tricks up my sleeve,” said Tony.

"There are automated surface-to-air missile batteries protecting the chalet from aerial assault,” the Oracle said as the launchers were highlighted on Tony's maps. "There are also sniper emplacements here and here. Land mines protect the chalet from ground assault. Looks like he doesn't care about any avalanches the mines might cause if they explode -- either downhill or uphill.”

"Yikes,” said Tony. "A ground assault might bury the chalet with its own defenses, though it would probably be a suicide attack. Good thing I'm coming in by air.”

Tony enabled full stealth mode as he rapidly approached the chalet. His heads up began to indicate the many gun emplacements and missile launchers strategically placed in an arc around the front of the place, and several located above the chalet in a location carved from the mountain and supposedly hidden from view by camouflage netting.

Tony's scans showed a balcony high above the ground and well guarded beneath. The French doors were open, and the sheer drapes hung over the door's windows could be seen fluttering slightly in the breeze. Tony smiles as scans showed the Leader was actually standing under the overhang on the balcony ... this was perfect.

The ruler took a deep drink of the strong liquor. He had had several to steady his nerves. He knew the world as he knew it should have ended 9 or 10 hours ago. All data retrieved from the many warheads was totally useless, even to the very best minds in his country.

Without warning, something tapped him on the shoulder. He turned rapidly, drawing a small pistol from his side. The Leader's eyes got big as his mouth opened in total surprise. No one was there. And his loyal guards apparently had seen and heard nothing -- even the two in the room with him weren't reacting at all.

He said in a voice quivering slightly in fear, "Who ... who's there? I have a gun.” Even now, the two guards in the room acted as if they were seeing and hearing nothing out of the ordinary.

In his earphones, the Oracle said to Tony, "Why don't you use the vocal enhancement equipment and make your voice sound like what he might think a spirit would?”

Tony almost laughed, and he monkeyed with the voice output of his suit. What came out sounded really spectral, an echoing harsh whisper. "You have been a very naughty boy. I hear you don't believe in me.” Then he slapped the gun from the leader's hand and grabbed the other hand in an iron grip.

The leader was totally crazy with fear at this point. His worst nightmare had happened; Tata Moan had come for him. Its grip was as strong as steel and just as cold as the childhood stories he had been told growing up stated.

"Are you going mad?” Tony asked him. "Who can say? Am I real? Or am I a product of your madness? One thing you now know with certainty: you will never know whether I am right behind you.” He laughed, which the voice modulator turned into a truly chilling rasp.

Tony suddenly let him go and left then, the same way he'd come in, and turned off the stealth projection fields. As he hovered outside and methodically transmuted every missile, mine, gun, and bullet on the mountain into pure ice, he listened to the leader screaming, "W-what the hell was th-that? Do something! Kill it!” as his guards pointed their guns randomly in confusion. Only then did they realize that their guns were now made of solid ice. The leader scrambled for his dropped gun and found it, too, made of crystal clear, steaming ice, frosting over in contact with the more humid indoor air.

"Sir, we don't understand,” said one guard as the other looked at his gun in confusion.

"You didn't see? You didn't hear the voice?” the leader demanded.

"Sir, you've been standing there looking out the window,” the other guard in the room said. "You haven't moved or said anything for a few minutes.”

"So ... cold ...” muttered the leader, rubbing his hand. "I ... imagined it? ...”

"What could do this?” asked one of the guards, looking at his ice gun.

The other guard looked at him with a shrug and a fearful expression. "You're asking me? How would I know?”

"I - I refuse to believe in ... spirits ...” the leader said, turning to look behind himself, then turning again.

The leader immediately called his head general and demanded a priest. The general had no options but to get the priest they had imprisoned. All the churches and other shrines had been closed or burned many years earlier.

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The old priest sat against the cold stone wall as he prayed. In his heart, he was no longer afraid. That is until the metal slide window on his door opened and a harsh voice said, "Get ready, the Leader wants to see you ... now.” That usually meant more pain and physical abuse.

The thick cell door opened. The old man covered his eyes with his arm to shield it from the bright light that shone in as he was brutally manhandled out of the cell and practically carried up the long winding stone steps.

The two burly guards basically tossed the old man into the room at the feet of the Leader. "On your knees, you piece of fung gui,” One of the guards said in a gruff voice.

The old priest snorted a laugh as he smiled, then slowly stood until he was standing up looking at the Leader, "I knelt not before your father, nor shall I kneel before you.”

The burly guard reared back his fist and was ready to knock the old man down when the Leader raised his hand and shouted sternly, "Halt. Do not strike this man again. Bring him in a basin of warm water and soap, clean clothes, and have Mei Ling bring a large meal.”

The large guard blinked once before he dropped his hand and bowed at the waist, "It shall be as you command.” then smartly turned with a loud heel click, gathered his men, and was gone.

The leader walked over to a very ornate and very plush sofa and gestured with his hand, "Come, sit. I think it's time you and I had a nice long talk about spiritual matters.”

The old man looked the Leader over warily before he came over and sat on the very comfortable sofa. "What sort of Spiritual matter have we to talk over? Your father and yourself many times have shown and loudly professed a total denial.”

The Leader pulled up a plush chair and sat on the other side of the small Table, "I want to know about Guardian Spirits. Can they do this?” He held up his arm with the darkening seriously bruised mark that was obviously made by a very strong hand gripping it.

About that time, several very young, very pretty and scantily clad young women came in. Two of them carried in a large porcelain bowl with steaming water. The others brought in towels, wash cloths, a complete change of clothing including a shiny new pair of shoes.

Last, but not least, several more came in with a huge platter of many types of food, and yet others with pitchers of many kinds of drink. They set the table before the surprised old man.

The priest rose and slowly backed away from the Leader as he said with obvious reverance in his tone, "Vengeance of the Lord cometh, and none too slowly.” he pointed to the Leader, "Know you this, oh ye of the unwashed, a Guardian Angel can also become an Avenging one. You have been warned and marked.”

A chill ran through the Leader's body as he brought out several large glossy photos of the ice all the weapons had become. He even brought out a still deep frozen piece of ice that looked exactly like a 9mm pistol and showed it all to the priest.

"Can a spirit do this? Turn weapons into ... ice?”

The priest smiled and said, "Far as I'm concerned, it's just a representation of the condition of your heart,” as he pointed to the ice chunk.

"I need answers!” the Leader shouted, momentarily as he banged his fist on the short table allowing his anger to show through the surface. He took a deep breath to calm himself. "Can you make a spirit, or whatever this is, go away?”

"Our Lord can give us the power to cast out evil spirits in His name,” said the old priest. "But it requires those who believe ... and you and your people have done everything you can to make sure believers are scarce in this land. And there's one other problem ...”

"What is that?”

"What makes you think this Spirit of yours is evil?” The priest smiled wearily. "Somehow I doubt you'd have been visited by ... well, whatever it was ... if you were on the side of the angels. I have no power to cast out my own Lord's servants -- assuming I had the desire to in the first place.”

"What?” asked the Leader in outrage. "How dare you imply --” He checked himself. "Of course, as the official truth has held for decades, there is no such thing as a god or spirit to begin with. Therefore it is immaterial what ‘side' we are on. We are on the side of truth.”

The old priest sighed. "Of course you are,” he said. "But which truth? That which is ... or that alternate truth of men?”

"There is only one truth, the truth that I declare to be so,” said the Leader.

"And in that truth, is there room for spirits which turn metal to ice?” asked the priest. "If there is not, then truths are in conflict when your truth says there should be no other to be in conflict with. I do not say that your Spirit is truly a being of supernatural power, nor do I say that it is not, for I do not know. But I do say this: to oppose you ... is not an act of evil.”

The leader glared at the old priest. After all this time, he had never once changed his stance. What he had just said sent chills down the leader's spine as he began to question the validity of his own beliefs .. or disbeliefs. The Leader looked at his ever swelling and purple bruised wrist. He knew something very strong, very cold, and very invisible had grabbed hold of him. The evidence was plain.

"Even if it was some supernatural being that did that to you,” the old priest said, "I cannot exorcise a being that is not evil, for it is therefore not counted among the forces of the Devil. Return me to your prison if you will, but unless you wish to repent and confess your sins, there is nothing I can do for you.”

The leader paused for just a moment longer. But then he said, "Take him away.” The guards took the priest out of the room.

He looked at his gun, melting on the table.

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"Calling it ‘Nation 6' and such ... I think I prefer it this way,” said Tony as he flew back to base. "It lets me kind of put distance between my past and what's going on now. It lets me be objective.”

"I will continue to refer to them as such, then,” said the Oracle. "When I awoke, I initially didn't know their names, of course. I entered them into my database as I learned about them and discovered their names in time, but naturally I still have their original numerical designations. Nation 6's leader is speaking with a priest. Whether he is questioning his choices I cannot say, however.”

Tony smiled. He had another idea to help make the leader of nation 6 believe even more. He stopped his return trip and about faced. Tony was going to give that idiot a real scare and maybe even several of his men.

Tony arrived back at the Chalet. Things had changed a bit as far as security was concerned. Even the motion detectors couldn't see him as he slipped past and searched for where the leader might be hiding.

This time, Tony wasn't subtle as he tore the heavy reinforced door from its hinges and tossed it down the hall. Tony entered and said in that ethereal voice, only louder so all could hear, "I speak for the Forgotten. I am a guardian of this world and none may destroy it. Not even a mote of dirt such as you.” With this, Tony destroyed most of the side of the room he was on with a large sweep of the transmuter. Technically he didn't destroy it as much as change it into a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen, but it certainly looked as if he had completely disintegrated wood, wall, and furniture. The leader could clearly see through the new holes in the walls and floors into the rooms next door and below.

"What -- what are you?” the leader demanded. "Who are the Forgotten?”

Tony did not answer. He felt that it was more effective unexplained. To explain, even to give a false story, would demystify the Forgotten, reduce the force of the legend they were creating. He left as covertly as he had entered.

The Leader had wet himself in fear. He could feel the cold clammy stickiness of it as he stared at the destruction. He thought about the words ... who were the forgotten? The Leader looked around. This time, there were many witnesses as his many guards and servants stood in what was obvious fear.

A small man in a very outdated tweed suit came up and said in his mousy voice, "Sir, I think you need to see this. It's ... totally amazing.”

The man pushed a small chip into the slot on the computer sitting on a desk opposite the destruction. The leader stood in total fear as he watched. He saw the places and the floor and the roof just sort of waver for an instant before it totally vanished. Whatever the thing was that spoke, didn't show up on any of the recording.

The leader turned and said in a quivering voice full of fear, "Show this to some of our allies. They need to know situations have drastically changed. Apparently, there are supernatural beings ... and this one is angry.”

The Guard removed the chip from the computer and replied as he left, "It shall be done as you command.”

The leader turned to one of the other soldiers and snapped, "And bring the priest back here. He needs to see this. Besides, he's had more than enough time to eat, bathe, and change clothes.”

The soldier jumped at the Leader's bark, "It shall be as you command.” then turned with a sharp heel click and vanished.

The leader flopped in a chair on the opposite side of the destroyed room away from the damage. Definite fear clawed at his mind as he looked at the massive damage he and many of his soldiers witnessed as it happened.



Something the old priest had said now rang in his mind, "Does your truth have room for spirits?”

The Leader began to bite his nails as he worried over the issue. If this was some sort of new weapon system, it was totally beyond anything earth technology could have produced currently. Another fear began to rise. Now that he had no nuclear arms, and the conventional ones he did have were way outdated compared to the other industrialized nations ...The Leader knew in his soul the rest of the nations would be more than willing to retaliate with conventional arms. He also knew his nation couldn't hold its own against the entire planet under those conditions.

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The old priest was thanking G_D for the sudden good fortune. The meal was the best one he had eaten in many long years. Instead of the dank cell he had resided in for those years, he was now in some kind of stateroom. It was huge and opulently decorated.

The priest raised his eyebrows as a knock came at the door. This was highly unusual. Normally the guards and other persons barged in unannounced. He went to the door and opened it.

A very young soldier in a sharply tailored uniform stood at the door respectfully and said, "The Leader has requested your presence in the planning bunker. There's something ... you must see .... And even then, I don't think you will believe it.” The soldier stepped back and indicated the direction with his hand.

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"Father Ing Rosheng, held captive for nearly a decade, has been released,” said the news announcer, "and he has addressed the League of World Nations.” The video cut to a clip of the priest's speech.

"There is no evidence that these Forgotten, or this Avenging Spirit, are truly supernatural,” said the priest as camera flashes sparkled, "and I do not believe that they are angels of the Lord. However, we know two things. They are opposed to our killing ourselves with weapons of mass destruction. And they are enemies only of those to try to employ such weapons. They may not be angels, but I believe that in a way they are doing God's work.”

The news announcer returned and said, "The world's nuclear powers are still debating this latest revelation and its ramifications. For comment we turn to Dr. Phun Lin, head of the Khmer Republic's Ministry of Science. Dr. Lin, what are we dealing with?”

Dr. Lin said, "Well ... having looked at the new video from Kirat, it appears that these people calling themselves the Forgotten have an unprecedented technology allowing instantaneous transmutation of subatomic particles, or even total conversion of matter to energy.”

"And that's beyond current science?” asked the announcer.

"Physics as we know it has no theory to explain any such thing,” said Dr. Lin. "And yet I don't believe that we're dealing with anything supernatural -- just science that we don't understand. As for who has that kind of science ...”

"A previously unknown world power? Aliens?”

"Your guess is as good as mine,” said Dr. Lin. "Their name for themselves, the Forgotten, would suggest that these are people who have always been here on Earth, but they've been somehow waiting, biding their time, not acting until recently. But there's no credible evidence of any such civilization.”

"And you don't believe in aliens?”

"I don't believe in aliens who would travel vast distances through space to come here and tell us to quit killing each other in huge numbers,” said Dr. Lin. "What would be the incentive? No, I think they're from right here on Earth and they want humans to limit their destructive nature.”

"Your leader, the Khmer ‘Overmeister,' doesn't seem inclined to limit the growth of his arsenal,” the announcer said. "Do you think this will change in light of the new evidence?”

"We shall see,” said Dr. Lin. "Of course, in our country, his word is law, but even so, he knows how to see reason. He's still seeking retribution on Parthia for the cyberattack.”

"Most of the world wants to see Parthia punished for that,” the announcer said. "Would he join in a multinational coalition to impose sanctions?”

"I'm a scientist, not a diplomat,” said Dr. Lin. "It's not impossible, I suppose, but that's not my field of expertise.”

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Tony sat in his comfortable chair as he watched the many news feeds playout. As far as he could tell, the entire planet was involved in this particular discussion. Tony shook his head as he heard the comments made about retribution for the cyber attack. He knew such wars could rage on for years, especially since the country in question, Parthia, was an industrialized and highly technological country for the current world level of technology.

Tony logged into the many new satellite platforms he had annexed and massively upgraded. Each one told the story of all the weapons of a fission or fusion nature were in process of being dismantled. A worry started to grow in Tony's mind as he thought of another type of weapon that could be employed. Genetically engineered animals and plants. Those would be extremely difficult to detect.

Tony heard the News Commentator as he commented on the ongoing world summit, "Apparently, none of the world leaders except for 1, the leader of Kirat, believed this to be a supernatural being. It was also noted he had eye witnessed it devastate a large area of a fortified bunker type building, and even had a very bruised wrist that bore an amazing resemblance to a hand.”

Video of several instances of whatever they were facing showed on the screen. Tony smiled as one of the top world physicist sweated very hard questions. The most impressive of the videos, was where he had transmuted the bunker.

The Physicist said with a quaver of worry in his voice, "I'm sorry. To my knowledge, no one on this planet has the technological capabilities to do what has been done. Furthermore, even with our most powerful equipment, there is no way to transmute objects. It is true we can transmute lead into gold and uranium to lead, but, the resultant object would be highly radioactive for many centuries to come.”

The commentator came back on the screen, "According to World Coalition declaration, a new and better than ever denuclearization program is being implemented. We have been given a limit on exactly how powerful our weapons can be. Obviously, this ... being, doesnt want us to destroy all life on this planet. To this reporter, this is a good thing and I will start calling it A Guardian Angel of the Forgotten. This is John Abrahms, GNN World news, thank you for watching.”

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"Swarms of insects with deadly stings, or something like that, that's what I mean,” said Tony. "Or some kind of poison ivy whose poison is a nerve toxin that kills.”

"If they were developed, those would be dangerous, without question,” the Oracle said, "but also not as problematic as microorganisms, which can hide inside humans and other animals and spread undetectably. I would prefer to speak more generally and say that all biological weapons should be monitored and stopped.”

"Well, I'm glad you've at least considered those threats,” said Tony. "Oh, there's one other problem I thought of.”

"Yes?”

"There's only one of me,” Tony said. "If the nations of this world figure out that I can only be in one place at once, all they have to do is execute nuclear tests at the same time.”

"This is a valid concern,” the Oracle said. "We do now have robotic satellites in orbit that can convert other space weapons into more like themselves, while leaving civilian satellites alone. And I already have robotic assistants. It is possible that we may need to build some robotic Guardian Spirits to confuse the world's nations.”

"But how well can they do the job?”

"I doubt you need worry about your job security,” said the Oracle. "Your decision-making and ingenuity cannot truly be programmed into a robot. In fact, it may be a better idea to have you here, controlling them at a distance, so you can switch control from one to another at a moment's notice -- effectively traveling from one side of the world to the other.”

"My telepresence would travel, rather than myself,” said Tony. "Interesting.”

"Very well, then,” said the Oracle. "I already have subterranean remote sites around the world, staffed by robots under my control. I will have them all create robotic Guardian Spirits, effectively -- with armor identical to yours, but inhabited by a robotic armature. They will be built and ready for testing soon.”

Of course, one of those sites was the one right where he was. Tony watched as exact robotic duplicates of himself were rapidly constructed. He marveled at the intricacies of the many molecule sized components that went into making it work and remain perfectly under control. Tony thought the auto self repair functions were a bit primitive, and added a few tweaks to insure continuity was proper. Of course the Oracle marveled at Tony's ingenuity once again.

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Early one morning, after the robo-suits had begun global patrols under Tony's sharp scrutiny, A peculiar message was received. It was on a very low power frequency, and an oddball one to boot. Apparently, Father Ing Rosheng wanted to have some sort of conversation with ... The Guardian Spirit. Tony smiled. Ok, if the old man wanted to talk to a ghost, he was willing.

Tony donned his suit and took off. He set the suit to where it would project a shimmering image and speak in one of those ethereal voices Horror fans loved so much.

Father Rosheng stood in the back of the Sanctuary of his New church. He looked around at all the sparkling new items his ex captor had purchased to fill it with. As he slowly walked down the aisle, a very mysterious glow appeared and grew in intensity. The old priest stood with his mouth open in total awe as something that looked like ... he wasn't sure, but it had a translucent, glowing shape of a human of some sort.

.A soft, mysteriously ethereal voice said, "Of what does a servant seek from one appointed as Guardian by the Forgotten?”

The old man would have been on his knees if Tony hadn't caught him and stood him back up.

The old man stammered, "Wh ... who ... what are you?”

The laugh sounded so scary, it caused Tony to cut it short, which caused it to sound even more scary, "I am the Guardian. I am one who's appointment is to stop mankind from eradication.”

"Who are the ... Forgotten?” asked the old priest.

Tony replied, "They are whom none remember.”

The old man laughed this time and all fear vanished. Whatever this was, had a sense of humor ... and Tony liked it. The priest said, "Fair enough. You obviously got my message. Used a broken old ham radio that I somehow got working. My real question is this: what are you really trying to do, and do you think it'll really work?”

"Prevent mankind from destroying itself,” said Tony.

"You've said that,” said the old man. "Now, I'm a man of God, and an old one to boot. You've got a tall order there. But then, humanity hasn't destroyed itself yet, so maybe there's hope. But I'm asking you again: do you think it'll really work?”

"If we limit war, then diplomacy has a chance,” said Tony. "If we do not ... humanity may self-destruct before it is ever tried.”

"So your goal isn't to stop all war, just to stop weapons that can kill huge swaths of people, wreck the environment for millions of years, that kind of thing?” asked Rosheng.

"Yes,” Tony said simply.

"Well, now, I can't see anything wrong with that in itself,” Rosheng said. "It's true that some genetically engineered plague could wipe out the entire human race, or some thermonuclear exchange could shower radioactive fallout across the earth's surface that will cause diseases and mutations for the next million years. Or chemical weapons could render whole regions toxic and uninhabitable. Those things should be stopped. But I was captured and held prisoner for a decade using none of those weapons. The real enemy isn't those weapons. It's ... well, the idea that it's allowable to lock someone up forever just because of their beliefs.”

"Dictatorship,” said Tony.

"Exactly,” said the old man. "And the antidote to dictatorship is the very stuff dictators hate -- justice. The rule of law. Nobody above the law, nobody immune to justice. Not even the people who make the laws. No exceptions.”

"Change will only happen ... if the people support it,” said Tony.

"Now, you're talking sense there,” said the old man. "Toss out one tin-pot dictator, and another one will just take his place. Unless there's a real desire for justice in the people. But when that's happening ... it's too easy for the dictator to crush their hopes. What I'm saying, what I'm asking from you is, when you see a nation ripe for revolution against their unjust ruler, maybe you could give them a little hope.”

"Hope,” Tony said.

"Hope that justice can prevail,” said Rosheng.

Tony thought about that proposition for a minute before he replied, "I will bring justice to those who seek it.” He pointed his finger at an old looking vase full of stalks in one corner. The vase changed to a beautiful sparkling crystal full of many colored flowers formed from priceless gems. "To those who refuse, fire cannot be used against fire. Fear only begets fear. In the short term it may deter, but for the long term the only thing is the change of hearts.”

The old priest looked at the glowing apparition with discerning eyes, "What if I ... aided you and gave you earthly guidance. It is more than obvious I cannot give spiritual advice, but I can aid you in other more earthly ways.”

Tony thought about that for a minute then replied, "Start your sermons and add the part about a Guardian Spirit watching over the innocent and seeking justice. Let us see if we can change the weakness of fear into something strong.”

With this, Tony left under full cloaking. The old priest looked at the crystal vase full of jewel flowers. He realized they were acting as if they were alive. The crystals replicated in a manner resembling life. In total awe, the old man watched as an emerald stalked rose crystal bloomed in to a bright red ruby flower.

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"Are you sure I can't have my nuclear missiles, Lin?” asked the Overmeister. "No way to hide them from the Forgotten? No way to make a new kind of nuclear bomb that they can't find?”

"Er, not that we know of, Sir,” said Lin. "Considering we know nothing of how they find nuclear weapons, it would be extremely difficult to do that. And I heard that Babylon discovered that a cache of their chemical weapons had turned into water somehow.” Not that Lin really wanted the Overmeister to have nukes. Most of the Khmer Republic didn't want the Overmeister in power at all. He was temperamental, egotistical, and totally disinterested in the well-being of the people. He seemed only to want more power and more weapons. Occasionally he'd give a speech and lie that he wanted the power and weapons to protect the people from their enemies, but that was wearing thinner and thinner each time.

"If only I had that kind of technology,” whined the Overmeister. "I'd be invincible then, wouldn't I?”

"I suppose, Sir,” Lin replied, "but, as I've said, we've got no idea how the Forgotten do what they do. Not even the first idea where to start.”

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Rosheng stayed up most of the night planning his sermon for the next day. He fully intended to tell the people that justice on the Leader was at hand, that the day was swiftly approaching when they must rise up and cast off their yokes of oppression and place a leader in the position who intended to do the right thing by the people. He also had a scheme to embolden the parishioners. His only worry ... that the simple people would fear the Guardian Spirit. He had a contingency plan for that too as he looked at the beautiful and priceless crystal vase that held the many just as priceless jewel flowers that appeared to actually be growing somehow.

While Rosheng prepared his impassioned sermon, Tony pondered some new features for his armor. The cloak, anti-gravity, and the transmutation beam were wonderful, but he wanted something with a bit more bang, or at least flash, to strike fear into the hearts of those he was trying to convince to stop making horrible WMDs. He also wanted some sort of misdirection, because as good as the cloak was, he knew that the world's militaries would focus all their analysis on wherever the inexplicable phenomena were coming from. If he could give them something to look at, then they wouldn't be looking at him -- or firing weapons at him either.

As he perused the tremendously large database, he came across two kinds of weapons that sounded very interesting. One was called "the Spear of the Arcane,” while the other was called "the Essence of Solarius.” These Forgotten had had some creative people naming their advanced weapons.

Tony smiled as he had his battle suit equipped with these two new weapons systems, and the Oracle told him that his robot duplicates were being designed with the same specifications. The Spear of the Arcane was a really neat one too. Not only would its source appear to be a ghost of some kind, this particular weapon would cause that ghost image to radiate electricity. He could appear to toss bolts of lightning just like Zeus. The other gave Tony a wide range of Solar type weapons including large gouts of fire like a huge omnidirectional flamethrower -- which could be configured to come from any origination point in range. Tony nodded. He would definitely be able to put on a real show when necessary -- though he hoped it wouldn't be necessary. He wanted to show Rosheng's people that there was something on their side that sought justice and peace.

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"The Overmeister?” said the man in the bar, looking around nervously. "Sure, he's doing ... a fine job ... why do you ask?”

"Don't worry, I'm not one of his spies,” said Dr. Lin, "and no matter where they are, they can't hear us.” Dr. Lin was using a white noise generator and a facial-recognition scrambling field of his own invention, not to mention a more conventional disguise. "I can't reveal who I am, of course, because as we both know, he has eyes everywhere. But, Mr. Hyo, I've noticed that you seem to be at the epicenter of a number of labor actions, which the Overmeister has of course declared to be illegal, punishable by death if he were ever to find out who was behind them. I am here because I want to join you. I want to help you and others to form a resistance movement that cannot be shut down. It is long past time the power in our nation be returned to the people.”

"Who are you, some kind of ... V for Vendetta kind of guy?” asked Mr. Hyo. "You just look like a guy in a trenchcoat and fedora. Except that I can't see your face for some reason.”

"That's to fool the government cameras,” said Lin. He had, of course, been instrumental in designing that very same camera system, so he knew how to fool it perfectly. "They can't see a face, they don't think anyone's there. As far as the computers know, you're sitting at this bar drinking alone, saying nothing to anyone.”

"OK, but what about regular spies?” asked Mr. Hyo. "The bartender could be one. The guys at the table over there -- any of them could be spies. You could be one.”

"It's true that I could be doing this to entrap you,” said Lin, "and that anything you say could be recorded and used to put you on trial for treason. That's a possibility. But let me give you a gift to show you my goodwill. The security cameras that watch your home and workplace are now showing the system a simulation of business as usual. Cause whatever disturbance you like. I know you can do it untraceably. I know you can hack in and find out what they know about you. You will see that what you do won't appear in the system. I can make that happen anywhere I want. But for now I have to go.”

"When will I talk to you again?” asked Mr. Hyo.

"I will contact you,” Dr. Lin said. "The day after tomorrow, after your work shift.”

"OK ...” Mr. Hyo said, uncertainly. "What do I call you?”

Dr. Lin considered. He hadn't thought of a code name for himself, but it was time to have one. "Call me ... The Underground.” He got up from the bar stool, turned around, and walked out the back door, where he entered the basement of a neighboring building whose door was supposed to be locked. To his credit, Mr. Hyo did not turn to watch him leave. Lin couldn't waste any time, though -- he had an appointment with another would-be labor disruptor that evening. It would take considerable effort, but he had carefully analyzed his plan, and he calculated that he had a 73% chance of rebuilding the resistance network that the Overmeister's spy organization thought it had smashed.

Just as Dr. Lin entered the basement of the other building, six men in trenchcoats came from the shadows with their weapons drawn. One of them said with a snarl, "Stand where you are and hope I don't shoot you right now. I don't know or care who you are. Our informant in the bar next door told us of your plans. We'll get your collaborator there next. Our orders clearly give us authority to kill any and all dissenters ...”

The man never got to finish his sentence. A very bright light appeared just as one side wall exploded. Dr. Lin stared with open mouthed fearful awe as something straight out of his nightmares appeared. What he thought he saw looked like some kind of ... ghost, for the lack of a better description. Only this one appeared to be giving off flaming electrical discharges.

Dr. Lin watched in complete awed amazement as the 6 men were totally evaporated into small piles of ash.

A voice straight out of his favorite horror show said, "Dr. Lin. Tis of the utmost importance you ceace all work on anything that can cause mass death or destruction. You have been warned.”

With a sudden rushing of wind sound, the apparition vanished leaving the overpowering smell of fire, electricity, and a very strange strawberry colored mark on the back of his arm. Dr. Lin knew at that point his country's doctrine of total atheism was wrong. He had just seen the Guardian Spirit with his own eyes.

As fast as Lin could, he left the area. He was sure if some informant was in the bar, who ever it was would be close by to identify him to whomever might be looking. He went through his rounds of underground meetings, always looking over his shoulder and being paranoid someone was watching. By the time Lin arrived back at the Lab, and the large room there he had called home for several years, he was physically and mentally exhausted.

While he changed clothes and bathed to remove the smoke and old beer smells, he looked at the back of his arm and the strange mark. )~\/~( was now branded on his arm in bright strawberry pink. Lin knew, he was now marked and had been warned in person that the very thing his Leader wanted and would kill him if he didn't comply, was forbidden by some type of spirit. Lin also knew beyond any doubt, if the spirit wanted him, there was nowhere he could hide. Lin now knew a fear he had never known before.

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Rosheng felt wonderful as he strode up to the front of the pulpit. It had been many a year since he was able to speak before the flock. He looked out across the crowd of faces. Once the local population had heard a real preacher had come and refurbished the old abandoned church, it seemed they came from the woodwork to hear the first sermon.

Rosheng had them all stand and sing to the glory of G_D Almighty and thank him for hearing their prayers. After the parishioners had noisily seated, Rosheng Said in his loud voice, "I welcome all to this first sermon. Today's lesson is one the Lord has told his followers from the beginning: Fear not, for I am with you and will bring Justice to the oppressed and free those in bondage. I gave you not the spirit of fear, but of power and strength in Me.

It wasn't planned ... at least not by the priest or Tony, but that was exactly when Tony arrived in grand style. A large flash of electricity appeared in front of the Pulpit. What appeared to be something kind of shaped like a man stood within the brighty arcing electricity and fire.

Tony looked around and smiled. He had actually arrived at the proper moment to deliver his speech. He had no idea what the impact of his next statements were going to have, nor how emboldened it would make the oppressed peoples.

He said in that so strange voice he had chosen, "I have come to defend and to protect. It is far past time mankind ceased its inexorable path to extinction. I will do the very best I can to solve this problem, in remembrance of The Forgotten.”

For what seemed like forever, but was only a few heartbeats, the parishioners stared in open mouth awe, disbelief, and fear. After this moment had passed, pandemonium broke out. A loud cheerful shout rose loudly as many thanked the Almighty for sending a warrior to cast out the horrid ruler along with his army once and for all.

Now, it was Tony's turn to look on in open mouthed awe as he watched the jubilation spread. He raised his arms after several had come to him and tried to kneel and said loudly in that voice, "I am not a god, you should speak with me when I am present in the same manner you speak to any other. I am here to attempt to save mankind from its own hand.”

With this, Tony felt it was time to make a strategic exit. The people were now more than motivated. Under full stealth, he left the sanctuary and headed back to the Oracle base.

Rosheng looked around the church. It brought real joy to his heart that they would finally be delivered. He truly hoped the Guardian Spirit was as inspired as his parishioners obviously now were. Rosheng knew beyond any doubt, a small bit of faith mixed with a little hope could move mountains.

The revolt began as soon as some of the Elite Guards had attempted to bully a young woman. None of the population feared them any longer, or that wimp of a coward that called himself Leader. They now knew they had something none of those would ever stand before fighting in their corner ... they had seen it with their own eyes. Needless to say, the Elite Guards regretted their decision to try to rape the girl as many emboldened men pounded them to death with anything they could find to swing.

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"Nation 6's people now appear to be in a state of open revolution,” said the Oracle, displaying images from her own sensors as well as from the courageous reporters who remained in the war zone at great risk to their lives. "Monitoring closely to ensure that the Leader doesn't use chemical weapons against its own people.”

"Understood,” said Tony, standing in the control armature, a sort of omnidirectional 3-D treadmill that allowed him to run or fly in any direction without actually going anywhere. His every move could be transmitted to any of the robot suits anywhere in the world, and he could view the robot's sensory inputs on his visor as if he were there in person. "I'm ready in case we need to neutralize anything.”

"Simultaneously ... it seems we misjudged Dr. Lin in Nation 1,” the Oracle continued. "He was already working to sabotage the Overmeister's weapons programs.”

"I thought they weren't going anywhere because Nation 7's psycho weapon decimated their scientists,” said Tony.

"That was part of it, but Dr. Lin was actively preventing the program from recovering from that,” the Oracle said. "In addition, he may have been attempting to organize a rebellion.”

"Oh, so that's who those goons were that we got rid of,” said Tony. "I thought they were just criminals.”

"Evidently some element of the Overmeister's intelligence operations got wind of his activities,” the Oracle said. "I have, of course, erased all information about such discoveries from Nation 1's computers, and all offline information that I am able to find. However, I cannot remotely erase the memories of individuals who know what was discovered, nor can I guarantee that all paper records are gone.”

"But you can interfere with their further surveillance of him,” Tony said.

"Indeed I can,” said the Oracle. "He is already quite adept at manipulating their systems himself, as he designed most of them -- but not all. What he doesn't disable, I will.”

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"You spoke the truth,” said Mr. Hyo when the trenchcoated figure came to sit beside him at the bar. "I organized a one-hour work stoppage at the factory today, and although the management screamed and called the police, nobody believed them. Management knows we can do it again now, any time we want, and for as long as we want. We're feeling hope for the first time in a long time.”

"You're not alone, either,” said Dr. Lin. "Labor actions took place at eight other factories and facilities today, and the regime has no evidence that any of it happened except for the word of some angry managers that no one likes or trusts. I want to knit you all together into an organized resistance. I can't lead, though. Your people wouldn't trust me, and besides, I have other work to do, in the shadows.”

"Can you relay messages?”

"I can do better,” Dr. Lin said. "Take this. It's not a phone, but it sends and receives secure text-only messages. You have a code name, and so do all the other labor leaders. There's nothing the secret police can do to decrypt these messages.”

Across the bar, the secret police informant blinked his eyes and shook his head. He must have gotten sleepy and dozed off for a few minutes. He looked around. Well, fortunately no one unusual was in the bar right now. Mr. Hyo was suspected of being a labor organizer, but he was doing the same thing he did every night, drinking alone at his favorite bar. The informant continued to watch, and a tiny drone hovering behind one of the ceiling lights watched him.

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"The army is coming,” one of the protesters below was saying, after hanging up his phone. "Jon said they were in armored vehicles, armed with what looked almost like cannons.”

"Probably gas shells!” said another. "But ... don't the Forgotten forbid those?”

"Yes, they do, Helena,” the first one said. "But we can't just trust in some kind of Guardian Spirits -- we have to make our own luck. Hit them where and when they don't expect it. We have to take our country back. We remember how proud our nation was before the so-called Leader!”

"Rasonian Square,” said Helena. "Jon -- if we barricade the streets there, it'll take them hours to clear it, and there's just enough time to get there and do it, if enough of us go.”

"Who's with us?” Jon asked. Dozens of others shouted defiantly and raised their hands, some carrying guns, others makeshift weapons. "OK, not all of us can go. Some of us need to take advantage of the distraction to free the political prisoners.” There was discussion, and groups formed.

Overhead, there was a stealthed robotic drone avatar listening in, and Tony was in control. "Let's go find out if they're really using gas shells. Tear gas is one thing, but if they're something worse ... actually, since I'm here anyway, I'm going to neutralize it even if it is only tear gas.” He took off in the direction that the sensor data indicated.

"This ‘tear gas' is still not entirely a harmless chemical weapon,” said the Oracle as he flew. "It can cause asthma attacks that require hospitalization, as well as chemical burns. Some have permanent eyesight problems. Those who come in contact with it and do not require medical attention should count themselves lucky.”

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Sitting in his bunker, deep under a large mountain and many feet of bomb hardened ferris concrete, the Leader sat at his desk and fretted. A real fear had crept into his mind as he watched the many feeds on his monitors. He wasn't positive over the whole thing, but he was sure that whatever that thing was that came to see him, had cause the current problem of unrest.

A young sergeant rushed into the room, stood at stiff attention and gave a sharp salute accompanied with the heel click.

The Leader looked away from his monitors and said, "Yes? What is it? I left strict ...”

The young sergeant cut him off as he said quickly, "Excuse me sir, with all due respect,” the young man looked over his shoulder to the explosion hardened door, "We need to get you out of here sir. This insurrection has turned into a regular shooting war. The people are not backing down.”

The Leader's mouth fell open as he said sharply, "Leave? This is one of the most secure places on this planet. Why would I want to leave?”

About that time a huge earth shake happened. Serious debris and other chaff fell all around as the main lighting went out. The tremors could be felt vibrating through the structure.

The young Sargent replied quickly as he flipped on a small light and grabbed the leader by his arm and started to basically drag him from the office, "I don't have time to explain. We leave now, or this is our grave.”

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"But the newspapers don't say anything about any of this! They say everything's fine!”

"Newspapers? Who reads newspapers? Everyone I know on social media says there are labor strikes everywhere, and anti-government demonstrations are starting to pop up.”

"I don't believe everything people say -- wait. What's going on over there?”

"Looks like people carrying anti-Overmeister signs over at the park.”

"What? And the police aren't arresting them? Has the Overmeister totally lost control?”

"Looks like it ... can it really be? Can we really be free?”

Nearby, Mr. Hyo listened to this conversation with interest and a growing inner sense of hope. He covertly sent a status message to the others in the network. Whoever this Underground was, he had worked a miracle. There was still no sign that the Overmeister and his regime had any idea what was going on all over the country.

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In a huge council chamber, all the rulers of the free nations gathered. The many reports from all around the globe clearly showed that once people got the news some sort of force was in the world putting a stop to the weapons of mass destruction, all the oppressed nations population started to rise and fight back.

The elected head of the governing body walked to the lectern and tapped the mic with his hand. It made a loud thumping noise ... the many voices became silent.

The man said without preamble, "Ladies and gentlemen of the United World Nations Assembly, I bring news of serious consequence. Several of the more oppressed nations, which were also experimenting with WMDs of their own, have apparently fallen into states of civil war. The populations are rising up.” The man stopped long enough to enable his laptop's projector function. "From what we can see in these many clips, it's the people basically taking back the country they had lost so long ago.”

"The free nations of the world must support these uprisings!”

"No! Every one of our nations is sovereign and has a right to its own form of government!”

"Your nation is ruled by a dictator who rose to power in a bloody coup!”

"Your nation sends its military wherever it wants and interferes with every other nation's internal politics!”

"The will of the people must rule!”

"The people re-elect our head of state in every election!”

"There is no other choice! Your elections are a sham!”

The room broke down into arguing until the speaker banged his gavel. "Please! Order! If we wish to debate, we can hold a vote and speak in turn. Do I have a motion to open debate on the merits and flaws of democracy?”

There was silence. No one wanted to start a dry, endless philosophical debate at a time like this.

"I thought not,” said the speaker. "Now, this body has no say in what your nations do individually, as long as you do not violate any of the agreements and treaties that you have all signed.” There were a few delegates who looked as if they wanted to say something, because there were some countries that had repeatedly violated such agreements and treaties, but the speaker glared at them and maintained control. "But I reiterate that you have all signed treaties guaranteeing your citizens certain basic human rights, and I trust that your governments will uphold them. There are also protocols against the use of chemical and biological weapons as well as land mines and labor camps.”

An assistant brought in a message and handed it to the speaker.

"Thank you,” he said. "We've just had word that the Kirati military has attempted to fire tear gas canisters into crowds of protesters ... and that uniformly those tear gas canisters appear to have been neutralized.”

"The Forgotten?” asked one delegate.

"So it would appear,” the speaker replied, "but as usual, no one saw how this could have been done.”

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"Here comes the tear gas,” said Helena, wrapping a cloth tightly around her eyes and nose. It wasn't a gas mask, but it was all they had.

"Get ready,” said Jon. The military assault vehicles began firing canister after canister into the crowd, and people moved away from them as they started to emit white vapor.

But no one's eyes began to sting or water, and no one coughed. Protesters approached the canisters. "It's just ... steam?” asked Helena, feeling the vapor with a hand.

"The Guardian Spirit,” said Jon. "It must be. They have no tear gas now!”

"Careful,” said Helena, "they still have bullets.”

"They'll have to hit us,” said Jon resolutely. "And they'll have to fire upon their own people. Let's see if they have the stomach for that.”

"Kirat forever!” shouted Helena, and the crowd charged the row of assault vehicles. The confused-looking soldiers, who had expected the tear gas to work, looked at each other and did not aim their rifles, not knowing exactly what to do.

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"Free elections now! Free elections now!” shouted the protesters in the streets of Khmer's capital city, and in every other city in the country. Many soldiers had deserted their posts and joined in. Every factory in the country was closed down, because no workers had come in to work that day.

But in his bunker, the Overmeister had his dinner as usual, as no reports had come in to him about any of this. "Wait ... where are my guards?” he asked.

"I couldn't say, Sir,” said the Overmeister's butler. "I have not seen them today.”

"WHAT?” the Overmeister shouted, jumping to his feet in rage. "That's ridiculous! That's insubordination! That's ... treason!”

"As you say, Sir,” said the butler.

The Overmeister grabbed his intercom but was unable to get anyone to answer. The same was true with his mobile phone. "What is going on?” he demanded.

"You know as much as I do, Sir,” the butler replied.

The Overmeister's phone rang.

"Unknown number? Who is ... Hello?”

"This is the Underground,” said an electronically-disguised voice. "You have become ... irrelevant.”

"WHAT? Never!” the Overmeister blustered.

"You are now Overmeister of nothing,” said the Underground. "New elections have been held. The people have overwhelmingly elected delegates to a convention to write a new national constitution that will never allow an insane dictator such as yourself to gain power in Khmer ever again -- assuming the people continue to defend it as much as they want it now.”

"I don't care what new illegitimate constitution they scribble down! I'm in charge!”

"Let's see you give an order, then -- one that someone listens to, that is.”

"Get me the chief of -- where did you go?” the Overmeister tried to order his butler, who was now nowhere to be seen.

"The people rule now, as they once did, and as they will forever,” said the Underground. "Your time is done. Your bunker is now your prison.”

"Oh? You plan to lock me up in here? You forget it's full of weapons! I'll blast my way out, and then you'll see!” The Overmeister ended the call.

"It seems that we misjudged you, Dr. Lin,” said a crackling, oddly modulated voice that appeared to come from thin air.

The "Underground” turned in the voice's approximate direction and replied, "You wouldn't be the first. Are his weapons neutralized?”

"Yes,” said Tony. "He will play with his toys for a time, until he finds that they are mere make-believe. It will give your fledgling convention time to convene.”

"I must thank you for the assistance,” said Dr. Lin. "You saved my life, and now you have saved the revolution.”

"And we must apologize,” Tony replied. "Saving your life was unintended, as we had deeply misjudged your intentions. I hope we have made proper recompense. In the meantime, your plans were your own and worked flawlessly.”

"Once you found the flaw,” Dr. Lin said. "But I believe we are now even. Will you be ... staying?”

"In a way,” said Tony. "I will be ... watching. Your nation's new constitution will happen. What your people do with it ... that is up to them. But you have many wise leaders who have been ignored for too long. It is quite possible that your nation's future will be bright.”

"I ... hope so,” Dr. Lin said. "Meanwhile, I know how you feel about nuclear weapons. I'm done building them. I'm going to work toward fusion energy.”

"We ... have two words for you,” said Tony, the Oracle whispering in his ear. "Hypermobius tokamak.”

"What?” Dr. Lin said, taken aback. "But that would mean ... confining plasma in more than three dimensions ... or at least using a dimension other than the three we know ...” But he could tell that the Guardian Spirit was gone, for now at least, so he couldn't ask any questions. "Hmm. Food for thought. Constitution first, science later.”

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Dr. Johnson sat and looked at the device his young team of scientists had come up with. He rubbed his eyes tiredly as he leaned back in his chair and let out a breath in a slow groan. None of the massive amounts of data that had been collected on this so called spirit had made any sense. The only device any had managed to come up with sounded more like something out of a SciFi Horror movie than an actual device. Dr. Johnson picked up the test data report and read. It basically said the energy could possibly be detected, but only at less than 20 feet. As far as determining what it was or how to track it ... was totally unknown to science. Dr Johnson knew this had to be a for real spirit of some kind. He kept reading words in the report like ecto-magnatheric, etho-plasmidic, and esprit-deinanis.

He also knew those words were taken from one of the stupid cultist books one of his researchers who liked magic and what not and read all the time. Dr. Johnson put his face tiredly in his hands as he sighed again. It was more than obvious to him than ever that life on this earth was going to be totally different now. There really was something more powerful than any of mankind's machinations that ensured that.

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In a windowless office sat three men around a table. "Let's start with the assumption that we're dealing with a person,” said one. "No ghosts, spirits, or fairy tales. And let's start by assuming that it's one person.”

"With you so far, Ted,” said another. "You don't go far in intelligence by believing in ghost stories. And let's not assume more than one of them unless the evidence forces us to.”

"Well, no matter whether it's one person or a thousand, they must have a base,” said the third. "People need to eat and sleep.”

"Exactly my point, Gary,” said Ted. "You're way ahead of me. Or are you? Because I've used agency computers to correlate every confirmed instance of this so-called Guardian Spirit's intervention.” He showed them the screen of his laptop computer, emblazoned with the seal of the Eshcan Alliance. "As you can see, there have been ‘sightings' in Parthia, and suspicious failures of weapons systems in half a dozen others. A few incidents in Khmer when he was first getting started suggest it may be his origin.”

"But he hasn't been seen there since,” said the second man.

"If it were your base, you'd make sure nobody saw you there either, Roy,” said Gary. "But that doesn't mean anything by itself. They've had a revolution in Khmer and are drawing up a new constitution right now, but no sign of this guy. Meanwhile, they're having a revolution in Kirat, and there's some evidence that he may have tampered with some crowd-control gas.”

"Then there's Parthia,” said Roy. "All evidence points toward that cyber psychovirus coming from there. Where was Mr. Guardian Spirit there?”

"Glad you asked,” said Ted. He tapped a key, and the photo of a young man appeared on the screen. "This is Parthia's most brilliant computer genius. Intelligence all points to him as the writer of the mind-controlling video game that swept across the world a few weeks ago. Probably working for or with the Parthian military. But then suddenly the thing disappears, and so does this guy. What's more, no sign of that game, either.”

"I know,” said Gary. "I was assigned to find a copy of it, but I couldn't. Sure, maybe it was designed to erase itself when it got the signal. Our own cyber weapons can do the same. But it was in the form of a game. You'd think someone would've backed it up to a cloud service or at least a CD before running it and turning their brain to mush. And there's evidence that some did. But now -- the CDs are somehow wiped, unreadable. No trace on any cloud storage. Something wanted it gone, and it's gone. The research folks were dying to get their hands on the technology it used to control the players' minds, too.”

"How do we know it even came from Parthia, anyway?” asked Ted. "It affected them too.”

"Mostly the language,” said Roy. "But also, there was no doubt that this guy was working with his country's military on something -- and then the game appeared. Yes, it affected Parthia too, but my guess is that it leaked out before they were ready with measures to protect themselves from it. The thing was too insidious. Victim of their own success.”

"I wouldn't say the Guardian Spirit guy was involved at all, except for the disappearance of every single copy. That's just his style. No idea how anyone would do any such thing, and yet there it is.”

"So if this is just one man or woman,” asked Gary, "how do they do what they're doing? Even Dr. Johnson says it's like magic.”

"Let's just think for a second,” said Ted. "We all know that there's no real evidence of aliens ever visiting Earth. Some of that's just kooks, some of that's coverups of military activity. Ghosts and angels -- if they're real, this isn't what they do. So that leaves humans and the possibility that something intelligent other than humans lives on Earth.”

"Some kind of ... hidden ancient civilization?” asked Roy. "I'm not sure I buy that.”

"But it's not impossible,” Ted said. "There were tons of ancient civilizations that were pretty sophisticated. What if one was far more advanced? So advanced that it had weapons that can do things far beyond what this Guardian guy can do? What would happen if they had a war?”

Gary whistled. "Destruction beyond anything we've ever imagined,” he said. "There'd be no trace left for us to find.”

"And they wouldn't have to travel across the stars to get here,” said Ted. "They were right here on Earth. Right where they evolved.”

"So one of them somehow survived?” asked Roy. "And just happened to wake up last month?”

"Or ... somebody woke them up,” said Ted. "It's incredibly unlikely that some frozen ancient being woke up just now. I think our Guardian Spirit is a human. I think he found some old technology. And I think he's decided to save the world single-handedly with it.”

"So ... should we help him or try to stop him?” asked Gary.

"Our sworn mission is securing the future of our nation,” said Ted. "That means our priority is to get that technology. What happens to the guy using it doesn't matter. If we can get even a little of it, the future ascendancy of the Eshcan Alliance is assured. And if we can get a little of it, we can use that to get more of it.”

Roy, who had been studying the small laptop's screen in silence, finally spoke up, "I agree we might want the tech for our own country, but have you thought about all of this? I mean think of what just one person was able to do with it.”

Ted replied, "Yea, but I think we can find his base and infiltrate.”

Roy shook his head slowly, "Look at these readings. We seldom know when it is in a certain position, and then only for the barest instant, and only by the effects it causes when it acts. Whatever that is, it's mostly invisible to our radar and other energy sensors. We can't even tell what form of energy it is, even if we do manage detect it.”

Ted said with irritation in his tone, "We have all that data ...”

Roy stood from his seat and interrupted, "And none of it amounts to a hill of shite. Our best minds can't make anything out of it. I also know you didn't see this.”

Roy turned the laptop screen so Ted could see the aftermath of the Leader's encounter with whatever this was. His hardened bunker, built to withstand a nuclear strike, was in shambles. Many of the areas inside were totally missing. There was no evidence of an explosive -- they were just gone. The short report that followed basically said, "In front of dozens of witnesses, the floors, ceilings, and super thick hardened concrete and steel walls just vanished.”

"I'm sorry Ted, I would love to get my hands on some of that tech,” said Roy. "Only problem is, anything we would try to accomplish, would be useless against something like this. I'm telling the Director to scrub this mission as a no-win. Doing it might even make things worse and cause an even greater restriction on our lives than currently. At least now, we do have weapons to defend our country with.”

As Roy left, Ted said to his back, "Until such time as that Guardian person decides to take over the whole planet?”

Gary commented as he looked at the fuming Ted, "I doubt they want to -- if they did, they'd have already done it. Because, it seems to me, if that person really wanted to take over the world, there is nothing we nor anyone else could do to stop them.”

"Is there?” asked Ted with scarcely-disguised fury in his tone. "Is there really? You know I've never been one to accept that something can't be done. There's no such thing.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

"My pattern-recognition routines are sensing something,” said the Oracle.

"Pattern recognition?” asked Tony, using the armature to control one of the robots on the far side of the world. "Such as there is a pattern of more and more frequent things for us to do? I would have thought that once they saw there was nothing they could do, people would have quit trying to develop their precious nuclear or chemical weapons. But instead, all they do is try to hide them better.”

The Oracle replied, "Pattern recognition, in the sense that there truly may be a pattern to all of this, instead of a gradual but natural trend. Nation 12 has begun developing a plant-based bioweapon. A terrorist organization within Nation 7's borders but backed by Nation 5 has begun stockpiling chemical weapons. A computer hacker in Nation 8, ostensibly acting alone but in actuality backed by Nation 2's covert intelligence organizations, is putting the finishing touches on an attempt to reverse-engineer Nation 7's psychovirus.”

"And meanwhile, Nation 2 itself has been building more nuclear weapons, in a secret facility within the borders of its ally, Nation 3,” said Tony, because he was currently dismantling that selfsame facility. "I'm from Nation 2, I worked for one of its intelligence agencies, and now that you mention it, this does sound an awful lot like one of the Eshcan Alliance's strategies. We always had our fingers in all the world's pies.”

"I cannot prove that Nation 2 is behind absolutely every one of these plans,” the Oracle said. "And they might not be behind every single one. But it seems to me that their goal is to overwhelm us, wear us down. There are many more of them than us, after all.”

"Well, I know how they work,” said Tony. "Do you think it's time to tip our hand?”

"To truly strike at the heart of such a plot,” said the Oracle, "we would have to make our move at exactly the right time. And we could not miss anything. The world has leaders who cling to the idea of mutually-assured destruction as a deterrent, unable to imagine a better way. They need to be truly demoralized before they will give up that idea.”

"We need ... allies,” said Tony.

----------------------------------------------------------------

"So ... you need us to spread the word?” asked Dr. Lin. "That if they hear about a plan to produce any sort of weapon of mass destruction, all they need to do is ...?”

"Sing a song,” said the Guardian Spirit. "A sequence of tones. No matter where they are in the world, we will hear. The words are unimportant. It can even be hummed or played on a musical instrument.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

"But what if they learn what we're doing?” asked a labor organizer in Nation 2. "They'll order everyone to hum the tune as they work. They'll write it into every popular song, play it on every viral video, movie, and TV show. They'll jam the signal.”

"I doubt that will happen before it has done its work,” the Guardian Spirit said, "and even so ... should that happen, we will simply send out the word that the signal has changed.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

"So this is like ‘If you see something, say something,'” said Father Ing Rosheng, "except that people will be reporting on their governments, instead of to them. I suppose you'll be able to filter out times when people are just teaching the song to other people.”

"Yes,” the Guardian Spirit said. "The patterns will be quite different. We must know when governments, or even terrorist or criminal organizations, are preparing to cause mass death. Only when we can strike at them all will we be able to truly prove to these would-be warlords that there are lines they cannot cross.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

"We have expanded our network of contacts,” said the Oracle. "Every project to create some form of superweapon requires workers, workers who are forbidden to disclose their suspicions about what they do. But when they learn there is a recourse, they seem to be taking advantage of it.”

"Well, even when they're told that there's an enemy out there aiming the same kinds of weapons at them, the workers still don't like the weapons,” said Tony. "And if they know that the same Guardian Spirit is working in every country of the world toward the same goal, they feel hope that these weapons can finally cease to exist.”

"Statistically, my confidence is 92.3% that we now know of every weapon of mass destruction program in the world,” said the Oracle. "That confidence level is gradually increasing.”

"I'll go stop another one, just so they don't think we're planning something big,” said Tony. "Let me know when you think it's a good time to push the big red button.”

"There is no big red ... oh, I see, a metaphor,” said the Oracle. "You are comparing this plan to the launch of a nuclear missile or the like.”

"Only pretty much the opposite,” said Tony. "I'll be right back.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

"That scenario from that movie ... I have to wonder whether it's truly impossible,” said Ted, casually chatting with a scientist at a sidewalk cafe over a cup of espresso.

"A virus with a super-infective, self-destructive final phase?” the scientist asked. "The victims burning all the remaining energy in their bodies in the final hours before they die in a desperate frenzy to find and infect healthy people? I'm not sure. It seems to imply simultaneous rationality and irrationality, a carefully constructed state of consciousness that I'm not sure a mere virus could bring about.”

Ted's phone vibrated. He touched his finger to the fingerprint reader and saw the message. "Oh dear, it seems those Forgotten people have put an end to another nuclear weapons program.”

"I'm sure there's a limit to how well such facilities can be hidden,” said the scientist.

"No doubt,” said Ted.

"Bioweapons facilities are a bit easier to conceal,” the scientist said. "They look just like any other biomedical research facility.”

"Did you need anything else, sirs?” asked the waitress, passing by.

"No, we already said we were done,” said Ted, "and I did request that you not ask again.”

"Sorry,” said the waitress, humming a tune to herself as she went to check out another table.

----------------------------------------------------------------

"It's time,” said the Oracle. "My calculations indicate that, although there may be other programs that remain undiscovered, the activation of the transmutation array will completely end approximately 98% of the world's weapons of mass destruction and programs to develop them.”

"So this is it,” said Tony. "The world is about to change.”

"It is,” the Oracle said. And it did.

The world suddenly no longer contained uranium-235, plutonium-239, or any other fissile materials. Countries that had stockpiles of them and production lines producing them were back to square one. Already-produced nuclear weapons now contained stable isotopes of lead, osmium, or other heavy metals. Chemical weapons now contained harmless water, nitrogen, or noble gases, as did containers of the poisons waiting to be loaded into those weapons. Biological weapons now contained powdered limestone or fine sand, as did laboratories growing cultures of the deadly microorganisms. Software weapons were now fully erased, along with their source code and even offsite backups -- media had been converted into materials that were useless for storing information. The Oracle had been carefully collecting and organizing data for over a month to discover where humans had been crafting tools of mass death. Every person responsible was in the Oracle's database, and it had used its worldwide sensor network to track everything those people did, wherever they went. And its worldwide transmutation network, which had been growing for quite a long time, had finally been completed -- and used.

----------------------------------------------------------------

"You ... you don't understand,” said the former Leader of Kirat on the TV talk show, looking crazed, a shadow of his former self. "It's the Forgotten. They're everywhere. They can do anything. They could turn me into a stone statue anytime they wanted -- or you! But they don't. No. That's not what they do.”

"You're saying they're like ... some kind of benevolent gods,” said the host.

"No, no no no,” the former Leader said, shaking his head and laughing. "Just ... just people who can do anything. Anything they want. Have anything they want. And what they want ... nobody knows.”

"But we do know.”

"This is Dr. Phun Lin, former Minister of Science of the Khmer Republic,” said the host. "Dr. Lin, the Forgotten have made their position clear on more than one occasion, haven't they?”

"Yes, they have,” said Dr. Lin. "They wish for an end to superweapons. I suppose they don't particularly like dictatorships or other forms of mass social injustice either, but they don't seem to have a problem with people killing each other in more conventional ways. They've only gone after weapons of mass destruction and the programs that create them. But of course, as laudable as that is, we still don't know who they really are, where they come from, or why they're doing this. Every effort to gather more information has fallen short.”

"Truly a mystery,” said the host.

"Mysterious, unknown, dangerous!” said the former Leader. "We should not trust them -- we should fear them! They don't want what we want.”

"And what is that?”

"Our right to self-determination!” the former Leader ranted. "So what if we build a bomb that can blow up the world? The point is that we did it ourselves! Of our own free will! With our own human ingenuity! What right does anyone have to stop us?”

"Er, I would like to keep living on the world,” said the talk show host. "Maybe the answer to that question is ‘everyone else.'”

"But when such a weapon is built by the minions of a dictator or an oligarchy, unaccountable to anyone else,” said Dr. Lin, "everyone else loses the power to stop it. Perhaps they have the right, but they don't have the ability. They live in fear that the madmen with their fingers on their respective buttons will press them if they resist.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Tony sat and watched the talk show continue. He also knew his own government was up to its ears in clandestine activities to continue production of WMDs. He also had come to realize, by the correlations the Oracle had made, that it was his country that was influencing it.

Tony stood as he headed for the assembly room and had the automatons assemble his battle suit on him. He knew from the Oracle's sensor readings that his country's president was behind it all, and he was going to make sure the President understood the fallacy of this endeavor.

He gathered around himself a dozen of his ROV doppelgangers and in full stealth mode made his way to the Eshcan Alliance's capital and to the President's office. 13 of the most powerful weapons currently on earth entered the office of the unsuspecting president as his high-ranking military advisors entered and sat around the large conference table. Tony had his ROVs stand in the peripheries of the office until such time as he intended to put on a good display.

The President opened one of the many binders and quickly scanned over its data. He looked up and said sternly, "I hope you are satisfied with that debacle you created on the island.”

A highly decorated man with 5 gold stars on his shoulders replied, "I'm not satisfied in any way. We had no idea that you were authorizing the delivery of that equip ...”

The doors and windows to the office suddenly transformed and became solid steel. There was no way in or out. Even the secret emergency exit had transformed into solid immovable steel.

An eerie, rasping, ethereal voice straight out of their nightmares spoke, "I give unto you the warning I have given to the other unwashed,” it said. "You will immediately cease all support and construction of all nuclear, chemical, and biological agents. They will not be tolerated, nor shall you be warned again.”

Several of the highly decorated men sprang from their seats and launched themselves at the location the voice had originated from, only to fall on the floor with a loud and heavy thump. They had encountered nothing but air.

Tony reached down, after thermally freezing the exterior gauntlet of his outfit, and snatched up the largest man on the floor as if he were nothing. The freezing cold of the iron grip on the man's arm, sent an even larger chill of fear down the man's spine as Tony set him on his feet and released him.

About that instant, Tony and all his ROV burst into that seemingly alive electrical fire he had become so fond of. The whole room lit up with it.

Tony said in that unearthly voice, "If you would prefer a live demonstration of what a Guardian Spirit can do ...” The large table in the center of the room shimmered for an instant then sublimed away as some sort of vapor. All the items on the table fell to the floor. "You, Mr. President, are guilty as charged. Retribution cometh quickly for any and all disobedience.”

With this, all the electrical fire went out and Tony just stood and watched to see what kind of reaction would follow.

"Now!” said a voice from the PA system in the ceiling.The room suddenly seemed to shake with a massive shockwave, as if a bomb had gone off in the near vicinity, even though one had not. The President and his staff of military advisors were immediately knocked senseless.

"We're gonna need welding tools!” the voice said. "Move! Move!” In a few minutes, cutting torches began to make progress on the steel walls where the doorway had been. It took time, but eventually they managed to cut a door-sized hole through the steel plating. Agents with breathing masks leapt into the room and began spraying a fine powder all over the floor and near the walls -- anywhere there wasn't a visible object occupying floor space.

"Multiple targets! Subdue!” said one of the agents. They began anchoring carbon-reinforced steel cables into the concrete floor with rivet guns, pinning these Guardian Spirits or whatever they were to the ground, even though all they could see of them were vague shapes revealed by the powder.

Finally, once each semi-visible shape was fully covered with cables, Ted walked into the room. "We've got ‘em!” he exulted. "Pity the President and the Joint Chiefs had to be knocked out, but they'll recover soon. When they wake up, we'll all get commendations, because we've captured this Guardian Spirit and his cohorts.”

"Have you, now?” said Tony, standing up. The cables snapped and pulled out of the concrete as if they were so many rubber bands, and the powder became smoke. Each of the ROVs was doing the same as Tony went on, "So ... how does it feel, knowing your perfect trap has come to naught? Knowing that you failed to capture even one bit of Forgotten technology? Yes, I know your true goal, and it will never come to pass. Watch now as your plan turns to ash and slips through your fingers.”

And Tony and the drones were gone, vaporizing holes in the steel ceiling that closed behind them again, vanishing without a trace. "No!” said Ted. "I had them, and they ... they ...”

"W ... what happened?” mumbled the President, waking up. "My head ... it's pounding ...”

"Ugh, mine too, Sir,” said one of the generals.

"Wait, who are you? Are you responsible for this?” the President asked Ted.

"He's ... Agent Ted Thornton,” said a general, regaining consciousness. "He's on our side ... I think. Not sure what he thinks he's doing here.”

"Arrest him,” said the President. "I want a full investigation of what just happened. Last thing I remember ... that Guardian Spirit was tearing the place up.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Unsurprisingly there wasn't anything on the commercial news broadcasts about these goings-on; they involved a secret agent and had taken place inside a top-secret meeting room.But Tony and the Oracle could immediately tell that things had changed.

It was more than obvious the president had stopped all support to certain offices listed under Black Expenditures. All of the sensors were reporting that production and research funding for all WMDs around the globe had fallen of to nil.

One of the feeds was a direct showing of all that transpired within the president's office. Tony listened to him ... and the simal cast of the Global Gathering of world leaders conference.

"Mr. President, is it actually true you are asking the entire planet to perform at your command?”

The president replied, "Not at all. All I'm doing is suggesting to those of you who have actually witnessed this ... Spirit in action, to aid me in a strong way in stopping all productions of war. Machines, weapons ... anything for war. I am very sure that within a few short years, we could be mining Titan for rocket fuel if we all tried.”

Another of the men said loudly, "Have you lost your mind?”

Lin, who was now his nations newest Ambassador, spoke up, "I have not only seen what this Spirit can do, I have also stood near it and even talked to it. Let me assure any and all who have not seen what it can do and on what it does it, there is nothing any of us can do at this time to stop, detect, or in anyway incarcerate that being.”

A loud hubbub began as the rest of the men on the other screen began to all talk at the same time. Tony smiled. He knew things were going to go well, at least for the time being. The rest, well -- he would make sure his large volume of ROV suits could handle most any emergency. And the Oracle still had its evolving subterranean network of sensors and transmutation arrays, as well as its space-based system of satellites.

"So ... what will you do now?” asked the Oracle.

"I don't know,” said Tony. "Maybe I'll retire. I can live comfortably somewhere, under an alias of course, not causing any trouble for anyone. And if any more problems come along ... you'll know where to find me.”

"Even if this generation of humans has truly learned its lesson,” said the Oracle, "there will be another, and it will need to be taught.”

"That's true,” Tony said. "Someday you'll have to find a new Guardian Spirit.”

"I am patient,” the Oracle said. "I do not tire or grow frustrated. The human race will learn, over the generations. One day I hope to render myself unnecessary.”

"I'll drink to that,” Tony said.

~~ Another end to a great beginning ~~
Miki Yamuri
 
Posts: 235
Joined: Mon Jun 23, 2014 3:06 pm

Re: The Forgotten

Postby TiresiasRex » Thu Jun 28, 2018 1:14 pm

6/28/18.

Great to see another adventure story from you, Miki!

It seems like it's been a while since you last shared anything. I was getting worried about you. Have you and your housemates been well?

- The person formally known as Tye
TiresiasRex
 
Posts: 48
Joined: Sat Jul 05, 2014 9:05 pm

Re: The Forgotten

Postby Miki Yamuri » Mon Jul 02, 2018 1:12 pm

Hi snuggle bug ... baby doin ok ... just been onna crawl lots. Also doin lots longer stories than b3 too. is goo ta sees u still readin baby's stuffies ... doin another ... soon as done will post it
>>pats ur hinney<<
Miki Yamuri
 
Posts: 235
Joined: Mon Jun 23, 2014 3:06 pm


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