The Infernal Machine

tagnone

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Infobox
Canon: Baseline
Series: Sub-Vesuvia
Canon: Baseline Series: Sub-Vesuvia

“No.” Asserted Colonel Bacall. “I can’t risk the lives of my men for one of your monks’.”

“Sir, part of the deal I’ve struck with Brother Verulus is a full spiritual protection and guide into the Crypt; you won’t be risking your men’s lives, you’ll be insuring them.” Countered Investigator Keller.

“I don’t need thoughts and prayers, Keller, I need men. With guns.” Colonel Bacall stared stoically at Keller. “Tell me again why you need Navarro to be… exorcised?”

“Access and interfacing with ‘The Alchemical Brain’. We suspect it’s connected to Brother Andrew.”

“Connected how, exactly?”

“You see, ‘The Alchemical Brain’ was a machine to build some sort of artificial intelligence. In one of the letters Connors found about the thing, the intelligence made just… latched on the creator’s brain. Now, we’re not sure if Brother Andrew is the same body as the creator’s but seeing how the AI can just latch onto a human, we believe it’s been switching bodies for the past four hundred years.”

The Colonel hummed in understanding. “And Brother Verulus offered to take you to the machine, am I correct?”

Keller nodded. “Yes.”

“Under the condition that we take him up close and personal to Diego Navarro for the exorcism. Am I correct?”

Keller nodded again. This time, much more hesitantly. “Yes.”

After a brief pause, The Colonel took off his eyeglasses, folded it and swept it aside on the desk. “If I have to make it more obvious, it's pretty hard to trust his words. So, how can you guarantee that this ‘exorcism’ isn’t just him… snapping his neck?”

Keller lubricated his lips with the tip of his tongue. “More than fifty ASF grunts with fully-automatic rifles aiming down on him. He wouldn't dare.”

Colonel Bacall scoffed. He turned his head in a swift, dismissive motion to the right. “You’ve got to do better than that.” He took the plastic cup filled with coffee as black as the night skies and took a sip out of it. “The GDs wanted Navarro alive in medically induced coma until they can figure out whatever the fuck they wanted to do with him. That was a direct order. So if you think I'm going to entrust my career and reputation on fifty men and fifty guns against some guy that's probably more than willing to die already… then you'd best turn in your badge.”

“Sir, I know his person. I trust him.” Asserted Keller.

“Alright.” The Colonel said. “Say that you’ve somehow convinced me to all this. We’re T-minus five hours into the opening and the basecamp’s on lockdown. I can’t get this approved by top brass.”

“The exorcism only takes a couple minutes and the benefits outweigh the risks. We can do it right now and I only need three ASF squads.”

“Oh, you said the monks are gonna provide spiritual protection, yeah? What, they’re gonna trickle us with some holy water? Read some Bible verses?” The Colonel added.

Connors, currently hunched down at the corner of the tent, was about to add some of her experiences while wearing the cross necklace Brother Verulus gave her on the first night, notably how Navarro reacted to her. However, she elected not to slip in, seeing how the argument was getting increasingly hot and doing so would prove fruitless.

Colonel Bacall leaned in closer to Keller, giving one big ultimatum. “How about this: You can do your little exorcism but you’ll have to wait until we clear out that vault.”

Keller swung back, lazing his head around. “Sir, If what Brother Giuseppe said in his catalogue was true, then we’re dealing with a loose anomaly here.”

“Oh yeah. That. Brother Andrew’s ghost. What can it do? Switch bodies? Mug people?” Asked the Colonel, biting down hard on the butt of his cigarette. “Connors?”

“Well, based on Andrew’s—its letter it left behind, we believe that it would not only sustain itself but also attempt to… infect others or in some form, multiply itself… But as of now, it’s only a speculation.” Said Connors, still hunched down on the corner of the tent.

“And you’ve issued out an APB for him?”

“Yes sir, on day two.”

Colonel Bacall shifted his gaze back towards Keller. “Well, that does it. If you still haven’t heard anything from them by eighteen-hundred, you come to me and I’ll probably send Foxtrot-4 on a hunting party.”

“Sir, with all due respect, what’re your plans when it fails?” Asked Nathan.

“Then I’ll throw X-Ray-6 a bone to chew. Dismissed.”

Even though he was standing face away from her, Kelly could see his distraught expression reflected back to her mentally. She saw his hands going about a circular motion on his facial area—Colonel Bacall sat on his chair taking a long last drag on his cigarette before extinguishing it on the ashtray to his left.

The quartz clock on the tent support was showing just after midday. With the Crypt opening shortly at three o’clock, there was not much time left before the entirety of the basecamp gets locked down. If they wanted to extract any remaining information from Brother Verulus, this was their last chance.

“Sir, might I add—”

However, before she could get six or so words out of her mouth, Keller jerked his hands to his side, palms open.

“Wait for me in my tent.” Keller said to her.

Initially, she was going to blurt out a few additional words in protest but something about his right eye three-fourths to his side just… told her he had a plan.

Kelly raised her left hand with a closed fist in hesitation, accompanied with a hanging jaw, darting up and around in a subtle motion where she stood before walking out the exit.

She took one last glance inside to see Keller standing upright with his arms crossed and Colonel Bacall sitting across with a hand up to his chin. The white noise of heavy machinery and shouting outside had rendered the conversations inaudible… but Colonel Bacall was getting more and more restless.

Whatever. She had always trusted Nathan in negotiations with the superiors. Not in a way that indicates Kelly had never been able to conjure up a good counter-argument, no. Her being so abruptly taken away from her high-school atmosphere to serve directly in the ranks of the Authority has made her quite the independent. But no, Keller was just… so authoritative; it’s really hard to ignore what he had to say.

Sure, the negotiations while she was present was short and fruitless but just look at him go right now. Hands flailing around in the air, some slamming going on the table… Would she be thrown off the case if Keller failed? Maybe. Would she be branded an insubordinate? Also maybe.

So. Whatever. She strutted through the muddy grounds to Keller’s tent. Thank God it was just across from the Colonel’s Tent. She elected not to enter the tent but to sit on an ammunition box placed just in front of his tent.

Her behinds was just about to touch the metal lid when she realized she ought to check the insides for any… potential explosives. She undid the latches, lifted the lid and… it’s just paper. Stacks and stacks of paper.

But not just any regular paper; these were the Monastery document translations that he’d also gotten a few days ago. Would you look at that. Either he didn’t read any of it or he just had a really good memory.

Eh. At least it wasn’t the intermediate power ammunition like the big yellow ‘5.56×45mm NATO’ writing on the side of the box made it out to be.

So, she sat down in front of Keller’s tent, overlooking inside the Colonel’s quarters. Keller was still going at it full force. Figured that he’d need more time, she hunched down, closed her eyes and chased for some shuteye.

***

Sudden shift to the posture, a jolt of electricity sparked all the way throughout her body. With starred eyes, Kelly’s fight or flight instinct was activated. Her right hand grabbed the pistol butt by impulse, while her eyes were adapting to the high contrast of the surrounding environment.

“Get your kevlar vest. We’re moving.” Said a dark silhouette standing tall to her left.

With no additional sentences to say, the silhouette immediately walked away. It took a while to process the event but she would rather discern that Keller just commanded her to get her combat gear ready.

Looking back at him, she noticed that he had lost his suit jacket with an article of black bulletproof vest taking its place. Seeing how rapid the succession was, it felt like the camp was preparing for something grand—this was backed by the massive amount of ASF foot soldiers in full combat gear and weapons running around the basecamp grounds.

Kelly hurried herself back to her tent to don a piece of that vest Keller had politely asked her to do. On the way there, she could spot a concentration of activity unfolding in the entrance of the camp, with several heavily armored combat cars and tanks forming a half-circle.

With the vest on, pistol cocked and bullets chambered, she went on to the rather large circle of camouflaged grunts and heavy artilleries to rendezvous with Keller. It was quite an easy task to accomplish, as he was wearing a bright white shirt, sleeves folded up complemented with black body armor standing among a sea of woodland camouflages.

She had also spotted Colonel Bacall wearing the same combat gear as the rest of the soldiers atop an Ariete tank seemingly barking orders to his men.

“You better be right about this, Keller. Or God forbid he witnesses what I’m going to do to you.” Shouted the Colonel, before entering the tank and closing the hatch shut.

Connors then stood right next to Keller. She could spot Diego Navarro out cold laying down on the ground, with a stretcher bedding his spine from the muddy ground. A few of the Order’s monks were also present, donned in the royal purple robes bearing the symbol of Saint John. Among them was Brother Verulus—unbound and moving freely about.

“How’d you convince him?” Asked Kelly.

“I have my ways.”

According to the sun’s position, she had not been lights out for long. However, her still-starred eyes and blurred vision said otherwise. The Colonel and the monks were really eager to finish this as soon as possible, as there was no ado between the Colonel entering the tank and Brother Verulus reciting his Latin verses.

“In nómine Pátris, et Fílii, et Spirítus Sancti. Amen.” One of the monks said as they formed a circle around Navarro.

“Exsúrgat Deus et dissipéntur inimíci ejus: et fúgiant qui odérunt eum a fácie ejus. Sicut déficit fumus defíciant; sicut fluit cera a fácie ígnis, sic péreant peccatóres a fácie Dei.” The monks recited the phrase, all at once.

“Júdica Dómine nocéntes me; expúgna impugnántes me. Confundántur et revereántur quaeréntes ánimam meam. Avertántur retrórsum et confundántur, cogitántes míhi mála.”

As they recited the phrase, Navarro began to convulse. Kelly had just realized that he was tied down to the stretcher.

“Fíant táamquam púlvis ante fáciem vénti: et Ángelus Dómini coárctans eos. Fiat via illórum ténebrae, et lúbricum: et Ángelus Dómini pérsequens eos.”

At this point, Navarro was yelling gibberish. It sounded like he was crying in pain but the way his mouth moved suggested that he had attempted to pronounciate some verses on his own,

“Quóniam grátis abscondérunt míhi intéritum láquei sui: supervácue exprobravérunt ánimam meam.”

Navarro’s screams were getting increasingly more and more ear-piercing. Seeing how he had managed to keep up his ramblings, it was quite the miracle that his voice box hadn’t collapsed.

And it looked like she was wrong. Navarro was spitting up blood like waterspouts. His screams were slowly drowned out by his own blood. He was also writhing around the stretcher, desperate to escape from his restraints.

“Véniat illi láqueus quem ignórat; et cáptio quam abscóndit, aprehéndat eum: et in láqueum cádat in ipsum.”

The screams were finally gone but the blood fountain Navarro had spat out these past two minutes was getting increasingly intense. From what she could tell, he had spat out approximately half a-body-worth of blood.

Kelly couldn’t lie to herself that she wasn’t trembling, as with a few of the ASF grunts standing next to her. One soldier was sweating profusely down his eyebrows and it wasn’t because of the sun, either. The other soldier to her right was gripping the forend of his rifle like it was God’s hand itself.

“Ánima áutem mea exsultábit in Dómino: et delectábitur super salutári suo. Glória Pátri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto. Sícut érat in princípio et nunc et semper, et in saécula saéculórum. Amen.”

Right as the monks ended the verses, the blood fountain manifested itself as a humanoid hand, with grotesquely elongated fingers and nails, and exposed muscle fibers. Navarro’s mouth had been seemingly unhinged, trying to accommodate for the other hand that manifested from inside his mouth.

Kelly recoiled back, along with most of the ASF personnel witnessing the event. The two hands then pressed itself hard against the ground, now revealing a heavily disfigured humanoid head: eye sockets with no eyes in them, skin as red as the blood that it had manifested from and unsettlingly elongated mandibles with the literal screams of hell.

The hellspawn had fully emerged from Navarro's mouth, with the monks now seeking protection from behind the soldiers. The scene had cleared and the Colonel gave out the kill order.

At the blast of the first shot, Kelly then cowered down behind the shoulders of the ASF personnel standing in front of her. They were shooting squarely at the spawn’s head, careful not to stray their aim down to Navarro’s body.

The creature let out a bloodcurdling scream before covering its face; small bullets didn’t seem to have any adverse effect on this creature. It was at that moment where Kelly got blown out by the shockwave of the tank cannon firing a few shoulders away from her.

She stayed laying down on the ground. She couldn’t see what was happening but it sounded like the shooting stopped. Several gurgling was heard from where she last saw the creature.

Kelly slowly got back on her feet. After she rose above the helmet-height of the ASF grunts, she saw that the creature had lost its head. The only thing that was left was a stump on the neck area that was cauterized by the immense muzzle velocity of the depleted-uranium penetrator.

The creature momentarily stood straight up even after losing its head. However, the leftover electrical capacity flowing in the nervous system eventually faded, sending the beast straight down in front of the soldiers.

It did not ooze blood or any other fluids but the smell of it was almost as bad as rotting flesh left under the sun for months on end. Almost.

There was also the case of the tank shell penetrating straight through the creature’s head and disappearing over the horizon. In any case, the shell would’ve lost its muzzle velocity and been consumed by the bloody Tyrrhenian Sea.

Nevertheless, the soldiers gathered around the fallen carcass of the creature and aimed their weapons squarely at the torso. They moved ever so slowly with hesitating steps, fearing that it would somehow return back to the land of the living.

While some went on corpse guard duty, others tended to the older monks and Diego Navarro’s unconscious person. Strange—everybody saw that he had unhinged his jaws to inhuman lengths but right now, everything about him seemed all fine. Except for the pool of blood, of course.

The paramedics picked up the stretcher with haste, with no questions asked. Their priority is to keep Navarro alive—that meant to hook him up on blood transfusion. All the persons present during this horrific event had looks that collectively shouted not to talk of this ever again.

Moments later, Colonel Bacall emerged from the commander’s hatch of the tank. He stared at the carcass for a while before shifting his gaze to Keller. Nathan, seemingly unfazed throughout it all, gave the Colonel a simple shrug.

Colonel Bacall replied by shaking his head—not a disapproving or a disappointing motion but he was just simply sick of his shit. “Alright, I want everyone to converge on the Crypt; we’re cracking it open right now!” He shouted to his men.

And his men were more than happy to oblige. They switched their weapons’ safeties to the safe position and marched all quietly on the Monastery’s entrance.

Keller turned to Kelly. “That was easy.” He remarked.

He went straight with the other soldiers to the monastery but she stayed. Standing still a few feet away from the creature. A mixture of psychological trauma and shock. Things like this were practically commonplace back home in the USA. However, something about being up close and personal with a deadly hellspawn haunted her memories from the night they met. This creature was practically within spitting distance when it was alive. She wondered what would have happened if Verulus hadn’t given her his necklace…

***

As a man of his word, Brother Verulus ordered his colleagues to enchant the ASF personnel that were about to enter the Crypt. The monks had also given the four separate keys to the Crypt to Colonel Bacall, in which he gave out to four of his men as to synchronize their turns. The four men were readying up with the keys in their adjacent keyholes, waiting for the Colonel’s command.

“All ready, sir. Waiting for your command.” Reported one of the keyholders.

Colonel Bacall gazed around Brother Verulus, who had just finished up on reciting his verses. Verulus gave him a nod.

“Open.”

With the turn of the keys and a pull of the wooden log, a hiss manifested, sending the internal air straight out into the world. It would have been a less traumatic event if it weren’t for the smell. The exact same smell emanating from Navarro’s demon. Multiplied by that of one thousand. It would be a strong candidate for the smell if someone had managed to compress all of the sins ever committed—and that will be committed—and put them in one place.

The four keyholders physically recoiled, along with the rows of grunts waiting behind them with weapons hot. Kelly and the Colonel were less-affected by the miasma, as they were standing quite the distance from the gate.

However, Keller, that was standing much closer, was completely unfazed—just like how he was when the entire basecamp pumped thousands of lead projectiles of the demon.

Keller took a few sniffs. “Smells like you have something dead in there.” He said to Brother Verulus.

“Of course, we do.” He replied.

After everyone got accustomed to the internal atmosphere, Colonel Bacall gave the go order. “Alright, everyone, move in. Follow the monks.”

Rows of ASF soldiers after another went in the hellscape that is the Crypt. The monks went in alongside them with open flame torches, while others were using a more sophisticated source of light.

After everyone involved entered, Brother Verulus, Investigators Keller and Connors followed suit. The Colonel obviously stayed behind, watching the last group enter before the men outside resealed the Crypt, waiting for a knock with an accompanying phrase.

“Is it going to be far?” Keller asked.

“No, it’s just two archways down the hall right there.” Replied Verulus as he lit his torch.

Just a few steps in, a faint clicking was heard. It wasn’t rapid and it wasn’t rhythmical but it was evenly spaced out. It sounded like it came from right where they were standing.

“What’s that clicking sound?” Keller asked.

Kelly slowed down her stride and pulled out a yellow colored device from her front vest pocket. “Oh, it’s my Geiger counter.”

“You have a Geiger counter?”

“You don’t?” Retorted Connors. “Fifty microsieverts an hour. Not lethal but the radiation’s present. I wouldn’t recommend sticking around.”

“Well, sounds like you weren’t full of shit, after all.” Keller remarked to Brother Verulus.

“I usually don’t.” He replied. “Still, people took me as one. Through here.”

Verulus shone his torch onto an archway on his right. Upon entering, he lit six additional torches in their scones, revealing the basic structure of The Alchemical Brain. A circular tribune, dozens of meters in diameter.

The scent inside the machine’s chamber smelled like burnt tobacco and dried ink blotted on paper. It was not an overwhelming scent but it had definitely driven out some of the more unpleasant sulphuric scents in the hall.

Brother Verulus continued to light some torch scones along the way to the heart of the machine. The circular structure ends in hip-height railing towards the center. As the light from the fire penetrates deeper into the chamber, Connors could see a black chasm stretching deep beyond the fire’s illumination range.

The tribune they were standing on seemed to be built out of bricks but the patterning and the general shape of it suggested it was more akin to glamorous types of construction material, such as marble.

As soon as she touched the outer walls of the tribune to use as a guide through the dark, she could feel a cold, dusty stone in the palm of her hands. Giving a swift rub of it revealed that it was indeed marble accented with sandstone. The state of disrepair had thrown her perception of the materials used.

The railing stretched all around until Verulus went down a shoulder’s wide slope. His torch had shone a pedestal alight, built akin to a church altar. The pedestal had quite a wide platform under it, disproportionate to that of the connecting slope.

Kelly and Nathan followed Verulus onto the platform, standing on the same marble-sandstone floorings guarded with copper railings. The pedestal was seemingly humming, although none of them could even detect the faintest of vibrations as their hands touched the altar.

For a moment, for a brief, fleeting moment, Connors had sworn she could hear Keller saying something that denounces the altar’s appearance. However, his voice sounded like it was spoken way closer than he currently is. She heeded it with zero regards and rather tuned in to what Brother Verulus had to say.

“That bowl on top of the altar is the source of intelligence for this machine. Or so we thought.”

“What do you mean, ‘or so we thought’?” Asked Keller.

“We used that bowl with the black scrying fluid inside it to communicate with the Brain. We would touch the fluid and connect our minds with the machine, talking with our thoughts.”

“So… what, you can read its mind?”

“In a way. Yes.” Answered Verulus.

“Does it go both ways? Can the Brain read your mind as you did it?”

“We don’t know.” Answered Verulus, crack of worry in his voice.

“Alright, that was your first mistake; you could’ve indirectly shared every single secret and exits out of this Crypt by sharing your minds.” Remarked Keller. “Connors, check the radiation levels on this fluid.”

She looked at Verulus for a second before pulling out her Geiger counter. He had this confused and guilty look to his face as he processed Keller’s remark. In any case, Connors adjusted the sensitivity on the counter and hovered it two fingers above the fluid. As expected, the counter jumped significantly.

“Ooh… One thousand and two-hundred twenty-eight microsieverts an hour. Yeah, this must be the source.” Kelly said, as she put her counter back in her pocket. “You’ve been exposing your fingers to seventy X-ray scans at once.”

“Is it bad?” Asked Brother Verulus, worry in his face multiplied.

“Let’s see… If you do this everyday for at least half a year, you should have developed early onset cancer right now.”

Brother Verulus sighed in relief but traces of worry were still present. “I only did this on the weekends.”

“Well, then you should be fine; just don’t do it again.” Connors suggested.

“Alright, take a sample and bring it to the shitheads over at analysis.” Commanded Keller.

Kelly then pulled out a plastic evidence bag and a wooden popsicle stick. She then stepped onto the base of the altar, leveraging herself to reach the relatively high bowl. With a small scoop, careful not to get any of the fluids on her hands, she smeared the stick inside the walls of the plastic bag.

Worried that the stick might irradiate her clothes, she elected to just throw the whole stick into the bag and sealed the zip lock shut. With no words to be spoken, Kelly went straight ahead outside, going alone in the darkness armed with only her pistol and a flashlight.

After she went out of their visual range, Nathan stood closer to Brother Verulus. “Brother Verulus, say if we got to Andrew—or whatever’s inside of him—how would I effectively destroy it?”

“Do you need him alive?” Inquired Verulus.

“At this point, no. Though, if he somehow agreed to come with us personally, then yes.”

Verulus took a deep breath. “You should know, we were trained from one generation to another; I was trained by the monk before me and he was trained by the monk before him. I have the knowledge necessary to speak to this machine and how to maintain it. What I wasn’t taught, was how to shut it down or destroy it. You and your men may be able to do so if you so choose.”

“You’re saying you don’t know.” Affirmed Keller.

“Yes. Unfortunately.” Said Brother Verulus. “But if we were to go by the logic of all the demons we have in this Crypt, is that the demon is most vulnerable when it is possessing a body. They are just like parasites siphoning nutrients from trees. Just like how I told you yesternight: Without the host, the parasite will perish.”

Nathan sighed. “The point is to kill him before he can… ‘be in the air we breathe’.”

“Yes.”

“And what should we do if we’re too late?”

Verulus paused and stared at Keller’s eyes before continuing. “Do you believe in God, detective?”

Keller turned his head slightly to the right and hunched down. “Alright, I get it.”

***

After passing through the gates of the Crypt and three dozen automatic rifles accompanied by Colonel Bacall’s tank cannon aiming down on her, she arrived at the Survey and Communications Tent. It was arguably the biggest and the heaviest armored tent in the basecamp, housing several high-end communications and surveying equipment.

Due to the basecamp’s status still on lockdown, not so many technicians are present inside the tent working on the equipment. Everyone non-essential was evacuated to a nearby smaller basecamp a few hundred feet below this one. However, there were still several personnel assigned inside the tent in case of emergencies.

She made her way to the first personnel she saw inside. “I need to analyze a moderately radioactive substance and receive a radiation contamination scan.”

The analysis personnel, who was munching on his MRE fruit bar, replied with his mouth full. “Oh yeah, sure, right this way. How radioactive is this substance?”

“About one millisievert.”

“Perfect, just throw it inside this box.” The analyst said while holding a lead box open that he got from the shelf behind him. “Yo, Vito! Get the Ludlum survey meter!” He shouted to his colleague that was sitting down across the table to him.

Vito then rushed to his side to get a bulky two-piece GM counter. He popped open the battery cover and inserted two A size batteries.

“Where’s the radiation containment chamber?” Asked Connors.

“We, uh… don’t have one.” Vito replied, still fidgeting with the GM counter.

“Amazing.” Kelly said as she spread her arms to a T-pose.

As he slowly moved the metal tube all around her body, Kelly was deathly worried of hearing even the faintest of clicking sounds. So far, her head, arms and torso were clean.

Just a moment later, when he was scanning her legs, Keller arrived at the tent. “So how’s it going?” He asked.

“They’re analyzing it right now, I’m just getting a scan.”

“Alright perfect.”

As Vito reached her shoes, he stood up and nodded. “You’re clean.”

“Thanks. Oh yeah, he also needs a scan.” Kelly said while pointing at Keller.

“Oh, what?” Nathan protested.

“Just bear with it, Keller, it’s for your own good.” She said as she walked to the technician that was analyzing the fluid.

The technician was standing right next to a glovebox. Inside it, the plastic bag contained the black scrying fluid she had collected. What was curious about this fluid was that it seemed like it didn't reflect light in any way. It was like staring into a liquidized night sky.

“What can you tell me so far?” She asked.

“Well, I know for a fact it’s on the radioactive range. Doesn’t seem like alpha or beta radiation though. I’ll know more after I put this under an alpha scintillation meter.”

With the integrated gloves, he put a small amount of the fluid inside a tiny box. Definitely not made out of lead. He then donned another standalone glove and put the box inside a tube. Looks like the scintillation meter that he was talking about.

After making sure everything was up and running, Kelly and the technician went to the monitor hooked up to the analyzer. After a while, numbers popped up on the screen. Most of them were alien to Kelly.

“Hmm. Just as I expected.” Said the technician.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s five point seven micrometers on the Gamma spectrum. Our drones have been detecting this exact wavelength all around the monastery ever since we got here.”

“Yeah, that’s interesting. Why didn’t you take precautions?”

“It’s barely visible! Argon gas that’s seeping out from the ground would probably give you a bigger radiation dose than this one.”

“What’re you guys talking about?” Asked Keller, who had just received his scan.

“The fluid that we got has the exact same wavelength as the radiation these guys had been picking up since day one; it’s possible that Andrew also carried the same wavelength on him.” She replied. “Did you scan the greater parts of the city as well?”

“Not sure, scanning the city was a secondary directive done by a different team. They got evacuated two hours ago.” The technician replied. “Let me check if I can access their PCs.”

He rolled across the room on his chair, stopping just in front of a workstation. It was significantly larger and was equipped with extra monitors than the ones he used for substance analysis.

It took a while to power up the computers and for them to boot up their hard drives, considering the computers they used were practically outdated. Nevertheless, he finally got to enter the username and passwords after approximately four minutes of delay.

“Alright, I got it.” He said, entering the computer’s main screen.

It took him a second to load up the secondary team’s surveying result from the primary hard drive. At the moment it was loaded, a picture of a map of Naples and Vesuvius appeared on the screen, overlaid with yellow smudges that got more red towards the center.

The technician pressed a sequence of buttons on the keyboard. Each time, the color of the smudges as well as the positioning shifted. He stopped at a particular map that seemed like it had nothing overlaid on top of it.

“This is it.” He said. “This is a map of the gamma radiation in the five point seven micrometer spectrum that we detected.”

“I don’t see anything.” Keller announced.

“It’s really faint but it’s there. Let me just intensify the colors.”

When he did, the colors showed a series of lines starting from the monastery that had managed to sit exactly on the trails and streets seen on the map. It was practically a path a human would take.

“There’s these two hotspots over in the city. What building is that?” Connors asked, while pointing her finger at a red-ish smudge on the screen.

The technician zoomed in on the image, overlaying the street and building names. “Looks like a police station.”

“And the other one?” She pointed to the other smudge.

“Hmmm. A hospital… ‘Dipartimento di Psichiatria’…I think it’s a mental hospital.”

“When did you scan the city?” Keller asked.

“Oh, this is a series of scan results that I’ve overlayed together starting from the very first scan.”

“Can you show me the scan on day one?”

“I can do better.” The technician said as he put the images of the scans on a slideshow.

The lines on the map were seemingly animated. The trail started from the monastery, then it progressed to downtown Naples on day 2. On day 3, the trail stopped at the police station. Then the fourth day, then the fifth day, then the sixth day where the smudge stood still on the mental hospital.

“Looks like Andrew got arrested and sent to a mental hospital.” Connors remarked.

“Thought so. Can you pull a patient manifest from that hospital?” Asked Keller.

“Sir, I only work on analysis on surveying; you’ll have to wait for the communications team to return.”

“I got it.” Said a disembodied voice coming from the front of the tent. It was Vito’s voice.

Keller and Connors immediately rushed out to him. When they got there, Vito was sitting in front of a computer, scrolling through the documents laid before him.

“What you got?” Asked Keller.

“These are the Napoli police reports that Comms had been pulling out since day one. There’s only one report on what sounds like a homeless man arrested on the eighteenth of January.”

“Show it to me.”

A file containing the details and the mugshot of an elderly man appeared on the screen. “Name not given, arrested for indecent exposure and disturbing the peace. Sent to Dipartimento di Psichiatria. He doesn’t look like Sergio Andrew’s sketch, sir.”

“Yeah, because he switched bodies.” Connors commented.

“Looks like we’ve got our guy. Good job, kids.” Keller said to both the technician and Vito. “Well, Connors, you’d best get your Foxtrot-4 buddies ready.”

***

Nathan, Kelly and several Foxtrot-4 operatives arrived at the Dipartimento di Psichiatria in their unmarked cars. They wore body armor on top of their dress shirts and carried carbines on their persons—it’s quite high profile but information falsification is easier to do than losing the lives of several highly trained Authority assets.

They made their way inside the hospital, two men guarded the entrance while another explained the situation to the security guard. Let’s just hope that he’s got some talent in storytelling.

With just a few feet in, they could hear a male voice just shouting on top of his lungs. Elderly man, sitting on a chair near the windows. “Gioite, figli miei, gioite! Oggi non è un giorno per soffrire. Oggi non è il tempo per la tristezza! Il disgustoso dominio dell’Uomo ha plagiato questo mondo per secoli, ma io sarò il precursore della fine dei tempi! Presto, sarete tutti liberi! Vivrete tutti in un mondo senza peccato, senza Guerra, senza fame…”

“Sergio Andrew!” Shouted Keller. “Or should I call you John Damian?”

“…perché io sono la stessa aria che respirate.” He said as he stood up, facing them.

His eyes glowed red hot. Every single bone in his body was extended, with his brittle skin ripping out to keep up with the instant stretching. His jaws unhinged, ripping out the skin and molars. By the looks of it, he was turning to the exact same demon that was inside of Navarro, albeit way taller.

The temperature inside the hospital rose, with every single light above strobing independently. The ground lightly shook and Andrew emanated a very familiar scent.

“Connors…” Said Keller. “I really hope you’ve brought extra ammo.”

Smoke and Mirrors « The Infernal Machine » Deus Ex Machina

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