The Dark Pyramid

Kristen Lynn has put herself in dangerous situations before, but not anywhere near like this. She’s gone through a lot to get a scoop in the past, but nothing in her journalistic career has ever led her to a dungeon illuminated only by torches, chained to a wall.

Not by literal chains, strangely enough: they gave her metallic bracelets which have been apparently magnetized to the wall; no matter how hard she pulls, she can’t move then even slightly.

Understandably, she’s both terrified and furious when she figures out her situation.

-What is this place? Why am I here? Hello? Anybody here?

The bars of her prison retract into the ground and a man enters her cell: he’s wearing elaborate clothes that seem to come from Ancient Egypt, and a mask with an eye inside an inverted triangle.

-My apologies, miss Lynn. You are free to leave – he says.

The magnetic link disappears, and Kristen is free to move her arms. Her first reaction is jumping at the strange man, but she passes through the intangible hologram and lands on the ground.

-I am a very busy man, miss Lynn, I have no time for games. You will be returned to the city.

-Wait! I know you’re new to this world and all, but I’m a reporter. You know what that is?

-I do. You are paid to share information with the rest of your planet.

-Exactly! Don’t you want the rest of Earth to know about you, mister… what is your name again?

-You adapt quickly. I could use a woman like you – the hologram says, without answering the question, and walking out of the cell. Kristen follows him with extreme caution.

-So what are you? An alien?

-I was born on this planet, more than forty-six centuries ago. I am known as the Scribe.

-You don’t look four thousand… years… old… – Kristen stumbles on her words, trying to cover the surprise of seeing the other prisoners. Quantum and Torn are being kept on separate cells, facing each other; they are both shirtless, and in addition to the metal bracelets they also have metal collars and what look like medical devices strapped on their chests.

-Are you torturing them!?

-Studying. The human has been mutated by exposure to Drylon technology, while the Demon shows an unusually strong connection to the Blood that warrants investigation.

-You’re not going to “study” me as well, aren’t you?

-I already have. You are physically unremarkable.

-In the interest of interstellar diplomacy, I’m going to let that slide. Is that why you came to Earth? To study people with super-powers?

-It’s an added bonus. I came to Earth to conquer it.

-But why? I mean, you already have a spaceship and you can take out the Vanguard in a day…

-I will show you – the Scribe answers, and Kristen’s stomach turns when she feels once again the effects of the teleporter. It’s disconcerting: there’s a bright light, you feel like throwing up, and you sudden realize you’re somewhere else. In this case, it’s a different room but still lit by torches: there’s an empty throne, the walls are covered with screens, and Noriko Null is behind a forcefield.

She’s chained to the ground, literally in her case, with chains thicker than her arms. Instead of her trademark T-shirt and leather jacket, she’s wearing what’s left of the office suit she wore for the interview with Kristen… hard to imagine it’s still the same day.

They took away her jacket, shoes and belt, and she has a bruise on her upper lip. She tries to stand up when she sees Kristen, but the chains are too short to allow her to do that.

-Scribe! Why involve civilians, it is me you want! Let Lynn go!

-Look, miss Lynn, this is my domain – the Scribe continues, completely ignoring Null. He points at one of the screens: a map of the Galaxy, cut into several territories.

-This is the Guild, my realm. Over two hundred planets, each of them providing at least one of two things: labor or resources. Perhaps you are willing to convince Earth that the latter is preferable?

 

Manhattan

The city is in complete and utter chaos. There’s a spaceship hovering above New York, Scarab has lifted the entire island of Manhattan in the sky, there’s no electricity, and there are fighter jets circling the Dark Pyramid. All attacks to the alien vessel have failed, since it’s protected by a forcefield which even missiles have been unable to overcome.

Todd Slate takes a sigh of relief when he opens the door to the safe house: it wasn’t easy to get to it, mostly because he had to contend with Bob Null’s constant complaining.

-I still think we should try to find a way to get back to the Tower!

-And do what? I’m sure Noriko has this completely under control – doctor Catherine Kalama tries to calm him, without any success.

Todd quickly checks the premises: it doesn’t look like the safe house was compromised. Its location isn’t on any database: as far as the public knows, this is just a common attic apartment.

-Let’s stick to the emergency procedures, mister Null. Besides, the Tower is under lockdown – Todd reminds him, pointing at the skyscraper visible through the window: Null Tower is surrounded by a translucent forcefield. Probably less impenetrable than the Dark Pyramid, but still enough to keep away any intruders.

Suddenly the skylight opens on its own, and Todd regrets being unarmed. Something invisible comes through it, making its presence known by a powerful blast of air as it lands in the living room. After the skylight closes, the Phoenix NX-3 disengages its cloaking device: the motorbike becomes visible again, as are the two girls riding it. One is clearly Kari Zel, but while the other looks like Noriko Null, there are very obvious differences between them.

One is the skintight green suit with strategically placed metal parts, the other is the hair that is long enough to reach her backside, and there’s the fact that she’s dripping with goo.

-Nori! Oh thank God you’re okay! – Bob greets her, coming closer to hug her.

-Not now, Father. I need a shower like there’s no tomorrow – she quickly shuts him off, storming towards the bathroom. She wasn’t kidding: she’s leaving stains with every step.

-There’s no water. Or electricity for that matter – doctor Kalama reminds her.

-Remote access – Noriko orders. A secret panel opens on the wall, revealing a metal plate. She takes off the right glove, which snaps like rubber, and she places her palm on the plate.

-Engage water reserves and City Backup Generator, password: DC8XL7Y8W7STPN3M-NULL.

The lights turn on, and not just in the apartment: Null Tower is now supplying energy to all of Manhattan. And the safe house has enough water to last for weeks if necessary.

-Kari, you’re hurt! – the doctor says, just now noticing that her shirt is covered in blood.

-Yeah, I’ve been stabbed. Nothing serious – she answers, but grimacing from the pain.

-There’s a medicine bag in the cabinet. See if you can fix her – Noriko orders, while going to the bathroom. Todd follows her, trying to get a sense of the situation.

-Nori, wait a second, talk to me! What is happening!? – he asks, closing the door behind him.

-You heard the ship: the Guild is here. They want Earth – she answers, throwing both gloves in the sink and proceeding to remove the rest of her strange outfit. The top comes off easily, although she struggles with the hair: not only it’s much longer than she’s used to, but the sticky compound that covers her makes it very easy to tangle.

-They’re kind of like a space mafia. They used to handle all criminal activity in the Dionysus sector, until they joined the Alliance. They broke off weeks ago, and apparently they want to expand.

-No I meant, what happened to the Vanguard? What happened to you?

-We were ambushed. God is this thing uncomfortable – she complains, taking off the metal parts covering her pelvis in order to remove the bottom half of her outfit.

-What the hell is that thing? – Todd asks, looking at the device she removed from her body.

-A waste management system; basically, a high tech diaper. Keeping a human body alive can be a disgusting matter – she complains, turning on the shower. Something clicks with Todd; he puts his hand on her shoulder, forcing her to turn towards him, and looks her in the eye.

The eyes are still silver, but something is off: usually they’re clear enough that he can see his own reflection on them, but now they’re faded. Added to the long hair, it’s a simple conclusion.

-You’re not Noriko. You’re her clone!

-Todd, it’s me, really. I mean, this is my clone’s body, but I’m projecting my mind into it.

-What? How? Why!?

-I installed a special Neutral Transmitter inside her brain, designed specifically for this purpose. As for the why… well, honestly, in case somebody kidnapped me and I had no other choice.

-That’s ridiculous! How could you predict something like this would happen!?

-You wake up in a hospital nearly dead enough times, you start to get some ideas. Now, would you give me a few minutes to think while I try to get this disgusting nutrient sludge off me?

 

United Nations Headquarters

With the building isolated from the rest of the city by a casing of hard rock, the Scribe has gathered the representatives of the most powerful countries of the world and is heading history’s strangest international summit.

-After careful consideration, I have decided that Earth is too primitive to provide skilled labor in sufficient quantities. The Guild has little use for slaves, thanks to my mastery of robotics.

-What is it that you want from us? – one diplomat asks.

-Resources. Specifically, food: Earth is exceptionally fertile. Although the Guild does possess the technology to synthesize edible materials, the energy efficiency still leaves something to be desired.

-You want us to pay you with food!? – another diplomat says, finding it hard to believe.

-3.5 billion tons of sugar, 2.5 billion tons of maize, 2 billion tons of wheat, 1.5 billion tons of rice, 1 billion ton of animal meat…

-It will take years to gather that much food! – a third diplomat complains.

-You misunderstand: this is the payment for the first year. I expect the quantities to increase later.

-But that’s… there aren’t enough plantations in the world to meet these numbers!

-Then I suggest you create more. Failing that, Earth will lose its only strategic value and I will have few reasons to keep its population alive.

 

Over the Pacific Ocean

While most planes are scrambling to move away from New York, there is a notable exception: a delegation from Tokyo is schedule to arrive within a few hours.

The Prime Minister is there, but he’s just a puppet. Almost literally, since his mind is controlled by Defense Minister Leiko Tanaka with her Neural Enslaver. She’s reading a newspaper like nothing’s happening, even when the Scribe’s hologram appears in front of her.

The only person to react to his arrival is her right hand man, the Japanese man called Black Knight, who reaches for the katana on his side: he’s ready to attack at a moment’s notice.

-Don’t. I was expecting him – Leiko tells him, and Black Knight stands down. Everybody else is a trance, completely oblivious to the hologram’s presence.

Your proficiency with the Enslaver is impressive, Leiko. Although I am perplexed about your decision to keep one of your pawns able to act on his own free will.

-Black Knight’s loyalty to me is unquestionable. How is the meeting going?

They believe my story and have agreed to discuss the terms. They are clearly stalling, hoping for an outside force to attempt an assault on the Dark Pyramid.

-They may not be empty threats. I control the minds of several world leaders, but the Enslaver’s power drops with distance; I can’t guarantee that they won’t launch an attack. Although I assume it wouldn’t be a problem for you anyway.

You assume correctly. How long will it take you to recover the Heart of the Universe?

-Patience, Scribe, patience. If you’re as old as you say you are, it should be a familiar concept.

I am not a fool, Leiko. You agreed to deliver me the Heart in exchange for dominion over this planet; try to double cross me, and you will sorely regret it – the hologram threatens before vanishing. Leiko allows herself an almost imperceptible smile.

-Oh I won’t, Scribe. You have already planted the seeds for your defeat… and my triumph.



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