Authors: Christopher Forrest
Beneath Mount Whitney
“There’s a maze of passageways extending from the room Titan Six is in,” Touchdown said, “but I still don’t know what triggers the portals to open and close. If the cube were wired with regular circuitry, I could override certain systems and advise Titan Six on the best route based on telemetry.”
“What were you saying about DNA, Joshua?” asked Caine.
“Ah yes,” Ambergris said. “I think I can begin to shed further light on the problem. As I’ve suspected, the cube is alive, although I don’t believe that it’s sentient. We’ve just seen, for example, that it’s under the control of human beings.”
“In what way is it alive?” asked Caine.
“The cube is a hybrid of metallic elements and organic compounds,” Ambergris replied.
“How is that even possible?” said Caine.
“As I mentioned before, the human body itself contains numerous metals in its blood and organs. It’s certainly feasible that some life forms, infinitely more sophisticated than we are, might be able to use the basic molecular structures of metals as a grid upon which to introduce organic components.”
“Organic?” asked DJ.
“Yes,” said Ambergris. “Notice how the Sents repaired themselves and how the cube itself is capable of changing color, texture, and form. This implies that the organic materials are programmed.”
“By what?” asked Caine.
“By the most sophisticated programming system known to all living things on earth: DNA. This organic feature of the cube’s structure is also why it’s thought responsive to those who get near to it, or at least certain sections of it.”
“The hallucinations,” Nguyen said. “Is this why our engineers are ill?”
“Exactly. An unfortunate side effect of the hallucinations, when prolonged, is cellular breakdown, accompanied by damage to DNA. The energy from the cube can, in some instances, be overwhelming to the human nervous system.”
“But why isn’t T6 getting sick?’ Nguyen asked. “They’ve had several hallucinations.”
“Because of you, Grace. The latest BioMEMS injections against genetic mutations have been protecting them.”
“What about those branching networks of lines we see in the semi-transparent walls?” asked Caine.
“We’re literally observing electrical impulses crossing nerve synapses. I’ll know even more when I see the results from Hawkeye’s metal sample.”
The Ops Center was silent while those at their stations assimilated the import of what Ambergris had said.
“What about the structures T6 found in the cube’s lab,” Caine said. “On those mirrors.”
“Did you notice the crystal buildings and the pyramid?” Ambergris asked.
“Yes, of course,” said Caine, “and — ”
Caine halted abruptly.
Ambergris nodded his head. “We are confronted yet again by the technology of the Ancients.”
* * *
Years earlier, Joshua Ambergis, Grace Nguyen, and other Titan Global scientists had discovered that seemingly random sequences on strands of DNA consisted of nonrandom patterns containing huge amounts of information that came to be called The Genesis Code.
The Code had been implanted on the human genome by a progenitor civilization that had gone extinct two hundred thousand years ago. To preserve and pass on its highly advanced culture because of an impending cataclysm, it coded human DNA with almost unlimited information in numerous cultural and scientific areas: architecture, energy production, healing, metaphysics, history, genetics, and hundreds of other fields. Titan Global was still working on unlocking the Code that was contained on trillions of DNA sequences that were previously thought to be useless fillers called introns.
What was known for certain was that architecture from Central and South America, Egypt, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East had been heavily influenced by the architecture of the Ancients. Intermediate cultures going back thousands of years had passed down some of the rudiments of the progenitor civilization.
The United States government was aware of the discovery and had outsourced research on the Code to Titan Global for security reasons.
* * *
“So the Ancients built the cube?” Caine asked.
“There’s really no other explanation,” Ambergris said. “We know that they were master manipulators of DNA and had extremely advanced technology. The architecture displayed on those lab mirrors validates the hypothesis.”
“So we have two pressing questions,” said Caine. “Why did the Ancients build the cube, and who are the human inhabitants within?”
“We need to find where that last transmission originated from,” Touchdown said. “The three people on those screens are apparently in charge of the soldiers in the brown uniforms.”
“That transmission may have originated from anywhere in the world,” DJ pointed out.
“Let’s hope it came from within the cube,” said Caine. “Otherwise, Titan Six may not be able to get at the heart of this mystery.”
SURP Station 872
Titan Four’s maglev transport eased into the great vault that was SURP Station 872. They exited the car and fanned out cautiously, surveying the solid-rock vault.
“Company’s coming, Blade,” said Touchdown. “The monorail from the Adirondecks is about to arrive with one hundred soldiers aboard.”
“We’re slightly outnumbered,” Tomahawk remarked.
“Aren’t we always?” said Demon.
“Take cover behind that old flatbed trailer on the far side of the station,” Blade said. “Do you want us to engage, Ops?”
“Yes,” said Caine. “Titan Six doesn’t need an extra one hundred soldiers to combat. Use gas. I’m not interested in wholesale slaughter.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Blade. “Gas it is.”
Six minutes later, a blue and white monorail slid into the station adjacent to the maglev guideway. The commandos exited their cars and stood in the cavern in five rows of twenty, rucksacks slung over their shoulders.
“Now,” whispered Blade. “Lob your canisters.”
Five gas grenades landed among the columns of soldiers, yellow gas dispersing among the ranks immediately. The startled commandos coughed, turning in all directions to see where the attack had originated.
But they were unaffected by the canisters.
“I think they’re genetically resistant to the gas,” Ambergris said.
“Try your laser rifles,” Touchdown instructed. “Setting three. Stun only.”
“Use a wide spread burst,” Nguyen said. “Not enough time to target each soldier.”
Titan Four quickly and quietly reached for their TR5 laser rifles and set them for a wide spread stun.
“Fire,” said Blade.
Five red beams, each ten feet in diameter, swept over the cube’s replacement troops. The soldiers froze in their tracks, looking like a grotesque tableau in a museum, before falling to the cold, hard concrete platform next to the monorail.
“What if commandos inside the cube are dispatched to investigate?” asked Blade.
Quiz reached for some of the electronic equipment he’d brought. “I’m going to set up a dampening field in the vault,” he said while producing a slim, black rectangular shape with a mini antenna dish and aerial on its top. “It’ll mask the energy signatures of the commandos. They’ll be out for an hour, maybe two.”
“Agreed,” said Caine, “although someone is going to notice that the replacement troops are overdue. We’ll deal with that eventuality when it arises.”
Beneath Mount Whitney
“I’ve got the results of Hawkeye’s liquid metal sample from the Sent,” Ambergris said. “Sents actually do have a skeleton, but not in the conventional sense. They have what is called an MOF, or metal-organic framework.”
“Give us the short version,” Caine said. “Time is of the essence.”
“MOFs are crystalline compounds made up of clusters of metal ions,” Ambergris said. “Organic materials are attached to the ions using an organic compound that’s known as a linker. The resulting materials can be porous and elastic — even semi-transparent at times — yet highly durable. Even malleable. We’ve already seen such characteristics in the cube. In twenty-first century science, the technology is in its infancy, but it’s starting to be widely used in various manufacturing processes. The entire cube uses a somewhat similar MOF technology.”
“But you claimed that the cube was alive,” said DJ.
“And Quiz said that the sentinels are sentient beings, not robots,” Touchdown pointed out.
Ambergris nodded. “Yes, that’s true. The unique aspect of the cube’s metal-organic composition, however, is that its organic components contain large quantities of DNA, as previously noted. I’d venture to say that the Sents have some kind of neural network resembling a brain, although they don’t appear to exhibit higher cognitive functions. They’re simply guards and little else.
“The cube is a different story. It’s also composed of DNA-infused metal-organic compounds, but as sophisticated as its technology is, it wasn’t designed to think. Various parts of the cube can communicate with each other the way cells in a plant or the human body can communicate. It’s a marvelous organic machine — and very much alive — but one that is under the control of human intelligence at present. What its intended function was when it was constructed eons ago is unknown at this time.”
“Why does it appear hostile?” asked DJ.
“That’s a matter of perception,” Ambergris stated. “It would not have been regarded as menacing to its builders thousands of years ago, who knew its function and could doubtlessly have accessed it without the harmful side effects experienced by us. Think of it like this: Titan Six are ants crawling around the inside of an enormous machine, such as a computer.”
“But what do we make of the Sents?” asked Caine. “Guards are always posted for reasons of security.”
“The most likely possibility is that they’re guarding something quite unique and valuable apart from the technology itself.”
“The more we learn,” said DJ, “the more complex this entire mission becomes.”
Ambergris nodded. “That’s the way it is with all knowledge. The more you know, the more questions are generated. As Alexander Pope said, ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring.’”
“Well spoken, Joshua,” Caine said. “You’ve pretty much summarized Titan Global’s mission: to explore the limits of knowledge. Unfortunately, Titan Six has drunk about as deeply as is possible. They’ve stumbled into the ultimate puzzle, and I intend to get them out safely.”
There was renewed silence in the Ops Center.
The Cube beneath Mount Elbert
“Titan Six,” said Touchdown, “there’s a room guarded by eight commandos one level down. Must be something important there. Up two levels is a room with three human life forms — probably the three men we saw on the video broadcast — guarded by ten commandos.”
Portals began appearing and disappearing in the left wall.
“Where do these lead, Ops?” asked Hawkeye.
“Most lead to the outer wall and would take you out of the cube,” replied Touchdown. “You’d slide right into a dark, rocky chamber. One, however, leads down to a hallway outside of the room guarded by the eight commandos.”
“It’s a crapshoot,” said Tank. “We jump into the wrong one and we’re out of the ballgame.”
“Tell me whenever the right one appears,” said Aiko. “I have an idea.”
“Okay,” said Touchdown. “The correct portal is . . . now!”
The portals kept appearing and disappearing in different sections of the wall. They stayed open no longer than ten seconds.”
“Get ready to jump on my command,” Aiko said, glancing at Hawkeye quickly for permission to give the order.
Hawkeye nodded his assent. “Make it fast when the time comes, everybody,” Hawkeye said. “I don’t want the wall closing around a leg. Everybody bunch up and get ready to dive through when Saturo gives the word.”
Aiko’s lips moved silently. She was counting.
“Prime numbers again,” she said. “The correct portal appears every ninth time. Three . . . five . . . seven . . . jump!”
Shooter and Gator dove first, followed by Tank and Aiko. Hawkeye threw his body into the portal at the last second. He could feel the elastic wall scrape against the bottom of his combat boot as it closed.
“We’re sliding down a tube!” Hawkeye exclaimed.
“You’re going to have to rock and roll as soon as you exit,” Touchdown warned. “Those guards won’t be far away.”
Titan Six, gliding rapidly but smoothly through the tube, grabbed their weapons.
“Exiting . . . now!” Hawkeye said. “Do an L and R, Titan Six. Left and right.”
Titan Six tumbled onto the floor of a corridor thirty feet away from a portal guarded by four commandos on each side.
Shooter and Gator rolled to the left. Hawkeye, Tank, and Aiko rolled to the right.
All eight commandos raised their assault rifles, fingers curling around the triggers.