“Tamerlane online,” said Dr. Chang. A cascade of lights illuminated the control deck and washed over her. “Cortez and Tecumseh saw a 17 percent drop in power but they seem to be stabilizing.” She cracked her knuckles and leaned over the array of controls to view the drone in its launch silo as it ran through systems diagnostics; gouts of steam rolling from exhaust vents and the flicker of external cameras acknowledging its environment. To either side of Tamerlane’s silo his fellow drones creaked and settled into Awareness State. The thrum of their drives could be felt through the concrete walls but, from the insulated Operations room, they were silent. In the silo great slabs of armor would be screeching, slowly dragging against one another, and the drone’s generators would be roaring to life at deafening levels.
Dr. Chang spun in her task chair to face her captor, “I don’t know how far they’ll get but it looks like you’re in business.”
“Thank you,” said Dr. Heigelfiend. He rose from a deep recline in the worn leather La-z-boy he called his ‘thinking chair’ and his prisoner thought of as his throne. With a flushed face and a heavy sigh he faced her. “Have you read Malinowski? Bronislaw Malinowski?”
Dr. Chang frowned, “No, that doesn’t sound familiar. Is he in AI?”
“Hardly,” said Heigelfiend, “though his work would have an interesting impact on the field”. He took slow, ponderous steps towards the windows overlooking the launch silos. “Anthropology. He wrote his account of life in the Trobriand Islands,The Sexual Life of Savages, in 1929.”
Dr. Fatcat Chang assumed this was another test of her character but couldn’t determine what aspect of her character was being tested. Certainly her patience but there had to be more. “Okay...I can’t believe I’m even asking this. How is this relevant to your plan for world domination?”
“Frankly it’s not.” He waved a hand. “Not directly. Malinowski mapped the courtship and mating rituals of the Trobriand Islanders. Customs which had developed over centuries based on an understanding of spiritual energy but designed to avoid the usual setbacks of incest. At the same time other anthropologists were coming to similar realizations that ancient cultures had been explaining scientific principles within a spiritual model for thousands of years. Before the Egyptians, before the Greeks and well before humans had any formalized concept of the universe.”
“Again, please, the relevance?” she asked.
“Tsk!” Heigelfiend straightened his blazer and looked genuinely offended, “Need I remind you that you are my prisoner and sass, however charming, would be ill-advised.”
“Noted,” she said. “Now please enlighten me how my work, your evil genius and the account of a dead ethnographer intersect.”
A monitor blinked to life on her console and Dr. Heigelfiend watched as she accessed a series of diagnostic feeds. She tapped a manicured nail against the glass and traced the glowing parabola that indicated the initial fluctuation in power levels as a new drone prepared to online.
“Ozymandias is awake.” She arched an eyebrow at Heigelfiend and he bowed slightly, making a theatric, open-handed, after you gesture. His bulk necessitated a shallow bow.
Dr. Chang rolled her eyes and flipped a heavy, red switch on the console and spoke into her headset, “Divert 25 percent feed to Ozymandias. Maintain Awareness State for Tamerlane, Cortez and Tecumseh. Activate support generators.” Her headset crackled and, following a hissing delay, the lead engineer mumbled a confirmation. Somewhere deep within the complex a turbine whined to life, preparing to deliver to Ozymandias the kiss of life.
She turned once again to face Dr. Heigelfiend. “I suspect we’re within flirting distance of an explanation, Doctor, of your mysterious plan for the boys.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder at the occupants of the launch silos.
Heigelfiend stretched his waxy lips into an approximation of a smile. “I was not aware we were flirting.”
“Fine,” she said. “Spitting then. My English can be clumsy.”
“Oh, Dr. Chang, you break my heart.” Heigelfiend feigned a swoon and balanced himself against the console, his girth spreading across the controls. Slowly, gingerly, he extended an arm and placed a swollen hand against the glass separating him from the drone called Tamerlane. Using his finger he traced an outline of Tamerlane’s head on the glass with a single finger, leaving a streak that made Dr. Chang frown in annoyance.
“With all due respect, you are blind, Dr. Chang.” he whispered. “Like the others you are blind to the truth our ancestors acknowledged and respected for thousands of years. There is a source of energy deeper than anything the Earth might offer us. More radiant than the Sun and limitless as the universe. It fuels our dreams, drives the cycle of rebirth and unites all beings. It has been mythologized but until now it has only be tapped by dying cultures and the occasional Vegas showman.”
“Magic. You’re talking about magic.” Dr. Chang laughed cautiously. “All this time I’ve been thinking your drones would be breaking you into Fort Knox or upsetting some third world country but you’re going to use them, what, to break into David Copperfield’s dressing room? I’m sorry but I’m finding this, um, improbable.”
“No more improbable than your name, Dr. Fatcat Chang. A confluence of events led to the creation of something greater than its label. Something so undeniably present, so powerful, that it cannot be mocked. It cannot be contained by a single word. But I believe it can be tapped to rule this world and beyond.”
“Touché,” said Dr. Chang.
She pulled off her headset, placed it on the console then pushed away from the computers with her feet and rolled to a spinning stop in her chair. “Now I understand why you’ve isolated your ‘experts’.” She made little air quotes with her fingers. “They might not be so easily motivated if they knew you’re bat-shit crazy. Jesus, it’s like something from a Bond movie but at least you’ve got my attention.
Fatcat laced her fingers behind her head, leaned back in her chair and propped her boots on the the console. “This whole thing just got way more interesting.”
“Delightful,” said Dr. Heigelfiend.
“So, what’s the plan?” asked Dr. Chang.
Heigelfiend frowned and eased himself to a standing position. “First you must understand that this is not about world domination.” He spread his arms wide and waved his hands dismissively. “It is much larger than that. This is about acquiring the fuel to launch a universal crusade.”
“The energy I intend to manipulate extends far beyond humanity and, similarly, my domain will extend far beyond our atmosphere. To acquire access to this energy I have, at great personal expense, developed the drones before you for a singularly messy task. I should add that I hope they are suitable for their assignment.”
He paused and was dutifully prompted by Dr. Chang, “I’m enthralled. Please, do continue.”
Dr. Heigelfiend nodded, acknowledging her social grace, then turned to face his creations. From the Operations room he stared directly into Tamerlane’s chest, the shortest drone, from a height of nearly three stories. The inactive husk of Ozymandias towered over his three brothers and his flat black surface was studded with ordnance that glinted dully in the smoke and shadow of the silo.
From the console came a chirp and a flashing alert informed them that Ozymandias was fueled and prepared for Awareness. Dr. Florian Heigelfiend glanced at a ticker detailing the status of the drone’s operational systems and, to Dr. Chang, he seemed pacified by the stream of information. A peaceful expression settled across his face and his posture relaxed. He broke his revery, looked back at Fatcat, shrugged and offered an apologetic smile.
“I need them to kill a boy.”