The First Age

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He'd not purposefully misled Michael, but the commander seemed to have concluded that the weapons Nikolai mentioned were something entirely different than what he'd meant.

He intended to lead the two proteges through the Facility, but before they journeyed far, Director Stephenson hurried around the corner. The old man appeared as Nikolai remembered: a stout with thick white hair. He seemed to be wearing the same lab coat; although wrinkled from constant wear, it was clean.

Nikolai greeted. The man nodded respectfully, but his gaze slid to Nikolai's companions.

"Ascendancy. An honor again, sir."
The Director was not military, but was a reknown CCD scientist none the less.

"Gentlemen this is Director Stephenson. He is in charge of scientific operations here. Director, Commander Michael Vellas and Sigma Marcus DuBois."
The Director nodded politely, but did not seem interested in bowing and scraping for the impressively titled guests.

"Excuse my tardiness, Ascendancy. There was a minor incident moments after I was notified of your arrival."
The Director gave away nothing as to the result of that incident, although Nikolai guessed as to its nature.

He gestured and the group walked onward. As they progressed, the feel of a rusty bunker transformed into something state-of-the-art. Behind thick glass panels were an array of rooms filled with equipment monitored by busy staff, all wearing similar lab coats as the Director. None looked up as the group passed.

"And where is Doctor Weston?"
Nikolai interrupted the Director's update, which was unchanged from the morning's briefing.

"She's attending to the incident,"
the Director replied coolly. "Would you like to see the recording? Nothing seems to be different from any other outburst, but I know you've attended to it before and might like to follow up."

Nikolai shook his head. "I can't save the world."
He wasn't pleased by the situation, certainly, but such was why Michael was now involved.

"The Facility is going to go through something of a transition, Director."
Nikolai began about the time they reached an internal elevator. The Director hid his surprise well.

"Several of our best candidates are going to be transferred into Commander Vellas' care."
It was why Michael was here, after all.

Michael nodded at the introduction and appreciated the lack of nonsense, doing little but listen with intent.

The details were of little interest to him. They had the people he needed, and Nikolai had not yet thrown any surprises at him.

There was one issue, of course. That Nikolai admitted he could not save the world was news to Michael. That was exactly what the man planned to do.

Well, if he could not do it alone, Michael could do what he could not, and more.

"These candidates,"
he addressed the Director. "Has the Sickness passed?"
Perhaps caution may have been a more prudent option, but Michael was not in the mood to toy with lives unnecessarily. "The Sickness can be cured, if they have not entered the final stages. I do not need only the best. I can cure them all."

Surely Nikolai would not leave them to die, and if his answer bolstered his ranks and position it would be a bonus.
The Director glanced at Nikolai, who nodded that he may answer, before elaborating.
"The Sickness has passed in most of the males. However, the females are proving to be difficult cases."
He did not explain the methodologies behind their treatment, but Nikolai's expression was tight. He knew the women suffered the same Sickness, goddesses dying because they couldn't grasp what came so easily to him.

But the Facility wasn't a hospital, and Michael was being far more altruistic than Nikolai could tolerate. He cut a sharp look, "If you want to be a guardian angel, Michael, go to any of the dozens of quarantine camps in the world."

The Director glanced anxiously between them, but quickly smothered his emotion behind professional airs. He was certainly not going to comment.

The group emerged from the elevator and Nikolai stopped cold. From one of the storage holds emerged two men pushing gurney. A zipped body bag lay atop it. He studied the scene, thnking back to that moment when they first arrived; the memory of distant flash of power tightened his jaw, but he did not watch as the body was wheeled by. Despite their potential to be placed carefully in positions of power, like Alric in security or Ivan in police, some were too stubborn to learn. It was bone-chilling to wonder what idiots there existed in the world who dealt the talents of the gods while the intelligent among them struggled with divinity.

Besides the fallacy of having a dead body taken away was the problem with females. "Until we can get a stable response from the females, you'll only be working with males. Assuming they can be salvaged."

As they walked, Ascendancy receiving his report from Director Stephenson, Marcus noted the way the underground facility's facade changed. If the initial bunker had been built during the Cold War, with its cold, utilitarian veneer, it was clear that these areas were newer. Or perhaps it was that it was important to project austerity as a first impression before allowing one into the inner recesses. And if that was the case, that left the question as to why.

From the Director's words, pieces of the puzzle continued to fall into place. It was a gamble of course, but one that was made necessary. You couldn't ignore the appearance of Force-enabled humans- Ascendancy would call them ascendant, and it wasn't a bad term, not really- and the potential threat they posed. Harness them, though, and you had something.

But as he said, he couldn't save the world. He needed allies. Marcus' eyes flicked to Ascendancy as he spoke. For the man, he was sure it was at best, a painful admission. Especially given the subtle dynamic between the two. He kept silent and listened.

Marcus didn't react as many of his suspicions were confirmed. Ascendancy was as coldly efficient as he'd always expected. People might call it callous but he knew it was simply the way things were, for now. Resources were finite, as was time. He had no doubt that efforts would continued to be made to preserve as many people as possible. But you had to prioritize. A sad but inevitable reality.

And the idea that had come to him at the GUM also seemed verified. There were indeed female Force users. But as he suspected, there was something different about them. He wondered what it was. Was there a way, perhaps, to detect female users? He thought about Vellas' spirit detection weave and the modifications he'd made to it. Perhaps there was more he could do with it. He'd need a test subject for that though.

And of course, Vellas- Commander Vellas he amended- was going to take charge of these new 'weapons'. It stood to reason.

In the end, though, the field was going to get thicker with people like him. Malik smiled to himself. Well, not quite like him. He felt a slight rush of excitement at the thought of the inevitable conflict that meant. He remembered his sessions with Andre. He had held back and so had Andre. The goal had been to train. But here, if push came to shove, that would not always be the case.
Michael simply nodded at Nikolai's words. Whatever methods the man had been using, they were inefficient. If Tony could be believed - and always admitted uncertainty if there was any - any man could be 'salvaged' if reached in time.

However, it was a point best left for another time. Nikolai and the Director would certainly not appreciate being questioned. let alone shown up. Perhaps at a different time he would have pressed the matter, but Nikolai had entrusted him with men. He could not be everywhere at once. If he taught the method to the others though...

He would have to ask Leon to map secure routes to quarantine zones.

The additional concern of females he shut out from his mind. They were far too different Tony had said, and Nikolai's work seemed to prove it.

He was reminded of Ayden and Connor's offer but once again shoved it to the back of his mind, paying no heed to the temptation. The dead body being carted off before him in Nikolai's underground 'laboratory' affected even his nerves, although his face showed no sign of distaste. Truly, not even Michael had known what he was getting into. Now he had seen perhaps only the surface, he could not involve the two, whatever experience the woman claimed to have had.

His reasoning was not purely sentimental of course. The danger of even proposing such a thing to Nikolai was not worth the cost. Michael would trust no-one but himself with the malleable 'weapons'.

"I can do nothing for the females, they are not like the males. I doubt I could teach them even were they to survive,"
he admitted. "I will salvage what I can, at your command."
He managed to keep the bitter sarcasm from his voice this time.

Noting the curious silence, he changed the subject. "I understand my role, but what of Sigma Marcus? I am sure he is eager to serve in whatever way he can."
A more diplomatic mind would have phrased it better, but at present, Michael did not feel particularly diplomatic.
Path clear, they continued down the hall. Nikolai glanced briefly in the vacated room from where the gurney emerged. Even if the Facility imprisoned its subjects, the conditions were not of a prison. The people here didn't necessarily know their proximity to CCD power above them, but they knew there was little other chance for their survival. When reminded their mere presence subjected their loved ones to danger, they did not complain. Nikolai was not a humanitarian, but neither was he a sadist. He was not interested in torturing people without justification.

"Sigma Marcus can help you, Michael. Our world is going to change and we need individuals who can straddle traditional politics and our evolving military simultaneously. He needs to understand military strategy, and you need to grasp politics."
Nikolai fixed Michael an expectant look. "You'll work together."

Nik clasped his hands behind him and continued onward. He was aware that he was mixing volatile compounds by placing Marcus and Michael side by side. Yet for all Michael's disdain for subtleties, Nikolai guessed he would find Marcus worse than the normal thorn. While Marcus, on the other hand, would keep Michael distracted from wielding too much influence over these candidates. Nikolai couldn't be with them twenty-four hours a day, yet he needed to maintain their loyalty. He wasn't about to hand Michael his very own army, which was why he was going to begin the introductions with the Ascendancy, not Michael, poised as their savior.

When they paused at one of the dozen doors, the Director pulled up the subject within's data on the adjacent panel. The top read Subject ER412-1: a code referencing the man's profession, Dominance of origin, district and city of residence. Below scrolled the image from his CCD identity card, CID number, and a variety of other personal information.

"Marcus will remain out here with the Director. You can watch on the door what happens. Michael, when I give the proper signal, will join me."

With that, Nikolai knocked, something of an old-fashioned tradition, and let himself inside. The two Barrier agents positioned themselves at the door.

As soon as the door closed behind him, micro-cameras projected an image of the scene inside onto the exterior door surface where the others could view what happened as though looking through a window.

Nikolai's back hovered near the door for the duration of his time within. The Arcus Band seemed to float around Nikolai's scalp. His suit jacket hung close to his torso. His shoulders were without lint. There was movement beyond him, but it was difficult to see exactly what transpired. Finally, the movement of his jaw seemed to indicate speech, but the audio was not transmitted outside.

The Director did not outwardly react when a wall of flame burst into being. This was not his first witness to the Ascendancy's attempt to teach others his way of wielding power. Not having moved far, the Ascendancy was drenched in the brightness of the fire, and from behind, not so much as a trickle of sweat could be seen wetting his brow. If the cameras could transmit the warp and weave of his powers, it would have shown an array of fine light that engulfed the Subject in an orange cocoon and another as a shield of air deflecting the heat from nearest Nikolai. Immediately, a second source of power welled nearby, although substantially weaker in presence compared to Nikolai, it was formidable on its own.

When he allowed the powers to lift, Nikolai gestured that Michael join them. Upon entering, he would find the subject sat calmly on the floor, arms and legs crossed. His Facility scrub-uniform was smoldering, and his long face and jet-black hair plastered with sweat, but he was unhurt. Fatigued, but well.

When Michael entered, Nikolai gestured at their most talented candidate, who looked up at them like a hesitant child. "ER412-1, this is Michael Vellas. You've reached the point where you can safely control this power. So I will offer you the chance to stay and use your gifts for me, directly, and he will take over command of your training. If you refuse, I offer you the chance to return to civilian life, but you must remain in Moscow, under immediate Custody supervision."

Im Seung Jun, also known as subject ER412-1, pushed to stand. Beneath those scrubs was a young, fit man who until the onset of the Sickness had a new wife and promising career as a cardiothoracic surgical resident. "And what if I wish to return to Korea Peninsula?"
He asked.

Nikolai shook his head. "I understand you wish to go back to the way things were, but it is not possible. It will not be possible for many years, decades perhaps. You are a valuable asset, and I trust you understand I cannot simply let you go where you might fall into the hands of Custody enemies."
He, and the rest of them, belonged to the Custody, or nobody at all. Nikolai assumed the US, China and the rest of them were soon to build their own programs, massing their own wealth of gods. Theirs was the new arms' race, and the greatest born god in thousands of years was not going to let children out-pace him.

Nikolai hoped the man agreed to the terms. None had refused him yet, but Nik did not like the alternative arrangement should the need arise. He was not a sadist, and he did not enjoy executions, but he would do what needed to be done.

Im Seung bowed his head, turning to Michael. "Then I submit to the will of the Ascendancy."

Nikolai spared a pleased glance at Michael. He better be ready.

They had many more candidates to visit this morning.

Understanding Nikolai's motives was easy but his choice of 'partner' was questionable. By all accounts the man was unpredictable and reckless. Still, he had been granted the position of Sigma, one not granted lightly.

He met the man's look with one of his simple nods that said he would play with the hand he was dealt needing no mercy or sympathy.

As it was often of late, there was nothing he could do and he had to admit that there was likely something more to it than Nikolai frustrating his efforts.

Thus he waited patiently as Nikolai's 'work' began. The ascendant power loomed like a cloud overhead and fire blossomed inside. He could not see the exact webs spun, but the effect was telling. A brutal method, but one that had some success it seemed. If he had not seen a more efficient alternative, it would have been impressive.

When he was permitted entry, Michael stood tall over the Asian man on the floor like a monolith of power. He spared no gesture of sympathy or friendliness for the imprisoned man. In time, perhaps, but Nikolai had the right idea in this. Arrogance came naturally with their power. Michael felt it himself, had felt it run wild. They all must learn they were not immortals, or gods to challenge whomever they wished.

In the back of his mind, the all too obvious question loomed. Had Nikolai been taught that lesson?

"Very well,"
Michael said as Nikolai glanced at him after the man's submission. "A positive start. How many others are there?"

Edited by Michael Vellas, Dec 31 2014, 10:25 AM.
Marcus was motionless as he listened, eyes hooded, watching the byplay between the two. Inside he smiled slightly. The tension in the air was plain, though it was clear that Vellas was attempting to be conciliatory. As well he should, given the trust Ascendancy was placing in him. Giving a man, whose loyalty at best was pragmatic, control over men such as them was dangerous. His eye flicked to Ascendancy, trying to understand why he took such a risk with one such as Vellas, knowledge of strategy or no.

Not that he particularly would have wanted the job had it been offered. He was interested in the bigger picture, not simply training weapons to go where they were pointed. Himself, absolutely. Sparring and experimenting, yes. Pyotr had already been useful, after all, and would still be. But training 'children', no.

Then again, the inherent challenge was appealing. One did not build strength without struggle, without a real adversary. He thought back to his many enemies from childhood on. They had made him strong, after all. Seizing the Force was another struggle for mastery and the reward was power.

Vellas asked after Marcus' role in all this. It amused him that he called him 'Sigma Marcus' rather than DuBois. It reminded him of Marveet that night with Elouera. It mattered little, though, attempted slight or not. Power was in what you did, not what you called people.

He was surprised at Ascendancy's answer, unable to keep a slight smile from his face. Touché. The logic was impeccable. Vellas' nod was simple.

He also nodded to Ascendancy. "As you say Ascendancy,"
he said cooly. He would enjoy being a foil. He waited outside with the others while Ascendancy went in and began the process of over-awing the man.

He allowed himself a smile as he watched the process, a simple combination of weaves that were visually impressive. First impressions were important, whether individual meetings or while giving a speech. The place you seized in their mind was one that would not be dislodged without monumental work.

Ascendancy would be the first visceral image in this man's mind of raw naked power. And then, from that point on, he would be a distant figure like the sun, safely far off and less deadly. Vellas would be on point regularly, working with them. His glory would be that of the moon, close and reflected, coming after Ascendancy's.

And him? He would see what he would see. The potentials here were limitless.
After Im Seung, seven male candidates remained. Each were approached in similar fashion as he, with Nikolai entering first, assessing their ability to control their powers since he last visited them, and when they passed his test, he introduced Michael.

Once the last was affirmed, Nikolai swept a studious gaze down the hall. They had visited occupants living behind one long stretch of doors, but another set had gone unvisited. The females were beyond his reach, he surmised, but his frustration was buried deep below the surface.

Director Stephensen asked the first question: "You spoke of a transition?"
he asked.

Nikolai nodded, leading them to return to the upper level. "Commander Vellas will be working with the candidates. Now that they have passed threat of Sickness, they must learn control as danger remains. Dominating this power is like harnessing the might of a nuclear weapon with sheer strength of mind. Focus cannot be allowed to slip for even a moment or it will consume you."

They emerged onto the brighter, sleeker level. "They'll need space to work together. The old Telephone Room will suffice-"
so named for the room's original intent, it was once filled with rows of desks, each supplied with a rotary telephone, typewriter, and Morris code machine.

"The candidates will remain here so they can remain under research. I want the Telephone Room updated to accomodate the meetings, and give your team sufficient biofeedback data to analyze while they work. From this data, we can build security features that can be installed first on Kremlin grounds and then in other high-profile sites around Moscow that will detect the presence of unauthorized energy surges. There's a lot of work to do, get to it gentlemen."

The Director noted the Ascendancy's orders and said they would be carried out immediately. With that, the three gods returned to the surface.

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