The twins and Sarah didn't even wait for the helicopter to fully land before jumping out the side door, hitting the ground running, rushing into Ted's mansion as if on a raid, watchful for traps. Ted was at the door waiting for them and leaped five feet back in surprise.
"Dominator! Um.. uh.." He looked back and forth between the twins frantically, trying to understand why the hell they were both wearing white and deciding it didn't matter. The Dominator wanted something, therefore he would have it, particularly since the Dominator's dog smelled his fear. "I can have an Enforcer fly you back."
"No, you can't," Sarah said decisively. "Follow me." Ted reluctantly followed Sarah into his own hangar, the contents of which were three fast cars (one of Illuminated make) and his rather ordinary-looking helicopter.
"This is your only helicopter," Sarah said, not a question. She watched his face carefully in an attempt to see if he was lying.
"Yeah..," he said, uncertainly. She gritted her teeth- had to trust something at some point- and tried the door. It was locked, a rare thing with Illuminated aircraft (the rationale being that if someone can get that close, you're already fucked). "Keys," she demanded instead of simply breaking in. The man fumbled in his pocket for his key ring, spent fifteen long, embarrassing seconds trying to get the key off, and threw it to Sarah. She opened it instantly and immediately went for the controls, turning the rotors on. "Testing it first." The hosting Illuminatus signaled to his Enforcers to open the top of the hangar, and Sarah lifted off a few feet before lowering it again. "Hop in," she shouted, under the surprisingly quiet whirr. The twins, smiling at the intimidated Mr. Vu, entered.
Paul decided to take the opportunity to make a friend and be formal, figuring he'd need the practice. "On behalf of our Masters and their operations leader, I apologize for the paranoia," he said, bowing to Ted slightly.
"Don't mention it," Ted said. "They have a damn good right to be spooked." He'd almost said 'scared', but figured that would come out as an insult. (It wouldn't- the twins would have openly admitted that they were scared out of their shit, had anyone the courage to ask.) Paul waved as he hopped in the helicopter, and blinked as he looked at the complex instrumentation on it. It had none of the standard display screens, just a wide variety of switches and gauges.
"Normal?" he asked. The twins left the sliding doors open, sitting half-out of the helicopter, weapons at the ready as if ready to do a Vietnam-style strafing run. This was a decisively secrecy-negative action- any twit with binoculars could see them- but the only missile defense system they had. At least they were already by the coast.
"Illuminated inside," Sarah responded, taking the helicopter up and angling the nose downward for speed. "It's on carbohydrate power, but half of this stuff isn't really necessary." Good thing, too- Sarah was trained on Illuminated craft, with their standardized, simplified, intuitive control mechanisms that were heavily computer-controlled and resembled a video game more than anything else. Although she could probably get a purely normal craft going with engineered intelligence and common sense, it wasn't advisable.
Being in a fast-moving vehicle with the doors open generates a lot of airflow, and the twins shivered against it, holding on tightly to the helicopter's interior with one hand and holding their weapons with the other, as their clothing's fabric constricted against the temperature drop. The motor was relatively quiet but the constant wind battered their ears. Sarah ignored the turbulence and kept the speed down to a mere two hundred and fifty miles per hour because of the open doors, using a circuitous route to avoid potential enemies. She only took a look at the GPS a few times; she intuitively knew the island's location, a single, secret green dot a hundred miles from the Oregon coast. Paul again tried to take the opportunity to rest, and again failed. He felt like he could stay up for days.
Watchfulness and paranoia ruled the rulers for forty minutes before the message came through on several air-traffic and emergency frequencies, sounding for all the world like a nervous but very serious radio operator fresh out of boot camp: "Attention craft..." Sure to follow was a litany of various threats related to prohibited military airspace, before an immediate countermeasure involving long-range surface-to-air missiles.
Sarah reduced speed and rapidly pressed buttons on the transponder, opening the hidden functions and directing an encrypted broadcast back to the source on a very specific frequency. "You try anything on this copter and you'll have a couple of very pissed Dominators raining death on your ass." Actually, they'd have a fair chance of succeeding, but she didn't want to say that.
The group was half-expecting him to gasp in surprise, but he didn't. "Acknowledged. Welcome home."
"Is the area secure?"
"Yes." ('Yeah, well, that's what we all thought it was before.')
"Good. We're coming in." Sarah's high, beautiful voice rarely hit a note of pure satisfaction. For everyone listening, it was a comforting thing to hear.
Even from the air, the island looked different from most. It looked more lush and verdant than regular islands, like a movie producer's fantasy of an untouched paradise. Multicolored birds were dots flitting from the trees. The beach was a bright swath of whitish-yellow sand. From near the central cliff- the island's volcano was long dormant and collapsed- came a steady flow of clean water. Approaching from the east, with the mansion out of view, one would think that all 101.25 acres of it (depending on the tide) was entirely unspoiled by technology.
This was hardly the case. To the Illuminati, technology and nature were not a dichotomy. The ecology was completely managed, with canine predators and porcine prey kept in balance. Advanced bioengineering techniques- child's play for the people who engineered the Dominator- were used to keep everything healthy. The island was filled with an unnatural variety of fruit-bearing plants and colorful animals, a living work of art, the ultimate vacation spot and the perfect home. Here was life, here was love, here was hope. If you caught the aesthetics right, the trees whispered of friendship and joy; the short grass (where the twins had started brutally murdering a hundred people, some with their bare hands) seemed a somehow-infinite plain, not surrounded by water but uplifted by it. Many people have trouble imagining a place like this; were they to see it for themselves and not know the occupants, they would likely think it was the font of all good in the world. The Illuminati had little trouble making it, and upgrading it as their techniques improved, treating it like a living movie set. More than a few of them had visions of doing something like this to every spot of land on Earth.
The visible was only a small part of it; like most stages, it was what was hidden that was the true production. The Dominator's mansion had its own basement filled with collections of entertainment and valuable items, and a self-purifying pool; but that was small compared to the servants' underground complex, a byzantine multi-layered training facility of living quarters, firing ranges, and simulations, with a geothermal power generator as backup for the fusion. The Dominator never went down there on principle, nor did his former personal servants; it was, after all, the backstage area reserved for the professionals. The cultured area, with its verdant perfection, was made for him.
The illusion was shattered once the helicopter approached the western portion. The ruined mansion was abuzz with heavy machinery and black-clad operatives, the movie set undergoing stark renovations after a massive catastrophe, the eye of Gaia stabbed. It was as if someone had started building a factory in the middle of Disneyland, only with less pollution and more of the generic, super-strong, generally non-reflective metal that the Illuminati piece together molecule by molecule. Howard started to develop a troubled look as he watched some of the workers.
Sarah set the helicopter down directly next to the reforming mansion and let everyone else get out of the way, acting as a nine-hundred-pound gorilla.
The moment the helicopter touched the brown, heavily-worked soil, Howard leaped from it, looking wary, rushing with engineered speed towards the leader of the reconstruction. William was startled by his brother's sudden movement- 'what does he see that I don't?'- and similarly rushed to his side, head whipping around, looking for threats.
The leader of the reconstruction was the usually anonymous servant who took care of the island and trained a sizable group of new recruits in stealth, parts of their training consisting of serving the Dominator without being seen. Normally he would remain unseen himself, but these were special circumstances. He welcomed the twins with spread palms. "You require assistance, Dominator?"
"Whose Enforcers are these?" Howard asked, annoyed and paranoid.
"Dr. Morris Flatland's."
"And who is this Dr. Flatland, and why are they here?" Howard asked, even more annoyed. William understood the emotions but didn't feel them nearly as strongly.
"He's an architect; I don't know much about him. The previous Dominator recommended him to us as trustworthy." That mollified Howard slightly; despite the acute possibility, he doubted his "Daddy" and teacher would be part of the plot. "They're here to rebuild. There is no evidence of them doing anything else." Which either meant that they weren't laying traps, or they weren't leaving evidence.
William was looking around at the construction, watching the mindless laborers at their work, invisibly weaving metal together using bulky, strangely quiet machines. "Did you start the rebuilding before you knew we were going to be all right?" he asked.
"Yes. If you weren't all right," the servant pointed out, "we'd all have a lot more to worry about than the waste of some servants' time." William tacitly acknowledged the point. "Given the extent of the damage, we recommend a complete redesign." From scratch. Howard held up a hand and the twins walked past him, using the door instead of squeezing through any of the holes in the wall, observing the repairing machines at their work from the inside.
It was a complete wreck. The roof was open to daylight, bent and twisted metal hanging from the jagged hole, the superior material having absorbed a missile impact. Fragments of a similar missile were embedded all throughout the walls and doors. Almost all the furniture was melted or bullet-ridden. Deep scorches in the carpet- much deeper than they looked- marked the path of the Micro. Some of the holes in the wall were almost perfectly circular, and blown outwards; that would mark the places where the atomic shotgun had splattered an Enforcer and continued on. A few other, more jagged holes were blown inwards; one particularly ugly-looking one was being sealed up as they watched.
And it reeked like an unclean butcher shop. The servants had evacuated the corpses but hadn't yet gotten out the smell. The twins didn't mind raw meat and had dined on long pig before, but it had been hours and the other dogs and a couple of the pigs on the island had been by while it was still fresh. They left in a hurry.
"Where the hell did those come from?" William asked the servant, gesturing to the holes he didn't make.
"After you left, there were a couple of artillery strikes." Just part of the general SNAFU, then, some enemy having come with heavy firepower a little too late to the party. "Here are our working plans. Do you approve?" The servant held out a laptop. William took it, looking it over with his brother. The servant- William didn't even know if that guy had a name anymore- had displayed an uncanny prescience in knowing the twins' future personal habits. The overall shape and outer shell was very similar. Privacy from each other was silly as a concept, so they shared a large bedroom adjacent to Sarah's on one side and Paul's on the other. A small auditorium would be grafted onto the side for meetings and the like, although they had no idea if they'd ever allow enough people to fill it. A large skylight would cover the living room ('so we can see the missiles coming', both of them thought but didn't say), and a few unused rooms were to be eliminated and the space reworked. The servant, probably along with Dr. Flatland, had likely rubbed his hands together in glee when given the chance to redesign the Dominator's mansion; any substantial repair almost always meant substantial improvement.
"Yes.. although, we need better defense systems," William said. Need to phrase this one right... "If your plans don't already call for them, I want some heavy anti-everything all around us. Anti-missiles, better anti-ships, nothing outdated, nothing that anyone knows how to counter, no more fucking around pretending secrecy keeps us safe, because we now know it doesn't. Fusion cannons on the roof of the house, and the whole thing controllable from the inside or at good spots around the island." The servant's only reaction was a blink and a nod. An idea struck William, one that could possibly save all their lives. "And mirror armor. Mirror the whole fucking house." The servant nodded again. To him that last request seemed childish but it wouldn't hurt and so he wouldn't object.
"Speaking of weapons, when I'm inside I don't want to be more than about ten feet from one," Howard said. "Pound on the wall once, get a weapon. Heavy caliber, suitable for killing Enforcers and punching holes. Am I clear?" The servant nodded again.
"All right.. now we just need an implant resetter. I don't like Enforcers that aren't mine being here," Howard said. Of all the useful things he kept, an implant resetter was not among them. (It could have been another possible avenue of escape for a young Dominator's implanted servants.) The problem, of course, was finding someone trustworthy enough to bring one.
"How about this?" William asked. "Let's go to Northberg in person. We can have a good, long talk with the Operator and bring it back ourselves." Howard's eyes brightened at that. He hadn't forgotten he meant to interrogate his creator about the implants that somehow ended up in his fucking head- he'd simply put that on the back burner until he knew he was relatively safe.
When they climbed back into the helicopter, Paul said, "Damn. You win the bet, Sarah. Good thing there wasn't anything at stake."
"So that's why you didn't get out," William said. The only one who had gotten out was Fido, eager to let the the Dominator's three other dogs, Chocolate, Negro, and Magma, know that their master was alive through fresh scents. Better to leave the dog behind; if Fido felt that his master and someone else were getting angry at each other, it was a very good bet that the someone else would have his neck ripped open in one bite.
"I just knew you two weren't going to sit on your ass. Where to?" Sarah asked.
"The Day Operator," Howard said, using his extra set of vocal cords for the echo effect. There were several Day Operators of various facilities, working twelve hours a day, seven days a week, a labor of love for each one of them, almost always a combination of miniature benevolent dictator and a bastard from hell. They devoted their lives to their facilities, building and maintaining systems, logistics and plans, developing technology and sometimes entire branches of science and engineering, with a corresponding, usually lesser-statused, Night Operator for the remaining time. But for an engineered, 'The Day Operator'- or even just 'The Operator'- meant by default the one who had led the process of developing them.
The twins relaxed their alertness somewhat, although their eyes still scanned the ground. They let themselves think, really deeply think, now that they had some semblance of safety and the gist of a plan. William had finally allowed himself to truly realize something:
He is co-ruler of the entire world.
Answerable to no one, and all except one are answerable to him. Unimaginable power, both destructive and creative, at his fingertips. His whims becoming law with a few keystrokes. The ability to have any physical item possible within the bounds of technology and science, simply by saying 'Create it.' His ability, his control, his sheer majesty paralleled only by his brother's. This is not the socially limited power of a president, nor the technologically limited power of a medieval king. Lightning-fast communications make it possible for him to send anything down the chain of command any time he wants, without most of the people on the chain having a clue he exists.
'Leaders of nations grovel at my feet if I so command them. Entire continents can be made to succeed or fail depending on my desires. I can have anything I want, create anything I want, do anything I want. If I want servants to build a temple to my own honor, it will be done. If I want to declare my birthday tomorrow to be a global holiday..' It would have to be done next year, require way more control than it was worth, and the normals could never know what they were actually celebrating. William's powertripping had run into the realities of Illuminati governance.
Howard, on the other hand, was not thinking such pleasant thoughts. He had been raised with the knowledge that he would one day rule the world; when he finally took the position of Dominator, it was simply part of his growing up. His thoughts were dire, terrified, now that his hold on planet Earth was threatened. The enemy Illuminati- whoever they were- were willing to break secrecy to attack him, but that was to be expected; he considered, but discounted, the idea that they would really break secrecy en masse as a way of removing him from power. The current cover-up would be massive. Anything much larger could destroy them, as well. No, what he worried about was his control over Illuminated facilities; the headquarters in Bavaria (but not the true capital, no.. that was here, and always would be), the weapons and electronics manufacturing facilities, the research and development labs, and above them all, Northberg Medical Facility in the Canadian wilderness.
If Northberg was in enemy hands, they were fucked utterly. Northberg was, to the twins, more important than any other Illuminati base, even including their own island. Northberg was where all the Illuminati's most innovative medical procedures were carried out, where its genetics experiments were done, where its...
"I was just going to do this but I figured I'd run this by you guys first," Sarah shouted over the rushing winds. "There's another military airfield with secrecy a few dozen miles from Northberg. We should land there instead."
This statement was so coincidental to Howard's thoughts that he answered instantly, his echo overpowering the noise: "If Northberg is taken- or if the Operator really is one of them- the enemy has control of all new Enforcers, all biologicals, a lot of serious weaponry.. and the kids." The bioengineered children of Northberg Educational, future controllers of the world. For both rational and emotional reasons, the protection of the educational wing of the facility was the top priority. They weren't just children, they were superintelligent, highly diverse in abilities in a way that normals could never be, and all of them had genes directly derived from the Operator's previous creations, most notably Sarah and the twins. Although only one of them sprang from Dominator sperm and Sarah's eggs, they thought of the children as normals think of close relatives. They were more than just future leaders; they were the future. Come the End of Secrecy and the direct rule of the Illuminati, it would be the engineered children, most of them likely adults by then, who would create the new order.
"Northberg doesn't have to be taken", she reminded him loudly, "for some asshole to be waiting there with an assault cannon or an antivehicle sniper rifle. And even if it was, our primary responsibility would be to take it back, no matter what." She was right, of course, and they all knew it. To lose was to die; better to die trying to win.
"No, Sarah, this is political. Take an indirect path, and order a security check near the landing zone, but we're going to Northberg," Howard replied. Damned if he was going to slink in there and show that much paranoid weakness. William just smiled. Political appearances were important, and going to Northberg first would have a great symbolic significance of what they value the most, but he had suggested it not wholly because of that. He and the Operator had.. business to discuss.