The paramilitary soldiers led them through the jungle paths that wound their way to the main laboratory facility. They were ushered into a heavily guarded and modern medical biology laboratory, complete with scientists in white lab coats scurrying all over, accompanied by armed soldiers dressed in black and morose looking executives observing everything and checking off information on their tablets. Tom looked up grimly at the security cameras that were watchful over every inch of the building, along with the stone faces behind sunglasses of the private security contractors, ever ready with their rifles.
Amidst the flurry of activity, Tom's attention was drawn to a man who was being briefed by a group of scientists. His back was to them, but Tom recognized him, and after finishing his conversation and turning around, his attention was brought onto the detainees as well.
"Oh good, Peter, you made it back. I can't tell you how glad I am to see you in one piece. Commander, release him at once," Toby said to a soldier standing nearby. He looked on Elias. "You may release him as well. But lock up his creature down with the others," referring to Pea-ulĪ.
"You can't do that!" Elias protested. "He's my assistant!"
Toby looked him square in the eye, grim faced. "You're lucky we're not putting him down, Wirtham," Toby grunted. "I can't tell who's the greater monster, this soulless thing you have made, out of some sick, misguided curiosity; or you, for lacking the humanity to respect animals and their natural selection. You sicken me, sir."
Elias swallowed. "You may judge me how you like. But Pea-ulĪ is an intelligent, sentient being, and I daresay a good man. He didn't choose to be like this. So why punish him?"
"You said it yourself, doctor. No one or no thing would choose to be such an aberration. If we were to kill your monsters, we're not punishing them. We're liberating them from an existence that is a curse. We're punishing their creators, and you deserve far worse. And to clarify, your genetic deviants are not men at all."
Tom looked closely at Elias, whose face did not betray any emotion. "What is he talking about, Elias?"
"Ah Tom, congratulations to be the first of your deluded faction to join the party. You mean you haven't figured it out? These creatures were never hominids, like Connors who added some foreign DNA to his system, wrong as that may be. No, Wirtham and the 'esteemed' Dr. Lily Hollister have been playing God with even more volatile materials. They've been creating chimeras that if they ever were to escape, would threaten humankind's very existence. This so called 'assistant' of Wirtham, is a ridiculous hybrid of a bear and a dog, with some human brain cells injected into a terrible, genetic mess. He does not fit in or belong to any habitat of the biosphere, as his perpetual state of confusion demonstrates that even the so-called 'gift' of self-awareness was an act of cruelty. So the answer is no, Wirtham, and perhaps it would be better leave you in detention for now, as well. You can join your boss in confinement to your quarters. And Dr. Morgan, who's this?" Toby asked, referring to Somchai, the pirate.
"He's one of the sailors I hired. He's fine."
"Alright, I'll release him to your charge, Peter. As for Mr. Jones, take him to Dr. Kasady. He may be useful. And we'll see if you still feel so noble about your ill-advised stance on the legitimacy of polluting the human and animal gene pools when you get to see with your own eyes the horrific consequences of such morally reckless philosophies."
Tom was led further into the fascinating building to what appeared to be the main control room, as it was furnished with monitors, radios for making announcements, and numerous computers. Tom's attention was then drawn to the occupants of the room. There were the token armed guards, as usual, but more interesting were the two debaters who were involved in a very spirited discussion.
Tom recognized the man to be Guy Kasady, and although the woman was unknown to him, he figured that she must be the famous, or infamous, Dr. Lily Hollister.
She looked younger than Tom had pictured, maybe in her mid to late forties. She was very energetic, and was definitely more than an equal contender for quarrelling with Guy. Her long white hair was pulled into a simple ponytail, and her gently lined face was still pretty without any makeup.
"Even a deluded and misled scientific despot like you must realize when the battle has been lost!" yelled Guy. "It's over! You will not be permitted to experiment again on these poor creatures! Now do yourself a favour, and cooperate with us, for Christ's sake!"
"If you think that you can destroy my research with your suits, and your money, and your private armies, than your pea brain betrays your delusion," replied Lily with a frosty calm and her arms crossed. "What I and Dr. Connors have accomplished already cannot be stopped. Our medical advances are so overly groundbreaking that they have propelled humanity into a new age of genetics and the way we view medicine. Your hidebound conservative views only serve to blind you as to what the future will be, while you blindly guide the establishment into preventing more from enjoying our state-of-the-art discoveries."
"Well if you truly are sitting on top of miraculous cures and discoveries as you so claim, then type in your password and allow us access to the mainframe so that Oscorp may use the proper resources and connections to actually help people, if that is really your concern!"
"Hah!" Lily retorted. "You think you can fool me with such pathetic sentiment? I know what we've accomplished, and I didn't become a scientist to seek approbation from lesser minds such as yours."
"But how are you going to implement your discoveries-?"
"If I give you access to the mainframe your will either delete all of my findings and data, or you will bury it so deep that no one will be able to find it."
"I swear, Hollister, you will regret ever crossing me."
"You're wasting your breath, you maladroit oaf. If you want mind-blowing scientific breakthroughs, then try dedicating your life in a lab by putting your very soul into your research, as I have, and then we'll talk. But if you just want to steal my life's work so that you can destroy it, then how could you possibly expect cooperation from me?"
"Hollister," Guy growled, "this whole operation is illegal and classified. So whatever happens to you here, just remember the articles of the Geneva convention do not apply."
"Whoa! Let's everyone just calm down a bit here!" Toby interjected, wearing a disturbed expression, "We are not animals that must snarl and tear each other apart."
Lily Hollister actually smiled and looked amused at Toby's arrival. "You're right Doctor Ock. Excellent observation! We are not animals. We are a species far more wicked indeed. We invest in mutually assured destruction, and escalate violence to new heights of deviousness."
"But it doesn't have to be that way," Toby was using his most self-possessed voice, but it came out sounding patronizing. "We can cooperate so that no one is the loser. But you must understand that we will find out the contents of the computer mainframe with or without your help. And you must understand that it would be in your best interests if we collaborated."
"Do you really think you're any different than Dr. Carnage, here, because you talk to me in a smooth tone of voice?" she said, referring to Guy. "You can strangle someone with a silk scarf just as easy as you can cudgel them over the head, and you may pretend to act civilized, but you are threatening me all the same if I don't give you what you want. Well here's a threat for you: what's to prevent me from ruining your little party when we get off this island and telling the world about Guy Kasady's itchy palms?"
At this statement, Toby's eyes narrowed into slits, and Guy put his hands on his hips and scoffed. Tom, who was just being introduced to the strange dynamic of the conspirators, was greatly curious as to what Lily was referring. As she saw that she had a captive audience, she continued, "Yeah, that's right, Auchmann. I suppose you thought I didn't know about Kasady and his little scam with his buddy, Jackson Wheele; short-selling Oscorp stock the day after Dr. Connors' murder." She turned gleefully on Guy. "You fiends must have made a fortune! But wouldn't the shareholders love to know the details behind that original scheme, not to mention the SEC. So you see, Doc Ock, why I have trouble believing that you would just let me go free after this. My guess is, the plan is for me to never leave this island."
"Oh that can be very easily arranged, lady!" spouted Guy.
"Silence!" roared Toby, losing his customary cool. "You've already sold our moral authority with your greedy opportunism, you will not have history condemn us as savage butchers, as well."
Guy appeared to smart from that remark. He motioned to a soldier standing nearby. "Corporal, escort Dr. Hollister to her quarters, if you please." Lily eyed Toby and Guy as she walked away with a smug grin. 'Like shooting fish in a barrel,' her look seemed to say. She already provoked Guy's ire, but now she had managed to redirect it. Once she was led away, Guy said, "You know what, Ock? I'm starting to get a little tired of your naive approach to our whole enterprise here. You say that you don't want the world to see us as butchers? What do you think we're doing here? Or what do you think was the point of hiring mercenaries to help us get what we wanted? I'm afraid that the line where the world sees us as the Care Bears was crossed a long time ago."
"You dare to mock me, after this unveiling of your corruption? We agreed that Dr. Julian Connors had to die, because it meant saving humanity! We all swore that there could be no higher cause for justice! And we knew that we would have a challenge to defend ourselves to those who would disparage us by claiming that we undertook this intrigue for some selfish purpose. Your moral inconstancy has led you to make these careless decisions that, despite much planning, leaves us in a precarious position."
"This is precisely what I was talking about when I said you are naive. Only a callow youth would start a war thinking all could be solved by analytics and logic. That is why modern corporations need to hire security contractors. Because the nature of who has the bigger gun will resolve a question more convincingly than a rational argument."
"I may be callow to many things, Guy, as you point out, but I will never admit that a logical method is inferior to foolhardy, spontaneous action."
"You view my active nature to be foolish, do you? I do not disagree that being methodical is necessary. Knowledge is only useful if it is practical, and it is my empirical experience in the world that has gotten us this far. We all know you're smart, Toby, but don't try to get smart with me. It's my unbending logic that will enable us to defeat our enemies when we're backed into a corner."
"Well your harsh wisdom is part of the reason we are backed into the corner, as you put it. And I daresay that your moral pragmatism has not helped our position."
Guy smiled wryly and shook his head, "You are such a pompous prick."
"So now we'll just resort to name calling, I guess. If that solved anything, I could say a few choice things myself."
"Seriously, Toby, I'm warning you-"
"Yeah, like you warned Hollister. I heard you. You expect to frighten and bully everyone with your rash violence, or your crazy stares?"
Guy threw up his hands. "Go screw yourself!"
"Is that all you have to say, after your betrayal? We entered into this mission knowing that we may have to pay the highest price. And that is the end fate has in store for us unless we can defend ourselves, here and thereafter armed with the evidence of the crimes we have found here. But if we fail, the world will look upon us as envious murderers, whose demise is one to be pitied."
"It would appear that you're giving up."
"I'm laying out the facts, so that we may plan accordingly. You claim that you are capable of getting us out of a predicament. If you truly are the better soldier, then put your money where your mouth is. If you have a meritorious strategy on how to bring us the victory, then nothing would please me more."
"Arrogance is disagreeable on you, Ock. I never claimed to be a soldier; I'm just realistic."
"I agree with you there. If we are to be realistic, then we must accept the fact that we may need to destroy this place, to keep it out of the wrong hands."
"Are you proposing a suicide attack?"
"I know the notion of dying here as martyrs is most invidious, both to you and to me. So I was proposing that we get working on building up our defences. Also, you no doubt have noticed who I have here with me."
"I was wondering how Tom Jones came to be here."
Now that his presence was finally acknowledged, Tom chimed in, "While it's a beautiful thing to watch a lovers' quarrel lead to the renewal of their love, I would just be in the way. May I leave the two of you alone, now?"
Toby and Guy ignored him. "I brought him in here because I thought maybe he could use his computer skills to help you sort out your complications with accessing the mainframe," Toby said.
"Well, why didn't you say that from the beginning?"
"I tried, I tried. But you were already having your hissy fit when we got here, and were preoccupied with your culpability over the stock market collusion."
"I swear, your self-righteous act is really starting to wear thin. How do I know that you won't sacrifice me to Iraklis and Osborne when they come for their revenge?"
"Save your self-pity for the possibility of our defeat. And channel your rage into the ensuing battle."
"You should apply your prescription, Doctor, and properly direct your own anger and rage."
At this moment, a group of soldiers briskly walked into the room, Lieutenant Adriana Soria, followed by Commander Frank Castle, Captain Mike Hall, and a Field Artillery Firefinder Radar Operator, Adrienne Toomes. "What's wrong?" asked Guy.
"With respect sir, we're behind in our defence preparations, and your presence is requested to authorize some fortifications," said Adriana, matter-of-factly.
"What she's saying is, we need to put to rest the petty squabbling and get to work, sir!" Frank Castle said sharply, looking straight ahead and snapping to attention.
"You got some nerve, Commander, to talk to us like that," Guy snarled.
"Why? Because he was being honest with you, Guy?" Tom charged. "Count yourself lucky that you have people around you telling you the truth and not flooding sunshine up your ass when there is none. You'll find there are only two kinds of people who will be honest with you like that to your face: an enemy who has lost his temper and a friend who actually loves you dearly. I'm not sure which category Castle falls into," he added, chuckling to himself.
"You always were cynical, Tom." Guy replied.
"Not to mention cheeky," said Toby. "Make yourself useful by getting us into this computer system," he said, pushing Tom into a chair. "And keep your sass to yourself. If you're not smart enough to know by now that you chose the wrong side, God help you. Your impertinence only serves to display your foolishness."
"Let us be off to see to our preparations, although I'm not sure we will be able to hold them off," Guy fretted.
"Brave men rejoice in adversity, Guy, just as brave soldiers triumph in war." Toby nodded his head to Castle as he said this, who smiled approvingly.
"Even so, we should have a contingency escape plan in place, in case things go bad. It would be a shame if you couldn't see Kerry again," said Guy, slyly.
"But if this should be our end, I need to bet one thing against my dying day - that any failings I've allowed must die before I do. Commander, Captain, Lieutenant: make sure the island's self destruct mechanisms are operational, to ensure that nothing gets out of this place, should it come to that. We need to protect the world from the monsters Connors has created."
Mike Hall had briefly gone out, but then returned with Elaine Colls, a Weapons Engineer Officer. At this they tried to get out of earshot of Tom, but he could still make out what they were saying, despite their hushed tones. "Okay Captain. What news have you got for us?" asked Guy. "Officer Colls, what are we looking at?"
"Iraklis and Osborne have finally been able to regroup after our delaying tactics slowed them down in the mainland, but now they are coming at us with what appears to be their full force. Looks like they have at least five gunships, three helicopters, and a variety of smaller, faster boats with which to land their troops. We're expecting them to be here at first light tomorrow."
Guy looked at Toby. "This is bad. We should cut our losses and get out of here. Or, we can leave the mercenaries to hold them off and destroy the facility while we retreat to fight another day."
"That would never work for at least two reasons," Toby hissed. "One, our escape is cut off by this invasion. And two, the security contractors would never fall on their swords for us like that. We'd have a mutiny on our hands."
"But Toby, this is real! What endgame do you imagine here? We could all be killed!"
"It is uncertain where Death awaits us, my friend. Therefore we must expect it everywhere. In the meantime, the Commander assures me we have gun turrets in place on the beach to complicate any attempts at a landing. And we have tunnels dug that lead away from the beach to the main compound to effect a retreat and counterattack when it comes to that. I have the utmost confidence in our troops, as Commander Castle and Captain Hall have already proved their worthiness in my eyes. In addition to our battle plans, we have the cause of right and virtue on our side. So let us stand ready and confident, and brace ourselves without flinching for whatever fate decides to hurl at us."
Tom sat at the computer workstation, testing for ways to bypass the security to access the mainframe. Not that he was particularly eager to help his enemies but curiosity continued to compel him to want to see what secrets lie dormant in Julian Connors' secret hard drives. After a scant few attempts that surprised even Tom himself, he was able to hack into the system.
As the information sealed in the computer unfolded before his eyes, Tom was truly astonished at the data he was looking at. Dr. Hollister had experimented on no small number of animals and their genetic codes, mixing their traits together to create new species and give them special or increased abilities. Many of the experiments involved injecting diversified sorts of human DNA, generally with the goal of increasing intelligence, but oftentimes with the purpose of homologizing the animals to be more compatible for testing medications and products with human applications.
Many of the outcomes had been remarkable, from a biologist's point of view. There had been accidents to be sure, such as the super mutant rats escaping and multiplying on the island. And the attempts at applying cross-species genetics to living tissue and subjects had been impaired by problems of degeneration of the foreign DNA. "I guess Connors never got the opportunity to transmit the solution to the decay rate algorithm," thought Tom.
At this point, Toby noticed that Tom had accessed the network and came running over. "Hey! Stop what you're doing there, if you please! I appreciate your assistance in accessing the mainframe but I'm afraid that is where my confidence in you ends. Private, if you would please escort Mr. Jones away from here to a cell," he said, motioning to the nearest guard.
As Toby sat at the computer, eagerly prepared to delve into its secrets, suddenly a warning message flashed on the screen.
**git push heroku arvad**
**You don't exist, go away!**
**fatal: The remote end hung up unexpectedly**
Tom was beckoned back to the computer, and was able to fix the problem by flushing the cache, but then, as Toby sat down again at the computer, a video appeared and began to play.
"What's this?" asked Toby, as Tom shrugged in puzzlement.
As the video began, Tom and Toby found themselves staring at Julian Connors' smiling face, lighting up the screen. He began, "If you are watching this, then no doubt you have made some discoveries of our humble facility. Before you rush to any judgements faster than a rivers' progress toward the ocean, take a moment to try to avoid what would not only prove to be a self destructive course in conflict with the ghost in the machine, but also, more significantly, a futile attempt to forestall progress that is for all attempts and purposes; inevitable. Just as Moore's Law has demonstrated the astounding trend in computing advances, so too this principle can be applied to technological progress as a whole. To quote Pablo Neruda, 'You can cut all the flowers, but you can't keep the spring from coming.' So likewise with human advancement and technological progress, it is veritably inevitable. Should you choose to follow bad policy, you may succeed in slowing the progress, but progress cannot be stopped. The bigger the breakthrough, the faster the visionless policy makers will find themselves steamrolled as human society drives relentlessly forward behind science and reason. May these words serve to guide you into the successive advances of the Human Condition and may we all learn to work together to find mutual success in our New Atlantis."
The video went black. Toby looked shocked; shaken even.
"Well that was weird." Tom's voice broke the tense silence.
Toby's head twitched, as if he was awaking from a daze. "Private, I thought I told you to confine Jones to a cell." The guard grabbed Tom by the arm and pulled him out of the room, while Toby sat in front of the computer, his hands pressed against his lips, lost in thought.