On and on the Ark caravan crawled, its speed now stabilized to 10 mph for the final push to the launch site at Edwards Air Force Base. I crossed my legs and sat on the floor of Marion’s cab as she described what we were about to face.
It is no coincidence that on your perilous journey to bring me from the Stark Skunkworks all the way up here, most of the worst perils have been near sites of particular scientific or technological significance. The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, the Stark complex, the Wayne Manor cave, Fleetwood’s Citadel, Plant 42… all were signposts of mankind’s ascent toward the godhood of technology. And in all these places, mankind’s basest failings undid all the good that was intended by his starry-eyed dreams of technological supremacy. Greed, recklessness, incompetence, jealousy, negligence… the state of the planet today is a direct result of these age-old sins inhabiting men with far more power and influence than sobriety, compassion, and sense. The glowing, radioactive gill-men and sea monsters at San Onofre wouldn’t be there if the reactor hadn’t been permitted to melt down. The murderous golf carts and turrets at Stark Industries were installed as high-end security apparatus for everyday use. The Robot Monster used to be Bruce Wayne’s gardener/dance instructor. And the sandworms surrounding Edwards AFB used to be a child’s science experiment.
You gotta be kidding me.
Originally a colony of Eisenia fetida taken up to the International Space Station, they were exposed to some mysteriously potent cosmic rays up there. The return trip began well enough, departing the ISS without incident. We may never know what took place aboard that doomed ship, for it crashed spectacularly at Edwards after adopting an increasingly erratic approach angle. Edwards was evacuated altogether within 48 hours, and surreptitiously closed less than a week before Chelsea’s Little War broke out. It never got talked about among civilians, especially not after everyone had what they used to call “bigger fish to fry,” but there’s a good reason why the base has remained unraided all these years. The worms, irradiated and mutated by whatever cosmic forces they endured in orbit, grew to monstrous size, and they tunnel beneath the base, consuming all carbon-based life they encounter within a half-mile radius of the crash site near the launch pad end of the runway. They normally spend nearly all their time underground, but they are acutely sensitive to vibration, and when they detect our approach, they will surface and attack.
How are we supposed to get past them?
As I said, the worms are sensitive to vibration, and different vibrations mean different things to these creatures. Stretch Sanford had been developing a countermeasure. We should ask him if he has had any success with it.
Stretch?! That cheatin’ sonofabitch? There’s no way in hell we’re asking him for help. Most of the drivers wanna kill him.
We should not hasten to judge. I suspect even he has a side of the story worth hearing.
But… but he sold them crap gear that nearly got them killed! Hell, the Major…
That may not have been his intent. Speak to him. Allow him to present a case. I know a great deal about artificial intelligences, and programming and rampancy and agency and self-awareness. The matter is not as cut and dried as you humans may be tempted to believe.