They were led to a secret elevator.
Walking out, they met with one of the biggest rooms he had ever seen. Wichmond’s lab was a disorganized amalgamation of misshapen, incomplete and prototype tech, none of which Daigo or the others could recognize but all of which seemed dangerous for reasons they couldn’t really pinpoint, which only made it worse.
The size of it was overwhelming too, it seemed to Daigo he was looking at a landscape which could easily be a third of the palace’s length, if not more.
“Do you know the source of my fortune, Smuggler?” The voice was not being radioed in. They turned to face it and found a different version of the clone, standing so far in the distance that it was only a faint silhouette standing against a big source of light that didn’t look…natural.
They walked towards him, traversing the zigzagging corridors produced by a limitless assortment of gadgetry. The lack of rooms made Daigo a bit nauseous, he had never seen such an open space.
“I am an inventor. My company is responsible for all major technological breakthroughs of the last five years…all of them military.”
They also crossed by tables and desks and closets, filled with blueprints, designs, holograms and actually built prototypes of so many countless things. They even littered the floors.
“I have enriched myself beyond the wildest of imaginations…at a cost that was hard to stomach, albeit not impossible.”
Getting close enough, Daigo noticed the light was being produced by a sphere of plasma, the likes he had never seen before.
“Until this one.”
The sphere was sucked into a box-like container in front of Wichmond. It was so box-like you could actually call it a box.
Wichmond turned around. His eyes were red, with terrible dark rings around them. It was the look of someone who hadn’t slept in a few days after having been sleeping deprived for a few weeks after having woken up with one of those hangovers that left very little in life to be desired other than a glass of fresh water. He was sweaty, dirty, as shaved as the clone but actually looking less healthy.
It put Daigo off guard, momentarily, but he wasn’t about to lower his guard over something as dangerous as compassion. He crossed his arms defensively.
“What’s going on, Wichmond? I’m going to need a very good reason not to replace you with your clone.”
“That thing?” Wichmond looked at the clone dismissively. “It would never pass for me. I anticipated its robbery and damaged its mind.”
“Please don’t kill me,” the clone sobbed away, losing strength in its legs.
“It has…side-effects…mostly manifested in emotional instability, discernible in his fear. He’s too terrified to tell anyone anything…the other clones, however, I had no time to put them through the procedure.”
Right. Mad scientist. Apt to go on long explanations that waste time.
“What. Is happening.” Daigo stressed.
In response, Wichmond held out the box.
“This is a plasma construct created by me. Once in contact with a star, it will be absorbed…which will provoke a chain reaction that will… ultimately trigger a heavily accelerated……gravitational collapse.” He sighed. “Death.”
Daigo paused, mentally trying to absorb what the man was saying.
Wichmond’s wrinkled expression betrayed a face far older than the young forties it should be showing. He frowned in pain and dramatically shook his head.
“Not all types, but the ones it affects, it causes the supernova effect…so, more accurately, it kills everything around them.”
Daigo looked down in shock. There was no reason for the man to lie, and no indication of it either that he could tell, he wasn’t getting the slightest sign.
Daigo still could not believe it.
“This is a system killer?”
“Maybe more…it’s not like I can just…test.”
“…” For the first time in his life, Daigo had no words.
“This is what they’re after, boss,” Hannes said, the only one there not showing that much of a reaction, Kyle must’ve been on his hundredth nervous blink. “We can use it as leverage.”
“If a government takes it by force… the others will know. It will mean immediate war against everyone else,” Wichmond began to explain. “That is why they kidnapped a clone of me, so that he could reproduce it in absolute secret. I anticipated and allowed them to take it if only to gain time to…properly handle the situation.”
Daigo looked up in realization.
“And then we happened,” Kyle said.
Wichmond helplessly nodded.
“They must have assumed you were…competition. Having stolen the clone from them, they then decided the time for secrecy was over. Now, it will not be long until all the others realize that I am under siege… my work…under attack, and then… they will come for it too. For it. For me. For one of my working clones. For this laboratory. The sad truth is they only need one of these things to reproduce the weapon.”
Daigo looked down at the tiny box.
“It’s…so small.” He could easily pick it up with one hand and throw it away like a football.
“The more fundamental the science…the more catastrophic is its impact.”
“But I don’t get it,” Daigo raised an eyebrow, “were you building for Centauri? How’d they get involved?”
“The spy who took the clone. He was an envoy from the Trifecta Federation, to oversee my…creations. We have been…we were close and I believed I could trust him with keeping the weapon secret until… I found out how to…unravel the situation. Instead, too late, I realized he was a double-agent. Working for Centauri…”
“So that’s the problem?” Daigo was trying to keep thinking, it helped him cope. “This is too big even for your conscience?”
Wichmond blinked, for the first time it felt like, and a tear came out of each eye.
“I wish I could…I wish I were that…irresponsible. Or I wish I was brave enough to…take care of it myself…but I am not. I am a coward.”
The whole puzzle finally fit itself completely in Daigo’s mind.
“Let’s take the weapon n’ run, no one’ll harm us as long as we got it.” Hannes earnestly suggested.
“What? Are you crazy?” Kyle finally snapped out, reacting by pushing against Hannes who of course didn’t budge an inch. “Didn’t you hear what it does??! We need to get rid of it!”
“Rid ov’it?” Hannes frowned, realizing Daigo could very well be considering that. “This’s our first true chance at winnin’. We can’t just pass it over.”
“Didn’t you hear him?” Daigo turned to him, aware that not even his robotic eyes were hiding how nervous he was. It was too much to completely hide, “they can reproduce it anyways.”
“That’s why we kill‘im. We kill the clones, too. N’ blow up the lab.”
“Just drop it on water,” Wichmond interrupted both of them. “Inside the case, drop it on water. In a matter of days, it will be extinguished. It will be gone.”
Daigo looked Wichmond from top to bottom.
“This is what you want…”
“Yes…” Wichmond said in a stuttering voice. His eyes watered down as he kneeled down in front of them. “Yes…destroy all of this. Destroy me. Destroy the weapon…”
“He can’t do it,” Kyle remarked. “He wants to but he can’t bring himself to destroy everything he’s ever done. His greatest creation, he can’t just destroy it by himself.”
“Boss,” Hannes pulled focus, “this ain’t the time to be stupid.”
Daigo didn’t feel stupid, however. He looked down, he looked up, back at the box, back at Wichmond, at Hannes and Kyle and even the emotionally challenged clone. He thought back to the Hornet’s Nest. Back to Kiyin. Back to her planet.
“What I love most about you, kid is how fast you adapt to everything.”
And now I’m hearing voices… it was of his mentor, a captain he had worked under when he was an orphan trying to find his way out of Hellias Half. He hadn’t thought of him in almost a year.
“Whole damn ship’s blowing up around us, everyone freakin’ the hell out, making things worse, but not you. You already got an angle, don’tcha? You know it might not work but it’s in yer head, you’re workin’ it.”
Daigo noticed a tear rolling down his cheek then. He reflexively turned his face so Hannes and Kyle wouldn’t see.
He wasn’t aware his tear ducts still worked. Did damage his eye implants? A thought that was instantly pushed away.
“That’s what I love about ya, kid. Go on, work yer angle. That’s yer greatness, trust me. Never lose that.”
The decision was his and, for the first time in his whole life, it was a decision too big for him to make. His memory, those words, they made him feel responsible for making it, but that only made the world twist around him. He tried to focus but everything was spinning.
His body and mind were doing things he had never experienced before, his nervous system giving him trouble he had never faced before. With the tiny bit of reason left in him, Daigo realized he was panicking.
He thought back to the ship again, an automatic mental reflex. The meal he had shared with the whole crew just a while ago, he was about to get them all killed. They should’ve spaced the clone, he shouldn’t have picked up the spook. Maybe he should have never played Kiyin’s father on that game of cards, he had ruined her life.
His mind flashed him a three-second movie of his whole life with Kiyin. All those long years represented in a slideshow of Kiyin’s facial expressions changing with time. And although that had little effect on his body, his mind finally returned to full function.
He felt the panic subsiding.
“What if we set it on fire?” He asked. Wichmond looked up at Daigo in realization, following his trail of thought. “Or blow it up?”
“A reactionary explosion but nothing of the likes it can cause in a star. It would be enough…to level my fortress.”
And there’s my angle.