"They just disappeared Ursula" Max said.
"They can't just be gone, they have to have gone somewhere. Where were they when the signal disappeared?"
"They disappeared over the Chenobyl reactor site."
"Chenobyl? Where that nuclear reactor blew up?"
"What the hell would they be doing there?"
"Don't answer, that was a rhetorical question." Ursula interrupted. "Take us there. If that's where they disappeared, that's where we have the best chance of finding them."
Max made the course adjustments and they headed in the direction of Chenobyl. Quite what Ursula expected, she didn't know.
* * * * *
"What the hell is all this?" Michael asked as he walked around the illuminated room.
"I don't know," Gabriella said, "but whatever it is that's alive, it's in that tank."
Michael looked around at the equipment. In the corners were strange organic constructs, some kind of generators based on the cables connected to them leading into all the other equipment. The rest of the equipment was all Technomancer technology as far as he could tell, though the tank was of a design he didn't recognise at all. The display panels were meaningless to him, though what little he could glean indicated that they appeared to be related to monitoring whatever was inside the tank.
Casually, though with some apprehension, he brushed off the frost coating the surface of the tank. The surface was inlaid with symbols, Aetheric in nature. This was Aetheric tech, no, this was something Michael was far more familiar with. It was a hybrid of Technomacer and Aetheric technology. He brushed off the rest of the frost to find the tank was completely opaque, the symbols covering it's entire surface. It lended no insight as to what was inside at all, though Michael could guess. It had a person inside, it was the right size and shape. The real question now was who, and how were they related to him, what was their connection?
"The symbols," Gabriella spoke, running her hands across the surface, feeling the symbols with her fingers. "I recognise some of them from my studies."
"What do they mean?"
"I'm not sure, I don't recognise most of them and the rest mean different things depending on the context but there are some that stand out. You see this?" She said, indicating a specific symbol. "This symbol focuses Aether for protection."
"That makes sense, whoever put this here would want to keep it safe."
"Yes, but it's next to this symbol, the one for inversion."
"What, so you're saying it attracts danger?"
"No, think of protection in this case as a barrier against the rest of the Aether. Normally, you'd create a barrier against external forces but in this combination, the barrier isn't keeping something out. It's keeping something in."
"What? So what is this? Some kind of prison?"
"Whatever it is in there, the people who made it didn't want it getting out, at least not through the Aether. Maybe it's a demon."
"I'm connected to a bloody demon?!"
"It was just a guess. Are you sure you want to open this? These things are made for a reason. People don't make prisons just for show, especially when they hide them at the bottom of a radioactive hospital."
"But they are keeping it alive for some reason, which means whatever it is, they must want to take it out at some point."
* * * * *
"There is another craft down there." Max said, displaying an image of it on the screen.
Ursula flicked her hair back and put a hand on her hip in thought. "That's one of Triad's craft. It must have brought him here. But why?"
"Is that another rhetorical question Ursula?"
Ursula just put a palm to her face and shook her head. "Bring us down next to it. I've got some questions."
She wasn't worried about the radiation. Being genengineered, both her and Max had the capabilities to resist it, even at the levels around here. She might have issues if she walked into the ruin of reactor itself, but that wasn't likely to happen. At a nod from Ursula, Max landed besides the craft and as Ursula walked out, a Neutral came out to meet her.
"What are you doing here? Who are you?" It asked.
"I might ask the same question."
"I am an emissary of Triad. Our actions are not of your concern."
"But Michael is." Ursula said.
Before she even finished speaking the Neutral was upon her, it's hands sprouting cruel looking blades. She ducked just in time and a handful of razor sharp talons swooshed past over head. Even though the floor was rough concrete she dropped to the ground, spinning on her bare back and flipping back up, sending the heel of her foot slamming into the bottom the Neutral's jaw with the sharp sound of splintering bone. It stumbled to the floor but pulled itself back up again, just as she stood up, her back aching slightly were the rough concrete has scored her naked back.
"I'm warning you Triad, this thing can't beat me. I just want to talk to Michael, make sure he's safe. I've heard some things about him."
The Neutral stood there, static bursting from the broken grill on it's face. When it realised it couldn't speak it crouched and Ursula instinctively crouched into a battle ready position but the Neutral didn't attack. Instead, it started writing in the the ground, scratching a message into the concrete.
How do you know Michael? How do I know you aren't a demon?
"I was the one that picked up Michael and took him to the Aetherics."
The Neutral tensed up.
"I didn't know they'd been infiltrated by demons. I was trying to help. As for proving I'm not a demon, that might be difficult. I'm an AI."
A novel excuse. Why should I believe you?
"Because I have information. If I'm right, not only are demons after him, but so are the DETF. They think he's one of them and a demon that has information directly from a meeting with Triad too. They think he knows something about making another Triad."
I believe you. You must go and get him, now. If you could find them, so can they and he can not be interrupted. Not now.
"Where is he?"
Bottom of the hospital. Do not stop him from doing what he is doing. This is the final step.
"The final step? Of what?"
* * * * *
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Gabriella asked for the last time.
"Yes. No. Maybe. Crap, I don't know. Yes. Yes, I have to know. Help me lift up the lid."
Gabriella moved alongside Michael and pressed her palms against the underneath of the lid's rim.
"On thre." Michael said, bracing himself the same way.
"Three!" They said together as they heaved the lid upwards. They heard the cracking sound of frost being pulled apart as the lid swung open, dousing the room in an icy mist.
Michael and Gabriella waved their hands to disperse the mist and looked into the tank. Inside, was a body. Tubes ran into it and a monitoring harness was strapped across the chest. It was a male, about Michael age. It didn't seem to be breathing, but it didn't seem dead either.
"Suspended animation." Michael whispered.
"Who is this Michael?"
"I don't know."
Suddenly, they heard a sound, the soft splash of footprints on water-drenched concrete. Someone was coming.
"Quick, hide." Michael hissed, ducking behind one of the fleshy generators. Gabriella did the same. They both held their breathe. A moment later a naked woman walked into the room. She was the most beautiful creature Gabriella had ever seen and she almost gasped at the sight. Her body was perfection itself, she walked with confidence and grace. Her hair, the soft curves of her hips and breasts. She was stunning. Michael couldn't help but notice it too. Idly he wondered how she could stand the cold emanating from the coffin.
"What the hell is this?" The woman exclaimed, looking into the coffin. "That's Tetherson!"
"What!?" Michael shouted, the shock of the statement driving any thoughts of self-preservation out of his head. "That can't be!"
The woman spun around just as Michael realised what he had done and stared at him, a smile spread across her face. "Michael! What the hell is all this?"
"Who are you? What are you doing here and what the hell did you mean by what you just said?"
The woman grinned. "Sorry, I completely forgot, the last company I had could just tell. Have a guess, here's a clue - who else do you know that just wanders around naked?"
Michael thought. "Arthur? How do you know Arthur?"
"Damn it Michael, you can be dense sometimes. I am Arthur, or Ursula now, if you'd be so kind."
"Arthur? What are you doing here and what happened? I mean, don't get me wrong, " he said, gesturing to her body, "I love what you've done with the place but seriously!"
Gabriella piped up. "Michael, who is this person?"
Ursula spun around to face Gabriella who was nervously hiding behind the generator, a metal pipe clutched in her hands.
"Why hello there. You must be Gabriella Rosario, correct?"
"How, how did you know my name?"
"And how did you find us, damn it!?" Michael added.
Ursula folded her arms and sighed. "It's a long story but the short version is, I had a bug on you Michael."
"It wasn't anything underhanded I just thought, you know, maybe you'd need some help again and if you did, I'd know where I'd need to go to help."
"How altruistic of you. That still doesn't explain why you're here now though."
"The DETF think you're a demon. Maybe you too, Gabriella. They think you might know something or have something to do with this second Triad."
"That's crazy, why would they think that?"
"It's a long story that I'll explain later but first I have some questions of my own. What are you doing down here and what the hell are you doing with Tetherson's body?"
"So I did here you right. This is Tetherson? THE Tetherson?"
"No, Dr. tetherson is dead and gone, vapourised in the explosion all those years ago. No, this is the other Tetherson."
"The other Tetherson?"
"The one that went missing after meeting with Triad over sixty years ago. This is Michael Tetherson. Doctor Tetherson's son."
"They just disappeared Ursula" Max said.