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I Must Activate the Aurora Weapon

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by Department Head Rawlings

Mei Ling, put down the gun!

I understand how you're feeling right now. I swear I didn't know what happened to your baby. I loved Sierra too. Division Aleph went rogue. I should have asked more questions. You would be completely justified in shooting me. I'm at your mercy.

But dammit, woman, there's something more at stake here! My half-brother Paladiev is within minutes of activating the Thanatos device he reconstructed from the wreckage of the Uzbekistani orbital platform. I need to order use of the Aurora Weapon immediately!

Listen to me: Paladiev is proceeding with only part of the necessary information to operate a Thanatos device. He eviscerated Steinesser before the poor bastard could reveal how to focus the sine-cycles of the pseudoparticles. If my half-brother activates the device now, it won't just eliminate San Francisco—it'll take out the Western hemisphere, and render the planet incapable of sustaining life!

For the love of God, Mei Ling, let me have that phone. I have to call in Project Aurora. It's still experimental, but it's the only hope we've got. If you shoot me, the planet dies.


Well, yes, I could be lying. But I'm not.

Yes, yes, you're absolutely right. My entire life has been built on lies. A huge nest of lies, pyramids of lies. But I swear, Mei Ling, this time I'm telling the truth. I'm not trying to summon help for myself. I'm just trying to activate Aurora.

Why weren't you told about Aurora? Well, you know how it is around here. Nobody gets to know everything. Not even me sometimes.

It doesn't strike me as funny.

What is Aurora? Imagine a human brain swelled to a half-ton, suspended in a flotation tank with a tiny atrophied body attached, psychically wandering the solar system. Able to concentrate a lethal mindstorm on any target of which it can conceive, from an entire city to a single person. Pinpoint, unstoppable, undefendable. The only reason we haven't used it yet is because we didn't know if she—it--was fully under control. They started working on the weapon in earnest when Penumbra stalled. It was the only project left uncompromised by Paladiev.

Oh, Paladiev! How you made fools of us all! That charade with the Homunculus. Barcelona was a feint. The Saudis were stalking horses. We were being outflanked the entire time. I should have known. It was my job to know.

What? No, Mei Ling, you never met my half-brother.


...Hhrnh. Hhrnh. Good shot. Thigh hit. Grazed the lateral cutaneous nerve while avoiding the femoral artery. Minimum damage with maximum pain. Pierre taught you well. I assume from your reaction that you were informed at some point that Paladiev was your fiance "Seth." So what I said was a lie. You caught me in a lie. I admit that.

I did what was necessary to protect you, Mei Ling. That was always the most important thing.

How do you know I'm not Paladiev? Damnit, Mei Ling, that's ridicu--

Maybe I am Paladiev. How do I know I'm not? After decades of impersonations.... Would that not be the ultimate subterfuge? Am I Rawlings pretending to be Paladiev or Paladiev pretending to be Rawlings?

No! I am Rawlings, because I know, Mei Ling. I know what you said to me on the bridge over the Golden Horn on August 13th, 1998. That connects us forever. I would never hurt you. You're the daughter I never had.

Yes, yes, except her, but she was never truly a daughter to me! That's not a lie! Not as far as I'm concerned, anyway.

I'm going into shock. I can feel it.

Paladiev's probably sitting at the control panel as we speak.

Mei Ling, don't. There's still so much I have to do. So much I don't know. Please. I'm saying please.

You can make the call. I added your voiceprint into the command matrix last year. In case I was eliminated. I have to say I didn't see it being used under these circumstances. Dial three nines, then say "Ignite Aurora."

I admire your caution. The curare injector on the receiver is disarmed. The detonation code is five fives. You're safe.

Yes, I know you have no reason to trust me. I admit it, I do know what happened to Sierra. I don't blame you, Mei Ling. But don't let billions die just because you want to kill me.

Here's my final offer: I'll trade you. I'll tell you everything, if you promise to make that call.

Good girl.

OK, here goes.

Back around '81, a lab at the University of Utrecht—Dutchmen, fucking Dutchmen—took the lead in advanced psi research. Being Dutchmen, they were a bunch of fucking longhairs. Said they were looking for "an alternative to nuclear terror." Team Red infiltrated them, so we liquidated the site. But their assets scattered before we could seize them.

Eleven years later, I found you in Shenzhen. Or you found me. Or someone arranged for us to meet. It couldn't be a coincidence. An amethyst-eyed child of infinite power—if it could be unlocked.

The Homunculus told us about you, filled in that mystery. Deliberately, I'm sure now. He knew this would happen. That's what he does. He was driving a wedge between myself and the person I trusted most in this world.

Division Aleph wanted you, Mei Ling. They wanted to turn you into the Aurora Weapon. But I protected you. I told them they'd do it over my dead body. They said they'd back down, if I gave them a substitute.

It was a real trick finding a fresh one-year-old girl's corpse that looked enough like Sierra to alter.

The Aurora Weapon is your daughter. I ordered the project. I ordered the seizure. I ordered the coverup. I knew everything.

That's the truth. I finally told the truth.

Do it, Mei Ling.

(The sound of a Desert Eagle pistol discharging its remaining eight rounds of .44 Magnum ammunition, transforming Department Head Rawlings into a mound of unrecognizable carrion.)

(Sobbing. Shrieking. The sound of a thrown pistol striking damply a corpse.)

(Three digits being dialed.)

(A woman's voice saying: "Ignite A--")

(But before she can finish, her voice is drowned out by the staccato whine that heralds a Thanatos device in use...)



So what was going on?

For that, we must turn back to 1990.

In the wake of the Team Red collapse, The Agency was victorious and self-satisfied. They thought their work was done. What the USSR's end really did was unleash forces of chaos that culminated in the events described above.

Paladiev, disgusted with the castrated role of the post-Soviet KGB, decided to take his aims to a larger stage. With great exertions, he managed to track down The Homunculus, a man more of rumor than substance. They agreed to become partners, with the object of total global control. In addition to power, the Homunculus assured Paladiev of aid in his other goal: destroying Rawlings, thus fulfilling Paladiev's mother's old vendetta.

Instead of remaining smoothly in control, the 90s saw the The Agency increasingly on the defensive. The Global Penumbra plan was a reaction to that, an attempt to take the initiative on the world scene. What they didn't know was that many of the planning assumptions of Penumbra were inaccurate, traps set by the Homunculus.

At the same time, Paladiev spent those years setting brush fires that Rawlings & company had to sweat to put out, chief among them Barcelona. In this way did Paladiev both humiliate his hated half-brother and distract him from what was actually going on.

Within three years of its launch, it was obvious that Penumbra wasn't meeting expectations. A storm of backbiting and fingerpointing broke within the halls of the Agency. At this point Rawlings began to suspect what was happening, but was unable to effectively analyze or combat it.

The Homunculus's visit to the Basque field office was the beginning of the endgame. The purpose was, from the very first, to drive a wedge between Rawlings and Mei Ling. Paladiev's "Seth" gambit was another facet of the same operation. The Homunculus's stay with the Agency, in addition to sowing the long seeds that ended with Rawling's death, also left the suggestion that "the Uzbeks...could not be allowed to retain possession of certain leftover Russian toys."

(The fact that the Dept Rawlings columns specifically included operations set in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan is not a coincidence. Paladiev deliberately arranged for these as a reference to "The Great Game," a favored phrase of his and Rawlings's mutual grandfather (note Rawlings talk of "The Great Game" here: This grandfather had become a spy, the first in the family, due to a boyhood fascination with British/Russian competition in Central Asia, i.e. the Great Game.)

When the Uzbekistani platform crashed, Paladiev's agents were right there to infiltrate Sergei's crisis-salvage team and acquire the Californium-298 and other vital equipment from the wreckage. These were the final pieces Paladiev & the Homunculus needed to make their own Thanatos device. They already had tortured the instructions on how to construct the weapon out of Steinesser.

As you can tell from the columns, the possibilities of the "nebulous opposition" ( possessing a Thanatos device was the main concern of the Agency in its final days. By the time Jack Quetch liquidated the applied-science director and the others who had knowledge of the technology, it was too late. Said nebulous opposition was, of course, Paladiev and the Homunculus, who had already acquired, interrogated, and eliminated Steinesser. Steinesser's disappearance was interpreted by the Agency as a defection, not a loss, and his perceived betrayal was the impetus for the ruthless elimination of all those in the Thanatos loop.

The Dutch scientists that created Mei Ling had their creepy side. In addition to a lab, the team was a congregation of Catholico-pagan syncreticists who worshiped Mary as an aspect of the Great Mother. The amethyst-eyed baby girls grown in their labs were "Blessed Virgins," each containing in their wombs a suspended fertilized blastocyst, which upon the proper signal in adulthood would grow to be born. These blastocysts were assembled from the interwoven chromosomes of the BVs themselves, with a thousand times the psi power of their own already powerful mothers.

This is what is meant by: "Mei-Ling, I believe you have roughly 19 months of accumulated family leave coming? Yes, of course. Well. How may I put this delicately? You may, ah, have a use for that sort of leave time now, if you grasp my implication." (

Mei Ling, who never had a family, was devoted to her little girl. When Sierra was hit by a drunk driver at the age of 11 months, she was devastated.

And suspicious. It was hard for her to believe, given what she had seen of life, that this was truly an accident. She pressed Rawlings to investigate the death. When he came back with no answers, only shrugs, she grew suspicious of him.

Mei Ling began her own investigation, using all the skills Rawlings had taught her. Rawlings, fighting through the death throes of the Agency, didn't notice. Mei Ling discovered much, but could not uncover the final truth.

In the meantime, the plans of Paladiev and the Homunculus moved toward conclusion.

For all his cleverness, Paladiev was as much object as subject.. Paladiev's entire plan relied on the assumption that the Homunculus shared the same end goal as himself: global control. True, he planned to, at the climactic moment, stab his partner in the back and become sole world dictator, but he at least respected the Homunculus's audacity. What he never understood was that the Homunculus's true purpose was entirely separate.

The Homunculus was, in fact, possessed by a profound death-urge. He had come to the conclusion that mankind was fundamentally corrupt, far too corrupt to be allowed to infest the earth any longer. His profession gave ample data in support of that position. To this end, he deliberately goaded Paladiev into killing Herr Doktor Steinesser before the necessary control parameters for the Thanatos Device could be revealed, rightly suspecting that without this information, the weapon would run wild and bring to a decisive end to the Holocene Epoch.

Thus the final victory was his.

The Great Game is over. All pieces have been removed from the board.