Catalyst: Something Wicked this Way Comes

This is the new online edition 'Catalyst', first published on G+ a couple of years ago. A new piece of the story will be published to the site every couple of days. To read from the start of the story, GO HERE.

Copyright Dark Aelf, 2021 

Chas navigates the biplane by line of sight above the long dirt road. From up here, the vegetation fades into the desert on either side of the long way that stretches in a straight line into the haze of the horizon. To the west, dust storms are brewing. He scans the land ahead carefully, watching for where the old power line corridor cut the road.

Catalyst is asleep in the passenger seat, any thought of conversation rendered futile by the sound of the engine. Chas likes it that way. He does not like what Catalyst has told him. He does not even believe everything Catalyst has said to him. But, after weighing up the options, reluctantly, he agreed that it was worth a shot.

A glint in the distance and Chas allows himself a smile. It was not marked on any map, but he still found the corridor without a problem. He dipped the plane, turning it away from the road and along the line of broken and twisted power poles dead straight across the desert sand and salt.

Chas saw the white outline of Island Lagoon and started to descend towards the hidden remains of Deep Space Station 41.

He knew he should have been worried about a thousand other details, like how he was going to corral a team of old scientists and engineers not to mention a bitter and angry Benedict.

Instead, he was worried about Dawn. He shook his head, daydreaming again. He was here, in 2015, circling to land on the salt lake below him.

He turns and yelled at Catalyst, “Get ready for landing.”

He was not the only one to agree to this approach. Key team members from the original mission also agreed, some throwing significant resources into the venture. They all had unfinished business here, dreams and wishes.

But something else hovered on the edge of Chas’s memory. Like the words of an old song. Something important, but he could not work out what it was.

And then they hit the surface of the dry salt lake and roared towards the shoreline. Within the protection of the small bay, they roped and put the bi-plane under camouflage nets.

It was a short walk from the dry lake to the shoreline and back up an old creek bed to the old flat where the facility buildings had once been. Here, in the desert sands were tracks made by a truck unloading equipment. The air temperature started to burn their lungs. Bending down to avoid the stinging wind, they follow the tracks south until they heard the sound of digging.

Over a slight rise, they see a team of ten older men working below, helping a small excavator drag sand away from the side of the concrete walls of the base.

Benson sees them and shouts, “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes... Hey, Chas! God to see you Catalyst.”

Benson hugs Chas. Chas says, “Oh man! It is so good to see you all.”

Benson says, “Ok, back to work. We need to get out of this heat.”

He dropped his voice and turned to Chas, “Some bad news. The main entry has collapsed. We are getting in through an old service entry here. But the chances are that the top layer and our central operations room are stuffed. That leaves us with the backup operations room on the lower reactor level. We are pretty close now.”

With a series of sickening scrapes, the excavator takes the last of the sand from the concrete wall, uncovering a metal door.

Chas asks Benson quietly, “You look a lot happier than when we spoke by Skype.”

Benson turns to Chas and smiles. “I am excited. Aren’t you? Even if we do not get any further, I am just happy to be back here.”

“Yes, but... Dust storms are coming boss,” Chas flicks his thumb over his shoulder to the west.

Benson says, “Ok. Guys, hold it there. No need to bust anything, we have keys. Keep the excavator in the trench. I want nets over it and the entrance. Do not waste time.”

Chas turns to look at the wall of red dust advancing towards them from the west, “Ok, get everything under cover before the storm hits.”

Benson smiles at him, and slaps his back, and says, “We will nail it this time.”

Graham, from Guidance, hands out respirators and hard hats, “You have been briefed on this. Stay together; it is probably dangerous inside, snakes, dingoes, human strays, roof falls and live cables. Who knows? Keep the chatter down. Keep a careful watch.”

Benson says, “Keep calm. You are in safe hands. 

Catalyst has just been volunteered to scout for us.”

Catalyst says, “What?”

Grant smiles at him, “You are the only one of us who can still walk without a walking stick and doesn’t need a hearing aid.”

There is a little laughter as Benson turns the key and smiles, “Open, locks, whoever knocks!”

Catalyst works his way through the group of older men and forwards into the corridor. It is pitch black inside. As dark as one of the caves back home that he had been exploring. He also remembers stories of people entering some of the old concrete bunkers out here only to become fatally ill.

Leaving the others behind in the heat, he enters the complex, and with his lamp blazing along the first corridor. The floor is covered with a thin layer of undisturbed dust. He comes to a locked door. Using the master key, he opens it into a large storeroom. He steps inside and shuts it behind him. He calls on the radio, “Catalyst here. The first corridor is clear.” He ignores sounds of Benson moving the team into the corridor behind him and concentrates on the storeroom. Beneath him, the floor has changed from concrete to a metal grid, and he can feel the slight vibrations of the reactor below. Enough, so the specs of dust have disappeared. He sweeps his lights over the area, illuminating rows of spare parts, jeeps and miscellaneous machinery. He makes his way deeper into the storeroom, finding exits into the central control room and a service lift to the reactor below. All seem locked and intact.

He calls it in, and the team pushes into the room behind him.

Benson brings the team to him. He points to the service lift and says to the team, “If we can get this going, it will take us to the reactor and the backup ops room.”

Benson turns to Catalyst, “Right, while they are doing that, I want you to check the state of damage in the main ops room. At some stage, we will have to go up there and collect records and the spare artifact. This is the hard part. Do not take any risks, understand?”

Catalyst nods and turns to a single door giving him access to the interior of the base. There is a commotion behind. Benson says, “Wait. What is it?” Graham says, “We have lost Brent. He is not answering the radio.”

“Quiet everyone!” Benson whispers, “Graham, call him again.”

Graham calls on his radio, “Del Con, Del Con, do you read. Guidance over.” Just static.

Benson says, “Lights out. All silent.”

They drop into total darkness. They hear footsteps in the distance, and the door into the storeroom opens. A light sweeps the room. Brent calls out, “Hey guys, just me. You there? Not sure how to use these newfangled radios.”

Benson shines a light at Brent, “Where were you?”

Brent said, “Just getting my medication, sorry the heat is making me wobbly.”

Benson says, a little more sympathetically, “Keep up mate.”

Benson nods at Catalyst, “Gogo.”

Catalyst opens the door to the main operations room, steps inside quickly and shuts it. He feels a rush of air and the feeling of space above him. In the distance, the consoles around mission control are still dimly lit. The time gate still glows with a faint blue glow.

He feels the movement before he sees it. To his right, the roof has partially collapsed. He freezes, watching rubble falling as something substantial has moved out of sight. He calls in, “Contact.” Benson responds on the radio tersely, “Situation?”

Catalyst, “Single, unidentified. Waiting till my eyes adjust.”

He heard new movement from the right and the sounds of something large scrabbling over rocks and debris.

Catalyst, “Make that two plus. Probably monitor lizards. If so, they will know I am here very quickly. I have vision. Wait.”

He sprints the 70 feet to the central console area. As he does, there are the sickening sounds of movement all around him. He switches on his lamp and swings it around the interior of the building, counting twenty sets of eyes, some much larger than he had seen before.

Benson radios tersely, “Situation?”

Catalyst calls in, “Do not come in. Do not come in. I have made the central console area. I see some superficial fire damage, but the gate and mainboards appear to be operational. I am going to take photos.”

He takes a series of photographs. Near the time gate, sees some pages in the dust. He walks over and bends down to pick them up. Near them are other prints, faint, unusual.

He hears a scuffling in the distance and jumps to his feet. A giant monitor lizard is standing in front of the blast wall watching him, tasting the air. Catalyst says to himself, “I do not like these.”

He radios, “I am coming back, get ready to open the door.”

He trots to the edge of the consoles, momentarily disoriented as his light searches for the door to the storeroom entrance.

He radios, “Flash me a light, I need to get my bearings.”

Two monitors were stalking towards him.

He runs for the door, hammering on it. It is opened, and he spills into it.

The door is locked, and the team stands back as they hear scrabbling on the outside.

Benson says, “Ok, the party is over. We are safe in here.”

Turning to Catalyst, he says, “Just lizards?”

Catalyst says defensively, “Big ones. Eat any of this team in one gulp. I haven’t seen them that big.”

“What else did you find?”

“I have photos. A fair amount of damage on the west, the roof has caved in although I can’t see an obvious way in or out. The floor is intact throughout - including the damaged area. The main ops look ok save for some superficial damage. And lizards: the outside perimeter of the area is crawling with them. They must have nests in the rubble from the roof. They seem to have stayed away from the central area. It still looks operational, apart from a layer of dust over everything. Plan B is looking good.” Benson, “Well I guess the good news is that the monitors will probably keep everything else out. We will probably not find them below in the sealed areas. Ok, we have the lift to the reactor floor working, I think we can all take that ride.”

The trip down into the lower sections of the base was uneventful. It took a flick of the switch to move the reactor into operational mode, and a couple of days to get the air-condition units working and for clean, dry air to be pumped into the facility. Under the reactor was a series of fallout shelters. Benson said that they had been carved out of natural caverns that extended back to the salt lake. The team settled into the air-conditioned accommodation, the twelve able to spread out in relative comfort.

When the basics were taken care of, Benson unsealed the backup operations room. A mirror image of the main operations room above, but smaller. The time gate here sitting a dull gray, unpowered. The old scientists and engineers stumbled into the room, shaking their heads, some with tears. Earlier Brent had explained that most of the console equipment would be repatched through simple Arduino devices to portable computers. He said, “No need for a maths team back a Woomera. I have a calculator.”

Catalyst ended up having a little time to himself while the team struggled with the equipment.

When he was alone, he pulled out the papers he had salvaged from the floor above. The pages had not aged with time - they looked like they had been written a day or so ago. It was a report from Labrinth addressed to Chas and Benson. He read it carefully before hiding it in an air conditioning vent.

The report made it clear that Labrinth considered him a threat, to be eliminated if other measures failed. It also formally confirmed the identity of the person Labrinth and brought back from 1975, Chas’s son, David. 

Catalyst felt a chill through his body. 

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