Deus Vulture

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Captain Sarah Hughes felt ill-at-ease, standing in the center of the lobby as scientists, engineers, programmers, and mathematicians streamed around her; a lone figure in a sea of geniuses.

"Ms. Hughes?"

She turned to face the speaker, a slender Russian man in a crisp suit and tie walking towards her.

"Simon Pietrykau, director of the Department of Analytics. Pleasure to meet you," he said, shaking her hand.

"Captain Sarah Hughes, a pleasure," she responded.

"Let's get started," Pietrykau said. He led her down several winding corridors until they stopped in front of a nondescript blank door with a card reader next to it. Simon pulled a card from his pocket, swiped it through, and stepped through the door. Hughes followed him and was suddenly accosted by the sight of dozens of people flitting through an enormous, steel-and-glass atrium. Holographic screens, personal assistant robotics, and all kinds of futuristic technology populated the room.

"Tell me, Captain… what do you know about eigenweapons?"

The two of them sat inside a small conference room off in one corner of the atrium, with a projector playing a slideshow in front of them.

"As long as mankind has existed, no human endeavor has hosted as much ingenuity, creativity, brilliance, or imagination as weapons development. Since the first ape picked up a rock to bash his rival's brains out, we've been building bigger, better, and flashier ways to carve holes in each other," Pietrykau said. "And like all such endeavors, it inevitably culminated in the anomalous - the eigenweapon. In this context, an eigenweapon, also known as a superweapon or wonder weapon, is defined as a weapon that is either of anomalous origin or incorporates occult slash paratechnology for mass destruction. It is effectively a fourth category of WMD."

Pietrykau clicked through a series of slides showcasing various anomalies while he talked.

"Anomalous artillery and paraweaponry is nothing new; people have been building golems and throwing spells around since the beginning of time. But the modern age of eigenweaponry - really, the age of eigenweaponry in general - began with the industrialization of the anomalous. In 1942, shortly after the Allies retook Africa, the Nazis got nervous and resorted to occult means to ensure the success of their Third Reich," Pietrykau said, clicking to the next slide to show a grainy, black-and-white photo of several hooded figures wearing cloaks with swastika badges.

"From what we can gather, the Thule and SS occultists uncovered some ancient ritual to summon… something," said Pietrykau. "Nobody was actually certain what, but if the Nazis wanted to summon it, then you can be damn sure the rest of the world wanted to make sure they didn't. The Seventh Occult War was really just a glorified scavenger hunt - the Allies and even some Axis mages working together to stop the Third Reich from acquiring the relics they'd need to complete the ritual."

He sighed.

"The Allies won both Wars, otherwise we'd probably be speaking Deutsch in some camp right now… but the thing is," he said, "the Germans still completed the ritual - and that's all we know. We have no idea what came from of the ritual or how the Allies destroyed it. The only reason we know it exists is because they didn't expunge the memory that it HAD existed. God only knows why." Pietrykau threw one of his hands to the side in an accusing gesture. "Presumably it was to warn us against trying to replicate it, but if so that was a terrible way to go about it. And even after they killed 'it', nobody could actually find the relics afterwards, not even fragments. It simply vanished - and nobody cared."

Pietrykau chuckled dryly.

"Sums up the attitude to eigenweapons in general. Nobody was paying attention to the world-ending threats because they were too damn focused on building their own. With all that power up for the taking, something as small as the threat of total global annihilation wasn't going to stop anybody. Especially not the CCCP. Stalin was so far up his own ass that he wanted to use anomalies to spread the Red Menace. That was the genesis of Project Redline."

"Redline?" Hughes asked.

"Redline. The world's second eigenweapon, developed by the Soviet Union. I led the team that created it," Pietrykau declared with a hint of pride. He clicked to the next slide, showing a picture of a flat concrete building. "Stalin wanted a weapon that could brainwash people into becoming Communists, and damn the cost. The Division wanted to create a brighter future for mankind - so we built a weapon to brainwash people into pacifism by kidnapping and electrocuting children to unlock their psychic potential. Because that was what passed for logic during the Cold War," Pietrykau snorted, shaking his head.

Hughes nearly heaved at the next picture - a grotesque, nightmarish mass of legs and arms sticking out of a bloated child-sized torso, topped by a misshapen head with three unhappy faces. It was strapped into a plastic dentist's chair, surrounded by sharp medical instruments and grim-looking scientists.

Pietrykau clicked his tongue. "Even madder, the thing actually worked. Redline could turn entire gulags full of political dissidents into perfect passive puppets. And when the Cuban Missile Crisis happened, we fired it on Washington and Moscow. It worked all too well - Khrushchev had Redline shut down. The Division didn't like that. They decided to turn it into a weapon of conquest."

The next slide showed a picture of a massive rainbow-colored bubble in the middle of a frozen tundra.

"So that turned out all right. After the Cuban Missile Crisis happened and Redline was put on ice, eigenweaponry development stagnated. That's not to say people stopped using anomalous artillery; on the contrary, paraweaponry abounded. Demon-guided munitions in Korea, hunter-killer locusts in Vietnam, Mandelbrot vacuums in Afghanistan, basilisk grenades in the Gulf… the list goes on. But eigenweapons? The Americans made a few more half-assed tries in the eighties, but they failed and forced us to clean up their mess. It would be over thirty years before anyone figured out how to make eigenweapons not just practical, but profitable."

Pietrykau clicked to the next slide and Hughes' jaw dropped. The picture onscreen was of a gigantic, floating eye, rotated on its side. The central pupil was composed of innumerable camera lenses, laser apertures, and weapon barrels. An incandescent pink torus made up the iris. Surrounding the iris was a featureless, blue- and white-striped surface. Six silver arms hovered on the left and right of the eye. Suspended just out of reach of each arm was a single, silver-and-blue spherical palm with four rectangular fingers.

"In 1998, Prometheus Laboratories developed the world's first practical eigenweapon: the PL-76 Shiva, a sapient war machine that cost the same as a B-2 stealth bomber. Enough firepower to level a continent without leveling your bank account."

"Prometheus Labs made that?" Hughes asked.

"Indeed," Pietrykau responded. He made a knowing face. "Tell me, what do you know about Prometheus Laboratories?"

"Umm, high-profile scientific corporation. Did a little bit of everything…? Used a lot of anomalous tech in their products… most of it didn't work that well," Hughes responded cautiously.

"And where did you learn this information?"

"Ah… the internet, the Foundation file -"

"Ah yes, the Foundation file," Pietrykau cut her off. "With the advertising transcript, correct? Here's the dirty little secret that every member of Analytics needs to know." He leaned down to retrieve a folder from his briefcase, then slid it over the table to Hughes.


This document is classified Level 5/Analytics. Unauthorized access is considered treason and is punishable by administration of Behemoth-class amnestics or execution.

1. Code Name: Operation EMERALD LUPUS
2. Dates of Operation: 03/09/1998 - Ongoing
3. Location: Worldwide

4. Objective: Assert materiel and information control over the assets of the former Prometheus Labs conglomeration as part of Operation BYRON FUTURE.

Task Organization:

1. Asset Acquisition: Foundation front companies will endeavor to purchase all assets being liquidated by the former Prometheus Labs conglomerate. This acquisition will be overseen by the Department of Analytics. Mobile Task Forces may be commandeered to acquire assets when legal purchase is nonviable or when other Groups of Interest are competing to acquire said assets.

2. Paratech Forecasting: The Division of Statistical Prediction will continue to investigate, instigate, and exploit trends in the global paratechnology market as they appear. This will enable continued proactivity on the part of the Foundation in controlling the distribution of anomalies into the global marketplace.

3. Information Control: The Division of Informational Security will manipulate global and internal media and information to provide the impression of incompetence on the part of Prometheus Laboratories. Defective Prometheus Labs assets may be given anomalous status and internal documentation modified to reinforce this control. A continued campaign will make Prometheus Labs assets less desirable to external paratechnology and obsotechnology interests, facilitating the increased success of Task 1.

Hughes looked up at Pietrykau. "So you're telling me…?"

"Prometheus Labs would have never survived for over a century if they weren't good at what they do," he answered. "The truth of the matter, Captain, is that the Foundation managed to convince the whole world that Prometheus Labs were incompetent mad scientists so we could steal all of their work. It remains one of the greatest single Maskirovkas of the modern age."

Pietrykau gave a short bark of laughter. "The day after the PL-76 was unveiled, the GOC and Chaos Insurgency both tried to steal it for themselves and somehow opened up a portal to hell at the center of the base. Defense wasn't just turned into a crater on the map. From what we can gather, the entire facility - all of its its projects, people, and knowledge - was quite literally transformed into information and uploaded into the world's safest external hard drive: the Shiva."

Hughes tried to process this information and decided to go with the simplest question. "So what happened to the Shiva?"

"It disappeared." Pietrykau gave a slight shrug. "In the aftermath and confusion, quite a few of Prometheus' remaining assets went… missing, and several of its subsidiaries suffered from so-called accidents. That was how the postmillennial age of eigenweaponry began: a half-dozen different organizations trying to cobble something together from stolen research and paratechnology. All of us trying to get ahold of the next big thing that would make the rest of the anomalous world quake in their extradimensional boots.

The Global Occult Coalition assembled something codenamed Gaius Prime - all we know about it is that they sent it to Siberia in 2000 to kill Project Redline and succeeded. By 2001, the Church of the Broken God had no less than three mechanical messiahs, who ended up excommunicating and then killing each other. When we salvaged Samsara in '02, we had this grand plan of making them the template for all our future Task Forces. The trouble is that the equipment we salvaged was damaged, so all we could do with them was test offensive paratech and handle thaumaturgic threats. Even that bloody gentleman's club, Marshall, Carter, and Dark, got in on the fray: they got their hands on an oracle to predict the stock market. As I recall, Samsara's second-ever mission, just before you were assigned to them, was to steal it."

Pietrykau clicked to the next slide. On the screen, a gigantic, four-limbed man that appeared to be made of rock was caught in mid-charge towards a collection of massive, ornate orbs surrounded in flames and suspended in midair. Hundreds of people were in the foreground of the image, all of them like ants watching the two behemoths duke it out.

"The arms race came to a head in 2004 with the First Eigenweapon Crisis. That year, the ORIA built themselves a thaumaturgic android codenamed Ifrit. It could fly, shoot fire, whip up hurricane-sized sandstorms… and sermonize. See those orbs? Every single one of them contained the brain of a priest. The Iranians sent it to India, probably so they could blame the Pakistanis and take advantage of the ensuing conflict. They had built a god in almost every sense of the word - and then used it to start a proxy war. "

Pietrykau looked disgusted by the memory. "The Horizon Initiative was less than pleased by this and took matters into their own hands. They were working on their own eigenweapons project - an absolutely enormous golem, even by the standards of golems, mind you - and deployed it to kill the Ifrit. In the process, the two reshaped the Indian coastline. Whatever the hell was powering those things, we couldn't put a dent in them."

"Then how did you destroy them?" Hughes asked, leaning forward.

Pietrykau chuckled. "We didn't."

The next picture also showed the orbs, but they were now extinguished and half-buried on a beach, with the tide pulling away in the background.

"I can only call what finally did them in an act of God," Pietrykau said. "But the aftermath… the Veil was torn to shreds and nobody had a sewing kit. Amnestics, PARAKEETS, antimemetics, you name it, we used it. A century's stockpile of the best mind-wiping tools known to man - gone in a flash."

He closed his eyes for a moment. Hughes was about to ask about the logistics of amnesticizing the whole world, then thought better of it.

"The only good thing about the Crisis was that it finally knocked some sense into everyone's heads," Pietrykau said. "A month after the crisis ended, the Coalition convened the Third Hague Conference and managed to corral all the major anomalous powers into disarming and deactivating their eigenweapons. Almost assuredly everyone who signed did so with crossed fingers, but much like nuclear weapons, nobody wanted to be the first to push the button. All we had to do was make sure things stayed that way."

A thought struck Hughes. "What about Able?"

Pietrykau snorted. "Omega-7 was the degenerate brainchild of an American general with an anomalous erection. The Yanks were all too happy to let us cover it up. We got off easy."

Then another thought struck Hughes."First Eigenweapon Crisis?"

Pietrykau clicked his tongue. "As of six months ago, the number of active eigenweapons increased to one."

He played a video on the projector. Onscreen, a young Japanese man stood in the middle of a barren field.

"In June, we determined that the Japanese department of anomalous research was developing an eigenweapon codenamed Oyamitsumi."

Onscreen, the Japanese man closed his eyes and stood there. Then his skin began to bubble and ripple, changing color from a pale tan to a deep purple and bulging outwards. A helmet and facemask burst forward from the sides of the man's head and slid over his face. A sharp, block-like weave pattern emerged on the skin around his arms and legs, granting it a distinctly mechanical appearance. Two smaller arms burst out from underneath the man's armpits, but there were simply holes where the hands should have been.

"From what intelligence has been able to gather, Oyamitsumi was the first production-ready model of a new bio-mechanical force-multiplying armored endoskeleton. All the power of a GOC Orange super suit… grafted to a person's bones." Hughes could hear the admiration in Pietrykau's voice. "Twin auto-aiming plasma railguns underneath the regular arms. Armor tough enough to withstand a direct hit from Hellfire missiles. Strong enough to lift a tank. It was fast, too."

The man onscreen had ceased to look like a man and now looked more like a purple Transformers action figure. Numerous tanks rolled into view around him and then stopped. Their cannons bellowed as Oyamitsumi was bombarded on all sides and then engulfed in smoke. While the smoke cleared, the men inside the tanks clambered from their vehicles and fled from view. Oyamitsumi strode out of the smoke towards a tank, completely unscathed. He disappeared behind it, and then the tank was suddenly hoisted into the air as if it were tissue paper and thrown at another one. Behind it, Oyamitsumi's railguns began swiveling and firing. Within seconds there were only chunks of scorched metal left.

Hughes was so caught up in the spectacle that she almost missed Pietrykau's word choice. Almost.

"Was?" she asked.

"Was," Pietrykau confirmed. Onscreen, an Asian woman in a plain black dress walked into view. At first she looked perfectly normal - if incredibly out of place - and then her body suddenly exploded into a million tiny worms, all writhing around themselves and squirming and making up the general body shape of a person.

As the creature stared at Oyamitsumi, he appeared to crumple inwards on himself. The railguns at his side forced themselves back into his body, displacing his internal organs in the process. Then his head quite literally bent over and stuffed itself into his stomach, before his legs, arms, and torso followed suit. Then the stomach simply ceased to exist onscreen. Hughes blinked and suddenly the humanoid mass of worms ceased to be a worm and started being a woman again. It walked offscreen, and then the video cut to black.

"What the hell was that?!" Hughes exclaimed. She looked to Pietrykau.

"At 0900 hours on June 16, Oyamitsumi was destroyed by what we have determined is another eigenweapon of unknown origin, based on its deliberate choice of targets and clear control of its abilities. At 1100 hours on June 16, my counterpart in the Global Occult Coalition called me demanding to know what the hell we'd done to Oyamitsumi."

Pietrykau stood up. "If the GOC knows, then the whole bloody UN does. Make no mistake, Captain - this is a crisis. The button has been pressed and we have no idea by whose hand. We need to act fast if we don't want history to repeat itself."

He started making a list on his fingers. "We need to find out who created that thing, where it is, and what else it can do. And we especially need to make sure nobody else tries to follow its example. The Department of Analytics is reopening the Eigenweaponry Division to nip this situation in the bud, and we need someone to command the Division's field assets. That's where you come in. You were the most qualified candidate for the job, especially given your experience with Tau-5."

"Are you offering me a new assignment?" Hughes asked bemusedly.

"A promotion - to commander of Mobile Task Force Tau-1, 'Deus Vulture'," Pietrykau said. "Congratulations, Major."

Hughes' head was spinning. "Well, er… thank you. Where do I start?"

"Excellent," said Pietrykau, rubbing his hands together. "We've already received reports of some suspicious temporal anomalies occurring in northern India; you'll be flying down there first thing tomorrow to establish what it is and what to do with it. The Department of Analytics will handle the paperwork and logistics - you won't even need to pack toiletries. A car will arrive at your residence tomorrow morning at six to take you to the airport. You'll receive a full briefing and dossier on the flight."

He stood up. "Any questions?"

"Just one," Hughes said cautiously. "Why didn't I just get an orientation lecture and dossier? Why did you sit down with me personally and tell me all this?" While still telling me nothing about my new job? she added silently.

Pietrykau paused at the threshold of the room. "You needed a human perspective."

He beckoned Hughes to leave with him.

"I was there when all of these things happened, and I saw what the one common element among all of these eigenweapons was: somewhere along the line, everyone unconsciously decided that there needed to be a human mind in control in the process. Remember this, Major. A monster can be leashed and even trained - they are predictable. Men are not. Perhaps we needed to put human faces on inhuman creations, perhaps we needed to think we always had control, or perhaps it was simple hubris, but we made monsters with the minds of men."

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