At the edge of California's Mojave Desert, the Ridgecrest Police Station was inundated with calls from panicked locals. For a small town at midnight, this raised concerns with the officers working the night shift.
"Hey Chief, we had another call with the same description, a 'rainbow fireball' shooting across the sky. This can't be a coincidence…"
By call seven, curiosity had overcome the officers and they stepped outside and looked up at the cloudless sky. To the south-east, much to the officer's amazement, was a faint streak of coloured smoke on the horizon heading straight into the desert. UFO sightings from drunk town members had always been a source of entertainment to local officers, but tonight was different. In the sky above them was proof and they needed to investigate.
The officers drove east on the 178 for about fifteen minutes. The cold desert night was lit with a blanket of stars emanating from the Milky Way’s dusty spiral and the bright crescent moon in the distance. The only other source of light for miles around was the headlights from the officer's Ford Interceptor as it streaked through the night, following the direction of the smoke above, like an arrow into the desert.
As they got closer to the source of the smoke, a faint glow came into focus.
"What the hell is going on?" wondered the bemused officers as they cautiously approached through the desert's scrubland, now on foot, hands perched nervously on their sidearms.
A deep crater had formed in the desert surface with debris scattered precariously around, the impact trail etched into the dry, rocky floor for several metres. Approaching the crater's edge, the officers peered in. Through the smoke, they spotted a small rock which stood out with a charred black crust. It was emitting a mysterious, enigmatic glow, with every colour in the spectrum radiating from it, drawing the officers towards it like moths to a flame. The unusual object, faintly dancing with colour through the settling dust, was sitting in the heart of the crater.
The mysterious object glowed with an ever changing rainbow of colour. It was hypnotic and the officers took their hands off their firearms and lowered themselves down to get a closer look. As they got close enough to see through the haze, a dazzling light show was clearly radiating off the scorched meteorite.
"What is it, Chief?" asked one of the officers.
"Some kind of meteorite? I've never seen anything like this before…"
The officers leaned in, close enough to feel the meteorite’s warmth on their skin and with eyes transfixed and jaws ajar, one reached out a hand to touch it. A sudden burst of energy emitted from the meteorite which sent the officers flying backwards, throwing them through the air to the crater’s edge ten feet away. The officers lay unconscious against the dirt as the blast of light began to settle and shrink, still radiating with a spectrum of moving colours that seemed to merge and dance like a liquid in the cool night air.
The sound of a helicopter overhead broke the silence as the whirring blades rotated with a rhythmic hum as it got closer.
"Down there, there's something… glowing. I can see headlights too, someone’s already down there."
The pilot's words sent a surge of curiosity through Dr. Arthur Kinsey, sitting in the back in a smart tweed jacket and grasping a carbon fibre cane in his hands. The grey-haired man looked through the window to the same glowing impact site below and with a slight adjustment of his jacket and an excited squeeze of his cane, instructed the pilot in a soft English accent to put the helicopter down as close to the crater as possible.
Arthur looked behind him at two other passengers. Both younger men in their thirties, one tall with thick-rimmed glasses and the other still in a white lab coat courtesy of the urgent call from Arthur to meet him at the helicopter, interrupting their evening’s work in a nearby laboratory. On their chest pockets hung name badges with the acronym CRADLE emblazoned at the top, below which were their names Lawrie and Ryptik.
The young scientists had been working Stateside on a collaborative project with NASA when Arthur visited. Hours earlier, Arthur had taken a tour of the facility with them as they briefed him on their project. Now they were on a helicopter assisting Arthur on a ‘top-secret’ mission. Looking out at the desert below, they both wondered what Arthur needed them for and how they were going to be able to help.
"Ready chaps? When we land, follow my lead. Bring the digital scanning equipment to map the impact site and any other gadgets you boys have that could help us understand this situation better."
As the helicopter touched down onto the desert floor and the rotors began to slow, the dust kicked up by their landing created a fog that billowed out and disappeared into the sparse, flat desert around them. Holding a silk handkerchief to his mouth, Arthur lowered himself down the steps of the helicopter and touched down with both feet and his cane on the dry, rocky ground. Looking back at the two younger scientists, Arthur pulled his handkerchief from his mouth.
“Never go anywhere without one" he said with a subtle wink.
Pulling it back across his mouth, Arthur walked forward through the settling dust towards the crater twenty feet in front of them.
On the edge of the crater, Arthur put both hands on his cane for support. His eyes lit up at the scene before him. The meteorite was now clearly visible, still glimmering with a spectrum of colours. Arthur’s heart skipped a beat at the possibilities of what this strange object could be. His focus was only broken when he noticed the two unfortunate police officers lying unconscious on the floor with burn marks on their hands. A screen of pale blue light suddenly projected from a machine set up by the two younger scientists, digitally mapping and scanning the landing site. With the analysis completed in a matter of seconds, Arthur told Lawrie and Ryptik to check on the officers and to avoid touching the meteorite.
Arthur pulled out his phone and flipped over the monogrammed case with CRADLE embossed into the black leather. It was now 1am in the cold desert morning and Arthur checked the time in London. Swiping back to his contact list, Arthur tried making a call.
‘Damn, no answer, he’s probably not even at the office yet’ he thought as he looked around at the emptiness of the moonlit Mojave. Trying a different approach, Arthur called CRADLE's London headquarters.
"Yes, good morning, this is Director Kinsey. I need to speak to Isaac Wells immediately…"
Isaac's eyes snapped open as his head bounced off the glass window of the London Underground Jubilee train. The loud screech from the metal rails as the train cornered a bend drowned out the dull noise of the carriages and caused Isaac to grimace. Blinking his eyes and acclimatising himself to his surroundings, Isaac looked at the swathe of commuters waiting on the platform that they were slowing down to stop at.
'London Bridge, two more stops', thought Isaac as he rubbed his forehead and watched the commuters get on the train.
Looking down, Isaac watched the shuffling feet of passengers finding their seats as he pulled out his phone. Checking his messages, he saw a new email from Arthur, which he tapped on to open. 'Damn, no signal down here', he said to himself as he tried to download the file.
Putting the phone back in his pocket, Isaac picked up a folded copy of the mornings Metro newspaper. Today's front page was once again linked to a spate of crime and strange phenomena happening in London.
'Menacing Met-X Mutants Make Mischief In Marylebone' read the headline.
'What a mouthful', he thought as he ripped out the article and folded it up, pocketing it to read back at CRADLE. 'Another article for the wall of weird', he thought as he looked around at the interior of the carriage. Graffiti tags were scrawled and scratched into the walls and windows, reflecting what was happening in London over recent years.
The train screeched again as it rounded a corner towards Southwark, stopping and letting on a new group of travellers. Isaac pulled out his phone again to reread Arthurs text message.
'Get your team together. I've found something in the desert that you need to see to believe. Arthur.'
Isaac must have read this message over and over a hundred times now. The new email coming through only added to his anxiety to discover what Arthur was talking about. As the train pulled into Waterloo Station, Isaac quickly got up and headed to the door. Zipping up his Parka coat, Isaac waited for the doors to open before slipping out ahead of the other morning commuters and quickly walked to the escalators to beat the crowd exiting the station.
The cold skies over London were swirling with different shades of grey as Isaac zigzagged past people walking to work and headed towards Southbank. As Isaac walked past The Royal Festival Hall, he pulled out his phone to try and download Arthurs email.
'Why is the signal so bad around here' he thought as the file began to slowly download. Turning right onto Southbank, Isaac continued to look down, watching the percentage number of the download increase. 'Almost there', he said to himself as he watched the download bar hit 90%.
Before Isaac had realised what happened, he was looking down at the concrete floor. An ache spread across his shoulder as he turned around to see the man who had knocked him down walk away. Dressed in a white suit white, the stranger stood out from the other people walking past. Turning his head to look back at Isaac, the stranger's pale features contrasted the dark eyes shot a piercing, emotionless look down at him before turning and walking away.
As he disappeared into the distance, Isaac slowly turned back. Realising his phone had been knocked out of his hand, Isaac looked around on the floor for it.
"Damn it!” he said out loud as he looked down to the concrete floor at the phones smashed screen. Broken glass distorted the glitching graphics as Isaac tapped it in vain. Picking up the phone and assessing the damage, Isaac stood up and slipped the broken phone into his jacket pocket.
"Another thing for Kenzi to fix,” he said to himself.
Rubbing his shoulder, he saw someone on an electric scooter swerve around a group of people and head straight for him. Dodging out of the way, Isaac spun around and found himself leaning against a set of metal railings, looking into the colourful, street art adorned walls of the skatepark. Among the melange of colour, graffiti and concrete ramps, Isaac spotted a small wall painted red with a stencil of a single white chess pawn.
'I've seen this before somewhere else', he mused as he looked at the painting, trying to remember where he had seen this symbol and what it might mean.
A few meters away, a couple of young tourists were taking photos of the graffiti, and Isaac overheard them mentioning the same piece that had caught his gaze.
"If that's a new Banksy, I don't understand it," said one of them before taking a final photo and walking away.
Isaac pushed himself off the railings and continued walking past the skatepark. Looking up, Isaac could see the CRADLE building towering over the surrounding area just beyond Waterloo Bridge. Isaac rolled his shoulder, feeling more frustrated from not opening Arthur's email than having a smashed phone.
Passing under Waterloo Bridge, Isaac looked up at the tall building. Large triangular glass panels reflecting the monochromatic skies above lined the building's exterior, which Isaac called home as he headed towards the entrance.
Underneath a large set of chunky white letters spelling out the CRADLE logo were the words Creative Research And Development Laboratory Enterprise, backlit with a soft blue light above the glass entrance.
'Time to get some answers', he thought to himself as he walked inside.
Clara slammed a drawer in her desk closed as she heard a noise at her door. A tall shadowed figure stood behind the frosted glass doors, and with her heart beginning to race, she turned a key to lock the drawer.
The door hissed open, and Clara let out a sigh of relief as she saw Isaac standing there with his hand on the digital fingerprint scanner. Slipping the key into her trouser pocket and closing her laptop screen, Clara stood up and walked towards Isaac.
"You don't usually get here this early," she said as she saw her friend walk in.
"Coffee?" She asked, seeing Isaac standing there, still in his long green Parka coat.
"Arthur left me a message," he said.
Clara picked up a mug and pressed a button on her espresso machine, which began to whir into life, filling the office with the smell of fresh coffee.
"Let me guess, get the team together," she asked.
"Yeh, pretty much. And caramel latte if you are making one, it's too early for some of us," said Isaac, rubbing his eyes.
"He sent an email too, which I think has information for us to go over before he arrives later."
Clara picked up another mug as she asked, "Can I seen it?"
Isaac pulled out the smashed phone and showed Clara.
"Another one? For someone who invents as many things as you do, you sure do break a lot of them. How about asking Kenzi to help you build a phone that you can't break."
Isaac laughed as he took the coffee from Clara.
"Have you seen Kenzi this morning? Is he in yet?" Asked Isaac.
Clara held up the mug to her chin, smelling the fresh coffee.
"You know most of us get here at nine every day, right?" She joked before taking a sip and feeling her heart rate calm down.
Isaac had always been a calming presence in her life since their days together at university. Looking back at her desk, she hoped Isaac hadn't noticed anything.
"I work better at night," said Isaac unapologetically, taking a sip of his sweet coffee.
"But Arthur's message was too intriguing. I had to come in. Clearly, I'm not good at this time as things like this happen." Isaac looked down at his phone again as he put the broken device back in his pocket.
"Last I heard, Kenzi was working on something in the engineering department, we don't fix phones in the Biochem labs," said Clara, teasing Isaac, who was closing his eyes as he breathed in the aroma of his coffee.
"Let's head over there together, make sure you don't break anything else on the way," she said.
Isaac smiled and headed back into the hallway. Looking back into her lab, Clara tucked her auburn hair behind her ear and, with a few taps on the digital keypad outside the door, locked her lab.
As they walked towards the elevator to head down to the engineering department, Clara put one hand in her pocket and rolled the key between her fingers as she contemplated sharing her project with him. Looking up at her tall friend, she tried to imagine how he would react to her research.
'Not yet', she thought.
Fire alarms blared across the engineering department as smoke filled the back of the hangar-like space. Clara and Isaac got out of the elevator to hear the commotion and quickly ran towards the large entrance to see engineers running around and clouds of fire extinguishers being used at the far end of the cavernous space.
Kenzi spotted Clara and Isaac running through the large glass entrance with concerned looks on their faces.
"Everything is fine, don't worry", shouted Kenzi, walking calmly towards his friends.
Taking off his protective plastic hard hat and brushing his messy black hair out of his face, he made it to Isaac and Clara just as the alarms stopped ringing.
"Little mishap testing the weapons system on a new prototype vehicle," he said as he bent down to tie one of the laces on his bright blue converse.
The smoke began to clear at the far end of the double-height space, which stretched across two floors of the CRADLE building. Engineers began assessing the damage and checking on the other machines in the area. With the sirens now off, the usual sounds of mechanical whirring and beeping came back into focus.
"A little early to blow up part of CRADLE, isn't it Kenzi?" joked Clara, relieved to see the situation under control.
"A little early for Isaac to be here, you mean", quipped Kenzi, standing up and straightening his matching blue bow tie and smiling at Isaac.
"Nothing a coffee and a fire alarm can't fix," said Isaac, lifting his mug up sarcastically and smiling back at Kenzi.
"Besides, Arthur has found something in the Mojave and told me to get the team together before he arrives later."
"Arthur is quite the tease," said Kenzi.
"And that's all he said?"
"Well, he sent me something to analyse, but this happened before I could download it." Isaac pulled out the smashed phone and handed it to Kenzi.
"Another one?" Said Kenzi, turning the phone over in his hands and assessing the damage.
"That's what I said too," said Clara, nudging Isaac and smiling.
"Hai, yes, I can fix it," said Kenzi, speaking quickly and letting a bit of his native Japanese slip into the conversation as he often did.
The trio headed over towards a set of stairs leading up to the department's mezzanine level, housing rows of smaller labs and offices. As Kenzi walked out in front, he was already getting to work on the broken phone, using a small tool he pulled from his pocket to release the damaged glass.
"Damn, screens damaged inside too," he muttered to himself with his head down, walking and tinkering as he rounded the corner towards his private lab.
As the trio entered, Kenzi walked to one of his long work tables and placed Isaac's glitching device down.
While Kenzi got to work, Clara looked around at the myriad of gadgets, computer screens and walls of tools laid out meticulously. Isaac, on the other hand, was drawn to something on Kenzi's desk. Picking up a piece of material hooked up to a selection of wires, Isaac ran his fingers across the mesh of different substances sandwiched together.
"Is it almost ready?" He asked Kenzi, tracing the wires back to a power unit with his fingertips.
"Almost," said Kenzi, looking through a toolbox. Picking up a tiny screwdriver and pushing it into the device, the sim card popped out, and Kenzi placed the broken phone next to a pile of other broken gadgets and robotics that needed electronic surgery. Moving to another section of his lab, Kenzi pulled out a box and opened it up. Taking out the new phone, Kenzi installed the sim card and handed it over to Isaac. Stepping away from the cluster of wires and fabric, Isaac accepted the sleek device from Kenzi and began to inspect it.
"Looks just like the other one," he said, feeling the matte black stainless steel casing engraved with the CRADLE logo and watching the glass front come to life and seeing his familiar home screen.
"Looks can be deceiving," said Kenzi, who swiped the screen to show Isaac a new set of app icons that weren't on his old phone.
"Please, open Arthur's email." Said Kenzi, gesturing to Isaac.
"I will demonstrate a trick this new device can do."
Isaac swiped into his emails and clicked the download button again. This time, the file downloaded instantly, and the trio saw several files pop up on the screen.
"As I suspected," said Kenzi.
"I gave Arthur the same device before he left for America. He is using the new technology I developed for it. Isaac, please select the first file."
Tapping the icon on the screen, a holographic image began to hover above the phone, almost making Isaac drop the new device out of surprise.
"Maybe put it down on the table for this part," said Clara, watching on intently as a projection of the Mojave landing site came to life before their eyes.
Isaac put the phone down on Kenzi's desk as they all crowded around to study the detailed hologram. The small scrub brushes looked real enough to touch as they dotted around the digital sand surrounding the impact site in the middle of the projection. Using a hand gesture, Kenzi was able to zoom in on this part of the image and see the impact site more closely. On one side of the crater, two unconscious American police officers lay slumped on the ground.
Zooming in further, they spotted what Arthur had been talking about. Isaac looked up at Clara and Kenzi, almost dropping his coffee as he stepped back.
"What the hell is that?!”
In the control room for reactor number four, Yuri's concerns were quickly turning into a nightmare. As the minute hand ticked over to 1:23am, alarms began to ring out across the facility as the horrified technicians realised their mistake. The routine safety test he was brought in to oversee had caused something to go drastically wrong and, within seconds, the nuclear chain reaction began to escalate out of control.
“Nyet, Nyet!” Shouted Yuri as he realised the magnitude of the situation.
“Out, everybody out!”
‘I need to warn Anya’ thought Yuri, desperately trying to dial through on the phone to his wife’s department.
The reactor’s fuel rods blasted apart as the cooling system's water burst into steam. Without the heavy concrete and steel shells that Yuri was so adamant that these reactors should have, there was little defence from the ensuing explosion. The roof was blasted off as the explosion scattered contents of the reactor across the building. Radioactive shrapnel rained down, littering the surrounding area. As the fire raged out of control from what was left of the graphite core of reactor four, Yuri screamed out for Anya.
As the other technicians ran for their lives, a cloud of radioactive iodine-131 from the two hundred tonnes of nuclear fuel housed spread through the power plant, giving the scientists and technicians lethal doses of radiation within minutes. Yuri, alone in the control room, was still desperately trying to connect to the rooms below in a desperate attempt to get hold of Anya. The phone rang and rang with no answer and Yuri prayed that she had managed to escape already.
Letting out a roar of frustration and fear as the phone lines cut out, Yuri realised he had to get out of the facility and pray Anya had done the same. As he began to run from the control room, a cloud of nuclear particles spread through the air from the enriched plutonium and uranium leaking out. As he ran, Yuri hoped he would find Anya safely free from the hell that now surrounded them.
Below the control room that Yuri was fleeing, an unearthly radioactive ooze began to spread like lava. The molten fuel rods, concrete and metal had melted together in the inferno which now raged through the cavernous reactor.
Yuri escaped through the smoke and nuclear haze, making it to the facilities exit where some of the lucky engineers had already made it.
“Ana!” He shouted desperately, looking for his beloved amongst the smouldering rubble.
Other scientists were laid out on the floor coughing and spluttering as the air above them filled with radioactive smoke through the collapsed roof. Yuri looked desperately for Ana, praying she had made it out before him. With no sight of his beloved wife, Yuri felt a hand on his shoulders pulling him away.
"Nyet! Anya! Nyet!"
The hand on his shoulder felt heavier now, shaking and gripping.
"…Father? It's just a dream…"
Yuri rubbed his weary eyes, realising where he was. Feeling his daughters hand on his shoulder, he felt a sense of relief.
“Chernobyl again?” asked Tatiana.
“Da. Every time I lose her all over again and it feels as real as the night it happened.”
Looking down through his blurry eyes at the device on his arm, Yuri felt his blood pumping through the modified dialysis machine. Sitting upright in his oxblood leather armchair, Yuri rolled his neck from side to side, feeling it click as his strength began to return to his body.
“Father, there has been a sighting. Reports are coming in of a meteorite strike in America.”
Yuri looked over at the wall of monitors and tv screens filling an entire wall of his office. A number of the screens switched from security cameras to different television news reports, all showing a similar set of videos. Phone footage of a rainbow cloud streaking across the night sky above the Mojave desert had news reporters speculating what it could be.
Yuri’s eyes widened, watching the reporters talking over each other as the videos continued to play behind them in news studios around the world.
“I am leaving to investigate myself” said Tatiana.
“The jet is being prepared, I leave within the hour. If it is what we hope, I will retrieve it for you.”
Looking up at his tall daughter standing beside him, Yuri saw Anya’s beauty and determination etched on Tatiana’s porcelain face. Yuri nodded as he turned back to the wall of screens.
“Rook can handle things in my absence and Bishop will stay by your side. We will find a cure for you” she said, looking down at the pipes hooked up to her father, pumping the crimson liquid into his arm.
Yuri looked to his side, picking up a piece from the ornate chess set that was mid game. Holding the white Queen in his hands, he rolled it between his fingers and studied the board.
'What move would The Grandmaster want me to make next?’ He thought to himself.
Kissing the crown on top of the piece, he moved it diagonally into a vacant square.
Tatiana waited for Yuri to place the piece and sit back before kissing him gently on the forehead before turning and leaving the room. As she pulled open a large mahogany door, she saw the tall hooded figure of Bishop standing on the landing outside. Nodding at him to enter, Tatiana walked towards the stairs and left.
Closing them behind him as he entered, the heavy wooden doors creaked shut. With an awkward, staggered gait, Bishop walked towards Yuri who was now switching back and forth between channels on the different screens. Moving behind Yuri’s chair, Bishop turned off the dialysis machine and without saying a word, began to carefully remove the needles in Yuri’s arms.
“Have you seen this?” Asked Yuri, transfixed by the news and hopeful that it could be the missing piece he needs.
Bishop nodded, breathing deeply through a mechanical apparatus that covered his lower jaw.
“This could be what we need to complete the Grandmasters work” he said, looking up at Bishop who towered over him in long robes.
Touching the top of Bishop’s namesake piece and spinning the ornately carved ivory on the board, Yuri turned his attention back to the news reports on the screens.
“You know, in 1987, they kept the meteorite strike over Moscow hidden. Told the news it was a failed missile launch. Now everyone has a camera in their pocket.”
Yuri coughed, feeling the clean blood back in his body always made him feel groggy before his energy picked up again. Bishop turned and walked towards an art deco style bar set up in Yuri’s large living quarters and prepared a drink for his mentor.
“They brought my team the meteorite the next morning, glowing crimson red like flowing blood trapped inside rock.”
Bishop handed Yuri a drink, who took a sip before continuing.
“I kept my cancer hidden. They wouldn’t have let me continue working at the facility if they had known. Malnourished from grieving Anya was the common theory I let them believe. I spent a year researching cures in secret but nothing worked. I was scared of Tatiana becoming an orphan so young. Then a gift from the skies was brought in with a military escort. They wanted to militarise it some how, extract its energy, make bombs. Fools.”
Yuri paused to finish his drink before handing the glass back to Bishop.
“They would have never let me explore medicinal qualities on it. The true potential of it would have been lost on them or destroyed by lesser minds. I had to get Tatiana and the meteorite out so I could continue my work in private.”
Yuri paused for a moment, overcome with a sense of frustration as he recounted the story to Bishop. Balling his hand into a fist, he slammed it on the red leather arm rest of the chair, causing the red liquid in the tanks to shake and glow red, illuminating the bookshelves behind him.
“Clearly, I only prolonged my suffering.”
Standing up now, Yuri rolled his neck and shoulders, feeling the treatment begin to work and give him back his strength. Bishop picked up Yuri’s walking stick, silently offering it to him but Yuri refused, feeling strong enough to walk around without it.
“The treatment gives me strength for a few days, let me enjoy that before needing that stick and going through this whole ordeal again soon.”
Moving his attention from the news reports about the ‘Mystery Mojave Meteorite’ as reporters were dubbing it, Yuri stepped back and focussed on the other set of screens. Live camera feeds from different parts of his facility showed scientists and engineers working in different labs. Several camera angles seemed to be coming from high above London and moving across the city. Yuri watched them all, flicking his gaze between different feeds and absorbing the information.
Walking back to the chess set besides his chair, Yuri picked up the white horse piece and turned to Bishop.
“Any news from Knight?” He asked.
Bishop nodded slowly before unfolding his arms and reaching out a hand towards Yuri. Placing three fingers to the side of Yuri’s forehead, he began to communicate directly into his mentors mind.
“Knight has informed me that the drug is becoming weaker. Clients are growing restless, the mutations are wearing off quicker.”
Taking his hand off Yuri’s head, his voice went silent and returned to folding his arms as awaited a response. Putting a hand up to his head, Yuri closed his eyes and felt a dull pain from Bishops telepathic message began to ease.
“Its a good job I’ve got used to you communicating this way” he said as he looked up at Bishop. Two faint dots of red flickered in Bishops eyes after using his ability to convey the message.
Yuri paced, pondering the implications of a weakened Met-X drug and how he would communicate this to The Grandmaster. Looking again at the video footage of the rainbow cloud being portrayed on the various news channels, Yuri knew he had to find this new meteorite before it was too late.
‘Hurry Tatiana’ he thought to himself, thinking of his daughter flying there to investigate.
‘Return with a gift for The Grandmaster’.