225 - TALOS

Jenny Byrne wakes up to find herself on the floor. The back of her neck is still pounding from where Jason struck her. Growling, she fumbles with a hand for the table, uses it to lever herself unsteadily to her feet, and wobbles over to the nano-reactor console.

The software has been thoroughly spiked. The machine is unusable - Jason Quill’s goodbye, she reflects bitterly.

“Ooh, I am going to make that boy regret this,” she grumbles to herself, and reaches for the alarm button.

They always build these vents big enough to crawl into, reflects Jason. It makes sense, to be fair. A deeply buried complex demands a functioning air circulation system for people to live and work, all machines break down, and technicians would have to get to the equipment somehow to fix it up again.

He crawls through the duct work, using his spatial awareness and his memory of the trip down to guide his way back up. He finds, and disables, a few basic security precautions along the way.

The Mirror in his head has been silent since the escape. Finally it breaks that silence. They really should have rendered us unconscious.

“Oh? Can you even be knocked unconscious?”

I’m… not sure, the Mirror admits.

Jason hangs left and keeps crawling. His knees are hurting from the repeated impacts against metal, but he ignores it. “How are you handling this whole artificial existence thing, anyway?”

I… haven’t thought about it…

“That’s very uncharacteristic of Alycia. She thinks about everything.”

I’ve been busy!

“Busy trying to steal my secrets, busy trying to convince me you’re Alycia so I’ll trust you, busy misreading my motives…”

That’s not fair.

Jason laughs, but quietly to avoid the echo. “It’s entirely fair. You shot the Dragonfly only because you missed shooting me. You had a sniper who tried to blow my leg off. Your motives here are clear as glass.”

Yes, but you handled all of that gracefully.

Jason rolls his eyes. “What the hell? Flattery, now?”

My father could never kill your father. You’ve been similarly… resilient.

“Oh? And how sincere were you in trying to kill me?”

Kill you? Or hurt you?

“Oh, you were grand at hurting me, Alycia. But I long since forgave you for that.”

Well, uh…

Jason is enjoying the Mirror’s newfound confusion. Alycia always projected a façade of confidence. But it could fall apart when her plans were confounded, especially by things outside of her experience - like kindness.

So you aren’t trying to delete me?

“Get you out of my head, certainly. But questions about your identity aside, I’m not going to cavalierly destroy an intelligent being.”

In that case…

“In that case?”

The Mirror hesitates. Let’s work together. At least until you’re not on the run, and we can negotiate a new agreement of some kind.

“What’s a voice in my head going to do? Make snarky asides while I crawl through Russian duct work?”

I can provide insight into the practical challenges you’ll face escaping Russia’s intelligence apparatus.

“You think I need your help for that?”

I can instead analyze your numerous psychological flaws, your romantic hang-ups, your complicated relationship with your father–

“Where’s the nearest ground vehicle going to be?”

The SVR keeps their motor pools in a separate building. You’re going to have to find a side door.

One vent access panel, one security guard, and one flying roundhouse kick later, Jason is at the side door. He steps out into the sunlight and spots an adjacent building.

“Alright, we’re gonna grab a–”

Jason’s thought is interrupted by the roaring of rockets. A shadow falls over him, and he dodges out of the way as a colossal humanoid figure lands where he was just standing. The pavement cracks beneath its feet.

The titan is easily nine feet, built as a male with bronze-colored skin and an exaggerated musculature. It’s mechanical, if the seams and rivets aren’t just decoration. Clearly too big to hold a pilot, unless they were freakishly big themselves. Plus, two massive cylinders are affixed to its back. They look like rockets at first, but Jason can make out extra surface detail that suggest a secondary purpose.

A voice rings out, but it’s not from the titan. It’s coming over some kind of PA system, a speaker attached to the building. And it’s Jenny Byrne’s voice.

“Jason, Jason, Jason. Last chance to come quietly.”

Jason gives his best carefree shrug and his most charming grin, secretly hoping there’s a camera as well as a speaker hookup. “You ran out on us, Miss Byrne. I’m afraid I must do the same now.”

A masculine voice comes over the PA. “TALOS, apprehend the escapee Jason Quill.”

The giant’s eyes gleam, and it reaches out with a massive arm.

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Jason ducks under TALOS’ incoming arm on instinct. He rolls right, hoping to bypass the titan and run for the adjoining building, but the bronze man is fast for his size and gets in the way. Between him and the building is mostly grass, with a cracked concrete path connecting the SVR main office and his target. If he can get past this thing, he’s out of here.

“Alllrighty…” Jason cracks his knuckles. “Show me what you got, big fella.”

The two rockets on TALOS’ back now detach, to his surprise, and jet to opposite ends of the open area. They land, and spike themselves into place, and start radiating a definite hum.

Oh! The devices creating a magnetic effect. This is Sidorov’s specialty.

Jason feints right, then sprints left at full speed. He’s surprised to see TALOS lift into the air, and levitate at incredible speed toward him. Honed reflexes let him duck and roll under the giant’s feet as it passes.

“Great,” he mumbles to himself. “It was already fast. This is just gratuitous.”

That is clever. The magnetic field grips its metal skin and allows it to move rapidly within the zone of battle.

“You can stop admiring it now,” Jason grunts.

TALOS returns to its prime directive - capturing him - and reaches out again. Jason runs for the distant building, but TALOS flies past him and lands inches away. He almost bounces hard off its metal exterior, only catching himself with his hands at the last moment and pushing himself to the side.

Sidorov was a minor hypergenius who fell into my father’s orbit. Creative, but lacking–

“Just tell me how to beat it!”

TALOS tries a different tactic. Like Jason, it feints and misdirects, flying in one direction only to veer in another. And unlike Jason, who’s on foot, its levitation makes it hard to track from moment to moment - it’s just that fast.

If you still had your nanobots–

“I don’t.”

Another grab, another duck. With hands that size, and mechanical strength to match, it’ll be all over if he lets that thing grab him.

An idea flashes through his mind. “TALOS, return to station,” he shouts, doing his best to emulate the authoritative voice he heard earlier.

A mocking laugh from Jenny Byrne comes over the PA. “That trick won’t work.”

Jason shrugs. “Had to try. Say, aren’t you supposed to send soldiers after me too?”

“We want you alive,” Jenny’s voice answers. “But if TALOS fails, don’t worry, they’ll appear.”

Jason’s knees hurt from all the vent crawling. His arms hurt from taking falls while avoiding this monster. It’s not slowing him down yet, but it is annoying. And this constant dodging will wear him down sooner or later.

He runs back for the SVR building. TALOS, as before, zips past and around him.

It’s fast, but robotic.

“I noticed.”

It’s the same tactic, but Jason is ready. He slides under the thing’s legs as they come down to earth again, rights himself as the TALOS spins, then leaps upward. He kicks off the wall, then off TALOS, scrambling up the nine feet of bronze mecha-man in a second.

TALOS reaches overhead, trying to grab him. Jason goes over its shoulder, eyes flashing in search of what he’s after. Yes - there they are. The attachment points for the rocket pylons.

He grabs hold, and clings like a wiry monkey to the back of the bronze monster.

Clever. Now what?

“I’m thinking about that,” he mutters.

A thing that Jason knows about bodybuilders is that the bulk of their muscles means they sometimes lack flexibility. TALOS seems to have been built with an exaggerated physique. Will it have the same limitations? It’s time to find out.

The arms indeed come up, and back, fishing quickly for him. Jason keeps himself tucked low, gauging the extent of their reach. So far, so good–

TALOS rotates, and abruptly levitates toward the wall, intent on smashing Jason against it.

“Whoa whoa whoa!” He hauls himself up onto the left shoulder, just in time to avoid being pulped between Brutalist concrete and bronze pseudo-skin.

Jump forward now. Fast fast fast.

Without thinking, Jason obeys the Mirror’s advice. He lands, rolls, and starts to run. TALOS comes after him, but not as fast as before. He takes stock, trying to figure out what happened.

There’s now a hole in the SVR building, where concrete has been torn away. And as TALOS lands ahead of him, and tries to grab him again, Jason ducks and rolls and understands.



The metal reinforcements within the concrete walls are affected by the magnetic field being broadcast from the two rocket pylons. When TALOS moved, the field it generated latched onto the metal in the wall. It resisted at first, but the magnetism was strong enough to tear it out.

Now pieces of metal lie around TALOS’ feet. It’s a primitive tool, but it’ll serve.

Go for–

“–the eyes, obviously.”

Jason rolls past grasping arms, scoops up a bar, and spends a moment to figure out his approach. He wants to get back up on the thing’s back again, but there’s nothing to kick off of where he’s at.

What will get him to eye level?


Jason raises his arms, and lets the thing grab him. It’s intensely painful, centered on his ribs. Jason grits his teeth and works through it.

He screams, and aims the rebar fragment at the right eye, and thrusts. Sure enough, it’s hard to armor optical sensors, and the improvised spear drives itself into TALOS’ skull.

The machine roars and staggers back, releasing him. He runs for it.

Behind him, the soldiers emerge through the hole in the building.

Jason finds the motor pool thanks to the signs, and parkours his way across the hoods of a few UAZ-469s - the Jeep of the Russian Federation - to get cover in case there’s gunfire in the next few seconds.

He briefly debates strategy - blend into the city where they’re at, or disappear into the countryside - and decides on the city. That calls for a commuter car. He spots a Lada 2107, gambles that the keys will be in it, and is rewarded with the sound of its engine’s ignition.

The car tears out of the motor pool, almost running over a handful of surprised soldiers. Jason guns the engine, and it narrowly beats the spike strips that other soldiers scramble to deploy. He’s out, on the street, with the SVR’s building behind him.

I suppose you’ll take refuge at the American embassy.

“Nope. They’ll give me as much grief as the Russians, just with less hitting.”

A glint of light catches his eye. He angles the driver’s side mirror, and catches a glimpse of TALOS high in the air, rocketing after him.

“Okay, maybe not quite this much grief.”

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Moscow is only 200 miles from Kostroma, where the Dragonfly touched down. Of course they’d bring him here. But where in Moscow is he? He admits - to himself alone - that he lost track.

Jason spots TALOS as it descends on him, and yanks at the steering wheel. The Lada 2107 threatens to wobble onto two wheels, but takes the turn, and TALOS smashes nothing but pavement just behind him.

“So tell me about Sidorov,” he prompts the Mirror.

He was creative, but not able to apply his hypergenius to larger problem solving. Given a task, he could solve it, but he was bad at assigning tasks to himself. Father found him the most suitable of tools - and fools.

“And the power vacuum left him with ambitions he couldn’t live up to.”

That’s correct.

TALOS dips in for another crack at the car. Jason forces the protesting vehicle into another hard turn with the emergency brake.

“Seems like he’s been keeping busy.”

He’s likely the one who worked on understanding Byron Quill’s nano-reactor, after that girl stole it.

“She has a name.”

I’m sure she has several names.

“Now now. No need to be jealous.” Jason chuckles. “You two were getting along there for a little bit. She let you talk and everything.”

We were not getting along.

“There’s no need to be catty,” chides Jason. “I’m out for a pleasant drive, and which of you two did I invite along?”

I have no choice in the matter!

He’s a little too slow this time, and TALOS’ fist plows through top of the car. The whole roof comes off as Jason bucks and swerves in response.

“In a convertible, too! What luxury.”

You’re awfully relaxed about this whole thing.

“I’ve spent the better part of a year in board meetings, planning sessions, intergovernmental panels, and venture capital pitches. Do you know how nice this is?”

You’ve been more intent on killing yourself than I ever was.

Jason doesn’t have a comeback for that. “We’re somewhere around the Cheryomushki District. Find me an entrance to Metro-2.”

Say please.

“Or we both die.”

Close enough.

Metro-2 is the name given to the secret underground metro system below Moscow. Sometimes described as “Mirror Moscow” or “D-6”, it’s intended for use by high-ranking political and military personnel to move securely to and from the centers of power.

The Mirror suggests the University station as a good cutover, but TALOS has something to say about this course of action. So Jason pushes the Lada’s modest engine as hard as he can, honks the horn well in advance, and - as crowds of shocked Muscovites move out of the way - drives his stolen vehicle onto the track at an above-ground metro station.

The ride is immediately and incredibly bumpy. The poor Lada screams in protest at the beating it’s taking, but Jason doesn’t listen. He’s looking behind him.

Yep - there it is. TALOS took a moment to figure out its approach, but it’s now flying into the tunnel with him. The walls are tighter, and the nine-foot titan and its magnetic rocket-pylons must maneuver carefully or be stuck. Perfect.

Jason is pretty sure he won’t have the Lada in working shape by the time he reaches the University station. But there’s other uses for it.

“You think the owner of this Soviet-era brick has road flares in his trunk?”


“Wanna climb out and get some while I drive?”

Very funny.

“Fine, you drive.”

Jason, please take this seriously.

His eyes dart between the dark tunnel ahead of him - and the risk of a sudden light from an oncoming train - and the rear-view mirror, where a killer robot is slowly closing the gap between them. “I think I’m taking this very seriously, for what’s such an absurd situation.”

The front left tire finally gives way, forcing Jason into a frenzied sudden grip on the steering wheel lest the car jerk out of his hands and into the walls.

The station after the next one should be what you want.

Jason has to time his actions perfectly. There’s a small window of time between when he’ll stop the car - or it gives out - and when TALOS catches up to him. He’ll need the vehicle going in a straight line until the last second to make this work.

He drives through a metro station, watching a sea of faces slide past at high speed. “Bomb! Evacuate!” Jason shouts in Russian, as loudly as he can. With luck, someone in charge will take his warning seriously.

As he enters the tunnel again, he checks the rear view mirror. Yep, TALOS is still coming.

“Okay - time to work.”

He’s been gauging the vehicle’s speed and performance in preparation for this moment. He hops up, feet on the seat, and yanks hard at the emergency brake with one hand while holding the steering wheel with the other. It’s not easy - he’s got to brace his elbow against the door and his knees against the wheel to have the leverage to do both - but the car decelerates.

He leaps up and forward, out of the car. Momentum won’t carry him as far as it will the vehicle, but that’s intentional.

He lands where he wanted to - just behind the Lada as it comes to a stop.

He kicks, hard, at the trunk. Predictably, it pops open - the latch, like those on the doors, is merely doing its best at this point just to hold together during normal driving.

He’s already moving right, toward the gas cap, when his eyes begin their scan of the trunk and its revealed contents. There - road flares, for the inevitable moments when the Lada breaks down. His left hand seizes on two sticks, and his right reaches for the gas cap.

TALOS is very close.

The gas cap comes off. The flare lights. Jason tosses it in, then takes the only possible source of cover he has. He rolls between TALOS’ legs as it lands, and leaps up, grabbing hold of the rocket pylons. He tucks in tight and braces.

The gasoline and the flare meet and ignite. It’s not going to be the sudden fireball, knocking TALOS back fifty feet - but Jason, perched on the back of the thing, is counting on that. He needs the few moments the explosion has bought him to do the far more important second part of his task.

The TALOS’ twin pylons are basically a pair of rocket engines that also act as a powerful magnet when planted firmly on the ground. But rocket engines need fuel, the only fuel with enough energy density to lift a giant metal man is high-grade aviation gasoline, and–

He finds the gas cap for refueling the rocket, twists it open, and drops the flare inside. TALOS, its systems stunned by the explosion and its remaining optics blinded by the flash of light, cannot act.

Run, you idiot!

“No shit!”

Jason is already around the burning Lada and sprinting down the track when TALOS’ rockets explode.

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“I did warn you,” Jenny Byrne says with a shrug, talking to a giant monitor video-conferenced to a remote location.

The imperious cyborg sitting on his golden interface throne, plugged into a dozen systems, waves a dismissive metal hand from the other end of the call. “Silence, clone. The Great Sidorov does not need your advice.”

“How’s TALOS doing?” Jenny asks innocently.

“Silence!” The effectiveness of the voice diminishes somewhat, coming through the monitor’s speaker system. Jenny shrugs again.

Another voice on the call interrupts. “Dr. Sidorov, you promised you could extract the secrets of Jason Quill’s nanotechnology if we brought him in. Have you done that?”

“Er… Not just yet, General,” the cyborg stammers.

“Do you understand, Dr. Sidorov, the considerable risk we took in delivering Mr. Quill into your hands?”

“I do, sir.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

Sidorov has learned the stock Russian answer to provide in situations like this. “I’m going to take care of it thoroughly, General.”

“See that you do.”

Other members of the call drop off, leaving Sidorov and Jenny alone.

Jenny waits, a smile on her face.

“Fine. Fine! Clone, go make contact with Jason Quill. Remember that you’ve failed me once, and do not fail again.”

Jenny salutes smartly. “Yes sir!”

Unconsciously, Sidorov mimics the gesture, but almost pulls a cable out of his cybernetic arm in doing so. He glares, and Jenny signs off.

Jenny requisitions a soldier with a snap of her finger on the way out of the SVR offices. He climbs into the driver’s seat of a UAZ-469, and she climbs into the passenger’s seat. As the vehicle pulls out of the motor pool and into the city itself, she pulls out a tablet and starts accessing data thereon.

TALOS has telemetry, and it tracked Jason’s progress above and below the city until the explosion. Luckily, he went underground before that happened, which drastically narrows his options.

Jenny knows she’s a force-grown clone, knows much of her knowledge was implanted, and knows she was literally created with a mission in mind. Since then she’s tried to become independent, use the intellect they bestowed upon her to perform basic research in an interesting field. But she has to admit, hunting the quarry she was made to hunt has a thrill of its own.


What they never show is that the insides of most ventilation ducts are a nightmare of pointy bits – the screws that are holding the ductwork together, screwed in from the outside and perforce extending into the inside of the duct.

But, hey, it worked for Mission: Impossible


So in ordinary circumstances, I’d expect Jenny to be in detention, contemplating her failures before something bad happens to her (being fired being the least of it). That she’s instead been slapped in a battle suit and given point on pursuit of JQ probably has to do with her being an Antibody, I guess. Or with her being a bit unstable and nuts.

In either case, it’s an interesting contrast to Alycia.

My mistake – on first read I thought she was in the TALOS. I guess she’s just in the control center for it, along with the male voice. Which is a little less nuts, though the point largely stands.

Hmm. So Sidorov was mentioned in a previous chapter as being the former Chin lieutenant who deployed the Hoppers. This makes it sound like maybe he’s a bit of hyper-genius himself, maybe?

Alrighty then.

Never much thought about hypergenius interactions – I always kind of considered them as rabid lone wolves, for the most part. A talent that surpassed (by a narrow margin, at least) top normal genius but didn’t quite reach the reality-bending heights of a Quill or a Chin – yeah, they might be of use Dr Chin, with careful monitoring. (They are certainly the sorts that would be swept up by governments and forced to cooperate.)

Much easier to hide, esp from aerial surveillance. Plus, many more opportunity for comms to the outside world, and transit possibilities to other locations.

Jason is so suave, while he’s screaming inside.

Probably it’s the Moscow connection, car chase, or the witty banter, or all of the above, but I’m flashing a lot on Pierce Brosnan and Goldeneye (one of my favorite Bond flicks).


“By your command, sir.”

See, this is how you shouldn’t use your hypergenius assets. I suspect Sidorov is going to eventually end up running the Russian equivalent of the DEW line somewhere in Yakutsk after this. Northern Yakutsk.

Loving this.

Yeah, I could have been a little clearer about this.

I’m taking my cues here from how Sparks function in Girl Genius. You have the top-drawer geniuses, some of whom are villains or at the very least unpleasant people. You’ve got their kids, who are doing their best and often finding more common cause with each other than with their families. And you’ve got the C-listers, who technically have the talent but who need help expressing it, or need to be managed to go in useful directions with it.

In the Atlantis story, people like Nautilus and Trace would be B-listers: capable of innovative designs in submarine tech, but not likely to change the world because they’re wrapped up in other business. People like Leo aren’t A-listers, but could conceivably grow into that role in time.

The Russians gave him a lot of leeway for a lot of reasons. They’ve got their hands on some Chin caches Alycia might know about but AEGIS can’t deal with, for example, and that’s thanks to Sidorov’s knowledge. So he’s got plenty of rope left before he hangs himself.

Even better!

That was how I started reflecting on it (again, the Castle Heterodyne model is very useful).

One thing I wanted to be careful with in that whole ecosystem was that there was a qualitative difference that hypergenius brought to the mix. Hypergeniuses are not just really really smart geniuses – I think I posited (or agreed with whoever suggested it in the collaboration) even during the game (and certainly afterward) that their perceptions and unconscious understanding of things down to the quantum level allowed them to actually Change How Things Work. They weren’t just discovering new shit – they were making new shit, the observer changing the observed, which is usually why their inventions are irreproduceable.

That doesn’t mean, though, there can’t be gradations, and a lot is dependent on more human qualities of discipline, focus, vision, process management, and control. It’s not just power, but the ability to apply it usefully to greater ends that defines the hypergeniuses that newspapers write about and governments develop programs like Antibody for (and then, probably, spend a lot of money or a couple of bullets taking off the board completely or for the most part – it’s hard to keep a Byron Quill or Achilles Chin restrained, significantly harder than a Sidorov.

I suspect one reason why hypergeniuses are so unstable is that their ability to tweak reality inevitably turns inward. “If I were even smarter / more disciplined / more creative /. less alcoholic, I would achieve even greater things / be greater than Achilles Cheka / get out of this cell / rule the world!” Unless they have given at least some study to neurobiology and the like, they are as likely to do harm as good (if not both). “See, now I can see at a atomic level and I have suppressed my fear reflex! The world is my oyster!” (to be shortly followed by a lab-shattering ka-boom).