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That’s right, you monster. This isn’t a game. I’m serious this time.

Mr. Coldwell stood from his desk, rubbing his chin. He was freakishly tall, and loomed a whole six inches over William.

“Locked the doors, huh?” Mr. Coldwell said, as if talking to a child instead of his grown son.

William backed up as his father slowly walked around the desk. He tried to get his father to talk again.

“It’s just us in here,” William said, studying his father. His eyes were calculating again. “Honestly, do you truly think your abominations are harmless?”

Mr. Coldwell said nothing.

“I’ve seen them up close. I’ve seen what it is you’re really doing down there in the basement of this tower! They are in pain!” William shouted now. “Don’t you feel guilty? Do you feel anything at all, anymore?”

William’s father swallowed. Almost there, William thought.

“Your machine doesn’t convert dense matter into energy– it needs living matter,” William pushed. “You use grav-machines to push as much living matter as you can into the smallest ball you can manage, and squeeze out the Coldwell-radiation you discovered in living things. Plant life doesn’t work as well, though– so what did you do?” William kept going, almost out of breath. He’d told his father he’d known what the generators did before, but he’d never confronted him like this. It was invigorating to reveal all that he knew.

“You started using animals in the reactor, and then people. You find people that nobody will miss, and conveniently make them disappear. Poor souls, slaving away in the Ferrou mines with no family to ask about them, or the poverty-stricken homeless on Luna, and countless others are literally sacrificed into your reactors!” William said, hearing their screams and the baby’s cry all over again. He’d been traumatized as a child, seeing that thing. He hadn’t even understood it at the time, and it was still enough to give him lifelong nightmares.

Mr. Coldwell’s gaze was dark. Something pounded against the door– probably the security team trying to get in, despite the mag-lock.

“But that– that’s not even the worst of it,” William said, laughing incredulously. “Those people– those human beings– aren’t killed in the process. They live. You keep them in a state of torture and agony, of being wrenched apart and then pieced back together in a ball of fleshy, disgusting worse-than-death life! They decompose, eventually, and then you just feed the reactor with more people,” William went on, his voice falling back to quiet. His hands shook. He couldn’t look at his father.

“Do you know how it felt, for me? No– I’m not talking about witnessing that horror as an eight-year-old boy– I’m talking about something worse.

“Do you know how it felt, to realize that your own father was a monster with no soul?”

The entire planet seemed to hold its breath, everything focused on Mr. Coldwell. If anything was going to push him over the edge, that would.

“I–” Mr. Coldwell started, his voice different, then faltered. He stared at William, unmoving. William could see it in his eyes. The cold calculations behind his glasses were halted, and his eyes almost seemed cloudy, now. Deep down, there were still the remnants of a conscience hiding inside of his father. 

His words had hurt.


Now, talk about the machine!

“Oh, son,” Mr. Coldwell said in a crestfallen way. He held his hands out pleadingly to William and took a tiny step forward. William felt chills rising on the back of his neck. His father never called him son. 

“You’re having another one of your episodes, William,” Mr. Coldwell continued, pity flowing from his voice. “I told you, the medication is good for you. You need to be taking it.”

William gritted his teeth, trying not to lose his temper. His father had used the fake mental illness diagnosis to excuse his unruly son’s behavior ever since his early teenage years. No! Talk about the reactors!

His father had spoken to William about it before, in his childhood in attempts to make him understand. It had always ended poorly. Why wouldn’t he talk now?

Mr. Coldwell revealed a smirk, inching closer to William. 

He knows.

“No! William, stop–” Mr. Coldwell shouted, and then lunged at his son. William tried to dance out of the way, but his father was fast. William grunted and found himself on the floor, his father’s knee pressed against his chest. In the fall, his recorder had fallen out of the jacket pocket and slid across the floor to hit the edge of the desk. Maxis had tumbled off of his shoulder and across the floor somewhere. William swore and tried to reach for the recorder, but his father scooped it up before William had the chance.

His father clicked the button on its side to stop the recording and grunted, pocketing the device. He looked down on William with an ugly sneer.

Mr. Coldwell slapped him across the face, sending William’s jaw bouncing against the hard floor. William cursed, struggling to free an arm from his father’s hold.

“When will you learn,” Father spat, his facade of patience and love gone now, “that I will not give into the wishes of a boy who thinks he knows more than me?”

This was the father William recognized.

William freed a hand and threw an elbow down as hard as he could into his father’s thigh. Mr. Coldwell gasped and William was able to get to his feet again. Mr. Coldwell and William circled each other, both waiting for one to move. Muffled voices could be heard on the other side of the office doors, but security still hadn’t managed to get in.

“You’re worse than a murderer,” William said, out of breath. “Shut the reactors down– I’m warning you.”

Mr. Coldwell laughed– a cold, menacing sound full of derision. He seemed to be almost enjoying himself.

“Or what?” Father asked, narrowing his eyes. “I know you, William. You won’t do anything. You never have,” he continued, slowly inching closer to him again. “Still, I’m impressed you made it this far. Almost made me slip up about the reactors, there. At least you’re starting to make things interesting for me.”

William wanted to tackle him. He wanted to hurt this man, that should have been there for him as a kid and to help him as an adult. He’s still not taking me seriously, William thought. 

“Or else I’ll blow up your matter-gathering towers,” William threatened, reaching into his pocket for his detonator. 

Mr. Coldwell paused, eyeing William’s hand. 

“You’re bluffing,” He responded, but he looked on edge.

William gripped the detonator. 

He didn’t want to press it.

“Turn them off!” William pleaded, shaking his head. He realized he’d been backing away from his father, and was now pressed with his back against the glass wall that looked over Obsius. He glanced down and gulped at the height of the Penthouse office. A star transport flew by the window silently.

William turned back to see his father sending a shoulder into his gut.

He gasped, the wind knocked out of him, and tried to deal a blow to his father’s head but missed and barely caught his ear.

Mr. Coldwell wrapped his arms around William’s midsection and threw him to the ground with a grunt. William’s head smacked the floor again and he saw stars. Before William could react, his father was on top of him again. He punched William across the face, snarling. Their scuffle was full of panting and grunting and then whimpers. Mr. Coldwell pushed his advantage and dug his knee into William’s side, then crushed the air out of his son with his other leg. William wheezed, rolling to his side in pain.

Mr. Coldwell pushed William onto his stomach and placed his palm on the back of William’s head, pushing his cheek into the cold floor. William felt hot tears starting to form in his eyes. He tasted blood. He tried to reach for the detonator, but his father had stolen it from his pocket.

His father got up from the ground, studying the detonator. William tried to turn, and Mr. Coldwell sent a kick into his side. William groaned and clutched his ribs, curling up into a ball on the ground. Stupid… stupid… should’ve just pressed the button when I had the chance…

But William was weak. Father was right, William thought bitterly. He was nobody. The faces of hundreds of tortured souls looked down in disappointment.

He couldn’t fail them!

“What do you suggest I do, William? I’m providing a necessity to billions of people– You don’t think I know what’s going on beneath this tower? I live with the burden of my machine for the good of humanity. You’re the selfish one, thinking you’re looking out for the little guy, when really, you’re threatening the whole System!” Mr. Coldwell said agitatedly, and William could hear the anger seeping into his voice. That little sliver of a conscience he still had was gnawing at him. William knew he’d been a man, once. Before, when he’d used plants to fuel the density-energy conversions. But he’d been chipped away piece by piece, by greed and power. Now there was only a monster in his place.

“You could wean them off your energy,” William croaked weakly, swallowing the blood in his mouth. “Turn off the machines– you could do it!”

Mr. Coldwell rummaged through his desk drawer for something, muttering to himself. William was in too much pain to do much but wince as his father picked up something and knelt down to look at his son.

“Bluffing or not,” His father breathed, revealing a small silver device the size of a thumb, “You’ve become a nuisance. Our little game we play is over.” He pressed a button on the thing and then a little light came on inside of it.

William recognized it. It was an obedience enhancement chip– they were used on dangerous prisoners throughout the System, and William was pretty sure civilians weren’t supposed to have them. The chip had little spikes on one side that could be pressed into the back of the victim’s neck, giving complete control over to the pre-programmed owner.

“No– wait–” William stuttered, struggling to get to his feet, but his father pushed him back to the ground and held his arms in place. He slammed William’s head back into the floor, and William stared wide-eyed at the outline of Mount Sica against the stars through the window.

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