DeepSeaElkFish

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32. Steel

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Steve looked up at the structure in front of him. It looked even bigger up close. It was made of a strange, dark, unnaturally reflective metal that looked as far from organic as possible. Yet, the base of the structure dug into the floor of the steel mill like the roots of an immense oak tree.

Steve, however, was more focused on how hot it was here. He and Vulcan were surrounded by a multitude of large industrial-sized vats. Though Steve could not see what was in them, the rippling in the air above each of the vats left little to the imagination.

Vulcan Hephaestus removed an embroidered handkerchief from his coat pocket and wiped the sweat off his forehead. “We must exercise caution,” he said to Steve. “It appears that this steel mill is still somehow operational, even though it I also currently housing this unusual device. I don’t believe I need to tell you that being in a close proximity to molten steel is likely to be lethal.”

“You’d be right about that,” Steve replied. “Avoiding the liquid metal sounds like a good idea.”

The two of them began walking around the structure. It was encircled by a series of ladders and metal, grated catwalks, all connected to each other–presumably built as part of the steel mill. Steve couldn’t see anything that looked like a shutdown mechanism. Fortunately, after a few moments Vulcan stopped and pointed upwards. “There,” he said.

Steve looked up. Embedded on a section of the structure that wasn’t visible from the entrance of the room was a panel with a large screen. Steve could also make out what looked like a keyboard below the screen. “This must be the control panel,” he said. “We can probably use it to shut this thing off.”

The problem was that the control panel was high up on the structure, just below the ceiling. There was a narrow catwalk right next to the control panel. Steve looked at Vulcan. “So what now?” he asked.

Vulcan approached the nearest ladder and grabbed a rung. “Simple,” he answered. “We climb.”

Steve nodded and followed Vulcan, who was now waiting for him on the catwalk above the ladder. “Cool,” he said. “A little bit climbing and walking. Some kickass mainframe console hacking. Nothing we can’t handle. This is going to be even easier than I though.”

As Steve joined Vulcan at the top of the first ladder, a loud crash behind him came from out of nowhere to prove him wrong. He turned around and saw a hole in the brick wall behind him. In front of the hole were Bird, Mouse, and Sausage. The three of them were covered in dirt, bits of brick, and all manner of cuts and bruises. Steve also sensed a what he could best describe as a hyperbolic level of rage among the three of them as they all stared, unblinking, directly at him.

Steve decided to try and ease the tension. “Hey guys!” he called out. “Good to see you!” He looked at Sausage specifically. “Have you lost weight?” he asked.

Mouse raised both of her arms. She pointed at Steve with one hand and a vat with the other then screamed with a primal fury.

“YOU!”

“WILL!”

“BURN!”

Sausage growled like animal and pounded his fist on the concrete floor. A sizable crack appeared on the floor from the impact.

“Stephen,” Vulcan whispered to Steve. “We need to get out of here.”

Steve nodded as the two of them began running down the catwalk. There was another ladder down to the ground ahead of them, but in no time at all, Bird was there climbing up it, shrieking and looking at Steve. They turned around and saw Mouse and Sausage climbing up the ladder they had taken. Surrounded, the only other option was a ladder next to them that would take them further up.

“Looks like we’re going to that console after all,” Vulcan chided, as he and Steve hurriedly climbed the ladder.

The masked trio were in hot pursuit. As Steve followed across the catwalk, he looked down into the vats below him. As expected, they were filled to the brim with molten steel. A rush of blazing heat passed through Steve for every vat he ran over.

They climbed up another lighter to a catwalk even higher up. Steve looked back as he climbed. Bird, Mouse, and, Sausage were running on all fours at him as a pack, Bird and Mouse in front with Sausage taking up the rear. All three of them were still shrieking. “I really hate these guys,” Steve grumbled to himself.

There were some work tables and bits of scraps on this catwalk. Vulcan stopped and stood to the side of the catwalk next to one of these work tables. “Keep going,” he yelled to Steve. As Steve passed he grabbed the work table flipped on its side, blocking the catwalk, before he resumed running. It slowed them down, but not by much. Reaching the table, Bird and Mouse hopped on the rails on either side of the catwalk. They watched as Sausage charged through, shattering the table to pieces. They then hopped back on the catwalk and continued running down the catwalk.

Vulcan and Steve continued their sprint, throwing everything they could behind them to block the trio. Work tables, wooden planks, metal sheets, other scraps; everything slowed the trio down, but nothing was going to stop them entirely. By that point, Steve and Vulcan had climbed to the highest catwalk. The control panel was just up ahead. Steve continued moving, but stumbled as the metal grate of the catwalk buckled slightly beneath him. He looked up. This catwalk was suspended from the ceiling, and it looked like one of the metal bars supporting this particular segment was loose. As Vulcan stepped down on the same section, Steve could hear the groan of metal as the segment of the catwalk dropped several inches. Steve grabbed Vulcan’s hand and helped him up. They were standing on a stable segment of catwalk, but the segment they had just moved over looked like it couldn’t handle much more weight.

Vulcan looked down. The unstable segment was directly over a cat of the molten steel. He looked at Steve with the fire of an idea in his eyes. “Stephen,” he said solemnly. “Go on to the control panel. I believe you are capable of shutting this device down.”

Steve looked down at the vat below Vulcan, and his stomach sank. He looked backer Vulcan and pleaded, “Don’t do it, Vulcan Hephaestus. It’s too obvious.”

Vulcan laughed. “Do not worry about me. I will be fine. But I hope what I taught you serves you well in the trials to come.”

Steve sniffed to himself. “I’ll never forget that hour of Muay Thai boxing training.”

Vulcan looked disappointed to hear that. “I sincerely hope that is not all you got out of my time mentoring you.”

Steve awkwardly shook his head. “Uh, no. I, uh, learned a lot of other stuff too,” he stammered. He guessed he could figure out what else he learned later.

Vulcan nodded. “Okay Steven,” he continued. “Run to the control panel. I believe in you.”

Steve nodded back and ran to the control panel. In any other scenario, Steve would make a snarky comment about how someone actually said “I believe in you” to him in a totally serious manner, but he thought it seemed a little inappropriate given the current circumstances.

He approached the control panel and looked at the screen. There was a password prompt. At the bottom of the prompt, Steve noticed some small text.

Weather Wonder developed by Grumble Industries Incorporated

“I’m starting to get some bad vibes from this company,” Steve whispered to himself. Maybe he shouldn’t send them his resume after all. Or maybe he would. You still need to network after all.

Steve thought to himself about what the password could be. From what he heard, Mother Martyr didn’t seem the type who spent a lot of time around computers. Steve figured he should start with the most obvious guess.

password

He hit enter and was shortly greeted with the following message:

Password Accepted

Steve always knew he was probably a master hacker, and he reveled in the knowledge that he now had confirmation of this fact. The screen now showed a list of tasks.

Update Weather Plan

Weather Status

Recipes

Shut Down Weather Wonder

As curious as he might have been to learn some new recipes, Steve highlighted the icon to shut down the device and hit enter. The screen turned black as text appeared on the screen:

Shutting Down Weather Wonder from Grumble Industries Incorporated. Bringing You the Future Before You’re Even Ready for It.

Steve wasn’t sure if the device was truly powered down. He took a step back and looked at the device for any indication of whether it worked. What stood out to Steve was that the device was no longer reflecting any light. It was just a dark opaque mass now. That looked like as good a sign as any. He turned back towards Vulcan triumphantly. “Vulcan!” he shouted. “I did it! It’s off!”

Vulcan was still standing on the edge of the stable segment of catwalk, facing away from Steve. The masked trio had caught up and were now in front of him, trying to stare him down. Vulcan did not avert his gaze from the trio, but shouted a reply to Steve. “Good work, Stephen. You just saved the lives of thousands of people.” Steve stood next to the console, unsure of what to do next. He heard Bird growl at Vulcan. “Let us through,” he scowled. “We want to burn the bad man. We don’t care about you.”

Mouse started to cry wildly. “We want him to burn! He deserves to burn for what he did!”

Steve noticed that Vulcan was holding a large industrial wrench in his right hand. Vulcan held it up to his chest. “Now, I am normally not a vindictive man,” Vulcan said calmly. “I like to think of myself as a man of empathy. A man of compassion. But I am afraid that you three have forced me into an uncomfortable position. You have made it painfully clear that you will not relent until you have made an innocent man suffer a terrible fate that he did nothing to deserve, and that is something I simply cannot abide. I am not proud of what I am about to do, and I believe it shall haunt me until my dying day. But I will gladly carry that burden if it means that an innocent man will be spared from harm. So I ask you one more time to turn back and give up your fruitless pursuit.”

The masked trio were silent. After a moment, Sausage nudged Bird and Mouse to either side and stepped towards Vulcan. “You are both going to burn,” he rumbled stone-faced.

Vulcan Hephaestus sighed. “Very well,” he said. He raised the wrench in the air and slammed it into the loose support bar. The catwalk beneath the trio quaked and dropped another several inches.

Clutching the rail, Mouse looked at Vulcan furiously. “You wretched man!” she shrieked. “I will remove your face from your head!”

Vulcan raised the wrench into the air a second time. “Not today, you won’t, ma’am.”

Vulcan struck the support bar again. It broke free from the ceiling entirely. The weight of the trio became too much for the segment of the catwalk to handle, as the remaining supports snapped. The metal grating the trio was standing on broke off the remaining supports and careened into the molten steel below, plunging beneath the surface. The rest of the catwalk segment, along with Bird and Sausage were quick to follow. Steve grimaced as he heard a sizzling splash from within the vat.

Mouse however, was able to leap from the railing as it fell, towards the stable segment of catwalk on which Vulcan was standing. She grabbed him by the ankle as Vulcan was turning to face Steve. Her weight was enough to pull Vulcan off the edge of the stable segment. He grabbed the edge of the grating with his right hand, but his grip was failing.

Panicked, Steve ran towards Vulcan. “Hold on!” he shouted. He was still too far away to help when Vulcan–dangling over the vat with Mouse hanging from his ankle–looked squarely at Steve with an uncomfortable look of acceptance on his face. “You’re a good person, Stephen,” Vulcan told him. “And you’re not pointless. Your challenges up ahead will likely become only more difficult, but I believe you have the power to face them and triumph over them. Now go and find your friends.”

Steve felt like the blood was rushing out of his body. He knew what he had to do, but he had to say something first. “You’re a cool dude, Vulcan Hephaestus.”

Vulcan laughed as he watched Steve run to another ladder and began his descent back down to the ground. Mouse had managed to climb up Vulcan’s back while he and Steve were speaking. She held her face right up to Vulcan’s ear and whispered, “I will make you burn.”

“It’s a date, madam,” Vulcan replied as he let go of the grating.

Steve heard a final splash of molten steel as he ran out of the room.

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