Molten Gold

This scene, in The Primary Protocol, is pivotal for Michael Bishop. When exposed to the reproductive serum of the Vyriim, Bishop is catapulted into several visionary experiences. 

In these, we learn much.

Many new readers will become attracted to what might be presumed as his "recruitment" memory. However, as the series winds on, we meet other characters who are referenced here.  We see the Rook in a scene that won't pay off until
Presumed Lost.  Grace Juarez also makes an appearance, a whispering of a scene we won't experience for some time.

There is even a connection to
On the Matter of the Red Hand  

There's a lot to unpack in this bit which is why we're revisiting it here.

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The stuff covering me reeked like animal placenta and vomit after a drunken night—but laced heavily with brine. It held a wet, oceanic rot that encompassed the basal scent of the Vyriim. The experience sickened me in a nauseating, primal way.

But that didn’t hold a candle compared to the sheer repugnant awfulness of the taste.

“AACK!” I rolled onto all fours, spit, and tried not to retch.  

A large blob of the greasy secretion had fallen squarely into my mouth, where it burned like Kentucky moonshine and gasoline.  

I spat and swore, frantically trying to wipe it from my mouth, as the burning sensation intensified.

“Hoss, stay back!” Wyatt ignited another of his spikes, and an intense flash of heat washed past, even from where I crouched and gagged.  

I crawled back, my head swimming as I continued to spit out the fetid serum. It clung stubbornly, as if it wanted to clot in my mouth, like curdled lifeblood.

A wave of dizziness washed through me, and I collapsed to the floor. My blood boiled in my veins and my eyes wrenched open far too wide.

Unlike the sweet, narcotic warmth that had shimmered on my skin where the ichor touched it, swallowing the substance felt like ingesting a putrid, psychedelic fire.  

My mind blossomed like a rose of burning metal.

“Wyatt…” My words trailed off as I glanced around. Where exactly was I?

Visions slammed into my mind, like sledgehammers of dream-wrought terror.

Stay back, freak.” One of the older kids, Ronald, shoved me.

We don’t want you at the front,” a girl tittered. “You walk at the back.”

It’s getting dark,” I protested. “I don’t want to be back there.”

We don’t want you up here, weirdo,” Ronald said, laughing. “Do what I say or I’ll feed you caterpillars.”

Ewww!” One of the other girls laughed. “Mikey’d probably loooove that!”

I snarled, clenching my fist. In my chest, my power flickered, like a reflection of a dream. I could make Ronald eat caterpillars—could push him to do anything I wanted. They’d all laugh at him as he stood there, picking them off the trees—

Whatever, moron.” Ronald laughed and punched at the arm of his friend. “Come on, let’s go.”

The two boys jogged ahead.

I stood, almost panting as the rest of the children began to drift forward, several making faces at me. I stood still, letting them pull ahead.

The unfurling power in my chest waned, slept.

Eventually, I stood alone. Darkness crept in from all sides as I began to walk back to the Academy.  

Michael?” The man stood in the woods and gestured to me.  

I thought it strange he should wear such nice clothes this far out. Who wore a suit to go hiking?

He seemed nice, though. I couldn’t help but smile at him.

Yeah?” I stepped forward. I knew I didn’t need to be afraid of the man—if he were dangerous I could always push him.  

He shook, nervous. A silvery device wrapped around the side of his head. A gun hung from his hip, but it looked like something out of Star Trek.  

He looked like no man I’d ever seen.

I need you to come with me, son. It’s dangerous here.”

Is it?”

It is. A boy like you belongs with others like himself.” He paused. “We’re leaving.”

I started to shake my head. I needed to catch up to the other kids! My mom would be here soon enough, and if I showed up late again she’d never let me watch—

A pinch. A prick on my leg, like a thorn.

Darkness fell over me then, swift and certain. As I fell into dizzying shadows, I saw the man step closer.  

“No!” I struggled, feeling that narcotic warmth from the needle—

Wait.

I pushed up, trying to hold myself steady.  

Anya and Wyatt both stood next to me, Anya gazing down at me as wrinkles furrowed between her eyes. Wyatt focused on his gear, his eyes filled with rage.

“I cannot say why it is affecting him this way.” Anya brushed hair from my face.

“It’s like a drug,” Wyatt slurred. “I caught a bit of it.”  

My arms trembled and Wyatt turned away.

“No,” he spat as he glowered at something beyond my range of sight. “Not this time, you aberrant filth.”  

The tidal wave of phantasm crashed over me again.

Within that shroud of living shadow, I saw furious eyes that burned with a feral, verdant hatred. The wisps of darkness coursed along on the wind, undulating like living things.

For a moment, those eyes stared squarely at me. The whispers pulled at me, words of blasphemy and sharpness. They cascaded into my mind, bringing visions of horror.

I reeled backward from the force of it, dropping the Maverick.

There is a darkness, a shadow across the face of the moon. Within the sky, a brilliant star burns, crimson as blood.  

The entire world has f—

What?” I pulled myself away from those whispers, even as they sliced into me.  

The misty tendrils of shadow reached for me, hungry.

The Equation is not complete.” Bill’s venomous words made my ears bleed. I stumbled as the weight of them crushed me. “It is because of your kind. You will repent, manling. You will know lamentation.”

Fuck,” I breathed. My fingers dug at the concrete, scrabbling wildly until they found the Maverick. I whipped it forward.

I fired and fired and fired.  

“I think he swallowed some.” Wyatt spoke to someone I couldn’t see.

“I do not have the Caduceus, but there are Irrational spikes originating in his outer cortex.” The soft voice belonged to a woman. “They are diminishing.”

The people of the world must know the truth.” The man stood before a large window, silhouetted by fire. Outside, a city skyline burned with malevolent, hateful colors.

It was the boxes. I’d been too late. They had been opened, and now all the ills of the world were crashing down upon us.

Why?” I knelt on my knees, my hands bound. “What are they going to do about it? They’re helpless either way.”

That’s what we were taught, Michael, but it is not the truth. The truth is the Facility decided what we believed.” His voice sounded soft, kind. “Be honest with yourself, for once. What is true about your life? How do you know everything isn’t a lie?”

“Michael.” Concern tinged Anya’s soft voice. “I need you to listen to me.”

I reached for her face, her beautiful face, and ran my fingers along the side of it. I wanted to speak, wanted to say…

So much. I wanted to say so much.

I understood her, but I couldn’t form the words.

The serum burned in my blood, burned like molten gold.

The Equation is unresolved.” The young woman gazed at me and ran her hand through her hair. She appeared ragged, worn.  

I glanced around, trying to understand where I was.

What?” I felt thick, dreamy.  

Are you paying attention? It’s right in front of your face!” She bordered on a wild, stormy anger. “It’s time. The Prime Variable involves time, but I can’t see it. That’s where everything falls apart.”

The Prime Variable.” The words seemed of epic importance, like something I should never, ever forget.

It can’t only be within our world. The math doesn’t work out.” She twitched, staring out the window. “The numbers say the darkness is infinitely large. It’s rotten at the core.”

I tried to listen, but her words made no sense. Instead, the eldritch, haunted beauty of her eyes drew my attention. Their color held more than color; it held the secret, forgotten name of God.

Her eyes burned December blue.

The visions began to fade then, and for the first time in an eternity, I felt my heartbeat. I blinked up at Wyatt, who spoke. I struggled, trying to track his words.

“—easier with Rachel here.” Wyatt sounded frustrated.  

WHUF.  

“Still, if we axiomatically alter the rate of human detoxification—”

“No.” I pushed myself up blearily as the visions faded.  

“Dude.” Wyatt arched an eyebrow. “You sure?”

“I’m fine.” I checked my system time, noting it had been less than two minutes since my last rendezvous with Wyatt.

It felt like over an hour passed.

“The Irrational spikes have dwindled.” Anya peered at me. “It may have involved a psychoactive agent.”

“Yeah. Big time.” A thought struck me. I glanced around wildly as I remembered the faceless horror that had borne down on us.  

One foot remained, trapped in silver.  

Just the foot.  

The rest of the area appeared as if it had been torched with nuclear fire.  

“Wow.” I offered Wyatt an appreciative grin. “Good work.”

“I do what I can.” Even though he smiled, Wyatt seemed weary.

“How did the two of you get so far out here?” I blinked as the last vestiges of dreamy hallucination swam through me.

“Wyatt and I went through your aperture, Michael, but we exited through the incorrect egress.”  

“Gideon sent us in while you stared up at the ceiling, slimed out of your mind.” Wyatt explained.  

“Oh…” I’d been juggling three apertures when I first saw the not-dead Drażeri open its eyes. Had I mislinked? Had I scattered my cadre across a moist Vyriim hell because I’d used the Gatekeeper incorrectly?

“Once in the chamber, I noticed significant shifts in telemetry, which Asset Guthrie and I decided to explore.” She glanced behind me.

I turned and spotted the small knot of Vyriim that swam toward us.

Fuck.

“We found the Broodwell, Hoss.” Wyatt tapped two keys on his keyboard, and the Tangler started to hum. “It’s not far. We’ll need maybe two apertures.”

“We?” I asked. “Just give me the directional coordinates, doofus. I’ll get it done. You two need to meet up with the others.”

“Not a chance, knucklehead. We’re with you.”

“The Caduceus will have a fix on our systems, Michael. As long the Alpha remains with her, a rendezvous remains simple.”

“In and out, Hoss.” Wyatt grinned. “Easy.”

I glanced at the two of them, standing with me in the center of dripping, crimson hell. They both appeared ragged, exhausted by what we’d been through.

But they weren’t beaten. They weren’t done.

Neither was I.

“Fine.” I ignited an aperture next to us, and it sang with scarlet fire. I glanced over my shoulder at the approaching Vyriim.

“Just give me the direction. Let’s get this done.”  

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