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All the Earth's Mysteries

All the Earth’s Mysteries Valen had come to Ede Valley for many reasons. It was a hotspot for the strange and abnormal. Which meant, of course, that he needed to know about it. That might have seemed like a harsh phrase to describe it, but in this case, it was highly applicable. He’d made a deal, a long time ago. He’d wanted the time to learn everything, which he’d been granted. The number of years he’d been wandering the earth had been lost track of long ago. In exchange, however, he had to know. Everything. A desire had been warped into an obsession, a compulsion. It was unfortunate, but fascinating at the same time, the curiosity. Just another one of life’s mysteries that he would know about as soon as he could. That was the other reason he had come. As much as he wanted to learn about Ede Valley’s inhabitants and oddities, there was also something specific that was on his mind, and only one person he was sure could tell him about it. Wandering up the cracked road just outside of town, Valen let the wind carry his hair and coat where it pleased. He smiled just a little. Now he knew the strength of the wind today. Up ahead of him, the road stretched across the height of the hill, only ending once it reached St. Adelaide’s School for Gifted Youth behind its dark, iron gates. He knew a lot about the school, and would eventually see the interior himself, but that was not where he was heading today. The hill was manmade. Most people assumed that it was so the school could look down upon the rest of the town, but Valen knew better. He knew that it had been built to hide something. Just how did he come by that information, something that probably no one in the valley itself was aware of? When you needed to know everything, you had ways of finding out. Most had been blocked off, of course, but he was sure that one or two entrances still existed. Leaving the road, Valen trudged through the brush and weeds, eyes fixed firmly downwards. The Director had done a good job of burying this secret, of the experiments and the children. But she couldn’t close off the place completely, not while the last subject was still down there. Finally, with a small smile, he found what he was looking for. A large, metal tube stuck up a few inches out of the ground, nearly grown over by the foliage. Valen tore it away, the earthy smell of cut grass wafting under his nose. There, this must be it. A dark pit extended far under him, beneath the ground. It was a ventilation hole, necessary for getting air into the almost entirely underground facility, and just big enough for him to squeeze inside. The only problem was that he didn’t know where it would take him. Try as he might, no plans of the facility had ever been circulated online, legally or otherwise. Once he was down there, he’d be on his own. Valen grinned. It was going to be so fun to figure out just what was going on underneath the very earth beneath his feet. He loved knowing things that no one else did. Alas, he wouldn’t have as much time as he’d like. As much as he wanted to explore the facility top to bottom, today he was here for her.

After fumbling for his flashlight, Valen shined it down the tube. He couldn’t see much, though a floor was clearly visible a short distance below. He knew how to fall correctly, so it wouldn’t be a problem. He took a deep breath, and leaped. It took a second to recover from landing on the rough concrete floor, and Valen coughed from the stagnant air. It my have had ventilation, but with the whole facility nonfunctional, it clearly wasn’t working very well. The atmosphere lay thick and heavy around him. Bad things had happened here. The corridor he found himself in was dark, and half-crumbled from the weight of so many years... and a large hill. Valen scrambled over fallen walls and supports, and tried not to jump from all the shifting and squeaking of the small animals in the walls. He desperately wanted to know what sorts of creatures would decide to make a home in such a place, but he would have plenty of time for that later. Now that he was here, in the facility, he had little idea where he should be going. He knew his destination, but figuring out exactly where it was was going to be tough. He also knew that government facilities like this were likely to have an elevator—though there was no way it’d be working now—and a second, alternate route in case the first one failed. This other route downwards, however, was likely to be well hidden for security reasons. Valen had mapped out a facility like this one just outside of Moscow, and it was surprising just how similar the structures were, at least from where he was standing. And that facility had had multiple, hidden emergency exits. Shining his flashlight to and fro, this upper floor was nothing special, just some offices and workrooms, some with huge banks of computers covered in dust that lined the walls. He wondered how they--no Valen, later, later. Finally, he came to the restrooms, one for men and the other for women, of course. But he couldn’t help noticing another, unlabeled door a short distance away. One would think it was just a janitor’s closet or some such. But maybe... He shoved the door open—its hinges stuck a little—and lo and behold was a dark stairwell. Hidden in plain sight. Clever. Careful not to trip on any of the loose stones, Valen headed downwards. The stairwell wasn’t labelled, of course, save for a number next to each landing, which was mostly faded anyway. This would require a little guesswork, but he did know that it was going to be a long way down. Eventually, he started checking floors to gage where he was in the facility. There was a floor with science labs, one with chemical storage, one with what looked like a sauna but was probably also an instrument of science. Each one was crumbling, dark, and hardly recognizable. He might have imagined all the people who used to work in those labs, the facility at the height of its splendor, but there was really no point in speculating. It didn’t matter if he didn’t really know. Then, opening a door a great many floors down, he found himself in a hallway lined with thick, heavy doors. It looked like a prison, though that could have just been due to the gloom. Nevertheless, he crept forward, the thin, yellow beam of his flashlight his only source of illumination. Most of the doors were open, if only a little, and one by one, he searched them. Beyond each was an identical room with a small army-cot as its only furnishing. Most of them looked unused. One was nearly destroyed, huge gashes in the metal wall and the cot no more than stuffing strewn around the cell. Valen had just about made it to the end of the hallway, only two doors down, when his flashlight landed on something unexpected. He nearly missed her in the dark. “Who are you?” the little girl asked, and he twitched, startled by the sudden noise. “What was that?” he asked, shining the flashlight towards her again. She was small, with nearly dreaded blonde hair cascading beyond her shoulders. She couldn’t have been more than eight or nine, but her eyes seemed far, far older than that. “Who are you?” she repeated the question. Something about her, maybe the piercing gaze, made it hard to speak. “M... my name is Valen,” he managed. “Are you—?” “Paragon Alpha?” she finished. “Yes. Though I’d prefer you call me by my real name. It’s Buttercup.” “Buttercup,” he repeated, logging it away. Somehow it didn’t fit her. It seemed like a name a small child would have, and despite appearances, she was certainly not one of those. She narrowed her eyes slightly, as if seeing him even through the darkness. “You’re here to ask me something.” “How did you know that?” he asked. “The tilt of your eyebrows, the tightness of your lips. Something’s on the tip of your tongue but you’re just waiting for the right moment to say it. Plus, you’ve just spent the last three minutes asking nothing but questions. Clearly you’re an inquisitive man.” “Touché,” he smiled a little. “It is true what they say. You really aren’t human.” “That’s rather rude,” she frowned. “Now, are you going to ask your question, or continue to insult me?” “Sorry,” he gulped. “You just want me to... go ahead?” It felt strange just asking this person a very personal question without even knowing her first. “I don’t see why not.”

Taking a deep breath inward, he prepared himself. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. “What’s it like to know everything?” “You came all the way down here, past Hodge’s goons, just to ask that?” He paused. Wait, what was that she’d just said? “It feels... empty. I know everything that’s happened. Everything that’s going to. Everything is utterly predictable. The only thing that ever confused me is when people make irrational decisions. It’s very dull.” That... was not the answer he’d expected to hear. “You want to know everything, don’t you?” she asked. “Don’t try. Someone human will never be able to know everything. And you shouldn’t want to anyway.” “Because we die too quickly?” “No, because people cannot predict the future. You have no idea who the next president will be, when this blasted planet will stop spinning and fall directly into the sun, even what you’ll have for breakfast next week. It’s folly to try to learn everything.” He stood, quiet for a moment. Why hadn’t that destroyed him, put him into a pit of despair that would never fade? And then he knew the answer: it was because he was happy. Not because he now had the answer he had sought for for so long, but because he knew what she thought about the question. “Unless it’s not about knowing everything,” he said, “but in about finding the answers.” “What do you mean?” “You said that you can’t predict irrational actions. Well, doesn’t it kind of excite you when someone preforms one, because you don’t know why they did that?” “I suppose...” “Down here, you do know everything, because nothing changes, but if you left, you might be able to experience something new.” She stared back at him suddenly, eyes bright. “Go back up?” she asked him. “There? I won’t do that.” “Why not?” “Because something big is coming, and maybe I don’t think it’s all worth saving.” Buttercup had a magnificent poker face, but there was something logically off with her statement. If she really knew everything, then she would know there was a lot of evil in the world, yes, but that there was also a lot of good. She had to know that that was worth saving, right? You’re scared, aren’t you?” he narrowed his eyes. “You don’t want to leave because you’re scared of whatever’s up there.” “Maybe I am. It ruined my life, after all.” “But that’s the only way people improve,” he said. “They face their fears. And you do still want to be a person, don’t you?” She looked down at the floor. “Come with me. Let’s leave this place.” He didn’t know why he was doing this. He made it a policy not to get involved with anything. Maybe he just wanted to know what would happen. Buttercup sighed. “You just need someone to help you get out of here. You stumbled past the freaks earlier, but you won’t get so lucky on the way back up.” She stood from the cot, shaking her head. “I’ll take you back up to the surface, but after that, there’s no promises.” He stuck out his hand, and she took it. “Deal. Now, you mentioned something about, uh, guards?” “Yes,” a small smile broke across her features. “There’s two coming down the stairs to check on me right now.” And calmly, she opened the door to her cell, and started out. She must have realized that he wasn’t following her, because she poked her head back in, and asked: “Are you coming?” He nodded, and followed behind her. Their footsteps echoed down the corridor as Buttercup walked to the exit. She seemed to know the way, like she had done all of this before. “Didn’t you say guards were coming?” he asked. “Yes. They’ll exit the stairwell in ten seconds. Why?” “I thought you said you couldn’t predict humans.” “They’re not.” Just then, the stairwell door opened, and two people in bright white labcoats stepped through. “She’s escaping,” one of them said, in a completely flat tone. Buttercup grimaced as they launched themselves towards her. She dodged under one’s arms, using her momentum to kick the other’s legs out from under them. A lucky angle caused their skull to crack against a crumbled column, but Valen was sure that it hadn’t just been lucky. The first one lurched back around towards her, but Buttercup had already kicked off of a nearby wall and wrapped her legs around their neck, squeezing until they went limp and collapsed. Without missing a beat, she turned back to Valen. “We have to run,” she said. “More will be coming soon.” “What were those things?” he asked as they took the stairs two at a time. “Failed attempts,” Buttercup shook her head. “Hodge is trying to create more Paragons. So far she’s failed, though she’s too close for my liking.” “You mean the Director?” “Yes. I wish it hadn’t come to this, though it’s really my fault. I gave her the drive.” By this point, Valen was too out of breath to ask anything else. Just when it seemed like his legs would give out on him, they reached the top floor. Finding the last bit of strength he could muster, he hoisted Buttercup through the ventilation tube and followed after her. Back on the surface, Valen collapsed onto the grass, wheezing. Buttercup hadn’t even broken a sweat. Away in the distance, activity had begun at St. Adelaide’s. They were probably getting ready to look for her. “It’s been... a long time since I’ve been up here,” Buttercup commented, squinting in the sun. “It’s sort of overwhelming.” “What... what are you going to do now?” Valen puffed. “I don’t know,” she frowned. “Maybe I’ll take a walk.” “They’ll be looking for you. You might not want to come back for a while.” “It’ll be a long walk.” “Well,” he stood, brushing off his pants. “Mind if I come with you for a few miles? I’ve got some questions I’ve been dying to ask...”

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