The North Sea
Tuesday 25th April, 2051
It’s been two days, time to relax, recuperate, plan and worry – but finally the call comes to report to the sixth floor lab where Dr. Wahlen has been laboring for a day and a half without sleep. Despite the early hour, the oil rig base is humming with activity, and as the Lazarus team arrives at the sixth floor they are met by a grinning Tillie Jones.
“A big day, eh Able? I got here late last night, so I hadn’t had a chance to check in with you, but the Finn says Wahlen has your antidote ready. This way…” Tillie points to a door daubed with a large biohazard symbol. “Let’s get you strapped down and then I’ve got some other news for you that you’ll want to hear.”
Able’s hands shake as he grabs the door handle. “Thank you, Tillie. You and the Finn’s people have been much too generous to me.” He pulls the door open and steps into the room. Tillie follows into the lab, where Wahlen is already strapped to an old dentist’s chair – and another awaits Able. Wahlen looks up as the team enters. “I’ve suggested these restraints because this process may be very painful. I’d rather not hurt myself while it takes effect – Able, the other chair is so that you don’t hurt other people.” Two ‘nurses’ in gothique clothes hold two pressure hypodermics loaded with an amber fluid. Wahlen nods at the syringes from his recumbent position. “Two doses of tailored enzymes, each specific to our own particular ummm…ailments.”
Mac follows along behind Able, mind reeling faster than an eight millimeter coming off the end of a long film. His eyes burn into Wahlen with uncharacteristic venom, wishing there were another way to care for his friend.
Able steps up to the second chair. “Thank you, Wahlen. Even if this doesn’t work, so long as you’ve been honest with us – thank you.” He seats himself, ready to be strapped in.
Pacoy watches the scene with interest and worry, the full weight of their situation on his mind.
A nurse hands Able a boxer’s biteguard, then begins to fasten strong webbing restraints around him, holding him immobile. She says “Even the Doctor doesn’t know how fast the flush will work, but he does think it’ll be very fast. We’ve a crash kit on hand, just in case, and we’re both trained paramedics. Nod when you’re ready.” The other nurse stands poised beside Wahlen.
Mac leans over to Pacoy, his voice only a cat’s hair over a whisper. “If this does anything untoward to Able, I’m going to work Wahlen over to within an inch of his life. I’m gettin’ sore tired of people pulling one over on us. Startin’ to feel like a filly whose been shod a few too many times.”
Pacoy nods in return, “Thinking the same thing.”
Able looks up at the remaining two Lazarus Men, the ones who’ve been with him for so long, through thick and thin. With his eyes locked onto Mac’s own, he sends out a final broadcast onto the team net. “Thank you, and if Wahlen has been lying to us you have my blessing to turn him inside-out.” Able shifts his gaze to Pacoy, then gives the slight nod the nurse has been waiting for.
Mac chuckles to himself before sending a very Pitbullian image of a thumbs up and a smile to Able as he tries to steady his nerves against the wall.
The twin injectors hiss, discharging their contents into veins, then for a few long minutes there is expectant silence. Slowly, Able begins to feel a building burning sensation throughout his body, like every nerve ending is being heated. Flashes of color begin to strobe across his vision and there’s a ringing noise in his ears. The burning sensation builds swiftly to pain, then higher, and is joined by more audio-visual hallucinations and a feeling of extreme, gut-churning nausea. Vaguely, he hears Wahlen scream through his own biteguard, a scream cut off as the Doctor faints.
The nurse by Wahlen’s side checks his pulse, sighs in relief, then takes out the Doctors biteguard to clear his airway. Just in time, as Wahlen convulses, then every sphincter in his body opens and he fouls himself from three orifices.
Mac wrinkles his nose and turns away. “You people are singularly disgusting, you know that Pacoy?”
“Holy sh—-uh, yeah!” the nurse exclaims, jumping back from projectile vomit but giving Able’s nurse enough of a warning to yank his biteguard out and position a bedpan under his chin.
Pacoy arches an eyebrow. “You People?”
Able’s body shakes and seizes through the pain, but his mind holds on to the moment – but only for so long before the burning in his skin brings a flash of thought, long buried deep. It feels almost like a dream; he’s falling, falling so far, and his clothing feels so constricting. He knows he can’t breathe, but it doesn’t seem important – the tears on his face tell a story of deep loss, but not one he can recall. He falls, down into the blue beneath him, but that blue soon turns to an agonizing red – and then blackness, with nothing to remember but the pain of his skin melting solid to the inside of his vacuum suit…
Mac shrugs and waves his hand at the scene unfolding in front of him. “You know, people. In general.” He sighs. “I’ve had bad days, but nothing that approaches this. I don’t even think I’ve ever really caught a cold. That’s odd, with all these memories, I feel like I should have. I feel wrong, seeing Able go through all this pain and realizing I can’t really empathize. I know it must be bodybreaking and mindnumbingly painful, but…”
The team watch for another fifteen minutes as both patient’s shiver, spasm and twitch under the effects of the poison in their system being flushes out, then the spasms slowly subside and both begin to look normal again – pale, exhausted and in Wahlen’s case filthy, but no longer afflicted by their gene-tailored personal poisons.
The nurses check both patients and one gives a firm nod to Tillie, who says “OK, get the Doctor cleaned up then straight into Processing. Hook him up and he’ll either tell us everything or can tell us from a digital afterlife.” Wahlen is summarily whisked away, still strapped to his chair.
The second nurse unbinds Able and Tillie herself offers him a glass of water. “Welcome back from Death Row, Able!” she smiles. Mac grins and heads over to his comrade. “Thank the stars you’re alright. Prettier than you were before too. Think Wahlen must have put some anti-aging serum in that brew. Haven’t seen you looking this good in ever.” Pacoy sighs in relief, at least one of the problems seems to be solved.
Able slowly opens his eyes to look out into the room around him, coming back to this time and space. Sweat is pouring down his body – odorless, synthetic sweat streaming out of the pours from his synthetic skin. His clammy hands grab onto the arm rests of the chair he had been strapped into and, slowly – so slowly – he pulls himself to his feet.
Able looks up at Mac. “You’re not much of a liar, Mac.” He puts a hand onto Mac’s shoulder – a solid hand with a firm grip, no hint of the tremors that had so plagued him the past weeks.
Mac grins. “Good to feel you’re back in the land of the living. You think you’re good for a snifter of hard liquor? I’ve heard tell there might be a stash somewhere on board.”
Tillie laughs, “I can do better than that – come on, you’re invited to breakfast with the Finn himself.” She turns towards the door. “Oh, I said I had news – there’s no sign of Mac’s sister in the rubble of your headquarters, according to our friends in E23. They believe she must have been warned, somehow. They’ve instigated a search for her; if she’s findable then they’ll find her before Umbra does.”
Mac stops abruptly, putting his hand over where he imagines his heart to be. “Thanks, Tillie. First drink’s on me for that. She’s clever, but I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Wait,” Pacoy says confused, “So, there is indications that Siri was warned about the attack and survived, and you are sure your people can find her before Umbra, why is that Bad News?”
Tillie pats Pacoy on the back. “I said Ii had news, not bad news. You’ve been in the field too long, Pac.”
Able follows the rambunctious trio to wherever Tillie was taking them, his steps slow at first then beginning to gain traction as, more and more, the effects of the serum begin to make themselves apparent by their absence.
“Wow, must have heard wrong! I guess it’s all this stuff going on at once!” Pac answered.
Tillie leads the team to an elevator, which deposits them on an observation deck in the upper levels of the old rig. A long table set with silverware and a white tablecloth fills the center of the room, and the Finn sits at one end of the table. He raises an eyebrow at Tillie, who nods and then gestures you all to be seated. Breakfast is smoked fish in a spicy, creamy sauce which you are told is called “kedgeree”.
Pacoy digs in, famished. “Now that we have Able on the mend, we need to start gathering resources and intel for a plan.”
Mac sets about efficiently cleaning his plate before looking to the Finn. “Let it never be said that you’ve not got talented chefs in your employ. Shame the quantities are a bit meagre, but that can’t be helped.” He pushes his plate away as he looks to Pacoy. “That’s the truth. This is going to be a big job, and I fear we’re going to collect more than our share of scars, even if this goes as well as a hot car in a chop shop.”
After Able seats himself, he wipes some of the sweat off his brow and hands with a napkin. He almost-mechanically begins to eat the fish – his utterly neutral movements are in stark contrast to the true robot at the table’s eager partaking of the meal.
After eating several mouthfuls in silence, Finn dabs his lips with a napkin and puts down his fork. “Care to tell me what your intentions are? It occurs to me that we are natural allies, in many ways, and our cousins in E23 across the pond think highly of you all. It may well make sense to make common cause.”
Mac looks to Able, then Pacoy, then finally to the head of the table. “Personally? I want to bring Rossum and Umbra to their knees for what they’ve done to me and mine.” He sighs. “They almost took my sister from me, have managed to get one brother locked up and almost killed another. I had no love for either corporation before, but now…” The silence at the end of Mac’s sentence is punctuated by the quiet hairline fractures that appear in his fork.
Pacoy nods, “Yeah, we have a score to settle, and we could use any help we can get.”
Able sets his fork down as Mac finishes speaking. “A war has begun, and we’ve been set in the crosshairs of giants. We need to either find a way out of the giants’ sights, perhaps by distracting them towards their fellow giants, or we need to bring those giants to their knees. And with their resources, I’m afraid we don’t have much time before they make life very, very difficult for us.”
Finn smiles thinly. “I understand all too well. We at Mutate and Survive have been in the same place you now find yourselves for some time now – pitted against foes too large to defeat head on. But we are not without resources. We have some of the best young hackers and scientists as well as a cadre of capable fighters like Tillie here. We keep contact with E23 in North America, and with other resistance groups here in Britain. You are in a position of needing a safe haven, and perhaps new identities too. We can provide both, or recommend you to others who can provide them. Our friends in E23 were quite adamant that we aid Mac here” – he nods down the table – “in any way we can. They seem to think of him as some kind of messianic figure.”
Able gives a soft smile at that last line. “Him and his sister, yes. For good reasons, though reasons of their own.”
Finn grins, “I’ve been known to play the living avatar of a God trick myself, on a few occasions. Despite everything, many Brits are still very conservative, and so very superstitious. A little pagan imagery goes a long way in instilling fear and dread when we need it.”
Mac chuckles sadly to himself. “I can’t help but remember that history is rarely kind to figures who hold that mantle, but I’ll be glad to leverage any good will they have towards me to our advantage.”
“Mac, my friend,” Pacoy grins, “If someone asks you if you are a god, you say yes!”
Mac cocks an eyebrow before fiddling with his pocket watch and sending an odd voice clip to the ears of Able and Pacoy, grinning as watches both of them receive an old movie quote; ‘I beg your pardon, but that wouldn’t be proper. It’s against my programming to impersonate a deity.’
Finn laughs, “That’s right! Use every advantage, especially in asymmetric warfare.” He pauses, staring into space. “Dr Wahlen’s interrogation has begun. We’ll know more soon, he’s talking freely while there’s a neuron analyzer aimed at his head ready to ghost him. Let’s take this up again this evening, when we’ll know more of what we’re talking about. That facility in Nottingham is important to your enemies and mine, so we’ll need to see if we can put a spanner in its works somehow, eh?”
The Finn rises and leaves the room, leaving Mac to grab seconds of kedgeree.
Tillie pours herself some tea and kicks her long legs up onto the table. “You guys are certainly interesting to be around. A messiah, a super-spy and a technical whizz – wanted by every major government and corporation. I feel like I’ve been paddling in the shallow end while you’ve been out hunting sharks in the deep.”
“And hunted in return.” Able puts the last bite of fish in his mouth, chews for a moment, and swallows. “Not everything is glamour on this side of the table.”
Mac speaks around a mouth of fish with an air of practice. “Sharks bite, doll. Pray you don’t get in too deep. Since I started running with this crew I went from a simple gumshoe to almost having my chest crushed in three times in as many months.”
“Sounds like interesting times,” Tillie quips, “I may have to tag along and see for myself.”
“I think you got your ribs busted by a bat on day one,” Pacoy recalls with a smile, “It took a bit longer to smash your principles!”
That evening, the team meets Finn again, over a dinner of cod in hollandaise sauce. The old Royal marine looks grim throughout dinner, talking little. As the dishes are cleared by M&S people, he flicks a switch and a big flatscreen lights up at one end of the room. It bears the words “Project Emet”. Finn clears his throat.
“Wahlen’s been very helpful, he’s explained exactly what he was involved in at that Nottingham plant. It’s called, as you can see, Project Emet.”
The screen changes, showing Wahlen still strapped to his dentist’s chair, a complex helmet-like scanner on his head. “Emet is the Hebrew for Truth,” he says. "It was the word inscribed on a slip of paper and put in the mouth of a Golem to make it come alive. In legend, if you erased the E in Emet you got Met, the Hebrew for ‘dead’. Its very apt. Barton and I developed software to run in Umbra biocomps that would allow any subject to be remotely controlled by an A.I. And if you then removed the “e” – the electronic linkage – the software would shut the host down permanently, killing them. We also began work on several subjects that could properly be described as Golems. Bio-enhanced and gene-tailored super-soldiers, the next generation of janissaries. The British government was going to be the first to conduct field trials."
The screen changes again, to show an overhead of a large facility, almost as big as an arcology. Finn says “This is a satellite feed we stole. That’s the Emet plant. We can’t let this project continue, obviously. Questions?”
Mac sighs. “Why in all that is good under the sun and stars do people come up with these ideas? Subjugating the free will of humanity.. it turns my stomach, so it does…”
Able frowns at the screen. “This isn’t the first I’ve heard of the project – though, in my accessible memory, not in this much detail. Rossum had been using me as a testbed and potential replacement to Wahlen; I have a version of their software and the requisite hardware stored in my cyberwear. I don’t use it, as it’s brainlocked to a shadow of Wahlen they stuck in there and I don’t exactly relish letting him free to ride me.”
“We’ll need some resources, most of my gear is gone over the last few days… but we are more than capable of stopping production, particularly if it means a black eye for our enemies.” Pacoy says, looking at the feed.
Tillie puts her hand up. “I’m in. I’ve no internal cyberware or computer implants, so they can’t touch me with their hoodoo.”
Finn nods at Pacoy. “I think we can provide replacements for whatever you lost, or the workshops to make them good and some able hands to help. We can also probably provide a bit of a distraction and some muscle on-site too.”
He continues, “Here’s my idea. The Lazarus and Tillie are point, we can back them with some electronic recon, in real time, and a massive set of hacks to stave off reinforcements, as well as some White Mice to make a diversionary attack on or near the plant. A quick in-and-out, blow the main labs to hell – we’ll make sure we get exactly where they are from Wahlen – then back out via the Blue Shimmer’s sub. Let’s say we go in one week to ten days, depending on the speed of preparations.” he turns to Able, “And afterwards, new faces and IDs for all of you if you need them, plus a haven here or we’ll smuggle you wherever you want to go.”
He looks at Able in question. “How does that sound to an ex-janissary?”
Able leans forwards, the dinner forgotten. His movements are sure and smooth, without the hesitancy or sheer exhaustion of this morning, and when he speaks his voice is loud and clear. “It sounds dangerous. You say they’re building a new generation of super-soldiers there – we’ll probably run into one or two once we start invading, though if we’re fast enough they may not be fully operational yet. Still, couple that with the normal security of a place like this and we’re going to have problems. We may want to disturb the quiet little alliance between Umbra and Rossum before we move in – leaking information about Umbra’s little stolen researcher could help. But yes, with the right support – it’s doable.”
One of Finn’s aides, a young man with old-time transistors woven into his dreadlocks, grins, ’Aye, mon – we can handle a leak like that just fine. Just tell me what you want out there and twenty news corps will get an anonymous tip off at opening time tomorrow!"
Able tosses the man a datachip. “I uploaded the full sensie of our little adventure into the house of Rossum and Umbra onto that chip. I’m not sure exactly what we want out there – Wormwood is the sensie editor of our group – but I’m sure you can use some of it.”
“I’m going to head back to the bunks,” Pacoy says as he stands and starts walking, “I’ll make a shopping list and see what I can do with the workshop here. There is a lot of promising stuff, but time is not on our side.”
Mac sits back in his chair, staring at the display as he mulls over the future. Despite wishing for more time, he thinks to Pitbull, and a wicked grin crosses his face as he lifts a tumbler of hijacked whiskey idly in his hands. “Gentlemen, as the locals might put it, it’ll be a pleasure causing bloody mayhem with you lads. These monsters deserve everything we can throw at them.”