His master sent him to kill Jack?
Sester looked across the sea of metal cylinders, grateful more of them weren't full, but there were enough. Even one was more than enough to set his head spinning.
He closed his eyes to the face sleeping peacefully, the young Jack unaware of the nasty universe he lived in and the things he would be required to do.
If he didn't see the face, then it would be easier. He could kill them with a clearer conscience.
When did I ever care about a conscience? The Guild is my conscience.
They aren't Jack. They only share the same genetic imprint. The memories are different; the mind programmed by someone else. They are like the mutoids, but are allowed the capacity to feel. Controlled emotions trigger specific physical responses.
However, his mind refused to cooperate. They were Jack. These were the twisted images of what the real Jack had not wanted to be. He closed the lid of the cylinder, so much like a casket of the Old Calendar.
His master had warned him before he came on this mission. Venner's voice rang in his ears.
"Remember your first loyalties, Charles. I knew we could not prevent you from reforming old bonds once you rediscovered your friends. I wanted to spare you the pain."
So his master had known about his friends and what had been taken from all of them, but he swore the Guild had nothing to do with it. They had found out too late and Sester was the only one they had been able to rescue.
But rescued for what?
His master's voice was authoritative, demanding his obedience.
"You know what you must do and you know why. This army of mutoids must not be allowed to live. The knowledge and technology must be destroyed or they would be unstoppable."
Sester touched his belt. Most of the charges had already been laid. A simple code entered on his wrist unit and the research base would become rubble. The computers, the wolves and the genetic imprint of Argus. Slowly, like someone in a trance, he removed his belt and slipped out the flat explosives moulded into the lining.
Argus led the way along the corridors. The she-wolf was very good at smelling danger approaching while he was able to dispatch anyone they couldn't hide from. "We're almost there."
Reya watched by the door as Cally accessed information on the blood serum.
Vila poured a rack of the serum vials into his kit bag. "Don't we need one of those delivery devices?"
Cally looked up at him and said firmly, "Avon is not a mutoid."
"Avon might find it more efficient. He wouldn't have to bother with eating or drinking. Just pop one of those vials in and…"
The edge of warning in her voice made him grin facetiously. "Yeah, you wouldn't be able to have romantic dinners. Though the idea of Avon having a romantic anything boggles the mind."
Reya whispered from the doorway, "Vila, if you don't stop, I won't guarantee you'll leave this room in one piece."
Cally was glaring at him.
"Sorry." He closed up his bag. "I get nervous sometimes. Talking helps."
"We noticed. Talk about something else." She went back to downloading information onto a data crystal.
"What do you think Avon found on the computers?"
Reya said, "It may be something about the wolves."
"That's true. They were trying to capture the wolves. I mean, with their telepathy, they must be valuable. Cally," his eyes widened in alarm, "you have psi abilities."
"Yes, I do," she said distractedly as she found some very interesting information about the blood serum. It provided all the required nutrients and various chemicals she wasn’t familiar with. This would require further study before they gave it to Avon.
Vila picked up the satchel and slung it across his shoulder. "Then we have to get you out of here before they find out."
"I agree," said Reya. "Cally, do you have the information you need?"
"This is very interesting," said Cally, not taking her eyes off the scrolling screen.
"Download the rest. You can read it on the ship."
By the time Sester placed the last charge, his hands were shaking and he was finding it hard to breathe. One image filled his mind, the sight of Jack lying in one of these metal coffins. His vivid imagination and precise mind knew exactly how Jack must have felt those years ago.
This was the reason why psychostrategists saw everyone else as puppets. You cannot feel pain if you didn't see them as human. Your heart would not break if you were asked to destroy their lives.
Sester's face was pale, his palms clammy. He leaned over the side of one of the units and nausea overtook him.
Argus charged into the room Transforming Pods, intent on dragging the truth out of Sester, willingly or not. What he saw made him hesitate. Sester was wiping the back of his hand across his mouth and his face was deathly pale. There was a momentary look of shock on Sester's face but it passed quickly. “Argus, I’m glad you’re here. I found something. You’re not going to like it.”
Argus looked at him warily but his earlier aggression had dissipated. “What are you doing here?”
“We can discuss your paranoia later. But now,” he depressed the catches on one of the cylinders and the lid swung upwards, “You’re going to want to see this.”
Argus eyed him suspiciously but looked inside as the lid opened. He stepped back in shock. “That’s,” his face became as pale as Sester’s, “me!”
“What’s going on?” asked Avon sharply.
Argus turned to him, his eyes wild, “It’s me, Avon! I’m in one of the Transforming Pods.”
If Avon could have given him a ‘look’, he would have. “Explain.”
“It’s Jack, Avon,” said Sester. “They must have his genetic imprint. I discovered that when I arrived and I’ve been investigating. They’ve been cloning Jack and experimenting on him. Avon, these ones have limited telepathic ability.”
“The wolves,” said Avon.
Sester eyed the she-wolf by Avon’s side. Her amber eyes watched him vigilantly. No doubt she would pounce on him if he made a wrong move. “I see you’ve met their acquaintance.” He bowed to the wolf. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
The she-wolf dipped her head. * You are polite, for a human. *
He smiled. “Yes, the wolves. They’ve been bringing them in for Jack and for the telepathy.”
“What do you mean bringing them in for me?” Argus could not take his eyes off his young self. The sight of the body in the cylinder was triggering more memories, and breaking through mental barriers. His head hurt.
“They’re doing to them what they did to you. It seems even their cloned versions of you have certain weaknesses they were never able to remove. If they tried to, it reduced your usefulness in other areas.”
Argus leaned back against the side of another closed cylinder. “You mean they’ve been joining them to the wolves?”
“The conditioning was not entirely successful with you,” said Avon as he directed the she-wolf to one of the pods.
“Yes, that’s why there are only two dozen filled pods at the moment.” He became still for a moment as a thought came to him then he started laughing.
Argus said irritably, “I don’t think this is funny.”
“Nor do I,” said Avon.
“Of course, it is. It’s the ultimate irony. Instead of creating an army of obedient super soldiers, they’ve only succeeded in breeding a pack of rebels. It is highly amusing.”
“He has a point.” Argus went over to the opened pod and looked into it again, his hand touching the sides. “This is me. I would want to fight.”
“What happened to free will?” asked Avon sardonically.
“We’ll take them with us.”
“That doesn’t sound like free will.”
“Well, it would be if we could figure out how to give it to them. You were right, if they’re mutoids, they’re little more than biological machines. But if there is a single chance they can be saved...”
“We need to download as much information as possible.” Avon slid his mini-computer out of his case. * Bright-Eyes, I need a computer terminal. * She moved him in the direction of one. “Sester I will need your eyes.”
Argus said, “For now, program them to follow the two of us. We’re not going to use them but it’s the only way to get them out of this base.”
“You might need something else.” Sester looked far too amused. “They may be a younger version of you but I doubt walking around nude is a habit they’ve picked up yet.”