The First of Many

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Chapter 68

The first thing that Hannah felt was heaviness. Her entire body felt heavy and weighted down. There was low lighting, and she couldn't see very much, but she could make out something around her. People? Were there people around her? Where the fuck was she?

Suddenly, everything came back to her. Nine. She remembered shooting him, and she remembered him falling, and then... nothing. Panic started to rise up in her throat, and she started to fight the heavy feeling even more. She tried to rise, but she was held down by restraints. She realized that she wasn't alone, and looked to her side. Her CO sat in the chair beside her, staring coolly at her.

Thick cuffs around her ankles and wrists kept her down, and he stared at her with cold, unforgiving eyes. She struggled furiously, forcing herself to keep silent as she tugged uselessly at her bonds.

“What the hell happened on that Op?” he asked shortly, stopping her struggles.

Hannah froze, staring at him in drug-induced terror.

“Did I stutter?” He growled when she didn't speak. “I said, What. Happened. On. That. Op?”

“I don't know,” she said honestly.

“Really?” he asked. “Because I have separate accounts from all of your teammates saying that you should.”

Hannah shook her head, forcing down her panic. “They gave me an injection,” she muttered, shaking the last of the mist out of her head. “They told me to kill him. I failed. That's all I can tell you.”

“Let me put it this way,” he said, leaning forwards and glaring at her. “As far as I'm concerned, either you turned traitor on us, or there's some weird sci-fi bullshit going on. One is much more likely than the other, so if you don't explain yourself, I'm going to do everything in my power to throw you into the deepest, darkest pit of Guantanamo bay. You don't deserve Levenworth.”

“Sir, I swear that what I told you was the truth. My teammates can support my story.”

“You'd better damn well hope so, for your sake,” he said. “You really fucked up Kronos.”

Hannah looked away. “I know,” she said. “That was the plan.”

“So you admit there was a plan?”

“I didn't know there was one until it was too late, but yes. Even if he survived, I was supposed to make sure he couldn't fight.”

He nodded. “Look,” he said. “I don't know how you even made it this far. I don't know how you passed your Psych eval when everybody can tell you're not fit for combat. It's been one fuckup after another with this team, and I've had enough. You're going to tell me everything, and I mean everything, or this whole team goes home.”

“It's not their fault,” she said. “Do whatever you want, but it's not their fault. They couldn't have known.”

“Explain. Now.”

Hannah sighed. “Will you undo these cuffs?”

“Like Hell I will. Explain.”

Hannah lay back on the bed. “What do you want to know?”

“Everything. What you should have said at MEPS.”

“After my parents died, I was taken in by Falco Duke and his family. His oldest son, Nico Duke, used me as a lab rat for various experiments, as an attempt to create the perfect human weapon. Shortly before I turned ten, I was selected for participation in Department Nine, which was based in the building we just raided. I spent my school years there, being trained in every way the department head, Nine, could imagine. My teammates were Aleski and Petrov. Both are now dead.”

“How did they train you?”

“I was telling the truth about that. Nico would use torture, generally, to break my mind down a bit. Exercises in obedience and exhaustion. When I got old enough to wonder why exactly I was just fated to suffer for their ‘greater good’, they began using a drug of Nine's own creation, that blocks off our access to all emotions besides fear and anger. The torture resumes, with exercises in obedience and exhaustion, until we're in such constant pain we can't feel anything at all, and all we can do is obey every order we're given, because we truly believe what Nine tells us. We believe we’re doing the right thing, that we’re born to suffer and kill. The injections wear off eventually, but after the subject is kept under it for long enough, the effects become permanent. That's when the subject is considered fully programmed. I was supposed to have my last injection when I was seventeen, but something went wrong, and I ran away. I don't know why. To hide, I joined the Army, and found my way here.”

“Why did you go back to him?”

“He gave me another injection,” she answered simply. “I'm fully programmed. I couldn’t control it. It made me stronger, faster, better, and I wanted to thank Nine for it. He told me to kill Aedan. I obeyed.”


“I wanted to. That's what the injections do, they make us want to obey and kill and control. I wanted to please Nine, in every way I could. Nine wanted Aedan dead, because he'd made me weak and stupid. I was happy to oblige.”

“But you didn't kill Aedan.”

“Yes, I killed Nine. Then everything went black.”

“Well, that's an interesting story.”

“It's the truth.”

“Solomon, do you really expect me to believe that?”

“Sir, I swear it's the truth. Any of my teammates can support me.”

“All I have from them is that they injected you with something and you turned into the perfect little soldier, willing to do anything and everything to please the target.”

“That's exactly what happened.”

“The meds are looking through your bloodwork now,” he said. “If they find a trace of this injection, you're good. If not...” he shook his head. “We don't bargain with traitors here.”

“Can I ask you a question, sir?”

“No, but you're going to ask anyway.”

“What happened... to Aquilah? The little girl? Is she...”

“Dead,” he answered. “She shot herself as soon as Nine died.”

Hannah felt the sudden urge to vomit. She clenched her eyes shut, trying to will away the image of the black-haired girl with her bright green eyes.

“Why?” her CO asked.

Hannah looked away. “Aquilah represented a significant investment,” she said with a frown. “She had several million dollars in research and drugs pumping through her bloodstream and her nervous system. Nines are blindly obedient to anybody, given the right circumstances. She could have easily been turned into a weapon for any other side. It wouldn't have taken more than a year to reprogram her. A few months of breakdown under torture, some extra training, and she would have fought for anybody. Nine likely ordered her to protect that investment in any way she could. She died instead of allowing us the option of taking her with us.”

“Would you have done the same, when you were like her?”

Hannah nodded. “It's a test of loyalty,” she said. “And Nines are loyal until the end. I would have sooner died than fight for the people who killed him.”

He nodded and stood. “I will return with the test results. In the meantime, your team has been given very limited visiting privileges to come see you. Enjoy it while you can. Needless to say, you're being watched. I suggest you be careful what you say to your teammates.”

“Yes sir,” she said as he left.

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