Second Soul - Part Two
I don't hardly know how many streets we've passed, or how many dark houses. All I know is that we're still nearly a mile from the shuttle station. I stop and let us take a short break. Raous is looking a bit run down, and even Kikio looks grateful for the rest. Sometimes it's hard running with normal humans. I have to force myself to remember they aren't Modified for speed and strength like I am.
"So far, so good." Kikio whispers into the dark. She's whispering for Raous's benefit, not mine. She knows I could hear her most quiet of breaths.
Even so, she looks to me and smiles. That same trusting smile she always wears when we're running. She leans back on the brick building we've stopped beside and sighs. I know she wishes we were done with running. I know some part of her just wants to go back to the Modified labs and get her old job back. But ever since Doc Yuda died, she'd been digging into the secret files on both Jin and the Modified, and ever since Jin left for space she'd been looking for me. And unlike everyone else on my trail, she didn't mean me harm. And so, based on that and some data the doc left me, I let her find me. And I am damn glad that I did. I love her like I've never had the chance to love anybody, and for reasons I can't fathom she seems to feel the same about me.
I realize I've been staring while daydreaming about her, and shake my thoughts loose. We are still on the run. Even so, I lean in and snatch a quick kiss. Raous pulls a face and giggles. I give him a look, but can't help grinning. I'm glad he at least can keep his humor while running for his life. Kikio just swats at me mock seriously and takes up Raous's hand again. The brief moment of levity done with, I resume our flight to the shuttle station.
It isn't but two blocks later that we run smack into a pair of cops. They're waiting for us at the end of a dark side street. How they knew we were coming I don't know, and I don't intend to stay long enough to find out. These two aren't armed any better than the three that bust into our house, so I know I can take 'em easily, but it's another delay. I charge towards them without a second to think about it. We're so damn close to being off this planet!
The confident looks on the cops' faces should tip me off, but I hardly notice. The first one I drop with a quick strike to his gut. The other tries to block my fist with his baton, and I almost smile as a feel it splinter around my knuckles. He drops beside his partner with a broken jawbone.
I whirl faster than even when I was taking down the cops. There's real fear in Kikio's voice. I stop dead when I see two more police officers in the street behind us. One has a darkly gleaming pistol aimed at Kikio's head. She's keeping Raous behind her, and she's standing up to the threat of the gun boldly, but I can tell. She's putting on a confident show more out of desperation than anything. She knows as well as I and the cops do. I can shrug off even a bullet, but I can't move faster than one.
For a few hellish heartbeats we all stand there and stare. My mind is whirling, thinking about what these cops will demand, and how much I'm willing to sacrifice to them. Is there a deal I can make? And what will that cost me? My wife? My kid's future? And how can I even contemplate such a thing? As if my life is worth anything without either of them.
Then, as I'm struck paralyzed and the police are readying their demands, something happens that I never would have expected.
A tall shadow moves out of the darkness behind the cops. His every step is followed by a clinking rattle. I can hardly follow him as he moves into the street. The cops hear him coming, they'd have to be deaf not to, but they can do no more against him than their comrades could against me. The one with the gun turns first, and is knocked off his feet by a low sweeping kick. Almost faster than thought, the cop is knocked out by a boot heel to his forehead, and the gun is sent skittering away.
As soon as I see the gun turn aside, I rush forward and plant myself in front of Kikio. I look up again and realize Damien has already taken out the second cop too. Damn but he's fast. He can't be a mod, but he sure moves like one in a fight.
Again we're at a standoff. Except this time I'm looking at the dark mystery of Damien instead of the familiar threat of police.
"Anson Townes?" Damien's deep voice says softly, calmly, just like in the alley not an hour before.
"Yeah?" I don't move an inch from my protective position in front of Kikio. I only hope she's watching behind as well. I'd hate for the police to sneak up on us a second time.
"I'm Damien Henest. I've been looking for you for a long time." Damien doesn't seem to realize how ready and willing I am to take him on for the sake of my family.
"Yeah well, you found me." I know better than to bother with the ruse this time. It's time to find out just how like a mod this guy really is.
Damien looks confused for a moment at my hostile tone, then jerks a thumb over his shoulder towards the downed police officers. "I'm not with them."
I don't so much as twitch. Being not with the police does not mean with me.
"You want to get off world? I'll help you past them." He continues, obviously noting that he isn't convincing me. "You and I have the same enemy, and there's more police mobilizing."
That gets me attention a little. "How do you know that?"
"I saw them on my way here."
Damn. Time to get moving again. I look at Kikio, who shrugs, and back at Damien, who just looks like a guy with no ruse. No capacity for a ruse. Either this guy can't tell a lie, or he's the best liar I've ever seen. Aw hell, he did save us.
"I guess it's time to go then." I gather Kikio and Raous with a look and head off again through the dark city. "We're going to shuttle up to Aldern. Don't slow us down." I almost smile at how affronted he looks at that. No ruse at all.
The shuttle station is empty. It's late after all. But even so, there's enough of a demand that the shuttle line keeps one ship automated to fly up to Aldern at any time of night. So long as there are passengers to hit the launch button, it'll take it's predetermined route up to the moon.
I don't waste any time leading us up to the only open boarding bay. There's no one around, but still I hurry. Damien is loping noisily beside me. Kikio is just behind with Raous. There's a long hallway ahead of us, and at the end are the doors to the shuttle. Once we're in those, all we do is hit the button and we're gone.
The single word isn't shouted, but it echoes through the hallway nonetheless. I almost have my hand on the door, but I stop and turn. There's a guy in the hallway behind us. Just a kid really, sixteen at most. Even with his seeming youth, I can't stop the flutter in my chest at seeing him so close.
He's a 5th Generation Modified. He was still being worked on when Jin left for outer space. His eyes are empty and hard. His voice is flat, and his face is set in grim lines.
Kikio is the first of us to move. She practically shoves Raous at me. Then she's suddenly got a pistol aimed at the 5th's face. She must have pulled it off the cops. I want to move, do something, but I can't. All I can do is stand there in dread while Kikio faces him and Raous hides behind me.
The 5th barely gives Kikio or the pistol a glance. His gaze drops first on me.
"Secondary." Then his dead eyes drop to Raous. "Primary." Then he looks up at Damien beside me, and for a moment looks almost pleasantly surprised. "Unexpected."
Then the 5th starts walking forward. There's almost the full length of the hallway between us, but he isn't hurrying. I've never stood against a 5th, but I've got a feeling that he doesn't need to hurry.
"Anson." Kikio's aim doesn't waver, even if her voice does. She knows what this kid is too. "Get Raous the hell out of here."
"No way." I go to step up beside her, but Raous is holding onto my leg. "I am not leaving you here." There is no way in hell I am playing that game. It's all of us, right here and now, or none of us.
"Fine. Damien, you get them out of here." She keeps her aim steady, and the 5th just keeps on slowly stepping closer. "I don't know what you want with him, but if you want Anson alive, you make sure both he and Raous get on that shuttle and off this planet."
I hear the shiver in her words, even if no one else does. She knows what she's talking about, and hell, so do I. She waits a beat for some sort of protest, and then starts firing. The 5th ducks the first shot, then Kikio shifts her aim lower. He takes three rounds in the chest, but keeps on walking.
I break free from Raous's grip on my pantleg and spring to Kikio's aid. Or at least I try. I'm stopped short by an iron grip on my arm. I hear the shuttle doors swoosh open, and I know what Damien's trying to do.
"NO!" I wrench my arm away from him, but then he's pinning both my arms and dragging me backwards. Inexorably the 5th keeps striding forward, Kikio keeps shooting until the pistol is empty, and Damien hauls me ever closer to the shuttle.
I almost break free of him. I'm clawing and tearing my way out of his grasp. Everything I have is screaming to save the woman I love, but it's not enough. With a final heave, Damien drops us both heavily to the floor of the shuttle. I land awkwardly on top of him, just inside the doors. I strike out at whatever part of him I can find, and finally his grip loosens. I scramble to my feet, but by then it's too late. He's already managed to punch the launch button. The doors slide shut in my face, cutting off a last view of Kikio's neck being snapped by the 5th.
"No!" I beat once on the doors, knowing it's futile. I can already feel the shuttle starting to lift. Then I round on Damien. He's slumped into a passenger seat, rubbing his face and wincing. I don't regret hitting him in the slightest. I'm barely holding back from beating on him worse.
Then Raous makes his way to me, and wraps me in a tight hug. I hear him sniffling, and suddenly realize my face is wet too. I drop bonelessly to sit on the floor by the doors. Raous doesn't let me go for a moment. I pull him close and bury my face in his small shoulder. She's gone. The woman who stopped my running. The woman who calmed my fears. The woman who loved me and Raous more than I ever thought anyone could. She's gone to let us get away, just like the doc. One more person my mod body failed to protect.
The shuttle lifts into space with shuddering vibrations. Then the false gravity asserts itself, even as the real thing falls away. I hardly notice this evidence of our passage to the moon. I'm too lost in sorrow to feel anything but Raous's solid mass in my arms and the tears that keep streaking down my face. I sob into Raous's shoulder until neither of us has any tears left.
Finally, though the pain has not lessened, I know I can't keep crying. Not if I'm going to get us all out of this alive. I gently set Raous back away from me. He too is done with tears. It's about then that I remember the small data disk in my pocket.
I give Raous's head a soft pat, then begin looking for a disk reader.
"What are you doing?" Damien's soft voice sounds even softer.
"Kikio gave me this." I say it flatly, just to keep the grief from overwhelming me again.
"What is it?"
"I don't know. That's why I'm gonna read it."
"Is it important?" Though still soft, his voice was beginning to irritate.
"Will you shut up for a moment?" I snap, and he immediately falls quiet.
With him settled, I focus on the reader screen. Apparently the disk holds a bunch of text files. They are labeled by date, and the first one is from back when I was still being modified. I open the first one and start scanning. Before two seconds have passed, my jaw drops in shock. I start skimming through each file in turn, and the world I thought I knew falls farther away with each one.
The files are all lab notes on the mod processes. Some are written by Doc Yuda, some by Kikio, some by other techs. By the last few I'm just looking for confirmation. It all makes too much sense to be fabricated. Kikio was right to call this secret 'the big one.'
Jin wasn't the first of his species to be held in that lab. The government once had their hands on another like him. That other was already long gone by the time I was being modified, but the lab had a few frozen samples left from him. The reason we 3rds were successful when the previous two generations had failed so utterly, is because we had those frozen cells implanted into us. Those cells from the alien life that only lived in a vacuum helped our bodies change, helped our bodies adapt to the stresses the techs put us through. In fact, those cells accelerated the changes.
The 4th Gen Mods were started once they knew we would survive. It was the intention to use the last of the frozen samples on them. Then the government got a hold of Jin. It was his cells that made the 4ths. It was those cells in them and in me that let Jin have such power over us. It was that power that caught the government's eye, and why the doc had to spirit him away, entrust him to me. Here finally was my answer. He was a threat to their prototypes, and the source of them. Once we were successful, once the 4ths looked to be the same, the order came down from on high. It's just one more file among all the others, but this one make my blood run cold. They ordered the doc to harvest every viable tissue, every intact cell. They wanted him to slaughter the kid, and make them an army of modified. The date on the order is the very day the doc shoved me out the door with the kid and told me to run.
And then we killed the 4ths. The government had already started the 5ths by then, but without Jin, they had no alien cells to implant. There are only three functional 5ths, and now I know why. Now I know why that one just now called me his secondary target. I'm just a renegade, a stain on their reputation. I'm not useful to them alive.
I eject the disk and drop it back into my pocket with numb fingers.
"So is it important?"
Ah yes. Damien. It's long since time I knew what he is.
"Who the hell are you, really?" I turn from the reader and drop into the seat directly in front of him. He is not going to dodge my questions again. Raous too joins me again and takes a seat beside me.
"I'm not sure now is the time." Damien still wants to try. "They'll most likely be waiting for us when we land."
"Oh, I know they'll be there. Even the one we just saw will catch another flight to meet us there, but it's a five hour flight to Aldern." I squash his feeble attempt to avoid interrogation. "Plenty of time for you to tell me who the hell you are and what you want with me."
"If they want us dead so bad, isn't just easier for them to shoot down the shuttle as soon as we're out of orbit?"
He makes good point, except for one thing. "They don't want all of us dead."
"What do you mean?"
"No." I fold my arms across my chest. "You first."
He seems likely to resist some more, then his dark eyes lock with mine. "I want your help."
"Vengeance. Against the 5ths."
I open my mouth, but can't find a reply to that for a moment. "What?!"
"No. You yanked me in here and let Kikio die rather than face one, and now you're asking me to help you kill them?!"
"We were trapped in a hallway, there was no way to fight him there!" Damien sounds a little regretful about it. It's almost sickening.
"Have you ever actually fought one?!"
That shuts me up. Even I haven't tried to face one.
"I can't fight them alone. I know that." He continues, still watching me closely. For the first time since this started I notice a dark bruise on his jaw. Hell, he's probably lucky I didn't hit him harder. I wasn't exactly trying to be gentle. "But you, you killed all seven 4ths. There's only three 5ths. With your help...we can take them out."
I almost laugh. It's almost sad enough to be funny. He's pinned his hopes on me. No, on what the stories say I am. "I didn't kill all the 4ths. I myself killed exactly one of them, and that was with a trick I can't repeat." I glance at Raous sitting beside me following our conversation intently. "You're right that you need my help, but not in the way you think."
"What? I..." Damien drops his eyes and runs a hand through his short hair. "But, then how...?"
I sigh. Somehow I knew it was going to come to this. "You tell me your story, and I'll tell you mine."