The two men ran like the hounds of hell were snapping at their heels, scrambling down the blank, unmarked passageway. One limped heavily, his dark pants even darker with blood. The bright red splashed on his white lab coat weighted it down so it didn't flap as he moved. When he stumbled and fell to one knee, the other stopped to go back a few steps and help him up before they started running again, panting hard. They collided as they ran around a corner, skidding frantically as they made for the end of the hall, the uninjured man reaching the door and punching at the keypad while the other caught up, gasping for breath. The pad beeped in the negative, flashing a red light, and the injured man pushed the other to the side with a huff and hit a series of keys--then the board flashed green just as they heard heavy footsteps echoing in the bare metal hallway.
"C'mon c'mon c'mon Ryne," Cary said shakily as he slung an arm around his friend's waist and helped him through the doorway. Once he could reach, Cary smacked his fist against the control pad. They turned to see what was bearing down on them, and Ryne let out a scared rush of air as the door slammed down just in time--so close that what was outside rammed into the metal.
"We are in deep shit," Ryne said as the sound of something beating on the door echoed around them. He sagged against Cary, whose metal-rimmed glasses were askew.
"You think?" Cary snapped back sarcastically, helping the redhead to a nearby stool.
"I told you we should have stayed out of it," Ryne muttered, favoring his leg and gritting his teeth as he sat and shifted it.
"You're the one who asked me to get involved!" Cary crouched down next to him, flipping his ponytail over his shoulder as he peeled back the bloody material. "This doesn't look good," he said, prodding at the deep slash, making Ryne hiss and jerk away.
"Quit poking it and find something to wrap it up with!"
Cary got up and rifled a nearby medical cabinet for a First Aid kit, sliding some other items into his lab coat pockets while he was at it. He came back and wrapped up Ryne's leg. "You want something for the pain?" he asked clinically.
"If there's a local, that would be best. No way I'm going to be able to stay off it," Ryne answered, leaning a little against the table behind him.
They both glanced at the door as the pounding suddenly stopped. "That doesn't reassure me," Cary muttered.
"Gimme that syringe. We've got to get moving. The deep freeze is the next room over," Ryne said. "We need the stim shots and adrenaline."
"I'll get them," Cary said, handing Ryne the needle and watching him inject the agent into the skin near the wound and numbing it.
Ryne slowly relaxed. "Shit, this is gonna be bad," he said lowly, looking at his leg. "Bastard got me real good."
"Yeah, well, you're the one who said humanity had to know," Cary said. "I was just as happy going along ignorant."
Ryne reached out and yanked on Cary's long white-blond tail of hair. "You're still ignorant," he razzed tiredly.
"Bastard. Quit being lazy and get your ass up," Cary said, though a slight smile curled his lips and he extended a hand to help.
They used more codes to access the next room--one that look eerily like a stainless steel morgue. Cary stopped and looked around. By the look on his face, he was really uncomfortable. "It smells weird in here."
"Stale." Ryne glanced at him as he hobbled to the control table in the center of the room. "Don't worry. They're not going to wake up and grab you," he said with a grin. "Yet."
Cary flipped him the finger as he walked over to peer inside the windows of some of the compartments. "Who are these guys again and why can we trust them?"
"I don't know if we can trust them. But they've got to be better than the alternative, right?" Ryne said. Cary shot him a glare and Ryne rolled his eyes. "These are Spec 4 V1s, originally totally human, then enhanced, back when the adjustments were still experimental and not available to the general public. Meaning they were like you and me once, not grown in a petri dish and taught by computers," Ryne said.
Cary shivered and crossed his arms. "How do you deal with this shit? Petri dishes and experimental gene splicing."
"Looking at the science of it," Ryne said distractedly as he accessed the computer. "I'd find all those code strings you're so in love with mind-numbing."
"Yeah, well, as least computers don't puke on you," Cary muttered as he walked along the wall. "Why are some of the doors popped?"
Ryne glanced up sharply. "Popped?"
Cary nodded. "Yeah, the seals are broken."
"Don't open those. The cryo failed. Whoever was in there..."
"Is dead?" Cary asked, voice rising as the color drained out of his face. He backed away from the wall slowly and walked to look over Ryne's shoulder at lists of names and statistics scrolling on the screen. "What are you looking for?"
"Eight of the ten bays are dead. The other two look to be good. The computer says no one's been in here for more than thirty years," Ryne said.
"Are they going to be able to help us?"
"They're military. We've got to fight fire with fire--even if we are pitting Version 1s against Version 3s," Ryne said.
"Is that like comparing Windows 77 to Windows 79?" Cary asked as Ryne keyed the wake-up sequences.
"Yeah, sorta. Only our Windows 77s had human brains to start with, not computer chips like the 79s," Ryne said, keying up profiles that started flashing on the screen. "This is the first one."
They both studied the lines of description on the monitor. "What is all this? Hyper-reflex, hyperforce ... I understand the specialty: martial combat and the handle: 'Nighthawk'," Cary said, frowning.
"All the V1s were parts of crack military teams. They functioned as a unit and used code names, not so different from the Marines fifty years ago, before the V3s replaced the military," Ryne said. "The rest of it's probably a job description of some sort."
"Tell me again how you know all this stuff?" Cary asked plaintively.
Ryne glanced at him as his fair skin flushed. "I, uh, broke into the database once I started suspecting what was going on."
Cary grinned. "And you say you're not a computer nerd."
Ryne rolled his eyes and pointed off to the side. "Nothing compared to you, genius. There. 11. Break the seal and open it up. Once the fog dissipates, use the stim shot and the adrenaline."
"Well, the shot is no problem, but how do I use this thing?" Cary asked, holding up the cylinder of adrenaline.
Ryne picked up his, hit a button on the end so that a sharp, thick needle sprang out. "You jam it in the chest it auto-injects into the heart." Cary just stared at him in horror. "Jesus, Cary, you computer-engineer viral DNA that changes the makeup of the human body and brain. How can this bother you?"
Cary just shook his head. "Makes me think how far overboard we've gone," he murmured. "You don't jam hulking needles into V3s. They have ports."
Ryne's water-blue eyes met Cary's green ones for a long moment before they both looked away, uncomfortable. Ryne nodded and turned back to the computer and Cary looked over his shoulder again. "Hypervascular, hyperfocus, specialty: munitions; handle: 'Brimstone'," Cary read off.
"Bay 3," Ryne murmured, picking up the stim and cylinder and limping around the room. Cary went the opposite direction. Finding the bays, they both keyed them open and popped the seals. The hiss of air sounded loud in the metal-wrapped room and the white, cold fog that drifted out was dry instead of ice-wet.
A panel slid open and the biobed slid out of the wall as the cryo fog fizzed and melted away, exposing the body. Electrodes ran from the bed to the V1's face and neck, flashing slowly. Cary looked down at the soldier dressed in black uniform trousers and a tank top, which exposed his shoulders and arms. He was muscled, but not obscenely so like the V3s. His face was chiseled and his hair was dark and a little overgrown; it stood out against pale skin. He looked like your typical military grunt, but coldly handsome, like a statue carved from marble. Cary slid the needle into the crook of his arm and gave him the stim, then swallowed as he expelled the needle on the adrenaline.
Ryne opened his bay, watching the narrow table slide out and the fog lift. The electrodes blinked on the V1's forehead, drawing Ryne's attention to a scruffy face with full lips and a widow's peak. As it was, rough was the best description Ryne could come up with. The tank exposed lean, muscled arms and a wiry build. He handily administered the stim, pulled the tank free of the waistband, and rucked it up to reveal a surprisingly hairless chest, dog tags and a LCD chip. Pushing the tags out of the way, he raised the cylinder over the soldier's heart.
Cary took a breath, moved the tank and the dog tags, and jammed the cylinder down hard. The thick needle drove deep and the adrenaline shot out, and before he could even step back the V1 jerked straight up with a sharp gasp of a breath, his hands clutching his chest.
Distracted by the noise, Ryne glanced over to see Cary standing next to the V1 he'd just awakened. The soldier was working hard to breathe and the cylinder hit the floor as he jerked it right out of his chest. Ryne looked back at the soldier on the table in front of him, curled his fist around the cylinder and jammed it down. He stumbled back, trying to favor his hurt leg when the man shot straight up choking for air after a matter of heartbeats.
"Ryne..." Cary said shakily as the V1 in front of him started into convulsions, falling back on the biobed. He was shaking so hard that Cary could barely keep him on the table.
"Don't let him fall!" Ryne yelled. The soldier in front of him was curled over on himself, shivering as his tags hung loose, swinging. Although not sure what to do, Ryne couldn't stand to see the cylinder and needle bobbing in his chest, so he reached over and pulled it out--and one very strong hand flashed out to grab his wrist in a painfully tight hold.
Cary had his arms around the V1, trying to hold him still, when suddenly the soldier sat up again, throwing Cary so off balance that he stumbled back several steps. It was a good thing ... the soldier vomited clear liquid violently over the edge of the bed and finally relaxed, panting.
Ryne stared at the glazed hazel eyes that gave the V1 much more personality than he had expected. They were real eyes, shockingly full of life, even filled with understandable confusion, not flat, unmoving discs. He tried to pull his wrist out of the solid grip, but there was no way. "It's okay," he said calmly, hoping the soldier understood him. Sometimes cryo left your brain a little frozen at first. The V1 blinked hard several times, still struggling for breath, and after a long pause seemed to make a decision. He let go of Ryne's wrist, letting his hand drop back to the edge of the bed. Ryne started pulling off electrodes, trying not to jar the man overmuch. Shoulders bowed, the soldier's breathing started to calm, and eyes that glittered with intelligence looked up at Ryne. The V1 tried to speak, but apparently his throat was too dry.
"I'm sorry, we don't have anything here. This was sort of ... an emergency," Ryne said.
The man looked at him hard for a long moment and then moved, slinging his legs over the side so bare feet slapped onto the cold floor. Ryne leaned back against the wall of bays just in time to avoid being knocked over as the soldier slowly straightened his shoulders and started looking around, leaning heavily on the biobed.
Ryne watched as the soldier got to his feet, regaining his balance, obviously surveying the room until his eyes settled on the other V1 and Cary. When he tried to speak this time a raspy growl came out. "Nighthawk."
The other V1 stirred and shifted, pushing himself up to look across the room in acknowledgment. Cary watched the other soldier stand and almost collapse, catching the bed in time, which made him look back at the V1 in front of him. Now that there was life and color back in his face, the scientist could see clearly where the code name came from: black hair, dark as night, and a sharp, angled face. Then the man's eyes opened. They were dark, dark brown and immediately calculating. Cary and Ryne watched, cautious. Cary wondered if they were going to die. Ryne wondered if they were going to live.
Nighthawk groaned and shoved his legs off the bed to stand, holding onto the edge as he got his feet. His voice was mangled, too. "What's up, Brimstone?"
"Emergency," Brimstone rasped, and his gaze swung about to pin on Ryne. "Profile?" the V1 asked.
"Profile?" Ryne echoed, brow furrowing.
"He wants to know what's going on, Ryne," Cary said. "A profile of the situation."
"Oh. Situation," Ryne looked back at Brimstone. "The command in this facility plans to use the military made up of Spec 4 V3s to declare martial law, take over the country, and start eliminating all unengineered humans."
Cary paled. He'd had no idea of the scope of what was happening. "Jesus, Ryne..."
Brimstone just stared at him silently, as did Nighthawk. Then they looked at each other, and Brimstone slowly raised a hand to rub it across his face. "I should have retired," he muttered.
"You had your chance, you bastard," Nighthawk said with a thick chuckle, now standing straight, rubbing at where the needle had pierced his chest.
"Fuck you, pretty boy," Brimstone snarled back.
"Anytime," Nighthawk chuckled, leaning back against the bed, actually smiling.
Cary and Ryne just stared.