It was either early afternoon or late morning, according to the light coming in through the small window above me in my hospital bed. My head was attached with wires and sensors to a medical device to both my left and right. The room itself was tiled and unremarkable, though the placement of the furnishings was completely non-regulation for a military hospital. I had spent a long time in a hospital after a surprise attack in the Gaverian Sector nearly left me without a lower torso, so I knew something was wrong with this room right away. That’s when the painting of flowers on the wall across from me caught my attention.
The painting was done in an impressionist style, like Monet. The assortment of brushstrokes came together to create a field of flowers in an amazing cacophony of colors. Blue. Yellow. Green. Orange. Purple. Red. Red? This wasn’t right. It couldn’t be.
I heard whispers coming from the door on the wall to my left. An older man stood in the barely open doorway, about fifty to sixty years in age if the graying of his hair was any indication. He stood under two meters, smaller than myself, and I couldn’t see his face from that angle. It didn’t matter though as the patch on his left arm did all the talking for me. It confirmed my suspicions and I was furious.
“Yes, sir.” He responded to the whispering beyond the door. “Everything is proceeding on schedule despite the hiccups. It is nothing to worry about.” The whispering replied shortly. “Yes, sir, I’ll get right on that.” The man closed the door and turned around. His jaw was square and his eyes hinted at a Celtic ancestry while his nose was quite Roman.
I knew him.
“Ah. Yes. Awake. Of course. I’m sure you are quite curious about–” He seemed agitated. I didn’t give him a chance to finish.
“James Hikaru Sato. Commander. Serial number–”
“There is no need for th–”
“Serial. Number. Zero. Four. Zero. One.”
“This is totally unneces–.”
“Two. Zero. One. Zero.” I made sure not to break eye contact. I did my damnedest to ensure he broke first.
“Are you finished?” His agitation was rising. Good. I could have used that. Unfortunately, my own impatience was my own worst enemy. “You were found after that attack on Fort J–”
“Save it, Loftus.” The doctor was taken aback. I knew him. “Oh yes. I know you. Doctor Isaac Loftus, graduated class of 2107 from Toro University on Europa with a degree in bioengineering, and excelled in the field for nearly thirty years. I’m not sure where you learned to betray your own people, but I’m sure you excel at that as well.” The doctor’s record had found its way to my desk not long before the attack on Fort Jude. I was to start planning a mission to retrieve him for interrogation that very day.
The lucky bastard’s mouth was agape. I could almost count his fillings. I had him.
“You do that patch a disservice by wearing it.” I growled as I pointed to his arm, feigning a weakness in energy while doing so. “The first three colonies of man beyond our home system? The stripes of rank–which is one too many for the med corp by the way–beneath them? You spit in the eye of every man, woman, and child of humanity by wearing that patch. You join the enemy and then pose as an ally? Just who do you think you are?”
That was the wrong question to ask. His jaw set firm and he regained his composure. As I said, my own impatience is my worst enemy, and traitorous, disrespectful bastards such as him kept that patience thin.
“I am the savior of the human race.” He glowed at the thought. He actually believe his own bull. “But that is of no concern to you.” He approached the hospital tray that had been sitting to my left. A clip board sat on it, along with several other medical devices meant for checking on patients. “I can see it was a mistake choosing you for our little experiment. I had hoped that your experience would open some doors–” I didn’t give the bastard a chance to finish.
With my impatience in the lead and surprise on my side, I leaped from my bed to grab him as he approached. I wasn’t quick enough.
“You are dismissed, son!” Shit! A trigger phrase. I could feel the drowsiness approach quickly. I fought to remain conscious, but I was forced to the ground with what seemed like an increase in gravity.
As I fought the sleep crawling over me, Loftus grabbed me by the hair and forced our eyes to meet. “I am the only thing that is going to ensure the survival of our species, and I won’t let some over zealous meat head like you ruin it. Die knowing it was for a good cause.” He forced my head to the ground with a sickening thud.
* * *
Darkness. I was surrounded by it, enveloped by it. I was nowhere, and yet everywhere. Was I dead? Was this the eternity that awaited me after passing?
A moment of awareness flashed across me: an image of seven blue drones emerging from the walls of a large, unfurnished concrete room, and the voice of a traitor ordering me to destroy them. After that, darkness again. I tried to will my awareness back into being, but found nothing.
A presence brushed against my presence. I have no better way to describe the feeling. I reached out to it. I called to it. I wanted it to see the truth. I wanted it to wake up. I wanted to wake up!
The presence next to me grew until it was indiscernible from the darkness around me. With it came another flash of awareness: my hand–no, a woman’s hand–in the torso of a robot, holding its fading central power unit. What madness was this? Was this a dream? No one could punch a hole directly into the chest of a creature made from metal.
Other flashes came to me. I saw the impossible as the woman took out the drones with a strength and flexibility that the human body could simply never achieve. And yet, there it was. I was still not convinced this was real until the final flash was followed by these few words: “You are dismissed, son.”
No! It’s the trigger phrase! Don’t fall for it! Fight the creeping darkness! The larger presence didn’t recede into the void with me. Good.
I had time to think in the void. What would a traitorous bio-engineer need me for? What did his new friends need him for? His thesis was based in neurology, and the manipulation of memories in order to provoke certain emotional and instinctual responses. That might explain the trigger word to render subjects unconscious, but that was more a trick that hypnosis and good-old-fashioned brain washing could achieve far easier.
The other presence receded, returning to the void. I could feel the fear and anger radiating off of it. I reach out to it, to communicate, but it was to no avail. The darkness kept us apart.
I pushed outward this time. Forcing myself to grow beyond the darkness and into the light.
* * *
My eye lids slowly fluttered open. I was exhausted. And chained.
I found myself in a dirty cell, blocked by iron bars, wearing black spandex. I was shackled by the neck and wrists to the wall, given limited range of movement. The room was dark but my eyes managed to adjust, showing me a table to my right covered in scattered tools most commonly used in interrogations, and some not so common, as well as a pile of hastily stacked files. A few tools and papers lay on the floor beneath the table. To my left were three gurneys holding corpses draped in a bloody sheets.
I searched for anything in reach that could help me escape. There was nothing. I had only my wits and my strength to–
I had seen some weird things in my day, but nothing like those flashes from the void. Loftus was a bio-engineer. Despite his focus in memory, does he have the ability to bestow such gifts to a person?
I held up my right arm and focused. I wanted to stretch out my arm just enough to loosen the restraint’s grip on me.
I could feel every muscle in my arm and hand strain with the effort. Every bone twisted with the attempt to escape. I watched as my wrist thinned and I pulled it from its shackle, releasing a breath I didn’t notice I was holding. I quickly switched to the other hand and performed the same task. It was an exhausting effort. Once free of the arm shackles, I used what strength I could muster to break free of the shackle holding my neck to the wall. If I possessed the same strength as I saw in the flashes, I could easily–
The shackle snapped in half and I slumped to the floor. I felt like I had just gone three rounds in the boxing ring, and I wasn’t winning. I took a short moment to catch my breath and regain my energy. I stood up and examined the iron bars. A small use of strength to bend the bars, and a little application of stretching allowed me to slip through the bars. I could feel the limitations of my abilities easily. It was like being the galaxy’s greatest contortionist, but three times that. I wouldn’t be able to stretch across a room, but I could add some centimeters to my height.
I took another moment to rest, making sure to listen out for anyone that might want to enter the room. As I had my head down, I noticed one of the files on the floor. The header read “Fort Jude”. I picked up the paper and did my best to read it in the light.
The file described the search through the ruins of Fort Jude: taking prisoners, collecting bodies, foraging for technology. They left Fort Jude an empty shell. I recall hearing of similar circumstances at other bases near the front lines. They were studying us. But that still didn’t explain why I was here and why I had these new abilities.
I started tearing through the other files on the table. It listed experiments in creating an ultimate biological mechanical spy, one that was capable of perfect infiltration and had the strength to survive being found out long enough to escape. There were pages of equations, detailed notes on medical procedures on alien fauna, and chemical formulas that went well beyond my expertise.
Other files littered the table. These had gruesome photos and detailed anatomical reports. Subject: Private Jethro Hodgins, United Colonial Marines. Died in surgery due to complications while removing brain tissue. Subject: Lieutenant Katherine Adlersflgel, United Colonial Navy. Died in captivity due to complications with genetic splicing. Subject: Petty Officer Oscar Burroughs, United Colonial Navy. Died in surgery during neural extraction. Subject: Commander James Sa–
I threw the files aside, fear gripping my chest. What sort of monster was Doctor Isaac Loftus? What sort of monster was I?
I looked over at the covered corpses. I had a fairly reasonable idea of what I was going to find under those bloodied sheets. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to find out.
I pulled the first sheet aside. Petty Officer Burroughs. His arms were severed and tapered at the tear, as if a great weight had reduced the rest of his arms to nothing. I had seen him around Fort Jude before. He was a good kid, but very green, along with the rest of the recruits that came to the base to continue their training. He had an interest in FTL drives and was looking into joining the ranks of our top engineers.
I pulled back the sheet on the second gurney. Corporal Deandra Carter. She was one of our toughest at Fort Jude. Hell, she was tougher than most women I knew, including both my ex-wives. She had a hell of a right hook. She had left more than her far share of sparing partners to the medics. I noticed that her left leg was missing and she had burns across most of her body. She must have been near a plasma impact when the buzzards attacked. Damn ape scum.
I turned to the third gurney. I didn’t want to pull the sheet. I had a good idea of what I was going to find. I tried to recall my last moments at Fort Jude. I was in my office, going over dossiers to formulate Loftus’s extraction, when I heard the buzzing of the enemy fighters’ anti-gravity drives in the distance. Not two seconds later, the air raid sirens were activated, causing personnel to scramble to their stations. I rushed to a window to see what was happening when…when I met a plasma blast head on.
I pulled the third sheet to the floor. There I was. There he was. This man that had once been James Sato, now a burnt shell, lay before me. It was all so clear now. I was not James Sato, or Carter, or Burroughs. I was their spy, their new biological weapon. But Doctor Loftus had done his job too well. He left me with too much of Sato that I thought that I was him.
Commander James Sato was color blind.
The colors of the painting had tipped me off. I knew something was wrong the second I saw the illusive color red in those flowers. If that hadn’t happened, I would have allowed myself to buy into the lie, not becoming more aware of the little things around me screaming that the situation was not right, and just wanting to recover from the attack.
The door was locked, with no apparent hinge, knob, or handle. A keypad was set into the wall beside the door. I reached for it. Three. One. One. Eight. Six. The door hissed as the seal broke. How did I know the pass code? I searched the back of my mind and found one of the voices calling out with images of entering the room from the hall.
There was no time for ideal reminiscing. I peeked into the hall. No one. I slipped out of the cell room and headed to the right. As quietly as I could, I began searching for a way to escape and warn the United Colonies about what was happening here. I may not actually be a colonial naval officer, but damn it all if I didn’t want Loftus and his allies stopped.
I heard voices coming from around the next corner and I quickly ducked into the next room I could. I held my breath in the darkness of the room until the voices and their footsteps faded down the hall. When I was able to take in where I was hiding, I found that I had made my way into a control room for a very familiar, empty cement room. The temperature of the room told me that the computers were consistently on, so I went to one of the consoles.
The screen of the console showed several video files marked Project Siofra. I opened the first, and made sure the volume was turned to mute in case someone walked by in the hall. The video showed a thin creature, white and featureless, attacking blue drones. It then changed; its arms and legs grew, and its features altered to reflect that of a young man surprised to find themselves in the middle of a fight. It then changed again, trying to revert back to the blank humanoid form, only to be stuck halfway in a grotesque amalgam of man and monster. The creature died of the shock.
The second video file marked similarly showed a far more successful fight between creature and machine. As it stuck its fist into a drone’s chest, the creature shifted into Corporal Carter. As I watched the footage, I began to realize that what I was watching was myself.
Alarms rang. Red emergency lights flicked on in the corners of the control room and the cement room below. My escape had been noticed. That took longer than I had thought, but not as long as I had hoped. I went over to the door and heard the sounds of boots hitting the floor, running past my hiding spot toward my cell. The back of the door had an emergency exit map on it, so I took the time to study the floor plan. There was a small airfield just outside the western exit. That’s where I needed to go.
I looked out the door and saw that the coast was clear. I turned to run away from the sounds of running only to run into a lone security officer that had fallen behind. He was a full two meters from me when we saw each other.
“Oh shit!” he cried out. He grabbed the radio on his right shoulder to call in what he had seen. “Command, he’s in the west central hall! I repeat, the west central h–” I had reached him with frightening speed and ended him with a swift punch to the chest. I could feel his ribs shatter and his organs liquify with the impact as he fell back and slid across the floor. They knew my location. It was time to move.
Using the door map as my guide, I ran down corridors at an amazing speed that I could only attribute to my new abilities. I turned a corner and saw a drone facing the opposite direction. Before it could react to my presence, I jumped onto its back which forced it to the ground, and crushed its head against the hard floor as I continued to speed down the hall.
I noticed that the t-intersection I needed was quickly approaching. Beyond that corner was the western entrance foyer with two staircases leading down to the doors. For a moment, I had hope.
As I turned the corner, a volley of ammunition forced me to duck down and back into the hall.
“James Sato!” A voice was calling to me with a megaphone around the deadly corner. “Come down the stairs and surrender to us willingly, and we will not use deadly force.”
“James Sato is dead!” I yelled around the corner, glancing at the opposition quickly while doing so. “Don’t fuck with me!” They had five men armed with assault rifles and three drones prepared to fight. This was not going to be easy. I had to give it all or nothing.
I heard them whispering to each other down the stairs. I couldn’t give them time to form a strategy. I uttered a quick, silent prayer and leaped from my hiding spot. I jumped over the rails and was halfway down to the first floor before any of them could react.
The next few moments were a blur. Bullets flew as I tore into the drones with my bare hands. Soldiers screamed as I ripped them asunder. The carnage left me seeing red until the end when the final soldier pulled a grenade but I tossed him and his grenade behind a metallic modern art piece between the two flights of stairs. The grenade went off, sending pieces of the statue flying across the room, and I felt white hot pain.
I fell to the ground and could feel that a shard of metal had pierced my abdomen. The pain was too much. I started to lose my grip on controlling the creature that I was.
In a last ditch effort, I forced one of the other presences in the void to the forefront. Hopefully, they could find it in themselves to survive.