[Location Redacted], [System Redacted], [Region Redacted]
“It’s too soon.”
“I’m not asking your opinion, doctor. Tukoss’ move caught everyone off guard, and we don’t really have a choice in the matter. His defection and the changes in the behavior of the Sansha, to say nothing of the rumored Sleeper, have forced our hand.”
“The Sister is not going to be pleased. It’s clear this one a favorite test subject.”
“She is just the caretaker regardless. She will look the other way for the sake of the larger study group. She has plenty of other subjects.”
“Yes, but he is one of only a handful of Minmatar. It will delay the conclusions she’s hoping to draw from the group.”
“It will have to be good enough. Tukoss’ project is moving too quickly, and this one’s experience needs to be engaged with it in order to meet our long-term goals. We can’t leave him in some experimental dungeon any longer.”
“He uploaded his datacore months ago, before we intercepted him. Is there really a reason to have him involved in person?”
“Seriously, you think these people read all that? He uploaded so much data it would be lucky if anyone even read the summary. No, he needs to be able to be there in person.”
X-7OMU II, Pure Blind
The smell was wrong. Secluded away from the wider world and universe for a month in this strange form, he had slowly learned to trust his ears and nose more than he trusted his eyes. And what his senses told him made no sense at all.
The Sisters had an earthy smell – warm but dry, comforting but distant. The salt air of the nearby ocean overwhelmed most other smells, and was the natural background he had come to know during his brief imprisonment.
No, this was different. Most Others who came smelled of stale sweat, fear, or stank of long-unmanaged personal habits. This was different. A light smell, strangely alien, but not identifiably specific. A smell almost like wet paper. A sound of calm pulse beating, a soft voice, and clear purpose.
Here came the Sister to the kennel. He and his brethren sat quietly as expected. Few actually had bought into the training, but all realized the penalty for noncompliance.
Now she bent before his cage, and looked into his eyes. The scent of wet paper washed over him from the stranger beside her, whose legs were all that was visible. “We will meet again some day,” the Sister said. “Until then, I expect great things from you.”
She pressed a button on a small device in her hand. The world went dark.
Krusual Tribe Bureau, Hek, Metropolis
The cloning technician watched the status display in front of her quietly. The tour group had passed through, and she could at last concentrate on the boards again.
Most bays showed green, happily waiting for the master clone to be destroyed in space, driving them to awaken and reanimate the capsuleer affected. The Krusual took pride in providing top tier service within the Minmatar Republic, and she was no exception.
As her eyes passed over the blocks of green lights, they came to rest at last, as they often had during the last month, on the sole yellow light on the board. Clean block letters called out “Rhavas”. No one knew what had really happened with this one, other than that his pod had been destroyed in space, and he had never returned to animate this clone. Some believed it was a malfunction, others sabotage, others believed it was the recombination software stuck on a glitch in a bad scan.
Regardless, he was assumed to be effectively dead; his will had been read and what possessions he released in it had already been transferred to their new owners. It was expected that this final clone would rot in its bay for the few dozen years it could be sustained, and then he would at last truly be no more.
Thus, she was entirely surprised when the light turned red, started flashing urgently, and an alarm klaxon began blaring down the row. She sprinted toward his bay.
His eyes flew open. Something, he knew, was wrong. But it took a moment to sink in exactly what the problem was.
He was drowning.
He couldn’t see because of the fluid he was immersed within. Worse, he was constricted and unable to move – up, down or sideways – his wrists and ankles bound, his body surrounded by some hard material. He couldn’t breathe. His lungs screamed in protest, and his eyes registered nothing but a diffuse, flooded light. The blood pounded in his ears. Pressure drove his chest to feel as if it were caving in upon itself.
Finally, as his ability to resist his fate wavered, there was a loud noise, and the fluid drained away from his face.
He coughed violently, felt the viscous mess sloughing away from his head, thick sputum and gel dripping from his nostrils and the end of his chin. He vomited a quantity of heavy, oily fluid out and down, to the grated steel floor of the clone bay.
A soft, feminine voice spoke calmly, and he felt a soft cloth wiping his chin and mouth. “Welcome back, Mr. Rhavas. I can honestly say we didn’t expect you. I hope the couple of extra seconds you were in stasis were not too uncomfortable; your reanimation caught us a bit by surprise. Step out slowly, your muscles have likely atrophied somewhat, since your clone has been comatose for a month or more. Honestly, I have no idea how you’re even back now.”
He felt the rough towel drying him, and clothing thrust into the crook of his arm. “Two steps down, sir, and then I’ll lead you to a recovery room for a few hours. There are a few debriefing documents that were left here for your perusal. When you’re ready, a shuttle can take you to Boundless Creation.”
The news was disturbing. The Sansha changing tactics? The infamous Hilen Tukoss fled to join the Republic? Lianda Burreau’s ship found – and then destroyed? A possible Sleeper – flying in what could only be described as an analogue to the Geztic shuttle – discovered and chased?
At the very least, Rhavas was clear why he had been released from his captivity.
Despite himself, he missed hearing the wind in the grass, and smelling the dry warmth of the rough cloth that made up the Sisters’ wardrobe.
He departed briskly for the shuttle to Boundless Creation.