"I just don't understand how a man as gifted as Paul can be such an idiot. He throws himself into his work at the D.O.D. designing God knows what, and comes home with hundred dollar knick-knacks for the kids. The man doesn't understand Elisa and Kat don't want dresses or electronics. They want a father. It's almost a shame he can't buy them one of those."
(Julia Grayson, confiding to a friend about family concerns)
October 27th 2018, Grayson Estate
Alpha 2 wondered if this was what Khent had meant by "short stick".
Katrina Grayson was a seventeen year old female with impractically long brown hair that flowed down to the upper back of her designer dress, green eyes, symmetrical facial features, and a very hostile temperament.
And she had an amazing throwing arm.
He shifted thirteen degrees to the right. A small tubular object, a cosmetic of some kind, whizzed past his helmeted head. No, Mrs. Katrina was not pleased about being assigned a bodyguard, and she was currently expressing it to the human security guard who'd had the misfortune of delivering Alpha 2 to his new charge.
"Does Father understand that I have a life?"
Placating gesture, soothing voice with just a hint of desperation, "I'm sure Mr. Grayson is only concerned with your safety-"
"And that's all he's concerned about! I have a life! I have friends! I have a boyfriend! I don't need some creepy stalker to follow me around everywhere like a demented puppy! What's next, an ankle bracelet, house arrest?"
It was fascinating in a way to watch this physically weaker girl cow the bigger, stronger guard with only a loud voice and murderous gestures.
Though to be fair to the guard, she had a very loud voice.
Alpha 2 filed it away in his mind as a textbook case of psychological warfare being utilized to its full effectiveness.
"Can you imagine what they'll say at school?" Her voice dropped and became very quiet with the level of deep anguish and horror only a teenager could manage, "People will think I have…a problem. I mean it's bad enough that I can't talk about Dad's work to my friends, or go anywhere without a chauffer to drive me, now I've got a…a…whatever the hell that thing is!" A manicured finger stabbed at Alpha 2 with righteous indignation.
Ah, the charge wanted clarification:
"I am a Replica Clone."
Guard and girl gave him twin looks of surprise, finding a temporary truce in their bewilderment. Odd, he didn't expect either one to suffer from hearing impairments, "I am a highly advanced, combat model Replica Clone."
"Great, I've got a robot bodyguard! Does it do laundry too, Thomas?"
"Now Mrs. Grayson." The guard's (Thomas's) voice got stern; recognizing a stiffening resistance Katrina launched a last all-out offensive.
It was an impressive tirade against the human guard, her father, and the general unfairness of the world, but even Alpha 2 recognized it was doomed to failure. Finally after several more objects of cosmetic purpose had been bodily thrown across the room, and some rather descriptive expletives of organs that various people did or did not possess, the last of Katrina's impotent tirade expended itself on the guard's steady reassurances and repeating the simple fact that he was just the messenger.
Having delivered his message and sensing it was relatively safe to do so; the guard retreated out of the room and gently shut the door. Katrina visibly slumped onto her large bed and rubbed her hand against her forehead.
"I am not a robot." Alpha 2 pointed out.
A muffled groan emanated from the girl.
Elisa Grayson had been five when she'd first realized (in a small childish way, for she had been only five after all), that her ears sometimes picked up words when no words had been said. At first her family seemed not to realize it, her young age acting as a cloak, everything she said being filed under the "child-speak" folder.
But as she grew older, it got harder and harder for her to ignore her strange abilities. She knew what people were feeling, knew what they were thinking. Sometimes, they could hear what she was thinking if she thought it at them. It didn't take long for her to realize that this was not normal for people. That other people couldn't hear thoughts, or speak them. That normal people didn't make candles flare when they got upset, or make things move when they were scared.
Normal people didn't do these things.
Freaks did these things.
And Elisa didn't want to be a freak, so she hid these things, from the people around her, from her family. As far as the household staff were concerned, she was just a strange child with strange peculiarities. Father and Kat were oblivious, both wrapped up in their own all-consuming lives. Mother knew something was wrong but for all her anxiety and protective urges, she could not care for something she didn't know about. Mr. Khent, Father's gruff right hand man suspected, but he kept his strangely disciplined thoughts to himself and treated her no differently because of it.
Elisa could not read thoughts the way people imagine mind-readers to be. In the tv shows, in the comics and movies, mind readers could read thoughts like they were complete sentences, or sift through a person's memories like they were reading a book. But the brain wasn't an open book with every thought and impulse printed neatly on a page. Humans just didn't think in that way. Instead Elisa was constantly bombarded by thoughts, emotions, memories she didn't want a the few times she had gone shopping with Mother at the mall, or eaten with the family at a luxury establishment had been a chaotic cocktail of emotions and thoughts. The minds around her were Rorschachs: swirled together with no comprehension, no order, deafening her to her own thoughts or even worse, making her think those thoughts, those sensations were her thoughts, her sensations.
Some days were better than others. On good days, the background thoughts were reduced to an incessant whisper.
On bad days it was all she could do to just curl into a ball, far from the rest of the household, pillow jammed around her head and praying for silence. Today was not one of the better days.
Elisa knew Mother was scared and angry about something Father had done, she'd picked up on that the moment Father's car pulled into the driveway, followed by a strange white van. As a matter of fact, every one in the household was brimming with nerves and private fears about that thing Father had done. The house practically radiated a sickly dull yellow in her mind's eye that dug rusty nails into her skin and dulled her bones.
It was only as Father was walking through the front door that she sensed the others. Strange minds colored a cool blue-gray of emotionless calm. They were islands of refuge in a raging tempest. Their thoughts, their brain activities ran in a loop she'd never felt before. Almost like they were running through a checklist of things to do again and again, like an idle computer running through background processes but ready at a moment's notice to obey its user's command.
She'd felt the mind of the one standing outside her room. At first the alien nature of its mind had frightened her, made her grip Khent's scarred hand tightly when he led her to meet the man.
She'd never seen a man like that. He wore boots and long pants, an armored vest and padding, much like what Khent's men wore. Khent's men wore them like they were heavy; she'd gleaned enough from their minds when they were on duty to know that they were hot, itchy, cumbersome things to wear.
This man wore it like it was his skin.
The man also wore a helmet, a featureless visor and a blocky breathing filter that crackled with an embedded microphone.
He stood completely still, inhumanely still, and his thoughts were unusually clear, if strange, filled with concepts like line-of-fire, reaction time, how many bullets were in the pistol holstered at his side, words like tactics, strategies, attack and defend came up often in his mind.
Whether or not Mr. Grayson would permit him to bury anti-tank mines in the front gardens.
Mr. Khent had many names for him, weird names: Meat Can, Bucket Head, Test Tube Soldier, Superfreak, Alpha One.
Al, her mind automatically decided.
She could feel the man's eyes on her; feel his mind examine her with a cold, computer-like calculation. It was frightening at first, that clinical detachment, but she could feel the cold thoughts, not losing their frigidness, but almost being redirected around her rather than at her as the man understood (and filed away in that brain of his) he was to be her caretaker.
She hoped he would be nicer than the last one, and it wasn't until she felt the flare of white surprise that she realized she'd accidentally let that thought slip, escape outside her mind and into his.
She gripped Khent's hand tighter and waited for the man to react like all the others. To stare at her like the freak she was.
It never came.
No sickly green revulsion, no slimy yellow fear, when he looked at her, beneath the calm professionalism, the detachment, there was a strange…reverence, almost…awe. That was the only reason that could have ever compelled Elisa to release the lifeline of Khent's hand.
Those five steps down that softly lit hallway were the longest, hardest steps the world had ever known. She reached up with one child sized hand, hesitantly offering it up towards the man.
Khent watched closely from behind her, ready to step in if the man (meat can in Khent's descriptive thoughts) made one wrong twitch. The clone stared at her hand; mild confusion coloring his thoughts static. Then his hand slowly lifted from its resting place near the sleek black holstered gun. The funny gloves he wore, made of weaves of Kevlar and other synthetics rasped against her palm and she goggled with wide-eyed amazement at how her little hand just disappeared into the black gauntlet of his own limb.
"Hi Al." she said meekly.
"Hello Mrs. Grayson." Al replied gravely.
"And these are the video feeds for the West grounds." The human waved a cigarette lazily in little circles around his face. The smoke curled up to sizzle against the liquid plasma television screens.
Alpha 16 wondered if the man was defective.
The human guard was seated reclining back in a creaky swivel chair. His combat vest was unzipped at the front, perhaps to relieve the strain on the paunch over his stomach. He had a side-arm holstered at his side, but it looked rarely used. The thinning hair and his sweaty face (overheating from the large deposits of insulating fat around his body) gave the man a sickly air.
The man talked, and as the man talked, 16 thought about how to kill him.
If the mission was to be loud, fast, and noisy, a simple double tap to the back of the head would suffice. If for some reason the death needed to go unnoticed for an hour or two, Alpha 16 could break the man's flabby neck and leave his body positioned so it still appeared as if he was at his post.
His murderous thoughts were purely hypothetical. Alpha 16 had no current interest in killing him, it was just how his mind worked. The Replicant been given a mind gene-engineered and extensively conditioned to constantly analyze the environment around him, testing for weaknesses and advantages, for things that could keep him alive in a raging fire-fight and looking out for obstacles that could get him killed.
Right now he was noticing the unzipped vest, the holster wedged just a little too far back for a quick draw, the various magazines that covered one of the vid-screens, the way the man was sweating from the exertions of just talking to him.
Undisciplined, lazy, incompetent…yes, Alpha 16 realized, the guard was defective. Was this why he'd been selected with his fellow brethren? To replace the defective soldiers? Alpha 16 remembered a fellow clone, 38, back when Armacham had first decanted the Alpha Variants. He'd excelled in physical combat, but his marksman skills had been lower than his brothers by a point five percentile. Then one day Three-Eight just hadn't been there.
The men and women of Quality Control took their job very seriously, nothing less than perfection was permitted for any Armacham product. For products that failed, the official term was "Recycled". It sounded so tidy, so efficient.
"Hey, Bucket Head, you listening?" Beneath the humor was a rippling current of the unexplained hostility that Sergeant Khent had also possessed.
"Yes." Alpha 16 affirmed. He'd already memorized all the information five minutes ago. "Are you aware that there are several blind spots in the camera coverage?"
The man blinked, "What the hell are you talking about?"
"The oak tree in the lower grounds covers up three feet of Camera 7's viewing angle." 16 said, indicating the different monitors, "On the western approach, Camera 23 is out of sync with Camera 24, giving a six second window of opportunity for hostiles."
He'd been staring at that screen for years, and he'd never noticed? If he'd been a Replicant, he would have been recycled a long time ago.
"Hostiles?" the man suddenly laughed, "Christ, Bucket Head, it's not like we're goddamned Fort Knox. Who's going to invade this place, Girl Scouts on a cookie sales?" He snorted, amused at his own humor. "Look, all you got to do is sit here and stare at these monitors, think your big brain can handle that?"
"Yes." He replied automatically, but inside he was surprised at the momentary flicker of irritation as he stared at this defective thing that was to be his superior.
The whiskey burned like napalm down his throat, like it always did. Khent leaned back in the hard chair and stared mutely at the tiny shot glass cradled in his hand. There was still a little of the amber colored liquid swirling in the cup, still a little liquid fire.
You're getting too old for this, soldier.
Khent closed his eyes. The same old argument, bubbling back up to the surface, the same God-forsaken debate bouncing around in his skull like an eternal ping-pong match. He downed the rest of the liquid with a perfunctory wince. I can still limp a fair distance on a good day, still outshoot most my people, I can still train them and if need be, beat the snot out of them, I'm still useful.
That's what it always came down to, goddamn purpose. As long as he had that, he was a tough old wolf, he was someone to reckon with. Soon as he lost that, he was just another doddering geriatric stammering on about the good old days. Just another drain on the VA pension.
Truth was he'd been getting a bit long in the tooth for spec ops work anyways. He'd been in his forties when he'd been given that shithole assignment in some godforsaken place in South America. Another idiot who thought that having his hands on a big stockpile of chemical weapons made him a super-power. All it did was make him a big fat target.
The mission had been short and dirty, a half year's worth of intelligence gathering and ops planning culminating in a half-hour of high-octane rush as the SEAL team laid waste to the warlord wannabe's compound. Time and alcohol had dulled the memories slightly but he could still recall the vivid flash of gunfire, the tinny pops of small arms fire and the rattle of submachine guns, gasoline fuelled fires licking in the tropical background and then just a white noise and a flare of pain. He'd woken up two days later in a hospital only to find out that three of his fellow SEALs had been buried and his right leg was riddled with enough shrapnel to set off a metal detector ten feet away.
There'd been options, there were always options. He could have found some way to stay in the military. But he wouldn't have been a SEAL, not with a gimp leg, or even a prosthetic. A cloned limb could have solved everything, but cloning was time-consuming and expensive. Too much hassle for a combat vet in his forties with only a few years until he could no longer serve anyway.
Yeah, forget about all the goddamn shiny paperweights I got in that box. He thought sorely, but the bitterness had seeped from that memory a long time ago replaced with an empty resignation. If he'd been the one making the choice, he'd probably have done the same thing.
And to be fair, civilian life hadn't treated him too hard. Mr. Grayson had been very generous, more than Khent deserved. He'd given him a job, a place where he could still feel useful, a purpose. Hell, that alone was worth more than the very generous salary Khent was given, and even if it wasn't quite the excitement the military had provided, he took his job as security chief very seriously,
But how did he protect Mr. Grayson from himself? The man was brilliant at designing weaponry, but there was a reason it was Mrs. Grayson who did the grocery shopping. Mr. Grayson might act suave, but too many people knew he had a weak spot for showy presentations and slick salesmen, as the other day had proved all too painfully.
Replicant soldiers. Even the name sounded crappy, like a damn appliance, something you plugged in and threw away when it was all used up. It wasn't guns, fancy armor, enhanced bodies, or genetically ingrained discipline that made a soldier, it was goddamned spirit, soul, humanity, whatever you wanted to label it. These Replicants talked pretty and walked smart, but they had no soul, just a pre-programmed lump of gray matter in their skulls, and you couldn't gene-code or program a soul
Biological robot army men.
And in every sci-fi flick Khent had ever been dragged to, there always came a time when the robot underlings rose up and overthrew their human overlords.
A/N: Not a whole lot of action in this chapter, I'm just trying to sketch out the personalities of the various characters. For those interested in my other FEAR fic, I'm hoping to have a chapter for that finished and uploaded by the end of next week. As always, sorry that people had to wait so long for this, reviews are hungrily awaited for, and I'm also going to try to start responding to questions people leave in their reviews.