It was fortunate, Jensen supposed, that Sarif had summoned him when he did. After Pritchard's outburst, he had been unable to move for sheer black rage, remaining motionless for a full fifteen minutes before his infolink crackled. His anger was dark and stygian; it sunk through him, pooling in a mire of venomous, piceous sludge somewhere at the bottom of his gut. Staring blindly through his shades, Jensen tasted it: its bitterness, its colour. It was an anger he remembered.
He had broken his mirror again, and his apartment was wrecked. It hadn't helped. Having gone home, as per Sarif's orders, Adam had proceeded to break anything breakable, regardless of its value: monetary or sentimental. His anger remained, deep-seated and entrenched. It was no red mist, to be banished with violence and retribution. It was heavy and malign; an ire one lived with, as faithful as Dr Johnson's proverbial black dog. Above all, it was loyal, destructive, and entirely self-directed.
Jensen stood motionless as the lift descended through the Chiron building. It was impossible to tell through his shade implants, but his eyes were closed. He had slept deeply the night before, exhausted by a potency of emotion he was unused to, and had woken with a heavy, familiar sediment in his lungs. Drifting into unconsciousness, he had dared only the vaguest hope that he would feel better in the morning. He did not, and he recognised the gnawing, conscious unease that signalled an underlying turmoil, likely to spill over at any moment. It was the same breed of rage that had driven him to his obsession with saving Megan, even when events had moved to a higher stage of cosmic theatre entirely. It had taken half a globe, a complete betrayal, and the overthrow of an international conspiracy to assuage Adam's guilt last time. He grimaced as the lift doors opened.
The Page Industries lab he was supposed to be casing tonight was local, in Detroit, and Jensen was grateful in a quiet, faintly echoing corner of his soul. He was arriving by car, with an anonymous, forgettable driver who had every chance of not getting shot in the head. He had never admitted it to anyone, but Faridah haunted him, and not even the deafening noise of a helicopter drowned out her ghost. It occurred to him that he had never admitted anything worth knowing to anyone still living, except—
'Megan,' he muttered softly. 'Damn.'
Fulgurant images came unbidden to his head: the colourless room, Megan's scared face, her backpedalling - but most of all the acute sense of joy melting into anger; that painful, pitiless slide of hope, as palpable as an anchor attached to the heart. The culmination of his near-death, his renewal, his obsession – the risks he took, with other people's lives as well as his own – all of it boiled down to a single moment when he knew, just knew, that it meant nothing to her. And then he'd chosen the transmission that would allow her to do whatever she pleased with her research. He was sick with it.
'Adam,' Sarif's voice broke into his painful reverie, 'you know the drill tonight.'
A pause, the silent sound of hesitation.
'Keep your guard up tonight, son.' Jensen could hear Sarif toying with his baseball. 'Pritchard's on comms. Play nice.'
Adam grunted affirmation, and his infolink crackled into silence. Outside the tinted windows, the ghostly shapes of warehouses slipped by as one by one the streetlamps dwindled away, and the empty industrial estate became a forlorn no man's land; a vaguery of grey shapes in a dark night. The car pulled up a few blocks away from the lab, and Jensen stepped out into his element, already assessing his surroundings. It came so naturally to him; he might have been born to do it.
No, a voice in his head echoed, it's what you were built to do.
If possible, Jensen's grim expression became grimmer, but some lingering remnant of dry humour rasped at him: at least the voice in his head was his this time.
He really needed to find a way to turn off his infolink.
There was a moment of silence, and Jensen listened to the almost imperceptible buzz of static on the line. When the technician spoke again, his tone was all business, but it only served to emphasise the shade of tremulous anger that had been in his voice.
'You're about five hundred yards away from the lab; security system's pretty advanced, but I can disable some of it remotely. Give me some time and I might be able to access their cam footage. Judging by the encryption levels… this is something big, Jensen.'
'Got it,' was the security chief's terse reply. The static played in his head a few seconds longer, as if Pritchard was deliberating over saying something more, but a harsh crackle signalled his decision. Good, Adam thought. His anger was tenebrous, and Jensen knew that it had been simmering long before Pritchard thought to provoke it, but it was hazily attached to the technician nonetheless. Hearing the man's voice – without any choice in the matter – was not helping his focus.
The laboratory building itself was indistinguishable from the other innominate warehouses in the complex, but Jensen approached it cautiously, seeking a surreptitious entrance. Spying a ladder to the roof, he moved deftly from shadow to shadow; stealth no longer a conscious effort, but an unthinking gait. He found a vent leading inwards, much as he had expected, and mused blackly on the ubiquitous security flaw, and what a boon it had been to him. Manoeuvring himself into the seemingly impossibly small space, he briefly considered that he ought to update Pritchard. He didn't. It might have been immature, but he didn't feel like 'playing nice'. The man could see through his eyes anyway. It was quite an invasion of privacy, really.
Moving through the cramped tunnel system, Jensen stopped at each grill to scope out the building. A warren of prefabs had been constructed within the large open space, each with a red number painted on heavy double doors. As far as he could tell, there was no human security presence, but a number of cameras dotted the walls, their digital eyes roving back and forth amongst the squat, closely placed constructions.
After consulting the readouts on his shades, and establishing that he would be out of sight of any cameras, Jensen dropped out of an open vent in the wall. Landing behind one of the prefabs, he immediately tucked himself against its back wall, before peering around the corner, swearing, and pulling sharply back.
'Pritchard, we have—'
'Rovers, I know. I can see their security systems now; accessing them is another matter. Give me a minute,' the technician responded, sounding distracted.
'Great,' Adam muttered, 'Take your sweet time, Francis.' It was an unfair, petty jab: God knows the computer tech had saved his ass more than once, and under extreme pressure. Jensen's infolink buzzed quietly, and he could feel the venomous glare that Pritchard was directing his way. Something bittersweet flickered in the back of his mind: the guilty pleasure of hurting someone you care about during an argument, a mixture of regret and relish. His infolink crackled out, and the security chief shook his head sharply. His focus was off tonight.
He waited a few more seconds to see if Pritchard made any breakthroughs, but when the internal silence continued, Adam looked around for alternative routes. He could hear the steady mechanical rumblings of at least two mobile robots as they patrolled on the other side of the prefab. The low buildings were arranged in a rough circle around the edge of the warehouse, with another cluster in the middle, and an open space between; thick ribbons of cable ran everywhere, loose across the floor and strapped tightly to the walls. Jensen's eyes absentmindedly followed the path of a cluster as he contemplated his next move, and he snapped to attention as he realised that the wires ran straight up to and through a glassless window into the building. Crouching, he moved over, and cautiously raised his head to look in.
Inside, the prefab looked like a standard lab. Specimen tables dominated the central space, cluttered with paraphernalia, and cupboards and complex equipment stood in a jumble around the perimeter. From the looks of things, the operation had been going for quite some time: one entire wall was covered in scraps of paper and printouts of news stories regarding augmentations. Vaulting silently into the room, Jensen took a closer look – it was nothing he hadn't already heard about on Picus, but seeing the stories here made him shiver. He remembered his conversation with Sarif: how uneasy he had seemed, 'almost certain' that something illegal was going on. It didn't bode well.
Looking around, Jensen saw that this particular room was flush against another, and had a connecting doorway into what looked to be a security hub, judging by the number of computers. Convenient, he reflected. Tonight was going well. Slinking to the doorway, Adam poked his head around. This prefab was windowless, so he needn't worry about alerting the sensitive rovers outside, and the only camera was covering the entrance to the inner ring. All he needed to do was hack into these computers, shut everything down, and he'd be able to investigate at will. Easy. He moved over to the first desk and began tapping at the keyboard.
He was just about to be shut out of the network for the second time when the computer beeped at him, the screen flickered, and the machine began to reboot. When it hummed back to life, it bypassed the login screen and went straight to security access. Jensen blinked momentarily, surprised, and then static burst in his ear.
'Don't say I never do anything for you,' Pritchard murmured, still sounding preoccupied. Out of the corner of his eye, Jensen saw the other two computers in the room flicker, before they too opened up to the security access screen.
'Thanks, Pritchard,' he rumbled. The tech hadn't been lying about the complicated encryption; Adam doubted he'd have been able to crack it himself.
Pritchard hummed quietly in acknowledgement before terminating the connection. Jensen moved between the computers, disabling all the cameras, and then his two mechanical companions outside. As the sound of their engines died away, near total silence took over, only broken by Adam's steady breathing and the gentle whir of the computers in the room. Isolation hit him like a cold wind, turning the acrimony in his gut to ice; it weighed him down, and made him wish he had something to say, or someone to say it to.
He grunted brusquely, frustrated by the persistence of his disconsolate mood, especially when he was supposed to be working. Forcing his mind to the task at hand, Jensen decided to take a look around the labs in the centre, all of which had a three-foot-high number one emblazoned on their doors. If he was going to find anything, it would likely be there.
Stepping gingerly out into the inner ring, the security chief approached one of the stationary robots, kicking it gently with a boot to make sure it was well and truly gridlocked. It juddered slightly before settling back into its immobile state. Satisfied, Jensen approached a set of double doors, which split smoothly apart to reveal a much more substantial lab.
Lit only dimly by orange emergency lights, the entire building, larger than any of the other prefabs in the warehouse, was a molasses of orange and brown shadows. It looked much like the other lab, with papers, tools and documents scattered everywhere, but in its centre was a large round pillar that ran seamlessly from floor to ceiling. This might have been unremarkable, but that the upper two thirds of the tube were translucent, and lit from below by a spotlight that turned the burnt orange innards to a sparkling amber. Something was suspended in the tube, an unidentifiable mass cast in brown and gold. Jensen drew closer, oddly fascinated.
'Jensen,' Pritchard mumbled in his ear. 'What is that?'
Jensen couldn't rightly say. Somehow, his eyes refused to fix on the shape. Trying to define it was like trying to conceive of an image in more than three dimensions: something in his mind balked. Circling slowly around the pillar, understanding grasped at him, and snakes of intemerate horror began to curl their way up his spine, turning him cold. There was something familiar about this curve, that outline, the hunched posture. Some primal part of him screamed denial, but he had seen first-hand what humanity could do to itself, and a tiny piece of him went eternally cold, knowing that he was unsurprised.
It was a foetus. Overlarge and grotesquely deformed, it hung there, a proud exhibition of the abhorrence mankind could create. Parts of it were completely mangled, and pieces of twisted metal protruded, gunmetal grey, from what might have been limbs. At the back of its neck, below the heavy, round head, were a series of metal pins, clearly supposed to run in a straight series down the spine; only three had stayed in place, the rest skewed sideways, half covered with sallow skin. That was not the worst, however. One eye was obscured by a heavy, lopsided brow that had swollen shut over it, whilst the other glinted, metallic and cold in a pouch of flesh. Below, its face was twisted in a horrendous wail, the mouth a gaping maw stretched wider than any human mouth ever should. A streak of metal had torn through the skin of the jaw, bursting through the soft tissue with the force of the scream: and that's what it was. It was an agonised, tormented expression only ever captured once in all of humanity's existence, in Edvard Munch's The Scream – it was that and so much worse, because it was innocent.
Jensen fought down gorge, and tried not to retch. Pritchard's voice whispered in his head, too quiet for him to make out the words. It might have been 'my God'. With a force of will, Jensen wrenched his eyes away, desperate to look at something else, but sure that he would be seeing that scream whenever he closed his eyes for the rest of his life. His gaze dropped down, to a small golden plaque set against the pillar.
#003 – Kubrick
His legs gave out, and Adam stumbled heavily to the floor. The implications hit him like a barrage, and he gagged violently, spitting bile onto the ground. Thirty weeks. Babies could survive out of the womb after twenty-four. It might have lived. The idea that such a wretched creature might have drawn breath – might have been aware of its own existence for even a second – appalled him. Had it screamed? Had it torn its own flesh with its howling? But it was not the unimaginable cruelty that shook him to his core, terrible though it was. It was the name.
'Kubrick. Pritchard… They… they called it—' he choked painfully on his words. When Pritchard spoke his own voice was shaky and weak.
'Kubrick. Yes. What is it, Jensen?'
'Kubrick was… Kubrick was mine and Megan's dog.'
The words hung on the line, inevitable conclusions being drawn in the silence.
'Jensen…' There was nothing Pritchard could say, but his voice was gentle, laden with pity, and lacking all of its usual bite. Adam heard him take a long shuddering breath. 'God Jensen, I'm sorry.'
Staggering to his feet, the security chief shook his head violently from side to side, turning his back on the aberrant spectacle behind him. He began to rifle through papers on desks, picking up PDAs with shaking hands, his mind desperately seizing for some other explanation.
'No,' he muttered. 'No, she wouldn't do this. Not Megan. Not this.'
'Jensen, don't,' Pritchard said sharply, but he was ignored.
Adam moved across the room to examine a pinboard covered in research notes, pausing over photos of subjects one and two. They were little more than mangles of flesh and metal, with no discernible human features. Pulling a note from the wall below them, Jensen began to read:
Specimens one and two were resounding failures, but at the insistence of Dr Reed, a third attempt was made to augment a human foetus. With some ingenious genetic modifications courtesy of the Doctor herself, specimen number three, Kubrick, fared much better.
It seems initial plans to outright clone the DNA of Patient X will not be sufficient, and extensive genetic modification will be necessary, possible variations on the structure of the…
The note fluttered to the ground at Adam's feet, and he leaned heavily against the wall, suddenly exhausted. Even now, some part of him had hoped that maybe, somehow, it had all been a misunderstanding; that Megan had been acting on some plan, some principle that he just couldn't see. She had always been prone to getting caught up in her research, but this was… surely there was no perspective that could ever make such abominations acceptable? What has she become? He wondered. What have I become? Where did it all get so fucked up?
'Adam, time to call it in son,' Sarif's voice rang, harsh in his ears after Pritchard's subdued tones.
He knew, Jensen realised. He damn well knew. Rage erupted inside him and he swung around, violently sweeping his arm across the top of a table, sending electronics and papers crashing to the floor, before bringing his fists down hard. There was no pain as the glass top shattered, only a dull reverberation. He resented it, the lack of pain. Without pain, how could he even claim to be alive?
'Adam,' Sarif warned, his tone that reserved for a wayward dog that growls at guests.
'You knew,' Jensen spat to the empty room. 'You knew this was Megan's work.'
'I… yeah. I did son – but I had no idea it was anything like this. I never—'
'You never meant for this to happen, sure,' Adam's voice was mercilessly bitter, each word a dagger, 'It was never supposed to end this way,' he mocked.
A harsh bark of humourless laughter escaped Jensen's lips, his entire body quivering as he seethed a black oozing rage that was directed at everything. All of it. The whole fucking charade. Sarif began to say something, but was quickly cut off, and Jensen heard faint, angry voices. Sarif must have been down in Pritchard's office, and getting an earful, it seemed. It was Pritchard that spoke next.
'I'm sending a car to pick you up, Jensen.' He sounded angry – angrier than usual. It was somehow more comforting than his earlier sympathy, but there was nothing that would appease Jensen in his current state.
'Don't bother,' he growled. 'I'll walk.'
Author's Note: Oh shiiiiii-, who saw that coming? Sorry for the major hiatus: life came knocking, the way it sometimes will.