Paradigms Lost — Chapter 36
Chapter 36: Fleeing From Frankenstein
He looked around and smiled, satisfied. Despite his oddities, the village accepted him. His children were growing up strong and healthy. His wife took care of them all. In a country torn by civil war all too often, this village had managed to keep itself isolated and secure. Untouched by the strange devices of the outside world, unimportant in the maneuverings of whatever politicians or dictators might rule one part of the land or another, it looked much the same as it would have two hundred years ago.
He shivered, suddenly, as though chilled, despite the bright sunlight streaming down on him. The village and his home seemed to him now like a veneer, a fragile layer of paint laid over something of unspeakable horror. But he knew that the real horror was what lay in his past. He had escaped that, hadn’t he? Years gone by now… he must be safe, forgotten. Thought dead and lost forever. Surely they would have come for him long ago had they known… wouldn’t they?
The wail of a child demanding attention came from within the house, that sound that in a parent could simultaneously bring frustration, warmth, and concern. But he could hear something else in it, as could any who knew what to listen for: the sound of the past. It was the reason he could never, ever be sure they were not watching and waiting, though with his utmost skill and caution he had stalked the dense mountain forests and found not a single trace of intrusion. Genshi, his sister, and two brothers were reason enough for them to wait.
Kay put a hand on his shoulder. “Tai… you aren’t thinking about that again, are you?”
Tai turned and gazed at his wife. Several inches taller than he, willowy, with skin the color of heartwood, she was the only proof (aside from himself and his children) that there was an “outside world” different from the one the village knew. Kay was a strange woman by anyone’s standards — which was fortunate, because no other woman could possibly have accepted what he was, let alone married him while knowing the truth. He still thought her coming to this village had been more than coincidence; it had felt like destiny. She had belonged to some organization she called “Peace Corps.” The aircraft carrying her and a number of other workers for this group had crashed in the mountains; Kay had become separated from the other survivors in a storm and wandered for a long time in the wilderness. Had she not been trained in survival, she would have died. Instead, when Tai found her, she was using a stream as a mirror, cutting her hair in a ruler-straight line as though working in a beauty salon. Her civilized, calm, utterly human demeanor even in the midst of what to her was complete wilderness ensnared Tai instantly. He had brought her to the village and helped her recover from her ordeal; by the time she was recovered, she didn’t want to leave. She had no relatives or real friends elsewhere; here she felt that she belonged.
“What else?” he answered finally. “I can’t help it, Kay. You weren’t a part of it; little Tai is too young to remember it. Only Seb remembers. Seb and me.”
“We’ve been over this again and again, Tai. They’ve had all the time in the world to find you. If they wanted you back and thought you were alive, they’d have gotten you long ago. They had no reason in the world to believe you’d be able to survive out here and fit in; you’d either have died on your own or been killed by a frenzied mob from their point of view. Stop worrying. Maybe someone caught up with them and they don’t even exist any more.”
Oh, all the gods of all the world, let that be true. Please let that be true, he thought.
“Maybe,” he said aloud.
He followed her inside, feeling better. Kay had been sent to him from the skies above; surely that was a sign in itself.
The children were all inside — the two youngest, Genshi and Kei, on one side of the table, the two others, Seb and little Tai, opposite them. Not for the first time, it struck Tai as a strange coincidence that even though the older children had a different mother, all four were much darker-skinned than their father. Tai and Genshi, in particular, looked very similar… if you ignored the difference that Genshi, unlike his older siblings, could not hide. Kei had been born without it, looking very much like a copy of her mother.
Kay began serving the food, beginning with Tai and ending with the toddlers. As they began to eat, Seb suddenly stiffened. “Father –”
A single sound; the sound of a metal catch being released.
The coldness returned, became a lump of ice in his gut. “I heard, Seb. Kay, get down. Everyone, on the floor, now!”
He moved stealthily towards the side door, caught a faint scent and heard movement. Then a voice boomed out, impossibly loud.
“Attention! This house is surrounded. Surrender quietly and none of you will be harmed!”
“Go away!” he shouted hopelessly. “I don’t want to go back! Leave us alone!”
The unfamiliar voice was replaced by the oily, ingratiating tones of the Colonel. “Now, now, let’s not be that way… Tai, is it? There’s been an enormous amount of investment involved in you and your children. You can’t expect us to just throw it all away. If you’ll come back quietly, I promise you that you can even keep your whole family with you. Just cooperate and you can find yourself living quite a lavish life.”
“I like the life I have here!” He saw that Seb and Tai had crawled over and pulled up the floorboards to get at the weapons. He nodded. Good boys. Kay was pale, tears running down her face.
“Sorry I was wrong,” she whispered.
“It’s all right.” he said, knowing nothing was going to be “all right” again. “You made us feel better while it lasted. I love you.”
“I love you.”
The Colonel spoke again, no longer trying to be friendly. This time his voice was precisely reflective of what he was: a military commander of ruthless and amoral determination, efficient and pitiless. “All right, Alpha. Give up. You are all surrounded. There is no way you can escape. The less trouble you give us, the less pain your children and your wife suffer. We know very well that you don’t give a damn about pain for yourself, but how about your family? Surrender immediately, or all of them go the labs along with you!”
“With all respect, Colonel, you and your ancestors were all sheep-screwing perverts. Shove your offer up your ass!”
The Colonel didn’t respond verbally; suddenly a volley of canisters flew through the leaf-shuttered windows and began hissing yellow vapor.
Kay knew what that was as well as he did; holding her breath she dove out the largest windows with the infants, who immediately began screaming. Tai was too busy to worry about that; they had to win. And there was only one way to do that.
He dove out the window nearest the Colonel’s booming voice. A soldier tried to strike him as he went out, but Tai was too fast. Seb and little Tai followed momentarily; the soldier blocked Seb’s escape. Tai continued on, nodding to himself as he heard the man scream and then the sound of a head being separated from a body.
There was no more need for subtlety here. Concealment was useless. As the men ahead raised their weapons, he changed.
Horror froze them. Though they must have been warned, there’s an infinite difference between being told of something impossible and seeing it coming for you, savage and hungry, in real life. His claws ripped the armor off the first soldier, sent him staggering back. He was the lucky one. The other two fell dead, one fountaining blood from the throat, the other with a broken neck. He tore through their ranks, closing on the Colonel. If he could just reach the man…
Several small explosions erupted through the clearing; he caught an odd odor, tried to hold his breath; droplets of something dotted his skin. Tai found himself slowing down, tried desperately to force himself forward. As his vision began to fade into blackness, the last thing he saw was the sardonic smile of the Colonel, only twenty feet away.
* * *
Tai blinked his way back to consciousness slowly. He wished he hadn’t. The sterile white walls… the thick one-way glass wall… the ordinary-looking door that was locked and armored like a vault…
He was back at the Project.
He’d barely come to that bleak conclusion when the wall screen lit up. The Colonel looked back at him. The figure next to him sent shivers up Tai’s spine, causing his light fur to ruffle. Ping Xi. Doctor Ping Xi. The Colonel might give the money and the facilities, but it was this man, with his narrow eyes, white hair, long pianist’s hands, and cold, calculating brilliance who ruled the Project.
“Congratulations, Alpha,” the Colonel said. “A fine group of youngsters. Dr. Xi was just telling me how useful they’re going to be.”
With difficulty he choked his rage back. Once he started fighting, even verbally, it was impossible to stop, and intelligence went out the window. “Leave them alone. I’ll cooperate. Just leave my family out of this.”
The Colonel shook his head. “I gave you the chance for that, but you insisted on the hard way. Now that you’re caught, of course you’ll try singing a different tune. I’m afraid not.”
“At least let Kay go!” he said, fighting to keep the killing fury under control. “She’s not one of us!”
This time it was Ping Xi who answered. “Impossible. The most important questions here will be what the results are of the cross-breeding. This would be impossible without having both of the parents available for study. It is particularly interesting that the children represent a dichotomous birth in both ways — fraternal twins of different sex and one showing all the Project characteristics and the other not. It will take a great deal of study to determine just what caused such a fascinatingly clear division of genetic expression.”
It was no use. With an inarticulate roar of anger he launched himself at the wall screen. Bouncing off it as he always did. As if from a great distance, he heard the Colonel remark calmly, “Just as usual. Some things never change, eh?”
* * *
He fought them after that. But he wondered, if he had been fully human, if he would have. Why bother? For years they’d been watching him. Waiting. The patience itself was frightening, not at all what he had thought was the norm for military and governments. As though they had all the time in the world. But fighting was a part of him.
And once more they drugged him. Days melted into weeks of sluggish thought and dulled senses, only sharpening when, for some test or another, they needed him unimpaired. Sometimes he thought he could sense Seb or little Tai or even Genshi, but he never saw them.
Time passed. Where had he come from? He wasn’t sure. Had the labs really made him? It was all he really knew… and yet… and yet…
In the depths of one of his rages, something snapped. A memory…
Tall twoleg thing. My territory! Kill!
Pain! Hit me! Where? How? Fast twoleg!
Brightsharp metal! Cut! No. No cut! Hit! Why no cut?
Claw twoleg! Miss? Bite twoleg! Miss? Miss? How miss?
Pain! Hit again! Twoleg growl! Leap! Not hit ground???
Twoleg hold up! Stop in air! Twoleg too fast!
*Idea* Twoleg holding me… can’t get away! Claw!
???MISS??? PAIN! Blackness…. Death coming…
Wake up. Not-dead? Twoleg here!
Twoleg… Twoleg stronger. Twoleg still not kill.
Not able kill Twoleg? Twoleg not kill?
Tai’s eyes snapped open, but he wasn’t really seeing anything in the room with him. Just the final scene from that frighteningly disjointed, animalistic memory. A face. Dark-skinned, human, a face sharp-edged, with the look of the hawk. Clothing that would be strange in any place he had ever heard of. And eyes… eyes the color of stormclouds and steel, huge gray eyes filled with calm certainty.
That is a real memory, he thought. Impossible though it is, that is real.
At night, when he slept, the drugs loosened their hold. He dreamed…
Standing in a strange pose, the Master nodded. Tai launched himself at the tall, angular figure, claws outstretched. The Master moved the slightest bit, and Tai’s claws caught nothing but air. Again. And again. No matter how fast, no matter what direction or technique he tried, he could never touch the strange man, let alone harm him. Finally he stopped and waited, wishing he could express what he felt to the figure before him. The figure made sounds… he stopped and thought. Those sounds… were they… were they a way to… tell other people things?
As he thought that, the Master’s sounds fell into recognizable patterns. Though it would be a while before he understood words, the sounds remained: “Well done, little one. You have learned the concept of practice and of when to stop practicing. When you begin to speak, then truly your training can start.”
More days passed. More dreams. Pain. Tests. Most of the dreams faded before waking, but one, finally, remained.
He stood in the center of his room. Drugs fogged his thoughts, made thinking an almost impossible effort. So much easier to just lie down, relax, do nothing. Anger burned away the fog, but replaced it with the smoke of fury. No, anger was no good now. They knew anything that he could do when driven by rage. Only discipline, only by the power of his mind, could he hope to surprise them.
The Master studied him as he practiced. “There is a Power in the soul, little one. The mind and the body are one, and yet each has its own strengths and weaknesses. One trained sufficiently in both can never be defeated, or so it is said. You have a special strength, a power that enough training will bring to its peak. That path I can show you how to begin.”
He brought his arms up and parallel, in the stance that his Master had taught. He looked in the one-way mirror, and then closed his eyes, focusing on himself. Tai visualized himself in every detail, every hair, the way the faint air currents in the room moved the clothing he wore in infinitesimal patterns. The fog began to recede from his mind, pushed back by the extremity of what he was doing, by the focus in his soul. He trembled, forcing his body to obey. He needed more. A way out. But panic and fear would do him no good. He remembered the last dream, the last lesson of the Master:
“When your body betrays you, it must be disciplined by the spirit, by the mind. Only the mind matters. Think upon water, little one. Water. It is all but the smallest part of what you are. All but the veriest fraction of the world. And all but indestructible, infinitely adaptable, nothing you can grasp in your hand, yet able to become something irresistible, unstoppable, infinitely fast like a flood, infinitely slow like a glacier, yielding to the smallest object, yet able to wear down the mountains themselves; in fact, all but the very essence of life itself. You have learned the Hand Center. You have seen the Wind Vision. You have found in yourself the High Center. Now, take into yourself the Water Vision.”
He thought of water. A droplet, condensing in a cloud. The droplet, a single thought. Droplets coalescing, becoming a raindrop; the raindrop, a single idea. The rain falling, becoming a puddle, a thousand puddles, a downpour; a day in the life of a man or a woman, a thousand thousand thousand thoughts moving as one. The downpour, still made of a trillion trillion droplets, pouring into rivers, the rivers into a mighty ocean that covered the world; the ocean, a man. Infinite in complexity, yet united in the substance of the soul.
Tai didn’t really understand what it was he was doing. It was an art, a technique, a skill taught to him so long ago that only the dreams showed him some of the teaching. Yet in his bones he understood it. He would not fail the Master, even now.
The ocean was his soul. How, then, could anything withstand it? How could a drug, however potent, have any effect when diluted unnumbered times in the waters of his mind? It could not. And so it did not.
Tai felt his mind clearing. Yet just by noticing that, he trembled at the edge of losing this transcendent moment. He knew he might not reach this point again; it required the desperation and, perhaps, the paradox of the drugged calmness to reach it this time.
But the very instability was the key. Like the shaken ocean, his soul gathered into a roiling wave. He spun and gathered the force of the oceans into his movements, a fluid lunge at a wall of armored, tempered glass that could withstand explosive shells.
But what is anything next to the power of a tsunami? What use armor plate against the relentless pressure of a glacier?
The wall bulged outward like cheap cardboard, bulged and then shattered into a billion fragments that glittered in the laboratory lights like diamonds. In that moment, he saw the shocked faces of the scientists in the lab, and the calmness evaporated. Berserker fury took him.
* * *
Breathing hard, Tai slowly came back to sanity. Blood was splattered on him from head to toe; he chose not to look at what he had left behind him. In front of him was a door, and behind that door…
He hugged Seb and Tai fiercely for a moment, then pulled away. “Go. The way out is clear. Run.”
“But what about you?” Seb asked, fighting to keep from crying.
Tai shook his head. “I have to go after Genshi, Kei, and Kay. But I won’t have you staying here any longer. Go. And keep going. As far away from here as you can get, to another country if you can. Don’t look back. I will find you. If it takes a year or a dozen years, I’ll find you. Just make sure that you’re safe.”
Seb looked torn, but then looked at little Tai and realized what his father meant. It was his time to be a protector. “Yes, Father.”
He watched until the two were out of sight. Then he loped down the corridor. Turning the corner, he backpedaled to a halt.
Dr. Ping Xi was there, holding a black box. “Tsk. Are you forgetting something, Alpha?”
“I AM NOT ALPHA!” Loathing and fear held him where he was. Dr. Xi was the only thing he could remember that frightened him.
“Do you think I left everything to chance? The coded transmissions this sends out will detonate a small implant in your brain. A hideous waste, one I would rather avoid. But your children will serve well enough in the lab. You have become, as the Colonel would say, a far too expensive luxury.”
The black box pulled his gaze towards it like an evil magnet. One button, and he would cease to exist. He didn’t doubt Dr. Xi. Dr. Xi never bothered to lie, it wasn’t in his nature.
But was it better to live in the grip of the Project?
That thought decided him. He would win either way. But his children…
He had to succeed. He remembered his Master’s movements. He had to combine his own speed with the Master’s inhuman accuracy. And only one chance to get it right.
He let his shoulders sag, as though realizing he was hopelessly trapped. Then he lunged forward, leaping across the forty feet separating them like a missile.
He saw Xi’s eyes widen, and knew in that instant that he was too late; the bastard had more than enough time to press the button.
But he saw the finger hesitate; perhaps, in the end, it was just a little too hard for the doctor to destroy his greatest work. And then he was on Dr. Ping Xi, and his blood tasted like freedom.