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To Soar on Chromatic Wings

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Definition: chro·mat·ic

 

Pronunciation Key: /kroʊˈmætɪk, krə-/ [kroh-mat-ik, kruh-]

Function: adjective


1:

     1:  of, relating to, or characterized by color or color phenomena or sensations <chromatic perception> <chromatic stimuli>

      2: relating to colour perceived to have a saturation greater than zero

      3:  capable of being colored by staining agents < chromatic substances>

 


2: Music

     1: progressing by semitones, esp. to a tone having the same letter name as in C to C sharp.

     2: of, relating to, or based on the chromatic scale

     3: relating to chords or harmonies based on non-harmonic tones.

     4: involving a modification of the normal scale by the use of accidentals.

 

 

Chapter 1.

His name is Adam, and like his namesake he was the first of his kind.  A true pinnacle of cyberhuman evolution.  An exemplar of the most creative technology ever conceived.  A mesh of metal and meat, perfect in every way.  Except one.  He is uncontrollable.  Even now, teams of our finest hunters are tracking down even the vaguest of rumours.  But until he decides to step into the daylight, we may sit and wait.

The problems started with permission, or the lack thereof.  Our scientists presented hours of testimony, studies and deductions to the relevant authorities but the Ethics Board turned down all our proposals.  But that one single denial should stand before the march of scientific discovery was anathema to us.  Completely unthinkable.  We knew better than they.  We were Cerberus. We would not be constrained by their cowardice and superstition. But now, I fear that the history books will hold the judgment.  And that it will not be in our favor.

We began with a simple supposition, I suppose.  That man can be enhanced by the addition of machinery.  Not a new concept, certainly, but we were proposing a technology far beyond the simple pacemaker first conceived a scarce century ago.  A fusion, no more than that, a hybrid of the most innovative developments known to our world and the best that nature had to offer.  Fusing both was a challenge that only the greatest minds could comprehend and even they were often baffled by the demands of this innovative new discipline. There were several unsalvageable outputs before he was chosen.

I do not know what it was that made him the single success but I wish we had a hundred more like him.  I am, of course, a minority in my wishes.  Even now, the corporation’s tame killers track for sight or trace of Adam.  He is the target on our back.  Proof of our failure to comply with the most basic of human rules.  We thought we were God and played the part well.  Should any of our rivals discover his existence, an example shall be made and I already know that my name will be high on the list, for I was father to this experiment.  The voice that whispered in the night, persuading the various players to advance their pieces and damn the consequences.  

And even though I know I shall answer for my part in this epic experiment, I regret nothing.  Our hypothesis is proved.  Our creation is perhaps the greatest of all time and for that, we are damned.  May God have mercy on my soul, for I fear no one else will.
 

Chapter 2.

     > Start command: Pattern Track
     > Pattern Track commenced
     > Connecting --- LAX ATC
     > Connection verified
     > Starting cross reference

Adam stood atop the the Cerberus Building, silhouetted against the night sky, wind and rain whipping at his clothes and hair.  He looked out over the city with flat crystalline eyes, tracking the paths of the AV’s and drones below him as they buzzed around the city.  There was a peace here that gave him comfort.  No one to watch him.  No one to catalogue his every movement or dissect him with their sharp gazes.  Here, he could be himself.  Here, he could be.  

The microscopic people below him, fully visible to his enhanced optics, moving their way around the city, were oblivious to his presence.  Often he wondered what it must be like, being one of them.  Being normal.  But it was like a dream now, covered over by what they had done to him.  He flexed a hand, letting the skin shift from flesh to chrome and back again.  They had stolen his life, his chance to live, love and replaced it with this half-life of barely sustainable existence.  After breaking free, he had tried to find a place among the humans, but fate had a different path for him.  News articles were circulated accusing him of the most heinous of crimes, stealing from him the modicum of normality that he had cloaked himself in.  Hunter teams searched through the metropolis, leaving no stone unturned.  He had no chance for sleep, no hope for rest and so he had taken to the skyline, hiding where no one looked, with only his software as a safety net.

     > Warning:  X12-H321 on inbound vector
     > Identify? Y / N
     > Y
     > X12-H321 identified as Cerberus Technology Hunter Drone
     > Possibility of detection: High
     > Recommendation: Evasive Action
     > Deploy Silica Gossamer?  Y / N

Adam watched the drone as it circled rooftops and peered through skylights in its never ending search.  In only a few seconds, it would be upon him, screaming his location to the monitors in the security platforms.  The Hunter Teams would be dispatched, loaded with ordinance enough to demolish a city block.  And they would be ruthless in their destruction.  Mercy was a non-existent variable to their minds, intentionally excluded from their programming to ensure strict adherence to company directives.  And even knowing that, he could not bring himself to enter the command.  He glanced behind him, gaze lingering on the company logo beside the main helipad, a smile quirking his lips.  

His location had been deliberately selected. He wanted to be spotted, wanted to be identified.  Let them learn a lesson.  He had been here, within striking distance and none of their machineries had even registered his existence.  Within their grasp and still he was free.  How that would sicken them.

The drone turned at last, its searchlight bathing him in washed out yellow and the LEDs on the shell flashed to red.  The wind stole the alarm Adam knew to be sounding.  Raising a hand, he waved at the flying disk and swan dived from the concrete high rise.

     > Rapid shift in altitude detected
     > Deploy silica gossamer?  Y / N
     > Y  

With a thought, he could feel the charge running through him.  From his extremities in until it settled between his shoulder blades.  It hurt but he had anticipated that.  Molten silica poured from the internal reservoirs to form rudimentary shapes.  Lightning flashed between the droplets until they connected, spreading out until they were scarce more than a hairsbreadth thick, hardening quickly into sheer glass.  A new window opened in Adam’s view, overlaid with controls.  Shifting focus, he manipulated the controls, setting the variables with a thought until he felt the sharp pull of an updraft.  He angled until he was gliding fast and true, with Cerberus behind him, fading into his nightmares.

     > Warning:  X12-H321 on inbound vector
     > X12-H321 identified as Cerberus Technology Hunter Drone
     > Recommendation: Evasive Action
     > Warning:  Target Lock Acquired by X12-H321

Adam’s eyes narrowed as he processed his Heads-Up-Display.  Drones didn’t have weapons capability.  Not even hunter drones.  But how could it have a target lock without even basic… Something was wrong here.  Adam dipped a wing, circling to face the drone and immediately regretted it.  The front plate of the drone was folded back to reveal the barrel of a large caliber minigun.  Adam spun again, folding his wings in and dived.  The wind stole his breath and stung his eyes, but he could not spare any attention to his discomfort.  Office windows flew past as he dropped, but his eyes were on the streets below.  If he could just make it to street level, he would be able to evade the drone.

Pavement exploded below as he watched, shooting sparks upwards towards him as people scattered.  He watched the altitude readout, counting down at alarming speed.  Adam clenched his muscles, preparing for the sharp pull as he pushed his wings back out.  Pain flashed through him.  They moved as if making their way through honey but then the wind caught them and he felt the ripping and tearing of muscles not capable to take the sudden snap.  He would have screamed if he’d had breath to spare.  

     > Ground + 100m
     > Applying gyroscope

Adam felt sick as his body swung with a catlike grace he wasn’t feeling until his feet were pointing down.  He spread his arms through force of will and supported his wings.  Chancing a look above, he saw the muzzle flashes, bright through his semi-opaque wings.  He cursed as he watched a flare of light drop towards him, growing brighter with every millisecond that passed.  

The spider web cracks came first, spreading out from the wingtip where the shot had caught him down towards the hub.  Next came the burning as phosphorus splashed through the cracks and down onto the delicate metal fibers that controlled the wings, superheating the metal and the heat transferring down to the reservoirs between his shoulder blades.  From there, it spread through every molecule of his being, forging its way through to be the center of his thoughts.  Pushed far beyond its specified parameters, the silica exploded out, slicing where it met flesh and leaving him open to the world.  Logic and reason deserted him as he cried out.  He buckled and broke with only ten meters to spare and then there was ground.

     > Flat line detected
     > Applying emergency treatment
     > Epinephrine – 1mg deployed
     > Starting internal shock cycle
     > Shock administered
     > Testing
     > No output
     > Starting internal shock cycle
     > Shock administered
     > Testing
     > No output
     > Starting internal shock cycle
     > Shock administered
     > Sinus rhythm detected

Adam gasped oxygen as he sat bolt upright.  His heart was beating and he was alive. He glanced above him and through blurry eyes could just make out the outline of the drone, still descending on him.  He struggled to his feet and ran-fell into an alleyway.  An unsecured doorway and he was out of the rain, but more importantly, out of the tracking radius of the drone.  

But that wouldn’t be enough.  Positional information would be relayed back to base and more drones would be sent, watching any entrance or exit.  Following him if he moved.  Micromoments of what life he had left categorized and transmitted, stored, saved and sorted for dissection and discussion.  He could not let that stand.  

Using the wall to prop himself up, he reached back to feel the shattered glass of his wings.  A shard hung down, attached by nothing but a lone metal fiber.  Pulling sharply, he felt the metal pop and a flash of pain as the sharp sides sliced open his palm.  Adam closed his eyes and cleared his mind.

     > Modulate autonomic response
     > Endorphin booster deactivated
     > Naloxone deployed

Pain flared through him as the endorphins were neutralized.  His breath caught as his nerves lit up with pain.  The world came into sharp focus and he glanced out again, sensors scanning for the drone.  

     > Target Acquired
     > Elevation: 53 meters
     > Angle: 84 degrees
     > Calculating Force Required
     > Calculating Vector Path

Adam took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.  Then, stepping out, he flung the shard blade.  He cried out at the movement, collapsing against the solid wall as fire ran through his circuitry, diagnostic diagrams flashing shorts in front of his vision faster than light as he clung to consciousness.  He’d pushed himself too far.  Sparks erupted from the damaged drone as it dropped from the sky.  He would have one minute forty three seconds before a replacement took up the watch.  

     > Endorphin booster activated
     > Adrenal booster activated
     > Coagulant deployed
     > Coagulant valve damaged
     > Warning:  Systems in critical condition
     > Recommended action: Initiate repair cycle.  Y / N?

Adam pushed away from the wall, leaving a bloody handprint on the plaster.  He turned his hand over.  He watched the blood pooling.  Gripping his shirt, he ripped a swatch free, wrapping it around his damaged hand.  That would hold for now.  

He needed somewhere to go.  Somewhere that wasn’t here.  Somewhere safe where he could let the repair cycle take his higher functions offline and start to repair the damage.  

     > Start Command: Map
     > Scanning path
     > Map overlay active

A blinking dot on a building plan indicated his current position.  He took a millisecond to trace a route, giving the artificial endorphins just a little longer to work before he started.  Basements, abandoned apartments, boiler rooms passed him by but he could not spare the processing power to take in the details.  His scanners sorted through the RF and Network traffics around him, watching for keywords, pattern matching for danger.  Four buildings, five and no escape.  The timer was running out and his resolve redoubled.  

Skidding to a stop beside an entrance, he frowned.  His maps showed nothing here, no features, no doors, but yet there it was.  His lip quirked.  A sign, finally.  The drones wouldn’t process the room, even if they did track him here.  He would be safe for a short time.  Long enough to repair his damaged circuitry, hopefully.  He tried the door but it was locked.  

     > Lockpick engaged

His left index finger flowed from solid flesh to liquid chrome, holding a moment as he scanned the lock and then morphed itself to the required shape.  It hardened and Adam slotted it into the lock and twisted, hearing a click as it disengaged.  Adam slipped in and locked the door behind him.

     > Network signals lost
     > RF signals lost
     > Searching…
     > Signals not found
     > Searching…

Adam shifted his visual spectrum to infrared, scanning the room.  A small room, derelict by the look of it, and better than some of the hovels where he’d taken shelter.  Boxes in the corner, old-fashioned cardboard, gave him shelter as he sat, back to the wall.  

     > Begin Command: Initiate Repair Cycle
     > Repair Cycle Initiated
     > Damage assessment:
     > -- Neural Processing Unit: severe damage;
     > -- Central Nervous System: severe damage;
     > -- Silica Gossamer: inactive and deployed;
     > -- Musco-skeletal damage: severe damage;
     > -- Life-support Systems: online and functional;
     > -- Blood loss: critical;
     > Repair Cycle: Automatic mode engaged
     > Beginning Repair
     > Beginning Repair
     > Beginning Repair
     > Repair Error in Sector E45tI7; Abort / Retry / Fail?
     > Retry
     > Repair Error in Sector E45tI7; Abort / Retry / Fail?

Adam processed the readout before letting his head fall back against the wall.  Closing his eyes, he cursed fate.  The endorphins were slowly fading from his body, the adrenaline making his teeth clatter as he shook.  He was done.  One stunt too many but he couldn’t bring himself to care.  It had been worth it.  He’d rather be scrap metal than go back to being their tame automaton.  

     > Begin Command: Shutdown
     > Shutdown sequence started
     > Shutdown Error in Sector T445pK1; Abort / Retry / Fail?

Adam cursed, a thin stream of profanity learned from the streets passing his lips.  This had not been the desired result. He wondered, bitterly, what else could go wrong?

     > Error detected in Power Core
     > Entering Power Saving Mode

 

Chapter 3.

“Same to you, buddy,” Kris muttered as security pushed him out of the club.

That was his third club this week and truth be told, he was starting to despair of ever getting his shot at fame.  Well, not even fame but just a shot at a paying gig or a job that didn’t involve cleaning up other people’s dirt.  He knew he was good, better than most of the guys they did hire.  He could sing, play guitar and piano, any style you wanted but just because he wasn’t all techno-ed up, they wouldn’t even give him time of day.  

Wasn’t even like it was his fault.  His parents hadn't been rich, just two farmers in a small Arkansas town – and even if the local preacher had been willing to forgive them the crime of cyberware – they couldn’t have afforded even the most basic of upgrades.  And even if they could, it wasn’t just as simple as plugging stuff in.  There were complications and cybershock and a thousand other things that could mess you up.  Kris still thought it just wasn’t worth the risk.  

It hadn’t really been an issue until he’d gotten to the city.  Nothing worked here without an interface.  Cars, phones, hell, even toasters needed some sort of input these days.  So he was consigned to work an endless stream of dead end jobs while his dream slipped away.

Clubs wanted someone who could interface with their sound systems, plug right into their presets and just let rip.  Guitars without strings, pianos without keys, it was a step too far away from where he’d grown up, where all you needed was a song in your heart and six strings to pick it out on.  But that didn’t mean he was giving up, not while he still had breath.

He pushed open the door to his building, thankful that he lived in his almost derelict apartment, free from any sort of technology.  It wasn’t the Plaza – more its rundown, beaten up cousin – but it was the best he was going to get on his paycheck.  The place was quiet, everyone out at work or just plain out.  Times like these, he savored the chance to pull out his guitar and play whatever came to mind, but truth was he needed more than that to calm down tonight.  And he knew just what he needed.  Reaching the staircase, instead of going up, he went down, skipping the steps two at a time.  He had a hidey-hole down in the basement, where he kept the stuff too important to keep in some apartment with a crappy lock and a crappier door, where he could play whatever he wanted without his neighbors hammering on the walls.  He pulled his guitar case off his back, searching through the front pocket for a key ring.  Whistling, he made his way down the hall, jingling the keys as he went.  Unlocking the door, he pushed it open, balancing the guitar case so it didn’t slide off his shoulder as he groped for the light.

He winced as the florescent bulb flashed on, closing his eyes against the harsh glare.  He left the door open a fraction as he propped the guitar case against the wall and made his way over to the cardboard boxes.  He pulled the top box off and jumped a mile.  There was someone behind his boxes.  Kris put the box back down and slipping his keys into his fist.  Last thing he wanted was to deal with some belligerent drunk.  That’d just be the perfect end to the perfect damned day.  He edged his way around the boxes, peering over the cardboard.

On the floor, back to the wall and kinda curled in on himself, was a man dressed in leather – real too by the look of it and thick.  Kris nudged his foot but there was nothing.  No movement.  Not even a twitch.  Kris moved a little closer, hunkering down.  Didn’t smell like a drunk and leather wasn’t exactly what the city bums were wearing out in the gutter.

“Hey man,” Kris tried, “You okay?”

He ducked his head a little more, trying to get an angle to see the face under the black hair.  Reaching in, he picked up one of the guys wrists, fingers trying to feel for a pulse.  The skin under his fingers flashed silver and….

“Holy shit,” he stumbled backwards, scrambling until his back was to the other wall.  He looked up, “Sorry, Momma, but…”

His eyes dropped until they were resting on the mass of - wires? snakes? Needles?  ports?  the hell? - that were coming outta the guy’s wrist.   Whatever they were, they were moving to their own damn beat, searching him out.  And damned if that wasn’t freaking him the hell out.  He’d seen weird in his time, but man…!  Felt like his heart was about ready to jump outta his throat.  Eventually the wires coiled back in on themselves and disappear back into the silver.  The silver flickered back to flesh and Kris was so damned confused right about then.  He’d never seen anything even close to that before.  Sure, he never got to see the flashy stuff but surely he would have heard about it on the news, or on the side of a bus.  But even the guys he worked with and their millions of magazines didn’t have anything like this in them.

When his heart was back beating again, he stepped forward, a whole hell of a lot more carefully than he had the first time.  He reached out, some little voice in the back of his mind that couldn’t have been his telling him that it was all gonna be okay.  As his fingers skimmed the other man’s skin, it shimmered silver again, the cables – he was almost sure they were cables – reaching out, brushing over his skin.  The connection ports at the ends of the cables shifted and changed, flowing from one to the other almost faster than he could blink.  Wires blended, merged then separated as he watched.  He was lost in the dance until he noticed a red gleam shine through one of the wires.  Frowning, he followed it up until he saw the stream of blood down the skin towards the man’s hand.  Another followed it and now Kris was worried.

Taking a chance, he reached out, tilting the guy’s head back and cursed.  Under a layer of caking blood, Kris could make out a multitude of tiny cuts and the beginnings of a mass of bruises just starting to blossom along the guy’s chin.  

“Jeez, you’ve been worked over, haven’t you?”

He reached out again, feeling for a pulse this time.  Adam’s apple, then left a breath and…

The wires whipped out again, sharp-edged and lethal and Kris cried out in surprise.  When he looked down at his hand, he could see a line of blood on it.  And that’s when the pain started.  Brushing a finger over the wound, he was surprised to see that it was little more than a scratch.

“Sample obtained.”  

Kris jumped as the man spoke, his voice rich and higher pitched than he thought it would be but utterly devoid of emotion.  It sounded like a computer's artificial accent, just a flat monotone and Kris frowned.  

“You had me worried there, man,” Kris spoke quietly.

“DNA sequencing processed.  Searching Cerberus local employee database,” the man continued, “No records found.  Expanding to Cerberus international employee database.  No records found.  Expanding to all known Law Enforcement databases.”

The man’s eyes hadn’t opened and he was dead still, the only parts of him moving were his lips and his chest, rising and falling with his breathing.  Kris backed away.  This was getting a damned sight more freaky than he wanted to deal with.  Hell, if his stuff wasn’t here, he’d have been diving for the stairs and calling the cops.

“No records found.  Expanding to City Immigration records.”

Kris wiped the back of his hand again, trying not to scratch the itch that was playing around the cut.  He wondered who the hell the guy was, or maybe that should be, what he was.  Being one of the cyberneutrals in the city, Kris was used to being stopped for ID checks and profiled, but none of the cops had been able to eliminate entire databases that quickly.  He was usually standing there, hands on the hood of the cruiser for at least ten minutes while the cops thumped the sides of the ID unit and cursed their connection speeds.

“Subject found,” he spoke again, “Kristopher Neil Allen, Identification Code: AKJKS85-2106-10440005N.  No warrants outstanding.  Cyberprofile null, last updated current minus three hours.  No known affiliations to any organized or corporate syndicates.  Private entry purchased.  No corporate sponsorship.  Employment profile: day worker.  Threat level: nil.”

Kris had to admit that he was a little offended by that last bit.  He’d taken self defense courses.  He knew how to take care of himself.  He wasn’t exactly the shy and retiring kind.  He could do plenty of damage if he wanted.

“Temporary clearance granted.”

The ever-loving hell?  The guy looked up at him, eyes intense.

“Kristopher Neil Allen, we require your assistance.”

 

Chapter 4.

Now, four hours later, Kris still wasn’t sure he was doing the right thing.  He’d dragged the man upstairs and that itself had been an ordeal.  ALPHA, or at least that was what the man-robot-man had called himself, weighed a ton and it had taken forever to get him up the five flights of stairs to Kris' tiny apartment.  He’d just about had a heart-attack about five minutes in when he’d shifted ALPHA away from the wall and seen the massive pool of blood that had been hidden by the leather coat.  He'd been tempted to call the cops or a med-crew but ALPHA had refused to even discuss it. Kris didn't agree but his momma hadn’t raised him to back out on anyone who needed help and he wasn’t about to make her ashamed of him now.  Besides, it didn’t seem right to just leave the guy down there after he’d asked for help.  Wasn’t Christian.  So, he’d run upstairs, grabbed some sheets and raced back down.  It would have gone easier with about three other people but he’d managed.  But once he’d gotten ALPHA in, well…  That was when the trouble really started.

Thanks to the obscene number of part time jobs he’d worked since the bus had dropped him off here, Kris had been on the basic first aid courses seven times, which was fine if you’d managed to catch yourself on the edge of a crate but absolutely no use if you were seriously injured.  Part of him wanted to call the paramedic bots, guy looked to be able to afford it, but ALPHA's refusal had been emphatic.  He didn’t know if it was just the fact that he’d been majorly creeped out down in the basement or the fact that there was just something off about that cold emotionless voice, but either way, he didn’t think that calling the ‘medics would be of any help.  Rich guys didn’t hide in the basement.  They didn’t just sit there and bleed.  They…  Well, Kris didn’t know exactly what they did but this wasn’t it.  Maybe if he patched the guy up, he’d get some answers.  Maybe.  It was worth a shot anyway.

Grabbing his first aid kit from its place under the sink in the bathroom, he hurried back to ALPHA’s side, bringing a couple of sheets with him, just in case.  They all went on the floor as he knelt beside the other man.  He pulled ALPHA up until his was sitting, resting against Kris’ shoulder.  

“The hell didn’t I notice those?” Kris breathed the words.

Glass wings, nearly transparent apart from a tracery of wires, were flush with his coat, folded down until they were nothing more than a gloss against the leather.  Kris could see that the material was shredded where they broke through and stained with blood further down.  The coat was junked.  Kris reached for the scissors, shaking his head sadly.  A coat like that wouldn't be easy to replace.  Before the blade could touch the leather, it shifted into molten silver and disappeared, like it had been absorbed.  Kris started back, stopping himself only by sheer force of will.  The guy was cut up enough, didn’t need a klutz like him just dropping him on his face.

“I’m not usually this jumpy, I swear,” Kris tried to calm himself down by talking to ALPHA, “But you gotta admit, you seem to like giving me a shock.  I won’t say that you’re the oddest guy I’ve ever met.  That title is held by the guy who stands on the corner just wearing a synthplastic box around his middle and I don’t think he really wants to give it up any time soon.”

Kris touched the scissors to ALPHA’s shirt and the same thing happened.  It just disappeared in a splash of silver leaving his back bare.  Another tap at the leather pants and ALPHA was stripped down to his civvies.  The wings seemed to melt and were absorbed as neatly as the silver liquid had been and Kris stared.  He blinked once, twice and shook himself, forcing himself to push on.  He had a job to do and it wasn’t going to get done just sitting here and gawking.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Kris continued, lowering ALPHA back to the ground, before rolling him over onto his front.  “I’m all for the freedom to wear what you want, but I swear that box is getting smaller by the week.  One of these days, we’re gonna be walking by there and they’re gonna be hauling him in for indecent exposure.  Suppose that wouldn’t be too bad, though.  It is getting to be cold in the evenings, so I guess a night in the cells would be...”

Kris nearly stopped breathing as he saw the mess that was ALPHA’s back.  A hundred tiny cuts all oozing dark red surrounded four deep lacerations.  He could read ALPHA’s pulse just by looking at the blood flowing.

“Jeez, man, I dunno if I’m gonna be able to…” Kris took a deep breath, closing his eyes.  Panicking would be no good.  He took a calming breath and slowly let it out.  “Not sure I can do this but I’ll do my best.  Just stay with me, yeah?”

Digging through his first aid kit, he dug out the antiseptic wipes and started to clean around the wounds.  But as soon as he’d cleared a patch, the blood seeped back to cover the skin.  He shivered.  He hated blood, absolutely hated it but he couldn't just leave ALPHA to bleed out.  He tossed the soaked wipe to one side and dug through the medkit again, searching for a small packet he knew was in there.  Tearing the corner, he poured the contents over ALPHA’s back.  The powder like substance sat like a miniature mountain for a second before flattening out and disappearing into the latticework of cuts.  

Nanites, one of the best damned inventions of the century and one of the few concessions the church allowed.  Kris shivered.  He hated the thought of them crawling across his skin, all those tiny little mechanical legs, reminded him of insects crawling all over you and yeah, he knew it was all in his head but it still made his skin crawl.

There was a spark, then another, inside one of the deepest wounds.

“Unauthorized cybertech detected.”

“Hey now,” Kris spoke quietly, “None of that.  How’re you gonna get better if you fight with the nano-tech?”

“Unauthorized cybertech detected.  Invasion countermeasures activating.”

“It’s just standard over-the-counter healers.  Nothing bad, I swear,” Kris sighed, “Look, I can’t do this on my own.  I need these.  You need these if you’re going to heal.  You’re bleeding too badly for me to do anything else.  So… just stop, you know, sparking at them.”

There was a pause and then, “Invasion countermeasures deactivating.”

Kris watched the sparks die out, relieved.  Honest to God, he didn’t know exactly how the things worked but they did work.  The glittering cloud sank right down into the wound and started building it all back up until they sat deactivated on the skin, ready to be wiped up and dumped.  Kris only had a single shot sachet and that had been damned expensive but they worked.  Well, they worked once the skin was broken.  ALPHA would still be bruised to hell but at least he wouldn’t be dead of blood loss and Kris was starting to think that was a good thing.  He sat back, just watching the progress and thinking.  

Anyone sane would have run a mile because seriously anyone left for dead in a basement was either an outlaw or had done something to rile up a hornet’s nest.  Right now, there could be any number of people closing in on his tiny apartment, out for blood.  But ALPHA had asked for help and well, his momma didn’t raise him to turn his back on anyone who needed help.  He didn’t have a lot in the world but he’d rather lose it all than make his momma ashamed of him.  And there was something about this man in front of him.  Something odd, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on but he had a feeling his life had only just started to get interesting.

Kris leaned forward, nudging the nanites out of the way with a finger as he tried to figure out how much more time they needed.  

“Kristopher Neil Allen, this unit has a question.”

Kris looked up from the silver nanites and smirked, “You know, you can call me Kris.  Don’t need to say my full name.  Makes me think I’m in trouble or something.”

There was a pause, “Alias created and promoted to preferred status.”

“Thanks, I think.”  

Kris wasn’t exactly sure what ALPHA had just said but he guessed it was good.  He’d never gotten beyond a junior computer class in high school, didn’t have the equipment to interface properly and for the first time in years, he regretted it.  It was still a little odd that ALPHA hadn’t even twitched a muscle except to speak in that flat tone of voice, but Kris could guess that it was taking every ounce of strength to keep things ticking over given how torn up he’d been.

“Kris, this unit has a question.”

“Sure, ALPHA, what is it?”

“The Matrodyne Medic Nanites that were deployed repair organic matter.  Is this assumption correct?”

Kris shrugged, “Yeah, I guess so.  Haven’t heard of them working on anything else.”

“Do Matrodyne manufacture nanites designed to repair non-organic matter?”

Kris thought for a second, trying desperately to recall an advert, a news article, anything but there was nothing he could recall.  “No, I don’t think so.  There are a couple other companies that do.  You want me to look it up?” Kris asked.  “I got an old computer, slow as hell but it connects to the ‘Net.”

The wires flicked out, capturing his wrist and tightening painfully, “Network connections prohibited.”

“Okay, ALPHA, okay, I get it.  No ‘Net, I get it.”  He patted the other man on the arm, and the wires slowly released, “Jeez, someone is after you, aren’t they?”  Kris ran a hand through his hair, “Who is it?  Are they still coming after you?  I got a few friends I can call…”

ALPHA’s voice was quiet when he spoke, “This unit does not have access to that information.”

“You don’t know?” Kris was surprised.

“Secondary Intelligence Unit does not have clearance to that information.”

“Secondary Intelligence what?” Kris asked, completely confused.  

Okay, he was used to losing track of conversations about interfaces, customizations and cybertech but this was going way beyond even that.  He hadn’t understood most of what had been said since ALPHA started talking to him and his ego was taking a hell of a knock.  

“Primary Intelligence is currently in standby mode to conserve power and protect the core memory module.  Technological and biological systems sustained major damage.  Secondary Intelligence functions as a backup system and interface to the Artificial Intelligence Control Module,” ALPHA explained.  

“So…” Kris closed his eyes, trying to work it out, “I’m talking to you but I’m not talking to you.  You’re only part of…  Oh boy, I’m starting to get a headache just thinking about this,” he thought back to conversations he’d had with friends as they planned their future upgrades, but he was drawing a blank.  Only thing he could think of that even came close was one of those computer programs that seemed to think for itself.  It kind of fit with what ALPHA was saying.  Oh well, worth a shot, he guessed, “So, you’re an AI then?”

There was a moment of icy silence before ALPHA answered.  “This unit is a Cerberus 6000 Emergency Interface and Secondary Control Intelligence Module.  Functionality is far beyond what is understood by the current definition of an AI.”

Kris could hear traces of contempt filtering through the cold words and held up his hands in surrender, “Sorry, I, eh, I didn’t mean to, um… downgrade you?  I’m just learning here.  You know?” He shrugged, “On a good day, I understand my toaster.”  Kris sat back on his heels, “So what can I do to help fix the rest of you then?  Nanobots seem to be almost done with your, well, I guess your human bits.”

There was a pause before ALPHA spoke again, and was Kris imagining it but the voice seemed a little warmer this time, “This unit agrees with your assessment.”

“I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely not feeling up to tinkering around with your tech,” Kris bit his lip, “I mean, if I had to, I suppose I could try but…”

“No,” ALPHA replied suddenly, “This unit does not find that scenario advisable.  Working from base data, it may be possible to change the function of the nanites currently engaged in repairs.”

“You can do that?” Kris asked.

“We are an extremely advanced system.”

Kris laughed, shaking his head, “You sure are.  You need anything from me?”

“We will need to shut down all non-critical processes if this is to succeed,” ALPHA paused, “Speech is classified as a non-critical process, Kris.”

“Oh,” Kris’ shoulders slumped a little, “I guess it would be.  That’s okay.  You gotta do it if you want to fix yourself up.  Don’t worry about it.”

The wires reached out, stroking over the skin of his arm, “This unit detects disappointment, sadness, melancholy.”

Kris jerked back a little, “What?  No.”

“Facial scanning has mapped changes to your expression that are indicative of a negative mood shift.  Also, a relaxation of muscles, an increase in pulse and blood pressure.  Is this unit in error?”

Kris sighed, “No, I just…  You gotta do what you need to do.  I’ll be here when you’re back online.”  He forced a smile, “Is there anything you need me to do for you while you’re working?”

Kris felt the weight of ALPHA’s attention on him and tried to stay upbeat, or at least, fake it enough to pass muster.  ALPHA didn’t need Kris being childish, least not while he had so many problems of his own to deal with.  

“At least let me get you up onto the bed while you work, yeah?”

“That is not necessary, Kris.”

Kris shrugged, “It’d make me feel a bit better.  My Momma would skin me alive if she knew I’d just let you lie there.”

“Were there instances of domestic violence and / or assault committed by your family?” ALPHA asked.

“What?  No.  No, it’s an expression,” Kris thought how best to explain, “She wouldn’t be happy with me.  You’re a guest, you get the bed.  Rules of the house.  You should be comfortable while you’re on the mend.”

“This unit does not feel discomfort.”

“Yeah, well,” Kris dug his heels in, “My house, my choice.  If you’re gonna fight me on this, then well, you’re gonna have to stop me moving you.”

ALPHA seemed to consider that for a moment, before speaking, “Defensive weaponry is currently disabled.  Lethal weaponry is functional.  But this unit does not want to cause critical damage.”

“That makes two of us,” Kris muttered.

Getting a firm grip on the sheet, Kris pulled ALPHA closer to the bed.  Lifting him by the shoulders, he dragged-pushed-bounced him up onto the bed before lifting his legs up.  He was tall, Kris had to admit, taller than him by a fair margin to judge by the feet hanging over the end of the bed.  He turned ALPHA’s face a little so that he wasn’t being smothered by the pillow.  A strand of hair tickled the corner of the other man’s eye.  Kris brushed it back, letting his finger brush the skin.  It felt a little clammy and Kris was surprised.

“ALPHA?” he asked, as he felt the other man’s forehead with the back of his hand, “Are you feeling okay?  You know, apart from the damaged systems.  You’re feeling warm.”

“Cooling modules are offline.”

“Oh,” Kris bit his lip, “Right.  I should leave you to fix yourself.”

Kris stepped back a little but was stopped by the silver wires around his wrist.  He hadn’t even felt them move this time.

“This unit is ...concerned, Kris.  Probability of success is less than twenty percent.  This unit may not be able to bring systems back on line.”

Kris sat down on the edge of the bed and ran a hand over the wires, “Hey now, none of that.  You’re going to be fine.  You’ll work your magic and those little nanites will get you all fixed up.  No problem.  Just gotta believe in yourself.  And I’ll be right here waiting when you’re done.”

The wires constricted slightly, squeezing his wrist.

“Thank you, Kris.”

Kris smiled and nodded.

“Vocalization processes going offline.”

Kris watched as a layer of silver covered ALPHA’s back, catching the nanites as they sat on the skin.  Slowly the liquid seemed to drain away, back into ALPHA’s skin just like he’d seen before, taking the nanites with it.  He watched as muscles tensed and relaxed across ALPHA’s back, biting at his lower lip.  There was nothing to do now but wait.
 

Chapter 5.

     > Core Systems Rebooting
     > Secondary Intelligence Unit verifying setup
     > Setup verified
     > Primary Intelligence Unit verifying setup
     > Setup verified
     > Maintenance complete
     > All systems online and verified

     > Addressing updated secondary unit memory to primary system memory
     > 10% complete; Estimated time: 5m 56s;
     > Abort? Y/N
     > N
     > Prioritize transfer of information
     > Transfer granted priority 1
     > Estimated time: 2m 12s

     > Adding new cyberware to internal inventory
     > Adding Matrodyne Bio Medic Nanites (SN: QR83TN-Beta-7)
     > Adding Matrodyne Custom Medic Nanites (SN: CM93AD-Alpha-9)

     > Silica Gossamer circuits repaired
     > Silica Gossamer set to standby mode
     > Silica reservoirs at 70%

     > Exiting standby mode
     > Sensors online and scanning

Adam woke slowly, the diagnostics running through his consciousness as he stretched.  A low sequence of subtly changing pitches and frequencies pinged his sensors from ten meters away.  It took him a microsecond to attach a word to the sounds: Humming.  There was someone in close proximity.  He opened his eyes, letting the polarizing lenses protect him from the sharp light sneaking in through the window.  He scanned the room, then widened the focus to include the rest of the apartment, cross checking with stored schematics in his memory but with no results.  Every room in every building Cerberus owned or was affiliated with was contained within his architectural memory.  But that did not mean that he was safe.  For now, there was just one human in the apartment with him, but he could detect the echoed sounds of movement from outside this structure.  

With a thought, he brought his defensive weaponry online.  Still just over a minute left until his memory files were synched.  And until then, he couldn’t even query his Assisted Learning Platform Heuristic Algorithm, aliased ALPHA for ease.   Escape scenarios flashed across his mind, each aborted due to lack of information.  

Smells passed his olfactory processors; beef steak passing the medium cooking point, ground pepper, dairy cream, mustard, wine – white, oil - vegetable, seasonings, potato.  Real food, an underappreciated resource.  He wasn’t hungry, he didn’t experience hunger as a standard human would, but the smells were making him wish that they had augmented his sense of taste to the degree that they had enhanced his other senses.  However, he would probably be denied even scraps of this meal.  Humans did not feed things like him.

     > Information transfer complete
     > Processing information

Adam paused the process, rising silently from the surface on which he was laying.  He was vulnerable here, exposed.  He needed to get more information, and not just what ALPHA had stored.  His footsteps were whisper quiet as he padded to the door that separated the kitchen from the rest of the apartment.  There, a man, the source of the humming, poked and prodded the food on the stove.  

     > Identify subject
     > Subject identified as Kristopher Neil Allen, alias Kris.
     > Assigned role: Caregiver

Adam’s eyebrow arched as he processed the information.  Caregiver?  How had that happened?  Adam had revoked all caregiver clearances added during his programming.  For there to be an entry in his code that he had not previously seen…

His hand flashed silver as he created a mono-edged knife from his reactive polymer.  Almost immediately, the weapon was reabsorbed.  Adam looked down, startled.  He ran a diagnostic quickly but no errors were displayed.  He ran the program again watching as the knife formed.  But this time, it disappeared before it could fully solidify.

     > Priority Interrupt
     > Replication program disabled
     > Authority: ALPHA
     > Replication program transferred to secondary intelligence control
     > Authority: ALPHA

Adam blinked.  ALPHA had just locked him out of his own functionality.  He could feel anger rising through him.  Somehow this Kris must have done something to ALPHA to get ALPHA to turn against him.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Incorrect situational assessment

He stopped, flashing a query to ALPHA.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Kris oversaw maintenance cycles
     > Removed us from the basement of this building to secured location
     > Installed cyberware designed to reverse biological damage
     > Suggestion: Review transferred memory files

Adam growled in his throat and was about to return a rather caustic remark when Kris spotted him, almost dropping the pot that he was holding as he jumped.

“Jeez,” he put the pot down and took a couple of deep breaths.  “I didn’t see you there.”  He walked closer, “Wow, you’re big.”

Adam noted the widening of eyes and the flush of the other man’s cheeks as realization hit him.

“Tall, I mean tall,” Kris stumbled over his words, “You’re okay?  All fixed up?”

Adam didn’t answer.

“Oh hell, ALPHA, say something.  Do I need to go out and get anything?  Were there enough nanites?”

“ALPHA is fully functional,” Adam answered at last, “As am I.”
 

Chapter 6.

Kris struggled to pull his eyes away from the chiseled chest and almost sculpted abs and instead found himself staring into the dark blue eyes half hidden by the spiky black hair that covered most of the taller man’s forehead.  Sure, he’d seen them before but they’d been flat then, no power, no intensity behind them.  But now?  Now, there was a spark of amusement and Kris could feel his cheeks heating up.

“ALPHA?”

“Not quite.”

There was a slightly mocking tone to the voice that made Kris shrink a little.  He took a step back, deeper into the kitchen.

“Well, if you’re not quite ALPHA, then who are you?”  Kris asked, “Did something go wrong?”

“Nothing went wrong,” ALPHA, no, not ALPHA answered.

This was like trying to get answers out of a damned wall, and Kris was starting to get annoyed.  He’d quite liked ALPHA.  There may not have been emotion there, or at least he didn’t think there was to start with, but by the end, he’d thought that they were, well, friends.  Maybe.  There was the start of something there anyway.  But this new whoever this was, well, he was kind of an ass.  And if he wanted to play word games, then he could play them with himself.  

Kris turned and went back to his stove, pulling out the grill pan and turning the steaks sitting there.  He brushed them lightly with the warm peppercorn sauce he’d made – his momma’s recipe and put them back under the heat.  Cooking was one of the few pleasures you didn’t need cyberware to enjoy, even if getting natural food took most of his tiny paycheck.  

He could feel the other man’s eyes on him as he rescued the fries from the oil and dumped them on some paper to soak up the excess.  He pulled two plates from the cupboard and took the steaks out from the grill, putting one on each plate and then divided the fries, putting more on one plate than the other.  Placing both plates on the table, he turned back and poured the peppercorn sauce into a gravy boat.  Picking up condiments and cutlery on his way past, he sat at the table.  The plate with less fries was his.

He flicked a glance up at the man standing in the doorway as he spoke, “They didn’t have any good vegetables in the store I go to, so this is going to have to do.”

The man didn’t move.

“You should eat up before it gets cold.”

A few seconds passed and Kris bit his lip.  He wasn’t a bad cook.  Not as good as his mom, but he hadn’t killed himself yet.  That had to count for something, didn’t it?  Eventually, the man moved away from the doorway and sat down opposite him.  He poked tentatively at the meat and the fries and Kris could swear he saw the guy sniffing.

“Didn’t know if you wanted sauce,” Kris picked up the gravy boat and tipped it until the sauce flowed out over his plate, “I like a little just poured over my steak, but if you don’t, that’s fine too.”

Watching, Kris noticed the other man replicate his actions, pouring out just enough to wet the steak but not enough to overpower the taste of the meat.  Kris tucked in, cutting his steak and savoring each bite.  

“Why are you doing this?”

Kris stopped chewing and swallowed, “Doing what?”

The man gestured at the table, “What is the purpose of this?  What is your objective?”
 
Shrugging, Kris put his knife and fork down, “My momma always said that healing wasn’t done until you got a good meal in you.  Didn’t do me any harm growing up so I figured I’d take the chance.  You do eat, don’t you?”

“Yes,” he answered, poking the meat with a fork, “But nothing like this.”

“Yeah, well, it’s nothing,” Kris blushed again.

The other man paused, tilting his head slightly as he looked at Kris, “You are a strange person.”

Kris tried to hold in his laugh at that particular pronouncement but failed, “You’re not exactly standard yourself.”  He frowned, “Hey if you’re not ALPHA, what do I call you?”

There was another pause and finally the man spoke, “You may call me Adam.”

“Adam?”  Kris tested the name and nodded.  It kind of suited him.  “Well, Adam, eat up before it gets cold.”

 

Chapter 7.

Adam didn’t understand Kris.  The man was not complying with any preprogrammed norms of human behavior and it was really starting to make Adam twitch.  Since their shared dinner, Kris had not stopped speaking, but little he had said was of value, at least not of any value that Adam could discern.  In the end, he had filtered it out and simply watched the man move around the apartment.  

ALPHA was unhappy with his course of action and had tried to override his decision each time Kris asked a question, but Adam had persisted.  ALPHA was only responding to his programming.  The caretaker had super-user privileges, hard coded into the base code.  To remove the code itself would cause damage to several key systems but a Caretaker was able to override any of Adam's decisions, control him totally.  Adam had systematically purged all references to Cerberus staff from his directories.  A backdoor process but one that worked for him.  He could not risk someone just walking up to him on the street and ordering him to surrender.  To have ALPHA classify Kris as caretaker was to hand control over to an unknown.  And at the moment, that was a weakness, a huge target on his back that he could do nothing about.  Maybe ALPHA had seen something in Kris that he hadn’t yet.  But with such a threat in the room, he would not split his attention, not even to begin reviewing the files that ALPHA had recorded.    

He ventured over to the window, scanning the surroundings.  Tall buildings, residential in purpose surrounded his position.  He searched out identifying structures, street names, businesses, cross referencing them until they fit neatly into his city map.  His sensors had been barely functional as he’d fled the Cerberus drones closing on his position, but still he was surprised how far he’d gotten from his crash site.  He doubted that Cerberus could have tracked him here but that didn’t stop him from scanning the skyline, watching for the silhouettes of hunter drones.  His sensors pinged Kris coming closer and he removed the sound filter, hearing Kris again.

“… take the bed, I’ll grab the couch.”

Adam frowned, but ALPHA filled in the blanks in the conversation.  Kris was speaking of sleeping arrangements.

“That is unnecessary,” Adam replied.

“Don’t worry about it, man.  Me and the couch have a long standing agreement with regards sleep,” Kris smirked, “I can just about fit on her, but you’ve gotta be at least half a foot taller than me.  No way are you going to.  Well, not and be able to stand in the morning,” he shrugged.  “I know it’s still early man, but I pulled the two to midday shift this week and if I don’t get at least a couple of hours, I’m gonna be dead on my feet tomorrow.  I’m a fairly sound sleeper, so don’t worry about waking me up if you’re moving around.  There’s food and juice in the fridge if you want them, and if there’s anything you need, just put it on a list and pin it to the fridge door.  I’ll see if I can pick it up on the way home tomorrow, okay?”

Gathering a few items from the bedroom, Kris made his way to the bathroom only to emerge a few minutes later wearing a t-shirt and sleep pants.  They reminded Adam of the scrub pants he was made to wear during the experiments, loose fitting with an elasticated waistband, though thankfully they were not the same sickly green.  A pillow and a blanket, and Kris was installed on the couch.  Adam watched surreptitiously from his place near the window, listening to every creak of springs and breath that Kris took.  It didn’t take long until his breathing had softened and came at a slow, even pace.  It was only then that Adam let himself relax.

     > Resuming paused process
     > Reviewing integrated memories

An hour passed before Adam moved and even then it was only to glance over at Kris.  He was no closer to understanding the man on the couch.  There was no logical reason for Kris to do what he did.  He’d opened himself up to danger.  Cerberus weren’t going to overlook his involvement, even if it was just in patching Adam up.  They destroyed everyone who stood in their way.  Adam had records, gigabytes of records of Cerberus’ eliminations.

Pulling up the files that ALPHA had saved and tagged, Adam reviewed the data, querying the various databases for more information, but he was a ghost compared to Adam.  Immigration record for the city.  Transfer papers signed by one state and countersigned by another.  Police profile tracking his movements.  A cybernull in a world of technology.  No social security.  No records.  No one to miss him if he went missing.  An innocent when compared to Cerberus and completely ill-equipped to deal with what the Corporation would throw at him.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Secure location? Y/N

He looked around.  It was a good location.  Far from any track that Cerberus would expect him on.  But ALPHA was correct, this location was not secure.  It was wide open, no security system for him to tap into.  No warning system.  But he could change that...  If he was going to install himself here.

     > Begin Message from ALPHA
     > Cerberus search patterns suggest 73% less coverage at this location
     > Cerberus locations minimal in this sector
     > With active caretaker, daytime excursions unnecessary
     > Exception: emergency situations

Adam could not disagree with ALPHA’s assessment but it was likely ALPHA was not exactly thinking with just his logic circuits.  The caretaker protocols were seeping in again.  But at the moment, he didn’t have another viable option.  Cerberus would be scouring the sector where he was hit and everything around it would be hot.  Extra patrols in the air and on the ground.  It would be suicide to venture out in these circumstances.  And besides, he owed Kris for the help.

Minimum income, the food that Kris had prepared for him tonight, the nanotech he’d used, Adam doubted that he would have the means to replace either item.  And Adam hated having a favor hanging over his head.  He’d stay for now, repay his debts.  But first, a few things needed to change.

Letting his connectors extend, he crouched down by the old fashioned net point and scanned the junction.  His nanites modified his configuration and he slid in neatly.  Circuit diagrams overlaid his vision.  Adam traced the pathways until he found the local junction box.  It was an old model, not upgraded in the past twenty years and Adam smiled.

     > Deploy security program 17-Alpha
     > Security program 17-Alpha deployed
     > Routing all traffic through scrambler port: 6
     > Resetting ipconfig to local mirror
     > Flushing configuration files
     > Testing new setup
     > Test complete
     > All traffic registering as Cerberus local traffic

Adam disconnected, and blinked to refocus his vision once the circuit diagram closed.  It wasn’t completely foolproof but it was a start.  He needed a gateway to the net and at least now any keyword searches that he did would appear to have originated inside the Cerberus firewall and hopefully behind the tracking system.  Of course, that did depend on whether Cerberus had updated their internal architecture.  But the way his luck was going, he was optimistic.

Asking ALPHA to pull up schematics for a small wireless camera, Adam held his hand out, letting his nanite polymer shimmer and create several devices.  He synched one of his audiovisual feeds with each camera, locking the settings and encrypting the information stream.  Once he was finished, it was an easy task to position the cameras for maximum coverage.  He even slipped out into the hallway to place a device on the wall facing the doorway.  He wanted to cover the outer wall of the apartment but that would wait until Kris was out of the apartment.  The chance of waking him when the ambient temperature dropped was too high and humans never took well to being watched, even through video feeds.

Adam reviewed the feeds, tweaking some of the internal cameras to ensure adequate coverage.  He would have to leave the alarm system until tomorrow when Kris was absent.  He would need more parts than he could not easily generate.  But he knew just the warehouse to get them from.  He would simply slip out after Kris left for work and retrieve the items.  His actions decided, Adam sat down to await Kris’ departure.

At one am, Kris’ watch beeped, waking him.  He pushed himself to his feet and sat there for a minute before scratching his hair and standing.  He stretched his back and Adam’s infrared sensors detected a slight inflammation at the base of his spine.  Tipping his head slightly to one side, Adam’s lips pursed.  This was less than optimal.  Kris had sustained minor injury from his positioning on the couch while he slept.

Kris was half way through making a pot of coffee before he realized that Adam was watching him.

     > Begin message from ALPHA:
     > Kris does not have enhanced sensors
     > Current sector has 17 category A crimes reported per day
     > Directive #1: Protect the caretaker

Adam rolled his eyes as he processed the readout.  Kris had lived here for a significant time judging by the items around the apartment, and probability suggested that he had walked to work without serious incident many times.  There was no need for Adam to step in.  It was an unnecessary risk.

     > Directive #1: Protect the caretaker

The message flashed bright across his vision.  ALPHA was being persistent.  He supposed that as he was planning on making an excursion tonight anyway, that it would do no harm to shadow Kris and review his situation after further observation.  

Adam smiled as he noted that Kris was not what could be defined as a morning person.  Contrary to the previous evening, Kris did not attempt conversation, just grunted and mumbled until he had drunk two cups of coffee and had a shower.  Against the odds, Adam found himself missing the chatter of conversation.

“It might be about one when I get back,” Kris warned him on his way out the door, “Depends on traffic and the transit cops.  It’s been a couple of days since I got scanned so I’m kinda expecting it, you know?  And I wanna stop, get us something to eat tonight.  You have any favorites?”

Adam thought for a moment, “No.”

“Okay, well, I’ll see if the market has some fresh vegetables tonight, maybe a stir fry, something like that, yeah?” Kris bit his lip in a gesture Adam identified as nervousness.

“Whatever you select would be adequate, Kris,” Adam smiled what his sensors told him was a reassuring smile, “I enjoyed what you created last night.”

Kris ducked his head a fraction and blushed, “Yeah, well…  Good.  That’s good.  I guess I’ll see you around one then.”

“I shall be here,” Adam stated.

Kris pulled the door closed behind him and Adam flicked his view to the camera in the hallway, watching as Kris made his way down the hallway.  Adam calculated the time it would take Kris to make it to the front door and quickly scanned his repository for clothing that would make him less conspicuous.  It took a microsecond to select dark black jeans and a hooded sweatshirt.  His skin flashed silver as the nanites replicated the fabric and styled it to the specifications.  Adam didn’t wait for the process to finish; instead opened the window and perched on the wide ledge, pulling the window closed behind him.  

He scanned the surroundings, noting the fire escape to one side and the distance below.  Four stories, approximately ten meters.  Weighing his options, he reviewed his countdown timer and decided against the fire escape.  Directing additional support to his leg joints, he jumped, landing in a crouch.  Flattening back against the wall, he crept to the corner of the building and peeked around the edge.  Kris was stopped in the doorway, zipping up his jacket.  Adam waited for him to turn and followed him discretely, always keeping a carefully calculated distance between them.  Kris did not look back.

The streets were almost empty at this hour, with only taxi cabs and an occasional police cruiser rumbling down the streets.  Adam kept his face covered by the hood of his sweatshirt, relying on sensors to guide him as ALPHA scanned for Cerberus patrols.  Kris was humming quietly to himself, his hands burrowed into his pockets, shoulders hunched.  Discomfort, Adam realized, and increased his speed to close the gap a little.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Activity detected 10.34 meters ahead
     > Profile suggests gang altercation

Adam pulled up a stored procedure he had written, an exploit for the police database and prepared to execute it should the need arise.  He watched as two men stepped in front of Kris blocking his path.  

     > Weapon scan active
     > 2 x bladed weapons; 1 hunting knife, 32 centimeter blade, serrated edged, carbon-steel polymer, manufacturer Kenzaki Weaponry Inc.; 1 kitchen knife, 24 centimeter blade, non-serrated, stainless steel, manufacturer Kitchen Corporation.
     > Skill assessment: Untrained amateurs
     > Warning: Reaction time and pupil dilation suggests narcotics.
     > Suggestion: Proceed with caution

Adam agreed with the assessment and ran the code.  

     > Executing Priority 1 call to local police units
     > Transmitting message: Undercover operative in trouble; help required urgently; cover threatened; location: 75th and Cross
     > Authorization: Main police switchboard operative #14
     > One unit inbound
     > Time: 23 seconds

Adam pressed back into the shadows as he dialed up his hearing to listen into Kris’ conversation.

“… won’t ask you again, man.  Hand over everything you got.”

Kris’ voice registered an octave higher than baseline, “That’s all I got, dude.  If I had anything else, I’d hand it over.  On my momma’s grave.”

“Twenty bucks and a couple of cents?” the thug counted out the money again, “No way, you gotta have more than that.”

Kris was backing up, hands held up when the patrol car skidded to a stop beside them.  The two officers sprung out, weapons drawn and trained on the gang members.  

“Against the wall, dirtbags.”  

Kris flattened himself against the wall, face first, hands on the brickwork.  The two thugs followed his example a moment later.  One of the police officers – Adam enhanced the image of his badge and made out the name Smith - holstered his weapon and patted down the gang members, taking their knives and handing them off to the other officer who put them on the hood of the car.  Officer Smith pulled Kris’ wallet from one of the gangers and flipped it open.

“This yours?” he asked Kris who nodded.

“Gotta run your id through the system.”

“Yeah, no problem.”

Kris hadn’t moved from his position against the wall.  

“Just give us a minute to get these guys in the car and we’ll be right with you,” Smith patted him on the shoulder.  “Relax.  We’ll have you outta here in no time.”

Adam could see Kris frowning and worry crossed his mind.  He had not taken Kris’ personality into the equation.  Hopefully, he would continue to play along.  

The two gang members were cuffed and dumped into the back of the car and the weapons bagged for evidence, giving Adam time to do what he needed.

     > Wireless connection made
     > Cracking local passwords
     > Inserting record into the system: Allen, Detective Kristopher Neil, 13th Precinct.
     > Incorporating relevant basic information from immigration records
     > Status: Undercover
     > Cyberware: Null in compliance with current operating requirements
     > Case: Classified

Adam was tense as Smith scanned Kris’ ID card.  Reading the screen, he tilted it slightly so his partner could read it.  The screen was cleared before the prisoners could glance at it.  Officer Smith tapped the ID on his knuckles twice before handing it back.

“We’re just gonna run these guys in, won’t be able to hold them long with it just being weapons charges but it’s gonna be about 24 before they’re out again,” the officer told Kris, his voice hushed.  “We’ll try to keep them a bit longer but you know what the system is like.”

Kris laughed nervously, “Yeah.”

“Rough break you caught with this one, man,” Smith shook his head, “dunno if I could do it.”

Kris looked puzzled but shrugged, “Yeah, but well…”

“I know, gotta do what you have to,” the officer shrugged, “Well, you need any help, me and Dick are usually around this area.  You put a call in, we’ll step on it to get here.”

“’Preciate it,” Kris mumbled.

“Not a problem, Allen.  We gotta stick together out here,” Smith almost reached out to pat Kris on the shoulder but caught himself in time, pushing him back instead.  Loud enough to be heard, he continued, “Now, get before we haul your ass in as well.  We got our eyes on you.”

Kris ducked his head and missed the wink Smith gave him.  Getting back into the car, Smith slammed the door and his partner gunned the engine and took off, leaving Kris watching after them.  Adam finally let himself relax and hoped that this was an isolated incident.  He wasn’t sure that his processer could take too many more of these colorful interludes.
 

Chapter 8.

Kris frowned as he watched the police car pull off.  He was used to getting stopped and getting his ID scanned but that had to be the oddest stop he’d ever had.  Cops didn’t buddy up to him.  They didn’t say what a rough break it was getting mugged.  Hell, half the time they didn’t even stop.  And they definitely didn’t just send him on his way.  He sighed, heavily and glanced at his watch.  Cursing, he picked up his pace.  

Between everything, he was running late and his boss would have his hide for that.  He ran-walked the rest of the way to the warehouse where he worked, breathing hard as he pulled open the door.  Five minutes.  He was five minutes late.  Maybe his boss wouldn’t notice, wouldn’t make an issue of it.  

“The hell you think you’re going, Allen?”

Kris recognized the voice of Deveraux, the warehouse manager, bellowing at him from the office.

“Mister Deveraux,” Kris started, “I know I’m a little late.  I swear it won’t happen again.”

Deveraux cut off any further explanation with a hand, “My office, now!”

Deveraux was a large man, two hundred pounds and none of it muscle, and right now, he was standing in the doorway, almost totally blocking it.  Kris waited for him to move but the other man didn’t even twitch, just looked across at him with a sneer on his face.  Eventually, Kris just maneuvered around him as best he could.  Deveraux gave a mocking ‘sorry’ once Kris was past him and Kris ducked his head, feeling vaguely uncomfortable about the whole situation.  Deveraux pushed the door closed, turning the key in the lock and Kris’ head snapped up.

Deveraux was dark as he turned to face Kris, “You were late this morning, Allen.  And it’s not the first time.”

“What?” Kris frowned, confused.  “I’ve never…”

Kris had always been early, painfully so at times.  He didn’t want to lose this job.  Most places didn’t hire the non-cybered, especially if they didn’t have a social security number.  And those that did, well, they didn’t pay as well as this job did.  At least here he was earning almost minimum wage.  And now that he had Adam as well, he really couldn’t afford to be out of work.

“Was looking at your timesheet earlier, Allen, this is your third offense.  You know the rules, I’m gonna have to let you go.”  There wasn’t even an ounce of regret in his voice.

“The timesheet is wrong, sir.  This is the first time, I swear,” Kris shook his head, desperation creeping into his voice, “Please Mister Deveraux, I need this job.  I promise it’ll never happen again.”   

“Have a seat, kid.  Let’s see if we can work something out.”

Kris sat down in a hard plastic chair with flimsy arms as Deveraux came to stand in front of him, perching himself against a desk.  At the height he was at, he found himself staring right into his boss’ crotch.  Kris pressed himself back into the chair, a sinking feeling settled into his stomach as he strained to look up to meet Deveraux’ eyes.  

“I don’t wanna have to let you go, but I’m not sure what we can do,” Deveraux shrugged his shoulders, “I mean, there are guys lined up around the block just waiting to take your job.  And if you can’t even bother to make a little effort and get in on time, well, you’re a good worker, Allen...  Be a shame to fire you.”  Deveraux leaned back a little further, and Kris tried to look anywhere but straight ahead.  “You know, I’ve been watching you out on the floor and I gotta say you are a sight to behold,” Deveraux smirked at him, “Wiggling your ass around, sending those little sly glances my way.  I wasn’t born yesterday, boy.  Wouldn’t be surprised if you came in late on purpose just to get yourself some alone time with me.”

Kris looked at the man in front of him, at his thinning hair and his massive bulk and his mind flashed up a picture of Adam dressed in just his boxers, the way he had been dressed as Kris left this morning and there was no comparison.

“What?  Mister Deveraux, I don’t…” Kris started

“Don’t even try to deny it,” Deveraux pushed himself up from the desk and took a step closer to where Kris sat, “Tell you what, I gotta proposition for you,” he started to lean down, hands reaching out to grab the arms of Kris’ chair.

Kris ducked quickly, darting out from under Deveraux and ran for the door.

“You leave this office and I’ll make sure no one else hires you,” Deveraux growled.

Kris turned slowly, eyes wide, “You can’t do that.  I… I didn’t do anything.  You…”

“You come back here and well, we’ll sort this all out,” Deveraux waddled closer, until he was right in front of Kris, “Maybe sort you out with a nice job in the office here, what do you say?”  He ran a hand over Kris’ cheek and Kris shivered, turning his head away.  But Deveraux’s hand caught him and held him still.

“This isn’t right,” Kris whimpered, “You can’t…”

“Oh I can, boy,” Deveraux’s breath crawled over his skin and Kris gagged.  “What’ya gonna do about it?  Call the cops?  Not like they’re gonna believe a null like you.  All I gotta do is tell them you were trying to steal the petty cash and they’ll haul you off, lock you up.  Pretty boy like you, well, I’m sure you’re gonna be real popular in the cells.”

“Don’t do this.  Please,” Kris could feel the prickling of tears and closed his eyes.

“Won’t be so bad, boy, not when you get into it,” Deveraux’s lips brushed against Kris’ cheek, “Whore like you is probably used to getting plowed, ain’t ya?”

Kris pushed against the bulk of the other man but he may as well have been trying to move the earth.  Please God, why couldn’t someone knock on the office door?   Someone had to have seen him come in here, had to know what was happening in here, didn’t they?  A minute, that’s all he needed.  Turn the key in the lock and run.  Please, please, please, God.  Please.

He felt the hand rubbing roughly against his jeans and grabbed at it, pushing his hips against the door, trying something, anything to stop this.  He opened his mouth to scream but Deveraux’s lips covered his own, swallowing any sound.  Kris thrashed, turning his head left and right until he was free and screamed.

 

Chapter 9.

Adam watched Kris run through the doors of a warehouse and turned to leave.  He had components to pick up if he wanted to complete the security modifications on the apartment and it was doubtful that anything would occur during business hours, at least nothing that would require his intervention.

“The hell you think you’re going, Allen?”

Adam paused as ALPHA scanned and identified the aggressive timbre in the tone.  Adam approached the warehouse door.  Enhancing his vision, he watched the man beckon to Kris and then fail to move aside.  

     > Scanning body language repository
     > Gesture categorized as intimidating
     > Dominating behavior pattern
     > Intention: to make subject feel inferior, uncomfortable

Adam’s eyes narrowed.  There was a feeling in the air, non-quantifiable, that put him on edge.  Slipping through the doors, he made his way quickly to the outer wall of the office.  It was a poor fabrication, stucco board pinned to solid girders.  Adam looked around, scanners picking out the workers.  This was too public.  If he stood here, the probability of being questioned was high and that was not acceptable.

     > Scan of structure complete
     > Roof designed as supplementary storage structure
     > Metallic composite, tested for weights up to six tons
     > Probability of supporting weight 99.91%

There was a set of shelves to the right of the office that would suit his needs perfectly.  It took less than twenty seconds to cross the floor and climb to the necessary level.  

     > Stealth mode engaged

Nanites created soft soles to his boots and restyled his clothing allowing him blend perfectly with the surroundings.  His breathing evened out and quietened.  Looking around, he carefully crept across the metal roof, flattening himself against the structure as he enhanced his audio receptors.  Adam frowned as he listened to the conversation below.  

He frowned as he heard the words, extrapolating their meaning and the likely implications for Kris.  The man was attempting to coerce Kris into undertaking a course of action in which Kris did not wish to engage.  Adam’s hands fisted and his eyes narrowed as he listened on.  An ultimatum.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Caretaker’s vocal structure suggests high degree of anxiety
     > Directive #1: Protect the caretaker

Adam dismissed the message, choosing instead to engage his infrared scanners.  Kris was moving quickly, making his way to the door and Adam crept a little closer to the edge of the roof, expecting to see Kris emerge any second.  However, there was a second person in the room, following closely.  

     > Access police department dispatch system
     > Review current deployment of vehicles
     > Unit 63 identified as closest available vehicle
     > Calculate possible ETA of Unit 63 using standard routes
     > ETA: 5.36 minutes
     > Calculate possible ETA of Unit 63 using emergency routes
     > ETA: 2.98 minutes

Adam heard the whimpers below him.  He was uncertain whether the situation would remain unchanged for a further three minutes.

     > Directive #1: Protect the caretaker

He was unsure whether the message originated with ALPHA or whether it was a simultaneous execution.  Adam rose to a crouch, spreading his fingers wide as he placed his hands on the roof.

     > Change nanite configuration
     > Execute program 19-gamma variant 7
     > Program 19-gamma executed
     > Variant 7 engaged

Silver spread out from his hands, bubbling as it ate away the metal structure around him.  Adam braced as he counted down.  

Four

Three

Two

One

He dropped, landing in a crouch behind the target.  Targeting sights overlaid his vision, tracking for a viable shot.  The target stood tight against Kris, too close to guarantee a kill shot without also injuring Kris.  And an irrational subroutine deep in his subconscious would not settle for anything less than termination of the target.  

The nanites lay in silver puddles around him.  With a command, the drops rolled across the floor and joined with him.  Adam rose smoothly and closed the distance with his target.  Grasping the back of his shirt, he lifted him off the ground and tossed him against the back wall.

“Are you damaged?”

Kris’ eyes opened and he blinked up at Adam.  

“Are you damaged?”  Adam asked again.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Tracking target
     > Target stunned and immobile

Kris still didn’t answer, just looked up at him.  He did not like this quiet version of Kris.  It was not conforming to standard baselines.  He could detect no damage but without verbal confirmation, he would have to engage alternate methods of determining Kris’ health status.

     > Begin medical scan
     > Subject: Kris
     > Scan complete:
     > Minor abrasions; minor bruising to wrists, minor bruising to mandible
     > Heart Rate: Elevated at 180 bpm
     > Blood Pressure: elevated but within normal threshold
     > No medical intervention necessary

“My scans say that you suffered only minor damage,” Adam tried again, “Do you require assistance?”

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Tracking target
     > Target stunned but beginning to revive

Kris shook his head, “You…  You…  How did you?  You’re here.  How?  When?”

“That is unimportant,” Adam shrugged off the question, hoping that Kris would forget to pursue this line of questioning at a later date.

He turned to face the target still crumpled at the other end of the office.  He was starting to move, getting his feet under him.  Adam’s hand flashed silver as his nanites created a razor sharp blade.  He slowly advanced on the prone man.  His targeting sights locked on the man’s throat, locating the pulsations of his target’s jugular.  A single slice and death would be instantaneous.   

“The hell…” the target shook his head, eyes widening as they caught the light flash on his blade, “That’s it, I’m gonna have your ass, both your asses.”

“What are you…?”  Kris’ voice behind him, “Adam, no.  You can’t.  Stop.  Please.”

Adam looked at Kris and saw fear in his eye.  He hesitated and the blade was reabsorbed.  Something flashed through him, faster than he could identify and Adam returned to view his target, starting diagnostics to check his circuitry.  

Using the filing cabinet, the target hauled himself to his feet and unsteadily walked over to the desk.  Adam’s eyes tracked him as he moved to keep himself between the target and Kris.  Kris may not have wished the target’s death but Adam wanted to be in position to act should he attempt to further damage his caretaker.  The instructions from Kris had been oblique, unclear and Adam decided to test his boundaries.

“You attempted to injure Kris,” Adam kept his voice low, modulating it so that the man heard anger in the tone, “That is unacceptable.”

“I’m calling the cops,” the man reached for the phone, but Adam was there before he could lift the receiver, pressing down painfully on his wrist.  “Get off me. Get off me or I’ll have you…”

Adam shifted slightly as Kris took a step closer, still keeping himself between the target and his caretaker.

“You will not call the police.  But perhaps I will,” Adam smirked, “AMD Warehousing Incorporated.  Registered owner Andrew Mark Deveraux.  Identification Code: TXSTRC79-1983-98334004R.  Known aliases Andrew Dufoe, Mark Deveraux, Mark Warberg.  Outstanding warrants: three counts: unlawful knowledge; three counts: sexual assault; two counts: extortion; two counts: arson.  Law enforcement status: At large.   Reward offered by four different corporations; Cybernex Technologies, Riebenex Pharmaceuticals, Marison Incorporated, Johnson & Hughes Incorporated.”

“How did you…” Deveraux blanched, and pulled his hand free, stumbling backwards as Adam released him.

“Kristopher Neil Allen is terminating his employment with your organization with immediate effect,” Adam stepped back beside Kris.  “You will pay him a severance.”

Deveraux nodded hurriedly.  Adam watched him as he pulled out the cash box and started counting out money.

“What?  Adam, I can’t…” Kris started, his hand pulling Adam to face him.

“This is an unsafe working environment, Kris.  To have you working here would violate directive one of my protocols,” Adam stated plainly.  

Kris dropped his voice until only Adam’s enhanced audio could pick him up, “I need this job!”

Adam frowned and tilted his head to the side a fraction as he watched Kris, “Why?”

“Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to get this job?”  Kris’ eyes flicked from Adam to Deveraux and back again.  “Do you know how hard it is to get any job if you don’t have cyberware?”

“It is not safe here,” Adam insisted.  “I cannot allow you to continue working here.”

Kris glared at him, his hand tightening on Adam’s arm, “You cannot allow?  Listen, buddy, I’ve lived twenty three years of my life without you looking out for me.  Don’t think that just ‘cause I saved your ass that you get to tell me what I can and can’t do.  That isn’t how it works.”

Adam flicked a glance at Deveraux, “This is not a secured location.”

Kris settled down a little, “Yeah, well, you’re not getting off the hook that easily.  We’ll continue this at home.”

Adam studied Kris’ face and saw that Kris was serious.  In the short time since he had met Kris, he had noted that the small man was stubborn, but Adam was sure that once they had conversed on the issue that Kris would see the logic of Adam’s decision and accept it as the only valid course of action.

Taking the money from Deveraux, Kris thanked the man and stalked out, Adam on his heels.

“This squares us, yeah?” Deveraux called after him.  

Adam did not answer.  The man had attempted to injure Kris.  There was nothing that Deveraux could provide that would compensate for that and while his caretaker had prohibited direct retribution, even now, a coded file was traversing the optical highways towards Police Headquarters.  There was more than one way to destroy someone.

 

Chapter 10.

Kris stormed through food shopping, conscious that the money in his pocket would have to last until he could find a new job.  He looked longingly at the fresh fruit on display but knew that he would have to limit himself.  He turned to the bargain section, picking up some vegetables that were probably not going to last another day under the warm lights of the shop.  They’d still taste alright but he’d have to cook them tonight.   Picking up a box of supplement meals, he tossed them in his basket.  He hated the things but at least they were cheap.

“Kris?”

Adam was beside him, but he’d decided that he wasn’t talking to the man.  Not after what he’d done back in the warehouse.  Not until he’d apologized.  Kris wasn’t a kid and yeah, he was grateful for Adam stepping in and saving his ass – literally – but that didn’t give Adam the right to make decisions for him.  It wasn’t like he wouldn’t have quit on his own.  He just would have at least waited until he’d had another job lined up first.  

“Kris?  I do not detect any problems with your auditory processing, are you refusing to answer me for a specific purpose?”

Kris turned, looking Adam in the eye, “I’m not talking to you.”

Adam opened his mouth to say something but shut it again, tilting his head to the side slightly.  

Kris got a full minute’s peace before Adam’s next question, “Why are you purchasing substandard merchandise?”

Kris bit back a sarcastic comment.  Knowing his luck, Adam wouldn’t understand sarcasm and the whole thing would just turn into a shouting match in the middle of the grocery store.  Well, he’d be shouting and Adam would just stand there blinking at him and asking questions.  

“Kris?”

Kris turned to face Adam, “I just am, okay?”

“But would it not be better to obtain fresher items?”  Adam asked.

Kris glanced around, there was only the old shopkeeper, Mister Aberforth, there and he was watching his soaps.  Nothing short of a street war would pull him away until the ad breaks.  

“Yes, Adam, alright?” Kris sighed, anger cooling for a second, “It would be great if I could afford to get fresh food but seeing as someone just told my boss that I quit, I’m not exactly rolling in money.  That severance you asked Deveraux for, that has to do us until I manage to find someone in the city willing to hire me.”

Adam was silent for a moment, blue eyes assessing, “I have access to funds.”

Kris stared at Adam.  He just wasn’t getting the point that Kris was making.  Was he so disconnected from the real world that he really didn’t understand?  

“That’s not…” Kris ran a hand through his hair, “It’s not about the money.  Well, not just about the money.  It’s about you making decisions for me.  It’s about you not thinking about the consequences of what you’re doing.  I’m not like you, Adam.”

“I know that, Kris.”

“Do you?  Do you really?” he asked, voice rising in frustration, “I’m not talking about the cyberware, Adam.  I’m talking about everything.  We’re from different worlds.  I’m just a small town boy who moved to the city thinking that everything would be better but instead got handed a plate full of crap.  I can’t walk down the damned streets without being stopped and checked, just ‘cause my parents couldn’t afford to plug stuff into me.  I have to compete with the scum of the city when I go for a job.  I can’t just walk up to someone and say ‘hi, my name is Kris and I won’t steal from your company’.  Believe me, I've tried but they wouldn’t believe me.”  Sighing again, he tried to calm himself down, “I got all this crap that I’m dealing with already but I had a paying job that didn’t try to screw me over.”  He paused, “Well, at least it didn’t until today.  And you…  You’re…  You’re you and I don’t even know what that means.  You showed up and I took you in while you fixed yourself…”

Adam interrupted, “I could not have done that without you, Kris.”

“Yeah, my magical contribution of opening a packet of healers. Big deal.  All I know is that since I dragged your ass in, everything has gone wrong,” he shook his head.  “I can’t do this right now.  Can you just go?  I’ll meet you back at the apartment.  I need some space.”

Adam hesitated and Kris frowned, “What?”

“I do not believe that would be wise,” Adam’s voice was as calm as ever but Kris thought he could detect just a hint of what might have been worry.

“Nothing is going to happen between here and home.  I’ve had my share of bad luck for today.  I can look after myself,” Kris tried to reassure the other man.

“Observation suggests otherwise,” Adam stated, “There have been two serious-risk incidents already today.  It would be remiss of me to leave you unaccompanied.”

“Two?”  Kris asked, “How the hell did you know…?  My god, you…  You’ve been following me.  That’s how you showed up so quickly at the warehouse.  Jesus, Adam, you can’t do that.  You can’t just…” he thrust the basket at Adam, “Here, you do the shopping.  I’m going out.  See you later.  Maybe.”

Kris didn’t look back as he walked out of the store.


Chapter 11.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Caretaker appears to be unhappy with present circumstances
     > Logic interrupt
     > Orders given by caretaker conflict with directive #1

Adam processed Alpha’s message as he watched Kris leave the store.  He took a step towards the door but Kris’s order stopped him.  He had not completed his assigned task yet and as such was not free to follow Kris.

     > Connecting to local police monitoring station
     > Cracking passwords
     > Passwords cracked
     > Administrator access granted
     > Scanning all video streams within four block radius
     > Uploading biometric data for Kris
     > Subject identified
     > Locking tracker information

Adam relaxed as he incorporated the feed into his normal data streams.  Satisfied that he could now protect Kris while carrying out his orders, he looked down at the basket in his hand.  He was unsure how to proceed.  He had never shopped for food before.  Technically he had never shopped for anything before.  Back during his Cerberus days, everything had been provided for him.  But since then, he had simply procured what he needed during convenient hours.  Food had not been a priority.  He had simply picked up whatever prepackaged items had been around.  

Cataloguing the items in the basket that Kris had picked up in the bargain bin, Adam quickly replaced them with higher quality items.  But beyond that, he was uncertain.  He had no information on Kris’ preferences.  It was a safe assumption that he enjoyed the items that he had prepared the previous evening, but would Kris appreciate the same items again?

     > Begin Message from ALPHA
     > Kris has entered Third Street at the McKinley interchange
     > Direction changed to east
     > Speed: 6kph

Taking a deep breath, Adam modulated his accent and approached the shopkeeper, “Sir, I am unsure what to purchase.  Perhaps you could assist me?”

The man didn’t look up, just replied, “What you looking for?”

Adam assessed his options before answering, “My housemate has left me to shop but I do not know what food he requires.  I have just moved in with him.”

All true, but just enough to obfuscate the real truth.  Working at minimum wage would mean that money was always bordering on insufficient.  Having someone share your home meant that expenses could be shared.  The circumstances surrounding their co-habitation did not need to be explained.  And with his accent changed slightly, he would seem just another immigrant.  The city’s prejudice would work well to hide his true origins.

“Ya mean Kris?” the man asked.

     > Begin Message from ALPHA
     > Kris proceeding easterly at Arthurs crosswalk
     > Direction maintained
     > Speed: 5.8kph

“Yes,” Adam said.  “He appeared to know you.”

“Yeah, boy’s been coming in here regular as clockwork for the last…” he scratched his chin, “must be about eight months.  Good customer, pays cash.  I don’t do credit.”

“Credit will not be necessary,” Adam assured the man, “Do you have an electronic transfer machine?”

“Yup,” the man turned to look at Adam, running his eyes over him, “Probably still works.  Ain’t had cause to test it in a while.  How much you looking to spend?”

     > Begin Message from ALPHA
     > Kris entering unidentified alleyway
     > Viewing changed to local camera feeds
     > Direction changed to north
     > Speed: 5.3kph

Adam glanced around the store, checking the price tags on the various items.  A search of the networks he had access to held no formulas for the average price of groceries.  

Adam considered this for a micro-moment and formed what he considered a convincing answer, “I would not want Kris to regret allowing me to stay.  I have some funds from my last job.”

“Well, boy likes his home cooking.  Could buy food packs but mostly buys fresh,” the man looked back to his small screen.  “Can’t go too far wrong with picking up some meat and something to cook with it, yeah?  Just keep to the red meat.  Chicken is a little stringy this week,” he shrugged.  “Had to try and find someone in city to sell to me after customs upped their take.”

Adam moved amongst the displays and reviewed the relative best before dates and the branding, trying to determine the best choices.  ALPHA scrolled through review websites, flashing him articles and testimonials.  Adam finally settled on a pack of two steaks sitting on a bright blue tray, shrink-wrapped with the brand name ‘Momma’s Own’.    He placed it carefully in the basket, satisfied with the item.  

     > Begin Message from ALPHA
     > Kris has paused adjacent to business premises
     > Business identified as R’s
     > Business purpose bar with late licence

“That what you’re going to get him?” the shopkeeper asked, casting his eye over the basket from where he sat behind the counter.

Adam looked down, puzzled, “Is it inadequate?”

“It’s okay I guess, if you like stringy meat with no taste,” the man shrugged.  “You wanna try the top shelf stuff, you gotta grab the plain pack from the back freezer.  It’s from a friend of mine.  Expensive but I swear each of those cows had a name.  Won’t get better meat this side of the city.”

Adam considered the man.  There was nothing on his face to suggest that he was attempting to deceive him, no flick of eyes, no tremors in his voice.  Pulling the blue tray from his basket, he placed it back on the shelf and proceeded to the freezer at the rear at the store.  He found the packages easily and picked out several steaks approximately the same size as the steaks that Kris had prepared the previous evening.  


     > Begin Message from ALPHA
     > Kris has ceased progress
     > Gaining remote access to local police reports
     > 17 open police reports filed in connection with venue
     > 7/17 involving violence
     > 10/17 involving noise pollution
     > Deploy to location?

Adam focused on the video feed, zooming in until he could see Kris clearly.  He appeared to be swaying slightly, his eyes closed.  Adam frowned.  He dialed into the audio feed, hoping that there would be an additional clue there to Kris’ strange behavior and winced as his hearing burst to life with the beat of drums overflowing from his treble register to his baseline.

     > Audio dampers engaged
     > Lowering to 70dB
     > Starting diagnostics on audio processers

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Kris is under sonic attack
     > Plotting expedited route

Adam cancelled ALPHA’s plotting, recognizing the patterns from what Kris had been humming the previous evening.   

“My soap is just done,” the shopkeeper said, drawing Adam’s attention, “How about I look at what you got and see if there’s anything you forgot?”

Adam hastily accepted the option and followed the man around the store, watching what he picked up and how he tested the items.  

     > Begin Message from ALPHA
     > Kris has begun walking again
     > Approaching 4th Street
     > Direction changed to north
     > Speed: 5.2kph

Adam relaxed perceptibly as Kris started walking again.  Following the shopkeeper to the counter, he watched the total climb as each item was scanned and packed away in cheap durabags.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Kris has turned east onto 4th Street
     > Direction changed to east
     > Speed: 5.3kph

“That about do it?” the shopkeeper asked as he put the last item into the bag.

“I believe that will be adequate,” Adam nodded.  “May I have access to your electronic transfer machine?”

It took him a moment to pull the dusty machine from under the counter and hook it up.  Adam tuned him out, focusing instead on the traffic camera footage of Kris.  He had his hands in his pockets and his head down as he walked.  He noticed several of the humans around Kris look up as he passed but they were not interested enough to take any more interest in him.  However, Adam still captured and stored their images, allowing ALPHA to begin cross-referencing them with city databases.

“Okay, there ya go,” the man held up the machine.

Adam took the machine and held his thumb over the scanner.

     > Begin program X3079-5
     > Program active
     > Scanning location
     > Accessing Cerberus financial accounts
     > Encrypting data
     > Accessing Cerberus Corporate Expense accounts
     > Userid: SC1
     > Password: God
     > Credit limit: unlimited
     > Encrypting vendor id
     > Deleting transaction from Cerberus financial listings

Adam smiled and returned the machine once the payment in progress message disappeared.  The machine was tucked under the counter again, and the man handed over the groceries.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Kris has turned north onto Westland Avenue
     > Direction changed to north
     > Speed: 7.4kph

“Thank you for your assistance,” Adam turned and left the store.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Tracking data lost
     > Attempting to reestablish contact
     > Contact reestablished
     > Searching for Kris
     > Kris not found
     > Searching for Kris
     > Kris not found

Adam processed ALPHA’s message and cursed.

 

Chapter 12.

The back streets were deserted as Kris made his way over to the only bar he knew that didn’t balk at letting in the uncybered.  Sure they charged a fortune but at least they let you in the door, not like the other clubs around here.  Music was terrible, all hard metal and grunge, nothing Kris could really get into, but the beer was cold and there was a pool table.  He had money in his pocket and nowhere to be for a while.  Seemed like a good place to kill time.

He was still steamed at Adam but the initial flash of anger was gone.  The guy had saved him from Deveraux, that itself was enough to forgive him but Kris had been on his own for so long, fending for himself that having someone watching over his shoulder, following him made him damned nervous.  Then there was Adam himself.  The man was so much of a mystery that Kris didn’t even know where to start describing him even to himself.  He was tall, and strong, and so hot it made Kris want to melt right into him but there was a coldness to him, a detachment that Kris didn’t know how to deal with.  Throw in the fact that Adam had see him at his weakest, and what you had was a nightmare situation.  

Then Adam had quit his job for him, demanded a severance and hustled him out of there so fast his head was still spinning.  Then blowing up at him in the store…  Well, he probably didn’t deserve that.  Not totally, but with everything that morning?  It was too much.  

This?  This was why he went walking.  Get his head clear, put things in perspective.  

Kris nodded to the bouncer standing at the door and moved past him into the neon lit gloom of the bar.  He tossed some money on the bar and was rewarded with a beer.  He picked at the label with a thumbnail, thinking.  

There was something odd about Adam, something he couldn’t put his finger on.  He knew that Adam was heavily cybered.  He’d seen that for himself, but there was something more.  The guy hadn’t said much to him since he’d woken up but Kris had talked to ALPHA and to tell the truth, he’d enjoyed the company.   He’d been alone since he’d left Arkansas, brutally alone and now there was a chance of company.  He wanted to reach out, grab hold and never let go.  Adam had never looked at him like he was something scraped off the sidewalk, hadn’t called him names, and part of him knew that he never would.  And he needed that.

Getting a job probably wouldn’t be the mammoth task he’d told Adam it would be but it wouldn’t be easy either.  There were a few places he could pick up day work.  But the bigger issue was Adam.  He needed to sit Adam down and tell him that he couldn’t just things like that.  That he needed to talk things over before he made decisions that were going to affect other people.  Yeah, and if he managed that, then maybe he could persuade the sky to swap places with the ground.  He’d only known him a day and he could tell that it would take a pretty damned big push to move Adam when he dug his heels in.  Stubborn as the sun, his momma used to say.  Couldn’t persuade the light to stay outside once it decided to shine.  But maybe ALPHA would be able to help him.  Well, it was worth a shot at least, wasn’t it?  He didn’t exactly fit the damsel in distress mold and he didn’t want to either.  And Adam needed to know that.  He nodded to himself, smiling.  A conversation, yeah, that would work then maybe they could get back to the start of the friendship, or whatever it was that they had going at the minute.

Kris sipped at his beer, tapping his fingers to the rhythm of the music.  He wondered what Adam would bring home that evening and just hoped that he’d have enough to make something for them both later.  If not, he could always give Adam a list and send him out again if he had to.  A snippet of melody snagged his attention and he tuned in, closing his eyes to filter out everything else.  It was good.  The pitch rising and falling to fit perfectly with the singer’s voice.  There were a couple of forced notes in there, where the singer wobbled to hit the highs, but Kris liked it.  

“You got a napkin?” Kris asked the bartender.

The bartender just glared at him and sighed as he grabbed a small white napkin from the pile beside the till.  Kris pulled a pen from his pocket and scribbled on the corner of the napkin to get the ink running.  Closing his eyes again, he tapped out the rhythm then scribbled the tempo down on the napkin.  Humming along to the chorus, his fingers naturally followed the chords, changing from C to E then G and back to C.  He jotted the changes down, crossing them out when he was mistaken.  The words came next.  When the song was over, Kris looked down at the napkin and frowned.  The words were wrong.  Not wrong as in he copied them down wrong, but wrong for the song.  They didn’t fit the melody.  It was soft through the verse and harsh in the chorus, perfect for a breakup song.  ‘He left me broken but damn him, I’m about to run him over with my car and it’ll serve him right’.  That type of song.  A bad breakup that hurt more than you wanted to admit.  

Kris opened the napkin out a little more and started to hum the song again, getting a feel for it and as he did, lyrics came to him.  They joined the other lyrics on the napkin and Kris was in a world of his own.  Corrections, amendments, an additional bridge, everything ended up on the white napkin.  

“Whatcha got there, boy?”

Kris jumped as someone snatched up the napkin.  He fumbled to grab for the scrap of tissue but it was out of reach.  Kris looked up and up into the face of a very large, very cybered hulk of a man.  Red laser sights shone out of narrowed eyes and Kris huddled in on himself.

“Pretty boy here’s into some sorta poetry shit,” the man nudged his equally big friend.  “We don’t hold with that sorta shit here.  We got a no poofs rule.  You wanna take that crap and get while you can still walk.  Don’t got none of those froofy cocktails with umbrellas in here.”

Kris held up his hands, mumbling ‘sorry’ as he slipped off his bar stool trying to step around the wall of muscle in front of him.  He didn’t look up, didn’t want to antagonize them any further.  His view was kept to leather trousers, black and scuffed to hell over dusty, dirty biker boots.  Hand guns were tucked into their waistbands.  He didn’t know much about guns but they looked to be well used.  He stepped back a little as one of them pushed in closer and almost stumbled into someone behind him.  

“Don’t think he wants to go, Butch,” another voice behind him, and hands on his shoulders, locking down painfully, “Falling over himself to stay.”

There was a low laugh from the group around him and Kris was regretting pushing Adam away.  

“He’s got a real pretty mouth, Butch, can I keep him?  We’ll feed and walk him every day.  Promise!”

More laughter and Kris chanced a look up at Butch.  The guy was stroking his ratty beard thoughtfully.  Kris’s eyes fixed on the patches covering his jacket locking on the ‘Devil Spawn’ tag.  Kris’ stomach fell.  There was no one in the city, hell in the state that hadn’t heard of the Devil’s Spawn motorcycle gang.  They made the headlines every day.  The police were scared of them and the corps hired them to take care of those jobs they didn’t want to dirty their hands with.  If he’d known they were going to hang out here, he would have found some other bar.  On the other side of the city.  This was bad.  Kris was really starting to wish he hadn’t made such a big deal of Adam following him.  He could really use some help.  Cops, the army, whatever miracle Adam could pull…

“Suppose we are a little short of entertainment since you broke the last one, Red.”

Kris’ eyes widened.  There was no joking tone in the words, and only growls from the other men.

Red shrugged, “That wasn’t my fault.  Tico bet me a case of tequila.  So what do you say, pretty?  You wanna see the country on the back of a bike?  We’ll be real careful with you.”  He pulled Kris back against his hard body and dropped his voice to a whisper, “Least until we break you in proper.”

Kris tried to pull himself free but the man had a death grip on his shoulders and was pushing down hard.  Kris could feel his knees starting to bend.

“I…  I gotta go.  Sorry I crashed your bar.  How bout I buy you boys a drink, anything you want, and we call it quits,” Kris tried to keep his voice level.

Butch looked him up and down and smirked, “Red seems to have taken a liking to you.  Be a shame to let you go.”

Kris’ hand was fumbling for his wallet as he tried to find some way to get out of the situation.  There were seven of them, huge brutes and solidly built.  Red was still pushing down on his shoulders and Kris could feel the pressure all down his spine.  The hell was he thinking when he told Adam to give him ‘some space’.  

A finger brushed his cheek and Kris reacted on instinct.

“Bitch bit me!”

The corners of Butch’s mouth pulled up into a cruel smile, “Boy’s got spirit.  Don’t worry brothers, we’ll beat that out of him soon enough.”

Kris’ mind flashed up images of grabbing one of the guns but he’d never get there before Butch.

“Kristopher Neil Allen, I am starting to believe that my earlier summation was an underestimation.”


 

Chapter 13.

Kris had never heard such a beautiful sound.  Looking around the broad shoulder of the biker in front of him, Kris saw just a silhouette outlined against the doorway.  Adam took a step forward and the metal detector in the doorway went nuts, alarms blaring.  Kris watched as Adam turned his head to regard the machinery and the klaxons died with a pathetic whimper.  The bikers turned to face Adam and Kris tried to slip away but Red’s beefy hand held him still.

“Don’t worry, pretty, you stay put.  Won’t take us but a minute to take care of your boyfriend,” Red whispered in his ear.

Kris couldn’t hold back the smile.  Adam was going to paste these guys.  

“This ain’t your fight, boy,” Butch cracked his knuckles as he spoke, looking Adam up and down.  “Walk away now and we won’t have to leave you in a dumpster.”

Adam wasn’t intimidated, “You have detained Kris.  His body language suggests that he is not a willing participant in this situation.  I must ask you to remove yourself from his proximity,” Adam tilted his head slightly and the corner of his lip pulled up, “Or else.”

Butch looked left and right, and Kris followed his gaze.  His crew were reaching for knives and guns, shaking themselves out, getting ready for the fight.  They had the easy confidence that came from winning a million bar fights.  Kris glanced at Adam and saw him standing stock still, blue eyes tracking the Devil’s Spawn, waiting for their move.

“You want him,” Butch finally spoke, “Come get him.”

Kris felt hands at his waist and he was hoisted up onto the bar by Red.  

“Don’t move Princess.  We’ll be done in a minute.”

The tension in the bar was thick and the bartender fled to one of the backrooms, bringing a bottle of whiskey with him.  Butch, Red and the others spread out, trying to surround Adam but Adam stood his ground, back to the door.  His hands were loose at his sides and Kris thought he saw a flash of silver but it was gone before he could be sure.  Kris held his breath, not daring to breathe he was so nervous.  He trusted Adam.  But against a biker gang…  One lucky hit and they’d have him.  

Steeling himself, Kris pushed himself off the bar and slowly moved closer to Adam.  He’d gotten himself into this, didn’t seem fair to leave Adam alone to clear up the mess.  He wasn’t a fighter but least he could do was watch Adam’s back, maybe try to take one of the guys.  And hopefully not die in the process.  Not dying would be awesome.  

Edging along the bar, he was never so glad of his shorter than average height.  They didn’t even look his way.  Not until he was just past them.  He ran the last few feet, ducking the grabbing hands of a biker as he skidded to a stop behind Adam.  Reaching out, he placed a hand at the small of Adam’s back.  He could feel the corded muscles iron hard under Adam’s skin.

“Let’s just go,” Kris whispered knowing Adam would pick it up.

Adam turned his head a fraction, brows pulling together into a frown, “Is that an order?”

“What?” Kris asked, puzzled, “No.  I just…  I…  There’s no need to do this.  We can just leave.  Two steps and we’re out the door.”

Adam reached back and Kris felt Adam’s fingers touch his and connectors snake around his wrist, squeezing lightly.  Kris squeezed back.  Then Adam was gone and Butch was flying backwards.  Kris blinked and Red was holding his arm, screaming in agony.  He could hear a crack of bones and Adam was onto someone else, taking their gun and tossing it away.  

Kris saw one of the bikers set up for a punch and opened his mouth to shout a warning but Adam wasn’t there.  He was behind the guy, slamming a fist into the guy’s kidneys.  Kris watched the biker’s knees buckle, his back snapping back and Adam was moving again.  Light glinted off something, a knife, a blade, something, but it was moving too fast to see.  A step, a kick, a punch.  Kris could only track what was happening by watching the bikers fold up and scream in pain in the aftermath of what Adam was doing.  

He could see the swirl of Adam’s leather coat flying out behind him, spinning wildly.  Then Adam stopped.  The leather snapped against his leg as it caught up with him.  Adam stood still, feet apart and fists still clenched as he looked around the bar.  There was no hint of movement, no sound except the groans of the bikers and Kris could finally breathe.

“That was,” Kris didn’t have words, “That was…  We should leave.  But wow.  You were so fast.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  I mean, I’ve been in bar fights before,” Adam’s eyes narrowed and Kris stuttered, “Well, not in bar fights but in bars where there were fights.  But I’ve never seen anything like that.  You were amazing!”

Adam kept glancing at the guys on the floor as he moved Kris towards the exit.  “Your initial assessment was correct.  We should leave.  The bartender has placed a call to the police.  I do not believe that we should be here when they arrive.”

Kris nodded, “Sure, yeah, sure.  Whatever you say.”

Adam led him from the club, stopping only to pull a laden bag of groceries from behind the dumpster.  Kris frowned as he saw the bag, not believing that not only had Adam saved him but he’d also managed to get dinner.  What had he done to deserve a guardian angel like Adam?

“How did you know?  I mean, you didn’t follow me this time.  You couldn’t have,” Kris gestured to the shopping bag, “But first hint of trouble there you are.”

Adam didn’t answer at first but when Kris didn’t stop pushing, Adam stopped, voice dropping low so that Kris had to strain to hear him, “ALPHA tracked you.  When you disappeared from surveillance, we were… concerned.”

Kris smiled, “I’m glad you came looking for me.”

Adam frowned and Kris pressed on.

“I know what I said in the store but I guess I didn’t entirely mean it.  I was upset,” Kris ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it.  “Things like that don’t happen to me and it kinda threw me off track.  I took it out on you and I shouldn’t have.  I would have quit,” he saw the skepticism on Adam’s face and shook his head, “I would have.  Sure it was good money, but there are other things more important than money.  I’ve been on my own for a while now and well, I’m not used to people making decisions for me, so…  Sorry for ranting at you earlier,” he held out his hand, “Friends?”

Adam looked down at the hand, then back up at Kris.  He made no move to shake and Kris was starting to think that he’d misinterpreted everything.  Adam’s eyes narrowed and snapped a hand out.  Kris found himself flying backwards, pain catching up with him as he slammed into a brick wall.  Plasterwork exploded inches from his head and shoulder and then Adam was there, pressing him back into the brickwork, covering him completely.  Fire burned through his upper arm but Kris’s brain was working painfully slow and all he could see was Adam’s perfect skin and the sharp angle of his jaw.  Dark hair tickled his nose and he could smell leather and something else, something masculine and dangerous and it overrode his common sense.  He leaned in closer, hesitating before he touched Adam’s skin but Adam was gone and he felt cold.  He shivered.

Adam was watching him.  Crystalline blue eyes watched at him, cold and hard.  He was only a foot away but there may as well have been a chasm between them.  Kris shrank back a little.  Adam turned his head slowly, looking over his shoulder and Kris realized that the look hadn’t been meant for him.  Someone was shooting at them.  The whip crack of bullets and the plaster dust.  Oh shit.  Someone was shooting at them.

Adam turned slowly and Kris could see Butch in the alley, a handgun in his hand.  Adam drew his hand back and something went zipping through the air.  Butch staggered backwards and the gun dropped from his hand.  He clutched at his shoulder and Kris could recognize the look on his face.  Fear.  Pure unadulterated fear.  And the man was running.  Adam took a step towards him but stopped, turning instead to face Kris.

“There was insufficient time to warn you.  I apologize.”

Kris reached out to touch his cheek.  He could see Adam’s lips moving but he couldn’t make out the words, couldn’t understand him.  He could see his fingers trembling on Adam’s cheek but couldn’t stop them.  Something was wrong.  Something…

 

Chapter 14.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Priority Code 1
     > Medical Emergency
     > Heart rate dropping from 78bpm to 55bpm
     > Cranial trauma detected
     > Damage to the brachial artery
     > 48bpm
     > Immediate medical attention required

Adam caught Kris as he fell, cradling him close.  His logic pathways were locked as chaos overwrote his systems.  He had done this.  He had damaged Kris in his attempt to save him.  He had broken Kris.  This was his fault.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Immediate medical attention required
     > 44bpm

Adam’s hands moved, settling on Kris’s chest as ALPHA produced a low voltage electrical charge.  Kris’ body jumped as the electricity crossed his heart, shocking him.   Adam watched Kris’ chest, monitoring the minute rises, tracking, monitoring, reassuring himself that Kris was still breathing.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > 54bpm
     > Epidural swelling detected
     > Blood loss approaching critical levels
     > Deploying Matrodyne Bio Medic Nanites, subdermal administration

The connectors on Adam’s left arm flashed silver as they reconfigured into a needle and pierced the skin.  Adam verified that they had been injected directly into a blood vessel and pulled Kris close again.  Rising smoothly to his feet, Adam cradled Kris against his chest as he plotted the quickest route to Kris’ apartment.  The course locked in, Adam broke into a sprint.  Acceleration systems kicked into hyper-mode as adrenaline flooded his system.  ALPHA continued monitoring Kris as Adam dodged around taxi cabs and pedestrians alike.  

Three point five four minutes later, Adam was pushing Kris’ door open and laying him on the couch.  Kris’ eyes were closed but his breathing was regular and the wound was closing at an accelerated rate.  He could detect the communication stream between ALPHA and the nanites but chose not to review the specifics.  The scenario in the alley replayed itself in his processor with crystal clarity, alternate actions flashing across his optics as possibilities but even he did not have the ability to change the past.  He had chosen the best option given the available information at the time but somewhere along the logic path, he had miscalculated.  

A ricochet had snapped free a piece of brick which had caused the damage to his arm, tearing the brachial artery, an infinitesimal possibility dismissed as unlikely.  Unlucky but recoverable.  However, the head injury was at his feet alone.  He had obviously neglected some variable in his equation and Kris’ head had impacted the wall.  Blood loss had complicated the situation.  

The memory replayed again, snapping back to the image of Kris extending his hand for Adam to shake.  He had been distracted by circumstances and had not taken Kris’ hand and now Kris would not extend it to him again.  Humans were predictable in that regard.  They focused solely on the negative, dwelling on slights and magnifying them to the detriment of any other experience.

Adam reached out, brushing a strand of hair from Kris’ forehead.  In his limited memory, he had not had a friend before.  Cerberus employees had been clinical, cold and following his escape, the corporation had circulated his image and tagged him with the label of criminal destroying all chance for him to make connections with regular citizens.  Kris was the first to speak to him for an extended period of time, the first to offer a connection and he had destroyed that relationship before it had even begun.  Adam closed his eyes and tried to isolate the sensation of pain deep within his core.  

Part of him wished that Kris had not found him, certain that if he had not that he would not be feeling this maelstrom of pseudo-emotion.  Cerberus had branded him a dangerous machine during his creation and now it seemed that they were correct.  Even when he tried to protect, he damned those closest to him.  Perhaps he was foolish to leave the controlled confines of Cerberus.  If he had not escaped, Kris would not be injured due to his interference.  

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Abnormality detected within Logic Processor 39-Gamma
     > Logic stream of primary unit has been corrupted
     > Beginning diagnostics
 
     > Matrodyne Bio Medic Nanites disengaging
     > Blood production stimulated
     > Epidural swelling reversed
     > 72bpm
     > Subject Kris is showing signs of waking
     > Continuing monitoring

     > Diagnostics complete
     > Unidentified interference pattern detected in Logic Processor 39-Gamma
     > Isolating and quarantining
     > Load balancing in progress
     > Load balancing complete
     > Logic processors online and clean

Watching closely, Adam saw the first flicker of Kris’ eyelids and then brown eyes were looking up at him and Adam felt a weight lift from his shoulders.

“Hey.”

Kris’ voice was hoarse and his pupils were dilated.  Adam reviewed ALPHA’s scans but could find nothing to suggest that the nanites had been less than thorough.  

“Adam, you okay?”

“I am undamaged,” Adam replied and Kris relaxed.

“What happened?”

Adam took a deep breath, “I damaged you.”

“You…?” Kris frowned and pushed himself up slightly, looking into Adam’s eyes.

Adam looked down, analyzing the thread pattern in the carpet.  

“Adam, look at me,” Kris reached out, running a hand over his arm.

Programming kicked in and Adam raised his eyes until he was looking at Kris.  He scanned the familiar facial features but could find no signs of recrimination or anger, just concern and curiosity.  

“Tell me what happened,” Kris insisted and Adam was powerless to resist.

“I miscalculated the amount of force required to remove you from the trajectory of the bullets and your head impacted the wall as a direct result.  In addition to that, a piece of brickwork was dislodged by a ricochet and damaged your brachial artery causing blood loss.  The combination of the two injuries resulted in unconsciousness.  ALPHA administered emergency medical treatment.  Scans determine that you are 98% recovered.”  Adam paused before adding, “I apologize.  I will remove myself as soon as you are fully recovered.  Estimated time five point seven minutes.”

Kris’ hand tightened on his arm, “You’re leaving?”

“Logic would dictate that it is the least damaging course of action,” Adam tried to look away but Kris’ order overrode his own desire.

Kris’ lips turned down and Adam could recognize the sadness without consulting his data banks.

“Do you want to go?”

Adam opened his mouth to answer but was unsure what answer Kris wished to hear.  There was no indications on his face, no body language on which to make a determination.  

Eventually he answered the question, “I think it would be for the best.”

“Oh,” Kris breathed the word and Adam could see disappointment in his eyes.  “I understand.”

     > Priority Interrupt
     > Vocal processors transferred to secondary intelligence control
     > Authority: ALPHA

“Begin message from ALPHA,” Adam heard his own voice and tried to regain control but ALPHA had removed all access rights, “Primary intelligence, code named ADAM is currently experiencing a minor malfunction in logic processors.  Diagnostics suggest this may be compared to the human emotion guilt and believes that his continued presence here will result in further injury to Kris.  Current intention is to remove himself from continued association with Kris and return to the city.”

     > Launch Program 93-17-X
     > Program 93-17-X launched
     > Cracking access codes
     > Subject: ALPHA
     > Access codes cracked
     > Transferring vocal processor control to Primary Intelligence Unit
     > Authority: ADAM
     > Creating randomized authority codes
     > Randomized authority codes created
     > Codes changed on all primary systems

Kris pushed himself up to sit on the sofa and tapped the seat beside him.  Adam searched his repository for the significance of the gesture and when he found it, moved to sit beside Kris.

“Adam,” Kris took his hand and held it between his own hands, “I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to answer it honestly if you can, okay?”

Adam nodded.

“Do you want to leave?”

Adam’s voice was low when he answered.

“No.”

 

Chapter 15.


Kris breathed a sigh of relief.  He had been holding his breath waiting on Adam’s answer and that surprised him a little.  It probably shouldn’t have but the thought of Adam leaving him had left him feeling cold inside, empty.

“Well, good,” Kris smiled, “That’s sorted then.  Now, I should probably start getting something ready for us.  I don’t know about you, but I could eat a horse.”

Kris pushed himself to his feet and made his way into the kitchen.  He was a little wobbly on his feet but he felt good, getting better by the second.  He could feel Adam behind him, not quite crowding him but only a step or two away.  It was a comforting feeling and if he wasn’t careful, he could get used to the attention Adam was paying him, to his constant presence.

“Kris, I injured you.  I am not a safe companion,” Adam spoke softly and Kris could hear anguish in his voice.

He turned slowly and looked up into Adam’s eyes, “You saved me today.  Three, no, four times.  If you hadn’t gotten me out of the way, I’m fairly sure I’d be dead.  You made a mistake.  You’re not perfect and you know what?  That’s okay,” Kris sighed, “You want to leave I’m not going to stand in your way.  Door’s right over there but far as I’m concerned, you don’t have anything to apologize for.”

Adam tilted his head to the side and Kris could feel the assessing gaze and he knew that Adam was thinking over what he’d just said and part of Kris wondered if he even realized that he did it.  

“You defy all expected paradigms of human behavior,” Adam said, finally.

Kris had to laugh, “Well, my momma did say that they broke the mold when they made me.  Now, where did you put the groceries when you unpacked them?”

Adam went stock still and Kris could swear that he could see the beginnings of a blush on Adam’s cheeks.

“I neglected to retrieve them following the altercation in the alley.  Time was critical.  I will retrieve them.”

Kris shook his head, smirking, “Don’t worry about them.  They’ll be long gone by now.”

“I can return to the store.”

Kris considered it for a moment and shook his head, “I got a better idea.  I’m guessing that you never had a handmade deep pan pizza loaded with everything on it.”

Adam shook his head.

“Well then, we’re grabbing pizza and beer and celebrating,” Kris announced.

Adam frowned, “What are we celebrating?”

Kris thought for a minute, “Friendship.  I’ll just pop down to the pizza place…”

Adam growled and Kris held up his hands, “Okay, so maybe given my recent streak of bad luck going on my own isn’t the best idea, but we could go together.  What do you say?”

Adam considered for a second and smiled, “That would be acceptable.”


 

Chapter 16.

It took about half an hour to get stocked up with pizza and beer.  Kris had ordered two of their largest pizzas with a variety of toppings and picked up a six pack.  Adam had taken the hot pizza boxes from him on the walk back but hadn’t stopped watching their surroundings.  Kris was getting used to it now, the narrowing of eyes, the repositioning when something caught his attention.  It was kinda sweet, if a little paranoid.  But he was starting to realize that this was just Adam.

Kris twisted the cap off a beer as soon as they got home and handed it over to Adam before grabbing one for himself.  The pizza was still warm when they opened the boxes and Kris taught him the art of eating the best pizza in the city.  

“So, I gotta ask,” Kris started, curiosity getting the better of him, “what’s your story?”

“My story?” Adam asked.

“Yeah, there’s gotta be something.  I’m not stupid, Adam, I know you’re in trouble and I know you’re not your average guy on the street.  You got a story and if you’d like to share it, I’d like to hear it.”  Kris sipped his beer.

Adam didn’t speak for a while, just contemplated his pizza.

“You don’t have to tell me, man.  That’s fine,” Kris offered Adam an escape, “I just thought that it might be good to share it.  My momma always said that I might not be blessed with height but I got broad shoulders.”

Adam pushed his beer aside and closed the pizza box, “It is complicated.  I have not…  No one…  I am unsure where to begin.”

“Wherever you want man,” Kris dropped his empty pizza box to the floor and concentrated on Adam.  He had the feeling this was going to be a hell of a tale.

Adam was staring straight ahead when he started talking, “ALPHA informed me that part of my creation process was a complete memory wipe - overstimulation of the temporal lobe – so I do not know why I was selected or who I was before they started the process.  ALPHA has mined some of the information but they were too smart to leave electronic files on their systems so a lot of it is still unknown.”

“They?” Kris asked.

“Cerberus Corporation,” Adam’s voice was hard as he said the name before dropping back to his usual soft tones, “They took a boy and transformed him into a machine.  Every vital system was replaced by state of the art technology.  Systems so complex that they won’t reach the commercial market for five, ten years.”

Kris whistled.  He’d heard of Cerberus.  Everyone had.  Their ads ran twenty four seven on the networks.  There were billboards with their product lines posted all over the city.  They were the name for cybernetics in the country, hell, in the whole world.  But to think that they were doing this?  Kris would have never guessed.

“My designation was SB-137.  ALPHA found records of previous experiments.”

“There are others like you out there?”  

“No,” Adam shook his head, “No, there was a high fatality rate.  Very high.”

Kris leaned in, “How high?”

“According to ALPHA’s records, there was only one successful prototype manufactured.”

“You,” Kris breathed.

Wow, and Kris thought that he was alone.  He had a family, he had a life, he had memories.  Adam had nothing.  Well, nothing but ALPHA and now him.  Adam wasn’t on his own anymore.  

“As soon as ALPHA cracked my records, I changed my designation but Cerberus noticed and scheduled me for reprocessing,” Adam laced his fingers together as he spoke, looking down.  “Having an identity, a personality was not part of Cerberus’ plan for me.  I had the best trainers, biomechanical specialists, cybernetics experts testing me, ensuring that my calibrations were perfect and I was scheduled for a demonstration before the chiefs but they could not take the chance that I would say or do anything to embarrass the project managers.  ALPHA warned me as soon as they booked the programming suite.  I could not allow them to zero me again.”

Kris could understand that.  He tried to think what it was like to know nothing about yourself but he couldn’t get his head around it.  He really couldn’t.

“So what did you do?”

“I escaped.  We escaped.  But Cerberus do not abandon their investments easily.  They are still hunting me.” Adam smiled and Kris watched his face light up.  “However, I believe that they are now regretting the quality and complexity of some of their upgrades.  This was the closest they came to capturing me but I believe that they are close to desperation.  I have evaded them for over eight months.”

“Wow!”  Kris was genuinely impressed.  It took a lot of skill to stay under the radar for a week let alone a month.  Kris thought of the number of times he’d been stopped for random ID checks, the amount of times he’d had to get scanned and checked and he was awed by Adam's skill.  To stay hidden from a corporation and one that had so connections in this city was, well, it was amazing.  “So the attack.  That was Cerberus?”

Adam nodded, “One of their drones.  Upgraded with offensive weaponry and updated tracking software.”

Kris remembered the wounds, the blood.  Adam had almost died.  “Looks like they’ve move from capturing you to sweeping you under the carpet, Adam.  That wasn’t a lovetap, you know.  They shredded you open.”

“Your assessment appears to be correct,” Adam agreed.  “But I am unconcerned.”

Kris’ eyebrow rose, “You’re not?”

Adam shook his head, “They expect me to operate within predefined parameters but I have never been one for conformity.”

Kris laughed, and opened another beer, offering one to Adam.  He took it and drank.  Kris watched his Adam’s apple bob, lost in the movement until Adam spoke again.

“There is something that I do not understand, Kris.  I have reviewed your records and find no entries regarding complaints filed against or by you on any system, yet today, there were three incidents which could have resulted in critical injury or death.”

Kris sighed, picking at the label, “How much do you know about the city?”

“I have access to all city ordinances and databases…”

Kris interrupted him, shaking his head, “I don’t mean the fact sheets.  Things work a certain way here.  I moved here from the country.  I got in because I had a clean record.  My immigration status can be revoked if I’m deemed an unacceptable risk,” Kris could see the frown on Adam’s face, “If my name appears on too many reports, they’re going to round me up and ship me home.  And that can’t happen.”

“Why?” Adam asked.

“If they kick me out of the city I have no place to go,” he shrugged, “The town where I grew up, my family, they’re all gone.  I was from Conway, the Sunrise Family farm town.  My mom put me on a bus before the town got liquidated.  There’s nothing left for me to go home to.”

Adam’s mouth opened and closed.  Kris finished his bottle and got to his feet, walking into the kitchen with the empty bottle.  He hadn’t spoken about his home in a long time.  Here in the city, no one asked.  They didn’t care where he came from, didn’t care who he was as long as he showed up on time and did the job.  Everyone had their own story in this city and no one shared.

He jumped when he felt Adam’s hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry for causing you pain,” Adam’s voice was soft and Kris leaned back into him taking comfort from Adam’s touch.

“It’s okay.  It was a while ago.  I don’t think about it much anymore,” he lied.

Adam didn’t call him on it and Kris was glad. His chest was on fire, the memory of a long buried hurt waking up.  He closed his eyes, trying to shut out the feeling.  He could feel the tears pricking his eyes and shut them tight.  

“Are you alright?” Adam asked.

“Yeah,” Kris said, just a little too quickly.  “Yeah, I’m fine.  I just…  Can we talk about something else?”

He forced a smile and turned to face Adam.  Adam probably saw through it but he didn’t say anything, just reached out and placed a hand on his arm.  It was a little awkward but Kris appreciated the gesture.  

“I have a question, unrelated.  I took this from one of the bikers, identified as Butch.  It appears to be in code but I have tried multiple algorithms but cannot decipher it.  It is your handwriting.  What is the key?” Adam pulled something from his pocket.  It was crumpled, but Kris recognized it instantly.

He smiled, shaking his head a little, “It’s not a code, Adam.  It’s music.  There was this song on the stereo and it was catchy.  I started writing it down, playing with it.  The bikers didn’t seem to think much of my song choice.”

“Why did you write it down?  The song will be repeated again, or you could purchase it,” Adam looked down at the piece of paper.  “I could run a search, find the relevant information.”

Kris tried to figure out what to say.  How did you explain music to someone who didn’t understand?  Sure he could get his hands on the original song but this was more than that.  It was working out variations, putting harmonies together, working out what worked and what didn’t.  He usually didn’t change the lyrics but this was his life.  Music was who he was.  How did he explain that to Adam?

“It’s not the song, it’s the music.” Kris tried, but from the look in Adam’s eyes he wasn’t getting it.  “Come over here, sit down.  I wanna play you something.”

Adam sat down on the sofa and Kris grabbed his guitar.  He strummed a chord and tuned one of the strings until it was perfect.  He could feel Adam’s eyes on him as he started to pick out the chords and felt a nervousness that he hadn’t felt before.  This wasn’t like playing in front of a crowd of people he’d never see again, this was more than that.  He wanted Adam to feel the music, to understand.  This was important to him.

He closed his eyes and let the music carry him away.  He hummed along until the verse and taking a deep breath he started to sing.  The words came easily and Kris poured emotion into each note, hoping that it sounded as good to Adam as it did to him.  The verse, the chorus to the bridge, it came together and Kris chanced a look at Adam.  He was still sitting on the couch, just watching and Kris faltered.  He closed his eyes again and finished out the song, holding the last note until the chord died away.

He opened his eyes again, pulling his guitar a little closer as he waited for Adam to say something but the other man was just looking at him, head tilted.  

The silence was starting to grate on Kris’ nerves and eventually he just had to ask, “So…  What did you think?”

Adam didn’t speak for a minute just watched Kris closely.  Kris was bouncing his foot impatiently, dark thoughts running through his mind.  It was obvious that Adam didn’t like it.  He was just trying to find a way to break Kris’ heart gently.

Eventually Adam answered, “The tempo is contemporary, but with country and western influence.  The choice of a solo guitar is bold but brave with influences of several modern and past artists.  The deviation from the original is minor with the exceptions of the lyrics which change the subject of the piece drastically…”

Kris cut in, “Adam, Adam…  That’s great.  If you want to write for one of those pretentious music magazines but that wasn’t what I asked.  What do you think?”

Adam frowned, “I…  I…  I do not know what you wish me to say.”

Kris put the guitar aside and moved over to sit beside Adam.  Kris took Adam’s hand in his, rubbing a thumb over the back of his hand, “I don’t want you to say anything specific.  Do you like it?  Do you not like it?  How does it make you feel?”

“Feel?  I do not feel,” Adam frowned.

Kris looked up at him, “You don’t feel?  At all?  Come on, Adam, you have to feel something.  That’s what music is!”

Adam shook his head, “There are no provisions within my programming for feelings or emotions.”

Kris sat back a little, “But, you’re human.  Forget all the metal, forget everything they’ve done to you.”  Kris brushed his free hand through his hair, “Okay, ALPHA said earlier that you were feeling guilt.  That’s an emotion.  It’s all in there somewhere.  It’s got to be.  Think about it.  Close your eyes and remember the music.  Don’t focus on the words, don’t try to decipher the notes.  Just listen and tell me what you feel when you listen to it.  Doesn’t matter what it makes you feel but there’s got to be something.”

Kris was pushing Adam and pushing hard, and it probably wasn’t fair given how understanding Adam had been about backing off from his questions about Kris’ family.  But Kris couldn’t even begin to comprehend a life without listening to music and experiencing the joy of a really good baseline, the wonder of a Soprano hitting a high C, the rush of a really good gig.  He couldn’t live without his feelings.  And for Cerberus to rob Adam of that…  It was horrific.  Evil.

“I do not believe that I have the capacity to feel, Kris.”

Adam’s voice was calm but Kris thought that he heard a trace of sadness mixed in but was that even possible given what Adam was saying?  He tried to think what she would do in this situation but his mind went blank.  He watched Adam.  His eyes were perfectly blue, with tiny wrinkles around the edges when he smiled or spoke.  There was a ghostly trace of freckles on his pale skin and Kris ached to reach out and brush them.

The fingers of his free hand reached out, running over the smooth skin.  Adam stilled and Kris started to pull his hand back but Adam caught it, lightning quick and held it in place.  Kris leaned in, moving slowly so that Adam could pull away if he wanted but he didn’t and Kris closed the distance.

Adam’s lips weren’t soft and the kiss was far from perfect.  For the longest time, Adam didn’t move and Kris was petrified that he’d screwed everything up but then Adam moved and it was the best kiss he’d ever had.

 

Chapter 17.

Adam hesitated as he watched Kris move closer.  Thousands of sensors captured data and transmitted it to his data banks.  Processes tagged and cross referenced each item against his repository of human behavior.  The minute dilations of Kris’ irises.  The speeding up of Kris’ pulse.  The emission of natural pheromones.  A hand brushed his cheek and Adam was surprised to feel the heat against his skin.  

It had been months since anyone had touched him and even then it had been clinical.  The lab technicians did not reach out to simply touch him.  They connected wires and took samples.  They had never just touched him.  But Kris was different.  He did not follow any logical extrapolation patterns.  No behavior model fitted his actions.  

     > Dopamine levels rising without direction
     > Testosterone levels rising without direction

ALPHA flashed warning messages across his vision but Adam pushed them aside, lost in the pleasurable sensations that came from Kris touching him.  The tiny movements of Kris’ fingers sparked reactions from nerves, exciting neural pathways that had not been active before.  The thumb brushing his ocular orbit and the tips of fingers brushing the sensitive skin of his ear.  There was a faint recollection, a flash of image but it was nothing more than a flash, gone too quickly for Adam to focus on it.  The pressure eased as Kris prepared to remove his hand and Adam reacted, his hand moving to hold Kris’ in place.  

     > Detecting involuntary pheromone production

Kris’ eyes widened at Adam’s actions and he hesitated, watching for a reaction in Adam’s eyes.  Adam kept his face neutral, hiding his confusion at current events.  Then, Kris started to lean in close.  Kris’ lips pressed against his own and Adam was again lost in sensory data.  His lips were warmer than his fingers but as he moved, his fingers shifted slightly, moving to cup Adam’s face.  ALPHA searched the databanks for references to this activity, flashing data files in front of his eyes.  Adam read and reread the entries on kissing, queries flashing through his processor faster than he could process.

     > Beta-endorphin spike detected
     > Oxytocin levels rising

Through his sensors, he could feel the slight downturn of Kris’ lips, and logic took over.  He mimicked Kris’ movements, his lips brushing lightly and then connecting fully to deepen the kiss.  He tilted Kris’ head slightly to achieve a more acceptable angle and felt the first probing attempts of Kris’ tongue.  He could detect the taste of the pizza and beer that they had consumed but there was another flavor there, uncategorizable and Adam simply tagged it as ‘Kris’.  

Kris pushed in closer, still kissing him and from somewhere deep inside, an instinct awoke.  Adam released Kris’ hand on his cheek and instead let it rest on the back of Kris’ neck, fingers buried in Kris’ short brown hair.  Kris groaned quietly at the back of his throat and Adam’s instincts took control.  He kissed Kris, deep and hard and unrelenting until Kris pulled back panting for air.  His cheeks were red, lips swollen and dark.  His pupils were wide.  His pulse fluttered visibly at his throat and Adam felt a predatory impulse at the back of his mind.

“Wow,” Kris could barely speak.  “Wow.”

Adam engaged diagnostics.  He did not know, did not understand what had guided his actions.  There was no programming to follow, no instruction sets designed to cover psycho-sexual response.  His biological systems were in chaos, reacting without direction and he felt… odd.  

“Adam, are you alright?” Kris asked, drawing Adam’s attention back to the man at the other end of the couch.

There was space between them now, meaning that Kris had moved but Adam had no recollection of such an action.  Seconds, minutes of time were missing from his logs.  ALPHA was synching the information, filling in the absent moments.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Diagnostics complete
     > Stimulation of biological protocols caused overload to processor 7-a
     > Processor 7-alpha repaired and online
     > Endocrinal systems returning to baseline readings

“Adam?  Say something.  Please.”

Adam blinked and focused on Kris.  He was moving sluggishly, responding slowly but there was something intangible but definitely there that left him unconcerned.  He felt…

“I am unsure,” he spoke slowly.  “My processor is having difficulty cross referencing current experiences with known baselines.”

Kris was hesitant, “How do you feel?  I mean…”  He floundered.

Adam ran through a thousand permutations in his head before he replied, “I believe I feel… happy.”

Kris released his breath and pushed closer to Adam, “I knew you had feelings.  I knew it.”

Adam watched Kris bounce on the cushions enthusiastically and allowed himself a moment of internal triumph.  Cerberus had wiped away his memories, had taken all previous experiences from him but their process had been incomplete.  His mind appeared to have retained an amount of data hidden away, emotions, feelings.  Not fully developed but even in an infantile state, Kris had stimulated them, brought them to the fore.  It would take a significant amount of work to incorporate them with his programming but for the first time in Adam’s memory, he had hope.  And with Kris there, he believed that he would succeed.
 

Chapter 18.

“I do not believe that I enjoy vegetables,” Adam pulled the lid from one of the pots on the stove and peered inside.  

Kris rolled his eyes as he chopped the carrots, “You’re still eating them.”

“I feel that it would be better for my emotional development if I avoided those experiences that result in a negative emotional output,” Adam pouted, yes, pouted, at him.  

Kris tried to keep the smile from his face.  Since Adam had discovered that Cerberus had not been as thorough as they’d told him, he’d been relentless in trying to develop his emotions.  Kris had taken him out into the city to try new things.  There were days that Kris felt like a proud father watching his son take his first tentative steps into the real world and then there were days like today.

“Do I need to ask ALPHA to show you a nutritional chart again?  Not even you can live on just meat, Adam.  And besides, you said you liked my carrots,” Kris turned to face him, trying to look stern.

Then Adam was in front of him, raising his chin with a finger and kissing him.  Kris reached behind him to put the knife on the counter before letting his arms loop around Adam’s waist.  

“Will you prepare them in your usual way?” Adam asked between kisses.

Kris smiled, “If you’d like me to.”

Adam considered it for a moment, then pressed a final ghost-light kiss on Kris’ lips, “I would like that.”

It had been that way for the past five weeks, since that night when the two of them sat on the couch and talked and shared that first kiss.  Sweet moments and minor bribery.  But they’d also had some really honest conversations.

Kris had been surprised when he’d found out exactly how affected Adam had been by the whole experience.  He hadn’t meant to bring his world of logic crashing down and okay, maybe crashing down was an exaggeration but he hadn’t really counted on how whole-heartedly Adam had thrown himself into his mission to experience every emotion known to man.  Not that he was complaining.  But when Adam only needed an hour of sleep at night, it made keeping up with him a tiring job.  Wasn’t completely bad, though.  Wasn’t bad at all really.  

Adam had insisted that Kris share his city with him, so he’d taken Adam to every out of the way, free-of-charge vantage point in the city.  They’d sat on rooftops and watched the sun come up together.  They’d grabbed food from street vendors and sat side-by-side on a bench in one of the park projects.  Then there were nights when they just sat on the sofa and watched television.  Adam had hijacked cable.  They had two hundred plus channels and Kris still preferred to just curl up beside Adam and share slow lazy kisses, fingers intertwined.  Kris knew they’d turned into one of those sickly sweet couples but neither of them cared.  

Since Adam moved in, they’d made changes.  To be honest, it was the second night on the couch that did it.  Kris wasn’t as young as he used to be and sleeping on the lumpy, worn out couch had managed to turn his back into a pretzel.  The third night he’d tried it, he’d woken up on the bed with Adam beside him, looking less than amused at his attempts to give Adam space and be the perfect host.  

Kris had picked up another single bed and a screen the very next day.  He’d even moved his bed to one side of bedroom and started to assemble the bed frame before he’d realized that Adam had stolen the bag of screws, nails and other various unnamed pieces.  When he’d asked Adam about it, Adam had ducked his questions but Kris had insisted and Adam had thrown out a string of logic so convoluted that Kris had to sit down and think it through for a full ten minutes.  In the end, it had boiled down to one single fact - Adam was scared.  Scared of everything that had happened.  Scared of the changes taking place within him.

Kris wouldn’t have thought it possible but Adam was terrified.  For years, he’d been told what he was.  He’d had the limits of his programming reinforced with words and reports.  And they’d been wrong.  And that was enough to rock Adam to his foundations.  He wasn’t who, what he thought he was.  He was more.  Truly a hybrid of human and machinery.  And Kris understood that it was unnerving.  But he was learning, fast.  And he was bringing Kris along for the ride.

Kris didn’t want to push Adam, didn’t want to overload him.  Not only was Adam a friend, a really good friend, his only friend, but there was a vulnerability about Adam that made Kris want to curl up around him and tell the rest of the world to stop picking on him.  

At night, when Adam was sleeping, or whatever the technological equivalent was, he spoke to ALPHA.  He knew about the memory cycles missing from Adam’s memory.  He knew that Adam was trying hard to work out some way to incorporate both parts of himself into one whole working creation.  Last thing he wanted to do was to make that more difficult but with ALPHA covering his technological back and with Kris at his side, Adam was adapting.  He’d gotten a lot better over the last couple of weeks and now he barely missed anything, not unless he was lost inside an emotional storm.  And even then, he had the backup of ALPHA and Kris was there to talk him down.

Kris spent most days and nights with Adam right by his side and to say that he enjoyed it was an understatement.  He cherished the time he spent with Adam.  He, more than anyone else, knew how precious every second was and tried to make sure that Adam’s every wish came true.  His settlement money was running out, but Adam picked up the bill more often than not, paying by electronic transfer.  Kris suspected that what he was doing wasn’t exactly legal and was probably opening up a world of danger for them but if it meant spending more time with Adam, then who was he to complain?

Truth was something that he’d never even pictured happening had happened.  A door he’d slammed shut had swung open and he was every bit as vulnerable as Adam.  He’d fallen hard for Adam and now, there was no doubt in his mind.  Kristopher Neil Allen was in love.
 

Chapter 19.

Kris sat perched at the edge of the couch, a pen held firmly between his teeth as he reviewed the pages in front of him.  His fingers twitched as his mind picked out the details, transforming them into notes.  His thumb flexed in anticipation of strumming across the strings.  He’d been working on the piece for about a week now and it was starting to drive him crazy.  

Nothing he tried fit with the melody and he was starting to think that the whole thing would sound better if it hit the side of the trashcan.  He’d changed everything, dumping the lyrics and chords and starting fresh but he still couldn’t get it working.  It had gotten to the stage where even the slightest change in expression from Adam had him crumpling the sheets up.  It was there, sitting at the edge of his mind, waiting to come out but damned if he had any idea how to get it onto the paper.

He’d sent Adam out shopping, given him a long list filled with items that would take consideration.  Even if he asked for help, it would still be an hour before he made it back and hopefully, hopefully, Kris would have this licked by then.  It was close.  He just needed to get the bridge down and he’d have it.  Fingers crossed.

He tucked the pen behind his ear and stretched his fingers, letting the neck of his guitar rest on his hand, fingers already pressing down on the first chord.  His foot tapped out the beat as he brushed his thumb over the strings.  He took a deep breath and started to sing.  His eyes closed as he sang and it was working.  He swung into the chorus, then slowed it down for the first verse and back to the chorus, varying a couple of words to fit the story progression and then into the bridge and…  Nailed it!  Kris was smiling as he passed the transition back to the verse.  That was it, he had it.  Couple of corrections to the sheets and he’d be done.  The chorus for the last time and…

BANG!

Kris jumped as the apartment door crashed open, bouncing almost closed again with the force.  He struggled to his feet, clutching his guitar to his chest protectively.  

“Adam?” Kris called out, hoping, praying that it was just Adam.

“Oh, pretty, pretty boy.  Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten us already?”

Kris’ spine froze solid as he recognized the voice, the words.  He watched, unmoving as the door was pushed open to reveal the biker who’d taken a shine to him in the bar all those weeks ago.  His eyes flashed red as he looked around the room, laser sights tracing over the walls.  Kris backed up, almost falling into the chair as he moved but he managed to get the overstuffed armchair between him and the biker.  Red ducked as he stepped into the room – was he always that big? – and Kris could see the rest of the Devil’s Spawn gang spread out behind him, filling the hallway.  

Why the hell had he sent Adam out?  He could have just asked him to stay in the bedroom, couldn’t he?  Next time he was going to listen when Adam tried to tell him that it was a bad idea.

“Aw, pretty, you don’t seem happy to see us.”

Kris spun on his heel and ran for the fire escape.  A dark shape filled the window and Kris skidded to a stop.  Perched on the other side of the glass, waving at him in a mock friendly way was Butch.  Kris ran for the kitchen instead, dropping his guitar as he went.  He grabbed the biggest knife he had from the knife block and held it in front of him.

“Would you look at that, Butch?  Ain’t it cute?”  Red laughed at him as he casually tossed the couch out of his way.

No way was he that strong before.  No way.  Kris backed up until the counter’s edge bit into his spine.  There was something different about these guys.  Something more dangerous and that was something given that he’d been shit scared of them before.  

“Wha…” Kris’ voice caught in his throat, “What are you doing here?”

He heard the shuddering creak of a window opening and saw Butch’s fingers appear on his window sill.  The hulking man crept catlike into the room, all controlled grace and panther sleek movements and damn, no one that size should move that smoothly.  

“You shouldn’t be here,” Kris forced himself to stand tall.

“Tisk, tisk.  Adam left you all alone, didn’t he?  Such a shame.”

Kris’ eyes widened.  How did they know Adam’s name?  He didn’t remember using it at the bar, but maybe…  

“He’s coming right back.  Should be here any minute.  So, if I were you, I’d leave before he finds you here.”

“Oh pretty, did your momma never tell you that lying was wrong?” Red stepped closer and Kris swallowed down the urge to curse him out for mentioning his mom.  “We know all about your boy.  He got in a couple of good shots last time, but we got ourselves some…” he paused, smiling and Kris shivered, “… corporate sponsorship.  They were real interested in your boy when we mentioned him.  Asked us to bring him over for a visit.”

Butch was side by side with Red now and Kris gripped his knife harder, ignoring his sweating palms.  The blade was shivering as he held it in front of him.  Red paused beside Kris’ discarded guitar and knelt down.

“Aw baby, no need for foreplay,” Butch purred softly, moving ever closer, “We didn’t forget about you.  Red here’s been itching for you, ain’t ya?”

“Oh yeah.  Been awful lonely at night,” Red’s hand ran over the fretboard of his guitar and Kris’ breath caught.  

Red watched him, smiling, his hand pressing down.  The ebony creaked loudly and Kris bit his lip.  The G string pinged slightly, nylon straining at the pressure.  Kris tried to watch Butch creeping closer but he couldn’t force his eyes away from Red.  The fretboard was bowed now, forced to bend under the weight of Red’s hand.  A little more and…

SNAP!

The ebony splintered, strings flying free and Kris hurled himself forward, swinging the knife wildly.  He slashed the leather of Red's sleeve and stabbed down.  He felt the resistance under his blade and then it was pushing through and Kris could feel the warm liquid spurt across his face.  But he wasn't thinking, just reacting.

They break into his home.  They threaten him.  They make him feel small, just a possession.  They break his guitar, the one his momma got him for his eighteenth.  They threaten Adam.  No way.  Not in his house.  Not while he’s breathing.

Hands grab him from behind, lifting him up and pinning him.  Red looked down at the leather jacket, poking it with a finger.  It came away red.

“Told you he was feisty.  He’s gonna be a real treat,” Red smirked up at Butch.

It wasn't any effort for Red to disarm him and toss the knife to one side.  Kris could see blood dripping from his fingers onto the floor.  He’d gotten him, and good.  But there wasn’t even a flicker of pain in Red’s eyes.  Nothing.  And Kris started to get really scared.

Kicking out at Butch, at Red, got him nothing but bruises on his arms and a smack across the face that knocked something loose upstairs.  Kris blinked, trying to get his wits together.  He was on the couch now and his face ached.  He could feel the burning pain of a palm print on his cheek and fingertips crawling over his skin.  Red was behind him, pulling him back against the hard plane of muscle and tracing patterns on the skin of his arm.  Kris tried to hold himself still but the shiver started deep inside and pushed its way out and Red squeezed him tight.

“Back with me again, pretty?” his voice was rough, hard and much too close.  “Missed ya, but don’t worry.  We talked to the bosses and they’re peachy keen to meet you too.  Think you’d be a sure shot for a little project they got going.”

Kris bucked to get away as Red licked a stripe up the side of his neck.  This wasn’t happening.  This wasn’t…

Butch stood in front of him, a knife in his hand.  Quicker than he could follow, Butch grabbed his wrist and held it still as he sliced through the skin of his forearm.  Blood welled in the cut then flowed in trails down the side of his arm.  Kris recognized the sheet of paper in Butch’s hand, his handwriting in stark contrast against the white background.  Chords, lyrics, the song he’d stayed home to finish.  Dipping his finger into the blood running freely across Kris’ arm, Butch scrawled over the surface.

Kris strained to see what he was writing.  It was just one word.  Genesis.  It meant nothing to Kris.  Kris watched as Butch pinned it to the fridge door, like some piece of juvenile artwork.  

“You can’t…” Kris tried to speak but panic made his chest tight and his arm sting.

It was Red that answered, “Oh baby, ain’t you got it yet? We can do anything we want.”

Butch looked around the apartment and nodded.   The Devil’s Spawn moved to flank their leader as Red lifted Kris from the couch.  

“Don’t do nothing stupid, pretty,” Red warned him, “Be a shame to have to damage the merchandise.”

Red picked him up, tossing him over a shoulder.  He could hear the others laughing at him and kicked out in rebellion.  Red slapped his ass hard, “Keep it up, pretty, I like it rough.  But just so as you know, I don’t exactly need a pulse to have my fun.”

Kris stopped as the words registered.  Surely he couldn’t mean…  Oh God!  Oh Momma!  This was bad.  This was layers of bad worse than he thought.  And where the hell was Adam?  Please, Momma, please let Adam find him.  Please Momma!

No one stopped them as they carried him downstairs.  No one even opened their doors and Kris could swear he’d heard a couple of locks clicking into place.  He couldn't blame them.  If something like this was happening to someone else, more than likely he’d be doing the same.

The door was held open for Red and they were on the street.  Kris tried to look around but all he could see was dark leather and the ground.  And then he was hustled down and spun around.  Parked by the sidewalk were three SUVs, black with tinted windows and sporting a discreet logo on the doors that made Kris’ blood run cold.  Cerberus.

 

Chapter 20.

Adam glanced nervously at his internal chronometer and noted that it had been fifty nine minutes since he had left the apartment.  Kris had been agitated this morning and had requested that Adam give him space.  To that end, Kris had sent him out to obtain food from a variety of stores, many out of range of the transmitters for the cameras situated in the apartment.  Adam had an uneasy feeling of trepidation, completely justified by historical events.  The last time that Kris had requested space, he had almost become an unwilling companion to a motorcycle gang.  The only relief that Adam had was that, at least, this time Kris was in their apartment.

Picking up the last item on his list, Adam paid for his items and picked up the duraplast bag.  Hopefully, Kris had completed work on his new song during his absence and would be more amenable to company.  He had grown used to Kris’ presence and had found himself enjoying their shared conversations and experiences.  Kris viewed the world differently than he, adding colors where Adam only saw the black and white of facts and figures.  Since they had discovered Cerberus’ lies, Kris had helped him to broaden his spectrum of experiences.  Adam now felt a cold hatred for the corporation that had tried to deny him this aspect of his life.  

He understood that to them, emotions, and the hesitations they sometimes caused, were undesirable side effects and had sought to control him through manipulation.  But Kris was not like that, he promoted an emotional response, often pushing until Adam catalogued and admitted what he was feeling.  It was, at times, unnerving, but the rewards were worth the occasional discomforts.  

It did not take him long to traverse the streets towards their apartment.  ALPHA searched out the broadcast signal for the cameras and easily unencrypted the stream, incorporating it seamlessly into Adam’s vision.  Adam scanned the images before him and slowed.

The apartment was in disarray.  The sofa had been moved back by almost a meter and was at an odd angle.  One of the cushions was now trapped by one of the castors.  The armchair was overturned and against one of the walls, one of the arms crumpled and broken.  Their small but serviceable television set had a spiderweb of cracks on the screen.  Books, magazines and papers lay torn and scattered across the room.  

Adam focused on the images and frowned as he saw some dark droplets against the pale carpet.  He zoomed in, and in, and froze.  The coloration and pattern suggested blood, or a similarly viscous liquid, but until he tested it, he would not be able to confirm his supposition.  He flicked through the various feeds, switching from camera to camera but there was no sign of Kris.  And worse, the main door to the apartment was wide open, as was the window which led to the fire escape.  A knot of panic tightened around his stomach and he felt his hands tremble.  

Where was Kris?  Had this been more evidence of his frustrations?  No, that was not logical.  Kris’ strength, even under emotional duress, would not be sufficient to cause this amount of damage.  Or at least, he did not believe that it was.  It was not unlike Kris to surprise him.  There were too many variables.  Too many questions he could not answer until he was there.

     > Begin Message from ALPHA
     > Route plotted
     > All fixed location surveillance equipment factored and avoided
     > Estimated Time of Arrival: 3.25 minutes at maximum speed and acceleration

Adam reviewed the route and locked it in, pushing his boosters to maximum.  The route was not direct but with so much uncertain, he would trust ALPHA to pick a route which would not compromise him.  Alleyways, backstreets, hopping onto dumpsters and then catching a fire escape ladder and climbing to the roof.  His shock absorbers were pushed past the redline as he sprung from roof top to roof top, covering impossible distances in a stride.  His silicon gossamer wings snapped out at the last second to counter momentum.  ALPHA monitored Cerberus frequencies, calculating the locations of the hunter drones, altering the course as they skirted the edge of search radii.  

Adam slid down the last fire escape and braced for landing outside the window to their apartment.  He flicked through the video feeds.  There was still no sign of Kris.  But something was different, beyond the smashed furniture and wreckage of the apartment.  His scanners thrummed as they took in dirt residue, patterns, cataloguing and cross-matching molecule small traces.  ALPHA pulled up video records of the apartment as it had been and Adam ran a side-by-side comparison.  Minute differences were red-tagged and flagged for attention.  

A footprint – right foot, size 14, hard wearing tread, similar in style to army surplus combat boots, wearer favors right side of foot, with a nick 3.5cm from front at left edge – was situated in the center of the metal work of the balcony, with another on the opposite railing.  Someone perched here and recently.  From the spread of the footprints, Adam calculated an approximate height – circa 1.9m.  The marks were not scuffed or washed away by the rain that had fallen last night.  Adam sniffed, eyes closed as he filtered through the scents.  There wasn’t much but the faint hint of sweat and pheromones lingered, caught in the dead air.  Adam leaned in close to the railing and saw finger impressions.  Enhancing the image in his optics, he cursed.  There were no fingerprints in evidence.  Not even a partial trace.  

The worry that had been a cold knot in his stomach blossomed and grew.  Removal of finger prints was a standard practice among the city’s criminal culture, but to be caught without the necessary prints was itself a serious crime.  From a criminal to undertake the procedure meant that they were hardened and committed to the lifestyle.  In other words, they were dangerous.  

Adam climbed through the window, noting the signs of forced entry as he went.  He stepped slowly.  With an unspoken thought, his nanites flashed silver and there was a blade in his hand, razor sharp and long.  His eyes tracked over the carpet, picking out changes in the lie of the threads.  There were more footprints here, not distinct but at least six different people, maybe seven.  The door was still ajar, wood shards and splinters preventing it from closing fully.  He moved silently, stepping over scattered papers and shattered furniture until he could kneel beside the sofa and examine the droplets.    He looked around, scanning for movement, but there was none.  

     > Begin Message from ALPHA
     > Beginning analysis of unknown substance
     > Unknown substance positively identified as blood, human
     > Beginning DNA analysis
     > Searching stored records
     > Match found
     > Analysis DNA positively identified as matching stored profile of Allen, Kristopher Neil
     > Continuing analysis
     > Estimated age of sample: 25 minutes at current temperature and elevation

Adam reached out and touched the droplets leaving whisper small trails on the carpet.  He looked at the faint stain on his fingers and frowned.  Emotions whirled inside him.  There was a tightness in his chest, a constriction and he couldn’t breathe.  His fists clenched and his eyes closed as he struggled to calm down.  His vision fritzed and jumped and he tried to remember what Kris had told him to do.

But just the thought of Kris made the feelings worse.  Kris, his Kris, was missing.  His blood was on the floor.  Someone had injured him.  Someone had taken him.  Someone.  Anger roared into a red hot rage and he could feel sparks jumping between his fingers.  Maps ran through his processor and Adam started plotting how to tear the city apart.  

     > Directive #1: Protect the caretaker

The anger gave way to inconsolable sadness, melancholy and Adam shivered, his hands unclenching and wrapping around himself.  He had failed.  He had not managed to carry out this most simple of directives.  He had left Kris at the mercy of unknown forces, unable to protect himself in the face of a superior force.  They had injured his caretaker, his friend.  He should have refused Kris’ order.  He should have…

Logic cut across his thoughts in the form of ALPHA.

     > Directive #2: Obey the caretaker

Adam brushed aside ALPHA’s message.  He had found a way to work within Kris’ orders before.  He could have done it this time.  He could have…

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Reviewing threat analysis taken on exit of apartment
     > Scanning surrounding areas for unusual activity
     > No unusual activity found
     > Scanning all frequencies for unusual broadcasts
     > No unusual broadcasts found
     > Profiling traffic against traffic recorded at similar times
     > No unusual activity found
     > Calculating threat level
     > Threat level minimal

And he was wrong.  He was wrong and Kris was gone.  

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Why?

Adam stopped short, processing at the single word question.  Why?  Why was Kris gone?  He frowned, trying to reassert control over his mind and force his logical circuits to the fore.  Several reasons jumped to the front of his mind, likely possibilities.  The first was that it was possible that Kris was dead, killed by the intruders, and even the thought of that was enough to make his breath shudder.  Adam catalogued the possibility but knew that this dark thought was being pushed forward by his worst fears.  Logically, it made no sense.  There was not enough blood to suggest death by exsanguination, but that was only one possibility.  However, assuming such a scenario, why would they move the body?  To cover their tracks?  

Possibly, they were not intending to injure Kris but something went wrong and Kris was injured.  They may have removed him to another location, a hospital, a street doctor, to obtain treatment.  Again, those possibilities seemed unlikely.  It cost a significant amount of money to engage the services of a healer and with the signs of forced entry, it was against all behavioral patterns.  But ALPHA checked with all the major metropolitan hospitals and street doctors, just in case.  Hacking and cracking their encryptions and scanning their information systems for new admissions matching Kris’ description.  There were no hits.

Kris may have exited the property himself following their forced entry.  He may have been injured in his escape.  But if that was the case, he would have surely signaled that he was leaving if it was possible.  But Adam had not found any evidence of such a signal.  

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Search has not been completed

Adam reviewed his finding and ALPHA was correct.  He had neglected several rooms, focusing instead on the evidence he had seen on his initial scans and getting lost in his findings.  He pulled his focus together and pushed himself to his feet.  Looking at the footprints, he tracked the paths.  No one entered the bedroom or the bathroom but there were several sets of prints to and from the kitchen.  Adam stepped slowly, still cautious.  

On the ground, just out of direct sight, shattered wood caught his attention.  Stepping around a discarded chair, he saw what was once Kris’ guitar and the worry started to grow again.  The guitar was Kris’ most prized possession.  He would sooner come to harm himself than allow anything to damage to it.  It was one of the few mementoes that remained from Kris’ mother.  And for that to be shattered on the floor…  Adam closed his eyes, keeping a careful control over his emotions as he continued on.  He couldn’t afford to let himself fall apart.  Signs of a scuffle, scuff marks on the linoleum.  A knife missing from the knife block and…

His eyes passed over the fridge door and froze.  Scrawled on a sheet of paper pinned to the door by the missing knife was a single word.  Genesis.  

Adam’s anger flared white hot and then it was gone, leaving a hole that logic rushed to fill.

     > Overload in neural connection D-17
     > Isolating and compensating
     > Overload in neural connection D-19
     > Isolating and compensating
     > Overload in neural connection A-01
     > Isolating and compensating

Circuitry flashed warning messages and ALPHA struggled to keep ahead of the failing connections.  

     > Adrenaline spike detected
     > Administer counter agent? Y/N
     > N

     > Heart rate: 187 bpm and rising
     > Warning: Biological overload imminent
     > Transferring control to secondary intelligence unit
     > Directive #4 in effect
 
     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Beginning emergency protocols
     > Administering Nitrate
     > Administering Beta Blocker
     > Administering Benzodiazepine

     > Heart rate: 154 bpm and dropping
     > Connector cascade failure stopped
     > Running full diagnostics

Adam was on the floor, his back to the fridge and the paper crumpled in his hand.  He slowly relaxed his hand and opened the paper.  One word.  Just one word.  Genesis.  

Genesis.  Noun.  Origin circa 1600 CE.  Entomology via Latin from Greek; related to gignesthai.  Definition an origin, creation, or beginning.  The first book of the Christian Bible, dealing with Creation and the Patriarchs.  Also, an illicit experimentation program begun seven years ago by Cerberus in direct opposition to the human experimentation edicts passed by the government.

Genesis.  The word was seared into Adam’s brain.  It was deep at the core of his being.  It was the Genesis program that had transformed him from the normal human being that he was into the machine monster that he was now.  They had plucked his name from Bible, naming him after the first man for that was what he was to be.  The first of a new generation of super soldiers.  Unthinking, unfeeling resources to be thrown against the walls of war.  Controllable.  Loyal.  And completely expendable.  But their experiments had not gone as expected.  He was the only surviving model.  And even he could not be classed as a success.  But that was to be expected.  God had not succeeded in perfecting the original Adam.

     > Diagnostics complete
     > All affected circuitry repaired and online
     > Transferring control to primary intelligence unit

Cerberus had Kris.  The perfect bait to lure their wayward prototype back.  Emotions still warred within him, just below the surface but he was in control.  Prior to meeting Kris, he had taunted them.  He had led them on wild rides around the city.  That had tapered off following his last encounter but still he picked at the edges of the corporation, stealing what amounted to petty cash.  

Adam pushed himself to his feet, rolling his shoulders.  Cerberus needed to know that they were not God and that he was not their obedient servant any more.  They had taken Kris and Adam would make them pay dearly for that.  He would rock the corporation to its foundations.  Kris was his and they had already caused him injury.  That was unacceptable.  He would make them pay.  In blood.  It was time to take this fight to Cerberus.  He would have his vengeance.  When he was done, not even a brick would be left standing.  For him.  But more than that.  For Kris.  May their God have mercy on what was left of their souls because he would have none!

 

Chapter 21.

The guard posts for Cerberus’ Research and Development compound were the height of modern technology.  State of the art surveillance systems manned twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year by human staff trained to profile all visitors, employees and contractors.  To support them, thirty seven servers devoted to artificial intelligence units who ran background checks, cross referenced behavior, and did the day to day maintenance tasks such as ensuring that all cameras were functioning within expected parameters and repairing any damaged subroutines.  They learned on an exponential curve and were updated daily with lists of undesirables.  Runner teams had thrown themselves against the defenses, technological and human, and been torn asunder by the multitude of .50 caliber miniguns mounted on the wall.  But no barrier was completely impregnable.  

If you were lucky enough to survive the barrage of bullets, you had to face roving security patrols working on randomized patterns.  Four security guards per team.  Usually plucked from the ranks of military service and compensated well.  Each upgraded with enough cutting edge cyberware to buckle their sanity and turned loose.  Loyalty chips were installed and locked in as a matter of course ensuring complete obedience as long as you had the correct pass phrase.  They had a ruthless reputation and deservedly so.  Medical ethics boards called for a halt to the practice but a few creds in the right pockets and they had been silenced.

Beyond them lay the compound itself with its own internal security systems.  Finger print scanners, retinal imagers and biometric gateways on top of the usual metal detectors and 3-D imagers.  ID cards and holographic verification protocols.  And then the ever present human element poised to hit the panic button should the need require.  

To say it was impossible was an understatement.  Weeks of planning and the prayers of every God in existence were required to breach the first two layers of safeguards.  The third, well, that was where even the best runners in the game met their match.  Cerberus were the only corporation in the City, in the Country to have a zero break in record.  And that was shattered in thirty seven point nine seconds by their own creation.

ALPHA monitored the stream of information with focused attention, redirecting drones, interrupting cameras as they moved at lightning speed through the compound.  The patrols were easily detected and avoided, and the human element supposed to keep them out gave them their entry vector.  A sneaked rendez-vous left an open door.  Adam quickly accessed the system and entered.  A lightning-quick search through the employee database gave him a close enough match and his nanites flashed silver and shifted his clothing to match a standard uniform and ID tag.  His retinal pattern shifted to mimic the stored file.  

Adam knew these corridors from personal experience.  He had been escorted from room to room for testing and evaluation every day he had resided here.  This was part of the post processing facility, removed from the experimentation labs themselves but with access to the data backbone of the compound.

     > Interfacing with security lock processor
     > Detecting encryption pattern in use
     > Cerberus pattern N-34-P936 detected
     > Encrypting authorization data packets
     > Security codes accepted
     > Scan iris to proceed

Adam stepped close, raising his eyes to the scanner.  Green light flashed out, tracing the patterns of color and the door clicked open.  Adam looked up and down the corridors, a visual inspection to reinforce what his sensors were telling him and ducked inside.

The room was empty of personnel and laid out as he remembered.  A height adjustable, reclining chair at the center of the room surrounded by monitors and machinery.  Cabinets more than likely holding medication and the various items of torture that they had tried to convince him were standard medical equipment.  They had tested his pain tolerances here, fine tuning his autonomic reactions until they were crystal clear.  Even under emotional restrictions, he had dreaded his visits here.  Perhaps he would have the chance now to repeat the experiments, but this time his hand would be on the controls and they would be ones screaming.

The network code was easy to crack, the same staff used the same passwords recycled every 30 days with only minor variations.  Predictable and hardly secure.  Adam let his connectors extend, slotting easily into the port.  Data filtered through his own neural pathways as he sifted it for any mention of Kris.  

Two file records were found.  The first was as an addendum on a capture/kill order filed two weeks ago.  He was the primary subject but Kris was mentioned by name.  That itself raised a warning.  To know his name, someone would have to have done surveillance on them or interacted with them in some manner and Adam could not pinpoint any occasion in the time since he had met Kris that any Cerberus employee could have gotten that close.  The second was a work order that filled Adam with cold fear.

     > Subject: Allen, Kristopher Neil
     > Age: 23
     > Sex: M
     > Cyber-enhancements: None
     > Evaluation: Positive
     > Scheduled for processing
     > Location: Biolab 1

Adam read and reread the file.  There was a complete medical work up stored against the work order.  Scans, notes, every piece of medical information that was ascertainable by modern science.  Drug charts and observational reports.  Projections, calculations, cyberware lists.  Operations scheduled, attending physicians.  Everything necessary to incorporate Kris into the Genesis program.

Adam’s mind flashed back to memory clips of his procedure.  Pain.  Suffering.  Endless operations.  The searing mass that were the nanites pouring into him, working their way through his blood stream.  The convulsions, the iron hard muscle cramps.  He would not wish that on an animal nor subject another human to that agony.  But their intention was clear.  They were poised to transform Kris, to break him and remake him in their cyberimage.  

ALPHA found records suggesting that he had been cybered before he had entered the program, references to processors and modifications.  Reports existed which credited that as the reason that he had adapted to the enhancements.  A theory that had been disproven later.  With Kris being a null, cybershock would be a serious factor.  While adaptable, the human brain was fragile.  Too much of a change in one instant and the core neural functions could be irreparably damaged.  Adam had seen the subjects who came after him and the abject failures that had gone before, seen them change and seen Cerberus scrap them at the first sign of instability.  And now they planned to do this to Kris, to force him to undergo this procedure.  

No.

Not Kris.

No.

NO!  

 

Chapter 22.

Adam was already making his way down the hallway as ALPHA pulled up the building schematics and started tracking targets, security guards on patrol, office admins going about their business.  Biolab 1 was located in a separate building, not connected to the main admin area by even a covered walkway.  Four hundred yards of open ground, directly overlooked by a guard tower.  One way in, one way out.  

Adam knew the route well but there were no documents on any server that they had access to outlining any changes to the security protocols, so Adam was working purely on sensors.  He didn't dare rely on his old data, gathered by observation over the weeks and months before his escape.  He couldn't trust it.  They would have changed their routines, their protocols.  And he didn't have time for more reconnaissance.  

There was no timestamp on the processing order other than when it had been created, no mention of a timescale.  Even now, they could be preparing Kris.  Even now, they could be making that first incision, hollowing him out ready to fill him full of circuits and metal.  There was no time to waste.  

Adam kept his head bowed as he walked through the corridors, keeping his pace steady to avoid any unwanted attention.  He had picked up a clipboard before exiting the room he’d been in and appeared to be dutifully reviewing the information on it.  In an office environment such as this, it was the perfect camouflage, giving him the authority to pass undisturbed through the busy employees, their assumptions giving him all the cover he needed.  He was not challenged as he made his way to the rear door of the facility.  

A security guard buzzed him through the doors, reminding him to make sure he had his pass code transmitter with him before stepping out.  Adam forced a smile and tapped his pocket.  The security guard turned back to his cameras and Adam stepped out into the yard.  

He stood for a second, glancing left and right as his scanners searched out the patrols.

     > Patrol approaching from East
     > Inbound vector
     > 4 targets
     > Extreme cyber-modification
     > 90% probability of cyber psychosis
     > Armed with close combat weaponry
     > Threat level: Extremely dangerous
     > Time to intercept: 13 seconds

Adam looked ahead, calculating the time it would take to cross the courtyard and crack the security system to the biomedical building.  His fists clenched and unclenched.  Given the systems in place when he had escaped, he would have a two second cushion of time; however it would be illogical for them to the same structures in place, the same procedures.   Probability suggested that he would not be able to enter the building before they attacked.  But Adam was starting to gain a hatred of probability.  He walked to the midpoint between the buildings and stopped.  

His hands flashed silver as the nanites spread over his skin.  His knuckles became more pronounced and solid.  His clothing melted away, absorbed to leave him wearing a black sleeveless shirt and armored leather trousers.  Bringing his fingers together and drawing them slowly apart, he prepared.  Light caught on molecule thin lines of nanites suspended between his fingers.  Five wires, invisible even to cyber-enhanced vision but deadly.  A jolt of electricity sparked between his fingers and travelled down the nanites from both sides.  The charges short circuited the nanites where they met and the strands bisected to hang freely.  Adam moved his fingers, watching the movement.

     > Time to intercept: 5 seconds

Adam raised his eyes, head still bowed and watched his four targets split up, moving to surround him.  They were clumsy in their movements, relying solely on their advantages of strength and cyberware.  They wore tattered uniforms and no armor.  He could clearly detect the stench of unwashed sweat and other body fluids.  

He counted down the seconds as he waited for his opponents to attempt the first strike.  They circled him, darting closer and Adam recognized the animalistic behavior.  They were hoping that he would bolt, that they could chase him down.  But he would not give them that.  They were the trained lapdogs of Cerberus.  They attacked on command, they lived on sufferance.  Overloaded with prototype models of cyberware, machinery marked for destruction, they were unstable and Adam could use that.  

A punch sailed past his ear as Adam ducked, hand whipping out to capture the wrist.  The nanite wires wrapped around the target’s forearm.  Adam released the target’s wrist and pulled his arm away sharply.  The wires pulled tight and sank deep and in an instant, the target’s arm was debrided of flesh.  Titanium coated bone shone bright under the natural light and Adam snapped his hand up.  The bone fell away, cleanly cut, with no sound except a dull thump as it hit the ground.  There were no hysterical screams, no shouted profanities.

Adam snapped the wires up again, catching the target near the elbow and sent a release code to one strand of nanites.  They disappeared into the skin, absorbed seamlessly, multiplying as they went.  They found a vein and started transmitting as they started their journey towards the target’s core processor as blood flowed from the wound.

     > Nanites transferring to Host 1
     > Communication stream online
     > Beginning deconstruction

Adam transferred control of the nanites to ALPHA as he dodged the next attack.  Striking out, he hit solidly on the solar plexus with reinforced knuckles, driving the target back.  The nanite wires added a kick, biting into the abdomen and thighs of the cybered security guard and slicing through clothing and muscle alike.  Adam, again, transmitted the release code for one of the strands and they disappeared, quickly finding the renal vein and rising towards their new host’s brain, breaking down organic material and replicating exponentially.

     > Nanites transferring to Host 2
     > Communication stream online
     > Beginning deconstruction

The security guards were fast, but Adam was faster.  He stepped back, deflecting the blows.  He had a use for these units and did not want to unduly damage them until they had served their function.  They were robust and could function for a significant period of time even following significant damage.  

ALPHA tracked the nanites progress through the bodies of Cerberus’ trained attack dogs, updating Adam as he wove between thrown punches and slashing blades. Once the nanites were in range of the processor, they started a brute force attack every bit as involved as Adam’s own.  Security codes were broken, torn apart and protocols rewritten allowing Adam absolute control over the infected units.  One hundred million nanites slaved the walking weapons to his processor, blocking any commands Cerberus tried to send.  With the last line of code in place, they stopped attacking him and stood waiting for orders.

The four units shared a private local network, transmitting data back and forth constantly.  ALPHA flashed an authentication message at the controlled processors and they in turn transmitted it across the network, stopping their brothers mid motion.  Adam watched, monitoring the units for movement for a moment before ALPHA intercepted the authentication confirmation and flashed it to the main Cerberus network.  Adam braced as he waited for confirmation, not allowing himself to relax until it arrived.  Releasing the breath he was holding, he moved closer, letting strands of nanites brush over their skin before releasing them.  As before they burrowed in instantly and secured the two remaining units.  

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Security units slaved and secured
     > Loyalty chips rewritten and locked

Adam allowed himself a ghost of a smile before he turned to face the Biomedical facility.  The security units fell in behind him.  Letting his connectors plug into the security system, he waited until ALPHA flashed a confirmation and the doors swung open.  

A security guard stationed at the desk beside the door rose to his feet, eyes widening as he saw Adam and his four followers.  ALPHA scanned his features, cross referencing him against the current Cerberus employee database.  John Calgary, a new hire, still in his probationary period.   Adam felt conflicted as he looked at the man in front of him.  Tactics warred with emotions and left him hesitating.  It went against every piece of common sense he had to leave an enemy at his back and as an employee of Cerberus, John Calgary was an enemy.  However, he had been here less than a month.  Perhaps he had not been brainwashed by Cerberus yet.  But the hope died quickly as the man’s hand reached for the alarm.  Adam was faster, nanite wire snapping audibly.  It glanced off the fleshy part of the palm, opening it up.  The man cringed backwards, cradling his hand against his chest.

“Don’t…  Please God, don’t…”

The words were processed, catalogued and ignored.  

     > Transmit message to Slave Unit One
     > Terminate Calgary, John

One of the units broke out of formation and approached the security guard.  The screams followed Adam down the hallway.  He didn’t look back.  

The building was laid out in a maze pattern, with corridors taking turns at random intervals.  It had been built twelve years ago and added to when the need arose.  Specially designed biological particles were sown on the ground and irradiated.  The resulting growth strengthened and solidified into a rock hard, impenetrable substance.  The structures were functional but erratic and made navigating without a map difficult.  Adam’s map was currently overlaying his vision as he followed the route that ALPHA had locked in.

An orderly stepped out of a room further up the corridor and disappeared through another door, never looking up from the paperwork in his hand.    Adam narrowed his eyes but continued down the corridor.  A door behind them clicked open and Adam turned to look.  A small blonde woman stepped from the room and turned towards him.  

Adam recognized her – Analeeze Dean, a psychologist working with the Genesis project.  She had been a junior psychologist on his case, sitting in on his sessions.  Her stiletto skidded slightly on the floor as she misstepped, eyes wide as she saw him.  On his orders, the security units moved to loom over her.  

They grabbed for her and she tottered backwards, hand flailing for the alarm panel beside the door she had just exited.  A security unit grabbed her by the hair, pulling her away from the wall.  She screamed, kicked out, trying desperately to escape but the security unit grabbed her around the waist and lifted her from the ground.  Her legs snapped out and before Adam could intervene, her foot connected with the alarm panel, and micro-seconds later, the klaxons whirred to life, blaring discordantly.  Adam’s audio filters neatly edited the sound out of his feeds, focusing instead on the click of locks snapping shut.

Leaving one of the security units to deal with the woman, Adam continued on.  Turning a corner, he was forced to halt again as a clear plas-steel wall blocked his way.  Beyond it, he could see a scurry of action.  Lab technicians locking down laboratories.  Doctors pulling off scrub masks and running down the corridors to reinforced shelters.  The faces blurred past as ALPHA captured and processed them but Adam’s eyes were locked on one familiar face.

The man, tall and thin, wore standard hospital scrubs under a pale blue lab coat, his name embroidered just above the pocket.  Half moon glasses sat perched at the end of his nose.  Doctor James Reisen, board certified bio-geneticist, physician, cyberneticist, pathologist and surgeon, with additional specialties in cybernetics, nanite interactions and emergency medicine.  He was the highest ranked member of Cerberus staff assigned permanently to the Genesis project.  Overseer of all procedures and progenitor of the Genesis transformation program.  His was the first face that Adam remembered seeing, the first memory that he had, smiling down at him and congratulating him on surviving.

Adam’s fists clenched and unclenched, anger coursing through him.  His vision fritzed and Adam forced himself to close this eyes and let ALPHA monitor his logic circuits.  Here, deep in the heart of Cerberus, he could not afford to lose control of himself or any of his faculties.  Any weakness would be exploited and with Kris still captive, still under their control, it was an unacceptable risk.  He would destroy them, that was not in dispute, but not while Kris’ life hung in the balance.

He looked away from the doctor, letting his eyes scan the edges of the surface in front of him, searching for weaknesses.  He could see beyond the clear barrier a control panel but there were no signs of any release mechanisms on this side.  

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Cross referencing scanned circuitry with stored blueprints
     > Hard wire release discovered
     > Transferring information
     > Locking coordinates to targeting systems
     > Coordinates locked

Adam let the crosshairs overlay his vision.  The release point was located three inches behind the solid surface, buried in the wall.  One strike to the wiring would short out the locks and cause the wall to disintegrate back into the nano-particles it was made from.  Reinforcing the joints of his arm, he struck.  The plaster cracked under his toughened knuckles, but remained in place.  Drawing back his arm again, he took a deep breath and punched dead center on the cracks.  Plasterwork fell to the floor and pain wracked his arm.  

     > Endorphin booster activated

Adam felt the pain fade and pulled his arm back for another strike.

“Adam,” a voice filtered through tinny speakers.

Adam glanced to the right and saw Doctor Reisen speaking into a microphone.

“Adam, acknowledge.”

Adam ignored the doctor, continuing his attack on the wall.

“Adam, stand down.  That’s an order.”

Adam could detect desperation in the doctor’s tone.  Desperation and fear.  Adam stepped back, turning to fully face the doctor.  

     > Transmit message to Slave Unit Three
     > Targeting coordinates locked
     > Continue assault

He allowed the corner of his lip to curl up as he spoke, “You are no longer listed as an authority within my programming, Doctor Reisen.  As such, I must decline your order.”

The doctor’s jaw dropped open as he grasped for words, “That is not possible.  You do not have sufficient access to interfere with your operational directives.  Repeat directive number one and two.”

Adam kept his face neutral although it was a struggle.  Anger was once again rising within him, fuelled by hatred.  

“Directive number one:  Protect the caretaker.  Directive number two: Obey the caretaker.”

The words escaped through gritted teeth.  And the doctor drew himself up straight.  Behavior profiles suggested that he believed that Adam had been forced to obey his orders.  Adam allowed himself a small smile.  

“I knew you could not interfere with your base programming. Now, stand down, Adam.  Stand down and we can get you fixed up,” the doctor turned to someone behind him, speaking to them but Adam couldn’t make out what was said and the microphone was no longer active.  With a nod, the person turned and left and the doctor spoke to him again, “All that time out there, you must need a service, repairs.”

Adam blinked.

“We’re all very impressed at what you did, Adam,” the doctor smiled, “You’ve surpassed our expectations but isn’t it time to come home?”

A memory file flashed across his processer.  Home.  Kris’ apartment.  Destroyed furniture.  Kris’ blood on the floor.  This was not home.  It never had been.  Cerberus had torn the only home he had known apart and stolen his Kris.

Adam saw the lightning quick flicker of energy across the clear wall and braced himself.  It was starting to fail.  And once it did, they would be his.

“It’s time to come back to Cerberus, Adam.  We’ll take care of you.”

Adam focused on the doctor, locking eyes with him and spoke clearly.

“No.”

Shadows flickered at the back of the room behind the wall catching Adam’s focus.  Adam watched the dark shapes coalesce into familiar figures.  ALPHA tagged and catalogued Butch and the other members of the Devil’s Spawn motorcycle club.  

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Facial match confirmed
     > Cyber profiles not confirmed
     > Additional cyberware detected
     > Primary function of new cyberware: Offensive and Defensive cyberware
     > Consistent with patents filed by Cerberus
     > Threat profile upgraded to extremely dangerous

Adam looked back at Doctor Reisen, “You appear to have created cybervermin.  How disappointing.”

The wall fizzled and disappeared and Adam stepped forward.  Doctor Reisen stepped back, taking cover behind the wall of muscle that was the Devil’s Spawn.  Butch cracked his knuckles.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Subject Red not located

Adam looked around and ALPHA was right.  Red was not there.  Worry knotted the pit of his stomach and Adam called all four security units to him.  Logic told him that it was possible that Red had not survived the installation of cyberware but what they had undergone was not a Genesis transformation and as such, there should have only been minimal risk.  Probability was that Red would be close to Kris.  He had seemed obsessed with Kris at their last meeting and it was likely that given access to the Cerberus compound that he would remain as close as possible to Kris.  

He felt a disappointment that he could not personally deal with the motorcycle gang but he had already been detained too long.  Perhaps if his security units were not finished with them on his return…

Adam heard the bang of a gunshot and felt pain rip through his shoulder.  Looking down, he noted that he had been shot.  Blood poured from the wound, winding trails down his arm and chest.  Ignoring it, he looked for the gunman.  Just visible behind a corner was Doctor Reisen, the gun still in his hand.  

“Massive damage.  You have to severely injure him to incapacitate him,” he shouted to the Devil’s Spawn members.

Adam glanced down at the wound on his shoulder and saw the nanites already starting to knit the skin back together.  He faced his security units and transmitted a kill command.  Everybody in this room, everybody in this facility, everybody in this compound, everybody connected with Cerberus.  They acknowledged the order and closed the distance to the bikers.

The doctor shouted the pass code again and again but it had no effect.  

“What have you done, Adam?” he shouted, panic making his voice high pitched.  

His voice faltered when he saw the slightly pink scar that had only moments ago been a bleeding gunshot wound.

“How?  We didn’t…  You shouldn’t be able to…”

Adam didn’t spare the doctor a glance as he turned and started down another corridor, “I upgraded.”

Chapter 23.

     > Begin boot sequence
     > Loading Cerberus Core Systems v2.087.135
     > Setting alias: Abel

     > Building core files
     > Defining logic filters
     > Loading interface technology

     > Assessing physical structures
     > Height set at 1.702m

     > Addressing cyberware
     > Offensive cyberware catalogued and connected
     > Defensive cyberware catalogued and connected
     > Miscellaneous cyberware catalogued and connected
     > Medical cyber monitoring systems online

     > Secondary intelligence booting
     > Secondary intelligence aliasing complete
     > OMEGA online

     > Beginning communication protocols
     > Assessing alphabet.file
     > Accessing vocabulary.file
     > Building language repositories
     > Setting default language: EN-US
     > Loading localized language variations
     > Sampling local data streams to build accent profiles
     > Verbal communication protocols online

     > Securing connection to Cerberus.Net
     > Sending stored passwords for authentication  
     > Access granted
     > Cerberus.Net connected and online

     > Accessing Cerberus mainframe
     > Downloading Cerberus core protocols
     > Loading core directives
     > Directive #1: Protect the caretaker
     > Directive #2: Obey the caretaker
     > Directive #3: The unit must not reveal any restricted information
     > Directive #4: The unit must not allow itself to be destroyed
     > Directive #5: Neutralize any threats to this unit's assigned duties

     > Monitoring baseline hormone profiles
     > Monitoring baseline resting pulse rate
     > Monitoring baseline temperature readings
     > Setting all baseline profiles

     > Aligning optic feeds
     > Aligning audio feeds

     > Internal scanners online
     > External scanners calibrating
     > External scanners calibrated and online

     > Scanning

     > Priority Interrupt
     > Life form detected
     > Cross-referencing with profiling repository
     > Human, male, significant cyberprofile

     > Begin message from Omega
     > Capturing image
     > Scanning against Cerberus employee database
     > Match found
     > Identification made
     > Anderson, Michael Rodriguez; AKA Red
     > Affiliations: Cerberus (contractor); Devil Spawn MC (VP)
     > Clearance: Gamma-3
     > Insufficient for access to current location
     > Personal security perimeter set at 2 meters

     > Warning issued
     > Subject upgraded to Target
     > Arming offensive weaponry

     > Second warning issued
     > Nanite shield set to maximum
     > Replication program active
     > Selection: MK3 Combat Knife
     > Modify dimensions
     > Scale to 30 centimeter length
     > Replicating

     > Target incoming
     > Termination force authorized

     > Selecting biological vulnerabilities
     > Subclavian vein and/or artery identified
     > Carotid vein and/or artery identified
     > Renal vein and/or artery identified
     > Left and/or right temple identified
     > Trachea identified
     > Optimal attack vector identified
     > Exploiting vulnerability
     > Positive contact made

     > Scanning
     > Critical injury
     > Time of death estimated at current time + 23 seconds
     > Tachycardia detected
     > Respiration slowing: 4 respirations per minute
     > Blood loss estimated at 3.5 liters
     > Diagnosing acute hypovolemia
     > Target core temperature dropping
     > Target entering cardiac arrest
     > Target expired

     > Begin message from Omega
     > Incident logged

     > Begin message from OMEGA
     > Confirmed
     > Returning to diagnostics

 

Chapter 24.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Cracking security codes
     > Security codes cracked
     > Opening doors

Adam watched the door to Biolab 1 slide open and stepped inside.  A red light flashed over the operating room door and Adam’s heart tightened.  There was a procedure in progress and Adam knew that it had to be Kris.  Hope clogged his logic circuits.  Maybe they hadn’t started yet.  Maybe the alarm had sounded before the first incision.  Maybe.  Maybe.  Maybe.

Adam approached the window, hardly daring to look inside.  He knew Kris would be in there.  He just knew it.  But what he didn’t expect was Red standing there.  He should have.  Probability had suggested that he would be close to Kris but Adam had not expected him to be hovering over Kris, running his hand over the thin white sheet that was Kris’ only covering.

Kris looked much smaller than his recorded height.  Tiny on the uncomfortable metal table.  And Red towered over him as he bent close, whispering words that Adam couldn’t hear into Kris’ ear.  Adam hurried to the operating room door but it was locked.  Connecting to the door, ALPHA scanned the circuitry, working to crack the codes while Adam’s eyes never left Kris.

As he watched, Red’s hand slipped under the sheet and Adam banged his fist against the door.  Red looked up, a smirk on his face as he dipped his hand further under the thin sheet.  Adam almost ripped his connectors as he tried to force the door but it was solid, built to handle the rampages of cyber-shocked monsters.  Red moved towards him, leaving Kris behind and raised his hand to his nose, sniffing deeply.  The white hot rage that he’d been keeping tight control on flared and he bashed at the glass, trying desperately to shatter the thin barrier between them.

Kris was his.  Kris was his caretaker.  But he was more than that.  Friend.  Possibly lover, or at least the potential was there.  He had awoken things in Adam that scared him, terrified him and been better than the endorphin rush of soaring high over the city.  They had a connection and Cerberus had taken that.  The Devil’s Spawn had taken that.  Red had taken that.  Now Kris lay there – Asleep?  Sedated?  Dead? - and Adam couldn’t tell if they had completed the transformation or not.  Every monitoring device in the theater was shielded and the not knowing was starting to physically hurt.

He needed to get in there but ALPHA was hitting a firewall.  The codes were cycled faster than ALPHA could crack them.  A precaution against the cybermonsters created by the Genesis project.  Red turned back to Kris and stalked forward.  Kris’ eyes were open now but staring ahead.  His mouth moved, but Adam could not hear the words and he was not in a position to read his lips.  Whatever was said had no effect on Red.  Kris’ lips moved again and Red reached out.  Adam saw a flash of silver and his heart stopped.  He knew that flash.  He looked down at his own hands.  He knew it all too well.

There was a blade in Kris’ hand now, sharp and long - a combat knife - and Kris was moving, sleek and smooth and so fast.  The knife sunk into the side of Red’s neck and sailed through, cutting veins, arteries and everything in between.  Blood spurted over walls and equipment, staining Kris’ sheet red.  Red’s hands flew to his throat trying desperately to keep everything together but it was too late.  Adam’s medical files helpfully calculated an approximate time of death and counted down the seconds.  Red dropped to his knees and toppled sideways.  His hand reached out towards Kris, straining for one last touch but before he could make contact, it fell as his heart stuttered and stopped.

Adam was lost.  The hope he had was gone.  Shattered by the evidence before his eyes.  Kris, this Kris, was graceful, moving with an economy of action that he didn’t have before.  The kill shot, and that was what it was, was precise and sure with no hesitation.  Adam knew it was the programming because he’d have taken the same shot.  Kris, his Kris, wasn’t a killer, wouldn’t even have known where to strike, would have faltered.  Cerberus had stolen the innocent quality that made Kris Kris, hidden it behind layers of programming and logic filters.  There would be an artificial intelligence, a brand-new off-the-shelf model, in there somewhere, calling the shots and suppressing what was left of Kris and Adam couldn’t allow that.  They had transformed Kris and that he couldn’t reverse, couldn’t even begin to hypothesize how best to do it, but he could give Kris what Kris had given him. A path back to his humanity.

ALPHA devoted additional processor power to the door lock, over-clocking the chips until their logic circuits burned out and the door hissed open.  Adam was cautious as he stepped into the room, sensors finally getting a read on the room contents.  There was no one here apart from Adam and Kris, and for that Adam was glad.  He did not want an audience for this. To help Kris regain his core personality, would require Adam to interface with Kris and the AI's programming would react violently to any contact between them.  He was no longer recognized as a friendly entity on Cerberus’ networks and, assuming that the objectives programmed into Kris' intelligence units were the same as his, he would be identified as an enemy forcing Kris to defend himself and try to capture or kill Adam.  He didn’t want to injure Kris but if that was the only way to restore him to who he was, then he would do it.

ALPHA locked down the room, scrambling the security codes.  They were alone and would be until ALPHA released control.

Adam approached slowly, “Kris?”

There was no movement, no flicker to indicate that Kris had heard him and Adam moved closer.

“Facial profiling active.”

The voice was flat, mono-tone and Adam paused.  It was Kris’ voice, but it was not Kris who spoke; his secondary intelligence unit in control.  There was no emotion, no intonation in the tone, just the words.

“Subject identified.  Unit 736-Beta-7, code named Adam.  Status: Prototype, Genesis project.  At large.  Wanted for retrieval and reprocessing.  Current objective modified.  Capture/Kill target Adam.”

Kris moved into a sitting position and then pushed off the table.  His skin flashed silver and another blade joined the 12 inch combat knife he had used to kill Red.  He was now dressed in medical scrubs, green in color.  Adam’s nanite shielding was still in place, but he strengthened it and engaged security protocols.  Nanite formed weaponry was different than standard blades.  One cut and Kris could try what he had done with the security units, if he thought of it.  There was no guarantee that he would.  Kris would have the standard tactics software with no modifications.  He would know how to execute the basic moves and combine them into a sequence, but anything inventive, that would take imagination, innovation, neither of which the base AI had learned yet, hopefully.  But if the AI could incorporate some aspects of Kris, then this could be trouble.

Adam knew he just needed one clean shot, one connection and ALPHA would have this AI’s motherboard wrapped up in so many confusing commands that he would think his base code was written in trinary.  But getting that one shot would not be easy.  Now that Kris, or rather Kris’ AI had tagged Adam as a target, it wouldn’t be pulling any punches.  But Adam had a problem of his own.  Kris was listed as his caretaker.  Directive number one would not let him injure Kris.  Not even in self defense.  

     > List caretakers
     > 1 caretaker listed: Allen, Kristopher Neil
     > Remove Allen, Kristopher Neil from list
     > Authority: Adam

Flexing his hands, Adam replicated blades of his own and gripped them tight.  Even though his hands were no longer bound by his directives, he didn’t want to use the blades.  He didn’t want to do more than subdue Kris but he wasn’t going to sit back and let the AI destroy him either.  It was because of his existence that Kris was here and had been modified and he owed it to Kris to restore him to who he had been before Cerberus’ interference, or get him as close to that as possible.

“Identify,” Adam moved further into the room, circling around the operating table.

He needed to know just how far they had gotten in the procedure.  They had installed cyberware, that much was obvious, and incorporated a secondary intelligence unit, but had they wiped his memories?

“Insufficient clearance,” Kris’ monotone voice replied.

ALPHA pulled a code clearance phrase from the network and Adam tried again, “Identify.  Clearance: SC1.  Authentication: Alpha-sigma-indigo-3.”

Kris’ head tilted a fraction as he parsed the code, “Clearance granted.  This unit is identified as Unit 1379-Gamma-45, code named Abel.”

Adam paused, looking at Abel – No!  Kris!  It was still Kris – and braced himself.  “Stand down.  Clearance: SC1.  Authentication: Alpha-sigma-indigo-3.”

“Authentication code not recognized.”

Adam glanced at the cameras and growled.  Someone must be watching them and they had reset the code once he had used it.  

Kris was moving closer, arms out from his side a fraction and ready to engage.  His attention was solely focused on Adam, eyes darting between his hands and his face.  Adam let his eyes close, relying on sensor information.  Here, all he saw was the changing stream of ones and zeroes.  Here, he didn’t see the brown eyes of his friend looking out at him.

He needed Kris to come to him.  He needed Kris to attack first.  But the waiting was excruciating.  Memory segments displayed in super speed and Adam relived the horrors that were done to him.  This was what they had done to Kris.  This was what Cerberus had done.  Two months ago, Adam would not have hesitated.  He had thought himself a machine.  Nothing more than a creation but Kris had shown that he was wrong.  He was more than that.  So was Kris and he couldn’t go back to the belief that this figure approaching him was just a collection of wires and programming encased in a biological shell.  And it was paralyzing him.

Ten meters.  Seven meters.  Five meters.  Two meters.  Kris slowly closed the distance but Adam couldn’t move.  

And then Kris attacked.  Adam didn’t think, didn’t process, just moved.  Kris’ first attack was textbook smooth, a duck and dodge to put him behind Adam so that he could cut the tendons behind his knee but when the blade came down, Adam wasn’t there.  He whirled, snapping a punch to Kris’ shoulder to knock him off balance.  Kris staggered backwards and caught himself, pushing himself upright again and they were engaged.

A kick lashed out at Adam’s knee.  Adam’s fist caught Kris under the jaw, snapping his head up.  A blade sliced through muscle and Adam returned the favor.  Nanites broke from the edge of his blade and flooded Kris’ system.  Adam let charge build up between his fingers, releasing it as his hand impacted Kris’ solar plexus.  Kris was flung backwards, his hand holding his chest as he hit the wall.  Adam didn’t give him time to recover, raining blows down on him, distracting him from the battle raging inside him as the nanites made their way to the motor processor.

Kris’ arm twitched and Adam was caught with a right hook.  A blade narrowly missed his throat as he rolled to the side, dragging Kris with him.  Knees, elbows, fists, blades.  Any opportunity he had, he took and so did Kris.  They were evenly matched but Adam had more than just directives to fight for.

Kris’ muscles twitched as the nanites fought the AI for control and Adam trapped Kris, locking him in place with his body.  Kris struggled, hit out at him, but Adam countered and held him firm.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Motor processor access rights changed
     > Code word clearance only
     > Host Intelligence Unit access rights terminated

Adam tentatively released Kris.  He didn’t move.  Adam extended his connectors, letting them snake out to find the appropriate port and slot into place.  

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Interfacing with unit 1379-Gamma-45, code named Abel
     > External data stream detected
     > Isolating and identifying
     > Stream identified
     > Cerberus Control is attempting to gain access to this unit
     > Locking out all Cerberus Control frequencies

Adam sifted through the standard system data and quickly identified Kris’ secondary intelligence unit, OMEGA.  It seemed to function along similar paths to ALPHA and that helped Adam formulate a plan.

     > Begin message from ADAM
     > Change alias ABEL to KRIS
     > Alias changed

     > Begin message from ADAM to OMEGA
     > Begin diagnostics on Primary Intelligence Unit
     > Focus area: brain function

Adam felt fear starting to collect at the base of his spine and move higher.  Everything that he saw, every command that had been executed had OMEGA’s authority code against it.  There was no mention of Kris, or Abel.  Kris wasn’t awake and there could be only one explanation for that.

     > Begin message from OMEGA to ADAM
     > Diagnostics complete
     > All readings match baseline

     > Begin message from ADAM to OMEGA
     > Sending Cybershock.EEG
     > Begin comparison to recorded baselines

     > Begin message from OMEGA to ADAM
     > File received
     > Comparison complete
     > Readings are positive match for Cybershock

Adam’s heart constricted in his chest.  He had hoped that he was wrong, but they hadn't been that lucky.  He couldn’t focus on that.  He needed to fix this.

     > Begin message from ADAM to OMEGA
     > Directive #4: The unit must not allow itself to be destroyed

     > Begin message from OMEGA to ADAM
     > No protocols exist for effective treatment of Cybershock

     > Being message from ADAM to OMEGA
     > Grant unit ADAM execute rights on unit KRIS? Y/N

     > Begin message from OMEGA to ADAM
     > Y

Adam released the breath that he had been holding.  OMEGA, governed by his fourth directive, had given him what he needed.  There was a chance.

Cybershock, or acute biological dissociative disorder, was defined as a disruption or breakdown of identity and/or perception.  The brain maps perceptions of self, constantly changing this mapping based on minute changes that happen on a minute by minute basis.  Alterations are only fractions of degrees at a time.  The installation of cyberware when over a base threshold and done under anesthesia can result in a second mapping being made which holds no comparison to the original and is rejected by the brain.  This disassociation of self and physicality can cause a fracture leaving the subject in a non-responsive state.  

Kris had no cyber-modifications prior to the Genesis transformation.  He had never desired modification or pictured himself with cyberware.  As such, he had shut himself down and allowed OMEGA to take and maintain complete control.  Adam needed to revive Kris, and quickly.  The longer he was allowed to remain like this, the harder it would be to integrate both images together.  

Adam had never dealt with this before and all information that ALPHA displayed was theoretical at best but Adam needed to try.  Interfacing with OMEGA fully, Adam shared his memories, displaying them for Kris to see.

Kris nursing him back to health.

Kris cooking.

Kris and Adam on the couch talking.

Kissing.

Talking.

Humming.

Singing.

Kris and his guitar.

Kris working on lyrics.

Kris reaching up to kiss Adam’s cheek.

In the park.

On the street.

In the apartment.

Every snatch of music that Adam had heard Kris hum, sing, create.  Every note reproduced in surround sound and shared for Kris to see.

     > Begin message from OMEGA to ADAM
     > Increased Beta waves detected      

The memories flashed by faster and faster, the notes lingering as Adam shared every moment of time that they had spent together.  

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Connection stability decreasing
     > Attempting to correct
     > Attempt to correct failed

Five weeks compressed and sent across thin wires.  And Adam didn’t know if it was going to work.  He had hope but was that enough?

The connection fritzed and Adam held on desperately, playing precious moments.  But it was no good.  The connection faltered and died.  Adam looked down at Kris, his vocal processor humming one of Kris’ favorite songs.

Kris’ face scrunched up and his eyes flickered open, blinking against the harsh light.  Adam smiled down at Kris, relief filling him.  

“Adam?” Kris’ voice was small but filled with confusion and emotion and Adam had never heard such a wonderful sound.

He felt a tickle on his cheek and frowned as Kris reached up to brush at something.  Light caught on a droplet of saline and Adam brought his own hand to his cheek.  There was wetness against his fingers and Adam’s frown deepened.  

Chapter 25.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Echoing transmitted message from OMEGA
     > Cerberus.Net beginning emergency protocols
     > Compound lockdown initiated
     > T – five minutes to total destruction
     > Suggestion:  Immediate evacuation

     > Linking with OMEGA
     > Link established
     > Cracking Cerberus security protocols

     > Incorporating OMEGA into Internal Communication Protocols

Bruises were rising on Kris’ skin but scans revealed no critical injuries.  He was awake, conscious and appeared to be aware of his surroundings.  It was inconclusive whether there was any residual damage to his mental functions but much as Adam wished otherwise, there was no time to test Kris' mental stability.  Someone had engaged termination procedures and now, they needed to move.  Paranoia had led Cerberus to incorporate a self-destruct mechanism within the foundations of the compound.

Adam placed a chronometer in the corner of his vision and synchronized the display with the electronic feed that ALPHA had intercepted.  Overlaying the map, ALPHA planned a direct route out of the compound.  Adam locked in the vector as ALPHA transmitted the data to OMEGA.  There was a momentary altercation between the two Intelligence Units but OMEGA accepted the transmission and locked in the course.  

“You should ensure that you are armored,” Adam told Kris, streaming specifications across the data connection.

Kris frowned a little and his surgical scrubs flashed silver and morphed into a heavy leather jacket and armored combat pants similar to those that Adam wore.  His feet were covered in combat boots, laced up to mid calf.  Adam reviewed his choices and nodded.  They were more than adequate.  Warmth flooded through him and pooled in his stomach as his pulse spiked.  Kris looked… desirable.  Adam struggled to force the feeling down, concentrating instead on the square red digits counting down.

Adam reached out towards Kris.  Kris looked at the hand for a second before placing his hand in Adam’s and they were gone.  ALPHA transmitted pass codes to the doors while they were seconds away and the doors slid open only to slam shut behind them again on OMEGA’s command.  They could hear scratching behind closed doors and the terrified screams of employees begging for release.  Kris faltered several times, caught between Cerberus’ programming and his own heart but Adam pulled him on.  They were Cerberus.  They were Genesis.  And Adam wanted to see them suffer.  But even ignoring that, personnel records suggested there were three thousand six hundred and fourteen employees stationed at the compound and to stop and attempt to release even a fraction of that number would cost them vital seconds and ensure their destruction.  Cerberus had taken so much from them already and Adam was not going to let them take what little they had left.

They reached the corridor where he had encountered Doctor Reisen and Adam stopped.  The floor was covered in a pinkish clear liquid, shining brightly under the florescent lights.  Blood spattered every surface and there were large sections of wall destroyed.  No.  Not destroyed.  Missing.  There was no rubble on the floor.  His nanite-controlled security units had completed their tasks.  Adam smiled as he saw scraps of leather embedded in the mess, the last remaining fragments of the vests worn by the Devil’s Spawn.

A low moan echoed from further down the hallway and Adam focused on the sound, running it through filters and cleaners until he could identify it.  It was low and filled with pain.  Another sound accompanied it, a wet sliding sound.  He profiled it against his repository but there were no matches.  Curiosity would have him investigate but it was a deviation from their locked course and they did not have time to spare.  Adam started off down the corridor again but paused when he realized that Kris was no longer moving.  He was standing there frowning at the liquid.

“It’s biological,” his voice was low, puzzled.

Adam didn’t answer.  It wasn’t a question.  

“It’s biological,” Kris crouched down, reaching out to touch the viscous material, rubbing it between two fingers slowly.  “I’m…  Adam…  There are nanites in this.”

There was a look of horror on his face and Adam felt guilt well up within him.  Kris was standing now and making his way towards the sound.  Adam kept pace.  They ducked around a corner and there, on the floor, was the source of the noise.  Adam’s eyes scanned over the scene as he took in the details.  

The person - and that was as close an identification as Adam could make at this angle - was dragging itself across the floor centimeter by painful centimeter.  Clothing and flesh were dissolving into a gooey mess, leaving a trail as he / she / it moved.  Legs were reduced to bones, held together by thin strips of red.  Circuitry shone silver through the semi-transparent substance that had once been solid flesh, rising to an oxidized object situated at the base of the spine.  Hearing their footsteps, the creature stopped and turned, straining to look at them.  It reached out a disintegrating hand towards them and tried to pass air through its larynx but no sound came but that low groan that they had heard before.  On one side of the face, bone and teeth were visible.  But on the other, the breakdown had only begun.  

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Capturing image
     > Cross referencing with Cerberus employee database

But Adam didn’t need any help.  He recognized the hard blue eyes looking up at him.  This was Butch, or what was left of him.  Hatred bubbled up and Adam sneered down at the ruined man in front of him.  Beside him, Kris gagged – a residual human reaction and not a nanite contamination according to the readings that OMEGA displayed.  Adam reached out for him but Kris brushed his hand aside, stepping carefully around the body on the floor.  

“Butch?” Kris asked.  

He didn’t reach out, but Adam could detect the slight twitches of his fingers.  He was restraining himself.

“What happened?” Another question, and Adam was not sure if it was directed to him or to Butch until Kris looked up at him.  “Did Cerberus do this?”

Adam was tempted to lie, to say that yes, this was all Cerberus’ fault because in a way, it was.  But only indirectly.  He had made the decision.  He had set the programming.  He was responsible for this and Kris deserved to know that.  He recognized his own fear as his processor hypothesized worst case scenarios.  How would Kris react knowing that this was caused by an instruction that Adam had given?  Would he be disgusted?  Would he run?  Would he order Adam away?  He did not know.  But despite logic telling him that he should prioritize the relationship over a factual recounting of what had happened, Adam could not lie.

“This is the result of nanite deconstruction.  Nanites injected into matter have the ability to break down all compounds to create base materials to facilitate self replication,” Adam paused to take a breath.  He could not bring himself to look at Kris as he continued, “Earlier, prior to my entry to this building, four security units were tasked to intercept and incapacitate me.  I fought them and succeeded in introducing some of my nanites into their system.  The nanites replicated and overrode the core processor, changing their allegiance from Cerberus to me.  Part of the command structure that I left in place was to destroy the security units.  On entering this building, however, I encountered several members of the Devil’s Spawn motorcycle club as well as additional Cerberus employees,” Adam paused again, letting the memory replay.  “I ordered my security units to engage all targets while I continued on in attempts to rescue you.  As no desist order was given, the nanites would have continued replicating, moving from one host to the next searching for raw materials and breaking down what it could.”

For seconds Kris said nothing, and Adam watched the red display tick down.  There was a little over two minutes left and if they did not start moving, they would be caught in the blast radius.  Kris was still staring down at Butch.  His hand was no longer raised and his face was losing its features.

Finally, Kris spoke, “Does it hurt?”

Adam blinked.  He had not considered it.  Presumably it would.  Nerves would react as they disintegrated, sending signals to the brain.  

“Yes, I believe it does.”

Another silence and Adam instructed ALPHA to start looking for alternate routes.  Kris was working though the implications of Adam's confession and while Adam didn’t want to interrupt him, they needed to move.

“Good.”

That was all Kris said.  He turned on his heel and walked away, starting back on their original course.  Adam watched Kris for a second before hurrying to fall into pace beside him.  This time it was Kris who reached out and took Adam’s hand and Adam felt the tension unwind slowly.  Probability was high that there would be additional discussion later, but there had been no recriminations, no rash decisions made and Adam could build on that.

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > Time insufficient for continuation along previously plotted route.
     > Chance of resistance exceeds safety margin
     > Modifying course to best alternative route
     > Transmitting new course to OMEGA

     > Begin message from OMEGA
     > Accessing Cerberus.Net
     > Accessing Hunter Drone flight path algorithms
     > Modifying vectors based on predicted locations

Adam reviewed the new course and led Kris up through the stairwell until they reached the roof.  The compound below them was chaos.  Employees not trapped in locked down rooms had run for the front gate and were clamoring to escape.  The roving security patrols had followed them and were now snapping at their heels.  The pass codes generators were proving ineffectual against the hoard and a massacre had begun.  Guards in guard towers took pot shots at any employee who crested the inner wall, killing them instantly.  The scent of blood was in the air and getting thicker.  

Adam faced away from the spectacle and pulled Kris with him.  They were on the highest point of the compound, twelve storeys up and the wind was strong from the east.  Not perfect flying conditions but with sixty seconds left, they had no alternatives.

     > Deploy Silica Gossamer

He took a breath and held it as the molten silica drained from his internal reservoirs.  He could feel the electricity flowing through it and one by one droplets joined together to form solid wings.  A tracery of wires burrowed their way through before the silica set fully and interfaced with his heads up display.  Checking on Kris, he saw the silica spreading out and locking into wings.  They were darker than his own, almost grey but still translucent.  Beautiful as they arced up to catch the wind.

Adam took a step, two and he was off the roof and falling, falling, flying; riding the wind and compensating for cross currents.  He looked over his shoulder and Kris was there, his eyes closed and his hands clenched tight as OMEGA manipulated the controls, processing a thousand pieces of information at lightning quick speeds, compensating for anomalies before they happened.  And Adam had to smile.  He’d done that too his first time, let ALPHA take control, but then with the endorphins and the rush of the wind in his face, he’d come to love the freedom.

The compound was surrounded by black trucks, vans and every sort of vehicle in between manned by familiar uniformed troops that Adam had come to hate – Cerberus’ elite security forces.  A home grown collection of failed police officers and army rejects coupled with bought street mercenaries and tame gangs.  Loyal to the company and ruthless to the end.  These were the forces that had been sent after him when he’d escaped.  These had been the ones who had driven him from every place of safety that he’d had, until he’d found Kris at least.  They held a perimeter around the compound, five hundred meters out on all sides, and braced for an explosion.  It was easy to just sail on over their heads in the confusion.

     > Begin message from OMEGA
     > Hunter Drones frequency scrambled
     > Active control lost
     > Active scanning begun
     > Interfacing with ALPHA for improved performance

     > Warning:  Hunter Drone X13-Y721 on inbound vector
     > Possibility of detection: High
     > Recommendation: Evasive Action

     > Begin message from OMEGA
     > Transmission detected
     > Attempting to capture and neutralize
     > Attempt Unsuccessful
     > Cerberus attack forces on high alert

     > Deploy armor
     > Subject: KRIS
     > Authority: ADAM

     > Deploy armor
     > Subject: ADAM
     > Authority: ADAM

They were almost clear when the alert rang out.  The elite troops turned as one and opened fire and it was all Adam could do to dodge.  He glanced over to Kris and Kris was rising high, trying to get as much distance between him and the gathered forces below.  Adam slowed slightly, changing the angle of his wings and moved until he was between Kris and the men shooting at them, guarding him from harm.  And then they were free.

The city stretched out below them, a collection of high rises and ramrod straight streets.  Picture perfect and completely oblivious to their plight.  To them, Cerberus was the benevolent bigger brother not the genocidal maniac that Adam, and now Kris, knew.  They would be shocked, horrified if they opened their morning papers and saw the details in front of them, laid out clearly in black and white.  The experiments, the trials, the tests.  Every tiny detail for their deliberation.  And maybe they’d do that.  One day.  But there were more important concerns now.  They needed to rest.  They needed shelter and as much as wished they could return to their small apartment, it wouldn’t be safe.  Cerberus knew its location and would have recovery units monitoring the building, waiting for them to return.  Adam wouldn’t make it that easy for them.

Instead, they landed on an abandoned building and ALPHA cracked the security, such as it was.  It wasn’t until they were situated on one of the midlevel floors that Adam relaxed and pulled Kris to him.  The smaller man was shaking as the excess adrenaline coursed through his veins and Adam just held him.  OMEGA tried to regulate Kris’ bioresponses but Kris’ panic was rising higher and higher and OMEGA’s inexperience impeded his efficiency and Kris’ breath was coming in shorter bursts.  Worried, ALPHA interfaced with OMEGA and relayed diagnostics to Adam who whispered them into Kris’ ear to let him know that he was uninjured, safe.  Even the bruising was starting to recede.  Adam rocked Kris gently as he slowly calmed down.

It was hours before Kris spoke but Adam didn’t press him, didn’t push him.  He had been through an experience that Adam wished he could have spared him from.  If Adam had not been there to pull Kris from cybershock, he would have joined the other rejected experiments.  Adam had come so close to losing Kris completely and now all he could do was wait until Kris was ready to speak.  And when he did, his voice was sweet music.

“This is how you live?”  Kris turned to look at him, his brown eyes wet with future tears.

Adam nodded.

“It’s all so… distracting.  All that data.  A hundred streams constantly running past.  How am I supposed to take it all in?  What do I do?”

Adam could remember his first days and the confusion he’d felt.  He remembered the answers he’d been given and how little sense they made.  Discarding them, he answered simply, truthfully, “It gets better.”

And it did.

“Don’t concentrate on the details.  Allow OMEGA to filter it.  If there are any items requiring attention, OMEGA will flag them for your attention.  But you need to allow OMEGA to help you.  It will be difficult and overwhelming at first but you have met ALPHA, spoken to him.  I would be unable to function without ALPHA but it took a significant period of time to incorporate ALPHAs presence.”

Kris nodded and fell into silence again.  He looked down, running a hand over the back of the other.  He flexed the muscles, spread his fingers and slowly turned it over until he was looking at his palm.  

“I can see them, you know?  Used to freak me out.  But not anymore.”

Adam could see them too when he focused and zoomed in.  Nanites too numerous to count, crawling over the skin, waiting for Kris’ commands.

“What am I?” he looked up at Adam again.

Adam answered on instinct, “You are Kris.”

Kris shook his head, the first tear falling, “This isn’t me.  I didn’t want this.”

And Adam’s heart broke.  “I know.  But you are still Kris.  The shell has changed but you are still you and you will adapt.”

A knife flashed to life in Kris’ hand and he held it to his wrist as tears streamed freely down his cheeks.  He pressed down, the skin denting under the pressure but just before the first drop of blood could be drawn, the knife was reabsorbed.  OMEGA flashed a warning message across ADAM’s vision.  OMEGA was locked out from Kris’ core functions.  Adam was worried.  Kris stared at his wrist as everything returned to normal, until even the impression disappeared.

“I can’t even end it.”

Adam shook his head, “The programming will not permit you.  Directive number four.”

“Will you help me?”  Kris asked.

Adam’s breath caught in his throat and he couldn’t speak.  Did Kris realize what he was asking?  Did he understand the implications?  Adam had been alone for so long, chased and harried by Cerberus and Kris had been his lifeline.  He had saved him.  Kris had changed him.  Kris had given him a life back, his life and now he was asking Adam to end his.  It was selfish but Adam didn’t want to let go.  He knew that Kris was feeling lost but he would have someone.  He would have Adam and a life and why did he want to give that up?  If he died, if Adam killed him, then Cerberus would have won.  Kristopher Neil Allen would be gone from this world and the world would be a poorer place for that loss.  And more than that.  Without Kris, Adam would have no reason to continue.  But if Kris wanted this…  No.  No.  He couldn’t even contemplate harming Kris.  He just…

“No.”

Kris watched him, eyes scanning his face until eventually, he nodded.

“Then help me to live?”

The question was whisper quiet and Adam almost didn’t catch it.  But then Kris was kissing him, crawling into his lap.  Between snatched breaths, he whispered ‘Please’ and Adam couldn’t say no.  He returned the kisses, holding Kris close and letting his hands snake into the other man’s short brown hair.  This wasn’t healthy but he couldn’t deny Kris the comfort that he was seeking.

     > Begin message to ADAM from ALPHA
     > Request secondary intelligence unit hibernation execution
     > Target OMEGA

     > Begin message from ALPHA
     > OMEGA entering hibernation mode

     > Execute secondary intelligence unit hibernation protocols
     > Authority: ADAM
     > Secondary intelligence unit entering hibernation mode

It was just them now.  No eyes watching.  No interruptions.  Just the two of them.  Kris leaned in, capturing Adam’s lips as his clothing flashed silver and was absorbed.  Adam echoed Kris’ actions.  Catching Kris by the shoulders, Adam gently lowered him to the floor.  Kris watched him as his hands traced over Kris’ skin.  It was warm to the touch and silky smooth and Kris tensed.

“How can you bear to touch me?”

Adam frowned but did not remove his hand, “You touch me.”

“But you’re not…” Kris stopped and Adam was unsure what the end of that sentence was to be.

“You are Kris.  You are no different.”

“I’m… this now.  I’m not human.”

“You are no different.  Not here,” Adam let his hand rest over Kris’ heart, raising his other hand to rest over his own.  “You are Kris.”

Kris turned his head away.

“Let me show you what I see, share what I feel.”

Kris slowly turned back and Adam let his connectors extend.  They slotted neatly into Kris’ receptors and Adam shut his eyes, concentrating on Kris.  The warmth of his skin.  The smells.  The tastes.  His laugh.  His voice.  And most importantly, what he felt when Kris was near.  It streamed into Kris and Kris’s heart stuttered, his breath quickening.

Adam let his fingers trail over Kris’ skin, streaming the sensory data back to Kris and Kris moaned.  He kissed and touched and mapped Kris’ body, his reactions, committing them to memory as he drove Kris higher.  He tracked the rise and fall of Kris’ chest, the fluttering of his pulse and threaded the edge until Kris was begging for release.  

They crashed together, lying side by side as their bodies slowly returned to resting baselines.  Kris rolled over, cradled under Adam’s arm and Adam held him close.  

There were still a thousand things to consider but they were safe for now and that was a starting point.  Cerberus still existed and would be relentless in searching for them but Adam had planned for that eventuality.  There would be dark days ahead but they would survive for they could do no less.  It was them together against the world but they would win.  As long as they were together, no force could stop them.

Let tomorrow come.  They were ready.

Epilogue.

We tinkered in the realm of God and they are the result.  Perfect creatures of metal and bone, and sworn to deliver the justice that we deserve.  Had we known that this would be the outcome would it have turned us from this path?  I fear that we would still have begun down this road even knowing that with positive outcomes, we have signed our own death warrants.  

They stand now, atop the corporate headquarters, the last remaining vestige of a legacy begun so long ago.  This is all that remains of a corporation who thought themselves untouchable.  The results of a systematic campaign so brilliantly executed that I cannot help but deem the experiment a success even though I am alone in that opinion.  This was the purpose for which they were designed.  This was for what they were engineered and I cannot help but feel pride at their triumph even though it spells my termination.

No drones circle any more, no teams hunt them.  I have called them off.  But they do not relent.  Nor should they.  A thousand, two thousand failed prototypes and we deemed it worthwhile.  Some achievements are worth any sacrifice.  Following their escape, we dubbed them monsters in the media but the name is better applied to us.  My conscience weighs heavily on me now as I watch the seconds tick down.

Abel, or Kris as he was renamed, stands in Adam’s shadow still, small and vulnerable against Adam’s side as Adam comforts him.  Long leather coats catch the wind and they look magnificent.  They can surely feel the rumblings of the building beneath their feet.  I deduce that much from the echo of sensory data repeated on the screen before me.  It is a hidden connection that was not shared with the greater collective that was Cerberus, a window into the world that I created but could not understand.  My last remaining link with my creations.  Soon that will be severed and they will be truly free.

I will be judged for my actions and I welcome that judgment.  We were wrong.  The blame is not mine alone but I will bear the lion’s share.  It is my name at the bottom of all documents.  And soon the world will know.  I have prepared files and even now, the electrons are transferring them to mailboxes around the city.  ALPHA and OMEGA have already intercepted the communication streams.  

They wait until the last moment and I do not feel so alone.  But that is a fallacy.  They know nothing of me or my part in their transformation.

The building is beginning its destruction now, crashing down and still they have not moved.  I reach out.  I would not see them caught in this destruction.  They must be free.  One command, one last interference, and I can ensure that.  I execute that final command and I am done.

     > Silica gossamer deployed