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Place : Wolf Den Military Base
Time : 2078-10-25
Age : 1643453-BDC Gooseman, Shane - 11 y.a.d.

"He is too young, Owen. He isn't even twelve yet." Walsh tapped on the screen embedded in the conference table's surface. "Killbane was almost thirteen when we started the procedure on him."

"He already showed that he can transform!" Negata pointed out. "And he defeated Killbane with it."

"Under extreme circumstances, Owen." Walsh forced himself to stay calm. "And the wounds from that battle are barely healed."

Prof. Negata shook his head. "Joseph, the wounds are closed. He showed that he is able to transform. The circumstances don't matter in that case." Determined, he changed the schedule data. "It's settled. Personal training for 1643453 begins tomorrow." He closed the file, looked up and frowned. "You are pretty worried about this one, Joseph. Even though he has shown that he can survive it."

Walsh sighed. "It's because we've lost so many BDCs in this phase, Owen. I still think we should give him some more time. Why risk another loss?"

"Nonsense. He has developed far enough. A few more weeks won't change anything."

They made him take off the coverall before the two lab techs fastened handcuffs around his wrists. The group of ten heavily armed guards along the wall ensured that he didn't even think of resistance. He didn't need a blow of stunning energy. And it won't change anything.

From the color of the cuffs they were made of steel, likely duranium. He frowned slightly. His eyes flashed around, took in everything in this foreign room as he tried to make sense of it. The platform he was standing on had a counterpart above his head. There was a panel with a row of indicators.

His eyes widened slightly as he noticed it – Another kind of test. – and the two solidly anchored piles at his sides to which the handcuffs were now attached, forcing him to stand with outstretched arms.

The techs left the room, followed by the guards. The ambient light dimmed, and spots turned on above and around the platform, bathing him in brilliant white light. He heard a part of the opposing wall slide back. Special show, his mind whispered, annoyed, worried. Instinctively, after the last guard had left he checked the durability of the cuffs. The metal cut into his skin but didn't give way. Beyond my strength.

At a nod from the scientific project leader, the head technician switched on the pain stims.

Sudden agony flowed up his arms, through his veins. His whole body bent in searing pain. His muscles seized in response, but the pain-inducing cuffs denied the contraction...

He looked up, tried to see something behind the blinding light that surrounded him, tried to find the reason for this torture. The pain increased. No, he wouldn't scream. Screaming wouldn't help him, would only entertain them.

"Okay, we are ready." Negata looked up from the readings in front of him and nodded towards the technician standing at the energy donator. "Joseph, tell him what he's supposed to do."

=You are to free yourself. Use your powers.=

His head jerked back at the intercom message thundering through the hall. He tore again at the cuffs, but the chains were too tight, he couldn't even lean his weight against them. The metal cut deeper into his wrists. Blood poured along the cuffs and the chains that connected them with the pain-inducing piles.

He stared into the blinding light, tried to discover who caused all the pain. The platform beneath him began to glow as its counterpart above his head did. He was bathed in bright golden energy. Energy penetrating every single one of his cells, adding more pain to the agony caused by the cuffs, causing him to feel sick as never before.

=You are to free yourself. Use your powers.= After a moment: =This won't stop otherwise.=

The pain increased again. Green and white spots began to dance before his eyes. His heart thundered in his chest. The breath was pressed out of him. All of his muscles seemed to contract and never relax again. Pain. The world filled with pain. Pain. Pain... No! Don't stop thinking. Thinking is the weapon. Use it... His mind raced in spite of the now white-hot agony in his nerves. Define the problem. Define the enemy. What's the problem... Pain. The pain. The cuffs are harmless aside from the pain... He stared at his wrists. Concentrate on the pain. Escaping the cuffs is later. How is the pain created?...

The senator leaned back in his comfortable upholstered chair. "This one's different from the last ones I saw." He snorted and fussed over cleaning his nose with a white satin handkerchief. "The one who's still in the program cried and screamed so loud that it nearly destroyed my eardrums. This one is so..." He looked at the writhing figure bathed in golden energy down in the hall and searched for a matching word. "Silent."

Walsh stood between Senator Wheiner's VIP seat and Owen's instrument board and prayed silently that it would be over soon. He wore gloves, but his nails had dug through the cloth into his palms. The boy's legs had given way and he hung stretched out by the pain-inducing cuffs, still without making a sound. Blood poured over the cuffs, dripped to the floor. The boy was bathed in sweat, and his head lay back, an instinctive attempt to ease the pain-restricted breathing. Still the child gave no sound. Joseph remembered how it had been with Killbane, remembered the pain-filled screaming, the tears and cries that had suddenly turned into roars of fury as the trooper transformed and tore off the cuffs. He had destroyed half of the installation before they had been able to stun him.

But Shane's silent agony was by far more disturbing.

Sawyer at the technician's instrument board looked over to him. Walsh met his glance, shared horror, distaste, and anger – and the deep sorrow that there was nothing they could do against this.

"It's taking too long, Owen," Walsh said calmly. "Accept it: 1643453 isn't far enough along yet."

The senator sneezed again. "If this one can't transform, it's useless. Send it to GTP."

"You know the procedure, Joseph." Negata lowered his head.

"He's much younger than the others were at the first test. Grant him more time to develop and he'll make it. He's one of our most promising BDCs. Give him another chance later."

The senator in his comfortable chair shook his head. "It's useless. Abandon it. This project is financed by my funds. And I won't pay for a circus of worthless things."

"Senator, they are living beings." Negata cut in, waved with a slightly trembling hand, and sighed. "Stop the pain stimulation. It's over. 1643453 is abando–"

"Wait!!" Sawyer cried out. "Look at the pain indicators!"

The senator snorted. "They're as high as before!"

"Not the stims," Max snapped, annoyed, "the indicators of the pain he feels. They are at zero!" Walsh's and Negata's heads flew around. The two men stared down into the hall while Sawyer continued. "He's using a different solution than the others."

"Continue," was all Negata said, looking intently down at the boy no longer writhing in the chains.

It worked. The searing pain went away when he altered his skin. But how to escape these rotten cuffs? He hadn't been able to snap them before the pain reduced his strength to nothing. The transformation wouldn't last for long, even with the sickening energy flooding his body. The sickening energy... He ground his teeth, forced his shaking legs to carry his weight again. Energy... Those things transmit energy... Less energy than I receive at a whole...

He closed his eyes, drew deep breaths that burned like hell in his chest, ignored the sore sensation in his stomach, and used the energy causing it.

The flash of bright yellow light caused the stims to detonate, melted the cuffs, and shocked all of the men in the observation room. Something sparked below the tech console and Sawyer crept underneath to check it out.

"What has it done?" the senator demanded to know.

Negata scanned his instruments. "He turned the stim energy back onto the generators and reinforced it with the energy we donated for his transformation abilities." The scientist's hand slapped onto the panel. "He made it. He's free!"

The molten metal burned into his wrists. The sickening energy flux from above had also stopped as the pain stims exploded. He could no longer change his skin to prevent burns. Shane stumbled forward, tried to cross the belt of blinding light to look at his enemies, at his real enemies... Figures became visible behind an observation window, faces burned in his retinas, and he collapsed, his body hitting the floor face down, with pain-seized muscles and acid burning in his throat. He was too weak to vomit.

"Take care of him," Prof. Negata said, not addressing anybody in particular. He didn't look up from his instrument readings. It was too fascinating. "That's something I've never expected to see. This precision. Great! Joseph, I think this one is developing better than–" He looked up and saw that Walsh and Sawyer were already gone.

Senator Wheiner looked thoughtfully down into the hall. Stroking his shaved chin, he murmured. "Interesting. Really interesting behavior from those two..."

"Nucleotides?" Walsh asked, worried, crouching next to the collapsed boy.

Sawyer checked his portable scanner. "Stable. He's going to survive, Joe." He added the second, comforting sentence in a very low voice. As long as he doesn't break mentally at this. Those pain stims were invented and used in the Colonial Wars to force enemy spies to talk in spite of their high doses of pain-killing drugs. "The next hours will be crucial for him. You know that," he added in a whisper before he continued in his normal voice: "We have to take him to the lab. For the next two days he's to be kept under medical observation."

The child stirred. His gaze was unfocused and dizzy with exhaustion and sickness. His eyes wandered around, finally found the face of the man squatting next to him; blinked, once, twice, then widened with fear, naked fear, unmistakable and heartbreaking. The commander stretched out his hand to help Shane sit up and the boy shrank back with sheer terror on his face, turned away... and vomited, wincing. Walsh caught Shane's shoulders to prevent the boy from collapsing as he lost consciousness again.

"Stretcher!" Sawyer called for the medics, knowing he wouldn't be able to stand the expression on his friend's face now.

The boy lay curled up in fetal position, his head hidden by his arms. Though the sweat-soaked body twitched and shivered from time to time, he was totally silent, as if he couldn't risk making any sound. Max checked the displays above the bed. The breathing had calmed, as had the racing pulse, though the heartbeat was still too fast for a child of his age, even a child with his specialties. He sighed. At least they don't insist on normal measurements the first days after PTS.

The kid winced again. The muscles of his body tightened beneath the sheet. Shit. If he throws up again, I'll have to find a way to feed him artificially. That would be a real problem with Shane's strained and overwrought bio defenses. But the boy calmed down again, and Max got up, wiped – once again – the sweat off the child's forehead. If I'm caught doing it I'll likely be fired. He remembered the last bollocking he'd gotten for coddling the children. Sawyer turned round at the sound of the door sliding open.

Joseph. For the third time in an hour. He stood in the door, asking wordlessly.

Max shook his head – no changes. They had decided that he'd take the watch because he hadn't been visible as the boy left the blinding circle. The gentech didn't want to think about how his friend must feel now. They both had to witness these procedures far too often and far too often with fatal results. At least Shane had withstood it. But the price... "I'll call you as soon as I know, Joe," Max said in a low voice. A long moment later, the commander stepped back into the corridor. Sawyer's eyes rested on the closed door, and he nearly missed the whisper at first.

"Why did they do that me?"

The child's eyes were dulled by the tranquilizers all of them had after the first session. When the first strain had eased, the tranquilizers would be replaced by fear calmers, which didn't affect their alertness and aggression, but reduced their ability to feel fear. He would be given those drugs for the rest of his life... Sawyer felt disgust for himself: he had helped to adapt the drugs, to make them work on the STs in spite of their enhanced body defenses and immune systems. He had been so naive.

"I haven't done anything to them..."

Max looked with wet eyes at the child. Shane, it doesn't matter to them what you did or did not. All that matters to them is what you will be able to do someday – if you survive their treatment. But he couldn't tell the boy that.

"It will happen again, right?"

The question threw Max off-balance. What should he say? Whatever the boy was, he was also an ST, he'd been treated as a weapon from the very beginning, had been betrayed and tortured... If he lied...

"Don't lie to him." The voice from the door was rough with pain. "He deserves the truth." Walsh stepped into the room but stayed as far away as possible from the bed, seeing the fear appear again in his son's eyes. Fear of him. It cut like a bayonet into his soul. Walsh continued faintly but firmly as he addressed Shane himself: "Yes, Shane. They'll do it again. Not in the same way; a different way. You will be bathed in energy and forced to use it to transform in very different ways. That's your ability, and you are expected to learn to use it as effectively as you can." After a moment, Joseph added even more faintly, with hands cramped around his arms: "I didn't want them to do this so early. But I couldn't do anything about it."

Narrowed green eyes, showing the drug-induced dizziness, looked up at him, but the child didn't answer. As the boy finally spoke, both men knew that the kid would never have said it aloud if he hadn't been almost sedated: "If I had known about it before, I could've thought of a solution before it got so bad..." A shiver ran through the figure beneath the sheet, and the last words were barely intelligible: "Thanks for the truth..."

He clenched his fists beneath the sheet, caught up in the dizziness, the dullness of the world around him and in his mind. But one thought was very clear, and his self defended it with furious strength: Don't trust them!