Jared was tired of this damned hole in the ground. Damned tired. "General, I'm not asking for permission to move out permanently. I'm asking to take my sons out for a birthday party, a day trip to a local amusement park."
"Sergeant, I'd love to give it to you," General Thatcher sighed. "I actually fought tooth and nail with my superiors, but they won't budge. I'm sorry."
"The same God-damned 'security concerns' that have kept me locked up in here for the last sixth months?" Jared asked with a snarl. He did not like General Thatcher... but he'd come to a (reluctant) understanding, and wary respect, of the man. Not once had he lied to Jared, and he'd done his best to help in a number of small ways.
"Yes," Thatcher sighed. "They took the excuse and ran with it!"
"You should have let me worry about the security aspect," Jared bitched. "I could have handled it easily enough!"
"In retrospect you're right, but we had no way of knowing that at the time," the General reminded him.
"I know, I-" Jared broke off and frowned as some data flashed in front of his eyes.
"Something wrong?" the General asked.
In response to the red indicator icon pulsing at the periphery of his vision, Jared called up the AVOUI. He didn't spare a thought for how quickly the strange acronym -- Augmentation Visual Overlay User Interface -- had become familiar to him.
Data stream -- dead man's trigger -- analyze, he selected rapidly, eyes flickering as his 'fingers' danced over the controls. Jared didn't understand the details, but the system had adapted to him so that using it was second nature. He didn't think, he just 'used' it.
Of course, there had been some fairly intense training involved in making sure that he remembered to use it. But such was the life of a marine, even an ex-marine like himself.
Details drifted by his vision, most of them meaningless, as he 'scrolled' to the end of the report. Suggestion: activate secondary modulation.
Suppressing curses, he went ahead and prodded the program through the second analytical stage. This was the kind of things that should have been automated... But because the program was written completely illicitly, that never happened. Confirmed. False Connection. The damning letters made Jared's blood pressure skyrocket and he quickly refocused on the confused general sitting in front of him.
"I swear, if you knew..." Jared snarled before whirling to run from the room.
"What's going on?" the general asked.
Jared ignored him and sprinted across the base. He'd find Cody quickly enough; it wasn't like the underground facility was all that large. And the labs were all in one section of the base, so he had a limited area to start his search in.
How the bastards had found, much less spoofed, the dead man's switch that Jared had managed to set up (with the clandestine help of Captain McCullough) was beyond him. McCullough had sworn they wouldn't be able to detect it, much less fake it.
As Jared approached the labs, the signal strength on the 'faked' connection rapidly dropped, as a second, stronger signal overrode it. Jared quickly zeroed in on the location and walked in, more calmly than when he'd left. "Hello gentlemen," he said, forcing a smile.
"Jared!" one of the new scientists greeted him, "we thought you were in a meeting with the General!"
"How you doing Cody?" Jared asked his son.
"Alright," he said unhappily. "They're gonna do some more tests, but they said it won't hurt."
"Tests?" Jared asked, putting a bit of steel in his tone. "Strange, I wasn't told anything about this!"
"Of course not," someone grumbled behind him. "Always in the way..."
"You know, it's amazing just how often some of you forget I have enhanced hearing," Jared commented.
"Shit," the same someone swore under his breath.
"And yes, that means I heard you complaining about my being in the way," Jared told him without even turning around. "Now, under the circumstances, why don't you unstrap my son?"
"I don't think so," someone growled, then jabbed something into Jared's neck.
Jared's spine stiffened as current arced through his nervous system, clubbing him to the ground.
"Restrain him, quickly," someone ordered.
"What the hell do you think you're doing!" another voice shouted. It sounded vaguely familiar to Jared, but right at the moment he was to busy trying to sort himself out to care. You moved your right hand like... that, right? No, maybe like this? Better, but not quite... right, OK. Now for the wrist controls... how did you control your wrist...
Jared was just starting to get his mind straightened out and his body functioning when he realized he'd been strapped into a chair and couldn't move anyway. "Fuck," he swore. Restraints were... bad.
Then a scientist, someone he didn't recognize, stepped in through the door, blue tooth headset attached to one ear. Jared couldn't quite place his accent, but it was fairly... thick. "Patient zero-zero-one, initial augmentation testing, nine months into program, beginning proper testing cycle from the beginning. Initial scientists refused to do many of the appropriate tests, but because they ran many of the tests already I am able to jump ahead to approximately three months into planned testing cycle."
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Jared growled.
"Subject will be silent," the man ordered. "Note to self: guards failed to properly secure subject to prevent attempts at communication. Order them penalized." The man quickly applied a gag to Jared, who couldn't resist very effectively with his entire body strapped into the chair.
"Initiating test cycle with examination of effects of electric current," the scientist commented, then started pressing controls. Jared felt the current buzzing at his hands and feet, and stretched against his bonds. It didn't really hurt, but it wasn't exactly a tickle, either. "Responses in line with normal human response for low level current, increasing voltage and amperage along pre-planned time-line."
Jared felt the tingling grow worse, and run further along hands and arms. Soon it was shooting across his body, and if he hadn't been gagged he would have been screaming. Accessing the AVOUI he pulled up the pain management protocols and set them to active-autocycle-high. He normally left them off, and under most circumstances he would have only turned them on to low... but if this bastard was just going to torture him, why bother?
The rush of endorphins combined with the numbing of his nerves soon eased the pain, allowing him to think again. And think he did, a lot. Two sons, both of them now stuck in a crack. David probably wouldn't be too bad, hell the marines would probably take care of anyone trying to hurt him pretty effectively. But Cody... Cody was a 'legitimate' test subject, and while they wouldn't be happy with anyone hurting him they might not notice it anytime soon. He had to get their attention, and help, now if he was going to protect Cody from-
Red rage descended on him as he heard the bastard torturing him make a comment. "Subject activated augmentation pain controls more rapidly than patient 002, possibly a result of higher training threshold. Need additional subjects to study if it is an age related, training related, or chance relationship between the two..." Jared couldn't speak, but he swore vengeance on the bastard as soon as he got the chance.
"What the hell is going on in here?" General Thatcher demanded, walking in the door.
"Interruptions, always interruptions," the scientist complained.
"Who the hell are you, what do you think you're doing, and how, by God, did you get on my base without me knowing about it?" General Thatcher barked, hand caressing the pistol at his side.
"I have authority of Joint Chieves of Stahff," the scientist told him, accent growing thicker. "You will leave me to my work. Here is copy of the orders that should have been sent to your office." The scientist fished out a folder and handed it over.
"Fucking hell!" the General swore, flipping through it. Looking up, he frowned. "You will delay any further... 'testing'... until after I have received confirmation of these orders through channels."
"Go away," the scientist told him. "You have your orders, I will do this testing!"
"Like hell you will!" the General swore. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a com device and flipped it on. "This is the General, all personal initiate lock down. I repeat, this base is now in lock down. Marines, find and secure all science personnel and subjects, I say again secure all science personnel and subjects. This specifically and overridingly includes both Jared and Cody-"
The General collapsed bonelessly as the scientist applied a tazer device to the back of his neck. "Interruptions, always interruptions," he complained as he picked up the com device. "This is Ivan Demidov," he announced, "acting under the authority of Joint Chiefs of Staff. I am taking command of this facility and all associated equipment, personnel, and test subjects, effective immediately. The orders of former General Thatcher are hereby overridden, and I am activating Case Lylev." He clicked the device off and returned to his 'studies'.
Jared gritted his teeth and endured the electrical torment as best he could, but even his augmentation couldn't help much as his flesh literally began to cook. "Subject's augmentation is maintaining nervous system stability despite superficial scorching of external flesh, approximately four times the voltage a normal human could survive. Automatic defibrillation does not appear to be active, the nanites appear to be successfully channeling the electrical current away from primary nervous system."
Jared could have sighed in relief as the current was turned off. Then a pounding at the door announced the arrival of several marines. "The majority of the base personnel have been secured, but several squads of marines are armed and resisting. One of them appears to be attempting to escape with David Warren, the other two are attempting to take this section of the facility in an attempt to rescue the subjects."
"We need David to control the subjects; capture him alive," Ivan ordered. "And keep the other idiots away from me, I need to finish this study!"
"Yes sir," the marine answered before walking out. The scientist completely missed the angry tone of the reply as he proceeded to move several electrodes around on Jared's body.
Fuck, Jared thought, if he turns the current on now, there goes any future children!
Jared swallowed the electrolyte solution with difficulty, thankful for the limited replenishment Ivan was allowing him. He could barely focus, but he'd been able to keep a minimal track of events for a while now. Ivan was furious -- beyond furious! -- with the marines who were 'loyal' to him, and he was taking it out on Jared. Initially, Jared had been very happy to have it that way, because Ivan was furious over Cody being 'stolen' from him.
If he were still able to be happy about anything, he'd be happy over it still. But right at the moment, it was all Jared could do to keep breathing. In fact, about every third breath he'd stop, and only the sudden electrical jolt produced by his augmentation would restart his breathing. It was straining to keep him alive as he was systematically electrocuted, cooked, frozen, cut, beaten, and now...
... and now shot. Jared felt a grunt slip out past his gag as the blow hit him in the chest and bounced. This was insane. This was beyond insane. "I hate rushing this," Ivan moaned as he examined the forming bruise, "but orders are orders. And if I don't follow, I don't get to do tests at all!"
Oh. Great. He was rushing the tests to satisfy his bosses. Just fraggin' great. What the bloody hell was the rush all about- Jared blinked, and strained his hearing a little. His augmentation responded a trifle slowly, then started filtering out the noises inside the room while amplifying the sound of... Something. He couldn't quite make it out. It was familiar, though, so very familiar. He knew it, whatever 'it' was. But he was so tired. So very tired.
ZZZZT Jared gasped as his augmentation forced his diaphragm to spasm, bringing another breath of air in. His heart was still thudding along in his ears, but he could tell, somehow, that it too was about ready to give in. So close.
This time he didn't even notice the grunt, just the pain as a rib cracked under the assault. Despite layers of defenses, capable of resisting incredible degrees of stress, the rib cracked. He could just imagine the nanites swarming around the injury, forming a healing matrix. But he was too tired. It was time to stop.
He focused on the image of the nanites swarming over his injures, and dispersed the cloud. He didn't know if it'd work, but it was time. The augmentation was the only thing keeping him alive, and even it couldn't do it much longer. So tired... he just wanted to rest. He couldn't muster the energy to care that he'd be leaving Davey and Cody alone, it was time to rest... He'd never been so tired, even in the midst of battle-
That was it! A part of his mind finally put the pieces together. The noise he couldn't place, it was automatic weapons fire. Rifles. Marine rifles. Lots of them.
"What's that noise?" Ivan muttered, turning from his 'experiments'.
The door to the room blew off its hinges as a blasting charge detonated on the other side, spraying shards of metal outward in a razor sharp rain of death. 'Terrible Ivan' as Jared had come to think of him caught the worst of it. Closed casket funeral, for sure, a rather pleased corner of Jared's mind noted. Not a lot left of his face, and no way to make it look close to pretty. Especially with half the chest so mangled that it mashed flat rather than holding its shape.
Jared watched, too tired to really pay attention, as several marines flooded into the room. "Clear!" one shouted as he prodded the ex-doctor with his toe. "Is this the guy?" another asked.
"Looks like," a third agreed, pulling out a combat radio. "Command, this is echo-zulu-five, we have the target. Request medical support immediately, he's in a bad way."
"Understood. Location?" came the terse reply.
The soldier glanced at the number over the door, and read it off quickly.
"Alright, medic and support en-route. Prepare to evac, it looks like a general counter-attack is being formed," came the orders, from a voice Jared could almost place.
"Understood command," the marine said, leaning over Jared. "Be advised that I don't think the subject will survive; he's pretty beat up."
"Medic is en-route, prep him for evac. Don't worry about how beat up he looks, he's tougher than you'd think," the orders came. Jared shook his head, trying to remember where he'd heard that voice...
"Alright, where's... 'the target'?" another familiar voice asked, as someone walked into the room. Jared couldn't quite see him. His vision was going all dark. "Shit! I swear, Ivan, if you weren't already dead I'd kill you myself for this, this, barbarity!"
Friends. They were friends. Jared's mind finally caught up enough to realize that.
"He's waking up!" someone said.
"Dad!" a familiar voice called, as someone clutched his hand.
"I told you Daddy would be fine! He's indestruble!"another familiar voice answered.
"Indestructible, moron!" Davey filled his voice with all the scorn and hauteur only a teenage boy talking to his much younger brother could manage.
"Boys, boys!" someone else cut in, "do you really want your Dad to wake up to you two bickering like this?"
"Why not," Jared croaked out through his dry throat. "It's not like I'm used to them behaving anyway!"
"DAD!" the two squealed in stereo, one to each ear.
"Quieter guys, quieter," Jared begged, trying to open his eyes. The stabbing light that came in convinced him not to try. "Could you turn the lights down a bit?"
"They're already on dim," someone told him. "You may be concussed... just a sec. Try it now."
Jared cracked an eye, then the other. He could barely see, and it was all... grainy. Blurry. Given the headache, a concussion sounded about right. Except...
"I didn't think I got hit in the head," he complained.
"You passed out. There was a firefight during the extraction, you got hit in the head. Lost your other ear, and a fair bit more," someone told him.
"I know I know you," Jared complained, "I just can't quite... I know I know you!"
"Major Williams," the man re-introduced himself. "And don't worry about it, you've been through a lot. You're badly injured, and your augmentation took some damage when... your augmentation has been damaged, and hasn't finished repairing itself."
A memory reasserted itself. "Mr. Terrible. He used directed EMP to try and knock out parts of my augmentation."
"Mr. Terrible?" the Major asked, tone worried.
"His name... Ivan something. I called him Ivan the Terrible, or-" a coughing fit cut Jared off.
"Cute, now drink this if you can. It's an electrolyte replenisher," Major Williams ordered.
"Yes sir!" Jared groused.
"When is Daddy going to be better?" Cody asked.
"Yeah, you said you'd have an idea after he woke up!" Davey chimed in.
"Guys, I haven't had a chance to finish my exam yet, and the more you chime in the longer it's going to take!" Major Williams told them sharply.
"Give the man some room," Jared ordered.
Finally given some room to work in, Doctor Williams started poking and prodding Jared, and asking all sorts of questions. Some of them were pretty predictable -- 'Can you see how many fingers I'm holding up?' -- while others were just downright strange. He didn't know the capital of Lyria to begin with, so what use was asking him?
Soon enough the exam ended. "Alright, get what sleep you can, Jared," the doctor ordered. "Cody, Davey, come with me. Your Dad needs rest, not listening to you chatter."
"Aaaah!" they complained, but allowed themselves to be dragged off.
Jared found sleep completely irresistible, and was swiftly claimed by the sandman.
...only in the most dire of emergencies...
...situational aid accessible upon request, transmit on...
...remind you that open contact is completely...
...danger surrounds us, do you....
...this communication is being tapped! Initiate...
...that's impossible! The technology...
...the subject is...
...asleep! He can't be...
...don't tell me can't, he...
...but I'm telling...
...you have your orders! Obey...
Jared snapped to wakefulness. It was a strange dream. Fragments of a conversation... half heard, half seen, and he couldn't hold much of it together. Then a blinking icon at the edge of his now clear vision grabbed his attention. Opening it up, he discovered that his dream had been a fragmentary signal intercept, flagged as being of potential interest.
Jared's brows furled as he looked for why it had been flagged. He couldn't find any information on it. The system was... it was misdirecting him as best it could, and wouldn't let him cut through the BS to dig out why it had been flagged as potentially interesting. "Another damned bug," Jared sighed. He hadn't run into many of them -- they'd clearly tested the software thoroughly before uploading it to him -- but he'd run into enough to be ticked.
"Jared!" Major Williams exclaimed from the door. "I didn't realize you were awake!"
Jared hadn't had much time to really look at the room, but he didn't have to really look to recognize it. By type, if not name and place. It had clearly been scrubbed to within an inch of its life, but otherwise it had the dingy, run down look of cheap housing on the edge of a city somewhere. The only furniture in it was the cot he was sitting on, and there was barely enough room for people to walk around it.
In short, it was almost certainly a safe house of some kind. "Just woke up," he told the doctor. "Had the strangest dreams, though..."
"Ah," the doctor sounded... reassured by that statement.
"What, weren't expecting me up so soon?" Jared asked.
"Actually, no," Major Williams told him. "You really did need sleep, and I thought you'd be down for at least another four hours. Your nanites are having to rebuild significant sections of your augmentation, and there are limits on how much they can do and how quickly without drawing on your body's resources. That's actually what was killing you, more than anything else, with 'Mr. Terrible's experimentation. Your nanites were draining your body of resource and energy until you were almost dead. That's actually why you were healing so slowly when we got to you; there was nothing left to heal with. You were most of the way to dead."
"Well, I'm feeling a lot better," Jared told him.
"Good. We've spent the last two weeks pumping you full of intravenous nutrition, but-"
"Wait, wait -- two weeks?!" Jared exclaimed.
"Yes," Major Williams confirmed, "two weeks. It's been the better part of three since this whole mess began, and-"
"Three weeks?!" Jared's eyes went wide. "I was in that sadistic bastard's hand for a mere week?"
"I imagine it seemed like longer," Major Williams agreed.
"Wait, wait..." Jared's eyes unfocused as he ran through the AVOUI's options. There, time... "That doesn't add up," Jared complained. "My system clock shows that it's-"
"The EMP pulse probably scrambled some of the non-critical data," Major Williams told him. "We didn't do the 'hard protect' on non-critical data like system time. It'll reset itself eventually."
"So what else is going to be wrong in my head?" Jared asked.
"I have no clue," Major Williams told him. "And we don't have the hardware to do a proper diagnostic. We've got the software... speaking of which..." Major Williams pulled a small container out of a pocket, and pulled what looked like a flash chip out of it. "Swallow this. It's a full copy of all data on Project Prometheus, current as of two weeks ago. Your augmentation will recognize the chip and attach to it, downloading all the data to back it up, and holding the chip itself in your digestive tract until you release it."
"Until I release it?" Jared asked, confused. He bounced the chip in his hand while staring at Major Williams.
"It's better than having to re-swallow the chip every time it... passes..." Major Williams said delicately.
"Oh," Jared agreed, blanching. "Yeah, a lot better!" It wasn't much larger than some of the pills he'd been required to swallow in the past, and it went down quickly enough once he tossed it in his mouth.
"Anyway, we have a plan. Most of the scientists attached to the program, except for those here, have already dispersed themselves across the US into various safe houses and secure locations. The US government can't touch the few who remained 'public' without having every single civil rights group scream bloody murder. The individuals most at risk, however, are the ones the government is spending all its resources tracking down."
"Me and Cody," Jared guessed.
"We can't keep you hidden; your augmentation gives off a signal that can, with time, be traced. We've obfuscated the signal for now, but eventually the few scientists the government still has are going to figure out how to counteract that. We have to get you out of the country," Major Williams sighed.
"That's not going to be easy, is it?" Jared realized. "With the Mexico Wall in place, and Canada sealing its borders at all but the controlled crossing points, I'd have to go by ship or air, and those-"
"Are closed down. There is no international travel available these days," Major Williams told him. "The entire world is going to hell in a hand-basket and the US is busy screwing everyone over."
"How long has this been happening?" Jared asked.
"About two weeks ago, all hell broke loose. Our little attack on the Prometheus facility was one of several. Most of our teams got intercepted and destroyed, but they did a hell of a lot of damage on their way out the door. And those that didn't get intercepted... the government is in full on panic mode. I don't have a copy of that data to give you, but it looks like the other teams managed to leak it to the public and various news groups before we lost contact. They found proof -- undeniable, verifiable proof -- that then Vice President Young was behind the assassination of President-"
Jared grabbed Major Williams by the collar and yanked him down. "You have proof that bastard killed her?!"
"To cover his own tracks," Major Williams managed to grunt.
"Bastard," Jared growled. "God damned fucking bastard!"
"He's riding the tiger now, well and truly," Major Williams told him. "He's practically declared martial law in an effort to quell the demands for further investigation, but that's not going to hold for very long. That's why he's stirring the pot internationally; if he can cause enough trouble, maybe he can save his ass that way."
"Fuck," Jared swore. "He's going to cause this kind of disruption just to cover his own ass?" Jared shook his head. He'd like to disbelieve it, but it fit too well.
"Worse," Major Williams sneered. "I, personally, think he's aiming to start a war. After all, no war time president has ever been unpopular. Even that moron Bush had good popularity ratings, even if everyone though he was a moron."
Jared closed his eyes and shook his head. Fucking hell! "Alright, how does this tie into your plan to get us out of the country?"
"Not just out of the country," Major Williams said with a grin, pointing upward.
Jared blinked, confused, then looked upward in sudden realization.