A/N: It has come to my attention that some readers may not realize that the chapters in Barghest are skipping around in the timeline. I have listed the date in which action is taking place at the top of each chapter, along with some historical information about the universe in which Barghest is set. However, I understand that given the delay between postings, it is harder to keep track of a fictitious timeline than it might be if this was being consumed in a single reading. So, for the sake of simplicity, chapters featuring the character Maker are taking place in the present. (That’s the simple past tense for those grammatically inclined.) Other chapters are generally taking place prior to Maker’s personal timeline, but I have written those sequentially. I am aware of five past tense forms in English – if you know of more please share – and I try to use them all in combination with as many hyphens, italics, semi-colons, and commas as I can get away with. See previous sentence for reference. I do love emphasis.
If you are having any issues with following the story line, let me know why or how and I’ll see what I can do to correct the issue. Thank you for reading!
Hour 0830, Day 001, Year 2115
35th Anniversary of the assassination of President Aiden Murphy during his inauguration speech as he declared the commitment of America to a united earth confederation. Vice President Haifa Ahmed Al-Sindi was sworn into office minutes after her running mate was declared dead.
“Five series, Dr. Gillian. Five.” Representative Sudarshan punctuated the number by pressing her palms flat against the table on either side of her tablet. Her manicured nails clicked against the steel. “I have provided everything you have insisted is necessary for the success of Project Hellhound. The Oversight Committee for Defense Research has spent more on funding your facility than on cleanup of the Michigan-Pennslyvania and Showa crash sites combined. And yet, I have here your most recent quarterly report.” Gillian opened her mouth to respond, and Sudarshan glared to let her know she wasn’t finished.
“And yet,” she continued, “as I was on my way to a session hearing, sipping my coffee and listening to my daily calendar, I read this: …twenty-six series is not viable for field deployment…” Sudarshan flicked one finger across the surface of her tablet, “…inability to assume effective leadership…” She looked up, brushing a non-existent stray hair back into her chignon. “I understood you corrected that defect in the twenty-twos. So why is it, then, Doctor, that despite trillions of dollars, years of research, the brilliant minds recruited to this staff, that you still have not produced results?”
Gillian remained silent for a long moment, her jaw clenched in obvious anger. The white scar tissue that covered nearly half of her face remained smooth, while her undamaged skin was showing the inevitable signs of aging. It only reminded Sudarshan of how much time had been lost. If her election went well, in less than a year she would be moving into a Senate office and handing the leadership of the committee and Project Hellhound over to a junior Representative. She needed progress, concrete proof of success. Her entire career had been dedicated to finding a solution to the loss of life against Culler forces – and all of her bets were placed on Hellhound and Gillian.
“If I may, Representative?” Gillian motioned toward the door. Surprised, Sudarshan nodded. She stood only a beat behind the doctor, picking up the tablet, and followed the white-coated woman through a security door – not the one by which she had entered the office and began walking through several corridors. “Series 26 does display some undeniable indicators that they will not perform in the field as the project requires. However,” she cut her eyes to Sudarshan and the representative bit back a tart comment. “However, that does not mean they are incapable of ever being utilized as soldiers.” The two women entered an observation area, not unlike the one Sudarshan remembered vividly from her first visit to the facility. On the opposite side of the glass was not a small sterile room, but rather a large space not unlike a public school gymnasium.
Two rows of pre-teens, mostly boys, faced each other. A bearded man in generic exercise clothes walked between them, calling out commands for a set of exercises. Each child performed perfectly in sync with the others. Each increasingly complicated task was done without hesitation. The leader reached the end of the row, nearest the glass and turned. Sudarshan could not help but make a small noise of surprise when a short-haired brown tail flicked into view – attached to the man’s backside.
“That is 22-B, and this series follows his commands easily – far better than any of our staff. I believe it to be instinctual.”
Sudarshan studied the man more closely, but could not quite believe he was the same individual she remembered from the many reports on him and his series. “The ageing flaw,” she said uncertainly, remembering the primary reason for the discontinuation of the twenty-two series.”
“Correct. From the outset, one of our objectives has always been to reduce maturation time of the subjects – reducing the total cost of ownership and the investment period in each individual. With the 22s we managed to achieve maturation at the chronological age of eleven years, but the cellular degeneration in most subject could not be prevented from continuing at that rate. Bee is one of the few that responded positively to treatments to slow his progression, but still his aging makes him unsuitable for the field.”
“Yes. And while it may be considered efficient of you to have found a use for outdated models, I did not come here for a history lesson, Doctor. If these subjects can take orders, something which you vehemently stated was not possible, then in what way are they unsuited to their purpose?” One of the young men in line muttered something out of the corner of his mouth, startling a laugh out of the boy next to him. Their instructor, tail whipping angrily, was in their faces in an instant. Although no sound was being piped into the observation room, it was still clear that the youths were put into their place as they dropped to the ground and began push-ups with twin grimaces of shame.
“The twenty-two series had cellular degeneration issues. The twenty-threes were too empathetic. The twenty-fours were incapable of the spacial learning required for modern weapons training. The twenty-fives had hormonal imbalances that made them emotionally unstable. We have corrected all of those problems with the twenty-six series, and-”
“But,” Sudarshan interrupted, “You have brought back an old one. I would think you, of all people Gillian, would know the inherent danger of a hybrid killing machine that refuses to recognize authority.” She had intended the comment to give the doctor a reminder in humility – and warn her to stop wasting time. It resulted in an unexpected smile. The rough skin of Gillian’s cheek pulled down on the corner of her mouth, making the toothy grin nearly grotesque.
“Indeed – but that is not what we have here. What we have are killing machines – exactly as you requested. Intelligent. Strong. Agile. Capable of ending life but with an understanding of the value of the same. Physically, mentally, and emotionally mature at approximately fourteen years from extraction. They only need one change in your deployment parameters to make them effective.”
“Are you suggesting,” Sudarshan narrowed her eyes and gestured with a disgusted motion toward the fanged, tail-sporting male on the other side of the glass, “that I recommend to the SC High Command that they send a dog into battle to command their elite forces?”
“Bee is not a dog,” Gillian bit off. Silence fell for another moment while both women tried to rein in their tempers. “And I would not recommend he enter the field, even if he does live long enough for these subjects to be deployed. She turned tightly on a low-heeled shoe and opened another security door. “I am recommending,” she said in a calmer tone, “that the twenty-sixes receive additional training and classification as general support forces while the twenty-seven series matures. Once ready, the twenty-sevens will be capable of commanding their predecessors as well as receiving additional training for special forces missions and highly independent decision-making.” They passed through two security doors, the second guarded by another individual with a tail.
The female, wearing a modified version of fatigues, greeted the doctor with a dipped head and a smile that bared pointed teeth. She sniffed overtly at Sudarshan.
“She is with me, Ae,” Gillian stated calmly. The guard was female, and clearly dedicated to her duty. She took their security cards and carefully compared the photo on Sudarshan’s to her face and the information terminal on the wall before scanning them in and stepping aside. Sudarshan did her best to keep her expression from not reflecting the morbid curiosity that swirled in her mind as a brown tail flicked at the button to open the door. She followed Gillian inside and the door shut behind them, leaving them alone in a five by five room.
“Decontamination will take a moment, breathe normally,” Gillian instructed. Sudarshan had toured research and medical facilities before, so she was prepared for the cool hiss of gas and the glow of UV lighting against her closed lids. After ninety seconds, a chime sounded and another door opened. The room she stepped into was another observation space, but this one was manned with several technicians at computer stations and lab tables. The quiet activity would have been commonplace in almost any biotech facility, if not for the wall of glass that dominated the room. On the other side were four bays of artificial wombs, clustered in groups of twenty-five per bay. The mass of technology that was supporting the lives of one hundred genetically designed beings was phenomenal.
The costs of it all was staggering. Sudarshan had never seen the gestation lab, but she was aware that no hospital on Earth, or anywhere in the Sol Coalition, could boast the level of care that in the Hellhound facility. WIth good reason. Artificial wombs had been declared restricted technology, usable only to save viable pregnancies if the parents did not have any other children. Even if they had not been so carefully controlled, the expense of a single device, even for the few months to mature a regular human infant, was far beyond the means of all but a tiny percentage of the population. Before her were enough machines to grow an army from nothing but artificially constructed DNA, nutrient packs, and energy.
“These are the twenty-sevens. They are the culmination of my work, Representative, and hundreds of other scientists.” The quiet pride in Gillian’s voice was obvious.
“When will they be ready?”
“Extraction is typically around forty-six weeks, since we corrected the aging issue.”
“When will they be ready for deployment,” Sudarshan clarified. She could not take her eyes off of the small bodies, visible as shadows in the pearly liquid of the wombs. So much potential. So much expectation.
“Like the twenty-sixes, they will be mature at fourteen years.” Dislike hardened her next words, “But I strongly recommend that they spend at least an additional year in field training exercises.”
“Noted,” Sudarshan turned to face the doctor. Tearing her eyes away from the tiny soldiers growing at her direction. Tearing her mind away from the possibilities of the future. “Our losses pushing the Cullers out of Near Sol space are unsustainable. We need those soldiers, doctor.” She handed back the tablet loaded with reports and data on the project and turned to leave. “And for gods’ sake,” she tossed over her shoulder as she pressed her palm against the security lock, “stop naming them after the alphabet. It makes the field reports damn confusing.”