Barghest – Chapter 1



Hour 1006, Day 269, Year 2102

Sixty-ninth anniversary of approval by the American Surgeon General for embryonic gene therapy for medical conditions which impact either mortality or quality of life.

A scraping, grating sound was dulled somewhat by the thick, one-way glass that was between Representative Sudarshan and the enclosure for Test Subject 21-G.  The Representative had to force herself not to grimace; instead she folded her arms over her chest in a practiced manner that gave her an air of authority, without looking aggressive. Dr. Jenssen pulled a stylus from his coat pocket and tapped on a control pad in his hand. Data flashed to life on the glass, outlining the subject, displaying vital statistics, and highlighting significant results. Sudarshan ignored most of the glowing text to assess the subject personally. She could only see the top of his head, as he was crouched in a corner. One hand, lightly dusted with short brown hair, reached out to the wall and dragged down the polymetallic sheeting. Curls of material flaked up and away from his nails, deepening two parallel scratches on the wall.

“You can see here,” Jenssen pointed to a chart and drew a curve to attract her attention, “21-G has exceeded conservative projections for all skill areas and resistances. Sensory perception and strength are both far above estimates, and intelligence appears to be within acceptable parameters. Unfortunately, out of the twenty-five subjects that were viable at extraction, he is the only one to remain intact and operational, so our efforts to study and assess him have slowed somewhat as we need to reduce risk of damage for the last product of the 21 series. Also, many of the results are open to interpretation, as we have no means of establishing a control or baseline for comparison.” Jenssen flicked away the data, and pulled up another set of charts.

He would have continued, but the grating sound started again. Sudarshan watched 21-G drag his middle two fingers down the grooves in the wall again. “Why is he doing that?”

Jenssen glanced up from his tablet. “Oh, marking territory. We’ve seen that in 82% of all viable series to date. The behaviorists believe that it is essential, but my chief geneticist assures me it can be coded out, if it is a problem.” He gestured with his stylus, “This graph-”

“And his attitude,” Sudarshan interrupted again, “is he always like this?” She had read the files, of course. That was her responsibility as the new Chair of the Oversight Committee for Defense Research and Covert Operations. The Representative was aware that Project Reform had made tremendous strides in genetic modifications and splicing. The prospect of a new kind of soldier, one that was stronger, braver, and faster than humans but also intelligent was tantalizingly close. However, the challenges were still significant. Congress had spent trillions, would spend trillions more, if requests for the next five year funding allocation were approved, but Project Reform had yet to produce an individual that could operate in the field.

“Ah, yes,” Jenssen cleared his throat and smiled. Fine wrinkles appeared at the corner of his eyes, but his mouth was stiff. “Although 21-G is obedient and excels in combat simulations, he is withdrawn and has…difficulty…interacting with others.”

“Difficulty?” Sudarshan stepped closer the the glass and squated down. From a lower angle she could see the subject’s face. His skin was the same nondescript brown of his hair, or perhaps a shade lighter. His cheekbones were wide and high, his jaw pronounced and broad. The ears were further up on his head than a human’s, and edged with long, pale hairs the moved gently in the artificial currents of the hvac system. She couldn’t tell the color of his eyes as they were closed, but she knew from the file they were green – and shone red in low lighting. “Is that what you call the maiming of two technicians and the death of another? And I understand he killed five of the six other 21 series models in his group.”

“Well,” Jenssen coughed and shuffled his feet. “After the challenges with motivation and passivity in the 20-series, we made some adjustments to the genome – which was extremely successful. The results were exactly what we were hoping for.”

“Dead scientists?” she murmured. Her eyes traced over the broad shoulders and heavy musculature of the subject. His simple grey scrubs were stretched tight over long limbs. Thick hair was tied into a simple ponytail at his nape, and darker brown hair grew on his face and neck. “That is not a promising goal, Doctor.”

She could hear Jenssen’s umbrage rising in his voice. “The staff…incidents…were the result of security procedures that were not properly followed. Dr. Gillian was aware that no personnel are allowed direct contact with the subjects unless they are anesthetized. Despite that, she entered the enclosure to begin an unapproved behavioral study. When 21-G attacked, the technicians intervened.”

“I read Gillian’s report. She stated that increased socialization would curb the violent tendencies and establish trust and loyalty.” The Representative studied the subject’s feet. They were larger and broader than an average human. She recalled from the file it was a result of increased height and body mass. His toes were pressed against the floor, his heels raised and nearly under his body.

“Yes,” Jenssen’s tone was saturated with derision, “And the former Oversight Chair took those concerns seriously. We did institute controlled interactions between subjects – which resulted in aggression and violent outbursts between them. Of the fourteen that were still viable at the time, G killed five that were in the same control group. The sixth was left alive with only non-lethal puncture wounds on the neck.” The display on the glass flickered, and new data, including images of subjects that had refused food and one that killed himself by puncturing his abdomen with his own claws. Behind her, Jenssen was sounding more confident. “The other control group was declared non-viable within a few months. Gillian’s research is pedantic, at best. If we threw out the behaviorists and psychoanalysts and focused our resources on the hard science, I promise you we could produce the outcomes the Committee is looking for in another two or three series.”

“Such ego,” Sudarshan murmured under her breath. She pressed her palms against her knees to stand, and in the split second that her attention turned from the subject, he exploded into motion. Later, review of the security footage would show that he had braced himself to move and his eyes had been focused on a faulty seal at the bottom of the glass. It would be hypothesized that he could see or sense the residual heat from the bodies of those in the observation room as it seeped out under the window. Whatever reason he had, however he accomplished it, the result was a terrifying impact when his body slammed into the mirrored side. Four inches of reinforced plastiglass shuddered and cracked in a spiderweb pattern.  Sudarshan fell backward onto her hands with a strangled gasp. Jenssen screamed.

Alarms sounded and high inside the enclosure, vents opened releasing a sedative gas. Sudarshan flinched, her heart stuttering, as 21-G hit the glass again, the second time with his fist. Small chunks of material splintered and fell out of a tiny hole that centered on the impact. The Representative stared into the subject’s eyes. They were pale green, flecked with brown. Despite the fury etched on his face, Sudarshan saw something else there too. The sedative took effect before he could connect a third time, and both the observation room and enclosure were swarmed with security personnel. Sudarshan refused assistance and stood up on her own, watching as they strapped the subject down and loaded him into a confinement chamber the size of a large coffin. When she finally turned around, she was unimpressed to find Jenssen, pants soaking wet, breathing from a portable oxygen cannister and ranting about protocols and autopsy schedules.

Sudarshan ignored him and pulled aside one of the guards. “Take me to a secure line, and get me the next most senior staff person. Now.”

Two days later, Representative Sudarshan was on a transport back to the Sol System. Dr. Jenssen’s contract had been terminated, and he was strongly encouraged to review the binding non-disclosure and non-compete portions of his agreement. Dr. Gillian, fresh from transplant surgery, had been reinstated and promoted as the head of research. She had insisted on foregoing her scheduled skin grafts and reconstructive procedures to begin work immediately. Project Reform was under new leadership, and a new strategic plan. The Representative accepted a drink from her assistant and settled in to listen to reports on the latest debates on the Congressional floor regarding oceanic reclamation. She could afford to focus on domestic matters, assured that she would soon have exactly what humanity needed to search out their enemies and erase them. Her last act, before she closed the files on her tablet, was to authorize a new code name for the black operation.

Project Hellhound would make her career.

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