Eito Yoshida stared into a mirror, running his hand across freshly cut hair. His features had remain unchanged for at least 15 years, but had also somehow taken on a harder edge than when he had first learned of Phase Space. He reached out and lightly touched the glass with manicured fingertips, remembering his induction into the group he had taken to calling the Organization. It was odd to him, but while the Organization had a very religious feel, they didn’t seem to have a formal name; At least they never told him what it was.
Yoshida was a physicist at one time, helping develop more advanced processors for a big-name technology firm. That all ended when he came across documents stored on an ancient fileserver at a company co-location. They were schematics for a prototype circuit that belonged to a long-abandoned project. He copied all the data to a secret location and began to study the underlying engineering of the project.
A year later Eito found himself staring into the Phase through a streaming feed from a heavily modified camera. His life was never the same afterwards, especially once Organization agents showed up at his doorstep and introduced him to a reality that was wildly different than he had once imagined.
Adjusting his tie, Yoshida winked at his reflection and stepped back into the basement room. The cyborg he’d set guard over the captured K-Trooper stood silently behind the metal chair they’d cuffed the battered and bloodied man to. Cyborgs were interesting to Eito, although he himself had never built one. While he normally had no problem with dead bodies, installing a control system into a cadaver was a bit more than even he was willing to attempt. Eito glanced at the ashen-faced automaton with some interest, and then down at Josh’s battered face.
The hardened K-Trooper glared back.
“Agent Tiburon, I do believe that if looks could kill…”
“I am going to kill you.” Josh made the statement with absolute certainty, and continued to stare hatred at his captor.
“I understand why you would think so, of course. The thing is, we arranged for the Conspiracy to be too preoccupied to send a serious recovery effort. We even managed to intercept the lone K-Trooper they sent to retrieve you.”
His mind still sharp in spite of the beating he’d taken, Josh caught the slightest twitch in the man’s eyebrow. “You intercepted the K-Trooper, but you didn’t kill the K-Trooper.”
Still surprised at Tiburon’s almost supernatural ability to discern the most information from simple body language, Eito quickly masked his dismay. “I won’t say she wasn’t killed. We did lose contact with the assassination team shortly after they engaged her, though. While it is a matter of some concern, I don’t imagine a lone agent of yours will pose any real threat at this point. I am prepared for her if she should happen to show up.”
Josh laughed harshly, droplets of blood spraying out into the air. “That’s probably a mistake.”
Yoshida nodded his head in agreement. If Libretta were still alive, he would have little time to get what he needed and deal with Tiburon. He decided to get right to work. “At any rate, let us begin. I’ve done a fairly thorough external scan of your chemical delivery system, and I have to say that I am impressed. Did you know that you never have to recharge the chemicals that the pump deploys? The device actually synthesizes the drugs from the food you eat. I would be willing to bet that the Conspiracy has you on a very strictly controlled diet.”
Josh did not respond, but was taken aback by Yoshida’s deduction. The enemy had already worked out quite a bit about the K-Trooper program just by a basic scan and some creative reasoning; Yoshida’s organization was learning way too much just from Josh’s mere capture. He had to affect an escape, or at least a bloodthirsty rampage. Either way, Conspiracy technology was not going to come without a cost, and he wasn’t going out without a fight. He studied the cyborg from the corner of his eye. The massive thing just stood there, emotionless and mute, but capable of incredible speed and strength. Its skin bore scars from head to toe that looked to be from some sort of hardware installation. The cuts followed the dead man’s general form, tracing an almost technological pattern across his flesh. Josh was going to have to work out a solution to that problem pretty quickly.
“And the delivery system itself… My God, but the man who engineered that marvel must have been a genius. Filaments of some nano-tech material I can’t even identify that reach into specifically targeted areas of your brain without any damage to surrounding cells. Not one single cell appears to have even been torn by the process. I am amazed. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have that installed.”
Josh remembered. For the two weeks that they slowly and painfully drove the filaments into his brain tissue he suffered. Random memories had taken over his mind during the process, sometimes as smells, other times as a remembered sound, and occasionally as full on total hallucination. He laid in a confused stupor for a month afterwards, desperately trying to make sense of his own shattered mind. It took seven more months longer to become functional again. “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand.”
Yoshida turned to look at the broken and bloodied K-Trooper. “I’m sure. It looks like your people may have discovered in the biological world what my people found in the digital: A way to see into Phase Space. You are more advanced in that you can interact with the Phase Wall, but we are rectifying that disparity right now. Now, open up and say, ‘ahhhh…’”
Josh lowered his head and shut his eyes. He was going to hold out for as long as he could. He hoped death would come before he breathed another word of Conspiracy secrets.
“I’m not surprised you have such an unwavering loyalty to the Ketamine Conspiracy. They must have engineered that when they put your mind back together. It’s probably what makes you one of their best. Spectacular.” He reached out and grabbed Josh’s face, trying to squeeze his mouth open. When the K-Trooper bit down in defiance, Yoshida signaled the cyborg through his control software.
The living corpse reached down and forced Josh’s jaw open with its cold dead hands. Yoshida pushed a thin needle between his lips and into the back of his throat where it bit into the spine. Tiny threads probed out from the invading needle, intertwining with the deployment system’s filaments that fed out into his nerves. “I am hoping that I can make contact with your implant’s control software through the delivery system. If I can get in I can pull down the operating system. Once I have that, I will be able to control your hardware after removal. I am going to have to peel your body away from each filament of your deployment system one cell at a time. It is going to hurt far more than the installation process, I’m afraid. Fortunately it will only take a few minutes.”
Josh winced, and then screamed. The stretching and searching threads from the needle made the connection without ceremony and without concern for the agony they inflicted on his nervous system. His back arched into the air and his jaw locked open around the shriek. His muscles began to twitch uncontrollably as signals went haywire between his system and the invading needle.
“Of course, this is going to be excruciating,” Yoshida droned on, still watching the computer monitors more closely than he watched Josh himself. “The probe was engineered to link up with the pump system, regardless of your discomfort. It is a side-effect of the procedure. You will just have to bear with the pain until I’ve downloaded the OS completely.” He fell silent as he kept an eye on the screens arrayed across a work bench. It wasn’t his idea of an ideal lab, but it served as a field expedient cyber-surgery station. To be honest, Eito could have set things up so it wouldn’t be painful at all, but he was less than concerned with the K-Trooper’s pain.
He had other concerns occupying his mind. His peers were pressuring him for this data, and he feared the consequences of failing to deliver.
* * * *
Lori crouched down on the roof of a camper parked in a suburban driveway across the street from the house the Conspiracy targeted as the place where Tiburon was being held. It took her a few hours to get out to Ontario. She could have been there much more quickly, but she was taking extra care to cover her tracks. There was a short string of stolen cars, motorcycles, and even a bicycle, between the place where she’d killed the failed assassins and where she hid now.
There were reports on the news that a massive multiple-car pileup had happened on the interstate, but no cause was actually given. Normally such incidents were scrubbed by the Conspiracy before ever hitting the airwaves, and she wondered if that had happened here, too. Maybe they were still around after all.
As the sun fell beneath the horizon, Lori rolled onto her back and watched the stars shyly come into view. She made another attempt to connect with a Handler, to no effect. She’d never been without contact with the Conspiracy since she was first recruited, and this extended silence was terrifying. She had no idea what could be happening, but it certainly felt like an attack on the Ketamine Conspiracy was underway.
She’d had her deployment system running since the attack earlier that day, when she had killed the two assassins trying to escape their botched attempt on her life. She was locked into both Alert mode and, more exhaustingly, in Tactical mode. To top that off, she was stuck with Phase mode on as well, adding a layer of unworldly hallucination on top of the system boosters. A steady stream of ketamine, cocaine extracts, custom designed hallucinogens, and methamphetamine derivatives was being deposited directly into her brain, with Lori powerless to stop it. She’d had to ingest a steady stream of energy drinks just to keep up with just her current resting state. The Handler had not given control of her systems over to her which meant she couldn’t turn them off, which in turn meant that she’d been riding this amped up high for hours longer than she ever had in the past. It was taking a toll on her body as well as her mind, to watch the world pass by at an extremely slow pace, but she endured the extended drain on her body’s resources. Right now her only purpose was Tiburon’s release.
She rolled back over onto her stomach and studied the house with enhanced eyes. There was absolutely no Phase activity that she could detect, which was odd by itself. There was always some degree of Phase energy present in any given location as a part of the natural background noise. The house, on the other hand, was a complete void of Phase activity, sitting there in total silence and darkness. If she hadn’t seen a Phase cloaking system in action she wouldn’t have given the house a second glance. Whereas before she would have suspected nothing about the unusual stillness of the place, it now seemed to carry a definite feeling of menace with its inactivity. She rolled back over and started counting stars.
Another hour crawled by with a painful slowness as she focused on the stars gradually and weakly appearing overhead. She tried to calm her burning mind using various meditative techniques, but nothing worked. When the count of visible stars reached two thousand, Lori slipped off of the camper roof and made her way across the street, both knives glinting in the light of the neighborhood streetlamps. Lori had blood on her mind, and all other concerns faded into the back of her thoughts.
The chemicals were about to get the action they almost craved.
* * * *
Blood was pouring from Josh’s mouth. A moment before Yoshida had nicked a vein while poking around his spine, apparently looking for a better angle of attack with yet another needle. Josh counted a dozen or so such needles already attached to the back of his throat, and his mouth was dry to the stench of the air. All torture chambers had the same smell of sweat, urine, and feces, and this one was no exception. Between the unwashed corpse of the cyborg and his own loss of bodily control, Josh was glad when his sense of smell finally gave up.
“I am getting some good data from you, Tiburon.” Eito Yoshida sat staring at a computer monitor watching arcane words and numbers stream past. He turned back to Josh’s broken form and injected something into his neck with yet another syringe. “Good enough that I can’t have you dying on me right now. Let’s take a break while those coagulants go into action and take care of that blood vessel for you. The bleeding should stop in a moment, and then we can continue.”
Josh glared at his tormentor, unable to spit his anger into the man’s face.
Yoshida grinned back. “It won’t be long now. I think I just need a couple more blocks of data and then we will be done.” He went to work on something on the computer, but started talking again. “So, what are your thoughts on those people that seem able to manipulate the Phase Wall without enhancement? I understand you can’t speak, so I will take this opportunity to float a theory of mine with you.”
“You see, I’ve conducted experiments on a few Talented, as you Conspiracy types call them. Just self-styled wizards and such, you understand. I have discovered that they seem to be… lacking. They’re missing something that everybody else seems to have.” He leaned back in the chair and interlaced his fingers behind his head. “Now I don’t want to get too technical, but there is a significant difference between their engram and that of a normal person’s. I jokingly call it a ‘soul,’ but really, that’s just more my humor than the reality of it. I have dissected more than one normal person’s engram, but I just cannot work out what it is we have that these talented people do not. It is fascinating.”
Josh grunted in response. While he found this interesting in a detached sort of way, his more immediate concerns took priority over this vague curiosity.
Eito continued his musing. “Hell, even you have a soul, you vicious bastard. So do I, for that matter. Other than the obvious, you and I are perfectly normal people. Still, we’ve both danced with the devil, as it were, and neither of us qualifies as ‘normal’ in any other sense except for having a soul.” A soft chiming noise alerted Yoshida to something, and he turned back towards Josh. “And it looks like the bleeding is stopped. Let us continue.”
Josh winced as the enemy agent adjusted the needles. He winced again as Yoshida paused and cocked his head to the side as though listening to the goings on upstairs.
After a brief moment Yoshida reached over to the workbench and tapped a short sequence out on the keyboard. A sudden look of concern on his face, he stood up quickly, snatching a strange gun from a previously hidden duffel bag. It had a similar look to an Uzi, but the barrel was a solid piece of metal, lacking a bore for bullets to fire through. He stared at the cyborg for an instant, and positioned himself out of Josh’s view. The cyborg wrapped its steely fingers around Josh’s throat, ready to squeeze at a moment’s notice.
“I do believe that your fellow K-Trooper has arrived after all,” Yoshida said. “She has already started her assault. Fortunately I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve.”
As he sat in the metal chair in pain, Josh heard a burst of gunfire from upstairs, and the sound of bullets ripping through everything they encountered came muffled through the ceiling. Feeling the corpse’s icy hands around his windpipe, he closed his eyes and began to focus on a very particular set of commands to his deployment system. The computer, which was still reading from the connected neuro-fibers, began to spit out completely different numbers on one of the monitors. As he organized the proper chain of sequences Josh readied himself for what could very possibly be the last act of his life, ignoring the pain of the needles in the back of his throat. The Handler had unlocked his systems before his capture, but he had not yet had a good opportunity to launch an attack until now. It was his last ditch effort, and now was the time to take it.
More gunfire erupted above, and the sound of shattered glass and general destruction could be heard through the basement ceiling. A man shouted, only to be immediately cut off in a strangled cry of pain. Chaos continued for a few minutes longer before silence fell on the house above. The only sound that could be heard in the silence was Yoshida’s nervous heavy breathing. He had never feared anything so much as he feared the rampaging K-Trooper upstairs. It looked to him like all of the security measures he had put into place, as well as the heavily armed and well-equipped guards upstairs, were shaping up to be a large waste of resources. The basement was suddenly starting to feel like a tomb.
His panic spiked when he glanced at the computer monitor blinking red over and over in warning. Something he was not expecting was about to happen.
His eyes still screwed tightly shut, Josh put the last command into place just as he heard the basement door blasted inwards, sending splinters slashing through the air. He released what was ultimately a rather weak Phase Pulse into the surrounding reality, shattering the cyborg’s iron grip on his neck. The chair warped beneath his broken body, and the remote controlled cadaver flew back and flopped off of the cinder block wall with a completely disintegrated skeleton. The robotic carcass fell to the concrete floor with the gelatinous slap of a piece of boneless meat. The ceiling cracked with the impact of the expanding wave of over-driven reality, and the computers exploded in a cloud of sparks. Every source of light in the basement went black.
Yoshida slammed against the wall at the bottom of the stairs, taken completely unawares by the Phase Pulse. It was a weapon rarely used by the Conspiracy that often killed the agents deploying it, and while this was a lower energy burst than normal, it served to distract the enemy agent long enough for Lori to do her job.
She flew down the steps with inhuman speed, slashing through Yoshida with both of her knives. Blood sprayed through the air in all directions as she made herself confident that her target was dead. She then moved off into the darkness and made sure the rest of the basement was cleared before she got to Tiburon.
He sat in a twisted metal chair, sagging against his bonds in unconsciousness. The Phase Pulse was unexpected, but was probably the reason why she was still alive. Lori wasn’t sure what kind of gun Yoshida was holding, but she assumed it was more than capable of taking her out fairly easily. She crouched down and began to tug on the needles sticking out of Tiburon’s drooling mouth. They slid out with no resistance, and she dropped them to a bloody pile on the floor. She managed to release the handcuffs keeping him bound to the Pulse-destroyed chair and drag him up the stairs and out of the house. Hefting his heavy form up onto her shoulders, she quickly made her way out of the house and across the street. She dropped a couple of incendiary devices on the way out the front door, and the house was a towering pillar of flames by the time the police arrived. As for the gun, the cyborg, and the computer equipment downstairs: screw them. Let the enemy worry about cleaning this mess up.
Josh was still alive, albeit barely, and only saw the world in brief flashes of wakefulness as the unfamiliar woman carried him away from the torture house on her shoulders. His heart still beat, and he fought to maintain consciousness.
He was alive, and revenge was the only thing on his mind.