It was an inconspicuous house at the back of one of the big ancient flats in the Rue Voltaire built just after World War II in the rush of Paris' reconstruction. The windows were closed and shuttered by heavy curtains. None of the people in the flats around knew what resided within it.
"And you're sure about the psionic level? A real T-15?"
"No doubt about it, Sir." The skinny man bowed in front of his highest boss. "It buried the needle! Even the Japanese from last year didn't have measurements that high."
The chief frowned. "The Japanese. Has she had young already?"
"Yesterday, Sir." The scientist lowered his head. "A failure."
"No eyes, Sir."
The chief's fist crashed on his oak wooden desk. "The damn drugs again! You said you eliminated the side effects."
"It seems that telepathic DNA is more sensitive than normal. We should try to detoxify the Japanese and—"
His boss waved the rest aside. "The new one. Do we have the biorhythm already?"
"From the clinical data, Sir. She had her appendix taken out three months ago. The fertile period is in eight days from now on with an accuracy of 96%."
"Good. Mate her with Ilianov."
"Which kind of drugs shall we use on her?"
"She's a T-15. The only female T-15 we know of. Ilianov is our only match of that level. No drugs. I don't want a failure again. Tell him he's to seduce her."
"And tell him also, that if he fails he'll be used for the in-vitro program for the rest of his life!"
"We are coming now to a formidable pre-Christian bronze figure: this representation of the Assyrian goddess Baal, the lightning thrower, dates back to 1350 B.C. and is shown with an ancient Egypt crown."
The group of art students, mostly male, listened in admiration. Frederic Mercier, curator of Louvre's famous sculpture exhibition, wondered if they came almost every day because of the beautiful exhibits he had collected for years or because of his second assistant, Victoria Ryan, who had been leading the guided tours for some weeks now.
A soft smile appeared around the mouth of the 68-year-old. He could understand the young men – Victoria was a slender beauty with her pale skin and the long, slightly curled, ginger hair – and he was French, after all! And whatever the students came for – the more of them came, the more money the Louvre got and the more money he could use to complete his exhibition. Wonderful! And the slender English woman had a real feeling for the ancient art objects. She was a precious jewel of an assistant.
"We leave now the pre-Christian era and..."
"Phew." Victoria closed the great double doors that separated the rooms where restorations and preparations of dirty and sometimes damaged art works were done from the exhibition halls and headed for her boss. "Mr. Mercier, the last tour is finished. May I have the rest of the day free? My feet are killing me."
"Has someone stepped onto them?" he asked.
"No," she laughed faintly, "just new shoes." She tapped with her lemon yellow high-heel sandal on the marble floor. "They match the color of the dress," she sighed, "but obviously not the form of my feet."
Frederic smiled, remembering a discussion about the same topic he'd had with his daughter only a week ago. "Okay, Ms. Ryan. You still have overtime on your account. It's no problem with me. But be here early tomorrow. I want to open the new exhibits from Egypt that arrived yesterday."
Victoria threw him a bright smile that made him wish being forty years younger. "I'll be there, Sir. I'm very curious if the mummy of Amenhotep II. is really in such a good condition as the New Yorkers told us."
In fact, she was curious about the sensations the three thousand year old mummy would create in her, but it was impossible to tell Mr. Mercier about that.
Victoria hurried down the broad entrance stairs and shielded her eyes with her hand from the brilliant early summer sun. Large groups of people concentrating on her always caused these throbbing headaches, that was the price for not taking the suppression medicine.
The medicine wasn't really bad. It had no side effects on her, wasn't unpleasant to take – just a small white pill every morning – and no one would bother her because of her psionic powers which were safely suppressed or her aversion to work with them for the government. She always thought of that as being unfair.
But her abilities had been discovered relatively late in her life – she'd been already in school for some years – and she'd been used to having them, to feeling the sensation of life around her, the comforting whisper of minds. She had learned early not to listen and to use them on purpose, to find lost things or the rabbits her brother had always let escape.
It had been a hard time for her, when the powers were erased. She had felt horribly alone. But her family had been there. Her mom and dad had held her, her brother had walked and played with her, in spite of the fact that a fifteen year old boy usually didn't want to be seen with his little sister. But she had needed him and he had cared for her.
Mom and Dad were buried now on the church cemetery of their small home town in middle England that wouldn't even appear on a map if the number of inhabitants were accidentally doubled by the city computers. And her brother...
She had stopped taking the suppressor the day the letter arrived that told her Adrian wouldn't return from the Colonial Wars. At that she couldn't stand the loneliness any longer. The next day, she'd gone to the cemetery and planted the most beautiful flowers she was able to find on her parents grave, then she had packed her bags, got all the money that still was on her college bank account and left for Paris. She never returned and the whispering of the millions of minds in the foreign metropolis that was so totally different from England and London that she'd known before, helped her to cope with the loneliness.
She still got the pills every month – it wouldn't be wise for her as a known telepath not to fetch them from the health center – but she threw them away instead of taking them. And nobody noticed since she had learned to control her abilities while still a child.
Her left heel slipped off an ancient worn stone step and, stumbling, she found herself in the arms of a man.
"Whoops." He caught her before she could fall, and laughed, stabilizing her. "Be careful, mademoiselle. Your shoes aren't made for your speed on these stairs."
Victoria took a step back and composed herself. "I'm sorry, monsieur. I–" That was the moment she noticed that, in spite his arms around her waist, his mind hadn't invaded hers. She looked up, met fascinating pale blue eyes laughing at her.
"Maybe I should introduce myself. – Dimitri Ivanov."
"Victoria. Victoria Ryan," she managed a smile and was amazed to see him laughing again.
"Wow. An English queen and an Irish hero in the same name. If someone like you is the result of that union the two countries should have made up with each other much earlier in their history!"
"You're a historian, Mr. Ivanov? The legend of Ryan is not very popular."
"Dimitri, please," he begged charmingly as he stroked through his smooth dark brown hair to push some strands back into place, "and no, I'm only an interested layman. And you?"
"I work with the curator for sculptures here. The pre- and early-Christian era is very fascinating to me."
"I'm impressed. Are you in a hurry or would you like to tell me about your work?"
The next six days were the most wonderful time in her life, filled with laughter, long walks at the Seine's shore and across Montmartre, visits at Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur. All the fascinating places of Paris where she – in spite of living here for more than two years now – had never been before.
It was a warm night, shimmering with stars that looked so peaceful and yet her brother had died out there. Victoria had vowed never to trust them. She and Dimitri had had a cappuccino in a cafe at Champs Elysee, and now walked slowly back to Le Quartier Latin. A long way on foot but she enjoyed it. She liked walking the night as Dimitri called it, his arm around her waist, welcomed presence, maybe more...
She didn't know where they kissed first, but it wasn't far away from her small attic apartment on the other side of the river. The kiss grew. They were crossing a bridge across the Seine and across her soul. She searched for the keys, took them, reaching the house she lived in, his arms still around her, her heart pounding with the dream of a promise.
She almost danced up the stairs, while their lips met again, and again. Was it the same kiss or a new one, when they reached her room below the roof? Victoria couldn't say for sure any longer.
They moved as one being. Arms reached, caressed, embraced. Fingers glided across shoulders, along necks down the spine, getting rid of everything that was in the way. She leaned into him and he drew her down into her bed. She breathed him in. His scent – rosemary and musk – the whisper of his mind – laughter, images of the places they visited, the admiration for arts – soft, cool, controlled, not overwhelming, overtaking. He was a telepath, thoroughly, precisely trained, likely for military. But that didn't matter. He'd never harm her. His hands on her skin. Her body beneath his, between him and the silk...
...in the very moment of their physical uniting she instinctively used her powers, wanted to surprise him with her control, establishing the second connection only trained telepaths could share...
"Ilianov," the telepath on duty in the backside house at the Rue Voltaire said with the characteristic emotionless voice of those being assessed to long distance contacts. "Mission accomplished. Mating complete."
"He may enjoy the rest of the night. I expect him tomorrow for a new assignment."
...Victoria screamed in pain as her world turned, hit against the man who called himself Dimitri, and though her physical strike didn't have any serious effect on him lying on top of her, her psychic strike did. Her mind lashed out, drove her agony beyond the shields he'd used to betray her, ripped his real memories out of his mind, absorbing them, leaving only a wasteland of emptiness behind.
She drove her powers against his chest, into his chest, pulled at the pulsating muscles there, tearing them. The body above her quaked, saliva dropped from his mouth and then death rushed across her, but her own agony filled her mind, made her sick to her stomach; filthiness and horror left no place for the sensations of death reaching for her mind.
She struggled free, staggered for the sink, feeling sick.
She left the room, no longer her room, the place of betrayal, with the dead body on the bed. She felt sick and torn and alone, filled with the venom of enemies she hadn't been aware of before, clothed only in her old coat. The Charite. She plodded forward. They have pills to be taken in case of rape. She pressed her arms around herself. They couldn't get me, now they aim at– They won't get any of me! Victoria bit her lip bloody, eyes wild in the dark. I'm going to be sued for murder. But they won't get any of me. They won't get any of me. They won't get any of me. They won't get any of me. They won't get–
A tiny spot of warmth grew inside her. Like a clear star in the darkness of her wounded soul. Touching her. Warming her. She froze, sensing into herself. Pulsating warmth in the middle of her betrayed body. Small. Tiny. Minute.
Suddenly the warmth was doubled, heating up more of her. It doubled again, and again, and again...
She stood there, below a wrecked street lamp, sensing inside her, feeling... life. Vibrating life. So very new in this world, so dependant of her, so innocent.
Her world turned upside down again.
"Looks as if Ilianov couldn't enjoy it this time," the commander of the sweeper team said dryly. "Tell the chief he must use somebody else for the next one." He looked around the small room with the bright colored curtains at the tiny window and the flower pattern on the wallpaper. All of it appeared like the room of a very nice young lady. The commander's lip twitched. This nice young lady successfully killed Ivan Dimitrievich Ilianov, the best trained and most unscrupulous telepath in Orange-T, the organization he worked for. Being just a normal one himself, he lowered his head. Run, girl, he thought, Run as far as you can. And good luck. He wouldn't allow himself such thoughts again. One could never know who was listening. Raising his head in a sudden jerk he bellowed at his subordinates: "Search for traces. The chief wants to get her ASAP!"
"You lost her?!!! How could you to lose her?!" The chief's fist crashed on the desktop as he jumped up, bellowing at the five sweeper commanders in front of him. "A female T-15!!! And you lost her?!!!"
"Sir, we became aware of the situation when Ilianov didn't return yesterday morning. By the time we entered the attic in Le Quartier Latin she was gone. We began the search immediately to no success. She wasn't within reach of her apartment since then, and Ilianov had been cold already. There was no way for one of our subjects to get a psionic image of her anymore."
Their boss threw a file in front of their feet. "A woman. A red haired beauty. Alone. Barely twenty years old. And you think I'm going to buy that you weren't able to find her?"
"Sir, we did all that we could. Maybe if we inform the police about the murder of Ilianov–"
"Stupid idiot!!!" his boss snorted, "what do you want to tell them? That a suppressed telepath tore to pieces the cardiac muscles of a man having sex with her? – They'll believe he had a heart attack, stuff your request in their lowest drawer because all they see is that a young woman was too shocked about the sudden death of her lover to call them herself and that's it!" He continued frighteningly soft: "And for that you want to risk a coroner's examination on a trained and adapted T-15? Get your corpses gone! Find her!!!"
With a sigh of relief, Victoria leaned back in her seat as the big public glider crossed the Channel heading for the old airport of Heathrow. She had a slightly bad conscience regarding the old lady she had confused with her powers so much that she could pretend to help her out ordering not one but two tickets for the flight to London. The lady had been so glad about the friendly young French girl that helped her and that had stolen her money.
It has come to that, Victoria thought sadly, nestling into the soft upholstered seat, Victoria Ryan, a thief. She closed her eyes at the thought, suppressed a sob and again, the warmth inside her doubled. She sensed for it, touched it with soft, caring mental tendrils...
...and got an answer. Not conscious. Not yet. But the promise of going to be.
She soothed it, held it, wrapped it in her care. I'll never allow anything to happen to you, she whispered and through the vibrating resonance in her soul came a shiver of implicit trust.
Victoria straightened and stretched her aching back. The landlady she worked for was nice to her. And pitied her quite a lot. But that was fine with Victoria. Her body was rounded now, and her back ached, and she was sure she didn't fulfill her daily stint any longer in spite her efforts to do so, but Mrs. Dillingham said no word about that.
The friendly, corpulent lady owned a bed-and-breakfast house at the outskirts of London and was kind enough not to ask all the questions Victoria had feared when asking for the posted job of a maid.
She was still afraid of discovery, still felt hunted and therefore had cut her hair short and colored it dark, but her moss-green eyes couldn't been hidden, nor her physical status any longer. Eight months was eight months. So she stayed away from the guests as far as she could, avoided to get jobs outside the house and Mrs. Dillingham called her Vicky and let her be. Gracious soul.
The growing mind inside her was all the company she needed now. Brilliant. Bright. So new and innocent. Only aware of the wonderful caring warmth of her mother around her. The glowing link between herself and her unborn girl was the most intense sensation Victoria had ever felt. She wouldn't believe such intensity possible if she didn't feel it with every breath, every beat of the two hearts inside her. She felt the sudden movement of the child inside her and smiled. Be careful with me, girl. I'm new to this, too, you know? Her mind whispered and the mental equivalent of a giggling laughter answered her.
Victoria took a deep breath and grabbed the next of the potatoes she had to peel for today's lunch. The big pressure pans with the first load of chips behind her steamed and simmered. Mrs. Dillingham's kitchen was old but meticulous clean and despite the fact that Dilling's Bed and Breakfast served only good plain cooking, the old landlady owed her corpulence to being a fantastic cook of such stuff. Not that it matters in any case, Victoria thought amused – during the last months she had wanted to eat almost around the clock.
She looked at the wall clock. The chips would be ready-to-serve in five minutes. She put the peeling knife down and stood up clumsily. Time to prepare–
She didn't hear the explosion as the blasted-off pressure pan lid hit the side of her head, didn't hear the frightened shout as Mrs. Dillingham thundered into her kitchen, saw her unconscious maid with a bloody head and called for the ambulance.
On a great, semi-transparent world map panel in the cellar of a backside house in Paris a tiny red LED began to flash wildly. The observer on duty checked the incoming data and hurried up the stairs to his chief's office.
"Miss Ryan. Miss Ryan." The voice slowly entered her consciousness and the blurring color patches melted into the face of an elderly, white-haired man in a hospital physician's coat. He began to smile broadly as he saw her opened eyes. "Good, you're with us again. Do you know where you are?"
Victoria, still dizzy, looked around. "Looks like a hospital," she whispered. "I was in the kitchen, peeling potatoes, and then–" She stared up at him as the whole situation reappeared in her mind. "My baby. What's–"
"Don't worry, Miss." The doctor answered hastily. "Everything's okay with it. You two are lucky that you are exactly as hardheaded as your last name promises."
Victoria reached for her throbbing head and found a thick bandage around it. "But the—"
"The wound isn't serious. You are suffering from a concussion caused by the pan lid that hit your skull. We can't ease the pain because you 're in the family way." He smiled. "We were just a little worried about your paleness until our OP nurse noticed your real hair color." The physician stopped talking, his patient was already asleep again. Good. She's too strained for a pregnant woman that young, he thought sadly, she needs every bit of rest she can get. He ordered the head nurse to have a special look for Ms. Ryan.
It was long after midnight when the dozen black clothed, heavily armed men entered silently the second floor of St. John's Hospital, leaving a couple of nurses and emergency doctors soundly asleep behind. It would be impossible to wake them for the next four hours – the k.o.-spray was that strong.
The men communicated wordless with short, clear-cut handsigns, some of which involved the AK-980-LaserGuns in their hands. Aside from a faint squeaking of rubber on the polished hospital floor no sound arose. The leader stopped, connected eyes with four of his men, who wore orange bands around collar, sleeves and waist, and waited until all of them nodded – the T-15 was jammed. He held three fingers up. Two fingers. One. Go!
Something pressed on her mouth and nose. A bitter burning scent accompanied the choking that raised Victoria out of sleep. She tried to scream and the cloth was pressed between her jaws. Iron fists held her hands and feet. Her powers reached out – into nothing. Nothing was there. Caught in fear she sensed for her child – nothing. She sensed for herself – nothing. Her scream of lonely agony was cut by the loss of consciousness as the anesthetics took effect. The last things she saw were the stony faces of four men in orange and black, standing around her bed, staring down at her.
"I told you not to use anesthetics on her!" The furious female voice seemed to reach her from far away through the light grey mist that was the world now.
"She's a T-15 and has already killed one of her own kind. We couldn't risk anything." Another voice, dark, grumbling.
"Except the child!" the first voice snapped. "The chief will use all of us as training objects if the child is somehow damaged in the premature birth."
"Just cut it out. The woman is useless," the second voice growled
The shuuush of a sliding door. "You want to waste a female T-15?!" a third voice cut in. "Who are you to decide that?"
"Sir, I– She– She killed Ilianov. We can never trust her." The second again.
"Forget Ilianov," the third voice ordered, "if we can't trust her – okay. We need a female T-15 in the breeding progra..."
The voices drifted away into the fog around her. Pain rolled through her body – and through her soul. A band of light clung to her mind, whispering of fear and discomfort and loneliness. It shouldn't be lonely. Never be lonely. She held it with all the will she could find. It is all...
"Sir," the small, light blond girl of about fifteen years clenched her fists into the cloth of her coat and tried to find the courage to speak to the merciless god of her universe. "Sir, I– I sense a very strong link between her and the child." The cold, grey eyes of the chief focused on her and she shivered but still continued, "The baby can't handle losing the link now." She looked down on her feet, adding faintly, "whatever the woman did, you need her if you want a healthy child."
The chief snorted, "Shut up, Marie. You're a sentimental crybaby."
"No," the doctor cut in, "she's right, Sir. If the link between mother and child is already established we risk another autist if we disrupt it at this phase of development. Especially during the shock of the prematurely delivering that your barbarians caused!"
Her boss swore heavily. "The child. Intact and sane. Or else–" he didn't have to specify what that else would mean before he left. All of the medical – and non-medical – personnel in the cold white room hurried to care for the near-unconscious woman in labor on the examination table as the door slit shut behind him.
The physician whirled round. "Get me the dialysis unit. We've got to detoxify her to get her awake before the parturition starts. Marie," she turned for the childish French empathic hiding herself in a corner, "check on her. Tell me immediately if she's awake enough to understand me. – And you," she snapped at the sweeper commander who brought her patient in, "Get lost! And take your jamming bastards with you. You've wreaked havoc enough!"
"Doctor Lavoisier, I must protest–"
"Get gone!!! – Marie, what's with the patient? Is she responsive now?"
"Not yet, Madam." Marie bit her lip. "But she's holding the link." The fairylike girl had tears in her eyes. "Madam, how can someone be loved that much?" she whispered after the armed soldiers had left the room.
Doctor Lavoisier didn't answer. In the organization's world was no place for loving something, only for using it. As sweet Marie was used. Here. To get another victim.
"She can hear you now," Marie wept finally.
"Good. Keep watching."
A hand slapped her face, waves of pain rushed through her womb, the connection to her child vibrated with fear. Victoria whimpered, not completely awake, clinging to the link, whispering through it, trying to comfort the child in the maelstrom of something she herself didn't get at the moment.
Another slap. Someone was hitting her. Victoria turned a tiny fraction of her powers for an attempt of defense.
A little girl's voice screamed: "Watch out!"
The person standing beside Victoria took a step back and a cold voice said, determined, "You won't attack me. I'm a physician, the only physician available for you now. If you injure me, neither you nor your child will make it through the delivery."
A cloth soaked with cool water wiped the sweat on her burning skin away, and Victoria obeyed.
The doctor beside her nodded. "So it's good. You can be sure we won't harm you. You are wanted. And now, concentrate on your baby. We'll take care for everything else."
She was small, wet and red and wrinkled. Oh no, they wounded her! was Victoria's first thought as they laid her daughter into her arms. But the child wriggled, touched with such tiny, fragile hands the skin beneath it and soared in the warmth and the well-known heartbeat below it, transmitting her joy at reuniting with mama through the bright link that much stronger between them after the first breath.
And now Victoria discovered that wrinkled red on the baby's head wasn't blood but strands of dark red hair, still wet and straggly.
The child's eyes opened a slit and blue green irises met the artificial light above before Victoria could bow over it, amazed by the color that was cooler, more clear than her own moss-colored eyes and suddenly the baby's eyes flashed violet as recognition flamed along the link. Nothing was no longer important. Hello, I'm Mama, Victoria thought through the link and though it wasn't yet physically able to do it the sensation of happy laughter came back into her mind.
Marie stood outside the locked room, with tears running down her cheeks, and she sobbed faintly. Soon they would do to that baby what they had done to her and the laughter would stop, all responses would stop if it was lucky. Marie hadn't been lucky. Marie still felt.
Victoria sat, dressed in what they called distinguished clothing, in the back rows of the Hall of Earth. Her appearance was made up to match the expectations for a journalist. She listened to a speech of the relatively young senator Eric Wheiner. Her target. To be precise, she didn't listen to his words but to the thoughts behind them, and her heart continuously sensed for the little girl back in the black, unmarked glider outside, in between some of the most disgusting men she'd ever met. Vicky. Her heart ached, and her stomach revolted as she forced her way into the mind of her target.
A lot of stuff about a project called STP was in the senator's mind as he held his speech about genetic warfare, genetically optimized soldiers and the need of a failsafe project he named GTP. But that wasn't what she had to scan for. The chief wanted the information why the senator had cut the organization's funds that short.
Ah, now Wheiner is talking about possible ways to finance the new project and he names someone opposing him: Premier Jonathon Hays... Victoria swallowed hard as she found the information she searched for connected with the Premier's name and retrieved them from the unknowing man. She drove her nails into her palms, feeling disgusted by herself. Premier Hays was launching a campaign against the huge black accounts of taxes under control of single senators. And that man, Wheiner, had overtaken the responsibilities for the organization Orange-T from his predecessor but was himself involved deeply into that project of genetically engineered soldiers – STP.
She got up, unconsciously smoothing her skirt, and headed for the door. She knew for what she'd been sent to find out. She could return to her little daughter, waiting for her. Victoria was disgusted with herself, but for Vicky, she would do anything.
"Don't get on my nerves, chief!" the senator barked into the phone. "My funds have been reduced, therefore your finances are to be reduced, too."
"We can't provide a sufficient coverage with funds that small!" the chief said angrily.
"If your project doesn't work, well other projects do! – as long as my funds are low, I finance only projects that work!" Wheiner snorted, annoyed. Incompetent cripple-breeding French ass!
"But right now we are making progress. We've a child here, bred by two T-15's which seems to possess incredible powers."
"Hollow words," the senator snapped, "your psionics can't solve my problem, so I don't solve yours – no money!"
The chief stared at the phone as short beeps indicated the closed connection. The psionics can't solve your problem, asshole, he thought, but my people aren't only psionics. You said, your problem is the money. Bah, idiot, your problem is Hays. And nothing can be solved as easily as single-person-problems!
She sat Vicky down on the exams table and kept standing behind her, watching distrustfully the rough physician with the graying bun. Her little girl leaned against her, pressing herself into her mother's warmth. Victoria sensed the slight tremor of Vicky's fright. She shouldn't have to be frightened. Her eyes narrowed as the physician took out a set of injection needles. "If you hurt her..."
"I know," Doctor Lavoisier's mouth twisted, "you'll roast my brain before any of the jammers could even think of reacting. Don't worry – just a blood sample and the psionic check. She doesn't like it but it won't hurt or harm her."
...Not yet... another voice appeared in Victoria's mind. ...they will do with her whatever they want as soon as her sanity is no longer dependant from your presence...
...Who are you?... Victoria sensed back.
...I'm Victoria. What's your name?...
...T-14-12... A maniac laughter trickled along the connection. ...I'm the twelfth female level fourteen telepath they captured. No names in here...
...You'll lose your name as soon as you're no longer needed to keep your child sane. Then you'll be T-15-1... The maniac laughter repeated. ...When you are no longer obedient they will use you where obedience isn't needed. You are T-15. Precious. You will end up where I am... Distorted images of crippled, unresponsive children, swollen bodies, blood, and women trapped in upholstered cells that made it impossible for them to hurt themselves came together with the last sentence.
...What are they doing?... Victoria asked in shock and horror.
...Breeding new ones, of course...
...I would never agree–...
The other woman's insane laughter of bitterness stopped her. ...I know, you killed that bastard Ilianov. Wonderful. Best news I got during the years I've been here... Again a wave of ill laughter rushed through the link. ...but you don't have to agree. They won't ask. Some day you'll grew drowsy, maybe feeling aroused, maybe just losing consciousness, and when you come to your senses some months later, you'll be at an advanced stage and going to give birth to something of which you won't even know if it's fully human or not! And it will happen again and again and again... Images of babies without eyes or limbs appeared, with hydrocephali, additional legs, open chests. ...You never know who the father is. Or what...
Victoria was frozen in horror, felt the patting touches of her little girl against her abdomen and lay her arms around her, sheltering. ...But my daughter...
...Soon, when her sanity is no longer dependant from your presence, they'll take her away to train her into something like that bastard Ilianov was. And you are going to be a stock animal. As all of us here are...
Victoria's arms closed around Vicky, holding her close in spite the doctor's annoyed muttering about disturbing the measurements, sensing the presence of her, feeling her. Vicky gave an astonished but comfortingly vital mental reply, while her mother fought to keep the horrible impressions hidden from her powerful child.
The curtain on the other end of the room was pushed aside. Two guards in black with orange stripes, marking them as psionics, led a small, dainty Asian woman through the room back to the wide swing doors to the ward with the single rooms she was never able to look or sense inside. The woman stumbled clumsily with bare feet, moving without paying attention to her advanced stage of pregnancy. The guards had to take care that she didn't bump into something, hurting herself and the unborn.
Suddenly, the woman's head with shaved black stubble hair jerked up, blurring, wet eyes touched Victoria and her daughter as the voice from Victoria's interlink said raspily in reality: "I'm Michiko." The doors swung shut behind them.
"Test's done. Your daughter develops fine," the doctor said busily. "You," she waved for the four psionic guardians standing at the door, "get them back to their room."
Victoria had never been so frightened before.
"Lavoisier," the chief snapped, sitting behind his big desk made of oak. "How long till we can start training the T-15-brood?"
"About two weeks. The girl's developing fast. And she's strong. Maybe even T-16, if something like that is possible."
"Good. I'm sick of granting the T-15 special rights. And until then," he narrowed his grey eyes, "until then, I've another job for her in Phoenix. She's to help the sweeper team there. The mission is really important for us."
"Sir, I hope you are aware that we have to start training the child as early as possible." The physician reminded calmly.
"She'll be back just in time for the child to be trained and for her next mating. Blowing someone up doesn't take that long." The organization's chief scrutinized his chief physician and her skinny scientific assistant closely. "Have you solved that problem with the drugs? I don't want another row of cripples."
...a whimpering of loneliness and despair among the velvet tranquility of space...
She sat straight up in her bed, sensed the surrounding orchids, smelled their scents, their perfume, pollen and the slight odor of the earth they grew in despite the fact that their blooming had been caused by psionics. She was always a perfectionist with her creations.
She smiled vaguely at the thought, remembering the face of her teacher as he had stepped into the droppings of the Dodo bird she'd imagined as a child long ago. Everything is part of the world, she had answered his question about the reason for that detail, who are we to decide which part is necessary in it and which not?
Again she inhaled deeply the multiple fragrances of the cool bedroom air and remembered the sensation that caused her awakening. I'm too old to have nightmares, she thought and kindled a sphere of light in the room's center before she pushed back the sheets. Hopefully, I'm not getting senile yet. Two candles began to burn on her bedside table and concentrating on the flickering flames, she began to calm her obviously too crowded mind...
Victoria concentrated, sitting in the backseat of the unmarked glider standing in a parking lot at the Hall of Earth near Phoenix. She held Vicky on her knees, grateful to feel her presence mentally and physically this time.
But there were also the men of the sweeper team around her: all of them strong telepaths, together able to jam her, and able to hurt Vicky, but they couldn't do what she'd been sent for, to find the glider their target was going to use.
"The dark blue over there," she said finally, feeling sick again and noticing with sorrow that her daughter sensed her uneasiness, too. "The limousine."
"Are they close?" The commander, the only man without psionic talents, sitting on the driver's seat, asked.
Victoria concentrated again. "About five minutes, I think."
"Good." With a warning glance: "Stay here. Don't make nonsense. You'll know what my men would do otherwise."
Victoria nodded with a wan face. She'd been shown a presentation of that – on a five year old child, a boy. She had sensed strong powers in him, but his hands and legs had been disfigured, so someone had decided he wasn't useful enough for the organization. She'd never forget the child's desperate scream as they first jammed his powers and then started to rip his brain.
"Is the glider secured somehow?"
She nodded. It had an advanced alarm system, reacting to movement, opening of the doors, changes in the wiring. She sensed the ticking of the different devices. But not to... "It will also go off if something's attached to the hull," she said.
The commander swore. "That means we can't use the magnetics. Shit. You and you," he pointed at two of the jammers guarding Victoria, "take the bombs, bring them over to the limousine, mask yourself against normal vision and wait there." The two men obeyed. When they were gone he pulled out the trigger and muttered, "They erased their will to make them as responsive as droids, but I still hate doing this."
"Why do you do it then?"
"You've seen how the organization kills, Ms. Ryan," he used her name in a mocking tone, as if he knew that she wouldn't carry it much longer, "why do you think?"
She didn't answer, concentrating instead on the men still sitting beside her and Vicky, and waited.
The side entrance of the Hall of Earth opened, a tall, handsome man already graying at the temples appeared, accompanied by an elegant, slender woman with long pale blond hair and five bodyguards. The group went for the limousine. The premier held open the glider door for his daughter, seemed very anxious about her comfort, while the looks of his guards checked the area. For a moment the eyes of two of them rested on the glider with Victoria and the sweeper men inside but then they wandered on, finally they entered into the armored glider, too, slamming the doors shut.
"Where are they?" The commander asked Victoria. The blasting devices were strong enough to blow everything to dust if used in a distance not greater than four meters of each other. The two jammers were about eight meters away from each other, Victoria could sense their presences, one next to the left backseat door, the second in front of the vehicle. She concentrated even harder, wrapped her arms around her little girl, pressing her to her chest, preparing herself.
"Each of them is next to a backseat door now."
The sweeper commander pressed the trigger.
The two jammers inside the glider screamed in pain and collapsed while the explosion rolled over the parking lot.
Victoria turned for the commander, eyes flashing while she protected her child and herself from the emanations of the deaths beside her. A violet shimmer appeared in her eyes while she sensed for his cardiac muscles...
"I have no weapon, " he said. "I can't stop you."
She found the pulsating muscles inside his chest.
He flipped a cashcard with the organization's bright orange T on black ground over to her. "Untrackable. Phoenix SpacePort is close. Leave this planet as fast as you can. They will find you anywhere on this rock." He closed his eyes, expecting the rip of his cardiac muscles.
But it didn't come. A gust of wind, carrying the smells of smoke, burning flesh and plastics rushed through the glider. Alarm sirens howled, security personnel from the Hall of Earth ran towards them, and Victoria and her little girl were gone. He leaned back in his seat, laid his hands on the control console but didn't start it and sighed. He remembered the first time he crossed the path of this lady, back in Paris, as he had to remove the body of Ivan Ilianov to prevent unwanted attention by local authorities. Security personnel surrounded him already, emergency units appeared. He would be in prison soon, but there was no hope that that would protect him from the Orange-T. He was going to die soon. "Good luck," he whispered as he had done more than a year before.
She had Vicky safely secured in a safety-harness attached to her back. The big passenger glider combined almost all settlements and colonies within the Solar System, including Mars, some of the asteroid colonies, and moons of the big outer planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. Triton of Neptune carried only a scientific station not accessible to the public, though the ship was going to stop there shortly to bring them mail and supplies, as the steward announced proudly.
Victoria bought a round-trip ticket for herself and her daughter, including a small cabin. This ship was the one with the most stops. She doubted that the cash card would be really untrackable. It was likely that they would find her trail soon, but it wouldn't be easy to make out where she and Vicky left the ship. Outside Earth, the destruction of the Colonial Wars was still very present and regular registrations were more of an exception than the rule.
She knew she had to leave not only Earth but Solar System itself, but colonial ships didn't leave often nowadays. If she couldn't mislead her enemies first, it was likely that her flight would be useless. And she didn't know enough about the world out there. Is it really only a year ago, that I swore never to go to where Adrian didn't return from? she thought sadly. And now the ship was entering Martian space – with her and her daughter.
She looked down on the red planet, with the blinking lights on the dark side, indicating the intact settlements down there.
=Dear passengers. We are now running the standard quarantine routine which – as always – will take fourteen hours. Afterwards, shuttles will connect to our front and rear locks to carry you down to Mars. We hope you'll enjoy your visit there. Thank you.=
Fourteen hours. Time for some sleep before we have to run again, she thought, tired. She laid her arm on her child's waist, drifting off to sleep beside her...
She rose out off sleep, feeling the cold trickle of sweat on her temples and illuminated the room with a single move of her hand by flooding it with soft indirect light. Another nightmare, she frowned, disturbed, and left her bed, covering herself in a wide silk robe. She'd performed the rituals for self-composure with great care to calm herself down, but her mind obviously was still troubled – how else should she explain the images of tortured women and children, crippled bodies and minds, all wrapped in desperate fear, to herself if not with nightmares? She shook her head, took her small pair of glasses from the bedside table and left her room, accompanied by the invisible light source. She decided to make herself a soothing herbal tea – physically, with her hands something like that sometimes helped her regaining composure (but she would never confess that!).
"Senator, now that we solved your problem regarding the possible reduction of your funds I expect you to reestablish our financial agreement," the chief's voice, though slightly distorted by the bug-proof connection, sounded satisfied. The senator stared at the speaker on his desk and then decided to activate the video-connection, too.
"Chief, do I understand right, that you proclaim to have solved my problem regarding the anti-free fund campaign?" he asked back.
"Right, Senator," a proud smile appeared on the other man's face in his office in France. "You see, my project is working."
The senator narrowed his eyes to slits. "You're telling me that you ordered the bombing of–?"
"Premier Hays, right. I expect my money within a week, Sir." He disconnected.
"We'll see about that!" the senator murmured faintly. "We'll see how you'll pay for ruining my plans for the Hays, asshole!"
New Pigale was one of the oldest settlements on Mars and it had suffered badly during the Colonial Wars. In spite of being a civilian city, it had been targeted more than once during attacks and a lot of its buildings had been damaged.
A big poster on the front of the newly repaired city hall told that during a fierce battle an Earth Force fighter had flown straight through it to catch a colonial vessel that was going to destroy the city's main water reservoir.
That pilot must have been a real hotshot, Victoria thought. She wasn't sure if she believed the story or not, but the artist who drew the poster was obviously gifted – with talent and imagination. The small room in midst of the artist quarter – the oldest part of the town, carved deep into the rocks with winding lanes and pedestrian bridges between crooked houses – was cheap. Only the big bugs with which the inhabitants of New Pigale shared their town made her feel uncomfortable.
She disliked roaches large enough to be put on leashes. And when she saw some kids actually riding a beetle this morning she had decided whatever a job she was going to get she wouldn't let Vicky out of her eyes for it! Now she worked for a special-crop farmer on the outskirts of town who didn't mind her taking her little girl with her when she checked the fruits in his covered fields.
She looked down on her daughter, sitting on her hip, with the smooth, chestnut-red hair that always stood away from her head making her look like one of the pompons Victoria had used while being a cheerleader in high school. The link between them was still incredibly strong: though Vicky had begun to try words, her voice didn't work properly so far – that was how she explained it once, mentally, to her mom.
Victoria had laughed and told her that all little girls need time to learn to speak physically and that listening was a good way to get a feeling for the words themselves, and then she had started to tell her daughter about all that crossed her mind. But it had become late now, the first street lamps had lit and she felt as tired as her child, sleeping in her arms as she opened the small room, slipped inside it and locked it safely behind her – partly because of the big bugs around here, and mostly because of bugs not from around here, though she knew that the tiny lock wouldn't help against them.
She put Vicky down on her bed, took off the child's dusty shoes and socks and pulled the blanket up to her chin before she kicked her own slippers off her feet and warmed up the rest of soup from this morning, then took a mug of it and sat at the bedside looking down on her daughter sleeping calmly.
How can something so beautiful come from such a horror? Victoria thought, safely behind the strongest shields she erected to protect her daughter from the ugliness of her memories, not for the first time. If I weren't her mother I'd never believe that monster Ilianov is her father... Her thoughts wandered, recalled and lined up all the fragments of information she'd got so far: Ilianov had had incredible power – like she herself had as she had learned during the nightmare in the organization – and he had used that power against her: first to make her stumble on the stairs so that he could touch her to impress her with his self-control and second, to hide his real intentions from her. But he had underestimated her and she had discovered the truth, not in the morning when a sweeper team had been ordered to bring her in but in the very moment of the act itself. And in the chaos of her mind she'd done the best she could: she had fled.
Victoria closed her eyes as the images Michiko had sent her appeared in her mind. The crippled, misfigured babies. The dozens of autistic telepaths – the result of in-vitro breeding and drug immobilized mothers. They couldn't stop the side effects of the drugs, one of the normal guardians had said her once, when she had been forced to witness the psionic attack on some of the autistic children used as target objects for the responsive ones.
She thought of the intense sensation as the first sparkle of life appeared in midst of that horror night in her, of the incredible strong connection between her and that little mass of cells that was going to be her little girl during the next months, and knew – simply knew – that those scientists would never be able to eliminate the side effects, since it wasn't the drugs it was the lack of contact, the absence of the link. They had thought it was established shortly before birth but it was there from the very beginning and they both, she as much as Vicky, had needed it so badly.
Victoria sobbed for all the lost, condemned souls back there and her head sank down onto the pillow next to her little girl who drove a tiny fist into her mother's ginger hair, huddling into the well-known scent of it.
"She's on Mars!" The chief bellowed at the new, cruel looking sweeper commander in front of his desk, "Get the girl back. The woman doesn't matter!"
"Aye, Sir." He saluted, slammed his heels and turned for the door, his AK-980-LG over his arm.
"Eliminate. With my special greetings," he said into his wristphone with a cruel smile and closed the connection as the wide double door in front of him opened for him. A security man scanned him before he was allowed to enter to make his condolences.
"I'm so sorry for you, Madeleine. Jonathon's and Leana's death is a bitter loss for us all."
"Thank you. We will never forget them," Lady Prime Senator Madeleine Hays said in an emotionless voice. After two burials she was beyond crying now.
The organization's chief stared, shocked, into the muzzle of an unmarked blaster. "Special greetings from Senator Eric Wheiner," the killer said, pulling the trigger while he finished, "he prefers closing rather than paying."
"No! Watch out!!"
She roused with a shout out of sleep, sitting straight up in bed, her silk sheets soaked with sweat. A faint ding-a-ling indicated the arrival of a visitor waiting outside in the hall. After a moment the ringing repeated and then, the man resolutely pushed the curtain aside stepping into the doorframe to his fellow student's suite.
"You aren't composed," he said, worried.
She still panted a little and put her glasses on. "Magician," she said, "not that I wonder – you never had any manners – but this is my bedroom after all."
He grinned and twiddled his black mustache. "Right, I never had manners." He grew earnest. "And you never had nightmares."
"I don't have–" she began.
"I heard your shout across the crystal hall, in my room, inside my own illusion. What's going on? Should I help you perform the ritual of composure?"
"I've already done it twice," she confessed in a sigh. "I don't know what to do else to ban this dream about tortured babies and hunters of darkness and soullessness on Earth."
Magician frowned. "Are you sure that's a dream? Maybe it isn't," he said thoughtfully.
She looked up at him. "You mean it could be a message? Across a distance that great? Don't be silly! Terrestrial telepaths aren't that strong and well-trained."
He shook his head, causing some crystal sparkles to dance around his head. "It's not sillier than the idea of you having nightmares strong enough to get me out of my illusions."
She looked down into her lap, then threw her silk robe tighter around her shoulders and left her bed. She flared at him. "Let's prove it!"
He smirked satisfied. "That's my old girlfriend."
"Magician?" she whispered softly.
"Get out of my bedroom!"
Suddenly, Victoria was wide awake, sensing presences down in the old house, heading upstairs. They are here. She looked around, no way out. She woke Vicky, pressed her hand onto her daughter's mouth. "Sh, darling," she whispered. "Mom wants you to hide and be silent. Please, Vicky, it's important that you are very, very silent whatever's going to happen now, okay?" The little girl nodded with great blue-green eyes fixed on her face and she sat her daughter into the old closet, pulled the bed in front of her. After a moment of concentration her powers flared up and the wall behind the bed seemed unbroken.
She felt Vicky's fear through the link into her mind, sent a signal of comfort back to her and sensed for the enemies. They're already on this floor. No chance to leave the room without being seen. She raised her chin, eyes flashing red violet and pushed her ginger hair back behind her ears. I've done it before. I'll do it again. Her eyes narrowed as she raked her fury. I am Victoria Ryan. I am nobody's prey! With that thought she reached for the first man's mind.
Surrounded by a circle of candles, in front of a crystal ball on a table covered with dark violet velvet and the petals of her most loved orchids, she concentrated for the remnants of what she called her nightmares and found the fragrance of it reaching outside, leaving the ground, the planet, crossing the empty space, heading for... Mars.
...You were right, Magician... Her mind confessed into the rapport. ... it's an external link – a cry for help... Her eyes widened as a new rush of images appeared in her mind. ...it's a woman – she's fighting – incredible cruel – I would never... She stopped, got to her feet. "I must go there. She's not fighting for herself."
"Get fully dressed before teleporting," Magician said drily. "You know how these semi-normals are."
"Call the circle. I need their support."
Magician nodded and vanished with a slight poof and a cloud of silvery fog.
It was more than a decade since she had used her powers to get dressed faster. But now, she broke her record.
A third. A fourth. She began getting tired, needed more and more of her remaining powers to hold up the camouflage for Vicky's hide. Blaster fire burned through the door. It was incredibly difficult to divert them. She had managed it twice. But the weapons didn't get tired. It was obvious that she wasn't wanted by them anymore. But Vicky was...
A blaster bolt hit her shoulder, brought her down to her knees. The next man approaching the door came almost within reach of her before she could stop his heart. Another blaster bolt struck her, hitting her chest. She collapsed. Vicky, she thought, clinging to life for the camouflage field. The sweeper team entered the room, staring down on her, one of the men kicked her in the side. She didn't care any longer. Vicky, her mind whispered in despair and then her eyes opened wide as she saw the elder woman materializing on top of her bed, just in front the camouflage field for her daughter.
The woman stretched out her hand, seemed to reach for her, but her mental voice denied.
...I'm here to help you... the voice was very controlled, comforting, and full of sorrow.
...Not me. It's too late for me. But...
The men started to search the room. "She has to be here," the leader snapped. "Find her."
...follow my link. Help her. Hide her. Please...
...I'll do, with all that I can...
Her senses reached out, touching the fatally injured woman in front of her, followed the bond she sensed there, and saw the camouflage field, crossed it mentally, felt the silently weeping child.
Victoria coughed and moss-colored eyes broke. The camouflage was gone, revealing the door there.
A tiny, frightened voice cried "Mommy." A single word, filled with agony and desperation.
As the men tore open the closet, it was empty.
And on another world full of wonder, a tiny fragile girl with scruffy chestnut-red hair cried in the arms of a white haired woman who bloomed a large violet orchid in front of her to distract the child from the horror of death burning in the sensitive young mind.
Vicky, she thought, looking down on the girl's pale green sweater with the name embroidered in copper on it, named after her mother. She herself had tears in her eyes but she couldn't allow herself to cry now, this was too important. Gently she sensed into the child's mind, found incredible possibilities and incredible pain. She managed a smile and started to soothe the wounds in the tiny soul, finally touching the core of it, and knowing above anything else, that Victoria wanted her little girl unharmed and happy, whatever that would cost and so she felt for the name. Victoria, the goddess of Victory. She looked deeply into the girl's blue-green eyes and said with a tender smile, "Hello, I'm Ariel, and I always go with the Greeks – Niko."
The backgrounds of the two violent explosions that destroyed houses in the urban areas of Edinborough and Paris in early June 2066 were never solved. Though a lot of bodies were found in the burned remnants none of them could be identified later. Five years later, the investigation was officially finished. Result: unsolved.
On the old cemetery of New Pigale, near the outer wall lay a grave without a name. And though nobody seemed to take care of the grave, red violet orchids bloomed in the middle of the plain granite plate that covered it. Nobody could ever explain that and nobody ever saw a withered one.
Goddess of Victory
in English: Victory
in Greek: Nike
Since the English forename "Victoria" (= victorious woman) can also be an alteration of Victory as a forename) I thought there's no problem to do something else with the Greek version of it: (Goddess of Victory = Nike, forename based on the Goddess of Victory: Niko.) Of course, there are more harmless interpretations and derivations for those names, but I like this one. Linguistics and Genealogy of names aren't (most luckily for our imagination) an exact science.