She looked up from his papers. "Your birthday is April the first, 2069?"
"That's what my ID says, Ma'am."
"Gooseman, you are from Wolf Den," she said carefully. "And I know quite a bit about the different dates used in the project. I was a member of the commission that examined the happenings there. So I'll ask directly: Is that your date of birth or not?"
"I am ordered not to talk about that, Ma'am." Gooseman clenched his fist next to the table, feeling uncomfortable.
She noticed it. "Don't worry, boy. You have to answer. I'm the Lady Prime Senator. If you stay silent you'll be accused of treason. So there's no way out. Whoever gave you these orders will know that."
"No buts, Gooseman. Is that your date of birth or not?!"
He sighed. "It's my date of viability, Ma'am."
"What does that mean?"
"It was the date on which the commission decided that I'd be able to fulfill the STP's expectations."
"So when were you really born?"
"I wasn't born, Ma'am. I am an ST. People like me get decanted."
"And when was that?" She felt sympathy for the young man against whom she was using all her political status and powers at this moment to break his defenses and get the information she wanted. But her suspicions had been growing since the New Year's Ball and they simply must be proved now.
"My date of decant is the 27th of January, 2067."
Madeleine just stared at him, at those green eyes and the blond hair...
Leana died in June, and she was two months pregnant...
"Joseph. I think you've got a lot to tell me." Lady Prime Senator Madeleine Hays stormed past an embarrassed Walsh where he stood in the doorway of his house.
He turned and let the door slide shut. "I assume this isn't an official visit, Maddie."
"When the hell did you plan to tell me?!" She pointed an angry finger at him. "Did you really believe I wouldn't want to know that?!"
"Don't be evasive again, Joseph!" she snapped. "I have a grandson, haven't I?"
Walsh was stunned. She put a hand in sympathy on his sleeve. "Why didn't you tell me, Joey?" she asked more calmly, realizing she'd overrun his barriers. "I wouldn't have taken action against you. Leana was my only child, and–"
He caught himself, tried to distract her. "How did you get this idea?"
"Nothing in particular, Joseph. Don't worry about that." She made an impatient hand movement. "The details. Every single one of them is harmless and could be purely by chance, but all together... His hair and eyes are more strongly colored than Leana's were, but they are of the same color. There are involuntary gestures of his I recognized. During the ball he reminded me of you twenty-five years ago, and I thought that could be because you are his mentor. But the way he narrows his eyes after they widen when he's surprised. The sudden turn of his head when he's approached from the side before he decides to grant the other person his attention and turns fully round. That was so typical for Leana."
"A lot of people have reflex movements like that, Maddie," Walsh reminded her. "That's no reason to assume that–"
"Yes, but today when they broadcast the profiles of your new Galaxy Rangers unit on Tri-D I learned that he's an ST. And I know who commanded that goddamn project." She looked at him, determined. "You were already in command of it before Leana's accident and you buried yourself in it afterwards," she stated coldly. "You were never a people person, Joey. But that was too extreme, even for you."
"I was mourning like you, Maddie. Wounded."
"And you've never been someone who showed that! You must have had a reason for your behavior. I knew you wouldn't say anything, so I summoned Shane to my office and squeezed it out of him." She showed a cynical half smile for a moment. "Don't be angry at him, Joey. He didn't have a chance against my position." The lines in her face tightened again, reminded him that she deserved her position on the Board. "His date of birth–"
"Don't tell me it's called something different! You know what I mean!" she flared at him. "It corresponds to the projected due date for your child. And that was at least one coincidence too many for me to buy." She drew herself up to her full 168 centimeters in front of him without regard for her nearly 76 years. "Confess, Joseph! You used the possibilities of that project to save your son."
Joseph Walsh just looked at her. Memories, more than 20 years old, flooded in the air between him and his former mother-in-law, filling the room, hurting...
...he remembered the feeling when Leana had told him they were expecting a baby. The touch of her arms around his neck as she whispered into his ear... The sensation of wonder when he finally understood. And only a week later the young courier officer had come into the lab where Walsh was checking the weekly reports with one of the gentechs – Max Sawyer, an agile, friendly man and a brilliant scientist, but one Joseph believed to be too warmhearted for this kind of work.
"Base Commander Joseph Walsh?"
He had only nodded, hadn't looked up from the forms he was checking.
"I regret to inform you that Premier Jonathon Hays and his daughter were the victims of a glider bombing near the Hall of Earth this morning."
The transparencies crumpled in his hands, and he felt as though his heart had stopped beating. "Leana. Is she okay?"
"Your father-in-law is dead, Sir. Your wife was taken to Meredith University Hospital. She suffered severe injuries."
"Will she make it?"
The courier's voice seemed to reach Walsh from another world. "I'm sorry, Sir. But we have no further information about her conditi–"
The door cut off the rest of the courier adjutant's words as it slid shut behind Walsh, and his running steps on the metal floor outside covered any further calls.
The next thing Joseph could clearly remember was Max Sawyer standing next to him on the landing field, taking the glider keycard out of his hand with determination. "You're in no condition to fly." Sawyer pushed him over to the passenger seat. "Get in. I'll drive." After a moment the gentech assured him drily: "Don't worry, I have a license."
He hadn't answered...
...he had known the truth the moment he saw the physician's face, had known there was no hope for her any more. The physician had talked to him, but he hadn't really gotten the words, except at the last. "We are still trying to save the child." The physician looked very earnestly at him. "But the chances aren't good. The second month is usually too early for putting a fetus in vitro."
They had waited for hours. Sawyer had stayed with him, had assured Walsh that Sawyer wasn't worried about the bollocking he was going to get for staying with Walsh and away from his work for so long...
...Hope is a dangerous drug. Nothing can do more than hope, and nothing can devastate more than the end of hope. He had seen it on battlefields before, and he saw it in Madeleine's eyes when they finally gave her a tranquilizer to calm her after hours of exhausting crying. It had been the only time he'd ever seen her show weakness...
..."I'm sorry." The physician lowered his head. "It's as we feared. The embryo itself suffered injuries during the explosion. We can't do anything more–"
"But embryonic tissue is highly–" Sawyer's hand grabbed Joseph's arm, pressed his muscles till the pain made him listen.
"–physician is right. They can't do anything." Sawyer's look held his eyes when he repeated. "Do you get me, Joseph? They can't do anything here." The gentech's last sentence was very faint. "But if we are damn fast..."...
...he barely remembered Leana's funeral. Only single images stuck in his mind: white flowers on her coffin, thankfully closed because of the extended injuries she'd suffered, Madeleine's pale, stony face. The state funeral of Leana's father had been only a day before. It was the last time Walsh saw Maddie for long years. He hadn't said anything, had only wished her a wordless goodbye and made a silent vow to his lost wife. His mind was elsewhere, at a godless, nonexistent military base where a small cluster of cells struggled for survival...
Maddie finally broke the long, painful silence. "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked softly in her motherly way. "It would have been so important to me."
"Maddie, he could have died any day, at any moment. You suffered enough from Jonathon and Leana's deaths." His face tightened. "Just like me. But this was my battle. Only mine. I had to win it. Nobody else." Max had already paid the price for helping me. He looked up. "I need a coffee. This isn't easy."
"Then get us one, Joey," Maddie agreed and added with a humorous but slightly warning look, "And don't you dare slip out the back door. You will no more escape from me than Shane did! I will get the whole story tonight. Clear?"
"Clear, Ma'am." Walsh's voice sounded as if he was chewing sand.
"He doesn't know, does he?" she asked, sitting finally with him at his living room table.
"He has no idea." Walsh leaned back. "The Board's commission never learned how Wolf Den really was, Maddie. If he had been any different from the others he'd be dead. It was essential for his survival that he believed in his origin." And it was easier to be rigid enough to get him through it without that knowledge behind the distrust and caution in his eyes.
"And you never told him later," she stated. "You had more than two years to do it."
"This world is complicated enough for him." When he noticed her frown: "Maddie, he had to learn this life in a crash course. I didn't think it would do any good to shatter his fundamental convictions."
"But why BDC, Joseph?" Madeleine Hays took a last sip of her already cold coffee and put the cup on the table. "There were variations of STJ, like the mental ones, which would have caused much weaker alterations than that."
Walsh sighed. "The embryo itself was harmed, Maddie. Otherwise the med facility might have tried to save him itself. BDC has the highest adaption and correction rate of all variations. If something could offset the injuries, it was that. We thought it was the best chance we could give him."
"How did you get him, anyway?" she asked. "Embryos aren't handed over to relatives."
"Leana carried a full donation card for R and D. Like most of us back then."
"STP was classivied UVP," reminded Maddie. "You couldn't ask for donations."
"But it was linked with the military research facilities, which could take donations," Walsh said coldly. "And Wolf Den got a lot of embryos from them. They were used for standard control tissue, since the developing cell structures showed possible side effects very quickly. So nobody could guess that anything was different about this one when Wolf Den ordered it." The edge of his mouth twitched, and he continued grimly, "Except that it wasn't used for controls."
Madeleine Hays shuddered and sighed. "This project is one of the darkest spots in military history."
"Aye," Walsh agreed.
"After our first look through the data, I couldn't believe that you had led it."
"I was assigned to it pretty early. The original intentions had been optimized soldiers, yes, but neither their creation nor the treatment the participants received were like that in the beginning. A couple of prime orders and increased pressure from the Board changed that. And you know how risky it is to leave a high sec project." He sighed. "And there was no chance to get Shane out of it."
Maddie nodded. More than one good officer simply disappeared when trying to quit such an assignment, and it surely had been out of the question to abandon the boy.
"Eric became our personal nemesis," he added grimly.
"I feared so, though it's not obvious from the papers. He'd never been a friend of yours but after your marriage to Leana he became almost an enemy."
Walsh snorted. "She hated him, but that egocentric asshole couldn't accept that. I guess he thought everything was my fault since I married the woman he wanted to have."
"Watch your language, Joey." Maddie grinned, trying to ease the tension a little. "I share your opinion about him but not your tone."
"I was polite in talking about the senator."
"He's running for premier."
"I'm too polite to comment on that." Walsh grunted.
"As am I," Maddie smiled. "But it's unlikely that he's going to win the vote. Sorensen is very popular with his League project, and the second candidate, Dutch, is a strong rival, too. I think we can safely ignore Eric's attitudes." She became earnest again. "If I can help somehow..." She made a helpless hand movement.
"Don't draw attention to the boy, Maddie," Walsh said, suddenly wary. "I've got an acceptable reason to care about him since I was his commanding officer from the very beginning, but if the Lady Prime Senator shows special interest in a Ranger of his origin – Maddie, that could bring the attention of the wrong people to the whole thing."
She sighed. "I know. I just wish–" She interrupted herself. "His papers. Eric. Why the hell should Eric do something for you, Joe?" She noticed the sudden caution in Walsh's face. "He does know who Shane is, right? Did he do it for Leana?"
"Yeah, he does, Maddie. But he didn't do it for Leana. He did it because he wanted to save his political ass!"
"Joseph!!" More calmly: "What do you mean?"
"Please don't, Maddie. I'd like you to know only this: as long as it is only Eric who knows, we are safe. If anybody else should stumble across it, we're in for it." He sighed and clenched his fist. "You know what that would mean."
"Prison for the rest of your life, Joey."
"And the cryocrypt for Shane," he added grimly.
Again silence stretched out between them. Again it was Maddie who finally broke it, touching his hand on the table. "You did a good job on him, Joe," she said in a voice atypically soft for her. "I'm proud of my grandson. Even if I can never tell him that. And if you ever need help..." She took a deep breath and her voice grew suddenly icy, "I'll tear you to pieces if you don't tell me!"
Leana: the name is northeastern European in origin and is pronounced with a harsh ae sound, as in bear.
R and D: Research and Development
UVP: Ultraviolet plus: security classification "beyond top secret." Even the knowledge that it exists is classified as top secret.time...