Hours had passed and Commander still lingered in the memory of Kathryn. Her warmth, her scent, the way his heart picked up in his chest, like they were still in the same room.
Commander looked to the opposite side of the room he lived in. A pallet lay in the corner, bearing only a few covers and a single pillow, shirts and socks overflowed from filing cabinets. Drawings concealed most of the brick walls.
Most of the drawn faces belonged to Kathryn, some with long hair, some with her modern style; some studied of her face, others examined her figure. In a gallery, Kathryn might be noted as a profound muse. To Commander's eye, none of them could express the qualities he adored. He tried side views, shots from behind, busts, profiles, but none of them satisfied him.
A larger drawing lingered on a stack of unfinished images. The large drawing detailed not a person, but a large metal cylinder hooked to a metal chair by a network of wires and tubes. Electric generators were fused to the outside of the cylinder, while a cap of metal plates hovered over the top of the chair.
Commander could still feel the plates fastened to his head, the needle eased into his right frontal lobe. Samples, they said. Betterment of mankind, they told him. Physically, he was fine, but the pain reappeared from time to time, when he was left alone for too long.
He picked up the drawing, hoping he would never again lay eyes on the machine. Being left at its mercy an hour was enough to leave a permanent aftertaste in Commander's mouth.
Leather restraints and mild sedatives ran the length of Subject 837's arms. Monitors for his pulse and blood flow beeped on occasion. Cold metal plates stuck against the young man's forehead while wires attached them to the cylindrical generator a foot away. Even though he could not move, Subject 837 started to remember what how to have a coherent thought. When he lifted his head through the cords connected to his skull, he could see faces watching him.
Scientists, doctors, and a few spectators, ten faces in all. He counted them again while one of the spectators set up a camera on the opposite side of the room. “What the *beep* is going on?” Subject 837 asked, his words coming out as a jumbled slur.
“As you can see,” one of the scientists said, “Subject 837 is somewhat active and alert despite being sedated.”
“Didn't ask for this.”
“The Subject's involvement in this program was initiated through a volunteer fitness study designed to locate suitable candidates for psionic extraction. As noted previously, Subject 837 has endured testing reserved for the next fiscal year's trials. Should today's test be successful, we will begin extraction. We will begin by activating the amplifier and determining the baseline mental signature for this Subject.”
His hands began to tremble with frustration. Tensed against the restraints, each knuckle tried to rise through the leather, tearing the aged hide apart.
“Activate the electrodes.”
A mechanical hum filled the air, making the hairs throughout Subject 837's body rise, not just the ones on the back of his neck. He groaned in pain. Sleep became impossible. Every part of his body was aware.
“In previous tests, the Subject's pain tolerance has been elevated by alternating levels of external stimuli. Now, we will activate those tolerances over his entire body before increasing the electrical output. It is our hope that this strategy can be used to elicit an external psionic response.”
He screamed as the restraints snapped. Loose from his bounds, Subject 837 dashed forward, swinging a punch at the speaker.
The spectators and cameras were gone, brick walls and drawings stood in their place. Commander stopped his fist a foot away from a man with sandy blond hair. Michael Barnes raised his hands in surrender. His blue eyes were locked open, unable to blink.
Commander turned away and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Sorry about that, Doc. Didn't mean to scare you.”
“You're just a little good at it, you know?” Michael scratched his head. “You were thinking about that place where you and Rainier met, weren't you?”
“I said I was sorry,” Commander grumbled, putting on his shoes.
Michael leaned back on the door facing, looking over at Commander. Even in the doorway, Michael was surrounded by pictures of Kathryn. “Did you go see that girl again?”
“Yes,” Commander answered quietly.
“You should really stop. It just messes you up when you see her.”
Silence lingered in the dark room. The shallow sounds of breathing rippled through the air. “That's the only part of me that's still warm,” Commander said.
“Well.” Michael moved his mouth, but nothing else came out. A moment later, he shook his head and said, “Rainier's back. He said he's got some info about your favorite senator.”
Commander nodded, running his finger back through his hair. As he stood, he stretched his arms, popped his elbows and walked out the door.
Once a break room, the small kitchen had everything needed to prepare a number of meals, though nothing as cumbersome as a stove. An old microwave groaned while a spindly man sat at a bare table gulping noodles from a cup. Commander walked in and said, “It smells like *beep* ramen in here.”
Rainier slurped up a few noodles into his mouth, saying, “I need the carbs.” He put down his cup and dropped a package of one hour photos on the table. “Maxwell's boy has been busy.”
Commander didn't go to the table, but went for the refrigerator instead. He opened a can of Pepsi and guzzled down half the liquid hiding inside. Satisfied, he went to the table and watched as Michael passed through the pictures.
“Where were these taken?” Michael asked.
Commander looked at the images of Morrison signing off on a pair of crates and a forklift driving into a large truck. Another picture showed the same truck being driven into a cargo plane. A pair of men wearing military-grade body armor appeared in several pictures. “Let me guess,” Commander said. “Uncharted flight?”
The microwave went off and Rainier got up, switching out the cup of ramen it held for another that needed heating up. He sat back down, finishing the old cup in a strain of movements before starting in on the next cup. “As far as I could tell,” Rainier said. “With all the holes in the flight regulations, anybody can track a listed flight.”
Michael shook his head. “*beep* gets to list everything under National Security if anyone asks, too.” Stepping away from the table, he added, “I'll start looking for where that flight might have gone. If Cole's finished with the next stage, I'll see if he can help too.”
Rainier said, “Sounds good.”
Commander nodded, staring at his drink.
“You know, you should probably eat something before diving into the soda like you do.”
“Force of habit.”
“Try addiction.” Inhaling another bite, Rainier reached across the table and pulled out one of the earlier pictures from the package. “What do you think are in those crates?”
A red-eyed glare came across the table before looking down at the picture again, double checking. “I have a guess, but there's no way to tell. Even if I saw what was in the crates, I wouldn't know if it was anything like the machine they had me hooked up to.”
“I know I keep telling you this, but you really did get the short end of the stick. Going after these guys is the right thing to do. If I thought the lawyers could pull it off, I'd have them sue for the rights to that drug, even if it doesn't match your brain tissue.”
Commander took another drink of his soda and tossed the can into the trash. “I'm sure it'll match. They aren't stupid enough to go after the only other candidate.”
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