Place: Wolf Den Military Base
"We only have twenty minutes between the regular checkups. We can't risk getting caught," Max Sawyer said urgently. "You don't have any official reason to be in there."
"I know. Still..." Joseph sighed and shook his head. "I have to."
"I know." Max didn't pat the other man's shoulder. Major Walsh wasn't a man you did that with. "Remember, Joe," Max said, laying his hand over the sensor pad to trigger the DNA sensor which opened the inner breeding hall. "The biggest difference between them and normal humans is at this stage. That's because of the advanced cognition development. To make it possible at all some of the natural development schemes were altered. They don't change their hair and eye color later, like normal babies do; that already happened in late fetal phase. And be careful -- avoid contact. Normal babies are able to identify their mother's smell within three days after birth. STs can recognize and memorize you precisely with their first breath of air. Their response to pheromones is equally fast. That's why access here is strictly limited." Max sighed. "They shouldn't synch to anybody. It would prevent their systems from responding to the controlled pheromone signals provided by the nurse system."
The major shuddered slightly at that. "But he's all right?"
"All measurements are good since he was decanted this morning," Max confirmed. "But they aren't designed to measure the alteration of the carrier DNA, only the extent of integrated abilities and the stability of the code. And they are at max in him."
"Yes." Sawyer nodded. "I calculated very precisely to avoid reaching an amount that would alter his genetic base, but I didn't have much time back then. His injuries were extensive and his constitution, especially after the lax care given to test cultures, was decreasing rapidly." He lowered his head. "He might be more of them than of you."
The lines around the major's face hardened. "We'll see about that, Max."
The walls of the perspex container were opaque. The child inside it seemed to sleep peacefully in spite of the continuous hubbub of the holographic interaction devices arranged around and above the sterile-looking cradle, providing the constant sensory input necessary at this stage of development. If the input broke off even for a few minutes while the child was awake, the risk of autism rose dramatically.
Increased cognitive development.
Negata had taken those risks were taken because within two years the little boy would have to have a general understanding of the principles of time, space, creatures, technologies, food... Still a childish, naive understanding, but enough to act reasonably, to understand properly given orders and execute them within his physical abilities.
Right now, all that Joseph saw was a tiny fragile-looking body, not fully curled up on the bare surface. Warmth came from the thermal lamps above and in the walls of the cradle, not from blankets. Still, the baby seemed cold. And lonely.
Fluffy wisps the color of ripe, sun-bleached wheat covered the head. The color was repeated in the first hints of brows; the lashes were darker, with traces of copper, in contrast to the very light skin. Joseph held his hand in the cradle and noted how dark his skin looked against the fair boy.
Bright green eyes flew open, focused with startling intensity and curiosity on his face. Delicate hands grabbed his hand, a little bit clumsily, and pulled it with astonishing strength towards the tiny, meticulously formed face. Joseph swallowed. The boy sniffed at him, while great green eyes sized him up. The warm breath was followed by wetness. The child licked at his fingertips, began sucking at his index finger as if he were a pacifier. Gods...
"I'm sorry, Joe. I really hoped..." Max, looking over Walsh's shoulder, whispered.
Walsh frowned, distracted. "What are you talking about?"
"The eyes." Max shook his head. "I never saw eyes like that. The STJ must have--"
To Sawyer's surprise, the major smiled. "But I have, Max. My father-in-law's were that color. My first impulse when I met the man face to face was to ask if he wore colored contact lenses."
"Jon's eyes were a bright emerald green, Max." Walsh sobered, his eyes returning to his son. "His mother said from the very beginning that her child would have them, too..." The sadness in his voice increased at the thought. "She was right."
"It's a pity we already have a 'John' in the project."
"Hm?" The major blinked. "Not John, Max. That's too obvious a connection anyway, as would be the Russian Ivan." His gaze rested on the child that cuddled against his warm hand, holding fiercely to the first personal contact in his life. No, his son was no chubby-cheeked laughing bundle of joy. He appeared more like an elf, though Joseph had no idea where that thought came from. His mouth twitched. Or maybe he did. Maybe it was right. In the twisted world Walsh had helped create, the boy was something like the changelings of the Irish faery tales his mother had read to him as a child. Irish... He smiled down at the child, whose green eyes blinked back. "Hello, Shane."
"Joseph," Max whispered behind him. "Think of the sensors. The next checkup's not--"
The baby's eyes had fallen shut. The boy slept again, the wheat-wispy head cuddled into Walsh's hand, obviously drawing a sense of security from it.
Oh boy, in the world you'll be growing up in, there won't be much of that...
"Come on, now. With a little luck the uncommon vegetative synch might go unnoticed, but if we're caught in here..."
"I know." He carefully lowered the child's head from his hand back onto the perspex before he stepped back, clenching his fists as he followed Sawyer, who hurried out of the room.
Sawyer relaxed visibly after they had reached Walsh's office and the door closed behind them.
"Are you sure the foreign synch will go unnoticed?" Walsh asked him after a moment.
"More or less," Max said with a sigh. "Do you know the black-and-white patterned girl in the nursery?" At Walsh's nod: "I made your mistake with her." He made a fatalistic shrug. "She reminded me of the EEC test bunnies we had in the labs. You remember the fluffy beasts that blinded you on your first visit to Liberdom?"
But Joseph wasn't listening. His hands propped on the sill, he stared blindly out into the falling night through a window that still carried warning labels about radioactive spray from the water. "How do I go on?" It wasn't clear if he was speaking to his reflection in the window pane or to Max. "How do I protect him?" He closed his eyes, leaning his forehead against the stained pane, and saw blue-green eyes in a beloved face now gone, giving him a silent order he had no idea yet how to fulfill.
This was no place for their son. Not for the fragile little elf who had snuggled into his palm with an inborn trust Joseph prayed he deserved.
Thanks to Elizabeth 'fatima' Bales and S. 'Trivia' Blank for their help with English.
BDC: Bio Defense Carrier (Gooseman's powers)
EEC: Empathic Eyes Control (Darkstar's powers)
Liberdom: High security genetic research laboratory near Olympia, Washington. The place where the gensets are incepted.