Before I can gather up the necessary will to run off, she walks to where I am standing and takes my hand.
“Take me with you,” she says simply, quietly. “We have a lot to catch up on.”
We make our way, through the rain and icy streets, to the hole. I light a fire to dry us. As it turns out, she has a flask of very fine brandy in her pocket, which makes the warming up process far easier. In no time it seems like we were old friends.
“That’s because we are,” she tells me, laughing gently as if remembering a private joke.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this. But, if someone had to, I’m glad it could be me.” This does not sound encouraging.
“I know you’re retired. I now you’ve been taking memory suppressants to help you stay truly undercover. I know why.” This is more encouraging, since so unlikely. This must be another one of those dreams. Soon the sirens and jumbled images will take over until I find myself suddenly awake, terrified, covered in sweat, with no idea why.
“I am sorry. We have ourselves a situation. We need you. You are going to have to come in from the cold.”
Suddenly I am very cold indeed. Shivering uncontrollably, as tears take over my face, I still don’t know why.
So, it turns out I am part of a highly trained secret corps of empaths, developed by the Genetic Weapons Initiative during Cold War III. When the new Administration and Congress were voted in after the Worldwide Peace Convention, they dismantled GWI as repugnant to the conscience. We were sold to a secret mercenary group for ad hoc assignments.
This is a lot to take in, and apparently the story gets weirder from there. Calinda, my new best friend, is also my old best friend and my biological twin, though several years younger than I. There was a mutiny against the mercenaries, a secret war between secret entities.
“Dorie, I know you wanted, needed so badly, to get away. I know you just wanted a peaceful retreat.” She hugs me as she speaks, holding off some of my terror as the visual memories run scatter-shot through my inner view. What could they possibly need from me? I am nothing but broken, hiding in self-imposed ignorance.
“You sleep,” she decides. “I’ll walk your dreams. It will all make sense when you awaken.”
I feel Calinda’s safe presence guiding me into the dream, the denied memory.
When you grow up in a vat, created as an advanced biology experiment, any semblance of family takes on great significance. Especially for empaths, who are forced into intimacy relentlessly, having the security of well-known, bonded, intimates can be crucial.
It was a small, efficient team: Reag, our revolutionary leader, his wife, Romy, Arden, his bio-twin, and me, his oldest friend. We had learned that the GWI labs were still in secret operation, churning out human weapons for the mercenary organization with which we were now at war. We were all linked in, both for strategy and emotional support.
Arden and Romy were in the main lab building, setting the explosive charges in the embryo and accelerated growth vat rooms. The kids in the vats, undergoing treatments to bring them to physical maturity in months rather than years, could feel our presence. They were helpless. There was no way we could save them and destroy GWI. That would take resources far beyond anything in our power.
Reag and I were in the communications tower, standing look-out while scanning and overriding the data stream to keep our actions from being monitored. Most of the lab’s operation was automated, especially during the scientists’ and technicians’ downtime.
We weren’t prepared for the silent screaming. The vat kids knew why we were there. Their energy, a massive panic surging outward, set off the explosives before Arden and Romy could escape. Noise, light, pain, hundreds of young bodies ripped apart, still silently screaming. Arden’s and Romy’s screams coming through even stronger, with poignant, tragic intimacy. Reag and I managed to run, hide, get away.
I awake secured in Calinda’s arms. Gently rocking, gently humming a soothing tone, she quiets the panic in her empathic love. Still, I am not ready for this.
“You’re really not going to be ready for this, but it’s imperative that you know.” I am not thrilled by this build up, but still in too much shock to resist more unwelcome information.
“Reag is out to kill all the GWI freaks. He’s been looking for you.”
“All of us? But there must be tens of thousands! How can he think that’s even possible?”
“He’s not thinking. He’s insane.”
Sitting between us, a thought so faint, in our closeness I could not tell if it were hers or mine: “As are you.”
Or was it Reag’s? Suddenly, I could feel his presence. Not here, in the hole, but close. The raw jumble of pain that was his mind sent tears streaming down my face. Now, I knew why.
The ghost, I realized, was Nerice, another member of our crew. Was she working for Reag? No doubt he wanted to draw me out of hiding.
“You weren’t meant to survive the ER either. They had no idea you would disappear like that after all the drugs they forced into you.”
“Good thing I got my tolerance up, then.”
“Nerice was one of ours. Reag got to her through some cronies he developed among the criminal class here.”
He always was a persuasive leader.