Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

In Fury Born: Chapter Fifteen

       Last updated: Thursday, March 2, 2006 10:33 EST



    "Any time you're ready," Dr. Hyde said.

    The civilian (these days) physician sat comfortably tipped back in the chair behind his desk, wearing his synth-link headset as he watched Alicia. With his eyes, that was; the diagnostic hardware tied into his synth-link, she knew, was busy doing the same thing, in considerably more detail, from the inside out.

    Frankly, Alicia was getting just a little bit tired of the whole hospital bit.

    She'd faced the battery of tests Major Androniko had warned her of and completed them with flying colors just in time to become an official Cadre recruit for her nineteenth birthday present. She got the impression that that was unusually young for admission to the Cadre -- not too surprisingly, she supposed, given that the Cadre routinely required completion of a combat tour before it even considered a potential candidate. Any feelings of superiority that early selection might have engendered, however, had been quite handily quashed over the course of the next four months.

    She'd spent all four of those months basically where she was right now -- in the hands of the Cadre's medical staff. Dr. Hyde, who'd reached the rank of major during his own active-duty Cadre days (and carried the civil-service equivalent of a full colonel's rank as a civilian contractor these days), was reassuringly brisk, professional, and competent, but he was totally untainted by any trace of a tendency to coddle his patients. Which, Alicia admitted to herself, was the way she preferred things, actually. It was just that she hadn't realized how much surgery was going to be involved.

    Thanks to the quick-heal therapies, she'd recovered quickly from the physical effects of the profound changes which had been made to her original Marine augmentation package. In fact, her recovery time from each round of surgery had been considerably better than it had been at Camp Mackenzie. The problem was that there'd been a lot more surgery this time . . . and she'd had more trouble adjusting to some of the changes.

    When Major Androniko had warned her that the ability to multitask was an important Cadre qualification, she hadn't been joking. Alicia had never had the sort of difficulty some of her fellow Marine recruits had experienced in adjusting to her neural receptors, but at that point, she'd only had one synth-link to worry about at a time. Now she had three, and her instructors insisted that she learn to use all three of them simultaneously. She'd done it, but also as Androniko had warned her, she was no longer leaving fellow recruits in her dust. She'd finally been tapped for something that was genuinely hard for her, and the people around her were disinclined to show much sympathy, since they'd had to do exactly the same things. It wasn't that anyone had given her a hard time about it, but she simply wasn't accustomed to laboring this hard to accomplish her goals.

    That was the bad news. The good news was that -- just as she had at Mackenzie, when she'd been unable to match the PT scores of the people who had turfed her out of the lead in that category -- she'd found herself responding to the challenge by embracing it. It hadn't been as much fun as some of the Mackenzie challenges, but it had been even more deeply satisfying.

    The basic augmentation for sight and sound had also been replaced with even better enhancement. Indeed, the augmentation she had now was powerful enough to be illegal on the civilian market, and they'd added tactile enhancement, as well. That was an expensive refinement the Marines had passed on because of cost-effectiveness considerations.

    The implantation of the neural web which the doctors assured her would actually provide significant protection against neural disrupter fire had been more straightforward, although the recovery time from the necessary surgery had actually been greater than that involved in the additional synth-links. And the new processors installed in her basic augmentation had presented problems of their own. There'd been a glitch in the hardware the first time around, and the escape and evasion package built into them had activated when the techs initiated the test protocols. Finding her own body moving under the control of a computer package expressly designed to kill anything between her and escape in the event that her conscious mind was taken out of the circuit had been . . . unpleasant. And if the techs involved in the testing program hadn't been prepared for hardware hiccups along the way, it could have been considerably worse than that . . . for them.

    That little misadventure had required a return to surgery to replace the malfunctioning unit. Everyone had assured her that things like that practically never happened and that everything would be just peachy the second time around. By that point, she'd cherished some dark suspicions about their breezy assurances, but aside from the time required to heal, this time they'd actually been right.

    There'd been some other changes, of course, the biggest of which was undoubtedly her new pharmacope. Her perfectly good Marine-issue personal pharmacopeia had been surgically removed and replaced with a new, larger implant whose reservoirs contained everything the original had, plus a few additions all the Cadre's own. One or two of those additions had given her more than a few qualms when they were explained to her, and imperial law had required that at least one of them had to be explained -- in some detail -- before she could be allowed to officially join the Cadre. That was the bit about the suicide protocols built into her shiny new augmentation.

    Alicia hadn't liked that thought one little bit. In fact, she'd actually seriously considered declining the Cadre's invitation when she heard about it. The idea that her own pharmacope contained a neurotoxin which would automatically kill her, even under the most carefully defined and limited of circumstances, had not been reassuring. But, in the end, it hadn't stopped her, either. Mostly because she'd considered what was likely to happen to any Cadre drop commando who found herself in the hands of the Empire's enemies. The chance of long-term survival in those circumstances was small, at best, and she understood exactly why the Empire needed to make certain that someone who knew everything any member of the Cadre would have to know could never be wrung dry by someone like the Rish. Then too, she was forced to admit in her more honest moments, part of the reason she'd accepted it was probably that somewhere deep down inside, despite all she'd seen and experienced since joining the Corps, there was a part of her which believed she was so good, so smart and competent, that however much the possibility of being captured might bother other people, it wasn't something which would ever arise in her case. And to be totally honest, she'd decided, it was actually reassuring, in a bleak sort of way, to know that she would always possess the means for a final escape, no matter what else happened.

    Yet in some respects, the other totally classified addition to her pharmacope was almost more disturbing than the suicide package. Not because of the threat it represented, but because of the temptation it offered. When they'd first explained the effects of the drug the Cadre called "the tick," she hadn't fully grasped everything that explanation implied. In fact, she doubted that she fully appreciated all of the tick's ramifications even now, but she could certainly understand why the drug -- it was actually half a dozen different drugs, all working together in minute, individually designed dosages for each drop commando's specific physiology -- was on the Official Secrets List.

    Now she looked back at Dr. Hyde, smiling slightly at his expression of exaggerated patience, and cautiously initiated the proper pharmacope command sequence.



    Nothing at all seemed to happen for a moment. And then, so quickly and smoothly the transition appeared almost instantaneous, the universe about her abruptly slowed down.

    Alicia sat very still in the chair in front of Hyde's desk, watching him, and her augmented vision zoomed in on his carotid artery. She watched it pulsing ever so slightly to the beat of his heart, and she counted his pulse rate. She had plenty of time for counting, because that was what "the tick" did. It bought the person using it the most precious combat commodity there was -- time.

    The tick enhanced Alicia's physical reaction speed only slightly. She moved a bit faster, a little more quickly, but it didn't magically allow her to move at superhuman rates, or let her snatch speeding bullets out of the air with her bare hand. What it did do was to accelerate her mental processes enormously. She might not have superhuman reaction speed, but she had all the time in the world to think about possibilities and threats, about actions and reactions, before she actually took them.

    She turned her head -- slowly, so slowly it seemed -- looking around Dr. Hyde's office through the crystal-clear armorplast of the tick's syrupy time stream. It seemed to her as if it took at least a full minute to turn her head all the way to the right, but she knew better. She'd seen holovids of people riding the tick. Indeed, she'd seen holovids of herself moving under its influence. She'd seen the way that heads turned and limbs moved in a fashion which defied easy description but which could never be mistaken for anything else by anyone who ever saw it.

    Dr. Maxwell Hyde certainly recognized it, and he didn't need his diagnostics, either. He saw the absolutely smooth, almost mechanical, way her head turned. It swiveled, with the micrometrically metered precision of a computer-controlled gun turret, snapping to the exact angle she'd chosen in a movement which amalgamated viperish speed and something very like . . . serenity.

    Over the years, Hyde had tried repeatedly to find the right way to describe the tick to himself or to his colleagues. He'd never been truly satisfied with his efforts, but the best analogy he'd been able to come up with was actually the first one which had ever suggested itself to him. It was like watching a slow-motion holovid of a striking rattlesnake or cobra in real-time, contradictory though that sounded.

    Now he closed his eyes, concentrating on his diagnostics. DeVries was doing well, he thought. Mastering the complexities of the Cadre augmentation package was the real make-or-break point for any potential drop commando. All the motivation, determination, and basic abilities in the universe couldn't make anyone a drop commando if they couldn't handle the sensory augmentation, the multiple synth-links, and the tick. The rest of the training, the other aspects of the augmentation package itself, were all frosting on the cake, in Maxwell Hyde's opinion, and he was pleased by DeVries' tolerance for the tick. There was no sign of any of the toxicity reactions they very occasionally encountered. And, perhaps even more importantly, there were no indications of any tendency towards dependency on her part.

    "Let's take it through an alpha sequence," he said now, never opening his eyes as he "watched" her.

    "All right," Alicia agreed, deliberately slowing her enunciation to something approximating the doctor's slow, dragging speech, and stood.

    She was more cautious about it than she'd been the first time. Despite all the warnings, all the effort Dr. Hyde and his staff had put into explaining to her what was going to happen, she hadn't really been prepared for the actuality of the tick that first day. She'd been sitting down that day, too, and she'd stood up at their request, exactly the same way she'd done it all her life. Except that this time, what should have brought her smoothly and naturally to her feet had turned into an explosive leap. One which had carried her forward, actually over-balanced her. She'd almost fallen -- had, in fact, started to topple forward -- and she'd flailed her arms for balance.

    To her tick-enhanced time sense, her arms had seemed to move with almost grotesque, floating slowness. They'd trailed behind her mental commands, lagged on their way to their intended destinations. And despite that, they'd shot past were she'd meant to stop them, traveling with a speed and quickness she'd never before managed. She'd learned to adjust, eventually, and now, as Dr. Hyde had requested, she moved away from her chair and fell into a "rest" position in the center of his spacious office. She stood that way for a moment, hands at her sides, and then fell into a guard position.

    Alicia had grown to love espada del mano, the Corps' chosen hand-to-hand combat technique. Espada del mano had been developed about two hundred years before in the Granada System, and it was a primarily "hard" style which emphasized weaponless techniques and a go-for-broke aggressiveness. It did include some weaponed techniques, especially with edged steel (and its higher-tech equivalents), and it wasn't something a modern Marine actually required all that often. But the need still arose occasionally, and the Corps was right about the way in which it combined physical conditioning, mental discipline, and the "warrior mentality." Besides, the sheer exuberance of a one-on-one, full-contact training bout was hard to beat.

    The Cadre, unlike the Marines, preferred deillseag òrd, also known as "the slap hammer." Despite its name, deillseag òrd was actually a "softer" style than espada del mano. Or probably it would be more accurate to say that it was a more . . . balanced, comprehensive style. Deillseag òrd had been developed in the New Dublin System, and it was a synthesis of at least two or three dozen other martial arts. It included a much broader spectrum of weaponed techniques than the espada did, and it also included quite a lot more "soft style" elements.

    Alicia had only begun to explore deillseag òrd, and the time she'd been stuck in the hospital hadn't left her much opportunity for training in it. She suspected that she was going to prefer it, once she'd had the opportunity to begin mastering it, but for now, it was better to stick to what she knew, and she began an espada training ejercicio, bringing herself totally to bear on the focus it required.

    Hyde opened his eyes again. He continued "watching" her through his synth-link, but this was something he never tired of seeing with his own eyes. Something he'd always deeply treasured about his own period of active duty with the Cadre.

    Alicia DeVries was the personification of the old cliché "poetry in motion," he thought. She moved with blinding speed, yet at the same time every motion seemed floating, almost slow. It was the perfection of each individual move, he told himself. The fact that there was literally no hesitation, no uncertainty. DeVries' total familiarity with the ejercicio was obvious, but there was more to what she was doing than practice. More even than the drilled-in muscle memory of the true martial artist. Every move she made, every shift of balance, was deliberate and conscious. Even as her hands flickered and flashed, she was thinking through each movement. Every single one of them was textbook perfect because, thanks to the tick, she had time to make them that way.

    He remembered doing that himself. He suspected, if he was going to be honest, that he'd never been as good, even with the tick, as she was. The tick enhanced its users' natural aptitudes and talents. It didn't magically bestow the same plateau of ability -- of speed, reflexes, balance -- on all of them, and her starting point was simply better than his had been. And she was adjusting to the tick's vagaries faster than he had, too, he decided.

    Well, fair's fair. She may be settling down to Old Speedy faster than I did, but I bounced back from the surgery a lot faster than she did.



    He let her continue for another two or three minutes, which he knew seemed far longer than that to her, then nodded.

    "All right, Alley. I think we've got all the data we need."

    "Sure," she said with the odd tone everyone who spent any time working with drop commandos came to recognize. It was obvious that she thought she was speaking very slowly, enunciating her words carefully. For those stuck in a non-tick time stream, though, those words still came out quick, clipped -- completely clear and unslurred, yet so fast that it sounded as if they ought to be garbled. She floated back across the floor on those tick-inspired dancer's feet and settled gracefully, gracefully back into her chair with a smile.

    "Yes," he said after a moment, completing his study of the diagnostics' recordings. "I think we're done for today. The preliminary data looks good. Unless we turn something up after the complete analysis, I think we can consider this aspect of your augmentation successfully completed and send you off to ACTS."

    "I'm glad to hear it," she said in that tick-user's voice.

    "And now, I'm afraid," he said with a sympathetic smile, "it's time for you to come down."

    Alicia grimaced. This was the one part of the tick that she absolutely hated. Letting go of that sense of enhanced capability, that time-slowing near-godhood, was bad enough, but the tick's side effect made it even worse.

    She sent the command to her pharmacope, reached for the basin sitting in the chair beside her, and sat back, waiting resignedly. The carefully measured dosage of the counteragent trickled into her bloodstream, and her senses and perceptions seemed to decelerate. It didn't happen as quickly as they had initially accelerated, but it still took only seconds. Seconds in which the rest of the universe seemed to speed up enormously even as her own movements and thoughts slowed to a crawl. The transition back into a world in which things moved -- and she thought -- at their accustomed rate left her with the feeling of suddenly diminished horizons and capabilities.

    But she didn't have much time to reflect on that before the tearing spasms of nausea began.

    It was just as violent this time as the first time. Dr. Hyde assured her, and she believed him, that there were no long-term deleterious effects to the use of tick. The only real danger that tick posed was dependency -- addiction, really -- and one of the mental qualities Major Androniko had been referring to in her interview with Alicia was a high resistance to addictive behaviors. But if there were no lasting side effects, the immediate short-term effect was enough to leave someone feeling as if her stomach had been turned inside out. Personally, Alicia wondered if the nausea had been deliberately enhanced as a means to make overindulgence in the tick even less attractive.

    If it had been, no one was admitting it, she thought as she finished vomiting into the basin. Of course, she thought, wiping her mouth with the tissue Dr. Hyde courteously extended to her, if they have deliberately juiced up the nausea, they wouldn't be about to admit it, now would they? "Done?" Hyde asked.

    "Yes, Sir." She closed the cover on the basin before the odor could encourage her stomach to spasm again, then set it back down on the chair beside her with a shudder.

    "That's . . . really unpleasant," she said after a moment.

    "I see you're a woman of commendable understatement," Dr. Hyde replied with a smile. "Although, and you may not believe this, you actually have a much less severe reaction to it than quite a few of our people do."

    "You're joking." She looked at him suspiciously, and he shook his head.

    "Nope. You appear to have an unusual tolerance. I'm wondering if it has anything to do with the fact that your father is an Ujvári." Alicia looked at him in surprise, and he shrugged. "We've been looking at tolerance factors where the tick is concerned for quite a long time," he said, "and there do seem to be certain specific genetic 'packages' which handle it better than others. For obvious reasons, we haven't had very many Ujváris in the Cadre -- in fact, I don't think we've ever had a full Ujvári -- so we don't have anything like reliable base data on response curves. I'm not really a geneticist, either, but from what I've been able to pick up about the Ujvári mutation, that extreme stability apparently results at least in part from changes in the brain and blood chemistry of people who have it. And while you're scarcely a 'typical' Ujvári -- probably because of your mother's side of your genotype -- you do express some of the chemical differentiation of the full-scale mutation. It's fascinating, really, if you don't mind my saying so."

    "I don't mind," Alicia said, wondering even as she did whether or not she was being completely honest with either of them.

    "Actually," Hyde continued, leaning back in his chair once more, "you're fairly fascinating in a lot of ways. By the nature of things, the Cadre attracts people who are way outside the norms, and every one of us is different. That's one reason we don't use the same sort of training techniques the Marines use -- or, rather, why we go beyond those techniques. I suppose it would be more accurate to say that we specifically design and tailor each individual Cadreman's training techniques to him. Because of our differences, that's the only way we can maximize the performance of every single member of the Cadre. I've seen other Cadremen who could match or even exceed your physical dexterity, your stamina, your hand-eye coordination, your IQ. I don't know that I've seen very many of them who could match all of those qualities, but none of them are completely off the scale. Not for the Cadre, at least.

    "But I've never seen anyone who matches your . . . for want of a better term, your levelheadedness. There's a basic stability at the core of your personality -- probably a combination of your genetic inheritance and the way you were raised -- that's really quite remarkable. It doesn't appear to get in the way of any of your other qualities, but it underpins all of them."

    He paused, as if considering what he'd said, then shrugged.

    "It's going to be interesting to see exactly how you slot into the Cadre's matrix. None of us fit in in exactly the same way, and I'm inclined to think that that's going to be especially true in your case."

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image