Most of the 10th floor was taken up by a huge hangar. A number of large shuttles were parked in a row, and the continual noise of the facility falling apart still pounded in the distance, only somewhat muffled by the thick walls.
“E-59! I need you right this second!” C-42 said, seeing a scrawny kid stop in mid scamper towards one of the ships. “A-40, you too!”
The two of them darted forward, and she motioned for them to follow. “Help me look for the controls to operate the bay doors,” she said. “And then get everyone who took flight simulator training up here.”
“…I did that,” said A-40, piping up. “But… I don’t know if-“
“Now is not the time for ‘I don’t know’, A-40,” she said. “We’re so close. I need you now.”
A-40 nodded back. “I can get it. I think D-04 can do it too. I’ll go get him.”
B-28 met them on the ship, panting. “We lost about a half dozen from D and E groups on the way down,” he murmured, his eyes brimming with regret. “The north stairwell collapsed into the building.”
A pained expression crossed C-42’s features. She took a deep breath and steeled herself. “We can mourn them once we’re safe,” she said. “Can we open the bay doors?”
B-28 watched her, stunned. “But, I … I lost them! If I’d been faster or if I–”
“B-28! Focus. You can’t go back in time and save them. We have to act in the now or you’ll be joining them!” she said and pointed to the huge metal doors on the end. “We will all get entombed in here if we can’t get those open!”
Before B-28 could respond, the doors began to groan open. On the other side of the hangar, one of the Odd-Eyes with sheet black hair, narrow orange-and-pink eyes had been tapping buttons on the console in a complicated pattern.
“Three minutes til the airlock’s open!” he shouted. “We need to get everyone onboard a shuttle!”
Everyone milled about, some pushing and shoving, some just panicking. C-42 stepped forward and took a deep breath.
“Everyone stop! We’ve got four ships and they’re built to fit 30 people. We’ll all fit, because an extra 10 isn’t undoable. EVERYONE WILL GET ON A SHUTTLE, so stop panicking!”
That got everyone’s attention.
“I need everyone to pair up. Underweight with overweight,” she said. “If someone can’t move, find someone else to help you carry them. First person on is in charge of the head count. When you hit forty start filling the next pod! Now go!”
Everyone scattered in a much more orderly fashion now. Except for C-03 and A-40. A-40 looked over C-42’s shoulders, down at the touch screen she was rapidly tapping.
“W-what are you doing?” he asked.
“Finding us some place safe to retreat to,” said C-42. “We’re a bit of a ways out from anywhere we can hide. It’s no good escaping if we’re just going to get rounded up again. Some place small and sparsely populated, that’s the ticket.”
“There has to be some place,” said C-03. “Come on, I know you can do it!”
She smiled. “A-40,” she said. “Do you have something more productive you could be up to?”
“I… I don’t know,” he said. “This is all so…”
“Yeah, I know,” said C-42. “It really is all so. Just think about how nice it’ll be once we’re out of this place. Breathing fresh air, feeling the warmth of a real sun… we’re almost there! Head to the first ship and let’s get moving!”
Soon, A-40 found himself in a cockpit, running through the startup sequence, just like in the simulators, as the bay doors opened into a black void.
C-03 plopped down next to him, pulling out the coordinates and dropping them in as fast as he could. “C-42 found this place. Old abandoned moon that went bellyup after the planet it orbited finished terraformation. Real quiet. It’ll be good to get our heads together,” he said, and then strapped himself in. “Everyone get in a seat. If there’s none left, wedge yourself between the seats. We don’t want anyone getting hurt!” he barked to the back, and then nodded to A-40. “Clear to go!”
A-40… focused. It was just like the simulators. That’s what he told himself. Everyone he knew would not die if he failed. He just had to do it.
He went through the rest of the sequence, and the shuttle started to warm up, then everything went wavy.
And the next thing he knew, he was out in space.. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see… the facility.
It was a huge, cylindrical space station, its surface marred by a number of gashes. He could see parts of it breaking up and falling apart as the systems that had kept it running began to break down.
“We’re… we’re out,” said A-40, feeling his chest tighten. “What… what do we do now?”
C-03 put a hand on his shoulder and smiled.
“The lot of us congregated on the moon that C-42 found,” said Zane, his eyes still half-lidded. “It was sparsely populated. Most of us stayed out of the places where they were people. We stayed there for awhile, until it was decided that it was too dangerous for us all to stay together. So we split. Any way we could. We took shuttles to other planets, and from there arranged transport any way we could. We got help for those who needed it, and went our separate ways.”
Zane took a deep breath. “Eventually, it was just me and B-22, or as you know him, Johnny. We traveled together for a little while, but eventually, I was a liability. So he ditched me. Literally.”
He looked up then, at Ash and Jayna, the ghost of his sad, funny little smile passing across his features. “Where you guys found me. Some of the less socially capable Odd-Eyes relied on our brothers and sisters. Identities were forged, paper trails created. And somehow I went from being Subject 40 from group A into, well, me.”
The three of them had equally blank expressions. Zane closed his eyes again.
“Which more or less brings us to today,” he said. “I just want you to know that… that I lied about where I came from, but I’m… I’m still me. And you guys… made me feel like I belong somewhere for the first time since… since… si…hnn…” He blew out a breath and sighed, his eyes watering. “I think I f-feel some… s-sude effects starting to come on… y-you guys might want to go… s-somewhere else now and… lock the door…”
Mari checked her watch. “Your tranquilizers should kick in soon. Are you sure you want us to leave?” she said. “I–Zane, if I was where you are, I don’t think I’d want to be alone.”
“I-I don’t,” said Zane, blinking back tears. “But in about t-three minutes, I’m n-not going to be… any ffffun to be… ar… ound…” He struggled against his bonds and let out a pained wheeze.
Jayna rose to her feet, and knelt next to his bed, squeezing hard enough to still the pilot. “We’ll be here for you when you come back.” she whispered to him.
Zane managed a smile… though it was almost grimace. “I gotcha,” he said. “And… and I just… want you to know… to know…” He started to struggle harder. “No… no, no, no! Get out, get it out, get it out!“
And just like that, the light seemed to switch off. Jayna stepped back, out of the grip of his curled fists, and turned to Mari and Ash, gesturing for the door. “I’ll make sure he’s in tight. I’ll join you in the kitchen.”
Ash and Mari made their way out of the room, leaving Zane to scream about the bees in his head, or something along those lines.
Soon, the two of them were sitting at the table, staring into space over two cups of rapidly-cooling coffee.
“Well,” said Mari. “That was… a whole lot of something.”
Ash nodded, looking numbly at the coffee, and then back at the door. He hadn’t said a word since Zane had begun talking.
Mari suddenly broke the silence by laughing.
“Well, it explains a lot, at least,” she said, wiping the hysterical tears from her eyes. “Wow. Boy, did I pick the right ship to sign on with.”
Jayna came out as Mari broke into another fit of giggles. Jayna looked from her to Ash. “I need some of whatever it is she has.”
“Insanity?” Ash said. “Who knows, maybe it’s contagious. Apparently it’s genetic,” he said.
“Dare I ask how he’s doing?” said Mari.
“He’s going to have some bruises when he comes to,” said Jayna. “But I think he’ll be fine.”
Mari nodded. “He’ll be out in about half an hour anyway–I actually gave him a larger dose of sedatives then he asked for. I figured it’d be bad.”
Ash ran a hand through his short clipped hair. “This is nowhere near what I expected. A member of an exiled group of messed up, slapped together super soldiers?”
Jayna’s face went carefully blank. Mari let out a snort.
“Guess so,” she said. “They say nobody can help how they’re made but I’ve never thought of that so literally before.”
Ash shook his head. “No wonder he doesn’t like talking about his past. But… he said there’s maybe another 100 of them out there we haven’t even met yet? All with their own issues and apparently as competent as Zane and Johnny and Troia all are in their fields. Think of what that could mean.” Ash said.
“Does it have to mean anything?” said Mari. “It’s a big universe. Zane said they all went their separate ways.”
“Maybe it didn’t,” Ash said, and then shrugged. “But all of a sudden? I think it’s gonna matter a lot.”
“I think we’ll be okay,” Jayna said. “We know Zane’s safe, and as… infuriating as Johnny is, he’s not going to kill us. Troia seems to be a good friend of his, and we know that all of the Odd-Eyes were only fighting against each other when they were forced to.”
Ash looked to Jayna, and then to Mari. Then he groaned.
“I… I just… I need some time to process all this,” he said, rubbing his temples. “I’m going to my bunk. Come get me if something catches fire.”
“Ash’ll come around,” said Jayna. “I’m sure. He just needs some time to process.”
“Like we don’t?” said Mari. “This is huge.”
Jayna nodded. “It is. As stupid as it sounds though, I kind of know what he’s going through… and after this maybe I know just what he needs.”
Mari gave Jayna a look. “Not even going to ask,” she said. “I’ve had enough personal revelations for one day.”
Far, far away, on a small moon barely important enough to show up on a map, there was a cottage. It didn’t look like much on the outside, and it looked like even less on the inside. It was… cozy.
There was an easy chair in front of the fireplace. Said fireplace was just a projection on a screen, but the effect was nice all the same. And a woman was seated in it, reading something off a tablet.
She had just flipped a new page when the rumblings of a truck sounded out front.
She set the tablet down and slowly moved to the front, seeing another man hop off the truck carrying a full week’s worth of groceries. She opened the door and gave him a nod. “Did you remember the coffee grounds?” she asked as he got within earshot. “And don’t forget to wipe your feet.”
“I got everything you asked for, Mama,” said the man, as he made his way in with a heavy bag. “I got the fancy Ishtari blend that you like, even. It was on sale.”
The woman who he called Mama–though she looked a bit on the young side to carry such a name–beamed at him. “You’re the best, Trey,” she said.
“I got something else, too,” he said, picking a small envelope out of his pocket. “Package for you. No return address.”
She took the package, opening it as Trey wiped his feet off on the small mat. “I scoped the place out, because a guy had just put it in our box when I was coming by. Tracked him out to the edge of the city but then I came back around. They were heading away from us, so I didn’t tag him,” Trey said. “What is it?”
“A… data card?” said Mama, turning it over. “Oh, I see. Message from Troia! I’d say that I wish that girl could be a bit more direct, but I know better.”
She slotted it into her tablet and booted it up.
After a moment the screen went black, and Troia’s face popped up. Mama sighed. “She’s not eating again.”
“You want me to send her a care package again?” Trey asked.
“Maybe,” she said. Troia began to speak.
“I assume it’ll be evening by the time you get this, so… good evening. I would not normally bring something this trivial to your attention… but when it begins to involve our family, I know you want to know as much as possible,” she said.
That got both of their attention.
“Someone’s snooping,” said Troia. “It might be nothing. It’s probably nothing. But I thought you should know about it all the same. I’ve attached the relevant files. Hope you’re doing well.”
With that the video ended, and a number of encrypted data files, and the key for the files were added to her library.
Mama looked up to Trey. “I’ll probably need a new tablet after this. Send her a care package. Make sure to add carrots and… squash, but no broccoli.”
“You know her too well, Mama,” said Trey. He peered down onto the tablet. “What’s that?”
Mama flipped through it for a moment and sighed. “Trouble, Trey.”
Trey suddenly looked worried. “Are we gonna be okay, Mama?” he said, swallowing heavily.
“We’ll be fine. We always are. This is nothing to be worried about. I just need to make a few calls. It’s my turn to make dinner, right?”
Trey brightened immediately. “Are you going to make those little bread things?” he said.
Mama nodded. “Of course,” she said, and then took her tablet towards the bedroom. “Do a final sweep, I’ll read over these before it gets too dark.”
“Will do,” said Trey, beaming. “And then I’ll clean up the kitchen for you!”
She nodded, watching him go about his business, and flipped to the first document. If Troia was worried, then she probably had a right to be too.