BetaForce – EchoCell 02
16:22 June 19th, 2049
200m below Sector 23
Toby woke with a pounding headache and a ringing in his ears. Cracking open an eye and groaning slightly, he looked around. He was lying in a bed surrounded by beeping equipment, and judging by the vague antiseptic smell, it was in some sort of hospital room. Along with from the bed he was lying in and the medical equipment, the room contained two other unoccupied beds and several computer displays which were currently turned off. A clock mounted on the wall opposite the bed indicated that he had been unconscious for over three hours. As he propped himself up on his elbows, he tried to recall what he was doing in hospital. Had he been in some sort of accident? Looking at himself, he didn’t seem to be injured, although he did notice that under the blanket he was stark naked.
As he tried to process what was going on, he began to remember the last few hours in flashes. Fragments of memory barely connected to one another. The UniCops at school. Vaulting over a four-meter barbed wire fence. Being chased through the streets. Being shot in the leg. Surviving a broken neck and crushed skull. The cop with the knife. Being stunned and paralysed. A cargo drone swerving off the road. The wet crunch as it hit the cop. The red smear being left behind then a flash of blinding white light.
Toby was now sitting bolt upright in near panic, his mind racing from one worst case scenario to the next. One of the two doors into the room opened and a young woman, no older than twenty backed into the room carrying something. She was wearing black jeans, black trainers and a loose-fitting white shirt. Her long blond hair was tied back into a ponytail. As she turned, Toby could see that she was wearing a silver chain around her neck and was carrying a digital clipboard with two cans of cola balanced on it in one hand and two shrink-wrapped sandwiches in the other. Whoever she was, she certainly didn’t fit the picture of the stereotypical UniCop.
Seeing that he was awake, the woman smiled and tossed one of the sandwiches over to him. “Thought you might be hungry. Didn’t know what you might like but cheese seemed the safest choice.” She followed up the sandwich with the cola can. “And you can never have too much liquid sugar in your system.”
“Er,” Toby began, “no offence, but who the hell are you, where the hell am I, and what the fuck happened to my clothes!”
She laughed as she pulled up a chair and began to munch on her sandwich. “Ok, in that order, my names Sarah and I’m the one who brought you here. You’re in a safe place where the Unity can’t find you and you’re clothes are in a plastic bag under the bed. You were soaking wet after that dumpster dive of yours. They were filthy and you’d have probably caught pneumonia or worse if we’d left them on you so I had them dried out.”
Toby sat back, only partially satisfied by Sarah’s answer. “Safe? One minute I’m being chased by Uni’s who want to kill for some reason, there’s a flash of light and then there’s a guy standing over me with a tranq gun. Before I can do anything he shoots me and then I wake up naked in a hospital bad. Lady, you got a funny idea of safe.”
“Sorry about that,” Sarah said apologetically, “we didn’t know the full extent of your abilities and Talbot didn’t want you panicking; you could’ve done serious damage to the base and yourself.”
“Huh?” Toby said, his forehead furrowed in confusion, “what do you mean abilities? And what am I doing here?”
Sarah looked at him carefully for a few seconds, then her eyes widened in realisation. “He doesn’t know,” she thought to himself, “he has no idea.”
The way she was looking at him unnerved Toby. “What?”
“When you arrived at school this morning, your attendance was registered by scanning your ID implant as you entered the classroom.”
She went to explain how the implants that every citizen of the Unity received shortly after their birth had a hidden function. They had the ability to test the blood of the host and look for certain genetic markers. They weren’t capable of a full DNA scan; all they were capable of was detecting the presence of active mutant genes. One in four people are born in dormant mutant genes, another fact that few people were aware of, and only in tiny majority were they ever activated. She paused and studied Toby’s confused expression. At first Sarah thought he didn’t get what she was trying to tell him, but she slowly began to realise that wasn’t it. Toby knew, or at least he suspected, the boy just didn’t want to admit it, especially to himself.
“There’s no easy way to say this,” she said, deciding to come straight to the point, “at eight fifteen this morning, as you entered your classroom, your implant was instructed to perform a routine genetic scan. Later that morning, the results were sent back to the Unity reporting that active mutant genes had been detected and a two man UniCop snatch squad was sent to arrest you.”
“I’m a … a mutant?” Toby asked, whispering and looking down at his hands, “but I can’t be.”
“Trust me; removing the implant from someone who regenerates as fast as you is not easy. As soon as I made an incision, you healed it back up.” Toby’s eyes widened as what she was telling him started to sink in. “It was a real hack job, I had to get someone to hold the hole open with their hands while I cut the implant out from under your heart.”
“You cut me open!” he shouted, staring at her in indignant shock.
“Of course,” Sarah said shrugging. “We put a fake implant in to replace the one we took out. You can’t reprogram the ones the Unity put in, but the one that’s in there now can be reprogrammed with a new ID with the right tools.”
Toby looked down again, his hand running across his bare chest where there no sign of a surgical scar. Deep down, as much as he might want to deny it, he knew that it was true. The fast healing cuts, leaping on to that cargo drone, recovering from a broken neck and a crushed skull, all of it made sense if he was a mutant; no normal human being could have done those things. “I feel sick,” he said quietly, looking pale.
Sarah consulted the display next to the bed and tapped a few things on the clipboard. “That’s a normal side-effect of the drugs. It should pass in an hour or two. We didn’t want you to wake up mid-op. THAT would have been messy.” She laughed at the last bit. Toby just grimaced meekly.
He sat in silence looking down, not even touching the unopened sandwich. Sarah got up and threw her empty wrapper in the trash before turning back to the boy. “Look kid, get dressed. Talbot, that big mean man who tranqed you, wants to talk to you and he can probably explain things better than I can. I’ll be waiting outside when you’re done.” She left him alone in the room, closing the door behind her.
His head was swimming with a thousand unasked and unanswered questions. Reaching under the bed, he pulled out the plastic bag containing his clothes. The dirty marks from the stagnant water were gone but there was still a slight discolouration around the bullet holes in his shorts, dried remnants of blood. At least they were dry. Still feeling a little numb, he pulled on the knee-length grey shorts and his red hooded top.
As he stood up, a sudden wave of nausea flooded over him. Looking around frantically, he saw the other door in the room was marked toilet. Clutching his mouth, he leapt over the bed and sprinted across the room. He threw the door open and just made it to the sink in time before he could no longer hold the contents of his stomach down, vomiting up his lunch. After a few heaves his stomach was empty and he gulped down some water from the sink tap to get rid of the acrid taste. Wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve, he looked in the mirror. His face was pale and his eyes puffy and red.
It was at that point that everything that he had been suppressing and avoided thinking about since all this had started finally came crashing down on to him. Toby Smith was a mutant and an enemy of the state; a freak and a traitor. The Unity would be looking for him now, and if they found him, they would probably kill him. He could never go home, that would be the first place they would look for. As far as his family was concerned, he might as well be dead. Knowing the Unity, they had probably already told his family that he’d been executed and his body incinerated in the city’s waste incinerator. His life, as he had known it, was over. His legs buckled at the knees and the tears that he could no longer contain finally burst free; he lay on the floor sobbing.
Sarah stood outside the door listening to the boy crying. “Poor kid,” she thought, “it’s not every day that you learn the authorities want you dead.” Thinking back, she remembered when the Unity had come for her five years ago. She hadn’t been much older than him and she’d cried for days, prepared to give anything to see her friends or her parents again.
After a few minutes, he seemed to calm down and he opened the door, joining her in the corridor. He’d cleaned himself up but he still seemed a little delicate. Sarah knew better than to push him about what had happened after she’d left him alone.
Sarah started walking down the corridor, Toby following silently behind. He glanced curiously at the walls as they walked. Unlike the clean and white walls of the infirmary, the walls out here were dirty and grey. The cracked concrete looked old and in places, faded and illegible markings were still visible on the wall. “Just where are we?”
“In a bunker 200 meters below ground,” said Sarah. “Apparently, this place was some sort of bomb shelter during the Cold War or something.”
“What’s the Cold War?”
“It was this big war between two countries. It happened before the Unification War but there was no actual fighting.”
“Hmph, don’t sound like much of a war,” Toby mumbled.
They passed several doors marked unsafe “Unsafe: Do Not Enter”. One corridor branching off from the one they were walking down was barred with wire mesh, beyond which Toby could see the rubble of a collapsed ceiling. The general state of repair didn’t exactly fill Toby with confidence about the bunkers structural stability.
Eventually, after a climbing flight of stairs, they emerged into a large and well lit room. The room was dominated by a large table in its centre surrounded by several chairs. At one end, a large video screen was mounted on the wall. It was currently showing what Toby assumed to be a dozen feeds from security cameras. Disks and data chips were scattered over the table. They were also not alone, two other people in the room waiting for them.
Sitting at the table was a boy not much older than Toby wearing ratty blue jeans, a white long sleeved t-shirt and an orange sweatshirt with cut-off sleeves. A deep scar crossed the brow of his nose, spanning the full width of his face just under his eyes. He was glaring at Toby for some reason, hostility in his eyes.
From across the room, a young Hispanic man waved and walked over. He looked to be about twenty and his long dark-red hair was held out of his face by a headband. Unlike Sarah and the boy at the table, he was dressed in a more militant style; wearing combat pants with an urban camouflage pattern, black trainers, a grey shirt and a tan coloured military style utility vest over the top. Tribal style sleeve tattoos covered his arms and he had a single gold earring in his left ear.
Sarah smiled and greeted him with a brief hug before turning back to Toby and introducing him. “Toby, this is Jared. He’s what you might call our wheelman.” Jared smiled and grasped Toby’s hand. “He’s also our resident mechanical genius. Pretty much keeps everything here running.”
“If it’s got wings, I can fly it. If it has wheels, I can drive. If it ‘aint got neither I can still make it break the speed limit and evade the cops.” Jared boasted with a slight grin. “I saw how you handled that UniCop in the alleyway. Pretty cool. You ever play baseball? You’ve got a great pitching arm kid, nailed that cop right in the face with that rock.”
“Not really, I’m more into combat hockey,” Toby replied, still a little bewildered.
“Great, another one. Does no one on the East Coast play baseball anymore?”
While Jared and Toby talked, the boy at the table pushed his chair back and moved over to the group. As he approached, Sarah rolled her eyes. “And this charming young man is…”
“So this is the little runt whose arse we saved?” the boy interrupted looking Toby right in the eye, an obvious challenge. To Toby’s surprise, he had a British accent.
“As I was saying, this is Tommy and…” Sarah attempted to continue.
“What’s your problem huh?” Toby countered, squaring up to Tommy. The two boys now stood only a few inches apart.
“I can’t believe we risked our lives for this … this runt.” Tommy spat dismissively. “I mean he’s nothing more than some brainwashed arco-brat; force fed that subliminal shit they shovel out in the schools.”
“Hey, maybe you should leave him…”Jared began, although there was little chance he would finish the sentence before one of the two boys cut him off.
“I don’t have to stand here and listen to this.” Toby turned and started to walk away.
Tommy laughed before continuing in a fake American accent. “Yeah, why don’t go home and cry to mommy?”
Toby stopped in his tracks; his shoulders hunched and his fists balled. He turned and faced the Tommy, his face flushed red. “What did you say?” He said slowly and deliberately.
“You heard me, why don’t you just curl up on the floor again and cry.” He punctuated his statement with a sharp shove to Toby’s shoulder.
Jared looked at Sarah and mouthed “here we go” before looking over at the man that had quietly entered the room at the start of the argument. The man appeared to be in his late twenties with short brown hair and brown stubble on his chin. He wore dark grey cargo pants, black combat boots and an open dark grey khaki jacket. On the right shoulder was a patch of the old US flag. Underneath the jacket was a simple white t-shirt. Leaning against the wall, he was watching the confrontation with bemused interest.
“Touch me again,” Toby said calmly but with a hint of menace “and you’ll be sorry.”
Tommy tried to shove him in the shoulder again but Toby batted the hand away. “Ooh, tough guy.”
“Back off scar face.” The instant Toby uttered those words he regretted them. Tommy’s face flashed red with anger and he lashed, aiming a punch to at Toby’s face. The younger boy instantly caught Tommy’s fist in a blur of motion. With his free hand he shoved Tommy in the chest, forcing him back a meter. Without hesitation, Tommy leapt forward kicking out at Toby’s left side. Toby span to the side, avoiding the blow, using the momentum to respond with a spin kick of his own. Tommy, the more experienced fighter, stopped the spin dead by grabbing on to Toby’s foot with both hands. He lost his grip when Toby jumped back, landing in a crouch. Tommy adopted a martial arts stance as Toby charged forward.
As the two boys fought Sarah and Jared moved over to the man. “So Talbot,” Sarah began, “can those two actually hurt each other?”
Talbot shrugged, “Short answer no. Long answer yes but not permanently.”
“Where’s Kai?” asked Jared.
“He’s out getting supplies. It’s handy being the only one not wanted by the government for being a terrorist.”
Toby and Tommy exchanged a flurry of punches and kicks; both seemed evenly matched. Tommy seemed to rely on pure hitting power whereas Toby was the more agile of the two. After a few minutes, both boys were sporting rapidly fading bruises but surprisingly few blows had connected.
Talbot stepped away from the wall, put two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. “Ok you two, that’s enough. Break it up.” Instantly, Tommy somersaulted back from the fight, obviously showing off. His entire demeanour changed, all trace of hostility vanished and He held his hands up in a placating gesture.
“Easy there mate, just testing ya,” he managed between breaths. Unlike Toby, Tommy was still trying to catch his breath. “Haven’t had a work out like that in a long while.” Toby, a little confused, looked at the other boy who was now grinning. “Sorry about that whole cry baby thing, no hard feelings right?” He took a step forward holding his hand out.
Toby, still a little wary, stepped forward and took the hand. “If you can forget about scar face thing then I guess we can call it even.”
“Sure. Looks like I’ve finally found someone in this group worth sparring with. Now, if I’m not mistaken,” he continued while flicking a look at Talbot, “I’m about to be told to go and clean the hydroponic waste vats.” In response, Talbot just raised an eyebrow in an unspoken order. Without complaint, he made his way to the door. As he backed out, he turned to Toby and raised his hand in mock salute.
“Oh yeah, welcome to BetaForce.”
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2008, in BetaForce, Fiction and tagged cyberpunk, darkfuture, Fiction, future, hero, heroic, magic, mutant, mutants, police state, sci-fi, superhero, supers, totalitarian, young, young hero. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.