Option X


Gunfire shook my office. Three holes in the doorway, and if I were sat where I usually do there would have been three very close together points in time where my body would have been co-located with a slightly deformed piece of lead moving at supersonic velocities. Magnum, from the look of things. Point five-o AE. Of course, I'm not sat where I usually do because I anticipated this. I anticipate so much.

My would-be assassin bursts through the door. At the same time, I send a bullet of my own at his leg. I know full well where it will be and where he will fall. I know precisely what I will have to do to make this particular hitman tell me who he is working for and why he is working for them. I know how to ensure that word gets around that I am not to be touched. But I cannot make use of everything I know. Like a man carrying the first atomic bomb, I have responsibilities beyond my station. The gunman talks. The agency hired him. Of course. That makes it so much easier. The agency is a term used by at least six separate departments of five governments when they wish to engage in behaviour of a questionable nature. Specifically, when directing that behaviour towards beings like myself. Mutants.

The genetic code of every single species is encoded with an expiry date. The idea is that it will coexist with it's successor for a few short lifetimes then it will die off. Every species is genetically programmed for extinction. Humanity is no different. Four generations from now, humans will produce mutants and mutants alone. Humankind as we know it will die off.

Some groups are trying to make this transition as easy as possible. Others, less so. I fall somewhere in between. That's why the smoked glass on my door marks me as a "Freelance Operative". Go anywhere, do anything, only occasionally on the side of angels. Then again, that's what I am supposed to do. I should know.

I lock the door behind me, and make my way through old storm tunnels to the basement of a closed Cantonese takeout that myself and a few others use as a base of operations. Nobody else is there. Odd. It would appear that the agency has decided to go after all of us. Next thing you know they'll invade Westchester. This does make things harder, however. I am not a field operative unless I need to be. Today, I need to be. Fortunately, I learn fast. I take a pair of Balance's pistols to replace my own and head for the surface.

Wind and rain in my face. The pattern of raindrops is entirely chaotic in nature, so many outside factors influencing them that prediction is impossible. It's disquieting, knowing that if I concentrated, I could predict every raindrop in a storm. Or the position of every person on a New York street five minutes before they got there. On the other hand, marshalling my thoughts for so long is less fun than these random internal monologues. Fun. What a bizarre concept. Only sentient species could comprehend it, of course.

The alley behind the back of one specific bar is where the agency hires it's muscle. The gentleman in question carries himself with a studied normalcy. Very well trained to blend in, probably Spetznaz. It's not that hard for me to make my presence known. I use my codename, if only to reinforce that I am Other, not like him.

"My name is Starburst. You tried to have me executed earlier tonight. You failed."

His accent is pure New York. If he is Russian special forces, he's one of their best.

"We know more than you think, Starburst. We know about your underground organisation, and have neutralised it with specific ease. Our agents this time were metahuman, grown in tanks and programmed down in their DNA to be perfect counters to your abilities."

"Your breeding program failed."

"In your case. The assassin should have scrambled your mind with a psychic burst designed to increase levels of endorphins before you registered his presence."

"Your ignorance is astounding," A bullet through the agent's leg. "Please don't try reaching for your weapon again. Silly little man, your dog failed because I don't have a brain. I have a caged star that generates sixteen billion brilliant thoughts every second. My mental reaction time makes milliseconds feel like years. This scenario was planned for long before now. You will impart this information to your superiors. You may have taken down Operation X, but you have yet to exterminate me."

I turn and leave. Operation X is gone now, and they will simply rig my office to explode if I were stupid enough to return. I need a new group of associates. They lend valued support in the field, and bring understanding valuable concepts. Like mercy. Sometimes, it's hard to remember the word as anything other than a dictionary definition. Every time I think like that I am reminded of how inhuman I am. I'm not sorry.


My name's John. I'm sat here watching what remains of my skin slough off as brown gunk, and I'm trying not to throw up. And there is nothing that I could do about it. Hank isolated me early, told me this day would happen ever since he had a chance to study me the first time. So now I'm sat on the can, watching my mutation complete itself, and incidentally that slick-looking puddle in the sink used to be my face and I don't know what the fuck is going on any more.

There's nothing like watching your skin be replaced to rip your self image into shreds. The first time this happened was four years ago, when my arms and legs swelled and started to rot away. It took two days, and when it ended by arms and legs were silvery black supercarbon. The bones had been replaced with the same substance, and if I concentrated I could exude it over the rest of my skin, as a kind of armor. It hurt like hell to push out this stuff through my pores, but I eventually learned to control it. By the time I came to the Institute, I could even change the color for a short time back to skin tone.

Hank told me that my mutation was a staged one. First I'd changed, and if I kept studying I could shape my arms and legs. He said that one day, I'd lose the rest of my skin and bones, left only with this hexite substance. I never expected it to happen when I was being trained for Operation X. A deep-cover job. My first proper field assignment. All gone to hell because my right shoulder fell off during a combat simulation.

Most of the skin has gone now. Just a few scraps, decomposing into a water-soluble ooze that I'm washing down the sink. The towel's going to need a soak, though. I daren't look into the mirror for fear of what will look back. There's a knocking at my door. Eyes shut, I finish wiping my new skin down and answer the door. Nobody there, but a card held onto the door with a thumb tack. Precise handwriting. Signed with a star.

Half an hour later I'm at Lou's Tavern. Starburst approaches me. He's the tactician of Operation X, a supergenius with a star for a brain. I gather they have an arrangement with the owner as nobody looks at me twice. I catch my reflection in a mirror and try to avoid retching. How they do is beyond me.

"Starburst. What's happened? I thought Balance was doing this kind of thing."

"The rules have changed. Balance is dead, as are the rest of Operation X. I'm calling in all the trained agents I can. Operation X is gone, and I want you to help me with it's successor."

"Slow down, that's a lot of information to take in at once..."

"Deal with it, Edge. From now on, you have two choices. You can stand up, go back to the Institute and end up being studied and maybe placed as a field agent working to do location and rescuing, maybe teaching others about what it means to be still partly human, how coexistence can happen. Or you can remain here, let me buy you a drink, cast your old identity aside and make things happen."

"I... I'm staying. I washed my face into the sink earlier today. I can't pretend my life is going to be as easy as it was. I'm with you."

"The agency used gene-tailored bloodhounds to kill the old group. They know I am alive. My office has been compromised, but the old operations centre is still secure. Meet me there in two hours. Bring clothes, weapons, anything you can fit into a sports bag. Before you leave, give this tape to Henry. Welcome to Option X, Edge."

With that, he stood up and left me with the dregs of a beer in front of me. I left, heading down alleyways for the most part. People don't like the thought that mutants walk the same street as them. Then again, gang-bangers don't like people with silver-black skin walking in on one of their deals.

Gunfire. Low-calibre, meant to hurt people, not punch through police armor. Even in my old armoured state that wasn't a problem. Now it barely registers more than rain. I untie my hair, unconsciously shaping it into a forest of flexible blades that can cut steel without a problem. My left hand closes around three rounds in my pocket. Fingers form a crude clip, supercarbon skin flowing into an approximation of rifling. My thumb is a firing pin. My right hand is a sword.

Six of them. The blade is plunged through the first gunman's shoulder. Five. One breaks a club on my suddenly spiky thigh, without noticeable effect. I point at three more and they die as hypersonic flechettes tear skin from bone. Two left. I hear a shriek as the club-holder grabs my hair. Five soft thumps, four fingers and a thumb. I flick my head, feeling only minimal resistance, and hear the louder thud of a collapsing body. One. The remaining kid is barely seventeen. He's soiled himself rather than helping his companions against what must seem to be a god of death.

I grow a third limb from my right shoulder blade and hoist this creature into my vision.

"You just tried to kill part of Option X. Tell everyone how stupid you are. I will not be as kind next time."

The entire thing, from the first gunshot to be saying those words took less than five seconds. I am a living weapon, my body a tool for ending violence directed against me. I leave no skin cells, no hairs with telltale DNA strands. I have no fingerprints. I can't help but think how long it will be before I no longer have a face. I wait until the punk is out of sight and double over, throwing up what little I had in me.


Just when the day couldn't get any worse, I see them heading to the back wall. Old stuff but valuable, Rolling Stones vinyls and the like. Two of them. One in white, short auburn hair, British accent. The other was a leather and t-shirt kind of guy, from back when long hair and longer coats were fashionable. His skin is silver-black, reflecting warped versions of album covers.

I cast my sense out towards them. The man in white has a hard skull, like it's holding something inside, but it otherwise normal. The other has woven tubes of supercarbon instead of a dermal layer. I smile and nod and hope that they don't realise. No such luck.

The man in white looks to me. I know him, though I've not seen him. Starburst, he's called. The other isn't someone I've ever come across before. I manoeuvre myself over to them. I'm impressed by how natural my walk looks. Normally it takes a lot of work just getting a stable bipedal form. Starburst looks at me, those green eyes shining from within and letting me know he means business.

"Listen closely, Alchemist. I know that's you, and you have a lot of information to take in. The short form is that Operation X is no more. I know you were being trained as a possible field agent until your body finally dissolved, and I wouldn't call on you unless it was urgent. I need you, and you need us."

"What? I heard about Operation X, but I thought- I mean, I, uh, was lead to understand that there wasn't going to be a replacement."

"You understand correctly. That is because I am not sat here with Edge. We are not talking to someone who, for the past nine months, has had no physical body. And we are most certainly not talking about your recruitment by an effectively freelance group that will be engaged in black operations work, saving mutants from situations nobody else can. This is not the place that a group by the name of Option X will be using as a base of operations, and you do not have to be there in one hour if you wish to be a part of this. I trust I am making myself perfectly clear?"

I nod my head rather mechanically, and stand. Already I've had a group of "human supremacists" in the shop talking about how flammable the place could be unless I 'work on my clientele'. If I were to retaliate, by removing an arm, or a face, I would be the one in the wrong, not them. But that's the way the law is these days. First, I close the store. Then a moment's concentration leaves the body I was using rendered back into it's component molecules. Water in the pipes and drains, carbons in the wooden floor, most everything else as trace molecules in the air. Its a pity, that was a good body. I had time to work on it.

Up in the room I call my own, I settle into a set of mechanical waldo arms with video cameras and manipulators. It's hideously clunky, but it offers me access to everything here without having to work at shifting everything molecule by molecule. I synthesise a simple bag from the bed sheet, and start filling it with the random items I've come to associate with my life. My old high-school yearbook. I was voted "Most likely to own a second hand record store". Strange how things turn out. A photo album. The trophy from when the band I was in won the Battle of the Bands. My uniform from the Institute. All the things I dare not deconstruct, because I don't want them being copies. I want them to be original. There may be the same molecules there, in the same places, but I would know for a time that they had ceased to exist, and I couldn't live with my life like that.

The Institute had me pegged as an Operation X agent practically since I set foot through the door. Able to disassemble and reassemble matter on the molecular level, I could create my own equipment and make evidence vanish. I was the ultimate search-and-rescue agent, set for the typical life of excitement and danger. Until...

I can still see the mirror when I concentrate. A training session had left me in a coma, my body crippled. I'd never walk again, and only had use of one arm. I had to rely on other people when I soiled myself. So I looked in the mirror and decided I would not live that way, a shadow of my former self. I had control over molecules, I could rebuild my body. I was so stupid. So overconfident. I watched in the mirror as my body disintegrated into it's component molecules, my face literally drifting onto the breeze in my room. Halfway through, as my nose dissolved, I realised I couldn't rebuild my body. I would never be me again. If I could have stopped, I would.

It took me an hour to hastily assemble pigment and paper for people to know I was a psychic presence, not dead but no longer human. An hour to write a note. I had to learn how to write without a pen. Without eyes. All I had was a sense of molecules. It took work, but I constructed my first body there. Rubbery skin, no internal structure and joints which lacked flexibility, but it gave people an idea of where I was. I hated it. I studied anatomy, and eventually learned to make better bodies for myself. I got out as soon as I could and bought the record store to give me an anchor in the real world. I had to get back out, amongst people. Remind myself of what I was trying so hard to be.

I've never been able to make a body last for a week. And no matter how much I try, I'll never have my face again. The waldoes make a good enough frame. I add a dermal layer and clothing quickly, and flex the face until it feels human enough. I then leave the store for the last time, being sure to lock up. This was me trying to regain something I could never have, my normal life. If I can find just one kid that can have that, I have succeeded. Option X needs me.


It feels like a Monday today. I stopped bothering with a calendar six months ago, when my forearms and chest sprouted black orbs that could alter the flow of time around me. When I can make a second last for an hour, calendars and weekdays lose their meaning. But it definitely feels like a Monday. The slow feeling, when you're waiting for the subway in to work and it's making you wait and you want to go back and have one more day of weekend but you can't. The Monday feeling. And where am I but waiting in a subway station. Oh, how poetic.

A train comes in, but it's not the one I want. My reflection in the dirty aluminium of the train. The once face that will never grow old, hair up in a bun, blending in with the office workers in the suit skirt I dug out this morning. Damn, I shouldn't be this nervous. It's just an interview. Nice, normal job. With my talents, it's nothing that should tax me for time. I just have to hope they don't ask me to work overtime. I might not be able to stop laughing.

I'm not laughing. There's what feels like a gun jammed into my back. I'm marched off back through the crowds, like I just got off the train. My pulse is racing. I don't even know what the gun wants, I'm just going where I'm being prodded. Down a little-used entrance, where the only witnesses are sleeping off their cheap vodka on the steps. No reliable witnesses. Makes sense for whatever he wants. She wants. A rasping voice, definitely female, from behind me.

"Turn around, Julia."

I turn, silent, complying. Maybe that way I won't get shot. I can slice time thin, but outrunning a bullet is still not something I want to try without practice. One woman, holding the gun. Nondescript clothes, short hair, looks almost military. Behind her, a man with another pistol on me, and another woman. It takes a minute to register. The other woman looks exactly like me. That sends a shiver down my spine. The first woman, the leader-type, is talking again.

"You're not getting out of this. We can't risk Starburst making contact with you, and we can't risk you being involved with any of the underground. So as much as it pains me to say this, we are going to have to kill you."

"Who's 'Starburst'? I'm not going for an interview with a candy maker..."

"Nice try. Now, don't bother with any last minute heroics," The gun's pointing right between my eyes. I don't think I've ever been this scared. Knowing that I'm going to die. It's not true what they say. My life isn't flashing in front of my eyes. There's nothing in my mind, just emptiness. I couldn't slice time thin enough to escape this. Nothing I can do.

Then her gun hand falls off.

I don't stop to think, I slice as hard as I can. Relativistic effects take over, light around me undergoing the Doppler effect as I ram my knee into the other gunman's groin. I'm working with time, so I'm not accruing mass, but the sheer shock of suddenly having his testicles knocked into him is going to put him down. My look-alike is is a headlock before I stop slicing. Then I see him. Totally black, wearing some kind of biker gear, swinging a blade that's in place of his left hand through the neck of my would-be assassin. Blood spurts and gushes. I feel like I'm going to lose my breakfast. I slice reflexively, breaking down in a minute that lasts an hour for me as I try to deal with the events of the last four seconds.

"Whoever you are, thank you for saving me but bear in mind I have had enough freaky shit for today. I don't want to hear anything you have to say. I just want to get to my interview. I just want my life to go back to normal."

"It stopped being normal a long time ago. It's only now that the world is taking notice. As an example, the girl you are holding is a construct. Something grown in a tank to replace you when you died. It's not dangerous. It's been encoded to take the memories from a dying person. It would have replaced you when you died, but now it's got little more than a brainstem controlling autonomous functions."

"NO! Just leave me be!"

"The agency will send others after you. Even if you disposed of this cheap stand in, they could send another. And a better assassin. One that could neutralise your own localised time-field. They're growing metahumans in vats, here. This is not normal trouble, this is more shit than you can possibly imagine poised above you. The agency doesn't like mutants trying to live normally, and they really don't like powerful mutants. Now you can drop everything, turn around and get on your train to your interview. But do you honestly think you can live a normal life any more?"

"What's the alternative? I turn around and go with you and become hunted? Throw in with some underground that just wants to exploit me for what I can do?"

"Lady, I'm here from a group so far underground we're paying rent to Satan Himself. And we want you to help us help more people like you. You can do that. You know you can."

"Even if I wanted to, what am I supposed to do? I can't leave everything back at my apartment. I can't just vanish."

"You wouldn't have to. You get an hour, then come here. Bring everything you want to keep."

He handed me a piece of paper.

"If I wanted to join you, that is. But... who are you anyway?"

"Name's Edge. Welcome to Option X."


100 miles East of Krasnoyask, Siberia:

Starburst ducks low as he looks out of the helicopter window. The chopper is ex-Soviet Army, cold and uncomfortable. Inside, the three other Option X members share a sceptic look. Alchemist is the only one not kitted out for a Siberian winter, his body of choice made from sheet-steel and carbon fibre. Edge shifts his arm into and out of fractal patterns pensively. Unlike the others, it's his first time outside of America. Julia Carter is holding up well. For someone so used to hiding what she is, she is adapting to life in the shadows better than anyone could expect.

Just as Edge manages to finish twisting his arm into something that should surely exist in more than four dimensions, Starburst turns to the others.

"We're here. Soviet Science City Thirteen."

Option X headquarters, one day earlier:

Starburst stands addressing the others. Edge is looking bored, the others attentive.

"The agency used tailored metahumans to eliminate Operation X. Vat-grown, with tailored abilities designed to counter everything we could throw at them. Or at least, almost everything. The agent that set them going, at least the one I dealt with, was Russian. This, plus some further research leads me to believe that they used an old weapons research centre."

"How in the hell can you be so sure?" Julia's taken up smoking to deal with the stress, and the smell riles Edge. He interrupts before Starburst can speak.

"He does have good reason. I've seen him look at a set of juggling balls for one second and start tossing running chainsaws and flaming torches like he's been doing it for most of his life. If he says that's where they are being grown, I figure it's worth checking out."

"Thank you. As I was saying, we're looking for Soviet Science City Thirteen. It was one of the sites the Russians moved their heavy manufacturing to during the Second World War. With the onset of the cold war the site was converted to weapons research, specifically genetics and metahuman research. That would be one of the only locations they could find the facilities they need.

"Alchemist, when we get the chopper you'll have to be able to give us hitting power. I can't talk us through everything. We leave in five hours."

Soviet Science City 13:

The buildings all feel the same to Alchemist. Stone blocks and corrugated iron all over, three large warehouses, a couple of smaller buildings and a single guard post, interesting for the different texture of the machine gun's metal. Barracks for the scientists. A single bar, the only recreational area in this isolated place, currently deserted. His mind extends, falling through the false floors to the large underground chambers full of advanced technology and strange chemicals. Grating steel echoes from the buildings as he shakes his head.

"There's what feels like a command post over that way, though whatever's in there should have noticed us landing. Something's very wrong. The entire surface part of this place is running on automatic. There's the machinery for the sounds, and of course the generators, but there isn't a single living being above ground."

Julia frowns, looking around. "A ghost town. But they'd keep the machinery running, and there'd have to be people around, or that looked to be around, when they brought the fuel for the generators, the food and the equipment and other supplies. They can't all be underground for the rest of the time, they'd look wrong when the supplies come by."

The air around her shimmered for the briefest of moments. "Holograms. A day before the supplies are due to arrive, they bring up damn big heaps of electronics and stash it in the warehouses. Emitters are placed wherever they can. Then people are projected, cycling every five hours. The people that retrieve the supplies come up from underground, saying they've had the night watch for the past week."

Starburst nods, though Edge and Alchemist are busy exchanging rather freaked-out looks. "That would seem to be expedient. And an interesting development of your abilities."

"I can do a lot of things you wouldn't expect. If we can find the way down, shouldn't we be getting on with closing this place down?"

"Indeed. Alchemist? Locate the way down. Remember, this is psychological as much as anything else. Make a big bang when you go in. Edge, you follow. If it moves, disable it but try not to kill it. A living weapon should know the value of life. Miss Carter, you and I shall investigate what has actually been going on down there."

It didn't take long for Alchemist to announce the group's arrival. The heavy wooden trapdoor shattered under the onslaught of fists that are crude blocks of steel. Edge grows extra arms as he enters, lost in the knowledge that none of those now raising their hands or weapons would walk away from this unscathed. Alchemist imagines himself flexing and extends his talent, the guns arrayed against him dissolving and adding their molecules to his already-impressive body. Edge is busy striking against the soldiers foolish enough to think of attacking the pair. He's lost, his mind closing down to a state of pure instinct. Soon enough he would be back to normal and no doubt would hate himself for doing what now seems like it must be done. By the time Starburst and Julia enter the fight is just about over.

The four walk through rows of tanks filled with bubbling green liquid and mostly deformed human beings. Large hoses connect each tank up to monitoring stations along the walls. At the far end is what looks to be the main control centre. Starburst knows something is wrong. It's something in the air, a combination of low-level sensory stimuli clamouring for his attention. He ducks half a second before a flight of razorblades would have perforated his right lung. This whole thing was too easy. Someone has woken the few beings in the tanks that still count as alive.

Edge is being swamped under bodies, one man splitting off copies in a strange kind of mitosis to weight down the living weapon. Alchemist is trapped in a psionic cage, unable to move his mind outside his stiff, lifeless body. The mental shock of that is going to take time to recover from. Starburst can hear Edge screaming as his consciousness comes back to the fore and he is buried under bodies of his own creation. Julia is nowhere to be seen. A Siamese triplet, three torsos sharing one pelvis and set of legs is glowing with power. It must have disassociated her from the time stream. More razors. The woman throwing them is dripping green fluid more than the others, and as Starburst watches it condenses into the shards of steel. Not only that, but a pressure on his mind from somewhere. Something is forcing its way into his head, stealing valuable processing time from his psyche. Without the flexibility of his vast intelligence, it becomes impossible for Starburst to think straight. Blood flows from his nose and ears. Razors lacerate his left leg.

It takes no effort whatsoever. Alchemist knows what he has to do. His body is static, which reminds him just how far he has come. His captor's mistake is that he doesn't need to be able to 'reach' what he effects. He just needs to see it. There's no control when he rends one of the monitoring station into clouds of random molecules, but the distraction is enough. The cage is being generated by a creature that's mostly head, swimming impotently in it's vat as the life support gives out. With one burst of power, Alchemist returns it to the dust from whence it came. Starburst is up as his mind comes back to speed. The razor-woman takes one bullet, the dividing man another as he turns to see what is going on. Each clip is methodically emptied into the bodies.

Alchemist leads Edge up through the trapdoor, whilst Starburst rounds on the triplet.

"I know what you did to Julia. The join in your body houses a plasma reactor which has warped space time just enough to bump her out of synch with us. The only way you could power that is if your blood were solar matter. I am asking you nicely to bring Julia back. I can cause you to die with less effort than it takes to stare hard. Your choice."

The triplet collapses and Julia fades into view. She's already heading for the office. Inside, there's one person. Growths on his forearms glow as Julia enters but she is too fast for him, slamming his arms against one of the walls.

"Why? Why are you doing this, you sick bastard?"

A twisted grin on the overseer's face. "When I was fourteen, my parents saw the coming of the mutants. They knew their child could never be as strong, as tough or as intelligent. I was destined to live in their shadow. This was not good enough for them. My eighteenth birthday is when I had the first transplant. The mutant who had these arms before me claimed to be the defender of Moskva. My eyes came from a Nigerian girl who could see everything from gamma waves to high-end microwaves. I have had parts of mutants surgically implanted no fewer than six times. Two of those the donors were sill alive. I devised most of the processes. That is why the agency paid me to create their little supermen. It is just like Allensen said. The mutants have come because they fear anything being more powerful than they are. Cowardice. Pure and simple."

Julia shook her head. "NO. You're wrong. You have to be." Before the overseer could say more she struck, crushing his windpipe in one blow.


Option X headquarters:

Since returning from Siberia, things have been quiet. Alchemist had the time and made himself a human-esque body. Starburst cannot help but worry about that. He can understand intellectually the need to retain one's humanity, the benefits are obvious. But there is also the worry that Alchemist is trying to deny the scope of his abilities, and if that happens in the field, the rest of the team may be hurt. Fortunately, it seems to be providing stability, which is confirmed as necessary when Starburst thinks his way through what the ex-man is going through. It takes seconds to fully understand the viewpoint. To be a bodiless psionic cloud, capable of moving and rearranging molecules, but only capable of perceiving those same molecules and their interactions with each other unless he possesses an object capable of basic sense-reception. A sidetracked thought brings up the point that "possess" is such a bad word for the situation as applies to Alchemist, as it implies that another mind is being subjugated as in the case of telepaths shunting their consciousnesses into the minds of others. "Inhabit" would work, and is chosen. It is important that Alchemist retain ties to his old life, and his humanity, simply to avoid insanity. However, should it ever reach the point of probable liability it will be reassessed.

Julia is one of the strangest to analyse. Whilst Starburst's mind makes the world seem to go past in slow-motion unless he keeps himself distracted, she actually alters time. From what he is able to glean, she is able to dilate time in a small bubble around her, extending seconds so that, to her, they minutes or longer. How much of a dilatory effect she can generate appears linked to the amount of stress she is under, but the precise nature of the orbs, and just what they can do in addition to "slicing" time is still an unknown. It's annoying, to have an unknown quantity such as this, but the nature of space-time is that it will at least make a reasonably long-term distraction. Potentially dark-matter shunts? Also interesting is if the bubble around her can be controlled to affect only parts of other beings. Though Julia herself is outside of the flow of time, the same does not hold true for anyone else, and for her to be able to dilate away ten years of a person's life would be a very useful tool. However, even more than Alchemist, she clings to the idea that she is human at base, and thus would not see her abilities in that way.

Edge is source of perturbation. His mutation has made his body into a living weapon. Unfortunately, he is not best prepared to be what amounts to an instrument of death. He is, inside, the least comfortable with his abilities. He can use them without problem when someone is in danger or there is a good chance he will be killed if he does not. In situations where that is not the case he must rely on gut instinct, riding the endorphin wave through the violence that is needed. Once that wave ends and his thinking mind reasserts itself, he quickly enters a state of shock and self-loathing. Short of finding ways to extend the span of the killing high, the best course of action would be to remind him that not all weapons are lethal in use. When he becomes used to thinking in terms of incapacitation as well as death, it may be worthwhile to suggest that he make use of a second personality-state. By detaching his rational mind from what goes on in the throes of the endorphin rush—perhaps by suggesting that he reshape his face into a featureless mask when he feels it coming on?—it will be possible for him to detach the idea of him-as-massacre from his self-image.

Finally, Starburst's thoughts turn inward. His brain generates an immense amount of ideas, and most of those ideas are derived from previous ideas, thus he may follow a train of thought. However, he can do so in parallel as well as in serial. The fact that he generates ideas, as opposed to just thoughts, means that wild concepts and highly improbable outcomes may be generated to be matched with the existing criteria. Without that, he would just be a supercomputer with a human face. With that spark, he is honestly intelligent, a thinking being capable of not only realising his own intuition but also where it comes from and what it implies. However, even this has its drawbacks. Whilst he understands, academically, what it means to be human it is harder and harder to connect with any human. They don't think things through nearly enough, they don't realise fully what they are doing. And the only thing worse than that is when they think they have thought everything through, like when the agency decided to get rid of Operation X. This makes him less human than his team-mates and he understands that this is a weakness as much as a strength, but it is the way he must be.


Option X Headquarters. Friday afternoon:

"Lady, gentleman and bodiless psionic entity, I give you New York's Battery Park." Starburst strides towards the map, a pointer in hand. To Edge, he looks just like the doctors did when they explained the nature of his mutation. "Note the dock, the remembrance grounds, and the subway station. Also note the nice new structure, Castle Clinton."

Julia frowns. "I've never heard it called that before."

"In 1994 the United States president wanted a bolthole. He chose New York City, the largest city in America, as a means of hiding in plain sight. A bunker was built underneath Battery Park. The eventual hope was for an underground connection between the White House and this hideout. It finally got approval, and the bunker part was finished in 1998."

Alchemist's voice is synthesised, a small system inside the throat of his newest pseudobody. "Unfortunately, he couldn't keep his dick to himself. The investigation into him pulled up a lot of money being sunk into this project, but there was nothing to show for it. In the end, he baulked and decided to open a hotel on the land, with the bunker being the hidden basement. The way the place was built, it looked like a castle, and as he was the one that funded the development to hide his little getaway, those in the know call the place `Castle Clinton'."

"I... see. I don't want to ask how you know."

A grin flickers over Starburst's face, but it's brief by his standards. "Maybe one day you'll meet him.

"Castle Clinton is partly our objective. Word has it that a group of pure-human lunatics uses the top layers of the bunker to ship in some technology they're buying from a group of rogue Japanese technologists. Whatever it is, we really rather have to secure it. Alchemist, you and I will do just that. Whatever it is, my money is on it being highly dangerous and this is just the kind of thing I set us up to do. On the other hand, there is some rather more high-profile work. A group of these lunatics are holding two mutants hostage in the subway station. There's enough explosives to send all of the park to Hell and back if their demands about mutant registration and segregation are not met. They're trapped the entrances and would die for their cause. Edge, Julia, see to it that the mutants there are returned safely.

"We'll go in by boat. Nobody will be expecting us."

Battery Park, New York City. Midnight:

The dock is quiet, and few people notice a private boat tying up in a nicely secluded area. The team splits, having planned their entry routes. The cops will be concentrating on the subway entrance, rather than the hotel, so Alchemist and Starburst take a relaxed, nonchalant approach. Edge and Julia, however, start bickering almost immediately.

"I'm telling you, if we go in by the ventilation system we'll have more of a chance."

"It's so cliché. They'd have trapped the grates. I can disarm the eyebeams while I slice, but it'll still take me a while to let you in."

"I'll take the vents. I've been concentrating on making myself non-eutactic, if nothing else they won't have trapped the ceiling vents and I'll drop on top of them."

"Leaving me to be shot."

"Depends how fast I am. And how fast you are."


* * *

As they wander off, Alchemist tilts his head at Starburst. It's the first time he's had such control of a body as to be able to mimic human motion. "Why did you not want me mentioning Broadband?"

"Security. We can't have everyone knowing from the off that we're working with a living computer."

"That doesn't make sense."

"We won't be captured. I can be sure of this if I concentrate. I cannot say the same about the others. Nobody can know about her, or the entire group is compromised."

"I can see that. Sniper in the wall alcove and an automated turret hastily set up in the third-floor window for when we come in the main gate. Another sniper in the tree to your left."

Starburst's pistols are in his hands. "I think our arrival has been anticipated. Let's let our snipers get a nice, good look while you take from the wall. We'll need another door to avoid the turret. They aren't expecting that, at best a police tank so it's loaded with armour-busting rounds. Anything not going through the door gets shot by him—" The crack of a pistol round being fired twice in swift succession "—and him."

* * *

Edge and Julia have to force their way through the spectators as the gunshots sound. Police are crowding in, their lines tightening... which means nothing, really. In the quarter-second when there is a gap, Julia slices to get them a minute in which to walk leisurely through. Three people, poster-children for Aryan trailer-trash, hold semi-automatic firearms in the stairwell behind a poorly erected barricade. Steam rises out of an obvious grate, and the pair split to put their plan into action.

The first thing the police officers on the scene know is a towering shadow of a man appearing out of nowhere and throwing himself down the stairwell. To their disbelief, his forearms distort and stretch in front of him to large, bullet-proof shields. None of them register the blur at the grate. Julia already has a plan, to go in via the roof-vents and pull the plug on the explosives themselves while Edge does what he does.

She catches a glimpse of him as she descends. One of the gunners is pinned under his arm-shields. Another is being held by a claw extending out of the top of Edge's shin. A third tries to shoot a crate, most likely the explosives, but Edge has his leg positioned just right. His foot flows back and out of his heel into a pick-point and an axe-kick finishes the task. The gun falls, and bounces down the rest of the steps. Once. Twice. On the apex of the third time, the butt of the gun passes through one of the beams that triggers the explosives.

* * *

As the snipers fall, Alchemist reaches out to the wall. He shunts a lot of the mass into dust at the base, but also wraps a lot of the stone into his own body, giving him the increased punch needed to break through the weakened wall with one swing of a fist. More of the dust into his frame, making it a real powerhouse as the sentries inside get over their shock and fire at the large, misshapen creature that's just broken down their wall. The bullets knock chips off the stonework armouring Alchemist's body, but don't damage anything vital. For his part, a well-applied fist breaks the ribs of one and shatters the arm of another. They both fall.

Dust fills the air as he sheds the now useless mass. Starburst crouches by one of the unconscious men. "Note the body armour. The face-masks are featureless, the designs are made to hide differences in height and build. But in the pockets we will find... yes, here we are."

A scrap of paper, clipped from a newspaper. The security office door yields to a good kick, and on the wall behind one of the desks lies a keypad. Starburst taps at it, experimentally. There is the sound of machinery, and they see a section of courtyard floor fall away. Starburst shoots Alchemist a look.

"If I have to tell you how I worked out the code, we would be here for fifteen minutes and you would end up saying that you didn't want to know. Given this information, let us spare the ritual of asking the question."

* * *

A tunnel of focus. That's all Julia sees when she slices this hard. Light around her Dopplers far too much for her to have any peripheral vision, there's just a circle around whatever she's looking at. Right now, that's the triggering mechanism on ne of the crates of explosives. Intellectually, she knows that as long as she can force time to move close to right-angles for her, she is out of danger even if she makes a mistake. Even so, she doesn't dare look up. People pointing weapons in her direction would only cause her concentration to slip.

There's no time to work out the bomb schematics. From the instant that the gun broke the beam, she has been racing electricity. It isn't something she has ever done before, but she's doing a lot of that with Option X. Her focus narrows as she slices yet harder, squeezing every subjective second out of a delay that most people would never perceive as existing. She rips the detonator off one crate, and moves to the next. The air is heavy around her, hampering her movements. The harder she slices, the less of the world around her she affects, and she's not affecting much past herself and her clothes. Another detonator. Two more to go. The black orbs are drawing too much, punishing her for trying to surpass her limits. Strange shapes swirl in the miasma around her. The third detonator. She's slicing so hard the air feels like treacle. The orb in her left arm starts to bleed. She can see the spark about to form on the last box, and forces her arm through the air.

The gun falls to the floor, as does Julia. The guards are surprised to find that their bombs did not detonate, are also surprised to see an unconscious woman fall from thin air among them, blood soaking the left sleeve of her blouse. Edge capitalises on their surprise.

* * *

The descent into the bunker isn't much to speak of. One guard comes up, looking for whoever opened the ramp. Starburst decides on the expedient route, and shatters his kneecap with a bullet. The real problem is the internal security system. Once activated, it's a simple enough task for Alchemist to deal with the weapons, the key is not activating them. Starburst winces inwardly as he calls out every step, making sure there are no pressure plates or hidden cameras. When they come to the control room, it's a relief to dispatch the guards inside and break the computer systems.

"It's a good thing we didn't trigger an alarm. Their cargo is still here. Interesting..."

"What is?"

"There's a set of gates allowing direct access to the water, good for a speedboat. Another contingency that wasn't on the blueprints."

"The problem is that the storage room has more guards, some with military specification weapons. I take it you can deal with them? The hidden cameras are now down."

The metal door flows into Alchemist's body as he advances. To him, violence was an abstract. He knew this was because he didn't have a body that could be killed, and this did scare him some, but it also meant that when bullets were washing over his steel-reinforced skin, he was better equipped to go for the swift takedown. Starburst joined him, barely noting the neatly-piled guards. He stopped short, reading one of the crates.

"We need Edge and Julia. If anyone tries to touch that crate, kill them."

* * *

Julia's eyes open not to the scene of carnage that she feared. The hostage-takers are mostly alive but unconscious, and Starburst and Edge stand over her, looking concerned. Glancing down, the blood on her blouse brings back the memory of racing to disarm the bombs.

"I take it we've won?"

"Sort of. This is only the beginning, though you have to see this."

Julia finds her feet with ease, and the three make their way through the vents to the surface, and then to the upper level of the bunker. As they pass, Julia can't help but wonder what will become of the hostages now their faces are on TV and in the newspapers as known mutants. Fortunately, it isn't something she has to deal with. That promises to be much weirder.

Edge does the honours of opening the crate, very carefully. Inside stands a human. Hairless, sexless, without nipples or navel or genitals. The face is a blank slate, the only vital activity designed to keep the body alive.

Edge breaks the silence. "What are we looking at here?"

"It's a blank human, in much the same way you may buy a blank compact disc. It's also the first proof that someone has built a Tabula Rasa device."

A frown crosses Julia's face. "I don't get it. How is this proof of the device?"

"In it's present state, the only use this body has would be for someone like Alchemist to use as a host, or a skilled telepath to use as a spare body. There is no brain activity. This creature has been bred to be used in a device which overlays an extant DNA sequence. In combination with a telepath, that would give people the ability to create backup bodies that they could set to activate on point of death. It's a chance for very rich people to profit off the exploitation of mutants."

"How so?"

"Do you think a telepath would want to put someone's mind into an empty clone, set to activate upon the donor's death? That would be like a brain surgeon transplanting the guy's grey matter into an anencephalic who had been bred and kept for just that purpose. Plus, these bodies won't create themselves."

"Oh, God."

"He had nothing to do with this. We have to find those that did, and shoot them in the face."


York, England. 1:15 am

The low clouds reflect the red-orange glow of the streetlights back down, a security blanket of smog covering the city. Starburst is out of his element, unarmed in a foreign country. He and Julia were the only ones able to gain entrance legally into a country paralysed by fear of mutant immigrants. Unfortunately, this means the group's heavy hitters are nowhere to be found. Julia's worried about this more than anything, if they did insert themselves and were later found, everything would go to Hell political but there would at least be some support. Starburst appears to be more worried by the young woman they are going to meet. He's still talking about it, half to himself.

"I've heard a lot about her, and nobody is able to give me a good description of her talent. Some say she can rewrite computer media by touch, some that she can mentally assimilate binary information, and some of the other, more unlikely stories come from sources too strange to mention."

The cheap, one-bedroom flat squats above a laundrette in a particularly ugly row of shops. Light blazes from one of the open windows, but there's no sign of motion. Julia concentrates, shifting her sight in an obtuse angle to the timeline.

"She was nervous when she came back, tripped on the back steps. She had something hidden underneath her coat, but it never opened far enough to me to see what. That was last night, there's been no activity up there since."

Starburst frowned, heading for the alleyway that led to the steps. "We shall have to find out what he was so nervous about."

The steps were black steel, slick from the recent rain. They snaked up to the only door among extensions and garages and outhouses that looked non-Euclidian in nature. The door itself was dark, the frosted glass giving no impression of light and leaving Julia with a feeling of foreboding. Before Starburst could knock, she crouched by the lock and blurred slightly.

"I never thought you knew how to pick locks."

"You never asked."

The door swung open. The day's selection of bills, several marked with bright red "Final Demand" stamps littered the hallway atop a threadbare carpet. The telephone socket had been ripped out of the wall some time ago, an ugly scar in the lath and plaster wall. Faint sounds of a television filtered from one of the closed doors. This one swung open easily, leaving both operatives to gawp at the scene inside.

A television showing a black and white science fiction movie about mutated ants rested against the far wall. A laptop lay on the floor, the cover set aside and the internals scattered in a manner reminiscent of an electronic autopsy. Books and printouts heaped upon chairs and piled on the carpet, several empty bottles of vodka resting on top of them. An overflowing ashtray sat on the bedside table next to several blisters and bottles of pills, their contents scattered. On the bed, a girl barely out of her teens lay on her side, unconscious.

Starburst looked first to the girl, checking her pulse and breathing before shining a torch in each eye. Julia bothered herself with the pills.

"Pro Plus... They're caffeine, right? A pack of 96, plus taurine supplements. Guanine as well, and some things I've never heard of before."

Starburst glanced over, studying the bottles. "There's four, each different. From the labels, two different intelligence enhancers which are only legal because the government doesn't yet know they exist, one made from the pineal glands of dead telepaths designed to stimulate latent psychic ability and one depressant engineered to bond with the caffeine and stop heart failure from overdosing."

"Hell. Is she still breathing?"

"Just." Starburst started looking through the papers. "She had a mild heart attack from taking too many of the depressants, but it didn't kill her. The only reason she hasn't released control of her bladder is through extreme dehydration."

"Why? I mean, junkies overdose all the time, but not on intelligence enhancers and psionic stimulants. And her profile didn't have her down as any kind of addict."

"From the look of these, her power brought this on. Extrapolating from her notes, it appears that she generates a cyber-empathic field which duplicates the functions of familiar technology. She's able to read and write computer media by touch, analyse and run programs in her mind, understand compiled code as if she had written it herself. Add to that she can make and receive cellular phone signals, and can microwave food in her hands. Probably doesn't need a TV set either."

"How is that a reason to overdose?"

"She left school at sixteen and has been manning supermarket checkouts ever since. She is an average person who couldn't get into an American university, yet all her peers went to Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick, assuming they didn't head to MIT or Berkley. And then this happens. She can duplicate machinery subconsciously and she knows she isn't smart enough to figure out why or how to control this gift."

"That's a pretty negative way of viewing it."

"According to these, she had a pet cat. She picked it up, wanting to feel the fur against her skin to ground herself in reality. It was microwaved in her arms, cooked from the inside out."

"I see her point, now. But what do we do with her? We can hardly take her with us."

"True. The Institute can probably raise enough legal swing to get her out of the country, but first we have to get her to a hospital."

They didn't wait for an ambulance, Julia slicing the three of them in the time it would take to call the emergency services.


"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Centralia." Starburst was the first out of the van,fastening the black coat around his waist. Smoke curled up form the gash in the road just ahead of the van. "The only city to be on fire for the past forty years."

"It stinks here." Edge sighed. He'd left his jacket and jeans in the van, making up for his lost modesty by reshaping his pliable hexite body into an approximation of a bodysuit.

"There is a high level of sulphur in the air. but whet do you expect? The coal seams under the town are still burning. The smoke and gasses have to go somewhere. The ground fracturing is it's only escape." Alchemist was in a small body, four legs sprouting from a central dome with camera-lenses and antenna letting him perceive a wider slice of the E-M spectrum than usual.

"Even so, he's right. It stinks. Why would anyone want to set up a factory here in the first place?" Julia handed a breathing mask to Starburst before fitting one to her own face.

Broadband digital thoughtstream is online. Somewhere in New York, the telepathic information hub known to Option X as Broadband was linked into their minds.

"How are we even hearing you? You're in New York and this doesn't feel like telepathy..."

It's not. I'm directly maniupulating the information reaching your temporal lobe, telling your brain that you are hearing my voice. Starburst and Alchemist get a similar treatment but altered for their unique psyches.

"I'm sorry I asked."

Don't worry about it. You have a nice brain, by the way. Did you know hexite is superconductuve?

You know just what a supercarbon posthuman wants to hear... but Starburst is glaring. How about you chat me up after the mission's over?

It's a date.

"Edge, stop flirting with our groupmind. We have a job to do." Starburst had his guns in hand as he set off towards the centre of town. The others followed in silence.

The streets of Centralia are deserted. Houses are shored up with brick columns against the walls, the streets cracked as the gasses released underground seek to escape. The asphalt is hot underfoot. None of the team like what they see. Half of a graveyard has sunk thanks to the underground fire, desecrating the resting places of people whose relatives will never know. And somewhere beneath them, a creation engine turns.

Julia flickers every couple of minutes, casting her senses adrift in time, hopint to catch a clue. Unfortunately, there's little to be seen. The United States Army try a couple of times to shift the last of the people out of the city but they won't leave without a fight. Ghosts of APCs and military trucks flicker before her eyes, the cracked households in front of her eyes repaired in her visions, people leaving town with government grants hoping to start a new life in a new town, away from the neverending fire.

Alchemist is the advance scout, using his low-slung body to good effect. He sees the results of the evacuation, a ghost town where the remaining people work hard to make ends meet, with the threat of leaving their only homes hanging over their heads. But there is a thread. He investigates old chemical trails. More cars on the roads than he'd have expected, all heading to the other side of town.

It seems like you were right, Starburst

You doubted me?

No. I think the facility is underground, near the site where the fire started. There are some weird chemical traces out that way

Starburst to all. Converge on Alchemist's position. Be ready for anything.

Edge shaped himself further. His face blanked into a hexite mask preventing razor-fine hair from slicing his face.Four arms sprouted from his chest, each with a bifuricated elbow joint. His original arms split into bladed guns, channeling razor shards of his own flesh. In such a form he is a God of death, unthinking and unfeeling. He needs to be, because he still can't stand the sight of a dead man when he's calm.

Underground. They'd be able to siphon off the richer chemicals, and be closer to the heat source.

What do you think they're doing here, Starburst? Why would they need all of that?

Isn't it obvious? Remember the tabula rasa drone?

Of course. Coal is mainly carbon.


They came to the right place for it.

Doubly so because they came with the blessing of the U.S. government. We need to get inside without causing a fuss. We need to take them down without them knowing we did it.

Wait. Julia frowns. What am I missing here?

Human bodies are mainly carbon, when you get rid of the additives like water. A decent creative force like myself, enough carbon, enough knowledge of human biology, the note of tension in Alchemist's voice is palpable, some rare stuff, and a whole load of heat to power the process, and you can create blank human bodies.


Think more, Alchemist. We're here at Henry's request.


I expected better from you. They are transplanting people into blanks here. That means they have at least one telepath. It wouldn't surprise me if they had some kind of biomanipulator to make the autoclones that almost replaced Julia.


The four advanced carefully. Alchemist changed as he moved, shunting molecules from the ground into a humanoid form. The entrance Broadband had found was little more than a ladder strapped to one of the oldest holes in the ground.

Julia, you and Alchemist are to find and recover any and all mutants down there. Edge and I are going to kill a lot of bastards who happen to be employed by the government. Give us thirty seconds head start.

Julia sighed. There's always killing. When do we talk first?

When we don't have state-sponsored mutant vivisection I'll be willing to think about it. They stopped people doing that to rats.

With that, the two men in black vanished down the hole. The first scream came soon afterwards.

"For what it's worth, I know what you mean. Sometimes, Starburst forgets where he comes from."

"That way lies madness and death. We're supposed to be undercover search and rescue, not the mutant CIA."

"We need to talk to him."

"Once we've done this. No matter how many people die we are saving lives today."

"Yes. Shall we?"

* * *

The compelx is bustling. Guards without insignias fall to bullets or Edge's myriad of body-weapons. Every so often, at Broadband's choosing, they disrupt the base computers by destroying needed communications lines. Edge is deep in a fuge state, refusing to identify his actions as something he would do. It's like watching a violent movie. Another guard falls, this one to a razor-sharp strand of hair fired through his forearm.

What about though there?

No. That's where they keep their pets. We're hardly what scared telepaths need to be seeing now. We have to get what we can out of the man in charge.

Three more corridors. Starburst berates the guards even as he kills them, pointing out teir predictability and how simple it was to think around them. Edge just kills the ones that his comrade ignores. The door ahead of them is imposing, access to the main creation facility. Starburst shakes his head shoots what looks like a maintenance duct. Somewhere, a circuit breaker trips and the door slides open.

The room beyond is an insane science fiction dream of pipes, cables and weird technology.Above them, looking over thechamber, is an observation deck. In front of them, a processing line that apportions out raw materials. To one side, what can only be the genesis chamber detailed on the report Broadband had liberated. He directed precise shots into each of the stockpiled bodies, leaving Edge to take his time in demolishing the machinery.

* * *

Alchemist was certain that the mutants would not want to leave. They would argue and scream, especially if they saw the bodies. He did his best to reassign their molecules, storing the blood within his body or scattering it through the pipework that surrounds each corridor. He patches up the bodies as best he can as well.

Sleeping gas. We don't know what age-range we're dealing with here.


They came to the unopened door. Julia hit it with a millennium of frustration, and the weak hinges crumbled to so much rust. Beyond the door, four pairs of eyes looked back. Scared, not because of people at the door but because of who those people were.

"You're not part of the staff." The voice was rebellious, a teenage know-it-all cockiness undercutting the words.

"No. We're getting you out of here."

"Why? We don't want to leave."

"You realise that you're working for an organisation that will vivisect you to find out what makes your powers tick once they can replicate what each of you can do?"

"That's pinko hippy bullshit, lady! Get the hell away from us. We're doing our part for our country."

"We have the classifed reports. They are making backup bodies for the rich and powerful for the time when there is no more human race because we have out-evolved them." Alchemist paused outside the door, waiting for the response.

"As if. There are no such files-"

Broadband, begin download.

"What are you doing to my head?!"

Alchemist stepped into the light. "I asked our resident information witch to beam the documents straight into your brain. She's the one doing it and she's not here. All I could do to your head is to take it apart, atom by atom. I figure one of you has some kind of molecular ability, you can work it out from this bodyform I'm wearing. Now, we are taking you out of here. Maybe some of you would like to see an outside world without holes in the ground because it's on fire. Maybe some of you don't want to go. But whether we are liberating you from unlawful capture or removing a valuable resource from a group with known anti-mutant sentiments, you are coming with us."

The fire in the boy's eyes dimmed, and he lead the others out of the bunk room, back towards the surface.

* * *

"What are you doing?"

"Stopping you, you silly little man. Your plans are finished. This place is finished."

"You can't do that. This is private property owned by a government contractor!"

"And I am a superintelligent bastard with very little regard for the lives of people who want to fuck with mutants. Oh, and don't think of going for the gun in your boot. I'd blow your leg off before you tried if I saw the wrong muscle movement."

"So why haven't you shot me, like you shot all of the staff?"

"Because I need information. And I need to hear you say it. I need to hear your voice. I know you're funded by the government and I know that at least three shadow organisations are trying to ensure your funding is renewed. What I don't know is how many people you've already cloned this way."

"I'm not telling you anything."

A gunshot rang out. "The next one will be through your left testicle. Answer my question or I will very carefully destroy your body."

"Fifty? A hundred? I don't know any more. We've had to download the president five times already, whether it's a brain destroying STD or another overdose he's needed it every time. Last time he had just about no septum left."

"I'm not surprised. I want names."

"I don't know them- Really, I don't!"

Broadband, please tell me if he is lying.

No. Nothing in there. But if the Prez is part of it-

"This is big, that much I know. And I have the unforutnate feeling that I know what is going on." Starburst leaned closer to the man. "And if I am right, you will regret the day I was born. I promise you that."