Subject 1275 opened his eyes slowly, finding that he was lying on a very thin layer of cloth over the top of something much harder. The scent of recycled air was all around him once more, and the wolf boy shook his head a little, trying to understand just how he had gotten there. The last thing he remembered clearly was talking to the other, the almost human boy he had been told to track. After he had given the boy's knife back to him, they had sat down in the small clearing and talked for a bit. They hadn't discussed anything in particular, nothing that would have been of advantage to anyone listening, mostly just getting to know one another. And then there was great blurry gap in his memory, a gap that ended in darkness. Groggy, the wolf boy rolled over slowly, landing on his stomach on the hard metallic floor. The impact jarred his mind into action once more and he realized he had been lying on a stretcher, the same sort that soldiers might use in the field, resting a few inches off the ground. Looking around, he found that he was in the same room he had been when they had called him out of the nature room the first time, or another one that looked exactly like it. And then, as he slowly pushed himself onto all fours, the world tilting wildly around him as he did so, he remembered that he had felt like this before, after the trips to the odd rooms where he had been knocked out. Then, as his stomach flip-flopped uncomfortably within him, he realized he must have been given a dose of the same stuff, meant to knock him out. But how? When?
Ignoring the nauseous feeling that welled up when he moved, subject 1275 forced himself to sit up, focusing all his might instead on the blurry portion of his memory. He dimly remembered hearing the microphone attached to his ear crackle, and then the voice of Director Archer commanding him to do...something. Shaking his head once more, he tried to remember what it was, tried to push past the groggy haze that covered his brain, but the command was long gone, the words garbled to his memory. He could remember the flash of annoyance he had felt when he heard the command, and the instinct to ignore it that immediately followed. Then, he remembered an odd sort of 'chuff' sound, a stinging impact somewhere on his back, and then the world had gone black on him. Just the memory of the blackness made his head spin, and he closed his eyes once more, drawing in a long, slow breath, gradually forcing the nausea back, his senses returning to their full sharpness. When he opened his eyes again, the lights in the ceiling seemed terribly bright, but not so bright that they hurt. As he slowly recovered his faculties, he caught a distant voice, his right ear twitching around to hear it, the microphone still weighing it down. Gradually, the voice became more distinct, and he began to assemble words out of the distant sounds.
"...said he would obey orders!" It said, and he realized that the voice sounded angry. "But he did exactly the opposite."
"I also remember telling you he is still a child." A second, even quieter voice replied. "And both human and wolf children are not so obedient, to say nothing of a hybrid between the two." There was a pause, as well as a mechanical clicking sound and subject 1275 looked up to the corner of the ceiling, finding one of the little black domes he knew to contain a camera set into a space there. "The sedative is already wearing off. Fascinating. I wonder if he is somehow developing a resistance to it."
Suddenly, just as the wolf boy's mind was beginning to clear from the fog that had filled it, a panel in the wall suddenly shot upward, revealing a concealed doorway. And standing there was Director Archer. 1275's first impulse was to ignore him, but then, two things happened which immediately precluded that action. First, the boy saw the look on the Director's face. It was steely, emotionless except for the eyes. But the eyes burned, narrowed with anger. And the second; the man's scent had changed, acquiring an acrid stink that made the wolf boy want to run away, to hide somewhere. He started to get to his feet, despite the fact that there was nowhere to go, but the big human suddenly leapt forward, catching the boy around the neck with one great hand, lifting him easily into the air, his fingers digging into the boy's skin through his fur. With a horrible strength, the Director slammed 1275 against the metal wall, and held him there, pinned off his feet. The force of the impact ran the length of his spine in an instant, rebounding off the tip of his tail and bouncing back up to crash through his head, demolishing whatever thoughts he had been trying to form. Whatever the wolf boy had wanted to do was forgotten in an instant, obliterated by the impact. For a few moments, he could do nothing but hang there, stunned.
"You disobeyed orders again!" The man snarled, leaning towards his face, his grip tightening until 1275 couldn't breathe. The wolf boy's hands frantically scrabbled at the Director's grip, trying to loosen the hold. But the Director wasn't done yet, not by a long shot. The director slammed his free hand into the boy's gut, a lightning fast uppercut, making the boy yelp, his last bit of air forced from him by the strike. "Its time you learned that defiance has consequences."
With that, the Director turned, tossing the choking boy across the room, making him land hard on one arm as he involuntarily tried to break his fall, the wolf unable to make a sound as the bone let out a sickening pop. Cradling the broken limb against his body, 1275 gasped, trying to hold onto his reason, trying to remember something of his training, anything that might give him a chance to fight back, to keep himself from dying in this little room. Managing somehow to roll over so he was kneeling once more, the wolf bit back a moan of pain, watching as the Director crossed to him, trying to muster his thoughts to make a fight of it. But then, Director Archer's fist came at him again, fast, so fast he couldn't make himself react to it, driving all thought of counterattacking from his head as the heavy blow connected with his temple. Sprawling to the side, the wolf boy saw stars, his already dizzy head throbbing painfully. But the abuse wasn't done yet. Suddenly, he felt the Director's boot slam into his gut and he cringed, retching. The boot came a second time, connecting higher up and he felt something give inside him, a pain so terrible he couldn't even begin to describe it filling his mind to bursting. The pain seemed to sweep aside the twinkling stars that hovered before his eyes, bringing a painful clarity to the world instead, and 1275 struggled to draw breath, his blurry vision clearing just enough to see the Director's sneer as he lifted the boy by the front of his jumpsuit, darkness starting to close in on the edges of his sight.
"Pathetic." The Director finally pronounced, dropping him painfully back onto the floor in a heap. The big human turned and walked away as subject 1275 struggled to suck in a breath into a body that seemed reluctant to cooperate. Slowly, despite the piercing pain that washed through him with the act, the wolf boy forced air into his lungs, a tiny victory. But even that bright moment was a punishment in itself, the blessed breath that came into his body making him cough, a deep cough that brought the stars back into his eyes along with an explosion of agony from his chest. Looking down, he cringed, darkness starting to take over, but despite the dimming of his sight, he couldn't miss the red droplets that fell onto the metal surface before him, dropping from his jaws. Spending all his strength on the effort to stay awake, he could only recall that bleeding while trying to breathe was a very bad sign, but the darkness beckoned to him, promising an end to his suffering, an end he desperately desired. Finally collapsing, he was only dimly aware of vague white blurs rushing towards him from the direction of the door, then, with a final futile struggle, the darkness took him...
"Subject 1275 sustained multiple contusions including a bruised larynx, a moderate concussion," Dr. Klein recited, the computer recording the words as floating text above the holographic projector, the scientist leaning heavily on the railing before the window overlooking the infirmary. "Fractured right radius and ulna, three fractured ribs, fractured jaw, punctured lung, bleeding into the abdominal cavity, moderate to severe damage to the liver, spleen and intestines." Here the scientist paused, hanging his head and shaking it slowly. "Pause dictation."
The computer chirped acknowledgement of the command and Dr. Klein clenched his fist, resisting the urge to smash something. He had always heard that the Director had a temper, but he had never expected it to come out as suddenly as that, or for him to be so cruel in its application. The brutality of the beating he had administered to the wolf prototype still shocked him, even now, hours later. Down in the infirmary below where he stood, the wolf boy was suspended in a stasis tank once more, under heavy sedation, hydrostatic gel casts wrapping his lupine face, his torso and his right arm. It had taken hours of surgery, and the full attention of two of the best surgeons he had to stop all the bleeding. Even with the cutting edge technologies that the program had access to, it was going to take at least a week and half of regenerative stasis for subject 1275 to heal, and at least as long again to rehabilitate him to continue his training. And he wished, truly, that he dared to extend the recovery time. But the Director would allow no delays. But then again...the Director knew next to nothing about medical treatments...
Shaking his head, Dr, Klein turned his thoughts aside from that dangerous path. If he risked that, it might be him on the receiving end of his anger next. The thing that really bothered him, was that he had done nothing to stop the Director. Oh sure, he had the excuse that the Director had attacked the boy...no, the prototype, without the slightest hint he was going to, and the excuse that the beating had been so shocking that he hadn't had the ability to stop it, but that was all they were. Excuses, and lame ones at that. What was more, though he knew he should only be thinking of the prototypes as pieces of hardware, test subjects, he hadn't been able to stop himself from feeling something for them. Despite all his scientific impartiality, despite all of his experience, and his attempts to distance himself from them, he couldn't bring himself to think of them as machines. He knew they were living things, and deserved to be treated as such. But still, by the time he had roused himself to act, the Director was already walking away, leaving the badly injured prototype to suffer, the alterations made to his physiology ensuring he would remain conscious and in pain for longer than any human, and the Director knew it. And then, suddenly, as he watched the wolf float in the greenish liquid, an idea entered his head, a way to stop it from ever happening again, something that not even Director Archer would be able to argue with. A sudden smile came to his lips and he turned back to the office. It was time to do something about all this.
"Resume dictation. Expected recovery time, four weeks. End report." Smiling, Dr. Klein brought up the active communications system and typed a string of numbers into the prompt. To hell with the Director's demands for speed, rushing the subject's recovery time wouldn't help anything. After a moment, a holographic head and torso of a technician appeared on the screen. "Put me through to the committee, please." The technician nodded and the screen went blank except for the call data at the bottom. After a moment, a new voice came out of the speakers, the screen remaining blank, as it always did when he spoke to the committee to which the Director reported.
"Dr. Klein, this is unexpected." The voice said, coming out strangely altered by the system.
"Yes, and I apologize for contacting you so abruptly. I would like to request an order be given to the military instructors, and especially Director Archer." The scientist said.
"Doctor, need I remind you, that you report to the Director, not the other way around." The voice said and Dr. Connor Klein barely restrained himself from making a sarcastic remark in reply.
"That is not in question." He finally said. "But the Director and his instructors are contaminating the tests, and slowing our progress considerably. Only this morning, the Director's interference resulted in injuries to our most advanced subject that will have it out of action for a month. If we are going to keep to our time table, the importance of which you have stressed several times, something must be done."
"What happened exactly?" A second voice asked, cutting off the first as it spoke, the voice higher, that of a younger man than the first.
"The prototype didn't perform quite like the Director expected, despite the fact that he changed the conditions of the test halfway through," Dr. Klein continued, "Director Archer then physically attacked the prototype and badly hurt it." A quiet murmur of displeasure, half obscured by static, came over the speaker and the scientist continued. "If the Director or his instructors are allowed to continue to have a free hand to do whatever they want, without consequence, I am afraid that they are going to kill one of our prototypes, which will set us back months or years."
"Very well Doctor." the first voice said, "But you must realize that we cannot proceed with hand to hand combat training without contact being made with the subject."
"I understand that." Klein replied, nodding to himself. "But training is one thing, abuse is another."
"Quite true." The voice replied, "We will take that under advisement."
Subject 1275 stared up at the ceiling of his room from his place on the bed. His body was urging him to get up and do something, anything really, but he restrained himself, experience having taught him to take every opportunity to rest in the last few weeks. Truthfully, he was bored out of his mind, but there was very little he could do about it. It wasn't even time for him to get up yet, the intercom having been silent. In the weeks since he had come out of his second trip into stasis, he had been given gradually more strenuous tasks until he could perform as well as he had before the Director had attacked him. The Director. The name made him bristle, a dull ache spreading through his arm as he thought about the man. When he had still been recovering, he had lain awake every night when he was supposed to be sleeping, going over the attack again and again. At first, he had been terrified by the sound of boots outside his room, terrified by the very mention of fighting. But gradually, that had started to fade, replaced by something else. Finally, after about a week of recovery, he had felt the fear and the painful remnants of the attack change, hardening from a weakness into a solid resolve that drove him. A new voice seemed to have come to life in his head; Never again, it seemed to say. No matter the cost, no matter what it took, he would never again allow anyone, especially the Director, to make him so helpless again.
The intercom chimed and the familiar voice told him to get up and get going. Today was the day he was supposed to return to training, and he was ready, the strange resolve making him eager. Sliding out of the bed, he stretched, banishing the stiffness before getting dressed once again. He could hear the boots of his escort coming and he took a breath, quieting the feeling of fear that the sound brought behind a shield of anger. The door slid back into the wall and he walked out, following the familiar path to the room with the padded floor, ignoring the soldiers behind him, but alert for any sudden moves they might make. Inside the training rooms, he found the same set of instructors waiting for him as they always were. Today he was supposed to be learning something called 'Judo' first, but he restrained the groan that welled up in his throat. In the past, whenever he had been called on to learn it, it meant that he was going to be tossed painfully around the mats until the Judo instructor called the class over. Today, as before, the man tossed him around at will, but this time, he eagerly felt the shifts in weight as he was thrown, learning to recognize them in his opponents. He still couldn't do it in return, couldn't get the advantage over the larger men, but still he learned. Finally, as the wolf was tossed end over end for the twentieth time, landing painfully on his tail, the instructor sighed.
"Alright, that is enough for the day." He said, but 1275 scrambled quickly back up onto his feet, setting into ready position in defiance of the command.
"Again." he replied, and the instructor looked at him in disbelief.
"I think I have tossed you around enough for one day." he repeated, but the boy snarled, showing his teeth, startling the man.
"Again!!" 1275 shouted, and the head instructor, a big, muscle bound man who reminded the wolf boy a lot of the Director shrugged, waving dismissively.
"Alright, if you want more," The Judo instructor said, "Fine."
He came at the boy again, tossing him around the room again and again. But every time, no matter how hard he was tossed, no matter how much it hurt, 1275 got back up to his feet and set into ready position. Finally, the head instructor told the Judo instructor to stop, despite the growl of protest from 1275. Then it was time for kickboxing, then Karate, then Wushu, and on and on through the various styles of martial arts. And every time, no matter how badly he lost, no matter how many times he was defeated, the wolf boy got back up, setting into ready position. By the time the day was over and he was sent back to his room, even the head instructor seemed amazed by him. After wolfing down his dinner as fast as he could, the boy dutifully crawled into bed, closing his eyes as if he was asleep, knowing that it would make the lights turn off. But when he sensed the lights go out, under the control of some technician in a control room somewhere, he crawled from his bed, ignoring the protest of his sore body. Standing in the open space before his bed, he set into a fighting stance. And then, he began to strike the empty air as hard as he could, working through every technique he had learned that day, practicing them over, and over, and over, one after another, until he was well and truly exhausted. But as he finally lay down to sleep, hours later, he smiled, because, where before, he had never really understood everything he had been taught, his head so packed it felt like it was spinning, now something had changed. Now, he had a reason to learn it all...
"Director, Subject 1275 has made more progress in the last three weeks than the previous six months combined." The head hand to hand combat instructor stated, standing at ease. Both Director Archer and Dr. Klein were seated in the briefing room, listening to his report. "I don't know what happened or what has changed, but we are now well in advance for the time table of the training. To be honest sir, I am not sure what to do."
"I would think it obvious, gunny." The Director replied. "Move on to more advanced techniques."
"With respect, you don't understand sir." The instructor replied. "Its like he isn't even the same individual. He has become...tenacious. He won't stop. No matter how harsh or difficult the training becomes, he won't stop when the instructors ask him to. He only stops doing one thing when we move on to something else. And there is something else. He is getting stronger, and faster by the day. This morning, he broke one of our training dummies, and the day before, he hit one of my instructors so hard he had to go to the infirmary."
"Excellent." The Director replied, but Dr. Klein raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"Director, the most recent medical data for subject 1275 has me a little concerned." Dr. Klein interjected and the Director glared in his direction. "His body is showing all the characteristics of stress exhaustion. How he keeps going at this pace, I have no idea. And I also cannot guess how much longer he can keep it up."
"Well, if he is tired, he doesn't show it." The sergeant replied. "Actually, he is starting to worry me a bit. I have seen it before, while training Marines. The performance of most recruits starts to suffer when they go through this hard of a pace. But occasionally, just occasionally, you will find one who pushes back even harder, no matter how hard you push. The problem is, those are also the recruits that get into trouble. A lot of them end up needing harder and harder challenges, until they finally push themselves too hard and get themselves killed."
"Draw up a revised training regimen sergeant," Director Archer replied, "And keep an eye on him as you continue." When the instructor had left, the Director turned to Dr. Klein. "You are always pushing Doctor. I must say, you are starting to annoy me. You say his body can't handle the strain? Then figure something out so that he can." Dr. Klein glared at the Director's back as he started to leave the conference room. "Oh and Doctor," the Director said, looking back over his shoulder at the scientist. "Don't ever go over my head to the committee again ..."
Dr. Klein sat staring at his desk, deep in thought once more. Work was proceeding quickly on the second prototype's genetic modifications, but that wasn't the thing that occupied his mind right now. It was all very well for Archer to tell him to come up with an adaptation that would allow subject 1275 to keep going at the pace he was going, but doing it was wholly another. Organic tissues had limits, and there was no getting around that fact. No one, not even the genetically altered hybrid, could long survive the pace the boy was setting. But there was no artificial augmentation that he could think of that would give someone greater endurance, short of complete replacement of the muscles, and then what was the point of genetic modification in the first place? But was that really the only way? Cocking his head to the side, the scientist started to tap the desk with his fingertips. The problem with the subject pushing himself so hard was that the body started to depend on the higher levels of adrenalin that accompanied it, and when it was suddenly taken away, the withdrawal symptoms often killed the subject, the body just sort of shutting down, unable to adapt. And if, by some miracle, the stimulus wasn't taken away, after a while, the body couldn't keep up with the growing demand for stimulation, and the same thing happened anyway.
'But what if...' He thought, an idea suddenly occurring to him. It was a crazy idea, one that had been thought of, and discarded, by such projects before. But if he could pull it off, it would not only allow the young wolf prototype to push himself as hard as he was, but also push himself even harder. Dr. Klein suddenly stood up, walking towards the augmentation lab, his mind racing, more ideas flooding into his head and he smiled. If he could actually do this, both prototypes would be able to do far more than even he had expected...