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Chapter 1

The real tragedy is not just what they did to me and the others. The tragedy is that they never had one moment of hesitation or even one heartbeat of remorse.

 

--Memoirs of Shaden Mira

 

The specific genes related to psychics cause brain cells to begin producing certain proteins. These extremely complex proteins allow the human brain to entangle quantum particles. The brain becomes capable of creating a quantum wave function by manipulating those particles. This wave function manifests most often as a localized kinetic energy release.

 

--Dr. Jonathan Halving, Project Archon Notes.

 

Doctor Johnathan Halving had spent millions in dollars, dozens of lives, and countless hours of his time on Project Archon. It was his passion, his one love, and every bit of his focus went to turning normal psychics into powerful psionic weapons.

After the work of thousands of hours, Halving eagerly awaited the sum total of all that effort, ready to be played out on hundreds of monitors and screens, arrayed throughout his training facility as the two products of all his labor culminated in a final experiment.

Halving moved to stand where he could watch those screens. He was a tall man, with dark hair, a strong jaw, and tan skin. He smiled as he watched one of the screens, showing white, even teeth. A series of scars ran down across one side of his face, faded and old to the point that only an observant person might notice them.

“Our two most promising subjects from the Archon Experiment,” a woman's voice spoke from behind him. “Let us hope these two don’t kill each other, Doctor Halving.” Her voice was cold and emotionless, more like that of an automated recording than that of a human.

Halving didn’t turn around. He recognized her voice… and her penchant for startling those who worked for her. He just gave a snort, “If they start using their abilities, I wouldn’t care if they destroyed half the complex, Colonel.” He wrinkled his nose at the harsh scent of cheap government coffee. He’d rather do without than drink that swill, but evidently Colonel Givens felt otherwise.

The midnight black uniform of an Amalgamated Worlds Security Branch looked sharp on the Colonel as she moved up to stand beside him. She had blonde hair and dark brown eyes, a pale complexion, and a narrow, long face. Her uniform had the epaulets of security, and her shoulder patch had three white letters on a red background: ESP. “You don’t seem particularly attached to the subjects, considering…”

“Considering I’m ‘one’ of them?” Jonathan Halving chuckled. “I’ve proven my loyalty to Amalgamated Worlds. I’ve hunted ‘my own kind’ for long enough that I have no feeling of attachment to them. These two aren’t even human, really, not after what we’ve done to them.” The Bureau of ESP Security would never have allowed him his freedom if he’d shown the slightest compassion to his fellow psychics. If he felt anything for these two, he must admit, he felt curiosity and interest in their potential and what their potential might fund in future experimentation.

“They were human though.” Colonel Givens said. Her voice went soft, “Some of them even volunteered.” He didn't fall for her tone, however. She wouldn't be the first of his watchdogs to try to pretend sympathy to their enemy to lure him into saying something damning.

Doctor Halving chuckled, “You almost sound like a sympathizer and you’re supposed to be my watchdog.” He shook his head. “Volunteer or conscripted, none of them are really human. We removed their memories and cut away their pasts. We programmed them to be what we want them to be. They’re weapons and tools now, nothing more. They couldn’t be anything else, even if we wanted them to be.”

Colonel Givens nodded, her voice solemn and professional once more, “And we don’t want them to be human. We want them to be far more than that.”

***

Shaden froze at the sound of a foot scuffle and then he shook his head.

What’s wrong with me? What would they say at the Academy? Shaden frightened of the dark? Some kind of soldier I turned out to be.

His years at the Centauri Military Academy came back to him in a rush, the tough classes, the long hours of study, the glory of piloting. He felt again the pride of wearing a uniform for the Amalgamated Worlds Military. Those thoughts triggered a rush of memories. Shaden examined every one of them. They almost felt new. He knew them, for he’d lived them, but his memories felt strange. Every memory seemed jagged and sharp, and the more he thought on the past, the more distant it seemed.

And worse of all, they didn’t explain how he came to be here.

He had wandered the cold, empty concrete corridors for what seemed like hours since he had awakened on the damp floor. The passages echoed on forever, empty and dark. Scattered lights spaced along the ceilings provided only basic illumination and cast long shadows along walls and floors.

Shaden had no resources to call upon. He wore a gray sweatshirt and sweat pants. The pockets did not hold his wallet or phone. He had no idea where his watch or academy ring might have disappeared. Despite the chill air, he sweated heavily as he tried to find an exit.

And then there was the old man...

Unlike his other memories, those of the old man were without context. He didn’t remember where he’d seen him. It could have been in a dream, on the street, in a class. There was no sense of time to the memory, no tie to his past. The old man’s face and words were blurred, his face just a haze. Even so, his conversation seemed the most real. The man had warned him that he would soon be a prisoner…

He shook his head. Perhaps it was a dream, he thought, or perhaps this is one.

Again came a footstep behind him, followed by a rustle of clothing. Shaden deliberately ignored the noise and sighed. He refused to give into his fears and jump at shadows. He crouched and his fingers absently traced out letters in the dampness on the floor.

John

Who was John?

A hand came down on his shoulder. Shaden spun around. He shook off the stranger’s hold and took up a defensive stance. He felt a moment of shock at the speed of his reaction and at how he barely restrained an attack. The effort left him tense and his hands trembled.

It was only a young woman and Shaden felt some of his tension ease. “What do you want?” He asked. Shaden’s eyes flickered over the woman and he noted that she wore similar clothing. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail, her dark eyes were wide, the whites clearly visible in the light from the ceiling.

She answered him unexpectedly: she kicked him in the forehead.

Shaden stumbled backwards. His attacker pummeled him with blow after blow. His back thumped against the cement wall and the girl’s foot connected with his head again. The universe exploded.

Shaden shook his head. He had fallen to his hands and knees. He turned his face towards his attacker, too stunned to do more than wonder why she hurt him.

He saw her come at him again and Shaden pushed himself to his knees. Something inside him warned that she would not stop… not until he was dead. He felt a sense of pressure build up inside and his back arched and his muscles clenched. As her fist came towards his face, time seemed to slow. He couldn’t move his body, but something inside him reached out and pushed.

***

Jonathan Halving cursed as the camera and sensor feeds went out.

A heartbeat later, the ground trembled slightly. A light curtain of dust rained from the ceiling. He smiled slightly in satisfaction and then opened an intercom to his waiting reaction team, “It appears one—” the ground trembled again “—or both, of the subjects is a success. Retrieve them both, alive if possible.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Alive, if possible?” Colonel Givens arctic voice asked.

The Halving turned to face her. He shrugged slightly and his smile didn’t waver at the cold disapproval in her face. “My personnel are trained veterans. They’re too valuable to throw away if our… precautions don’t allow them to take down the subjects without a fight.”

“The government has spent an awful lot of money on both of those subjects,” Colonel Givens said. “If you terminate either of them prematurely, the significant waste of resources will not go unnoticed.”

Halving shrugged, “Not a waste. What we’ve learned on these two --and the previous failures-- will allow us to refine our experiment. If my men have to use terminal force, then replacing the subjects will be more procedural than experimental.” Doctor Halving cocked his head, “And of course, I have no doubt that you have plenty more potential ‘volunteers’ in one of the internment camps in San Antonio.”

Colonel Givens scowled, but before she could retort, a voice from the intercom spoke. “Sir, we’ve subdued both subjects. We’re bringing them up now.”

“Excellent. Good job, Misha,” Halving said. He cocked his head at the Colonel, “See, our disagreement was moot.” When she just gave him a glare he shrugged and spoke into the intercom at Misha, “Any guesses as to the abilities produced?”

His subordinate didn't answer for a moment, when she did, her voice was thoughtful, “There’s heavy structural damage to this portion of the labs. I’d estimate macro psychokinesis from the damage. Cyrus was able to subdue both subjects. Angel says she saw the female manifest electrokinesis.”

The program director nodded to himself, “Very good. Bring them up to the restraint chambers. Good job, Misha, as always.”

“Thank you, sir.” Her voice was as professional. Then again, she'd never been one to let her emotions get the better of her.

“Done patting yourself on the back?” Colonel Givens said. Despite her facial control, Jonathan Halving noted that some of her own enthusiasm and satisfaction showed through. She had just as much time invested in Project Archon as he did, though without the years of prior research. For that matter, she only saw the output of Project Archon and not the greater benefits. So short sighted, Jonathan Halving thought, as all my government handlers have been, then again, perhaps that is for the best.

“I’ll congratulate myself when the job is done,” Halving answered. “There is still extensive laboratory research and testing to be done. We don’t know if their mental programming held. We don’t know if their minds snapped under the pressures we put them under, like with the subjects of Project Kraken” Halving snorted, “For all I know, they just burned themselves out and we’ll have a couple of lobotomized chimps.” He saw a flash of concern cross the Colonel’s face and he noted it for later consideration. “In any case, once we’ve had a chance to study the data we’ve obtained and then compare it to their quiescent state, I’ll be able to tell more.”

“I’ll await your analysis,” Colonel Givens answered.

***

Chapter 2

I can’t think back to what they did to me without feeling both shame and anger. They tortured and experimented on me and dozens of others, violated us in countless ways… and when we ceased to be of use, they disposed of us.

 

--Memoirs of Shaden Mira

 

The importance of classification of psychic abilities and talents is more a construct of normal humans attempting to understand us than anything else. Psi Kappa, Psi Gamma, and Psi Beta… these are words to explain what they don’t understand, to turn magic into science. The early researchers of psychic abilities never realized that they were dealing with quantum particle manipulation. When we get to that level, all things are possible.

 

--Dr. Jonathan Halving, Project Archon Notes.

 

“Awake?” A voice asked.

Shaden groaned. He opened his eyes and closed them tight against the bright glare. It didn’t help, it seemed like the light burned through his eyelids. He felt weak and his body began to give him signals of pain.

He attempted to sit up, but something kept him restrained.

“Don’t try to move too much, Kandergain really worked you over.”

Shaden slit his eyes open, a dark haired man sat beside him. “Who the hell are you?” Shaden asked.

“Haven’t lost your wits I see,” the man remarked.

“What’s going on?” Shaden tried to move. The restraints bit into his arms as he jerked. A wave of panic surged through him. “What’s happening?!”

“What is your name?” the man asked.

Something jabbed down into his mind. His panic vanished, replaced by a feeling of lassitude. He relaxed and his eyes drooped shut again. “My name is Shaden Kirroy.”

“Rest, you’ll need it.”

His words were a command, and Shaden fell into sleep.

***

“That’s a relief,” Jonathan Halving muttered as he exited the room.

“The memory graft didn’t slip, then?”

Jonathan looked up in surprise to see the Colonel stood next to the observation window. He winced and looked away. Clearly he had let his concern over the project get to him if he had spoken his thoughts aloud. He brought his emotions back under control and spoke with confidence that he didn’t entirely feel, “Apparently not, it looks as if the programming kept, though there may be some memory ghosts.”

“Are both subjects fully restrained?” Colonel Givens asked.

Halving shrugged, “Their powers seem quiescent and I’ve put them both into a mental stasis that will keep them passive.”

“Quiescent?” She arched one blonde eyebrow, “What about their fight?”

Halving scowled. “We still don't know what triggered that activity. The female showed no signs of active abilities until after we lost sensor feeds to the area. The male… the data we’ve collected suggests that he used a macro psychokinetic burst. The response team reported what looked like electrokinetics. Some of our secondary sensors noted a temperature drop, which might be a sign of microkinetics or just brought on by changes in air pressure from the other activities.”

“All of it is Psi-Kappa activity, nothing Psi-Gamma?” Colonel Givens demanded.

Jonathan Halving heard the unspoken question. A psychic of the desired functioning level who manifested Psi-Gamma abilities --more specifically telepathy-- would be extremely dangerous. While the government could find any number of uses for such an individual, they also couldn’t trust a mind-reader of that level to remain contained.

“No signs of Psi-Gamma abilities in either subject,” Halving said. He couldn’t verify that without extensive mental probing on his own part, but if ESPSec even suspected that either of the subjects were able to read minds, they would terminate them. That ability would be far too dangerous in either of these two subjects when combined with the targeted abilities.

After all, you couldn’t have brainwashed super-soldiers who were able to see past the orders they were given.

“Good. Let me know as your experimentation progresses, Doctor.”

***

Shaden dreamed of cards.

He didn’t know why. He knew it was a dream, but in his mind he saw the green table and the cards, turning over and over as if by some strange magic.

The final card turned face up: black jack, twenty one.

He awoke to pain.

His world became a red haze. All other sensation dissolved beside the agony in his head. He felt razors dig into the back of his neck and press upwards. He thrashed and fought the restraints that held him. His mouth went wide in a silent scream as he couldn’t push his voice past the torment.

“Hold him still!” Someone shouted. Shaden’s body arced. He heard pops and snaps that could have been his spine for all he knew. The pain didn’t ease.

Instead, it grew worse.

“Stop, please!” He grunted the words and felt his own spittle splash across his face. He felt burning hot tears coursing out of his eyes. The shards of burning hot metal seemed to dig deeper into his head.

A woman’s calm voice spoke over his grunts, “Pulse rate rising, Doctor.”

“Activate electrodes three and five, check the brainwave scans for any changes.”

He didn’t care about his pride. Shaden felt no shame. He begged, he sobbed, but the pain just went on.

“No signs of desired activity on the scans,” the woman’s voice said. The words no longer held any meaning to Shaden. He tasted blood as his face pulled back into a rictus and his teeth tore at the inside of his lips.

“Terminate experiment.”

The pain vanished. Shaden sagged in relief. He felt his muscles twitch as random synapses fired in his brain. He tasted a sour bite of vomit in the back of his throat. He hurt too much to move, too much to do more than cry silent tears.

“Put him under. We’ll try again as soon as we assimilate the data.”

***

Halving frowned as he examined the dreamstate of the male subject. There was something odd about it. He'd come to trust his intuition as he sorted through the mental impressions. Something about the male's mental state was off. Why the cards?

“The mental conditioning,” Halving asked, looking at Cyrus, “You verified that it held, correct?”

His expert in the field nodded, “Of course.” He gave a little grimace as he looked at the young man on the table. “Granted, it's the brain butchers that ESPSec brought in, so his head is a mess, but they wiped everything. There might be some fragments of memory here or there, but the rest is gone.”

Halving stroked his chin in thought as he stared down at the male subject. The short, stocky young man had become gaunt under the experimentation processes. A variety of the chemical treatments Halving used were extremely hard on the human body.

The young man's shaven scalp showed a variety of scars, most of them put there by Halving, though a few had been done by the good Doctor Sheng, who'd done the mind-wipe. “Any chance of subconscious bleed-over?” Halving asked. Though in truth, he knew the answer. Who knew what might remain in the subconscious?

Cyrus didn't answer and Halving sighed. “Well, electro-stimulus hasn't had the desired effect but we'll try prompting other regions of the brain.”

“It's the frontal lobes that we've targeted so far,” Cyrus said. “That seems to be where he's had the most success manifesting his abilities.”

“Yes,” Halving said, “but I don't want to permanently damage him. All the work we've put into him and the female, it'd be a shame to burn them out with nothing to show for it. We know he can manifest those abilities, we need to prompt another response. He seemed to respond to pain, we'll attack the pain centers next, see if that gets us what we need.”

Cyrus nodded. The older man had an expression of distaste, but Halving didn't blame him. This part was always some of the least pleasant. Exposing themselves to the dreams and thoughts of the subjects made it dangerously easy to sympathize or even humanize them.

Cyrus was one of Halving's oldest employees, he'd been a mentor to him... but Halving knew that Cyrus's heart wasn't in the project. The old man just wanted to be left alone. Still, he knew that cooperation with ESPSec was the safest route... and he wouldn't let his qualms get in the way of his job.

“Begin electro-stimuli of the pain centers,” Halving said.

***

In Shaden’s dreams, a ball spun around the checkered wheel. Black, then red, then black again. Ghostly hands moved black and red chips forward onto a number. The ball slowed, clattered over the slots and then stuck.

He won again.

A needle drove through his forehead.

Shaden screamed. He threw his head side to side and screamed as the needle drove deeper into his brain.

He felt the cold metal, felt savage hands twist it back and forth. He screamed until his voice gave out. Then, again, he sobbed and begged for the torture to stop. He begged for an end to his pain. Finally, he begged for death.

The agony went on.

A calm voice spoke over his hoarse pleas, “Electrode stimulation of the region does not seem to have the desired effects. Reset and we'll try again.”

***

“I think we're seeing some mental conditioning issues,” Halving said. He'd called in Doctor Sheng for this meeting. While Halving had his doubts about Doctor Sheng's capabilities, he might be able to lend an outside perspective. Besides, worse comes to worse, I can blame any further issues on his advice.

Doctor Sheng scowled, “The issue cannot be his mental conditioning. If there were issues with the mind wipe or any of the underlying programming, my people would have identified it already.”

Halving met the doctor's angry gaze without fear. He didn't care about the other man's connections and political ties. If Halving wanted, he could snap the doctor's mind and cause him to commit suicide in a fashion that wouldn't lead back to him. A more and more tempting prospect every day, Halving thought absently.

“He's presenting dream images of gambling scenarios,” Cyrus said. “He shouldn't have any experiences to create those and they weren't in the proscribed memories that you put in his head.”

Doctor Sheng flushed. “Gambling? I fail to see how this is an issue...”

“These are dream-state images,” Halving said. “That suggests his sub-consciousness has presented them... his mind is playing the odds on... something. My concern is that whatever you missed, it has manifested as a block to him utilizing his abilities as desired.

“Impossible,” Doctor Sheng snapped. “Anything the mind wipe missed, the mental conditioning would have made inaccessable. Even if his sub-consciousness could access some of these memory fragments, like this 'gambling scenario' then it would be a disjointed thing, triggered only by something your people prompted as a stimuli.”

Halving stared at the Doctor suspiciously... yet the argument made more sense than he'd like to admit. If the male subject had undergone some kind of previous trauma or other experience which had imprinted itself upon his brain, then perhaps Halving's people had triggered it with the pain responses.

That didn't explain why these dreams manifested after the pain. It almost felt like the subject's mind seemed to view each pain sequence as a test and survival as the method of passing.

“We'll test your theory,” Halving said, looking down at the sleeping male subject. “Begin him on the Apollorine doses. We’ll see if his brain responds to that.” Apollorine should reveal any personality that had survived. The Bureau of Internal Security used it for interrogations, though one had to be careful, in heavy doses it could lead to hallucinations and Halving had seen cases where it could snap a person's mind.

Halving nodded at Doctor Sheng, “Have your technicians confirm his conditioning and call me if there's any issues.”

***

A horse galloped through Shaden’s dreams. It raced around the track. It drew closer and closer to the finish line. Shaden could feel his heart match the hoofbeats of the horse, beat for beat.

Then the horse stopped. It turned towards him and its eyes lit up with a crimson flame. It reared and suddenly it stood above Shaden, sharp hooves trailed by fire came for him. Faced with that terror, Shaden fled.

Shaden ran, but the demonic horse came close behind. He ran through a crowd of people, all of whom wore his face. They watched him as the horse continued its pursuit. Shaden screamed as he felt the flaming breath of the demon on his back. He felt his skin crisp, smelled his own burning flesh.

Suddenly, his eyes went wide as he found himself face up on a table. A white-coated man stared at him with cold eyes.

Shaden howled and thrashed against the restraints that held him. He knew the demon horse would catch him. When it caught him, it would burn him to death. It would crush him under its hooves into a red ruin. He shrieked again, through a voice raw and animal. Finally, he saw the demon horse. It stood behind the lab-coated man. It was here for him and he saw his death in its eyes.

He reached inside himself and pushed.

The restraints exploded away. Pieces of leather and metal bounced off the ceiling and walls. Shaden rolled to the side off the table. He felt his legs sag underneath him. But he felt the hot breath of the demon horse right behind him. The room spun oddly around him. He let out a hopeless wail as he saw other demons leap forward towards him.

Again he pushed and he saw his assailants fly back. They collided with the walls and exploded into shards of glass. Shaden wobbled towards the door, but the room tilted under his feet. The floor slammed into him and briefly tinted the world in shades of lavender. He crawled towards the door across a ceiling that spun and twirled.

A pair of infinitely tall boots walked forward into his vision. The familiar cold voice spoke. “Finally... a reaction.” He heard satisfaction in the voice, satisfaction and amusement.

Shaden pushed out at the boots with every ounce of energy he had left. He saw them stumble back slightly. The voice took on a harsh tone, “None of that, now.”

Shaden cried incoherently as a pair of massive dark eyes peered down at him from untold heights. “I’m putting him out again. Cut his dosage of Apolloine, immediately.”

The nightmare faded into blackness.

A moment later, Shaden smiled as the horse crossed the finish line. He had beat the odds, he’d won again.

***

“What the hell was that?” Colonel Givens met Halving as he stepped into his office.

He frowned in a preoccupied manner, “Excuse me?”

“The entire building shook. I saw four corpses and two critically injured pulled out of the Archon Section,” The ESPSec Colonel face was flushed in anger and her voice rose to a dangerous pitch. “What the hell happened in there?”

“I finally got some data and results from the Apolloine administrations,” Halving said . A broad smile creased his face. He stepped past his watchdog and moved to his desk. He pulled a crystal decanter of brandy out of a cabinet from behind his desk and a small crystal brandy snifter.

“So the Apolloine drug triggered one of the subject’s abilities?” The anger vanished from the Colonel’s face, replaced by a look of pure avarice.

Halving poured himself a generous measure and after placing the decanter back, sniffed it appreciatively. “Oh, no,” He waved a hand in dismissal. “The drug had no measurable effect at all on the subject’s abilities.” He waved a hand absently as he seated himself.

“Then what happened?” Colonel Givens had clearly lost the last of her limited patience with him.

His smile grew wider at the obvious frustration on her face, “The drug triggered a hallucinogenic episode in the male subject. He had a truly terrifying nightmare of a demon of some kind pursuing him.” Halving shrugged, “The idiot lab technicians of Doctor Sheng's didn’t think to cease the experiment or even contact me. The hallucination extended to his wakeful state. I felt him wake up and got to him just as he manifested macro psychokinetic abilities. He threw the restraints off himself, smashed up the lab, pulverized the lab techs and then tried to flee the monster he saw pursuing him.”

Colonel Given’s gray eyes lit up, “What level of ability?” It amused Halving how dynamic she could become when excitement caused her to forget her poise. Stringing her along became a game in itself… one that he would enjoy all the more when she realized that he did it on purpose

“Level Three, at least. We’ve purposely kept both subjects in a weakened state. He could barely walk when he got free. I think if he were in full health, we might just get Level Two, maybe even Level One out of him.”

“And the female?” Again he noticed her particular interest in the woman subject. He wondered if this was some sexist aspect of her or if she had some more personal stake. Perhaps she had some side bet with one of her fellow ESPSec agents. He had seen that sort of thing before, where agents would go as far as to deliberately sabotage a project or experiment, solely for the purpose of their own petty victories.

He wondered what it said about him that they amused him.

“Now that I know the progress achieved with the male, I can compare the accomplishments on him with what we’ve done to her. I’m reasonably certain we can achieve similar results… hopefully in a less expensive manner,” Halving said. He let none of his amusement show and he kept his own thoughts carefully shielded. He knew ESPSec had “tame” mind readers to do spot checks on both their own personnel and most of their civilian “contractors.”

Colonel Givens gave one sharp nod, “Understood. However, now that we’ve shown some concrete progress, I will give my approval towards further funding. The lab and personnel will be replaced. We need these weapons; they’ll prove invaluable.”

Halving smiled slightly and took a sip of his brandy. He swirled the expensive liquor around his mouth and enjoyed the bouquet before he swallowed. The alcohol burned its way down to his stomach. “I agree. I would go so far as to say that these two will exceed your expectations.”

Those limited expectations were another source of amusement to him. The Command Council wanted weapons to unleash against their enemies, many of them political ones. Amalgamated Worlds remained the central authority of all of humanity thanks to the threat of rogue psychics. The only people who contested that were a handful of Colonial Terrorists and some random terrorist factions.

Project Archon will see use against civilians as much as it will against actual rebels, Halving thought. Such a poor use for weapons of such potential, in his mind.

“So what now?” Colonel Givens’ voice had returned to her normal, professional tone. She understands all the work that remains to be done, Halving thought. The only thing he liked about her was that she had somewhat realistic expectations about the project, unlike her predecessor.

“I’ll move the male to the next step of the process. We’ll verify the mental programming has had the desired effects. Truthfully… that’s the area I’m most worried about,” Halving said. He wished he hadn’t made that admission a moment later.

“Why is that?” The ESPSec Colonel stared at him with calm, brown eyes.

Halving felt the icy touch of death lurking behind those brown eyes. Despite his position, the woman would not hesitate to sign his death warrant if she thought he might be unreliable. The uncertainty of his survival was another part of the game that he enjoyed. Even so, he chose his next words with care, “Human psychology is very complex, Colonel. Children grow to adulthood over a period of years. Their minds have a long time to adjust their personalities to their positions and abilities.”

“And?” She cocked a blonde eyebrow at him.

Halving reclined in his chair and sipped at his brandy. He knew he couldn’t afford to let his watchdog smell even a hint of fear. “Ideas like loyalty and service are difficult to instill in people. We’ve essentially crammed an entire childhood and a life’s worth of memories into their heads. On top of that, we’ve psycho-programmed them to be loyal to Amalgamated Worlds. Against my better judgment, it was decided to go for fanatical loyalty rather than a reasoned desire for what Amalgamated Worlds offers.”

“Which is?” She baited the trap, letting him have enough rope to hang himself. If he had harbored disloyalty, he might have stated his own loyalty to their regime. She could then compare that to earlier statements and build a case against him.

Halving snorted slightly at the trap, “Security, authority, and stability. I won’t lie to you and say I’m an ideological dedicate to a government that views me as a threat to its very existence.” He raised his brandy snifter, “I will say there are a lot of very nice perks to being on the right side.” Those perks go far beyond this position, he thought to himself, and you have no idea what I’ve been able to accomplish under your watchful eyes… or those of my prior watchdogs.

Colonel Givens nodded, almost despite herself. He could tell that she’d heard what she expected: the views of a mercenary... though a loyal one. Halving wondered how much of the party line she believed herself. Few of the senior ranks in government believed in much beyond their own ambition and power. Then again, with psychics like him as the boogeyman to the populace, they could well afford to believe in little beyond power. No citizen terrified of mind-reading psychics would care how corrupt their government was, not with the manufactured threat to keep them all in line.

“Very well, go ahead and move the male to the next step. I want a full update on the female, however, and I want to see significant process with her as well,” Colonel Givens said, again with the emphasis on the female. If he wasn’t quite so busy, he would investigate further.

“Understood, Colonel,” he answered with a crisp nod. Then, because he couldn’t stand not to twinge her a bit, Halving smiled, “As soon as I finish my own private little celebration, I’ll get right on it.”

***

Chapter 3

Who are you supposed to be when they take everything from you? When you have to question every memory, every assumption… when they have corrupted the meaning of words and have changed your very thoughts?

 

--Memoirs of Shaden Mira

 

The true achievement of Project Archon is that I have documented every step, every process. We have met each obstacle and overcome them. In the process, I have gained a better understanding of the potential to unlock in the minds of every psychic… at a cost at once both horrible and necessary. How can we have progress without sacrifice?

 

--Dr. Jonathan Halving, Project Archon Notes.

 

Shaden came awake in some kind of hospital bed.

He stared up at flat white ceiling tiles and listened to the drone of the ceiling lights. His body felt weak. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and his eyes felt grimy. He searched his memory for a time he’d felt this bad, but nothing came to mind.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Kal Spriggs is a science fiction and fantasy author. He currently has five series in print, and fourteen published books. Kal is a US Army combat veteran who has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He lives in Colorado, and is married to his wonderful wife (who deserves mention for her patience with his writing) and also shares his home with his infant son, two feline overlords, and a rather put-upon dog. He likes hiking, skiing, and enjoying the outdoors, when he's not writing.


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