“Use…the sleepers,” I said slowly. I rubbed my hair back. Silver and gold, that was unnecessarily cryptic. Though considering the man had been dying when he passed along the message, maybe it was the best he could do. “How, exactly?”
“That’s what I thought at first,” Laura responded breathlessly, as she fiddled with some device hanging from the ceiling. “We haven’t had much luck with them so far. But if what Akane’s singer said is true, then buried somewhere in their brains is the location of the Composer’s lair.”
“Are we really planning to listen to something a singer said?” Adam asked, as Lily cleaned up the burn on his shoulder. Zaphkiel had got a few good hits in as he was escaping. “It could have been the Composer spreading false information.”
“I thought he was shooting at you the whole time,” the little demon girl noted, as she grabbed some bandages. “Maybe he was distracted, and the singer was able to break free for a minute.”
Adam winced. “We don’t have any reason to believe he can’t pilot multiple screamers—or singers—at once. He’s proven to be holding back before.”
Laura waved her hand dismissively. “This is the first lead we have. Yes, it might be a trap. But we don’t have a choice.”
He shook his head. “No, there’s still that blind spot, remember? Did anyone do something with that?”
“Blind spot disappeared a little while ago,” MC commented from one of the wall speakers. “The Composer seems to move around a lot.”
“Which is why we need to jump on this as soon as possible,” Laura insisted. “Soon, the sleepers won’t know the way.”
Before Adam could get another word out, the doors to the lab burst open. “I did it! I finally did it!”
It was Doctor Clarke, in full surgical scrubs, holding something in his hands. He was ecstatic, jumping around like a kid at Christmas. It was at times like this that I was reminded he wasn’t much over fifty, and in the peak of his health, not the decrepit old man he pretended to be.
Laura sighed. “What is it, Doctor? We’re in the middle of something here.”
But the man wouldn’t be brought down that easily. He settled down a little, but he was clearly leashing his jubilation rather than squashing it. He had a childish grin on his face; yes, ‘kid at Christmas’ was the perfect analogy.
“Look, look!” he said, showing her something in his hand. We all leaned in close…
It was a heart. A human heart.
Laura blinked. “You…you did it? Seriously?”
Ling backed up. “I think I need to puke.”
“There’s a trash can in the corner,” Clarke said off-handedly. “But I finally did it! I finally managed to create a fully functioning human heart!”
I frowned. “So organ donation…”
“Is now completely unnecessary!” he cried. Then he backpedaled. “Well, not completely unnecessary. The heart is a relatively simple organ, for all its importance. But this is a massive step forward.”
Laura poked the mass of muscle very lightly with a finger. “You haven’t tested it yet, I take it?”
“No, no.” Clarke jumped, nearly dropping the heart in the process, as a thought occurred to him. “That reminds me! Lily, whenever you’re ready, we can start the surgery.”
“We’re in the middle of something here,” she reminded him. “Planning for tomorrow. I’ll be in…say…Monday? The heart can keep until then. And it will give you time to make spares.”
The scientist nodded happily. “Of course, of course. It will be good practice. If we can replicate your heart, we can replicate anyone’s. I’ll leave you to it.” He headed out the same way he came in, literally giggling.
Ling frowned as she stepped forward again. I hadn’t heard her retching; it seemed she had managed to keep her dinner down. “Why can’t we tell him what we’re really doing, again?”
“Only the people in this room have been cleared,” Laura reminded her. “And trying to get a blood sample from Doctor Clarke would raise too much attention.”
The little Chinese girl rolled her eyes. “Yeah, thanks for that.” She glared at Adam. “Did you really have to go that far?”
He shrugged, unconcerned, as Lily finished his bandages. “It worked out in the end. Although I still think we should bring Lizzy in—”
“No,” Laura and I said at once. We looked at each other, and she nodded to allow me to continue, which I did. “No. We’re not getting her involved in this. She’s…” I shook my head to clear another migraine. “We’re not going to suck her into this. Not to mention you already failed getting a blood sample from her…what? Five times?”
“Twice,” he corrected. “Including the time with Ling. It’s just bad luck. I can get it next time.”
“It would draw too much attention,” I insisted. “And it’s irrelevant anyway.” Not to mention he seemed to have bad luck getting these samples in general. He had mentioned he had tried to get some from Simon and his new girlfriend, but been interrupted by a gargant attack.
He threw up his hands in defeat, wincing at his wounds a little. “Fine. Then can someone tell me why my girlfriend is getting a heart transplant?”
Lily frowned. “Didn’t I tell you Doctor Clarke was using my cells as seeds for his project?”
Adam grimaced again as she tightened his bandage. “Nope.”
The slender horned girl shrugged. “Well, he is. It’s no big deal.”
He seemed ready to retort, but I changed the subject before he got a chance. “So how are we going to get the location from the sleepers? You still haven’t explained that.”
Laura patted the strange device she was working on. It looked like a large robotic arm, coming down from the ceiling, but instead of tools on the end there was a place to look into, like at the eye doctor’s.
“This is something Moradin cooked up a while ago. He designed it to help people remember their dreams. MC figured out a way to tweak it a little.” She grinned, and she suddenly didn’t seem quite as intimidating as people always claimed. Making progress on a project always did that to her. “Now you could call it a reverse hypnotism machine.”
I kept myself from raising a skeptical eyebrow by a force of will. I didn’t want to ruin this for her. “So…it will make the sleeper run his orders in reverse?”
She sighed, and her face went hard again. “No, of course not. But it will let him remember what happened, which should lead us to the Composer’s lair.”
“Why didn’t you already?” Akane asked from the corner, where she was keeping an eye on everything. She was insistent that the singer had been telling the truth, though she couldn’t say why. She probably saw something in his eyes that she couldn’t quite explain. I know from personal experience that there is a light in a dying man’s eyes that can reveal his entire character.
Laura coughed uncomfortably. “Well…yes. I haven’t done it yet for much the same reason Moradin let the project die. There are…side effects.”
Ling smiled knowingly, like she always did when a ‘plot twist’ came up. “Insanity? Hallucinations?”
“Well…yes,” Laura admitted. “But those are easily treatable. The problem is a bit more serious.”
I frowned. “What is it?” It must be serious, for her to beat around the bush like this.
Laura stuttered a little, hesitating even more, so MC stepped in.
“Their head explodes,” she said flatly. “A day or so after the treatment.”
“Technically, just their brain explodes,” Laura corrected quickly. “The rest of the skull is fine.”
Lily looked up. “Wait, I’ve heard about this. Isn’t that exactly the sort of thing the Banyan party is trying to outlaw with the Mental Health and Safety bill?”
Laura looked uncomfortable. “Well…yes. But the law hasn’t been passed yet. The Kongeegen are blocking it, with the Iluvatar leaning towards passing it, and the Granit leaning towards not. But right now, it’s still between the Banyans and the Kongs.”
I glared at her, ignoring the political talk. “We are not killing someone.”
“Better than the Composer,” Akane muttered.
“She’s got a point,” Adam put in. “One life to stop this guy? Cheap at ten times the price.”
I stood firm. “The point is to not become monsters in order to stop a monster.”
“I’m already a monster!” Lily said cheerfully, though I saw a shadow in her eyes. She didn’t like this any more than I did.
I sighed. “Not the time.” I turned to Laura again. “If we had a volunteer, then maybe—”
“Adonides already jumped at the call,” MC interrupted. “He offed a couple of his friends while he was under, and he’s chomping at the bit for some redemption.”
I silently counted to ten. Why were we even having this discussion?
“Derek,” Laura said as she stepped forward. Her hand edged to her necklace, but she stopped herself. “This isn’t like killing some random civilian for a one-in-a-million shot at finding the Composer. This is a very good chance, and Adonides knows how it will end.” She met my gaze, her black eyes unwavering. “I know you can stop this if you have a mind to. So I’m asking you, please, let us do this.”
I didn’t break the gaze. I didn’t say a single word.
Eventually, she broke eye contact, stepping back again, trying not to make it too obvious she was avoiding looking at me.
I sighed and rubbed my forehead. “Just…give me two days to think about it, okay? Can it wait ’til Sunday?”
Laura looked up and frowned. “It really shouldn’t…but I understand. Sunday.” She pushed a button, and the machine recessed back into the ceiling. “But we need to be ready at first light, Sunday morning. No delays.”
I nodded. “No delays.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 102)
It’s been seventeen days since the skins attacked, which means the “freshest” known sleepers are that old. Actually a little bit older, but still.