Alec opened his eyes. Darkness. Coldness and darkness. He tried to reach out, but his wrists were restrained. Uncomfortable restraints that bit into his skin, tight on the bones underneath. Pain in his head. He turned his face to one side, but a hand hit his cheek, the unexpected slap stinging his skin. He could feel his pulse beating hard, almost erratically, could sense the strangeness of his surroundings, could smell his sweat, sharp and sour. A blindfold over his eyes, so firm that he could not see even the slightest chink of light.
Muffled voices in the background, words that he could not make out. Strange, unfamiliar sounds that were unlike anything he had heard before. Panic filled him and he struggled against the ties that held him down, but it was useless. He wondered what they would do to him, his enemy, now that they had captured him, and he thought back over his life, memories of his past flooding through his mind.
There was a sharp pain in his arm, a hand on his body, a voice close to his head and he turned to listen, half-expecting another clout. The voice was familiar. He had been trained, been taught to recognise it, the voice of his enemy.
‘Where have you come from?’ a softly hissed question, and despite the blindfold he could visualise Ed Straker standing there, leaning over him, his hand pressing onto Alec Freeman’s shoulder. Warmth spread through him, a quiet lassitude as the drug relaxed him, blurring his efforts to focus on being silent. He was dizzy now, which was a new sensation although this body, this person understood the feeling. Too dizzy even to speak. Numb lips mumbled incoherently, his fingers stretched, clenched, twisted in an effort to bring his thoughts under control.
Another sharp pain on his face. Pain. He was used to that. The pain from the implants in his neck and spine, as his creators filled his mind with stolen thoughts, as his body had been forced to grow rapidly, as he realised with horror what he was. A mere copy. A shell, with one purpose only. Full of those memories that belonged to another person, and yet were also his own. His whole life a pretence, with one goal. To capture Straker if possible, or otherwise to eliminate him.
And the worst thing was that deep within, he had become Alec Freeman, has seen and delighted in the deep affection that Freeman had for his friend, and more frightening than anything, he too felt that same emotion for the man he had been programmed to regard as his ultimate enemy.
He had failed, and yet, he had also succeeded. Ed Straker was still alive, still free.
The question again, harsher this time, closer to his ear, the voice with a note of desperation. Alec shook his head, unable to answer, his feeble attempts to escape futile against the straps that held him down. A low moan escaped his mouth as he felt a needle once more in his flesh and another surge of light-headedness.
A different voice this time and he knew who it was. Jackson. He had hated Jackson once, he seemed to recall. At least Alec Freeman had hated Jackson. He could smell the man’s breath on his face, a slight hint of spiced tea, and Alec closed his eyes tighter under the blindfold.
‘Colonel. Tell me. Where did you come from?’ the voice was insistent, insidious, creeping into his brain past all his defences, all his barriers. He bit his lip, bringing blood.
‘It’s no use. He won’t answer.’ Straker’s angry retort filled the room.
‘Or he can’t, Commander.’ The slow drawl of Jackson’s accent was soothing. ‘It is quite possible that he has no knowledge of where he was created.’
Alec heard a hand slam on a hard surface. ‘I have to know. There has to be something you can do. At least, if not where he was grown, some clue as to where we might find Alec. The real Alec.’
‘I can only use the drug one more time Commander. Even then it is dangerous.’
‘Another dose. My orders.’
Pain. Heat . Dizzying vertigo. He wanted to tell them, to tell his enemy, his friend, but the words wouldn’t come out although he had been trying for so long.
Fingers gripped his arms, digging in. ‘Tell me. Where did you come from?’ Insistent, demanding. Another blow on his face, back-handed and hard. His eyes watering, his tongue tasting blood, words sticking in his throat.
‘Enough. That’s enough. You’ve been interrogating him for hours now.’ Her voice. The woman. The one of whom he had no memory, no reference point. She was not in his mind, not in the data that had filled his empty thoughts like water pouring into a reservoir.
‘I have to know Dr. Harper. This is no time for sentimentality.’ Straker. Cold and hard as Alec had so often seen him, and yet distressed as well. And Alec wanted to help. He swallowed, a stale taste in his mouth, and forced words out.
‘Water. Tunnel.’ The sum of his knowledge. Two words. Another blow.
‘Commander. Please. Stop.’
Straker released his hand. ‘Leave the room Doctor Harper.’
‘No. Listen. I finished the autopsy on that clone of Ford. I need to talk to you. Right away.’
He lay there, his swelling tongue exploring the inside of his bruised cheeks, feeling his light-headedness fade slightly as the drug released its hold on his body. More quiet mutterings away from where he lay, then Jackson’s hand on his wrist feeling for his pulse for a moment. He focussed on the words, the woman arguing with Straker. He was tired and more than tired. Something felt … wrong.
He could feel the acidic bile in his gut, a tingling in his face, not from a slap, but a warning and he had just enough time to twist his head to one side before he vomited. Coppery, salty unstoppable, blood gushing from his mouth.
‘Christ.’ The woman was first to get to him, to lift his head, his shoulders and support his as he vomited more blood, spluttering and gasping. ‘Ed. Untie him. He’s going to choke.’ ‘What the hell……’ Straker’s hands now undoing the straps, lifting him to sit forward, blood still filling his throat and mouth, relentless as it poured out.
‘This is what I was afraid of.’ She was speaking now, even as she was wiping his face, clearing his lips as the deluge eased and he was able to gasp huge breaths into his starved lungs. Exhausted, he slumped back, to lie on his side as pain bit deep into his gut.
‘It hurts.’ His own voice, broken and childish, like the voices of others he had known, and a gentle hand stroked his face.
‘I know. Hold on. It will stop soon.’ Sympathy, love, concern? He could not tell, but her voice was kind and he put one hand on top of hers, to hold it and be cherished for once in his short life.
‘What’s the matter with…….’
‘It? Him? The same as Keith. Disintegration I think would be the best description. All his major organs are breaking down. Keith didn’t live long enough for it to become apparent.’ She smoothed Alec’s hair, spoke again. ‘It’s … painful. He doesn’t deserve this Ed.’
Alec saw his friend step closer to lean over him. ‘One last time. Where did you come from?’ The soft Bostonian accent now pleading. ‘Please.’
‘Ed,’ Freeman smiled, despite the agony that was building inside, ‘there was water and a tunnel. That is all I know.’ He closed his eyes, coughing as blood spattered onto the pillow.
‘Sara, Jackson. What can you do to help him?’ There was silence. Straker’s voice again, but now quiet and sad. ‘Nothing? As you say Doctor Harper, he doesn’t deserve this. I think he has helped us as much as he can. Please, leave us.’
Her hand was removed from his face and Alec felt the movement of air as she brushed past him without a word. He lay still, the worst of the coughing over, but his mouth was tainted with stale blood. The pain burnt him, sliced deep into him and he moaned.
‘Jackson. You know what I’m asking?’ Alec could hear his friend nearby, as if Straker was standing there next to the table, next to him, but it was too much effort to open his eyes and see.
‘I am. But, you know that I won’t… I can’t…’ That drawl again, but hesitant and reluctant this time.
Alec wondered what they were talking about as he coughed again, thick clots and dead black tissue spewing out as Straker raised him in a firm hold.
‘It’s my responsibility. Just give it to me.’ Straker still held him, heedless of the blood that surely must now be soaking into clothes. The sound of cabinets being opened, the rustle of plastic tearing. ‘Thank you. You can go.’ Straker, icily calm as if holding himself together by sheer willpower. Alec knew how determined Straker could be, even though he had only known of him for a short while. Not long enough really.
Alec felt the needle scratch his arm, felt the drug start to take hold, felt deep unending and welcome sleep begin to wash over him and at last the pain subsided as his friend, the man he had been sent to capture, released him.