Jaim’s foot slipped. The arm he flung out to save himself met nothing and so he fell. He didn’t get up again. His arms and legs were too heavy and the floor swayed and rolled, and he had to close his eyes and clamp his mouth shut against bile that was rising up, hot and stinging, from his stomach. Exhaustion took him up and he forgot he was trembling with cold. He was numbed, tumbled spinning into the void of sleep, riding air softer than any bed. Comforting darkness received him, closed itself about him as tight as a trap.
He dreamed voices, and other things.
He dreamed a spoon. He dreamed an eye; a round, blue eye that collapsed into bloody blindness around a sharpened point. Arms reached, desperate and shuddering, and fingers clutched at his legs. A mouth opened and babbled out surprise and disbelief and panic.
There was blood, and running, a trail of footprints in tacky, rusty red. There were shouts and denial. And there was the buzzing in his ears, in his mind, wasps crawling, seething masses of them trapped in his head. He reached up with his hands to scratch them out and his fingers met the rounded metal points.
These began to grow. They pushed up, bristles on a brush, grew taller and taller and longer and longer. They spiralled up into the roof and tangled and wrapped themselves around pipes, around doors, poured through rooms and hallways. They coiled their silver lengths around men and women, skewered them, pushed through ears and wriggled into noses, winding out again through the soft flesh of a cheek or the wet circle of an eye.
Jaim in the centre of the web, imprisoned, screaming as the shining spokes pushed through his fingers, made bloody nets of his hands. The buzzing of the wasps deafening loud, he was drowning in sound.
“He’ll be found, Excellence. I’ve sent three teams.”
“Those were your orders,” the Security Chief bowed. “So long as he doesn’t meet with an accident. There are the fans - the ventilation system. Some of the passages may be damaged. Leaks are insidious, apparently. The waste passages too. The Chief Engineer is on her way, she can...”
“There will be no accidents.”
“No, Excellence. As you say.”
The Doctor glanced at the Security Chief and blanched, cleared his throat. “Under control, Excellence,” he said in a nervous rush. “We’ve increased sedation for subjects Eleven and Eighteen. No reason why we should not go ahead with the procedures tomorrow. But, Excellence, we may be losing subject Five. We’ve worked around the clock, given our best...but, well...the only option may be to...”
“Keep her alive Doctor.”
“Certainly,” the Doctor nodded. He stared at the floor and tugged at his collar. “We’ll try. We are trying...”
“You’ll do more than try.”
“Yes. Yes, of course.”
“We’re creating evolution here, Doctor.”
“Well...um, acquired characteristics can’t be inherited. It’s not evolution. It’s...um... enhancement. It’s cybernetics, not genetics...” The Doctor caught sight of his Excellence’s expression and shut his mouth, dropping his gaze again to the floor. The Security Chief, a lean man who was as smart and gleaming in his uniform as the Doctor was dowdy and bedraggled in his, made a small, dismissive gesture and coughed.
“Excellence. There would be no problem if the medical team had used the trackers as I requested.”
The Doctor cringed. It was his Excellence who had vetoed this suggestion, impatient with any procedure that would impede his plans. The trackers were time-consuming and difficult to make. In the first trials, when they had lost every subject in the early stages of the experiment, tens of these devices had been wasted on corpses now gone for liquefaction to the generators. They could not be recycled. However, the Doctor foresaw he would now be blamed for this.
“Excellence...” he said, afraid, hearing that fear change his voice to a pitiful whine.
“No more mistakes Doctor. No more deaths.”
“Well, no. I hope...I mean no. No, Excellence.”
“No more escapes.”
The Security Chief nodded. “Excellence.” He straightened his back and saluted.
“I want regular reports. If you disappoint me, either one, there will be severe consequences. Very severe. You are dismissed.”