written by David Kuijt

The Doctor stood in a far corner of his dimly-lit lab, staring at the far door with a look of apprehension. He had heard the alarms go off several minutes ago, followed by explosions, gunfire and a series of loud crashes. Now, there was only silence.

"We'll be safe here," he remarked, more for his own benefit than that of his two assistants. "That door would stop a Doberman!"

That said, the Doctor still eyed the far door nervously. "... but just to be safe, I think you two should arm yourselves."

Nodding silently, the two women flanking the Doctor extended their left arms. A moment later, the limb unfolded, revealing the oily black mechanism of a machine pistol.

Suddenly the door rang like a bell. The immense reinforced titanium-steel alloy door bulged like soft plastic, then ripped down the center like a shower curtain cut by a knife. The split halves fell back into the room, each weighing half a ton or more.

Takeda stood lit by the corridor lights, panting with exertion as he peered into the dimness, snarling as he expected resistance.

The Doctor babbled faintly, "That's ... that's impossible!" His two assistants stood in open-mouthed shock, their cyberguns forgotten for the moment.

Noriko Kobayashi stepped through the shattered doorway past Takeda, almost glowing in the sparkle of back-lit dust and debris that swirled around her forcefield. Spotting the two synthetic women and the Doctor, she walked deliberately towards them across the lab.

"Stay back,"the Doctor said tentatively, "or I'll tell them to shoot!"

Noriko ignored his threat and continued walking towards them. "You have the option to surrender," she said in a commanding voice.

Takeda stepped into the room behind her, also staring at the Doctor and ignoring the two replicants. "Your other option," he said in a voice full of contempt, "is to have me tear your limbs off like the bug you are."

"I... I..." the Doctor stumbled back against the wall. "You've come to take her away, haven't you?"

Takeda looked around, then focussed on the white-haired form suspended in a tank visible through the glass wall the Doctor leaned on. "That's correct," he said coldly. "Your experiment is over." Takeda's eyes sharpened as he spotted another figure in the other room, only dimly visible through the thick glass of the partition.

Noriko had walked deliberately up to the two synthetics, and now put one hand in front of each gun arm. The two synthetics were very confused by this, and turned slightly to regard their master. "Doctor?!? Should we fire?" they asked in unison.

Around Takeda the dust settled, revealing two more forms behind him. Jagger and Mojo held Genom M60 Pulse Rifles steadily leveled at the two armed synthetics.

The standoff was broken by the crackling pop of an intercom. "Doctor," a voice stated calmly, "I think you had better do as they say. This project looks to have been terminated."

"I... I..." the Doctor fell to his knees, all sense of bluster and confidence gone. "We were so close," he mumbled, "so close."

Producing a bundle of plastic 'zip-strips' from her pocket, Noriko bound the elbows of the two synthetics behind them. Their machine pistols were part of their forearms, and could not be easily removed, but the zipstrips would hold their enhanced strength easily enough. Then she secured the Doctor's wrists.

Jagger moved to the door leading to the other room and turned to Takeda. "Care to do the honors?"

The young psychokinetic's attention was focussed on what he could see dimly through the glass partition, and he used much more force than was necessary. There was the sound of tearing metal, and the entire latch mechanism was ripped from the door as he went through. It wasn't clear if the door had been locked or not. Takeda didn't even look down at the bent door handle dangling from his fingers and dropped it absently as he entered the adjacent room. Jagger followed.

Leaning against the wall opposite the examination room window was a tall blond haired man, his metallic face tinted with a light-blue sheen from the lab's lights. He was dressed in a high-collared black jacket and matching trousers, and stood with his arms crossed across his chest, his face expressionless.

Jagger pointed his captured M60 at the blue-faced man. "Assume the position," he ordered.

The blue-faced man did nothing. His lack of expression was more effective than any sneer.

Jagger pointed the M60 low, at his legs, and let off a burst. The high-powered pulse rifle slugs shredded the man's pants and ricocheted off his legs.

"Well, Mr. Jagger," the blue-faced man said calmly, "Are you impressed with yourself?"

"Frequently," Jagger replied, raising his M60 to the man's face. "But today I'm having a bad day. Who the hell are you?"

"My name is Largo," the man said. He looked over at Takeda. "And you must be Takahashi, I expect."

Mojo entered the room and glanced over at the tank where Shion's naked form floated. She looked thinner, vulnerable, but still very beautiful. "My my," Mojo drawled, eyes returning to the blue-faced man. "Ain' no wonder you been standin' heah the whole time."

Takeda had been looking at Shion's holding tank, although he was clearly wary of Largo. Finally he looked up. "Mojo, would you bring the Doctor in here?"

Mojo nodded, although his eyes flitted to Largo in warning before he left. It took him but a moment to bring the Doctor in.

Takeda looked at the Doctor. "Cut him free."

Mojo flipped a straight-razor apparently from nowhere and sliced the zipstrips in one quick motion. The Doctor's eyes bugged out and he rubbed his wrists as if inspecting for severed veins.

Takeda pushed the Doctor forward slightly, pointing to Shion's tank.

"All right, Doctor," Takeda snarled, "unplug her from your experimental atrocity. And let me make something perfectly clear. If she dies, you die. And it will be messy."

"Yes... no problem, please don't hurt me," the Doctor whimpered, his face a sickly blue-white from the lab's lighting. "It will take some time to drain the tank," he continued, "you can't hurry a process like this."

Takeda just looked at him. "Don't think of rescue, Doctor. Make careful haste, and you might get out of this alive." He glanced over at Largo, still uncertain of the strange man's part in this.

Stopping in front of the large transparent tank in which Shion floated, the Doctor typed a rapid serious of commands. Almost immediately, there was a low hiss and then a regular thumping sound, as pumps started to drain off the solution that suspended Shion's nude body.

Jagger looked at the blue-faced man with mild interest. "So, what's your slot in all of this?"

"I'm in charge of security."

"This ain't gonna look good in your resume, chum."

Mojo looked worriedly at Jagger. Under his voice he muttered something about Jagger badgering Largo. If Jagger heard the comment, he paid no attention.

Largo's tone conveyed his total disinterest in the situation better than anything Jagger could have pulled off. "What do you intend to do with me?"

Jagger shrugged. "Helliviknow. As far as I'm concerned, I'm perfectly willing to let you sit there and explain this mess to your bosses."

Largo smiled, "I need to explain nothing, I told them that something like this was bound to happen. I simply see this as a conformation of my unheeded warnings."

Walking past the shattered remains of the security door for the lab, Marta shook her head with frustration. Emotionally she was walking on the razor's edge and the last thing she needed to do was to slip up in the chamber that held her sister. Picking up an M-60 pulse rifle that had been discarded by one of the now-restrained security Lynxes, Marta set the selector to full auto and made her way up the broad hall. With luck, she'd run into another Genom security team and be able to vent some frustrations.

Meanwhile, Ryan leaned against the door to Lab Number Three. Pushing out with his mind, he allowed his consciousness to drift free, the surrounding walls growing hazy and indistinct as he expanded his perceptions. Moments later, Ryan found himself looking at Lab Number Three from the inside. He was surrounded by a number of tall, narrow, clone tanks, bubbling quietly with growth enhancing fluids. Each tube contained a body, the body of an infant, a young girl, a teenager, or a young woman. She was blond, and pretty and the labels attached to each tank gave her name. ANNIE 01, ANNIE 02, ANNIE 03 and so on, around the room, ending at last with ANNIE 20.

Returning to his body, Ryan stepped back from the door. "It's full of clones," he announced to the hall. Stepping to the side, he then leaned up against the door to Lab Number One. Looking inside through the closed door with his mental perceptions, he found everything to be very much the same. This time it was a young blond-haired boy named Malcolm. Once again there were twenty tanks, and each one contained a body in differing stages of development. Shaking his head, Ryan to a step back, he had never heard of a 'Malcolm'.

Noriko had come down the hall in time to hear Ryan's announcement, and now she moved to the two labs on the opposite side from him. With unseen telekinetic strength, she casually ripped the door on Lab Two from its hinges. As Ryan had seen across the hall, inside were twenty tubes full of partially-grown clones. All of them looked enough like Takeda to pass either for him, or his brother. But the name repeated twenty times wasn't Takahashi, as Genom had named Takeda. Nor was it Masaru, Kaneda, or Yamagata, or any other name Noriko was familiar with. Every cannister was marked AKIRA.

Noriko frowned. There were far too many mysteries associated with this operation, and she didn't like mysteries.

Marta looked in over Noriko's shoulder. "Akira? Not Takeda?" She frowned, then glanced at the sealed door to her right. "Hey," Marta snapped, pointing at Lab Number Four, "what about that one?"

Eyeing the dark-haired woman coldly, Noriko gestured, and the second door ripped from its hinges. She didn't like or trust Shion's sister; it was one of the few things in this operation of which she was certain.

Scowling with anger, Marta stepped through the ruined portal of Lab Number Four and straight into a nightmare. All around her were tanks containing duplicates of her sister, clones that were in various stages of growth, from fetus to young adult. Each ready to become another Kiyoko, or a Sonnet.

Gasping slightly with shock, Marta fumbled slightly with the rifle in her hands. Taking a deep breath, she lifted the weapon and set it firmly against her hip, her expression one of grim determination.

Back at Lab Number Three, Ryan paused as the sound of automatic gunfire ripped through the hall, followed by the shattering of glass and the sloshing sounds of amniotic fluid spilling across the floor. Giving a shrug of his shoulders, he continued across the hall to the next closed door on his side.

With a deafening crash, Ryan brought down the door to Lab Three, feeling something give way in his cyberarm as he did so. Giving his hand an experimental wiggle, he shrugged, everything looked to be working normally. Stepping into the room, Ryan glanced about at the twenty Annie's and their growth tanks.

Kenji glanced in the room, on his way down to the far door to suppress any further response from Genom security forces. "Annie," Kenji said meditatively. He had downloaded a number of related files into his skillsoft before the mission. The name and the features of the oldest clones clicked with a description. "Annie the Esper Weapon." Annie the Esper Weapon was a reasonably well-known psychokinetic mercenary who operated all along the Pacific Rim. She was powerful enough for her line of work, although she was nowhere in Shion's league - but then, who was? Kenji moved down the hall at a trot, carrying the huge autocannon in his armoured hands as if it was a light sidearm.

Taking a few deep breaths, Ryan once again summoned his telekinesis, lashing out with it in a concentrated wave. One by one the tubes exploded, sending shards of glass flying, while warm, slimy nutrient fluid gushed over the shattered remains of the cradles. Wet thumps marked the fall of each Annie clone as they sprawled bonelessly to the floor. Boots squeaking on the wet floor, Ryan stepped back out of the lab, his breathing shallow as an attempted defense against the strong chemical smell.

Walking the few short steps to Lab Number 1, Ryan repeated the process, first shattering the door and then destroying the clone tanks. Leaving the fetid confines of the lab, he noted Takeda standing in the hall, watching him.

"Looks like all that's left is Lab Number Two," Ryan said quietly.

Takeda's jaw muscles were jumping from tension—he had seen what the clone tanks held. He had felt the faint signature even while walking down the hall. His own signature. He knew what was in Lab Two, even before he looked.

Takeda stepped forward to where the door to Lab Two had been and looked at the twenty tubes full of ... his clone brothers. All marked "Akira"

Ryan looked in over Takeda's shoulder. "Akira? I've never heard of him."

Takeda didn't speak. Gritting his teeth, he gestured, and all the canisters exploded at once.

Ryan blinked at the display and gave a noncommittal shrug of his shoulders, "I could've done that... once."

Takeda ignored him, staring at the blood that mixed with the fluids spilling from the tanks.

"Takeda!" Kenji's voice called out from the end of the hall. "Security is coming. More BU-35s"

Takeda turned away from the door of the lab, his face grim as death. "Suppress them, Kenji. Pull back as necessary to ensure that they can't get behind you. Your autocannon should be able to hold them off for a little while. We just need time. Be ready to pull back to the main lab—we'll be leaving from there."

Noriko gestured at one of the fallen lab doors, and it raised up, righted itself, and went floating down the hall past Kenji, blocking the cyberdroid line of fire.

As Takeda and Ryan jogged back up the hall past her, Noriko gave Takeda a cold stare. "We are taking all the prisoners with us," she stated flatly.

"I'm not certain Largo will want to accompany us," Takeda said. The blue-faced man had been confident and assured. Considering his position, too confident.

"Including Largo," she said stiffly, "Especially Largo."

Takeda grimaced noncomittally and walked past the ESWAT Captain.

Glaring at Takeda's retreating back, Noriko continued, "We had an agreement, remember?"

Kenji's autocannon started to hammer, drowning any further conversation. The distinctive frying-fat sound of a BU-35's Ion Cannon responded. Takeda trotted through the main lab door. Noriko frowned and followed him.

Back in the lab, the Doctor finished decanting Shion.

Mojo and Jagger were bantering who was going to carry her, when Jagger cut it off by pointing to Marta as she came in. "Want to take it up with her?"

Mojo took the Doctor's labcoat and draped it over Shion's inert body in Marta's arms. Then he zipstripped the Doctor again. Jagger kept his attention on Largo.

Takeda came in and moved over to Largo. "We're leaving in a moment, Mr. Largo. And you are going with us." He stood out of reach, watching the blue-faced man warily.

Jagger frowned and muttered, "Oh well, so much for that", and shrugged in a mild apology to Largo.

Largo raised one eyebrow slightly at Takeda. "And if I refuse to go?" he asked.

"Then I'm afraid we'll have to make an issue of it." Takeda's voice was assured, but his eyes were careful. Jagger held his M60 carefully not aimed at Largo, but ready nonetheless. Largo ignored Jagger, focussing on Takeda.

Glancing through the lab window at the shattered remains of the security door, Largo seemed to sigh slightly. "In the same manner that you made an 'issue' of the vault, eh?" he said in a calm voice.

"What's the deal with blue-face?" Jagger asked impatiently. "Why drag him along?"

Takeda started to respond, then cut himself off with a glance at Largo. "We can discuss this later, Jagger. Well, Mr. Largo?"

Largo shrugged, "It would seem, Mr. Johnson, the day is yours."

Takeda didn't speak. The moment passed; it seemed Largo wasn't going to start anything.

By the time that the first BU-35 arrived they were gone, and the lab was shattered and empty.

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