his dingy concrete cell, Sender/Receiver 381 had been speaking for fifteen
constant minutes and his vocal cords now felt like rusted razors, where every
extra word was a burning brand on his throat. Without the aid of any machine and
against his heartfelt desire to stop, 381 continued to relay the message in
synchronisation with its distant source.
tall, effeminate man in a black lab coat watched on, seemingly enthralled by the
display. With a glance at the three identical Soldiers that served as security,
he spoke in an arrogant, nasal tone.
this telepathy. It’s a wonder his mouth hasn’t fallen off.’
you say so, Researcher,’ the Soldiers answered in unison.
381 was utterly focused on the connection with his source, the literal Sender
that coupled with his current role as the Receiver to form a circuit of
telepathic information. His hazel eyes fluttered as the exhaustion of
Sender/Receiver 379 was felt over the distant link.
the Researcher muttered at the red-armoured guards. ‘Of course I say so. You
are watching two Clones connect their minds with each other with a thousand
kilometres and two concrete bunkers between them. What isn’t incredible about
clenched his hands against the cheap grey robes he wore while trails of sweat
snaked over his forehead tattoo (the JIK381 mark was a unique serial number and
the indelible ink tattooed as deep as his skull). Desperate not to moan for fear
of what the punishment for failing a test so near to its conclusion would be, he
kept going. One word after another was pushed through the agony, each feeling
like the last that he could manage, but his long experience as a test subject
had equipped him with the knowledge that he could handle an almost unlimited
you have any idea how rare a phenomenon like this is?’ the Researcher
continued, his attention still on the indifferent Soldiers. ‘We could capture
any wild human out there to manufacture generic dregs like you, but the
man we cloned for these Sender/Receivers – Jonas Ian Kleptman was his name, a
genuine stage psychic – actually possessed telepathy, telekinesis and more.
Once we get one of these walkie-talkies to show us how it’s done, bingo. No
more secrets, no more disobedience, no more problems for our beloved Regime.’
Soldiers stared down at the grey-robed test subject without interest, then back
at their effeminate superior. ‘If you say so, Researcher.’
381 continued to receive the long-sustained message despite being ignored by his
audience of four and the terrible mental burn that was ripping his mind apart.
The transmitted thoughts of the Sender thudded into 381’s head, but they
suddenly became unclear and slurred, as though from some kind of mental static.
Noticing that this test had no end in sight, 381 realised the goal of this whole
exercise: they wanted to see which Sender/Receiver would drop first.
body from which the Sender/Receivers originated would have been a nightmare to
forcefully acquire,’ the Researcher remarked, nodding his large head. ‘After
Jonas left his body to science he was found dead in Russia a fortnight later,
shot by some underworld figure known as Vogel. The actions of that killer made
the existence of these Sender/Receivers possible.’
what’s wrong with this walkie-talkie? Is it meant to turn blue like that
during the test?’ 381
heard from the far-distant ears of 379, losing his own sense of identity for a
moment. ‘Looks like he’s hurting.
This should help.’
solid concrete room spun around and, watching through Sender/Receiver 379’s
eyes as though they were his own, 381 saw an iron-capped boot crunch down. Then,
without fanfare, the three hundred and seventy-ninth clone of a man who had died
decades before this point in time, died. The link was severed and 381 collapsed
sideways in an untidy pile.
from my Sender,’ 381 ground out, despite the anguished craving to cool his raw
throat. The Researcher suddenly decided to look back down at him. ‘It’s due
to the retirement of Sender/Receiver
Researcher stamped his foot in effeminate frustration before he tapped a tiny
electronic thumb-board. ‘379 broke. Document the fault and correct it before
the next Series. Stupid Soldiers. Now I can’t do any live tests to find the
problem.’ A tin cup filled with water was only inches from his hand, but 381
knew the price to be paid for any unauthorised uses of his body before the
official end of a test. The Researcher leaned down to stare into the tired eyes
of the telepathic Clone, who made sure not to make eye contact with the cruel
torturer. ‘381 appears to be acceptable for now. Keep it inside. Test F9
concluded at 1739 Hours, 18th of October, 2093.’
briskly from the room, a thick slab that served as a door closed behind the
Researcher while the Soldiers placed Intox sticks within their mouths in
identical motions. The suck-burners ignited as they drew back, the tubes flared
to life and Sender/Receiver 381 felt an unusual urge to think in the midst of
the coarse smoke.
alive at nineteen. How many others exactly like me have died over that time?
Fifty? A hundred? Why don’t I just burn out like the rest of them?
of such a morbid subject caused his memory to produce the elderly face of
Sender/Receiver 19, as whenever the thought of death occurred to him this
always surfaced. This train of thought continued to its usual station and the
death of the elder was remembered in vivid detail.
was called from his concrete quarters, as less than five minutes remained until
the fortieth anniversary of 19’s manufacture. The elder stared at nothing with
his glazed hazel eyes, his face deeply wrinkled and the JIK19 forehead tattoo
faded from time. This visit was the one and only request 19 had ever been
granted and was undoubtedly the last. Besides the two Clones, there was only a
cruelly ticking clock, and plastic sheeting all over the walls and floor, which
all spelled out one word in huge, grim letters: Retirement.
you were custom made for a specific …’
single second passed and, with it, a word did the same between the two minds.
381 repeated in confusion.
face of 19 trembled as he attempted an unconvincing smile. ‘Your Receiving is
excellent, as always. I taught you well. Listen: if it is too difficult, you
have every right to give up. I would never wish a fate such as yours upon you,
but such things are … such things are not ours to choose, do you
do you mean?’
dull expression formed on the wrinkled face of Sender/Receiver 19 as he watched
the nearby clock. ‘Not enough time to fully explain. You know you are not like
the others, yes? That you are stronger, better? That you are like a breed apart
shrugged. Compliments were an alien concept. These were simply facts.
I don’t burn out like the others. Sending and Receiving doesn’t hurt me like
it hurts them.’ The young Clone shook his head. ‘Why? Why am I different to
them? What was I made
now had a sad smile upon his face. ‘I wish I had more than five seconds left
so I could tell you. Good luck.’
whirring thud sounded, followed by the dead body of 19 falling to the ground.
381 knew his Retirement chip, an implant that decided when the life of any Clone
should end, had cut down the elder. This knowledge, however, only slightly
diminished the horror 381 felt. The young Sender/Receiver looked at a neck fused
by a moment of pure heat.
the way to the fortieth year. You did well, old man.’
blinked and the memory sank back down into his subconscious. He knew that, like
all Clones, the maximum lifespan he could reach was forty years, but only with a
lot of luck. Even talent such as his meant nothing within this one-world
government, this omnipotent Dustrial Regime.
late, the young Clone realised he had maintained direct eye contact with one of
the Soldiers. His head quickly lowered and his young hands reached for the tin
cup; unfortunately, the plastic butt of an autonrifle tapped the vessel of
liquid out of reach.
eyeballed me, walkie-talkie. I don’t give a flying bottle if some wuss
Researcher finds you brain-sucking mammal radios the most fascinating thing this
side of his computer. You keep those watery orbs pointed towards your spineless
claustrophobia these stained concrete walls produced suddenly intensified for
381. His head nodded in a rapid shake just before an expended Intox stick
bounced off his grey robes in a shower of sparks. With a laugh from the
Soldiers, the Sender/Receiver threw himself against the wall in an effort to
beat the hot embers from his clothes. The rough fabric was gripped by one of the
looming guards, who seemed to be in what passed for a playful mood, then the
Sender/Receiver realised that they had no intention of letting this matter go.
Soldier opened 381’s eyelid with his rough fingers and leered. ‘You just
disobeyed my order. Now I’ve got a reason to take out my anger on you,
autonrifle butt flashed from the side to send a sharp burst of pain through the
Sender/Receiver’s shoulder, then a thick boot stepped on the thin cloth that
he wore as shoes. 381 gasped and kept his eyes averted, trying his best to keep
this beating relatively moderate. A second Soldier grasped the young Clone’s
hand and used it to repeatedly slap the flinching face, joining in on the
slapping yourself, walkie-talkie!’
kept his eyes tightly closed.
looksee here.’ The voice of a Soldier sounded from the darkness. ‘Seems like
this brain-sucking mouse don’t want to peep at us no more. I guess you’ve
heard that saying that bullies leave you alone if you ignore them, right?’ The
young telepathist found himself on the floor and was incapable of breath for
almost ten seconds. All the Soldiers laughed as the tin cup was held next to
381’s face. ‘Hate to break this to ya, but that ploy don’t work on sadists
like us,’ a Soldier said as some rusty water trickled to the concrete ground.
‘The more you ignore us, the worse it’s gonna get.’
fragmented as an iron-capped boot struck 381’s left temple with a flash of
light. His world turned to darkness for an instant while the Sender/Receiver
relived a memory that was not his own.
was no longer within a concrete cell in the year 2093. As though merely a
spectator, 381 watched through somebody else’s eyes as they walked out to a
stage; on the way, a poster in his peripheral vision displayed pictures of a
magician called Jonas the Superior, who was hosting a show tonight.
however, was in the year 2021.
within a circle of bright light, Jonas Ian Kleptman, the genetic origin of every
Sender/Receiver, extended his white-gloved hands. He rolled up the sleeves of
his black robe and concentrated. Hushed with awe, the audience watched as ten
white candles floated across the room to impale themselves on an equal number of
not all,’ Jonas declared in a tone of true showmanship.
joints ached with a familiar pressure. There was a tingle through his spine,
which he manipulated with a mental push, then the sensation of heat announced a
release of energy. The tapers were lit, their metal stands twisted to become an
intricate peace symbol and the pale wax was sliced in the shapes of ten
miniature statues. This peace symbol was bent and altered itself until it was
the shape of a human skeleton, then the candle wax melted over it in a thin,
realistic skin. The apparition waved its hands and walked into the middle of the
you.’ Jonas acknowledged the muted applause, which only a few of the
disbelieving audience members could manage. As usual, he had completely blown
them all away. ‘My name is Jonas the
was welcomed back to the grim reality of 2093 with a boot on his hand. He
sharply exhaled as a Soldier dragged him upright.
did that memory come from?
Soldiers found this order from 381 hilarious. Pressure began to spread in a
silent wave through the body of the telepathic Clone as a hard slap struck his
didn’t say please, walkie-talkie.’
throbbed behind his eyes and a tingle travelled along his spine as his
grey-robed body was thrown against a concrete wall, then kicked. 381 could hear
blood roar in his ears, the scream of something alien crouching behind his
ignoring me again, you stupid brain-sucker?’
a shudder, something awakened. A primal howl echoed through the telepathist’s
mind as a form of pure force hovered on the threshold of being released from its
prison. Every light globe exploded and glass rained over the three Soldiers as
the Sender/Receiver glared at his oppressors with unconfinable rage.
by enough force to break bones, the foremost Soldier crashed against the
opposite wall with a whimper. A Slitter knife rose from an ankle sheath to drop
though his boot, but the blade was so sharp he had no idea of his injury. The
other two could only gape stupidly.
hum of tension filled the air. 381 could taste copper and felt something coiled
within him, something trying to tear its way out …
Sender/Receiver’s shaking hands rose up on instinct, both palms facing towards
his enemies, then the walls glowed as 381 felt a searing release of power.
Concrete splintered, the young Clone fell to his knees with a yell and all was
silent once his wail had ended. Shuddering in the dim light, he watched smoke
waft from the palms of his hands. He stared in shock at the three twisted
results of his actions.
Code Yellow alarm erupted, its sequence of thuds and beeps sounding from every
direction. The MeshLinks implanted in the trio of dead faces hummed with
transmitted orders for the Soldiers to respond, which 381 knew would be
knew he had to act fast.
closest Soldier gave no resistance while a plastic autonrifle was levitated from
his hands as though magnetised. A sheathed Slitter knife joined the ranged
weapon with a gesture from the young Clone.
is this possible? Where did that memory come from?
happening to me?’ he demanded, but no answers came.
autonrifle was placed on full charge with an aggressive twist of the dial and a
whine sounded that ascended to ultrasonic. He flinched as the thick door was
split in half and a blackened crater formed on the outside wall. 381 finally
managed to stand and look down at the advanced weapon.
Code Orange replaced the former alarm at twice the volume. In horror, the
Sender/Receiver could suddenly hear those of his kind telepathically screaming,
calling out to him, demanding why he had brought such trouble to them all.
Blinking away concrete dust and smoke from within a grey, billowing cloud, he
wandered out of the breached bunker in a daze, realising that he had no plan.
than what to do next, he thought about a warning from years ago: Causing a
was now scared more than ever. ‘They’re gonna kill the lot of us. What have
381 went blank. He turned in hopeless circles and his vision flitted over five
closed doors as he imagined the stampede of Soldiers that would soon arrive from
every direction. In the midst of a potential crossfire, his ears sore from the
deafening alarm, 381 slumped to his knees. He did not know where to go, what to
do, how to do it … all he could think of was the terror his future capture had
Sender/Receiver almost fell over in surprise as he Received a message. A map
formed within his mind’s eye with a red arrow tracing through the visualised
corridors to a clear exit. As some other telepathist knew the way and had Sent
it, 381 now also knew about it.
of an answer, five curt words were Sent: melt the locks and move.
picture decayed as the Sender immediately disconnected. 381 hefted his acquired
autonrifle, reduced the charge to a fraction and felt some recoil as the keypad
locks were fused to solid masses. Heat travelled up his spine and an
unintentional telekinetic discharge changed a massive security door to a melted
pit in a flash.
raced through the high-security area, encountering no opposition. The alarm
began to fade, only to be replaced by the muffled sounds of enraged Soldiers as
they loudly collided with the sealed doors, their anger almost tangible. He
raced ahead to blast apart a third portal as the din of numerous other
autonrifles replaced the yelling Soldiers with synchronised whines. 381 looked
down the maw of the newly opened, immense corridor that stretched in a straight
line for fifty metres and instantly knew he would be cut down before he could
reach the middle.
instinct, he turned to face a door marked ‘STORES’. The handle was turned
and clicked closed in one fluid motion just before dozens of autonrifles sounded
near his original location. Red diodes flickered on the dark walls as the only
source of light as countless footfalls streamed outside, then, after a few
seconds, the Sender/Receiver sighed, realising the Soldiers had been tricked.
Their bellowing receded until only a distant murmur remained. He knew that those
red-armoured hunters would eventually return, despite their stupidity.
eyesight adjusted to the scant available light and his vision was gradually
filled with yellow and black signs. Tall stacks of objects marked as methium
nitrate bricks and tubes of dynamite sat beside fist-sized micronukes.
armoury, he thought. I
might as well make this worthwhile.
spending a few seconds fumbling with technology of which he had no knowledge, a
Sending struck again. Extensive information on the exact combination to press on
the keypads was hardwired into his brain.
keeps doing that, thanks.’
of buttons were depressed with expert grace and the explosives were
daisy-chained together to form a single huge time bomb.
burst from the armoury and ran, guided by the mental map he had previously
Received so that the Sender/Receiver kept to a tight path. Numerous doors served
only as a moment of reduced speed while his stolen autonrifle whined in a
pain in his lower back jabbed at him as the young Clone entered the foyer, which
was a cold, sterile box of plate glass windows and thick concrete pillars. He
rested his sore body in the deep shadows of one of the looming supports, trying
his best to think about how to get past the Soldiers at the front door and
catching his breath at the same time. A telekinetic discharge cracked one of the
windows with a single stray thought, which caused 381 to shake from fear and
listen intently for any sign that the enemies had heard him. The use of such
power, however accidental, caused his backache to worsen.
he could still not think of a single plan.
you putrid sacks of maggot meat!’
froze at the voice of a Sanctioner, a deeply indoctrinated variety of Clone that
was manufactured to lead three hundred Soldiers.
no.’ His heart fluttering in terror, the Sender/Receiver peeped around the
pillar with a single eye. The tiny flame of hope he still had dipped towards
being extinguished as three hundred red-fatigued Soldiers stomped their left
feet in synchronisation. Their heavy boots splintered the frosted ground outside
and the windows vibrated.
entire Tricent,’ he whispered in fear. ‘How am I supposed to get through
three hundred of them?
single word was Received: Psychosuggestion.
Sender/Receiver almost retched as the entire procedure for the modification of
his appearance or that of any given object was given to him telepathically. The
power flared and 381 watched his autonrifle assume the shape of a broom.
he muttered. ‘Just what I need. A Drudger tool.’
pillar at his back shifted its texture until oddly shaped mirrors grew and
warped on its rough surface. The telepathist concentrated, despite the constant
pain within his spine, then his grey robes turned into a glossed crimson
breastplate, his slight limbs bulged like sacks of rocks. The Clone inspected
himself in the mirrored concrete: The surprised face of a Soldier literally
reflected his expression of horror. 381 inspected his falsely scarred hands as
he realised the sabotaged armoury would soon detonate.
that you chimpanzees seem to understand the concept of a straight line, check
flinched at the rough growl that was the Sanctioner’s voice. The
Sender/Receiver inhaled deeply as he gently connected with the enemy
commander’s mind, taking great care not to be discovered that he was doing so;
then a surface thought, which concerned a Soldier who had not yet reported back,
was found. With forced confidence, the telepathist got to his feet and walked
towards three hundred autonrifles. The Soldiers stared at the young Clone as the
Sanctioner flared his nostrils.
this alien situation caused a lapse of all useful thought within the head of
am I doing? This is suicide,
was all he could think.
the camouflaged Sender/Receiver barked in what he assumed was a rough way.
‘The cause of the Code Orange has barricaded himself on the other side of the
Sanctioner looked down at the hands of 381. ‘What is that, Soldier?’
almost fell over as he realised the autonrifle still looked like a broom. Bile
rose up his throat and he said: ‘I was being creative with the Retirements.’
Sanctioner’s chipped teeth were bared in a grimace. ‘You Soldiers are,
without a doubt, the most sick units I have ever had the displeasure of
commanding. You all heard the news. It’s burning time.’
were ignited as the Sanctioner pointed towards the lobby. Ranks of Soldiers
filed through the open foyer as the young Clone experienced a moment of dread
under those flinty eyes.
work, Soldier,’ the enemy leader said. ‘Those walkie-talkies are torment to
find once they burrow in. They use those weird powers to hide like psychic
the Sender/Receiver replied as his mental count continued to descend. ‘Nuke
the lot of them, I say. More work than they’re worth. Sir, I’ll just go and
… make sure you get all the credit.’
Sanctioner sneered, his eyes narrow and grey. ‘Smart move. Carry on.’
walk between Complex 14 and a snow-capped tree line felt like eternity. A twinge
in his exposed back was disregarded as paranoia about this vulnerable state, but
381 did not dare turn around in case he was being watched.
natural, keep your eyes ahead, pace yourself …
dense bracken was torn apart as 381 entered the tree line with a burst of
telekinesis. His false appearance was reversed and his cloth shoes crunched over
the ugly tundra.
silent count reached twenty seconds.
hill was crested and any malformed trees in the way were snapped as though by a
bull with two red cataracts. A small push of power was used to try and knock a
rock from his path, but the roots of the granite monolith stretched far too deep
for such a solution. High-pitched static could be heard as the Sender/Receiver
found himself on the frosted ground. A mark of blood on the tilted boulder
matched an ache in his forehead.
stunned position allowed a complete view of Complex 14 in an inverted picture.
Snow melted against his hot head as the collection of buildings that had been
his home for nineteen years were watched through his glazed hazel eyes. This
moment of peace ended, however, when two perimeter sentries snapped their heads
towards the Complex and ran away, as though warned about something over the
MeshLinks implanted in their faces. A flash of light consumed the pair of
silhouettes as a mushroom cloud arched towards the pastel sunset, the sound an
unmatched note of pure bass.
formed in the Sender/Receiver’s eyes. ‘What have I done?’
orange and black pillar of fire formed and its base slithered like a nest of
serpents. Every metal support was immolated beneath the contents of an entire
armoury, the explosive agents all mixing together to form a breath of fervent
heat. The fiery winds threw those within Complex 14 outside in dozens of pieces
and assorted objects soared under a mighty push. A blackened shoulder with half
an upper arm landed on 381, knocking him against a gnarled tree. As he came to a
snow-dislodging stop against the ancient, indifferent wood, the blast wave
reached his position and he flew up in a breathless ascension. Snapped trees and
dislodged boulders joined his suspension like the javelin and shot put of a
giant. With his unresponsive limbs devoid of all purpose in such a situation,
381 could do nothing but be seared by a cloud of sparks as his descent began.
struck just before a raw snap announced his left wrist had broken on contact
with the packed snow. His lower leg on the same side was pinned in place by a
rock before the momentum could gain behind a full-body roll. Heat flashed in the
afflicted foot as he stopped with a jerk.
swirled within a cloud of black smoke that had formerly been the sky, then hot
debris descended in a storm as the destruction continued. 381’s dazed eyes
stared up as tonnes of machinery, dismembered Soldiers and concrete slabs
performed a macabre impersonation of rain around his still body. A smoking door
almost cut the Clone in half as it came to a snowbound stop a metre from his
chest. While sparks sizzled viciously against his wounded body, 381’s
perception blurred as he crawled towards an inner darkness. A round shape
sizzled before his eyes with a tattoo that read JIK365.
for nothing,’ he whispered, believing this was the end. ‘What was the
oblivion received him with open arms as his skin hissed on the snow.
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