Reginald’s eyes shot open. They must have dragged him out of the clone vat bay. Reflexively, he started screaming, “No more! No more!”
He fought, kicked, scratched, and bit at the hands and arms reaching out for him, before dashing to a corner next to the clone vat bay. This wasn’t Amarr–nothing was familiar about t. He huddled into a ball in the corner, a shivering, naked, terrified image of a man. A man who had just been devoured by slaver hounds.
One of the figures checked a bite wound Reginald had inflicted on one of the others, before starting to proceed towards his corner. New eyes, new ears, and the taste of vat bay fluid on his lips, Reginald could barely make out who or what the figure was. However, with each step it took, deliberate, yet slow, Reginald felt a sense of compassion emanating from the figure. Finally, a blanket was thrown over Reginald’s body, though he frantically pulled it off of his face. No tricks.
The figure knelt down until it was at the same height as Reginald’s face. A familiar voice came out. Soft, but also firm, “My lord?”
Reginald felt a wave of calm wash over him as the voice registered with his fresh synapses. Still blurry, his eyes could make out the insignia of Project DENT–a Heart of Pyerite logo with reversed colors. He cleared his throat, testing his new mouth and tongue. Spitting out some stray fluid, he said, “It’s about damn time.”
The man kneeling in front of him smiled, tossing Reginald a change of clothes, “Glad to see you’re back to your old self already. Get dressed.”
“There, you see? I told you everything I know!” A Brutor man, bound and on his knees near the cadre stated.
“Yes, and the Empress thanks you for your service,” The figure pulled out an Amarr CAR-9 Scrambler pistol, and expertly executed the Brutor with a bullet to the head.
Reginald dried himself off and then slipped into the clothes without incident. Somehow they were actually presentable, one of the many mysteries he chalked up to the capabilities of Project DENT. He thought that at times, he should have more control over how they operated, since he was the one who cleared their expenses and developed their budget. But for now, he was just thankful they had shown up. Carefully stepping over the Brutor’s body, he exited the clone chamber. His hair still matted to his head, he joined the cadre of operatives, looking towards their cell leader and the man who gave him the blanket and clothes–a capsuleer he referred to as Agent L.
“Situation report.” He said as he adjusted the cuffs on his sleeves.
L gave him a hard look, “You sure you don’t want to take a break?”
The image of the slaver hound lunging at him, fangs bared, flashed through his mind. Steadying himself, and hoping his uneasiness stemmed from getting used to new legs, he responded, “No time like the present.”
L shrugged, “If you say so,” he motioned for the operatives to start moving towards the bridge of the Rorqual. Brutor bodies lay scattered about in the corridors. Reginald said nothing.
Before even reaching the bridge, L started, “When you sent out the distress signal, I had no idea about the magnitude of the situation, so I showed up in a shuttle at the tower–.”
“What?!” Reginald interrupted.
L shrugged again, “Like I said, I didn’t know what was going on. Anyway, when I reached the tower, communications was dark and the forcefield password had been changed. I assumed that it was compromised, so I pulled my entire cell from Sharhelund. While I was waiting, I tuned into local frequencies to try to get a sense of what was happening. I couldn’t get any of their encrypted stuff–that’s your job–but there was a lot of chatter from the local port authorities about a Rorqual.”
They entered the bridge to a similar scene of bodies strewn about. Reginald surmised that their takeover had been recent, DENT operatives only now beginning to pull bodies off of control panels.
“Once my cell entered system, we identified where a Rorqual had docked recently. We took a chance there–it could have been the wrong one–but my hunches are typically good. Anyway, after they entered the forcefield, which was about twenty minutes ago, we seized control of the Rorqual. We took a prisoner,” He motioned with his thumb back towards the clone facilities, “And he let us know about their little scheme to keep resurrecting you.”
Reginald mumbled, “So it’s true, then? They can intercept a digitized consciousness?”
L raised an eyebrow, “Never took you for a fool. No, they bribed your Amarr pod technician to get access to your clone location. A little more bribery and they got it reset to the Rorqual. I’ve got guys looking into it. Don’t get me wrong, though, that ‘Vuld’ guy that’s leading them is pretty smart. He managed to hack just about everything in that tower, except for your special room, of course.”
Reginald had stopped paying attention to L’s debriefing as he stared at the docking bay entrance on his control tower. He was lost in thought, more accurately, lost in memory. His neck might be free of scars, but he could still feel the fangs sinking into it, the claws landing squarely on his shoulders. He rubbed his neck absent-mindedly.
L noticed. “How did they do it?”
Reginald, his eyes glazed over, responded, “Hounds.”
Reginald took a deep breath, “How are you breaching?”
L nodded, “It’ll be risky, but the plan is to shut down the entire tower by removing the fuel from it. In the confusion, we’ll retake the docking bay and then clear the tower. Maybe three hours tops.”
Reginald slumped into the seat with the least amount of blood on it, “Do it.”
“Consider it done.”
Reginald was leaning against a freight container in the docking bay. He had never expected to be so tired in a fresh clone. But perhaps “tired” wasn’t truly descriptive. He was definitely exhausted physically, but he also felt mentally drained, empty. There were more bodies, of course, this time of Brutor men who thought they could fight the expertise of Project DENT and win–he had made sure they were lined up in a neat row. He was deep in contemplation when Vuld and Crofton were shoved onto their knees in front of him. In the distance, echoes of gunfire and the screams of hounds perforated the otherwise still air.
“You know,” Reginald started, looking at the Brutor then to the Sebiestor, “I’ve been trying to think of what I was going to say to you at exactly this moment. But, now that you’re here, I’m not really sure what to say.”
He smiled wryly, “I suppose I only got one death to ponder the last words you would hear from me.”
His last sentence was more for his benefit than a taunt directed at either of the captives. It didn’t seem to fit quite right, this attempt at black humor, but at the very least he could try to jest. That was a good sign. At any rate, it received no reaction from either of them.
Reginald hadn’t moved from the crate, his arms folded against his chest. All work and no play. He stroked his chin, getting down to business, “Where are the others?”
“Now, it’s my turn to hit you.” He smirked, glancing at L.
At first, L made to strike the Brutor, but Reginald held up a hand and pointed a finger at Vuld instead. L dutifully struck him across the back with a collapsible baton. The resulting yelp broke Crofton’s muzzle, “As if we’ll ever tell you anything!”
Reginald pressed a hand against his forehead, “Gentlemen, I’m in no mood for–.”
He stopped. Actually, yes. That was what he was in the mood for. He looked down at the duo, smirking to himself.
Looking to the Sebiestor, he asked pointedly, “Vuld, my good man, tell me, have you studied economics?”
He was still leaning. This time, he was looking out of an observation window near the height of the tower. A work team was busy scratching and hacking at the door, making little to no progress as expected. From his vantage point, he could barely make out two corpses bouncing harmlessly off of a Bestower-class hauler.
L interrupted his thoughts, “How did you know that would happen?”
“Hm?” Reginald kept his gaze on the corpses, mentally counting the number of times they rotated, “Oh. Human nature. Most people, given isolation, tend to work for their own self-interest. You just need to find what they have a higher utility for. Crofton was a simpleton who wanted to live. Vuld, on the other hand, was too well-educated to throw his life away. With the right incentives and pitted against one another in a dilemma, the outcome was predictable.”
“How so?” L queried.
“Both of them were as players in a single-turn game. Both were given two possible moves: Tell us where their friends were hiding and be given safe passage to the Republic or remain silent. With both wanting to live, they both cooperated. What they didn’t know was that cooperating with us abrogated our usefulness for keeping either alive, since we could just corroborate their stories against one another. And that’s why they’re both floating out there.”
L nodded silently.
“And what of the pacification?” Reginald asked.
“We’ve rounded up everything and everyone they told us about. Nasty stuff they had planned–bombs, gas.”
“Animals,” Reginald muttered.
“I’m sorry, sir?”
“Will she be safe?” Reginald asked, ignoring L’s question.
“You’re mumbling, I can’t understand. I’m not a cyber knight.”
Reginald half-turned his head towards L, his voice a little more forceful, “If I bring her to this system, will she be safe?”
L nodded, finally understanding, “We have every reason to believe so. Most of the discontent is directed at you. The general slave–er, newly freed–population see her as a kind of savior. But if it eases your mind, I’ll look into security matters personally.”
“Good,” Reginald nodded, allowing himself a small smile, “And the door?”
L exhaled, “At the rate we’re going, it won’t be open before the month is out.”
Reginald returned to looking out the window, “Pity.”
L thrust his thumb in the direction of the door, “The nanites embedded into that thing give it the compressive strength of a Hyperion. So unless you know someone who can magically walk through that door, hack open the digital locks, and reset the encryption algorithms, it will be at least a month.”
Reginald let out a sigh of disappointment as one of the corpses–Vuld’s or Crofton’s he was unsure which–floated out of view. Returning to the matter at hand, an idea flashed across his face. He ruminated on the thought. There would be a plethora of variables to consider, but the possibility was there.
Finally, he turned back to L, “Actually, I may know a girl.”