Disclaimers: DA & characters are owned by their various creators.
Summary: X5-494 finds out just eactly what his place is within the walls of Manticore.
The stark fluorescent bulbs of his quarters sizzled and blinked on lethargically. He hadn't been sleeping anyway.
He stood and checked his fatigues before pulling on his boots. These days even after the nighttime regiment of vitamins he still only managed two hours of full blackout. If he forced himself hard enough, he could add an extra third hour to pass the time in the dark room, half way between a hazy daze of awareness and fitful slumber. That hour was the hardest. For some reason, and only recently, he had started to dream again. Vivid and bright like he used to as a kid. He sometimes wondered if as he aged he would end up requiring no sleep at all. As he assumed the at ease stance, he considered what his life span might actually be.
Would he flicker and flare out in a few years like a flood light that was left on burning night and day? Maybe in one hundred years he'd still have the same vital signs and just a few gray hairs to prove time had even passed. In the end it didn't really matter. Whether he could achieve old age or not, he had few illusions to getting close to one regardless of his genetic makeup. Waiting patiently, his hands clasped behind his back, he listened as the locks to his cell disengaged. It had only been several hours since the debriefing of his last mission which caused a cautious pull of curiosity as too why he was being summoned again so soon. Manticore wasn't a place where one looked forward to any surprises.
Like the surprise of the armed escort that was waiting for him outside his door. They fell in behind him as a distracted lab tech in white lead him away with one hand motion to follow. When you weren't in active training or operating on the outside, life was a lot of this. Following one vague stranger after another without ever being given an explanation or reason. Although that had changed slightly in the past year with his new status.
X5 approval for solo away missions.
It was a new program Manticore had set into motion within the last two years, its trial reserved exclusively for his X series. It granted the X5 agent unmonitored access off the compound and free movement in the outside world.
The screening and approval process had been intense and.... brutal.
As his fellow subjects dropped from the list of potentials he had made sure he passed through it all no matter what it required. Six months in a psy-ops had trained him to tell the powers that be exactly what they needed to hear. A lifetime in Manticore had trained him to withstand everything else. By the time they reached the sterile and glossy floors of the compound's self sustaining hospital wing, he had figured out what was going on. He was given the silent hand sign to stand by.
While he waited in the brightly lit corridor he listened to the muted voices of medical jargon and the curt flip of medical records. The sharp tap of keyboards. The hiss and sharp clicks of the facility communications were as familiar as the sound of the faulty air filter that was his only company when confined. He hadn't been wounded while on his solo and he wasn't due for a physical for another week. There was only one other reason for him to be here and he had figured it would happen sooner or later.
X5-452 wasn't pregnant yet.
Manticore, with its precious DNA database toasted and lost, had decided to continue its work without the use of lab grown embryos and surrogates. It had taken a while to get started. The female X5s were usually so lean they never naturally became fertile. It took some time but the R&D guys upstairs changed all of that by re-regulating their body mass index to make them viable. Viable seemed like a very unimportant word to assign what had started happening next.
What had been taught in their info-streams about human biology and the actual sight of a female bleeding through her uniform had been two different things. The first X5 he had seen bleed out on the practice yard had startled him. He had thought she was wounded, from her confused tears, from the smell of her fear.
The metallic hard scent of it had lingered, and set all the X5 males on a different kind of edge. In the outside world he had glimpsed, streets full of women, shoulders bared, legs naked and gold, he had to laugh at them just a little bit.
With 34.8 hours logged on the outside, compared to them he was Magellan, Marco Polo and Powell in one.
At least he felt like it.
Of course, they hadn't just began a new regiment with the females. While he had always known of a certain amount of aggressive force to his nature, he had been aware enough of its ebb and flow undoubtedly regulated through the series of colorful pills and liquids that came along with his food every day.
However it had begun to change with the breeding program. His normal train of thought was disrupted by the thought of the coming hour when he would be alone with another X5. He felt swings in his emotional state that he fought to keep hidden from the probing lenses of the medical staff just in case they stopped feeding him whatever it was that was making him viable for breeding.
Not for the first time, he wondered if they hadn't upped any of his drugs, or if they were instead, cutting them back. The usual elaborate array of chemicals that kept him simmering right beneath his own surface seemed to evaporate everyday, layer by layer. He knew he should have reported the change and its significance to the doctor. After all, he had trusted them to do what was best for himself for a very long time. Standing amongst the armed guard, his mind rebelled against even experiencing the traitorous thought, as if they would read it as plainly as the barcode on the back of his neck. But they never saw it, these brazen defiant thoughts were his and his alone.
There had been an exact moment when he felt his unquestioned allegiance waver, and he would never forget it.
It wasn't his alliance exactly, as much as it was his first awareness that these people that had created him, mapped and read his DNA like a book, and knew his every detail down to his average synaptic activity on any given hour of the day... These Gods of his childhood and world, didn't actually know everything. There were some things that even their eyes couldn't see. When he learned that, his entire world became a very different place.
And it was something he had learned on the outside on his very first away.
When he left the compound parameters, he had been keenly aware that there were no small cameras at his shoulder and lining every hall and room. There was no one listening to his heartbeat when he slept, and no one to measure out his caloric intake when he choose to eat.
On his first night out in the world, he had actually hesitated before he flushed his urine down the motel toilet. He had smiled down at the water as it vanished down into some sewer, and not left for some lab tech to sample. While he zipped up the front of his issued jeans he had known right there what it meant to have their tenuous trust. That night he had watched unmonitored television. That night he had bunked down 24 minutes after lights out.
It was that small at first, those little freedoms that he harbored and kept out of his reports when he inevitably returned to Manticore. And even better, they never seemed to notice these pieces of himself that he discovered out in the filth and roar of the world. They never learned what he had learned of his own privacy. These tiny rebellions fascinated him at first. He was still uncertain when they had begun to enforce the threads of his sanity.
When it had all started, he had begun to secretly feel like their equal. Special and powerfully made. So remarkable that he had, without their considerable knowledge, surpassed their intentions and had become an even better solider. They depended on him. They had started to stand up when he entered a room. They relied on intelligence he alone provided them on his aways. He watched other X5s be passed and set aside in favor of himself. He overheard X5 fatalities and failures that pushed him farther and farther to the top of their lists. Renfro herself had taken a interest in his performance. He wasn't a grunt used as mindless as a machine or tool. He was what those that instructed him aspired to be.
As sure as he remembered his discovery of the lack of Manticore's omnipotence, he wasn't quite sure when his sense of equality had shifted to superiority. He wasn't positive exactly when it become an effort to start to reign in what had evolved into contempt. Maybe it had always been there, like the thud of his heart when they notified him he would be allowed to breed. Hidden and waiting to surface when the chemicals they fed him subsided and finally gave him a chance. Even this arranged copulation, being chosen for his DNA, was a strange badge of personal supremacy.
494 sighed shortly, the edge of his subdued frustration rising and falling.
If he had ever gotten a chance to try it.
It was a duty. Like any other. Or so he'd thought. He was oddly elated at first, a singular testament to his superiority. They wanted him. Needed his genetic makeup. The reality of it, however, was harder to rationalize. Assignments he could handle. 452, however, he could not.
And there was more besides
As interesting as the new prospect had been, 494's chosen breeding partner had not been forth coming in the plan. Even though they asked him to report on his progress he knew all the while that they really were paying full attention to her daily bio samples. He wondered why they bothered to ask him anything at all when nothing here went uncataloged or noticed.
"494, enter please."
He snapped out of his at ease position and turned curtly into the waiting medical exam room. They would undoubtedly question him again about 452. If they suggested trying to impregnate the other X5 by force he would have to break his silence and suggest a sedative in that case. Her hand to hand was remarkably better than his own. Out of all the X5s they would have to give him that one. A rogue X5 that named herself Max.
"Remove your shirt."
He automatically complied. Weird one that 452, she had been out in the big wide world for almost 10 years without it seemed to him, a whole lot to show for it. Besides a name. Seems like she brought one back for him too.
She had called him Alec.
It came right out of her mouth like she had known it all along. He had said it out loud to himself after he had left her cell and it felt awkward and strange on his tongue. It forced him to wonder why as much as he relished his freedoms, that the thought of doing what she did, of never coming back to Manticore, made him go cold with unease.
He put the neatly folded regulation gray shirt on the back of a near by chair.
"Six times in three weeks 494?"
He had always been aware of his own biology. He took pride in it, defined himself by their numbers, their stats. He had never suspected there might be secrets, confidentiality was never before an issue. He felt assured that they knew just as much about himself as he did.
It was jarring to realize this was untrue.
He blinked as he shifted in his tightly laced combat boots he had to wear at all times outside of his quarters. He had known all that they had to do was a blood test. Even one test of her john a day. So they had been paying attention to his excuses. Three weeks and no second little heartbeat to monitor yet. Not for the first time he wondered exactly why the hell he had even lied for her in the first place. But he inherently knew. It was another piece of his will pitted against his makers. It made him feel almost human that they didn't know every detail of his attempts or failures at sex. As ridiculous as it felt to think, why wasn't it that what passed in the dark on a bunk with another X5, was none of their concern? It was just another piece of his secret self ownership that his keepers foolishly did not realize he exercised. He could lie. He could conjure. He could do anything he wanted.
"If it's not her, maybe it's you 494."
He was used to being cold. The barren mountain plains that sprawled in every direction around the facility were brutally uninhabitable almost throughout the year. He'd been set, trained and marched through the harsh winters that settled on them for most of his life. Even though his skin burned about 5 degrees hotter than anyone should be, the feel of that metal table against his skin always made him clench his teeth.
Although it had been a long while, it was hardly the first time he had been on a table just like this one with the too bright lamp light shining down in his eyes. He had been wounded several times on assignment and had again grown used to the sights and sounds of the staff, eyes behind reflective eye guards, faces hidden behind the surgical masks. The constant attentive and ghost like medics of his childhood were something as familiar as the white washed cinder block walls of his cell.
But for some reason, the feel of their remote professional touch, had never caused him the reaction he felt now. Didn't they know who he was? Renfro herself supervised his missions and briefed him personally in her very own private offices.
The aggression he had been suppressing boiled up at the feel of latex fingertips against the artery at his bare neck, the slide of the stethoscope across his chest and the quiet hushed conversation above his head about his latest projected sperm count. He wondered exactly how long this exam would take so he could leave.
"He's been running solo missions for almost a year, why hasn't he been checked for STDs within the past three months?"
"They like to keep the males from wandering in the world."The lab tech explained. "494 was kept chemical cold before the female X5s were induced into an ovulation period."
He listened to them carefully.
"Well, you'd think he would have made the most of it while it lasted." There was a soft bit of laughter behind the white paper mask as the doctor shook its head. "Well, let's get going, we are already 2 months behind."
He looked sharply up at the faceless assistants that hovered above him in the gauzy glow of the light. The restraints cinched down tightly on his wrists, his legs, sharp and tight around his waist. Lastly, a Velcro strap was wrapped down around his neck much too tightly. A medic checked it and with a hard yank, tightened it even further. Gasping, he made and unmade his trapped fists as the simmer of his anger came back up to a boil. He sat at tables with the Manticore elite. They shook his hand when he entered a room. He wasn't some common X5 waiting for word out in the practice yard. The restraints were insulting and infuriating. Did they think he was some newly hatched prototype that would balk at a blood draw?
They took his resistance as discomfort.
"Relax, 494, this won't take very long." The cold touch of a cotton swab on the inside of his arm was followed by the bite of the needle.
They had done many things to him on this table. Pain when he had strayed. Pain when they found his flaws and fixed them. Pain when he came back from their bidding damaged and bleeding. Having had been made immune to most known toxins to be more affective in chem warfare, he had also been given a natural extremely high tolerance to street narcotics and alcohol. To say it was difficult to alter an X5's mental state with anything short of a souped up electric cattle prod would be putting forward the facts mildly.
But something strange was happening.
He blinked slowly, confused and alarmed at the subtle soft shift on his penned up rage. The new chemical was mixing warmly in his veins, its effect taking over as quickly as it traveled swiftly through his blood stream, causing a sensation of intoxication that was entirely and utterly new.
His head was full of gauze, his vision blurred to rosy.
There were hands at the front of his fatigue trousers. Unable to move his head to see what they were doing, he listened to the sound of his metal zipper. He was briefly examined, and a curt exchange between the lab techs confirmed and noted that he had no visible irregularities or disease. He should be completely and utterly viable.
Tears leaked at the corners of his eyes when he finally realized what was happening.
"Subject is ready, standby."
He shut his eyes.
Incredibly the voices around him shifted into conversation about complication in inventory and the staffing issue in the research labs. The muscles in his neck began to ache with the force he was clenching his jaw. He had never been quite sure what it would be like, or what it even was outside of what he had been told or read. For all he had known about it, for all his recent early mornings when he had experienced some glimmer of what it was to be functional, for every time he was turned away from 452's cell very ready but unable to fulfill his orders, he had never reached the finality they had demanded from him.
The sensations were so overwhelming that he started to panic. There had never been a moment before in his lifetime that he had been this physically out of control, his heart racing and his mind reeling. No one seemed alarmed or concerned by the frantic audio reading coming off the computer display of his vital signs. This couldn't be natural, why weren't they doing anything when it was obvious that something was horribly wrong with him? Why had they ever cut back on his cold drugs? It was too much, he was going to die.
The restraints whined and creaked over his writhing strength as he listened to himself fight not to moan. Privacy. He hadn't really known the meaning. Or he had taken it for granted. The concept of self. Of pride. These were things he thought he'd understood.
He couldn't catch his breath.
It was being taken from him now. All of it. He had no voice. No power. The lack of choice had never been an issue until recently. Manticore growing pains, he'd jokingly termed it once. He was sick with redefinition. It nauseated him now as much as the unyielding throb between his legs. He couldn't stop it. He tried to command his breathing, tried controlling his reaction as he would will away pain.
It would not stop.
Tears blurred his vision hot and infuriating. He was a freak. On the outside they did this, pleasured in it and he was a fool that thought he had it all figured out. He felt his throat burn with bile at his own euphoria. It did feel good.
He tried not to cry out when it happened, the smooth slick feel of the latex glove relentlessly and efficiently finishing him. His body tensed and stilled in his binds as he shuddered in release.
He had never been ashamed before.
Finally the sweet throb ebbed. To his further shame, it took longer than he expected to regain equilibrium. Long after he watched through a red haze, the medic label and store the vial of white fluid, his heart would not stop pounding, the heat under his skin still flowing in his veins.
"Alright, 494. Dismissed." The voice behind the mask was casual, unaware or indifferent to his quick breathing and confused glare.
He felt fingers on his skin--unbearable--undoing the restraints. Numbly, he began to move again though his movements felt like someone else's. He could snap the medics fingers, bone by bone if he wanted, he could take the doctor's skull in his hands and-- A voice erupted from the scratchy PA in the ceiling.
"Is there a problem, 494?"
It was Doctor Renfro's voice. Cold and detached, she had been witness to the entire thing. The woman who addressed him eye to eye, poured him a glass of water like an equal and trusted him to fulfill her commands. She had been watching their progress as if they had been performing a routine CAT-scan.
He found it difficult to swallow. He knew what to say.
It was there, behind his eyes, and he was certain in his voice. The rage. The foolish scorching feel of betrayal. Betrayal from who? He wasn't sure if he wanted to start laughing or screaming. Or both. He ached for their drugs then. He wanted nothing more than feel nothing.
With trembling hands, he found his shirt, put it on. He would return to his quarters. Swallow the pills, try to force himself to forget just like he forced himself to sleep. This place had been easier when he hadn't needed to start shutting down parts of his brain just to keep breathing. It had been easier when he knew how to keep it together without trying.
Life had been easier before he knew his name was Alec.
Cross-posted to darkangelfic