The genetic exam was followed by a lengthy series of interviews and medical questionnaires. Some were collaborative; for others they were separated and the questions seemed designed to identify points of conflict—what Foxe wanted from the product, what he thought Val wanted, what would be unacceptable, what he could live with.
Most of the questions nauseated him. “There are limits to what we can do,” the technician told Foxe irritably. “We can grow a body with two penises but we can’t get rid of the other elimination function—you humans call it an ass hole? We can’t place a sexual organ anywhere you want, like the middle of the face area—forehead? Not and make it completely functional. Next question: Breeding. Do you want to procreate with the product?”
Unfortunately, many of Leda’s other clients wanted to share intimate information as freely as the air. Over a dozen other beings were also on board the cloneslaver facility: couples, groups, and individuals at different stages of the process.
A threesome of humanoids from Navarii Prime wanted three identical children, completely neuter. Two male Udorians wanted a son with equal amounts of genetic material from both. A female Rann-dishii wanted a clone of her mate, grown to full adulthood and sculpted to be an exact duplicate that would deceive all their acquaintances.
Most of them approached either Foxe or Val, or both, for recreational sex the first night. The facility had no entertainment centers, so bored customers resorted to whatever diversions they could find in the lone common room near the outer hull of the station. Late in the evening, a spidery male Lithian shoved Val to wall in an attempt at rape, or at least violent foreplay. Foxe swung a chair at his head; it bounced off the hard shell of the being’s carapace, but Val grabbed one of his thin arms and snapped it off, and then broke it into small pieces. The arm would grow back, but the Lithian shrieked high-pitched curses while scuttling away.
Val sat back down with a hard grunt. “Not even the same species. But that’s not new.”
“I’ll kill him if you want,” Foxe said quietly.
“What? Well, of course not.” But she stared at his cold eyes. “Oh. You’d do it, right?”
He didn’t answer. But the Lithian didn’t bother her again.
Two days passed.
Foxe wasn’t sure when he’d started thinking of her as “Val” instead of “Valeria.” Or if it meant anything to his subconscious mind. He didn’t know what name she used for him, but he imagined it wasn’t cute.
He kept a lookout for the Tadori from Quili’s Fire in the common rooms, but neither he nor Val caught a glimpse of him. They spend most of the time outside of exam rooms cultivating contacts within the station staff. Foxe struck up a friendship with a gene-tech named Frique by playing an ongoing game of bacat—and losing just enough each time to keep Frique coming back for more.
Val made her own friends, and Foxe realized that he didn’t want to know how close she was getting to the Leda staff members she spent time with. “Got to know how to flirt without losing control,” she said the one time he asked her.
She woke him late on their third night. “Jammer’s on. Time to talk.”
He nodded, his brain aching from the dream—a Varrian soldier he’d strangled by a polluted river. He could still smell the sewage in his mind.
Val sat on the edge of his cot. She wore a T-shirt and shorts, a sight that momentarily eased his thoughts of death and guilt. He sat up, wishing for a sip of water as her bare leg nudged against his.
But if she saw his eyes move across her body she ignored it. “Tomorrow they give us a look at the profiles,” Val said. “We’ll have to pick one, or come up with a good reason for starting over.”
“So we’re running out of time.” They could bicker about the specs some more, but eventually the cloneslavers would get tired of them—or suspicious. And Shrinn could show up at any time. He didn’t expect him to wait a week for the tag on Quili’s Fire to expire. He probably had some tools for tracing it more quickly. “Fine with me. I’d just as soon get off this freak-building factory as soon as possible.”
“What have you got?” she asked,
“I owe Frique about 300 cees. I can turn it around with another couple of hands, and he’ll be ready to make a deal.”
“I’ve got a materials tech named Ben.” She smiled in the darkness. “He thinks I like him.”
“Whatever it takes. I can work on Frique first, and if that doesn’t fly—”
She shook her head. “Once they tell us to pick a profile, they’ll assemble the embryo, freeze it, pack it up, and tell us to leave. It’s a matter of hours. And Shrinn could show up any time. We should move simultaneously.”
Part of him welcomed the opportunity to act on his own, without her interference. But splitting up doubled the risk if either one of them made a mistake or ran into bad luck. He shook his head. “I won’t be able to cover you.”
“Don’t need a bodyguard. And I bet you can take care of yourself. Bottom line is, this is probably our last day here. We can only complain about the fingers so many times. They’re getting seriously annoyed with you.”
“With me? You’re the one being totally unreasonable—”
“Shut up.” But she smiled. “We’ve got to do this.”
She was right. He didn’t have to like it, but it made too much sense to argue about. “All right. I’ll find Frique, get him into a game, and you tease Ben a little. We’ll see what shakes loose first.”
“No signals until one of us actually has Rumav.”
“I’ll tell you I’m taking a nap.”
“Fine. The other person gets back to the ship—that means you.”
“You’ve got the hackware installed to get us through the tether?”
“Ready and waiting. You can launch it with your gameplayer.” She’d shared a virtual scenario from her handcomp with one of the genetic engineers, and it had downloaded a protocol into the network that would let her take control of the docking functions for a short time.
“Tomorrow.” He nodded.
She kissed his cheek. “Sweet dreams.” Then she flung herself on the other cot.
He rubbed his face. “You awake?”
“What is it?”
“You know, we haven’t had sex in weeks.”
“Kitt. If I wanted to have sex with you, we wouldn’t be here.”
“Go to sleep. Or do it yourself. Just stay quiet.”
He rolled over. “One more day.” They had to find Rumav tomorrow.
Rumav floated on a wave of dreams and nightmares. He was falling through shadows, trying to scream, unable to move. His skin burned, and a stabbing pain in his stomach seemed to grow deeper and more intense every time he tried to breathe.
His eyes popped open. He tried to curse, but his mouth was too dry.
Why were they doing this to him? Don’t they know who I am? No, they couldn’t find out. He couldn’t tell them—tell them—I am Rumav Sil Aldoz! Heir to the Century Throne of Riskannon! The Emperor will destroy you! My father . . . my father.
Hanbor. Material. 9749.
He floated in an AG field, his wrists and ankles locked in a spreadeagled position. If he twisted his head he could see the tubes in his arms and legs and chest, but he kept his eyes on the ceiling. He didn’t want to see what they’d done to him.
He blinked, and his eyes hurt. Everything hurt. How long had he been floating here? He hoped it was years. The more time he spent here, the sooner it would be over. He tried to move his arms, to fight the invisible restraints around his wrists and shoulders, but the field was too tight, or he was too weak. A surge of anger overcame his despair for just a moment. Let me go! You can’t do this! You can’t . . . .
But he couldn’t speak. Couldn’t move. He could only close his eyes again and go back to sleep. Oblivion beckoned enticingly, but he wasn’t ready to give into it yet. The fear of never coming back out, spending an eternity in restless dreams until they faded to darkness—that was still more powerful than the pain and sense of helplessness that tortured him when he was conscious. Awake was still alive. He knew who he was, who he’d been. He could still hope.
For what? A chance to scream, to spit in a face, to tremble with rage? That was all he had left to hope for. Father . . . .
A shadow moved at the edge of his vision. His father? Soldiers? Rescue?
“You’re not supposed to be conscious,” said Ben. His eyes were like dark diamonds. “I have to adjust—”
“Heeelllppp . . .” Rumav breathed, so low he almost couldn’t hear his own whisper.
“You have to go back.” He lifted an arm to a control behind Rumav’s head. “They need you quiet for the procedure.”
“Nnooo . . .”
“It won’t hurt. Nothing hurts.” A snort of laughter, cut off with an effort. “Someone wants an embryo with your fingers. Your fingers, blue-moon eyes, red hair, male and female genitals—it all goes in, gets mixed up, and goes out. There’ll be pieces of you scattered across the galaxy. That’s not bad, is it?” Ben’s chuckle was a faraway rumble.
“I am . . ..” Clouds drifted over his eyes. “Hanbor . . . Rumav . . . 9749 . . . Heir . . . Father . . .”
For a moment he was home again. Back in the Century Palace, gazing out over Swordhead Bay, his mother next to him, his father—where? He didn’t know. It didn’t matter. He was home. Safe.
Darkness covered him like a soft sheet. He couldn’t remember why he’d ever wanted to fight it. He just wanted to go home.