We've been running. It feels like we've been running forever. Well, actually to me it feels like we've been running this stretch for ten and a half minutes give or take a few seconds, and we've been on the run just in general for six months, nine days and some odd hours. One of the interesting effects of having been modified is that I am no longer capable of losing track of time. Somehow I always just know how long it has been. Every so often I wonder whether I should ask the doc about that, then I remember the doc isn't around anymore. He's gone, and with him the other eight 3rd Generation Modified. It's just me and the kid now.
His hand is tiny in mine; I could crunch his bones easily if I wanted to. I always wonder at how someone so tiny got stuck with someone like me. He's so completely different from anything I've ever known. I gotta remember to keep my pace slow enough for him. His little legs haven't got near the same reach as mine.
"You can hop on my shoulders if you want." I offer somewhat awkwardly when I catch him panting as he trots to keep up. I shorten my pace a fraction, but he just squares his little shoulders and keeps plugging along.
"'I'm fine." He keeps his eyes steady on the street in front of him and I can tell he's trying not to breathe too hard.
I've never really understood it, but he's got this crazy little kid pride that makes him want to take every step himself. I can carry him easy. It's not like his little weight would slow me down, but for as long as we're well ahead of the pursuit, I guess I can indulge him. As soon as we're spotted though, I'm tossing him over my shoulder and booking it, no matter how loud he protests. My legs don't care how far we run, another perk of being modified, but I can tell his feet are feeling every step worse and worse. I'm sure he feels like we've been running forever. But then, when you're seven years old, six months practically is forever. And ten and a half minutes is more than you'd want to run at a stretch.
I won't let us stop until we're in the shuttle station. We need to get off this moon before the 4th Gen at the shopping center even knows we were here. It was the kid that spotted him, when we were taking the rare chance to relax a little. Those 4th Gen bastards are hard to spot, harder even than the 3rds. When I'm fully clothed and wearing gloves I can pass for normal, but those 4ths could walk down the street naked and no one would think of anything but public decency. The kid can see them, though. He's always been like that, ever since I've known him. He can look at you like he's seeing right though you. Like he can tell exactly what you're made of. Those 4ths may look like normal humans, but they aren't, no more than I am.
I tried standing up to one once, back in that first month. Didn't know what I was getting into then. All I knew was that I was on the run and the doc had asked me to take the kid along with me. I never was able to turn the doc down when he asked anything, especially not after he'd saved my hide. Then the government realized the kid had a 3rd Gen Modified protecting him, and they realized no normal police were going to take me down. So they sent the 4ths, my replacements, the reason I and the other eight 3rds had been ordered scrapped. I'd never seen a 4th Gen before and goddamn do I wish I hadn't been so stupid as to try fighting him back then. The sucker damn near killed me, damn near got a hold of the kid. We got away by the skin of our teeth and a very fortuitous exit opening up before us. We've been running ever since.
I'm never going to try fighting one head on again so long as I can avoid it. The 4ths weren't just made to replace us 3rds, they were built to be the ones that scrapped us when the order came. I'm the only 3rd left, the only one the doc managed to save. Those 4ths were built to kill me. No way in hell am I gonna give them the chance if I can help it.
The kid's stumbling now 'cause I started speeding up. I try to keep my strides shorter for him. He's toughed it out through so much, I tend to forget how fragile he can be. Once we reach the shuttle station and I drop our fare into the slot he practically collapses into the first seat he sees. I drop into the seat next to him and try to calm down. My heart's racing, more from fear than the exertion. I make sure we're strapped in for launch then the kid instantly wraps his little hands around me arm and tugs himself close. I gotta say that's some kind of nice feeling for a guy who's been a Mod as long as I have. Being government property, practically raised in a laboratory, and being used as a combination weapon and public symbol of strength doesn't allow for a whole lot of genuine human contact.
I was twelve when the lab picked me up out of the gutter. I don't remember my parents or anything other than being a sneak thief. My name was the only thing I remembered, though even I don't know if it's really the one my parents gave me or if I made it up myself. The lab people said I would have died in that alley if they hadn't done something, and from what I remember of that night I believe them. So I guess in a sort of twisted way you could say that the government could claim ownership of my life in theory as well as practice since they were the ones who saved it. I wasn't the youngest or the oldest of the nine 'volunteers' who were to become the 3rd Generation Modified, nor was I the most or least promising candidate. I still haven't a clue why the doc saved me instead of one of the others. Sienna was the one of us who reacted the most strongly to the modifications. We were all super-human, but she was super-duper-human. The doc said it took three 4ths together to bring her down. Surely if he could have saved her she'd have been a better protector for the kid. There's no way to ask. Just like Sienna, the doc is long gone.
I look down at the kid and try to smile. His arms tighten around my elbow and his eyes are scared. "Yeah?"
"That guy, he was a new one, wasn't he?" His little voice is so soft I wonder if I'd even hear it without my modified senses. But he's right, and I nod. When the doc saved me he said there were five successful 4ths. I've seen all of them at one time or another since then. The guy at the shopping center wasn't one of those five. That means either the doc was wrong, or they're churning them out faster than any of us thought.
I try to keep up a cheerful face for him, but I'm sure he knows it for the lie it is. He's so sharp that way, like he can see through it all to the heart inside. "It's alright kid--Jin." I always forget how much he doesn't like being called kid. "We won't see him again."
This too is a lie, and he knows it as well as I do. Still it's one of the things that keeps us both calm. He even asked me once early on to tell him lies like that so he could pretend easier that it was all going to be ok. It felt a little weird at first, telling blatant lies to a little kid. Now it's just a motion we go through so we can both pretend that things will turn out alright. As long as we can do that, we can keep running forever. My Mod body won't give out until either I give up or the 4ths bash in my head. The lab guys might have saved my life, but the doc gave it back to me. So when he asked me to look after the kid, I couldn't say no. Even though he's gone, I still feel like I owe him. And after running six months with the kid I'm sure as hell not giving up on him. He and I were both abandoned by the government in a way. We're all we've got.
Once the shuttle starts it's launch sequence, and the kid gets over his usual crash-and-burn-phobia of leaving a planet, he falls asleep. The shuttle is mostly empty. It's a ferry really, just a three hour flight from the moon down to the planet below. When the shuttle lands again I know we'll have to book a longer jump to somewhere farther away. At least we aren't too remarkable. I can look normal enough when the occasion calls for it. The modification scars and the patches of skin that turned flat grey from the chemical interactions are all hidden beneath my clothes and gloves. The lab techs tried hard to keep our heads looking normal, I mean who knows when you might want your Modified super soldier to go undercover, and they succeeded well with me. At 29 I'm certainly old enough to have fathered a son the kid's age, so that was hardly unusual. The lack of a wife with us made that story leak a little, but people generally didn't question it that closely. And the kid is so damned endearing when he starts putting out the charisma full blast that he can make any sob story about a dead wife ring true. He's that kind of kid with the dark brown eyes and thick curly hair that women just beg to run their hands through. If I really was a single bereaved father in need of a new mother for my son, I'd be set.
The kid's still sleeping even when we arrive, and I garner smiles from all the flight attendants and even the captain when I carry him out rather than wake him up. It's perhaps a bad idea to give them such a memorable image of us to remember when the 4ths came by, but I can't say I'm always rational. I set him down as soon as we're in a quiet corner of the station and he rubs his eyes groggily like the normalest kid you ever saw. Heh, who am I to talk about normal?
As soon as he's awake I take his tiny hand again and we start walking. This pattern is familiar to both of us by now. Neither of us says much, just in case someone might overhear us deciding where to run to next. I take us on a roundabout tour of the city we're in now. I don't know it's name, and don't much care. The whole point is to make the 4ths think we're still here long after we're gone. We keep inconspicuous, we don't hurry, and we especially don't draw on our credit account at any respectable terminal with a camera or a recorder. The doc left me a very substantial account before he was killed, just for this sort of eventuality, but it took me about two weeks to figure out that was how the kid and I were being traced. That was how I ended up nearly getting busted open by that 4th. We've been doing alright so far. The 4th in the shopping center is the first close call we've had in about a month.
Not even an hour out of the shuttle station the kid starts bugging me about lunch. I grumble but give in, after all I'm hungry too after all that running. We had planned to get lunch in the shopping center, but that idea quickly fell flat. So we stop and eat, just a small little sandwich shop affair, then we're on our way again. This time I take us on a bus to the nearest spaceport. We get on a big space liner without incident and I dare to think we might be home free again for a time. I don't know what planet we're going to, I only know it's away from where we were and away from the government planets. I figure if I don't have a plan for where we go, the 4ths won't be able to follow us as easy.
Again I hold tight to the kid while we take off. No matter how many times we've jumped worlds like this or how many times I tell him the shuttle isn't going to break into tiny burning pieces in the upper atmosphere, he never gets over his fear. I dunno what it is, but something about launching always gets to him. Strange that reentry never affects him like this, though maybe that's because he's usually sleeping when we land. This trip will be three 'standard' days or about 70 hours and 35 minutes by my internal clock's estimation. The 4ths can't get to us here, not that fast, so I fully intend to catch up on my rest for when we land. he curls up next to me and we both drift off to sleep soon after launch.
Unsurprisingly I dream about my time in the labs. I had passed my thirteenth birthday before they were done with the modifications. Though done wasn't really the right word. The techs were done implanting, injecting, and replacing things, but the actual changes took another two years to fully stop progressing. I don't know what all they did, they certainly never told me the particulars. All I knew was what I could tell from my body once they were done. The modifications hurt like hell at first and growing pains were really a bitch, but through it all I always felt that living was worth it. I'd rather be hurting and abnormal than dead. A couple of the other 3rds thought differently. I think their suicide attempts were part of what sparked the government to start seriously funding the creation of the 4ths.
The 1st Generation Modified were ten 'volunteers' like me who would have died otherwise. Having their lives saved by the then radical modification techniques really didn't help them much though. They all turned out relatively super human, but none of them survived for more than a few months. The 2nd Generation Modified were made even more powerful and more non-human, but all died within a year. Me and the other 3rds were considered just another experiment. That time the scientists were sure they had worked out what had killed the others. We ended up even stronger, faster, more impressive than the 2nds had been, and unlike them we lived. Each of us was considered a success once the changes had fully halted and we were alive and suffering no obvious ill effects other than strange grey patches of skin and weird scars. All of us changed in little insignificant ways too. One girl's hair went white within a year. Sienna's eyes turned almost red. For me, the marks the techs had drawn on my skin to lay out the implants and injections just refused to disappear. Well, that and my brain's little automatic timer program. Though I'm not certain the latter effect wasn't intentional. Right up until the first of the 4th Generation Modified were pronounced a success, we 3rds were the best thing science had yet done for mankind, or so the propagandists liked to claim.
The 4ths are something different entirely. Oh, the same processes are used more or less, as I understand it, but the scope is drastically different. Instead of pulling dying orphans off the street, the labs grabbed up unwanted infants born to raped mothers or ones that were simply abandoned. The five the doc knew of were started even while we 3rds were still being modified. Because of the much more delicate subjects and vastly different scale of modification, the process took much longer for the 4ths. They truly were raised to be Modified. From what the doc managed to tell me, they were started because the 3rds looked to be such a success. Because we survived, they knew they had the techniques down and could, in theory, administer them to anyone. The government not only wanted more super soldiers, they wanted ones who knew no life before the labs, ones who would be biddable and silent, utterly loyal to those who had created them. We 3rds had been modified when we were headstrong teens entering, or about to enter puberty. The government wanted much more controllable weapons than us. And it turned out, unfortunately for me and the kid, the 4th Generation Modified were an indisputable success. They all took to the modifications even better than the 3rds had, their changes having been started at such a young age, and they knew nothing but what the lab techs had taught them. They followed orders without question, and always accomplished their missions. Sure the oldest of them is 17 now, but what does that matter when they are all stronger, faster, and more adept at physical anything than anyone else living? It isn't like they need mental or emotional maturity to be able do what they are told.
All of that, though, I know only because of the doc. Dr. Yuda was his name, though he's always been just the doc to me. He was the head caretaker of the kid back in the labs. Whenever the kid was being moved to another lab or another city for different tests and observations, one of us 3rds was assigned to guard him. That's how I met the doc and the kid, though he was a lot smaller back then. Those shifts were pretty boring so I talked to the doc whenever he wasn't the one examining the kid. He told me all sorts of stuff, and most of it I didn't believe for a long time. The doc had worked on the modification processes some, but really wasn't involved in that. He couldn't tell me much about what had been done to me, but he told me all about the kid.
He was born out of an egg, and I use the term loosely, the doc said it looked more like a giant snot blob, that was found by some mining team on an asteroid. Apparently something like him had been found before since a few important people recognized what he was. According to the doc the kid is the offspring of some rare and mysterious species that for whatever reason refuses to raise their own young and leaves the 'egg' to whichever Good Samaritan might come along to pick it up. As you can imagine, this means there aren't many in existence for anyone to study. This offspring takes on the appearance of someone he sees when he hatches, and doesn't grow into his real form until he's 'matured,' whatever that means. I dunno what's so important about the kid, other than that he's rare. The doc wouldn't tell me anything that sensitive back then, and he didn't have the time to tell me before he died. The kid didn't even know what he was until I told him what the doc had told me. It kinda makes me wonder what all the doc did tell him, being his chief caretaker and all.
The kid even asked me once, in that tiny voice of his, back the first time he'd seen me without a shirt on. "Are you an alien?"
I almost laugh every time I remember that, and the deadly serious look on his face, like he was determined to like me no matter what I answered. "No kid, you're the alien." I told him with a smile even though the mirth drained out of me soon enough. "I'm just what normal humans have made me into."
He looked thoughtful for a minute and I wondered what sorts of ideas were swirling in that little head of his. "Please don't call me that." He said it with a determined just to his chin, and I almost burst out laughing right then. "So I'm really an alien? That's neat. But then what are you?"
It was times like that I really wished the doc was still around, but I explained as best I could. I told him all that the doc had said about him. I told him all about the Modified. He took it all in stride, and snuggled up close to me in the space liner's berth when I was done. Damned if I'll ever be a natural, let alone normal father, but at least I've got the kid.
He's awake already when I come out of me dreams and old memories, sitting at the tiny desk in our little cabin room. It looks like he's doodling something and I smile as I roll out of the narrow berth. He draws the damnedest things. I can't tell if they're supposed to be abstract or just twisted versions of what he sees around him. Either way it's fascinating, though I try not to watch him draw. He doesn't like it much when I look over his shoulder at his work. I can't help but try to sneak a peak, though I know I can't without him noticing. Sure enough he turns and covers his doodles with his arms before I get a glimpse. Sometimes he shows them to me, but not before he's finished.
"Alright, alright. I'm not looking." I peel my gloves off and drop them on the berth. Next to follow is my jacket and t-shirt. After all the running and all the sleep I really need a shower, or at least the outer space approximation. The cabin is small, but squeezed into one corner is a tiny dryshower. It's not exactly hot running water, but it'll do.
"I'm gonna get cleaned up. Stay outta trouble ok?" He nods as I bend down to take off my shoes and socks, but by the time I straighten up he's hopped out of his chair and is standing right in front of me. I stop in mid-reach for my belt buckle and just stare at him as he stares up at me. He's looking at me in that way he does, like he's seeing right through me. He's seen me like this before, so what's the deal? I can't still be that scary looking to him can I?
I can feel his eyes tracing out every grey patch, every blue lab mark and I shiver under his scrutiny. It feels too much like when the lab techs would examine me to be sure all the modifications were taking. I can still hear all their 'hrm' and 'see this line here?' and so on. I never was what one of them would call an 'amazing physical specimen,' that was Sienna. But every inch of me is taut muscle, and one of the perks of being a Mod is that I never even had to work especially hard for it. If it weren't for the marks I might just look like a normal guy who went to the gym regularly. But the marks are there, always have been, always will be. My left arm is flat grey from just below my elbow to my fingertips. My right shoulder too is grey, as well as several large patches on my back. My chest and stomach are free of grey, but are instead crisscrossed with blue lab markings and the scars from many incisions. It's there that the kid's eyes come to rest. Slowly, almost hesitantly, he reaches up as high as he can and lays two fingers on my skin. I barely manage not to shy away from his touch. Tentatively he traces the blue line that starts at my collar bone and runs down the center axis of my chest. I shudder, but try to be gentle when I brush his hand away. How many times did the lab techs trace that line? How many times did I have to feel their cold hands and colder instruments across my skin?
"I can see what they did to you." His voice is still tiny, but sure.
"Don't tell me." I wrap my arms around my stomach, trying to forget for a moment the labs, and the touch of the techs, and the blue marks they drew that'll never go away no matter how hard I scrub. "I don't want to know."
"Did it hurt real bad?" His tiny voice has more kid and less creepy in it, and I manage a weak smile as I kneel down to be eye level with him.
"I screamed the whole time, like a little girl." I say it with a smile even though unlike my other answers for him, this one isn't a lie. He giggles a little at that though I can see he's trying not to. On an impulse I grab him into a tight hug, as much to comfort me as him. "But I'm here with you now because of it, so that's good right?"
"I wish Dr. Yuda was here." He chokes back a sniffle and I hug him tighter.
"Me too, Jin. Me too."
After a moment I let him go, and he scampers back to the desk, back to his drawing, and no longer looking into me. I shiver a bit as I hop into the dryshower, and not just because there's no hot water. Could he really see what the techs did? Could he see what they changed? Did he see what each of the incisions was for? I wasn't lying when I said I didn't want to know, but it doesn't seem fair that a kid like him has to share in it just because he was able to see it. He shouldn't have to carry that.
Poor kid. The doc was about the closest thing to a real dad he ever had. And I can't think of much crueler for the kid than being shoved out the door and told to run by that dad, and then seeing his dead body in the news only days later. That was about when the kid started snuggling up to me, looking for somewhere or someone to feel safe with, and about when I started to wonder what in hell I'd gotten myself into. I'd been hiding at the doc's place for about seven months before we started running. All the other 3rds were gone within the first month after the order for us to be killed came, even Sienna. I dunno how, but they didn't find me the whole time I was hiding with the doc. I've got a suspicion that the 'routine check-up' that all the other 3rds went through just before the end, the one I missed because the doc spirited me away from the labs the day before, was to put something in us that the 4ths could track. If that's true I owe the doc more than I can imagine.
I've never known what the government wants with the kid, what the doc was so desperate to get him away from. That day he brought the kid home and shoved us out the door, he shouted after us how he was sorry he had no time to explain. It didn't matter to me then, and it still doesn't. But I gotta wonder sometimes just what the government wants him for. There's no one to ask anymore though. The doc's gone, killed for allegedly resisting arrest when the police accused him of helping us escape.
The kid's still drawing when I come out of the shower, though by the time I get my clothes back on he's shyly holding up the paper for me to see. It's just a pencil drawing, a doodle really, but very dark and very detailed. It looks like some kind of demon flower or something, and gets points in my book for sheer creepiness. It's totally cool though. If he ever did work on commission I'm sure lots of young punks would want his art for tattoos. I'm just curious as to how he comes up with this stuff. I ruffle his hair as I give the drawing back. Only 59 hours and 21 minutes left.