03/27/2005, 7:02 PM

Royal Scientific Institution of Farakh

Tekai, Farakh

The car slowly pulled up around the front of the building, as far as the police tape would allow, the tires crunching loudly against the gravel driveway. Earlier, the police force had received a call to temporarily halt the investigation, though no reason was given why. It seemed very odd…but, then again, odder things had occurred within these walls, the Royal Scientific Institution of Farakh. The shattered windows, broken door, and overall feeling of eerieness were evidence of what had transpired just the other night.

Two days ago, the entire royal family had been brutally massacred, with their throats torn open and the blood drained completely from their bodies. The only explanation possible was that a Nasveyr, the vampiric race exiled to the planetary colony #48, had escaped and was on the premises. Naturally, the capital city of Tekai became flooded with panic—until it was discovered that the same sort of massacre had occurred at the Royal Scientific Institution. The military had little more than a day to investigate what had happened before the "abort mission" call went forth. At present, they were combing through the rest of the city to try and find the Nasveyr, while the police force had been left behind to guard the RSI.

Had they known exactly what was going on in the RSI prior to the crisis… Well, it probably would've made more sense to search the building a bit more thoroughly.

The car was a rental, one of those cheap Earthling models. Its main passenger had a hand in the order to abort, mostly because he desired to conduct some investigations of his own—and he was confident that he knew much more about this ordeal than the military or the police could ever imagine. The right passenger door opened; Lucius Niziér, the twenty-three-year-old leader of the planetary nation Qidanta, stepped out into the fading sunlight.

"Lucius!" hissed the driver, Camui Araki. He still neglected to tell her exactly what this was all about, and she didn't like it one bit. "Would you mind telling me why we're here? This is Farakh's problem! What does any of this have to do with us?!"

"None of it does. But, please—bear with me. If there is a Nasveyr skulking about somewhere, they'd have no reason to remain here for long. I'll be fine."

Camui bit her lip; but Lucius had never given her any reason not to trust him before. Right? "…All right. Fine."

Then he leaned back inside the car, keeping his voice to a whisper. "Listen carefully. I need you to drive around to the back of the building; there's another entrance back there I don't think they know about. That's where I'll be coming out in an hour or so. Take another road, if you have to, but make absolutely sure that nobody sees you. Understand?"

She nodded, quickly memorizing his instructions. "But… Why—?"

"Things would really be a lot easier if you didn't ask, Camui-chan."

"Oh… Fine. Whatever. See you later, I guess."

He smiled, then leaned back and shut the door. "Ta!" Lucius watched her drive off for a moment, then turned and started in the other direction.

Most of the other, younger recruits had no idea who he was; he certainly didn't look very regal, wearing dark denim jeans, a blank white t-shirt, and a cheap, faded leather jacket. But his otherwise distinct, unusual appearance, with pale, sky-blue hair and dark, entrancing golden eyes, made him stand out to the head of the force. "S…Sir Niziér! What are you—" He stopped abruptly, searching for a more eloquent choice of words. "Er… May I inquire as to your current presence, Sir Niziér?"

"Inquire all you want; I believe I'm supposed to show you this," he said, handing him a paper. It was a formal note from the head of the military, further addressing the call to abort and also permitting Sir Lucius Niziér to conduct his own search. "Everything's in order. Don't you agree?"

"Well… I…" Somehow, he didn't trust this youth, but he couldn't say why. It wasn't like the message had been forged, or anything…had it? "…Hmph. Yes, all right. Will you be requiring the service of my men?"

"Thanks for the offer, but no. I should do well on my own." That said, Lucius start to walk past him, stepping over the police tape towards the RSI.

"What?! Sir Niziér, I strongly request that you at least take someone with you! It's dangerous! It's still highly likely that the offending Nasveyr is hiding out in there—!"

Lucius paused, then turned ever-so-slightly, just enough so that he was looking at him; from this view, it was easy to see the holstered gun at his waist. An almost threatening light entered his eyes.

"I'm more capable of handling myself than you think."

He wasn't bothered again as he made his way into the RSI.


"Let's see… Where could it possibly be…"

At present, Lucius was still in the main hallway of the RSI. It had taken him a few minutes to boot up the directory screen, in the middle of the hall. It was a virtual map designated only for employees of the RSI, who, perhaps, happened to become lost. The screen of the terminal was cracked, and the terminal itself looked as though it'd been sprayed with blood; it had obviously taken damage during the massacre, but, after some coaxing from Lucius, it finally flickered to life, emitting a soft glow in the hollow darkness of the RSI.

The log-in screen had bright graphics, and generally looked user-friendly—perhaps a bit too much so. In the corner was a trademark, software © GIGA Tech Corp. Lucius smirked; useless, outdated Earthling rubbish. Not even the RSI could keep up with its own planet's technology.

Welcome, breathed a soothing, female voice, obviously rendered via computer. Please enter username and password.

That wasn't too hard. Lucius had done his research in advance… Well, if hacking could be called "research," that is.

Username: XERXES

Password: DEMARATUS

The terminal whirred for a few seconds, as another screen blinked on, displaying a map of the entire building. Welcome, Dr. Blyton, said the computerized voice again. Lucius ignored it, instead scanning the map for anything that made mention of what he was looking for… But, of course, there was no such mention. That was to be expected. He moved the track-ball down to the "Search" option.

Search: sYn

Several new, smaller labels popped up on the map, each of them highlighted thanks to the search. But the one he needed was on the far end of the left wing of the RSI:

sYn Record Lab

Data Containment Center

After highlighting the specific area, he moved the track-ball over to "Map Route" and clicked; detailed instructions on how to get from the entrance hall to the "Record Lab" came onto the screen. It didn't seem that hard; there was no need to print the directions. Then he did the same again, only this time from the lab to the back entrance. Again, no difficulty. This was turning out to be a lot easier than he expected.

Without another thought, he logged out, logged back in using the alias of a technician, and proceeded to delete all records of sYn on the directory. This was not something that the Farakh government needed to know about.


The door to the Record Lab was opened about halfway. There didn't seem to be any damage done to the room. Lucius was surprised; he had half-expected the door to be ripped off its hinges. Then again, the blood-spatter and general gore seemed to thin out the closer he got to this area. He was a bit startled to see a single trail of blood leading to the Record Lab, but it didn't look as though anything had been directly killed in the area, so maybe the massacre hadn't come this far. Maybe…

The room itself seemed a bit dusty, and had probably been untouched for a long time. It was rather small, and seemed less like a lab than a deserted office. An old-fashioned straw broom, which probably had never been used, leaned against one corner; a large bundle of cloth had been tossed carelessly into another corner; and the entire right wall was taken up by a massive terminal with a huge screen. Lucius hesitantly walked over to it, careful not to make a sound even though he knew there were no others in the building.

He ran a hand over the dusty keyboards, trying to find the power switch, flicking it on once he did. The terminal made a pleasant hum noise as it went through the standard boot-up procedure, finally illuminating the room with the soft glow of the log-in screen. This time, however, he had to enter a different user/pass; from what he found out, only the "record-keeper" had access to this terminal. What was it, again…?

The Sheepman… Right.

Username: KIPPER

Password: MAY

It made a louder hum this time as the log-in screen faded to a more technical, less user-friendly interface. Among the selections on the menu, "MAIL" was flashing red. Curious, he moved the cursor to it and clicked; a new message was at the top, dated March 25th, 2005. On first sight, the message text appeared garbled, until he realized it was some form of shorthand:

Subject: URGENT

To: all terminals

Sender: central terminal

Message:

MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY

CNMNT BRKOUT - NOT FAGOV - IMM CNTN SPEC 00 - ESCAPE NOW

Lucius read the message over a few times, until he had a good idea of what the message meant:

Containment breakout. Notify Farakh government. Contain specimen 00 immediately. ESCAPE NOW.

It was a bit chilling, now that he thought about it, but it at least confirmed his hypothesis. The Nasveyr that committed the massacre was the subject of Project sYn—or, as was stated in the message, "specimen 00."

It made sense to call it "00," seeing as how the RSI had never exactly gotten permission from the planetary nation of Windaffia to perform their own sYn experiments; this specimen, then, was never supposed to even exist. He'd heard various stories of the repeatedly failed Windaffian sYn specimens, horrific creatures that had mutated beyond recognition. Many, if not all of them had been euthanized.

Did this mean, then, that "specimen 00" was a success?

He never quite figured out exactly what was the purpose of Project sYn, better known as Project Vanterra Synthesis, except that it involved scientifically-bred beasts with the bloodthirsty qualities of Nasveyr; unlike Nasveyr, however, they looked like anything but human. With that being the case, what was a (hypothetically) successful sYn specimen supposed to look like? An ordinary Nasveyr? Well, no; how could the failed specimens have turned out so badly, then? He really didn't know what to think.

Lucius pulled a small CD, only about three inches across, out of his inner coat pocket and loaded it into the disc-slot. It was a marvel that such a small Earthling device could hold nearly as much as a Qidantan-manufactured thumb-drive, which could store up to around 40 gigs (something almost unheard of on Earth) and was more than enough to carry all the data on this computer. If he had it his way, he would've brought a thumb-drive, instead; unfortunately, GIGA Tech terminals were only compatible with GIGA Tech discs. (Maybe I should address the company's president about this minor problem, he thought.)

He brought up another screen which listed all the records: every observation log, diary entry, stat listing—everything —all dating from 1989, when Project sYn was first initiated. He highlighted all the records and started transferring them to the disc; he didn't have nearly enough time to start reading them all. The transfer went smoothly, without a single hitch, taking only about five minutes. With a small click, the disc popped halfway out of its slot, signifying the transfer was complete.

Lucius gingerly slid the disc back in; he wasn't finished yet. He minimized the window, scouring the rest of the hard drive for anything he might've missed. After about ten minutes, he had collected everything he needed; he double-checked that it was all on the disc, placed it back in its case, and then set about to formatting the entire hard drive. Within another few minutes, the computer was wiped clean—all traces that sYn had ever existed within these walls was completely erased.

There, he thought. That's all I need… I hope Camui's out there. Now, to get out of here

Suddenly, he could've sworn he heard something behind him—a soft, very soft rustle, barely audible in the already silent room, but it was a noise, nonetheless. He whipped around to see that the pile of cloth, previously bundled in the corner, had moved probably no more than an inch—it moved.

A survivor?! No; it was most likely just his nerves. But, wait—the trail of blood… It led right to the corner. The sudden shock hit him like a brick in his face.

Oh, shit…

It couldn't be the Nasveyr; in that case, Lucius would probably be dead by now. If it was a survivor, huddled underneath the ragged cloth, there was no way he could let him find out what Lucius had been doing. But… If it was someone, he couldn't just leave him there, could he? After all, the blood was there for a reason… What if it was already dead and just slid down from the wall to make the cloth move, or something? Yeah, that might be it—but once the police force came back to investigate, they might blame him for it…

Well, at any rate, he wouldn't find out by worrying to death over it; that was Artemis's job, after all. Gathering his nerves, he reached over, grabbed the broom, kneeled down and started nudging the bundle with the pole. "Hey." Nudge. "…Hey." Nudge. "…Are you alive?" Then he nudged it harder.

"Aah!"

Lucius had to keep himself from jumping up in surprise at the painful yelp, as the small bundle recoiled and huddled even closer. After a few seconds, he quietly crept closer to the bundle. "Hey… Are you all right?" There was no response, but for a few, short, muffled whimpers. He stretched out his right hand, feeling the trembling figure beneath. "Well? …Can you speak?"

Again, the other remained (mostly) silent; he turned and looked up, however, so that Lucius could see him. His face was rather scratched up, smudged with dirt and blood, but… Something about his appearance struck Lucius as completely unnatural. He couldn't have been any younger (or older) than sixteen or seventeen years old, and looked unusually effeminate…but in an innocent, almost childlike way. He had short, jet-black hair with bangs just long enough so that they didn't completely cover his eyes; there was a frightened expression in them, colored a clear, sharp crimson which held a mysterious quality not unlike Lucius's own. He stared up at Lucius, eyes widened, looking like he was going to faint at any given moment.

This face… Why does it seem so familiar?

He was obviously far too young to be any sort of employee… So what the hell was this kid doing here? He sighed; sitting here wasn't going to solve anything, either. "Well… Guess it's a good thing I found you before they did," he muttered. "All right, c'mon. We have to get you out of—ow! Hey, what the—?!"

He started to kick Lucius with his right leg, violently struggling to get away from him; he was stronger than he looked. Lucius grabbed his wrist as he lashed out at him, refusing to let go of him. "Hey, hey! Cut it out! I'm not going to hurt you!"

He hesitated, and finally relented; Lucius still didn't let go of his wrist, but loosened his grip. "There… That's better. What's your name?"

There was a long silence. "…You're…one of them…aren't you?"

His voice was shaky, and didn't sound particularly deep, having a light, melodic quality to it. "Them? …You mean the guys from outside? No, don't worry; if I was one of them, I'd be treating you a lot worse, believe me."

"…But…you're… You came from…outside…didn't you?"

"Outside? …What do you mean?"

He was still hesitant, but his voice only got weaker. "You… You can't be one of…the scientists… He…he killed them… all of them…"

That caught Lucius's attention. He… "When you say 'he'… You mean the Nasveyr, don't you?"

"I—no—he…" He faltered, taking a ragged breath and suddenly looking down; he looked like he was about to cry.

"Hey, what's the matter? Was it something I said? I'm sorry, I didn't mean… anything… like that…" Lucius broke off as his eyes happened to wander along his bare left arm. Just below his shoulder was a large, easily visible tattoo:

sYn

00

Oh. …Ohhh.

Wait, wait, wait. This…this kid was supposed to be "specimen 00," the one who killed all those people?! Well… On second thought, as he rationalized it, maybe it wasn't him; maybe a different Nasveyr happened to escape, and that was the one who did it. After all, he did say that "he" killed everyone, and "he" definitely did not mean himself. Or…or maybe… Well, that was the only other plausible explanation, and Lucius honestly didn't believe that he could be capable of so much damage.

Contain specimen 00 immediately. ESCAPE NOW.

Then again, Lucius himself had been underestimated far too many times in his life for him to underestimate anybody else.

"…All right," he said finally, sighing. "I think I understand now… Were you the one—?"

"No, it wasn't me!" he exclaimed desperately. "It was him… It was Ares!"

Lucius didn't have an answer for that. …Did he just say Ares? What the…?

"He was just fine… He never hurt anyone, and then… Then, the falcon came, and… He just… He went berserk…"

Falcon? Lucius still didn't know what he was talking about—although he felt a strange twinge of familiarity at his words—but he remained close.

"He… He didn't want to come back… He wants to stay dead… But… I can't… just… just take out his Memory… I can't do anything…" He drew back, pulling away from Lucius, his breath starting to shudder. "I don't… I don't wanna die…"

Lucius saw tears streaming down his face. He gently placed his hand on his back, noting uncomfortably that he could easily feel his skin through the thin, ragged cloth; now fully intending to take him back to Qidanta, he hoped there were some spare clothes on the ship. "Hey… Relax. It's all right; calm down."

Despite saying this, Lucius decided to let him cry for a few more minutes; obviously, he'd been having a pretty rough time. After a while, he finally became silent. "…By the way… You don't have a name, do you?"

He paused. "…The scientists only called me specimen 00."

"…Seriously?"

"Uh-huh."

That sounds more like a model number than a name… "…Huh. Well, that won't do. Tell you what: from now on, your name is Zero. Okay?" (It wasn't very original, but at least it was easy to remember.)

"Um… Okay…" There was a short silence. "…There aren't…any…others with you…are there?"

"Well… No, not with me, but, like I said before, there are a bunch of people waiting outside. And if they find you here… Hm. The least they'd do would be to ship you off to the colony…"

"Huh…?"

"Nothing. Long story. But we have to get you out of here, before they come."

"A…all right…"

He stood up, pulling Zero with him. But he barely took another step before crying out in pain and collapsing to his knees again. "What's wrong?" asked Lucius, quickly kneeling beside him.

"It… it hurts… I can't walk…" His left leg was splayed out. There was a large gash running along his calf, which explained the blood, but it also looked fairly bruised, as well; there had to be something else… Lucius started running a hand along the shin— "Ow!"

"Sorry, sorry…" Must be broken, too, or something. "Fine. We'll just do this another way…"

Zero gave a small yelp of surprise as Lucius picked him up entirely, carrying him in his arms; he clung to his shirt, leaning his head against his chest. "Er… Are you all right?" Lucius asked, surprised. Oh, God… What would Artemis think if he kept doing stuff like this?

"I…guess so…"

"Okay… Let's go." Please, God, please let Camui be out there by now…


Camui impatiently checked the clock again, still waiting in the car. It had been one hour… Lucius should've been back by now. What the hell was he doing, anyway? It wasn't like he'd ever hid anything else from her before… Well… That was a bit of a lie. After all, she had to find out for herself that he slept with Sir Ellison—

Oh—crap. Her nose started to bleed again.

Why does this always happen to me?! she thought angrily as she quickly reached over and dug through the glovebox for a napkin, or something similar. I am not a pervert… I am not a pervert! So, then… Why did she keep thinking about… er…

"Nnn… ohhhh… Lucius… no, don't… don't… stop…"

No, no, NO! Cut it OUT!

As Camui tried to fight off the barrage of mental images, she wasn't even aware that Lucius had finally arrived.

"Hey… Uh… Camui-chan…? Are you okay…?"

"Huh? O-oh, er, S-Sir Lucius! I-I didn't realize… Y-yes, I'm fine. Why…?"

"Oh, well… I was just wondering, 'cause… Your nose is bleeding…"

Crap, not again! "Er… I-it's nothing… Allergy season, you know." She laughed nervously, hoping he would buy it.

"Uh… Sure." He opened the passenger door, laying Zero out on the backseat, vaguely aware that any allergies which involved nosebleeds must've been pretty serious… Perhaps she should see a doctor…

Camui glanced back to see what he was doing. "Hey… Who's that?"

"A survivor."

"…What?! A survivor?! Then— Why didn't you take him out front?! We need to turn him in—"

"These windows are tinted, right?"

"Well, yeah, but—"

"If they find out he's here, they'll send him to colony #48."

"…Colony…?" Her eyes widened. "You mean… He's the Nasveyr?!"

"That's not what I said. I only said he was a survivor." He smiled coyly; Camui realized this was one of those times where she wouldn't get anywhere by asking. "I'm gonna go back out through the front; that's where I'll meet you. Again, make sure no one sees you—especially not him. Got it?"

"…Yeah. Sure. See you in a few minutes."

Without saying another word, Lucius swung the door shut, walking back into the RSI. Camui backed out of the small driveway, turning around and driving back along the same road she came in on. Zero leaned his head against the window, watching the scenery go past. "…Where are we going?"

"…I dunno. After we pick up Lucius, I guess he'll want to go back to the ship…" A few minutes of silence passed. "…You might wanna keep your head down. He kept telling me to make sure nobody saw you."

"Oh… Sorry." He laid his head down on the seat, closing his eyes. From then on, the only thing that broke the silence was the quiet rumble of the car's engine. It was soothing, almost; he couldn't really say why. Then, an all-too-familiar voice softly entered his mind.

Mmf… Que arrive…? …Où nous sommes…?

…Je ne sais pas.

…Ils n'ont pas te capturer…ne-c'est pas…?

Non.

…Nn. Bon. Je suis allais s'endormir… Tu devrait, aussi.

…D'accord. Within seconds, he was asleep.


"Ow… You know, he's kinda heavy…"

"Shut up! We can't let the crew see him, either!"

"Oh, sorry…"

The two of them were presently trying to sneak Zero, still unconscious and slumped over Camui's shoulder, onto the Qidantan ship. So far, they needed as few people as possible to know about him until they could come up with a plausible excuse for his being there.

Camui hesitated once they boarded the ship. "…So, what do you plan on doing with him?"

"…Well…" Then Lucius remembered his leg. "…The infirmary. This way." He started walking down the right hall, along the length of the ship. "You know how to make a splint, right?"

"Of course. Is something wrong with him?"

"Yeah. …Oh, here it is."

Lucius quietly opened the door to the small, white-walled infirmary; Camui stepped in after him, carefully laying Zero on the bed. "It's his leg… See, where it got cut? I think it might be broken."

Camui ran her hands along his leg. "Mm… Yeah, you're right." She paused. "…How do you suppose he got injured like this, though?"

"Beats me. I was a little surprised, too…"

"Yeah, but even more surprising is that he managed to get that far into the RSI without being caught, in this shape…" She glanced up at the clock. By now, it was almost ten-thirty; even though it only took Lucius slightly more than an hour to get through the RSI, the hangar that the ship was in was quite some distance away. "Oh… You should go to bed. Don't worry, I'll deal with this."

"Okay… Thanks."

"Don't mention it."

As Lucius walked out of the room, towards his own quarters, the only thing he could think about was the startling familiarity of Zero's face. He knew he'd seen him somewhere before…but where…? How was it even possible? He seriously doubted that Zero had ever left the RSI in his entire life, at least before now. It was probably just his imagination, but…

…It'll come to me in the morning. I hope.