It was a tense, uncomfortable ride to the Marine base at Quantico. The Land Rover was built to accommodate four people, but in this case, an entire continent might not have been enough room for everybody’s satisfaction.
     Major Hawthorn drove under protest. Every tendon in his body was strained to breaking point in an effort to keep himself under control. His gun holster stayed on the dashboard, unbuttoned, just in case. It didn’t seem to bother Gabriel, who occupied one of the rear seats as though it were a throne, and gave no sign of discomfort at even the biggest bumps and jars.
     Colonel Obrin was unresponsive. He rocked from side to side, lost to his own nightmares of shame and guilt. All the defences he’d built up over the years were torn through, stripped away, and he found himself adrift in an ocean of feelings which he could no longer repress.
     And Gina… Gina stared out the window and chewed her bottom lip until it was raw. Why couldn’t she tell him? Maybe if he knew, he’d be– he might not–
     She shook herself out of it. No time for circular thinking. There were other things to talk about, quite important things.
     Closing her eyes, Gina reached out. She touched the calm, controlled basin of Gabriel’s thoughts, and he rose to meet her.
     You have something that doesn’t belongs to you, she said, and let him feel some of the anger and pain she’d been carrying around, locked down deep inside herself. Letting that poison fuel her. Give it back. Now.
     Gina, there’s–
     Give me back what you stole! she snapped. No discussion, no argument, hand it over or I swear to God I’ll take it from you!
     Taken aback by her ferocity, Gabriel reeled, cowed into silence. He observed her for a moment. Then, she felt it begin it happen.
     First was a knock on the door to her brain, asking permission to go inside. That was how far she’d come. Gabriel had to ask. With a little glow of satisfaction, she invited him in, and they went to work together. Not a word was exchanged, or necessary.
     The piece of him inside her brain came unstitched, disconnected, and was taken away. The ever-present sense of him in her brain gradually faded to nothing. There was a moment of awful emptiness, looking down the yawning hole in her self, until Gabriel offered up what he’d kept for so long. It slotted into place without any effort at all. It knew where it belonged.
     Completeness washed over her. It was a feeling she hadn’t experienced in… Ever. She didn’t know what she had until it was gone. Overwhelming contentment filled her up, which Gina could only compare to sinking into a hot bath after a long day full of bruises. The edges were raw, still, and it didn’t fit quite as perfectly as before, but it would heal.
     Thank you, she told him.
     Don’t. I shouldn’t have taken it in the first place. It was… childish. Selfish.
     Gina raised her mental eyebrows. That doesn’t sound like you. Are you feeling okay?
     Dismissively, I’ve been doing some thinking, since I met you.
     If it’s true you were born here, she pointed out, then you are only fourteen and a bit years old.
     Looking back on that thought, Gina wished she’d never had it. It made her stomach turn. At least he looked like a grown man, was one in a physical sense, so she could deliberately forget the rest.
     Her bottom lip hurt. Her teeth were digging into it again. She picked her words hesitantly, syllable by syllable, each one followed by a heavy pause.
     Gabriel, there’s something I need to tell you.
     Later, he replied. We’re here.
     Her eyes flicked to the screen showing the outside camera feed. It was true. A heavy chain-link fence blocked their way, topped with razor-wire, and the actual entrance was nowhere in sight. Not through a howling dust storm. She wondered how they were going to go around it, until Major Hawthorn hit the throttle and knocked down a whole section of fence by sheer weight of vehicle. Steel crunched as the Land Rover rolled over it. Even the big spool of concertina razors failed to leave an impression on the Rover’s chunky, armoured tires.
     The moldering skeleton of the Marine base at Quantico rose from the dust, long-abandoned but mostly intact. An impressive collection of concrete boxes, prefab metal sheds, and deceptively normal-looking office buildings. Great drifts of sand had gathered in the lee of the motor pools, their doors left open fourteen years ago as the last evacuees hurried to safety. There was nowhere really convenient to park.
     “That building, please,” Gabriel said out loud. He pointed to one of the offices on the screen, nondescript and without a label. “Get as close as you can.”
     Hawthorn nodded. “Say no more.”
     He drove into the lobby through several panes of sheet glass, parked on top of a delicate carbon-fibre fountain, and popped the hatch to let everyone out at their convenience.

***

     They blazed a trail through the dust and decay, over the crumbled remains of potted trees and other irradiated clutter, left behind during the hasty evacuation and never picked up again. Gina saw sheets of paper. Bits of long-dead electronics. Even whole antique computers remained on the reception desk, not deemed important enough to salvage. It gave the place a sad, lonely atmosphere.
     A bronze plaque along the wall proclaimed this building to be the John Dearborne Ctr. of Advanced MCorps Research, constructed proudly in 2069. It hammered in a final coffin-nail of irony with its motto: “Forever loyal, forever prepared.”
     Gabriel led them to a bank of elevators along the lobby’s south wall. The doors opened for him without a fuss. What security remained, running on back-up power, obeyed him at the touch of a button. He seemed to know the codes to every lock, every system — and where that wasn’t enough he had Colonel Obrin’s biometrics within arm’s reach.
     The multi-function lock beeped as it recognised the Colonel’s fingerprint and passcode. A hidden control panel flipped up to reveal a new set of buttons in addition to the nine normal floors. These were all marked by the letter S and plunged into negative numbers, as many as twelve stories below ground level.
     Gabriel didn’t hesitate in choosing one. It made a crunchy, crumbling noise as he pressed it, but the little light still came on and the doors closed faithfully.
     “Fascinating place,” he said as the carriage began to move, sinking slowly into the Earth. “You can almost taste the history, wouldn’t you agree?”
     “Why are we here?” asked Major Hawthorn impatiently, beating Gina to the punch.
     “Our world is about to end, Major. It would be a terrible waste if we didn’t visit the place where it began.”
     Give me strength, thought Gina, casting her eyes heavenwards, forcing her clenched fingers to relax. Part of her wanted nothing more than to slap that horrible serenity out of him.
     Out loud she said, “Look, Gabriel… The world is what it is. Nobody’s ever needed to reset the clock on it before, and we’ve been doing all right, haven’t we? As a species?” She held his gaze when he looked at her. “We keep surviving. It’s what we’re good at.”
     “I didn’t do this on a Sunday-afternoon whim, Gina. I’ve thought about all of that. What right do I have to decide where things went wrong, where it all went off the path, and so on. When you start thinking that way, what right does anyone have to anything? People do what they do because they can. I can do this, so I’ve done it. If there’s anyone out there who wants to judge me, they’re welcome.”
     “Then why did you pick the name ‘Gabriel?'” she wondered aloud. “I thought you had a bit of religion in you.”
     “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.” He grinned. “You don’t think that’s even a little fitting?”
     Hawthorn gave a contemptuous snort. “And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. Are you talking to somebody named Zacharias about his future offspring? No? Then don’t cherry-pick scripture around me!”
     “Major, Major, Major,” sighed Gabriel, “you have such a depressingly literal mind.” He sent Hawthorn a wan little smile over the shoulder. “By the way, if you did what you’re thinking about doing, you might end up hitting someone by accident who isn’t functionally immortal. And that would be no fun at all, would it?”
     “So stop me,” Hawthorn snarled.
     “Stop you, when nothing in the here and now is going to matter in a day or two? No, I don’t think I’ll bother. Live with the consequences while you can.”
     So calmly delivered, that speech, but it sent shivers all down Gina’s spine. She was still looking for a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It seemed to be getting further and further away.
     The elevator gave a ding when it arrived, ten levels below-ground. The doors opened, grinding like heavy boots on gravel. Everyone trailed along in Gabriel’s wake.
     The hallway outside the elevators could’ve belonged to any hospital on the planet: inoffensive, pastel, floored in vinyl and smelling faintly of disinfectant. The bare walls offered nothing in the way of decoration. The only break in their monotony was a row of windows looking out over some kind of training area.
     It was a big rectangle of concrete in the finest traditions of military architecture. Ancient — by technological standards — VR pods lined the walls, rigged up with fluid pipes and other complicated devices which modern rigs had dropped by the wayside. Bulky control panels sat beside each one, so the operators could review a million different facts at a glance.
     In the middle of the room stood something which Gina could only describe as the most sadistic-looking dentist’s chair in the history of oral hygiene. It bristled with needles, drills, blades and other mysterious attachments which looked less like medical equipment and more the tools of a butcher.
     “The operating room,” Gabriel explained. “Where they first used Hephaestus to… To…”
     He stopped halfway through the door. A bubble of joy surged into Gina’s heart when she saw why.
     In the middle of it all, sitting cross-legged on the floor and field-stripping a rifle with his eyes closed, was Bomber.
     For the first time today, maybe ever, Gina saw genuine surprise on Gabriel’s face. There was something deeply satisfying about that. Petty, maybe, but delightful all the same.
     “The gang’s all here, huh?” Bomber said loudly as he slotted the bits of metal and plastic together once more. “I guess it’s time we sort some things out once and for all.”

***

     The two men stared at each other from across the room. They were like artillery pieces taking aim. Bomber remained expressionless, still as a statue, while Gabriel went from shock to uncertainty to tightly-leashed anger.
     There was one odd thing. When Gina reached out to Bomber, to speak to him mentally, she found… nothing. Not even a wall of telepathy avoidance, just empty space where thoughts and feelings were supposed to be. As if he didn’t exist. She shivered, wondering what he did to himself to make that happen.
     “I don’t know what you’re doing here, Dusther, but you’re not getting in my way,” Gabriel pronounced. “Not today.”
     “So stop me.”
     Gabriel didn’t need encouragement. His mind lashed out like a battering ram, and Gina caught it too late to react. The sheer force of it sent her reeling, catching herself against the glass. The room spun around her. She focussed through it, though, searched for Bomber in a panic. She heard herself shout, “No!”
     He hadn’t moved an inch. He stood in the same spot, unbowed, and flickered at the edges. It was a hologram…
     “That’s why I can’t sense you,” Gabriel chuckled. “Clever.”
     “Projector’s in pretty good shape,” said Bomber, and the corners of his mouth twitched, trying to remember how to smile. “Just needed some tender lovin’ care, is all.”
     “You can’t hide from me forever, you know.”
     “Don’t need to. Just for long enough.” He paused a moment. “Is Gina with you?”
     So he couldn’t see. Gabriel picked up on it, too; he moved from side to side, but Bomber’s eyes stayed firmly on the doorway. When Gina threatened to open her mouth, Gabriel reached back and shushed her.
     “What exactly are you hoping to accomplish here, Dusther?” he demanded. “You’re too late. You can’t stop what’s already begun.”
     “You’re flatterin’ yourself, Gabe. You always think you’re the target.”
     “What do you mean?”
     No answer. The hologram fizzled out, leaving the room quiet and empty, without a hint as to where Bomber really was. Not a pile of dust or sheet of paper looked like it had been moved in years. That only seemed to feed Gabriel’s rage as he strode down the steps.
     “How long has he been here?” he asked Gina and Hawthorn.
     They looked at each other and, in unison, gave a massive shrug.
     Gabriel hissed out a breath through his nose. His search through the years of detritus in the operating room didn’t reveal anything about Bomber’s location or his plans. The little control room up on the previous floor, looking down on Gabriel with its tiny, opaque windows, was the same. No signs of life that either he or Gina could sense.
     “He’ll have rigged some kind of remote control. He wants me to waste time trying to track him down.” He snapped his fingers, coming to a decision. “I was hoping we could take our time, but it looks like I need to cut this field trip short. Come with me. I think you’ll find the next level very education… al…” He trailed off in mid-sentence as he turned around. “Where’s Obrin?”
     Gina and Hawthorn glanced around the hallway. There was no trace of the Colonel. He’d seen his opportunity to run and taken it. Hawthorn started to laugh. It struck Gina as funny, too, until she felt the turn of Gabriel’s thoughts.
     “You’ve got no Goddamn idea what’s down here,” he snapped as he passed them at a dead run, rushing into the stairwell.
     Hawthorn stared after him, at the door flapping on its hinges, and said, “Should we go…?”
     Gina nodded in a daze. “Yeah. We should.”
     They hurried down the steps to the minus-eleventh floor, dreading what they might find.
     Their first discovery was a heavy security door, complete with card lock, ripped from its hinges and lying in the middle of the hallway. The damage looked old. The torn metal edges had had time to grow rust. Gingerly, Gina stepped over the wreckage to explore.
     A grid of cramped passages joined up a number of chambers, but unlike the floor above, these were conspicuously lacking in windows. There was something furtive about the way the halls were built. That feeling continued in the first room she popped her head into, some kind of guarded anteroom to a walk-in medical freezer. No one guarded it now, and the freezer had been cleaned out a long time ago. Just as well. It looked like the kind of storage room where you didn’t want to know the contents, because it was not going to be anything wholesome or good.
     “I think he went this way,” said Hawthorn, touching her arm.
     The first door in that direction opened onto a laboratory. Again, Gina got the sense that this was not a place where they did nice inoffensive things with pipettes and petri dishes. Three glass-walled vats were bolted to the floor in the middle of the room, sprouting a dizzying variety of tubes and electronics at the top and base. The glass was cracked and holed. Bullet-holes, she realised, with matching damage bored into the wall. Whatever had been in those vats, they’d made sure to shoot it before pulling out.
     Indeed, something still remained in one of them. A dark, slumped shape, its bottom half bathing in a layer of cyan-coloured sludge. Gina could make out two elongated arms covered in patchy, black fur. Here and there, bits of bare skin showed bulging muscle, tight veins forced up against the skin. The body was criss-crossed with scalpel scars and still bristled with bits of implanted electronics. The creature looked and smelled like it had been trying to decompose for a while, but the process hadn’t quite caught on.
     “What the fuck is that?” Gina hissed.
     “I think it used to be a chimp,” Hawthorn replied, shaken and a little nauseous. “Animal testing.”
     “God. What have they done to it?”
     The Major shook his head grimly. “The real question is, why? There’s plenty of humans who’d volunteer.”
     A noise down the hall cut the discussion short. Gina and Hawthorn shared a look of mutual understanding and ran to see what was going on.

***

     “I did have a thought,” Gina whispered to Hawthorn as they slowed down, overcome by a sudden case of caution. The knocking and banging was a lot louder here, and some of the corridors looked damaged. Holes had been torn into the wall. A pipework ruin stuck out of them, all bent and ripped to pieces. The air smelled old and stale. Some of this stuff must’ve belonged to the air filtration system, now thoroughly put out of business.
     Hawthorn said, “What’s your thought, Gina?”
     “Andrew… Can I call you Andrew?” He gave her a curt nod. “I keep thinking that they shot out all three of those vats, but only one of them had anything in it.”
     Swallowing a stab of fear, he shook off that train of thought and clutched his gun a little tighter. “It could be Colonel Obrin.”
     Gina gave it some thought. All her memories of the Colonel had gone sour. Now that she knew about the blood on his hands, it made her sick. On the other hand, if Gabriel got his way, none of it would matter. Colonel Obrin would be absolved of his sins. Depending on how you looked at it.
     Gina wasn’t sure she saw it that way.
     The whole concept was still so strange and overwhelming; Gina could barely wrap her head around it. In a matter of days, she and everything she knew would cease to exist.
     She asked, “Would you be that much happier to see Obrin?”
     “I don’t think he’d try to hurt us.”
     “I know. It’s the other way round that I’m worried about.”
     Her tone was as cold and implacable as a Siberian winter. If she were ever going to feel justified in using her powers to truly hurt someone, ripping their mind out through their ears, Keith Obrin would be the man. She might hate herself for it, but she would cope.
     Hawthorn suppressed an attack of the icy shivers and hissed, “I really wish you wouldn’t talk like that.”
     They inched closer and closer to the open doorway, the actual door lying off its hinges just outside. They finally reached the threshold. Together, Gina and Major Hawthorn dove through, prepared for whatever lay on the other side.
     They found Bomber.
     He was throwing entire file cabinets around like they weighed nothing at all. Laminated paper covered the floor, sometimes sealed in yellow plastic folders. All the furniture — desks, chairs, computers and all the other odds and ends of an admin office — had been kicked out of the way to give Bomber better access. As Gina watched, he tore a drawer out of another cabinet, turned it upside down and shook a stack of folders out onto the floor. A few cursory glances seemed enough to tell him it wasn’t what he was looking for.
     “Bomber?” Gina asked, unsure whether she should go to him or not. A nugget of fear pulsed in her heart. She tried to reach out to him, but recoiled when she got close. His mind was a hurricane of emotion, powerful beyond words. Gina was only safe as long as she kept her distance.
     “Can’t talk,” he replied. Yet another drawer squeaked as it was ripped off its runners. “Almost got it.”
     Oh-kay, thought Gina, hurt and encouraged at the same time. Not the reunion she would’ve wanted, but at least he was responsive.
     “What are you looking for?” she asked with exaggerated friendliness.
     Moving to the second-to-last cabinet, Bomber tore into it like a man possessed. He threw all the files across the floor. In a few seconds he’d analysed every title in view, and selected one folder among the multitudes. He bent down, fished it carefully out of the pile.
     “This.”
     The name stamped across the front of the folder was, ‘Project Hephaestus Candidate Generation.’
     “What is it?”
     “The beginning,” he said, holding the plastic in both hands. They trembled as he flipped through the pages.
     Hawthorn made his way over, through the scattered papers, and took the file from Bomber’s unresisting hands. He read it bit by bit, and Gina mentally read along with him.
     She almost didn’t need to. The hard-copy photographs told enough of the story by themselves.
     There were several images of a human egg being artificially fertilised. Next was a row of tiny foetuses, each growing in its own little fluid tank. Babies in incubators. Children sitting at classroom desks, all in military uniform. Each image showed fewer and fewer of them until, at adolescence, only a handful remained. A slim teenage Bomber stood at attention on the far left. Gina recognised some of the other faces from his memories. Caroline Yang, Tim Dujardin, Mary Sweeney; all the leaders from Bomber’s unit.
     “They made you?” blurted Hawthorn. “Like a clone?”
     A choked noise came from the doorway behind them. “No, not a clone! A new type of human being, improved by Hephaestus. You’ve never seen such perfect genes.”
     Two guns and one wrathful telepath took aim at the bedraggled figure of Colonel Obrin, and silence fell onto them like snow.

***

     A dizzying wave of blind hatred erupted from Bomber’s mind. He kept his barrel trained on Obrin’s throat the whole time, adjusting his angle with millimetric precision as the Colonel made his way into the room.
     “Jacob,” he said, a hint of desperation in his voice, “there are a lot of things I did wrong. A lot of things I regret. There’s no way I can apologise or make up for some of it, but I want you to know, I never once regretted you. You and the other kids were a triumph. You came out better than expected in every way. Mentally, physically, everything. You can accept implants at a level way beyond what a normal human body could tolerate. What does it matter where you came from?”
     He paused, as if expecting some kind of response to his speech, but Bomber didn’t say a thing. Obrin gave a helpless gesture and plunged onward.
     “It’s true, we put fake childhood memories in your head to help you develop a normal emotional response. It was a lie, but you wouldn’t have wanted the truth. I’m sorry for it. Now ask yourself, what does it matter? You’re perfect as you are, more perfect than any of us.”
     This time, Bomber sucked in a breath through his mouth, and started to speak.
     “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I don’t care if I grew out of a womb or a test tube. I don’t care if my memories ain’t real. But it seems to me you’re apologisin’ for the wrong thing, Colonel. You should’ve gone with the things I know are real.” Another shaky inhalation, as if the next few words made him so angry he could barely control himself. “I remember everything, Colonel. I remember this.” He threw the file at Obrin’s feet. “And I remember the way you turned on us and handed us over like a fuckin’ bargaining chip. You sold out your country… Helped the Feds nuke millions of people… To get your pet project back.”
     “No, it wasn’t supposed to happen like that! I was trying to save lives. Yours, and others.”
     “But you didn’t. You knew what was coming, and you never told anyone.”
     He looked down in shame. “I… I only wanted…”
     “When has what you wanted ever mattered, Colonel? All you’ve done is try to cover things up. I wasn’t supposed to survive, was I? You wanted me to die, and my memories with me, so I could be swept under the rug with everything else.”
     “No, Jacob!” he objected, passionately. “You don’t get it. It was a trade. They just wanted your implants. The tech to make their own super-soldiers. The orders were to capture, not kill.”
     An image flashed through Bomber’s mind, echoing into Gina with its power. She knew the man. It was Lieutenant Cornell, his UN blue helmet lying on the ground next to him, as a proto-Federation terrorist emptied an automatic weapon into his body.
     Then other thoughts began to creep in at the sides, as everyone began to grasp the full implications of Obrin’s story. Bomber blurted, “So… So you’re telling me I’m the Goddamn grand-daddy of the Fed Constables?”
     “In a sense. But I didn’t give them the most important thing.” The way Obrin’s lips curled up faintly, his pupils the size of pinpoints, made him look like an unhinged preacher. Burning with mad passion. “Hephaestus is the key, the one thing the Feds never got their hands on. Don’t you see? I lost it, but we can get it back! I know we can, we can stop Gabriel and the Feds and make things right ourselves!”
     Bomber glanced at Gina, then back again. Every time he thought about her, he was reminded of feelings that weren’t anger, or hate, or a lust for vengeance. She didn’t need to say anything. He knew her words and her feelings without being told.
     “I only got one question for you, Colonel,” Bomber said. “What’s my real name?”
     The Colonel hesitated. At length, he choked out the words, “Obrin. Jacob Obrin.”
     “That’s what I thought.”
     The bullet went in Colonel Obrin’s forehead and out the back of his neck. His body collapsed on the ground a moment later, waiting to die, though the brain and any kind of spirit was already gone.
     Gina shivered and turned away, trying to scrub that memory out of her brain. It didn’t matter how much Obrin deserved it. She would never get used to watching people die.
     “Bomber,” she whispered, “he was your father.”
     He shook his head and returned his pistol to its holster. “Havin’ someone donate his genes don’t make that man a father. I didn’t have parents. The only ones I remember never existed.”
     “Still!”
     She felt almost a hypocrite, saying that. A few minutes ago she’d been prepared to execute the Colonel herself.
     “He had to pay for what he did,” Bomber said, his tone infuriatingly reasonable. “Might as well be here, might as well be now.”
     Taking a deep breath, he made his way to her side and put his hands on her shoulders. Inside him was a seething mass of emotion, barely kept at bay by his iron will, but she also felt a note of relief. Catharsis at the closing of the long and horrible chapter entitled ‘Keith Obrin.’ Maybe that was a good thing.
     She asked, “Is that the only reason why you came?”
     “What do you think?” He smiled — a real, sincere curl of the lips, his eyes gleaming. “I figured you’d be here, tryin’ to make things right. Goal one is achieved. Goal two is to stick it to Gabriel if we possibly can.”
     He took her hand and accompanied her out the door, past the silent body of Colonel Obrin. She forced her eyes up and pretended it wasn’t there.
     He added, “I’ve got a trick or two up my sleeve. Gotta go down one more floor.”
     Major Hawthorn followed them in stunned silence. He didn’t want to be left behind.

***

     The bottom floor of the Hephaestus Project bunker was a mess. Much of it had been stripped out in an organised and mechanical way. Gina recognised some of the vacant spaces; they matched the shapes of the abandoned, rusting equipment left on the doorstep of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The stuff Obrin had used to bring about that technological atrocity.
     This level of the complex was smaller than the upper floors. Much of the space had been given over to a primitive nanopress. There were doors leading into the guts of that great machine but, from the way they hung off their hinges and offered glimpses at the tangled electronics inside, not even the press had escaped the Obrin’s pillaging. Or his deliberate sabotage.
     Bomber swept his eyes over the ruined laboratory where the Hephaestus Project had developed its first nanobots. It too was a ruin. Only one piece of technology remained untouched: the artificial, plastic womb where the babies were incubated. Once, it would’ve been filled with an analogue of amniotic fluid. Instead there was only dust and dried-up yellow gunk crusting the edges of the window.
     Bomber went to it and placed his hand on the semi-opaque glass. His face twitched into a distant, hard-to-read expression.
     “I wanted to ask him more,” he said softly. “Am I his clone, or just an engineered embryo? How old am I? How much of me is me, and how much did they program in?”
     Gina touched his arm in sympathy. “You still don’t know?”
     “Memories aren’t everything.” He shrugged. “But enough to lead me back here.”
     “How did you know Gabriel would come?”
     “‘Cause of who he is,” he explained. “He’s here out of sentiment. He wants to feel justified. Otherwise why does he bother grandstanding for you when pretty soon none of this will matter?”
     “Unless he’s lying,” Gina pointed out.
     “You know him better than any of us, Gina. Do you think he’s lying?”
     She sighed and shook her head.
     One of the tables sported a nanoscale microscope. Out of idle curiosity, she went in and looked through the eyepiece. It held the familiar dead husks of Hephaestus bots. An investigation which no one had ever bothered to clean up. She looked away from it, and hugged herself.
     “He says there’s no way to stop what’s already done,” she paraphrased. “I don’t know if there’s any chance we can still change things.”
     Bomber went to her, and slipped his broad arms around her waist. “There was a time I would’ve wanted to turn back time. I never had much of a life out here, and I hate the Federation as much as anybody, but… But you, Gina. Gabe and the Feds can go hang. I won’t give you up for anything if I can help it.”
     She glanced over her shoulder, questions in her eyes. “How do you know about that? You weren’t there when he talked about turning back…” She stopped, suddenly, and turned in his arms. “Bomber, am I wearing a wire?”
     “Would you be very mad at me if I said ‘yes’?” he asked sheepishly. “It’s only nanotech, you never would’ve noticed.”
     Taking a deep breath, Gina marshaled her temper and decided to let it go. It didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, not compared to the semi-apocalypse marching towards them. But she still elbowed him in the ribs, because he deserved it.
     She said, “You told me you had a trick up your sleeve. Show me.”
     “Yes,” came another voice from the doorway. Eyes the colour of wildfire locked on Bomber, looking coldly furious. “Show her, Dusther. I’ve got to tell you, though, I don’t think she’s gonna like it very much.”
     Gabriel stared daggers at Bomber, and Bomber returned them. Bomber inched his way to an air duct up some ways up the wall. He climbed onto a desk, pulled off the grate covering, and lifted a large container out of the duct. The swooping bird emblem of the Federation featured repeatedly on the casing.
     It was a sphere of sleek, military-grade metal, deeply scarred and holed by somebody with high-powered tools and a grudge. From these holes dangled a crude jury-rig of wires, tubes and other homemade electronics. A small red light on top pulsed on and off.
     “It’s an antimatter warhead,” Bomber explained. “Triggered by a dead-man switch coded to my brainwave patterns. If you change ’em, or they stop, or anyone tampers with the detonator… Boom. Matter-antimatter annihilation.”
     Gabriel gave a mirthless chuckle. “I appreciate the thought, but it’s not much of a threat to a man who wants to die.”
     “True. But I figure Hephaestus ain’t perfect. It can’t reconstitute what it doesn’t have, right?” Now it was Bomber’s turn to smile. “So you wouldn’t want Gina’s atoms to be blown out of existence, never to be resurrected in your brave new world.”
     Horrified, Gina looked from Bomber to Gabriel and back again. She couldn’t decide if it was worse to die, truly die, or to go along with Gabriel’s nanorobotic regression. Then she started to get properly livid. As Bomber climbed down from the desk, she strode up to him and slapped him hard across the face.
     “You got some fucking brass trying to pull that on me, Bomber,” she snapped as he touched his cheek and turned hurt eyes on her. It didn’t slow her down. She had never been so angry with him. “I am not your pawn to use in some fucked-up chess game!”
     For a moment he sounded sullen. “What else was I supposed to do? You’re the only thing he cares about.”
     Gabriel, despite enjoying the spectacle, snapped his fingers to get their attention. “First you’ll have to convince me you’d kill her that way,” he pointed out, “any more than I would. I don’t think you can.”
     “Don’t you fucking start,” Gina hissed at him. “I’m not gonna let you talk about me like I’m not here, and I’m not gonna let you use me to bluff–“
     She trailed off suddenly.
     A wave of violent nausea rose out of nowhere, bubbling up inside, and hit her like a sledgehammer. All the blood drained from her face. She sank to her knees, hugging her stomach, groaning and dry-heaving over bare concrete. Both Bomber and Gabriel rushed to her side to hover with impotent worry.
     “Gina, what’s wrong?” Bomber asked, halfway to panic by her condition. “Talk to me!”
     She glanced at him, then at Gabriel. She couldn’t do it anymore. She was too afraid, too sick, and too tired to lie.
     “I’m pregnant,” she sighed, at last.

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