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By Jade Kerrion
Average 4.1 STARS
What would you do if you came face-to-face with perfection, and it looked just like you?
Two men, one face. One man seeks to embrace destiny, the other to escape it. Danyael Sabre spent sixteen years clawing out of the ruins of his childhood and finally has everything he wanted--a career, a home, and a trusted friend. To hold on to them, he keeps his head down and plays by the rules. An alpha empath, he is powerful in a world transformed by the Genetic Revolution, yet his experience has taught him to avoid attention.
When the perfect human being, Galahad, escapes from Pioneer Laboratories, the illusory peace between humans and their derivatives--the in vitros, clones, and mutants--collapses into social upheaval. The abominations, deformed and distorted mirrors of humanity, created unintentionally in Pioneer Lab's search for perfection, descend upon Washington D.C. The first era of the Genetic Revolution was peaceful. The second is headed for open war.
Although the genetic future of the human race pivots on Galahad, Danyael does not feel compelled to get involved and risk his cover of anonymity, until he finds out that the perfect human being looks just like him.
The second door opened into a large suite pressed up against the western wall of the laboratory complex. No gentle ambient lighting there, just harsh pools of unforgiving white light blazing over the bed and table, leaving the rest of the large suite in muted shadows.
Was it through deliberate design or neglectful oversight that no attempt had been made to humanize Galahad’s living quarters? Empty shelves lined the wall. The small metal table and matching chair were severe, the narrow bed unwelcoming. She had seen third-world hospital wards offer far more comfort to its occupants.
Footsteps echoed, drawing closer, and then paused outside the door. There was no time to waste. She strode across the room, slipping into the shadows that obscured the far side of the suite moments before the door slid open again.
The two technicians she had seen earlier half-dragged, half-carried Galahad into the room. It staggered with exhaustion, trying to stand on its own. The technicians hauled Galahad up and dumped it unceremoniously in a wet, shivering heap on the bed.
One of the technicians cast a backward glance at the unmoving figure on the bed. “Pete, are you sure he’s going to be okay?” he asked the other.
“Eventually. It usually takes him a while to recover,” Pete assured the younger man. He pulled out two sealed nutrient bars from his pocket and tossed them onto the table. “Let’s go.”
“I think we should at least get him a towel or put him under the sheets.”
Pete snapped. “How many times do I have to say it? Let him be, Jack. He doesn’t want to be helped, though God knows I’ve tried often enough. He wants to be able to do things for himself, at least here, in this room. It’s the only dignity he has left; let’s leave that to him.”
“It was bad today.”
The older man inhaled deeply, sparing a quick glance back. Galahad trembled so hard it seemed as if it would shatter. It curled into a fetal ball, perhaps to protect itself from further violation. “I know. And the best thing we can do for him right now is leave him alone,” Pete said as he stepped out of the room and allowed the door to seal shut behind them.
The impact was thunderous-not audibly-but she felt it nonetheless. It was the sealing of a prison cell.
Zara had wondered what kind of luxuries and privileges the incomparable Galahad-the pinnacle of genetic perfection-enjoyed. Now she knew the answer.
She watched in silence as Galahad stirred, slowly standing and leaning on the wall for support as it staggered toward the bathroom. She had yet to get a good look at its face, but the blazing light did not leave much of its body to imagination. It was slender but well muscled, powerful and graceful, in spite of its obvious exhaustion-the promise of perfection come into fruition.
She waited through the sound of running water. Patience had never been easy for her, but she possessed the instincts of a hunter closing in on its quarry. Her patience was rewarded when it finally returned to the room, dressed simply in loose-fitting white cotton drawstring pants and a tunic of the same material. As it stepped into the blazing circle of light, her eyes narrowed briefly, and then a faint smile of easy appreciation curved her lips.
She had studied the surveillance video feed Xin had hacked from the central computers of Pioneer Labs the day before, but the wide-angle lenses had not captured anything approximating the full impact of Galahad’s beauty. Its rare and lovely color-pale blond hair paired with dark eyes-stood out and attracted immediate attention, but the longer she looked, the more beauty she saw in its exquisitely chiseled features, as flawless as a Michelangelo masterpiece. Galahad was stunningly beautiful-would be stunningly beautiful, whatever the color of its hair or eyes. The scientists had certainly done well; more than well.
Galahad made its way over to a rattan chair, moving with greater ease. It was regaining its strength, though she did not think that it was anywhere near optimal form, not when it had almost collapsed with exhaustion on the way to the bathroom ten minutes earlier. It curled up in the chair and closed its eyes, looking oddly content, despite the fact that it did not fit very well into the chair. Within a minute, she realized from the even rise and fall of its chest with every breath, that it had fallen asleep.
It was time to get to work.
Galahad did not stir as she silently crossed the room. A*STAR had demanded fresh DNA samples obtained as directly from the source as possible. Hair or skin samples would be acceptable, and both were typically abundant in a bathroom. She pulled test tube and tweezers from the pocket of her lab coat and knelt to examine the bathroom counter.
Something flickered in the corner of her vision.
Instinct and trained reflexes took over. In a flash, her dagger was in her hand. She spun, the black serrated blade slicing outward.
Galahad reacted with uncanny speed. It dove to the side, dropping into a roll and coming up in a battle crouch. Her dagger slashed through the air where Galahad had been standing a moment before. Galahad’s dark eyes narrowed as it assessed her. Its body shifted into motion, preparing to defend itself.
She too reassessed, readjusted. Her attack should not have missed. Galahad’s battle instincts had been trained and polished to perfection. Apparently it was more than a common lab animal.
Her dagger lashed out once again in a graceful, snake-like motion, and Galahad evaded by dodging to one side. The blade sliced harmlessly through the air so close to Galahad that it must have felt the chill breath of the dagger’s passing against its skin.
Galahad’s silent and sinuously graceful movements were driven by so much speed and agility that strength-although abundant-was superfluous. It matched her, step for step, dodging each attack with a grace that made their deadly waltz seem choreographed. There was no doubt that Galahad was good, far better than anyone she had ever contended with. In spite of its obvious fatigue after a long and difficult day, Galahad possessed flawless timing and impeccable spatial precision, allowing it to escape injury by fractions of a second and a hairsbreadth. It had nerves of steel. It taunted her with its proximity and tempted the kiss of her blade, never straying too far as it sought an opening.
She saw the dark eyes glitter dangerously and knew that something in it had shifted, had changed. She thrust her blade at its face.
In less than a heartbeat, it was over.
With a swiftness that left her stunned, Galahad twisted its hand to catch her wrist in an iron grip. It sidestepped, yanked her forward, and drove its knee into her thigh. Her leg weakened and collapsed. Its superior weight drove her to the ground and kept her there without any visible effort.
A perfectly sequenced attack, executed with flawless precision and stunning speed.
Gritting her teeth against the pain, she recognized the inevitable outcome as it eased the dagger from between her nerveless fingers. She cursed soundlessly. She had underestimated its skill, perhaps to her folly. It suddenly released her, pulled her to her feet, and then stepped away from her. Some emotion she could not decipher rippled over its flawless features, and to her amazement, it flipped the dagger over in its hand and held it out, hilt first, to her. “I don’t know why I’m fighting you. You came to kill me; I should thank you for your kindness.”
She reached out and accepted the dagger from Galahad as her mind raced to understand the incomprehensible. Galahad held her gaze only for a moment before it lowered its eyes and looked away. She saw its throat work as it fought an internal battle to suppress its survival instincts, and then it turned its back on her deliberately and walked out of the bathroom.
She could have struck the fatal blow. Galahad was offering her the chance. She could pull Galahad’s head back and apply the faintest pressure to the dagger’s blade across its jugular. She could extract the tissue sample she had been sent to collect, and then leave, her mission completed.
She could not bring herself to do it. Oddly enough, something in her wanted it-wanted him-to live.
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