Mapping Time: Beginning
by Northlight

Memory curled in her throat, tight and hot. Hardly able to breath, she heard her mama's voice sliding between the jagged edges of current reality. Hush. Hush, little girl, don't go crying now. She'd run away--when she had a room of her own--and cried into pillows until mama sat on the edge of the bed and pulled her face into the soft curve of neck and shoulder. Mama smelt like cigarette smoke and chicory and she'd take in deep gulping breaths and remember how to breath again.

She was crying now, screaming, and there weren't plump hands making soothing pathways up and down her spine. Tears made her vision blur until she couldn't make out features of the faces above her, around her. Her surroundings were framed by the shield of her own spiky wet lashes. Strands of hair darkened against her sweat slicked forehead, caught at the corners of her wailing mouth, tickled against the slick insides of her cheeks. There were words jerking and snapping above her--too far away to understand, too complex for her pain-shot mind to comprehend.

The regulated passage of time died when caught against the force of the pain twisting and tearing in her swollen belly. Hands she was hardly able to feel appeared against her body. Not mama's soft hands, they pulled at her until her mind spun and her vision darkened. She opened her eyes again to too-bright light and a fresh wave of terror because she knew this place, hated this place, stranger's hands on her skin, between her thighs.

Pain wrenched through her and she arched with its travels, until her head knocked hard against the operating table that had appeared between the darkness and light pressing against her eyes. Hands again, heavy and not gentle enough and she couldn't move her arms anymore, and her legs bent and stretched apart and trapped.

She tried to talk around thick wet gasps. Sorry, for this thing inside her, tearing her up, tearing her to pieces. She had tried not to think about it, never cared for it, and this was her punishment for her greed. Sorry to mama, because this was supposed to help make things easier, because mama hadn't wanted her to do this. Mostly sorry for herself because she didn't want to die in this place she hated, with these people she feared, without having heard her own name outside the confines of her own thoughts in so very long. Her mouth moved, pleas indistinguishable from the pained drag of her own breathing.

Pin-prick hurt as nothing against her skin, dipping into her vein. Tears were still drying when they pulled her blood-slicked baby from the split roundness of her stomach.


The body was still on the operating table when Colonel Donald Lydecker arrived. The girl looked pale and deflated under the bleached white sheet with which she had been covered. Her body had been straightened out and the blood wiped free from her clammy skin. She had not died well, and her face was not easy even in death. The girl would be autopsied within hours to better determine what effects the genetic modifications to the fetus had had upon the mother's body. Following that final examination, her body would be thoroughly disposed of.

Lydecker had thick folders on each of the women chosen to bear one of his X5s. He had followed the progress of each of them with all of the interest and anticipation of an expectant father. Justine Wilkinson had been but one of the young women who were approaching their due date. Lydecker had reacquainted himself with her file--the results of medical examinations, DNA makeup and psychological testing weaving together with his own memories of the girl. They had met face-to-face but once, during Justine's secondary interview with Dr. Truman.

"Such a pretty little thing," Dr. Truman had murmured when she had left his office.

Lydecker had thought of how her hands had fluttered, rising and falling with her voice. He had remembered the determination that had driven through her words even as they fumbled over one another. Occasionally uncertain and fearful, but willing to do what she found necessary for the overall benefit of her family. Character conquers fear, Lydecker had thought. "If the testing went well, tell Miss Wilkinson that she has been approved for the program."

Wisps of hair clung to skin turned sickly under the room's humming lights. Lydecker stepped up to the body and carefully brushed back a strand of hair from the girl's cool forehead. "I know that you were frightened," he said softly, "but you have performed a great service for your country today. You have helped give rise to the future--a better future, a superior breed of human--and that is something worthy of pride."

Dr. Feldman cleared his throat noisily, hovering behind and to the left of Lydecker. "Colonel? You wished to see the child?" Dr. Alvin Feldman was a slight, nervous looking man. Nearly every statement ended with a questioning lift, but for all of his apparent uncertainty, the doctor was coolly capable when it came to his chosen profession. He'd had little difficulty with the demands his work at Manticore placed upon professional ethics.

"Yes," Lydecker said. "How is he?"

A smile skittered across Dr. Feldman's narrow face. "Doing remarkably well, Colonel. A fine addition to the unit, I hope you'll agree."

Dr. Feldman took several hurried steps in order to catch up to Lydecker, already heading towards the child's location. "I'm sure he's a fine specimen," Lydecker said. Dr. Feldman smiled again, and Lydecker tuned out most of the doctor's one-sided discussion. The man was enthusiastic about his work, and tended to drift into medical jargon. Though Lydecker had gained a deeper understanding of medical procedure and genetic engineering during his association with Manticore, it was still the physical aspect of his work at Manticore which most excited him. Besides which, there would be a detailed report with the same information awaiting him on his desk by the next morning.

There was a smaller room off to the side of each delivery room. Each child was put through the first round of testing that would mark their lives mere minutes after entering the world. One of the M-series has just commenced drawing blood from the child as Lydecker and Dr. Feldman arrived. Broad of face and heavy-breasted, M-023 had been specially designed for the handling of those children born into the X-series. Before training was fully incorporated into the children's sense of world and self, they were driven by childish curiosity and tempers. The M-series had the strength, speed and temperament to handle super-human abilities not yet bent to military discipline.

"There's a good boy," M-023 murmured as the child calmed after its first, pained reaction to the needle.

Lydecker's lips thinned at the soft words. "Do not coddle him," Lydecker said, sharp-voiced. The M-series were a necessity, but Lydecker did not appreciate the attachment they showed towards their charges.

M-023 stiffened and turned, the baby in her arms. "Sir," she said, eyes respectfully lowered. Accustomed to Lydecker's post-delivery visits, the nurse held the child out for his inspection. The boy would never remember the tenderness with which he was initially handled by Lydecker. "Commendable work," Lydecker said as the baby blinked up at him.

"Yes," Dr. Feldman said. "The newest modifications appear to have worked quite well. We'll know more once the blood-work has been completed, but I feel sure that this was a success. Quite an exciting advancement, wouldn't you say, Colonel?"

"As always, doctor, I am impressed with your dedication," Lydecker answered. The one thing he found distasteful about Manticore was his closer relationship with the medical and scientific staff--all too many of whom weren't pleased without constant recognition of their achievements. Praise was not something Lydecker gave easily or often, and stroking egos grated at his nerves. "You are dismissed, Dr. Feldman."

Lydecker passed the child back into M-023's arms. "Is he ready for integration into the creche?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very good," Lydecker said and gestured for M-023 to fall in behind him as he left the room.

The creche was a short distance away, as in their earliest months, it was the doctors and scientists who most required access to the children. Lydecker sometimes needed to take a step back from everything and reign in his emotions. He had a modern military marvel at his hands--remarkable soldiers, his to train, his to shape--and even a man accustomed to patience as was he could sometimes slide into impatience. He was eager for the moment when he could begin to truly determine what these tiny soldiers were capable of.

Lydecker remained outside the creche itself. He stood at the window, watching as M-023 tucked Manticore's newest soldier in between his fellows. Lydecker sometimes thought of other men he had known, standing much as he was, watching their newborn children at the hospital. Lydecker had never had such an opportunity, but he did not regret that lack. Anyone could sire a child, and each of those children would grow into a life much like that of those who had come before them. Here and now, Lydecker was part of something incredible. These children would grow into men and women such as the world had never known. They would grow into soldiers with the skill and power to change the world, and they were his.


The recording played constantly. The crisp, precisely enunciated words drowned out the soft noises the babies made as they were fed, changed and washed. Duty. Discipline. Mission. Manticore. The words filled the room, filtering into minds too young to even comprehend the meanings behind those patterned sounds. Manticore left nothing to chance.

M-023 leaned over the side of the crib she had deposited the newborn into. Colonel Lydecker had left his post at the window while she made her rounds of the creche, checking in on the rest of the unit. She touched her finger to the baby's soft cheek and watched as his hands moved about. He would grow into a man strong enough to crush someone's neck, and that would be asked of him soon enough.

M-023's voice was soft under the recording's firm voice. "Welcome to the family, baby boy."


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