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datatime: 2022-09-25 15:46:25 Author:tRJcfYYq

"He runs Silo Nine. He was human, once. Now he's become something else, though whether it's more or less than human depends on who you talk to. He has artificially augmented esper abilities far beyond anything that's ever arisen naturally. He makes the prison the hell it is and enjoys every moment of it. The suffering and despair of others makes him strong. It's because of him that no one ever leaves Wormboy Hell alive."

"You never asked. As long as there were always more clones and espers for you to use up as you chose, you never questioned the system that produced them. And you never asked what happened to the garbage you threw away, did you?"

Finlay shook his head slowly. "I never knew any of this."

Hood nodded quickly with his empty cowl, turned away without acknowledging Evangeline and Finlay, and strode quickly out of the chamber. Finlay looked at Evangeline.

"But what if it all goes wrong?"

Evangeline fell silent, and Finlay couldn't think of anything to say. They looked across at Hood, who was talking persuasively again.

"No one that's lived to tell of it. Silo Nine has state-of-the-art security. Always. We've never been able to get past it before, but this could be the break we've been praying for. There's a lot of us who'd give our lives and die happy for a chance to bring down Wormboy Hell."

"He runs Silo Nine. He was human, once. Now he's become something else, though whether it's more or less than human depends on who you talk to. He has artificially augmented esper abilities far beyond anything that's ever arisen naturally. He makes the prison the hell it is and enjoys every moment of it. The suffering and despair of others makes him strong. It's because of him that no one ever leaves Wormboy Hell alive."

Then let us show you, said the esper leaders, and their thoughts swept over Finlay's mind like an irresistible tide of blinding light. He was torn away in a rush of thoughts and images, and all he could do was go along with it. He could feel Evangeline's presence beside him in the churning maelstrom, and that comforted him. He stopped trying to fight it and allowed the esper leaders to take him where they would. He listened, and after a while, thoughts came to him that were not his own.

Finlay looked at her steadily. I thought you said I was your life. "You've lost someone to Silo Nine, haven't you? Someone close."

"We've planned to storm it a dozen times, but we always had to call it off. Projected casualties were just too high. But information has come into my possession that changes everything. There's going to be a complete changeover of the guards this evening, at twenty-one hundred, as the prison's new security systems are installed. For a short time it's going to be sheer chaos in there, with new faces all over the place as they yank out the old equipment and plug in the new. The perfect time for us to launch an attack and free all our people rotting in Wormboy Hell. But we've got to go now if we're to take advantage of this opportunity. The authorities knew how vulnerable they'd be, so this was kept secret from practically everybody right up till the last moment. I only stumbled across it by chance. I've contacted as many of our people as I could reach, and had them prepare for action, but I can't launch an attack this big without your approval. We've got to do this. We'll never get a better chance."

"I've managed to infiltrate some of my own people into the incoming security forces, and I've convinced some of the braver cyberats to run a jamming storm to coincide with our attack. They'll run interference while we get our people out and keep security from calling for outside help."

Finlay shook his head slowly. "I never knew any of this."

"Silo Nine is where they send the hard cases, the ones who fought back. Who questioned their orders or dared to think for themselves. And, of course, anyone found guilty or even suspected of being members of the underground. Officially, Silo Nine doesn't exist. Which means they can do anything at all there that they feel like. The prisoners become just so many warm bodies, used for experimentation. The Empire's always interested in improving its stock, or learning better ways to control or discipline it. We're talking about psychological conditioning, genetic tinkering, and every kind of mental or physical torture you can think of. Some of it works, much of it doesn't, but there are always more warm bodies to work with. Sometimes, the Empire works changes on them in the name of scientific inquiry. There are monsters in Silo Nine."

"We've planned to storm it a dozen times, but we always had to call it off. Projected casualties were just too high. But information has come into my possession that changes everything. There's going to be a complete changeover of the guards this evening, at twenty-one hundred, as the prison's new security systems are installed. For a short time it's going to be sheer chaos in there, with new faces all over the place as they yank out the old equipment and plug in the new. The perfect time for us to launch an attack and free all our people rotting in Wormboy Hell. But we've got to go now if we're to take advantage of this opportunity. The authorities knew how vulnerable they'd be, so this was kept secret from practically everybody right up till the last moment. I only stumbled across it by chance. I've contacted as many of our people as I could reach, and had them prepare for action, but I can't launch an attack this big without your approval. We've got to do this. We'll never get a better chance."

"All right I'm sorry. There are a lot of questions I never asked, but I'm asking now. I want to know. Has anyone ever tried to break into this place before?"

"He runs Silo Nine. He was human, once. Now he's become something else, though whether it's more or less than human depends on who you talk to. He has artificially augmented esper abilities far beyond anything that's ever arisen naturally. He makes the prison the hell it is and enjoys every moment of it. The suffering and despair of others makes him strong. It's because of him that no one ever leaves Wormboy Hell alive."

"No one that's lived to tell of it. Silo Nine has state-of-the-art security. Always. We've never been able to get past it before, but this could be the break we've been praying for. There's a lot of us who'd give our lives and die happy for a chance to bring down Wormboy Hell."

"Then it goes wrong We can't miss out on a chance like this; it might not come again for decades. You can't conceive what it's like in that hellhole, Finlay. None of us can."

"But what if it all goes wrong?"

"No one that's lived to tell of it. Silo Nine has state-of-the-art security. Always. We've never been able to get past it before, but this could be the break we've been praying for. There's a lot of us who'd give our lives and die happy for a chance to bring down Wormboy Hell."

"Not many have. The Empire doesn't like to admit its conditioning fails as often as it does. Most espers and clones used to die trying to break free of their conditioning, hut an increasing number are surviving. The Empire's tried augmenting the usual mental blocks and controls with tech and chemical implants, but they kill as many as they cure, and there's always a pressing demand for more espers and clones. We're so useful. Most failures are locked away in the usual prisons until they can be disposed of. They don't bother with trials. Clones and espers are property, not people.

"All right," said the hog. "We're convinced. Set things in motion. We'll spread word throughout the esper network. You organize the clone forces. We'll begin our attack on Silo Nine in one hour from now. Get moving."

Finlay looked at her steadily. I thought you said I was your life. "You've lost someone to Silo Nine, haven't you? Someone close."

"That's not strictly true," said the abstract pattern in a cool, expressionless voice. Looking at it too closely made Finlay's head ache, so he looked at it sideways and concentrated on the voice as it continued. "We have contact with one of our people in Silo Nine. She volunteered to be captured and sent there. We spent some time preparing her so that she would appear to break under their interrogation, but still keep the deepest part of herself free and separate. We can listen in, but we can't speak to her. She knew she was almost certainly going to her death, but she still volunteered, just on the chance that we might be able to make use of her. She was ready to wait for years, if need be. Have you ever cared about anything that strongly in your life, Finlay Campbell?"

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