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datatime: 2022-09-26 05:42:10 Author:reFEGVcD

"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.

"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."

"But what if it all goes wrong?"

"This is all happening a bit fast for me. You're really going to launch an attack on a maximum security prison just on that man's word?"

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

"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."

"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?"

"I put my life on the line every time I entered the Arena," said Finlay. "But that was just for me. I never cared about anyone except me, until I met Evangeline, and then I only cared about us. Maybe that's changing now. I don't know. I'm still coming to terms with... everything. I can't really understand what life has been like for you."

"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.

The esper leaders turned to each other, and though they were apparently silent, Finlay could all but sense the telepathic arguments crackling between them. He moved in close beside Evangeline and kept his voice low.

"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?"

"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."

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.

"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?"

"Yes. We all have. She was my friend, before I was a clone and after. She helped brief me on taking over as Evangeline. The only person I could ever really talk to. They came for her in the early hours of the morning, and I never saw her again. Daddy tried to find out what had happened to her, for fear she'd talk, but even he couldn't get answers about what happens to people inside Wormboy Hell."

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."

"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."

"This is all happening a bit fast for me. You're really going to launch an attack on a maximum security prison just on that man's word?"

"Yes. We all have. She was my friend, before I was a clone and after. She helped brief me on taking over as Evangeline. The only person I could ever really talk to. They came for her in the early hours of the morning, and I never saw her again. Daddy tried to find out what had happened to her, for fear she'd talk, but even he couldn't get answers about what happens to people inside Wormboy Hell."

The esper leaders turned to each other, and though they were apparently silent, Finlay could all but sense the telepathic arguments crackling between them. He moved in close beside Evangeline and kept his voice low.

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

"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?"

"Very well. For a long time now, we've been discussing various ways of freeing our fellow espers and clones held in prison and condemned to death for their rebellion. Most are held in Silo Nine, also known as Wormboy Hell. A maximum security prison, with esp-blockers by the dozen and a small army of guards. Long considered impregnable, none of our people have ever broken in or out and lived to tell of it.

"But what if it all goes wrong?"

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