All in all, thought Nemhain, the plan could have been more effectively executed. She had managed her part of the operation reasonably smoothly but her ally, who was providing a distraction, seemed to be getting a little carried away. Nemhain, clad in black and with her dark hair drawn into a ponytail, moved swiftly down the gleaming corridors of the Life Engineers sanctum, the air around her thick with the sound of explosions and screams of pain and terror. She was approaching one of the buildings exits, and was aware of the need to be clear of the the area when the distraction came to an end. From what she could hear, she still had time.
Raoul and Cailte stepped off the subterranean maglev and onto the platform. Waiting to greet them was the Life Engineer, Tigernmas.
‘Evening,’ said Raoul, ‘I gather you need our help with something?’
Tigernmas scowled. ‘Our main facility was attacked this morning.’
‘Attacked? Really? Who is there to attack you?’
‘An Outsider tore the place to pieces and during the ensuing chaos, an aberrant personality reincarnated.’
‘Anyone we know?’ said Cailte.
‘Someone you sort of know, this is the evil bastard who killed Sinainn. He has been highly resistant to re- education, as you’re quite aware. It would be best if this one was send straight back to the other side. Obviously, the same applies to the Outsider. We want you, specifically, Cailte. I feel your perspective on this is the appropriate one. Show no mercy Cailte. Bring them both down.’
‘That would be my pleasure.’ said Cailte with a cold smile.
Raoul narrowed his eyes. ‘We’ll need some details,’ he said, ‘Configuration count, that sort of thing.’
‘The Outsider killed eighty seven people today, sustaining no injuries in the process. We estimate its Configuration to be very close to a hundred. Unfortunately, the body the aberrant personality has stolen, seems to be almost on an even keel with the Outsider. This is why there is to be no attempt at capture. You have to kill them before they kill you.’
‘We should send a team,’ said Raoul, ‘That’s a significant set of opposition.’
‘I had a similar idea,’ agreed Tigernmas, ‘I have something you both may find interesting.’
Nemhain was sitting against a tree, the sun gently easing the stress of the raid on the Life Engineers. After a time, she was joined by a tall, athletically built woman, with hip length blonde hair. Her eyes were a striking bright red.
‘That was quite a show.’ Nemhain said, by way of greeting.
‘I think we made our point,’ agreed the newcomer, ‘ and I was quite restrained, at the same time.’
‘Reminds me of the good old days.’
‘We should do this again,’ said the blonde woman, ‘Nemhain and Macha, back on the field of battle.’
‘Mother would be pleased.’
‘I take it all went according to plan?’
‘Yes,’ said Nemhain, tapping the side of her head, ‘all present and correct.’
‘That must feel a little odd.’
‘It’s a bit weird,’ agreed Nemhain, ‘by and large he just sits there in the background. It’s like, I know he’s there, but he can’t really do anything.’
‘Can he hear us now?’
‘His perceptions are subject to my control, he won’t see or hear anything I don’t want him to.’
‘You want me to hang around for a bit? They’ll have sent people after us.’
‘I’d be extremely disappointed if they haven’t,’ grinned Nemhain, ‘but, no, I think I’ll be able to manage in the meantime. If things get too crazy, I’ll get in touch. It would be useful if you could track down as many of the others as possible. I think most of them are still asleep.’
‘I know just the very ones to start with. When they discover what’s happened, they’ll want to… express themselves, as well.’
The two women hugged briefly and then set off into the woodlands, in opposite directions.
Raoul and Cailte exchanged glances. Before them stood six identical men, all clad in woodland browns and greens. They were all tall and powerfully muscled, with braided brown hair and pale blue eyes. Each of them wore an unadorned silver circlet on their heads. Raoul turned to face Tigernmas.
‘Are you trying to tell me we walked all this way to look at clones?’
‘These are not normal clones.’
‘They all look the same, what more do you want?’
Tigernmas scowled, ‘What makes these clones unique, is their genetic source. The volunteer who donated their genetic material had tremendous psychic potential. These clones have inherited certain, shall we say, abilities from their genetic origins.’
‘What’s with the headbands?’ said Cailte.
Tigernmas paused, clearly considering his words. ‘This experiment was, in some ways, incredibly successful. However, there were unwanted outcomes in a couple of areas. The circlets prevent the clones from acting on their natural impulses, which, in this case, is to go into a murderous frenzy at the first sign of nearby life.’
‘Is this some kind of weird, not funny, Life Engineer joke?’ said Cailte, ‘because I’m not clear on why I would want to take a band of psychokillers into the Community with me.’
‘It’s quite straight forward,’ said Tigernmas, ‘while you take down the aberrant personality, the clones will contain the Outsider.’
‘Think that’ll work?’ said Raoul.
‘Sort of, we’re hoping that the time it takes the Outsider to smash them into a bloody pulp will be enough to let Cailte get his job done. Also, you never know, one of them might get lucky.’
‘So how do the circlets work?’
‘Again, very straightforward. While there is Entheogen in your system, you can control their every action through telepathy.
‘Won’t that be a little distracting? If I’m supposed to be focusing on the aberrant personality, I’m not going to have the concentration to control those clones as well.’
‘You can implant a base set of instructions and then give them a small amount of autonomy to react to new developments. The Entheogen will also enhance your capacity for multi tasking, so it’ll be easier than you think.’
Raoul stalked round the line of clones, scrutinising them closely. ‘So, what’s their designation?’
‘These are HERNE clones, the first six.’
‘Named after an obscure mythological figure from the northern European area. The actual donor of the material wished to remain anonymous, so we thought naming them after Herne the Hunter seemed appropriate, considering their proposed role.’
Cailte shrugged, ‘Whatever, who’s my telepath for this?’
‘That,’ said Tigernmas, with a triumphant smile, ‘is the beauty of these clones. They have a capacity to track the shadow trail left by Outsiders and strong human psychics. Designate one as your tracker and it will lead you straight to them. One of our telepaths will give you their general location, then you can pursue them from there.’
Within the hour, Cailte had gathered his equipment and loaded the clones onto the subterranean maglev train. He and Tigernmas waited while a Life Engineer telepath, under the influence of Entheogen, attempted to locate his targets. In front of the telepath was a screen, created by the Bio Engineers, which would absorb the psychic emanations from the telepath and display the discoveries in visual form. Abruptly, the dark screen filled with colour and movement. Cailte could see a great, dense forest with a black clad young woman ghosting between the trees. The woman stopped and tilted her head slightly, as though listening to something. She then turned, seeming to look directly at the Mechanic. She narrowed her eyes, and the telepath gave an agonised cry as the screen went blank. The telepath collapsed to the floor, blood pouring from his nose and the corners of his eyes. He twitched once, then became dreadfully still. Tigernmas squatted beside him and checked for a pulse.
‘Really? I would never have guessed. Let’s hope your clones are a bit more durable.’
‘Yes, hopefully they will be. It seems your target is in the Rheinland. Take the maglev to Rheinfelden Settlement, we’ll have an APC ready for you to use when you arrive. Remember, don’t try to capture the aberrant personality, a swift kill is what’s called for here.’
‘So a lingering death is out of the question?’
‘Probably best to make it quick. Shoot it in the head.’
‘If you insist.’
The elevator linking the subterranean maglev with the surface, terminated in a well concealed tower near the settlement of Rheinfelden. When the tower had been constructed, decades previously, the Bio Engineers had provided the construction robots with materials that essentially made the tower resemble nothing so much as a large tree. There was about a five mile hike between the terminus tower and Rheinfelden. Cailte swallowed a handful of rainbow coloured capsules. In under a minute he felt the profound, perception altering effect of the Entheogen begin. He turned to face the six clones, who had been passively following him. They stood at rest, their arms loose, their gaze, straight ahead. Cailte formed an image in his mind of the girl dressed in black. Staring at the first clone, he mentally transferred the image to the clone with an instruction to locate her shadow trail. He then issued instructions to all the clones, commanding them to remain here, until his return. This done, Cailte set off at a jog towards the settlement of Rheinfelden.
The settlement was constructed on both sides of the River Rhein, the two sides linked by several gracefully curved bridges. The valley was thickly forested here and Cailte began to seriously consider whether a vehicle would be worth the trouble in such heavily wooded and rocky terrain. His pace slowed to a slow walk as he considered this. He decided there was no real advantage to having the vehicle, turned round and ran back towards the waiting clones.
On his arrival he discovered one of the clones was missing. The HERNE he had designated as tracker had disappeared. As he focused his thoughts to establish a mental link with the clone, the other five began to watch him in an unsettling way. The circlet allowed Cailte to extend his perceptions to the clone, and he was able to determine it’s approximate location and conclude that it was moving at a brisk walking speed. Swallowing another handful of capsules, Cailte extended his contact to the other HERNEs.
‘Follow me,’ he mumbled and set off at a jog through the woods. The clones fell into line behind him and kept pace effortlessly. As they ran, Cailte maintained the view he had through the clones eyes. The Entheogen he had taken allowed him to devote a portion of his concentration to one view, while the other was viewed by a different part of the conciousness, allowing him to react to both.
Cailte and his silent companions were about half an hour away from the tracking HERNE when it caught up with the aberrant personality. The dark haired woman turned to face the clone.
‘Herne? Is that- I thought you’d been taken.’
The clone continued to walk towards her, pace unchanging.
‘They’ve done something to you. Tell me what what’s wrong, I can help.’
Without warning, the clone sprang forward, crashing into the young woman with stunning impact. They rolled together several times, exchanging savage blows as they did so. They separated when the aberrant personality got to her feet, while grasping the clone by the neck, and threw him as easily through the air as Cailte might a pillow. The HERNE impacted with a large oak with a loud crack and slid to the ground, his eyes glazing over. Then after a moment, his eyes cleared and he rose, his back correcting its position. The clone picked up a fallen branch and gripped it in its right hand. For a brief moment light seemed to bend round the branch in a peculiar, distorted fashion. When this ceased, the clone was holding an ancient looking, broad bladed spear. It was heavily decorated with runic carvings and fetishes tied around the area where the spear head and shaft were joined. The clone charged forward, the spear held aloft for a close range throw. The aberrant personality clenched her left fist, as she did the spear the clone was holding shattered into hundreds of pieces. She made a sharp gesture with her right hand and a large fallen trunk flipped from its prone position to drop on top of the clone. The HERNE tried to leap aside, when he perceived the threat, and thus only his legs were caught under the tree. The woman gestured again and a large rock spun through air, crunching into the top of the clones skull. Without changing expression, the young woman repeated this act a further five times, battering at the body of the clone.
After the tree had landed on it, Cailte had withdrawn his awareness from the clone. When they arrived at the scene of the short fight, Cailte was careful to recover the circlet from the pulped body of the clone. He was not surprised to discover it had survived the pounding. Glancing around he activated another clone as his bloodhound and set off, into the deep forests. At the back of his mind, he had a distinct sense of unease.