Studies of Captive Kal-Shodar



\../..\../..Intercept received and decoding...\/\/\ _ _ >

Received from Gaia backup interface location Beta-Gamma-Beta. Transcription and analysis. M. Castlebank. Martin adds "set the little snake amongst the apparently larger serpents!".

****intercept Protocol Engaged***** ****Subject Alpha-852-Gamma Identified**** ****Recording Audio and Video***** ****Negotiating / \ / \ /\ / Connected ****

**** Authorisation KaNa4532 Alpha-Kappa **** ****Streaming Conversation.... Buffering /\/\/\/ ...****

"Our experiments are not going as I had hoped. The first batch, we were lucky and surprised them. The others were harder to obtain, the subjects. We are only able to take them ten at a time, any more than that represents too great a risk for our men should things not go smoothly" the usually flat and emotionless voice sounded tired, there was more than a hint of frustration in its tone.

"We have a schedule, you are aware of this." The reply was scrambled, flat and electronic. "These delays are both dangerous and unacceptable."

"I understand, sir. We are facing issues we had not anticipated or, perhaps, I was not told about." ... "You are becoming impertinent..."

"I am simply stating facts."

"Then explain your facts, Ataraxias and be concise about it." ... "When am I ever anything but direct sir?"

"Quite."

"As the reports show, their physiology is incredible. As quickly as we wound them, they heal. Even a truncated limb will regrow if given enough time. Their blood appears to replenish itself when spilled. They are not, however, immune to pain; they simply have a threshold much higher than mortals do."

"Higher than most of you, also I suspect." Was that a threat concealed in the electric tones?

"I could not comment."

"We are concerned that you appear to be enjoying this. The recording you sent to the Kal-Shodar ..." "Was necessary. To anger them and send more into our nets." Ataraxia's response was cold and crisp. "We see. Please continue." impossible to tell if there was disapproval there or not.

"We have taken plentiful samples from the sixty we have managed to capture so far."

"The *inaudible* vivisection carried out on the first batch is no longer necessary, we understand."

"It is not, we are drugging them now, and the laboratory is a quieter place." Perhaps it was irony or joke but it appeared he was trying to compete in being even more unemotional in his delivery than his listener. "We are focussing on collection and experimentation on samples, trying to unlock whatever secrets are contained. We are certain they used to be as human as, perhaps, you and I once were, a long time ago."

There was a pause and his listener refused to fill the silence, to take the bait. "You are saying the rumours are true then?" The listener finally asked.

"That they are from the Macedonian's original invasion force?" He answered. "Those who marched with him over three thousand years ago? Yes. Initial genetic studies have revealed their profile matches people from that time period and location. They are Ancient Greeks, so the geneticists tell me. Africans, Indians, and Xin too."

...

"They are immortals, then?"

"They have a – ah – certain longevity, yes. They are close to as old as our Indian friend, best we can tell." "So old?"

"He is a few centuries older, it appears, but he would have known some of them, personally, we believe." "That is interesting." A long pause. "Have you managed to locate this traitor and exile?"

"We have not; he would appear to be extremely resourceful, as I had indicated in the report of my first meeting with him." Was that a colouring on anger creeping into his toneless voice? "The same report where I recommended simply eliminating him."

"We are aware of this report." Another uncomfortable pause. "Back to the subject at hand."

"Yes sir. The - ah - subjects are euthanized or frozen on site after the samples are taken. Those we are finished with are incinerated so there is no trace and, of course, for sanitary purposes."

It could have been a chuckle but, with the filtering, it was hard to tell. "Of course."

"We tried to do the same with their armour, once we studied it, but it appears most unwilling to burn.. There are materials in its construction we are entirely unfamiliar with. Its systems appear to be genetically coded but attempts to - ah - fool the systems using the samples we collected have been, without exception, failures."

"The suits have an AI inside of them you are saying?" Another long pause. "They can tell that their - ah - host no longer lives?"

"We are uncertain. The technology we are studying is significantly more advanced than anything we have ever seen. We think it is programming and some kind of hardware working in tandem."

"You are reporting very few facts, then."

"We are, sir, working with what we have." A slight edge to his voice now, quite obvious. "Supposedly the best the world has to offer. It would appear our - well- guests, have access to some other source than we."

...

"Explain."

"Each and every system inside of their armour, their weapons, even their clothing is at least two hundred years beyond anything we have. Studying it with what we have is comparable to attempting to study a computer using a hammer."

"Progress is a process. We expect to learn from this technology, not hear of failure to do so. You have the best men and - ah - the imagination. We suggest you use them."

"It is being worked on, sir." He was fighting to control his voice. "May I. continue?" .... "Certainly. "

"Thank you. Their equipment defeats us; we kept two complete samples of each item and tried to incinerate the rest with the bodies we no longer require. The bodies were reduced of ash, of course. The armour, it would appear, barely got warm. When we opened the incinerator, all of the suits were almost identical to when we put them in there. Some of the paint had come off and the pteruges and kilts were gone, obviously, but the suits themselves are...barely scorched. We have moved them into the backup freezers for now, space is not a great luxury at this facility."

"It is what you have."

"Indeed. We have made some advances in the genetic side of our studies. The - ah - men are all of Greek origin from around 3-4 thousand years ago, as I said. They are also in possession of a triple DNA helix."

"Triple helix?"

"As you surely know, all beings of human origin have two intertwining strands of-" ... "We know that. Even we have only a double helix!"

"Quite." He switched gear smoothly, voice back under his control again. "These individuals have three, the additional strand is complex beyond anything we have seen, it has at least four times the base pairs, four times the - ah - data of the, shall we say, original set."

''You have been able to transcribe this code?"

"We have. We have the code but not the - ah - key. We see commonalities with sequences present in human DNA and we see ... other things."

"Such as?"

"There appear to be sequences from sources other than human in there." ... "Like what?" There could be a tone there, it could be one of disbelief.

"We are uncertain. Reptilian perhaps, among others, but we have been unable to identify it. It matches no profiles we have on file for gaeic species."

"Are you saying it is extragaeic in origin?"

"We cannot say that for sure. A species we have not yet encountered certainly." ... "Hybrids of some description, then?"

"It appears that way." He was fully in control again, his superior's discomfiture restoring his confidence. "As I said, we are uncertain."

"Have the scientists been able to replicate some of the - ah - talents of the subjects?" ... "They have not." Flat finality.

"We see."

"Volunteers have received - ah - transfusions of material. Initial results appeared encouraging however; they failed, each and every time. The - well - outcomes shared the fate of the source material."

"They were burned? We see. What was the nature of these failures?"

"Monsters.”

"Excuse me?"

"The - ah - grafts initially took. The volunteers were correctly screened and found to be free of any defects. The material was introduced and results were close to immediate. Their physical strength and reaction times increased. No augmentation of size was observed in the subjects. They looked almost the same as they did before the procedure."

"Almost?"

"The changes were .... slight...at first." ... "At first? What were the changes?"

"Like the source material, they developed faint scaling patterns on some areas of the skin. In 3 out of 5 volunteers, their eyes also changed colour, took on a golden-red sort of shade. One subject developed elongated canines. Another grew claws."

"Very interesting. And then?"

"Then the changes grew more .... dramatic. It seemed that their DNA was being rewritten by the introduced material and, it would also appear that their own DNA was resisting the attempts at editing."

"How so?"

"Their bodies began to change rather shockingly. They all either died in extreme agony or had to be subdued and destroyed. Research staff were harmed in some of these endeavours, a number were also killed. Equipment, too, was damaged."

"All of which can be replaced."

"Quite." Was that a note of anger returning to Ataraxias' tone? "However, we have yet to obtain a stable result. All of our volunteers either died from the experience or had to be destroyed."

"That is unfortunate."

"Very." Crisp coldness returns to Ataraxias' voice. "There is something in their DNA which becomes - I hesitate to describe it in such terms but we have found no other explanation - hostile to the volunteer's own and - ah - attacks it. The results are rather horrifying." He did not sound horrified, he was stating facts calmly, as if he were talking about the weather.

"That is surprising." The artificial tone revealed none of that. "And most unfortunate. Many assets and much capital have been invested in this project. Failure to return on that investment would not be welcome."

"Is that a threat, sir?"

"Does it sound like a compliment, Ataraxias?"

"We are not finished yet, of course." There was an edge to his voice now, there could be no way the listener had not detected it. "We are working on some buffering methods, trying to isolate what could only be called the Kal-Shodar DNA defences. We are also working on decoding the third DNA strand itself. We could bring the Gaia system into -"

"You could not." The answer was final and left no room for manoeuvre.

"Understood, we shall work with what we have then. I will note that access to said system would give us information we could not otherwise obtain." An even crisper edge was now present in his voice. "I feel we are being somewhat hobbled in our endeavours. I may even hazard that this is intentional on -"

"You overstep your bounds!" The electronic voice remained expressionless and flat but, somehow a threat was communicated.

...

"My apologies. My desire to serve is colouring my judgement. It is frustrating to not be able to deliver what I so dearly want to deliver to The Elders. I am ashamed."

"Accepted. Continue." Nothing was given away in that tone.

"My thanks," The tone was not even slightly conciliatory, it sounded predatory. "I accept the limitations you have placed on this endeavour and will ensure no failures of any kind are tolerated, be assured of that."

"So, we cannot unlock their DNA code but what about these genetic locks you described?"

A sigh, deep and apparently genuine. "Our successes there have been limited. We have tried using material from the subjects and from some of our less dramatically changed volunteers, those who remained human-shaped. All attempts were lacking in the results we desired."

"You have experts in computers, in electronics. You tried - what is it called - hacking of course?"

"Of course, sir." Another sigh, this one sounding more impatient than resigned. "The systems on these suits use a kind of code they have never seen before. Our systems - and even Gaia - use hexadecimal binary code, something that we learned about at the Symposium a few years ago. However this code is quite different. The programmers are calling it adaptive quantidecimal. That means it's much more complex than they can compile. Each time they think they have a key, the lock changes."

"That must be frustrating for them."

"Threats have not obtained further success. A nervous programmer or - as you said - hacker does not work with the level of attention to detail and diligence required for the task."

"Understood." What may have been an electronic sigh. "How close are they?"

"We are keeping the suits in cold storage as I said, just to be certain there are no - ah - surprises hidden in them. That was we make sure the temperature is below that which the electronics onboard appear to operate best in." ... "That, at least, is wise. You expect to obtain more subjects? We requested one hundred as a good sample."

"We are working on that. It seems that since the - ah - incident in their base under Lundun, they have adapted their systems. Their defensive fields have been upgraded and our previous tactic is no longer 100% reliable."

"Yes, your report tells me that the - ah - gentleman your men encountered was rather different to those you have invited to be your guests. Tell me about that one."

"Well, we have interrogated the sole survivor of that expedition and the systems of his suit also. It seems, to begin with, that the - gentleman - chose to send him to us, to keep him alive in order to serve as messenger."

"I recall this from your report."

"Indeed. We were rather surprised by this individual. He was nothing like our guests. Rather spectacularly so." ... "Explain."

"You recall I met the Steward, Lupernikes, in Alexandria some time ago?" ... "Of course, we sent you there."

"He was one of them, if you recall my report. He was a Kal-Shodar to the best of my knowledge. Everything about him that I could observe matches our guests."

"This I also recall."

"This one was rather different to even be." He cleared his throat softly. "This one is larger and equipped rather differently. From the intercepts and reports we knew this before the - ah confrontation, we knew this. However it would appear that the differences are not just superficial, not just a different set of armour."

...

"How so?"

"For one the weapon he wielded." He paused and the sound of papers being shuffled could be heard. "A bardicheI believe you call it. It is possessed of some kind of technology beyond belief. It was able to intercept and deflect slightly sub-sonic projectiles from the rail guns with apparent ease, exhibiting no damage to itself in the process. Of course most of the imaging we have is in the infrared and so detail is limited. The other members of The Commander's team we have as yet been unable to recover so we have only his suit systems to work with."

"Of course. What more do you have to tell us?"

"His weapon - this bardiche - cut men in half, despite of them wearing the best defensive systems we can make. He - ah - demolished 29 men in approximately thirty seconds without taking any injury to himself and - we have determined - without his deflective energy fields being operable."

"Explain."

"Our techs have determined that the - ah - stunt he pulled in the transit system was intentional. He overloaded his defensive fields in order to stealth himself so we would know where he was going but not how he got there. This overload manoeuvre meant his fields would have stayed offline until they could be properly repaired at his eventual destination."

"The moon?"

"No, they cleared out the base on the moon according to information we received from a reliable source. All data systems purged and useless."

"So where then?"

"Space, it would appear. Our source also found evidence of large-scale ship construction and we thus hypothesise that they all left Earth, he came back for something though."

"But these ones you captured?"

"We do not know. They may scream when we work with them but they keep their mouths shut otherwise."

"Ha ha, work with them..." The laughter was not laughter; the electronic filter rendered it as words without inflection.

"Quite." Impatience again. "This is the first time we have seen one like this -" More sounds of papers. "Alkemas Neshaa, as he called himself."

"A Persian?"

"So it would seem, an ancient Persian name at least."

"So, this Neshaa, this dragon-man." Back to business, voice cold as ice again. "He was larger, faster and considerably skilled. His weapon glowed as it - dismantled - my men. Some of the techs, who are the least superstitious people I know, talked of magic."

"Magic?"

"You know sir, runes, eldritch powers, that kind of thing." He laughed, his sounding barely more alive than the listener's had. "Legendary weapons that can do things no technology can achieve."

"Well if their technology is so far advanced beyond our own -"

"Those are exactly my thoughts, sir!" The listener could not see the bloodless smile but he did not need to. "No need to surrender to idiot superstition simply because one lacks understanding. Suffice it to say, said employee's tenure was terminated."

"Permanently I expect."

"Of course." Ataraxias agreed.

"If we could get our hands on one of these dragon-men, as you describe him. You think there may be more like him?"

"We are relying on history and legend here but, it is said that there were three-hundred such individuals serving with the Macedonian."

"Well you know how inaccurate those writings are."

"Of course. The fact that I have sixty exaggerations downstairs and that twenty-nine of my men were killed by another one in a base which was made by shadows ... ."

"Your sarcasm, as ever, is unwelcome ..."

"Again, I apologise." He sounded not even slightly contrite. "I meant to point out that we have seen these legends in the flesh, therefore they may contain a nugget of truth perhaps."

"Perhaps you are right. So there would be more of them, you say."

"Two hundred and ninety-nine of them, potentially."