“Caleb … Caleb …” Her soft voice reached into my thoughts, and I clawed my way back towards awareness, a cold sweat breaking on my face. It was Not-Exactly-Lila; she was over me and whispering urgently in my ear. (I say my ear – my head now resembled something akin to a dropped dessert, but thankfully she could locate my ear opening. The bio-nanites had certainly been to work on my anatomy whilst I had slept.)
Had I really been asleep? It could only have been seconds, because Genevieve had barely had time to slam the bio-nanite control box shut and heft it from the ground. I was glad that Not-Exactly-Lila was unharmed, save for a growing bump where the pistol butt had struck her on the head.
But I … I wasn’t me anymore. I was something else, and in my loathsome, altered state, it was as though I could see myself from afar, from across the dirt across which raced two men, bringing their Kalashnikovs to bear on us as we scrambled to our feet. (I say my feet … you get the picture.) The two men stopped dead as I rose up to full height, a shapeless fist of knuckled meat, hair in places, eyes in others, limbs and bits of unassigned anatomy hanging off me in a random mess. The bio-nanites had rearranged me into random form.
I shook myself and it all contracted back into me, and I was Caleb again, then I was turning to the girls and I hollered at them: “Run!”
We took off around the side of the nearest building. Bullets strafed the ground where we had stood, and followed us in livid lines across the walls. The final bullet found its way into the centre of my back, and I staggered at the two girls’ heels, then anger pushed the bullet straight back out again. I stopped in shock and they turned to watch as the little bullet simply plopped out to the ground, the small wound in the centre of my back snapping closed in its wake.
Genevieve and Not-Exactly-Lila stared at me in horror.
“Caleb … are you okay?” asked Genevieve in shock.
“Never better,” I said. “Now split.”
“We leave together,” Not-Exactly-Lila told me unerringly. “You’re too important to leave behind.”
“I’m more than that now,” I told her boldly, and focused my attention on the bio-nanites in my brain. I was conscious of sensations I had never felt before; not just physical sensations, but mental too, and it was suddenly as though I could communicate directly with them. They had spent so long in my cerebral cortex, navigating the millions of neural pathways I had strengthened throughout my life, that somehow they knew how to navigate the new ones – the new thoughts I was having – as they were generated in my brain.
The bio-nanites understood me.
All I had to do was tell them what to do … and my body would be adapted in accordance to my will. So I took on the form of Not-Exactly-Lila. “I’m you,” I said and the two girls gasped in shock. “And I have the mother of all plans. So while you ladies get the hell away from here, I’m going to double back and have some fun.”
“Caleb!” they yelled together as I turned and ran back out into the street. I broke out into the open to see the two men with Kalashnikovs had almost reached the alley – had I been any slower they would have had a clear shot at the three of us. They eyed me warily as I stood my ground before them, a pale girl rooted bravely in their path, then the first man calmly raised his gun.
“Where is he, deary?” he demanded in an accent, whilst the other man aimed his rifle at my face.
“Don’t do that,” I told him in Lila’s silky voice.
Gun-Man uttered something guttural in an Eastern European tongue. Chances were these newcomers did not work for the Senator. Together they jammed their gun barrels at my chest and fired. Although I was expecting it, and had already made internal plans to reject the onslaught, the slam of the bullets threw me against the wall. I saw blood spray and felt the coarse brick scrape against my skin, and the pain was incredible, but then it was like the bio-nanites were telling my body what to do, and I tensed as though ready to push out the loudest fart. But it wasn’t gas that escaped me …
It was bullets. They flew out in all directions, zinging! off the walls and blacked out street lamps. One shattered and the two men ducked for cover. Instantly I was on my feet and pelting across the street, drawing them away from the alley and the girls, towards the river that cut through the town close by.