"And if you don't love me now / You will never love me again / I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain" - Fleetwood Mac "The Chain"
It had to be Dr. Max. No one else knocked on the metal doors. Commander Walsh, Dr. Nagata, even the other cadets - They'd all just walk in to the room. It was always your problem when they did. If anyone else were in the room, they would see a rippling effect against the wall. If they blinked, they would have missed the ripping becoming a solid form.
The door slid open and revealed a middle aged man with light brown hair, the tips of which were just beginning to take on a frosted appearance. His head was nearly tucked into his shoulders and his eyes darted around the room nervously. The door slid behind him.
He took a few step forward, "Denise?" he whispered.
The doctor did a 180 turn. A girl with bright green eyes stood directly behind him where only a second ago there had been only a metal wall. She giggled mischievously. Max smiled sadly. Negata became downright ornery if he called the kids "children." They were to be called. At best the kids were called "cadets" or "troopers." If they didn't think he was in earshot, they got called things he wouldn't have said to his grandma, that's for sure. So what if they could blend into the wall, or drive cars from ten feet away, or lift 100 kilos one handed? Nights like tonight, they were just kids.
"You scared me!"
"I'm supposed to!" she giggled. "I get to do that to the enemy, too. 'Cept they won't have time to be scared!"
It was little things like that that reminded Max that he wasn't in any regular orphanage. These kids were killers. On one hand, he was glad for that. Most of these kids would grow up and defend Earth in such a way that any alien stupid enough to deal with them wouldn't last two seconds in a combat scenario. Owen called them "the greatest biological weapon even developed" in those lobbying speeches. Denise, at seven years old, could take him out. No problem. Max didn't know whether or not to take that as a compliment towards his craftsmanship, or be really, really scared.
Still, they were kids. Kids needed to be spoiled every once in a while. And tonight, it was Denise's turn for a surprise. "Come on," he said in a low voice, "Follow me!"
Max told the guards that he had some late night work to catch up on. They didn't hesitate to open the door. They couldn't see Denise clinging to his back. Her camouflaging abilities were growing almost as fast as she was. The only way you could find her nowadays was if you had some of those infrared glasses. It used to be that she continually cast a little shadow everywhere she went. The door hissed shut and Denise climbed off his back and re-materialized.
Typically, the room had served as an infirmary up until about five months ago. Then, the room had suddenly been closed off to the cadets. All but Denise had accepted the closing without question. Denise was a curious one, though and she had been caught by Max two months ago trying to sneak in. He promised that, in three more months, she could have a look at the room. She agreed and now, she could see what was happening.
The room contained fifty individual incubation units. The cloning vats had finally been removed so Max could walk, rather than two-step, to his terminal. "Hmmm ." He bit his lip. "I know I put it here somewhere Ah - ha!" he exclaimed as he pulled the well-worn name book out of his cluttered desk.
"Dr. Max. look!" Max glimpsed Denise on the other side of the nursery. "Look at this one!"
Oh, no! Max noticed which incubator she was standing at and rushed over. The baby in that that incubator had suffered some trouble. During the third trimester, his DNA started to fluctuate wildly, more so than the other 'troopers. His meta-morphing abilities were beyond anything else they had ever tried to create - sort of a final artistic flourish to the whole damned thing. It had nearly torn the poor kid into atoms. Max and Joseph had made him a late night project. There were more than a few times Max, the on-site optimist, was even beginning to lose hope. Somehow, though, that little guy pulled through, even if he was what his grandma would call "the runt of the litter," and that was amazing in and of itself.
It wasn't uncommon for a 'trooper's DNA to betray them. Denise and Ryker were the only two member of the first batch Max held a lot of hope for, both in the academy and beyond it. Twenty had died in vitro, or shortly thereafter, due to complications. The other 28 just didn't turn out right somehow. That was not an easy thing to live with.
The fear Max had dissipated when he came to the crib.
"He has green eyes!" She turned to face him. "Like mine "
Max looked down at the infant and then at Denise. Despite the fact he and Owen had taken great pains not to have any of the Supertroopers resemble each other, they'd obviously overlooked something with this pair. Max smiled. *Ah .To hell with it!*
She looked at the book that was still lodged in his hand. "What are you going to call him?"
Max was feeling more than a little giddy, and really, really sappy. "Why don't you pick?" He handed the book to her, knowing full well that if Owen or Joseph got wind of this, he'd be lynched.
Denise studied it carefully. "What's "Gal -lic?"
He came behind her. "Oh, 'Gaelic.' It's a race of people in Europe."
She shrugged, "I like this one." She said, pointing out her choice. "Shane."
He picked up the chart hanging off the incubator. "Shane it is." "Was I like that, Dr. Max? Was I that tiny?"
He nooded. "We all were at some point."
She pressed her face to the glass. "Can I hold him, please, Dr. Max? I won't drop him. I'm strong enough!"
"Don't you want to help me name the rest of the babies?" She shook her head. "Alright, but be careful. He's the smallest of the bunch, and he's been a little sick."
She nodded, and Max opened the lid of the incubator. Shane's unfocused gaze drifted towards Denise. When Max finally put the baby in Denise's arms, his doubts about the whole thing vanished. The little girl had the warmest smile on her face that he'd ever seen her have. For his part, Shane looked as if he was starting to get a bit more color. Happy to be out of that box, huh?
Max went around to the other babies with his name book while Denise when to a corner, sat down cross-legged, and rocked the little boy to sleep until she began to drop off herself. Quietly, he replaced little Shane back in the incubator.
"Owen is full of it," Max said as he closed the lid. "You're going to make it." The baby started at him questioningly, to which he replied. "How do I know? Is that what that look's for?" Max chuckled and wrapped one knuckle against the plastic. "I had a big sister, too."