So I put the first part in the wrong forum. Whoops.
The link to Part 1 is thus here.
And as my stories do, this one is expanding slightly. I'm now guessing 5-6 parts total.
Six soldiers sat around a table, looking at their food. Six pairs of eyes flicked around, each watching the others suspiciously. Three people picked at their food, two more simply sat and stared. The Eris Projectâ€™s soldiers were on the verge of breaking.
One was still eating with gusto. Despite the setbacks of the last three weeks, nothing seemed to dim Jamie Coleâ€™s enthusiasm â€“ not the black looks that Arland Black and Cameron Jackson kept shooting his way, not the suspicious ones of Sarah Brooke and Simon Tate, not even the dull way that Kien Mak had withdrawn into himself. The others, however, had lost their appetites when theyâ€™d heard that Wendell McBride wasnâ€™t joining them, due to an accident on the training course.
Sarah looked down at her meal, then up at Cole once again. She broke the unpleasant silence. â€œYouâ€™re really racking up a body count, Cole.â€
Jamie paused. Setting down his fork, he looked up at Sarah slowly. â€œYou want to explain that?â€ He said dangerously.
â€œYeah, I do.â€ Sarah frowned. â€œTry this on for size. You crippled Garcia, you knocked Pavri off a building, and now youâ€™ve taken out McBride.â€
Jamie frowned. â€œIf you were anyone else,â€ he said, â€œIâ€™d smack you one for that. I didnâ€™t hit Garcia that hard. If he couldnâ€™t take, the problem was with his gear. I didnâ€™t go near McBride. And Pavri came after me with a knife for no damned reason in the middle of a training excercise.â€
â€œShe wanted you dead because she was head-over-heels with Garcia.â€ Arland pointed out. â€œEveryone knew that.â€
There was a long pause. Jamie chewed his lip. â€œEveryone, huh?â€
â€œYeah. Everyone.â€ Arland pushed his chair back. â€œEveryone whoâ€™s not a stupid ape.â€
Jamie took a deep breath, hands clenching the table, but before he could move, Sergeant Hammerâ€™s voice roared out again. â€œI donâ€™t recall it being chitchat hour, people!â€ He glared from Arland to Jamie and back again. â€œIf you two have some kind of problem, youâ€™d damned well better get over it. This squad is going to shape up, or by God we will court-martial the lot of you!â€ He glared at each of the two in turn, until they looked away.
Arland muttered, â€œSarah started it this time.â€
â€œI thought better of you, Brooke.â€ Hammer shook his head before she could respond. â€œRight! Finish your meals and get back to your rooms. Iâ€™m calling lights-out.â€
â€œNot hungry, sir.â€ Brooke pushed her plate forwards. Shrugging, Jamie reached for it.
â€œIâ€™ll take it, then.â€ He smiled broadly. â€œAlways ready for seconds.â€
â€œFine.â€ Standing abruptly, Brooke turned to go, then paused. â€œJust one thing. What the hell do you mean, if I was anyone else?â€
The room got very, very quiet. Jamie looked up from shoveling down Brookeâ€™s meal, and even he registered the danger in her voice. â€œJust that youâ€™ve always been okay. I still owe ya, after all.â€ He temporized. â€œWouldnâ€™t be right to ignore that.â€
â€œDo me a favor, Cole â€“ donâ€™t do me any favors.â€ Glaring daggers, Brooke stormed from the room. A few moments later, the group broke up, with Simon hurrying after her, and Arland and Cameron moving in the opposite direction. Sighing, Jamie finished off Sarahâ€™s plate and got up as well, leaving Kien alone at the table.
Shaking his head, Maxwell Hammer took a third set of doors, walking briskly down a corridor before sliding his passkey into a secure lock and entering the Projectâ€™s control room. Inside, he saluted crisply. â€œSuspicionâ€™s at a fever point, sir. I still donâ€™t know who the assassin is, but just about everyoneâ€™s figured out that somethingâ€™s up.â€ He shook his head. â€œExcept maybe Cole.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think Cole is going to be a facotr.â€ Colonel Dillenger was studying the tapes of the dinner with interest.
â€œWith respect, sir, I disagree.â€ Hammer remained ramrod-straight. â€œHeâ€™s dumb, but the toughest of the bunch. If he survives Brookeâ€™s suspicion, heâ€™s set.â€
â€œGiven that he just ate a plateful of poison, I doubt that very much.â€ Dillenger replied dryly.
â€œSir?â€ Hammer managed.
Dillenger pointed to the plate that Brooke was pushing away. â€œThe assassin poisoned Brookeâ€™s food, which she did not eat. Slow-acting, most likely. I do not expect Cole to survive the night.â€ He considered briefly. â€œI think we need to move this test into its final phase. Notify the labs to receive Cole some time in the early hours â€“ alive or dead, depending on if he realizes whatâ€™s happening. If heâ€™s the one who calls for them, and it wonâ€™t be too expensive, save him. Otherwise, study the implants and see how they react to poisons. Meanwhile, prepare for the last challenge to take place in two days.â€
Hammer nodded slowly. â€œYes, sir. And if no one survives?â€
Dillenger smiled darkly. â€œThen we take the data, and pull together a new group of soldiers. This isnâ€™t the first batch weâ€™ve run through the tests, you know. Dismissed.â€
â€œSir.â€ With a snappy salute, Hammer turned to leave, concealing his annoyance admirably. Dillenger and his damned secrets. He wouldnâ€™t tell Hammer who was killing their men, he wouldnâ€™t explain who was funding the project â€“ and Hammer was damned sure that it wasnâ€™t the government, human experimentation like this was strictly illegal. But he also knew that people who asked too many questions around this project tended to vanish. And Hammer was too good a soldier for that.
Inside the control room, Dillenger watched the tapes as a stealthy hand slipped two vials of iocane powder into Brookeâ€™s meal, and chuckled. â€œWhat do you think, my Lord?â€ He said softly. â€œHave we found your champion?â€
The darkness answered, power in a voice that echoed within his head. Perhaps. I certainly hope so, Dillenger. I am growing impatient.
â€œI understand, o Great One.â€ Dillenger nodded slowly. â€œThis time, the project will be successful. I can feel it.â€