║║▌█ Ny Stockholm, Kalsson AB labs , Stasis Tube 223-B 2487-11-03 ▌█║║


The worst part was trying not to go insane inside the Stasis Tube, my own heartbeat being the only sound I could hear for weeks on no end. That was how Sixteen must have felt every night when she retired for the night, I thought. I had lost track of time, or how long it had been since I had walked into the tube. I could not really say if I was asleep or awake. But KAB were honoring their word. For the first time in seven years, I had begun to dream. And I dreamed of home. I was back in my old apartment in Central. I knew it was a dream, I had left the place several months before. But it felt as if I was there once again, looking through the windows. The red lights of Reaktor shining in the semi-darkness of the city's never ending night. Home.

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Ny Stockholm was not home any longer. But it was the place where answers could be found, and at least partially explain what had happened between the moment I joined Gripen in February 2480 and my departure in June 2485. So I had left InSilico again, and taken a shuttle back to Ny Stockholm. Chances were I would get shot dead on the spot, as soon as I stepped onto the landing platform. But I was not. They knew far more than I had imagined. And had offered me a deal. A deal with the devil, welcoming back the prodigal son.

║║▌█ Ny Stockholm Flygplats , three months earlier ▌█║║

”God kväll, Herr Hellsland. Välkommen tillbaka. Vi väntade på dig ”
”Hm. Reception committee. Flattering”
”Please come with us, Mr. Hellsland. Did you have a nice flight from InSilico?”
”Where are we going?”
”You know where. We are going home”

║║▌█ Karlsson AB labs , the morning after ▌█║║

“Dr. Kron, it's been a while.”
“Glad to see you back, Erik. Did you have fun since you left us? Great views on Mars? A nice weather in Insilico?”
“ Enough of pleasantries, Gunilla. You know why I'm back.”
“ We do. Better than you will ever do. You know nothing, as much as you want to believe you do”
“ Answers.”
“You are going to get them. But I cannot promise you will like everything we tell you”

The room darkens, a holo-projection of files taken seven years earlier show sequences of a DNA genome overlapping another, edited genes highlighted. Hours go by, a silent virtual communication taking place between the figures sitting around the table. After the projection ends, all the attendants abandon the room except for two. Dr. Kron lights a cigarette and waits, legs crossed, white smoke slowly swirling towards the ceiling. Sitting across the table, the male figure stretches, both hands placed on the back of his neck.

“So that was my original DNA base-line, memories and personality traits, the delta after the biotech genemods, and the secondary effects you added for a better adaptation to Gripen. Why indulging me with this information, instead of just finishing me off the moment I showed up?”

“By regaining empathy, and what is worse, a ridiculous sense of ethics, you had become a problem, a liability. But you anticipated our move, and managed to escape. And yet, we anticipated yours. Did you really think we hadn't foreseen what you might do, or that we didn´t know where you had been all this time? When did you start hearing Lena's voice in your head, Erik? A few days, a few weeks, after killing Björn? The moment you plugged into Björn's cyberbrain, your neural net was compromised and infected. We've been watching you, listening to your conversations and thoughts, and even talking to you , all this time.”

“Smart. Hope you had fun. But that does not explain why I'm still here, enjoying this interesting conversation.”

“Because you were not such a complete failure, after all. You were smart enough to tell we suspected of you, and carefully prepared for an ambush. When it happened, you did what was necessary to neutralize your own squad, without batting an eye. Including the woman you had been sleeping with for four years.”

“You didn't give me a choice. Förbannat, Gunilla. It was not easy! ”

“We always have a choice. But instead, you analyzed a problem and solved it, even knowing that it was going to hurt. In case it helps you feel better, I will share with you that Lena had been assigned to monitor your behavior, and becoming your bed partner was also part of her tasks. We think she actually enjoyed it”

“The spying on me, or the fucking?”

“Both, probably. But enough of happy memories, Erik. We are going remove the virus from your neural net, and fix the secondary effects the first genemods caused in your brain, inducing a secondary genetic modification. This time it's going to take months for the nanites to partially alter the DNA in your existing brain cells without doing a massive recoding, so get ready for a long vacation inside an stasis tube. Then, if you don't come out as a breathing vegetable, you will help us solve another problem.”

“You know how much I like solving problems”

“Afterwards you will be free to go back to InSilico, and look for your dear fabricant.”

“Deal”.

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Special thanks to LuxXVI for the awesome pic