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Chapter Two

                She was floating.
                Of the myriad sensations entering into her mind, that one seemed to stand out from all others.  It was more than just the feeling of being suspended in some thick fluid, but her mind itself seemed to be drifting, carried along by something.
                She felt tired, like the weight of ages was bearing down upon her.  Her mind wanted to let go, drift off into the bizarre ether she found herself in, but at the same time, she felt herself anchored here, wherever here was.  She was trapped in between states of oblivion and wakefulness, neither of which she wanted, but deep down, she knew she would have to make a choice…and soon.

                Mike and Valdrich had kept running for several blocks, and Mike was starting to get tired.  While he had never been in bad shape, he wasn’t accustomed to running, or fighting, for his life.  He was starting to slow down.
                Valdrich, as if sensing his exhaustion, ducked into an alley.  “We’ll rest for a moment, then head back over to my place.  No doubt there will be some investigation into the fire you started.”  he calmly added.
                Mike gave him an angry look.  “The fire I started?”  he gasped out between ragged breaths.
                “I think you can relax about that, Michael.  The odds are quite good that once the authorities realize that the investigation will take them to Crey Industries, the case will not be pursued.”
                “Lovely.”  Mike took another look at Valdrich.  Sticking out from the back of his neck was part of one of  the liquor bottles.  He gasped in alarm at the sight, and pointed frantically to his own neck.
                “Damn.”  muttered the bearded man when he felt the shard jutting out.   He grabbed it and threw it aside.  To Mike’s surprise, the blood flow stopped almost immediately, and the wound itself closed up almost as fast.  The only evidence there had been any injury was the hole in Valdrich’s collar and the blood-stain that accompanied it.
                “What the hell was that?”  Mike breathed.
                “That is my gift, my young friend.  I can regenerate my health after receiving any wound.”
                “Any wound?”  Mike asked skeptically.
                Valdrich gave a gesture that seemed to indicate acquiesence.  “Perhaps not any wound.  But for all intents and purposes, Mr. Harlowe, you may consider me immortal.”
                “Believe whatever you’d like, but right now, we need to get you to a safe place.  I don’t live too far from here, and besides, I need to bring you up to speed.”  Valdrich took off down the alley, going further from the street.
                Mike, having recovered himself and wanting too badly to know what was going on, chased after him.

                “She’s magnificent.”  said Jones the following morning. 
                Dr. Chandrasekar smiled at the unsolicited response. 
                The enhanced clone had been completed a full two days ahead of schedule, and the young geneticist and her team had contacted Jones when they felt it would be alright to awaken her.  Jones, of course, wasted no time in getting down to the lab to see what they had spent so much time and money on.
                He was not disappointed.  The two clones had been of the same woman, a superhero of many generations ago.  This particular heroine had been changed into such by a product made by Crey Industries, so, theoretically, she belonged to Crey.  He looked at the stasis chamber closely at her. 
                “What are her stats?”
                “Height, approximately 2 meters.  Arm span, 3 meters.  Natural weaponry,  between 30 and 50 centimeters each.  Performance tests regarding subjects jumping ability have yet to be performed, but we have every reason to believe that they will be proportionate to the clone’s size over the original.”  she answered.
                He turned to face her, an eyebrow arched critically.  “What about her weight?”
                She gave him an amused grin.  “One never asks a lady her weight, Mr. Jones.”

                His smile indicated she had better stop joking.  She went to the monitor alongside the stasis tube and typed in a few codes.   The fluid within the tube began to drain off, and various numbers on the digital screens began to climb upwards.  Jones realized they were indicators of her heart rate and blood pressure.
                “She’s beginning to experience some stress as we drain the fluid away.”  explained Dr. Chandra.  “Give us an hour to get her cleaned up and strapped to a table and we can proceed with fully awakening her.
                Mike remembered very little about getting to Valdrich’s place.  As he looked around his surroundings, he realized he wasn’t home. 
                He looked around the well-decorated room.  It was furnished like an old study; books and other items heralding a bygone era.  Mike remembered his grandfather had a room decorated like this at his house in London, and struggled to recall what the style was.  Shrugging, he decided it didn’t matter, and stumbled out of bed.
                As he exited the room, he was greeted with a shock; the main room of the place was brightly lit with innumerable fluorescent lights.  Instead of antiquated décor, this room was as modern as it could possibly be; an open space with every conceivable piece of electronic equipment.  Moving among the equipment was a robot with deep green, glowing lines along its gun-metal gray skin.  The robot suddenly turned to face him, returning his stare with one of her own, her green eyes pulsing rhythmically as if in time with a heartbeat.
                “Hello, Mr. Harlowe.”  she said in a pleasant, accented voice.  “Do you require anything?”
                “What happened last night?”  he took a few cautious steps forward.
                “Valdrich brought you in.  Apparently, you lost consciousness on your way over here.”
                “I don’t remember…” he scratched the back of his head.  “Where is he?  Who are you, by the way?”
                “Valdrich had some business to attend to.  My designation is NAGA-01-MG, but you may simply call me Naga.”  She cocked her head to the side and gave him a studied look.  “You resemble someone I knew long ago.”
                “Are you as old as Valdrich?”  He came down the stairs into the living room.
                “I’m nowhere near as old as he.  I was activated in July of 2004, my creators were Dr. Ilya Rossov and Dr. Clayton Blackmore, who worked for Crey Industries.  Considered to be a failed project, I was shut down, placed in storage, and scheduled for dismantling when I was somehow reactivated and was helped to escape.”  she explained.
                “That’s a little more than I asked, but that is interesting.”  he sat down on the couch and propped his feet up on the coffee table.  Naga made a coughing noise.
                “Please remove your feet from the furniture,” she reprimanded.
                “Sorry,” he replied, quickly doing as ordered.  “What time is it?”  He looked around for any sort of clock, but could find none.
                “It is 11:30 in the morning.  Would you care for breakfast?”
                “Just coffee.”
                “That is not sufficient breakfast,”  chided Naga as she gracefully took a mug down from the cupboard.
                “You’re starting to sound like my mother,”  Mike growled under his breath.
                “I was designed to take the correct tone with those I interact with.  Perhaps you need more growing up,”  she volunteered.
                “Great, a wise-ass robot.”
                “I am not a robot,” she emphatically denied.  She pushed his requested cup of coffee to him.
                “No, perhaps not, Naga.”  Mike took the mug and drank from it.  “But you still have a button I can push.”

                The two clones were lying side by side in the cavernous lab, strapped to exam tables with sensors attached to them like strange parasites.
                “How much longer, Doctor?”  asked Jones impatiently.
                “We will be able to awaken the unaltered clone in approximately five minutes.”
                “And the other one?”
                “We’re taking our time with her.  If she’s as powerful as we have theorized, then we really cannot risk botching the process.  Remember the clone made by my predecessor?”  the young Indian woman reminded Jones without so much as looking at him.  She was completely wrapped up in her work, and while she had a healthy respect for Jones, Dr. Chandrasekar didn’t fear him like so many others did.
                Jones’ eyes narrowed.  He had remembered the absolute disaster.  The attempted clone of another long dead hero, named PhoenixHawk, had backfired horribly.  The previous team had tried too many enhancements, and tried to awaken the subject too quickly.  The clone was completely unstable mentally, and made himself explode with gathered energy.  Jones merely nodded.
                “Proceed, then, Doctor,”  he instructed.
                Dr. Chandrasekar smiled to herself; not that she needed Jones to tell her what to do, but started the sequence nonetheless.  She started to have the biofilters remove the sedative from the first clone’s system.
                “Sedative levels at ninety percent.”  called out one of her techs.
                The clone gave a labored breath.  Heartbeat and blood pressure were rising, but normal.
                “Eighty percent.”
                Jones watched the clone carefully; a lot was riding on this, he thought, but Crey had a massive database of hero DNA to work with.  They could always make another clone, but deep down, he was hoping that  Dr. Chandrasekar’s team would be the ones to make them.  He knew the doctor’s reputation as a rising star in the field of genetics, and had gone through great pains to acquire her.  He wanted her to succeed as much as she did, but would never say so.
                “Seventy percent.”
                The clone’s heart rate went up slightly, as did her brain activity.
                “Sixty percent.”
                She moved slightly as it began to wear off, her hand twitching slightly.
                “Fifty percent.”
                Dr. Chandrasekar looked at the movement in the hallway; the janitor was wheeling something on his cart.  The pair locked eyes, like the night before.  He nodded slightly, like an unspoken signal to the doctor.  She stole a glance at Jones, who was too focussed on the clone, now twitching as she was waking up.
                Stealthily moving her hand, she pressed a button which would activate the enhanced clone’s biofilters, but instead of a gradual process, would instantly awaken her.
                “Forty percent.”
                The young doctor moved to another monitor, selecting a program to give the illusion that the enhanced clone was still under sedation.
                “Thirty percent.”
                The original clone began to move more as she was waking up.
                “Ten percent.”
                “Not long now, Jones,”  Dr. Chandra smiled.
                Jones nodded.  He straightened his jacket in anticipation.  He knew the Countess would be pleased with what was done here, especially if it worked.
                “All traces of sedative removed by biofilters,” announced the tech.
                A security team stood at the ready, non-lethal weapons poised to fire in case the situation got out of control.  Three technicians went up to the unaltered clone, who was stretching her hands out, much like a cat.  A slight groan came from her.
                “Subject is waking up,” read Dr. Chandra.  “Brain activity going from sleep to wakefulness.  Come on, Sleeping Beauty, wake up,”  she muttered.
                It was barely audible, but it seemed like the words triggered an immediate response from the altered clone, who suddenly jumped up as if she had been stung by a hornet and started thrashing about against the restraints.
                Both security and the technicians instinctively jumped back from her, all the more so as she broke free from her bonds and crouched onto the stretcher, looking at the group like a feral animal.  With a swift leap, she landed on top of the security team, and quickly began to slice them to ribbons while they tried to regroup.  Arms flailing wildly, her strikes, fortunately, were not particularly effective, although painful and serious.
                Dr. Chandra leaned forward, watching the containment team try to get the situation under control.  As she did so, she very subtly pressed the button controlling the restraints for the unaltered clone, knowing all eyes would be on the fight.
                “Doctor!”  screamed one of the technicians in the control room.  “The control subject is loose!”
                “Containment!  Get the control subject with the biofoam!”  she yelled.
                The cloned woman looked around, assessing the situation.  She saw another who looked like herself attacking everyone in the room.  She looked upwards, and saw a window at the very top of the tall room, with a quick, final glance, she leapt up to the window, smashed it, and for the first time in hundreds  of years, was free to run.
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