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Cade remembered laughing. Somehow his old friend had always possessed the ability to convince him at some point. But Luke never had any intent on convincing people to side with him. What he possessed was the skill of survival: getting those diametrically opposed to his madness to, for long enough to keep from killing him, reason with him. Though he’d always known it was a ruse, Cade had always felt it to be such a brilliant ruse that he’d played along more than once.
“All right, you son of a bitch,” he remembered saying. “Talk. Because that’s the only tool you’ve got right now that’s keeping me from snapping your neck, O Lucifer, Morning Son.”
22 Years Ago
“Let go of my collar. I can talk better when I can breathe.”
Cade released Dr. Caleb. He watched as Luke adjusted his tie, loosening the tension on it.
“His body was ruined, Luke.”
“Meaning that soul thingy again?”
“Meaning exactly that, yes. I took his life. There was no other choice. Thanks to both of us, he’s lost.”
Dr. Caleb started laughing. Cade wasn’t shocked. They’d had the conversation more than a few times, and Luke would always laugh.
“Your skill has only ever been upstaged by your idealism, Cade.”
“And your brilliance only by your egotistical, dogmatic, smug, bullheaded stupidity.”
Dr. Caleb actually chuckled. “That was a bit harsher than mine.”
“Well, I’m more pissed off here, Luke. Cut me some fuckin’ slack.”
“That mouth, for a man of faith.”
This time it was Cade who chuckled.
“I needed to see if it could be done. Needed to know that I’d perfected the process enough to keep the patient from going mad instantly. I could think of no one better than you, because the moment you knew what you’d become, if that did not drive you mad instantly, then it was only because you’d brought your wits with you.”
Cade had known it but hadn’t believed it. He lowered his head for a moment, then looked up.
“And you think that, what, you can build some kind of army of superfreaks to fight what’s coming? Please tell me no, Luke.”
Dr. Caleb only smiled.
“Luke,” Cade said. He pointed his thumb behind him. “That thing was a precursor to a precursor leading to the eventual revelation of an Army that these precursors will all be running terrified from.”
Cade didn’t finish. He could see it in Dr. Caleb’s eyes. “The army’s already built.”
Again, Luke only smiled.
Cade cocked his head slightly to the left. “I know I’ve been gone a while, Luke. But even so, who helped you?”
Dr. Caleb pointed behind Cade. “That thing did,” he said.
Cade turned. The power that entered the vicinity nearly overwhelmed his enhanced senses. Somehow he could dial down the input of those senses, otherwise, Cade was fairly certain he’d never have managed to stand up and face what appeared.
The thing was twenty feet tall if it was a foot. Even Cade’s powerful, synthetic body proved incomplete as far as protection from the nervous sensation that ran through him.
The creature walked around him, each step shaking the ground a bit, and looked him up and down.
Finally, Cade spoke.
“Who are you?”
For a beat, the monstrosity said nothing, merely continued its slow pace around Cade.
“A god,” it spoke. The creature’s voice was a full octave below a normal man with a voice in the deep baritone or bass range. It rattled inside Cade’s synthetic chest somehow.
Cade had been moving himself in a small circle following the monster’s own pacing. He stopped and stood still.
“I’ve ascertained this already,” he said, “that you are indeed a mighty creature. But I ask for a name.”
The monster stopped pacing. “Flattery and protocol,” it said. “Your friend was indeed wise to choose you.”
Cade did not smile. “Will you then give me your name?”
“I will not,” the creature said.
The sound of Dr. Caleb’s voice shocked Cade more than the Fallen angel that stood in front of him.
“Why are you here,” Dr. Caleb asked the creature.
“To look a gift horse directly in the mouth,” the creature replied.
When Cade looked again, the creature stood no longer twenty feet tall but his own height. He felt real pain when he caught the thing’s punch in his left hand.
22 Years Ago
“Sentience is a result of evolution, Cade, not God, not some silly soul. It’s the result of evolution.”
Cade rolled his eyes. “How many times are you going to say that to me, Luke? I always say the same thing: so the hell what? Let’s say that’s true, that evolution, your Darwinism, formulated a plan to create sentience.”
Cade watched Dr. Caleb only stare at him, waiting for him to continue. He sometimes wondered if he wasn’t Dr. Lucius Caleb’s PH agent; merely a tool, a catalyst the good doctor used to keep his own ego in check.
“What gives you the right to take that evolutionary advance from instinct to sentience and use it for your stupid whims?”
Cade stood, walked away from Dr. Caleb. He leaned against a wall and sighed.
“Men of faith are always so dramatic,” Dr. Caleb said.
“Can we not at this point in our friendship,” Cade said, “just admit that we’re both as predictable as atomic clocks and let that quip go?”
“Fair enough,” Dr. Caleb said.
“What now,” Cade aked.
“Now,” Dr. Caleb said, “I know that as long as you live, my madness cannot.”
Cade did not like the sound of the words as they resonated in his mind.