A stern voice was trying to make itself heard in the back of Tony’s mind. It began as observations and not-so-gentle urgings. Tony was familiar with the General’s intrusions.
All six waiters have earpieces.
Tony had to admit, they did all have earpieces. But was that so unusual? Weren’t waiters meant to be coordinated?
They don’t move like waiters. They move like soldiers.
Tony knew this one. His therapist had covered this one. Pure paranoia.
There, did you see that? A gun, holstered where the bulge won’t show.
That did look like a gun. No. No, a mobile phone, a radio, maybe.
Tony was there on the strictest condition that he behaved. The doctor had promised Tony’s sister and her new husband that he could behave himself, that he wouldn’t have another episode.
Tony had thought the General might consider the therapist an enemy, trying to purge his influence from Tony’s mind. But the General said that Doctor Sharman was merely misguided, and doing her job, or trying to, given that she lacked all the relevant information.
His sister was preparing to cut the cake. Tony positioned himself between the table and the trolley holding the plates, between the nearest waiter and the couple. His sister shot him a slightly troubled look, but he was behaving himself. He smiled back, reassuringly.
The General had suggested he stand there, and when the General was insistent he was hard to resist. Besides, it did no harm to give the general a little leeway. That was the route to normalcy, apparently; indulge the General on the little things and it would be easier to stand up to him on other things. Exercise judgement, and restraint.
Tony smashed a handy bottle of champagne over the nearby waiter’s head. A wave of pale yellow and seaweed-green shards burst across the waiter’s face. The sun picked out tiny glistening stars in the spray of expensive wine as the waiter slewed sideways into the trolley, heaving it over in a roaring avalanche of shattered crockery.
The waiter had been reaching for something beneath the trolley. The General had reacted. His reactions were considerably faster than Tony’s.
The General was there to protect Tony, since he had failed to protect Tony’s father and mother. Tony had barely survived that day himself; he had been jammed beneath the master bed, biting his tiny fist to keep from crying out. The bullets had made more noise punching into walls and furniture and flesh than they had leaving silenced muzzles.
His last memory of his father was a body being dragged across the floor, and a smear of dark blood that had been impossible to avoid as he staggered from the room hours later. The General had turned up in six year old Tony’s head a week after that.
Tony pushed his sister to the ground, snatching the knife from her hand as he did so. The General was fully in control now. He flung the knife. It flew the length of the room and buried itself up to the handle in the chest of another waiter.
He ducked to snatch up a couple of larger shards of plate from the ground, then dashed towards two waiters as they both reached into their jackets.
Reaching for their radios, Tony thought.
The General was silent. Tony leapt onto a table, landing on one foot and propelling himself at the waiters. As he slammed the white porcelain into their faces, Tony noticed his hands were bleeding. He landed on his feet.
The two waiters toppled backwards, writhing and screaming, clutching at their faces.
He barely paused before picking up a chair and throwing it across the room between cowering, wide-eyed guests. It hit another waiter, knocking him off balance. People scattered.
The waiter was getting back up, but not quickly enough. Tony led with a powerful kick he didn’t even know he had in him, crunching the man’s nose with the heel of his shoe and snapping the man’s head back fiercely. The waiter’s eyes rolled back in his head and he dropped to the floor, insensible.
Six of them, the General said, five down.
A gunshot rang out and pain flared as a sudden impact punched Tony in the right shoulder. The last of the waiters had a pistol levelled at him.
Now the other guests really started to panic, yelling and running for the exits.
Tony dived beneath a table as another shot sounded and a water jug behind him exploded. He crawled forward between the table legs, ignoring the pain, and scrambled beneath the next table. When he reached the other side he grabbed at the ankles in front of him, yanking hard and pulling the last waiter to the ground.
He jumped on top of the man, knocking the gun from his hand. Then he punched the waiter hard in the face, twice, and knelt on his arms, pinning him to the ground.
Tony gripped the man’s face hard and began squeezing.
“Why now?” The General demanded though Tony.
“Your father...” the man choked, “the project didn’t die with your father.”
Tony kept squeezing, “Explain yourself.”
“You... and your sister... modified. Not... his children, but... his prototypes.”
The man’s eyelids fluttered and his body went slack as he lost consciousness.
“What?” Tony said, suddenly in control of himself.
No one was supposed to know.
“To know what?” He started to shake.
I may not have told you everything. You are your father’s children, but you have been... altered. You are more than human, and some people aren’t ready for that.