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November, 2050, Tower Hamlets Compound
The White Tower
Sutton stood behind his prisoner in the narrow interrogation cell. He thinned his mouth. The disinfectant sprayed over the man's body cut the air with the sharp odour of lemon. Sutton hated that stink. It brought with it the memories of too many deaths by his own hand.
The med-techs had stripped the man naked, secured him to the ceiling with thick chains and scanned him for active apian devices. They'd found nothing. So what was he doing with the twisting silver scar of a hive-mark running down his spine?
"Enjoying the view?" The prisoner's voice was little more than a growl. He stretched his hands, and the chains clanked. "If you're going to fuck me, get in line."
"You've been marked by apian tech."
Sutton followed the path of scar tissue as it cut into the man's muscled back, ending in a fork above his tailbone. His fingertips tingled as he skirted the heat of the man's skin, close but not touching. The hive-mark followed the patterning from the Karayan-Haig colony, formed in Greenwich in 2037. He gritted his teeth. That pair had combined to produce a fierce and highly infectious nano-virus. The country had lost too many to them. The grey smoke of the dead had burned the air for months.
Yet this man had been infected and not been absorbed into the hive.
"You have the colony scarring. How are you still an individual?"
The prisoner snorted and rolled his neck. Muscles shifted in his back, the hive-mark catching the stark light from the overhead bulb of the small metal-lined cell. "My charming personality?"
Sutton ran a hand over his short hair and scratched his scalp. He'd read the reports from the med-techs but hadn't fully believed them. No one was immune to the nano-viruses. No one. The man's...sarcasm proved that the nano-forms hadn't overtaken his brain. "Who are you?"
His answer had been quick and cooperative, the low growl gone. How many times had he been interrogated in this way? "What did you do before Conformity?"
Rider let out a long, slow breath. "Why are there never any new questions?"
Sutton didn't reply and Rider straightened his shoulders.
"Fine." He paused and his voice dropped into an almost bored, rote tone. "Before Conformity, I'd just become a teacher." A short laugh broke from him. "Your people have my union card."
"That's not proof."
"What is these days?" Rider yanked his body around, the turning wheel grating in the lowered ceiling, and twisted to face him. The overhead light cast a thick shadow down the man's face, disguising the tired lines and day-old bristles. Still, there was a bitter defiance in him.
Sutton lifted his chin, refusing to take a step back.
Rider was in his thirties, so he'd been newly qualified at the end of 2036 when Conformity engulfed the world. Sutton had asked the next question more times than he could remember. "When did you become infected?"
"2038. July. Southwark. An infiltrator brought the nano-virus into our enclave." Rider looked to the floor and a deep line cut down above his nose. His lips pressed together. For a moment, he simply breathed. "She wiped us out in hours. She fucked me and I woke up in the Greenwich nest, hive-marked and packed out with the drones." He paused. "I was one...at first."
It was the only time Sutton had had a coherent answer from any of the infected. Usually they raged, spat or tried to use guile to bring him close so they could infect him. Rider's reply hit him and a fist tightened in his gut. "You're saying you developed an immunity?"