Sequel to: Heat
Rating: PG - Gen (Ratings subject to change)
Disclaimers: DA & characters are owned by their respective creators.
A neatly made bed with a broad bay window wasn’t exactly what he had in mind when he was told he’d be shown his quarters.
The wood floors had the kind of carpets made overseas and woven by hand. They were the rare expensive type he would step around if he had been alone. It was only after he had taken a few bright green pills that the restraints finally came off. She had held the medication in her palm and gently pushed them into his mouth as if he was a helpless child that would take too much time to perform a task on his own. A glass of water was tipped to his lips before her palm pushed firmly up under his chin to make sure he swallowed them all.
Alec felt he should have told her not to bother sedating him.
He had no intentions of doing her or anyone else any harm. After the door shut quietly behind her, he stared at his new prison for a while. Pulling apart the bedding he found clean sheets in diminishing shades of crimson that seemed to match the walls and mahogany wardrobes. He dimly realized the fall of the curtains and the nearby upholstered chair were also in various similar shades. Unlike most of the rooms he’d seen in the house, this space had been purposely decorated to be pleasing to the eye. It was a particular primary color off the spectrum that Alec had mentioned to the doctor during one of her confounding interviews.
Everything surrounding him was in a variation of red.
“B-Brick.” It wasn’t until he heard the word slur from his mouth that he realized how powerful the small pills were. “My favorite.”
Upon closer examination the comfortable inviting room appeared to have been engineered to be much more than that.
The bed was a solid piece of furniture, the thick mattress fused to the floor with no box spring that would contain any metal or wood. Alec’s hands could make out the smooth yield of soft plastic that was used in place of any metal piece that was small or slight enough to be used as a tool. There was no bed frame at all, the headboard nothing but a fixed ornament above the pile of down feather pillows. After searching the chairs, tables and dresser he found everything had been glued in its construction. Anything that wasn’t capable of being held together with super epoxy simply wasn’t there at all.
Alec was surprised to find the window had a nice view of the terraced gardens. A sprawl of grass that ended into some artfully placed islands of simulated forest. Although every effort had been made to block it, the city skyline could be seen just over the tree tops. The plexiglass panes opened up to the crisp cold air of dawn. Alec noted the lack of handholds and the daunting distance to the ground from the third floor. But it didn’t matter if he could climb down easily or not. Bars weren’t necessary with the invisible cage that existed all around the structures’ exterior.
He had found a walk in closet filled with simple clothes that he had no doubt would fit him perfectly. There were a few book shelves that were empty as if they had been left that way to fill at his leisure. The attached bathroom was for some reason the biggest shock of all.
Thinking about the cameras he couldn’t see, Alec slowly shed his clothes and left them on the floor. Stepping onto pristine white ceramic he started the water that fell unexpectedly overhead like rainfall. It became boiling hot in moments as opposed to the slow crawl he had to withstand in his own apartment. He put his hands against ivory tile, the clean white grout between them devoid of the grit and mold he had gotten used to seeing whenever he had to bathe. There were no gleaming fixtures to contemplate wrenching free from the walls. Everything was touch activated, even the installed dispensers that delivered small handfuls of shampoo and soap. He found a fresh towel that smelled like it had never been used. Stepping over the clothes he’d been wearing for a few days, Alec didn’t bother looking through the drawers of the wardrobe for anything else to wear. The thought of the synthetic sharp smell of factory fresh fabric made his stomach churn.
The view of the far off city had been obscured by a lazy descent of mist. The white out caused the green lawn to abruptly end a dozen yards from the stone terrace of the mansion’s rear grounds. He swallowed back a surge of claustrophobia as the fog drifted sluggishly through the cut shrubs, eating up the ground and closing him off from the rest of the world.
His internal clock told him he was approximately 45 minutes late for his morning shift on the Jam Pony floor.
Alec crawled into the massive bed and decided to do what the pills wanted.
He closed his eyes and went to sleep.
Blinking at the dark windows he knew immediately that twilight had not just dimmed the cloudy sky.
His biological chronometer wasn’t minute to minute but he clocked it at the end of early morning. He stretched under the thick blankets and swore under his breath. Sitting up, he groggily rubbed at his eyes and considered the pills the doctor had fed him. Whatever they were had allowed him to sleep an entire day and most of the night away. He had never slept so much and so soundly in his life. Expecting a blurry edge of a chemical hangover, he found his head was rested and clear. Alec paused when he realized someone had visited his room while he had been out of it.
There was a covered tray sitting on the table under the window.
Alec’s hand wandered to his belly and the vague relief that his body had a desire to eat again. Hoping like hell that the tray was hiding something edible, he flung the warm bed covers off and ignored the chill on his bare skin.
To his disappointment, removing the silver lid revealed nothing but a flat hand held computer. Alec flipped the small interface open and watched it quickly boot up with no software logo or company serialization. Without even a stutter onto some serene wallpaper, it immediately accessed a series of files which exploded across the screen like a sliding deck of cards. All of the files had been marked with Alec’s name and Manticore designation. Looking at the first of layered windows, he saw the pages of a multiple choice survey. The next window was more of the same. As he dug deeper, they varied slightly in format and application. Modified aptitude assessments. Rorschach’s ink blots for free response. Combat scenario models. True or false. Fill in the blank. Essay answers. There were thousands of generic exams that didn’t bother disguising themselves as custom made neuropsychological tests.
So this was the second stage of the profiling.
Alec recognized them because he had taken them all before. He'd spent half a year submitting to never ending tests exactly like them when he had been confined to the psychological operations department back at Manticore. He had been detained in PSY/OPS after his genetic copy, X5-493, had been found busy on the outside losing his mind. They hadn’t given Alec any details about the extent of his twin’s descent into lunacy, but their precautions spoke louder than any gruesome digitally enhanced crime scenes. The methods to assure themselves that X5-494 wasn’t going to snap in a similar manner had been extreme. Towards the end of that intense evaluation Alec had felt very close to proving his handlers fears and going off the deep end himself.
But even when he believed his sanity had been all but neatly scraped away by their labors, he still held on tightly to the threads of reality. He counted 179 days go by before he saw daylight again, and when he did, all he could do was smile. He’d come out on the other side of their brutal examinations completely intact. No matter what his keepers inflicted on him to incite his supposed latent madness, it hadn’t worked.
Whatever lay lurking in his DNA wasn’t in control. He was.
“Gaboriault would have loved you, Ben.” Alec mumbled to the dead twin he’d never met. “She’d put your crazy ass right up on the mantle.”
Crossing his arms over his bare chest he realized he was shivering.
He looked reluctantly at the closet full of warm clothes.
Wondering if there was any kind of deadline for his massive assignment, his hands explored the shelves that lined the closet walls. He immediately found something in the depths that was made of one of the softest material he’d ever felt. The sweater was gray and the sleeves fit nicely over the palms of his hands. Covering the rest of himself with what he discovered hanging ironed and folded, he rubbed his stomach again. The compact computer tablet sat waiting on the table, its cursor blinking expectantly on the first of its countless exercises.
Maybe if he got this shit over with quickly he’d get something out of it.
Like some pancakes.
Oddly enough it was hunger alone that motivated him to finally do it.
Alec approached the closed door cautiously and with a lump in his throat.
He’d been avoiding it because he kept imagining the doctor sitting somewhere in her labyrinth in front of hundreds of close circuit cameras. He didn’t want to provide anyone with a show as he uselessly struggled with the bolted entrance of his enclosure. The idea of any such event being recorded for study made him clench his jaw and swallow back a wave of nausea despite his hunger pains. He wasn’t quite sure how to go about demanding something other than water from his bathroom sink, but there was no doubt whatsoever that he was being monitored in some fashion or another. Hesitating at the door, Alec’s training slid down into place and made up his mind for him. Eliminate all possibilities before pursuing the most arduous.
He froze in place when the fierce twist he gave the knob gave way easily in his hands. To his wide eyed bafflement, the door swung open freely on its hinges. The sudden comprehension that he’d spent over 24 hours locked up in an unlocked room made him want to put his fist through something.
“I was wondering when you were going to come out of there.”
Alec knew that trying to pretend that the other X5’s presence hadn’t startled him was a lost cause. The transgenic in question was easily identifiable by the short cropped hair and numerous scars. There was that and the simple fact that the man was able to speak when none of his fellow clones could. Gabriel was seated with his arms crossed in a chair tipped back up against the wall like he’d been waiting a while. He was wearing a sweater that looked a lot like Alec’s but in a deep green. Alec briefly hypothesized about the science of preference and if a guy could be genetically predisposed to like the feel of pricey angora on skin.
Alec glanced up and down the unknown area. The hallway outside the room was dark like most of the house usually seemed to be. His door was the very last at the end of the corridor, the bend of the passageway hiding whatever lay beyond.
Gabriel let his teetering chair thud loudly back down onto the floor.
“Didn’t you hear that we crave socialization?”
“Yeah,” Alec’s memory of the cozy family dinner was a little hazy but he was always good with recalling the highlights. “I heard a lot.”
Stepping away from the doorway, he peered down through the gloom and saw only one other door before spotting the thick scroll of the main staircase’s banister.
“That’s Daniel’s room,” Gabriel told him. “The fourth floor is mine.”
Alec imagined how much space an entire floor was comprised of. He could fit about three of his apartments in his own room alone. He was about to go ahead and ask what all the extra space was needed for but he had another much more pressing issue weighing on his mind. It was the troubling absence of the woman who owned the house.
“So?” He tried to sound causal. “Where’s the doc?”
“With Michael,” Gabriel answered offhandedly. “He’s sick. Again.”
Alec wondered how many times the doctor had prolonged the weak transgenic’s life.
“When his battery gets low she stays in the infirmary with him.”
“Why doesn’t she just let him die?”
Gabriel gave Alec a smile that looked as close to easy and normal as he’d seen.
“Maybe you haven’t noticed.” He said. “But Elaine has a thing about bringing things back from the brink.”
“You could leave,” Alec said tentatively. “You could try to get out.”
"I have a TV," Gabriel looked him up and down with a vague expression of disgust. “It looks like it’s a real great time out there.”
Alec really had no good argument against that sentiment.
Movement at his right caught his attention.
Before he could think, his neurons were firing off in a quiet explosion of combat readiness. The murky light sizzled into focus as his body registered a potential threat and his pupils rapidly readjusted. He raised his hands as the distance and proportions of his immediate surroundings were catalogued swiftly and efficiently for best possible use. However, when he saw no measures were being taken against him, he forced his body to stand down.
It was the X5 named Daniel. He was standing timidly in the shadows, his pale green eyes strangely focused in concentration.
Gabriel’s lack of reaction to the unannounced arrival didn’t surprise Alec. He could contribute the unconcern to the familiarity the clones must have had with one another. However the scarred transgenic’s dismissal of Daniel’s stealthy approach made Alec think of something else. For the first time he considered that these X5s were soldiers in the blueprint stages only. He doubted the doctor had sent her boys through the motions of becoming trained killers on these finely trimmed grounds. It didn’t make them any less dangerous but it sure would change the odds around here. But Alec had no idea how to glean any kind of information from the doctor’s collection. He couldn’t tell if there was any side to be on, let alone any loyalty. These clones never had a side to pick so why would they now? Alec decided to see what would happen if he could piss Gabriel off.
“So what is this place really?” he asked. “A private freak show for damaged goods?”
“A show needs a crowd,” Gabriel said. “All we got is the good doctor. But you’re right? She got herself a nice bunch of freaks.”
Alec looked uncertainly at the blind transgenic standing nearby.
“Except for Daniel,” Gabriel’s smile faltered. “He’s fucking perfect.”
Unsure if he was hearing a harsh joke, Alec studied Gabriel for any sign that there was a punch line on its way but there didn’t seem to be one forthcoming. Alec recalled the doctor mentioning how the blind X5 had been born intact. He’d only been damaged by unnecessary surgery. Gabriel’s voice had changed, his tone deepening into frustration.
“He never gets sick, he never gets angry and he never gets tired.“
In the great big scheme of horrors Manticore could draw out of your genes for fun, Alec could see why Gabriel might compare Daniel’s state of health to flawlessness.
“All he does is read books.” Gabriel added. “Long, boring, books. I’ve never been a fan of the classics myself. I’m much more stimulated by my contemporaries. They don’t go trying to make pain into epic poetry.”
Alec was waiting for Daniel to say or … gesture something but the X5 hadn’t moved any closer. He couldn’t possibly be listening to their conversation but Alec was well aware of what information air pressure, vibration and scent could provide a healthy transgenic. In a way, the guy was probably hanging on every word.
“Don’t worry,” Gabriel said. “You can say anything about him you want. He can’t hear a damn thing.”
Alec raised an eyebrow when the impaired X5 raised a middle finger right in Gabriel’s direction.
“You see?” Gabriel snorted and got to his feet. “He’s useless.”
Alec tried to wrap his mind around Gabriel’s conflicting statements and body language that shifted from submissive to hostile all in one breath. Someone back at the labs had screwed up big time. Alec experienced an unanticipated twinge of sympathy for the X5 with the pained agitation flickering constantly in his eyes. In fact, the steadily growing frantic edge in Gabriel’s gaze made Alec involuntarily start to back up. But instead of any flare of unpredictable violence, the scarred hands simply twitched nervously before grabbing the back of the chair.
“Good luck with everything.” The heavy wood seat was dragged behind him as Gabriel made his exit. “And don’t let Elaine get to you. She’s all bite and no bark.”
Alec watched him vanish up the stairs to his fourth floor, the chair banging noisily on every step. Suddenly all alone with Daniel, Alec shifted uncomfortably and was undecided about what to do next. To his relief, it was the silent X5 that initiated communication between them.
Daniel nodded towards Gabriel’s retreating footsteps then took an index finger and rotated it around his ear.
Alec returned the smile even though the other X5 couldn’t see it. Maybe that nut job with all the scars was right? Daniel probably was the only lucid person upright and walking these halls. He didn’t mean to step back when Daniel extended a hand. Feeling like an idiot, Alec saw that all the guy had was a small piece of paper. When nothing seemed to be happening, the other X5 shook it to make the intention clear.
Alec grudgingly took it.
The printed words were simple and to the point. Alec figured most communication for a man like him would have to be if you wanted to get through the day like anyone else. It made him think of why he might like all those books. All they were was one conversation after another that he could sit in on and not have to struggle to listen. Alec realized that Daniel couldn’t see him nodding in affirmation to the neatly typed inquiry on the paper.
“Um yeah, sure? I know sign language.” Alec words were as useless as the nod. “I mean uh—“
Alec took a deep breath and touched Daniel’s hand. He closed the transgenic’s fist over his and spelled “S-u-r-e” into his palm. As soon as he did it he wondered why he hadn’t just done the one and simple sign of “Yes.” But Daniel’s small smile seemed to indicate an appreciation of nuance even if it was redundant. Alec was also glad he was understood at all considering the signs he had observed the sickly mute make at the table the evening before. They hadn’t been anything close to recognizable to those he’d been taught in training. But basic sign language and combat code were as fresh in his memory as the 13 languages he could write and speak fluently.
Daniel dropped Alec’s fist and signed in the air so quickly that Alec almost missed it.
Alec took one look back at his room and the waiting computer before giving a short sigh of reprieve. Tagging along with an unknown clone into the dark of the unfriendly landscape of his incarceration was the best offer he’d been given in days.
The pile of homework could wait.
Logan did as he was told and waited in the car.
The truth was that he was perfectly content with not stepping into that alleyway to join the talk Max was currently engaged in. None of the congregated group looked particularly pleased to be there and none of them were shy about the weapons they carried all over their person. He thought the exchange would take some time but it appeared to break up almost as quickly as it had formed.
She was walking back to the car before he could start to even guess the outcome of the negotiations.
“Our doctor friend only lets a screened crew on the property.” Max told him as she got in. “They get paid double time in the spring.”
“Once a week.” She said. “Like clock work.”
Logan sat back in faint disbelief. Of all the possibilities he’d conjured since Alec had taken off, the last thing he would have thought of to gain access was to impersonate a pay by the hour gardener.
“When’s the next mowing?”
It was hard not to bruise a fist on the steering wheel like he wanted too. A weekend was a lot of time for plenty of stuff to happen. However, his worry was vaguely assuaged by the set up of his own hardware around the Gaboriault property. It wasn’t quite possible to match the defense grid camera for camera, but Logan’s system was watching for any vehicles moving in and out of the compound. He also had a line tapped for any use of her helipad. As far as he knew Alec was still in there somewhere. The state of the transgenic’s wellbeing was a complete unknown but having a physical location was a luxury Logan didn’t always have the pleasure of enjoying.
“So can this Cheng guy can get us in?”
“He said he can try.” She gestured that he should start the car and get moving. “We’ll know for sure on Monday morning. He said legit subs come in from time to time with all the cheap labor headed north.”
It was Max’s turn to realize that the weekend was going to be a mighty long wait.
“So what do we do until then?”
“Well.” Logan said. “There’s a dinner party downtown.”
“Not really in a party kinda mood.”
“It’s a charity fundraiser.” Logan explained. “Gowns, tuxes, the works. You’re going to be my date.”
“Why would I do something like that?”
“Because although every member of her security staff believes she’s spends most of the year in France, I don’t think Elaine Gaboriault has left her current address since she moved here.”
Max waited for more.
“The woman hasn’t missed a single one of these charity balls in about 20 years.”
“She’s gonna be there?” Max sat up in her seat. “Like in real life punchable person?”
“She sure is.” Logan said. “And the fundraiser database has her listed as an attendee and donator for the auction. It’s a real famous one too. Always brings money from all over the world to do some big spending and tax write offs all in one go.”
“Okay?” Max nodded. “Now get to the good part that you aren’t telling me.”
“The database included another piece of info for the VIP seating arrangements.” He said. “Dr. Gaboriault will be requiring two seats. That means she’s bringing a guest.”
Logan looked over at Max when she didn’t respond.
“You don’t think—“
“I have no idea what to think.”
Max slumped back against her window.
“Looks like I’m going dress shoppin’ again.”
By the time they had passed the second floor with no flashing red lights and a keening siren, Alec got the picture.
No voice was going to start booming over an intercom to inform them that they were in violation of regulations. The motion detection alarms were going to stay dead no matter how many cameras they passed. The doctor’s wards were apparently allowed free reign of their environment. It made perfect sense not to waste time and energy confining any of them to solitary rooms when the house itself was one immense and highly proficient lockdown.
And practically empty.
But a budding career in theft on the outside had taught Alec that no house was completely bare no matter how it might appear. Everyone had a place where they kept the good stuff hidden away from those inclined to take it. He thought of the forbidden cutlery that Gabriel had somehow made off limits. A knife, even if it had been created to spread butter, would be a useful tool if he could get his hands on one.
He trailed the other X5 through another hall and down a back staircase that would have been installed for servants had there been any present. If Alec was speculating that the clones had been raised and kept here for the majority of their lives, his assumption was reinforced by the effortless navigation the impaired transgenic employed around every step and corner. The few obstacles of furniture or a shut door were dealt with no trouble whatsoever. By the time they reached their destination, Alec had half forgotten that his guide couldn’t see or hear a thing.
To his unmitigated joy, they had arrived to a kitchen.
Catching sight of another touch screen, Alec tried activating the overhead lamps but they didn’t work. Most of the house’s electrical system seemed like it had never been hooked up at all. Only the bare minimum had been bothered with and it appeared to be confined to a room to room basis. With a house filled with X5s, Alec guessed making sure everything was well lit wasn’t really a huge priority. He pulled open what looked like the first of three industrial sized refrigerators and was happy to see they were functioning fine. There were provisions and lots of them.
So besides the formal family dining they were meant to feed, clothe, and take care of themselves? No wonder none of them were beating the doors down to get out of here. Alec’s speculation was disrupted by the sight of a roasted chicken and several plastic drawers filled with fresh fruit. He hadn’t seen this much good food in one place in a real long time.
“It’s like you read my mind.” Alec mumbled to his savior.
He paused uncertainly and regarded the quiet transgenic with slight suspicion.
“You can’t do that can you? Read minds?”
Daniel unwittingly disproved that unlikelihood by knocking the counter to attract the attention he’d already unknowingly had.
“Go ahead.” Alec tapped the counter back in response. “I’m listening. Or looking. Or whatever.”
The kitchen was lit dimly only by the open fridge but Alec caught the gist of the rapid hand signs. There was definitely an “extra”, a “cheese” and “make it quick” in there. Alec blinked when he realized he’d just been demanded to make a sandwich with specifications.
“Great. A smartass.” Alec found real sliced cheese that wasn’t the processed kind. “Must be another gem in that whole predisposition thing.”
He tossed a loaf of bread on the table and searched around a surprising amount of normal everyday fare. It was above average, but standard nonetheless. There were no stock military rations to be seen. No pure protein formulas. No chilled vials of vitamin supplements labeled for each recipient. With a small sound of disbelief he felt his fingertips graze bumps of braille tags that were helpfully placed on all the assorted food. If this doctor knew anything than she should know that even if someone got cute and switched the mayo with the mustard that an impaired X5 would be able tell the difference probably before an able one would. But the thing was that she did know that. Alec sighed at the sight of Daniel sitting at the end of the counter and observing his activity attentively with his pale off centered gaze.
The effort to identify items for the blind X5 seemed more like a polite courtesy or an act of kindness. His thoughts turned unwillingly to the immune deficient transgenic fighting to keep a tenuous hold on life in a medical ward somewhere within the building. He ground his teeth at the image of the doctor patiently monitoring the frail transgenic’s vitals throughout the night and into the dawn.
Alec angrily slammed the fridge closed and immediately felt like an asshole when the act caused Daniel to jerk in his seat.
But Alec just didn’t get it. He didn’t want to get it. He couldn’t figure out what was worse. Being treated like a mindless machine back in that factory in Wyoming or being gently handled like a subservient and equally mindless house pet.
Daniel distracted him with some more signing.
Apparently he wanted some milk to go with that chow Alec was busy not preparing. His aching stomach prompted him to get back to the task at hand. Instead of shoving what he found directly into his mouth, he forced himself to assemble it into sandwiches like a human being. As he worked, Alec looked around the room and considered how much more of the mansion was available to wander unhindered in. Gazing through the opposite doorway that continued out into the dark maze of the corridors, he wondered where the doctor’s other prized failures might be kept.
The weird joke about the angel in the basement flashed unpleasantly in his head.
Alec sat down heavily with the results of his hasty labor and slid the second plate in front of the other X5. The blind transgenic flipped the bread over to check if the request for extra cheese had been fulfilled. A leaf of lettuce was detected and picked off before he proceeded to reconstruct the sandwich and begin eating it. The discovery of the container of milk was accompanied by a brief search for a glass that Alec forgot to include. Upon not finding one, Alec appreciated it when the clone just went ahead and drank from the carton.
“I don’t worry you at all, huh?” He asked as he took some of the milk for himself. “That’s okay. Feeling is mutual.”
Eating in the dark had never bothered Alec much.
It sure as hell didn’t bother Daniel.
Cross posted to jam_pony_fic