Continued in Sequel: Traces
Disclaimers: DA & characters are owned by their various creators.
Logan had compulsively checked his watch over and over again.
He was half hoping Alec would miraculously reappear and half-praying he wouldn’t come back anywhere near the place. When he heard the steady tread of swift footfalls coming down the hall he braced himself as to which transgenic would be the one to walk through the front door.
Max took one look into his eyes and Logan knew she realized that Alec was no longer safely laying in the dark of his bedroom. They had quickly agreed they had to get back to Logan’s place to get anything off the police bands and hopefully some clue as to where Alec might be. They had to find him before anyone else did. They had to find him before the X5 did something that set him off on the sector security net like a red flare fired into a night sky.
Logan felt the comforting feel of entering his own home, the knowledge that his system was there waiting for his use and his contacts within immediate easy reach. He could do something here. He could act instead of sitting in a dark apartment waiting for others to do it for him.
“So,” He began as he settled behind his workstation. “First things first…”
“He’ll be trying to stay low, avoid the cops, avoid people. Avoid everyone.” Max said.
Logan considered her words and glanced back at her over his shoulder. "By the way, I never knew you X5s didn't... discriminate."
Max dropped her backpack on the floor and shrugged. "Why would we?" Despite the cold room her cheeks were blushed, and she seemed nervous and on edge.
"What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing, why what's wrong with you?" She shot back.
Logan dragged a hand across his face. "Honestly? I'm not sure." He still felt flushed and slightly dazed. He thought it might have been simple adrenaline but now, still feeling the effects so much later, he doubted it.
Max suddenly looked embarrassed and she averted her eyes. "It'll wear off, don't worry."
"Whatever they gave him packed a punch, even in a normal cycle it can effect any other trans who gets near them, um, it can make you--"
"Oh." Logan interrupted shortly, saving her from having to explain any further. Another perk of his blood transfusion with Max. Now he could suffer some mild effects of what it was to be an X5. "That's um, convenient. I guess."
"You know Manticore, efficiency all the way." She grumbled and slumped back into a leather chair.
Logan's computer monitors were sliding through reams of police reports and traffic station data bases for any word of any activity that would indicate Alec, or anyone that sounded like him out in the city.
He paused when a window popped up. It wasn’t a sector tag but it was a little strange. It seemed like more than half of the city satellite surveillance system had been reallocated into some other utility function. Bringing up his hack program to look past its encoded file description, he quickly saw what it was if not who exactly was using it. Seemed like it was rigged to monitor fairly specific body heat signatures in key hubs of the city center. He tapped at his keyboard to read further.
It was so specialized that Logan wasn’t even sure what use it would be in an overpopulated city with about as many vehicles to set it off as it had people. And it seemed to have only been in use for almost precisely two weeks.
“Did you say Alec started acting strangely about a couple weeks ago? About a week before he stopped going to work?”
“Yeah, I think so. Why?” She asked while plucking a marble polished sphere from off his coffee table.
"You got something?" Max prompted impatiently.
"Not sure." Logan murmured thoughtfully, turning in his chair to watch her roll the round sculpture in her hands. "Hey Max? If you were Alec, where would you go?"
She was shaking her head. "I've already thought about that. He could have gone anywhere."
"Well, he has no sector pass and he's not exactly thinking straight." Logan thought out loud and turned back to his computer. "You said he’d avoid people. What if he went somewhere where there was no one else... somewhere he knew he'd be alone..."
"Alone?" Max snorted. "In Seattle? Name one part of the city that you could be--"
Logan turned when she abruptly stopped. "Max?”
She stood. "I know where he is."
Max paused on her way towards the door.
Logan quickly moved towards the mechanical exoskeleton that sat in the corner.
“I’m coming with you.”
Night was as good as any camouflage for certain types.
It was easy to slip through the sagging fence and through the rusted brambles of barbed wire. Simple to find the long since busted emergency exit door held into place by one last badly bent hinge. A vast empty gutted lobby that had once held crowds of people now only kept silence. Stacked tattered piles of abandoned moldy mattresses from the squatters and garbage bags that bled trash out onto the floor.
He ignored it all. He had to go up.
Moving like a ghost up the unlit stair well, he felt the broken glass of smashed beer bottles crunch under his bare feet as he climbed each step. Most people were afraid to come here late at night. Like most of the city, all its bright open places had long since turned into the darkest. The countless homeless that would use a knife for whatever you happened to have in your wallet. The strung out dopers that would do a lot more for a lot less. The gangs that brutally roamed their allotted territories. The sector patrols that did the same thing but just with a badge and permission. But even after those common street dangers, they weren’t the ones that should really keep most of the city citizens behind locked doors in the early morning hours.
It was the type that weren’t afraid to come out to a place like this in the middle of the night that were the ones you really had to be worried about. That type was capable of just about anything. Even a few things you hadn’t even thought of.
People like him.
With his forced speed, it hadn’t taken long at all to find there were no more steps to climb. He moved through the dark, sensing the shift in the stale hanging air. It grew cooler. More humid. Filled with the city grit from the outside. The clear cold up here somehow cleared his head a little bit. The sedatives that Max had given him dulled his edge and kept the buzz of his thoughts momentarily untangled, but he felt like it had unanchored him somewhere. He was adrift in his own body. An impersonal observer of his own muted frantic compulsions.
Alec shivered in the steady night wind that flowed through the looming shattered windows. But the trembling had nothing to do with the low temperature and his lack of anything but thin sweatpants. Some of the windows had been halfheartedly patched up with lengths of plastic tarp but the majority of it was open to the elements.
It had been a place of importance once. Gatherings of people in a monument to the fair city, a piece of art amongst architecture. From a time before the Pulse when you could take all the time and money in the world for things that had no purpose outside of its aesthetic. He had been taught all about art and music but nothing had been given to him for the intention of pleasure or amusement. They had been installed in him like tools for use on the outside. Alec wondered sometimes if his handlers at Manticore ever suspected he would feel anything more than the bland rote facts of those things.
He crouched in one of the empty metal frames that once held a thick pane of glass to look out at the glittering expanse of the city that lay all around him. It was almost pretty from here. Distance could make a lot of things look a lot better. Like watching the flicker of the far off power transformers or the red green dull sparkle of the landfill barges out in the harbor. The braver artists came up here sometimes, their swirls and edges of paint covering the surface of the outside of the saucer like top of the tower. It was easy to get caught if you weren't careful and no young tagger wanted jail time for the trouble. Because of the substantial risk, it was something of note when one of them managed one of their manic murals up here.
You could see new ones appear on the observation disc's belly from down on the street. Alec often wondered who they were and how in some way they had kept the tower what it had been meant to be. Useless aesthetic. The humanity that rioted against the lost notion of an object being beautiful for its own sake. It was nice to know that someone still wanted to know that not everything had to be for something.
He had wanted that. He had wanted to not be constructed for a purpose. Or at least just be allowed to forget he had been.
Alec stood at the edge and looked down into the noisy streets below. The wind blew straight up, bringing the smells of the unchecked auto exhaust, the slow and barely functioning sanitation system, the under laying scent of the street vendors frying meat and dough in oil... all the way down there.
It would be easy to take one more step. Not even his body could take the 600-foot drop into the street. He ground the heels of his palms into his eyes. Every time he thought he'd reached some normality to be like anyone else, to push back what he'd been and what he'd seen, it always came back. There would always be some reminder that his creation had been more purposeful than most. Maybe this was it. This was the time he should just acknowledge that his life would never be any better or separate from the men that had created it. They could do this to him. In fact, they had the capacity to do a lot more and a lot worse. But they couldn't stop him from ending himself if he wanted.
They couldn't control that.
He thought of the look on Max’s face as she had studied him in the dim light of his room. Alec shut his eyes and clenched his jaw at the thought of the pain he had heard in Logan’s voice and the fear in his eyes. The pills had settled fully into his system. His limbs felt like dead weight. His eyesight was beginning to blur, his vision going nauseatingly in and out of focus. A sudden wave of dizziness made him stumble backwards just a little.
"Careful 494. You wouldn't want to fall."
Alec swung around at the sound of the voice.
Agent Ames White was standing in the shattered window and regarding him like he’d just ran upon him during a pleasant cocktail party. Dressed always in a carefully pressed suit, he stepped out onto the tower and looked around appreciatively at the sprawling view.
"You know after bagging three X5s in the first day we thought that maybe that was all there was in the city."
Alec made and unmade his fists, struggling to push back the noise in his head and concentrate on his surroundings. White wouldn’t have come here alone.
"You've been hiding from me for quite a while, I'm impressed you held out this long." The other man admitted.
“You know me…” Alec felt a wave of dulled anger when he heard his voice waver noticeably. “I love a challenge.”
White walked closer, his eyes appraising the transgenic with interest. "Your fellow 5s were exposed for only 24 hours. Your saturation must be literally off the charts."
"That’s one way of putting it." Alec mumbled, his gaze going back over to the edge of the precipice.
Ames White didn’t miss the intention behind the gesture.
"You didn't come here to do that did you?" The agent was skeptical and slightly disgusted. "It’s a little dramatic... don't you think?"
"W-What are you doing here?"
"You boys have an extra special infrared mark when you're in the mood." White explained with a smile. “It’s extremely difficult to trace, you really have no idea.”
Alec felt his muscles shudder and twitch under the sedatives.
"We even had to use the skynet. In fact, it takes so much of the sub system that we were ordered to take it down this very evening.” White breathed a small laugh of wonder and shook his head. “A few more hours and we would have never have found you.”
“G-Guess it’s my-my lucky day then.” Alec stammered, fighting the urge to sink down to his knees and press his hands to the metal surface to steady himself.
“So to speak.” White shrugged. “If I had never found you, you would have just eventually died in whatever dark hole you had buried yourself away in."
His head was reeling, his stomach churning; he couldn’t keep his eyes focused on anything.
"It's quite amazing isn't it 494, just how much of our lives are left to chance?"
If Alec could have worked his mouth enough to speak he would have disagreed.
He swayed and faltered. His knees coming down numb against the tower surface and his hands coming out to stop the rest of his fall. His heart was thudding too fast and too hard, he couldn’t breathe. The wind gusted up over the lip of the deck, strong and near frigid on his perspiring skin.
“It’s time to go 494.” White informed him. His men finally appeared out of the shadows of the tower windows and took an easy formation behind the agent.
Alec felt himself shaking his head. He couldn’t go back. He listened to the agent slowly approach and leisurely kneel down beside him. With a hard grip in his hair, White lifted his head to look him in the eye.
Alec looked back at him, the strong scent of White mingling with that of his men. He felt the unyielding pull of their mere presence and blinked back the hot wetness in his eyes of helpless outrage. The chemistry coursing through him was relentless and sickeningly undiscerning. He was so tired. So used up. He could barely summon enough to even glare back at the agent that held him.
“Time to come home.”
There was only one thing left for him to do. With a low desperate growl, he took hold of whatever was left in his engineered body that was still his and tried to wrench himself free. A little surprised but mostly indulgent, White allowed him.
Alec staggered to a shaking stand, casting one look at White and his men before he moved towards the edge. He wouldn’t be going with them anywhere. It would end. All of it. Right here and right now. Just a few steps and he’d be hearing nothing but the roar of wind rushing past until he and all the world would suddenly and blissfully just stop—
“Not quite yet.” White whispered in his ear.
Alec felt his hands go weakly to the arm hooked strong around his neck, the other arm firmly across his chest. Keeping him in check, keeping him from taking the final and last step he needed to never be under anyone’s hands ever again. His eyes burned with tears as he felt his body react to the one pressed up against him even now. He cried out in disgust and the last desperate shreds of anger he owned when White spun him around to firmly hold him by the chin.
“Shhhhh.” White breathed and thumbed away a falling tear across the X5’s cheek.
Alec felt himself start to shake again with the maddening smell and proximity of another human being. The direct skin on skin contact drove his senses past what he thought had been his breaking point and right into beyond all rationality. His hands spasmodically gripped at White’s sleeves, somehow trying to shove him away and draw him closer at the same time. Watching him with amusement, Ames White’s expression began to shift slightly. His easy smile flickered and died. The agent’s chest heaved once in a strong inhale and he blinked slowly. The rest of his stern gaze faded in an instant and was replaced with something else.
His hand gripped hard around Alec’s damp bicep, his other on the slick sweat that beaded along Alec’s jaw. Alec felt the hands on his body begin to shake ever so slightly. He could feel White’s breath on his neck as he leaned closer in some kind of curious and tentative examination. He could feel the bruising hold on his arm slide to the back of his neck to hold him up when he started to weakly sag, no longer able to support himself. Alec bit back a moan when the agent’s cheek lightly grazed his own as White inhaled deeply again. The thumb that had brushed away his tears slid across his lower lip, forcing his mouth open slightly to brush against his tongue.
The subdued touch turned suddenly into violent agitation.
Like he had suddenly realized he was in direct contact with something toxic or foul, White quickly pulled his hands away and let the transgenic drop down limply to the ground. White cleared his throat and began to shake his head back and forth as if he was trying to clear it.
"I can smell you." Alec murmured up to him. The words weren't slurred or faint, his focus was full and on the agent above him.
The low tone of his voice was filled with all the danger he had known lurked under his surface. The danger he had tried so hard to keep away from the world.
White swallowed and angrily dragged a hand across his own damp brow.
Alec watched the dazed reaction with fascination. "You smell like an X."
White stared down at him hard, his heart visibly racing in his chest. Alec liked that the other man suddenly had nothing much to say. He felt a small pained grin come to his face as he struggled to sit up.
"You did this to me." Alec wasn't asking a question.
These men and the secrets they owned and played with. Why were they always so shocked when their toys turned out to be something that could spin completely out of their control? They thought they knew it all. They thought they knew enough to do this to him and expect nothing could go wrong.
"Y-you thought you had us all figured out did ya?"
"So what about you Ames?" Alec asked, his grin fading. "Learn anything new?"
"Shut up." The agent’s voice didn't sound much like his own.
Alec returned his stare. "Do you want me to teach you?"
"I said SHUT UP!"
Alec’s chin dropped to his chest as he softly laughed. The agent spoke loudly and firmly over his shoulder.
“Prep him before he goes under for good!” White ordered, his trembling tight fists betraying the calm in his voice. “Then load him up.”
His men exchanged looks from behind him, slightly reassured when it seemed his momentary confusion had passed and was replaced once again with his careful confidence. Alec let his head roll back and felt his eyes slip closed as they approached. He had noticed one thing about the return of Ames White’s familiar neutral expression.
The grin he had worn all during their little reunion was now missing.
Logan followed Max even though she had attempted to leave him standing out in the street by the car.
She moved too fast for him to stay close behind but he quickly found the well used makeshift entrance to the tower and the only logical way up the stairs. He carefully made his way up the winding steps with his flashlight trained upwards and his ears wide open for any signal from Max above. Besides his own footsteps, there was only a silence tinged by muted traffic noise. Logan paused on the stairs, the buzz of the servos in his exco going quiet when he halted.
He took in a deep breath and then another. The faint wisp of scent he had experienced in Alec’s apartment drifted vaguely to him in the air. Burnt crush of sugar and the heavy pleasant weight of something else under it all. The faint lingering scent of it could be easily detected over the dust and years of grime that permeated the place.
Max was right. Alec had come this way. And probably not that long ago.
Encouraged, Logan quickened his pace. Even with the aid of the military brace he wore he was still slightly breathless when he reached the top. He took a moment before venturing into what was the old observation deck of the structure. Keeping his flashlight off he rounded the corner cautiously and was surprised to spot Max immediately.
She was standing very still at one of the many tall windows that had long since turned into open gaping holes. A cursory glance around and her lack of apparent worry seemed to indicate they were all alone.
“Max?” He asked quietly. Even with the wind and the honking horns down below he knew she’d hear him.
“He’s not here.” She said.
Logan walked towards her.
“How do you know?” He knew he didn’t have to tell her about the traces of Alec’s passage up through the stairwell.
She turned and tossed something to Logan. He caught it awkwardly as she brushed past him back towards the stairs. That telltale scent wafted up out of the wadded fabric in his hands. Confused, he examined what Max had found. It was the pair of black sweat pants Alec had been wearing. The sides had been cut in perfect straight lines down and across the seams. He blinked down at it.
Logan thoughts flickered briefly to his own moments long ago waking up to the sound of men with urgent voices. Equipment and tools used to remove his clothing to better examine his injuries and wounds. When you were in a hurry it was easier to use a blade than the time to be careful. The medical staff had given him his clothing back much later and Logan had never quite understood why.
They had cut it all to shreds off his body and made it useless.
He looked back towards Max grimly.
“Well,” He sighed. “What do you want to do?”
“I want to find him.”
Logan nodded and held up the black cloth that had been almost surgically dissected apart.
“Then first we find out who did this.”