Sequel to: Heat
Rating: PG - Gen (Ratings subject to change)
Disclaimers: DA & characters are owned by their respective creators.
Alec didn’t feel so great.
It wasn't as if the daily streams that broadcasted the bleak world news were giving him the blues. Nor was it the fact that the rent was three months late. The lingering threat of his astounding balance due, he had to admit, had put a permanent sour feeling in stomach but his current state of craptastic was surprisingly unrelated to any of those things.
At least he had a temporary remedy for the debt.
“I don’t know how you did it.” The man shook his head. “But the expression on my face means I am impressed.”
Alec really couldn’t tell any difference in the guy’s features since he’d been convinced to put the semi-automatics away.
The even spread of cash on the table wasn’t even close to what was owed, but it was an impressive beginning to a decent start. Alec knew this man had no interest in his death other than the brief cheap thrill of watching some debt laden brains splatter on a wall. A live breathing earner was of more much use than a split second of messy entertainment. He tried to be pleased about the fact that he wasn’t dead but all he could concentrate on was the pounding pain hammering in his skull. Working double shifts at the Pony and trying to keep all his other gigs up in the air was starting to really wear him down.
The only thing that wasn’t currently breaking Alec’s back happened to be the thugs standing around him. They were too busy happily counting more money than they thought anyone was capable of providing in the unfeasible time frame they had created. But Alec knew that his personal jeopardy was extended right along with his execution date. Once the impossible had been performed, people tended to expect nothing less.
The large man with the shaved head gave him an appraising look. Usually news of any of the big moves within the city’s financial infrastructure made its way down through the underground grapevine. Alec’s unexpected score was large enough that it should have made it into the digital press releases, even if it was one of the back pages past all the other more exciting unsolved crimes. But Alec knew there wouldn’t be any news of this heist. This score had been made in 60 minutes right in his own living room.
“You workin’ outside of town?”
Alec considered telling the truth about how he’d acquired the clean crisp stacks of money and felt his face get hot. It was interesting to realize the sensation as being shame. His vision swam for a moment as his headache decided to thrum in full volume. Rubbing his forearm across his face, he wiped away a light sweat even though the day was cold and near frigid.
“Got something going north of Sector 32.” Alec lied. “It’s good for a few more months.”
“Better be.” The man folded the stash away into the depth of his desk. “My interest rate still stands.”
“Right.” Alec sighed. “So? Again this time next Friday?”
“It’s a date.”
Sessions with his new source of income had begun to feel a lot like that.
Only one lamp was on in the corner, the dull light of the cloudy morning filling up half his apartment with its murk and leaving the rest in shadow. Alec flipped the small square of paper in his fingertips. For a business card it was strangely devoid of information. The medium itself was even more than a bit antiquated, a courtesy from way before the Pulse.
The card's layout was sparse, printed on unremarkable stock. It had been fashioned to function, not impress. There was no title or hint of representation. Just one phone number and a name in a font he would have expected to be in some long flowing script.
Ms. Elaine Gaboriault
They had met uneventfully three times so far.
He kept waiting for the carefully catalogued inquiries to shift into something else. Some part of him kept expecting the entire scene to sooner or later involve the small bed in the corner. However, every probing off color joke he’d attempted to test her intentions had been consistently rebuked with growing repugnance. Her offense at the notion that her presence was deemed in any way untoward gave him a certain measure of relief. The recollections of how his chemistry had been manipulated hadn’t faded into a nice rosy memory. He could still feel the hands of the men who had observed his unchecked biology with clinical curiosity. The understanding of how effortlessly they had rendered him vulnerable still made him want to sit in the dark of his apartment until he disappeared. The distinct recall of Ames White’s voice in his ear still made him want to crawl under his blankets until the dawn forced him out again.
It was easier to think of placing money in the hands of the gentleman in Sector 7 who would end his existence if it stopped flowing. With the rate he was being compensated for meaningless questions, he wouldn’t have to keep indulging this intrusive diversion of a wealthy lunatic much longer.
Alec just had to stick to the game plan and everything would be fine.
He was usually asked to be in his home with strict instruction on how his fee would be compromised if he didn’t comply exactly with his strange benefactress’s stipulations. Rules weren’t anything Alec had never seen before, and as far as regulations went, hers weren’t all that difficult to follow.
Be on time.
Answer the questions.
But what was of entertainment to Alec was the fact that she never arrived alone. She had appeared every visit with a substantially armed escort that waited outside the door. The gesture seemed more like insurance against the shitty neighborhood Alec resided in, and little to do with Alec himself. The utter lack of fear amused as much as it mildly insulted him.
If his life as it was did not depend on blind cooperation and unmarked cash, he would have ended this before it had even begun.
She was dressed slightly different this time.
Watching her cross her legs he realized that she seemed to find her appearance incidental even though obvious care had been taken in making her graying hair blond and her creased face smoother. Trying not to match her body language he let his legs sprawl out in front of him. He dressed a lot like she did in a way. It was a uniform to blend in with the world. It was a ploy to look like everyone else without being obvious with the objective. Alec idly wondered how often this old lady left the fortress she had tucked out there behind miles of fence and all the security good credit could buy.
"What's your favorite color?" She asked.
She didn’t appear satisfied with the one that automatically came to mind. He had heard a lot of people make a lot of delightful associations of color with the sky so he went for what he observed without fail on a day to day basis. With some afterthought, he figured not many people chose the gloomy shade to describe their personal heartfelt connection to the broad spectrum of light. Unsure of what would be better believed, his vivid recall went to a box of crayons he had once seen.
She seemed to like his second response a lot more, and as soon as the words were out of his mouth she was back typing in her electronic notebook.
He kept waiting for her to call him on his bullshit but no such thing happened.
Alec let the analytic portion of his mind run the sentences back and forth searching for some connecting thread. Whatever her intentions were, she wasn’t giving any of them away. There was never any gracious effort to gently alleviate his obvious mounting aggravation.
When a pause lasted longer than usual, Alec shifted in his seat and decided to break one of the cardinal rules.
“So,” he asked. “You writing a book or something?”
Instead of telling him to be quiet, she didn’t acknowledge the query at all.
“Have you ever killed a human being, Alec?”
Alec kept his breathing pattern as unaffected as his expression. After a grand total of three hours spent gathering all his mundane details, the shift of tone gave him pause. But he had been waiting restlessly for the weird to get weirder. Manticore flashed in his head like a warning sign but with a few extra beats of his heart, the surge of anxiety passed. Murder was by no means the exclusive business of his former handlers. The city was ripe with so much casual slaughter in numbers so large that it was simply another percentile under the moving ticker on the news.
The question actually put him at ease.
Maybe she was hoping he’d performed a few transgressions that never reached the overloaded local detectives. X5-494 had done a few things that would make this pale woman get even paler and do some serious rethinking about her self assured personal safety. But she wasn’t asking an X5. She was asking Alec and he had never inflicted anything on another person that they couldn’t walk away from.
“No.” He answered, taking pleasure in playing the game back at her with the purposeful lack of embellishment.
Alec fought his smile when he saw her blatant disappointment.
“Thank you. That's all for today.”
Alec’s gaze flickered to the clock. He was relieved that the session was inexplicably ending sooner than specified, but simultaneously concerned that it might cut into the pay. He relaxed a little when the cash placed on the table didn’t appear to be any less than what he had been receiving.
“I’d like to see you again next week,” she said as she carefully shut down the computer and gathered her purse. “At the same time.”
“Sure,” Alec mumbled. “Whatever you want I guess.”
“Not here,” she added as she stood, her cloudy eyes meeting his for the first time since she started the day’s interview. “I’d like you to come to my home.”
Alec’s thoughts turned to the mile long wind of the monitored drive way.
He remembered the AxiumIII security system with automated artillery that could cut you into so many pieces there would be nothing left to put in a bag. He thought about who would give a shit if those barred doors shut on him and he was never seen again. The list was short, as was the waning patience of the people on it. With his talent for wandering too far into the deep end, he knew the next time he vanished under the surface that he wouldn’t blame a soul involved if they decided to step away and wish him the best of luck.
“No way.” He said.
She looked nonplussed for a moment but then she nodded.
“I understand," she nodded. “I’ll double your fee.”
He grit his teeth at the thought of the cash he needed more than air at the moment. Bracing himself, he decided right then and there that he’d figure something else out. This bizarre experiment in revenue had gone as far as it would go. It would be a really desperate leap, but he could try to work something else out within the circles of the city’s black market. If worse came to worse, he could call on some of that violence that this woman was so eager to hear about.
“Forget it,” Alec liked saying it. He liked seeing that sure look on her face turn into unease. “We’re through here lady. Whatever you wanted I hope you got it.”
“I’ll triple it.”
Now that he had privately decided the business relationship was over, Alec let himself enjoy how her voice wavered as she pulled her bag closer. He wasn’t going to be calling anyone. She could sit next to that phone until the sun winked out before she’d be hearing his voice on the line. The tall thin woman seemed to read his sudden resoluteness like he’d given her a physical shove towards the door.
“You have my card,” she said curtly. “Please use it if you should change your mind.”
After he shut the door behind her, his mind was already dividing up the sum she’d left into parcels.
Some he could double on a few games. Another piece could go to a few pool matches that he would definitely be winning. But even with that he wouldn’t come close to doubling what he was being handed just for talking. He could put off the collector in Sector 7 for another week at most, after that he had to come up with another way to pay them off or he’d have to leave town. The headache he’d been foiling all day long with pure will power alone was getting worse.
He ground a knuckle into his forehead, the burning twinge growing into a white hot knot.
Sliding down the door, he slumped onto the floor and felt a wave of nausea roil up the back of his throat. Throughout the interview all he could think about was getting out of this room and hitting the nearest and cheapest noodle stall on the street. Now the thought of a steaming bowl of greasy broth made him want nothing at all. Holding his stomach, he walked to his fridge and pulled out a bottle of fizzy water. Gulping some of it down, he pushed his hand curiously over his forehead and was vaguely surprised to detect an elevated temperature.
“Aw, that’s great,” Alec groaned. “That’s perfect.”
He’d succumbed to the ordinary viral infections that plagued the masses before. The rarity of the occurrence made it even more spectacularly unpleasant.
The alarm clock alarm went off and forced him to think about clothes and the location of his jacket.
He had to be on the Jam Pony floor in precisely forty-five minutes. Speculating when exactly the fun filled experience of fending off some microorganisms would become full blown, he dragged another layer on before he shrugged on his coat.
Unpleasant or not, necessity had a way of forcing you right on along.
Crash hadn’t evolved much since Logan had first laid eyes on it.
Logan prided himself in avoiding most social scenes of any kind but it was a shabby excuse on the off chance he might run into her. It was as obvious as it looked but he didn’t care. Subterfuge and games were second nature by now. He’d play for as long as he had to. Even in a dark room filled with horrible music and pot smoke so thick he could get a contact high.
"Drinking all alone is sign of dependency."
Logan looked up in surprise at Alec. "Nice to see you too," he greeted in return. "Didn't see you come in."
The transgenic took a seat and shrugged off his jacket.
The clean scent of Alec's sweat cut through the smoke. Even after all this time, Logan expected the warm heavy linger of the X5’s pheromones to flood his senses along with it. However, Alec’s scent had ceased being saturated with the genetically enhanced hormone weeks ago. Embarrassed at his Pavlovian response to Alec’s presence, Logan hid his face by taking another gulp of his beer. How much longer was this charming little side effect going to last? Knowing what the transgenics could read off others, he sincerely prayed that his awkwardness wasn’t one of them.
But when he looked back up at Alec, the man wasn’t paying much attention to him at all. He’d procured a glass and was helping himself to the pitcher.
“Think this dump will ever make it onto a terrorist target list?” Alec gave a small unenthusiastic toast to the bar’s deteriorating decor.
Logan heard the edge in Alec’s voice and listened for what was probably going to come next. It wasn’t any surprise that ratting Alec out to Max was going to make the full circle and slap Logan in the face eventually.
“But you know how it is, right Logan? When a guy finds a spot to get comfortable, someone always has to be a buzz kill and burn it all down.”
Logan found that he honestly didn’t really care if the breach in confidence pissed anyone off as long as he kept all his bases covered. “That reminds me. I found out a few new things about your friend.”
Alec’s meandering gaze swiftly snapped in his direction. Logan watched the transgenic fail to feign disinterest for a few moments while pretending to test his beer.
“Well?” Alec finally asked. “Like what?”
“I found out she is connected to the Gaboriault family out on the east coast, but she’s lived here for a long time,” Logan said. “Almost twenty years.”
“19 years and 4 months,” Alec slumped back in his chair. “Public records are for anybody, Logan.”
“She’s a doctor.”
Logan blinked at the sudden and certain way Alec had assumed the variation of physician.
“No? She practiced neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. She rotated through some Universities until she retired into the private sector.” He sipped his beer. “Right about when she moved here actually.”
“But what does she want?”
Logan abruptly realized Alec was withholding a somewhat larger and more disturbing picture.
He had been wondering why there would be so much interest in this random woman out in Sector 12. While he expected Alec to be looking to milk the situation in one way or another, the X5 had never come to Logan for aid to fleece someone out of their locked up valuables. Alec only came looking for him when he had no where else to go and he needed help. And a man like Alec never went looking for anyone unless he was scared.
Knowing he had to phrase whatever he was going to say the right way, Logan gave himself a moment to think.
“This-This Elaine Gaboriault?” he began. “She’s been in contact with you?”
Alec looked like all he wanted to do was get up and leave. His expression was pure misery as he looked forlornly at the far off exit across the room.
“Alec look, I don’t want to do anything but help okay?”
Logan heard the soft tone in his voice that all the X5s he knew hated to hear. Unlike the children they seemed most of the time, the adults they actually were rightfully loathed anything they perceived as remotely condescending.
At least he knew that was the song and dance with Max.
With Alec he had to admit that he felt something else entirely. The young man’s fragile trust in him existed solely because of their short history together. Logan knew this sliver of reliance had been earned because of what had happened. This transgenic had lain in Logan’s very own bed and allowed himself assistance when he had been too weak to lift a hand. Logan knew what kind of pride had to be set aside after you’d been injured so grievously that life was no longer the same after you opened your eyes. He was no stranger to agony and he was familiar with how bitter humility could taste. Alec’s fear was that any trust he gave would be misused, exploited or disregarded. All Alec expected from people that knew what he was, was to be used by them.
The terrible thing was that the transgenic was completely right.
If Alec’s radar had been tripped than there was probably a pretty good reason for it. Ever since White had got him back into the system, the existence of X5-494 must have carried through the remnants’ of Manticore like a flame through a fuse. Logan had warned him that his recapture and subsequent escape would place him back on a few most wanted lists.
He just had no idea it might happen this soon.
“I can arrange for you to leave the city,” Logan said. “Tonight. I have safe houses all the way to—“
“It’s not like that.” Alec mumbled.
“Like what, Alec?” Logan heard the frustration in his voice but he couldn’t stop it.
“I don’t think—I don’t think she’s—“
Logan heard the word Manticore as clearly as if it had been spoken.
“I don’t know,” Alec said quietly. “I don’t know what she was.”
“But it’s all over,” Alec assured him. “It’s done with.”
Logan’s thoughts flew in every direction at once. Before he could demand something a bit more straight forward, they were interrupted.
“Hey, Logan.” Max gave Alec a small nod in turn.
Logan frequently noted that when the transgenics greeted each other, they reverted to their senses and simple eye contact.
“What’s wrong with you?” She asked Alec.
Max’s blunt gauge was based on a very different set of averages that the typical human being used to judge one another. Distracted by her arrival, Logan looked back at Alec and tried to reassess what he saw. What he had observed earlier as simple fatigue did seem to border close to something else.
“Nothing,” Alec said. “Think I’m getting the flu.”
“You can get the flu?” Logan tried to make it sound like a joke.
All he had wanted that night was for Max to show up and now he wished she’d stayed elusive as usual. With this new audience there was no way Alec was going to say what he had been struggling not to.
“Strange but true,” Max was eyeing him dubiously but shrugged. “I got a nasty one the second year I was out. Looks like the common cold trumps about everything, huh?”
“Yeah.” Alec smiled. “World’s a magical place.”
Logan didn’t like it very much when he was completely aware of when Alec was attempting to seem sincere. He realized he had come to recognize exactly what situations forced the man to deem it necessary. Max began to wander in the direction of a pool game that had gathered a small crowd. Grasping at the fleeting moment of privacy that Alec might communicate in, he turned to see the other transgenic had stood up too.
“Oh,” Alec’s voice lowered as he reached into his pocket. “I-I do have one thing to show you?”
Logan looked down at the business card that Alec had spun across the table. So much for any doubts that this civilian had merely made contact with Alec. Looked like she had met him face to face.
“Seeing on how you're so much older than I am?” Alec grinned tiredly, the same snide method used to accuse shifting to serve as a means of apology. “I figure maybe you’ve seen more of these things than I have.”
“Do yourself a favor, Alec?” Logan felt himself smiling a little back. “Buy some Nyquil.”
“Comes with its own shot glass right?” Alec pointed. “I’ve heard great things.”
Logan watched him walk right past the laughing crowd that was cheering the underdog at the tables. Alec instead headed for the stairs that lead out into the rain soaked night.
Lifting the card off the table, Logan studied its unadorned front and blank back. Reading the flat line of what was now becoming a familiar name, he noted the phone number was prefixed to an actual landline. Logan tucked the card into his wallet and frowned. Although the gesture of a slip of paper was outdated, the meaning behind it still remained the same. In the days of aliases and anonymous computer based correspondence, it was standard fare to be handed a disposal cell phone number. No one gave you personal information like a house address unless they wanted one thing.
It was when someone wanted to make sure they’d stay in touch.
Logan tossed a few bills on the table and decided it was time to call it a night as well. If Dr. Elaine Gaboriault was handing out phone numbers he might as well run it through his database of known government contacts. Maybe even a few lists he had of people the invisible sections of the administration kept on private payrolls. Whatever there was to find, he would dig it up.
Secrets were hard to keep these days.
Especially from a man like him.
Cross posted to jam_pony_fic