Sequel to: Heat
Rating: PG - Gen (Ratings subject to change)
Disclaimers: DA & characters are owned by their respective creators.
“You look like shit.”
Alec pulled his arm off his face and focused on the figure looming over him. Cindy had all her hair pulled up almost comically into a ponytail on the top of her head. Alec knew function when he saw it and he didn’t blame her for casting vanity aside for the exceptionally torrential downpour they were operating in for the day.
“That’s good.” Alec conceded. “Everyone should look exactly how they feel.”
It wasn’t often that a claim of the entire length of the one and only break sofa was to be had. It was the only piece of furniture in the place that was worth attempting to doze on and Alec had never realized its merit until he felt the need for some shut eye himself. Considering how little he got in the privacy of his own apartment, deciding to go into blackout in public made him wonder how bad this flu thing was going to get.
“By the way?” He added. “Nyquil doesn’t do jack.”
Cindy slumped down into a folding chair nearby and let her waterlogged backpack drop to the floor. She was the only person Alec had ever seen that liked to shake their carbonated beverages before opening them. Watching the foam run out over the rim, he fantasized about what a clear glass of water would feel like on his dry burning throat.
“You take the right dose?” She asked. “Ain’t gonna work if you sip the stuff like cognac.”
“I sipped the entire bottle—”
“Alec!” Normal’s voice shut through the incessant chatter of the overhead plasma screen and the street noise clamoring down off the ramp. “You’re up!”
The act of standing made the room lurch a few times before it settled on the correct angle. Alec stretched and felt his lethargic body unwillingly begin to wake up again. It felt like all of his muscles had been replaced with lead and his head had been stuffed with the same. Groaning at the sharp pain that hadn’t faded behind his eyes, he slid a hand over the tightness in his chest as it caused his next inhale to turn into a wheeze. Leaning on the dispatch counter, he waited for the harsh coughing fit to pass before he straightened and held out his hands like he’d just performed some kind of magic trick by staying conscious.
“I eat two oranges a day.” Normal gave him a small confidential nod. “Haven’t had one case of the sniffles since 2009.”
Alec wasn’t sure where you could acquire two healthy live oranges every day when finding some damn toothpaste was like going on a treasure hunt. In the fog of his head, he mentally filed the information away for a later date. Utilizing Normal for the untapped black market fruit trade had never occurred to him, but there was no arguing that his boss knew how to thrive in a world that didn’t make it easy. The electric keen shriek of ringing phones jarred Alec back to the issue at hand. He held up the wrapped stack of boxes that were waiting for him on the counter.
“Where?” It would be better to keep this day and everything in it down to the very basics. “And how fast?”
“10 in 10.” Normal returned the favor.
Sector one-zero in ten minutes. Alec looked despondently back at the sofa.
“That’s a rough one, sugar.” Cindy said from beside him as she collected the next delivery. She gave a sigh of her own when she spotted the address that promised a nice scenic hike out all the way to 36. “But you know what they say? Put up or shut up.”
“I’m putting, I’m putting…” He muttered as he shoved the oblong boxes into his bag.
“Hurry on back.” Normal said. “More where that came from.”
Alec summoned a grin.
“Whatever doesn’t kill ya right?”
Alec hadn’t made the drop in anywhere close to ten minutes.
After hitting the bustling line at the sector point, he had the profound bad luck of seeing a familiar face behind one of the riot helmet visors. Getting pulled out of line for random searches was no new thing, but the first time Alec had won that lame time consuming lottery he hadn’t handled the situation with the grace he thought he could have. It turned out that questioning the possible barnyard origins of the sector cop with the latex gloves wasn’t such a great idea. Although the incident had been months earlier and the cop must have seen thousands of people ever since, the man always managed to spot Alec and pull him out from the teeming crowds.
Being jostled out of line and dragged through a metal detector made Alec grateful for his unique and absent need for firearms. This evening’s pointless inspection included dismantling his bike and turning the waterproof bag inside out in the steady pour of rain. After getting a wand shoved roughly up and around his crotch, he had to hand it to the cop for really knowing how to carry a grudge. Alec knew he should be glad he wasn’t subjected to a body search on top of it all, but the delay had turned the Jam Pony ten minute promise into an hour long wait.
When he finally made it through the doors of the delivery address, he let the slighted customer verbally abuse him for as long as required. It was much warmer and drier in the stuffy basement office than it was out there on the streets anyway. By the end of the business ethics rant that was conveniently orated nearby a toasty heating vent, Alec figured they both probably felt better than they had before they had met. But he’d still been obligated to wheel his ride back out into the miserable weather without any tip to make it worthwhile.
Alec paused under the flimsy shelter of a newsstand’s sagging pagoda to test his recently reconstructed bike. The check point cop had left him to fasten the frame back together himself but he’d been in too much of a hurry to properly test its structural integrity.
Bouncing the wheels on the pavement, he knelt down to check each bolt by touch. He was vaguely concerned at how badly his hands were trembling as he gave each one a hard twist that was as good as a wrench. Righting himself, his gaze caught and lingered on the miniature tiered eaves that the stand’s owner had copied from old Chinese architecture. They had been spray painted a weird shade of red that was almost neon.
For no reason at all, his brain returned to the steady clacking of the woman’s delicate hands over the keyboard in the silence of his apartment.
Although he’d lived most of his life listening, no one had ever asked him so many things before. The stream of endless questions had been the kind that an average human being would have easy answers for. Favorite foods. Favorite numbers. Months of the year. Preferable animals and favored make and models of cars. She had even asked him what his favorite color was. His only frame of reference outside the three primary colors that created every thing else in between was the baffling list he’d once read off a child’s box of crayons. The bizarre names for the shades across the spectrum came flashing back as his mind automatically classified the tint of the obnoxious tiles of the pagoda. flamingo brink pink.
“Can I help you?”
Alec jerked his attention over to the counter set back far enough under the sloping roof to avoid the loud splatter of the storm runoff. Blinking at the old man behind the register, he wasn’t sure how long he might have been standing there blankly admiring the garish paint job.
“S-Sorry.” Alec mumbled.
Strange bouts of loitering were enough to make anyone in any part of town nervous. If you weren’t buying than you were probably selling and drug dealers frequently attracted bullets along with their clientele. He rolled his bike out from under the refuge of the stand and onto the street corner. The icy rain soaked him through again in no time flat, his core temperature lowered enough for muscle tremors to begin in places other than his hands. Dragging a drenched jacket sleeve across his mouth, his breath sluggishly fogged in front of his face.
The dull steady ache in his head suddenly slid across the back of his eyes like a blade’s edge. Pushing a palm into his forehead, he stumbled against the bike as the hissing rush of passing vehicles abruptly tuned down into something far off and distant. His shaking hands clutched the wet handlebars as he waited for the excruciating sensation to fade.
The water streaming in his eyes made the flash of rush hour a blur, but he could see the rosy haze around the lights flicker to a gauzy green. He just had to get back to the Pony and finish his day. He’d take some more of that useless disgusting cough syrup and just—
Alec heard the screech of brakes and the blast of several car horns before he realized the smell of burnt rubber and angry voices was right in front of him. The metallic taste of rainwater mixed with the overpowering reek of spilt gasoline. He watched in bewilderment as rainbow puddles of oil spread and expanded under the glare of headlights.
“What are ya?” The old man asked in disbelief. “Fuckin’ nuts?”
Alec felt the man’s strong grip on the back of his collar and didn’t remember when it had gotten there. He looked back into the distortion of the crosswalk and saw his bike had fallen into the street. The frame was twisted completely in half and lodged under the front end of a crumpled taxicab. People were out of their cars shouting at each other and looking for the owner of the bike.
“You get goin’.” The man pushed Alec in the opposite direction down the sidewalk. “Sleep it off somewhere else.”
There was a flash of deep down cold as he finally comprehended that the guy had yanked him back from stepping right into oncoming traffic. With one last regretful look at the remains of his only means of transportation, he grabbed the strap of his pack and started moving like the stand owner had suggested.
Flicking open his phone he decided to let his boss know he was going to be taking the day off.
It had been a while but he thought he might be in need of a sick day.
Alec normally felt a subtle sink of disappointment whenever he entered his apartment.
It usually meant he was sentenced to a certain amount of hours alone until the world’s cycle started up again and he was needed for its procession. But staggering down his hallway felt like digging down to finish a race to home sweet home. He tried to keep his pace slow so he could use a hand up along the wall to stay the sickening sway of his equilibrium. It took three tries to get the key in before the lock finally turned. The inside of his place felt like a freezer. He would have tried to turn on the heat but he wasn’t sure if he even had any to turn on.
The irritating weight of his backpack blissfully slid off his shoulder like it was filled with rocks instead of being empty. Peeling off his saturated coat, he sat down heavily to tug off his boots one by one. After a few moments he decided it was time he headed for the bathroom before he fell asleep sitting there. Twisting the bath faucet as high as it could go, he removed the shirt that was plastered to his frigid skin, and the even colder sopping jeans.
Not waiting for the water to collect, he lowered his body into the tub knowing that total submersion would raise his temperature faster than using the shower head. Holding his hands under the searing pour from the fount, he splashed the steaming water against his face over and over again. He was still shaking after the water in the tub cooled down enough to make him want to get out. Forgoing clothes, he dragged the blankets on his bed around him and tried to get as comfy as he could. He knew that feeling this hypothermic with a temperature soaring this high was bad news. It didn’t require a doctor to know that sweating while shivering uncontrollably meant your immune system was going into the red.
He thought about what every other person on the planet did when they got this level of sick. They drank lots of water, got lots of sleep and waited it out. He felt a flutter of fear as he thought of the last time he had spent in this bed staring at the ceiling and waiting for the suffering to stop. He swallowed, the ache in his throat making him groan as he considered how much fluid he’d have to subject it to before he could drift off into a temporary coma.
Leaving the blankets behind, he ventured towards his kitchen hoping the bottles of water he had would be enough for at least a day of uninterrupted rest. If he could avoid the hostile precipitation for at least 12 hours it might do the trick—
He stopped with his hand frozen on the cabinet door.
Alec hadn’t noticed it when he had come in.
Distracted by the bone racking chill and the promise of a hot bath, he hadn’t been paying much attention to anything else. The usual pile of take out menus and flyers were a typical sight to find inside his door after he’d been out all day. But there was something lying amongst the usual that wasn’t usual at all. It was a sealed envelope, the kind you’d send old fashioned snail mail in.
Alec’s feverish mind flashed and involuntarily identified the soft homely color of its rain wrinkled paper. custard canary yellow. Numb fingers picked it up out of the pile and studied it. There was nothing on either side but his name neatly printed on its front. It was easy to rip open. Sliding the contents out into his hand, he felt his chest tighten and another wave of dizziness flood nauseatingly through his head. He stared down at the object in his palm that was as uncomplicated as the wrapping it had been delivered in.
Standing up precariously, he took a deep breath as he thought about going back into the solid fall of the rain outside. Fighting his weakened night vision, he fumbled to his knees and dug through a dark closet until he found his warmest clothing. He started to pull it all on despite the many flaws in practicality. The small journey he was about to take would make the protection useless after a half a block out in the relentless deluge. The feel of wet boots back on his feet made his jaw clench, but he forced his unstable hold to tug the laces up as tight as they would go.
Alec pushed a hand down the front of his jeans and felt the thin wad of cash spread between his fingertips. If he had the unfathomable good fortune to find a vacant cab on a night like this he was going to spend a little bit of the money he’d earned. Shutting the door he’d been so happy to see just shortly before, Alec zipped up his coat and headed unsteadily for the elevator.
He touched the inside pocket where the envelope was safest from the damp.
One of these days he was really going to have to invest in an umbrella.
The rain drumming on the tall windows that made up most of the walls of his home had long ago become a comforting sound.
Logan had cleared a space for his chair so he could wheel and sit facing his favorite vantage of the city. Max had asked him once or twice if he ever got sick of the view but he never gave her anything but a smile. Truth was he loved every cliché about the romantic notion that distance created a peace for anything at all. It was false peace but Logan had a vivid imagination and sometimes he could almost believe that the glittering sprawl of the city was as still and hushed as his living room.
The door buzzer went off.
Glancing at his watch, he knew whoever was calling wasn’t here for anything pleasant. But he blinked in confusion at what the close circuit camera revealed behind the door. Of all the informants, double agents and anonymous individuals that kept odd hours, this person was one of the last he’d been expecting to see. Deactivating the lock mechanisms, Logan tugged his chair back so he could get a good look at who was waiting impatiently for him in the hallway.
Logan wanted to explain that he wasn’t shocked at the sight of Alec appearing on his doorstep in the middle of the night. He was in actuality rendered speechless by the fact that the transgenic had actually knocked on his front door instead of breaking in as was customary.
“Come in.” Logan realized he was sitting in the doorway and staring.
“Were you uh, sleeping?”
“Actually, I wasn’t.”
Logan didn’t want to tell him that he’d been staring out the window doing nothing. He quickly decided to detail what he’d been doing all afternoon with his standard business instead.
“I got a hold of some passwords from this contact on the top floors of KenCom. Really great stuff so far, I got into a couple of next year’s fiscal reports that shouldn’t even exist yet let alone—“
“Sounds like good times.”
“You’re soaked.” Logan noticed.
“It’s raining.” Alec said.
The transgenic’s voice was tense and unnatural. It was also the scratchy sound of someone who should probably be under several blankets and healing, not standing around dripping ice water on someone’s drafty foyer floor. Although Logan had seen him the night before, whatever bug he’d caught looked like it had gotten a lot worse. He was about to ask why there was a need to be here in person instead of just using a telephone, but Alec beat him to the punch.
“I found this.”
Logan looked at the crumpled paper that Alec had pulled out of his jacket pocket. He hadn’t seen many of the things outside of old family albums but it wasn’t exactly something to walk across two sectors in the rain for.
“Open it.” Alec held it out.
Logan noted the stiff feel of the stock under the soggy envelope. Pulling out the flowered greeting card, he flipped it open to see the polite well wishes that had been printed inside. Under the factory composed banal poetry was a handwritten sentence beside a pair of initials:
Feel better soon,
“How did she even know I was sick?” Alec’s strained voice wavered. “Why would—“
“Why don’t you put some water on?” Logan suggested. “I don’t know if you drink tea but you look like you could use some.”
Alec left muddy boot prints across the pristine wood floors as he moved to do Logan’s word as if it had been an order. Knowing the X5 wouldn’t mind a change of clothes, Logan wheeled to his dining room table that was currently being used to hold most of his freshly folded laundry. He pulled out a shirt and sweatpants from the pile and tossed them in Alec’s direction. Sliding up to his terminal, he rotated his chair to give Alec some notion of privacy when the transgenic started stripping right then and there. Logan didn’t bother getting upset over the sodden cast offs being flung in a heap on the kitchen floor. He had learned a long time ago that you let an X5 do whatever the hell they wanted on their own terms.
You could push and pull all day long but being messily deposited in a world devoid of direct commands had left the children of Manticore in a constant state of hesitant self assertion. Pressing a touchy issue was all fun and games until a fist went through the wall. It was a maddening exercise in exasperation, but Logan almost always saw the results of persistent patience.
Alec would only come here for one reason. He was finally ready to spill.
“That business card you gave me at Crash?” Logan keyed in to one of his many alias e-mail accounts. “I sent it to a friend of mine. I’m expecting a report back tonight.”
There was no answer as Alec abandoned the wait for water to boil and sank down into the leather sofa instead.
“I’m hoping he might be able to lift some prints off it.” Logan explained. “That might get us something.”
“You could dust my place.” Alec coughed hard into a fist. “I-I bet she left a decent set on the doorknob whenever she left.”
Logan’s hands stopped on the keyboard as this new information was conveyed. So this woman had been in Alec’s apartment. From the off handed way Alec had said it, it sounded like she had been there multiple times. It didn’t take long for Alec to pick up on the awkward silence. The pale cast to his features darkened in frustration.
“I know what it sounds like.” Alec growled as he found a pillow and punched it into shape in his lap. “But that’s not what she was paying me for.”
Swinging around, Logan had to catch the wheel before he almost sent himself in a complete full circle.
“Wait.” He shut his eyes and felt himself shaking his head. “Just wait a second.”
Alec shifted his tired gaze away uncomfortably.
“This-this woman has been coming to see you in your apartment.” Logan attempted to summarize. “What was she paying you for? Drugs?”
“No.” Alec replied softly.
If it wasn’t sex and it wasn’t drugs, then why would a woman with means come all the way to Alec’s sector and enter his apartment? The obvious question was hanging in the air and Logan was hard pressed to guess what other service the transgenic could have possibly provided. Whatever it was, he had to wonder what exactly could reduce a man like Alec into being so flustered that even discussing it out loud was difficult.
“Alec.” Logan had his limits just like everyone else. “If this woman is with Manticore you had better tell me right now—“
“If she was do you think I’d be sitting here right now?” He held up his hands. “If this was Manticore all you’d ever see of me again would be some tasteful black & whites of my autopsy from one of your little mole friends.”
Logan tensely worked his hands on his wheels.
“Besides?” Alec forced a small smile. “Those guys never once gave me a pay check.”
Logan fought the logic for a few moments before he had to agree that Alec was right. If the location of an X5 was known then that transgenic had a tendency to promptly vanish off the map without a trace. Money had certainly never been used as a motivator by the owners of those labs. All they’d ever seemed to employ to ensure servitude was abject torture and games of manipulation.
Alec had withdrawn back into the fragile grasp of his contained but unconcealed anxiety. He had started coughing again, his entire body shuddering with the severity of it. Giving up on staying upright, the transgenic drew up his knees and hacked himself miserably into a near fetal position. There was a decent inventory of medications that Logan had no business owning in his newly rebuilt bathroom mirror cabinet. When that tea was ready he’d make sure a few of the more powerful fever reducers got into Alec whether he wanted them or not. For self sufficient machines of biometrics, the X5s were fairly ineffectual when it came to taking care of themselves. It seemed growing up with a personal and watchful medical staff might cause an inability in the best and brightest to know precisely what to do if they got ill all on their own.
When Alec’s groping hand found a blanket and pulled it over his head, Logan turned his attention back to his keyboard.
Eyes Only had an overwhelming allotment of corporate inscrutability to deal with on a timely and daily basis. A few insistent but brief crises had pushed the subject of Dr. Elaine Gaboriault onto the system’s back burners for a while. But he had left a few searches going while his focus was demanded elsewhere. A full 48 hour scan probably would have turned up something besides the woman’s medical career by now. It took a few minutes to log in and navigate his way through the undetectable cyber mazes he had created to get his own trails lost in. It took a few more to find his way through the pathways and dead ends to acquire what he needed most at the moment. With a small smile, he saw that his fishing had hooked a few things on the line after all.
Logan scanned the screen in distraction as the lists scrolled in several windows.
“She’s the opposite of dirty. I can’t even find a delinquent parking ticket. She’s too clean. No one has a record like this.”
The sudden stuttering whistle of the boiling kettle startled him. Speaking of back burners, Alec had set the boiling kettle on the very furthest in the corner. It made it difficult to reach from his chair but he had experienced more than enough painful accidents by rushing things. Disinclined to dump a pot of boiling water on his lap, he took his time maneuvering it around until he could get a decent grip on its handle. He saw the counter already had a single mug waiting with a tea bag sitting in it. Unsure if Alec was being extremely polite or incredibly rude, Logan filled the cup and decided it didn’t matter. He’d make sure Alec slept here for the night. All he needed was some rest with potent medication and then they could take all this up again in the morning.
Logan rounded the corner ready to argue the curative benefits of the tea leaf.
But the sofa was empty.
As soon as the name left his mouth he knew that Alec hadn’t wandered to the bathroom or found the more comfortable bed in the back. The front door was standing open. One of Logan’s leather coats was missing from the hook by the closet.
“Damn it.” Logan muttered.
An urgent audio signal from his terminal made him hastily put the steaming mug aside. The analysis report on the business card had come in while he was busy attempting to make tea. It had opened in plain view of the sofa if Alec had been interested enough to get up and take a look. Logan wheeled back to his computer, apprehensive at what Alec might have seen that would make him decide to suddenly take off.
There was an open window on the monitor blinking imperatively with a warning frame. A magnified scanned image of the business card spanned across two screens, the breakdown beneath it reporting three sets of fingerprints found. However, the only two useable sets belonged to Logan himself and an unidentified male which was most assuredly Alec.
However, it was the last lines of the short report that made Logan’s skin prickle.
Sample tests positive for unknown pathogen.
Pathogen engineered for a specific DNA strand.
Strand remarkable for its recombinant DNA content.
Underneath it were pages and pages of coded chemistry detailing what bacterium had been found embedded in the square of paper. The young but discreet freelance lab tech operating somewhere out of a basement had left a small personal note under the formal lines of computer analysis.
Recombinant DNA is a man-made DNA sequence. We’re talking full on genetic engineering here, dude! Where the hell did you score this thing from?
Logan dragged his hands over his face and up through his hair.
So the paper’s fibers had been loaded with a contagion to pass on to anyone who touched it. But it had all been created specifically for a particular person. Someone with man-made DNA that would most assuredly make repeated physical contact with it. This wasn’t like the tainted water that had spread out all over the city like a blind net searching for male X5s, this thing had been created to be aimed at X5-494. Logan’s gaze fell on the yellow envelope that had undoubtedly been treated with the same substance that had coated the business card. The cheerful message inside was now a bit more sinister than it was strange.
He knew well enough how the nature of a DNA specific virus could work. It could kill as easily and swiftly as a lethal injection to the heart if that was the maker’s intention. But Alec wasn’t dead. The transgenic was still very much alive.
Logan turned back towards his front door that sat wide open to the dim quiet hallway beyond. If he had learned anything about Alec at all, he knew that taking some time to ponder a problem wasn’t high on the man’s list of special skills. With the shape the transgenic was in, it would take a good amount of time for Alec to get anywhere far.
His chair tipped up on one wheel as he turned sharply up against the set of the cybernetic exoskeleton in the corner. When he was on his feet he found his keys and his phone. If Logan made it through that new sector bypass, he could be in Sector 12 before Max even answered his page.
If he drove fast enough he might even get to Dr. Elaine Gaboriault’s door before Alec did.
Cross posted to jam_pony_fic