Also, I'm really behind on comments, I will get to that sooner rather than later... ah, sweet time, where do you go to...
Title: Traces part 1 - part 2 - part 3 - part 4 - part 5 - part 6 - part 7 - part 8 - part 9 - part 10 - part 11 - part 12
Sequel to: Heat
Rating: PG - Gen (Ratings subject to change)
Disclaimers: DA & characters are owned by their respective creators.
The black looming shapes of the automated machine guns hadn’t been installed tactfully within the tasteful cover of the clipped hedges.
Alec paused beside one of them, running his hand down the water beaded sides of the long sleek barrel. The motion detectors on them had been shut off, the hum of their pivot mechanisms as still and silent as the razor red pinpoint of the laser tracking system. The lethal equipment had been placed so anyone foolishly willing to trespass would know what kind of trouble they could expect. All the rest of the machinery sitting interspersed with the landscaping was offline too. There was more that he knew was buried under the grass beneath his boots as he walked.
As soon as he had hit the perimeter his path had been vigilantly observed by the network of plain sight cameras and many more that were undetectable. There was no way he would have been able to safely transverse through this wire jungle of hardware without someone allowing him to. He could hear the drone of machinery grind down around him as he moved through each private patch of forest. Each segment of property swiftly came back online as soon as he’d advanced into another section of the defense grid. And it seemed someone on the inside was courteously leading the way to the mansion.
As luck would have it, that destination was precisely where Alec wanted to go.
The sloping lawn that ran up behind the private road was divided by row after row of sagging evergreens, their branches heavy and dripping with rain. The careful scenery reminded him of the woman who lived here. The gardens were as expensive as they were uninspiring. The unadorned marble fountains were filled with nothing but rain water and the tidy manicured trails were unused.
Several mounted cameras turned in his direction when it seemed he had inexplicably paused in his slow journey towards the house.
With an angry growl he hauled back and kicked a massive granite cherub statue as hard as he was able. With satisfaction he watched as it slowly tipped before smashing over onto its side. It cracked right down its center, its impact leaving a nice sized fissure through the flagstone path. He made to do worse to its blank staring twin on the opposite side, but all he managed to accomplish was to slide it off center from its base. Clutching his skinned knuckles, he gasped as his unstable grasp on consciousness narrowed dangerously into tunnel vision. Everything went blinding white and for a moment of winded panic he thought he was going to lose it.
A tearing cough ripped up inside of him, forcing him onto his knees as all his breath was squeezed from his lungs. But despite the keen whining buzz of agony in his head threatening to short circuit, the rainy dark came clamoring back into focus, the beat of the water thundering in his ears. He braced himself as his chest seized again, his trembling hands involuntarily covering his mouth in some effort to smother the onslaught. Staring down, he saw that his palms were dark with blood. Fighting not to collapse on the ground like he wanted to, Alec laboriously pushed himself up into an unsteady stand. Skipping the meandering paths, he cut up through the steep undergrowth until he finally broke free onto the other side.
Appropriately enough he found himself standing in the circular gravel driveway he had seen when he’d made his delivery all those days ago. The motorcycle was missing but a lone lamp over the back door was on. It was the only light he’d seen since he’d left the main road a mile behind him. The fact that he had been quietly directed towards the service entrance didn’t pass under his notice.
Since his presence wasn’t exactly a secret he wasn’t surprised when the doorknob turned under his hand. This lady had had about one hundred chances to end his life on every occasion they had met. If that wasn’t the objective than the security artillery could have finished up the job and liquefied his body into a spray before he ever knew what hit him. His death was not what she was after.
But Alec knew that death could be the least of his worries if she was just the right amount of crazy. Taking one last look over his shoulder into the rain, he tried to call on his soldier’s instinct to assess the quiet unlit entry that lead into the mammoth of the building. He wasn’t sure what the hell he was going to do. He was, however, certain that he was going to do something bad to that doctor’s probing somber face.
Stepping into the dark, he hoped the welcome wagon was ready and waiting.
He had a suspicion that he didn’t have loads of time left before whatever germ he’d been given got to its climactic finish line.
Like most older and affluent dwellings, its solid design was composed mainly from marble. By the stale smell of the air its interior maintenance was not foremost on anyone's list.
Trying to see what lay beyond the dark hallway, he swayed when his frayed balance shifted out of his control. With a quick release of strangled breath, he caught himself against the cool stone of the wall.
Even with the lights off and his senses disabled, he could tell that everything surrounding him was neglected. The rooms he passed had a scattering of furniture covered in pale sheets or left to molder in the corners. No family photographs hung on the walls. Though he knew the wealthy were not all inclined to flaunt their wealth with works of art, usually some attempt was made to fill in the wide empty places money could provide. It was as if the entire house was under renovation or about to be abandoned.
But the place was not completely devoid of accent.
Alec gazed up at the oversized crystal chandelier hanging high above his head. He’d found the main stairwell that wrapped up four full stories of the building. The elegant glass tendrils suspended in the dark reminded him vaguely of a glittering wet spider web. As he hesitantly passed beneath it, he suddenly realized he wasn’t alone.
Elaine Gaboriault was standing above on the wind of steps.
Every time he’d ever seen her she’d been meticulously dressed with her dyed hair wound neatly behind her head. Alec thought about Logan answering the door in the middle of the night and knew her faintly concerned expression was the same of anyone interrupted from the deep privacy of their early morning hours. Without the carefully applied makeup and expensive clothes, the washed out pale of her face appeared more like the aged woman she was. The doctor pulled the neck of her robe closer and cleared her throat.
“You should have called like I asked,” she frowned, tucking back her loose thin hair tiredly. “I would have sent the car.”
He knew what he must look like. Scrambling through that last patch of muddy woods had left his face and clothing covered in dirt and scrapes. His limbs were trembling from exhaustion, causing him to adjust his footing every time his equilibrium nauseatingly tilted from side to side. He could feel the sickening sheen of sweat on his chilled skin, his hair clinging to his forehead and the back of his neck. All he could concentrate on through the pain was his fists clenching and unclenching weakly at his sides.
“What d-did you do to me?” Alec tried to suppress the next agonizing shudder in his chest. He wanted to scare this woman but his fear made the words an echo of the threat he wanted it to be. “I-I’m going to kill you.”
She folded her arms delicately.
"Perhaps you’d like to sit down for a few minutes first?"
It was the hint of a smile that triggered it. The self-assured arrogance of one looking a caged tiger in the eye. That look was not new to him. He'd seen it many times, on the faces of lab techs as the needle slid in or something was forced into his mouth. Her cool dismissal sent a growl surging from his raw throat. A dizzying rush of adrenaline receded as quickly as it hit him, giving his legs just enough strength to make it halfway up before he faltered on the cool stone steps, vertigo making him cling to the banister to stay upright.
"Look at you." She murmured.
Alec was too spent to move, his muscles twitching in agitation. He lay against the hard edges of the stairs and stifled his checked rage behind clenched teeth. His eyes fluttered as he watched her descend to stand next to him. He wanted to pull away when she sat down, flinching when bony fingers pressed firmly over the hectic pulse at his throat. His breath hitched in a wheeze when he tried to curse at her.
She gestured indistinctly behind her and hands without faces were on him, moving on his limbs, securing him as they lifted. He would have broken their hold on him, would have fought harder if he could have just gotten his breath. They were taking him the rest of the way up the staircase and down a blank hall. Alec panicked, struggling ineffectually in their grip as they moved. The world rushed, turned and stopped abruptly in bleak yellow lamp light.
He had been set on a bed. Alec felt for utility starched sheets and metal rails but his hands grazed the scratchy pattern of quilt embroidery and the easy give of a worn mattress.
Alec winced as a dry hand was placed briefly on his forehead. Blurred faces faded in and out, his throat impossibly tight and painful, preventing him from speaking. His chest heaved uselessly and his mind reeled in fear with the knowledge that he could no longer take in enough air to sustain himself. Every attempt triggered the wracking cough and another sharp tug on his slipping consciousness. He could hear himself gasping and wheezing as he tried to push himself up. Something cold and plastic touched his face and instinctively he thrust it aside. It came again more forcefully, strong hands holding his chin back as he desperately twisted away. He thrashed against the many hands trying to hold him immobile while removing his jacket. Blind panic had made his actions as mindless as a drowning man, flailing for the surface that wasn’t there.
“Easy. Easy now.”
She wasn’t far away. The doctor was in the room and calmly speaking to him. Her voice seemed cut from the cheerless walls. Steady and proficient. Sparse and functionary.
“Deep breaths in.”
Alec had no other choice but to drag in another shaky breath. Instantly, the next inhale was easier with the steady flow of clean pure oxygen. His unwilling lungs opened and he could exhale without them seizing. He felt an elastic band being slipped over his head, holding the mask over his nose and mouth. The smell of fresh plastic saturated his dull senses as his sleeves were yanked up to bare his skin. The dim light went sallow and began eating up the fading halo of the bulb as he sank lower into a total blackout. He tensed, breath hitching frantically. The touch of warm hands gloved in latex was on his inner elbow, prepping him for the burn of an injection.
“I realize money was the only incentive that allowed me your time.”
Weakly, his fingers tugged at the mask, wanting to speak but unable. Alec panted shallowly, feeling the solid block weighing in his chest began to loosen.
“I knew I would eventually have to provide another one.”
Alec squeezed his eyes shut as another violent surge of coughing took him.
"The virus was designed to bind specifically to your leukocytes. I had intended for it to be only a mild strain but I see you've allowed it to advance."
"A-All th-this..." Alec gasped. "All this j-just for my... time?"
He thought he heard her voice soften.
"I really wish you had called sooner."
A wan smile ghosted across his lips. "I-I was wrong. You're one of them."
“Just because we’ve both spent time within their walls doesn’t mean we’re theirs.” The doctor said. “I’m as affiliated with Manticore as you are.”
“But you- you’re not—“
“Manufactured? No. Of course not.”
Alec tried to respond but what was left of his coherency was rapidly dissipating into nothing.
Tension melted away with the low hiss from the tank and the sweet, soothing numbness from whatever the needle had sent flowing through his veins. The grip of hands on his legs and arms eased as his muscles surrendered to the languid gentle crush of chemicals. Being able to breathe again was enough to convince him of their worth for the immediate time being. As long as whatever had been in that syringe wasn’t making his condition worse he was momentarily all for it. The horrific ache that had been banging against the inside of his skull for days began to gently dip down towards tolerable.
Taking a deep clear unhindered breath, he slipped under into a pain free sleep where he didn’t have to care much about anything at all.
As soon as Logan pulled up to the squat-like bunker, he was very well aware that his chances on gaining entry were slim.
The one man that sat in its interior wasn’t city police but privately paid security. Not being a man that indulged in much breaking and entering, Logan knew his talents for infiltration lay in another direction. His collection of fake identification, substantial aliases and all the paper work to back it up were some of his finest tools.
He had a decent story.
He was coming straight from the Harbor Lights Hospital and he wanted to know if the doctor would be available for consult during a surgery on a small child that suffered a head injury in a car accident. Unable to contact her through the usual means, he had in desperation driven personally to her home to ask for her aid. The string of coined imperatives were a cheap ploy, but emergencies involving children’s lives tended to get a person’s attention when nothing else would.
The armed guard didn’t even move back inside to the telephone.
“Real sorry to hear that,” he handed Logan back his medical credentials. “But the doctor has been overseas. Only lives here a few months out of the year.”
Logan studied the man’s face. Besides a weary stance that was typical among those forced to be alert all night long, there was no subterfuge to be seen. The only backwards glances this guy was making was to his cooling coffee and a comfortable chair that was out of the rain.
“When was the last time you’ve seen her?” Logan asked.
“Working here almost two years,” he shrugged. “Never met her once.”
He knew asking about Alec would put the man on an edge Logan didn’t want, and he knew the transgenic wouldn’t have tried walking through the front gate anyway. The buzz of rotating cameras above the guard house moved in a steady slow pass of an automated 360 degrees. There sure was a lot of protection for an empty house.
“I see.” Logan put his car into reverse. “Thank you. Have a good night.”
The man waved him goodbye.
Logan waited until he was back on the main road before he took out his phone and found the message from Max. She had been caught up at the sector point in traffic, but had decided to try using the sewer to circumvent the crowds.
The phone clicked shut in his palm.
He wouldn’t be able to reach her from all the way out here and through the addition of a few concrete layers of the drainage system. Besides, Logan wasn’t convinced Max would be able to move over the grounds with any ease despite her skills. In fact, he had a very strange sinking feeling that Alec in his incapacitated state might have already blundered through a few of its tripwires already. Hands flexing on the steering wheel, he looked back over at the entry station. If there had been some activity, that bored hired gun would have been in a different kind of mood. That man had displayed the attitude of someone exposed to long term tedium with very few thrills between. But if Alec wasn’t here, then where was he?
Logan flicked off his headlights and turned down the next cross street. The route would take him around the very outside of the private estate’s borders. He had a bad feeling that Alec had already made an attempt to gain access onto the well monitored property.
He had an even more terrible feeling that the transgenic had somehow succeeded.
The smell of a wood fire reached him before the soft crackle of its tinder did.
He had been dreaming of Ames White.
Chaotic glimpses of the faraway mountain lab came brilliant and stark behind his eyelids. He watched the fire raging up the walls and fill the low subterranean passages with thick black smoke. But Alec wasn’t tucked somewhere deep under ground this time. He could still detect fresh air. His wrists and ankles weren’t shackled with the cold bite of reinforced steel.
Agent White was long gone.
Alec blinked himself awake, his pupils adjusting lazily to the half light. He blinked again until he saw the erratic patterns on the walls were made by the flames from a fireplace on the opposite side of the room. It took a moment for his night vision to kick in but it did. Spending the past few days with his sight being unreliable had been almost as miserable as not being able to breathe. Looking around with the first unhindered view he’d had in a while, he saw that the large room couldn’t be the bedroom he’d faded away in. The sofa he had been left on was old threadbare velvet, the gold fabric worn down to smooth spots of the cloth underneath. The smell of must rose from the soft thick cushions as he tentatively rose on his elbows.
With a ragged groan he cautiously sat all the way up. Rubbing his face, he dimly wondered how many different damn sofas he could possibly wake up on within one week. The sticky feel of medical tape redirected his attention to his arm. An intravenous line had been left steadily feeding him something from an unmarked drip bag set on an IV stand. Ripping the adhesive off, he slid the needle out from his vein. Alec studied the clear fluid collecting on the tip before tossing it aside. Whatever it was he didn’t need it anymore.
Another sound by the fire made him hastily get to his feet. Focusing his eyes, he saw that there was someone seated right in front of the mantle in an overstuffed chair. The only illumination in the room made their body just another shadow, their profile made pitch black by the flames.
“Uh…” Alec moved his hand over his chest, the lingering tightness making him wary of doing much more than standing. “Hello?”
He stepped closer, his mind cataloguing the position of the visible exit and the one curtained window. His memory flashed to the magnitude of technology that lay sitting out there for anything with a colorful heat signature to wander into its automated sights.
“I guess I’m not dead yet,” he didn’t have much left in his arsenal and Alec felt like goading. “But don’t worry? There’s always a next time.”
Even though he was standing directly behind the chair, the person sitting there still wasn’t saying a thing.
“Hey, buddy? You awake or what—”
He got close enough to see the back of the person’s neck. There were a set of marks on the skin that he recognized very well. Alec froze in shock.
So there were more transgenics around this place. Exhausted and confused, Alec was ready to channel all the anger he had left into getting some details with as much violence as required. He didn’t care if this time the powers that be got fed up with dealing with his resistance and decided to put an end to him for good. He didn’t even care if this transgenic had the strength to do it for them.
The man turned around and looked up.
Alec’s breath caught and struck in his throat.
It took him a few more seconds to start breathing again but it had nothing to do with the bug he’d been infected with. Unable to form a single word, he stared at the familiar face before his gaze dropped down to thick hefty book in the young man's lap. The sound of footsteps behind him were the light tread that he knew was the woman he had come here to kill.
“He can’t hear you.” The doctor said. “Or see you for that matter.”
Alec suddenly realized the open book contained the blank white pages of braille. However, the young man was fully aware of their presence and had his full attention turned in their vicinity. Alec could read all the hyper awareness of a transgenic that was made probably even more focused by being impaired. Besides the clothes, Alec noted that there was only one obvious significant difference in their physical appearances. Those eyes were an extremely light tint of green. A strange bleached variation of what he had. One pupil was paler than the other, almost as white as the rest of the unseeing eye.
“Wh-What—“ Alec heard himself stuttering in stunned wonder. “What’s his designation?”
“X5-496. Daniel was born exactly two years after you were.”
“You named him?”
“I never liked using those code prefixes,” she tapped the X5 named Daniel on the shoulder. He closed the book and put it aside. “Besides, I find numbers very difficult to remember.”
Alec involuntarily stepped back when the other X5 stood up. The pale fixed gaze was locked in the space over Alec’s shoulder, the brow creased with the knowledge of a stranger’s presence. Wondering if his clone had been told that one of his fellow genetic copies was here, Alec experimentally waved a hand in his face. The transgenic reacted with a uncertain frown in the doctor’s general direction.
“What the hell happened to him?” Alec asked.
“Experimental sensory augmentation.” The doctor sounded a little annoyed. “My attempt was almost successful but it all came apart in the third trimester. Very much against my counsel the surgeons tried to fix what failed in gestation. His retinas and auditory nerves were consequently destroyed at birth. However, his mental capacity is completely intact. I encourage him to vocalize but he doesn’t do it very often.”
Alec tore his eyes off the mirror image of the transgenic standing quietly in front of him. All his demands and questions were unexpectedly replaced by brand new ones.
“You were on the lab staff,” he realized. “You were on one of the genetic engineering teams?”
“I was simply one engineer assigned to one of Manticore’s countless and various projects.” The doctor admired the fire a moment before looking at him again. “I also just happened to lead the small team that managed the X5-49 series.”
Alec didn’t like how the sightless and hearing impaired X5 seemed to be listening to every word that was being said. Kneeling down in her robe and nightgown, the woman worked the iron poker between the burning logs until a trail of red sparks fluttered up into the flume.
“The X5-49 DNA template was originally planned for nine units,” she spared him a small humorless smile. “I’m only aware of the existence of eight that ever made it into production and I am currently in possession of five of them.”
Alec’s brain rattled off what little he knew of his own origins. He knew X5-493 was gone. He knew he was alive. After that he didn’t know anything except the undeniable presence of the clone standing right in front of him.
“What do you mean possession?” Alec’s voice wavered but he didn’t care. “What are we, baseball cards?”
“Alec,” she said reasonably. “Your respiratory system has been though a lot of stress. Why don’t you get some more sleep and we can talk about this all in the morning—“
“I-I don’t think so.” Alec felt his legs bump into the sofa behind him. “Thanks for making me sick and everything but I’d better be going.”
“I think you know what will happen if you try to walk out the front door.”
“Lady, I’ll take my chances.”
Alec swung into the murky hallway and got ready to make his way through the maze of unlit corridors. He would jolt his aching body to blur into a speed that hopefully his clone wouldn’t be directed or able to follow. He’d hit the outside even if he had to take some time breaking down a wall to get there. As for the bristling defense network waiting to slice him into to ribbons, well, he’d just have to deal with that troubling issue when he came to it.
Movement ahead made him lurch to a stop in his tracks.
Two identical silhouettes of matching height were waiting in the shadows at the far end of the passageway. Standing outside of the firelight’s reach, Alec didn’t need to have all the lights on to make an educated guess as to what they might look like.
Alec felt his back hit the wall and wondered how bleak the odds were of withstanding the full mile of fence that stood between this house and the main road. He quickly figured it had to be a better chance than attempting to kick two of his very own asses. With one last burst of all his diminished strength he tried to avoid that predictably dismal scenario. But his arms and knees were caught and his back made swift and brutal contact with the floor. He tried to make out their faces in the gloom and realized these were the same hands that had secured him while he had been given oxygen. These were the transgenics that had easily restrained him while he had fought back with everything he had. Thrashing in frustration he knew this fight was over before it had even started.
By their silence it was clear that two of Elaine Gaboriault’s collection had no intention of letting Alec experience the full brunt of the security system outside.
Alec felt a hard pat on his shoulder that was practically friendly.
If he didn’t know any better, it felt almost as if he was being welcomed.
Cross posted to jam_pony_fic