Sequel to: Heat
Rating: PG - Gen (Ratings subject to change)
Disclaimers: DA & characters are owned by their respective creators.
Alec’s neck ached badly when he gingerly lifted his chin from his chest, making his next inhale sharp and short.
Experimentally he flexed his numb hands and was not surprised through his haze of waking that they were fixed tightly on either side of him. Alec heard himself groan from far away, tapering off into a weak fit of coughing. He cleared his throat and blinked, his vision going suddenly and sharply into focus.
Polished oak gleamed like honey under fresh linen napkins and sparkling silverware. Alec stared down through the lavish center of bone china and bowls filled with decorative fruit. Bunches of grapes so shiny they looked plastic. Apples ripe enough to smell like they were near rot. His eyes burned on the rows of wavering flames on silver candlesticks.
In his lifetime, Alec had been witness to many formal dining affairs but never as a guest.
The steel cuffs cinched around his wrists glittered just as prettily as the silverware. They were the good kind, doubled and reinforced with a chain that linked down to the same around his ankles. It gave him enough leeway to reach his plate but not quite enough to get to his collection of drinking glasses. Unfortunately, all he really wanted was a sip of cold water. Looking down at the array of differently shaped spoons on the side of his plate, he wondered if anything sharp had been removed so he would have no opportunity to get out of the manacles. With the right tool he could figure out the locks in no time.
Looking up at Elaine Gaboriault, he knew she was well aware of that too.
"It's still remarkable," she said casually. "I can't convey to you how wonderful it was to find out you were still alive."
Alec studied her in the dim light of the electric candelabrum overhead and the real flames of the flickering candles. She didn’t seem rested even though there had been ample time since the previous night for her to sleep. It occurred to him that she never looked particularly at ease at anytime at all.
“Yeah, about that?” Alec cocked his head at her, shifting slightly in his seat. “How the hell did you find me?”
Someone had filled all the plates at the table with food before he had woken up. It all looked very nice but the way it glistened in the light made his stomach turn.
He looked dejectedly back in the direction of his unreachable water glass.
For quite a few years in Manticore he’d been privy to countless meetings at long tables like this one. However, he was never invited to sit down with them and drink the wine poured from the crystal decanters. Every now and then a guest would stop pretending he wasn’t there and glance nervously in his direction. Alec remembered liking the acknowledgment no matter how fleeting it was. He liked the fear in their eyes when they spotted him standing immobile in their cast shadows. It was a mark of status to have been used at all. It was nothing but pure bragging rights to taunt the other X5s that had to spend their long nights staring in the dark of their barracks. Alec squeezed his eyes shut and felt the hollow absence of his long lost dedication. That missing piece hadn’t hurt in a while.
The doctor set down the slender wineglass in her hand.
“I admit, I didn’t have much hope of being anyone but another online bidder for your organs after hearing you'd been detained by that maniac.” She laughed softly in disbelief, her words ending derisively at the mention of Manticore's hired agent.
"White," Alec's lip turned up in a bitter half smile. "He's a trip."
The scent of meat going cold and the odor of contraband spices told him that the chow was first rate, but he had never been so uninterested in eating in his entire life.
She cleared her throat.
“But when the reports came in that the lab had been burnt to its foundations I immediately suspected your involvement. I had very strong hopes that you were still alive."
Alec swallowed a heavy lump in his throat and worked his fists in the restraints. "Hey, miracles happen."
“Getting out of the facility all on your own would have been just that." She had picked up a spoon and had begun poking at the meat on her plate. "You had help on the outside, of course."
Alec's thoughts turned to the long nights spent in the quiet of Logan’s apartment as his body healed and his mind did nothing at all. Max’s muted expression flashed over and over again as she silently questioned his sanity with every tentative word out of her mouth.
“I assumed you had formed a social infrastructure in the location you had been found,” she explained. “I thought there was a very high probability you would try to return to it.”
“Your performance follows the typical X5-49 behavioral model. The X5-49s have been noted to seek socialization. You are genetically predisposed to crave the company of others.”
“That something you put in the plan?” Alec asked dubiously.
“No.” When her wandering gaze finally engaged his, it was with a vague smile. “That aspect to your series was a complete surprise.”
She said it like it was an interesting factoid she had yet to explore from a long list of many others. Alec wondered what other shockers lay in store up and down his makeup. He considered that maybe this woman might know him so well that he might have nothing, latent or otherwise, that would alarm her. It suddenly made the majority of her unconcerned behavior in his presence make a lot more sense.
“So I came back to Seattle.” Alec tried to shrug but was hindered from doing much besides gesturing with his hands. “Never could resist the big city."
“Yes,” she agreed. “I researched for weeks in every sector I thought you might use to go to ground. It took me a very long time. Your kind is extremely adept at disappearing.”
He remembered her hopeful astonishment when they had bumped into each other in front of Jam Pony.
“But it helped that I knew precisely who I was looking for.”
“A-Are you saying you found me by accident?”
“Not exactly.” The doctor assured him. “The 49 series has a highly predictable rate of conduct and reaction to their environment particularly under duress—“
“You mean pure luck.”
“If you like the sound of that better.”
His gaze fell back onto the carefully laid table between them. “Who are all the extra plates for?”
As soon as the words had left his mouth he sensed movement in the doorway behind her. Alec didn’t know what the doctor had done but she had given some signal that the room’s privacy was no longer required. The ready presence of the other X5s reminded Alec again of his duties to his former masters. He had no doubt these transgenics were given the same orders should he make the mistake of showing any signs of hostile action towards his hostess.
They filed in one after another.
Taking a deep breath, Alec did his best to appear like he sat around in rooms filled with his clones every other day of the year.
Logan tried not to be startled when the knock came hard and urgent on the passenger door window.
Disengaging the locks, he let himself relax for the first time since he had left his sector the evening before. He couldn’t tell what physical state Max was in. She never admitted her actual status unless it got so bad there was no hiding anymore. But before dawn had grayed the sky, she had confirmed Alec had without a doubt passed the perimeter. She had found his tracks headed right through enough hardware to defend a national mint. If 12 hours of trekking around the estate borders looking for the smallest chink in the armor had worn her out, she didn’t let it look like it.
“What can I say?” Max settled back in the seat as they pulled away from the curb. “The lady knows how to keep out the riff raff.”
The road was fuzzy with the rain and his exhaustion. If Max couldn’t find a way in than the place was locked up tighter than anything he could remember seeing in a real long time. In fact, the last thing he could recall being remotely as well fortified was a certain military facility.
“What are we dealing with?” Logan felt his jaw clench. “Your former employer?”
The confused tone in her voice reminded him of Alec’s own reluctance to label this wealthy doctor as a possible affiliate. Max shifted uncertainly in her seat and absently pulled at the dead leaves caught in her hair.
“Manticore never really bothered with hedge animals.”
“I’m a little worried that surveillance might’ve logged my stop at her gate,” Logan said. “She might try to identify—“
“No one can monitor this much coverage,” Max dismissed the worry with a wave of her hand. “They only rewind the feeds if something sets off any of the alarms.”
Logan drove as they both lapsed into their own silences.
He knew what Max was thinking because he was thinking it too. If Alec hadn’t tripped one single alarm, how had he walked right into the place? Logan frowned as the idea he’d been playing back and forth in his mind finally solidified into a horrible answer. He’d been thinking about it all day long as he slowly drove in circles around countless acres of property hidden by a carefully planted shroud of forest.
“He’s alive.” Logan said simply.
He stared ahead at the rush of traffic jammed up into the intersection that would lead them back towards the crowded next sector. There were lots of reasons to keep a transgenic alive. None of them were pleasant. But whatever the hell this wealthy woman wanted, she wanted it alive and breathing. That meant they had some time.
“There’s another way in.” Max announced.
Logan looked at her sideways. It looked like she’d been doing some thinking of her own.
“It’s not as fun as slithering under some electrified barbwire but it might work.”
Logan couldn’t help it. Max could always make him smile.
“Where do we start?”
Although the doctor had said she owned five X5-49s, only three of them entered the room.
Alec immediately saw he was not going to have any trouble whatsoever telling them apart. They might have all come from the same gene sequence but there were some not so subtle differences no matter how indistinguishable the DNA. The only one that utterly resembled him at all was the clone he had already formally been introduced to.
She had called him Daniel.
Although sightless, the impaired transgenic found a chair with no difficulty and sat down. The next transgenic that seated himself looked nothing like Alec at all. They might have shared the same basic facial features but everything else about the transgenic was wan and thin. The muscle definition of a typical X5 was completely absent. This man was unusually pale and his clothing covered every inch of his lean frame except his face. Even his hands were covered by thin black gloves. Alec didn’t feel very threatened by his presence, even if the guy had had a part in getting him into the restraints. From across the table, Alec could smell illness and see a feeble weakness to his movements. Daniel didn’t worry him too much either. Mentally capable transgenic or not, impaired was still impaired.
Alec looked up briefly at the electric bulbs in the dining room lamp and then imagined how many unlit spaces this enormous structure contained. He decided he wouldn’t worry about Daniel as long as the lights stayed on. He honestly had no desire to fight in a total black out with someone that knew nothing else.
He studied the third and final arrival.
The last one to enter the room was a completely different story. The transgenic’s stance was aggressive. His body language indicated displeasure, aggravation and impatience. He made immediate eye contact and didn’t break it when Alec returned the unfriendly gesture. There was nothing on him that didn’t set off every warning sign imbued in the perpetual solider Alec had been created to be.
This transgenic was the last to take a seat.
Although there was a free chair beside the others, the X5 deliberately sat at the head of the table opposite Alec. Like Daniel, his musculature was entirely solid. Alec dismally took in the sight of the numerous scars on the transgenic’s exposed flesh. The slashes of white scar tissue crisscrossed his hands, neck and face. Alec studied the marks and wondered why only one X5-49 of the set would have so many surgical procedures performed and not any of the others. This one also had his hair shaved down in a per functionary military style. Considering none of his fellow clones had the severe haircut, Alec considered it might have been a choice. When Alec took another glance at them all, they were all wearing different types of clothing instead of any kind of uniform.
The two X5s with obvious working sight were watching Alec openly with unabashed curiosity. Daniel sat quietly but also had his head turned slightly in Alec’s general direction.
Alec cleared his throat under the awkward scrutiny.
“So?” he asked the doctor. “Do any of them talk?”
“I do,” the scarred transgenic announced with a raised hand. “I can talk.”
“Fantastic.” Alec decided to ask him about the strange lack of cutlery at the table. “What’s with all the spoons?”
The doctor suddenly seemed a little embarrassed.
“Gabriel had a small incident last week.” She said.
“Just call it what it was, Elaine.”
Gabriel was a pretty name for the rough transgenic with the thick scar slanting neatly across his neck. The use of her given name irked the doctor but there came no reprimand.
“Until the issue is resolved there will be no knives or forks at the table.”
Alec tried not to stare at him. When that X5 spoke there was a nervous edge to his mirth that made Alec’s simmering caution rise to a boil. He began to consider that the marks on his skin might not have been put there by a doctor’s scalpel at all. When Alec looked closer, some of them were in set patterns and bizarrely defined shapes.
They appeared to all be self inflicted.
The speaking X5 named Gabriel pulled Daniel’s hands to the table where he quickly found his plate and everything else placed uniformly around it. When Daniel found the water glass empty he impatiently tapped it on the table until the pitcher rattling with ice was slid in his direction.
“And you?” Alec pointed to the thin copy next to him who was listening to them all closely. “You talk?”
The doctor shook her head.
“Michael was born with a crippling immune deficiency," she dabbed at her mouth with the linen napkin on her lap. "Instead of immediate disposal he was assigned to a series of contagious disease trials. Several long term infections rendered him mute and damaged his immune system beyond repair. We keep the house environment fairly sterile but his health would be compromised severely by exposure to even a mundane pathogen.”
Alec immediately took his hands off the table, the thought of his infection causing him to jerk his chair back in a mild involuntary panic.
“They’ve all been vaccinated,” she informed him. “It’s perfectly safe.”
The pale transgenic’s responsive smile made it perfectly clear he could see and hear just fine. In fact, he helpfully held up his gloved fingers in a quick succession of numbers. The last being seven.
So Michael was X5-497. Daniel was X5-496. Alec made the hazy deduction that Gab over there most likely X5-495. So where were the two others she claimed to own? There weren’t any other places set at the table so Alec guessed that wherever they were, they apparently weren’t allowed to eat with the grownups.
Micheal made a deft series of hand signs towards the doctor. Whatever it was, made Gabriel laugh and the doctor’s lips pull in a terse line. The entire exchange made Alec’s headache double behind his eyes.
“So what is this?” Alec sighed. “Some kind of happy little family?”
The doctor considered him before she poured herself some more wine.
“I’m completely aware that stepping into a cage means that I run a high risk of personal injury,” her gaze flickered towards Gabriel before passing over the others. “Even with subjects I’ve hand reared from the adolescent stages of development.”
Alec recalled the heavy duty security that spanned the surrounding acres and wondered what would happen to one of her pets if they tried to make a break for it. He shifted uncomfortably as Daniel reached for and almost knocked over his water glass. His gaze then wandered to the pale skin of the immune deficient transgenic sitting at his side. He had to admit it wouldn’t matter much if those two even had a yellow brick road to freedom. They wouldn’t last long on the outside, enhanced or no.
But that was the commonality in all them wasn’t it? Each one was defective. Ill made. Unusable by Manticore’s strict standards of perfection. The mistakes that were unlucky enough to draw in a first breath in those labs tended not to experience much beyond that, let alone their first birthday.
“You kept them.” Alec said with abrupt comprehension. “You brought them here instead of destroying them.”
“I prefer to thinking of it as salvaging?” she replied. “I find a certain… inspiration in surrounding myself with my own failures.”
“I prefer to think of myself as a work in progress.” Gabriel held up the twin scars that decorated the insides of his wrists.
Alec envisioned what his entire body must look like. A jig jagged canvas of his own warped making. The doctor’s response to the statement was what Alec had seen her do frequently to himself. She ignored the transgenic named Gabriel completely and continued with her dinner.
The table settled awkwardly back to the task of eating.
Alec searched their faces for any sign of muted obedience or hatred towards their keeper. There was nothing like it to be found. Daniel of course wasn’t party to the conversation that was taking place but the other two were listening to her with shades of patience as if it were the regular state of affairs. But Alec knew any one of these X5s, deficient as the doctor had deemed them, were capable of snapping this woman’s neck with their bare hands whenever the whim might strike. What he really didn’t understand was what exactly was stopping them.
His curiosity must have been obvious.
“I have other security systems in place,” she assured him. “Should the need arise.”
The group at the table was suddenly completely quiet. The idle tapping of utensils and shifting in chairs stopped as her warning was meant to carry to all of them and not just the new arrival. Even Daniel sensed the change in mood and turned his head uneasily in the doctor’s direction. So much for being a happy little family.
He looked again at the variations of his face around the table. All of them he dimly realized were slightly younger than he was. But there was still no fear there. Not real fear. Her battle won pride of their survival was like someone’s detached affection for difficult but prized purebred animals. She had somehow saved every one of the defective X5’s from the Manticore chopping block when they were still young children. They couldn’t have known much more than this woman and her rules since they had been somehow smuggled out from the facility. If they regarded her with anything at all, it was with wary respect. The cautious pieces of insubordination were practiced by those who knew punishment was dangerous but not lethal.
It wasn’t Manticore but it sure smelled the same.
His gaze fell back on Gabriel. He couldn’t exactly see why this one had needed a rescue from a quick sleep by injection, and a slow unconscious death as his organs were used and his spare parts farmed. There weren’t any obvious physical symptoms like the other two X5-49s. Alec thought of X5-493 and wondered if his twin had had the same nervous frantic look flashing in his eyes.
When he didn’t move to partake any of his own food, a gloved hand nudged his plate closer to him. He looked up into familiar green eyes and saw no menace there. Michael. Alec’s rote memorization of Christian mythology brought up what little he knew of the namesake.
Patron Saint of Chivalry. That figured. Alec paused as the chosen designations suddenly dropped down into a row of meaningful context.
Daniel. Michael. Gabriel.
“The names,” Alec said. “T-They’re all names of angels.”
The doctor shared her elusive small smile again.
“The original project name was called Canaan,” she was embarrassed again. “I always found it easier to label assignments according to a theme.”
So this lady had some idealistic poetry in her soul. You didn’t meet tons of those walking down the cinderblock walls of government research laboratories. The paradox of the woman made his head start to hurt again.
“Oh yeah?” Alec smirked. “Where’s Lucifer?”
The doctor’s mood all at once became troubled by the jeer aimed at her work. She put down her wineglass uncomfortably, her fine boned hands rearranging the napkin on her lap before she decided to respond.
“Lucien..." she corrected evenly. "...is in the basement.”
Alec waited for those present with the ability to hear to laugh at the unexpected joke, but instead everyone followed the doctor’s lead and resumed eating.
“I’m very encouraged by the first phase of your profiling,” she told him. “I did as much as possible in the field where you were more comfortable.”
All the questions. Hours and hours of her meaningless questions. Alec blinked down at his untouched food as his eyes stung in frustration. The inquires weren’t so random after all. It was precisely the blanket field of subject matter that could compose a basic psychological profile.
“It was impossible to get a hold of any intel of the procedures they performed on you in White’s custody. Therefore I really do look forward to your continued cooperation for phase two.”
Her words hung over the table like the smoke spluttering from the candles. Alec felt his hands begin to shake. A light sweat broke out on his face as his skin flashed from hot to cold.
“If your white blood cell count is back up to where I’d like it, we will start tomorrow morning.”
Alec felt his jaw tremble as he braced himself for what he should say. He had no doubt of this woman’s ability to harm him. But all he had to offer was his resistance. His absolute refusal to participate in the game everyone who touched him wanted so badly to play. If his cooperation was required, she wouldn’t get it.
Her fist made a shocking loud sound when it slammed down on the table.
“Why do you think you are here, Alec?”
He blinked at the bitter resentment in her voice.
“Do you think I spent my lifespan dedicated to perfecting this science so you could rot in that disgusting sector and work a meaningless job for a few pennies an hour?”
The transgenics that were capable of following the exchange became nervous and diverted their eyes.
“There are billions of people on this planet,” she said with an angry calm. “They are all born into the world as randomly and needlessly as the next. But not you. You were earned by my labor. You were prepared by me and constructed for my pursuits. Unlike all the blundering masses that sweat and toil on this earth, you were actually created for an exact and precise purpose.”
Alec stared at her.
“And that purpose belongs to me.”
Alec’s vision blurred as his eyes started to burn. There were no smart ready answers to toss back in the face of her rage. Every clever retort formed and died on his lips as he dazedly understood that every one of her words was absolute truth.
He was meat.
He was property.
No matter what spin he chose to put on it or how many freedoms he had gained, it always came down to another act of forced supplication. The candlelight went gauzy with his watering eyes, his chest hitching as he fought not to be sick all over the gleaming table before him. The mute transgenic at his side pushed at his plate again, including some succinct hand signs that Alec didn’t have to understand to get the message.
Numbly, he looked down and picked up one of his spoons in a shaking fist.
If there was one thing he knew how to do well it was this.
Cross posted to jam_pony_fic