Sequel to: Heat
Rating: PG - Gen (Ratings subject to change)
Disclaimers: DA & characters are owned by their respective creators.
Alec had no misconceptions about the risks of being caught.
Despite Daniel’s admirable self-assurance, the amount of concealed hardware the doctor had invested in her infrastructure was extensive. The daunting task of moving through the layers of security undetected would have made even a finely tuned X5 fresh out of training break into a cold sweat.
When the elevator doors opened again Alec felt all of his sparking nervousness fade with the acceptance that their actions would be inevitably discovered. Regardless of any attributes Elaine Gaboriault had picked up from her former employers, Alec didn’t see any sign amongst the resident transgenics that any reprimand doled out would be anything he couldn’t handle. Alec had been raised with the merciless and brutal eradication of his contemporaries on a daily basis. There was no word in any language he knew that could summarize the constant state he’d had to function and operate in while in the keeping of his former handlers. It was beyond terror or fear. It was a numb submission to remain kneeling beneath an axe that could fall at any moment. When it did the best to be hoped for was a swift clean cut.
If a stern lecture and a few missed meals was the downside of getting his hands on a working modem, he’d take that and more with a smile on his face. He realized he was smiling already with the thought of all that unsupervised technology just one more encoded script away. He looked at Daniel again and felt his smile falter as a wave of guilt threatened his high spirits.
The doctor had told him Daniel’s age but it hadn’t really registered until that moment for some reason. Being a whole two years older abruptly felt massively significant. Maybe it was Daniel’s own grin mixed up with the rush of breaking the law. It could have been the sheer exhilaration on the X5s face when Alec hacked the problematic door that had met them on the bottom floor. He wondered if this was what all those strange afternoon television dramas about peer pressure were all about. They wouldn’t be down here in the doctor’s sacred underground if Alec hadn’t insisted. It hadn’t occurred to him that the other transgenic might be bending the rules in order to impress or please him.
For whatever reason, Daniel hadn’t looked like a 19 year old kid until now.
The preset ceiling lights flickered on tube by tube when they stepped through the doorway. The professional in him immediately appraised the planning that had gone into the place. Unlike the infirmary that had been converted out of the house’s unused spaces, this laboratory had been created with a precise design in mind. Alec wasn’t positive how many hundreds of feet of rock and dirt were above their heads but a ten second elevator ride could go as deep as you were willing to dig. It was a perfect place to hide all of your really big mistakes. Alec just hoped they didn’t mind unexpected company.
“Hello?” It seemed polite to announce themselves. Daniel shifted next to him as his voice echoed back. “Anyone home?”
As soon as he’d stepped into the stale recycled air he’d known there was no one around. The place wasn’t set like any kind of living space. There was barely room between the tables to walk around without difficulty let alone reside. Bookshelves crammed full with manuals and reference material were objects that spoke of only labor and not habitation. There was no sign of bedding or quarters. A small bathroom didn’t even have a mirror over the small steel sink. He turned the corner cautiously, seeing what was left of the cramped area.
The bright lights hummed overhead and dozens of computer cooling fans whirred. The glossy tiles were spotless but the insulated walls were covered in papers and charts. One divider clear of equipment was plastered with printed maps of segmented sections of the nervous system and digital geometry depicting three-dimensional images of the brain. A cluttered white marker board was covered in chemistry sequences and the hasty slashes of mathematics. For all the doctor’s money she seemed to have stayed true to the good old fashion method of pencil to paper in regards to her work.
Dozens of blank screens on various tables simultaneously booted up as the lab’s automated systems completed their programmed checklists.
“Now we’re talkin’.” Alec murmured.
He noted the difference in stance when the blind transgenic wasn’t completely familiar with his surroundings. However, rote memorization of layout seemed to be a talent he and his clone shared because after a few seconds Daniel tentatively moved for the nearest computer embankment. Alec was right beside him.
What he saw made him want to punch in the festively colored cross sections of cerebellum hanging on the wall.
“Aw no,” Alec moaned. “She passworded these too? It’s as if she’s living around a bunch of pain in the ass transgenics.”
Daniel’s fingers lingered over a keyboard before moving on. There was no handy braille typeface down here. There was also no way to read the smooth monitors either. The transgenic found another oblong shape of a wall console that interested him more.
“Looks like you’ve been reading more than Huckleberry Finn up there huh?”
Alec turned his attention towards the lab’s interior.
Besides an open storage room with the warm static scent of more computer servers, there was the recognizable refrigerator door of an adjacent cold room. Glancing back at Daniel typing determinedly on the terminal, Alec decided to give the freezer a quick look. The large heavy door gave easily when he experimentally pulled on the latch. The motion lights clicked on with his entry and illuminated the long narrow area. The sudden searing bite of deep freeze made his rain damp clothes turn painful on his skin. A look at the digital thermometer read an exact -10 degrees Celsius. Alec counted eight freezer cabinets and read the numbers over each one.
The vapor of his breath clouded in front of his face as his heart began to pound.
Although the doctor had dismissed the use of designations, every hatch was clearly marked by a series of numbers that identified all the transgenics under her roof and a few more that weren’t. He walked to the one marked 496. It was Daniel’s barcode. The compartment’s contents rattled as Alec used some force to pull the hatch free of its seal of ice. It was packed with bottles, vials and bags of the X5’s biological samples.
He moved down the row to the places marked for the immune deficient 497 and the unstable 495. The transgenics of the doctor’s collection were aptly represented with three lifetimes worth of testing. Each compartment revealed a wall filled from top to bottom with enough genetic material to assemble each unique X5-49 from scratch. Yanking open the door that had his serialization over it, he wasn’t surprised to find a much smaller assortment of samples that were all labeled over ten years old. Slipping a test tube filled with erythrocytes back into its metal holder, he surmised that Elaine Gaboriault must have left Manticore’s employ around the same month and year as his sample dates mysteriously cut off. In the compartment next to his was an even smaller supply that belonged to X5-493. Alec’s gaze lingered on the numbers before he let the door swing shut with a hiss back into place. Recounting the metal doors, he realized Gaboriault had never integrated him in her proud collection of five. Including himself and Ben, four of the designations weren’t accounted for. Looking into the cabinets of the X5-49s that Daniel had not mentioned, he found another rack of samples that were as limited as his own. It looked like X5-492 and X5-498 had never been a part of the doctor’s personal inventory.
Reading the labels of their last samples he saw with some mixed relief that the dates matched his own. That meant they had either burned with Manticore or got out like he had. The fact that their fate was completely unknown made Alec glad. Whether they flared and fizzled in the real world like Ben or if they had never even made it that far, he was happy to know they weren’t here wandering the pitch black of Gaboriault’s walls.
Alec paused and considered the remaining doors through the thick fog of his breath. Daniel had specifically stated that there were two more transgenics down here and Alec had the feeling that he didn’t mean just a couple vials of their blood.
He looked apprehensively at the next hatch.
He was confused when he found the shelves inside were empty. Unlike the others crammed with beakers and tubes, the compartment only had one container sitting on the bottom rack. Alec slid it out and curiously hefted its slight weight. It took him a moment to comprehend what was wrapped in insulating foil within the plastic box.
An aged yellowed label was fastened neatly on its side:
Gestation failure at 22 weeks- removal 12/1/96
Alec whistled. The doctor hadn’t ever declared that physical condition was a factor in her ownership. With a shaking hand he wiped off a layer of ice crystals from the plastic and turned it over to look for any more tagging. There was no more documentation explaining why the very first X5-49 had failed before even drawing its first breath. Quickly placing the container back where he’d found it he wiped his wet hands off on his thighs. Alec looked reluctantly at the last freezer on the row that he hadn’t opened.
He frowned when he found that the compartment appeared to be as well stocked as all the others. It seemed like all the X5-49s that had spent time walking the planet had been well documented by the doctor. If this one had been alive long enough to stack a storage freezer with bio samples then where was he now? Alec’s frown grew as he thought of how the woman had explicitly stated her ownership. He glanced at the cabinet with the remains of the doomed 490. If the lady said she had them, Alec was going to believe it.
The tight space of the freezer lead back and ended with another sealed annex. Upon wrenching it open from its frame, he found a remarkably warmer hallway with a single bulb hanging from a short cord from the low ceiling. Feeling like he had stepped into the stifling confines of a closet, he studied the opposite wall.
It was secured with a massive wheel vault lock. The vault itself looked like it had been constructed with a few feet of barrier between the lab’s structure and the freezer walls. There was a paper folder glittering with frost on the wall beside a lock mechanism that Alec would have been hard pressed to pick even if he was prepped for its existence. The numerals that described the specimen in the elaborate cage were the numbers Alec had been expecting to see. What he had momentarily forgotten was the doctor’s partiality for biblical names to title her test subjects.
The fallen angel.
A sudden grip on his elbow caused him to make an embarrassing high pitched sound.
Adrenaline flooding his veins, Alec had to rein back a fist before he accidentally sent it crashing into Daniel’s face.
The computer is online.
Alec took a moment or two before his thoughts assembled the hand signs into something significant. Daniel had gotten past the passwords. That meant Alec could try to get a message out. His haste to do just that was interrupted when he remembered where he was.
“W-Wait,” Alec stared at the hefty bolt and noted no other cabinet in the deep freeze had locks. “Why is his body in there?”
Daniel tilted his head in confusion.
Alec banged on the icy metal with his fist for an explanatory aid.
“In there,” he repeated in sign. “No one else’s samples are locked up. Why only 491?”
He’s not dead.
Alec blinked at Daniel. It took a few moments for the shock to wear off so he could form the words ringing in his skull.
“How does it open, how do we—“
Daniel awkwardly grabbed his arm, his strength staying Alec from moving any closer towards the door. The transgenic's pale eyes were searching Alec in alarmed agitation.
“What? What’s wrong?”
Lucien doesn’t come out of his room.
Alec winced at the force of Daniel digging the words into the palms of his hands, the sound of his breathing audible above the drone of freezer motors.
Alec studied the door in stunned bewilderment.
“What do you mean?” he signed into the transgenic’s cold hands. “Like Gabriel?”
No. Daniel replied worriedly. Not like Gabriel.
Alec’s shocked gaze fell back on the frozen stiff papers hanging on a hook. Pushing it aside he found the half hidden square of a diagnostic monitor. He realized the steady jump of the rolling line was measuring a heartbeat on the other side of the wall. The timestamp indicated that it had started to pick up approximately since Alec had entered into the vicinity. It was spiking with ragged succession into the top of the screen and dropping back down in a firm rapid cadence.
He stepped backwards.
With the kind of danger the doctor felt comfortable roaming around freely in her home he swiftly understood what quality of lethal may lay behind the considerable precautions. If there was another grade of psychosis that the doctor believed should be suppressed, he decided that the rest of the heartfelt family reunion was unnecessary. He needed to get the fuck out of here. All he wanted to do was leave this madness and the woman in charge of it as far behind him as he could.
“T-The modem?” Alec stuttered. “How long will it—“
You’ve got 1 minute, 23 seconds on the satellite link.
Alec uneasily found his grin again.
“All I’ll need.”
The evening hadn’t gone exactly as Logan had planned.
By the time they had cleared the third sector check point he’d finally allowed himself to start breathing again. Getting through the elevators and to the penthouse unnoticed was another small miracle unto itself. He never imagined that they’d get as far as his living room with no problem other than sending Cindy back out into the foyer to wipe up any drops of blood left behind. He also didn’t think this night would end with yet another transgenic tied up in his bathroom. It was a good thing he’d kept the handcuffs from Alec’s stint in recovery. He’d had a weird feeling he would be putting them to good use again sooner rather than later.
“Don’t get near him,” Max warned Cindy. “He might bite.”
Logan rubbed at his forehead and considered how his existence hadn’t come to a painful end in a men’s restroom only an hour before. Although his life hadn’t flashed before his eyes he thought with a deep down certainty that the squeeze of the powerful grip around his throat would close the curtains for good.
Max’s unexpected arrival had turned everything into a blur.
Ceramic had shattered and plaster walls had cracked when the transgenics engaged with as much force as Logan had ever seen Max encounter. Pipes had broken and water hissed into a steaming spray across the ceiling. Logan could only stay out of their way and attempt to avoid any ensuing sharp debris.
Then something strange had happened.
Despite the violent counter measures of the unknown X5, the fight was over so quickly that Logan couldn’t even decide if it had even started. Before the dust had chance to settle, Max was standing over an unconscious well dressed man that looked like Alec. Her waiting uniform had been torn at the shoulder and she had a few new bruises but all in all she had looked for the most part just as baffled as Logan. Their swift exit was made possible by a convenient bathroom window and Logan’s car fitting neatly in the narrow alleyway below. The tense drive back had given everyone plenty of time to let the grim shock settle in.
Cindy was standing way back in the safety of Logan’s kitchen and hugging her arms.
“What’s your designation?” Max demanded.
The transgenic sagged back against the shower tiles and appeared revolted by the inquiry.
“‘The invisible thing called a Good Name is made up of the breath of numbers that speak well of you.’”
“Savile.” Logan said before he could stop himself. “That’s a quote from George Savile.”
“Oh yeah?” Max shifted indecisively. “Who the heck is that?“
“He’s a man who wrote books,” The transgenic answered curtly. “And my name is Gabriel.”
Max checked the manacles one more time before she took a seat on the closed toilet. She met the captured transgenic’s steady gaze lingering on her upper body and angrily got to her feet again.
“What the hell are you lookin’ at?”
“Never seen a female X before,” The transgenic said. “You smell like candy.”
The transgenic in the disheveled tuxedo couldn’t do much to avoid the strike while trapped in restraints. She dropped him back onto the floor with a swift blow to the jaw. The starched white front of his dress shirt was already bright red from a split lip and a busted nose but his smile seemed ready to accept more. Max raised her fist again.
“Hold up,” Cindy ventured closer. A healthy fear kept her at a distance, but concern was clear in her wide eyes. “T-That’s enough of that.”
“He’s not Alec.” Max growled. “He was gonna kill Logan—“
The low rumble of laughter from the transgenic's throat made her almost haul back and hit him again.
“I-I know it,” Cindy said. “Just take it easy, boo.”
Max hesitantly drew back as he groaned and shook his head clear, whipping spots of blood on the cream colored walls. Logan was privately trying not to subscribe to Cindy’s misplaced sentiments. Max had seen her share of Manticore copies in her lifetime. Her emotions would not be swayed by the sight of another one. A face to her could be nothing more than a face.
Even if Logan understood that this man was not the person he knew, it was difficult to believe anything but his eyes. This X5 might have appeared to suffer like Alec but his strange seething calm certainly bore no parallel to X5-494. Logan studied the multitude of precisely made lacerations that patterned the man’s flesh. He wondered if Gaboriault just wasn’t very careful with her bodyguards or if the scarring wasn’t due to something else entirely. Knowing the transgenic talent for regeneration, he knew those wounds had to be inflicted over and over again to leave marks for any extended amount of time. Logan felt faintly sick when he realized that what he was looking at might be a masochistic self expression.
“It’s weird,” Max’s fingertips gingerly touched her swollen black eye. “He fights like a girl.”
Logan considered her words.
“He’s strong sure,” Max tipped the transgenic’s battered face up to study his annoyed features. “But the guy doesn’t have any style.”
She meant ineffective, clumsy and untrained. Logan was still too startled to respond coherently just yet. The X5 cleared his throat to speak again. Logan expected the taunting lilt and fragile calm to continue, but the affronted rage was being replaced by an expression of someone confused and plainly scared.
“I can’t stay here,” The X5’s mood shifted as quickly and barometrically as a broken traffic light. “I have to go home.”
Logan listened to him cautiously.
“If I stay out here too long I’ll get dirty,” His eyes flashed across the clean wood floors and flinched in the direction of the unseen night time cityscape. “You can wash it off if you don’t stay too long.” He briefly struggled in the restraints and looked back in frustration towards his captors. “How long will this take?”
Logan looked at the dark bruises Max had left on the transgenic. His lowered voice, soft with bewildered mystification at his mistreatment reminded him a little too much of Alec when he was wounded and afraid. He put a halt on his brimming sympathy. There were more important things to concentrate on.
He didn’t know this stranger bleeding in his shower.
All he knew was that this transgenic had been in contact with Alec. Logan rolled his chair forward resolutely and folded his hands on his lap.
“This will only take a minute,” he promised. “When we’re done you can go anywhere you’d like.”
“I can’t be late,” The X5 was adamant. “You know how women get when you’re late.”
At the vague mention of Elaine Gaboriault, Logan saw fear resurface in the green eyes again. Trying to ignore the frantic push and pull of the man’s lucidity, he kept going.
“But first you have to tell us a few things.”
“Things?” The transgenic dragged bound hands across his mouth and streaked blood across his cheek. “Like what?”
“Like what the hell is going on in that doctor’s house.”
The X5 named Gabriel smiled a bright red smile.
“Where should I start?”
He lay in bed and tried hard to feign sleep.
Almost a full three hours had passed since he’d left Daniel down on the first floor by the kitchen. The blind transgenic had explained it was necessary to allow the cameras time to rerecord so the span they had been wandering could be replaced with undisturbed footage. He had told Alec to get in bed and stay there until dawn hit.
Although he had been repeatedly guaranteed that all the security could be reset, Alec hadn’t voiced his doubts that any efforts would be a waste of time. He rolled in his blankets and gnawed at the inside of his lip. The retaliatory strike of the disciplinary hammer was secondary in his thoughts. All he could think about was the signal he’d managed to send before the satellite connection had timed out. He already had a pretty good idea that Logan knew where he had been headed that night. Sending a location would have been a waste of connection seconds that he had precious little of. Instead he’d sent all the codes he’d memorized from Daniel’s hacks. He’d sent them out on every emissary channel he knew that were observed quietly on the endless spans of bustling internet traffic.
It would be white noise to anyone who randomly came across it.
However, it would be like a fire alarm going off in a church to Eyes Only.
He flipped over in bed again and wondered if he had laid still long enough with the correct measure of shallow breathing to replicate slumber. Daniel had instructed him to maintain it for as long as he could so the cameras could refresh with new images. He really did hope he was wrong about the tight efficiency of the surveillance. Pulling the sheets over his face, he wouldn’t mind at all if Daniel managed to clean the close circuit feeds and make their trespassing images vanish like ghosts off the system. He attempted turning the other way and kicked his legs into the heavy blankets until they were all tangled at the foot of the bed.
The silence and the waiting made him involuntarily flex his fists over and over again until his palms ached. He kept expecting to hear Daniel's returning tread and the sound of the door down the hall. He didn't know what kind of hours the blind transgenic normally kept but if he was still downstairs messing with the house computer than he was taking way too long.
As the minutes ticked by in his head he let his muted memory touch upon all his previous punishments. Manticore. Ames White. Even the moments of isolation and desperation out in the free world. Gifted with a photographic memory, he could reconstruct each incident as vividly as if it had happened yesterday. He allowed himself to recall the particularly vicious and interminable. The echo of his sustained agony was like readying himself for a punch. Whatever the doctor was going to do he would be able to tolerate it. He would live through it and emerge on the other side intact.
Alec laughed softly down into the pillow he was gripping hard with both hands. That was a word that kept coming up a lot around here. His mind mercifully wandered away from his neatly catalogued tortures and shifted to the haze of waiting exhaustion. He wasn't sure if he had actually dozed off when he heard the faint rumble of an engine somewhere far below his window. His scattered senses refocused with the distant sound of a slamming car door.
Only minutes later he detected movement down the hall.
It took him several moments to discern the unmistakable sharp click of high heels. A strong waft of perfume met him before the door was shoved wide open, the lights all coming on with no visible command. Alec sat up warily and studied her floor length gown and elbow gloves. She smelled like cigarette smoke and the indistinct traces of countless strangers she’d brushed against. From the night he’d been installed in his quarters, he hadn’t seen her once after the conclusion of the family spoon dinner. Whatever had required her presence on the outside had a dress code. It seemed when she was not busy keeping the sickly X5-497 alive, she made the occasional emergence into society. Fairly high society at that. Her train rustled against the floor with a silk whisper as she moved. The purse clutched in her gloved hands was fashioned from sleek leather and embellished with gemstones.
Alec waited for an outburst but it did not come.
She did not speak or look at him once, the placid coldness of her face unsettling as any obscenity. The sound of her slow steps magnified in his ears until finally she found a chair and seated herself. She calmly clicked open her purse and extracted what looked like a flat etched silver case. Holding it delicately between her fingers, the insides were not filled with rolled tobacco but the soft blue light of a compact computer interface. With a tap of her fingertip a mechanical grind immediately sounded from somewhere deep in the walls. Alec watched as a metal shuttered plate began to descend over the broad window.
His gaze shifted quickly to the open door and now the only means out of the room.
“Don’t,” she held up a hand when he stood. “If you want to keep breathing."
He had been speculating broadly since that fancy dinner what the ace hidden up her sleeve might be. That business card and get well note loaded with a custom made pathogen kept popping back into his head with a regular frequency. With her knowledge of their biology she could knock them all down with some bug just as easily as carrying around a pistol filled with silver bullets. No wonder none of her pet transgenics had ever made a move on her.
“The ventilation system can release an aerosol mixture by voice command,” she said. “It is also activated by any significant decrease in my heart rate.”
When the shutter met the windowsill and locked, the room was plunged back into its perfect quiet. Alec managed to clear his throat and clear his racing mind towards a path to self preservation. Seeing the normally calm set of her eyes blazing with rage, he knew that his sentencing wasn't quite over and done with. Alec sat back down and decided he should go ahead and do what he did best.
He put on a smile and held out his hands.
“Look, I can explain everything—”
“They took him.” The doctor's face was white under the powdered pallor of her makeup, her voice low and tense. “They were looking for you and they took him.”
Bewildered, Alec watched as she rose from her chair, pacing the floor with growing apprehension.
“I underestimated your influence, Alec,” a few tendrils of her tightly coiffed hair hung loose in her eyes. “I thought you had surrounded yourself with some amateur terrorists." She almost smiled, fingers pressed to her temple. "At best a capable tier of drug dealers.”
“They found me,” she wrung her thin hands. “And they took him.”
Alec gave up on what remained of his tenuous composure.
“Who took who from what?”
“Gabriel,” The doctor was trembling, her words coming faster. “He needs carefully timed medications. They won’t know when he has to sleep. They won’t take care of him—“
“Hey, hey, just uh, calm down okay?”
Alec wanted to stand up so he could return her glare properly. He wanted to remind her that to meet his eyes she had to look up. Sitting around in nothing but sweat pants made him feel stupidly vulnerable and childish. Still, he found his limbs not obeying the command to rise. There was a fury radiating off the woman in waves. The white hot scent of it sliced through her heavy perfume and the odor of her sweat. It was more than enough warning that he should stay right where he was.
“This is because of you, Alec.” The small handheld computer had remotely activated something else. "But you're going to help me get him back."
A low electric hum met Alec's ears as something else was switched on. The room erupted with cold artificial light when a long rectangle section of Alec’s wall abruptly flickered to life. What he had previously thought to be an ordinary painted piece of plaster had a large hidden plasma screen embedded in its surface. He swallowed when he realized he had been more than right about the vigilant observation. The entire place was one piece of surveillance buried under another one.
The static on the wide screen suddenly solidified into an image. Alec frowned, the gentle bluish glow of the display panel igniting the dim room as he strained to see the figure moving across it.
He felt his heart skip.
Daniel looked much like Alec had left him hours before. His jacket was now missing and so was the sweater he had worn over a thin T-shirt. His clothing was plastered to his flesh with the rain. The transgenic’s hands were out in front of him and shaking uncertainly in a way that Alec had never seen the X5 exhibit. Daniel encountered a low hanging tree branch and recoiled as if he had touched something hot. Alec watched in a dazed unease when the signal hitched as the wind gusted.
Alec swung the hardness of his gaze on her. "Wh-what's going on?"
“His spatial orientation is excellent but I drove for an hour before I let him out.” The satisfaction in her voice washed over him like a frigid wave. "I don’t think he is even aware he’s still on the property.”
Alec looked frantically back at the silent image of his clone as he stumbled on the wet uneven ground.
“You know as well as I do how easily he can withstand hypothermia,” she said. “He can stay out there for days with very little physical consequence.”
Alec thought of the confident way Daniel moved in the maze of the mansion and how unconcerned he behaved in the face of every obstacle Alec found discouraging even with full use of his senses. He remembered the quiet withdrawal Daniel had displayed when asked if he’d ever had left the grounds. This place was his entire universe. Being removed from it without warning or instruction was an inspired cruelty that Alec didn’t even think White could have equaled. Alec had wandered a few stretches of dark woods himself. Being lost and afraid wasn’t a fear exclusively granted to children.
The image of Daniel was left on behind her as the doctor folded her arms.
“Don’t be too upset, Alec,” she told him. “This isn’t all just because of you.”
“What are you talking about?” He realized his chest was heaving.
“I know Daniel likes to explore. I enjoy satisfying his inherent curiosity so he doesn’t become psychologically stagnant. However, there are some rules that I cannot make allowances for no matter how much I’d like to.”
Alec sank back in his pile of pillows. He’d been right about that at least. She knew all about the lab. So much for all their covert operations. However, it was interesting that no mention was being made about the satellite uplink. Maybe Daniel had snuck a few fast ones past the doctor after all.
“I don’t like enforcing penalties,” she sighed. “I don’t like it when I’m forced to punish.”
"Then let me go get him," he said. "Think he probably got the gist by now."
Her seething frustration was momentarily replaced by an unbidden weary amusement.
“The 49s are all so incredibly obstinate.” She passed a gloved hand over her eyes. “Every new unit I tried to diminish that attribute without reducing self sufficiency, but with every new model it only seemed to get worse.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” he shrugged. “No one’s perfect.”
"Where's Gabriel?" The doctor was done with the shop talk. "Who could remove a fully able X5-49 from a crowded building without being seen?"
He considered her question while trying not to watch Daniel stumble and fall somewhere out in the estate woods.
Alec actually knew exactly who might have shown up at her party and done something like that. It was hard to take down a transgenic unless you had a few good electric cattle prods and a small contingent of armed men. All of those things were hard to do in a crowded place that didn’t like the notion of concealed weapons. But that was why the doctor had brought Gabriel with her out into the big scary world wasn’t it? An X5 was better than any weapon you could carry and it could move in the crowds unnoticed. Alec could safely guess that it was another transgenic that was the probable cause of the disappearance.
He smiled before he could help himself.
So Max and Logan were looking for him after all.
“I don’t know who did it,” he lied. “I have a lot of fans out there.”
“That’s not good enough.”
“I’m telling you lady, if you want a list of people who’d love to get a piece of me, this is going to be a real long night—“
“Do they want research materials?” Her words wavered as she voiced her true fear. “Would they harm him?”
Alec glanced in flustered confusion between the image of Daniel on the screen and her genuinely stricken face.
“No.” He answered but then reconsidered the question with Max in mind. “Not unless Gab didn’t give them any choice.”
Alec almost started an indignant demand to know why Gabriel was allowed out and no one else seemed to be. He bit down on his tongue and figured the doctor probably had favorites just like anyone did with a cherished and well kept collection. There were some that you enjoyed playing with more than others. Gabriel did seem to be perfectly content living here and he even had been given what looked like free reign to do whatever the hell he wanted. Besides that whole no knives at the dinner table thing.
“A vehicle stopped at the south gate last week,” she said. “You have to understand that I don’t receive much company.”
The video feed of Daniel struggling in the woods vanished and blinked to a still captured picture from another camera. It was a photograph of a car parked in front of one of the compound’s guarded access points during daylight. The image zoomed and centered on the license plates from several different angles.
“Imagine my surprise when I found its registration matches a car that was verified access to the charity I was attending this evening.”
Alec tore his gaze off the beat-up automobile that he recognized from the chipped paint job alone.
“It belongs to someone named Logan Cale.”
“Sounds like you already got your man.” Alec said carefully.
“Mr. Logan Cale is apparently confined to a wheelchair. He didn’t accomplish this alone.” She leaned forward. “Knowing his name doesn’t help me, Alec. I need to know how he can be bought.”
“Have you thought of money?”
She held out her hand. In her palm lay a cell phone.
“Call your friends,” she told him. “Tell them they can have anything they want. Convince them.”
Alec thought of the satellite signal that was at this moment on its way to setting off every single one of Logan’s system alerts and lighting up his monitors like a Christmas tree. He imagined Max finding the codes he’d implanted and using them to break down the intricate puzzle of the security system from the outside in.
“No.” It felt really good to say it. In fact, he wanted to make her even more afraid than she already was. “I hope they sell Gabriel in pieces to whoever has the most spare change.”
Alec watched her walk resignedly out of his room. She stopped outside the door and turned around. Another click on her cigarette case and the single panel on his wall suddenly started to multiply. Each wall rapidly filled with bright sections of plasma until even his ceiling was glowing. All the surfaces of his enclosure were turning a blinding white. Alec knew the quality and grade of that type of illumination. It was identical to the rows of fluorescents that had lined his barracks and his old cell. It was the shade of the endless beige halls and the stark frozen ground of the practice yards. It shone as harshly as the probing medical lamps and surgeons penlights that flashed into his pried open eyes.
He watched as steel bars slid down over his door.
“We’ll talk again in the morning, Alec.”
He blinked at the painful radiance as it grew even more intense. The room’s definition was washed out by the inundation of brilliance that peaked with the power of a hundred high wattage industrial flood lights. Curling into a ball he decided to take back everything he’d ever surmised about the doctor's secession from Manticore. With a gasp, his hands went over his ears as a keen high pitched frequency joined the lights concentrated glare. The horrible sound buzzed right through his skull and burrowed under all rational thought.
Listening to the steady fall of her high heels down the empty corridor, Alec knew this woman was as competent as her former employers.
She’d even learned a few new tricks.
Cross posted to jam_pony_fic