Sequel to: Heat
Rating: PG - Gen (Ratings subject to change)
Disclaimers: DA & characters are owned by their respective creators.
Logan had long ago stopped believing the transgenic would give them anything they truly needed.
Tight-lipped defiance was expected of most captives. As dawn slowly began to creep through the haze outside, he had to admit he would have welcomed it in place of the exasperating exchange taking place.
The transgenic named Gabriel liked to obliterate questions with rhetorical backlashes of his own. When pressed to elaborate, the man effortlessly slid in barbs and cruel observations designed to do nothing but provoke. After the subject of the wheelchair came up for the fourth time, Logan recognized the desperate tactic for what it was. He had seen Alec implement similar methods of distraction many times before. It was interesting to note that Manticore wasn’t responsible for conditioning any of their soldiers to become excessively verbal under threat. It looked like the X5-49s came up with that flimsy defense all on their own.
Gabriel sat slumped in the shower’s corner, his crumpled tuxedo in fair condition despite his rough handling. Cuffed hands kept finding the scar tissue on his face and throat. His fingertips kept feeling and tracing them as if they were pieces of distracting jewelry. Some of the healed wounds had been carved with a fine tool to convey a sense of aesthetic. Others looked repeatedly slashed into shape with the blunt end of a box cutter.
Cindy decided to say what everyone else wasn’t.
“Your skin,” she ventured hesitantly. “W-Why you do that?”
“I’m like an etch-a-sketch,” Gabriel explained with a tinge of pride. “The faster I make them the faster they fade away.”
“Fantastic,” Max mumbled from the sink. “He’s out of his mind.”
Gabriel winked. “Runs in the family.”
Logan was glad he didn’t have to attempt to stop Max from sending her fist into the X5’s face again. The transgenic’s bravado wasn’t very polished nor was it convincing. The mocking gaze was lost in a shifting state between apathy and the raw terror of being at the mercy of strangers. However, Gabriel never once bothered to ask the identity of the individuals that had abducted him. All he wanted to know was when it was going to be over. As it became painfully obvious that the man wasn’t working with a full deck, their collective anger settled into a heavy frustration.
Logan rubbed the bridge of his nose wearily from behind his glasses.
“Where is Alec?”
“Elaine dropped everything when she heard he was still alive.” Gabriel said in vague disgust. “All of our scheduled lab trials were completely disrupted. But she still wanted to find him even after he’d been out here wallowing in filth for so long. I told her she was nuts to want to bring that into our home but no one ever listens to me—“
“Where is he?” Logan repeated. “Is he is in that house?”
Gabriel seemed to smirk, absently using his bound hands to rub at the blood drying on his chin. “But he doesn’t have his very own floor.”
Logan’s thoughts briefly tangled as he was forced to wonder what that meant.
“Your boss must have a nice fat buyer set up. So who is it?” Max demanded. “China? South Africa?”
Gabriel’s confusion flickered back across his face.
“She only works with other members of the medical profession,” he answered. “Nationality is incidental. That’s why she likes all those boring charity events. The rich doctors come from all over ready to lend a hand—”
“Doctors?” Logan said. “You need to get specific Gabriel. We have to know what she's selling. R&D materials? Tissue samples?”
“She doesn’t have to sell anything.” Gabriel was offended. “She’s loaded.”
“Then what the hell does she—“
“Did you know that tuberculosis still kills more human beings on the planet than any other infectious disease?”
It was already difficult to follow the transgenic’s irregular thought process, but that one threw Logan completely.
“In the last decade alone Elaine has developed six new classes of viable antibiotics,” Gabriel told them confidentially. “We helped of course.”
“As in addition to myself. More than one. Plural.”
Logan grit his teeth when Max glanced apprehensively over in his direction. Great leaps in science tended to happen in the course of long and tedious research or through the urgent necessity created by war. When you had neither, success typically occurred at the expense of test subjects. He couldn’t think of a better set of likely candidates than the invisible children of an unregistered government facility.
Logan cleared his throat.
“You allow this woman access to yourself and others so she can use you for unsupervised medical research?”
No approach so far had been very successful in making the transgenic’s scattered words coalesce, but this caught Gabriel’s attention. Logan considered that open disrespect towards the doctor might force some lucidity.
“That kind of practice is monstrous and unconscionable.”
Just like he’d hoped, the transgenic’s gaze narrowed dangerously.
“Subjecting people to harmful tests they are unwilling to perform isn’t right, Gabriel,” Logan said. “You have a right to refuse just like everyone else.”
The transgenic considered him before shifting nosily in his shackles to better address him.
“I have the equivalent of every PhD currently attainable in the field of physical sciences,” Gabriel said carefully. “Stuffing me down a bunch of test tubes would be a waste of resources. The doctor might need a blood draw every now and then but I’m no Petri dish. I’m right there in the trenches. No offense to Elaine but she couldn’t achieve this scale of progress without our smarts.”
Logan looked uneasily at the transgenic’s self inflicted scars again.
“What’re the antibiotics for?” Max asked. “What do they do?”
“Do you ever watch the news?” Gabriel considered her. “Do you see everything that is happening out there?”
“I’m usually standing in the middle of it.” Max responded.
“Some crises do exist outside of this zip code,” Gabriel said. “Some people have vision that extends beyond any lags in their own petty luxury. Some people act instead of standing by and waiting for what they think their civilization owes them—“
Logan had met enough radicals in his own career to know how this speech went. So the doctor was a radical in her own right. Logan knew of a few other wealthy eccentrics that indulged in similar activities in order to better society without adhering to any of its rules. He tried not to glance self-consciously towards the view outside his windows that not many could afford. “Just-just try and concentrate,” he urged. “What’s all the new medicine for?”
“Maybe you’ve heard about the new strain of TB that’s been stacking children in mass graves down in South America?” The binds rattled as Gabriel got more and more agitated. “The untreatable HIV mutation that’s appeared in India? What about common Malaria that already has a cure but no resources for proper distribution—“
“You’re trying to tell us that… that Gaboriault is developing drug therapies?”
“When Sir Alexander Fleming finally figured out penicillin a lot of things sure changed didn’t they?” Gabriel’s mouth pulled into a grin. “The human condition was greatly improved when pesky things like Syphilis were knocked out of the picture—“
“You’re right,” Logan wanted to keep him on track. “There’s a lot of money to be made in pharmaceuticals.”
“Not really,” Gabriel replied dryly. “Not when the goal is to save the lives of the destitute.”
“Sure,” Max snorted. “I’m supposed to believe that you give a crap about the destitute?”
“Personally? I don’t care about anything.”
Cindy suddenly spoke up from the safety of the hallway. “I dunno, sugar,” she said. “You sure seem to care about that doctor.”
As nervous as the unknown X5 made her, she was still observing Gabriel with cautious sympathy.
“Are we done yet?” he asked tentatively. “Can I leave?”
“What’s so great about that lady?” Max crossed her arms. “She keep your cage nice and clean?”
Gabriel turned to stare up at her in loathing.
“I have to go back.”
Pressing his body back against the tiles, Gabriel’s throat worked as he tried to swallow back his reemerging fear. His gaze worriedly searched their faces for any clue of what might come next. Logan heard himself sigh, his own tense posture sagging with empathy for the frightened transgenic. This young man might have tried to do Logan harm but he was still a product of Manticore and victim to circumstances beyond his control.
“It’s okay,” Logan lowered his voice. “It’ll be all right.”
Whether the X5 was a menace or not there were unofficial channels to follow and options to explore.
“We can get you out of here," he reasoned. “We can send you somewhere safe. Some place where people like Elaine Gaboriault will never find you again—“
They were all startled by the harsh shout.
“I just want to go home.”
Logan watched the transgenic’s eyes turn bright, wet lines marring the blood on his cheeks and making him drag a sleeve indelicately under his nose. Whatever the transgenic was telling them, he knew for certain that it was genuine. The X5’s panic was feeding off the dread that Logan might make good on the promise and make him vanish into thin air just like Alec. He began to wonder if anyone on either side was doing the transgenics any favors at all.
Regardless of intention no one seemed able to leave them alone.
Alec had wrapped the blankets around his body and pressed his face to the floor but he could still see the light.
In the meager dark he had created he could see it leaking in behind his tightly shut eyelids. No layer of cloth could block out the incessant hum that had been embedded along with the bandwidth of searing luminosity. The cutting razor of the sound sliced through the clasped hands over his ears, and dissolved all efforts to calmly and rationally create steps that would get him out of this room. The blind of the sickly blue glare flashed behind his closed eyes as the frequency rose and fell in a carefully timed wave. His slow count of minutes was lost into a blur of hours. Each time he tried to get up and find some way to end the onslaught he collapsed back on the floor. The only thought he could form in the unremitting noise was a silent plead to the doctor to turn the agonizing machines off.
Panic was not a response a human body could sustain for hours. Over and over his mind fought to redirect his consciousness. He struggled to cling to the hope that the hack he’d performed down in that lab had worked. If he concentrated on believing that it had sailed right through all of the doctor’s careful firewalls, the force of his will might actually deliver it right into Logan’s inbox. The notion should have made him feel better, but it didn’t do much.
Alec groaned and tried to focus harder on the possibility of success.
While he was laying here on this floor being scoured from the inside out, the call for help was probably hitting all of Logan’s buffers by now. The Eyes Only network was slowly picking the signal apart into imperceptible pieces to determine if it was hostile, useful or an insidious parcel of spam. The clamor accumulated and pooled behind his eyes, the shrill vibration spreading over his skull like hairline fractures in crystal.
With another moan he felt his mind give up on coherency and settle into a deadened acceptance.
Like his body, his brain involuntarily assumed a defensive posture. Curled on his side, he lay perfectly still and allowed the racket to liquefy into a white noise. The harsh thrum of its edge grated across his skin and down the rigid arch of his spine. Shuddering in the hot dark under the heap of bedclothes, he pulled his body into a tighter ball.
He felt sweat under his shaking hands and imagined it was blood leaking from his ears, eyes and nose.
Alec fought the instinct to try to cover his head with his arms, knowing that this pain was nothing he could physically ward off. Tasting salt on his tongue, he realized his clenched teeth had bitten into the insides of his mouth. With a strained whimper he allowed himself to wonder if this was how it was going to be forever. The doctor could lock his bedroom doors and forget about him if she wanted to, letting him lay here writhing like he was engulfed in flames that would never burn out. He could be installed like that X5-49 sealed away in that freezer deep underground. This would all keep going until she flipped a switch or another Pulse hit to neatly wipe all the electricity right off the globe—
It took him a full minute to comprehend that the piercing noise he was hearing was nothing but an echo sizzling through his auditory nerves. Another minute went by before he figured out that its inexplicable absence wasn’t because his eardrums had finally ruptured.
The mechanism had been turned off.
His body didn’t want to let go of the tension it’d been progressively amassing all night long. Alec forced himself to sag, the tightness in his muscles loosening with each deep breath he dragged in. Rolling onto his back, he stared up into the black of the blanket stretched over his face. Listening to the ragged inhales and exhales, he made his frantic heartbeat slowly resume to its normal rate.
Through the lingering buzz ringing in his ears, he started to pick up on something strange.
Alec dragged the heavy covers away and felt the blissful touch of cool air on his hot damp face. Staggering up onto his feet, he looked dazedly around at the now dimmed plasma screens that covered the walls and ceiling. They were still white but they had been dulled. They were washed out and gray like a sky. Walking cautiously towards his door, he passed his unsteady hands over the metal bars first to test for any electrical current. Finding none, he pressed himself up against them to see what was going on in the hallway.
The doctor was placing a plastic storage box over another one. There were several empty containers waiting on the floor.
She was dressed in simple clothing that would keep her thin limbs warm in the drafty house. Without her makeup and glittering finery he was reminded of her real age once again. It was even more evident in her frail grip on the heavy box as she tugged it along the ground rather than lifting it.
“You movin’?” Alec asked in a hoarse voice.
Ignoring the question, she pulled out a bulky object from the container before rearranging it in a more satisfactory position. Alec abruptly recognized what the box and the one below it were filled with. They were the thick white books that lined the shelves of Daniel’s room.
He heard the noise again and realized what it was.
Alec couldn’t see him but the direction of the sound indicated the transgenic was in the room next door. It seemed like retribution for breaking the law was more thought out than Alec had suspected; it was customized.
“I thought he couldn’t talk.” Alec said.
"I believe I said rarely,” she said. “What child doesn’t know how to say yes, no, and more?”
Daniel was attempting to say no. Over and over again in a weak way that made Alec think he’d been out in that forest saying the same thing all night long.
“Why don’t you rearrange his furniture while you’re at it?” Alec suggested. “You could hit rewind every time he trips over a new throw rug!”
“We will talk later,” she said. “You’ve both had a difficult evening and I’d like you to get some rest.”
His hands flexed on the bars, his fatigue dulling the sound of his rage into a hollow demand. The doctor paused, her eyes tired but her posture exhibiting deliberate patience. The sight of her indulging the interruption made his anger flare through his exhaustion, the metal frame in his fists creaking as he shook it.
“You-you have to tell me something.”
She put a hand to her temple and brushed her thin hair aside.
“I’ve had a very long night Alec, I’m sure you have many questions but this will have to wait for a later date—“
“What the hell is all of this for?”
She appeared taken back by the words, any further efforts to stifle any time consuming inquiry momentarily set aside.
“Why are you keeping any of us alive?” he growled. “You should be giving Michael a mercy killing! And Gabriel? That guy belongs in a straightjacket!”
“Your small mindedness disappoints me, Alec.”
The doctor came close enough to lean against the barred doorframe and shared her small smile again.
“My professional failures haven’t caused me to give up,” she said softly. “Your flaws have been grossly exaggerated by the technology that gave you your gifts. These defects are nothing more than symptoms that can be treated like any other illness.”
He liked how the gentle cant of her gaze hardened at the sound of that name. When no more optimistic rhetoric started pouring forth, he decided to ask what was on his mind. It had been running back and forth through his thoughts ever since he’d found the last X5-49 of her collection hidden deep underground.
“Why even bother locking that freak away when you could freeze dry him like everything else?”
"Music," she answered distantly. "He enjoys music."
“Music.” Alec repeated.
“He's never said so of course. He can't. He was used in rage studies and the anatomy of psychosis. They used his brain like a pincushion. There's hardly anything left of the frontal lobe now."
Her seamless detachment made him swallow hard. She talked of another's mutilation as she would an unfortunate limp.
"But what little brain activity he has calms significantly when I feed music through the intercom. Any will do but I like to believe classical might be more beneficial to his quality of life."
His weak lunge against the metal between them only made her faint smile grow fonder.
"Do you enjoy anything, Alec?"
His chest hitched in a laugh of disbelief.
"Why ask me?" he said. "Why don’t you check your test results?”
She looked saddened again. If the analysis of all those exams had culminated into yet another embarrassing mess to add to her collection, he hoped he was the most spectacular disappointment of all.
"You don't have to understand my intentions," she finished. "In fact, it's completely unnecessary."
"Great." His knuckles whitened on the bars between her face and his. "I hope you understand mine."
She shrugged, picking up an armful of books. When the last neat stack was placed in the waiting plastic bin, she wiped her hands and took her leave.
Alec knew Daniel’s door had also been barred as soon as the doctor slid the last box firmly up against the wall. He could hear the other transgenic at the entrance of the adjoining room. The desperate attempt at words gradually became incoherent with the realization that she was leaving. Listening to the steady fall of her footsteps retreat down the empty corridor, Alec figured he might know why she had looked at him with so much compassion. Even an unlucky bastard like Lucien probably had some good days.
He was suddenly relieved Daniel couldn’t hear a thing. It removed any requirement on his part to offer something that might help. Any gloriously comforting words he could conjure would be worthless if he could actually think of them anyway. He wished his sense of hearing was hindered too. Alec didn’t want to listen to what the transgenic’s distorted words had shifted to. He slid down the bars and slumped to a sit on the floor.
The soft noise Daniel was making now sounded a lot like crying.
Logan had decided that they all required a few hours for a time out.
Cindy had halfheartedly suggested the notion of eating before heading for the sofa. When Logan heard nothing more about it he found her lying with her eyes closed against the armrest. He didn’t expect Max to be following any of her own good advice but he hoped she’d take some kind of break too. When he checked his bathroom turned holding cell, she was still standing vigilantly in the open door.
Gabriel was the only one using the opportunity to get some sleep. Slumber didn’t come easy to the X5s, let alone a complete relaxed state in a hostile situation. It made Logan think about what Max had said about the captive transgenic’s lack of training. When the familiar features weren’t constantly contorting into fear and anger, the genes Gabriel shared with his missing clone were plain. Logan knew those similarities could run deeper than physicality. Looking at Max’s drawn face he wondered if she was thinking the same. Her clones shared a lot more than just a smile too.
He looked back at the X5 sleeping peacefully in a tuxedo on the blood spotted shower tile.
Logan quietly wheeled back to his work station and woke up the computer. He waited for the monitor to come to life and ask for the dozens of passwords.
“I never thought about it before.”
Cindy was watching him drowsily from the sofa. Even under the weight of fatigue, she still looked startled by everything they had heard from Gabriel’s interrogation. For some reason, the bewildered look in her eyes reminded him of the very last time he’d seen Alec.
“More of ‘em, I mean,” Cindy said. “Never thought about family.”
Logan sat back in his chair and tried to work his sore shoulders. Max talked about her family unit all the time but it was hard for even an educated man to understand the reality of her attachment. A part of him had always considered the term a futile grasp at a sentiment that ordinary civilians took for granted.
“So I was thinking?”
Logan watched her prop an arm under her head, any sleep she had found far away.
“All this Gabriel wants to do is give a call home,” her gaze drifted in the direction of the bathroom. “All he can think about is seein’ that woman again.”
The computer needed his bio print one more time before his station access was finally flowing in both directions to the municipality network. The city gave him a way in to the federal satellites and that gave him the world.
“So,” Cindy continued. “Maybe that’s what Alec is doin’ too?”
Logan looked back at his terminal uncertainly when his standard interface was interrupted by a security warning. The military contingent of the hardware floating in low orbit above always gave him a hard time. It was a minor yellow flag that popped up with annoying frequency whenever he reconnected.
This one was a little different then what he usually got.
“I’m telling you,” Cindy yawned. “I’d bet my grandmother's rhinestones that Alec is tryin’ to shout loud enough for someone to hear.”
A block of code started scrolling down his computer that he had never seen before. Implanted with all the binary, a simple pattern had been fixed. It was there in plain sight so there would be no possibility the deviation would be missed. When the window was maximized the pattern took on the form of a recognizable image.
It was a large and perfectly proportioned smiley face.
Logan blinked uncertainly at the blank but friendly countenance on the monitor screen. It took him a few moments to put two and two together, but after he did all his exhaustion washed away like he’d just enjoyed a full night of sleep. He turned quickly back to Cindy with a growing smile of his own.
“I think you’re right.”
"You know, if you would just assert a little more pressure between the scapulae, it'd make for some exquisite coloring."
"Whatever," Max grumbled. "I'll assert more than pressure if you don't shut your trap."
It was a little difficult for the bound transgenic to speak with his cheek forced solidly against the curb. Max's boot held him in check as she strapped on the rest of her body armor.
Having left his chair behind, Logan checked his own vest and tested the strength of the exo-skeleton. Nervously looking up and down the empty street, he loaded his gun. All of the meandering access roads that surrounded the Gaboriault estate appeared the same. It was nothing but weathered asphalt surrounded by the pine forest that had been carefully planted to shut out all signs of the city nearby. The last time Logan had been here all he’d been able to do was drive along the borders of the restricted margins and watch.
But this time he had come prepared.
The cloaked code disguised as a smiley face had been sitting in every single one of Logan's network filters. How Alec had managed to send a signal out of Elaine Gaboriault’s personal laboratory was above and beyond Logan’s comprehension, but he knew he should have expected nothing less than the remarkable. The message had embedded several strands of sequence that were a crack for the house’s sophisticated defense system. Along with the hacks bought from the landscapers that were allowed on the grounds every week, they almost had a complete free pass to the inside. However, while the passwords were invaluable they still weren’t enough to get them all the way to the front door.
“What are we gonna do when we find her?” Max flexed her hands in protective black gloves. “Besides be polite.”
Logan checked his weapon before stowing it in his jacket. “I’m offering a trade.”
“You think she’ll give up Alec for this guy?” Max was doubtful. “Alec is a way better genetic template than this fruit loop.”
“No,” Logan shook his head. “We’re not giving him back.”
The transgenic in question was listening to them nervously from his sprawl on the ground.
For whatever security code information they lacked, they needed Gabriel to fill in the blanks. If Gabriel didn’t know the numbers that would save their lives from the automated guns then they would resort to Plan B. Logan hadn’t seen Max wield many pistols, but even one that was unloaded seemed strange in her hands. But the presentation, no matter how dramatic, would get its intention across to those well-situated cameras the doctor had set up all across the span of her property.
A good loud shout at the closest short circuit camera with a promise of the X5-49s brain splatter would do the rest.
“What’s the trade then?” Max considered the other X5. “His head?”
Gabriel struggled to his knees and glared at them vehemently.
Logan held up a small compact disc.
“I found a few things on her charity work. She’s been doing a lot of embezzling to get her medications down to countries that can’t afford it. Once I knew where to look, I found enough dirt in the last year alone that would put her away for violating all sorts of international trade law.”
“Sounds serious,” Max smoothed the straps on her Kevlar harness.
“Actually, I am starting to kind of see where she’s coming from.”
Max looked at him sideways as she leaned down to tighten her boot laces.
“I don’t have to respect the woman to admire what she’s done.” Logan shrugged.
“You don’t have to like her either.” Gabriel added.
"That's good because I think I hate her.” Max said.
“No good is accomplished without evil,” Gabriel muttered. “The world is no longer a place in which you must justify the means to an end.”
“That’s a great idea,” Max nodded as she hauled him up off the pavement. “You and your boss can split the Noble Peace Prize.”
Glancing around the quiet street, Logan reconciled his GPS with the computer’s segmented map of the surrounding landscape. With the info streaming in from his own station, the dish on the car roof would keep supplying him with a decent uplink. He had instructed Cindy to do a steady slow circle of the property to assure a nice range of coverage. With all that in place they could start a nice walking tour of the hazardous property and shut down all the mechanized weaponry as they went.
“The grid is still showing all in the green. I’m not sure how we’ll know when it’s completely offline.”
“It’s down,” Max murmured, her gaze moving over the forest. “I can’t hear it anymore. Can’t you tell? It got so quiet.”
Logan couldn’t hear anything but the jets whining overhead and the ever present thud of sector patrol helicopters that never left the skies. Gabriel stumbled forward when Max gave him a shove towards the trees.
“Lead the way, Logan.”
He pointed his phone towards the property and identified the next square of the security grid.
“Head north, 20 meters and then we plug in another code.”
Max nodded and pushed the other transgenic when he was reluctant to step away from the public jurisdiction of crumbling asphalt.
“What’s a matter?” she asked. “Thought you were homesick?”
Gabriel fidgeted in place before unenthusiastically stepping forward.
“This isn’t going to be pretty.”
to be concluded
cross posted to jam_pony_fic