Continued in Sequel: Traces
Disclaimers: DA & characters are owned by their various creators.
It had started raining again.
The steady gentle sheets of drizzle that the city never went long without ran in curtains over the windshield. It cast the grime off the sidewalks and lent a sheen and reflection for all the sputtering neon and glow of headlights. Max sat quietly in the passenger seat with her gaze fixed out on the noisy crush of early morning traffic. They hadn’t spoken since they left the empty tower.
It was frustrating to return to where they had started without knowing anything more than what they suspected was now fact. Someone had wanted to drive Alec out in the open so they could find him. And find him someone did. Logan knew Max was silently seething that they had gotten there just three steps behind whoever was behind this. He knew she was replaying it all over and over in her head about just exactly they could have done differently. He knew better than to try to assure her that they had gotten there as fast that they could have. And he knew he did not have to tell her that this was far from over yet.
By the time they had returned to the penthouse, it took only moments to start the engine of Logan’s network, contacts and everything else in-between that could shed any light on what exactly was going on. Concentrating on any military activity, Logan immediately put feelers out for anything even vaguely out of the city’s ordinary series of operation.
But something about this entire circumstance seemed to be pivotal into exactly how they might ever find the missing X5 again.
"About how they got to Alec..." Logan began, his eyes trained on the stream of data flashing down three monitors. "You said that his... cycle, that it wasn't normal. That someone had done it to him?"
"Yeah." Max said from beside the broad expanse of window that looked over downtown.
These days the list of people and organizations who wanted their hands on a nice healthy and breathing transgenic was pretty long. For DNA samples. For live research. For cloning. To glean out their secrets to enhance a foreign military. But there was always one big name on the top of that list whose former owners still wanted all its rogue children to come on home. And, like every other group that was out for some priceless intel, all its players were as spread out and varied as a tossed pack of cards. Sometimes a pack of cards that had no idea of how many even existed within their own deck.
"Well then, “ He continued thoughtfully. “I've been thinking about how they obviously had no idea where he was, so how did they induce a cycle in the first place?”
“I don’t know.” Max sighed in frustration. “He would have had to come into direct contact with some kind of catalysis.”
"In food maybe?” Logan murmured almost to himself. “But how would they know what food to put it in? There’s no way they could get something like that into the entire city’s food supplies..."
“Maybe it wasn’t so… I don’t know, specific?” Max reasoned.
“It was something they could spread out, like casting a net..." Max was pacing, her thoughts meshing along his line of thought. "It would have to be something simple, something that would get to everybody--"
"The water." Logan interrupted.
He turned back towards Max and met her gaze.
She glanced away and over towards the kitchen sink. Even though Logan's polished chrome was fully filtered and from the building’s own treated reserves, he knew what she was thinking. If someone had contaminated the city's water mains it would go to every faucet, shower and water glass of the countless people that relied on it. With a reach like that you could count on infecting at least one or more of what you had targeted. But then what?
Logan tapped his computer keys until that security grid from its low orbit satellite came up again. For some reason it didn’t shock him that the hack he had performed earlier about the citywide satellite surveillance system had been updated.
The skynet was right back how it should be.
However, the special heat signatures it had been searching for was now not only offline, but like it had never been running in the first place. Slightly confused, he cycled through the encrypted logs and found not even a trace that it had ever even been there. In a network of its size, the swift and utter eradication of its existence was downright spooky. There were only a few extremely powerful organizations that could operate that quickly and on that scale.
The heat signature search had been activated just about around the time Max said Alec had started behaving oddly. It was too coincidental that now the entire system was ghosted virtually within the same hour that the transgenic vanished from the space needle. Logan’s mind brought up the image of Alec on his sofa just the night before. He remembered what the transgenic had said when he had wondered about the wisdom of drinking the tap water.
I don’t get sick.
But Alec had gotten sick. So to speak. And when a transgenic got sick they didn’t quite burn just like anyone else did they? And with the entire skynet scanning the streets for specific body temperatures, anyone looking hard enough could find just what they were looking for…
Like a male X5 driven out of hiding.
"The water? Can we prove it?" Max asked. "Tonight?"
Logan recognized the need for them to act fast but the sound of urgency in her voice made him realize just how dire the timing was actually becoming. When her kind disappeared the chances were usually extremely poor that you would ever see them again. They had to find out where and when the water had been tampered with. If they knew that, then they’d at least have somewhere to start.
"Get a few samples. From a couple locations in town and Alec's place." Logan was already typing a message to a contact with a lab that never closed and never asked you any questions. It also never stayed still for security purposes. "I'll give you an address in about half an hour."
Max caught the phone he tossed to her. "Who do you think got that deep to screw with a entire city water supply without anyone noticing?"
An entire city water supply and all of the city’s skies.
Neither one of them had said Manticore out loud yet but they didn't really have to. It might have been burned to the ground but the men that had put it on the map still lived and breathed. The knowledge of the government agency’s involvement was redundant. Logan knew that Max’s real question was just who in the ranks was exactly responsible this time? The list just got a lot smaller but there were still plenty of names on it.
“You get me that sample.” Logan told her. "I think I know a few people in the city works department that could tell us exactly who has that kind of access."
He hoped anyway. Favors sometimes faded in the eyes of people who were never very glad that they owed you any. All he knew was that he sure as hell needed a few of them now. At this point, some bribes and a few lucky phone calls were the only things that could keep Alec from vanishing right back for good into the secret hidden places he came from.
Now it was all just a matter of running out of time.
It was hard to breathe.
The thin medical gown was soaked through and clinging to him with his sweat. Vaguely he knew they were moving, the cold metal under his bare back was vibrating and jostling his body and those that surrounded it as tires made their way over an uneven road. Bright piercing penlights were shone into his eyes. An inflated band around his bicep made his pulse throb in his arm as they measured his blood pressure. His heart rate was taken and the flash and whir of a digital camera sounded around him.
He raised his hands, wrists squeezed too tightly in bands of reinforced steel, trying to push away the scents and the bodies that lay under them, solid and warm. They didn’t pay his weak gestures any attention, they didn’t know what their presence was doing, spiking his heart to thud painfully in his chest, his mind folding in and onto itself. Someone opened his mouth and he felt a tablet pressed against his tongue. Like he was some uncooperative pet, they forced his mouth shut, hand firmly under his chin and another pinched his nose shut forcing him to convulsively swallow it down.
He felt the engine beneath him sputter and die, the world grinding to a halt. Alec lay still, attempting to be ready when a flood of light exploded over him as the doors were flung open. Roughly, he was prodded to his feet and made to walk down a steel ramp into the chill of a warehouse. Wire cages and stainless steel bars lined the shadowed walls, bare light bulbs hung by wires glinted off puddles formed beneath faulty water pipes. Uniformed men stood at each holding cell armed with weapons he'd not seen since the glory days. A neat and orderly hell. His arrival had prompted a bustle of activity, men shouting codes, the typical language of procedure.
That's how you treated a transgenic. By procedure.
Agent White was signing some forms on a clipboard and motioning to his men to keep a tight formation around the X5. Alec noticed with some vague distant satisfaction that the agent was keeping his distance this time.
“You should be feeling better by now.” White informed him. “We can’t have you dying before we even have you ready for transport.”
Alec tried to stay on his feet by his own power but couldn’t. The shakes were back in full but his head did seem to be clearing a little bit. He could focus his eyes and start to gather his thoughts into something more coherent than small desperate fragments. In fact, when he worked his mouth he felt like he could actually form words that weren’t garbled nonsense.
"Q-Quite an operation you've got here." He managed. "All f-for me? You shouldn't have."
"We've invested quite a lot of time and money on keeping you isolated."
Despite his weakness, Alec could not help a small smile. The powers that be were terrified. Although Ames would soon as see him made into dog food, he knew enough to respect his capabilities. His smirk died as he inhaled his first real lungful of the air, the scents until now being too many and powerful to do anything but confuse him. But as the medication they gave him worked further through his blood stream, he could pick out something else. Alec blinked when he realized he was not the only transgenic being kept here.
"No, not just me." He murmured.
White snapped the clipboard shut and studied him.
"Pain makes creatures act against their nature. Now I inflicted this pain on you initially as a tracking device. However, I think some people will be very interested in how well you can restrain yourself."
Alec heard his own voice go low and angry even though he felt himself start to slid towards some kind of laughter.
"What exactly makes you think I’ve done that, Ames?"
White stared back at him hard, his mouth moving into a stern grim line, his hands working at his sides. That look he had up on the needle was slipping back in his eyes. The curious part to his lips and the sudden red flush to the pale skin of his cheeks.
Alec let the laugh go. He couldn’t help it. It was a breathless horrible strained sound that made the armed guards around him shift nervously. White motioned them to stand their ground.
“Pack him up.” The agent ordered tersely. “I don’t want to be off schedule.”
Alec felt his jaw begin to clench.
All around him were sights, smells and sounds almost forgotten. Of unimagined pain and a thousand small deaths. The red flare of a clearance bulb flashed accompanied by the insistent bleat of the door alarm as a truck backed out of the loading bay. The creak and groan of steel doors, barked orders, the rattle of chains and the sharp click of the safety lock.
Memory like a fine needle flashed through Alec's brain and all he could think was no and no and no and NO--
The kick aimed from behind landed in the soft part of the guard's lower belly, angry shouts and gunfire erupting around him. Hands bound, he barreled into another man, knuckles slamming an exposed windpipe. Blood flooded his own mouth as the heavy end of a nightstick connected with his jaw, his pain unreadable as he instinctively reacted with the machine of his body. He felt none of the damage right away, his grade of adrenaline regulating his warped senses.
With a yell that scattered red in the air he lunged for Ames White.
All the agent did was watch.
The distance between them was almost closed. Alec knew his end would come during or shortly after the man in front of him but that didn’t matter. He’d finish this life even if it meant it was the very last thing he did—
Pain exploded up through his spine like he’d been set on fire.
The taser crackled loud and sharp between his shoulder blades, sending him sprawled onto his stomach. He cursed, panting and shuddering on the damp cement floor. Alec was rolled over.
“You’re just full of surprises aren’t you?” The agent was looking down at him with a slight frown.
Alec summoned the audacity to grin.
“You’ll like your new home I think.” White added. “There are lots of surprises there.”
As he felt his arms being lifted and his body being dragged away, Alec thought that he’d do just fine without any new wonders their technology had to offer.
In fact, he could do without one more astonishing new discovery for a real long time.
Logan was surprised that they had gotten the results as quickly as they had.
A water department engineer who had just two weeks ago taken up an impressive new bank account was also pretty surprised that Logan had found out all about it. After getting several calls from Detective Sung about money laundering and the prison time it involved, the frightened guy was ready to tell Logan almost anything he wanted. He got a name that made him grit his teeth.
The other thing that was of any use was an address. It was the location that the engineer had used to pick up the contaminate that he had been instructed to infuse the city water with. It was all they had so they took it. Max had taken off without him on her bike as soon as she’d scanned the harbor address that had popped up on the computer screen. Cursing the lines at the sector points, he got there almost half an hour behind her with his ailing car and the congested traffic.
The place was big. Left over from the its industrial shipyard days, its massive size sat half crumbling at the bay’s edge. But as soon as he got closer he got a sinking feeling at the sight of the large waterfront structure. It seemed too quiet. Too dark. Abandoned and silent. Assuring himself that no one was watching his progress, he cautiously slipped under the rusted retractable metal truck-loading door and entered its dim interior.
With a twinge in his stomach, he immediately saw Max standing in the great vast space within it. Eerily reminiscent of the space needle, she was alone and silent. Logan looked around at the empty warehouse. The desks had just recently been stripped of the equipment that had sat on it. The tell tale left over cables and fine square outlines of dust that had been collecting around magnetic static of computer monitors left no doubt that this had been some operational center. He noted the fresh oil stains on the cement floors from large utility vehicles that were no longer parked there.
Max sat down heavily on a tipped over wooden crate.
They had come so close. Twice. He flexed his fists. They had missed them in the matter of an hour. Maybe even less.
He wanted to think that there were always options. There was always somewhere else to look, to go, and to listen. But he knew down in his gut that this might be the case this time. They had moved as fast as they could but it wasn’t enough. The operation was too well organized, too fluid and efficient. White had an entire military organization in motion with unfathomable resources to draw from.
Logan had his desktop, a few informants and one transgenic. And no matter how capable they were, that still just made them two people against something much larger than they could even maybe imagine.
When Max finally spoke, her voice wasn’t quietly furious like it had been.
“We’re too late.”
Instead, it was small and a little bit lost.
Alec heard the rumble of a truck engine.
Loud and roaring.
Fumes of gasoline and the sweat of human beings intermingled and overpowering in the small enclosed space. Awareness returned gradually, his surroundings shifting from white to gray until shapes became permanent and solid. Ironically, the pain helped, even when the jolt of the vehicle sent shudders through his muscles so violent and involuntary that he clenched his teeth and did what he thought people might do when they prayed.
He could feel it. The memory of it was as familiar as his own skin. As identifiable as the work of his muscles and the body he willed. The trousers and the stiff shirt that were washed in that shitty government issue detergent. Boots he hadn't felt for a long time were laced too tightly up his calves. He didn't have to be able to see himself to know they were all in bleak shades of his former handler’s camouflage.
They had put the product back in its proper packaging. They had removed what he had claimed as his own and had begun to put him back into his place. You don't ask anything you own for its permission. The thought of them putting this uniform back onto his body without his knowledge enraged him almost as badly as the violation of his chemistry. And it seemed that his chemistry was being tampered with yet again. The full boil of his body had been pulled back into the daze of a dull simmer. Wondering at the change that wasn’t quite relief but not the agony it had been, he tried to concentrate on just exactly what was his current physical state.
Whatever he was lying in was coffin like and slanted to let in some faint ambient light. It wasn’t much but it was enough for his crafted eyes to make out what there was to see. His flesh burned with needles wrapped tightly into both his forearms, the tubing leading to a portable collection of drip bags that were wadded and hung so low above his face that they brushed maddeningly against his skin. They swayed with the motion of the vehicle, the contents sloshing sickeningly. Remembering the pill they had gave him, he thought this looked like something more substantial to sustain him for a long haul with minimal to no supervision.
Sensations were brutal, dwelling on them too long made him want to give up and sink back into the black unconsciousness that threatened to swallow him whole. Fighting back the haze of his swimming vision, he felt the restraints bite into his neck, wrists, waist, legs and ankles when he tested his numb limbs. The container he lay in was tightly wedged almost crate like alongside some other equipment that had been packed into the back of some moderately sized truck.
He was cargo.
There was a steady icy fog of his own breath through the filter on the oxygen mask that was strapped tightly across his nose and mouth. Alec realized why he appeared to be trembling uncontrollably as he considered the ice that coated the sides of his narrow enclosure. The unheated transport was traversing through extremely low temperatures. It was cold wherever he was. Much colder than the city he’d left.
How long had he been out anyway?
Alec could hear voices muffled in the background above the thrum of the engine. He was being discussed somewhere above him in the driver cab. All he could make out was the designation he hadn’t heard this often in quite a long time.
One day on the outside, one of his first as Manticore was still smoking out there in the woods, he had come to realize something about the nature of his kind. There were some transgenics who could not live among humans. Some who would not. This went against the grand design of their makers. From the beginning, their genetics were meant to be uniform, no prototype with an advantage over another. But they had been wrong. Once introduced to a new environment they discovered that there were few with the ability to adapt and others who inevitably failed to sustain themselves. Some relished the freedom of choosing their own deaths, using the world outside as their dagger rather than let Manticore mutate their remains -- the precious strands of their DNA -- to create the next big thing.
On one of those first days of unexpected freedom, he'd looked in a mirror. And, finding no face looking back at him, Alec realized he needed one. But he could be what his makers wanted once again if necessary. Alec could adapt again, just like he had when suddenly he’d had to walk the streets and live his days without any orders but his own. He could pretend and conjure and go back to being one of the faceless. All he had to do was play their game until he could put one final bullet through his own brain.
Then that last laugh would be his.
But as his tenuous grasp on his consciousness began to slip once more, he knew that wasn’t really true. Alec wouldn’t get the last of anything. A man like Ames would only find his self-annihilation interesting.
Alec heard himself make a small harsh noise under his mask. He wasn’t sure if was a laugh or a sob. With a ragged sigh, he finally gave up trying to keep himself awake and started to spiral back down into blissful silence of nothing. As his eyes slipped closed, Alec wondered when exactly he'd open them again. He forced himself not to struggle as he felt himself dissolve bit by bit, sinking down further and further away. And right before the last strand of thought snapped and he fell, he knew that there was at least one thing was for sure.
When he did come back he'd be home.
to be continued...
Cross posted to jam_pony_fic
Cross posted to darkangelfic
Cross posted to x5_darkangel_x5