- Heroic Duty -
Robert Pemberton had never wanted to be a cop.
It was not something he'd ever aspired to, even as a child when just about every other boy in his neighborhood had passed through that phase at some point or another… somewhere along that progressive chain of fireman, astronaut, doctor… but never a cop. Not him.
And yet, that's exactly what he'd ended up as. Officer Bobby Pemberton. A fine, upstanding member of the Seattle Police Department.
He had never been caught accepting a bribe, or had his badge suspended for any reason whatsoever, which was more than could be said for many of his peers. He'd also never fired his gun, and the most action-filled shift he'd seen in his three years on the job was the time that burly biker had evaded his police escort on the way to the drunk tank and run a two-minute rampage right there in the middle of the station.
No, Bobby didn't want to be a cop, but it seemed like exactly the sort of thing no one would ever have expected him to be either. Especially his older brother, Peter.
Peter who had joined the marines at eighteen, straight out of high school. Peter, four years older than him and the pride and joy of their father, the true man's man. The kind of guy who worked hard, liked his TV and his beer when he got home, and a little blood in his steak at dinnertime. The kind of guy who wanted to see his son play football, tinker around with car engines, and get caught trying to sneak out of his girlfriend's bedroom at one in the morning. Peter, who had laughed at him and called him a pansy, and told him that if you weren't smart, you should at least be tough, Bobbo, and the fact that you can't manage either… well, that's just so fuckin' pathetic.
And Bobby had shown him, hadn't he. Joined up at the police department, enrolled in the academy and dragged himself through the entire process, by tooth and nail. Even through the fitness tests, which had never been Bobby's strength. And when he'd graduated, and every time his father had seen him with his gun in the holster on his hip, and his uniform so clean, so sharp and so authoritative, the old man had looked kinda proud.
But Peter, on Thanksgiving weekend that first year, when he'd gotten his six-month leave and come home for the holiday, had pulled him aside. He had laughed at him and told him he'd never make it. Not even as a beat cop, he'd never survive. One gritty situation, one time he had to draw that gun and actually pull the trigger, knowing that it was him or the other guy, and not them both, that it couldn't be them both - then he'd know. He'd shit his pants and come running home so fast… tossing that badge aside and wishing that he'd just stayed at that fish packing factory where Uncle Ralph had gotten him an in, and there was no union but they gave you plenty of smoke breaks and the pay was pretty good if you could just put up with the smell the first few months before your senses dulled or desensitized, or whatever it was that made it so everything Uncle Ralph ate tasted the same to him, the only difference being the texture…
And the thing was, there was something in Peter's eyes, when he talked about this - about the "gritty situation" and seeing blood and pulling the trigger - that made Bobby realize that his older brother knew more about the whole thing than he'd ever wish to. More than, if he was lucky, he'd ever have to.
Yet Bobby hadn't wanted to give in, hadn't wanted to admit defeat. So he'd shown Peter, again.
Because it had been three years and here he was, still. Three years, two months, one week and six days. And still playing cop in the mean streets of post-Pulse Seattle.
But still only playing.
That is, up until today.
Today, he was going to get a chance to do more than just play. And he wished to God that he had had the foresight to choose to just stay home this morning. Called in sick and spent the day cleaning his apartment, or doing the laundry, or any one of those number of things that would earn him back his title of pansy if either his father or his brother caught him in the act.
To his knowledge, Bobby had never seen a transgenic up close and personal. And he'd have gone to his grave a happy man had he managed to keep it that way.
But the thing was, his partner, Dobbs, would never have turned down the opportunity to take down a real live trannie. So when the call came over the radio, a request for backup not three blocks away from where they were making their rounds, followed by the words, "In pursuit of a suspected transgenic," Dobbs got this crazy glint in his eyes. It was a glint that told Bobby not to question his partner's orders, so when the other man fingered his holster with a light, caressing touch, inclined his head and said, "Let's go," only fear of what might come from following his instructions kept him from conceding immediately. And fear of what denying his partner would entail made him give a hesitant nod when the he was pierced with a sharp look from fierce blue eyes.
So here he was now, walking down a shadow-infested alley, five feet behind and two feet left of his partner, gun in hand, pointed straight out ahead of him. Finger loose on a trigger he'd never pulled, except at the firing range, and even then it took a conscious effort not to wince at each and every shot.
A noise behind him had him spinning on his feet, barrel drawn out at the rat that skittered across the narrow patch of pavement between one dingy wall and the next. His pulse jackhammered in his throat as he attempted to assure his unheeding autonomic system that there was no need for alarm.
Like hell there was no need for alarm. He was stumbling through alleyways, looking for a creature that supposedly had the speed and strength to rip out both his throat and his partner's before either even had a chance to realize what was going on. And all because Dobbs had aspirations of greatness, of having duties beyond those of a mere foot patrolman; because Dobbs was the type of guy who knew what he wanted and was prepared to use brute force to take it, if necessary. Hell, not even if it was necessary, so long as it was an option. He reminded Bobby too much of Peter.
"Hey," the sound behind him had him whirling back in the other direction, a mirror movement of the first gesture. Only this time, the target caught in the sights of his gun was his partner's chest.
"Fuck, Pem," the other man hissed at him, "Watch where you point that thing. You're gonna get us both killed."
Bobby lowered his gun.
"Dobbs… I got a bad feeling about this," he said in a soft voice, his expression pleading. "We should really wait 'til we get some backup on scene. You know we're not supposed to go in teams of smaller than four when we're tracking down trannies."
"Jesus, Pem! We don't fucking have time to wait for fucking backup! This thing'll be long gone by the time anyone else gets here." Still Bobby hesitated, and Dobb's gaze narrowed. "You want this creature to stay on the loose… out there - looking like us, acting like us, pretending to be one of us? How're you gonna feel the next time one of these…things…kills a human, that it might've been the one that you let get away? That maybe if you'd pushed your fear outta the way and did your job, you might've saved a life?"
Dobbs took a step toward him, lowering his voice a notch as he licked his lips almost nervously. "'Sides, Bobby, we catch this thing… how good is that gonna look for the two of us?"
Finally he caved, letting out a small sigh. "Alright. Fine." He received a quick grin from his partner before the other man turned and continued down the alleyway with an eager strut, like a fool rushing to embrace his death.
And Bobby Pemberton remembered that he'd never wanted to be a cop in the first place.
He'd been running for a while now, fueled by pure adrenaline and animal instinct. But the pain had caught up to him finally, as had the blood loss, while the gunshot wound to his leg went untended.
He had lost the four sector cops on his back a few blocks earlier, only to pick up another pair soon after. And while the numbers had decreased, these ones had the added advantage of his injury, which had not only slowed him severely, but had left him partially immobilized. Even now, he could hear their soft voices as they communicated back and forth, their ever-nearing footsteps echoing through the street. He wriggled a little further into his hiding position underneath the pile of cardboard lying next to the dumpster.
X6-316 was tired and hungry, cold and in pain. It seemed this was always true, ever since Manticore had gone down. It seemed that all he was doing was running, even when he wasn't.
But never, in the past few months, had there been a call as close as this.
The pain in his leg intensified for a second, and his foot twitched involuntarily. It was the smallest of movements, but it was enough. The cardboard around him vibrated slightly with the shift, drawing the attention of his pursuers.
"Dobbs," a voice called out softly.
There was no audible reply, but 316 was sure it wasn't due to lack of acknowledgement. He tensed in place, readying to launch himself to his feet. Fight or flee. Or a little of both; because if he was going down, he wasn't prepared to go down alone.
The careful shuffling of feet over pavement, and then the words, "Come out slowly with your hands in the air," were directed loudly in his direction.
316 hesitated. He wasn't an X5; when he got up, he wouldn't be able to simply blur out of the way. In truth, he wasn't all that much faster than a normal human.
"I said come out now, or I will fucking shoot you where you're hiding!"
Well, if he was going to die, he was going to die like the soldier he was. Not cowering beneath a pile of rotting cardboard boxes. Not fearing some ordinary.
Pushing his hesitation aside, he coiled the already strained muscles in his legs…
In the brief, shocking instant in which their prey leapt suddenly into sight, Bobby felt his senses kick into overdrive. And the whole world seemed to decelerate into slow motion.
A kid, he realized. Their big bad transgenic was just a kid.
Couldn't have been over sixteen, but there was a steely glint in his eyes that spoke of experience beyond that which a normal sixteen-year-old would have been acquainted. Definitely more than Bobby, at twenty-four, had endured.
Blood caked the entire lower half of his left leg, and smudges of it mixed with grime on his face. Despite his aggressive response, his hands were clearly empty. He was unarmed, and displaying none of that transgenic speed that Bobby had heard about.
At this new rate of processing, he watched almost lethargically as Dobbs' finger came down on the trigger of his gun, unable to use this advantage of his senses to provide a corresponding increase in his reaction speed.
"Wait…" even that single word seemed to take an eternity to leave his lips. He watched the inevitable unfold with increasing horror.
But before the discharged bullet could reach its destination, a new shadow fell - no, flew - across the alley, taking the kid down and out of the way in a full body tackle.
"What the fuck," Dobbs muttered in awe, gun still held out straight in front of him, though his grip had loosened to the point where it looked as if it might drop from his hands at any moment. The shot had sliced harmlessly through empty air.
The shadow rose to its feet, leaving the boy on the ground and tucked against the wall of one enclosing building.
"What the fuck indeed."
And here was the creature Bobby had always associated with the transgenics he'd learned of through the media and the tabloids and those eyewitnesses that came in to the station in ever-increasing numbers to report their own experiences.
It looked human, it sounded human, but the expression on its face was anything but human.
Just then Dobbs seemed to rediscover the presence of the firearm in his hands. With trembling fingers, he clutched at the weapon.
"Don't move," he warned in an equally shaky voice.
A menacing grin shadowed across the transgenic's face. "Now, you don't wanna do that."
And that was all that either of them got in the way of warning before the man in front of them disappeared in a blur of movement. Then the gun in Dobbs' hands was flying across the alley and one swift kick took his feet out from under him. He landed with a grunt of pain while Bobby watched on dazedly. His own weapon hung loosely in his hand by the side of his body.
While Dobbs was on the ground, the newcomer turned toward Bobby. Bobby took an unconscious step back, his eyes widening at the prospect of having the undivided attention of this transgenic.
"Whoa," he said quietly, raising his hands in submission. "No need for that. As far as I'm concerned you're free to do as you please."
The man's gaze narrowed, his mouth tightening in a slight frown. Bobby glanced toward the object of his attention and found that his gun was still slackly gripped in his palm.
"Uh," he stuttered and tossed the weapon away from himself quickly. "There, right? Everything's cool."
Something like a grin flitted briefly across the transgenic's face. Bobby took another step backward, not willing to press his luck. But his foot caught on something, causing him to stumble, and rather than falling backwards and headfirst into the wall, he took a quick step forward, lending his weight to the front of his body.
A loud bang sounded through the air and Dobbs screamed out, "Bobby!"
And the world exploded in a sharp stab of blinding white pain.
His eyes widened, mirroring the expression of the man before him. For an indefinable moment, time seemed to hang suspended - then it abruptly came crashing back to normal, and all activity resumed. In another blur of motion, the transgenic left the spot in front of him, gone to disarm his partner. Bobby sank slowly to his knees.
"Fuck," he gasped, as he slipped to the ground and rolled onto his back.
Then the pain began to subside as a numbness set in, and his head lolled to the side. The man was standing over the prone figure of Dobbs, the weapon cradled momentarily in one hand before he pitched it far away. His gun, Bobby realized with an ironic twist to his lips. Dobbs' had already been tossed out of reach earlier… the gun he'd been shot with was his own… the one he'd dropped as a gesture of amity.
His eyelids fluttered shut for a short time until he felt a shift in the air beside him. He stared up into green eyes… human eyes. Eyes filled with regret. A hand applied pressure to the hole in his chest, but a look of understanding passed between them as both men acknowledged the truth. It was too late.
Bobby tried to laugh, but it came out a wheezing gasp for air.
"My fault…" he muttered, suddenly heavy lids falling shut once more.
And this time they stayed that way.
The last thing he heard before he succumbed to the welcoming blackness was, strangely, the sound of Peter's voice; only the tone was almost… regretful.
"And that, Bobbo, 's why you never shoulda become a cop."
316 raised himself slowly into a sitting position, watching warily as his savior observed a moment of silence over the dead man.
He couldn't even begin to fathom the source of the man's obvious remorse. The cops had been looking to kill him, and had they succeeded, 316 was sure they would have spared him no compassion. And he honestly couldn't say he shared in his rescuer's sorrow.
Suddenly, the man stood, wiping a bloody hand on his knees. He turned toward the X6 with the soldier mask perfectly in place, not a hint of any emotional distress visible. Without preamble, he asked, "Can you walk?"
316 nodded, and with the aid of the wall behind him, raised himself slowly to his feet. A surveying look confirmed that the other transgenic was mostly likely an X5. With the way he'd fought, he was definitely a combat series, and age was right for a '5.
"This way," he was told as the other man led the way out of the alley.
Sparing one last glance at the other cop, who appeared to have been spared and merely left unconscious, 316 followed.
They stopped out on the street, next to a dark motorcycle. The X5 climbed on and the younger man followed suit. The ride was fast with neither of them speaking. 316 didn't question their destination, fearing the risk of provoking the elder transgenic. He may have saved his life, but there was something about him that made the X6 wary. He seemed almost… volatile. Like something was lurking just beneath the surface, biding its time, waiting to get out.
When they came to a stop, 316 got off without prompting. The ache in his leg had grown substantially, and he was grateful that they'd finally reached their destination, whatever it was.
The X5 spoke without looking at him. "Get to Oak Street. It's just half a block down, to your left. You should make it alright," he said, glancing at the X6's leg. "And have that taken care of right away."
316 nodded. "Listen, tha - "
"Just go," the other man interrupted.
His mouth snapped shut, and after a moment's pause, he turned and began walking in the direction he had indicated. A few steps along the way, he stopped and twisted around to face his savior, willing to risk another attempt to convey his gratitude.
But the sound of an engine gunning drowned out any words he might have offered, and soon both man and bike were down the street and out of view.