Disclaimer: all theirs, nothing mine. Heavy sigh
Surf and Turf
On a certain day in late spring, three separate incidents occurred. They were about to be related in no uncertain terms, but at this time, approximately three o'clock in the afternoon, not one of the participants was aware of the coincidence. Indeed, none of them were aware that the others existed.
The first took place on a pier on the eastern Florida coast. The main character was a certain Jacob R. Prescott IV, a young man with too much time, too much of his mother's money, and too little diligence on his hands. He spent that money on hiring a small but seaworthy yacht captained by one Theo Tanikopolis for the purpose of spending that time on one of the two young ladies still giggling on the dock along with Jake's friend Mike Witherspoon. The fact that both ladies were clad in swimsuits that barely abided by local obscenity laws was not lost on Captain Tanikopolis. But the money was good, and the tourist season had been poor, thanks to the media reports of frequent shark attacks. Captain Tanikopolis didn't doubt the veracity of such reports—he himself had seen more sharks in these waters this year than the past three combined—but the media could have shown a bit more restraint. After all, a man had a living to earn, and scaring paying customers away was not what the good captain liked.
So Tanikopolis sighed, and picked up the magazine that his sister had sent him, preparing to spend the larger portion of the voyage somewhere inconspicuous on his own boat. The magazine was a science-oriented news rag. His sister was always trying to get him to improve his mind, study something 'worthwhile'. Tanikopolis snorted. The cover story was of some bright-ass scientist, working with human genes and other similar nonsense. Tanikopolis snorted again. Did it improve the quality of the fishing? He doubted it. Did it improve the common sense of people? He doubted that even more.
* * *
The second link in this chain of events was somewhat more noteworthy, being a dogfight between an airborne fighter and another fighter immersed in the cold Atlantic ocean. Normally a dogfight would not be of this level of remarkable; though not war-time, some military forces routinely conducted these exercises in preparation for the real thing and to justify the allocation of money extorted from other branches of government.
This dogfight, however, was being waged without benefit of equipment.
The aerial being was not in an airplane, jet, helicopter, or any other artificial means of flight. Instead, he sported a pair of large, feathered wings that emerged seamlessly from his back. His long and flowing blue hair seemed to float into those feathers, giving him an almost fluid look from head to waist. His arms were busy with a bow and a flight of arrows, most of which he was diligently putting into the waves at his opponent.
Said opponent was equally distinctive, though less flamboyant about it. He possessed gills that functioned very efficiently underwater. If one were close enough to observe one would see that the water bound combatant had webbing between both toes and fingers that assisted him in propelling himself through the water. His weapon was a long and deadly spear. That the spear was effective was clear: his airborne adversary was the not-so-proud recipient of a red gash across his ribs.
The dogfight was over in moments. The aerialist soared out of reach, caught an updraft, and disappeared into the clouds. His report to his clan would include a somewhat exaggerated account of how he defeated the merman, but accuracy was unimportant. The merman would likewise boast of how he sent the winged wonder to a watery grave. If the various reports of both sides were to be believed on an ongoing basis, then the multitude of such encounters would lead the believer to conclude that the bottom of the Atlantic must be littered with bones from each species.
* * *
The last coincidental occurrence took place in a hidden place called Sanctuary, a home cum laboratory that housed four New Mutants and a scientist named Adam Kane. Dr. Kane was, as usual, lost in thought in that laboratory, trying to make whatever earth-shattering discovery he was involved in come out right. The science was beyond the New Mutants, though they made an effort to keep up with their mentor.
The first of the New Mutants, Brennan Mulray, was engaged in hand to hand combat with another by the name of Shalimar Fox; a work-out session. They made an interesting study in contrasts, Brennan tall with dark good looks and Shalimar a tiny bundle of blonde energy. Neither could get the best of each other, trading pulled punches and kicks, rolling just out of reach. Brennan had the reach on her, but Shalimar retaliated by extraordinary athleticism, jumping high and beyond arm's length. If it looked as though she could jump several times her height like a cat, then the observer would be correct: Shalimar Fox was a feral.
The third New Mutant sat in front of a computer. If asked, Jesse Kilmartin would reply that he was beefing up the security of Sanctuary, testing the defenses and searching for ways to make the fortress more secure. Bright eyes poured into the screen, scanning the results in front of him, taking out a menace here, a trap there…
Only Emma DeLauro, sitting cross-legged a little apart from the others with eyes closed, knew better. She smiled a secret smile to herself, allowing her thoughts to drift over her teammates. Her own gift—no longer a curse, thanks to Adam Kane's brilliance and, more importantly, his caring—was telempathy, the ability to sense what others were feeling with unerring accuracy. That gift allowed her to see what Jesse was actually doing: rather than working on Sanctuary security, the molecular New Mutant was playing a computer game, outsmarting villain after villain and seeking after the treasure chest located in some imaginary computer room. Emma didn't mind. It was the rare individual who could enter Sanctuary uninvited, and Jesse was a significant part of that protection. If unwinding from the stress included the occasional stint of gaming, then Emma was all for it.
Shalimar's emotions were a joy to sink into: clean and pure, simple as the animal she was named for. There was no deviousness about the feral. She felt what she felt, and never made any secret of it. Being around Shalimar was almost always a relief for Emma; no need to hide, and no need to pretend.
Brennan was another story. The elemental had grown up on the streets, and looking for ulterior motives was as natural to him as the electricity that shot from his hands. Emma brushed lightly over his emotions, careful not to delve too deeply, not to disturb the crevice filled with the fear of abandonment that had been carved out of him as a child. She moved on.
Emma had her own Sanctuary defenses to look to, ones that she didn't share with Adam. She wondered if he knew that she did this, and suspected that he did. Emma routinely 'swept' the facility for the presence of malevolent thoughts. It kept the place peaceful, and a welcome respite from the outside world. And, on occasion, she had detected an intruder that the electronic sensors missed.
These three other New Mutants were now her family, her brothers and sister. She would do anything for them, anything within her power—which was considerable. Another secret smile to herself, and she then telempathically sought out the bright light that was her mentor.
At first she couldn't 'find' him. Emma frowned; that wasn't right. Adam Kane was in his lab. She had 'touched' him there not an hour previous. Emma 'looked' harder. There he was, but there was something odd. His thoughts were fuzzy and jumbled, not the diamond-hard clarity that Emma was accustomed to.
Then those thoughts were gone.
"Adam!" she cried out.
The other three looked up, alarmed.
"Emma?" Shalimar questioned.
"It's Adam!" she insisted. "There's something wrong!"
None of them doubted her for an instant. Jesse left his computer game without a second glance. The three-eyed toad-monster gobbled up the plucky video-heroine in seconds.
* * *
The lab was pristine clean and white, a table with equipment decorating the top. Multi-colored liquids bubbled from several beakers, and something hissed in the clean room hood in the back corner. Not one but three computers quietly murmured to themselves, running programs presumably related to the afore-mentioned liquids. One computer had its display shone up onto a wall screen, demonstrating the progression of a strand of DNA inserting itself through a cell membrane. It looked vaguely disturbing.
Even more disturbing was the fact that Adam Kane, perpetrator of those computer programs, was lying on the floor, face down, blood running down his face.
"Adam!" Shalimar cried out.
Brennan automatically took charge. "Emma, check him out. Shalimar, search for intruders. Jess, lock down Sanctuary. Run the sensors; see who or what got in. Move!"
Emma turned Adam over. The man groaned, trying not to open his eyes. She felt his forehead. "He's hot. Brennan, he's feverish. He's sick."
"There's blood on the corner of this table," Shalimar announced, nostrils flaring. "It looks like he hit his head on the way down."
"No intruders," Jesse added from his spot in front of one of the computers. It was no longer running Adam's program but had been pressed into service to scan all of Sanctuary. "There's no one else here besides the four of us and Adam. How is he? What's wrong?"
"He's sick. That's what's wrong," Emma said worriedly. "He must have passed out, and hit his head."
"Concussion, you think?" Shalimar asked.
They looked at each other. Adam was the doctor, the one who always picked up the pieces whenever one of them crashed. Right now he was the one unconscious on the floor.
Jesse finally voiced what they were all thinking. "What do we do now?"
Brennan gave a lop-sided smile. "Call 911?"
* * *
Shalimar hated hospitals.
She really hated them with a passion. Going into one was one of the hardest things she could ever do, right up there with her feral terror of fire, yet here she was, pacing in the waiting room along with Brennan, Jesse, and Emma, prowling back and forth and stepping outside for a few moments when it got too bad. Emma sometimes accompanied her on these outside excursions. Shalimar knew that Emma's excuse was to keep Shalimar company, but the feral also suspected that the pain and misery radiating from everyone inside was getting to the empath. Emma needed her own escape.
"He's going to be all right," Emma said on one of these jaunts. "He's going to be all right."
"You're repeating yourself," Shalimar said. "Who are you trying to convince? Me, or you?"
"Me," Emma admitted. "It's really scary. For the first time, I can't touch him. I mean, I couldn't touch his thoughts. It's like he was just…gone."
"He's not going anywhere," Shalimar said resolutely. "He's going to be okay. This is a good hospital."
Brennan poked his head out. "Hey, guys, you coming? Doc says we can see Adam."
* * *
Adam's face looked as white as the sheet that he lay on, the narrow ER bed barely wide enough to accommodate his wiry frame. An intravenous hung from a convenient pole, dripping a yellowed fluid into his arm, and the gash on his forehead had been covered over with a neat white bandage. He levered open his eyes as the four trouped in.
"Hi, guys," he said weakly. "Sorry about this."
"You should be." Shalimar took his hand, the free one not tethered by the IV. "You scared us half to death. Why didn't you tell us that you were sick?"
"Good question." The gray-haired emergency room doctor pulled back the curtain just enough to enter. "These the kids you pulled off the street, Adam?"
"My lab assistants," Adam correctly as firmly as he could.
"Lab rats, more like it. You always did have a penchant for rescuing abandoned kittens." It was obvious that Dr. Gary Girimonte knew Dr. Adam Kane from long ago. Brennan cocked his head with a mildly challenging air. "And a tendency to work yourself to death. Literally, this time."
"Hah." It would have sounded more convincing if Adam could have said it above a hoarse whisper.
"Hmm, let's see if I've got it right." Dr. Girimonte struck a pose, hand to his chin and finger tapping as if in thought. He turned to the four. "I'll bet that Adam here lives in his laboratory. That either his home is part of the lab, or he's turned the basement into a lab away from the lab. Right?"
"Pretty much," Brennan admitted. It was as good a description of what went on in Sanctuary as anything.
"Next: he's taken the four of you in, with possibly more of you hanging around back at the lab. He's glorified the title of lab assistant for you, but you probably have very little to do with the actual work going on there. Do any of you even have a high school diploma?"
"Some of us do." Jesse refused to get nettled. The sheepish look on Adam's face deepened.
"Let's move to recent events." Girimonte was clearly enjoying himself. "Adam has once again gotten deeply involved with researching some topic that mere mortals cannot understand, and forgets to eat, sleep," he sniffed deeply, "at least you remembered to bathe, Adam. In short, you ran yourself into the ground. You passed out, not neglecting to whack your head on a convenient piece of furniture on the way down, and gave yourself concussion. That pretty much cover the facts, Adam?"
Adam mumbled something indistinct.
"And just how do you know all this?" Brennan challenged.
Girimonte grinned. "I started out a year ahead of Adam in medical school. By the time I finished, he'd gone through all four years of med school and his intern year and was well into combining both a residency and a research grant. Of course, it helped that he only needed four hours of sleep per night."
"Six," Adam grumbled.
"And you squeaked by on two most of the time. Until it caught up with you." Girimonte grinned again. "You should have seen him. It was my senior year, and his second year of residency. He looked just like this—though a bit younger, of course—and just as stubborn. He had two research projects going on at the same time as well as a full load of patients to see, and he crashed and burned pretty spectacularly. I was on call that night. As I recall, there was an explosion and a fire in his lab that the local fire company still talks about. Come to think of it, I stitched up a laceration that night, too. Or was it two lacerations?"
"One," Adam all but snarled. "Are you going to spend the time reminiscing, or are you going to let me out of here?"
Girimonte turned serious. "You're not going anywhere, Adam. For your stupidity, you have just earned yourself an overnight stay in the Chez University Medical Center, and you will consider yourself lucky. Where you spend the next week to ten days will depend on your assistants."
"What do you mean?" Adam asked suspiciously.
"I mean, you will rest and recuperate for a minimum of ten days. You will not return to your lab under any circumstances for that same period of time. Which means that you have two choices: you can spend the next ten days being terrorized by the nurses upstairs or…"
"If your lab assistants can come up with a vacation spot no where near your laboratory and manage to keep you there for ten days, I'll consider releasing you. But not until tomorrow morning."
"Ten days!" Adam protested. "Gary, I can't let my projects go that long! Some of them are time sensitive."
"See what I mean?" Gary smirked at the New Mutants. "Can't trust the man. Too dedicated for his own good. That's why you've gotten a wonderful case of pneumonia, Adam."
"Yup. Again. Not the first time, kids," Girimonte told the four. "That's your choice, Adam. Ten days here with me, or ten days some place warm and sunny. What'll it be?"
Adam smoldered. Brennan, Jesse, Shalimar, and Emma looked at each other.
"I'll go make some calls," Jesse said.
* * *
"Back to Sanctuary," Adam ordered in no uncertain terms.
"Not a chance, Adam." Brennan continued to fly the Helix south. "You heard what your doctor friend said."
"He's a quack. And he's not my friend."
Shalimar covered a grin. "Didn't sound that way to me. Sounded like he had your number, Adam, down to the last digit."
"I have experiments—"
"They can wait," Emma told him. "Your health is more important. You might as well sit back and enjoy this, because you are not going back to Sanctuary for ten days. Not until you're feeling better."
"I am feeling better," Adam tried to say, but a bout of coughing got in the way.
"So how rustic is this place, Jesse?" Shalimar asked. "Small island in the middle of nowhere. And isn't this hurricane season?"
"Not very, yes, and yes," Jesse answered. "There's a hurricane forming out over the Atlantic, but early indications are that it will veer north and hit the Carolina coast. We might need to skip swimming for a day or so, but that's all."
"And rustic?" Emma pushed.
Jesse laughed. "My dad's friend Jack Prescott considered it rustic, but anything that has three full bathrooms and a hot tub doesn't qualify as rustic in my book. He's sort of loaning it to us for a couple of weeks."
"Sort of?" Brennan pounced on the molecular's turn of phrase. "What is 'sort of'?"
"Well, it shouldn't be too bad," Jesse shrugged. "All I have to do is fix the generator. Jack said it was acting up the last time he was there, and there've been a couple of hurricanes blowing through since then. A little cleaning, a little maintenance, and it'll be fine. Just the place to stash a recuperating and stubborn researcher." He ignored the snort that emanated from the back seat of the Helix.
It didn't take long for the Helix to arrive. Brennan did a once around the perimeter with the Helix, allowing anyone who wanted to a look at the island from all sides. It looked picture-perfect: sandy beaches on the western side, rocky beaches on the east, and an open area that boasted a palatial-looking squat building spreading out as far as it could until it bumped up amongst the trees. Palm trees covered the interior of the island with two grassy areas, one large and one small, toward the center. A flock of birds rose from the smaller of the two grassy spots as the Helix whispered by, and Brennan lifted the craft higher to avoid a collision.
Brennan had to land the Helix a scant mile from the cabin, where the only open spot large enough to accommodate the craft and far enough away from the shore not to have to worry about high tide was located. Jesse ignored the glares from the elemental, cheerfully hauling out the crates of food and the suitcases of clothing that they hastily packed in the hold for the excursion.
"Almost a mile, Jess."
"It's good for you, toting the stuff over to the cabin. Get you in shape."
"I am in shape."
"Your shape'll be even better after this," Jesse promised, hoisting the largest container to his shoulder in mute apology.
Brennan favored him with another glare: not convinced, buddy.
Emma and Shalimar took Adam on ahead to the cabin to rest. Emma exchanged glances with Shalimar; we got the short end of the stick: Adam. The man kept his head down, stumbling over his own feet and grouching all the while. Twice Shalimar kept him from falling on his face, tripping over a stone in the path.
"I can carry my own things," he grumbled.
Shalimar raised her eyes heaven-ward. "Of course you can, Adam. That's why you're gasping for breath and had to sit down twice for a mere mile hike over flat land."
Adam coughed savagely, and stalked off down the trail.
Emma trailed after him, hurrying to keep up. "You didn't have to point it out to him," she whispered. "He hates being sick. He feels bad enough as it is."
"Yes, I did. He thinks he's invulnerable, and he's not."
Whatever invulnerability Adam assumed he had, it had vanished by the last quarter mile. Wordlessly, he accepted the help of Emma and Shalimar shoring him up under each shoulder, gritting his teeth and trying to stay upright. They guided him up onto the veranda, and Shalimar dusted off the lounger before allowing him to lie down on it.
"This can't be happening," Adam groaned. "I have work to do, experiments to put together. I don't have time for this."
"You don't have time to do anything else but this," Emma told him softly, putting his feet up on the lounger. "Adam, you were sick. Very sick. Even you have to take a break now and then." She took his hand. "Let us take care of you for a change."
Adam sighed. He couldn't argue with the empath. He knew she was right. "All right. Three days."
"Ten," Shalimar said tartly. "You heard Dr. G. at the hospital. Or I swear I'll tie you down, Adam." She smiled to take the sting out of her words. "Here. Take your medicine."
"What's this?" Adam looked at the multi-colored pills suspiciously.
"Antibiotics, Adam, and pain-killers. Stuff that your doctor friend prescribed for you."
"I didn't ask for any narcotics," Adam grumbled. "They'll make me sleepy."
"So?" Shalimar handed him a glass of juice. "Go to sleep. It'll do you good. Besides, they'll kill your headache."
"I don't have a headache." But at Shalimar's upraised eyebrows, Adam backed down. "Maybe a small one. Oh, all right, it's a post-concussion killer. But that doesn't mean I need anything for it."
"Maybe you don't, but I do," Shalimar said, not taking no for answer. She kissed him on top of the head. "You've been a bear all morning long."
Brennan and Jesse staggered up, luggage in hand and a crate a piece on their backs.
"Four more crates," Jesse bemoaned. "Do we really eat all that much food?"
"You should know. You eat most of it, you growing boy, you."
Shalimar popped her head into the interior of the cabin. Jesse had been right; no matter how 'rustic' the owner considered it, the place was palatial. Six bedrooms, a spa in the back in a screened-in patio, a sunken living room with a grand piano in one corner, and a kitchen that made their own back in Sanctuary look in dire need of expansion. However—
"Jess, how about a little power?" Shalimar asked.
"I told you that the generator would need work," Jesse said. "Let me at least finish unloading the Helix before attacking the maintenance."
"Nope. And I can give you a reason in one word: air conditioning."
"That's two words."
Brennan brightened. "This place has got air conditioning? Way to go, Jess. How did you find this place?"
"Friend of the family," Jesse said. "Jack Prescott used to come here when he wanted to be away from business and his wife. It was one of the few things he was able to keep after the divorce, although he doesn't come down as much. Too busy trying to get his business back out of his wife's hands. His shares of company stock, along with his control, got split in the settlement. I think his son comes down occasionally over spring break, but that's about it."
"Nice place," Shalimar said, looking it over. "I could get used to this real easy."
"Well, don't," Adam said, eyes closed, from his supine place on the lounging chair. "We have work to do back home. Which is where I should be," he added pointedly.
"Ooh, somebody needs a nap." Shalimar wasn't cowed. "How long before those pain-killers kick in?"
Brennan tugged the crate into the main house. "Jess, I hereby release you from unloading the Helix. Shalimar and Emma will do your share. Get to work on the generator. Ladies, after you."
* * *
Captain Tanikopolis was bored, and grateful that the time that young Prescott and his friends had paid for had just about run out. The quartet had entertained themselves on the top deck, during which time Tanikopolis had made himself scarce down below decks. He was no prude, but watching a group of randy teen-agers go at it wasn't his style.
Now the quartet was sequestered below, no doubt performing similar acts, and Tanikopolis was stuck above. He cast a weather-wise eye up to the heavens. The forecast had called for a hurricane forming far off in the Atlantic. The last report on the radio said that the storm had changed course, and was now expected to head in this direction.
Tanikopolis wasn't concerned. He had plenty of time to get back to shore and tie down everything that needed tying down to weather the blow. There were clouds in the sky, but not ones he needed to worry about.
Boredom was what he was concerned with at present. He caught sight of the magazine that his sister had foisted on him. Then he looked around for something more entertaining.
A giggle floated up from below decks. Sighing, Tanikopolis reached for the magazine.
Something gently rocked the boat. Cursing under his breath, Tanikopolis went to the rail to identify the sea denizen. Sometimes there was a playful pod of killer whales, or once he'd inadvertently sailed through a shark feeding frenzy where the sharks didn't care what their teeth grabbed as long as it was within reach.
This was different. This was a woman. A woman with long green hair. Not the I've-got-seaweed-in-my-hair green, but a blonde sort of green that wasn't washing out in the salt water. The kind that looked disturbingly natural. The magazine slipped from his fingers and hit the water with a small splash. The sea-going woman snatched it from the waves, and dove deep. And didn't come back up.
Tanikopolis froze. It wasn't fair. He hadn't had a drop of vodka for the last week.
Maybe he'd switch to whiskey.
* * *
"All right, I've got good news and bad news," Jesse announced. A chorus of groans greeted him. "The good news is, it won't take much to fix the generator. We'll have refrigeration, cooking facilities, and best of all, air-conditioning, thank you very much Brennan Mulray."
"And the bad?" Shalimar didn't let him get away.
"I need parts from the main island. It won't take long. Just a hop, skip, and a jump from here. I can be back before the sun goes down."
"You'd better," Brennan said. "I listened to the radio. That storm is going to pass closer than we thought. We're going to need to batten down the hatches, or whatever you do on an island retreat in the path of a hurricane."
Emma shuddered, glancing out at Adam asleep on the lounge. "Is it safe to be here?"
Jesse nodded. "This place has been here for at least twenty years. I imagine it can survive another hurricane."
"I don't suppose we can just hook Brennan up to the generator for a while."
"Hah." Brennan threw Shalimar a dirty look, then perused the clouds in the sky. A large number had gathered ominously. "Maybe you'd better get going. I don't particularly want you crashing the Helix somewhere in a hurricane, stranding us here on this island."
"Like that could happen."
"The way you fly, bro?"
"Can you just go and hurry back?" Emma broke in. "Guys, that storm is coming in fast."
They were interrupted by a yell from the patio. It was Adam.
* * *
"I'm telling you, she had green hair," Adam insisted. "And no, Brennan, it was not a hallucination."
"What did she look like?" Emma butted in, trying to head off a confrontation.
Adam was barely mollified. "Five foot five, approximately one hundred ten pounds. Slender. Light skin, a mild tan. Dressed in a very skimpy bikini. And yes, she had long green hair down to her waist. I woke up with her standing over me. She grabbed my wrist, I yelled, and she ran into the ocean."
Jesse came up on the tail end of Adam's recitation. He shrugged. "Could've been. I didn't see anyone, but the waves are a bit choppy from the storm."
Brennan tried to keep his disbelief from showing. "Did she say anything, Adam?"
"Not a word." Adam struggled to a sitting position, Emma helping. "As soon as I yelled, she high-tailed it out of here."
"Shal?" Brennan turned to the feral who came up after Jesse, shaking the sand from her sandals.
"Sorry, Adam." Shalimar shrugged. "There could have been someone, but I couldn't tell. No tracks, no scent on the sand; not that this sand will hold anything anyhow. Nothing in the bushes, either."
"It wasn't a hallucination!" Adam insisted. "She was here!"
"I'm not saying it was." But Brennan wasn't convinced. "We'll keep looking, Adam."
"Come inside, Adam," Emma urged. "It's cooler in here."
"Stop nurse-maiding me, Emma. It's getting tiresome."
"This isn't nurse-maiding, Adam." Emma's voice took on a sharper tone. "If there is someone out there, I want you inside where they have to go through me to get to you."
Adam stared at her. "Then you do believe me."
"You saw her?"
Emma pointed to a spot on the floor. It was damp.