Okay this is where we start.
This is the Sequel to Moving Alongside, the parallel to Moving Ahead. This is also the parallel to Surging Forward which is the sequel to Moving Ahead. Moving Ahead is the sequel to Left Behind. Confused?
Good, you have some idea of where I am coming from.
Pressing Onward ---
An Englishman in New York
Her eyes slowly fluttered open, taking far more energy than would usually be used and as the blackness faded to muted colour, she immediately panicked when she didn't recognise her surroundings.
Drew sat up quickly and had to wait as the world spun around her in dizzying circles; she grabbed hold of her stomach and then glanced down as she felt soft bandages under her fingers. Clean white bandages that implied that someone had taken the time and care to change them recently.
She probed them and any injuries with her hands and was relieved to find that she wasn't that badly hurt as she had imagined.
When Manticore had gone down in a hail of flames and fury she had been caught under the collapsing infrastructure and had almost bled to death, not to mention her broken leg… which apparently wasn't as broken as she thought.
Drew glanced down at her leg, not totally surprised to see it in a splint and swathed in bandages. It seemed like she was among friends at least. She raked a hand through her hair feeling the long dark strands still slightly matted and snarled; a bad case of bed head. But that she could live with, although she'd kill for a hot shower.
Drew glanced around at the unfamiliar room with its pale pink walls and rosewood décor. It was far too feminine for Manticore or any room that she would have grown up in or even decorated herself.
Drew swallowed and waited for the dizziness to disappear before she laid her bare feet on the plush carpet, feeling the tickly threads under her toes.
Drew's head shot up— although with the nausea that followed, she wished she hadn't— to see someone standing in the door staring down at her in consternation.
The thick, brawny man wasn't familiar to her with his dusty brown hair liberally threaded with grey and white strands. She placed his age at the wrong side of fifty and he wore tatty clothes that barely fit his overweight frame. In any other light he would have been classed as a threat, but the kindness showing in his dancing grey eyes and sincere smile eased her. Slightly. After all she was soldier and paranoia and suspicion made for a long and healthy life.
"Wh—" she had to clear her throat. "Who are you?"
"I'm Ed and you need ta lay down sweetheart, you're in no shape to be walkin' around."
"I'm fine," she said but even she could tell that her words were slurred, much to her chagrin.
"Right!" he drawled in his thick accent as he walked into the room, almost filling it with his bear-like presence. "Honey, you're no more fine than I am a supermodel. Now just you relax."
Drew bit back a laugh at the image of this man in supermodel gear and eased back on the soft bed. Her eyes flew open as memories assaulted her.
Fire, explosions, gunfire. Manticore under attack or… no, Max said that it was command that was hurting them. Did Max manage to make it out, did any of them?
"Man—, my friends," she amended, not sure if this old man had seen what had happened or had just discovered her in the woods whilst on a midnight stroll. "What happened?"
Ed pulled a blanket over her, "Far as I can tell, that rat trap of a torture chamber burned to the ground. And good riddance to it!"
"You know Manticore?" Drew frowned. She always assumed that the place was a highly kept secret.
Ed chuckled, "Honey I've been games keeper to these woods for more years'n you been alive. Before that I did a stint in the military myself. I seen what's gone on down there. And it ain't no veteran hospital that's for damn sure!"
"S'all over the news," Ed affected an accent. "Last week in an accident caused by faulty wiring a Veteran's facility burned down resulting in untold casualties just south of Seattle. Pha!" Ed waved in disgust. "Veteran hospital, my ass."
"Last week?" Drew paused, her mind racing at this unexpected news. "How long have I been here?"
"I pulled you outta the woods the night o'the explosion; a week ago to the day. Am glad that place is charred ruins now, honey. They can't hurt you anymore."
"Shit, Dek must be frantic."
Ed stared at the girl that lay on the pink bedspread. Her long dark haired framed her pale face with its angular but perfect features. She was a beauty, even with her fading bruises and matted hair. Plus with the injuries that she had had, well, it was plain that she was a fighter or she wouldn't be laying there alive.
"Couldn't say, honey. Don't know any Dek, didn't see no one but you. Oh plenty made it out, but ya'll move too fast for me to see. Especially in the dark. I only caught ya coz you was hurt. I fixed ya up good but you need to rest. You're safe here as much as anywhere."
"Why are you helping me?" she demanded tiredly not sure if she cared about the answer. All she knew was that this man had helped her and he didn't seem to offer her any harm right now. That was good enough for her until she could think straight again… and being able to walk further than the bedpost would be an advantage.
Ed's eyes darkened, "No matter what people say you are; children who're forced to kill afore they can walk just ain't natural. Children who get punished for not being fast enough or aggressive jus' ain't right. I seen one little guy, no bigger'n a toddler get whupped for dropping a gun he had no right holding in the first place." Ed shivered. "I support everyone a ya that got out. Let Ed take care a ya for a while. Sleep."
Drew nodded and settled back in the cushions, her mind a whirl with the new information. No more Manticore, No Dek. Had they all made it out? Were they safe?
Where were they all?
"Just a few more clicks," Flex said and his cargo groaned.
"You said that a few clicks ago!"
Flex exchanged amused glances with Skye.
"What are you complaining about; I'm the one lugging your heavy ass around!"
His cargo giggled and Flex groaned, "Okay, pit stop!"
He pulled the child off his back and laid him on the floor before sagging and dropping to the ground himself.
"Sir, I'm hungry!"
"Me three," Flex grumbled and buried his face in his arms. "How did I get lumbered with babysitting?"
Skye shrugged and Flex looked up worried. She hadn't said much all week. Not that he expected her to be Ms. Chatty after seeing her brother shot down in front of her, but quiet from Skye wasn't what he was used to. Insults and sass, yes. Silence, no.
Flex pushed himself up and rolled over to check the young boy's bandages.
"Hey Isacar, I think you're almost healed!" Flex grinned at the icy blond, "That means you can walk yourself!"
"Great," Isacar deadpanned and then poked out his tongue at his sister who giggled. "Hush up, Icarus."
"You kids okay?" Flex asked the other three children that he had acquired somehow.
The youngest was a dark haired X8R, a second generation X8 barely old enough to walk properly let alone carry a gun. He seemed to be attached to Skye and wouldn't let go of her hand. No matter how many times Flex suggested that he carry him for a while or that he walk with the other children, the little boy refused to leave Skye's side. And for once Skye didn't seem to mind. It was like she didn't even notice.
"Not a kid," pouted the other boy in their entourage.
"701, you're younger than me therefore you're a kid," Isacar teased and the boy glared.
He had short spiky dark hair and was a bundle of energy, bouncing off up ahead to scout and running back faster than even Flex thought he could manage. He made Flex feel old just trying to keep up with his frantic topic jumping and endless questions.
"Not!" the boy poked out his tongue and growled, as quick tempered as he was fast-footed.
"Cut it out!" Flex demanded, "I am too tired to deal with that Isacar and… and," he paused. "I can't keep calling you 701."
"Don't got a name," the boy shrugged, not too concerned.
"Haven't got a name," Skye corrected absently, stroking the X8R's hair as he curled up in her lap.
The boy's lit up when she spoke and he grinned impishly, "Sorry, ma'am."
Icarus' eyes brightened, "You could be called Daedalus."
"Dead who?" the tone of his voice let them know that 701 wasn't impressed and his little nose wrinkled as he sat by Skye.
"Daedalus, he was the partner of Icarus. His name means curiously wrought."
Flex laughed at Icarus' idea. "Curiously shaped, that suits you 701."
"No!" 701 folded his arms over his chest. "It's a nasty name."
"Well," Icarus bit her lip. "Icarus and Isacar are Greek names so you should have an old fashioned one too."
701 rolled his eyes, "Don' see why I haveta match."
Flex grimaced, "Who taught you to speak like that?"
"I had an assignment in a boy's dorm awhile back," 701 said absently. "They taught me. How about Speedy?"
Flex blinked at the change of topic again. "How about migraine?" he muttered and Skye's lip twitched before the shadow covered her face again and she pulled in her arms tight around the X8.
"What means fast in Greek?" she asked Icarus, the resident expert in names it seemed.
Icarus beamed at the acknowledgement and thought for a second. "Well, Zephyr means west wind."
701's face exploded in a smile, "I like that one."
"It's a mouthful," Icarus said doubtfully.
"So call me Zeph," he said decidedly and turned to Skye. "What do you think?"
"It's nice, Zeph," Skye reassured.
That seemed to decide it for the spiky haired boy and he beamed at her and snuggled closer.
Flex shook his head at the image of Skye with two young children who craved her attention. It was such a far cry from the Ice Queen image of a few days ago that he was still turned around.
"What 'bout you, Uh?" he frowned as he couldn't recall the designation of the willowy Chinese girl who didn't really say much at all. She had been the one that made the others grab guns before Manticore burnt down. She had seemed in charge and was ready to take command at any time and pulled the others into line. A real leader, possibly even squad commander.
"I see no point in this exercise," she confessed, a furrow in her brow and Flex grinned.
"It's called fitting in. Humans don't have numbers, they have names. If we wish to fit in we need them."
"What are yours?"
"Flex and Skye," he paused and added, "not Sir and Ma'am."
"I see," she frowned again.
Icarus piped up. "What about—"
"I can decide myself," she replied coolly cutting off Icarus, whose mouth slammed shut. Flex raised an eyebrow at her, it seemed she a way with people, that was scarily reminiscent of Drew and Anna mixed… now there was a scary thought.
"Given the parameters, I suppose Nyx would be appropriate."
"It means night in Greek and she was the daughter of Khaos and Erebos which means eternal or primeval darkness."
"Chaos?" Flex looked at her questioningly and Nyx stared back intently.
"How would you describe Manticore?"
Privately Flex thought that the girl had chosen a great name for herself. Born out of chaos and eternal night— that was Manticore indeed.
"So, Skye looks like we got ourselves Icarus, Isacar, Nyx and Zeph. What about the rug rat?" he gestured to the child that was asleep in her lap and Skye shrugged. "I'm useless at that, Max was much better. The only person I named was…"
Flex bit his lip as she shivered and pulled the boy impossibly closer.
She had named Steve. Her brother who was shot down in front of her and that had to hurt.
"Galen," she suddenly said. "If I remember rightly it means calm." She glanced down at the tousled head. "He seems calm to me."
And he calms you down, Flex added silently as she stroked the boy's hair again, his cherubic face lighting up at the touch, even asleep.
Flex dragged himself to his feet, "Well our little Greek family are gonna get hungry if we don't find food soon. So I'd suggest we get going already. If we hurry we can get to civilisation and get something to eat."
"Yay!" Zeph tumbled to his feet and shot off into the dark with Icarus chasing him.
"You okay to walk now, Isacar?"
The boy sighed. "I suppose so, Sir," Isacar put weight on his foot and walked slowly after his sister with Nyx shaking her head after them.
Flex edged over to Skye who had gotten to her feet with Galen still asleep in her arms.
"Need a hand, babe?"
Skye shook her head, her eyes averted, "We should catch up with them."
"Skye," Flex out a hand on her arm.
"Not now," she whispered. "Please Flex, I can't. I will, just… just not now."
He nodded, understanding. "I'm here."
"I'm grateful," her sparkling eyes met his and he dropped a kiss on her forehead.
"Let's catch up with our Greeks."
Dek kicked open the door and walked into the dilapidated building shaking the raindrops from his messy hair.
"Hello, sweetheart, nice day?" Aiden drawled and Dek glared at him in annoyance.
"It's pissing it down out there,"
"In Seattle? Alert the press." Aiden said idly and turned back to his paper.
Dek shook his head letting the drops fly scattering icy rain all over Aiden and his paper.
Dek smiled sweetly and pulled off his leather jacket, throwing it onto the old sofa.
They had found this place two days ago, when they had first arrived in Seattle, and it seemed to fit them both. It was out of the way, there was no rent to pay or police to bribe and it was close enough to the city centre that they could keep close to the hubbub of action and away from prying eyes. The fact that it was a run down shack with little or no redeeming charms was one that bypassed them; they were looking for convenience not comfort.
Dek spent most of his day trawling the city looking for anyone from Manticore while Aiden tried to put together some sort of systematic search pattern. The trouble with that was that they were so unused to their new territory that they weren't sure who was supposed to be there and who wasn't. It was hard going and with the rain, Aiden had opted to come home and look for information in newspapers instead. Gathering Intel, he called it.
Loafing, was what Dek called it.
"Anything?" he asked as he squeezed the excess water from his hair.
"Couple of banks got knocked over but I don't think it was our people. Couple of stray dogs got eaten, that probably was our people," Aiden shrugged. "No leads on Drew yet, though."
Drew. It been a week since he had seen her and that was seven days too long in his opinion. They hadn't spent that much time apart since he could remember. Even when one of them went on assignment they always managed to get word to the other in one way or another. They had never gone a week without contact and it was killing him, especially since he didn't know whether or not she was alive.
No, she had to be. He wouldn't have it any other way. He couldn't survive if Drew was…
Dek took a steadying breath, "Its okay, we'll find her."
Aiden nodded, his eyes fixed on his friend. "We will."
He knew how important Drew was to his friend. Aiden had always prided himself on his ability to understand what was important; it was one of the traits that made him such a great aide, and he knew that Dek needed Drew. He needed her as his sounding post, his counsellor, his friend and love. Even when he didn't talk about her, preferring stoic silence that was expected of the 'bad boy' it was obvious that he was thinking about her and Aiden had awoken more than once to hear Drew's name on Dek's lips. It was romantically sentimental and he delighted in teasing Dek at every opportunity over it. but even he knew when tact was needed.
He smiled comfortingly at his friend and Dek nodded, a smirk crawling across his face.
"So darling, what's for dinner?"
"I'm starving!" Biggs complained.
"So?" Sunny pressed closer to him, trying to avoid the throngs of people as they traipsed down the sidewalk. "So am I, nothing we can do about it just yet."
She sidestepped to avoid an overweight couple with camcorders who were laughing uproariously about something.
"Damn," Biggs pulled her closer, trying to dispel the feeling of unease he had at walking around so freely. Getting lost in the crowds was Sunny's idea and he had come up with the place where there were the most people for them to hide amongst. It had been a few days trek to get here and now he wished he was anywhere else.
The trouble was that neither of them were used to crowds of this magnitude, nor the uncontrollability of said crowds. The way they mingled and bumped into each other, yelled loudly over the street and just generally milled around was disquieting to two soldiers who were used to routine, structure and order.
Las Vegas was a hubbub of activity and they felt as out of place as a mermaid in the Sahara.
The race out of Seattle had been a fast one as they both sought to escape both the threat of recapture and the memories of watching loved ones die.
Neither had mentioned Mets' name but he was never far from their thoughts and Biggs even wondered if he had subconsciously chosen Las Vegas as a tribute to the transgenic who adored gambling and had sacrificed himself for the woman that Biggs… loved? Well, he liked her a lot there was no doubting that, but he wasn't so focussed as to have put a name to the emotion that he felt as of yet. They hadn't stopped running long enough for him to have been able to sit down and think about it.
"This place is crazy," Sunny remarked dodging yet another overweight man in a too-tight t-shirt proclaiming he was a patron of 'Sam's Town'.
Biggs nodded and stared up at the bright neon signs and brash signage, even this early in the day broadcasting 'naked mud wrestling' and 'titillating bronco riding'. His lips twitched as he pointed them out to Sunny.
"Nothing like being subtle," he chuckled and she managed a wry grin before her eyes lit up at another sign.
"Ooh all you can eat buffet!" she bit her lip as she turned to him. "I'm so hungry, Biggs."
Her sweet smile and nervous glance made him smile wryly, "I doubt they'll let us in without paying."
Sunny wrung her hands and Biggs stared at her. Her long blonde hair was still baby-fine but needed a good washing, the same went with the clothes that she had pulled on after they heard the explosion back at Manticore. They hadn't had time to grab any extras and had just run. Both of their clothes were covered in soot and rips, they looked like homeless people—which they technically were—no one would give them the time of day here while they looked like this.
He reached up and rubbed away a smudge of soot from her chin and his brain ticked over.
"I'm starving, we're filthy and we need sleep," he said decidedly. "What we need is money. Fast."
"We've been saying that for days," Sunny pointed out.
Biggs nodded, "But now we aren't in the wilderness of nowhere. We are in the one place on this Manticore-forsaken earth that has people walking around with vast amounts of cash."
"Steal?" Sunny hissed. "Max'd go crazy!"
Max had always been a stickler for 'morals' that some lab-tech in Wyoming had drilled in to her. According to 'Bill', stealing was wrong—unless it was from bad guys. Murder was also apparently wrong, although even Max was confused at that one. Was what they did murder? Manticore and Renfro called it execution or disposal. Alec called it survival.
He was suddenly reminded that his best friend might not still be alive. He missed his two COs and the thought that they might be dead made Biggs's jaw tighten.
"They're not here, we don't even know if they made it," his harsh words made Sunny draw in a quick breath and her eyes shone with hurt. Biggs immediately felt sorry that he had been so hard and pulled her into a hug. "Besides Max wouldn't want us to starve. Even she broke the rules, right?"
Sunny nodded hesitantly, "Okay then."
Biggs smiled at her and scanned the crowd for a possible target. They needed someone who looked wealthy enough to be able to afford them and, preferably, someone who was arrogant enough to class as bad guy for Sunny's peace of mind.
Over on the other side of the road stalked a tall gangly man with tufts of ginger- brown hair. His eyes were quite large and he walked with a cocky air, only enhanced by his expensive black suit and the occasional flash of jewellery as he walked along; a gold ring, a thick necklace and one earring.
Biggs grinned and darted across the road, blurring so that he wasn't hit by the oncoming cars which swerved as they tried to control their cars whilst staring at the gaudy sights.
He straightened his hair and hurried forwards staring up in exaggerated awe at the jets of water that spurted ten feet into the air. He could see the cocky man in the reflections of the curved windows of the Casino and bit back a grin as he careened headfirst into the man.
Although Manticore had instilled a centre of balance that was pretty much perfect, Biggs pretended to stumble back and only just regained his feet as the man lay sprawled on the sidewalk.
"Oh God!" Biggs affected a Bostonian accent. "I am so sorry; I was watching the sights and didn't see you."
He held his hand out for the man who glared at him as he was hauled to his feet.
"Well watch where you are bloody well going in future!"
The man's heavily nasal accent was decidedly British and it raised the hackles on the back of Biggs' neck.
"Right," he grimaced. "Sorry."
The man brushed off his suit and stalked away mumbling something about damn rude Americans and Biggs rolled his eyes, waiting for Sunny to come across the road to him.
"He was an ass," he told her and she grinned brightly.
"An ass with money?"
Biggs pulled out the wallet that he had sneaked from the man's pocket as he 'accidentally' bumped into him.
The wallet was full and they both beamed at the prospect of having something to eat finally.
"Wow there has to be thousands of dollars in here!" Biggs whistled as he counted. "Maybe even more."
Sunny's eyes glinted, "Does that mean we could get a hotel room and clean up some?" her nose wrinkled, "Maybe get out of these clothes?"
"Hell, yeah!" Biggs enthused, linking his arm through hers. "Then an all you can eat Buffet, courtesy of—" he stared at the screen actors guild licence, "Mr. Richard Mayall."
"I don't care what his name is, as long as we can eat!"
Sunny pulled him over the road towards a casino and Biggs grinned at the girl whose priorities mimicked his own.
Her priorities were right, she maintained. This was the smart thing to do.
She tucked her hair behind her ears and took a deep breath, trying to steady herself as she smiled comfortingly at the man beside her who was every bit as apprehensive as she was— even though he hid it better.
"It'll be okay," he whispered and brought his fist up to knock at the door.
Three resounding thuds made her palms sweat as she tried to calm down.
This was vitally important, there was no way that they could allow this to be screwed up and it was all on her and her powers of coercion. Something that she had never thought about in the past. Her talents usually lay in clearing up afterwards, not making things happen.
She heard the telltale squeak of wheels and braced herself as the door swung open. She automatically looked down and plastered a smile on her face at the wide eyes that stared up at her.
Tara grimaced, "Actually it's Tara, Mr. Cale, and we need to talk."
Logan Cale wheeled back in his wheelchair to let her and her red-headed companion inside his penthouse apartment and the door slammed shut behind them.
The door slammed shut and Zan jumped to his feet. B.J. gave an apologetic wince.
"Sorry, man. I keep forgetting about the wind thing."
Zan nodded, "I never thought I'd miss Manticore, even for its Air conditioning."
B.J. put down his bags and tucked his hands into his pockets. "How is she?"
"I just managed to get her to sleep," Zan sighed, brushing a lock of blond hair out of his face.
B.J. stared at the lines of exhaustion on his friend's face. While it was true that X5s could go weeks without sleep, adding their recent trauma and subsequent flight from Manticore to a week's worth of exhausting trek through cities and their constant night duty, Zan was looking worse for wear.
"Did you manage to get any sleep?" B.J. asked hesitantly as he perched on the edge of the sofa.
"Some," Zan rubbed his neck and sighed again. "About an hour and then she woke up."
B.J. bit his lip, "I'll take watch tonight."
Zan smiled tiredly, "Thanks, man." he motioned to the bags. "What did you get?"
"Basic foodstuffs, I haggled at the market for some stuff, got decent prices on some vegetables and meats," B.J. shrugged, "Nothing fancy but food is food."
Zan nodded and reached for one of the bags, "I'm starving."
B.J. pulled the bag back with a touch of his old mischievousness, "Uh uh, I got us something better for lunch."
B.J. pulled out a steaming white box, "Chinese food!"
Zan grinned, "You are my hero."
"It's your money," he stated and sat down to eat with Zan.
They had managed to escape the burning wreckage that was Manticore and head for the hills, hitching a ride on a passing fire truck. It had brought them out of Seattle and out west towards the sea. They'd fled as soon as the truck stopped and headed into the centre of a small town they had later discovered was called Lacey. They had walked around until Zan had come across a motel by a highway and he had surprised B.J. when he pulled out a thick wad of cash and handed it over to the clerk asking for a two bed roomed apartment.
He'd got it.
B.J. had asked him where he had gotten the money from and Zan just smirked, "Remember all those missions that they gave us a couple of hundred bucks from?" he'd said. "I saved it, in my boots. Just in case."
It seemed sweet justice to B.J. that the money Manticore had given them was the money they were using to hide from Manticore.
Besides they needed it.
"Any luck on the job front?" Zan asked as he twirled noodles around a chopstick.
B.J. shook his head, "No one is hiring, man. I trekked all over. I'll try again tomorrow if you can—"
A sudden keening cut him off and he dropped his container and raced into the adjoining room just seconds behind Zan who had the same response.
The closed curtains gave the room a dark melancholy air which was only exacerbated by the firmly shut windows despite the muggy heat. To B.J. it reminded him eerily of Psy-Ops, the one place in the world that he would rather die than visit again.
The figure of the bed let out a piercing cry startling B.J. out of his reverie.
Zan was kneeling on the bed and tugging at the figure, "C'mon, c'mon Em, wake up."
As a child Emma discovered that she had a certain ability to sense peoples feelings and emotions. In most cases this was an advantage as in the field she could almost predict with startling accuracy what motivation a certain target needed to be given. In her everyday life it meant that she got on well with everyone and could be counted on to get to the heart of what was bothering people. Unfortunately Manticore had no comprehension of the sheer instability of the 'gift' and its potency. Perfect for one-on-one work its usefulness spiralled out of control when she was in a crowd. She had worked at it with the aid of her family so that she could function day to day without sensing their emotions and feelings. But that was only when emotions were steady. The barrage of high emotions couldn't be kept out of her fragile psyche and the rush of feelings when the crowd of family was hurt, frustrated or anxious she likened to speeding through an asteroid belt without a spaceship. Exhilarating, intense and so very painful. And that was with soldiers who were taught to suppress their emotions. Out in the world those sensations were amplified a hundredfold by humans with no leash on their feelings, no reign on the constant ebb and flow of their own twisted consciousness and Emma was bombarded on all sides by the ups and downs of every human in the area. Their pain became hers, their hopes, their fears insinuated themselves in her head and it became too much for her to handle.
"Baby, c'mon, wake up," Zan pleaded. "Open those gorgeous eyes for me, huh?"
With a whimper, Emma's red rimmed eyes flickered open and her unfocussed pupils dilated. "Zan?" she croaked, her voice hoarse from the whimpering.
Zan gave a lopsided grin, "I'm here, Princess, it's me."
"Hurts," she sobbed as tears cascaded down her cheeks.
"I know, baby, I know," he soothed as he wrapped his arms around her and rocked. "I got ya, I'm here."
B.J. closed his eyes against the sight of one of his best friends reduced to this and he curled up on the bed behind Emma, stroking her back.
"I'm here too, Em, I'm not going anywhere."
Her tiny hand reached back to grasp his larger one and she squeezed conveying her thanks.
"Please," she whispered, not sure what she was begging for and not much caring. Emma could hear everything, the next door neighbour was worried if his wife was having an affair while his wife worried her husband would find out about her huge shopping bill. Their teenaged daughter feared her parents would find out about her tattoo and she was scared her boyfriend was going to dump her if she didn't sleep with him soon. Her brother was terrified about his grades and desperately unhappy with his upcoming chat with the principal.
The two men living in the apartment opposite were nervous about their upcoming business venture, wondering if it was foolhardy to invest their life savings into it. A girl sobbed in the stairway as her heart broke.
Down the hall a mother cried over her sick child and upstairs a baby screamed for its missing father. In the foyer a woman paced trying to tell her lover that she was pregnant and anxious that he would leave her. Down the street a homeless man relived his terror of the war and a twelve year old prostitute tried to block memories of her abuse.
From the trivial to the critical, the thoughts and fears swamped her head until she thought she'd go crazy. Then all of a sudden she felt gentle fingertips rubbing circles on her head and a warm baritone began to sing a low song.
"Emma appeared like an angel, Emma fell like rain into my lap, like a heart attack. Like the lightning from her name," Zan recalled Aiden singing the song back at Manticore and even though he couldn't remember the tune or the artist it seemed to soothe her then and it was doing the job now. He stroked her hair and crooned to her, as if he was singing a lullaby and humming the words he couldn't recall.
"I'm running dry of bad excuses. Don't wanna lie or seem intrusive.
But time hasn't told me anything, And neither has she."
He had no idea what the next lines were so he improvised, "A Manticorian in so much pain, trading hell for peace and security. We'll stay here and forever remain, with one big jerk and one called Zane."
B.J.'S lips twitched, "I thought it was Zan?"
Zan rolled his eyes, "Zan doesn't rhyme with remain. Besides Max's brothers were called Zack and Zane, which is what I was named after. It fits… slightly."
"It's working," B.J. noted as Emma's eyes drooped. "She can't keep this up though."
"I know," Zan sighed and lay her down, smoothing her ruffled hair with his fingers. "I'll have to go out soon and find some sort of medication that she can take."
"Neural inhibitors?" B.J. asked, medics never being his forte.
"Maybe anti-depressants or even anti-psychotics, until she learns to control it. I remember one of the emotive Trainers talking about how the senses shut down until the overload can be dealt with. What she needs is to close off her thoughts and then the innate barriers can build until the thoughts no longer bombard her like this."
"Lucky you read the course books," B.J. muttered. "I'd have no clue."
"Yeah," Zan smiled sadly. "Lucky." He raked a hand through his hair and B.J. once again noted how rough he looked.
"I'll stay with Em tonight, get some sleep."
They took turns in sleeping with her in case she awoke and needed them.
Zan smiled gratefully and lurched off the bed taking one last glance at the sleeping girl. He bent down and kissed her forehead, "Sweet dreams, Princess."
B.J. watched him shut the door after himself and he lay down next to Emma, cradling her in the crook of his arms as she slept.
"We'll find something, Em," he vowed. "I won't let you go crazy."
And he wouldn't. He may have lost Aiden, Mets, and Anna but he wasn't going to lose one of his oldest friends. He was going to help Emma to get better.
He pulled her closer in a fit of possessiveness and closed his eyes.
He opened his eyes, she was still there.
Coco bit her lip. Of course Jason still knew her as Cody Mandora, the woman who had entered his life and left it scarcely a few weeks later. She wondered if she had played on his mind the way he had on hers.
Jason Ashton- Price had never been far from her thoughts these past few weeks and to see him in front of her was like a blow to the stomach. She had missed him so much.
His dark hair still flopped into the crystal glass blue eyes and his lean figure was still hidden by that checked shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
"Hey Jason," she said hesitantly.
Jason pushed his hands into the tight pockets of his jeans.
Coco hedged from one foot to the other, not sure what to say to him now that it came down to it. She had raced across the country to be with him and now that's he stood in his doorway she was at a loss.
What had she been thinking?
"Uh, s-sorry," she stammered. "I didn't… I wasn't… I'll go."
She turned berating herself as some kind of idiot. Before she could take two steps she heard him speak.
"Wait." She turned back to see him open the door to his apartment wider. "Come in."
"Thanks for inviting me in," Tara said as she sipped the water that Logan had given her to drink.
"Sure," Logan stared from her to the serious red-haired man sitting stoically by her side.
Logan Cale was a distinguished man in his late thirties with light brown hair which was in artful disarray and flopped affectedly into his dark blue eyes. His 'rough' look was added to by designer stubble and the thin grey glasses with matching grey sweater and black slacks. It seemed he had been trying to go for 'rich bad boy'… and missed. No one would ever have thought that this pretentious rich boy was the cyber –terrorist Eyes Only, the scourge of the underground.
It seemed ironic that this guy was on the police's most wanted list and yet probably ate luncheon with their chief.
"Want to tell me what's going on, Sophie?"
Tara sighed, "My name isn't Sophie Weston, Mr. Cale. It's Tara and I think the best way to say this is to just say it. I was sent to kill you."
"What?" the man's eyes went wide and his hands grasped hard to his wheels of the chair.
"Oh not now, back then," Tara smiled, trying to put him at his ease. "My employer wanted to find out who Eyes Only was and I was sent to do that."
If possible Logan's eyes grew wider and his hands clutched at the wheels of his chair until his knuckles showed white.
"Oh, I never told them it was you!" she hastened to add cursing herself for making more of a mess than before. "It wasn't… tactically smart at the time."
"Right," he nodded, scepticism showing on his face. Carrot rolled his eyes.
"Mr. Cale, Tara put herself in harm's way to protect your identity. Show some respect."
Logan stared at Carrot and then back at Tara, "Sorry So—Tara. Please continue, just who is it that you are working for?"
"No one now, but before. I believe you are familiar with Project Manticore?"
Losing all sense of dignity, Logan's jaw dropped and he scooted back, "You're X5s?"
Carrot grinned and put his arm around Tara, "Primed perfection."
He didn't like this man at all. Tara had told him that she was supposed to seduce him into revealing the identity of Eyes Only and, even though Max had saved her from that, Carrot still maintained the right to hate the man on basic principal.
Plus, he was a dweeb.
"Huh," Logan said as he was lost in thought, his mind racing with the implications of this.
Tara looked at Carrot, "Mr. Cale, we came to you because we require help. Manticore was destroyed. Our superiors tried to kill us; we have no idea as to why. All we know is that they set fire to the facility and left us to burn. Our family scattered and we have no idea how to get in touch with them."
Logan's face was suddenly closed as he regarded them. He was terrified behind that mask. He, along with several other escaped X5s had blown up the only home they had ever known without even a thought as to how they would escape. The '09ers had only thought about their missing sister, whose name he still didn't know, and they acted to break her out. Not the rest of these soldiers. The thought that the great Eyes Only, champion to the underdogs and discoverer of corruption had unwittingly brought about the deaths of hundreds of innocent children chilled his heart.
"Uh," he managed. "Uh… what do you want from me?"
Tara bit her lip, "Have you seen or heard from any of our kind, X5s? Especially designations 494, 452, 810, 555—"
Logan was shaking his head even before she had started the list. He knew some X5s but he had been warned that if anyone asked then he hadn't ever met them. As much as he liked Soph—Tara, he was far more scared of the tall dark psychotic transgenic- Ben.
"Sorry Tara, I haven't seen any. But," he paused, "it's logical that some might try to contact Eyes Only for much the same reason. I always keep my ear to the ground so I might be able to find something out for you."
Carrot smiled, "That's great. We'll be in contact."
Logan's mind worked fast, "Where are you staying?"
Tara looked down, "We don't have a place yet, we're sort of… drifting."
"Huh," Logan smirked. "My Uncle Jonas has this apartment block downtown where I could get you cheap rent. Do you have cash?"
"Haven't really had time to go job hunting," Carrot snapped. "You know, what with being on the run and all."
"I'm sure with my recommendation it would be easy to get Tara her job back."
Carrot gazed at the man in direct scrutiny. He didn't trust this guy as far as… as… Victor could throw him, his oh-so-decent offers had to have a catch.
"What do you want, Mr. Cale?"
"I need you to do a little leg work for me," he wheeled over to a cupboard and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "Joel Solinski. This guy's got a wife with three kids, an ex-wife with two kids, a mistress, and two girlfriends. The wives get houses, the mistress a condo, and everybody gets a car... all on a harbourmaster's salary."
"So?" Carrot's eyes narrowed. "The man is obviously looking the other way for smugglers."
Logan nodded, "He's made a fortune as an accessory to murder."
"Sounds like a great living," Carrot's cold humour knocked the smirk off Logan's face and he shivered as he remembered that these weren't just good-looking kids but serious trained killers. "I don't see why we have to get involved."
"You are involved. By being alive, you're involved."
Tara rolled her eyes at his sanctimonious preaching. "We've got our own problems, Mr. Cale."
Logan's temper flared, "Look... maybe we got screwed out of living in a time when we could hang out for the afternoon in a cafe someplace wearing $2,000 wristwatches, planning our next vacation, but the world got a whole lot meaner all of a sudden. It wasn't supposed to... but it did. So now it's back to the law of the jungle and there are predators and victims."
"You're talking to someone with more than a dash of predator in their DNA," Carrot paused. "Tell me, Mr. Cale, was it an Eyes Only assignment that got your ass in this chair?"
As Logan coloured Carrot laughed and leaned forward. "One thing we aren't is chumps. You want to tangle in human mess and get the rest of your ass shot off then be my guest. Me, I kind of like being able to walk. Me and mine don't need your trouble, we got plenty of our own."
Carrot stood up and held his hand out for Tara.
Logan frowned as they started towards the door. What was it with transgenics and their picking on the handicapped… sorry, differently able?
"On the other hand," he said firmly. "Eyes Only picked up a transmission a day ago about an impossible heist into an art museum, the guard on duty said the guy was like lightning and growled at him."
Tara and Carrot froze and Logan sneered. He'd got them.
"I could get the camera feed, see if he had any distinguishing marks, like a barcode."
Hook, line and…
Tara sagged and Carrot turned wearily to face Logan.
"Fine, what do you want me to do?"
Zack crouched on the roof, staring out at the city that was his temporary home for the next few days. Leaning on one leg with the other dangling in front of his bent knee, Zack played with the small object in his hand, letting the wind blow his blond hair any way it liked.
He stared down at the tiny golden metal object and rolled it between his fingers. He had no idea why he'd kept it, he should have thrown it away like the trash it was, but there was something about that which made him keep it.
He remembered digging it out of Syl, her hand grasping a pale Krit with all her might, the slight crack of Krit's fingers as they broke beneath her grip audible to everyone as they watched their sister in pain, the blood spilling down her shoulder.
Zack had been the one to pull it out, even though Krit was the Medical expert of the team. Krit had been too shaken by seeing Syl insensible with pain and his hands had shaken enough so that he was a detriment to her instead of a help and so the task of digging the bullet out of his baby sister had gone to Zack.
She had hissed and spat and cursed him seven ways from Sunday but he had done his job and she was getting on fine now and was almost ready to go back to her school, apologising to Zack and thanking him for being her hero.
But Zack had almost withdrawn totally and hadn't wanted to praise of any of his siblings. Why?
Because their praise and this little metal object reminded him of what he hadn't done. Of the fact that he had left Max alone in that hellhole for more than ten years and they had blown their one chance to get her out. Of the fact that he didn't know if she had made it out, if she was alive.
Of the fact that he had failed; failed them all.
Zack closed his eyes and tightened his fist around the bullet. Damn, but he wanted her back. Max had always been his baby; his little girl and in his own way he had loved her more than his own life.
He remembered when Jondy had told him that Max had gone through the ice and was dead. For the first time in his life, Zack had walked away back to his little hideaway and bawled like a baby. His sobs carrying him to sleep as he curled up on the dirty surface of his ramshackle hut. The loss of the one who he knew loved him like Maxie did was a blow that he had never totally recovered from. To hear from Ben that she was actually alive made him feel simultaneously better and worse. Better to know that she wasn't actually dead but worse to know that he had just assumed she was and abandoned her to her fate.
Now that he had missed getting her back, again, he was feeling worse than ever. Empty and hurt and all he wanted to do was to curl up on the floor and bawl like he had that night so many years ago. But he wouldn't, he had to keep it together, he wasn't that little boy that had left his sister to die. This time he was the adult and he wasn't going to rest this time until he found out whether she was alive or dead. Until he saw the body, until he had kissed that silky soft hair and again and said goodbye—he wouldn't cry.
This time he wasn't going to lie down and take what they threw at him. Zack gripped the bullet tighter and stood, glaring at the darkness that dared to keep him from Max. He'd find her. Failure was not an option.
Possibly should explain the title- An Englishman in New York is said to be an alien, a truly confused creature that stares wondrously at the sights whilst remaining sceptical at heart. Describes the transgenics situation quite admirably I feel. Plus it's a kick ass song by The Police.
Thanks to everyone that reviewed Moving Alongside- You all rock tremendously! I'm going away so no updates for about two weeks. Sorry, but if you want to swap places with me and go for walks up mountains with my "walk-a-holic" parents then feel free… to check yourself into an asylum.
BTW, pics of the Greeks can be found at my site and feel free to join the DA discussion group on yahoo.