Author's Note: Third chapter, which gave us plenty of trouble in the making but is now ready for human eyes. Disclaimers are back in Chapter 1.
Chapter 3 - We're All Mad Here
It was possible that this was the moment where his life was supposed to be flashing in front of his eyes, but all Bends could remember was that strange lab with the four tables and the computer screen that shouldn't have been there, and he wondered What am I missing here? The small part of him that wasn't frozen in fear was almost annoyed that he was going to die without even knowing what the mystery was all about.
"What do you need, an invitation?" The long nosed creature snapped suddenly. Bends couldn't tell if time had actually passed, or if it was just impatient. "Get rid of the human. The Doctor doesn't want any witnesses."
John's attention shifted – just enough that Bends thought he might be able to breath again – and he regarded the creature for a long, unreadable moment before speaking. "Leave."
The creature boggled. "What?"
Bends thought he might just pass out. It would probably have been easier on his heart, because as alien as he now looked, John's voice was the same. A little harsher, slightly clumsy now that the shape of his mouth had changed, but it was so shockingly familiar that for a moment Bends didn't see a misshapen animal, but a broad, dark haired young man.
"Leave us alone," John repeated, this time with narrowed eyes that were just as fearsome even if they weren't directed at Bends himself.
The creature didn't seem nearly as threatened, thought it wasn't taking John's declaration well. "What are you saying? You were made second so you take orders from me!"
Teeth were bared dangerously, and the hand on Bends' shoulder tightened. "I don't think so."
Bends was tossed aside as easily as a toy, slamming against the side of the corridor with bruising force, but it was a better fate than being stuck between the two creatures who were clashing like a pair of alley cats, spitting and snarling. He tucked himself close to the wall as they rolled past in a tangle of limbs and claws and other sharp implements that frankly Bends wanted no part of. The moment he was clear, he ran.
Things had ceased to make sense the moment John had started turning blue, and at the moment all he could think about was getting out of the building and calling the cops. He was so far out of his depth he couldn't think straight, and after getting lost in the turns of the corridors he latched on to the first landmark he found, even if it wasn't exactly where he wanted to be.
The door to the lab was open invitingly, and even if he wasn't completely sure how to find the exit from here it was better than staying here where the sounds of the struggle were too loud and close for comfort. At least the lab should have been empty, and it wasn't until he was past the doorway that he realized he was wrong.
There were more creatures in here. Three that looked like the unholy merging of man and shark, with sharp dorsal fins and pointed snouts that housed far too many teeth. The largest of the three, whose hide was a surprisingly cheerful shade of orange dotted with spots of yellow, was holding another monster at bay who looked like nothing so much as an oversized lobster.
Yes, things were definitely not making sense anymore.
At the moment they were all distracted, but there was no chance of sneaking past without being seen, and he had no desire to go back the way he came. Nursing his sore shoulder, Bends sank down as inconspicuously as he could beside the doorway. Maybe he'd get lucky and they'd leave before spotting him.
The lobster was howling in outrage as the orange one shoved it against one of the tanks, leaving a spiral of cracks in its surface that wept water sluggishly. Another shark, this one with pale blue skin marked with vibrant stripes of purple, leaned nonchalantly against one of the tables, looking unimpressed. "Hit him again, bro. I don't think he's gotten the message yet."
Bends blinked, startled. That voice had sounded a little too much like Bobby for comfort.
The lobster was limping slightly, but seemed far from defeated. "You three are dead! When the Doctor gets back, he'll unmake you!" He rushed at the orange shark again, only to be swatted easily aside. The third shark moved quickly to pin the lobster's arms, keeping out of reach of the thick pincers it had instead of fingers.
"'Doctor', huh. Was he the one who did this to us?" That was definitely Clint. He was perhaps the most strange looking, having the distinctive look of a hammerhead shark, with eyes separated on thick stalks.
The lobster hissed. "I don't have you say anything to you."
"Pity." The hammerhead threw it back at the tank, creating another, and larger, crack. This time it slumped, stunned. "Whoops," feigned the hammerhead innocently. "That might have been a bit too hard."
"You need to be more careful. We still need it to tell us what's going on." The orange one spoke with Cooper's voice, and while turning to admonish Clint a new scent caught its attention. "Hey, there's Bends."
The blond in question stared with an expression that clearly said, Oh shit. The sharks, however, seemed pleased.
"There you are!"
"Where did you go? Is John alright?"
Bends gaped silently. Maybe it wasn't the world that had gone crazy. Maybe it was simply him.
When he didn't immediately respond, the one with stripes stepped forward. "Hey, are you okay?"
Something snapped. Bends was pretty certain it might have been his sanity, but the next thing he knew he was twenty feet from his original position without a single recollection of having moved a muscle. "Stay back!"
"Whoa, hold up! Bends it's me, Bobby." The shark offered its hands up in surrender, giving Bends ample opportunity to observe that its hands ended in sharp talons instead of blunt fingers.
"You've got to be kidding." Though the shock was worse because Bends could feel himself partially believing it. After so much continuous strangeness, he was practically growing numb to it all.
"No joke," Bobby swore, careful not to make any threatening gestures. "When that lobster thing started chasing us, we just sort of, yanno, changed. What about you? You don't feel funny at all, do you?"
Bends actually had to think about it before giving his diagnostic. "No, I'm okay." Aside from the fact that he was talking to a mutated shark that used to be his best friend's brother, and said best friend was giving a cautious, apologetic look with one eye while the other managed to gaze in the entirely opposite direction to keep an eye on the lobster. Other than that, things were peachy. He sat down again, rather suddenly. "I…uh…think the same thing happened to John though."
Though the expression was hard to identify, Bends thought Cooper looked concerned. "He's okay, right? What about that other thing? With the nose."
Bends straightened his glasses, needing to think. It was surprisingly difficult to recall the last five minutes. Panic seemed to have scrambled his memory. "They were fighting. I dunno who was winning."
Now he felt almost bad for leaving John behind – What kind of friend did that? – but the more rational part of his brain assured him that there was nothing he could have done except get in the way.
Cooper looked stricken. "Should we go look for him?"
"Look for who?" a familiar voice asked from behind them.
The brothers crowded around, and Bends almost smiled fondly. At least that wasn't so different, thought it was a bit more tenuous than usual since they still moved a bit awkwardly with the changes to their bodies.
That didn't stop Clint from pulling his older brother into a half hug before nudging him pointedly inn the side. "Moron! You had us worried there."
John winced. "Ouch. Go easy, will you?" He didn't look to be in the best of shape, sporting a number of scratches and cuts, though all of it was shallow. Even Bobby didn't object as John quickly checked his brothers over, making sure they were all right by touch as well as sight, before adopting a grim expression. "Well I guess we know what the lab is for now. And why those sharks were here."
Cooper looked lost. "What happened to us?"
John pulled a folded paper from his pocket. "It's in this. I found it in the lab when we first came here. It's part of Dad's gene-slamming formula, you know, the one he's been raving about for ages?"
"The one that was supposed to combine different DNA or something, right?" Clint took the sheet, but the equations didn't mean anything to him.
"Right, but it's only supposed to be used to make samples. It's not ready to be used on living beings. I think that's what happened to us on the first day. The one we don't remember."
"But who would do it?" Cooper asked. "And why us?"
"Whoever it was, they'll pay," Clint growled, slamming a fist down on the nearby table. It left a sizable dent that the others couldn't help but stare at.
"I dunno... Maybe it's not all bad," Bobby observed, admiring the triangular stripes that ran down his own arms.
"Are you kidding? We can't even leave the building looking like this! How are we going to change back?"
"Dad might know--" John began and then stopped, thinking hard. The wheels in his head were turning so loudly the others couldn't help but catch on to his line of thought.
Bobby frowned uncertainly. "You don't think Dad…?"
"Not a chance," Cooper said firmly, but there was a lingering sense of doubt in the air.
"But that computer," Clint reminded him. "And his formula."
There was an uneasy silence that followed and, despite his wariness, Bends chose to break it. "I think we should worry about that later. Maybe we should get out of here in case there are any more of those things."
"Why? We're higher on the food chain," Bobby smirked.
"No, Bends is right," John agreed. "I don't wanna fight them if we don't have to. Only where do we go?"
Bends scratched his head. "Good question."
It took a fair bit of searching but finally Bends found a decent hiding place that wasn't too far from the Lab. A lot of businesses in the area had been abandoned when the mayor had insisted on merging resources, and there were a number of buildings that stood empty except for the occasional homeless person or roaming gang. He thought about giving the brothers fair warning before realizing that any sane person would likely run away instead of starting a fight.
He was half wondering if maybe he shouldn't have taken the chance to run, or at least to contact the authorities, but John was adamant about that. "I don't want them involved until we know what's going on. I don't want them coming to the same conclusions we did unless there's proof."
"Besides, it's not like we make very good witnesses," Bobby said. "We don't even remember all of it."
It made sense. Bends was fond of Doctor Bolton himself, and if it turned out he had nothing to do with this, Bends was just as happy for the suspicion to never come to light. On the other hand, the fact that he had been missing for so long suggested he was either a suspect…or another victim.
Unless he's turned up since then, Bends reminded himself grimly. Lena would know, but he didn't have any way of contacting her at home, seeing how she was rarely there. His beeper had been smashed too, and while normally he could have shrugged it off and fixed it himself, he had neither tools nor time to do so.
When they were finally settled and he had a moment to check his watch, he was startled to realize it had flipped over to the AM. He rubbed his face tiredly. "Ugh, man, I need to crash. Are you guys gonna be okay here?"
He didn't feel safe transporting them very far. Even at this time of night, someone might notice, and with the lack-of-space in his van, he could only cart two at a time, leaving whoever was left behind exposed.
"We'll be fine. You can speak to Lena in the morning, right?"
There was no denying John was worried. He certainly had enough reason to be. "Absolutely." Bends snuck a look at the others, who were sniffing out the corners of their new hiding spot. "Think you can keep them out of trouble?"
John rolled his eyes with such suffering that Bends couldn't help but chortle a little. It felt a lot better than the continuing tension, so he decided to roll with it. "Hang in there then. I'll be back later."
"Yeah," John said softly. "Look, Bends, thanks for sticking with us."
He regretted the selfish thought of even considering leaving in the first place. "Nah. No biggie. That's what friends are for, right?"
That evoked a faint smile. "Right. And…I'm sorry about your arm."
"Huh? Oh, right." Bends had taken a look at it earlier. It had gone a merry shade of purple where John had grabbed it after his transformation, but Bends had since forgotten about it (though it'd be sure to remind him if he tried to lift anything it didn't like). "I'll put some ice on it when I get home."
"Alright." John held his eyes for a few seconds, completely serious. "I don't think those other creatures would leave the Lab to find us, but you never know. Just be careful, okay?"
Bends nodded soberly. "Yeah, you too."
The first thing Bobby discovered about being a shark – aside from the fact that he was now sporting a very fetching set of stripes – was that it sucked to stay still. As in really, really sucked.
"Don't sharks have an off button or something? I wanna sleep already."
John had mastered it the best so far, and had managed to sit in the same place for the last five minutes with only a minimum of shifting. "Sharks need to move to breathe. They're in trouble if they stop."
"Well I can breathe just fine," Bobby muttered, but his instincts didn't seem to be listening. "Hey, do you think we can breathe underwater?"
"Maybe. We've got the gills for it," Clint said, prodding Bobby's dubiously.
"Knock it off," Bobby scowled, rubbing them. "That feels weird."
Everything felt weird. He was starting to smell all kinds of things his brain couldn't even recognize, and already he'd had accidents controlling his newfound strength. Who knew doors would break so easily? The fin was strange too. Hypersensitive, even to the gentle drafts of air that floated through the building. It was annoying.
He'd lost one of his best shirts too. The parts of it that hadn't been shredded when he's changed he'd torn off himself. Everything else seemed okay…even his gloves, though they were maybe a bit tighter than before. Every time he thought about getting new ones he firmly squashed the thought; after all, they were going to get changed back soon, weren't they?
Thoughts circled pointlessly in his head until he grew sick of it. "I wanna go out."
John gave him a sharp look. "No."
"What are you, crazy?" Clint asked. "You want someone to call the police on us?"
"Well it beats staying here! I'm going to go nuts if I don't move around for a bit." It wasn't that much of an exaggeration. "Can I at least look around the building?"
Every line in John's body indicated he wanted to say no, but Bobby held firm until his older brother relented slightly. "Only if Clint goes with you."
"I thought I didn't have to baby sit anymore," Clint sighed, earning a light punch from Bobby that would have knocked an ordinary human down flat.
"Don't complain. Maybe we can find some food."
That prospect definitely cheered Clint up. "Then what are we waiting for?"
"Just don't go too far," John told them, but his warning went largely unheard.
"Where have you been?"
Bends held his arms up in surrender as he walked into the Genetics Department's office. "I swear to god there's a really good reason."
Lena was having none of it. "I've been trying to call you since yesterday. I tried your house, you shop…even Jets and he said he hadn't seen you either, and now the school has been calling me to ask why Bobby and Cooper have been absent and none of them have been home yet!"
He patted her tentatively on she shoulder as she took a deep, angry breath. "So Bolton still hasn't turned up yet huh?"
"No." Her eyes widened slightly. "But the police have been here asking about him. Do you know what's going?"
The news settled like a lump of lead in his stomach. "What did they ask about?"
"Uh…they wanted to know about his latest research, any changes in his behavior, how long he's been missing." She seemed to be managing the stress fairly well, despite it all. Her answers were quick and precise, just like her research notes. "I couldn't lie to them Bends. Doctor Bolton has been very distracted recently, and very secretive about his work. I didn't think anything of it before, but now…"
He nodded. "It's okay. You did the right thing." Even if Lena hadn't been the one to say it, eventually someone would have.
"At least tell me the boys are alright," she sighed, smoothing out her hair unnecessarily.
"Well…that's kind of a tricky question." At her warning glare he hastily added, "I did find them an' they're safe. For now at least. I, uh…" He sat down in a nearby chair, keenly feeling the lack of sleep. "Don't know where to start."
He was grateful when she took charge, seeming to realize that the last twelve hours hadn't been very easy on him either. "Well tell me how you found the boys. Your message didn't say."
"Eh?" He thought back. "They phoned here. I left another message on you desk with the details."
Thos obviously came as a surprise. Lena rummage for a minute but came up with nothing. "I never found it. Doesn't look like it's here now either."
"Weird," he shrugged. It hardly mattered anymore though. "Now, this is all going to sound really wacky Lena, but I swear I'm not making it up."
The building was some kind of manufacturing plant, they discovered, and after a restless search in rooms such as the kitchen (empty), head office (dusty) and the machine room (boring), Bobby decided he was done.
"Let's go outside."
"You really are crazy," Clint muttered, brushing the grime from his hands off on his pants. "If we get seen-"
"We won't be," Bobby interrupted. "Who gets up this early anyway?"
Bends did, Clint knew, but let it pass. "What about John?"
"What about John?" his younger brother challenged. "Since when do you need his permission?"
"I don't." Clint scowled, glancing at the doorway. He couldn't honestly say he was any less tempted than Bobby was, and there was a banquet of scents wafting in from the outside that downright begged to be investigated.
"Then let's go," Bobby said exasperatedly, as though it was the most obvious choice in the world. He brushed past Clint and headed for the door, knowing he didn't need to look back.
The door was locked, but Bobby found that one good shove was enough to break it open with strength to spare. He smirked, admiring the curl of his fist, fingers tipped with sharp talons. Yes, there were definitely some advantages to this whole shark thing. Outside, dawn was breaking magnificently over the horizon; hell, the birds were even singing. Under the circumstances he thought it was all rather funny.
Muttering direly under his breath, Clint came up behind him. "If we get caught, I'm telling him this was all your idea."
"My ideas are always the best ones," Bobby smirked. "Come on."
The city seemed completely different. It wasn't like this part of town was unusual or outstanding – every inch of Fission City was varying degrees of smoggy, dirty and bland, with a few drooping trees thrown in like sprinkles on a sad-looking cake – but with his senses amplified off the scale it was like visiting a foreign country. Or more like a different dimension. Even the litter in the gutters seemed new and exciting and delicious.
He pulled that last thought up short. All right, yes, he was starving, but he definitely wasn't ready to be eating out of gutters yet. The shark's mentality had a different view on things. Everything was regarded as potential food until proven not to be. It was weird trying to placate it with his own experiences on what constituted as real food and what shouldn't.
The sights were less interesting than the smells, and he found himself unconsciously following his nose while getting a feel for the territory. The smell from a nearby rubbish dump was overpowering – almost as fascinating as it was disgusting – but when the wind changed he picked up on something new.
"Can you smell that?" he asked Clint.
Clint cocked his head, considering. His eyes widened. "Someone's coming!"
He all but dragged Bobby down the alley, forcing them to take cover behind the interesting rubbish dump. It drowned out every other smell, and Bobby wrinkled his nose. "How can you tell?"
Clint shrugged. "Just smells like a person."
"And you're the expert since when?"
"Since now." Clint crossed his arms. "It's a jogger, I think. A woman."
Bobby looked at him incredulously. "You can tell that?"
The smirk Clint wore shouldn't have been that smug. "She's wearing a walkman too. Now shut it."
They waited a moment and sure enough a young woman huffed past, her skin slick with perspiration. The details seemed to burn themselves into Bobby's memory. Her hair was chestnut brown, her eyes were green, had two piercing in her right ear and another in her nose. He could even read the brand name of her watch though she couldn't have been in sight for more than a second. It was like she'd been running in slow motion, but just as abruptly the moment past, and he shook his head to clear it.
She'd also been wearing headphones.
"Can we go now?" Bobby asked plaintively, but was stopped short by Clint's arm.
"There's one more. A guy in a leather jacket. Red shirt."
"Now's you're just getting cocky," Bobby grumbled. Even assuming Clint could smell anything over the rubbish there was no way he could tell color.
When the guy in the red shirt strolled past a second later, Bobby stared at his brother like he'd grown a second head while Clint laughed wickedly at his expression. "No fucking way."
"Come on, we probably still have time for one more street before we have to go back."
It took Bobby a moment to unstick his feet from the pavement to chase after his brother. "How did you do that?"
"Oh come on…"
The next street had a few shops that looked like they might still be in business, though none of them were open yet. The brothers warily crept past another alley that seemed to have someone smelling of rotten fruit sleeping in it, and were drawn like moths to the flickering lights coming from one of the store windows.
"Hey, TV!" Bobby enthused. "You know, I missed a season finale last night. Damn. Hope I can find someone who taped it."
"You really need to work on your priorities," Clint muttered, pressing closer to the window. There was a pretty redhead sitting at a desk in the identical screens, the logo for Fission City's local news broadcast channel in the background. The volume now was turned right down, but he could catch a few words if he strained his hearing. One phrase stopped him cold. "She's talking about Dad."
The uncanny squeak of sneakers skidding on linoleum were the only warning Bends and Lena had before the door to the office burst open, but the visitor was hardly one they were expecting.
The dark skinned teen, only slightly older than Bends, leaned on the frame to catch his breath. "Do you have a radio?" he asked urgently.
Lena was a bit quicker on the uptake than Bends, and pointed out the small device on the shelf about her desk. "There."
"Turn it on to 101.3, now."
Although his fingers were a bit shaky from exhaustion, Bends was the master of all things mechanical and quickly had it tuned correctly. He put it back down on the desk and they all listened intently.
"-asking any citizen of Fission City with information on Doctor Robert Bolton's current location to come forward immediately. We advise not approach him if sighted, as we remind you he is considered to be armed and potentially dangerous. It is uncertain at this point as to whether his sons are accomplices or bystanders to their fathers crimes, and we encourage them to contact the police for further information."
"What?" Lena said, shocked.
"It's nuts, isn't it?" Jets said, leaning against Lena's desk. "They've been playing it all morning."
"What's he being accused of?" Bends asked suddenly.
"Possession of illegal materials, inhumane handling of animals, crimes against humanity, and I think a few others. I just can't believe it. I mean, this is the Doctor Bolton. The man's a good Samaritan if I ever met one." Lena and Bends exchanged a strained look that Jets didn't miss. "What? You know something?"
Bends bit his lip. Lena had to steel her gaze before asking, "Do they have proof?"
Jets scowled. "Oh come on, you don't think…?" Her expression didn't change, and he seemed to lose a bit of his fire. "Yeah, they do. They found some kind of laboratory with computer files, papers in his handwriting, the whole shebang. But it's gotta be a setup, right? He has to've been framed." He gave them both a cautious look. "Does this have anything to do with the fact that Clint hasn't been home in two days? Have you guys heard from him at all?"
It wasn't in Jets' nature to press when someone obviously didn't want to tell him anything, but while Clint wasn't the most reliable person on the planet, he would normally have said something if he wasn't going to be around. And now with radio reports and police involvement, he had the dark suspicion that something fundamental in the order of the world had been grossly shifted.
Lena looked him in the eye. "No. We haven't heard from any of them."
Please don't ask, she told him silently. He glanced to the side, but Bends had withdrawn into himself and was saying nothing.
After a long moment he nodded slowly. "Alright." He stood to leave. "You both know how to find me if you need me for anything." It was the least he could offer, and probably the most they would accept.
She smiled gratefully, thought he suspected it was more for the things he wasn't saying than what he was. "We know. Thanks Jets."
He snorted. "Just get that lug head to call me whenever he turns up. He still owes the his half of the rent."
Jets left just as Doctor Paradigm was returning. Bends often forgot what an intimidating figure the man cut when he wasn't hunched over his desk. Luther Paradigm was easily six feet tall, and built like a military man rather than a scientist. The metal patch over his right eye did nothing to dissuade that image.
"Doctor," Lena greeted, standing. "Where have you been?"
"The police station," Paradigm said shortly. On a good day he was a bit standoffish, but now he seemed downright menacing in his ire. "It seems they couldn't even wait for me to get our of my car this morning before they hauled me off for questioning."
"About Doctor Bolton?" Lena questioned tentatively.
"What else?" Paradigm stalked into his office, rummaging for papers, but reappeared just as quickly. "I'm afraid you'll have to cancel my classes Lena. The Mayor has requested my presence. It seem they need an expert to figure out exactly what Robert's been up to."
He was moving quickly, and before she could think better of it she asked, "What did you tell them? About Doctor Bolton?"
He paused in the doorway, giving her a pained look, handing her a crumpled sheet of computer paper. "The truth, Lena. Only the truth."
In the next moment he was nothing but a stirring of rapidly disappearing footsteps. She looked at the paper, smoothing its creases, but the print was still easily readable in spite of them.
I have committed the most terrible sin of all, using my own sons to further my love of science. They are as monstrous now as I am. May God forgive me for what I have done.
Bends and Lena shared a helpless glance. Before they might have had a chance to figure things out and keep it contained, but now the police were already digging, and the mayor…there was nothing they could do to stop the momentum of information. Word was going to get out no matter what they did.
"What do we do?" Bends asked, feeling more than a little lost.
Lena bit her lip, but the uncertain motion vanished, leaving a veneer of determination in its place. "We have to keep the boys safe. That's what matters most."
"Those lying sons of--"
If Bobby hadn't been struck dumb, he might have thought to stop Clint from punching out first the glass window and then the largest of the TV screens, but he'd gone numb when the reporter had started listing their father's supposed crimes. It was a long list.
The TV sparked, its innards billowing black smoke, but the other TV's continues their identical, mocking dances. There was a shrill whining in the air that he eventually realized was an alarm, but Clint's furious panting seemed much more immediate. The street wasn't going to stay empty for long.
"Hey Clint." No response. He shook his brother's shoulder and repeated a little louder, "Clint, we have to go!"
Clint's temper was infamous and daunting, even for someone who knew him well. It was bad when he blew up, but far worse when he went silent, and at the moment they didn't have time for either reaction The tight trembling in his arms was the warning sign, but Bobby opted to pretend otherwise.
"We have to tell John and Coop, then we can figure a way out of this. Come on." He gently pried Clint's arm out of the ruined TV, noting with interest that despite all the broken glass his brother didn't have a scratch on him, but this wasn't the best opportunity to stop and marvel.
He didn't relish the idea of needing to drag Clint back, but if there was one thing he was good at it was knowing which buttons to push. "Move it, you big oaf! If we go at your snail's pace, they'll have Dad in jail before we get to the end of the street."
"You--!" Clint wanted to lash out and Bobby offering himself up as a target was enough to break him out of his silent rage. The familiar wail of police sirens sounded in the distance. "Fine. We're going."
Bobby had thought the mutation would slow them down, but he'd forgotten that sharks were surprisingly fast in their element, and if water was theirs than city streets were his. They shot past the startled looking alley sleeper, who'd been peeking around the corner to see what all the ruckus was about. On the wind he caught a bewildered muttering of, "Time to get out of this town," and he might have felt bad if there wasn't too much to be worrying about already. A few other people were starting to look out their doors, and even if they weren't sure of what they were seeing, they knew it wasn't natural.
"Oh my god--"
"Somebody call the cops!"
"They're already coming."
"Quick, get back inside!"
"What are they?"
Bobby frowned in offence, half turning to see if he could spot the offender behind that last comment. "Horrible? Try looking in a mirror pal."
"Your ego will survive Bobby, let it go."
That was rich. "Ha! Says the guy who punched out an innocent TV screen."
"I'm still telling John this was all your idea."
Bobby cursed under his breath, but for the sake of the information they'd gained he thought John might just forgive them.
That of course meant finding a moment to tell him, because the moment they walked back in through the door it was clear John wasn't in the mood to be listening.
"What did you do?" he asked coldly.
"I thought I told you to stay close Bobby, can't you think of anyone but yourself just this once?"
Bobby frowned, offended. "Hey--"
John glowered fiercely. "I can hear the sirens from here. If they manage to follow you back to this place it's not like we can go anywhere in broad daylight without being noticed. If they find us it's all over."
He was right, of course, but it wasn't in Bobby's nature to admit that. He stayed silent, quivering in frustration and shame at being chastised. What was he, twelve?
"Where's Coop?" Clint asked quietly, breaking the silent tension.
"Back in the office," John said, tilting his head towards the front of the building. "Why?"
It might have been unwarranted under the circumstances, but he didn't want their youngest brother to hear this. "The police are after Dad John. They say they've got all this evidence proving he's been involved in illegal research and whatnot. They're asking us to come forward."
That shut John up quickly, and Bobby felt a small, vindictive pleasure in the shock running over his older brother's face, but it was short lived in the face of the heavy weight of uncertainty. He might not like being told what to do, but this was too huge to handle by himself. "What do we do?" he questioned softly.
He could see John thinking, critically analyzing their choices. "Going to the police won't help anything. We can't say for sure Dad didn't do anything and we're…"
We're further proof of what he might have done, Bobby read between the lines.
"The best thing to do is stay underground until it's all sorted out, or at least until we can find a way to change back," John continued. "Not here though. We might need to hide out for a while, and this place barely has the basics. When Bends gets back, we'll start looking for some place more permanent."
Bobby nodded slowly. Made sense. He wasn't too fond of the cops anyway. The few he'd been unfortunate enough to run into in the past had never impressed him. They were all either incompetent, or insufferable, giving off a vibe that was dirtier than Fission City's pollution problem. He was all too happy to avoid them all together.
"So we wait?" he asked.
John nodded. "Yeah, and hope Bends can figure out how to sneak us out of here."
Michael Brock made the motion for his men to fan out, surrounding the small industrial site. He wasn't sure what kind of hysteria was spreading to the streets, but despite the number of people who'd volunteered to rant fearfully about what they'd seen, he still didn't have a clue as to what he was supposed to be chasing. People in costume? Monsters? Demons? The story changed depending on who you asked, and it was all about as helpful as a road sign to nowhere.
The only clue they had was an anonymous tip suggesting there was something interesting to be found in this particular building. It might have been unrelated, or maybe even a prank, but the commissioner was in a frenzy and absolutely nothing was getting past unchecked. Something about the Bolton case had people worked up, though Brock wasn't sure why it applied to this case. Illegal research didn't have anything to do with a couple of thugs breaking a TV.
The place was supposed to be unoccupied, so he didn't feel any particular remorse as he kicked down the door, leveling his handgun at the interior. "Police!" he called. "Come out with your hands up."
Predictably, there was no sign of movement. He let out a short sigh of annoyance, but his trained eye took note that there were fresh trails in the dust, leading on a meandering path towards the next room.
"Looks like this one's a dud, 'ey detective?" one of his subordinates said, seeming relieved.
"Maybe." He didn't want to point out the trail. It might be nothing, might be everything. "Still, we'd better check the place out while we're here, don't you think?"
The other man didn't seem to agree, but he shrugged offhandedly. "You're the boss."
This was a common enough practice that they didn't need to be talked through it. The rest of the officers separated into pairs, clearing the rest of the building. Brock followed the dust. It separated into a couple of different paths, and rather than wait he decided to follow his gut instinct, choosing the widest trail. He was rewarded a moment later, catching a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye. "Freeze!"
His target had no intention of doing so, and shot up the staircase before Brock could identify more than a flash of pale blue and lavender.
"Suspect is moving towards the roof of the building," he mouthed into his radio, taking the stairs two at a time. He couldn't lose focus on his footing to keep an eye on the perpetrator, so he simply had to hope the other wasn't carrying a gun. His instincts said no, and since they hadn't steered him wrong so far he was inclined to trust it.
He heard the door to the roof slam open and put on a burst of speed, reaching it just as it was starting to swing closed. He was blinded by the light of the midday sun after the dim interior, and thus didn't have a chance to stop his suspect from jumping off the roof.
"He's nuts," Brock gaped. Assuming this was one of the people who'd tried to break in to the electronics store, it wasn't worth jumping for, but as he reached the edge himself he realized that the leap hadn't been a desperate one. There was a daunting distance between here and the building next door, but the suspect had made it, joining with three others and waving to him cheerily from the other side.
Brock stared, trying to figure out what he was looking at even as they moved onward, making another incredible leap to the next rooftop and disappearing from sight. He barely noticed his men crowding up behind him, squinting against the sun for a look.
"Did you see that?"
"What were they?"
People in costume? Monsters? Demons? Brock wasn't entirely sure.
"Alright, I admit it. That was an awesome idea," Bobby exalted, leaning back against the rail. They were far enough away that he didn't feel especially worried about the police spotting them. "Man, that was close. They almost had us."
John might have been tempted to tell Bobby that he'd been the source of the idea – ever since that first amazing jump he'd performed back when they'd still been human – but his ego was big enough without that kind of encouragement.
"What about Bends though?" Cooper asked, looking back. "He won't be able to find us now."
"We'll think of something," John assured him. "In the meantime, we'll need to find another hiding spot."
"I dunno if that's gonna be easy, bro," Clint said, looking out over the city. "Take a look."
At first it was hard to figure out what Clint was pointing to, but eventually a pattern of flashing red lights made itself known. The police were blocking off streets and herding people away from the district.
"Damn, they're working fast," Bobby swore. "They must be really keen to find us quick."
"It's the way we look," Cooper said sadly. "They're afraid of us."
"Think it's a bit late to turn ourselves in?" Clint intended it as a joke, but a nervous silence followed in its wake. The sight of policemen carrying guns had been unexpectedly shocking. Clint frowned. "Hey, pull it together guys. We're not done yet."
"Yeah," Bobby managed a confident smile, full of sharp teeth. "I'd love to see them try to take us."
"The police aren't our enemy," John reminded them. "They're only doing their job but if we have to fight out way out we will. Just remember not to hurt them too bad."
"What? Us?" Clint and Bobby exchanged bloodthirsty grins, and John smacked a palm to his temple.
"Yes you. Now look carefully. See that street over there?" He pointed. "That leads right down to the ocean. I bet if we can get to the water we can lose them."
"Sharks in water? Sounds good to me," Bobby said.
"There's a barricade though," Clint observed. They could see two officers guarding a fragile wooden barrier.
"We can get past them," John said. "But it's better to wait until dark. Otherwise we'll be fighting them every step of the way."
Clint sat down, disgruntled. "Damn it. More waiting."
"At least maybe things will have calmed down by evening," Cooper offered uncertainly.
As thought to spite his brother's earlier prediction, it seemed like half the town had turned up to watch. The new senses of his shark-half informed him that they were completely surrounded, and he gave a brief, wistful thought to Clint's suggestion that they just hand themselves over.
"Okay guys, are we ready?" John said, doing his best to keep the shake out of his voice. He wasn't afraid, precisely, but fired up with a nervous energy that was almost exhilarating.
"Been ready," Clint grunted. He put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Don't do anything stupid. If you aren't at the barrier in fifteen we're coming back for you."
And they would, no matter how hard he'd been trying to convince them otherwise. John sighed. "Fine. Just take care of them."
He vanished into the dark before either of them had to risk saying goodbye. It was only fifteen minutes, after all. John had to keep the militia distracted long enough for the others to break through the perimeter. He'd considered the possibility from every angle and decided he had the best chance of succeeding. The Great White was one of the few sharks that could call itself a true man eater – the king of the ocean's predators. He just had to let those instincts guide him a little.
On top of that he'd been analyzing the changes that had occurred since their transformation. He'd tested himself in the short hours before dusk, and questioned his brothers for anything strange they'd noticed. They were faster than before now, both in reaction speed and movement, and impervious to certain kinds of damage if Clint punching a bare hand through glass had been any indication. John wasn't completely confident that he could stop a bullet, but maybe a wound like that wouldn't be as serious?
He had the perfect location in mind to test his theories – one that allowed for a few experimental skirmishes along the way. Armored scouts wandered the tight streets, and it was almost too simple to hide in the darkness and wait. They almost walked right past without noticing him, and by the time they did it was too late.
Satisfied, he continued to his ideal location. A larger group, maybe ten people, had stopped to rest on a wider avenue, presenting themselves as an easy target. If he could get in their midst they wouldn't risk their guns – too much chance they'd hit one of their own – and a loud scuffle would undoubtedly draw lots of attention which was exactly what he needed.
He was spotted the moment he left his hiding place. There was a breathless moment where he had to cross the distance to the nearest enemy before they could act. Maybe his appearance gave them pause, or maybe he was even faster than he'd first though, but the guard was only halfway through raising his gun by the time John's fist collided with his temple and then everything exploded into a blur of pandemonium that John was right in the middle in.
Taking them all down was the easy part. Pulling in his strength so he didn't hurt them too badly had been harder. The enhancements were an amazing but terrible thing. He didn't even need light to see anymore. His sense of smell was better than a bloodhound's, and he'd finally figured out that ringing sensation must have been an electromagnetic sense: tracking by motion. He could see their attacks almost before they happened, and move to dodge accordingly.
It was chaos, loud and exciting, and while John didn't take any particular pleasure in rendering them all unconscious, there was a kind of wild thrill to all the action. All too quickly the shouting was silenced, however, leaving him slightly breathless but nearly unharmed and more than a little surprised that he'd come out intact.
Despite that, the silent alarm was ringing again. He had only a split second's warning to figure out that the sense of movement was much closer than he originally guessed before he felt a powerful shock arc over his body, tearing a cry of pain from his throat. He could still act though, and after tearing off the tazer dart the pain faded quickly.
"Damn," he muttered under his breath, staggering slightly. He must have miscounted the number of people, but as he turned to face his attacker he realized that not only had the man not been part of the main unit, but he was very, unpleasantly familiar.
Doctor Luther Paradigm. The man was unmistakable, even with his billowing coat blurring the edges of his form. What was he doing here?
The locked memory broke free of its chains, blinding him with its intensity.
"Let us go you freak!" Bobby shouted, struggling against the bonds that held him to the table. John had almost given up on hoping to break free. From the look of things, they were made to hold creatures a lot bigger and stronger than them. Like the two ugly monsters that had captured them in the lab. The lobster was guarding the door, clacking its pincers impatiently, while the long nosed one was hovering around the scientist like an excited pet.
"At least let my brothers go Paradigm," he pleaded. "I'll do whatever you want." Paradigm laughed. "When I'm finished you'll all do whatever I want." John could see him preparing the needles from the corner of his eye, and he felt sick. "Sorry. No deal."
"At least let my brothers go Paradigm," he pleaded. "I'll do whatever you want."
Paradigm laughed. "When I'm finished you'll all do whatever I want." John could see him preparing the needles from the corner of his eye, and he felt sick. "Sorry. No deal."
He wavered in disbelief at the sudden flood of memory. It hadn't been their dad at all. It had been Paradigm from the beginning. All of a sudden, he could see the pattern, perfectly laid out. Paradigm had access to their father's research. He could have stolen the computer; he could have planted evidence to twist the events to his advantage. He even knew the brothers well enough to manipulate them into coming to him.
Bolton had often professed that the man was a genius. He'd managed to fool an entire city.
John saw red, remembering the fear and frustration at being trapped in that lab, the pain of being changed against his will, the horror at what they'd become. Everything he'd said about not killing anyone was thrown from his mind. He was willing to make this one exception.
Paradigm was a dead man.
And evidently smart enough to realize it because he ran back down the alleyway he'd come from. John gave chase, barely aware of what his body was doing. It felt like everything was happening in a blur, but at least he and his shark instincts were in agreement on one point. They had found their prey.
It wasn't until he was half way up the fire escape that the madness eased. The Shark didn't like being so far off the ground, and its uncertainty was enough for John to pull back enough to think. If Paradigm had planned this far, no doubt he had an agenda of his own still. In all probability he wasn't running, he was leading. A trap? But he needed answers, because there were still too many questions that hadn't been answered.
"What about our dad? What did you do with him?" Cooper asked desperately.
Paradigm's smirk was wide and content. "I'm afraid your father wasn't making the best use of his research so I decided to appropriate it from him. When he found out he tried to confront me here, and sadly I was forced to dispose of him." Cooper choked. John could barely breathe as he asked, "Did you kill him?!" "Why don't you ask me again when I'm finished? If you still care, that is."
Paradigm's smirk was wide and content. "I'm afraid your father wasn't making the best use of his research so I decided to appropriate it from him. When he found out he tried to confront me here, and sadly I was forced to dispose of him."
Cooper choked. John could barely breathe as he asked, "Did you kill him?!"
"Why don't you ask me again when I'm finished? If you still care, that is."
By the time he made it to the roof, John was shaking from effort, but rage gave him inexhaustible strength. Up here there was nowhere for either of them to run.
"Enough damage has been done," Paradigm called to him, drawing another pistol from his coat. "It's time to end this, Monster."
"Monster?" John wanted to laugh at the absurdity, but there was nothing funny about any of this. "The only monster here is you."
"Ah, so I see you haven't forgotten." Paradigm seemed pleased. "A shame. That might make the negotiations a bit more difficult."
"I'll kill you," he said, taking a step forward. He'd never expected to say those words and mean it, but he knew beyond a doubt that at the moment he was more than capable of it. Some distant thought wondered if maybe he shouldn't feel more regret, but all he felt was cold.
"Don't be so hasty John. After all, I'm the only one who can help you and your brothers."
John hesitated, a faltered step. If there was one thing that still mattered more than vengeance...it was family. "How?"
"Do you really think the city is going to accept you as you are now? Everywhere you go they will hunt you down, and not everyone will have as much concern for your well being as I do. The best choice for all of you is to surrender to me now."
"That's not true," John growled. "When we tell them what you did--!"
"But will they believe you?" Paradigm asked indulgently. "They will simply assume that you children will stand by your father no matter what has been done to you. Have you not seen how quickly the opinion of the public has changed? In one day, your father turned from community hero to the most despised man in the city, and everyone you know will shun you like the monster you are."
Was it true? Bends had never come back for them, and the speed with which the police had tracked them down had been a bit too quick for his liking. He'd thought maybe Clint or Bobby had been followed, but what if it had been someone else…?
Paradigm must have seen the hesitancy in his posture because his smirk widened. "You see? This is the true face of humanity. They will fear you because you are greater, stronger than they are. You are the future of our species, and they are nothing but small-minded fools who do not realize that the time for change has come."
"People aren't perfect," John admitted grimly. "But I'd side with them any day over a depraved lunatic like you."
Paradigm seemed taken aback. He hadn't expected to be rebuffed so immediately. He eyed the great white, shaking his had sadly. "Such a shame. The four of you were my greatest creations, but it still seems I haven't found the perfect formula yet." His stance lowered in readiness, his single eye narrowed sneeringly. "When I get you back to my lab I'll be sure to stamp that hindering conviction out of you."
"Just try it." He'd already proven that he could take on an ordinary human, but Paradigm seemed far too confident. Was it arrogance, or did he know something John didn't?
Lightning rent the sky in a flash of overpowering brilliance, and as one mind they tried to gain the advantage while the other was distracted. Another tazer dart buzzed through the air, but John dodged it blindly, feeling it do nothing more than clip his skin as it went past, and by then he was too close for Paradigm to even think about a second shot. He grabbed the gun, yanking hard enough to nearly dislocate Paradigm's shoulder as it tore from his grasp. The act filled John with dark satisfaction; whatever ace Paradigm might be hiding, it wasn't able to counter his new strength. The feel of the gun in his hand filled him with an ugly chill, and before it even occurred to him to use the weapon himself he simply crushed it between his hands. It crumpled like paper, and he threw it heedlessly over his shoulder before turning back to his opponent with a vicious grin. "What now Paradigm?"
The Doctor had wisely taken the moment to back up, but he didn't look alarmed. Only determined. "You may be strong, but have you really figured out how to use it?"
John didn't have a moment to wonder about that statement because in the next moment Paradigm flew at him, striking and weaving in a pattern that left John reeling. Paradigm was faster than any human had a right to be, and though the blows were dulled slightly by the shark's tough skin it still hurt. Instinct and self-preservation banished any strategy he might have tried to come up with, and black fury took control. As another punch connected he reached out and caught Paradigm's wrist, intending to squeeze until the bone shattered before doing the same to the rest of the Doctor's body--
Well something crunched all right, but it wasn't bone. He could feel the dents he'd created in something that wasn't flesh but metal. Some kind of armor? Paradigm grunted in pain, shoving him backwards with strength that was almost as unnatural as his speed, and in surprise John only managed to catch the cuff of his sleeve before they staggered apart. It tore away easily, and beneath it was revealed a sleek exoskeleton that covered the whole of Paradigm's arm and probably the rest of his body as well.
John eyed it warily. Was that the reason behind Paradigm's uncanny movement? Obviously it was more than simple armor; it looked cumbersome but the Doctor moved like it was merely painted on his skin, though the newly dented area brought a look of annoyance to his face. "I see my power suit didn't quite account for your strength. A pity. Still, it should be enough for one shark."
That first assault had been punishing. John found he couldn't move as freely as he liked, and briefly wondered if his new blue and white skin would show the bruises he could feel forming. "Better make that four." He had to consider the worst-case scenario. It had been a very long two days, and even utter hatred couldn't fight the exhaustion for long. "Even if you take me down you'll still have to worry about my brothers." Though he really hoped that maybe they'd taken their chance at freedom while they could. It wasn't likely though.
Paradigm tilted his head, eyes narrowed with contempt. "You really think they'll be the ones to save you? By now if my other pets haven't already found them, then the team I had waiting down at the exit to the docks surely did."
John couldn't hide his faltering, and Paradigm smirked, continuing ruthlessly, "Of course I figured out which way you would try to run. I made you, after all. You can't fight the instincts you've been imbued with. The shark in you would be drawn to the water and that's exactly what I was expecting. By now your brothers are either captured or dead."
The words echoed dully in his mind, making his hands twitch with the need to crush something again. "You--!"
He knew it was a mistake the moment he lunged, and with surprising quickness John managed to change direction but not before a sharp sting of burning pain whipped across his abdomen. He brushed the area briefly with his hand, and mixed in with the cold rivulets of rain he felt something warm and just as wet. Blood. Barely a graze but alarmingly real. He nearly lost his footing on the slick paving of the roof, and found himself plunging dangerously close to the edge, flailing for balance.
Paradigm smirked widely, tilting the wrist that hadn't been crushed, and in another distant flash of lightning John caught sight of the hooked blade that had shot out unexpectedly to cut him. If he'd been any slower things would have been considerably messier, and the look on his face must have shown as much because Paradigm laughed exultantly. "You can't win. I know your strengths and weaknesses better than you do. Surrender now and we can cease this pointless fight."
"Go to hell!" The Doctor was as much the genius as Bolton had always said, and John was no longer fighting to win, but counting the seconds until he lost. He might just prefer to take his chances with a four-story drop than be taken back as Paradigm's experiment, and his dubious glance over the edge became a longer stare as he took note of exactly what he'd be landing on.
You've got to be kidding. But the alternative was worse.
"Sorry Paradigm. If you want a pet project, you can find another volunteer."
The Doctor's look as he jumped was quite priceless, and if that was the last thing he ever saw John didn't think it would have been such a bad deal, but thankfully his jump was true and he landed squarely in the back of the carefully placed truck. The garbage in the tray broke his fall quite admirably, though the breath was knocked out of him and what little air he could intake was nigh intolerable from the stench. Two pairs of hands pulled him up before he had to choke on it though.
"You okay?" Cooper asked, eyes wide and worried.
"Of course he is," Bobby asserted before banging on the top of the cab. "He's in Clint. Step on it."
The truck suddenly lurched into motion, putting an unpleasant strain on John's abused ribs. His muffled groan earned him another look from Cooper but he waved his youngest brother off. "M'fine." He looked around curiously. "Where'd you get the truck?"
"Bends hot wired it for us," Bobby said, picking his way back disdainfully over the garbage. "He caught up to us before we got to the blockade, said he knew a better way to get through it, then armed us up with this baby. Not the cleanest ride, but it'll be able to take some damage."
John sighed, unaccountably relieved. Not captured, not dead, and Bends hadn't abandoned them either. "There's reinforcements at the docks exit. They knew which way we'd run."
Bobby blinked. "How?"
"Paradigm?" Bobby echoed. "What's he got to do with it?"
"Long story." One he really didn't want to tell more than once, and Clint wasn't…come to think of it, "Clint's not driving, is he?"
Bobby's grin was wide and innocent, Cooper's a bit more sheepish.
"Oh geeze," John groaned and hung on for dear life, which turned out to be a very good idea as a dull shock resonated from the front of the truck, followed by something crunching unpleasantly underneath the wheels. "Please tell me we didn't just hit someone."
Cooper peered over the back. "Just a trash can." He then turned to the front. "I can see the blockade."
"Then keep your fin down," Bobby hissed, pulling his brother by the arm.
Burrowed down in garbage, John couldn't see what was going on, but he could guess. First the guards would see the truck, bearing down at full speed. After a moment they'd gather their wits and start shooting. Then they'd realize how utterly ineffective bullets were against something that weighed more than a ton and was moving with all the unrelenting speed of a freight train. Then they'd hopefully do the smart thing and get out of the damn way.
It was impossible to miss the collision with the blockade though. The impact was awful, and for a terrifying moment the truck spun on his wheels, threatening to roll, but a sharp tug pulled them back onto the right course. Bobby risked a look up, and whooped. "Alright, we're through!"
Air whistled with the sound of bullets flying, and he belatedly ducked back down as the guards fired a few parting shots at their rear. The back of the truck pinged and dented, but it was a comforting barrier. Nothing got though.
"Are you gonna be okay to swim?" Cooper asked. "Clint's gonna drive this thing right off the pier."
John nodded, wincing only slightly at the movement. Yes he'd make it, though he wouldn't be too happy after this was all over.
"Better get ready then," Bobby told him, leaning over the rim again. "We're about to get wet."
As the tires left solid ground and the world achieved that same, odd sense of weightlessness he'd felt when dropping off the top of the building earlier, John only hoped that these new bodies could actually swim. Otherwise they were in a lot of trouble.
"And in the aftermath of this terrible ordeal, the city remains uncertain as to the real outcome. Robert Bolton remains at large and the bodies of his sons were irretrievable from the water surrounding Fission City's docks. Will they be back? Is this only the beginning? Mayor Marino is here tonight to give her assurances to the city--"
"Blah blah blah," Bobby hit the power button vengefully. "Just more of the same junk and Dad still hasn't shown."
"Is that good or bad?" Cooper wondered aloud.
"Who knows?" Bends shrugged, wrapped in a blanket. He'd taken the enforced swim a little harder than the brothers who – as it turned out – swam just fine, and without the added problems of being frozen by the icy water or needed to breathe air. Still, Clint had managed to drag him along and he'd pointed them in the direction of a new hideout. Hopefully this one would last a little longer than the previous one. It even had a TV to keep the brothers occupied, though so far all the news reports had been distinctly useless. Even Paradigm was staying out of the public eye, possibly recovering from the manhunt, though John had freely admitted that he himself had come off the worst in that encounter.
The man – or rather shark – in question was putting on as brave a front as he could while Lena prodded and poked at his injuries, particularly the cut across his stomach. The trip into the garbage truck and then salt water hadn't done them any favors, and she was being extra cautious to make sure they wouldn't become infected.
For the first half an hour Bends had watched her carefully, but she seemed to be taking the whole mutation thing rather well. She'd had some warning in his own disjointed descriptions and a few blurry seconds of footage from the chopper recording the manhunt, but even so the reality was shocking up close.
Bends had already gone home and had his private freak out and was feeling pleasantly anesthetized to the weirdness. He was going to encourage her to do the same when she finished up, but much like Bends she obviously didn't want to leave too soon. Guilt, sympathy, loyalty, and a host of other less identifiable emotions kept them tied here. For Bends, a greater part of it was that he was just too tired to consider moving just yet.
"So what do we do next?" Clint asked. "Don't tell me we're gonna let that creep get away with this."
He didn't really envy John at the moment. They'd all had a rough night, but of course it was the eldest they'd look to for advice even though this situation was above and beyond the call of duty for any person to deal with. John frowned. "Well first of all we're going to lie low for a while." He shot Clint a sharp look when it appeared like he was going to protest. "Everyone in the city is going to be looking for us, and I really don't fancy ending back up in Paradigm's lab."
There was a collective shudder from the brothers. Apparently, those unpleasant memories were starting to return.
"But no," John continued carefully. "We're not going to let him get away with it." He stood carefully, pacing a slow circle. It seemed to help him think. "First of all, he can tell us what happened to Dad. He knows something…" Though what that something was, none of them were willing to speculate on. Any way you looked at it, it wasn't good.
"Also, I wanna know what he's up to. He called us experiments, but I don't think that's all he had in mind. There's gotta be something bigger."
Bobby looked dubious. "Like what?"
"Remember those other things he had guarding the lab?" John was at loath to call then 'people'. There had been something not quite right about them. The way they moved and smelled hadn't been human like he and his brothers, but he wasn't sure what to call it. "Those ones were loyal to him. Now imagine if he had more like that."
Cooper blanched. It wasn't a pretty thought. "But what would he do with them?"
"Don't know." John shrugged, but the question was obviously eating at him to. "We'll need to find out, but only after things have cooled down a bit. Until then we're staying underground."
"What about…" Lena looked as though her own voice had startled her, more so when she suddenly found herself the center of attention, but managed to continue, "Changing you back?"
There was a moment of strained silence. John sighed, reaching absently into his pocket. Against the odds, the formula sheet he'd stolen from Paradigm's lab was still there, and that paper was worth its weight in gold because it had survived its ocean dunking and held the ink miraculously well. "I don't know Lena. This kind of gene-splicing is…I would have thought it was impossible. The only people who could possible undo it are Dad and Paradigm." And the latter certainly wasn't telling. John also didn't want to mention the distinct possibility that there simply wasn't a cure. He doubted that hadn't been Paradigm's primary concern when he'd changed them the first time.
Ignorance was bliss. Better to let them hope for the best.
Lena, however, gave John a sidelong look. She had been working in the university's science division long enough, and probably knew him well enough, to suspect. Her expression promised her silence, and for that he was grateful.
"Guess we can't do anything until we find Dad then," Coop said, carefully navigating them out of that dark line of thought.
"Right," Bobby agreed. "And I say, if we're stuck like this, we might as well learn to enjoy it. At least some of us retained our looks." He beamed at his reflection in the blank TV screen.
Clint snorted. "Could your ego possibly be any bigger?"
"Could you be any more jealous?"
"Hey guys!" This would normally have been the point where Bends would physically intervene between the two, but given that they were now a lot bigger than he was he settled for a distraction. "If we're talking strategy I've got a great idea."
That earned him an intrigued look from Bobby, and a more wary one from Clint who knew better. Bends' great ideas were a little inconsistent in their brilliance. "Oh?"
"Well the first thing is to find you guys a place to stay out of sight, yeah? I've got a perfect place in mind."
That was enough to make Bobby a little more cautious. You didn't find perfect places for creatures like them. "Where?"
Bends smiled serenely and grappled with his backpack, pulling out the map he'd scavenged earlier when he and Lena had been talking about places the boys could hide. "You're gonna love this," he promised, spreading the paper on the floor so they could all see. "John had the right idea about staying 'underground'…"
Sorry about the wait on this one guys, but remember, reviews help keep the inspiration flowing!