Agents of Fortune

by Karasu Yurei

Warnings: Violence and the meeting of two worlds that should never have met, except for the fact that Jensen Ackles is really hot. Oh, and Lydecker is an asshole, which is why we love him.

Author's Notes: Wow, what to say about this. First, this is the first solo project I've done in like . . . three years, so it might suck hard.

Second, this is a total AU, for both Supernatural and for Dark Angel. For those of you who know Dark Angel, I'm picking Manticore and the Breeding Cult and all of that craziness and plucking it out of Post-Pulse Seattle and putting it in the Supernatural world/timeline. So, no Pulse. I'm also setting the story two years before the pilot episode of Supernatural. Some of the ages are kinda whacked out; accept it and move on. Some of the events of the show are just happening two years earlier, some won't be happening at all. I'm including nearly all of the Supernatural cast, but from Dark Angel it's mostly just Alec, Lydecker, Renfro, and maybe White. Max and the other escapees are only spoken of; Ben is the only one talked about in any detail.

Basically, all you need to know about the premise is that Dean Winchester and X5-494 (Alec) are portrayed by the same actor, Jensen Ackles. This encourages lots of people to write fanfics where they are brothers and/or clones. Hilarity ensues.

The title comes from a Blue Oyster Cult song called "E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)" which is part of the album "Agents of Fortune".

Factual notes about this chapter. The Lost Dutchman Comfort Lodge is a real motel in downtown Mesa. If you drive a black car it really will heat up that quickly. And El Pollo Loco really is a restaurant in Mesa. I had trouble taking Ben's episode of Dark Angel seriously despite the fabulous angst. So here's the first chapter. Enjoy.

Agents Of Fortune

Chapter 1

When X5-494 reported to the third briefing room, Colonel Lydecker was already seated on the far side of the plain gray metal table that dominated the room. Lydecker, as was typical of him, was relaxed with his elbows leaning on the table and hands folded on top of a thick folder. He looked up as 494 entered the room and saluted. "At ease, soldier," the Colonel said, and watched as 494 dropped the salute. His ramrod straight posture eased slightly, but by no means returned to his easy cock-sure way of moving when not being directly observed by his superiors. Lydecker had always found this particular X5's attitude refreshing, even if it didn't amuse Renfro in the least. He always preferred it when his kids had personality.

"Have a seat." The Colonel gestured at the only other chair in the room, positioned directly across from him. He waited until the X5 had seated himself, then pushed the folder over to him. 494 didn't presume to touch it, let alone open it yet; he merely waited in attentive silence for Colonel Lydecker to speak.

"This mission is to retrieve a civilian and bring him back here to base. The civilian is needed here, but is unlikely to come willingly or peacefully. Normally, we would send a small TAC team made up of your fellow X5s, but we feel that with some subversion, the subject can be retrieved quietly. You will be sent in alone undercover to retrieve the subject."

Lydecker paused at this point to observe 494. This particular X5 had not been sent on any undercover missions since the disastrous Berrisford job, which had resulted in 494 making his third and most recent involuntary visit to Psy-Ops for re-indoctrination. The only reason he had not been terminated was because the first two occasions had been preventative measures taken to ensure that 494 did not go down the same road as his twin X5-493, also known as 'Ben'. At least, those were the reasons Renfro did not push for termination. Lydecker had several more, such as the fact that this X5's ability to absorb and utilize new information exceeded many of the others. He also had the makings of a good commander. He was practical and efficient, but easy-going enough that the other X5s, 6s, and 7s would follow where he led with little argument. As far as Lydecker was concerned, he had only one flaw, and that could be worked around.

Lydecker had made the decision that 494 would not be doing long term undercover work again. The risk was too great. This mission, however, made it absolutely unavoidable. It had to be 494. No other agent would be able to pull it off.

When 494 showed no reaction, he continued. "The target is a nineteen year old male in his second year as Stanford University." He pointed to the folder, and 494 opened it and looked at the first page. It was an enlarged photo of a student I.D. showing the nineteen year old Sam Winchester with a wide smile and bright eyes. His hair was slightly longer than convention, but suited him anyway.

494 looked at the picture, then up at Lydecker, "Permission to speak, sir?" he asked, and Lydecker nodded. "Why do you need an X5 to snatch one college boy?"

"Look at the next page," Lydecker said. He waited until 494 had flipped to the next photo. "That is John Winchester, his father." The photo was obviously taken without the permission of the subject, and showed an older man with a tired face. He was in worn jeans and a flannel shirt, standing next to a well cared for monster of a black pick-up truck. "He's something of a paranoid lunatic. He's also an veteran Marine, and has taught his children everything he knows. That knowledge is extensive, even for a Marine. If you look at the next page, we have his service record listed.

"Observation shows that Samuel is untrusting and can more than handle himself in a combat situation," Lydecker continued. "His friends and professors know very little about him before he started school there. His school record shows enrollment and withdrawal from literally dozens of public schools spanning the continental United States."

Lydecker was pleased to noted that he had 494's interest as well as attention at this point. "There's more detail in the file, which you will be allowed to take from here, but the sum up is that John Winchester is a paranoid man that moved his children all over the country with him in the pursuit and crusade against supernatural evil." The colonel found it amusing that 494 was not able to keep his look of incredulity off his face. That was all right, as far as Lydecker was concerned, the entire concept seemed a bit ridiculous. "Yes, you did hear me correctly."

"Sir?" He waited for permission to speak further. "Is this Sam kid crazy too?"

"Not that we know of, though he may have picked up some of his father's habits. We're working on a cover story to give you an opportunity to approach him and get him to leave school with you. It will be difficult, as he broke away from his father to attend."

494 nodded. "So, you're hoping that a single X5 can lure him away, and if not, can take him by force without drawing attention?"

"No, we are hoping that you, specifically, can lure him away, and that force will not be necessary. You are uniquely suited and equipped for this mission. We can't substitute any other in your place. Flip to the next page and you'll see why." Lydecker waited quietly while the X5 did as he was told.

494 was obviously startled as he looked at what appeared to be himself in civilian clothing. "Is the X5-493, sir?" The photo, also taken without the knowledge of the subject, showed 494's image dressed in worn jeans and boots, a black t-shirt and an old brown leather jacket with the collar turned up in the back. He had his hand on the trunk of an old black American muscle car. 494 found himself admiring the car, while still in shock over seeing his own face on someone who wasn't him.

"No, that is Dean Winchester, age twenty-three. He's not an X series at all. He's entirely human with an untampered genetic code. As you know, the X5 series was the first to look entirely human. This was achieved mainly by altering a naturally occurring genetic code. Some of you came from the children of military personnel. Manticore acquired material by setting up a cover within the military as a fertility clinic free to the enlisted. We would select samples from those who had exceptional service records, or some desirable trait that would likely be carried through to a potential child." Lydecker gave 494 a moment to assimilate this information

"You have the rest of today to read the mission file, then tomorrow at 0700 you will leave here with a small team, observe Dean Winchester in the field, and then bring him in. We will create an opportunity for you to contact Samuel, and then you will take Dean Winchester's place. Are the mission parameters clear, soldier?"

"Yes, sir!" The salute was slightly awkward, as X5-494 was seated, but he made it work.

"Then you're dismissed." The colonel watched as X5-494 smoothly rose, closed the folder, saluted once more, and then left the briefing room.


Sam paused in his walk down the white washed hall, feet coming to a halt on the cement floor. To his left was a window looking down into a square courtyard. He watched for a long moment as people in neat rows went through martial arts drills. They all wore a uniform of sorts: military issue boots and camo pants he would recognize anywhere. He and his brother had worn similar attire from army surplus stores once they'd started to put on some real adult height. That sort of clothing could take the wear and tear of a hunt better than anything they could have gotten out of a Good Will store. Plain gray t-shirts completed the outfits.

He looked down at himself, absently wondering if he was in the same. Maybe his father had actually enrolled him in boot camp the way he had always threatened to. He was wearing the same gray t-shirt as the others, but with pale blue scrub pants instead of camos, and his feet were bare. His feet were actually sort of cold against the concrete.

Once he noticed that his feet were cold, he started to get a general feeling of discomfort. Somehow, this was not a pleasant place to be. He shivered a little, and he was sure it had nothing to do with his cold feet. Across from the window there was a set of double doors with a window set in each one. He leaned over to peer into one. What he saw made him jerk

backward so violently that he almost tipped his chair over. After a couple of moments, his heart rate slowed, and he realized that he must have fallen asleep at his desk while working on his biology homework. He was glad that his roommate wasn't there to witness the lapse. Sam ran a hand over his face and then back through his hair. His eyes automatically went to the windows and door to check the salt lines were all still intact, even though he knew they were damned near permanent. He had made sure of that when he moved in.

Within his first two hours of being in this room, coincidentally before his roommate arrived, he had ripped up the carpet by the door, gouged out a small trench across the doorway, filled it with salt, and nailed the carpet back down over it. The windows had taken more planning. In the end, he'd laid a salt line down the center of a piece of duct tape and then sealed it to the bottom of each window. He'd used super glue to make sure it wouldn't peel off, then painted over it. Winchesters were nothing if not resourceful. The entire set up was damned near impossible to see, and his roommate had certainly never picked up on it.

Sam had wanted to get away from the hunting, but John Winchester had not raised any fools, and Sam was not about to start acting like one. He knew what was out there, even if he wanted nothing to do with it. His roommate also had no way of knowing that there were protection spells painted onto the compass points of the room. Sam had done them all in holy water so there would be nothing visible. No spirit or demon could get into his room. It was really too bad he'd never found anything to ward off the dude from next door, who forgot which room was his every time he got drunk.

He took another moment to shake off the unexpected dream. He'd been having more dreams he remembered lately, and he didn't think he liked it much. He had enough nightmares as it was, and these new dreams were usually far from pleasant. They also carried an uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu that he could have lived without.

He sighed, flipped the biology book closed, and stood. If he didn't leave now, he wouldn't make it to the dining commons in time to have dinner with Jess.


X5-494 sat on the floor of his cell, facing the closed but unlocked door. He had his mission file spread out neatly across the floor in front of him. There were a few more photographs of each Winchester from a wide variety of sources. John and Dean each had a police mug shot. There was also a picture from John's wedding. He was in his full dress uniform, and there were clearly other men from his unit in attendance. 494 set that photo down next to the more recent photo of John next to his black truck. Physically, 494 could see it was the same man, but everything else about him had changed.

There were more pictures of Sam and Dean. Many of Sam's were school related, such as the eighth grade shot of him winning the county wide spelling bee. 494 was starting to get the feeling that this Sam kid was a hopeless nerd, even if he did know hand-to-hand combat. He continued to flip through the photos, pausing at the one of Sam and Dean apparently digging a large hole. The image had come from a night security camera, and was rather grainy. 494 suspected that the photo went with one of the many count of grave desecration that the Winchesters had been arrested for. The rap sheet also listed crimes such as assault, credit card fraud, B & E, and the list went on. Sam himself was only involved in a small number of them. And amazingly, none of the Winchesters had actually been convicted of anything.

494 put the photos down and moved on to some of the other material. There was John's impressive service record, along with a couple of CPS reports filed by teachers and motel managers citing child neglect or possible abuse. As for as 494 could tell, the Winchesters always skipped town before anything came of them. School records that proclaimed Sam a genius with flawless grades despite the upheavals, and Dean an under-achiever who didn't apply himself. However, there were occasions when he proved to be just as smart as his younger brother. There was a ninth grade essay he had written entirely in Church Latin, because, according to him, he had been bored. And someone had been teaching Sam high school geometry four years early, but Sam's math teacher didn't think it was his father.

There was also a list of times they – mostly Sam or Dean – had been treated in a variety of emergency rooms across the nation over the last twenty years. The injuries were hardly ever explained, and predictably, the Winchesters usually disappeared the next day. It looked to 494 as though growing up in the Winchester family must have been a real trip and not a fun one.

Maybe playing Dean wouldn't be that hard; 494 thought that he could probably relate. Even if it was difficult, he could put up with a lot to be able to drive that car. He wondered if Colonel Lydecker would let him keep it when the mission was over.


John Winchester was a driven man. He was also a man of duty and a father. Far too often, these three things had trouble co-existing with each other, and he was forced to make choices. John sat on the end of his lumpy motel bed, cell phone in his left hand, journal in his right, and his current hunt spread out before him tacked to the wall. He tried to make the right choice.

After a long moment of silence, he stood and closed his cell phone. After another long moment, he turned it off. He then carefully laid his journal out on the small table. Then he took a well worn picture of Mary out of his wallet and carefully tucked it into the journal. Dean would read the message loud and clear.

It took John only moments to pack his belonging and renew the salt lines. He would follow the Demon, and Dean would pick up where he left off, watching out for those who didn't know what was lurking in the dark. He knew in the end that it would take all three Winchesters to kill the Demon son of a bitch, but for now his boys were safest away from John and his chase. Dean would go to Sam as soon as John didn't make it to the meeting point. Dean and Sam would watch out for each other, just like they always had. Just like John had raised them to.

John tossed one of his bags into the passenger seat of the truck and then took the other around to the bed. He took a few moment to put all the weapons and supplies away into what appeared to be a standard tool chest like one would see in many pick-ups. After that, he made sure that the room, such as it was, was paid up for another seven days. He may have felt regret as he deliberately disappeared from Dean's life, but he didn't take time to dwell on it. He was pretty sure that Sam would make him pay for it the next time they saw each other. It would be just one more issue hanging between them.


X5-494 stood back in the third briefing room, but this time he was in charge of the meeting. He knew that Colonel Lydecker was just on the other side of the one way mirror, but that didn't really bother him very much. The colonel had put him in charge of the observation and retrieval team for one Dean Winchester, and he took the duty seriously.

He was dressed in civilian clothes consisting of sneakers, black corduroy pants, and the typical gray T-shirt. He had a black leather jacket with a high collar that would hide his barcode, but there was no reason to be wearing it yet. Sitting in front of him on the other side of the table were three other X5s, who would be enough to handle anything that Dean Winchester might throw at them and then some. Actually, four X5s had crossed the line into overkill, but Colonel Lydecker liked things to be done right the first time.

He looked them over and then let his easy smile spread over his face. "So . . . how many of you have run missions that require you to interact with civilians before?" 856's hand rose smartly. She, like the others, was still in the standard issue uniform. "What sort of deal was it?"

There was along pause. "It was infiltration assignment, sir."

"How'd it work out?" 494 asked, thinking that she was way too stiff. He was starting to wonder why 'Common Verbal Usage' wasn't a required course.

"Mission parameters were adequately met, sir."

494 sighed. "Okay, guys, we're most likely going to be slumming our way through cheap motels and the like. You need to loosen up. For starters, civvie clothes. I got you some." He gave each of them a pile of clothing. "Mission parameters are pretty basic. We find the target, observe until we, or at least I, have a good grasp on his habits, and then we snatch him up as quietly as possible with as little damage as possible, and return to base. Questions?"

"Just wondering who the target is, sir," 528 asked. He had loosened up some, once he realized that 494 wasn't going to be stiff necked about everything.

"Oh, this is the good part," 494 said with a grin, and spread the photographs of Dean across the table.

It only took a moment to get a reaction. "Sir?" 856 asked in confusion.

"Is this 493, sir?" asked 255. He was one of the older X5s, and could well remember when 493 had escaped with eleven of his unit siblings.

"No. That's the funny part. This is Dean Winchester, a twenty-three year old ordinary. Except for the fact that he's weird as all hell." He shrugged. "Apparently, they made us X5s look normal by using a naturally occurring genetic code as a template for each of us. This, I guess, is my original." He didn't seem bothered by this in the least. Most of the X5s had long ago gotten used to the fact that they were manufactured science experiments. Unfortunately, that acceptance didn't really make one feel any better in the night, when Madame Renfro already considered you a screw up and some other X5 needed an organ or two.

"The colonel said we're to leave in thirty. I'll meet you out at the van." He gathered up the photos as the others picked up their stacks of clothes and left. He really wasn't sure they could pass for normal, even if they did wear jeans.


Dean Winchester did not want to be in the bar, not that one could tell that by watching him. And someone was watching him. He could feel it between his shoulders.

Someone or maybe something, but most likely something – given his line of work – had been watching him. He wasn't supposed to meet his father in Phoenix for another two days, but he planned to just drive straight through and maybe shake whatever was on his tail. He needed to shake it, because he couldn't find it, see it, or catch it, only feel it. He had started to be seriously creeped out.

The only reason he had stopped at all was because gas in the southwest was damned expensive and it was eating through his cash faster than he had anticipated. So there he was, in a shady little bar, trying to make a dishonest living. He would have a few beers so the locals would believe he was as careless as he was acting, hustle some pool, and be gone before they realized that they'd been had. It would only take a couple of hundred bucks to get to the Phoenix suburb he was meeting his father at.

If he hadn't lost his shadow by then, he was sure that between him and his father, that they could find it, shoot it, and then salt and burn it. Even if it didn't need it.


494 watched Dean from his hiding place. Ninety percent of his attention focused on Dean; he had 528 with him to watch everything else. This was the first time Dean had really stopped moving since leaving New Hampshire. At least, it was the first time he had stopped moving to do more than sleep a few hours at some of the most disreputable motels imaginable. 494 thought that the only way they could have been worse in some cases was if they had come with complimentary rats and cheap prostitutes.

The mad dash across the country hadn't left much in way of behaviors to watch and mimic. The X5 was also pretty sure that he and the other three were the reason for the pace Dean set. Winchester could tell someone was stalking him, which had 494 and the others impressed. They were good at what they did, and there was no way your average ordinary would have picked up the way Dean had. He seemed to be trying to shake them with pure speed and distance. He was also possibly figuring sleep deprivation, but X5s didn't need as much sleep as normals. There were even a few that only needed a couple of hours a week. 494 sometimes wondered what someone would do with that kind of time on their hands. Personally, he enjoyed sleeping; maybe he had more cat in him than some of his unit siblings.

He had learned that Dean Winchester had some odd habits. He paid for almost everything in cash, even though his wallet held credit cards. He liked to sweet talk women, but was never rude about it. He laid down lines of rock salt across doors and windows. After he noticed the X5s shadowing him, he started doing the same to every air vent and putting a circle of it around his bed. It was just strange.

He seemed to live off of coffee, peanut M&Ms, and water. 494's stomach turned just thinking about it. He always had five o'clock shadow, so he had to use an electric razor. 494 wasn't going to enjoy that either. He slept with a naked eight inch dagger under his pillow and a gun in the nightstand drawer.

Every night, a military issue duffel bag came out of the trunk of the car.

The car. 494 was in love with the car. She was old, but that just meant she was made of solid American steel. Her engine growled in a way that made the Manticore military Humvees seem downright docile. The Impala had never even heard of the words 'automatic transmission'. 494 had never understood the appeal of automatics. You could have a stroke behind the wheel and no one would notice, because you could drive with half your body, and where was the fun in that? The X5 also approved heartily of the weapons locker hidden in the trunk. That must have been one expensive custom job.

He and 528 watch Dean finish his second beer, order a third, and wander over to the pool table, flirting heavily with a cute little brunette. He was invited to a game and seemed a little reluctant, but after some encouragement from the brunette he gave in. He lost a couple games but seemed pretty good-natured about it.

"Sir," 528 asked, "do you know how to play pool?" He watched as Dean made a couple of good shots and then lost again.

"Does it matter? I'm not sure he knows how to play." 494 also watched Dean, in confusion, as he laid down another larger bet. He hadn't thought Dean was this stupid; it seemed out of character. "What's really bothering me, is why was he bolting across the country trying to stay a step ahead of us, and then suddenly stop to lose a couple of friendly games of pool?"

They watched for a little while longer as Dean lost again, and then made one more foolhardy bet. They paid closer attention when he ran the table and gathered up his three hundred and fifty dollars worth of winnings. "I think you'll have to learn how to play pool, sir," 528 said.

"Yeah, I think so."


Colonel Lydecker did not appreciate having to waste valuable time standing in front of the Committee. He also didn't appreciate that fact that he was standing there with Madame Renfro. He considered himself a military man, and the Committee was not military. Manticore was a two sided beast, one side made up of scientific research and experimentation, the other military know-how.

Lydecker really didn't care so much about the science. They could tinker all they wanted with genetic codes and frozen embryos; he just wanted the product. Renfro was the Committee's liaison with Manticore. That made her, according to Manticore personnel, equal in rank to Lydecker, who was the highest ranking military officer in Manticore. Lydecker took his orders from the Pentagon, which meant that practically speaking, he had control of one of the most dangerous and versatile military forces in the United States.

So he stood there next to a woman that he couldn't stand on a personal level, wondering why the Committee had taken such interest in this one operation. So much interest, in fact, that they had changed the mission parameters, causing him to put one of his kids, one of his X5s, in a very tenuous position of possible failure.

The original objective was to merely obtain some of this Samuel Winchester's genetic material. Not a difficult task, all things considered. If John Winchester hadn't retired from service in the four years between Dean's birth and Samuel's conception, they would have already had what they needed, possibly even a copy of the child in question.

X5-493 and 494 had shown such aptitude that plans had been made to obtain a sample from baby Samuel, but then there was that strange house fire, and John and his children disappeared. Utterly disappeared. Over the next eighteen years, they only appeared briefly and then were gone again too quickly to catch. Lydecker strongly suspected that John Winchester had served as more than a Marine. Perhaps he had served in ways that were not properly documented, much the way Lydecker himself was serving.

Then Samuel Winchester had earned a full ride to one of the best colleges in the country despite his decidedly patchy upbringing and education. That was clearly genetic material worth having. Lydecker received new orders from the Committee, ratified by his commanders in the Pentagon. He was to actually retrieve Samuel Winchester. Without damaging him, no less.

It had taken him over a year to gather enough useful intelligence to put together a useful plan. He had only been able to gain that much because John and Dean would often check up on Samuel, and they could be tracked on their way in and out of the city. He often wondered how it could be so damned difficult to track a 1967 glossy black Chevy Impala in perfect condition with its original Kansas plates, but it was apparently damned near impossible.

The surveillance led him to the conclusion that X5-493 had come by his mental instability honestly, and that he should be careful with 494. The Berrisford job that went completely sideways just confirmed things for him. X5-494 was damaged, and it was most likely genetic, given the paranoid behavior of the older Winchesters. He was remarkably intelligent, possessed an excellent talent for social camouflage, and would someday make a fine battalion commander. But on a personal level, he was emotionally unstable.

After reviewing all of the options and several failed attempts to get close to Sam using school personnel, Lydecker decided that the only workable option was to field 494 in an undercover capacity again, and hope it didn't cause irreparable damage.

So Lydecker stood in front of the Committee to outline the mission parameters which he had already submitted by paper.

"Colonel Lydecker, we called you here to discus some details of the retrieval of Samuel Winchester." The colonel gave a half nod to show he was listening. "We note that you chose to send out X5-494. Is that wise?"

"I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think it would work," Lydecker said. "He'll be able to mimic Dean Winchester long enough to bring Samuel in. I've tried placing people at the school to make contact and it has always failed. He is either exceptionally untrusting, or he's an infallible judge of character."

"We're worried about 494 becoming emotionally attached to Samuel." It was a different Committee member speaking They all seemed rather interchangeable to Lydecker.

"You let me worry about that. He'll bring the kid in. I'll handle any fallout from there."

"What are you planning to do with Dean Winchester after he is interrogated?" There were five Committee members in total. Lydecker supposed that at least this way they always had a tie breaking vote.

"Most likely terminate him. There wouldn't be any need to keep him around and by them he would be a liability."

"Under no circumstances is Dean Winchester to be eliminated until Samuel is within our custody and . . . managed." Colonel Lydecker could have swore that the man's eyes were gold, or more like a sulfur yellow. He wondered if the lighting in the room had a yellow tint. "We may need the leverage that holding his brother will give us."

"494 can call for back up if he proves to be unmanageable."

"Samuel Winchester is a psychic of largely unknown gifts and strength. It is possible that he might know his brother is dead, and then your X5 would be out there alone, with a person of possibly destructive psychic abilities, a lifetime of Marine training behind him, and nothing to lose," the man said icily. "We do not want him put down. Keep Dean Winchester alive until we tell you otherwise. Is that understood?"

"Yes." Lydecker did not frighten easily, but this Committee member might manage to make him afraid. That did not make him feel very comfortable. He also understood all the effort that was being put into Samuel Winchester.

They had been working on creating an X series with reliable paranormal gifts for well over a decade now, with no real success. An X series like that would be incredibly useful. At the moment, they only had X0-154 and X0-144, or Mia and Brain as they had named themselves. He wasn't sure why those two were stable when so many of the others had not been, but so far it couldn't be reproduced. There were a couple of very young X0s, but it was too soon to tell if they had any real gifts. Honestly, Lydecker expected to have to put them down like so many others in the series. Any gift that showed itself seemed to only be a precursor to the X0 going insane or becoming uncontrollably dangerous.

Having a naturally occurring genetic template might be just what was needed. Manticore seemed to be solving more and more problems by improving upon nature instead of trying to create on their own. "Is there anything else?"


Lydecker nodded once more and turned to leave, taking pleasure in Renfro's miffed expression that she had not had the opportunity to open her mouth.


Dean parked the car near the office of the Lost Dutchman Comfort Lodge in downtown Mesa, Arizona. He could feel the early summer heat already trying to cook him the second he cut the engine, and therefore turned off the air conditioning in the car. He idly wondered whose bright idea it had been to build a city in the middle of a desert. He stepped out of the car and was thankful that the walk into the air conditioned lobby was mercifully short.

Once inside, he sauntered up to the desk, where a girl in her late teens or early twenties was chewing on the end of a highlighter with which she could assault the textbook she was reading. She suddenly made him think of Sam; he could be so single minded about his research, whether it was a hunt or a school project. He didn't want to admit he missed Sam. They traded phone calls and e-mail, but in the end Dean was still flying solo, and that wasn't how he wanted it.

He cleared his throat loudly to get her attention. "Miss?" He was too tired to turn on much of the charm.

Her hand jerked as she was startled, leaving a bright yellow splotch on her book. "I'm sorry. I was in my own little world." She smiled and Dean smiled in return. Maybe he could muster some charm.

"It's okay, I hate to interrupt. I didn't know," he paused to look at her book, "that Chinese History was that engrossing."

"I've got a test coming up. What can I help you with?" She pushed the book to the side.

"Well, I'm meeting my father here and I was wondering if he's already checked in. I'm a little early, but . . ."

"What's his name?" she asked, pulling out a ledger with names and rooms listed.

"J. D. Campbell."

She took a long moment to look at the ledger. "Nope. Sorry." She gave an apologetic smile. It was strange to Dean how peoples' attitudes could change so much from one part of the country to another. In New Hampshire, he would have been lucky to get a curt 'no,' let alone an apologetic smile.

"S'okay, I'll just need to check in then."

"Double?" He nodded. "Will this be cash or credit?"

"Uh . . . credit." He pulled out his wallet and gave her a card. She noted that he had the same name as his father.

"How many days? Or don't you know yet?"

"At least three." She ran the card and then handed it back to him with a room key. He thanked her and went back to the car. It took him two tries to get back in because he burned his hand the first time he grabbed the handle. "Who wants to live in a frickin' desert?" The Impala had no answer for him.


Three days later, Dean was bored and nervous. He hadn't shaken his tail as he hoped he would. He had eaten at all the local fast food places; hell, he'd actually stopped at a grocery store. Not that it was hard; there was one on every street corner. He had checked out the local used book store and picked up a couple of interesting occult books, as well as a Stephen King or two, just for a laugh. He'd even eaten at a place called El Pollo Loco. He was out of things to do to keep him from worrying, both about his mysterious stalker and his father.

By day four, he was officially worried. His father would have called if he was going to be this late, and his father wasn't picking up when he called. The only thing left to do was to go find the man. The question was whether or not he should get help now, or after he knew what he was dealing with. The nearest hunter that he knew was Bobby, but he was in South Dakota. Sam was practically on the way, but Dean was loath to disrupt his life like that if he didn't have to.

Either way, he needed money. He could hit a couple of bars and still be out of town by 10 p. m. He quickly packed up and went to the office to check out. He left a message for his father to call if he actually was simply late.

After that, he found a suitable bar and hustled some of the locals out of two hundred bucks. He met up with his tail on the way out.

All he could think of to say as he was cornered by a man and woman roughly his own age, who he was sure had not even been in the bar, was, "Huh. I thought you'd be bigger, and, you know, ugly." The man then threw a punch that would have stopped a freight train if it had hit. Dean concluded that they knew their business; they weren't taking any chances coming at him one at a time.

They also recovered faster than him from any hit he managed to land, and they were fast. Animal fast, supernatural fast. He would have pulled the knife from his boot, but he never got the chance. He was dealing a fair amount of damage for one human against two things that had such an edge on him, but he'd been dealing with such things his entire life.

The X5s were a little slower on the uptake because they were used to their genetic enhancements actually giving them an edge, which wasn't really happening. It was X5-494 who ended the fight from where he stood in the shadows. The entire thing was supposed to look like a mugging if anyone should have happened to stumble onto it, but none of them had expected one ordinary to be able to hold off two X5s. They would have won eventually, but it was taking too long. He pulled his gun, aimed, and fired.

Dean looked down as he was hit with what was obviously a tranquilizer dart. "No fair." He had a moment to look into the shadows where 494 was concealed with an incredulous expression, and then he went down like a lead balloon.