Author notes: I'm a sucker for What-if?-stories. And the flashbacks in The Berrisford Agenda offered a big, shiny, irresistible What-if?-opportunity. Much thanks to tanaqui for encouragement and input, and to inimicallyyours for beta and plot commentary. Any errors left exist through no fault of theirs....
The Price Of Betrayal
"It was my job. You were my job."
Rachel was standing a few steps higher on the staircase than he, so he could look her straight in the eye. She stared back, puzzled. She was close enough that he could catch a whiff of her soap: sweet, with a hint of cinnamon and oranges, until a cold draft from the front door blew around them, scenting of autumn rain. He held her gaze, longing to say more and make her understand but words failed him.
And where would he start? With the murder of Simon Lehane, an innocent man whose only crime had been that Manticore needed his identity? No, maybe he should begin with how he'd been ordered to pose as her piano teacher and monitor her father's actions. Or that he broke into her father's files and reported what he learned to his superiors.
Better yet, once Manticore realized that Robert Berrisford was planning to expose them, they'd ordered him to kill both father and daughter—to send a message, as they said. Perhaps he should tell her that.
The bomb he'd planted underneath her father's car was armed and ready, and the activation device hidden in the pocket of his jeans. It shouldn't be hard to carry out his orders: all it required was for him to push the button, and—boom! —mission accomplished, and he could return to base, to the drills and lessons and the training regime. Until the next mission.
Except... he didn't want to press that button. He didn't want to go back to base victorious if that meant Rachel's blood was staining his fingers. He wasn't sure what it meant: why he felt the way he did, or how he knew he'd reached a line he shouldn't cross. What he did know was that his superiors had never expected to see something like it in one of their transgenic creations. Yet it had happened: Rachel Berrisford, with her sweet-natured innocence, had awoken emotions in him that he wasn't supposed to have, and that he'd been ill-prepared for.
Bewildering feelings had kept him up all night, unsettled, rending him between the duties he'd been born and bred for—and the responsibility something deep inside himself told him he had. Torn between the urge to finish the mission and his desire to keep Rachel from harm, he made a fatal mistake: having planted the bomb, he'd looked up at the mansion one last time. And there she had been, framed in the window, collecting her books and backpack, looking so carefree and young and alive. Before he could stop himself or think about what he was doing, he'd slipped into the house to find her, wanting nothing more than to tell her the truth and take her away.
There wasn't much time, though. He was no fool; the scientists who sliced his genes together had added a liberal amount of intelligence before they stuffed the cells into a test tube, and he knew a clock had started ticking the instant he snuck into the house. He could hear it count down in his head. Manticore was expecting results; they were waiting for news of murder this morning. And when that news didn't come, once they realized he'd disobeyed them and failed his assignment, they would swarm in like a flock of gulls on a fisherman's boat after it hauled in the nets. Neither Rachel nor her father would be safe until they disappeared and vanished to a place where Manticore could never find them.
And that was why he found himself on the wide marble staircase, lost for words.
It took Rachel a few seconds for his words to sink in, and he could tell the exact moment understanding dawned from the way her eyes darkened. Something died in them; the sparkle that he loved and admired so much, evaporated. Deep resentment, disgust even, replaced it. She didn't understand—she couldn't. And she'd never look at him again like she had that night in the pool behind the house a few days ago.
His handlers had been delighted when he told them he'd been invited to the Berrisford house socially. For them, it was simply the perfect opportunity to collect more intel on Berrisford's plans. Little did they know that for X5-494 the night would turn out to be about something else entirely. Having slipped away from the dinner table, Rachel took him to the pool house. Much to his surprise, she suggested they take a swim. After a moment's hesitation, he agreed and for a short time, he'd been able to pretend he was normal, human, and nothing had existed but the girl in his arms, her skin warm and slick and wet against his chest. Truer words had never been spoken than what he told her then: I like you. I like you a lot.
The hard scorn in her eyes, so different from the shy gaze she'd offered him when she asked him to turn around before she dared take off her dress, or the quiet challenge they'd held after she dove into the water, cut him to his core. Somewhere deep inside, something let go with an almost physical rip that left him gasping.
Could this be what a broken heart felt like?
X5-494 shoved the question out of his mind. It didn't matter what she thought of him, as long as he could convince her of the truth.
As long as he could keep her safe.
Rachel's hand lashed out. He could've easily avoided the blow if he'd wanted to but he let her slap him. The force of the impact whipped his head around, and his cheek burned hotly. Undoubtedly, there was a hand-shaped imprint on his skin. He deserved it.
He deserved so much more.
Outside, Berrisford was growing impatient. "Rachel! Come on, honey."
Time was slipping through his hands like water.
Rachel gulped a sob, dark eyes brimming with tears. She tried to push past him and escape; but they were still in danger, she and her father, and he had to make her understand. He snatched her arm.
For a frightful, endless instant he feared that he had missed, and his heart skipped. Then those enhanced X5-series genetics kicked in and his fingers clamped around her wrist, stopping her in mid-flight. Her forward momentum should've sent them both tumbling down the stairs yet once again his superior strength and balance came to their rescue. Rachel spun around, her feet leaving the staircase for a second before she fell hard against his chest, gasping. Small fists shoved at him, pummeling his shoulders, and he held her tight.
"Rachel!" A note of concern had entered Berrisford's voice.
She screamed. "Daddy!"
In the moment of shocked silence that followed, X5-494 heard a distant click, faint enough that only his transgenic hearing would pick it up. He frowned, instincts screaming an alarm. It sounded exactly like—
Before he could follow the thought to the end, the world erupted in fire and heat. The manor shook on its foundations; chips of plaster came loose, showering them with white flakes. A pressure wave surged through the front door, strong enough to crush Rachel against him. He tottered on his heels, the shock blast powerful enough to unbalance even a transgenic, and grabbed the banister with one hand, the wood groaning beneath his grip, while holding the girl tight with the other. He barely managed to keep them both on their feet against the wall of air that shoved at them. Outside, flames roared hotly and thick smoke billowed into the house, carrying the acrid stench of burned flesh and rubber.
Rachel slumped in his embrace, stunned from the explosion. "Daddy?" she whimpered. She inhaled some of the smoke and began to cough. As soon as she regained her bearings, she shrieked, "Daddy!"
She tried to tear herself loose from his hold, the move so panic-fueled and unexpected he nearly let her go.
He renewed his grip, fingers digging into her flesh until it bruised and he forced himself to let up. He couldn't let her go; she was still in mortal danger. He was not the one who had set off the bomb that killed her father. The bomb's trigger device was still in his pocket, the safety on; it would've taken more than a chance bump to set it off. And it most definitely hadn't been an accident like faulty wiring that caused a premature detonation: he was too well trained to make such mistakes. That left only a single explanation for the bomb going off: Manticore. They'd sent a backup team. It was his fault: he'd hinted to his handlers that he was reluctant to kill the girl and didn't see the point.
As soon as they learned she hadn't been in the car, they'd come after her; her death was part of the message they wanted to send.
He shook her, hard enough that Rachel's head jerked back and forth. "Listen to me! We've got to go. Now! Your father's dead, there's nothing you can do to help him."
She wasn't listening; she didn't even seem to hear him. Tears streamed down her face, long strands of loose hair sticking in the moisture on her cheeks. "Let me go! You murderer!" Her voice rose in pitch with each word.
Somewhere in the distance, sirens started blaring.
They had precious few seconds left.
"I'm sorry, Rachel," he whispered. He balled his fist and struck her on the chin. Her diatribe was cut off in mid-sentence; her eyes rolled back into her head and she slumped in his arms.
They had parked the van a couple of houses down the tree-lined lane, far enough that they were safe from prying eyes and wouldn't raise the X5's suspicions, but not so far they couldn't see what was happening at the mansion. There were three of them, two in the front and one in the back, dressed in similar dark-colored pants and suit jackets that were designed to blend in. The driver, a sergeant by the name of Hodges, peered through the windshield at a shadow moving along the shrubbery that lined the driveway. He shifted in his seat to avoid a tree branch blocking his view, and raised a pair of small binoculars to his eyes. The fuzzy shape jumped into focus.
"There he is," Hodges commented.
The dark-clad figure was sneaking up to the black limousine, casting furtive glances at Berrisford's chauffeur. The X5 reached the car and crouched down next to it. Though they couldn't see what he was doing, Hodges hoped the transgenic was carrying out his orders and placing a tiny explosives device underneath the car. For an instant, his gaze shifted to a small remote resting on the SUV's dashboard. It was a copy of the device the X5 would be carrying, designed to trigger the bomb underneath the car.
"We have reason to believe X5-494 might hesitate," Sandoval had told them at the mission briefing. "Your team will be there to make sure Robert Berrisford and his daughter die, regardless. And if need be, to bring back the X5. Alive, if possible."
The sergeant returned to watching the driveway in time to see the X5 hover beside the car. He was glancing up at the house. Hodges tried to follow his gaze; the angle was wrong, though, and he couldn't tell what the transgenic was seeing. It didn't matter, really. The X5 should be clearing out; he had half his mission accomplished. But instead of vanishing back down the way he'd come, he changed direction and disappeared into the house, unseen by Berrisford or his driver.
"Son of a bitch," Hodges muttered.
"What's going on?" the corporal in the back hissed.
"He's not gonna to do it," the third man said. From the shotgun seat he didn't have as good a view as Hodges did, but he'd seen enough. "Where'd he go?"
"Into the house," Hodges said. "Looks like Sandoval was right."
"Goddamned freaks," the corporal muttered. "Can't even properly follow orders."
"Be glad," Hodges said absently. He reached for the key and started the engine. "Or we'd all be out of a job."
Hodges drove the van further up the street and parked next to the Berrisford driveway where a large bush would shield the car from view. He took the trigger mechanism from the dashboard and waited. His hands were moist. He rolled the window down until a puff of wet autumn air blew in.
Take them both out, Sandoval's orders had said. Berrisford's daughter was still in the house somewhere. Where the X5 had gone. What the hell was the transgenic doing?
"Rachel! Come on, honey." Berrisford's voice drifted on the breeze.
"Daddy!" The girl's muffled scream came from somewhere inside the house.
The door of the limousine swung open and Berrisford started to climb out. The sergeant keyed the safety off the trigger. A red light began blinking on the device. Armed and ready.
Time was up; he had to make the choice.
Hodges pushed the button.
The explosion was bright enough to sear his eyes and for a long moment the afterglow made it difficult to see anything. As soon as his vision returned, Hodges put the car back into gear and tore up the driveway, tires squealing, the sound muted in the roaring blaze of the burning limousine. Heavy, black smoke billowed from the wreckage and yellow flames licked at the sky. The fire was so bright that Hodges's eyes teared up despite the tinted windshield.
"Get the X5," he told his men. "Quickly. But be careful." Far-off, sirens began to howl.
The two men jumped from the car into a blast of hot air, each holding a small stun gun in his right hand. They had all witnessed the X5-series in hand-to-hand combat and knew that without the device, they'd be no match for the transgenic should he decide he didn't want to come with. Each man threw his left arm across his face to avoid inhaling the smoke and vanished from sight. Hodges tapped a nervous rhythm onto the steering wheel, his ears tuned to the approaching sirens.
"C'mon, c'mon, dammit," he murmured. It wouldn't do to be accosted by the local police; it'd be difficult to explain the presence of the US military at the scene of a local businessman's murder; neither his superiors nor Sandoval would be pleased if he let his men end up in a position where they were forced to try.
The fire was dying down and the smoke from the wreckage tapered off gradually, making it easier to breathe. Shapes approached in the mist and Hodges tensed up. As the shadows came closer, he recognized his subordinates and marginally relaxed.
"Where is the X5?" Hodges barked as soon as they were within earshot.
The corporal cleared his throat. "Fuckin' gone," he rasped, blinking red-rimmed eyes at the sergeant. "Couldn't find him. Back door was open, though. Not a sign of the girl either."
"Goddammit!" Hodges cursed. The sirens were close, now. "Get in." He put the car into reverse and raced away, burning rubber in the driveway.
Agent Sandoval was not going to be happy.
X5-494 wasted no time on regrets and hoisted the unconscious girl over his shoulder. Marveling at how little she weighed, he leaped down the last few steps of the rounded staircase and turned away from the front door. He fled into the kitchen, all immaculate steel and polished oak. Cream-colored tiles gleamed beneath his feet and the faint scent of bacon and eggs still clung to the air, mingling with the smoke from the burning car. He darted past the cooking island, flung open the back door and ran out onto the deck.
Three stone steps led down to an immaculate lawn. The grass was freshly cut to a neat half-inch height and barely a handful of fallen leaves marked the field. Clusters of rose bushes, rare late blooms bright spots of color against their stems, and magnolia shrubs broke the monotony of dark green, while a majestic chestnut, its leaves brown and drooping, stood ready to provide shade in the summer. At the far side of the lawn, a row of evergreen conifers marked the end of the lush garden. He skipped down the stairs and blurred across the grass faster than a human eye could track. Behind him, voices began to rise in the manor's hallway. He struggled through the shrubbery until he reached the brick wall fencing off the property. The wall wasn't high; certainly not high enough to stop an X5, even with the added burden of an unconscious girl in his arms.
He vaulted the wall easily, bending his knees to absorb the impact when he landed. The screech of sirens was growing louder and, dimly beneath it, the squeal of tires reached his sensitive ears. He had to hurry. Berrisford was an important man, with friends in high places; it wouldn't take the authorities long to set up roadblocks and canvas the neighborhood. He needed to get out of the area; he had no desire to fight the entire Seattle police force as well as his own people.
He glanced around.
The street behind the property was only slightly less upscale than the lane the Berrisfords lived on, the smooth asphalt glimmering with the drizzle. Although no fences surrounded the houses, most featured security systems on the doors and windows, and trees and bushes in the front yards hid the buildings from casual view, providing privacy for their owners. At this early hour, the street was deserted, the sound of the explosion having been muffled by the sprawling Berrisford mansion. Cars were parked in some of the driveways, their owners not yet having left for work. 494 scanned them quickly, settling on a silver gray Lincoln Town Car, an older and rather nondescript model.
He scooted across the street and knelt next to the Town Car. Gently, he lowered Rachel's limp body onto the pavement. A large oakleaf bush shadowed them, lessening the chance of someone peeking out their kitchen window and noticing him stealing their car. Hidden behind the shrub and invisible to any occasional passer-by, it took him less than ten seconds to open the car door and hotwire its engine. It rumbled to life, and on the dash the meter jumped to indicate the tank was half full. It should be enough to get them out of the city.
But what was he going to do with Rachel? She was showing no signs of coming around and he worried he might've hit her harder than intended. Although it would be easier to take her to safety while she was unconscious and couldn't call for help, a sleeping girl in the front seat might raise questions at the security check points. And if she regained consciousness while he was trying to get them out of Seattle undetected.... She wasn't going to let him take her quietly.
He sighed. There was only one option, really, much as he might dislike it. He pressed the button that released the trunk, slipped back out of the driver's seat, and carried Rachel around. He tied her up with a piece of rope he found in the trunk, making sure the bonds didn't cut into her skin. He should gag her too, he thought, but the only available object was a greasy cloth that stank of motor oil, and he couldn't bring himself to put that anywhere near her face. He would just have to hope for the best.
He molded her backpack into a pillow beneath her head, thinking it might make her a bit more comfortable. She looked peaceful, her eyes closed, her chest rising gently with each breath. A bruise was coloring her jaw. He touched it with a finger tip, softly, regretting having had to hurt her.
Better hurt than dead.
He shook off the guilt, locked the trunk and settled behind the wheel. He had to get the hell out of town.
The place reeked of gasoline and scorched flesh. Flashing strobes—blue and red for the police cruisers and amber for the ambulance—painted the grisly scene in a surreal light. Investigators milled about while uniformed officers kept the curious at a distance. It looked like the rich and powerful were no different from the downtrodden, Clemente thought. Give them a disaster to gawk at, and they'd come out in droves, taking a macabre pleasure in knowing it had happened to someone else, not them.
A crime scene investigator was taking photos of the black skid marks in the driveway, evidence of a car attempting to accelerate faster than its wheels could keep up with. She let go of the camera and knelt down with a measuring tape. Clemente waited until the woman had finished her work.
"Anything you can tell me?" he asked.
She rolled up the tape and put it in her pocket. "The tracks are recent," she said. She nodded to the smoking wreckage. "And they weren't made by the limo. The wheel base is wrong. I'm thinking a van or SUV."
"Getaway car?" Clemente said.
She shrugged. "I'll have an initial report for you in a few hours." She reached for the camera again, ignoring Clemente.
Smiling wryly to himself, Clemente continued up the driveway heading for the wreckage. Crime scene investigators weren't known for their willingness to speculate; if she found anything he should know, it would be in her report.
A rumpled white sheet hid a body from view next to the burned-out husk of a large limousine. The chauffeur, Clemente knew. The other victim, Robert Berrisford, had still been alive when the paramedics arrived. Though whether he was to be envied remained to be seen; the industrialist had been rushed to the Harborview Burn Center with third degree burn injuries and it was unlikely he would survive to see the end of the day. Nevertheless, Clemente had ordered two uniformed guards posted at his door; Berrisford was more than likely the intended target of the bomb, and the driver mere collateral damage.
Clemente knelt beside the body and lifted the covering. The victim was barely recognizable as human, and the detective quickly dropped the sheet, swallowing hard. He'd seen a few gruesome sights in his years on the force, but that didn't mean it'd ever get easy. Climbing back to his feet, he unconsciously wiped his hands on his pants. He glanced around.
Two heavy-set men wearing suits hovered beside the front door of the mansion, talking to one of the uniformed policemen. To Clemente, they came across as angry and embarrassed all at once, and one of them was dabbing at a bloody scratch on his temple with a handkerchief. Clemente wove his way to them through the crowd of aid workers.
"Detective Clemente," he introduced himself. He showed them his badge. "You work for Mr. Berrisford?"
"Yeah," the one with the cut replied. He exchanged a glance with his partner. "Frank Davies."
Clemente gave a nod before he caught the other's eye. The man held his gaze for a long second, seizing him up, then shrugged. "Sean Mason," he said, his tone reluctant.
"Security?" Clemente suggested, once it seemed they weren't going to offer anything further of their own accord.
The two men exchanged another look. "Yes," Mason finally admitted. He stared at the detective hard, daring him to say something. Clemente was too smart to antagonize possible witnesses for mere kicks.
"What happened?" he asked instead.
"I'm not sure," Davies admitted after a moment. "I was near the sitting room when Rachel—that's Mr. Berrisford's daughter— screamed for her father. I ran to see what was going on and saw her with that kid, Simone Lehane. The girl's piano teacher. Before I could reach them, there was an explosion. I got knocked out by the blast and when I came 'round, there was all this smoke and fire."
"And Rachel's gone," his partner said.
"Gone?" Clemente pulled himself straighter. That hadn't been in the initial report that brought him out to the scene of the bombing.
"Yeah. Mr. Berrisford was to take her to school," Davies said. "He does so most every morning."
"She'd gone back upstairs, had forgotten a book or something," Mason added. "I was there, talked to her for a moment before she went back down." He lifted a shoulder. "That's all I know. She was nowhere to be found, after."
Clemente watched as the coroner's people lifted the body onto a stretcher. "So, what d'you think happened to the girl? Think this Lehane took her?" The name sounded vaguely familiar. Clemente made a mental note to request whatever information Records had on the music teacher, as soon as he'd finished interviewing the guards.
"I guess so. He did seem to have a thing for her," Davies said.
Mason added, "And she for him."
"You think she was in on it?"
"No way." The two bodyguards spoke in unison and Mason gave him another hard stare. Clemente lifted his hands, palms out. Just doing my job.
"Rachel loves her father," Davies told him. "After Mrs. Berrisford died, those two grew very close. But lately, Mr. Berrisford...." His' voice trailed off.
"Yes?" Clemente prompted.
Davies sighed. "Something was goin' on." He scuffed a toe at the wet ground. "Mr. Berrisford was making plans to send his daughter away. Like he knew he was in danger."
"But he never told you why?" Clemente asked.
"No. Perhaps if he had...." They both glanced over Clemente's shoulder at the wreckage.
"All right," Clemente said. "I'll look into this Lehane." He gave them a card. "Call, if you remember anything else."
Before Clemente could fully turn away, a pretty uniformed female officer drew his attention. "You might want to talk to Mrs. Rodriguez over there." She pointed. A woman in her middle years sat slumped on the low wall marking a flower bed, not caring at all about the damp flagstones staining her dress. Her hair was still black without a strand of gray in it, a stark contrast with the spotless white of the maid's uniform she wore. He remembered the name: she'd been the first person to call 911 after the car exploded.
"Thank you." Clemente nodded at the officer and walked over to Mrs. Rodriguez.
"Ma'am?" She glanced up, her face pasty and tear-streaked. "I'm Detective Clemente, Seattle PD. Can you tell me what you saw?" He knelt in front of her so they were at eye level. Sometimes it was best to appear imposing when questioning a witness, but at other times empathy and understanding yielded better results.
"I—I was in the dining room," Mrs. Rodriguez stammered. Her English was tinted with a Spanish accent. "There was this noise, an explosión." She sniffled. "I ran to the window to see out. And there was fire... and smoke, and.... Madre de dios, que la mala Señor Berrisford!" For long moments, she couldn't go on. Fresh tears trickled down her face. Clemente offered her his handkerchief and she took it with a grateful whimper. He waited patiently for her to stop crying.
Several minutes later, Mrs. Rodriguez had managed to pull herself together enough to continue. "I go to the phone and dial the police," she said. "Then the black men came in."
Clemente raised an eyebrow and sat up. "Black men?" he repeated. "You mean, men of color?"
"No, no." Mrs. Rodriguez shook her head. "Las ropas negras. Black suits." She stared in the distance the way people do to try and call up their memories. An instant later her gaze settled on Clemente's face. "One of the men, his eyes... they were... ojos asiáticos."
"Slanted," Clemente understood. "One of the men was Asian." She nodded.
"What did they do? Did they take anything?"
The maid frowned. "No. They looked and left. I hide from them. Then the police came."
"Mrs. Rodriguez, did you see Rachel's music teacher, Simon Lehane, at any time this morning?"
"Simon?" She blinked. "No. Mr. Berrisford, he tell Simon the lessons would stop."
Clemente pushed himself back to a standing position. He patted the housekeeper's shoulder. She was trembling ever so slightly. "You have been a great help," he told her. "We will find the men who attacked your employer and took his daughter. I'll take you to see one of our sketch artists so you can help him draw up a profile of those men in black. You understand?" He thought for a moment to gather up some Spanish. "Un artista del bosquejo. Para dibujar un cuadro." She dipped her head in acknowledgment.
"Si. Si." She grabbed his wrist. "Señor? Por favor, find Rachel." And Mrs. Rodriguez burst into fresh tears.