The Price Of Betrayal
For the first few seconds after she opened her eyes, Rachel couldn't remember where she was. The room was tiny, the gloomy gray light that filtered through a small, dirty window barely enough to make out its features, and the air smelled dank and moldy. But once consciousness fully reasserted itself she remembered: she was in the bedroom of the cabin on the shores of Lake Wanacut.
She threw back the covers that she'd been burrowed under despite the funky smell wafting up from them, and swung her legs down. She didn't need to dress; the chill air had made her think twice about taking off her jeans or socks, so all she had to do was slip her feet back into her shoes and wrap the new, soft fleece jacket that Cade bought her around her shoulders.
She padded around the narrow bed and into the living room of the cabin. It was deserted; Cade nowhere in sight. A low fire burned in the hearth, doing its best to chase away the cold, and failing rather miserably. A few logs had been placed next to the fire, and Rachel threw them on the flames. Once the fire burned high and her hands had warmed up some, she navigated around the couch to the other side of the room and the small kitchen area. She poured herself a bowl of cereal and added milk from a container sitting on the counter. The milk was still cool so it wasn't long since Cade brought it in from the car where they'd left it to keep it chilled. The cabin lacked a refrigerator; in fact, it lacked electricity, and last night they had made do with a few stubs of candles they'd found in one of the kitchen drawers. At least the wood stove had allowed them to warm up the canned soup.
By the time she finished her breakfast, Cade still hadn't returned and, curious, Rachel went in search of him. She didn't have to go far. He was outside, in the grassy clearing in front of the cabin. He was barefoot and naked from the waist up despite the cool temperature in the forest and the misty drizzle that leaked from the sky, and performing some kind of stylized forms that looked more like a dance than the martial arts Rachel knew it had to be. He's beautiful, she found herself thinking while she watched. Muscles shifted beneath smooth skin, every move filled with slow grace and perfection. Yes, it was almost like a ballet.
He didn't give any indication he'd seen her. Even so, Rachel was certain he knew she was there. He'd probably noticed her as soon as she first stepped out of the door. There wasn't much that escaped Cade. She wandered over to the porch swing and sat down, waiting for him to finish.
He was tugging his T-shirt down over rain-slicked skin while he walked over to her. He cast an anxious look up to the cabin's roof.
"Did you add more wood to the fire?" he asked, hopping onto the porch and out of the drizzling rain.
She nodded. "It was cold inside."
"Don't stoke it too high," he warned. "The wood isn't entirely dry. I don't want anyone seeing the smoke and coming to investigate."
"Sorry," she muttered. It wasn't something she'd considered.
He gave her dimpled smile. "Not a problem. Did you eat?"
"Yeah." She nodded at the clearing. "What were you doing out there?"
"Tai chi chuan." He sat down next to her and the old swing groaned beneath their combined weight. "It's a form of martial arts that also works as meditation. Clears the mind."
"Meditation?" She laughed. "Did they teach you that too?"
He didn't smile back. "They taught me everything I know."
"Even the piano?" she asked softly.
This time, he did smile. "Especially the piano."
"How long did it take you to learn that?" she said. "I mean, I guess you're not like a real piano teacher, who has had years to learn."
"A day," he replied. His green eyes were earnest.
Her jaw dropped. "Day? You're joking, right? Nobody can learn to play like you do in a day."
He shrugged. "I can. Does that make you uncomfortable?"
She wrapped her arms around herself. "A little," she admitted. "There's so much I don't understand. Like, why aren't you cold? It's freezing out here."
He got back up and held out his hand. "Then let's go back inside." She hesitated a second before she accepted the hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet. He followed her back into the cabin. "I do feel the cold," he said as he closed the door behind them, "but not as much as you do. I've learned to ignore it. Besides, I got a higher body temperature than a human."
He disappeared into the bathroom, leaving her gaping after him, and reappeared a few minutes later, rubbing his hair dry with a towel.
Rachel drew a chair as close to the fire as she dared and snuggled into it. She stuck her legs out, her feet at the edge of the crackling flames, enjoying the heat that slowly seeped into her. Cade dropped down on the couch, folding the throw into a heap on the edge. Rachel cocked her head and watched him.
"What did you mean?" she asked after a few silent minutes passed. "A higher body temperature than a human?" She stressed the last few words.
"I'm part cat," he said blandly. "Or so they tell me."
For the second time that morning, she goggled at him. "What?"
He shrugged. "It's just a few strands of DNA. Enough to make a difference, though. Higher body temperature, faster reflexes, enhanced senses, speed."
She wasn't sure whether to believe him. He seemed totally serious, though his story was too crazy. "So, you're part cat, you don't have a name, and they trained you to kill?" A shiver ran along her spine, and it wasn't from the lingering chill in the room.
He shot her a wry grin. "That's me, in a nutshell, yeah."
Rachel leaned forward, found the poker and stirred the fire. A log fell and a whirlwind of sparks flew up into the chimney. She glanced guiltily at Cade. He frowned, though he didn't say anything. She dropped the poker and shifted back into her chair. "How...?" she began, not sure how to finish. He understood anyway.
"Test tubes," he said. "And surrogate birth mothers."
The way he said it, so emotionless and calm, like it was the most normal thing to say, brought tears to her eyes. She couldn't imagine having to grow up without her dad, or her mom before she passed. "I'm sorry," Rachel whispered. Then something else clicked. "You said mothers. Plural...."
"Yeah." Cade folded his arms, sitting up straight, military-style, and Rachel could tell he was uncomfortable talking about himself, even though he spoke in a businesslike tone. "There are thirteen of us in my unit. Or were, before most were shipped out somewhere. There are dozens more at the Manticore base."
Her eyes widened. "They all look like you?"
He snorted a laugh. "No. We all look different. I heard rumors we have twins somewhere, though." He gave another shrug. "For all I know, there are dozens of other base camps like mine all over the States."
"With cat people killers." She couldn't keep the sarcasm out of her voice, though remorse washed over her as she noticed the slight tremor that ran through Cade at her words. Although she couldn't quite forgive him for murdering her father, she blamed those other people more, the ones who trained him, who sent him, and who told him to kill Daddy.
"Did my father know?" she asked. "Is that why you killed him?"
He looked at her, not speaking. He didn't need to.
"No," Rachel whispered—it wasn't true! Her father couldn't possibly be involved in something so... so heinous as growing cat people in test tubes and turning them into cold-blooded killers.
"I saw his files," Cade said. "He knew what was going on. "
She was shaking her head, refusing to give in. "My dad worked for the government. He was a good man! He didn't... he wasn't...." A sob lodged in her throat.
"Rachel...." Cade said. She looked at him through a film of tears. He held her gaze, expression gentle. "Who do you think gave the orders? Who paid for the research? The government did that." He waited a moment, giving her time to let it sink in before he continued, "Your father, he was going to testify. He was gonna reveal everything. Make it stop. That's why they wanted him dead."
She stared at him, absently brushing at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Should... should you even tell me all this?" she asked, hiccuping. "Isn't this supposed to be... I don't know... classified or something?"
He offered her a grim smile. "I don't want to lie to you, Rachel. Not any more. I want you to know. So maybe you can understand why I did what I did." There was a naked plea on his face. She reached out and touched his cheek.
"I think I do," she said softly. "At least a little."
For the first time since her dad died and he took her away, he smiled that bright smile that reached his eyes, the smile that she'd fallen in love with the first time he offered it.
"I don't think we should go to Canada," she added.
The smile disappeared and he pulled away from her touch, raising an eyebrow.
"Daddy was going to Washington," she said. "To meet with my aunt Colleen. I mean, she's not my real aunt, but.... Anyway, she's a senator. We should call her."
"Why not?" Rachel wanted to know. "I think she'd help us."
Cade was shaking his head. "No," he said again. "It's too dangerous. Colleen Hamm is the chairwoman of the committee your father was going to talk to."
"But Cade," Rachel pleaded. "She's not involved in this. Believe me, she's a decent person. And I think she and my dad... you know. She'd never do anything to harm him."
Cade pushed to his feet. "I can't risk it," he said. "There could be others like me out there."
"Others?" Rachel echoed. "You mean, someone might be send to kill Aunt Colleen?" She shot to her feet as well. "Cade, we must warn her!"
"No," he repeated a third time. He grabbed her shoulders and ducked his head so he could hold her gaze with his. She found it impossible to look away. "Rachel, listen. I have to get you to Canada; you've got to start a new life with a new name. Your identity papers'll be ready tomorrow. Once you're safe.... Maybe then I can go and talk to your aunt. All right? But you have to trust me."
Rachel hesitated. She feared what he might do if she refused. He might tie her up again, and she didn't want that. She let out a breath and nodded shakily. He let her go and grabbed his jacket.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"Outside," he said. I'm gonna make sure nobody's in the area. You stay here, where it's warm."
He walked out on a blast of cold air and Rachel wrapped her arms around herself, inching closer to the fire. Cade was wrong about Aunt Colleen; her aunt would help them. But there was no arguing the subject with him, that much was clear. She sighed, curling her fingers closer to the flames. She would have to take matters into her own hands. Tomorrow, after he had left to pick up those fake papers.
Pleased with her decision, she got up and wandered over to the kitchen to make herself some tea. She'd call Aunt Colleen, and Cade would tell her everything. They'd be safe then.
Oroville, Washington, was an armpit, Davies decided. And the police department was run by idiots. First, they'd had the arrogance to refuse to talk to him so he had to call Clemente and put him on the phone with the sheriff to get any answers at all. Then, it turned out, nobody'd ever paid any attention to the incoming APB from Seattle—"Big city criminals don' ever come here."
Nearly two days had gone by since Senator Hamm had called him to say Rachel Berrisford left her a voice mail message. So much precious time lost. Who knew what might've happened to her in the interim. But, somewhere up north wasn't exactly specific, and between just the two of them, Davies and Clemente could hardly scour the entire state for the girl. It wasn't until the Seattle cop decided to check the on-line police reports of every town on the Canadian border that they discovered the entry from Oroville: an unknown young man had sent four men to the hospital with broken bones and concussions after he'd jumped them in the parking lot—or so the victims had said.
More importantly, the report mentioned there'd been a dark-haired girl with him.
It had been a very long shot, but it was the best possible lead they had, and to check things out in person, Davies had driven up to Oroville.
Where he'd run into the dumbest police force ever.
Even after Clemente had told the sheriff to give Davies any help he could, it took a while to convince the fool to show Lehane's photo to the beat-up farmhands. Much to the sheriff's shock, they confirmed he might have a big city fugitive in his jurisdiction after all. At which point the asshat got all flustered and stern, and had the nerve to tell Davies that Oroville's finest would "handle it".
Davies wasn't about to sit around and wait for them to get their fat asses in gear.
Knowing Rachel might have been in Oroville was a far cry from actually finding her, however. For all Davies knew, Lehane had crossed the border right after his scrap with the local rednecks, and had taken her to Vancouver or Edmonton or God knows where else. He sure had had plenty of time to disappear again. Not to mention, Davies couldn't even be sure the dark-haired girl was Rachel until someone confirmed it for him. Still, he had to keep going; not only because he'd failed the girl's father, but also for his own peace of mind. He needed to know that he'd done all he could to find her.
There was one way he could think of to make certain Lehane had had Rachel with him. Davies left the red-stone building that housed both city hall and the police station and drove down the street until he found the diner mentioned in the police report. He walked in, got himself a table and ordered lunch—meatloaf, as the waitress recommended. He waited until she'd served him his food, then pulled the two photos he'd brought from his inner pocket.
"Excuse me," he said as the waitress, a tired-looking woman with strawberry blond hair in an untidy pony tail was about to turn away. "You ever seen these two?" He showed her the photos. He knew what he needed to know even before she answered, from the way her eyes widened.
"Him," she said, pointing to the grainy print from the security camera. "That's the guy who beat up Burt and Jimbo and the others." Her mouth curved. "'Bout time someone taught those dumbos a lesson. But the way he went on...." She shook her head. "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Like a whirlwind, and one minute later, they were all down."
"And the girl?"
She peered at the photo of Rachel. "Yeah, she was with him. Pretty little thing too."
"Did she seem... hurt?" Davies asked.
"What?" The waitress frowned. "No. Though she did have this sorta...sad look in her eyes, now that you mention it. But the boy? He doted on her, even a blind man could see it.'
"Hm." Davies tapped a rhythm on the table top, thinking. He knew what she meant; the affection Lehane had shown Rachel had always seemed genuine. That was why he'd been able to pull the wool over all their eyes, including Mr. Berrisford, who'd treated him like a family friend. Until Lehane turned on them like a rabid dog and snatched Rachel....
"Did you see either of them again, after that day?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No. After he finished with Burt and his buddies, they got in their car and hurried off. Haven't seen 'em since."
"Did you see where they went?" Davies asked.
"South," she said firmly.
He started, pinning her with a look. Canada was to the north. Why would Lehane go back south? Unless they were staying in the area somewhere...? But that made no sense.... "Are you sure?"
"One hundred percent," she said, nodding sagely. "I'm thinkin' maybe they stayed at one of the cabins, even though the season's pretty much done and gone, and we don't get many tourists 'round here anymore. Not the way it used to be."
"Yeah. Plenty of summer cottages at the lakes. Used to be, people came from all over in summer. Fishing, hiking, boating. Not no more, though." She shrugged.
Davies pondered the photos for a moment before he collected them and stuffed them back in his pocket. "Thank you."
"Are they in trouble?" she asked, suddenly aware she'd been answering some stranger's questions freely. "Are you with the police?"
Davies shook his head. "No, no trouble. Some people are worried about them, is all." He didn't really want to elaborate, so he dug into his meatloaf, already cooling rapidly, and stuffed his mouth full of food, effectively forestalling any further conversation. After a few seconds, the waitress took the hint and moved off.
He finished his meal in record time; the meatloaf was as good as advertised and his stomach remembered he hadn't eaten properly since the bombing. He paid, left a sizable tip for the waitress, and thanked her for her help. Her skeptical mood lessened somewhat at the sight of the tip, and she smiled and told him, "You're welcome. I hope you find them."
He walked outside, ducking his head against a chill wind, and headed for his car. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket; he'd best call Clemente and bring the detective up to speed. Perhaps the cop had found more reports, or maybe he could give him pointers where to start looking. If there were so many summer homes about, finding Rachel would seem like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. Without knowing which haystack to dig through.
Before he could dial the Seattle number Clemente had given him, the phone started buzzing in his hands, startling him so much he almost dropped it. He hit the button. "Hello?"
A military helicopter flew by overhead and the thud-thud of its rotors made it hard to hear the voice on the other end of the line. Davies turned away and hunched over his phone, pressing his other ear closed with a finger. "What?"
The helicopter disappeared in the distance, the noise fading. "Can you repeat that?"
"Davies? It's Colleen Hamm. Rachel called again. She says she's at a cabin somewhere."
Davies found her at the seventh cabin he tried. As the waitress had told him, the forests surrounding Oroville were littered with summer houses. Mostly abandoned cottages, dilapidated to the point of collapse, a few still livable. Even those breathed an air of neglect, with overgrown dirt tracks leading to sagging porches.
As one cabin after another turned up empty and deserted, Davies's frustration rose—so close, so close—and it was hard not to throw caution in the wind. But he didn't know who or what he was dealing with, or what he'd find when he did locate her. He didn't know if Lehane was still with Rachel. He had to assume he was; and the guy was dangerous, that much Davies did know. Though he didn't believe for a single second that Lehane had attacked the four hicks without provocation, like they said, the fact remained that he'd taken out for strong, muscular men all by himself in record time.
No, best to proceed with care; Rachel's life might depend on it.
The seventh cabin was indicated by a faded wooden sign that said Lake Wanacut, 1 mile. Davies turned into the narrow dirt track. His heart sped up as soon as he was bouncing over the trail: fresh tire tracks had overturned the mud, leaving clods of grass scattered about.
Someone had been here. Recently. Very recently.
Eager to find Rachel, Davies pressed the pedal a bit deeper, and the car started bumping in earnest across the track. Suddenly, he remembered the broken bones and cracked skulls of the hillbillies, and he let up, pulling over to the side of the track as far as he could and letting the car coast to halt. He turned off the engine and sat for a moment, trying to think of his next move. He couldn't risk alerting Lehane to his presence. Lord knew what the guy would do when provoked.
He got out of the car and continued on foot along the muddy road, trying to be as stealthy on his feet as he could. The wet ground helped, the carpet of soggy autumn leaves muffling his footsteps.
At last, he could see the cabin shimmering through the trees. Overhead, the clouds had finally broken open, and weak sunlight dappled the ground, illuminating a small open space. Tire tracks marked the grass, and a blue Aveo was parked in the middle. Otherwise, the clearing was deserted, the forest surrounding him dead quiet.
Davies checked his hip, chagrined to remember he'd had to leave his gun behind in Seattle. His permit only allowed him to carry the weapon in the city, and there was no way he'd have gotten it through the various checkpoints.
Well, he'd just have to be very, very careful, then.
Determined to see it through, Davies squared his shoulders and cautiously moved out of the trees and across the open ground. Every muscle was tense, his ears focused on the smallest sound. It remained quiet; all he heard was a soft breeze swishing through brittle needles and the drip-drip of wash-off trickling from the pines.
He crept up the porch steps, dimly surprised when the wood didn't creak beneath his weight, and nudged the door. It wasn't locked, and slowly swung inwards. The interior of the cabin was cloaked in shadows, a strange smell hung cloyingly in the air, and it took him a minute before his eyes were grown used enough to the gloom....
Bile rose in his throat, and he stumbled away, down the steps on shaking knees. Taking deep breaths, he tried to get the nausea under control.
Finally, once he could hold himself together to the point that he didn't fear he'd upchuck his meatloaf any second, he forced himself back into the cabin. He had to make sure.
A minute later he had the confirmation he needed, and he took out his phone, planning to call Clemente. His mind still reeling from his discovery, it took him a minute to realize there was no coverage at the cabin, and the phone was useless.
Swearing to himself, he trotted away along the trail to his car and drove back in the direction of Oroville as fast as he dared. It was the closest town, and he could be certain he'd have coverage there. The journey seemed endless, and it wasn't until he passed the faded Welcome to Oroville-sign that the phone signaled it was within range of a cell tower.
Davies pulled over to the side at once and again tried Clemente's number. This time, the phone started ringing almost instantly. Impatiently, fingers drumming against the steering wheel, he waited for the detective to pick up.
"I found her," Davies said, his voice cracking, as soon as there was an answer. "She's dead."
494 fought not to lose consciousness as they dragged him into the helicopter and dumped his limp body on a bench. Two X5s settled themselves on either side, propping him up between them, their faces impassive, while Sandoval crawled into the shotgun seat beside the pilot.
A moment later, the helicopter lifted and banked sharply. 494 caught a glimpse of the cottage, a ray of unexpected sunlight glinting off the blue car he'd stolen. It seemed like that was ages ago, instead of a few days.
They'd left Rachel inside the cabin; he couldn't see her body, and for that he was strangely grateful. The memory of the look in her eyes would haunt him forever.
Sandoval noticed where he was looking and shot him a self-satisfied scowl. If not for the sedative they'd pumped into his veins, 494 would've lunged for the agent, crushed his windpipe with both hands, anything to wipe that smirk off. As it was, he could only glare, promising agony and death with a single look. He took small comfort in seeing the smug grin falter, and Sandoval growled something into his mic. The pilot nodded and turned south.
Back to Manticore.
He wasn't sure what they'd do to him once they got him back to base. He hoped they'd kill him, that would be a mercy. But honestly? He didn't think he'd be that lucky. If Sandoval had wanted him dead, he wouldn't have sedated him; he'd have had him shot on the spot.
No, they'd do whatever it took to turn him back into an automaton designed to behave as he was told to, without a thought of his own.
He'd been there before.
He still had vague memories of the horrors Manticore had put him through—him and the rest of the X5s—after a bunch of them ran off, way back when they were kids. An unbidden shudder of fear ran through him.
Reindoctrination.... The word alone was enough to make him want to curl into himself. They'd break him apart, wipe his mind clean, make him forget anything and everything until he was a drooling idiot who couldn't remember his own designation. It was a fate worse than any punishment. Worse than dying.
And he'd come so close to seeing Rachel safe....
He'd gone back to Oroville to pick up their papers. Rodrick, the forger, had been true to his word and done a good job; the papers had been ready and waiting for him, as promised. He'd paid the man with the money he took from the poker game, snatched the passports, and rushed back to get Rachel.
He remembered thinking, If we hurry, we can make it to Canada tonight.
When he'd reached the cabin and got out of the car, his instincts instantly had started screaming in alarm. The clearing was empty and quiet—too quiet, and the door to the cabin stood ajar, the interior a black hole.
He'd made a mistake, then; he could see it so clearly now. Fear for Rachel had washed over him, like a wave of icy water, and he'd forgotten everything he'd ever learned, simply dashed up the steps while shouting her name.
The fraction of a second it took for his eyes to adjust to the gloom was all the time his enemies needed. He recalled a brief sting against his neck and though his hand lashed out lightning fast, and the crunch of breaking bones and the strangled scream that died in his opponent's shattered larynx were quite satisfying, he wasn't fast enough.
Next thing he knew, his muscles turned to rubber and he collapsed on the doorstep, unable to do more than spasm helplessly against the heavy sedative that his heart pumped through his veins. A shadow had fallen over him, and when he looked up, he thought his heart would stop.
"Well, well, X5-494." Agent Sandoval scowled down on him, lips twitching in a triumphant grin. "You turn out more trouble than I think you're worth. If Miss Berrisford hadn't called Senator Hamm, we might still be looking for you in southern Washington, might even have widened the search to Oregon and California."
"Rachel?" he'd gasped, heart thudding in his throat. She moved into his view, shifting in the shadows behind Sandoval. "What have you done?"
Her face was pale, her expression unreadable. Her eyes pleaded for his understanding, like it was important to her somehow. "I called my aunt. I... I know you didn't want me to, but she promised to send help."
"How...?" he wanted to know. There was no cell phone reception anywhere other than in town.
"Because you fucked up, 494. Girl's got a satellite phone," Sandoval said in Rachel's stead. "Seems Daddy was worried for his little girl."
"I believe you've told me the truth," Rachel continued softly, kneeling beside him, "but I couldn't just trust you blindly. Cade, you killed my father."
"It was he who gave the order," he'd managed to grind out, indicating Sandoval with a twitch of his hand.
Rachel's brow had furrowed with confusion, her gaze flicking to Sandoval. The agent scowled and nodded, and Rachel had stumbled back, a hand to her mouth and her eyes widening in horror.
Sandoval had brushed her aside and barked a command. Two X5s had appeared from the forest and had started dragging him off.
494 tried to push away the memory of what happened next while the helicopter began its descent towards the pad in the Manticore compound. Pain awaited him there, torture and agony and lasers, and finally, oblivion. He'd lose his memory of Rachel, of what she taught him....
The memory of what it meant to be human....
Tears were streaming down 494's face, but he didn't feel them, and he didn't try to struggle as the soldiers hauled him from the helicopter and started lugging him to Psy Ops.
Perhaps forgetting wouldn't be such a bad thing after all.
In his mind's eye, over and over, he kept seeing the expression on Rachel's face as Sandoval had snapped, "Wait," stopping the X5s before they'd carried him out into the trees and to the helicopter waiting half a mile away. "One more thing, 494."
Sandoval had raised his gun, aimed, and pulled the trigger before he could even shout a warning. Rachel had been dead before she hit the floorboards. He'd screamed then, his voice echoing among the trees, sending flocks of birds to lift from the lake in a flutter of wings.
Sandoval had dusted off his hands.
"Congratulations, 494. Mission accomplished. Finally."
Disclaimer: This story is based on the Cameron/Eglee Productions/20th Century Fox Television series Dark Angel. It was written for entertainment only; the author does not profit from it nor was any infringement of copyright intended. Please do not redistribute elsewhere without the author's consent.