Disclaimer: I don't own Dark Angel, but I'd like to, and it's the thought that counts, right? ;-)
Summary: Alec knew Manticore had an obsession with clones, but this was too much. His hair, his eyes, his skin...on a girl? When Alec finds his X8 female replica asleep in his bed, his world gets that much weirder. Set after Fuhgeddaboudit. Updates Mondays and Thursdays.
Trash cans were never a good place to go looking for a meal. No one really threw away anything but bread crusts, coffee grounds and beer cans, and if they tossed out anything good like half a sandwich or out-of-date meat, you could bet that one of the hundreds of homeless regular people had gotten to that trashcan first.
She avoided trash-picking when she could. She was good at charming people and had been invited to numerous houses for dinner, but sometimes there just wasn't anyone to con a meal out of when she was between places to stay. In the six and a half months she had been out of Manticore, she had been through three orphanages, two foster homes, and she had forgotten how many run-down, awful shelters where the rich people tried to do the right thing and send food to the thousands of homeless people. They were always overcrowded, and she only stayed at them long enough to grab a meal, usually a packet of instant noodles or something else generic, and run off again.
To hide her identity, she had gone by a variety of names: Megan Jameson, Georgia Niles, Lily Tatem, Jessi Campbell and a few others. Phonebooks were great resources when looking for new names.
Her real name? Besides the designation X8-270, she didn't have one.
270 couldn't afford to stay in the same place for long, no matter how good the food was or how nice the people were. Staying somewhere for longer than a couple weeks meant giving people too much time to figure out her weirdness, to memorize her face, to get close to her. Not to mention she would start feeling attached to the place, and with her territorial ocelot DNA, that was never good. So she moved. A lot. Sometimes all that moving meant missing out on sleep and real food, but she dealt with it. She was trained to deal with it.
If she was going dumpster-diving, like tonight, she preferred the trash bins outside of the neon-lit, store-front Chinese restaurants. She had found out soon after Manticore had blown up that a half-eaten egg roll with some orange duck sauce on it was pretty wonderful if she hadn't eaten for a couple days.
Chinese restaurants were good, too, because sometimes the cooks would leave extra food out for the stray cats, and she could eat with them. They didn't mind her, probably because they realized that she was sort of one of them in a way. She was probably too much like them now, half-feral from her time spent roaming the streets.
Tonight there was no one to trick a meal from, and no one had left food out for the cats. She nudged an empty metal tray with the tip of her sneaker and huffed a sigh as she glanced over at the rusting metal dumpster. It was massive. No wonder none of the other homeless people had claimed it.
At seven-years-old, she had been one of the oldest soldiers…kids in her unit, but she had also been shorter than most of them, small for her age. It had earned her the nickname 'Runt' from the scientists and doctors and the staff and even their handler, Colonel Channing. She hated it.
Crossing the empty alley, she shimmied up the stack of wooden boxes beside the bin and then lowered herself inside. She grabbed onto the side of the dumpster as her feet sunk into the fried rice and chicken lo mein; cold teriyaki sauce soaked into her jeans and a slimy, wet wonton somehow wriggled its way into her sock. It smelled rancid, and she doubted that a trash truck had been by that week. It was a good thing that she didn't need to eat much.
She knelt down in the garbage and started pawing through the refuse on top. Hopefully someone had tossed out a takeout box that some customer had forgotten to take with them in their haste to leave the shop. Those were always the best because the food usually hadn't touched the garbage.
Finding a small white takeout box full of some spicy chicken and rice, she grinned and looked around for a discarded pack of unused chopsticks. She picked up a pair in a bright red paper packet with white Chinese writing and stuck them into the pocket of her oversized hoodie. Moving quietly and quickly, she slinked over to the side of the dumpster and pulled herself out of the metal behemoth.
Her stomach rumbled as she started to head out of the alley. Even though it was someone's leftovers, the smell slipping out from the takeout was mouthwatering to a kid who hadn't eaten in a while.
Hunger clouded her judgment. She crouched down in the shadows between the trash bin and the pile of empty boxes and opened the takeout box. The thick, prickly smell of Asian spices assaulted her heightened senses. She almost sneezed, but she rubbed her nose and stopped herself.
Little fingers that could snap a human neck picked up the wooden chopsticks and started rummaging through the chicken and rice. She ate fast, barely chewing her food. Back at Manticore, if you didn't finish a meal in time, you didn't eat the next one.
She was almost finished with the takeout when the back door to the restaurant swung open and couple of men stepped out into the back alley, laughing. She froze, not letting a muscle twitch, as a man in a grey suit and a pair of shiny black shoes walked in front of her hiding place. Beside him was a shorter man, this one wearing a black suit with similarly shiny black shoes. From what she could tell from their body language, the man in grey was the alpha and the other guy was in his unit, probably the beta.
The man in grey lit a cigarette and puffed light grey smoke clouds into the air as he walked around the back alley. Her nose crinkled as wisps of smoke drifted toward her. She hated the smell of cigarettes.
The man pulled his cigarette from his mouth and tapped it against his fingers. Little orange embers fell to the ground, and she was the only one who heard them sizzle as they went out. "I think this is gonna be a good take for us, if we can push it through like we want to."
"It's a new drug, Mr. Krenski, people will be all over it," replied the guy in black. He was watching the other man with quiet admiration and loyalty in his light brown eyes. He stank of jealousy. Definitely the beta. "They'll have to buy it when they figure out what it can do."
"Supposed to send you to another universe," said the alpha. He blew a stream of smoke out of his nose, and she thought that he looked like he was breathing fire. A fire-breathing man, but oddly not Manticore. There was no barcode above the starched collar.
"Is it lethal?"
The man in grey nodded. "It'll kill you after a few hits, but with what we're going to charge for an ounce, losing clientele won't matter much."
"Hmm, good deal."
Both men shared a smile, and the alpha took a long drag from his cigarette.
"Coming in from Hong Kong?" asked the beta.
"Yeah, the squints really know how to make the good stuff. It'll be here Thursday night." Smoke bellowed from his mouth as he laughed. "Landing at the Mason strip 'cause I couldn't convince them to take it anywhere else. Said it'd be too risky, yellow dogs."
They talked for a little while longer about the drugs and then some woman they were both having sex with for fun. 270 stayed silent, barely breathing, hidden deep in the shadows. Her fingers tightened around the takeout box as a rat scampered out from underneath the trash bin, leaving little paw prints behind it in the grime. It sniffed around the trash bin, its nose twitching rapidly and then stopped.
The rat looked up at her, beady eyes quivering in terror. It had caught a whiff of her scent and smelled the twinge of cat in her blood. Terrified that it would make a noise, she darted out a hand and snapped its neck, but it managed to squeal the second before its spinal cord was severed. 270 yanked her hand back and stared at the men as the rat fell limp on the broken asphalt.
"What was that?" the alpha snapped, his dark eyes zeroing in on her hiding spot. For a moment, she thought that he had seen her, but his eyes were focused above her. He couldn't see her in the shadows.
"Nothing. Probably just a stray," said the other man. He kicked at one of the empty metal trays that were left out for the cats. "Damn yellows are always feeding them so they can catch them after hours."
"I always thought teriyaki chicken looked sideways," said the alpha. He chuckled at his own joke, and the beta joined in obediently. Through the laughter, she still heard when the alpha male slipped his hand into his jacket and pulled out his gun, clicking the safety off as he slid the piece from its holster.
Her instincts kicked in as he aimed the gun at her hiding spot; he was quicker than other humans, probably from practice in hostile situations. There wasn't time to think. She gathered herself together, adrenaline zinging through her veins, and sprang from the shadows, her small body becoming a lithe, living arrow.
Knocking the gun from the alpha's hand, she landed on one foot before jumping up to slam a high kick against his beta's jaw. There was a sickening pop as his jaw dislocated, and he bellowed in pain, clutching at his chin.
Speed and power whipped through her as she grabbed the alpha's right wrist and twisted, breaking his gun hand. While the beta fell to his knees, still holding his jaw, the alpha stumbled backward. Heart pounding, 270 stood between the two men, her shoulders squared, feet apart in a defensive stance, fists resting at her hips.
"What the hell?" the alpha, Krenski, demanded. He was holding his shattered wrist to his chest and staring at her with narrowed eyes. "What the hell is this?"
A kid kicking your butt, she thought to herself, but she kept the tart remark to herself. Her memory could recall the pain from the fist against her cheek the last time she had said something smart to Channing back at Manticore.
The beta roared something unintelligible, and she looked at both men. They were injured and couldn't do her any more harm. Her training told her to finish them off, but her body told her to run, and this time her gut won out over her head.
270 turned her back on the men and blurred down the alley, heading toward the street. There was a shelter in Sector 10 that would probably take her tonight, and that was far enough away from here that they would never think to look for her there.
Veering right, she was almost onto the sidewalk when a gun cracked behind her. Her eyes widened in fear, and she tried to dodge out of the way, but she didn't move quickly enough. Not enough experience with live ammo.
She jerked as the bullet grazed her right side, tearing through her skin like it was tissue paper. Gritting her teeth, she surged forward and put one hand over the bleeding wound as the weird burning sensation that came with being shot heated her side. There was too much adrenaline in her system for her to feel the real pain yet, something she supposed she should be grateful for.
Blurring, she made it six blocks before the adrenaline started wearing off. Pulling her hood up, she slowed down to a walk and tried to keep to the side of the street, where no one would notice a kid walking by herself at night.
Pain started to spread through her torso and down to her thighs like someone had poured electricity into her bloodstream to replace the adrenaline. Glancing down at the wound, she saw wet, sticky redness seeping from where her hand was pressed against her side. The blood was hot against her palm and fingers. Even with the pressure she was applying, it was soaking through her black t-shirt and onto her hoodie, a burgundy splotch against the dark material. You sure did bleed a lot when a chunk of flesh got blown off your body.
She leaned against a cold brick wall and tried to think. Where did she want to go? Where could she go? She needed to patch herself up quick, before she lost more blood. Reaching up with her free hand, she brushed her fingers against her barcode. She couldn't go to a hospital, no way.
Her eyes darted around, trying to assess her situation. She was in a residential section full of apartment buildings and tenements. Maybe there was an empty apartment where she could rest and clean up her wound. A bandage would be nice; at least then she wouldn't be bleeding everywhere.
Pushing away from the wall, she stood up as straight as she could and walked toward the nearest apartment building. She was heading up the stoop when she recognized a familiar scent. A trace of a spice, ginger maybe, and pine and something subtly citrusy. It was her…but not. There were other smells in the scent, embers and earth before a thunderstorm. Those weren't hers. But she had smelled them before, somewhere she couldn't remember right now.
The scent, mixed with a lot of other people's smells, was stuck to the door handle and the door jam, the concrete steps and the door. She looked around, trying to remember if she had been here before in her roaming around. She didn't recognize the place. The address sign beside the door read 113-125th Place, and this was Sector 5, not one of her regular sectors.
270 rubbed her forehead and started up the steps again. Her foot clipped the last step and she fell forward, her hands hitting the door, one landing on the handle while the other pressed against the peeling paint. With each breath she took, it felt like someone was stuffing more smoldering coals into her injured side. She had to rest. As she took a deep, hitching breath, the scent filled her nose again, triggering her territorial mindset. The scent wasn't hers, but it was so close and so strong…maybe she could pretend it was.
The door to the apartment building had been left unlocked and the hallway with its ugly peach-painted walls was empty. She followed the smell to a dark brown door and grabbed the brass doorknob. This door was locked, but a simple shove broke the deadbolt and had her inside a small apartment that was soaked with the scent that was hers but wasn't.
The apartment was a hodgepodge of swirled green walls, mismatched furniture, diamond-pattern floors, a massive book case and arches. It was random and chaotic, nothing like Manticore, and it was almost beautiful in its ugliness.
Tentatively, she moved into the middle of the room, gazing around the apartment to get her bearings. Dirty clothes, blue jeans and a navy turtleneck sweater on the red chair, a grey blanket thrown over the ivory couch, a TV remote on the table and TV to the side, no books disturbed from the shelf, a couple windows for a quick escape, no an open kitchen, an unmade bed in the next room…
Her tired eyes zeroed in on the bed. Manticore told her that she needed to suck it up and clean up her gunshot wound and get out. It was stupid to stay here, someone lived here, someone that smelled like her, but she wanted to go to sleep so bad, and Manticore wasn't really there and neither was the person, but the bed was and she wanted to sleep. Besides, even if it wasn't her smell, it almost was, so she could claim it, or at least in this state of mind she could. She'd leave later, soon, whenever she woke up and whoever it belonged to wouldn't know she'd been there.
Sluggish footsteps took her into the small bedroom. Fuzzy memories of the few basic medical classes she had been trained in by Manticore demanded that she at least tie something around her wound to make sure the bleeding stopped. She pulled a white t-shirt off of a hangar in the closet and ripped the bottom of it into one long strip.
Shrugging out of her hoodie sent flames across her body, and it dropped from her hands to pile on the floor once she had gotten it off. She didn't want to look at the wound, so she sat down on the side of the bed and hastily wrapped the cloth strip around her stomach, not even bothering to take her t-shirt off.
Heat from a vent on the other side of the room warmed her skin, and the fluffy pillows invited her to lie down, to fall asleep, and she wasn't arguing. After kicking off her shoes, she crawled onto the bed and lied down on top of the ruffled blankets. Her head fell against the pillow, and the familiar, disconcerting yet somehow comforting scent filled her nose as she drifted off into a heavy, healing sleep.
A/N: Alec will show up in the next chapter, no worries. Sorry if anyone was offended by the bad guys using racial insults! They are not good guys. :( But I hope you enjoyed the story, and if you would like to leave a review, that would be great! I write better when I get reviews, and I love reading them.