Most of the characters in this story are the property of ABC TV and other entities, and I do not have any permission to borrow them. Not that I think ABC will notice; it certainly isn't taking very good care of them. However, no infringement is intended, and this story is not for profit. Almost all other characters are my property, and if you want to mess with them, you have to ask me first. Feedback is most appreciated.

This was written for a "challenge" during a Prey fanfic writing workshop. The theme was combining Tom, cotton candy, and a carnival or country fair atmosphere.

* * * * *

"Here you go."

He remembered to smile this time when he handed the little girl her confection. Though, he reflected, sullenness would not be out of place in his role.

The girl turned away, pleasure shining through an already sticky grin, and he turned to face the next customer. The work was repetitious, almost tedious, but a small amount of dexterity was required, and each interaction with a human was a learning experience. Or so he'd been told.

The truth was, he was heartily bored. These assignments in the human world varied from dangerous to ridiculously easy, but so often he found himself wondering just what it was he was supposed to be learning. They seemed so slow, the humans, so often the same.

There was a lull in customers for a few minutes, and he spared a moment's attention to lower his body temperature a degree or so. The sun was hot on his head, despite the battered softball cap he wore, and as the day wore on the spring heat would only intensify.

The next customer was a teenage girl--probably about his own age, he estimated--and she gave him a coy glance along with her money and began to flirt delicately. He bantered with her for a moment while he prepared her order, and noted with satisfaction that she seemed to find nothing amiss in his acting. She lingered until another customer arrived, and he hoped briefly that his mentor was watching. But then--he is always watching. Assume he is always watching.

He tugged off his cap and ran his hand through his sweaty hair, grimacing a bit when the curls tangled under his fingers. It was always the same--he ended up sticky everywhere--clothes, skin, and even his hair. And the dust came and stuck to him as well.


He dropped the Whippets cap back on his head and turned quickly. "Yes sir?"

His mentor smiled gently. Lewis blended into the crowd with the perfection of long practice, but to his pupil's eyes he was as different as a hawk among a flock of chickens. The older man held out a brown paper bag.

"Your lunch. I want you to stay with the booth until closing."

Tom grimaced inwardly, but no flicker showed on his face. One did what one was told. "Yes, sir."

He took the bag and stowed it under the counter, licked his lips, and ventured a question. "This long will it last?"

Lewis' eyes narrowed, icy blue, and Tom braced himself for a reprimand, but apparently there was no reason for him not to know. "Six more days," Lewis said. "Have you been having any trouble with the I.D.?"

Tom shook his head. He'd been issued a false driver's license that listed his age at four years greater than it was, to offer a legitimate reason for his not being in school. But no one had questioned it, and he'd moved into the worn, garish carnival like any other dropout adolescent looking for a no-strings job.

A faint hint of burning reached his nose, and he reached down to shut off the spinner. The equipment broke down with annoying regularity; fortunately, his mechanical skills were adequate to repair it.

"I'll see you back at the trailer tonight," Lewis said, and moved off. Tom let out a long breath and bent to begin disassembling the spinner.

* * * * *

It was long past dusk when he made his way to the lot where their battered truck and trailer were parked. He was itching for a shower and his feet hurt from standing all day. It could be worse, he reflected, trudging down a graveled driveway. A human would be sunburned as well.

And then he halted at the end of the driveway. The trailer and the truck were gone.

For an instant he couldn't believe it. Then he scanned quickly around the weedy lot, but the vehicles were truly gone. Many of the others belonged to carnival workers, but most of them were dark. There were no signs of trouble, merely the ruts in the grass where the trailer had been parked.

Training cut in. He sharpened all his senses and moved quickly for cover, dropping into a crouch next to a nearby trailer. His fast scan of the surroundings revealed nothing out of place; no aberrant sounds, no movement in the shadows. If there were watchers, they were very well concealed.

When cut off from support, his mentor's dry voice said in his head, first establish a secure base.

He frowned. This area was not secure, particularly since the trailers were full of humans. Where could he go that was nearby? Of course.

It took him only a few minutes to return to the shuttered carnival. The battered fencing around the carnival was no more than a token barrier, and he made his way inside without so much as a rattle of wire. A few moments' work on the padlock let him into the Haunted House building.

And as soon as he closed the door, the shakes hit. He sat down against the wall, wrapping his arms around his knees and staring into the darkness. What happened? Where is Lewis? What will happen to me?

He fought against the wave of primitive emotion that welled in him. Had he been found lacking in some way and abandoned? The knowledge that he would have been killed if defective was of little comfort. He felt absolutely helpless without direction.

Finally he calmed. Had Lewis been taken? And if so, by whom? Who could remove his mentor without a fuss? And did his own duty include trying to find out?

Under the circumstances, no. He was only half-trained, and alone. He had no weapons, no base, and only a very small amount of money. And his current assignment was not yet finished. The proper procedure would be to alert his people to Lewis' disappearance, and go on with his own assignment. A tremendous amount of time and effort had already gone into his training; he would not be wasted.

The plan comforted him somewhat. Tomorrow he would return to work, and find one of the carnival workers to stay with; shelter would not be a problem. He had enough money to buy a little food and he would be paid in two days. He would be hungry by then, but hunger was not new. And by the end of the six days, he would have heard from Lewis' superiors and would get a new assignment.

He hoped. Nothing like this had ever been spoken of; his people did not disappear without reason. And Lewis was never careless. Suddenly the solid base of his learning and skills seemed much smaller when pitted against the night and the unknown.

He made the requisite phone call, slipping out of the carnival and back in again as silently as he'd first entered. He knew that someone would pick up the voice mail message within fifteen minutes, and decisions would be made. He would stick to his assignment until he finished, or until someone came to give him a fresh one.

But he shivered as he curled up in the dark to sleep. He'd never felt so utterly alone.

* * * * *

Today was overcast at least, though scarcely less hot than the past week. Despite the threat of rain, the carnival was doing a brisk business, and he was kept busy with customers. It was the fourth day since his mentor had vanished, and behind his automatic scanning of the surroundings and the humans, he was still wondering, fruitlessly, what had happened. None of the carnival workers knew where Lewis had gone or even when. But the brothers who ran the Ferris wheel were happy to give him floor space and let him wash out his clothes in the sink. And in two days...he hoped...he would know at least what to do next.

He sighed a bit at the renewed stickiness on his hands and wondered briefly if he would ever get all the food coloring out of his shirt. Even the money in the cash box stuck to his hands. Certainly he'd never eat the confection himself; it was almost pure sugar and was artificially flavored to boot. Practically a contaminant.

He handed the paper cones to a family of five and dropped their bills into the box, then took a long drink of water in the brief lull. But when he looked up again, his mentor was standing alone at the counter.

Lewis looked as he always did--completely in control. Shock closed Tom's throat for a moment, and in that time Lewis looked him carefully up and down.

"Everyone has to know how to survive on their own," the older man said quietly, and Tom realized with a chill that Lewis had deliberately left him. He swallowed hard against an emotion he couldn't identify, then thrust it away from him. Emotions were a weakness.

"You did well," his mentor added, and walked away.