Hey, it's opposite day! So I'm going to claim ownership, alright? No? Darn.
So, I discovered Hulu a few months back and what do I find but the complete series of John Doe? Reminded me of high school... And when the flashbacks subsided and I pulled myself out of the fetal position, I watched every single episode. I promptly knew that I had to do something to give myself closure on the whole series. It's just wrong, leaving Digger as the bad guy! And never telling us what the deal is with John and the Phoenix Organization... To date myself severely, 'How rude!' So, this is my answer. Incidentally, I've been trying to write a story with this title for years now. I finally found one that fits it perfectly, so take a moment to appreciate the beauty that is the art of title-crafting. It's harder than it looks.
Major, major kudos to my betas, Leon Stryfe and Benjamin Bradt. You guys are the best!
Please feed the habit of a review junkie and give my review page some lovin'. Thanks y'all!
Legend of the Phoenix
"Don't let me go… please don't let me go…"
John was holding the sobbing woman close, comforting her, when they were interrupted by the late-as-usual Det. Frank Hayes and Jamie Avery.
"It's Teresa," he answered their inquiring looks. "I saved her - that betraying bastard didn't get her, at least."
Frank and Jamie exchanged a look. "'Betraying bastard'? John, you sound like you know the guy."
NSA Agent Sam Clarkson came hurrying up in time to hear that. "You know him? John, you saw Stockingcap?"
He would have liked nothing more than to evade and run - to gain time to think - to sort things out in his own head before pulling anyone else in. But with his lap full of traumatized woman - his wife? he couldn't move. He looked up at them, Sam, Jamie, Frank. And knew that he had no choice.
"It was Digger. It is Digger. Digger is Stockingcap." Teresa gave a sob, burying her face in his chest and he tightened his grip around her, rocking her slightly back and forth.
Sam was immediately up the ladder, radio clutched to his mouth calling for backup. John could only hope that they caught the rat-bastard.
"Come on, John, let's get the two of you out of here," Frank said, offering his hand to his friend. John let him pull him up, carrying Teresa to the mouth of the mine himself.
He couldn't take his eyes off of her. She was…brilliant, shining with color to his monochromatic eyes. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Even the numerous needle-marks on her neck were lovely in their mute testament to the horror this woman had endured.
They were forced to pause by the tunnel mouth to let the government agents crash by, in hot pursuit of Digger, alias 'Stockingcap.' John didn't know whether to wish them luck or hope they tripped. He was still in shock. The man had given him his hand; had sworn his loyalty. He'd thought he was a better judge of character than that.
Finally, they emerged into the main cave, where the torture had occurred. Teresa moaned, burying her face in John's neck. Teresa's chair was empty, but Michael's body was still strapped into his… his body, which was still in full color…
"Frank? The kid - check a pulse on the kid."
"Him?" The detective eyed him warily. "He's dead, Doe."
The brainiac shook his head. "He's alive. I wouldn't be able to see him in color if he were dead - he's alive. Hey!" he shouted to a guy with a radio. "Get an ambulance down here! Now!"
Frank was still dragging his feet. "But we saw them slice the back of his neck open, Doe! No way he could have survived that!"
John ignored him. Setting Teresa carefully on the ground by his feet - no way was he going to subject her to sitting in that chair again - he checked Michael thoroughly. Murmuring medical facts to himself, he verified, "He's breathing. Hang in there, Michael! We'll get you out of here, you're going to be okay."
Hands suddenly gripped his lapels. "John… the staff… they want the staff… you can't let them get the staff… the staff…" Michael's voice trailed off to a mutter and his fists relaxed as he slumped back, his energy spent.
"John?" It was Jamie. "What was that about?"
He paused. "Something… I'm not sure. I'll tell you when I know."
"Tell me what you suspect," she demanded.
But the savant shook his head. "I don't even suspect enough to put it into words just now. As soon as I know, you'll know," he promised.
Normally, he'd be all over the scene with his friends, using his massive brain to pick vital clues from the apparently mundane. This situation, however, was anything but normal.
The ambulance crews finally arrived, gingerly transporting an unconscious Michael to the hospital. John and Teresa followed in a second one. He had not let her get so much as a foot from him since he'd wrenched her from her captor - from Digger - in the tunnel. And until he'd had a chance to talk with her - about everything - he wasn't going to leave her side.
At his insistence, Teresa and Michael were placed side-by-side in a semiprivate room, so that he could sit between them and hold both their hands while they slept off the horrendous cocktail they'd been doped with. Michael - he was only a kid, but he looked so much older, pain lines etched into his face. There were matching lines in Teresa's; John - or was he Tommy? - couldn't stand to see them there. He brushed his hand over her face, smoothing her skin. He tried to imagine what she would look like smiling. He bet she was pretty.
Her skin was cool to the touch, and he drew up her blankets to warm her. As he did, he dislodged her flimsy patient gown. It slid down over her shoulder a few inches. What he saw made him gasp.
He pulled his shirt down, looked between his marking and hers. Identical, to the last slash.
His eyes slid sideways to Michael, suspicion crinkling his brow. Gingerly, so as not to wake him, he pulled down the collar of his hospital-issued garment.
There. Again. Identical.
"What are we?" he murmured aloud.
The shadows in the room didn't answer back.
Some time later, Teresa blinked slowly, swimming up from the depths of unconsciousness. Natural sleep had been denied her for so long, the feeling of being well-rested was foreign to her.
John noticed her stirring and closed the laptop that Jamie had so thoughtfully brought to him. "Good morning," he greeted the awakening patient. "How are you feeling?"
She shook her head as if to clear it. "Tommy? I'm not dreaming, am I?"
He took her hand, squeezing gently. "No. You're free. I promise, you're free."
"Free…" her eyes closed, a look of rapture on her face, as though she were tasting the word and finding it to her liking. "Oh, Tommy… I'm so glad you found us."
"It certainly took me long enough," he murmured, feeling ashamed in the face of her gratitude. "I didn't figure out the clues you sent me until you were practically hitting me over the head with them."
"It's always easier to send than receive," she murmured, reaching out to cup his cheek with her palm, "you know that."
He cleared his throat, nervously. "Um… actually, I don't know that," he admitted. "There's… there are some things you don't know about me." Ho, boy, how to admit that while she obviously knew him, he had no clue who she was?
"Like what?" She pushed herself into a sitting position, face quizzical. "Like that you're Thomas Chol? That you just saved my life? Again?" She rolled her eyes at the ceiling. "Look, Tommy, I don't know where you've been for the last thirteen months, and I can't say I care. I got you back." She sniffed back tears as she pulled him in for a bone-crushing hug.
He heaved a heavy sigh. Okay. Time to get this over with. "So my na-"
"Mr. Doe?" A nurse stuck her head into the room. "You said to let you know when the lab results came back?"
Teresa looked at the nurse, around the room, back at the nurse, then at John, confusion written on her features.
John mentally winced. Not the way he'd wanted to segue into the whole question of his identity… "Thank you, Catherine," he said. "I'll have a look at them later." The nurse nodded and left.
"'Mr. Doe'?" Teresa queried.
He really did wince this time. "My…memory is a little…patchy," he admitted, slowly.
"How patchy? Like, don't know your own name, patchy?"
He nodded. "Or anything about my life before nine months ago."
She stared at him. "Or me. Jesus, Tom, don't you know your own sister?"
Not wife? He stared at her.
Apparently, it was answer enough. She sagged back. "No wonder we couldn't get through to you… If you don't know us, it's almost impossible to send messages. Tom," she took his hand. "I'm Teresa. I'm your sister. Your twin, in fact. Where's Tobias? I swear I felt him with me, when we were Looking for you." John could hear the capital letter, and knew she was referring to the remote viewing project.
"Is that his name, Tobias?" he asked. He looked over to where the other patient lay, still unconscious. Teresa followed his gaze. She breathed a sigh of relief.
"Yes… he's our little brother, Tom. Just as gifted as us - more, actually. He's been gone for four years. I was so terrified… you said you had a lead on him, that you were going to get him, find him, if it was the last thing you did. You left, and you never came back." She descended into tears, fighting them off. "Oh, god, I don't know why I'm crying so much… I never do this, I promise, I'm not weepy like this…"
"It's the drugs," comforted John - Thomas. He hugged his sister. "You're going to be out of sorts for awhile - I don't know how long they had you, but it was a long time."
She sniffed. "Thanks, Tom. You always know what to say. So… is Toby going to be alright? They didn't hurt him, did they?"
John chewed his lip, trying to figure out how much to tell her. "We'll be able to tell more when he wakes up. In the meantime, I want to take a look at those lab results, see what sorts of chemicals you had swimming around in your bloodstreams. Will you be okay?"
She settled back down. "I think I could sleep for a week. You won't leave, will you?" Her eyes begged him to stay.
How could he refuse her blue eyes? "I'll be right here. I promise." He paused by the door. "And Teresa? I'm glad you found me."
Frank caught up to him while he was staring at the hospital computer, flicking through lab results and frowning to himself. "Hey, Doe."
"Hm? Oh. Hey, Frank. Say, think we could get a lab tech down at the station to analyze a couple of blood samples? The hospital is good, but they don't have the forensic capabilities I'm looking for."
The detective stared over his shoulder. "Would these be the blood samples from Jane and Joe Doe?"
John cleared his throat. "It's, uh, Chol, actually."
"That your last name?" He looked at him askance.
John shrugged. "Teresa woke up a few minutes ago. She's - well, it turns out, she's my sister. My twin. It's funny - my name, Thomas? It means 'twin' in the original Aramaic, which was a popular dialect of Hebrew around the time of 1 AD. The most famous bearer of the name was Doubting Thomas, a disciple of Jesus Christ, given the nickname after he demanded proof of the resurrection… huh."
Frank's glazed eyes snapped back into focus. "What?"
John shook his head. "Nothing… probably nothing. Irony, maybe."
"Care to clue a brother in?"
"We've been chasing a group that calls itself the Phoenix Organization. The phoenix is a mythological bird said to regenerate itself through a cycle of dying, burning, and rebirth and so is said to be immortal. This made the phoenix a popular symbol of Christ in Renaissance art - resurrecting itself, see? I was told once that I was the Phoenix… ironic that I would be named for the Doubter in that case, don't you think?"
"Doe?" No one could do sardonic like Frank Hayes. "You're doing it again."
John shrugged, unapologetically. "Sorry."
"Sure you are. Anyway, I want you to take a look at this." He handed his sometime-colleague two pads of paper. "Nearly identical drawings of some building. Now, I think it looks like the capitol, but Avery swears it looks more like a church. You recognize this place?"
John tilted his head, studying it. "It's Saint Peter's Basilica - the Vatican."
"Now why would there be two hand-drawn pictures of the Vatican in that place?" Frank asked.
John just shook his head. "No idea."
"Somethin' else for those boys at the NSA to ask them schmucks we arrested. Think you could use your connections with Clarkson to swing us a few tickets to the interrogation? I know Avery's champin' at the bit to get her hands on those fellows and I ain't exactly the most patient myself."
John shrugged. "I'll see what I can do. Any leads on - on Digger?" He had to force the name out.
Frank just shook his head. "No. He's disappeared as thoroughly as only a spy can." John's lips tightened. "Don't worry, Doe," Hayes clapped him on the shoulder. "Now we know who to look out for, he won't get far." He paused at the nurse's desk before leaving, and John could just barely hear him requesting a blood sample from their two newest patients be sent to the police station for further analysis.
For his part, John returned to his siblings' room, lost in thought.
Only to find a figure leaning over Tobias's bed.
John was on him in a moment. The crash awakened Teresa and she began to scream, which brought the orderly at a run. Outnumbered, the intruder shoved past him and sprinted off down the hallway, John in hot pursuit. He'd recognized him, and he had more than a few questions to beat out of his erstwhile 'friend.'
He skidded around a corner, only to be met with a crushing blow to the face with a solid metal tray. Head ringing, he staggered after his quarry, but lost him in the maze of doors and corridors.
Returning to the room, a frantic Teresa collapsed into his arms. The ruckus had awakened Michael - Tobias - and the three siblings held one another until a general state of calm reasserted itself. Security was placed on high alert, and two fellows from security were placed outside their door for protection. Rather like putting a guard on the picket line after the horses have been stolen, John thought, but didn't say.
Once they were alone, Teresa reintroduced her brothers to one another. Michael was in the same boat as John - he didn't remember anything from before. He'd awakened at the Seneca Institute - where John had first found him - blind, and without a memory to call his own. They'd told him his name was Michael, and that he was fifteen. "A lie," Teresa hissed. "You were eighteen. And your name is Tobias. Tobias."
Michael - Tobias - shrugged. "I didn't know what to believe. Might as well believe them. Nothing much going on up here, 'cept what they put in me…" he rubbed his temples, swallowing hard. Teresa hugged him fiercely.
"We're here now, Toby. You're back with family. You're never going to be alone again, ever! Right, Tom?"
John laid one hand on each of their shoulders. "Family," he affirmed.
Michael relaxed somewhat, his eyes losing their tension. "I believed you, you know," he said to his brother. "Before, when you got me out the first time. Hey… where's that Digger-guy who was with you? He had a good voice. I liked him." Teresa and John shared an awkward glance, but Michael didn't pursue it. He yawned. "It's funny… All I've done is sleep, but I think I could sleep for a month more."
He drifted back into dreamland, and Teresa soon followed. John watched them, sliding his hands idly into his coat pocket.
Where he found a note.
It was hastily scrawled, in pen on a scrap of paper that John recognized as being torn from one of the hospital menus. "John - not what you think. Will be waiting at the loft if you want to talk. Digger."
"So how does it feel, being a fugitive?" John asked as he entered his apartment.
Digger melted out of the shadows. "Should I be expecting company?" he asked, with a wary glance towards the windows.
"You didn't say anything about not contacting the police. I assumed it would be okay if I brought friends." John accented the last word, and Digger winced.
"I won't offend you by asking you to give me a chance to explain," the ex-special forces man said. "But I assume that's why you're here. Without backup." John's face betrayed his surprise. "Knew if I told you not to bring Frank you'd have the whole squad here. Figured this way, we'd have a chance to hash things out in private."
"I don't trust you anymore, Digger," John stated. "Just say your piece. You owe me the truth."
"I owe you a heck of a lot more than that," the barman stated flatly. "But it'll do for a start. Sorry about your face, by the way; you alright?"
John ignored the apology. "What were you doing with Teresa?" he demanded. "You knew I was looking for her, why didn't you tell me about her? Why torture her? Why torture Michael? Why kidnap him if you already had your hands on him? Was it about me? You had me - you knew where I was every minute! If you wanted to kill me, all you had to do was stand back any one of the half dozen times you saved my ass! I may know everything, but I don't understand a single part of this! Tell me!"
Digger threw up his hands. "Okay, okay! Now let's get things straight. You've been hounded by two organizations since you woke up, right?"
"At least," John growled. "The NSA and the Phoenix Organization. Only I know and trust at least one of the guys at the NSA and the Phoenix members have all been arrested. Except for you."
"Ah. Well, therein lies the catch." Digger leaned back against the wall. "You did get all of the Phoenix members. I'm whatcha might call a double agent."
John cocked an eyebrow. "You're government?"
Digger scowled. "Don't make me laugh. No, I work for another group entirely."
John stared at him. "A third group? How many rings are in this circus?"
"There's layers and layers that you don't know about, stuff that's never been committed to paper, much less computers.
"First off - that brand. Teresa and Tobias are marked with it too, have you seen?" John nodded. "The Phoenix Organization is far-reaching. They conduct tests on children - as young as four, some even younger - assessing them for psychic abilities. You scored in the ninety-fourth percentile; extremely gifted. Teresa was slightly lower at ninety-one. The Organization was over the moon with you two, completely thrilled. They just about wet their pants when your parents had Tobias, couldn't wait to get their hands on him for testing. Dougherty nearly cracked a smile when he was telling me about him."
"Tall guy, wears a trench coat… has taken the 'no-talking-sign-language-only' directive a bit too much to heart."
"Yeah. Anyway, Tobias scored in the ninety-ninth percentile for psychic abilities, and that at age two. He was immediately marked, same as you two."
"What is the brand, anyway?" John asked, unconsciously rubbing his chest.
"Dunno. The Organization's been using it for centuries."
"Like I said, there's a lot that you don't know. Shall I continue?" John nodded, and Digger went on. "Anyway, all kids who score high enough on the assessment get that brand, along with an implanted microchip that keeps the Organization aware of their location. And before you ask - yeah, that technology was available back in 1972 - just not to the general public. Conspiracy nuts would piss themselves if they ever got a glimpse into the real stuff that goes on behind the scenes.
"There were a few hopefuls that they concentrated their time and efforts on in the meantime, but the real prize was your brother. They left him alone for as long as they could stand it, but eventually they just grabbed him.
"Turns out they took him too early. Psychic abilities don't peak until the mid-twenties. They thought they could train him up to it, so that he'd come into his full power at the same time as the full training, but they pushed too hard. They gave him the final test, and it broke him. His own mind destroyed his eyesight, and erased his memory completely. They practically had to teach him how to speak again."
"Final test? What is that? Is that… could that be what happened to me? Where do you come in to all of this?"
Digger heaved a sigh. "Gettin' there, John, I'm gettin' there.
"Now, you have to understand about the Phoenix Organization. Like I mentioned earlier, they've been around for centuries - actually, it's more like millennia. They have their origin in Heliopolis, in ancient Egypt."
John interrupted, the introspective look he got whenever he was accessing the information in his head on his face. "The mythical phoenix was said to make a nest for itself every five hundred years, when it sensed it was dying. It would ignite, burning up itself and its nest. The new phoenix would arise, and carry the remains of its old nest and the parent bird - some said it was the eggshell - to the temple at Heliopolis."
The bartender looked at him askance. "Yeah. Only did you know that there was a group of worshippers who tended the nests? Kept each one in a sacred place, marked and dated, and they held holy celebrations on the day that the phoenix came to deliver its next offering to the sun god.
"Only one year, it didn't come. They sent out search parties, missions, searching for the phoenix, trying to figure out what had become of this holiest of creatures. Only to discover that sometime in the past five centuries, the bird - always the only one of its kind - had fallen in love with a human maiden. He used his power of shape shifting to become a human youth, courted her, and they wed. By the time the faithful had found the phoenix, he was long dead, and his many children had had many children, and they had had many children, and these were all scattered to the four winds. The now-human-bird had left behind one missive, engraved on a clay tablet. It would never regain his old form, it said, but the ability had been passed down to his descendents. One of them, eventually, would arise and become the flame-bird of myth. Moreover, the next time the phoenix arose, the world would end in a blanket of fire, only to be reborn from the ashes, the legend played out on a grand scale."
"So what does all that have to do with me and my family?"
Digger fixed him with a withering stare. "Smartest guy in the world and you have to ask? The phoenix's descendents all have some sort of innate psychic ability. The Phoenix Organization has been tracking your kind since they found that tablet, trying to figure out which mere human is more than they appear. Who is, in fact, the phoenix in disguise."
"And they think it's me."
"Actually, they thought it was your brother. But they pushed him too hard and destroyed him before they could force the phoenix out of him. So they grabbed you."
John shifted uncomfortably at that. "And what's your part in all this? You seem to know an awful lot about a secret organization that you claim to be no part of."
Digger flapped a hand over his shoulder, dismissing it. "I'm a double agent, aren't I? The Phoenix Organization is bent on bringing on the frigging Apocalypse. My group, the one that has my loyalty, are bent on preventing it. 'Blanket of fire' and 'reborn from the ashes' aren't exactly what you'd call reassuring phrases. We try and thwart the Organization wherever we can, up to and including the concealment of the Phoenix Staff."
"And that is…?"
"The second thing the old bird left behind - a magic wand of sorts. I've never seen it, but I'm told it's pretty spectacular. Legend says that when the greatest descendant of the phoenix holds the staff of his ancestor, his full power will be released and the world will be consumed in flames."
"You don't seriously believe this stuff, do you? I mean, come on, you're the most cynical guy I know."
"All I know is, I've seen some pretty serious shit in my days, and not all of it can be explained. I got involved with the Argonauts - that's my organization - about five years ago. About three years ago, I let myself be recruited by the Phoenix Organization, a double agent, keeping tabs on everything they were doing. I was too late to save Tobias, John, and I'm sorry for that. It was my idea to keep him around, though - keep him alive. I managed to sell it to my superiors Phoenix. I didn't know he was your brother, though. I'da found a way to guide you to him sooner if I had."
The contrition on his face was genuine, John had to admit. Or just genuine-looking. How was he supposed to know?
"Grabbed when they lost you. Or, set you free, whatever. They weren't convinced you'd passed the test, but figured that with three highly-gifted siblings, all working in tandem, they could finally pinpoint to location of the staff, which they'd lost in the early fourth century. Even if none of you was the actual phoenix, you could lead them to the instrument that would unlock the real phoenix's full powers. They just wanted to give Teresa enough time to train into her full powers while they watched you to see how you fared after the test."
"Which was what, exactly?"
"First off, know that I had nothing to do with your time at the Organization. I'd never even seen your face until you walked into my bar. I didn't even know I was supposed to be watching you until a fellow Argonaut clued me in."
"Anonymous. Not anyone you would know. Anyway. The theory is simple. In death, all things become one, all ignorance vanishes and all knowledge is gained. The phoenix dies, is reborn, maintains all of its wisdom, knows everything there is to know. The final test is whether or not the subject can die, come back, and attain ultimate knowledge."
"Yeah, sound familiar? Tobias came back too soon - he gained all ignorance, but wasn't there long enough to get the all-knowledge. You… John, you weren't the first to be dumped on that island. You were, however, the first to make it off. The Phoenix Organization didn't know what to make of your amnesia, though, so they let you stay out, watching you, trying to figure out what the hell you are."
"And what did they decide?"
Digger's mouth twitched. "Jury's still out on that one. I'm out of favor with the Phoenix, despite everything I did to try and stay in the loop."
"Torturing Teresa and Michael."
He shifted uncomfortably. "I'm sorry about that, John, I really am. I had to play the part. I… you don't know how many times I almost told you. But if I'd told… I'm not the only one watching you, John, or I wasn't. They'd have moved them, or killed them, before you got there."
"Like they killed Karen?" John's voice was an icy dagger, and Digger scowled.
"When I found out who did that, I busted his ass personally. I didn't want another tragedy in your life, John. It was me that suggested to Tobias that he try calling for his big brother. And damned if it didn't work, too."
"Why did you run?"
"And get caught with them? We'd be havin' this same conversation in a lot less pleasant circumstances, and you wouldn't be believing one word in five."
"Who's to say I'm believing it any better here?"
"You ain't called Frank or Jamie yet, have you?"
Silence. John knew he was right; hated it, but knew it.
"So the drawings you made Teresa and Michael do…?"
"Looking for the staff. Pumped 'em up with mind-sharpening drugs, sent their inner eyes looking for the item. They finished just before you arrived."
"So the staff is at the Vatican?"
"And as long as you stay away from the Holy See, the world should stay safe from apocalyptical annihilation."
"Any guarantees on that?"
"Anyone besides you, me, and the goons we arrested know about it?"
"Your sibs, but I doubt they'll remember much."
"So what's our next step?"
Digger heaved a sigh. "I send the message through my higher-ups in the Argonauts. They move the staff, and you go play happy-families with your siblings, try and get back a few years."
Digger shrugged. "Me? The Phoenix Organization is going to want me killed - for failing to bring them the information, and for letting you, Teresa, and Michael escape alive. I was supposed to kill them, you know."
"Yeah, I saw you slash at Michael's neck before you grabbed Teresa."
"Show, so no one else would do it. How is he? Did I hurt him much? You interrupted before I could figure out how bad it was."
John frowned. "Superficial laceration. It's the drugs in his system that I'm worried about."
"They should metabolize and be gone within a week," Digger reassured him.
"So you're running?"
"Not much choice. I got no reason to stick around Seattle. Do I?"
John Doe thought hard for a long moment. "You'll be welcome at my place, Digger. But for now, I think the best place for you is as far from here as you can get."
The other man nodded, solemnly, acknowledging John's statement on all of its intended levels. He stuck out his hand. "If you ever need me, John."
John returned the gesture, and the two men shook.
Then Digger was out the window and gone.
Six months later, a package arrived in the mail. John turned it over in his hands. Long, well-padded, postmarked from Egypt. In the place of the sender's name was an amusing picture of a scuba diver with a shovel.
John grinned. "Digger," he said.
He was running his old friend's bar nowadays, and The Sea had never done better. Tobias had taken to the piano like an old pro, and Teresa enjoyed the atmosphere after a long day at work, as an assistant to the district attorney. She was always on John's case nowadays about following protocol when he helped out on cases; she said he jeopardized the legal system with his vigilante ways. But he just laughed. Every night, Teresa told him and Tobias all about their old lives. Under their influence, his vision was starting to pick up spontaneous flashes of color. He took it as a good sign. John had decided to keep his name, in public at least, but to his siblings, he was Thomas.
"Wonder what the old dog sent me?" he mused, digging out a knife to slice through the tape sealing the box shut.
He was just reaching in when Digger himself walked through the door. His eyes widened in shock. "John! Don't touch that!"
"What?" John asked, just as his fingers closed around a cold knob of metal.
And the world went up in flames.