The Maelstrom – A Family Chronicle
Warnings: Characters that died long before, language
Pairing: Canon Alec/Rachael Berrisford, tiny bit Logan/Max UST and Ben B/Gem, Sam Carr/OC
Summary: The Berrisford Agenda could have ended a very different way.
Prologue: Family Matters
She sat in the chair normally reserved for privileged clients and friends and drank his port. Even being on the lam, his money bought certain creature comforts. She had made it easier and now she wanted something, something which he hadn't known had interested her. "It has too much of him for you to keep and too much of her for you to use it to buy your freedom," she said.
Robert Berrisford stared at the strange woman who had appeared knowing so much. She had known about the Manticore agent that had hurt his little girl. She had known all that they had done, both Robert and the agent. She had always known when Manticore had found his latest hideout and how to slip out of their grasp again. She talked him through the negotiations so that Manticore would walk away and he and his daughter would live. He wasn't sure if he would still be alive without her. Rachael would be dead without her assistance. Robert was pretty sure that both his daughter and he would be in a much worse place if not for her help.
But he wasn't sure that he trusted her with what his daughter would treasure. He knew how Manticore worked. It was entirely within the realm of possibilities that Manticore had sent another agent so that he would willingly surrender the baby without bloodshed, without killing it to keep it away from them. They would be interested in his daughter's child because it was also a Manticore monster.
"I know the best place for the baby."
The baby had survived Rachael's coma. The Cesarean surgery had been completed this morning. If he opened his ears, he could hear the baby crying. The baby and the hormones had not woken his daughter, as the doctors had hoped. Robert knew that he could never keep the child. He was already thinking that the child had been as unreliable and untrustworthy as his father. That the child didn't hold up its side of the bargain. Robert had only permitted the baby to stay in Rachael's womb on the faint hope that she would awake. The child was born now and Rachael was still in a coma.
The child hadn't helped Rachael.
Its father had hurt Rachael.
"You could consider it as payment for your debt to me," the woman wheedled.
He did owe her, but why did this feel like it was too good to be true? "I want to see the back of your neck."
The woman was surprised, but pleased. She knew what he was expecting to see. She promptly turned around and lifted her hair. Robert couldn't see a barcode, not a hint of one. Could Manticore have sent a regular human to gain his trust? That wasn't quite their style.
Then he decided that he didn't care. "Take the boy," he ordered the woman. It was part monster after all. If it had been a girl he might have considered raising it, but there was too much of its father in it for that.
She didn't hesitate. She walked up the stairs to the guest room that was temporarily the nursery. Robert followed. She wrapped up the hours-old, unnamed boy and walked out the door, never looking back. Robert didn't know how to contact her if he desired. Somehow he knew he would never see her again and he didn't care to see the boy again. He was free of Manticore and now free of his debt to her. He had enough regrets centering around his precious daughter, he had no feeling left for the scrap of (human?) life in the girl's arms.
Chapter 1: Deconstruction of the Family
(A Year Later)
Robert Berrisford did regret some choices he had made during his life. Some because his actions had hurt people he had loved (Oh, Rachael) and some because he hadn't hurt some people enough, like Manticore (and that monster in the disguise of a piano teacher).
Robert was dying, not so much from any disease but from a lack of purpose. It was his heart, but not anything his cardiologist could diagnose or treat. He did not have anything or anyone to live for. Beloved Rachael was dead and Robert had let the monster live just to watch his suffering.
But he wasn't suffering enough for his sins.
With all the media and governmental attention given to the transgenic situation these days, that thing had probably forgotten about Rachael. Too busy, too many other pretty women before his eyes. (Manticore seemed to create the beautiful things, for camouflage.)
Rachel didn't deserve to be forgotten, by anyone, especially not by her killer.
And with Robert dying, that monster was the only one left who could remember her as she had been, vibrant and vivacious. Robert would not let him forget or move on. The plan had been seeded when Robert had seen that thing at Rachael's gravesite, but then Robert had wanted to leave the monster with no hope. He had wanted to tear out that thing's heart.
He had succeeded, he knew that.
He would succeed again. Now, when the monster was trapped with other monsters, Robert would pass along information that he would not be able to investigate about the son Rachael had borne. Robert would have to time it carefully. It had to be sent just before Robert died. He didn't want to face the source of Rachael's destruction again. Robert was sure that the monster would come straight to him for details and confirmation and Robert wouldn't give him that much surety. He needed to be absolutely sure that Rachael's nurse was un-findable, as well as any doctors that had known about the pregnancy. He would leave no clues behind. It would eat at the monster, the questions that he would never be able to answer.
The best part of the plan was that literally no one knew the identity of the woman who had walked off with the baby, not even Robert. And Robert didn't know if she had kept the child, or had given it away. No one could connect the baby to Robert, Rachael or the monster.
Honestly, he didn't care. The baby had failed to bring back to life the most important person in the world. That was all that mattered. Robert knew that his life would have been drastically different if the child had woken Rachael. Robert would have been a very proud grandpa. He would have worked at his desk with a giggling child hiding at his feet, like his mother had once done. Robert wished for that life sometimes, but he never once wanted that life if Rachael wasn't in it.
Robert was tired.
He lay on his (empty) bed (in his empty house) and stared up at the ceiling (in the ghost quiet). The musician he had hired to torture that thing was long gone. She had been paid and sent along her way, since her services were no longer needed. Robert couldn't stand to hear Rachael's music (played by someone deliberately imitating Rachael's style) anymore than that thing could.
Robert smiled evilly. He could torture the monster even more. He would include a note in the papers, telling him that a copy had been sent to the government agents hunting down the transgenic menace. That would make the monster wild with helplessness.
Robert wouldn't actually send the copy to the government. They were almost as much to blame as the pretty monster that Manticore had sent and he wouldn't be doing them any favors. Dodging the agents that they'd sent after him had probably done just as much damage as the bomb. As much as he wanted the monster to suffer, he wouldn't lift a finger to help those bastards.
Robert reached over to the bedside table and picked up the envelope that had been waiting for months for this moment. He pulled out a pen and scrawled his message to the monster.
Satisfied, Robert sealed it. His hands shook only a little, the lack of nutrients in his body was taking a toll. He opened the alcohol bottle that he had saved for this moment. He poured himself a double and patted his work.
Obviously, the transgenics had some connection with Eyes Only and with the people at Jam Pony. Robert knew the name that the thing had been using since Manticore's destruction; he would simply use Jam Pony to deliver his message. Some poor person at Jam Pony probably thought that the monster was their friend. That person would ensure that the thing got his mail.
He would have the housekeeper send it out tomorrow and then die in peace.
Yes, Robert liked that plan.
He only wished he could witness the monster's reaction. That revenge would be sweet.
He would sleep deeply tonight, even knowing that tomorrow was his last day.
The revenge tasted so sweet.
Chapter 2: The Most Hated Family in America
It had been Max's decision and everyone had agreed: all mail was passed through Logan. And the transgenics got a lot of mail. So much so that two X-6's had been smuggled to Joshua's house to help deal with it. The transgenics had even set up an x-ray and a radiation machine in an abandoned warehouse to screen the mail. Only one bomb had made it all the way to Logan's abode and the X-6 whose mistake had allowed that to happen had nearly died saving Logan's life. The post office took care of the majority of the bombs, mostly because they didn't want them exploding near civilians more than supporting the transgenic cause.
Everyone knew about Jam Pony-transgenic connection and so they had very brisk business delivering stuff to Terminal City. Normal was pleased that people (even those who hated transgenics) would pay to have their packages delivered. Business had improved since the siege. So much so that he had to hire ten new employees (mostly to replace the transgenics stuck in Terminal City. Normal knew that most mail addressed to Terminal City never made it to its assigned designation and didn't insist on a signature.
All mail did end up at the warehouse. The mail was then separated in several groups: the dangerous, the hateful, the encouraging, the fan mail, and the intelligence. The X-6's disposed of everything that was a biohazard and/or explosive. The hate mail was read, bundled up tightly and Logan used it as fuel to heat the house. He never ran low. The few letters of encouragement and support were analyzed and marked on the map as possible escape routes or allies. The fan mail was a source of great amusement. It seemed that some humans were infatuated with the appearance of the transgenics. Even Mole had a fan club. Letters from other transgenics were disguised as hate mail but with code words evaluating life outside of Seattle and offering assistance. Those were separated and carried to Logan's to pass the intelligence to Terminal City. The post was tallied and used as a barometer of the general population.
The manila envelope could not be categorized immediately. The fact that it had Alec's name on it was the first clue. The fact that it had a return address was the second. Few of the mail received had return addresses. It tested negative for any hazard. The short message was hateful but the medical records didn't mean anything to the X-6's reading it. The package was separated and given high priority.
It was the first thing Logan read out of the day's mail. He recognized the Berrisford name and address immediately. He almost didn't read it even though he had been given permission from everyone. It was personal, very personal. In the end, he fed Ransom and Brentwood, the X-6's in charge of the mail, and Mellon, the recovering X-6 in residence. Then he told them to find someplace that they couldn't eavesdrop. The child soldiers obeyed and Logan was left alone to absorb the files' contents. He read through all the other mail and waited for radio contact.
Terminal City had to be very careful that their communication was not hacked. Logan had to be even more careful since he didn't have the protection of Terminal City blockades around him. Only when all the checks had been made would Logan hear from Max.
"Hey, you," his computer transmitted Max's voice only two minutes late. That was a good sign.
Logan smiled at the computer screen. "Hey you. I've got quite a bit, but I also have something private for Alec."
Max nodded and sent someone for Alec. He was normally coordinating the lookout posts at this time of day. Though most transgenics didn't truly understand privacy in the physical sense, they all respected the need to keep their thoughts and (some) knowledge to themselves. All nonessential personnel cleared the HQ as Logan passed along the daily report. By the time he had finished, Alec's head bobbed in the background. All knew that Logan didn't waste time with trivial stuff.
Max stepped back and Alec's face filled the scene. Both waited.
"Actually, Max," Logan said, "this is really private. Can I speak with Alec and he can decide what to tell you?"
Max didn't like it, but she wandered away. Alec was starting to look worried. He watched Max leave the area and turned back to the computer. "What's going on?"
Logan raised the envelope so that Alec could read it on his monitor. Logan watched as the transgenic turned so pale that his freckles stood out. "What was inside?" Alec asked.
Logan held up the first message. "Just let me know when you finish each page."
Alec nodded, waited a beat. "Done."
Logan flushed a bit. He had a tendency to forget just how smart, how fast a transgenic could read. He dropped the hateful message and picked up the first page of the medical file. Alec turned even paler if that was possible. "Next." Logan lifted the next page and then the next page and then finally the fourth page.
"Next?" Alec asked.
"That's it. There's nothing else."
Fear, anger, and desperation all flashed across Alec's face. This piece of hate mail had provoked more of a response than a thousand others. It was one of the few times Logan had felt compassion for Alec.
"I will do everything in my power," Logan promised before Alec had to beg him for help.
Alec smiled, but only slightly. "Uhm… thanks?"
"Just know that this is going to be very, very difficult. And it's going to take a while. It'll be easier to find him once he hits school age."
Alec didn't like that news even as he understood the reasoning behind it.
"Just promise me one thing."
"Name it," said Alec.
"That you won't hurt Max with this. Secrets hurt."
Alec's jaw dropped and he blurted out, "I have never been with Max. She's… become my sister. She lied to protect you. So that you could move on."
Logan blinked. Before he could voice a response, Alec ended the connection.
Chapter 3: A Family in Hiding
The job was reminiscent of working with Max, but the current transgenic at Logan's side wasn't old enough, or pretty enough. Mellon had been deemed in good enough health to return to the mail duty with Brentwood. Ransom was assigned the task of being Logan's bodyguard while he ran Alec's errands. Logan didn't know how much Alec had told Max, but Logan was not sharing any information with those in his residence. The secret was safe. Part of him was relieved that the X-6's didn't go snooping and part of him was very annoyed that teens of that age followed their orders so well.
Though Ransom was Logan's bodyguard, she was not able to ride in the car, but in a special compartment near the engine block to hide her heat signature from the sector police. Since the siege, all sector stations were equipped with the monitoring scanners to catch any transgenics trying to leave. Since then, the battle was basically one of PR. In that case, Logan (Eyes Only) was the most valuable ally of the transgenics, to the point where the residents of Terminal City went out of their way to help him.
That could be part of the reason that the X-6's tried to follow Logan's lead to the spirit and the letter of the law. He had just figured that Max… or Mole… or Alec had threatened them into submission.
Logan finally arrived at the Berrisford mansion and was dismayed to see a somber procession entering and leaving the premises. Everyone was wearing black. On the plus side, it should be easy to talk his way inside; he was wearing a suit and Ransom was already wearing black. The original plan had been for Logan to leave the transgenic hidden outside the house for some nighttime snooping. Now that would change.
Logan tapped on the secret door to the secret compartment. After a thoughtful pause, Ransom climbed out curiously.
"We're walking in the front door."
Ransom blinked and waited for more information.
"Get rid of your cap and finger comb your hair," Logan directed as he reached to the glove compartment and dug through.
Ransom obeyed and watched as Logan pulled out a jewelry box and a long leather string. The necklace had been for Max, but she would understand if it was previously used (if she accepted it at all). Logan eyed the youngster critically. He wished that they had other shoes for her, since she was wearing her combat boots.
Oh well. "Turn around."
Ransom presented Logan with her back. First, he put the necklace on her and then he asked, "Do you have a knife?"
Ransom held up a knife and gave Logan a smirk at having asked such a stupid question.
Logan chuckled to himself and used the knife to cut the leather sting into two, unequal portions. The longer one he handed to Ransom. "Wrap this around your wrist, artistically, leave some string hanging. Oh and untuck your shirt and have your pants hang over your boots."
Ransom's face revealed that she didn't like being that much out of uniform, but again she obeyed. Meanwhile, Logan finger combed through her hair again. She stiffened slightly at the intrusion of her personal space and waited as Logan French braided her hair and tied it off with what was left of the leather.
"Let me see you."
Ransom turned around and faced Logan, almost at attention as she sat there. It wasn't perfect, but she didn't obviously resemble a mini soldier, or a cat burglar now.
"That will work. If you get the chance, you can find someplace to hide, but I'm hoping to be using you as a lookout while I snoop."
Ransom nodded once.
"Let's go." Ransom followed him out of the car and didn't stiffen as Logan placed a gentle hand on her shoulder for balance and to offer subtle directions. Logan considered Ransom's acceptance of him as a minor victory, just as he did his ability to talk his way in the door and into the main living area. To his great consternation, he had been correct in his guess: Robert Berrisford was dead. A quick glance of memorial literature revealed that the man had died before the package had even been in transgenic hands. Eavesdropping on others' conversations revealed that he had been 'under the weather' for quite some time.
"The poor man never recovered from his daughter's death," one woman whispered to another.
Logan made his way to the study. Ransom saw his goal and 'accidentally' knocked over a server passing out coffee to the mourners. While everyone was cleaning up the mess, Ransom included, Logan slipped into the empty room. He quickly made his way to the computer. Logging on, he simple downloaded the files onto a transportable drive to future viewing. Then he disconnected the drive and hurried toward the door. He knocked once, quietly and waited.
Finally, Ransom knocked back, indicating that the coast was clear. Logan exited the room, still pocketing the information. He adjusted his suit jacket and glanced around at the people milling about. "I don't suppose you can ID the housekeeper," he whispered.
Ransom turned her head, most precisely and Logan followed her line of sight to a woman in uniform, bustling around, directing the servers and stopping every so often to wipe her tears.
Logan cornered the woman in the hall. "Mrs. Linstrom?"
She looked at Logan warily.
"My name is… Alec McDowell. Mr. Berrisford sent me a package that just got to me yesterday. I was hoping to fill in the blanks."
Linstrom brightened. "Oh, yes. That was the last task Mr. Berrisford requested. He was so pleased to send that out."
It was something about her singular nouns that made Logan hopeful. "Did he send out the package to anyone else?"
"Oh no, just the one to you."
Logan smiled and relaxed slightly. "Do you know the location of Dr. Ono, or Dr. Berg, or Dr. Wick?"
The housekeeper shook her head at each of the names. At least she recognized them. "I know that Dr. Ono died last year and Dr. Berg received a job in France. Oh, Dr. Wick also died. I remember reading that in the paper."
"What about Nurse Laity?"
Linstrom frowned. "I don't know where she is. I do know that she had some problems with the police. I think Mr. Berrisford paid for her to leave the country. I'm sorry I can't help you more."
Logan was disappointed but he still smiled and said, "Mrs. Linstrom, you don't know what a great help you have been today." He considered all the people wandering around and who could overhear his conversation. He decided to push the housekeeper for more information. "What can you tell me about Rachael's son?"
Mrs. Linstrom turned cold and stern. "How did you come up with that?"
"That was what Mr. Berrisford sent me in the file," Logan admitted, with self-conscious smile. Anything to relax her and to get more information. "Information about the boy. I assumed that he wanted me to look after the child since he couldn't any longer. He knew he was going to die, didn't he?"
Mrs. Linstrom relaxed since the Master of the House –though deceased- had already taken Logan into his confidence. She wiped her tears on her apron and gained control of her emotions. "He knew, yes. He was dying and he wouldn't do anything the doctors suggested to lengthen his life. Once his daughter died, he lost his will to live."
"And the baby?"
"The doctors said that the change in body chemistry might wake Rachael up. They were grasping at straws, of course, but it was all the hope they had. It didn't work. Rachael never woke up."
"What happened to the baby?" Logan asked again.
Mrs. Linstrom thought about it. "I don't know. I went home hours after the birth, when there had been no change in Rachael's health. When I returned the next morning, the baby was gone and no one ever spoke of him."
"Surely you thought about it and maybe discussed it with others?" Logan prompted hopefully.
She shook her head. "No, oh wait. There was that girl. She had helped Mr. Berrisford with some of his legal problems from that awful time when some rather nasty people were upset with him. I don't know where the girl came from or where she went, but she disappeared the same night as the baby and never returned."
"Do you remember her name?"
"Pearl? No, that wasn't it. It wasn't Diamond. But it was a jewel. Ruby. I think her name was Ruby. I never heard a last name."
"Can you guess at Ruby's age?"
Mrs. Linstrom frowned as she tried to remember the woman. "She was young, close to Rachael's age, I would guess. Pretty. Dark, dark eyes and brown hair. But those are just my impressions. I'm sorry I can't remember more."
"Thank you, Mrs. Linstrom. You've given me someplace to start." The girl would be hard to find, but possible. The doctors should be easier. Logan spared a moment for regret that Sam Carr had had to flee with his family because of White and Max's clone. The doctor would have had a number of suggestions for how to find another doctor in hiding.
Chapter 4: Dreams and Desires: Family Ties
Alec knew that it was too soon to expect results, but that didn't stop him from pacing by the computer waiting for Dix to declare it safe to contact Logan. Alec jumped the steps as he ordered the little transgenic to do just that. Max watched, somewhat amused, even as she cleared the HQ of all nonessential personal. She had been nagging him in her spare time (what little of it there was) about the secret that Logan had told him. Alec knew that he would tell her eventually, but he couldn't just yet.
He was still getting used to it himself: he had a son.
And one by Rachael, the only girl he had ever loved.
Finally Logan came online. Alec judged that he didn't look beaten or discouraged, but he didn't look triumphant either. He did look determined and once again, Alec reminded himself that it was very early in the search for Rachael's son. He wanted to be the one searching but knew that White and the government were constantly trying to hack their internet connection. Alec didn't want to lead White to the child.
Finally, Logan completed his report and asked for some privacy with Alec. Max gave Alec a warning look, but left the room.
"The good news is that Berrisford lied."
Alec's heart stopped in his chest. "There was no child?" He had already claimed the child as his own. He wanted that little boy already.
"What?" Logan looked a little stunned. "No. No. I mean that he didn't send the information to White. He just sent it to you. I'm sure that there was a child. Berrisford had an OB/GYN specialist in the files and the housekeeper recognized the name. Unfortunately, she's dead, car accident last year. The main physician died of old age just months after Rachael. I'm trying to track another down, but he's in Europe and it's been a challenge. There's a nurse somewhere out there as well. I'm doing the best I can."
Alec glanced down at his hands; they were shaking badly. "Logan?"
"Thank you and be very, very careful."
Logan rolled his eyes. "I do have three bodyguards in the house."
But most of the time he left them at home while he did his errands. "Did you talk to Berrisford?" Alec finally ventured.
"No." Logan glanced away from the screen. "The housekeeper, like I said. Berrisford died right after he sent you the package. I managed to download his hard drive, but it looks like he mostly wiped it clean. I'm not finding much about Rachael's convalescence." Logan paused again. "I have found several pictures of Rachael on the hard drive, if you are interested."
"I'm interested," Alec blurted out. "Just… send them by courier. I don't want that online."
"I have a couple leads, but not a lot to go on. I'll let you know what I find."
Logan didn't ask to speak to Alec for another week. He sent a couple pictures of Rachael via Ransom, some small enough to keep on his person, others big enough to lean against his lamp in his berth. He kept one picture of Rachael in his pocket. It didn't matter if White caught him with it, since she was already dead and safe. Alec liked to take the picture out and remember the fun times with the girl. He clung to the hope that picture represented. He sometimes identified facial features of his own and of Rachael and tried to combine them and imagine the child's possible face.
Alec got antsy waiting for Logan, the pictures could only distract him so much. Max gave him three missions. Alec accepted the two complicated ones but passed on the death trap. He did end up being the one leading the charge to rescue the other transgenics from the death trap. They had several skirmishes with White and the cops. The National Guard was being flown in to assist. As a City, they were hoping to see some soldiers that they had served with on the other side of the fence. Chances were good if they served with the soldiers, they had saved their lives. They might end up with some allies on the other side.
Seattle was hoping to outlast them, but they had no concept of the training they had endured. One quiet night found Max and Alec watching the siege in the shadows topping the building.
"What's the big secret with Logan," she finally asked outright.
"Rachael related." Literally, now that Alec considered it. It was a bad pun; Dix would find it funny if Alec ever told him.
"Oh." Max seriously considered leaving the conversation on that note, Alec could see it. She didn't speak for a while. Then her curiosity and boredom won over her sense of privacy rights. "What about her?"
"She… birthed my child while… in a coma."
Max blanked. It was as unexpected for her as it was for him. "Whacked," she murmured.
"So where is the kid?"
"I don't know. Logan's looking."
"Logan will find 'em," she boasted confidently.
Alec merely nodded.
"So boy? Girl? Name?"
"Boy. No name."
Now Max's faith wavered a bit. "How is Logan going to find him?"
"He's trying to track down the nurse and the surviving doctor. Both of them are out of the country. Berrisford didn't give me any paperwork concerning the child at all."
Seeing as the paperwork that the man had sent had been medical reports, it was a bit disconcerting. The baby might be dead and they would never know. They were lucky to know about the child at all and to know its sex was even a bonus. "So what are you going to name him?" Max asked to change the subject.
"It's been over a year. I'm sure the kid has a name by now."
"But it isn't the name you gave him," she argued. "You're his family. Your name is important too. So what are you going to name him?"
Alec shrugged, trying to ignore the question, the sense of belonging, the mourning for something that was never his to begin with. "Simon," he finally whispered. "I want the boy to be everything that Rachael thought I could be."
The sun rose and the two transgenics returned to duty. Alec simmered in silence as he waited for Logan to find his son. He knew that Logan was working as fast and as many hours as possible, but he wasn't having any luck finding a 'Ruby' of the correct age with a son. His best lead was still the doctor in Europe.
Alec considered trying to fly to Europe himself, but he had duties here. There was always the chance that White would know and send Cult members after him and then Alec would be endangering his son. Alec would rather take a bullet to the brain than to bring harm to Rachael's son. He was not going to screw up his chance with Rachael again.
He could only wait and depend on a normal human to find his family.
Chapter 5: Family Practice
It was starting to get dark and the Carr family had just crossed over into the South Dakota border when they simply couldn't drive any further. After Max's clone had advised him to get out of town, Sam had tipped off Logan, grabbed his family and ran. They had been running since. It was dangerous to be outside of a city or town at night unless you were the predator and not the prey. Sam didn't delude himself into believing that he could be the predator. So when Sam saw the signs of civilization, including men at a blockade with guns, he was relieved and only a little worried that the town wasn't on any map.
He obediently rolled down the window when the grizzled man in charge motioned to him.
"Whadda ya want?" the man snarled.
"Just some place to stay the night. My daughter's tired."
The man glanced at Savannah in the backseat and softened just a touch. Sam's daughter was still looking frightened at being forced to leave behind nearly everything and everyone in the middle of the night. Sam didn't think he could explain to her the politics and secrets associated with the transgenics and Eyes Only. His wife only knew the bare minimum.
The sentry in charge looked behind him at the man talking to two young children on the edge of the forest. The second man listened to both of the children and then gave two thumbs up. How odd.
"Jo rents out rooms," the man finally said to Sam and pointed in an easterly direction. "The Roadhouse is just off the square."
Sam's relief was written all over his face. "Thank you."
The man just grunted and waved them through the temporarily open gate. Sam followed the road through the wooded area and over a set of dilapidated and deserted train tracks. The town square was easy enough to recognize. Sam was impressed with the solid buildings surrounding it. Most looked residential, but that brick building across the green could be the school. Everything was small, but Sam knew that the town population was small as well. His wife, Susan, pointed to a larger, two-story building with the sign 'Jo's Roadhouse.' Sam had to check twice in the twilight to see if 'Jo' was missing the 'e' on purpose or due to some accident. In the end, he decided that it didn't matter.
He gave his wife forty dollars cash to hide in various pockets; so as to not to look like they had a lot of money. Their cash on hand had to last for at least a year. Then he picked up his exhausted eight year old daughter and led the way into the building. He was pleased when he was almost run over by a pair of pre-adolescent boys as they exited the place. It was always a good sign when kids freely roamed around.
When they finally walked in the door and into the large tavern area, there was no sudden hush from the many people seated within. Sam knew that most were observing his family, but they weren't being obvious about it. There were a couple families here and there eating dinner. Others were talking over alcohol and some were drinking something that smelled a lot like real coffee. There was a girl in the corner with a guitar. She was a double amputee and had a tin cup for tips in front of her chair. The soft music lent the place a sort of friendly atmosphere.
But what truly surprised Sam was the row of computers on the far wall. Every one had been jerry-rigged together, but they were working and they were connected to the internet. Sam could see the newspaper articles on the used computer screens. It looked like a homemade, pre-pulse internet café. Sam had thought that those were a thing of the past or of the far future. He was not expecting to see something like it in the middle of nowhere South Dakota.
There was a sharp-eyed woman about Susan's age manning the bar. She waved them over. "What can I get you," she asked.
"We're hoping for a room. How much will it cost?"
The woman examined Sam's family and finally said, "One room, one night, dinner and breakfast, thirty dollars."
That was a good deal and Sam almost didn't want to haggle her down, but Susan knew better. "Twenty," she countered.
"Twenty-five," the woman replied.
"Done," Sam decided the matter. He shifted his daughter to one side and held out his hand. "Thank you, very much."
The woman shook Sam's hand firmly. "Think nothing of it. I'm Jo Harvelle. This is my place."
"Sam, Susan and Savannah Carson," he replied. "It's very nice to meet you."
Susan handed over the money with a restrained smile. The last twenty hours had been hard on her as well.
"Find a seat," Jo instructed. "I'll be right out with your plates."
The 'Carson's' nodded and watched Jo leave. Then Sam stepped to the side to let his wife decide where to sit. She chose the empty table in the middle of the room. Sam didn't try to urge her to a table by the crowded wall. She was looking for some isolation, not the safety of blocking people.
Jo returned quickly with three plates expertly balanced on her arms. The adults' plates were piled high with a meat, potatoes and gravy and some stringy green beans, Savannah's was less filled. Still none of them would leave the table hungry. Sam used a fork to poke at the meat. "Is this beef?"
"Venison," Jo corrected. "Preference on drinks? We've got milk, coffee, water, rotgut, gin, beer and hard cider."
"Milk for Savannah," Sam was quick to request. "I'd like… a beer."
Jo nodded and waited for Susan to make a decision.
"The cider, please."
"Be right back."
Jo was as good as her word. She returned with the mugs topped off. Jo worked the rest of the restaurant. She took requests and delivered food and drinks like she as born for this. She was cool and confident. Sam was impressed that none of the single men (and there were quite a few) tried to grope her. It spoke highly of the town that harassment of women was not commonplace.
The food was good. Sam was surprised at the quality. Susan was eating heartily, a relief to Sam. She normally tried so hard to watch her food intake. She thought she was thirty pounds overweight. It was closer to only ten over, but Sam knew better than to argue with his wife over her weight. Savannah was nearly asleep in her potatoes, but she was trying to finish her dinner. Even at such a young age and with Sam's education and 'wealth' she knew that her next meal wasn't guaranteed. Sam hated this world. Sam hated that he had endangered his family trying to do the right thing.
Susan reached across the table and squeezed him hand. Sam tried and failed to smile at her. Susan believed in him. She insisted that Sam's moral character had been one of the reasons she had married him. Susan claimed that she couldn't be mad when the same character that had caused him to chase a mugger away from a 'plain' secretary also inspired him to treat wounded 'normal' or transgenic. He had gotten a broken nose and two black eyes from that encounter with the mugger and had still lost Susan's purse. He had gotten the girl though. He considered that to be a true victory. Sam was still uncertain how this mess was going to clean up. He had his family, that was all that mattered. If he could keep them together and fed, he would consider this a victory as well.
Susan was slowing her eating and Sam had nearly finished his plate. Savannah had succumbed to sleep, her hand still wrapped around her fork and her head listing to the side. The din of the Roadhouse was constant and subdued enough that even Sam was afraid he'd fall asleep in his seat.
"Good enough?" Sam asked his wife.
She looked at her plate and decided that it was. Jo would have some kind of animal that would get the scraps. The hostess was obviously the practical type of woman that wouldn't let it go to waste. Sam removed the fork from Savannah's hand and lifted her in his arms. Jo appeared at the foot of the stairs with a key in one hand and a stack of folded sheets in the other.
"This way," she said.
Sam and Susan followed Jo up the sturdy, wooden stairs and to the landing. At the third door on the left, Jo stopped and unlocked it. She handed the sheets to Susan and the key to Sam. "There's an old recliner that folds out in the corner and I gave you some extra sheets and there's an extra blanket hanging off the end of the bed. You could put the girl there if you want. I start serving breakfast at five and close the kitchen at eight. Bathroom's the central door at the end of the hall. It's first come, first serve, but I don't have a ton of renters at the moment. See you in the morning. Sleep well."
Susan smelled the folded sheets and smiled in such a way that Sam knew that they were clean. Considering how cheap this place was, that was impressive. "We will, thank you," Susan told Jo.
Susan walked into the room and looked around. Sam followed and handed his wife the key to lock up behind them. Sam's first impression was sparse but clean. The bed wasn't as big as their old one, but it would be big enough for the two of them for the night. The recliner was worn, but looked rather comfortable. The single window overlooking the parking lot and the town square was clean and the window covering was worn, thick enough to keep out the morning sun and clean. The floor was wood with a single homemade rag rug. The rug again was clean and brightly colored. The colors even matched the quilt on the bed. That was a luxury few afforded. Other than the bed and the recliner was a single table with a single drawer. A candle accompanied an empty water pitcher and two glasses.
"Start Savannah on the chair?" Sam suggested. "If she gets cold or scared, we'll be right here."
Susan nodded and set the recliner up for Savannah. Sam was relieved to set her down and watched as Susan covered her and kissed her forehead. Together, Sam and Susan put sheets on their bed, shed their clothing and collapsed into it. Susan nestled her head on Sam's chest and fell asleep. Sam followed her to dreamland. It was the best sleep the family had in a while. Sam hadn't slept that way since he first started treating Max.
Sam awoke slowly and started exploring his surroundings. Susan and Savannah still slept so Sam took advantage of the quiet. He glanced out the window and saw that his vehicle was still in the parking lot and from this perspective it looked like all of their luggage was still inside. Sam looked down and noticed shells mixed with something white lining the windowsill. Sam ran his fingers through the line. It felt like salt. He brought it to his nose, but still wasn't sure. He knew better than to taste a mysterious substance. He counted the number of shells; he thought they were called 'cat's eyes.' He wanted to be certain that Savannah didn't pocket one as they left. It would be something that she thought was pretty but to just take it would be rude.
Sam turned away from the window and the faint sunrise peeking through the trees. He admired the hominess of the room again. He felt safe and comfortable. He returned to the bed and opened the single drawer of the bedside table. Inside were matches and spare candles. He picked up the pitcher and decided to fill it up with water for his girls. Susan would want to wash her face and Savannah's as soon as they awoke.
Sam opened the door to the hallway. The hallway itself was quiet. He could hear muted sounds of cooking drifting from the kitchen. Jo was already serving breakfast as she had warned. Sam turned to the bathroom and was pleased that the door was open. He filled the pitcher and walked back to their rental room. From this perspective, it was impossible to miss the white crystals that had been poured outside of their room. Sam crouched down and touched the crystals. They were the same crystals as those by the window. Sam also saw the cat's eyes mixed in. No matter how tired Sam had been last night, he would not have missed having to step over crystals and shells. Someone, probably Jo, had poured them there after the Carrs locked themselves into the room and slept.
In the end, he shrugged. He didn't understand it but it hadn't hurt anything. They were just passing through; there was no reason to get huffy about it. He might ask out of curiosity though. Susan always said that he came across as harmless as sleepy rabbit first thing in the morning. Sam wasn't above taking advantaged of the fact. Sometimes, he thought that was part of the reason why Max's clone had let him go, he was never a threat.
Sam checked his watch and decided it was safe enough to leave his girls in a locked room for two minutes as he ran out to the van and grabbed the family's overnight bag. He didn't know if there was a back door to the Roadhouse, where he could leave without revealing his family's vulnerability. He just promised to be as quick as possible. He strode quickly through the dining room. Most of the customers didn't so much as look at him. There were two couples by the door laughing quietly over their breakfast. Four old men were bullshitting in a corner over a checkerboard with mugs of steaming drinks. Six men sat at the bar eating breakfast and were pointing at a map that, if Sam wasn't mistaken, was of the town itself. Sam realized that he was probably witnessing the organization of the sentry schedule. A trio of schoolgirls with backpacks was giggling as they made their way out the door. They didn't have an adult escort before dawn, but he remembered the two boys from last night, running around after dark. He nodded in greeting to those that met his eyes, but didn't slow down. He reached the van, unlocked it, noticed that everything was in place, grabbed the overnight bag and locked the van back up. He was back up to his family's rental room within five minutes of leaving.
He finally breathed a sigh of relief. Being on the run was making him jittery. He knew how unsafe Seattle was. He didn't know how unsafe this town was. It was probably safer than their old home mostly because there were more people intent on doing harm in Seattle than the entire population of this town… of which Sam didn't even know the name. That was just it: Sam didn't know anything about this town. In Seattle, Sam knew which Sections were most dangerous and to avoid. He knew who to bribe to safely traverse, but here… Sam suddenly remembered that he hadn't needed to give the sentry a bribe last night. That was either a really good sign, or a really bad sign. The sentry could be a decent human being or he could be setting Sam up for something horrible. Considering his family woke in the same place they went to sleep, Sam was leaning towards good, but bad could still happen. If they didn't get the bribe last night, would they be expecting something this morning?
Sam had to get his thoughts out of the spiral they were in. He would panic and that wouldn't help his family at all. Instead, he focused on watching Susan and Savannah sleep.
Sam's girls liked sleeping in, so Sam indulged them both. He kept a careful eye on the clock, so that they wouldn't miss the breakfast for which they had paid. They had to be careful. Their savings wouldn't last long and Sam would have to find someplace where he could ply his medical knowledge without bring harm back to Susan and Savannah. There was any number of places that would accept someone of Sam's caliber and could pay for the privilege but normally they came hidden dangers. Not to mention that Sam had the obvious leverage against him of White and the government on his trail. Any employer of that kind of caliber would be able to figure that and Sam would end up doing horrible things so that his 'employer' didn't call the feds. Sam would have to figure some way to keep his family both fed and safe and whole spiritually.
At least Sam's savings would last to the East Coast and hopefully he would lose the hunted look that had both Jo and the old sentry caving to his needs.
At seven o'clock, Sam woke Savannah quietly. He just shook her and manhandled her until she was upright, also righting the chair she had slept in all night. He wandered around their room, knowing that Savannah's eyes were following him. He placed Savannah's clothes right next to her and the rest of the bag by Susan. He and Savannah had perfected their little routine for many days of readying for work and school. Savannah would be an absolute bear if Sam insisted on movement immediately, but if he woke her a little early and let her decide when to move, the morning were infinitely more enjoyable.
At seven-fifteen, Sam turned to wake his wife only to see that her eyes were open and crinkling with peace and a joy that Sam would never understand. He had just spent the last hour or so fretting over their situation, but once Susan slept on it, she was fine. She accepted it and was ready to move on in the inconvenient circumstances. She knew as well as Sam just how precarious their lot in life was right now.
"Fifteen minutes," Sam told her and then sat on the bed as his wife bustled out, and down the hall to the bathroom. By some sheer miracle that she repeated every morning, she was dressed and beautiful and on time. Savannah was dressed and her hair braided. Susan managed to make the bed and pack all of their belongings and the little family was ready to face the day outside of the safety of their hotel room. He unlocked the door and held it open for his girls. Both of them gave him a kiss good morning on their way by. Sam noticed that Jo had swept up the crystals and the cat's eyes that had been on the floor. Sam hadn't heard her.
The dining room had emptied even though it was only 7:30. Jo had a perfectly valid reason for closing the kitchen at 8 o'clock: she rarely had customers that late. Out of the dining room that had been packed last night, and partly full earlier this morning only three of the men remained at the bar nursing steaming mugs. Not alcohol, maybe they were drinking something caffeinated. Hadn't Jo mentioned coffee last night? Jo must have had a sense that they were up and about. She met them at the foot of the stairs with a smile. "Three breakfasts. Milk, coffee, or water?"
"Tea?" Susan asked hopefully.
"We've got a couple house teas," Jo remembered. "Herbal or caffeinated?"
"Caffeinated. And milk for Savannah."
Jo looked to Sam for his order. "Coffee," he quickly supplied.
"Black? Or with milk and honey?"
Sam could easily drink it black, but for a morning treat? "Honey, please."
"Sure thing, Honey," Jo teased just to watch him turn pink. She shared a conspiratorial glance with Susan and sauntered to the kitchen. Susan had picked a table –same one as last night- though she had the entire room from which to choose. The three men by the bar were nursing coffee were chatting quietly. The map Sam had previously seen was nowhere in sight.
Sam held a chair out for Susan and then for Savannah just because it made both of them smile. Jo was back with the drinks. She set them down on the table, along with napkins and silverware. Sam thought that they had a similar shine to Logan's set: he had true silver. Surely Jo wouldn't waste real silver on travelers?
"So how was your night in Ghost Town?" she asked cheerfully.
"Ghost Town?" Savannah echoed and wrinkled her nose. "I thought there was no such thing as ghosts."
Jo rubbed a shoulder with a floured palm. Sam could detect the soreness of an old injury there. "Don't I wish," Jo answered Savannah cheerfully. "But the town is actually named 'Ghost Town'."
Jo smiled at Savannah. "That's actually a very sad story. Maybe I'll get to tell you someday."
Sam doubted it, but Savannah was satisfied. It was kind of Jo to offer and to put Savannah off so smoothly.
Jo sniffed. "I think I smell the ham. Be right back."
Jo was right back and balancing three plates. Breakfast was a full plate of hot eggs, ham and potatoes, with a soft, stringy cheese covering it all. The cheese smelled different and tasted unlike any cheese Sam had ever had but he liked it and so did Savannah. Susan scrapped it to the side and enjoyed the rest of breakfast. This might be the best twenty-five dollars he had ever spent in his life.
Jo dropped into the free seat at their breakfast table and pointed at the cheese left on Susan's plate. "You should really eat that. That's really good for you. Whenever a cold is going around town, the people who eat the most of that are the ones that get the least sick. It's local. The goats, the process, it's all local. We've got several goat farmers on the outskirts."
Susan poked the cheese with her fork. "It's healthy?"
"I know, it doesn't make a ton of sense with what everyone said before the Pulse, but trust me: that stuff is good for you."
Susan tried the cheese and while she didn't enjoy the taste as much as Sam and Savannah had, she wasn't wincing at it either.
"So," Jo's pause was a slight warning that she was changing the subject. "What are you folks running from?"
Sam blinked slowly; he was trying to figure out a way to divert the nosey woman. He hated lying, but he would do anything to keep his family safe. He would much rather deliver bad news to a patient –or a patient's family- than to lie to Jo. He had managed to keep the medical treatment of transgenics secret not because he was a terrific liar, but that no one ever considered that mild-mannered Dr. Carr would have the guts to stay in the same room as 'monsters.'
Thankfully, Susan had always been the kind to wake up with an easy smile and a quick mind. "Running?" she echoed with a disbelieving smile. Only awake for fifteen minutes, she was still better at disassembling than Sam was after an hour of exploring and running out into the cold outside.
"We broke into your van last night," Jo said. "Doctor Carr."
"Why?" Sam had to ask.
"The kids at the check-point liked you and they don't like everyone so we decided to dig deeper."
"The children at the checkpoint? They… judged us?"
"Children often have a heightened sense of trouble than adults. We take advantage of that."
Susan glanced at her own daughter curiously. "How accurate are they?"
"And when they grow up?"
Jo shrugged and her smile seemed a little brittle. "Back to my question, Dr. Carr: What are you running from?"
"Did you call the Feds?" Sam asked. He was suddenly worried about his family's safety.
Jo snorted completely un-ladylike. "Hell, no. They are not welcome here. And if they even know we exist, they stay out of Ghost Town if they know what's best for them. We handle everything internally here."
"We're not looking for trouble," Sam started.
"You're running from it, why?"
"I treated someone that people say I shouldn't."
"Look. Thanks for the rental and the food, but if you can just direct us to a distributer of gasoline, we'll be gone and I promise that we will never mention Ghost Town to anyone."
Jo shook her head. "Gas is rationed here. Ben only sells it to truckers. More of a trade for some of their foods. Here is a safe stop for truckers coming up from Mexico to Seattle and the West Coast. It's the reason that we have a regular supply of coffee among other things. Because the truckers get their cargo to the end of their route because of us, we are very well supplied. We've traded their safety for materials."
Yes, Sam could see the truth in that. To tell the truth, he hadn't expected to be able to buy gas for another ten thousand miles and had containers of gas in the van for the purpose. He had just hoped to fill up in Ghost Town since he was here.
"We need a doctor," Jo said.
Jo repeated herself. "Look. We've got a vet and she despises working on humans. We've got a couple of people that can stitch up a cut, but we really could use a real doc. We would take care of you. We can take care of you. We've got a clinic with whatever equipment the previous docs and nurses left behind, which was mostly everything. You could live in the back of the clinic. It's probably not as nice as your house in Seattle, but you'll be safe. You'll never need to worry about the Feds, 'cause they would want to close down the entire town if they even imagined that we existed outside of their jurisdiction. None of us want that. We like being invisible to the Feds and want it to stay that way. They would probably throw most of us in jail."
Sam's jaw dropped at the sudden shift. Jo was not good at recruiting, but the fact that she was trying to recruit them at all was most convincing.
"Look. You still have to go through Ben, but why don't you check out the clinic and see what we can offer you." Jo grinned, now on familiar ground. "I can give you three more meals free and another night here to give you plenty of time to think it over."
"Would that be three meals altogether or three meals for each of us?" Susan asked. God, he loved that woman. She was so sweet natured most of the time but when it can to bargaining and bartering, she was a bulldog.
Jo grinned. "Altogether and if you stay I am so recruiting you to help me barter with the truckers. I feel like I lose every exchange. And then they come into my bar and spend most of the money that I paid them, so I guess it all comes out in the wash."
"Where is this clinic?"
"It's the brick building on the square."
"I thought that would be the school."
Jo looked at little startled at the thought. "No, we keep the schools separate, hidden from passers through. We don't have sign for it or anything."
"Oh." Sam supposed that it made sense.
"After we stop at the clinic, I can take Susan and Savannah to see the school. Meet some teachers and other kids in her class."
Sam turned to his daughter who was paying avid attention to the grown up conversation. "What about it, Savannah? Would you like to visit a school?"
Savannah nodded enthusiastically.
"Great. Let me know when you're ready." Jo stood and walked back to the kitchen.
Sam looked at his girls. Savannah was smiling and bouncing. "Do you think there are girls my age?" The smart girl understood that in a small town like this, the number of children in the different grades would be inconsistent.
"I saw three this morning," Sam told her. "They looked pretty happy to be going to school."
"Susan?" Sam prompted his wife.
She smiled. "I guess we can leave our belongings in our room. Locks won't keep them out."
"I checked the van this morning," Sam reminded her. "Everything was there. They didn't steal any of the cash."
"That's good." Susan gathered up her worries and put them aside. She stacked her family's plates and carried them to the kitchen. "Jo?" she called.
"It's not locked," Jo sounded amused.
Susan walked through and not thirty seconds later walked out with Jo. "Ready?"
Both Sam and Savannah nodded and stood. "Follow me. It's a pretty short walk. Well, no one drives around here. No one keeps vehicles, 'cept Ben. He'll buy yours offa you, trade you for some bikes."
"That's… nice," Sam delayed his answer.
"Too fast?" Jo smirked. "Here's the clinic. We figure they left most everything since we saw expired medicines when we locked it up." She got out a large set of keys and unlocked the door to the squat, brick building. She probably had keys for the whole town.
The clinic was dusty, but the many windows were big enough to let in light. It wouldn't take Susan much work at all to make it homey. No computer here, but that was too be expected. The files were well organized on an entire wall of shelves. He pulled a random file. These patients would be his now.
Jo noticed his attention. "I don't think those will help you much. Few of the original residents remain."
Sam returned the file of Jacob Passerello (seventeen, football player, had healed well from multiple bone breaks which seemed to randomly occur on Friday nights) to the shelves. He would need a census of the town to figure which files to keep and which to box up.
Sam moved confidently through the office, the exam rooms and then surveyed the back lab. He was impressed with the equipment. "I'm surprised they left it all here," he murmured.
"The Pulse made people do stupid things," Jo reminded him. "No one's been back since." She glanced at Sam's girls. "You can dig through here, Doc, and I'll walk Susan and Savannah to the school."
Sam glanced at the girls but they looked eager to leave him to his boring job. He gave them both a kiss and made Savannah promise to be good. The females left and Sam nosed around more. He found the pharmacy. Shelves and shelves of expired drugs. With a quick glance, he knew which ones to dispose because they were unstable and which ones could be used past their expiration date. The unstable ones would be dangerous to anyone who tried to ingest it. Sam found a big garbage can on rollers and dragged it to the pharmacy. The least he could do was toss the dangerous pills. Even if they weren't staying, disposing of these drugs would help everyone.
He had filled up the garbage bin and emptied half the shelves when Susan returned alone. "Savannah wanted to stay in her class and Jo had to see to her place," she explained.
Sam nodded, distracted.
"Have you even looked at where we'd stay?"
Sam tore his attention away from the pill bottles in his hands guiltily. This particular medicine had been scarce since before the Pulse. Would he ever need it? "Ah, no."
Susan huffed in amusement and disbelief and disappeared. She appeared fifteen minutes later. "I approve!" she announced. "Three bedrooms, a full bath –not counting the one for patients-, washer and dryer and running water. The kitchen is not as good as home… Seattle, but it'll work. There's a small dining room and a living room and enough windows that we'll make due without electricity."
"We'll have to ask Jo about that," Sam said. "With all the candles, they were prepared for none in the rooms, but every time I was in the restaurant, she had power."
"The school had full power too," Susan remembered. "And plenty of teachers."
"I'm going to investigate the closets," Susan said and she was gone.
"We sure we want to do this?" Sam asked his wife, when she had paused in his area again to seek his opinion of the clutter. She was bustling around the back half of the clinic, cleaning and sorting. Sam almost didn't need to ask the question; Susan bustled when she was happy. She was possessing the area.
She giggled, her first true giggle since Sam had wakened her in the dead of night and told her that they were leaving Seattle as soon as they were packed. "We can make this work. I will get to see a lot more of you than back… in the city." The woman was optimistic and way too good for him.
"Do you want me to keep the van?" he asked. It would give them a safety net. They would be able to leave in the event of an emergency.
Susan looked at the spacious clinic and attached apartment with no land. "And store it where?" she asked wryly. "There're only five parking spaces out front." At Sam's dubious look, she compromised. "How about this: Savannah's at the school. If she's not learning anything or the kids are mean to her, we'll keep the van so that we can move on when we find out more about the surrounding towns. Somebody's got to know something, right? We can stay here until we learn of a better town."
"Agreed." The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning and organizing… and hoping that this was as good as it seemed. They worked hard and the hours past quickly. Soon, Susan and Sam could hear Savannah running up the drive long before she hit the door. Susan looked worriedly at the clock. Savannah wasn't supposed to be released from school for another hour yet.
"Back here," Sam called.
Savannah dumped her jacket and her book bag at the door. Sam gave her 'parental look Number 5' and she grinned and kicked her stuff out of the doorway. "We're doing a science experiment with all sorts of seeds and fert-i-lizers," she said carefully. Then she giggled. "Joanna said that that's just a fancy name for poop. Each group has their own set of seeds and they're supposed to care for their seeds and have a control and measure the results and then we have to present our results to all the local farmers of Ghost Town and then those farmers will take what we say and follow it because science will make all of our lives better."
Sam, as a scientist, was thrilled with his daughter's excitement. Obviously, Savannah wanted to continue at this school and finish the experiment. As a man, he was a bit sheepish as he looked at his wife. "I'll talk to Jo tomorrow about the mechanic that would buy the van off of us. Later, I'll see him."
Susan just smiled and asked Savannah why she was home early and who brought her home. Sam vaguely heard his daughter talk about a special schedule and of her new group of friends that had walked her home so that she'd get there safely. He was more thinking about the Scientific Method and about the special, nutritional cheese that Jo had in abundance.
If he cleaned up the dusty equipment of the clinic and utilized the Scientific Method, he should be able to evaluate the amino acid concentration of the cheese. It would be fun to do a regular experiment after all of these years.
It was during another wonderful dinner at Jo's when the last of the residents stopped by for Q'n'A. Ben was barely twenty, tall, healthy and muscled. He was obviously respected around town. One man gave him the sentry schedule and another one came to him for permission to switch shifts with another. Ben introduced himself to Sam and the rest of the family and then suggested that the men go for a walk since the doctor had finished his plate.
Ben interrogated Sam during the short walk to the clinic. The doctor tried not to let his bemusement show, because of Ben's youth. He did hold himself like a transgenic… or a soldier, though. He told Sam about finding the connection between Sam and the transgenics. He didn't seem to mind that Sam had treated them. He asked questions about his education and his normal work hours. He questioned Sam's needs at the clinic and what would be a fair charge for services. He asked precisely for what services Sam could provide. Could he do surgeries? (Yes.) Could he treat common illnesses? (Yes.) What about cancer? (No.) Did he have experience with paraplegics? (Yes.) Ben conducted a thorough job interview before they even made it to the clinic door and he seemed satisfied with Sam's answers. He too had keys to the building and let them inside.
"What on earth?" Somehow in the dark Sam finally noticed the black paint on the ceiling and the salt on the windows that he hadn't seen during the day. He reached out a hand to brush the salt to the floor.
"Stop," Ben ordered. "Either you leave the salt on the window stills or you leave. It's for your own protection."
Sam was confused. "What does it protect against?"
"The supernatural," Ben said shortly. "Look, I don't expect you to believe me and frankly, I don't care, but this is how the town runs. Every building is protected against the supernatural."
"The supernatural," Sam echoed dumbly.
"Yes." Ben offered no other explanation. He did say, "We want you to stay. We do. The girls at school already think the world of Savannah. You passed Jo's BS meter and you'd be useful, but if you or your wife can't leave the protections alone, you'll have to leave."
Sam frowned in confusion. "I'll have to talk it over with my wife," he said finally, but he was pretty sure she wanted to stay.
Sam had noticed that there were no other vehicles on the road. There were bike racks everywhere, but very few cars. Jo had been telling the truth, but then she really had never lied to Sam and his family. So they probably could keep the van in one of the parking spaces in front, just in case. Savannah loved her school and her teachers and she looked worried every time she saw the family vehicle. She knew that it implied that they could leave at any moment and she hated that idea. She would relax once it was gone.
Susan had befriended Jo and trusted her. She believed that they were safe here. The town protected them from both the natural and the supernatural. The residents' superstitions were pretty easy to ignore, especially for Susan. Sam could literally see his wife bite her tongue every time she saw the van. She wanted to stay as well. She was trying so hard not to nag and was only successful fifty percent of the time. He had checked and rechecked the results of his experiment with the goat cheese. The results remained the same: it had an exceedingly high concentration of tryptophan and other nutrients.
Sam had already had two patients offer goat cheese in exchange for his services. He got the feeling that there was an abundance of cheese in town, so much so that some of it went bad before being eaten. All of Sam's black market contacts were in Seattle. Hell, all of Sam's contacts were in Seattle. It would be easy –or at least, easier- for the transgenics to obtain the medical supplies that Sam would need and they did need a steady source of tryptophan. It would be an equitable exchange.
Sam would be able to help his friends if he stayed. It would be easier to gain the trust of his new neighbors if he surrendered his van. He hadn't driven it once since parking it outside the clinic when they had moved it. If Sam didn't want to give it up, he would still have to empty the gas tank and the oil reservoir to save the motor.
He waited a week for something to go wrong. The worst thing that happened was an old cuss of a patient broke his leg. The man was not pleased with Sam, but he was pleased with the diagnosis that he'd be able to walk with a limp, if he managed to stay off it. Sam bet that he'd be trying to maneuver around within a week. He knew the type.
Sam had no reason to keep the van. He hadn't seen a single indication of federal involvement in town. The town council took care of everything. An old lawyer had been elected judge and she had already visited Sam and Susan and taken their information for jury duty. It didn't happen often, but all court decisions were by jury.
So Sam asked Jo for directions to the mechanic's shop, removed anything of value from the van and drove it to the garage. Once he got close, it was easy to identify it: it was the only building surrounded by cars. The bay door was up, so Sam parked there and walked in. He could hear someone rattling under the station wagon.
"Hello?" he called.
"Be with you in a minute," a man answered back.
He stood in the doorway and resisted the urge to poke around.
Finally, the man poked his head out from under the car. He was about Sam's age, dark blond hair, a strong chin and a streak of grease across his forehead. He looked rather familiar, but Sam couldn't place him. He pushed the low-support-on-wheels (Sam had no idea what mechanics actually called it) out from under the car enough that his muscular upper body was exposed. "Can I help you?" he asked.
"I'm Sam Carr."
"The new doc," he supplied. "Jo and Ben both had good things to say about you."
Sam blushed slightly. "That's good to know."
"I'm Dean," he said. "Ben's father." Sam willingly shook his filthy hand and then got out of the way. Dean pushed his equipment even further out from the car and Sam immediately noticed the lack of movement of Dean's legs. When Dean hauled himself off of the ground and into a nearby wheelchair with ease, it was only confirmation to Sam's assumption: Dean was paralyzed.
"What exercise regiment do you do?" he asked.
Dean looked bemused. "Excuse me?"
"You have extremely well toned legs for a paraplegic."
Dean looked down at his useless limbs. "I just keep them moving whatever way I can."
"I'd be interested in exact exercises."
"Maybe later, Doc. I know that's not why you visited me today."
"True." Sam no longer needed to hedge his answer. His family had made their decision. "I'll like to sell you my van. We don't need it anymore."
Dean grinned and it made him look years younger and even more familiar. "Glad you made that choice. I can give you a couple hundred dollars and a generator for the hospital for emergencies."
"Aren't you going to look at the van first?"
Dean grinned. "I was one of the ones that broke into it your first night here. I probably know the vehicle better than you do."
Sam laughed and didn't argue. He did barter a bit, trying to get extra cash out of Dean, but not too hard. In the end, both were happy with the arrangement and Dean promised to have Ben drop off the generator that afternoon. He didn't think that Sam would have much use for it, since Dean was also in charge of the electricity for the town and they rarely had a problem.
Sam left the van and walked home. He didn't feel any panic, or feel like he had just made the biggest mistake of his life. He felt safe… at home.
Since the Carrs were officially settled here, Sam had an old friend to contact.
Chapter 6: The Accidental Family
"Sam?" Logan was surprised and pleased to see his old friend and doctor online already. "You've settled down so soon? And someplace with an internet connection?"
"I'm sixteen hours east of the city."
"That's a little close," Logan hedged. He had wanted them to head north to Canada, or take a flight to Europe.
"It's three states away. We're in a small, rather closed community and they said that they would trade services for a doctor. And they didn't mind that I had left Seattle because I had treated transgenics."
"You told them?"
"I had three different interviews with the residents. I didn't even realize I was being interviewed the first time, when they let us into town, and then they searched my van, did an internet search and found me and they called bullshit on every lie I told them. It was like dealing with Eyes Only, only worse," Sam Carr grinned.
Logan was still worried. "Are you sure that they won't sell you out to White?"
"Logan, feds are not welcome here. I haven't seen a single one since my arrival, nor a hoverdrone. I've been here a week and I think White would have swooped in already if he had been tipped off."
"Sounds like heaven," Logan teased.
Sam laughed, looked more relaxed than Logan had ever expected. "It gets better. They had a regular supplier of coffee that I get a cup of every morning. Jo's using it as collateral for anytime she, or one of her guests, need medical attention."
Logan's jaw dropped. "Are you sure it's not too good to be true?"
"Susan," that was Sam's wife, "is wondering the same thing. Jo has given me three patients already so we might be even. The residents set us up in the back of a defunct clinic –that they fixed up- and mostly left us alone. Everyone has been pretty friendly and helpful. They like the idea of having a real doctor. There're a group of kids that stop at the end of the walk every school morning to walk Savannah to school. The kids run around freely, like in pre-Pulse times and everyone keeps an eye out for them but don't really worry. Savannah has asked that Susan stop waiting outside the school for classes to end since that only happens for babies."
Logan laughed. "Anything else?"
"They've got a patrol schedule posted at Jo's, to keep an eye on all the people coming and going. It looks like residents are by invite-only. They even screen those passing through. Susan and I are excused from that job because of our jobs at the clinic –which is a nice way of saying that they don't trust us to make that decision yet, but nearly everyone else takes a turn, or trades out of it. Women as well as men."
"Plus a good internet connection." Logan was really impressed with that.
Sam nodded. "And get this. They haven't had a brownout since we got here."
Logan was stunned. "How do they accomplish that?"
"I don't know. They haven't trusted me with that information yet. I do know that 'Mr. Ben' and his father are responsible for the electricity and the internet connections. I know that they have hydropower near the internet tower, but there's another plant that has some sort of alternative power source on the other side of town. Since my clinic is also going to be a hospital of sorts, they dropped off a gas-powered generator for emergencies. They also gave me some gas."
"All that?" Logan shook his head in disbelief. "No wonder it's by invite only."
"Actually, Logan, I had another reason for contacting you."
"You need me to run background checks on your neighbors?" Logan guessed.
"No… no. I don't think I want to know that right now." Sam tilted his head as he considered the offer though. "Around here, there are a lot of farms, cows, but especially goats. Which means a lot of goat milk. I tested it and it seems to have a higher than normal concentration of amino acids. The residents make it into this really nutritional cheese."
Logan was quick on the uptake. Milk amino acids meant tryptophan and cheese was very transportable. Sam couldn't spell it out in case someone was eavesdropping. He also knew that the transgenics would be very interested. Ames White had stopped all shipments of the supplement to Seattle in hopes of forcing the transgenics into a confrontation. He was also monitoring all tryptophan transactions within a hundred or so mile radius of the city. "You're hoping to trade that outside of town?"
Sam nodded slowly. "For cash, so that I can get whatever meds that I need for the town or for the medicines themselves." Sam would have to buy everything on the very expensive black market in the future and for the whole town.
"I'll definitely pass that information along and let you know when someone is coming to make the trade."
Sam smiled. "Do that so that I can pass it onto the patrol to expect them. And I'll put up a sign that I'll be accepting goat cheese for services rendered."
With that taken care of, Logan turned to more serious matters. "Actually, I'm glad you called. I'm trying to track down a different doctor on the run. He might or might not realize that he's supposed to be keeping a low profile. What's the most likely way he'll slip up?"
"Doesn't know he's in hiding?"
"A very rich man sent him to Europe and paid for him to stay there."
"Well, I can tell you one thing I would miss in Europe."
"My medical journals. In Europe now, all of the journals are in German. Before the Pulse, the medical community constantly had training seminars and symposiums to advance medicine. Now, we only have the main medical journal that is published every other month. It's thicker now than before the Pulse, but the case studies are few compared to the glut of information we used to have available. Doctors should never stop learning. I miss my journals already." Sam brightened and Logan was relieved to see it. "Oh, Savannah is learning the Scientific Method at school. They're using biology to teach it, but the students figure that it's useful because whatever their results are on their plant experiments will be used the following year to plan gardens in town. I think the school here is even better than the pricy one back in Seattle."
"There's got to be a downside to this place," Logan commented.
"Well, they're all very superstitious. Very. We were told to tolerate it or leave. They painted all sorts of symbols on the floor, walls and ceiling of the clinic. Every single, livable building in town has them. Strangely, church is something that only half of the town attends. Also strange: no graveyard for the entire town. There had to be one way back when, right? But there's no evidence of a graveyard ever being used in this town. All the dead are burnt to ashes and the ashes scattered."
"Are you sure you don't want me to run a background check on the residents?"
"By the way, what's the name of this utopia?"
Logan threw his head back and laughed. "Is it haunted?" he asked cheerfully.
"I haven't seen a single ghost," Sam said good-naturedly.
"Let me know when you do."
"I will. You have my e-mail address now, so contact me when you need me."
"You too," Logan chided his friend.
They said their good-byes and Logan hung up still chuckling. Ghost Town. Why would anyone name a place so good Ghost Town?
Chapter 7: Family Double Dare
Terminal City was a buzz with excitement. Logan had called. Carr was safe, three states away and wanted money for the black market medicines. The transgenics decided to skip the middleman and hit a medical supply truck heading for White. It served two purposes: annoyed and deprived White and got Carr the best medicines on the West Coast.
The operation went down without a hitch. The transgenics got the cargo without any witnesses, repackaged it so that it took up half as much space (the Manticore spatial relations testing made transgenics awesome packers) and then packed it all into a van chosen for the trip. They even had time to send a transgenic to the hospital and grabbed all of the Medical Journals that Carr was missing.
Gem was given the keys to the van and a mission to get her and Reggie to Ghost Town, South Dakota. Gem was outside of Seattle's city limits before White knew the transgenics had stolen his supplies.
Gem knew that there were many reasons she was picked to sneak out of Terminal City and Seattle and drive to Ghost Town, South Dakota. The main one was Reggie, her daughter. Yes, she had named her daughter after 'Normal,' much to the surprise of those who knew the man, but Reggie and Gem probably would not have survived without him. With Dr. Carr now sixteen hours away, Normal was the mid-wife of choice for the transgenics. He had been horrified by the realization, but he never transferred his anger at being kidnapped by Alec or Max to the laboring mother or the new child. In fact, having a namesake meant that the crotchety man would get Gem a sector pass and they wouldn't have to strain Eyes Only finances.
Since Gem was easily Reggie's mother, she was often discounted as a transgenic. The baby also gave her an apparent weakness. No one assumed that Gem could take care of herself. They underestimated her every time.
Reggie was also someone who couldn't pull her own weight in a place like Terminal City. She was a liability that they couldn't afford. If Gem could use Reggie to make allies in Ghost Town, transgenics would have a safe place to which they could flee.
Knowing that Dr Carr would protect her when she finally arrived to sleep, Gem drove through the night, stopping only to feed her daughter. It was the early morning when Gem approached the territory of Ghost Town. Logan had briefed her on what to expect. Gem had kept her eyes open for sentries and fences or blockades. She hadn't seen anything. Where was the patrol? It should be here: this was the main road coming in from the west.
At the top of the next hill, she saw…
No, that couldn't be right.
Gem strained her eyes. She glanced at the van's clock. 0430. What were children doing playing in the middle of the road? The one headlight of her vehicle caught their attention. (The transgenic had disconnected the other light so that she could use her own cat-vision. She had left one light so that others could see her and she'd look less suspicious.)
The children made no move to get out of the road. They stood there waiting for Gem to slow down and stop. They crowded the van, hanging on the windows. Gem rolled down the driver's side window, full of a cat's curiosity. She was greeted with a barrage of questions.
"Why are you trying to get into town?"
"Is that a baby in the backseat?"
"Is it a girl or a boy?"
"It's a girl, stupid," another answered.
"What's her name?"
"What's your name?"
"Where are you coming from?"
"Do you know that one of your lights're out?"
"How long are you staying?"
"Where are you staying?"
"Do they know you're coming?"
"How come your van's got all those boxes?"
"What're in them?"
They never gave her a chance to answer a question, but that didn't seem to stop them from asking more. Gem had to laugh at them. That sparked a breath of silence.
"My name is Gem," she told them. "My daughter, Reggie, and I are here to see Dr. Carson."
"He's not up yet," one little girl told her seriously. "And his name is Dr. Carr."
A man trudged out of the woods. He appeared to be fifty years of age with a graying beard and hair. His eyes were dark and not hidden from transgenic sight by the cap he had pulled low. "Kids," he huffed. "We discussed this."
The children converged on him, their excited words telling everything they had learned from Gem. The transgenic had to be impressed with their report. A couple of the older children conversed with the older man too quietly for Gem to hear them. How could they hear each other? Finally their spokesman stepped forward. "Get." He said to Gem. "The town's that-away. Ben will meet you in the square."
As one, all the children stepped away from the van to let Gem drive through. Gem took advantage of the space. She glanced in her rearview mirror and saw that the children had resumed their play. The old man was watching Gem carefully. Why would the adults in Ghost Town allow such a dangerous activity in the middle of the early morning? Gem could have been any sort of a predator and it wasn't as if the kids were transgenics who could take care of themselves. When she finally topped the hill, she saw the barricade on the outside. Two adults were opening it for Gem. Why were the kids playing outside the barricade in the pre-dawn hours with only one sleepy adult to mind them? Normals protected their children better than that.
A man only two or three years older than Gem was waiting where the main road dead ended onto a town circle. Gem pulled the van close to the man and rolled down her window again. She noticed that this man was carrying at least two hidden handguns and two knives in addition to the shotgun lazily resting on his arms. Why was he armed so and the children had been left in the middle of the road with little adult supervision and no guns?
"Ms. Gem?" the man asked.
Gem nodded. The children must have had radio contact with this man. Could the children possibly be escaped X-7's? They hadn't smelled like it. They hadn't smelled like anything in particular so they were masking their smell very well. X-7's were becoming more and more probable. "Ben?" she asked in return.
The man smiled at her, obviously liking (and appreciating) what he saw. "The doc's not up yet, but Jo's got the pot on if you're interested."
"Coffee and tea."
Gem had heard about rare substance. Several of the X-5's that had experienced it and enjoyed it, but not Gem. Reggie was hyperactive every time she had tried it. The caffeine was transferred through her milk. Since she had overheard the Ghost Town briefing, Max had handed her a wad of cash with the hopes that Gem could barter for a couple bags to present to Logan. "Yes, please."
Ben waved her over to the Roadhouse parking lot and waited while Gem unhooked Reggie from her ancient car seat, yet another practical gift from Normal. Then he held the door to the Roadhouse and let Gem lead the way. He scooted around her and walked straight through the dining room and into the kitchen where there was a coffee pot in the corner and a teapot hot on the stove.
"Coffee or tea?" Ben asked.
Ben pulled two mugs out of cupboard and proceeded to fill one with hot water. Then he opened an unmarked canister and filled a tea infuser. That he plopped into the hot water. Next he prepared his own cup of coffee. He pulled a study wooden tray from a bottom cupboard and placed the mugs, two spoons, a sugar bowl and a milk pitcher from the refrigerator. It was obvious that he was comfortable in this kitchen.
He picked up the tray and nodded back toward the dining room. "We really want to be out of the kitchen before Jo gets back to start breakfast for her regulars."
Gem walked back into the dining room and picked a table where she would be able to see all the exits. Ben looked amused, but just slid the tray into reachable distance and sat across from her. He waited as she checked on Reggie and then offered her the mug of tea.
"Anything you want to talk about while we're waiting?" he offered.
"Why is this town named Ghost Town," Gem asked out of curiosity.
Ben sobered almost instantly. Then he covered his tell with an engaging grin. "That's a story better suited for a late night and a camp fire."
Gen didn't understand. "Why?"
Ben blinked. "You've never told a ghost story?"
"Why would I?"
"It's a childhood tradition to tell the scariest story you know and scare yourself and all your friends."
"…And stories about ghosts accomplish this how?"
Ben gestured at Gem with his mug. "You are a transgenic."
Gem had a momentary thought that she should grab her baby and retreat, but Ben wasn't threatening. He simply made his declaration and waited. "And you know this because I am unfamiliar with ghost stories?"
Gem waited, but Ben didn't add any more intelligence to his assessment. "Perhaps you should tell me the story of Ghost Town, so that I might have a tale when someone presses me for a ghost story."
"Ghost stories lose something if they aren't told after dark and around a campfire."
"I believe that a good enough storyteller can create their own ambience."
Ben laughed and leaned back in his chair. "Challenge accepted. Before the Pulse, the name of this town was Brinton's Fort. It was the epitome of a small town: one school k-through-12, a post office and the number of taverns were only outnumbered by the number of churches. Most everyone knew everyone else. The grudges and the friends had been passed through the generations. It wasn't perfect, but it was good. Then the Pulse happened. While Seattle and Los Angeles were rioting, this town was organizing. Within a week, they had figured out what they needed and how to survive. They divided duties until they could be self-sufficient. They had everything figured out. They would survive the Pulse unlike few others. Even the children were involved. They were told to look after each other and the kids promised that they would.
"But they never planned for travelers. They never thought that the madness of the outside world would affect them." Ben paused to take a sip of coffee. Gem wasn't sure if the timing was staged for the storytelling or if Ben was trying to decide how to word the next chapter of the story. "Meanwhile, in St. Paul Minnesota a grown daughter loved her father. Her father ruled the mob and a significant portion of the Twin Cities by the time things settled down. The daughter wanted to make her father proud, wanted to show him that she could rule too. Her options were either to sideline her father and rule in his place, take out one of her father's competitors and rule in his place or to move a significant distance away and make her own little kingdom. Because she loved her father, she chose the third option. Because her father loved her, he gave her money, men, equipment and his blessing.
"The caravan wandered west. When they stopped in Brinton's Fort, it was self-sufficient and already a safe place for truckers. They had had a wonderful harvest with plenty surplus and supplies that the Twin Cities had gone without since the Pulse. The daughter decided that this was the place for her kingdom. She could have whatever she wanted here.
"The townspeople, though, had no interest in a self-proclaimed queen who neither knew nor cared to know them. They told her to move on. The daughter had never been denied a thing in her life and now that she had chosen her kingdom she would force the peasants to accept her. She had learned how to strong arm lesser mortals at her father's knee and even had a plan.
"She and her men surrounded the school the very next school day and kept the children –and teachers- captive inside." Ben took another sip of coffee and Gem followed suit with her tea. It was cold now. Very cold. Too cold for a normal thermodynamics equilibration.
Ben took a deep breath and continued. "From here on, the reports conflict. Some say that the kids were out of control and the daughter set fire to the entrances to keep them in line. Others say that the kids' escape attempt created the fire that quickly spiraled out of control. The fact is this: that day, the school burned to the ground. Every child inside died. Half of the daughter's men died as well. Those who hadn't died were hunted down and hung by the residents. The daughter was torn apart by mothers.
"The school's destruction touched every single resident. It tore a hole in the community. The survivors either committed suicide or moved away. They easily survived the Pulse, but could survive losing their children. Within a year, only handful of residents remained.
"And then the sightings started. Children, clean, happy children were seen running through town and stopping travelers on the road outside of town and questioning their intentions. And it was said that the town could not be found by those with ill intentions. The daughter's father had heard of her destruction and had brought an army to South Dakota to raze Brinton's Fort to the ground, but he never arrived. Some say he got lost and returned to the Twin Cities, some say that the children got their own revenge and made him crazy. What is fact is that the father never arrived in Brinton's Fort.
"There are people who believe in ghosts, that some ghost are very dangerous. They believe that it is their job to put them to rest. They call themselves Hunters. When they heard about the children, they came from all over the country to help. For the most part, Hunters know of one way to disperse a spirit: burn the body of the deceased to ashes. But the children were already ashes and they weren't dangerous. The child ghosts and the Hunters eventually came to an agreement: they would co-exist. The Hunters didn't want to live anywhere where the Feds were in control and the children wanted town residents who would never let bad people in. The Hunters worked with the few residents and built off of the initial Post-Pulse plan. Soon truckers were stopping regularly again and the community flourished. The Hunters built a newspaper and an Archive. The archive was mostly a recording, complete with photos, of the children who had died in the fire. New residents visit the archives regularly within their first several months because they want to know if little Billy who is their son's best friend is alive or dead. The families are long gone but the children remain. Most of them are dead, but they still play in town and they still interrogate all visitors. They still keep their promise to look after those younger than themselves.
"Because the number of ghosts is greater than the number of the living, the residents of the town voted to rename Brinton's Fort Ghost Town." Ben grinned at Gem's white face. "And that's how Brinton's Fort became named Ghost Town."
"That's quite a story," Gem acknowledged, "but still…"
"Hey, Cindi," Ben interrupted her. Gem twisted around and saw one of the children from the edge of town standing there. Gem wondered when she walked into the Roadhouse, since Gem hadn't heard the door open and she still didn't smell anything like a human being. Gem's mind was insisting that Cindi had to be an X-7 and was flatly refusing to grant any possibility of Ben's story being truth.
"Hi," Cindi waved awkwardly. "Gem, he's telling the truth and we like you and think you should stay." Cindi bounced. "You could marry Mr. Ben and have more kids like Reggie and CJ and then me and Becca and Sarah could watch out for them." As she mentioned her friends' names, they appeared at her side. Just shimmered into existence. "We promise to do a good job." The other girls nodded their heads happily.
Ben huffed in embarrassment. "Thank you girls, for the show-n-tell, but now's not the time for matchmaking."
"But Mr. Ben," Becca whined.
"Not now," Ben insisted. "Now scoot before you break Ms. Gem's brain. It's time for me to take her over to Doctor Carr's and he doesn't know about you yet and we'd like to keep it that way."
The girls pouted but disappeared. "Please come back to live, Ms. Gem," Sarah's voice whispered after she had faded from existence.
Gem was stunned.
Chapter 8: The Family that Dwelt Apart
Ben let himself into the house he shared with Dean and CJ and let out a sigh of relief. Gem had not freaked during or after the dog-n-pony show, but she still didn't believe, not to the point of acceptance. Ben was just glad that she wouldn't spill the beans to Doc Carr and his wife. Ghost Town desperately needed a doctor and the children had decided that Doc Carr was it. Each and every traveler or perspective new resident was dealt with differently in regards to the big secret. They were going to wait to tell Doc Carr.
He hadn't meant to blurt it out to Gem, but she had asked so Ben told her. Whether or not Gem would return after making the exchange with the Doc was completely up to her. For now, she knew the truth and she was safely at the Doc's chatting with the Carrs about non-supernatural things.
"Dean?" Ben called softly into the nursery/Dean's room. Ben was not going to tell Dean about the children's attempt at matchmaking. Dean would find it hysterical and Ben wasn't sure if he wanted to pursue Gem or not. Granted the love matches made by the children had yet to fail, but still… Ben pushed the future out of his mind and concentrated on the present. "Dean?" he called out again and turned on the TV to the newscast. Luckily it was already on mute. If CJ was finally asleep, he was not going to be the one to wake him. The child was already walking, just a few seconds short of running and climbing. CJ could and would try to climb anything. Ben had had a few nightmares concerning CJ's need for height. The boy liked to perch.
One nightmare had happened because CJ had woken and climbed out of his window and onto a tree. Sam had woken Ben up to save his 'nephew.' CJ was active when awake and way too smart for a one-year old. Even if Ben hadn't believed Ruby's reports of CJ's biological father being a governmentally created assassin (because she was a demon and demons lied), living with CJ would have convinced him.
"Hmmm?" Dean rolled his wheelchair slowly into the living/dining/kitchen room, a sleeping baby cuddled close to his chest in a pouch of his own design.
Whatever Ben had planned on saying was diverted by the news report on the TV and the mug shots being flashed across the screen in the name of 'public safety and public menace.' According to the news crew, the transgenics had stolen a shipment of medical supplies. Ben knew full well where the supplies had ended up. The news didn't supply actual proof of transgenic involvement, nor did they mention the original destination of said supplies, but the blame was being thrown around. All of the transgenics, even the children were to be considered armed and dangerous. 'Simon's' face –ridiculously easy to identify since he looked just like Dean at that age- was labeled as one of the leaders, with a larger reward for his capture, dead or alive. Ben muted the TV when the reporter started asking the opinion of those on the street. Bigoted idiots.
"What do you think?"
Dean smirked. "We were pretty sure that Simon was a transgenic. Just confirmation. It's not worse than the shapeshifter time. They aren't saying that he is a serial killer."
"Might as well be from what they are saying."
"Still, not a serial killer. And we both know to trust was they say," Dean reminded him.
Ben pointed at his father. "You are strangely optimistic." He paused and finally asked, "Do you want me to drive up there, recon and maybe help?" Ben didn't want to but Dean had trained devotion to family into Ben. Even if Simon didn't know it, he was a Winchester.
Dean shook his head. "No. The supernatural would just follow. That's the last thing they need in Seattle right now."
"You don't think the supernatural is already there, making it worse?"
Dean considered it. "You're right. Demons are there like college boys at a MTV spring break beach party. Still we wait. See what other hunters hear from there."
"Are we waiting for Sam to tell us the 411?" Ben asked suspiciously. Between Cas and Sam, Dean was a regular fount of gossip that he really had no business knowing.
Dean shrugged and pulled CJ closer. He did not like to share the baby with anyone but Ben. Sometimes Ben was jealous of the obvious love Dean lavished on the child. Other times, Ben knew that he was one of three for whom Dean would, literally, sell his body and soul.
Nothing scared him more.
"You know, we could probably mine Gem for information about Simon. She's got to know him."
"Mine… Gem?" Dean echoed with a knowing grin. "Whose Gem?"
"She's the transgenic that Terminal City sent to us with the medical supplies that the news just reported on."
"Is she pretty?" Dean asked.
Ben answered truthfully because if he lied, it'd be that much worse for him later. "Oh, hell yeah. But she's also a new mother."
"Well," Dean said thoughtfully as he handed CJ over. "You've got plenty of experience dealing with transgenic babies."
If Ben hadn't been holding CJ at that exact moment, he would have run screaming from the house. As it was, he held his tongue. He didn't want Dean to know that Terrible Trio (Cindi, Becca and Sarah) already thought that he and Gem were a perfect match.
Dean knew their matchmaking record just as well as Ben did. And he wanted Ben happy.
Gem followed the cheerful Dr. Carr around the clinic as he showed off his new home. It was bright, warm, and homey. It was unlike any medical setting the transgenic had ever experienced. It was a sharp departure from …Ben's storytelling. Manticore had trained their agents to be adaptable to unexpected circumstances, but they had also taught that ghosts and other supernatural creatures were fairy tales. At this point, the two different trainings were in direct conflict with each other.
Carr pointed to the corner where he had piled had crates of cheese. "That's the driest, coolest corner of the clinic. We should probably check for mold before packing your van."
"If the mold doesn't change its chemical properties, we'll take it."
Carr winced but understood. "The mold itself won't help you, but it wouldn't hurt you either."
"Good enough." Gem waved at the van parked nearest to the clinic door. "We should probably unload your packages first."
Gem swore that Carr lit up like an X-8 with their first outside training OP. Carr followed Gem to the van and helped carry everything inside, including Reggie. He looked tempted to unpack the cargo, but he merely put them aside along with his medical journals and helped Gem pack up the van. He had enough cheese to fill up the van the best way that Gem could pack it.
Sam stepped back and admired their wall of cheese. "Well, at least I know how much to save for you."
"I'll see if I can't get a bigger vehicle next time," Gem said. "How much would be a serving?"
"Two slices a day."
It was a reasonable serving size, but Terminal City had a significant number of transgenics. They would eat it within fourteen days. On half rations, they could manage double that. Barely a month, but it would relieve pressure for that long. "How long until you can gather more?" Gem asked.
"It took me two weeks to gather that much."
Gem nodded. She would be making regular trips. They would have to find all of the loose medical supplies in Seattle. She waved toward the supplies she had just delivered. "Would you consider that payment for two van loads of cheese?"
"Yes, don't worry about it."
"I must return," she told him. Dr. Carr understood. He stood by as Gem loaded up her daughter and drove away, back to Terminal City. On the edge of Ghost Town, she checked the rearview mirror and saw children smiling and waving at her.
She was going to leave them out of her mission report. Max would never believe the truth.
Chapter 9: Angel in the Family
Dean woke up later than usual. He basked in the silence. Then he realized that Ben was out with his patrol schedule and CJ should have awakened by now. He tossed back the covers, maneuvered himself into his wheelchair and made a beeline for the nursery.
Castiel was holding CJ. "Caleb James," he intoned quietly. "You will do great things and be an honor to your family."
"Dude," Dean warned. "He's a little young for that."
Castiel turned. "Dean."
"I am pleased to see you."
Dean twitched a shoulder. "I'm not totally pissed that you decided to stop by."
There was an awkward silence. Well, Dean thought it was awkward, Castiel probably didn't notice. CJ was awake in Castiel's hands, but not fussing. He should have been hungry but he was staring at Cas like he was fascinating.
Dean was never one to turn down true help when it concerned CJ. He wasn't stupid. "Since you're keeping him quiet, bring him into the kitchen while I get his bottle ready." He turned his wheelchair and maneuvered himself around the handicap-equipped kitchen. Dean was an old hand at CJ's bottle and Cas was wise enough to stand out of the way. He was as absorbed with CJ as CJ was with him. Dean wondered if CJ could see Cas's true form.
Not that it mattered, but he sure hoped the hell not.
"Why are you here?"
"The Winchesters are in the center of another supernatural war."
Dean jerked and was glad that he had already put the pan of water on the stove. "We are?"
"What?" Dean was confused.
"CJ's father. He was born with the identification of X5-494."
"That sucks. Tell me that he also has a name that's not Simon, 'cause I'm sure as hell not going to call him that or a number."
"He is now referred to as 'Alec'."
"That's better," Dean told the angel. "So you've been watching him?"
"Once I realized that he was a Winchester. It was only a matter of time before he attracted demonic attention."
"Has not occurred yet, but the demons are circling."
"Alec isn't ready for that kind of enemy," Dean worried.
"And if he's anything like any other Winchester, he's going to head straight for trouble, the most dangerous part of it."
Cas cocked his head in a familiar manner. "Oh."
Dean winced. "He's already in trouble, isn't he?"
Before Dean had finished "Son of a…" Castiel was gone.
Alec was getting tired of this scenario: him tied up and White threatening/beating/just being a pain in the ass. Seriously. White had gotten lucky had had managed to pick Alec up when he had been on a solo mission. Max was going to flip and then harass him until the end of time for constantly being the damsel in distress.
He did admit that this time, things were slightly different. White wasn't in charge and Alec had to escape if only to tell Max that piece of intel.
"Where is your family?" the man who was bossing White around demanded of Alec. White looked confused by the question.
Alec let his eyes widen. "Seriously? How stupid are you? I'm a transgenic. We're made, not born."
The man –he smelled of sulfur, Alec decided- hit Alec hard. Harder than he had been hit by even a transgenic recently. "You're lying. Where is your family?"
"I have a unit, not a family. How come you smell of rotten eggs?" Alec asked just to be irritating.
The man hit Alec again. Alec tasted blood and his eyes were doing funning things, black on the edges and white flecks floating through his vision. The man's eyes looked black for a second. Alec wasn't sure how many more hits his body could take.
A new man appeared –seriously appeared- and Alec must have a serious concussion not to notice his approach. Whatever door this guy entered through was still open and it must have rained outside. Alec smelled clean air, air cleaner than he remembered it ever being in Seattle for all it rained. It smelled like a fun outdoor op at Manticore.
"What do you know?" the strong man sneered. "I started playing with the fake Winchester and their pet angel appears out of the woodwork. It's like you're their guardian angel or something."
The new man made a motion with his hand and –must be a telekinetic- because the sulfur smelling man went flying into a wall. White involuntarily followed a second later. "I am," the new man pronounced.
Alec quelled a bit at the new man's sudden attention. He had piercing blue eyes. The man examined at him and didn't change his expression. "Sleep, Alec."
PsyOps, was Alec's last thought.
"Ow," Alec grumbled. He woke and suddenly remembered where he had last been. He opened his eyes and saw blue eyes directly in his face. Alec scrambled back, realized that he wasn't restrained and swung at the stranger. He connected and the man's head snapped to the side, but he didn't appear hurt.
What the hell? That should have broken his neck and his jaw.
"He is now uninjured," the stranger that Alec had just assaulted told someone else. He didn't even sound surprised or annoyed that Alec had hit him.
"So I see."
Alec shifted his eyes to the voice and was infinitely surprised to see an older version of himself in a wheelchair. His Old Version was amused. "Thanks for healing him, Cas."
"You requested," Cas stated. He laid a friendly hand on Older Version. "Call for me if any difficulties develop."
"Sure," Older Version nodded.
Cas lifted his hand from Older Version's shoulder and –without even acknowledging Alec's presence- disappeared with the sound of wings that Alec sure as hell didn't see and he didn't know that they were black shadows. What the hell? Alec knew for a fact that Manticore had never developed a teleporting x-series and he hoped like hell that the Cult hadn't either.
"He's an angel," Older Version told Alec.
"An angel?" Alec repeated dumbly. Like he was going to believe that. He snorted.
Older Version just shrugged. He didn't care if Alec didn't believe him. "He healed you and got you out of the compound. Though not in that exact order."
Alec suddenly remembered that he had been in White's compound and White and the black-eyed man had been torturing him. He had several broken bones at his last count. He hadn't been unconscious long enough to heal on his own. He might believe the possibility of healing… "If he healed me, why didn't he heal you?" Alec demanded.
Older Version's face shut down. Then he quirked his lips the same way that Alec did just before a massive distraction. Alec was prepared to hear a lie. Instead, Older Version said, "That's none of your business yet."
The 'yet' was a curious addition to the statement. Truth or lie? Did it matter? "Where am I?" Alec asked.
"Ghost Town, South Dakota."
Alec was really surprised to recognize the name. He let his emotions show on his face.
"Yeah," Older Version said casually. "That place where Dr. Carr and family lives and Gem visited."
Alec was impressed with Older Version's intel. "Who are you?"
"Dean Winchester, your genetic donor, Alec." Dean grinned. "But I'm sure you already figured that out."
Yes, Alec had guessed that Manticore had mixed this guy's DNA in with the feline and the other shit, but he knew Alec's name. "Who told you my name?"
"Cas did. You hungry?"
Starved, but he wouldn't reveal that kind of weakness. Part of him didn't think he had anything to worry about from an old guy stuck in a wheelchair, but another part of his brain warned that Dean just knew too damn much. Knowledge was a kind of power too.
Dean huffed and Alec wanted to believe that when he did it, he looked more handsome. "Alec, we're family."
"Look, I don't know what you think a couple similar DNA strains earn you but…"
Dean cut him off. "I'm raising your son."
Alec stopped breathing.
Chapter 10: Relative Madness: Twisted Family Trees
Those had been Alec's first words after Dean's revelation. It was easy. It was too easy.
Dean wasn't insulted. "Mother, Rachael Berrisford, father, Simon Trent, piano teacher. Their only son disappeared with a woman named Ruby the day he was born. Any of this sound familiar?"
It all sounded familiar. It was everything Alec knew about his son. "Come on," Dean invited. CJ's in his room with Ben. Ben's my son."
"Ben?" Alec echoed.
"Did Gem, by chance, mention him?" Dean asked hopefully.
Alec wasn't entirely sure why Dean was mentioning Gem. "Ben is a leader of Ghost Town. He easily spots transgenics without technology and he doesn't care about our origins. Of course, Gem mentioned him in her debrief."
"Did she say anything else?"
Alec tried to remember. "He's a good story teller and has some pre-Pulse manners."
"That's all his mom," Dean said. "Lisa raised him right. Is Gem coming back?"
Since it seemed like Dean wanted her to, Alec would suggest it to Max. "I believe so. She said that she would be willing to return to Ghost Town whenever needed."
"Well, that's something, at least."
"My son's name is CJ?" Alec turned the conversation back to important matters.
Dean shrugged. "It fit. Both were men who influenced me when I was a child. I respected them and I wasn't ready to name anyone 'Bobby' yet."
Alec was rather mystified at the explanation. "Can I see him?"
Dean nodded. "Just follow me." Alec followed as Dean wheeled his chair to the bedroom. The young man about Alec's age was holding a toddler securely. He was standing near the window, but not in such a way that a sniper would be able to get a shot. That, at least, Alec respected. The toddler, his son, Caleb James was nuzzling Ben's neck. It was probably a familiar scent, a safe scent. Alec wondered if Caleb James smelled like Rachael. Both males looked up at Dean and Alec as they entered the room.
"Alec this is my son Ben and my grandson, CJ. Boys, this is Alec."
Ben stared at Alec and Alec stared at his son.
"Let him hold CJ," Dean finally said. He was wheeling out of the room, expecting his order to be followed.
Ben nodded once. He stepped forward and offered the baby. Alec awkwardly accepted him and suddenly had no idea what to do. He hadn't paid attention to Gem and her child. What if he harmed his son?
"He's a baby, not a football," Ben muttered.
As sorry as Alec was to think it, Ben was right. Manticore had given all transgenics a ton of training in how to hide and control their excessive strength. He could hold his son and not hurt him. So Alec gathered his son close. The boy examined him with intelligent green eyes, his eyes and Dean's eyes. Ben stood two steps back, as if to spirit CJ away if Alec did something wrong.
"So did Castiel bring CJ to you?" Alec finally asked Ben. It was the only explanation he could consider where all the family ended up together. How else had Dean found out about Alec's son?
Ben smirked. "Not quite."
Alec waited for the other man to elaborate, but Ben was silent.
"Why did you and Dean really name him CJ?"
Finally, Ben quit looming –he must have figured that he couldn't intimidate a genetically bred super-soldier –and sat in a nearby chair. He was still smirking. "Well, a little over a year ago, Dean woke me up and told me that we had to drive to Seattle immediately to meet up with a chick he despises…"
The girl jogged through the Seattle rain and stopped at a parked SUV with handicapped license plates. The men inside saw her coming and Ben considered running her over after she delivered the package. The SUV had tinted windows and if the engine was idling, no one could tell. That was Dean's work. The passenger side window rolled down in response to her arrival but not in welcome.
"When I gave my allegiance to the Boy King, I didn't expect to find myself doing his errands after he died," she said.
Dean reached out for the baby, and tucked him in close. "Sucks to be you, Ruby." He started to roll up the window. Ben put the vehicle into drive.
"Don't I at least get to know what you're going to name him?"
Dean glared. His hair was speckled with grey. It made him look distinguished. And firm, Ben had always thought.
Ruby had witnessed the transformation. She didn't intimidate easily either. She was, after all, the Boy King's messenger, though he had a different title now. "Well?"
Dean cuddled the baby close, rolled up the window and waved Ben to drive.
They left Ruby standing in the rain.
"So what are we going to name him?" Dean asked his son. Ben noticed that he checked his rearview mirror and didn't feel a sliver of pity for the black-eyed girl they had left in the rain. They both knew what she was capable of even when she was 'helping.' Maybe next time, Sammy would get the hint and leave her burning in hell. Why he still used Ruby mystified Ben and Dean.
"Of course not," Dean sounded vaguely insulted. He turned his attention to the quietly sobbing baby. Dean dried the raindrops off of his face and the baby settled quickly. The vaguely blue eyes stared up at Dean. "If the father was a trained assassin like Sam hinted at, he wouldn't have used his real name. Hell, if he was a Winchester of any caliber, he wouldn't have used his real name."
Ben shrugged and maneuvered through three different sections of the Seattle, each time using the ID of one Mikkey Dee. He had only used his real name up until the Pulse. When his mother and Sam had died within days of each other, Dean had come for him. Over a decade later, Ben still didn't have confirmation as to how Dean had known about Lisa's death or how he had managed to find an orphaned ten year old in the chaos immediately following the national economic disaster and mob riots.
Ben guessed that it had been Sam, same as the source of the information for Dean's 'grandson.' Dean had swooped in one night, while Ben was hiding in the closet of his house as scavengers –the human kind- rifled through his mother's belongings. Even at the age of ten, he had been practical: he had already hidden all of the food and anything of value in the closet by his feet. He also had a flashlight and his handheld Gameboy. Thankfully his mother had one of those flashlights that you cranked to get the needed energy, so he could waste the batteries on his Gameboy.
He had heard a scuffle outside the door. He had heard Dean cussing and fighting. Ben didn't remember much after that. He knew that he had ran out of that closet and that Dean had nearly hurt him before recognizing him and then he had squeezed Ben so hard that it felt like he cracked ribs. Ben remembered a lot of crying and tears and not all of them his.
Dean had showed up and once again saved the day. Dean had set up a temporary base in Ben's mother's house. Then he proceeded to strip it of anything worthwhile. Things that Ben hadn't considered Dean evaluated as worthwhile; candles, the gas saved for the lawnmower, and the canned vegetables in the basement. Ben had breathed a sigh of relief that Dean really didn't mean to eat them anymore than Ben did. It turned out that they were worthwhile for bartering and if you were hungry, they did fill you up.
Dean and Ben had driven away from the house and never returned. Ben's life had changed in so many ways since his mother had died in a riot. Learning that Dean rarely had used his real name had been a bit of a culture shock drowned out in the rest of the PTSD that Ben had been dealing with. Since then, Ben had used the name of nearly every 80's rock band member that had ever lived. "So why are we giving him a name if we're not going to use it?"
Dean's glare was palpable and Ben immediately regretted the flip question, so he tried again. "Will we name him after Sam?"
"No." The response was immediate, but Ben had to wait for the explanation. "There's only one Sammy." Dean offered a smirk. "Like there's only one Ben Winchester."
Ben Winchester. Another one of those things that Ben never asked about and Dean never truly explained. It was only after the third person assumed that they were father and son in a week's period that he cornered Dean. It was a bit of a shock when Dean admitted that Lisa had said that they weren't related. In reading between the lines that Dean never spoke, Ben realized that it was a distinct possibility.
The next night, Sam Winchester had visited his dreams looking harried and hard but still amused. The nighttime vision was the first time Sam had communicated with Ben. Sam told him that Dean was his biological dad and if he ever wanted to make his father freak, he could call him 'dad.' Ben had only called Dean 'dad' when it conned the audience –be it a witness or a cop- more than any other relationship would. Dean seemed to puff with pride when Ben claimed to be family and Ben was scared that it was just an act for the con and sometimes he was scared that Dean was just as proud of Ben as he had been of Sam. The last thing Ben wanted was for Dean to treat him like he had treated Sam. Ben wouldn't let him sacrifice that much. Now there was this baby to whom Dean was sure to be willing to sacrifice everything.
"You don't mind that his father is an assassin?" Ben suddenly blurted out.
Dean shook his head. "Sammy explained it to me."
"You know how it is, we can't talk about what Sam tells us."
It was well past time to change the subject. Sam was something/someone involved in somewhere/something that Ben didn't understand and, most days, didn't want to. "What are we going to call him?"
"I was thinking about using part of his mother's name and part of the name that his father was using at the time and smashing it together into something unique."
Ben offered his father the classic 'I have no idea what you're talking about, so you have to explain it in small words' look.
"Rachael and Simon. It would be about the only thing he's going to get from his parents. Ra… mon? No. I'm not naming a kid after noodles."
Ben snorted back his laughter. "Sichael?" he offered.
"Too close to psycho. And it sounds like an angel's name which is even worse. Racon?"
"Bacon," Ben rhymed.
"I was thinking recon, but you're right too." A beat. "Keep an eye out for a diner. We need food too."
"Elsi?" Ben tried to put together another name. Naming the quiet baby was more important than food.
"Too girly," Dean automatically dismissed it. "Elon?"
"That reminds me of Elrond from Lord of the Rings. Elmon?"
Dean snorted, "Elmo. My idea isn't going to work, is it?"
Ben ran through a couple other possibilities. "Si…rac? Sim…ael? Rach…on? Rac…mon?"
"No. No. No. And no." Dean sighed. "Caleb James?"
The two men looked down at the baby and chorused, "CJ." Now that was decided and finally they left the borders of Seattle. They had sandwiches in the back of the vehicle. Dean's mention of the diner had been only to divert Ben from making fun of Dean's horrible name choice. They only would stop in an emergency. It was safer to be moving. The two were quiet for a while; they had a long drive home.
Finally, Ben asked, "What are we going to tell him about his dad?"
"I have no freakin' clue. We'll figure it out when we get there. We do have a couple years yet. Seven if he's anything like Sammy, nine if he's like you."
"Hey, Sam had the advantage. My dad's main job wasn't hunting the supernatural every night."
Dean just looked over at Ben and waited for the young man to correct himself. "My dad wasn't coming home to me from a hard night of supernatural hunting every morning," he said instead.
Dean huffed but Ben knew that the separation of his parents, especially after his infamous eighth birthday fiasco was entirely at the insistence of his mother. Dean hadn't put up any fight, but then again he had been a federal fugitive. And with his lifestyle, it wasn't as if Dean could have gone to the courts for custody.
Knowing how much that information had hurt and filled Ben with feelings of abandonment, he was most assuredly not looking forward to having that conversation with CJ someday. If he had any luck at all, he would be out of town on his own hunt and Dean would be left to deal with the inquisitive child.
Alec chased his son all over the house. The boy couldn't blur, but he would soon. Ben and Dean didn't seem to be lacking, even though they were normals. They could outthink CJ and figure out where he would go. Within an hour, Alec didn't consider calling his son anything but CJ. It just seemed to fit the kid. He had to admit that he didn't believe most of Ben's story, but he wondered about it.
Ben left the house soon after. He had work to do on the alternative energy tower. Dean promised to come help him later, but neither one of them wanted to leave CJ alone with Alec. The transgenic couldn't blame them: he was tempted to take CJ and run. He would be abandoning his unit, the transgenics, and Max. He would be isolating CJ and stealing him away from the only family he knew. Alec was tempted but he wouldn't do it. CJ tolerated Alec; he loved Dean. Dean loved the child in return. Alec had a price on his head; Dean was free and clear of the entire mess.
Dean was obviously the best scenario for CJ. It wasn't like Alec would take the kid back to Terminal City and have both his family and his unit.
Alec decided to go for a run. He would be able to clear his head with the physical activity and he's also be able to check the perimeter. Gem had commended Ghost Town's security, but Alec wanted to confirm her analysis. He wanted to know that the town was safe for his son.
So Alec jogged around town, careful not to blur in sight of the residents. He noticed some of the children that Gem had mentioned in her report. Come to think of it, Gem had made some omissions about the children. It was the one part of her report that skimped on details. Why? Alec decided to investigate. He looped around the building –blurring beyond the children's speed- to surprise them.
He was the one surprised. He couldn't find them anywhere. He couldn't smell them. Where were they?
He heard a giggle and followed. The giggle was inside the building. Alec tried the door and it was unlocked. He would just look inside and no one who ever know that he trespassed. He opened the door, expecting to see some of the boys he had been following but saw nothing. It was dark inside, but his eyesight could compensate admirably. He heard the faint sounds of electricity and screaming. It was so different from the giggles he had been following. Alec told himself that he edge closer to the inner doorway because he was part cat and curious. It was not because he was concerned that someone was hurting.
Inside the door, Alec stopped and stared. He was facing a huge room, occupied with children, some as young as five and the oldest about eighteen. They were screaming and yelling and disappearing before his very eyes. They would look solid one moment and be translucent the next. Electrical currents were visible, sparking from one node to another.
"CJ's Dad!" one little girl yelled across the room to him. Alec stared at her; she was very well informed. How could she possibly know that? Alec couldn't let intel like that spread. She waved at him. "You want to come over here," she told him. She was pointing at another doorway. Alec would have to cross the chaos of the middle of the room. The children were blurring, but not like trangentics, they were skipping across the room, not being there in the middle. Alec was completed freaked. "You want answers, don't you?" the girl asked.
Alec did. Damnit. He took a deep breath and ran across the open floor. He managed to make it to the other door without getting struck by the odd lightening. The girl had long since vanished, but since Alec was here, he opened the door.
The girl was inside the room, but Alec knew that she hadn't opened the door to get there.
Surprisingly enough, the room was occupied with two familiar faces. Dean was fixing a pile of wires in the corner and Ben was standing in front of the little girl chiding her. "You know you're not allowed in here, Joanna."
"Sorry," the girl said. "CJ's Dad is really good at hide-n-seek."
Ben looked up and saw Alec. "Yes, he is," he admitted. "Now scoot."
Joanna just vanished.
Alec had a million questions, but he asked the most important one first. "Where's CJ?"
"The Terrible Trio's watching him. He's taking a nap and if I tried to bring him, he'd wake up and be cranky. You noticed that he's also pretty mobile and would try to get into everything here." Dean waved a hand at all exposed wires. "This is not a safe place for a kid."
"What is this place?"
"It's somewhere where ghosts can come and let off steam. Otherwise they become destructive to other people, property and themselves," Dean answered. "We've managed to figure out a way to catch and use the electrical current they throw off."
Alec wanted to deny Dean's easy tone, but was stuck on the people (ghosts?) he had observed.
"Look," Dean said. "Go out there and chat with them. They're good kids. They'll talk with you."
Alec returned to the big room, the electrical flashes and the ghosts.
One appeared at his side and offered his hand. "Hi. I'm Jacob."
Alec shook the young man's hand and was struck by how cold it was. He was solid and friendly. Jacob was a teen and he was much bigger than Alec. He appeared stronger. Alec knew that he could best the kid in a fight… if the kid was alive. He was not alive. When he chose, he was transparent or invisible.
Jacob grinned. "Bit of a mind-bender, isn't it?"
Just then a really cute, curvy girl –no, a woman- appeared in the middle of the room. She screamed and threw lightening to all of the corners. "Now that's hot."
Jacob looked horrified. "No crushing on Mrs. Overby. You can't. That sort of thing… You'll go to hell, for that." Jacob told Alec playfully.
Alec used to be one of Manticore's best assassins. If Hell existed, this wouldn't even the top fifty crimes for which he would be punished. Before Alec could tell the ghost that hell was a construct of a human fear-based religion, Dean threw a screwdriver at Alec, like one would throw a knife. "You don't have worry about Hell," he said. "You've got a place waiting for you in Purgatory and you've already got an in with the law there."
Alec blinked. "I do?"
"Yep. Sammy will look after you."
Not for the first time, Alec wondered about Dean's sanity. Then he took all the ghosts into account and wondered about his own sanity. "Purgatory has law?" What was he supposed to do with a screwdriver?
Dean pointed to a corner tool chest. "Put it over there. And Purgatory? Tons of it and marshals and lawyers –I guess most of them end up there anyways- and courtrooms. You do good there and then you can get into heaven. You screw up and you land in Hell, never to get out. They have a one strike rule and the game –your time- there takes freakin' forever."
"How do you know this?" Alec asked.
"Told you, have an in." Then Dean rolled away and left Alec sitting there, holding a a screwdriver and his mouth gaping. Alec watched him go. He wheeled through the ghosts and the electrical storm like it was nothing. He rolled out the other door and was gone. It was obvious that he was heading to his house. It wouldn't take Alec and Ben much time at all to catch up.
Alec turned to Ben, who for once was amused by Alec and not resentful. "Is he crazy?"
Ben shrugged. "'Pends on your definition."
"Hell? Purgatory?" Alec quoted.
"Ghosts, angels," Ben shot back. Okay, Ben totally won that one. The child ghosts that protected –and energized- Ghost Town had been a totally new experience. And while Cas might not be an angel, Alec couldn't classify him as something that fit into a known category.
"If Castiel's really an angel, why hasn't he healed Dean yet?" Alec asked.
Ben's face shut down exactly how Dean's had at the same question. "When Dean wants you to know that, he'll tell you." Then Ben stalked off and Alec had managed to alienate his brother/nephew again. Alec really needed to stop doing that, if for nothing else than CJ's sake. CJ adored his… relative and the feeling was mutual. Alec knew full well that CJ would continue living with Dean and Ben. Alec had too many people on his tail. Dean had managed to raise a fine man in Ben, no matter if he blamed most of the good stuff on Ben's mom. He was doing a good job with CJ as well. It was the best thing for CJ. CJ was safe here and Alec could trust Dean. It wasn't like Alec had a clue on how to correctly raise a child.
Alec planned to visit every chance that he had dropped his tail, so he needed to make peace with Ben and that was challenging for a number of reasons. One being that he shared the same name as Alec's evil twin… that Alec hadn't even mentioned to Dean and Ben yet. There were too many Bens in this family.
He almost liked this one, but he was leaving soon and wouldn't have a chance to figure out what made the other man tick. Alec jogged to catch up and then fell into step with Ben as they walked up the driveway to Dean's house.
"Ben's taking you back to Seattle," Dean announced from his porch. "In an hour. Pack up whatever you need."
Or maybe Alec would figure Ben out. It would be a long car trip. Considering that Castiel had transported Alec via invisible wings and apparently wasn't available for a return trip, Alec was just happy that he didn't have to steal a wreck and turn an entire town of potential allies into an enemies. "Thanks."
Dean smirked at him like he could read his mind. "It's not just for your ride." Ben tried to walk past Dean and into the house but Dean stopped him. The two just looked at each other and it seemed like they were having a silent conversation. And they weren't even wacked like the X-8, supersonic conversations. Finally Dean smiled at nodded at his son. Ben continued into the house and Dean concentrated on Alec.
"So it's not just for my ride?" Alec prompted the old guy that had probably forgotten what they had been talking about. Or Alec was just being Alec.
Dean ignored the inference. "The demon that's working with White?" he said.
"The guy that smelled of sulfur? Cas tagged him as a demon. You can't get rid of him, but Ben can."
"Ben's a normal."
Dean glared at him and Alec felt like shuffling his feet like a young soldier getting chewed out. "I'm hardier," he stated. "What can he do that I can't?"
"Ben has over a decade of experience of kicking supernatural ass. You aren't sure that you even believe in the species you're fighting yet."
Alec didn't have an answer for that. In the back of his mind, he was sure that someone, sometime and somewhere had created Castiel in a lab and the poor guy had been deluded into believing that he was an angel because that's how his creator exerted his control.
"Thank you, sir," Alec said as respectfully as he could manage.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah. That's not what you really want to say."
"I don't do chick moments," Alec informed his genetic donor. "Dad."
Dean laughed so hard that he nearly fell out of his wheelchair. He was still chortling when he turned his chair away. Over his shoulder, he said, "CJ should be waking up now. I'll go get him so you can say 'see you next time'."
No 'good-bye' Alec noticed. Dean understood him in ways that even Max didn't.
Ben tossed Alec an impressively heavy duffle bag. He tilted his head to the open hatchback and Alec packed it amidst all of the other bags. Alec noticed a battered laptop and two books.
"Research," Ben told him. "And some light reading for you."
"What do you mean, 'for me'?" Alec asked. "I'm going to be driving."
"Not my car, you're not. Throw your shit in the passenger's seat."
It was time to leave. Ben had his SUV packed. He had a glove box of truly impressive IDs and Sector Passes Alec had found as he explored his temporary territory. The transgenic had been jealous until Ben handed him his own box. Alec grinned, "For me? You shouldn't have."
"If I hadn't, you would have tried to steal mine."
"Maybe," Alec admitted.
"Boys, be good," Dean called. He was rolling up to Ben's SUV, CJ in his special pouch. "Good thing I have good instincts, the boy was trying to climb out of his crib again." He stopped his wheelchair and handed CJ to Ben. Ben hugged the boy and passed him to Alec. Alec concentrated on his son… his son! and ignored Ben and Dean's private conversation. Another father and son saying goodbye… no, 'see you later.' Alec would keep Ben alive for Dean. Alec squeezed CJ and scented his neck. CJ scented his neck in return. They were family, no matter what happened next. Reluctantly, Alec released CJ and handed the baby to Dean.
Dean took the baby but nabbed Alec's neck while he was close. "Don't be a stranger," Dean ordered. "Don't be an idjet. Listen to Ben, he knows the score."
Dean grinned at him. "Go give them hell."
Epilogue: Family Law
There was a pause in the pain. The pause stretched to a moment and then a heartbeat. The heartbeat lengthened to breath.
Ben looked up wondering what new torture this was. A tall man in a suit was ordering around Ben's torturer –who currently resembled Max. Ben's torturers refused to surrender X5-493. They never called him by his chosen name. Standing at the tall man's side was that girl, the one who had watched so much of his pain. Her black eyes were watching now, but they were more wary and her hand was tight around the knife.
Finally Ben's torturer relented and submitted to the suit.
"Cut him down," the suit ordered the girl. She obeyed.
It hurt. Oh, it hurt to be off the rack. Ben spent precious minutes breathing and trying not to scream as circulation returned to his bloody arms. Now would be a perfect time to escape and evade, if only he could work his limbs. "Do you want to go to the High place, Ben?" the suit asked.
"Yes," he gritted out the truth. He wondered how this was going to turn on him.
"You help me keep the peace and they'll let you into the High Place."
Manticore had used similar terminology. "Who do I have to kill for you?"
"No one, Ben. Those we deal with are already dead. We just capture them and bring them to court. Think you can follow my orders and do that?"
"Will I be helping the Blue Lady?" he asked.
"At times, directly." One thing about this place –this Hell- was that truth was told because often it hurt more than lies. You'll never leave. You'll never work for the Blue Lady. She has abandoned you to us. You betrayed her and she lets us punish you for it.
Ben believed the stranger. "I will follow your orders."
The tall man smiled and there was more innocence and joy in that smile than the rest of Hell. "Good. You screw up and you'll be back here and you'll never get out again. Come."
Ben followed the stranger. The girl with the odd knife took drag. The journey out was painful in different ways. He saw all those staying behind. He heard all the curses hurled at his protectors. He heard the screams that never stopped.
He walked to a barred door where a white warrior was standing guard.
"Thanks for holding the door, Cas," the tall man told the white warrior.
"It pleased me to assist, Samuel." The shining white blinded Ben as he looked but he couldn't look away. The suited man covered Ben's eyes so he only heard the white warrior say, "Be wise in your parole, Ben. May the Father bless your endeavors."
Ben heard wings and the hand was removed from his face.
"You can't look straight at Castiel, Ben," the man told him. "He'll blind you and I need you seeing."
"Here, put this on." The suit handed him a silver, six-pointed star.
'Marshal' was inscribed on the star. He remembered bits of Manticore's history lessons. "Are we working in the Wild, Wild West?" he asked.
"No, worse." He took a step forward and Ben followed the chaos that he saw before him was mystifying. "Welcome to Purgatory, the main battle ground between Heaven and Hell." He smiled again and Ben had to smile back. "You'll fit right in here."