The Alpha Fights
Alec rolled his shoulders back and cracked his neck. The autumn air was a little on the chilly side, but it was better than being cooped up in his office, buried under all of Doc's notes.
It didn't matter how good his eye sight was, Doc's chicken scratch gave him migraines like nobody's business.
He threw the paperwork down on the bench beside him, giving the folder a glare for good measure. He needed a break. He needed to hit the gym. He needed to get some sleep.
He needed to figure out where Bane and the avian models were hiding.
He rubbed his eyes aggressively until he heard a small mewling sound at his side, stopping to blink a few times and look at the big, questioning eyes beside his hip.
He was sitting on the grandstands for the small field they had cleaned up at the far end of Terminal City. It was close to the fenced barricade, but still kept hidden by taller buildings that used to be a mixture of offices and laboratories. The X6's and X7's had spent several weeks cleaning it up and now used it as a sports field, organizing games of baseball and soccer between lessons and the other obligations they all had. Currently, it was being used as a meet and greet area for the X8's and Zane's dogs.
After the initial report that the crazed transgenic shooter, who was also one of the assailants that had tried to kidnap Max from their bedroom all those weeks ago, was a malnourished avian model working with an unknown number of transgenics, talks had begun about what they could do to strengthen their defenses and to help keep the transgenics within Seattle safe. Max, Mole, Zane, Zora and himself had spent that night in the heart of Command, throwing ideas at each other and trying to figure out a way to be ahead of a force that they knew the bare minimum about. It wasn't until their third pot of coffee, or what Mole called coffee, that Max looked up at Zane and shook her head.
"What about dogs?" she had asked, not noticing the way he and Zora had flinched. "We could slowly integrate a few into the perimeter teams, give the Eights an extra sense for what's beyond the fence."
"Would they be able to handle that?" Zane asked, looking to Zora and himself.
"They worked with the dogs at Manticore," Zora supplied, tapping her pen against her leg under the table. Alec could tell she was picking her words carefully. "They couldn't command them to do anything, but the second the dogs suspected something was up, the Eights seemed to understand and respond."
"I have some dogs they could work with." Zane said, moving to make a phone call.
Alec hadn't said a word for the rest of the night.
Even now, a week later, he hadn't made a move to meet the dogs. They were Zane's, he knew they weren't vicious, and half of Terminal City was in love with them already, but he couldn't bring himself to approach them.
He almost snorted, thinking, you really can't teach an old dog new tricks.
Another mewling sound reminded him of the Eight at his hip, and he looked down, knowing the look meant "Are you okay?". He replied that he was, smiling when the girl beamed up at him and then ran off, joining the group that was rolling around on the ground with the giant pile of brown colored fur.
Zane's dogs, hilariously enough named Thor and Loki, were actually perfect to work with the Eights. At first, Alec didn't think it would be any different than what they had experienced at Manticore; creepy X8's constantly weaving in and out of the trees, barely seen or heard, followed or proceeded by german shepherds that were trained to be vicious and constantly snarled.
He had been very wrong.
The X8's were developed to have a hive mind, which was how they communicated with each other rapidly over vast distances. It was modeled after the hive mind that the X4's, most of whom were a part of Psy-Ops, possessed, though Manticore had continued to incapacitate their newer generations in ways to try and promote obedience and remove free thinking. With the X8's, Manticore found a way to stunt the growth of their vocal chords during utero, making sure that their next generation would never be able to form words.
But that didn't stop them from making sounds.
They almost sounded like kittens, wandering around after birth, not knowing what sounds they were supposed to make, but they were slowly becoming more intelligible. Alec made sure that their training schedules always matched the schedules of different groups of X7's and X6's, so that the X8's had more chances to interact with the older generations. It had brought the X8's leaps and bounds since their time in Manticore, where they weren't allowed to mingle with the other generations, and slowly, the X8's were learning how to communicate through a mixture of little bits of sound, facial expressions, and hand movements.
It was a mixture that the dogs instantly picked up on.
Even now, Thor, the brown pile of fur rolling on the ground was responding to their noises, his ears flicking every which way. Loki, who was slightly smaller, black, and sitting beside Max and Zane, was watching attentively, head tilting to the side every now and then. They were exceedingly smart animals, and very well trained, to the point where over the past few days, Zane was teaching them new commands that the X8's could easily emulate so that they could take them around the fence on patrols with them.
"Stop looking at them like they're going to start chewing on your shoes." Zora snarked, snatching up the folder and shoving it into her shoulder bag. Alec checked his watch, knowing it was far too early for the nocturnal model to be awake, but she slapped his wrist before he saw any numbers. "All of us loyal and overworked and exceedingly exhausted bats are up and moving during broad daylight to meet the puppies, so grow a pair and go say hi."
"I didn't think it was possible for you to be a bigger bitch than Max but you sure are making a case for yourself." Alec growled, leaning back against the stands as he kept his eyes away from the cranky woman beside him.
"I like trophies."
"You haven't grown a pair any quicker than I have," He snarked back, shooting down whatever she was going to say by reminding her that Max, at some point every day, found a way to bitch about her day to him. One subject was trying to make time for everyone to meet the dogs without overwhelming anyone, which was a lot considering how psychologically damaged most of their population was. "So what's your excuse?"
"The same one as yours," Zora said soberly, her anger at being awake zapped away. Alec watched her shoulders sink. "I had a nocturnal and a tracker from my unit reinstated only because they passed The Hunt. The nocturnal barely survived the night, and was put down a week later when his wounds wouldn't heal."
Alec stilled, taking a moment to focus on his breathing. He didn't want to think about it.
"Why were you there?"
Clearly, Zora had other plans for him.
"You don't have to tell me," she said after a while, looking out at the field. Alec was still focusing on his breathing, waiting for the curse that was his memory to stop bringing up images from that night. He could taste the blood in his mouth, feel the pine needles stabbing his feet. "The nocturnal they put down was having immune system failures, before they took him, and had spent months in and out of the infirmary. Our tracker's bone density was unstable, and she would break bones on the training mats during simple exercises sometimes. They were clearly defective, but their weaknesses were all physical. I lost two good unit mates because of that night."
"Two?" he asked, moving his gaze back onto the field.
Zora took a moment before she answered, breathing deeply. "The tracker underwent extensive surgery before The Hunt to repair the deteriorated bone marrow. They tried to change her genetic makeup to suppress the gene that was preventing her marrow from developing, and when they found out how to do that, they kept going," Alec held his breath, the smell of salt settling into the air, "They tried to manipulate her genetics to compensate for her weakened bones," he shifted forward, laying a hand on her shoulder, "but their code overcompensated, and before the year was up her bones sealed her joints, making her completely immobile. They kept her alive for years."
"Years?" he asked, gripping Zora's shoulder. Her tears poured silently down her face.
"I was a part of the specialized units that they used to run the night missions through Command. You needed something in the field, blue prints of a building, an emergency escape, traffic light change, we made sure you had it before you said, "Over". Having a group of transgenics watching surveillance feeds made sure that nothing was missed and gave extra means to make sure that missions were completed successfully. They never though that we would get curious, being in front of all these powerful computers, and that we would start snooping," her tears had stopped, and her laugh was bitter. Alec rubbed his thumb in circles on her shoulder blade. "They filmed everything. Sevens drowning in the tanks, Sixes going through reindoctrination, Fours strapping down transhumans and prepping for Psy-Ops. Training exercises, experiments, even what we did in our sleep. They kept her alive for five years, three months and twenty eight days, strapped to a table that moved. Every hour they'd move it a different way, see how her bones would break, wait until they reset, and then move the table again."
"I'm sorry, Zora," Alec said, his thumb still rubbing circles on her shoulder. He knew what it felt like to lose people that depended on you. He also knew what it was like to find out for the first time what Manticore really was.
It was hell.
"When I found out what they did to her, I researched everything about that night, including everyone they threw in there," she turned to glance at him over her shoulder, but he wasn't looking in her direction. Max had turned and was staring back at them, head tilted to the side. She did it subconsciously when she tried to tune into a conversation from a distance, but the wind shifted and she straightened, turning around to watch Zane instruct the X8's. "They had detailed reasons for all of their planned exterminations, except for why X5-494 was included."
"It's because I was right out of Psy-Ops," he said quietly, his thumb still rubbing circles onto Zora's shoulder. "Literally. I don't even know how long I was there. All I remember was Lydecker dragging me through the hall, telling me I had to make it out alive tomorrow," he took a breath, the man's voice ringing in his head, "Everything outside these doors is hostile and to be treated with extreme prejudice. Survivors will be reinstated at 0600."
"That was almost a year after their escape," Zora said, nodding towards Max and Zane on the field. Alec hadn't known that at the time, all he had known was that his arms and legs wouldn't respond like normal. They had been sluggish until a dog had latched onto his arm, tearing at flesh until his adrenaline kicked in and he snapped it's neck. Then all he had known was fear and snarls and blood and running and survive survive survive until sunrise. "I can't believe he just threw you out there fresh out of Psy-Ops."
"Don't worry, he wished me luck before he barricaded the door behind me."
Zora snorted, taking his snark at face value, but Alec let the memory wash over him. He remembered Lydecker sending the guards away and crouching down in front of him the second they were around the corner. "Wake up, 494," he had said, slapping cheeks that felt oddly numb. Had he been biting the insides of his mouth? "You survive this, you hear me solider? Survive this. Make it to sunrise. Survive."
By sunrise that morning, Alec knew then as clearly as he knew now, the only reason he survived that night was because Lydecker gave him that extra thirty seconds.
"...Absolutely disgusting," Zora was murmuring, voice low, but Alec knew what she was saying. He kept rubbing her shoulder. "At the end of the report they noted which designations had been terminated, which ones survived, and that they had successfully disposed of the overly vicious dogs. That was all they wanted to do. Get rid of what they deemed were defective units and dogs they didn't want to deal with anymore."
"Sounds like home," he threw out, meeting Zora's glare with a wink, but it had the desired effect. She huffed out a breath and stood up, shaking her head. Alec had always seen why Max liked Zora; she was stubborn, head strong, and could be one of the bitchiest women hands down if you pushed her buttons, but Alec knew why he liked her; she was stubborn, head strong, but more than anything, she knew what it was like to go from Manticore solider to pretend normal citizen on the corner of a dime and she fought to come out on top. So he kept his smile in check until she turned around and started stalking towards Zane across the field.
"I wouldn't smile like that."
"No?" Alec asked, turning his smile down to his hip. Max was looking up at him, leaning against the plank of wood he was seated on.
"See the way she's overly swinging her arms?" Max asked, a lit in her voice that Alec knew meant trouble, but couldn't help but be drawn to. "How about how her steps are more of a stomp than an actual march? And then you pair that with the clenched fists, and you have the patented Alec's about to get knocked out walk."
"I thought you said she was stomping, not walking."
"Say it louder, she'll blur over here."
"C'mon now," he said, schooling his face to neutrality. "Who would want to harm a face this gorgeous?" He moved closer to her face, hovering just inches over hers, so caught up in her deep brown eyes that he didn't hear the click she made in the back of her throat, and before he knew it there was a mass of black fur in front of him, and a very long, very wet tongue, that smelled a lot like dog food dragging up his face and hair.
He flew back, arm scrubbing at his face, trying desperately to wipe the offensive smell from his skin as Max, and distantly, Zora, laughed hysterically. When he finally gave up, not even going to think about what his hair might look like, he looked at the foot of the grandstands. Loki sat there, and Alec swore the dog looked smug.
"I think he got my eyeball." he grumped, and then instantly wished he didn't, since he saw Zora collapse to the ground in a fit of laughter, heard Max do the same, and got the same smug look from Zane.
A little short, but it's a good ground building chapter. I plan on the next one being a bit more dark and heavy. Let me know what you thought; I always enjoy hearing from all of you.