Year Four - Interlude IV

It had been two days of healing and patching up before Rachel was allowed to visit Fanny's room. The redhead was successfully out of recovery for radiation and burns, but had still been put under the induced coma when she visited. Patton had an ever remaining vigil at her side. Carrying the usual tray of food and coffee, she smiled fondly at him before passing a cup and making small talk about their own recovering wounds.

She didn't realize that she was bleeding until the medic took off her helmet and exclaimed at the blood running down the side of her face before tending to the large gash on her left eyebrow. It would leave a very distinctive scar, one that she didn't mind having. Neither did Chad.

"I like it," he had murmured, brushing a gentle thumb across the stitches. "but no more heroics, if you don't mind." It was easy for him to say considering his neck had become purplish from the strangulation and the right side of his face was blue and oozing something nasty from the punch of the drone.

Chad had passed by a few times with paperwork to find her snoozing over the railing of her bed, the rest of her bandages peeking out from under her sleeves. A slight wave of guilt would hit him as he silently watched her back gently move up and down while she dreamed, leaving behind her wounded body to god knows where. Everyone didn't come out unscathed; even the scientists had dealt with electrical burns and other problems on the way to the shuttles. It was the distraction team, however, who had the worst injuries.

Occasionally he would check up on Jason, who had finally been released only with a very severe recommendation from his doctor that he'd take it easy due to his head trauma. Because of this, Evy had literally grounded him on base and suspended all future missions much to his vexation. "I've got a concussion, I'm not on my deathbed!" His temperament only worsened when she started spoon feeding him mashed peas.

"ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!" Chad paused by the door as he passed by the barracks, witnessing Evy attempt to feed her husband from a jar of baby food. "It's my head not my jaw that's hurt!"

Chad shook his head and continued on. This was his routine the past few days. Wake up, continue working on his report on Operation: DRAGNET, pass Fanny's room where sometimes Rachel and Patton would be vigilantly waiting for her to wake up, do his rounds, and then check on the state of the children who were currently being tended to. The results usually rounded out his day on a dark note.

"We've managed to get them out of suspended animation, but we have no idea how to get rid of the spore," Jacob had told him, handing the blond a datapad of their current results. "Unlike you, the spore has latched on to their hormonal processes and has taken effect on their physiology. They will not age and we may not be able to fix their mental functions until we do."

Chad glanced through the two-way mirror and took in each and every young face on the biobeds as they were being tended to by random scientists and doctors. "Then what do we do with them?" How could they tell the parents that they couldn't age and, worse, that they have developed violent tendencies almost to a literal hive mind mentality?

"We keep them," said a feminine voice. Chad looked over his shoulder to see an older woman clearly in her forties, a tinge of grey already lining the sides of her dark hair that was swept up into a very severe bun. From the way she walked and the way she held herself, even Chad knew that he shouldn't question her authority.

Her uniform was completely white in comparison to HAWK's darker colors. That usually meant someone very high in the chain of command. It also meant that she had met Mother and spoke to her on a daily basis. Jacob respectfully bowed and walked off, leaving her to the young protege called Father as she stood beside him, gravely looking through the mirror.

"Some of the parents were ex-KND members and they have already been informed," she continued, her stern grey eyes softening in the glare of the window.

Chad followed suit, a tentative frown on his face. With his next question, he wasn't sure whether he wanted to know the answer to. "And the others?"

She didn't look at him, her gaze focused entirely on the children. "They never had their children. Until we can reverse this... whatever this is, we will be decommissioning the memories of each child from the families' memory."

It was something he had expected would happen but it didn't stop him from flinching at her words, his gaze furious on her person as he snapped. Intense guilt had settled in his gut. It was so intense, he didn't care if the woman was someone to be respected. "That's not... we can't do this. Just erase these children from existence? I can't..." He couldn't imagine losing his child this way and just forget them without meaning to. It was wrong. It was unethical.

"You can't. We can." She folded her arms behind her back, well aware of the tenseness in the air as their new Father refused to take in her words. "On the fourth bed. Do you see that girl? The one with the brown curls? Her mother has been worried sick the past year. So sick, she's neglected her own children for the one she lost. She may never get her daughter back, but we can alleviate her pain. Let's just hope it's temporary." She began to turn away, only pausing once when Chad spoke.

"And how do you know so much about that girl's family?"

She slowly closed her eyes. "Because she's my granddaughter." She turned to him, her gaze soft and compassionate. "Do not take this as an act of evil, nor an attempt to toss them aside. This is all we could do for now. So long as we're here, they will never be forgotten. They are our children after all."

She left him with his thoughts. Those thoughts turned to guilt and anger. He couldn't do this; this responsibility that was forged onto him. What he had done... what he was going to do in the future. He pressed his forehead against the glass wondering if this was all his fault. Being a part of the GKND and unwittingly taking the children into Infinity's custody... if he didn't do it, would they have been fixed before the spores had taken effect? He may never know.

Anger raced up his body. With a frustrated snarl, he punched the glass with the palm of his hand, the pane only slightly wobbling from the force. This was his fault. If he hadn't played into Infinity's hands so easily... if he had questioned his orders at least once...

"Chad... " It took him a moment to turn at the soft sound, knowing that the voice belonged to disheveled blond hair and a shirt much too big to be worn on her delicate shoulders. She was wounded too because of him. The burns and cuts and bruises were from a mission that had been his fault in the first place. Rachel stepped forward and, unable to face her at the moment, tried to move past her. Not having that, she grabbed his arm. "Chad, stop. What's wrong?"

He shook his head because for the first time, he was at a loss for words. His confidence was crumbling with each passing moment with these comatose children. "I can't do this... this Father thing, HAWK... I can't. I'm screwing things up and I don't... I just can't." She refused to let him walk off and grabbed him hard by the arm.

"Don't..." Rachel muttered weakly, her eyes turning glassy. "Don't walk away. Not now." With what's going on with the children and Fanny still haven't waking up and everything, Chad giving up was the icing on the cake of problems all around. They needed to stay together, unite together. "Please. We need you."

"I need to do something," He stepped away from her, already feeling cold from the loss of contact. "It's too big, Rachel. This is too big. I can't handle this. I can't." His life was just falling into place so quickly. It was suffocating. All he wanted was to be something great and all it yield was more stress, more pain.

She hugged herself tightly when he pulled away and took a pained breath. "Alright." Forcing him wasn't what she wanted. He looked ready to bolt and never come back despite the fact that they had invested in so much. They couldn't just leave, but... "Hey," her voice was soft and when he turned, she offered a compassionate grin. "Take it easy, okay? You need a break. I'll get Evy to... well, I'll figure out something."

Chad mirrored her smile, but it was only for appearance's sake. A break. Maybe he needed that. "Thanks."

"Just... don't leave. Permanently." She squeezed herself tighter. "I don't want you to go, but I'll do whatever it takes. You're not alone, okay?"

He stepped forward and pulled her close, murmuring against her lips before he kissed them. "I know." With reluctance, he pulled away from her and started his long trek back to his office. Her heart heavy, she watched him pause to pinch the bridge of his nose before turning the corner and disappearing from sight.

It was a burden. She knew that. Turning back to watch the comatose children, she silently kept vigil over them for a few minutes. Whatever they had to do, at least they were safe here with Mother. Humans. With a final sigh, she made to return to Fanny's room, not paying attention when her shoulder came in contact with someone else's.

"Oh. I'm sorry!" Rachel bent down to pick up what looked like an antique purse. She stared at it curiously before handing it to what looked like a strong, yet frail old lady.

"Much obliged, my child. Thank you." Rachel's eyes widened at the old woman, whose features reminded her considerably like someone she was familiar with. Faded blond hair and familiar brown eyes.

"Grandma?"

The old woman chuckled. "Ah, in your eyes, I am. Rest assured my little one, I am not your grandmother." Her brown eyes, which looked so similar to her's, were warm and reassuring. It caused Rachel to smile fondly back, a sudden rush of familial love hitting her so quickly she almost didn't notice it. If this woman asked, she would give her life to her without a second's notice. Fortunately, she didn't ask this of her. "You look tired, Rachel. Get some rest. Everything will be fine."

She believed it. Despite everyone telling her so, it was this woman who she believed in the the most. She didn't know how some old woman who looked so much like her beloved grandmother stirred such a sense of protectiveness toward her, but she believed. "Okay." The old woman started to turn, but paused and waved dismissively at her, her lips pushed together in amused disapproval. "And eat something, sweetheart. You look like a stick."

Suffice to say, the first thing she did was grab something to eat at the cafeteria before turning in.

Why? She didn't know.


Father - We have a request to ask of you.

It was from the Delightful Children. No, Delightful Teens, who were almost adults. Chad had been in the process of logging out and going back home... wherever home was. It was currently his dorm, but it was anything but home. He had known what was already in store: a loud, arrogant dorm mate who kept trying to inappropriately coax Rachel whenever she visited and always stole his food out of the fridge when he was out of the room. Yeah, that was home alright. Taking a sabbatical in Gamma Pi with the other frat boys was starting to sound more inviting in comparison.

He took a long glance at the email, sighed at the moniker, and sat back in his seat to look around his very hi-tech, very small office. A gift from HAWK for his participation in DRAGNET. They, quite literally, promoted him to Station Commander for his efforts. But, like his newfound giant stack of paperwork, he wasn't in the mood to deal with the Delightfuls now. He wasn't in the mood to deal with anything. Not HAWK, not his duties as Father, nothing.

Rubbing his eyes tiredly, he refocused back on the message, ready to just close it and move on. It was the second paragraph, however, that piqued his attention.

We are becoming adults, but there is something wrong. We are restless and we know why. All we ask is for one night. You know you are able to do this. Recommission us one last time while we still have the time. In doing so, we have information. Information that may make or break your new position of power. Our Father is not done yet.

And while we are recommissioned for one night, we will make it memorable. We want to be remembered for this. Anyone and everyone would be invited for our 16th birthday party. There will be no restrictions, no alliances, no enemies. It will be... a delightful get together.

This wasn't an easy request. Could he even do that? Chad crossed his legs and sat up straighter, feeling like this was a decision only a father could make. Not what he would make. He could get in trouble for this. Extremely in trouble.

After a half hour of deliberations, he sent a quick reply back and then grabbed his jacket and keys before leaving for the recommissioning labs. While the Delightful Children were themselves for one night, so would he. He was not going to be Father, Number 274, no one.

For one night, he was just Chad Dickson. And it would be an unforgettable party.