|Primary Characters:||Ed, Tom, Sloan, Ray|
|Description:||Sloan, Ed and Ray rescue Tom. Tom’s so badly injured, there doesn’t seem to be much hope. On top of that, there’s a new dominant offensive coming.|
Sloan was standing in her apartment, looking down on the unconscious form of one of her lovers. Though her scientific mind normally kept her calm and unmoved by events around her, this time all she felt was chaos, and an incipient panic. For a second she even thought there was no movement of Ed’s chest. She began to shake his unmoving form in a highly unprofessional way, until finally her training and presence of mind kicked in.
Whatever they had given Ed, it seemed to take a long time to leave his system. It took all night, before Sloan was even reassured about his eventual recovery. Not until well into the afternoon could she begin asking Ed what had really happened. By then, Sloan knew far to well the answer to her most burning question. She had the moment she walked into the ruins of her apartment.
“Welcome back. For a while there, you had me really scared.”
“Sorry about that. Sloan -“
“Yes, I think I can guess what you’re going to tell me.”
“They got Tom. I don’t know how, unless they were dominants. But why would they inject me and not finish me right away?”
“Ok. First things first. How are you feeling?”
“Not so good. But I’m sure it’s just temporary. I think I know what they gave me and it pretty much knocks you out completely and for a long time. On the other hand, it leaves your system and there’s no permanent damage done.”
“Oh. Can you tell me anything about these people?”
“Guys in suits. Whatever they did, they must have taken Tom totally by surprise. His sixth sense or whatever it is didn’t warn him. I’m really sorry, Sloan.”
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. If it’s anyone’s, it’s mine. For getting them all worked up. Now, let’s take care of you. Are you hungry?”
The look on Ed’s face conveyed his spontaneous reaction to the thought of food. But he knew even better than Sloan that he’d never start feeling better unless he got some nutrition. Bravely, he decided to fight the nausea and force down something.
Half an hour later, he actually felt a little better, though his head still pounded like after one of those party weekends at college. With a wry smile Ed remembered those days. No one knew how to party like a med student. But parties were far from his mind today.
Like Sloan, Ed could only focus on his concerns for Tom’s well-being. A few months ago, he would have laughed at the thought of worrying about his rival. Now Tom was a close friend and meant almost as much to him as he did to Sloan.
“Forgive me, Sloan.”
“For not being able to keep him safe.”
“Don’t be silly. How could you – or any other human – fight overwhelming odds? There were how many of them?”
“I only saw two, but I think there were others.”
“Humans? Or Dominants?”
“Humans, I think.”
“Hm. I should call Ray. He’ll have to pull in a few more favors. And if this is what I fear it is, we’ll have to contact Attwood.”
“What are you thinking?”
“Remember that contact of his?”
“She’s behind all this. I can feel it. And Attwood is in deep with her. When you’re feeling a little better, I’d like for you to come along when I tackle Attwood.”
“Of course. I’m sorry to be so helpless.”
“Don’t be. We’re not helpless. Our muscles are in our brains.”
Her feeble joke brought a smile to Ed’s sad face as always.
“Then I guess I’m a bit of a weakling all round, because I can’t even feel my brain right now.”
Her smile was some comfort. No matter how miserable Ed felt, Sloan smiling always brought a little warmth.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll get it back. Maybe you should try to get some sleep?”
“Ok. But you’ll wake me as soon as there are developments?”
Sloan’s smile faded the minute she stepped out of the bedroom. Ed was safe, and that was a relief, but what about Tom? The thought of what her lover might be going through caused a stab of what was almost physical pain to course through her.
The curses that fell from her lips, when she failed to dial the correct number three times running, would have astonished her mother. Finally, she was able to get it right. Impatiently, she waited while the phone was ringing at the other end of the line. Wasn’t Ray back yet?
As she was about to give up and throw down the receiver someone picked up. The youthful voice at the other end of the line made her want to scream in frustration, but she forced herself to remain calm. It wasn’t Ray’s kid’s fault, whatever was going on.
“Hello. My name is Sloan Parker. May I please speak to your dad? It’s very urgent.”
“Oh, you’re that pain-in-the -“
Someone must have put a hand over the boy’s mouth, because Sloan never heard the end of that sentence. Again, she almost smiled. So she had been correct in her guess as to how Ray’s wife felt about her. Maybe Ray did too. But she couldn’t let that deter her. Especially not now, when Tom’s life was on the line.
“Sorry about that. You know how it is. They pick up these words and -“
Yes, Sloan knew all about that. And not only in school apparently.
“Never mind. Tom’s gone. There was an attack on my apartment and -“
“Are you ok?”
“Yes, of course I’m ok. But -“
“What about Ed?”
“Ed was given some injection that left him unconscious for hours, but he’s going to be ok now. Ray, they took Tom away. He’s gone.”
“Yes, I understand. Right. I’ll get on it. Make a few calls. See what I can come up with. Don’t go anywhere, ok? I need to be able to reach you.”
“Ok. But when Ed feels better, we’ll both go and tackle Attwood. If who I suspect is behind this, he’s the only person we can go to for answers.”
“I see. Alright. I’ll be in touch.”
“Thanks. I really appreciate this, Ray. Especially, knowing that you need this extra complication in your life like you need a sore tooth.”
“Don’t worry about it. I know what’s at stake as well as you do. Wait. After this, I really think you need to consider moving to a safer location.”
“Ok. I’ll think about it. Watch your back.”
There was a dry, humorless laugh at the other end of the line.
“I intend to.”
Now that she’d contacted Ray, Sloan had expected to feel at least marginally better, but she didn’t. In fact, by now the full implications of what was going on were sinking in. If Tom could be overpowered, and taken away, would any of them be safe anymore?
She let Ed sleep all night and well into the next day, before she asked him if he felt up to coming along. Knowing that his professional attitude towards his work wouldn’t allow him to lie about his recovery, she felt it was safe to leave the decision up to him. To her relief, he appeared to be completely back to normal.
“I’m ok now. Honestly. So naturally, I want to come along and talk to Attwood. I’ve been thinking and you’re probably right about his involvement.”
As if Sloan wasn’t nearly always right.
“Ok. I’m guessing it’s better if we don’t call and warn him about our arrival. That way he won’t have time to come up with any evasions.”
“Good thinking. Just give me half an hour to get ready. How long did you let me sleep anyway?”
“All night and quite late today.”
“You shouldn’t have. Attwood’s had plenty of time to come up with all kinds of lies.”
But Sloan’s look told Ed it was no use arguing. When she’d made a decision, it was rare for him to be able to sway her. At least not using professional arguments. On occasion, however, he’d learned to his shame that the sad, hurt puppy dog look had some effect. But that was a tactic he’d never willingly use. Though he knew far too well how worried she’d be about Tom, it came as a surprise to him how much she really cared about him. That was something he’d never really been sure of in the past.
When they got to Attwood’s office, they stopped to consider what they would say. Even if there was no doubt in Sloan’s mind that Attwood was somehow mixed up in Tom’s abduction, there was no way of knowing the level of guilt. Just because the man knew something, didn’t necessarily mean he had ordered the whole thing, or even that he was fully implicated.
Either way, it was their only place to start. Ray was doing his work, at least they hoped so. Now it was time for them to do what was in their power. Ed decided to remain in the background, only jumping into the conversation if Sloan seemed to be losing her head.
Sometimes, she tended to be moved by anger or passion in her disputes, and Ed strongly felt that this particular discussion or rather interrogation would be better kept on a calm, professional level. After all, weren’t they all scientists? There would most likely come a time for action, but Ed hoped it wouldn’t be anytime soon. For now, a more rational approach would do.
It seemed their boss was expecting them. But the question was, how forthcoming would he be? If he intended to hold out on them, he’d have Sloan to deal with. Ed only wished she was this worked up about him. No, he didn’t. He knew far too well what it was like to be abducted, tied up and have his life threatened, not to mention other things he really didn’t want to remember. So he concentrated on watching Sloan in action, and on keeping his own head.
“I’m surprised it took you so long to get here.”
“You were expecting us?”
Attwood watched each of them in turn, thoughtfully, calculatingly, as if to gauge their mood. His seemingly unperturbed calm enraged Sloan. How could he sit there, his hands pressed together as if this was just another routine report they were making? She was about to shatter that calm when she was interrupted by her boss’ next words.
“I think the time has come for us to play with open cards.”
“Please do. Whatever you know about Tom’s abduction, like who’s got him, where he is and so on. And make it fast. I’m running out of patience with all this secrecy.”
“Fine. But I don’t think you realize or appreciate the extent to which I’ve been able to protect you – both of you.”
“Don’t try to change the subject. Where is Tom? Who’s taken him?”
“I’m not changing the subject. If you’ll let me continue – What you don’t understand, Sloan, is that much of this is out of my hands. From the start I have been concerned with two things: learning as much as possible about the 1.6 deviations and keeping the two of you safe. What’s happened is that the people I’m associated with have lost patience with our research. They decided to speed things up a bit.”
“By taking Tom?”
“I’m sorry. I know how fond you are of him. But you have to understand -“
“No. That’s where you’re wrong. At this point, I don’t have to understand anything. Tom was our friend, and besides, without him we wouldn’t know a fraction of what we know about the dominants.”
Ed squeezed Sloan’s hand. As he well knew, Tom was a great deal more than a friend to her, but Attwood really didn’t need to know that.
“No need to get emotional. The cold hard facts of the matter is that if I hadn’t agreed to -“
“What did you say?”
Sloan and Ed spoke simultaneously. This was beyond their worst fears. Had Attwood really agreed to sell Tom out?
“If I hadn’t agreed to let them do this, I wouldn’t have been able to save the two of you. It would have been out of my hands. At least now our work can continue.”
Sloan couldn’t remain in her chair anymore. She looked as if she might physically attack Attwood, so Ed got up too, to hold her back. Before they burned their bridges for good, they might as well get as much information as possible.
“Where is he?”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that.”
Now Sloan advanced on Attwood in a decidely aggressive way. Suddenly, Ed knew he had no wish to hold her back. In fact he felt a highly uncharacteristic urge to help her beat the truth out of Attwood. However, their boss didn’t seem to feel a bit threatened. His face was unmoved by any emotion.
This enraged Sloan further. Cold scientific detachment might be an asset in their line of work, but this was really taking it way too far. Tom was a living breathing creature. And as for keeping them safe, hadn’t Tom done a much better job at that than Attwood?
“Can’t – or won’t?”
“Can’t. If you believe I’m taken into their confidences you’re wrong. I wish I knew far more.”
“Ok. Who are they? Who’s taken Tom?”
Again, that hesitation and calculation. What was Attwood thinking about? Was he hiding something or did he really know as little as he claimed?
“That’s a complicated question.”
“Not really. Just tell me who it is and we won’t trouble you anymore.”
“Who “they” are is a very complex matter. There’s no simple answer.”
“Try. Try really hard, Walter.”
“Alright. We’re talking about a government agency.”
“Yeah? FBI? CIA? NSA?”
“Nothing that clearly identifiable. I don’t know who they answer to.”
“What are we talking about here, Walter? Majestic? Area 51?”
By now, Attwood’s unperturbed smile was beginning to infuriate Ed too. It would be so sweet to wipe that smile off his face. Even if Ed hadn’t cared so much about Sloan’s feelings for Tom, or about Tom himself, it was untenable to work for a man who couldn’t be honest with them.
“To my knowledge it doesn’t have a name. They are concerned with national security.”
“Ok. What’s your connection with them?”
“About the time you discovered the existence of these 1.6 deviations, I was contacted by them and it was suggested that I shared our findings with them. In return -“
“They said they would watch over our safety.”
“How sweet. Now you’re going to tell me how I can find them and get Tom back.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“We heard that before, sir. And we weren’t impressed even then. I’m sure you can do better than that.”
Sloan cast an appreciative eye at her lover. In her agitation, she hadn’t really expected any help from Ed.
“You really are determined to risk everything to get that 1.6 back? I must say that’s not a very professional attitude.”
“Maybe it’s time for us to end our professional relationship. You’re not going to help us?”
“I feel that it wouldn’t be in your best interests to pursue this, but even if I didn’t, I have nothing to say to you that might be useful.”
“I see. Then I guess there isn’t much else to say.”
“Am I to take it you resign? Both of you?”
“You can take it any way you like. I’m really disappointed in you.”
“The feeling is mutual.”
Unable to take the atmosphere in Attwood’s office any more Sloan stormed out, followed by Ed. How could that man sit there telling them it was in their best interests to sell Tom out to – what? Vivisection? Termination? Now their only chance was Ray. He and his friends had to turn up something.
Perhaps Ray was continuing his search for answers, but if so, it was way too slow for Sloan’s taste. And she and Ed had no leads to follow. Unable to do anything for Tom, Sloan turned her mind to Ray’s suggestion that she and Ed move to a safer location.
“Ray wants us to find a safer place to live.”
“Yeah? Maybe he has a point. I really should get rid of my place. After all, I’ve been spending most of my time over here.”
Sloan’s face softened slightly at the memory of the happy times she and Ed and Tom had spent together.
“He’s right. We do need a new place. Somewhere we can continue our work.”
She placed a slight emphasis on the word “our”, meaning their work over at the lab was over. The equipment they had used would be difficult to replace, but not impossible. Naturally, there would be other facilities, other employers they could seek out. But at this point, would they really be able to trust any offers they got?
“What about our work?”
Ed was only putting her own thoughts into words. Yes, what about it? How did they resolve the situation? Their first priority had to be finding Tom and getting him back. But their work was far too important for them to let anyone stop them, dominants or humans.
“Yes, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. We need to find a place where we can do research, and stay out of sight, not to mention stay safe. How do we find that?”
“The problem is equipment. Sure, we can do a lot with just a microscope and my medical supplies, but for any serious work, we’ll need better facilities. Still, I’m sure we could let someone else do whatever testing we need to do. For our research, we’re only going to need a computer, an internet connection and a car, basically.”
“And that we can manage. So how about the safe, inconspicuous place?”
“That’s what I can’t tell you. Not right now. Do you have any suggestions?”
“Hm. Not right now. We’ll have to think about it. But there’s no reason we can’t get away immediately, and look for a safe place where we can work later. Just get in the car and drive off.”
“Mm. Sounds like a romantic getaway.”
“I thought you might. Well, let’s pack. And when we’re done, I think we should go over to Ray’s place and surprise him. This place could be bugged, the phone could be bugged. Anything’s possible.”
It was dark outside, when Sloan and Ed had finally packed up their belongings. Ed drove over to his apartment to pick up a few things he didn’t want to leave behind. After that, they began watching the traffic behind them very carefully, to check for possible stalkers. No one seemed to be paying any attention to them, and soon they were parked outside Ray’s home. The light was on in Ray’s work room, so obviously he was still up.
Sloan decided it might be best to walk right up to the window and call Ray’s attention from there. That way, their visit should disturb his family as little as possible. At the knock, she could see Ray’s startled face look over to the window. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, after all. But when he walked over to talk to her, she knew it had been a wise decision.
“Hello. I was just thinking about you two. Just a sec. I’ll go out the back and I’ll see you in a minute. Ok?”
“Ok. In the car?”
It was a relief to leave the open and get back in the car. That might be an illusion, but they still felt a bit less exposed. Ray showed up just like he had promised. A darker shadow against the darkness outside the car windows.
“We decided to take your advice.”
“You’re getting out of here?”
“Yeah. It might be for the best. Have you found out anything about Tom?”
“I’m sorry. But I’m still expecting calls from my best contacts. Don’t give up hope.”
“We really appreciate your help.”
“Do you have anyplace to go?”
“Not really. We were just planning on staying at a motel for now.”
“I see. There’s this place I know of, that might be suitable. Are you interested?”
“Sure we are.”
Ed was always worried about Sloan’s safety, and he had to admit that since Tom’s mother had abducted him, he feared almost as much for himself.
“Did you guys know I was in the army when I was younger?”
“Well, I was. And my older army buddies told me about this place. It’s an abandoned military base, not too far from the city. In the late seventies it was sold off to a private entrepreneur, but I don’t think that was a success. For a while it was sold again a few times, but from the mid-eighties it’s been left alone.”
“Sounds like what we might need. What kind of repairs will be needed?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve only seen it once. My buddies and I went out there to – well – party. We got drunk, did some target shooting and – Never mind. It was dark and I wasn’t really paying attention. But I heard from this friend of mine that some of the buyers paid a bit of money to have it fixed up. It should be ok. There’s a bomb shelter, several different buildings, including a house where the C.O and his wife used to live. I think it will do quite nicely for you. Interested?”
“Definitely. But would we be able to afford it?”
“You’d better not buy it. I know the guy who’s responsible for maintaining it. If you just go out there, he guarantees no one’s going to come looking for you. No one really cares about that place anyway. It’s been left to rot. But it won’t be any time soon. They built those things to last. And you can stay as long as you like.”
“Good. What about you? And your family?”
“I’ve been giving that some thought and I’ve decided I’m going to send them away too. There’s this other safe place I know of.”
That was tough. How could a marriage survive that kind of separation? And it would be even tougher on the boy. He’d have to grow up without his father. This thought made Sloan even more determined to fight this battle to the end. The sooner they defeated the dominants, the sooner everyone’s lives could get back to normal. Assuming they ever got Tom back.
They thanked Ray and drove off, after getting detailed instructions on how to get to the base. Yes, they were at war, so a military base with a bomb shelter would be just the thing they needed. If they had had a bit more fire power it might be the one place that would be defensible against any kind of attack. For a while, Sloan’s mind dwelled morbidly on various ways of killing the people who had taken Tom away.
But she soon tired of that. The base they were heading for might not be too far from the city, but far enough. Especially when you were driving at night. She and Ed took turns, but it was still close to four hours before they were approaching their destination.
Not until now did Sloan think to wonder about what hygienic facilities might be available, if any. This might not have been such a good idea after all. For her own convenience and Ed’s, as well as their research, they would need running water and other basics.
“That’s it. Look.”
“The next turn. Slow down.”
“Ok, ok. I got it. There. Well, you don’t get much more private than this. It’s great. I can’t even see the base yet, and we’re completely invisible from the road.”
“Yeah. Who would have thought we’d find a place like this? Or that we’d even need it.”
“I know. Ed, I’m so tired. Let’s just find somewhere we can sleep and we’ll go exploring tomorrow. If the place is completely run down, we’ll just stay here in the car.”
“Ok. But if you like, I’ll take a quick look around, once we get there. It shouldn’t be much longer now. Not that you can see more than a yard or so, even with the headlights on.”
“Tell me about it. But I don’t want you to go off on your own. Either we both go or we’ll just stay in here.”
“Ok. You’re the boss.”
“Don’t give me that. We’re in this together. You, me -“
Sloan’s voice trailed off unhappily. They weren’t the three musketeers anymore. Her changed mood communicated itself to Ed, as if they were physically connected, not just emotionally, and he squeezed her knee reassuringly. She flashed him a grateful, if tired smile and kept on driving in silence for another fifteen minutes or so.
This place made you feel as if the outside world was a million miles away. But they had passed a town only about half an hour before turning onto the smaller road, so shopping for supplies shouldn’t be an impossibility at least. Just in case, they had brought plenty of provisions. Whatever else might happen out here, they wouldn’t starve.
When they finally arrived, the place looked dismal to say the least. Not that the buildings were in such a state of disrepair as they had feared. Everything looked more or less intact. But even so, this hadn’t been one of those huge military bases that was more or less a town in itself. There was much more of an outpost about it.
Ray had told them it had been built around WWII, and had been added to extensively during the 50’s, and had been outdated and abandoned by the late 70’s. Apparently, some new weapons had been tested out here, but mainly it had been intended as one of several smaller units that would take over in case of any of the major bases being hit by enemy fire. A sort of independent command unit. Which was now obsolete and all but forgotten.
For a moment, they remained standing just outside the car, Ed’s arm around Sloan’s shoulders, trying to take in what little they could see in the light from their front headlights.
“Some romantic retreat, huh?”
“What? Oh, wherever you are, it’s romantic enough for me, Ed.”
“You have a way with words. I love it. Don’t stop.”
“Sorry. I’m too tired. Right now, I’m practically talking in my sleep. So, where do we sleep, in the car or in one of those?”
“Speaking as someone who is a little taller than you are, I’d definitely like to explore that big house over there. It looks like that C.O’s house Ray mentioned. We could put our sleeping bags on the floor and be able to stretch out. But you decide. Like I said, you’re the boss.”
“Ok, private Tate. Secure that building.”
“Yes, sir, sorry, ma’am.”
He even made a half-hearted attempt to salute her. At least going off like this on their own had brought out this comedian. Normally, Ed looked so sad, it really hurt Sloan to look at him.
She followed him closely. After what had happened to him before, and now Tom, she wasn’t going to let him out of her sight. The house turned out to be far more comfortable than they had thought. There was even some rudimentary furniture left. Chairs, a few tables, some filing cabinets, even a desk.
Upstairs, there were a few rooms that looked like they might have been for private use. They picked the one that looked the least dilapidated and dragged most of their gear up there. After that, they were both too tired to bother with any late night snack or other niceties. They just stretched out on the floor, with their clothes still on.
The sun was high in the sky when they finally woke up. Sloan felt awful. Her hair was a dreadful tangle and her back hurt – Where was she anyway? To her irritation, she noticed that Ed’s hair as usual looked as if he’d just brushed it.
Guys. Didn’t they just have all the luck? Her mood could have been better. This was the fourth day since Tom’s disappearance. Sloan was really beginning to lose hope.
At least Ed’s sunny smile gave her back some of her usual cheerful attitude.
“Good morning, sleepy head. Want me to go get the rest of our stuff? And investigate the premises?”
“Is that a way to address your C.O?”
“Oops. I guess I did it again.”
“Did what? Slept with your superior?”
“That too. Now I’m not talking about Attwood, though. Remember back in med school? I kind of got involved with one of my professors.”
“I wasn’t in your med school. But this is interesting. Tell me, what was he like?”
Ed’s face almost lost its new cheer, but he remembered that this entire conversation had come about to get Sloan’s mood back to normal. So he smiled again as he got out of his sleeping back. Funny. The last time he’d camped out he hadn’t felt this stiff. Maybe the years were catching up on him.
“She was young and gorgeous. Not unlike someone else I could mention.”
“Oh. I see. A redhead?”
“Now you disappoint me, private Tate. How about getting me the rest of my stuff now?”
“Ok. And if I find a bathroom on my way out, I’ll holler.”
“Good. In the meantime, I’ll go back to sleep.”
“Don’t do that. I’ll fix you my special camp out breakfast.”
There really was a bathroom. And – even more of a miracle – the water was still on. They could take a shower (together) and start the day in a civilized manner. Soon they were sitting downstairs over Ed’s special breakfast. It consisted more or less of cereal, yoghurt and some dry bread. Sloan could have fixed that herself, but she appreciated the effort, all the same. Besides, food wasn’t their first priority.
If Ray didn’t call very soon, Sloan didn’t know what she could do for Tom. This inactivity was alien to her energetic personality. And they should start collecting the equipment they’d need to continue their research. After finishing the last of her breakfast, Sloan got up to explore the rest of the house.
It didn’t take her long to find a fully equipped, though rather shabby looking kitchen. Apparently, cuisine hadn’t been the C.O’s first priority either. Some of the other downstairs rooms seemed to be acceptable as their new lab facilities. Yes, this place would do. Now she wanted to see the bomb shelter. If they came under attack again, that might their only chance of survival.
“Come on, let’s find that shelter.”
“Ok. But these will do for a lab, don’t you think?”
“Yes, I was thinking the same thing. We’ll be ok out here. I just wish we could have found this place before Tom was -“
“I know. Let’s go. I think I know where we can find that shelter.”
And Ed really did seem to have some idea. Sloan looked at her lover with even more respect than before. He certainly had hidden depths. She would have to stop underestimating him.
But she didn’t like the shelter at all. She was hoping they’d never have to use it. On the other hand, they might keep certain important stuff down there for safe keeping.
When they’d had enough of exploring their new home, they returned to the house. Sloan thought she might be able to get comfortable here. Besides, with a full scale war on her hands, she didn’t really care about interior decoration. Not that she ever had.
Her attention was called back to the present by the sound of her cell phone making a rather irritating noise. She really needed to change that tune. But all irrelevant thoughts vanished from her mind, when she heard who it was. Although, this was the call she had been expecting, so there was no surprise. Just expectation.
“Yeah, Ray, go ahead. Please tell me you got something.”
“Yes. You could say that. But take it easy, Sloan. Promise me you’ll wait for my help. I need some time to get together some backup.”
“Slow down. I’m not exactly in the car, my hand on the ignition. Tell me what you’ve got.”
“Ok. I have a possible location where they might be holding Tom. In a way, it’s lucky he isn’t being held by his own kind. If he had, then I doubt if we’d ever found him.”
“Where is he?”
“It’s a secret research facility run by some obscure government agency, that doesn’t seem to have a name.”
“Yes, but where?”
“In the city.”
“Ok. What have you found out about Tom?”
“I’m sorry Sloan. There’s no information about his status. But if he’d been dead, I’m sure it would have been obvious.”
“I see. When do we leave?”
“Tonight. At 11. Meet me and my – assistants – at -“
When Sloan finished the call, she had a look of determination on her face, which was all too familiar to Ed. He had a good idea of what was up.
“That was Ray. He’s found Tom. At least he thinks so. We’re going back to the city right away. Ray said to meet him at 11.”
” Ok. I’m ready to go.”
There wasn’t much conversation on the way back. Not like the night before. This was it. The confrontation. They were both keenly aware of the danger, the risk of not making it out alive.
But there had never been any alternative. Like Sloan had said only the night before, they were in this together. One for all and all for one. Which was why they were all putting their lives on the line for a guy who wasn’t even human. But love had nothing to do with DNA.
They pulled up in the location Ray had specified and waited. It wasn’t a long wait. Sloan almost jumped out of her skin when someone rapped on the window beside her. But when she recognized the man facing her, she tried to relax again.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes. Just one thing, Ray. Do you have guns for us?”
She could tell he wasn’t thrilled about her request, but she wasn’t going to do this without the added security of a weapon at her side. Behind her, she knew Ed was making frantic gestures indicating he refused to carry a gun, but she ignored him. If he didn’t agree to use a weapon, she’d make sure he stayed behind in relative safety.
“Alright. Ed, do you know how to use one of those?”
“Yes, he does.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do. Ray, he’ll be ok.”
“Which is it, dr Tate? Can you or can’t you use a gun?”
“I can. But I don’t want to.”
“If you’re absolutely sure you can, then I’d have to agree with Sloan. I’ll get you one each and enough ammo for tonight’s exercise. You’re a prudent man, dr Tate, but this is not a time for exaggerated pacifism.”
“That’s not what this is about. As a doctor -“
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know all about your Hippocratic oath, but these people aren’t your patients, they’re our enemies, and they’ll do their best to kill us, if we don’t stop them. And remember what they’re most likely doing to Tom. Please, Ed. If you don’t want to do this for me, then stay here and wait for us. No matter how safe we play this, I’m sure we’ll need a doctor after we’re done.”
“If you think I’m going to wait here, while you’re risking your neck out there, you’re mistaken. Ok. Get me that thing, Ray. I’ll carry it, but I’m not promising I’ll use it.”
“You might use it to knock someone out. If you get that close.”
“This isn’t funny, Ray.”
“I know it isn’t. Neither is getting killed. So for tonight, forget you’re a doctor.”
The government facility they were raiding was relatively isolated, considering how close to the city center it was. Ray’s backup seemed to consist of an odd collection of men and women. Most of them didn’t seem to be either cops or military. Sloan couldn’t resist satisfying her curiosity. After all, that curiosity was what had led her to becoming a scientist in the first place.
“Ray, where did you get these guys anyway?”
“You know Matthews and Durrand?”
“Borrego and Hersch are old army buddies of mine.”
“Ok. What about the rest?”
“Long story. We really don’t have time for this.”
“I need to know if we can trust them.”
“I’ve met them through my work and they owe me favors. Yes, you can trust them alright.”
“Come on, Ray. Are you saying they’re criminals?”
The cop seemed reluctant to discuss the matter further, which made Sloan all the more eager to find out the truth.
“Yes. I was able to help them out in certain important ways and now they owe me. As you might guess they’re not too happy about having to owe a cop a favor. So you can definitely trust them. For now.”
“I want you and Ed with me, so I can keep an eye on you. Do I have your word that you’ll do as I tell you, Sloan?”
“I’m not a fool. Of course I’ll be good.”
Ray gave her a penetrating stare. But he didn’t force the issue. It was time to begin. The others were in position somewhere in the darkness surrounding the building. At a sign from Ray and a muffled word into his communicator, they all moved out.
One of the women seemed to be an electronics expert, and she got to work on some complicated lock mechanism. Either the level of security wasn’t as high as might be expected or else this woman was really good. Her work only slowed them down marginally.
Soon they were inside the building. They had entered through what seemed to be a back entrance, and were now in a confusingly non-descript corridor, with doors leading off in all directions. Fortunately, one of Ray’s new recruits had brought the blueprints and was able to send them in the right direction.
One of them must have triggered some alarm, because their luck ran out on the third floor. Suddenly, they were surrounded by armed guards, and the situation looked very grim. Ray and his troops made a stand, waving Sloan and Ed along through a door on the left. For some reason this part of the floor was less heavily guarded.
Ed couldn’t help thinking this was too easy. So far, not a shot fired, and they were still on their way, without anyone trying to stop them. But they ended up outside a door with a reinforced glass window at the top, strongly reminiscent of their own former place of work. There was no doubt in their minds that this was a lab, and there was a good chance whoever worked here held Tom not far from this location.
This door too, was locked with some kind of electronic device. Sloan and Ed both were quite familiar with computers, but this – this was something else entirely. Besides, there wasn’t time for any complicated moves.
Sloan aimed Ray’s gun at the lock, fired, and with a contented smile on her lips moved aside to let Ed break the door down. The gesture was slightly marred by his inability to do so. Together they wasted precious moments dealing with the intractable obstacle. Finally, after another round from Ray’s gun, they could burst into the lab and take a look around.
The environment was all too familiar to Ed and Sloan. A work bench, equipment, various cupboards, empty cages. Through a wall, of which the upper half was glass, they could see another room, with walls of stark white. There was a bed, and to that bed a man was strapped. Tom. Sloan pointed towards the other room, and she could see that Ed was right behind her. This door wasn’t locked. It was even standing slightly open.
Again, Ed thought the whole thing was going a little too easy. But if Tom was in there, they couldn’t let their suspicions stand in the way of rescuing him. As he was moving through the door, Ed was uncomfortably aware of the unfamiliar weight of the borrowed gun. This was the last time Sloan was going to talk him into using one.
“Yeah, that’s Tom alright. Let’s get him out of here.”
“Look, he’s hurt. Do you think it’s safe to move him?”
“Hm. It’s hard for me to tell. With a human I’d have to say, doubtful. But it’s his only chance. Let’s untie him. I’ll take a closer look.”
Tom was hurt. His skin showed all kinds of nasty cuts and bruises, but what bothered Ed the most were the needle marks. There was no way of knowing what they had injected into him and what the effect had been, other than that Tom appeared to be deeply unconscious.
Maybe that was for the best. If he was in pain, or disoriented by the drugs in his system, it might be close to impossible to move the dominant. But a grown man of any species would be difficult to move without any help from the subject himself.
Ed pushed up one eyelid to make a better estimation of the patient’s condition. To his shock Tom came awake and recoiled violently from his touch.
“Hey, man, take it easy. It’s me – Ed. I’m here to get you out of this place.”
But he couldn’t get through to Tom. Whatever had happened to the dominant in this lab, it must have been extremely traumatic. Sloan was about to try in her turn, when a sound from the doorway behind them had her whirling around to face whatever antagonist was threatening the men she loved.
The woman in the doorway was aiming a gun at them. But Sloan had her covered too, so it appeared they were at a standstill. And the woman seemed well aware of the situation they were in.
“Sloan Parker, I presume?”
“And who are you?”
“I think the introductions can wait, don’t you? There are more interesting topics to discuss.”
She indicated Tom’s cowering shape on the bed.
Ed was still trying to reach him, but wasn’t having much success.
“Ed, get Tom out of here. I’ll take care of our hostess.”
“If you think I’m letting you take the 1.6 you’re mistaken.”
“I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it.”
And Sloan fired a shot right over the woman’s head, forcing her to take cover.
“Go. Can you manage him on your own?”
“Yes, don’t worry about me. Please be careful, Sloan.”
But how he was getting out, when an armed enemy was covering the door was more than Ed could figure out. And he was still no closer to getting through to his terrified patient. What had they done to Tom anyway to reduce him to this broken, pathetic creature? Ed felt out of his depth.
Bullets might start to fly over his head and he couldn’t even reach his patient. How had his dad managed in Vietnam? He remembered hearing stories of how his dad had been patching up wounded G.I’s near the front, but somehow he had never imagined himself facing the same type of situation back home.
“Tom. It’s me, Ed. Please let me take a look at those cuts. Everything’s going to be ok.”
He sensed more than heard how Sloan was pushing their enemy away by keeping up a constant spray of bullets in her direction. At this rate, she’d be out of ammo long before they were safely outside the building. Since he wasn’t having much luck with Tom, Ed returned to Sloan’s side, to press his own weapon into her other hand.
“Can’t you get Tom out of here?”
“I’ll try. But he’s in terrible shape. And that woman’s covering the door, isn’t she?”
“Find another way out. If you can’t, I’ll -“
Sloan was interrupted by another round of bullets sweeping uncomfortably close to her feet.
Ed returned to his patient. He was going to have to get through to Tom soon, or else he’d have to find a way of rendering him unconscious again. This was no good. And he still didn’t know how to get out of this room. He looked around for any other possible exits. There was another door, but Ed thought that probably led into a storage room.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to make sure. So while keeping his head low, he sidled over to the door and tried the handle. It opened easily enough and to his relief it led out into another corridor. Wherever that led, he couldn’t hear any gunfire from that direction. Great. Now all he needed to do was subdue his patient or reason with him.
For reasons of his own, Ed was reluctant to get too close. Sure, Tom was maybe five times as strong as he was, but right now that didn’t bother Ed as much as it might. He just feared Tom’s pheromones would be released under this much tension. Ed had a feeling he might release pheromones too, if his body had been capable of it, right about now.
But whether he liked it or not, he knew this was the time to get close. Words weren’t having any effect and they were fast running out of time and options. Soon the entire place would be surrounded by reinforcements and by then, Ray’s guys wouldn’t stand a chance.
So Ed got down on his knees beside the terrified Tom and cautiously held out a hand to touch Tom’s hair and face. For some reason, the dominant didn’t do anything to fight back. Instead he tried to cover his head with his arms, in a pathetic attempt to get as far away from an imagined aggressor as possible.
Though it was the last thing in the world Ed wanted at that moment, he tried to put his arms around Tom and just hold him. After what felt like hours, but really only could be seconds, he felt Tom slump down against him and stop his useless thrashing about.
“There. It’s going to be ok. I promise. Will you let me help you out of here, Tom? If you just let me get you out of this room, things will be fine again.”
No reply. How could he expect this wreck of a man to respond to any of his words? Whatever had been done to Tom in this place had to be beyond anything Ed could imagine.
“Tom. Please. We need to get out of here now. Do you think you can walk?”
At last. Relief flooded Ed’s mind. Finally. He let go of Tom and backed off. Holding out a hand to steady the dominant, he watched him struggle to get back on his feet. Eventually, he was successful.
Ed cast a wary glance backwards. No sign of Sloan or that woman. Part of him wanted to be with his lover to make sure she was ok. But his patient needed him. His friend needed him. More than Sloan did right now. He forced his mind away from everything except the task of getting his patient to safety.
Tom seemed to have hidden reserves of strength. With Ed to support him, he was able to make his way out of the room he had been held in, and even down the stairs. Slowly, painfully, but they were making progress, except for a few times when Tom seemed to stumble and Ed had to carry all his weight for a moment.
Now a new problem emerged. As if they didn’t have enough to worry about. How did they get outside again, and back to the car? A good sense of direction unfortunately wasn’t among Ed’s finer skills. To his astonishment, Tom seemed to be regaining control of some of his superhuman senses.
“Not that way. Enemies in that direction.”
“Ok. How do we get outside?”
“I don’t know. When they brought me here, I was unconscious.”
“That’s ok. We’ll manage somehow.”
And by chance they really did stumble across an exit before the enemy caught up with them. Or at least it seemed that way. Just as they were about to cross the street, a voice from inside the building called out to them.
“Hold it right there.”
Ed decided to ignore the order and trust in his luck one more time. That was unwise, he learned not many seconds later. But he knew he had had no choice. A bullet flew past his ear, and he heard other shots fired from far too close by.
There was a sickening shudder going through Tom’s body and Ed knew his patient had been hit. But it was too late to back down. They had come this far, and he had to get Tom to safety. He had to hope that he would be in time to save the dominant’s life.
Upstairs, Sloan was still caught in the same deadlock. She had managed to lead her adversary away from her lovers, but she was still no closer to resolving the situation and getting out of the building.
“This is insanity. We should be able to work out a deal.”
“Like the one you made with Attwood?”
“If you like.”
“Sorry. I don’t make pacts with the devil.”
“Don’t be too sure.”
“About who is the devil in this context.”
Sloan didn’t reply. She was trying to think of a way of getting away. By now Ed should have been able to get Tom out as well. Where was Ray and his people? She could use their help right about now. When it became plain that Sloan wasn’t going to reply, the other woman started talking again.
“Why do you want that 1.6 back?”
“He’s got a name.”
“I know you call him Tom, but that’s not his name. They don’t have names like we do. You want him back because you love him.”
No reply. Whatever this bitch was trying to pull wasn’t going to work.
“That’s understandable. After all, he was trained to seduce you and your partner, dr Tate. He would have worked his charm on Attwood too, but he wasn’t susceptible.”
“If you don’t have anything more imaginative to say, you might as well save your breath.”
“Think about it Sloan. You’re an intelligent woman. How do you know what a creature like that really feels? He must have told you what you wanted to hear, but that’s not surprising, considering all the training he received. By his mother and by all the other instructors. And there are others like him. All of them expert in seducing humans. By infiltrating people like you and dr Tate, they’ll have access to all your scientific data and can plan their countermeasures accordingly.”
“If you turn him over to us again, we’ll be willing to share information with you.”
“Oh, yeah? And how come you guys have so much info about these dominants, considering the fact that I discovered their existence less than a year ago. It’s almost as if you guys have been aware of them for a lot longer than that.”
There was a pause in which Sloan had time to think she must have been close to the mark with her lucky guess.
“You’re right. Like I said, you’re an intelligent woman. We discovered their existence more than ten years ago. And in that time we’ve been working on ways to contain their activities.”
“Contain? Not put a stop to them. I see.”
Again that reflective pause. Sloan was sure this woman was mixing truths, with half-truths and downright lies to come up with something credible enough to take her in. But it wasn’t going to work. Tom had proven his loyalty to them again and again. As if the woman had read Sloan’s mind, she began talking again.
“For various reasons, it’s been decided to let them have some leeway. Randall Lynch went too far. Those crimes were too flagrant to let him get away with them.”
“I get it. So you let them rape and kill as long as it doesn’t get too “flagrant”. No wonder you guys didn’t like it when I went public with my discoveries.”
“Your 1.6 really has turned your head. Let me guess. He killed a few of his own. Of course he did. To make it seem natural, he’d have to. But they can afford to lose a few soldiers. They make new ones over and over again. Tom, as you like to call him, was one of 33 siblings born to the same mother. And she was special in many ways. An average dominant female will give birth to close to a hundred children in her life. You figure it out for yourself. At that rate, we’ll be overrun in a few years time. But if we make a deal with them, slow them down a bit, we might have time to stop them. Eventually.”
“Or maybe not. A dominant is a very useful weapon, isn’t it? Any human agency in command of a contingent of dominant warriors would be invincible. Like I said, nice try.”
And to Sloan’s relief, she could hear a group of people heading her way. That had to be Ray and his people. And even if it wasn’t, the woman across the hallway seemed to be distracted. Sloan took advantage of her enemy’s momentary distraction and made a rush for the next open doorway. One step closer to freedom.
Oh, good. That was Ray. And he wasn’t alone. The sound of running feet told Sloan that he was accompanied by at least three or four others. Her enemy must have turned her attention towards this new threat, because now the shooting began again. This time directed away from Sloan’s position.
“Can you get outside that way, Sloan?”
“Yes, I remember the direction. Is it all clear downstairs?”
“For now. Hurry. We’ll take care of this one. Just go.”
“Ok. Have you seen Ed and Tom?”
“No. We’ll have to get out of here now. Look for them outside.”
Sloan was able to get downstairs without running into any opposition, and not one of Ray’s people showed up. They had their own transportation, so Sloan assumed they would just make their own way out of there. Her first concern had to be her lovers, and after that Ray. He really had come through for them once again.
She got across the street without any trouble, and by the time she was outside Ed’s car, she had seen Ray and his people leave the building. As he got in, she noticed Tom’s slumped down form in the seat between her and Ed.
The fact that Ed was working on Tom told her something was badly wrong, but at the moment she had more than enough on her plate, getting the car into gear and away again. She hadn’t even considered where they were going. It didn’t seem to matter for the time being as long as she put as much distance between her and the other side.
From time to time, she snatched a look at Tom’s unmoving form and felt a shiver go down her spine. So much blood. That had to be new. Tom must have taken a hit just as he was about to enter the car. Of all the bad luck.
Ed noticed her look and winced. He felt he had failed as a doctor. Why hadn’t he been able to keep his patient safe?
“I’m sorry, Sloan. He was hit as we were making our way across the street.”
“How bad is it?”
“Really bad. I won’t know for sure until I can operate.”
“Ok. I know you’ll do what you can. No one can do more.”
That was generous of her, considering how much she loved the man who was lying in the seat between them, losing more and more blood with each heartbeat.
They got to their first rendezvous point, where Ray dismissed his helpers. Sloan got out of the car and walked up to the cop, a stunned look on her face.
“Ray, Tom’s been hit. It’s bad. We need to go someplace Ed can operate.”
“Right. We’ll go to my place.”
“Are you sure?”
“I sent my wife and son away, so it’s just going to be the four of us. Let’s go.”
During the short trip back to Ray’s house, all Sloan could think about over and over again was how lucky she was that Ed was a doctor, and that he always carried emergency supplies in his car. But would it be enough? She had been studying Ed’s face from time to time, though she knew she ought to keep her eyes on the traffic, and he didn’t look hopeful. Tom’s pale face she didn’t dare to look at.
At Ray’s house, they were ushered into a large guest room, and after an inquiring look at Ed, their host left them there for the time being. -Right. What do you need? Do you want me to assist?
“Yes. And tell Ray we’ll be needing -“
After providing his guests with what they needed for the surgery, Ray returned to offer whatever assistance he could. You’d think the cop had assisted at numerous other medical procedures. And it turned out that he had.
“When I was in uniform, I once had to deliver a baby in the backseat of my squad car. Does that count?”
“Sure it does. Stand here beside me, and whenever I ask for something, you give it to me, ok?”
The operation dragged on for hours, and Sloan knew enough about the procedure to know that they were losing. But she didn’t want to give up. She couldn’t. This man, this dominant, whatever he was, meant too much to her.
And though as a scientist she knew it was no use deluding oneself, she wasn’t here as a scientist tonight. She was the lover of the patient on the operating table, and as such it was much harder to coldly add up the signs pointing in a discouraging direction.
Finally, when even Ray must have known it was over, Ed dejectedly stepped away from the table, pulled off his gloves and mask and slumped down on a chair. Sloan could see that not only was he totally exhausted, but also devastated by the loss of this particular patient.
“Sloan, I’m sorry. The bullet hit a main artery, and there simply was too much damage.”
The words didn’t mean anything to her at first. But when they finally sunk in, Sloan had to bite her lip to keep from succumbing to hysterics, like she hadn’t done since she was 13 and her dog had been run over by a car. Missy had survived, but to the adolescent seeing the horrible damage caused by the impact, it had seemed far worse than it really was.
She was aware of Ed and Ray studying her closely, and that gave her the strength to accept what couldn’t be changed and somehow move on. Looking at Ed, and Ray, who had done more than anyone could expect, she was filled with an overwhelming gratitude. No one could have been more supportive.
So she walked over to sit down next to Ed, took his hand, and squeezed it as much for her own sake as his. Her loss was still too great to fully understand, but she knew that eventually it would sink in, and she would know the full impact of her grief.
“Look, I’ll get you guys some coffee, ok?”
They hardly heard their host as he left the room. Ray was a good friend, but there was no way he could understand how deeply this had hit them both. It was good to have some time alone together. Before they decided what to do and where to go, they would need to say goodbye. And after that, they would need to find a way of disposing of the body – No. Sloan didn’t want to think of Tom as a dead body. Not yet. Not ever.
“I can’t believe he’s gone.”
“I know. And I thought I’d be the last person in the world to say this, but I’m going to miss him. He was a very special person. What he did for us -“
“Don’t blame yourself. No one could have saved him.”
“I’m going to go over there now. To -“
“Ok. Take your time. I’ll have my own goodbyes to say later.”
Sloan pulled up the sheet to Tom’s chin. She wasn’t normally squeamish, but though Ed had taken care closing all the sutures, there was still too much blood. She didn’t need reminding of how she’d lost her lover.
Tom’s face looked so serene, so peaceful, quite unlike his usual sad features. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think this was just an ordinary man, asleep. She smoothed out his hair, which had been totally dishevelled.
When her fingers brushed his skin, she stared in consternation. He wasn’t cold. But maybe that wasn’t so surprising, after all. How long had he been dead? Her mind wasn’t working at its usual level, but she did recall that dead bodies appeared to be warm to the touch for a while after death occurred.
But there was something else that was odd. His eyes. A sure sign of death was the way the eyes looked. Tom’s eyes appeared to be completely normal. Sloan shook her head to clear it. Perhaps dominants functioned differently this way too.
It was time she had some rest. Loss or no loss, she couldn’t abandon her fight against their enemies. She had learned some things from that woman over at the lab. Possibly important information. But she was too tired to really process that information.
That woman had said some things about Tom. But Sloan didn’t want to dwell on that. Anything connected with Tom was too painful right now. She would go to Ed now. They would rest together, and when they had had enough sleep maybe together they would be able to figure out what to do.
Before leaving, she put her hand against Tom’s cheek.
She whispered a last farewell. Tom, I love you.
“I love you too, Sloan.”
She started violently, and her head swiveled round to Ed.
“Did you hear that?”
“Did I hear what?”
“Come over here, please.”
It seemed Ed had already fallen asleep in his chair, but at Sloan’s request he walked over to the operating table. Did Sloan want them to say their farewells together?
“I thought -“
“I thought I heard something.”
“That was probably Ray with the coffee.”
“No, I mean from Tom.”
Ed looked at her searchingly for a second. And she felt his arm come to rest protectively over her shoulder.
“Sloan, you really need some rest. I know this has been hardest on you, but you just have to face it, he’s gone. We did what we could, but that wasn’t enough. You know how it is. Whatever you do, sometimes that isn’t enough.”
“But won’t you just take a look?”
Ed sighed. He had worked on Tom for far longer than he had to, simply because it was Tom and not any patient. Not that any patient was less important than any other, but for Sloan’s sake as well as his own, Ed had wanted to make doubly sure there wasn’t anything more he could do. And he had been sure.
“What do you want me to do? He’s gone. No matter how much we’d both wish it wasn’t so, he is. There’s nothing I can do to change that.”
But Sloan wasn’t listening anymore. She was pulling the sheet off Tom’s chest and making a detailed examination. A sound from the door had both of them whirling around to face whoever had entered the room.
“Hey. I thought you guys were done. Please tell me you’re not going to do an autopsy here in my guest room?”
“No. That’s not what we’re doing.”
“Oh. Well, aren’t you going to have your coffee?”
“Sure. Thanks. Just leave it over there.”
Ray remained in the doorway for a few minutes, trying to assess this new mood in his guests. Something was up, he could sense it. And that was something to do with the dead body lying in his guest room.
But he didn’t really want to know the details, so after making sure there was nothing more his guests required of him, he retreated to his own room for some much needed rest. They would call him if they needed him.
As Ed and Sloan continued their visual inspection of Tom’s body, they hardly noticed Ray leaving. Now that Sloan had alerted him to the odd condition the body was in, Ed noticed several other unusual symptoms. Stunned by this new development, he put two fingers on the side of Tom’s neck, and almost jumped back a foot, when he thought he could detect a pulse.
“What is it?”
“I thought -“
Sloan pushed past him and felt for herself. There really seemed to be a pulse. How was this possible? Sloan had seen for herself how all life signs had ceased nearly an hour ago. Next astonishing development came before she had time to assess the new knowledge. Tom’s eyelids fluttered open and she was sure the look in those eyes was focused.
Squeezing Ed’s hand hard, Sloan forced herself to remain calm, calling on years of experience from her studies and research. Keep a cool head and a detached attitude, was what her first genetics professor had told her time and time again.
Ed and Sloan exchanged looks. Were they imagining things? Perhaps they had fallen asleep and were now dreaming. But did people share the same dream? No. There was no question about it. This was real. And it seemed that in life as in death, the dominants had a few extra tricks up their sleeves.
“Yes, darling. You’re going to be ok now. We’re at Ray’s place.”
“What happened? I remember -“
The look of utter terror on Tom’s face was an unpleasant reminder of what the dominant had had to endure over at the research facility. No matter what happened in the future, Sloan was determined to keep Tom safe from that kind of trauma.
Knowing Tom the way he did, Ed knew that what his friend most wanted right now was the truth.
“You were injured as we were making our way out of that lab. When we got you back to Ray’s place, Sloan and I performed surgery on you.”
There was a pause while Tom digested this information. No doubt there would be more questions later, but for now that would do. Ed let Tom take his time, coming to terms with his experiences. Time enough later to tell him how close he had come to dying. No. Not close. He had been dead for nearly an hour.
“Tom, would it be ok if I took a look? I need to make sure you’re going to make a full recovery.”
“I will. Everything’s healing properly now.”
“You just know that?”
Though Sloan and Ed were full of questions, they didn’t push Tom any further for answers. Now that he was back, they’d have all the time in the world.
“But do you think I could make a quick examination anyway? Just to make sure.”
“Of course. Thanks. Both of you. Now I remember how you got me out of that place, Ed. You risked your life for me. I never thought anyone would care that much about me. Not until I met the two of you.”
“Don’t mention it. I’d have done it for any patient. And besides, you’re a friend. A very good friend. But now you need your rest. As soon as I’ve made this first examination, you should get some sleep.”
And Tom let Ed get on with his work. It was amazing. All the damage the bullet had done on its way in as well as on its way out, was healing over at an incredible rate. Tom was right. There didn’t seem to be much to worry about anymore. How in the world could he just know that? Dominant anatomy apparently still held many secrets for them to uncover.
As soon as Ed had made sure his patient was ok, he and Sloan retired to the other bed to finally get some rest. They didn’t bother removing their bloodstained clothes. Ed’s last coherent thought was the memories this brought back from his first internship.
How many times had he fallen asleep in his surgery clothes? Though never with a girl like Sloan in his arms. He had a feeling the matron might take a rather stern view of that if she stumbled across them. They awoke much later to the sight of a startled Ray looking down on them.
“What did you guys do with the body? I thought I’d need to pull in a few more favors to dispose of it, but -“
His eyes hinted that he feared all kinds of gruesome methods of disposal, and Sloan almost laughed. Did he think they’d eaten the remains or what? Cut it up and put it into the garbage disposal?
“Ray, there’s something we need to tell you -“
But they were interrupted by the door opening behind their host. He whirled around, his hand flying to his pocket. The shock he experienced when he saw who had entered the room made him step back towards the bed, almost sitting down on top of his guests.
“That’s impossible. He’s dead. What is this?”
“That’s what we were going to tell you. They seem to have an amazing healing capacity.”
“I’m sorry to startle you, Ray. Sloan is right. I will be just fine now.”
“You’re not dead?”
“No. Thanks to Ed and Sloan. And you. I assume you were the one who made this rescue possible?”
“Uh. What? Yes. You’re welcome.”
“I hope you don’t mind, but I used your shower.”
“No problem. You look well for someone who was – almost – dead.”
“I’d like to use the shower too, if it’s ok with you.”
“Sure. Help yourself.”
“Tom, could I take a look at your wounds again?”
“By the way, Sloan and I have moved. After they took you away, we thought it was best to find a safer location. We’ll take you out there as soon as you’re feeling better.
“I’m feeling alright right now.”
“Good. I can’t find anything alarming either. Amazing. Tom, do you realize that you were dead for nearly an hour?”
“Was I? Maybe. But it could have just been a state of deep – I suppose sleep is closest.”
“Another one of your secrets?”
To Ed’s surprise Tom’s face was suffused with color. Apparently, Ed wasn’t the only one to remember the mortifying moment they had ended up on the floor together under circumstances that both would love to forget.
“I suppose so. I’ll try to inform you of everything I know. But like I told you before, I don’t know much about it myself.”
“Ok. I’m all done now. If only Sloan would hurry a bit, I could get your blood off me.”
“Sorry about that.”
“I’m just kidding, Tom. I know it wasn’t your fault. And if I had been a little quicker on the way out, you might not have been hit in the first place.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Ed. No one could have done more.”
“Hm. Well, this place Ray found for us, it’s a military base. It should be safe enough. Very defensible.”
“Sounds like a very good place.”
“How about some breakfast?”
“Thanks, Ray. If only Sloan would be finished in the bathroom -“
“Why don’t you use the upstairs bathroom, Ed? When you get back I’ll have some breakfast for you. But don’t expect any miracles. My wife’s the cook in this family.”
“I’m sure it will be ok.”
Once everyone had eaten all they wanted, and Ed and Sloan had helped Ray clean up the guest room from last night’s surgery, they felt it was time for Tom, Sloan and Ed to return to their new home.
“Do you have anything you need to bring from your place, Tom?”
“No. I’ll have to return there from time to time anyway, but for now, I’ll be fine.”
This time, they didn’t forget to bring more supplies. All in all, Sloan felt they had found a good hideaway. Tom seemed to agree. And in the next couple of days, everyone settled in quite nicely. Ed and Sloan were able to order some equipment for their new lab, and they got in touch with a few independent research facilities for additional test results as and when they were needed.
But it wasn’t long before Ray contacted them again. This time about a new dominant offensive. The first two attacks had been kept quiet by the media, thanks to the efforts of the police. But on this occasion, a large downtown hospital had been targeted. There was now a full scale hostage situation, with hundreds of patients and staff at risk. Apparently, more than a dozen dominants were involved.
Though Ed and Sloan weren’t sure what they could do to help, they agreed to return to the city. Tom looked unhappy at this reminder of what his people were capable of. What their intentions towards humanity were. Like his human friends, he was determined to do his best to help.
Ray seemed to be right in the middle of the large scale operation intended to end the hostage situation and if possible capture some of the dominants. Apparently, Ray was now temporarily back on duty. Sloan wondered what she and the others would be expected to do. Were they called in as experts, or did Ray intend for them to actually try to enter the hospital?
It soon emerged that Ray primarily wanted Tom’s input about the other dominants, but quite soon after their arrival a new development occurred. One of the uniformed police officers brought the blueprints of the hospital and the surrounding buildings and a few possible access routes were discovered.
A SWAT team was dispatched to cover the most likely entrances. But after they had left, Ray asked Tom if he would consider going in on his own.
“Yes, of course. But what do you want me to do, exactly?”
“I was hoping you might be able to knock a few of the – uh – dominants out. Bring one of them out here.”
“Ok. I’ll try. But as you know, they might be able to sense my approach. I will do my best though. If I mask my consciousness, I should be able to catch one of them unawares.”
“Wait a minute. We’re not letting Tom out of our sight this time. Tell them, Ed.”
“Sloan, please. You know I’ll do this better on my own. There’s no way I can shield your thoughts from them.”
“In that case -“
“Please. Let me do this. That’s my only way of helping, and I want to do that.”
“I don’t like it any more than you do, Sloan, but Tom does have a point. He’ll be able to do what he says, you know that. And wouldn’t it be useful to get one of them to study and interrogate?”
“I hate this. But I guess you’re right. All of you. Damn you, Tom, if you get hurt again.”
“I’ll try not to.”
With Ray present, apparently Tom thought embracing Sloan would be unsuitable, so he just smiled reassuringly at all his human friends and left, as silently as a cat.
“Ok, let’s go.”
“What are you talking about, Sloan?”
“Is this another of your wild schemes?”
“You make it sound as if I’m out of control. That way. No one’s going in that way, right? So if Ed and I go in, we might be able distract the dominants and give him a better chance.”
“Bad idea. You and I can’t do anything against them. You know that.”
“I’d have to agree with dr Tate.”
“I don’t care. If Tom goes in, so do I. But you can stay here, Ed. One person has more chance of slipping in undetected.”
“Absolutely not. If you’re going in, so am I.”
“No. I forbid it. Tom has a good chance of succeeding, but you two would just be throwing your lives away.”
“No. Not if we go in armed and prepared.”
“You’re really determined to do this. I could have some of my men detain you.”
“But you wouldn’t do that, would you, Ray?”
“I don’t want to, but if you force me -“
“Don’t. Please. I know we can do it. And I hate to let Tom out of my sight after what happened to him the last time. He still hasn’t been able to tell us what they did to him in there.”
“I understand. Believe me, I do. But if you’re all set to go inside, I guess I’ll have to go with you. If I can’t talk you out of it.”
“No, Ray. It’s not fair, having you put your life on the line like that. You have a family.”
“Don’t tell me about my family. But with a threat like this hanging over us, no one’s safe. I’m doing what I’m doing for my family. So let’s go. If you still feel it’s necessary.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. Here. Keep that out of sight until we’re inside.”
Sloan was touched. There it was again. A gun. One without a license, at least in her name. Ray was willing to risk his career to help her. She couldn’t begin to repay him for all she owed him.
This time, she noted, Ray didn’t bother giving Ed a gun. Maybe she should try again to make Ed stay behind. This way, she’d have to watch out for both her lovers, not just Tom. But she knew it was useless trying to reason with Ed, so she just made a mental note not to let Ed out of her sight once they were inside the hospital.
They crawled through the ventilation shafts and before they ended up in a normal corridor Sloan had plenty of opportunities to regret her hasty decision. Maybe Ray and Ed had been right all along. But she really hated standing around idly, while someone she cared about risked his life.
The dominants had been busy. It wasn’t long before they found the first victims strewn across the floor. Old people. A child. Three men. Sloan had her suspicions about why no women were found among the victims. She hoped they would be in time to save the hostages who were still alive. Where were the dominants? And come to think of it, where were the remaining hostages? All the rooms they passed were empty and Sloan hadn’t heard a sound other than their own footsteps.
Suddenly they heard a girl crying in mortal fear. And around the corner they could see a girl in her early teens lying on the floor, trying to crawl away from a man who was obviously about to – Sloan had to repress a bout of nausea. She had been sure that an adolescent girl that young would be nothing but prey to the dominants. Now she realized that they seemed to have a good idea of which human females might be able to conceive.
On hearing their approach the dominant looked up and was instantly alert. He got on his feet and moved in on Ray and Ed. Again the same M O. Kill the males and – But this time, he didn’t know what female he was dealing with. Sloan didn’t hesitate to aim at the male’s head and fire.
A small dark dot appeared right between his eyes, and a trickle of blood was pouring out of that hole. Like something out of a horror movie, the dominant male kept coming at them, but just before he reached his intended victims, he crumpled up and fell to the floor. The little girl on the floor hadn’t stopped screaming the entire time, and now she renewed her efforts at getting away.
Ed walked over to her and tried to calm her down. From what he could see after making an initial visual inspection, she appeared to be more or less intact.
“It’s ok. I’m a doctor. Not one of them. And my friends – That guy over there is a cop. We’ve come to help you.”
It was a while before he got through to the terrified girl, but as soon as his words had sunk in, incredibly she took his words at face value. Relieved that he didn’t have one more hysterical patient on his hands, Ed held out his hand to help the girl to her feet.
“Let’s go. I’ll take you out of here.”
“No. My little sister’s in there.”
The girl indicated a door some distance down the corridor. Now they could all hear the sound of a struggle from inside the room. No, Ed thought to himself. A little sister. Surely these dominants wouldn’t – Sloan immediately had the situation figured out.
“It’s ok, I’ll get your sister.”
“No, Sloan, don’t.”
“Don’t worry about her, dr Tate. I’ll go with her. Stay here with that girl and we’ll bring her sister, if -“
Ray didn’t finish the sentence. If the little girl was already beyond their help, they’d have to find a way of getting the other little girl out anyway.
Struck by a sudden thought, Ed again focused on his new patient.
“Were you and your sister here all alone? Or were your parents with you?”
“No. I went to visit Becky after school. Mom’s working so she couldn’t make it.”
“Becky’s had her appendix out.”
“I see. How long ago?”
“About a week ago. She’s going home tomorrow.”
If the little girl was still alive, at least moving her wouldn’t be a problem.
Inside the hospital ward, Sloan found a battle field. Left and right there were dead people. Mainly men, dressed in hospital white, but another small child was lying with a broken neck only inches from Sloan’s feet. An elderly woman was dead as well, judging by the large pool of blood that had spread around her.
Sloan didn’t want to look too closely. Was anyone still alive in this room, apart from the dominant male who was – Yes, the child in the bed over by the window had to be still alive. Her screams were still forceful enough for there still to be hope.
“Hey, you. Pick on someone your own size.”
Ray shook his head despondently. Didn’t this redheaded woman fear anything?
The dominant looked up and moved away from the bed, leaving his intended victim in a state of hysteria, but hopefully still unharmed.
Ray’s and Sloan’s bullets sprayed into the dominant, and stopped him in his tracks while he was still a full yard away from them. He collapsed and landed in a heap on top of two of his earlier victims.
While the cop made sure the dominant was dead, Sloan walked over to the little girl who appeared to be the only one left alive inside the children’s ward. She tried not to look too closely at the other little patients. Not one of them appeared to have any life left in them.
Putting away her gun, so she wouldn’t frighten the little girl, she walked over to her bed. For some reason, perhaps that the attack force had been all male, the little girl didn’t fear her. The child appeared to be about nine years old.
“Hello. Your sister’s waiting out in the corridor for you. My friend will take you outside to the cops.”
“Yes, this man is a cop and my friend who’s with your sister is a doctor.”
“Come on. We’d better hurry before more of those bad men come back. No. Don’t look at the others.”
And Sloan hurriedly picked up the little girl and carried her away from the worst carnage.
In the corridor she deposited the child on the floor beside her sister. The little girls embraced, but there was no time for that.
“Ed, will you take them outside?”
“Oh, ok. You win. But I swear to you the next time you dream up something like this, I’ll have Ray handcuff you to a chair.”
Ed picked up the youngest girl and moved off with the sister in tow.
How was Ed going to defend himself and his patients if he wasn’t even carrying a gun? And with his arms busy holding the little girl, how could he even use a weapon, should he be given one? Ray saw the difficulty just as well as Sloan. He groaned inwardly but tried to regain the initiative.
“Why don’t we all go? You know Tom’s going to manage fine on his own. Please, Sloan. You’re getting yourself killed for nothing.”
But the stubborn look on her face wasn’t promising and her next words confirmed Ray’s suspicions.
“You watch Ed’s back. I’ll go on.”
Ray acknowledged defeat. Unless he knocked the redheaded scientist out and carried her over his shoulder, he wasn’t going to get anywhere with this line of reasoning. So he hurried after Ed and his protegees, filled with misgivings.
Sloan cautiously moved on. The dominants apparently had their hands full killing and raping. They weren’t expecting this infiltration, and anyway, by now the police should have already launched their attack. It should be perfectly possible to –
Before she finished the sentence, she met the next dominant. A female this time. At first Sloan was reminded of Tom’s mother. But the dominant female was dead. This one was only too alive and well. Before Sloan had time to fire her gun again, the female threw herself at her.
The struggle would have been finished within seconds if it weren’t for the fact that the dominant was injured. Quite badly too.
Otherwise Sloan knew she wouldn’t have stood a chance. And though it was hardly fair, she did what she could to keep hurting her enemy as much as she could. It took all Sloan’s willpower to keep slashing out at the worst wounds on the dominant’s face and arms, but she did.
Whatever edge she could get, she’d need if she wanted to stay alive. Her foot made contact with a badly injured knee and the weight moved off her, with a barely muffled cry of pain. Good. That was one for all the innocent victims that littered the hospital corridors and wards.
Sloan didn’t wait to check on her enemy’s progress. She started running towards the stairs. But before she got more than one floor down, she was cut off. Two dominant males were closing in from below and her female antagonist was not far behind her from above. Was this the end? Three dominants against one human? The odds were impossible.
Suddenly a familiar voice broke through her concentration. Tom. So she’d found him at last. Where was he? Somewhere below. Yes, now she could see him, standing at the ground floor right in the center of the stairwell.
“Jump. I’ll catch you.”
He couldn’t be serious. That was two floors down, and even if she didn’t die on impact, she’d break every bone in her body. But he said he’d catch her. If anyone could do that it was Tom.
Sloan knew she didn’t have much time to make up her mind, and at that moment she remembered the allegations the woman who had kept Tom prisoner had made. He was sent to – No. That was just lies. But what if it was true? Maybe he hadn’t seduced Ed, but close enough. And he had certainly managed to endear himself with her.
This wasn’t the time for her doubts to surface. In a second the dominant female would be upon her and not much later, the two males. She had to make up her mind. As if Tom’s face could tell her the answer to her questions, she looked down at him.
His face seemed to convey concern. Worry on her behalf. Love. Why was she doubting him? And Sloan jumped over the railing and let herself go. It was the worst leap of faith she had ever had to make. Now there was no turning back. If Tom had been lying to her –
But he caught her, and though the impact jarred both of them horribly, it soon became obvious that no bones were broken. Faster than Sloan thought was possible, Tom was up and had her in his arms, and was running away from the other dominants. He didn’t bother finding a hidden exit, instead he broke through an already broken down doorway and outside into the back alley.
They were surrounded by armed uniformed men. For a second, Sloan’s mind went blank. In the past couple of hours, her system had had to endure one shock after another culminating in her interior struggle, leading to her leap of faith. And now this. Would Tom be shot for saving her life? But there was a familiar face. Ray. So this nightmare was finally over.
Paramedics moved over to check on potential injuries. Sloan waved them away. It wouldn’t do for them to discover that Tom was another dominant.
Now that they were out of danger, Sloan began looking around for Ed, and not much later she found him, apparently safe. But because Tom had had to come to her rescue, they had failed to bring back a live captive.
“I’m sorry, Ray. We didn’t manage to bring you a live captive after all.”
“Don’t worry about it. It was worth a shot.”
“I did leave one male unconscious inside. Unless he comes to, or one of the others removed him you will find him on the second floor in a broom closet.”
“We’ll check that out as soon as we can finish up here. But as for the three of you – It’s over. Go home. Unless you’re injured?”
“No, we’re fine, I think.”
“You did well, dr Tate. Bringing those girls to safety was excellent work. They might be the only surviving hostages.”
“Thanks. But I wonder how they’ll ever adjust to living with the memories. A 13-year-old is old enough to understand what that dominant was after. And I’m pretty sure the younger sister knew that other male was going to kill her.”
“That’s not your concern anymore. Go home. All of you. Thanks for your help. I’ll be in touch.”
Without much small talk, Ed, Tom and Sloan made their way back to Ed’s car. Was it really possible that they had been inside the building for less than three hours? It felt more like an entire night. Sloan was ashamed of herself for doubting Tom. And why had she been so adamant about dragging Ed into danger? When would she learn to think before acting? Next time they might not be so fortunate.
“Guys, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have dragged you into this, Ed, and Tom, if I hadn’t been so rash, you might have had an easier time bringing your captive.”
“That’s ok, Sloan. Your life is much more important to me.”
“But our work could have used a test subject – I’m sorry, Tom.”
“Don’t be. I fully understand the need to put a stop to my people.”
“Of course I forgive you, Sloan. You know I always do. But please don’t put yourself in danger like this again.”
“Ok. I’ll try not to. That’s a promise.”
“Can I count on that?”
“Let’s get some rest. I feel like I haven’t slept for days. You’re not hurt, anyone?”
“Not me. I managed to approach the target without being detected.”
“I’m sore all over after that female jumped me, but nothing serious.”
“You’re sure you don’t want me to take a look?”
“Hm. Maybe it would be best.”
It was amazing. Considering how tired they all were, how could they think of flirting? But Ed’s tone of voice was unmistakable. The question was how much of the underlying innuendo Tom was picking up on. His superior senses should be able to detect the changed mood.
Maybe they weren’t too tired after all. And their new home was ideal for their purposes. No neighbors, no passersby who might notice anything odd about their behavior. But they mustn’t let their relationship get in the way of their work. They must never forget what was at stake.