Author’s note: Yes, I have returned, with a fourth installment of that fic which, unfortunately, happens to be based on Squaresoft’s intellectual property. Only a small portion of the things herein actually belong to me, but I hope they are good ones. I apologize for the delay-I’ve taken time out to do a few things like play PE II again, watch the PE movie (all for research purposes, I assure you 🙂 and get married. Just little things, right? Anyway, I hope this chapter will be enjoyable, and YES, you get to meet Jack in this installment! An apology, as well: I discovered, to my chagrin, that Kyle’s birth is accounted for in PE II, so I can’t assign him to Seattle as I did in chapter three. If I can get that chapter to post again, it is corrected to say that he was raised in Seattle, not born there. Enjoy!
Taylor’s Canyon was a long way from Dallas. For that matter, it was a long way from anywhere.
Aya was not so strangely reminded of Dryfield, Nevada, as she stepped out of the jeep into the sunset light. The chief difference between the two towns was that Dryfield had been very compact, not to mention very empty, whereas Taylor’s Canyon was a little more spread out, and very much populated. Lights burned in most of the visible windows, and on the porch of the nearest house, an old couple sat in an even older porch swing, no doubt talking about her. She made a mental note to herself to next time drive something a little older, and thus less conspicuous.
It had taken her all day to find the little town, even with GPS and Pierce’s very detailed maps at her disposal. She didn’t even want to make a guess as to just how far she really was from Dallas, but with all the wrong turns she had made, she had put several hundred miles on the Jeep. Fortunately, if anyone had to find her, they would be able to track her GPS unit, now that she was here. Though she was sweaty and tired enough to sleep like a baby, it was only seven-thirty, local time; still time enough to do a little work, unless this really was the kind of town where they rolled up the streets at night…
Start with the obvious, her father used to say. Putting on her best smile, she approached the old couple on the porch, trying to look casual. “Hello!” Good start-they didn’t
immediately run away. “Ah…I was wondering if maybe you could help me out. I’m looking for a man named John Carter-he’s supposed to live around here. Would you know him?”
The old man stared at her for a few moments, then slowly, deliberately, turned his head and spat out a long streamer of tobacco on the dirt yard beside the porch. “Don’t know no John Carter round here,” he drawled.
Inwardly, Aya groaned. “Great-my first contact, and I get a walking stereotype,” she thought to herself. “No one by that name lives in this town?” she continued. “I was pretty sure it was Taylor’s canyon.”
Fortunately, he spared her the tobacco this time. “I said, there ain’t no John Carter around here. You got trouble hearin’ me, or somethin?”
Aya frowned, and made as if to leave. “Alright, then-sorry to disturb you. I’ll just-“
To her amazement, then, the old woman turned and slapped the man on the arm. “You cut that out, you old codger,” she exclaimed, as Aya’s mouth fell open. “Gotta cause trouble, don’t you? She means Jack Carter, out in the oil village, little Melanie’s daddy, and you know it. What’s got into you?” Seemingly satisfied, she turned back to Aya. “Young lady, don’t you mind him. I don’t, least not until he has somethin’ to say. Listen, the man you’re looking for goes by Jack, not John, though that is his real name. I can’t tell you right where he lives, because he lives down on the oil village, and we don’t get down there much anymore-but maybe somebody else could. You follow?”
“I think so,” Aya said, managing not to stutter in her shock. “The oil village?”
“That’s right. You knew this was an oil town, right? Well, the oil village is the end of town where most of the oilmen live. It’s off by itself so that if there’s trouble on a rig, they can all get there quick, you see? It’s about a mile down that road.” She pointed off to the south. “But I don’t suggest you go down there tonight-it’s Friday, and, well, you know how some people get when it’s payday. A little bit…out of hand, huh? Jack ain’t like that, but do yourself a favor, and stay out of the village til tomorrow anyway. You got a room?”
“Yeah. The Black Gold motel.” Aya hiked a thumb back toward a long, low building up the street.
“Not real bad. But listen, before you go.” She paused, as if thinking.
The old woman cleared her throat uncomfortably. “You ain’t another of them…journalists, are you? Reporter types?”
Realization suddenly sank in, and she remembered where Pierce had found this tip. “No, not at all.”
“Good, good. ‘Cause I was gonna tell you, if you was, to stay away from Jack Carter. That man don’t need no more pushin’ in on his private business. He’s a good man, and he don’t need no trouble.” She laughed, then, a dry scratching sound. “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have told you so much. But you, you just seem…I can’t help trusting you.”
“You have been a help to me. Thank you!”
Never one for taking advice, Aya headed for the village almost as soon as she was out of sight of the old couple-fortunately, the light was going faster than she had expected, so she doubted they saw her course. “Besides,” she said to herself as she pulled off the street to park, “I think I should be able to take care of myself just fine.”
That was before she stepped into the first bar.
Aya wasn’t a drinker-a bad experience at a high school prom, years before, had cured her of that temptation long since. As a cop she had been in any number of bars, for any number of reasons, but never one in a place like this-and it was a far cry from anything she had seen in New York or L.A. The instant she stepped through the swinging doors, she was assaulted by a wave of country music turned up too loud, bolstered by the reek of spilled beer and human sweat. An instant later, the music was overcome by a crash of breaking glass, and she leaped aside as a muscular bouncer, blood streaming from a cut on his shoulder, hustled an angry young man out the door. From outside, there was a heavy thud, then the bouncer came back in, wiping his arm. “Sorry ’bout that, lady,” he
muttered apologetically. “You alright?”
“For now,” she answered. “Is it always like this on Fridays?”
“Nah,” he replied, giving her a wry smile, “some nights it’s worse. This is a good one.” With that, he headed toward the bar. Aya shrugged, then followed.
There was a small dance floor, and it was crowded with a dozen or more couples doing a drunken version of some line dance that was at least ten years out of date. The rest of the floor space was filled with tables and booths and people in various states of drunkenness-most of them were still awake and ambulatory, but Aya guessed that that condition was on its way out for the evening. Most of the men, she noticed, were, if not large, at least well-muscled, which made sense in an oilmen’s village. There was a generous group of women scattered in among them, as well. The bar itself was crowded, as well, but Aya managed to find a seat at one end. Maybe the bartender, at least, would be sober enough to help her.
“Something light,” she ordered when he came over-not that she intended to touch whatever it was; even if she had been one to drink, she needed her wits if she was going to find this Jack. A steaming-cold glass of amber liquid materialized in front of her, and she murmured her thanks (none too heartfelt, though; the glass smelled like the inside of
Daniel Dollis’ police locker in midsummer). So as to not look too suspicious, she gave it a few long minutes, just sitting, rather than trying the bartender right away.
The thought of Daniel made her smile despite herself. Her former partner would love this place, were he here; he would have found at least a dozen laws busy being broken, and would have had enormous fun busting up the place before hauling everyone in. It wasn’t that he was violent; he just really, really got into whatever he was doing. But bars in particular rubbed him the wrong way, and Aya knew why: it was just a matter of time before his son, Ben, would be old enough to have to deal with that problem. Daniel was more determined than ever now to raise his son right, since Lorraine had died, back in the Manhattan Blockade Inci…
She snapped back to reality, short-circuiting the irrational twinge of guilt that started to come up. That had been Eve’s doing, not hers, and the fact that she carried similar mitochondria meant nothing. Nothing.
It was late enough. As the bartender passed by her again, wiping down a glass, she stopped him with a raised finger. “Excuse me. I’m looking for Jack Carter-you know him?”
“Jack Carter? Yeah, I know him. You with that paper or somethin’?”
Apparently, that report must have made waves in town. “No, I just need to talk to him. Not for any paper. Where could I find him?”
The bartender snorted laughter. “Not here, that’s for sure. That man’s clean as a whistle-he wouldn’t set foot in a place like this. You’ll have to get him at home, over on Whitestick Road.”
Aya frowned. “How do I get there from here?”
“Simple enough. Go on down three houses, take a left, then the second right. He’s the only house on that road-can’t miss it.” He pointed the general direction, then went back to
“Thanks a lot.” Aya left some cash on the bar, then started toward the door.
Halfway there, a particularly fragrant-and particularly drunk-patron intercepted her. “Well, looky here,” he growled, his face twisting into a smile that showed a distinct lack of teeth.
“Great,” Aya thought. “Just what I need-another cliche.” She glanced back at the bar, but the overmuscled bouncer was nowhere to be seen; probably still dressing his injury in the bathroom. She’d have to handle this on her own. “Nice to meet you,” she answered, then started around the man.
As expected, he moved to stay in front of her. “Wanna dance, babe?”
“No thanks, and I’m not your babe. Now if you don’t mind…”
“I do mind.” He caught her arm as she tried to slip past him. “I’m in the mood to dance, and I think you are too.”
She smiled. “Then you don’t know me, do you? I don’t dance with strangers.” The reek of the guy’s breath…
“I think you do!” He made to grab her other arm-and that was it. Suddenly the bar, the heat, the smell, it all seemed to close in on her. It didn’t matter that the guy was only, in his mind, being social, or that he would probably pass out in a minute anyway. It didn’t matter that he didn’t even know her name, or mean her any harm. It was just TOO MUCH!
Aya twisted around the second grab and stiffened her hand, then jabbed upward into the guy’s open armpit. The pain must have been exquisite, because it seemed to sober him up instantly. Before he could do anything, though, she rammed her knee into his stomach,making him double over; then she brought her elbow down hard on the back of his head. He hit the floor in a heartbeat, lights out.
Before she could catch her breath, there was a strangled growl of surprise. Another young man, apparently from the first’s table, was getting to his feet. “That chick just beat up Joey!” he exclaimed, shock painting his words. He started toward her. “Chick or not, you’re gonna get hurt for that!”
Aya’s mind was racing-the last thing she needed was a fight with a bunch of drunks. One might not be so bad, but if they all got fired up, she might not get out of here…what she needed was a way to short-circuit this before it came to that.
The answer came before she could stop it, and she felt the mitochondrial power building.
She raised her hand, and the guy stopped moving as if he had hit a brick wall. No-it was more like a tractor beam of some sort; he was pinned in place in mid-step, fists still balled, arms still trying to rise. Shock now painted his face, as well. Aya shifted the focus of her power, just slightly, and felt the mitochondria in the man’s own body respond. A sweat broke out on his face as his body temperature rose a few degrees. “What is this crap?” he cried out.
“You don’t look well,” she declared, still holding her hand up. From the corners of her eyes, she noticed that a healthy space had formed around them. “You have a fever, maybe?”
“I ain’t never been sick-this is crazy!” he shouted. His eyes darted now, bewildered.
“Maybe you should go home and get some sleep,” she said, almost soothingly. “Or better yet, maybe you should just sleep here.” She clamped down suddenly with her power, and the man’s eyes closed at once. Still holding on, she lowered him gently to the floor, then released him. He was already snoring.
She lifted her eyes to the crowd-and almost jumped. Their reaction was nothing like what she expected. Most people that saw her power at work got frantic, or panicky; no one ever just stood there. But that was what the entire room was doing-not talking, not panicking, just standing quietly. No surprise was evident on their faces; some of them almost looked bored.
“I think you’d better leave now,” the bouncer said from the bar; apparently she had been right, as he now sported a large bandage.
“Yeah,” she muttered, then slowly started for the doors. Her mind was still racing, though. There were only two explanations for what had just happened, or rather, failed to happen. One was that they didn’t recognize what she had done; two was that they had seen it before.
The though filled her with dread and excitement. They had seen it before.
Jack Carter’s front porch. Nine-twenty-three p.m.
Aya had taken some time to wash up at the motel before coming here; it had also allowed her to ponder over what she had seen at the bar. In the end, she could reach no other conclusion. On the bright side, if she was correct, then Pierce had found her the best lead of her life; on the other hand, though, she had no way to know what that meant. Still, she
had to press on; she only hoped that it wasn’t too late at night to call on the man in question. The thought of sleeping on this was unbearable. She knocked on the door.
There was a short pause, then a rustling of curtains at the window to her left; then the sound of a bolt sliding back. The door opened a foot or so, and Aya was face to face with a well-tanned, sandy-haired man in jeans and a faded grey, long-sleeved shirt. He looked to be in his early thirties, though his face had the ruggedness characteristic of anyone
whose work is outdoor and hard. “Can I help you?”
“That’s me,” he answered, not unkindly. “And you are…”
“Aya Brea,” she answered, offering a hand. After a moment, he shook it, though briefly. “Federal Bureau of Investigation, but I’m not here on business, Mr. Carter.” His gaze was
very intent now, very…penetrating. Almost as if he was reading her face. “I’d like to talk to you, if I could.”
He frowned, and the sense of examination Aya was feeling broke off. “About what?”
Aya fished in one of her pockets, and brought up a folded sheet of fax paper. She unfolded it, revealing a copy of the article on Jack from the local paper, faxed to her by Pierce. “Do you recall this article, Mr. Carter?”
All traces of congeniality instantly vanished from his face. “Ma’am, I really don’t think I have the time to talk about that now. I appreciate you coming out here and all, but I’m sorry I can’t give you what you want. Have a good night.” Before she could say anything else, the door slammed in her face, and the bolt shot home. She heard the click of a second lock, as well.
“Well, of all the…” She smacked the doorpost in frustration, then headed for the Jeep.
Jack stumped back through the house, hardly breathing. What he sensed in that woman…
“Dad? Who was that?” Melanie called from the couch, where she was watching tv.
“Nobody, Melanie,” Jack replied as he paused in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. “Just another reporter. I ran her off.” He looked over at his daughter, sprawled out on the couch, dark hair spilling back over the armrest. The image of her mother…he sighed, and turned back to the table.
Taking his seat, he examined the cage again. Inside was a white rabbit, speckled around its forelegs with grey-or at least, that’s what it had been. Mike Anderson from Site 3 had brought it over an hour or so ago, promising to come back tomorrow. Jack sighed again as he looked at it; the poor thing was clearly taken with the NMC mitochondria, though Jack hadn’t known the term “NMC” until the woman came to his porch, a minute ago. He knew it now, though, and that disturbed him.
The rabbit squirmed inside the cage, its distended body really too long for the surroundings. Wicked fangs protruded from its mouth, and it stared at Jack through frightened eyes-four of them, to be precise. It began thrashing as he reached toward it, and he felt a pang of pity for it; he could help it, but he knew it would be painful for the animal. As if what had already occurred wasn’t painful, though.
His hands began to glow, and the animal quieted down, though its eyes got wider. The changes began, slowly but surely, as the fangs retracted. Soon, the animal was back to normal-small, white, only two eyes, and sleeping, though raggedly.
Jack thought that was how he would be sleeping tonight, as well.
Well, after the longest hiatus in history, here is chapter four. I hope you like it-hey, even if not, I just hope all my readers actually come back! Thanks for patience. Now that life has slowed down a little (finally!) I can write more. What do you think of Jack so far? Not much exposure to him, I know, but maybe enough to whet everyone’s appetite.
Please review. Until next time…