Wearing the Inside Out, 4 days later
Jack looked with some trepidation at the four banks of servers set up in Jerry's cellar. The new equipment still had that plasticy, new computer smell. A quick glance around the room showed the immaculate set up of the new systems. Forty new high speed data servers were arranged in four sleek cabinets, ten to a cabinet, each with triple redundancy power back up and interlinkages. All of these fed into a trio of high-speed wifi modems arranged in a triangular formation, each one with a separate fiber optic transmission line leading to the three new antennae concealed in the old Victorian row house's roofline.
"Father would be quite surprised at your foresight in this matter," Jack said. The coldness of his tone spoke more to the necessity of the arrangement than to his actual approval of it. "You've raised the capability of the previous system by at least an order of magnitude."
"Almost two orders of magnitude," Jerry smiled proudly. "Thankfully, my own chip set is not up to modern standards like yours is, little brother. So, all of this is yours."
"I don't mean to sound unappreciative, Jerald," Jack started, running a finger along the sleek black casing of the nearest cabinet. "But what do you expect I'll need this for. Father used the previous system to enslave me as much as to program and monitor me." He turned a sharp glance up to his older brother. "Is that your intention as well?"
"Okay, let's get two things straight between us. First, I am not going to enslave you or force you to do anything more radical or dangerous than household chores. As far as I'm concerned, you can come and go as you please. So long as you respect my privacy and don't get into trouble with the police, we're good. I'll respect your privacy as well."
"And second?" Jack asked, sensing that these two points would be immutable in their newly reformatted relationship.
"Second, don't call me Jerald unless there's a cop or court official or something like present. In return, I promise not to use your middle name in public."
"You wouldn't!" Jack blurted, his face going into a panic.
"Don't worry, Gunter," Jerry smiled, noticing how the sound of his middle name irritated Jack. "Your secret's safe with me."
Sighing, Jack looked around the small computer room, noticing that Jerry had planned for expansion, and even had a built in electronics repair station set up with a full micro soldering set, tools and bins full of replacement and blank circuit boards. "So, what exactly do you expect of this arrangement? What do you think I'll need all of this for?"
"Well, we both know what kind of man Father is. We both know that it may only be a matter of time until we may have to deal with him again. Hopefully you knocked his brains around enough that he'll think twice before messing with you or Paul again. Still, you have capabilities that are far beyond the average teenager. And I would be a fool to not give you every advantage I can. That's what all this is for."
"My own Bat Cave and Bat Computer?"
"If you want to think of it that way, sure."
"I'm already designing the sign."
"Look at it this way," Jerry said, sweeping his arm out to draw the younger boy to him. Together they started walking towards the stairs up. "Better to have this kind of computing power backing up your internal systems, providing massive storage capacity and multitasking capability, and not need it than to need it and not have it."
"It must have cost a considerable sum for all of this?"
"To tell you the truth, it wasn't cheap. But I've been planning on finding some way to break you from Father's control for a while. I didn't know if I'd ever be able to do it." Jack stopped in place, allowing Jerry to take two steps from him before the older brother stopped as well.
"You planned to free me?"
"But why?" Jack asked, looking perplexed. "Until recently, you had no care or concern for me at all. I was allowed to put my garden in your yard. I was allowed to care for your home. But you never showed me any emotions, any human care at all since I was 5 years old."
Jerry tiredly sat down on the carpeted steps leading up into main floor. He sighed loudly. "You have to understand Jack. Until recently, I had no indication that you were even interested in your freedom. You were little more than Father's pet science fair project. When I saw you take care of that wounded bird three years ago, that was the first time I recognized you had emotions at all."
"Explain," Jack demanded, his left arm crossing behind his back to grab at his right elbow from behind. A gesture he'd picked up from Paul, Jerry recognized.
"I remember what it was like, being his thing. All the cruelty and horror he visited upon you were probably mirrored in my own upbringing. And it would have continued if a school social worker hadn't come to the house one day. In order to keep from having them interfere with his work, Father let me go out and socialize with other kids. You never had that until Paul. I never thought I'd have a chance to spring you from his clutches until I knew what Paul meant to you."
"So you would have let Father keep me? Use me?"
"I know it sounds cold, but I had to wait for the opportune time. Like in chess."
"And if the time never showed itself?"
"Jack," Jerry said, some sternness coming into his voice.
"I want to know. If there was never a proper opportunity, you would have let him do with me as he pleased?"
Jerry considered his next words carefully. He lifted his eyes to match Jack's, staring into the liquid green intensity of the younger boy's eyes. Swallowing, Jerry inhaled to speak, slowly closing his eyes to focus his thoughts.
"You know of the body that was kept in Pod 1, correct?"
"The one burned almost beyond recognition?" Jack asked by way of clarification.
"Yes. Do you know why that Pod was never opened?"
"I imagine that it was something Father didn't want me to know."
"And you'd be correct in that. The person in that pod wasn't another of the abductees. It was our brother, Jagger."
"We… we had a brother?"
"He was almost ten years older then me. He also tried to free himself and me. He was probably about 18 at the time. Father… was younger then. More strenuous. And quicker of temper. He wouldn't have Jagger's rebellion, so…" Jerry paused, running a hand through his short clipped brown hair. "So Father burned him alive in the basement. And made me watch."
Jack's face remained passive at hearing this, but a subtle shift of his weight, the slight de-focusing of his eyes told Jerry the truth. Behind his eyes, at speeds beyond human understanding, Jack was searching records from the internet, conducting internal simulations, pursuing several tangents of thought based on this new information. Jerry let his younger brother consider the grave implications for several seconds before inhaling sharply to speak.
"I am certain you can guess why I didn't form a close attachment to you early on now. Jagger had been my ideal for a while. He'd been what I strived to live up to, surpass even, especially in Father's eyes. I wont say that he and I were especially close, but he did look out for me. Back then, Father would spend far more time in his lab at the company headquarters across the river. I was left in Jagger's care. He was a good older brother, considering the circumstances. When he said we had to leave, I didn't question him. When Father stopped us and tied Jagger to the steel table he kept in the basement, I could do nothing but watch. And when he poured two hypergolic chemicals onto Jagger, I…"
Jack's eyes snapped to Jerry's as he watched the older brother reliving that moment. The difference in the technology contained within their skulls was vast, but Jack knew that Jerry was experiencing everything that happened with intense clarity. The emotion of it was plain on Jerry's face.
Without realizing he'd done it, Jack moved to Jerry's side and enfolded his older brother's head in an embrace. Jerry's silent tears took a sudden turn to wracking sobs. Jack himself felt a tear light a path down his own cheek. This too was something Father had taken from the boys. Not only the life of an older brother (and who knows how many others before Jagger, Jack realized) but the chance to know and bond with the brother in his arms now. That time when Jack was a child had been stolen. The bond between big brother and little brother snuffed out before it had a chance to form.
Jerry clutched tightly to Jack. He had worked so hard to prepare for this, but he hadn't prepared himself for the emotions. He'd buried his feelings so deeply that it affected every relationship in his life. Nothing could hurt Jerry, emotionally, because he never allowed himself to feel for anyone what he'd felt for Jagger.
Now, he and Jack had that chance again, he hoped. It could not go back to the relationship that could have formed with Jack when they were younger, but they were free of the old man's plans now. They could build and try to be a family.
"There is one question I have," Jack said as Jerry's sobs came to an end.
"Ask," he whispered, enjoying their first brother hug.
"You knew words that counteracted deep programming in me. Conditioning commands, as it were. How?"
"I observed him using them on Jagger as well. The old man toyed with him, near the end. He enjoyed being stronger and faster than Jagger, and using his military training against him. But he also knew that Jagger was determined to escape at the very least. He wouldn't have it. So watching him use those words on Jagger, I decided I'd try to learn that secret."
"He used them on you, too. Didn't he?"
"Yes, but in different ways. Father is many things, but his imagination usually only extends to the problem he's working on. So when I found the information on what commands he implanted in me, I wasn't too surprised to learn that they were the same ones he'd used on Jagger. When you came along, I got to you before he could completely implant them all and managed to create a method to subvert all of that."
"Your command words during the battle in Lafayette Square?"
"I created the protect protocol in you so that all of Father's programming would be subverted if you felt he was endangering yourself or anyone you felt protective of." Jerry pulled back from the hug, still with hands on his brother, but able to look the younger boy in the eyes. "I did not create a way to control you. I would never take your free will from you."
"So any other command words will still operate, as long as I am not threatened?"
"No. The protect protocol is continuous and it overrides all other programming or conditioning imperatives. So, for example, I don't have a command word to make you go to bed at night, or to order you to eat liver and onions."
"I should hope not. That meal is repulsive."
"However," Jerry said, "Little Brother is still under my authority until he turns eighteen. I expect some degree of respect and trust."
"You have earned that," Jack replied, smiling. "Should I not try some method of teenage boundary testing behaviors? I hear such things are quite common among adolescents of my age, intellect and developmental level through puberty."
"Let's play that by ear. I can't see you being messy on purpose, or starting drinking or smoking or experimenting with drugs."
"And what of my sexual activities?"
"What happens in your bedroom is your business until it becomes my business. If you have questions, we can find the answer together. I just don't want you to come to me one day to tell me Carver is pregnant."
"Illogical," Jack replied, stepping back from his brother's arms a bit. "Carver's penis alone precludes the possibility of such. Plus, I do not foresee myself performing the necessary seeding to his body for such an eventuality to emerge."
"That's probably more information than I needed," Jerry said, standing up and starting to walk up the stairs. "I'm hungry. You?"
"I could eat," Jack replied, and followed his big brother up the stairs. He took three steps and looked back into the massive computer center that Jerry had built for him. A brief pulse from his internal wireless system allowed him to access the system, which responded with a speed and strength that Jack found immensely comforting.
Smiling at his good fortune with Jerry, Jack quickly ascended the stairs, feeling safe, happy and the very teenage emotion of "starving."
Paul had just finished drying the last plate from the dinner dishes when there came a knock on the door. He had been so wrapped up in the cleaning up that he hadn't heard someone come up the staircase to the side porch, even with the creaky step. He flipped the dish towel up over his shoulder and walked to the porch door. Between the parted curtains of the door, Paul could make out the image of Kenny's father, Mitch Tannagord.
"Evening, sir," Paul said, opening the door.
"Hullo, Paul. Is your mother home?"
"Uh, yeah, yeah. Come inside. I'll go get…" he said, about to turn and holler for his mom when he saw her come down the stairs. "Her," he finished, his eyes bugging out slightly. She came around the banister post at the bottom of the stairs and smiled, greatly. Paul clearly got the impression that the smile was not for him this time. His eyes went back and forth between Mitch and his mom and a dawning realization happened.
"Hullo, Mitch. You ready to go?"
"I was about to ask you the same, Carol. You look lovely." And she did look good, Paul had to admit. White blouse that left her shoulders open to the sky, dark blue jeans that seemed to hug tightly to her athletic curves, and her hair pulled back into that ubiquitous pony tail that many females in New England seemed to favor. She looked, to Paul's eyes, happy. Her eyes shown with a light he hadn't seen in months.
"Thank you," she said, smiling. She slipped a small purse with a long spaghetti strap up over her shoulder.
"Wow, Mom," Paul said, finding his voice.
"I'll be down in just a minute, Mitch," Paul's mom said, walking to her only son, and putting her hand to the side of his neck. Mitch stepped back outside and down the steps. As the door closed, Carol felt her cheeks blush a little, formulating the words she needed to say. But Paul beat her to it.
"So, Master Mitch was the one that took you out the day Aunty took me to the amusement park? Wait, that doesn't track. I met him at Joe's that morning."
"He met up with us later. My friend Jean Perault scooped me up that morning, and she sort of had a bunch of my friends overwhelm me. Pulled my head outta my ass. Mitch was always a good friend. He… they helped me see that maybe I needed to be in the world again. Got me to stop feeling so sorry for myself and kicked me in the butt enough to realize how much I was letting the pain ruin me, and hurt you."
"So…" Paul said, looking towards the door and then back to his mother. "Is this a… a date?"
"Just bowling. He called together some friends and we're all going out together. So, technically no, not a date." She got a sudden look of worry to her eyes, staring back at Paul with concern. "Would that upset you? Like, if this were a date?"
Paul was silent for a moment, thinking about it. His mother's grip on his neck seemed to be relaxing, as if she were afraid he was about to bolt or get angry.
"Mom, I know you loved Pop. Love him still. I do, too, ya'know?" His hand reached up to hold her hand against the side of his neck. "But he's gone, and I know he would want you to be happy. So, do I mind if you find someone who loves you, who you can love? No, Mom. It wont upset me. It would only upset me if he treats you bad, which I know Master Mitch wont do."
Carol pulled her son to her shoulder, stroking the back of his neck and head. He hugged her gently, his hands still slightly damp from doing the dishes. As she pulled away from him, she gave his forehead a quick kiss. "You know, he'd be very proud of you. Not just for standing up for Jack and defeating that horrible man. He'd be proud of the young man you are growing into."
"Yeah, well, just don't get my fencing teacher home too late, young lady!" Paul said, making his voice sound like an old codger. "You kids these days, with your music on TV and parking by the side of the river and bowling all night."
Carol laughed and smacked Paul on the side of the leg as she stepped to the door. "Don't wait up!" she called as she closed the door and to the steps down.
Paul tossed the dish towel onto the counter top beside the sink, and turned to go upstairs. He nearly ran over his diminutive aunt as he took his first step out of the kitchen. "Oh! Didn't see you there."
"Yes, well, that's me. Short but sweet, silent but deadly. Any plans tonight?"
"Not really. I just was gonna watch some TV."
"Well, I got a better idea. How about we go find a movie. Something gory and with lots of explosions."
"Jeeze, Aunty. You're practically blood thirsty!"
"Runs in the family. Get your shoes."
The gray walls of the Federal prison cell were glaring under the indirect yellow light from the overhead fixtures. Dr. Stamos remained passive as he sat at the table, alone, hands and feet cuffed. There were two guards outside the door, armed heavily. There were surveillance cameras and sensors turned his way as well. Stamos knew this. He could feel the eyes upon him. There would be no easy escape this time.
So be it, he thought. Better to die feared than to live as a museum piece. He planned on taking a few of these verdammit Amerkians with him. Let them know how truly inadequate they were compared to an advanced human like himself. None of them could appreciate what he'd done. He was above their limited understanding of morality and duty. He was a god amongst insects.
But even the press of many bees can kill a bear.
The door to his holding cell opened, admitted one man, and then closed. He didn't bother to look up. If the opportunity presented itself, he'd attack the man, take him hostage, use him as a bargaining chip, make his escape. Yes, that was a good plan. Just wait for the opportune moment to strike. Just wait.
"Dr. Egon Johannes Stamos," the Federal agent began, dropping a heavy file on the table close enough to Stamos' hands and face to make the old man's wispy hair whip back suddenly. Stamos looked up, the heavy bruising on his face still evident days after his apprehension in Canterbury. Few knew his full name. That caught his attention.
"You've been a very busy man. Scientist in the inner circle of the Third Reich, on the run after being recruited into Operation Paperclip after the war. The kidnappings in eastern New York and New Jersey in the late 60's, then the entire super-flu attack on the high school in Canterbury, your subsequent involvement with the patients of that attack. And now, all these bodies we keep uncovering all over north eastern Massachusetts. Bodies that have evidence of very extensive torture, unnecessary surgeries and what appears to be bionic, cybernetic and genetic manipulations and experimentation."
Stamos raised his eyes to look at the man. He was a tall man, late 30's, the doctor guessed. Dark hair, dark eyes, hair clipped short and styled to an almost plastic look. A fit man, to be certain, and one who unapologetically wore his sidearm holster so that it showed clearly at the left hip. He was a man who had his suits tailored, not just off the rack. And his stare was one of a man who knew whom he was dealing with, and wasn't taking any chances.
"Idle hands are the playthings of the devil," Stamos intoned softly.
"And I am certain the devil is your idol," the agent replied. "You are likely looking at the death penalty. The state of Massachusetts alone has enough evidence of your activities to put you into a very dark corner and never look for the key again."
"Which is why you are here," Stamos said.
"Which agency are you with, If I may ask," Stamos said, feeling a deal was about to be made. "CIA? NSA? Homeland Security?" Stamos practically giggled the last one.
"Something like that. I have a deal for you. I offer this one time. If you turn it down, You'll face full Federal prosecution on charges that go back to crimes against humanity from World War Two."
"I'm listening, agent, eh?"
"Call me Agent Johnson."
"Of course. Agent Johnson."
"The deal goes like this. You go to work for us. You will get top flight equipment and a staff, a security force and the ability to continue your work."
"My existing research data?" Stamos asked.
"We have it. We can't break the encryption codes on it yet, but we have the raw material, files and computers."
Stamos smiled, an ugly expression that was full of greed and revenge.
"You will be fitted with tracking devices. Any attempt to remove them, any attempt to break out of control areas, any time you even breathe in the wrong direction, will be met with extreme measures to keep you in place."
"No explosives at the back of my neck, or stitched to my intestines?"
"Don't give me ideas," the agent replied, darkly. Stamos chuckled softly.
"I accept. Who will I be working with?"
"You will be working under a man named Dr. Conrad. And I think you'll find your ideas and his are fairly close."
"When can we begin?" Stamos said, holding his shackled wrists up.
Johnson moved forward and looked Stamos square in the eyes. "The first step, Herr Doktor, involves your death."
"Oh good. Death is only the beginning."
And that's when Johnson shot his arm forward suddenly, a long elaborate crystal shard, dagger like in appearance, speared straight into Stamos' heart. "Welcome to the family," Johnson whispered as Stamos fell over. Johnson pulled the blade out and it vanished into thin air. As if on a silent cue, the door opened and the guards stepped in.
"Bag him and tag him. Get him on the plane. The good doctor has a long way to go before his work can begin."