"Dad!" David screamed with a volume level only a thirteen year old boy, his voice cracking as he screamed out a single word, could possibly hope to manage.
"Davey!" Jared cried out, tears in his eyes as he fell to his knees.
"Dad, oh Dad!" David cried, throwing himself into his father's embrace. "They said you were gonna die, then they said you weren't but I couldn't see you, and then they said you were gonna wake up and they let me see you and you looked fine but they said you couldn't wake up yet because they had to finish stuff and they wouldn't let me stay with you-"
"Slow down kiddo, slow down," Jared said, rocking his son as they clasped each other, Jared careful not to use too much of his new strength.
"Dad, I thought I'd lost you!" David started sobbing as he squeezed even harder with his single free hand. "Oh Dad, I thought you would both die!"
"Shh Son, I'm here, I'm fine," Jared whispered reassurances into his son's ears as they both cried.
"I'll leave you two be," Major Williams said, closing the door behind them.
After a few minutes David tried to say something. "Sorry, what?" Jared asked, letting go.
"You were hugging me too hard," David complained, wiping tears out of his eyes with his right hand. His left, Jared finally noticed, was in a sling.
"How are you, kiddo?" Jared asked.
"Been better," David admitted, indicating his left hand. "I got some broken bones, and they want me in this sling thing as well as a cast. They say the sling can go away in a week or so, but I'm gonna have to wear the cast for forever, like 2 months!"
"Guess you're gonna miss the baseball season this year," Jared told him.
"It sucks!" David complained.
"Son, what did they tell you about your mother?" Jared asked softly.
David's face went stony and angry. "The bitch is dead, and good riddance!"
"David!" Jared scolded him, shocked. His wife had never been his son's favorite person, but they knew better than to show disrespect!
"You should have heard her Dad! You didn't hear what she... she..." David started crying. "She hated us!" "Oh God, Son," Jared said softly, pulling him into a hug, "what did she do to you? Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"It was after the accident, Dad," David said between sobs. "I'm not 'spossed to talk about it too much, this General guy told me he wanted to do that, but she said... horrible things dad, she said horrible things!" "Wait, the General guy? Do you mean General Sheridan?" Jared asked.
"Yeah, sounds like him," David agreed. "He told me that he knew some other stuff you needed to hear at the same time, that... that Mom wasn't really herself, that... well, he said a lot of things but they don't matter. The bitch is dead and she deserves it!" David broke back down into sobs and fell into Jared's arms, spent.
"What did she say?" Jared wondered aloud. "Son, I'm so sorry, but whatever happened is in the past. Oh please, forgive me for not protecting you... forgive her for whatever she said. She is... was... your mother, whatever happened..."
"Hello Sergeant," a familiar voice announced himself at the door. "I wanted to talk to you before you met your son, but I figured there wasn't much chance of that happening."
"General," Jared said softly. "I hear you've been helping my boy?" "We've talked. A lot. I'd prefer to get him to see a decent psychologist, but he doesn't want to 'see no stinkin' headshrinker'," the general's voice carried a great deal of amusement. "A real chip off the old block, isn't he?"
"Just like his daddy," Jared agreed with a smile. "Forgive me for not greeting you properly, but a man has to have priorities." "Nothing to forgive, your priorities are right where they should be," General Sheridan agreed. "You and I need to talk, about a lot of things. Things that you need to know, and... things that you really, really need to hear."
"I see," Jared said.
"And judging from what I heard as I walked in the room, it's things you need to hear now," the General was an officer, and Jared knew an order when he heard it.
"I've been out for three days, Sir, surely-" Jared began.
"No, it can't," the General said sadly. "Your son overheard..." the General sighed. "Your wife said some things that you need to know about before you say anything further to your son."
"Dad," David broke in. "You need to hear this. Mom was... was..." David shook his head. "Go talk to the General, Dad. You gotta."
"Alright, but I'm coming right back," Jared reassured his son, "or I'm going to tear this hospital down around my ears trying." Jared was sure the threat wouldn't be lost on the General, and as he stood and looked, he saw in the man's eyes that he was right. The moment was broken as David started giggling.
"Dad, your crack is showing!" David giggled, prompting Jared to try and rearrange the revealing garment. He didn't really succeed.
"Stupid hospital gowns!" Jared cursed.
"Come on, this is gonna take a little bit," the General ordered before leading Jared from the room and down the hall. A marine guard opened the door to what looked like some kind of break room and ushered them in silently. "Take a seat," the General gestured at a couch on one end of the room before taking an easy chair across from it. He waited for Jared to sit before continuing. "The accident wasn't an accident," he told Jared.
"What happened Wednesday night was a deliberate attack on the base by a terrorist group. God only knows how they managed it, but they got their hands on a large quantity of an airborne poison and loaded it up onto that truck that rammed you," Jared stiffened as the import of this started to strike home. "The wind was in the other direction, and most of the toxin went away from you and your family. Your wife, by pure chance, got a stronger dose than the rest of you. As a result..." the general sighed. "The initial stages of the toxin simply loosen inhibitions -- the chemical is actually used in small doses to help with psychotherapy because of that. Your wife was in a great deal of pain, and essentially pinned in place, but she could still talk. The things she said..." the General looked away.
"Bad?" Jared asked.
"Oh God, yes. If she lived, the things she said would have landed her in jail for life," the General shook his head. "The things she's done, the things she was planning to do... and to you and your children!"
"Our children? She was going to hurt them?" Jared clenched his teeth. The bitch couldn't possibly have been that stupid!
"Oh, yes, she was going to, and I'm paraphrasing here, 'make a little accident and get rid of the mistake and both his whelps and start over'."
"Oh yeah, and that's the beginning. Based on what she said we searched your house and got confirmation," the General looked at Jared hard for a few moments. "How familiar are you with IGP?"
"IGP?" Jared asked, confused. "It's a date rape drug, made popular about, oh, thirty or forty years ago back in the fifties. I remember hearing about it before I graduated high school because some kids were caught using it. I think it's also called 'the leveler' because it's one of the few drugs that women can use on men and still get, um..."
"And still get the man to perform," the general agreed. "It blocks memory, flushes out of the system quickly and without a trace, and functions as a massive aphrodisiac while also lowering inhibitions. In some individuals, it also leaves the person open to suggestion, allowing the giver to simply order them around."
"A nasty thing, but what does that... have... to do..." Jared trailed off and looked off to the side. "She didn't... my God she... it explains... that bitch!"
"According to her, she wasn't even 'aiming' for you that first time, she was just stuck with it after your friend left," General Sheridan said. "She was trying to slip him the drug, but ended up with you instead."
"God, Cody, of course she would want..." Jared shook his head. "Oh God! Cody! Oh I've got to... he should... my God I wasn't..."
"Pull yourself together Sergeant!" the General snapped. "I'm sure your monologue would be absolutely fascinating if it made any sense, but I'm not interested!"
"Sir!" Jared answered, pulling his upper body to a position resembling attention. "Sorry, I was just..."
"I understand, Sergeant, and under other circumstances I'd probably let you waffle for a while," the General shook his head.
"You have no idea sir, no idea at all!" Jared wondered if he should tell the General, but... what point would it make?
"Son, you might have tried to keep things a secret from her, but she knew," the General hinted. Jared found himself blushing.
"Sir, I'd rather not... I mean..." Jared felt his cheeks grow redder. She knew?!
The General smiled. "We'll consider it tabled. Thankfully for you, you won't have to answer any questions about that, she didn't... well, she only started raving after the emergency teams showed up, and your kids were out of earshot before she really went to town on that subject."
"Thank you God," Jared said, looking up, "thank you!"
"Don't be too thankful just yet. She did say quite a few other things. Cody was completely out of it, but David wasn't," the General warned.
"And David is old enough to actually understand far more than I want him to," Jared agreed with a sigh. "What did he hear?"
"I don't have an exact recording, but he's the one who was screaming that he wanted 'that bitch thrown in jail for raping my Dad' at the cops who showed up. He said quite a few other things, but that stuck out rather strongly," the General told Jared.
"Oh God, he must be... oh God, my son, my son!" Jared moaned.
"The records of what the two of them said are sealed, and they are going to stay that way. We used her ramblings as the basis for a criminal investigation, but... both of them were under the effect of that damned toxin when they were talking, so it's not really fair, or legal, to them to bring it up," the General sighed. "Listen, Sergeant, I know this is a tough time. Feel free to ask for help if you need it. I know I would in your shoes."
"I gotta be strong for my boys. I don't know... oh God, I have no clue what I'm going to tell Cody, much less David, about all of this!" Jared shook his head. "Alright, I guess I've got my work cut out for me," he pulled himself together. "Anything else I need to know?"
"Not right now," the General answered, "but..." General Sheridan looked away, biting his lip. A few moments later he nodded his head with a sigh and turned back to face Jared. "You won't be able to leave the hospital for a few weeks, until they're sure the augmentation isn't going to go haywire at random. I'm sure you figured that much out by now."
"Yeah, it seemed pretty obvious," Jared agreed.
"I've already made arrangements at a secondary facility so you and your family will have something resembling a real home next week, while still being under observation and in the reach of medical support if needed," General Sheridan told him, "but even once you 'graduate' from that facility you won't be going back home. Not now, not ever. It's contaminated."
"Contaminated? By..." Jared closed his eyes as he understood. "The attack?"
"The toxin spilled out and was carried by the wind straight into the residential section of the base. Most of the barracks were spared, either by luck or by aim they hit the family housing units instead. The casualties were... almost total."
"Merciful God help us," Jared prayed under his breath. "General, who... who would do that?"
"The INGC has already claimed credit for it, claimed it was retribution for the execution of their leader back in 2068," General said softly.
"The INGC?!" Jared shouted. "But they're a dead group!" The International National Government Corps had started as a counter-movement to the globalization trend that had begun after mankind really started moving into space in 2015, and had rapidly devolved into one of the nastiest international terrorist groups. In 2066, world opinion had swung, strongly, against them as a result of their terrorist 'blitz' targeting civilian targets in rural and developing areas. They'd gone from having a genuine political agenda to just being agents of chaos and horror, and no one was willing to put up with that. Within three years, their organization had been effectively disbanded, all its leaders dead or in jail and the rank and file on the run.
"Apparently not," the General sighed. "The Federation has already reported a number of similar attacks globally on both its own and other allied bases. They hit us hard, Jared, they hit us where it hurt. Every single attack was focused on residential sections, and they always went for the maximum body count in dependents they could get."
"Fucking bastards!" Jared swore.
"It gets worse," General Sheridan cut him off. "We haven't been able to ID a single person who wasn't directly involved in the attacks, and all of those are dead. All we have are dead ends and leads that lead nowhere. Essentially, they got away clean and free."
"Shit, the backlash from this is gonna be-" Jared started.
"It's already bad, and it's going to get worse," the General interrupted. "The Federation has instituted a full lock down of all military facilities, with full air and ground guard ordered. So has everyone else, for that matter. Heads are rolling at the highest levels, and you and I both know shit rolls down hill."
Jared had barely graduated high school, but that had less to do with raw intelligence and more to do with lack of scholastic interest. "You're going to be retired, aren't you?"
"I'm hoping to avoid that particular ignominious fate, but in all probability I'm not going to last a month as the base's CO. I don't know who's going to be given command after me, but you can bet they're going to be one of those damned war-hawks."
Jared closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "My family?"
"That's the one bit of good news in this whole thing," General Sheridan smiled slightly. "I don't know who did it, and I really don't care, but it appears the preliminary reports of your situation made it all the way to the President's desk."
"The President? As in the President? Of the USA?" Jared asked, shocked.
"It gets better," the General's smile broadened. "She gave specific and non-discretionary orders that she is to be kept appraised of your condition and status, that unless it's an emergency your position as Cody's father is not to be infringed upon without her direct authorization, and that you are to be considered as honorably discharged forthwith."
"Honorably discharged?!" Jared asked, shocked. "But... But..." He was a marine! It's all he'd ever wanted to be, even when... He was a marine sergeant! How could he live without that?
"I'm told she gave that order specifically to safeguard you and your children," General Sheridan answered. His kids? Jared's mind raced as he tried to understand. How did removing his career and leaving him without even a god-damned paycheck protect his kids? "She specifically ordered that you were to be given full pay at your current rank until a year after you are discharged from the rolls of the Prometheus Project, with said discharge to occur as soon as we're certain your augmentation is safe."
Things clicked in Jared's head. His kids. He'd been a marine for years, but a father... that was far, far more important to him any day of the week. And the President had as much as ordered this marine... this former marine... to put his kids first. Yes ma'am Mrs. President, will do!
"So, where do we go from here?" Jared asked.
"Well, I understand the tech geeks want you on-site while they do some stuff with your son, and they really want you there when he wakes up," the General smiled. "Go see to your kids. Oh, and by Presidential Order all three of you now have Top Secret clearances, and Code Word Prometheus clearances. So we can't just lock you up on those grounds alone."
"Thank you General, and thank the President for me," Jared smiled. "I've got some kids to go talk to."
"Yes, you do. And you can start by explaining this whole mess to your elder son!" The general sighed. "Speaking of whom, he really needs to see a psych expert. He's behavior is... more childish than I would expect of someone his age, and the one expert I've been able to run him past thinks it's a result of the trauma. You nearly died, his brother nearly died, his mother is dead and he hates her for raping you, it's a real mess. The psych thinks he might be regressing to shield himself or something like that."
"I'll talk to him about it sometime soon. I'll... what the hell, I'll talk to the psych myself and see what he has to say. If he convinces me that Davey needs help, then Davey will see him," Jared conceded.
"Alright, I'll arrange it, now go talk to your son," the General waved Jared to the door as he leaned back in the chair for a few moments.
Jared walked slowly down the hallway, feet dragging as his mind started to race. How did you explain things like this to a thirteen year old boy, to his seven year old brother? "Your mother raped me, and that's how you were born. Why? Um... I dunno, the General didn't mention that..."
Pausing outside the door that led back to his son, Jared looked back down the corridor just in time to see the general walk out of the room they'd talked in and walk away. The one glance the General spared him was as clear as a barked order, and with a sigh Jared opened the door. "Hey Davey," he called.
"Dad!" David jumped on his father, using his legs and one good arm to cling tightly to him.
"Come on, Davey, let's see if we can find your brother," Jared decided to side-step the conversation until he had more information. For the moment, the apple-blossom scent of his son's hair filled his nostrils, bringing tears to his eyes and a lump to his throat. Davey was all right, and Cody would be too, and that thrice-damned-bitch was being asked some hard questions on a one-way trip to Hell.
All was right with his world... As long as he ignored the strange machines crawling inside his body, and the body of his younger son. And for the barest of moments, with the scent of apples in his nose and the laughter of a child being tickled, he could.
"Daaaad!" David complained breathlessly, "no fair ticking me like that!"
"Hey, who's the one laughing his head off over it?" Jared tweaked his son's nose.
"Not here Dad! Please!" David's puppy-dog eyes made Jared grin.
"Alright, alright, not in public, no tickling in public!" Jared agreed before grabbing his son and giving him a great big kiss.
"Daaaaad!" David screamed to the laughter of the onlookers who had prompted his complaint. "Not in front of everyone!" Wiping his cheek with his sleeve, David glared threats of bloody retribution up to Jared, even as both of them grinned the silly little grins of people who had nearly lost one another. And for all his no-ticking, no-kissing attitude, the love in his eyes said he wasn't all that unhappy, just embarrassed.
"Come on," Jared said, "Cody's waiting for us!"
"And who exactly just swept me off my feet and started tickling me for no reason at all?" David complained.
"Davey, you know better than that!" Jared teased. "I had plenty of reason... son."
"Daaaaaaaad!" David complained. "That's not a reason!"
"Yes it is!" Jared countered.
"No it's not!" David retorted indignantly.
"Oh yes it is!" Jared repeated.
"No, it's not!" David insisted.
"Yes it is, no it's not, yes it is, no it's not, could you two please make up your minds!" someone complained, laughing. "You two have been going at it the last two minutes, and I'm about to go nuts!"
"Excuse me?" Jared asked, turning around.
"Corporal Edwards," a uniformed man introduced himself. "General Sheridan assigned me and a few of my buddies to keep an eye on David."
"And eye on him?" Jared asked.
"Jack is nice, Dad!" David interjected. "He took me to dinner last night, and helped me find some clothes since the ones at home were ruined!"
"I don't think my kid needs a nurse-maid now that I'm awake again, Corporal," Jared ordered.
"Once everything settles out that might be true, sir," Edwards agreed affably, "but for the moment the General wants you to have some help for the things you can't do. Like go get clothes from the PX for you and the kids."
Jared opened his mouth to retort, then closed it with a snap. "Fine, some clothes would be nice," he agreed.
"I'm not sure why you're in a hospital gown, I picked some clothes up for you when I grabbed Dave's and Cody's," Edwards added. "They're in your temporary quarters in the secure wing."
"Well, I haven't been by there yet," Jared pointed out.
"I'll show you the way as soon-" Edwards began.
"There you are!" Colonel Williams shouted. "Jared, I've been looking all over for you!"
"Doctor?" Jared asked.
"We need to get to work on your son, and I do believe you wanted to be present," the doctor reminded him.
"I thought you said we had a couple of hours?" Jared complained.
"It's been a couple of hours!" the doctor retorted.
"It hasn't even been two hours yet!" Jared argued.
"Oh really?" the doctor commented. "Keeping an eye on the clock?"
"From mark it's been exactly one hour fifty-seven minutes and thirty five seconds since you said that. Mark," Jared said smugly.
"And how do you know that?" the doctor asked with a smile.
"I..." Jared blinked.
"Your augmentation must have been keeping track of the time for you," the doctor commented. "Still, it's time Sergeant. We need to get this done now or there could be... complications."
"Complications?" Jared asked.
"Your son's nervous system might decide to reject the augmentation," Colonel Williams explained. "There's no telling what the end result of that would be, but it would at a minimum leave him less capable than he could be."
"Alright, let's hurry then," Jared agreed. The doctor led them at a quick clip back to Cody's room. "Let us do our job, just watch and wait Sergeant," the doctor warned before they walked into the middle of a veritable tsunami of sound.
Orders and comments were being barked left, right, and center and Jared quickly began to doubt that they were speaking English.
Then a familiar face grabbed him by the arm and showed him and his son to a pair of chairs clearly set out for them. "Sergeant, I need to apologize for earlier," Captain McCullough apologized. "I'm rather tired but that's no excuse-"
"Apology accepted, Captain," Jared smiled. "You've been up for three days, and my words poured salt on a wound I didn't know existed."
"Thank you," the Captain smiled back. "Now, I don't have much of anything to do for this procedure, so if you'd like I can explain what's going on?"
"That'd be great," Jared answered. "But first, did you track down that problem from earlier?"
"Problem? Oh, the way you woke up!" Captain McCullough shook his head. "It was a stupid logic error in some of the core code, quickly and easily fixed. Though it wasn't where we expected to find it; one of my aids found it purely by chance as he was reviewing the code we needed to adapt for your son's interface. There's a Boolean variable to remember if the augmentation install process is complete and the subject can be allowed to wake up, and the logic tree that was supposed to pop it once we were finished threw the flag before we were ready. Instead of waiting for us to signal we were complete it activated as soon as we'd finished all the pre-designated installation steps..."
Jared felt his eyes glaze over as the man prattled on about Boolean variables, logic trees, compiler errors, and worse yet flags. What the hell a piece of cloth had to do with computer programs was beyond Jared, but clearly they were vitally important.
"Captain, does this mean you've fixed the problem?" Jared eventually managed to ask.
"Yes, of course!" the Captain laughed. "Once we identified the flawed logic trees it was a simple matter to rewrite the code -- a mere three lines worth, in fact -- to correct the issue. On top of that we're already building error checking code to prevent..."
And again Jared's eyes glassed over. Captain McCullough clearly loved his computers. Unfortunately, Jared understood how to use one, not how they worked. He'd flunked out of the required computer science classes twice before the school had given up on him and allowed him to substitute an advanced computer use class for graduation credit. Even then, the two 'F's nearly dropped his GPA below the required minimum for graduation. If he hadn't gotten an 'A' in his PE classes every single year, he'd have flunked out of high school.
Thankfully, he'd managed to learn enough, if only barely, to pass the ASVAB requirements. If he'd been one or two points lower on the test the marines would have refused to recruit him. To this day, his officers brought that up, usually at the same time they commented on his otherwise stellar performance reviews.
Davey had pressed himself against the glass, and Jared smiled at him. "He'll be alright, Son," Jared told him.
"I know Dad, it's just... he almost died," Davey answered softly.
"Almost, Son, almost," Jared agreed. "But remember, almost only counts-"
"In horseshoes and hand grenades," Davey finished for him.
"Yup," Jared paused, then decided to ask. "Davey, what did they tell you. About me and Cody, I mean. About... how we survived."
"Well," Davey hesitated. "They put little machines in you to fix all the stuff that went wrong. Only because those machines weren't meant to be used just to heal people, they had to do more than that. You're stronger, faster, smarter, better than you used to be. And that... it might not work."
"It did, though," Jared reassured him. "And if everything has gone well this far, we just have to trust in the Good Lord to ensure it continues to go well."
"But what if-"
"No," Jared cut him off. "Not what if. We will place our trust in the Good Lord, and hope for the best. If... if something does go wrong, we'll deal with it."
"But..." Davey started crying.
Jared pulled his son into his lap and started rocking him. "Shh, everything is going to be fine. I won't let it go wrong," he promised. Jared watched as Cody's body suddenly bolted upright in bed and looked around. It was wrong. Jared couldn't define it any better but that wasn't Cody. It was Cody's body, but it wasn't Cody. It moved wrong.
"What the hell?" he swore softly.
"Huh?" Davey asked, then looked. "Cody!" he exclaimed. "Wait... what's wrong with him?"
"Guys," Captain McCullough interrupted, "don't worry, this is normal. "The docs over there are running him on his augmentation, er, they're using the machines in his body to make him move. He's not actually awake. Think of it kinda like sleep walking."
"He's still asleep?" Davey asked.
"Sounds like!" Jared answered with a smile, wishing he could take care of his son himself. "Thanks, Captain." Jared flicked his head, trying to clear the insects buzzing around his ears.
Wait, insects, indoors?
"No problem," McCullough answered. "There isn't a lot of flashy stuff going on here, but-"
"Captain McCullough!" someone called. "Get over here, now!"
"Duty calls," he excused himself and ran off.
"What's going on?" Davey asked.
"I have no clue!" Jared answered, trying to focus on the problem at hand and not the sudden buzzing in his ears, and... shit, was his sight getting blurred?
"Shit, we're losing him!" someone called, as Cody fell backwards and started thrashing around on the bed.
"Re-initialize the link!" came a panicked command. Jared felt something jolt inside. Negative command acceptance; override activated, something whispered in Jared's ears
"No good, his software is rejecting us! Command override is online!"
"What the hell is going on? Initiate a hard-reboot on his... shit! How do we do that without any linkup at all?"
"Daddy?" Cody looked through the glass and Jared could swear he heard his son's voice in his head instead of with his ears. "Daddy, it hurts!"
"Cody!" Jared screamed, pressing his hand against the glass. His sight wasn't blurred, it was grainy, like a low resolution video. Except it was still fine. It just wasn't as good as it had been five minutes ago.
"Secondary link detected, routing reset command through it!" Detecting reset command... negotiating link...
"Where the bloody hell did you get a secondary link?"
"It's through the primary link to... to the Sergeant!"
Link negotiated, a mechanical voice whispered. Initiating reset.
"Daddy!" Cody screamed as something brushed past, causing Jared to stagger just from the backlash of its passage. For one heartbreaking moment Cody's back arced, then he collapsed limply into the bed. One heart achingly long moment later he turned his face and said, "Thank you Daddy!"