The group split. Rain returned to Earth with the Martins and their oversized triplet sons. Bruce, Algernon and Peggy return to the capital of Ruk, Harmonious, to go through the information they’ve gathered and prepare for the arrival of the triplets.
John and Athena stepped out of the brightly lit portal into the dark cold winter’s night. As soon as their feet touched the cold, wet ground, the portal blinked out and plunged them all into darkness. The couple clung to each other as they looked around them wide-eyed, shying away from even the most familiar of sight and sounds. John had no shoes and started stepping quickly from one foot to the other. A cold wind howled through the station underpass bringing with it the familiar smell of the Mississippi. They recognised the bones of the city, the sweep of the road, the clatter of the streetcars as they rolled passed. But, the street lamps were a brighter white from the yellow incandescent they were used to, a walk sign flashed greenly at them created by dozens of LEDs and the few people out at that time were too absorbed in hand-held devices to notice the spectacle unfolding about them.
And there certainly was a spectacle.
On the ground, clutching clumsily at each other were three naked boys, none older than mid-teens and one as young as seven. They mewed and gawped like newborns, though they were long-limbed and well-formed. The man who called himself Rain bustled back from a conversation with station security, his arms full of lost and cast-off clothing. He quickly dressed each boy, like one would a baby, first putting his own arm through a sleeve leg, then pulling through their corresponding limb. It didn’t always work as a stronger than average limb would kick or swing-out wildly. Rain just dodged the blows cheerily, made a joke and continued with his task.
“Oh, and for you, John. Not exactly cutting style but they will do in a pinch,” Rain placed a pair of flip-flops (an odd pair, though of a similar enough size) in front of John who quickly slipped them on thankfully, “Could I impose on one or both of you to help me get these boys under some shelter until our lift arrives?”
The question, so civilised amid chaos and confusion, acted more like a command to the couple who quickly complied. John copied Rain as he pulled a long arm over his shoulders and grabbed the waist of one of the older boys. Athena took the younger child, awkwardly cradling him in her arms. The boy’s head found her shoulder and snuggled into her soft warmth. It was an action, so like that of her daughters that Athena stumbled to a halt, absorbed in the sensation.
“That’s it Thomas, one foot forward now the next foot…Mrs Martin?” She heard Rain’s voice, and it broke her train of thought, “If Harold there is too much for you just put him down. I’ll come back and get him once we have Thomas and Richard settled.”
“No, it’s fine.” She replied more confidently than she felt and followed Rain and her husband to a strip of parkland dominated by a heavy-limbed old-man oak. Here on a bench seat, the three boys were propped up against each other, then Rain offered the remaining space to the Martins. Though still cold and wet, under the grey moss-covered bows of the oak, Athena felt more at home and more sure of herself.
“ Transport has been called, but in the meantime why don’t we get to know each other?” Rain now turned his charm on the Martins. They stared back at him, shocked and dumbfounded. “Probably best if I just answer your questions.”
“What happened to us? I remember…” Athena turned to her husband for confirmation, “coming home on the streetcar. We had to pick up Margarita from school…”
“…we had theatre tickets…to see Twelfth Night…” John added and Athena smiled, always the theatre nerd.
Rain listened nodding until they’d finished sharing, “From what I’ve gathered from Pe…Margarita, twenty years ago you were abducted from that tram station,” He looked back the way they’d come, “by a very talented but twisted scientist who had kept you in a cryogenic stasis.”
“Twenty years…? But…why? How?” Athena asked again, each question making her feel more confident and able to assert herself.
“She wanted servants with human DNA that would be able to infiltrate anywhere. The result of which you see before you,” He now gestured to the three boys who now sat silently watching, taking in every movement and gesture, “As to the how of it, there are those better qualified to explain the science, your daughter among them. However, we did use the same portal technology to get back.”
“What are you saying? What are these boys to us?” Athena asked now looking at the three boys closely for the first time. As she noticed similarities between them in her husband and her late father, she realised the answer to her question before Rain could reply.
“They are you, biological sons,” Rain thought a moment then continued, “Do you remember the room where you woke up? The three glass cylinders along one wall?”
John nodded, captivated by the story, while Athena only looked on the boys in shock and pity.
“They were…grown in those cylinders from your DNA. Pegg…Margarita had released them only moments before.”
“But why are they…like that?” This time John asked as the three boys in unison turned to watch him with large guileless eyes.
“Ah,” Rain turned to look at the boys and smile fondly at them, “That is because they are only a few hours old. They are by all intents and purposes, newborns. There are others, my friend Algernon who helped save you and another called Mortimer. They are both highly intelligent and talented young men. These three will go back with me to Ruk tomorrow where Peg…Margarita is preparing a program to help them.”
“And what about Margarita and Simon, where are they?”
At this Rain’s cheery demeanour sobered, “Simon is fine, He was a young man when you disappeared, and he didn’t keep in touch with Peg…Margarita. Margarita though was raised under the…cool authority of your mother, Mrs Martin.” He said simply, and Athena knew her mother well enough to know what that meant, and her soul cried for her lost daughter.
“I am sorry to say she did not have a happy childhood. But she was bright, worked her way through college and university and did her master’s thesis in anthropology. She is the brains of my small group, and she never stopped looking for you.” Rain said with such pride and sincerity that it silenced the couple, giving Rain a moment to check on the boys.
The youngest, and seeming more precocious, had wriggled off the bench seat and was now part crawling and part walking towards the road.
“Harold. Back here, mate.” Rain dashed out and hauled the disgruntled seven-year-old baby back. The movement and excitement inspired Thomas and Richard, who also rolled or slithered off the bench seat and started moving off in random directions. Now running between the three, Rain brought them together in a circle hand in hand and started singing nursery rhymes and songs. In the dark of a New Orleans winter’s night they bopped on their feet like toddlers to the music keeping them amused until a black van rolled up and Estate agents identified themselves.
The agents arranged a safe house and a little babysitting duty for the night as questions were asked and received. It was very late when the Martin’s ran out of questions that Rain could answer and he went to check on the triplets. Beautiful while asleep, awake the trio were more of a handful. Like colts, they learnt to use their limbs quickly. They wandered around following whatever caught their interest. Rain and the Estate agents caught snatches of sleep between the last boy dropping off to sleep and the first waking and inevitably disturbing his brothers.
In one quiet moment, Rain pulled out Mortimer’s tablet computer. Out in Ruk Rain couldn’t plug in a toaster, but back on Earth, he felt his old ability to see past the passwords and firewalls that people place in front of their information return to him. In a moment, he had cracked Mortimer’s password and was into the files on the tablet. There were several textbooks on particle physics with attached homework. It seemed, though physically more adept than Algernon, Mortimer wasn’t doing as well with physics. Flicking through the electronic pages, Rain caught a splash of colour and flicked back through the dull texts. Embedded between the files of academic level science were brightly coloured pictorial scenes of action heroes all running, flying or fighting. Smuggled in from the Allsong, a collection of comic books had been renamed to blend into his studies. Rain recognised some of the heroes and realised that even a few Earth comic books had made it into the mix. With a smile, he now recognised the boy inside the sociopath who had helped invade Ni’Challan’s home. Rain gestured to one of the agents, taking over his duties looking after the triplets and sent him out to buy a section of superhero comic books for the trip back to Ruk.
One last task. Rain found pen and paper and wrote a note for Noel:
It was with a very grateful sigh that the estate agents left the next morning to take the Martin’s to the Airport. With them, Rain sent Noel’s letter knowing that one way or another, the Estate would get it to him on time.
The Martin’s understood they would be debriefed and medically examined by people who knew what they’d gone through and how to deal with any trauma. In return, Rain promised to be back in a few days with their daughter, their son Algernon and the three triplets made whole.
A half-hour later, however, he wasn’t so sure.
He tried positioning them once more in a circle, using his songs to get them to stay and dance while one or more wandered off. The boys were getting bored. Their wandering became more hunts for something to stick in their mouths than general explorations of the previous evening. They became fussy and uncooperative settling for crying in the middle of the room instead of joining in the dance when curtailing their freedoms. By some miracle, Rain gathered all three, sitting on the ground and facing each other with him holding some portion of each. Part of one hand, a toe, another hand and knee. It wasn’t ideal, but unless he waited until they all fell asleep again, which seemed unlikely, he had to try.
Rain had only led one translation, and then with Celia who had aided in the process. Now, as he settled himself down and focused on Ruk, he felt the boys still, as if they recognised something important was about to begin. He felt himself dissolve into the movement of the Strange, motes on a breeze and the boys follow along in his wake. But, without the will of Peggy or Algernon keeping them on course or the protective effect of Bruce, it Rain felt exposed and alone.
As their mind’s entered Ruk, for a moment Rain was sure he saw the organza rock formation of the Doctor’s ex-secret base before they were jarred sideways and deposited with a shock on the hard surface of the city plaza in Harmonious. Rain shook his head now thankful for the smooth entries Bruce provided.
As the city came into focus around him, he realised he was standing alone. Panic was instant. He searched the plaza and quickly spied all three boys wandering off in different directions.
I’m here, little help! He called to Algernon via the Allsong before starting once more to gather the boys in his own effective, if dramatic way. People started paying attention to the well-dressed man singing and dancing with three boys whose behaviour didn’t seem in keeping with their ages.
“Ladies and gentleman, our second show will be in half an hour, please give generously,” Rain announced to the crowd as he spotted five officers of the Myriad marching towards him and his knot of boys. Rain sent a small curse to whatever divine being looked down on Ruk and faced the Myriad with a smile.
“Officers, how good to see you, what can I help you with?”
Skimming over the ordered land and suburbs of Harmonious, their clandestine mission complete, Algernon, Bruce and Peggy were resting as Jidarus, their pilot, safely brought them back. Algernon loaded the footage of the mountain explosion from one of his surveillance cameras to his computer. He was reliving the moment over again, watching the flyer enter the base and then a few moments later…devastation! It was a very satisfactory feeling of achievement. He was looking forward to sharing the moment with Rain. Just as he was reliving the expansion of the mountain, just before the shockwave knocked the camera from his hand, he heard a very Rukian swear from Jidarus and his senses matched the footage.
“By all the deficient primes!” Peggy and Bruce also turned at the expletive, as the view through the cockpit window angled wildly to the left to avoid another flyer. It was heading out on the same flight lanes as they were heading in on, directly out to the organza rock pile that was once a mountain. The sudden roll to the left sent everything in the cabin flying. Peggy stayed orientated to the rolling floor, supported by her magnetic propulsion, but Bruce and Algernon weren’t strapped in and were catapulted from their seats. The sudden roll also dislodged the poorly latched cabin door which flew open with a roar. Algernon caught hold of a seat as he flew passed. Bruce was closer to the door with no available seats to latch hold. He rolled out the door, only missing the door frame as he passed, by the skin of his fingers.
“Bruce!” Peggy screamed just in time for Algernon to see Bruce’s fingers disappear out the door. Pushing off the chair, he flung himself towards the door, catching hold of hand support, he scanned the sky for Bruce. Below, already growing impossibly small against the landscape of Harmonious was the tumbling figure of Bruce. One hand holding him firmly to the flyer, Algernon stretched out his other, sending out his levitating force to catch the falling Bruce. Suddenly the tumbling ceased. Jidarus righted the flyer and carefully descended to match Bruce’s elevation. From the windows and doorway of the flyer, Peggy, Algernon and Jidarus could all see Bruce, now confident he was no longer falling, strike a superhero flying pose and smile boldly back at the flyer. Bruce yelled something, but his words were lost to the sky. Peggy and Algernon could just make out their meaning by reading his lips.
“Way to go, kid!”
“Of all the…you guys are crazy,” Jidarus said, shaking his head, before calling in the near-miss and requesting landing instructions.
The rest of their day was uneventful. The group met with Tabaseth and Giqabee, handing over the information obtained from Doctor Strangelove and debriefing about the mission. The Quiet Cabal seemed delighted with the results, primarily that no security footage or eye witness accounts led back to them.
“Yes, we knew something was up when our sources told us that the Karum were in a panic, “Tabaseth informed them with some satisfaction, “It was their flyer that flew out to the lab site.”
“We are going to need several days to go through the information you found,” Giqabee said, not looking up from her scrolling datapad, “Will you want to participate, Dr Martin?”
“Participating, I expect to lead it!” Said Peggy.
“Me too, you’re not putting anything in my head that I haven’t looked over first,” Algernon said at the same time.
“Ur…very well, do you know when we should expect the other specimens?”
The three of them looked at each other. With Rain? Who knew?
After the debrief had concluded, Bruce quietly took himself off to find Mortimer’s room. It wasn’t hard. It was the only room with a guard standing outside of it. Bruce identified himself to the guard and brandished his first aid kit as a right of passage. The guard called in the request and unlocked the door.
Inside the room was spartan. A bed, a desk and a chair. It reminded Bruce of the boy’s bedroom back at the secret laboratory. Lounging on top of the neatly folded bedclothes, Mortimer was sitting staring at the wall opposite, a silvery wound dressing on his shoulder peeked from under a loose shirt. He turned his head, watching, like a captive raptor, waiting for its chance to make a strike. Bruce entered and closed the door.
“I’m Bruce. Good day, Mortimer. ” Bruce said, stepping close to the bed and reaching for the chair. Mortimer watched every move, “That’s right, isn’t it?”
“What, that it’s a good day, that my name is Mortimer or that your’s Bruce?”
Bruce said nothing but huffed and sat down. It was like talking to Algernon, but less playful and more predacious, “I’ve come to see how your wounds are healing. Have they been treating you well here?”
“I suspect my wounds treat me as well as they can.”
“I meant the staff here. Have they been looking after you? Feeding you?”
“I have no complaints,” The dead-eyed stare bored into Bruce and made him feel uncomfortable.
“May I look at your wounds?”
“I don’t know, can you? I would think you could do whatever you wished.”
“I could get the guard in here, hell I could probably get a few to hold you down while I examine you,” Bruce bit back, then caught himself. He wasn’t the victim here, “I would rather have your permission, but I won’t force it.”
The boy’s head cocked to one side, very much like the predatory bird he brought to mind. Without another word, he swung his long legs over the edge of the bed and opened his shirt. The sight of the three gunshot wounds gave Bruce pause. He’d given Mortimer those wounds. Quickly he distracted himself with the poultices and gadgets of his first aid kit.
One by one, he pulled the bandages and checked each wound. As with Algernon, Mortimer healed much quicker than expected, and there seemed no sign of infection. With a practised hand, he rebandaged the boy and helped him back into a comfortable position. He started packing his first aid kit.
“You were tough,” Bruce said, barely looking up from his task to watch the kid experimentally flex his arms.
“I think I’m still tough,” Mortimer replied, his swagger diminished only by his prone position.
“Tough. And fast too!”
“Thanks to the glorious Doctor Strangelove who design me.” He boasted, and it sounded like a fanatical believer, but the eyes did not express the save fervour of fanaticism. He wasn’t a true believer, just a kid who didn’t know any better.
Bruce put aside his first aid kit. Nothing in it was going to help him now.
“Look, I came here to say I’m sorry I shot ya, kid,” His eyes flicked from his folded empty hands to Mortimer’s face, “I’m not looking for forgiveness, just my honest regret, for what that worth.”
Mortimer’s head tilted sideways as if trying to catch the real Bruce from a different angle.
“You were my enemy; it was expected.”
“I’d rather not be your enemy.”
“Can I what?”
“Not be my enemy?”
“If it’s within my power.”
“Is it?” At this, Mortimer sat up on his bed and once more swung around to face Bruce, “Before you asked for my permission. Can you choose?”
The shame Bruce felt at shooting the kid flared up once more. The boy had never had a choice in his life.
“Yes, I can,” He replied, his throat tight with feeling, “ And so will you soon enough,” He went to leave when the kid grabbed his arm, the grip firm but not combative.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“I don’t know, can you?” Bruce quipped back and was given a surly blank-eyed stare in reply, “Sure.”
“Why am I here?”
“Two reasons, I gave you first aid, and I didn’t want to see that work wasted.”
“But why save my life? I was your enemy. I tried to kill you.”
The kid had been a formidable enemy. Strong and fast physically, but also strategic and as smart with computer systems as Algernon on a good day.
Bruce nodded. “You were unconscious. You weren’t my enemy anymore.”
“Just like that.”
“Not quite, but I had the chance to choose and did.”
“I wasn’t your enemy because you chose?” Mortimer shook his head in disbelief, “That doesn’t make sense.”
“I know kid, that’s the second reason.” Mortimer’s hand dropped, and Bruce now turned for the door.
“Thank you.” Bruce heard and looked back at Mortimer, sitting alone on the edge of the bed. He could still see the confusion in the kid’s eyes, the doubt and scepticism built in over brainwashing and months in the company of only the Doctor.
“No, thank you,” Bruce replied and knocked to be let out.
Approximately 24 hours later, Algernon received a message from Rain.
I’m here, little help! And Algernon smiled, looking forward to seeing his friend once more. Besides visiting with Mortimer, Bruce had made use of the Quiet Cabal’s health facilities and the firing range. Peggy had was wholly absorbed, teasing out the required programming from the brainwashing Doctor Strangelove had inflicted upon Algernon and Mortimer. Algernon had kept busy adding elements to the programs, but life was undoubtedly duller without Rain around.
Leaving the Quiet Cabal tower, he headed to the plaza at a brusque pace ready to help wrangle the surprisingly more active triplets. He saw the five Myriad officers before they saw him and quickly ducked aside to watch from a distance as Rain handled the boys and ‘the law’.
“Officers, how good to see you, what can I help you with?” Rain beamed his attention, moving from one Myriad to another until a senior officer spoke up.
“What’s going on?” The voice, officious and lifeless, made more so by the mechanical voice box of the Myriad power armour, and by contrast with Rain’s own.
“You would imagine a simple task,” Rain started, snatching at the arm of a once more escaping teen baby, “I am to transport these three over to the Quiet Cabal, their guardian is expecting them.” He couldn’t lie to the Myriad, even his skills of persuasion were insufficient to overcome the insightful abilities of Ruk’s police force.
Algernon watched as the five Myriad seemed to confer amongst themselves for a moment before accepting Rain’s story.
“We shall accompany you to the tower,” Said the senior officer and Rain bounced on his heels with delight.
“Excellent! This is Thomas” He took the hands of the larger boys and thrust them towards two of the silent Myriad, “And you can take Richard, I’ll keep Harold, he’s a bit of a handful if you don’t know what to look for.”
The Myriad officers now charged with their teen babies saw the issue with the three young men and accepted the hands reluctantly.
“Ready when you are, officers.” Rain gestured for the Myriad to lead the way and the group fell in around him and the three boys.
Algernon didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want the attention of the Myriad, a life dodging around the law saw to that. But as they were heading to the Quiet Cabal, he guessed that he could just hang back and follow them in. Not wanting to lose sight of the group, Algernon failed to look around him before stepping out of his hiding place and walked right into a man ladened down with parcels and bags. Boxes crashed to the ground, and the man yelled in surprise and shockat the young man who suddenly appeared in front of him. The Myriad as one turned to investigate the disturbance.
Now with an angry man yelling at him, the Myriad’s eyes on him and the whole plaza suddenly aware of his presence, Algernon panicked. Dropping the boxes he had been able to save, Algernon just turned and started walking briskly away. He’d seen somewhere that whistling was good in moments like these. He tried and failed, having never picked up the knack and tried humming a tuneless something instead.
Across the plaza, Rain was facepalming.
Silently two of the Myriad peeled off from accompanying duty and brought their weapons to bear. People in the plaza got out of their way as wide barreled cannons faced the escaping suspect and fired. Two globs of white foam rocketed across the plaza hitting Algernon in the back and pushing him into a nearby wall. The foam quickly expanded, sticking to arms and legs so even if he could pry himself from the wall, he wouldn’t be able to run far. The Myriad walked up, surrounding him.
“Why are you following us? Explain yourself?” Said one holding his cannon arm up to Algernon’s face making it very clear what he would get if he didn’t comply.
“I wasn’t, I was following him-” He gestured with his head, currently the only free part of his body, back at Rain and the babies.
“And you were hiding, why?”
“Because you were there,” Algernon replied truthfully.
“Why are you worried about us?”
Across the plaza, Rain had caught the attention of the senior officer,
“Officers, I’m afraid he’s also with me,” He dragged Harold around to face the officer, “I’m sure you can see the resemblance with these three.”
The officer acknowledged the information and sent a third up to where Algernon hung on the wall like a tiny insect caught in tree sap.
“He’s to come too,” The third Myriad said when he arrived at the wall, and all three officers entered a code on their weaponised arms and jets of liquid sprayed out dissolving the foam. “You are under arrest. Resistance will be countered with force and will count against you in front of the magistrates…”
A few moments later, a sopping wet and bound Algernon still trailing globs of dissolving foam and his three Myriad joined Rain and the triplets.
“Hi Rain, “ Algernon said casually as if not surrounded by five enormous power armoured individuals.
“Hi,” Rain smiled wanly, ”When I called you to come and help…” The Myriad started moving out again, and Rain pulled Harold around so he could walk beside Algernon.
“Well…” Was Algernon’s only response.
“Yeah…” The only required reply.
Entry in the Tower of the Quiet Cabal took longer than it would normally. First Rain’s story was checked and quickly verified with Tazaquth, the rotund head of security. Qiqabee expected him and the three boys in the Labs. Then, they checked Algernon’s story. Tazaquth, who had his suspicions about the boy since suspecting him of hacking into the Quiet Cabal’s files, took a particular interest in the Myriad’s report.
“He is with the Earthlings…” He hesitated, “You say he tried to hide from you? Why?”
“The suspect confessed to having a fear of authority figures. Maybe some sort of phobia or psychosis,” Replied the officer.
“I will need to take this to Tabaseth,” Tazaquth decided and kept the whole group waiting in the foyer while he conferred with his superior. It gave Rain and Algernon a chance to talk under the guise of looking after the boys.
All three quickened, Rain informed Algernon about the translation back. It was as if they knew something important was happening but didn’t know how to interact with it.
Interesting, I wonder if she brought that on, Algernon mused both of them knowing full well who she was. Rain quickly replied emotion colouring his message.
She never gave you boys anything. The words came through so forceful their force brought tears to Algernon’s eyes. She only ever took. Took your families, your childhoods, your memories…
How about our particle physics knowledge, He countered Rain’s emotional response with reason.
Not even that, you worked hard for what you know, And Rain’s demeanour changed, Ha, I broke into Mortimer’s tablet, he never made more than a D- on any of his physics homework.
Really? Now Algernon was pleased, I at least made D+.
Tabaseth eventually came down and took personal responsibility for Algernon and his continued good behaviour. He was needed in the labs.
Peggy and Bruce were deep into discussions when all five were delivered.
“Are you so sure it’s a great idea to let him stick whatever he likes into his head?” Bruce asked as Peggy glanced and incomprehensible strings of data and nodded.
“Do you think there’s a problem?” She replied unconcerned.
What have you been up to? Rain glanced at Algernon whose whole body language shifted as if he’d been caught once more by the Myriad.
Look, you put whatever you want into your own head. It’s the whole point of all this, the right to choose. But give the boys the same break.
Whatever do you mean? It was apparent Algernon had added to the programming not just for himself but also for the triplets. Rain was about to criticise Algernon for wanting to play with other minds like Doctor Strangelove when he overheard Peggy continue her conversation with Bruce.
“Regardless, the young ones are going to need a good mental map, a framework on which to build their personalities and memories. I thought we could use a scan of your brain, Bruce as that foundational groundwork.”
“No problems, Doc.” Bruce agreed, pleased to be part of the program to help the boys, “Hey, that’d make me their Godfather”.
“No, “ Rain butted in all smiles and waving hands, “You can’t use Bruce’s brain as a basis of the program for the boys.”
“Why not, he’s the best example of a stable human male we have. He has a decent, ethical base and has good judgement.”
“Ah, but he wasn’t, was he. After the battle in the space station. He was depressed. His thoughts were spiralling, and he wasn’t listening to rational argument,” Rain caught Bruce’s eye. He could see that what he was saying was getting nowhere with Bruce who’d always had the uncanny ability to see through his deceptions.
“Yes, he’d just shot a kid, he was having a tough time coping at the moment.” She looked at Bruce, “But he’s much improved now, aren’t you, Bruce?”
“Yep, even had a chat with Mortimer yesterday, cleared up a few things.” Bruce nodded. He certainly seemed more himself, “And then, of course, I know you always have my back, so I don’t see what I have to worry about.”
There it was. Rain hadn’t imagined it before, the phrase he’d seeded in Bruce’s mind.
“Ah, Peggy. I wonder if I…I could have a word with y…you in private,” He stuttered and could feel Bruce’s accusing eyes on him, “If you don’t mind.”
“Oh, very well.” Peggy’s metal box floated out of the lab and Rain followed after wondering how he was going to explain this one.
“So, why can’t we use Bruce?”
“As I said, Bruce was depressed. I didn’t know if he was going to be okay to take on the secret lab and we had such a short time frame.”
“And he wasn’t listening. And I felt the Strange just there, ready for me to use and so I…pushed him.”
“I pushed him using the Strange,”
“So? You pushed Algernon into answering your questions. It had no permanent effect. I would think that Bruce would be…”
“No, it wasn’t the same,” Now Rain struggled for words. Bruce’s shadow fell over the doorway and Rain quickly lowered his voice, “It wasn’t a suggestion… a command to do a certain action. This was a fundamental and core belief. I implanted a phrase and somehow changed the way he thinks.”
Now Peggy was concerned, “And what was this phrase?”
Rain winced, it was almost painful to express it now, “That I always have his back.”
“Yes!” Rain exclaimed and had to physically restrain himself and put both hands in front of his mouth, “Bruce himself seems to be doing okay, but what if that got into the boys, with no knowledge or experience to balance it out?”
“But are you sure it’s still affecting him?”
“You just heard him say it. It’s still in there.”
Peggy whirled for a moment, internal mechanisms contemplating the next Rational move.
“We’ll just have to break him of the programming. You will have to confess what you did.”
“I had intended to…eventually when we were back on Earth… and there was professional help.”
“Well, we’ll just have to see what we can do right now.” And Peggy glided back up the hall and returned to the labs.
Taking a long shuddering breath, Rain followed.
“Bruce, I want you to think ..:” Peggy was already talking as Rain slunk in behind her, “Is there anything you wouldn’t trust Rain with?”
“Well I wouldn’t trust him to lie straight in bed, but he’s always had my back,” Bruce replied glancing from Peggy back to Rain hoping one of them would explain what’s going on.
“But surely there’s been a time when you couldn’t trust him?”
“Look Doc, he’s a self-serving liar, but when things are tough, I know he’s always got my back.”
“Oh the gods, I’ve broken Bruce!” Wailed Rain who crumbled into a pile on the floor, his head in his hands.
“What’s this about, Doc?” Bruce now asked, trying to understand what the problem.
“I think you’re blind to Rain’s faults. I wonder, please repeat the following line; Rain will help if he can,”
“Rain will help if he can because he always has my back.”
Peggy sighed, Rain whimpered, and Algernon just watched once more stunned by the stupidity of humans.
“Rain, “ Bruce sat in a nearby chair so he could get down to the same level, “Tell me, what did you do that was so bad?”
“You were so broken after the battle. I didn’t know if you’d be able to tackle the lab with us. I was scared. So, I used the Strange to push the idea that I will always have your back into your mind.”
“Huh.” Bruce thought for a moment, “You did that, in the conversation we had here…”
“Before going out to the lab, yes.”
“Huh,” Bruce said again.
Rain looked up to see Bruce just staring into space. Rain didn’t dare do or say anything; he just sat and watched as his friend mulled over the phrase in his mind. It was like he sounded out each thought to see if they rang true.
“I think…it’s gone.” Bruce finally said.
“The thing is, I really do believe you’ve got my back.”
Rain’s head sank back onto his knees with a groan.
“But I’ve thought that for a while.” Bruce continued, “Like, you gave the idea words, but I’ve thought that well before the conversation, probably since Dreamland.”
Rain shook his head, the concept that anyone would trust him, trust him with their lives even was incomprehensible. In the end, he let go a deep breath and picked himself off the floor.
“We’ll talk about this later,” Bruce said sternly before getting up himself.
“Yes, Dad,” Rain replied with a wavering smile.
“And…thank you.” Bruce put his strong hand on his friend’s thin shoulder. Speechless, Rain found a corner to contemplate Bruce’s words as the work of creating the mind patches began in earnest.
First, Bruce was wired up to the brain scanners used on Algernon and asked a series of questions that helped draw out his core beliefs, ethical base and general knowledge. The scans recorded and saved as programmable data.
Next, they made two different overlays. One for Algernon and Mortimer who had fully integrated minds and memories but needed the mind blocks removed. Mortimer also had a lot of brainwashing that needed removing. In contrast, Algernon had spectacularly removed his own, at least in part, in an electro-magnetic pulse a few days before. The triplets, on the other hand, needed a leg up to bring their minds into sync with their bodies. Bruce’s base would provide the foundational knowledge for them to build upon while not restraining their own growing personalities.
It was as she scanned once more through the triplets patches that she noticed the first of Algernon’s additions. Buried deep in the programming were sets of passwords, override commands. What the passwords were linked to she couldn’t tell. So, instead of removing all the codes, she simply changed the passwords. Now that she knew what she was looking for, the next pass, she found another set and changed those passwords as well.
But not before she flew across the room and slapped him in the back of the head with an extendable metal rod.
“You are banned from anything to do with the coding for the triplets. Add what you like to your own brain but do not tinker with others without express permission.” And she smacked him again for good measure.
Algernon went to protest when he heard Rain in his head.
Accept you were sprung and move on. Just as Rain got Peggy’s attention.
“Speaking of which, has anyone asked Mortimer if he accepts the treatment?”
They’d all been so busy working out if they could rewrite all the boys that no one had thought to ask Mortimer if they should.
“I should probably lead that discussion,” Peggy volunteered, taking everyone by surprise, “Are you coming Rain?”
Pulling up a bundle of colourful pamphlets, he followed.
Mortimer was exercising in the limited space of his room when Peggy and Rain entered. He quickly stood by his bed, like a soldier on Bootcamp and awaited orders. Peggy took a position opposite the bed and gestured for him to take a seat. Mortimer glanced once at Rain, who now took the only chair and sat down, cradling a bundle of paper. Mortimer obvious didn’t consider either a threat and sat down.
“I feel I should introduce myself. My name is Doctor Margarita Athena Portaculis Martin.”
“That should mean what to me?” He rotated his shoulder, flexing the joint. Peggy and Rain could both see the dressing on that shoulder.
“Nothing, we are quite aware that Doctor Strangelove did not trust you with her secrets.”
Mortimer’s eyes flicked from Rain to Peggy and back again, his head jerked up as he suddenly realised who sat before him.
“You were at the fight. I saw you, running and hiding behind others,” He pointed at Rain who bowed and mimed doffing a hat in confirmation, “And you too, but you were…different. Not this drone, you were…like a trooper of some sort.” He flicked back to Peggy, and she too nodded. “You opposed the Glory of Doctor Strangelove?”
You could almost see the hackles raise. Mortimer couldn’t stand because that would put him closer to Peggy, but he widenedthe position of his feet, his back straightened and his hands gripped the bed, ready to launch himself into an attack.
“That makes up enemies.”
“Not necessarily, “ Peggy replied coolly giving no energy to the conversation, “You see, I know very little about the Glory of Strangelove…”
“How could you not know!” Mortimer interrupted, astounded to hear that anyone could be so ignorant.
“I do, however, know how she made you. The technology. The science behind it.” Peggy continued as if Mortimer hadn’t cut in.
Rain growled something about “…stripping the life…” but didn’t join in the conversation.
“It was suitably glorious from my point of view.” The boast seemed a mechanical thing with no passion behind it. Just something learnt like please, thank you and pardon me. It was ignored, and Peggy continued.
“Genetically we are very similar, you and I.”
The head cocked again, unable to make sense of where Peggy’s statement was going.
“Our DNA is a match.” Peggy simplified, but still, the importance of her message was lost.
“Can you explain that less cryptically?” Mortimer relaxed a little, more curious than concerned about these two enemies in his room.
Peggy sighed, an achievement for a floating box and hologram.
“I’m trying. We share genetic material. I am not a clone, and neither are you. We are both children of the same two people from Earth.”
It came as something of a surprise to the Mortimer, who, like Algernon, had probably assumed himself to be a clone of Doctor Strangelove.
“We are the same material from very different backgrounds. I was born and raised naturally on Earth. You were grown in a laboratory. But, that connection exists, and it creates an obligation for me. An obligation to protect and help you.”
“Help me how?” He replied quickly, seeing an opportunity where before had only been enemies.
“To offer you the opportunity to make choices unaffected by Doctor Strangelove or me. To enable you to have free will without influence.”
“What has the Doctor got to do with it? She’s not here.”
Peggy looked to Rain for help. He just smiled and gestured for her to continue. She turned back to Mortimer.
“You are not Doctor Strangelove, are you?” She asked, changing tack.
Mortimer searched both Peggy and Rain, looking for a clue to where this was going.
“No, of course not. You are not Doctor Strangelove, and it is correct that you should have different ideas, thoughts and points of view from her.”
He looked at her as if she’d spoken some sort of treason. At the same time, he was thinking, taking it in.
“Is this acceptable?” Peggy asked as if her illustration explained everything.
“I don’t understand,” And it looked like he wanted to, looked like this was something that had been preying on his mind.
Peggy had run out of words. She turned once more, this time pleading for help.
Rain leaned in, now full attention centred on the boy. The body language didn’t seem threatening to the boy, but neither was it friendly.
“Peggy wants to help you in a way Doctor Strangelove would never have. To Strangelove, you were one of her many pets, her toys that she threw into the world to see what they could find out.”
“Pet? An unusual turn of phrase…” He tried to dismiss the metaphor as some weird joke, but Rain would not be put off.
“Pets, I said. You saw Algernon. He fought you, remember? He was Strangelove’s toy before you. And before him was one called Horatio and before him, another called Balthazar. Balthazar only lasted three years in her service before he died. This was going to be your fate, as well. This was what your glorious mistress made you for, nothing more. Now Peggy wants to give you more, the chance to choose your own fate, not be thrown around by the machinations of one person, no matter how glorious.”
Something clicked. Something between Mortimer’s experience and what they said made sense and suddenly a passion appeared in his eyes.
“I want that. I want to make choices, I accept…” He said before his eyelids fluttered closed and Mortimer pitched forward in a dead faint. Rain was ready and grabbed him before he hit the ground.
“And there it is.” He said, gently cradling the boys head as he leaned him back on his mattress.
“Good, we’ll start preparations immediately.” Peggy started moving back towards the door.
“Good work Peggy, well-argued,” Rain said, putting the chair back at the small table.
“I…I didn’t know what to say but logic and reason.” She stuttered, uncomfortable under the praise as usual, “You seemed to say more with fewer words.”
“Sometimes, I think reason and logic are underrated. I could probably do with a little less emotion, at times” He shrugged as Mortimer stirred from his faint.
“Something that won’t be happening in the future. Here, for you.” Rain smiled and handed the stack of pamphlets over to Mortimer. Slowly, Mortimer took the stack and flicked through them, their colourful superhero in action poses, their titles shouting in bold block print each hero’s name.
“But…how did you know?” He looked at Rain now, not with the dead eyes of a sociopath but with child-like innocence and surprise.
“Don’t you know, “ Rain said, following Peggy out the door, “All Earth kids love comic books.”
The programs were checked and rechecked by Peggy and Qiqabee. The first and simplest from a programming perspective, the triplets were brought in one by one. As their programs loaded into their minds, Algernon, Rain and Bruce stood to one side and trying to not get in the way.
“So you changed the passwords then?” Algernon asked in seeming innocence. Rain gave him a look, sensing the duplicity. So did Peggy who swooped passed, slapping him in the back of the head again.
“And no reading my mind!” She barked, and Algernon slumped back against the wall, confirming all their suspicions.
“Say, these guys are going to need names,” Rain said, deflecting the attention from his wayward brother, “I’ve been calling them Thomas, Richard and Harold, but they could probably do better. I’d love to suggest Bruce Willis, but Bruce, of course, is already taken.” He looked at Bruce.
“There can always be more Bruces in the world.” Bruce replied, “I won’t mind sharing.”
“Possibly the boys themselves can choose?” Peggy asked, and everyone seemed happy to wait until they were ready to decide for themselves.
When the programming was deemed a success, the three boys were asked what they would like to be called. The taller two were happy with Thomas and Richard that Rain had been calling them since they could remember, but Harold wasn’t so sure.
“Of course he isn’t, the pipsqueak is never satisfied,” Rain taunted, and ex-Harold took the bait.
“I am not short!”
“You’re shorter than me. Finally, I have someone to look down on.”
“Oh yeah,” The boy went chest to chest with Rain and stood on tiptoes to look him in the eye. Impressed, Rain looked down to see the boy wasn’t touching the ground, but floating several inches above the carpet. He glanced over at Algernon, who smiled sweetly in return.
“Oh, I see, ganging up on me now. Okay then, munchkin, what would you like your name to be?”
“Maybe something French, like Pierre?” Bruce chimed in.
“Peter? Do you want to be known as a rock?” Rain
“His father’s name is John, possibly Jean?” Peggy suggested, and the boy seemed to like the sound.
“Or Jean-Luc?” Algernon smiled, and the boy instantly fell for the new combination.
“Yes, I want to be Jean-Luc.”
And so it was that Thomas, Richard and Jean-Luc Martin were born officially, in the lab of the Quiet Cabal Tower of Harmonious, Ruk.
Mortimer and Algernon’s programming was shorter, only affecting the blocks and programming already established.
“I…do feel different…like there are possibilities, opportunities,” Mortimer said excitedly to the group. Algernon did not volunteer any feelings, but after all their efforts, Rain wasn’t going to let him get away without at least one test before returning to Earth.
“Algernon, tell me what you know about plantvores, please?” He said and watched for any sign of blanking on the question or fainting altogether.
“Oh terrible things, they tear and gobble up whole planets and stuff like that,” Algernon replied without any side-effects. If anything, he seemed to take joy in the description of the destruction.
So it was all seven translated back to Peggy’s lab at the Estate, in Seattle on a winter’s morning. John and Athena were on the campus, and Rain was keen to bring the whole family together for the first time. As the group expected, Peggy tried to sneak off as they started walking across the commons to the visitors centre. Without a word, Rain came up beside Peggy and looped an arm through hers.
“You know you’re going to have to meet your parents someday, why not today with all the excitement of the boys to distract from you?” Rain asked as Peggy tried vainly to break free.
“Yeah, why don’t you want to meet them?” Bruce added, also having spotted the escape and stood on her the other side.
Boxed in, with no place to go, Peggy’s usual hard shell dissolved. She shrank physically against her two companions, and her voice became small and timid.
“They were gone.”
“They could do nothing about that, “ Rain replied, unsure where this new timid Peggy had come from, “They would have come back if they could, you know that.”
“Exactly, I”m not the same.” Peggy was almost in tears, and all Rain could do was laugh.
“They know that. I don’t say it won’t be a shock, but your parents know how brilliant you are and how hard you tried to find them.”
“Didn’t,” She confessed brokenly, and the tears rolled down her face, unchecked, “I tried to find the Rockwheelers, not them. They were gone.”
“Ah Peggy, “ He came in tight and hugged her arm, not a move he would normally try for fear of grave physical injury, “What a mess we are. Be thankful they’re back, they’re here, and they love you.”
“How can they, they don’t know me,” The ugly balling began in earnest and Rain looked up to Bruce for the right thing to say.
“Because they’re your parents. Family, right?”
Rain nodded and slowly between her two friends, behind the entourage of her new brothers, Peggy went to see her mother and father for the first time in twenty years.
“You know the best thing about all this is?” Bruce asked later as they whole group chatted and got to know each other, “Algernon doesn’t have an excuse for calling me dad anymore.”
“Ah, but I always will,” Rain smiled and held out his arms for a hug, which Bruce ignored.
Over the next few weeks, the group were busy settling the Martins into their new lives in Seattle. With a little goading by Rain, the Estate set up John and Athena in Seattle’s suburbs where they could raise Thomas, Richard and Jean-Luc to fit into human society. Mortimer was put on probation with the Estate itself. His mix of skills and intellect were highly prized, but he needed to prove his loyalty first. He seemed keen to make good on this first big break and was already carving a niche for himself within the latest crop of recruits.
A note for Peggy arrived from Noel sometime the first week. He was sorry to hear that business got in the way of them meeting up, but that he understood. He would be out on operations for the next few weeks but would be back within the month, and maybe they could meet up then. Rain took this as a good sign, which Peggy seemingly ignored.
Rain also sent a note to Horatio, the eldest of the Doctor Strangelove experiments, in Jir via the Quiet Cabal.
Condolences on your loss.
I want you to know that you are not alone, but one of many brilliant young men who are now making lives for themselves. I hope you may be able to do the same.
If you wish to get in touch with them, please forward any correspondence through the Quiet Cabal.
Rain had one more task. It was time to face up to himself. Catching a quiet moment with Bruce, he guided them both towards the hospital and psychology unit.
“Let’s go to the councillor, you and me.”
Bruce looked down at his smaller friend, a perplexed smile, making him look more relaxed, younger and happier than he had since they’d met.
“I’m right, better than new.”
Rain nodded, realising the truth, “That’s great. Because I’m not, ” He sighed deeply and the weight of his anxieties hampered his steps. He ground to a halt, “I haven’t been for a while.”
“Okay, let go.” And the two men walked side by side through the weak winter light towards what they both hoped would be a better new year.