What Lies Ahead
The next morning I had Ted, Jonathan, Carter, Jawarski and Mom gathered around the dining table. These were the people I was starting to think of as my brain trust, and they were who I usually brought my problems too. Before we could get started, I decide it was time to bring Carter on the inside. I didn’t know if what was happening was connected to me or not, but to give the right advice, he had to really understand what was happening.
We went through step by step everything we knew to that point. When we were done, Carter sat back and let out a long puff of air.
“I knew you weren’t ordinary, but there was no way I woulda guessed all that. And you say the only way you ‘change’ people is by mixing in some of your blood?”
“Yea, they get sick the next day or so as their body adjusts, and then they are ... different.”
“Really?” he said, although it was more rhetorical.
He seemed to be thinking hard over something and then gave himself a shrug and focused back on the rest of us.
“So you do this to everyone you work with, huh?”
“No, of course not. Once we realized what was happening, we made a decision not to change anyone without talking to them first, and making sure they understand the implications of what would happen.”
He stared at me intently and then said, “Are you sure about that?”
“What?” I asked. “Yes. I am positive. I have spoken with everyone we have altered.”
He looked at me for a moment longer and the, with a shrug, said, “Ok.”
I looked at Jonathan for a moment, and he had a look similar to what I was thinking. Carter isn’t normally the type to bring up something for no reason, and he doesn’t let go of things that easily.
But we had pressing things to think about.
“On to business then. We’ve started noticing something strange is going on, and I wanted to get everyone’s thoughts on it, because it feels pretty serious. I know we have talked about most of this already to this point, but I want to go through it step by step again. Some strange things have been happening over the last two months, and it seems pretty certain they are connected.
“First, there was the visit I had by two armed men. They made reference to some of the stuff that happened last year with MilTech, and that I was causing problems for them. They were trying to get me to go with them, and I had to put them down. They were arrested shortly after that.
“While that was a problem, the really troubling thing was what happened afterwards. I checked in with the officer who arrested them, and both men had disappeared from the system. Not only were they not brought up on charges, the actual records of their being arrested also disappeared. If I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t be able to tell anything had actually happened.
“Then, a couple of weeks ago there was the thing with Vicki’s father. When Jawarski and I were looking through their house, trying to find out what happened to Vicki and her family, we came across a cache of documents that looked to show all kinds of illegal activity.
“Since we were trying to get to Vicki, we didn’t really look through it too much, but instead Jararski had all off it picked up by detectives, along with the guys we found holding Vicki and her mom.
“Now, all of those documents, plus the guys who were arrested, are gone. With again, no records they existed.”
“I went by the station yesterday, and it’s worse than that,” Jawarski said. “The bodies of the men I shot are gone. The internal records on the police involved shooting, which is usually scrutinized by IA, is gone. I talked to a few people and they were told it was being handled by the DA’s office directly. I called the DA’s office, but they said they couldn’t comment on it. I talked to a friend over there, and she couldn’t find any records of the investigation at all.”
“It takes someone with a lot of juice to make something like that disappear,” Carter said.
“I know. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“So, how does this affect us, and what do we do?” I asked.
“Does it affect us?” Jonathan asked.
“It has to, doesn’t it?” I said. “I mean, at least the thing earlier this year, someone was after me specifically. And then Vicki’s father. It can’t be a coincidence.”
“We need to look into it,” Carter said. “I have a few contacts I can reach out to. What we need is information.”
I reached into my backpack and pulled out the ledger I took from Vicki’s house.
“I have this,” I said looking sheepishly at Jawarski. “I held this back when we turned everything over to the detectives.”
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Jawarski said.
“I know, but, something felt off. I was going to give it to you if everything worked out.”
“It’s a good thing you did,” Carter said taking the ledger. “Let me go over this and see what I can find out.”
“Let me know what you find, and if there is anything you need,” Jawarski said.
“Carter,” I said, “Will you work with Jawarski on this. You guys have a lot of overlapping skills in this area, and are the best to handle this. Since Jawarski is on the inside, she is in the best place to see what’s actually happening.
“Sure thing,” he said.
“You’re ok working on this,” I asked Jawarski.
“Yea. If there is rot in the department, I want to do something about it,” she answered.
“You know, considering how things have disappeared, this could go pretty high.”
“Yea, I know. Doesn’t matter.”
“Ok. Well, you guys look into this. We can’t figure out what to do until we know what’s happening.”
“There’s something else,” Jonathan said.
We all looked over at him.
“A friend of mine called yesterday. They know I’ve been involved with you on a bunch of stuff, and they wanted to give me a heads up. Child Protective Services has opened an investigation into you,” he said looking at Mom.
“Me?” she asked, surprised,
“Yes. Besides Zoe, you have custody of Caspian and Tina, and now Emily. Everything went through the courts fine, so it isn’t a question of whether you are their legal guardian or not. As far as I can tell, there have been some anonymous allegations of abuse.”
“What!” both Mom and I yelled at the same time.
“Calm down. Anonymous allegations only go so far, and it seems these were rather non-specific, which normally doesn’t warrant an actual investigation. However, with everything else that is going on, and at the level it appears to be happening, I am concerned. I am working on it, and will let you know as soon as I find out what is going on, but I didn’t want you to be blindsided.”
“I...” Mom started to say, and stopped.
She was stunned. She prided herself on being a good parent, both to her own child and to all of us who lived under her roof. She was taking this very personally.
“Don’t worry yet Angela. I am working on it. It will probably amount to nothing.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“Nothing is positive, but so far it’s just someone making noise. Let’s not panic until we know more.”
We went around a little bit longer, working out some specifics on what we were going to do, but at this point we couldn’t make specific plans on everything. All we were doing at this point was working on information gathering.
We mentioned the warning Jonathan had given us to Zoe, Tina and Emily later that night. They were equally as concerned, but agreed we would just have to wait and see.
It did have the effect of tamping down enthusiasm for the rest of the weekend. Everyone was pretty distracted.
I begged off of going into the office for most of the week, and spent my time when not in school hovering around the house, and Mom and Alex’s lab. I wasn’t so much worried for myself. Considering I was now personally very wealthy, if she was removed as my guardian, I was nearly certain I could argue for emancipation and win. And Jonathan had mentioned that they were looking into her having custody of multiple juveniles, so that shouldn’t affect Zoe.
Tina and Emily were different stories. I wasn’t biologically related to Tina, so the courts wouldn’t have as much of a problem splitting us up. Having gone through the system, which was chronically underfunded and understaffed, I knew they would take expediency of moving kids put into the system over the well-being or opinions of the kids.
If Mom lost custody, they could be in another city a week later, and CPS didn’t like kids to have contact with previous non-biological guardians. It might be years before I would see either girl again, and that really had me upset.
And it had Mom even more upset, which is why I was hovering around her, both at home and at work.
By Thursday, she had had enough.
I was leaning against one of the cabinets in the lab, watching her and Alex work on something. This kind of science really wasn’t my thing, and I was never really clear on what they were doing.
“I was just standing over here,” I said in my defense.
“I can feel you staring at me. I know you’re worried Cas, but you can’t just stand around watching me all the time. It’s driving me crazy.”
“I wasn’t even saying anything.” I whinned back.
Even I recognized that as a whiney teenager voice, but, in my defense, I was a teenager.
“Cas, we will be fine. Jonathan will take care of it. Just, let me have some peace, ok?”
“Fine, fine. I will go find something to do, but I’m not leaving. I will be here when you’re ready to go home.”
“Cas,” she said warningly, and then stopped. “Ok, I’ll compromise. You can hang around today, but I do not want to see you in this lab for a week. You can smother me at home, but I need to get work done while I’m here.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said, trying to sound innocent.
She just rolled her eyes. Alex on the other hand seemed to find this all funny, and was smiling through most of our argument.
“But right now, go play in the street or something,” Mom said, this time with a smile so I knew she wasn’t actually mad.
“Good Idea,” I said, and went out of the lab.
Of course, I really didn’t have anything to do at the lab, other than hang around and bug Mom. I probably should have just left and headed home, but I was still worried about her and didn’t want to do that.
So instead I started poking around. I had a tour when they were first setting up, and again shortly after they started actually using the facilities, but there were still a lot of areas I hadn’t seen, at least not in use.
It seems they hired a lab tech, since there was a person I didn’t know working in the other secured lab. She, and it was a woman, was bent over a table looking into a microscope. I didn’t want to intrude, so I headed down the central hallway. There were 2 rooms beyond the lab that I wasn’t sure what they were used for.
One, on inspection, was clearly being used for storage. Shelves lined the wall, covered in boxes of different stuff. While I recognized some of the names on the boxes, I had little idea and less interest in what any of it was used for, so I shut the door and peeked into the other room.
This seemed to be some hybrid between a lab and storage, or maybe it was storage for sensitive materials. While the other room was boxed products, and included things from beakers and pipe cleaners to toilet paper, this room had glass fronted refrigeration units lining the wall.
Inside there were a variety of medicine and chemicals, as well as test tubes. Some were filled with what I assumed was blood while others had clear or slightly colored liquids in them. The sides of the test tubes had a combination of letters and numbers that I couldn’t identify.
What caught my eye was one glass cabinet with row after row of trays with something I had never seen before. It was kind of like a thumbtack with a very small clear bulb on the end, instead of the plastic thing that most thumbtacks had. Some looked empty, but others were red. A safe bet would be that they were filled with blood.
I opened the cabinet and pulled out one of the empty ones to look at it. Pushing on the clear end, it was plastic, and wasn’t hard to depress. When I let go, it expanded again, reminding me of an eye dropper. The pointy end was much sharper than any thumbtack I had ever seen.
I went over to a sink that was on one wall, and put the pointy end into a small drop of water, depressed and released the plastic end. When I saw the water sucked up into the plastic bulb, it confirmed my hunch.
Setting that one aside, I went back to the cabinet and just stared at it, trying to work out something that was bothering me.
This wasn’t anything I had seen in a lab, or ever heard about. What could they possibly be used for?
If they were used for holding and moving liquids like an eye dropper, why were they so small? The amount of liquid it could hold was infinitesimal.
And why was the end so sharp. In a lab that was testing blood, viruses and bacteria, the last thing a technician wants is to have something puncture their skin. While I may not be totally conversant in biology and lab procedures, this went against everything I understood about how labs work.
If I factored in that Mom and Alex were solely studying my biology and the shape and design of the things in the case, I could come up with one use, and that bothered me. A lot.
I reached in and pulled out one of the full dropper things. Of course, this was immensely stupid, since I didn’t actually know what was in the bulb reservoir, but I was confident by this point that my system could fight off whatever was in it.
Plus, I didn’t plan on sticking myself with it.
I put the sharp tip against the back of one of my fingernails, and gave it a small amount of pressure.
As soon as the pressure started, the end started leaking out. Not dumping the bulb completely, but clearly the sharp end was able to push out, as well as draw in the liquid.
Going over to the sink, I pointed the sharp end over the drain, and pushed the bulb, causing the red liquid to squirt out. It was obvious by this point that the liquid was blood.
I was turning to take it back to the cabinet when the door to the lab opened and Alex came in, carrying a tray.
When she saw me, and saw what I was holding, she froze in place, her eyes growing wide.
Coming of Age /