“Hey don’t go too far, okay?!” Taylor called after his two younger sons.
“We won’t!” River called back as they ran down the beach.
Taylor sighed and sat back into the beach chair, looking up as Natalie appeared beside him.
“Where are they going?” she asked.
“Those other kids are down there, I think they’re having a game of beach volleyball or something,” Taylor shook his head, “I’m not entirely sure.”
“I’m glad you’re not too worried,” Natalie smiled as she sat beside him, “it was getting a little rough there for a while.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” his brow furrowed as he took the drink she handed him, “I just wanted to make sure we were actually safe.”
“I know,” she assured, “you don’t have to apologise for anything. I get it.”
“Did you talk to Kate?” he asked, moving his sunglasses onto his head.
“I did. They’re not too worried at the moment but the kids are getting restless,” Natalie admitted, “I’m not sure they like Texas as much as Zac and Kate hoped.”
“It was always a gamble,” Taylor shrugged, “I think we were just lucky in that respect.”
“I bet Ike’s are having fun though,” Natalie mused.
“They were, last I heard,” Taylor agreed with a smile, “it’s like a never ending holiday for them. They’re going to hate it when school starts again.”
“As are ours, and about that…” Natalie grit her teeth, “what are we going to do about that, considering we don’t know how long this ‘vacation’ is going to last?”
“We’ll have to inch them back into it I guess,” Taylor shrugged, “it’s gotta happen sometime.”
“But here?” Natalie’s brow rose, “or back in the States?”
“I’m not going to make any definitive plans about returning to the States,” Taylor insisted, “I know it’s been six months but we don’t know that they aren’t just waiting to pounce, so to speak.”
“But are we going to live like this forever?” Natalie pressed, “or are we going to face this?”
“Face it how?” Taylor frowned, “if I ever see or hear from them again, it’s over. It means I’ve been taken in. I don’t have a choice but to essentially live on the run. It sucks, but that was always how it was going to be.”
“And the kids?” Natalie didn’t give up, “what about them?”
Taylor cast his eyes to where Penny was helping Willa build a sandcastle. They were having trouble keeping a particular part of it upright no matter how wet they made the sand.
“I know they didn’t ask for this, and they certainly don’t deserve any of it,” he began cautiously, “but this could potentially be our lives now. I’m almost tempted to suggest we move to somewhere in Europe and send them to school there. At least they’d be getting some of the best education in the world.”
“But we’re not going back to Tulsa, are we?”
Taylor gave her a glance, the look in her eye making him divert his gaze straight away.
“Not for a long time,” he admitted sullenly.
They sat in silence for a moment, just watching the girls.
“I might draw up an activity with them for tomorrow,” Natalie began gently, “I’ll tentatively see if there’s any particular European countries they want to explore more than others. Maybe that will help our aim.”
“Sounds great,” he rubbed at his face with his free hand, worry showing in his voice.
“It’s okay,” she insisted, leaning over to rub his shoulder, “we’ll figure it out. It’s just taking a little longer than I expected it to.”
“Yeah,” he agreed non-committedly, “me too.”
Long after they’d put the kids to bed, Taylor emerged from the bathroom to find Natalie on the bed watching television.
“Your phone was ringing,” she kept her voice down, not bothering to look in his direction as he walked past to fetch it.
“Ike was gonna call,” he realised aloud as he fetched it.
“I just missed it,” she admitted, “it’s a bit late, isn’t it?”
“I’m not sure what time zone he’s in anymore,” Taylor admitted, frowning when he looked up his missed calls.
But just as he was about to say something, the phone began to vibrate.
“Take it outside,” Natalie insisted, hearing it.
Taylor decided against telling her who was actually calling, quickly heading out to the balcony before answering. He slid the door closed before putting the phone to his ear.
“You really shouldn’t be calling me here,” was the first thing he said.
“I know, I’m sorry,” he could hear a strain in Alex’s voice, “I just… needed to check in. See how everything was going.”
“It’s going fine,” Taylor insisted, “but I can’t really talk right now.”
There was a pause and Taylor thought he heard Alex whispering to himself.
“Yeah. Uh… have you heard from Jesse?”
“Jesse?” he frowned, “why?”
“Nothing we just haven’t heard from him in a few months is all, and his phones aren’t working,” Alex was quick to say, “I was wondering if you might know where he is?”
“Alex even if I did I shouldn’t be telling you,” Taylor’s frown only deepened, “what’s going on? I can hear that something’s wrong, so just tell me.”
“Nothing’s wrong I swear,” Alex’s voice broke.
“Don’t lie to me! Why are you of all people calling me all of a sudden? We agreed to radio silence!”
There was another moment of tense silence, before Taylor could have sworn he heard a light sob.
“Taylor they’ve got my Mom,” Alex’s voice shook.
He felt his blood run cold as he stared out at the ocean.
“What?” he barely got out.
“And Mark, and… and I think they got Carey too.”
There was a clatter on the line and Taylor thought he heard a yelp in the background.
“Jordan Hanson?” a deeper voice came down the line all of a sudden.
“Who is this?” Taylor demanded, “and what do you want?”
“It’s pretty simple. We want your location and the location of C-5. In return we won’t kill either of these two, or the one in Hawaii.”
“Why would Morris let you kill any of us?!” Taylor asked incredulously, “we’re all a part of the same program!”
“Desperate needs, and it appears some of you are more important than others.”
Taylor’s hand went to his head where he took hold of his hair. He looked back toward the room hoping Natalie couldn’t make out his side of the conversation.
“What does he want? Does he just want me?” he tried to clarify, “and Jesse?”
“Jesse Musgrove? As far as I’m aware.”
“That’s it?” Taylor’s brow went up, “nothing else?”
“What else are you implying?”
“Nothing,” Taylor answered quickly, “I just want to know what his game is before I start playing.”
“The deal is, once we have you in Dallas we let these two go,” the voice was smug, “we’ll keep C-2 until we get confirmation on C-5’s location.”
“I can’t help with Jesse I don’t know where he is,” Taylor said straight off.
“He obviously disappeared better than I could,” he added, hoping it was an incentive for them to let Carey go.
“Where are you?” the voice demanded.
Taylor paused, his mind racing. If he told them where he was he might as well just hand his kids over on a platter. But if he offered himself up freely, maybe they’d leave them alone. He was the one who’d escaped them after all. They wanted their experiment back.
He didn’t know either Isaac or his mother’s location. He wouldn’t be able to give them up if he were interrogated again. If Natalie had plenty of warning, she could move the kids and he wouldn’t know where they were either…
“Where are you?” the voice repeated, a little more growl this time.
“I’m not gonna say,” Taylor insisted, “your end of the bargain is that you leave my family out of this.”
“We don’t want your family.”
Taylor smirked at that knowing they probably just hadn’t been given the right orders yet.
“You said Dallas?”
“I won’t tell you where I am now but I can be at Dallas-Fort Worth airport tomorrow afternoon,” he tried to reason, “but I’ll be alone.”
“That takes care of one thing,” his voice moved away from the mic for a moment, “call back with an exact time. Meanwhile, we’ll keep these other ones company until you get here.”
“Put Alex back on,” Taylor demanded.
Taylor heard a small commotion, and Alex’s voice saying something indecipherable before he made it back to the line.
“Don’t panic, I’m coming,” he insisted.
“What about the kids?!”
“Don’t worry about the kids, they won’t find them. I’m coming alone. Your Mom’s gonna be fine.”
“I don’t trust them,” Alex’s voice lowered, though it was obvious they were still within hearing range, “what if they take you in and take us out anyway?”
“You have a better chance if I do this,” Taylor insisted, “instead of us just giving up. But I’m gonna need you to up your game once I’ve gone in, okay? I need you on full protection detail.”
“I will if I can,” Alex promised, his voice still shaky.
“Just hang in there a little while longer. Where’s Mark?”
“He’s here. They’ve got him… uh. It’s not good,” Alex faltered, “please just hurry.”
“I’ll look at flights as soon as I get off the phone. Are you two okay otherwise?”
“No,” Alex scorned, “I’m fucking terrified and Mark’s tied down! We don’t know what’s happened to Carey, they won’t tell us anything!”
“Okay just… take a breath,” Taylor insisted, already doing it himself, “this won’t last forever, okay? I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
“To Dallas,” Alex corrected.
“Yes, Dallas,” Taylor had forgotten he didn’t actually know where Alex was, “I’ll be there.”
He heard someone in the background telling Alex to hang up.
“Just stay calm!” he insisted before he could.
“Good luck, Taylor.”
The call cut out and Taylor squeezed the phone with his hand. He looked out over the ocean again as he started to feel sick. His mind was still running wild trying to think of a way out.
But he couldn’t think of a way out.
He leant over the balcony and took another deep breath, his mind now taunting him with images of what they might have been doing to Mark and Alex.
Deep down, he’d known this was a possibility. It was even why they’d encouraged Zac and Jess to both leave Tulsa – they were afraid they might be used against them somehow. But despite each of the clones’ reservations about the scientists… using them against Taylor hadn’t even come up as a possibility. He knew looking back that it was reckless to think they’d be overlooked, but it was far too late now. The damage had well and truly been done.
He almost jumped out of his skin when he heard the sliding door open behind him.
“What’s wrong?” was Natalie’s first question as she appeared, looking worried.
“Where do I start?” Taylor chuckled incredulously before rubbing at his eyes.
She came to his side and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“I have to go,” he came straight out with, “they’ve got Alex’s Mom, and they’ve got Mark and Carey. They’re threatening to kill them.”
“Do you believe them?” Natalie frowned.
Taylor nodded, before wiping at his eyes again.
“Yeah I do,” he admitted aloud, “these people aren’t known for idle threats. I should know.”
“Do you want me to call Jesse?”
Taylor hesitated at that but nodded.
“I have to be in Dallas tomorrow,” he shot a glance in her direction but didn’t catch her eye, “I don’t know where he is but they’re after him too. For what he did in Nevada.”
“You can hardly blame them for that one,” Natalie attempted a joke, ill-timed as it was, “what will you tell the kids?”
Taylor took another deep breath, not having thought that far yet.
“I don’t know, maybe nothing,” he admitted, “I’ll call Ike in the morning and let him know. I don’t know how long this is going to take.”
He bit into his lip as he struggled with the next part.
“Or if I’ll even come back this time.”