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Altered Reflections

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Henry Deacon had been twenty-five years old when he’d finally landed a full-time job at Stark-Jacob Labs, a small lab within an almost as small military base. It wasn’t Henry’s first choice, but at least the Lab insisted on working only on Non-lethal weapons when asked, and spent more time studying everything else instead. Besides, even with his college degree a lot of other places had “lost” his applications as soon as they’d seen the colour of his skin, and the ones that had hired him never offered more than part-time contracts.

But Michelle and David Stark-Jacob had decided to hire him as soon as they realized he was, in fact, one of the highest-scoring intellects in his field. It helped that he had a good work ethic as well.

Henry pulled himself out of his memory and away from the microscope he was currently studying microscopic fractures on one of the recently returned rocket pieces. Suddenly a soft tap against the lab window distracted him from his thoughts.

The kid on the other side of the glass was one Nathan Stark-Jacob. He was a fairly happy ten-year-old and was clearly taking after both his parents in the intelligence department. However, he was still quite young and usually the only time he came to the lab from the small nearby town was to either have lunch here or at the diner with his parents and/or Henry. And that was only during the school holidays… like now.

Henry checked the clock. It was lunchtime, and from the looks of it Nathan had seen his mother while she was working. She’d told him to grab some lunch money and eat without her, which was very rare, and also meant she was probably extremely busy with the strange artifact her lab had recently been asked to study.

His thoughts were confirmed when Nathan waved a couple of twenty dollar bills hopefully at him. Henry nodded; he wasn’t working on anything that was time constrained, and the fracture patterns wouldn’t be changing anytime soon.

Going over to the door, he hung his lab coat on the nearby hook and greeted the boy properly for the first time. “Hello Nathan, we’re going to the diner for lunch I see.”

Nathan nodded his head vigorously. “Yep… you’ll need to drive as well, Papa brought me in, but General Cod’s Wallop and some soldier guys brought in a whole lot of important paperwork for him to sign. He’s taking it home to look through, but he wouldn’t be able to drive us back as well… there’s a LOT.” The boys eyes went wide as he said it.

“It’s General Caldurt, Nathan.”Henry wasn’t surprised as he said this, he had seen the military bring enough paperwork to fill an entire car more than once. Henry would probably drive Nathan back for a little while after lunch, in hopes his mother would be able to spend a little spare time with him, then either she or Henry would drive Nathan home for the day.

The thirty minute drive was mostly uneventful, and aside from one of the military vehicles going past they’d made it to the diner without seeing much traffic. This wasn’t unusual. he town tended to get its business mainly from the small base and the occasional holiday road-trippers.

Lunch was simple but well made. Both of them ordered their standard lunch of a hamburger and fries, although Henry paired his with a nice, refillable coffee, while Nathan had a chocolate milkshake. Technically the milkshake wasn’t refillable, but the little diner’s manager/cook/waitress Dorothy had a soft spot for kids and usually topped it up at least once without charge.

Both of them looked up from their food as the sound of the doorbell jangled through the diner. It was clear that the young couple and their son, a little blonde boy, were not on the best leg of a road trip. They seemed to know the unspoken rule of roadside diners, because the father quickly ordered a coffee before asking if the waitress had a bathroom and some cloths or napkins. The mother was softly comforting the boy, who seemed about five years old and was clearly still suffering some effects of the motion sickness that was quite obviously the reason for the cloths the father had asked for.

Henry watched as the mother took their son to the bathroom with half the napkins, while the father went out to the the car with the rest and a bottle of all-purpose cleaner, clearly intending to clean it out.

Henry took another bite from his burger and Nathan idly munched on a few chips as they watched the father look over the backseat of his car. He seemed to breath a sigh of relief before he started cleaning, only looking up as his wife came out and grabbed a few of their child’s clothes from a bag in the boot.

The two exchanged words calmly. As far as Henry could tell they just asked how each other’s self-assigned tasks were going before returning to them, the woman rushing back to the small bathroom as the man wiped down the last traces of sick from their car before heading back in to return the cleaner.

“Is the little fella alright?” Dorothy asked the man as he handed the spray bottle back to her.

“Yeah.” The man’s voice was a little rough and deep. “We managed to find a place to pull over before it went everywhere, but he still wore half of it, so Mary had to change his clothes.”

Dorothy tilted her head in sympathy. “You folk’s need anything else?”

The man nodded. “ Some sandwiches or something to take with us would be good, Mary thinks Jack will probably want to eat after his stomach settles. Normally he has no problem with car rides, but we passed some rather rotten roadkill on the way in, and the wind blew the smell right into the car.”

“Ahh, that can happen sometimes ‘round here.” Dorothy said with a sympathetic wince.

Their discussion told Henry the couple were driving from the opposite end of town to the base. He and Nathan hadn’t driven past any roadkill on the way in.

He turned to look and the jingling of the door’s bell sounded again, signalling the return of Mary and Jack, if Henry had heard correctly. Mary strode right up to her husband. Meanwhile Jack peered around from where he was hiding behind his mother’s dress, shyly waving at Henry and Nathan before disappearing back into the folds.

It wasn’t a surprise. Even at such a young age, accidentally puking on yourself had to be kind of embarrassing.

Mary smiled at them, then Dorothy, before ordering what Henry thought was the type of food Jack would like later on. His theory was confirmed as Jack’s face actually lit up slightly before he turned a tad green around the gills again. It was good they’d decided on things that could be eaten later without issue.

The food handed over, the little family made their way back out to the car, promising to have an actual sit down visit on the way back. Apparently they were on their way to a family reunion or birthday party, Henry wasn’t sure.

Henry looked over at Nathan, then down at his own plate. They were both nearly finished. He looked up as the car pulled out of its parking space and made its way down the road that passed the base. Presumably they were going to drive a little slower until young Jack’s stomach settled. He then picked up the rest of his burger while jokingly pretending not to notice as Nathan snitched a few chips off his plate before sliding the pickle from his own burger out to replace them before chowing down.

Nathan ate quickly, finishing his burger and the stolen chips in a few bites as Henry polished of the chips he had left and his newly-acquired pickle.

They’d just paid for the meal when the sound of an explosion echoed through the town, coming from the vicinity of the lab.

Henry shouted a quick. “Keep the change.” at Dorothy as he bolted to the car, Nathan not far behind. Nathan knew the rules, he’d been born less than a year after his parents had received permission for the lab, so he’d pretty much been raised to follow lab safety rules.

They were driving faster than normal to get to the lab as quickly as possible, so they came across the terrible scene much sooner. The front half of the car that had left before them was completely crushed. Henry recognized the thing lying on top of it as part of a strange, glowing artifact the Stark-Jacobs had recently been asked to study.

He was about to ask Nathan to call the accident site in on the military-provided car phone that was set for the lab, the base, and a nearby military checkpoint, in the hopes they could get through to one of those three. But the look on Nathan’s face as he stared at the destroyed vehicle… no, a certain point in the vehicle, made Henry turn around and look closer.

As he looked he saw a slight movement, then another.

Then a sudden gust of wind blew the majority of the accident’s smokescreen out of the way.

He saw a tiny hand thumping against the glass in the mostly-undamaged rear half of the car.

He leapt out, the fire extinguisher he’d insisted on having in his car yanked from its place in the backseat footwell, just in case the damaged car suddenly went up like the thick smoke suggested it might. Yelling at Nathan to remain inside the car and try and get through on the three lines, he ran to the car.

He was worried, he’d heard the rumours of the radiation from this object killing people within minutes, but little Jack was still alive. Tiny, little Jack. If it was that bad, surely he’d have been dead long before their car had pulled up?

Reaching the car, he didn’t even go for the door handle. One look told him he couldn’t get those hinges open if he’d had an hour and a blowtorch.

“COVER YOUR FACE KID.” The thick smoke and urgency made Henry’s voice harsher then he’d expected, but it got the point across.

He wrapped his jacket around one arm and waited the endless microsecond it took for the boy to do so before pushing his protected hand through the hole in the partially-broken window, pulling glass out and finishing the what the accident had started.

He pulled as many of the spider-webbed pieces out of the door’s window frame as he could. He then shoved as much of his body through the opening as he could without losing his balance and clicked the thankfully not stuck seat-belt open before wrapping his arms around Jack and using all his strength and a good amount of leverage to pull the boy out through the window and haul him away from the car.

He lifted the kid up and ran to where Nathan was standing, now free of the smoke, he took a few deep breaths . A small, scared-looking nod from the other boy told Henry he’d managed to get through to… someone, Henry didn’t know who. The large emergency blanket Nathan was holding open made Henry feel relief, he wouldn’t need to drag it out himself with a now shivering child in his arms as well.

“General Caldurt said to wait here until his people drove back.”

As though magically summoned by the correct pronunciation of his name, the General and his men’s vehicles rolled up, every one of them in full radiation gear.

“General, what’s the situation?”

General Caldurt reached up and patted him on the face, then again.

Slowly the military group faded away and coalesced into a semi-dark room and the faces of Nathan and Jack looking down at him, now twelve and seven respectively.

“What’s the matter guys?” Henry’s voice was still rough from sleep.

“Jack had a dream about the car again.” Nathan’s voice was soft as he explained, Jack’s head nodded sheepishly from just behind the older boy’s elbow.

Henry sighed for a full second, looking around at the half-packed boxes that filled his room before lifting up the blanket and shuffling to the other side of the bed. ‘Come on you two.”

It had been a semi-regular occurrence since that day. Jack’s face lit up before he clambered into Henry’s large bed. Nathan followed a little more sedately. He always insisted he was there for Jack, but Henry knew he enjoyed the company as well.

“So, your dad says we’ll start moving the packed boxes tomorrow?” Henry prodded.

Nathan nodded.

“It’s good we have a few days with the people moving us, I don’t think we’d be able to get everything transported in one day, and we still need to finish packing half our stuff,” he said.

Nathan nodded again before letting out a small sigh.

“Is something the matter Nathan?”

Henry’s question seemed to make Nathan pause.

“Are you worried about moving?”

The boy shook his head at Henry’s question. He then looked down as a soft weight settled on his chest, Jack had apparently decided to cuddle up mainly with Nathan this time.

“Are you thinking about your father’s question this evening?”

“... My Mother’s last name.”

Henry nodded as he recalled what had actually happened after the memory/dream he’d had before being woken up.

The general had informed them that no one was able to get through to the lab site.

It had been a shocking realisation when they’d finally arrived at the area. Henry in the back of a military with with two scared boys after his car had failed to start for some reason.

There was no longer a lab site. Nor much of a base. The only thing that they could see was the glow of the other half of the artifact that was still wedged in the front seat of a destroyed car.

“Nathan Stark has a nice ring to it.”

“He looked sad when he asked though.”

“I don’t think he was sad to be asking you if you wanted to carry your mother’s name… Nate, your father will never completely get over losing Michelle. You will never completely get over it either. Anymore than Jack will get over losing his parents.”

Jack’s soft, sleepy whimper seemed to prove Henry’s point.

“David isn’t sad about you potentially having her name, he just misses his wife, your mother, very, very much.”

Nathan nodded again. “I think I want to take it.”

“Then take it.”

The only response Henry got was a sleepy mumble as Nathan’s face sank into the top of Jack’s hair.

Henry stayed awake and listened until both the boys’ breath evened out into sleep.

“Eureka huh.” He said to thin air. “I hear it’s a nice little town.”