Special Agent Peter Burke, FBI, hated this part of his job.
He scrubbed at his face with one hand as he surveyed the scene before him.
The bodies were lying on the expensive rug of the tastefully decorated study in the very expensive house in the most expensive section of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, lying exactly as they'd been left by the fatal gunshot wounds that penetrated both their hearts.
It was apparent that the man had been shot before the woman, and on first blush it looked like he'd tried to get in front of her before the gun had fired. His legs were outstretched as if he'd been moving when he fell, while hers were bent at the knees, showing that she'd been forced to kneel before she died. Her head had fallen on his chest after she’d been shot; her long brown hair turning darker as it slowly soaked up his blood.
Peter exhaled a gusty breath and turned to Agent Diana Barrigan, his second-in-command. She was crouching by the bodies with her hands covered in white plastic gloves. “What you got?”
“Exactly what it seems, Boss,” she said, moving her hand towards the bodies. “Looks like they were shot execution-style. For some reason the perp chose their chests instead of their heads.”
“Bleeds more,” Agent Clinton Jones said as he entered the room from one of the doorways. “Whoever this guy was, he wanted to leave a hell of a display for whomever arrived after.”
“Well, that would be us,” Peter said. He turned to Jones. “Any new information on the owner?”
“Vincent Adler,” Jones replied immediately. “Big shot in the financial world. Turns out he was running a huge Ponzi scam that he just cashed in on before he disappeared. NYPD found the bodies when they were searching his office.”
Peter turned back to the bodies, feeling his mouth twist as he looked at them. Both of them appeared young, probably no older than their late twenties, and both had been extraordinarily beautiful. Except for the huge quantities of blood, they could have been angels sleeping on the carpet, their faces pale and innocent in sleep.
“Jesus,” Peter muttered. He'd created the White Collar department at the New York Headquarters of the FBI for a reason – to escape having to deal with the senseless killing and random violence that most other crimes perpetuated. And yet here he was, having to deal with it again.
“And the music box?” Peter asked.
“He was responsible all right,” Jones confirmed. “NYPD managed to trace it back here after the robbery.”
“But why would a man who’s made millions need to steal a music box?” Peter said. “Why not just buy it?”
“Maybe the Italian embassy wasn’t selling,” Jones replied.
“Boss,” Diana said quietly, and Peter jumped. He hadn’t heard her come up beside him. Her expression immediately told him that something was up, and he moved so that his back was shielding her from the NYPD officers that were still milling around. He nodded for her to continue.
“The woman’s name is apparently Kate Perdu,” Diana said, “but we have nothing for the guy.”
Peter drew his eyebrows together. “Kate Perdu?” he repeated. “Perdu is French for lost.”
“I know,” Diana nodded, “it sounds like an alias to me, too.”
“I’ll check into it,” Jones said, he turned towards the door.
“Run the guy’s photo and prints through the database as well,” Peter said. “Hopefully it’ll trigger something.”
Jones nodded, but before he could leave Diana shook her head. “I don’t think it will.”
Peter raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“I don’t think the guy is a guy at all,” she said. “Peter, I found a hole behind his right ear – just the right size for a USB port.”
Peter blinked. “You think he’s a PlayFriend? His blood is red!”
“I know,” Diana said again. “I’ve never heard of one of those sex-bots having their neural liquid coloured like that. And I’ve never seen a ButlerBot or HouseBot with red fluid either. But I’ve also never heard of a human with a USB port behind their ear.”
“If he is a robot, he may have a memory of the incident,” Peter said. “Arrange to get his body back to our labs and have one of the scientists meet us there.” He found himself smiling for the first time since he’d received the call about the double murder early that morning. “This might give us the break we need.”
“Why would a PlayFriend be here at all?” Jones asked. “And why bother to shoot it? Don’t they have off switches, or something?”
Peter shrugged one shoulder, feeling his holster shift against his ribs with the movement. “Got me,” he said. “Maybe the robot can shed light on that, too.”
Diana glanced over Peter’s shoulder to where one of the NYPD officers was peering at the two bodies, then she met Peter’s gaze. “What do I tell them?”
“Official FBI business,” Peter said instantly, “and then flash your badge, and if that doesn’t get them out of your way, do what you need to do.”
Diana’s smile turned feral. “I can do that, Boss.”
Peter grinned. “I’m sure you can.”
Subject: Assignment in New York
Sent: Thu 06/12/2009, 2043
Bad news: Dr. Kate Moreau is dead. She was found murdered in Adler’s mansion.
The FBI have confiscated the Human Emulate AI. Because their lab techs are incompetent they’ve requested the military’s help to repair it. I can’t leave Atlantis right now. The return to the Pegasus Galaxy is scheduled for September and I don’t have enough time as it is. I’m sending you and Zelenka to New York instead.
The Daedalus is going to beam you out at 6 am tomorrow morning. Pack for a long stay because Stargate Command needs you to find out what Adler got from the music box and where he’s gone with that information. Zelenka is expecting your email tonight to detail what supplies you’ll need.
Don’t tell the FBI about the Stargate. Or the NID. Or the truth about Adler. Or, well, anything.
I’m sorry about Kate.
Mozzie sat on the bed in his quarters at Stargate Command. His eyes were squeezed shut, and he was holding the bridge of his nose, but still the tears managed to slip past his lids.
Kate was dead. Murdered by Vincent Adler. Just as he had predicted would happen when he helped her put together Dr. Radek Zelenka’s robot three months ago. And just like he’d thought, the robot hadn’t been able to protect her.
No one had been able to protect Kate. Not the NID that she so diligently worked for, not Stargate Command, not the AI that they had built, and certainly not him. He’d left her there after all, just like she’d asked. He hadn’t even really tried to convince her to leave.
Wearily, Mozzie stood, wiped his face with his hand and put on his glasses. He surveyed his small room, buried deep within the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain, trying to decide what he’d need to take with him.
He spent a moment contemplating emailing Dr. Rodney McKay back that he wasn’t going to go, packing his bags and just disappearing. He could go anywhere he wanted, after all. Fade into the ether and become invisible, somewhere where the Man would never find him.
But Kate was dead, and running away wouldn’t change that fact. And running away wouldn’t stop Adler or his plans, and even more people could die. Kate wouldn’t have wanted that.
“I’d better send Zelenka that email,” he muttered. He’d also have to stop by the robotics lab on his way to the Gate room tomorrow morning to help Zelenka gather everything they might need to repair the robot.
But first, he had to pack, and then try to get some sleep.
Somehow he knew all his dreams would be about Kate.
The small team of scientists kindly supplied by the Air Force arrived at the New York headquarters of the FBI promptly at 7:00 the next morning.
It was Friday, and Peter knew he’d probably be there all weekend, ostensibly working on the case, but really keeping an eye on the personnel loaned by the USAF.
Peter put his hands on his hips and eyed the two men as they entered the foyer.
The first scientist was thin and wiry, with a shock of wild hair that made him look like a younger, less-kempt version of Einstein. His glasses were small and round and may have been hip sometime around the seventies but didn’t quite hit the mark now. But his blue eyes were sharp and had a fierce intelligence to them. Peter knew that this was someone who would be dangerous to underestimate.
Except for his similarly diminutive height, the second scientist was almost a complete opposite to the first. Where the first was lean, the second was rounder; instead of a full head of hair, the second scientist had only the barest ring of hair left around a bald head that shone in the bright lights of the building’s foyer. His glasses were large and thick-framed, making his blue eyes look lost behind them. He looked crumpled, deflated, as if someone had popped his internal balloon. Both of them held a large duffle bag in each hand.
“Special Agent Peter Burke,” Peter said as he stepped forward, extending his hand.
“Doctor Radek Zelenka,” the first scientist said with a thick eastern European accent. He put one of the bags down and accepted Peter’s handshake with a solid but perfunctory grip. His smile was warmer than Peter would have expected. “Call me Radek.”
“Radek,” Peter repeated, feeling the foreign combination of consonants on his tongue. He turned to the other scientist.
“Doctor Maurice Haversham,” the scientist said. He didn’t offer his hand, and Peter dropped his. “I would prefer to be called Doctor.”
“Okay, Doctor,” Peter said. He took one of the bags from Radek and went to take one from Haversham.
Radek said something that sounded like “Deekuugee”, which Peter took to mean ‘thank you’ in his first language.
Haversham dropped one of his bags at Peter’s feet. “I’d like to get started immediately,” he said, walking right past Peter towards the elevators. His steps were truncated and clipped, as if his feet thought he was running but his legs didn’t.
“Don’t let me hold you up,” Peter muttered as he followed behind him. He looked at Radek . “He always like this?”
Radek shook his head. “I do not know. I do not know this doctor very well. We have only worked together on few occasions.” He gave a small shrug. “But I do know that the dead woman you found was his friend. I think, maybe it is on his mind.”
“Maybe,” Peter said to himself. He narrowed his eyes as he studied Haversham, who was now standing by the elevators shuffling from foot to foot. Why would a military scientist know a woman who was working for a murderous con artist?
The elevator arrived and they all stepped inside. Peter noticed immediately that Dr. Haversham turned so that his back was towards the security cameras in what looked like a practiced move.
“So, you’re a robotics expert,” Peter said to Haversham.
“So, you’re a suit-wearing slave to the Man.” Haversham replied without looking at him.
Peter frowned. “You work for the military.”
Haversham held up one finger, his eyes owlish behind his large glasses. “Ah! But I consult for the military. I advise. I do not succumb.”
Peter looked at Radek, who shrugged. “Do not look at me. I do not have this problem with --” he made finger-quotes. “ -- the Man.”
“How’d you know Kate?” Peter asked Haversham.
The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. “Here we are!” Haversham exclaimed to no one in particular, and then he was gone down the corridor towards the lab.
“It’s the other way!” Peter called to his retreating back. He grimaced, annoyed with Haversham’s dodge of the question about Kate. Another mystery he'd have to figure out. He brought Radek and the two bags towards the lab where the robot was waiting.
“The robot, it is a work of art.”
Mozzie smiled faintly at Radek’s praise as he slowly inserted the new right ventricle into the robot’s heart. “That’s all Kate’s work.” It still hurt to mention her name.
“I think it is more handsome than even his photograph, yes?” Zelenka said as he flipped through the green file he was holding. “For sure its teeth are straighter.”
Mozzie grinned. “Dental work is one of the miracles of the modern age.” He concentrated for a second, and then felt the gentle snap as the ventricle locked into place. “Perfection in the palm of my hand.”
“Excellent,” Radek said. He flipped over another page. “It has been a very long time since I have reviewed Neal Caffrey’s file. Did you know that he was a famous outlaw?”
“Yes,” Mozzie sighed. “I may have looked at it once or twice when Kate and I were pulling him out of the obscurity of your storage room.” He grunted as he pushed the left anterior descending artery into its slot on the left ventricle. “Damn,” he muttered. “Too wide.” He pulled it out, picked up a small file and started to smooth down one of the edges. “We never used his last name.”
“Hmm,” Radek grunted without looking up from the file. “This Caffrey was like a cowboy Robin Hood, with stealing from the rich to give to poor people.” He smiled. "And himself, of course."
“Yes,” Mozzie repeated. “And then one day during one of his usual train robberies, he took a necklace from a rich lady that lit up like a searchlight in his hand. Her husband brained Caffrey with his cane while he was standing there gaping." Mozzie shook his head. "The walking example of conformity was called a hero, and the free-thinker was hung two weeks later.” He blew softly over the artery and then started filing again.
Radek pursed his lips. "Bad time for ATA gene to work.”
"If it was the ATA gene, and not just some legend," Mozzie said. "It was in the 1890s. Who knows if his story is more story than history, if you catch my drift."
"The Air Force seems to think it was the gene," Radek said. "Considering they dug him up."
"Yes," Mozzie said. "Preventing the dust to dust of the ashes to ashes part. But then all they do with his tissue samples is leave them in a warehouse for over ten years.” He shook his head.
"He was backup," Radek said. "The other bodies had more evidence of actual Ancient technology activation with less degradation of DNA, which is why Caffrey's was not the first body we chose to clone for the other robot consciousness we created.” Radek flipped a page. “Or even the second. We probably would have only used him last, if at all.”
“So, are you going to help me with mister honourable mention?” Mozzie said. He shaved off another micromilimetre.
“I have already checked the security protocols you and Kate made in its programming,” Radek said as he turned another page. “And they are still functional. It will be reminded to not speak of the things the SGC does not wish the FBI to know.”
“Good,” Mozzie muttered. He smiled as the artery slipped easily into place. “Let’s hope it can keep a secret as well as a child.”
“That is not reassuring,” Radek said with a raised eyebrow.
“That’s Victor Hugo,” Mozzie replied, “but I’d feel better if the security protocols prevented it talking about anything Adler related at all, instead of just reminding the robot not to mention it.”
“He is a scruffy AI,” Radek said. “It would be impossible to program it not to talk about a particular subject because we cannot possibly conceive of all the ways it could communicate about that subject.” He shook his head. “No, its better the program acts like an electric fence for its thoughts, giving it a subtle but sharp reminder when it strays too near forbidden territory.”
Mozzie shot Radek a look. “As long as this reminder won’t hurt.”
Radek made a face at Mozzie. “The program will not hurt the robot. It is a reminder only, not punishment.” He turned to study the robot again. “I think maybe it is too beautiful. It looks like a PlayFriend.”
“Everything is more beautiful because we are doomed,” Mozzie quoted. "Homer," he explained at Radek's quizzical expression. He gestured towards the robot’s perfectly sculpted features. “Kate knew Adler liked beautiful things. I think that’s why she did that.”
“Huh,” Radek mused. Mozzie paused in his work to join Radek in looking at the robot.
It was laid out on the lab bench, looking unnervingly like a corpse, with its too-pale skin and its chest splayed hollow and open, uncovered in the harsh overhead light. They had put a towel over its pelvis for modesty, although Mozzie knew it was really for his own sensibilities rather than the robot’s.
But beyond the paleness and the open-heart surgery he and Radek were performing, the robot really was beautiful.
The body Kate had built was slim but muscular. Each vein and sinew elegantly crafted like a Da Vinci painting. She had even coloured its mnemonic fluid red like blood. The face he and Kate had copied from the grainy 1800s photograph was nearly perfectly symmetrical. Its forehead and jaw were evenly spaced, forming a flat point at its cleft chin. Its cheekbones were prominent, its eyes were large, its nose straight, and its mouth was full, but not too pretty for a man.
Underneath its delicately-hued lids, Mozzie knew its eyes were a brilliant blue, the exact colour of Kate’s own. He smiled at the memory of Kate’s folly; the photo had given no indication of Caffrey’s actual eye colour. His expression had been too shadowed with the knowledge of his impending death to let the viewer know if they had been dark or light.
In a way, the robot was one of the only tangible things that Mozzie had left of his friend. He swallowed hard and turned back to his repair of the robot’s chest.
He felt Radek’s hand fall gently on his shoulder. “I am sorry, my friend,” he said softly, somehow sensing Mozzie’s thoughts. “Kate was a beautiful, kind and intelligent woman. The world has been left worse without her.”
Mozzie smiled tightly, afraid to speak with the ache of tears pressing against his throat.
“Perhaps I will finish checking its code?” Radek said.
“Don’t take too much time with that,” Mozzie choked out. “Its Cerebral Processor wasn’t damaged. Only its heart was broken.”
Just like mine, Mozzie thought as Radek nodded his understanding, just like mine.
It'd been three days, and Haversham and Radek still hadn’t finished fixing the robot.
Three days that Peter spent wearing a hole through the already worn carpet in his office, neglecting his case files, all his concentration centred on the crime lab 22 floors down in the basement of the building.
He didn’t trust the people the Air Force had sent. Sure, Radek was nice in a distant way, but Haversham? There was something about the little scientist that rubbed Peter wrong.
He’d been down to the lab a couple of times in the past three days to check up on their progress – not that he actually understood a damn thing that they were doing. But part of his motivation had been to see if he could discover anything else about the connection between Haversham and Kate Perdu. But his questions, both subtle and not-so-subtle, had been very unsubtly rebuffed. Without actually interrogating Haversham, he wasn’t going to get any information out of him, and his boss Hughes had already let Peter know what he thought of that idea.
Not pissing off the Air Force was considered a little more important than solving a murder, it seemed. Another fact that only added to Peter’s distrust.
Peter huffed out a breath as he turned to his window. Outside, New York City was sliding softly from afternoon into dusk, the sky colouring the shadows around the buildings violet and amber. It was Sunday after all, and as Peter watched, he wished that he could just leave – go home to Elizabeth and Satchmo and forget that a woman and a robot had ever been killed.
But as long as the robot was waiting for life in the basement, Peter knew he wouldn’t leave. Not until Hughes kicked him out. Again.
Peter couldn’t explain it, but from the minute he’d seen the robot’s nearly-naked form laid out on the lab bench, it had become really important to him to make sure the robot was okay. He'd seemed so vulnerable – so young -- lying there, and it had bothered Peter. It had bothered him a lot.
“Cowboy up, Burke,” Peter muttered to himself as he began his pacing again. “It’s a piece of evidence in a murder investigation, not a real person!”
Peter’s eyes snapped to his doorway. Special Agent Reese Hughes was standing there, his weathered face creased with unease.
“I’m not leaving yet,” Peter said, gesturing towards the window with one hand. “It’s still light outside.”
“We’ve been called to the lab,” Hughes said, “the robot’s ready.”
Human Emulate Artificial Intelligence Neal opened his eyes and sat bolt upright, immediately taking in everything around him in the room at once.
The first thing he was aware of was that he did not know whether or not DoctorKateMoreau had CeasedtoFunction.
The second thing he became aware of was that only one person in the room was familiar, and he felt his artificial heart increase its rate of contraction by 12.4% as he adjusted to this unpredicted circumstance.
“Hey, Neal,” DoctorMauriceHaversham said, moving closer. “You don’t have to be afraid, everyone’s a friend here.”
Neal put his hand on DoctorMauriceHaversham’s shoulder, exerting only minimal pressure as he knew that the Doctor did not like direct contact, but finding that he himself required the contact in order to feel more comfortable in the situation that he found himself in.
“Doctor Haversham,” Neal said, knowing his eyelids were wider than required for normal vision, but, as with his heart, somehow beyond his ability to control directly at that moment. “Please tell me what happened to Kate?”
He saw DoctorMauriceHaversham exchange a speaking glance with another man in the room. The second man was short and slim, with uncombed hair and round glasses.
DoctorMauriceHaversham cleared his throat. “Um.”
“She is dead,” the other man said. “I’m sorry.”
The blunt words caused Neal to feel like his heart had entered into Catastrophic Failure. He felt his temperature increase by 5.2% and the moisture content in his eyes to become concentrated enough to require frequent blinking of his eyelids. For 15.9 seconds he could not access the speech and language centres of his cerebral processor and felt his mouth open and close ineffectively.
“Holy crap,” he heard a woman’s voice say, “is he actually crying?”
“Human Emulate, remember?” DoctorMauriceHaversham said in a tone of voice that Neal identified as being ‘annoyed.’ “Of course he’s crying! They’re designed to feel emotions.”
Neal wiped at the moisture leaking from his eyes with the side of his hand. VincentAdler had never liked him to display emotions, either. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, hunching his shoulders forward.
“You don’t need – it’s okay,” another man said, and a hand was placed on his shoulder gently enough so that Neal quelled the impulse to flinch. He looked up.
“I’m sure Kate was a good friend of yours,” the man continued. His eyes were brown and very kind. “My name’s Peter.”
“I am Neal,” Neal said, although he thought that there was a 97% chance that this man would already know his name. He turned his head so that he could fully take in the room. It was utilitarian with large, ugly pieces of white furniture. Tools and computers were everywhere, and there was nothing in it that would have remotely appealed to VincentAdler. “Where am I?”
“FBI crime lab, New York City,” the woman said, stepping forward. She was of African heritage, with long, wavy black hair and beautiful features. Her expression, while friendly, was guarded. “My name’s Diana. Do you remember what happened to you?”
Neal blinked to allow himself time to access his Memory. He knew what the ‘FBI’ was, but he was unsure why he would be with them, which directly related to the question Diana had asked. Did she not already know what had happened to him that resulted in his being at the FederalBureauofInvestigation? He moistened his lips with his tongue. “I don’t understand.”
Diana’s lips thinned. “Before you got here,” she said at 30% higher vocal range, as if his hearing might be damaged. “Do you remember?”
Neal turned to look at DoctorMauriceHaversham. “Moz?” he said. ‘Before he got there,’ might include information that he had been programmed not to provide.
“The robot’s just woken up, Diana,” the man called Peter said. He was of European heritage, large framed, of taller-than-average height and had straight, short brown hair. He wore a charcoal grey suit and a red tie that Neal immediately recognized from his ‘fashion’ database as being at least four years old. Peter’s hand was still on his shoulder, warm and heavy. He smiled at Neal. “Give him some time.”
Neal smiled back at Peter, grateful for the reprieve. Peter did not seem like VincentAdler.
The older man who was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed now spoke. “Will he actually be able to tell us what we need?”
The slim man shrugged. “He is as perfect as when Moz and Kate made him,” he said. “He should be able to tell you everything.”
Neal dropped his gaze to his knees which, except for the towel clutched in his lap, were as bare as the rest of him. He could feel the air of the room on the surface of his skin, and the whispery feeling of the tiny hairs standing up that indicated he was below optimal temperature. He automatically adjusted his internal thermostat to compensate.
He hoped that Peter and the others would not want to know very much from him. He could feel Kate’s ViperVirus in his head, making him keep secrets, but he did not yet have enough experiential information to anticipate what punishment he might receive if he did not give them the information they required.
“He’s cold,” Peter said. “Can we get this guy some clothes?”
“On it,” Diana said as if Peter had given her a direct order. She gave Neal a quick smile and then left the room.
“Now that we're finished, I will be returning home tomorrow,” the slim man said, stepping forward so he was facing the older man. “But as agreed, Doctor Haversham will be staying to supervise your time with Neal, and to bring him back to Colorado when his job is finished.” He put out his hand. “It has been a pleasure.”
The older man shook it gravely. “Thanks very much for all your help, Radek. I’ll be letting your boss know.”
Radek gave a graceful bow of his head. “Until next time.” He rubbed the skin under his eyes with his fingertips. “This has been a long three days, and I am feeling for a hot shower and at least twelve hours of sleep.” He turned to DoctorMauriceHaversham. “I think you are also tired?”
“Yeah,” DoctorMauriceHaversham sighed. “I could use a few moments of unconsciousness.” His blue eyes grew sharp behind their glasses. “What’re you going to do with Neal, Suits?”
The older man frowned in thought. “A robot doesn’t need to sleep, does it?” he said. “We can lock it in here.”
Neal sat up straighter feeling his heart speed up once again. Being locked up anywhere was not acceptable. VincentAdler locked DoctorKateMoreau and him up. Peter was not VincentAdler. He met Peter’s gaze, knowing his fear was reflected in his eyes.
Peter’s brown eyes held his. “I’ll take him home, sir. He can stay with me and El.”
“Well, I am glad that is decided,” Radek said. He picked up a half-full duffel bag and nodded at the people in the room, his eyes coming to rest on Neal last of all. “Na shledanou,” he said to Neal. “I can find my own way out.” And then he was gone.
“Goodbye,” Neal whispered. His fingers plucked at the cloth of the towel.
“Are you sure you’re comfortable taking the robot home?” The older man leaned towards Peter, his eyebrows raised in a question. “I mean, this robot is a complete unknown, and there’s El…”
Peter was still looking at Neal. “It’ll be fine, sir,” he said. He smiled at Neal, “right, kid?”
Neal smiled back. He didn’t know what an ‘El’ was, but if it was Peter’s, it was probably a good thing. And if Peter wanted to ‘take him home,’ then that was what Neal would do. “Right.”
“Okay.” The older man shrugged, but he had a worried expression. “I’ll see you both back here at eight a.m. And call me if you need anything,” he said directly to Peter. “Anything at all.”
“We’ll be fine,” Peter said.
“And I won’t be here at 8 a.m.,” DoctorMauriceHaversham said. “I will check in frequently and by telephone. I’ve had enough of presenting myself on the granite steps of the madhouse,” he added, quoting AllenGinsberg. He turned to leave and then suddenly turned back to Neal and swallowed hard. “You, you take care of yourself. Okay?”
“I’ll take care of your robot,” Peter said, patting DoctorMauriceHaversham on the back. Neal could see the scientist flinching under Peter’s hand. “I’ll feed and water him and walk him every day.”
“I do not need food or water,” Neal said quickly. He wanted Peter to know that he would be easy to take care of. A daily walk would be satisfactory, however. He hoped Peter meant it.
“He has a GPS just to the left of his belly button,” DoctorMauriceHaversham said, pointing at the area, “in case he gets lost.” He glared at Peter. “Don’t let him get lost.”
Peter grinned. “How could you lose a robot?”
“You’d be surprised,” the scientist said darkly. “And I’ll expect confirmation of his continued well-being. voice confirmation. Every day.”
“Yes, yes,” the older man said as he began ushering the shorter man out of the room. “Go get some sleep, Doctor Haversham. You sound exhausted.”
“I’m calling tomorrow!” DoctorMauriceHaversham yelled as he exited the room.
The older man blew out a breath at the doorway. “Go home, Peter,” he sighed. “I have a feeling that things are going to get busy from now on.”
Peter nodded. “As soon as Neal gets something to wear –“
“I brought Clinton’s gym clothes,” Diana said as she walked briskly into the room. She eyed Neal critically. “They might fit height-wise, but…”
“It’ll work,” Peter said, taking the sweatpants, t-shirt and socks from Diana. “Thanks.”
“I couldn’t find any shoes,” she said with an apologetic look towards Neal. “I think he took them home.”
“My skin is designed to heal quickly from any minor abrasion,” Neal said, because Peter was looking ‘not pleased’ by the lack of shoes. “I’ll be fine.”
“Diana, can you please move my car around to the front of the building?” Peter said, handing her his keys. “It’ll save him having to walk through the garage.” Diana nodded and left again.
“I’ll be fine,” Neal repeated.
Peter clamped his hand down on Neal’s shoulder. “From now on, I’ll decide whether or not you’re fine.” He handed Neal the clothing. “Hold on a sec.” Neal watched as Peter went around the room, clearly looking for something. He opened one of the drawers and rummaged around, finally pulling something out with an exclamation of triumph. He went back to Neal, tape measure in his hands.
“Let’s find out how big you are,” Peter muttered, and deftly took Neal’s measurements. Neal was careful not to let the towel drop as he stood. He remembered learning about ‘modesty’ from Kate. “Great,” Peter murmured to himself as he pulled out a cell phone from his jacket pocket and started dialling. He gestured at the clothes Neal still held in one hand. “Put those on. I want to get you out of here.”
“Okay,” Neal said, and the sudden warmth he felt had nothing to do with the clothes.
With the late evening traffic it took Peter almost thirty minutes to make the ten-minute drive from the FBI building to his home in Brooklyn. He found the slow speed and erratic driving of the cars around him to be frustrating and annoying, but clearly Neal felt otherwise.
Neal’s face had lit up like a kid at Christmas when Peter took him outside of 26 Federal Plaza. He'd stood on the sidewalk and executed a slow circle, his eyes taking in everything at once and his expression rapt. And his expression hadn’t changed at all when Peter had finally decided that fifteen minutes of standing on the sidewalk in sock-feet was probably enough for anybody, and had bundled Neal into the car for the trip home.
Neal had been vibrating with barely contained excitement as he sat in the car. Everything seemed to fascinate him, from the way the Taurus’ computer had spoken out loud when Peter pressed the controls, to the way the indicators clicked when Peter changed lanes. Neal had asked a million questions about the car, and their route, and the Manhattan Bridge as they crossed over.
“Who made the bridge, Peter?”
“It was designed by Leon Moisseiff. I don’t know who built it. Some New Yorkers, I guess.”
“Is the Taurus a knowledge-based or scruffy AI system?”
“It’s not an AI.”
“Why is the street called Canal Street?”
“Because it used to be an actual canal before they paved it over.”
“We have been travelling for 17.3 minutes, Peter. Are we nearly at your home?”
Peter rolled his eyes at Neal’s version of ‘are we there yet?’
“How old are you?” Peter snapped. The bad traffic and innumerable questions were beginning to wear on him.
“I was approximately three months and eleven days old before I was shot and Ceased to Function,” he said. “I don’t know how long it took for Moz to fix me.”
“Three days,” Peter said, as he digested Neal’s statement. “You were dead for three days.” And Adler shot the robot equivalent of a child, Peter thought, feeling a slow boil of anger in his gut.
Peter could feel Neal’s eyes on him. “Kate made me look as if I were in my late twenties though,” Neal said, “I’m not actually like a three month old baby.”
Peter looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “That’s pretty obvious, Copernicus.”
Neal’s shrug was casual, but even in his peripheral vision Peter could see that Neal was anxious. “I just didn’t want you to be upset by the idea that I’m young,” he said. He picked at the cloth of his track pants.
“I’m not upset,” Peter said as he backed into a spot in front of his walk-up on DeKalb Ave, “well, not at you.”
“At who?” Neal asked quickly, “Kate?”
“Adler,” Peter said. “Just Adler.”
Elizabeth Burke quickly put the garment bags she was holding on the couch and moved towards the front door when she heard the unmistakable sound of Peter’s key in the lock.
She wiped her hands down the front of her jeans and plastered what she hoped was a sincere smile on her face. It’d been less than an hour since Peter had called her from his office to tell her that ‘they were having a guest stay over’, and ‘would she mind grabbing him some clothes?’ And ‘maybe some shoes as well?’ And he ‘might be staying for a while’, and ‘oh yeah, he’s a robot’.
It’s not that Elizabeth minded robots. She’d grown up with the early version of a ButlerBot after all, but Peter had explicitly said that this robot was a little more sophisticated than the experiential AI she’d known as a child, and she didn’t really know what that meant.
The door opened and Peter stepped through. “Hon!” Elizabeth called, practically running into his arms for a kiss. He held her tightly for a moment and she squeezed him back before he gently disengaged.
“El,” he said, moving out of the way of the door and gesturing towards the robot, who was standing uncertainly on the threshold behind him, “I’d like you to meet Neal. Neal, this is my wife, Elizabeth.”
“Hello Elizabeth,” Neal said. He stepped forward and gave her his hand. His smile was dazzling.
“Hello,” Elizabeth repeated, feeling herself smile in return. They shook and she stepped back. “Come in,” she said brightly pointing towards the living room with her hand. “Are you hungry? Can I get you anything to drink?”
Neal smiled at her again and opened his mouth to answer.
“He’s so beautiful!” Elizabeth blurted, then felt her cheeks heat. “Sorry,” she said to Peter’s censoring glare, “but look at him!” She turned to Neal. “You really are very handsome.”
Neal’s smile faltered. “Will that be a problem?”
“No,” Peter said, shaking his head at Elizabeth, but she could tell he wasn’t really upset. “El likes beautiful things. I guess I’m just lucky that she chose me anyway.”
Neal was standing in the living room, slowly looking around. His smile was back. “I can tell she likes beauty, Peter. Your house is certainly beautiful.”
“Handsome and charming,” Elizabeth said, linking her arm with Neal’s. “Come on,” she said as she gently started leading him towards the kitchen, “you must be hungry.”
“I don’t need to eat or drink,” Neal said. He was still looking around their house. “Does the back door open?” he asked, and Elizabeth was taken aback by the intensity of the longing she heard in his voice.
“Yes, of course,” she said, and dropping his arm she walked over to it. “But I have to warn you, Satchmo is outside and he’s going to be very excited to meet you.”
“Satchmo?” Neal repeated. “What’s a Satchmo?”
Elizabeth opened the door, and a large, floppy golden lab came bounding in, immediately heading straight for Neal, tail wagging.
“Is that a dog?” Neal asked in obvious delight. “I’ve never seen one before!” He dropped to his knees and began to pet the dog all over, his smile brilliant as the dog licked his face. “He licked me,” he exclaimed, rubbing Satchmo behind the ears, “is that normal?”
“Yes,” Peter said, “and no, he doesn’t want to eat you.”
Neal laughed then turned his attention back to the dog, grinning ear-to-ear.
Peter went to Elizabeth and draped his arm over her shoulders, pulling her close to him as they watched Neal and Satchmo play.
“What kind of robot is he?” she asked in a quiet voice. It was obvious that Neal was very different than the ButlerBot she had known as a child.
“He’s a new kind,” Peter replied just as quietly. “Something called a Human Emulate, apparently designed by the military.”
“He doesn’t sound like the robots I grew up with,” Elizabeth said softly.
“I think they’re meant to be just like real humans,” Peter explained in the same quiet voice “colloquialisms and everything.”
Elizabeth nodded her understanding and watched Neal as he mock-wrestled Satchmo to the ground and then began to pet the dog’s stomach. “He’s certainly having fun,” Elizabeth smiled.
“He’s been locked inside a house for his whole life, El,” Peter said softly. “I’m not sure how much fun he’s actually had.”
“Oh,” Elizabeth said. The smile fell off her face. "That's really sad."
"Yeah," Peter said. He pulled her a little closer. They watched Satchmo wiggle up to his feet and lick Neal's face again.
“I brought him some clothes.” El said finally.
“Thanks,” Peter said, “from June?”
“Her husband’s old things,” Elizabeth agreed. “Mostly suits. Do you think he’ll mind?”
“I don’t know,” Peter said, and Elizabeth could feel his shrug. “But if he does, I’ll take him to buy some jeans or something tomorrow.”
“Could I take Satchmo for a walk?” Neal asked. He had his hand on Satchmo’s neck and both robot and dog were looking at Peter expectantly.
“We’ll all go,” Peter said, winking at Elizabeth, “it’s a good way to show you the neighbourhood.”
“Great!” Neal said and lunged for the door. He stopped and looked at his feet, then looked back at Peter.
Elizabeth laughed. “I’ll get your shoes,” she said, and went to the front door to fetch them.
The walk with SpecialAgentPeterBurke, MrsElizabethBurke and SatchmotheDog had fallen within acceptable parameters.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke had held the leash in one hand, while his other hand had held MrsElizabethBurke’s. Neal had been allowed to walk ahead of them, completely by himself.
It had been the first time he had been for a walk out-of-doors in his life.
The walk had taken 47.34 minutes, which was apparently longer than SatchmotheDog was normally walked. Neal thought that there was an 85% chance that the extended time might have been because SpecialAgentPeterBurke could see how much Neal was enjoying being outside, and a 15% chance it was because the ambient temperature of the night air was a satisfactory 296.15 degrees Kelvin and the sunset was an aesthetically pleasing combination of yellow, light yellow, orange, burnt umbra, sienna and scarlet.
Even though 47.34 minutes was an acceptable length of time, it still felt unacceptable when SpecialAgentPeterBurke decided that it was time to Head Home. Neal did not protest however. SpecialAgentPeterBurke was not VincentAdler, but Neal did not have enough information to know how SpecialAgentPeterBurke would react if he felt Neal was recalcitrant or disobedient.
They re-entered the house, and MrsElizabethBurke set the table for the three of them to consume food and beverages. Neal had once again explained that he did not require sustenance, but he was gently compelled to sit at the table and ‘taste the food.’
The taste of the food was acceptable, and Neal made sure to express his appreciation of the Chicken Cacciatore and the Chocolate Cake. He also made a note on his internal calendar to prepare an appropriately nutritious and palatable breakfast for SpecialAgentPeterBurke and MrsElizabethBurke in the morning as a way to ensure he was useful.
“Let me clear,” Neal said, once it was apparent the meal was finished. He stood and started collecting the dishes.
“No, no,” MrsElizabethBurke said, standing and gently prying the plates from his hands. “You’ve had a long few days, sweetie. Go get some sleep.”
“I don’t need to sleep,” Neal said to MrsElizabethBurke’s back as she entered the kitchen.
“Recharge, whatever,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said, his hand landing gently but firmly on Neal’s back. “No sense arguing with her. She always wins.” SpecialAgentPeterBurke was smiling as he said it however, so Neal decided ‘winning’ was something SpecialAgentPeterBurke expected of MrsElizabethBurke, and it fell within acceptable parameters. “Come on,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke continued, steering Neal towards the couch, “I want to see what clothing El got you.”
“These clothes are fine,” Neal said, because he did not want to be a burden to PeterandElizabeth.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke looked at him. “You’re kidding, right?”
Neal smiled, although he had not been kidding.
“Here,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said, as he unzipped the garment bag that was on the couch, “take a look.”
The bag was full of vintage suits from the 1960s in a style that Neal immediately identified as being that favoured by Frank Sinatra. He pulled a suit out of the bag, feeling the fine quality of the material. His smile broadened. “These are vintage Rat Pack! Fantastic!”
SpecialAgentPeterBurke was smiling at him. “Here,” he said, and put a black cloth fedora on Neal’s head.
Neal beamed at him.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke grinned back. “You look like a cartoon.”
Neal’s smile wavered. “Is that bad?”
SpecialAgentPeterBurke laughed. “Don’t worry, Dino. It works for you.”
“It’s late,” MrsElizabethBurke called from where she was moving the last of the plates into the kitchen. “Peter, show Neal the guest room.”
“I don’t need to sleep,” Neal said again.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke shook his head. “Don’t fight it, remember?” and he ushered Neal up the stairs.
“Here’s a towel, a toothbrush, and a bar of soap,” Peter said as he loaded up Neal’s arms. “There’s a pair of pyjamas on the bed if you want them, and the alarm’s set for six.”
They were standing in the hallway between the upstairs bathroom and the guest bedroom, in front of the small storage closet where they kept extra linen. Neal was nodding vigorously to everything Peter was saying, the hat still on his head, looking incongruous next to his borrowed white t-shirt and track pants.
“Thanks Peter.” Neal said. He moved towards the bedroom and then gave Peter a hesitant look. “I guess I should --?”
“Sure,” Peter said, and followed him in. The blinds on the window had been left open, so Peter walked over to lower them. “I know you don’t need to eat,” Peter said as he fiddled with the blinds. He had forgotten how difficult these ones were to open and close, and decided to add ‘fixing guest room blinds’ to his list of home reno items. “But how do you refuel, or whatever it is that you-- what are you doing?”
Neal was standing by the closed door, completely naked, a look of total resignation on his face. “I am ready for you,” he said, in just about the unsexiest voice Peter had ever heard.
“Jesus Christ!” Peter swore, turning away and covering his eyes. “Just – Just put your clothes back on! Okay?”
“But—“ Neal said from somewhere behind Peter.
“Clothes on, now!” Peter shouted. “And I don’t want to hear a peep out of you until you’re dressed!”
There was the sound of shuffling, and then: “I’m dressed.”
“Oh thank God,” Peter said fervently. He turned around.
Neal was wearing the track pant bottoms and nothing else, his handsome face a mask of uncertainty. His arms were crossed over his chest in a totally human gesture of self-protection.
“Neal,” Peter said, taking a step closer to the robot.
Neal looked up at him but remained quiet, his blue eyes shadowed in the low light of the room.
“Neal,” Peter said again, and took a deep breath. He shook his head. “What was that all about?”
Neal blinked and gave Peter one of the most blatantly phoney smiles Peter had ever seen. “Sex, Peter. Haven’t you heard of it?”
“But, why?” Peter said, gesturing at Neal’s chest.
“You followed me into the room,” Neal said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“I came in here to fix the blinds!” Peter exclaimed. “Not to rape you in my own house!”
“You don’t want to have sex?” Neal asked, like he couldn't even imagine that Peter wouldn't.
“Of course not!” Peter said. “Why would you think I would?”
“But why else would you let me stay?” Neal’s voice was plaintive.
A sick feeling began to form in Peter’s stomach. “Because you need a place to stay?” Peter said. He took a step closer to Neal, taking care to move slowly. “Neal,” he said quietly. “Is this – is this what Adler expected from you?”
Neal gave a small shrug. “We were staying in his house. It was either me or Kate.”
“Jesus,” Peter breathed as the sick feeling twisted in his gut. “Either you or Kate,” he repeated to himself. “And let me guess who took that one on the chin.”
“It was my job to protect her,” Neal said, and there was a flash of defiance in his eyes, like he was daring Peter to contradict him. “I wanted to.”
Peter’s gut twisted some more. “And she was very lucky to have you,” Peter said. He put his hands on Neal’s shoulders. The skin was firm and warm beneath his palms, exactly like real flesh. Human Emulate, Peter thought, designed to feel emotions. “But it’s my job to protect you now,” he said, “and no one will ever do that to you again. Not me, or El, or anyone. You’re safe here, Neal, I promise.”
“You are not Vincent Adler,” Neal said, and Peter was pleased to see that Neal’s smile, although tenuous, was real this time.
“Thanks for the compliment,” Peter said. He gently squeezed Neal’s shoulders and then released him. “Now, go brush your teeth, or sleep, or something. We have a big day tomorrow.”
“I recharge,” Neal said.
“You asked how I refuel,” Neal said. “I recharge. I just need an electrical outlet and I’ll be fine.”
“Oh,” Peter said. He pointed towards the night table. “There’s one behind there. That okay?”
“Yeah,” Neal grinned, “that’s okay.”
“Great,” Peter said and turned towards the door. His head was still spinning from what he’d inadvertently learned about Neal’s life in Adler’s mansion, and rage had started to replace the sick feeling. He was suddenly desperate to go hug El.
“Peter?” Neal said.
“Yes?” Peter turned and leaned against the doorframe.
“Thank you,” Neal said.
Peter smiled. “You’re welcome, kid.” And then he fled before he did something really crazy, like tuck the robot into bed.
The next day, SpecialAgentPeterBurke took Neal back to the FBI.
The car ride was very acceptable, as was the walk into 26FederalPlaza and the elevator ride to the 21st floor.
Neal learned that elevators work on pulley systems, and that the button with the Firefighter helmet on it should only be pushed during emergencies.
After that, Neal stood very quietly in the corner of the elevator, away from the buttons, but still in SpecialAgentPeterBurke’s line of sight.
They then entered the ‘White Collar’ division, walked up nine stairs, and entered the board room.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke did not know why the board room was called a board room. He requested that Neal remain quiet.
“Diana,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said, “you remember Neal, right?”
“How could I forget?” AgentDianaBarrigan said with a smirk. “Nice hat.”
Neal grinned back at her.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke then gestured towards the other Agent at the table. He was of African heritage, about Neal’s height, powerfully built and handsome in a way that DoctorKateMoreau would have appreciated. “Neal, this is Agent Clinton Jones. Jones, this is Neal.”
“Hello,” AgentClintonJones said, extending his hand. Neal shook it, noting the strength in AgentClintonJones’ grip.
“Agent Jones,” Neal said, handing him the package he had been carrying under his arm. “Thank you for letting me borrow your clothes yesterday.” He smiled.
AgentClintonJones took the package and eyed it dubiously. It was his track pants, socks and t-shirt, folded into a neat pile and tied with a ribbon. Neal had washed and ironed them that morning.
“You’re welcome,” AgentClintonJones said, although his expression did not look pleased. AgentClintonJones looked at Peter. “Robot’s doing the laundry? Did he make your breakfast, too?”
Neal opened his mouth to answer in the affirmative, as he had made PeterandElizabeth eggs Benedict, but SpecialAgentPeterBurke gave Neal the look which he had learned to associate with ‘not talking’. Neal shut his mouth.
“Alright,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said, “let’s recap what we know so far.” He looked at AgentClintonJones, “Clinton?”
“This whole thing started about three months ago when the Italian Embassy was robbed,” AgentClintonJones started. “The building was stormed by well-armed men in broad daylight, who were using some kind of weapon that seemed to emit bursts of energy instead of projectiles. Half the people there were killed, but the only thing that was taken was an amber music box originally owned by Catherine the Great.”
“We know anything more about this energy weapon?” SpecialAgentPeterBurke asked his team.
AgentClintonJones was shaking his head. “Beyond the fact that it leaves huge burn holes through peoples’ bodies? No.”
AgentDianaBarrigan shook her head too. “No leads. Even the military doesn’t recognize it from the descriptions of the wounds.”
“Damn,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke muttered. His eyes flashed to Neal. “You know anything about this, Dino?”
Neal took off his hat as he was not sure if SpecialAgentPeterBurke was teasing or if he did not like it. “Why would you think I’d know something about it, Peter?” Neal said with a broad smile. He could feel the ViperVirus pricking at his Cerebral Processor, sending shivers of unpleasant sensation down his spine.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke gave him a hard look, but turned back to AgentDianaBarrigan. “What do we know?”
“Not much,” AgentDianaBarrigan admitted with a grimace. “We know that Adler was running a Ponzi scheme that apparently funded the attack on the Embassy which got him the music box. He then kept the box in New York for about three months before suddenly disappearing with it and the money. But not before he murdered Doctor Kate Perdu –“ she gestured towards Neal, “and shot the robot.”
“Moreau,” Neal said before he could stop himself, “her name was Kate Moreau.” He winced as he felt DoctorKateMoreau’s program dig its figurative claws into his spine.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke’s eyes snapped to his. “What else do you know?”
Neal moistened his lips with his tongue. The ViperVirus was intended to prevent him from telling the truth about VincentAdler, or what DoctorKateMoreau was actually doing there, or what she was trying to discover before VincentAdler did, and how VincentAdler had killed her for it. “The music box held a secret code,” Neal blurted. It was the truth, and he felt the pain in his spine again, but it was only a small piece of a very big puzzle. Neal hoped it would be okay to give that piece away.
“A code?” AgentClintonJones asked. “What kind of code?”
“A code to make a fractal,” Neal replied.
“A fractal?” SpecialAgentPeterBurke repeated. “Why?”
“Because the fractal makes something,” Neal said. He could feel his temperature begin to increase with the constant flares of discomfort produced by his disobeying the ViperVirus. He adjusted his internal thermostat to compensate.
“What does it make?” AgentDianaBarrigan said.
“I don’t know what it makes,” Neal replied honestly. “Adler killed Kate – “ This time the painful stimuli was entirely from his memory. He remembered VincentAdler taking out his gun and aiming at DoctorKateMoreau, and how he’d jumped in front of her, and his perfect hearing had made the gunshot sound like the largest thing in the room –
“Neal,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke was gripping his shoulder. “You okay?”
Neal blinked his eyes and realized they were wet. His hands were shaking. Neal stared at them. “I don’t understand.”
“Nerves, buddy,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said. “You’ve been through a lot. It’s normal.”
“I don’t feel normal,” Neal said.
“You will,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said with a gentle squeeze to his shoulder. He remained standing with the weight of his hand resting on Neal. He addressed AgentsClintonandDiana. “Any ideas what this fractal might make?”
AgentsClintonandDiana both shrugged their shoulders. “What do fractals make, anyway?” AgentDianaBarrigan asked.
“They’re found in nature, crystals make them,” AgentClintonJones explained. “They’re useful for conducting electrical pulses. But they can also be man-made and used in technology, like for video games.”
AgentDianaBarrigan raised her eyebrow at AgentClintonJones. “Adler was not making a video game.”
“If we have the fractal, we could figure out what he was making,” Neal said. He had managed to terminate the symptoms he was having of ‘nerves’ while AgentClintonJones and AgentDianaBarrigan were talking. Neal knew that he did not hide his emotions well. DoctorKateMoreau had cautioned him many times about being too emotional, especially in front of VincentAdler. VincentAdler did not like for him to show emotions, and he did not know what SpecialAgentPeterBurke felt about it. He did not want to be a burden to SpecialAgentPeterBurke.
“We don’t have the fractal,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said to Neal in a way that Neal recognized as being ‘kind.’ “Adler took it when he disappeared.”
“We can make one,” Neal said.
“How?” AgentDianaBarrigan said. “We don’t have the music box, either. No music box, no code, remember?”
“But we do have the code,” Neal said, and he could feel his mouth curling up into a smile. He knew how he could be useful.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke was smiling too. “You were made around the time that Adler got the music box, weren’t you?” he asked. “You were made to crack that code!”
Neal grinned. “Yep.”
“And you still have it?” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said. His smile grew wider. “Of course you have it. You have perfect recall.”
“And that must be why Adler shot you and Kate,” AgentClintonJones added. He grimaced. “You cracked the code, so you weren’t needed any more.”
Neal picked at the sleeve of his jacket. “I guess.”
“Then Adler’s loss is our gain,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said into the silence that descended over the group. “So let’s make that fractal.”
“What will you need?” AgentDianaBarrigan said to Neal, her pen at the ready.
“A laptop, a pad, twelve HB pencils and a cell phone,” Neal replied instantly.
“A cell phone?” SpecialAgentPeterBurke repeated, “what for?”
“To call Mozzie,” Neal replied. “I need to check in.”
SpecialAgentPeterBurke laughed. “I’d hate for you to miss your check in with Doctor Haversham.” He looked at AgentDianaBarrigan. “Get him a desk to work at,” he said, “and a phone.”
“And some bendy straws,” Neal said.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke smiled at him while shaking his head. He turned to AgentDianaBarrigan. “Bendy straws,” he repeated, “you heard the man.”
And Neal continued to smile even though the sharp teeth of the ViperVirus were nipping at his spine.
“Kate Moreau’s file has been sealed by the military,” Diana said quietly.
Peter nodded from where he was leaning on the railing, watching Neal work at his desk in the bullpen below. “I figured as much,” he said. “Doctor Haversham’s connection to her couldn’t be anything but through the military. I doubt he could have gotten his superiors' permission to fix Neal in the first place if she wasn’t originally one of theirs.”
“So why didn’t they save her?” Diana asked. “Go in guns blazing and get her out?”
Peter shook his head. “Don’t know,” he said. “Maybe the shit hit the fan faster than anyone could predict.”
“Maybe,” Diana agreed. She moved her chin in Neal’s direction. “You think he knows more than he’s saying?”
“Hard to tell,” Peter said with a shrug. “Obviously he was there, but he’s also a robot. Would they have told him anything?”
“It could have gone either way,” Diana said, “maybe with time he’ll say more.”
“Once he learns to trust us,” Peter said.
Diana grinned at him. “Oh, I think he’s already got a crush on you, boss.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “Well, I like him too. He’s smart and you know I like smart.”
“Yes, he is,” Diana said. She motioned towards him. “He’s also a hell of an artist.”
Neal had several sheets of the paper he had been given in front of him, covered in both sketches and equations. Even though Peter had majored in math and had been a certified accountant before he’d joined the FBI, the level of math that Neal was using was well beyond his understanding. But the sketches? Those were works of art.
Just like a person, Neal seemed to doodle when he was working through a problem. But where most people would cover the margins of their paper with geometric designs or stick figures, Neal’s margins were doodles of a higher calibre. Even from his perch above Neal’s desk, Peter could make out the life-like renditions of both Diana and Jones on Neal’s paper. El’s smiling face laughed up from the lower left corner; Satchmo’s whole body was stretched out along the bottom edge.
Neal’s expression was serious as he worked. Every once in a while he would add or remove a piece of the equation, and sometimes he would attempt to turn what he had into a fractal like shape. There were several balls of crumpled-up paper scattered on the floor around his feet attesting to Neal’s efforts, and a quarter of the bendy straws were broken and strewn around the edges of his desk.
“Think he’ll be able to do it?” Diana asked. “He looks tired.” She turned to Peter. “Can robots even look tired?”
“Human Emulate,” Peter said succinctly. “And anyone would look tired after two days of nothing but cipher and math.” He frowned. Neal had started rubbing his forehead the way people did when they were in pain.
“Probably time to pack it in,” Peter sighed. It was barely five o’clock, but from the way Neal was wincing it looked like he’d need to call it a day earlier than Peter normally would when they were working on a case. At least he’d get to spend more time with El.
“I’ll stay here for a bit,” Diana said. “I want to check on some reports of Adler popping up in Argentina.”
“Okay,” Peter said. “But don’t stay too late. I’m sure Christie would like to see you.”
“She’s on night shift,” Diana said with a smile, “but I appreciate the thought.”
“Then I expect some real results by morning.” Peter laughed. He called down to Neal. “Pack it in, Van Gogh. Time to head home.”
Neal’s head snapped up to Peter’s. “I’m sure I’ve almost solved it,” he said. “A couple more minutes?”
“You can have until I’ve shut down,” Peter said, and then rolled his eyes at Neal’s excited response. What was it with his team never wanting to go home? He moved towards his office to start – slowly – packing up, and then stopped in his tracks, realizing what he’d thought. He started to smile.
He liked the idea of Neal being on his team. He kind of hoped the robot did, too.
That evening, Peter took Neal out to walk the dog.
On their way out the door, on impulse, Peter grabbed the baseball that he’d bought for Satchmo that the dog had summarily rejected. Maybe Neal would like to play catch.
“Let’s go right this time,” Peter said, directing Neal down the avenue.
They walked in silence for a bit until they reached a small elementary school which had a grassy play-ground attached.
“You can take him off the leash,” Peter said, gesturing at the dog, “Satchmo loves to run around here.”
Neal nodded and undid Satchmo’s leash, laughing out loud when the animal immediately took off after a squirrel. The squirrel scattered up a tree and started chittering at the dog, telling it off loudly.
Neal looked around the playground. “This is nice,” he smiled.
“We bought our house because of this school,” Peter said, tossing the ball from hand to hand, “it’s meant to be a pretty good one.” He made a motion of throwing the ball to Neal, his face a question.
Neal nodded and held out his hands. Peter lobbed the ball and Neal made a graceful catch. He grinned.
“Now toss it back,” Peter said, putting up his hands.
Neal threw it hard enough that it impacted Peter’s hands with a stinging slap. Peter laughed as he shook off the pain. “Easy slugger! I don’t have a glove.”
“I’m sorry,” Neal looked stricken.
“Don’t worry,” Peter said, tossing the ball back a bit harder than he’d thrown it the first time, “if you like this, next time I can grab us some gloves.”
“We can do this again?” Neal said, his face lighting up. He threw the ball back with just the perfect amount of force.
“Sure,” Peter smiled, feeling his shoulders relax as he got into the rhythm of the game and the gentle sound of the ball against their palms.
Satchmo had found a stick, and was gnawing contentedly under a tree, his teeth scraping on the wood audible in the quiet of the park. In the distance the sound of traffic was barely perceptible, and there was no one else around. Peter found himself smiling at the total peace of the moment. He tossed the ball back to Neal.
“So, how are things?” Peter said as they played.
Neal held the ball a moment, considering, then tossed it back. “What would you like to know?”
Peter shrugged and lobbed the ball, “Are you enjoying working at the FBI?” he asked, “are people treating you okay? Is it fun?”
Neal blinked, the ball cradled in both his hands. “I haven’t thought about it,” he said.
Peter laughed. “Then think about it now.”
Neal threw the ball back. “I like it,” his smile grew broad, “the people are nice. I’m having fun.”
“Good to hear,” Peter grinned and flung the ball with a pitcher’s snap, making Neal run to get it.
“Should I throw it back like that?” Neal called from where he’d managed to snatch the ball right before it hit the ground.
Peter shook his head. “I’m too old to run for it,” he said. He held up his hands.
Neal tossed the ball in an elegant underhand that arched perfectly into Peter’s outstretched palms.
“That good?” Neal’s teeth shone white in the semi-darkness.
Peter chuckled. “Perfect for an old guy like me.” He pitched the ball back, snapping it in the other direction, forcing Neal to have to pivot and chase after it.
Neal caught it one-handed and threw it back in a fluid motion as he laughed. “No fair!”
“You’re young, you can handle it!” Peter called to him, but this time he threw it on a high angle, making Neal have to run back towards him to be able to catch it.
He caught it in both hands, still laughing. “Do you play like this with Elizabeth?”
Peter shook his head as he captured Neal’s toss and then tossed it back. “This is more the type of thing you do with a kid, not a wife,” he said.
“Why don’t you have kids?” Neal asked as he threw the ball back.
Peter caught the ball and held it for a moment before returning it with a quick flip of his wrist. “We tried,” he shrugged. “It just didn’t work out.”
Neal caught the ball but made no effort to throw it again. “What happened?”
Peter paused. It’d been at least two years since he’d let himself think about their losses. “One miscarriage too many,” he said finally. He put his hands on his hips and looked at the ground. “It wasn’t fair on El anymore.”
Neal walked closer, tossing the ball hand-to-hand. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“Oh we’re okay,” Peter breathed, “El’s got her nephews, and Hughes always makes sure that I get new probies to train up every year,” he forced himself to smile at Neal. “We get by.”
Neal nodded thoughtfully, trying to make sense of what Peter had said. “So, sometimes your probies feel like your children?” He asked finally.
“Sometimes,” Peter grinned, “and sometimes I get to take a robot home who likes to play catch in the school yard.” He ruffled Neal’s hair. It was thick and silky under his hand.
Neal grinned back. “This is fun, Peter,” he said, “I’m glad we did this.”
“Yeah,” Peter agreed, “me too.”
Elizabeth’s eyes flew open into the dark of her bedroom.
She lay still, trying to figure out what had woken her. The clock on her night table told her it was just after one a.m., a time when the house should have been totally quiet. Beside her, Peter lay asleep, his breathing deep and even and clearly undisturbed.
El relaxed. Peter had a well-honed sixth sense for danger. If he was still asleep then whatever had woken her was probably nothing more than Satchmo bumping into something as he wandered around the living room. Sighing, she lowered her head back onto her pillow and closed her eyes.
The noise came again, and Elizabeth was out of bed in the next instant. Someone was in the kitchen searching for something, and it was probably Neal.
“Neal?” Elizabeth whispered as she stepped into the kitchen, tightening the sash of her robe around her waist.
Neal was standing by the sink in the dark, the only light came from the street lamps glowing softy through the window. He had been rubbing his forehead when Elizabeth came in, but she could see that he dropped his hand as soon as she entered. “Hi Elizabeth,” he said quietly. “I'm sorry if I woke you.”
Elizabeth stepped closer and put her hand on his shoulder. He was still wearing the jeans and t-shirt he’d changed into when he and Peter had come home that evening. Now the shirt was streaked with dirt from whatever he was working on. His hair was dishevelled and even in the half-light she could tell he looked really tired.
“Honey,” she said rubbing his shoulder, “you look exhausted. Why aren’t you sleeping?”
“I don’t need to sleep,” he mumbled. His hand went back up to his forehead. “I just wanted an ice pack.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him ice was in the freezer and not the cupboard, but instead she gently moved him aside, found the fabric ice pack she kept in one of the drawers and filled it up with ice. She gently placed it on the back of his neck. “Maybe you should go sit down?”
He nodded and took it from her, leaving it on his neck, and she followed him back into the living room where he sat heavily onto one of the chairs at the table.
The table was covered in bits and pieces of wire, metal and soldering equipment. Neal had thoughtfully put down a layer of newsprint to protect their table from damage from his project. Neal sighed and rubbed the ice pack on his neck. He smiled at Elizabeth. “Time to get back to work.”
Neal had moved one of their standing lamps closer to the table, and it was still on. In the yellow light of the lamp he looked even worse than he had in the kitchen. His skin was as perfect as always, the beauty of his artificial features undiminished, but there was a quality to the way he was holding the muscles in his face and body, stiffly, like every movement was causing him pain. Like even thinking hurt.
“Oh sweetie,” she said, sitting in the chair beside him, “I’m pretty sure you’ve worked long enough. Don’t you think it’s time for bed?”
“I figured out how to make the fractal yesterday.” Neal sighed again. “It’s an antenna.”
“That’s great,” Elizabeth said, even though Neal’s response had nothing to do with her question. “Peter will be so pleased. Now, don’t you think you should get some sleep?”
“I’m making the antenna for Peter,” Neal continued. “The antenna should lead us to whatever Adler’s looking for, which means we should be able to find him, too.” He rubbed his forehead.
“That’s great,” Elizabeth said again. “Does your head hurt a lot?”
Neal squeezed his eyes shut and nodded.
Elizabeth made a sympathetic face. “Let me guess. You’ve been working straight on this fractal since Peter brought you into the office?”
Neal nodded again.
“Well, by my count, that means you’ve been working on this thing almost non-stop since Monday. It’s now really early Saturday morning, and even robots who don’t need to eat or sleep need a break.” She stroked his arm with her hand. “When did you last recharge?”
Neal blinked. “Last night?” He frowned. “I should remember.”
“Well, how much power do you have now?” Elizabeth asked.
Neal paused for a moment, and Elizabeth could tell he was checking something deep inside. He made a rueful face. “I’m barely above fifty percent.”
Elizabeth smiled at him. “Do you think maybe that’s why your head hurts?”
“Could be.” Neal grinned. “I guess I should plug in.”
“Go lie on the couch. There’s a wall socket just beside it,” Elizabeth said. “I’ll get you a blanket.”
“I can set my internal thermostat to keep my temperature within acceptable parameters,” Neal said.
“Let me take care of you, Neal,” Elizabeth said. She thought about what Peter had told her about Neal’s prior existence and felt a sudden sadness. “I don’t think you’ve had a lot of people care for you before.”
He looked down. “I don’t want to be a burden.”
“You’re not!” Elizabeth said immediately. “You help with the dishes, and you cook and clean up and you walk Satchmo… Quite frankly, you’re the easiest house guest I’ve ever had.” She stood up and offered him her hand. “Come on. Let's get you settled."
“I like being your house guest,” Neal said. He took her hand and let her help him to his feet although Elizabeth knew his robotic body probably outweighed hers by several pounds.
She led him to the couch and spread the afghan over him after he lay down, holding the ice pack to his forehead. “I like you being our house guest, too.” Elizabeth said. Impulsively, she leaned down and kissed his cheek, like she would for one of her nephews. “Now rest. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Good night, Elizabeth,” Neal said.
“Good night, Neal,” Elizabeth said back. “And no more working until you’ve completely recharged, understand?”
“Yes, Elizabeth,” Neal said with a grin.
“Good boy,” Elizabeth laughed and headed up the stairs, wondering if there was something crazy about wanting to mother a robot.
Neal’s internal chronometer told him it had taken 2.12 hours for him to recharge.
He stood in the living room, looking out the window towards the back yard. It was 3:02 a.m., and off in the distance he could see the beginnings of dawn starting to lighten the Eastern sky.
MrsElizabethBurke had been correct in her assessment that recharging would help with the discomfort caused by the ViperVirus. Now that his battery was back at 100%, the pain had retreated to a level he would identify as ‘tolerable.’ He turned to look at the table where his work was still spread out waiting for him to continue, and sighed in an excellent approximation of a human affectation.
He knew that the minute he recommenced working on the antenna, DoctorKateMoreau’s program would start up again and the pain would come back and most likely worse than previously. He was aware that the ViperVirus had already caused damage to his Cerebral Processor and his Neural Network that had started mildly affecting his Ability to Function. It was the reason that he had not realized his power level had dropped to just above 50%. He had purposely chosen to not run an internal diagnostic on the effects of the ViperVirus on his Cerebral Processor and Neural Network however, because he was unwilling to become aware of the full extent of the damage. If he did not stop, this type of damage would become permanent. It would be prudent for him to cease both his work on the fractal antenna and any further discussion of issues related to VincentAdler.
But he would not stop. If he did not continue, then he would not be helping SpecialAgentPeterBurke and the FederalBureauofInvestigation solve the case. He would not be useful. He would not be showing SpecialAgentPeterBurke appreciation for his kindness. PeterandElizabeth did not hurt him the way VincentAdler had done. PeterandElizabeth were kind, and Neal very much desired to be deserving of that kindness.
In his last check-in with DoctorMauriceHaversham, Neal had told him about the fractal antenna, and the Doctor had given him some pointers on how to put the antenna together. DoctorMauriceHaversham had been very excited that Neal was so close to helping StargateCommand find VincentAdler and retrieve whatever it was that VincentAdler was searching for. Neal was still useful to StargateCommand, even though he had not been able to protect DoctorKateMoreau.
MrsElizabethBurke had very similar features to DoctorKateMoreau. It made it easy for Neal to feel protective towards MrsElizabethBurke as well.
Neal contemplated his burgeoning relationship with PeterandElizabeth. He found living in their house to fall within very acceptable parameters. Helping in their house, playing catch and walking SatchmotheDog were highly satisfactory. He felt that it might actually be more satisfactory to stay with PeterandElizabeth than to return to StargateCommand once his service to SpecialAgentPeterBurke and the FederalBureauofInvestigation was complete.
However he was a Human Emulate Artificial Intelligence. He had been created to help StargateCommand. He would not be given a choice.
He had also been contemplating irrelevant issues for 13.4 minutes when he was required to finish the antenna for SpecialAgentPeterBurke. He looked over his shoulder to where the parts for the antenna lay on the table, waiting for him to continue. He winced. Even thinking about making the antenna for the FederalBureauofInvestigation made the ViperVirus cause him discomfort. The discomfort the program was causing him had obviously increased in severity over the last few days. He considered refilling the ice pack and using it as he worked, to see if it would help with the pain.
He felt a wet nose bump his hand and looked down to see SatchmotheDog’s big brown eyes looking up at him expectantly. SatchmotheDog had learned to associate Neal with walks as SpecialAgentPeterBurke now trusted Neal to be the primary walker of SatchmotheDog. SpecialAgentPeterBurke had told Neal that he trusted Neal with SatchmotheDog, and had also reminded him that he could track Neal’s GPS, preventing Neal from getting lost. SpecialAgentPeterBurke had been attempting to be humorous when he made that statement to Neal, but Neal had felt happy to know that SpecialAgentPeterBurke wanted to know where he was. The idea of SpecialAgentPeterBurke being able to find him if he got lost fell within acceptable parameters.
SatchmotheDog let out a small whine and bumped his hand again. The Dog was communicating his desire to walk with Neal.
Neal found himself smiling down at SatchmotheDog. Normally SatchmotheDog was walked around 6:30 a.m. after SpecialAgentPeterBurke and MrsElizabethBurke had woken and prepared for the day. It was now 3:27 a.m., which was much earlier than the morning walk would normally occur.
However SatchmotheDog clearly wanted a walk now and it would allow PeterandElizabeth to sleep for approximately 45 minutes more if Neal walked the Dog at the present time. Neal did not know if PeterandElizabeth changed their morning routine on Saturday. He felt the conservative assumption would be that they did not, and therefore more sleep would be desired. As well, it would prevent Neal from having to continue work on the antenna for at least 30 minutes, which would also delay the onset of more discomfort from DoctorKateMoreau’s program. That would be acceptable.
“Come on, boy!” Neal whispered to the Dog, imitating the words used by SpecialAgentPeterBurke when he invited SatchmotheDog to go for a walk. Neal put on his shoes and clipped the Dog’s leash to his collar. SatchmotheDog’s tail was wagging rapidly, indicating he felt a walk at this time was very satisfactory.
“Let’s go,” Neal said, and opened the front door.
The house was immediately filled with the scream of an alarm.
Peter was out of bed and halfway down the stairs with his gun in his hand before he knew he was awake.
“Stay there!” he shouted back to Elizabeth. He'd just seen her in the doorway of their bedroom as he’d hurtled down the stairs.
“FBI! Don’t move!” he hollered over the screech of the alarm as he raised his gun to shoot the intruder in his doorway. But in the next second he’d put the gun’s safety on and placed it on the front hall table.
Neal was standing in the doorway, Satchmo’s leash in his hands and his blue eyes impossibly wide.
“Neal?” Peter shouted above the alarm, “what the hell are you doing?”
Behind him, the alarm went blissfully silent as Elizabeth keyed it off. He felt her come up beside him, the cloth of her nightgown rustling against the bare skin of his back, her small hand pressing against his shoulder blade.
“Satchmo wanted a walk,” Neal said simply. He slowly moved away from the door, closing it quietly behind him. Satchmo pulled his leash out of Neal’s open hand and trotted over to Elizabeth, clearly seeking comfort from the tension he felt in the room.
“At three a.m.?” Peter asked incredulously. “Are you crazy?”
“I – I didn’t think,” Neal said. He dropped his head, his hands loose at his sides. “I will accept any punishment you wish to give me.”
Elizabeth pushed past Peter to come up beside Neal. She put her arms around him. “No,” she said vehemently. “No one’s going to punish you. Don’t even think that!” She glared at Peter.
Peter's eyes widened at the strength of his wife’s glare. “I never said I was going to punish him!”
Elizabeth was leading Neal to the couch. He went docilely, with an attitude like a lamb who couldn't believe it'd avoided slaughter. “Come. Sit,” she said, gently pushing Neal onto the couch. “I’m going to make some tea to help us get back to sleep.” She gave Peter a go talk to him look as she passed on her way to the kitchen.
Obediently, Peter sat beside Neal on the couch. “I’m not going to punish you,” Peter said into the awkward silence that had settled over them.
Neal was staring at his hands. “But I did something wrong.”
“Everyone makes mistakes, Neal,” Peter sighed. “We just learn from them and go on. No punishment required.”
“Vincent Adler would have punished me,” Neal said with quiet certainty.
Peter pressed his lips together to get the hot blaze of anger under control. “Vincent Adler is a son of a bitch.”
That got a small smile from Neal. “Yeah.”
Peter took a deep breath, knowing he had to ask, but afraid of the answer. “How did he punish you, Neal?”
Neal suddenly became very interested in the painting hanging on the wall by the couch. “I am a Human Emulate,” he said, “I feel pain.”
It felt like someone had punched Peter in the gut. It was the answer he’d been expecting, but Neal’s matter-of-fact way of stating it was harder to take than Peter realized. “Did – did this happen a lot?”
Neal’s laugh had no humour in it. “I’m pretty young, Peter. I make a lot of mistakes.”
Peter felt like his head was spinning. The horrors that Neal had suffered at Adler’s hands got worse every time Peter approached the subject. He had no idea what to say.
“I have tea,” Elizabeth said, handing both Peter and Neal a cup of the fragrant steaming liquid. Neal took his and held it in both hands, but made no attempt to drink.
Elizabeth’s expression told Peter that she'd heard most of what Neal had said. Her eyes had a look of shock in them that normally came from news stories on child soldiers or natural disasters. She sat down on Neal’s other side.
“How did you survive that?” she asked gently. “It sounds horrible.”
“Kate,” Neal said immediately. “I survived for Kate.”
“You must have loved her very much,” Elizabeth said, rubbing Neal’s back.
“Yeah,” Neal said in a whisper. He blinked rapidly and then smiled. “Tea smells good. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Elizabeth said, but her expression was worried when she looked at Peter.
Peter completely understood. Neal had suffered more in four months than most people ever experienced in a lifetime. The scars of his ordeal had to run deep.
But he’s not a person, Peter reminded himself. He’s a robot. But looking at Neal, and the obvious pain on his face, Peter would be damned if he could tell the difference.
It was after four a.m. by the time Peter and Elizabeth went back to bed. Satchmo had gone out to the back yard in compensation for having to wait for his walk, and Elizabeth had encouraged Neal to go lie down in the guest bedroom and relax until it was actually a reasonable hour to get up on a Saturday. But Peter knew that he’d find Neal working on the antenna no matter how early or late he and Elizabeth actually got out of bed.
I’ll take him somewhere fun today, Peter thought to himself. Let him know what weekends are actually for. He pondered for a moment. Maybe Central Park? There were always cool events going on there in the summer and Neal certainly enjoyed the outdoors.
“His life has been so awful,” Elizabeth said from where she was lying beside him. She turned and curled into Peter and he moved so she could lie on his shoulder.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “It’s been pretty bad.”
“He’s like a child,” Elizabeth said. “He might look like an adult, but you can tell, deep down, that he’s much younger.”
“He’s only been alive for about four months,” Peter said. He swallowed. “Adler raped him.”
He felt Elizabeth’s sharp intake of breath. “Oh my God.”
“Yes,” Peter agreed. “And you know what’s the worst part of that? Worse even than what that must've done to Neal’s head? It’s the fact that, even when I catch that son of a bitch, even when I arrest him, the only thing I can charge him with is the Ponzi scheme and the murder of Kate. The law doesn’t care that Adler brutalized Neal, beat him, raped him, and then shot him and left him for dead. Neal’s a robot. The law doesn’t care.”
“We can’t let anything else bad happen to him,” Elizabeth said, and Peter could hear the commitment in her voice. “We have to protect him now, Peter. We can’t let him continue to get hurt.”
“The military is going to take him back as soon as he’s finished the antenna,” Peter said.
Elizabeth sat up. “Can’t you stop them?”
Peter sat up, too. “I don’t know.” He shook his head. “I’m definitely going to talk to Hughes about it on Monday, but…” he let his voice trail off.
“He’s a machine,” Elizabeth finished for him. “Property of the US government.”
“Yeah,” Peter said on a breath. “Yeah.”
Peter and Elizabeth ended up taking Neal to the Central Park Zoo.
Elizabeth managed to convince Neal that a suit and tie weren't a requirement for the activity, and he was looking young and handsome in a pair of khakis and an un-tucked, white collared shirt.
Elizabeth walked with him arm in arm, Peter on his other side as she showed Neal what she felt were the best parts of the zoo. Neal was fascinated with everything. He was especially intrigued by the Polar Circle exhibit and the antics of the polar bears as they played with their over-sized toys.
Elizabeth hung back and watched Neal as he laughed at the polar bears playing, and shared a comment or two with the woman who was standing beside him. She was clearly more interested in Neal than in the exhibit.
“Do you think he knows she’s flirting with him?” Elizabeth whispered to Peter as they watched Neal.
“I’m sure he knows,” Peter said, equally softly. “He may be new, but he’s pretty savvy.”
Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “It’s like watching a pedophile.”
Peter laughed. “I’m sure she’d be horrified to realize he’s only four months old.”
“Or a robot,” Elizabeth agreed.
“He’s really enjoying himself today,” Peter said. “I’m glad we did this.”
“Me too.” Elizabeth gripped his arm. “We can’t let him go back.”
Peter put his hand over hers. “I don’t think we have a choice, El,” he said.
“But what are they going to do with him?” Her voice sounded plaintive in her own ears. “Send him to Afghanistan? Reprogram him?”
“I don’t know,” Peter said with resignation. “The fact they let Adler kill him once doesn’t really speak well for how they’ll treat him though, does it?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Maybe we could send him somewhere? Somewhere where they wouldn’t find him?” She knew she was grasping at straws, but she couldn’t bear the thought of Neal being put in danger again. Of being made a prisoner of the military this time; of being used merely as a tool.
Peter smirked. “I like your creativity, but it wouldn’t work for a hundred reasons. Not least of which is the fact he has a GPS in his torso. They’d be able to track him down in minutes.”
“But he belongs with us,” Elizabeth said, and now her throat was tight. “He needs a home.”
“He’s not ours, El.” Peter said bleakly. He put his arm around her shoulder and she tucked into him.
“I know,” she said. She wiped her eyes with her hand. “At least he’s having a good time today.”
“And he’s got perfect memory,” Peter said. “He’ll remember this forever.”
“I suppose that’s something,” Elizabeth said, although it didn’t feel like nearly enough.
Peter cleared his throat. “Did you want to look into adoption again?” he asked in a tone that Elizabeth knew was trying for casual but failing miserably.
“Maybe,” Elizabeth said. “Yes, I think.”
“Good,” Peter said, and she could hear the smile in his voice. “I hear they’re always looking for homes for boys.”
“A boy would be nice,” Elizabeth said.
“Yeah,” Peter said, and hugged her.
It had been a very satisfactory day.
Neal sat at the table and smiled to himself as he fit another tiny wire into its socket in the antenna. It was now 2:21 a.m. and PeterandElizabeth had been asleep for 3 hours. Neal had promised MrsElizabethBurke that he wouldn’t work too late tonight, and he intended to keep his promise. He had calculated that he had an 87.3% likelihood of finishing the antenna in the next 22 minutes, which would allow for him to give the completed antenna to SpecialAgentPeterBurke in the morning and recharge for the night. Both events would fall well within acceptable parameters.
As Neal worked, he thought about the trip to the zoo. It had been highly acceptable to view the animals in their enclosures, and to also observe the people attending the zoo and the way they interacted. He had especially enjoyed the company of PeterandElizabeth. PeterandElizabeth were very patient with his questions, and had permitted him to move around the zoo at his own pace. There was a 100% probability that the trip to the zoo had been entirely for Neal’s happiness.
It was very important to Neal therefore to finish the antenna as quickly as possible, as it was required by SpecialAgentPeterBurke to find and arrest VincentAdler. Arresting VincentAdler would also have the positive consequence of bringing DoctorKateMoreau’s killer to justice, which would be acceptable, although not adequate to make up for the catastrophic loss of her death. However it would have a negative consequence as well. As soon as the antenna was finished, there was a 98.2% probability that StargateCommand would take Neal back and he would no longer have the opportunity to work with SpecialAgentPeterBurke and the FederalBureauofInvestigation.
That thought was not acceptable. Neal decided to devote his attention solely to the creation of the antenna, and to not spend more cognitive function on thinking about a future that was probable but not welcome.
His hands trembled as he worked and he found he had lost 8.7% of his visual acuity. The ViperVirus was causing more damage than just the pain he continued to experience. He hoped the damage could be repaired by DoctorMauriceHaversham.
The changes in his functional abilities caused him to need to focus more attention on the creation of the antenna, and therefore the door being blasted open and the shriek of the alarm caught him completely by surprise.
It took him only 6 nanoseconds to identify the blasts as coming from Ma’Tok Staff Weapons, and that PeterandElizabeth’s home was being invaded by Jaffa.
Swiftly Neal swept everything off the table onto the floor, where it landed in a heap of tools, metal parts and newspaper which caused the fractal antenna to be partially hidden. He kicked it towards the wall with his foot, and then stood, awaiting his fate.
VincentAdler strode into PeterandElizabeth’s house flanked by eight huge Jaffa guards. He had a Kara Kesh ribbon device humming menacingly on his right hand. He shouted something in the Jaffa language to one of the men, who turned and fired his Staff Weapon at the alarm controls and immediately the alarm shut off. It took a second for Neal to adjust his aural settings back to normal parameters.
“Hello Neal,” VincentAdler said in the resonating, unnatural voice of a Goa’uld. His eyes glowed a bright, vicious yellow. “How lucky I am that you seem particularly difficult to kill.”
Peter and Elizabeth both woke to the sound of someone blasting in their door and the shrill noise of the alarm.
“Is it Neal?” Elizabeth’s eyes were intense with fear. She sat up, one hand on Satchmo’s collar, preventing him from diving off the bed to go investigate the noise.
“Not this time,” Peter said with certainty, grabbing his gun from his bedside table. He picked up his cell and gave it to Elizabeth. “Call Diana and tell her someone’s breaking into our house. And then take Satchmo and hide!” They heard another blast and suddenly the alarm shut off.
Peter and Elizabeth exchanged glances. “Be careful, hon,” Elizabeth whispered as he started making his way out of the bedroom.
“I will, hon.” he said equally as quietly. He slipped out the door and shut it behind him, moving as silently and swiftly as possible down the stairs.
There were ten men in his living room, including Neal. But Neal was on his knees, bathed in some kind of orange light coming from a device on the hand of one of the men. The man’s back was to Peter, which allowed him a clear view of Neal’s face.
It was obvious Neal was in a lot of pain.
Everyone’s focus seemed to be on Neal, which Peter used to his advantage as he crept down the stairs. He kept his gun out in front of him, itching to shoot the man who seemed to have Neal imprisoned by the light. But he knew that would immediately give away his element of surprise, and wow, there were a lot of guys down there. The fact that they were wearing metal armour that looked like rejects from a renaissance festival didn’t do anything to make them even remotely less scary.
The huge weapons they were holding didn’t look too funny, either. The massive hole blasted through his front door and the pile of junk that used to be his alarm were testament to what those things could do. A hit from one of those would probably burn a path right through a human.
The energy weapons from the Embassy heist! Peter suddenly realized, and his mouth tightened. These guys were probably Adler’s crew. And the guy doing something to Neal was probably Vincent Adler.
And if Peter had his way, he was going to fill the bastard with at least half his clip of bullets.
Softly, Peter moved until he was almost all the way at the bottom of the stairs. No one had noticed him over the strange show that Neal was somehow involved in. Now that Peter was closer, he could see that Neal was really hurting. His face was scrunched up in pain, his eyes shut tight. It looked like he was doing everything in his power to stop himself from screaming.
“FBI!” Peter shouted, “Stop or I will shoot!”
Adler and the eight guys with him turned their head at the same time, and Peter felt his jaw fall open as Adler’s eyes flashed a bright yellow.
“And who is this?” Adler said in a voice that was very not human.
Peter clamped down on the thrill of panic that was threatening to stop his heart. “Special Agent Peter Burke, FBI,” Peter said. “And what the fuck are you?”
Adler’s mouth curled arrogantly. “What am I?” he repeated in that strange voice, “Bow before me, human. I am your God!” And faster than Peter could blink, Adler whipped his hand away from Neal and pointed the device at him.
And then Peter was hit with something that sent him flying over the banister of his stairs and through the air to impact the wall behind him—
He was unconscious before he landed in a heap on the floor.
“No!” Neal screamed as he watched Peter’s body impact the wall and land, solid and unmoving, on the wooden floor.
“Ah,” Adler said as he looked at Peter and then turned to look at Neal. “Someone of your acquaintance?”
Neal clamped his mouth shut. He still felt shaky and weak from the effect of the Kara Kesh. The device was designed to deliver both intense and unremitting pain to the recipient, or an energy blast that could toss people like they were mere objects, as both he and SpecialAgentPeterBurke had just experienced.
As a robot, Neal was shielded from the worst of its effects, but its use on him was still extremely unsatisfactory. It caused his Cerebral Processor and Neural Network to feel like it was being burned with acid.
VincentAdler walked over to SpecialAgentPeterBurke and kicked him in the torso, hard enough to move SpecialAgentPeterBurke’s body .76 meters across the floor.
Neal could not prevent himself from making an inarticulate expression of alarm at VincentAdler’s actions.
VincentAdler laughed. The Goa’uld symbiote living in his brain caused his voice to have dropped three octaves down from a normal human range and to sound like it was flanged. “More than an acquaintance, then. A friend perhaps? As good a friend as Kate?”
VincentAdler raised his foot to kick SpecialAgentPeterBurke again, but he did not proceed with the action. Instead he waited, watching Neal struggle to his feet. Neal was immediately grabbed by two of VincentAdler’s Jaffa guards, and even though Neal’s robot body was not any stronger than a regular human’s, he knew that VincentAdler wanted him as weak as possible so that he would be unable to fight against his captors. It was the most probable reason why VincentAdler had used the Kara Kesh on him. “No,” he said instead, “don’t.”
Slowly, VincentAdler lowered his foot and turned to Neal. “Definitely as good a friend as Kate,” he said, raising one eyebrow. “How quickly the robot recovers from her death.”
“She's dead because of you,” Neal spat, “you son of a bitch!”
VincentAdler strode over and backhanded Neal across the face, hard enough to split the artificial skin of his lip and cause neural liquid to leak out. Neal could feel his nanites begin their repair work immediately on the injury, but they were not fast enough to prevent the fluid from dripping down his chin.
“Do not insult me, little toy,” VincentAdler said, gripping Neal’s jaw hard enough that it felt like the metal of his bone might be denting. “You will find that I am not so merciful.”
But you have moved away from SpecialAgentPeterBurke, Neal thought. Being hit was acceptable if it meant SpecialAgentPeterBurke was no longer at risk.
“I don’t want your mercy,” Neal grit out.
“Maybe not for yourself,” VincentAdler said agreeably, “but most likely for Special Agent Peter Burke of the FBI?” He watched Neal’s face for a moment and then laughed. “Oh yes, you want mercy for him.”
“Leave him alone,” Neal said, struggling against the grip of his Jaffa captors.
“Only if I can guarantee your cooperation, little toy.” VincentAdler turned and said something in Jaffa, and one of the guards handed him a small but wicked-looking knife. “It seems that I may have shot you prematurely, the last time we were together,” VincentAdler continued in a tone that Neal would have designated as ‘conversational.’ “It turns out I have further need of your particular skills.”
“I won’t help you.”
VincentAdler smirked. “You will, because you know that I will kill Peter Burke if you do not.”
Neal looked over to where SpecialAgentPeterBurke was lying on the floor. He had not moved and his face was pale, and even with adjusting his hearing for maximal acoustic sensitivity it was difficult for Neal to register SpecialAgentPeterBurke’s breathing. SpecialAgentPeterBurke was injured, and from a distance it appeared like he might be undergoing Catastrophic Failure. “He’s already dead,” Neal choked out. He was not sure if that was accurate, but he hoped that VincentAdler would believe him, and thereby leave SpecialAgentPeterBurke alone.
“Not yet, toy,” VincentAdler said, “but I can fix that in but a moment.” He turned the knife in his hand. “Would you like me to do that?” His smile was cruel.
“No,” Neal whispered.
“It is gratifying to see you so compliant once again,” VincentAdler said. He stroked the back of his hand down Neal’s cheek. Neal flinched away from him and VincentAdler hit him across the face, hard enough that despite Neal's internal gyroscope he lost his centre of balance and nearly fell.
VincentAdler shook his head at Neal. “You will not defy me for long, little toy,” he said. He pointed at SpecialAgentPeterBurke and shouted a command at the Jaffa. One of them reached down and hoisted SpecialAgentPeterBurke into a fireman’s carry across his shoulders, as if SpecialAgentPeterBurke weighed nothing. “Your friend will be coming with us, and his continual well-being will be directly related to your obedience.”
“No!” Neal struggled against the Jaffa who held him, using all his strength. He freed one arm, which was acceptable, but before he could proceed to free his other arm he was surrounded by the orange glow of the Kara Kesh.
This time, he could not hold back his screams.
His internal chronometer went off-line, and therefore it felt like an eternity before the pain finally stopped. Neal found himself on his hands and knees, neural liquid flowing from his nose.
VincentAdler kicked him in his torso hard enough to flip him onto his back.
Neal lay there, intense discomfort spreading through the right side of his torso. He knew the nanites in his system would eventually repair the damage VincentAdler had caused, but right now it was extremely unacceptable.
The small knife landed on his abdomen.
“Now, be a good toy and cut out your GPS,” VincentAdler said, looking down at Neal, “or I promise I will cut out Peter Burke’s liver.”
Neal nodded and picked up the knife.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke was entering into Catastrophic Failure.
Neal could tell from the ragged sound of SpecialAgentPeterBurke’s breathing, and the way his heartbeat was slowly decelerating. There was a large bruise forming in a purple and dark red pattern on his left side, spreading up to his ribs and down far enough that it disappeared under the waist of his pajama bottoms. Neal suspected that SpecialAgentPeterBurke’s spleen had been ruptured by the force of VincentAdler’s kick, and the large loss of blood volume the injury had caused was now resulting in severe risk to the ability of SpecialAgentPeterBurke to Continue to Function.
“You have to heal him, Vincent,” Neal said to VincentAdler, who was sitting in the passenger seat of the luxury sedan where SpecialAgentPeterBurke and Neal were also located. It was being driven by one of the Jaffa guards. Another guard was sitting facing them, looking bored. Neal and SpecialAgentPeterBurke had been put into the back seat, and the doors had been locked in such a way as to prevent Neal from opening them and attempting escape. Even if escape were possible however, SpecialAgentPeterBurke did not currently have the capacity to attempt it, which meant that Neal would not leave him.
VincentAdler laughed without turning to face Neal. “I don’t believe you’re in a position to give me orders, little toy,” he said.
“I won’t help you if he dies,” Neal said.
“You won’t have that choice.”
“No,” Neal said, feeling his internal temperature rise with the intensity of his anger. “You won’t have that choice. If Peter dies, I will fight you so hard that you’ll be forced to kill me. Everything that you’ve worked for will be for nothing.”
“Maybe I would enjoy that challenge,” VincentAdler said, but he finally turned so he could look at Neal. Neal knew VincentAdler was trying to gauge the level of Neal's sincerity.
Neal had never felt more sincere in his existence.
“Maybe I’ll enjoy making your life a living hell for as long as I can,” Neal said. He curved his lips into a smile that he knew would not appear friendly.
VincentAdler rolled his eyes. “I never realized you had such a capacity for drama, toy,” he said, and then sighed and reached for something in the breast pocket of his suit jacket. "Very well.” VincentAdler retrieved a Goa'uld healing device from his pocket and placed it on his right hand. Then he directed the device at SpecialAgentPeterBurke. The large red stone in the middle of the device began to glow and then light enveloped SpecialAgentPeterBurke.
Within seconds the dark colour of the bruising on his side began to fade. Neal could hear his heart rate and breathing increase and even-out, returning to normal parameters. SpecialAgentPeterBurke moaned and opened his eyes.
“What the hell?” he said, and then sat up. “Neal!”
“It’s okay, Peter,” Neal said, putting his hand on SpecialAgentPeterBurke’s arm. SpecialAgentPeterBurke condition was once again satisfactory, and that was extremely acceptable. “We’re in Adler’s car heading...somewhere. But we’re safe for now.”
“You owe your improved health to your toy, Peter Burke,” VincentAdler said as he faced forward again. “He begged for your life quite desperately.”
“Thank you,” Neal said to VincentAdler. He attempted to put a tone of supplication and gratitude into the words that he did not feel.
“I hope you know that you’ve kidnapped a Federal Agent,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said. He looked at Neal, “and his CI. If you let us go now I’ll ask the Prosecutor to –“
“Do you think your inferior laws interest me?” VincentAdler said. “You grow tiresome, Peter Burke.” And then VincentAdler raised his Zat’nik’tel gun, extended its serpent-like head, and shot him.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke stiffened with the sudden onslaught of the energy from the weapon, and then fell unconscious.
Before Neal could protest, VincentAdler turned the Zat on him, and fired. The energy swarmed through his Neural Network and he immediately went into Emergency Sleep Mode.
Elizabeth sat at the dining room table with a mug of hot tea cradled in her hands and her shoulders covered by the afghan from the couch. Satchmo had his big fuzzy head on her feet, but she couldn’t feel the warmth.
Diana and Jones and a team of well-armed FBI agents had arrived at her house within minutes of Elizabeth calling them, but it still had been too late. She'd watched helplessly from the top of the stairs while her husband was slung over the shoulders of one of those things that had broken into her house, and then carried out like he weighed next to nothing.
Neal had been dragged out later, blood dripping from his abdomen, and she hadn’t been able to do more than bite her fist to keep herself from screaming.
“You couldn’t have done anything,” Diana said. “There were nine guys trashing your house. They’d already overpowered both Neal and Peter. If you’d come down, they probably would have killed you.”
“I know,” Elizabeth nodded. And she did know it. That’s what had prevented her from tearing down the stairs, ready to attack them all with her bare hands. It wouldn’t have done anything for Neal and Peter. “But at least I would have done something.”
“You did do something,” Jones said, coming to stand beside her. “You called us. And now we can do something to get them back.”
“Peter wasn’t moving when they carried him out,” Elizabeth said. Her voice caught on the words; quavering like it was going to break.
But she wasn’t going to break. Peter and Neal needed her to be strong.
“Peter’s tough,” Diana said. “We’ll find him.” Elizabeth knew Diana meant we’ll find him alive, and she appreciated the other woman’s confidence more than she could say.
“You hook into Neal’s GPS yet?” Jones asked. He'd moved so he could look over Diana’s shoulder to the laptop she had in front of her.
“Just about,” Diana said. She focussed on the screen and entered a complicated series of mouse clicks and prompts. “It should be coming up now.”
They waited for what felt like forever until the computer started to let out a series of steady beeps.
Jones blinked. “Is that showing what I think its showing?”
“Yeah,” Diana agreed slowly. “It says that Neal is right behind us.”
Elizabeth, Diana and Jones all turned their heads at the same time to look behind them.
“I don’t see anything,” Jones said, “just a pile of stuff that probably got knocked off the table.”
“Neal was working on an antenna,” Elizabeth said. She stood up, gently shifting Satchmo, and went to the crumpled newspaper and tools on the floor. Something caught her eye, and she crouched down.
There, half-hidden under a fold of newspaper was a cylindrical object, about two inches long and about the width of a pencil. Elizabeth picked it up. It was cold and wet from a slimy substance the exact colour of blood. She swallowed.
Diana was beside her, a plastic evidence bag in her hands. “I think you found his GPS,” she said quietly, “here.” She gently pried it out of Elizabeth’s fingers and placed it in the bag.
Elizabeth stayed kneeling on the floor. “Peter said the GPS was located in his abdomen,” she said and her stomach began to roll. “Why is it on the floor?”
Diana and Jones communicated something to each other without speaking. “Why don’t you come sit down on the couch,” Diana said, handing the bag to Jones and helping Elizabeth to her feet. “It's probably more comfortable.”
“Okay,” Elizabeth said numbly. She looked down at her hands. The fingers of her right hand had red fluid on it. Blood, she thought, Neal’s blood.
Had Peter been bleeding when he’d been carried out of their house? She couldn’t remember.
“Here,” Diana said, and Elizabeth looked up to see Diana wiping her fingers with a wet cloth she must have found somewhere. Diana smiled at her. “I’ll get your tea.”
“Okay,” Elizabeth said again.
“Oh that’s one smart robot,” Jones said from where he had crouched by the dining room table. He stood, holding an object in his hand that looked like a black box with a Snowflake attached to the top. “Looks like he threw his GPS over here in order to ensure we’d find this.”
Diana put Elizabeth’s tea back down on the table and moved beside Jones. “What is it?”
“It’s the fractal antenna Neal was working on,” Elizabeth said.
Diana was looking at her. “Do you know how it works?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I don’t even know if he finished it before –“ Peter, hanging over the shoulders of some monster; Neal being dragged, hurt and bleeding from the house. She felt a rush of tears come too fast to wipe away.
“It’s okay,” Diana said. “I get it.” She looked at the other agent. “Jones?”
Jones was also shaking his head. “No clue.” He studied the object in his hands. “We know anyone besides Neal who might be able to work this?”
“Yeah,” Diana said, pulling out her cell phone. “Peter said that Neal spoke with Doctor Haversham about the fractal antenna the last time he checked in. I’ll call him.”
“Great,” Jones said. He gestured towards the other agents who were still cataloguing the destruction suffered by Elizabeth’s house. “I’ll grab a couple of these guys for the van and meet you out front in five.”
“Perfect,” Diana said, phone to her ear. She turned to Elizabeth. “We’re going to leave Blake and Stein with you tonight. That okay?”
Elizabeth nodded. “I called June,” she said. “She might come over, too.”
Diana nodded, but her concentration had returned to her phone. “Haversham,” she said in a voice that brooked no argument, “it’s the FBI. We’re going to pick you up at your hotel in fifteen minutes, and you’d better be ready.”
After that, it was only a few minutes more before Diana and Jones were gone, leaving Elizabeth with Blake and Stein and Satchmo, a ruined door, a broken alarm system and a very empty house.
She thought of her husband. His strength and his kindness, and how very empty her life would be without him. Please God, she prayed, let him be okay.
It took a long time for Neal to wake up.
Peter sat against the wall across from Neal, watching the robot sleep off the effects of whatever it was that Adler had zapped them with.
Peter had just started coming to when one of Adler’s badly-dressed henchmen had tossed him like a beanbag into the bare room he was now sitting in. Neal had been thrown after, as loose and unfeeling as a doll.
Neal had landed on his front, and when Peter had gently rolled him over it felt like his heart had stopped.
There was dried blood running from Neal’s nose to his mouth and a thin trail staining his chin. More blood had soaked through the front of Neal’s shirt and onto the top of his pants. A lot of it. It looked like Neal had gotten shot again. It looked like he was dead.
“Neal!” Peter had shouted, ripping up Neal’s shirt to see the extent of the damage the bullet had done.
What he saw instead was a deep cut, about three inches wide, just to the left of Neal’s belly button. His GPS Peter had realized immediately. Adler had cut it out before Neal was taken to ensure they wouldn’t be found.
At least the blood had stopped soon after, and a quick check assured Peter that Neal was alive, but just suffering the effects of that strange weapon. It had felt very similar to when Peter had been on the receiving end of a Taser during his training at Quantico. Maybe it hit robots harder than humans.
So, now all Peter could do was wait for Neal to recover.
The wall was cold against the skin of his back, and his bare feet felt chilled against the stone floor. Wherever they were, the heat of summer hadn’t penetrated and it was cool enough for him to feel distinctly uncomfortable. If he’d known he’d be attacked and dragged out of his house in the middle of the night, he would've made sure to wear a t-shirt.
Suddenly, like a switch being thrown, Neal sat up. It took a second for him to focus, and then his face lit up in a smile. “Peter!” he said, scrambling to his feet. “You’re okay!”
“Yeah,” Peter smiled back, pulling himself to standing. “Glad to see you’re alright too, buddy.” He gestured at the blood staining Neal’s clothes. “Seems you’re a little worse for wear.”
“Adler made me cut out the GPS,” Neal grimaced. “But the nanites are taking care of the wound. I’ll be okay.”
“Nanites?” Peter repeated. “Like, tiny robot-things nanites?”
“Yeah,” Neal said. He looked around the bare white room they'd been thrown into, clearly searching for some way out. “They work great if the injury isn’t worse than, say, a broken bone. Too much damage though, and they’re not so good.”
“Can’t stop a bullet wound, huh,” Peter said, thinking about the fatal gunshot that Neal had received at Adler’s hands.
“Yeah,” Neal said again. He grinned at Peter. “Those are a bitch.” He turned back to his exploration of the door.
Peter laughed. “The door’s hinged and locked from the outside," he said. "Unless your robot senses are way better than mine, it doesn’t look like there’s any way out.”
“My senses are better than yours,” Neal said, still studying the door. “But you’re right, I can’t open this.”
“Damn,” Peter muttered, although he hadn’t really expected anything else. “So, I guess now all we can do is wait?”
“Uh huh,” Neal sighed, and sat down against the wall. He rubbed his forehead. “Jeez I hate those Zat guns.”
Peter sat down beside him. “Is that what those weapons were? Zat guns?”
“The little one that looked like a snake? Yes,” Neal said. “The other big ones at your house, those are called Ma’toks, but we usually just call them Staff Weapons. The thing on Adler’s hand was a Kara Kesh, commonly referred to as a Ribbon Device. They hurt a lot.”
“So I noticed,” Peter grimaced. His last memory was of flying over his stairs and smashing into the wall, just from Adler moving his hand. “Adler’s not human, is he?”
“Not anymore.” Neal began massaging his temples with his fingertips. “My head really hurts.”
“Is that from the Zat gun?” Peter asked worriedly. Neal really didn’t look that good.
“Maybe?” Neal said. “I don’t know.” He smiled at Peter. “I’ll be okay.”
“Good,” Peter said, but he wasn’t convinced. As soon as they were rescued, he planned on calling Haversham to see what harm the Zat gun may have done. “So, back to the whole Adler-isn’t-human thing,” he said. It was still amazing to Peter that he could say that out loud without having a complete meltdown. Maybe I’m in shock? he thought to himself. In which case, he’d save the nervous breakdown for later. After he was home, and Neal was home and he knew that Elizabeth was safe. For some reason, it made him feel better knowing he could plan his hysteria.
“Adler’s a Goa’uld,” Neal said. “An alien creature that takes over a host’s body by burrowing into their brain. They kind of look like really ugly eels. They're kind of psychotic."
Peter felt like maybe he was going to have that hysterical fit right then after all. “Adler has been taken over by an eel. From space.”
Neal closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. “Pretty much.”
“And he needs the fractal antenna for what,” Peter asked, “finding his space ship?”
“I don’t know,” Neal said without opening his eyes. “Probably not.”
“Oh good,” Peter said, leaning his head against the wall, too. “I’d hate to think that the Adler-eel couldn’t find where he parked his intergalactic car.” He turned to face Neal. “Kate knew about this, didn’t she? And Haversham too.”
Neal nodded. “And that other doctor who helped fix me, and a lot of other people. There’s a secret section of the military that's been fighting the Goa’uld for years.”
“So there’s more than one?” Peter said. “Well, that’s comforting.”
Neal smiled without opening his eyes. “Most of them are dead.” He rubbed at his forehead.
“And you didn’t feel like telling me any of this before,” Peter said. It wasn’t a question.
Neal opened his eyes and looked at Peter. “I – I couldn’t before,” he said, “but I can now.”
Peter looked at Neal quizzically. “What’s the difference?”
“It’s not important,” Neal said. He pressed both his hands to his forehead and leaned forward, clearly in pain.
“Are you okay?” Peter asked.
Neal shook his head. He cried out.
“Neal!” Peter shouted. He grabbed the robot by his shoulders, helping to support his weight. Neal was shuddering under his hands.
“It hurts,” Neal whimpered.
“What’s wrong?” Peter demanded. “What can I do?”
“The nanites are helping,” Neal said. He sat up slowly, wiping the remnants of tears from his eyes. “Ugh,” he groaned, “not fun.”
“As soon as we get out of here, we really need to check that out,” Peter said.
“Sure,” Neal said. He stood.
“So glad you’re finally awake, toy,” Adler said from the doorway. His voice had that deep and unnatural tone that Peter recognized from before. Peter got to his feet.
He’s an alien, Peter thought as he looked at him, trying to visualize the eel-like thing buried deep within Adler’s body. Adler was dressed in an impeccable navy sports coat, white shirt and tan pants. His hair was neatly styled, and he looked for all the world that he had just stepped off his yacht. It was nearly impossible to imagine that he wasn’t human.
“I have need of you.” His eyes flashed yellow at Peter. Peter winced. “Both of you,” Adler said, gesturing with his Zat gun. “And please do remember that I would be happy to kill either one of you at any time.”
Peter and Neal shared a glance, and Peter slowly raised his hands to chest height, palm out. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I won’t forget.”
Adler ushered them both out of the room.
There was a German U-Boat sitting on a hoist in the middle of the warehouse.
Neal heard SpecialAgentPeterBurke gasp in surprise. He felt his own intake of breath in reaction to the sight, even though he did not actually require oxygen for his continued functioning.
“That’s what the antenna was for,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said, his eyes still focussed on the submarine. “To find this!”
“One of my former hosts was an important General in the Nazi army,” VincentAdler said. “I sent this U-Boat out of German waters when it was obvious that the combined armies of my enemies were surpassing the might of my warriors.” He frowned. “Unfortunately the incompetence of my Jaffa caused it to sink here. The only surviving member of the crew hid the code to finding the U-boat in the music box. It has taken me over sixty years to retrieve it.”
SpecialAgentPeterBurke’s expression showed total incredulity. “You were a Nazi?”
VincentAdler’s expression was withering. “I am Mahes! God of the Massacre! I am greater than any mere mortal!”
“Mahes was a minor Egyptian Deity,” Neal explained to SpecialAgentPeterBurke. “The Goa’uld like to pretend they’re Gods.” As he spoke, Neal could feel the ViperVirus slowly destroying him, like a small animal with very sharp teeth, attacking more viciously with every truth he told. As he had explained to SpecialAgentPeterBurke, the nanites were helping, but he was not sure how much damage from the ViperVirus they could fix. However Neal knew he would continue to tell SpecialAgentPeterBurke the truth about VincentAdler and the Goa’uld. Before he had attempted to hold back some of the truth in order to prevent the ViperVirus from damaging him. Now he chose to tell SpecialAgentPeterBurke everything, otherwise SpecialAgentPeterBurke would not know enough to be able to escape. SpecialAgentPeterBurke needed to escape. His continued captivity and danger at the hands of VincentAdler was not acceptable.
SpecialAgentPeterBurke shook his head. “You’re really going to have to explain all of this later.”
“I will,” Neal promised. He hoped that VincentAdler would not kill SpecialAgentPeterBurke before Neal could keep that promise. He gritted his teeth against the pain from DoctorKateMoreau’s program. It does not matter what the ViperVirus is doing to my Cerebral Processor, Neal thought, as long as my actions allow SpecialAgentPeterBurke to survive.
Neal hoped he would remain functional long enough to ensure that would happen.
“So,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said after a moment. His voice sounded confident and unafraid, but Neal’s enhanced hearing could register the rapid beating of his heart. “You’ve shown us your super secret submarine. Now what?”
“The entrance to the U-boat was wired with explosives that have survived their long submersion,” VincentAdler said. He pointed at Neal. “You will neutralize the trap to allow me access to the interior.”
“No, he won’t,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said. “Sorry Adler, or whatever your name is, but Neal’s not going to do it.”
“Then you will die,” VincentAdler said. He activated his Zat gun with a mechanical sound and pointed it at SpecialAgentPeterBurke.
“I’ll do it,” Neal said quickly, standing in front of SpecialAgentPeterBurke. ”I’ll do it. Just leave him alone.”
VincentAdler smirked. “Good toy.” He gestured at the submarine. “The tools you will require are waiting at the entrance to the U-boat. There are safety glasses with a remote camera and microphone on them so that I may hear and see what you are doing at all times. You will wear them or Peter Burke dies. We will be waiting behind blast proof glass for you to finish, so any attempt at noble self-sacrifice will be wasted.”
“Peter has to come with me,” Neal said. He remained standing in front of SpecialAgentPeterBurke. “This is too complicated for me to do on my own. I’ll need his help.”
VincentAdler laughed. “You must think me very stupid.”
“Yes, very,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said, which was not a helpful comment.
“I need his help,” Neal repeated before VincentAdler could react to the comment from SpecialAgentPeterBurke. “It can’t be done without him.”
“Fine,” VincentAdler acquiesced with a wave of his hand. “You may have your agent.” He indicated the cherry picker that was waiting to raise them up 12.67 meters to the level of the U-boat’s deck. “You have fifteen minutes before I kill your friend, little toy,” he said with an unpleasant grin. “I suggest you get moving.”
Neal glared at VincentAdler, which was not helpful, but made him feel 6% better. He titled his head toward the cherry picker that would take then to the main deck. “After you,” he said to SpecialAgentPeterBurke, and both of them got in.
Peter knelt opposite Neal by the sealed hatch on top of the submarine.
Neal had examined the equipment Adler had left for them, and then dutifully put on the safety glasses that had the microphone and remote camera in them. It made him look a little nerdy, even with the dried blood on his face, and Peter would’ve laughed if it wasn’t their lives on the line.
“This really a two-man job?” Peter whispered.
“Figured I’d save you from a bullet,” Neal whispered back. He was busy unscrewing the bolts holding the hatch in place.
“By putting me in front of a bomb?”
Neal looked up long enough to glare at him. “There is a sixty-eight per-cent chance I will be able to diffuse this bomb without harm coming to you, Peter,” Neal said, turning back to the bolts. He handed Peter the ratchet so Peter could undo the bolts on his side. “As evidenced by my failure to protect Kate, I believe there is a hundred per-cent chance I would not be so effective in preventing you coming to harm from a gunshot.”
“Point taken,” Peter muttered.
“Ready?” Neal said, and on Peter’s nod, they both carefully lifted off the hatch and moved it to one side.
“Whoa,” Neal said as Peter let out a low whistle.
There was a code-breaking machine in the hatch, sitting on a pile of TNT.
“Huh,” Neal said. He was quiet for what seemed like an eternity.
“So, what do we do?” Peter asked after it felt like the eternity had stretched on way too long. “Can you diffuse it?”
“The beige wires are usually the neutral or bluff wires,” Neal said, indicating a series of light-coloured wires leading from the code-breaking machine to the TNT. “But I don’t know if that was true sixty years ago.”
“And if you cut it?” Peter asked, already knowing the answer.
“One of two things,” Neal replied. “We’ll either start a countdown or just blow it up.”
“Damn,” Peter murmured. “What about those wires?” He pointed at a pair of silver and black wires that had been attached together.
“Either one of them could be live,” Neal said, “or neither. It could be the red one over here.”
“You have only ten minutes left,” Adler said over Neal’s microphone.
Peter leaned over and shouted into Neal’s microphone: “Then you come here and do it, your holiness!” He smirked at Neal. “That shut him up.”
Neal’s smile was thin. He handed Peter the other pair of wire cutters. “I’m going to cut the silver one, you cut the black one at the same time.” He leaned towards the wires, cutters in hand.
“Wait!” Peter said. “Why?”
“Three, two, one,” Neal counted. Peter thrust his cutters in and they cut the wires together.
Agent Barrigan rolled her eyes. “We’re not abducting you, Doctor Haversham.”
Mozzie sat scrunched in the corner of the surveillance van, eyeing the two FBI agents towering over him. He couldn’t decide which one was more intimidating: the one called Jones or the one called Barrigan. They both looked like they could break him in half with just their pinkie fingers.
And of course, that ignored the two armed brutes the FBI had in the front seats, one driving and one riding shotgun.
He held the fractal antenna in both his hands, marvelling at how fast Neal had been able to put such a complicated instrument together. The robot really was phenomenal, and he felt a warm sensation of pride thinking what he and Kate had accomplished. The feeling was immediately replaced by sadness. If only Kate had lived to feel it, too.
“If you’re not abducting me, can I get out?” Mozzie said.
Agent Jones glared at him. “No.”
“Well then, it feels like an abduction,” Mozzie said unhappily. He slotted the final wire into place and switched the antenna on. He had fashioned a crude power adaptor for the antenna and plugged it into one of the power switches in the back of the van, but until the small green light on top of the antenna started glowing, he wasn’t sure it was going to work. He smiled in satisfaction and slipped the head phones on over his ears.
A moment later, his smile dropped. There was no signal.
“I need more power,” he said to Agent Jones. The Agent nodded and made an adjustment to something in the van, and the green light on top of the antenna’s glow became noticeably brighter.
The van also lurched, causing Mozzie to slide into the wall and his stomach to slide sickeningly under his ribs.
“Do you have anything for motion sickness?” he said to Agent Barrigan.
“Concentrate on your work,” Agent Barrigan said. “Peter’s in danger and that’s the only link we have to find him.”
“I know,” Mozzie said, exasperated. “But I concentrate better when I’m not going to throw up.”
Agent Barrigan narrowed her eyes at him. “I will hurt you.”
“Neal’s in danger, too!” Mozzie exclaimed. “Do you think I don’t care?”
“We know you care,” Agent Jones said in a placating tone of voice. “We’re just worried.”
“And that thing you’re holding is all we have to help,” Agent Barrigan explained unnecessarily. “You have to make it work.”
“If that’s all I need to do, then we’re both going to be very happy.” Mozzie smiled at her. “Because I just got a signal.”
An alarm went off and the code-breaker started a countdown as soon as Neal and Peter clipped the wires.
Neal stared at it in shock. While he had thought there was a 72.8% chance that cutting the silver and black wires would not necessarily diffuse the bomb, he had not calculated the probability that cutting the wires would cause the threat to SpecialAgentPeterBurke and himself to increase.
There was an 83.4% chance his oversight was directly related to the effects of the ViperVirus on his Cerebral Processor, but he could no longer adequately estimate what damage the program was actually doing, or had already done.
“Neal,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said, in a tone that Neal immediately identified as ‘urgent,’ “what’s it doing?”
Neal continued looking at the code-breaker. “I think it’s a timer.”
“It sounds like its moving fast,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said. “How do we stop it?”
“I don’t know, Peter!” Neal snapped. He found SpecialAgentPeterBurke’s tension was making it harder for him to concentrate. The pain in his head was negatively affecting his ability to concentrate as well.
“We need to enter a code,” Peter said tersely, “and I’m guessing the wrong one will blow us both to smithereens. He was studying the machine intensely, his hands hovering over it as if he were afraid to touch. “Any ideas?”
Neal looked at the device. It was a small machine, shaped like a typewriter from before the devices were replaced by electric models. It had numerous keys, all with different numbers, symbols and letters. Neal knew that normally this task would not be so difficult for him. “No.”
“Damn!” SpecialAgentPeterBurke swore. “Okay, okay,” he said. “Think! It probably has something to do with what they were doing, right?”
“They were sneaking some kind of valuable cargo out of Europe,” Neal responded immediately. “Most likely in an attempt to take it to South America.”
“A priceless treasure,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke continued. “What word goes with that?”
“Rubies?” Neal offered. “As in, a price above rubies?”
“Maybe.” SpecialAgentPeterBurke frowned. “But it doesn’t seem big enough.”
“Whoever had this treasure would be richer than a king,” Neal said. “If it even is a treasure.”
“It would have to be treasure,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke said. “Otherwise, why try so hard to find it after all these years?” He looked thoughtful. “Richer than a king,” he repeated. “Isn’t there a story like that?”
“Yes!” An idea was forming in Neal’s Cerebral Processor, thanks to the words of SpecialAgentPeterBurke. “There is a story, about the king whose touch turned everything to gold.”
“Midas!” SpecialAgentPeterBurke and Neal said at the same time.
Neal moved to type it into the machine. The timer's speed had increased exponentially. It sounded like they had very little time left.
“Are we right?” SpecialAgentPeterBurke asked.
“I don’t know.” Neal grimaced, and typed it in.
The timer stopped.
Peter let his head fall forward in relief; feeling like his heart had stopped with the timer. That was cutting things way too close. He leaned across the open hatch and patted Neal on the shoulder. “Good job, kid!”
Neal’s returned smile was wan at best. “Thanks.”
“Okay,” Peter said, looking back into the hole. The code-breaker looked like some kind of evil chicken sitting on a very dangerous clutch of eggs. “So, how do we get in?”
“The main hatch is here,” Neal said. He shifted over to his right and started twisting a large wheel that clearly had kept the main hatch sealed. Neal was struggling, and after a moment Peter slid over and lent his strength to turning the wheel. After 60 years, opening it really wasn’t easy, and when it finally gave way it opened with an ear-splitting screech and a rush of stale air to show several beige wires dangling from its edges.
“Not so neutral after all,” Peter muttered. If they'd tried to open the hatch before diffusing the bomb, the whole thing would have gone up. Adler was right to be cautious. Goddamn son of a bitch.
“Go in!” Adler shrieked through Neal’s microphone. “And keep the safety glasses on!”
“Yessir,” Neal muttered. He picked up the flashlight that had been left for them to use and flicked his wrist at the opening. “After you?”
Peter eyed Neal dubiously. “There’s not going to be more of those alien eel-like things, are there?”
Neal smiled. “I don’t think this is the one carrying more Goa’uld. Watch for trip wires.”
“How very reassuring,” Peter said dryly. He took the offered flashlight, grabbed a crow bar off the ground and entered the hatch feet-first, quickly descending to the bottom of the ladder. Neal was right behind him, his own crow bar in hand.
“Holy shit,” he breathed as he shone his flashlight beam around the room.
The area was full of crates with Nazi symbols on them.
Neal moved past him with his own flashlight. He immediately jammed the crow bar into a fissure in the lid of one of the crates. “Now we’ll get to see what all the fuss has been about.” So saying, he pried it off with a loud crack of the wood.
There was a painting in it, perfectly preserved. “It’s a Van Dyke,” Neal said, clearly in awe. “It’s got to be worth millions.”
The next crate was full of treasure: Pearl necklaces, gold strands and jewels. “This is Nazi plunder from all over Europe!” Peter exclaimed, “No wonder that Adler-eel wants it!”
Neal was shaking his head. “No, this isn’t important to him. There’s something else.”
Peter looked at him, incredulous. “Billions of dollars of treasure, billions, wouldn’t be important to him?”
Neal was busy tearing through the crates. “Nope.”
He stopped at one at the far end of the room and cracked it open just wide enough for him to see the edge of the item inside. “Adler, you seeing this?” he said.
“Yes,” Adler replied eagerly.
“Not anymore,” Neal said, taking off the safety glasses and dropping them on the ground. He stepped on them for good measure. “Here!” Neal called to Peter, ripping off the lid of the crate. He dropped the crow bar on the ground and reached inside, bringing out a long, crystalline object. It was shaped like a cylinder with a jagged edge, its colour deep red at the flat top, changing to light red, to orange and finally to yellow at the tip. When Neal pulled it out of the crate its glow was bright enough to light the whole room. “This is what Adler’s been after.”
“What the hell is it?” Peter demanded, “some kind of alien night-light?”
“It’s a Zero Point Module,” Neal said. “It’s a source of great power –“ He pressed the palm of one hand above his right eye and slid to his knees, making an inarticulate noise of pain.
“Neal!” Peter yelled, and ran to his side.
“I’m okay,” Neal gasped, blinking tears out of his eyes. “Peter,” he said, indicating the module, “Adler can not get his hands on this!”
“Okay,” Peter said. “We won’t let him get it.” He looked at Neal. “How?”
“I don’t know,” Neal said. He still had his hand pressed to his forehead, but the pain seemed to have lessened.
“Well, getting out of here before Adler arrives would be a start,” Peter said. He gently took the module from Neal. “Can you stand?”
Neal nodded and shakily got to his feet.
“That Zat thing really messed you up, huh?” Peter said.
“Probably,” Neal agreed. He started shuffling towards the ladder. “Time to go.”
Peter let Neal go first up the ladder, hoping that he’d have the strength to stop him from falling if Neal’s pain were to come back.
Adler had just started raising the cherry picker to the deck of the submarine when Neal and SpecialAgentPeterBurke reached the top of the ladder.
Swiftly, Neal took the ZPM from SpecialAgentPeterBurke and placed it with the code-breaker, closing the lid over it. He hoped that it would prevent VincentAdler from locating the ZPM before Neal and SpecialAgentPeterBurke had developed a plan.
Neal was finding it very hard to concentrate. The pain caused by the ViperVirus was now so intense that telling SpecialAgentPeterBurke about anything related to VincentAdler or the Goa’uld caused Neal to feel as if he were temporarily Ceasing to Function.
“Here he comes,” SpecialAgentPeterBurke muttered. He was standing between the arriving cherry picker and Neal, clearly putting his life in danger to protect Neal’s. This was not acceptable.
The cherry picker stopped and its door opened, allowing VincentAdler and a Jaffa guard to step out. The Jaffa guard immediately pointed his staff weapon at SpecialAgentPeterBurke.
VincentAdler did not have a Zat gun. However his Kara Kesh was back in place, which was also unacceptable.
“So, not as compliant as you’d led me to believe,” VincentAdler said. His eyes flashed and he raised his hand. The stone in the Kara Kesh began to glow. “And now Peter Burke will die.”
“No!” Neal shouted as the orange glow enveloped SpecialAgentPeterBurke. SpecialAgentBurke fell to his knees, crying out in pain.
“You are helpless to stop me, little toy,” VincentAdler said. “Just as you were helpless to prevent me from killing Kate.” His smile was very cruel. “I will enjoy breaking you to my will again.”
Before he could calculate the probable effectiveness of his plan, Neal ran and jumped at him. VincentAdler had been standing by the cherry picker near the edge of the deck; the momentum of Neal’s heavy robot body carried them both over.
Including the hoist, the deck was approximately 5 stories high, making the fall long enough for Neal to grab VincentAdler’s neck and force his head down. The orange glow from the Kara Kesh enveloped Neal on the way down to the floor of the warehouse. He screamed in pain but did not let go.
This ensured that the back of VincentAdler’s head impacted the ground first, with all of Neal’s weight behind it. It smashed in a pattern reminiscent of an egg, which he found very satisfactory.
Neal landed on his side nanoseconds later, hard enough to cause the metal joint in his wrist to detach from his hand and for his head to hit the ground hard enough to cause an immediate switch into Emergency Sleep Mode.
One second, Peter was on his knees howling in pain, and the next, it was gone.
And so were Neal and Adler.
The Jaffa guard was staring wide-eyed over the edge of the U-boat where Adler and Neal had fallen. It took Peter only seconds to disarm him and test out the effectiveness of a Staff Weapon at close range. They really did burn a large hole through a person.
Then Peter looked down to see what had distracted the Jaffa, and gasped in horror.
“Neal!” he called, frantically looking for a way down quicker than the stupid cherry picker. But except for jumping there was none, so Peter had to use the incredibly slow machine to get down to ground level, nearly bursting through his skin with impatience.
He leapt over the edge of the cherry picker the second it was close enough to the ground. He landed by Neal's side, ignoring the mess that used to be Adler’s body.
Neal’s right wrist was bent at an awkward angle, but even worse was the smear of red blood oozing out of the side of Neal’s head, and the way his eyes were closed. He was lying extremely still.
Neural liquid! Peter reminded himself forcefully. Neal was a robot. He wasn’t actually bleeding. He had tiny nanites in his body repairing the damage even as Peter hovered over him. He would probably be fine.
“Neal,” Peter said again, gently lifting Neal’s head into his lap. The robot was damn heavy. Neural liquid as thick and red as blood began to soak through the cloth of Peter’s pyjama bottoms. Peter swallowed. “Neal!” he said again, more urgently this time, and gave the robot a small shake.
“Quit it, Mozzie, I’m in sleep mode,” Neal mumbled, and Peter felt weak with relief.
“God, you scared me, kid,” Peter said as Neal slowly opened his eyes. “That was a hell of a fall.”
Neal sat up, cradling his right arm against his chest. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Peter said. “Except for that Cara Crash he didn’t touch me.”
“Kara Kesh,” Neal corrected him, and then moaned, bending forward in pain.
“Careful, buddy,” Peter said, helping to support his weight. And yeah, the robot really did weigh as much as a person. “You whacked your head pretty hard.”
“My wrist is also dislocated,” Neal said. He tried to smile but it was more like a grimace. “I am not sure what hurts more.”
“We need to get you back to Doctor Haversham,” Peter said worriedly. Neal was looking pretty bad, which was saying a lot for a guy with artificial skin tone. “Can you stand?”
“Maybe?” Neal said. “I don’t know.”
“Let’s try,” Peter said, and got to his feet. He took Neal’s good hand in his and began to pull Neal upwards. Neal moved his legs ineffectively. “Look, you’ve got to coordinate this --
There was the unmistakable sound of a Staff Weapon powering up. Peter felt his mouth go dry as he turned his head towards the sound.
Adler’s seven other Jaffa guards were standing there, Staff Weapons at the ready, and all pointed steadily at Peter and Neal.
“Shit,” Peter whispered. He squeezed Neal’s hand.
Suddenly, there was a sound of automatic weapons fire and the Jaffa’s bodies started jerking and twitching from multiple hits. Peter threw himself on top of Neal, bearing the robot to the ground. He hoped to hell that neither one was going to get hit in the crossfire.
After what seemed like an eternity, the room went silent. Peter dared to raise his head.
There was a man in a green and black military uniform looking down at him, arms resting casually on the large semi-automatic strapped to his vest. He was tall and lean with short, very un-military-looking spiky black hair and strangely pointed ears. Beside him was a handsome, shorter man in the same uniform with a much more military bearing. Both of them were smiling.
“Hi,” the tall man said. “I’m Colonel John Sheppard of the US Air Force. I believe you have our robot.”
The second Air Force officer was also a Colonel by the name of Evan Lorne. And apparently they’d brought another scientist with them. A broad-shouldered man with short, spiked brown hair who was currently kneeling on the warehouse floor beside Neal, holding Neal’s face in his hands.
Doctor Haversham was with him, and neither of them looked happy.
“What the hell have you done to him?” The scientist, whose name was Rodney McKay, snarled at Peter from over his shoulder.
Peter was standing off to the side, away from the fly boys and flanked by Diana and Jones. Jones had given him his suit jacket, and Peter was grateful for both the warmth and the slim amount of dignity the jacket provided.
Diana, Jones and Doctor Haversham had arrived mere moments after the officers had introduced themselves. Diana’s first concern had been the blood on Peter’s pyjamas.
Peter’s first concern had been Elizabeth.
“El’s fine,” Diana had told him, “shaken up, but okay. June is with her.”
Peter’s knees had turned to water once he heard that Elizabeth was all right, but Jones had caught him before he landed on his ass on the floor, and then he and Jones pretended it never happened.
“He got hit with a Zat gun,” Peter said in response to McKay’s harsh question, “and he fell off the deck of the submarine.” Peter moved a step closer. “Is he going to be okay?”
McKay wasn’t listening to him. “Neal,” he said, “I need you to run an internal diagnostic. Can you do that?”
Neal’s head was floppy on his neck, like it was too heavy for his body to support. His eyes were half-closed and completely unfocused. He made a wordless noise of pain and began to list sideways.
“Whoa, hey,” Colonel Lorne said, coming to kneel on Neal’s other side. He steadied Neal and prevented him from falling, then turned to Colonel Sheppard. “I don’t remember Zat guns hitting A.I.s this badly.”
“They don’t,” McKay snapped. “There’s something else going on.” He pivoted on his heels so he could face Haversham. “Hold his head,” he directed, and then fished for something out of his pocket. It was a USB cord that he plugged into the slot behind Neal’s ear, and then attached into some kind of laptop that Peter hadn’t noticed before. McKay hunched over it, pecking furiously with his stylus. “I’m trying to pull up his particulars, but there’s a lot of artefact in the way.”
Haversham gaped at him. “The files are corrupted?”
McKay’s mouth formed a grim line. “Seems that way. I really need his help with this.”
Haversham shook Neal’s shoulder. “Neal,” he said. “Neal, we could really use that internal diagnostic right about now.”
Neal’s head shifted heavily towards Haversham. “Mozzie?”
Haversham smiled. “That’s right,” he said. “It’s Mozzie. Can you run an internal diagnostic?”
Neal’s eyes screwed shut. “Hurts,” he muttered.
“I know,” Haversham said with a speaking look to McKay. “But we really need it. Can you at least try?”
“There’s a ZeePM in the sub,” Neal said, “I hid it in the hatch.”
Sheppard and Lorne exchanged a glance. “Let me go get that,” Lorne said. Sheppard took his place by Neal’s side as Lorne got up and went to the cherry picker.
“That’s great info about the ZeePM,” Sheppard said, “but we’re trying to fix you up here. I need you to focus on that diagnostic. Okay?”
“Who the hell are these guys?” Peter whispered to Diana. He didn’t like how Neal looked at all, and every instinct he had was telling him to go over there and get Neal the hell away.
“Contacts of Haversham’s,” Diana whispered back. “He called them from the van once he got the antenna to work. I don’t know how they got here so fast.”
Aliens Peter thought immediately. He pushed past Diana and shouldered Haversham aside. “Enough of this crap,” he said. “Neal’s coming with me.”
Neal’s head snapped up and his eyes focussed under their half-closed lids. “Peter?”
Now it was Peter’s turn to kneel on the floor. He angled himself in front of McKay, ignoring the scientist's complaint. He grasped Neal by his shoulders. Neal’s head lolled alarmingly. “Yeah, kid,” Peter said. “It’s me.”
“Peter,” Neal said. And there was a crack of a smile on his face. “Mozzie wants me to run an internal diagnostic.”
Peter glanced at Haversham, who was nodding vigorously. “Yeah,” Peter confirmed. “He does. We all do.”
“It’s so hard…” Neal said, his voice trailing off.
“You gotta do it,” Peter said, putting the urgency he felt into the command.
McKay did something else to his laptop. “I’m managing to locate the data from his internal sensors,” he murmured, “but it’s not working the way it should.”
Peter looked at McKay. “We need to get him out of here.”
“Thanks, Agent Obvious,” McKay snapped. “But unless you have a hidden laboratory somewhere, this is as good a place as any to try to do the repairs.”
Peter blinked. “Diana!” he shouted.
She had joined the group huddled around Neal a second later. “Boss?”
“Are we still in New York?”
Diana looked at him like he might have lost his mind. “Yes.”
“Great,” Peter said. “We can take him back to the FBI. There’s a lab there.”
“Then why the hell are we kneeling on the floor?” McKay said and stood, stretching out his lower back. “My knees are always terrible after contact with cold concrete.” Sheppard stood as well, leaving only Peter and Haversham with Neal on the ground.
Lorne reappeared in that moment, the glowing ZPM in his hands. “Check this out!” He beamed.
Sheppard beamed back. “This is excellent!”
McKay scowled at them. “Robot? Needs lab. Hello?” He turned back to his laptop, scrolling over it with his stylus.
Diana was eyeing Neal dubiously. “How are we going to lift him?”
“That’s why I brought the muscle,” McKay said, indicating Lorne and Sheppard.
Lorne made a face. “I thought my days of lifting robots were over.”
“Try it out of a bathtub sometime,” McKay muttered. “At least he’s dry.”
“I’ve finished the diagnostic,” Neal said. His words were slurred like he was drugged.
McKay and Haversham immediately crowded around Neal again. “Good job,” McKay said. “Report.”
“Battery is seventy-six percent,” Neal said slowly.
“So it’s not a power drain,” McKay said.
“Cerebral Processor is only running at sixty-three per-cent efficiency,” Neal said. “Neural Network is failing in the peripheries at a rate of twelve percent every seven minutes. Main and back-up Memory Storage Systems are corrupted. Total, catastrophic failure of this unit is expected in approximately fifty minutes.” His eyes fluttered closed.
“That’s bad,” Haversham said.
“Yes, it is,” McKay replied. His fingers were flying over his laptop keys. “Just verifying now…Holy shit,” he exclaimed. He turned wide blue eyes to Sheppard, “he really is going into catastrophic failure. We need to go now!”
“What?” Peter said, he had only understood about a quarter of what Neal had reported, but he completely understood what McKay’s expression meant. Neal was in trouble.
“Let’s roll,” Sheppard said. Lorne handed the ZPM to McKay, who tucked it under one arm, still staring at his laptop in horror. Lorne and Sheppard then stepped up to Neal, lifting him under his arms and knees. “You good?” Sheppard said to Lorne.
“Yep,” Lorne said. They began carrying Neal towards a large set of doors, McKay nearly running beside Neal’s shoulders as he scrutinized the laptop clutched in one arm.
“I’ll ride with them,” Haversham said over his shoulder to Peter as he trotted after them. Within seconds they were gone.
The warehouse felt suddenly extremely empty and very cold. Peter had forgotten his bare feet, and he was abruptly aware of how uncomfortable and icy they’d become.
“I’ll stay here with De Angelo and Morgan,” Jones said, clearly meaning the other agents he and Diana had brought for back-up. He motioned towards the bodies lying in bloody piles around the base of the U-boat. “We’ll get this place sealed up.”
“Come on, boss,” Diana said, gently tugging Peter by the arm. “We need to get you home.” She frowned. “I’m sorry I didn’t think to grab you anything to wear when I was at your house.”
“You had other things on your mind,” Peter said absently. “But I’m not going home. Take me to the FBI building. I don’t want Neal left alone with them.”
“It’s seven a.m. on Sunday,” Diana said gently. “And I’m sure Elizabeth is worried. Don’t you want—“
“I’ll call her on the way, have her meet me there with a change of clothes,” Peter said.
“Okay,” Diana agreed grudgingly, but her expression was concerned. “You sure you’re okay?”
Neal’s dying, Peter thought. That’s what McKay had been saying. It felt like a hand was squeezing his throat. “I’m fine,” he said gruffly. “Let’s go.”
Neal was floating.
He knew he wasn’t actually floating, it was the way his Cerebral Processor was interpreting the total lack of input from his peripheries. The numbness in his hands and feet had now spread to encompass nearly his entire body. Even his mouth felt numb now, his lips and tongue too heavy for speech.
The images he was receiving through his eyes were muted and difficult to interpret. His conclusion was that his lids were actually half-closed which prevented appropriate visual input. However he no longer had motor control over his eyelids, so opening them was not an option.
Sound was muffled and indistinct. There was a high probability that someone was calling his name, but he couldn’t calculate the actual percentage. And it was impossible to recall why that might matter, and how he should respond if it were his name in any case.
If he had to compare the sensation to anything, he would have said that it was as if he were deep in cold water, surrounded by murky colours and almost no sound. And every moment, he was sliding softly and quietly further into the depths.
I am underwater, Neal thought, the words dragged up from his Cerebral Processor in fragments that took ages to reassemble.
He could hear his name again, and someone imploring him to ‘hang on.’ But I am underwater, Neal thought. There is nothing for me to hang on to.
His body felt very cold, and he could not adjust his internal thermostat to compensate. The water around him was growing thicker and darker, covering his eyes entirely until he couldn’t see; filling his auditory canals until everything was silent.
He wished he could have told PeterandElizabeth goodbye.
He was very cold.
Peter was waiting for her by the main doors of the FBI building.
“Hon!” Elizabeth cried as he let her in. She dropped the bag of clothes she was holding and collapsed into his arms. Diana had called her minutes after Peter was rescued to let her know that he was okay, and then Peter had called from the van. But until that second, Elizabeth hadn’t quite let herself believe it. His strong arms holding her; the side of her face against his bare chest; his cheek resting on the top of her head, that was real. He was safe.
And she knew he wouldn’t mind a few tears drying against his skin, anyway.
“El,” he moaned, and then he was kissing her with what felt like the release of all the fear he must have been feeling since he was dragged out of their house early that morning. She responded instantly, her hands stroking his chest and the muscles of his back. And if she hadn’t remembered at the last second that they were actually in the lobby of the FBI building, she might have stripped him down right there.
Gently he grasped her hands and held them to his chest. “El,” he said again, and Elizabeth could see that his brown eyes were clouded with pain.
Elizabeth felt her chest constrict. “Peter,” she said. “What happened?”
“Neal’s dead,” Peter said, and he squeezed his eyes shut. Tears tracked down his cheeks.
“What?” Elizabeth stuttered out. He hadn’t said anything about this when he called her.
“I was just down in the lab to check on him,” Peter said. “But he was already gone.”
“Dead?” Elizabeth breathed, feeling her own eyes fill up with tears. “What happened?”
Peter shrugged and shook his head. “There was something in his brain, some kind of program…” He shrugged again. “I didn’t save him, El.” And then he was crying in earnest. “I promised that I’d protect him, and now he’s dead! I couldn’t save him.”
“Oh, hon,” she said, holding him tight while he cried against her neck. “I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t even know why I’m crying,” Peter said. “He’s only a robot.” He straightened up and wiped his eyes with his sleeve.
“You don’t mean that,” Elizabeth said.
“He’s not a person, El,” Peter said. “He’s just a robot.” He wiped at his eyes again. “Shouldn’t do that. It’s Jones’ jacket,” he muttered. “Damn! These tears!”
“He was our robot!” Elizabeth exclaimed, and now tears were running freely down her face. “And don’t you dare tell me Neal was just an anything ever again!”
Peter hugged her close. “Sorry, I’m sorry.” He said, “He’s not just a robot. I know that. It's just--”
“I know,” Elizabeth whispered against his chest. “I know.”
“God,” Peter breathed. “'Poor man was only made four months ago. He never had a chance.”
And all Elizabeth could do was nod her head and cry.
Diana left right before Elizabeth had arrived to get food, and now she came back, take-out in hand, just as Elizabeth and Peter were pulling themselves together and wiping most of the evidence of tears off their faces. If Diana noticed anything, she certainly didn’t let on and Peter was inordinately grateful. “Let me take this and Elizabeth upstairs,” she said. “Why don’t you get changed?”
Numbly, Peter agreed, and he went to the FBI locker room and took a hot shower and changed into the clothes El had brought. Even though it was now nearly half-past eight a.m. on a warm June day, Peter still felt chilled. Putting on the socks and shoes El had brought for him was a welcome change from being uncomfortably barefoot.
He carefully folded up Jones’ jacket to take for dry-cleaning, but the pyjama bottoms he threw in the garbage. He never wanted to see them again.
His phone buzzed, and Peter pulled it out of his pocket and checked it. Elizabeth had remembered his cell and his wallet, which he hadn’t even thought to ask her for when he’d called her from the van on the way back to the FBI. He’d truly married the best woman in the world.
“Yeah, Diana?” he sighed into the phone. He felt exhausted and emotionally wrung out, and all he wanted to do was go home, crawl into bed with El and pretend this awful day had never happened. He really hoped Diana’s call wasn’t going to interrupt those plans.
“Its Doctor McKay,” Diana said over the phone. “He’s got something he wants to talk to you and Elizabeth about in the boardroom.”
“Neal’s dead.” Peter closed his eyes against the rush of anguish that short sentence caused. “What else would he need to talk about?”
“He says it’s about Neal,” Diana said.
“He’s dead,” Peter said again. “Can’t it wait?”
“He says no. Your breakfast is up here anyway.”
Probably cold, Peter thought, which made him think of Neal, lying cold and unmoving on the lab table downstairs, and he shuddered. “Okay,” he said, “I’ll be right there.”
She signed off and he hung up but didn’t move. He let his head fall forward, feeling like there wasn’t enough strength in his body to lift it anymore.
But Elizabeth was waiting for him upstairs, and so were Diana and McKay and probably Doctor Haversham as well. And tomorrow would be Monday and Jones would need his help to close off the most difficult and strangest case of Peter’s career.
“You can fall apart Tuesday night,” he promised himself, and then sighing like an old man, he started walking. One foot in front of the other.
McKay was standing at the end of the conference table, his arms crossed over his chest.
Elizabeth was sitting beside Peter on one side of the conference table, as close as she could be without actually being in his lap. Across from him sat Sheppard and Lorne, both of whom were looking very grave, like Neal’s death affected them personally. Doctor Haversham was sitting at the far end of the table, hunched forward with his legs crossed and arms folded, as if he was literally holding himself together.
Diana had gone – somewhere. Peter figured she was still close by if he needed her, but clearly she’d understood that he wouldn’t want her as a witness to his misery. Having the team from the military there was bad enough, but at least they’d be leaving soon. And hopefully he’d never have to see any of them again.
“So, we’re here,” Peter said to McKay. “You’ve got the floor.”
“Kate Moreau killed Neal,” Doctor McKay said without preamble.
Peter saw Haversham sit bolt upright. “What?”
“Well, she didn’t kill him directly,” McKay clarified grudgingly. “It was her security program. It was designed to stop Neal telling anyone anything about Stargate Command and the NID.”
“She made a Viper virus!” Haversham exclaimed. “But why would she do that?”
Elizabeth looked at Peter. “What are they talking about?”
“Kate was an operative with the National Intelligence Division,” Lorne explained. “Kind of like the CIA, but for—“
“Aliens?” Peter cut in, thinking of the way Adler’s eyes had flashed.
“Yeah,” Lorne smiled wanly. “Pretty much.”
“It looks like Kate knew she was going to be killed,” McKay said in response to Haversham’s question. “So she designed a program that would destroy a piece of Neal’s Cerebral Processor every time he mentioned something to do with the Stargate. The more he told, the more damage was done. It would ensure his death in case Adler tortured him for information.”
“But I never asked him about Stargate Command,” Peter said. He looked at Elizabeth, “I swear I didn’t. I didn't even know it existed!”
“I think the rest might be my fault,” Haversham said quietly. “I had Radek change the security protocols to prevent him telling the Suit about any of it--the Goa'uld, ZeePM, everything.” He looked beseechingly at McKay. “I didn’t know it was going to kill him!”
“You wouldn’t have known about it unless you were specifically looking for it,” McKay said, not unkindly. “It was buried really deep inside his Primary Structure.”
“I told Radek not to bother to check,” Haversham said. He sounded stunned. “I told him we only needed to focus on his heart.”
“But then it is my fault,” Peter said, feeling sick. “Every time I asked him about Kate, or the music box, or Adler or anything I was actually killing him.” He held tightly to Elizabeth’s hand. “Why didn’t Neal say anything? I wouldn’t have asked him if I had known!”
“He had a headache when he was working on the antenna,” Elizabeth added, “but I thought it was because he needed to recharge.” She looked at Peter, “but he was in pain from this program, wasn’t he? He was dying and I didn’t even know it.”
“Like I said, you couldn’t have known,” McKay told them. “No one knew but Kate. We might've found it if his body had originally been taken back to the SGC, but…”
“SGC?” Elizabeth asked.
“Stargate Command,” Sheppard said. “They’re the section of the military we work for. Our job is to stop aliens, too.”
Elizabeth looked between the officers and McKay. “I don’t understand,” she said. “You keep talking about aliens and Stargates and National Intelligence Divisions. Who are you people?”
“We’re a special section of the military that’s called Stargate Command,” Lorne explained. “We’re an international group of soldiers and scientists that travel through the Stargate to other planets to find new technologies to protect Earth from alien invasions.”
Elizabeth was holding herself very still. “Aliens exist and you’ve been to other planets.”
“Through the Stargate.” Lorne nodded. “It was built by a group of aliens called the Ancients. It’s a special device that creates a stable wormhole between galaxies—“
Elizabeth shook her head. “I really don’t want to know.”
“Kind of feels like your head’s going to explode, doesn’t it?” Lorne said ruefully, “I felt the same way the first time I heard about it.”
“But I don’t understand,” Elizabeth repeated, looking between the officers and McKay. “How does Neal fit into all this?”
“Adler had a code he couldn’t crack,” Peter explained to Elizabeth. “Kate built Neal to help solve it. Once Neal broke the code, Adler killed Kate and Neal. I guess because he didn’t think he’d need them anymore.”
Elizabeth glared at Sheppard. “They worked for you. Why didn’t you save them?”
“We didn’t exactly know that Kate was undercover,” Sheppard said, looking at Haversham out of the corner of his eye. “The NID doesn’t play well with others, and Neal was kind of borrowed from the SGC without us knowing.”
“Mozzie stole the parts to make Neal and brought them to Kate,” McKay said flatly. He shot Haversham a brief glare. "Things might have gone differently if we’d known about it from the start.”
Haversham looked close to tears. “I told Kate to let the SGC know, but she refused. I couldn’t go against her wishes.”
“And Adler did all this to get the ZeePM,” Peter said.
“Wait,” Elizabeth said. “What the heck is that?”
“It’s a power source,” Sheppard said. “Kind of like a nuclear plant packed into a really small space. They’re pretty rare and really valuable, as you can imagine.”
“I got that,” Peter said. “Neal said the ZeePM was the only thing Adler would care about in that entire U-boat full of treasure. But what I don’t understand is, he had a ton of money from the Ponzi scam he pulled. Why bother hunting down the U-boat. Why didn’t he just make another ZeePM?”
Sheppard puffed out his lips. “That’s where it gets complicated.”
“Like everything else so far has been so easy,” Peter snapped. He thought of Neal, bleeding and hurt on the warehouse floor; Neal dead in the lab.
“The Goa’uld don’t make ZeePMs,” Lorne said, “in fact, they’re kind of like magpies. They don’t really make anything. They steal most of their technology from others.”
“The ZedPM was originally made by a group of aliens called the Ancients, the same ones who made the Stargates,” McKay said before Peter could ask. “And it seems like the Ancients were the founder of all the human races everywhere in the universe.”
“You mean on Earth,” Elizabeth said.
“I said universe on purpose,” McKay said tartly. “Just about every habitable planet we’ve been to has a race of humans on it.”
“Other planets,” Elizabeth repeated. She looked at Peter, “am I really hearing this?”
Peter squeezed her hand. “Oh yeah.”
“The Ancients made a lot of stuff besides ZedPMs and Stargates,” McKay continued. “And I mean a lot. But it turns out the technology they made could only be activated by those humans that have a special gene. Something we call the Ancient Technology Activation or ATA gene. Only about ten per-cent of the human population has it.”
“And that’s why Neal was made,” Sheppard cut in. “Well, originally.”
Peter frowned. “Neal was a robot.”
“He was based on a person who we think had the ATA gene. If he had been able to finish growing up, we would have put him into that person, and then Neal would have had the gene.” Sheppard looked sad.
Peter stared at him. “That made no sense.”
"Yeah, he's terrible at explaining things," McKay said.
“Let me do it,” Lorne said. “Here’s how it works. When we first discovered that the ATA gene was necessary for using Ancient technology, Stargate Command started searching for people with the gene.” He gestured to the officer beside him. “Sheppard’s one of them, and so am I.”
“Congratulations,” Peter said. “Your mothers must be so proud.”
“But there aren’t a lot of people who have the gene over-all,” Lorne continued as if Peter hadn’t spoken. “And with all the Ancient technology we were finding through the Stargate, it became obvious we were going to need many more people who could use it than we had. So, since they couldn’t find any more living people with the gene, they began looking for dead ones.”
“To make clones,” Sheppard interjected. “They used the genes of the dead ATA gene carriers to make clones of those bodies.”
"Adult clones," McKay added.
“Neal was a robot,” Peter repeated.
“We know,” Lorne said slowly, “I was getting to that.”
“Clones don’t have a consciousness,” Sheppard said. “They have brains but no minds, you understand?”
All at once Peter got it, “you put the robot’s consciousness into the cloned bodies?”
“Bingo!” Sheppard snapped his fingers and pointed, grinning.
“So Neal was a dead soldier with the ATA gene, and you made a robot that looked like him to have a mind to put into his cloned body?” Peter clarified.
“Yes! Exactly!” Sheppard said, “Only Neal wasn’t a soldier, he was an outlaw. But other than that, you got it.”
Peter glowered at Sheppard. “That’s a great story, Colonel,” he said. “And it would have been really nice if you’d taken the time to turn Neal into a human, but he’s dead now. He’s dead! and it’s not like you did a hell of a lot to save him from Adler in the first place!”
“Like the Colonel told you,” Lorne said softly, “the SGC didn’t know that Doctor Haversham had taken Neal to help Doctor Moreau in her undercover work. If we had, we would’ve been here a lot sooner. The SGC doesn’t like to let its robots get hurt.” For some reason, he looked intently at Sheppard when he said that. “Not if we can help it.”
“That’s very nice to hear,” Elizabeth said. “But it doesn’t really help to know that Neal might have been saved if you’d come sooner.” She swallowed. “And as I’m sure you can imagine, Peter and I have been up for a while, and it’s been a really tough day.” Her voice cracked on the last word, but she tightened her grip on Peter’s hand and didn’t cry. “So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to go home now. “ She made as if to stand.
“Wait, wait,” McKay said, putting his hand out to stop her. “I haven’t gotten to the reason why I called you up here.”
Elizabeth looked at Peter and then sat back down.
Peter crossed his arms. “We’d really like to go home.”
“But we can make Neal into a human!” McKay exclaimed.
Peter leaned forward. “But he’s dead.”
“Not totally.” McKay smiled triumphantly. “Not too dead for this.”
Elizabeth’s head was spinning.
“You said Neal was dead,” she said. “What do you mean, not totally?”
Peter had his arm around her, and she was grateful for the solidity and warmth of his body. She was feeling shaky and nearly sick from a combination of grief, lack of sleep, and the terrible, confusing hope that McKay’s words had created.
“Kate’s program was very thorough,” McKay said. “It completely corrupted Neal’s primary and back-up Memory Systems and it just wrecked his Neural Network.” He shook his head, “Kate certainly knew what she was doing.”
“That doesn’t sound hopeful,” Peter growled. “Do you have a point?”
McKay glared at him. “I’m getting there!” He gestured at Doctor Haversham. “Mozzie and I did manage to stop the program from destroying Neal’s entire Cerebral Processor however.” He beamed.
Elizabeth blinked. “And?”
“And,” McKay repeated. “That means that Neal’s not totally dead.”
“You’re talking in circles!” Peter shouted. “What the hell does that mean?”
“It means,” McKay said, “that we saved Neal’s personality! We can bring that part of him back!”
Elizabeth sat up, hope singing through her. “You can fix him?”
“Well, no,” McKay made a face. “Not entirely.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “For the love of—“ He stood, “Look, this has been great and all, but I’ve had it.” He helped Elizabeth to her feet. “Let’s go.” He turned to Sheppard. “Since you did such a good job of getting yourselves in, I’m sure I don’t need to show you out.”
“Wait,” Lorne said with a placating gesture. “Please. I think I know where McKay’s going with this.”
“It’d better go somewhere soon,” Peter groused, but he and Elizabeth sat back down.
“Look, almost all of Neal’s memories are gone,” McKay said. “Even if I wanted to rebuild him, there’s barely enough information left in his Cerebral Processor for a gerbil, and certainly not enough for an adult Human Emulate. But there is some. We can put that into a cloned body.”
“You can make him into a human?” Elizabeth asked, astounded. “But, that’s great!”
“Yeah, it is great,” McKay said, but he wasn’t returning her smile. “But there’s one small catch.”
Peter’s expression darkened. “What’s the catch?”
“He wouldn’t exactly be the Neal you knew.”
Peter’s eyes narrowed. “What’s the catch?” he repeated as if there were a period between each word.
“Mozzie and I saved just enough of the information in Neal’s Cerebral Processor that, if we add it to the very little bit we managed to scrape out of his memory, we should be able to create a viable person,” McKay said. “A very small viable person.”
Elizabeth's heart sped up. “Like a child?” she asked. “You could make Neal into a child?”
“Yes. A three or four year-old definitely, up to five if you don’t mind developmental delays.” McKay paused. “That is, of course, assuming that you and Agent Burke would want a child.”
Peter’s forehead was creased. “But I thought the SGC kept all the robot-clones they made.”
Lorne shook his head. “We’ve only kept adults,” he said. “It’s wrong to bring children into our environment.”
Sheppard looked at Lorne, a thoughtful expression on his face. “But I suppose we could…”
“No,” Elizabeth said immediately, she looked deeply into Peter’s eyes and gripped his hand tightly in both her own. His eyes told her everything. “We want him,” she said, never looking away from Peter. Her voice was breathy and raw with excitement. “We really want him.”
“Fantastic!” McKay said, clapping his hands together. He turned to Elizabeth. “Um,” he said, “the DNA we have for Neal is over one-hundred years old. Could I have some of yours to fill in the gaps?” Peter’s glare was poisonous. “From inside her cheek!” McKay squawked. “Just her cheek!”
Elizabeth laughed. “Yes,” she said. “Absolutely.”
“Oh God, I’m so nervous!” Elizabeth exclaimed, rubbing her hands down the front of her jeans.
It had been a little over two months since Peter and Elizabeth had last seen Doctor McKay and Doctor Haversham and the Air Force officers from Stargate Command. Every once in a while Peter had received a cryptic email from McKay, but beyond that, nothing.
They’d spent the time optimistically. The guest bedroom was now a bright, sunshine yellow with a bookshelf and toy box filled with things that a four-year old might enjoy. Peter had changed the blinds to curtains that weren’t a strangulation hazard and even the bed was smaller and much lower to the floor.
And then just that Monday, he’d received the message that he and Elizabeth were barely daring to hope for:
Sent: Mon 08/24/2009, 0615
The package is ready for delivery.
It will be arriving at your home at approximately 1600 on August 28.
Hughes had not been pleased to have to arrange adoption leave for Peter on such short notice, but he’d been happy enough when he’d clapped Peter on the back and sent him home.
“Congratulations,” Hughes had said with a nod. “Boy’s lucky to have you.” And Peter could only stammer his thanks to such an enormous compliment.
And wow, did he hope Hughes was right.
“Do you think he’ll like us?” Elizabeth said. She had changed her shirt three times in the hope of having something ‘kid friendly’ that Neal might like. Peter had tried to reassure her that anything she wore would be fine – the boy was only four years old! But in the end she put a red top on with the big, dangly earrings that had been her nephews’ favourite when they had been little.
“I’m sure he’ll like us,” Peter said, putting more confidence into his voice than he felt. “He liked us before, didn’t he?”
“But he’s different now.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Oh God, what if he hates us?”
“He won’t hate us!” Peter smiled. “We’re nice people.”
Elizabeth glared at him. “My nephews are scared of you.”
“They’re twelve and thirteen. They should be scared of me,” Peter said, but his stomach was churning.
“Neal likes dogs,” Elizabeth said, in a complete change of topic. “Maybe we should let Satchmo in from the backyard?”
“Let him have a chance to get settled,” Peter said in a tone he hoped sounded reasonable. “He can play with Satchmo later.”
“But—“ Elizabeth started. There was a knock at the door. She turned to Peter, her blue eyes incredibly wide. “They’re here.”
He squeezed her hand. “This is a good thing.” He smiled, and he opened the door.
“Hi,” Colonel Evan Lorne said brightly to Peter as the door opened. “I’d like you to meet Neal.”
Standing with Lorne on the porch was a boy with a thin build who looked to be about four years old. He was dressed in a red t-shirt, jean shorts and blue shoes with a green sock on one foot and an orange one on the other. He had obviously been well cared-for as his clothes were clean, and while his thick mop of black hair wasn’t neat, it’d been combed.
His face already showed the perfection of features that Peter recognized from his memories of Neal. His eyes were large and bright blue, exactly the colour of Elizabeth’s. He would be a total heartbreaker when he grew up.
“Hi Neal,” Elizabeth breathed, crouching down so that her eyes were level with his. “I’m so happy to meet you.”
Neal looked up uncertainly at Lorne, still clutching the officer’s hand. “Is she the one you talked about?”
“Yes,” Lorne smiled. “This is her.”
Neal nodded and then looked past Elizabeth to where Peter was standing just inside the door. Peter smiled at him. “Hi.”
Neal tilted his head. He pointed. “And that man?”
“Same one,” Lorne agreed.
Neal broke into a smile that seemed nearly too big for his small face. “You’re my mommy,” he said to Elizabeth, and stepped confidently into her arms.
“Oh yes!” Elizabeth cried, and fell backwards onto her seat, carrying Neal with her into her lap. “Yes I am.”
Neal was hugging her with what looked like all the strength in his little arms. “I remember you,” he whispered into her hair. “You took me to the zoo.”
“I did,” Elizabeth said, and she looked up at Peter, tears leaking out of her eyes. “He remembers me!”
Peter turned to Lorne. “What?”
“McKay and Haversham were able to salvage more of Neal’s back-up memory then they had originally thought they could,” Lorne said with a small shrug. “He doesn’t remember much, but…”
“As long as its only the good things,” Peter said. There was a catch in his voice.
“He has some clothes and toys here,” Lorne said, gesturing towards a big duffle bag on the porch. “And his birth certificate and adoption papers and everything else is in there, too, courtesy of McKay.”
“Thank you,” Peter said, and he knew he meant for much more than just Neal’s documents.
“You’re welcome,” Lorne said, equally as sincerely. He smiled; warm and deep. “We’ve really enjoyed having the little guy around. Take care of him.”
Peter nodded solemnly. “With my life,” he vowed.
Lorne returned the nod with equal solemnity. “I have no doubt.” He leaned over and ruffled Neal’s head. “Take care, Neal,” he said. His smile was poignant. “Have a great life.”
“Bye, Evan!” Neal said, he turned and waved, but didn’t move from Elizabeth’s lap.
“I’ve got to go now,” Lorne said to Peter, gesturing vaguely behind him. “But you’ve got McKay’s email if you need anything.”
Peter shook his hand. “Thank you,” he repeated. “And tell McKay and Haversham and everyone, thanks so much.”
“We don’t like to let our robots get hurt,” Lorne said, exactly as he’d stated in the meeting in the boardroom so many months ago. “I’m just glad this turned out so well.”
“Me, too,” Peter said, looking down at Neal. Neal was sitting in Elizabeth’s lap, playing with her earrings.
“I like these!” he said. “They have so many pretty colours! I know all the colours, mommy, do you want to hear?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, laughing and crying at the same time. “And we’ve brought you colours, so you can paint and draw anytime you want.”
Neal beamed. “Can I see?”
“You bet, buddy,” Peter said. He grabbed Neal’s bag off the porch and took it into the house. Lorne had left already and Peter hadn’t even noticed. He shut the door. The bag was stuffed full, which made Peter smile. They’d be hard-pressed to find room for all of Neal’s things considering how much Elizabeth and Peter had received from their friends and colleagues in preparation for Neal’s arrival.
Neal was looking at him. “Daddy?” he said shyly.
Peter stopped in his tracks. “Yes, Neal?”
Neal launched himself into Peter’s arms, wrapping his arms and legs around him as if he were climbing a tree. Peter immediately scooped him up and settled him in the crook of his elbow. He looked thin, but he was heavy. He’d probably end up as lean and muscular as the robot had been. Neal pressed his face to Peter’s neck.
“Daddy,” he sighed happily.
“Son,” Peter replied, and there were no words to express how good saying that felt.
Elizabeth stood and wrapped her arms around them both. “Welcome home, Neal Mitchell Burke,” she said.
“Daddy?” Neal whispered.
“Yeah,” Peter said. He felt like he could stand there, with his new family, forever.
“Can we go to the zoo?”
Peter burst out laughing. “You bet, kid, you bet.”