Murphy didn’t talk anymore. At least, not for the past week and a half. 10K had found him, curled under a bush and the team half dragged, half carried him to a house. 10K found he dreaded going into the room where the man laid. The blue skinned man barely moved, refused to eat. He only occasionally crawled to the bathroom. The deep bruises and cuts that coated him when he’d been found weren’t healing and he stared at the window continually. No one could touch him without provoking a panicked thrashing and fighting. The two story home, hidden in the woods, provided shelter and a well and a creek provided water, but how to get a sane response from Murphy, no one knew.
A shout from upstairs and heavy thudding. “No, Murphy, no!!” Addy’s bellow echoed and 10K charged upstairs. Scrambling into the room, he found Addy struggling with Murphy. The taller man pushed and shoved against Addy, his gaze focused on the window. 10K lunged as Murphy broke free, grabbing the man’s arm and wrist, Murphy charged for the window and 10K yanked, using his strength to haul the man around. Murphy bent his head, huffed soundlessly and plowed forward. 10K shoved his shoulder into Murphy’s hurt ribs and pushed, feeling bone click and give. Murphy crumpled to the floor, still trying to drag himself to the window. Doc appeared, helped wrestle Murphy to the bed. 10K pressed Murphy down, leaning all his weight and staring into Murphy’s foggy, blue eyes.
Pain. Pain and hard, pinching hands, fists and shackles and electrical pain screeching along tattered nerves. Needle pushed deep into tissue and bone and pain erupting everywhere. Tight bandages wrapping a swollen ankle.
10K yanked himself from Murphy’s mind with a jerk and leaped away. He gagged, blinked. Murphy had been in his mind before, yes, but 10K hadn’t. Even though he could sense Murphy--and could since he’d ‘died’ and Murphy brought him back, he’d never once been in Murphy’s head nor Murphy in his since that day. Chills crept along 10K until he found himself shaking against the wall. Black holes of despair, loneliness, loss--what was going on?
“What the hell?” Warren stepped into the room. “Addy?”
“He went for the window,” Addy said. She swallowed. “I think--I think he tried to kill himself.”
Warren froze. “What?”
Murphy struggled back to his feet, focusing on the window again. He started forward and 10K blurted “No!”
Murphy swung around to face him, eyes confused but certainly seeing. He stared at 10K and waves of misery enfolded the younger man as well as a yearning to run, to flee. 10K gasped, pulled himself back from drowning. “No,” he said again, voice cracking. Murphy cocked his head. “That’s not--you can’t, Murphy.”
Murphy looked again at the window and then slowly sat down. 10K clenched his hands into fists. “You can control him,” Addy said, awe in every word.
“What?! No, no! He just--I mean, no. He does understand. He’s in there.” 10K began shaking. “ I can’t control him.”
Murphy twisted his head, looked at 10K strangely. “Try it,” Warren said.
“Just try something.”
10K licked his lips, studied Murphy. “Stand,” he said awkwardly, trying to put some mental effort behind it. Murphy blinked then slowly stood. 10K’s chest ached. Murphy watched him. “Shit,” 10K whispered. Murphy tilted his head, then twisted and 10K rushed forward, slamming Murphy to the wall and stopping the jump for the window.
Pressed against Murphy, 10K smelled blood and infection and he didn’t miss the hitched breathing. Heat coursed through Murphy’s body. “We’re two stories up,” 10K said. Murphy’s gaze locked on his.
Ice cold metal against bleeding skin. A scalpel hovering by eyes. Smells of antiseptic and muffled screams from distant rooms. Feelings of helplessness and loneliness. Screaming as hands run clinically over torn flesh and aching bones. 10K shook his head, panting hard. “You’re not there,” he said. He mentally reached out, yanked. “Here. You’re here.” He tapped Murphy’s gaunt cheek. Murphy blinked. He trembled, leaning against 10K’s hand for a moment. He wheezed a little and 10K stepped back. “You’re sick,” 10K said. “Doc, he’s hot.”
Doc walked over and Murphy grimaced. He allowed Doc to touch him but drew back when Doc reached for his arm. “I’ll get fresh water,” Addy said. Doc nodded.
“Murphy, come back to bed,” Doc said. “Let’s clean you up some more.” Murphy shuddered but stood still. Doc cut away the dirt caked clothes, revealing bruised, torn flesh with oozing cuts and deep abrasions in Murphy’s wrists and ankles. Red purple bruises indicated broken ribs. Each rib pressed against taut skin. Clearly the blue skinned man hadn't eaten for a long while. His glassy eyes no longer focused on them.
10K and Addy assisted Doc, Addy hastily stripping the bed, 10K putting a clean sheet on it. . Doc draped a towel around Murphy’s waist, carefully avoiding cuts. The smell of infection filled the room. “Damn,” Doc grumbled. He looked at Addy and 10K. “Get Warren, Addy. This doesn’t look good.”
“But he heals,” 10K said as Addy left. “He’s not dying, is he?”
“He’s more than halfway there.” Doc gently pushed and Murphy sat on the bed. Doc began cleaning wounds. “He needs a real doctor and antibiotics if any still exist. Plus food. He won’t eat, barely drinks.”
“We’ll force feed if we have to.” 10K saw Murphy’s eyes move, become aware. “You need to eat,” he harshly said.
Go to hell.
Blunt, direct, but unspoken, as if 10K imagined it. 10K blinked. “He can’t die,” he said desperately,
“He is,” Doc said bitterly. “Broken ribs, cuts everywhere. Infection burning him from within.”
“Save him,” Warren said coming in with Addy.
“Get a doctor or real meds and I can try,” Doc said.
“Give him a reason,” 10K added. The others looked at him. “A reason to live.”
“We need him,” Addy said.
A gurgle/snarl from the bed and everyone turned to Murphy. His eyes glittered and he pulled away from them, looking towards the window. “10K stay with him,” Warren said. “Addy, you and me, we’ll look for something here. Doc, bandage him, find something to cover him.”
Alone with Murphy, 10K carefully touched Murphy’s ribs. Murphy eyed him but then looked away. “What happened?” 10K asked. Murphy said nothing. 10K touched a dark bruise on Murphy’s throat and the older man slapped his hand, tried to scramble away. “It’s ok,” 10K said. “Really. Just let me see something.” He ran his fingers over Murphy’s neck, felt a racing pulse and fevered flesh. He also traced torn skin and deeply bruised, burned flesh. “It’ll heal,” 10K promised.
Doc returned with clean cloth bandages and clothes. He cleaned the skin as best he could, wrapped the numerous wounds, face sad and troubled. Murphy watched him then closed his eyes. “I’ll watch him,” 10K volunteered.
“Thanks. I’ll help Warren and Addy.”
10K held Murphy’s now clean wrist, feeling the thready pulse. It felt odd--his own wrist bore Murphy’s bite scar as did his neck. He traced the veins in Murphy’s wrist, almost heard the blood. Murphy’s fingers twitched. He couldn’t explain why, he simply bent his head and bit. Murphy lunged up, eyes wide and blood spilled down 10K’s lips and chin. Murphy jerked his hand away, stared at the bleeding bite. “It could help,” 10K lamely said. Murphy looked at him, eyes round and bright with surprise. He pulled his bleeding wrist close to his chest but watched 10K with curiosity, not fear. 10K swallowed, tasting blood. “You can’t die.”
Murphy actually curled his lip. He glanced at the window and 10K shook his head. “You’re actually willing to kill yourself rather than fight? I know you’re a coward, Murphy, but this?”
Rage. Rage pure white. Murphy’s emotions laid before 10K, an open book, and Murphy was pissed . Images of blood, beatings in prison, blood encrusted shackles. Of long, dark interludes huddled against a wall. All this and the emotions flooded 10K, threaten to drown him. 10K hissed. “Stop, ok? I’m getting all your emotions. Just--stop!”
More surprise. Shock. Fear. Embarrassment. 10K reached out, touched a deep cut on Murphy’s cheek. “You’re blushing.” Eyeroll. Darker blushing. “Can you talk?” Murphy looked away, pulled away. 10K felt it like a weird mental suction. “Damn it,” 10K whispered. “You are such a dick.” They sat together, 10K watching the bite scab over and Murphy slip into sleep. He sat until Addy relieved him, bringing some pills and water. They helped Murphy drink, let him sleep again. Then 10K left Addy.
Chapter 2: 2
Sun Mei sat in the house with Warren and Doc, looking completely exhausted. “You found him,” she whispered. “Thank god. No one thought he could--he would..”
“What happened?” Doc asked.
Sun Mei frowned. “After he got to the lab, we started the tests. He was doing all right but things started to happen. I don’t know all the details but he did manage to get his teeth in several people.”
“Great,” Warren groaned.
Sun Mei nodded. “We took precautions.” She looked away. “And then, two months later, he somehow managed to escape. Through three fences and a locked door. And the lab blew up. All the work, destroyed. We contained the fire, went looking for him. He was gone.”
‘That doesn’t explain the marks,” 10K said quietly. sun Mei looked at him. “He’s tore up, bruised.”
“10K is right. He has broken ribs, shackle marks,” Doc said. “I thought this lab was to work on a vaccine.” Anger laced his words. “What kind of tests are you doing?”
Sun Mei blinked. “We are working on a vaccine. I was told there were issues. Unfortunately, any vaccine appears to actually be tied to his DNA. And that will be a problem. Mapping DNA is very hard. We have no idea which gene makes everything work.”
“You can’t just use his blood?” Warren asked.
“Not without the side effects of him being able to control people. We hope that we find how it all works. In the meantime, samples are taken, tests done.”
“That doesn’t explain the abuse,” Warren said. “Shackles? You are supposed to watch over him.”
“I’m not part of his primary team. I tried but I only see him once a week or so.” Sun Mei pushed back her hair. “He wouldn’t talk to me, just demanded his freedom.”
“And you didn’t let him go?” 10K asked.
“He’s needed, 10K.”
“He doesn’t talk,” 10K said. “Barely reacts. He gets up to use the bathroom and that’s it.” He shifted uneasily. “He was trying to get back home.”
“I thought so. I figured he’d go to Spokane.” Sun Mei sighed. “You stopped him. Thank you.”
“He’s a mess,” Doc said. “And dying.”
Sun Mei stood up. “He can’t die. We need him.”
“He’s more than a mission. Or should be.” Doc frowned. “He’s told us that a few times. This isn’t about humanity, Sun Mei. It’s about Murphy. He’s dying.”
“Let me see him,” Sun Mei said. “Please. I have a medical kit.”
“Maybe you can help,” Warren said.
“I don’t know,” 10K started but Warren gestured to the stairs and Sun Mei walked quickly. 10K and Doc followed her and Warren.
10K gagged at the top of the stairs.
Rage. Terror and rage and everything through misty pain.
Murphy began screaming.
No one could stop the screaming. The room echoed and Sun Mei left the room, brought in the medical kit. Doc went through it hurriedly, grabbed a vial. He injected Murphy and Murphy shrieked louder, pulling himself to his feet. He swayed, staggered, and Addy pulled him back onto the bed. Slowly the shrieking faded and Murphy crumpled into drug induced sleep. “What the heck?” Doc asked. “What did that lab do, Sun Mei?”
10K touched Murphy’s hand, noting a fading bruise. Quickly he looked at Murphy’s face. The deep cut over his cheekbone looked better, older and healing. He grabbed Murphy’s arm. The bite mark, scabbed and dry, seemed natural, as if it had always been there and the bruises on the arm were vanishing.
“Will he sleep?” Warren asked.
“At least two hours or so.” Doc checked Murphy’s face. “Huh. He’s improving. That’s encouraging.” H smiled. “Still fevered but better.”
“He needs a bath,” Addy said. crinkling her nose.
“Later. Come on, let him sleep. We’ll check on him later.”
Around the fireplace, Sun Mei sipped a mug of tea.The others ate some of the food she had. “What happened?” Warren asked.
“The scientists there--many are genuises. We’re all desperate. Murphy--well, people see him far more as a source than a person. And tests--there are many tests.” She stared into her tea. “We need to not only map his DNA but find out what makes the virus work with it the way it does. Many of tests are intrusive. And no, I don’t know all of them.” She inhaled. “I know his bone marrow was drawn. I know semen was collected for embryos for stem cells. He was very reluctant about that. I was told it got forceful.”
“What? How forceful? Murphy complained about women wanting to, ah, service him?” Doc asked.
“He’s got a point,” Warren agreed.
“There’s nothing really arousing or sexual about this. It is clinical.”
“How clinical?” Addy quiered.
“Electroejaculation was used, I believe.”
“What’s that?” 10K asked.
Sun Mei quickly described the process and everyone winced. She also gave a rough outline of other things that had happened, of procedures and tests. 10 silently listened. He understood the terror better. Many things sounded suspiciously close to torture although Sun Mei explained the purposes behind the test. “I know many of the procedures were cruel,” she unhappily admitted. “So are some of the scientists. He’s not a person to some but many did try to make him happy.”
“It makes me feel sorry for him,” Addy said. “Which I thought impossible.”
“So now what?” 10K asked, finally speaking up. “He can’t go back.”
“He must,” Sun Mei said, not looking at him. “That’s the best chance.”
“He can’t go anywhere until he’s healed,” Doc said. “I meant what I said, he’s severely injured. We can’t even get him to eat.”
“I’ll check on him,” 10K said. In the room, he heard Murphy’s slow breathing, reached out to run a hand over Murphy’s forehead.
Murphy jolted awake, eyes gleaming in the dark. He inhaled, snarled. 10K hastily muttered Murphy’s name and Murphy blinked. “It’s me,” 10K said. “You feeling better?”
10K rolled his eyes. “Yeah.” Murphy sounded weird--raspy, weak. “You can call me 10K, you know.” No reply. Just harsh breathing, long inhales and wheezy exhales. “Sun Mei won’t hurt you,” 10K said. “Really. Doc said you can’t be moved yet. But you need to eat.” Murphy shifted weight, watched him. “I’ll get some food,” 10K added. He stood up.
“Stay.” A long breath. “Please.”
10K slowly sat back down. “All tight,” he slowly said. “Deal. I’ll get some food. You eat. I stay.”
Murphy suspiciously stared at him. He nodded and 10K left and came back with a thick, protein drink. “You can start with this. Supposed to be high calorie.” Murphy frowned but reached out a shaking hand and took it. He sipped slowly, making a face. “You look a little better,” 10K said awkwardly. “Wish we had some soup. My dad used to tell me of the soup my mom made me when I was little. Said it was great. Then he’d make me some. I never knew her.” He stopped. “So, what did your dad make you when you were ill?”
Murphy grunted. “No dad. Didn’t have one.”
“Everyone has a dad,” 10K said.
“Everyone has a male parent. Never knew my father. My mother worked. My older sister used to give me candy sometimes.”
“You have a sister?” 10 asked in surprise. Murphy squinted at him.
“I didn’t know that.”
“You didn’t ask. No one did.” Murphy took another drink. “All dead now anyway.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, pretty sure. We didn’t talk much.” Murphy finished the drink. HIs voice seemed almost normal.
“We’ve known you around six years or more,” 10K said. “You could have easily told us about yourself.”
“People could have asked.”
“Murphy, we do know you. You complain, are arrogant, are generally a jerk.” 10K felt a twinge of guilt at the flash of hurt in Murphy’s face. “But yeah, we could have asked.”
“Why did you bite me?” Murphy’s voice, oddly soft and hesitant, was a mere breath in the room. 10K frowned.
“I dunno--I mean, I thought maybe you could heal quicker. Like your bite did for me.”
“Why would you care?”
“You are the mission, Murphy.”
He felt it then, a tug on his senses, a drawing back as Murphy stiffened. “Thanks,” Murphy said curtly.
“You always knew that,” 10K said. An image of a tiny, dark hole came to him. “I’m sorry they locked you in a tiny cell.”
Raw shock. “What?” Murphy whispered. “What do you--how…”
You know how I know.
10K hadn’t planned to think that so strongly but Murphy obviously heard it. He shifted back, eyes wide and deep blue. “You have gifts,” Murphy sputtered.
10K shrugged. “Kinda,” he admitted. “I can’t control zombies but I can sense them, sense you, and I feel what you feel sometimes, see your memories.”
“Son of a bitch.” Murphy shook his head.
“You saw through my eyes,” 10K said.
“I ordered, I controlled, yes, but not all the time and I certainly didn’t get your memories or emotions. Or telepathy.”
“I can’t read your mind.” 10K traced a pattern on the blanket. “You should be the one who knows this stuff. After all, you made me.”
“I saved your life.”
“And I bit you to save yours.”
“For the mission.” The bitterness rang through the room. 10K dropped his gaze, reached out to touch Murphy’s hand for some reason. Murphy breathed, trembling. His pulse raced under 10K’s touch.
“You enslaved me,” 10K said. “But you never locked me in a cell and left me.”
“How much did you see?”
“Cell, you left alone.” 10K said. “You frightened.” He swallowed. “Pain. Hands.”
“Great.” Murphy looked away. “I’ll control it.”
“I can help.”
“Why would you want to?”
“Because you’re one of us,” 10K said. Murphy’s lips quirked. “When I told you to stand, you did.”
“I heard it but no, you didn’t control me.”
“But you stood.”
‘I wanted to get to the window,” Murphy said. “And mess with all of you a little.”
“Jackass.” Relief flooded 10K. “So I can’t control you?”
“No. Nor I you. Just so you know, I’m not going back.”
“Just get well, all right? And no more looking to kill yourself.”
“A two story drop wouldn’t kill me.”
“The glass might.” Murphy’s hand twitched and 10K realized his hand still rested on it. He pulled his hand back. “Heal.” He stood up, looked at the cut almost healed on Murphy’s face.
“Don’t tell anyone what you can do,” Murphy gazed at 10K. “No one.”
“I can’t control people,” 10K said.
“Just don’t tell anyone.”
Chapter 3: 3
Murphy watched 10K go, tried to stand. Pain flashed through his skull. He sat back down, shivering. Inhaling, he tried again, staggered up and walked through the door. He grabbed the handrail to tackle the stairs. They yawned before him, deep and impossibly long. He swallowed, stepped down. One step, two.
Doc appeared. “No,” he blurted. “Don’t move.” He ran up the stairs, grabbed Murphy’s arm. “Back to bed, You’re white as a ghost.”
“Bath,” Murphy said.
“Bed. Now.” Doc pulled, half dragged Murphy back to bed. Murphy’s head throbbed and he let Doc push him under the covers. He clutched the soft fabric tight. It smelled vaguely of flowers and he wondered how that could be. “I have a painkiller here.” Murphy blinked at Doc.
“Good.”Doc injected Murphy, checked his wounds again. Murphy tried to simply stay still. He felt a slow, muzzy feeling begin to overtake him. “I’ll get you some more food later,” Doc said. “10K went fishing.”
“OK.” Murphy was agreeable. Heck, he'd agree to anything at the moment.
“Speaking of 10K, you still need to apologize for what you did.”
“What I did?” Murphy blinked.
“You controlled him,” Doc said, voice harsh. "You forced him!" Murphy eyed him.
“You’re mad because I forced him?”
“But you’re all right with forcing me.” Murphy struggled to sit up. "You kidnapped me."
Doc looked stricken. “Murphy, we need you to save humanity," he said. "You're the only savior humanity has right now."
“I’m tired of being just a mission for you all,” Murphy said sulkily. “I saved 10K, you know. And yes, I wanted him with me. He’s useful, smart.” He yawned, weariness overtaking him. “It’s nice when he’s around.”
“Nice? You sound like you like him,” Doc said.
Murphy yawned again. “Incredible eyes. Have you seen his eyes?”
Doc stared at him. “His---eyes?”
“Yeah. Pale skin, too.”
“I like to see him smile. It’s sunny and sweet…” Doc snorted with laughter. “What?”
“Ah. You want him with you.”
“Course,” Murphy mumbled.
“If you really care for him, Murphy, you’d let him choose.”
“I saved him…”
“For you. If you really lov--care for him, you do something just because you care.”
“Like what?” Murphy sleepily peered at Doc. “Not real romantic…”
“Start with ‘I’m sorry’ and understand why he is so upset.”
Doc inhaled. “And I’m sorry. We should have seen you as more of a person. Checked up on you at the lab.”
“You dragged me from my home.”
“You have a job,” Doc sighed. He patted Murphy’s hand. “Go to sleep.”
Doc left the room to stumble directly into a wide eyed 10K. “He likes me?” 10K blurted. Doc hushed him and moved him away from the door. “I hate him! He used me.”
“I know,” Doc said quietly.
“I even--I mean, yeah, he’s been protective and can be nice…”
“It’s OK that you both like and hate him,” Doc said.
“Really?” 10K asked. “But--god! Why? Why me"”
“Just relax and let it go,” Doc said. “He only let those things out because he was so drugged. It explains some things. He and you have always sparked off each other. He doesn’t want to admit he likes you.”
“He thinks I’m cute!”
“And have a great smile.”
10K blushed. “I have to think about this,” he muttered. He ran down the stairs and grabbed his rifle. Doc watched him run outside.
He joined Sun Mei and the others. “What’s going on?” Warren asked.
“You wouldn’t believe me,” Doc said, sitting down. “Murphy likes 10K.”
“Likes?” Sun Mei repeated.
“As in likes,” Addy said. “As in he thinks 10K is hot?”
Doc nodded. “All this is because that idiot can’t have a sane relationship,” Warren groaned. “The man controlled 10K,”
“Yep. He also said we forced him.” Doc gazed at Warren. “He’s right.”
“He’s the only hope we have."
“We still used him, chief.”
“He’s needed,” Sun Mei said.
“Why was he locked away?” 10K suddenly appeared. Sun Mei blinked at him with confusion in her face.
“In a tiny, dark cell.”
She looked at her hands. “He told you.” 10K didn't correct her. He didn't know how he could explain how he could get in Murphy's head sometimes.
“What was it for?” he insisted.
She stared at him, her dark eyes filled with emotion. “It is our nuclear option,” she said quietly. “We use the vaccine that is already made--we duplicate it.”
“That makes Murphy able to control anyone!” Addy exclaimed.
“Not if he is locked away far from others,” Sun Mei said. “We were testing how far his range extended.”
The group all stared at her. “You have to be joking,” Warren said hollowly.
“Murphy would be--neutralized,” Sun Mei explained. “He would be alive but far away, not a threat.”
“I’m surprised you don’t kill him,” Addy said angrily.
“They need him alive just in case,” Doc said, voice thick. “He’d be locked away on some island or base until a cure was found or he died.” He inhaled. “What have we become?”
“It would be the last option,” Sun Mei reminded. “And if it became necessary, it could be a nice place.”
“But still a prison,” Warren said, “How was this testing done?”
“From what I was told, he was made uncomfortable enough so he would call out for his blends or zombies.”
“How would anyone know?” Addy asked. “And you have zombies there? With him?”
“Test subjects,” Sun Mei said. “I wish I knew more. I just know he was isolated and made uncomfortable.”
“Hell,” Warren cursed. “You know, he’s bound to be crazier than ever.”
“That was a worry,” Sun Mei said. “He has shown a disdain for most people.”
“Can you blame him?” 10K asked sourly.
"Why can't you map his DNA?"Addy asked. 'i mean, before the zombies came, everyone was getting their DNA checked."
"This isn't like that" Sun Mei patiently said. "We don't cared about his background, we need to know what gene allows him to control people. he's obviously a mutant now but how much came from the vaccine, how much from radiation, how much is just him. Honestly, i'm surprised 10K doesn't have gifts. They were made the same way but he was basically dosed with the vaccine filtered through Murphy."
"Sorry," 10K muttered.
"It's not your fault," Warren said.
“Murphy--what is his range?” Addy asked suddenly.
Sun Mei frowned. “He can call zombies from a half mile or so that we know of,”
“Hmm,” 10K muttered.
“Will he live, Doc?” Warren asked.
“I hope so. He’s better. He needs to eat.”
“We can make some stew,” Addy suggested. “We have roots and plants we found.”
“I’ll check on him,” Doc said.
10K mentally reached out, felt the weird sense of a sleeping mind and images of Murphy snuggled against a warm body, of Murphy burying his nose in someone’s hair. He followed Doc to the room, studying the sleeping Murphy as if he’d never seen him before. He wasn’t horrible looking, 10K decided. An asshole, sure. But the images 10K had seen and felt rattled him. Murphy gasped suddenly shook awake, eyes foggy.
10K inhaled as if he’d been hit. Pain. Pain and the crackling of an electric collar, screams of pain and fury and the red black feelings of betrayal. Murphy lunged to his feet, eyes still unfocused. “Murphy!” Doc yelled.
Murphy turned his head from side to side like a blind bull. “Murphy,” 10K said lowly. Murphy paused, blinked furiously.
“It’s okay, man,” Doc said.
Murphy merely looked out the window. Doc touched his arm and Murphy jerked. “Murphy…” Doc started.Murphy held up his arm, studying it closely. Doc grinned. Bruises gone, cuts almost gone. “You’re better,” Doc said. Murphy looked at 10K.
You can heal.
10K angrily ‘pushed’ his thoughts forward, suddenly saw himself and the room through Murphy’s eyes. Odd, like when 10K had breathed in Doc’s weed, disjointed. Murphy shoved him out after a moment. 10K tried again, met a mental ‘wall’. Murphy gave a great shake. He stepped past Doc and 10K, stopping when 10K grasped his arm. Murphy glared but then shook his head. “When did you get so tall?” he blurted. “You’re perfect.”
Chapter 4: 4
10K and Doc stared. Murphy’s face reddened. He pushed past them and walked downstairs, far steadier than before. Murphy stalked past everyone, walked to the creek and stripped. “God, Murphy” Addy sighed. She did toss him soap. He washed, ignoring the stares. 10K eyed the still deep but now fading bruising. The seeping cuts had all healed and the broken ribs looked much better. Murphy looked like Murphy except for being skinner.
Murphy waded to the bank and dried off, Warren handing him old clothes. Murphy pulled on the shirt, flinching as he did so. When he walked to the others, he focused on Sun Mei. “So, when are the others arriving?” he asked.
“Dr. Mengele and his crew. Come on, the torture team can’t be too far away.”
Sun Mei flushed. “I’m sorry the tests were intrusive.”
“I bet you are.” Murphy headed for the house. “Anything to eat?”
He wolfed down some food but actually ate very little considering how he had been starved. He watched Sun Mei, clearly suspicious. “The lab burned,” she said. “The one with most of our work.”
“Isn’t that a pity?”
“Murphy, these tests aren’t meant to hurt you. We need you.”
“Be reasonable. We can…”
“No. No way, no how.”
“Murphy,” Warren started.
“We’ll go with you, protect you.”
Everyone stared at her. Murphy blinked. “You dragged me from my home, put me in that hellhole and now you say you’ll protect me? Come on Warren, I know you think I’m stupid but I’m not an idiot.” He glowered at her.
“We didn’t know it would be so harsh.”
“You didn’t even care. You just sent in 10K, knowing he knew the ways around and had him drug me.” He turned to 10K. “Doc said I should apologize for controlling you. Fine but I want an apology from you for drugging me and dragging me through the streets. Kidnapper.”
10K’s head jerked. Murphy sounded annoyed but also amused, almost teasing. Murphy’’s lips curved into a weird smile and 10K wondered just what was wrong with him. “You’re the mission, Murphy,” Addy said. “You know, your job.”
Pain. Chest tightening, all amusement gone. Lab rat, mission, all the same to them. Go back to my blends. At least they care. Even if it’s part of the control, it’s something. They like me.
10K stared at Murphy, eyes huge. “No one thinks you’re just a lab rat,” he blurted. Murphy twisted to face him, face slack with surprise.
What the hell? I didn’t--can’t read your mind!
Then Murphy closed his eyes and mentally built a wall. 10K saw it as a brick wall, reaching upwards. 10K still faintly felt Murphy’s distress but it was mild, a niggling twitch rather than the engulfing misery and hurt he had felt before. 10K didn’t like what he was feeling. Murphy was a jackass, a jerk, and not supposed to get his feelings hurt or feel lonely. Murphy turned his attention back to Warren and Sun Mei. “I’m going home,” he said. No more labs or tests,”
Murphy stood up and left the group, stumbling out the front door. He ran, breathing in icy air. The broken bones, still aching cuts, all faded as he ran through the woods. He knew where home was--he could feel it, a tingle along his nerves. He stumbled through a small stream, scrambled across some rocky outcroppings. He slowed to a walk, humming to himself. He finally stopped as darkness crept around him, curled in a cluster of bushes. Cold, damp earth but he’d be home soon.
10K found Murphy under the bushes, warm from fever. “Idiot,” he muttered as a wave of relief filled him. “Come on.” He shook Murphy’s shoulder, knowing he couldn’t carry the heavier man. “Come on, Murphy.”
The older man woke with a growl but sleepily nodded at him. 10K pushed him and Murphy followed him lazily, yawning and shaking. 10K led him back to the house. Addy took over when they got there. “So glad you found him,” she said. “Although spending our lives hunting for Murphy isn’t quite what I ever planned.”
“He wasn’t too far. He’s still ill.”
“He’s warm,” she said, touching Murphy’s head. “God, Murphy, you were getting better. I swear, if all of humanity’s hope didn’t rest on you…”
“Stop,” 10K blurted. “He’s not just a mission. He’s a person.”
Addy jerked. “I know that,” she said. “But, 10K, he is the mission.”
“He still has feelings. I mean, did you know he had sisters?”
“We know him but not really. I mean, he’s the one person we all have to protect but we don’t really know anything about.”
“We know he’s a jerk,” Addy sighed. “And half crazy. But I understand what you’re saying.” She took Murphy’s arm. “Off to bed, Murph.”
He simply looked at her then 10K. Silently he padded to the bedroom, allowed Doc to inject him with painkillers. He laid down, staring again out the window. Doc touched his forehead, sat back. For hours, Murphy laid there, a lump under the covers. He refused a drink, simply drew back and rolled over. Doc dozed next to him. He woke with Murphy standing in front of the window, drizzled with moonlight. Murphy didn’t move as Doc called his name, just stared out the window.
Without warning, Murphy slammed a fist into the window. The glass cracked, pieces falling, and cold air rushed into the room. Doc heard blood dripping onto the floor. Rushing over, he pressed his fingers over the cuts. “I won’t go back,” Murphy entoned, still staring out the window.
"I will kill Tito for what he did to Ben.”
Doc jerked. “All right,” he slowly said. “Let’s wrap your arm."
"It’s not bad.” Murphy twisted his head and Doc inhaled. His eyes held a weird shade, a vacant haze that Doc had never seen before in anyone.
“Murphy, do you recognize me?”
"I’m not stupid.”
“Murphy, who is Ben?”
Murphy cocked his head then shuddered, an actual spasm that turned into a wave of trembling. His eyes became normal. Doc touched him and Murphy gave an odd whimper, drawing back as if burned. He stepped back to the bed, leaving a blood trail. “Addy!” Doc called, knowing she was sleeping nearby. “Addy!”
“What?” She appeared in the doorway, clothes crumpled and yawning. “What the hell?”
Murphy actually snarled like a great hunting cat, pulled away from both of them. “Murphy, you’re bleeding,” Addy declared. “Come here.”
Murphy stared at her, so suspicious the air seemed to heat. “Murphy, we just want to bandage you,” Doc assured.
After a few, long minutes, Murphy sat down, watched Addy closely as she wrapped his arm. Doc didn’t like the shifting emotions playing across Murphy’s face. Rage, fear, confusion--Addy finished and gently taped the bandage.
"How is that?” she asked.
"It’s OK,” Murphy mumbled. “Doc, why are you staring at me?”
"Who’s Ben?” Doc asked.
Murphy shook his head. “No one you need worry about,” he said.
"He sounded important,” Doc said. “Like Tito.”
Murphy glared at him and Addy. “Leave me alone.” His voice cracked and his jaw muscles jerked.
‘You mentioned them,” Doc dared. “Said you’d kill Tito for what he did to Ben.”
Murphy’s anger nearly smoked. “Nightmare,” he ground out. ‘Are we done?”
Addy stepped back, gestured to Doc. “Get some rest,” she said. In the hall, she looked at him. Doc hurriedly explained and Addy frowned. “So not good.”
“Someone needs to watch him. If he hits that window again…”
“I’ll clean it up. You tell Warren.”
Warren woke instantly. As Doc told her what happened, her frown deepened until she appeared years older. “Shit,” she whispered. “Who are Ben and Tito?”
“People at the lab? He’s not talking.”
“OK, we watch him. I’ll relieve Abby in a few hours,” she said. “Get some sleep.’
Chapter 5: 5
Warren practically pounced on Sun Mei the next morning. "Ben, Tito, who are they?"
‘I have no idea,” Sun Mei stammered, eyes wide. “Why?”
"Murphy mentioned them. Doc said he seemed out of it,” Warren said. Addy and 10K walked down the stairs. “Who’s with Murphy?”
“No one” came a snap. Murphy strode down the stairs. “I hardly need a babysitter or a guard, Warren.”
Warren inhaled. She knew Murphy, had traveled long and hard with him. This was new, fury infusing every word and eyes glinting red. He’d been a jerk always but never the type she felt leery around. Exasperating, yes, but nothing dangerous or worrying, just annoying. This Murphy reeked of rage and violence, someone spoiling for a fight so he could release the monster inside. “Murphy,” she started. “Calm down.”
“I’m fine,” he spat. 10K suddenly yelped, grabbing his head. Everyone looked over.
“10k?!” Addy exclaimed.
“Headache,” 10K gasped. Murphy stretched his neck, closed his eyes, and 10K straightened up, shooting Murphy a glare. “Try controlling yourself.”
Murphy narrowed his eyes until they were slits but said nothing. He walked to their supplies, opened a small can of tinned fruit, sat down, and ate it slowly. “Who are Tito and Ben?” Addy asked, plopping beside him.
“Nightmare,” Murphy crisply said. He licked the spoon, washed the tin and spoon and set them aside to dry. Sun Mei came towards him and he watched her with a look of disgust.
‘You hurt yourself,” she said, nodding at the arm.
“I don’t recall a Tito or Ben at the lab.”
“Drop it,” Murphy ordered. He walked to the the door, shook himself. “I’m going home.”
He started out the door. Paused. “Who called for a ride?” The others crowded around him. A red jeep like vehicle raised dust on the road. It swerved to a stop. “Does no one stay dead, damn it?” Murphy snarled. ‘You said you killed him, Warren!”
“Vasquez?” Doc blurted. Warren inhaled, walked towards the man who approached them with a hand on his gun. They embraced, Warren pulling Vasquez in tight. When they finally broke apart, both had wet eyes. Addy grinned and Doc smiled. Murphy rolled his eyes.
:I think I may vomit," he muttered, earning a glare from 10K.
Addy hurried out, hugged Vasquez. Doc slapped his back. “How did you survive?” Doc demanded.
“Long story but one of the Red Hands grabbed me, gave me blood. I healed,” Vasquez said.
“But I..” Warren stuttered. 10K glanced again at Murphy who was starting to grin.
“Murphy,” he started.
“So another lamb comes home,” Murphy said loudly. Everyone turned. ‘No thank you, Vasquez? After all, it’s my blood that saved you.”
“What?” Vasquez’s face filled with horror. “It wasn’t you,” he said.
“Not directly,” Murphy admitted. ‘One of my people. So you’re more like a grandchild, I guess. Second generation blood through one of my blends.” His grin widened. “Control still falls to me.”
“No,” Vasquez snapped. “Not ever!”
“Why not? I mean, Warren is one of mine too.” Murphy lightly stepped onto the ground. “Surely you can sense it. I do.”
“Murphy!” Warren stepped to Murphy, shoved him back. “Enough! You don’t control me or him. Understood?”
Murphy merely continued to smile. “No,” Vasquez groaned. “No, no, no.”
“You even brought me a gift.”
Murphy moved around the car, yanked the other occupant out. The man shrieked. Murphy’s hands clamped around his throat and he began forcing the man’s head back.
Fury. Rage. Revenge. Blood practically boiling. Buzzing through his head. A voice ordering stay to everyone.
10K lunged, grabbed Murphy’s wrists. He dug his fingers into the bone and skin, feeling Doc and Addy yanking on Murphy’s arms. Warren and Vasquez stood frozen. Murphy tried to shrug them off, hands gripping tighter and pushing. 10K’s nails broke through skin and he grabbed a finger. He yanked, felt bone crack and Murphy yelped. Addy took advantage, grabbed Murphy’s hair and pulled “Let go!”
They pried Murphy off, Murphy struggling the entire time. The stranger gagged and Sun Mei helped him sit while 10K, Doc, and Addy forced Murphy back, step by step. Murphy shoved against them, tried to break free but never striking them, only pushing. ‘God damn, Murphy,” Doc muttered. “I will sedate you.”
Murphy stilled, only his ribs moving. Looking at Doc, he stepped back, watched with hard eyes. Vasquez shivered. “This is Dr. Finn,” Vasquez said. He exhaled noisily. He looked at Murphy and Murphy smiled. “Do it again, Murphy, and I’ll…”
“What?” Murphy interrupted. “You’ll do what I say?”
10K drew his knife, put the tip on Murphy’s chest. He stared into Murphy’s widening eyes. “Stop controlling them,” he whispered. He disliked prolonged eye contact, so this was rare. Murphy looked down at the knife then into 10K’s eyes. He pressed forward so the knife tip pierced his shirt, broke the skin. A single drop of blood welled from his chest.
“Do it then,” he murmured. 10K hissed, never taking his eyes from Murphy. What the hell? Murphy didn’t do this. He wasn’t that nuts. 10K ‘pushed’ mentally and Murphy’s eyes--changed. They fogged, became an eerie color. “Ben?”
10K jerked, the knife leaving Murphy’s chest. Grief. Grief and heartache and loneliness. Despair. Murphy shook his head violently, fear flashing through his eyes. “Who’s Ben?” 10K asked very quietly. Murphy looked away, gazed at Dr. Finn. His shoulders straightened. “No,” 10K said.
“Kid, you have no idea…”
10K grabbed his jaw, physically moved Murphy’s head so Murphy was looking at him. “No,” 10K snapped. “We can talk about this.”
A wave of sadness and agony crashed into him, almost sent him to his knees. “No, we can’t,” Murphy said. Murphy yanked free, went into the house.
“What is going on?” Addy demanded. “His eyes…”
“Changed,” Doc finished. “Yeah, they did that last night.”
“Inside,” Warren ordered. “Thanks, 10K.”
“Good thing you can control him,” Addy said.
“I can’t. Please, believe me, I can’t control him,” 10K said desperately. “Honestly, I don’t know why he listens sometimes but he’s choosing this, not me.”
“You sure?” Warren asked. 10K nodded. “Damn. I hoped we had an in.”
She gathered everyone at the table. Murphy started for Finn immediately but Vasquez stepped in and Murphy stopped. “You’re a dead man,” Murphy said to Finn.
“It was working, Murphy. You…”
Vasquez shoved Murphy back as Murphy started forward. “Murphy, act like an adult and sit,” Warren snapped.
“You have no idea what he is,” Murphy said. He turned to Doc who was opening the medical kit. “What?”
“Sit so I can splint your finger,” Doc said.
“Why? 10K will just break another.” 10K jerked.
“You were strangling him!”
“He deserves it!”
“We need you back,” Finn said to Murphy. A smaller man, he nonetheless exuded confidence and self assurance. He started to stand but Warren shook her head. “You must be Warren.”
“Warren, Addison, Doc, 10K. You know Vasquez, Murphy, and Sun Mei.” Warren sat back, watched Doc splint Murphy’s swelling finger.
“Dr. Finn is a psychiatrist,” Sun Mei said.
“I thought we needed a vaccine, not therapy for Mr. Psycho there,” Vasquez said.
“We are trying to figure out how he controls people. And help Murphy adjust.” Finn rubbed his already bruising throat.
“To what?” Addy asked.
“He tried to brainwash me.” Murphy paced a few feet.
“I am trying to help you.”
“I am not a computer you can reprogram!” Murphy’s voice rang. “How many drugs did you pump into me? How many hypnosis suggestions?”
“I am trying to help you recalibrate, to become a decent human being.”
“I don’t want that! I never asked for that!”
“I’m sorry, making you less of a monster is important!”
10K clenched his hands into fists. Murphy’s wall crumbled and his anger ran through 10K like the whiskey he’d drank so long ago. Except this burned hotter, made him shake. “10K?” Addy blurted.
Instantly the wall appeared and 10K could breathe again. He looked at Murphy and while he didn’t know what the older man saw, he did see Murphy drop his head and rub his eyes. “Come with me,” Doc said, gripping Murphy’s arm.
“Stop treating me like a child.” Murphy bristled.
Doc leaned close, whispered in Murphy’s ear. Murphy reddened and followed him out of the room. 10K relaxed, feeling his shoulders drop. “What is Murphy talking about?” Warren demanded. “Did you try to brainwash him?”
“I attempt to work with him. He can control people, so my job is to show him it’s wrong.”
“How?”Addy asked. “You can’t just rewrite the brain.”
“WIth the right training and therapy, we can,” Finn said. “We can make it impossible for Murphy to control anyone.”
“You’re talking aversion therapy,” Warren said.
“Far more sophisticated,” Finn assured. “Between the drugs and hypnosis, we can change a person.”
Addy looked appalled. “But he’s Murphy. You can’t make him into someone he’s not.”
“We imprison him or change him,” Finn said. "Besides, don't tell me you don't want a better person. Murphy is a prime example of what you call a dick."
“You never said what you were doing,” Sun Mei chided. “This wasn’t approved.
“People are desperate. Murphy will not take over the world. Besides, we can make him normal, better than before. What’s the harm?”
“He’s a person,” Addy said.
“Not a good one,” Finn reminded.
“Who’s Ben?” 10K asked.
Finn turned to 10K. “He mentioned Ben? That’s odd. It took a lot of hammering to break that wall. It appears Ben was a prison friend, someone Murphy trusted.”
“Murphy doesn’t trust,” Vasquez said. He cleaned his gun as they talked. “He has no friends and loathes most people.”
“What happened to Ben?” 10K asked.
“I don’t know,” Finn said. “He died but how, I’m not sure. We hadn’t gotten that far.”
“What makes his eyes change?” 10K asked.
Finn raised an eyebrow. “Hazy color? He did that under hyponosis…”
“Are you joking?” Doc asked, coming back in the room. “Are you saying he slips in and out of suggestive states and you knew that?”
“I told you, he’s hard to control.”
“Is this a huge problem?” Warren asked Doc.
“He sees another reality, chief. Yes, it’s huge.”
“And Tito? Who is Tito?” Warren asked Finn.
“Another prisoner, I guess.”
Doc shook his head. “You have no idea. I’m no psychiatrist but you have messed with his head and memories. What happens when he mistakes one of us for Ben or Tito?” 10K squirmed.
“You need to let me take him. I can continue my work.”
“He’ll destroy you. 10K broke his finger to get him off you.”
“I have drugs.”
“No," Warren said. “We go with him. Doc, where is he?”
“I gave him some painkillers.”
“Perhaps it’s best to let us take Murphy,” Sun Mei said.
“He’s not a defective car,” Doc protested.
“He’ll kill you first,” 10K said to Finn.
Murphy sauntered in, gun in hand.
Chapter 6: 6
10K stood up and Murphy waved at him. “Relax. I just want the keys to the car. I’m going home.”
“Murphy,” Warren started. “And don’t even think of controlling me.”
“I’ve only done it once. And that was when Finn appeared. So calm down.”
“Murphy, I can help you.” Finn made a gesture as if to touch Murphy and Murphy snorted.
“Piss off. Keys, Vasquez.”
Vasquez stood up. ‘Take them--if you can,” he dared. “Since all you do is control brainless zombies like the little bitch you are.”
Murphy swung hard, sending Vasquez back into the table, and 10K stepped between them hurriedly. He didn’t know why Murphy wouldn’t hit him ( yes, you do. He likes you) and Murphy immediately pulled away. “Get out of the way, kid,” he said.
“No. Take the car if you want but you know we’ll come after you.”
“Why? It’s not going to work. My DNA is part of the vaccine, I’m a mutant. The vaccine we have now works.”
“You can control anyone then!”
“That’s the price. Notice none of you have any issue forcing me!”
“It’s your purpose,” Vasquez snapped. “That is all you are here for.” 10K felt a flash of pain and rage but Murphy had obviously learned some control as it was just that, a flash, like a crackle of static electricity.
“I’m more than that. And if you want me, you have to take everything I am. You want no more zombies, fine. Use the vaccine and take the cost.”
“Is that what Ben would have wanted?” Addy asked.
Murphy looked at her, hurt and enraged. “Ben is dead,” he finally said. His voice wavered slightly.
“You never mentioned him,” Doc said.
“Because it’s not your business,” Murphy said.
“He was important to you,” Finn said.
“I’m not talking about it. There’s a reason the mind makes walls, Doctor.” Murphy leaned close to Finn. “Because people need barriers. Give me the keys!”
Vasquez looked at Warren and she nodded. Murphy grabbed the keys and hurried outside. “Warren?” Sun Mei asked.
“Let him run a bit. Vasquez said the jeep was nearly empty."
“If he gets to Spokane, he will hole up,” 10K warned.
“I radioed for lab security. He won’t get far,” Finn said.
“You did what?” Warren asked. “Without letting us know?”
“I told people where we were going. Vasquez thought this place was worth a try. Plus Dr. Sun Mei had radioed in, I’m sure.”
Warren glanced at Sun Mei. “I told them the direction I was heading in,” Sun Mei said. “We need Murphy back.”
“And if they shoot him?” Warren demanded. She bolted outside where the car pulled out with a lurch. “Murphy, wait!” Surprisingly he stopped, looked at her. “They’re coming,” she said.
“So I should be gone.”
“Murphy, we can help. We can go with you to the lab.”
She stepped close, laid a hand on his cheek. “I’m sorry about your friend.”
He huffed, shoved away her hand. He began to pull away then jerked to a halt. Dark vehicles appeared on the horizon. “What the…”
Warren grabbed the radio set, grasped Murphy’s ear. “Inside, now.”
“Yow!” He tried to pull away, looked at the cars again. 10K and Doc appeared and waved them in.
Warren pushed Murphy over, drove the car to the back door, and shoved Murphy out. “Get inside,” she said, carrying the radio. Murphy sulkily followed her order. “10K tell us what you see.”
10K came over with the telescope. “Jeeps, a few trucks, and lots of weaponry,” he reported.
“They mean business,” Doc added. “Finn, what did you tell them?”
“That I was close to Murphy,” Finn said.
“I’ll run,” Murphy stated.
“They’ll head to Spokane,” Addy said.
“We have weapons too.”
“You’re too weak,” Doc said.
Murphy looked at Finn, walked over and stared down at Finn. “That word doesn’t work anymore,” he said chillingly. “The drugs have worn off.” He flexed his fingers.
“It’s needed, Murphy. You’re not well.”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
“Your friends here don’t even think so.”
Murphy grunted. “They’re not friends, they’ve made that clear. But they are friendlier than you.”
“We’ll take everyone back, work on this…”
Murphy’s hand blurred and Dr, Finn found a 9mm gun shoved in his mouth. “No,” Murphy said clearly. “None of these people, not even Vasquez, go with you.”
“Let him go,” Warren said softly. “No one is going anywhere.”
“I know what I’m doing, Davis,” Murphy said. Silence swept the room.
“Who is Davis?” Vasquez asked. He studied Murphy’s gun hand. Saliva dampened the gun barrel as Murphy pressed it between Finn’s teeth. The psychiatrist’s face filled with terror.
“I meant Warren.”
“Murphy, we have armed men coming and don’t have time for this,” Warren said, trying to sound normal.
“They can find his corpse.” Doc swallowed hard, touched Murphy’s shoulder. “Doc, stop."
“Just breathe, all right?”
10K frowned, stepped forward, wrapped his arms around Murphy from behind, around his waist. Murphy shuddered hard. “What are you doing?” he demanded, voice raising.
“Son of a…” Murphy lifted the gun, stepped back, and 10K released him. Murphy moved to the wall, pressed against it. “Don’t do that again,” he said to 10K in a low tone. He inhaled. “Please.” Lines of strain etched his face.
“What the hell is going on?” Addy demanded.
“First, we tell those people coming no one can be moved. Sun Mei, do that,” Warren said. “You, Finn, what is wrong with Murphy?”
“I don’t know,” Finn replied.
“How many drugs did you give him?” Doc asked Finn. “Describe a typical session.”
Finn glared. “I don’t have to explain myself to you.” He paled as Murphy lifted his gun. “But it’s not complex. A bit of sedatives, THC, and hypnosis. Varying drugs as needed. Some ketamine occasionally, some LSD. Then some regression therapy and hypnosis.”
“And lab testing?” 10K asked. “That seems like a lot.”
“We are under a deadline. Plus trying to adjust the mind isn’t easy.”
Addy glanced at Murphy, reached out and touched his arm. Under her fingertips, he trembled. “It’s all right, Murphy.”
“He’s suffering from a bit of…”
“I know what I am! And I’m all right.”
Addy gently squeezed, felt Murphy shift to look at her. She watched his eyes, filled with emotion she couldn’t quite read. Then he looked away, straightened up as Sun Mei came in with two men.
The emotions sizzled along his nerves like electricity and tasted of black blood. 10K jolted forward, grabbed Murphy before the man moved. Murphy looked at him with reddening eyes. 10K gasped, looked at the taller of the newcomers. “What did you do?” he blurted out. “Warren, Murphy is going to..” 10K latched onto Murphy’s wrist, shoving the gun down. “You’ll hit me if you pull the trigger,” he warned Murphy.
Murphy released the gun, staring at the two strangers. “Oh, my god, it is Murphy,” the one said. Murphy shoved past 10K, pushing 10K deliberately behind him and tackling the man into the opposite wall.
He smelled like Murphy remembered, arrogance, contempt. and pure selfishness. The person who happily abused his position. Murphy grabbed for his throat, ignoring the yells around him. The drywall cracked as they fought, dust scattered over them. Hurt or not, Murphy didn’t care.
Jenkins punched him three times, sending him finally stumbling backwards. Murphy readied himself. Screams that echoed, even over the rumble of machinery. Grinning faces and the tear of muscle against rough rope and cord. Blood and sweat stinging against raw abrasions. Whimpers and cries and gleeful faces drinking in pain.
A blur and Warren stood front of him. Hard hands on his shoulders, arms. Someone, probably Vasquez, holding him from behind. “Murphy, god damn it, you’ll break your arm. Stand still!” Murphy ignored the voice, started forward but halted when Warren rested a hand on his chest.
Harsh rasping, staccato breaths that filled the room. Warren never let her gaze leave Murphy. She saw the haze, the look Doc and the others had seen and it sent chills to her toes. Murphy was holding on by an unraveling thread. “OK, strangers, whoever you are, go to the other room. Don’t say anything. Finn, go with them. Doc, get Murphy some water. Addy, 10K, let’s help Murphy sit down.”
“No need,” Murphy said in a guttural tone. His heart thudded against Warren’s hand. Warren felt him practically vibrate. “Get out of the way.” It didn’t matter that he’d been ill or starving or mute. It didn’t matter that he now had scars that would be with him for life. Murphy wanted this person badly and intended to slaughter him. Warren knew what it was to hate but this…
“Alvin,” came a quiet voice. Murphy whirled around, turned to stare at 10K. Sun Mei leaned over. injected Murphy quickly. He turned again then staggered and slowly crumpled to the floor. 10K and Doc leaned over him.
“Smart,” one of the strangers said. “We’ll get him in the car.” He paused as 10K smoothly pointed his rifle. “Or not. Easy there, boy.”
“I’m not a boy.” 10K stood over Murphy.
“No one is taking anyone.” Warren looked at the newcomers. “Sun Mei, who are they?”
“Paul Watts, lab security,” Sun Mei said. “I don’t recognize the other.”
“Don Jenkins,” the stranger said. “I’m working for security as well.”
“Zona,” Paul Watts said. Everyone stilled. “They have access to better labs, scientists…”
“Zona only wants Murphy for themselves,” Sun Mei said. “This vaccine is for everyone.”
“We’d honor that,” Jenkins said.
“No, “ Warren said. “This isn’t for Zona. Murphy isn’t yours.”
“Murphy holds the key,” Jenkins said, squatting beside Murphy. “I never thought it’d actually be him.” He reached out to grab Murphy but 10K prodded him with the rifle. “Easy.”
“Murphy isn’t yours.”
“Murphy belongs to whoever can hold him. You people obviously can’t. Weird. He had no interest or talent for escape before.”
“Who are you?” Addy demanded.
“Told you, Don Jenkins. I was a correctional officer at the prison Murphy was in.” He looked Murphy over. “Hasn’t improved much. Seriously, he’s humanity’s saviour?”
“He is,” Doc said, rolling Murphy over. “Addy, 10K, help me move him to the other room. I want to check his ribs.”
“You really need to hand him to us,” Jenkins said.
“No,” Warren growled.
Doc and Addy and Vasquez hauled Murphy to a back room with a couch that had a cleanish blanket on it while 10K watched the strangers. Doc frowned as he pushed Murphy’s shirt up, revealing freshly bruised ribs. “I think they may be cracked again,” he said. He rested a hand on Murphy’s side, felt heat.
“Will he be OK?” 10K asked, entering the room, Jenkins and Finn following.
“Hope so.” Doc shook his head. “Mr. Jenkins, don’t do that again. Murphy’s too ill to move far.”
“Murphy is fine. He certainly hit hard enough.” Jenkins rubbed his jaw.
“We need him to heal.” Warren touched Murphy’s hand, turned it over to see the swelling knuckles. “And that means figuring out what is going on.” She glanced at Jenkins. “Who was Ben?”
Jenkins shrugged at all the people looking at him. “I knew a numbers of Bens.”
“He was Murphy’s friend,” Finn said.
“Ben...probably Ben Daniels then. He hung around with Murphy. Murphy didn’t have a lot of chums, so I remember that was different. What does he have to do with anything?”
10K glanced at Murphy, felt a tug of pity and curiosity. He tried to ‘enter’ Murphy’s mind, slid in easily. Jumbled pictures of a young blond man, him, Murphy, pain and screaming, Murphy watching blood run across a concrete, filthy floor. Howls and screeching, rope and twining binding and cutting into flesh. Murphy’s mind seemed unnaturally active, images following together in disjointed fashion. Terror seemed the keynote. Terror and rage.
10K yanked back into himself. “Yeah?”
Doc gave him an odd look. “You ok?”
“He’s hurt again. We just got him on his feet.”
“Yeah, he’s been volatile as hell,” Doc said. “Jenkins, who is Tito?”
“Another prisoner, a lot higher up the food chain than Murphy here. A thug. Why? What has this to do with anything?”
“Murphy mentioned Tito and Ben. Never did before.” Warren sat down. “Dr. Finn here played with his mind, brought all this up. Now Murphy’s gone a little crazy.”
“Tito was the leader of a group. Murphy was rabble, not a player in the slightest.”
“I thought he was in white collar hell,” Addy said.
“Postal fraud is federal,” Jenkins said. “It wasn’t maximum security but yes, he was in a federal prison. Not Club Fed either. Just prison.”
“And Tito killed Ben?” Vasquez asked.
“Ben was good looking, cocky, and young. He started a fight with Tito and Tito killed him. Brawls weren’t that uncommon. Murphy was probably a little upset about it. Frankly, Murphy was rarely on the radar. He just wasn’t that important.”
“He wouldn’t hate you like that unless something was wrong.” Addy sat beside Warren. “Murphy isn’t like that. A jerk, yeah, but not that big an ass.”
“What he is,” Finn said, “is ready to transport.”
“He’s hurt,” Doc said. “He needs to recover. You cracked ribs.” He stared at Jenkins.
“Ribs heal. Besides, wounded, he may be easier to handle.” Jenkins glanced around. “OK. If we have to hang around, at least let me bring in food.”
“No one else.”
“I’ll go with him,” Vasquez offered.
The two men brought back two duffles crammed with food and drinks. Addy started the fire and they all ate. Warren stayed in the room, watching Murphy. He tossed, cried out once and then, hours later, suddenly stood up as if jerked to his feet. He looked around, immediately headed for the door before 10K stepped forward from the hall, handed him a sandwich.
“Not hungry,” Murphy said.
“Murphy, you need to eat.” 10K pushed the sandwich at him.
“Why do you care?” Murphy looked at 10K then sighed. “Look, I’m not hungry. And Jenkins--he’s nothing but trouble.”
“We know he was your guard.” 10K shrugged. “He told us about Tito and Ben. Sorry.”
Murphy stopped breathing. “He did what?”
“No, I need to know…”
“You’ve been out for hours,” Warren said. Murphy turned to face, blinking in the dim light. “Damn, Murphy. Eat the sandwich.”
“We have beer,” 10K said.
Murphy muttered and sat, eating slowly. He drank the beer in several long swallows. “Where is everyone?” he asked.
“Sleeping mostly.” Warren yawned.
“You should rest,” Murphy said. “I’m fine.”
“Far from that,” Warren said. “You need to talk about this, Murphy.”
“About what, prison life?” Murphy snapped. “Jenkins? It’s over, done.”
“It’s hard to lose someone,” Warren said. “Especially to a stupid fight.”
“What fight?” Murphy asked.
10K and Warren looked at each other. “Jenkins said Ben was killed in a brawl.” Warren stood up. Murphy began breathing faster.
Rope. Rope and blood and pain and the screaming, screaming which seemed endless. The squelch of flesh tearing, the creaking of bone. The pain of knowing he’d failed, failed again and nothing was going to stop…
Aqua eyes, not grey. Black hair, not blond. This was Thomas, 10K. Ben was gone. He’d lost Ben years ago. Why did it hurt all over again?
10K shuddered as Murphy’s eyes filled with tears. Murphy didn’t cry. Ever . It was like a law of the universe or something. He looked frantically at Warren, whose mouth moved soundlessly.
Awkwardly he reached out, touched Murphy’s cheek. “Um, beer isn’t that bad?” he mumbled. Murphy looked at him, naked pain in his face, leaned against his touch for a heartbeat. Murphy then shook his head, tears splattering.
“Jenkins lied,” Murphy said in a weird tone. “He’ll pay for that.”
“What happened?” Warren asked.
“Ben didn’t die in a brawl,” Murphy said. “He was murdered.”
10K and Warren inhaled. “I’m sorry,” Warren said.
“Yeah, so am I,” Murphy said.
“We know you were friends, Murphy,” Warren said, resting a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry Finn woke all this.” She breathed, “Wow, you are a mess.”
“I’ll be fine. People die, Warren.”
“Doc worried you might be seeing another reality.”
“I’m fine.” Murphy looked into 10K’s bright, worried eyes. His heart twisted. I can’t fail him. I already screwed him up enough. I can’t let him get hurt. Not like Ben.
10K didn’t move as Murphy leaned close, brushed his lips over his cheek. Warmth breath tickled his skin. Then Murphy jerked away, heading for the other room. “Idiot,” Warren muttered. She followed Murphy, gesturing to 10K who rubbed his cheek.
“He kissed me,” 10K mumbled.
“You need to tell him that you’re not interested. Or that you are.”
Chapter 7: 7
10K frowned. He tailed after Warren to where Jenkins dozed. Murphy’s eyes glittered in the dim light that spilled from the embers of the fire. Murphy eyed Warren then walked to the window, brushed aside the dusty curtain. “Shit,” he said. “Well, that’s not what I hoped for. Who did Sun Mei tell? Citizen Z? Did he broadcast it again?”
Warren looked out the window. Heavily armed people milled around dangerous looking vehicles and she went from window to window. “Surrounded?” 10K asked.
“Yes, damn it.”
Murphy looked around, gaze settling on 10K. “Stop staring, it’s creepy,” 10K said.
Murphy rolled his eyes. He walked to the food supplies, dragged out some food and began heating up some soup and bread after building up the fire. He handed 10K a bowl, Warren one as well, then quietly ate. The others woke up. Jenkins and Murphy simply watched each other.
“So now what?” Addy asked Warren.
“Murphy goes with us,” Finn said. “We’ll work on the vaccine.”
“Murphy goes with us,” Warren said. “And we’ll watch over him. He’s not there for Zona to abuse.”
“Murphy is right here and can decide for himself,” Murphy announced. He straightened his back . “I don’t give a fuck for any vaccine. I’ll choose my own life. And right now, I choose Murphyville.”
“What? Where’s Murphyville?” Jenkins demanded.
“Somewhere I’m safe and you’re not,” Murphy said.
Finn studied him. “You’re needed.”
“You’re going,” Jenkins added.
“You don’t get to volunteer me anymore,” Murphy said.
“If I hadn’t volunteered you, you wouldn’t be here.”
“Do you know how many died before me?” Murphy bristled. “We were shackled and injected. I had eight zombies rip into me. You volunteered me thinking I’d die.”
“And I was wrong. You’re alive. Get over it. Your people here have already volunteered to go with you. To protect you, I guess.”
“They aren’t going. No one is going.”
Jenkins pointed to the window. “Look at them. You are leaving with us, Murphy. Concious or not doesn’t matter.” He shrugged. “These people--they aren’t important.”
“We should take Warren and Vasquez,” Finn said. “They may be useful.”
“We’re not yours,” Vasquez snapped. Murphy paled slightly.
Murphy studied Jenkins, turned around and looked at the group. His gaze settled on 10K. For long moments he gazed at them all, eyes flicking from one to another. He rubbed his wrist, glanced at Doc. Then he turned to Jenkins and Watts. “They get gas and the jeep, supplies. They get to leave. Then I’ll go with you.”
“No!” Addy blurted.
Murphy gave her a grim little smile. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “Something in his voice made 10K step forward and Murphy shook his head. “Really, I’ll be OK.”
All 10K could sense was fear, anger and worry. Warren shook her head. “That’s not…”
“Warren, my choice.”
“You spent hours ranting about going back, why would you…” Doc halted. Everyone looked at him. Doc shook his head. “Murphy, no, man. You…”
“Shut up, Doc.” Murphy looked at Finn. “Deal? Get them gas and supplies.”
“Murphy,” Warren said. Murphy walked over to her. “Murphy,don…”
“Go to Spokane,” Murphy muttered. “Find my people. Help them. I’ll get back.”
“Not if Zona flies you out!”
“Sun Mei will tell you. Maybe you can hit the convoy.” His face hardened. “They hurt some of my blends, I know it. I felt it. They'll hurt all of you.”
Warren nodded slowly. “All right, we’ll talk. Finn, Jenkins, Watts--we’ll be back. We’re going to the bedroom to discuss this.”
In the bedroom, the group all looked at Murphy. “Don’t do this,” Doc said. “I know what I said but seriously, don’t…”
“We’re surrounded, Doc. Surrounded by armed crazies.”
“Sun Mei, were there blends at the lab?” Warren asked.
Sun Mei nodded. “Several. They were brought in for testing.”
“Nice,” Murphy acidly said. “Great ethics there, Doctor.”
“So Vasquez and Warren--they would experiment on them?” Addy looked ill.
Sun Mei frowned. “Maybe,” she hedged.
Doc pulled 10K aside, began talking to him in a low, intense voice. Murphy tried to watch, interested as 10K’s face turned pale then frightened then beet red. 10K gave Murphy a side glance then hastily looked at the floor, cheeks crimson. Murphy stepped towards them but Warren grabbed his arm. “Did you hear what I said?” she demanded.
“Christ, Davis, what is it?” Murphy demanded. “I mean, Warren. Yes, I know who she is!” He rubbed his eyes. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Your town and people hate us,” Warren clearly enunciated. “They hate us.”
“Yeah, they know you took me and attacked them. But Reed, Victor, and Hawkins will let you all in. You tell them I sent you.” Murphy stepped over to 10K. “10K, listen to me.”
10K looked at him,cheeks still red. “What?”
“You need to tell Hawkins I saw the blue horses. She’ll understand. She’ll take you in.”
“What?” 10K demanded. “Are you crazy?”
“She’ll know you ran into me. Tell her.” Murphy turned to the rest of the group. “We can do this.” He inhaled. “I can do this. After all, this is the mission, right?” His voice rang with bitterness.
“Murphy,” Warren sighed.
“I’ll go with him,” Doc volunteered.
“What?” Both 10K and Murphy stared at Doc.
“No.” Murphy shook his head.
Doc patted his back. “Trust me. You’ll need a friend.”
“Sun Mei will be there. While not a friend, she’ll be there.”
“Take him,” Warren said. “It’ll be good.”
“No,” Murphy firmly said. 10K grunted and Murphy looked at him. Slowly Murphy's face reddened and then he looked away.
“Really?” Vasquez asked. “You’re disgusting, Murphy.”
Murphy’s head snapped up. “Are you sure?” Warren asked hurriedly, elbowing Vasquez.
“Any other ideas?” Murphy said. “I’ll be OK. You can’t miss the convoy.”
“I’ll help keep him safe,” Doc said. “Come on, 10K, help me with my bag.”
Murphy threw up his hands. “I don’t need a keeper,” he yelled. “I don’t need anyone to watch me.”
“Murphy , we want to help,” Addy said. “You’re a mental and physical mess.”
“And emotional,” Vasquez added. Everyone glared at him. “What, it’s true.”
Murphy huffed. Doc and 10K walked to where Doc had his bag. Murphy muttered under his breath and Warren slapped his shoulder lightly. “Be careful,” Warren said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Murphy mumbled.
Doc and 10K loaded his bag, talking in intense whispers. “Doc, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” 10K said.
“Murphy’s healed faster than he should, he has a bite he didn’t before. The one on his left wrist. That’s yours. You saved him. You can heal,” Doc said. “You have gifts.”
10K shook his head. “Please,” he said frantically. “Don’t say anything.” He gulped. “I can’t control Zs. All I can do is sense them, sense Murphy a little and see through his eyes. I can’t control him.”
“You’re not getting it, kid. You bite me, I go with Murphy, You’ll sense us, find us again.”
“Murphy is slipping, you know that. And he’s doing this because I pushed him.” Doc’s voice shook. “I told him he had to apologize, make up for what he did to you. He’s doing this so you--none of us--get hurt.”
“Why? He’s not the sacrificing type. He wants Jenkins, I bet.”
“10K, please! We need to stop them from abusing him. If you can get some of the blends and Warren, Addy, and Vasquez, we can make sure he’s free.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be fine. I promise.”
10K frowned, glanced at Murphy who paced. Murphy looked his way, shrugged and walked out of the room. Doc hefted his bag and hugged 10K tight. 10K embraced him hard. His gaze swept the room. Addy watched them but no one else. “Give us a minute, huh?” he asked.
“Sure.” Warren led the others away. 10K inhaled.
“We have no idea if this will work.”
“OK. Give me your hand.”
“Too noticeable. Do the shoulder.”
10K awkwardly pushed aside the shirt, wiped down Doc’s shoulder with a wet, clean rag, and bit down quickly and hard. Blood seeped out and Doc pressed the wet rag against the bite. “This is nuts,” 10K muttered.
“It’ll be fine.” Doc grinned. “Besides, you’ll always find me now.”
10K groaned. “It’s not like that.”
“Get the others, stop the convoy.”
10 nodded. "We'll get you."
Murphy stood next to a loaded jeep, watching people. Sunlight flickered over his face. 10K thought he actually looked handsome, dappled in sun and shadows. Yet something glowed in his eyes, something strange. Murphy tossed some supplies in the jeep, walked over to the group.
“Murphy, are you sure?” Addy touched his arm. “You…”
“Addy, I’ll be all right. You be careful.” He gestured to the jeep. “Be very careful.”
“We’ll see you soon,” Warren said quietly.
“Yeah, well, no worries.” He stepped to 10K. “Remember what I said.”
“I got it.” 10K squirmed. “Watch Doc.”
“Yeah, I will.” Murphy leaned close, slid a hand over 10K’s cheek. “I was wrong. I’m sorry,” he murmured into 10K’s ear. “I hope this makes up for it a little.” His lips grazed 10K’s ear.
He kissed 10K softly, a tender touch yet 10K felt him tremble and then Murphy stepped away, face expressionless but emotions flitting through his and 10K’s connection like a storm. 10K shifted his rifle, watched Murphy unblinkingly. He felt lost, adrift. He hated Murphy so often yet he couldn’t deny the emotions that drew him to the older man.
Murphy watched them leave, Sun Mei and Doc standing beside him. “Are we done?” Jenkins asked in a bored tone. “Seeing Murphy mope around isn’t what I’m here for.”
Murphy whipped around, face hard. “Murphy, don’t,” Doc said.
“He’s right,” Sun Mei said to Murphy. “The lab needs you. We need you.”
“Let’s move,” Jenkins said.
“Not until we’re radioed they are out of your range,” Murphy snarled.
Ten minutes later, Warren via radio informed Doc they were safe. “Let’s go then,” Murphy said. Jenkins gestured to a black SUV. Murphy and Doc got in together and the small convoy started moving.
Doc watched Murphy stare out the window, eyes glassy. Murphy’s hands twitched They rode in silence until they came to a low, long white building surrounded by tall fences. “Inside,” Watts ordered.
“Where are we?” Doc asked.
“We need to refuel and eat. We’ll be here a while.” Everyone began moving except Murphy. Murphy and Jenkins studied each other and then Watts shoved Murphy forward. Doc found himself in a small room with a chair and table. “Wait here. Get some rest,” Watts ordered. “We’ll be awhile.”
Chapter 8: 8
“We need to refuel and eat. We’ll be here a while.” Everyone began moving except Murphy. Murphy and Jenkins studied each other and then Watts shoved Murphy forward. Doc found himself in a small room with a chair and table. “Wait here. Get some rest,” Watts ordered.
“Why am I in a cell?”
Watts rolled his eyes. “It’s a room. Stay out of the way.”
Doc snorted. Watts left him and Doc started as he heard a lock click. He waited a few minutes, looked around. Behind a set of curtains, a large glass window looked into the next room. An observation room of some kind, Doc figured. Perhaps this was an old police station. Or school or hospital.
He heard voices, Murphy and Jenkins. Doc peered through the window, listened closely. Murphy’s hands bore handcuffs.
“Seriously, Jenkins, I thought we were getting to the lab.” Murphy walked around the room.
“We are getting fuel, contacting people.” Jenkins smiled like a shark. “So you are humanity’s saviour. What a joke.”
“What can I say?” Murphy smiled back. “I am what you made me.”
“I didn’t make you. I do, however , owe you.”
Jenkins punched Murphy hard in the stomach. Murphy gasped, fell back. “Didn’t tell your friends just what you were, did you?” Jenkins demanded. He punched again and Murphy cried out, falling to the floor. Jenkins kicked Murphy in the ribs and through the window, Doc heard a sickening crack. Murphy stiffened, eyes rolling back. For long moments Jenkins watched as Murphy writhed. Murphy gasped, mouth gaping like a landed fish.
In the red jeep, 10K convulsed as if shot. He flailed, grabbed Addy who held him close and Warren braked. 10K clutched his side, lightning pain ripping through him. He leaned out the window, retched. He saw a white room with bare walls through a mist of agony. “Murphy,” he muttered.
“Imagine their surprise when they find out you were the biggest cocksucker in the whole prison.”
“Not even close, asshole.” Murphy’s voice was a thin rattle. “Fuck. How about uncuffing me?”
“Dirty whores like handcuffs.”
“I survived. And I certainly never slutted for Tito like you.” Murphy coughed, winced as Jenkins grabbed his hair. Doc held his breath.
“I should remind you of how you went to your knees for me before.”
“You watched him get murdered. You did nothing!”
“You act like he was in love with you. Sweet jesus, Murphy, he blew or was banged by half the cellblock.” Jenkins shook Murphy by the hair and he gagged.
“No. He wasn't like that”
“You are such an idiot.” Jenkins released him, rested his hand on his belt buckle. “So, do you keep up with your old skills?”
Doc quivered, looked around for a weapon. Overstuffed chair, a small table. “Jenkins, stop it,” a new voice ordered. Finn entered Doc’s view. “You know what he can do, what a bite means. And you want his mouth near your privates? Are you insane?”
“And can control anyone he bites. Get him in the chair. “
A sound of furniture dragging. Jenkins thrust Murphy in a heavy chair with arms, strapped down Murphy’s arms. Murphy thrashed as best he could. “Cut off the sleeves,” Finn crisply said. “Then get out.”
“You’re injecting him? We didn’t plan on staying here.”
“He is the reason we’re here. He needs to be treated. The sooner we get him thinking correctly, the better.”
“Yeah, good luck with that.” Jenkins pulled out a Bowie knife, cut off Murphy’s sleeves, revealing Murphy’s scarred arms. “Just remember, he’s Zona’s, so don’t screw him up too much.”
“He belongs to science. He’s the only successful immune specimen we have. I wish we had better but we’ll work with what we have. Sad all the others failed.”
“Fuck you both.” Murphy yanked at his bonds. “I am not yours.”
“You shut up,” Jenkins said. “We can always test on your little entourage, you know. Which one were you closest to? That smoking hot redhead?” Murphy gave a gurgling noise, eyes flashing. “ Warren? Nice ass there. Maybe that kid--10K is it? What, is he the new Ben?”
Murphy roared, lunged somehow to his feet, eyes solid crimson. “Subdue him,” Finn ordered, voice shaking a little. “Give him this.” He handed a hypo to Jenkins and backed out of Doc’s view. Murphy ran forward as best he could, blood dribbling from his mouth. Jenkins nimbly dodged, tripped him so he fell on his face. He jammed the needle deep in Murphy’s arm. Murphy screamed, an inhuman sound that seemed to rock the walls. He tossed then settled down and Jenkins pulled the chair up.
Doc frantically tipped the table. Luck--screw legs. He unscrewed a leg and tested the heft. Finn walked into his line of sight, bent over Murphy. “His nose is broken,” he said, clicking his tongue.
Blood bubbled from Murphy’s nose. “Go on,” Finn ordered. Jenkins shrugged and Murphy coughed, staring at Finn with nothing in his eyes. “Murphy, Croatoa.”
“Doesn’t work,” Murphy slurred.
“Murphy, what happened with Ben?”
“Ben, Murphy. Tell me what happened in prison with Ben. What happened to your lover?”
Murphy shook his head drunkenly. “Not lover. Not yet. No.”
“Murphy, this is a focal point. We need to know. We can help you then. What happened to Ben?’
“We can stop it happening to other people. Focus, Murphy. What did you do?”
“I failed him. My fault.”
Finn smiled, reached out and patted Murphy’s shoulder. “Good. Let’s start with that.” Murphy turned his head, snapped his teeth, catching Finn’s shirt. “No!” Finn shouted, yanking away. Feverishly he rolled up his sleeve, checked his arm. “You don’t get to control me.”
“Then stop controlling me.” Murphy yanked at his bindings. “Let me go.”
Finn shook his head, went to his bag. “Let’s try something else.” He pulled a hypo, injected Murphy fast. Murphy gasped but then slowly stopped htrashing, settled down, watched Finn until his eyelids drooped.
“Murphy, you know who I am?”
“Good. Talk to me. What happened to Ben?”
“You failed him, Murphy, you admitted that. What happened to him was your fault.”
“I never hurt him. Wouldn’t.”
“But you did. You know you hurt people. You always fail and hurt them.”
“You know you do. Your prison friends are all dead. The woman Serena you slept with--she’s dead.”
“Fire. I wasn’t there.”
“But you were the catalyst.”
“No. Not my fault.” Panic crept into his voice. “I didn’t do this.” From the next room, Doc closed his eyes. Murphy squirmed, whole body shaking.
“You failed them all, Murphy. Even your new group. They’re all dead, Murphy. The jeep blew up.”
Ice seemed to form in Doc’s stomach. “You’re lying,” Murphy said clearly, violently shuddering. “No one died. They’re not dead.”
“I told you. You can’t be with most people. You control them, hurt them. Murphy, these people are dead.” Finn reached into his shirt, pulled out a set of goggles.
Doc knew they weren’t 10K’s--they looked similar but the color was off and they seemed very new. Murphy’s fingers, however, couldn’t see the color and his eyes were shut. They turned the goggles over and over. Murphy gave an odd cry, something fractured and mutilated, soul crushing. Doc swore, knowing that cry would haunt his dreams.
“We’ll go through again, Murphy. We’ll role play it until you understand how you did this. We have the woman’s bat as well. I’m sorry but they’re dead.” Finn touched Murphy’s shoulder. “We’ll go through how you need to react.”
Doc hammered on the window. He smacked the glass again and again with the table leg while Finn yelled and Murphy clutched the goggles, face grey. Doc heard his door open and he slammed the table leg against Jenkins, staggering him. He then shoved past Jenkins. He darted into the next room, saw Finn bending over Murphy. He smacked the doctor on the back with the table leg “Enough,” he ordered. “Stop torturing him!” He grabbed Murphy’s shoulders, hugged him close.
“We’re alive, Murphy, it’s ok.” Murphy tilted his head, eyes still closed. “Are you trying to drive him insane?” Doc demanded. “Pie lady--Serina--burned in a fire. Not Murphy’s fault. And his prison buddies--is that why he sees us as them sometimes? You are reconstructing his life in his head, replaying trauma. Why?” Murphy slumped into Doc’s arms. Doc glared at Finn, now standing up. “Mental, emotional, physical damage--you want him to become some lunatic.”
“I want docile behavior, for him to realize safety is only with us.”
“You’re repulsive,” Doc said, voice filled with rage.
“I know what is at stake. Do you? Is there someone else who can take his place?” Finn demanded. “We need him. Compliant is best and I am working to make him accept that.” Doc thought of 10K in this position and his heart skipped.
Murphy groaned. “Get a doctor, a real one,” Doc ordered, waving the table leg. “Those ribs--Jenkins broke them. And his nose is bleeding more.”
“Fine.” Finn left the room. Doc cut the bindings with a scissors from Finn’s bag. Murphy didn’t move, still shaking. Doc held his shoulders, reflected on how similar this was to when he’d held 10K when he cried over being bitten but Murphy wasn’t crying. Murphy was simply trembling, eyes still closed. “Murphy, open your eyes,” Doc said. Murphy slowly looked at him, blood dribbling down his face. “It’ll be all right, man.”
“I know. Not your fault.”
“You don’t know that. I was stupid.”
“We all are at one time or another.”
Murphy closed his eyes, shivered harder. “Something’s broken inside,” he whispered.
“Christ don’t die,” Doc said desperately. “You can’t die.”
“Don’t worry. I’m taking Jenkins out before I go anywhere.” Murphy sighed, leaned in closer, almost snuggling. Doc wondered briefly how long it had been since Murphy just had a hug from someone. Of course, he could have been with his blends, who knew?
“You have friends with your people, us. You're not alone.”
“Tell me about Ben.” Murphy shuddered. “Just a little.”
“Blond. Grey eyes. Kind. He didn’t look like 10K but something, flash of the throat, the walk. They have something alike.” Murphy stared at nothingness. “I trusted Ben. In all the prison, he proved he could be trusted. And I failed him.” He barked out a pained laugh. “Gods, I failed him. I couldn’t--save him when I should.”
“I know Tito murdered him.”
Murphy blinked, looked at him with those unseeing eyes. “Yes. I knew Justin couldn’t be trusted but we went anyway, to see what he had. My fault. I should have…”
Doc didn’t like that darkening mist. Murphy shook again, hard. “Murphy, I’m here, talk to me,” he whispered, grabbing Murphy’s hand. Murphy made a whistling, growling sound.
“They killed him, gang raped him to death while I was tied. Tito wanted to prove a point. I didn’t save him, couldn’t. It hurts...I need to save him. You need to free me...”
Doc frantically gripped Murphy’s arms, filled with terror and horror. “Murphy, come back to me,” he said, shaking Murphy slightly. “Finn’s blaming you. It wasn’t your fault. Murphy, it’s Doc.”
Murphy focused, pulled himself back. “Gee, really?” came sharp sarcasm. “After six years, yeah, I remember your name, Doc.” Doc sighed with relief.
“Can you stand?”
“Do I have a choice?”
Doc helped Murphy to his feet. The younger man swayed, spread his legs wide to keep from falling. “Fuck, I hurt,” Murphy complained, trying to walk.
“You look like shit, too,” Doc said. Murphy snorted, ‘ow’ed, and smiled slightly. Doc walked Murphy until Sun Mei and another woman entered.
“Sit,” the other woman said. She gestured to the chair. “What has he been given?”
“I don’t know. Finn dosed him. His ribs are broke, his nose.” Doc eased Murphy to the chair. The stranger leaned over Murphy, checking his eyes.
“Drugged with something. Get Finn!” she called out. “Sun Mei, strip him.”
“Not even a kiss first?” Murphy cracked.
“Breathing is labored,” the woman continued. “Bleeding from the nostrils, abrasions on the wrists.” Sun Mei carefully cut off Murphy’s shirt and the stranger’s eyebrows went up. “Healed bites, broken ribs.” She yanked on gloves, ran a hand over each side. “Is he subject to pneumonia?” she asked Doc.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Doc stammered.
“We’ll wrap with compression tape then. You’ll need to keep him calm, make him rest.”
Doc glanced at Sun Mei. “Dr. Mays is correct, he’ll need rest,” Sun Mei said. “Patricia, Murphy understands you. You can talk to him.”
“I don’t anthromorphize non humans.”
“Hey!” Murphy protested.
“He can talk,” Doc stated.
“So can parrots and mynah birds.”
“Being upset about Angel and Jack isn’t going to help,” Sun Mei said. “Murphy, you bit two of Dr. Mays’ colleagues.”
“Which ones--you mean the stubby little male doctor and the tall, skinny redhead?” Murphy flinched as Dr. Mays pressed on his bruised side. “Yeah, they were useful.”
“Monster.” Mays yanked a roll of compression tape from her kit. “We have a chopper coming. Wrap him up, get him ready to move.” She slapped the tape into Sun Mei’s hand. “He’ll find the next lab not so cozy.” Finn entered the room and Mays turned to him. “Reverse the drug you gave him. He’s in some distress.”
Finn frowned. Murphy hissed through his teeth as he stood up, tightly holding the goggles. Sun Mei wrapped his torso, trying to be gentle. Finn handed Doc a filled syringe. “It should reverse the drug I gave him,” he said. Sun Mei wrapped Murphy’s bleeding wrists.
“Why don’t you inject him?”
“Not unless he’s strapped down. Murphy isn’t trustworthy.”
“Oh and you are?” Murphy blurted. Doc looked at the hypo and then injected Murphy. “Can I have some clothes?”
“What happened?” Sun Mei asked Doc as she taped the last bandage.
“Jenkins. Finn.” Doc looked closely at Murphy. “Let’s get you a painkiller. Or two.” He tapped Mays on the shoulder. “You can’t move him. He’s a mess.”
“Too bad. It’s a short flight.”
“You do realize he’s the only immune one we have, right?” Doc asked.
“Yes but we don’t need him able to walk or talk. We just need him alive.”
Horror swept through Doc. He walked back to Murphy, eased a shirt over his head. Sun Mei patted Murphy’s arm. “Don’t,” Murphy said. “Just let me breathe.”
“Come here.” Sun Mei led Doc and Murphy to a different room where Murphy laid on a cushy sofa and Doc sat next to him. Murphy’s head lolled back and his breathing slowed. Doc tried to call to 10K, show him pictures but all he saw were the walls. Sun Mei left with a mutter about finding more painkillers.
“Sorry about Ben,” Doc said.
“I was fine, you know. Fucking Finn dragged it all back up. Christ, I haven’t slept in weeks, not really. All I see is him.”
“You didn’t tie him down,” Doc said.
“I watched them rape him. 10 different men, Doc. And all Ben did was beg me to help. They made me watch.” Murphy closed his eyes. “And that’s why caring makes you weak. If you don’t give a damn, you can do anything.” He squeezed the goggles.
“Was Jenkins there?”
Murphy nodded, didn’t open his eyes. “He was lookout. Tito paid him well.” He sighed. “You heard everything?”
“Nothing I haven’t heard before.”
“I wasn’t,” Murphy said. “The biggest cocksucker, I mean. Yeah, I gave a few bjs in exchange for protection but that’s it. I needed to survive. And while I couldn’t get to Tito, I sure as hell could piss him off.” He muttered something in his throat.
“Finn’s word to help me slip away.” Murphy opened his eyes and gave Doc an ugly smile. “It doesn’t work anymore.”
Doc watched, terror crawling through him as Murphy’s eyes hazed again, bright red spiking through the blue. “Murphy?”
“It’s all right, Whitey. You needn’t get hurt.”
“Whitey? Murphy, focus!”
Murphy blinked, shuddered, rubbed his face. “I keep seeing the prison, the people,” he said. ‘God damn Finn and his cocktail of whatever!”
“Old man at the prison. Didn’t bug me.” Murphy sighed. “You shouldn’t have come.”
“You did this because I said you needed to make up to 10K. You decided to play hero because I guilt tripped you.”
“No. I didn’t save Ben. I could save 10K.” Murphy gulped, face greying again, life draining away. “And he died anyway.”
“No. These aren’t his goggles Finn lied, man. 10K is fine.” Doc touched the goggles. “Look at them, they’re not the same. 10K’s are more beat up, faded. He’s all right.”
Murphy glanced down at the goggles, then looked suspiciously at him yet Doc saw the start of hope in his eyes.
Chapter 9: 9
As the pain vanished, 10K could breathe freely. “What happened?” Vasquez demanded. Warren looked at 10K.
“I think it’s time you told us what’s going on with you and Murphy.”
“Nothing. I mean, I can sense him. A little. Because of the virus. I can’t control Zs or people. But I can sense him. He’s hurt.”
“Like a blend can,” Addy said.
“Except he can’t control me.” 10K shivered.
“So what gifts do you have?” Warren calmly asked. 10K bit his lip.
“I told you. Distance means I’m not so good but I still have a general idea where he is.”
“OK. But you feel what he does?”
“Not like this. He was hurt. It’s gone now.” 10K blinked, surprised to find his eyes wet. It had really hurt.
“So is his weird obsession with you because he likes you or does he like you because you’re connected?” Vasquez asked.
“He’s--I don’t know.” 10K straightened his shoulders. “I hate him but he’s kinda ok at times and…” He stopped, looked away. “He did this for me. So I wouldn’t be experimented on. Like a blend.”
“Or him,” Warren said, frowning.
“Kid, we really have to talk. He’s not the right person for you. He’s a predator.” Vasquez crossed his arms.
“I’m an adult.” 10K squinted at Vasquez. “And those laws don’t exist anymore.”
“You know the laws?”
“I can read. He’s not pervy or anything. Heck, he only kissed me on the lips when he said good bye. And it’s--well, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“He’s right,” Addy said. “Murphy’s a jerk but not a pedophile or cradle snatcher. He doesn’t ever try anything with me beside look at my boobs now and then.”
“He controlled 10K.”
“I know that,” 10K shouted. “But we need him and he’s hurting and we used him like he used me.”
“He’s the mission,” Warren reminded.
“But he doesn’t want to be. And they used him. Even tried to make fetuses with him when he said no.”
“What?” Vasquez asked.
“Make embryos for stem cell research,” Warren said. “And possible cloning.”
“More than one Murphy? Are they insane?”
“Ah, guys,” Addy said.”We have a problem.” She gestured. Shadows watched them, moved. Warren cursed.
“They have guns. A lot.” 10K stared at the trees. “They’re Murphy’s people. That’s Victor.”
“Great,” Addy said. “So why all the firepower at us?”
“Because we kidnapped Murphy,” Warren said. “Not good. Easy, people. 10K, stay hidden if you can. They probably want you most of all.”
One shadow detached, became a rider on a horse. It picked its way to them. “Murphy with you?” a cold voice asked, the rider’s right hand holding a handgun.
“No,” Warren said. “The lab took him back. We had nothing to so with it.”
“Besides kidnapping him in the first place?” The rider glowered at them.
“He has a mission,” Warren said.
“He’s a person. And his mission is us.” Vasquez shifted and the gun moved to cover him.
“Hawkins?” 10K said. “Murphy has a message for you.”
“The traitor speaks. I wondered why he hid.”
“That’s Hawkins?” Addy asked.
“Dr. Hawkins. She’s a vet but treats all the people too.” 10K stepped forward as two men on foot came down the hill. “He wanted me to tell you he saw the blue horses.”
The men raised their rifles but Hawkins raised her hand. She edged her horse closer, staring at 10K. “He said what?”
“He saw the blue horses.”
She frowned, looking down at him. Slowly she holstered her gun. “When did you see him?”
“Let’s talk somewhere else,” Warren suggested, mentally toting up the firepower. Yeah, this wasn't good at all.
“We’re looking to rescue him. And since you don’t…”
“We do,” Addy interrupted. Hawkins stroked the neck of her horse, watching her. “He’s been taken from us.”
Hawkins’ frown deepened. “Follow me,” she ordered.
Doc watched Murphy doze, tossing and mumbling. The ‘saviour’ looked terrible, unshaven, skin mottled blue and grey, and covered with bruises. Doc reached out, ran his fingers along Murphy’s hair. “Heal,” he whispered. Murphy mumbled, rolled over, and whined in pain. He pushed himself up, rubbed his eyes. “You can move ok?”
“Back hurts, sides, face. About the only thing that doesn’t hurt is my --never mind.” Murphy stood. “ I need a bathroom. How long was I out?”
“A few hours, not long. They want to take you away.”
Murphy stumbled to the door, pounded on it. A guard took him to a bathroom. Sun Mei and Doc walked outside when he returned. A distant whup whup whup of a helicopter could be heard. “Your trip back to prison, Murphy,” Jenkins said.
“Go to hell.”
“Tiny town in Michigan. Pretty area.”
Tingling spread through Murphy’s body. Zs. A lot of them and they were coming closer. He faintly heard gunshots and he edged next to Doc. “Puppies coming,” he muttered. Doc looked quickly around, nodded. The helicopter appeared on the horizon, getting louder. Like a dragonfly, it buzzed and swooped and Murphy’s throat tightened. He glanced around. He’d hoped, or a tiny bit of him had, that someone would care enough to rescue him. Knees trembling, he watched the helicopter near.
Orange blossomed on the helicopter’s tail and it lurched, spun madly, wildly. Flames shot down along the metal. The helicopter dropped, twisting wildly. It crashed into the ground, black smoke streaking the sky. Yells echoed. “Son of a bitch!” Mays swore. Jenkins grabbed Murphy.
“Not my fault,” Murphy said. He struggled. “Let me go, asshole!”
“You aren’t escaping.”
“I’m not a prisoner. Remember?”
“He belongs to the lab,” Mays snapped as she and Finn turned around. Doc and Sun Mei stepped closer.
“He doesn’t belong to anyone,” Murphy retorted. “Sorry about your ride, Mays. Helicopters aren’t maintained like they should be.”
“We have zombies,” Finn said. “Murphy, send them away.”
“Yeah, right,” Murphy muttered. He shrugged at Doc. “Seriously? I can’t even see them and I certainly can’t stop a horde if this is one.”
“Slow them,” Mays insisted.
“I’m not your puppet!”
“Asshole.” Jenkins smacked Murphy’s ear. Murphy lunged but Doc yanked him back.
The ground rocked beneath them. Everyone stumbled, turned as screams and shouts broke out. An enormous crater now stood where the back fence had been and a SUV rocketed through it. Bullets rattled along its frame and Vasquez leaned out the back door. “Move!” he shouted.
Doc grinned, shoved Sun Mei and Murphy. They scrambled inside, Warren and Vasquez holding off Jenkins with a spray of bullets. “Addy, go!”
Addy spun the SUV and the black vehicle took off. “What tore down the fence?” Doc asked.
“Grenade,” Addy replied, twisting the wheel.
“We have grenades?” Doc blurted.
“We have SAMs,” Addy said, grinning.
“Well, the blends have SAMs,” Warren said, sliding into her seat. “They’re here, too.”
“Where’s 10K?” Murphy asked, voice shaking. Warren touched his arm.
“Relax, he’s with Hawkins, providing cover fire.” Vasquez shook his head. “You look like shit.”
Murphy grumbled then bit off a shriek as the SUV hit several large rocks. “What is it?” Addy shouted.
“He’s hurt.” Sun Mei winced as they hit another rock. “Where are we going?”
“Trees.” Warren said.
At a patch of trees, Addy swung around and a group of people appeared. She stopped and everyone got out. A man got behind the wheel and drove off rapidly. “What are we doing?” Murphy asked, clutching his right side.
“Vehicle switch,” Addy said. ‘
10K appeared on an enormous black horse with Hawkins on her smaller horse beside him. She dismounted and gently hugged Murphy. “A little longer, Mr. Murphy.”
“He’s not blue,” Murphy said.
“No. Those horses are home.” He blinked at her.
She gestured to another large truck beside an overgrown two track road. 10K slid off his horse. Murphy didn’t miss the flinching as his feet hit the ground. Even through his pain, he grinned. “See you at the city,” Hawkins said.
“What are you doing?” Doc asked.
“Just moving the horses a little. Don’t worry.” She gestured to Murphy. He walked over to her. “What hurts?”
“Everything. Ribs mostly.”
Hawkins gingerly touched his ribs. Worry filled her face.“OK, whoever’s driving, drive smoothly. 10K, you know the way.”
“We’ll see you there.”
She mounted her horse, trotted off. The other horse followed her. Vasquez took the wheel. 10K walked over to Murphy, scowling at he spotted the bruises on Murphy’s face. Murphy touched him, ever so lightly. He had to know if 10K was real. 10K breathed out and Murphy felt a ghostly touch in his mind.
10K bit back the rage, the questions, and simply helped Murphy into the truck. His legs and rump ached--he wasn’t used to riding--but it seemed petty to think about when Murphy barely moved. Murphy shivered and 10K pressed against him. Murphy grabbed his hand once, squeezed, and handed him a set of goggles. “You lost them.” Murphy mumbled.
“OK,” 10K said. He glanced at Doc. “They’re not mine.”
“Rest,” Doc said. “I’ll watch.”
“Good man, Whitey.”
Warren looked at Doc who shook his head. The team followed 10K’s directions and soon were on a rarely used, paved road. Murphy dozed, half leaning on Doc. Vasquez drove until he spotted Spokane. Tall city walls guarded the ortion Murphy had claimed and people camped in tents outside. Hawkins waited at the gate. “Come on.”
Warren stared at Hawkins. “How?” she started.
“You had to drive around. I cut cross country.” Hawkins went immediately to Murphy. “Come on.” She led them to a clean medical room, the others tailing behind. Doc glanced worriedly at the large number of armed guards. "Shirt off."
“So many women want to see me naked,” Murphy huffed. “Never thought you were one, Hawkins.”
“You keep hoping, Murphy.”
She ran her hands over a swollen area on his right side, pressed lightly. “Damn. Sir, I need to open you up. I think a rib completely broke and is floating loose.”
“I have an OR set up.”
Murphy twitched, glanced at her, 10K. “All right.”
Warren and the team nervously watched through the door. Hawkins moved carefully but quickly. She soon finished. She checked Murphy again and walked over to the team, pulling off bloody gloves and scrubs. “How often was he beaten?” she asked tightly.
“A few times,” Doc said. “None of us did it.”
“The ribs have older cracks. He’s been beaten a lot.” She glared at the group. “I also saw shackle scars.”
“It wasn’t us,” Warren snapped.
“Just who dragged him to the lab? Santa Claus?” Hawkins held up a bloody bone fragment. “Two ribs snapped. Four others cracked. And that’s on the right side. I count three cracked in the left which are healing. And a broken nose?”
“Murphy started fighting,” Vasquez said. “Look, just fix him.”
She glared at him. “I did. He needs to rest now.”
“He’ll be all right?” 10K asked.
Hawkins snorted. “Yeah, your precious mission should be fine. You may find kidnapping him this time much harder.”
“Hey!” Addy stepped forward as 10K flushed.’ “None of this was supposed to happen.”
“But it did.” Hawkings rolled the bloody garments up, stuck them in a hamper.
“Where’s your horse?” Doc asked. "How did you get here? How do Zs not eat them?“
“Horses are shy of people and Zs.” Hawkins began cleaning while watching Murphy. A few other people came in, began scrubbing.
"How bad?" Su Mei asked.
"He should live. Bone nicked a vein. Go on, I have him."
"I'll stay," 10K said.
They sat beside the drowsy Murphy. “I’m not apologizing,” 10K muttered. “He controlled me.”
“I know.” She watched Murphy.
“And you’re ok with that.”
“It may surprise you but most people in town are all right with it, Tho--10K.” She changed his name quickly.
“Some of the others call me Thomas.”
“You prefer 10K. I try to call people what they want to be called.”
“But you hate me.”
“I hate that you and your friends use people. I expect it but it’s wrong. You don’t like being controlled but you have no problem forcing Mr. Murphy to do things he doesn’t want.”
10K shrugged. “He’s needed. I mean, that was our mission.” He bit his lip. “I didn’t want him hurt.”
“He likes you and the others too much.” Hawkins ran a hand over Murphy’s jaw and 10K bit back an irrational wave of jealousy. 10K frowned.
“You’re really not worried about your horses?” Hawkins removed her hand, looked at him closely.
“They’ll be fine,”she quietly said.
“Zs will attack anything.”
She gave him an odd smile. They were silent a long time until she finally asked “Why did you come back?”
10K stared at Murphy. “To complete the mission.”
“No revenge?” 10K shrugged again. “Of course, I'd say you have that now. You and your friends.” She shook her head. “He hated that you left.”
“He saved you.”
“He likes you best, cares for you.” 10K’s face reddened.“Men.”
“Why do you care? I mean, I know you have to follow his orders. Doesn’t that bother you?”
Her brown eyes widened. “You think all of us are his blends?”
He blinked. “You aren’t? But you wouldn’t willingly stay--he controls people!”
“You poor naive man. Yes, Murphy controls people. He’s not the first nor will he be the last. He’s gotten better--he’s learned to step away, not use his gifts so much. Certainly not for day to day things. And 10K, the people know. They agree to it.”
“I know. He screwed up. You screwed up. We do that.”
“You love him,” he bluntly said, fury rising inside him. Her eyes widened, lips pursed.
“God, no! Not like you think. I am so not interested in him sexually. Murphy is a friend.” A weird knot in 10K dissolved. He couldn’t stop a quick smile. Hawkins noticed and shook her head again, smiling herself.
“So now what?” he asked.
“Now I heal Murphy, get him back on his feet. And figure out what to do with you all.”
10K frowned. “The lab really wants him.”
Murphy opened his eyes with a groan. “Where are we?”
“Home,” Hawkins said.
“No,”10K stated. Murphy’s gaze switched to him.
“Thomas.” 10K nodded. “You’re alive. I wasn’t sure.”
10K felt Murphy’s fingers fumble and he patted Murphy’s hand clumsily. Murphy closed his eyes again. “You found Hawkins.”
“Well, I found him,” Hawkins said.
“No killing, Hawkins,” Murphy said.
“You heard me. No kill, no harm. Not to any of the team.” He opened his eyes again just as Hawkins snorted. “Mean it.”
Hawkins pulled the blankets tighter over him. “You want to hurt us?” 10K asked, glancing at his rifle.
“Part of me does, yes. I won’t. Besides, you did help us get him back.”
10K studied her, Murphy. “You’re weird. You're all nuts."
Victor came in with the team, a heavily armed group of blends with them. 10K stood, grabbed his rifle. Hawkins groaned, gestured them over to her. “Victor, find them food and rooms. I’ll check my animals and be back. Don't hurt any of them
“Dr., they’re the kidnappers.” Victor said, clearly horrified.
“Murphy said no harm,” Hawkins said. She glared around. "No harm. They're guests. Get guards for Murphy and I’ll be back.”
“I’ll help,” Addy said. “I know a little about horses.”
“I can help,” 10K muttered.
In the end, Doc, Addy, and 10K went with Hawkins. Her house, a comfortable building on the edge of town, actually stood outside the walls. 10K heard rustlings and a low growl. He lifted his gun. “Don’t. It’s Clyde. Clyde, here!”
An enormous dog frisked forward. Hawkins stroked his ears and back, opened the door. “Chloe?” she called.
A big cat leaped into view. The cat saw the strangers and stared. “I haven’t seen a cat in forever,” Doc said. “Here, kitty!”
“Chloe. Let me feed her and the others.”
The group stood awkwardly around as several other cats appeared, watching them with glowing eyes. Doc petted Chloe, the calico, grinned at the others. Lights flicked on in another room and water sounds echoed. Plates clattered and Doc released the suddenly squirming Chloe. Hawkins led them to her barn. Clyde roamed around, sniffing everyone and Hawkins gestured to where horses roamed the pasture along with several cows, goats, and sheep. 10K spotted Corbie, the black horse he’d ridden. A whicker and Hawkins’ horse stepped into the barn. She immediately walked over, rubbed the horse’s neck, and murmured. A hand in the pocket and the horse munched a carrot. Hawkins walked into the pasture, looked around and then came back.
“The Zs don’t bother them?” Doc asked. "How?"
“They know how to run. And most Zs are no longer in the area.” 10K looked at her horse. The dark eyes watched him and the horse whuffed the air. “Let’s go back up to Murphy. You can shower in your rooms. We have plenty of clothes.”
“You have hot water?” Addy asked excitedly.
“Of course. We have power."
“The Zs don’t bother your animals,” 10K blurted in shock. “They’re blend animals.”
Hawkins looked at him, eyes wide while Doc and Addy stared. Hawkins' horse rubbed his muzzle on her shoulder. “They’re what they’ve always been,” she said.
“Were they vaccinated?” Doc sputtered.
“I altered the vaccine slightly. But the animals no longer appeal to Zs. And the animals are very scared of them.”
“Murphy can control animals now too?” Addy demanded.
“No, the minds are too different.”
She patted her horse again. At the main building, Victor and Reed showed all the team rooms. “Hot water,” Addy muttered.
10K soaked in a hot shower for a lot longer than he planned. He found clean clothes in his room and his stomach rumbled. “Come eat,” Addy yelled through his door.
The team ate ravenously. Fresh bread, butter, chicken, and veggies, even a small pie for dessert. “You people are amazing,” Doc said.
“We try,” a woman named Marie said. “Is Mr. Murphy all right?”
“He’ll be fine,” Warren assured her.
Hawkins appeared, clean now but tired looking. She ate a little. “He ok?” Warren asked.
“He’s sleeping. Not exactly resting. There’s more trauma than I suspected.” She drank some water. “He’s going to need a lot of rest.” She frowned. “Doc, are you a counselor?”
“I’ve had some experience.” he said.
“I want to see him,” 10K said. Hawkins nodded. Victor scowled but she looked at him.
"Mr. Murphy okayed it."
"They're the enemy."
"Not right now."
10K joined the drowsy Murphy. He ran his fingers lightly over Murphy’s wrist, where his bite had scarred. Murphy jerked awake, blinked. “Thomas?”
“You came back.”
10K blinked. “You knew we wouldn’t leave you.”
“Thought you’d be happy with me gone.”
10K closed his eyes, bit back the scream he wanted to unleash. After a deep breath, he leaned forward, kissed Murphy hard. Murphy’s eyes opened, widened, and he lurched up. He reached out, pulled 10K down and close to him. Heat erupted between them and 10K gasped. Murphy released him, eyes filled with fear. “Did I hurt you?”
“Murphy, just shut up and kiss!”
Murphy snorted in a way, then followed his orders. He slid a hand into 10K’s dark hair, pulled 10K close. 10K moaned as Murphy’s fingers traced the bitemark on his neck. Murphy sat up more then flinched. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“For what?” 10K breathed hard, rubbed his lips. “Wow.” He breathed. “Heal up so we can continue this.” He felt his cheeks heat. Murphy actually gave a low chuckle, brushed his fingers over 10K’s cheek.
“I like you, too.”
“Yeah, well.” 10K shrugged, trying to will his skin from reddening further. “Maybe we can figure this out.”
Murphy nodded. “I’ll heal,” he said.
10K nodded, took Murphy’s hand. They sat together, Murphy’s breathing evened, slowed. Doc came into the room with a guard, gestured to 10K. 10K joined the others in a nearby room. “He’s sleeping,” he said quickly.
“Doc, update us,” Warren said. "Before these people kill us all."
Doc quickly explained what he’d learned, Sun Mei adding small bits. He didn’t mention how Ben had died, just that he’d been murdered. “So Jenkins allowed his friend to die?” Addy demanded. “No wonder he’s a total mess!”
“I’m thinking they want him to become so despondent, he turns to the lab for comfort and security,” Sun Mei said. “He would only be happy there. In the lab, I mean.”
“Christ,” Vazquez muttered. “That’s disgusting. Murphy may be an asshole but torturing him is more than wrong.”
“So what can we do?” Warren asked.
“Chief, he needs help. He needs to let go. And while I have some experience in counseling, nothing like this. He’s been drugged, fed false memories, everything.” Doc inhaled. “I think we need to recognize we completed the mission.”
“We delivered Murphy. He’s been in labs. We’ve done that job. Maybe we can make a home now. I’m not saying we break up--we’re family! But we can work here, live.”
“No vaccine?” Sun Mei asked. “The world depends on us and Murphy.”
“Maybe he’s right,” Vasquez spoke up. “We have no knowledge of anything still surviving but Zona. We could bunker down here.”
“We have a duty. Murphy is the only cure we have,” Warren flatly said,
“We can keep looking for the cure with him--just here.”
“We need more scientists,” Sun Mei said.
“Hawkins made a vaccine for the animals. She might help,” Addy said.
“What?” Sun Mei spun to stare at Addy.
“The horses, animals. Zs won’t touch them. She’s used the vaccine we already have for that,” Addy said.
“They’re kind of blend animals but Murphy can’t control them,” Doc added.
“10K?” Warren asked.
10K jolted from his thoughts. “What?”
He felt heat rise in his face and he looked at his feet. Addy playfully nudged him. “Oh. my god, he actually likes Murphy. Kid, you and I have to talk,” Vasquez insisted.
10K’s head shot up and he glowered at Vasquez. “No, we don’t. I know what I’m doing.” Unconciously, he widened his stance, pulled back his shoulders.
“I’m just saying…”
“Don’t. What Murphy and I do is our business.”
“He controlled you!”
“And I got him dumped in a lab and tortured. We’re kind of even. I can take care of myself.”
Vasquez shook his head but held up his hands. “Fine. Your life.”
“Let’s discuss what we should try next.” Warren glanced at 10K. “Be careful.”
They talked a while longer until Hawkins knocked and then entered the room. “You may want to get some rest,” she said. “”I’m watching Murphy. The lab people will be coming for him."
“We can help.” Doc glanced at Hawkins.
“You can tell me what he’s been through.”
Doc gave a brief rundown on what he knew.She listened keenly. “Thanks.”
“Why that code?” Addy asked.
“Code?” Hawkins looked as confused as she sounded.
She gave a funny smile. “It’s not code,” she said.
“Horses aren’t blue,” Vasquez said.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”*
“Shakespeare,” Doc grinned.
“Still no blue horses,” Vasquez muttered.
“You’ll see them later.”
“Can we see him?” Addy asked. “Just checking on him. I mean, all of us, not just 10K."
Hawkins frowned but opened the door to Murphy’s room. Addy walked over to Murphy, gingerly touched the hollow cheek. She leaned down, whispered. She spent a moment looking at him, watching his hands tremble even as he slept. “You have him on tranqs?” she asked Hawkins.
“Some sedative, some painkillers. He took damage when we moved him. I want him relaxed and pain free, as much as possible.”
“Does he dream?” she asked.
“Good question. I have no idea. I think some dreams creep through but we have no evidence. Some people do supposedly remember bits and parts.”
Murphy mumbled as Hawkins checked the IV. “I can watch him,” Addy offered. Hawkins shook her head.
“Thanks but we care for our own.”
10K bit his tongue but Addy didn’t. “He’s ours more than yours.”
“Murphy broke free or tried to. You keep hunting him. And 10K dragged him out of here.”
“We know what we did.” Warren stared at Hawkins. “No apologies. Murphy is a mission.” Hawkins’ lips tightened.
“He’s a living being. He deserves choices just like everyone else.”
“Life isn’t fair.”
“It isn’t but we can be,” Hawkins countered. Warren scowled. “Murphy is the leader here, the person who saved us. He’s our friend.”
“Or cult leader,” Vasquez spat. “Join the Church of Murphy. Drink the Kool Aid!”
“That’s up to those who join. Yes, he is a leader like a church pastor or charismatic politician. Yes, he’s screwed up at times. What makes him any different?”
“He can mentally force people,” Sun Mei said.
“Plenty of other leaders force or control people. Warren here worked in the Guard. Are you telling me there wasn’t force there? That command allowed orders to be disobeyed? People are told Murphy has influence, that vaccination has that side effect. And Murphy has learned to stop using it so much. The people who have stayed are okay with what the vaccine does. They are free despite what you think.”
“We’re not okay with it,” Warren said tightly.
“And there’s a problem. You want to work together, we need trust. And right now, there’s none.”
“He wants us here,” Doc said. “And we can help.”
“The council may not agree.”
“You have a council?” Warren asked in surprise.
“Of course,” Hawkins replied, giving her a baffled look.
“The council leads the town.” 10K said. “Along with Murphy.”
“But no one can overrule him,” Sun Mei pointed out. “He controls all of you.”
“He listens to us. Most of the time.”
10K tingled and turned. An ashen Murphy lifted his upper half. “Hawkins,” he called softly. She went to him. “While having lovely ladies fight over me is wonderful, it’s not needed.”
“Go to sleep.” She took his arm. "Sorry we woke you."
Murphy looked into her plain, weary face. “I know you’re protecting me,” he said very quietly. “I want them. We need them.”
“We don’t. But I’m willing to listen. Murphy, you can’t trust them.”
“I get it. You really like 10K and the others have skills but the council won’t take kindly to them.”
“They did save me.”
“After putting you in the lab to begin with. You can’t trust them.”
“God, you are so stubborn. We can do this, you know. I want this.”
“And you say I’m the stubborn one.” She leaned over him. “I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m saying it’s a risk.” Murphy gazed at her. She patted his arm. “He better treat you right. Well, all of them better.”
“I need them.”
A whisper but she flinched as if he yelled, looked away. “Right now, you rest,” she said. He awkwardly touched her arm. Then he felt Thomas nearby, looked around. “Watch him,” Hawkins ordered 10K. She gestured for the others to leave.
10K shook his head as she left. “How come you never bit her?” he asked in a low tone.
“She told you? She and I made a deal. She works for me, in return gets to make the calls on animals and animal care. She’s got decent ideas. Hard headed, tho.” He yawned and 10K sat next to him.
“She said she’ll check the walls?”
“City walls. You should sleep.” He glanced around. “Bed is huge.”
10K rolled his eyes, pulled off his boots and crawled into bed.
Surprisingly soft and warm, the bed creaked slightly and 10K rested his head on the thick pillow. Murphy awkwardly adjusted himself until he spooned against 10K. Warm breath tickled 10K’s scalp and he flashed back to an image he’d pulled from Murphy's mind of him snuggling someone in bed. Exactly like the image. Murphy wrapped an arm over his waist.
Murphy fell asleep almost instantly. 10K took a few more minutes. Sure, they’d all slept cuddled together at one time or another but not like this. Murphy breathed slowly, a huge, warm blanket against him. 10K tried to stretch mentally, found himself in a happy dream of sun and dozing at a picnic with himself. He dreams of me. Huh.
10K jerked awake, stunned to find himself in a puddle of sunlight and with a warm. almost purring Murphy next to him. A door creaked and he blinked. Addy stood in the doorway, dressed in clean, different clothes. “Oh,” she said, not controlling her smile. “I’m interrupting.”
10K blushed as he got out of bed. “Not interrupting we didn’t do anything.” He tried to straighten his disarrayed clothes.
“Yet,” she amended as she stepped into the room, closing the door.
He sighed. “Yet,” he conceded.
Her devilish smile made him grin in spite of himself. “Is he all right?” she asked.
10K reached out, ran fingers over Murphy’s shoulder. He tried to use their connection--something he was becoming very used to using--and felt nothing but sleepy contentment, something he hadn’t felt before from Murphy. “He seems ok,” he said.
“Wish I’d had a camera when I came in.”
His blush returned. “You and Mack were close.” he said.
“Yes but I didn’t blush so pretty.” She tweaked his cheek. “He better treat you all right.”
“Get dressed and come eat. I’ll watch Murphy.”
Chapter 10: 10
10K hastily showered, cleaned up, and selected some clean clothes. He returned to find Addy gently shaking Murphy’s shoulder. Murphy gave a weird cry and violent despair, grief, loneliness ‘soaked’ 10K like a rushing wave. 10K grabbed Murphy. Screaming and pleading. Tears streaking down cheeks. Blood staining dirty concrete. Dank, cold cell.
He inhaled, shuddered. 10K awkwardly wrapped his arms around him. Murphy bent his head, huffed and inhaled at his neck. “It’s all right,” 10K muttered.
“They killed him. They killed Ben. They’ll kill you.”
“I’m fine.” He forced Murphy to look at him. Red pinpointed his eyes, the normal blue becoming an odd purple. Murphy shook his head, breathed in and out. He smelled of old blood and disinfectant and his stubbled face rubbed against 10K’s jaw. “You need to shave,” 10K muttered, rubbing Murphy’s back. “We’re fine." The red drained away and Murphy pulled him tighter against him. 10K felt him shiver and he kissed his neck gently. “We’re all right,” 10K repeated.
Murphy nodded. “I’ll wash up,” he said. His cheeks reddened and he looked ashamed. “And that’s why caring makes you weak. If you don’t give a damn, you can do anything.”
10K winced. “Caring isn’t weak,” he said lowly. Murphy jerked and pulled away. 10K traced a line over his jaw with his fingers. Murphy sighed, walked to the bathroom. He washed up slowly, carefully shaving, delicately using a washcloth over his battered body. 10K stepped in as he dressed. “Caring doesn’t make you weak.”
“I really need to watch what I think.”
“Do you think caring for me makes you weak?”
“I think that if I didn’t give a damn, my life would be a lot easier.”
10K frowned. “If you don’t give a damn, then what chance do we have?”
“Unfortunately, I do give a damn. Especially you, well…” He shrugged, looked away, face reddening.
“So you plan on letting all of us stay here?”
“That was alway the plan.”
Murphy kissed him them, a hot, desperate kiss that seemed to melt 10K’s brain. In less than a minute, Murphy had plastered himself against him, had one hand in his hair and 10K had his arms wrapped around his waist.
10K didn’t realize they were back at the bed until he found himself flat on his back with his shirt undone and pants unzipped. “Hey,” he feebly protested although god Murphy could kiss and his hands were making his whole body tingle. Murphy paused, looked at him.
Murphy slowed. 10K’s skin twitched and felt as if it were burning. Murphy kissed down his chest, caressed him with lips and fingers. When Murphy slid a hand and freed his aching cock, 10K keened in his throat. In no time at all, he was coming in Murphy’s hand, jolts of intense pleasure rippling through him. Murphy gave a low chuckle and shifted, began running his hands delicately over 10K like he was a fragile glass ornament or something, someone precious. “I can’t…’ 10K whispered. “So good…”
“Don’t worry. Relax. It’s gets better.”
“Take off your shirt.”
Murphy stripped and 10K ran his trembling hands over the jagged scars, carefully avoiding the fresh wounds and bandages. Murphy growl-purred and bent his head. He kissed 10K and began nibbling his neck and chest. Soon he was kissing his way towards 10K’s stomach and 10K whined. What is he doing? He can’t kiss there….
Hot, wet...10K cried out. His fingers knotted in Murphy’s surprisingly soft hair and he thrust forward, hard. Murphy gave a tiny gasp. 10K’s body shook. All his body tingled, shivered as if every cell had woken and screamed in delight. He moaned, waves of ecstasy and pleasure surging through him. When he came this time, it was longer, blue purple behind his closed eyelids. Murphy’s tongue licked and teased his spent dick. 10K reached out a shaking hand, knowing he should return the favor somehow, but all his bones seemed to have disappeared. He simply stroked Murphy’s hair. Murphy closed his eyes, laid his head on 10K’s thigh, breathing hard. He rested a few moments and then held up one finger. He stood, walked quickly to the bathroom, and came back smelling of mint toothpaste. He laid next to 10K, body quivering and 10K rolled against him, wrapped around him. He ran his hands over Murphy’s back and chest then wrapped his hand around Murphy’s member and squeezed. Murphy groaned. 10K nipped the back of his neck, gave a few, long strokes, and Murphy shuddered hard, climaxing all over his hand.
They laid together, each breathing slowly. “You ok?” 10K asked finally although he felt nothing but contentment.
“Best handjob ever.” Murphy nestled back, closer against him. Skin against skin and 10K quivered, feeling blood rush south again. Murphy chuckled again. “You have a quick recovery time.”
10K blushed. They stayed together, 10K breathing in the scent of Murphy’s skin. Murphy laced his fingers with his. 10K felt--relaxed, at peace. Murphy soon fell asleep in his arms. 10K studied him, noting he looked better. The broken finger looked less swollen and the burns on his neck had faded. 10K traced the scars from the collector with his fingertips. He ran his fingers over the broad back, tracing more scars, visible ribs and spine, and wondering.
“You have forever to keep doing that.” Murphy’s voice rumbled through his body.
“You need to heal.”
“i need to shower. So do you.”
“Trust your nose, kid. Shower. And different clothes. We have plenty here.”
10K frowned as Murphy stood up. He showered fast, dressed slowly while 10K showered again. When 10K came out, the bed was stripped and the dirty clothes and sheets in a hamper. “Murphy, we need to talk.”
“I’m not Ben.”
Murphy blinked. “I know.”
10K controlled his knotting stomach and shaking knees. “I won’t be him. I’m not his replacement.”
“You are 100 times the pain in the ass Ben was. I cared for Ben, miss him but he isn’t you. I know that. Ben wasn’t my lover.”
“All right.” Murphy muttered something under his breath, kissed 10K lightly.“Where did Addy go?” 10K blurted. “She didn’t see anything?”
“Who cares? It’s not like Mack and her were discreet.”
“Sex is private,” 10K said.
“Like any of us didn’t know who Warren was screwing.”
“Still not our business.”
Murphy rolled his eyes and part of 10K cheered this internally. The sarcastic asshole Murphy still lived. “I need to see what’s going on,” Murphy said.
“I’m surprised Victor hasn’t pounded on the door.”
Murphy snorted and opened the door. Addy leaned against the far wall. “About time,” she mumbled. “Chasing everyone away isn’t easy. Hope you two had fun.”
10K immediately blushed and Murphy shook his head. “We’re allowed,” he snapped.
“Easy, bluebell, I know. Come on. Victor, Reed, and Hawkins are slavering.’
Murphy glared at her but started down the hall, then paused, waiting for 10K. Addy poked the young man with her elbow and he blushed harder, dark red. “Kid, jesus, we had sex. It’s not a crime.”
“Shut up, Murphy.” 10K shoved past Murphy, eyes fiery. Murphy grabbed his arm, kissed him hard. 10K shoved him away, wiped his mouth. “Ask first,” he snapped.
Murphy stared at him like 10K stabbed him. He turned away and even through the wall, 10K felt hurt and confusion, even betrayal. “I’m not your puppet anymore,” 10K said. “You don’t get to paw me whenever you want.”
“OK, 10K with me. Murphy, go to the others,” Addy ordered. Murphy’s face hardened and he left. Addy shook her head. “What was that about?” she quietly asked.
10K’s rage flowed away like water. “I dunno,” he muttered.
“You do realize you basically told him to fuck off, right?”
“I’m not his servant. Shit, I don’t even know why…”
“Oh my god, you declared a pissing contest. Well, you got your point across. He looked like you had punched him.”
Addy held up her hand. “You were a dick.”
“And he’s a person. Remember?”
10K groaned. “I better go apologize.”
He found Murphy in his gardens, standing under a tree. He walked over, touched his shoulder. “Sorry.”
“What was that for?” Murphy turned to face him, eyes glittering. “Are you bi polar? Mood swings?”
10K shrugged. “I want you to know I’m not yours unless I choose to be. I mean, we’re boyfriends, not you rule me.”
“Christ, Thomas, I didn’t ask or tell you to be my servant.”
“And I’m 10K. You can call me Thomas when alone. Or I call you Alvin.”
Murphy winced. “No one ever called me that but my mother. All right. Thomas in private. No Alvin or Al.”
10K reached out, gripped Murphy’s hand. “Don’t break the fingers,” Murphy muttered.
10K and Murphy slowly embraced. Murphy cuddled 10K close, closing his eyes. He felt 10K rub his back and gently he tilted up 10K’s chin and kissed him. He found himself shoved against the tree, 10K kissing him hotly. Murphy grabbed his hips, pulled the younger man in close as 10K dug his nails into Murphy’s back. They kissed hot, sloppily until a loud “Hey!” made 10K pull slightly away and Murphy growl.
Warren, Vasquez, Doc, and Addy all stood in the entrance. “You’re disgusting,” Vasquez said. “Whole city about to burn but you need to get laid.”
“Lay off,” Addy said. “They’re grown ups.”
“We have work,” Warren said. “Come on, you two.”
10K reddened. They walked to a large room where Hawkins immediately went to Murphy. He talked to her in a low tone and she nodded, lips pressed together. She glanced at 10K, gestured to the table.
“Inform me,” Murphy said.
“Should they be here?” Victor jerked his head towards the team.
“They’ll be joining us a full citizens,” Murphy said.
“The Council needs to convene,” Reed said. “And they need vaccination.”
“Hell, no,” Addy snarled.
“They already are,” Hawkins said.
“What?” 10K blurted.
Hawkins pointed to Vasquez and Warren and then 10K. “All immune,” she said simply. “Now let’s get the Council in. Mr. Murphy, are they staying for the meeting?”
“Yes. Let’s do this.”
Warren had never respected Murphy, not really. He was a complainer, a lazy man who cared for little save himself. Yes he had good points but frankly, the bad far outweighed the good. And then she met the Council and saw the glow of utter devotion in his peoples’ faces. Scary, oddly heart warming and Murphy seemed to listen to all his Council people with rapt attention. He spoke calmly, answered questions, reassured, and gave suggestions. “The enemy is outside the walls,” Reed finally said. “We have the numbers, Jan has the army ready, we have weapons.”
“There are better ways than all out war,” Warren said. “Zona has planes.”
“We have drones,” Hawkins said. “And some other weapons.”
“Tunnels clear?” Murphy asked.
“Yes. We revamped them since 10K here used them.”
10K squirmed at the hate directed at him. “I forgave him,” Murphy said. “He’s one of us.”
“That’s rich,” Vasquez muttered. 10K kicked him.
“Sir, these people aren’t part of us,” Victor said. “They’re attackers.” He stared at 10K. “They kidnapped you.”
“It’s over.” Murphy didn’t like the looks his people had. He was proud of their loyalty but he really thought they’d be more amenable to having the others join. Of course, he could force them but---he eyed 10K. Naw, 10K would figure it out. Later, maybe. “Come on for the tour,” he said. “Reed, show me what’s going on out there. Hawkins, you need 10K?’
“If he’s willing,” Hawkins said.
“Why?” 10K asked.
“Quick blood test.”
Reed started out and Murphy gestured to the others. They all followed save 10K and Hawkins. “Why?” 10K asked.
“I just want to see if your virus and Murphy’s are stabilizing.”
He frowned but allowed her a sample.
They joined the group walking the city. Armed patrols watched them. People moved purposefully and easily. Murphy showed them the gardens, the large green areas they’d planted. He conferred with Jan, who headed the security forces. “We know where their camps are,” Jan said.
“Good. Have the scouts watch them.” He described Jenkins to Jan. “Tell everyone to try to take that one alive. And Finn.” He described Finn. “Those two are mine. I want them alive.”
“What are you planning?” Sun Mei asked,
“I’m sticking Finn’s head on a pike. Jenkins I will skin alive.”
10K breathed. Addy gave a choked sound. “You’re not kidding,” Warren said.
Murphy’s face practically glowed with hate. “I’m not kidding,” he agreed.
“Yeah, you need help,” Vasquez said. He grabbed Murphy’s arm. The shifting of Murphy’s people and sudden guns appearing made him immediately drop his hand. “Ah, we need to talk.”
“Reed, take them back to the conference room. They can talk there. Jan, show me. I’ll be along in a minute.”
Warren nodded, gestured to the team. In the conference room, she turned to Doc. “What aren’t you telling us?”
Doc sighed. “Ben was murdered,” he said.
“We know. Tito killed him and Jenkins was look out,” Vasquez said.
“Murphy said he was gang raped to death while he was forced to watch.”
Silence. 10K flashed back. Rumble of machinery and screams that echoed. Squelch of flesh and blood, sinew ripping. Throat sore from screaming. Whimpers and begging. “If you don’t give a damn, you can do anything.”
10K ignored Warren, looked at Doc. “If he doesn’t give a damn, it wouldn’t hurt,” he blurted.
“Exactly,” Doc agreed. “He cared about his friend and he was horribly murdered. Jenkins did nothing. Can’t blame Murphy for wanting some payback.”
“He wants to skin him Doc. He’s not really sane,” Vasquez argued.
“He needs some therapy, yes,” Doc agreed.
“I’ll help,” 10K muttered.
“And end up like Ben?” Vasquez said.
“I won’t. I’m not him.” 10K glared at Vasquez.
“He’s not sane!” Vasquez shouted.
“You weren’t either,” Addy reminded him and Vasquez shut up immediately. “He’s screwed up. So? We work on him.”
“There are labs here,” Sun Mei said. “A few scientists, Murphy to help us, we can set up the labs here. Slow but there’s no reason why it can’t work.”
Warren’s face lit up. “That’s thinking,” she breathed. “Of course it can work. Doc, can you counsel Murphy?’
“I can try.” Doc looked doubtful. “He does want us here. We’re family.” Vasquez twitched.
“Look, I know what it’s like to obsess,” Vasquez said. “He wants to skin people. And he’s got a militia to back him up.”
“We talk to him.” Warren rubbed her head. 1!0K, has he said anything to you?”
“A little,” he mumbled. He shrugged at her stern look.
A distant roar of weaponry. “What the fuck,” Vasquez blurted as Murphy came in, looking annoyed. “What was that?”
“One of our mortar bombs. Someone got overexcited.”
“You have mortars?” Warren demanded. “Jesus, Murphy.”
“Isn’t there a camp in front of your walls?” Sun Mei asked.
“Some, yes, “ Murphy crossly said. “They were warned. I’m trying to not have a war here.”
“Has anyone even come yet?’ Warren asked. “From the lab, from Zona?”
Murphy snorted. “They had another chopper.” He smiled. “While 10K is the best shot, there are a few others who are decent. It blew up.”
“God, Murphy,” Warren moaned.
“What? I’m not going to be dragged off for Zona’s amusement or use.”
“Agreed,” Warren said. “You can’t just blow people up!”
“Why not? They have no issue going for my people and myself.”
“We have a proposition,” Sun Mei said.
“Flattered but I have someone,” Murphy said. 10K shook his head but noted Addy smiling. Murphy sat down. “What?” he asked.
Sun Mei sat across from him. “You have labs here.”
“I know that.”
“We hand pick scientists and work on a better vaccine. In return, we all help you.”
Murphy’s hands knotted into fists. “The thing I’ve been offering all along, now you want?” he asked in a dark tone. “ After handing me over to those nuts?”
Sun Mei swallowed audibly. “I know it was was harsh but…”
Murphy stood, spun, and grabbed a chair. He threw it against the wall, breathing hard. “I want you to stay yes,” he ground out. “But inviting torturers into our home isn’t happening.”
“Murphy,” Doc said, voice trembling just a bit. “Come on. You should eat.”
Murphy visibly pulled himself under control. He grunted, glanced at him and 10K. Then he looked at the others. “If I allowed this, I’d pick the scientists.”
‘Sure,” Warren said.
“How many times did they rape you?” Vasquez asked.
Murphy stiffened, breathing speeding up. “I wasn’t,” he said between clenched teeth. “Christ, Doc, you just had to tell them?”
“Murphy, you need help,” Doc said.
“Why would they rape him and not you?” Vasquez pushed. “You spent time in the infirmary.”
“Because they didn’t have time.” Murphy stepped forward. “I was in the infirmary for other reasons.”
“Murphy,” Warren warned. “Vasquez, don’t.”
“Look if it happened, it happened,” Vasquez ordered.
Pain. Ripped, bloody wrists and throbbing arms. Blood soaking into concrete, hands clenching a battered body. Hoarse whisper of “you didn’t help.” Gray eyes fading, becoming vacant and unseeing. Then shouts and screams and hands grabbing and pulling.
10K inhaled. Murphy stepped forward again. “It didn’t happen to me,” he repeated.
10K didn’t miss the look he was getting. As if he could control Murphy! He nervously stepped and both Vasquez and Murphy looked at him. “We have other issues,” he said.
Murphy watched him, rigid with rage yet listening. His cheekbones pressed yellow against his skin and 0K realized again how thin Murphy was. “He’s right,” Warren said. “Sit down, everyone.”
Murphy frowned. A knock and a warm, barely remembered fragrance filled the air. Reed and Victor carried in pots and mugs and Hawkins handed Murphy a covered plate. “You have coffee,” Warren whispered, eyes wide as if angels had sung.
“Found a cache,” Reed said.
“We grow sugar beets, get sugar from them,” Victor muttered.
All sipped the coffee reverntly while Murphy picked at his food. Only 10K fussed with his coffee, trying to ascertain whether he liked it or not. He finally drank it, nudging Murphy to finish his food. “We should call some people in to talk,” Sun Mei said.
“Bring in Jenkins and Finn,” Murphy said.
“Look, let Murphy and I talk and we’ll go from there,” Doc said.
“After I check his wound,” Hawkins interrupted. She studied Murphy. “Does your nose hurt?”
Murphy shook his head. “Why?”
“It looks good.”
“He heals fast,” Addy said.
“Not like that.”
“Sun Mei, think of people who can talk to us,” Warren said. “And the council.”
Murphy nodded to his people as they all looked to him. “It’s all right. Hawkins, let’s go.”
It only took her a few moments to check him out. “You’re healing faster than usual,” she said. “But that just means you went from horrible, horrible shape to terrible.”
“I’ll be fine,” he said as she drew a blood sample.
“You need rest. To eat. You’re home, Mr. Murphy.”
“And there are people who want us dead.”
She snorted. “We can attack.”
“Not yet,” He rubbed his eyes. “You say I’m healing faster?”
“Probably because of 10K.”
“He can heal, I imagine. Like you. And since I’m guessing you were sexually active, he basically heals you and you him.”
“We didn’t--he didn’t bite me that hard.”
“Like HIV, it’s in all bodily fluids. And I doubt you used a condom.”
“I can heal through sex?”
“Pretty sure, yes. 10K too.”
Murphy blinked at her. “You need to rest,” she ordered. “We can watch the place, you know.”
He nodded. “Thanks for getting me,” he muttered.
Chapter 11: 11
Doc handed Murphy another joint. “This is stupid,” Murphy muttered. “I don’t want to talk about this. Besides, you know what happened.” He turned the joint over in his hands.
“I’m hoping to get you to stop seeing us as members of the prison.”
Murphy sighed but thought of 10K. He took a hit, felt the soothing of the marijuana. “You were in the infirmary,” Doc softly started.
“Rope burns, torn muscles. I pulled a lot of muscles.” Murphy closed his eyes. “God.”
His last words were that I didn’t help. He was right. I tried. I failed. Finn is right in some ways. I’ve failed so many. I shouldn’t have cared, shouldn’t try. I told you caring makes you weak--this is why. I buried this--why is it back now?
I used Gregson as much as he used me, became his errand and blow job boy for protection. Pissed off Tito but I was safe. And being able to send his people, one by one, to other prisons--that was the least I could do for Ben. Amazing what someone will do for a blowjob or a cut of drugs.
And then the zombie apocalypse. How many people died before me? Jenkins shoved me on that truck. I still have nightmares about being eaten, still can hear them swallow pieces of me. So I’m now the messiah. Screw everyone. I want my city, my home, my people. The rest of humanity can burn. I did everything that was asked of me--more-- and I’m not doing any more. Everyone can be free but me. Lab rat, treated like some shameful secret monster. I can’t remember the last time I got laid unless you count Pielady and last night with Thomas. Hell, I barely get touched. I’m not human or even a being to most people. I’m not going to be a prisoner anymore. Let zombies chew on their bones, tear open their skin. The zs at least just wanted to eat. Let everyone else be tied down, forced to listen to their people scream. I said I’d protect them too and couldn’t. I'm so tired of failing people.
Murphy heard his own voice echoing and clamped his mouth shut. Doc silently regarded him, eyes wide. “What did you give me?”
“Just Z weed, man. Damn, Murphy. I’m…”
“No. I don’t need pity,” Murphy spat. “It’s nothing.”
Doc reached over , squeezed Murphy’s shoulder. Murphy stiffened but Doc felt muscles shift. Doc looked for the haze in Murphy’s eyes, saw only pain. “Finn has a lot to answer for,” Doc said, voice trembling.
“Yeah, well. He used me. What else is new? We all use each other.” Murphy jerked away.
“I think he did more,” Doc said. “I think he made some false memories. We know he lied to you.”
Murphy rubbed his eyes, the smell of Z weed heavy in the room. “What now?”
Doc had no answer save another squeeze. “I guess we find out together.”
10K knocked, slipped inside Murphy’s room. Murphy stared out the window, seemingly watching the sun set. 10K walked over to him, laid a hand on his shoulder. The blue man didn’t react, just stared out the window. “What did he tell you?”
“Ah, everything , I guess.”
“God damn it.” No rage this time, just utter annoyance.
“Don’t be.” Murphy turned to face him. “I’m humanity’s saviour, I’m in a city with running water and power, I have an army ready to march for me, and I’m going to destroy my enemies once and for all.”
10K kissed him, ignoring the rant.
Murphy jerked and then kissed back. This time was slower, sweeter, and 10K took more of a lead. “Damn, Thomas, who has the experience here?” Murphy muttered as 10K pulled his zipper down.
“Shut up, Murphy.”
Afterwards, 10K aimlessly traced his finger over Murphy’s chest. “Wow,” he whispered.
“It gets better. When I get fully healed, I’ll show you a whole lot more. We’ll need more lube. You can’t be a virgin forever.”
“This is just the start, Thomas.”
10K blushed and Murphy chortled. “Your ribs look a little better.”
10K actually nuzzled Murphy’s neck and Murphy wrapped an arm around him. This was worth it all. He breathed in 10K’s hair, felt his heartbeat against his. Both men woke to the sound of insistent knocking. “Fuck off,” Murphy yelled.
“Get up!” Warren’s voice echoed.
“I said fuck off.”
10K stood up, grabbed his jeans. “Come on.” He headed for the bathroom and Murphy watched him walk, admiring the pale skin and incredible ass and yeah, he better think of something else.
Murphy felt tension along the lines he had with his blends. He dressed quickly. Warren and the others stood in the hallway with Victor, who watched them all suspiciously. “What is it?” Murphy asked straightening his jacket. He noted Victor glaring at 10K. Whatever. His people had to get used to it.
“Scouts reporting in, sir.”
“All right. What is it?”
Victor frowned. “The group is moving. They have more weapons than expected and the two men you are looking for are visible. They want to be part of the negotiating team.”
“We’re negotiating for them. I pick the scientists and people who can stay here. Tell Hawkins I need a horse that can drag a person behind it.”
“Christ, Murphy,” Vasquez said in disgust.
“My choice,” Murphy snapped.
“I can help with the scientist selection,” Sun Mei said.
“Like you did such a great job at the lab,” Murphy retorted.
“Someone woke up really crabby despite getting laid,” Addy muttered to Doc.
“I fucking hurt!” Murphy turned on her. “My bones ache, all right? I want to stick their heads on spikes!” Rage filled him, rage and pain and he felt it ripple along his blends, The power made him tremble slightly then he felt 10K along their weird ass connection. He looked at 10K. A great sigh and he controlled himself. “I choose who comes here or not.”
“Nothing like forcing people,” Vasquez muttered.
“Really? Like forcing your gang of thug Red Hands? Tell me you didn’t hurt or kill any of them, Vasquez, tell me they had a choice! And Warren here used them as well!”
Addy mentally admitted when Murphy had a point, he had a point--one he used like a sledgehammer. Vasquez reddened with rage and probable embarrassment and Warren pressed her lips together. “Can we sit down and act like a family?” Doc demanded.
“Sure, Grandpa,” Murphy retorted.
“Murphy,” Addy sighed.
Murphy glowered but gestured. They all settled in the same conference room and Reed and Hawkins joined them. “Get a list of scientists you recommend,” Murphy directed Sun Mei. “I’ll review. Anyone who wants to stay will be interviewed. Jenkins and Finn are mine. Tell those people that.”
“OK,” Sun Mei agreed. “I’ll have it to you in the hour.”
Murphy nodded. ‘Hawkins, any word?”
“We’re watching everything.”
A rattle of gunfire and Murphy cursed, leaving the room at a run. Smoke rose from in front of the city walls. “What is it?” he demanded of one of the guards.
“The enemy is attacking the encampment. Our ferals are responding.”
“Wait,” Warren said. “Are you sure they’re attacking?”
“Look for yourself.” The man handed Murphy a scope and he peered through it. His face darkened with rage.
“Stop them.” The guards began shooting.
10K found himself hurrying after Hawkins. “What is it?” she asked.
“Why are you encouraging him?”
“He wants revenge, we’ll give him revenge.” She looked at him. “I hope you can help him.”
“You encouraging him to kill doesn’t help!”
“Then get them to leave.”
“Will you help us?”
“I’m Murphy’s friend. I’m here to help the town. Which is your home, too, you know.”
“You run the scouts.”
“You remember. So what?”
“I could help.”
“We tried that. You left.”
“One of the best.” She turned her head as shots rang out. “Son of a bitch.” She bolted and 10K easily kept pace. On the wall, Hawkins sought out Jan.
“Ferals,” Jan explained. “Ours. They’re fighting with some of the Zona people.”
“Ferals?” 10K asked. “You armed them?”
“We have a truce,” Hawkins said. 10K nodded.
“We have this,” Jan assured Hawkins. She ignored 10K. “Is Mr. Murphy all right? He looked ill.”
“He should be fine.”
10K borrowed binoculars and scanned. He swore. “They have Citizen Z!”
“What? Why would he be here?” Hawkins asked.
“And why would we care?” Jan asked.
“He’s a friend,” 10K said frantically.
“To who?” Jan sharply asked. 10K ignored her, ran towards where he left Murphy and the others. Murphy stood on the walls. “It’s Citizen Z!” 10K blurted.
“They have Citizen Z!”
Murphy groaned. 10K looked at him. “What?” Murphy bristled. “You can’t expect...Fine!” He tossed up his hands.
Soon Finn, Mays, Jenkins sat at a large table with all the team except for Murphy. “You’re being watched,” Finn said.
“We know,” Warren said. “Where’s Citizen Z?”
“He’s all right. We want Murphy.”
“You lost that chance,” Vasquez grunted. “He’s back in his hole and well guarded.”
“He’s willing to work with us,” Sun Mei calmly said. “We use the labs here.”
“He’ll enslave us all,” Mays snapped.
“No, he’ll work with us,” Sun Mei stated.
“Then let him come with us,” Jenkins said.
“He’ll never let you touch him,” Doc said. “You let his friend die.”
“Dear god, he was a common prisoner. Yeah, Ben died. Not my fault.”
“He was raped to death while you stood guard,” Addy exclaimed. “How is it not your fault?”
“Ben pissed off Tito. Tito knew the rules--he paid me well. He wasn’t supposed to kill Ben but it happened. Would have turned on Murphy but ran out of time.”
“So no one raped him?” Vasquez asked.
“Him? Are you kidding? Hell, no. Tito would have, most likely, but as I said, out of time.”
“You are a horrible human being,” Addy said.
“Least I am human.”
“He’s right. You keep seeing Murphy as a human being,” Finn said. “He’s not, not anymore. Stop thinking of him as a person. He’s a crafty lab animal, perhaps.”
“He’s a person,” 10K stated.
“He’s not.” Finn looked all of them. “He’ a mutant. He’s the only cure we have. You need to hand him over.”
“Not happening,” Warren said. “Let’s discuss what we can do.”
The arguments made 10K’s head hurt. He stood, walked away a few feet. He could sense people moving around nearby and he briefly worried that they would be taken hostage. Surely these people knew Murphy would destroy them if the team was taken. A tickle across his consciousness and he twisted around. Murphy?
He turned to Doc. “Huh?”
“Are you all right?”
“We need a decision. Murphy and his people are waiting for word.”
“So which one is Murphy’s new obsession?” Jenkins asked. “The redhead or you, kid?”
“Neither,” Addy snapped.
“He’s not a friend, no matter what you think,” Jenkins stated.
“We’ve lived with him for six plus years,” Warren said. “We know Murphy.”
“He’s a thug. Look, we need him. We take him to Zona, you people run this town. We get the vaccine and save the world,” Finn said.
“I understand you’re fond of him,” Mays said. “He’s a plucky rat and has unusual spots and you like him. But he’s there to save us, a vessel to hold the vaccine. Murphy isn’t a person. And even if he was, he’s a needed sacrifice.”
10K shuddered. “No,” Doc said.
Jenkins snorted then stood up. “He gave himself up for you before, He can do it again.”
10K tingled again, turned. Faint sounds, sounds he now recognized as fighting and distant screams. He twisted around, looking and listening. The small room felt tight, heavy. When the door pushed open, he knew it’d be Murphy and his people and he wasn’t disappointed. Murphy, dressed in body armor and surrounded by people wearing the same gear, strolled in like a king.
‘I know it’s rude not to knock but it’s far more rude to talk about me and not tell me.” Murphy looked around, glancing at 10K first as if assuring himself 10K was all right. “Jenkins, Finn. Did you think I would let you live?”
“How did you get in?” Mays demanded.
“I have an army too.” The haze began clouding Murphy’s eyes and all the team inhaled.
“Murphy,” Warren said, voice lowering. He glanced at her. “What happened?”
Murphy smiled. “Some of the Zona people came over to my way of thinking.”
“Murphy, what happened?” 10K demanded, panic entering his voice as Murphy’s eyes turned eerie purple. Murphy shrugged and 10K grabbed his arm, feeling the muscles tense. 10K opened the connection, ‘tapped’ Murphy’s mental walls. Murphy gave a throaty snarl but turned to fully face 10K.
“I’m fine,” Murphy said. His walls gave a little and 10K felt rage, triumph, smugness, and concern. 10K inhaled and then somehow slipped into Murphy’s mind. Soldiers turned on each other, some screaming Murphy’s name, others backing away from their comrades who had the glow of obsession that 10K often saw in Murphy’s followers. Murphy himself was surprised and a bit shocked. Yet he took immediate advantage, sending a group of his warriors through the disarrayed Zona people, going for where he knew his people were, where 10K was. He wouldn’t let 10K go down like Ben. Hawkins had once said 10K was his unhilted sword, someone who would both cut his enemies and him equally. Murphy didn’t believe in love or trust, just power, strength, and revenge. But 10K, and the others, to a lesser extent….Murphy could, did care. He cared for his people but he knew damn well that the outside world would never care, that scratching, biting, and clawing would be the only way they’d survive. He wanted his team to be his friends, to care.
10K yanked himself free from the morass of emotions. “Do you trust me?” he whispered, pitched low for only Murphy to hear. Murphy studied him for a fleeting moment. He didn’t wish to answer, wouldn’t verbally utter anything but still reeling from 10K in his mind, his walls in disarray, the answer pealed forth like a bell.
“Murphy has a number of blends in your troops,” 10K told Jenkins. “You don’t have an army anymore.”
“Not possible,” Finn said.
“They said that about zombies.” Murphy glared at him.
Finn stood up, glared. “Roanake. Roanake!”
10K shuddered as agony sped along the connection. Murphy’s fingers clenched, his body turning rigid. “10K?” Doc blurted as Murphy turned ashy grey. “What’s going on?”
Murphy’s eyes visibly emptied. 10K touched his mind and walls shot up. 10K mentally sagged backwards, the pain vanishing. Murphy turned to him, made an ugly gurgle, eyes flashed red, and he spun to Finn. muscles rippling in an odd way, clearly visible under the body armor. “Murphy?” Warren called.
Murphy’s breathing filled the room, hard, loud, almost a roar. “Bring them all,” he ordered his people. “Chain the ones not ours.”
10K touched Murphy’s arm. It felt like a block of wood. Murphy stalked off, shoving open the door. The group headed for the city gates, ignoring the random squabbles around them. 10K jogged to Murphy, not liking the odd ‘crackling’ he was getting through their connection. Murphy swallowed continually, licking his lips. “Lock the newcomers up,” he ordered Reed. “Double guard all the time and kill them if they fight. Warren, Addy, 10K, Doc, Vasquez, Sun Mei and Citizen Z are all right but two guards on Z.”
“Yes, sir,” Reed nodded, face stiff. “Are you all right?’
“Fine. 10K, with me!”
10K stopped in his tracks, determined to refuse but Doc nudged him. “Something’s really wrong,” Doc muttered.
10K nodded and tailed after Murphy to Murphy’s bedroom. Murphy turned, sweat trickling down his face, skin paling. “What’s wrong?” 10K demanded.
“Take care of my people, my town,’ Murphy said. “You and the others, especially you--you can help lead them.”
“I’m not seeing right!” 10K jerked back. “I can see you but I see the prison, too,” Murphy desperately said, fear making his voice shake. “I’m losing what’s real.”
“Murphy, it’s going to be all right.”
“He broke my mind!”
10K gulped. “I’ll get Doc.”
“This isn’t a cut!”
10K bit his lip. “Murphy, you can see me, right?”
“I hear you, see Ben some but mostly you. You’re you. The others fade in and out.” Murphy shook himself like a wet dog. “It’s like movies in my head.” He frowned. “Or dreams. Mingled dreams.” 10K honestly didn’t know what to say. It must do with ‘Roanoke’--that pain across the link had come right after Finn had said it. And Finn had been expecting something from Murphy. 10K breathed in, smelled sweat and fear along with soap and a touch of expensive cologne. Murphy shuddered visibly. 10K reached out awkwardly, took Murphy’s hand as he’d seen Mack do for Addy. To his surprise, Murphy gripped his hand tightly.
“Talk. Tell me who you are. Keep me here,” Murphy rasped.
“How about I help with the armor?”
Murphy slowly nodded, allowing 10K to undo his body armor. He shook as 10K removed it and 10K winced at the pain in the link even though Murphy had walls up as did he. Murphy’s shirt clung to him, drenched in sweat. 10K laid on hand between the quivering shoulders. “Armor’s big. You need to gain some weight.”
“You need to go,” Murphy whispered.
Because I’m losing my mind. Because I care. Because I’m fucking terrified.
10K’s mouth opened. “Murphy,” he stammered. “What--what are you saying?”
“Oh, crumbs.” 10K impulsively embraced Murphy. Murphy’s fingers tightened in 10K’s shirt. 10K held him close, feeling Murphy shake and heart thunder against 10K’s chest.
10K heard the door open. “What is it?” Warren asked, coming into the room. The team all followed. Murphy tore himself from 10K’s arms.
“Murphy, what the hell?” Warren demanded.
“Out! Go now!”
“Hey, man, we know something went wrong,” Doc said.
“Whitey, please...” Murphy stopped himself and the shaking increased, almost as if he was convulsing.
“Murphy, it’s ok,” 10K said. He tried to use the link but Murphy’s walls pushed him back.
“Are you slipping again?” Addy blurted. “You’re sweating.”
10K touched Murphy’s arm. “Murphy..”
“Tho--10K,” Murphy rasped. “Just go!”
10K instead squeezed his arm. Murphy inhaled. Warren grabbed Murphy’s face in her hands. The blue eyes flickered between blue and red and bore the haze. “10K?’ Warren asked, voice shaking.
“Finn did something with his word.”
“Roswell,” Murphy stuttered out. “God, Warren---” His eyes closed. “Tell me...I couldn’t--I didn’t…” He retched, body spasming.
“What?” Vasquez shouted. The noise echoed. Murphy retched again. The smell of sweat filled the room and Murphy’s sides heaved. Warren grabbed Murphy’s face again.
“What are you talking about?”
“I hit you, attacked you. It was cold and you stole my candy bar but that didn’t make it right, Davis.”
“It’s Warren.” Warren tightly said. “What are you seeing?”
“You. Zebra bra, small room, blue walls…”
Warren ignored the widening eyes. “What were you wearing?” she demanded,
Murphy shuddered. “Those hideous flouerscent orange briefs, jeans, green shirt.” He inhaled. “I---”
“Voyeur,” Vasquez muttered.
“What?” Addy asked.
“That was Vasquez and me together,” Warren said. “Not Murphy.” She gently shook Murphy’s jaw. “You never did that, Murphy. It never happened.” Murphy jerked away. 10K took the opportunity and touched Murphy’s hand. Again the violent shaking. “It’s not real,” Warren repeated.
“What is?” Murphy shot back. 10K felt panic then Murphy created walls again but not before 10K saw blood, felt a knife open his arm. He gasped involuntarily and Murphy pulled completely away, pulled himself into a tall stance. All it did was show his pallor and how badly he shook, damp t-shirt clinging to him.
“I can help,” 10K said. “Let me into your head, see the memories. Maybe I can see what is false.”
Three people chorused, Murphy horrified, Doc startled, Warren shocked. Addy raised her eyebrows. Sun Mei’s mouth opened.
“I told them,” 10K added.
“You idiot!” Murphy’s voice became a choked roar.’”What did I tell you?”
“My choice! Besides, when you went down, I felt it! I feel a lot!"
“What is going on?” Sun Mei demanded. “10K has gifts?”
“Breathe,” Addy told Murphy. “He told us.”
“He shouldn’t have!” Murphy glowered at 10K. 10K simply stared back and then felt a weird buzzing. That meant Murphy was controlling his people, sending orders. 10K tried to listen, heard Protect 10K, care for him as you do me. He twitched.
“Can you let Murphy and me talk?” he asked. “We need to clear stuff up.”
“What, that you’re an idiot?” Murphy demanded.
“Hey!” Doc snapped.
“What do you think they’ll do to him? Do you think they wouldn’t rip him apart if they suspect he may carry a cure? Do you want him tortured on a metal table?”
“Murphy, I’m fine,” 10K said, rolling his eyes. “Besides, they wouldn’t let that happen to me.”
“Why not? They sure let it happen to me!”
10K winced and he saw some of the others doing it as well. “We’ll keep it secret,” Warren finally said. “10K, talk to him.”
She reached out to Murphy who stepped back. 10K felt Doc press something into his hand and the team left. “Smoke this,” 10K said to Murphy.
“It’ll calm you down. Smoke!”
Murphy glared but relented when 10K lit both and began smoking himself. (And coughing soon after). Murphy chuckled. “Watch and learn, kid.”
He smoked while 10K took a few puffs and stopped. 10K knew why Doc had given them the weed. Murphy relaxed under the influence and that was what was called for in this moment. Yet Murphy suspiciously watched him. “Why aren’t you smoking?”
“You said you trusted me,” 10K said.
“I didn’t.” Murphy inhaled. "Not really."
“Just try a little, OK?” Murphy yanked off his sweat soaked shirt, took a clean one from his drawer. He still trembled but sat down and leaned, stretching his back. 10K inwardly flinched over the scars again. Nothing could detract from that pain written in flesh, not even the violently colored bruises. “Let me try,” 10K said as Murphy took another hit, pulled on the shirt.
“Going in your head.”
“Damn, Thomas, why?’
“Because you’re breaking.”
Murphy shuddered hard. 10K tapped on the link. Emotions flooded him, fear and disjointed memories and confusion. He sat down, took Murphy’s hand and tried again. He found memories flashing past him, an odd movie of sorts. “Roswell,” he muttered.
Seeing the incidents through Murphy’s eyes was weird. Swift, disjointed, and flooded with odd emotions. 10K hastily pulled up the Warren incident and found it patchy, almost foggy. 10K studied the images, tried to ignore the torrent of guilt and terror. “Not real,” he said aloud. Pictures of Murphy in prison with Ben, images of Murphy watching TV--he tried to sort through Murphy’s memories. He found out he could almost raft them, like a river, skimming quickly. And then he began powering through certain ones, flicking through them like index cards or a a picture book.
Panic rose from Murphy and walls appeared. 10K shoved them down, realizing he was more adept at this. Murphy could control but couldn’t read memories. 10K could. He searched various spots, trying to ignore Murphy’s increased hard breathing and feelings of rage and terror.
He recognized some obviously false memories by the patchiness, saw events that had never occurred. He found muddled memories. And he roved through memories of himself and Murphy like a bear through a honey tree.
Murphy was shrieking before he was done.
He pulled out, ran his now shaking hands over Murphy’s face, and pressed their foreheads together. “I had to, I’m sorry,” he choked out as Murphy stopped screaming and scrambled away from him. 10K twisted as the door banged open and Reed and Victor burst into the room. “He’s fine!” 10K shouted.
Murphy stood, a wraith in a shirt soaked again in sweat and eyes filled with nightmares. He pointed to the door. “Out,” he whispered. “All of you. Get out!”
“Sir, we heard you!”
“Out.” Dull, hard, a boulder. Murphy stared until Victor and Reed uncomfortably shifted away. 10K stood. “You too. Go.”
“Murphy…”10K said softly.
“Out.” Nothing but ice over stone.
Reed grabbed 10K but didn’t yank him, just tugged gently until 10K gave in and left, closing the door behind them. Doc and the others hurried towards them. “What happened?” Warren asked.
“I need to see Finn,” 10K said. “You were right, Doc. False memories.”
“You made him scream,” Reed snapped.
“I...He was hurt. I tried to help.” 10K ran his sleeve over his face. “Take me to Finn.”
“Should I check on him?” Addy asked. A loud click echoed as the door lock engaged. “Guess not.”
“What happened?” Warren asked.
“I have to find Finn.”
“He’s under guard in the basement,” Victor said in a bored tone. “Double guard.”
10k nodded, gestured to the others. In the clean, brightly lit basement, he walked to where guards stood outside several large cells. The guards watched him intently but didn’t try to stop him as he stepped up to the bars of Finn’s cell. Finn, wearing chains, looked over at him. “So he snapped,” Finn said. 10K fought down the rage at the smugness in Finn’s voice. “You’ll need me to bring him back. Well, what I can.”
“What did you do? How did you plant that in his head?”
Finn shuffled closer. “It’s a failsafe. Do you know computers?”
“No,” 10K said.
“Then you wouldn’t understand. It’s a self destruct code.”
“Murphy’s human,” Addy said, pushing up beside 10K. “Not a computer.”
“He’s close enough. I basically wiped the hard drive clean. Well rewrote the codes.”
“Bastard,” Addy snapped.
“We can let you in to hit him,” a guard said. “As long as he isn’t dead.”
“Really?” Addy asked.
“No,” Doc said. “Later.”
“You made him believe he did things he didn’t do,” 10K said. “He never attacked Warren. Or Addy.”
“He thinks he attacked me?” Addy blurted. 10K looked at her and Warren.
“He thinks he did--worse,” he stammered.
“He never touched me,” Addy said. “I scare him.”
“The memories are bad,” 10K said.
“You made him think he raped people?” Doc stared at Finn.
“I--we--need him broken. I can repair him,” Finn said.
“No,” Warren said in a harsh tone.
“I see why Murphy wants to kill him,” Vasquez said.
“How do we fix him?” 10K asked Finn.
“You can’t. He’ll be that mute blob forever unless I see him.”
“He’s not mute,” 10K stated. “You failed in that.”
“But he can’t tell what is real and what is not.”
“Yes, he can. We’ll fix him.” 10K trembled a bit, anger choking his words.
“You can’t. “
10K turned and ran, heading back to Murphy’s room.
Chapter 12: 12
“Let me in!”
10K pounded on the locked door, listening for Murphy. There was only the slight shifting of weight, as though someone had stretched their legs or rolled over in bed. “Murphy, open the door!” 10K inhaled. “I know what Finn did. I know about Roanoke. I know about the self destruct.”
A soft growling noise.
“You attacked me,” Murphy said in a low tone, startling the younger man as he rested against the door. 10K jerked. Obviously Murphy stood directly opposite him, only the door between them.
“I had to be sure of something. Let me in.”
“Go to hell.”
“I can help.”
“I don’t need help.”
“You can’t tell whether Warren is a man or woman, you need help.” 10K thudded on the door.
The door practically flew open. “I can tell when someone betrays me,” Murphy said, eyes glittering. 10K swallowed hard. Murphy was beyond pissed. Emotional walls tight or not, Murphy leaked fury. While he was barely taller than 10K, right now he towered over him, all anger.
“You never slept with anyone you controlled, never took advantage. I had to be sure. I didn’t want to hurt you.”
Murphy’s face darkened more. “Was that what you were worried about?" he choked out. "That I controlled you into being with me? That I was a rapist?!”
“You control people, Murphy. Yeah, I worried! Cassandra, me, the people…”
“I never screwed any of them. If people sleep with me, I make damn sure it’s because they want to!”
“And how was I to know that? I wanted to be sure! You control minds, think it’s a big step to encouraging them to sleep with you?”
“No. I’m here to help.” 10K pushed Murphy back, hands on Murphy’s chest. Murphy stepped back in sheer shock. 10K kicked the door close. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, that makes up for you rummaging through my memories like a raccoon through the trash!”
10K frowned, He hugged Murphy tight. Murphy inhaled but did nothing else. 10K ran his hands over Murphy’s shoulders, planted a kiss on his neck. “I had to know.”
“How about asking?!”
10K squeezed Murphy. Murphy gazed at him, looking bedraggled and eshausted and 10K laid his head on Murphy’s shoulder. “Finn broke you,” 10K whispered. “We can fix you.”
Murphy sighed, wrapped his arms around him.They stood together while Murphy trembled. Murphy finally rested his face against 10K’s neck. “I never forced you to my bed,” he said. "That I do know."
“I know that.” 10K listened to Murphy’s heart race. “I needed to be sure, to know what I’m doing is me, not you.”
“Wow, everyone does see me as an absolute asshole.”
10K shook his head. “I couldn’t see all your memories, Murph. That’d take way too long. I won’t do it again and I know it hurt and I’m sorry.” He looked at Murphy who stared. 10K held his gaze, shifting uncomfortably. Murphy sighed. 10K kissed him. “Come on,” 10K whispered. “Forgive me and I’ll let you do what you’ve been wanting.”
“Don’t.” Murphy yanked away. “If you want to be with me, be with me but don’t bargain your body for favors!”
10K stared at Murphy who walked to the windows, staring at the sky.“What are you talking about? It was a joke. I’m not bargaining anything!” He glared. “I’m with you because I choose to be!”
“I don’t want you to ever sell yourself. You don’t need to do that!” Murphy whirled on him. 10K’s mind flew to what Doc told them about what Murphy had said.
“Yeah, I gave blowjobs for protection…”
Murphy nodded. 10K walked over, kissed him and Murphy pulled him close. Murphy kissed 10K tenderly, licked 10K’s pink lips. Murphy slid his tongue inside 10K’s mouth and sucked his tongue. 10K keened as delicate fingers caressed his skin. Murphy took his time, helped 10K peel off his clothes. 10K followed his lead, eased off Murphy’s thin robe. Murphy kissed his way down 10K’s chest, nibbled his way to 10K’s aching, already swollen cock. 10K whined, yanked Murphy close, grinding his nails into Murphy’s hair and thrusting his hips.
He lost himself in sensation, a bit shocked when a lube covered finger circled his hole and then eased in. His eyes flew open and Murphy kissed him. Murphy’s calloused thumb stoked the soft skin between his balls and hole and 10K moaned. Soon there were two fingers, then three. When Murphy replaced fingers with his lube covered dick, 10K gasped with the burn and pain. “Relax,” Murphy whispered. He caressed 10K’s cock, ran a finger along the throbbing, weeping head, and 10K hissed. Murphy pushed and found a pleasure spot that 10K never dreamed could exist. He dug his fingers into Murphy, raked his nails across Murphy’s back. Soon Murphy easily thrust back and forth and 10K frantically shoved upwards, trying to get him deeper. Murphy grinned. 10K shoved his hips upward, arching as Murphy drove deeper, harder.
10K gasped, squeezed, and came, feeling Murphy clutching him tight. Murphy thrust four more times and came, holding 10K hard. 10K kissed him, sweaty and sated. Murphy held him until he fell asleep. Murphy slept lighter than 10K, woke when the moonlight spilled over his face. He smiled as he slid from the bed, chest tightening in a pleasant way. He hadn’t felt this way for a very long time.
His back and sides throbbed as did his chest from 10K sinking his teeth a little deep. Well, the younger man had lost control--Murphy could feel the scratch marks on his back. He felt better--not just because of the fantastic sex but more stable, clear headed. He showered, sat in the window and watched the moon and smoked weed. 10K lightly snored and Murphy smiled again. Damn bastard was adorable.
Murphy finally returned to bed, falling asleep next to 10K. This time he woke to 10K’s soft inhale. 10K’s eyes, wide and liquid, glimmered in the dim light. “Are you all right?” Murphy asked, voice filled with worry.
10K nodded, cheeks pink. “Sore,” he whispered. “But good.” He rubbed his face. “I need a shower.”
Murphy smiled. 10K stood and walked to the bathroom while Murphy changed the sheets and dressed. “What is that? The clawmarks?” came 10K’s voice. “Did I? I’m so so…”
“You got excited. I did too and it felt great, so stop worrying.”
10K blushed. Murphy finished dressing. 10K watched him pull on a dress shirt, smooth the fine cloth with slightly shaking hands. 10K handed him the pants, assisted with the jacket. “Do you know who I am?”
Murphy glared. “I’m not crazy.”
“I know that, babe. I just don’t want to talk about it, all right? I’m not seeing the prison, I know who you are and aren’t, I just want a little normalcy, ok?”
“In the apocalypse? And--did you call me babe?” 10K’s cheeks reddened again.
“God you blush pretty.” Murphy stepped to 10K, kissed him hard. 10K kissed back.
“We just showered.”
“Plenty of soap and water here.”
“I’m hungry. Come on.” 10K awkwardly took Murphy’s hand. Murphy tilted his head and then followed him out the door. They held hands for a moment or two, 10K surprised at how natural it came to feel. Murphy gently let go as they neared the dining hall. They ate. At one point, someone dropped a plate and Murphy froze. Clacking plates, crunching feet of guards. Prison cafeteria and he looked around for Ben, to note where Tito was, and...He inhaled. 10K watched him with worried eyes. “Slipping?”
“I’m fine.” 10K frowned. “It’s just for a second,” Murphy said quietly. 10K nodded. Murphy finished his breakfast, gestured to Victor. “Gather the council,” he ordered. “Meet in an hour.”
10K watched Murphy chat with Victor and Jan, noted Murphy’s elegant suit hung on him. He needed weight so badly. Doc plopped down beside 10K. “Hey, kid, how was your night?” To 10K’s horror, blood flooded his cheeks. Doc looked startled then laughed, smacking 10K’s shoulder. “Must have been good,” Doc teased.
“Shut up,” 10K muttered, feeling his ears heat.
“Seriously, is he okay?”
“I don’t know. He seems better but he slipped in here. He said it’s like jumbled movies.” 10K frowned. “He called me babe.”
Doc blinked. “Babe?” He bit his lip but his grin eventually broke loose. “He likes you.” 10K flushed brighter. “Call him honey and you’ll be even.”
“God, Doc,” 10K groaned.
“How can we help?”
“I don’t know. He’s still mad at me, I think, but he trusts me. Some.”
“That’s a start.” Doc watched Murphy.
Murphy turned around and walked back to them. “Have to see Hawkins. Want to come?”
Doc tagged along. On the way, they ‘collected’ Addy, Warren, Sun Mei, and Vasquez. At Hawkins’ residence, 10K spotted several horses and cows. “Should have worn jeans,” Murphy grumbled. Vasquez stopped in his tracks.
“That horse,” he started.
Murphy looked. “Yeah?”
Everyone stopped. Indeed, a bluish horse watched them curiously, ears forward.
“Yeah, so?” Murphy asked. “I told you that horses were blue.” His face lightened.
“Blue roan,” came Hawkins’ voice. She came from her surgery, scrubs flecked with blood. “How are you, Murphy?”
“Better,” Murphy said. “What’s happening?”
“Oh, had a mare give birth. Foal was breech but I got her turned around and they’re both fine.”
“Can we see?” Addy blurted. Hawkins grinned, a rare look for her.
“Come on,” she said.
In the barn, she handed Murphy a coverall. Addy and Hawkins walked to a large stall that held a black mare and a black and white foal, still wobbling on long legs. Addy’s grin widened. “What will you do with them?” Warren asked.
“We train some, let the others go free. The Zs don’t bother them and we’ll need some way to move when the gasoline supply is gone. All the scouts use horses at one time or another. The cattle roam free as well.”
“Zona has gas,” Vasquez said. "We have gas."
“Not for long.” Sun Mei patted the mare’s nose.
“Council meeting, Hawkins.” Murphy watched the foal totter around. “Will it be ok?”
“Should be. She’s strong.”
Murphy tickled the foal’s muzzle as she stuck her head over the door. An smile curved his lips, the same mile Addy wore. The mare stepped close but watched only, ears flicking. 10K touched the scrubby mane. The foal sucked his fingers then shook her head and buck jumped to her mother.
“You really think you can repopulate the herds?” Murphy asked softly.
“I can. The vaccine has spread and animals are recovering very slowly.”
“What’s her name?” Doc asked. “The filly.”
“I haven’t named her yet.” She looked at them all. “One of you can name her if you like. And there are other babies coming.”
“”I want a foal,” Addy said suddenly.
‘Learn to care for a horse first,” Murphy said. “But Hawkins can teach you. She teaches others.”
“You do?” 10K asked.
“How do you think our scouts learn to ride?” She smiled. “I’ll teach you all when Murphy heals a bit more.”
They left the barn and Hawkins changed quickly. They all walked back to the council chambers, Murphy waving to his people. In the council room, everyone settled into chairs. 10K laid his hand on Murphy’s leg, to see if the older man was trembling. Murphy quivered slightly, turned to look in his eyes. 10K reached up, cupped his jaw for one heartbeat, then dropped his hand as if Murphy burned him. It was weird still, feeling affection for Murphy. Murphy smiled, a funny smile filled with a mixture of wistfulness, hope, and worry.
“Murph,” 10K murmured, just loud enough for Murphy to hear and his smile brightened. 10K’s heart sped up and he felt his neck flush.
They may have sat forever just staring at each other but Doc nudged 10K and Warren glared at Murphy. Murphy shrugged, looked around the table. He coolly summed up their situation in a few sentences, how Zona and the attackers were in disarray, they had saved people, and Citizen Z. “This is our home--and we’ll protect it. There will be some scientists working here for a period of time.” People looked uneasy. “They’re not us but we’ll be good hosts. We will watch them, however. Jan, Hawkins, Reed, these people will need careful observation.”Murphy inhaled. “Sun Mei, you and the whole council will pick the ones to stay here. And the council determines the fate of Finn and Jenkins.” Silence and huge eyes. “I can’t be neutral,” Murphy said. “I know what I want done. But it’s up to you. Except for staying here--that can’t be allowed.”
“They tortured you.” Reed said.
“Why I can’t judge. All of you have led the place in my absences. We’ve hammered together great plans. I’m not conceding anything except the fact that I’m not in any way impartial.”
“Us, dude?” Doc asked. Murphy nodded.
“I can delegate, you know. Hawkins, can you get with 10K and Addy on scheduling lessons for the horses? People need to learn.”
Hawkins looked at him dubiously then 10K then Addy. “You willing?” she asked.
“Yes,” Addy said.
Warren watched Murphy thoughtfully. “Welcome home,” he said to her.
She smiled. “You’re one odd fellow.”
After a long council session, 10K walked with Murphy to his ‘meeting room’, his public room with a chair that was more a throne. The older man seemed distracted, in pain even. “You hurt,” 10K stated.
“Yeah, babe, I do. Ribs and head.” He inhaled.
“Yeah, how about resting?” 10K suggested. Murphy waggled an eyebrow. “Resting,”10K insisted although his blood started rushing south.
“I need to check some stuff, let my people know I’m alive and all right. You know, you have a room and place too,” Murphy said. “I want you with me but you have your own space.”
“Thanks.” 10K inhaled.
“What are we, Thomas? What do you want?” Murphy asked softly. “I’m trying, kid, but think I’m hitting a wall.”
“You weird me out sometimes,” 10K said, not missing the hurt in Murphy’ face nor how Murphy’s hand dropped. 10K took it in his. “I like you, ok? We’re boyfriends. I want to be a partner, have a say. I choose what to do, how to help, and--well, I’m not just a boy toy for you to play with!”
“10K, I lead here. I have you as an advisor.”
“So how exactly are you not a partner? And a boy toy? Really? Where are you getting these ideas?” 10K shrugged. Murphy glared. “I asked you to help lead because I was slipping. What…”
“Let me help more. You are still slipping. Doc can counsel since I doubt you’ll talk to anyone else. We’ll all help.”
“I know that! So what aren’t I doing?!”
“Admit you’re wrong once in a while, that you need help! Stop being a king and be a leader!” Murphy blinked. They stared at each other. “What am I to you?” 10K asked, enraged for reasons he couldn’t identify.
“My lover. My companion.” Murphy swallowed hard, looked nervous. “ I even trust you.”
10K slowly smiled. “Good.”
“Is this over? Have we bonded enough?”
“I need to know...”
“I want a partner! Is it so hard to believe I want us together? Our group spent a lot of time together. Maybe I want friends! My blends care for me but I thought hey, maybe the team would like to be part of the new world too.”
10K sensed the truth in his words. “All right,” he soothed. “I understand.”
Murphy kissed him frantically, wildly, as if reassuring himself 10K was real and solid. 10K inhaled and yanked Murphy closer. Soon they ground against each other. Murphy twisting so 10K was in the chair.
Murphy pressed against 10K. He smelt faintly of cologne and tasted of apple. 10K drank it in, running his fingers over Murphy’s neck and jaw, cupping his hand around his neck. Murphy moaned into his mouth, sucking his tongue. “You taste so good,” Murphy mumbled as he moved to 10K’s neck. 10K just groaned as Murphy’s teeth gently closed on his neck.
Murphy hissed against 10K’s neck. “Christ, Vasquez, you really know how to cock block.” 10K gently pulled away. “What is it?’ Murphy snapped.
“We wanted to talk as a group,” Warren’s voice drifted over them.
Murphy sighed. He let 10K up and sat down, looking suddenly weary.
Warren walked over, kissed his cheek. “We’re home. Thank you.”
Murphy blinked and 10K felt the confusion like a wave. He laid his hand on Murphy’s shoulder. “You’re welcome?” Murphy said dubiously.
“We are going to do great,” Warren continued. “And we--I owe you an apology. I’m not apologizing for what I did--I believe in the mission--but I understand you were hurt. You are more than a mission and I should have tried to understand that more.”
“Ok.” Murphy seemed wary.
Warren shrugged. “We’re all going to help.”
Murphy frowned deeply. “We’ve been doing all right,” he said. “You’ll fit in great.”
“Yeah, part of the Murphy clan.” Vasquez muttered.
“You can be on garbage detail,” Murphy snapped.
“Sounds like home,” Doc said. “We can do this.” He patted Murphy’s shoulder.
“As long as I have something clear.” Vasquez stepped closer. “10K, are you really sure about this? You don’t have to be with him.”
Murphy stood up, face dark with rage. “I’m all right,” 10K said hurriedly. “I chose to be his boyfriend.” Anger, his own rage and not Murphy’s, made his chest tighten, “I told you, I know what I’m doing.”
“He’s an old man compared to you, kid.”
“We’re good,” 10K said.
“Leave him be.”
“You just want him because you know he’s powerful and just might get gifts to knock you on your ass.”
Murphy clenched his fists, stepped forward. Vasquez snorted, stepped forward as well. The two men glared at each other. “Are you two done?” Warren snapped. “Vasquez, 10K can choose his own lovers. And Murphy can help him if he gets gifts.”
“No one touches him. No scientists, no cages.” Murphy paced a few feet.
“I’m fine,” 10K said.
Vasquez shook his head. “He’s not Ben,” Vasquez reminded.
Murphy jerked. “Really? I couldn’t tell,” he shot back. “Oh, other than the fact I want 10K and not Ben. And Ben is dead.”
“Glad you remember that.”
Murphy growled and then shook himself. 10K felt a mild sadness and despair through the link, hard to sense as both Murphy and he had learned to keep the walls up most of the time. (Except during sex and oh, god, what had Murphy felt from him?) Murphy looked over at him, confused. 10K reddened and Murphy gave a chuckle.
“Don’t get too attached, kid. He’s gone through people like tissue,” Vasquez cracked.
“He has not. He’s hasn’t been with anyone since Serena!”
“Oh, god.” Murphy closed his eyes as the others all stared at him.
“Really?” Addy asked. “But you and Cassandra…”
“No, I didn’t.” Murphy opened his eyes.
“No one here?” Doc asked. “Not even Hawkins?”
“Hawkins dates women and I’m not talking about this!”
He shifted uncomfortably under their gazes. “It’s all right,” Warren said.
“Sex once in six years?” Vasquez muttered.
Murphy gritted his teeth, felt 10K touch his back. He didn’t dare turn to look . I want a partner, a friend. Someone to love who loves me. “You seem awfully interested,” Murphy purred to Vasquez. “Jealous?”
Vasquez practically growled as Addy snorted and even Warren smiled. “Enough,” Sun Mei said. “Let’s discuss important things.”
“We just spent forever in council. More?” Murphy demanded. “I have to talk to my people.”
“When can we start in the labs?”
“Give me a week,” Murphy said. “And all the scientists.”
Murphy held his town hall, forcing himself to keep working. 10k watched him from the sidelines, observing how his skin flushed and faded. He stepped forward finally, Doc beside him, and Murphy turned to them. “Time to end,” Doc said cheerily and 10K took Murphy’s arm. Murphy frowned but stood up.
10K curled beside Murphy that night, listening to him breathe. The larger man threw his arm over 10K, buried his nose in his hair. “Thomas,” came a whisper.
“Is this it?” 10K whispered. “Are we home?” He’d only meant the question for himself, something to ponder but somehow Murphy heard it.
10K found it a bit difficult but eventually dropped into a dreamless sleep. He woke in the wee hours of the morning to find Murphy at the window staring at the sky. “Murphy?”
“I find that looking at the sky reminds me I’m not in prison anymore.” Murphy lifted his hand, swallowed from a bottle. “I know I didn't but the memories..." He drank again/ "Did I rape Warren? Addy?"
“No! She told you that.”
“I control her too. Could I have made her think she agreed?”
“You don’t control Addy. You didn’t touch them, Murphy! They would have killed you anyway!”
Murphy rubbed his head. “It comes, it goes.”
“You’re home. That’s what you need to remember?”
Murphy gave a bitter laugh. “Home? Damn, Thomas, I haven’t had a home for forever.” He inhaled. “Everytime I get even close to a home, it’s taken away.”
10K flinched. “We’re here now.”
Murphy shrugged, took a long drink. “For how long? Come on, kid, you’ll be after the next redhead you spot and the others, who knows?”
10K stood up, strode to him, took his face in his hands. The haze in Murphy’s eyes had returned but not so heavy. Indeed, it looked at if Murphy was teetering between despair and rage more than anything. “You’re going to be all right.” Murphy grunted. “I’m here. And not interested in a redhead.” He shuffled his feet. “I sleep with you.” Murphy put down his bottle.
“Doc says we’re family. Believe him. And me.”
Murphy sighed. “I’ll try.”
10K pressed his head against Murphy’s forehead. Murphy clasped his neck, let his fingers caress 10K’s bite scar and 10K gasped. He reached out, stroked Murphy’s wrist where his bite mark was and was gratified to feel Murphy jerk. Murphy shivered as 10K’s callused fingers stroked the scar again and again. “I’ll come in my pants, you keep that up.”
“Who knew your wrist was erogenous?” 10K teased. Murphy actually chuckled and smiled.
“Feeling frisky, are you?”
Afterwards, 10K slept. Murphy held him close, breathing in his scent. He felt better--sex was always incredible with Thomas and since he knew Thomas liked it...Murphy paused. Walls. They didn’t maintain them during sex. And he and Thomas had both felt --Murphy inhaled. Thomas cared. Maybe not love but he cared. Murphy rubbed his burning eyes and tried to soothe his mind. He always said he didn’t care for people and a lot of time that was true. Caring meant he got hurt. But if someone cared back? He touched 10k’s hair. This was serious. He had a partner now, a mate, a companion. Maybe, maybe this could be all right. Finally he slept, fingers curled around 10K’s hand.
10K woke to Murphy singing in the shower. Odd. Murphy didn’t sing. He got up, padded to the shower, pushing Murphy out of the way so he could get clean too. Murphy only kissed him. “You are so odd,” 10K muttered as Murphy washed his back.
“Maybe.” Murphy kissed his shoulder and left the shower. 10K washed and stepped into the room to find Murphy dressing. He looked almost normal, bruise faded, ribs healing. The burn marks on his neck formed a collar of dim scars. The blue grey of his skin was far more human pink save several spots. Murphy pulled on a fine shirt.
“Jeans,” 10K said suddenly. “You never wear jeans.”
“Saviour of the world should look refined,” Murphy said, turning around. He buttoned his shirt, slid on pants. “I do wear jeans sometimes.”
10K nodded. Murphy and he ate and then Murphy stood as Victor neared him. “We’re ready, sir.”
“The prisoners. Jenkins and Finn. They’re vaccinated and awaiting your orders.”
Murphy’s eyes widened and 10K stepped close. “You decided to vaccinate them?”
“Of course. I thought you knew. We vaccinate them, you order them to give us information and then we set them loose somewhere, ordered to forget about our protections and city.”
“Wow,” 10K whispered.
“The new members of the Council wanted them to be kept alive but they deserved punishment. We arranged this.”
Murphy’s surprise ran through 10K. “That’s clever,” Murphy said and Victor preened.
“Bring them, Doc, Hawkins, Sun Mei to the public room.”
“Of course.” Victor stalked away, clearly pleased, and Murphy glanced at 10K. “I didn’t…”
“I know. What are you going to do?”
“Just what they decided. I promised.”
10K nodded. They walked to the public room where Warren, Vasquez, Doc, Addy, and Sun Mei argued with Hawkins and Victor. Finn and Jenkins, in heavy chains, glared at Murphy. “This is insane,” Addy said. “Murphy, you can’t wipe their memories!”
“And why didn’t you tell us Hawkins contaminated the water?” Sun Mei demanded.
“Contaminate? All I did was have a low amount of vaccine in it. It’s for the animals. It’s a stream.”
“The Zona and lab people reacted to it.” Warren stared at her.
Hawkins shrugged. “They reacted to it but I doubt they received a full dose. That’s why some react and some don’t. ”
Murphy eyeballed his doctor but shrugged. “I knew she had an animal vaccine. I knew it was dripping into the water. So?” He eyed Finn and Jenkins, shoulders tightening. “Kneel.” He used his mental gift.
Both Finn and Jenkins went to their knees. 10K grabbed Murphy’s arm. “Don’t,” he harshly whispered. “I know you want payback but--not like this!”
“Because you’re the one in charge. Because it won’t heal anything.” 10K didn’t say that. Instead he blurted “Because you know how it feels to be under someone’s heel.”
Murphy gave a weird growl and flung himself down in his chair. “All right, Finn, you’ll answer anything Doc and the others ask you. Afterwards, you and Jenkins will get a truck with supplies and a few buddies.”
“You’re letting them go?” Sun Mei asked.
“I said I would. They’re heading north--they’ll take Citizen Z back to his girlfriend. If they survive that, I’ll have them forget about here.”
“That’s actually--feasible,” Warren stated, looking at Murphy. “Smart.”
“Amazing, isn’t it? I can actually plan and think,” he snapped.
“I meant it as a compliment.”
“Doc, you, Sun Mei, whoever, get Finn to tell you how he played with my head. Jenkins can rot in his cell until Finn is done. Hawkins, I want a horse to ride. I need some air.” He glanced at 10K and then Addy. “You interested?”
“Murphy,” Doc started. “I’m not a psychartrist.”
“Finn isn’t one either. He can tell you what he did, some fixes.” He stared at Finn. “You and Jenkins will tell them the truth and be helpful.” 10K heard the buzzing which indicated Murphy was using his control.
“Jackass,” Jenkins muttered. “All this for some whore.”
Murphy clenched his chair so hard wood creaked. “They are yours,” he rasped to Doc. “Hawkins, come on.”
When the trio returned to the city, sweaty but smiling, Warren took Murphy aside. “We did what you said. We have information that should help,” she said.
“They’ll leave in a day or two.”
They left the next day with Citizen Z. Murphy spent the next few weeks recovering, reassuring his people. As he healed, the team adjusted to their home. Doc held a few meetings with Murphy but mostly Murphy chose to be alone, especially after lab sessions. He had the labs monitored with cameras but only a select few could watch. 10K hung around him, tried to just watch. Murphy and he still had incredible sex but there were times when Murphy locked himself away or stared out the window. Those times 10K saw cold cell walls, felt chains around his limbs. He gave Murphy space. Yet it was Addy who finally shoved through Murphy’s standoffishness--by stalking up and punching him hard in the street.
Murphy fell back, stunned and shocked. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she shouted as Doc and 10K hurried over. People began gathering.
“About what?! What the hell?”
“You should have said Dana was here!”
“Who? Dana? Gideon’s Dana? The woman you nearly hooked up with? She joined me before I was taken.”
Addy’s eyes burned. “You vaccinated her!”
“And all the others! That’s the deal. Join us or leave!”
“You absolute asshole!”
“Okay, let’s get inside,” Doc said, eyeing the crowd.
“You are such a dick,” she hissed as Doc hurried them into Murphy’s office.
“She had a choice,” Murphy growled. “And she’s happy, along with the others. I never forced her to do anything.”
“They want freedom!”
“What is with all of you? What more do you want?” Murphy roared. “I’ve given you blood, DNA, let those scientist vampires use me, try to keep this place going, feed, clothe, treat you, save your friends, forgive my enemies, even beg you to join me--what more do you want? When do I get something from you?!”
“We protected you!”
“For yourselves, not me! There’s not one damn thing you’ve given me unless you got something in return!”
Addy raked her fingers through her hair, glared. Murphy glared right back. “Is that how you feel about 10K?” she challenged.
“Why would you care?”
“Because he’s family!”
Murphy stepped to her. “He’s mine. He chooses to be with me. And I choose him. He can leave anytime as well.”
“Is that what you want?”
“What does that matter?”
“Because we’re making a home, you dick! You’re supposed to care for us! And maybe, if you stopped being Mr. D-Bag, you’d realize that we care too. I know we’re not Ben and his magic sad tale but do you think he’d even recognize you? Or be proud?”
Murphy’s hands clenched. “Dirty pool,” he ground out. “Ben is dead.” 10K trembled under the rage and grief he felt through the link. Murphy turned around, presumably to leave.
“Maybe it’s something,” Doc said. “What would Ben think?
“He’d think I’m an idiot for trusting people.”
“You’re not an idiot.” 10K spoke for the first time. “And I’m proud of you.” Murphy stopped dead. 10K gazed at him. Murphy studied him, incredibly curious but utterly exhausted as well. “We’re home. Finally. Thanks to you,” 10K added. “Ah, honey.”
Murphy’s pupils dilated and his mouth quirked. “Honey?” he choked.
Murph broke into laughter. 10K reddened but he enjoyed Murphy’s laughing and Doc winked at him. Murphy chortled for a few moments more, then calmed down and walked over to 10K, eyes shining. “I’m not a nice or even very good man,” he said softly.
“You are a better man, You do good things. I mean it, I’m proud of you.”
Murphy kissed him gently. 10K reached out, hugged Murphy and the older man sighed. “You did do a lot," Addy groused. “Of good, I mean.”
That night, 10K watched Murphy strip. “What was he like?” he asked. “Your Ben?”
“He was kind. Trustworthy. And despite what people here tell me, I know I failed him. I could have made a change, could have refused Justin, asked to be taken first.” Murphy looked over at 10K and 10K realized Murphy was actually going to talk about this. He sat up. “I cared for him,” Murphy continued. “Not like I care for you. But I cared. Maybe if Ben and I had had better luck, he would have been my lover. It didn’t work out that way.”
“Had you fallen in love with him?’
“He was my friend. And in that place, he was the only one who didn’t use me. No, I wasn't in love.”
“Huh. I think Doc is helping you. Good.”
“Thomas, I’m still seeing the prison at times, still see…”
“Us as inmates. I get it.”
“I don’t think it’ll be fixed. Doc thinks it can but…”
“No buts. You may be scarred but that’s it. You’re healing.”
“I’m not really in reality,” Murphy snapped. “I’m fine then I waver.”
“Like the rest of us?”
Murphy frowned but it was thoughtful. He settled beside 10K, leaning into the younger man’s warmth. “If they do make a cure, what happens?” 10K heard the unspoken “what happens to me?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I’ll be here.” Murphy blinked in surprise. “It’s family,” 10K lamely explained. “You and Doc and Addy and everyone. From Victor and Hawkins to Vasquez.”
“Even Trashcan Joe?” Murphy’s eyes gleamed as he mentioned the odd, trash dwelling hermit he’d nonetheless vaccinated. The man scrounged and had few chores but he found interesting bits. 10K--and all the rest of the team--honestly were stunned Murphy had accepted him but 10K realized since then that Murphy had a softer heart than most people imagined.
“Yeah, even Joe. That proved you were a softy. Taking him in,”
“Softy my ass.”
“Ha! You let Hawkins save a family of skunks.”
Murphy rolled his eyes. “Nothing soft about me.”
“Want to prove that?” 10K countered. Murphy grinned.
After a long, heady session of lovemaking which left 10K pleasantly sore and sleepy and Murphy sweaty and content, they laid together. 10K eyeballed Murphy. “You’re never gonna say it, are you?”
“Are you?” Murphy propped himself up on an elbow. “You feel what I feel.”
“It’s not the same.”
Murphy sighed. “I know.” He breathed out slow, steady. “I am way better with actions than words.” He kissed 10K. “You know I love you.” His voice wavered a little.
“You better.” Murphy chuckled and laid down, hiding his fear. As he closed his eyes, 10K ran a hand over his chest. “Love you too.” Murphy smiled. He nuzzled 10K’s hair. “Someday, Murph, you need to explain why you like the smell of my hair so much,” 10K murmured.
Murphy inhaled. He had no idea how to react--no one had told him they loved him for over a decade--in fact, he didn’t remember anyone saying it in the past 15 years or so. He kissed 10K. “Because it means I’m home.”