NON ZERO POSSIBILITY
E-Mail: notmanos at yahoo dot com
Disclaimer: The characters of Angel are owned by 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy; the------------------------------------------------
character of Wolverine is also owned by 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics. No copyright
infringement intended. I'm not making any money off of this, but if you'd like to be a patron of the
arts, I won't object. ;-) Oh, and Bob is *my* character - keep your hands off!
He was trying really hard to believe in vampires and demons-and that Angel was one of them-but this thing supposedly called Ghrenik was just too much;it looked like a rejected creature design from Industrial Light and Magic.
It was not quite six feet tall,with mottled green and brown skin that had what appeared to be scabby barnacles covering every inch,including its face,which was large and seemingly fish like,with big flat eyes and a huge lantern jaw that made up half of its head.It had no apparent nose,and it smelled weird.Angel smelled human but somehow not,but this guy...he smelled like he'd been sculpted from hot glue and kelp,with a little vinegar thrown in.Disgusting.
How'd he do it?What was the trick?
As Angel questioned the thing,he wandered around the coffee shop,looking for...who knew what,but it was better than trying to make sense of what Ghrenik was saying.It sounded like he was talking in burps,which wasn't nearly as disgusting as his breath,which suggested he'd been dumpster diving behind the nearest fast food restaurant and morgue.If Angel did have enhanced senses,how did he stand it?
It was an overly quaint coffee shop,closed for the night,whitewashed wooden chairs on top of naturally wood stained round tables,with pink gingham curtains dressing up industrial blinds,the walls a matching pale pink that made him think of antacids.There was a glass counter full of pastries besides the main counter,and while the air was thick with the scent of coffee and biscotti,the reek of Ghre-whatever was dominant and nauseating.How did the patrons never smell it?
Against the counter by the wall was a corkboard,full of tacked on messages that were supposed to give it a homey feel,he supposed,but it seemed so patently artificial he wouldn't have been surprised if this was a set of some kind.
Trying to distract himself from Ghrenik's constant burp talking (he would swear he just heard him belch the starting bars of the 1812 Overture),he studied the scraps of paper on the board.There was nothing much:just a bland assortment of lost item postings,one lost pet,a couple of apartment ads,people searching for babysitters or roommates,while a few were promoting themselves...but one business card,tacked near the bottom,caught his eye.
In bold blue letters,it said:'Are you different from others?We can help.'
He pulled the card off the board,and saw a generic setting sun/palm tree logo in blue and green on the left side of the card,with the name 'Safe Harbor' centered in dark blue print.
The first question that popped into his mind was how they could 'help',exactly.Of course,this was L.A.,and this was probably a support group or a twelve step program or something like it,but it just seemed like a hell of a coincidence.He walked towards Angel,who was standing at the counter like he was ordering a latte instead of arguing with a hellish burp monster,and held out the card to him."Who are these people?"He asked.
Angel glanced at the card frowning."I don't know."He took it from him and showed it to Ghrenik."What do you know about these people?"
Ghrenik burped some more incomprehensibly,so Logan took the card back and tucked it in his pocket.It was probably nothing,but it felt like a clue of some sort,and right now he felt desperate enough to grasp at straws.
He tried to judge from Angel's expression what barnacle boy was saying,but Angel just seemed to scowl a lot;he had about seven different varieties of frowns,and he thought there was maybe two at most.Cordelia wasn't exaggerating about him being a broody type,was she?
Angel thanked him,and he took that as their cue to go,which was fine by him.The smoggy night air actually smelled good in comparison to the shop,and as they got in the car,he noticed for the first time that the acid burns on Angel's face were completely healed now.Not bad for a non-Mutant."So what did old burpy say anyways?"He wondered,climbing into the passenger seat.If the car had a windshield and a few of the dents banged out of its body,it would have been a really nice convertible.
Angel shrugged as he got behind the wheel,bothering to use the car door even though the top was down."Nothing much.He claimed that a friend of his cousin saw them once,and referred to them as Omegas because they too used to dress in black.I think he was lying,but more out of fear than anything else.He's terrified,and I can't blame him."
"Was that the reason for the stench?"
"Only the vinegary part."
So he did smell it.He was a better man than him,then-at least when it came to strong,hideous smells."What about that place,'Safe Harbor'?"
"He said he didn't know too much about it,except it's some sort of counseling center that sprung up about a month ago just outside Pasadena.He said it deals mostly with human mutants,but some demons apparently go there,and some of his semi-regulars have commented on the place,but they only had positive things to say."
"Mutants and demons?Just like the ones the Omegas are hunting?"He wondered.Again,hell of a coincidence.
Angel scowled again as he considered that,his brow creasing in a mimic of his grim expression."And the time frame:the demon activity around town has been unusually slow this past month."
That startled Angel out of frown number seven."We can't just go."
"Why the hell not?"
Angel had to think about that for a moment."We need a plan."
"We go in and bust heads until someone tells us what's going on."That had always worked for him,more or less.
"But what if it's just coincidence?What if they are indeed innocent?"
It was Logan's turn to scowl."How could they be?And even if they are...it'd be an honest mistake."
Angel shook his head and sighed as he started the car."Leave the plan to me,all right?"
Logan shrugged,sinking back into the leather seat."Yeah,whatever.It's your crazy town."
But Safe Harbor was just that-a harbor at the end of the street,well lit but not obnoxiously so,and obviously still open.It hardly looked like the base of operations for some sort of mutant/demon killing paramilitary organization...but looks could be deceiving.And wasn't the sorry Initiative run from beneath a college dorm?
Angel still wasn't sure about working with Logan on this,but from what he'd been able to discern,he was more than just a mutant with claws:he was a trained fighter.A soldier of some kind?But he seemed to improvise better than most soldiers.It was possible he was just a martial artist who picked up a heavy dose of street fighting skills,but there was more to it than that.It was obvious Logan was keeping secrets,but if Angel was to be honest,so was he.
And so far,he had proven trustworthy;he had probably saved his life tonight,and he couldn't doubt his sincerity about wanting to find who had killed his friend.
But how stealthy was he?
"Don't worry.As long as they don't have infrared scans,I can enter through the top level undetected,"Logan claimed,jumping out of the car.
"What if they do have infrared scans?"
"Then I'll know they're guilty,because what counseling service would have that kind of sensor?"He countered,then added,as an afterthought,"And I'll probably smell it.Infrared scanners have a decided ozone smell to them.Haven't you noticed?"
Angel shrugged."I suppose,but I don't care.I don't have body heat for them to detect."
Logan snorted derisively,shaking his head."Yeah,whatever."
"How do you intend to get to the third floor from here?"
"I'll figure something out,"he replied,walking away,and he dropped his hands to his sides,claws springing forward once more.
In retrospect,it had been a silly question.
Angel took off his jacket and hid it in the trunk;as part of his cover story,he wouldn't be wearing an expensive leather duster.Also,he was hoping to pass for mutant if at all possible.
There could be a dozen different demon killing groups in town-but he couldn't believe there'd be that many mutant hunters.
Pushing up the sleeves of his black sweater,Angel walked in the glass doors of Safe Harbor, bracing himself for anything.
It was anti-climatic to find himself in a crisply sterile lobby that could have been the waiting room of a doctor's office.Comfortable faux leather burgundy chairs were lined up neatly against the far wall,spaced in two separate rows of four,broken up by low slung plastic black matte coffee tables with slim metal framed lamps upon them,more decorative than necessary considering how brightly lit the lobby was.Realistic looking fake ficus trees and rubber plants tucked in corners completed the efficient office look,and he wondered if this was the right place.There had been a sign on the small patch of lawn outside,but maybe they had misconstrued Safe Harbor's actual purpose (and,if so,Logan was committing a breaking and entering more illegal than they had intended).
"May I help you?"A woman's voice asked.She was sitting behind the semi-circular desk that dominated the lobby,a very current design of opaque lucite and fake chrome accents that looked more like a hotel lobby desk than one belonging to an office,but the woman herself seemed right at home.Pushing thirty at best,she had a warm and open face that seemed to radiate a maternal air,with her honey brown hair pulled loosely back in a French knot,and her eyes hazel and guileless behind gold colored wire rimmed glasses.
"Umm,I don't know..."he admitted,feeling unusually nervous.
She stood behind the desk,smiling warmly."It's okay,you're safe here. That is a part of our name,after all."
He tried to smile back,but it felt false even to him.
"If you'll follow me,you can talk in private to one of our counselors.Do you have a preference of a man or woman?"
"I don't,no,"he replied,still feeling remarkably awkward.If this was a legitimate service,he'd feel like such a complete ass.
She nodded briskly,all business,and came around the desk,waiting
for him to follow before she
'Should have' being the operative words.
Precariously balanced on the side of the building,his right claw buried deep in the sandblasted facade and his feet set firmly against the wall,he reached over to the window and worked the tips of his left claw beneath it.Finally finding purchase,and shoving upward,the thick metal bar holding the window closed snapped violently,and the window went up so fast and hard he almost shattered it,but at the last second he managed to grab it and keep it from doing so.That would have defeated the purpose of this whole exercise.
He glanced in the darkened office before pulling himself through,but it was empty of both people and alarms he could detect by scent or sight.It appeared to be a completely generic office;a metal desk with a computer,a chair on castors,slightly anachronistic filing cabinets making strange,man shaped shadows against the opposite wall.He could navigate well enough by the reflected light from outside that he didn't need to risk turning on the desk lamp,but what documents were on the desk were uninteresting.They appeared to be invoices for office supplies,and...chemicals?
The names were impossibly large-he couldn't even begin to pronounce half of them-and they all appeared to be coming from a science supply place with a Las Vegas address(well,it was the scientific capital of the United States.If you disqualified the remaining forty nine states).Why would a counseling service need massive quantities of questionable chemicals?
He folded up the invoices and tucked them into an inner pocket of his jacket before moving on to search the drawers.The first three revealed office supplies,someone's forgotten lunch (an apple and a blueberry bagel sandwich,with cream cheese and peanut butter if he was judging the smell correctly-only in California),and a variety of pointless,nonsensical memos full of made up bullshit words like 'proactive' and 'meta-services',and 'intestinal parasites'(a double check showed it actually read 'intellectual paradigms'-but he preferred intestinal parasites).Just when he thought he'd found the only useful thing in here,he discovered the fourth drawer was locked.But not for long.
He inserted a single claws,tearing through the lock like wet paper,and slid open the drawer,only to find a small,fireproof document safe inside.The metal and the lock were much better quality,but still couldn't resist his claws.He was a bit disappointed to find nothing but a couple of computer discs inside.But if someone went to the trouble to lock them up so tight,there had to be something on them that someone didn't want others to see,so he pocketed them and wondered if he should leave.Angel suggested if he found something important-or seemingly so-he should just take them and leave,and not risk it further.
But after thinking about it for half a second,he decided to see if there were any other surprises on this floor.
He had an 'introduction' to a counselor named Paul,a tweedy middle aged man who could have been a Watcher for all intents and purposes,and he talked in a slow and soothing voice that made him seriously wonder if the man was on some kind of downers,but he smelled sober.
After what sounded like a soothing pep talk,he was given a form on a clipboard to fill out ('completely confidential,'he was reassured).It seemed pretty standard:he gave his name as that of a man whose tombstone he'd seen in Sunnydale's Restfield cemetery (Glenn Maddox),the address of a construction site two blocks over from the Hyperion,and just picked a random age (28) and birthday (in retrospect,he may have picked Cordy's birthday,with the year altered to fit his story).It was then that the questionnaire took an unusual turn:
'Do you feel you have different abilities or perceptions than other people?If so,what (specifically)?'
It then gave a check list of what he presumed to be the more common mutations/demonic abilities,and he tried to stay truthful,checking off superior senses,rapid healing abilities/superior immune system,better than average strength/stamina,and superior reflexes.He'd have less to remember lying about,and what if they tested it somehow?
He decided eighteen was a good age for when he noticed his 'abilities',and made himself an orphan,saying both of his parents were dead,and he had no living relatives (all true:there was no way he was going to add he'd killed them all).
Once he'd filled out his form,he sat in Paul's small office alone for five minutes,quite sure he was being monitored,and then Paul came in and played psychotherapist,trying to get him to talk about his feelings of alienation and loneliness and what not.Angel strained his ability to lie to the breaking point and wanting desperately to leave every second that passed.
His discomfort was soon impossible to hide,and Paul assured him there were others just like him,and suggested he come back for a 'group session',where he could meet others of 'similar persuasion' (Wasn't that a tactful way to put it?).To get out of there he said he might,and accepted the card Paul gave him,with the date and time written on it.He was all warm smiles and soothing words,and while Angel didn't sense (well,smell)he was lying,he didn't trust him as far as he could throw him(No,that was an overstatement-he was sure he could throw him pretty far).The woman behind the front desk smiled at him as he left,and he wondered if she'd been among those monitoring him.
Something wasn't right about he place,but sadly he had no concrete proof of it at the moment.He could only hope Logan had found something and didn't get caught.
Apparently,there was no need for him to worry-Logan was waiting for him in the car,going through his glove box.
"What are you doing?"Angel asked,annoyed.
"I was hoping you had something to eat;I'm starvin',"he admitted,and when he glanced up,Logan actually looked annoyed at him."Where the hell you been?I thought I was going to have to go in after you."
"In the counseling session from hell."He got into the driver's seat,pulling out his keys,and asked,"What did you find?"
"A janitor at work in the hall.Luckily he was wearing a Walkman and neither saw or heard me."He slammed the glove box shut with what seemed to be unnecessary force,and then reached in his pocket."I also found some strange invoices,and these in a locked safe."He held up two discs,and Angel suppressed a smile.Maybe it had been worth it after all.
Wesley was poring over the invoices at the front desk,various dictionaries at hand so he could determine what chemicals Safe Harbor was ordering in large quantities and what they might be used for,while Logan sat on the lobby sofa,finishing off a ham sandwich Cordy had in the office fridge.He was starting to suspect Cordy actually liked Logan,but he had no idea why:maybe it was the less than tactful nature they shared.
As soon as she booted up the first disc,the screen filled with lines of gibberish,lines of unsequencial letters,numbers,and symbols,confirming just what he feared."It's encrypted,"Angel sighed wearily.
Cordy's shoulders sagged,and he saw her reflection in the computer screen frown."This looks like another emergency call to Willow."
"What?"Logan asked,coming over to have a look for himself.
"A friend,"she explained,glancing over her shoulder at him."She knows all about this computer...stuff."
"You don't?"He asked.
From the way Cordy scowled,she had taken that as a type of insult."Do you?"She shot back.
"I don't know,"Logan said,a strangely flat expression on his face,and Angel noticed,from the corner of his eye,that Cordy almost visibly flinched.What was that about?
Before he could ask,she turned back around,and said,"I guess you guys can take a break.Willow probably won't be up for a couple hours yet,and it's not like it'll be an optimum time for you to go out,Angel."
He knew she was just trying to distract him from whatever that brief but puzzling exchange between her and Logan had been,but she had a point.Just before he stepped back inside the Hyperion,he had smelled the imminent sunrise,hiding somewhere beneath the horizon."I could probably use the sleep too,"Angel reluctantly agreed. He was tired,and he was sure Logan was responsible for some of it.He could be a wearying man.
"Wait,"Logan insisted."We have to stop these guys,now.We can't just sit around-"
"And I can't go out in daylight unless I have an urge to burst into flame,and believe me,I don't."Angel pointed out."Besides,as smart as Willow is,not even she can instantaneously decrypt a disc."
"And this may take a while as well,"Wesley sighed,rubbing his eyes."I'm not a chemist."
"I can take over,"Angel offered,but the former Watcher shook his head,flipping through one of the dictionaries.
"No,I can do it,I'm just complaining.Thirty six letter words have that effect on me."He shot Angel a small,tired smile,and Angel returned it.At least he was keeping his sense of humor about all of this.
"Fine,go to your coffin or whatever.Whenever we get something,I'll handle it."Logan said impatiently,crossing his arms over his chest.
"No you won't,"he replied,staring at him levelly,and ignoring the coffin comment(he had a feeling he'd just said that to try and piss him off)."This is a well armed organization,and we have no idea how big it is.You can't handle it by yourself."
"Need I remind you they would have killed you if I had not intervened?"
"You don't know that for sure,"he fired back petulantly.
"I do,"Cordy insisted,her hazel eyes filled with somber certainty."I don't get visions about people about to be injured.They were going to kill you Logan."
After a moment,Logan shifted his gaze towards the floor,refusing to look contrite. But the point had been made,and he didn't know how to argue with her.
"And I don't need help to make a phone call,"she continued,turning
back towards the computer.
"I don't need sleep.I need to kill these guys,"Logan snapped.Angel bet he was really fun at parties.
"Hold your fire,Terminator-we don't even know who they are yet,"Cordy replied flippantly."You'd be surprised how often that helps."
He huffed in frustration."You're not going to tell me that Safe Harbor place is legit,are you?"
"No,"Wesley interjected,not bothering to glance up from his work."But until we find a tangible connection to the Omegas,we can't just burst in guns blazing."
"Why not?"Logan wondered.All three of them stared at him,and after a minute,he threw up his hands,rolling his eyes."Okay,yeah,fine.But what if there is no connection to be found?What if they've obliterated their tracks?"
Angel shook his head."This is too big.The more people involved,the harder it is to erase all the details.Also,these guys are cocky:they don't expect to be caught,even hauling around surface to air missile launchers.It's often arrogance that shuts these guys down."
Logan glared at him for a moment,then said,in a low,almost plaintive voice,"I can't just do nothing."
"I understand that,"he told him honestly."But maybe doing nothing is the best thing you can do right now."
Logan's eyes turned positively frosty."You were in that counseling session way too long."
Angel shrugged a single shoulder."Probably.But once we have something to act on,I'm going to need you sharp."
"I'm always sharp,"he countered.
Angel moved closer,and told him,in a conspiratorial whisper,"You know damn well what I mean.We'll be going in alone;I'm not having them come along.It'll all be on us,and we'll probably be lucky to get out alive."
He met his eyes steadily,and actually managed a grim but genuine smile."Sounds like fun."
Now he was really starting to worry about this guy.
Maybe it wasn't glass,and it probably wasn't warped,but it may as well have been.He heard murmuring voices like whispers down a wind tunnel,grotesquely contorted figures like caricatures gliding by beyond the opaque walls of his tomb,and he flinched as bright white lights flicked on overhead and some large rigging lowered slowly down,stopping about eight feet above him.He tried to see what it was,but the lights were blinding,and the shape he could make out meant nothing to him.
Then the figures arrived:tall and dark,blurry exclamation points of people garbed in surgical smocks arrayed themselves evenly around his glass coffin,and he heard their voices,but their words were garbled,yet he knew instinctively they meant to hurt him.He tried to sit up...but it was as if his body had turned to stone:he couldn't move.
Frantically he tried to move,to speak,but he was completely paralyzed;he wasn't sure he was even blinking as the intense lights made his eyes water,and he wondered how he was breathing...if he was breathing.He didn't know anymore;his body was suddenly a stranger to him,a traitor who had abandoned him.
Something flashed red from the rigging above, and although he couldn't see anything when he looked directly at it,he though he could see red glimmers in the air in his peripheral vision:lasers.They were aligning surgical lasers on him.They weren't going to operate on him,were they?He shouldn't be conscious;why was he still conscious?
A small voice in the back of his mind told him they wanted him conscious;they wanted him to know he belonged to them.And they wanted to confirm a hypothesis about him,about the freak they were so lucky to have...
It was then he felt his skin being sliced open.
His heart pounded frantically in his chest as all the nerves in his body seemed to scream,the pain a fire growing rapidly as they neatly sliced his torso open down the center,and he felt every centimeter of it;he even felt the cold room air on his exposed muscles,and was more hollow and cold than he had been in his entire life.
Inside,Logan screamed and pounded on the walls of his mind,knowing for a moment that he was truly mad;the pain and sheer helplessness had shoved him into raving lunacy.This couldn't be happening,this simply could not be happening...
Something metal scraped along his naked breastbone,sharp and frigid,and far away,as if in another life,he heard someone laugh,and Logan silently screamed,unable to retreat far enough inside his own mind to block it out.
He would make them pay for this;if he lived he would make them all pay.They would suffer worse than he was now...if he ever thought of something worse than this.
A whine of a bone saw filled his ears,and he wondered if he was already dead.He didn't think he believed in hell,but it was the only thing that made sense.He was dead,and this was Hell.People wouldn't do this to other people;no one could be this sadistic,this inhumane to another human being...
It was then that a little voice in his mind-maybe his,maybe not-said,'You aren't human,Logan.You're a freak.Their freak.'
It was then that he felt the saw slice through bone.
Logan awoke with a gasp,his claws instantly shooting out of his knuckles and slicing through the mattress as he sat up,ready to do battle with an enemy who was no longer near,and whom he couldn't identify anyways.
Not unless he brought the saw with him.
He shot up out of bed,too restless to sleep,and after a moment of pacing he stalked into the bathroom. He turned on the cold water tap until it filled the sink,then dunked his face into the water,hoping the shock would both wake him up and calm him down.
He held his face in the water until his skin was numb and the urge to breathe was undeniable,but when he raised his head,he found himself looking into the mirror to see a stranger's face.For a half a second,a heartbeat,and then he knew he was seeing his own reflection,but still the same old questions surfaced:Who were you?And why did they think they owned you?
It was reflex to punch the mirror,something he did before he was even consciously aware of it,and the glass shattered easily into a thousand silvered fragments that cascaded into the sink and spewed out over the cool tiled floor. Others bit into his flesh and shredded his skin,but he didn't care about those.He would heal,as he always did;he could even recover from a vivisection,which had to earn him a place in someone's freak show.Obviously,it had.
He retreated to the wall by the bathtub and sank slowly to the floor,wondering if they had done something to Wraith,but unlike him,he had retained all his memories.Is that why he had run?Did they (in his mind,capitalized:THEY.Like a stupid '50's horror movie,only it wasn't funny anymore) know,and intend to silence him for good?Or take him back?How did they escape?
Or did they,in fact,escape?Did he know for sure that's what had happened?Or had they been released deliberately,as some sort of test,and they intended to collect them soon.He hoped that was the case,as he'd love to meet the bastards;his face would be the last thing they saw.
He was weary to the pit of his soul,and wished he could have a mutation that allowed him to never sleep;for some reason his past came alive then,but always the same past,the same memories.It would have been better if he remembered nothing at all.
He flexed his glass cut hand,watching the last of the abrasions smooth over and heal close,and noticed for the first time a square of sunlight coming in through the opaqued bathroom window;it made the shards of shattered mirror glitter like diamonds on the white tile floor,and for a moment he thought of snow.He wondered if the fact that he was more accustomed to bright and cold as opposed to bright and warm was a clue to where it had happened...or it was merely proof he'd been in Canada too long.
He decided he was going to get up and find something to do-god knows he wasn't going back to sleep-but he felt strangely unmotivated.Why was he bothering?When it came down to it,did it matter who he was,who he used to be?
He was pretty sure it didn't,but it did matter who those people had been.They deserved to pay for what they had done,and if he didn't make them pay,who would?
Before he realized it,he had closed his eyes and slumped back against the wall,falling into an uncomfortable but dreamless sleep.
Ryan Flemming had a beautiful office:wide and spacious,it was larger then her first dorm room,with a window wall to let in all the available sunlight as it crested the unnaturally verdant hills beyond,the haze of the city beyond an unpleasant but negligible smear on the distant horizon.His desk was mahogany,polished to a high sheen,and a nice counterpoint to the rich burgundy carpet and brown leather chairs and sofa that filled up the rest of the sparsely furnished space.It occurred to her,every now and then,that she could live in this office.
But not with him.
Flemming swiveled around in his plush leather chair to face her,his somewhat bland,pale moon of a face set with a hard look that suggested he had already heard bad news today.And now he was about to hear more.
"Yes,Jennifer?"He said,running a hand through his blunt cut brown hair."You have a report for me?"
"Yes sir,"she replied,and just decided to forge ahead;best to get it over with as quickly as possible."McMahon told me they had a vampire visit the site last night,posing as a mutant.And at the same time,there was a break in in the upper offices."
Flemming frowned,giving his usually puffy face almost skeletal definition,his grey eyes almost sinking back into his head."Why do you think they're related?And why in the hell would a vampire try and pose as a mutant?"
"We're not completely sure about that last one.He made no move to attack the counselor or anyone on site,and no corpses were found on the perimeter grounds.But we have reason to believe this was the same vampire who interfered in a hard target termination earlier in the evening,and that's the connecting factor to the break in:the outside wall had what appeared to be claw marks in it.The mutant targeted for termination was notable for his claws."