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Fic: Soldiers and Civilians

Title: Soldiers and Civilians
Summary: The Intersect contains information about Manticore

When Chuck heard the rattling sound in the garbage can outside, his first thought was, sadly, Morgan.  His sister had shared the tale of finding him rooting around for a discarded turkey.  His second thought was some kind of animal, but they were in Burbank, for crying out loud.  It wasn’t exactly like they were out in the middle of the wilderness.

But he was Chuck Bartowski, head of the Nerd Herd and secret United States Intelligence Asset, and his life was never that simple.  He grabbed the watch off his nightstand, since it never hurt to be careful, and padded outside to check on the noise.

It wasn’t Morgan.

It also was not a raccoon, or a team of operatives here to take him away.  Those things would have been a little more expected than a scrawny kid of around ten years old, foraging for food in suburban garbage cans.  Despite the chill in the air, he was dressed in just jeans and a T-shirt with the collar of a too-big flannel shirt turned up around his neck.

The kid jumped away with a bag in his hand the second Chuck eased the door open.  He probably only imagined the cat-like hiss or the way the boy’s hazel eyes reflected the light.

“Hey, hey, it’s ok,” he said, holding his hands up in the most non-confrontational way he knew how.  He was good at being non-threatening.  Some might even say it was one of his strongest talents.  “Are you looking for something to eat?  ‘Cause we’ve got food in the house.”

The boy stood there warily and didn’t answer Chuck’s questions.  Chuck tried to think about what a fifth-grader might want.  Somehow he doubted this particular one would be soothed with a video game.  “You could have a glass of milk, and I think we have some cherry pie left,” he finally offered.

“What’s pie?” the boy asked, tilting his head.  It was the first thing Chuck had heard him say.

“Pie?”  This particular question stumped him for a moment.  He had to think for a second to come up with a way to describe cherry pie to someone who had obviously never heard of it.  “Well, you take fruit and you put it in a pie crust,” he said finally.  “It’s kind of like flat, thin bread.  Come in and have some, you’ll like it.”

“My name is Ben,” the kid said, still not moving from his post near the garbage can and kept a tight grip on the bag of tossed leftovers, remnants from Ellie’s latest attempts at culinary perfection, this time in preparation for Valentine’s Day.

Chuck had a feeling he was a little out of his depth this time around.  He’d never spent much time around kids, unless you counted the time when he was one.  How strange was this behavior?  “Okay.  Nice to meet you, Ben.  I’m Chuck.  Do you want to come inside and have something to eat?  I promise it’ll be better than anything that’s been in the garbage can for a day and a half.”

Ben stood there like a statue, still eyeing Chuck with the kind of attention that reminded him a little of Casey when he was making a threat assessment.  “I would like a glass of milk,” the boy said, apparently having come to the conclusion that Chuck was completely harmless.  He could practically read the ‘I could take him’ on the boy’s face.  “And cherry pie sounds interesting.”

Cherry pie was, as it turned out, very interesting, at least according to Ben.  The kid quietly demolished all that was left, along with a plate of chicken and leftover vegetables and the entire gallon of milk.  Chuck watched as the food disappeared, torn between waking up Ellie, who would be able to handle this much better than him but would also probably freak out a little, or waiting for the inevitable moment when either Sarah or Casey would come storming in to ‘save’ him.  He was also having a difficult time deciding where the food was all going, since Ben was a kind of skinny kid.

The flannel shirt was removed somewhere in the process, folded up neatly and placed close at hand rather than haphazardly tossed down, and Chuck figured that was progress.  Ben seemed a little more comfortable now than he had when the promise of food first lured the boy inside.

He caught a little motion out of the corner of his eye and turned to look at his sister as she stood in the doorway, looking at him blearily.  Another hint of motion, this time little more than a blur, and Chuck turned back to see Ben on the other side of the kitchen, the skittish wariness back in full force.

“Chuck?  What’s going on?”  Ellie was on that weird borderline between too tired to be awake and too aware to go back to sleep.  Chuck knew he could coax his sister back to her bedroom and Captain Awesome, but he wasn’t sure if he could do it without making the kid bolt for parts unknown, and for some reason he really wanted the kid to stay.  He had a soft spot for the obviously abandoned.

“It’s 2 a.m., El.  Go back to bed.  I just let a friend in for some leftovers.”

Her head tilted as she looked at him sleepily.  “Chuck, why is one of your friends over eating at two in the morning?”

“He had to work some weird shift.  Just go back to bed, Ellie.  I’ve got it under control.”

It was a testament to how tired she really was when she shrugged and shuffled back to bed.  Chuck relaxed when her bedroom door closed and turned back to Ben.

He’d had no plans for this particular event, save his now-successful mission of feeding the kid, and was at a loss for what to do next.  “So, uh, you want to crash on the couch?  It’s pretty comfortable.”

“I don’t need sleep,” Ben said, watching him with the kind of avid attention he’d seen demonstrated by a cat watching a fish tank.  “Is there anything you need me to do?”

Chuck felt a twisting in his gut at the innocently asked question and all the ways that someone could abuse Ben’s nature with the wrong answer.  “No,” he said, almost choking at the thought.

The boy frowned.  “But you have to give me a mission,” he said.  “The Lady doesn’t like it when a soldier takes advantage of civilians.”

Chuck paused to consider his next question (Lady?  Soldier?  Civilian?) and Casey chose that moment to come through the door, gun in his hand.  At least it wasn’t pointed at Ben.  He turned to the boy, hoping he could keep Ben calm enough to explain it to Casey, and caught a fleeting glimpse of a pale neck decorated with the stark black lines of a tattoo.

The information filled his mind like always, a series of disconnected images that his brain automatically put together into a coherent whole.


A double line of children in grey tunics marching down a similarly grey hallway, all with buzzcuts, barcode tattoos standing out in the yellow industrial light.


Children standing at the bottom of a pool filled with water, holding their breath while a drill sergeant paced along the edge with a stopwatch.


A cold room made of antiseptic white and steel, with straps at either end of a shining lab table.


A series of failed experiments, each one more gruesome than the next, all kept in a neatly labeled row of cells for future study.


The children from earlier, dressed in grey sweatsuits and splattered with blood on the edge of a forest.


A file with Ben’s picture attached containing notes on his training and physical development, handed over to a harsh-looking man with a stack of others.  “They’re all yours, Colonel Lydecker.”  There was a stylized logo on the top cover sheet that looked vaguely like a lion.

“Manticore,” Chuck breathed.  God, he really didn’t want to know about this.  Judging by Casey’s puzzled look (it was slightly different from his pissed off look, with his eyebrows raising just a bit higher), the NSA operative wasn’t cleared for it either.  He turned to look at Ben (X5-493), but the boy (soldier) was slipping out the door with typical transgenic speed.  Casey headed into the courtyard after him, but Chuck knew that was a futile effort.  Between the boy’s speed, size, and training, not even Casey would be able to catch him.

Sure enough, the man came back in after a few minutes.  “You mind telling me what that was all about?”

“Ever heard of Project Manticore?”  Casey tilted his head a little, the man’s shorthand for ‘tell me more before I break a bone.’  “I’m not sure . . .,” Chuck began, only to falter before Casey’s glower.  “Right.  Genetically engineered supersoldiers, using animal DNA.  They’ve been in operation since the late ‘80’s.”  He offered up a weak smile.

Casey grunted.  “Don’t need to know about it.  Just need to know what I’m supposed to do about the kid.”

Not for the first time since he’d ended up with a head full of government secrets, Chuck was at a loss.  “Let him go,” he said finally.  “Catching up to him would take too much time.”  Chuck decided not to mention that he would never willingly turn Ben over to his keepers.  This was one secret he would be taking to his grave.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
May. 5th, 2013 01:17 am (UTC)
Heart breaking to think on the kids that escaped, first time in their lives on the outside so different and with so many questions.
Loved Chuck kindness and his decision!

Edited at 2013-05-05 01:18 am (UTC)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )