Right On Your Table

"Let go of me," Scott said through clenched teeth as Agent Wylie marched him through the station corridors by the scruff of his jacket. "What am I gonna do, run through downtown Kiowa in these?" He started to raise his cuffed wrists but lost his balance as Wylie didn't slow. Scott stumbled forward a few steps, nearly falling, until he caught himself. Wylie wouldn't even look at him, Scott noticed. Like he was a disease.

Scott lowered his eyes and concentrated on not falling. He kept up a running monologue -- though without the hand gestures, now. Maybe it was nervous babbling, maybe it was cleverly trying to soften Wylie up so he'd see Scott as more human, but either way it was better than thinking about what he was probably headed toward. "Yup, that's me, a threat to national security. Can't even freaking walk without tripping over my own feet but I'm planning on selling out the country to the Russians first chance I get. Maybe they'll want -- hey!"

Wylie shoved him into an empty room, then slammed the door behind him. Scott did fall this time, and landed roughly on his hands. "Crap," he said to nobody, and then looked up to take stock of his situation. Just an empty room. No window, no furniture, not even a one-way mirror to call his own. He fumbled clumsily to his feet, his balance thrown off by the cuffs.

God, if only he knew how Fox had found him. What had they screwed up this time? No name in the papers, he was sure, and Dad couldn't have caught anyone's attention working cleaning crew at the high school. No matter how much they hid, how far they ran, it was always the same. He'd never get to stay in one place long enough for a girlfriend or a best friend. Hell, who was he kidding? At this rate he'd be lucky if he lived long enough.

Screw this. He stared fixedly at the fake wood-grain pattern of the wall paneling. Every foot or so the pattern repeated, with one off-center knothole reappearing under the paler swirl. He restlessly paced the length of the room, kicking the wall in useless frustration. After a few circuits, he sank to the floor, resting his arms on his knees. His forehead fell against one clenched and trembling fist, and he reflexively opened and closed it, trying to relax.

Oddly enough, it worked. He was almost asleep when the door opened and Fox slipped in.

"Hello, Scott," said Fox. Scott looked up and blinked sleep from his eyes. Fox was leaning against the door frame with a hungry look Scott was more used to seeing aimed at his dad. Fox opened his mouth as if to say something, paused, and finally just said, "good to see you."

"Me llamo Julio," Scott said. "No hablo inglés." He didn't expect it to work, but he had to say something. Something other than a pathetic "please let me go."

Fox laughed, sounding genuinely amused. "That's a new one."

Scott shrugged. "Look," he said. "You're going to ask me a bunch of questions about where my dad is that I won't answer. I'm gonna lie to you, and you won't believe me. Eventually I'll break out of here and Dad and I will go try to live a normal life some more until you grab us again and ruin everything. Lather, rinse, repeat." He leaned back against the wall and shut his eyes so he didn't have to see Fox's face. He tried to sound confident even though he knew Fox could see right through it. He was sick of staring at Fox like a deer in the headlights every time he was captured, sick of how much the fear shrunk him and made him into a little kid, helpless and silent. "I'm tired. So would you please just go away?"

Sometimes when Scott had nightmares, it was Fox's laugh he heard. It was such a relaxed sound, so smug. It was the laughter of a man who knew that he'd won, who knew that you didn't have anything to bargain with because you were lying strapped to a dissection table in Peagram Air Force Base, your father just a few feet away but completely out of reach, staring at you in terror. Scott heard that laughter now, and it was no nightmare. He wanted to wake up gasping in fear in some seedy motel room, because if he did, Dad would jerk awake in the next bed and rush over to comfort him with some bizarre observation on the strangeness of human dreams or an I-told-you-so about too much pizza before bed.

"It's not going to happen that way this time," Fox said. "We're not waiting around for Forrester to free you. We're loading you on a plane in --" he checked his watch. "About ten minutes, and flying you to a secure lab out of state."

"What?" All of Scott's clever comebacks, planned late at night and husbanded for moments like this, deserted him as he jerked his feet. He stood against the wall, fists clenched. "You don't even want me. Your hard-on's all for Dad."

Fox raised one eyebrow lazily. "Language, Scott. And I finally realized that an alien in the hand is worth two in the bush, so to speak. Don't worry, I'll get your dad later."

"I'm human," Scott spat, "and Dad's never hurt a living soul. Why can't you just leave us alone?" But Fox just opened the door, smiling amiably at Scott.

"Pleasant journey," he said, and stepped out of the way of Wylie and two uniformed officers, who held Scott against the wall and thrust a syringe into his arm. Scott was vaguely aware of struggling and cursing, and then everything faded out.

When he blearily came to, he heard sounds and wondered briefly why he had decided to take a nap in Ms. Hedrick's English class. As the haze cleared, Scott remembered that he hadn't seen Ms. Hedrick in almost a year, since Fox had chased them out of Winslow the day before Scott's class was supposed to start reading Brave New World. He'd been meaning to read that book for ages, dammit. Slowly the room's noise resolved into a single voice with a familiar impatient snap.

"Fox," he said, his voice rasping, and opened his eyes.

"There was a sound to his left, and then Wylie appeared in Scott's peripheral vision. "He's awake, Mr. Fox," said Wylie.

"I know that, you idiot," said Fox, and Wylie was shoved out of Scott's line of sight.

"How are you feeling, Scott?" Fox asked, eyes intent.

Scott ignored him and tried to get his bearings. Strapped onto some kind of table -- that was no surprise. But no technicians in hazmat suits, no wires or probes, no science-fiction glass case putting him on display. "Where is this place?" he asked, straining to sit up despite the restraints.

"An FSA safehouse," answered Fox, never taking his eyes from Scott. Scott squirmed, from the look as much as from the imprisonment. He'd seen Fox gaze at his father with that singleminded obsession, but Scott himself usually got looked at more like bait and less like prize. This expression was both new and unwelcome.

"Not that I'm complaining," he said, hoping his voice didn't waver. "But where's all the scalpels and wires? Except for the One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest thing you've got going on here, this place looks like a doctor's office."

Fox's expression grew almost fond, like a proud parent impressed at his child's cleverness. "Oh, we're still running tests," he said. "We took plenty of samples while you were unconscious." He gestured vaguely at Scott's torso, and Scott's skin crawled. "But we're trying something a little different this time." He leaned forward. "We want you to talk to us, Scotty."

Scott recoiled as much as he could. "Don't call me that," he snapped. "And shouldn't you be off pointlessly chasing Dad?"'

Fox just nodded. "Don't worry, Scott. I'm sure with you safely tucked away there's no fear of losing track of your progenitor for long. We'll have him soon." He moved back out of Scott's line of sight. "Wylie," Scott heard him say. "Let Doctor Grosvenor know the boy's awake, and tell her we'll be ready for her this afternoon."

As he heard the door open and close, Scott stared at the ceiling, thinking about escape, After a moment, Fox came back to stare some more. Scott shuddered and tuned his head away. He wanted his father here, rescuing him, or even just being here, calm and reassuring. But at the same time, he was so incredibly glad Dad wasn't around for any of this. He didn't know how his father stood it, being the target of Fox's constant focus. Even with his face turned away, Scott could feel Fox's stare on the back of his neck, like something oily and rotten.

"I was going to go to college, you know," he said, to break the silence.

"That makes sense," Fox said. "Planning on majoring in physics, I assume, and infiltrating the American space program."

"What? No!" Scott was so surprised he turned back to look at Fox. "I was -- I am -- going to major in English."

Now it was Fox's turn to look startled. "I've seen your grades, Scott. I know you do best in science. Unsurprisingly." He raised his brow, and Scott thought Fox was wondering how Scott could topple the American government with a BA in Shakespeare.

"I'm good at science. But I like reading, too." He waited a beat and added, "I am human, you know. I'm just a normal teenager."

Fox's self-satisfied smile grew wide. "Ah," he said, stepping back and apparently searching for words. "And that's why you have the metal ball? Which is safely out of this room," he added. He watched carefully as Scott widened his eyes and wriggled his fingers unconsciously, as if he could make the sphere come to him through sheer force of hope. "That's something all normal human teenagers have?" He leaned close, bringing his face so near that Scott could smell stale coffee in his breath. "The fact is you're getting old enough to be a danger in all kinds of new ways, Scott. You're not human, and you can't be allowed to roam free."

This time he did leave, closing the door behind him and leaving Scott tied down and alone in his head.

By the time, hours later, the guards let him up to eat and piss, Scott worked himself into a shaking panic by thinking of every horrible thing Fox could do to Dad. Of course, he had also been thinking of every horrible thing Fox could do to him: mostly he was hung up on dissection. It's not that he wasn't also thinking about psychological reprogramming and anal probes, but they were (a) not as horrifying and (b) not as likely. As opposed to eventual slicing-and-dicing, which wasn't out of the question, given what they'd seen in Peagram's lab.

The fear would have killed his appetite if the food hadn't done so, first. Under the gimlet eye of the guards, a kitchen worker carried in a paper tray that held a dry piece of chicken, a paper bowl of mashed potatoes, a paper cup of water, and a plastic spoon. One guard held Scott at gunpoint while the other unstrapped him, hauled him up, and shackled him into a waiting chair. The kitchen worker stood in the corner with his eyes lowered while the guards glowered at Scott.

"Eat," one of them said harshly, waving his gun vaguely at the tray. If it hadn't been for the gun Scott might have refused.

They had him back on the bed long before Fox arrived with the doctor. "Here's your patient, Doctor Grosvenor," said Fox. "Get what you can out of him. I'll debrief you further in the morning." The sound of the door was loud as Fox let himself back out.

"Get him up," said the doctor. It was a woman's voice.

"Sorry, ma'am," replied one of the guards. "Mr. Fox's orders. The prisoner isn't to be moved except as medically necessary."

"This is medically necessary," snapped the doctor. "Fox has asked for my professional assessment of the boy and I can't very well analyze a patient who's restrained like that."

"Sorry, ma'am," the guard said again.

"Oh, for Christ's sake," said the doctor. "Then pull me over one of those chairs and get out of here."

"Are you sure, ma'am?"

She sniffed loudly. "What's he going to do, use his secret ninja powers to flip upside down and beat me to death with the legs of the cot? Go away."

Scott kept his head turned away as he heard the sounds of moving furniture and closing doors. "Hello, Scott," he heard. He said nothing.

After a pause, the doctor continued. "I'm Doctor Grosvenor. Mr. Fox asked me to get to know you a little bit." Another pause. "I want you to know that everything you say here is protected by doctor-patient confidentiality laws."

Scott couldn't help it, he laughed. At least, he meant it as a laugh, but it sounded horrible, hoarse and wrong. Presumably the doctor understood, because she continued, "Strictly protected. I may be working for the government, but I'm still a licensed psychologist in the state of California." California, huh? "Unless something you tell me makes me fear danger to yourself or others, it will stay strictly between us."

"I exist -- isn't that the danger?" Scott spat, still facing the wall.

"That's to be determined," she said. "Tell me why you think you're dangerous."

But Scott closed his eyes and lay in silence. "Scott?" she asked, then, "whatever you want to talk about, Scott." After a minute or two, she sighed. Scott heard shifting noises. "When you're ready," she said. For the next hour, Scott heard nothing else from her but a periodic rustle which might have been turning pages.

When Doctor Grosvenor left, the guards came back in. Neither of them said anything. For what felt like hours, Scott lay there, occasionally shifting to try to find a position in the extremely limited range of the restraints which would allow him to stretch out his cramping muscles. He tried to think of escape plans, but they all came back to If I had my sphere. When a smocked girl a couple of years older than him was escorted in by another guard and started sweeping the room, he turned his face back to the wall to hide the tear tracks.

The next morning -- or what he thought was the next morning, based on the guards' greetings to one another -- passed in a haze. There was an IV fairly early on, and after that everything was blurry. He thought there might have been some more tests, and maybe he was moved once or twice, but whatever they'd given him knocked him for enough of a loop that he couldn't be sure. He didn't come back to full coherence until a little while before they let him up to eat. When the kitchen worker collected the tray he peered into Scott's face for a long moment, unexpected concern touching his features. I must look like shit.

Scott wondered if maybe the guy had kids of his own, and that was why he empathized. He could have sixteen-year-olds, Scott thought. The guy looked like maybe he was Dad's age, not that Dad's age -- Paul Forrester's age -- was really indicative of anything. But God, his dad must be in a full-blown panic by now. He worried enough about little things like Scott riding motorcycles or dating girls. With Scott just vanished, leaving all his stuff behind, Dad must be ... The odds of him doing something stupid and getting captured himself got higher with every day Scott was gone.

The doctor entered while Scott's thoughts were still running in circles. He blinked his eyes rapidly to clear them and looked at her. A woman, white, graying fair hair. Also Dad's age, he thought, and then rolled his eyes upwards to keep them dry.

"Good afternoon, Scott," she said, pulling up a chair next to him and putting a clipboard on her lap. He said nothing. She looked at him thoughtfully. "You want to try cooperating today?" she asked. "I thought it might be easier if we're both sitting up."

He huffed a breath. "It's not like I get anything out of it if I do," he said, staring again at the ceiling.

She folded her hands in her lap, on top of the clipboard. "Most patients cooperate because they know that a favorable psych report will increase their chances of clemency and shorten their sentences," she said.

Now Scott did look at her, both his eyebrows shooting up. "Lady, you and I both know that Fox is never letting me out of here alive."

"Don't be melodramatic," she said.

"Melodramatic?" He leaned forward in his chair, pulling against the straps that his torso and the handcuffs they had re-fastened after he ate. "So this is a normal arrest? I get a phone call? A lawyer? A child advocate? A trial?" This time she looked away, staring at her clipboard when he glared at her. "I thought so," he said bitterly, settling back in his chair.

She pursed her lips and faced him again. "What if I can get you some freedom of movement?" she asked. He just stared, not understanding. "Freedom to move around yourself. Not being tied up all the time."

"So you're the Good Cop, huh?" Scott asked, trying to sound derisive, but he couldn't help glancing over his shoulder at the cot where he'd spent most of the last two days, at least. He shuddered. When he looked back at the doctor, her expression was sympathetic. He probably couldn't trust that, but maybe... She waited while Scott stared at the handcuffs around his wrists, rotating his arms back and forth convulsively. "Fine," he said at last. "Get me out of these --" he yanked against the cuffs. "And I'll talk to you. About some things."

She nodded. "That's fair. I'll see what I can do." And she picked up her clipboard and turned to leave. She paused at the door, though, looking back while the guards manhandled him back onto the cot and refastened the straps. He tried to look bored, tried not to show any of the creeping disgust he felt for the cot and its confining straps. She met his eyes with an unreadable expression and then turned to leave. He almost called her back -- he was giving up human contact, with someone who would talk with him! -- but that's what Fox wanted, right? She couldn't possibly be on his side.

That night, when the girl with the broom came in to clean up the cell, Scott was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. He'd stopped even shifting, looking for a more comfortable position. Instead, he lay neither sleeping or waking, drifting in and out. It wasn't unlike the calming exercises Dad sometimes put him through when they practiced with the sphere, but there was no friendly blue energy waiting for him, excited for his attention. There was just emptiness, blank space behind his eyes.

The next morning went much the same way. He had a vague impression that Fox was watching all of the procedures, arms crossed and that awful half-smile on his face, but mostly the morning passed in a haze. When they finally finished their tests they left Scott untied on his cot. It was a long time before enough of the drugs left his system for him to move, but eventually he sat up, shaking the cobwebs from his head. Gingerly he lowered himself down. When his feet hit the floor, the two guards at the door flinched. "Oh, for Christ's sake," he said. "Boo."

One guard stared stonily straight ahead, fingers twitching on his gun. The other, though, raised one eyebrow at Scott. "Do you really want to play with the two armed soldiers, kid?" he asked. Scott drew in his breath sharply and shook his head. Note to self: being a smartass is probably a bad idea. The guard smiled, smug, and Scott forced himself to turn away, scope out the range of his new freedom.

The cell was just as small and bare now that he was unchained as it had been when he was restrained. The cot; the two chairs, one covered in restraints; the lidless toilet in the corner. No windows, and the only door heavily guarded. He wasn't getting out of here by any straightforward approach, that was for sure. He forced himself to move, pacing circuits of the room on shaky legs. After three days tied up -- or was it more? He'd been sedated so much he'd lost track of time -- his muscles were locked in a mess of cramps.

When the doctor walked in she didn't bother with any pleasantries. "Do we have a deal, Scott?" she asked, taking a seat.

He nodded jerkily.

"Good," she said. "Then sit your ass down, and talk to me."

Scott watched her warily as he approached the chair he'd been restrained in yesterday. Meanwhile, the guards eyed him, guns held ready. Are they afraid I'm going to leap into some alien killing frenzy and take her hostage? The doctor just sat quietly, her gaze steady.

"I won't tell you how to find my father," Scott said, as he sat on the very edge of the hard seat. Even so, the unfastened restraints dug into his back. "I don't know where he is now, and I wouldn't tell you if I did know."

"Why do you think I'm going to ask you how to find your father?" she asked.

Scott made a face. "That's why you're here, isn't it? To hunt down my dad?"

She folded her hands neatly in her lap. She had no clipboard today; Scott didn't know why not. "Maybe I'm just interested in you."

"Yeah, because the government loves sending military psychologists to examine sixteen-year-olds who haven't committed any crimes," Scott said. "Great use of resources, there."


His brow furrowed. "What?"

"I'm a psychiatrist, not a psychologist." She sounded irritable.

"There's a difference?" he asked.

"A psychiatrist is a doctor. A psychologist is a glorified social worker," she snapped. "And yes, I am sensitive about it. You would be, too, if you were a female physician -- a non-military female physician, thank you very much -- surrounded by a bunch of testosterone-laden soldier boys." Scott flicked his gaze to the guards at the door but they didn't show any reaction. "M.D. from Duke, and you'd think I was a herb-burning midwife the way these bulletheads talk."

"Lady, forgive me if I don't sympathize too much with your plight right now," said Scott. "I'm sorry you've hit the glass ceiling but I'm a little busy focusing on not getting sliced into pieces and put on a petri dish before I'm old enough to vote." He paused, his mind racing. Don't be an idiot, Scott. Use this.. He softened his voice. "I guess I understand why you're worried. Fox chased my pregnant mother around for months, and then forced her into hiding when I was just a baby, because he was so angry that she'd had a kid. So I understand that he's not the kind of guy who appreciates women making decisions about their own lives. Or, you know, women in positions of power."

For a long moment she just looked at him, and then slowly the corners of her mouth turned up. She exhaled. "Smooth, Scott. A little unsubtle, but smooth." He opened his eyes wide, trying to look innocent. "I suppose if I can be the Good Cop then you can be the Sympathetic Teenager. It's not nearly so stereotyped a role, though."

"What about Anne Frank?" he asked, grinning a little.

"Hitler comparisons, Scott?" she said. "Isn't that overdone?"

He looked away, the brief shared moment of humor broken. "Dr. Mengele would be more accurate."

She raised an eyebrow. "You're well-educated for a boy your age," she said."

"Yeah, well," Scott said. "About three schools ago we were doing World War II in history class. Of course, I was only in that school for about a week and a half before we got chased out of town by Fox, so I don't know how it ended. Did we win?"

You know, Scott," she said, thoughtfully. "Most teenagers would be thrilled not have to go to school on a regular basis."

He raised his eyebrows. "Most kids my age also get to sleep in real beds instead of alleyways, and get to have friends and play sports and maybe go to college one day. Most kids my age aren't terrified of the cops unless they've committed an actual crime."

"If it's that miserable, why won't you help Mr. Fox find your father?" She looked genuinely curious.

"Are you serious?"

She opened one hand and held it toward him, palm up. "Quite serious. You want a home, friends, college, a normal life. Why won't you do what's necessary to get those things?"

Scott laughed harshly. "First of all, lady, there is no way that Fox is going to let me go, whether or not he has Dad. Secondly, Dad didn't do anything wrong, either. He'd never hurt anybody." He rested his elbows on his knees and dropped his head into his hands, digging his thumbs in his temples. "He's never done anything harmful or dangerous in his life, unless you count when he saved Fox's life that time." He looked up at the woman who sat before him, wondering if she were really that naïve, or if she just thought he was. "Besides, he's my Dad, and I love him. What kind of person do you think I am?" Calm, Scott, he told himself. You're trying to humanize yourself for the nice shrink, and it won't help if you blow up at her.

She wasn't even paying attention to his outburst. "Saved Mr. Fox's life?" she asked. "That's not in the file."

Scott's fists clenched. "It wouldn't be. Fox doesn't know about it. He had a heart attack or a seizure or something when we were breaking out of Peagram and Dad had to cure him." His mouth twisted as if he'd bitten something sour. "I understand his need to help strange women and kids solve all their problems, but did he really have to fix George Fox?"

"So you wish Mr. Fox dead?" Her voice gave nothing away.

"I don't think the life of one Fox is worth a million Paul Forresters. And Dad risked his life when he stopped to help."

Her gaze was level. "You haven't answered my question."

"Ask me again when he lets me go," Scott said.

As relieved as Scott was to have freedom of movement, the tiny windowless cell was still maddening. His daily schedule didn't change: tests every morning which he was drugged too heavily to either fight or understand, overseen by a silently smiling Fox; one bland meal in the afternoon; arguments with the doctor. The monotony of the nights was only broken by the cleaning girl. Now that Scott wasn't tied down to sleep he'd made eye contact with her. Once they'd even exchanged smiles when the guards weren't looking. He wondered what the girl thought about cleaning up after a boy her own age. The kitchen guy had startled him yesterday by winking at him; maybe the staff talked about him after hours, wondering who the strange kid was and what he'd done to get this kind of treatment.

He still wasn't coming up with an escape plan. If he were Dad, he'd have converted the doctor to smitten and sympathetic, and she'd be smuggling him out by now. Scott's attempts to get the doctor on his side -- Look at me, poor pathetic innocent child -- hadn't borne fruit. Maybe she did have a teenager of her own, an obnoxious one, and she wanted to make Scott suffer extra.

Tonight when the meal came in the kitchen guy grinned full-out. "I'm Sasha," he said with an accent Scott couldn't place, as he put the tray down.

Immediately the guard hustled him back. "No talking to the prisoner," he barked. "Vamanos, José."

The kitchen guy -- Sasha -- winked over his shoulder at Scott as the guard shoved him toward the door. "мудак," he said to the guard, and then straightened his shoulders and walked out.

That evening, Scott felt almost decent. Somebody noticed him, somebody knew he was here, somebody paid attention and cared enough to tell him a name. It gave him the energy to think about the doctor. He needed her to take his side over Fox's if she was going to help him get out of here.

"You're less bitchy than usual," the doctor said, halfway through their conversation.

Scott just leaned back, though he still wasn't comfortable with the feel of the restraints pressing against his spine. "Are you supposed to say things like that to your patients?"

"Everyone's got a style," she said. "So what's got you so chipper?"

"I've given up on you," Scott replied. Was he pushing her too much, too soon? "I thought you were a decent person, and once you realized that I was just a normal kid that you might realize Fox is a crazy person. You know, like when they tell the girls in sex ed class that if somebody is going to rape them that they should talk about their lives so the rapist realizes they're real people?"

"So I'm like a rapist," she said, her voice flat.

He shrugged. "You're helping the people who drug me and poke me full of holes every day."

"I'm assisting the United States government in interrogating a valuable prisoner," she replied.

"Valuable prisoner? I'm a sixteen-year-old kid whose father wasn't in the country legally when I was conceived." He opened his eyes as wide as they would go and pasted on the most earnest expression he could muster. "They've taken so much blood from me it's a miracle I've got any left. What else do they need me for?" Come on, lady. Be on my side. Help me get out of here.

The doctor merely raised an eyebrow. "Nice try, Scott. Let's talk about which of your father's healing abilities you have."

So much for getting the nice old doctor on your side, idiot, Scott told himself. He paced around the tiny cell, calling himself ten kinds of idiot. What was he going to do now that his only plan had gone nowhere? He was still pacing when the door opened and the cleaning girl came in. Scott stood tensely against the wall as the guards always made him do when she entered. Tonight she had a mop instead of her usual broom. He wondered if that meant he had been there a week. She didn't look at him when she came in, and Scott fidgeted, aching for the tiny bit of human contact. But as she mopped near the cot, as close to him as the guards would let her get, she spoke.

"I'll be in your pocket," she said, so quietly Scott almost couldn't hear her.

"What the fuck?" said the guard, suspicious. "What did you just say?"

The girl looked up at the guard. "It's a nursery rhyme from Fortaleza," she said, speaking only slightly more loudly. "It's been stuck in my head all day."

The guard glared at her. "Well, keep it there," he said. "No talking in here."

She nodded demurely. "Sorry," she said, and left the room with her mop.

It was all Scott could do not to grin. Or maybe bang his fists against the wall and yell blindly, run, it's a trap! Dad was here, and knew where Scott was being kept, and had friends inside. This was either fabulous, terrifying, or both at once.

He barely slept that night, waking repeatedly from nightmares where he stood in the laboratory at Peagram Air Force Base and watched Fox slice Dad open. In the dream, Fox pulled out Dad's organs and weighed them on a scale opposite a feather. Lying open on the autopsy table, Dad turned his head to look at Scott and said, "I came for you like you wanted, Scott." Scott jerked awake with a hoarse shout, sweating. The ever-present guards looked on, unconcerned.

There were no tests the next day. Instead, Fox came in and leaned against the door. Scott cowered in the corner, hating himself for it, but the very sight of Fox made his skin crawl.

"I hope you're looking forward to a family reunion, Scott," Fox said. Scott strained to stay still. "We have word of your father outside of Denver. We should be bringing him in tonight."

It's a fake, Scott told himself firmly. Dad wants him out of the way. But he couldn't stop the violent shudders that overtook him. "Go to hell," was all he could say.

Fox shook his head. "Oh, Scott," he said, almost fondly, and left.

Without the drugs and tests, the shape of Scott's day was mixed up. It bothered him that he'd become accustomed to the casual violations, but before him the morning stretched out endless and empty. Scott tried to relax. He did physics problems in his head, he went through geometry proofs, he thought about the episode of Hill Street Blues he'd seen two days before his capture. But his thoughts kept coming back to his father. One minute he would think about escaping, about Dad's sphere glowing blue and blasting holes in the walls as he took Scott the hell away from here. The next minute the daydream would collapse into smoke and terror, with faceless soldiers coming in shooting, taking his father and dragging him away while Scott yelled Dad! after the retreating figure and Fox chuckled in the background.

When Sasha came in with his food, Scott was so jittery he had no idea how he could possibly eat. But as he placed the tray down Sasha looked up into Scott's face and silently mouthed tonight. Scott stared at him, eyes wide, but Sasha had stepped back, the picture of servile obedience. Blindly, Scott reached for his plastic spoon. He couldn't make the guards suspicious, not now. The meatloaf tasted like sawdust in his mouth but he ate every bite.

"Scott, I'm sorry I seemed unsympathetic yesterday," said the doctor during their afternoon session. "You aren't what I expected."

"What did you expect?" asked Scott, trying not to jitter in his chair. "Scales? Gills? Antennas?"

The doctor cocked her head. "I don't know," she said thoughtfully. "Not you, though."

"I thought you people weren't supposed to have expectations before you met your crazy patients," he said. For once, the straps and buckles on the chair weren't bothering him.

"I'm only human, Scott, just like you," she said, and froze. Scott couldn't help it, he laughed. Maybe you're starting to see my side now, he thought. But I'm going to do this without you.

That night, the cleaning girl brought in clean sheets to make up his cot. "Four-star service in here," he said, but she didn't look at him.

"Quiet," said one of the guards, and Scott shut up. If he was right about the girl, he didn't want to draw the guards' attention to her.

He was right. After she left, Scott lay down on his cot and rolled over to face the wall as if he were going to sleep. He folded one hand under his head, and there it was: under the sheet, obscured by the thin pillow, the unmistakable feel of his sphere. The cool blue energy permeated the sheet and soaked his hand, easing between his bones and muscles, soothing his heartbeat and gentling his breath. Scott hadn't realized how much he'd come to rely on that light until it was taken from him, and as the energy crackled down his nerves he felt more alert than he had in a week. Oddly calm, he settled down to wait.

The popping static of the guards' radios drew them both to the cell door. Scott didn't know how the guards had been summoned, but it worked. There were two muffled grunts when the door opened, and both guards fell heavily to the floor. The cleaning girl poked her head in. "Quickly!" she whispered.

Scott wasted no time. He grabbed his sphere from under the sheet and followed her. Two men in janitors' coveralls stood at the door, each holding a military issue tranquilizer gun which was all too familiar to Scott. "Go," said one, and the other just waved his gun and grinned.

Scott followed the girl down the hall as silently as he could. At one point she waved him back against the wall and he flattened himself against it. They both stood there for a long, terrified moment as they heard the sound of laughing and tromping boots from around the corner. Finally the sounds faded and they continued. After a few minutes, the girl pulled him through a door. Huge gleaming refrigerators lined the walls, and a massive -- was that an oven? -- was opposite the door.

"They don't guard the kitchens," she said, weaving past carts of covered trays. "We can talk in here. I'm Nilcea, and you're Scott."

"I think I love you," he said, following her. "Get me out of here and I'll be sure."

Nilcea dimpled. "Your father said you were nice," she said. "He didn't tell me you were funny and cute."

Scott blushed. "Umm," he said, concentrating on following her. Then, "My dad? He's --"

"He's fine. Worried about you, but safe." She looked carefully out the kitchen's back door then waved him on. "Employee parking lot." She headed a fast trot across the half-empty parking lot, toward an old station wagon. They were almost at the car when Scott heard a shout behind them.

Nilcea looked back and cursed. "Shit. Run!" She grabbed Scott's arm and yanked him in a different direction, toward the fence this time. The shouts continued, and Nilcea sped up, cursing.

"Wait," said Scott, and skidded to a halt.

"Scott, come on!" she shouted. "Our only chance is -- well, I don't know what we can do, but we have to try."

"Wait," he said again, and opened his right hand. He'd been squeezing his face so tightly shut around the sphere that there was a red mark on his palm. He tried to concentrate. It was hard. When he'd practiced this with Dad it was in a quiet room, television off and all distractions gone. Trying to ignore the approaching footsteps, the radios, Nilcea's frantic tugging, Scott opened himself to the sphere. Its energy filled him, and as the blue light rose inside him it shone outwards as well, the sphere glowing blindingly blue. And then he focused, just as he'd practiced. There, he thought, and a portion of the chain-link fence unraveled, cobalt sparks flying from the splitting metal.

"Jesus," said Nilcea, and stepped back. Scott closed his hand over the sphere and looked up. Even the guards had paused in their shouting, and the terror in Nilcea's face was palpable. Still, when he grabbed her hand and ran toward the split in the fence, she joined him readily enough.

As they passed through the broken fence, a pickup truck pulled up, its brakes screeching. "Get in!" yelled Sasha.

"Quick thinking," said Nilcea, as they climbed in, panting. The truck screeched away as a few military jeeps came speeding through the gate after them. "Scott, what the fuck was that?"

"Hang on a second," he said, and concentrated on his sphere again. The light was less blinding this time, and the energies he felt were less urgent, but the tires on the military jeeps blew out just as he'd hoped. "That should buy us some time." When he looked up, Nilcea was staring at him, and Sasha kept shooting wide-eyed glances at him as he drove. He made a sheepish face. "I guess you want me to explain, huh?"

It was getting light when Sasha finally pulled the truck to a halt in the parking lot of a strip mall. Scott had needed to use the sphere two more times, but mostly their escape was due to Sasha's jaw-rattling driving.

"Paul is waiting in the Waffle House," said Nilcea, nodding across the parking lot. "We'd better take the truck and get it out of here, in case they got the plates." All three of them stood outside the truck, breath steaming in the cold morning air. Through the window of the Waffle House Scott saw his father look out the window, stand up, and press his palm to the glass quickly before walking to the restaurant's exit.

"How will you go back to work?" Scott said, turning from his approaching father to his rescuers.

"Eh, it was a crappy job, anyway," said Nilcea. "Sasha's got family in Chicago, and I was thinking of going to New York, seeing the big city."

Scott opened his mouth to say -- well, he didn't know what he would say, but some kind of protest, surely -- but they both grinned carelessly. "We will be fine, Scott," said Sasha, clapping his hand on Scott's shoulder. "Всего наилучшего."

"Is that good?" asked Scott, quirking an eyebrow.

Sasha squeezed his shoulder, quickly. "Yes, it's good," he said, and brought his hand down. "Now go."

Scott turned to Nilcea. "Look," he said.

She cut him off. "We'll be fine," she said, echoing Sasha. She put one cold hand on his cheek and he leaned down to touch his lips to hers. Her hand slipped around the back of his head and she held him for a too-brief moment, her fingers tangling into his hair.

He pulled back. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you both. I don't know how to --"

"Go," said Sasha, laughing, and turned him around to face his father, who had frozen thirty feet away across the parking lot. For a long stretch of time Scott just stared at his dad, feasting his eyes. Then the moment broke and they ran toward each other, calling Scott! and Dad!. As Scott buried his damp face in his dad's leather jacket he thought he heard a truck driving away.