Fourth story in the ALPHAS series.
The detention center was well behind them, but the Alphas found themselves in unfamiliar territory. This was a part of the city where Orin and Evie had not taken them before. Many of the buildings had boards nailed across the windows and doors, and odd symbols were painted everywhere. The streets were dirty and smelled of rotting garbage.
People stared at them as they walked past. Some shouted comments that they ignored, and others looked openly hostile. A few asked them for money and called them names when they said they didn't have any. The atmosphere was much like that of the detention center, only intensified - and, they sensed, more dangerous. They weren't nervous, or afraid. They had been in unfamiliar environments a lot of times. But they did find it strange, as if the city had two faces, and they were seeing the menacing one.
"What do you little punks think you're doing walking through here?"
The Alphas had found their path blocked by a group of older boys - some of them old enough to be considered men.
"You appear to be of the opinion that this walkway belongs to you," Five said.
"Because it does."
One tried to be the voice of reason. "We're just trying to get home. We don't want to bother you."
"Well, you are bothering us."
The Alphas looked at each other, confused. These boys were attempting to appear threatening. Did they want to fight?
One of them stepped forward. "You have any money?"
"No," Two answered, stepping to the front of the group. "Now let us pass."
"You have to pay us first. You can take off those fancy outfits."
"They won't fit you, you're too fat," Seven said.
The bigger boy stepped forward. "What did you say, you little turd?"
Seven didn't repeat himself, but not because he was frightened. "What's a turd?" he asked Five.
"It's a small globule of feces," Five replied.
"That wasn't nice," Seven told the bigger boy.
"Shut up! You heard what I said, take off your clothes."
Two considered a word he had learned from Stephen Travis, and decided it was appropriate for this situation. "Bullshit."
"Say that again, and see what happens." the strange boy threatened.
Two stared at him, and recalled a term he'd heard with frequency at the detention center. "Fuck you."
"And your mother," Six added, even though he had no idea what that meant.
One of the boys pulled out a weapon. He was holding it sideways, which looked really stupid.
"Ruger 22. Mark III," Six observed. He had one of those when he was two. If they'd had their body armor, it probably wouldn't even hurt., but they didn't. "If you hold it like that, the cartridge is going to eject in your face," he advised.
The boy looked down at the weapon and his attention was diverted just long enough that One rushed him and snatched it out of his hand. He tossed it to Six, who chambered a round and aimed it - the proper way - at the first boy who had spoken to them.
Another boy was reaching into his backpack - probably for another weapon. "Stand still or you'll lose an ear," Six said, and then fired and severed the strap on the pack so it fell to the ground. Seven rushed forward and grabbed it.
"Give us all of your stuff," Two said casually. "and nobody gets hurt."
A couple of the boys still looked belligerent, as if they did not intend to comply. Six singled them out. Both were wearing caps, which were on backwards - these boys were really not very bright. He shot them off their heads.
"FUCK!" one of them shouted.
"You're out of ammo," the boy they had taken the gun from said. "I only put three in there."
"I can tell by the timber of your voice that you're lying," Five said.
"And I can tell by the weight that I have five rounds left," Six added.
"Your stuff," Two repeated.
The boys removed their backpacks and emptied their pockets. In the distance the sirens from the enforcers could be heard.
"Shit!" one of the boys said. "I'm not getting busted. I'm outa here."
Most of the others followed him. One of the two who remained looked down at Six. "You think you're bad-ass little motherfucker," he threatened, "You just wait."
The remaining boy pointed his finger directly at Two. "We're not done," he said. "This ain't over."
The Alphas filed past him without responding.
"They are going to regroup and ambush us, you know," One said to Two.
"It's what I would do," Two nodded. "Over there... " he pointed to a dark area in front of an office building, and the others understood they were to follow. With their black clothing, they'd be difficult for the enforcers, who were now just seconds away, to spot.
Once hidden, they emptied the backpacks and took an inventory of the items confiscated from the boys who had accosted them.
One of the packs had three objects wrapped in plastic with the words 'Baby Ruth' written on it. Curious, Four tore off the plastic and sniffed at it. "It appears to be food," he announced. "Peanuts and chocolate and... something else."
All of them were hungry, but no one reached for them. They had been trained to practice patience. Four set the Baby Ruths aside as they continued to go through the items.
There was a plastic bag that contained 16 tablets of some kind, and another full of crumbled vegetation. Four inspected those, also. "Hydrocodone and cannabis," he pronounced, and tossed the bags aside. "Don't eat this."
They found two bottles that said 'Mountain Dew' and 'Pepsi' on them that appeared to be sealed. Four opened them and sniffed. The Mountain Dew was an odd color, but both appeared to be beverages of some kind.
They also found a box of small sausages and a bag of something called 'honey mustard pretzel bites.'
There was also a plastic bag full of what Stephen had explained to them was currency - paper that could be traded for something useful. Five took that and counted it. "One hundred and four..." he took a moment to recall the word "... dollars."
"Is that a lot?" Seven asked.
Five had no idea. 104 apples was a lot, 104 grains of sand was nothing. It was all relative.
They also found another pistol, three knives, a pair of metal knuckles, a set of nunchaku improvised from nylon rope and two pieces of plastic pipe, and some clothing, which was perfectly serviceable, and made them wonder why the boys had wanted theirs.
They used one of the knives to cut the food up and divide it evenly among them. The little ones got proportionally more that way, but they were small, and tired. It had been a long walk for them.
Six was the first to sample the Baby Ruth. After he'd had it in his mouth for a few seconds, he looked at the others and grinned. "Good!" he proclaimed. And they all agreed, it was very tasty. So were the sausages and the honey mustard pretzel bites. As they ate, the enforcers kept driving by and shining lights in the surrounding areas. They realized they should not stay there much longer.
They gathered the weapons, the guns going to Six and Two, and a knife each to Three, Four and Five, who was also entrusted with the currency. One was the only one whose hands were large enough for the knuckles, so he got those. The nunchaku went to Seven. They were inadequately constructed of lightweight materials, but he was small enough to make efficient use of them. They left everything else behind.
It had grown very late and there were few people on the street. They kept to the shadows so the enforcers would not spot them, although Two was sure the gang of other boys was watching them. The trick would be to get those boys between them and the enforcers. They were ready when the five of them jumped out of the darkness.
The leader immediately assumed the position to begin his threat display prior to the attack. He would stand tall and make provoking comments until someone delivered the first blow. Two knew this and had told the others what to expect.
The gang leader stood with his legs apart, another weapon in his hand. The others were unarmed but stood behind him ready to fight. They were prepared to exchange words, expecting the Alphas to stop short when they blocked their path, which was their mistake.
Without breaking stride, Seven rushed the leader, who had a brief instant to register surprise at his small assailant before Seven delivered a blow to his shins with the nunchaku. It was not enough to cause injury - Seven was too small for that - but the pain took him off guard. Six shot the weapon out of his hand.
One of the others reached for it, but they had no chance. The Alphas simply over-ran them. The other boys had no knowledge of hand-to-hand combat, and the four older Alphas easily dispatched them with well-placed kicks and fist-thrusts. Once they were down, the little ones took their turn. They were small, but they were skilled enough to deliver kicks that were incapacitating.
One of the attackers, though, had a blade of some type hidden in his fist. He lashed out with it and caught Five on the leg. The little boy grunted in pain, but pivoted on his good leg and delivered a solid kick to his attacker's groin. The other boy howled in agony as Five limped out of the way.
They heard the sirens approaching. The enemy would still be on the ground when they arrived.
Two knelt beside the leader. "Don't think about following us," he said, unnecessarily since the other boy was too dazed to even get up. "You don't know how to fight."
That got his attention. "You motherfucker...." he mumbled through bloody lips. Seven had knocked out a couple of his teeth.
"I don't know what that means," Two said. "But don't... say it... again."
The sirens approached and the enforcer vehicles rounded the corner. "Move out," Two ordered.
"Five is hurt," Four said. "He's bleeding. I don't have my kit," he added, distressed. He looked around and spotted a bandana on one of their attackers. He yanked it off the boy's head and then tied it around Five's leg so that he wouldn't leave a blood trail.
One picked Five up and carried him so he wouldn't slow them down. They were still near enough when the enforcers approached the boys on the ground to hear the conversation. Apparently the enforcers knew those boys well, and were not especially sympathetic to their protests that they were the victims.
The Alphas disappeared into the night.
+ + + + + + +
The enforcers were safely behind them when they found an open store. They had not been in stores before staying with the Travises, but now understood that you could obtain various items there in exchange for the paper currency.
"Let's see if they have supplies to treat Five's leg," Four suggested. "I'll need antiseptic and bandages... and cyanoacrylate."
The person behind the counter looked at them strangely when they walked in, but didn't appear confrontational.
Six and Seven spread out to survey the goods offered by the small store, Five limping along behind them. The older ones searched the shelves for the supplies. They found bandages, antibacterial wipes and hydrogen peroxide, but the cyanoacrylate took some searching. Four was looking at a small selection of tools when he spotted a familiar looking tube. It said 'super glue' but when he read the writing on the packing material, he knew he'd found what he was looking for. He also grabbed a small flashlight encased in a bubble with two batteries.
Two signaled with a sharp whistle and the seven of them gathered together. They had found more of the tasty food. Six had a bottle of Mountain Dew that was almost as big as he was. Four took it from him and read the label.
"3 liters is too much for you," he proclaimed. "Get a smaller bottle."
Six was clearly not happy with that, but did what he was told.
They took their merchandise to the man at the counter.
"We would like to exchange currency for these items," One explained.
The clerk looked like he was waiting for something. Finally, he said impatiently, "Well, put it all up here so I can scan it."
One by one, they set their selections on the counter, and watched, fascinated, as each item was scanned. Five watched the cash register and noticed that a number on it was increasing with each scan. At the end, it said 66.73.
"Sixty-six seventy-three," the clerk said.
Five pulled out the currency. He handed over three bills with the number and word twenty on them, one that said five, and two that said one. Apparently, he guessed correctly, because the clerk did not complain he had given him the wrong amount, but Five was baffled when the man handed him three metal disks. One was large and silver and two were smaller and copper. "What are these for?" he asked the man.
"It's your change... twenty-seven cents."
"Oh." The disks all had pictures on them. "I can keep them?" he asked hopefully.
"Yes, son, they're yours," the man replied.
"Interesting... I like them," Five said. They all had pictures on them, and he stared at them, fascinated, momentarily forgetting the throbbing pain in his leg.
The clerk continued to stare at them. "You can take your stuff now," he said finally.
They reached up and retrieved the food and beverages. Once they were out of the store Four took the medical supplies and knelt down in front of Five. He carefully removed the bandana. "Pull up your pants leg," he told him.
Five did so, carefully because some of the blood had dried and caused the fabric to stick to the wound.
Four gave the flashlight to Three, who inserted the batteries and turned it on, shining the beam on the injury. It was a deep cut, but it was only about 3 centimeters in length and the edges were clean. Four thoroughly cleaned his hands with the wipes, then gently cleaned the wound. He knew the hydrogen peroxide would hurt, but it would destroy bacteria inside the cut. "Give me a count," he told Five calmly, "to twenty-five."
Five began slowly, "One... two... three..." as Four poured the peroxide. Five sucked in his breath but kept counting. By the time he reached twenty-five, the worst of the pain had subsided. The cyanoacrylate was going to sting, too, so Five had to count again, this time to fifteen. By the time he reached that number, Four had pulled the edges of the wound closed. He held them together for a few seconds, until he was sure the glue worked, then he applied a gauze bandage.
"It still hurts," Five said accusingly.
"It will hurt for a while," Four said. "It's a deep cut. But it should be fine."
Five opened his beverage and took a good long drink. It was very sweet and delicious. He wondered if Miss Evie knew about Pepsi.
"We are almost there," Six said. "But One is going to have to think of the right house."
One nodded. He moved away from the others and sat down on some grass, relaxing his muscles and closing his eyes. The other six stayed perfectly still and quiet so as not to distract him.
It took several minutes, but finally One opened his eyes. "That way," he pointed the direction they needed to go. Then he looked down at Five. "Do you think you can walk?" he asked him.
Five thought he could, but it was fun being carried, so he said, "No."
One laughed at that. He wasn't fooled, Five knew, but the bigger boy picked him up, anyway.
They only walked for another 25 minutes before they were at the familiar house. There were still lights on inside, so Two rang the doorbell.
+ + + + + + +
Travis didn't get a chance to even try to stop Evie from going to the door. It was after midnight, and there was no telling who might be there. But Evie seemed to know.
She threw the door open and there were the boys, dirty and bedraggled, but clearly happy to be there.
"We have come back," Two stated.
"Oh, thank goodness!" Evie said and knelt down to hug Six and Seven.
She noticed Five was being carried. "What happened?" she asked, concerned.
"I hurt my leg," Five answered.
"It's only a small cut," Four assured her. "He will be fine."
Evie didn't automatically accept that answer. She had One place Five on the kitchen counter and she checked the injury herself. Travis did, too. The cut was clean and neatly sealed.
"What happened? Where have you been? Why aren't you at the detention center?" Travis fired off questions.
"Orin, give them a chance to answer," Evie reminded him.
"We left the center," Two said simply. "And we came here. Some other boys tried to take our clothes, but we took their stuff, instead. Five got his leg cut, and Four fixed it."
Travis was pretty sure there was a lot more to that story, but the detention center was 22 miles away. The boys had to have walked, and the younger ones especially, looked exhausted. The details could wait.
Evie made them grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken noodle soup while they took turns showering - which did not take long. One had explained that at Omnichron, the water went off after 3 minutes, so they had learned to get the job done quickly.
Evie had washed and folded the clothes they had left behind, hoping they would return, so they had something clean to put on. They really were going to have to get them more stuff to wear, though.
As the boys finished their snack, the doorbell rang again. Travis and Evie eyed each other warily, afraid it was the police having come to take the boys back to the center.
It wasn't though. It was Nu. The boys ran to her when they saw her, but did not bowl her over with hugs and kisses, instead standing calmly while she gently greeted each one with pat on the head or a stroke of the cheek. "Are you all well, my boys?" she asked.
"I cut my leg!" Five said. "And I have these," he held out his coins, which she admired appreciatively.
"I got to use nunchakus," Seven said proudly.
"Did you?" She smiled. "And were you effective?"
Seven nodded vigorously. "The enemy was subdued."
"I have two new guns!" Six announced, which was news to Travis and Evie. Nu didn't even bat an eye though, instead asking him what kind of guns, which Six rattled off without even having to think about it.
"I needed my medical kit," Four lamented. "But I had to improvise."
"Sometimes, that is necessary," Nu said gently.
The older boys said nothing, but they were clearly happy to see Nu.
The woman looked over at Travis. "I've brought some things for them," she said. "If that's okay."
"Of course it is," Evie said. "Please, come in. I'm Evie Travis."
Nu's eyes twinkled. "Your name was Epsilon when I knew you."
Evie startled as she remembered. "Yes... yes... it was, wasn't it?"
This piqued the boys' curiosity, but Nu distracted them by saying, "There is a vehicle outside. There are bags for each of you."
They needed no further prompting. They went to retrieve whatever she had brought.
"They seem very fond of you," Evie said.
"As I am of them," Nu replied. "Omnichron has made arrangements for me to live nearby with the girls. I will always be available, should they ... or you... need me..."
"What about the police? Are they going to show up looking for them?" Travis asked.
"No. Theta and the girls took care of that."
"The girls?" Travis asked.
Nu pondered a moment. "The girls are a different type of combatant. They don't work in the field... they work with technology."
"Cyber warriors," Evie said.
"Hackers?!" Travis exclaimed.
"Well, call them what you will. But police records have been created at the detention center indicating the boys were relocated. In a few days, those will disappear, along with any other documentation pertaining to them. In a day or so, they will have documented personal histories, including birth certificates."
"It's going to looks suspicious that they aren't in school," Travis pointed out. The fall term would be starting in a little over a week.
"That's been taken care of," Nu pulled a card from her pocket and handed it to them. It had contact information for the headmistress of Holy Cross Cathedral School, a Sister Ricardis.
Travis raised an eyebrow. Holy Cross was a private school with a very steep tuition.
"The expenses have been taken care of, of course," Nu seemed to read his thoughts. "We thought that this would be the best placement since it's a kindergarten through 12th grade school. It's important that the boys remain together."
"And here is my contact information," she handed him another card.
"Nettie Wells?" Travis read the name.
"Well, I obviously can't go around being called 'Nu,'" she laughed, then turned a bit more serious. "The boys have names, too," she pointed out.
"I know." Travis had read them in the file.
"I suppose they should get used to using them."
Travis agreed wholeheartedly. From the beginning, it had seemed cold and impersonal to refer to the boys as numbers.
The boys filed back in carrying large duffle bags - or mostly carrying them. They were heavy enough that the three little ones were dragging theirs.
"They have school uniforms and their personal belongings," Nu explained. "You may use the money I gave you earlier to buy them whatever else they might need. There will be more forthcoming, of course."
She called the boys over and sat them down at the dining room table. She explained to them what was going on, and that they would be staying with the Travises for now, but that she and Theta and their other trainers would be in contact with them. She told them about the school and then concluded by announcing, "You are going to have new names."
"But we like our names," Six said. "I changed mine so it has two Xs now."
"I don't like my name," Three said. "It's boring."
"My name isn't a number," Five said, "because I spell it P-H-Y-V-E."
Nu laughed at that and affectionately tousled Five's hair.
"I tell you what, you can keep your number names, but we will add other names to them, how does that sound?"
She took a note pad and a pen from her coat pocket, and began to write. She tore off the top sheet and handed it to One.
"Josiah O. Sanchez," the boy read. "The O is for One?"
"Yes," Nu smiled. She repeated the process and handed the next sheet to Two.
"Christopher T. Larabee," the boy read. He seemed pleased by the sound of it.
She continued with each boy:
"Bucklin T. Wilmington."
"Nathan F. Jackson."
"Ezra F. Standish," Five read, then protested, "No! It's P-H-Y-V-E!"
Nu crumbled the first sheet and handed him another.
"Ezra P. Standish." Five smiled, clearly satisfied with the correction.
"Vinton S. Tanner," Six read. "With two X's in Six," he reminded Nu.
"Of course," she smiled indulgently and gave the last sheet to Seven.
"John S. Dunne," he read, and wrinkled his nose. "I don't like it."
"What if we just call you J.D.?" Travis suggested.
Seven thought that over. "Yes, that would be good."
Now, Travis thought, he and Evie would have to get used to the new names, too, but it was still better than calling them by numbers.
Nu said her good-byes after that. It was nearly 2:00 am, and everyone needed sleep.
The boys headed off to bed without protest. They never protested, and Travis wondered how long that was going to last once they were exposed to the real world and the behavior of other children who were nowhere near as disciplined - and remarkable - as they were.
Continues in "Templars"
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