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Prototype
by Richard Allen Stotts

 
Training.

The boy didn't mind the pain that came with the punishment, it was the shame of failing in his assigned orders. Obedience to orders was all. There were no excuses for less than one-hundred percent performance and he had missed two moving targets on the firing range. The fact that he had just finished traversing a hundred miles of broken terrain on foot in less than twelve hours prior to the firing exercise was not to be taken into account. The caning was over in one minute, the welts and cuts on his back and buttocks were nothing at all to the boy, little more than a ceremony.

The humiliation of failure was everything.

Chapter One Origins.

Abel #73 is born. This was the last bit of normalcy in his eleven years of life. His 'mother' never saw him, she collected the other half of her substantial fee and then disappeared forever as instructed. At first glance the baby appeared as other babies do, pink and wrinkled, wailing about it's entry into a cold bright place it didn't like. A closer examination (or dissection) would have revealed that this child was something altogether different from the standard model. The child was a prototype.

Genetic Enhancement and Amplification (GEA). The Manhattan Project was an entry in a grade school science fair by comparison. The technique was immensely complicated, the advent of the supercomputer had made the theory workable, the seventy-two failures were just a learning process. The sometimes horrific results were analyzed, mistakes corrected, number seventy-three was fully viable and a complete success.

The child would have superior everything. This being a military project, strength, agility, reaction time and acute senses were what had been aimed for. His superior intelligence was just a bonus. At the age of four he would have the strength of two average adult males. He would never know or miss a mother's love and comfort, a father's hand to hold. He would know discipline, training and hardship. He was to be the ultimate warrior, and so he was.

By the age of ten the boy had already been field tested twice. The first time a certain middle eastern thorn in the national side had his skull bashed in while asleep in his most secure bunker. The second time involved placing shaped explosive charges on the hull of the pride of the Chinese Navy.

From a short distance the boy appeared as other young males. He had regular, even somewhat handsome features. Close cropped black hair molded to his skull, startling blue eyes that a hawk would envy for their resolving power, white even teeth that could sever your hand. Move in close, remove the loose clothing and things changed. Abel's bones were denser, more resilient, immensely strong. His muscles, normally smooth and unapparent in a boy his age, were as well defined as an anatomy textbook drawing. Every sinew and fiber of his compact body seemed to ripple just under his tanned and abnormally tough skin. There were no martial arts experts on the planet who could if they tried lay a finger on Abel. Simple dynamic testing said he was as strong as ten adult men, his reaction times were beyond explanation.

The GEA Project had been a closely held secret through two divergent administrations. The third President to gain knowledge of the project was somewhat of a moral straight-arrow, cunning like many politicians, and a bit of a simpleton when it came to matters of defense. He was outraged that a child had been subjected to the experimentation and abuse that Abel #73 had been. The new President's outrage didn't extend to public disclosure of the GEA Project, he did however shut it down. Now what to do with the prototype?

The Oval Office The President was in conference with the Chairman of the JCS, Director CIA, and his National Security Advisor. JCS was making one last plea for sanity.

"Mister President, you are throwing away the fruits of years of research and billions of tax dollars. That boy represents the solution to just about every defense and intelligence problem we'll ever have to face!"

The President regarded the highly decorated officer as if he were some sort of naughty child, he had no love for the military, nor they for him.

"The whole GEA Project is an abomination, not to mention the criminal misuse and abuse of the boy's constitutional and human rights. Everyone involved with the project ought to be prosecuted in a court of law."

The General pressed, on perhaps logic might work.

"And you're proposing to simply place him in a foster home with an average sort of family? It'll be like boarding the Terminator with the Brady Bunch! The boy simply has no point of reference for a situation like that!"

"You've stressed that he above all else, follows orders. Then order him to adapt and do no harm to the family he's placed with." This President was not too deep of a thinker, he relied more on political instinct.

"He will do his best Mister President, but the potential for some sort of disaster is tremendous."

The President was undeterred. "We'll find someone in CIA or FBI with a track record of caring for foster children, they can be briefed to the extent needed about the boy's background and capabilities."

The CIA Director had been silent up till now, she expressed one caveat. "The boy's abilities shouldn't simply be forgotten about, we might have need of them one day."

The President said nothing in reply, his frown at the woman was his answer. It was a certainty that CIA would not be forgetting anything.

------------------------------------ Site Four, Colorado Abel was being briefed about the termination of the project and the plans for his future. As was usual his face betrayed not the slightest trace of emotion. The officer doing the briefing had been Abel's 'God' for the last eight years but showed scarcely more emotion than the boy did.

"The project has been terminated for political reasons, there is no fault on your part."

The boy had been granted permission to speak freely, something almost never permitted.

"I've always tried my best sir, I've failed many times."

"Your performance has been exemplary, above expectations. Everyone involved in this project is outraged at the stupidity involved in the decision to cancel it, don't ever think for a moment that you have failed in any way. You're the best soldier to ever walk on this planet, never forget that."

Abel was silent for a moment, he didn't quite know how to handle a compliment, much less a very large compliment. "Yes sir," was his measured and only reply.

"You are going to be placed with a foster family of some sort, they're still looking over the list of candidates." The officer stood before continuing. "The following orders are to be followed without fail: One, you will do no harm to the people you are placed with. Two, you will protect them with your life if needed. Three, you will strive at all times to adapt to the new situation and lifestyle and to obey your foster parents at all times. This will be the hardest order to carry out, but you will adapt and obey. No one but myself can countermand these orders. Understood?"

"Yes sir." The boy knew nothing but orders, there was no thought of questioning them, even less than no thought of ever disobeying them.

"Until a family is selected you will continue with normal training and conditioning. Dismissed."

The boy snapped to attention from his parade rest stance, then turned and exited in the crisp military manner that was all he had ever known. The officer spent a long time looking out of the office window at the towering snow capped mountains that surrounded the remote site. Eventually he left for his private quarters and got passing out drunk. Abel spent the afternoon doing an easy twenty-five mile run in the mountains and trying to come to grips with his shattered world. If you attempted to detect any concern on the boy's face you would have failed, but the concern was there.

---------------------------------------- Family The list of prospective families was fairly short from the very beginning, it had quickly narrowed to just the one choice. FBI Special Agent John Grimes met with the 'spook' from CIA in the FBI's San Francisco field office. After the obligatory pleasantries the spook (call me Fred) broached the subject of his visit to the FBI.

"You have from time to time taken in foster children, a total of four altogether?"

Grimes was taken somewhat aback at the question. "Well, yes. For short periods of time. One girl stayed with us for three months, that was the longest. What's this all about ?"

"Before I can answer that, I need you to read and sign this." The spook placed a form on the agent's desk, it was a non-disclosure agreement, the penalties it listed for violation of the agreement were more than severe. Grimes studied the form for a moment and then looked up at the other man. "You have my complete attention," he said as he signed the form, "now what the hell is this all about?"

The spook told him. Everything.

Grimes thought he was in some sort of bad science fiction film. The spook wasn't smiling.

"You're serious, aren't you?" Grimes asked softly.

"Very much so. The boy needs a decent home, the President wants him to have some sort of normal life. You can say "go to hell" if you want, no record of this meeting will exist."

"You make him sound like some sort of robot or something." Grimes wasn't sure of what to do or which way to jump.

"Abel was to be the ultimate warrior, he is already." The spook wasn't pulling his punches.

Grimes thought of his family first and foremost. "I have three kids, a wife."

The spook nodded his head, "We know. The boy obeys orders above all else, it's been instilled into his makeup since his earliest days. He's been ordered to never harm your family, to protect them, to die for them if needed. He may make mistakes, all he's ever known is training, discipline and obedience to orders."

"And he's eleven years old?" Grimes asked again, for the third time.

"Yes."

"How strong?" Grimes had heard but distrusted his senses at this point.

"He could rip off your head and toss it into next week. He could also be the ultimate bodyguard for your family."

Grimes shook his head for a moment. "How could the government or anyone for that matter treat a child like that, like some sort of experimental piece of hardware?"

The spook just shook his head. "I don't know, I feel pretty much the way you do. I wasn't part of the project, I'm just the messenger boy here." If the CIA held classes in lying then Fred probably got an A+.

"I'll have to talk with my wife about this first. What can I tell her about the boy?"

"Tell her as much as you think she needs to know, use your own discretion."

"And my kids?"

The spook just raised his eyebrows for a moment. "Just tell them he's a very unusual boy who's been through a long tough time, I suppose."

Grimes came to a decision. "All right. I'll talk it over with her tonight. Call me here in the morning and I'll let you know what we decide."

"Fair enough," replied the spook as he rose to leave. He picked up the non-disclosure form on the agent's desk and pointed at it.

Grimes got the message. Spill the beans and go to jail.

On the drive home from work that evening Agent Grimes got honked at several times at stop lights, it seems he had a lot on his mind. He pulled into the driveway of the upscale two-story home in Marin and just sat there for a few moments thinking about whether or not he should be exposing his family to the unknown quantity that was Abel. He had a lot to lose, people at work often referred to him as "Ward Cleaver" because of his picture perfect family and home.

A sizeable inheritance from his grandfather had made possible a much nicer home and more creature comforts than his pay from the Bureau would normally allow. After taxes his grand dad had left behind six-million dollars, most of it going to his one grandson. His wife had the luxury of being able to devote full time to raising good kids instead of working to raise cold cash.

With a sigh of resignation the agent got out of the car and went in to share his incredible story with his wife June (another reason they called him Ward Cleaver). He broached the subject with her as the two of them were putting the kitchen straight after dinner, an evening ritual that let them talk in private.

"A guy from the government visited me today at work, about us taking in a very special foster child," he began.

"A guy from the government?" June knew about "guys from the government."

"Yeah, CIA." That got her complete attention.

"What is the CIA doing in the child welfare business?"

"This boy, his name is Abel, has been a government project his entire life, Grimes explained, "he's the result of a genetic engineering project to come up with a superior soldier. The project was evidently a roaring success but the President got wind of what they were doing and now they need a home for the boy."

"The poor child! Of course we can take him in!" June's maternal instincts had just kicked in, perhaps prematurely.

"There's more," Grimes continued, "he's physically far superior, incredibly strong. He's been trained on a diet of total discipline and obedience, subjected to physical training and hardship that would kill a normal adult."

"My God." June was beginning to see why her husband seemed so concerned. "How strong is he, could he hurt one of the children?"

"The spook said he was a strong as ten men, but he's also been conditioned his whole life to follow orders to the letter. His final orders from the project will be never to harm any of us, to protect us and to adapt to his new way of living."

June was silent for a moment. "What happened to his parents?"

"He never had any, unless you count the woman paid to gestate him and give birth."

"How did they come to approach us to take him in?"

"We've taken in some foster kids before, I work for the government and have a security clearance, we have a nice home. I guess we made the top of the list."

"What if things don't work out, what will happen to the boy?" June asked.

"I don't know, maybe some sort of institutional thing, I really just don't know."

"Then we must do our best to see that things do work out." She had made her decision, the boy would live with them. In truth the woman had no real idea about just who or what she was inviting into her home.

At nine-oh-five the next morning, Agent Grimes got a call from the spook.

"Good morning Agent Grimes, did you speak with your wife about our discussion?"

"Yes. We've decided to go ahead with it." Grimes knew to talk around the subject on an unsecured phone.

"Good, I thought you might. You'll be traveling to Colorado tomorrow, we'll square things with your Agent in Charge. A car will pick you up at your home tomorrow morning at seven AM, you should be home with your guest by tomorrow evening."

Grimes was surprised at the speed events were taking.

"I see you've made plans in advance."

"We did a lot of research on you and your family, we felt pretty sure you would go ahead with things."

"I have one question," Grimes asked, "if things go sour who do I call?"

"Me. I'll provide you with a twenty-four hour number, I'll be the only one answering the phone."

"Fair enough. I hope I don't have to call you."

He also prayed that he wouldn't have to call him.

That evening at dinner, Agent Grimes explained to his children about their new foster-brother-to-be. The Grimes children, Deborah thirteen, Samuel (call him Sam!) ten, and Mary who was just four and was a total sweetheart, all looked at one another with wary expressions. Sometimes foster kids were 'problem' kids.

Deborah asked the first question.

"Just what kind of project was he part of, Dad?"

Grimes had rehearsed his answer, "A classified military project, that's all you need to know and all I can tell you. Don't go blabbing it to the known universe either, as you are prone to do. This is important, no bullshit!" Deborah reddened a little at her father's unusual use of even mild profanity, but she held her tongue (for once). Sam had more mundane questions about the rooming arrangements.

"Will I have to share my room with him?"

"I think he will be more at ease in the guest room for the time being, if the two of you hit it off we can put bunk beds in your room if you both want."

"How long will he be staying?" Sam continued.

"I'm not too sure, if things work out maybe permanently." This caused wide eyes among the three Grimes siblings but no comments or protests were forthcoming. They weren't selfish kids but they still had their own reservations about the whole arrangement.

At seven on the dot the next morning Grimes left with a rather noncommunicative 'suit' who drove him to a part of SFO normally utilized by business jets and non-scheduled charters. They passed through the normal airport security with a speed that indicated long strings were being pulled by heavy players. The blue and white Gulf Stream II had just the one passenger, John Grimes. About two hours later the aircraft touched down in Colorado Springs. A waiting Air Force Blackhawk helicopter flew the agent for forty-five minutes to the northwest before descending into a mountain valley. They landed at a small and extremely isolated collection of buildings that at first sight appeared to be a fishing and hunting lodge. No fishing or hunting had ever occurred there. Most of the 'lodge' was underground. An Army Colonel in starched combat fatigues was waiting on the small landing pad as Grimes stepped out of the dark gray helicopter. The agent's senses and body were trying to adjust to the bright sunlight and cool thin air.

"Welcome to Site 4 Agent Grimes." The name tag on the officer's chest read "Hartz." Hands were shook but with no enthusiasm on the part of the officer.

"Thanks," Grimes then glanced around and asked, "what's the altitude here anyway?"

"About sixty-eight hundred feet. Cold as a son of a bitch at night."

"You're the commanding officer here?" Grimes asked.

"No, he left two days ago, I'm just staying on here to shut things down and hand over the boy to you. The general in charge of this part of the project, well.. he had some trouble accepting the end of a project that he had devoted a good part of his career to. So do I."

Grimes nodded in some understanding of the situation, he looked around as if seeking what he had came for. The Colonel sensed what he was searching for. "Follow me, let's talk about Abel for a while before I take you to meet him."

Grimes walked along with the officer without speaking. They entered the main 'lodge' where the agent was somehow not too surprised at the series of stairs they had to descend to get to the main operations level. The Colonel led him into an office and motioned him to sit down, the two regarded one another for a moment before the officer spoke. "Abel's taking his last morning conditioning run , he should be back any minute now."

"I can't imagine running anywhere in these mountains, how far does he usually go, five miles or so?" Grimes was about to be jerked rudely into the reality of the situation.

"He left this morning a little after five, he will do about fifty miles by the time he's back, mostly up and down miles. He may even work up a small sweat if he pushes it some." The Colonel smiled just a little at the expression on the agent's face.

"You're not serious?" Grimes had to ask but knew the answer already.

"Yes, Agent Grimes, I am. You need to adapt to a new way of thinking when it comes to Abel. He's not a normal boy, not even a normal human being, not by light years. Abel is something else altogether. Get used to it."

The phone buzzed softly on the Colonel's desk, he answered and then hung up with only a "very well."

"Abel's back, he's finishing taking a shower right now, he should be done by the time we walk over there. Come along with me."

Grimes followed the officer back up to the lodge's main level and then out to what appeared to be one of several small cabins for visiting fisherman or hunters. They entered to find Abel standing by his spartan bed at strict attention, neatly dressed in polished black boots, sharply creased and bloused fatigue pants, and a spotless white T-shirt. The agent's eyes were drawn to the finely etched muscles that revealed themselves on the boy's bare arms and neck, the young male seemed a bit shorter than he had expected. The spartan room held only a thin hard looking cot, a desk with a small lamp and a computer terminal. There was an open clothes rack with precisely hung olive drab garments, a footlocker at the end of the cot. You could perform surgery on any of the surfaces in the small room without fear of contamination or infection. Even the ceiling looked polished. Colonel Hartz made the rather terse introductions.

"Abel, this is FBI Special Agent Grimes. He's to be your foster father."

The boy stood as a statue, no expression, no anything. Grimes extended his hand to the boy.

"Hello Abel, nice to finally meet you."

Abel took the man's hand firmly, he tried to use the proper amount of pressure. Agent Grimes thought he was shaking hands with a warm piece of steel. The boy's hand was calloused and rough, there was little if any 'give' to the grip offered him. Abel then offered the regulation sort of greeting. "Pleased to meet you, sir." His voice seemed a bit rough..no, almost like a soft growl. It was a side effect of the genetic engineering.

Colonel Hartz asked about the boy's morning run.

"Are those bighorn still up in the pass?"

"No sir, they've moved down slope toward the valley about five clicks"

The officer just nodded and then turned toward Grimes. "I'll leave you two to get acquainted for a little while before you leave for California. See you in an hour or so."

After the officer had left Grimes stood a bit awkwardly, the boy still stiffly at attention, eyes ahead, as cool as snow. Finally the man found his voice, "Abel, why don't you be at ease and relax? Have a seat on your bunk and we'll talk for a while." The boy snapped to parade rest and said as always, "Yes sir." He then sat down on the edge of the taut and perfectly made bunk, he seemed now to be sitting at attention.

Grimes pulled out the chair from the desk and sat down to face the boy. "So tell me about yourself, son. What's on your mind?" The boy seemed at a loss, the only indication of emotion was a slight movement of his eyes toward the man. Finally the boy said something, "Sir, I have no training or experience living with civilians. I'm concerned I'll make some sort of misjudgment. I might harm someone." Grimes nodded his head, this was a start at least. "I understand that. You will be in a completely alien environment doing things you have no real knowledge of. I expect you to make mistakes along the way, that's part of learning. Me and my family will be there to help you all we can, I suspect we'll make mistakes too, you'll have to be patient with us."

The boy seemed to loosen just a tiny bit. "I will do my best to follow my orders and adapt, sir."

The agent nodded at the boy's answer. "My wife and myself do have some worries about your rather incredible strength, you'll be with our children, they're just average kids. To you they will probably seem soft and weak, undisciplined even."

"I have orders to do no harm to your family, to protect them. I will obey those orders sir." Abel was looking into the man's eyes as he said this quietly, there was no room to doubt his sincerity.

"I understand that son," Grimes responded, " it's just that they're the only family I have, a father tends to worry a lot." Abel didn't respond, the boy seemed to lack a reply. Grimes stood up, Abel leapt up and snapped to attention, "Son, why don't we go outside for a time? You can show me around this place some."

"Yes sir." The boy moved swiftly to the door to hold it open for the man while standing as ever at attention. As they stepped outside Grimes spoke again to the boy. "Son, I'm not a military officer or even an enlisted man, I'm a civilian. You don't have to stand at attention and be on parade all of the time, try to relax a little, ease up some."

"Yes, sir."

The boy could no more ease up than he could flap his arms and fly.

There was a small lake a few hundred yards from the compound, Grimes suggested they head in that direction. The air still had a bite in it even as noon approached, the man found himself wishing for a warmer jacket, he noticed that the boy seemed perfectly comfortable in just his T-shirt. Both said nothing until they reached the shore of the clear mountain lake. Grimes reached down and picked up a golf ball sized rock and tossed it as far out into the water as he could.

"My arm's not as good as it used to be, I pitched some on my college baseball team." On an impulse the man picked up another rock a bit larger than the last and handed it to the boy. "Let's see if you're big league material, give it your best throw." Abel took the rock and tested it's weight, his throw was a blur. Grimes lost sight of the stone, finally catching sight of the small plume of water it raised on the far side of the quarter mile diameter lake. "Jesus Mary and Joseph," Grimes whispered as he looked down at the impassive boy beside him. Anyone behind home plate when that came across would be entirely dead.

Grimes and the boy stood by the lake for a while, the man trying to get some sort of dialogue going, Abel seemingly unable to speak freely and openly as he was asked to do. The boy had been trained to follow orders, expressing feelings if there were any had not been a part of his upbringing. Grimes had so far not detected any threat or animosity from the boy. But just the same he felt a little like he was having a conversation with a very polite and very deadly carnivore of some sort. In truth that was exactly what he was doing.

They walked back in the general direction of Abel's quarters, there really wasn't much to point out or to explain. Grimes thought to ask the boy if he had any civilian clothing, any personal possessions he wanted to take with him.

"I have been issued some civilian clothing suitable for travel, sir."

"Any stuff you'd like to take along, you know, personal things?" Grimes asked.

"I have a hairbrush and toothbrush that are mine, sir."

"That's all?"

"Yes sir."

Grimes thought of his own son's room, there was so much junk in it that crossing from one side to the other was a perilous expedition. In a lifetime this boy had accumulated a toothbrush and a hairbrush.

When the man and boy reached Abel's small quarters once more, Grimes suggested that perhaps it was time to change into his civilian clothing. Much to the boy's confusion, Grimes held the door for him and motioned him inside. "Thank you sir." It seemed evident that someone holding a door for the boy was a novel experience for him. Inside the bare room Abel went to his footlocker at the end of the cot. He produced a new pair of Levi's, a light blue shirt, gray pullover sweater. A belt, white briefs and undershirt. Socks and a new pair of Reboks completed the wardrobe.

The boy quickly removed his boots and socks, Agent Grimes was in true shock as the boy stripped off all of his clothing to reveal a body that while covered with tan skin, had an almost alien or reptilian quality. The boy wasn't bulky and over muscled in the manner of body builders but every major or minor muscle was well developed and evident, every sinew outlined and well defined.

Grimes found his voice after the boy had pulled on the new briefs, "Son, hold still for a minute, let me look at you a bit." Abel came to attention as usual, no trace of modesty or shyness in front of the man. Grimes felt the boy's chest and upper arms, there seemed to be about as much give to the boy's flesh as a piece of oak. The man then noticed some fine scars on Abel's back that extended down to his briefs and then on down the back of his legs.

"These scars Abel, what are they from?"

"Punishment, sir." The boy may as well have been discussing the time of day for all the emotion shown.

"You were beaten?" Grimes was starting to seethe at the thought of what this boy had been through.

"Just when I failed to accomplish assigned orders, sir." Abel conveyed the impression that this was something perfectly normal and expected.

Grimes stood back from the boy a moment. "Alright son, go on and get dressed." The man was a little old fashioned when it came to child discipline, when his own offspring had seriously strayed from the correct path they had on occasion had their backsides warmed a bit to make a point. The scars on the boy's body seemed to Grimes to be nothing but senseless cruelty.

As Abel was finishing dressing Colonel Hartz made his appearance. Grimes took him by the elbow and guided him back outside where they could talk away from the boy.

"That boy is head to toe scars on his back and legs, from punishment he says!"

"You disapprove of course," Hartz seemed unfazed by the accusation Grimes had made.

"Disapprove! Goddammit man, that's a boy in there, not some sort of galley slave!" Grimes was close to punching out this cold fish.

"This project was tasked by the government with producing the finest fighting man possible and it did, ahead of schedule." Hartz calmly explained. "Now that same government says forget about it, turn Abel into some sort of civilized young citizen. It won't work you know, that boy can kill as easily as you can breathe and with less emotion. He is and will always be the ultimate warrior. Those scars that so upset your fragile sensibilities were just wrist slaps to the boy, his real punishment was the shame and disgrace in failing in his orders."

Grimes fought to control his mouth and fists, in the end he just turned and went back into the cabin.

Abel stood as always at attention, he had his toothbrush and hairbrush in his left hand at his side which seemed a bit pathetic to the man.

"Come on son, let's get you out of this place." The agent's anger was apparent to the boy but his only response was the usual "Yes, sir."

Colonel Hartz stood waiting as the two left the cabin (with Abel holding the door). The boy marched crisply up to the officer and snapped a textbook salute that was returned just as smartly.

"Goodbye Abel," Hartz said nothing else except a quiet "good luck." There was no handshake, no smile between either of them. The boy stepped back and saluted again, when it was returned he did an about face and fell in beside Grimes to walk to the waiting helicopter. The agent had nothing more to say to Hartz, he did speak quietly to Abel. "Let's go home son."

"Yes sir."

And so they did.

Home The helicopter flight to Colorado Springs was too noisy for much conversation. The agent tried to calm his anger, Abel simply sat passively looking out the side window, helicopters were his usual mode of transportation. When the sleek Gulf Stream was in the air there was time for talk. Abel still clutched his only possessions in his left hand, the toothbrush and hairbrush.

Grimes took an airsick bag from the seatback in front of him. "Let's put those in this for now son," he indicated the items in Abel's left hand. The boy hesitated for just an instant, then handed the two items over to the man. Grimes had the impression that the boy was giving him all of his worldly possessions, which indeed he was. The agent handed the bag back to the boy who put it at his side on the seat.

"Have you done much flying?" Grimes sought to start some sort of conversation between them.

"Yes sir."

Grimes should have learned by now what sort of answer he would get.

"What sort of aircraft?"

Abel began reciting the aircraft he had flown in to the best of his recollection. "C-130, C-141, C-17, C-5, KC-135, K-10, B1-B, F-16, F-22D, U-9B(what the hell was a U-9?) UH-1, ..." Grimes stopped him at this point, the boy had flown before, apparently in everything that could fly.

"Sorry I asked." Grimes smiled, trying to make a bit of humor, but still impressed.

"Sir?" Humor would always be a very iffy thing with Abel.

Grimes took off his suit jacket to be more comfortable, he noticed the boy's glance at the pistol he carried under his left shoulder while on duty.

"I guess you've been made familiar with guns and various weapons?"

"Yes sir." A monumental understatement.

Here we go again Grimes thought. Abel surprised him by his next observation. "Permission to speak, sir?"

"Of course," replied the slightly exasperated Grimes, "you don't need permission to talk to me."

"You carry the Sig-Sauer .40 caliber, sir?"

"Yes Abel, you can tell that?"

"The butt and clip end are rather unique. May I ask another question sir?"

Grimes thought this was a breakthrough. "Of course son, you can always ask me a question."

"Do you feel comfortable with the limited stopping power of the .40 caliber?"

The agent was again taken somewhat aback. "The .40 round is pretty powerful, son"

Abel said nothing for a moment, then.. "I prefer the .454 Casull round in a modified and ported Desert Eagle, sir."

The man had read about both the caliber (huge) and the handgun (more than huge). "Jesus son, that's a cannon!"

The boy said nothing, it was very hard to read anything the boy was thinking. Grimes did have the impression that the boy had little regard for handguns designed for mere mortals.

"Would you care to look at my puny Sig-Sauer?" Grimes tried to keep the conversation going.

"No sir, handling loaded firearms in a pressurized aircraft is not recommended."

"Oh." Grimes felt like a schoolchild wearing a dunce cap, of course the boy was right. Change the subject.

"We've decided to put you in our guest room for the time being rather than have you bunk in with Sam," explained the man.

"Sam, sir?"

"He's my son, he's maybe a year younger than yourself. We also have two daughters, there's Deborah who's thirteen and little Mary who's just turned four.

Abel remained impassive at this information, the idea of being with other young people, female young people at that, was too alien of a concept for the boy to fully comprehend. After a time the boy spoke again. "Sir, if I may, another question?"

"Yes, of course son," Grimes patiently agreed, "and please stop asking for permission to talk."

"I apologize sir. Will I be allowed to exercise to remain fit?"

"Well certainly son, we have some exercise equipment, there are running trails in the hills behind our home. You can get all of the exercise you want. We have a pool to swim in too."

"Thank you sir." The boy remained as passive as ever, Grimes thought for a moment that he might have detected just the faintest trace of relief.

There was a telephone built into the seat arm between Grimes and the boy, the man remembered that their hasty departure had put them ahead of schedule. As he picked up the handset and dialed he told the boy that he needed to call his wife, they should be there in plenty of time for dinner.

"Hi hon, we're on our way back. I'm calling from the plane."

"Already?" June Grimes was already altering plans.

"Yeah, we left sooner than I thought we would, I'll explain it all to you when we get there. Is dinner a go?"

"Sure, I'll put things on hold till you show up." The woman paused for a moment. "How's Abel? What's he like?"

Grimes glanced at the boy next to him. "He's.. Well he's something special. I think things will work out but it's going to take some time." If the boy was listening to the conversation he gave no indication, the fact that his acute hearing could pick up both sides of the conversation was at this point unknown to Grimes.

"Well, tell him I said hi. Tell him he's welcome here."

"Will do. See you when we show up." Grimes replaced the handset into it's cradle and spoke to the boy.

"Dinner will be waiting for us, June said to say hi to you."

"Yes sir, I heard."

Grimes just stared at the boy for a moment. "You could hear what she was saying?"

"Yes sir."

"Then your hearing has been enhanced too?"

"Yes sir."

"Christ!"

"Sir?"

"Never mind." Grimes leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes for a moment, trying to get a grip on this new reality. The boy took the agent's actions as an opportunity for rest, within thirty seconds Abel was in a light sleep (but then his sleep was always light).

The drive from the airport to the Grime's home in Marin was a new world for Abel. In an existence that had for the most part been only remote military bases and wilderness, the chaos of freeway traffic, urban skyscrapers, and above all countless people (all civilians) came very close to overloading the boy's acute senses. The agent and the boy sat together in the back seat of the sedan as the 'suit' did the driving. Grimes would occasionally point out some landmark, Abel would look at it intently saying nothing, displaying nothing. The sun was close to setting as they pulled up in front of the white, two story "Cleaver" home. Grimes and the boy got out and stood for a moment while the car with the 'suit' disappeared down the street. The man put his hand lightly on Abel's shoulder and bade him a quiet welcome.

"This is your home son, be it ever so humble. Let's go in and meet the tribe, I'm hungry."

Of course the boy said nothing.

Sam had spotted the pair from his upstairs bedroom window and broadcast the news to the entire house. "They're here!!" Even Grimes' ears could pick that up. By the time the man and boy reached the front door the family was assembled in the entryway, the front door already open. Mrs. Grimes was first to greet the boy after a quick kiss for her husband.

"Welcome home, Abel. It's nice to finally meet you." The woman extended her hand to the boy while his eyes darted about taking in as much as possible in the short time.

"Thank you Ma'am," Abel snapped to attention while shaking the woman's hand, "pleased to meet you." June was startled by the feel of the boy's hand and the sound his of voice, both so hard and rough. She found her own voice and introduced her offspring. "This is Deborah," the girl moved forward and took the boy's hand lightly, her shock at his touch not as well concealed, "she's thirteen and the oldest." Abel repeated his greeting, the girl giggled a little at being called "Ma'am."

Sam introduced himself, darting forward with his hand extended, "Hi, I'm Sam." Sam was called "Sir" for the first time in his life and then looked down at his own hand to check for possible damage. Little Mary couldn't be enticed to come out from behind her mother and Abel didn't know what to say to her so he just remained silent. A bit of an awkward pause ensued as the family looked over their new boarder. Abel's clothing covered his unusual physique, save for his corded neck, but he still seemed to exude some sort of harnessed power and strength. A wolf among the flock.

Grimes broke the spell. "Come on son, I'll show you your room and then we can have some dinner." As the man led Abel past his family his wife asked where the boy's luggage or bags were. Grimes held up the barf bag containing their guest's worldly possessions. "Right here." Sam and Deborah started to follow their dad and the boy up the stairs, they were intercepted by the woman who suggested they give Abel a little space for a few minutes.

On their way down the hall to the guest bedroom Grimes pointed out each of the children's room's, Abel's only detectable reaction was a tiny arch of one eyebrow as he looked into Sam's chaotic lair. The guest room was a pleasant gender neutral sort of place, it had it's own bath, a large double bed, the usual furnishings. "This is yours for the time being," explained Grimes, "we'll make it more suitable for a boy when we have the time." Abel stood motionless save for his eyes, after a life of spartan surroundings the richness of the room didn't quite register with him, he did however voice a small request.

"May I use the latrine, sir?" Grimes chuckled a bit at the term. "Of course son, go right ahead. This is your room and your house, you can use anything in it."

"Thank you, sir."

The man waited just outside the open bathroom door as the boy peed, he noted that he must have been taught some of the ways of civilized society, he had lifted the seat and washed his hands afterwards. He left the towel precisely centered and even on the rod. "Why don't you take off that sweater and be more comfortable, son?" The boy complied silently, folding the garment quickly as if to ready it for any snap inspection, at the man's direction he placed it on the dresser (neatly).

"Have a seat on the bed for a just a minute," Grimes motioned, "let's talk."

"Yes sir." Abel sat stiffly on the edge of the soft bed as instructed while the man spoke to him. "This has been an enormous change for you, you're like a fish out of water. For what it's worth I think you've been handling things really well today."

"Thank you, sir." No expression, none.

Grimes thought for a moment, then gave voice to an idea he had. "Son, I'm going to give you one of the few direct orders that I ever will, here it is. I want you to freely ask questions when you are in doubt, when there is something you feel you need to know. I want you to speak up when there is something bothering you or if there's something you need or want to say. That's a direct order, understand?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Just a hint of some relief, perhaps imagined by the man, perhaps not.

"Fine. Let's go eat, you must be hungry."

"Yes, sir."

Midway down the hall a small breakthrough occurred.

"Sir?"

"Yes, son."

"Did I frighten Mary when we met, sir?"

Grimes grinned from ear to ear, a human question! "No son, she's very shy at first around strangers, when she gets to know you she probably won't leave you alone."

The boy said no more for the moment, displayed no emotion. Grimes did feel that under that tough skin somewhere Abel had at least a small bit of remaining humanity. Perhaps.

In the dining room just off of the kitchen the Grimes family was champing at the bit to eat, at least the kids were. June Grimes indicated for Abel to sit in the chair next to Mary and opposite Sam and Deborah. The boy remained standing until the two adults had sat down before taking his seat. There was a small problem to be solved before the meal could begin, an unopened jar of stuffed olives next to the man's plate, June and everyone else had failed to unscrew the stubborn lid.

"Dear, see if you can get the darn lid off of that jar, I think they welded it on."

A manly task at which Grimes failed miserably. On an impulse he handed the jar to Abel. "Son ,see if you can get it off."

"Yes sir." Abel took the jar and looked at it's label for a moment, then with no more effort than if he were turning the page of a book he quickly unscrewed the lid and handed both items back to the man.

"Whoa!" Sam exclaimed, eye's on full open. So were the rest of the family's eyes save for the man's, he already knew some of what the boy was capable of.

"Thank you Abel," Grimes smiled, "now let's eat."

The meal was a traditional meat, potatoes and vegetables sort of affair. Grimes did the honors of slicing the roast, each diner passing their plate for a portion. The man noticed that Abel didn't begin eating until he did, more evidence that the boy's training wasn't entirely about how to shoot or kill. There was some small talk and banter from all save the boy who now seemed intent on ingesting the maximum amount of food in the shortest possible time. June Grimes noticed his apparent appetite (well, everyone did). "Abel, you must have missed your lunch today, what with leaving early and all."

"Yes Ma'am." After a swallow.

"And breakfast?" June was trying to coax some conversation out of the boy.

"No breakfast, Ma'am. I left early on a conditioning run."

"You poor dear, then you've had nothing all day long!" A mother's instincts kicked in.

"I did Ma'am, I caught a rabbit about halfway through the run."

This caused chewing to cease for a moment around the table, finally June continued her interrogation.

"But how... You stopped and built a fire and all of that?"

"No Ma'am."

John Grimes asked the next question. "Son, how did you get the rabbit, were you carrying a rifle or something?"

"No sir, I was unarmed. I just ran it down. May I have some more of the roast beef, sir?"

While Grimes was piling more of the main dish on the boy's plate June regrettably asked another question.

"But Abel, how did you prepare the rabbit? I mean...."

"I broke it's neck to kill it, then pulled off the skin and removed the entrails, Ma'am."

Deborah by now had completely lost her appetite. "Oh gross, that's disgusting!" The girl looked a bit pale. Sam just sat open mouthed, Mary didn't quite grasp the conversation. June just wouldn't leave well enough alone. "But you said you didn't make a fire, how did....?" Her voice trailed off a bit when she realized the truth of the matter, he had eaten the rabbit raw. There had been nothing in the boy's words or expression to indicate even a tiny lie.

Things were quiet for a moment around the table, John Grimes smiled at the boy's calm and even recitation of the simple recipe for rabbit and at his own family's introduction to the sharp end of the stick. The man then changed the subject of the conversation, much to his wife and daughter's relief.

"Abel's going to need some clothes real quick, all he has is what he's wearing."

June snapped out of her mental shock. "We'll go to the mall tomorrow and start on his wardrobe."

"I don't think Abel's quite ready for the mall yet, take some measurements and have Deb go with you," suggested Grimes, "she's the family expert on the mall and what's 'in' for young twerps."

"Cool, Dad!" Deborah almost regained her appetite at the thought of a major mall expedition. Her father imposed some small amount of restraint on his daughter.

"Don't outfit him to look like those semi-male alien creatures on your bedroom wall!"

"Yes, Daddy." Semi-snotty smile.

Abel just continued to eat.

After the meal the three Grimes children made quick exits, Abel remained in the kitchen with the adults, unsure of what he should be doing.

Grimes suggested, "Son, myself and June always take care of the cleanup, why don't you go into the family room and watch some TV with the kids?" In truth the man wanted to talk to his wife alone about Abel. As the boy left the room the man noticed that he moved as lightly and as quietly as a cat. Grimes turned to his wife. "I was watching when Abel was changing into the civilian clothes they gave him. You'll need to prepare yourself for the first time you might see him undressed."

"Why, John? What's wrong with him?" June asked with some concern.

"There's nothing really wrong with him, he's just put together like some sort of comic book superhero, his muscles stand out everywhere, he looks like... I don't know, almost alien somehow. He's incredibly strong."

"Good Lord."

"There's more," Grimes continued, "his back and legs are a mass of fine scars left over from punishment, from when he failed at something assigned to him."

"Oh no," the woman's eyes narrowed with anger, "how could they do that to him?"

"I don't know, I came close to punching that Colonel Hartz in the face after I saw the boy's back like that, that's why we left early. I wanted him away from there as fast as possible and before I did something I'd regret."

Eventually the subject of school came up.

"He should be with young people his own age," June argued.

"Maybe we should wait till the next term, after summer."

"Let's put him in now, if he has a lot of trouble with it we can pull him out and wait till school starts again."

John had learned from long experience when to give it up, Abel would attend school next week. Abel would surely survive but would the school?

The boy's entry into the family room was as silent as smoke, the three Grimes children were intent on some sort of science fiction movie that appeared to be much older than they were. They failed to notice his presence at the rear of the room. Sam and Deborah were also discussing the new arrival to the household.

"Well I think he's seriously weird, spooky." Deborah observed.

"He had to be putting us on about catching a rabbit like that," Sam added, "his neck looked weird too. Freaky."

"He ate everything but the plates and silverware," Deborah listed other faults, "he called me "Ma'am" and you "Sir," I mean really!"

Abel stood silent as ever, if his feelings were hurt or if he even had any feelings it was impossible to tell.

Little Mary piped up and added her two cents worth. "I like him, you two are mean!" For this opposing view the other two children fell upon her and administered a severe tickling. Deborah looked up from the melee on the couch and was startled by the sight of Abel standing back in the shadows. It was immediately apparent to the girl that the boy must have heard everything they had said about him.

"What are you doing?" The girl demanded.

"Mister Grimes asked me to go to the family room, Ma'am." Star Trek's Mr. Spock was a standup comedian by comparison to the boy's flat and emotionless demeanor. A voice like a tiger's purr did nothing to inspire calm. Even so Deborah's upbringing caused her to feel some immediate guilt and some shame for what the boy must have heard.

"Well come sit on the couch with us, we don't bite."

"Yes Ma'am."

"And stop calling me "Ma'am," my name's Deborah, call me Deb."

"I apologize Deborah," and after a moment, "Deb." The boy moved around to the end of the couch, the girl pointed to the empty space on the other end next to Mary. Abel took the seat indicated, sitting stiffly, not leaning back as the others did. Mary was losing some of her initial shyness, she tugged the strange boy's sleeve and spoke to him in the simple way that very small children do. "I'm four, how old are you?" Abel looked down at the little girl as if regarding some sort of alien life form, "I'm eleven, Mary."

"You ate a lot at dinner." Four-year old's tend to say what they think.

"Yes Mary, I was hungry." Somehow or other the small girl and the most unusual boy were making the beginnings of emotional contact.

"You said you caught a rabbit. I saw a rabbit in the garden yesterday," Mary explained, " it was brown." Deborah and Sam were silent as they ignored the awful movie and watched the exchange between their small sibling and the new boy. Mary took Abel's iron hand and pulled it toward her. "Your hand feels funny." Abel said nothing, he didn't know what to say. The small girl's soft pink hands examined the boy's, a hand that could crush the little girl to a bloody pulp if he wanted it to. Not that he ever would or could, that would be a violation of orders.

Little more was said for a while, the small girl continued holding Abel's hand as they all watched the fifties era movie. Abel didn't know what to make of the movie, his television experience was limited to training videos, he was never before given access to commercial television. Save for just the one time.

When Abel was four years old he was allowed to watch The Wizard of Oz. It was a small experiment on the part of the psychologists and an intended reward for his good progress. Until this one time everything that the small boy had seen on the video displays was real, related to training. Of course he also believed that Dorothy and Toto and the rest were very real and that the film was about real events. For days after viewing the classic film the little boy would ask constant questions about Dorothy and Toto, it totally disrupted his training regimen and only repeated and severe punishment finally ended the questions. Even now his memory told him that it had all been very real.

In the kitchen the man and woman were finished with their evening ritual. Grimes made a suggestion to his wife. "Let's take Abel upstairs, you can take those measurements for his clothes and have a look at him for yourself.

"I won't embarrass the boy, will I?"

"I don't think he has any modesty about his body at all," Grimes explained, "he's been pretty much a lab rat and a soldier in training his entire life."

"If he's as... well, as strange looking as you say I worry what the children will think when they first see him undressed," June continued, "you know how the kids are always barging into each other's rooms."

"Let's just take that as it comes," the man concluded, also worried about the matter.

Both the man and woman then went into the family room and asked Abel to come upstairs with them, they had smiled at the rather touching image of their small daughter holding the boy's hand. On the way up to the guest room Grimes explained to the boy what they were going to do. "June needs to take some measurements for the clothes she's going to get tomorrow, we'd like you to undress down to your shorts. Is that all right?"

"Yes sir." Even and neutral as ever. June stopped in the family's 'hobby room' and grabbed up her tape measure and a pad and pencil. Once in the guest room the boy quickly took off his shoes and socks, when the shirt and t-shirt came off June barely managed to stifle a gasp at the sight of no human like any other on earth. After Abel had removed his jeans the effect was even more intense. As her husband had, June felt the boy's arm and chest, astonished at the lack of 'give' to the flesh. The woman seemed at a loss for words as she glanced from the boy to her husband.

"Turn around son, so June can see your back."

"Yes sir."

The maternal instinct was strong in the woman, she seemed to wilt a little at the sight of the boy's scars. She touched his back lightly and even pulled the back of his briefs down a bit to see that the scars kept on going to cover his buttocks.

"That's why I got mad and left early," Grimes explained quietly.

"How could they do something like that?" The woman's eyes were again narrowed in anger.

"I just don't know, " Grimes answered, "let's just take those measurements now."

June took a deep breath and busied herself taking the needed measurements, neck, chest, waist, hips, so forth. Grimes wrote down the numbers as his wife read them off to him. The tailoring session was interrupted by a loudly blurted out "Holy shit!" Sam was standing in the open doorway, Deborah behind him managed only a soft "OhmyGod!" Little Mary peered around the edge of the doorway and giggled.

The exasperated man grimaced and told his children to "Come on in and get it over with." Soon the nearly nude boy was surrounded on all sides by the entire family, if this caused him any discomfort or embarrassment he gave no sign as he stood passively at attention.

"Kids," Grimes began, "now you see what sort of project Abel was in, he's been altered genetically for superior strength, superior everything. That information never leaves this house, understood?"

Sam answered with a quite "Yeah dad." Deborah with a whispered "Yes daddy." Mary just giggled again at the sight of the funny looking boy in just his underpants. Both of the older children were allowed to satisfy their curiosity by touching Abel's skin. Sam was totally awestruck and decided right then and there that he would strive to never anger the new boy, not that he could. Deborah remained out of character, she had nothing to say, her eyes said it all for her. Finally Sam asked a question. "How strong are you, Abel?" The boy didn't answer immediately as he looked to the man for possible guidance.

"Hold out your right arm, Abel." Grimes asked and the boy obeyed. "Now Sam why don't you see if you can make Abel's arm move down a little?" Sam looked at the outstretched arm for a moment then pushed down on Abel's hand with both of his. Other than to shift his balance slightly Abel moved hardly at all, his arm moved downward not at all. Finally Sam jumped up to put all of his weight on the other boy's arm, he wound up sitting on it. He may as well have been sitting on a steel beam.

"Awesome!" Sam commented somewhat beyond amazement. The muscles in Abel's arm seemed to bulge only slightly, it appeared that Sam could sit there all day if he wanted to. Deborah had to get into the act and took her turn, she wound up sitting on the outstretched arm also, a look of bewilderment on her face. Mary felt entirely left out of the fun, "Me to, me to!" she demanded. Abel carefully knelt and lowered the older girl to the floor and as gently as he was able to picked up the small girl and sat her on his left shoulder. Much giggling ensued.

Grimes had Abel turn around so the children could see his back, Deborah asked what all those fine lines were on his back.

"They're punishment scars." Grimes said simply. The girl would never again make disparaging remarks about Abel's lack of social skills, or much of anything else about him for that matter. After a while Grimes decided they had made a spectacle of the boy for long enough and asked him to dress. He shooed his kids out and June got the message that he wanted to talk to the boy alone for a time so she also joined her children downstairs.

"I apologize for putting you on exhibit like that, I thought my family needed to see with their own eyes." Grimes explained quietly.

"Yes sir, no apology is needed sir."

"Thanks son. How are you holding up, any problems?"

"No sir."

Grimes gave up for the time being, getting this boy to open up and talk freely may well be a life long project. "Are you tired, it's been a long day? When do you usually go to bed?"

"On a routine day I normally turn in at twenty-hundred hours, sir."

"That's fine," Grimes continued, "and you get up when?"

"Oh-four-hundred for exercise and a conditioning run, sir."

"Lord. Well you can turn in whenever you want and get up as early as you want," the man explained, "just be quiet in the morning if you're up before everyone else."

"Yes sir. Sir?"

"Yes Abel."

"May I go out for a run in the morning, sir?"

"Of course. You'll have to wear your jeans and t-shirt for now, we'll get you some proper running clothes tomorrow."

"Thank you, sir."

"I see it's past eight already," Grimes observed, "you can call it a day if you want to. Do you need anything to sleep in?"

"No sir. Thank you sir, I will turn in now."

"All right then, we'll see you in the morning. We usually have some breakfast around eight on the weekends."

"Thank you sir, I will be back from my run by then."

"Good deal. Goodnight, son." No one had ever told the boy good night, it caught him off guard for a moment.

"Good night, sir."

Grimes left the boy and closed the bedroom door after him as he left. Abel stood still for a moment trying to decide what came next. After a moment he undressed down to his skin, neatly folding his clothes and placing them precisely on the dresser top. A short search of the bathroom located some toothpaste in the medicine cabinet and he brushed his teeth. After flushing the toilet he left the bathroom in the pristine condition that he had found it in and turned out the light.

The bed was too soft by far, the covers too thick and too warm. The pillow was totally unwanted. In the end the boy simply curled up on the floor's soft carpet and covered himself with just a sheet. And so to sleep, or the light catnapping that served for the boy as sleep.

Abel was snapped instantly awake at two A.M. by a small sound that seemed out of place. His acute hearing had easily picked up the quite whimpering of the smallest Grimes child, Mary. The boy was up and at the door in an instant, the only sound made was the sheet that covered him dropping to the floor. He stood at the closed door for a minute listening for signs that others might be attending to the child's distress. As silent as a thought Abel opened the door and moved into the hall, once more pausing to listen. He located the soft breathing and light snores of the family, save for Mary they were all in a deep sleep. The little girl's room was at the far end of the hall opposite Sam's. Abel moved to her room with a stealth and quietness borne of long practice and hard lessons. A small night light illuminated the girl in her bed, her eyes opened as the boy knelt and placed his rough hand on her damp forehead, he estimated her fever at one-hundred and two.

"Hello Mary." Abel would have smiled at her if he knew how.

The girl wasn't frightened. "Hello Abel. I don't feel good."

One of the people he was charged with protecting was ill, what to do? Abel considered taking the child to her mother, no the house was too cool. Bring the mother to the child.

"I'll get your mother," Abel said quietly to the little girl, " she will help you."

"Okay." Snuffle.

It would not seem possible for a person to run through a house and make no sound in the process, but it was. The boy opened the adult's bedroom door and moved in the darkness to the side of the sleeping woman. He placed his hard hand on her shoulder and shook her gently, his lack of any clothing had not yet entered into the boy's priorities.

"Ma'am?"

Abel only succeeded in scaring the living daylights out of the woman. June Grimes moved quickly away from the naked and silent boy, nearly shoving her husband out of the bed. "John! Wake up dammit!" He did and almost went for his sidearm that he kept in a quick-open combination lock box on the nightstand. Instead he turned on the light. The boy moved back one step, puzzled at the two adult's odd reactions. The man asked the first question.

"Abel! Jesus son, you scared us silly! What's wrong?"

"I apologize sir. Mary is ill, she has a fever."

"What?" Both adults were still trying to come into focus.

"Mary is ill, sir. I heard her, she seemed in some distress. I went to see about her, sir."

What the boy was saying finally registered with the woman and man, both were out of bed and pulling on robes as they headed for the door. Abel followed the man and woman down the hall to the girl's room, they in their robes, he still just in his skin. June Grimes had dealt with sick children for years now and knew what was serious and what just seemed that way. She sat on the edge of the bed and felt her daughter's forehead as the boy had done.

"She does have a fever. John, get the thermometer." The man obeyed without question, he knew when his spouse was in charge. After Grimes had left the room the woman turned to the boy. "Thank you Abel, I'm sorry for the way I acted." Before the boy could think of an answer the man was back with the electronic thermometer, the sort that is inserted into the ear rather than the rear. (a blessing to mothers everywhere) "I estimated her temperature at one-hundred and two, Ma'am," Abel offered. As June took her daughter's temperature she asked the boy, "You've had some medical training too?"

"Yes Ma'am. General and severe trauma first aid. Battlefield surgical techniques, improvised wound treatments, illness and injury diagnosis..."

The thermometer beeped and interrupted him, the readout said 102.2F. June just looked at the boy for a moment, there seemed to be many layers to him under that tough skin. "You were right Abel. We'll just keep a close eye on her for the time being, these things can sometimes come and go very quickly in a small child."

"Yes Ma'am. If her temperature exceeds one-hundred and three, measures should be taken to reduce the fever, such as alcohol rubdowns or ice, no aspirin. If that fails hospitalization is indicated, seizures may occur."

This was the most that either adult had ever heard the boy say, a little more than they really wanted to know about childhood fevers, especially their child's fever.

June brought up the boys lack of attire, "Dear, you should always put some clothes on when you leave your room, besides the house is very chilly."

"Yes Ma'am. Should I leave now?"

"You can go back to bed for now," June stood and kissed the boy on his forehead, his first kiss, "and thank you again, you did just the right thing."

Your average boy would have beamed at the praise, Abel was just confused by the whole incident, especially by the kiss. None of this was apparent to the two adults.

"Thank you Ma'am." Then he turned and left. The two adults just smiled and shook their heads at the scare the boy had given them and at his complete lack of any grasp on the concept of modesty.

"I woke up and he was standing there in his birthday suit in the dark," June explained, "I don't know what I thought. I feel ashamed, the poor boy was just trying to do the right thing."

"He did do the right thing," Grimes explained, "I don't think his lack of clothes meant a thing to him, we shouldn't make too big of a deal about it, he's got enough to cope with for now."

The two parents turned their attention back to their daughter, a glass of water and a mother's touch went a long ways toward easing the girl's bad night. June would nap by her youngest's bed till morning keeping tabs on the course of the fever, which as predicted went almost as quickly as it came.

A little after four in the morning June once more became aware that the cat-silent boy (clothed) was in the room with her and her daughter, he was leaning over her sleeping child as if to search for any sign of illness or distress.

"She's fine Abel," the woman explained as the boy quickly stood and faced her, "she'll probably have the sniffles or something for a few days but the fever is about gone."

"Yes Ma'am. Mister Grimes said I could take my morning run."

"Go ahead then, but be very careful."

"Yes Ma'am."

Abel ran toward the hills, away from the complications and confusion of his new life. The pre-dawn darkness hid the swiftly moving apparition, the few people stirring at that hour mistrusted their eyes, no one moved that fast, especially a boy. Once free of the streets and into the hills the boy paid little attention to fences, running trails were sometimes used but more often than not they were not bothered with. At one point while he was on a trail the boy overtook another runner as the sun crested the horizon, the woman was a serious marathon runner who could leave the best run-for-exercise athlete in a quivering heap. Abel blew by her on a very steep section of the path, his polite "Good Morning, Ma'am" was adding insult to injury as she slowed to a stop. She now realized that there was at least one other human on the planet who could leave her totally in a quivering heap.

A small diversion was a chance to run down one of the runty deer that inhabited the hills. The boy only tackled and pulled the small buck down, he had no need for the meat so he released the animal mostly unharmed. Abel wore no watch, he didn't have one, but his practiced eye gauged the rising sun's progress and he began retracing his route when he deemed the time right. Breakfast was at eight.

On the way back he encountered more runners, all of them distrusting their senses as Abel passed them. What appeared as an insanely fast sprint was just an easy jog for the boy. Back on the city streets there were several near coronaries as motorists screeched to a halt as the boy flashed in front of their cars. Two blocks away from the Grimes' home there was an 'incident'.

If properly raised and trained Rottweiler's make good companions and guardians, if not they can sometimes be as dangerous as a wolf. This neighborhood terror was named "Butthead," a moniker much better suited to the animal's owner. As frequently happened Butthead had escaped his backyard confinement and was roaming the streets looking for someone or something to chase and terrorize. The 'someone' this time was one Marjorie Stimmons who was caught midway between her front door and her car as she tried to leave for her Saturday real estate job.

When Abel came upon them the woman was trying to fend off the animal with an empty garbage can, her right calf already bleeding from the animal's first lunging bites. The woman's screaming had begun attracting the neighbors, a man four doors down was running toward the woman and dog, he carried what looked like a .38 revolver. Of course Abel got there first.

The massive dog whirled and charged at the boy, the woman screamed again at the thought of the animal tearing the 'defenseless' young boy to shreds. Butthead's morning fun ended abruptly as Abel delivered a blur of a sweeping kick to the animal's head. The impact crushed one side of the dog's heavy skull and snapped it's neck. The force of the blow also sent the suddenly dead Butthead spinning into the middle of the street.

"Are you all right, Ma'am?" Abel had calmly moved to the woman, he knelt to inspect the trembling woman's bleeding calf. Marjorie could only sob as she sank to the lawn near the sidewalk. The boy took note that her wounds weren't bleeding enough to warrant a tourniquet. "That will need some stitches Ma'am." By this time the man with the .38 had arrived, several other people were on the way. Deciding that matters were well in hand Abel had simply turned and ran on home to the Grimes'.

Three people had seen the boy kick the dog into the street, three people scratched their heads and thought the same thoughts. "Who the hell was that kid?" When the police finally arrived they at first thought the dog had been hit by a car, or maybe a freight train. The officer asked questions with more than disbelief, the dog's head was barely recognizable. "A kid did this?" The guy with the .38 replied, "I was gonna shoot that f---ing mutt then that kid got here first, damnedest thing I ever saw. Just one kick, no fuss or muss the dog goes ass over teakettle into the street. Never twitched a muscle after it hit. The kid must have known karate or something."

Or something.

Abel's arrival back at his new foster parent's home was met with some relief, the adults had began to fret a bit that maybe the boy had just kept on going or had met some sort of accident. At ten minutes to eight Abel knocked on the front door, he had locked it on his way out. Sam let him in. "Hi Abel, mom's making waffles and stuff."

"Good morning Samuel...Sam." Abel's clothing looked like he had been through a small war.

"Geez! Did you fall off a cliff or something?" Sam asked. The new boy was more than a tad mussed.

"No Sam, I ran for some distance through the hills to the west."

Abel followed Sam into the kitchen area, June took one look at him and decided that cleanliness was in order before breakfast. "Take a quick shower Abel, Sam will bring you something to wear while you have breakfast, I'll put your things in the washer."

"Yes Ma'am."

Abel was the last person to sit down for breakfast, he wore Sam's number two bathrobe, the one that Sam got from his aunt, the one with the Star Wars characters on it. Sam hated it. John Grimes asked him about his morning run.

"There was more high grass and fewer rocks than Colorado, sir."

"Any problems?"

"No sir. There was one incident, sir."

This got the man's attention, everyone's attention. "What happened, son?"

"Two streets to the west I came upon a large dog attacking a woman, the dog charged me and I killed it, sir."

Mouths opened, chewing stopped, eyes widened.

"You killed a dog, son?" Grimes could just see the police pounding on the front door any minute.

"Yes sir. A Rottweiler I believe, an adult male. The woman's leg was bleeding, she was trying to fend off the dog with a refuse can."

"Butthead! The dog from hel..." Sam knew about the dog, all of the kids for blocks around did. The beast was the subject of awe and fear, a minor legend even.

"How did you kill it, Abel?" Grimes already had an idea.

"A kick to the head, sir. May I have the rest of the bacon, sir?"

"Help yourself, if it's not on someone's plate it's up for grabs." Grimes marveled at the boy's lack of concern over the incident.

"Thank you, sir."

"You did the right thing coming to the aid of that woman," Grimes explained, "you also did the right thing protecting yourself from that dog."

"Thank you, sir."

Abel's appetite negated the need for using the garbage disposal that morning, or any morning thereafter.

While Abel's clothing was in the laundry and the family engaged in the Saturday morning routine the boy was in limbo, he had no assigned duties, no orders. What to do? Sam took the new boy in tow and took him on a guided tour of the Grime's abode. First stop was the basement 'gym', in actuality just a cleared space with a fair collection of exercise equipment. The barbells had weights that could add up to two-hundred pounds, if they were all put on the bar at once.

"I can lift about sixty pounds on a good day," Sam explained, then asking "how about you?"

"I'm not sure, Sam." Then Abel ventured to ask permission. "May I add weights to the bar?"

"Sure, help yourself."

Abel put all of the weights on the bar, he handled the cast iron discs as if they were only pieces of wood. Sam stood open mouthed and mute as the other boy did easy one-arm curls with the fully loaded barbell.

"Are there any more weights," Abel asked simply, "these are too light."

Finally Sam found his voice. "That's all there is. Geez!"

Nothing in the basement 'gym' came close to providing the sort of physical challenge that the boy was used to or that was needed for a proper workout. After a while Sam gave up and led his new friend out to the backyard pool, Abel was still clad in just his borrowed bathrobe.

"Dad hasn't turned on the heater yet," Sam explained, "we don't use it during the winter. He said he would heat it the first of May, next week. He has the filter stuff working now though."

Abel regarded the average size pool for a moment, the morning air was still quite cool. "May I go for a swim, sir?" He asked.

Sam was at something of a loss. "I guess so, the water's still really cold though."

Abel removed his bathrobe before Sam could say anything more and stood nude for an instant in the morning sun. His dive seemed to barely break the water, he did four laps of the pool before surfacing briefly for air, then eight more before a second surfacing. Deborah wandered out to see what her dopey brother and the weird new boy were up to. The sight of the unclothed Abel in the pool caused her to smile impishly before she returned to report the situation to her father in the kitchen.

"Uh, Daddy?"

"Yeah, Deb."

"Abel's swimming in the pool."

"It's got to be freezing!" Grimes hadn't caught on to the situation yet.

"Dad?"

"Yes Deb."

"He doesn't have on any swim trunks or anything, you know."

The man ceased his bill paying paperwork and looked up from the table. "Oh." After a moment he just shrugged his shoulders. "We'll get some for him today, the neighbors can't see him back there anyway unless they climb over the fence or something. Don't make a big deal out of it to him, he's probably always just skinny dipped judging from the all over tan he has. Just take him a towel and with none of your usual wisecracks. He'll learn proper manners eventually."

"Okay, Dad."

Deborah returned to the pool with a large blue bath towel, Abel was still traversing the pool at an amazing clip, mostly underwater. The sight of a nude boy didn't really embarrass the girl, she had a younger brother and access to the internet, she was however fascinated by his incredible physique. Somehow Abel really didn't seem naked, his muscles were his clothing. Eventually the boy ceased his imitation of a porpoise and emerged from the frigid pool, he didn't seem to even be breathing hard. Deborah handed the unconcerned Abel the towel, he thanked her and quickly dried off from top to bottom. Sam gave him the robe, like the girl he was still totally amazed at their new guest's body. Deborah broke the momentary silence by announcing that Abel's clothes should be out of the dryer by now and that she and her mom would be taking off for the mall.

"Come on Abel, let's get your clothes and head on over to the skateboard park." Sam tugged Abel's sleeve and the boy meekly followed his young host into the house. The two grabbed the clothing and went up to the guest room. While Abel was dressing Sam asked him a few questions.

"You're tanned everywhere, do you always just swim naked?"

Abel regarded the other boy a moment as he pulled on his jeans, "Yes, Sam." You're sort of supposed to wear swim trunks here, it's like a house rule or something. It's kind of silly but there it is."

"Thank you, Sam. I don't have any..."

"Mom will probably get you some today."

Sam was beginning to understand that long wordy answers weren't to be had from the new boy, perhaps a new subject would help.

"Have you ever been skateboarding?"

"No Sam. What is skateboarding?"

"It's simple really. You have a board with wheels on the bottom, you stand on it and well... you skateboard. I'll teach you how, it's fun."

Abel didn't respond for a moment, then.. "Thank you, Sam. I would like to learn."

"Cool! Let's go!" Sam felt like he had made some sort of contact.

They stopped off in Sam's room to collect his skateboard, Abel regarded it as if it were perhaps some sort of odd weapon. The two then went downstairs where Sam informed his father of their plans.

"That's fine son," agreed Grimes, "just keep Abel out of trouble. Remember, he's not used to a lot of things you take for granted."

"Sure dad."

Out the door.

Sam immediately hopped onto the skateboard and pushed off down the sidewalk. Abel trotted alongside at an easy lope while watching every move the other boy made to control the board. The park was only four blocks away, it had a paved area set aside for skateboarders and inline skaters. There were the usual empty swimming pool shapes, slopes and curved walls. As Sam and his new friend arrived at the paved area there was a problem.

"Uh oh," Sam nodded toward three older boys on the far side of the area, "it's the Masterson goons. Dad told me to keep away from them. Let's stay on this side, they're nothing but bad news."

Abel said nothing, his eyes narrowed slightly while appraising the three possible threats to Sam. For a short while Sam and Abel took turns on the skateboard, Sam would demonstrate a move then Abel would attempt the same maneuver. Sam felt rather put out that his new friend always got it right the first time and was in fact far better at it than he was.

The Masterson brothers decided on some morning amusement and skated up to the two boys, surrounding them on three sides. Clark Masterson, the oldest, spoke first. "Kiss, kiss Sammy! Who's your new girl friend, you little faggot?"

Sam reddened but said nothing at first as Abel moved closer to his side.

"Come on Abel, let's split." As Sam started to move away Clark Masterson moved to push him in the chest to shove him back, he didn't connect.

Abel's motion was a blur as he grabbed the larger boy's arm with one hand in a vise-like grip. With an easy motion he twisted Clark's arm downward, forcing the silently gasping boy to his knees. The other two park bullies gathered their wits and charged at Abel, the first to reach him was casually backhanded to land on the ground with what was probably a broken nose. The other Masterson had his legs swept out from under him with an easy leg motion, landing in a painful heap on the rock hard pavement. The half-dozen other skateboarders in the area came to a halt and watched dumbfounded as one rather small boy totally dominated three much larger boys.

Abel shifted his hold on Clark, holding the teen nearly off the ground with a one-handed grip on the bully's throat. Clark seemed to be strangling, being unable to speak he only managed to wet his baggy pants. Abel turned calmly to Sam and asked, "Should I kill them, Sam?"

Sam finally found his voice. "Geez, no! Just let them go, please!"

Abel hesitated a moment then he lowered and pulled the gurgling Clark close to his face. "Sam has asked me not to kill you so I won't." Abel spoke this like he was reciting the time of day, this terrified the three park nemesis' all the more. Then in a low whisper that was almost a reptile's hiss, "Go away. If I ever see you again I will tear off your ugly head and shit down your throat." Abel released his prey and the three of them made remarkably good progress in leaving the park. They never came back, ever.

How to intimidate an enemy and use their fear against them was one of the lessons the boy had learned well.

"Geez, Abel! Would you have really killed those guys?" Sam was almost as shaken as the three bully's were.

"I have orders to protect you and your family, they were threatening you." Abel's reply left no room for doubt, he would have indeed killed them all.

"Yeah I know, but you just can't kill people for small shit like that! They would have just shoved us around and called us names, you can't kill people for piddly stuff like that!" Sam's animated explanation seemed to register with Abel. "If time permits I will ask your advice in the future before acting, sir."

"Cool." Sam seemed out of the mood for any more skateboarding. "Let's just head on back."

The other witnesses to the event all had similar thoughts.

"Who the hell was that kid?"

Sam spoke little on the trip back to the house, Abel not at all. Abel's host didn't even ride the skateboard along the way, he seemed too upset to concentrate on riding. When the two were home Sam went straight out to the garage without a word to where his father was attempting to organize the tool bench. Abel was again in somewhat of a quandary, he estimated that Sam was displeased with him, apparently for his actions at the park. He had only been following his orders.

In his previous life official displeasure was accompanied with punishment, there seemed to be none of that here. The boy stood quietly in the living room for a moment, his hearing detected activity in the garage and in Mary's room. Abel moved silently as ever and looked in on the youngest Grimes child, she smiled at him as she sat on her bed playing with a collection of small, furry doll-things.

"Hi Abel! I feel better now." The boy was quiet for a moment before replying "That's good, Mary." Lacking anything else to say Abel turned silently and left for the garage where Sam was having words with his father. The boy paused outside the door to the garage and listened for a few moments.

"Dad, you need to have a really serious talk with Abel!"

Grimes stopped his labors and looked up at his son.

"What's wrong, son?"

"At the park..." Sam didn't quite know where to start. "The Masterson dorks were there. Me and Abel stayed away from them like you've told me to, but they came over to us and started their usual crap."

"What happened, son?" Grimes was all ears at this point.

"Clark, he's the biggest, started to push me. Abel moved so fast I didn't really see it happen real good. With one hand he had Clark by his arm and down on his knees, then the other two tried to jump him. Abel put them on the ground like he was just swatting flies."

"Go on, then what?" Grimes asked with a growing sense of dread.

"Dad... Abel turns to me while he was pretty much strangling Clark with one hand and asks me if he should kill them! Like he was asking me to please pass the salt or something!"

"Jesus Christ," Grimes turned a bit paler, "What did you say?"

"I told him to just let them go and he did. Clark was so scared he wet his pants, I nearly did myself!"

Abel had moved as softly as ever to stand in the doorway while Sam finished his story, finally Grimes noticed him and realized he must have heard everything.

"Abel, come on in here for a minute," Grimes asked. Sam jumped a little when he realized that Abel had been standing right behind him. "You heard what Sam was telling me?"

"Yes sir." Abel moved to stand between Grimes and his son.

"Would you have killed those three boys?"

"Yes sir, they were a danger to Sam, sir."

The man stared at the boy, he was coming to understand exactly what he had taken into his home. The boy was more automaton than human, an eleven-year old killing machine.

"Son, have you ever actually killed anyone before?"

Abel hesitated only a moment before answering. "Of course, sir."

"Where.. I mean how many?" Grimes wasn't sure just what he wanted to ask.

"That information involves classified actions which I am not at liberty to discuss, sir."

Sam just stood there using his mouth as a hanger for flies at these last pieces of information.

"More than one?" Grimes already knew the answer to that.

"I don't believe I can discuss that, sir."

"I see." The man had to somehow defuse this small, walking h-bomb. "Abel, I specifically order you to never kill anyone if there is any other possible course of action. Is that perfectly clear?"

"Yes sir." If nothing else the boy understood orders. "Do you wish me to stand for punishment, sir?"

"What?" The man was set back a little by that.

"I displayed poor judgment while protecting Sam, sir."

"You reacted the way you have been trained to, that's not your fault." Grimes thought for a moment before continuing. "Taking a human life is a terrible thing not to be done lightly. You've been taught how to kill but perhaps not enough of the consequences involved in doing so. The rules for civilian life are much more complex than those for military operations."

The man put his hand on the boy's hard shoulder and looked him in the eye. "Give serious hard thought to what I've told you here, you didn't do anything to warrant any sort of punishment. Just remember one word, restraint."

"Yes, sir." No trace of relief, nothing.

"Okay then. Let's fix some lunch, the women folk will probably be in a shopping frenzy for hours yet." Grimes felt that they had dodged a very big bullet, but not by much. The man decided then and there that Abel would bear much closer watching than what he had originally anticipated. He also was proud of his own son's good sense in averting a total disaster.

------------------------------------- Langley, Virginia "Yes Ma'am, Abel asked the Grimes boy if he should kill the three punks in the park. The long range mikes barely picked it up, but it's on the tape."

Abel had been under constant surveillance since arriving at the Grimes house, the Director of CIA was given twice daily updates. The one thing they didn't know was that the boy had detected their efforts to keep tabs on him early on. Even CIA didn't fully appreciate just what Abel was capable of.

------------------------------------- Abel stood by in the kitchen as the Sam and his father prepared sandwiches, he would have preferred something more substantial than the bologna and cheese sandwiches but said nothing. Abel had always eaten whatever was put before him, or what he could catch. As the three sat at the table Abel ventured to speak again.

"Sir, I have something to report."

Grimes had a 'now what' feeling. "What is it, son?"

"I have been under surveillance. On my run this morning, and at the park with Samuel...Sam."

Who would be watching the boy? Grimes could just imagine.

"Who did you see?"

"Three teams of four men each, civilian clothing, long range video and audio pickups. They carried concealed side arms. Method of operation was consistent with CIA procedures."

Talk about concise reporting, Grimes thought. "Any idea why they would be watching you?"

"I would presume they wish to monitor my progress, sir. I don't believe they pose a threat at the present. Has this house been unoccupied for any length of time in the last few weeks, sir?" The boy was a virtual chatterbox compared to his normal reticence.

"We all went into San Francisco last weekend, we took Mary to the zoo...." Grimes had a sinking feeling. "Do you think they bugged this house?"

"Very likely sir, if you wish I can do a visual inspection. A full sweep will need special equipment."

Sam kept forgetting to chew, this was getting way cool!

"Yes, let's have a look around." Grimes had the awful feeling that even these words were being taped as they spoke. "Where would you suggest we start?"

"Does this house has an insulated attic, sir?"

Across the street and four doors down the team of three spooks began a hurried disconnect and throw it all in the van routine. The "For Sale" sign on the house they occupied was real but no one had been by to look at the house.

What the boy easily located in the attic caused Grimes to begin a slow boil that would end with a call to the spook who's telephone number he carried in his wallet. If you didn't know where to look and what to look for you wouldn't have found anything, Abel knew the where and the what.

"These are needle cameras with audio pickups sir," Abel pulled one of the tiny probes out of the ceiling drywall that was under the thick insulation, "quite well installed." Grimes worked for the FBI but these devices were something new to him.

Every room on the top floor had one or more of the bugs in it's ceiling, from inside the rooms they were invisible unless you used a magnifying glass or if you had Abel's eyes. There was a similar arrangement in the basement. All of the fine fiber-optic leads ended inside a hollow two-by-four in the attic, a tiny directional antenna pointed out of the louvered air vent at the vacant house four doors down the street. A gold fish had more privacy than the Grimes family.

Even as Abel pointed through the air vent at the empty house it's garage door opened and a Ford van drove out and then down the street, they never bothered to shut the door. Grimes ripped loose the phony two-by-four and tore loose the bundle of leads, he had a phone call to make.

The phone rang three times.

"Hello Agent Grimes, Fred here."

"You sons of bitches bugged my house! Did my wife and daughter provide you assholes with suitable entertainment, or do you prefer watching young boys?" Grimes wasn't quite shouting.

"I don't know what you're talking about, I wasn't informed of any surveillance on you." Fred almost sounded convincing, but not quite.

Grimes knew he was wasting his time and just slammed the phone down.

------------------------------------------- Langley "The boy spotted all of our teams, the very best we have. He's probably found all of the surveillance gear in the Grimes home too. Grimes called our man, he was to say the least, pissed off."

The Director just nodded her head, she knew by now that there was no way they were ever going to let Abel just go to waste by letting him try to be Wally Cleaver. The President could go play with himself.

------------------------------------------- John Grimes had cooled down somewhat by the time the ladies returned from the mall, he was going to wait a while before telling his wife that she had been on full display for the last week or so, Sam's big mouth beat him to it.

"Mom, the house was bugged! We were all on TV, even in the bathrooms!"

Not too tactful.

After John Grimes explained what had been going on there were two extremely mortified females in the house. June Grimes thought of the private moments in the bathroom that no one shared with another, the lovemaking in their bedroom. Deborah thought back to the times she had stood in front of her bedroom mirror wondering if her bare body would ever bloom and become more curves than sharp angles. The only people in the house who weren't embarrassed were little Mary and Abel, Mary didn't understand and Abel couldn't care less.

Abel dutifully tried on all of the strange new clothes he was presented with, they seemed odd and ill suited for the life he had left. Deborah assured him that they were just too cool and to trust her, olive drab and camouflage they were not. It did not occur to the boy to say thank you for the clothing, such things were always just 'issued', he had never really owned anything he wore or used. Save for his hairbrush and toothbrush, those were his.

Jason Murdoch was Sam's best friend, they were in the same class at school. Jason usually came over on Saturdays, today was no different. Jason was a 'physical' type of person, he preferred a headlock to a handshake, a body tackle to a pat on the back. Jason was a good person, Sam liked him a lot although at times he wished he could lighten up just a little. Abel would soon be assessing Jason, was he a threat to Sam?

Abel was in his room carefully folding and putting away his new wardrobe. At Deborah's insistence he had donned the wildly colored T-shirt and the denim bib overalls that the girl had wanted him to wear. If Abel had been wearing a full body chemical warfare suit it would have felt more comfortable to him. The boy was just aligning his new sneakers at the foot of his bed when Sam and Jason tumbled into the room. Abel stood and faced the two boys, his eyes missing nothing about Jason, he was soft and weak like Sam was. No threat.

"This is Jason, he's in my class at school." Sam pushed his friend forward toward Abel.

Abel said nothing as he extended his hand toward the new boy. Perhaps he shouldn't call him 'sir'?"

"Hi." Jason said.

"Pleased to meet you, Jason." Abel was unsure if he was being too familiar or not.

Jason took the foster child's hand, it was like shaking hands with a tree limb.

"Geez!" What's wrong with your hand?" Jason wasn't too long on tact, most young boys aren't.

Abel said nothing in reply, there wasn't anything wrong with his hand. Sam explained a few things to his friend.

"Abel's sort of special, he's really, really strong. Don't piss him off."

Jason was a little taller than Abel, he thought a playful poke at the new boy's stomach would sort of break the ice, he hadn't really taken a close look at the corded muscles that were visible on Abel's arms and neck. Jason's lightly clenched fist was allowed to get within four inches of Abel's abdomen before a blur of a vise closed around it, the vise decided that it wasn't necessary to tighten very much.

"Oww, shit! Stop it!" Jason instantly realized that Abel was someone not to be kidded with. Criminy!

"I apologize. I meant you no harm, sir." Abel released the boy, Jason stepped back rubbing his smarting hand.

"Sir?" Jason looked to Sam with a questioning expression.

"Abel's had sort of a military family or something." Sam thought it sounded plausible.

"I guess so!" Jason was fascinated by this weird kid, maybe a little afraid of him too. What to say next? "What grade are you in?"

"I don't attend school, sir."

"Why?"

"Abel's sort of been home schooled," Sam interrupted.

"Oh. My cousin's do that, they live in Montana." Jason seemed to have bought the small lie.

"I've just started karate lessons," Jason continued, "so far all I've learned is how to fall down the right way. Do you know any moves?"

"Uh oh." Sam thought.

"Yes sir, I have had some training."

"Show us!"

"Uh, Jason...maybe.." Sam could see total disaster looming.

Abel casually moved his left hand out to one side in a small motion designed to slightly distract one's attention. As Jason's eyes followed the movement Abel shifted and seemed to click forward with the fingers of his right hand grouped to form a point, stopping less than an inch from Jason's right eye. The full motion, too fast to follow, would have plunged the iron hard hand into the other boy's brain. Jason just froze, so did Sam.

"Shit!" Jason finally squeaked. He was trembling a little.

"It is a simple move, I will instruct you if you wish." Abel's rough voice did little to calm Jason who had by now seemed to have lost much of his previous interest in the martial arts.

----------------------------------------- Kennedy Elementary School The sixth grade seemed about right. The tests that the boy took showed him to be very advanced in mathematics and science. Abel was deficient in the more useless subjects such as environmental concerns and cultural diversity studies. The school had no placement tests on military weapons and combat tactics. After the morning of taking the tests June Grimes left the boy in the tender care of the public education system.

"Just do as they tell you. Be patient with it all. Be good. Don't hurt anyone!"

"Yes ma'am."

"Class, this is Abel Grimes, he'll be with us for the rest of the school year." Ms. Harker had Abel standing in front of the snickering class, apparently good manners had never been part of their curriculum. If she was expecting the new boy to say "hi" she was going to have a long wait.

"Just take that empty desk at the back, Abel."

"Yes, ma'am."

More snickering. Had the new dork really said "ma'am?" And what was wrong with his voice?

Richard Jeevers was the sixth-grade Alpha Male. It was preordained that Abel would take the seat directly to Richard's right. Alpha Males do not like other males to look them directly in the eye, any boy who has survived public school will tell you that you always avoid eye contact with the bullies. Abel stared directly into Richard's eyes, regarding him as one might appraise a potential threat and then dismissing him as soft and weak. They were all soft and weak.

Why had he been put in such a place?

Richard was taller and heavier than the new kid. He decided he would put things straight at afternoon recess.

Like all flesh and blood Abel needed at times to answer nature's call. Richard and three of his toadies followed the new kid into the boy's bathroom.

"Look at that, the new girl can piss standing up!"

Abel didn't need to turn around from the urinal for his hearing to accurately locate all four of the boys. He remembered his foster father's words about restraint and simply finished emptying his bladder. When he finished and turned the four of them were in a semicircle around him, Richard Jeevers in the middle.

Abel ignored them and moved toward the sinks to wash his hands. Richard didn't care for being ignored and went to grab the new kid by the shoulder. Abel ignored that also, the other boy's hand seemed to slip off as if he had missed his target. In fact the 'target' had just shifted out of the way slightly.

"Don't do that again." Abel's soft growl of a voice caused Richard to hesitate just for a second.

"Or what, dickweed?"

"I will shove your face into a commode."

No one had ever dared to say anything like that to Richard Jeevers.

"Like hell!" Richard had almost managed to form a fist before the new kid seemed to be everywhere at once and then had him kissing the disgusting tile floor. The three toadies just backed away as Abel easily picked up the Alpha Male by his neck and crotch and then did indeed shove his face into the most offensive of the commodes. Remembering restraint Abel did not finish drowning the retching ex-Alpha Male.

"Behave yourself or the next time I will flush what is left of you."

Abel's calm admonition had the desired effect, Richard Jeevers would never look the new kid in the eye again.

Abel shared a bus seat with Sam for the ride home.

"How'd it go?"

"I... I do not understand the reason for my attending this... school."

It was the first time that Sam had heard Abel so at a loss, so unsure of himself.

"I think my folks just want you to learn about regular life, sort of. Don't feel bad if you don't understand it all. Heck, I don't understand it half the time."

Abel looked into Sam's eyes as if trying to understand. Sam always felt a little uneasy when Abel looked at him so directly. It was like being studied by a wolf.

"Thank you for your help Samuel...Sam."

"Sure."

------------------------------------------ Plymouth Academy, Virginia If you had to ask about the cost of tuition at Plymouth Academy then you were in the wrong line, please inquire elsewhere. Senators, diplomats from many countries, people with 'old money' sent their young to this place. The school had been turning out future leaders and future snobs for almost one-hundred and twenty years. A ripe plumb for the picking.

Two weeks of careful observation had resulted in a finalized plan. The school would be taken and held for a fearsome ransom. It mattered little to the people involved, success or failure would in one way or the other cost the Great Satan that was America a very great price.

Chapter Two An Expendable Asset It was nearing the end of the school year, no major 'incidents' had occurred (not counting the unfortunate misunderstanding with the utility company's meter reader who had threatened to sue).

Abel was sitting at the small writing desk in his room when John Grimes entered. As always Abel stood quickly to attention, try as he might the boy could not break the ingrained habit. Grimes had given up trying to get him to be anything but what he would always be.

"Homework?"

"Yes sir. I am required to write five pages on the subject of global warming."

"How's it going?"

"There are conflicting theories, sir. My research on the internet and at the school library offer a very great deal more than five pages."

"I'll give you a hint."

"Sir?"

"Give the teacher only what she wants, that isn't always the complete truth."

Abel was at a loss for a moment, then Grimes clued him in.

"The education system is largely a liberal institution, go with the prevailing opinions of the tree huggers. Keep it simple."

"Tree huggers, sir?"

"Environmentalists, they mean well but they get cranky when confronted with the facts."

"Yes sir."

Abel's education was interrupted by the telephone. The 'spook' was calling.

"Fred here. Can we talk for a while?"

"I'm all ears." Grimes had grown to detest the man.

"There is a situation developing, it will hit the networks any time now."

"A situation?"

"Yes. A very exclusive private school in Virginia has been taken over by possible Islamic terrorists."

"Jesus," Grimes was silent for a moment, "why are you calling me about this?"

"The Director has asked for Abel's to be used in this matter."

"Which director?"

"CIA."

"Forget it! She can't have him or "use" him, he's under my legal care and protection! I have the rights of a parent in this!"

"Remain calm, Agent Grimes."

"Like hell! That boy isn't going anywhere, he's just trying to adjust to a normal life!"

"The President is in the loop on this, his granddaughter is a student at the school."

"I thought that pompous nitwit had ordered GEA terminated? He wanted the boy to have a good home!"

"He did. Now that his grandchild is on the chopping block he suddenly sees things in a different light ."

"No! Over my dead body!"

"That can be arranged you know, think of your family and career."

Grimes just slammed the receiver down and tried not to scream. They would use Abel, no matter what or who stood in their way.

What to say to the boy?

"Abel, there's been..." Grimes couldn't continue.

"Yes sir, I heard. Shall I prepare for travel?" It would seem that the boy heard everything that went on in the house.

"No. You are part of our family now, you are my son, our son."

Abel blinked at this from the man, he had never been anyone's son.

"With respect, sir. I have had some...experience with this sort of thing. Perhaps I can best carry out my orders to protect you and your family by doing as these people ask."

"We can go to the media!"

"I can do whatever is required of me sir, and there is a need."

"You're just a boy for Chrissakes!"

"Am I, sir?"

Grimes knew the answer to that, Abel was so very much more than just a boy.

"I forbid it. End of conversation!"

"Yes, sir."

That settled it as far as Abel was concerned, he had been given his orders.

A short while later men were walking up to the Grimes' front door. Of course Abel heard them first and almost literally flew through the house to place himself between his 'family' and the visitors.

"What is it, son?" Grimes and his wife dashed to stand behind the boy.

"There are four men approaching, sir."

"Well, you're not going with them! I'll talk to them."

"Yes, sir."

Abel opened the door even before the knock came.

"Please halt right there." The boy's voice could be very chilling when he wanted it to be.

"Abel?" Agent (CIA) Shepard had only seen the one photo.

"Yes sir, I have orders not to accompany you. Please leave."

"Son, we have orders too, from the very top."

"If you do not leave now I will put all of you in the hospital for a very long time."

"Sure kid. Now come on along with us, there's a big flap on." Shepard obviously hadn't been given the 'full briefing' on the boy.

"You'd better pay attention to him." Grimes cautioned.

They didn't pay attention and moved toward the boy. John Grimes wasn't too sure what exactly occurred next but he was soon on the phone calling 911. There were four unconscious and disarmed government agents scattered on his front lawn. Multiple broken bones, internal injuries, etc. Abel had followed his orders and hadn't killed them. Samuel's remark of "Oh shit!" seemed to cover everyone's reactions.

Four hours later Colonel Hartz called the Grimes residence. Could he please speak to Abel? John Grimes finally relented and let him.

"Explain." The officer demanded in a quiet tone.

"Sir, I had direct orders from Mister Grimes not to accompany the four agents."

"I see. You acted properly then. You let them live?"

"Yes, sir. Mister Grimes has also ordered me to use restraint at all times and to not kill unless there is no choice."

"He was correct to order that. Now I must override his orders and once more take command of you. Will you obey me?"

"Of course sir." Abel was quietly shocked that the man had even asked the question.

"There will be other people from the Army arriving within the hour, they are acting under my orders. You are to accompany them. If Mister Grimes wishes to come along, that's all right. Tell him that. I'll meet you at the aircraft, I'm here at SFO right now."

"Yes sir, thank you for that."

After Hartz had hung up he marveled that the boy had thanked him. It had never occurred before. There had never been a reason.

Needless to say this did not go down well with the Grimes family. There were still a lot of the local police outside trying to figure out just what had happened and why. The neighbors would have gossip fodder for years to come.

"You may accompany me if you wish sir, but it is not necessary."

"So you're following Steiner's orders now?"

"Yes sir, I have no alternative. I had previous orders about this."

"You can just say no, they can't make a child do this sort of thing, not legally."

"No sir. I cannot just say no."

Abel could never do that.

--------------------------------------------- Over Central Utah "This sump drain sir, do we know the diameter?" Abel was pouring over the few documents available on the school's layout.

"Two feet. You can make it, but barely." Colonel Hartz was once more a part of the boy's life. Grimes was still fuming as he sat in on the briefing.

"I will need a full slick suit and a dry pouch for the school uniform and equipment."

"It will all be waiting for you, all of your personal equipment."

"Communications, sir?"

"An E-var molded ear piece, a flat body-flex transmitter. It might not be of much use until you get into the main building."

"Yes sir. May I ask...a favor, sir?"

Abel had never dared to ask a favor from the officer in his entire life, from any officer.

"Yes, you may."

"Mister Grimes sir, can he be kept in a safe area?"

"Of course, consider it done."

"Thank you, sir."

Again the Colonel was amazed. Grimes felt touched to the point of tears that the small killing machine would even think to ask such a thing.

"How many enemy, sir?"

"We think there are seven of them. The penetrating radar has picked up that many armed with what appear to be M-16's or AR-15's. They seem to all have hand held radios, we're monitoring those but they haven't revealed very much."

"Explosives, sir?"

"They said they had four-hundred pounds of Pemtex but we have no proof of that. That could be a bluff but probably isn't."

"And all of the students are being kept together in the attached auditorium, sir?"

"As far as we can tell, almost three-hundred people counting the teachers and staff. They've only killed the four adults so far. What is your assessment on how to conduct this?"

"I agree that passing myself off as one of the students and approaching the targets one at a time is the most workable plan. Should I attempt to keep any of them alive, sir?"

Grimes was having a lot of trouble with the boy's plan but held his tongue.

"Only if it doesn't interfere with the objective. Eliminate them all if you need to."

"Yes, sir."

Killing them meant nothing to the boy. Taking out the trash held just as much emotional commitment. Less.

The briefing was taking place in an Air National Guard KC-135, the crew had been told to stay up front and to forget anything and everything. There were two hours left until they landed at Andrews Air Force Base.

"With your permission sir, I'll get some rest for now."

"Go ahead." Hartz motioned to one of the airline-type seats bolted to the aircraft's deck. Grimes went with the boy for a few quick words.

"I can see that I can't stop this insanity so I'll just ask you to be careful and not to take any risks you can avoid."

"Yes sir. There are very good odds for success."

Grimes leaned down close to the boy's ear.

"We have all come to love you, Abel. Always remember that."

"Yes sir, thank you. I..." There was something that Abel wanted to say but he could not form the words.

"Get some sleep, son."

"Yes, sir."

In less than a minute he was doing just that.

--------------------------------------------- Plymouth Academy, Virginia The basement drain branched out into a buried rock and gravel drainage field thirty feet lower and some four-hundred yards from the school. A silent excavation had been underway to expose the main pipe. Grimes had been allowed to come this far, the site was well shielded by trees from prying eyes. Most of the forces surrounding the school knew nothing of this operation. Those who had glimpsed the boy only saw a small figure clad in black from head to toe. The media knew nothing at all.

The sun was just starting to make its presence known.

"Proceed at your own discretion, keep us informed when possible."

"Yes sir."

"If the pipe is not passable at some point then just back out, there's still time for other options."

"Yes, sir."

Grimes stood somewhat in awe of his foster son. The boy was clad in some sort of black skin tight "slick suit" that when the man had touched it had felt like greased teflon. A padded bag of the same material held what Abel would need to complete his mission. Grimes knew that one of the hand cannons that the boy preferred was in that bag, he had one final word for Abel.

"If you get hurt I will be most displeased with you. Come back in one piece."

"Yes sir, that is my intention."

The first fifty yards of the pipe were clear, it was a tight fit that challenged even Abel. Tree roots had intruded at that point and had to be cleared. The combat knife that Abel carried strapped to one arm had a serrated saw edge on one side. Two minutes of mild effort eliminated the obstacles. Another ten minutes of crawling and wriggling had the boy silently peering up at the cast iron grate in the basement floor. Five minutes of listening and then peering through a small fiber optic probe told Abel that the basement was empty and unguarded. The boy's unassisted night vision would have made any owl very proud.

"All clear in the basement." Abel whispered, the tiny microphone was taped to the base of his throat.

Only a faint hiss of static told him that the signal wasn't getting through. That was expected. Time to push up the grate and put on his school uniform.

They had included a very complete uniform in the slick bag. Blazer, slacks, polished shoes and a white shirt with a school tie. Some other non-school additions were a Desert Eagle .454 with two extra clips, four handmade (by Abel) throwing knives. A flash-bang grenade.

Abel silently stripped off his 'slick suit' and quickly donned his school uniform disguise. In the almost nonexistent light the boy then moved to a small, low window along one wall of the huge basement area, radio reception should be better there. It was.

"On schedule, acknowledge."

His earpiece crackled and then the brief "Roger, proceed" came through.

------------------------------------------ The White House Situation Room "He's in. Everything is according to schedule." CIA was relishing this vindication of her faith in the GEA project.

"Is the FBI's HRT team ready?" The President was in a state closely resembling Jell-O by now.

"Yes sir, they will move in only as a last resort."

------------------------------------------ Abel moved like smoke up the stairs, listening for another full five minutes at the heavy locked door. There were no sounds, no indication that anyone was on the other side. The boy turned the locking bolt and gently eased the door open, now there was plenty of light, too much. The sun was up. Time to play the part of the confused and frightened child. His first target was just coming out of a rest room, still zipping up his fly.

"Boy! What are you doing!" The man spoke heavily accented English. They were almost his last words.

"I was hiding, I was scared!" Abel tried to pitch his voice up some.

"Where?"

"In... In the basement. There was shooting and stuff! I hurt my hand."

Abel walked unsteadily toward the man, of course the ruse worked.

"Let me see it."

The terrorist did get a brief look at the child's hand, just before it plunged into his eye socket and then on into his shattered brain.

"One down." Abel whispered as he paused to bend the barrel of the man's weapon back on itself.

"Roger." Replied Hartz.

Abel darted into the rest room to quickly rinse the man's blood and gory brains off of his right hand, the mess might otherwise raise some suspicions. His second target was as easy as the first. More so.

"You! Stop!"

"Please sir, please help me!"

Even a hardened terrorist might revert to humanity for a moment and respond to a child in need.

Abel pretended a leg injury and hobbled up to the man.

Then the injured boy jumped straight up and kicked the man's head fifty feet down the hallway. There was an appalling amount of blood. Everywhere.

"Two down."

"Roger."

Numbers three and four were spared any decision making at all, or even any thought as they received throwing knives to the base of their brains. The rest would be harder, they were all in the auditorium, with the explosives. With the children.

--------------------------------------- The White House "He's taken out four of them so far. Now it gets harder." CIA reported.

"Sweet Jesus, what is he?"

"He's GEA, sir. Remember?"

The President did remember, it made him shudder. An abomination before God was rescuing his only grandchild.

--------------------------------------- There were indeed explosives. Ten pound squares of the PMX were arrayed evenly throughout the auditorium. All were wired to one simple switch on a table that sat on the stage. Abel's knowledge of explosives estimated that perhaps a tenth of the children in the auditorium might survive the detonation and building collapse, at best. The boy's position in an attic air duct gave him a good overview of the situation. Disabling the person by the firing switch was the first priority.

"I will be firing my weapon in a short while," Abel whispered, "do not start your entry until you get my signal."

"Roger. Position?"

"Above the auditorium in an air duct. There is a small film projection booth below me, I will enter there."

"Roger. Proceed."

The ventilation grate in the ceiling of the projection booth only creaked a little as Abel pushed it down and free of it's frame, then he was in. Opening the side door to the booth just a crack he then waited for the moment when all three of the men were facing away. With a round chambered in the cocked Desert Eagle that he held behind his right leg Abel stepped silently into view. He was almost halfway to the stage before the men saw him. All around were rows of silent and frightened children, the place smelled of fear and urine.

"You! Sit down now!" The bearded man on the stage stood up and moved a few feet to the left of the switch.

"Thank you," Abel whispered as his massive automatic snapped up into position.

A pistol chambered for the .454 round detonates rather than simply fires. The first Hydra-Shok round entered the terrorist's mouth and then removed the entire back half of the man's head. The second round in chest-center knocking him backwards in a heap, away from the switch. For a split second the two other armed men could not move at all, a split second was all that was needed. Two more booming explosions in rapid succession put an end to the hostage situation. Then the crying and screaming started.

"All down. No prisoners. No casualties. Move in."

"Roger. Well done. Return via the drain pipe."

"Understood."

As Abel turned to leave an adult male, one of the school's instructors, started to approach the boy with the big gun.

"Son, give me that." The fool only saw a boy with a gun and that would not do, it was an automatic expulsion offense. Perhaps the teacher had been driven a little insane by the past few day's events.

Abel ignored the idiot and without meaning to broke the man's arm as he quickly fended him off while running from the auditorium.

------------------------------------------- The FBI's HRT people were the first inside the school, they had been told nothing of the Army and the CIA's involvement or what they would find.

"Mother of God!" Agent Craig Henderson had never seen a person so completely separated from his head.

"It's like it's been ripped off, not cut." Agent Brinks was having some trouble with his stomach as he said this.

"More like knocked off, look how it's flattened. And look at this weapon, the barrel's a pretzel!"

The rest of what they found did nothing for their general morale.

The hysterical students and the stunned teachers could only reply that the "boy with the big gun" had saved them. No, they didn't know who he was but he was wearing a school uniform. They would eventually extract the throwing knives during the autopsies and would find the four shell casings from Abel's pistol (cannon). No law enforcement agency or even the military used such ammunition.

It all left the FBI feeling very uneasy and wanting to ask someone a lot of questions. But who could they ask?

If Abel was tired or drained in any way it did not show when he emerged from the filthy pipe. Grimes would not be pushed to one side and was the first to greet the boy.

"Son, are you all right?"

"Yes sir, no injuries. It went well."

"Thank God!"

Abel didn't quite know what to do as the man hugged him close.

"We have to go. Now!" Hartz ordered. They did indeed have to go, all of the media in the eastern United States would soon be descending upon this place.

Within two hours the same Air Force jet was taking Abel and his foster father home again. Abel slept most of the way, Grimes wouldn't be sleeping well for a long time.

----------------------------------------- The White House "I want to personally meet with that boy and thank him."

"Mister President, I would strongly advise against that. He is not what you might expect a boy to be." CIA wanted no publicity for Abel and especially for GEA.

"But he deserves...."

"To be left alone for now. If he becomes a public figure his usefulness to this country will end. Your opponents on the hill will have endless public hearings, they will accuse you of...everything."

"Still, something should be arranged for him."

"Sir, he is an asset, nothing more. A very valuable asset, but an expendable asset. Your gratitude will be conveyed to him."

Of course no such gratitude was ever conveyed.

------------------------------------------ It was early evening when Grimes and the boy finally arrived home. The rest of the family had a million questions. Grimes had long given up on trying to hide information about Abel from his family, they all knew by now to keep it just between themselves.

"The news said that the FBI rescued the kids, is that so?" Sam asked as Abel waded into his delayed dinner.

"No, they just sort of cleaned up afterwards." Sam's father answered.

"They say that all of the bad guys are dead, did you...?" Deborah asked, instantly regretting the question.

"It was not possible to take prisoners. May I please have some more of the mashed potatoes?" Abel was intent only on eating, for some reason the rest of the family had little appetite. One of the people sitting at the table had just killed seven people, apparently quite easily and with absolutely no remorse.

The late evening news had nothing on but the story of the rescue at the Plymouth Academy. CNN was trying to make sense of it all and was not succeeding.

"...and no one has come forth to explain just who the so called "boy with the big gun" might be. Numerous hostages, both the children and the adults, have made very similar statements about how this mystery boy shot dead three of the terrorists in as many seconds. One of the instructors, a Howard Flescher, said that he attempted to disarm the boy and had his arm broken in the process. The FBI has been very tight lipped about what may have occurred. Attempts have been made to limit access to the former hostages..."

Later that evening after Grimes and his wife were in bed they had a closely whispered conversation, one that they didn't want the boy to hear.

"This can't continue."

"What's that?" June asked.

"They'll want to use him again. And then again, it will never stop."

"But what can we do, refuse the poor dear a home with us?"

"No. I don't know... I worry about the kids, about all of us."

"I don't think Abel would ever intentionally harm any of us."

"I know that, but they're going to make him into some sort of hit man for the government. Sooner or later they'll get him killed doing their dirty work."

"He's been trained as a soldier, John. Not as a hit man."

"Sometimes the lines can blur. People in power don't always follow the official book of rules for nice guys."

The conversation decided nothing, it ended with more mundane topics.

"He has to see a doctor and a dentist, checkups. He isn't a robot, we have an obligation to see to his health." June explained.

"Any doctor that examines him will probably have a stroke. He might bite off the dentist's fingers." John could see all sorts of complications from this.

"He won't bite off anything. I've already set up the appointments."

"Christ!"

----------------------------------------------- The Grimes' family pediatrician was Doctor Angela Santini and she was very good at her profession. There was little that she had not seen in the years of her practice and during the overseas volunteer work. That all changed when June Grimes brought her foster child in for a checkup. After some initial form-filling June and Abel were ushered into the exam room.

"Hello June, hello Abel." The doctor extended her hand to the boy. Lesson one.

"Hello, ma'am." Abel always did his best not to grip too hard.

The woman's reaction was predictable and she immediately looked at the boy's iron hard hand.

"Do you do a lot of hard work, or martial arts?"

"No ma'am."

"I see. Would you please undress down to your shorts, I need to poke and prod and listen. That sort of thing."

"Yes, ma'am."

June Grimes smiled and stood off to one side and waited for the predictable reaction.

"My dear sweet Jesus." Doctor Santini whispered.

"He has that effect on people," June explained, "Abel is not...well he isn't your average boy."

"I can see." The doctor couldn't resist touching and prodding the tough skin and steel hard muscles with her fingers. The boy was unlike anything in the medical texts, unlike anything she had ever seen.

"You appear to be very strong, Abel. Let me try something." She had a seldom used grip strength meter and retrieved it from one of the wall cabinets.

"Squeeze this as hard as you can."

"Yes, ma'am."

Of course he crushed the thing, a piece of it even pinged off to strike the wall.

"I apologize, ma'am."

"That...that's all right." The doctor gave June a look of bewilderment.

"He's very handy for opening jars." June offered.

"How did he...how did he get this strong?"

"Genetic engineering, a discontinued project. And no, I cannot tell you much more than that."

"Good God. That's not possible, science is years away from...." Her voice trailed away to nothing. It was possible, the proof was standing in front of her in his Fruit of The Loom's.

"I could write a paper on this, I should write a paper."

"Not possible, I can't give my permission."

"Who did this?"

"The government and that's all I can say. Is he healthy?" June asked.

With that the pediatrician seemed to gather herself and went about the more routine sort of examination. The eye chart did supply a little humor.

"Can you read the bottom line?"

"Yes ma'am. Benson Medical Charts, Baltimore Maryland. Copyright 1999."

He was of course correct, the tiny print could be easily read with a magnifying glass. But not from across the room.

Pulse and blood pressure were lower than normal, likewise respiration. Temperature was slightly above normal. His hearing was, well you know about that.

Abel was indeed disgustingly healthy, pending the return of the lab results on his blood and urine. The doctor did have some trouble getting the blood sample, it was a little like trying to push a needle into shoe leather.

The visit to the dentist was a complete waste of time. No cavities, perfect alignment. His canine's were a little longer than average, incisors very sharp. He bit nothing attached to the dentist and got a free toothbrush, that seemed to please the normally taciturn boy a great deal. He even managed a sort of a smile.

------------------------------------------- Langley, Virginia "FBI is having shit fits." Deputy Director Riesing didn't suppress his glee very well.

"They'll get wind of GEA eventually and then they'll want use of the asset too." The Director was not as amused as her second in command.

"How do we use Abel? There needs to be some sort of guidelines set up."

"We use him very sparingly," explained the Director, "but we do use him. We do not share him or even acknowledge his existence."

"And the Army?"

"Screw 'em, they follow orders and that horse's ass in the White House will do whatever I suggest. Abel saved his granddaughter, that's all he cares about."

------------------------------------------- School was out for the summer so John Grimes decided it was time to take the family on their yearly Fourth of July hiking and camping vacation in Oregon. It was a simple vacation that they all looked forward to (even Deborah, who would not admit it). Besides, they would be beyond the reach of whatever the government might want of Abel, no one would know of their destination.

While the Grimes' were making plans for a vacation others were making different sorts of preparations. Members of the Concord Bridge Society were going to flatten the Internal Revenue Service's processing center in Fresno, California. They already had the needed one-hundred-thousand pounds of AMFLO mixed and poured into the stolen gasoline tanker. Wiring and detonators were nearly complete. It would make the blast at the Federal Building in Denver seem like a minor fireworks mishap.

------------------------------------------- Blue Lake Wilderness Area, Southern Oregon The mosquitoes weren't as bad as in previous years but everyone except Abel had a few itchy bumps. It seemed that the six-legged vampires had too much trouble with the boy's tough skin and just buzzed off to find softer victims.

There were never very many hikers in the area, it was a long drive up a dirt road and then a long hike to the area dotted with small lakes. Too many people had grown used to forty-foot long RV's and satellite dishes. Abel was more in his element now, his speed and strength could be properly exercised, his senses stretched to their limits.

In years past the Grimes' had just let their then smaller children skinny-dip, no one around but parents to see. Deborah had made it known two years ago that she was now too old for that sort of thing and had since opted for garish neon swimsuits. Abel, Sam, and little Mary had no such thoughts or inhibitions and while swimming had opted for the comfortable and quick drying suits that nature had provided them.

The very clear lake water made it easy to watch Abel's underwater travels, he seemed capable of seal-like dives and once was beneath the surface for almost ten minutes. Sam could just barely manage a minute before gasping to the surface of the lake's cold water.

As always Abel was the constant watchdog for the group. On the few occasions that other hikers had passed them it was always Abel who had alerted everyone that people were coming, even how many. The second day brought a group of four male teenagers who pitched camp across the lake and immediately turned on a very loud portable boom box.

"Crap! Let's pack up and hike over to Round Lake!" John Grimes did not care for loud hip hop music wafting through the peaceful woods. Abel had been carefully studying the situation before he picked up the baseball sized rock. The boom box was sitting in plain sight on a flat rock (plain sight if you had Abel's eyes).

"What are you doing, son? Don't hurt those idiots, being obnoxious isn't a capitol offense."

"No sir. Permission to take out that music player?"

"Granted." Grimes smiled, he had entertained thoughts of doing it himself with a tree limb.

"Yes sir."

Abel tested the heft of the round rock he held as the rest of the family stood in silent fascination. It was a good four-hundred yards across the lake to the target. Waiting until the four teen-punks were well away from the boom box and occupied with putting up their two tents, Abel let go with a blindingly fast throw.

The rock sailed in a whistling shallow arc across the lake and was a direct hit. The boom box boomed one last time as it literally exploded in a shower of plastic, batteries and obnoxious music. The four punks all dropped to the ground, certain that someone was shooting at them.

"Cool!" Sam voiced the prevailing opinion.

The lake was once more very, very quite. The punks packed up and left, quickly.

Evening was of course spent around the campfire cremating marshmallows, Abel ceased his culinary efforts and stood to gaze off into the darkness.

"What is it, son?" Grimes asked softly, the rest of the family was all eyes.

"Two people approaching, sir. From up the trail."

"It's a bit late for hiking."

"Yes sir. I will investigate."

Before the man could say anything Abel had vanished into the woods. For their own sake whoever was coming had better have good intentions.

"There is a law enforcement officer and perhaps a forest worker, sir."

Grimes had nearly leapt over the campfire as Abel had appeared silently behind him and reported in. The whole family had the same reaction.

"Shit! Make some noise the next time!"

"Yes sir, I apologize."

"Stay calm, son. Just let them..." Grimes looked around to speak more directly with the boy, but he wasn't there.

"Shit!"

"Hello the camp!" Deputy Sheriff Wilkes at least knew the proper protocol for approaching people in the wilderness.

"Come on in!" Grimes responded. All the same the FBI agent felt for the .40 caliber automatic that he always carried while camping.

Where was Abel?

"Sorry to intrude on you folks, I'm Deputy Wilkes, this is John Hanson with the Forest Service." Both men moved to shake hands with Grimes, there didn't seem to be any menace in the situation.

"Pull up a rock and sit." Grimes motioned for them to have a seat while he fished his I.D. out and handed it to the deputy.

"FBI?" Wilkes' eyebrows shot up as he scanned the well known identification.

"On vacation. What can we do for you?"

"Four kids said they were shot at this afternoon, here at Blue Lake."

"Oh, those punks across the lake?"

"I guess."

"We heard a big bang, I think they had some firecrackers or something."

"They said someone shot up their CD player."

"I felt like doing it but it wasn't me."

"Do you have a firearm?" Wilkes asked with some discomfort.

"Yes, a .40 caliber Sig. Would you like to have it?"

"No, not necessary. We're only out here because those pimple faced jerks filed an official complaint."

Grimes had glanced casually around trying to see where Abel might be. He was of course standing directly behind the two visitors, silent as a ghost, like a cat studying two mice.

"Loud was it?" Wilkes could sympathize with blowing up boomboxs.

"The firecracker?" Grimes could be really dense when needed.

"Enough said. We need to get on back, my wife will have words for me for being late for dinner."

"Coffee?" Grimes offered.

"Thanks, no. You all have a good night."

When the two men shook hands again and turned to leave Abel was nowhere to be seen. Grimes knew in his gut that if the two visitors had any bad intentions they would have been dead by now.

--------------------------------------------- IRS Processing Center, Fresno California July Third Countless millions of taxpayers have harbored black thoughts about the country's most hated institution. Until this fine summer day very little else but black thoughts had ever been aimed at the IRS.

The shining new Freightliner gasoline tanker had observed all of the speed laws and traffic rules to the letter during the thousand mile trip. The cab windows had been replaced with thick lexan, the cab itself armored with steel plates on the inside. Likewise, the engine compartment was armored. Machined aluminum 'run-flat' inserts were inside all of the vehicle's eighteen massive tires. The front bumper weighed a full three-thousand pounds of welded steel. The truck would not be stopping to say hello at the IRS security gate.

The driver, Jacob Hicks, was dying of liver cancer, he only drove the last fifty miles by himself. This was to be his final trip as an over the road trucker and his last day as a member of the Concord Bridge Society. It was to be his last day ever and he was ready to die.

Security Officer Malcolm Davies was starting to perspire in the morning sun, it was going to be another skull-roaster of a day at the main gate.

"Now what the hell is that fool doing?" Malcolm asked his partner as the huge gas tanker turned into the approach road to the gate.

"Maybe he's going to pay his taxes?" Dan Bockman joked. Dan stopped smiling as black smoke belched from the truck's dual exhausts.

"The sonofabitch is speeding up! Hit the barrier switch!"

An alarm siren began wailing as the thick steel pistons started to rise up out of the roadbed in front of the guard station. This had been anticipated by the planners of this excursion and the driver of the truck was ready for it. Jacob floored the supercharged diesel and veered to the left, aiming directly for the lightly constructed security shack. The two guards had little time for anything but jumping clear as the massive truck plowed through the small building without even slowing. In an instant the tanker was back on the drive that circled the enormous building, it's real target was at the rear of the place. The few people outside starting running for their lives, three private vehicles were knocked out of the way like child's toys.

For security and ease of delivery there was an underground receiving area and parking for a limited number of VIP vehicles. Alarms were sounding here also as the steel roll down doors started to lower. Too late. Jacob Hicks skidded the monstrous rolling bomb to a tire smoking halt at a point almost dead center under the building. Two security men were soon pounding on the truck's cab doors and Jacob held up the switch for them to see. Then he smiled at them and ceased to exist.

AMFLO is normally used in strip mining and open pit work. It's cheap and safe to work with. It's primary components are ammonium nitrate (a common farm fertilizer) and fuel or diesel oil. One-hundred-thousand pounds of the white mixture eliminated the IRS Center in a rumbling blast felt seventy miles away. Parts of the building and it's occupants would be found over two miles away. Checks and tax forms continued to flutter down out of the sky for a very long time. Of the thousands who were working that day at counting the people's sweat and blood only thirty-two survived the detonation.

--------------------------------------- Sam had grown used to waking in the 'boys' tent during the night and sometimes finding Abel gone. He never heard him come or go, he did feel very safe knowing that such a person was keeping watch over him and his family. The last night of the camping trip Sam had to get up to go pee in the early hours before dawn. As was often the case Abel was absent from their shared two-man tent.

"Where the heck does he go?" Sam mumbled to himself as he wobbled outside and then off a ways into the woods. On his return trip from watering the shrubs Sam caught sight of his guardian in the moonlight.

"Jesus!" Sam whispered as he spotted Abel sitting atop the rocky outcropping that towered over one end of the small lake. He had wanted to climb up there himself but there were no good handholds, no way to climb the sheer granite. Besides, his dad had said "no way."

Abel sat as a human gargoyle atop a stone cathedral, gazing out over the lake, guarding the people he was coming to realize were his family. When Sam spotted him Abel was of course staring directly at the boy, nothing escaped him. Sam waved, Abel stood and waved in return before diving the seventy feet into the lake.

"Je..sus." Sam had a phobia about diving into water, he preferred to just sort of ease into a swim.

Sam was still watching for his odd 'brother' to surface when Abel seemed to materialize behind him.

"Are you well, Sam?"

"Shit!" Sam jumped straight up. "Ye..yes. Don't do that!"

"I apologize." Abel started to reach out to the other boy but did not.

"I just had to pee, I saw you up there, on the rocks."

"There was a black bear earlier, I chased it off to the south."

"Oh. Let's just get some sleep, we gotta hike out tomorrow and go home."

"Yes, Sam. "

To their home. Abel's home.

-------------------------------------------- Following the family's routine the Grimes' stayed overnight in Medford before attempting the long drive south to their home. They took three units in the upscale motel, a room for the boys, one for the adults and one for Deborah and her little sister. Hot showers and clean clothes followed by an actual meal in a restaurant restored everyone. Abel thought the meal portions were rather skimpy but kept that opinion to himself. Some television in the adult's room rounded out the evening.

"...are urging all Americans to join us in this fight to restore our country to what the founding fathers intended. We are pledging our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to this cause. Join us now if you love your country."

"That is the text of the message delivered to the local television station in Boise just two hours before the Fresno blast."

"What blast?" John Grimes demanded of the Fox News correspondent.

The scene cut away to the smoking crater that had been the IRS building, it answered all of Grimes' questions.

"Good God, another lunatic bomber."

More than one bomber. There were over two-hundred members of the Concord Bridge Society holed up in their Idaho 'fortress.' Whole families, veterans with combat experience. Some were total crackpots, some were not. The were all armed to the teeth and six dead deputy sheriffs lay in the fading light of dusk where they had been mown down with heavy machine gun fire. No one had yet been able to get close enough to retrieve their bodies.

"This is going to turn into another Waco." Grimes said to his silent family.

"Waco, sir?" Abel asked.

"A government cluster fuck." For the moment Grimes had forgot that his family was around him.

"Yes, sir." Abel knew all about what a "cluster fuck" was, he had studied military history and operations quite a lot.

"John! Your language!" June was totally shocked, so was everyone else except Abel.

"Huh? Oh, sorry."

The siege would drag out for a month before the idea of using one of the country's special assets was suggested.

Chapter Three Obedience to Orders Langley, Virginia "He is, or was, a soldier. Not a cop, not a spook. Not an assassin!" Colonel Hartz was barely controlling his temper.

"He is an asset to be used as we see fit." CIA's Director was also starting to boil.

"He is a human being. He has the rights of a human being."

"Don't hand me the maudlin crap! My paper shredder has more of a soul than that little cold blooded...thing!"

"Then your shredder has more of a soul than you do."

"Be very careful, Colonel. Your career is on a thin patch of ice right now."

"I will not rescind my orders to the boy. I have been threatened by experts Madame, and quite frankly you are no expert."

With that the Colonel got up and walked out on the Director. Of course that did not even begin to end the matter.

------------------------------------------ Abel was always the one who answered the door, no one else was fast enough to beat him there. This evening was no exception.

"Hello, Abel." Hartz was in civilian clothes and alone.

"Sir!" By reflex Abel had braced to attention before his commanding officer.

"May I come in?"

"Yes sir, of course."

John Grimes was second to the door and did not like who was stepping into the entry way. The rest of the family was outside staying cool by the swimming pool.

"You."

"Yes, me. Abel invited me to come in, we all need to sit down and talk."

"All right. In the kitchen." Grimes never had liked this cold bastard.

"Thank you."

"Sit down. Something to drink?" Grimes was polite to the visitor only because Abel respected the very ground that the man walked on.

"No. I can't be here very long."

"Not another 'assignment' for Abel?"

"No. Not from me, never again from me."

"Sir?" Abel felt a part of his world slipping away. So much had in the last months.

"I have resigned my commission, Abel. I am releasing you from your orders, you are your own person from now on. Obey only your parents now."

Abel didn't know how to respond, John Grimes was also at a loss.

"What's happened?" Grimes finally asked.

"CIA is trying to make Abel their property, to do their dirty work for them. Abel is a soldier, not a hit man."

"But the President..."

"Can't take a piss without an instruction manual. He's in CIA's pocket on this."

"And when they come for Abel?"

"I honestly don't know what to tell you. They play hardball and make their own rules as they go."

"They can go to hell." Grimes glanced at Abel, the boy seemed dazed by what had been said.

"I wish they would. It's not that simple."

"Sir, what should I...?" Abel finally ventured to ask something, even an unformed question.

"Use your best judgment son, protect your family, survive."

"Yes, sir."

Something very extraordinary happened when Hartz left a while later, he turned and held Abel close to him for a moment. Of all the events of the evening this small gesture most affected the boy. The planet shifting off of it's axis would have been a minor thing in comparison.

--------------------------------------------------- The White House "This has to be ended very soon. Those lunatics are gathering a following, people are showing up at IRS offices with guns!" The President was in his usual state, panicked.

The Secretary of The Treasury wasn't any too calm himself.

"If we move on the compound we will make martyrs of them all and strengthen their movement. The whole system of tax collection could collapse."

"If we could get someone inside, take out their leadership." FBI voiced what they all wanted. CIA had been silent until this point.

"We can get someone inside. You all know who."

"Abel?" The President's eyebrows shot up in a sign of hope.

"Yes sir. He can be in and out before they know what's hit them. Then we go in and carry out the grateful and smiling kids. Very good for the cameras."

"Will he do it?"

"He follows orders, Mister President. Give him his orders."

-------------------------------------------------- Abel had been cut adrift from his solid mooring of training, obedience, military discipline. His one life raft was his adopted family. At the moment Sam was trying to get him to fill in on the Little League team that Sam played first base for.

"You have played baseball, haven't you?"

"Not in an organized way. A few times with a Navy Seal team."

"Geez! Not with kids..like me?"

"No." Abel had never been with other "kids like me" before coming to live with the Grimes'.

"Can you hit and catch a baseball?"

"Yes." Stupid question.

"Then we need you. Harvey Wiscomb has appendicitis, we need a good right fielder."

"I may hurt someone."

"Just be gentle, you know. Don't throw the ball as hard as you can, that sort of thing."

"All right." Abel would have done almost anything to please Sam.

Sam put his plan before his father.

"Son, this may not be a very good idea." John Grimes could see all sorts of mayhem and mishaps in this latest venture.

"Abel said he would cool it. He's not going to throw the ball through someone."

"Cripes! Okay, but you watch out for him, you know how hard it is for him to control..."

"I know dad. We'll practice some before the game."

They did practice some, at the park the next day.

"Let's just toss the ball back and forth for a while." Sam hoped he wouldn't wind up in the hospital, or worse.

"Yes, Sam."

Abel gently lofted the ball, a little girl could have thrown it harder.

"Criminently! Not that easy!"

"I apologize."

"Stop apologizing all the time! Throw it like this!" Sam burned a fastball directly at Abel who casually caught it with his bare right hand, his glove unused. His return throw more approximated Sam's effort, but not too hard.

"Now you've got it!"

"Yes, Sam."

Batting practice was rather more spectacular. They never did find the last ball that Abel hit, the aluminum bat was beyond repair.

"I apologize, Sam."

"Quit saying that! That was just so cool!"

"Why?"

"You put that ball into orbit!"

"Not that high, Sam."

"Just do that at the game. Hit it high but try not to knock down any airplanes!"

"Yes, Sam."

Since Abel was only a substitute the officials allowed him to play this one game with a uniform borrowed from Harvey Wiscomb's family, it fit pretty well (even the cup). The opposing team's coach began the game by telling his players to hit to right field, the new kid was a substitute and probably wasn't any good. The first inning put an end to that train of thought. Everything hit anywhere near right field was caught, the one ground ball was scooped up and fired (gently) to Sam at first base for an easy out.

"Hit it high, so you don't massacre one of them." Sam was giving Abel some last minute advice, it was finally the substitute's time at bat. Two players were already on base.

"Yes, Sam. Don't worry."

Sam did worry as Abel did as instructed. The normal metallic 'bink' sound of a ball being hit off a metal bat was replaced with what sounded like a pistol shot. The deformed ball was never recovered, it landed in a rose bush several blocks away. At first there had been a cheer from the watching parents and spectators, then it became very quiet as the ball vanished from sight. Abel jogged easily around the bases wondering if something was wrong. John Grimes and his wife were in the stands trying not to have heart attacks.

The opposing coach protested to the umpire about a 'ringer' being brought in, questions about the new player's age. The umpire didn't care for being shouted at.

"He hit it fair, now get out of my face before I throw you out of the game!"

Needless to say Sam's team won the game, fifteen to one.

It was Abel's last ball game.

-------------------------------------------- Fred The Spook came by for a talk the evening after the ball game. Only with John Grime's orders was he allowed into the house. The kitchen was once more the scene of the discussion, June Grimes was present this time, the children shooed off to their upstairs rooms.

"The Director has an assignment for you, Abel. Direct from the President." Fred began.

"Sir, I have retired." It was part of what Abel had discussed with his parents to say.

Fred did a double take at this.

"But you can't do that, you are..."

"A minor, a child. You cannot legally order civilian children to risk their lives or to take other people's lives, sir."

"The law does not apply in this case, you know that."

"If the law and constitution do not apply to me, a child, then there is no law."

Grimes and his wife were content for now to let Abel do the arguing. He was doing a good job of presenting what they had all talked about.

"A Presidential order simply cannot be ignored, son. You have to do as ordered."

"It is an illegal order and I will not obey it, sir. You need to leave now, before I start hurting you."

Fred turned just little paler then his normal skin tone, he suddenly felt in great danger. Indeed he was in great danger.

"Mister Grimes, as an agent for the FBI you are under ultimate control of the President. You must..."

"I will not order my son to do anything. Now do as Abel says before you wind up in intensive care, he tends to get a little carried away with unwanted visitors."

When Abel stood and narrowed his eyes a little Fred finally obeyed, whatever he was he was no fool.

----------------------------------------- Langley, Virginia "He said what?" The Director's voice could be heard even in the outer offices.

"He refused the order, ma'am. He says he's retired."

"Hartz is behind this! The bastard resigned his commission last week!"

"Your orders on this, ma'am?"

"Stay put for now, we'll get back with you."

The Director thought for a few moments, she needed some leverage to use with the little monster. The boy seemed to care a great deal for his adoptive parents. It only took just the one phone call to put things quickly into motion.

----------------------------------------- Life for the Grimes household began to fall to pieces the day after Fred was shown the door. A red faced and furious June returned early from her Saturday shopping, she appeared ready to spit at anyone within range.

"My debit card was refused at the supermarket! Also at the ATM!"

"It seems to have begun." John replied with resignation.

"What's begun?"

"The utility company was just by to shut off the electric power and the gas, for non-payment of past due bills they said."

"What" We always pay on time!"

"Not according to the records the utility guy had. It said we haven't paid for five months. I had to persuade Abel not to commit mayhem on the guy."

"What's going on, John?" June was less strident by now and was beginning to get frightened.

"We're being leaned on, by Uncle Sam. You know why."

"Well, let them lean. They can't have Abel!"

"It's only just started, it can and probably will get much worse."

It did get much worse the following Monday morning. A trip to the bank informed them that their checking account was overdrawn and their savings had a balance of three-dollars and twelve cents in it (the people at NSA thought that amount was a nice touch). Their canned food supply was running out, cold showers were the order of the day. It was very dark and quiet at night. Abel did his part to provide for the family, his nocturnal hunting in the hills always netted something. Large pieces of fresh deer meat could be cooked on the backyard grill, there was still plenty of propane for the time being.

"My God, I'm eating Bambi's mother!" Deborah exclaimed. She did eat it, though.

The FBI pulled john's security clearance and put him on unpaid leave. No explanation. If their house hadn't been paid for they would soon have been out on the street. That might happen anyway, it seems that their taxes were in arrears and a lien was pending on their property. There were massive charges on all of their credit cards, to the limits. NSA and CIA are very adept at this sort of thing, there is no account or information file that they do not have a back door into.

Abel knew he was the cause of this calamity, he could not just stand and watch his family go to ruin. It was time to call Fred The Spook.

"No! No way are you going to do that!" John wanted to grab the boy and shake him, if he could have.

"Sir, they will...they are wrecking your lives. I can stop that by cooperating with them. I must do it, sir."

"I will not call that bastard again!"

"Sir, forgive me but I already have. He will be here within the hour."

"What? I'm the only one with his number, how did you get it?"

"While you were asleep last night sir, your wallet."

If Abel knew how to cry he would have.

"How dare you do such a thing! I am very disappointed in you, Abel!"

"I..I apologize sir. I cannot be the cause of what is happening to you all. I cannot."

Grimes' anger cooled as he regarded the very troubled boy standing before him, any thoughts of punishment vanished. Abel had endured a life of punishment and was only trying to help them all by doing this.

"Can I stop you?" Grimes asked softly.

"Sir, I must go. But not before all of this trouble is put straight. That will be my one condition for them."

Grimes did as the Colonel had done and embraced the boy. It was all that he could do. A knock at the door moved the two apart, they both knew who was waiting outside.

"Come in." Grimes tersely motioned Fred to the living room where June and the rest of the family joined them. Abel started and ended the tense conversation.

"I will cooperate only after all that you have done is reversed, not until then."

"That may take a few days, Abel. You're needed right now."

"You have my terms, now get out of this house before I kill you." Abel's voice was a low rumble, he seemed like a leopard about to pounce. Fred got out.

"Cool." Sam didn't like the CIA creep either.

June was in tears, likewise Deborah and little Mary.

Speed records were set in restoring the Grimes' fiscal situation, even all of their actual debts had been paid off by the following evening. Now it was time to pay the piper. Fred was waiting in his car, he didn't want to come in for some reason. Two more government sedans were also in front of the house.

"I will return as soon as I can, I will not stay with them."

"Just be very careful, Abel. Don't let them put you into any situation you can't get out of safely."

"Yes sir, I will be careful."

He even got a hug from Sam and that meant the most to him.

The agents had intended for Abel to ride between the two of them in the back seat of the middle car, the boy had other ideas.

"Get out."

"Son, we have our orders."

"Get out and ride in the other vehicles or I will break your arms."

The agents should have been better briefed and continued to sit down on each side of the boy anyway. Then Abel did as he said he would and grabbed each man's arm with one hand, and squeezed. Their screams were rather shrill for a while but they did manage to get out of the car. The driver was sure he heard distinct snapping sounds just before it got very noisy.

John Grimes just smiled as he stood watching all of this from the front steps.

"Cool." Grimes echoed Sam's remark of the previous day.

------------------------------------------ North of Boise, Idaho The long drive from the airport was in a closed delivery van, no one spoke and no one wanted to sit close to the boy. The flight from San Francisco had been much the same. The two agents with the broken arms went on medical leave after some rather colorful words with their controlling agent.

An operational center had been set up two miles from the Concord Society's compound, it was here that Abel received his first real briefing on the situation.

"Jeffrey Abrams is the leader, John Waters and Zane Perkins are his two seconds in command." FBI Regional Chief Harolds was giving the talk, he seemed very uneasy in the boy's presence, everyone did. FBI had been out of the need to know loop about GEA until only the last few days.

"This ravine to the rear, do better recon photos exist?" Abel was all business at this point, so far no more arms had been broken. He also was failing to address anyone as "sir."

"Come with me, in the next room." Harolds led the boy to an entire wall covered in a mosaic of finely detailed aerial photos. Abel had to stand on a chair to get a close look at what interested him.

"It's rigged with tripwires but appears passable."

"We didn't see any wires, are you sure?"

"Perhaps you should use a magnifying lens." Abel had his own built in magnifiers. Harolds found a strong photo lens and looked closer for himself.

"Son of a bitch," he said quietly, "there are wires, barely. Are you sure you want to use that route?"

"It appears poorly guarded except for probable claymores or trip flares. The alternative is crossing too much open ground, even with an IR cloak and jamming I would be too visible. I assume that an IR cloak is available for me?"

"All of your personal equipment that you had with the Army is here."

Abel said nothing but nodded in understanding. He had expected at least that much preplanning for this operation.

"There are non-combatants in the compound, women and children?"

"Yes, roughly half of the people are women and kids. We think that the older children have weapons training, likewise all of the women. If you can, avoid any harm to the kids."

Again Abel just looked at the man and said nothing.

"We were thinking that if you could get several Quell canisters inside..."

"Quell can be fatal to small children and infants, surely you know that." Abel knew all about the powerful sleep gas. "Do you have any of the new nausea weapons, or some Stinkers?"

"Yes. We gassed the whole place with it when the wind was right, apparently they have it sealed and have some sort of air filtering system. It had no effect that we could tell, except on our own people. Christ, that stuff reeks!"

"If this goes bad and people start coming out with weapons what is your response going to be?"

"Then we have a firefight and we don't want that." Harolds had no stomach for what happened at Waco. The FBI and BATF still were still suffering from that public relations debacle.

"I don't believe that I can take out enough people fast enough to avoid that happening. My suggestion is that you simply wait them out. In that you have the advantage."

"The President has ordered us to take the place ASAP, one way or the other."

"Then the President is a dipshit."

"I agree son, but he's our dipshit and we have to obey his orders."

Abel knew about obeying orders.

"Where are the spooks going to be?"

"If you mean CIA, there aren't any here."

"They're here, they always are. Can you put me in contact with their Director?"

"I don't know son, maybe.."

"The CIA brought me here. I think you know that. If I don't talk to her the deal's off, tell her that."

Abel wasn't bothered at the thought of killing, but since living with the Grimes' he was indeed bothered by the thought of children dying for their adult's stupidity.

CIA's Director was soon made available.

"Sarah Danforth here, hello Abel. It's a pleasure to finally get to talk to you."

Abel dispensed with any pleasantries, the woman had been perfectly happy to ruin his family's life to get him here.

"This operation cannot be done without a great loss of life, children's lives."

"Then there will be a loss of life. Carry out your President's assignment, remember the well being of your family."

"I will carry out my assignment to the best of my ability. I must also tell you that if any more trouble comes to my family I will know who to blame."

Abel hung up on the cold witch, that did not sit well with her at all.

"That little abomination threatened me!"

In truth Abel had frightened her as no one else ever had. A frightened person can be very dangerous.

---------------------------------------------- "Radio discipline?" Abel was wrapped from head to toe in the oddly metallic looking cloak. The foot-wide cloth was designed to wind around a person mummy-fashion, he looked like...what? To night vision devices he would appear as only a slight blur.

"There will be only normal traffic, no increase until something breaks loose."

"Fire fighting?"

"Two minutes away and ready." No one wanted another 'roast' to result from what was to come.

"Then let's go ahead with this." Abel amazed even himself with his newly found self assertiveness, he was indeed finally his own person.

The ravine meandered on for over a mile from the compound, a raging torrent of water occasionally filled it during heavy thunderstorms. It was bone dusty dry this night, there were scattered clouds and no moon. Abel came across the first trip wire a good five-hundred yards from the compound.

"Well done." Abel thought to himself as he studied the device's installation. The wire was attached to an easily spotted standard claymore. A person less well trained than the boy would have simply inserted a 'safing' pin and cut the wire to move on. Of course the other end of the wire was also attached to an extremely well hidden claymore on the other side of the narrow ravine. Any easily spotted hazard is almost always a decoy.

An hour of this sort of thing brought Abel very close to the main building. Along the way there had been an even dozen of the claymores, another dozen 'bouncing betty' buried land mines to avoid. Only his amazing vision and attention to detail could have spotted the devices, if he missed any then luck had been with him this night. It was still thirty yards across open ground to the large metal industrial building.

Risks must be taken in any operation. Abel sprinted across the hard packed dirt and then simply jumped straight up and onto the almost flat roof. Two sleepy sentries died before they could understand that their brains were now no longer inside their skulls. A silent wait of five minutes brought no alarm, no other activity.

"On the roof, two down." Abel's whispered report was acknowledged with two clicks in his earpiece.

There was a cheap padlock on the roof access door. Rather than waste time searching the guards for a key Abel simply twisted the lock free of it's locking hasp. Then he was in.

It was three in the morning, most of the people inside the main building were asleep. Most of them.

Abel encountered three adult males making their rounds, they were all armed. He killed them all in a blur of almost silent fury. They never had the chance to call out or to draw a weapon. Moving from room to room the boy quickly chose and rejected targets. Those he chose died, those he rejected lived. He came face to face with a young girl about his own age, her eyes wide with terror at the black and bloody apparition in front of her. The girl had been using the bathroom and was returning to bed. She started to cry out but an iron hand closed on her throat.

Unlike in the Hollywood melodramas you do not strangle a person to death in just a few seconds, it takes some time for the brain to die and the heart to stop. Abel held the pressure only long enough for the girl to pass out, then he eased her down to the floor. He had a brief image of Deborah in his mind while he was doing this and it bothered him a lot.

All of the awake and armed adults were dead when Abel quietly opened the doors and whispered the words to move in. It was a silent invasion from four directions, not even the few people in the outbuildings knew what was happening until they had their doors kicked in and were facing machine guns.

Abel had killed sixteen people that night. It had gone far better than he had expected. He was still a bloody horror to the men who drove him in silence to the command center. The IR wrappings were soaked in blood. Agent Harolds was as aghast as everyone else.

"Abel...are you injured?"

"No. The blood isn't mine."

Harolds watched as the boy stripped off the gore covered IR cloth and entered the field shower, what was underneath that suit did little to settle the man's nerves.

-------------------------------------------- The White House "It's over, sir. They've taken the compound, none of the children were harmed. Sixteen dead, all adults." The Chief of Staff was as relieved as his boss was.

"And Abel?"

"He's all right, no injuries reported."

"Excellent. He must be rewarded for this."

"Privately, sir."

"Yes. Of course."

And of course he never was rewarded.

-------------------------------------------- Abel was simply dropped off in front of the Grimes' residence, it was late afternoon but Sam had been sitting on the front steps all day waiting for the strange brother he had come to care so much about.

"Abel!" Sam had run out to greet him.

"Hello Sam."

"Are you..is everything okay?"

"Yes Sam. And here?"

"We're all okay. The news said that they arrested all of those people in Idaho."

"Yes. The one's who were alive."

"Did you.. Did you have to...?"

"Yes. I had to kill people. Not as many as I had estimated.''

"Geez. We've all been going nuts about you, come on in."

Hugs and kisses were endured, perhaps it wasn't such a trial though. Abel was learning about family and love of family. He had never loved anyone or anything before coming to this place. Perhaps he still didn't know what the word love really meant but he was at least slowly becoming a human being.

When he wasn't being asked to kill people.

"How are you?" June Grimes' simple question was the first.

"I'm very hungry, ma'am."

"Dinner will be shortly. Can you do one thing for me, Abel?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Can you call me 'mother' instead of ma'am?"

"Yes....Mother."

------------------------------------------- Langley, Virginia Doctor Miles Dimmons had been one of the psychologists in charge of Abel.

"One of the fears on the military side of the GEA project was that the subject could potentially rebel. That may be occurring here."

"He threatened me." Sarah Danforth replied.

"Why would he do that?"

"Never mind that. Is he going to turn rogue on us?"

"I need to know the circumstances for his threatening you. What did...?"

"He doesn't want to work for the government, we leaned on his adoptive parents a little, nothing violent."

"Then you have made an enormous mistake, you should have consulted with us."

"Now answer my question! Is he out of control, and if he is what do we do?"

"He may be starting to rebel, apparently with some good reason. If he's pushed any further then you will have a killing machine loose upon the land. A machine that will be nearly impossible to stop."

"And if he came after me?"

"Then I would suggest that you have your will updated, if there's time."

The Director was silent for a moment and then concluded the meeting. She had yet another call to make.

Chapter Four A Pale Horse The team was hand picked for skill and the ability to forget their assignments upon completion. That and for a total lack of any human feelings.

There would be two spotters and one shooter.

"They come to the skateboard park almost every Saturday. There's good brush cover just to the north and quick access to the streets behind that." Number One was giving the first briefing. The three men had names but they never used them and indeed did not even know one another's real names.

"Range?" Number Two asked. He was the shooter.

"Two hundred yards, easy kill. I would suggest using the .308."

"Extraction protocol?" Three asked.

"We use the SUV for about one mile, a moving van will be waiting with a ramp down. Drive in, disappear." Three nodded in understanding, it was a little 'Hollywood' but it was a simple plan they had used before, those sorts of plans always worked the best.

"Communications will be kept to a minimum, Langley will be monitoring via a relay. Target acquisition will be 'Harvest,' a successful kill will be 'Reaper,' and a miss and pullout will be 'Pale Horse.' Questions?"

"Who dreamed up "Pale Horse?" Two asked.

"I guess someone who reads the bible or something. Death rides a pale horse. If we miss our target that pale horse will be riding for us."

"A kid? I don't buy that crap they fed us on his abilities." Three said with contempt.

"Then look these over," One shoved a sheaf of photos across the table to Three, "they were taken inside Plymouth Academy and at the compound in Idaho two weeks ago."

Number Three had little more to say after looking at the photos. The predominant colors in the pictures were blood red and bone white.

--------------------------------------------------- Abel had been dutifully saving his ten dollars a week allowance. Now it was time for Sam to help him pick out his own skateboard. He was gradually adjusting to the concept of actually owning his own things and spending his own money.

"Good wheels and bearings. Never mind the flashy paint jobs."

"Yes, Sam. And the board?"

"Go with aluminum. The fiber glass one's can crack and wear down. The titanium one's cost too much and are too stiff."

This deep conversation had occurred during the hike to the giant discount sports store. Sam had a bike, so far Abel had seemed uninterested in the two-wheeled devices, they were of limited use on rough terrain. They had decided (Sam decided) to simply walk the three miles to the store and at last they were there. Abel was a bit overwhelmed by the place and kept stopping to examine practically everything. The lifting weights and barbells most of all.

"Come on, the boards are way over there!" Sam was getting a little exasperated with Abel by now. He frequently got exasperated at Abel but could never really work up a good mad at his weird brother.

"Just a minute, they have some usable weights here."

"Geez!"

An over muscled steroid user was testing the heft of one of the larger barbell sets and at the same time was trying to impress his ditzy girl friend. Abel was looking at the weight set next to him while Sam was just hoping he wouldn't pick it up and cause a scene. Mister Steroids had words of caution.

"Careful, kid. That's way too much for you, it might fall on you or something."

"Yes sir. Thank you."

And then of course Abel lifted the three-hundred pound collection of cast iron over his head, with one hand. Perhaps he was showing of just a little, boys will do that you know. Abel was learning to be a boy.

Mister Steroids could only sit and gape. His girl kept asking him if he could do that too and he finally had to tell her to just shut up. By then Sam had managed to drag Abel away and over to the skateboard display. Six other shoppers had witnessed the event and were now doubting there own sanity.

"This one looks all right, the board is aluminum." Abel was examining a garish green and purple board.

"That's a Chinese knock-off. Crappy bearings and cheap wheels." Sam knew his skateboards. "Here, this one's okay." Sam handed a rather plain unpainted aluminum board to Abel. It cost twice what the other board did and was actually made in America.

"It does look well made, stronger."

"It is. Try it out."

Abel made a short, wheeled excursion down the aisle and back, drawing the unwanted attention of an assistant manager.

"No riding those in here!"

"I apologize, sir. I would like to buy it."

"Fine then, just take it up front to the cashiers."

"Yes, sir."

"Jerk!" Sam muttered as the man moved off. Abel was looking at the price sticker on the bottom of the board and then showed it to Sam.

"It's too expensive Sam, I only have eighty dollars."

"I have thirty, that's enough between the two of us."

Abel looked closely at Sam for a moment before speaking.

"Thank you, Sam."

"It's just a loan, you gotta pay me back."

"Yes Sam, I will."

Although it didn't show the small generosity on the part of Sam had deeply affected Abel. Another lesson in being a human being and a brother.

They took turns riding the new board home, it was getting close to dinner time. Tomorrow was Saturday and they planned on giving the board a good workout in the park. It had been a very good summer day.

-------------------------------------------- Number Two was in place and totally invisible before dawn. Long and uncomfortable waits were a part of his job. Numbers One and Three would arrive later in the morning. One would be walking a dog (stolen), Two would be a jogger.

-------------------------------------------- "Aww, dad! It's Saturday! We want to try out Abel's new board!" Sam complained.

"No lip. Wash both cars and then you can skateboard."

"But.."

A gentle vise on Sam's shoulder told him that Abel was on his father's side.

"Geez!"

It was almost ten in the morning before the cars were spit shined and the pool was skimmed and cleaned (an add-on chore at the last minute).

"Come on, let's go before he finds something else for us to do!"

"Yes, Sam. Lead the way."

------------------------------------------- "This may be a no-show, they're running late." Number One spoke softly on the radio link.

"There's f---ing ants in here!" Number Two was already sweating in the bushes, the idea of having to stay put in the bushes in a hot gilly suit until dark did not appeal to him.

"Standby one." Number Three interrupted.

People in Langley were listening to all of this.

"Harvest. Repeat, Harvest."

--------------------------------------------- It was almost another hour before Sam called a halt to grab some water and then sit and rest for a while.

"Come on, admit it! You've skateboarded a lot when you were with...whoever you were with."

"No, Sam. I never did."

"Shit, you're already the best boarder here!"

"Thank you."

Sam's eyes grew wide and he suddenly drew back.

"Aagh! Bee!" Sam had been very afraid of bees ever since he was stung on an unlikely part of his anatomy.

Abel shifted his body to the left as he clapped his hand around the buzzing invader and crushed it. The sound he heard next brought back instincts that years of training had produced. A heavy caliber bullet had just passed very close by his head. A split second later the report from the rifle reached him.

Abel snatched up Sam and ran with him to safety behind a large oak tree.

Sam didn't say anything because the bullet meant for Abel had destroyed his heart and killed him.

"Shit! Pale Horse, Pale Horse!" Number Two had no chance at a second shot. He was up and running for the SUV seconds later. Everyone in the small park was running somewhere or were flat on their stomachs.

The people at Langley looked at one another in abject horror.

"Sam!" It took only an instant to see that his one true friend and brother was dead and could not hear him, his eyes could not see him. It took only another instant of rage to start after those who had done this hideous thing.

The dog walker and the jogger were shooting at Abel as they ran toward where the SUV was parked. The boy was just too insanely fast for their hasty pistol fire to connect. Number One had his skull crushed and died first. Number Three had almost caught up with the shooter when the boy landed on his back and tore off his head. The shooter was the last, in his gilly suit he looked like a pile of leaves on two legs. He was turning and trying to bring his rifle to bear when Abel ripped it out of his hands.

"Who ordered this!" Abel's voice was almost an animal's roar as he broke both of the man's legs with a vicious sweeping kick. The shooter could only twist in agony on the ground until Abel's hands found his throat.

"One last time. Who ordered this?" His voice was just a low hiss this time.

"Lan..Langley! Oh God, don't..."

"Who at Langley?"

"Director... Oh please.."

Then Abel did tear the man apart.

Langley had heard all of it happen.

There was blood on Abel's T-shirt as he walked slowly to where Sam lay. There was blood on his hands. There was blood all over him.

And Sam was so very still, so very dead.

He was still holding his brother when the police finally arrived.

"Go away." Abel's voice caused the cop to hesitate for a second.

"We need to help your friend, he's hurt."

"He's dead. Go away."

The cop reached out to try and separate the two of them, he couldn't tell who's blood was the cause of this awful mess. Abel then grabbed the man's hand and crushed most of the bones in it. There was a crowd gathering by now, they all jumped back as the cop howled in agony and fell back to collapse on the grass.

More police were arriving, what was left of the CIA team was being discovered. And Abel still sat holding his friend and brother.

"What's his name, son?" Police Lieutenant Powers was still trying to make some sense out of what was before him.

"His name is Samuel Grimes. They were trying to kill me but they killed Samuel."

"Who, son?"

"CIA. I killed them all."

Someone killed someone. Powers still had to get control of this ghastly situation.

"Son, we need to take care of Samuel now, let us do that."

Abel looked up at the man for a moment and seemed to come back into focus. He lowered Sam gently to the ground and stood up. The crowd of people gasped at the amount of blood that was on the boy.

"Tell his father that it was me that they were aiming for. Tell him that...I am sorry."

Abel turned and ran.

To the east.

Chapter Five Hunter and Prey Langley, Virginia "He will come here. He will come here to get me." CIA's Director was almost in a cold sweat.

"So we give you air tight security and wait for him. He isn't Superman you know." Deputy Director Burns sounded more confident than he really was.

"He isn't Superman but he's close enough. You know what he's capable of."

"We alert all of the law enforcement agencies from coast to coast."

"And tell them what? That a government created monster is loose and it's an eleven-year-old kid? There are three dead agents and the poor kid that asshole of a shooter killed lying on slabs right now! There are going to be a lot of awkward questions."

"Then tell them that he's just a violently insane mental escapee or something."

"Then we can track him by the trail of dead cops who try to stop him. It won't wash in any case, cops aren't going to shoot any kid on sight. Tell them nothing."

"Then we lay a trap for him."

"And I'm the bait?" Director Danforth knew she was the bait in any case, willing or not.

------------------------------------------- John Grimes had to go and identify Sam's body. Can you imagine a harder thing to do in this life?

"I want to see what they did to him, pull down the sheet." Grimes was holding himself together, barely. Other than being so very pale Sam seemed to just be sleeping.

"There's no need for you to..." Detective Mary Rodriguez began.

"Do it."

The woman nodded to the morgue attendant who then did as he was asked. Then John Grimes finally broke down after seeing what had been done to his good and decent son who was so afraid of bees.

Later, when Grimes had partially composed himself, there were some questions from the detective to be answered.

"The boy who was with your son..."

"Abel."

"Abel. Who...?"

"He's our foster son, we're in the process of adopting him."

"And his last name?"

"He doesn't have one yet, not legally. Abel Grimes."

"His real parents are where?"

"The United States Army."

"They're in the army?"

"No. Abel belonged to the army, they raised him and owned him."

"I don't understand."

"Abel is the result of a genetic engineering project now discontinued. I don't expect you to believe that but it's true."

"He told the policeman on the scene that he killed those three men."

"Then good for him, they deserved it. I hope it hurt like hell."

"One of them was headless, another one was...ripped to pieces. How?"

"GEA. Genetic Enhancement and Amplification. Abel is very, very strong and very, very fast."

"Really Agent Grimes, no one is going to believe such a story."

"I couldn't care less what people believe. Go tell that to the cop with the crushed hand."

"You heard about that?"

"I'm FBI, remember? Cops will usually talk to me."

"People still won't buy such a tale."

"Good. Abel will be safer that way."

"Safe from who."

"People in general but not from the CIA. Who do you think that shooting team worked for?"

To that Detective Rodriguez had no answer.

And now John Grimes had to go home to face his shattered wife and daughters.

-------------------------------------------- Abel hadn't stopped running until he was in the hills to the east and the sun had set. The police had tried to pursue him, they lost track of him in the first few blocks from the park. An unattended backyard swimming pool had provided a place to quickly wash the blood from himself and his clothes before moving on into the hills. A rabbit provided dinner, a cattle trough provided water. As he lay curled up under a small rocky shelf he had time to think and then finally remembered how to cry.

Dawn found Abel thinking more rationally but still moving fast to the east with a deadly purpose in mind. He could probably get to Virginia on foot but it would take too much time. He needed transportation. The parking lot of a winery east of Napa offered a good choice of vehicles. Any good soldier is expected to be able to drive. Abel had been taught to drive anything with wheels and several things that had no wheels.

There was a yellow Dodge Viper hardtop close to the exit drive. Abel didn't know what the name of it was but he knew fast when he saw it. He would wait hidden until it's owner had finished over-sampling the wares in the winery's visitor center. Thirty minutes later a middle aged man and his female 'companion' found their unsteady way to the yellow speed machine.

Abel waited until the man had the ignition keys out and into the door lock, then he moved. Archie Hammond was face down on the gravel and free of his keys and wallet before he could even think to say anything. His companion started screaming but the boy just ignored her. A light tap to the base of Archie's skull put him to sleep, but not permanently.

It took a few seconds to figure out how to slide the seat forward and then up as high as it would go. Abel could now reach the pedals and see well enough over the dash. Shoving in the heavy clutch and finding neutral was next. The massive V-10 ignited with a suitable rumble and then Abel sprayed gravel over several other upscale autos as he fishtailed out and onto the road. Archie's companion never stopped screaming, it seemed to be her only real talent.

Abel wasn't very familiar with the highways but he could read the road signs. The signs that said "Sacramento" and "Reno," and most important "East." The boy had no real concept of speed limits, he passed a CHP cruiser while doing an easy one-hundred and thirty. Once on the multi-lane Highway 80 he floored it completely. Abel had inhumanly fast reaction times and a brutally fast car, even the CHP's helicopter couldn't keep up. A roadblock on the busy interstate was out of the question. Numerous motorists dutifully moving along at only a few miles over the speed limit were passed by something loud and yellow doing at least one-hundred over the speed limit. If pressed, more than a few of them would confess to total envy.

The Viper was running on empty when Abel dove down an off ramp and into the city of Sacramento. The yellow steed was quickly left cooling and abandoned in a busy Safeway supermarket parking lot. Abel took off on foot and simply disappeared before the much sought after Viper was ever discovered. Another form of transport would be needed, the boy's back still had scars from hard learned escape and evasion training. You varied your method of travel, you never set a pattern. One day you might walk, the next day you might fly.

Abel was dressed in blue running shoes and dark gray and loose fitting pants like Sam had favored. A black T-shirt with some sort of disgusting movie monster topped off his fashion statement. It was all somewhat grubby, all very normal and it attracted no attention. Archie Hammond and his companion never had come up with a decent description of their attacker, only that he was short, very strong, and hadn't said a word.

It was a combination bus stop and light rail station that decided Abel's next method for crossing the country. The large map said that this city had a sizable airport. All he had to do to get there was to buy a transit pass at the automated kiosk.

Archie's fat wallet held a great many credit cards and two-hundred and fifty-six dollars in cash. By now Abel was not completely ignorant of finances but credit cards still were a mystery. He tossed everything but the cash into a trash can. Five dollars pushed the right way into the slot bought an all day pass on either the buses or the light rail, take your pick. Abel picked the light rail, it went directly by the airport.

Abel missed nothing on the trip to the airport, besides the main commercial terminal there was a considerable private aviation area. Could he get away with buying a commercial airline ticket? Did he have enough money? Would there be people there watching for him? Waiting for him?

Certainly there would be people watching and waiting for him.

The light rail trolley pulled into the airport stop with a red warning light signaling the motorman that a door was open or ajar. There was a door ajar, in fact it was totally out of it's guide channel. Abel had got off early.

-------------------------------------------- "What has become of him?" June Grimes was puffy-eyed but had finally come to accept the awful situation.

"I think he intends to find the people who..." John Grimes didn't want to say it. The people who had caused Sam's death.

"Then I hope he does." There was a hard and bitter tone in the woman's voice that her husband had never heard before.

--------------------------------------------- Abel spent the rest of the daylight hours under a Mazda minivan in the long term parking lot. It was very hot but he had endured far worse. Finally the sun disappeared, then it was time to move.

The boy could fly a fixed wing aircraft, several types in fact. He could get an aircraft off the ground, he could control it quite well, he could land it. It was intended that he learn instrument flying and helicopters but then the project had been cancelled. Abel could fly by simple VFR procedures, daylight procedures. Now he would have to fly at night.

First he had to find an aircraft.

The Central Valley Flying Club had six aircraft, one of them was a Piper Cherokee. The first aircraft Abel had flown was a Cherokee. The last aircraft he had mastered had been the trainer version of the F-16 Falcon. The flying club had none of the latter fighter aircraft. According to the blackboard in the club's office the Cherokee was fully fueled for a trip to Salt Lake City the next day. The Cherokee would not be going to Salt Lake City.

Abel collected the keys to the aircraft and left the office through the same hole in the wall that he had created a few minutes earlier. He knew from his training that alarm systems rarely reacted to doors that hadn't recently existed.

"Tie downs." Abel was silently reciting what he had learned.

The parking ramp was well lit but so far no one had ventured close enough to warrant the boy's attention. A quick walk around the aircraft found nothing out of order. Normally the fuel would have been checked for water contamination, the engine oil for the proper level. There was no time for any of that right now.

Abel had quickly scanned a map of the airport's layout and the surrounding area in the dim light of the club's office. Communication frequencies, proper departure headings. Now he had to remember it all exactly.

Flip the switches, set the throttle, start the engine, stand on the brakes.

"Tower, Cherokee 976 for departure. Permission to taxi?" Abel hoped he could at least take off without arousing suspicion.

"976, what is your destination?"

"Tower this is 976, no flight plan filed. Round robin to Stockton for an instrument maintenance check. ETA Sacto one hour."

Would they buy it?

"Roger 976. Hold position for FedEx heavy on final."

"976 holding."

They bought it.

------------------------------------------ Langley, Virginia "It was him. We have prints from the car."

"He stole a sports car and drove it to Sacramento?" Sarah Danforth could not believe what she was hearing.

"He outran half the cops in the state."

"And then?"

"Nothing."

"Not nothing, he's moving east."

------------------------------------------ It wasn't nearly as bad as it might have been. There was most of a full moon out and no clouds. Abel had made the proper departure and then turned west towards Stockton. Shortly after that he descended and dropped off the radar, turning again to the east. He would run low on fuel near Durango, in Colorado.

The state didn't seem to have a lot of flat places. It did have roads and in a pinch you could land on a road. Abel did a pretty good job sitting the aircraft down on the two lane road. He can be forgiven for knocking off two feet of the right wing tip on a power pole.

More transport was now needed. Abel decided to wait behind a large rock until someone came along and stopped to investigate the damaged aircraft sitting in the middle of the road. It was two in the morning and the rural road had little traffic, except for a county sheriff's cruiser.

"Now what the fuck...?" Deputy Whitehorse was now completely awake as he pulled up to the Cherokee that blocked the road. He attempted to call it in but as expected he couldn't raise anyone. Radio communication was very spotty this far out and with all of the blocking hills.

"Goddamn radio!" Whitehorse climbed out of the cruiser and started to walk toward the aircraft. Then Abel was upon him.

The boy landed hard on the man's back and flattened him face down to the pavement, the wind knocked from his lungs. Whitehorse stood over six feet tall and weighed two-fifteen. Abel handled the man like he was a child's doll, in seconds the deputy was bound with his own handcuffs, his pistol and extra clips removed. The backup ankle pistol was also taken. Through all of this Abel had said nothing, indeed the deputy hadn't even been able to get a good look at him.

As before, Abel took the man's wallet and car keys and then tapped the man's skull in the manner that Archie Hammond had felt. Driving the police car would be all right until the sun was up, then it would have to be abandoned for something less conspicuous.

With all lights flashing and the siren screaming, the deputy's vehicle could make a steady one-twenty, less on the winding sections of the roads. People pulled over and got out of the way, the rules said you were supposed to do that. Again fuel ended this leg of the trip, it was dawn when Abel dumped the now silent cruiser behind a hardware store in Pueblo. He was almost halfway to his target by now and it was time for food, rest, and sleep.

------------------------------------------- Langley, Virginia "Colorado?"

"Yes, near Durango. He stole a single engine civilian aircraft in Sacramento and landed it on a rural road east of Durango. Then he took a deputy's car and weapons, from there we've lost track again."

"And the deputy?" The Director felt like a mouse getting reports on a hungry cat.

"A mild concussion, he was well enough to cuss out our field agents."

The Director also had other problems, CBS and Fox News were refusing to let go of the story about the park shooting of Sam and the grisly deaths of the three mystery men responsible. Not to mention the eyewitnesses who insisted that another boy had literally torn apart the shooter. The latest news was that no one had come forth to claim the bodies (and pieces) of the three unidentified men.

Sam's funeral was scheduled for tomorrow at eleven, more press coverage they didn't need right now.

The FBI was also now looking for Abel.

------------------------------------------ Mildred Gage, seventy-three, was a retired school teacher and a widow. When she returned home from visiting her daughter she was not expecting her small house to be occupied.

"Take what you want, I don't have a lot." There was an iron hand on her throat, she couldn't see who the person behind her was.

"I only need some food, I will not harm you if you remain quiet."

"Yes... all right." Mildred thought the voice behind her was very strange.

"I am releasing you, remain calm."

"I will." Mildred was hard to rattle in any case, teaching school for more than forty years was responsible for that.

Abel slowly released his grip and stood back a little as the woman turned around.

"You're just a boy!" Shame on you young man, I'm going to call the police!"

She moved to the telephone but of course Abel was there first. He held out receiver to the woman and then slowly crushed it into small bits of plastic and metal. This finally did rattle the woman.

"Oh my." Was Mildred's only comment "If you would ma'am, food."

"Yes. Come with me."

Mildred had a small thawed roast in the refrigerator, fresh vegetables, milk, bread. Abel ate the entire roast raw (more nutrients that way), there was very little left of anything when he finally stopped. Abel hadn't bothered with knives and forks. Mildred had just sat in amazement as he disposed of her entire week's grocery budget.

"Thank you." Abel said as he got up from the table.

"You're welcome, I suppose. Your arms, they appear.. very strong." She had been staring at them and the boy's neck during his meal.

"I am very strong, ma'am."

"And very dirty, your clothes smell bad."

"I will leave soon, I apologize for the smell."

"Let me wash your clothes for you while you take a bath. You can trust me now."

"I cannot trust you."

"Well, I can't very well call the police, you broke my only telephone."

"Why would you do this for me? I threatened you. I broke into your home."

"I had a son once, he died when he was nine, a truck ran over him. Taking care of him was my joy in life."

"I am not your son. People are looking for me."

"What have you done? I don't even know your name."

"My name is Abel, ma'am. I am going after the people who killed my brother."

"Nonsense. Now get out of those filthy clothes and into the shower before I warm your backside!"

Abel came close to smiling as he studied the slightly dotty old lady. Perhaps he should trust this person.

"Very well, I do need to bathe."

"Fine then, empty all of the things out of your pockets, everything but your shoes goes into the wash.

"Yes, ma'am." Abel knew orders when he heard them.

Mildred wasn't so prim and proper as to avert her eyes while the boy undressed in the bathroom and Abel had never really come to understand modesty completely. It wasn't his nakedness that bothered her at all, it was the corded and rippling muscles under his tough skin that did shock her. Like everyone else she had to reach out and feel for herself what her eyes were telling her.

"My dear boy, what are you?"

"I'm a discontinued government project, ma'am." And with that Abel stepped into the old fashioned tub and shower and pulled the curtain.

The old woman finally gathered her wits enough to pick up his clothes and take them to the small laundry room at the rear of the house. All the while she was wondering just who or what was taking a shower in her bathroom. He was certainly more than just a boy.

Mildred supplied Abel with one of her flowery old bathrobes to wear while his clothes were in the old and squeaking dryer. He put it on without protest or comment and sat down with the woman in the living room. She had an ancient RCA black and white television, the sort without a remote control. She never missed the evening news and tonight was no exception.

The story of the park shooting in California was still being run extensively, a composite drawing of the boy who had fled from the park was displayed behind the talking head.

"My, that boy looks a lot like you, Abel."

"It is me, ma'am."

"But...they say that boy killed some men."

"Yes ma'am."

"That's silly!"

"Let me show you something, ma'am."

Abel got up and went to the small fireplace, there he picked up a heavy iron poker and returned with it to sit next to the now frightened woman.

"Are you going to brain me now?"

"No ma'am, I would never hurt you. Watch."

Abel bent the heavy rod double, then double again. He didn't even seem to be straining himself as he did it. Mildred's eyes grew very large.

"That is only a small demonstration of what I can do. That is why men were trying to kill me but shot my brother by mistake."

"God in Heaven," Mildred whispered, "who would do such a thing?"

"The Director of the CIA ordered it, the shooting team botched it and killed Sam."

"Sam?"

"Samuel Grimes. He was ten and he was a good person."

Mildred seemed to redden with anger, she knew about bastards who killed young boys with trucks rather than with guns.

"Where are you traveling to?"

"I'm on my way to kill the Director, perhaps a number of others if they get in my way."

The old woman just nodded her head and sat back with her eyes closed, after a while she spoke again.

"Do a proper job of it then, young man."

"Yes ma'am, I intend to."

Abel rested well that night but he was up and gone long before the old woman awoke. He left her three-hundred dollars on the kitchen table along with a note that read: "Dear Misses Gage, Thank you for your help, you are a kind lady.

This money is for the food and the broken telephone.

I also broke the lock on your back door.

Abel"

----------------------------------------------------- Abel had enough money left for a bus ticket, yet another way to travel. The town had a small depot that the boy had watched carefully from a distance for over an hour in the still dark morning. The FBI and CIA didn't have enough people to cover more than just the major transportation centers. There were no uniformed law officers in sight, only a few tired travelers who couldn't afford to fly or drive.

There was a large plastic map on one wall of the terminal that Abel went to first. Routes and the fees between cities were posted also. He had enough to get to Chicago.

"Chicago, please." Abel pushed his remaining funds across the pale green counter.

"You traveling alone?"

"Yes sir, I've been visiting my aunt here."

"Where's your bags?"

"Over there." Abel pointed in the approximate direction of the waiting area.

"Okay. Keep your bags close by you from now on, people steal things."

"Yes sir, thank you."

Abel got his ticket but the agent didn't buy his story. After the boy had settled in a corner of the waiting area where he could watch everything the agent made a quiet phone call. Another runaway in the terminal.

Following a tried and true routine the two local Pueblo police appeared at the front and rear of the waiting room at the same time. Abel didn't react immediately but was prepared for fight or flight. The two officers sauntered slowly around the area giving the waiting passengers a casual once over, it was all very routine to anyone who rides the gray dog. They finally stopped in front of the boy who was very busy reading an abandoned magazine.

"Where you headed, son?" Officer Sanchez asked.

"Chicago, sir." Abel still hadn't looked up.

"Stand up a minute." Officer Blake was a bit less pleasant.

Abel did as he was asked and decided this crowded place was a bad spot for a fight. He would go with them, for a short ways.

"Any knives or weapons, kid?"

"No sir."

"Something wrong with your throat?"

"Laryngitis, it's getting better."

The officer did a pat down anyway. Something didn't feel right about the kid, it was like searching a marble statue that was wearing clothes.

"You got some I.D.?" Sanchez asked.

"No sir."

"What's your name?"

"Fred, Fred Smith." Abel should have been a little more original than that.

"Smith, huh? Come on along with us."

"But sir, I'll miss my bus!"

"Any arguments and we arrest and cuff you." That usually scared the young ones into cooperating.

"Yes sir."

They were three blocks away from the bus station with Abel locked in the back seat of the patrol car. At least they hadn't handcuffed him, not that it would have mattered. They had stopped at a traffic signal when Abel kicked the right side passenger door out into the street. Then he was gone.

"What the fuck?" It had sounded to Sanchez like a hand grenade had gone off in the back seat. By the time they had scrambled out to see what was going on their short passenger was nowhere in sight. The patrol car door was laying on the sidewalk thirty feet away. A drunk wandering down the pre-dawn street had seen the whole thing, his comment pretty well summed it all up.

"Gaawwd--Daammnnn!"

Abel finally decided that any sort of public transportation was a bad idea. If this had been a training exercise he would be standing at punishment for poor judgment and all around stupidity.

The boy was nearing the main highway when a small van pulled over.

"Hey kid! Need a lift?"

Abel almost bolted but then decided that he could probably steal the van, it was even going east.

"Yes sir, thanks."

The van had seen far better days, the driver was worse.

"So where you headed, kid?" Hank Jarmain was sizing up his latest young prospect.

"Chicago, sir. And you?"

"Kansas City. How old are you?"

"Eleven, sir."

"You're a mighty handsome boy, you know that?"

"Uh, thank you, sir."

Hank did not have what you might call a 'normal sexual orientation.'

The man's right hand had drifted over to rest gently on Abel's crotch. Abel remembered an awkward talk that Sam's father had given them both one evening about men like this. The talk had grossed out Sam and left Abel puzzling over such odd behavior. Mister Grimes had a poor opinion of such people and that was enough for Abel to act on. In response to the man's advances Abel's left hand drifted over and smashed in the man's nose and front teeth.

Abel took over the steering duties as Hank spewed blood and tried to scream. The boy's foot on the brake then brought the dented Ford van to a rough halt. Hank wasn't belted in so it was easy to just kick him out onto the cold morning pavement.

"Thanks for the ride, sir!" Abel even waved as he drove off in a cloud of blue exhaust smoke.

Hank sat there bleeding for a good ten minutes before someone else came along, even then they didn't stop to help him.

An hour later a roadside rest area was a good place to inventory the filthy interior of the van. Twenty minutes of burrowing and tossing garbage aside netted two kilos of marijuana (Abel had been instructed about the drug trade) and nine-thousand dollars in twenty and one-hundred dollar bills. Apparently Hank was an independent businessman as well a sexual pervert.

"Geez!" Abel had used Sam's favorite expression when he unearthed the rubber band wrapped cash. Saving up this much money would have taken him a very long time.

Abel also found a stainless steel .357 magnum Ruger revolver. The one with the short barrel and the nice rubber and wood grips. There was even an almost full box of ammunition. It was the sort of thing that the boy appreciated the most.

Gassing up the clapped out van went better than expected. It was a pay-before-you-pump, self service station. Abel just dashed to the cashier's booth and pushed a hundred dollar bill under the glass. If anyone asked, his father was in the van.

"Pump four." Abel announced, he even faked a smile for the bored attendant.

"Go for it. Come back for the change." The woman was pissed off at another damned hundred note to make change for. Didn't people carry small bills anymore?

Abel did come back for the change and then paused for a few minutes to use the semi-decent men's room. On the way back to the van he loaded up on some pre-made ham sandwiches and a six pack of cola from the attached convenience store. They didn't have any steaks or sides of beef.

Back on the road and observing the speed limit signs (he had no choice, the van would hardly do seventy-five) Abel entered into Kansas. Searching his memory he tried to remember what military bases where there. Could they be of any use? There was Fort Riley. That was Army and was mostly infantry and armor. Driving an M-1 Abrams main battle tank to Virginia was not an option. He knew how to drive one of the monsters but they attracted a lot of attention. There was a large Air Force base who's name escaped him for the moment, he did know that they flew mostly large tanker aircraft and stealing one of those was beyond his limited flying skills.

And of course this state was where Dorothy and Toto lived.

"I need a faster vehicle."

Any vehicle.

There is a breed of motorcycle on the roads today known as a "crotch rocket." There are several makes, Honda, Kawasaki, et al. Abel of course knew how to ride a motorcycle, Army scouts used them quite a lot. A "crotch rocket" is generally capable of more speed than it's average owner ever has the nerve to use to the full extent. The blue and white Honda with the streamlined fairings that Abel was watching was indeed a "crotch rocket."

There was a small backpack in the jumbled van, it had probably belonged to one of Hank's previous 'passengers.' Abel stuffed it full of food, money, and firepower and then walked over to where the Honda's owner was getting ready to leave the shaded rest area.

"Hi kid, what's happening?" David Morgan was a basically a good person, a normal person. His one insanity was his mode of transportation.

"Hello, sir. I need your motorcycle."

"Say what?" David grinned at the odd looking boy, kids were always making silly jokes.

"I need your motorcycle. Please don't resist."

David did resist when he had gathered his wits enough to act. By then he had been relieved of his helmet and ignition keys and was flat on the ground. When his eyes focused and he managed to sit up there was five-thousand dollars in cash stuffed under his belt. His beloved Honda was gone.

----------------------------------------------- California Sam was laid to his rest, a mostly innocent soul free of all cares and from those damned bees. A lot of people were there to say the right words, he had few enemies and a lot of friends. Jason was there. In the boy's short coffin were two skateboards. One of the boards belonged to Sam, the other board was almost new and belonged a brother who could not be at the ceremony.

----------------------------------------------- The Honda was capable of one-sixty and change. Abel held it to one-thirty to conserve the engine. The few cops he blew by knew better than to pursue such madmen, they just radioed ahead for others to intercept the lunatic, always just a little too late. Near Wichita the over stressed motorcycle ate a valve, Abel had managed to yank in the clutch and coast to a stop before the engine totally seized up. After pushing the bike deep into a roadside corn field the ex-motorcyclist retreated even further into the green forest of corn, there was no other place to hide. After a very long hike with only the eight-foot high stalks for a view he finally found the farm house. The sky was growing dark from an approaching thunderstorm, there was a large white barn that could offer shelter. Abel could easily endure the rain and wind but dry is better than wet. Perhaps there would be something to eat in the barn, the boy was very hungry. He was always hungry.

Dorothy and Toto were nowhere in sight.

------------------------------------------------- Langley, Virginia "Kansas. Wonderful!" Sarah Danforth hadn't been eating right and it showed.

"The cops had him in custody for a few minutes in Pueblo, he had offered no resistance up until the time he kicked off the patrol car's door. Then a stolen van that had drugs in it, later a stolen motorcycle last sighted west of Wichita."

"He keeps getting closer."

"Yes, ma'am. He does."

"Stop him!"

"We are trying, ma'am."

-------------------------------------------------- Abel kept the barn between himself and the farmhouse as he made his dash across the open area. The rear door to the barn was bolted shut but not locked. The rising wind made listening difficult and he could hear no sign that anyone was inside. Abel was inside and had the door shut in an instant, there were no people or animals in the barn. There were several large farm machines and a workshop, there didn't seem to be anything to eat. The wooden frame barn was beginning to creak from the wind, the thunder was growing closer.

A stack of empty seed bags in one corner offered a bed, if there was nothing to eat then rest was always in order. As he was arranging his simple bedroom his ears detected an animal entering from the front of the barn. In a moment the dog's growl signaled that it had found an intruder.

It wasn't much of a growl and it wasn't much of a dog. Abel sat as still as a rock as the small dog approached slowly on stiff legs, ready to attack. The boy had eaten dog before during extended survival training, he now had ideas about dinner.

Abel had been ready to kill the canine meal, something stopped him, a memory. The dog was small, black, and amazingly ugly. "Toto?"

When the intruder spoke the small dog stopped it's growling and cocked it's head to one side.

"Come here, Toto." Abel called softly to the pitiful mutt.

With some hesitation the dog moved to where the new person was sitting. A lightning fast hand grabbed the animal by it's collar and pulled it close, there was a small I.D. tag on the collar. It read "Toto," there was also a phone number.

"Toto!" He had found Toto! He could never eat Toto!

For any person to remain completely sane after surviving the life that Abel had lived is highly unlikely. To the boy the old film had been reality and it still was. Was he insane? Perhaps in a way. He had been deprived of his humanity and then had it thrust back upon him. He had made a good friend and had seen that friend killed in his place. He had killed many people and he was on his way to kill more.

But for now he was in Kansas and he was holding Toto.

"Toto! You mangy fleabag! Where are you?"

Abel was snapped back into quick focus, someone on two legs had entered the barn.

"Toto! Come on, answer me! There's a storm coming!"

The boy could see the young girl now, so far she hadn't seen him. A whimper from the dog narrowed her search and then she spotted the intruder standing back in the shadows. It was a just boy, he was holding her dog.

"Who are you? Let go of Toto or I'll get my dad!"

"Dorothy?" Abel asked in his odd voice. She didn't look like Dorothy, she was shorter and blond. She had on a purple T-shirt and jeans. No dress or ruby slippers. She looked younger than Dorothy should.

"How did you know my name?" She demanded, partially scared, mostly mad.

"This is Toto." Abel explained as he looked down at the small excuse for a dog in his arms.

"Oh. My mom named him, after that stupid movie. Let him go!"

"Yes, Dorothy."

Abel sat the ugly canine gently on the ground, it hesitated a moment and then ran to the girl and then back towards Abel. Dorothy came closer to pick up her pet and then got a good look at the boy. His arms and neck....

"What's your name?"

"Abel."

"What's the matter with your arms?"

"Nothing."

She edged closer and reached out to touch him and then snatched her hand back. It was of course at this point that the tornado arrived.

---------------------------------------------- The White House Oval Office The Director of the CIA had been summoned without so much as a "Hello, how are you?" She now sat alone in the one chair that was in front of the President's desk.

"Did you order Abel killed?" The President's abrupt and to the point question caught the woman totally off guard.

"I... It was not a choice, there was no choice. He was going out of control! He threatened me!"

"Why would he do something like that?"

"We had to take some small measures, to get him to cooperate."

"Measures?"

"Just some economic pressure on his foster parents, nothing serious."

"Indeed? That isn't what John Grimes told me after he buried his son." The President pressed a small button under his desk, then another person entered the historic room.

"This is Alfred Jamison," the President explained, "he's the new Director of CIA. You're fired, get out."

The President was indeed a man of no great intellect but he wasn't a total fool.

Sarah Danforth had been cast off the sled of state. If a wolf was following that sled through the snow then there was now something to slow it's pursuit.

Sarah Danforth would have no security staff, no bodyguards. Unless she paid for them herself.

If she even stayed in the country.

Or out of jail.

------------------------------------------------ The noise of an approaching tornado has often been described as a freight train roaring into your living room. No conscious thought guided Abel as he roughly shoved the screaming girl down onto the seed sacks, only instinct caused him to cover her body as best he could with his own. Toto had the good dog sense to try and wriggle close to join them.

The barn seemed to warp and deform for an instant, then it blew apart as if filled with explosives. The multi-ton harvester and the equally massive John Deere tractor that the barn housed went airborne for a good three-hundred yards. Shattered wood, dirt, mud and a ten foot long four-by-four beam landed on Abel. The beam knocked him unconscious, it would have killed a person with a normal sort of bone structure. Dorothy only had a small cut on her ankle and would need a bath, Toto would also need a bath. Toto always seemed to need a bath.

"Dot! Dot! Answer me dammit!" Dorothy's father was clambering over the rubble, desperate to find his only child. His wife was at his side, despair had control of her. The farmhouse had been almost untouched by the tornado, a twister's path is traced by chance and God's finger, not by logic.

"Oww! Shit! Get off me!" Dorothy's muffled voice finally reached her frantic parents. Toto added his own yips to guide them to where they lay buried.

Under the rubble there was a boy on top of their daughter, the back of his head had some blood on it.

"Dot! Talk to me!" James Lindstrom lifted the limp body off of his daughter, his haste caused him to ignore the ungiving feel of the boy's flesh.

"Unh..Dad!" Dorothy found her fathers arms, then her mother's as she managed to stand up. Toto decided it was time to start barking again.

"Who is this?" James had never seen the boy before.

"A.. Abel. He said his name was Abel. I think he was just trying to get in out of the storm. He pushed me down and got on top of me when..."

"Come on, let's get you back to the house, the both of you."

The man carried the boy, his wife carried the small backpack that they had found next to him.

"Will you look at this!" The man had laid Abel on the living room couch, looking for other injuries he had pulled up the boy's muddy T-shirt.

"What is it?" Elizabeth Lindstrom was doing a similar inventory of her daughter.

"Get over here!"

She did.

"Dear Lord." The woman was looking down at something much more than just a boy. As the three of them stood staring at Abel his eyes suddenly blinked open, he was back in Kansas, no longer in Oz. Mostly.

"Lay still, son." Lindstrom had reached out to keep the strange boy from sitting up, his hand was now in a bear trap.

"Where is Toto?" Abel asked in a voice that was just a soft rumble.

"God! Let go!" The man thought his bones would snap before the pressure eased off.

"Toto?" Abel asked again as he let go of Lindstrom.

"He's right here! He's fine."

Abel did sit up then, no one dared to stop him.

"What happened?" Abel was having some trouble focusing his eyes.

"There was a tornado, it looks like something hit the back of your head pretty hard. I think you saved my daughter, thank you for that."

Abel looked around again, spotting the girl's mother.

"Are you Auntie Em?" He didn't think she was but asked anyway.

"No dear, my name is Inga. I'm Dorothy's mother. Who are you?"

"Abel, ma'am."

"Nice to meet you, Abel. I need to look at your head and maybe clean it up some and put a bandage on it."

"Yes ma'am. Thank you."

Night was falling and there was no electricity. The telephone was out also. The Lindstrom's were prepared for such things and soon a gasoline lantern was produced to inspect the boy's head.

"I don't think it needs stitches. I'll just clean it up and put some antibiotic ointment on it."

"Thank you, ma'am." Abel eyes were focusing normally now, he was thinking more clearly too.

They all kept staring at their strange house guest, remembering what was under his dirty T-shirt. Finally the man had to ask some questions.

"Your body son, what...?"

"Genetic enhancement, sir."

"Now come on. What caused those muscles? You're awful young looking to be using Steroids?"

"Genetic enhancement and amplification, sir. I was a government experiment. A military project." Abel looked directly at the man, there was no lie to be seen in the boy's eyes. It was still too incredible for the man to accept.

"Why were you in our barn?"

"It was starting to rain, I also thought there might be food there, I intended no harm to you all."

"So you've been on the road?"

"Yes sir."

"From where to where?"

"From California to Virginia, sir."

"You have people in Virginia?"

Abel just stared at the man, it made James Lindstrom feel very uneasy.

"He's hungry, James. I think we could all use some dinner after this day. Help him get cleaned up while I fix something." Inga Lindstrom made for the kitchen. The stove was propane and there would soon be a hot meal of the sort that only people of the land can seem to manage. A survey of the farm could wait for morning, they already knew that the barn and half of the corn crop was a total loss. Even their almost new pickup truck was laying on it's side.

"Come on, son. It's best to follow her orders."

"Yes, sir. I have no other clothing."

"You can borrow some of mine for tonight, we'll just roll up everything to make them fit.

When the man could see all of the boy he once more had trouble believing what he was looking at, it just wasn't normal. When Abel had finished showering and dressing in the oversized clothing there were more questions.

"You look so strong, you nearly broke my wrist downstairs. Just how strong are you really?"

"I apologize for hurting you, sir. I am very strong, I was designed that way."

"Show me."

"How sir?" It was a routine the boy had grown so very tired of.

The man looked around the large bathroom for a moment, there was an empty shaving cream can in the wastebasket.

"Here, see if you can mash it."

Abel looked at the steel can for a moment and then with one hand slowly crushed it like a tube of toothpaste. But with far less effort.

"Jesus." Lindstrom could almost believe the boy's tall tale about genetic enhancement. Maybe he did believe it.

Dinner was a roast started before the tornado hit and later salvaged to make a very good meal. You know why there were no leftovers.

"Thank you for dinner, ma'am." Abel had remembered his manners to that degree anyway.

"You're very welcome, Abel. You seemed..very hungry."

"He almost ate the silverware." Dorothy teased. She was fascinated by the strange boy who had shielded her during the storm. That and the fact that there was now an actual boy of any sort in their house.

"What is to become of you now, Abel?" Inga asked with some honest concern.

"I must be on my way to Virginia, ma'am."

"Why don't you stay with us a few days? Virginia will still be there."

"I'll put you to work," James added, "the place is a wreck. At least most of it is insured."

Some peace and quiet did appeal to Abel, perhaps he did need to pause here for a while. But no, he was a danger to these people. As he had been a danger to Sam.

"I can't stay, but thank you."

At that moment the electricity came back on. The utility crews were earning their overtime pay. It seemed to brighten the mood a little.

"Well at least now I can wash your clothes before you go!" Inga had always wanted a son, to have a boy for James and a girl for herself. There had been only the girl and now her temporary 'son' would be gone tomorrow. It brought her close to tears but she said nothing further. Neither adult had any thought about notifying the authorities, it was unspoken that the boy had enough troubles as it was.

It was becoming a habit. Abel was up and on his way before the Lindstrom's were awake. Only the faithful Toto was there to give a farewell lick to the face of the new person.

"Goodbye, Toto."

James' almost new Chevrolet pickup had been parked near the barn, it now rested almost intact on it's passenger side door. Abel paused for a moment to gently push it over onto it's wheels. He could have stolen it but somehow that didn't seem the proper thing to do.

----------------------------------------------- John Grimes violated any number of national security acts and statutes by holding a news conference about Abel. In the process he was probably ruining his FBI career but that didn't matter anymore to him. The questioning reporters were of course more than skeptical about GEA and the boy named Abel who had lived for a time with the Grimes family. They were skeptical until he showed them recent family photographs of the boy and then told them to ask the students and faculty of Plymouth Academy if they recognized Abel as the "boy with the big gun." The reporters stopped being skeptical when Grimes played a short video of Sam and Abel in swim trunks taking turns on the family pool's diving board. Video of Sam balancing on Abel's outstretched palm. Video of John Grimes doing the same thing.

Grimes then introduced Colonel Hartz. What the retired officer had to say was far more detailed and would soon result in congressional hearings.

Abel missed all of this, he was on his way to kill someone.

Chapter Six A Wolf At The Door People will often stop to give a child a ride before they will an adult. The good people will stop so that the child is with someone safe and off the road. The bad people will stop for their own reasons. A good person stopped for Abel just ten miles from the Lindstrom farm.

Patricia Anne McKinley was on her way to the Big Apple. She had a job waiting for her. She had managed to graduate from college only because of her artistic talent, she could draw the human form as easily as the average person could take a snapshot. The advertising firms were always on the lookout for such people, no computer software has ever managed to replace the human eye and hand when it came to creating good ad graphics.

"Hey kid! It's a long walk to anywhere from here!" Patricia's much used VW Golf had braked to a halt beside the boy. Abel was deciding whether or not he should run, accept the ride or just drag her out and take her car. It didn't look like a very fast car, he decided to just accept the ride.

"Thank you, ma'am," he replied as he added his small backpack to the pile of junk and baggage in the back seat.

"Ma'am? My God, a polite child! Where are you headed?"

"East, ma'am. And you?"

The VW was back on the road and getting up to speed as she answered.

"New York City, I have an actual job waiting for me, pretty good money too!" By now she was taking quick glances at the boy's arms. "You running away, or what?"

"No ma'am."

"You aren't too much for conversation, are you? Is your throat bothering you, you sound hoarse or something?"

"No ma'am, I'm fine."

"You look just like that weird kid on the news last night, the little freak with all of those muscles and stuff that they said was part of......" Patricia's voice dropped off to nothing, her passenger was looking directly at her. She had seen that look at the zoo once, it was the way the leopards stared at you. She nearly drove off the road before Abel grabbed the wheel with one hand and straightened out the car.

"Oh dear sweet Jesus, it is you," she whispered, "now I've really gone and done it!"

"Ma'am, please watch the road. I won't hurt you."

"They said..they said you were the one who killed those...at that school."

"There was a news program about me?" Abel could not imagine violating security procedures like that.

"Yes. There's been nothing else on the news since then, it's all they talk about." The woman was actually shaking.

"The road, ma'am." Abel corrected her steering again.

"Sorry. Oh crap, now what am I going to do?" She seemed to be talking to herself at this point.

"Perhaps I should just get out?"

"No...just let me think for a minute."

She did think about it, hard. After a while she pulled the car over to a wide place and stopped.

"Everyone in the world is looking for you. Do you want help, should I take you to the cops or something?"

"No ma'am, I don't want any help."

"Why?"

"My friend....my brother was killed. The Director of the CIA had ordered me killed, the bullet hit Sam instead. I'm going to kill the Director, in Virginia."

"Shit."

"Yes, ma'am. Shit."

"The President canned her, you know. There's a new Director now, they didn't say why."

This caused Abel to pause. How was he going to find his target now?

"Why did she.. why would they want you dead?"

"I told her if she caused my family any more trouble that I would come after her. I think she was afraid of me. It's all my fault for telling her that."

"So am I."

"Ma'am?"

"You scare the shit out of me too!"

"You are not my enemy, there is no need for you to be afraid of me."

"Oh. Good."

They sat in silence for a few moments before Patricia seemed to come to a decision.

"I'm still going to New York. You can come along if you want to but if we get stopped I'm going to tell them that I didn't know who you were. Okay?"

"Yes, ma'am. Thank you. I won't tell them that you knew about me."

"Okay then. Let's make tracks."

Patricia pulled back onto the road while wondering if she had lost what little sense she had ever possessed.

-------------------------------------------- Dusk brought Saint Louis into view. Patricia was damned tired of driving, Abel was having thoughts about eating the dash board. During the day's long drive it had been the woman who did ninety-nine percent of the talking. She never managed to get a smile out of the boy, at the same time she found him to be beyond fascinating. An enigma. She also alternated between wanting to just drop him off beside the road and wanting to protect the boy with her life.

"We'll get a motel room. From now on you're my little brother if anyone asks."

"Yes, ma'am."

"And stop calling me that! My name is Patricia. Call me Pat for Shitsakes!"

"Yes, Pat."

"Thank you."

After taking an exit that said "Food - Lodging" the matter of expenses came up.

"I'm doing this move on a shoestring, we'll have to settle for bedbugs and hamburgers."

"Ma'am...Pat?"

"Look for someplace cheap, I'm on a very tight budget."

"I have four-thousand dollars left, will that help?"

She almost drove off the road again.

"Say that again?"

"I have some money, four-thousand dollars. Is that enough?"

"Cripes! What did you do, rob a bank?"

"No...Pat. It belonged to a drug seller."

"Oh. Cool! Then let's look for a nice place. And the term is drug dealer."

"Ma'am...Pat?"

"Drug dealer, not drug seller."

"Thank you."

This was turning into the mother of all road trips for the young woman.

The Holiday Inn was plenty nice, there was even a steak house next door. Patricia had outfitted the boy in a Yankee's baseball cap and a pair of her more conservative sunglasses. He looked a little odd but he hadn't gone inside when the woman registered and wasn't recognized on the way to the motel room.

"The desk clerk said the place next door has take out, I'll go get dinner and we can eat it here."

"Get a lot, please." Abel again fished out his wad of bills from the backpack and handed some more of it to her "Hungry?"

"Yes." Abel's incredible strength needed a lot of fuel.

"This is way too much." She separated a hundred dollar note and gave the rest back to him. "Stay put, I'll be back."

Abel sat patiently waiting for the food, maybe not too patiently but he did wait. There was a television, perhaps there was some news about what Patricia had talked about.

The news was entirely about Abel Grimes and Sarah Danforth. The ex-CIA director had been arrested under a federal murder warrant while attempting to board a flight to Spain. The talking head said that she had been arrested at JFK airport and was now being transferred to a high security facility in Washington, D.C. Abel knew where his quarry was now, almost. The authorities were still looking for her Deputy Director and an unspecified number of others.

"I got you the biggest steak they had, some fries and a salad. Is that okay?"

It was a start. Abel did restrain himself enough to try and use the plastic knife and fork. Patricia was just getting started on her own meal when Abel finished all of his, the plastic take-out plate was spotless, the plastic 'silverware' broken. Now he was eyeing her meal, perhaps she wouldn't eat everything, the way the Grimes' had often left food on their plates.

"Good God, kid! Do you have a family of tapeworms or something?"

"No, Pat."

Patricia just sighed and pushed her smaller order across to the boy, it was like eating with a vulture sitting across the table.

"I'll be back."

"Thank you."

She came back with a duplicate of her first order, it finally filled them both up.

Maybe she could talk this pint sized Terminator out of his terrible revenge. They were sitting on the small couch when she started her pitch.

"They've arrested her, she'll probably get life in the slammer for what she ordered done! Isn't that enough?"

"Sam is dead. He didn't get life anywhere."

"If you kill that wicked witch you will be a murderer, just like her and her flunkies."

The Wicked Witch.

"I have killed before, many times." This sent a chill through the woman, he had indeed killed before.

"That was different, those were terrorists, criminals."

"And what is she?"

Patricia decided a different tack might work.

"They'll put you in jail, for a very long time. They might even kill you in the process if you fight them."

"Perhaps that might be best. You said I was a freak. I am a freak."

"I didn't mean to say that, I didn't mean it that way!" The woman put her arm around the boy, one hand on his arm. Then she pulled back, it was the first time she had actually touched Abel.

"See? I am a freak." Abel was used to the reaction that people had when first encountering his rock hard body.

"No, you're not a freak, you're a boy."

Patricia put her arm back around him, this time she didn't recoil and held him close for several minutes before speaking again.

"Sleep on it. Killing that awful hag won't bring Sam back and it will ruin your life."

"I will." Perhaps she would be quiet if he agreed with her.

"Now pick a bed. I'm exhausted and we still have to drive all the way to New York. Tomorrow we'll stop someplace and get some more clothes and stuff for you. Those muscles of yours attract a lot of attention, a shirt with sleeves of some sort will help."

"Yes, Pat. Thank you."

---------------------------------------------- The FBI had issued the most extraordinary wanted persons bulletin in it's entire history.

"...three counts of grand theft auto, three counts of assault. This juvenile is to be approached only with extreme caution. Do not attempt to detain or arrest this juvenile unless he displays a willingness to cooperate and offers no resistance. Be advised that Abel Grimes has been responsible for the death of at least twenty-three known individuals while under the control of the government, possibly more during classified military operations. Three government agents involved in the shooting of Samuel Grimes were also slain by Abel Grimes."

There were photographs of Abel. There was a great deal more than most cops ever wanted to hear about any fugitive.

The bulletin scared the wits out of law enforcement agencies from coast to coast.

--------------------------------------------- By now Abel had come to understand the more basic concepts of modesty. That evening and the next morning he had closed the bathroom door while showering and using the toilet. He still had to endure the usual "how strong are you?"

"I'm very strong."

"Show me and I'll stop pestering you."

Too quick for the young woman to follow, Abel's hand flashed out and grabbed her right wrist. He did not exert any real pressure, it was still very uncomfortable.

"Get loose."

"Damn! Not so hard!"

Abel eased off a little but did not let go.

"Sorry."

She couldn't get loose, she couldn't make his arm move even a tiny bit. She could not begin to pry his fingers loose with her free hand. After a while it was obvious that she was becoming frightened and he let her go.

"Shit. Remind me not to get you pissed at me!"

"I apologize, I didn't mean to scare you."

"That's okay. I did ask for it."

"Will we have breakfast?" Abel had sort of a one track mind where food was involved.

"Good grief! Yes, we will have breakfast. Come on, let's hit the road before I come to my senses!"

Breakfast was a MacDonald's drive-thru affair. To cover his arms Abel had on a nylon windbreaker that belonged to the woman. Most people weren't really looking for America's most wanted to be riding around Saint Louis in a dented red VW. Abel waited in the car for twenty minutes while Patricia made a quick shopping run for clothes. Most people weren't the police and only the police were looking for people from Kansas and points west.

Finally they were on the main highway, the oversized football jersey did a good job of hiding what Abel was, likewise his new aviator glasses with the silver lens' helped to hide his identity.

"What do we do if the cops stop us?" Patricia wasn't sure how to really broach this subject but it had to be talked about.

"Perhaps you can say that I forced you to help me?"

"I don't like that much. Maybe I was taking you to....where?"

"It won't matter. I'll cooperate with the police until I see a chance to run."

"And then?"

"I run. They can't stop me."

"Would you...hurt them or anything?"

"Not if I can help it."

"And if you can't help it?"

"Then I hurt them."

"Christ. Let's hope we don't get stopped. I'll drive nice and legal."

"Yes."

Abel had last been spotted in Kansas traveling east. Patricia McKinley's VW had Kansas plates and was traveling east with a young boy in the passenger seat. They would have been less conspicuous in the Goodyear blimp. The boy had been catnapping when she grabbed his arm.

"There's a cop car behind us!"

Abel was instantly awake, it was the only way he ever woke up.

"Don't turn around!" She hissed, as if the trooper might hear her.

"How many officers?"

"Just the one. He's just been sort of hanging back there."

"How fast is this vehicle?"

"Forget it, he's twice as fast."

"Pull over."

"What?"

"Pull over, I'll take his car and you can be safe. Remember, I made you help me."

"But...."

"Pull over now, before there are more of them."

"You gotta promise not to hurt him!"

"I can only promise not to kill him."

"Shit!"

She did finally slow down and pull over. What else could she do? The cop car pulled over and stopped too.

"Kid, please don't do this!"

"I'll be all right. Stay here and don't get out of the vehicle."

Abel hesitated for a second before speaking again.

"Thank you for helping me."

She gave him a hug and a kiss on his cheek, screw what the cop might think.

Ohio State Trooper Eddie Kincaid almost threw it into reverse when the boy the whole country was looking for stepped out of the VW and then took off his oversized sunglasses.

"Ohcrapohcrapohcrap!" Now what did he do? Backup was fifteen minutes away. The kid was walking toward his cruiser, he didn't really look very dangerous.

Kincaid decided on getting out and arresting the boy, how could this kid be as ferocious as the watch officer said he was?

"Abel Grimes?" Kincaid sounded much more sure of himself than he really was.

"Yes, sir." Abel was within twenty feet of the man by now.

"Will you cooperate and let me take you into custody?"

"No, sir."

Kincaid hesitated for a moment, the kid wasn't supposed to say that.

"Now just..." The trooper didn't have time to finish his words, Abel was moving too fast.

Kincaid felt like a small child being forced to do what his parents wanted. He was face down in the roadside gravel, disarmed and shackled with his own cuffs before he could form a coherent thought. His own cruiser sprayed him with more of that gravel as it accelerated out onto the interstate.

Abel waved goodbye to Patricia.

She waved back.

Trooper Kincaid started cursing nonstop.

-------------------------------------------- Metropolitan Detention Facility, Washington, D.C.

The ex-CIA Director posted her two-million dollar bail and then returned to her Georgetown home. The judge granted the bail only because of her former position with the government and because of her current heart problems. She had arranged for a private security firm to guard her house. The D.C. Police and the FBI were also keeping tabs on the home. They were all very nervous about who might possibly be coming to call. Sarah Danforth was starting to experience mild chest pains, her doctor recommended rest and quiet and a blood thinning medication.

--------------------------------------------- Wide open the full size police sedan would do an honest one-twenty-five. Abel flipped on all of the lights and the siren, he rather enjoyed doing that. Near Cincinnati the police deployed spike strips across the highway and blew out all four tires on the outlaw cruiser. Not even Abel could control the car then, it flipped and skidded on it's roof for a good three-hundred yards. Abel was out and running before it even stopped. By the time his pursuers reached the upside down vehicle the boy was nowhere in sight. A person on foot isn't supposed to be able to move that fast.

Five miles away Abel relieved twenty-two-year-old Andy Thompson of his year-old Camaro Z28. Andy wasn't really hurt and couldn't afford the payments and insurance anyway. The Camaro was very fast and Abel was two-hundred miles down the road before he was spotted again from the air. The exit ramps for Pittsburgh led to many hiding places and Abel only needed one of them, the Camaro was almost out of gas anyway.

The neighborhood where Abel left the Camaro (soon to be stolen again) was not the best part of town, indeed it was the most dangerous part of town. The boy's appearance was unremarkable except for the fact that he was a white boy in a sea of dark faces and many different languages. Once more he stood out as if illuminated with neon lights.

As always Abel was moving east when he was surrounded by six young members of a local gang. They took some exception to the white kid who was trespassing on their territory.

"What's in the bag, white ass?" The largest gang banger stood directly in Abel's way and was three times his size.

"Some money, some clothes and a gun." Abel's eyes had narrowed just a little.

"Give it over."

"Get out of my way or I will hurt you."

"Say what?" This white kid was obviously insane.

Abel decided on not arguing with them and moved forward, fast. The largest thug had his face ruined with one blow and hit the cement like the bag of shit he was. The remaining five moved in on the white kid and suffered between them a total of eleven broken bones, three concussions and twenty-one lost teeth. They had been slow and unskilled so it wasn't necessary to kill them. The fight had lasted only about twenty seconds but a lot of people had watched it occur. The police would now know who had come to visit their town.

Abel ran from the scene and kept running until he seemed to be in a better part of town. Food was now the top priority (as always) and it would be dark in a few hours. The supermarket he spotted promised faster access to nourishment than waiting in a restaurant for small portions to be prepared. He bought three large steaks, an unsliced loaf of French bread and two apples. Two large bottles of trendy spring water rounded out his shopping list.

"That'll be twenty-nine, forty-three."

Abel handed over two of his twenties, he had been grocery shopping several times with Misses Grimes and knew the routine. As the clerk was handing him his change she asked if he was a Yankee's fan.

"Ma'am?"

"Your cap."

"Oh. No, I'm not a fan. A friend gave me the cap."

"Then good for you, I hate those bums."

"Yes ma'am."

A short ways from the store Abel darted down an alley and found a dumpster to hide behind. He could eat his meal in peace there. Or mostly in peace, a scruffy brown cat had detected the smell of raw meat and proceeded to sit down directly in front of the boy.

"Go away."

"Mrrreow." (No, feed me.) "Go away!" Abel sounded very menacing this time, it didn't work.

"Meerrooww!" (Feed me, asshole!) Abel fed the hungry animal some of his raw steak. He liked the tough alley cat's attitude.

----------------------------------------- "Put me on the detail at Danforth's home, maybe I can get Abel to listen to me before he gets to her." John Grimes was making his case before the FBI Director. He was amazed that the man would even see him or that he still even had a job with the Bureau.

"How do I know that you won't kill the miserable bitch? Lord knows you have reason to."

"The thought has crossed my mind, many times. I'm not interested in saving her life, I just don't want Abel to have a murder charge facing him."

"And if it's just you standing between him and her, what will he do?"

"He won't hurt me, at worst he simply won't listen to me."

"As a federal agent you would be obligated to shoot to protect her, could you?"

"Not at Abel, never. If it comes down to that then she's as good as dead."

The Director was silent for a time, he had a report on his desk that he had been reading before Grimes showed up.

"He's in Pittsburgh, or at least he was a few hours ago."

"What happened, sir?"

"Six gang bangers decided to jump him. They're in the hospital at the present time and aren't as pretty as they used to be. About fifty people saw it happen, apparently there was a lot of cheering from the local residents after it was all over." Both the Director and Grimes had wide grins after this was revealed.

"Get on over to Georgetown, I'll square it with the AIC there."

"Yes sir, thank you."

---------------------------------------- Two days later Abel was in the nation's capitol, most of the journey had been as part of the cargo in a semi loaded with toilet paper and laundry detergent. The large cargo trailer now had a small skylight cut into it's aluminum roof. A tiny AM/FM radio and a road map had told Abel the general area where Sarah Danforth lived. A place called Georgetown.

The boy had started his search as darkness fell, silently running the quiet and elegant streets in a systematic pattern. Two hours later he spotted the security guards and the police stakeout. He also spotted John Grimes sitting in plain sight on the front steps of the house.

For more than an hour Abel sat hidden, watching the man who had tried to give him a home and who had lost his real son in the process. Why was he here? The boy wanted desperately to talk to the man, to tell him..to try and apologize for getting Sam killed. To apologize for not spotting the shooter team. For failing to carry out his assigned orders.

Perhaps it might be possible to say something to him later, after he had killed the Wicked Witch.

There was an alleyway that ran behind the two story home, two D.C police sat in a patrol car trying to stay awake. There were two more private security guards who were doing the same thing as they stood at the rear door of the home. Abel's patient observations revealed at least one more security guard inside the home as the man briefly showed himself at a window. A shadow against the curtains of an upstairs window could only be the Witch herself.

A light tapping at the rear of the patrol car snapped the two cops out of their half-sleep.

"What the hell is that?" Patrolman Harmon was looking out the rear window, there was nothing in sight.

"Dunno. Check it out." Fred Winters was his partner.

"Why me?"

"Because you're the rookie."

"Fuck!"

Harmon opened the passenger side door and moved to the rear of the car. Winters was fishing around for the coffee thermos when he heard a small thump.

"Harmon?"

His partner was nowhere in sight, now it was Winters turn to "check it out."

In the space of a minute both policemen were bound and gagged with torn strips of their own uniforms and then linked together with their handcuffs. They were unable to do more than grunt and break out in a cold sweat. The two security guards in the small back yard had heard nothing and were even less of a challenge for the boy.

The rear door of the home was of heavy oak, Abel's first kick shook the house and sounded like exactly what it was.

There was a wolf at the door. It was huffing and puffing and wanted in.

His second kick destroyed the door completely and then he was in and face to face with the last security guard.

"Get out!" Abel had easily snatched away the man's pistol, breaking two of the guard's fingers in the process.

"No problem." Al Dimsworth was no mental giant but he did know that what little he was getting paid was not enough to die for. He was out the back door in a flash.

And then Abel was facing John Grimes.

"Abel, don't do this."

"She killed Sam, the Wicked Witch killed Sam."

The Witch was finished with killing. She had been startled awake with Abel's first kick to the rear door. When his second kick shattered the door her massive coronary began and there was no helping her.

"You have a life ahead of you, please don't throw it away! Sam would be pissed at you. I will be pissed at you."

Abel moved as fast as only he was capable of. As gently as he could manage he pushed the man who would be his father aside. The Witch was upstairs, just a few yards away. Grimes was forced to follow behind Abel up the stairs. What could he do to stop this?

Even in his rage he could see that she was dead. Abel stood at the foot of the bed staring down at the thing that had driven him across the breadth of the country. The thing that had killed Sam.

Hi ho, the Witch is dead.

John Grimes could see also and moved to check for a pulse.

"She's dead. It's all over now." Grimes then pulled Abel in close to him, the boy did not resist as the man held him near. Abel said nothing, for a few moments there were quick images of Sam, Dorothy and Toto, the Wicked Witch. The man behind the curtains you weren't supposed to pay any attention to.

The street in front of Sarah Danforth's home was filling with police cars. There were numerous charges pending against the boy in the upstairs bedroom, you cannot grand theft auto and assault your way across the country without consequences.

"Come on, son. Let's get out of here."

"Yes, sir."

--------------------------------------- Chapter Seven Free John Grimes persuaded the boy to let himself be arrested. It took little persuasion actually, Abel seemed defeated, tired of running and stealing.

"Just go along with whatever they want you to do."

"Yes, sir."

"And for God's sakes don't hurt any of them!"

"No, sir. Will I be in a prison?"

"A sort of prison, just for now. Until we can get your legal problems worked out."

"I've had training about how to behave while a prisoner."

"Good. Remember that and behave yourself."

"Yes, sir." Most of Abel's POW survival training involved escape techniques.

Police Captain Alonzo Waters wasn't sure about just how to handle the situation. How do you arrest and take control of someone who could tear your head off with very little effort.

"Son, we need you to come along with us for now. Will you come peacefully and cooperate?"

"Yes sir, Mister Grimes told me to do that."

Waters was holding a pair of handcuffs, unsure if the boy would allow them to be put on.

"My people will feel better if you'll let me cuff you."

"Go ahead, sir."

"All right. Just turn around, I have to cuff your hands behind you."

Abel meekly complied. Of course the cuffs were useless, he could snap them in an instant if he wanted to.

The short walk to the patrol car was captured by a dozen news cameras, there were shouted questions that Abel ignored and didn't even understand. The police eyed him warily until he was put alone into the back seat of one of the cars.

Twenty minutes later Abel was at the same detention facility where Sarah Danforth had been briefly held. An even dozen cops escorted him inside to begin his in-processing.

"Can we take those cuffs off now?" Sergeant White was asking if Abel would behave himself.

"Yes, sir. Here they are." There were some muffled snapping sounds and then the boy handed the destroyed cuffs to the booking sergeant. He did it to make a small point.

Don't mess with me.

"God damn!" White backed up a little before accepting the ruined cuffs. Eventually he found his voice again.

"Okay... I think we all get the message. Now come along, we need to do a body search and give you a shower and new clothes. Then we take your picture and get your fingerprints. Any problems with doing any of that?"

"No, sir. Mister Grimes told me to do as you say."

"Good." White didn't know what he would do if the kid did have any problems with anything.

They went by the book. The sight of Abel in just his skin shocked even the "I've seen it all" police. It was obvious there were no weapons on the boy but he still had to bend over and let them make sure. The hot shower felt good, the orange jumpsuit was loose fitting and too large. Roll up the sleeves and pant cuffs. The cheap sneakers were also too big.

Abel dutifully held the photo card under his chin as he was photographed. He let them ink and press his fingers onto the white card.

"I'm very hungry, sir."

"It's past meal time. Breakfast is at seven in the morning."

"Yes, sir." Breakfast would be a very big disappointment.

He had been read his rights, now it was time for the questions to begin. A representative from the juvenile division would be present along with a lawyer from the prosecutor's office. John Grimes had secured the services of a very high profile and very high priced lawyer, his fee would be one-dollar. The publicity the lawyer would receive on this case would be beyond any price. Including the detectives there were seven people at the table when Abel was led in and took a seat.

------------------------------------------ Of course the fix was in, as the saying goes. Abel still frightened a very large number of people in the government, including the President. They would go through the motions but a judge would order a psychological exam that would of course find him to be insane and a danger to others. Then the product of the GEA Project could be locked away and forgotten, forever. It would take a strong cage to hold Abel but such cages can be built.

------------------------------------------ After the preliminary hearings it was indeed time for the psychiatrist to ask some questions. She did so for three days. On the last day they talked about Kansas.

"So you stayed overnight with a farm family?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Do you remember their names?"

"Yes, there was Dorothy and Toto and her parents, the Lindstrom's."

"Dorothy and Toto? From the Wizard of Oz?"

"Yes ma'am. Only Dorothy looked different, Toto was the same though."

"And then what happened?"

"There was a storm, a tornado. I was knocked out for a while, something hit my head."

"And did you wake up in Oz?"

"No ma'am. On the Lindstrom's couch."

"I see. And from there what occurred?"

"I left the next morning, to kill the witch."

The psychiatrist had been going to declare the boy insane anyway, this was all just icing on the cake.

------------------------------------------- There was never a trial, just the quick sanity hearing that rolled over even Abel's formidable lawyer. The result was preordained. It was all so very sad and that was what the media reported to the American public. And of course they dutifully believed every word of it.

John Grimes only had time for a few closely whispered words to the boy before they took him away.

"Escape. Get away from them at your first chance. They'll use drugs on you and you'll never again see the light of day."

"Yes, sir."

"Goodbye, son. Stay free. Remember that we love you."

"Goodbye, sir."

Abel pretended full cooperation and even gratitude during the first part of the ride to the facility in rural Virginia. He was shackled at the hands and feet but that was no problem. He was sitting by himself in the back seat of the middle car. When the three car procession was moving through a wooded area he made his move. First the shackles were snapped apart and removed, then the right side door was kicked off and into the roadside brush.

The car of course skidded to a smoking halt but then Able was out and into the woods before anyone could even draw a gun. He was free, he would always stay free.

------------------------------------------ Blue Lake Wilderness Area, Oregon Abel had spent the better part of a year getting to this place. He had traveled aimlessly for months at first, moving only at night while in the populated areas. He stole what he needed to survive, killed what animals he needed for food. Occasionally he would hide and watch people going about their ordinary lives, lives he could never be a part of.

He kept to his training as best he could, bathing and washing clothes at every opportunity. His hair was getting long and that bothered him a lot, he did manage to keep it trimmed away from his eyes and ears.

Memories of a few summer days spent with Sam and his family finally steered him to this quiet place deep in the forests of Oregon. He had let himself be spotted a few times lately, perhaps intentionally.

And of course one day they did come for him.

He had some professional admiration for the two-man Marine team. A normal sort of person would never have spotted them. Abel approved of their choice of weapon also, they were toting the very heavy Barrett semiautomatic .50 cal. The sniper model. The thirty-pound weapon had very good accuracy out to a mile or more, the heavy slug it fired was little affected by cross winds and brush deflection.

Abel was fond of sunning himself on the high rock that Sam couldn't climb and that is where they chose to kill him.

He knew they were there of course, across the lake in some bushes.

The warming sun was getting low, losing it's heat. It was time to stand up now.

He looked directly at the marines and waved to them.

Abel hoped that perhaps he would be with Sam afterwards, maybe they could go skateboarding or something.

Or maybe he would be with Dorothy and Toto in Oz.

He wouldn't be a freak anymore.

In any event he was at last totally and forever free.

---------------------------------------

-- Richard Allen Stotts


 
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