Rebels & Rogues Magnificent Seven Alternate Universe

Genesis

By: Ruby

 

Rating: PG-13 Language and Violence

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven is owned by Trilogy, Mirish and MGM. No money is being made. This fanfic is purely for entertainment purposes. All movies and television shows mentioned in the notes belong to their owners.

Warning: DARK story. Please, if you don't want to read a dark, violence-filled story, delete now.

AU: Open

Author's Notes: I've always loved movies like Aliens, Independence Day, and Terminator. The mini-series V and also its series. And of course the series, War of the Worlds. Anyway, I just got this idea, and I thought our guys would fit. This will be the first story in the AU, which I've named Rebels and Rogues.

Thanks to Judy for betaing this story for me. (I made a few changes after the beta, so any goofy mistakes are mine. *g*) Heather F. helped me so much with this story, and I am in her debt. Thank you, Heather! A huge thank you to Penny who has helped me immensely with this idea and thought of the title Genesis. As always, thanks to Robin for all of her encouragement. And I want to thank my Mom who always has the time to listen to my story ideas and encourages me. Love all of you!

The order of the stories: Genesis, The Collar, Consequences, What You Have To Do.

Feedback is greatly appreciated. Please let me know what you think. :)

Update: 01-15-08 When I wrote this story in 2001, I wanted it set just a few years in the future so I set it in 2005. Now that it's 2008 it looks like the story is set in the past. LOL Anyway, I changed the '2005' to The Near Future. Not a big deal, but if I make any changes I always like to explain. ;)

 

Genesis

By: Ruby

 

Part One

The Near Future - Earth

They should have been back by now. He paced back and forth across the dirty, stained linoleum floor. It was a simple recon. Get a look at the bunker, then get the hell back here. Why aren't they back yet? His mind was working a hundred miles an hour. Images of his friends, dead, or worse, held captive by the Rogue, kept playing through his tired mind.

Finally, he sat down, leaning back in his chair to stare at the bare bulb above him that flickered in its socket, bathing the small, dank office in eerie shadows and soft half-light. Somewhere off in the distance he could hear a child crying. Someone trying to soothe it. Coughing. Nathan's soft, gentle voice. A dog barking. The child still crying. It sounded like one of the Potter children.

"Errg." He grunted out, looking away from the light while rubbing his eyes, trying to make the white spots go away. He shook his head. They should be back by now! He wasn't worried, though. They knew what they were doing. But this was Tanner and Standish - the two that could find trouble anywhere. Buck was with them, he had to remind himself. Buck Wilmington was his oldest friend, and he would keep those two out of trouble, unless there were any women around. He hung his head, while letting out a loud groan. Buck would *never* change.

Where were they?

Glancing at the small clock, he noticed that only a few minutes had passed since the last time he'd checked. "Get a grip, Larabee, you're starting to sound like a worried mother." He shook his head, grimacing at the thought, his mind instantly going to Sarah.

"Sarah," he moaned. "Christ, I miss you. You and Adam." Running his hand down his face, he swallowed. Looking down at his ring finger, he spoke again. "A lot's happened since you," he gulped, his hands unconsciously making fists, "since you... were killed."

He didn't really care about the fact that he was sitting alone talking to himself. If anyone heard him, who would mention it? Hell, half the people around him thought he was insane, and the other half, well, they seemed to be scared shitless of him. Anyway, after the shit he'd seen the last three years, sitting and talking to your dead wife seemed perfectly normal.

"It's been three years, Sarah. Three years, two months, fourteen days, five hours," he looked at the clock, "seventeen minutes." He shook his head, frowning. "It's not like I could forget. Forget that day. That day when 'they' came. Those fuckers!" He hissed.

He remembered that morning. Adam had come running into the den, yelling something about the 'thing' in the sky. Chris just figured it was an airplane, his son loved them, so he went back to his paperwork. His job sure had a lot of stinking paperwork. Wanting to get some of it done before he got to work, and knowing he'd need to leave early to miss the Indianapolis morning traffic, he tried to ignore his hyper six-year-old. Hopefully, Sarah would come out and take care of him. It was hard to work with all of that racket.

He heard a loud noise and suddenly Adam started screaming. Chris jumped up out of his chair, knocking it backwards. Running to the door, he saw his son standing in front of the window, staring wide eyed out into the street. His face was a pure mask of terror and Chris's heart stopped. He ran to him, grabbing him up in his arms, then looked out the window. His mouth dropped open.

There was a ship, a *space*ship, in the sky. It looked, hell, it looked like something out of a movie. But it was there, and holy shit, it was firing at the ground. Buildings were exploding. One of the tall buildings downtown started crumbling. The explosions were getting closer.

"Sarah!" he screamed, while tucking Adam's face into his chest and running towards his bedroom. Sarah was there, staring out the window. She looked at him, shocked. She ran to him and they took off, but they didn't make it very far. Suddenly the house was moving, things were falling, he heard the explosion and he tried to get Adam to the ground safely. He could smell smoke and hear Sarah yelling, then another explosion hit and everything went black.

He'd woken up a short while later. He looked around frantically, finally spotting a mop of dark hair to his right. He tried to get up, but his head was bleeding and he was so dizzy. He crawled over to the body. It was Sarah. Her head was a mass of blood and hair and her eyes were open, unseeing. Chris sobbed, grabbing her and cradling her to his chest, crying. He heard a moan. Adam! He saw his son under some rubble and he quickly got over to him, trying to get the plaster and blocks off of him. After a few minutes, he finally got his son uncovered and he saw that he was also bleeding. He had a cut on his head and blood on his chest.

"Mama?"

"Shhh." Chris wiped the tears off Adam's bloody face. "Your mama's fine," he lied to his son.

"I'm tired, daddy."

"I know, son." He sobbed.

Then, his little boy just stopped breathing.

"Noooo!" he screamed, starting mouth to mouth, frantically trying to get air into Adam's lungs. The boy's chest was covered in blood now. But his son wouldn't start to breathe again. Chris yelled, shaking Adam's small body, finally grabbing him up and holding him up against his heart.

Noise in the distance got his attention and he glanced up to see a smaller ship headed his way. They were shooting anything that moved and he knew he had to get out of there. He kissed Adam one more time and then went to Sarah's body. Pulling the wedding ring off her finger, he kissed her for the last time before putting the ring in his pocket and opening up the basement door.

He hid until dark, then took off. Carnage met him at every turn. He found a few more survivors and they went underground, trying to figure out what had happened. A black and white television was hooked up to a generator and they got a local station. The reporter was talking about widespread pandemonium. They were calling the things, 'The Rogue,' for the lack of a better term, and they still weren't sure what they were.

Now, Chris liked to think of them as those 'slimy-skinned, bug-eyed, big-teethed sons of bitches.' They usually walked on two legs, but could run faster on four. They had large, ugly, dog shaped heads, with big black eyes and huge mouths that were full of tons of razor sharp teeth. Their back legs were jointed like a dogs, and they were spookier than shit when they stood. Their skin was black with lighter grayish-green spots. There was one thing that everyone was sure of, and it was, without a doubt, that they were mean, nasty fuckers that only wanted our planet and didn't give a rat's ass what we thought about it.

From what the reporter had said, it looked like all of the major cities had been destroyed. The president had attempted to talk with them, but D.C. was immediately blown up, everyone killed. It was obvious that the Rogue only had one thing in mind. Killing all of the humans. Days went by before they heard anything else. The same reporter came back on, her face was a mess and her clothes were torn. She had some kind of collar on her neck. She spoke in a calm, collected voice. She told them that any survivors should go to the nearest 'bunker,' which were small buildings that the Rogue had set up. She told them that the survivors would be taken care of if they went - fed, watered, their wounds looked after.

The next day thousands of people showed up at these bunkers. They were quickly rounded up and taken to camps. The Rogue must have figured out that they could use humans, because now, instead of just slaughtering everyone, they were keeping people, obviously for later use. It wasn't long before humans found out what that 'later use' was.

The Rogue were using people as food, fuel.

It was just a rumor at first. A rumor that Chris didn't want to believe, but soon he found out that it was true. For the first time, he was glad that Sarah and Adam had died quickly, instead of being rounded up and kept like that - to be eaten by the Rogue.

A few scientists, engineers, doctors, computer experts, people that the Rogue thought could help them assimilate to life on the Earth, were kept out of the camps. These people were put into 'control collars.' Small high-tech looking metal collars that were put around their necks, and then locked. They couldn't get out of them, and somehow the Rogue could control their minds with them. But at least they weren't getting eaten, Chris thought. But he wasn't sure how great it was to be held against your will, though he'd heard that the 'collars,' as they called them, didn't have any memory of life outside the collar and just did the Rogue's dirty work without complaint, or knowledge that they were being used. He couldn't decide which was worse. Well, actually, he could.

Vin had once told him that he and a friend of his had seen one of those things eat. The sharpshooter's face had gone pale just in the telling. Tanner and his friend had been shackled and were next in line at the time, so they didn't have much choice but *to* watch. The Rogue liked their human prey alive when they were devoured and - well, he'd said that it was a terrifying, gut-wrenching sight to say the least. Vin escaped, somehow. Chris still wasn't too sure about the story, and the bounty hunter wasn't very willing to give details. Chris did know that Vin's friend had died in the escape, and Vin definitely felt responsible.

He'd met Vin about six months ago. They'd both worked their way south to Tennessee. Tanner was a bounty hunter, and had been a sharpshooter in the Marines. The wiry young man instantly won Chris's trust.

During the first two and a half years of the Rogue's occupation, Chris had moved around, trying not to make any bonds with the survivors he came across. He worked hard at basically trying to stay alive, find food, not get killed. He wanted to get his revenge on the Rogue for Sarah and Adam's deaths, but he was smart enough to know that one man's efforts would be futile, suicidal. Sometimes, during those bleak, cold years, he'd thought that the 'suicidal' part sounded pretty good. But then, he'd see Sarah's smiling face and he'd shake the dark thoughts away, knowing that Sarah would never respect him if he took that route. And, dead or not, his wife's respect was still one of the most important things in Chris's life.

So he kept moving, staying underground, flitting into and out of survivor camps. Basically, all of the people he'd met only wanted to try and stay alive, none of them wanted to actually *fight* those monsters that took over their planet. Chris couldn't find any allies in his plans to wreak havoc on the Rogue.

That was until he'd met Tanner.

Chris had been standing outside a bunker, somewhere around Memphis. He'd heard that they had humans in there. They were packing them up, getting ready to take them to the mother ship, where he assumed, since they weren't in camps, that they'd be 'collared.' He heard screaming, someone yelling out in pain, and he decided that it was a good time to stand up to these fuckers, one man or not.

He figured it was a good time to die.

He pulled his weapon out, a good ole fashioned shotgun, and took a deep breath, readying his mind for what was to come. Glancing up, he noticed movement from beside a box on the other side of the bunker's opening. There was a man crouching there, a young man. Chris's green eyes met the young man's blue ones in the dim light coming from the door. The man tilted his head towards the bunker while still looking at Chris; understanding that Chris was a friend, and trust, flitted through those large blue eyes. The young man nodded once towards him and Chris nodded back. There was an immediate bond between the two and they tacitly decided to go in. They stormed through the barrack doors to find two of the Rogue fighting with a tall, black man. They were trying to get him in shackles, one of them holding a collar. Chris and Vin fought them with everything they had, finally freeing the man in the Rogue's grasp and the rest of the men in the bunker and then making a run for it.

Most of the men split up, hoping the Rogue would have a harder time tracking them. Chris and Vin stayed together, with the black man not far behind. They found a good hiding place for the night and introductions were made. They found out that the black man's name was Nathan Jackson and he was a doctor. Vin introduced himself, but didn't give much information, except that he was originally from Texas. It wasn't until later that Chris had found out that he was an ex-Marine and a bounty hunter.

The three men stuck together and made their way farther south, with the intention of heading across Texas to New Mexico or Arizona. They met Josiah Sanchez, a missionary's son, in Mississippi. The huge man had a temper, but he was a wonderful asset to their fledgling group. He and Nathan quickly became good friends.

Chris found Buck Wilmington in Louisiana. He hadn't seen his old friend in years. He'd been on a business trip to the South when the Rogue came, and Chris was sure that he'd never see him again. Buck cried when he'd told him about Sarah and Adam. Buck had always had a good heart. Chris figured it came from living on the streets as a child with his prostitute mother. The tall, mustached man had a heart of gold, but Chris knew that he wasn't one to be messed with.

They were five strong now. Five men, all with the same mission - fight the Rogue.

They met Standish on the border of Texas and Louisiana. Nathan immediately took a dislike to the Southerner. Standish was originally from Charleston, South Carolina, and was also making his way West. Chris couldn't read the enigmatic young man.

Standish had told them that he'd been working at the casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi when the Rogue came, but was very vague about where he'd been and what he'd been doing for the years since then. Chris wasn't sure if he could trust him, and that was the one thing he absolutely didn't need - someone he couldn't trust.

Standish seemed to know a lot about the Rogue. Too much, really. This seemed to make the distrust grow even more between the young gambler and the rest of the men. But, Chris thought that they could use Standish's knowledge of the Rogue.

The six men headed across Texas where they met Nettie Wells and her young niece, Casey. The two of them joined the group and soon they picked up Mrs. Potter, a recent widow, and her two children. A few more men, women and children joined them before they reached New Mexico. There they found an old underground government barracks. It would suit their needs. They could stay there, it wasn't huge but it had beds and showers, and a few offices. Chris quickly took one of the offices over for himself while Nathan took the other larger one, making it into a sort of medical examining room, a small hospital of sorts. They fixed the place up the best they could with their limited resources. During the night, the men would go out, finding weapons, food, anything that would help them in their fight against the Rogue.

Chris was adamantly against the women and children staying with them at first. Nathan and Buck had talked to him, telling him that they would be safer with them, than on their own. Chris still balked, until Vin had come and talked with him. Vin, in just a few well worded sentences, had convinced Chris that they were giving those people the best chance they would get for surviving the Rogue. On one of their late night trips, Vin had found two more children, both of them had been wandering the streets, alone, without food or water. Nathan wasn't sure they would make it, but with a lot of care, they finally came around.

And so, their ragtag group of survivors grew. And Chris's responsibility grew with it. He wasn't sure when he became the unofficial leader of the group, but for some reason, everyone seemed to look up to him. Even Ezra, who didn't seem to have any respect for anyone, especially Ezra Standish.

Late one night, the men, on a scouting trip, had run into a Rogue detachment. Ezra had ran, leaving the group and taking off on his own. Chris and the others had been rounded up and then, right before the inevitable was to happen, Standish came back, weapon in hand. The southerner took out the Rogues and got Chris and the others free.

"Don't ever run out on me again!" Chris had hissed at the Southerner, before throwing him up against the wall. "One more stunt like that, and I'll kill you myself."

"Promise?" Ezra asked, in a perfectly serious voice.

Chris stared at him for a long moment, before slamming him against the wall again and storming out.

Since then, the whole group of them had pretty much made a home out of the cold, dank underground facility. Chris avoided spending any time with the children, they reminded him too much of Adam. He spent more of his time by himself, or with Vin, trying to figure out what their plan of action against the Rogue would be.

The small Potter boy had taken to calling the six men, 'The Rebels,' and for some reason, Chris felt good about the name - the idea behind it. He knew that it held an even more special meaning for the young Southern gambler, and Chris thought it might be a good thing for the group to at least be calling themselves something, so, 'The Rebels,' they became. Of course, Vin couldn't pass up any chance at calling Ezra, 'Johnny Reb,' but Standish would just infuriate the young Texan when he'd only beam with some inner pride, not making any dire comments back to him.

Chris had sent Tanner, Standish and Wilmington out to check on the closest Rogue bunker. He was pretty close to having a good plan for taking some of the bastards out, but needed a good look at their high-tech computer system before making the final adjustments to the plan.

Chris and Vin had toyed with the idea of grabbing one of the 'collared' computer jockeys at one of the Rogue bunkers. Chris had taken the idea to Nathan, asking him what he thought the chances were of converting one. Ezra had walked into the room while Chris was asking the question, and had immediately shaken his head.

"Slim to none, Mr. Larabee," the Southerner drawled. "Even if you can get the collar removed from the victim, some of them will still fight you. You have to understand, these people have basically been brainwashed into thinking that the Rogue are the good guys and we are the bad. They are very loyal to the Rogue. They don't have a choice; the collar tells them how to feel, what to do. First, you would have to make sure you removed the small tracking device in the collar. Then, you would need to try to remove the collar itself. I assure you, the Rogue do not want their workers used against them, and I understand that if there is even an attempt to remove the collar, a contingency plan will be placed into effect."

"What's the contingency plan, Ezra?" Nathan asked.

"Well, the rumors tell of many, though, I'm not positive which ones are correct. One says that the collar will start to tighten around the person's neck, slowly strangling them until they are dead." Ezra's eyes were hard, his voice gravely serious. "And another talks of a type of syringe that is built inside the collar. The victim is injected with some sort of chemical." A noticeable shiver ran down the gambler's spine and he quickly looked down, his eyes clouding over. His brow had darkened and his hands shook. The gambler was obviously upset and the two men wondered if it was more than a rumor and Ezra was talking from a witness's perspective. It would sure bring up more questions about how he knew so much, and what position he must have been in to gain all of his knowledge. The two men could only wait him out, hoping he would shake himself out of it.

Finally, Ezra seemed to come back to himself. He looked back up at them, his face unreadable, his voice steady. "Even if you could somehow bypass that course of action, the people have been in these collars for years, I'm not sure that their bodies would adapt back to life without the collar's needs."

"Withdrawal." Nathan sighed. "I can see that happening. Besides, I wonder if their hearts wouldn't just give out from the stress. It's a risk, Chris. A real risk. I just don't know what to tell you."

"Well, shit," Chris sighed, shaking his head. "So much for that plan."

"Can *you* remove the collar, Ezra?" Nathan asked, while studying the Southerner's face.

Ezra ran his tongue over his bottom lip, glancing down. "I have yet to perfect that feat." He looked back up, his eyes challenging Nathan to start to interrogate him again about his vast amount of Rogue knowledge. Ezra glanced at Chris, then back to Nathan. "Though, I am positive I can render the tracking device useless."

Chris nodded his head, still thinking about this information. A few days later, he'd sent Ezra, Vin and Buck out, just to take a look at the bunker, just to give him a basic layout of the place. They weren't supposed to *do* anything, so why in the hell weren't they back yet?

"Chris!"

He jerked his head up as he was instantly pulled out of his thoughts. Buck was standing in the doorway to his office, looking at him strangely.

"Hey, buddy, you home?" His tall friend asked, his eyes twinkling. "We're back, and we've got a present for you." Buck smiled mischievously.

Chris raised his eyebrows. "What is it?"

"Well we got ya an inside look at one of the Rogue's computer systems." Buck smiled.

"How in the hell did you do that?" Chris asked. "What is it?"

"Well," Buck grinned, "he's about 5'7 and pissed as hell."

 

 

Part Two

Chris cocked his head, frowning. Slowly standing up from his chair, he walked over to sit on the corner of his desk, his eyebrows raised. "I thought I said 'just take a look around?' " His face wore a disapproving look, but the corner of his mouth turned up in a ghost of a smile.

"Well," Buck smiled, "you were wanting a Collar, and," he smirked, smoothing his mustache with his thumb and forefinger, "we just happened to run into one." He raised one eyebrow, grinning.

Wilmington smiled, but Chris could see a weariness in his oldest friend's eyes, like he'd just been through an ordeal, was upset and was trying to put up a jovial front. Chris stood, stepping towards Buck.

Wilmington reached out and clapped Chris on the shoulder. "Come on, pard. There's a Collar out there with your name on it." He grinned, but it was just a pale glimpse of his normal smile.

Walking side by side, Chris glanced over, trying to get a look at his friend's face. But Buck was looking away.

Stepping out of his office door, Chris and Buck walked directly into the large main room of the barracks. A small kitchen was situated next to Chris's office, its door also coming off of the main room. A few tables with chairs took up the corner of the area, and the rest was open. They used the room when they had meetings, or needed to get some training done. The kids played ball there too, ran around, got some exercise. There was no false ceiling, and the steel rafters could be seen.

The hallway that ran from the main room eventually turned into a tunnel that led to the remains of a city, a half a mile away. Sleeping rooms were situated on both sides of the hallway. Some of the doors were gone from the rooms and the children had made a sort of playroom out of one of them. The office that made up Nathan's Med room was on one side of the hallway, across from a few of the sleeping rooms.

On the south wall of the main room, they had found a storeroom containing some supplies - outdated medical equipment, uniforms - fatigues, basic supplies any government department would use. Chris and Vin had tried to figure out what this underground facility had been used for, but they just weren't positive. Neither of them had ever heard of it before, though, so they joked about it being one of those 'secret government projects.' They were glad that the water supply and electricity were still working; they weren't sure how, but decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Vin and Ezra stood in the middle of the room. Vin's arms were crossed in front of him. Ezra was rubbing the side of his head. Even from across the room, Chris could see the large bruise that covered the right side of the gambler's face.

Nathan and Josiah were striding across the room, towards the men in the center. Nathan's face was serious, his mouth drawn into a hard, straight line. He glared at Vin and Ezra, then looked over at Chris and Buck. The look he sent Buck could have frozen the ladies man's blood, if he'd seen it. Chris shivered, looking over at Buck to gauge his response. But Buck hadn't seen the look; his gaze was fixed on the Collar, who was on his knees in the center of the room, his hands shackled behind his back. His head was down, shaggy black bangs covering his eyes. His hair was long enough to almost cover up the collar, but Chris could still see the small lights that blinked on and off. From his size, Chris figured that he was just a kid.

"Shit," Larabee sighed, looking down, shaking his head.

Soon, all six men were standing around the boy, whose eyes were still on the floor.

Chris noticed that his men weren't sporting any new holes. Ezra's black eye seemed to be the worst of their injuries, at least from *this* encounter. They didn't know very much about the Rogue, but they had gained a little bit of knowledge about the weapons that they seemed to use the most. They had different settings, would cause different degrees of injuries. They would either knock you on your ass and you'd wake up with a scorch mark, a sore body and one hell of a headache, or they'd blow a hole right through you. Even the holes they made had different sizes. If you got hit by one, you'd could come away from the encounter with a hole the size of your little finger, the size of a bullet hole, or you wouldn't come away from the encounter at all, you'd have half your body blown off. There was no rhyme or reason with anything the Rogue did, or at least Chris hadn't figured it out yet. They were viscous bastards.

Chris nodded to Ezra, his eyebrows raised in question. With his index finger, he pointed at his cheek.

Ezra smirked, rubbing his face, "Our newly acquired Collar packs quite a punch."

Chris nodded once, then glanced towards Nathan who was watching the kid on the floor with a critical eye. The black doctor looked up at Ezra, his eyes hard as flint. "Standish, I thought you said that you couldn't remove the collar? Did you bring us this kid just so we would have to execute him?" he asked with contempt in his voice.

"Actually, it was not my idea *to* take the kid," Standish answered, glancing at Vin, then back at Nathan.

Vin looked down, then over at Chris. Sighing, he looked back at Nathan. "I think it's worth the risk," he stated sadly, but his face was determined. "The information this kid has could break the Rogue. We need to give those bastards a fight, and this kid's our ticket." Hard lines were drawn on his forehead and around his mouth.

Nathan closed his eyes. Shaking his head, he looked down, thinking.

Chris stepped forward, coming to stand a few inches in front of the young man on the floor. "What is he, fifteen, sixteen, maybe? He's just a boy. There's no need to kill him, we'll get someon-" he stopped speaking, withdrawing into himself. 'Someone older,' he'd been about to say. 'Someone older that isn't a boy. That doesn't remind me of Adam.' He swallowed, watching the tremors that shook the kid's shoulders. 'This is a war,' he thought. 'We need to start fighting for our side. We need to try to at least get some punches in.' Shaking his head, he looked down sadly at the young man whose head was bowed like he was awaiting the blow from the executioner's sword. "Damn," he hissed under his breath.

Larabee looked over to see Nathan, Josiah, Vin and Ezra, their heads together, obviously deep in conversation. 'Figuring out a way to try and get this damn collar off without the kid losing his life.' He guessed. Ezra was emphatically shaking his head 'no,' his hands in the air waving towards the kid, his face red. Vin was in his face, telling him something that seemed to upset Ezra even more. Josiah's head was bowed, and Nathan was sneaking sad glances at the boy.

Wilmington stood off by himself, watching the young man with a concerned eye. Chris walked over to him. Standing beside him, he finally got a good look at his oldest friend. Buck's face was too pale, his body sagging with a heavy weight.

Buck glanced over at Chris, then back to the boy. "He tried to kill himself," he stated evenly.

Chris looked over at him sharply. His eyes asking the question.

Buck ran his hand down his face, glancing at Chris. "Yeah. When we got there, this kid, and another, older kid, were both at the computer console. They were discussing something, totally oblivious to us. We were gonna watch for a second, then sneak back out," he paused, glancing at Vin then back, "but, there weren't any Rogue around, and it was probably the best chance we'd ever get." He swallowed, "We walked up there, guns drawn. Vin, in his quiet, steady drawl, says, 'don't make any moves,' and before we could even think about doing anything, the older of the two was wheeling around, staring wide-eyed at us," Buck gestured in the direction of the kid, "this one was two steps behind him. They both looked scared out of their minds, like we were monsters or something." Shaking his head, he shivered. "You should have seen the looks on their faces. They we're shaking. And then Vin says, 'come along peaceful, now.' And WHAM! Before we knew it, the older one reached up and slapped the side of his collar. His body instantly started to convulse. He dropped to the floor, his back arched up, eyes bugged out, face filled with agony. We just stared at him. We couldn't do anything to stop him. Soon, his body just stopped moving, but his face stayed like that, his eyes open wide - glassy, froth coming from his mouth, he made a couple more sounds, then laid quietly on the floor, his body finally relaxing."

Chris watched Buck as he told the story. The ladies man's face was ashen, a sheen of sweat covering it. He was watching the kid, who was still in the exact same position he had been the whole time now.

Buck shuddered, taking in a deep breath, "We were all just staring at him. It happened so fast, but so damn slow." He frowned, watching the kid. "Then we looked at this kid, who was staring at the body on the ground in absolute horror." Buck looked at him, his face drawn, "Chris, I ain't never seen no one that scared. The kid walked over to his friend, leaned down and touched him, like he was checking to see if he were real or something. Then, he looked up at us and then back at his friend. Vin's next to me, and Ezra's over on the other side of the kid, watching him intently. Vin stepped toward the boy, hands out, and says, 'easy, kid, we ain't gonna hurt you.' "

"The kid looks up at us, his face full of fear and," Buck gulped, "then, with this sort of sad, determined, look on his face, he reaches up slowly, his hand inches from his own collar and the button that's on it." Buck shook his head hard. "Ezra runs at the kid, tackling him to the ground, pulling his arm away from that collar, bending his hand up and away from his body 'till we hear it break." He looked at Chris, then to the kid, "the boy fought him, trying to get his hand out of Ezra's grasp, trying to reach for that fatal button. With his knee, he knocked Ezra in the head, sending him rolling off of him. Vin and I grabbed him, Vin was trying to get his hands behind his back, and I was just trying to keep him still. Suddenly the boy goes limp, like all of the sudden he's a rag doll, and he just dropped to the ground. We looked up, and Ezra's standing there, holding that small, black, weighted metal club he keeps up his sleeve in that holster thing. He's whacked the kid hard on the side of the head and he was out cold."

Chris nodded, knowing that Ezra was deadly with that small, homemade weapon.

Buck kept going, "Vin rolled the kid off of him. I got his hands back behind his back and Vin slipped the shackles on him, then we hightailed it out of there." He rubbed his cheek, sniffing. "Kid's gonna try it again if we let 'im loose, I'm sure of it. We got to be careful, Chris, those damn Rogues don't leave nothin' to chance."

Nodding, Chris squeezed Buck's shoulder, glancing over at the four men who were still deep in conversation. Chris looked back down at the kid, then at Buck.

Stepping forward, Chris came to stand in front of the boy, but the kid still wouldn't look up at him. Chris reached down, and with his index finger, gently eased the boy's chin up. Defiant hazel eyes, filled with hate and venom, seared him, and he could definitely see how the kid had caused so much trouble. There was blood on the side of his face; a jagged cut ran from his temple into his hairline. Blood had dried under his nose, giving the impression that he had a tiny mustache there. His face was pale with two bright fever spots on his cheeks. He snarled at Chris, his body tense and muscles rigid. His shoulders were heaving and his breath was coming in short, harsh huffs. 'Yep,' Chris grinned, '*pissed* sure is the right word.'

"You all right, kid?" Chris asked.

The kid glared at him, his lip turned up in a vehement sneer. "Dunne," the boy spoke calmly. "D-U-N-N-E," he spelled it out. "John. Number Zero-Seven-Eight-Nine-Four-One." His eyes narrowed. "And that's *all* the information yer gonna get out of me. I don't care *what* you do to me." He spat out, teeth gritted together, his body trembling with rage - and a little bit of fear, Chris thought.

Chris glanced over at Nathan and was unprepared when, with a loud, enraged yell, the kid burst from the floor, slamming into him with his shoulder and knocking him back and onto the ground.

Kicking and screaming, the kid fought the hands that immediately grabbed him. Vin and Ezra were pulling him off of Chris by his bound arms and they all heard the loud screech of pain the kid let out. Still, he kicked, and when they got too close, bit at them.

Nathan pulled a syringe out of his shirt pocket, readying it. The kid saw the needle and immediately started to fight harder, yelling, screaming out in pain and fear, his body tensing up, starting to convulse.

"Christ!" Nathan yelled, as the boy's eyes rolled back in his head, his body going limp and dropping to the ground. Buck caught the kid's head before it hit the hard cement, cradling it in his cupped hands. Nathan was beside the kid, one finger on his throat, his head close to the boy's mouth. "He's not breathing, and I can't find a pulse," he said frantically, his hands immediately going to the kid's chest, starting compressions. He started mouth to mouth. Josiah, after quickly unlocking the kid's manacles, joined him to do it two-man style. Chris stepped back, his mind going back to another dying kid - another boy who had just stopped breathing. He blanched, and he could feel the blood rushing from his face and suddenly someone was holding onto his arm, steadying him. He could hear the two men's voices as they counted out reps.

Time stood still as the men watched the morbid scene in front of them.

Suddenly, it was quiet, and then he heard Nathan yell, "Got a pulse!" Chris swayed, the grasp on his arm tightening. Nathan was listening for breath sounds, and then he looked up, a wide smile on his face. "Got 'im back," he stated, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand.

"Let's get 'im up and get 'im in the Med room," Nathan barked, from his position beside the boy. "Buck, go grab me a board."

The doctor glanced up, and after seeing Chris's ashen face and trembling body, was immediately on his feet in front of Larabee. "Chris?" Nathan asked, grabbing the older man's face in his hands, and peering into his eyes. "Vin, grab him a chair," he ordered, while still watching Chris.

Vin pushed a chair behind Larabee's knees and the man sat down hard, Nathan squatting in front of him.

"Chris?" Nate asked again, snapping his fingers, trying to get his attention.

Larabee slowly blinked, his eyes coming into focus. He looked at Nathan, "What?" he asked. "What's going on?" He started to stand, but the doctor pushed him back down.

Jackson was taking his pulse, checking his breathing, "Just take it easy, Chris. We're gonna get the boy into the Med room, why don't you come on in there too."

"I don't nee-"

"Listen, Larabee, I just had a kid have a heart attack. I don't need any shit from you right now too. Get your ass in there and up on one of those tables. We'll have the boy in there in a sec." His voice was in no nonsense mode and his eyes were hard. "Vin, get 'im in there!" He barked.

Tanner stepped forward, grabbing Chris by the arm, pulling him up.

Chris glared at his friend, but allowed himself to be led away. He looked back, taking another look at the boy's body on the floor. Josiah and Nathan were slipping a backboard under him. The kid's face had a gray death hue to it, and if Nathan hadn't have told him that he was alive, Chris would have been sure that it was a corpse he was looking at. But Nathan wouldn't lie to him. The kid was alive. Now, Chris just had to make sure that he stayed that way.

 

 
Part Three

In the Med room, Nathan and Josiah got the young man situated in a bed, watching him carefully. After setting the broken wrist, and quickly casting it, Nathan gave the boy a long and thorough exam. Nate cleaned and stitched the bad cut on his forehead; the kid never woke up during the process.

Chris hadn't stayed long. He fought with Nathan, saying he was fine, and he'd just go to his office for a while, try to relax. Nathan didn't want to argue with him, it was futile anyway, so he let him go. Tanner and Larabee left, Vin nodding his head at Nathan, tacitly letting him know that he'd watch out for their leader. Walking out of the Med room, Vin told Chris how, after getting the kid out of the Rogue bunker, Ezra had quickly disengaged the tracking device. Vin knew that he didn't really need to *tell* Chris that information. Chris trusted that they would have taken care of it.

As soon as he was certain that the kid was in no immediate danger, Nathan gently strapped the boy's arms and legs down to the bed. Chris had filled them in about the button on the kid's collar and Nathan didn't want the kid waking up and trying to kill himself again.

Shaking his head, Nate glanced over at Josiah who had sat himself down in the chair next to the boy's bed. The big man's gaze was on the white bandage that covered the top part of the kid's bruised face. They both glanced up when they heard the door open. Wilmington slipped inside, quietly closing the door behind him.

His face was pale, and Nathan saw him swallow hard, looking around the room, sending his glance anywhere but at the young man lying motionless in the bed.

He walked over to stand next to Josiah, his head bowed, staring at the ground.

"Buck," Nathan greeted him.

"Nate," Wilmington responded, glancing up, then quickly looking back down again.

Nathan busied himself around the kid's bed. Not entirely ready yet to leave the boy's side.

"John Dunne," Nathan spoke.

"What?" Buck looked up at him.

"The kid," Nate nodded towards the boy, "his name is John Dunne. He told Chris right before he tackled him." Nathan smiled warmly at the boy, picturing the scene again. "His heart is weak, but I think he's going to pull through, he's a scrapper," he said while opening the kid's eyes again and checking his pupil response.

"That he is," Josiah rumbled, smiling.

Buck quickly looked away, gulping. "We..." he didn't finish and both Josiah and Nathan looked at him.

Buck looked back, finally taking a good look at the young man. He instinctively stepped forward. He sighed, shaking his head. "We broke his hand." A shudder ripped through him. He glanced up. "Well, Ezra did anyway. The damn kid was going to kill himself, and we had to stop him. But," he looked back down, "damn, the boy was scared out of his mind. His buddy had just offed himself and it wasn't a pretty sight. This poor kid was gonna follow suit." His eyes narrowed, and he viscously shook his head, "those damn son of a bitchin' bastards, preyin' on young kids like that."

He was quiet, finally, and the two men watched him silently, knowing how hard it was for him to see anyone in pain.

Buck stepped closer, reaching out and almost touching the boy's arm. "John Dunne, huh?" He glanced over at Nate.

"Yep," Nathan smiled, looking down at his report, "number zero-seven-eight-nine-four-one." He read off the sheet of paper before looking back up. "He told Chris his 'number' when he told him his name."

"Name, rank, and serial number," Josiah sighed.

"Serial number," Buck repeated sadly. "That's all we are to them - food, or serial numbers." He shook his head. "What about the collar?"

Nate looked down at the kid. "Well, with his heart as weak as it is, I'm really worried about that. But," he glanced up, "we're still discussing how to remove it without the collar killing him, so it'll be a while before anything's done about it anyway."

Buck nodded, watching the kid intently. "It would be a damn shame, after all of this, for him to die anyway when you take the collar off." He was quiet for a few minutes, his face pensive. Josiah and Nathan could see the wheels turning in the tall, softhearted man's mind. "Wonder how old he is?" he asked, still looking at the boy.

Nathan shook his head, "Sixteen, maybe. I don't know. Looks can be deceiving, and he looks young. But I'm thinking around sixteen, seventeen maybe."

"Hmm," Buck nodded his head, thinking. "Wonder what happened to his parents? Think he has any family?"

Nathan and Josiah shared a sad, uneasy glance. Buck looked up, catching the tail end of the look. "Yeah," he sighed, "that's what I'm thinking too."

Wilmington stepped forward, finally grasping the young man's pale hand. "Well, kid, guess you're stuck with us now." He smiled. "John Dunne. JD." He cocked his head. "JD, yeah, that fits you." He ran his hand over the kid's forehead, wincing at the dark purple bruise. "We'll get that damn collar off of you, kid. Don't you worry none, now."

Buck stayed with the kid the rest of the day, talking to him. The young man hadn't woken yet, but that didn't stop Buck.

The next evening, Nathan had to finally shoo Buck away, telling him to go get some sleep. A few hours later, satisfied that the boy would sleep comfortably through the night, Nathan walked out of the Med room, gently easing the door closed behind him. A few minutes later, Ezra Standish quietly let himself into the Med room.

"Well, Mr. Dunne," he said, standing next to the boy's bed, his face grim. "I think it's time we got that collar off."

*****

Vin woke up early. He stood outside his room, stretching tired muscles. Hearing a noise, he eased himself back into his doorway. Footsteps were getting closer and he shut his door, so it was only open a crack. He watched as Ezra Standish slowly walked out of the tunnel and started down the hallway, a body slumped over his shoulder. Vin's eyes narrowed, his eyebrows drawn together, as he watched the gambler stop in front of the Med room door, shifting the body on his shoulder so he could get a grip on the doorknob. Once the door was open, Standish slipped inside to come back out a few minutes later without the body. Standish glanced around a couple of times before he quickly walked back down the hallway, towards his own room.

Later that morning, Nathan walked into the Med room to find Dunne sleeping on the bed. The kid's arms were still strapped to the bed, but something was definitely different. Nate watched the kid's chest rise and fall evenly. He stepped over to him, pulling out his stethoscope. His brow furrowed when he noticed that the cast on the kid's wrist was dirty, and then he saw the dark purple bruise on the boy's neck. "Wha-?" he stopped, staring at the kid. Rushing to the door, he pulled it open, yelling out into the hallway, "Chris, God dammit, get in here!"

*****

"I came in this morning, and the collar was gone." Jackson informed them, fuming. His hands were in the air, his body agitated.

Chris, Vin, Josiah, Nate, and Buck all stood around the boy's bed, watching him.

Chris glanced at the kid whose face was pale with dark circles under his eyes. "How is the boy, Nate?" Concern colored his voice.

"Basically, he's okay, Chris. That bruise on his neck worries me a bit. I'll have to keep an eye on his throat, his larynx. Make sure his voice box wasn't damaged. It looks like that collar started to tighten when it was taken off. Whoever did it sure did take a big chance with this kid's life. His heart is weak, but it doesn't look like he'll have any lasting damage from the removal of the collar."

"Did ya see anyone in here, Nate? Anything suspicious?" Buck asked.

"No, I... I saw Ezra in the..." he glanced around, "Where *is* Ezra?" he asked the room.

Chris looked up, then his eyes hardened. "Ezra," he hissed. "Vin," he looked over at his friend, "go get 'im."

Nodding, Vin walked away, shaking his head, a smile playing on his lips.

*****

"Mr. Tanner, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?" Standish asked after opening the door to his room.

"Well, Ez, there's a little matter of a missing collar," Vin grinned, leaning against the doorframe.

Ezra quickly turned away from him, tidying up his bed.

"I bet he sure was heavy," Vin replied, his grin growing.

Ezra looked over at him sharply. He opened his mouth, but seeing the smile on the sharpshooter's face, he closed it. Shaking his head, he looked down, the corners of his mouth turning up. Rubbing his chin, he glanced back up, his eyes twinkling. "Well, the boy might be small in stature but he sure did weigh a ton," he grinned wryly.

*****

"You needed the collar off, and it's off," Standish defended as he and Nathan faced off in Larabee's office.

"Ezra, you could have killed that kid," Jackson countered.

Ezra's eyes narrowed, "Dr. Jackson, unless you were going to keep a Collar here indefinitely, that boy *was* going to die. You couldn't have just taken him back to the surface and let him go. Rogue's don't even take a chance that their Collars have been used against them. The first sign of disloyalty, and the Collar is dead. No if, ands, or buts about it. Why don't you just say, 'Thank you, Mr. Standish,' and have it over and done with." The gambler sneered, his eyes patronizing.

"You son of a-" Jackson rushed the gambler, slamming him against the wall.

"Nathan!" Chris yelled, pulling the doctor away from the gambler.

Vin stood in the corner, his arms crossed over his chest, stoically watching the scene in front of him.

"I'm washing my hands of this, Chris," Nathan said, pulling himself out of Chris's grasp. "I've got a sick kid to look after. Josiah's in there with him right now." He looked back at Ezra, then at Chris, "You can deal with this son of a bitch yourself, I have better things to do."

Nathan walked towards the door, tossing a scorching glance at Ezra before walking out.

Ezra stood against the wall, rubbing his side. Chris stepped up to him, grabbing him by the arm. "Standish, you tell me right now how you got that collar off, or I swear to God, I'm going to blow your brains out right here."

"Guess you're going to have to kill me then, Mr. Larabee," Ezra scoffed, his eyes dark, " 'cause I ain't talkin'," his voice was firm.

Chris cocked his head. " 'Kay, have it your way, Ezra." Smiling, he pulled a pistol from the waistband of his jeans, placing the muzzle against Ezra's temple.

Vin walked over to stand next to Larabee. "Chris, there ain't no need to kill 'im."

Chris glanced at him, "Vin, I can't trust 'im. And if I can't trust 'im, then he's *got* to be dead. I don't have a choice." He looked back at Standish.

"It's your move, Mr. Larabee," the gambler spoke grimly, "but, I'd be most grateful if you'd make sure that the first shot kills me." He paused, running his tongue over his bottom lip. "You might want to place the barrel under my chin instead," his voice was hard, intense, his lip raised in a snarl. "I'd hate to make you waste *two* bullets."

Growling, his lips pulled back to show his teeth, Chris pulled the gun away from the side of Ezra's head to viscously shove it under the gambler's chin, wrenching Ezra's head up and back in the process. Larabee held the gun angled back, his finger twitching on the trigger.

"Chris," Vin moved closer to his friend, facing him, "Chris, *I* trust him." His voice was deadly serious, his eyes grave. "Chris, I trust him," he repeated, "do you trust me?"

Larabee's eyes narrowed as he looked over at Vin for a long moment, seeming to look right into his soul.

Chris looked back at Ezra, staring him down. Ezra didn't flinch. Finally, Chris looked down, easing a bit of the pressure off the gun.

He felt Ezra start to relax and he looked back up. "Standish, I don't know what you're up to. I don't know what in the hell you're doing, but I need to be able to trust you, and if you don't talk to me, don't tell me what you're up to, I *can't* trust you. Do you understand?"

"I understand, Mr. Larabee. I also understand that there are things about me, things that I *can't* talk about. You're going to need to accept that, or I'd rather you just put that bullet in my head right now."

After a long moment, Chris stepped back, bringing the gun away and down to his side. He glanced over at Tanner, "Okay, Vin, it's on your conscience, then. If he gets someone killed, it's your head that's gonna come off."

"All right, Chris, I accept that," Vin said soberly.

Chris nodded. Then, quick as lightning, slammed the butt of his pistol into Ezra's head. Standish dropped to the floor, holding the side of his bleeding head and watching Larabee warily.

Chris slowly, calmly squatted next to the downed man, Vin standing silently behind him.

"Ezra," Chris smiled, "Ezra, you fuck with me. You so much as *think* about fucking with any of us, and you won't need to worry about the Rogue. I'll make you *wish* that you could be killed by them." His smile grew. "You hear me, Standish?"

"Yes, Mr. Larabee," Ezra replied, breathing hard. "I hear you loud and clear."

Chris stood, pulling Ezra up with him. Vin helped Ezra the rest of the way to his feet. The three men stood facing each other.

"We've got to work together," Chris said. "Got to trust each other or we're not going to make it. I need for us to work together instead of apart. We're a team. We have a job to do. We need to keep these people safe. Need to keep them alive. And one way or another, come hell or high water, we need to blow the shit out of the Rogue." He seared both men with his gaze, then glanced at the sharpshooter. "Are we together, Vin?"

"Yeah, Chris. We're together." Vin smiled, reaching out and grasping Chris by the arm.

"Ezra?" Chris turned to the gambler.

"Mr. Larabee, you have my word that we are indeed *together*." His eyes were solemn, his voice earnest. The two men clasped arms.

Vin slapped Ezra on the back. The three men walking from the room.

"Well," Chris replied, "we have a former Collar we need to interrogate."

Vin grinned, "Oh, I've got *lots* of questions for 'im."

Ezra snorted, "As do I, Mr. Tanner. As do I."

Chris, Ezra and Vin walked side by side towards the Med room and the young man who occupied it.

"Where's Buck?" Vin asked.

"He's in there with the kid," Chris laughed, glancing wryly at the two men. "Buck has a bit of an overprotective nature. And I think he's latched on to the boy." He smiled.

"Well, we'll need to take care not to upset mother bear Bucklin with our interrogation, then," Vin grinned.

"We can't have that." Ezra smiled, shaking his head.

"Oh yeah," Chris grinned slyly towards Ezra, "I think that the mother bear has a few choice words for you, Standish."

"Why am I *not* surprised," Ezra groaned.

 
the end (February 2001)

 

Sequel: The Collar

 

 

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