4. Travelport

The van sped off from the end of the alley heading west with five kids in their seats remaining quiet as the driver did his job. There was no high-speed chase happening. It was just a drive.

Aja looked back at her siblings, not a hint of worry. The fact that their faces remained blank would have worried her some six months ago. However, since they’d been on their own over the last year, they've all been forced to grow up quicker than other children their age and accept life for what it was- whatever that was. In fact, over the last several years this same scenario has played out for hundreds of modified children around the world- grow up, move on, or die. Worry wasn’t something you could do every day.

As the van stopped and lurched forward again at yet another stop sign Lilly decided to be the first to break the silence, “Sir?” she started. No immediate answer. “Mister?” she said a little louder. But before she finished her sentence her eyes crossed and she saw double, or, at least she saw two people in the front of the van where a moment before there was only one. She looked over to Lada who was looking back at her only to offer a shrug. She then tapped Aja on the shoulder who was sitting in front of her, “Did you just-”

Aja held up a hushing finger. “What’s going on?” she asked, cutting her sister off with a tone of slight worry.

The newly formed man in the passenger seat spoke as he turned around. “Don’t be alarmed; I’m Larry!”

Aja, not to mention the four other children, was confused. Before them sat Lloyd Newman who materialized out of thin air. From what Aja could see, the man driving was also Lloyd. However, he wore a hat, and it made it hard to tell.

“Mr. Larry is... are you, um, Lloyd- too?” said Lilly a little confused. She tried reading the mind of the passenger to no avail, the driver, however, was thinking normal things- about driving. “And can you travelport?”

“Teleport,” Lada corrected taking the older sisters glare from Lilly in stride.

“I’m most definitely not Lloyd. I am, however, his older brother by one minute and twenty-three seconds. To get the questions out of the way, yes, we're identical, and no Lilly, I can't teleport.”

“Where did you come from? I mean, just now?” asked Lilly.

“That comes from my ability,” said the man behind the driver's seat. “It's usually a good icebreaker, sorry if I startled you guys.” Larry removed his hat and adjusted his mirror so he could see his rear passengers.

“You're a cloner?” asked Lada. She was well aware of those that could clone. She had a school friend who could do it.

Larry Newman was indeed a cloner. He could not only clone organic material such as himself, but he could also clone inorganic items. He and his brother were part of a group experiment in 1997 that took place just after the world governments began banning together to put a stop to the human trials in which modifieds were created. However, if one had money, they had access to serum trials. The Newmans family did have money, then. Their father was a self-made millionaire and local politician in Ohio, with plenty of connections. When word got out that his sons, though much into their adulthood, were able to partake in the human trials, he was shunned by his constituents and fellow politicians alike. Overnight, it seemed, the Newman family broke down and their father ended his life within weeks of his sons making the news.

The group experiment the Newman brothers partook in was held in Quebec City along with a dozen other people who could afford it. Though they all paid the same price, there was no guarantee that someone would end up with ability. And as the serums became more refined in those last years it also seemed that more and more people were dying during the six-day incubation period. Within a week after Lloyd and Larry entered the trials, two were dead, one was in a comma, and the remaining subjects would have to wait a week to six months before they found out if it worked.

Though they didn’t know if anyone else gained modified status, the Newman brothers both did. Larry was able to manipulate items into near-exact clones of anything; himself, others, cars, boats, small buildings, even large trees. There were some limitations, but the capability came in handy. With their powers, he and his brother decided to work for the Modifieds Assistance Service, MAS, until it was disbanded in 2001 after the World Trade Center attacks. Since then, however, they’ve both worked to assist other modifieds via the unsanctioned MAS.

“We’re almost there guys,” Larry said to a quiet van. “We need to make a few more detours before we get there. We’re no doubt being tracked.”

With Larry's last words a third person appeared in the front seat sitting on the lap of the clone in the passenger seat. "Goddamnit Larry!" said the man before disappearing again.

"Crap," Larry spoke under his breath before dissolving his clone with a snap of his fingers. "He's gone Benny," Larry said aloud.

The man, Benny, returned to the empty passenger seat looking at Larry, "You left him in that seat on purpose didn't you?"

"No. How was I supposed to know you were going to show up? You didn't give me any warning," Larry replied.

Benny dismissed him and buckled up his seat belt then turned around to Aja and the rest. "There's five of them?" He asked looking back over at Larry.

"It's the Keens, yes, five of them Benny."

"Hmm, I only sensed five of you in here," he stated letting his eyes set on Aja. "At any rate, good morning. I'm Benny. Sorry to barge in like this. I was keeping an eye on our AGEA friend you all had a chance to met this morning. And yes, you are being tracked."

Aja and Lilly instinctively looked out the back window to see if they were being followed.

“Nobody does it the old fashion way these days,” Larry lamented aloud. “I’m sure you guys are important enough to get your own satellite tracking, or we’ve got a high altitude drone overhead.” Larry looked into the mirror expecting the look he was getting from Aja at the mention of being important enough. “I don’t know why you're important Aja, but I do know that the five of you are on someones most-wanted list. Good news is you won’t be bouncing from house to house any longer.”

“And the bad news,” asked Aja.

“Everyone always assumes there’s bad news,” replied Larry looking at Benny who shrugged. “Fine,” he continued, “You guys are going underground for a while until we can get you out of the country. That’s all I know.”

Aja pondered the thought of them being essential for a moment but was unable to give even herself a good answer as to why. Watching apartment buildings and small business rush past as they wound their way through Seattle trying to confuse whatever it was that was following the van, was not helping the situation.

Aja turned to Lilly, “Let me know if you sense anything funny, ok?”

Lilly nodded. She’d already been passively “listening” to Larry’s mind, but he seemed as if he was telling them the truth, or at least what he’d know to be the truth. Benny said hello to her already, but his mind was static now which told her he was good at his use and blocking of telepathy.

The ride only lasted another five minutes as they made their way under Interstate 5 to a parking garage halfway up Capitol Hill. Larry pulled in to a spot about four feet from a benign metal door while making a quick phone call to let someone know he was here for a delivery. He seemed to emphasize that last part, or at least that’s what Aja thought.

Larry told them it would be just a few moments longer, but as soon as he finished his sentence a man walked out of the door whom could have been mistaken for a member of the local SWAT team. He looked around, gave Larry a nod, then spoke into a microphone on his lapel. Two more people, one seemed to be a woman, also came out the door. All three were carrying compact machine guns and were wearing ski masks so you could only see their eyes.

“Don’t worry guys; they’re with MAS. That guy at the door is Paul. He and the others are part of the Deputy’s protective detail,” assured Larry as two of the black-clad individuals positioned themselves in front and behind the van. The third remained at the door and gave Larry a thumbs up. “Ok, time for you to head downstairs. You’re in good hands. Aja, you lead, the rest of you, follow.”

“Wait, what’s the Deputy?” Aja asked before getting out.

Larry looked at here for a moment before concluding that Aja and her siblings knew very little about the MAS. “You can think of him as the second in command of the Service. His boss is Munoz,” Larry answered.

Aja nodded her satisfaction with the answer, though still not sure what that meant, then opened the side door to usher her siblings out then led them to the metal door. As soon as the younger four were inside Aja stopped and spoke back to the Larry through the open window, “Aren’t you two coming? You said they’re tracking the van.”

“That they are, but now they gotta figure out which one you’re in,” he said snapping his fingers for effect. Upon doing so there was a quick pop that echoed throughout the parking garage, and eight identical vans appeared in the lanes between the parked cars, all with clones of Larry in their driver seats. “This is the part of my job I like,” he said with a smile while the window raised.

Benny turned and said something to Larry before swinging his head back to Aja. He a gave a sly wink and disappeared.

Aja turned around to the door as the Paul snidely murmured, “Showoffs.” He turned his attention to Jareth after all three security guards were on the landing with them and the door was secure, Paul removed his mask, “You must be Jareth?” Jareth nodded. “How do you managing with all of these sisters?” said Paul jokingly.

“They’re nice,” Jareth answered with a slight air of annoyance in his voice. The question was starting to get old, even as a five-year-old.

Paul chuckled, replying, “I had two older sisters, and they hated me. So, consider yourself lucky that they're the nice kind.” He turned his attention to Aja, “My name is Paul. This is Nolan and Tilly” he said motioning his head towards the others The two nodded and took off their masks. “Aja, I just need you to make sure your brother leaves his gloves on at all times, understood?” he finished looking back at Jareth.

Aja nodded. She completely understood their paranoia about her brother. He was labeled as a level-six modified at the age of two. When the original Modifieds Assistance Service started categorizing modifieds in the late 1990’s they only had a one through five rating. Level, or category, one was given to those who possessed powers that couldn’t harm others such telescopic vision or those with innate capabilities. Level-five was the given designation for those whose abilities were considered a danger to society such as possession or mind-control. It wasn’t until after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that the label of level-six was created. These were people who posed such a hazard to society that they were no longer deemed fit for social interaction.

Though many were re-labeled after the attacks to achieve the ultimate goal of tracking or finding all the modifieds, there were very few who would be branded level-six. Jareth Keen, at the age of two, was found to have “fatal touch” and subsequently deemed no longer fit for social interaction. His ability, though underdeveloped even yet, simply put, can kill people with a simple touch of his bare skin. Most people who succumb to Jareth’s touch only get sick but recover within a few hours or a few days. The longer he touches someone, the more likely they are to die. He was the first toddler to be given such a severe designation.

Only thirteen days ago a ten-year-old-boy died because he touched Jareth; it was a terrible mistake. As Jareth slept the son of a family the Keen's were staying with crept into the guest room where they were all sleeping. He was looking at them with curiosity, and when he moved to get a look at the only boy of the group, he tripped and landed on top of Jareth touching his face and didn’t let go in the panic. Even before the parents of the boy could make the twenty-foot walk from their room to the guest room he, was dead.

Jareth took it hard. He still is. That boy wasn’t the first. Jareth told Aja after the incident that perhaps the government was right and he should be put somewhere he couldn’t hurt someone. The comment reminded Aja of the day her parents were told that due to Jareth’s status as a toddler and not seen as a threat by most- he was indeed a grave threat. It was that day that the troubles began for the Keen family and the beginning of their path that led them from their hometown of Hastings, Nebraska to a parking garage in Seattle, Washington.

Paul led the five of them down two flights of stairs while Tilly, the female guard stayed at the door and Nolan brought up the rear of the line. They reached another door that looked at least twice as thick as the other one with a massive door jam that extended about a foot from the actual door. Paul called someone on the radio to let them know he’d be opening the door. He then placed his watch over a protruding piece of metal to the left of the door where, after he removed it, a blue-tinted keypad shown. He entered his code, being sure the kids didn’t see it,  several locks could be heard shifting within the door. Seconds later the door slid to the left to reveal a large mahogany lined elevator with the MAS logo inlaid with different colored wood on the back wall.

“Going down!” Paul said playfully as he extended his arm to motion for the children to in first.

This is part of my short web-serial, fiVe. Read the rest of the series here.

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