Thanks to all the authors in the Swarm mailing list for the help on canon questions and their editing prowess. Too many to list, but Omachuck stands out, having put a lot of time into this and my next one. Brooke, Nuke Danger, Zen Master, all of them contributed and helped make this readable. All remaining errors are mine and mine alone.
I wished, not for the first time, that the asshole would do something, anything that would let me get us out of his house. I felt guilty because that something would almost surely involve Ames and I couldn’t allow that. Not now, not ever.
Ames and I are twins, and orphans. Our parents were killed in an avalanche, of all things, while we sat in daycare down at the resort. An avalanche ... in the twenty-first century! We were turned over to the state because Mom and Dad had no family, not a single individual that could be identified.
We were five when it happened and you would think that the whole world would beat a path the orphanage door to adopt a sweet set of twins, right? Yeah, not so much.
Ames, or more properly, Amelia Ann Cavanaugh, was blind. Add in that we are the gingeriest gingers that ever gingered, with the shocking red hair, billions of freckles everywhere, well, you get the picture. It wasn’t like we were going to fit into just any family.
One couple tried when we were seven, but it lasted a whole two weeks when Ames poured the lady’s $200 an ounce anniversary gift into the tub because she liked the smell. The woman was furious, and yanked Ames out of the tub by one arm, screaming at her. I stuck a pair of scissors into her fat thigh to get her to let go of my sister and we hid for a day and a half before the cops found us in the basement.
I explained what the woman had done and showed them the bruises on her arm. The doctor said her shoulder was dislocated, so that kind of sealed the deal.
Ames and I are all we have in the world. I love her more than anything and it is my job to protect her, no matter what. In her own way, she does the same. She is the smartest girl I know, even if people do stupid stuff like talk to her real loud. I mean, come on, right? She is blind, you morons, not deaf, not retarded, blind!
We had a host of foster homes that didn’t work out for one reason or another. In one, I caught the dirty bastard beating his meat as he stood in the door of Ames’s bedroom. Her nightshirt had worked its way up and he could see her little boobies. I mean, she was ten, she didn’t have any more boobies than I did, but he was perving on her, on my sister!
I had suspected something was going on, he had been acting weird around us all week, so I had set up little netbook I had gotten at the orphanage for Christmas. I had blanked the screen and covered the LED on the webcam so he never knew it was there until I called the cops.
We are in a new home since last week and the guy gives me the total creeps. Ames, she is an optimist, and she always tells me to hold on, that things will get better, but this guy, I just don’t trust him.
His wife is no better. Three times she has accidentally walked in while I was showering and last night, she had been drinking a lot and asked me if I jacked off. I am a guy, so of course I do, but she is like three hundred pounds and a drunk, so there is no way I was discussing something like that with her.
Other than the creepiness factor, I think they are only in it for the money. Today is a good example.
Brian, the husband, is out of town and Maddy, the mother, had suddenly discovered an appointment she just had to go to after chatting for two hours on the computer. So what does she do? She dumps us at the mall, handing over five dollars to ‘get some lunch’. Shit, you can’t hardly buy a soda for five bucks anymore.
Still, I am not going to tell Ames that, I just told her that Maddy gave us lunch money and to let me know when she got hungry.
“I love this place, Andy! The sounds, the smells, the feel of all the people around us! It is so ... exciting.” Ames said, her little hand warm in the crook of my arm.
“It’s kind of neat here. Beats sitting around listening to the paint dry at the orphanage.” I agree.
We are wandering around, wherever Ames directs me. She has her cane with her, but it is folded up in her purse. When we walk together, which is almost always, she holds on to my arm. She can tell when I have to walk, if I have to turn or even slow down. It is almost like she is reading my mind. I like it too, it makes me feel good to guide her, to be her eyes and her protector.
The mall is pretty busy since it is Saturday, and the concourses are full of people laughing and talking, kids running around even some old people walking for exercise.
There are some pretty cool stores in here, geared more towards kids, but my favorite has to be the Apple and Microsoft stores. I am a total geek and I look it. Computers just makes sense to me. I was writing code before I could write cursive and I have ha ... I mean, I have discovered, a lot of cool places out there on the net.
Looking at me, you could tell I was a geek too. Even if you overlooked the second-hand clothes and the glasses, the fact that I was pencil thin, had an Adam’s apple that made me look like I was trying to swallow a baseball and the curliest, most unmanageable hair you could imagine. I totally look like that kid everyone at school beats up.
And they do, or at least, they do once. See, I learned a long time ago that a reputation as a lunatic offers a lot of protection. I am not really a violent guy, but let me give you an example.
This year in school, there is a kid named Tawan Jackson. He’s big, like, really, really big, and has a room temperature IQ. He gets his kicks on stuffing kids into lockers, sticking their heads in toilets and flushing and his favorite of all time, sticking kids in the lunchroom trashcans with all the discarded leftovers.
When he saw me, I thought he was going to have an orgasm. I look like the perfect target and he made a beeline towards me. I saw him coming and I could tell that this wasn’t going to be good, even though at the time I hadn’t met him. It was something in his eyes, or maybe it was the feral smile.
Anyway, he comes over, grabs the back of my shirt and tells me he dropped a dime in the garbage can. He says that I can go get it for him and starts dragging me over to the slop buckets.
There is no way I can overpower this kid, he weighs easily four or five times my weights and is about three feet taller.
So I stabbed him in the groin with my pen. When he was lying on the floor, bleeding and screaming bloody murder, I got his attention by kicking him in the stomach, which stopped his screaming cause he couldn’t breathe. Double win! While he was quiet, I told him that I was going to sneak into his bedroom at night and cut his throat, then cut the throats of every one of his family members and, if he had a dog, I would nail it to a tree outside. Then I kicked him in the face, breaking his nose.
I had no intention of doing any of that, of course, I am not really a psychopath, but I had to send a message, one that was loud and clear for all of the bullies in school.
I got counseled, being the poor little orphan boy who just transferred in, and Tawan got transferred to another school when he absolutely refused to step on school grounds after he got out of the hospital.
Anyway, I just explained that so you would have a better idea of what happened next at the mall.
We were walking happily along, Ames and I, and she slowed for a second, her nose sniffing the air like a little rabbit. “Andy, I smell ... cotton candy! Oh! Can we? Please?” One look at her face and I knew I couldn’t refuse, but I was standing there, trying to figure out how I could get her a $3 cotton candy and still get her to eat lunch with the last $2. She was as skinny as a bird and even the thought of her being hungry made my heart hurt.
I didn’t want to tell her about the money, I try to keep my worries away from her. I worry enough for the both of us.
“Hey sexy, I’ll buy you some cotton candy if you show me your tits.” A rough voice offered.
There were three guys standing by the rail that overlooked the lower concourse. They were dressed in worn, stained jeans, ragged tennis shoes and even more ragged t-shirts, all advertising the same band, ‘Swarm’.
I started to worry. It had been seven years since the countdown started for the projected Sa’arm invasion, and the world had been turned on its ear. Half the women in the mall were as close to naked as they could get, lots of them just wearing body paint. They were advertising, hoping for a sponsor to choose them if an extraction took place.
Then there were the Earth First people who were killing off folks with high CAP scores, Marines and anyone who even looked like they had been off planet.
The last group, a newer phenomenon, was the fatalists. Oh, they went by other names, of course, everything from the Dead Earth Society to Doomsday, but they all had one thing in common. They had scored too low on the CAP test to volunteer and they were too stupid, too ugly or just too nasty to ever attract a sponsor.
They tended to be anarchists in the original sense of the word, and they had already killed thousands across the country. They figured they were already dead, so why worry? One man, not afraid of dying, can do a lot of damage before he gets around to being dead.
This band, ‘Swarm’ wrote their anthem and was the single thing that the anarchists seem to have in common. Just the sight of the t-shirts these guys were wearing caused most of the people around us to give them a very wide berth. The world had taken to calling them Scrags, and they willingly adopted the name, reveling in their debauchery.
“Keep walking, Ames, bad people.” I muttered urging her to walk a little faster.
The three of them were not to be denied, and they quickly cut us off, two in front and one in back.
“If I say go, you fall to the floor and curl up.” I muttered out of the side of my mouth. These guys were not all that much bigger, but there were more of them and if they didn’t care if they died, I was in big trouble.
“I said, I want to see your tits, sweetheart.” one of the growled, moving closer. He had a face like a pizza and the closer he got, the worse he smelled. He looked totally stoned on something, which made me feel even worse about my chances, but no one would ever lay a hand on Ames and walk away unscathed.
In my pocket were fifty, one-inch washers, taped together and stuck in a winter sock. I had started carrying it after the Tawan incident, in case of reprisals, and I had tested it against a 2x4, smashing the board to splinters.
When the guy reached out for Ames, I pulled it from my rear pocket, swinging it as hard as I could. The end of the sock picking up momentum as it traveled, hit the guy in the side of the head with a meaty thunk. He dropped to the ground, either dead or damn close, and I was already swinging back the other way. I got lucky, catching the guy behind us in the jaw with a sick, cracking sound and a spray of teeth.
A scream from Ames had my heart in my throat as I spun back, seeing the third one had his arm around Ames’s neck and a nasty, filthy knife poking her in the side of the head. I could see a bead of blood, bright and vibrant against her pale skin, tricking down the side of her face.
It seemed like the world stopped for a second, that droplet of blood filling my field of vision, pulsing and glowing. Then, like the avenging hand of an angry god, the boy’s head exploded. Literally exploded.
Bits of skull, skin, gray matter and clumps of hair sprayed everywhere. I was blinded for a moment until I could wipe my eyes, and the sight of Ames covered in blood made me panic. I dove for her, screaming her name and trying to wipe the blood away, trying to see if she was hurt, if she was injured. I could hardly see for the tears and my hands were so bloody that I was just smearing it around.
A hand came down on my shoulder and a voice, a calm, kind voice, told me that she was going to be okay.
“Son, listen to me, she is okay. She might have a few cuts from bone fragments, and we need to get those cleaned up, but she is okay.” the voice said.
“Andy, ANDY!” Ames called out to me, grabbing my arms and following them down to my hands, grabbing those too. She held them to her chest, calling my name.
“I’m okay, Andy, I’m okay! I promise.” she said, over and over.
The voice had hands too, big, strong hands that pulled me away from my sister and sat me down. Turns out the hands had a face.
The guy who was holding me in place and talking to me was frickin huge. I mean like, Jack and the Beanstalk, angry giant huge! Maybe that is a bit of exaggeration but being five foot, two inches tall, to me this guy was impressively large.
When I saw the insignia on his arm, the world seemed to snap back into focus and I was looking into the concerned face of a Confederacy Marine. Ames!
I looked over, panic threatening me again, but she was smiling, chatting up a storm with a female marine who was using some wipes to clean up her face.
“I’m Sgt. Lindstrom, what’s your name, son?” my Marine asked, getting my attention back.
“Andrew Cavanaugh, sir.” I told him, my eye still watching what was happening to Ames.
“Can I see your CAP card, Andrew?” he asked, holding out his hand.
I just shook my head. “Don’t have one. The administrators at the orphanage refused to let us go down town to take the test. We got foster parents two weeks ago, but they said no too. They depend on the money they get.” I told him. “Ames and I turned fourteen almost six months ago.” I added in disgust.
It was a measure of how messed up I was by this whole thing that it was only then that I saw the gray interdiction field. It had gone up around a coffee shop and extended about fifteen feet into the concourse, trapping us, and the animals who attacked us inside. There were about fifteen other people standing around, staring at the carnage and even people from the coffee shop, who should have been trying to get picked up, were watching.
“Shit.” The Marine said softly, then his eyes went unfocused for a second. He was looking at the interdiction field, but talking to someone else. “Uh huh. Can you confirm? I would need authorization from my chain of command. Got it.”
“Well, today is your lucky day, Andy. You and, Ames did you say? Is she related?” he asked and I nodded. “Well, you and Ames are getting a free ride up to our ship. We may not be able to keep you, but we can get you cleaned up and Ames looked at by our docs, okay?”
“Andy! This lady just said we are going to her ship! How cool is that!” Ames called, all smiles.
I just smiled at her. She was irrepressibly, incorrigibly upbeat, no matter what the circumstances. I turned back to the Marine.
“Okay, but if one of these people lay a finger on my sister, I will do to them what I did to the scrags. No one lays a finger on her.” I told him, looking him in the eye.
He was silent for a minute, his eyes flicking to the two men I had hit. “I think she is perfectly safe with you, little man. Hell, I was right there and armed and you still beat me to the punch with two to my one.”
He didn’t seem like he was bullshitting me, but I held on to my homemade sap just in case.
The two Marines escorted us to a circular pad on the ground, the crowd in the coffee shop giving way silently. Sgt. Lindstrom spoke again and there was a shimmering in the air over the pad.
“Corporal, take charge of these two as soon as your replacement steps ... ah, there he is now.”
A Marine appeared on the pad, stepping clear and scanning the area, nodding to Sgt. Lindstrom.
The female Marine who had been with Ames, obviously the Corporal, told me to step on the pad and to keep walking out the other side to clear space for Ames to follow.
I hesitated, not wanting to leave her behind, even for a minute, but there was little I could do. Crossing my fingers, I stepped on the pad and, after a split second of disorientation, stepped off the pad in another place. I spun around, ignoring the people waiting there, and had my hands out when Ames stepped through.
“Right here, Ames. I got you.” I said softly, guiding her hand to my elbow and breathing a sigh of relief.
“Missed you, Andy!” she giggled, squeezing my arm. It was something she always did when we were apart, even if it was for a couple of minutes.
“Hi! I am Medtech Collins and if you two would come with me, we can get you cleaned up and checked out. You have a few cuts, young lady, and if what I heard is accurate, they could become infected very easily.
I hesitated, looking around. We were in a big room, like a gymnasium big. There were half-a-dozen Marines, even more guys in blue uniforms and even a couple in gray. The lady who had spoken was in a white smock that was so short, her parts were showing under the edge, but there was a caduceus on the breast and she had a friendly smile.
I nodded, looking up at the female Corporal who had brought us here and saw that she was smiling too.
We followed the Medtech for quite a ways, down two corridors and an elevator, ending up in a room that screamed hospital. It was bright, sterile white and lined with tubes. The tubes had open tops and there were pads inside, obviously intended for people. To one side, there was a control console manned by a man and a woman, both dressed like the Medtech who had brought us.
“If you two would just climb into the Medical pods, we will perform a complete scan on you and get you fixed up in a jiffy. I know the doctors on Earth like lying to patients, but I swear that this will not hurt, not even the tiniest bit.
I led Ames over to the closest bed, whispering a description of what I was seeing and guiding her hand to the edge. I helped her lay down and then leaned in, ignoring the blood smeared there as I kissed her gently on the forehead. With a deep breath, I lay down in the next one and watched my lid close.
I must have slept because I had the weirdest dreams. First I talked to this lady who was wearing almost nothing at all, then I was at the beach, and some kid was drowning. I got him to shore, but there was a huge fire and a lady screaming about her son. It went on like that for what felt like weeks. I was hurting and so very tired, but every time I tried to sit down, something else happened.
When I woke up, I was disoriented but I recognized the lid of the Medical scanner thing so I had an idea of where I was. The dreams, so real at the time, were fading and I had the hardest time holding on to any of them.
Ames! I sat up, looking towards the bed where she had lay down, but she wasn’t there! I tried to jump from the bed, but my legs felt like rubber and I landed on the floor. From where I landed I could see that flaming red hair. Ames!
She was fine! She was standing near the control console and talking to a man dressed in a black uniform, and a woman dressed in gray, I breathed a sigh of relief and, when I tried to stand, a Medtech was there, helping me up.
“Easy now! You were in there for a while. Just take it slow.” he said, sliding his arm under mine.
“ANDY!” Ames’s scream was like an ice pick through my skull but what happened next just blew my mind entirely.
Ames was running. Running across the room, her arms open wide and an impossibly huge smile on her face.
“ANDY!” she screamed again, launching herself through the air and, if I hadn’t already been leaning against the bed, she would have flattened me. As it was, we ended up with me back in the pod, her lying on top of me sobbing and laughing and kissing me all over my face.
“Andy, I can see, and everything is so beautiful and you are so handsome, just like I knew you would be and the world is ... it’s so much!” she was babbling, wiggling like a puppy.
She could see.
She could see.
I don’t remember the next few minutes very well. I was too busy bawling my eyes out. I don’t know the first thing about these people, about the Confederacy or the Marines or the Medtechs, but I would spend my life trying to pay them back for those few minutes. Ames could see!
“Oh, Andy, when the tube opened and a beautiful lady was bending over me, I thought for sure it was the angels like in that story you used to read to me. I thought I had died, but she was so pretty that I thought, it can’t be too bad. Then, I knew you would be so sad that I was dead and my heart about broke, thinking about you being lonely and missing me.” Ames was still babbling, but I was laughing.
It took her a while to wind down again, but she had a hold on me that would not be denied. You know, it took me almost a half hour to realize we were stark naked? Then I got mad.
I had seen my beautiful sister naked ten thousand times. I helped her dress, I helped her with baths, I was her eyes. But for the rest of these people to let her run around naked, staring at her, that was just wrong! And to let her see me naked? She was innocent, having never seen anything ugly in her life, not truly, and now I was exposing myself to her!
I found myself wishing I had that sock full of washers in my hand. I’d show them.
“Andy? Andy, what’s wrong?” Ames sounded upset, almost frightened.
“Ames, You are naked, and so am I! You shouldn’t be seeing me naked. Those people shouldn’t be seeing either of us naked!”
“Andy, you have seen me naked a million times!” Ames said, surprised. “Besides, I finally get to see you too, and you are so handsome! And I finally get to see this. I have felt it, at night, pressing up against me. Oh Andy, it is beautiful.” she said, and she reached down and took my cock in her soft hand.
I thought my head was going to explode! She didn’t even know what a cock was, she couldn’t! She was just ... but I couldn’t think anymore, she was rubbing it, stroking it. When she bent down and wrapped her lips around me, I came so hard I saw stars.
AMES! Oh my god, what had they done to her? I was mortified! How could I have let this happen? I was supposed to protect her.
I couldn’t help it; I started crying.
“Andy, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I will learn how to do it, I promise! Next time it will be better, oh, please don’t cry!” Ames said, the pain in her voice making me feel even worse.
“I ... I ... I am a monster. I am no better than the perverts I tried to protect you from. Oh, Ames, I am so sorry. I will go way, I will make sure I can never hurt you again.”
Ames looked at me in shock, then she did something I had never seen her really do. She got angry. At me!
“Andrew Wyatt Cavanaugh, shut your damn mouth this instant.”
I did. I mean, I was shocked! Ames never, ever said bad words!
“Andy, I love you. I have loved you my whole life. I felt like such a burden to you. I have wanted this, wanted you, since I was old enough to feel these things, but I never would have done anything because I was afraid. I was never certain. I knew you loved me, you showed me a thousand ways every day, but I couldn’t be sure. Now, seeing you, seeing the love in your eyes, I wanted to show you that I loved you too, that I desired you.”
“But, it is my job to protect you!” I muttered.
“And you have. But now, I don’t need a guide, I don’t need a protector. What I want is a lover. I want you to be my lover. Those people over there said there is no law against brother and sister up here, Andy. We can be lovers here, and my heart is so happy! Don’t you dare let your stupid guilt ruin this for us.” she glared at me. She glared. At me.
“But...” I had no answer for her. Watching her eyes on me, seeing her searching my face for clues, I was helpless. She could see me.
“Ames, I am not a good looking guy. I am a total geek. You deserve someone better.” I told her, taking her hands in mine.
“Sometimes you are such an asshole.” she growled, reaching up and pulling my face to hers.
Oh god, her lips were so soft, her tongue so hot in my mouth!
When she broke away, she just smiled at me. What is a guy to do when the girl he loves looks at him like that?
“The man over there wants to talk to you, Andy. He says he has some very important work for you to do. He’s someone important, I think.” she told me, taking my hand.
She pulled me off the bed, and pulled me across the floor, guiding me this time.
The man in question looked about thirty and that seemed awfully young for high rank, but he was smiling when we walked up. He held out his hand to me and out of habit, I reached to shake.
“Mr. Cavanaugh, I am Brian Grimes and I command this installation. May I call you Andy?” he asked, gesturing to a quartet of seats that seemed to appear near the wall.
“Andrew, please sir.” Only Ames was allowed to call me Andy.
“Andrew then, of course. Andrew, while you were in the medical scanner, we had you tested. It is the law, after all, and circumstances prevented you and your sister from being tested before now.”
“Circumstances? Corrupt civil servants and greedy foster parents working the system.” I growled.
“Yes, quite, and I assure you, they are being dealt with.”
The ice in his voice made me smile. I had a feeling he was telling the truth.
“Look, before we even get started here, I want clothes for my sister and something for me as well. She should not be naked in front of strangers!” I was not going to sit here naked, Ames with all of herself open to his gaze.
Mr. Grimes looked startled, but the woman with him just looked thoughtful. She nodded to one of the Medtechs who went to an alcove in the wall and returned with a smock for Ames and a set of coveralls for me.
The smock was barely long enough to cover Ames’s private parts! My look must have said it all because the Medtech hurried back to the alcove and returned with one that was longer.
“Andrew, your CAP score was impressive.” Grimes said, obviously trying to get back on topic again. He handed me a white card and when I examined it, I saw a hologram of my face. Embossed right next to it, a number, 9.1, and there were other numbers, almost unreadably small, covering the rear of the card.
“Wait, I thought the score only went to 10?” I asked, confused.
“That’s correct. The aggregate score has a maximum of 10, but only one person so far has ever scored a perfect ten. So far there have been four 9.9s, two hundred and twenty-seven 9.8s and one thousand, thirty-two 9.7s, but never anyone as young as you are over a 9. You have the second youngest 9 beat by almost a year.”
“So ... this means what, exactly?”
“Well, it means that you have almost unlimited potential. Every person with a CAP score greater than 9.5 is a part of the military command staff, the governing council, heading up research efforts or governing a colony. People with scores like yours are the architects, the planners.”
“And I am fourteen ... and a half.” I said, trying to get him to realize that. I was still a kid!
“That’s right. Our testing shows that your strengths lie in information theory. I have been authorized to offer you a place on the Confederacy Science Council. You will eventually be directing the efforts researching communications with the Sa’arm and deciphering their language, if they even have one; interfacing with the Artificial Intelligences; integrating human technology with the alien tech and a whole host of other efforts along those lines.”