"Zeros and Ones"
by: Kes Cross
Summary: Sam and Dean arrive in Omaha, unaware that their route there has been planned by an old friend who needs their help. But this time, there's more at stake than saving lives - this time, national security is at risk...
"Zeros and Ones"
by Kes Cross
Nebraska University Campus, Omaha, Dorm 110
Zoe sat staring at the blank computer screen. Her essay was due in three days and she still had nothing. Not one word. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand the topic, it was just such a ridiculous thing to write about. Seriously. Demonic belief? C’mon! Zoe leaned back in her chair and rubbed her eyes, trying to focus. “This is dumb!” She pushed the chair back from her desk and stood up, glaring at the mountain of opened books illuminated by the desk-light and the flickering screen of the laptop. She put her hands on her hips and glowered at the computer. “I mean, seriously. Who believes in that crap these days, anyhow?” She threw her arms up, puffing her cheeks angrily. “God damn it!” Zoe flounced across the room and pulled open her refrigerator, staring deep into the chilly, brightly-lit depths. She reached in and pulled out a carton of milk, nudging the fridge door shut with her butt. She pulled the cookie jar down from its hiding place behind two large psychology tomes and popped the lid. Reaching inside, Zoe’s fingers closed around a chocolate chip cookie. She knew she shouldn’t start on the cookies – a minute on the lips, a year on the hips – but she resolved to spend an extra half hour in the campus gym in the morning to burn the excess calories off. The dance was only a week away, and Bobby Adams had made it very clear that he was expecting a slim Zoe Hunt, not some fat-butt cookie monster chick to be his date. And Bobby was hot. Seriously, as in, day-amn! Zoe leaned back against the refrigerator, absent-mindedly twirling the cookie around in her hand, her mind picturing Bobby Adams in his Speedos. Captain of the Swim Team. A body like Adonis. Zoe smiled brightly. “Hey! Some of this mythology crap is making sense! I know a Greek god! Yay me!” She giggled coyly, imagining him knocking at her dorm door and her answering it, looking fabulous in that pale blue shift dress she knew he liked. Oh, and, no underwear. Wait. Sexy underwear. So much better. She would enjoy letting him take it off her with his teeth later…
The sound of a slamming door and laughter in the hallway snapped Zoe out of her daydream and back to cold, hard reality. Assignment. Crap. No knock on the door from Mr Greek god. No passionate groping in his Honda Civic. Just her, a cookie, a carton of milk and a blank computer screen. That damn assignment. She bit angrily into the cookie, relishing the chocolate taste that flooded into her mouth. She took a swig of milk from the carton and strolled back to her desk. Zoe glanced at the clock. Ten o’clock. God, she’d sat staring at that wretched computer for over an hour now. Determination filled her head. Right. Back to it. She put the milk carton down on the desk next to the keyboard and sat down, taking another bite of the cookie. Crumbs spilled down her white sleeveless tee-shirt and onto the pale blue jogging bottoms she wore. “Oh, MAN!” She brushed angrily at the crumbs, sending them spraying all over the floor. “Wonderful. That’s just wonderful!” She pushed the chair back again and stood up. She couldn’t possibly concentrate on her essay with this mess all over the floor… Zoe turned her back on the computer and went to her kitchen area, throwing cupboards open in search of her dustpan and brush. She may have been an airhead on a free ride thanks to a sports scholarship, but she was nothing if not neat, and Zoe couldn’t stand mess…
A brilliant blue tendril crawled across the keyboard of the laptop, probing and slithering across the keys, making the screen flicker. It wound its fingers around the sides of the screen, lazily crawling up and around the edges. Again, the screen blinked, a single number one on the white face of the computer, like a tiny scar. The blue tendrils multiplied, zig-zagging across the keys, burrowing deep into the body of the computer like worms. As Zoe turned back to her laptop, dustpan and brush in hand, the last blue spider-like finger burrowed into the keys and disappeared. Zoe had seen nothing. She busied herself with cleaning up the crumbs, tipping the offending specks into the bin and putting the dustpan and brush back in its cupboard. Giving her top a last quick swipe with an open hand to remove any minuscule specs of cookie, she sat down again. She didn’t see a single blue tendril crawling slowly across the back of the laptop…
Her fingers hovered millimetres above the keys. “Right. Here we go. Why some dumb-ass people believe in demons when it’s so not real.” She sighed, her hands dropping into her lap. Her face screwed up petulantly. “Oh, man! Can’t I just say it’s stupid? Like, really stupid and dumb? Wouldn’t that be enough?” She sighed once more and her fingers took up their positions hovering above the keys again. She raised her eyes to the ceiling. “C’mon, God! Give me something here!” Her eyes dropped back to the screen and she noticed the number one that shattered the otherwise perfect-white page. “What the…” She peered closer at the screen, her finger moving slowly towards the delete button. She didn’t look at the key. So she didn’t see the brilliant blue tendril that crawled around the edges of the button… The one stood out. It shouldn’t have been there. She knew she hadn’t typed it; she knew she hadn’t typed anything. As the skin on her index finger almost brushed the key, her phone rang, making her jump back from the computer with a yelp. She gasped twice and shot the phone a look. The blue illuminated face of the Nokia lit up, a name clearly readable on it. Amanda. She giggled and picked the phone up, swinging around in her chair, her back to the laptop. “Hey Mandy!”
“Hey Zoe! Whatchya doin’?”
“Oh, this stupid assignment. You know the one for psyche?”
“What, the demon thing? My god, girl, have you not written that yet? You know it’s due in like, two days?”
Zoe stood up and walked to the window of her room, pulling the curtain to one side and staring out into the dark campus square. “Well, dur, Mand, I know! But it’s such a dumb-ass assignment, ya know? I mean, seriously, who believes in that kinda thing these days?”
“It’s worth ten credits, hun. You gotta do it.”
“Sucks, yeah. Talking of that, you seeing Bobby tonight?”
“Mandy! You’re too rude!” Zoe giggled coyly. “And you know full well I’m not that kinda girl!”
“So you are seeing him tonight, then?”
“Shut UP! And no, I’m not.” She turned back towards her laptop, frowning. “Dumb-ass assignment, remember?”
“Yeah, I know, but Bobby is SO buff! I mean, REALLY!”
“Yeah…” Zoe frowned, her pert little nose screwing up as her eyebrows pulled closer together. Her blue eyes stared hard at the screen. Something was wrong with her computer. “Listen Mandy? I gotta go. My computers gone all screwy on me. It’s like, typing all by itself, ya know?”
“You’re kidding me! Like it’s possessed or something? How cool is that, what with you doing that assignment on demons and all!”
“Mandy, that’s so not funny, OK? Seriously, it’s gone totally schizophrenic on me. It’s just typing zeros and ones like mad!”
“Just hit control, alt, delete. Reboot it and it should be fine. Probably just a glitch in the programme, hun. You know what Windows is like.”
“And that’s why I love having a computer science major as a friend, babes! Talk to you later, OK? Bye.” Zoe pressed the end-call button and placed the phone on the desk next to the laptop. Her eyes never left the screen as she sat down. “What the hell?” The screen was covered with zeros and ones. The cursor flashed across the screen, leaving a trail of characters in its wake. Zoe glowered at the screen. “Oh, go all hooey on me, would you, you piece of shit? Well, fix this!” She peered at the keys. “Control,” her finger hovered over the button. “Alt, “ she stretched her hand towards the last button and pressed down.
The blue tendrils shot up, curling around her fingertips and scuttling up the backs of her hands. Zoe screamed as she felt the white-hot pain seer into her skin. Her eyes widened in fright and confusion as she desperately tried to pull her hands away from the blue snakes that wound their way up her arms. Like demented creeper-vines, the tendrils wound along her arms and around her throat, probing and stabbing at her skin. Zoe’s body convulsed as the ganglions crawled across her body, making her dance like some sick puppet. Where the tendrils touched, the skin boiled and blistered and a sharp smell of burning flesh filled the room. She threw her head back and screamed, a terrified, howling scream that echoed around her room. The blue tendrils shot into her open mouth, cutting the scream off in her throat. Her eyes bulged, the tendrils crawling across the surface of her eyeball, blood running down her cheeks, boiling, spitting, blistering the skin that it corrupted. Suddenly, a beam of light shot out of her opened, screaming mouth, illuminating the entire room and bathing it in an intense blue hue. Her body went limp, and the tendrils retracted, crackling and zig-zagging back down her arms and hands, back into the depths of the laptop. Zoe’s lifeless body slipped sideways and she dropped to the floor, her death mask one of utter fear and mindless agony.
On the desk, one lone blue tendril crept along the surface, probing and searching. It found the phone and crawled across the keypad. The phone chirruped and dialled the last number – Mandy’s number…“Hello? Hello? Zoe, is that you? C’mon, Zo, stop kidding ar…”
The tinny scream at the other end of the phone blasted through the earpiece, mimicking the terrible scream let out just seconds earlier by Zoe.
On the laptop, the lines of zeros and ones retracted, one character at a time until just one word was left on the screen, the cursor blinking incessantly beside it...
The freezing January wind sliced through the city of Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska. The residents of the city, their faces swaddled in scarves and woollen hats, bustled along the streets, their shoulders hunched against the biting cold. Nobody paid attention to the black Impala that growled slowly along the main street. Dean reached forward and twisted the heater control up to full. “Seriously? You couldn’t find a case in Florida or New Mexico in January? You had to find one here? It’s snowing, dude! It’s freakin’ snowing!” He glowered at his brother. It had been a long trip from the oppressive heat of the deep south a couple of months previously, and Dean found himself almost wishing they were still back there, dealing with incompetent demons and redneck locals. Sam snapped back.
“Dude, it’s snow. It’s not fire and brimstone, OK?”
“Oh, yeah. You had to bring my deal up again, didn’t you?”
“What? No! I…”
“Every opportunity you get. You just can’t resist getting in another dig, can you, Sammy?” Dean swung the car into a parking space at the side of the road, hauling on the handbrake and slapping his hands against the steering wheel in anger. He turned sharply to his brother, his green eyes flashing angrily. “Well? C’mon then, Sammy, have at it. I mean, you haven’t lectured me for at least, oh, I guess, what, an hour?”
“But if you mention the whole ‘King of the Demons’ thing, I’m supposed to take that as a joke?” Dean was tired, cold, pissed off and in the mood for a fight. The trip from Nebraska had been a long one and, truth be told, he was still freaked. Sure, he’d let Sam make light of the revelation that his kid brother was some kind of demonic magnetic north, with all hellish compasses pointing towards him. But in the small hours, when Sammy was sleeping, Dean had lain awake, almost out of his mind with worry – his father’s words still ringing in his ears. “If you can’t save him, you have to kill him…”
“See that bar?” Dean stabbed a finger towards a bar. Motorcycles lined up outside the neon-stained front. Sam sighed, his shoulders slumping. “You see it?” Sam nodded. “You want me, I’ll be in there, drinking beer, playing pool and hopefully hooking up with some hot chick who doesn’t have a seven foot-silly boyfriend with a Hog, an attitude, a club patch on his back and a burning desire to preach me to freakin’ death, OK? OK?” Dean threw the door of the Impala open and climbed out. He slammed the door shut and leaned in through the window. “And Sammy? You scratch the car and I’ll kill you.” Dean slapped his hand on the doorframe, glared at his brother and turned on his heels, stamping towards the bar.
Sam watched his brother walk into the bar, the door swinging closed on their umpteenth argument that week. Sam settled back into the passenger seat, pausing to reach across and wind the driver’s window up and shut out the knife-like wind that howled along the main street. He pulled the file out and started to read, occasionally glancing across at the bar. Any second now, he expected to see at least one body come flying through a window, followed by his older brother, punch drunk and swinging. Dean’s temper had been getting shorter lately. He knew his brother had a hair-trigger when it came to his anger, but Dean was spiralling out of control again. His glances towards the bar became more frequent and he found himself reading the same sentence over and over again, unable to focus or concentrate on anything else except that bar. “Oh, crap! Dean, you always do this to me!” He slapped the file shut and stuffed it back into the hold-all. The laptop, which had lain open on his knees, blinked at him, the Wi-Fi connection picking up a signal from the internet café that stood next to the parking spot. Sam tapped at the keyboard, shutting the connection down and snapped the lid closed, shutting off the blue-white light of the screen. He carefully put the laptop back into the hold-all and pushed the bag under the back seat – out of sight of over-eager car thieves. Zipping his jacket up against what he knew would be a savagely cold wind, he pulled the keys out of the ignition, opened the passenger door and stepped out into a freezing, dark night. He locked the doors and, checking quickly, darted across the road, dodging the cars as they hurried their drivers home to cosy, safe houses. As he opened the door, the warm, thick atmosphere of the bar caressed his wind-burnt cheeks, making his cold skin tingle.
Dean sat alone at the bar, nursing a beer bottle and staring at a stain on the bench. The blonde barmaid threw him an accusatory look and carried on polishing a glass. Sam pushed his hands deep into his pockets, bracing himself for another conflict with his brother. He walked up to the bar and swung his leg over the stool. He indicated to the barmaid, who put her cloth down and sauntered towards him. “Beer please.” She nodded and turned away, pirouetting back a second later with a bottle in her hand. She slammed it down on the counter, glared again at Dean and sashayed back towards the other end of the bar. Sam took a pull from the bottle and studied the label intensely. “So.”
Dean slammed his beer on the counter and raised his eyes to the heavens. “Oh, man, give it a rest will you!”
“How about you let me finish a sentence before you go all defensive on my ass, Dean? Huh? Wanna give that a try?”
“Because your sentences usually end with, ‘and you’ve only got blah blah days left before you go to hell, and the Hell Hounds are a-comin’ and blah, blah…”
“You’re right. I have been on your case and I’m sorry, Dean.”
“Whoa. Didn’t see that comin’…”
“Maybe you weren’t looking, dude. Maybe you’ve had other things on your mind.”
“Like the fact that you’re gonna die?”
“Oh man, I knew it was too good to be true…”
“No please, listen to me, Dean, OK? And… dude, just why is that barmaid so pissed at you?”
“Well, she keeps throwing these really weird looks at you and… and she’s coming over…”
The blonde barmaid walked back towards the brothers, a puzzled look on her face. She leaned in, her blue eyes fixed on Dean. “You Dean?”
“No, me Tarzan. You Jane?”
“Funny. You’re a…funny man. Seriously. Are you Dean?”
“Who wants to know?”
“I have a message for you.” She held out a piece of paper. Dean unfolded the paper, his turn now to look puzzled.
“What is it Dean? A girl’s phone number?”
“No. Co-ordinates.” He looked up at the barmaid. “Who gave you this?”
“Some weird guy with a kick-ass mullet. Said to tell you that Doctor Badass needs to talk. That’s all. He said you’d know.” The girl shrugged. “He bit Bowzer.”
“Bowzer. Him. He bit him. Said he cheated at chess.” The girl pointed at a huge Biker. The man had a fresh dressing on his left hand. Bowzer glared over at the brothers. It was like being stared down by a grizzly bear. The biker saw the brothers staring at him and slowly, like a glacier, advanced towards them. Dean and Sam watched in awe as continents moved out of the way of this man-mountain. In a surprisingly soft voice, Bowzer finally spoke.
“You know the bitey dude?”
“Tell him that I was deeply hurt by his unprovoked and unnecessary attack on me. It has shifted my perception on the human condition to one of previously reserved admiration, to one of doubt and not inconsiderable personal inner conflict. And I had to get a shot. However, I do understand that at the time he may have been intimidated by my considerable bulk and somewhat overawing physique, so I forgive him. I won’t, however, be so forgiving should this regrettable event occur again. And also please tell him that the knight to bishop four move was unprovoked and certainly not sporting. Please pass this on to Mr Badass. Thank you.” Without another word, the huge man turned on his heels and walked back to his comrades.
Dean and Sam stared at the huge man, unable to speak for a moment. Finally, Dean, his eyes not leaving the huge biker, spoke. “OK. So I am officially weirded out now, dude.”
Sam’s eyes widened in amazement. “There’s only one person I know who can cheat at chess, Dean.” He looked at his brother. Together they said the name.
Dean drove the car slowly along the dirt track, cutting the lights just before they lit up the old house. “Creepy. Just once, ya know? Nice house, picket fence? Is that too much to ask?”
“You sure this is the place?”
“Sam, I’ve spent my entire life wandering around the US, working purely on co-ordinates. Yes, this is the place.”
“OK. I still think this is some kind of trap.”
“Sammy, quit it, will you?” Dean killed the engine and opened the door. “This is Ash we’re talking about. What’s the worst he can do? Bite me?” Dean laughed. “I’m just glad he’s alive, Sam, OK? Shall we?”
Sam climbed cautiously out of the car. “I’m just saying this could be a trap. The demons know who our allies are. They knew Ash was one of them…”
“IS one of them, Sammy. Is. Not past tense. Ash is alive. I knew that wasn’t him in the Roadhouse, I just knew it!”
“Dean, think. There’s no way you could’ve known that. It was Ash’s watch. He died in the fire.”
“Bull. Ever known my instinct to be wrong?”
“Dean, all I’m saying is that it wouldn’t be hard for a demon to impersonate him and make us think…”
“And there you go with the over-analysing again, Samantha! Stop it already!” Dean strided towards the house. Sam noticed that, despite his bravado and his certainty that Ash was alive, Dean’s right hand hovered over the back of his jeans. Just where Sam knew Dean’s gun would be resting in the small of his back…
“HEY! DOCTOR BADASS! OPEN UP!”
There was a crash behind the filthy front door and a quiet curse. Dean leaned towards the door, listening. “Ash? You in there? It’s Dean!”
The response was muffled by the thick oak door. “Oh, man, where’d I leave my pants?”
“Ash? You OK? Ash?”
The door creaked open a crack and a bloodshot eye peered blearily at Dean. “What’s the password?”
“What’s the password?”
“Ash, you butt-head, it’s me! Dean! Open the goddamn door will you? It’s freezing out here!”
“Butt-head. Butt-head. Yeah, that…that’ll do.” The door was flung open and the brothers were confronted by a semi-naked Ash. Semi-naked from the waist down. Sam and Dean looked away quickly.
“Whoa, dude! Pants! Pants!”
“Huh?” Ash glanced down. “Oh, sorry. My bad. Guess I didn’t have them on then, after all. Oh well, worth a shot.” He grinned and stepped to one side. “Enter, brothers Winchester and excuse me while I suitably attire myself. Beer’s in the fridge.”
“OK.” The brothers stepped into the ramshackle house, shielding the view of a semi-naked Ash from their eyes with their hands. A moment later, the man appeared, thankfully this time fully clothed. He threw his arms wide and grinned broadly at Dean.
Dean laughed and embraced the man in a bearhug. Of all the hunters they had met, Sam had noticed that only two had made any kind of an impression on his brother. Alex Armstrong was one. Ash was the other. Dean and Ash broke the embrace and stepped back from each other, looking one another up and down. They both scowled and as one, said one word. “Fag!” The two men then promptly burst out laughing and did a quick air-guitar at each other.
“When you’ve quite finished, Bill and Ted…”
Dean grinned. “Most excellent, dude! But seriously Ash, I thought you were dead. How come you…”
All trace of humour left Ash’s face. “Who else got out?”
“Ellen. She went out to get pretzels.”
Ash sank into a chair, his face a mask of grief. “All of them, Dean? All of them?”
“I’m sorry, man. I thought you were one of them when I found your watch.”
“I lost it in a poker game earlier that night. I’d run out of money. The watch was the last thing I had. It was a Rolex. OK, so maybe not a real Rolex, but he didn’t know that. I was gonna pawn your car, but you weren’t there, so…” Ash looked at Dean’s confused face. “What?”
“You were gonna put my car up as a stake?”
“I didn’t think you’d mind. Besides, it would’ve been funny watching the dude trying to get the keys off you without having to get major dental surgery afterwards.” Ash gave a lop-sided grin.
“Yep. You’re the real Ash.” Dean laughed and took a swig of beer.
Ash ran his hand through his hair, flicking the long locks at the back coyishly. “The guy who won it off me was a hunter. A good one, too.” He ran his hand through his hair again. His expression changed from his usual, slightly confused at the world but not caring one to a dark and sombre one. “Shit man! That sucks!” He stood up angrily, kicking the chair and sending it spinning across the room. “That SUCKS!”
Dean’s expression softened. He knew the loss of the Roadhouse had hit Ash hard. “I know, dude. I know.”
“At least Ellen is OK.”
“She’s with Bobby. He’s looking after her for a while until she can get back on her feet.” Sam sat down at the table and scratched his chin. Something was bothering him…
“No. She wasn’t there. Look Ash, it’s great to see you again and all, but how did…”
“I know that you’d be in that bar?” Who do you think sent you the case?”
Sam stared at the man. “Why didn’t you just call us, Ash?”
“People out there, they know stuff. Ya know?”
“The net. Cell-phones. They ain’t safe.”
“Oh, c’mon, Ash, don’t start with the conspiracy theory stuff…”
“I’m serious, Sam. And it’s not just people.” Ash looked scared. Genuinely scared.
Dean held out a beer towards Ash, his eyes gentle. “Hey, Ash, c’mon. Why don’t you sit down and take us through this slowly? You sent us the case, right? Six unexplained deaths in a matter of a couple of days here in Omaha? What makes you think they’re our kinda thing, dude?”
Ash took the beer wordlessly and drained the bottle. He burped and tossed the empty bottle over his shoulder, ignoring the sound of breaking glass behind him. The man slumped down in a chair, his hands over his face. He ran them up over his head, his eyes closed. Sam noticed the dark circles under his eyes. He looked exhausted.
“OK. So here’s the thing.” Ash leaned forward, his elbows resting on the table in front of him. “Ever since the Roadhouse went up, I’ve been lying low. Keepin’ outta harms way. I knew things were getting real bad, but man, I didn’t even begin to realise how bad until after that whole Devil’s Gate thing. I guessed that a lot of people would be asking some awkward kinda questions, so I dropped off the radar. I knew most people thought I was dead, so I milked it. Easier that way. But I kept my ear to the ground, as it were.” He laughed. “Man, you should hear what they’ve been saying ‘bout you two, dude! You ain’t gonna win no popularity contests any time soon, believe me!”
Dean shrugged. “We’re not in this to make friends, Ash. Go on.”
“OK. So. They all think you guys opened the gate and unleashed the great Unwashed Hordes onto us, so don’t expect much help from anyone anytime soon.” Ash looked thoughtful. “Except maybe a dude called Alex. Alex Armstrong. He’s OK.”
“Yeah? Cool! He’s particularly good with a sword.” Ash frowned in puzzlement. “Don’t ask me why. Anyhoo, I kept tabs on you guys, ya know, just to make sure you were OK. Watching your backs as it were. You met Ruby, by the way?”
Dean scowled. “Oh yes. We’ve met Ruby.”
Sam kept his thoughts to himself, but merely nodded in confirmation.
“Hot chick.” Ash shrugged. “Anyway, she’s not important right now. What is important is we have ourselves a cyber-demon. And he’s getting real powerful, real quick.”
“And a cyber-demon would be?” Dean looked puzzled.
“Of course!” Sam clicked his fingers. “The internet would be a perfect place for a demon to strike!”
“Someone wanna explain this in non-geek babble?”
Ash gently took Dean’s beer and swigged it back. “Simple, dude. We got a demon in the internet. That’s how he’s moving around and that’s how he’s killing these people. Thing is, I can’t work out exactly how he’s doing it, or why. Or how we stop him.” He drained the bottle and handed it back to Dean. Dean looked sadly at the empty bottle, shrugged and put it on the table. “That’s why I didn’t contact you by email or cell-phone. You guys ain’t just unpopular with hunters, there’s kinda a groundswell movement of demons that have a real personal issue with you both, especially you, Dean. If I’m right about this cyber-demon, he’d be monitoring your transmissions. If I tried to contact you through cyber-space, he’d be on to us in a flash. This way, we have the element of surprise.” Ash winked conspiratorially.
“How the hell does a demon get itself into the internet? Seriously?”
Sam leaned forward. “It’s not that far-fetched, Dean. Think about it. What are we?”
“Oh, man, dude, now is so not the time for deep philosophical questions, Sammy…”
“Dean, take your head out your ass and think will you? We’re atoms. Everything that exists is made of atoms, right?”
“OK, so now it’s physics?”
Sam scowled at his brother. “Wanna back me up here, Ash?”
Ash shrugged. “Would do if I knew where you were going with this, Sammo.”
“Look, it’s very simp…” Sam shot Ash a look. “Sammo?”
Sam paused for a second before deciding to let the comment slide. “So. OK. Everything that exists has a molecular structure, right? Made of billions of atoms. Even demons. It’s a basic rule of physics that energy cannot be destroyed, only manipulated. So, if a demon has found a way to manipulate its form into pure energy, it could use the internet as a hiding place and a conduit to move around from place to place.” He sat back. “Dean, this is bad. Really bad. Firstly, whatever this demon is, it’s gonna be very powerful to be able to transform itself like that.”
“And it means we can’t nail the son of a bitch’s ass down to one place, right?”
“Exactly. It can get anywhere, any time. By now, it could be in China. Or Australia. Or anywhere. And the first we’d know about it is when it strikes again. Unless we’re there at the time, there’s no way of tracking it.”
“Not strictly true.”
Dean and Sam turned their attention to Ash. “Excuse me?”
“Not strictly true. Any power surge leaves a trace. And that amount of energy would most certainly cause a power surge, no matter how hard it tried to cover its tracks. All I have to do is find its signature, track its past movements and route and maybe, just maybe, I might be able to predict where it’s gonna pop up again. Or where the bastard hides out when he’s not frying people.”
Dean frowned. “One thing I don’t understand. Why is it focusing its attention on Omaha? What’s so special about this place? Apart from freakishly huge, chess playing bikers, that is?”
Ash looked apologetic. “Ah. You met Bowzer, then?”
“Uh-huh. And he was quite upset about the whole biting thing, dude. You gotta stop biting people, Ash!”
“What? I mean, c’mon! The guy used the Romanov move and he’d lost his bishop, for Christ’s sake!”
Sam stared incredulously at the two hunters. “Um, guys? Can we focus on the bigger picture here? Dean, I think you’re right. Perhaps we should start checking out if these deaths have anything in common. Ash? Do you think you can come up with a way of tracking this thing?”
“Give me…thirty three hours.”
“Okay then?” Sam raised his eyebrows at his brother. “Thirty three hours it is.”
“No, make that thirty two. I know a shortcut.” Ash smiled vacantly.
“Perhaps you should stay here, Sammy? Help Ash? I mean, two geeks are better than one, right?” Dean grinned at his brother. “I’ll go check out the thriving metropolis that is Omaha.” He stood up and pushed the chair back. “OK, a couple of rules while I’m gone. No running off on your own, if you gotta go somewhere, you tell me.” He pulled his cell-phone out of his pocket and waved it at them.
“No can do, Deano. Told you. There’s a good chance that our sparky friend can track us through any form of electronic contact.”
“OK, so what do we do? Send carrier pigeons?”
“No. We’ll just have to set a time limit.” Sam stood up. “I need to get stuff from the car. Back in a minute, Ash.”
Dean nodded at Ash. “Stay off the beer, dude. We need you clear-headed. And NO BITING!”
“Copy that, compadre!” Ash saluted hap-hazzardly and grinned.
Dean followed Sam back to the Impala and popped the trunk. “OK, so what’s this with time limits?”
“Simple. If you’re not back in three hours, I come looking for you.”
“Yeah. That’ll work.”
“When has it ever let us down before?” Sam pulled out a hold-all and slammed the trunk shut, ignoring Dean’s wince as he pushed down hard on the metal. He slung the bag over his shoulder. “See what you can come up with, bro. Anything at all.”
“Yeah, ya know? I got it.”
“Just don’t be tempted to use the cell-phone, OK? And if you use any computers, be careful. If Sparky can track us through our use of electronic equipment, we don’t want to give him any heads-up.”
“And again with the got it, Sam. What gives? Why’re you so goddamn jumpy all of a sudden?”
Sam frowned. “Because any demon powerful enough to do this is way up there on the list of demons not to screw around with, Dean. We’re not dealing with some half-wit like Furfur here, OK? This bastard is major league. And I don’t want you getting yourself into trouble at this stage of the ga…”
Dean glared angrily at Sam. “And here we go again! Jesus! What the HELL is that supposed to mean, Sammy? Seriously? Another dig at me and my deal? Because, dude, it’s starting to wear just a little thin on me, OK? I’m a BIG BOY! I can take care of myself, so stop it already!” Dean threw the door of the Impala open, climbed in and slammed it closed again, the creaking hinges groaning in protest. He turned the key in the ignition and the big car roared into life.
“I think you’re over-compensating, Dean! I think you’re protesting just a little too much, ya know? I think YOU’RE IN DENIAL! I THINK YOU’RE BEING A GODDAMN ASS-HOL…!” The rest of Sam’s angry response to his brother’s outburst was drowned out by the screaming tyres as Dean fishtailed down the drive, leaving his younger brother choking in a cloud of dust.
Sam stared at the disappearing car, his emotions twisting inside. Dean was not, as he would insist, fine. He was scared. Every waking moment, he was scared. And he wouldn’t let his little brother help him. Why the HELL not?
“Whoa. You guys have a couple of unresolved issues to wash through, dude.”
“Drop it, Ash.”
“This got anything to do with Dean’s deal? Ya know, the one for his soul?”
Sam spun around quickly, staring hard at Ash. “How the hell do you know about that?”
“Bobby told me.”
“So if you’ve spoken to Bobby, how come you didn’t know Ellen was staying with him?”
Ash stared at Sam. He said nothing. Sam slowly lowered the hold-all down onto the ground, his eyes never leaving Ash. His right hand snaked around slowly to his gun, nestled in the small of his back. His fingers brushed the bright chrome, closing around the handle, ready to come out firing if Ash gave the wrong answer...
Dean drove back towards the centre of Omaha. His brother’s words were echoing around his head, buzzing through his consciousness like angry bees. Over-compensating. In denial. Protesting too much. Oh, yes, he had heard every word. Despite trying to drown out Sam’s voice in a raging push on the gas peddle and making the Impala roar, it had still filtered through. Dean punched the steering wheel, scowling in anger. Damn it; that was the worst part. His brother was right. He knew his time was trickling away, and they were no closer to finding a way out. Did he want a way out? Did he want it all to end, to be over? Dean ran his hand over his face, breathing heavily. He shook his head, trying to displace the angry buzz in his head. He reached down, his fingers hunting for the volume knob on the radio. Music. That would block the wretched whining of Sammy’s voice in his subconscious out. A bit of AC/DC. That would work…
His fingers brushed the plastic and he yelped, snatching his hand away. “Son of a BITCH!” Dean pulled the Impala to the side of the road and stopped, the big V8 grumbling on tick-over to itself. Dean scowled and glanced down at the radio. A single blue tendril crept across the surface of the tape deck, probing and stabbing at the plastic. It rose up from the surface of the tape deck and seemed to sniff the air, searching, arching, like a cobra. Dean sat motionless, staring at the brilliant blue tendril. His finger throbbed where the tendril had made contact; he glanced at his finger, noting the already-forming blister that bubbled on the surface of his skin. The tendril ran up slowly across the dash and wound its way around the steering wheel of the Impala, like a blue serpent. Dean subconsciously pushed himself further into the seat, trying to keep as much space between himself and this apparition. It crawled slowly along the body of the car, and down the side of the panel. Dean watched it, not daring to move. This was something that couldn’t be shot at, couldn’t be beaten. The tendril seemed alive, sentient and utterly malignant. It exuded a menace Dean had only come across once before – a menace that only a truly powerful demon could transpose. The blue, snake-like tendril crawled to the side of the road and, rearing up, seemed to examine a yellow junction box. Eventually, it seemed to come to a decision and, contrary to its previously slow, thoughtful movements, darted into the box, crackling between the metal plates.
It was gone.
Dean heaved a huge sigh of relief and leaned his head back onto the headrest. “Jesus H Christ, what the HELL was that?” He tentatively reached towards the ignition and, screwing his eyes closed in anticipation of a shock he felt sure was coming, grabbed the key and turned the engine off. Nothing. He let out another relieved sigh and glanced over towards the junction box. “Okay Sparky, what gives?” He opened the door and climbed out, moving cautiously towards the box.
Just a normal telephone junction box.
Dean sat on his haunches and stared hard at the yellow metal casing. The paint was flaking off in parts and the lock was an easy one to jimmy open. Dean pulled out a pen-knife and opened the blade, pushing it between the two plates of the door and the side. He levered sharply and the door popped open with a metallic click, swinging slowly on creaking hinges. Inside was a spaghetti of wires, switches and connectors. Dean studied the matrix, looking for any hint as to which wire the tendril had used as a conduit.
“Hey! Buddy! What the hell d’ya think you’re doin’?” Dean spun around, standing up quickly. The man climbed out of the van and strided towards Dean, tool-box in one hand, a frown on his face. Dean turned on the charm. He glanced at the van. A public utilities contractor. The gods were smiling on him...
“Hi! I just stopped by the side of the road to check my maps and noticed this.” Dean pointed to the opened junction box. “Door was wide open on it. What is it – electricity? Phone?”
“Phone box. Has all the connections for the lines going into the north side of Omaha. Not too wise to stand that close to it, sir.” The man glanced over at the Impala. “Hey, is that a ’66?”
“’67. You into classic cars?”
The man smiled broadly. “Hell, yeah! She’s a beaut!” The man glanced at Dean, a questioning look in his eyes, silently asking Dean’s permission before he ran a gentle hand over the curves of the car. “Got a ’66 Mustang myself. Pa gave it to me on my 18th birthday. A total wrecker. Restored her myself.” The man looked proud, pleased to find another classic car buff. “Original engine?”
“V8. Purrs like a kitten. I’m Dean.” Dean held his hand out and beamed warmly at the man.
“Ben. Ben Jones.” Ben shook Dean’s hand firmly. “So, you lost, Dean?”
“What? Oh, no, no. I’m fine.”
“Your first time in fair Omaha?” Ben grinned. “’Fraid you may be disappointed, son. Wrong time of the year. Now the spring here, it’s beautiful! You on business?”
“Yep, kinda. I’m a reporter. Weekly World News.”
“I thought that had gone bust?”
“The on-line side of things is still going. You used to read it?”
“Oh sure. I love all them weird-assed stories you guys used to make up! Demons and aliens and shit, loved it! So what crazy crap is supposed to be going down in my home town then, Dean?”
Dean leaned back on the hood of the Impala and crossed his arms, studying the man carefully. “A lot of unexplained deaths through electrocution. Some kind of charge coming up through cell-phones, computers, that kinda thing. Any thoughts? Seeing as you’re in the business?” Dean nodded towards the box. “I’d like a professional opinion, Ben. To balance the article, ya know?”
“And you think it was aliens or demons or sommat?” Ben laughed. “Man, you guys are even more whacko than I thought!”
“OK Ben, so what’s your take on it?”
Ben shrugged. “Faulty equipment, dodgy wiring, who knows?” He winked conspiratorially. “Perhaps them MIB’s in Washington are conducting some kinda hi-tech experiment?” He walked towards Dean, standing directly in front of him. Dean’s senses prickled…
“Now, you’re gonna have to excuse me, Dean.” Ben nodded towards the box. “Got myself a broken door to mend and a couple of connectors to fix.” Dean smiled and stepped out of the way, his senses still on alert. Ben moved past him and crouched down beside the open junction, flipping the lid of the tool box open and pulling out a wrench.
“That’s kinda a big wrench for a job like that, isn’t it?”
Ben glanced over his shoulder at Dean. “Best you stick to being a reporter, son. This here is exactly the tool for the job I have in mind.” He turned back to the matrix that was the junction box and studied it.
Dean smiled at the man’s back. “OK, well, thanks for all your help, Ben. Hope you don’t mind if I quote you?” Dean raised a hand and turned back to the Impala, still feeling his senses prickling.
Behind him, on almost silent feet, Ben trotted up, the wrench raised above his head, a snarl on his face…
At the last second Dean turned and grabbed the man’s wrist, twisting it painfully sideways and throwing Ben off balance. The wrench dropped from his hand and clattered onto the stony ground. Dean punched the man hard on the jaw, snapping his head sideways and sending him sprawling into the dust. “Now that wasn’t very frie… oh, heeelloo!” Dean brought the gun around in one smooth move, levelling the barrel at the man’s head. “I recognise those black eyes! Looky here, seems I’ve got myself a demon cable-guy!” He let out a shout of mirthless laughter.
Ben scrabbled to his feet, his pitch-black eyes boring into Dean’s green orbs, sheer malice on his face. “Dean Winchester? Ha! What? Am I supposed to be in awe of you, boy? Am I supposed to be afraid?” The demon sneered. “Whatya gonna do, Dean? Shoot me? In case you hadn’t noticed, that ain’t a Colt you’re holding there, son.”
Dean snarled his response. “Oh, it’s exactly the tool for the job I have in mind, asshole!” Dean moved the barrel of the gun a fraction to the right and fired. The bullet smashed into the junction box, sending sparks spitting out as live wires were blasted from their connectors. The barrel of the A1 swung back, aiming straight at the demon’s chest. “From this distance, the impact should have the desired effect…” Dean smiled darkly and squeezed the trigger slowly…
“Effect? What effec…” The double tap took the demon hard in the chest and shoulder, sending him reeling backwards. The demon frantically flailed his arms, trying to regain his balance, but he toppled back into the junction box. The live wires, shot loose by Dean’s first shot, connected with the demon’s body and thousands of volts arched through him. The demon screamed in agony, his body convulsing wildly as wave after wave of electricity crashed through him, making him dance like some possessed marionette doll. He opened his mouth and screamed again, a rush of blackness pouring out of his mouth, twisting and writhing like a huge black snake. Tendrils of blue shot out of the junction box, wrapping themselves around the black entity, zig-zagging in and out like lightning in a cloud. With an ear-splitting scream, the entity writhed again and was sucked into the junction box, Ben’s now lifeless body being pounded by the demonic force that tore through him.
Dean pushed the A1 back into his belt and watched as Ben’s body dropped to the ground, his death-mask one of horror and fear. Dean crouched, carefully avoiding touching either the body or the junction box. He didn’t need to check. There would be no signs of life in Ben now. Dean glanced at the junction box, the electricity still shorting and fizzing across the exposed copper wires. A last blue tendril crawled into a blackened plastic sheath and was gone.
“Shit.” He ran his hand through his cropped hair. Another pointless death. Another one he couldn’t stop. Another one he had on his conscience. “SHIT!” Dean stood up angrily, raging at a world that didn’t care. He kicked the junction box, slamming it hard against the frame, watching flecks of yellow paint flutter to the ground like rusty petals. “SHIT!!” He turned and stamped back to the Impala, flinging the driver’s door open and slumping down into the seat. The big car rumbled back into life and spat dust from its tyres as Dean slued back onto the blacktop, heading for Omaha city. He was determined to try and find a way to stop this from taking any more lives…
“Oh YEAH baby! Show me what you got!” Rodney Marsh stared at his flickering computer screen, his sweaty hand resting on the mouse, the middle finger fumbling over the scroll-wheel. He leaned in closer, a dirty leer spreading across his face as he watched the blonde girl go through her moves. Damn, this was WAY better than pay-per-view…
Rodney, a spotty, desperately thin 19 year old, had started his business as an Internet Service Provider at 15. Living, troglodyte-like in his parent’s basement, he rarely saw the sun, or other people. Computers were his whole life. In cyber-space, he could be who he wanted to be. Not the weak, asthmatic, sickly child he had always been in reality – tormented by the other kids for his strange ways and awkwardness – but a god, an Adonis, a mighty cyber-warrior. He had never been good in the company of real people. But the virtual world? Ah, that was different.
The entire basement was full of servers, all quietly bleeping away, connecting his customers with their audiences all over the world. Despite his father’s resignation initially, the money Rodney had earned as an ISP had paid off the mortgage, refurbished his mother’s kitchen and paid for Rodney’s little sister’s college education. So his parents were more than happy to tolerate their son’s sometimes strange behaviour. They never went into the basement. They never asked him questions, mainly because they both knew that they wouldn’t even be able to start to understand the answers that Rodney would inevitably provide.
Right now, they were upstairs, enjoying the new fifty inch plasma screen television that Rodney’s strange little business had provided them. It even had internet connection, so his dad could look at giant size porn while his mom was out. That had pleased his father no end… They were both happy and comfortable in the knowledge that their son, their boy, was providing them with a lifestyle they could have only dreamed of before. In the basement, Rodney was enjoying his own kind of show. It involved a rather well-endowed young lady by the name of Dakota and her friend, Hannah. Rodney ran a nervous tongue over his dry lips, his eyes never leaving the hot, girl on girl action on the screen. Man, were these two ever enjoying…
The computer pinged merrily and a pop-up appeared in the middle of the screen, the image of an envelope fluttering across it. “Oh nonoNO! Not now, man! C’mon!” Without looking, Rodney moved the mouse a fraction of a millimetre and double clicked on the icon in the corner of the pop-up. “Sorry for the interruption ladies, I’ll be right back!” He moved the mouse again and the two groaning, writhing women disappeared from his screen. His hand moved again and he double-clicked the mouse, opening up his mail. It wasn’t a standard email, he had a Skype call. Rodney moved the cursor arrow up to the tool-bar and opened up Skype. Jesus, how had people coped before Skype? Seriously? Free calls and if you had webcams, the chance to literally talk face to face? What’s not to like? Rodney reached up and adjusted the webcam that sat on top of his computer, put on what he honestly thought was his Johnny Depp face and clicked on ‘connect’. For a moment, the screen was blank, with a snowy white haze hissing persistently on the screen. “Okay then, I’m waiting…” Rodney scowled and slapped the side of the screen with the flat of his hand. “Hello? Wanna try clicking the connect button, Skype-buddy? Hello? Hello?”
The temperature, normally bordering on the uncomfortably warm due to all the technology in the room, plummeted. Rodney shivered, starting to feel uncomfortable. The screen was still a hissing mass of white static and he raised his hand to slap the side of the screen again. Suddenly the static stopped and an image formed on the computer. The image was poor quality, but seemed to show a basement room. Rodney leaned closer, squinting to try and make out some of the details…
He let out a yelp of surprise and sat back hard into his chair. His own face, wearing exactly the same startled expression, stared back at him. He looked puzzled. His image mirrored his puzzlement. Slowly, he waved a hand in front of the camera. The image on the screen did the same. “OK, what gives? You damn crappy piece of garbage, you’ve looped back on yourself, ain’t ya? Well okay then, let’s give you a taste of the old control, alt, delete treatment, you son of a bitch computer! Sheesh, I am SO not buying my mainframe stuff off Ebay any more!” He moved his chair back towards the desk, his fingers reaching for the keyboard.
“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you, Rodney.”
“What the…” Rodney snatched his hands back, staring at his own puzzled face on the screen. The voice seemed to have come from all around him. The words that echoed in his head appeared as typed text on the screen.
“I said, I wouldn’t touch the keyboard. Not if you want to live.”
“Oh, it’s you. Why didn’t you just say so?” Rodney relaxed and crossed his arms over his chest. He smiled to himself. His virtual self mirrored the smile. “So. What can I do for you?”
“There are hunters here. They wish to stop us.”
“Not gonna happen.”
“Do not underestimate your enemies, little mortal. These are different. They are marked.”
“Look. There’s been nothing to link me to your little, um, temper-tantrums this far, so why should I worry now? I know you’re a pretty mean-assed son of a bitch, but c’mon, how much of a threat can a couple more hunters be?”
“FOOLISH!” The voice was guttural, dripping with venom and utterly menacing. The problem was, as much as a genius with computers as Rodney was, his limited imagination made him stupidly brazen towards something that would have terrified someone with a little more common sense. The voice decided a lesson was needed. “It seems you underestimate not only our enemies, but me also? Is this the case?”
Rodney smirked. “Well, seriously, dude, you’re the one who’s stuck in the ether, ain’t ya?”
“And you think I cannot reach you from there, is that it? You think that, because you are not touching the void that is my home, you cannot be harmed? You honestly think that, little man?” The voice echoed a malevolent chuckle around the room. Rodney felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle and he shifted uncomfortably.
“Hey, I never said…”
“Perhaps a little reminder of what I can do is in order, what do you think, hmm?” There was that chuckle again…
“Whoa, hang on there, dude, I…”
His sentence was cut short by a muffled scream filtering down through the ceiling of the basement. The screams – there were two of them now – carried on, growing in intensity, filled with terror and sheer horror. Rodney glanced up towards the ceiling. The voice chuckled again. “Ask yourself this, Rodney. Are those the screams of actors, playing a part on your lovely new television, or the screams of your parents as their souls are sent burning into hell? Why don’t you go take a look, Rodney? Why don’t you? Hmm? Why don’t you go look at what I can do?”
The door of the basement slammed open by itself, making the banister of the wooden stairs shudder. Rodney jumped, gasping in surprise. The anticipation of what he would see once he had climbed those stairs was making his heart pound. It felt like it was about to punch its way out of his chest and land, quivering and bloody, on the keyboard. He stood up, pushing the chair backwards with his legs and sending it scuttling and squeaking across the room, pirouetting wildly. He shot a look at his own image on the computer. He looked terrified. Furious and terrified. How could two such opposing feelings share the same space? “What have you done, you…”
“Go take a look, little man!” Rodney felt himself physically pushed towards the foot of the stairs. His hand, slick with sweat, gripped the handrail and he looked up, swallowing nervously, his eyes wide. Tentatively, he placed his right foot on the first step, the wood groaning beneath his weight. He crept up the stairs, his eyes never leaving the open doorway at the top – a doorway that was lit with a bright, flickering blue light from the huge television screen in the lounge. His hands crossed one over the other as he pulled his self up, feeling as if he were moving through treacle – each step taking him closer to something that would be beyond his imagination…
He reached the top of the stairs and paused, wanting to delay the inevitable for as long as he could, steeling himself, preparing himself for what he now knew he was about to set eyes on…
He took one last shuddering breath and stepped out into the light…
His eyes widened and he pushed a fist into his mouth to stop himself from screaming. If he started, he knew he would never be able to stop… Rodney felt the bile rising in his throat. He tore his eyes away from the scene of carnage that was his parents twisted, blackened bodies and sprinted into the downstairs toilet. Retching violently, he puked into the toilet, his sobs cut short by another wave of nausea that sent his head bobbing down towards the toilet bowl again. He spat and his shaking hand reached for the flush. He stood upright, clinging onto the washbowl to stop his buckling knees from giving way entirely and sending him crashing onto the floor. Rodney stared at his reflection in the mirror. The tears streamed down his face. His parents lay dead, his father’s hand still clutching the blackened, charred remote control of the plasma TV he had given them. He had signed his parents’ death warrants. He had given that bastard the means to attack them. He felt his stomach twist into knots. The images kept flashing back into his mind. The vacant, mindless terror in his mother’s dead eyes. The stench of cooked flesh, the skin peeling back to reveal the white cheekbone and eye socket of his father. And all that time, the mindless babble of The Jerry Springer show in the background, Jerry and his hick guests almost life-size on the huge screen…
“Bastard! BASTARD!” Rodney slammed his fist into the mirror, the shattered glass spiralling outwards towards the frame. He stared at his distorted reflection – dozens of Rodneys staring back at him, their eyes full of accusation, full of helpless anger against an enemy he could do nothing to stop…
Rodney sprinted back towards the basement, the fury filling him. He grabbed at the post, his hands spinning him around and stopping him from falling head-first down into the dim basement. He pounded down the wooden steps, each one bringing him closer to his enemy. He skidded to a stop in front of the computer screen and slammed both hands on the table. His own image stared back at him through the webcam. “You BASTARD! YOU SON OF A BITCH! YOU KILLED THEM! YOU BASTARD!”
“Temper, temper, little man…”
“No, little man, no. You will show me a little more respect than that.” A blue tendril lashed out of the screen and Rodney screamed as he felt the whip-like sting on his cheek. His hand flew up to his face, feeling the skin sting and blister underneath his fingertips. His fury turned to fear as he realised he could not possibly control the entity that now controlled him…
“Now. We have work to do, Rodney. I trust I have your absolute attention?” The voice chuckled again, knowing it had won…xxx…xxx…xxx…xxx…xxx…SNSIE…xxx…xxx…xxx…xx
Continue to Part Two