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07 November 2010 @ 02:13 pm
[fanfic] Strange New Worlds: Episode III  
Title: Strange New Worlds
Artist: extraonions
Author: tiptoe39
Pairing(if applicable): Gen
Rating: PG-13 for violence and some crude humor
Warnings/Spoilers: None

Master art post | Master fic post

Episode III: Blinded by the Light

They rocked out of Madison in a rented landspeeder, Cas in tow. Dean had old blues music on the music box, the sort of of crap that had only three chords but still sounded way better, in his opinion, than the metallic electronic crap that passed for popular music these days. Sam would never admit it and he'd certainly never let Dean know, but he agreed. Castiel didn’t seem to have any taste in music whatsoever, good or bad. He just sat, quietly, and whether he was listening or sleeping or whatever androids tended to do in their spare time was anyone's guess.

Eventually they rolled up to the Roadhouse, a wooden building with big sheet windows on the ceiling that let in streams of bright yellow sunlight. Ash was through the door before they'd stepped out. "Dudes!" was his rallying cry, and as if that wasn't enough, "My man, my man!" He slapped first Dean, then Sam on the back, and then turned to Cas and his eyes went to full moons. "Whoa. Just... whoa."

"Hello," Castiel said.

"Aw, just listen to him!" Ash clapped his hands. "'Hello.' That's classic." Castiel looked at Sam and Dean as though waiting for an explanation; Dean shrugged. "Where were you made, dude? Is that a chromium finish or is it--" he poked Castiel's face. "Wow, how'd you get that to feel so much like skin? I need to get the schematics on you."

They were a match made in heaven, Dean thought with a snicker. Ash never knew when to let go and Castiel was completely unruffled by any of it. After a few more minutes of poking and prodding (and getting no answers whatsoever from Castiel), Ash finally gave up and ushered them into the Roadhouse.

The place looked as antiquated on the inside as it did on the outside. The powerful sunlight cast an orange glow on pure wood tabletops and low chairs. Old-fashioned, coppery kegs of beer sat like fat frogs along the back side of the bar. A couple of regulars were already sucking down their early-afternoon brews, and they waved a lazy hello to the foursome as they passed through and into the back room.

After a few feet of storage space, another door sat, this one gleaming metal. It opened as Ash approached.

Here, where the customers couldn't see, was where Ash and Pamela did their thing. Wall-to-wall computer screens gleamed, lines of code streaming across some of them at breakneck paces while others showed pieces of security cameras, hacked-into databases and star maps. Ash took one look at the leftmost one and slammed his palm against his forehead. "We can travel the stars, but we can't get rid of the Blue Screen of Death. Where's the justice?" he moaned.

As vast as it was, the room was only a control room for the open space below. Peering over the the console bank near the far windows, Dean caught sight of Pamela, lean legs bracing under her as she worked to fit an interface into what looked like a vehicle of some sort. Her voice was a low hum on the speakers nearby. "Come on, baby, that's it... perfect, that's good. Now just pick this piece up. Atta girl. That'll do you."

Dean grinned and leaned in toward the microphone. "Still doing the Robot Whisperer thing, huh?"

Pamela cocked her head up toward the window and burst into a smile. "Dean! How many years has it been?" She negotiated her way out from under the metal monster, which groaned with what sounded like separation anxiety, and hurried up the stairs to the control room.

Dean met her with a hug, and Pamela said into his ear, "So, you given any thought to that idea of mine?"

"What, the threesome?"

"I see you brought Tall, Dark, and Grumpy." Pamela winked at Sam, who was already openly laughing and shaking his head. "The invitation is always open."

"Right. About that..." Dean frowned.

"Oh, let a girl have her fantasies. It's good to see you." She pecked Dean on the cheek, then came up to Sam and jumped up to circle her arms around his neck, standing on her tiptoes on top of his boots. "Don't tell me you came all this way just to give me sweet dreams."

"Not exactly." Sam glanced over his shoulder at Castiel, who was standing, awkwardly, in the doorway. Pamela leaned to the side, following his gaze, and her eyes went bright and wide. Letting go of his neck, she hopped off him and approached.

"Not bad, eh?" Ash crowed, as if this were his discovery. "You should feel his skin. That's some sweet finish."

"You can call him Cas," Dean offered. "He's --"

"It's," Sam interjected, looking troubled.

"Right. It's something we picked up on a salvage mission and we don't know what to make of it."

"Hi, baby," Pamela said, purring and running her hand up Castiel's arm. The android blinked and stiffened. "Where on earth did you come from?"

"Dean." Castiel looked past her, his eyes showing some discomfort. "What am I doing here?"

"Relax, Cas. It's all good. Pamela's just gonna have a chat with you. You be honest with her, you hear? Do what she says."

Castiel frowned. "I am not your servant," he said. "Please do not confuse me with a lower form of machinery. You did not build me, and you have no power over me."

Dean looked to Sam, his lips drawn tight in an incredulous expression, and then back to Castiel. "Sure, Cas, whatever. I just meant that you can. You know, if you want to talk to her, the point is, she's a friend, and she's good with AI."

"The best." Pamela crossed her arms over her chest as though outraged Dean could leave that part out.

"The best," Dean echoed. "You want to go downstairs with her while we chat with Ash a bit?"

Castiel surveyed him, and for an instant Dean was afraid he'd just blown it and was going to end up in cinders on the floor. Panic welled up in his throat. Damn it, it's hostile after all. I should have known. I shouldn't have trusted--

But Castiel nodded, and he followed Pamela downstairs into the open room.

Dean watched them go. trying to bite down his worries. Ash settled down at the biggest console, his fingers sliding onto a bright, gleaming keyboard that slid out to meet him. "So what's up? Something I can do you gentlemen for?"

"We need you to go into the Madison spaceport's logs," Sam said. "Look up anything you can find on the SS Perdition."

"Perdition, sure." Ash typed, watched a screen load, then shook his head. "Nothing. Are you sure it went out of Madison?"

"Sure we're sure," Dean said. "It's possible it was a government flight. Can you look in their files for anything about it?"

"You want me to hack the government?" Ash's eyebrows shot up. "Don't they give you most of your best jobs? Most of ours, too, come to think of it."

"So you can't do it?"

"Of course I can do it." Ash rolled his eyes. "Perdition, right?" A few more clacks. Ash scowled. He reached up to move a cursor to a different part of the screen, drawing up another window. Typed in again. Three or four more repetitions of the same motions, and he shook his head slowly. "There's nothing, guys. I mean, squat. It's like that ship doesn't even exist."

"Damn it!" Dean spread his fingers wide, smearing the glass of the window panel. "They've already scrubbed the logs. Guess the feds can be efficient when they really want to be."

"Well, do you have anything else I can go on?" Ash said. "The names of the crew, maybe? It's easy to erase ships; lives are harder. There has to be info on a crew member or two surviving."

Dean shook his head, but Sam leaned over Ash's shoulder. "We have one name," he said. "Wormwood."

"Poor guy, having a name like that," Ash mumbled. "Let me see what I can do."

"Great." Sam straightened up and crossed the room to stand next to Dean and look down into Pamela's workroom. She was wiring Castiel up, connecting him by a number of thin silver strands to one of her machines. Neither Sam nor Dean entirely understood what those machines did, but they'd seen her connect any number of devices to it, and she always, sooner or later, got results. She sat down in a chair to which the wires were already connected, and a dim glow began to emanate from the whole apparatus. Her voice on the intercom was barely audible. She was greeting Castiel, asking him to relax and listen to the sound of her voices. Castiel spoke a word of agreement, his voice neither louder nor softer than it ever was. But at least the word wasn't "no."

"Hey guys, got something."

"On Wormwood?" Dean and Sam nearly tripped over each other scrambling over to stand behind Ash and peer up at the screen. "So? Who is he?"

"It's not a he," Ash said, nodding at one of the screens. "It's an it."

The screen showed a schematic diagram of immense complexity. Text above the diagram read "The Wormwood 3-22 Subatomic Restraint System," and the drawing itself depicted both the inner workings of a device too detailed for anyone in front of the screen to make out and what looked like a web of light resembling a large fishing net. Dean squinted at it. "What is that, a weapon?"

Ash read out loud. "The Wormwood SRS is intend to restrain high-value detainees in a simple but effective framework that will respond immediately to attempts at escape through a process of electron induction that will cause instantaneous recoil."

"So it's some kind of prison, or cage?" Sam squinted at the screen.

"A nasty one," Ash murmured. "You try and get through that and it starts breaking down your molecules. That's seriously harsh."

"So if Wormwood failed, that means the hellhound got loose? Which means--"

"Which means they'd captured it. Damn." Sam whistled. "That explains why they wanted to keep it hush-hush. Word about this kind of creature gets out, you have mass panic. That and a scientific frenzy."

"Proprietary technology from Milton Laboratories," Ash read. "I've never heard of them."

"Really?" Sam frowned at him. "But you've heard of everybody."

"Not these guys. And they're on-world. Not so far from here."

Dean nodded. "Think you can hold down the fort while we pay a visit?"

"No," Ash said with a bright grin. "But I'm sure Pamela can."

Milton Laboratories was a tiny tin can of a house in a clutter of foothills. Like the Roadhouse, it didn't seem nearly big enough to house the sort of facilities you'd need to manufacture advanced technology. But unlike the Roadhouse, this place was just as cramped on both sides of the door.

Dean and Sam realized this the minute they stepped inside and found themselves, for all intents and purposes, in a kitchen. And the redheaded girl who answered the door was wearing an apron. "So Wormwood didn't work?"

"Afraid not, ma'am." They'd donned their fake-government togs for the occasion, deciding against fake-CEO and fake-pest-control outfits, among others. "We're looking into it."

"Oh, those poor people." Tears welled in her eyes, and she turned away. "I'm so sorry. I did tell you it wasn't completed."

"Yes, well, ma'am... we're afraid we're going to have to ask for a full audit of the technology you've been developing."

She paused. "You what?"

"Your work for us," Sam said, lowering his eyeshades to peer at her. "We need to see everything you've got."

For a moment he was afraid he'd stunned the poor girl into paralysis.

"Get out." Her voice was feeble but firm. "Get out. I'm warning you."

"Ma'am, we don't--"

"I told you. I told you and you didn't listen and now you're blaming me? Get the hell out of here!" Her voice rose to a screech, and she picked up a frying pan from the stove and brandished it. Dean and Sam looked at each other in panic, and then backed out the front door, their hands raised, murmuring protestations.

Dean found his voice once the door was slammed in his face. "What the hell was that?"

"She knows something," Sam. "She told them? About what? Wormwood? The hellhound?"

"Hell if I know!" Dean stomped the ground, sending a cloud of red dust up that left fine rust powder all over his good suit. "This just gets fishier every minute."

"Maybe we're in over our head here," Sam said, scratching his head. "I mean, we don't even know what we're looking f--"

The frantic squawking of the comm interrupted him. Sam tapped the machine. "Ash?"

"You guys better get back here quick!" Somewhere in the background there was a high-pitched wail. "Your robot's exploding!"

They could see the white glow from a league away. Dean stepped on the gas, and they hurtled back toward the Roadhouse at full speed. The bar's drunkards were standing outside, dumbfounded, blinking blankly at the building, which was lit up as though on bright white fire. All around it lay shards of shattered glass from the blown-out skylight.

Dean and Sam hustled in, guns out, just as the light began to dim. When they kicked open the door to the workroom, they found Ash, his eyes covered, crumpled in a corner. Dean shook him back to alertness, and Ash ran to the shattered window to look down on the workroom.

Castiel was stepping free of the wiring. A look that approximated regret was on his face. When Sam and Dean came down the stairs, guns pointed, he raised his hands and stood still. "I am sorry," he said. "I warned her."

Dean brushed past him and put a hand on Pamela's shoulder. She was curled up in a ball, shaking and wailing. "It's OK," he said, gathering her into an embrace. "We're here. It's OK."

"No. No, it's not okay," she moaned into his shoulder, and pulled back to angle her face toward him. Where her eyes had been were gaping, scorched black holes.

*to be continued*