Disclaimer: Prototype is the property of Activision.
Summary: Jenny got out of school early. A brief family trip through the outbreak.
They let school out early. She was excited over that, she got to skip out on math, and that was good because she didn't want to see her homework results. She was so excited she hadn't quite realized how nervous her teachers, and the older kids in the school all looked. She had noticed Ms. Devereaux cry, but when she asked why, she said nothing except to tell her to go home.
It wasn't normal, but she was getting out of school early, so that was the best thing.
She got off the bus way before usual and used her key to enter the apartment and wait for mom to come home. That was normal for her; mom usually had to work late. She did her homework before turning on the T.V., like she was supposed to. Maybe not exactly before. Okay, she turned the T.V. on, but Nick wasn't showing up. There was an emergency broadcast sign on.
She flipped around a little, before seeing the news. And that was the first sign of how wrong things were that she actually noticed.
She wasn't old enough to remember 9/11. She remembered people, teachers mostly, talking about it. How everyone felt so lost and helpless. She didn't quite understand it when people talked about it, but hearing Joe Anderson say the words as footage of scared people running down streets, or an overhead shot of Penn Station was showed made her understand.
They were talking a lot, fast. The guy who did it didn't look like a terrorist, at least, not how terrorists were supposed to look according to the news. There were people getting sick, a lot of people. The military was coming to save everyone. Except the people who were dead.
She sat and watched until she heard the door open and turned and Mom was there, looking worried sick. She didn't realize she had started crying until her mother picked her up and wiped at her eyes and tried calming her down. "Jenny."
Jenny would cry a lot over the next few weeks.
Mom turned off the television and sat her down and tried to make her understand that sometimes bad things happened. There were bad people and they did bad things, and they were safe and there was nothing to worry about.
Then Jenny asked her mom why the news talked about her work. And mom looked sick herself. There were a lot of bad people. Maybe even ones at the place mom worked. Jenny did not even ask if that made Mom a bad person; she worked at a big place, the big, shiny black building that if you were standing just right would block out the sun. A lot of people worked there.
Mom had come home early, too. It was still light out when they started talking, when Mom tried to tell her that things would be alright, and that there was nothing to worry about.
Jenny had believed her, until the knock came to the door and Mom jumped.
It wasn't a polite knock. Each thud made the door shake, and Mom trembled.
When Mom opened the door, the men there were not nice looking. They pushed their way in and sat Mom down and an old man scolded her like Mom sometimes scolded Jenny. She was supposed to stay at work until she was allowed to leave. Mom tried to explain that she had to get home to her daughter, and the man doing the talking got angry. One of the men he was with asked Jenny if she would show him her room. He bet she had some fun stuff. She didn't want to do that. She wanted to be with Mom. The man who had been scolding Mom stood up.
Mom told Jenny to show the man her room.
The man wasn't nice. He tried to act it, tried to make her think he was telling the truth when he thought her toys were cool and that he liked the Disney movies she had posters of too, but she knew he wasn't telling the truth. He said maybe he'd have to get it for his daughter, and Jenny had asked him about her, and they talked.
It wasn't quite enough to make Jenny not notice the angry voices right outside the door.
When the men had left, her mother was sitting at the kitchen table, head in her hands. She was sniffling, and when she dropped her hands, her face was messed up from crying a lot. Mom didn't cry. Not when they left home… their old home to come to New York, and not when Daddy left them. When she asked why Mom was crying, Jenny realized how the word 'nothing' probably might've meant 'everything'. She started crying, too.
By the time she was winding down, it was getting late, almost five, so Jenny pulled out the glass pan Mom had made a casserole in and put it in the oven, like she was supposed to. Mom usually stayed very late at work so Jenny often had to put things in the oven for them.
They ate in silence. It hurt. Mom didn't ask her how her day was, if she was done with her homework, how her teachers were doing. She couldn't think of anything to ask Mom. Because she didn't want to make Mom sad and everything she wanted to ask was about her work and about the men who had come.
She didn't protest when Mom had her go to bed early, because she didn't have anything she wanted to do. She just let Mom tuck her in, something Mom had just recently said she was getting too big for. Mom even read a little story, the one about the mice trying to bell the cat.
Then, after kissing her good night and saying "I love you", Mom stroked Jenny's hair and said "Everything is going to be okay."
Things weren't going to be okay. Jenny realized that when things weren't better the next day, when she woke up for school and Mom hadn't ironed the clothes she had set out. Mom wasn't rushing about, getting ready to go to work. Mom was just sitting on the couch, watching the news. Her face was red from crying again. Or maybe she just had not stopped since the men came around.
When Jenny asked her mother about school, Mom hugged her and said it was cancelled. She was staying home from work, too. When Jenny asked if it was because of the men who came to the apartment yesterday, Mom shook her head and said that she couldn't tell anyone about those men, and that it wasn't tied to them.
Jenny believed the first part, but not the second.
Mom tried to smile, tried to pretend like they could do everything that her work had kept pushing back. Except neither one could work up the nerve to suggest going outside, going to the Zoo like they had always wanted to, or the library to return those books that were overdue and get some new ones, or go see any movies or the Empire State Building.
They stayed home, and Jenny thought of something in one of her school books 'Rainy Day Fun'. When you couldn't go outside, you could stay home and play board games or something. They had Monopoly, which neither of them really knew the rules too. Jenny thought Mom was letting her win. Every so often, Mom would be staring off at the muted television until Jenny drew her attention back to the game.
This was her first game of Monopoly. She remembered the board though, back home, with her aunts and uncles. Mom used to play once a year around the holidays. They didn't really know the rules either, and they'd play it until it grew boring and everyone decided to do something else.
It wasn't any fun, just the two of them, either.
Nickelodeon was running cartoons again, and she watched them listlessly, trying to smile when appropriate, because right now, she knew Mom was sad and was sad that Jenny was sad, so she had to be happy to try to get Mom to be less sad.
Spongebob wasn't any fun anymore, either.
They continued to try to pretend to have fun. Because they both needed the other one to be happy. Jenny thought it would be easy to pretend that things were okay until they eventually became okay on their own.
"I have to go to work."
She had no idea how many days it had been when Mom said that. She had been sleeping in when Mom came and woke her up, shaking her to tell her that it was very important and that she needed to get to work. The neighbors, an old couple, would watch her today.
She hated nothing more than Mom's work. It was what brought them to New York because Mom told her that's why they left the old house upstate, and might have been why Dad had left, she couldn't remember. The news had always mentioned it, oftentimes alongside Mister Mercer. Gentek, Gentek, Gentek. Everything bad happening was Alex Mercer's fault. Alex Mercer worked for Gentek. Gentek was also where her Mom worked. Mom had to work even when nobody else did. Even when it wasn't safe outside anymore.
Mom said monsters were not real. Then a few days ago, Mom sat her down and said that she had been wrong. Monsters were very real, and Jenny had to stay safe. They couldn't leave, they couldn't do anything outside. Mom didn't even want her going by the windows anymore. Jenny didn't mind, because she didn't want to go by the windows anymore either.
But Mom had to leave the apartment, go to where there were monsters, because work demanded it.
The neighbors, the McCormicks were polite, but their apartment was an old person's home. It smelled old, and everything was old. She and Mrs. McCormick watched Sleeping Beauty on their VCR while talking. Mr. McCormick was watching the news on an old thick TV in another room. It was loud enough that she could hear it.
By the end of the movie she started to hate it. Almost like the news was seeping into it, infecting it. She smiled and told Mrs. McCormick that she enjoyed it though. She sat and worried and waited until long after it was dark when someone knocked on the door. It was rapid, urgent. it was Mom.
She took Jenny back to their apartment and tried tucking her in when Jenny asked her if she would have to work again tomorrow. She probably would. Did she like working now? No, she did not. Jenny was angry. Why didn't Mom quit.
That was when Mom started crying, and said she wished she could.
Jenny didn't sleep much that night.
They were leaving the apartment.
Mom was terrified. She was crying, rambling, talking about monsters. A monster. She was scared. Of her work, of the men who had come the first night, of the monsters, of the monster. They needed to leave everything. Mom was sorry, so sorry. Sorry about taking the job with Gentek, sorry about moving to New York, sorry about bringing Jenny to this city.
She apologized for everything.
And that scared Jenny more than anything.
They left almost everything that couldn't fit in either her backpack or Mom's luggage, leaving behind clothes and toys and jewelry and books. They didn't say good by to the McCormicks or any other family. Because they had to find a new place to be as soon as possible. The trip down the steps was long and rough and her heart was pounding and mom was breathing heard and muttering and that was the worst thing.
It was dark and took a long time, and everything echoed inside the staircase and her head started pounding. When they finally made it outside, it was bright enough to hurt her eyes and silent. No birds, no people. It had not quite struck her how quiet the city could be, because the city was never quiet.
She and Mom walked down the street. Jenny wasn't walking fast enough, and dragged her feet while Mom tried to tell her to speed up. Jenny wasn't sure who started crying first. She wanted to know why they couldn't stay at home any more, and then wanted to know why Mom couldn't tell her. Instead Mom simply grabbed her and pulled her forward, saying that once they found a safe place, she would tell her. Nobody looked at the scene—Mom used to tell her not to cry, in stores when she wanted something Mom wouldn't buy—because it made a scene. But there weren't that many people on the streets, and they were all making their own scenes if they were there.
They kept walking for a long, long time, until things became louder and louder. The army was there in tanks and trucks and mom stiffened as they passed her by, clutching Jenny's arm hard enough to hurt. Mom was afraid of them, but was going closer to them for some reason. She silently asked why.
"Because it's safer."
Things happened really fast. There were screams. Mom was screaming, other women were screaming, the army guys were screaming, and a crashing sound like when cars hit each other on T.V., and she was knocked off her feet when the ground shook underneath her. Mom tried to pick her up when glass broken and there was another crash a lot closer and she went up and landed hard.
She was cut.
She was crying.
And she saw it.
It was a man made out of rocks. He didn't look like the monsters on the news, which were all gross and slimy and round. He almost looked like a hero, shiny and polished, standing strong. Except he was on top of one of the army trucks and it was crushed in like a big hammer hit it and someone inside was screaming.
She screamed too.
The truck groaned when he stepped off it, thudding to the road. He was looking for something, and when she cried for Mom, the dark, featureless place where his face was supposed to be turned to her direction.
She was so focused on him that she was caught off guard when Mom grabbed her and ran, scooped her up in her arms and raced like she hadn't been walking all day. Over her shoulder she saw the rock man start to pick up speed and she screamed. It felt like Mom could run forever, and if she could that would be alright, because she had said they'd be alright.
Except the thing was faster.
Mom tripped over something, spinning so she landed first, not Jenny. They both cried out at that. The Rock Man slowed down to a stroll. He was so very, very close. Mom managed to kneel as Jenny stood, kissed her forehead and made Jenny promise to keep her eyes shut.
Mom held her tight.
And then was yanked away.
She felt it. Something hitting the ground hard. Once, twice, three times. She kept her eyes shut as it continued, as she heard something slither close by, she wanted to reach out and grab Mom and try to have everything be okay again.
She kept her eyes shut past the point it was painful and then opened them.
The rock man stood there, black and shiny and wet. Tears began to sting her eyes as he loomed large over her, cocking its head to the side. She was screaming again; other people were screaming.
Her mother was gone.
And he loomed over her, black and shiny and sharp.
She didn't remember much after that.
"Jesus, ZEUS grabbed her mother right in front of her… what does that do to a kid?"
"Listen, when the men in black come, you tell them that he never got close to you, okay, miss? You need to tell them that."
"Christ, what is she now, our mascot?"
"Can it, Steve."
The next few weeks were a blur. She didn't really remember much of it, except that a soldier told her to lie to the men who came to ask her about what happened with her mother. She did. She lost track of her mother when the first crash happened. She didn't know where she was. She didn't even see the rock man.
The men who asked her these questions weren't the same men who asked Mom questions on the first day. But they felt like the same men. One even talked to her about toys and cartoons and bands to get her to like him.
She didn't like the man. She hated him.
She lied and must have done a good job, because after that nothing happened. The soldiers who had found her after her mother was gone kept an eye on her. The one no one liked started calling her 'Newt' which she didn't like, which the other soldiers didn't like, and which he found really, really funny. They kept her for a while, behind metal walls that would have kept Mom safe had they gotten there in time. Because they had no idea where else it was safe to leave her.
They kept her there until the good news started.
She didn't know what was good news or bad news anymore until she saw how the soldiers reacted. Things were getting better, they said, things were getting better.
Things didn't feel like they were getting better. Some soldiers still didn't come home when they were supposed to. She didn't really know who was who anymore, except the one who called her 'Newt' died two days before the bomb went off.
They had all been scared by it, night turning to day for one brief instant. One of them said words she was never supposed to say and said he couldn't believe they tried it. 'They' were the same people who talked to Mom the first night and talked to her when Mom was gone. After a few days, their shock at the bomb changed. The monsters were all dying, and one of them hoped that the bomb had killed 'It'.
If 'They' were the same people who talked to Mom on the first night, 'It' was the thing that took Mom. At least, she thought so.
As things wound down, things were organized. Children who no longer had parents were handed over to someone meant to take care of them, rather than whoever could at the time. She spent a few months with a lot of other kids she didn't know, saying nothing much, and waiting.
She cried a lot at Christmas.
When things thawed it was apparently safe enough to decide to send people away. Mom was gone, Dad couldn't be found, so she was eventually sent home. Not her home, not the apartment that, when she was old enough to look up, she found was burned to the ground. Not the city her Mom had brought her to, and the one her Mom died in.
Home was upstate, with her Mom's sister. The house was familiar, although she was very young the last time she had seen it. Her cousins could be jerks, sometimes, but they were nice sometimes too. Her Aunt and Uncle were very careful around her, she could tell. They didn't know just what happened to her mother, even if she did.
She went to school. Went to doctors to talk about her nightmares. Had to lie about her mother some more to 'They', when they came for follow-up questions. A lot of times, she'd just sit in her room and stare at a photo of Mom and her sister. It was very old, because every new one used to be in New York, and they were all gone—even the one she had taken with her got lost sometime; maybe she lost her backpack while leaving the apartment, maybe it got swiped by another kid. She couldn't remember.
It was hard getting used to things being normal. Because it was never going to be normal again.
Jennifer was sitting in class, watching the clock tick by. Senior year, rush to graduate. She'd gotten honors. Aunt Nicole had said her mom would have been proud. That was true, she guessed. But she didn't need to say that. Mom would have been proud of her. Mom would have taught her to drive. Mom would have chaperoned the class trip. Mom would have done a lot.
Except Mom wasn't there.
She waited as the class continued, each Powerpoint Presentation stumbling around a bit. This was English class, but the topic of the project was myths and reality; pick a topic from history or current events, then do research to expose the truth. Wasn't really difficult; just pick some saccharine thing from elementary school and point out how everyone had smallpox and dysentery. Jim's chosen topic was something on World War II she wasn't paying attention to. Mary's was something about veganism that made Jennifer wonder if the Kool-Aid she'd been drinking was vegan.
Jennifer's project was a bit rougher.
Mr. Dyson had cautioned her when she had cleared the topic to be careful, because the Mercer Virus was still a very hot-button issue, and it was very easy to get lies mixed up with truth. She smiled, because that's what you were supposed to do when a teacher gave advice, even though she knew Manhattan was a hot-button issue.
Halfway through the semester, a break came when a bunch of files got declassified. People were going crazy over the tidbits. She herself had read every page, every single one. Not because she really wanted to do the best job on her project. She wanted to find Mom.
Because there was something. The rock man existed. The thing she only half-remembered that she saw in nightmares was real. What was declassified was heavily redacted, but the rock man was real. Who he was wasn't revealed, and journalists really wanted to know. But that he hunted people involved with Gentek was known.
She dug through all those files because Alex Mercer worked for Gentek. And her mother worked for Gentek. And ZEUS hunted people who worked for Gentek. She dug and dug, maybe hoping to find something, or hoping to find nothing. She was trying to find why Mom had to die.
She didn't find that. Not by a long shot. Couldn't find a single mention of her mother in any source she looked at. Which meant there was more not being said. It was something to dig deeper on. Later. At the moment, she took the most banal, patriotic version of events, the kind shown in that stupid Three Weeks in Manhattan film, and scratched away at it. The shocking number of friendly fire incidents that were kept downplayed even years after the fact. Intentional bombing of civilian inhabited areas. The fact ZEUS killed other infected… according to some officers, at a rate much better than the military.
She did just enough work to get through the course. Maybe rile up a few people a bit too gung-ho about the heroism on display in Manhattan. Didn't really matter, she was almost done with high school.
But she'd keep digging.
While looking through the leaks, she ran across more than a few conspiracy sites. Because ZEUS was talked about before he was declassified. ZEUS was everything bad—white supremacy, global banking interests, the U.N., the military-industrial complex—depending on who was doing the talking. ZEUS saved Manhattan. Everyone ZEUS killed deserved it… she cried reading that page. ZEUS stole memories.
It had been years. And Mom was fading. She shouldn't have been. She should not have been. But she was. All she had was pictures that her Aunt had, stories her Aunt told, and panicked half-memories of three weeks. Everything else was fading. She cried when she through of that.
That's why she'd keep digging.
Because sooner or later, she'd find Mom if she kept digging.
Author's Note: I literally had this idea earlier this morning/afternoon and kicked this out right quick. I'd like to thank Saphire Basil/Cakes Blargh and Nano Moose for rapid turnaround beta-reading.