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In Another Life (Non-Virus What-If fic)

Written by: JacksAnnie
Summary: Ten years ago a prominent scientist blew up his lab and 12 of his colleagues. His daughter’s determination to find out the truth about his death sets in motion a string of new acquaintances, leading to friendships, romances and even new enemies. For a lot of them these new bonds are so strong it feels like they could have known each other in another life.

Annie: While bored on holiday I started thinking of the age-old question, “what would the characters end up to be if the virus never happened?” which evolved into the question of “how would they all meet?”, and turned in to me playing some kind of weird connect-the-characters game, ending up with 5-6 pages in my notebook of simply ideas for what they would do and how they would meet and where. And of course a storyline started developing in my mind to go along with it, and then I realised I had a plot that could actually work for a fanfic. So here we are. This is supposed to be set about 10 years after the virus should have happened but didn’t. I hope I don’t mess up their ages and timeline too much, but it’s a bit confusing to keep track off.

This whole thing turned into a writing challenge for myself, where I’ve put some ground rules down so I can’t take too many easy solutions to get as many characters from the show as possible involved.
_They can only be involved by getting introduced by another character already introduced to the story (meaning, the character I start out with has to meet another character before I can change focus, but every character once introduced I can go back to whenever I want). _
All established close friendships and family relations have to exist. Meaning Trudy and Zoot have a daughter together, he is Bray’s brother, they all went to school with Ebony etc. and Slade and Mega are brothers no matter how much I disliked it on the show. Amber and Dal have known each other since they were kids, etc.
No new family relations can be created if it’s not plausible. For example, Mouse can’t be Dal’s sister, because Amber knew him before the virus and therefore would know if he had a sister, likewise Ruby can’t be the sister of Bray and Martin because Trudy and Ebony would have known if there was a sister. KC and Lottie could however be related, because they never met and neither of them had a pre-virus relationship with anyone on the show who would know if they had any siblings unless told.

When it comes to pairings I’m attempting to start without deliberately putting anyone together, or pushing them in that direction. I want to see what this all leads to. Lex and Zandra are the only ones I’ve paired up, simply because I thought it was a plausible direction for the relationship they had at the beginning of the show to develop this way.

Anyway, to start the challenge I decided to use the character closest to the virus as my starting point; Danni.

CHAPTER 1

INTRO:

His palms were sweating so much that the phone almost fell out of his hand. He put it down, staring at it as if it would come to life, attacking him for his sins. He shook his head slightly, his attention drawn to the framed photo next to his phone. She had been so beautiful that day, his little girl. After the article was printed he had called up the newspaper and asked if he could get a copy of the photo, and he"d kept it at his desk since. She had been so proud of him that day. It had been a reward for his achievements, but even more so a promise of a bright future for his career, his life. Now it was over. He glanced at the other picture on his desk; both his children when they were young, smiling together in the sun with ice cream in hand, the brother with his arm around his younger sister. He just hoped his son would have the sense to stop pushing his sister away now that it would be just the two of them. He could no longer correct the mistakes he had made, but maybe they could fix it themselves.

It was too late for him now. One last glance at both pictures before he left his office, closed the door for the last time. Only minutes later an explosion devastated the once so prestigious lab he had been so proud to work for. There were no survivors.

TEN YEARS LATER:

The sound of her heels clicking against the linoleum floors echoed through the hall. Danni walked with her head held high and her folders tightly to her chest. For a moment she disappeared into the ladies room, checking herself in the large mirror above the sinks. As always she was all business in appearance. Her bushy hair was held back in a tight knot at the back of her head, and she was dressed in an expensive gray pants suit. Her face was a mask even behind the make-up. She had become very used to keeping up appearances, keeping a tough exterior, not allowing any emotions to show through. Not only was she a woman with money and power in a business world dominated by men, she was also the daughter of “that crazy scientist who blew up twelve people”. She gritted her teeth and ignored the sting of pain she felt when the thought of him came into her mind. Another glance in the mirror to check her make-up was okay and her hair still in place, before she hurried towards her meeting.

The meeting room at the university felt as stuffy as ever. She glanced towards the windows, wondering if these old professors ever bothered opening them. With an inaudible sigh she sat down in her seat, keeping her posture right and looked up to meet the eyes of the three gray-haired professors that ran the university. After the initial small talk, they finally handed over a piece of paper detailing their newest project and what they needed to go through with it. Danni simply glanced at the sum and put it down. The three men knew she preferred hearing it explained to her in person rather than simply read documents. It didn’tstop them from trying each time though.

“Why should I hand over this sum of money to the university?”

Professor Harding, who was sitting closest to her and had the senior rank, cleared his throat.

“Well, it is a project by this new young professor, who prefers to simply be called Jack. The next generation of professors are a lot less formal,” he said, adding a small chuckle at the end to fake amusement.

Danni only barely managed to keep from smiling. Judging from Harding’s face he was probably tempted to smack the young professor who dared challenge his norms. She liked this Jack already.

“You have probably heard of his wind turbine invention. Great breakthrough in alternative power sources, and a much more effective way of channelling wind power into electricity without damaging nature with many large windmill parks. It was quite extraordinary,”

Professor Tristan was about to go on about this in his nasal voice, Danni could tell, so she started talking before he could continue.

“Yes, I have heard about that. I know he’s the youngest professor in the history of this university. I also know that unofficially he has been a complete failure at teaching and spends most of his time in the computer lab without really getting anywhere.”

“Be that as it may,” Harding took over again, clearing his throat a little too loudly and sending Tristan a harsh look for having dared to take over, “with his mind and potential he is a great asset to the university, and a lot of young aspiring scientists will be fighting to get into our science program. His name alone is extremely marketable.”

“Really? Because I read that he refuses to do many interviews and can be very difficult and demanding.”

They were sweating now. Danni loved doing that to them. The amount of times this university, led by the same three men, had made her jump through hoops to get through her education simply because the name of her father was such a black spot on their history. Yet when she had turned 21 and all his money became hers, they were the ones jumping through hoops. She only did it for her dad; he had loved this university, had praised his education and even in the very same week he died he had donated a large sum of money to the science lab. This had been used as evidence of his death being a planned suicide, but Danni knew it wasn’ttrue. He always donated money to the university, there was nothing new or unusual about that.

Danni spent another half hour listening to the three professors explaining the new project this Jack was planning. Danni had known before she even walked into the room that the money was theirs, but it was just more fun making them work for it.

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She went to the cafeteria for lunch, finding herself a table in the corner. It was quiet at this time of day. For most others visiting old grounds was a chance to reminisce, but Danni had no want to remember her university days; it had simply been a way for her to get her degrees, there were no fond memories in it for her. So she ignored her surroundings, and just like when she was a student there she immersed herself in work. She opened her folder; the first piece of paper was a printed out copy of a profile article on a journalist. The blonde was smiling in the grainy picture. The writing in bold stated that she was the journalist behind the prostitution and human trafficking scandal that had shaken the political scene about a year back. For her own safety she had been in hiding for nearly six months after the article and book came out, to let the attention around it die down. After that she had been showered with offers from newspapers, but Danni had found statements from her saying she preferred to be freelance. The woman also described herself as an “investigative journalist, attempting to find the truth among the lies we are surrounded by”. It sounded dangerous to Danni, the woman had already made herself a serious amount of enemies at a young age, and was at the moment facing a total of eight lawsuits. At the same time, she was just what Danni needed.

Ellie recognised the woman immediately. Her name was well known, her company gaining extra publicity due to the fact that most journalists loved bringing up the story of the mad scientist who blew up twelve people and a whole lab. Ellie walked over and introduced herself, confirming the other woman’s name even though they both knew it was unnecessary. Still, being polite never hurt.

“Call me Danni,” the dark-haired woman said immediately, motioning for her to sit down.

“Then you can call me Ellie,” she said back with a friendly smile. Ellie liked it better informal, it usually made the person she was interviewing feel more at ease, and more likely to open up.

After getting herself a cup of coffee, and a refill for Danni, Ellie was ready to get to work.

“So, Danni,” she began, taking a sip of her coffee, “what did you want to meet me for?”

Ellie studied the woman across from her. Her face was a mask, but Ellie could see the cracks. Danni’s eyes were constantly glancing around the room, the hand holding the cup of coffee was shaking slightly, and there were bags under her eyes that she had tried to hide with makeup. She looked older then her years. When she had gotten the request to meet with her, Ellie had looked up all she could find on the woman. She had been surprised to realise Danni was less than two years older than her. She had found an article with a picture of a young Danni with her father. It had been quite a shock to see this fierce businesswoman, who was nowadays always pictured with a constant scowl on her face, as a young girl smiling to the camera and leaning her head on her father’s shoulder.

“The official story of my father’s death is a cover-up; I want you to find the truth.”

Ellie couldn’tsay she hadn’texpected that, but it still took her by surprise how blunt the other woman was. Ellie waited as Danni took a thick folder out of her briefcase and pushed it across the table.

“This is all the information I have collected through the years. If you read through it you will see that there is a lot of classified information that has been blacked out of documents. There was no inquiry into the explosion beyond establishing that my dad was the one to overheat the generator and that a man with his knowledge would have known exactly what would happen if he did. I know he was working on a massive project, he told me it was huge, that it could change the course of humanity. There’s nothing to be found on that project, and it was never restarted. Doesn’tthat sound a bit odd to you?”

Ellie hesitated. It was a touchy subject, she could see how it would be difficult to accept that your own father would commit suicide, and take twelve other people with him. But to Ellie it was also difficult to accept anything less than full insight into a case like this. She could feel that familiar tingle in her body when it came to hidden secrets to uncover.

“I know what you"re thinking,” Danni’s voice had softened, “you think I"m just someone who can’tlet go. But if he was suicidal I would have known.”

“You were what, fourteen? It’s not unlikely that a father would protect his child from his own dark thoughts.”

Danni shook her head. “Yes, I know. I"ve gone over that a thousand times. But even if I could accept him committing suicide, there is absolutely nothing that will ever convince me that he would take out twelve other people with him. Some of them were his friends, he had worked with them for years, knew their families, their children. And the lab, he loved the lab. He would never have damaged the lab to kill himself. I know the media loves the story of the mad scientist, but that image is nothing like who he was. Either he was framed, or he had a damn good reason to blow up that building.”

Danni had tears in her eyes, and her voice was shaking. She took a deep breath and Ellie could see her steadying herself before her face went back to the usual mask.

“Look, I just want you to look into this. I will pay you a nice sum, which I know you need now that you have, what is it? Eight lawsuits against you? Those politicians might have had their names dragged through the mud, but they still have contacts and money. I can get you the best attorney out there, and will pay your legal fees.”

Ellie bit her lower lip. This wasn’thow she intended to work. No bribes, no fees. Just her searching for the truth, making a living out of it by selling articles and books that detailed that truth. At the same time she knew she would struggle with the court cases coming up. Some of them had no chance, but there were a couple of those cases where the influential politician had a good case against her, she knew that. She had been sloppy.

“I tell you what, Danni. I will look into it, do some digging. If it turns out to be useless you can pay me for having wasted my time when I should be working on other things. But if I do find something, I won’tcharge you. I only take payment from newspapers that buy my stories, not people or companies asking for my help. My job is finding the truth and defending the innocent and wronged, righting injustices, not digging stuff up for whoever pays the most.”

A small smile appeared on Danni’s face. “That’s what I"m counting on, Ellie, your thirst for the truth.”

“Well, if there’s something to find I will find it,” Ellie insisted.

Danni nodded, before she found a business card in her pocket. She slid it across the table to Ellie. Ellie picked it up. She had heard the name of this attorney, a top graduate of the university, a bright future predicted in law.

“But you can at least let me help you with an attorney,” Danni said, “I went to uni with Amber, I know she’d do it for free. She believes in justice and fighting for what’s right as much as you and me. She might be young and inexperienced, but she’s good. Trust me, we had our fair share of debates.”

Danni made a wry smile, before a look of defiance crossed her features as she continued. “Those big-shot attorneys she’ll be up against will underestimate her, and that will be their biggest mistake. Let me talk to her for you. It wouldn’tbe about payment for what I’m asking you to do for me, I admire the risk you took in printing that story and what you achieved with it. I want to make sure those men don’tget to punish you for it.”

Ellie could tell from the determination on Danni’s face that she meant every word, at the very least she truly believed this Amber was that good.

“Okay,” she said finally.

“Then it’s a deal,” Danni said with a satisfied smile. The two women shook hands, agreed on their next meeting and then went their separate ways.

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Amber felt weird being pampered on like this. It had been her boss’s idea that she should look her best for her first court case the next day. She grimaced as her hair was brutally washed by the hands of the young woman with frilly pink clothes and bright red lipstick. A loud sigh could be heard close by.

“Gel! You"re doing it wrong, you’re hurting her.”

“You told me to really rub it in!”

“Okay, okay. You just go find the nail kit and get started on her manicure, will you?”
As the younger woman strolled away, the other one took her place. Her brown hair was decorated with pink and blue clips, set up in an elaborate bun at the back of her head, her make-up using the same colour combination.

“Sorry about that, she’s new. She only just started today.”

“It’s okay,” Amber said politely.

“I didn’tcatch your name?” The woman continued the small talk. Amber answered her question.

“Oh, Amber is a pretty name. I"m Zandra.”

Amber was about to pay for her beautification, after her hair was dry and her fingernails done, when her phone rang. It was an unknown number, possibly a client, so she picked up. When the woman on the other end introduced herself, Amber almost dropped the phone in surprise. She hadn’tseen or spoken to Danni in years.

“Hello, of course I remember you,” Amber tried to sound friendly, but she couldn’thelp be a bit wary. They hadn’tbeen the best of friends, more like two people on friendly yet somewhat tense terms but with a deep respect for each other. Danni hadn’t been easy to get close to, and Amber had to admit to herself that she hadn’tt ried very hard to befriend her either. They had both been on the debate team though, and Danni had always been Amber’s favourite opponent, even if she did quite often strike a nerve. Amber listened as Danni stated what she was calling for, searching her brain for what she could remember about this journalist and the prostitution scandal.

“I won’task you to take this case just over the phone. She and I are meeting at my place on Saturday for lunch, why don’t you join us and talk to her?”

Amber hesitated, biting her lip as she glanced up to see Zandra looking a bit impatient behind the register. She gave her an apologetic smile and mouthed “sorry” before going back to her conversation.

“Okay, I can do that. What’s your address?”

Danni gave her the time and place and they hung up.

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Zandra could never get used to thinking of the trailer park as her home and neighbourhood. It wasn’t how she imagined her life turning out. The small immobile box they called home was in fairness one of the largest ones there, but it was still just another big box in a trailer park. No amount of pretty flowerbeds - that she had so carefully and patiently planted and cared for - could change that, and no amount of creativity with her wardrobe could make her outfits into high fashion. Still, for her daughter this was a better choice than the low-rent apartments on the wrong side of town. There were other children here, and a school nearby. The tourists that came during the holidays were usually families as well, and provided a lot of business off-the-books for Zandra. But she still hated living on the outskirts of town, having to take the bus to work ever since they had to sell their car. Usually she could handle it, but that new girl at work, Gel, was so upper-class and spoiled that it made Zandra feel disgusted. And a little jealous at the labels she wore and the things she had. Still, this was the price she had paid for love.

She cringed as the front door squeaked when she opened it. He still hadn’t fixed it. The smell of alcohol hit her as soon as she was inside. Lex was sprawled out on the couch, his eyes staring lazily at the television. Outside of the sounds from the television it was all too quiet.

“Lex! Where’s our daughter? You did pick her up from day-care, didn’t you?”

“Huh?” He sat up suddenly, swaying slightly and blinking a few times before he seemed to realise what she said. “Oh, shit! Sorry, I forgot.”
Zandra shook her head, she was used to this by now and their daughter, Alexandra, was used to waiting for them long after the other kids went home. Zandra picked up her phone, quickly finding a number on speed dial.

“Hello, Ryan. It’s me,” she said in her sweetest voice. She couldn’thelp but feel a pang of guilt and shame at his exasperated “I know”. He was always the one they called to fix their problems. “Lex is drunk again, and forgot to pick up Lexie.” she didn’t even have to ask the question before he promised he was on the way.

In the time it took for Ryan to drive from work to day-care to pick her up and then take her home, Zandra had managed to get Lex into the shower, cleaned up the empty bottles and sprayed the whole trailer with air freshener. When Zandra was busy fluffing the pillows on the couch she glanced up to see her own reflection in the mirror. Her hair was a mess, and her mascara had been smeared. She realised she had been crying without even noticing. Quickly she grabbed a paper towel by the sink and started cleaning herself and had managed to make her hair look more presentable by the time she heard a car door slam outside. Soon her little girl came running inside, excitedly waving a drawing she had made, her pink dress swirling around her as she moved around at a speed only young children can manage.

As soon as Lexie was out of earshot, Zandra turned to Ryan. She gave him her sweetest smile, the one that in the past had always melted him. He was years past his crush on her now, but Zandra liked to pretend he still found her that attractive, that he wasn’talways answering her calls for help just out of loyalty to her family. That he wasn’tjust doing it for Lexie. She couldn’thelp but wonder if he"d still bother to even keep in touch with her or Lex if it wasn’tf or his little goddaughter.

“Ryan, do you think you could take Lex away for a few days?”

“Sober him up?” Ryan sighed, but nodded.

Zandra hated the pity in his eyes. Him, of all people, looking at her like that. This was not what her life was supposed to be.

Written by: JacksAnnie

CHAPTER 2:

After dropping Lex off at his place, Ryan drove back to the station. He parked his squad car among the many identical ones in the parking lot and hurried inside, hoping his boss hadn’t noticed his absence. But there he was, his big head peaking out from his office, shouting his name before simply slamming the door shut. Ryan sighed deeply, ignoring the sympathetic looks from his colleagues before walking inside.

He was surprised to see another person in there, a young woman in a police uniform. Her hair was a shockingly bright pink, an even brighter shade than that time Zandra had dyed her hair pink and blue when they were teenagers. The woman quickly jumped up, reaching out her hand and introducing herself.

“Just call me Dee,” she said brightly, revealing a hint of an accent he thought was British (though he could never really tell accents apart), and a glimpse of her green chewing gum.

“Then you can just call me Ryan,” he said politely back.

His boss cleared his throat loudly, motioning for them both to sit down across his desk.

“Dee here is fresh from the academy. She will be your new partner. I expect you to teach her the basics, show her the ropes and all that.”

Ryan wanted to object, he was only two years out of the academy himself, but he knew the police force in the city was on its knees these days. That prostitution scandal a year earlier had not only shaken the political scene, a lot of prominent police officers and detectives had been found out. The higher ups didn’t want another national scandal, so an internal investigation had lead to many early retirements and resignations. All the senior officers already had new recruits to take care of. Glancing over at the woman next to him, a bubble appearing from her lips and popping loudly before she grinned back at him, he couldn’t help but feel he’d been given the shortest straw.

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Ellie hadn’t had much time to think through her conversation with Danni and the job she had ahead of her. She had another case to work on as well. She found herself at a diner near the dock area of the city. It was early in the day, breakfast rush over and the lunch rush not yet started, so the diner was nearly empty. The woman behind the counter was near Ellie’s age, only a few years older. She had short dark brown hair, and a purple top underneath the white apron with the diner’s logo on the front. Ellie sat down at the counter, the woman soon there with a menu. Her nametag read “Trudy” so Ellie knew she was in the right place. Ellie ordered breakfast, and waited for Trudy to return after placing the order with the chef.

“Haven’t seen you in here before?” Trudy made it easy for her, starting the conversation without Ellie needing to try.

“No, I just happened to be in the area, this looked like a nice place for breakfast.”

“Well, our customers seem to think so. We usually have regulars in here, fishermen, dock workers, construction workers, they all tend to come back so they must enjoy the food.”

Ellie had a slight suspicion some of them probably came for the pretty young woman serving them, but she kept her mouth shut on that subject. Trudy was luckily very talkative and soon Ellie managed to turn the conversation to Trudy’s daughter without much effort.

“You can’t have been very old when you had her,” Ellie said, feigning surprise when Trudy mentioned her daughter’s age. Trudy’s expression was something between a smile and a grimace.

“I was 14 actually. Not ideal, obviously, but we do okay. My parents have been great through the whole thing, they made sure I finished school and helped take care of Brady. They’re even paying for me to take online classes and some evening classes so I can get a degree and a better job in the future. Not that working here is so bad, but it would be nice to one day be able to provide completely for myself and Brady, without relying on my parents.” Trudy stopped, her smile slightly embarrassed as if she only just realised she had babbled on about her personal life to a complete stranger.

“And the father? Doesn’t he help out?” Ellie tried to make the question sound casual, but Trudy tensed up immediately, her eyes suddenly suspicious.

“It’s complicated. But it’s all worked out okay.”

Trudy’s strained smile told Ellie something wasn’t right though, despite her attempt at bravery. The conversation stranded from there on, Ellie was unable to get any more out of her without appearing too interested, and Trudy seemed to keep her at a distance after the elusive baby daddy was brought up. Ellie didn’t really feel she had gotten much further than the elusive tabloid story that had caused scandal around a certain big basketball star, but she was more convinced than ever that the story back then had some holes in it.

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Trudy cursed herself as she walked along the pavement, playing over the conversation with that blonde woman in her head. Of course she was a journalist! How had Trudy not recognised her immediately" That prostitution scandal had been everywhere. Had she said too much? Had she revealed anything that a journalist could make a story out of? Who was she kidding, those journalists could make a story out of anything. Finally she was in front of her building, taking the long climb up the stairs to the apartment she shared with her daughter. Her mother and Brady weren’t there yet. She couldn’t put it off any longer and picked up the phone. Bray answered quickly, she knew his schedule well enough to know when he wasn’t in training.

“Hello, Trudy.”

His voice sounded weary. With a sting of guilt Trudy knew he probably expected her to ask for money again. There had been a lot lately, stuff Brady needed for school and dancing lessons and basketball practice (Bray had been quite proud when she had told him of that last one though). Brady was such an active child, she wanted to do so much. Trudy couldn’t say no. But she just couldn’t ask her parents for more and Bray had always told her he would help out anyway he could, and he did have money - she was just distracting herself now. She took a deep breath, before telling him about the journalist, hoping he wouldn’t get angry.

“Do you think she knows about Martin?” He asked.

“I don’t care if she does. But you don’t need another media scandal.”

"Don’t worry about that, Trudy. I’“m the one who chose to let them think Brady is my daughter.”

“I still don’t get why you’re protecting him, Bray. He doesn’t deserve it. And it’s not like a scandal would affect his career much. It would probably just help it, come to think of it.”

“It’s Brady I’m protecting, not him. Its better people just think her parents aren’t together, than everyone knowing her dad refuses to acknowledge her. Martin’s band is starting to get a lot of attention, the media would be all over it. Just imagine how the kids at school would treat her if that story came out.”

Trudy sighed. She couldn’t deny that Bray was right. But there was still a part of her thinking that a kick up the backside like that could be what Martin needed to grow up and take some responsibility.

“Thank you for dedicating that win to her, by the way. You should have seen the look on her face when you said her name live on television,” Trudy could practically hear his smile through the phone, “not sure it was the best idea though, I saw the headlines.”

“Let them write what they want. She’s my niece. If I want to dedicate a win to her, then I will. She deserves it. She’s the only person in my life who doesn’t want anything from me but for me to just be in her life.”

Trudy tried not to be hurt that she wasn’t included on that short list, even if all she ever wanted from him was for Brady. The conversation didn’t last much longer. Trudy complimented him on his game, and Bray politely asked about work and her studies before excusing himself.

Trudy hung up the phone, finding herself in the doorway to her daughter’s bedroom. Several posters of uncle Bray decorated the walls; some of him in action, some of him posing for the camera, the basketball always present. Brady was so proud of her uncle Bray, and didn’t mind letting people believe he was her dad. Trudy feared she liked it a bit too much, as she had been asking some awkward questions about her and Bray’s relationship lately. Trudy’s eyes were then drawn towards the poster right above Brady’s bed. A band poster, Martin in his new identity as Zoot in the middle, staring into the camera through those creepy contact lenses he always wore. Brady liked paying attention to him, she collected articles from magazines and newspapers. Trudy didn’t mind, she knew Brady needed some kind of connection to him, but she stopped at letting Brady listen to the music. Some of it was just too dark. Not that you could really hear the lyrics much, she found it was mostly screaming and shouting. Trudy was snapped out of her thoughts by a key in the door, and she headed towards the hallway to greet her daughter.

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Zandra hesitated, her hand on the doorknob. One of her customers that day had commented on how stressed she seemed, and directed her towards this place. She glanced at her watch. She was late, nearly ten minutes. Maybe she should just leave again. Instead she opened the door. Inside a group of people were already sitting on the floor, in that weird meditation pose Zandra had never managed to master when she had tried it in the past. She had always kept in shape, but her body just wasn’ tlimber enough for this. The dark-haired woman at the front had her eyes closed and hadn’t reacted at all to her opening the door. Only a few people at the back had been taken out of their meditation state to turn and look towards her, but they were already getting back in the zone. Or whatever you called it, Zandra didn’t know. She was about to turn around and leave, when the woman spoke.

“Come in.”

Zandra stopped again, her hand still in the air, reaching for the door.

“Hi. Sorry, if I"m too late I can just come back next week,” she began, and the woman finally opened her eyes.

“No, it’s alright. Just come to the front so I can show you what to do without disturbing the others any more.”

Zandra did as she said, moving as quietly to the front as she could, sitting down as gracefully as she could manage in front of the Asian woman.

Zandra stayed behind as the others started filing out of the room, finally approaching their graceful meditation guru when the room was nearly empty.

“Hello, I’m sorry I was so late today. And that I turned up unannounced. It’s just that a customer of mine, I work at a beauty salon, told me about this place and that she couldn’t go today so I should just take her place. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, it’s okay. My name is Tai-San.”

“I’m Zandra. Nice to meet you.”

“Are you feeling better now?”

Zandra was a bit taken aback; she usually kept her emotions deeply locked inside. Something she had learned through the years, living with Lex did that to you. Already twice today people had pointed out that she wasn’ther bubbly cheerful self.

“You give off negative energy.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

Tai-San just smiled. “No, don’t apologise. I think you should come back again this week, for a private session. I think you need it.”

“Oh, thank you, but I really can’t afford it.” Zandra hated admitting that, but felt too tired to come up with an excuse. She had a feeling this woman wouldn’t judge her for it.

“Then you don’t pay,” Tai-San said simply.

“Can you do that?”

“I don’t need much of money and material things. I have what I need, so I can help others with what they need. And you need my help.”

Zandra was hesitant, but she really had enjoyed the session today. She was sure it had even worked a little. And it was so long since she’d had anything outside of home and work to do. She deserved a few evenings for herself. Maybe it was time she put some pressure on Lex to take his share with Lexie as well. She gave Tai-San a grin, and accepted her offer.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Amber sat down on the sofa, taking her boots off before allowing herself to sink back into the pillows. She sighed loudly to herself, staring up at the ceiling and trying to ignore her feet aching. She heard a noise from the kitchen, and soon her best friend and flatmate appeared in the doorway.

“Well?” Dal looked at her expectantly. “How did it go?”

“I lost,” Amber replied, dejected. “Judge ruled against our client. We"re appealing though, so there’s one more chance.”

“It was only your first court case, all upwards from here,” Dal smiled at her as he dropped down beside her on the sofa.

Amber couldn’t help but smile back. He really was the best thing in her life. They had known each other since their early teen years, having been partnered up in a school project, and immediately they had gotten along. Almost everyone else in their lives tended to assume they were a couple, that they would announce their engagement any day now. It seemed to make sense to everyone else. Amber had gotten a job at a law firm while Dal was an intern at the hospital close to his parents’’ clinic, the perfect high society couple in so many people’s eyes. Amber couldn’t help but wonder sometimes, why were they just friends?
They loved each other, in fact she loved Dal probably more than anyone else on the planet, their lives were going in the same direction, and they both had the same worldviews. Why wasn’t the spark there? Did they need it? Maybe love didn’t have to be like that, maybe this was what it should be? Maybe this was the kind that would last. It would be so easy to just slip into what everyone expected of them, just like they both had with their studies and now their careers. Why not?

"Dal? Do you ever think we’re on the wrong path?“

He turned towards her, a frown on his face. “What do you mean?”

“I wanted to do something important, change things. Fight injustice. Instead I find myself obsessing over technicalities, fine-combing the details of laws, defending a guy I’m not even sure is innocent. I thought that when I got to this point I would be so happy, feel like I was finally doing something, but it just didn’t feel right.”

“It’s just this case, Amber. The next one might be just what you want.”

“And what if it’s not?”

“Then the next one after that. Look, Amber,” he moved a bit on the sofa so he was looking directly at her, “you’re new, fresh out of uni. You’ll move on up in the system and soon you can pick your cases, you can choose who to defend.”

“Yeah” And how many guilty ones will I have to get off before that? How many business men with deep pockets will I help buy their way out of their crimes?"

“It’s how it works, Amber. You’ve always known that.”

“It’s now how I work,” she said, but not feeling as secure in her principals as she had done through her life.

“Maybe you’ll be the one to change things then, ever think about that? If anyone could, it would be you.”

Once again he put a smile on her face. “You really believe in me that much?”

“Of course.” He looked her straight in the eyes, and she knew he meant every word.

“What about you, Dal? I mean, you´+re great as a doctor. Your parents taught you a lot, and I know you like being able to save lives and help people who are sick, but remember when we were kids? This wasn’t what you wanted then. You’d go on and on about your dream farm in the countryside, where you could grow your own food and live free from all the hassle in the city.”
“That was a long time ago,” he said quickly, his eyes looking away from her all of a sudden.
“Not that long. Is there really no part of you that still wants that”?"

“I suppose. It could be my retirement plan,” he shrugged, a small unconvincing smile on his face.

“When you+re a rich old doctor, with your large flock of children moving out and starting their own families, you+ll buy yourself a large farm in the countryside where your grandkids can all come and play.”

“Exactly,” Dal’s face broke out in a grin.

Amber felt a sense of comfort in doing this, sitting together and fantasising about their future was something they had always done. But the doubts were still nagging in the back of her mind, and her smile soon faded.

“I just can’t help but wonder sometimes” is this what we’d be doing if our parents hadn’t led us to it?"

“We’ll never know, I suppose,” was Dal’s simple answer.

They fell quiet after that, both of them lost in thought.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Danni slammed her car door, ignoring the disapproving looks sent her way by the members of the Eco Group in the near vicinity. The new eco restaurant was right by the road, in close proximity to the farm her brother had bought for them. Their father’s inheritance had been split equally between the two of them. Her brother had instantly given it all away when it fell to him at 21, while she had invested and saved and built up her own small fortune she reached that age.

The restaurant wasn’ tmuch to brag about. It was basically a hut with a few tables inside and outside, that served food made of ingredients from the farm. Still, it had its charm, she had to admit. She was used to much more gourmet type restaurants and fancy cafe’s for her business meetings, and even the occasional date, but she wasn’t one of those people who thought herself too good for a place like this. In many ways she actually felt more at ease.

He was already waiting for her by a table in the shadows. His black dreads were longer than last time she saw him, and his clothes as usual tight-fitting and in earthy colours. At least he had washed the make-up off his face this time around. She knew he had heard her coming, there weren’t many cars in this area, but he still kept his eyes locked on the menu. He didn’t look up before she sat down opposite him.

“Hello Nicholas,” she greeted him, getting a look of disdain back. She ignored it. There was no way she would ever call him “Pride”, at least not with a straight face.

“Hello,” he said back finally. "What did you want to meet me for?“

“It’s been months, Nicky, I just thought we should pretend like we have actual family once in a while.”

“I have family here.”

Danni tried not to feel the sting at his words. He had made it perfectly clear years ago that these people were more important than her, she should be used to it by now. He had never understood why she stayed in that house, in that city, after what happened. She had never understood how he could leave with so many things left unanswered. When his best friend’s parents had offered to take him in as a foster child, he had jumped at the chance. He had never even asked them to take her in to. She had been left behind at the house with their old butler, Ivan, as her legal guardian. He was a nice man, but too old to be much company for a teenage girl. He had in reality retired years ago, but her dad had kept him at the house simply because he had nowhere else to go. He had stayed with Danni until she turned twenty-one and her father’s will finally left her in full control over her inheritance. Ivan had passed away within a year after. Her brother hadn’t even come to the funeral, even though they had both grown up with the man acting as their second parent. He had been more like a member of the family than an employee, but obviously her brother hadn’t seen him that way. And he accused her of being a snob.

They both ordered their lunch and got their drinks before Danni responded to his query about what she was doing there.

“I’ve been talking to a freelance investigative journalist about what happened to dad,” she began.

“About what dad did, you mean.”

Danni gritted her teeth, holding back the first response that came to her mind.

“She’s going to look into the circumstances and see if she can find any discrepancies beyond what I’ve already found. She agrees with me that something is off about the whole thing.”

“Of course she does, you’re paying her.”

“Actually I"m only paying her if she finds the official story is true.”

He raised his eyebrows at her, looking puzzled for a moment before a small smile appeared on his face. “Right, so you already have the excuse lined up then. If she doesn’t find anything to support your conspiracy theories you’ll just accuse her of being greedy to get the money.”

Danni let out a frustrated sigh. She was just trying to involve him in what was going on, but realised she had made a mistake once again in thinking that he cared.

“All I want is to find out what actually happened when our dad died.”

“You will as soon as you just accept the truth, Danni.”

“Why are you so determined to believe the worst about him?”

Her brother looked at her as if he was sizing up just how angry she was before answering, the way he always had when they were kids.

“I just don’t think it’s healthy for you, Danni, this obsession with clearing his name instead of living your own life. You need to let it go.”

Danni could feel it all bubbling under her skin, so many things she wanted to just shout at him, everything she had wanted to say to him for such a long time.

“It’s nice of you to care, Nicky.” She tried to keep her emotions in check, but her reply was still seething with anger.

“Maybe you should take a break. Get away from work and that city. You could come out here for a few weeks, get some rest and live close to nature for once.” He tried smiling at her, but that didn’t soften her mood.

“That’s nice, but some of us have to live in the real world,” she bit back instantly.

“Oh, the real world?” Finally her angry remarks seemed to have hit a nerve. “The real world that you are all slowly killing? You surround yourself with scientists who torture animals and find new ways to pollute the earth, businessmen who don’tcare about anything but making money. At least we are trying to make a difference out here, for everyone.”

“How’s that working out for you then, Pride?” She practically spat out his nickname. “You are so quick to judge science, you always were. Did you know the university has hired a new up and coming professor who developed a new type of wind turbine? It’s been sold to twelve countries already, six more in negotiating stages. It’s a new way of creating energy that could change how we use energy and gas all over the world. In two years of working on that he’s done more to lower the world pollution than you and your friends up here will do in your whole lifetime. So don’t you dare sit there being all smug about how you and your friends are saving the world, when in reality all you do is run around hugging trees, giving yourself weird names and protesting against anyone and anything you disagree with. What do you actually achieve up here? All these years you’ve dedicated to this place, and you’re sitting here with a shabby little hut you call a restaurant, and this is supposed to change the world how?”

Danni knew how to win an argument. It was a tactic she had perfected through the years. Hit them with your best arguments just before the end of the meeting or conversation, and then end the discussion by leaving. The situation was different now, in meetings she was usually cool and collected, and she would calmly announce that she had to leave before walking out, rather than storming off in anger like she was doing now. He tried to follow her, but she was driving off before he even reached the road.

Written by: JacksAnnie

CHAPTER 3:

Lunch at Danni’s was a lot less formal than Amber had expected. Danni had resorted to jeans and a loose-fitting top, her hair hanging loose and allowed to go wild. All through university she had kept to pressed trousers, form-fitting shirts and expensive jackets, and Amber had hardly ever seen her without her hair in a tight bun. She seemed slightly stressed though, her smile as strained as ever. Maybe it was work, Amber could definitely relate to that. She shook her head slightly. She wasn’t here to think about that case at work, she was here to figure out if she could work on this journalist’s case.

The house was impressive, a lot more space then what one single woman needed. But it was the same house she had grown up in with her family, Amber could see why she would hold on to it. Danni introduced her to Ellie, before leading them both to her dining room where the table was already set.

“This chicken is delicious, did you make it?” Ellie asked as soon as they had started biting into the food.

“No, I grew up with a butler so I never had to do much cooking. This is ordered in. I considered pretending it was homemade, but I figured with you two as the guests you would too easily figure out I was lying.”

The two women laughed at that, and in an instant the mood seemed lightened. Conversation flew fairly freely from there, although the two other women did exchange some suspicious looks when Amber asked Ellie if she was working on any stories at the moment.

“Well, actually,” Ellie cleared her throat. “You know our very own local basketball star?”

“Oh yeah, um, Bray-something.” Danni shot in, slightly too excited to be talking about this. Amber narrowed her eyes slightly. She had a very strong feeling that the other two women were hiding something. She decided to let it drop though, if Ellie was working on something for Danni, or they were in the middle of some kind of business arrangement or something, it wasn’t really her business. Just as long as it had no effect on the case they wanted her to help Ellie with. She focused on Ellie again, as the blonde continued talking.

“There was this story I was working on, back before the big prostitution scandal case landed in my lap, a real gossip pages thing. Not really my thing, but at the time I was stuck for work and going broke fast, so when this tabloid called me and asked me to look into it, I said yes,” Ellie shrugged slightly, but it was obvious that hadn’t been her proudest moment. “They had gotten some tips on this woman, here in town, with a kid. It was another mother at the kid’s school who tipped of the tabloid. Said the guy’s parents would occasionally be there to pick up the girl, and she called them her grandparents. They pretty much wanted the big gossip on the holier-than-thou Bray having fathered a kid as a teenager and not acknowledging the kid as his own. I’ll be honest, the main reason I said yes was because there were some details that didn’t fit. There’s a younger brother, you see, he’s in a band, the Locos. You might have heard of them, they’re doing pretty good locally. Anyway, the tips I was getting on a human trafficking and prostitution ring was far more interesting, so I told the tabloid I wasn’t interested. They got someone else to do it, who wrote some shoddy piece making the whole thing into a scandal. That he was paying this woman to keep quiet about him being the dad, because that would lower his marketing value. I’m trying to pick up some loose ends from that one. I don’t buy the official story, something is off. I suppose I feel guilty, I don’t think he deserved the smear job that was done in that article. And I don’t think the mother, Trudy, deserved the reputation of being a blackmailer either. If I hadn’t just dropped the story, I could have given a much more balanced and probably fairer view of it all. Instead they got that.” Ellie made a motion as if the story itself was right there in front of her.

“So you think the younger brother is the dad?” Danni asked.

“Pretty much, yeah. There is at least something fishy going on there. I only ever got as far as to talk to the informer and a couple neighbours. They said the youngest brother had pretty much disowned the family years ago, and that there had been a lot of trouble with him from his early teens. They said he used to be a sweet boy until then. The change happened around the time Trudy would have gotten pregnant.”

“Ellie”, Amber hesitated, but then jumped in. “Are you sure this is a good idea? I get that you"re trying to make up for letting the story go into the hands of someone who did such a bad job with it, but they might be better off if you leave it alone.”

“I won’t publish it without Trudy’s approval. I mean, either way I think she’s the victim in all this. She’s the one having to work a shitty job and raising a kid on her own. I went to see her, but didn’t tell her who I was though. I want to do a bit more digging and then confront her with it, and see what she wants to do about it.”

Amber felt uneasy. “I don’t know, Ellie, whatever the story is, it’s their business. Just be careful with this, okay? Digging up the past can get people hurt.”

Once again there was a look passing between the other two women, and Amber now suspected she knew what Danni wanted with Ellie. She wanted to say something, she had a bad feeling about that prospect to, but it really wasn’ther business. The rest of the meal went by slightly more tense than it had been before.

After they had eaten, Danni suggested they move to the sitting room for Ellie and Amber to go over the case files. To get there they moved through a hallway where the walls were lined with photos. Ellie stopped to study them. Most of them were of people, smiling people signing papers or standing in front of buildings.

“So these are your projects, are they?” Ellie asked, turning towards Danni.

“I call it my bragging wall,” Danni said, a wry smile on her face.

“Your bragging wall?” Amber asked, her eyes searching the pictures.

“Danni’s success is built on financial help to start up small businesses, or help patent and market different ideas and make them successful.”

“You"ve done your research,” Danni remarked, the smile on her face now more amused.

“You wouldn’texpect any less of me, would you?”

Danni didn’t answer, but the smile stayed on her face as she motioned towards the sitting room.


Lex was passed out on the sofa when Ryan came home from work. At least he couldn’t smell alcohol or see any bottles. Ryan sighed as he picked up the empty containers Lex had left on the table and on the floor next to the sofa, throwing them in the trash. Lex and junk food seemed to be constant companions these days. Lex had put on some weight since he lost his job, his hair was constantly greasy and he neglected shaving. Ryan had always had to keep an eye on Lex, ever since they met at boot camp, but he had never expected to be making more out of his life than Lex. That Lex was letting himself go like this was one thing, but he was dragging Zandra and, even worse, little Lexie down with him. Ryan was getting tired of righting Lex’s mistakes, but he had taken on a responsibility when he said yes to be Lexie’s godfather. At that time though, Lex had been so dedicated, so eager to change himself to be a good father, that Ryan hadn’tf oreseen many problems.

Boot camp had been alright. Lex and Ryan had both been in foster care at the time, both difficult to find a home for due to reputations as troublemakers. In Lex’s case the reputation was very much right, but Ryan had simply stood up for a younger foster brother who had been hit by their foster father. Ryan had already at the time been fairly big and strong and gotten the upper hand. After being reported for violent behaviour he had been put in the temporary boot camp project for troubled youths. There he had met Lex. Then Lex had gotten into trouble, Ryan had helped him out. Story of his life from then on. They had run away, lived on the streets since then, near where Zandra lived with her family. They hadn’t been happy with her choice of boyfriend in Lex and their constant breakups and reunions. When Lex and Ryan turned 18 they were free, no longer needing to be scared off getting sent away to a new camp or foster home. Having Lex sleeping on his sofa was a nice change though. Back in their first flat it had been Ryan sleeping on the sofa, Lex getting the only bedroom.

Ryan walked back over to Lex, kicking lightly under Lex’s boot on the leg hanging over the edge of the sofa. Lex grunted.

“What?”

“Look at yourself, Lex. Do you really think Zandra will let you come home again if you keep this up? Have you even been out looking for a job today? Or this week at all?”

“Leave me alone, Ryan, you"re not my babysitter!” Lex spat, covering his eyes with his arm.

“Well, you need one. Lexie is more mature than you are, Lex. She shouldn’t have to be. Do you want her to grow up like us?”

That seemed to hit a nerve, as Lex moved his arm to glare at Ryan. He opened his mouth to reply, but whatever retort he had was interrupted by the doorbell. Ryan looked through the peephole, a sigh escaping him as he looked back at Lex.

“It’s your wife.”

Lex quickly sat up, at least attempting to look less like a slob. Ryan opened the door to let Zandra in. She gave Ryan a quick kiss on the cheek. Lex only got a look of disdain sent his way.

“Where’s Lexie?” He asked sharply as Ryan closed the door behind Zandra.

“She’s with a friend from daycare, I’m picking her up just before bedtime. I’ve got an appointment in an hour.”

“Appointment for what?” Lex’s eyes darkened, his voice rising.

“Yoga class, Lex, if you must know. Actually, that’s why I’m here. I’ve been thinking about things, and here’s how it’s going to be. Twice a week for a while I’ll be doing yoga and meditation with this instructor, Tai-San. Those days I want you to have Lexie and bring her home for bedtime. If that goes alright and you clean yourself up,” she paused, wrinkling her nose as her eyes looked up and down his wrinkled dirty clothes, “then you can move back home. And I mean no more drinking, no more late nights, no more gambling our money away. You will get a job, anything that pays, minimum wage even. This is your last chance. If I as much as suspect you’re not making an effort to change things around, I am getting a divorce. I’m sick of this, Lex. We can’t keep doing this to Lexie, all this back and forth. It was alright when we were teenagers, when we only had ourselves to think about, but she deserves better. I’d rather be a single mum than put her through this over and over. This is your final chance.”

Lex seemed shocked at her determination, his mouth half open. Ryan had stood in silence while she spoke, now waiting for a response from Lex. When none came, he spoke instead.

“He’ll do it, Zandra. Don’t worry.” Ryan sent Lex a pointed look, finally Lex seemed to snap out of it.

“Yeah, okay.” His voice was surprisingly meek.

“Okay then.” Zandra nodded, before turning her attention to Ryan. “And no covering for him, Ryan. For Lexie’s sake, don’t cover for him. He needs to make an effort this time.”

“I know. I’ve been thinking the same thing.” Ryan ignored the look Lex gave him.

“Thank you, Ryan.” Zandra walked back towards the door, spinning around to face them again with her door on the handle. “Day after tomorrow, Lex, you pick her up from daycare and bring her home for bedtime. Make sure she eats dinner, and no junk food, that she’s not inside all day and that you actually spend time with her. No handing her over to Ryan while you go gambling at the pub.”

“Yes. I said yes already!” Lex sounded annoyed now, the usual hardness back in his voice. Zandra opened the door and left without another word. Lex turned to Ryan.

“You’ve been thinking about it too, have you? Seems like everyone else has been thinking about what’s best for me.”

“Actually I was thinking about Lexie, not you. She needs her dad.”

“Whatever. I"m taking a shower.” Lex finally moved from the sofa, slamming the door to the bathroom shut behind him, leaving Ryan alone in the living room.


The dining room had been filled with expensive and very modern furniture, a sense of model home about it. The sitting room was entirely different. It was homey and cosy, and a lot more personal. One wall was covered in bookshelves, another wall had a large television set, a large comfortable sofa placed in front of it. Even though the room was tidy and fairly free of clutter, it was obvious it was an often used room. There was also a smaller dining table with a few chairs, confirming Ellie’s suspicion that the dining room was one only in use for guests. Ellie had a feeling Danni didn’t invite people home that often.

“It’s better to work in here,” Danni explained. The table already had a neat stack of folders on one side. Next to it was Ellie’s book, coloured post-its sticking out at the top. Amber sat down and turned to Ellie, who quickly sat down next to her.

“Okay, I have to admit I don’t know too much about this, beyond what has been in the media. Danni explained some of it, but I don’t know the details of the lawsuits.”

Before Ellie could answer, Danni had started picking up the top folders from the pile.

“Details are in here,” she said and placed the folders in front of Amber. “I divided them for each separate case, so it should be fairly easy to find what you need. I would suggest starting with the top two, those are the ones most likely to cause problems.”

Amber and Ellie glanced at each other, as Danni picked up the book.

“I’ve also marked the relevant passages and chapters in here for those two cases.” She placed the book on top of the folders. “Now, I have some phone calls to make and things needing to be done in my office. It’s right down the hall if you need anything.”

She was off without another word, leaving the two women by themselves.

“Right,” Amber said, taking a deep breath as her eyes looked over the items in front of her. “I suggest we begin by you giving me an overview of each lawsuit. We can go into further details later on. If I decide to take this on, I mean.”

Ellie nodded, though her eyes kept staring at the pile of folders in front of them. For a moment she felt overwhelmed, before she pulled herself together and picked the two top folders from the pile. The names on the front were the ones she expected, the two men she had named and shamed without really having enough evidence. She had gotten carried away when it all started to unravel, when all the loose threads came together and lead her to a story even bigger than she had anticipated. She put one folder away and opened the other, quickly beginning to fill Amber in on the facts.

They had been sitting there for nearly two hours when Amber had to rush off to another appointment. Danni followed them to the door, and Ellie deliberately hesitated to get a chance to speak to Danni alone.

“Thanks for all the work you put into those folders.”

“Oh, I hope you don’t mind. I wasn’t sure how much paperwork you would bring over, so I put some stuff together.”

“No, they were really helpful. We got through a lot more than I thought we would. How did you get a hold of all those papers though?”

“I know people,” Danni smiled slightly. “And most of it is publically accessible if you know where to find it. Most people don’t realise that.”

“It must have taken a bit of time though, putting it all together. You have so much else going on to, all your projects.”

“I have employees,” Danni shrugged. “They do most of the work in their different businesses or research departments. I mainly oversee things from here.”

Ellie couldn’t help but think of how lonely that sounded.