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.
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.
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.
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.
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.