The End: prologue
Historians like to demarcate time into chapters, the neat waxing and waning of power: the Aztecs and the Romans, Communism and Capitalism, Buddha and Mohammed and Jesus. Great waves of thought and faith and colonization and conflict, this way and that way, the human population of the world caught in its churning currents.
Midway through the twenty-first century, the people of what was once known as North America found themselves at a crossroads of sorts. To the North and the South great walls separated them from the hungry hordes above and below. The ocean separated them from Nature’s frozen destruction of the eastern continent and Man’s nuclear destruction of the western continent. A network of missile launch sites dotted along the borders prevented outsiders getting through these barriers: a medieval fortification of a continent.
At its center, too, the continent of North America was divided. Pockets of privilege stood their ground in an increasingly wild and anarchic sea of angry dispossession.
History is a story, and stories require protagonists and antagonists. When the story was narrated later, through the filter of hindsight, the architecture of the great technological terror was assigned to a single man, a scientist, a man devoid of human emotion who envisioned a world of sedate and complacent clones that would repopulate the diseased and dying world to power the factories that fed the less-developed Far Northern and Southern continents and allow a life of ease and comfort for a small, select original human population.
But men with a clear vision are often confounded by the complexities and vicissitudes of human nature. Religion made a sudden resurgence and prejudice against the soulless clones created social conflict. There was the problem with mutation early on, and then the genetically modified clones were not as sedate and complacent as they were supposed to be, and to complicate things further, bleeding-heart originals rebelled against what they viewed as eugenics and the creation of a cloned slave class.
Civil war erupted. The rebellion lacked organizational structure and coherent leadership. But this was also its strength. Militarized cells operated autonomously under a single objective: to disrupt the network of Geneticore’s control, compound by compound and sector by sector. What would replace the current social system was not really their concern. Most of them were soldiers, not politicians. A long-term future is irrelevant when you could die tomorrow.
“Moral determinism is what got us into this mess in the first place. The nuclear family and the inviolability of marriage are products of social fear. A truly free society is one where there is no ownership. Love is not a commodity. Sex is not about staking claim to another person.”
Dean leans against the doorjamb and watches Cas philosophizing to his attentive female flock. From his lotus position on the floor, Cas glances up, notices him and smiles. To the women he says, “And now it’s time to prepare for the orgy, my sisters.”
The women get up and file out of the cabin. Some of them wear beatific, stoned expressions. One walks past Dean on the porch without even seeing him, stripping off her t-shirt as she walks by, trailing it from her fingertips along the floor and down the steps. The camp is awash with the rosy arrival of sundown. Dean watches the sinuous movement of her naked back and swaying hips, the way the light haloes her long hair.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” Cas says, standing next to him.
“Are you tempted to join us?”
Dean takes the joint Cas hands him, draws deeply as he watches the woman step up onto the porch of the cabin across from them. She takes off her jeans and stretches her arms above her, naked and facing the setting sun in pagan worship.
“Do you even believe half this crap you spout at them?”
“I believe in everything and nothing.”
Dean angrily flicks the joint away. He’s not in the mood for the Dalai-Yoda routine. “I’m not one of your handmaidens, Cas, don’t talk shit to me.”
“From your hostility, I’m guessing he wasn’t there?”
“No, he wasn’t there.”
“Have you actually considered the possibility that he’s dead, Dean? I mean really considered it?”
“He’s not dead.”
“Well, at least you believe in something.”
“Yeah, at least I believe in something.” Dean spits over the porch railing. “Or I’m just deluding myself out of guilt. He’s dead. They killed him four years ago because of me and now I’m chasing his ghost in penance.”
They’ve had this conversation before, both of them know it, but they follow its familiar pattern anyway.
“It wasn’t your fault, Dean. Even if you hadn’t gone to find the original Sam, there was nothing you could have done to prevent them from sending your Sam away. You couldn’t have known that your mother and step-father would act so quickly. You were powerless. We were all powerless and disenfranchised. It wasn’t a betrayal.”
“So why does it feel like I betrayed him? I was arrogant and stupid—”
Cas places his hand on Dean’s shoulder. “You were young.”
Dean abruptly shrugs it off. “I was stupid and careless! I should have known better than to put him in danger like that.” He takes a hip-flask out of the breast pocket of his surplus jacket, takes a swig and hands it over to Cas.
“It’s very old-world Catholicism, all this guilt you carry around with you. You should let it go.” Cas takes a swallow from the flask, grimaces at the burn and passes it back to Dean.
Dean screws the lid back on and puts it in his pocket. “I’m not Catholic and you’re not a priest. Not anymore. You can’t give me absolution.” Of course, that’s exactly what Cas does provide. Every hard decision, every enemy Dean kills or ally he sends to be killed, this is where he ends up, in confession with Cas.
“You’re a strong man, Dean. A leader. And you still believe. I envy you that sometimes.” Cas leans forward, his hands curled over the railing as he watches the sun disappear through the trees.
Dean bends and leans his elbows on the railing, watching Cas’ profile, the cloudiness in his eyes and the half-smile, a removed, artificial happiness that comes from being high. “If you got your fucking head out of all this tantric, stoned, Kama Sutra bullshit, you might learn to believe in something real yourself.”
“I believed once but it was all indoctrination and control. Everything was a lie.” Cas turns his head to face Dean. “If religion is the opium of the oppressed masses, I prefer the real deal. Do you want to smoke a pipe with me? I promise it will make all the pain and guilt just go away. Gone in an instant.” He gestures with his hand, fingers flicking something into nothing. “Poof.”
Dean sighs, stands back up and stretches out the kinks in his back. “No, I need a clear head for tomorrow. And so do you. You’re going on that supply run. I don’t care how hung-over and fucked out you are in the morning.”
Cas mock salutes him. “Never fear, oh fearless leader, me and my amphetamines will be at your disposal in the morning.”
Dean turns away and walks down the cabin’s steps. He says over his shoulder, “I’m going to have a drink with Castiel. Your clone is less cynical and more fun than you are.” He has no intention of drinking with Castiel but it’s a good way to get Cas going.
“I’m insulted. You know Castiel lacks my genetic predisposition for social wit and insouciance. He gets maudlin after a single drink. The only time he even came close to being fun was when I secretly fed him space cakes.”
Dean laughs, turning around on the path in front of the cabin and talking up to Cas on the porch, “You don’t need to be jealous and bitchy, Cas. You’ll always be number one. And don’t forget how many times your clone has saved your ass, and mine.”
“Yeah, well, talking about asses and sticks and sticks up asses,” Cas calls back.
“That doesn’t even make any—never mind.” Dean half-waves over his shoulder and walks away, shaking his head.
Risa and Castiel are waiting for him at his cabin. She’s sitting on the steps up to the porch, and he’s standing like a sentry with his back to her, not speaking. Castiel doesn’t do unnecessary small talk.
“Hello, Dean,” he says, and continues without any further preamble, “You should come with us. There is someone you need to meet.”
Dean raises his eyebrows, “Uh, some context, Castiel?”
Castiel frowns. “Context?”
Risa sighs and walks down the steps. “We ran into a G-Core squad on the supply run. We exchanged fire. Five of them went down before the others retreated. They had a hostage with them. He’s in the mess. He says he knows somebody you might like to get some intel on.”
Dean nods at Castiel, “See, that’s called context.” He asks Risa, “What information has he got?”
She shifts on her feet and avoids his eyes. “Maybe you should just talk to him yourself.”
It’s unusual for Risa to be cagey. She’s tough as hell, a military clone, and normally says it like it is. Dean waits her out. She rolls her eyes and folds her arms over her chest. “Okay, he says he knows your dad and that he was fighting with him near the capital.”
“My dad? That’s impossible. He died when I was a kid.”
Risa shrugs. “That’s what he says.”
“And you brought him here? Have you lost your mind? He’s a Geneticore spy.”
Castiel breaks in, “I wasn’t in favor of this course of action either, at first, but this man is a clone and his original is with the sector five unit. We know this to be true. He is one of us, Dean.”
Dean clenches his jaw, staring hard at them both. Risa arches her eyebrows and looks back defiantly. Castiel is patient and impassive.
“Okay,” Dean grinds out, turning on his heel and stalking towards the mess.
The guy is sitting at one of the trestle tables. He’s big, wide in the shoulders and has a bullet-shaped, shaved head. He’s got the word FREEDOM tattooed under his throat in a curved arch from one collarbone to the other. Two of Dean’s guys are at the door, both of them armed. They nod at him.
The other guy watches Dean warily as he crosses the room. Dean turns a chair around and straddles it, his arms resting on the back. “Who are you?” he asks quietly, eyes narrowed.
“Who are you?” the guy snarks back.
Without hesitation, Dean leaps up and rabbit punches him in the side of the neck, knocking him straight off his chair. There’s a surprised shuffle of boots behind Dean but nobody says anything. The guy writhes on the floor for a minute, groaning and clutching his neck. He looks murderously up at Dean, nostrils flared and mouth twisted into a snarl.
“Get up,” Dean commands. The guy staggers to his feet and sits back down on the chair, flexes his shoulders and rolls his neck. He’s tough, no doubting that. “I’ll ask you again. Who are you?”
“So you’re a hard-ass just like your daddy, Dean.”
The next punch lands on his cheek, whips his head back with the force off it but he manages to remain seated in the chair. Dean rubs his knuckles. The guy’s got steel not bone under his skin. He turns back to Dean, spits blood on the floor and rubs his jaw. Surprisingly, he just grins at Dean, his teeth streaked red.
“My name’s Reece and your father’s name’s John Winchester. He’s got this ridiculous retro fetish for 1960s rock music and black-and-white movies. He trained at the Geneticore military institute in the capital and was promised to a cute, fertile little blonde at the age of nineteen who turned out to be psychotic, manipulative bitch. Your birthday’s January 24th. Your brother Sam was born sixteen months later on May 2nd. Your mother sold him to a Geneticore exec and broke your dad’s heart. He joined the movement early on, and faked his death when you were twelve years old.”
All of that he could have found out by other, second-hand means, but not what he says next. It’s something Dean only ever told his dad.
“When you were five years old you used to get dressed under the bed-covers because your mom told you that Jesus was always watching you and you didn’t want him to see your little pee-pee.”
There’s a snort of laughter from Risa. Dean turns to the group behind him. He’d almost forgotten they were there. “Get out,” he says shortly. Typically, Castiel looks like he’s going to argue. If Cas is his confessor, then Castiel is his guardian angel. Dean’s been trying to get rid of both of them since he met them, but for some reason they continue watching out for him. “Out, Castiel,” he insists. He doesn’t need an audience for this.
“I’ll be outside the door.” And of course that’s exactly where Castiel will be, as long as it takes.
Dean goes over to the rusted freezer in the corner and pulls out two ice packs. He chucks one over to Reece and puts the other on his fist, pouring shots of moonshine one handed.
“You inspire loyalty in your people. Your dad would be proud.”
Dean goes back to the table, sits down and puts his feet up on another chair. He swallows the shot, places the glass on the table and holds the ice-pack firmly down over his hand. “Where is he?”
“Loyalty, Dean. It’s all we’ve got.”
Dean gives him a cool look. “You going to make me hit you again?”
Reece swallows the moonshine and hisses as it goes down. He sets the glass down and leans forward, elbows on his knees, hands loosely clasped together. “You can try. The first two were free. You’re going to have to work for the next one.” A drop of blood dribbles out the side of his mouth.
Dean puts his feet back down on the floor and leans forward so their faces are only a couple of inches apart. “There’s something you need to know about me, Reece. I’m very skilled at making people tell me what I want to know.”
Reece leans back in his chair and folds his arms, biceps bulging under his shirt. “I believe you. And that’s a valuable skill for a man to know when he’s at war. But you won’t do that.”
Dean raises his eyebrows. “Really? And why’s that?”
Reece looks at him steadily. “Because we’re on the same side and there’d be no nobility in that. You’re not broken enough yet.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it.
Reece huffs a cynical laugh. “I’ve seen broken men, Dean. Trust me when I say you’re not there yet. And if you’re half as strong as your dad, you’ll never end up there. You still have hope in your eyes. And as long as we’ve got that, we’ve still got our humanity.”
Dean stands up and gets the bottle of moonshine. He pours them another shot each and sits down again. Reece raises his glass, says, “To staying human.” Dean considers that for a moment, then nods and chucks it back.
“Jesus, how do you drink this rot-gut?” Reece shudders and wipes his mouth.
“If you’re desperate enough, you’ll drink anything.”
“True,” Reece agrees and notices Dean looking at the long, jagged scar on his wrist where his tracker chip has been removed. He rubs his fingers over it. “Fuckers are hard to get out, had to do it myself with a knife. Nearly bled to death. Got no feeling in two of my fingers.”
“How come you’re not with your original? Don’t you two get along?”
Reece shrugs. “We get along fine, but he’s his own man.”
“So he didn’t want you around, huh?”
Reece snorts and holds his glass out for another slug of the moonshine. Dean tops him up. “I’m stronger, smarter and meaner than him. He couldn’t handle it.”
“That’s got to hurt a little, being rejected by your own self.”
A slow smile stretches Reece’s lips. “Sure, it hurt. I spend years looking for him, finally find him and he doesn’t want anything to do with me. It’s like being rejected by your own mother.” He considers Dean for a long moment, that wry smile twisting his lips. “You’re a cool son of a bitch, Dean Winchester. I come along and tell you that the father you think has been dead for more than ten years is actually alive, and you sit there drinking with me and getting me to talk about my feelings.”
“Are you more or less likely to tell me what I want to know if you’re warm and loose with moonshine and sharing?”
Reece laughs, head back and chest shaking with it.
Dean continues, “But Plan B, noble or not, was still to torture the information out of you.”
Reece laughs even harder. “I like you, Dean. You’re a chip off the old block.” His expression sobers and he leans forward. “I’ll take you to him.”
Dean allows the little shiver of excitement. A lot of the time he banks everything down so hard and tight to survive, to keep going, that he’s just functioning on autopilot. It’s not that he actually, consciously maintains hope for anything—for victory and a new world or that he’ll eventually find Sam again—it’s just that fighting and believing things can be better are habits. But this is something else. It’s a real feeling. His dad is alive. A buried part of him remembers what it was like being a kid and desperately longing for his dad’s presence. Another, adult part of him that is wounded and betrayed by his dad’s survival wonders if he’ll be able to stop himself from busting the man’s nose if he ever meets him face-to-face.
“You need to know, though. Up North, it’s not like down here. Geneticore forces are holding strong up there, and there’s fierce fighting every day. People dying, every day. It’s not like this survivalist commune you got going down here. Everybody on the front is there to lay down their lives for the cause. But I’ll take you to him, if that’s what you want.”
Dean’s irritated by the implication that they’re some rag-tag, hillbilly outfit that hasn’t seen any real conflict, but he lets it go - every soldier thinks he’s got the bigger claim on who’s seen the worst of it. Something else is nagging at him more. “Tell me something: all this time, did he know where I was?”
Reece looks sympathetic. “He’s always kept tabs on you, yeah. Remembers both your birthdays every year by getting blind drunk too.”
“Son of a bitch!” First the discovery that his brother was living in the sector next-door for most of his life, and now this. Dean’s stomach burns. Between the moonshine and the stress, he’s going to give himself a fucking ulcer. He’s been lied to his entire life. “And it was just a coincidence that you got captured and we found you? Why did you say anything about my dad in the first place? Did you think it would get you some kind of leverage? Is this all part of some elaborate trap to get me into an ambush?”
Reece snorts at the suggestion he might be a decoy or a spy. “I’m on the level here, Dean. This is totally a weird coincidence, that’s all. He’s probably going to be pissed as hell at me for telling you anything. But fuck it. Look, I can’t speak for your dad, but you’ve got to understand: he made a choice all those years ago, and he chose the cause, which meant that he had to make sacrifices. A lot of people had to make hard decisions in the early days. He couldn’t be a father and a soldier. What Geneticore planned was genocide, a mass extermination of the original population, to be replaced by a slave class of passive clones. In the face of that, family, individuals, they don’t count.”
“No, I guess family doesn’t mean anything. Do you know my brother’s dead? He got killed in one of the first major strikes on the capital.”
Which means his dad knows. Dean furiously wonders if he even gives a shit. His whole middle section feels like it’s on fire, like the moonshine finally burned a hole through the lining of his stomach and it’s leaking through his body and burning like acid. “He was a college kid. A fucking innocent! An academic. He didn’t know what he was a part of. He wasn’t the enemy. He was supposed to get married and have kids.”
Reece slams his hand down on the table and roars, “We’re at war, Dean! Innocent people die!”
All that heat in Dean’s chest and belly just bursts into flames. Enraged at Reece’s callousness, he scrapes back his chair and charges at him, tackling him where he’s sitting. They go over backwards, the chair smashing into pieces under their combined weight as it hits the floor. They struggle violently—kicking, punching, knocking the table over, glass shattering on the floor—until Reece manages to flip Dean onto his back, his arm a steel bar over his throat. “Channel it,” he hisses in Dean’s face. “Channel all that rage at the right target and get revenge.”
He’s about to say something else when there’s a loud crack and his eyes widen before he collapses heavily to the side. Castiel is standing over them. He’s got a rifle in his hands, the butt turned forwards, and Reece is laid out cold on the floor.
“I thought you might need my assistance,” Castiel says when Dean blinks up at him in surprise.