A/N: Sorry about the long bout with no updates. I've been busy lately and this story unlike my other ones was just a whim, so the ideas were kind of stale for it. This is the only thing that I have on it so far. Enjoy. I'll be continuing with it but the updates will be long in between. Thanks to anyone that's read, reviewed and even though I've been remiss in answering, I really appreciate the feedback. Keep me in your prayers and hopefully by next year I'll have more time to write. Enjoy.
(This was beta(ed) by two awesome people but I don't have time to dig up into my email to get the correct spelling of the names. So I apologize for not giving proper credit where it is due and will come back soon and remedy that blunder.)
The car ride back to the Jeffersonian was uncomfortable, the air tight with unanswered questions and possibly more than a bit of resentment from Booth’s side. After all, the whole investigation’s just been pulled from under him and given to someone who looked like he just graduated from high school. Booth glanced at Xander in the rear-view mirror and grimaced inwardly as the kid’s gaze stared brightly at the dark streets.
Booth let out a small sigh and cringed at the thought that they had assigned a rookie to supervise him, and despite the fact that showmanship and that kind of political crap had never appealed to him, he couldn’t help feel slighted.
Brennan’s phone rang and after a quick conversation, she ended the call. “Zack found an arm pin in one of the bodies; it seems that something acidic ate through some of the numbers of the serial number, which would make it difficult to determine her ID,” she informed her companions.
“We’ll just work with the numbers that we have and search the database of missing persons,” Booth replied.
Brennan turned to Xander who was listening intently and asked, “Cullen assured us that you were in possession of pertinent information about this investigation. He also alluded that you knew specific things that we aren’t privy to, so would you care to share?”
Xander straightened and his face became serious, traces of the grinning youth they’d met earlier disappearing completely. “There are a lot of things going on in this case that you cannot know, Dr. Brennan, but as your investigation progresses, it’ll let me know what I can inform you.”
“So, you’ll feed us scraps as we go?” Booth asked sarcastically, “Great, that’s mighty helpful of you.”
Brennan frowned, “There’s no way to determine what information is important to the case, so how will you chose what is relevant and when?”
Xander sighed and shook his head, “There are things that I can’t share, secrets that aren’t mine to reveal. We had the option of just removing the bodies from your custody and performing our own investigation, but the person most equipped to do this is currently unavailable, so we decided to just leave it to you guys for now.”
Booth entered the underground parking lot and parked the car. “Keeping things from us will just slow the investigation,” he warned.
Xander shrugged, “I know, but I can’t say anything about it and I can’t imagine any extra information that I have that would give you any insight into figuring out who’s responsible.”
Booth sighed shaking his head as they followed Brennan inside the institute. They both hurried ahead while Xander fell a bit behind, staring around impressed at the equipment they had at their disposal.
Xander knew that Willow was interested in setting up her own lab in the hopes that future investigations could be performed by those in the know instead of outside sources, and Xander made a mental note to suggest that their design match the Jeffersonian labs.
Xander looked around in admiration, making notes on interesting things in the back of his head. Their setup was quite impressive. The room was well lit and very secure, if you were to go by the guards positioned at every major checkpoint. Everything was clean and orderly, and if the computers were half as sophisticated as they looked, their technology level must be astounding.
Booth followed Bones and swiped his card.
He knew that he should wait for Xander to catch up and facilitate the boy’s entry by swiping his card for him but the petty side of him insisted that he just climb the stairs and ignore their guest. From the corner of his eye, Booth watched as Xander walked up to the security checkpoint and he turned fully, to stare in shock as the man pulled out a card similar to his and swiped it, easily accessing the area without the cacophony of alarms that Booth was hoping for.
Xander noticed the staring and said sheepishly, “My best friend is a bit of a stickler for things like access, so she gave me this one.” He flipped the silver laminated card over to show it off. “It has a specific bar code that allows me access into most government facilities.”
Booth frowned, “Is that even legal?”
Xander nodded, “Yep, very legal. In fact, it was recommended because when we’re in a situation where we have to go into government compounds, we usually have to have access to them quickly.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Booth nodded as he stared at Xander with a slightly less suspicious look on his face then asked, “How high is your clearance level?”
Xander allowed himself tiny slightly smug smile. “Pretty high, but it’s nothing special. Our whole organization has that same clearance but we don’t normally use it unless it’s an emergency.”
Booth nodded pleasantly but his eyes held a curious gleam within their depth and he eyed Xander with dozens of questions whirling around his head.
Dr. Brennan called them over and they entered the inner sanctum where the bones lay on the table, stripped and arranged. Six tables with bodies on them were arranged around the room in a circle.
“We have several problems –well, actually they are more inaccuracies or ambiguities, –with these bodies,” Zack began as he turned to face the new arrivals. “One is the time of death.”
Hodgins spoke then, “Body decomposition suggests that death occurred between two or three weeks ago but cellular breakdown give us a two or three days approximate. We’ll know more when we get the lab results back.”
Brennan frowned, “The smell of the room where the bodies were stored suggested only a few days as well. Could something have accelerated the rate of decomposition of the flesh?”
Zack shook his head in puzzlement. “There are many factors that could lead to the opposite, slow decomposition, but nothing occurs to me as a possible explanation for this. It’s as if the life was sucked out of their bodies within seconds instead of days. It almost seems to me as thought it could have been a new biological weapon.”
“So,” Hodgins added, caught up in the excitement, “you’re saying that whatever it was that caused them to die so fast would probably be the thing that killed them.”
He turned to Booth and smirked looking at him pointedly as he said, “I think, with this evidence, the government will have no choice but to admit to doing human testing of weapons. This is a clear example of a new bio-weapon they’re working on.”
Booth rolled his eyes, “What makes you think that the government is the reason for this. Terrorists use biological warfare all the time.”
Hodgins bounced a bit getting caught up with his conspiracy theory, “It makes perfect sense! They needed test subjects and these people are homeless on the streets, and beggars can’t be choosers, right? So, they volunteered for what they thought was some new medicine only to die as their flesh decayed before their eyes.”
“Right,” Booth said sarcastically, “because things like that happen everyday. You and your imaginative government schemes are going to drive me insane.”
Brennan glared at both of them, stopping their debate instantly. “We’ll know what happens after evaluating the evidence, not before, and we will not engage in hypothesizing without any evidence!”
She turned to Zack and asked, “Did you determine a time line?”
Zack appeared confused, “Um, time line Dr. Brennan?”
She clarified, “I asked you to see if you could determine when whatever mutation it was that caused them to heal so quickly first manifested.”
Zack’s face cleared up, “Oh, of course. I managed to determine an approximate date.”
He walked towards the screen and typed a few keys and white picture, with mossy indentation appeared on the screen, Zack, Bones and Hodgins all leaned into it, face lined with interest, while Xander and Booth just stared glassy-eyed.
Booth decided to ask, “So, what’s so interesting?”
Brennan looked up and smiled, “Look at the osteons, they are larger than normal bone cells and more numerous. We can also see more abundant outflow of blood vessels and nerve cells.”
She glanced at Zack and asked, “Are all of the bones from each victim similar?”
He nodded and she asked, “Did you check bone density and scarring?”
“Yes,” Zack replied, “and their mineral bone density is also incredible. They have a much higher level of calcium within their bones making for a much stronger matrix than normal, which would account for the strength of their bones.”
Brennan frowned, “The high calcium level would be normal since intra-cranial sutures confirm my earlier assessment of an age range from 13 to 16 yrs old. At that age, osteoclast work is almost immediately counterbalanced by osteoblast, so therefore no calcium breakage of bones.”
Booth tilted his head to the side, “So they’ve got strong bones, uh?” Zack nodded, and Booth sighed exasperated, “Why can’t you just say that?”
Zack ignored him and addressed Brennan. “I made allowance for their age range but the calcium still surpasses any measurement set ever recorded.”
She looked at the bones with an incredulous look on her face, “That is an anomaly; we must find what medical condition caused this mutation and determine if there are more people suffering from it.”
“I found something else, Dr Brennan,” Zack said as he moved towards the body positioned at the edge of the room and continued, “I’ve discovered a large amount of inconsistencies with this skeletal system. It’s almost as if it isn’t human.”
Brennan approached it and nodded. “Yes, the skull is vaguely humanoid but more closely resembles primates. There are humans with deformities in their genetic makeup and that could potentially account for it but not at this extraordinary level.”
Zack cradled a large hand within his and replied, “When I studied the carpal, I assumed the large size was due to a common growth hormone disease, which causes Acromegaly in adults and Gigantism in children, but the distended level of the mandible and the medulla is impossible to classify.”
Booth cleared his throat, “Can’t you just say it in normal people language?”
Xander shook his head in an attempt to clear the daze that his mind fell into and begged, “Yes, please. I’m kind of drowning in the science speak and no amount of exposure to Willow got me to understand it so, normal people language would be most appropriate.”
Brennan rolled her eyes, “We’re merely gathering the necessary data in the hopes of determining whether their age attributed to the high bone regeneration or if the high amount of osteon and calcium would make a significant impact as well. So far we've discounted two hormonal diseases that could have caused this skeletons deformities.”
Zack and Hodgins nodded in agreement, while Xander and Booth just stared at them, wide-eyed and blinking.
Hodgins grinned, “If you can’t survive through that, how are you going to make it through my report?”
Booth smacked his back, “I’m hoping that you’re closer to the human species than those two.”
A head full of dark hair peeked in and asked, “So, what did I miss?”
The woman bounced inside and frowned at Xander, “Who are you?”
Xander smiled and shook her hand, “I’m Xander, and you are?”
The gorgeous brunette smiled back and purred. “My name is Angela; pleasure to meet you. Are you a friend of Booth’s?”
Booth opened his mouth to answer but Zack beat him and replied, “Xander is from an agency that has sent here to supervise the case.”
Hodgins added, “Yep, apparently he knows more top secret stuff than Booth.”
“News sure travels fast around this place,” Booth gritted through a stiff smile.
Angela grinned at Booth’s discomfort, “So macho man’s been out macho-ed, uh?”
Xander interrupted the teasing, “I’m not really here to supervise, I’m here just to observe.”
Hodgins muttered, “That sounds like the same thing to me.”
Xander grinned and shook his head in disagreement, “Nope, One means I get to tell them what to do and the other means that I’m just leaning over their shoulders to copy their notes.”
Angela gave him a wicked smile, “I think the latter is more believable. I can’t see Brennan deal nicely with anyone trying to give her orders.”
Brennan frowned, “I don’t have a problem with authority, Angela. I merely prefer to be in the position where I have the most authority.”
Hodgins grinned, “Hmm, dominatrix anyone?”
Brennan cut the side chatter and brought them back on topic, “Xander’s also here because he has important information regarding the case, information that he refuses to share.”
The science team eyed Xander intensely as if the weighted stare would push him into confessing his secrets, and Xander grinned inwardly. After standing up to Angelus and not peeing himself, the geek squad’s attempt at intimidation did absolutely nothing to him.
Hodgins moved to his right and Zack took his left, and they managed to position him so that Booth was behind him and he was facing Brennan and Angela, who had her arm crossed over her chest.
Dr. Brennan didn’t appear to have noticed the strategy to close him in, but Booth did and he hid his grin.
Xander fought to keep a similar grin under control while Brennan eyed him like he was one of her pieces of inanimate skeleton.
She asked, “Do you know who those women are?”
Xander’s eyes hardened and he nodded, “I have an idea but I’m not sure. I’m letting you guys figure it out.”
She shook her head, “We would make more progress if you could let us know what you know.”
Xander groaned but shook his head firmly, again disagreeing with her. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. It’s better if you figure it out yourselves.”
Brennan frowned, “I can understand that you want you us to make our own conclusions by not giving us clues, but nothing you say will hinder our abilities to determine their identities, it will merely speed up the process a bit.”
Xander didn’t look convinced so Angela added, “If you gave me a picture of the people you think they might be. I might tell you if that’s who they are and at the very least you might have eliminated some of them from your list of possible victims.”
Xander frowned but nodded, “I guess that’s reasonable.”
Brennan asked, “Are you seeing the importance of sharing the information that you have?”
Xander frowned in regret, “That’s just not possible, Dr. Brennan. I will not disclose information that isn’t mine to reveal. You will have to make do with what you have for now.”
Xander sighed as temper flared brightly in Brennan's eyes and decided to give in to her the slightest bit. “I will see what I can do about giving you some info but you’ll have to use what you have until then especially since I’m sure it won’t make any difference in the case.”
Brennan groused, gripping the edge of the bench tightly, “I have never met anyone more stubborn in my life.”
“Other than you,” Angela inserted.
Bones gritted, “I am not stubborn.”
Angela’s eyes glinted with mirth. “Yes you are, sweetie. Last week I tried everything to convince you to come clubbing with me but you refused to budge from your bag of bones.”
Hodgins grinned, “That sounded vaguely dirty.”
Angela continued and, other than a small glance that clearly called Hodgins an idiot, she ignored him. “It’s always a fight trying to get you to leave this place. I mean, sometimes, I come to find you sleeping on that couch of yours.”
Brennan shrugged, “I fail to see how doing my job is an example of stubbornness.”
Booth sighed interrupting, “I’m going to take Xander, here, wherever he’s going and let you geeks duke it out.”
He grabbed Xander and tugged him out of the lab. Xander allowed Booth to lead him while still trying to clear his mind of geek speak. It never failed to make him feel very sleepy. The only thing keeping him upright was the slight immunity that he'd developed from hanging around Willow.