Despite his fatigue, Leo followed Ian through the dark house as he showed him around some of the common areas on the basement level and then first floor. Ian also explained their power grid a bit more as well as more details on their tech. Leo was impressed with the sheer size of the place. It was obvious that the two were putting Beauchamp's wealth to good use.
Though Leo still couldn't quite wrap his head around the fact that just Ian and Nora managed to keep such a large place powered and off the grid on their own. They had to have help somewhere. Which made him suspicious.
Ian then grabbed two beers from a fridge in the first floor butler's pantry, holding one out to Leo and then leading him to a large sitting room of sorts and out onto a balcony that overlooked the back part of the grounds. A large garden spread out before them along with various other outbuildings. The country was beautiful. Peaceful. If it were any other circumstance, he might enjoy it here. But it didn't change the fact that Leo still needed to learn more about his apparent hosts.
The two men stood in companionable silence. Leo glanced over at Ian and then back at the grounds. He was curious how he and Nora were involved. How they started all of this. Why they were even doing anything. He had thought he was alone in the world - that no one else besides him and the Hawkins knew the truth and would want to do anything about it. He couldn't understand it. Everyone else that knew only wanted to profit from it.
"So… you and Nora…" Leo started, shuffling his feet a bit. "How do you two know each other?"
Ian chuckled and reached up, scratching the back of his neck.
"We met in boarding school, actually," Ian said. "She was about 13 at the time. I was in the year above her. It was a bit of a shock for Nora. She had been taught at home by tutors before that and only knew Beauchamp Estate… But… she had spirit. Whenever the bullies set in on her, she fought back."
Leo looked over at him, though Ian was still staring out into the night. He took a drink of his beer.
"She wasn't used to being around other kids. And… even then, suppose I could sense something different about her," Ian continued. "So, I stood up for her and we've been best friends ever since… probably her only friend… Even then she didn't really open up to others…"
"She seemed okay with telling me about… what she is," Leo stated.
"Well, that was out of necessity. We didn't think you'd come with her or trust her if she didn't," Ian said. "But obviously, she doesn't tell anyone. You and I are likely the only humans left alive who know."
"Still unsure about all of this," Leo admitted. "Still don't understand what you're doing or why. How do I know I can trust you?"
"Look, I know it's probably not easy to trust… a lot of people… but we're in this for good reasons," Ian said, turning to face Leo. "And Nora, just give her time. A chance. You'll see that she's not out for anything. She just wants to help. And whatever Nor wants to do, I do my best to follow and make sure she doesn't get in trouble."
"Still doesn't help me understand why," Leo said, turning to face him.
So she was a clone and had a tragic story as well. Didn't really explain why she wanted to help him.
"And I'm not about to trust someone that obviously doesn't completely trust me," Leo added.
"You have to understand, the way… he… treated her… That's why she's the way she is. Rough around the edges and all. Beauchamp was… well… He kept her isolated as long as he could, before sending her to school. And even then, he had people keeping a close eye on her and didn't like it when she got too close to others. Christ, we even had to keep our friendship a secret," Ian explained.
"And when he did find out when she was 16, he pulled her from school and locked her up here at the manor," Ian stopped talking a moment, his brow furrowed. "I worried about her… ever since he pulled her from school. And then one day about a year or so later, she shows up at my doorstep, saying she's runaway and asking me to help hide her… I don't even know how she found me…"
Something in Leo shifted as he listened to Ian recount Nora's story. He understood isolation. Living with a father obsessed with his creation. But at least his father had created a family for him - done everything he had out of love, or so Leo assumed.
Nora had no one but the man who had created her and he intentionally kept her away from others. She had no one but him. That had to be hard. Leo could see why she would have a harsh exterior. More than that, he began to see that Ian had to be incredibly patient.
"You stayed with her this whole time," Leo said. Ian chuckled softly.
"Course I did. She had no one else. And well… didn't bother me in the slightest when we found out what she was," he said. "She's still blood and flesh. Her own person. Just got the same DNA as someone else. No different from having an identical twin, I should think." Leo nodded. "Though… suppose she is different in some ways..."
"How do you mean?" Leo asked, curious as to just what Beauchamp had done.
"I've studied her father's research. Studied her a bit. She wanted to know more about what she was," Ian said. "She's human, yes. A clone. But Beauchamp, he… found ways to… enhance her biological makeup. She's an accumulation of his life's work so far. Near impervious to illness. Ages slower. It's like… he was trying to create a human who would never get sick. Never age. Never die, essentially."
"How is that even possible?" Leo asked, not able to comprehend what Ian was saying. "We aren't immortal. You can't do that even with all the advances made. It's science fiction."
"She's not immortal and yes, she does age," Ian explained quickly. "But she's more than just your average human. Nora's the result of years of research and testing."
"Testing… you mean there were others?" Leo asked, turning to him.
Ian nodded grimly and then motioned for Leo to follow him. They made their way across the dark manor to the other end where Ian walked into a large, two-story library. He continued over and sat down at a desk that had two computer monitors set up.
"He documented it all," Ian said with a sigh as he navigated through the computer. "All the experiments. There's loads of scans and blood work in here on Nora, but also everything on all the ones before her. He found surrogates. Paid them well. Got them to sign NDAs - though it's not like he told them the embryos were clones. Recorded each pregnancy and birth. None lasted as long as Nora."
"Surrogates?" Leo asked, suddenly feeling the disgust roll around in his stomach. Ian stopped and looked up at him.
"Nora is version 15 of his experiment - the first to survive into adulthood," Ian stated. "In the beginning, they were miscarriages. Then stillbirths. A couple survived the birth, but they only made it a few months. And then there was Nora."
"This is… How did no one know what he was doing?" Leo asked, his head spinning.
"How did no one know what your father was doing?" Ian countered.
Fair enough. And Beauchamp Estate was isolated. Now that Leo thought about it, it wasn't that difficult. Especially when one had resources.
"Beauchamp intended to keep going," Ian continued, a bitter edge entering his voice. Leo frowned. "When it became clear that Nora wasn't… what he expected, he began working on the next one. Making plans to… terminate Project 15."
"Wait… he was going to kill her?" Leo asked, stunned. Ian nodded.
"Thankfully, he died from a brain aneurysm before he could put anything into work, though he had been trying to locate her," Ian said, frowning. "Happened so suddenly, he hadn't even changed his will to write her out yet."
He leaned over to the computer and clicked on a video file. Leo leaned forward, seeing the doctor appear on one of the monitors. He seemed to be sitting at the very desk Ian was now seated at. He rubbed his face, looking tired and weary.
"No. 15 is proving more and more that she… it is a failure. As soon as I locate it, plans to terminate will be carried out," he said professionally. He shook his head. "I was so sure that this would work - it was the first one to survive this long and perfect in every other way, but… I need to… regroup. The personality, it's… not the same. It's not my Harriet." He sighed. "I've already begun preparing more embryos. Conducting searches for new surrogates. Within six months, I should be able to move to implanting the next round, but… I'm getting older…"
Beauchamp sighed again and then looked at the camera before turning it off.
"He called her it," Leo stated in disgust.
Even if Nora was a clone that he had created in a laboratory, Beauchamp had raised her from infancy. How could someone so easily disregard a person he had raised? He looked over, seeing Ian glaring at the screen.
"That's the least of what he did to her," he said, seething. His fists were clenched tightly. "He should have been locked up. Death was too easy for him. He didn't suffer at all"
He then closed his eyes and took a deep breath, seeming to try and regain control of himself. When he opened his eyes, Ian was calmer.
"I wanted to destroy the embryos, but Nora… she wouldn't let me. We still have them down in cold storage."
"What do you intend to do with them?" Leo asked. Ian shrugged.
"Dunno," he replied. "They're just… there. For whenever she decides. Technically they belong to her now. In a way, she thinks of them as her sisters. But I'm not sure if she wants to go through with… well, you know…"
Leo nodded and looked back at the screen. He grabbed the mouse and started navigating through it, looking over the research. It was astounding what Beauchamp had been able to accomplish. This kind of science, the rest of the world thought that it didn't exist - that it couldn't exist. That it was years, even decades away. Despite the horrible man that Beauchamp was, Leo couldn't help but be in awe of what he had done.
He had created the first human clone. More than that, he had created an advanced breed of human at the same time. Just what could Nora do?
Leo straightened up and rubbed his face, everything finally catching up to him. He was exhausted physically and mentally.
"You must be knackered," Ian said, turning off the computer. "Come on then, I'll show you to your room. We can talk more tomorrow."
Leo nodded and followed him out of the library They continued through the large house and upstairs to the second floor. They crossed a large space with sofa and armchairs before Ian stopped in front of a closed door.
"Got it all set up for you. Clean sheets and clothes. Towels in the bathroom and whatever toiletries you might need," Ian said. "I'm just around the corner if you need me. Nora's next to that."
"Thanks," Leo said, smiling slightly.
Ian smiled back and nodded. He then turned and walked away, likely to his own room. Leo sighed and walked into the room, finding it larger and far nicer than anywhere else he had lived. Well, save the house out in the country where he had lived with his family. But even that was small compared to this place.
The back wall had large windows and there was a fireplace on the wall to his right. On the bed in the middle, there was a set of pajamas folded up. Continuing in, Leo dropped his bag on the bench at the end of the bed and continued over to a slightly open door on the other side of the bed. Pushing it open, he saw a bathroom bathed in moonlight, stocked with toiletries and towels. Sighing, he turned back to look at the room.
He still wasn't quite sure what to make of everything he had learned but figured a shower and night's rest could help.
The next morning, Leo managed to find his way down to the breakfast room, though it took him a few wrong turns and he was mostly guided by the smell of food. Nora was already there, standing in front of a window and a steaming mug of coffee in her hand. She was still dressed in a pair of cotton shorts and a t-shirt. Upon hearing him enter, she turned to face him.
"There's coffee and tea over there. Food as well. Help yourself," she said.
Leo nodded and walked over, picking up a mug and pouring himself some coffee. He couldn't help but wonder if Nora had gotten up and prepared the food herself or if Ian had done it. He didn't see any workers last night and they had mentioned they were the only two humans in the place other than Leo himself. Just how did they manage to keep things up and running?
Glancing over, Leo saw Nora still standing on the other side of the room, her back to him as she looked out the window. Knowing what he did now, part of him felt like apologizing for being so defensive last night. But at the same time, he wasn't sure how to go about it.
And despite everything, he still didn't completely trust that Nora wasn't after something.
"Sleep well?" Nora asked as she turned back to him, walking up to the table but not sitting.
Leo turned to face her fully, noting that she seemed to be in a better mood than when she had stormed out the night before.
"The room is… nice," he said. "Thanks."
"Like I said, we've got the space," Nora said offhandedly. "Though we've shut up most of the rooms since they aren't being used."
The two stood in awkward silence, both of them alternating between glancing at each other and staring down into their mugs. Leo then took a deep breath and looked up at her.
"So… Ian told me more… about Beauchamp and-"
"Ah, I see," she said, cutting him off as her expression turned dark, though guarded. "About how dear ol' dad intended to wipe me out and start over fresh?"
As Leo nodded, Nora shot a dark look towards the open door.
"Fucking Ian and his mouth. He really shouldn't have gotten into that," she said harshly. "Not his story to tell. And it doesn't matter. Not related to what we're trying to do."
Leo frowned slightly, a bit put out by her change in attitude. Though he supposed he could understand. Ian had shared some rather personal information about her. But it wasn't any reason to get angry with him.
"Fine," he said just as harshly.
Nora turned to stare at him, her grey eyes sharp as though she were trying to read his mind. Leo couldn't quite read her expression nor was he sure just what she was thinking or feeling. But suddenly a smirk appeared, and her entire countenance changed. He got a distinct feeling she was putting on some sort of mask.
"You can help yourself to the food. What we can't grow ourselves we get from the market in the nearby village, in case you need something. If you'll excuse me, I've got things to do," she said, already walking out. She then stopped and looked over at him, her expression softening just slightly. "The others should be up soon. I'm sure you'll want to catch up."
She then turned and walked out. Leo sighed and ran his finger through his hair. Nora was hot and cold, that was clear. Almost friendly and open one second, then closed-up and harsh the next. Hiding behind sarcasm. She reminded him far too much of himself.
And Leo still wasn't sure how exactly the dynamic between Nora and Ian worked out.
Before he could think on it more, he heard footsteps approaching. He looked towards the door, seeing Max walk in with another synth Leo didn't know. He wasn't sure if she was one of the ones that was already at the manor or if this was the one he and Ten had been out to rescue.
Leo walked over and hugged Max, happy to see a familiar face and relieved that he seemed to be okay.
"I am happy to see that Nora found you," Max said, smiling. "This is Hester."
Leo stepped back and looked over at the synth, who appeared to be studying him closely. He nodded towards her and then turned his attention back to Max.
"Where's Ten? Mia?" Leo asked. He had expected to see them as well. Max's face fell slightly.
"There were complications," he said.
"They killed him," Hester said mechanically. "They came for me and he was killed in the crossfire."
Leo immediately frowned and looked back at Max, upset by the news. Ten hadn't been with them for long, but already he had grown on Leo. He hadn't even chosen a new name yet.
"But…" he stopped a moment, thinking over what to ask next. "How did you know to come here?"
"The other human… Ian. He relayed a message to us. Told us where to go and that Nora would bring you here," Max said.
"And you just trusted him like that?" Leo asked, shocked. "You had no idea who they were."
"As you can see, they can be trusted," Max said calmly. "I had been in contact with Ian for some time. Knew what they were doing. I had intended to tell you of them." Leo took a step back, feeling a bit betrayed. "I wanted to find more information first."
Leo just blinked and ran his fingers through his hair. He then realized that Max hadn't mentioned Mia.
"Where's Mia?" he asked.
"She stayed behind," Max said. "She said that it was something she needed to do."
Leo frowned again and then sighed. If there was something she needed to do, then it must be important. Though he couldn't help but wish that she was here right now.
"She knows where we are. She can find us."
"Fine. I need to, I should check on Ruth. The synth I found last night," Leo said, starting out of the room.
Leo managed to make his way to the banquet room, finding all the synths were now up and moving around. Scanning the room, he looked over, seeing Ruth off in a corner where a worktable with various tools and such were placed, Nora and Ian already with her. Even from across the room, he could see Nora's tense body language. She was obviously angry with Ian but managing to mostly cover it as they worked with Ruth.
Leo made his way towards them.
"Everything seems in order," Ian said, looking up at Ruth from a tablet.
"Your tracking chip has been destroyed, so they won't be able to find you," Nora replied, speaking rather warmly to her as she smiled. "You're safe now, Ruth."
"Thank you," Ruth replied, a slightly overwhelmed look on her face as she scanned the ballroom. "All they are like me?"
"Yes, they are," Nora replied. "They all feel, think. Just like you. Feel free to introduce yourself. Make friends."
Ruth smiled and nodded, then wandered off as Nora stepped up to Ian's side and looked down at the tablet over his shoulder. Neither seemed to notice Leo.
"Take it Ruth is okay," Leo said. The two looked up at him, Ian starting to smile while Nora immediately looked back down at the tablet, her expression neutral.
"Right as rain," Ian said.
"Looks as though we've got another," Nora said, ignoring both men and reaching down to scroll down the tablet. "Not far from here."
She started to walk towards the door.
"Nor, where are you going?" Ian asked, sounding slightly irritated.
"To pick him up," Nora said, continuing to walk.
"No, we agreed. When they are this close, they come to the spot just outside the park and we let them in," Ian said, his agitation rising. "You just got back."
Nora huffed as she turned back around to face him.
"It's not that far," she said, frowning.
"Yea, and you've had enough close calls lately - especially after last night. We follow the guidelines that you and I set up together. For safety," Ian replied, his voice firm.
Nora narrowed her eyes at him and then huffed.
"Fine. Set it up. I'm going to shower," she said. "I'll be in my room if you need me."
She then turned and walked out.
"She's not very friendly in the morning," Leo commented.
"She doesn't like being here and she's put out with me at the moment," Ian commented, looking back at the tablet and already typing something in. "I mean, I get it. But this is the safest place for all of us. Pretty sure we're already on Qualia's radar as it is - definitely are after last night if we weren't already. They've got a fucking lab not far from here as it is…"
Ian continued rambling, though Leo wasn't paying attention. He had latched on to one word.
"Qualia?" he asked, interrupting Ian. The ginger man looked up at him, seemingly surprised that Leo hadn't heard the name before.
"Yea, U.S. synth company. They've been picking up a lot of conscious synths before we can get to them. Nora's already had enough run-ins to make me nervous," he said. "You've no idea the hours I've had to put in cleaning up after her and scrubbing her from CCTV and the like."
"You can do that?" Leo asked, impressed, though he remembered just how little he had found about her when he tried searching before. Ian smiled and nodded, walking over to the workstation.
"Yea, I can make anyone disappear. As far as the world knows, Nora Locke is a faceless reporter and Nora Beauchamp is a shut-in that no one's seen since she was 16," Ian said. "Hacking's always been a hobby of mine since I was younger. Well, science in general, really. Studied biology and biotech as well as computer science in uni."
"And Nora?" Leo asked.
"She's… well… not sure just how to get into that. She studied journalism, bio and computer sciences, but never finished," Ian said without looking up.
Leo couldn't help but wonder if that was this what everyone who had money and freedom did? Studied whatever they wanted? Collected degrees like stamps?
"Told you that Beauchamp tinkered with her genetics. Not all that different from a computer code, when you think of it, but that's beside the point… she's always been rather bright but for whatever reason couldn't ever seem to stay on one thing for long… think that's all Nora, though…"
Leo sighed and looked around the ballroom, admiring the set up they had now that he could fully appreciate it in the light of day. It must have taken a lot of time and effort. But mostly, it was so he didn't have to think about what tinkering with Nora's genetics entailed.
"Just how long have you two been working on this?" Leo asked, looking over at Ian and motioning around the room. "And why aren't you working at some big tech company?"
"Couldn't very well leave Nora all on her own," Ian said, looking up at him. "And well, I was already working on synth tech on my own. Bio as well. Nora, she's got just as much resources if not more than any company I could work at. Beauchamp already had most of the equipment. Says she owes me for being friends with her, which I told her I'd be here regardless… Anyway, being here gives me time to study the things I want."
Leo studied Ian, wondering just exactly what was the relationship between Ian and Nora, but then again, that was something he didn't really want to dive into. Relationships were tricky, complicated things. And he had enough to worry about on his own without getting mixed up in other people's problems.
"As for this place… Beauchamp had already done a lot of the work. But we've been upgrading off and on over the past few years," Ian said. "Didn't take too long to get the setup for the charging stations."
Leo nodded and looked around the room again, unsure of what he should do.
"Suppose I'll, um, go get ready. Then…" Leo stopped.
Out of the manor, life was full of tracking down conscious synths and helping them. Staying a step ahead of the others, well, Qualia, now that he knew the name. Or well, trying to stay ahead at least. But being here, he wasn't sure just what he was meant to do.
"I can fill you in on everything we've discovered on Qualia. And then you can help with the new arrival. Perhaps we can combine our transmissions so that we can direct anyone who contacts you to come here," Ian said warmly.
"Sure," Leo said offhandedly.
He then turned and made his way out of the ballroom and towards his room. He still wasn't sure what to make of all of this but supposed diving in was the best way to figure that out.
Finally finished another chapter on writing so decided to get a new one up! Now officially over halfway finished with writing. Hooray!
Doenja (Guest) - Thanks so much! Honestly, I thought the show deserved more love. I really wanted to do a story set after the third season since we're likely not getting season 4 (and dude, was that a horrible place to leave a series) but then got this idea and fleshed it out a bit and realized I was going to have to start in Season 2. So hence the (hopefully) three-part series. But I hope you enjoy the story!
Thanks everyone for reading!