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The 12th continuation story in "The Best Laid Plans" universe. (rated R for language, violence) -- author's note
A large crowd of blue robed Familiars surrounded what could only be described as a rock altar, and slithering just about everywhere he looked were snakes -- gigantic colorful snakes, like the ones he'd seen with Max back in Terminal City. Alec's grip on Max tightened as he shifted her weight in his arms. A female Familiar pointed at the stone slab where two of the reptiles were coiled. "Put her down," she commanded.
"Alec!" Max cried out, writhing in his arms in the pain of a contraction.
Alec swallowed hard. He didn't want to let go of Max, but the baby was on its way and he didn't see an alternative.
"I'm right here," he said softly as he swept the slithering creatures out of the way with his forearm and gently lay Max down on her back on the cold hard stone. He held her hand. "I'm not goin' anywhere."
The look in Max's tear bright eyes told him she was grateful for the lie.
White, still in his wheelchair, was off to one side, the look on his face pure glee. He motioned to some of his people. "Take him," he ordered.
"No!" Max cried out, trying to cling to his hand as Alec spun on his bare feet and dropped into a crouch beside the altar. Her face contorted with rage. "Fuck you White! Fuck you! Don't you touch him! You can't have him! You can't have my baby!"
Alec looked back at her, remembering how he'd lost Rachel because he didn't stand up to Manticore. "Not this time," he said softly, his eyes filled with cold green fire. "This time I fight for what's mine."
There were six of the Familiars cautiously approaching, slowly surrounding him, trying to come between him and Max, all with knives drawn. Alec tensed, his head clearing for battle, his feline DNA humming with power deep within his warrior body. He flexed his hand, and felt the high of adrenalin and endorphins surging through his bloodstream just the way his creators had intended. He'd never be more ready.
"Wait!" Ames shouted. The effort cost him. He coughed and had to catch his breath. His people were patient as the spasm passed. "Not yet!" he gasped hoarsely. "I need him alive! His heart has to stop beating at the moment of his son's birth. It's the only way to defeat the Prophecy."
"And the bitch's heart as well!" the High Priestess declared, making her grand entrance through the back of the cavern, holding the largest snake of all in both hands high above her head. Her primitively painted face impassive, fanatical eyes glowing, she slowly and majestically approached the altar ... and Max.
"Alec!" Max screamed, arching her back against the stone as yet another contraction crested.
"Do it!" Ames shouted. "Take the child now!"
Alec looked frantically from Max to the half dozen Familiars closing in, cutting him off, herding him away from her side. There was no way he could even begin to defeat so many -- but he knew he was going to try.
The High Priestess motioned to her attendant women -- massive purebreds with painted faces as cruel as hers. Four bowed and stepped forward, then literally pounced like animals to brutally take hold Max's arms and legs, pinning her down to the altar. Wrapping the snake around her neck, the High Priestess then leaned over the slab, took hold of Max's dress with clawlike hands, and in one smooth, obscene motion tore the material open exposing her victim's swollen abdomen.
They weren't going to wait for a natural birth. They were going to rip the child from her body.
"No!" Alec cried out when he realized the horror of what was going to happen. He leaped into the air -- and they were on him.
It took all six Familiars to hold him back as he punched and bit and scratched and kicked, struggling with all of his transgenic strength to save his mate. But the men who hated his kind with a passion were of equal power, and six against one were just too many. Picked up by the scruff of the neck and shaken like a rag doll, Alec was thrown bodily through the air to crash brutally against the far stone wall of the cavern. Powerless, dazed, with rock digging into his back and impossibly strong hands holding him by the throat, he could only watch helplessly.
Max! he screamed until his throat was raw. Max! Max!
Suddenly, White was in front of him, out of the wheelchair, far stronger than he should have been. Pushing back the blue sleeves of his ceremonial robe, his eyes glittering with evil, he drew a knife from a sheath on his belt and raised the blade high. "Prepare him," he said, his voice eager. One of the Familiars holding him down reached out and ripped open Alec's t-shirt, exposing his heaving, sweaty bare chest. All that was needed now was the baby's cry.
But first came Max's screams of agony as the High Priestess pressed the tip of her ceremonial blade to naked flesh.
Alec felt Max's pain as if it were his own, and his consciousness plunged toward blackness with the overpowering sensation. But suddenly, Max wasn't screaming any more. Choking back a sob, Alec raised his head, his green eyes wide with grief at the site of the woman he loved lying still and silent, her beautiful body bathed in her own blood.
And then the High Priestess, her hands and arms crimson to the elbows and chanting words in a long forgotten language as the snake writhed around her neck, held aloft a squirming, wriggling transgenic child.
The baby's cry echoed throughout the cavern--
And White's blade plunged toward Alec's heart.
Otto's hand on Joshua's arm wasn't enough to keep the dogman from leaping forward as the High Priestess raised her knife above Max -- but his words were. "Wait," Otto said "Wait or they'll all three die. I know it's hard, but you have to let this play out."
Behind him Renfro's voice agreed. "The child has to breathe or the ceremony isn't complete. Only then can we try to save the parents."
Joshua's eyes filled with tears as Max's blood ran in rivulets over the cold hard stone, and he watched with equal grief as Alec screamed her name and struggled to reach her as his captors held him cruelly against the wall.
And then the baby cried -- and Joshua was gone, leaping and running down from the high place in the wall where he'd been hiding, plunging recklessly into the midst of the Familiar's sacred ceremony, determined to save the ones he loved.
Max was a broken, bloody mess. Whether she even still breathed he couldn't know. But Alec's life would definitely be over in another few seconds if Ames White's knife found his transgenic heart.
Hesitating just a fraction, Joshua made his choice, even as Renfro and her men poured into the cavern and the rest of the battle began.
Alec strained with all his might against the hands holding him against the wall, but there was nothing he could do but watch as the hunting blade, the same one that had drawn his blood once before so long ago in Seattle, descended.
Holding his breath, he fought the urge to close his eyes, instead concentrating on Ames White's insanely gleeful face, wanting to memorize every detail so he'd be able to hate him for eternity.
But then suddenly there was a blur of motion to his right, a glimpse of a huge hairy figure, and the weight pinning him down was gone. White's scream of anger was all Alec needed to hear. This ... his life ... wasn't over yet.
Springing free from the wall, Alec faced an attacker, one of the purebred Familiars like those they'd fought at Jam Pony so long ago. Only this time he wasn't fighting wounded. The large man charged, arms wide, intending to take down his more slender opponent with sheer strength alone. Alec, using a trick from Max's book, responded by doing not one, but two perfect back flips, each time bringing his heels up straight into the Familiar's face. Landing gracefully on his feet after the second flip, Alec was gratified to see the bigger man lying dazed on the cavern floor. But then another cultist was on him from behind, bringing a knife to his throat.
Alec caught his attacker's forearm barely in time to keep the blade from slicing his carotid. Heaving forward, he pulled the guy over his head, slinging him onto the ground. Spinning back, a flying sidekick neatly snapped the Familiar's neck.
Breathing lightly, Alec looked around, expecting to find himself still surrounded, and was amazed to see a full pitched battle raging in the cavern led by a semi-crazed, dog-faced man.
"Joshua!" Alec shouted hoarsely, his eyes lighting up with joy. But then he looked to where Max still lay on the slab, and it felt as if White had stabbed his heart afterall.
"Max!" he yelled, flying across the cavern as fast as his bare feet would take him, leaping over the tumbling piles of fighting men and women, hurtling them like a field runner. One Familiar female rose up in his way, only to be knocked aside with a wicked punch that broke most of the bones in her face and left her spitting blood and bits of teeth.
"Max!" Alec cried, his feet slipping and sliding on the cavern floor as he reached the side of the alter. Coming to a stop on his knees, he grabbed hold of her cold limp hand. There was blood everywhere, on the rock, on the ragged remains of her dress, seeping out of the gaping wound in her belly.
Frantically, he reached for her throat, praying for a pulse, but at the same time not truly believing she could still be alive.
But then, amazingly, she moved, her eyes fluttering open, her fingers grasping his.
"Alec?" she murmured. "The baby?"
"Shhh," Alec said, his cheeks wet with tears because he didn't know what to do.
"Alec!" she screamed.
Alec saw him in the reflection of Max's wide brown eyes -- White, looming behind him.
With a roar of pure rage, the Familiar attacked, pouncing on top of his transgenic nemesis, still determined to end 494's life once and for all.
Ducking and turning, Alec tried to throw White off of his shoulders, but the man's grip was too strong, and the knife too close.
"Will ... you ... fucking ... die!" White screamed, raising his weapon high.
Alec struggled, but the insane man's strength was impossible. This was it. He wasn't getting away this time. However, suddenly White's grip loosened. Whirling free, Alec stood in a fighting stance, fists ready, only to find Ames White standing with a look of utter astonishment on his cruel face -- and a knife buried to the hilt in his back.
On the altar, Max collapsed, a satisfied smile on her face even as she lost consciousness, her grip on the handle of the blade that had both torn open her womb and saved her mate's life loosening only when White fell dead to the ground.
Stunned and shaking, Alec was still trying to grasp what had happened when he found himself shoved aside by Otto who had a field med kit in one hand and a semi-automatic in the other. Gunfire. Vaguely he realized there had been gunfire going on for quite awhile, and when he looked around the cavern he saw dozens of dead cult members. The Calvary had arrived -- but maybe not in time.
"Max." It was the only word he could get out.
Otto turned around, his eyes wide and worried. "I'll do what I can for her," he said. "She's strong. She's transgenic. She has a chance." Then he climbed up on the altar beside Max, opened the field med kit, and began to administer what first aid he could.
A hand on his shoulder made Alec jump. "The baby," Joshua said, nodding to his right.
Oh my God, the baby! Alec's head whipped around and he saw a sight that sickened him -- Madam Renfro rocking his son in her arms.
Half a dozen strides and he was beside her. "Give me my son," he growled, the look in his green eyes pure 494. Renfro saw, and merely smiled, gently holding the tiny squirming infant out to its father.
"He needs to be in a hospital, too," she said, her sly eyes twinkling almost merrily. "But for now he seems to be fine, considering ..." She glanced toward the altar where Max still lay so cold and silent. "Oh, and 494--"
Alec looked at her, his eyes still hard.
"You owe me now. And you can be sure I'm going to collect."
Alec's brows drew together. He didn't understand.
Renfro smiled again, stepped aside, and gestured to a body on the floor -- the High Priestess, a bullet hole in her temple.
"She was taking your son," Renfro explained. "If she'd gotten into the tunnels I doubt we could have saved him. I stopped her."
Much as he hated it ... hated her ... Alec bowed his head slightly, acknowledging what she'd done.
"Remember," Renfro said, her voice soft and deadly as her eyes raked his naked torso. "I will have you someday."
In no mood to deal with Renfro's shit, Alec turned his back on her. Otto was still working on Max, and Joshua hovered nearby. He came over when he saw Alec holding the baby.
"Let me take him," Joshua said, holding out his arms. "I'll keep him warm."
"Huh?" Alec looked down at himself and realized all he was wearing was the thin pair of hospital scrub pants. It was cold in the cavern, and Joshua's flannel shirt would be far warmer for the baby than just his own skin, transgenic body heat or not. He also needed to go to Max.
"He's hungry," Joshua said, taking the little X5 in his arms and smiling down at the infant who was puckering his mouth and making fists with his tiny hands.
"He needs his mother," Alec said hoarsely, looking to Max. Otto's face was grim as he worked, a pile of blood soaked gauze testimony to the tough time he was having controlling the bleeding. Alec couldn't help it. Leaving the baby with Joshua, he went to her.
"Is she gonna live?" he asked, kneeling beside the altar at Max's head and taking one of her limp hands in his own.
Otto shrugged. "Like I said, she's strong. Her heart's still beating. If I can get the bleeding under control and she gets a transfusion--" He looked at Alec. "Good thing you're here for her. Right now you're probably the only X5 in this hemisphere."
"You can do a transfusion?"
Otto nodded at the med kit. "I have the equipment."
"Give her whatever she needs," Alec said. "Take it all if you have to." His eyes were filling with tears again. "Just ... don't let her die. Not now. She hasn't even seen her son."
Otto paused in the sutures he was putting into Max's abdomen to grab a sealed plastic bag containing coiled tubing and needles. "Get up here," he said, indicating the top of the altar. "Above her. You know how to hook up the transfusion line? If not I imagine one of Renfro's soldiers can help."
"I can do it," Alec said, tearing open the bag with his teeth and shaking out the flexible tube. The needles were large gauge. They had to be to carry the blood flow. First he applied the clamp, then attached the tube to one needle that he inserted into Max's left arm. Then he gritted his teeth and plunged the other needle into his own arm just below the crook of his elbow. Some tape to hold the needles in place and the makeshift line was ready to go. Otto nodded in approval and Alec opened the clamp, being careful to keep his body above Max's. The red fluid flowed from him into her, pumping in with every beat of his big heart -- and for the first time that horrible day Alec felt a little bit of hope. He could do this. He could save Max. Because this was what he'd been created to do. This was his destiny.
An hour later, under Renfro's supervision, Sandeman's soldiers airlifted their people out of White's compound. It turned out they were in northern France. Only then did Alec -- still barefoot and feeling like he'd been run over by a truck -- realize he'd never even known until now what country he was in.
Max spent a week in a Marseille hospital under the close medical supervision of Sandeman's people. She had a private room, no questions asked by anyone, including the hospital personnel or police. Alec could only wonder at the influence Herman Sandeman wielded in this part of the world, but he was also infinitely grateful for the protection. He was tired, in every way a man can be tired, and in no physical or mental shape to be fighting any more battles for awhile.
The baby, his son, stayed in a bassinet in Max's room. A cot against the wall was brought in for "dad," and Joshua spent most days with the new family as well.
Max had regained consciousness 24 hours after her ordeal, Otto's expert medical attention and Alec's blood saving her life. She would heal, Sandeman said. She wouldn't even have a scar, at least not an outward one. Hopefully, she'd be able to bear more children as well.
"Alec?" Joshua said, the first day they were out of the hospital and back in Corsica.
"What Big Fella," Alec said. Freshly showered and shaved, he stretched his arms above his head and yawned as he slid further down in the comfortable arm chair that he'd pulled up beside Max's bed. He'd done nothing but sleep, eat, and down tryptophan tablets all week, but he still felt like he needed a vacation.
"What's his name?"
"The baby?" Alec looked at Max, who was nursing their son. They'd known the question would come up soon, but they'd been putting off telling anyone what they'd decided. Somehow keeping it just between the two of them was nice.
"His name's Brac," Max said, smiling down at the child who, just like Gem's child, had no bar code to stigmatize his life.
"Brac?" Joshua scratched his head in puzzlement.. "It's a good name but--"
"It means 'free,'" Alec said. "In Welsh." He glanced at Max again. "On my first Manticore mission a guy named that saved my life. He didn't have to. In fact, he probably shouldn't have considerin' my team was attackin' his people. We were in the water off the Welsh coastline and I got knocked overboard, ended up tangled in some lines trailing from the enemy's boat. I would have drowned if he hadn't seen what was happening and cut me loose. He was just a kid, no older than me. Later, I went to see him in the prisoner compound and thanked him. That's when he told me his name and what it meant."
Joshua looked at him strangely, probably thinking that was an uncharacteristic thing for a Manticore trained X5 soldier to do -- thanking a prisoner.
Alec, a little bit embarrassed, shrugged. "Hey, what can I say? I wasn't evil incarnate back then either, no matter what she thinks." He rolled his eyes at Max.
"Shut up," Max snapped. "I never said you were evil. Just that you worked for the bad guys. And you did."
"What happened to him?" Joshua asked. "To Brac?"
Alec sobered. "I don't know," he said quietly. "They never told us what became of the prisoners." But Alec knew Joshua had probably already guessed that the boy had been killed. I should have fought them. So many times I should have fought them.
"A very good name," Joshua said. "A way to honor someone who saved you."
"And no last name," Max added. "We decided we don't need them."
"Sort of like Madonna or Ali or Prince," Alec added rather smugly, the cocky facade back in place.
"'Cause we're special," Joshua said.
"Damn straight," Alec agreed with a grin, slapping his big friend on the shoulder as he hauled his ass out of the chair.
He was hungry again, and intended to raid the kitchen, maybe sneak Max something more substantial than the Jello she'd had shoved down her throat all week. He just hoped he wouldn't bump into Madam Renfro in the hall. Every time he was near that woman she had this way of looking at him that made him shiver. Of course he understood why Sandeman kept her around. Someone had to do his dirty work. But he just wished she didn't have this thing for him. Would he be a bad house guest if he snapped her neck? he wondered.
"Alec," Max said softly as he was headed out the door.
He turned around and his eyes lit up at the site of her holding his son to her breast. "You wanna cheeseburger?" he asked. "Sandeman's chef makes the greatest cheeseburgers."
"Alec, we have to talk."
"'Bout what? You mean where we're gonna go as soon as you can travel?"
"About twenty million dollars."
Alec blinked. He hadn't really forgotten about the money, but he'd shoved it to the back of his mind. "Oh," he said rather lamely. "That."
Joshua was watching them closely Alec noticed, probably wondering if he should leave. Max had one of those looks in her eye, like she got when she was about to kick someone's ass -- in this case his.
This is not good.
Joshua stood up.
"Don't go," Alec said quickly, holding out his hand but not taking his eyes off of Max. "I may need a witness."
"This isn't funny," Max said, shifting Brac to her other breast.
"Never said it was," Alec replied evenly. Yep. She had that tone. He was in trouble.
"Where did you get the money?"
On one level Alec was glad Max had gotten her fire back. But on another he was afraid he was about to get burned.
"Out with it," she said. "What did you steal?"
"Who says I stole anything?" Alec said defensively.
Max's smile was deadly now. "Because I know you smart ass. You stole something really valuable and fenced it to God knows who. In fact, I'm guessing that's how White got hold of you. Now tell me what it was."
"Max," Alec said honestly. "You're better off not knowing."
Now she really did look pissed. "Tell, Alec! Or I swear I'll climb out of this bed and beat it out of you!"
Alec looked to Joshua for support but his friend was watching him with narrowed eyes. "Max," he tried. "Honey. Sweetheart. Love of my life--"
"What the fucking hell did you steal Alec!"
Now that the burden of her pregnancy had been lifted, Max was reverting to true form -- a fact Alec found rather alarming. Oh God, the bitch is back. Not that he didn't love "the bitch" too.
The baby stirred and started to cry. "Don't use that language in front of the kid," Alec said, feeling worse by the minute. Max was going to kill him when she found out. There was no way she'd approve of what he'd done. It occurred to him then that he ought to have known this would happen -- at least had a speech ready, maybe even a really good lie. But then he looked into Max's eyes, and knew he could never truly lie to her. She'd know. But there were other ways--
Putting on his most charming smile, Alec sat down on the edge of the bed and took hold of her hand. "Ya see," he said. "It's like this--"
"Stop it," Max said coldly.
"Doing what?" Alec was truly puzzled.
"Stop ... doing whatever it is you do that makes me want to forgive you before I even know what you've done."
"You mean this," Alec said, leaning over and touching her lips with his.
She put both hands on his shoulders and shoved him away. The baby, resting on her lap, gave a little cry again. Max picked Brac up and rocked him in her arms, at the same time giving Alec a very disapproving look. "Stop trying to use your charm ... or empathy ... or whatever Sandeman calls it on me. You're going to tell me what you did, and I imagine I'm going to be really, really angry about it. So you might as well quit being a coward and just face it like a man."
"That hurts, Max," Alec said, holding his hand to his heart. "Since when haven't I been brave for you?"
"Since I've been trying to pin down what idiotic scheme you pulled to get that much money!"
Alec gave up. She was going to have to know sooner or later. She'd never believe he'd won the lottery. Taking a deep breath, and with a "help me" look at Joshua, he said, "I sold Manticore's DNA base. Downloaded and copied it from the mainframe the night I got your location from Logan."
He'd never seen quite that look on Max's face before -- sort of a cross between utter astonishment and someone on the verge of needing CPR.
"Max? You okay?"
"No," she said too quietly, obviously trying to control herself. She took a very deep, long breath. "Sold it to who?"
"The South Africans."
"So they could make their own supersoldiers?" she said, not slow to realize the implications. "Recreate Manticore? Raise another generation of children in slavery and torture?"
Alec closed his eyes. Somehow he knew she'd look at it that way. But then that was Max. Ever the do-gooder. "So our people could finally be free," he said levelly.
"Our people? What do you mean our people?"
Now that did hurt. "You didn't think I meant all that money just for us, did you?" he said. "I mean, I love bein' rich as much as the next guy, but twenty million is more than even I could spend in a lifetime."
"You sold our DNA database to the South Africans so we ... the transgenics and transhumans ... could be free," Max said, as if trying to be sure she understood all the complexities of what she obviously considered an asinine plan.
"Yeah," Alec said. "That's about it."
Even Joshua was looking rather astonished. "But how?" he said. "Even with money, how will that help us?"
"Money solves everything," Alec said sarcastically. "That's one thing I've learned the hard way on the outside. Without money, you're nothin'. With money you've at least got a fightin' chance. And the more the better."
"But you sold us out," Max said, her brown eyes filled with disappointment. "You sold out your own people for money."
"All I sold was the raw data, Max," Alec said, speaking more quickly because he hated what he saw in her eyes. She hadn't looked at him that way in a very long time -- so disappointed -- not since that time at the police station when she'd thought he committed the murder his twin was really responsible for.
"Max," he tried, desperately wanting to turn this conversation around because he had a horrible feeling where it was headed. "Think about it. With that much money we can build our own nation, be self sufficient, go someplace where no one will ever bother us again, be free to travel the world. It's everything we need." He grabbed her hand. "Don't you understand? I didn't do it for you or me or Brac. I did it for all of us." He turned and looked at Joshua.
Then he remembered something else. "And you don't have to worry about the South Africans creating supersoldiers. White took care of that. He wiped 'em out so they couldn't make more transgenics."
Max raised an eyebrow at that. "Which is when you got your ass thrown in a cage again, right? Let me guess. When you made the final transactions, the South Africans suddenly decided they wanted a living, breathing transgenic to seal the deal."
"Something like that," Alec said rather sheepishly. "And yes, White got his hands on me when he raided their base."
Max looked down at Brac who was nursing again and sighed. "Sandeman said you were unpredictable."
"In the Prophecies, he said you were kind of a wild card -- that no one knew what you'd do next, that you could either help or hurt me."
"I'd never hurt you," Alec whispered, laying down on the bed beside her and folding her into his arms. "God, Max, how could you ever think that."
She looked up at him, her eyes too bright. "Because I don't trust you Alec. At least not as much today as I did yesterday. You went completely behind my back with this and it was very, very wrong."
"Hey," Alec said, still trying to defend himself. "You always said it was all right to steal from the bad guys and Manticore's the bad guy, remember."
"You didn't know White would wipe out the South Africans," Max said. "You had no way of knowing that. They could have built more slaves like us. And that's just plain evil."
Alec felt as if she'd just slapped him. Sitting up, he climbed off the bed. "If you're gonna call me names I think I'd better leave."
"I think you'd better."
Alec's stomach began to hurt. "Max," he said quietly. "Don't do this."
"Just leave, Alec. I can't look at you right now." She shook her head. "When will I learn that no matter how much good you do, you'll always top it off with something stupid."
"Come on, Alec," Joshua said, putting a hand on Alec's arm.
"Just go," she whispered looking down at Brac.
Alec stared at them for a long moment, the woman he loved and his son, then just shook his head in defeat and followed Joshua out of the room. Max had done it to him again -- ripped his heart apart -- and he wondered how long the punishment would last this time.