Alicia, Zack and Lon were a block away from where the cabbie had said he dropped Heather off at, sitting silently in the car. Alicia had hoped there would be some small sign as to where exactly Heather was supposed to go once she got there, but apparently Ty had given her the exact directions when they were on the phone. Damn. They didn't have time to search every possibility.
Nobody disappeared without a trace. That was something that they all had learned at a young age. No matter how good the person was, there was always a trace. And a young woman, badly injured, acting more on determination than anything wouldn't be the type to remember to clean up her trail. She had been too determined to get where she had wanted to go to think about hiding herself along the way. It would just be a variation of the things they had all done out in the woods before, tracking a moving target.
They got out of the car, moving fast but utterly quiet. Nobody watching them right then would have mistaken them for being human. Ghosts, maybe, but not human. They fanned out in the alley, looking for any sign of where Heather might have gone, communicating solely with hand signals and gestures. The alley was narrow, but then emerged into a wider area that was long and dotted with doors. Some were boarded and covered with gang symbols, warning people to stay out. Others looked like entrances to tiny businesses that no decent person ever wanted to walk into.
Plenty of doors to choose from, but none of them were going to waste the time to look through them all until they found Heather. There were a few tiny hints though. A small piece of cloth from the jacket Heather had taken had been caught on a dumpster and ripped off about twenty feet down. Good. Alicia didn't want to know if that was a real head in a jar in a window next to one door or not. A little further down, several red-gold strands of hair were stuck in some gum smeared on a wall. Alicia could almost see her daughter, hurt, stumbling, leaning against the wall for support for a moment.
It was Zack that noticed the blood. Just a small amount, but enough. He silently motioned Alicia over to the stain on the door. Lon was a little further ahead looking for more clues. They didn't need any more. Alicia trailed the comma shaped smear of blood. Heather was bleeding again. No surprise since she was still barely stitched together and trying to do too much. She had blood on her hand and had knocked on this door. Alicia took the side of her hand and pressed it against the bloodstain, showing how Heather had probably pounded on this door with her fist. Lon had noticed their attention and glided over to them, quiet as death itself.
Zack glanced up. It was always better for Alicia to deal with the X-6 direct. Although she had opted out of the program years ago, they still deferred to her. If Ty were in there, she would be the one to back him off. Zack could, most likely would, hurt him, but that wouldn't make him talk. There were a couple of windows on the second story. Zack pointed to Lon, himself and then to the windows. Lon got the point. Alicia was going to go direct and they would back her up. They moved quietly to the side, leaping up into windowsills and then through the windows, silent as shadows.
Alicia listened for a long moment, her enhanced hearing on red alert for any sounds at all of a struggle upstairs. Nothing. She waited a moment longer, knowing that Zack and Lon would only need seconds to move into a good position. Neither of them would need a layout. Zack was, well, Zack. Lon had a good instinct for buildings; he was the one she always wanted for urban work, but Zack simply never let anything get between him and the mission objective.
All was silence once more. Alicia took a deep breath and then swung her leg in a hard kick, letting her muscles move with absolutely no check on speed or strength. The door didn't fly open. The doorjamb gave a valiant effort, and then splintered as the hinges were ripped out of the wood. Alicia heard the guns being drawn, but in the second it took them to draw, she had already scanned the room, found her target, and was on the move.
Ty managed to half-turn, but wasn't able to even start a defense before he was hit full on. Alicia barely slowed with the contact, grabbing onto Ty as he flew backwards. Ty slammed into the drywall, his body crashing through it and then being ripped out and spun around so that his body was in front of Alicia's, effectively putting him between her body and any shots that his men might have tried to fire.
They froze like that for a moment, Alicia's fingers hooked claw-like at his throat. Her blue eyes were chilling and he knew without a doubt that she didn't give a damn if he lived or died. With a contemptuous flick, she tossed him backwards, sprawling him onto the floor.
Ty was on his feet in a heartbeat. "Hold your fire," he ordered his men sharply. Not that he thought one of them had a chance to hit her, but that she would have no problem killing them first and then dealing with him if they provoked her. Absolute Zero, he thought. That had been her nickname given by a norm soldier years ago. She had been frightening then when she was just obeying orders. What she was like now left that far in the dust.
"Did Heather ever tell you," Alicia said conversationally, her tone at complete odds with expression, "about what happened to her and Daniel when they were very small?"
She was moving, heedless of the men with guns, circling. Ty was keeping movement with her. She had gotten the drop on him once. He wasn't going to let her get it on him again. Alicia ignored his silence and continued as if they were discussing the weather. "Some damn fools thought they could snatch my kids while they were with a babysitter. It was a smart set-up. Zack was gone, and I had left them for a few hours with a friend. There were four of them plus some woman."
She stopped dead, her voice going to ice. "Remember when you almost puked in Afghanistan? Trust me, you wouldn't have been able to hold back then. The last one, the leader of their pathetic little band, I strangled him." She paused. "With his own intestines." She shrugged casually. "A little over the top, maybe, but then that insured another ten years before anyone got the courage to try again. And that was only when they knew that mommy and daddy weren't around."
There was a moment of icy silence. "For the sake of every person in this room, you want to tell me where she is."
"There's more going on than you can possibly…" Ty started to say, but Alicia cut him off easily.
"Tell me that the president of the country is dying and she's the only way to save him and I'll tell you I don't give a damn," Alicia shot back. "He's just a politician. There's more where he came from."
"You can't intimidate me anymore, Alicia," Ty said. "You're not authorized."
A cold smile edged her mouth. So he wanted to make this a contest of egos did he? "Don't challenge me, 674. You've never been able to win against me. And that was when I liked you." Ty's expression didn't change, but Alicia knew she had hit home. It had always been hard on him to be second-rate. He had been the leader of the Beta Team, true, but there was a huge gulf between Alpha and Beta. Everyone knew it. The rest of Beta knew it, and dealt with it, but Ty always thought he might be better than he was. Among norms, of course, he was magnificent, and even with Heather simply because of her lack of experience. But now he was up against the real thing and Alicia was not pleased with his childish attempts at dismissal.
"Obstruction of justice," Ty countered. "You're not above the law anymore."
"Yes, I am."
Her statement was chilling in its absolute truth. Alicia gave it a moment to sink in. "I want my daughter," she said. "And Ty, if I don't get her right now, I'm going to leave."
The other men in the room were confused, but Ty knew exactly what she was talking about. Ambush. She might, might not kill him because he was X-6 and there were so few of them. But the X-5 wouldn't have a problem with that. Especially one X-5 in particular who happened to be the girl in question's father. Ty didn't know how many or where they were, but he had no doubt that Alicia had the place well covered.
"Put your weapons away," he ordered. The other men hesitated. "Now!" he snapped. "We're surrounded," he added with a little mocking bow to Alicia.
She smirked in return. "Tell me you took her to a hospital and all's forgiven."
"Manticore is back on the market," Ty said calmly. "You're right that nobody is going to risk going after a live specimen anymore. But thanks to that damn article, it got a few people thinking. The government doesn't throw anything away. All of the original documentations and experiments and how-to manuals are still in existence. You're so damn worried about Heather, what about every other one of us including your other kids and your beloved X-5's?"
"And you didn't think to tell anyone?"
"It was, and still is, a matter for the FBI and military to deal with."
If Alicia hadn't been so shocked, she might have decked him right there. Pride, she thought bitterly. He had to be the hero. Had to be the one to save them all. How it must have hurt having Cole involved. Heather, not so much because she looked up to him, but Cole was Alpha and he knew how things had been in the past. So Ty had to be the hero and now Cole had escaped death by inches and her daughter was out there hurt and bleeding. It was so tragic, Alicia almost laughed.
"Let me guess," Alicia said, "Cole and Heather were either the buyers or the delivery people since they could be most trusted with those documents."
"There's more going on than you know," Ty said. "We already lost Cole, and delaying is putting Heather in more danger."
"First, Cole's not dead. Second, Heather isn't on a jump team. I don't know who is in danger because of a delay, but all other X-series are accounted for."
Ty blinked. "Heather said…" There wasn't time, but he couldn't help but take a moment of huge relief.
"She was drugged and in a great deal of pain," Alicia replied. "And this isn't the first time Jhondie's surgical skills have been considered something close to miraculous."
"Sir," one of the men spoke up. Greer was Ty's second-in-command, and while he could appreciate the family arguing and power plays, there was one thing that Ty was missing.
Ty glanced over at his second. Greer gestured towards Alicia. "She's smaller than Raleigh."
Alicia's eyes flicked towards him for a moment and then back to Ty. "He won't be the first person to make that mistake," she warned, readying for an attack from all sides. "You know that." Too many men had thought because she was small, she would be the weak link. And every time someone thought that, Alicia's personal body count tended to grow.
Ty was looking at her thoughtfully. "No," he said to Greer. "Out of the question."
Greer snorted. "Damn it, Raleigh had to go through that pipe because she was the only one who could fit. You're the best at hand-to-hand I've ever met and Mommy Dearest here just put you down without breathing hard. I don't care if she can't do the mind-voodoo. There's still time to get the kid back."
Ty hesitated. Sure, Alicia would be better for this part than Heather would ever have been. From Heather, he knew that Alicia hadn't gone soft living on the outside. And from the display she had just put on, he knew she would be able to handle it. But this wasn't her place anymore.
"Sir," Greer said, "She's five years old. Give her a chance."
Alicia's eyes narrowed. "Is there a child you've neglected to mention?" Xander had told her Ty was the one that actually liked kids. But none of them were allowed to have any. They all knew the risks, and now looking back, all of them were glad they didn't have to have the same worries that Alicia did as her children grew up. But there was Ty. Of all of them, Alicia could see Ty having a kid and letting it get passed off as pure norm.
Ty looked at her grimly. "The granddaughter of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was kidnapped. The ransom is Manticore."
Alicia thought for a second. The reasonable thing to do was to fake the information and give it to the kidnappers. The stuff was so complex it would be a while before they would know. That would buy time at least and really, finding a kidnapped person was, well, child's play. She had lost count of how many times she had done it simply because there wasn't anything good on TV and someone had asked for a hand. Easy and got a lot of people into the debt of the United States. But they hadn't done that.
"There's a mole," she said softly.
Ty nodded. "We were going to do a switch. Fast and quiet. Only problem was we needed a key and someone small enough to get in there. We were going to go with the second plan because we couldn't get the key."
Alicia eyes widened. Ty had a second to relish the fact that he had shocked Alicia. He didn't know how quite yet, but he had slipped one in on her and damn it felt good. "Heather has it," she said, remembering Heather's mutterings as she lay in the hospital bed.
"I'm not losing this chance," Ty said. "We can get the kid. But there's only one shot at getting her and the mole. Heather's got to be part of this, like it or not."
"I don't," Alicia said. She looked away from Ty and let out a whistle, letting it run up and down the musical scales. There was the slightest noises from upstairs in response. She met Ty's gaze again. "If it was just the kid, I'd tell you to go to Hell."
He nodded. "It's never 'just' anything with our kind," he said.
"No," she agreed. "But then again, that is what makes the games so hard to stay out of."