To answer a few questions:
Orli43: I don't have a particularly strong grasp of Dark Angel's supporting cast, so Sketchy, Cindy, Herbal, Normal, and the others won't make an appearance except maybe in the epilogue.
Ellie: I don't think Zack is going to chill anytime soon. See the end of the chapter for the reason why.
And now, on with the show:
Part 14: Interludes, Mistakes, and People Not Directly Involved
Doctor Elizabeth Renfro looked at the assembled paperwork in front of her and sighed deeply. Slices of dead trees covered with black ink spelled out the end of what had been her life's purpose for nearly twenty years now. Twenty years. Granted, if one considered how old she was and how old she might yet become it wasn't that long a time, but still.
No one wanted Manticore anymore. The politicians were happy with its results, but were anxious to see it disappear before anyone could ask too many questions about how America had come to possess super-powered soldiers. Pesky voters would probably throw a fit just because Manticore had violated just about every genetics law and ethical rule in the book.
Then there were Manticore's true backers, the Council. For a moment Renfro was almost amused, thinking of another Council that had met its fiery demise only a few years after she had begun working on this project. Opposite sides of the coin, but pretty similar regardless. Control freaks, she mused, remained control freaks, no matter whether they proclaimed themselves good or evil.
The Council, she forced her thoughts back on track, wanted Manticore gone, the sooner the better. To be honest she was surprised they had held out as long as they did. The patience of the immortals, she guessed. It had been a simple idea, really. She had foreseen the threat of the Many. Something needed to be done to balance the scales. Only the threat wasn't that much of a threat and the results of her project, while spectacular from a human point of view, weren't anything to brag about if one knew what she had really been trying to accomplish.
Renfro didn't like it, would go so far as to call it a major mistake, but she valued her life a little too much to go against both her political masters and the Council. No, that would be suicide and she had too many years ahead of herself to throw herself onto her sword just because she thought it was the right thing.
That was why she was busy preparing for the destruction of Manticore right at this moment. A lot needed to be done. Of course this installation would have to be destroyed. Wiped right off the face of the Earth. All the people who knew about it (except a few of her political masters maybe) would have to be removed. The adult X-5 needed to be conditioned to forget about their origins, while the younger generations needed termination. Lots of files needed to be shredded, research data erased, tracks of all kinds covered. All in all it amounted to a huge mountain of paperwork.
Being as busy as she was, she almost didn't notice the visitor who had slipped into her office sometime during the last few minutes.
"What do you want, Vigo?"
The figure started, unused to anyone noticing its approach. Straightening from its crouching position it walked up to her desk, trying to appear taller than it actually was.
"I bring news from the Council," the short, stocky man said. He wasn't actually a man, of course, but he appeared as one.
"Tell them I'm working as fast as I can," she said, irritated. "And tell Nero that I always appreciate it when he comes by in person instead of sending his underlings."
Vigo gave her a dark frown, but it trailed off her like water. There were quite a few things she was afraid of, but bottom-feeders like Vigo were not among them.
"Something new has come up," Vigo said, swallowing his irritation. "The Council knows that your pet colonel has gone to Los Angeles to hunt down one of the rogue X-5."
"They noticed something interesting in the file material."
He handed her a printout. Renfro needed but a moment to recognize it. A screenshot from the televised charity gala where Manticore's analysts had spotted the X-5 labeled 452. Lydecker had behaved like a kid at Christmas upon seeing it.
"I'm sure Lydecker will do his best to bring her in and fail as usual. What is it to the Council?"
Vigo smiled and pointed at the far left corner of the picture. For a moment Renfro was clueless, but then recognized one of the other faces visible in the picture. The face of a young man, dressed in a black suit, a grim expression on his face.
"Angelus," she whispered. Just when she had thought about he things she feared ...
"The Council believes that it is not a coincidence that the Traitor was at the same charity gala as the rogue X-5. Especially since that X-5 is known to usually reside in Seattle, not Los Angeles."
Renfro nodded, seeing the connections. One of the rogue X-5 appearing in the same town where her genetic mother worked side by side with Angelus, the one called the Traitor? Both of them appearing at the same televised charity gala? Renfro was not a big believer in coincidences, either.
"Anything new happening back home?"
Max sat in front of the screen that now showed Logan's whole face instead of just his eyes. The cyber journalist was still back in Seattle, helping out from his end of things. Which made Max feel a whole lot better. Logan was a brilliant hacker, but still a normal human. One that had just recently regained his mobility and still wasn't all that spry again. No, she felt a lot better with him safely out of the way and helping out solely from his computer station.
"Nothing much," he answered her question. "Original Cindy called and said to tell you that Sketchy and Herbal want to meet your mother and sisters as soon as possible."
Max chuckled. Original Cindy knew who and what she really was, but the rest of the Jam Pony gang back home didn't have a clue. As far as Sketchy, Herbal, and the others were concerned she was on holiday in LA to meet her long-lost mother and have a completely innocent family reunion along with some of her siblings.
"She did tell them I have brothers as well, didn't she?" Max asked.
"Yeah, but for some reason they didn't seem much interested in your brothers."
"Okay, tell Cindy to tell Herbal that he is a married man. I will personally kick Sketchy's ass once I get back."
Logan nodded, but went silent all of a sudden, a thoughtful expression on his face.
"What is it, Logan?"
"I just ... you just said when you get back. I was just wondering. Once this is all over, what are your plans?"
Max opened her mouth to answer, but then realized that she didn't have any idea what to say. Once it was all over ... then what? Once she no longer needed to run from Manticore she would ... do what? She hadn't spent much thought on that yet.
She certainly wanted to return to Seattle and all her friends. Logan especially, she admitted to herself. But during the last few days she had also come to appreciate the presence of her family, both old and new. She was quickly growing to like Faith and her strange circle of friends. And if she wasn't mistaken the other X-5 were also starting to like hanging out together instead of being on the run separately.
Neither Wesley nor Angel had said anything, but Max suspected that they hoped to recruit at least some of the X-5 for the Slayer cause. Faith had given her the skinny on their problem, how no new Slayers were being born and the ones present were getting older. She also suspected that they hadn't said anything yet because the last thing they wanted to do was pressure the poor kids into yet another war they had never asked for. Still, Max was sure that the question would come up sooner or later.
"I don't know, Logan," she finally admitted. "I honestly don't know."
There was a brief flash of disappointment in his eyes. It hurt Max to see it there, but she didn't know what to do in order to make it go away.
"We have to take down Manticore first," she told him. "Then and only then can I start thinking about the future, Logan. I need to get this over with first."
He nodded, understanding if not entirely ecstatic about it.
"Then let's make sure we take down Manticore fast, Max."
Zack groaned, wondering whether the universe had it in for him personally. His life had never been easy, but these past few days everything had gone south in a hurry.
For ten years his siblings had done what he said when he said it. Except Max, of course, but she had always been special. Now, though, it seemed control was slipping away from him. The other X-5 still looked to him as their leader, but now seemed to regard Faith and Max as equal authorities with the other Slayers catching up quickly.
For ten years they had been on the run, now they were stationary, all of them together, and planning to fight that which they had always fled from. Eleven of them, plus seven Slayers, plus one vampire, planning to take on hundreds of armed soldiers plus at least eighty or so X-5 soldiers, all of them with ten years more combat training than them.
He couldn't shake the feeling that all of this was a humongous mistake. And to top it all of this latest indignity had happened:
"Zack," Alison sighed contentedly, "I take back what I said earlier. No one needs to give you the talk."
Why oh why did he have to go into heat now of all times?
TO BE CONTINUED