Title: Brittle

Author: Ellen Million, ellenmillion@yahoo.com

Homepage: www.ellenmilliongraphics.com

Summary: One of Manticore's mistakes shows up.

Author's Notes: (at the end)

Disclaimers: Dark Angel etc., are not my property. No infringement intended.


See this story, with illustrations, at http://www.ellenmilliongraphics.com/darkangel/


"Homegirl, are you one of those idiot savants? That's just wicked." Original Cindy accepted two beers from the bartender and handed one to Max.

Max had been maintaining a tab at the bar, and the bartender was demanding payment on the balance. She didn't get paid at Jam Pony until the weekend, so she had a bar-wide bet that she could pick up a number, by ear, from speed dial. The regulars didn't bet against her, but the cliental here rotated, so there was no problem finding suckers to take money from. She'd done this before, so the barkeep wasn't surprised, and Original Cindy had witnessed the feat several times.

Max grinned and accepted the thumps and congratulations. She probably would not have noticed the blonde girl at the end of the bar who was gazing at her if Original Cindy hadn't spotted her first. "Good enough to eat," Cindy said with a purr. Max took a slug of her hard-earned beer and followed her glance.

The girl was taller than Max, but not by much, and had the same build. Her hair was a pale cornsilk color, straight and glossy and long. Her face was lovely; good classical lines. What caught Max's attention was the fact that she had her eyes fixed on Max with something like hunger. Her eyes were blue, the kind of blue that can be seen across a smoky bar filled with flung words and bludgeoning egos. And they were nailed to Max as if she would never let her out of her vision. She made no move from her barstool, though, and Max feigned boredom and turned back to Original Cindy, who was still drinking her fill of the stranger. "Why's she bee-lining you like you're her next meal, Max? How do I get her to look at me like that?!"

Max shrugged, more than a little un-nerved by the stranger's attention. She thought about her trick with the speed-dial and wondered if she had made a mistake. Her beer was tasteless in her mouth. "Probably thinks I'm hot stuff," she quipped. "I'll give her your number."

Original Cindy licked her lips. "Do that."

Max played with her glass for a moment, one eye restlessly finding exits from the room. Finally she stood, too confined, too restless and too nervous to enjoy her beer or Cindy's company. "Gotta drive," she said.

Cindy rolled her eyes. This wasn't the first time Max had ditched her to go night-riding. "You and that bike," she said. "I don't know how you can afford all the gas you use."

Max grinned at her, but caught sight of the blonde girl, still watching her, and her humor dissolved. "Later."

It was raining, as it usually did in Seattle; a dank, soaking, persistent drizzle descended from the heavens steadily. Max checked her chain, unconcerned with the moisture. One of the links had gotten bent, and it was rubbing. The last thing Max needed was a warn-out link to fail at high speeds. She was more alert than usual, and unsurprised to hear soft footsteps behind her.

"What's your number?" The voice was sweet, soft, almost musical, and desperate.

"I don't swing that way." Max left no room for argument in her voice, and no invitation for further conversation. She realized belatedly that the girl had spoken so softly that no one with normal hearing would have been able to pick out the words.

"I meant your barcode." The amount of uncertainty in the girl's voice was disarming; she sounded like a child, though she was almost certainly a few years older than Max. Perhaps it was just the absence of a city accent.

"Sister, you have got the wrong girl." Max stood up and finally turned to look. The girl was pale in the dim light, almost colorless in the mist to Max's night vision. She was dressed in a sheepskin coat, parka-length, with a prim gray wool skirt showing beneath. A pair of gloves were being mangled in her hands.

The chain was showing wear, but would last until Max could get another one. She turned away from the girl, whose hair was becoming plastered to her head, leaned the bike off of its stand and started to mount, but the pale figure came closer, putting a hand out to Max.

Max reacted, snatching the hand and pulling the girl to pin her against the bike. She was expecting a fight; Lydecker wouldn't send someone after her who wasn't prepared for her, and any of her siblings would have reacted to their training and been ready to defend themselves. She wasn't expecting the girl to struggle weakly, and with futility in a position that was easy to escape from, and she wasn't expecting the sharp snapping sound from the girl's finger. Max knew the strength it took to break a bone, knew it like only a killer could, and she had not exerted anything close on the waif-like girl.

The girl ceased her struggles, and gasped, "Stop, please! My neck, check my neck!"

Max brushed aside the golden mane with her free hand, and looked hard at the barcode that stared back at her. The number was unfamiliar to her, and much lower than anyone in her class had.

"I suggest you start talking," Max said, not willing to let the girl up yet. Tattoos were easy to get in Seattle.

"Can we talk over coffee? This is a little uncomfortable, and I'd like to splint my finger." Casually, as if she broke her finger every day.

Max thought a long moment, and let her up; there was little threat in her, even if her very presence was something of a concern. "Let's go to the Bean Bag."

The girl got up stiffly, carefully, and reached with her un-injured hand into her pocket with exaggerated care. She dug around for a moment and came up with a Popsicle stick and a roll of medical tape. "You never know when this stuff will come in handy," she said with a smile.

Her finger wasn't bleeding, but it was quite clearly broken, and starting to swell already. She grasped it carefully with her opposite hand, and with an air of experience, twisted the bone into the correct orientation until it snapped into place. Max watched, fascinated and trying not to show it, while she splinted the break with the Popsicle stick and taped it firmly in place, all with one hand.

She finished and looked at Max expectantly. "I don't know where anything in Seattle is; you'll have to tell me where the Bean Bag is." Her hair was plastered to her face, but she showed no signs of the wet chill in the air.

Max looked at her searchingly. She didn't want to let this girl out of her sight, anymore than she had been willing to let Max go without talking. She walked to the other side of her bike, mounted, and said, no hint of warmth or invitation in her voice, "Get on the bike."

The stranger mounted with grace, grasping Max's waist lightly. She didn't seem un-nerved by the fact that Max didn't turn on the light, though the street lights in this area were nearly all burnt out, and didn't flinch when Max popped the bike into gear and took off with all the gusto that the Ninja was capable of. She actually had the balls to laugh, her face near Max's ear.

Max parked with her usual flair, stopping on a dime at the curb, needing only to kick down the stand to be parked.

"My mother would have flipped out if she'd known I was on a bike going that fast, with no helmet," the girl said with a laugh as she dismounted. She flipped back her hair and gave Max a smile. "I'm Gen," she said, hand extended.

Max didn't accept the hand, but she did answer, briskly, "Max," as she walked into the coffee room.

It had once been upscale, trendy, and clean, but the lack of a food and drug administration showed itself clearly at the Bean Bag. It was dim-lit to conceal the fact that it needed a good cleaning with industrial strength bleach, and there were incense cones burning at each table; perhaps for atmosphere, perhaps to cover the stale smell.

It was crowded, mostly with angsty, greasy teenagers. Max found a booth, evicted the inhabitants with a few choice words and a good stare, and settled herself on the plastic bench.

Gen slipped in opposite, wide-eyed at Max's tough act and gazing around at the decor in wonder. 'Country girl,' Max thought. "What do you know about Manticore," she started abruptly.

Gen met her gaze without a flicker. "I was one of the rejects, I'm guessing before your class."

"Manticore kills its rejects."

A waiter came and asked for an order. Max asked for a double mocha and said, "She's paying."

Gen answered, "Oh, really?" and asked the waiter for a glass of milk.

The waiter raised one eyebrow at her, popped his gum and told her, "It's $10 a pop for milk."

Gen shrugged and waved him away.

When he was out of earshot, she turned back to Max. "My mother smuggled me out of Manticore when I was about 14 months. She was a temporary nurse; every one on the project was rotated through pretty quickly, probably so they didn't pick up too much information. She overheard one of the supers talking about getting rid of the whole flawed batch of us." There was a note of irony in her voice; familiar to Max from her own voice when she spoke of her childhood.

"Mom... Well, I realize she's not my real mother, but she raised me, and is more of a mom than anyone else. She found out about a plan to start a fire as a cover-up for our deaths, and she got me out the same night. I suppose they think I died in the fire. Mom told me as much as she could find out about Manticore; that I was genetically enhanced to be a soldier. We were a pretty useless batch as soldiers go, though. 7 of the 20 kids in my class died of heart complications before they got to a full year old."

Max was hooked. "But those of you that survived would be the strongest of the batch, why would they kill you off?" It felt odd to be speaking of Manticore to anyone but Logan or Zach.

Gen waved her splinted finger. "Brittle bones. I've broken nearly every bone in my body at least once. It's a pretty serious liability in a soldier. I can jump 20 feet straight up, but I break my ankles when I land. And a brain chemical deficiency. I'm dependent on..."

"Triptophen," Max finished.

Gen's eyes widened at that. "You, too?"

Max grimaced. "They didn't get all the bugs out of my class either."

The waiter brought their drinks, Max's steamed and smelled remotely of chocolate, Gen's milk was warm to the touch and had lumps, but she stirred it with a spoon removed from one of her pockets, and drank it eagerly.

"Did your mother name you Gen out of some kind of sick humor?"

"As in genetically enhanced?" Gen laughed. "No, she named me Geniveve. I started calling myself Gen after she told me why I broke bones and no one else in my class did, and why I could teach myself to read at age 4, and see in the dark and hold my breath for 3 minutes and..."

"...Never got cold?" Max guessed.

Gen nodded. "And didn't need more than an hour or two of catnap a night."

Max raised an eyebrow. "I thought that was taught."

Gen leaned forward. "How long were you at Manticore? How did you escape? Are there others?"

Max swallowed the last of her mocha. "I want you to meet someone."

Gen's eyes widened. "More of us?" She sounded so hopeful. Max could remember what it was like to have such hope. As if finding others from the same lab could somehow magically make up a family. Gen swallowed the last of her milk in a rush, not minding the chalky trail that it left in the glass. "Now?"

Max laughed; Gen's eagerness was contagious. "Sure, Logan doesn't have regular sleeping hours."

"But he sleeps?" Gen stood up, buckling her sheepskin coat around her waist and re-pocketing her spoon.

"Yeah, he sleeps."


Alright! Let me know what you think, pretty please. (First fanfiction.net posting; which doesn't mean I can't take criticism.) I realize that it's not exactly original, but hopefully it's entertaining.