"This was the scene from earlier today as hundreds of supporters turned up at the gates of Terminal City in tribute to the apparent heroism shown by a genetically modified race of super-humans called transgenics. Hundreds of people are turning up by the hour to honour those inside those broken city gates. Our on scene reporter Neavanroy Ishtari has the story. We go live to him in central Seattle."
"Thank you, Zsu. Looking at this peaceful scene, no one would suspect that just yesterday this space in front of the toxic city was a battleground. Right where I'm standing, the phenomenon that has been scaring our city for months—genetically modified humans called transgenics—fought viciously with another faction called the Cultists in an epic battle for our freedom. Science fiction? Not at all. Yes, you heard me right. Evidence has come to light that within our own government there have been secret factions, the self-proclaimed Cultists, who have been trying to take over the human race by breeding what they call the perfect human.
"One of these men, a man of astounding vision, created a race of genetically modified humans to protect us from this heinous agenda. Things came to a head in the early hours of the morning yesterday when the two sides fought brutally for our survival. Here with me now is a man who saw it all. Sir, who are you and can you tell me what you saw?"
"Name's Regan, Regan Ronald, like the president. God save America. Anyway, we were out here and heard these army tanks coming up from behind. At first, we thought that finally the government was coming to take care of the freak problem, then they started shooting at us!"
"No, the army!"
"You're telling me that the army shot at civilians."
"Damn spanky they did! They knew we were human too, and just shot us like we were nothing. It's a sad day, my friend, when the American government does that. A sad day. Then they tried to break down the walls to get into the city. They had explosives and didn't even care to clear the area. When the fighting broke out, we tried to move back but got pushed forwards. Then the walls came down and the fighting came out here and the army—cultists—tried to use us as shields but the fr—transgenics protected us."
"You're saying the transgenics saved you?"
"So, they're not monsters?"
"No more than you or me, I haveta tell ya, those cultists? They're the monsters. I'm here again today to show my respect."
"Thank you, sir."
"No problem, glad to be of service."
"As you heard, Zsu, the transgenics actively protected humans from cultist assault, some even laying down their lives for the cause."
"Now, Nev, yesterday we heard that the transgenics were a menace. What would you say is the general feeling there today?"
"As you can see behind me, Zsu, we have hundreds of supporters who have come out of the woodwork and made their way to Terminal City. Now bear in mind that this is a toxic area, and still we have mothers and grandmothers and young children who are laying flowers at the gates in thanks to those within."
"Any word on how the transgenics are taking this shift in perception?"
"The transgenics have sealed themselves inside for now, but we are expecting statements any moment and the leaders of what they call 'Freak Nation' have entered into correspondence with key governmental officials and other law-abiding services. I'm given to understand that peace talks are underway."
"What would you say the mood is now, Nev?"
"It's hard to say, Zsu. Although the transgenics have some support for their actions, there is still a lot of mistrust and fear apparent in some of the faces around us. There is a tentative hopefulness, but it's too early to tell whether the actions of the transgenics have erased all hatred for them. The best I can do, Zsu, is to say wait and see. The whole city is dangling on a precipice and it could go either way."
"Thank you, Nev. Well, there you have it. An abrupt change of heart in our own city as some publicly support transgenics and hail them as heroes whilst others remain skeptical. Support our poll and tell us what you think: Transgenics; mutant menace or peaceful protectors? The full story of yesterday's proceedings can be found on our web-page, or tune in at six for the update.
"In related news, in a surprising turn of events several key members of Congress have resigned and disappeared, ever since the broadcast by cyber-journalist Eyes-Only which named them as leading members of the Cult. Roy Markee has the scoop."
"Pah!" barked Mole "Scoop, my ass!"
"I'd rather not," Alec said absently as he rifled through some papers on his desk. "Could be messy."
"Pretty boy afraid of getting his hands dirty?"
Alec blinked. "You do it with your hands? Were you not toilet trained?"
Mole spluttered and Alec smirked, a cheeky grin lighting up his features.
He glanced over to where Max sat in front of a computer screen, half-glaring, half-smirking herself.
He edged closer, listening.
"—wasn't my fault."
"Course not, sir," Max said soothingly but with a faint trace of mockery. "You were working alongside a chief member of a cult who wanted to eradicate us all and you were completely unaware. One might even say ignorant."
Lydecker glowered over the monitor. "452—"
"Max," she corrected, steel in her voice.
"Max. I had my suspicions over Ames White but nothing concrete. When I had intel I sent Bill to inform you."
"You kidnapped his family in a bid to blackmail me into helping you regain your glory days. You aren't gonna fool me into thinking you've gone altruistic, sir." She paused. "You have given then back, right?"
"Of course!" He sounded almost affronted.
Max grinned. "He wouldn't give you the codes until you had, had he?"
Lydecker cleared his throat and Max laughed out loud.
"The fact is, Max, that you were all bred for one purpose. Born to fulfil that purpose. You're soldiers. You weren't created to lead normal lives and sooner or later you're going to need to accept that."
"Maybe," Max sobered. "But it'll be our choice. I'm not saying that there won't be some who'll want to join you. I'll put the word out; some will wanna do what they've always done. But not me, not yet."
Lydecker was silent for a long moment. "That's not a 'no', soldier."
"It's not a 'yes' either, Colonel."
They both eyed each other, sizing each other up. "The offer stands."
"Thanks, but I think we'll try to work it out ourselves for a while."
"Tell me when you're ready to come home."
Max smiled. "I already am."
Lydecker nodded and leaned forward. "You were the best of the best, all right, Max. You did good, soldier."
Max swallowed, pushing down the emotion, emotion that she wasn't going to show to him, no matter how good it felt to be recognised by her colonel. "Sir!"
She switched off the screen and scrubbed her face. "Damn!"
Alec came up behind her and rubbed her shoulders. "You all right?"
"I'm always all right." She grinned up at him.
He ducked down to plant a kiss on her lips, feeling her curl herself into it.
"Hey," Pix's voice cut in. "Do ya mind?"
"Not at all," Alec said without looking away from Max's deep eyes.
Pix rolled his eyes and wheeled himself away from the love-struck couple.
"'nough to make you sick," he muttered under his breath wishing his own kissing partner was around. Unfortunately, she had been called away urgently about five minutes ago in a hushed conversation with Carrot.
Pix wasn't sure he liked that and was determined to get to the bottom of it all, just as soon as he had something to eat.
He wheeled himself over to the vending machine that some very bright spark had delivered into the control room to help those hyperactive transgenics who needed a sugar fix. The fizzy drinks had been forcibly removed from the machine by Dix who refused to allow the liquid near his precious equipment. He was backed up by Isacar who said that Techie would have been horrified at the idea.
Pix pushed away a pang at the thought of his friend who they would be burying tomorrow, along with Feen and other casualties.
After the echoes of battle had fallen there had been a recall of all transgenics and, once the mother and baby unit returned, it had been a case of all hands on deck for the clean-up effort.
It had taken that many hands to transport the wounded to the infirmary.
Those who had even the slightest modicum of training had been put to use in the infirmary to allow those who had been on duty all night some well deserved rest.
Dek, Chance, B.J., Jace and Syl had been up to their elbows in blood all afternoon.
Tara was being hailed as some kind of hero for her actions, although it had taken a real feat of heroism for Carrot to drag her to bed late last night after she almost collapsed from exhaustion. Even then, she had been up early to return to her patients.
Lucky patients, who had the opportunity to live, unlike so many others.
Corpses lined the park on the east side of Terminal City, ready to be identified and honoured.
They had been hit hard in the death stakes and many faces were missing though not as many as they had initially feared when they saw the bodies strewn over the streets. The Cult had suffered just as many casualties, if not more.
Of those that Pix knew by name only Techie, Feen, Ash, Kelpy and a very few others had perished, although each one was like a knife wound.
Morbidly, he was glad that it had been so few; he couldn't have taken much more.
It was testament to the efficiency of the transgenics and the preparation of the Special Operations and Operatives team that Terminal City was still running; and running almost back to 'normal' only hours after being the scene of a bloodbath.
Didn't mean that the kitchens were up and running yet, though. They were going to be living out of the vending machines (and possibly very brave take-out shops who would deliver to Terminal City) for a while.
Pix glared as his own path to nourishment and nutrition, in the form of a calorie laden choc-treat, was barred by the laughing forms of Ben, Zane and Biggs.
Pix glared at them, menace and hunger in his gaze. "Move."
The three men hardly paused in their laughter and Pix wanted to pout.
"Hey, hungry handicapped man here."
"You're not handi-capped," Zane soothed. "You're handi-capable!"
Ben burst out laughing.
"Watch it, floppy," Pix groused. "You'll muss your hair."
"This from the man who invoked fear into the Trainers," Biggs shook his head, still on a high from his friendly interaction.
Pix brightened. "Good point!" He reached into his pocket and pulled out a battered, singed, blood-spattered black book.
It was fun to see how the colour drained from Biggs' face and Pix gave a malicious grin as Biggs paled.
Biggs turned on his heel and raced away, leaving Ben and Zane bemused at the interaction.
Ben frowned. "What's that? A scary book?"
Pix smiled as he licked a well chewed pencil and added their names to the back page.
It wasn't a nice smile.
"You'll learn to fear the book." He vowed and placed it safely in his pocket, patting it for comfort.
They would learn to fear the book.
Isacar stared at them for a while, and then turned back to the table, staring at the box that he had discovered hidden under Techie's desk.
Inside were twisted models made with wire, soldered with odds and ends from the toolbox.
Works of art.
Perfect works of art that made Isacar want to howl like a baby. He bit down hard on his lip, hating every person in this room that was alive and loving it whilst Techie lay on the edge of the field of the dead, wasting away.
He reached into the box and pulled out a red wired sculpture that looked just like waves of fire in a wind. Orange and crimson cables were twisted with bronze metal and copper wiring. It was complicated, dark and vibrant.
He turned it over.
Etched on the bottom was one word: Feen.
Isacar bowed his head so no one could see the tears.
Luke adjusted his bandaged arm and tried not to focus through the gauze that covered his injured eye.
"Hey!" snapped Sigma. "What did Dek say about straining that eye?"
"Uh, don't?" Luke offered tentatively, his bumpy face embarrassed at her care and volume.
"You want to wear a monocle like Dix?" Sigma continued. "You'll really look like twins then!"
Luke pouted and looked away which meant he missed the amused look Mole shot the anomaly.
He did, however, catch the snort of derision as Mole chewed on his cigar.
"Huh, catch me getting told off by a skirt," he growled. "Pussy-whipped."
"And you ain't ever been?" Jondy said from somewhere behind him.
Mole hadn't seen her, and jumped. She grinned. "Poor Mole, all jealous, huh?"
"Nothing to be jealous over, girlie," he insisted. "I got the goods."
"You ain't got jack!" she trilled, sitting on the edge of his desk and pushing his gun away with one long booted foot.
Mole's eyes travelled up the length of her leg, clad in fishnet stockings and tight mini-skirt.
He swallowed around his cigar. "You ain't seen nothing yet."
Jondy gave a slow seductive smile and reached over, plucking the cigar from between his lips and planting it between her own. "Prove it, sugar."
Luke laughed out loud at the pole-axed expression on Mole's face.
He was about to call attention to it when Carrot burst into the room.
All eyes turned to him and more hands went to their side-arms, still running high on the adrenaline from the battle.
Carrot scanned the room and then seemingly gave up trying to find the ones he wanted and just bellowed. "Cece's having the baby—now!"
Harley, sitting with Meri and trying to organize work rotas with Ganko, suddenly blanched. "Oh, hell."
"Not yet!" Meri squealed, delightedly. "Baby first! Go on, Harl."
"No, no, no," Harley moaned but lurched to his feet and staggered to the door, followed by half the command staff.
The infirmary was still crowded out with bodies in various stages of healing, but there was an air of satisfaction and calming as the place started to resemble more a hospital and less of a battlefield.
Harley and his entourage walked in en masse and Dek looked up from his patient with a tired but devilish grin.
"You know that Cece can be very creative in her threats?" He licked his lips and threaded a needle through an unconscious Zan's knee. "I think that maybe Alec, Harley and Pix should keep away from her."
Alec held his hands up. "I didn't touch her!"
Max poked him anyway and pushed her way through the throng to get to Dek. She placed one hand on his shoulder and peered over at his work.
"Nice small stitches," she complimented.
"Thanks," Dek craned his neck to plant a kiss on her lips, eliciting a glare from Alec and a grin from Ben. "Lucky Zan here, had Alec been a few seconds late he would have been shish-ka-trannie."
"Nice imagery," Sunny said as she walked over, wiping her stained hands on a cloth. "Beds two and three are now empty and clean, ready for re-issue."
"Thanks," Dek smiled at her. "There are two transgenics just come out of theatre; can you get them prepped and in bed?"
"I object to that!" Biggs pouted. "Only I'm getting her into bed."
"I so didn't need to hear that!" Chance moaned as she walked into the conversation and over to a frantic Harley, being held by Flex to stop him from bolting. "Cece's almost through. Fast pregnancy, you'll be glad to hear."
He opened his mouth to thank her only to be cut off by a scream from the adjoining room. His eyes opened wide and he dragged himself to the room almost knocking Flex over in his haste to get in there.
The door closed but they could hear Cece's response to his appearance.
Skye planted her hands over Galen's ears. "You don't need to know words like that," she said decidedly.
Galen grinned up at her. He hadn't said anything else but she didn't want to take any chances that his next words would be four letter ones.
"How long's this kinda thing take?" Biggs asked sliding into one of the chairs in the waiting room.
"Some hours, some less," Chance shrugged. "Hopefully less. Tara says this one is super fast."
"I can't imagine anything wanting to stay in Cece long." Biggs covered his head as he was slapped by at least three of his friends despite the hidden smiles.
Sunny rolled her eyes. "Remind me why I love you?"
"Manticore knows," Biggs replied, rubbing his sore head.
"Anyone care to bet on whether it's a girl or a boy?" Pix offered.
"As long as it's healthy, I don't think she'll care," Max said listening to the screams coming through the door.
"Although, knowing Cece's fondness for sitting on her children," Alec grinned, "maybe we should hope it's a hardy little guy."
"Bouncable," Biggs agreed, covering his head again, just in case.
There was a long drawn out scream from the room behind them.
"Deaf," Sunny muttered rubbing her own ear.
"Speaking of deaf," Flex said suddenly, sitting up. "Was that Nyx I just heard laughing?"
"Uh, um," Skye floundered, looking to Dek for help. He just grinned.
"Oh, yeah that's little Nyxie."
"Is she injured?" Flex looked suddenly worried, getting to his feet.
"Nope she's visiting." Dek laced the word with enough innuendo to turn Flex's face green.
"Whom," Dek corrected.
Flex's eyes flashed. "Visiting whom?"
Max shook her head at Dek as Flex raced towards the voice. "I swear, Dek, you're a demon in disguise."
"But what a disguise!" He winked at her and she laughed.
"Shouldn't one of us save Aiden?" Jace asked tentatively.
They all looked at each other.
"Oh no you don't!" Nyx smiled as she handed the sandwich to Aiden. "You'll eat because you owe me."
"Says who?" he argued, ignoring the twinges of pain all through his back and legs.
"I remember a promise not to leave me or get injured," Nyx reminded him. "Fractured bones, cracked lumbar, disconnected collar bones, strained muscles, internal bleeding, haemorrhage. When you break a promise you don't so it half-assed."
"Which is a shame," Flex said from the doorway. "Although I appreciate that there is less of you to break."
Aiden paled. "I'm very, very, very, very badly injured. It would be unsporting to attack me now."
"And yet, still oddly satisfying." Flex turned away to touch the intravenous drip, not allowing Aiden to see the amused look on his face.
Nyx angled herself to stand in front of her boyfriend and folded her arms.
"Flex! I won't appreciate him broken."
"Why?" Flex mirrored her stance. "You have plans for his whole self, Nyxie?"
Nyx allowed a small smile to curve around her lips and Flex's heart fell. He hadn't seen her that happy before. Not happy enough to smile from the heart and mean it.
He couldn't deny her that. Couldn't deny her anything.
Nyx saw his surrender in his eyes and stepped closer biting her lip and offering her arms in a hug.
Flex enfolded her in his embrace and kissed the top of her silky soft hair. He had never given any thought to being a father and found that it had crept up on him far faster than he would have liked. But he wouldn't change anything and held her tighter as he inhaled, breathing in her scent.
He glared at Aiden over the top of her head. "If you hurt my little girl I will eviscerate you and then I will really make you pay."
Aiden gulped and nodded, somehow feeling younger than Flex even though they were the same age chronologically. "Yeah."
Flex sighed. "Hope you don't expect me to welcome you to the family, boy."
"Course not," Aiden waited a beat. "Dad."
"Shut up." Flex scowled and released Nyx who beamed at him.
"Yeah, yeah," Flex muttered.
Dek poked his head in the doorway. "Oh good, you're still alive. I figured Flex would have had your head after he found out what you've been doing with Nyx and how I found you last night."
Flex saw red. "Last night? Last night? Where were you last night? Doing what? Aiden?"
"Injured," Aiden pointed out frantically. "Badly injured. Got up to nothing! Nothing."
"Huh." Dek grinned, leaning against the doorway. "Is that what they're calling it now?"
Aiden stared at his 'best friend.' "I want you dead."
"The cultists tried, failed." Dek replied enjoying being able to torment his friend. Seeing Aiden brought into the infirmary all bloodied and broken was going to haunt him forever. "I'm just that good."
"I won't fail," Aiden warned. "In fact I—"
But what he was going to do was lost as Chance grabbed Dek's collar. "It's here!"
"What, what, what?" Dek demanded. "Cult? Lydecker? What?"
"The baby, dumbass!" Max rolled her eyes. "Cece's dropped it."
"I meant she's actually had it," Max amended with a laugh.
Dek, Flex and Nyx crowded back into the waiting room watching the doorway with eagle eyes.
It opened slightly and Harley came out, pale and shaky.
"What is it?"
"Is it okay?"
"Is she okay?"
"Are they healthy?"
"Did she really threaten to castrate you?"
It was Nyx who asked the most pertinent question. "You look awful, are you going to throw up?"
Harley slumped into the nearest chair and wiped his brow. "I'm just gonna pass out now, okay?"
"Nope," Chance grabbed him by the shirt and hauled him back. "Back in there, daddy."
"Daddy?" Something odd happened to his face. "I'm a dad."
Flex went over and slapped his back. "Welcome to the family."
Aiden, being held up by Nyx pouted. "How come he gets a welcome to the family?"
"Because Harley isn't screwing his daughter?" Dek offered and, to everyone's relief, Max slapped him upside the head.
Dek rubbed his head and ignored the preening Alec.
Tara appeared at the doorway, wiping her hands. "Okay, you can go in there now."
Seventeen people, plus one wheelchair, really shouldn't be able to fit into one room but they all managed it, crowding around the bed where a tired, strained looking Cece sat holding a bundle of cloth.
"Hey," Max said softly as she pushed Pix's chair in. "How do you feel?"
"Like shit," Cece replied honestly. "You try straining something the size of a—"
"Men present!" Biggs protested.
"Where?" Sunny retorted with a soft smile for her beloved.
"But it's worth it." Cece looked down at the baby in her arms. "So worth it. Look at this, he's tiny."
"Gem started labour about five minutes ago," Tara sighed. "Seems the trauma induced several women to start pangs. First in a long line of Transgenic babies."
"Joshua will be thrilled," Alec laughed.
Harley sat on the edge of the bed and wrapped his arms around mother and baby. "It's a boy."
Nyx peered curiously into the bundle. "Fingers? Toes?"
"How many?" Dek asked dryly.
Cece glared at him. "Enough. He's perfect."
"Yeah," Chance smiled. "He is, isn't he?"
Cece swallowed and looked over at Skye. "I'd like . . . I want . . . can I call him Steve? Is . . . is that okay?"
Skye blinked, her mouth open and heart touched. "Y—yeah, that's okay. That's nice."
She hugged Galen tighter to her and Flex pressed his hand to her back in comfort.
Carrot pulled Tara away from her equipment and tucked her into his arms for a hug.
She stiffened for a moment and then sagged against him. "I'm tired," she muttered.
"Should have slept in," he said.
"And miss this?" Tara turned in his arms to stare at Cece and baby Steve. "It's a miracle."
"Yeah. You know," his voice was slow and steady. "I'd quite like a little miracle of our own."
Tara's eyes were wide as she looked up at him.
He kissed the top of her nose. "Just something to think about."
Alec looked around at his family. Nyx and Aiden standing supported by the wall. Flex, Skye and Galen looking so very human by the bed. Carrot holding an exhausted Tara whilst Chance murmured at her to take a break, Pix watching her out of the corner of his eye.
Sunny and Biggs holding hands as they looked at a very cosy Cece, Steve Junior and Harley and Dek propping up the wall with Ben and Jace standing around the fringes. And, best of all, Max in his own arms. He kissed her head suddenly feeling quite happy.
Dek moved away from the wall suddenly. "Where's Drew?"
"On the roof," Chance said. "She stopped by earlier to see Zan and Joshua asked her for some help. Not sure what they're doing up there."
"Maybe they're flashing for the cameras?" Aiden joked. "Joshua pulling a moonie at KYT TV."
There were wrinkled noses all around at that but before they could say anything there was a buzzing in the room and everyone turned to look at Max.
Tara looked pointedly at the cell phone at her waist. "You do know that there's a reason why those are supposed to be switched off in a hospital?"
Max smiled sheepishly and answered the call. "Max." She nodded, then remembered that the person on the other end of the phone couldn't see her. "Yeah, she's right here, why?"
Max glanced up as all eyes turned to her.
"Sure, patch it through." She glanced across the room. "Hey, Skye. Apparently there's an incoming call for you."
Skye blinked. "For me?"
Max threw her the phone and Skye held it like it was a grenade.
"What is it, Luke?"
Flex shifted at her back and offered to take Galen so that she could have both hands free. Ignoring the stares from everyone else she shook her head and pulled her little boy in closer.
"I just got a wave from some outsider. I woulda passed it but they asked for you by name. Wanna accept the call?"
Skye shrugged. "Sure."
"Okay, patching it through."
There was a crackle of static and a burst of something high pitched that had all the sensitive ears in the room wincing in pain.
Then there was a sort of suspenseful silence and Skye bit her lip. "Hello?"
"Skye? Hey, girl, is that you?"
Skye couldn't believe it. "Coco?"
"Hey, there. You not dead?"
"Not unless Max's tariff covers the afterlife. Where the hell have you been?" Her shock was mirrored by the other faces in the room, all of whom had expressions of mingled happiness and surprise.
"Oh, you wouldn't believe me if I told you," Coco said, her voice warm. "I saw the news; is everyone okay?"
Skye licked her lower lip, looking around at her family. "Uh, not everyone . . . some didn't. No."
Coco was silent too, for a long moment. "I'm sorry I wasn't there."
"Where are you?"
Skye sputtered out laughing and she could hear Coco bristle on the other end of the line.
"You're shopping as in shopping, shopping?"
"You think that's funny?" Coco took a breath. "I'm shopping with my mother-in-law to be for a wedding dress." A pause. "Stop laughing. Seriously. Stop. Skye!"
Flex took the phone out of Skye's hand as she doubled up, gasping for breath through her laughter.
"Uh, Co, what did you do to Skye?"
"Nothing," Coco muttered.
Skye waved and grabbed the phone back. "Damn, Coco! Are you serious?"
"What, what?" Cece waved her hands. "C'mon, is she okay?"
"She's getting married!" Skye enthused and there was a chorus of jaws dropping.
"Way to go, Coco!" Carrot yelled and Skye heard her chuckle down the line.
"Uh huh. Anyway Madeline just asked me for my wedding list. Bridesmaids, guests, who the hell is gonna give me away?"
Skye bit down on her lip, hard. "Uh, guys, who wants to give Coco away?"
"Ooh, can I?" Dek waved a hand in the air. "To anyone in particular or just in general?"
Alec smacked him. "Is she gonna come back and see us first?"
Skye nodded. "Are you gonna come back? Things are a little different."
"Well, Cece's just had a little boy, I have five children, Aiden's dating a teenager, Pix is in a wheelchair and Max hasn't hit Alec for at least three weeks."
"Who are you people?" There was a muffled shout. "Forget it; I'll be there at the weekend. Cece a mom? That I gotta see. I'll bring Jason to Transgenic Central. See if he sinks or swims."
Skye smiled. "We stopped water torture but sure, see you then."
"Yeah, I have to go look at ruffles. Ruffles!"
Skye laughed. "Remember, smile long, smile proud and when that fails remember that you can kill people with your little finger." She threw the phone back to Max and hugged Galen. "Coco!"
Max tucked the cell back into her pocket and leaned into Alec. "Kinda cool, a'iight."
The door opened and Icarus peered in.
"Hi!" she trilled. "Uh, Joshua wants everyone to come up to the roof who can make it. He's got some big surprise planned."
Max nodded. "Seems to be the day for it."
Cece made a move and Harley put a hand in front of her. "And where do you think you're going?"
Cece glared. "If you think for one minute that I'm staying here when Joshua has something planned then we have a real problem."
Dek crept out of the infirmary with a grin. "We all know who's gonna be wearing the pants in that family."
"Talking of wearing the pants," Alec grinned. "Where's Drew?"
Drew turned up the collar on her coat to ward against the chilly Seattle air. Her hands were tucked into her pockets and she glared at the dirty city as she waited for her family to come up from visiting Cece.
Joshua was being helped with his little surprise by a number of transgenics and they were all laughing and joking together.
Drew felt very out of it all.
Somehow she didn't feel in a celebratory mood.
She could still taste the blood in her mouth from yesterday, she could still feel the thrum of battle through her veins; could feel the rage and the madness simmering just beneath her skin waiting, just waiting.
She wasn't particularly normal at the best of times and, right now, she felt like an animal. Like she had some disease that made her want to attack; to bite; to fight. To kill.
Drew clenched her fists and fought against tears of helplessness. How could she ever face her family who had tried so hard to get away from Manticore when all she wanted was to be under their drugs to stamp down this feeling of being out of control?
Was this how Ben felt before he went crazy? Was she going to start hunting people?
Was she a danger to her family?
"No, you're not."
She stiffened. In her introspection, she hadn't even heard Zack coming up behind her.
She lifted her chin denying herself the tears. She may be a freak but she would never let them see her cry.
Zack stood next to her on the roof staring over the parapet towards the ground.
"Maxie always loved heights but I could never see the appeal. I'd prefer to keep my feet on the ground no matter what DNA they pumped into my body."
Drew was silent.
Zack rocked back on his heels. "I've never been very good at inspirational speeches, Drew. Ask anyone. I think I tried it once on my youngest charge-Seth."
"He died." Zack shoved his hands into his pockets. "Never could get the hang of him; he was too like Max, and she was always impossible to control."
A ghost of a smile echoed around Drew's lips at the thought of anyone trying to control Max.
"Yesterday . . ." Zack looked into the distance. "Reminded me of Ben."
Drew stiffened, her voice dying in her throat.
"When we first broke out I told everyone to go to ground, to split and lay low. I was doing the right thing for my Unit; I believed it then and still do now. But Ben was always a little different. Odd. He always tried harder than any of us even though he was just as good, better in some ways although," his voice changed, "I'll deny that to my dying day."
Drew couldn't even dredge up a smile at that.
"But Ben . . . I guess I was harder on him because of what I knew. Back in Manticore I'd been in the med bay and heard two techies talking about a test case. It was the precursor to the X8s with the sonar DNA. They'd been dicing DNA and had infused their results into three specimens. They mentioned 493 and two other designations that I didn't know at the time."
"What was the DNA?"
Zack sighed. "They'd been crossing over and looking at humans through the ages, warriors of all kinds. Something like what the Cult was doing, getting the best genetic samples from human clones and manipulating it. They were talking about Berserkers from Norse mythology who went crazy in battle with rage, to the point of madness. They were the root of the myths that spread the legend of the werewolf. Half-human, half-beast. They would tear flesh with their teeth and throw off their clothes and sometimes turn on their friends."
Drew swallowed, the words painting a picture for her that chilled the very blood in her veins. She wanted Zack to shut up, to go away, to not know these things about her. She tightened her fists, nails slicing into her palms.
"Manticore wanted to see if they could replicate the process with a little more restraint. Couldn't have their perfect soldiers turning on each other or running around naked. Not the kind of distraction they needed. They infused the DNA strands with more animalistic strains of bear, lion, panther and wolf. Then they upped the dosages of adrenaline releases, endorphins and . . . opioids."
Drew closed her eyes in horror. Every body had the pain-numbing peptides in it to some extent, but to add what was effectively heroin or opium to your system was like doping an addict and upping the dosage every time it was used. She was going to become an addict to her own psychosis.
"The drugs in your system overcome reason and inhibit pain receptors causing fearlessness, uncontrollable rage and other . . . side effects. The first subject killed a Trainer with his bare hands and was the reason that they monitored Ben and . . . you."
Tears slipped down her face.
"You're the test subject for Manticore's own version of the werewolf, Drew."
An icy fist gripped at the rage in her chest and started to choke her slowly.
"It's your DNA." Zack spoke quietly, his eyes fixed on Joshua like he couldn't see what he was doing to Drew. "But you can fight it. Ben has."
Her lip curled in a snarl of disbelief.
Zack seemed to realise that his words weren't helping.
"He has," he insisted. "I didn't think he could. Didn't think he could fight against his DNA but he has and so can you. We will have some of the best medical facilities and personnel and we can find someway of decreasing the effectiveness of the opioids in your system. We can do it, Drew. It's possible."
She swallowed again, against the words and the tears that she wanted to scream out.
"On the battlefield I could recall you back to us, Drew. You responded to me. Maybe because the wolf recognises an Alpha, maybe because I'm used to leading. Maybe just because. I can help you, if you'll let me. I was never there for Ben. I'd like to try again."
Drew's hands were cold and the droplets on her cheeks were colder but Zack's words were starting to penetrate that chill.
"You're not alone here, Drew. I understand. Ben understands. We can help."
She slowly nodded, pushing back her pain. "If you can . . . You planning on sticking around for a while then? I thought Max said you'd be off."
Zack looked over her shoulder to where Emma was helping Joshua with his surprise. "I think I'll be sticking around for a while."
B.J. cursed as the large metal pole slipped from his grip again.
"Em, I don't think you're holding it right."
She dropped the pole and stuck her hands on her hips. "You wanna do it, smart ass?"
He grinned and pouted childishly. "Sowwy, Emmsie."
"Big Jerk." She paused. "Have you heard from Anna?"
B.J. went still and he looked over at her, her eyes intent on him. "Not since she last spoke to Max. I didn't really expect to. She's going after Manticore and Sandeman in Europe. She'll be busy and in danger, running for her life and probably swearing a great deal through it. She'll be having a blast and not really have time to call home to check in on . . . friends."
His voice came across as carefree and the only one who knew him well enough to know if he was faking it was currently trawling across Europe looking for trouble.
"You miss her?"
"No." His answer was quick, strident, uncompromising and blatantly false.
Emma knew better than to call him on it.
They were interrupted by the roof door opening and transgenics filtering out onto the roof.
Dek and Ben dumped Pix's wheelchair down. "Sorry we're late," Dek chirped. "We had to drag the cripple up here."
Pix grinned. "Guess what I found?"
Dek shrugged. "What?"
"This!" Pix whipped out the black book and saw Dek's eyes widen in recognition before he stumbled back.
"Sorry Pix, pal, buddy."
Ben stared at it in bemusement wondering on the twin reactions of fear from both Dek and Biggs. "What the hell is that thing?"
Dek clasped him on the shoulder. "Ben, my friend, let me tell you about 'The Book.'"
Max and Alec made their way over to Joshua who was unfurling something long and painted.
"Whatcha got there, Josh?" Max asked, with a huge smile on her face for her friend.
"A flag?" Alec looked dubious. "Do we get a theme song too?"
"Yeah," Max frowned. "It's called 'oops upside your head!'" She tapped his forehead and didn't see Dek and Pix exchange money.
Alec pouted which prompted Max to laugh and kiss it better.
Pix gave his money back to Dek who laughed and walked over to Drew.
Joshua looked up to see that everyone had gathered around.
"Our flag!" he announced and everyone went quiet.
"This is you, me, even them. It's all of us." He pointed to the black stripe at the bottom of the flag. "This is where we came from—where they tried to keep us."
"In the dark," Jondy nodded, agreeing with the statement. "In the basement, swept aside like garbage."
"Fighting for a way out but never getting there," Chance added, holding onto Pix's hand.
"Secret," Luke rubbed his scar. "Not allowed to see the day. Always hiding."
"Ashamed." Dix touched his deformed face. "Made to be a monster."
"Alone. Alone in the dark." Ben stood tall.
Joshua nodded. "This is where we are now."
There was a long strip of deepest red across the middle. "Because our blood is being spilled."
"Fallen friends." Biggs clasped Sunny's hand.
"Family." Skye reached out for Flex and Galen, holding them tightly.
"Metz," Drew murmured.
"Steve," Alec added.
Other voices joined theirs, so many that it was like a whisper over the roof as people added the fallen to the wind.
Joshua touched the white dove in the centre of the picture that seemed to be waiting to fly out of the blood and into the last stripe.
A white stripe.
"This is where we want to go."
Cece held baby Steve close and kissed his forehead. "Into the light."
Joshua smiled. "Right."
He stopped and looked at Max who just smiled back. "I'm done with speeches, Joshua. Maybe our leader?"
Pix cleared his throat and looked away. "Uh, I think Alec had something that he wanted to say to everyone."
Max shook her head but, to her surprise, Alec walked forward and stood under the flag.
"Max is done with speeches," he said. "But I'm not. I can't be. We were made to be soldiers, to take all that they had to give us and go on. We were handed our lot in life and told to deal with it and we did. All of us." He made eye contact with each transgenic. "We just went along with what they said blindly following orders. Never questioning the orders even when they felt wrong, even when they hurt. Never answering back, never standing out, always keeping our heads down and pretending that it didn't matter. But it did."
He swallowed. "Then in 2009, 12 transgenics said 'no more.' They stood up and said no more fighting, no more family disappearing, no more hurting. No more orders. They did what we wished we could do. They escaped."
The 09ers looked at each other. Zack held his hands out for Tinga and Jace. Krit leaned against Syl and Zane patted Ben on the back. Jondy smiled at Max.
"Eleven made it out and one stayed. One got left behind. 452. Max. She was one of them, one of the reasons that things got hard for us, but at the same time she was one of us. The 09ers showed us that we didn't have to live like that and Max showed us how to live.
"I joined Special Ops because it was expected. Others joined to get away from the unit they had before. Others joined because they had no choice. We were all hoping for something different. I was hoping to find an early mission and maybe an early death." Alec looked towards Max at the revelation and she nodded. She had expected something like that. He smiled softly.
"That isn't what I found. I found a family. I found hope. That's what Terminal City is. It's family. It's hope. It's living with people who understand us and who will fight for us. Fight to stay together. Not because we're forced to, or because there is no choice, but because we want to. Here we choose our own units, our own family. Our own life.
"This war we've fought is for our own sakes.
"Normals say it's for them that we're doing this. We're their protectors. It's not. We're not.
"We were kept in the dark—" he pointed at the flag "—and we're gonna make our own way into the light. We can do that. And we can do that for one reason. None of it would have been possible without the spark. We would have stayed in the dark where they made us if not for her."
Alec turned to Max again.
"As far as I'm concerned, the day I met you was the first time I breathed. The first time I opened my eyes and saw the world. And it was you." He swallowed against the rush of emotion. "Some units weren't so lucky but now, thanks to the 09ers and to Max, we all have that opportunity. Terminal City is home to Freak Nation. They say we're contained but I say we're free. Free to greet the sun and walk down the street without fear. We don't have to run and we don't have to hide anymore. That is what home means."
He trailed off and looked around. "This is our home and we're going nowhere."
"Amen!" Mole yelled and threw his fist into the air in a gesture of triumph. He was followed one by one by every transgenic in solidarity, a sea of hands reaching for the sky, striving for the light.
It was beautiful.
Max stepped forward and throwing all her insecurities away, took hold of Alec's coat, hauled him to her and kissed him. Passionately.
A catcall went up from the crowds amassed on the rooftop and applause broke out as each one turned to his fellow transgenic and shared the moment.
Zack shook his head in bewilderment. "Sentimentality!"
Emma grinned up at him, grabbing his hand. "A least it's not phoney."
Skye looked around the roof as families and friends huddled together, remembering the fallen and letting the living know that they were loved. It was heart-warming and honest, like something off the front of a greeting card.
She looked down at Galen. "I swear to Manticore, Galen, if your next words are 'God bless us everyone,' I'm throwing you off the roof."
Galen giggled and tucked himself under her chin while Flex pressed a kiss to her hair.
"How 'bout, I love you?"
Skye smiled. "That I can live with."
"Think Max is ever gonna come up for air?"
Alec draped his arms around Max as they stood on the edge of the roof, staring out over the city; the city that had persecuted them for so long; the city that had been home to their aches and heartbreaks, to the destruction of friends and family.
The city they loved and hated in equal measure.
He breathed into her hair, inhaling the scent that made it all worth it.
"It's not over," Max said quietly. "It'll never be over."
"Yeah." Alec nodded. "It isn't all tied up in a nice bow for us, Max. We still have enemies, and friends masquerading as them."
"He'll want us back, Max. He won't have stopped."
"I know. There are still the other bases as well."
Alec looked surprised and Max smiled.
"I haven't forgotten Bulli, Alec. Then there are other government agencies out for our blood: literally, the Reds and China, Mexico and wherever; everyone who wants to be faster, everyone who wants an army. Eyes Only did us a favour in getting our story out but it's also a curse. The more that know we're out there, the more danger we're in. Once word gets out, we'll be more hunted than ever."
"But we're together," Alec pointed out. "More safety in numbers than if we went to ground. We need each other."
"Yeah." Max hugged his arms tighter and it was some time before he spoke again.
"You think Anna will find what she's looking for?"
"I don't know," Max bit her lip staring out over the city and beyond, knowing that their struggle was far from over.
Somewhere out there the Cult would reassemble, re-arm and reemerge, probably just when they least expected it. There would be no peace but maybe, just maybe, that was okay.
What did soldiers do in peacetime anyway?
She looked up at Joshua's flag. From the light into the darkness via blood.
Alec pulled her into his arms, staring at the flapping flag with something akin to pride. "So, Max, are you ready to move ahead? Surge forward into the new world all guns blazing? Pressing onwards so we don't get left behind?"
Max smiled and leaned back against him, folding herself into his embrace. "I don't think so. Let's stay still for a while."
Oh Wow. It's done.
Hell, I have no idea what to say. This has been three years in the making and I want to thank each and every person individually for reviewing and letting me know that they enjoyed it or didn't enjoy it or who they wanted to see more of.
Every single person who has reviewed has contributed to this story and I want to thank you all for making this such a great tale.
I also want to thanks my superb betas—Itay and Princess Incognito who have been fantastic! They've dropped everything to help me out and been on call through my insecurities. Thanks guys, I appreciate it.
To everyone who has been with me from Left Behind. I love you. Thank you.