Author's Note: This is an A.U. A kind of 'what if the second set of X-5's had escaped instead of the others' thing. Alec instead of Ben, Sam instead of Max, ect. Basically, this is just my Max and Logan version of The Berrisford Agenda. It is a WIP, and depending on my muses, I don't know how often I'll have updates.
"This is the target," they tell her, and slide a picture across the grey table. "We believe he has information on the identity of Eyes Only."
She glances at the picture once, only briefly, but it's enough to memorize the smiling face. He's handsome, well dressed, and all things considered, she could have done worse for an assignment. Tinga's last one had been associating with drug dealers that had somehow gotten their hands on Manticore made narcotics, and the experience had been less than pleasant for her. Max, on the other hand, seems to have caught an easy one and she plans to take full advantage.
She doesn't even have to kill anyone. At least, not yet.
"We want you to get close to him," they say. They hand her a file and she takes it casually, her eyes rolling up to watch them slyly.
"Consider me there," she says.
He's not really that hard to find, and it's easy enough to get his attention once she does. He's at the back of a little place called 'Crash', having a hushed conversation with a pretty blonde. One of Eyes Only's other contacts, maybe, or maybe a girlfriend. She's hoping for the former, because the latter will make her job a little harder. She hovers near the edge of the wall, listening in. She catches the girl's name, Asha, or something, then she smiles and pulls up a chair, sitting herself between them.
"You Logan Cale?" she asks, and he leans back in his chair, smiling back at her and looking vaguely amused. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Asha tense.
"Who's asking?" Asha snaps.
Max turns to her for a brief moment, and blinks. "I am," she says. "I thought that was rather obvious."
Logan laughs lightly. "Yes, I'm Logan Cale," he says, "but then, you already know that, don't you?" He watches her over the rim of his glasses like he knows far more than he should, and she realizes she's made a mistake already. She shouldn't underestimate people simply because they weren't genetically engineered, but living her life at Manticore, it was easy enough to forget that.
Even Lydecker, for example, was simply run of the mill. She could have killed him when she was only a child, and if she hadn't been so scared she probably would have.
"I wouldn't have asked if I knew," she says, sounding more defensive than she had intended. He hasn't done anything to get her this off balance—but she was losing her footing all the same.
"We should go," Asha says, looking pointedly at Logan.
"I think I'll stay awhile," he says, turning back to give Asha his full attention. "I'll see you tomorrow, though, okay?"
The dismissal is obvious, as is Asha's reluctance to leave. She still gets to her feet though, shooting Max a cold look before she starts for the door.
"Girlfriend?" Max asks slyly, slouching a little in her chair. She's been taught perfect posture, but it's fun not to use it.
"Friend, actually," Logan corrects, that amused lilt to his voice still coming through. "And you would be?"
"Max," she says, and grins up him.
"Nice to meet you, Max," he says, but he sounds distracted, and his eyes have followed Asha out the door.
Inexplicably irritated at not having his full attention, she crosses her arms and decides to get down to business. "I'm kind of in a little bit of a jam," she says. "I was told you were a stand-up kind of guy; that maybe you could help." The sarcasm bleeds into her voice almost seamlessly and he doesn't miss it, his lips twitching upwards a bit at her attitude.
They taught sarcasm in common language usage class back at Manticore. Max passed it with flying colors and it shows.
"You could at least ask nicely," he says, finally turning back to face her.
"Look, can we go somewhere else?" Max snaps. "If it'll help, I'll ask nicely once we're there."
He eyes her speculatively, and bites his lip a moment before shaking his head. "I'm not so sure that's a good idea."
"Tell me you're not scared of some girl," Max says sweetly.
He laughs again, completely unaffected. Usually males were a lot easier to rile up than this. "Oh, I have a feeling it would be stupid to underestimate you."
She was having the same feeling about him, but she didn't let it show let alone say it out loud. "Our association could potentially be mutually beneficial, Mister Cale," she says. "You would be stupid not to hear me out."
"So talk," he says. "No one here cares enough to eavesdrop on us."
Max purses her lips but can hardly convincingly argue that, considering half of the patrons were too drunk even to stand, and the rest were far too wrapped up in themselves. She isn't surprised he meets informants here—there's a certain finesse in this method of hiding right in plain sight. "I heard you were looking to take down the Steelheads," she says cautiously, quietly.
Logan doesn't acknowledge the statement one way or the other. He just takes another sip of his drink and continues watching her.
"I got myself in a little trouble with them, see," Max says, "so I wouldn't exactly be opposed to selling them out if you could promise to take them down."
"I don't know where you're getting your information, Max," Logan says levelly, but with a certain charm she wasn't entirely sure she was immune to, "but I'm a reporter. I don't 'take people down.' Maybe you should go see the police. I can steer you in the direction of a cop that might actually help."
Max shoots him a wolfish smile. "Did I mention I'm also having a little trouble with the cops?"
He returns the smile with a lop-sided one of his own, and shakes his head with mild exasperation. "No," he says, "but somehow I'm not surprised."
"If you don't help me they'll kill me," Max says, increasing the stakes. "Hell, they'll probably kill me even if you do try to help, but I like my chances better if I have someone trying to get them off the streets."
Logan pulls out his wallet, and drops a few bills on the table. Max knows he's getting ready to leave. She tries another tactic.
"I know you work for Eyes Only," she says, leaning forward, putting some urgency into her tone. She lets the smart-ass part of her cover slip away so he'll think it's an act, lets him see fear. She feels a strange kind of prickling feeling when he meets her eyes again, because he doesn't seem to be buying it, and she's never had trouble fooling anyone before.
"Eyes Only?" he says, his eyes widening in mock-innocence. "Isn't he that guy that comes on the TV?" Max feels her eyes narrow, because he isn't even bothering to try and fool her. "Guy's a nut job, if you ask me—always interrupting my favorite programs."
"How long are we going to play this game?" she snaps. "I know you want the Steelheads, I can give them to you."
"If, for some odd reason I can't begin to speculate on," Logan says, "I was interested in Steelheads, I already know where they can be found." He grins at her a little. "But thanks anyway."
Max tries not to let her surprise show. This is the first time Lydecker's information has been wrong, unless Logan somehow managed to get their location since this morning. That got her wondering about Asha again and exactly what kind of friend she was. "Yeah, well, I can give you more than Steelheads," she says. "If you haven't caught on here yet, I'm trying to get a job."
There was that lop-sided grin again. "I noticed," he says. "I'm just wondering why. What—did you wake up this morning and decide to save the world?"
"More like I woke up this morning and heard you pay your informants well," Max says slyly. "I'm sure we could work something out."
"I'm sure you do have lots of information that would be extremely valuable," Logan allows. "From my perspective as a journalist, of course."
Max smiles a little at that, but if he wants to keep up the pretense she'll indulge him for now. "Of course," she says.
"In fact, I'm working on a little piece at the moment. Maybe you could help me with it."
He's watching her intensely again, and Max gets the sudden feeling that she's being led into a trap. She pushes the feeling away, secure in the fact she could so kick his ass. "Really?" she says.
"Yes," he says, giving a brief nod. "It's about a government run program, actually."
Max's fingers clench around her chair. He couldn't know, she tells herself, and then says, "Really?" again, and hopes she doesn't sound as off balance as she feels.
"Manticore, they call it," he says with a small smile. "Heard of it?"
"Can't say I have," she snaps. "About the Steelheads—maybe I could help you take them down…"
"Manticore is into some pretty high tech stuff," Logan continues, ignoring here. "Genetic engineering and such."
"Fascinating," Max snaps. "Do you have a point?"
"Actually, I have a question," Logan says calmly. "Tell me, Max, do you have a bar code on the back of your neck?"
It catches her completely off guard, but outwardly, she stays completely still. She considers denying it, but only for a moment—he already knows or he wouldn't have confronted her. "Yes," she says coolly, then echoes his statement from earlier, "but then you already know that, don't you?"
Logan grins; this time, not just half-way. "Would I have asked if I'd known?"
"You've known all along," Max says, considering retreat, and completely unnerved—maybe for the first time in her life. At Manticore she has no control, it's all Lydecker's, but she's used to that. Outside, though, she's always been the one calling the shots—always held the power over the marks. "How?"
He shrugs like it isn't something so top-secret that just knowing the word Manticore was enough to get him killed. "Source asked me for a favor awhile back," he says. "To find one of the kids that escaped back in '09. I did, and she looked just like you."
"We've never met," Max denies instantly.
"I did pick up on that," he says slyly. "I was confused at first but played along, and then I remembered something else my source said, about how sometimes these kids were 'twinned.'"
"Good memory," Max snaps.
Logan gives another sly grin. "Thanks," he says, despite her obvious lack of sincerity. "So the question is, Max, what is it you're really after? I'm guessing you're not really afraid the Steelheads are coming to kill you."
"It's a cruel world," Max says, grinning sweetly, trying to keep from getting off balance again. "I'm just trying to stay alive, get a paycheck—just like everyone else."
"See, I don't believe that, either," Logan says and gets to his feet. He grabs his jacket and looks down at her for a moment. "I'll probably be here tomorrow night," he says. "Maybe then you'll feel like talking."
She lets him leave, realizing she can only damage her cover further by following him now and pulls out her cell phone.
An emotionless voice snaps at her before she can speak. "How is it proceeding?"
"He knows who I really am," she says without preamble.
"How the hell did that happen, 452?" Lydecker snaps, sounding honestly anxious. A couple of years ago, she might have wasted time wondering if he was actually worried about her.
"He's smart," she snaps defensively. "Apparently he's met my clone and he figured it out pretty quick. If I'd lied, this would be over before it starts. This might work in our favor, anyway. If he thinks I want his help, if he thinks I escaped, maybe he'll start to trust me."
"Then you want to continue with the mission?" he asks.
"The method's changed," she says, "that's all. I can still pull this off."
"Fine, I don't care how you do it—just find Eyes Only," Lydecker snaps, "and then kill them both."