Isabel wasn't sure how long she sat on the beach before Max found her. It was long enough for the sun to warm the sand, and long enough for the tide to retreat.
How he'd found her she didn't know. All she knew was that she was alone, and then Max was there, sitting next to her in the sand.
"How did things get so screwed up?" Isabel finally spoke, still staring at the wide, blue-gray expanse of the ocean before her. Her mind had been reeling, replaying and reliving the events of the last few weeks over and over.
"I don't know," he answered.
They sat together, both staring at the ocean, in silence. Around them the beach was coming to life. Families were arriving laden with coolers and beach chairs; kids screamed with laughter and mothers and fathers yelled with irritation.
The day would be hot, Isabel thought with irritation. Already beads of sweat were popping up on the back of her neck.
"What are we going to do, Max?" Isabel asked finally. Hoping her brother, their leader, would suddenly and magically have all the answers.
When there was no response, Isabel tore her eyes from the great sea before her and looked at her brother. She wasn't expecting what she saw.
Max was crying. Isabel, not saying a word, reached out and embraced her brother. Ignoring the people around them, the brother and sister held each other and cried with each other. Apparently, each was as lost and confused as the other.
In time they calmed down and Isabel learned what was upsetting Max. He and Liz had argued over children. Max wanted them; Liz did not. Not because she didn't like kids, or even because she didn't want them in general; she didn't want them with Max. Her reason being it was possible their children would be "different". This revelation had hurt Max deeply, and he and Liz hadn't resolved the issue since it was first discussed in the days Isabel was gone to Boston.
Isabel, understanding Liz's feelings, thought it quite rude and inconsiderate of her sister-in-law to impose such a rule. Max couldn't change who he was; and after having to give away one baby for his own safety, he was very intent on eventually filling some of that hole in his heart with other children. Isabel had to wonder if Liz had thought through what it meant when she'd married Max; if she knew then that she wasn't sure she wanted children with him.
Isabel then confessed to Max all that had happened in Boston, they'd not had the chance yet to talk about anything, Isabel having been thrust back into the "alien mess" with Kyle's transformation…
Kyle. Isabel kept what happened between them to herself. There was no use in creating more relationship drama for Max to worry about.
The beach was nearly packed when Isabel and Max decided to head back to her friend's apartment, their "safe house". Max called ahead and learned that Kyle had returned, and was nearly like his old self again, his newly triggered powers no longer causing problems. When Isabel asked Max what those powers had been, he told her it had been much like what Liz had experienced. Whenever Kyle was angry or his emotions flared up, things tended to melt, or even start on fire. Isabel tried to recall if she saw any damage in his hotel room and couldn't. Part of her was glad his anger and emotional well-being were back in check, but she was now more nervous then before to see him again. She still wasn't sure of her feelings towards him.
Walking back to the nearly full parking lot, Isabel noticed a man in sunglasses on a cell phone hovering two cars down from where she'd parked.
Stopping, Isabel watched as the man slowly scanned the crowd, back and forth, back and forth.
"What is it?" Max asked after a few seconds of standing still.
Isabel just pointed, and Max followed her direction. She felt him stiffen next to her. Still they stood there, frozen like deer in headlights.
The man hadn't seen them yet, likely because of the beach volleyball courts set up on the upper sections of the beach. There were three games being played in the sand between them and the parking lot.
"Let's go," Max whispered, tugging Isabel's arm back into the beach crowd. She let him pull her as she thought back to trip to Boston. Did I mess up? She thought, Did I lead them right to us?
Once near the breaking tide, Max and Isabel ran up the beach. There was no time for discussion. They knew they had to get as far from that parking lot as possible.
They neared the end of the public beach. A giant pier jutted out ahead of them. There were fewer people down here, and the beach was narrower and rockier.
"Here," Isabel called out, seeing a restaurant with a large parking lot full of cars. She turned and heard Max coming up behind her.
There were nearly 30 cars in the lot, and Isabel headed towards the Cherry red Camero that had caught her attention from the beach. Taking a quick sweep of the parking lot and seeing no one in sight, she softly touched the car, disabling the alarm and changing its paint job to basic black.
Max climbed in the drivers seat and with a slight touch of the hand the car started right up and they were off.
"We need to go back," Isabel panted, trying to catch her breath.
"We are going back," Max said, turning towards the direction of the safe-house.
"No Max, back to the beach," Isabel said, her breathing regaining a more normal rhythm.
"What? Why?" Max looked at her like she was crazy and continued down the road towards the freeway that would take them back to Meg and Jesse's apartment.
"We need to know, Max! We need to know who we're dealing with, how many there are, and what they know!" Isabel's voice rose with each word. "This is our chance! We saw him, but he didn't see us. We have the advantage!"
"And what if they already know about the safe-house?" She added. Max veered hard left and pulled over on the shoulder of the road.
"Fine. What do you propose?" Max asked, his hands tightly gripping the steering wheel, knuckles white.
"We go back and follow him. He'll lead us right to their base of operations. We can eliminate them all, take back our lives," Isabel suddenly felt her blood run cold. She'd never in her life suggested they do what she was saying they do. They'd defended themselves in the past, and people had died, but never had they sought them out; the prey becoming the predator.
"We need help," Max finally said.
"No," Isabel was adamant. "We can do it ourselves. We can go this alone. We shouldn't contact the others again in case our location was compromised," Isabel was frantic with the fear of possibly having led the Special Unit to their location; visions of Michael, Maria, Liz and Kyle tied up and drugged, being cut into and tortured as Max had been in the white room, swam before her eyes. She would not let that happen, and she would die rescuing her friends if they were, indeed, captured.
Max sat silently while Isabel tried to remain calm.
"Fine, we'll do this your way," he finally said, swinging the car around at incredible speed, leaving a long, black skid mark through four lanes of the highway.
They had pulled off across the road from the main parking area of the beach. The man was still in the lot, only now he was right next to the car Isabel had been using and as they watched, he pulled out a slim-jim and broke into the vehicle. Isabel watched the man get in and rummage through the glove box (emptied yesterday when Isabel had stolen the car). They saw him jump out of the vehicle and slam the door shut. He pulled out his cell phone and began gesturing wildly as he walked quickly towards a long, black car with heavily tinted windows. Isabel shook her head. You'd think they'd be less obvious, she thought with a brief moment's amusement.
The man pulled out of the parking lot and turned south. Max waited for a few cars to pass, then he followed. They didn't have to go far. Not quite three miles down the road the car pulled off into a run down neighborhood, then disappeared up a narrow alley. Max pulled their stolen Camero off the road and they pursued the other car on foot.
About 100 yards down the alley there was a door. This door looked different then all the other doors that opened to the same alley. This door was compact steel and had reinforcements around the doorjamb. All the other doors were rotted out wood.
The car was no where to be seen. Isabel assumed it had turned into an adjoining alley. She pulled Max back down the alley towards the street where their car was parked, and they ducked behind a dumpster just moments before the man who they'd followed reappeared further down the alley. He walked purposefully towards the door, and didn't even glance down the alley towards where Isabel and Max were watching as he disappeared through the door.
Max and Isabel ran towards the slowly closing door, reaching it just before the clasp locked it once again to the outside world. They stood and listened for any signs of movement beyond the door, and all they heard were the fading footsteps of the man they were following.
Taking a deep breath, Max slowly opened the door enough that he could slip through, and Isabel followed him, silently shutting the door behind her. They were in what looked like a storeroom. There were stock shelves on three of the walls, and save for a bottle of bleach that looked like it'd been there since 1980, the shelves were empty.
Max crept towards the end of the room where a swinging door with a square window panel was still slightly swinging from the man who'd just passed through. Max looked through the window, then gestured for Isabel to do the same.
Through the door was what looked like an abandoned restaurant. Isabel could see part of a kitchen to the left, and what had likely been the main dining area straight ahead. In that dining area were three men. One was tied to a chair with his back to Isabel, and the other two men were standing behind him, talking and gesturing. Isabel could make out their profiles and recognized the one doing most of the talking as the one they'd followed from the beach.
"What do you think," Isabel asked as they moved back towards the rear door, ready to make a fast escape if necessary.
"I think we want to know who the man tied up is, what the other men are doing with him, and what it all has to do with us," Max said in a low voice.
"Do we rush in there now? Should we wait and see if they try to move him?" Isabel was suddenly afraid. It had been a while since they'd done anything like this, and Isabel had been lulled into a false sense of complacency.
"If we rush in there there's a good chance those men will be killed," Isabel shuddered at the cold tone of Max's voice, and at the implications of what he was saying.
"If we wait, it might be awhile," he added.
"We have to go now," Isabel replied, making the decision for them. Max looked at her and a silent agreement passed between them.
This was war, it said. It was kill or be killed.
So they killed, and then they ran.
The scene seemed to play out like one from a movie. Isabel and Max rushed into the room and the two men, slow to react, just turned and looked at them stupidly. It was all the time they needed as Max reached out his hand and the men flew back against the front wall, slumping to the ground after making contact.
The man sitting in the chair was trying to turn around, wildly grunting through the gag over his mouth.
Isabel moved in what felt like slow motion towards the man, as Max stood over the other two men that were either unconscious or dead on the floor. Isabel decided she didn't want to know which was the case.
She removed the gag and the man immediately starting talking; what he said got both Max and Isabel's attention.
It was sunset. The sky was a particularly beautiful red, orange and yellow. Isabel looked out once more through the small section of window they'd cleared for their lookout. The street in front of them was still deserted.
They were holed up in a run down theatre. After they'd run from the abandoned restaurant, they'd found the car had been stolen from them so they were forced to move on foot. They made it three blocks when Isabel noticed the boarded up movie theatre. And it was there that they stopped to regroup and formulate a plan.
For plans had to be made. Logistics had to be worked out. Tomorrow they would move on the Special Unit because now they knew where they were working from.
James, the man they'd been seeking, had told them.