After exiting the plane and finding ourselves in whipping wind, James and I split from Case and Max to pick up our vehicles. We all agreed to meet up in front of the airport so we could then head out together and not leave anybody behind.
James and I waited in line for an excruciatingly long time to retrieve my motorcycle from the endless amount of clustered cargo, we figured it was for the best so that Case and Max could get a rental car from the place next door. I smartly kept my distance from James so that if he was planning to pull out a taser on me, I would be ready to smack him upside the head.
James stood next to me with his arms crossed as an airport official wheeled out my bike, eyeing it carefully. I watched him inspecting the bike, and slowly, he turned to face me; I was the first to look away, though. "Can that thing handle snow?" he asked me, waving a scarred hand in the direction of Ninja.
"Dunno," I replied, crouching down and checking my precious baby over for any signs of damage. "I've ridden it through the sands of California, so I wouldn't see why it won't handle snow."
"Snow's a little bit different than sand. Melts, which ruins the gears."
"Very true, but I trust this bike, so we should be ok." Pausing, I glanced up from my stooped position to James. "You going to be warm enough?" He was, after all, only wearing a thin satin shirt and a pair of fluttery pants, while I wore a heavy jacket, shirt, and blue jeans.
"I'll be fine." His voice was colder than the snow outside, but I could sense that he was incredibly uncomfortable in the situation that we played in.
"Well then, let's head out to find Case and Max so that we can get a move on." Shuddering as I stood up to my full height, I added, with the horrific truth of our predicament, "I don't want to be at Manticore any longer than I need to be."
We found Case and Max waiting for us in a sleek black Mitsubishi SUV, which looked eager to handle the ferocious snow that had fallen. "Ready?" Case asked, rolling down his window.
"Ready as I'll ever be," I replied, handing my helmet to James so that he would at least be safe in case of an accident. After all, Case could drive the bike if I was injured, James, though, was the only one with the map to Manticore. And, with spinning and abominably screeching wheels, the four of us headed off to save our family.
James took me down swooping back-roads that caused my motorcycle to scream in pain, and Case to shift into four-wheel drive with the car as the white thick ice built around our axles, only to be melted off soon enough. I managed to jump some of the drifts that had formed against the gravel roads, but Case simply gunned the engine and plowed right through. Personally, I was afraid that the car would get stuck, leaving the four us on my bike, which would result in a very tight squeeze. And, as much as I loved my Manticore family-Case and Max-sharing my motorcycle was not a thing I intended to do. Still, somehow, Case managed to go right through the snow like it was nothing but regular air.
Finally, James told me to turn down a narrow trail and cut the engine. Case, who was behind me, did the same. I left the motorcycle in some hidden trees, while Case and Max clambered out of the vehicle, both shivering in the freezing ice. Slowly, the four of us-James leading the way-pushed through the dead foliage, until we reached a peaked clearing where I saw the monstrous building. Our breath fell out onto the ground in huge puddles of condensation, and my skin had prickled to a harsh degree, with my fingers having surpassed the tingly cold sensation, which meant that they were numb. Yet, none of the frigidity mattered as we gaped at the large building. James, though, stood apart from us, hands shoved in his pockets, indifferent to the scene that laid before us. His chin was raised high as if he still felt that he had to indefinitely prove himself, and only a trickle of air came out of his nasal cavity because his lips were puckered together in distant rage.
A huge monster of a building laid before us at the bottom of the snowy hill, outlined by chain-link fence that still stood tall against the billowing snow. Separate square windows dotted the skin of the structure, some lit and some dead in the early morning hours, while thin, scraggly pine trees caught the light from the construction and vomited it onto the glistening snow on the ground. Had I not known what the true purpose of this place was, I would have found it possibly a rather serene picture of wintertime. But, knowing that people had died inside, I felt some unknown anger bubble inside me, and I knew that Dad was with me-assisting me with the mission he had trained me for all his life. His watch on my wrist read 3:45 in the morning.
For a moment, we said nothing, taking in the intensity of what was presented to us. Finally, though, James, shifting uneasily in the metallic snow spoke in a gravelly voice, "I'll take you down to the main door, say that you're student doctors who are looking into the genetic engineering field. I have my card on me, and they'll let us in, no problem."
"You sure?" I asked, turning to face him.
"As sure as I'm going to be right now, yes. Besides, our only other option is jumping over the fence which none of us-but you-have the abilities to do. The X7s will be all over us and that'll be that. You ready then, guys?"
"I believe that's a rhetorical question," Case whispered, and off we went nonetheless.
At the main door, we were greeted by a harsh looking guard who eyed us over carefully. His gun was resting comfortably across his broad arms, and I had the sensation that this man would not hesitate to kill me. "Hold on," he said, holding out a stiff hand that was covered in a black glove. "What do you want?"
Immediately, James went into the best acting performance I had ever seen. All the sadness, hatred, and just pure emotional pain was wiped away to reveal a man who was the perfected picture of professional dignity, (the guard, though, was unable to see James' ruined clothes in the pale lighting).
Quickly, James pulled out a laminated card-identification, most likely-and flashed it at the guard. "James Lydecker, sir, permission to enter requested. I have with me here, the daughter of the late Elizabeth Renfro, Caroline," he said with a gesture towards me, "who would like to see her mother's fine work, along with Dr. Chad Webster who is interested in the Manticore technology-from Fort Xavier, and Dr. Vertes' daughter as well, Madeline. They will be with me at all times, and will not disrupt any of the standing Manticore facilities or technology." He didn't even blink during the entire time, reciting his lines like a veteran actor.
The guard paused, then nodded, opening the gate to let us in. "All right, Lydecker, sir, you can go in."
For a moment, I thought that Lydecker was behind us, which panicked me, but then I realized that James was the Lydecker the guard was talking about. My stomach heaved and I clutched it, trying not to vomit into the perfected snow crystals. Nightmares had longer fingers than I preferred, and with them, they were reaching down my throat.
We entered the hollow building, and I had to squint my eyes to adjust to the harsh, artificial light that drowned the waxed floors in death and lies. I walked on the right side of James, head held high, while trying to force myself to breathe. My lungs-along with every other muscle in my body-had involuntarily cramped up due to anxiety and nervousness. I feared that if I didn't calm myself down, I would go into a terrible seizure, which was not what I needed with the true Lydecker-Donald Michael, that is-in the same building.
The hallway we were walking down was long and narrow with little space to move. A rough estimate on my part guessed the corridor to be no more than five feet across, but at least fifty long. Iron doors that reminded me of the principal's door back in high school littered the starched walls, with each door containing a single wire filled window in which shadows hid.
Just as we had gotten halfway down the hall, and my breathing had become the only noise I could hear, the old Lydecker came out of a mysterious hallway that I hadn't noticed before. Secretly, I wondered if I wasn't supposed to notice.
James froze dead in his tracks, holding out a protective arm to prevent me from moving any further, then let it cross over his chest, accompanied by his other silver appendage. Behind me, Case stood, and I could, for the first time, sense how ungodly terrified he really was. The waves of fear rolled off of him, making puddles around my knocking knees, while my own stomach oozed like strawberry jelly. Yet, I tried to focus on getting Mom and Dad out, convincing myself that that was all that mattered.
Lydecker pursed his lips and slowly began to walk towards us, hands shoved deeply into his pockets. "Hello, James," he said very blandly, and I caught Max's instinctive flinch out of the corner of my eye.
"Dad," James stated.
"I'm guessing that these aren't the colleagues you claimed them to be. Renfro? Vertes? Webster? Not quite, son."
"Where are the X5s?"
"The ones that were recently captured?" Lydecker asked, eyeing the remaining three of us over. He recognized what we were, and wanted to make sure that we knew that he knew.
"Yes. 599, 452, 734, 711, 701, and 798-"
"You sure have been doing your homework, haven't you?"
James bit down on his jaw hard enough for me to see his cheek twitch voluntarily. Then, with clenched teeth, he began, "I-"
"That's not important right now, James." Lydecker strode close enough to me that I could Mom's stupid pasty lipstick that I wanted to see more than anything. Raising my head higher, I instinctively sucked in my breath, meeting his aged eyes that no longer seemed dazed and confused. "What is important that I have finally realized what you want out of life."
"Which is what?" James asked, narrowing his eyes to dangerous dark daggers.
"The family business, of course," Lydecker sneered.
"No…" James whispered, but it came out as a narrow hiss as he blanched to a terrible shade of ghostly white.
Lydecker smiled a feral grin and began to turn his back on us. "Oh yes, dear boy, you helped me in more ways than you could possibly realize." And with one snap of his callused fingers, everything exploded.
Out of every single door that surrounded us, men suited in black uniforms collapsed down upon the three of us, while James was dragged away, screaming. Two men had him by his legs and were towing him across the floor. Smacking one in the face, he twisted out of their grasp and clambered to his feet, shoes slipping on the waxed floors, before grabbing Lydecker around the neck as if in a giant bear hug, then rolling with him to the ground. I barely had time to catch everything because the knowledge that I was fighting against the deadly X7s overwhelmed me when I caught a glimpse of a barcode, but suddenly, there was a sickening popping noise. James was abruptly on the ground, wind knocked out of him and unconscious, as a severe looking soldier stood above him.
Max was down, forced to her knees before I even had time to fully contemplate the fact that we had been ambushed. After all, she had never been one for fighting, and I could do nothing to help her for the time being. Yet, I still cried out her name-and she mine-even as the recruits slammed her body against the wall so that she would speak no more.
On the other hand, Case was fighting as best as he could, which, under the circumstances we had been placed in, was pretty good. After all, none of us had had any military training-not including Dad's lectures when I was young-and we went only by primal instinct. Nonetheless, Case was biting and punching, pushing his way through the crowd of black ants that had covered him like a piece of apple pie on a picnic day. His voice was one, long, harsh bellow over and over again. Sanity was no longer in his grasp as words-animalistic sounds of terror and pain-came to his lips, releasing with it sounds that chilled me through the bone. Case was like a dog that had just been shot in the side-alive and still conscious, but in so much pain it might as well be dead. Finally, one of the larger male soldiers clutched him by the neck and held my cousin above the ground, letting his little legs swing frantically. Slowly, as he lost air, Case's eyes rolled upward in his skull before his body was dropped to the ground like limp spaghetti noodles.
And I, Alanza, refused to give up during this entire time as I fought onward with my friends leaving me. Screaming like a suicidal maniac, I jumped over the soldiers' heads, kicking them in the face with sharp daggers of my boots. Rolling, I tumbled to the ground on my haunches, prepared to do the worst battle imaginable. Two females came at me, and just as I jumped up to get out of their way, they followed suit and pushed me to the ground, pinning my arms and legs down. I bit and clawed like a rabid animal, until more Manticorians came that I could no longer move. Unfortunately, the hallway was too small for me to get any kind of useful leverage on them, which ultimately resulted in my capture.
Finally, a smug Donald Lydecker approached me, looking down from above. "Well, you must be X10-415-"
"Never," I shot back, growling in the back of my throat.
"-and," he continued, "I would like to personally welcome you to Manticore." Suddenly, one of the X7s that reminded me faintly of a younger Mom, brought her large gun down and smashed me right between the eyes, sending me reeling. With that gesture, everything went to blackness as I heard the haunting words of Logan, for the backslide had smothered me in his feral grasp, and I could escape no longer.