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Chapter 52: Leave the Pieces

Sector Six

Fallon regarded Zane with a hint of reluctant respect in her brown eyes as he stripped the pistol he'd taken from Abe and pocketed the magazine, casting the pieces of the weapon aside so that they clattered onto the floor. She quirked an eyebrow, evaluating what she'd just seen. 09er or not, Zane had a valid point about his skills. He'd killed Jess and, despite his injuries, had taken Abe down faster than she liked.

It wouldn't be the first time she'd put a stay on someone's execution if she found a purpose for them. She hadn't gotten to where she was by going off half-cocked. That was how Cain had gotten himself killed.

"Vance," she said steadily. "You and the boys take him out back. In one piece."

The hulking X5 shot Zane a disgruntled look but didn't argue. She knew what he was thinking. He'd been looking forward to the opportunity to put a bullet into Max and being delayed didn't sit well with him.

Zane cautiously backed off of Abe, letting the transhuman get to his feet, and allowed the troupe of other X-soldiers to escort him away.

"What are you thinking?" Abe asked, scowling as he rubbed at his throat. "You should have put him down."

"Noted," Fallon said briskly, staring the transhuman down as Boyd's phone chirped. He glanced at the screen and strode away to take the call, leaving Fallon with Abe.

"You can't trust him," Abe persisted.

"Who said anything about trust?" Fallon replied with a roll of her eyes. "He didn't keep up his end of the bargain. I'm not about to forget that. But in the meantime, I'll take any leverage I can get."

"Sari?" Boyd held the phone to his ear once he was a sufficient distance away that he couldn't be overheard, his mate's voice calming him like nothing else could.

"Don't 'Sari' me, you son of a bitch," she said scathingly. "Did Fallon order Jess' death?"

Boyd opened his mouth but nothing came out, which the blonde accurately interpreted as a confirmation.

"She wasn't supposed to be killing people, Boyd!" Sari snapped, her tone making him flinch. She never shouted. Not ever. "You listen to me. You get out now or you don't come home. Understand? I've had it with this shit. I will take Kyp and I will leave, got it?"

Boyd froze as the ultimatum sank in. "Sari, don't you dare! You're not going anywhere and you're not taking our son away from me!"

"Watch me," Sari shot back. "This isn't a campaign for command. It's a bloodbath. Max had to disavow Zane and now Alec's gunning for him. Do you have any idea of the shit-storm we just got dumped in?"

"It's complicated."

"I'm sure it is. Goodbye."

"Sari, wait –" Dial tone greeted him and a chill snaked its way down his spine. "Fuck! Sari!"

"I thought you would've wanted his head blown off," Vance said curiously when he returned. "He disobeyed you."

"Oh, I do," Fallon assured him, "but for now he's useful."

"How's that? He's banged up and he's still protecting his sister. Sounds like he's still got one foot on the other side of the line to me."

"So?" Fallon shrugged. "Think about it. One of Max's precious 09er siblings turns on her and allies himself with us instead. How does that look to everyone under her command? If she can't control her own brother, can she really be trusted to lead?"

Abe smiled in understanding. "Undermining her command without lifting a finger. Not bad."

"It's all about PR, boys," she advised them as Boyd returned, looking grimmer than ever.

"That was Sari," he informed her. "Looks like Max just changed the locks on your boy Zane."

Making a few quick revisions, Fallon nodded slowly. After all, there was no reason she couldn't use Zane and kill him afterwards. She examined Boyd's expression and quickly surmised the source of his obvious tension.

"I take it your girl doesn't approve of my methods."

"She just threatened to take Kyp."

"Sounds like she needs an attitude adjustment," Fallon replied, meeting Boyd's eyes. "Set her straight." The X5 male didn't miss the inherent threat in her words and he backed up fast, his phone already in his hand.

"You're in a weird mood, Boss."

"I don't need Boyd anymore anyway," Fallon shrugged. "He did what I wanted him to do. This is working out better than I could have planned for."

"So Zane's your new Trojan Horse?" Abe grunted. "Sounds risky to me."

"Maybe but that's not all," she said smugly. "I think it's time the rest of or transgenic brethren found out what happened to Brax… and that he wasn't entirely responsible for all those oh-so-tragic deaths."

Abe shook his head in admiration. "You're evil, you know that?"

"Leak the word on Brax," Fallon commanded with relish, "and loose the hounds."

Sector Three, a Short Time Later…

Alec didn't speak a word to anyone when he finally walked back into the safehouse.

Numb. That was pretty much the only word that covered how he felt. It was like his connection to the world had been snapped and he was watching everything from a distance; like it was a television show he couldn't get into.

One of the simian transhumans pointed him in the right direction and Alec nodded, ignoring the stares directed at him. He buried his grief, walling it up with every other nightmare-worthy experience he'd ever had, and moved towards the room Max had retreated to.

He kept telling himself that she'd lost just as much as he had. She'd lost her brother… but it wasn't the same. Zane was still alive. His body wasn't left to rot in a Seattle back alley. The thought of it made his lungs hurt as he breathed but none of it reached his expression.

You're a CO. Act like it. The mantra repeated over and over in his head, the only thing keeping him from throwing caution to the wind and hunting down Zane like that goddamn dog that trailed around with him.

Repression; a skill for life. He turned to knob and stepped into the room his mate had retreated to. Se didn't even look up at him, knowing exactly who was intruding.

"I disavowed Zane," she said flatly, no hint of her feelings on the subject coloring her tone. "They all know he's a traitor."

Alec studied the tense set of her shoulders, the taut way she moved about her makeshift office, flipping through files and security reports.

"Kestrel took some people to check out the crime scene." She was speaking mechanically, shutting down the emotional core like she did every time someone or something wounded her. It was a reflex; something all the Manticore alumni were adept at.

"I shouldn't have yelled at you."

The admission was quiet and she heard the emotion behind it. He was apologizing. Again. For the last week it seemed that all they did was fight and make up and she was sick of it. He was hurting. He'd just lost someone he loved – yet another in a long line – and he'd reacted badly. She couldn't fault him for that. She'd have probably taken his head off too if their positions were reversed. She'd probably have punctuated the shouting with a few punches, come to think of it.

Max hadn't really liked Jess. That had never been a secret. But she hadn't wished the girl dead.

The knowledge that Zane was responsible weighed heavily on her slender shoulders. She didn't understand what had happened. He'd been so laid-back, so easygoing when he'd first arrived. She couldn't fathom what had changed him; what had triggered the emergence of the ruthless soldier that had swallowed up the brother she'd loved. All he'd wanted was to find Zack – a wish she couldn't grant him.

The fact that Jess had walked around with Eva's face wasn't enough. He hadn't had a problem with Alec. But there had been no reason for Zane to target Jess the way he did. Like Alec, she'd spent the last decade under Manticorean control.

Nothing added up.

"Forget it," she said, softening her tone a little. She still didn't look at him. She was lost and angry. She felt betrayed and vulnerable and a host of other things she didn't want to think about. Worse, she felt like she was being disloyal to him and she raged against it. There was a part of her that wanted to hold him and never let go, to comfort and be comforted, but at the same time there was another Max screaming to get out – one that wanted to track Zane down and beg him to explain what had driven him to do it. That Max couldn't look Alec in the eye.

Alec stepped closer and Max went completely still, half-afraid that he'd try to touch her. She didn't know what she'd do if he did. Would she break down? Would she unleash all the fury of her temper on him? Would she run?

In the end, he kept his hands to himself.

"Where's Deck?"

It didn't take long to locate the former Colonel, who had been put to work with the security team, the idea being that he could see what was going on and advise while being closely monitored at the same time. Alec locked eyes with the unit's officer-in-charge and they immediately cleared the room, closing the door behind them.

"You knew, didn't you?" Alec stated coldly, watching Lydecker with glacial hazel eyes. "You knew Brax didn't slaughter those people."

Lydecker nodded, his gaze never leaving the transgenic. "I knew," he confirmed. "The wardogs have a distinctive kill pattern. Brax's was similar, which is only natural given his mental state, but there were sufficient differences to set the Gossamer's victims apart from the X6 and X4."

"Their names were Lenny and Hyde," Alec corrected him icily, his tone brooking no argument. "Why did you insist on killing him when you knew?"

"It was necessary," Lydecker replied, as unruffled as ever. "Regardless of the fact that he didn't kill as many people as you thought he did, the fact remains that he did kill. He killed every Familiar in his path to escape the base. He killed two of your people – Lenny and Hyde. The number of victims doesn't change the simple fact that he was irretrievable."

"You couldn't know that!" Alec shot back.

"I do know that," Lydecker said simply. "Brax wasn't the first X-series soldier to break, whether it was from training or torture. The entire X2 class had to be put down with only four exceptions and all attempts to reverse their condition failed. Whether you want to accept the reality of the situation or not, Brax was too dangerous to be kept alive. You don't have the facilities or available manpower to safely contain something like him."

"We could have found a way," Alec insisted angrily.

"I taught you better than to let emotion rule your thought-processes," Lydecker admonished him. "It's done and it can't be changed. Now move on and focus on your immediate situation, soldier… before you lose any more people than you already have."

"Max, what the hell's going on?" Krit demanded, his brown eyes – so like her own – darkening with anxiety as he strode into the room scant minutes after Alec left in search of their former commander. "Cody said Zane's gone off the reservation, that he turned traitor. What the fuck happened? Where is he?"

Max turned to face her brother and pursed her lips before she spoke.

"Zane killed Jess."

The words were stark and stopped Krit dead in his tracks.

"He did what?" Krit echoed, confusion flashing across his face. "That's crazy –"

"It's true," Max said stiffly, folding her arms across her chest. "Hoverdrone caught him."

Krit's arguments died before he could speak them. He stared down at her, disbelief coloring his expression. Max just gazed at him, swallowing hard as she watch the knowledge seep into his bones. He shook his head.

"No way," he denied, shaking his head. "Not after Syl. He wouldn't jeopardize –"

"Well, he did," Max cut him off in a flash of temper. "You don't believe me, watch the goddamn tape." She gestured towards the data-disc sitting on her desk. Krit's dark eyes flickered over the evidence, his expression stricken.

"Where is he?" he asked again, sounding strangled.

"We don't know," Max admitted, sounding and feeling infinitely weary. "It was almost ten hours ago. He's probably long gone by now."

"Why?" Krit asked, not understanding any better than she did. "Why would he do it?"

"I don't know," she confessed, her voice hitching as she met her brother's wounded gaze. "I wish I did…"

Krit bowed his head and reached out to Max, pulling his baby sister into his arms. She didn't fight it. She just buried her head in his chest, letting his arms enfold her.

Alec ambled through the infirmary, ignoring Cody as she watched him pass, and slipped behind the curtain that shielded Rand from view. He collapsed into the worn chair, scrubbing his hands over his weary face. He ran his eyes over the prone form of his friend and sucked in a deep, ragged breath before letting it out slowly.

"Hey, pal," he said softly, unconsciously echoing the words Rand had spoken to Brax. "I need to talk to you."

The silence seemed to loom, thunderous in presence as it stretched on.

"You know, uh… I was never supposed to lead," he murmured, swallowing hard. "That was your shtick. Yours and Brax's. I followed orders. Responsibility wasn't my thing. I don't know how you two did for all those years. How do you deal with it when everything goes to hell under your command?" He paused, swallowed hard. "How do you deal with losing people?"

He gazed at Rand's ashen face.

"He killed her," Alec choked out, his voice cracking. "Zane killed Jess."

He couldn't stand that he was talking to a man who couldn't hear him.

"Wake up, damn it," Alec growled, green-gold eyes blazing as he stared at his friend. "Wake the fuck up. You're not supposed to just lie there. It's not you and I hate it. You're too stubborn for this shit. You protected Jessie for months. Hell, you took the time to figure out what goes –" He broke off, the knowledge that the present tense no longer applied crashing over him. "What went on in her head," he corrected himself. "We need you, damn it."

Alec's fists clenched and he resisted the urge to reach out and hit Rand. Something – anything – to get a reaction.

"Please wake up," Alec begged, what little composure he had deserting him.

There was no answer. Nothing except for the quiet rhythm of Rand's heartbeat.