Disclaimer: I don't own Dark Angel and nobody has ever tried to pay for any of this.
Notes: This adventure was written for Savanahjan for the Jam Pony ficathon and takes place between Pollo Loco and I and I Am a Camera. It also borrows ideas from The Eyes Only Dossier by D.A. Stern, an excellent book which I consider to be canon. (Perhaps if I flatter the author enough, he won't sue me.)
The fading sun cast long shadows through his office window. The Wyoming air was dry and had a chilly bite to it, but at least the Gillette skies were blue and clear, unlike the city where he had started his morning, with the clouds that never seemed to lift and the heavy overcast that gave him a dull headache. He hated Seattle, and he had been sent out there far too frequently for his taste lately.
But Donald Lydecker was never one to stare out of windows or dwell on the weather.
Instead, he stared at the photographs covering his wall and dwelled on his mission. There had originally been twelve photos, twelve of his kids that had run away. Now there were nine. X5-693, Kai, had been found dead two years after the escape, leaving nothing behind but unanswered questions, and his picture had been removed from the wall. X5-147, Ali, had been located three years ago, but the guards had failed to secure her properly, and she had managed to suicide before they could bring her home, creating another empty space on the wall. X5-734, Brin, was finally back where she belonged, and she was starting to come around. It was the first success they had ever had with the Oh-niners, and her recovery had gone a long way towards saving his ass with the oversight committee. Removing her photo from the wall had been a victory, the only one so far.
Lydecker proceeded to take down the second photograph from the left, a pale boy with hazel eyes and the hint of a smile lingering on his otherwise still face. It left another empty gap in the row of pictures, but there was no reason to leave it up; the manhunt for 493 was over.
The colonel felt some remorse at the loss. Ben would have been fine once Lydecker had gotten him back into the fold, retrained him and redirected all that anger he had pent up at an appropriate target. Just because the boy had a taste for wet work didn't make him a failure. Sure, young Ben was a bit confused, but coming back home would have straightened him out, Lydecker was sure of it. He just needed discipline.
He had made one hell of a mess out there though.
Bodies with bar codes tattooed to the backs of their necks and all their teeth ripped out weren't the easiest things to cover up. Anything that bizarre was bound to generate a lot of attention, and it didn't help that the priest Ben had taken and marked up had managed to make it back to his church. The surviving abductee should have been eliminated before he could talk to anyone about what happened, but there was a news crew on the way by the time they learned of his survival. Lydecker couldn't even have him brought in for questioning because of all the damn media attention his return to safety had garnered. The only thing Manticore could do with this high-profile disaster was walk away and hope nobody ever put the pieces together.
And that was a shame, because they needed to know where they went wrong, to find out if 493's instability was just an anomaly or a genetic defect that might eventually affect all of the X-series. There was no way to ask Ben. The murderer -or murderess, Lydecker amended, he had a pretty clear idea who did it- had disappeared into the woods without a trace, leaving nothing behind but 493's still-warm corpse.
He looked at the third photograph from the left, a girl with large, dark brown eyes. X5-452, Max, had apparently remained in Seattle.
A metallic voice beeped through his intercom, interrupting his thoughts. "Sir, the director is on the line. She says she would like to have a word with you."
"I bet she would," Lydecker muttered. He had been anticipating this call since they found the body that morning. He spoke more distinctly as he conveyed orders to the clerk through the intercom. "Put her through. And make sure 493's body is on the way to the lab. They'll want to get to work on it tonight." He steadied himself with a deep breath before he picked up the phone.
"Lydecker," he barked into the phone, hoping to throw her off with his abruptness. It never worked, but he always tried anyway.
"Welcome home, Deck. Did you have a nice trip?" Renfro's silky voice floated back at him.
"Very productive. We made some good headway out there," he answered with confidence.
"Yeah, I saw your headway coming back in the bodybag, but you know that doesn't really bother me. On the other hand, I also saw some priest giving an interview on the local Seattle news, and that does bother me, Deck. It bothers me a lot. Part of your job is to clean up after these kids, remember?"
"There was too much exposure by the time we secured the situation. Disposing of the witness was impossible; pulling out was the only sensible option," Lydecker assured her.
"You think any of this mess is sensible? The local news, for God's sake! This is a nightmare. The boys upstairs are already buzzing about how poorly this X5-493 situation has been handled, and let me tell you, Deck..."
Lydecker took a deep, meditative breath while he endured Renfro's tirade. That stupid bitch never understood his vision or the fine art of honing the perfect soldier; she only cared about the bottom line. Sure, this operation was sloppier than he would have liked, but Renfro wasn't considering the big picture, as usual. Still, she held sway over the committee, so Lydecker knew he had to be careful with her.
"…And don't count on me to cover your ass with Oversight if this thing gets any worse," Renfro finally concluded.
Lydecker solemnly assured her that he would never presume to count on her for that. "Seattle wasn't a complete failure,' he informed her. "We picked up some new information about 452. She has a weakness, one we can exploit."
Max was back on the grid. She had ignored all her careful training and formed attachments, and even the best soldier in the world can't help but make mistakes once she makes herself vulnerable that way. She had stayed in Seattle too long, allowing Lydecker to discover her relationship to that pain in the ass cyberjournalist who had the audacity to demand a meeting and threaten him. Eyes Only. He had called 493 Ben. Only a few people knew that name, he and Max must be close. Her boyfriend? Maybe even her husband? Lydecker couldn't help but shake his head at that; he had always thought Max was the strongest of the group. What was she thinking?
He would have to be eliminated, he knew too much, but Lydecker was sure he would also know how to find 452. All they had to do was trace Eyes Only, and he would lead them straight to Max. Something good had come out of this whole Ben fiasco after all, and Donald Lydecker was always good at turning lemons into lemonade.
Logan Cale sat at his computer, ignoring the herbal tea that his physical therapist had left at his elbow. The tea had grown cold long ago, and it was possible that Logan was never totally aware of its existence in the first place because he was too busy focusing on the strange messages that were coming across the informant net.
It started with "Bob", a low level informant who lived on the shady side of life. Logan paid him to run errands for Eyes Only since he could get into places a more respectable citizen couldn't. He had gone missing a day ago. Logan hadn't worried about it much. Bob didn't have a family or a job to be accountable to, and he had a tendency to drink more than was good for him. This wasn't the first time he has disappeared for a long bender.
Then rumors began floating around that Bob had been nabbed coming out of a bar last night. They were shaky rumors; nobody got a good look and they couldn't swear he hadn't just gotten into a friend's car, but Logan figured he should look into it, just in case the guy was in trouble. He owed it to his informants to look out for them, after all.
Over the last few hours, things had started to get suspicious. There was a message on the net from a woman who worked as a secretary at City Hall. Occasionally, she would liberate files for Eyes Only, and she managed to pass along tales of corruption whenever they crossed her desk. She had typed a short message on the net a few hours ago, saying that there was someone lingering outside of her home. Scared to go in, she had retreated to a nearby coffee house and gotten a message to Eyes Only. Logan had told her to remain in public places and he called in a favor to have a friend go take care of her and take her to a safe hotel. Logan would have chalked it up to a burglary or some other random crime, if Bob's last errand hadn't been to bring her a file from Eyes Only.
Logan had spent the last two hours looking for a connection.
His telephone rang near his elbow, just past the cold, forgotten cup of tea which nearly got knocked over as he reached out to answer, "Yeah?"
"Hey, it's me." Logan recognized "Carlos", another Eyes Only man, one smart enough not to say his name over the telephone. Carlos often worked with Bob, but he did it because he believed in the cause, and he was one of Logan's more dependable sources. "Man, there are these black SUVs following me all over the place. You gotta tell Eyes Only." And the call was disconnected before Logan could ask for more information.
What the hell was going on?
That night at Crash the music blared, the beer slopped over the edge of the pitcher, and three women sat at a table by the bar, commiserating the end of a great love affair.
"…and so he ended up going back to his wife," Kendra concluded.
"Well, Original Cindy for one is relieved. The idea of you knockin' boots with that pasty-faced Butterball turkey gave me the heebie-geebies. Why you wasted your time and lovin' on that one is beyond this girl's comprehension."
"You're better off without him," Max agreed.
"I could have sworn Walter was the real deal," Kendra lamented, heaving a gusty sigh. "You're so lucky, Max, you found a good guy like Logan who'll stick with you thick and thin and doesn't have a wife to go back to."
"Logan and me aren't like that" Max quietly reminded them.
"So blind," Kendra shook her head in pity for her friend's naivety. You don't even appreciate that you've got Mr. Right out there waiting for you. Why can't I find a guy like that?"
"Kendra, what you need to do is hook up with a Mr. Right Now and you'll forget all about that loser Walter," Max promised.
"Unless you're finally ready to switch teams," amended Original Cindy, "in which case I can hook you up with some fine sisters who I guarantee won't be going back to no wives."
"You know, a night of friendly, rebound sex doesn't sound half bad right now," Kendra said, let her eyes roam around the bar. They settled on a tall man with a broad back and sandy blond hair who was leaning against the bar and checking them out while he drank his beer. "He'll do. Catch you guys later," she said, smiling broadly at Mr. Right Now as she approached the bar.
"She'll be okay," Max said to Cindy as they watched Kendra lean closer to Mr. Right Now, batting her eyelashes and closing the deal. Max's pager sounded and she fished it out of her bag, checking the number.
"That Mr. Right with another booty call?" questioned Cindy, smirking because she already knew the answer.
"It's Mr. You-Don't-Know-What-You're-Talking-About-And-Mind-Your-Own-Business," Max loftily informed her, "and I've gotta blaze. You gonna be okay here by yourself?"
"Don't worry about me, boo. Original Cindy's just gonna enjoy the floorshow," she said with a nod towards the bar, where Kendra had already made her way onto Mr. Right Now's lap and was whispering suggestively in his ear.
"You rang, Oh My Master?" Max called out, letting herself into Logan's apartment and searching for him. "So here's the latest on Kendra's love life: Creepy Walter went back to his wife, and right now she's…"
Max stopped when she saw Logan at his desk, talking on the phone and signaling her to wait. Without much effort, she overheard the other half of the conversation.
"A couple of cells got hacked already," said the low voice on the other end of the line. "I shut them down. Think we need to go silent?"
"Not sure yet," Logan answered. "Tell everybody to stick to landlines, they're harder to break. Or use disposables. No names, no locations. Pass that on to everyone, I'll tell Eyes Only."
After hanging up, Logan turned his attention towards Max. "Hey, thanks for coming. I need you to do some recon for me." He proceeded to tell her about the missing informant and the contacts who had been followed. "And my contact at the phone company just told me that a couple of lines were traced, people who're tied to my informants. He cut the trace, but he couldn't figure out where they were originating from."
"So, what?" Max asked. "You thing somebody turned?"
"Honestly, I have no idea," Logan confessed. "Could be…but it just doesn't add up. If somebody sold out, it wouldn't be branching out this far. I'm worried that somebody on the outside is paying attention to Eyes Only's operation, but I can't figure out who."
"But you'll be okay, right? This won't come back to you?" Max asked, worried but trying not to show it.
"I'm sure I'll be fine," Logan assured her with a smile. "But it's nice to know that you care so much."
"Hey, I just need to know if I need to schedule time off from work to save your ass again this week," Max responded with a sneer. She wasn't about to let him get away with accusing her of caring.
Before Logan could issue a comeback, his phone rang again. He held up one finger to let Max know that they would continue the verbal sparring when he was finished with his phone call and answered.
"Hey, it's Goodsinger," came the quiet voice across the phone line. "I need you to get a message to Eyes Only."
"What's going on?" Logan asked, unconsciously lowering his voice to match Matt Sung's whisper. Informants had obviously gotten word on the possible security leak and were using their codenames as an added precaution.
"There are agents all over the Chief's office. I think they might be FBI, but I can't tell. They want everything the department has ever collected on Eyes Only."
"Well, that's not much," Logan reminded him. Local police has never managed to penetrate far into the defenses that Logan set up when he started the Informant Net.
"Maybe," Matt agreed, 'but these guys mean business. They're taking over department resources, and they're getting a blanket warrant to tap phone lines. It looks like they've got the authority to do whatever the hell they want. Eyes Only must have really pissed someone off this time."
"Yeah, he does that a lot," Logan agreed. "But maybe we can narrow it down. Do you know the name of the agent who's heading the investigation?"
"Yeah, some guy called Donald Lydecker…Hey, you still there?" Matt asked, because the line had gone quiet.
To be continued…