Logan approaches Max so that they stand in a wicked parody of when she tried to rob his penthouse nearly a year ago. She looks at him, confused and shocked at the sight of him walking. Seeing her perplexed look, Logan smiles sheepishly, glancing down at his legs. "Courtesy of our crazy friend Phil."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"It was supposed to be a surprise for last night. An anniversary gift."

"Logan, I'm so sorry."

"You've got nothing to be sorry for or ashamed of because I know who you are."

Suddenly, Logan falls to the ground as Max gasps instinctively. His legs are madly shaking in the exoskeleton as his heels clatter over the wooden floor.

"Dammit!" he cries, embarrassed.

"It's okay."

"Sorry," he says, looking up at her, "let me just…"

The exoskeleton dies down and so do Logan's legs. Max crouches down next to him.

"I'm sorry," he says to her, hating the horrid acid that burns inside of him, knowing that she has seen him at his weakest moment.

"Logan, you've got nothing to be sorry for or ashamed of. It's never been about you being able to walk-not for me."

Logan pauses, then grins sarcastically. "Will you look at us?"



Max smiles her infectious smile. "Lucky we hooked up."

"Happy anniversary," he says to her, leaning in for a kiss. They kiss for a moment, slowly, before he pulls away, remembering what she has told him only minutes before. "Maybe, uh…maybe we should wait. You know, until you're yourself again."

Max smiles at his innocence, loving him all the more. "This isn't Manticore," she whispers, "this is me." They lean back in, continuing to kiss. Both are drowned swimmers in an unnamed ocean.

Suddenly, their thoughts are interrupted by a shark:

"Looks like I caught you at a bad time."

Max and Logan pull away from each other, while Logan grits his teeth and tries not to scream in rage. Of course, big brother had to come into the picture, had to ruin everything. Max looks more shocked than she should be to see her older brother standing in Logan's doorway.

Zack cocks his head to the side, unsure of truly what to say. His true love was just seen kissing his rival enemy. But now, there are more important matters to worry about besides whose bed Max is really sleeping in.

He knows that she'll come with him, do what he asks this time, but he is unable to control the bitter sarcasm that erupts from his throat.

"You wanna go save Tinga or did somethin' more urgent come up?"

"You know, 'Deck," Renfro says to Lydecker, "you really shouldn't break the pieces."

They are sitting across the table from one another in a small room on the A-level floor. The table is a fine oak, strong with color and rich with strength and nearly unbreakable. Lydecker, though, feels as if he could snap the entire table in half with one bare hand. He feels. He does not know for sure and will not test his hypothesis.

Saying nothing to Renfro's comment, he turns his head to the left, looking out the large window where snow covers the hills. He knows it's been too long. Too long since a success. Lydecker wonders where X5-656 went, and what kind of secrets X5-734 is keeping from him. She contains something, but will break his neck if overly provoked. Yes, she had been trained well, far too well. As he is contemplating the fact that losing Madame X, formerly known as Renfro, would also be a rather great loss, she spoke to him.

"I take it we're quitting then."

"Can't play with broken pieces," he responds and bends down to pick up the fallen ones. They had somehow found their way to the floor since the chess game started and were assumed to be lost or, better put, dead pieces.

Three pieces are on the floor. A pawn, a rook, and a bishop. All three are cleverly crafted and now Lydecker feels almost guilty that he broke a perfectly good chess set. The pawn in shaped into the image of Brin, with eyes hard and cold. She had known her role, understood that she was merely a pawn that needed a player. Her loss in the game had been swift, but regrettable. Next to her was the rook, a short little figure of Logan Cale sitting in his wheelchair as he had for a year now. He too, had been an important removal from the game, but neither player had wanted to reach down to the floor to retrieve the murdered pieces. Finally, there was the bishop. Zack. Never accepting the fact that he always would be someone else's pawn. He couldn't, nor would he. It was all part of the man that Zack strained to be.

Lydecker picks up the remaining wooden pieces on the board and begins to put them back into their slots inside of the chess game container. Renfro watches him with hawk like eyes.

"You realize that you're a dead man once you leave here. Once you turn your back on Manticore, you turn your back on life," she tells him without emotion.

Lydecker doesn't blink and carefully fits the knight-a perfect image of Max on her motorcycle-into its proper hole. The piece has only one flaw-her foot is chipped away so that just a mangled piece of wood takes its place. He has nothing to say to Renfro anyhow. The chess game was supposed to solve something. It ended up solving nothing. Asinine.

"Well?" she says, clasping her hands together as she stares at him from across the table. He's weak; it's only a matter of time before all of Manticore falls neatly in her palms. Everything will be hers eventually. Just a simple matter of time.

"Well what?" he asks, placing Tinga and Boo pieces, which were the pawns, small but powerful, of the game, into their places. He wonders briefly if he'll ever find X5-656, but that's not the main importance. The knowledge that he can trace X5-452 with that implant in her head makes his palms sweaty. She'll be his once again.

"Do you plan to stay here? Let me take control of the operation? If not, you'd better leave watching your back carefully, 'Deck."

"Do I really need to answer that?" he asks, picking up the king, which resembles him.

"Then, you'd better be watching your back."

He picks up the queen, Renfro, with the broken head cleanly snapped off. "For how long?"

"For however long it takes to kill you."

He nods, affirming her response, and pushes his chair back to rise. She beats him to it and stands up, looking down on him. If only she had some alcohol to drown him in, then, there never would be any trouble with Donald Lydecker. If only.

"You leave, your kids will become my pawns," she whispers as if someone is listening to them.

He blinks, rising to his feet so that he can be taller than she is and not have to feel overly intimidated by her. "No," he hisses, stabbing a cold finger into her shoulder where a harsh bone meets it. "My kids will never be pawns in your palms."

Arching an eyebrow, she smiles. "Oh really?"


"And, therefore, I'm supposed to assume they'll always be pawns in your palms?"

"They are pawns, whether they like to admit it or not. In fact, we all are. Someone or something has to give us a motive or reason to do something. I wouldn't be sitting here right now if I didn't want to know where X5-656 was. So, partially, she's my own pawn because she's controlling me at this minute. But, in truth, she's mine. All of them are. And there's not a damned blessed thing you can do about. It's something we have to accept. Being a pawn that is." He pauses, watching her reaction carefully. She knows better to show fear, but having been trained by the same general as Lydecker when younger, they know the secrets behind the mask.

He starts towards the door, still facing her. "I will find them all so that the game can be complete," he whispers, then turns, no longer caring if she decides to impale him with a bullet in his back.

Renfro doesn't come near him, but calls out, "I will never be one of your pawns, 'Deck!"

Walking down the hallway, Lydecker smiles, and takes out the headless queen piece from his pocket, studying it carefully. All he has to do now is find the men who live in that fake Animal Control Center van, and have them find Max. The game is afoot, Lydecker knows, but at the same point, he has to be careful what he adds to this casserole.

"Perhaps," he whispers to himself, remembering Renfro's outburst that she will never be a pawn of his, as he gently puts the part that he broke back into his pocket to be taken away. "Perhaps you already are."

The End