For title, author, rating, spoilers, summary, disclaimer, etc., see Chapter 1- Viaje del Camino.


After Max left, Logan sat down at his computer to clear his mind. He had promised Asha that he'd hack into some government files, erase a couple of criminal records as a favour to the S1W, and he'd already left it too long. But suddenly, before he could get very deeply into the system, the police scanner sitting idle on his computer registered something and started recording. Logan turned the volume up and continued with his hack.

"... 10-23 at 15th and East Madison. Homicide. Young woman, early thirties, single shot through the back of the head. Clean job; looks professional." Logan's hands slowed on his keyboard. "No witnesses," the officer continued. "ID says Alyssa McLean; run a search, please."

"Roger that," the person at the police station answered the officer. Logan sat at his computer desk, stunned. He remembered something Lydecker had once told him, and a chill traveled up his spine.

"They were designed to kill," Lydecker had said in a voice half proud and half troubled "Coldly... efficiently... and happily." Logan had listened to his words then, been frightened by them because somewhere deep down he wasn't sure they weren't true. "They're all killers. All they need is a trigger."

After a moment Logan registered that the conversation on the scanner ended, and he reached up to turn it off; a menu popped up. 'Save' and 'Delete,' were the two options offered to him. Outside, the rain made lazy rivers on his windows.

Max found Zack at the waterfront a few hours later, throwing rocks into the sea. She approached him noiselessly, but he heard her anyway and stood stiffly, waiting for her.

"Zack," she said, stopping a few metres from him; she didn't know what else to say, didn't know if she should approach him. He threw the last stone in his hand into the water, then turned and closed the distance between them. They stood there for a moment, not saying anything, but oddly the silence wasn't uncomfortable.

"Do you remember what Lydecker used to tell us, about the importance of unity?" Max looked at him. "'Being a member of a unit is being like a rock in the ocean; there are thousands of stones on the bottom of the sea, and what happens to one of them doesn't really matter. But if they work together, they can create reefs, sink boats, turn tides...'" He gazed out at the water; Max could see his breath as he spoke. "I used to think that was true."

"You don't now?" she asked; he turned to her, shook his head.

"It does matter what only one of us does, and sometimes you have to hold the well-being of just one little stone before the importance of sinking the boat." There was a short pause, then he fixed her with a meaningful look. "I'll do anything it takes to protect you, Max." He looked sorry, but she didn't know why. He glanced away, added more softly, "Even if it's hard for me to do it."

"I know." She didn't quite know why he had looked so troubled when he'd said it, or what the deeper meaning of his words were, but she touched his arm because she sensed that he needed it. "You always do what's right for us."

"I try," he said; she remembered him trying, remembered him succeeding, remembered the undying, unending love she and all the rest of her siblings had for him.

Staccato sounds assaulted Max's ears as the guards shot live ammunition at them during one of their escape-and-evade games. Max was seven years old; the machine gun felt heavy in her small hands, but natural because she had handled one almost every day for as long as she could remember. Her heart pounded in her ears as she ran along, Jondy near her, Zane a little ways behind. Zack was up ahead, with Jace and Tinga flanking them; Jack had been sent to scout the territory ahead. Eva was leading another team in a different section of the grounds, Krit the commander of a third.

Max and other others slowed amongst the foliage of the trees at a motion from Zack that said Jack had returned. The forest was dark, frightening. Max wondered if the nomlies were here and for the first time in her life was glad that Ben wasn't around.

Zack gave his little garrison a series of hand-signals, telling them that three of the ten guards pursuing them were approaching their position from about a klick up ahead. He assigned them their attack pattern, leaving Max and Jace to bring up the rear as the others got the action. Max didn't mind; being the smallest and least-experience it was only logical for her to be excluded from such an important detail. But Jace looked angry; Max touched her sister's arm sympathetically. The girl pulled away, hefting her machine-gun and following Zane's disappearing form, though they weren't supposed to move yet. Max watched her go, uncertain of what to do. After a few moments, she heard a burst of fire ring out ahead, and several more staccato shots from different locations broke the silence of the night.

Suddenly, a crow took flight from a tree nearby Max, cawing, and she took off running towards where the others had gone. She collided head-on with a body as it emerged from the bushes, causing her to fall backwards to the ground, quickly grabbing up her gun and pointing it at her attacker before her eyes registered who it was: Jondy, and she looked relieved.

"Zack sent me to find you," she said breathlessly, helping Max to her feet. "Come on." Jondy led her to a clearing about half a klick away, where Jace was standing stiffly at attention, the others staying out of the way of Zack, who was pacing back and forth in front of her, glaring. He nodded at Max when she appeared with Jondy, and the two girls joined the ranks.

"If this was a real mission you'd be court-marshaled and discharged for what you just did!" he snapped. "You let one of our enemies escape, and you got Zane shot!" He stabbed his thumb in the direction of his ten-year-old brother, who was lying on the ground in Tinga's arms, tears on his cheeks as he held his injured leg. Jace's eyes flinched slightly, but her face remained cool and calm as she stared ahead. She was nine years old.

"What do you have to say for yourself, soldier?" Zack barked at her; he got no response, and after a moment calmed himself, stopping his pacing to come and stand in front of her. "Follow the code of conduct, 798, or I'll have to report you." Jace prickled at his use of her designation rather than her name but nodded brusquely, saluted him, and walked off into the trees, her shoulders shaking with suppressed sobs. Max watched her go sadly, and Zack walked over to Zane, inspecting his injuries.

If Max had to pick a time of day when she loved Zack less than usual, it was when he was leading them in training exercises; he always took it so seriously. Zack turned into someone else on the field; it was why he was a good leader, but it was also why Jace was now crying alone in the bushes. But Zack had spoken, and even if he regretted what he'd said, he would never go back on his word. He was a great leader.

"What happened here?" Lydecker asked Zack after they'd dragged Zane back to Manticore, trading fire with the enemy soldiers a few times on the way back to the facility. One of the guards had taken Zane to the medical ward; the rest of Zack's unit were in the debriefing room, standing against the back wall.

"X5-205 was shot by the enemy, sir," Zack stated the obvious.

"How?" Lydecker asked; Zack's eyes stared unfalteringly ahead, Max and the others likewise straight and at attention.

"Tactical error on my part, sir," Zack said evenly.

"Is that so?"

"Yes, sir!" Zack called out.

"Both the other teams came in with no casualties." Lydecker's voice was suspicious, but Max saw a flicker of relief cross Zack's face at this announcement. "No one else was at fault?"

"No, sir!" Zack said loudly. Lydecker looked disappointed, and motioned for one of the guards standing nearby to show them a surveillance capture on the nearby television. They all turned their heads simultaneously to watch the tape; Max's heart sank as she saw the entire incident in the clearing play out, both the parts she had witnessed and what happened prior to Jondy fetching her. She was thankful that Zack had not called Jace by her name, since they knew instinctively that the use of names would be severely punishable in Manticore.

Throughout the video, though it had just been proven that he had been lying to Lydecker, a grave crime indeed, Zack's expression did not change. When the tape ended, the television was shut off and the children snapped their heads back to attention immediately. Lydecker walked over to Zack and stood before him.

"I thought you said it was your tactical error that led to X5-205's accident." His voice was cold; disappointed.

"Yes, sir," Zack said. "I didn't recognize that X5-798 disliked my decision in regard to her role in the operation, or that she would insist on following us into the clearing when we engaged the enemy." Max almost wasn't able to hide her smile as she heard Zack's answer, which covered up his lie perfectly. Lydecker glared at him for a moment; then he turned to Jace.

"Solitary confinement," he said. "Two days." A guard came and took Jace's arm, starting to lead her out the door. Max swallowed hard; Jace was terribly afraid of the dark, and solitary confinement would kill her, even if for only two days. Here sister's dark eyes were fear-filled as she was dragged away.

Zack took a step forward; Max's heart quickened with fear as he stepped out of line, as she sensed every one of her siblings' the same. Lydecker turned on Zack and fixed him with an angry stare.

"Get back into the ranks, soldier."

"I've dealt with the matter, sir," Zack spoke up, his voice brave.

"What did you say?" Lydecker sounded like he couldn't believe his ears.

"There's no need to put her in solitary," Zack said calmly. "I've already disciplined her."

"Get back into the ranks, soldier," Lydecker said again. "Or I'll give her a week." Zack stayed where he was.

"She's my responsibility, sir." Max's heart was racing; beside her, Jondy was shaking. She wanted to reach out and grab her sister's hand, but she didn't dare to with Lydecker standing so close.

"Back in line, 599!" he roared; Zack didn't budge. Lydecker slammed his hand against the wall behind Zack's head; a few of the children jumped, but Zack did not respond. He just kept staring straight ahead.

"My unit is my responsibility, sir," Zack said, quoting from one of the classes that Lydecker himself had taught. He looked at the man they all feared. "You can discipline me, but it's my responsibility to discipline them."

"Put him in solitary," Lydecker said, sounding disgusted and, if it was possible to be both at the same time, proud. "A month." The guard let go of Jace's arm and grabbed Zack, hauling the ten-year-old away. Then Lydecker jerked his head at the rest of the children.

"Back to the barracks," he barked. They turned simultaneously and filed out, heading to the safety of their beds, frightened at the prospect of spending even one night alone without their leader, let alone a month. Max hoped Ben wouldn't tell any stories.

"Ben said something to me once, about the Blue Lady," Max said, emerging from her reverie. "He said that she would always be there, even if we couldn't see her, that she wouldn't let anything bad happen to us, even if we felt that she had abandoned us." She looked up at him. "But now I think he wasn't talking about her at all. He was talking about you."

"How do you mean?" Zack asked; this was not a subject he often wished to discuss, but he was curious how she could draw parallels between himself and the Blue Lady. "After we made it out, for years I used to wonder why you didn't come and see me; I wasn't sure that you had gotten out, but I had a feeling that you did. You were always there for us, no matter what, weren't you? Always, even if I didn't see you?" Zack looked at her, slowly smiled.

"The first time I saw you after the escape, you were in Sheridan, almost eleven. Your hair was like a mop stuck to the top of your head, only a few inches long, but thick. I got your neighbours across the street to rent me a room, take me in because I was so young. I watched you play with your foster sister in the front yard all autumn, raking leaves and jumping in them. You looked happy. I didn't like your foster father, though. There was something off about him." Max looked away.

"Hey! You kids out here?!" he was drunk again; they could see him through the cracks in the stair floorboards, but he was too stupid to look down there for them. Max huddled with Lucy under the stairs, her head in the older girl's lap, holding her ice-cold hand. Her head itched from her hair growing in and Lucy's nightgown rubbed against it like sandpaper. After a while, he stomped away, yelling to himself about the television being broken. Max wondered why the electricity was off, not suspecting that the whole world had just changed, and that by this time tomorrow she would be long gone from that house of fear.

"Yeah," she said softly. "There was something off about him."

"I was all set to take you away from there, but then the Pulse hit and you left on your own." He smiled. "I was so proud of you." Max swallowed hard as she remembered what she didn't want to recall.

She slipped outside in the dead of night; the street was black from the Pulse, though she did not yet know what had happened, wouldn't know for many years later, when the government finally got the country's electricity working again. She took one last look at her foster father's house, thought briefly of Lucy, but fell back on her training that screamed for a tactical retreat from this strange new territory. She turned her back on the house and disappeared into the night.

"I wasn't proud of me," Max said in a grim voice; Zack started to ask her what that meant, but saw her expression and let it go.

"I was going to find out where you went, but I robbed a pharmacy for tryptophan, got caught. After that, I left the city; I didn't see you until two years later, when I found you in Idaho."

"I saw your mugshot from that arrest; Logan found it for me. I used to stare at that boy for hours when I would lose hope searching for you. You still looked the same, even though you were different."

"So did you," he said. "You all looked the same to me, every time I saw you. You got older and older, but I could still see the children I had grown up with in your faces."

"It must have been hard, watching us from a distance, not being able to tell us you were okay."

"I talked to some of them," he said. "If they were in trouble. Like Syl... I stayed with her for three years, for the same sort of situation as the one I was going to get you out of before the Pulse." Max smiled bitterly at this revelation; so, if she had withstood her foster father's abuse for a few more days, maybe she would have met Zack again when they were still children, and things could have been different between them: closer. Max's brow furrowed when she tried to imagine their relationship as closer and found she couldn't. It didn't matter, then, she supposed; he was her brother just the same, even after more than ten years, and would be even after twenty, thirty, fifty years. The thought comforted her greatly. He would always come back; she realized that now.

"I'm sorry about what I said," Zack's voice came softly; he wasn't meeting her eyes.

"It's okay," she said. "I shouldn't have lied."

"No." He shrugged. "You did what was right. You did what I would have wanted you to do. I was out of line blaming you." He gazed thoughtfully into her dark eyes for a few moments, then raised his head to the stars. A chill ran down Max's spine.

"You're leaving, aren't you?" she asked, her voice calmer than she felt. He looked at her.

"I've been gone a long time. The others will be wondering where I am." "Krit and Syl probably told them." She wanted him to stay.

"Max, they don't know where any of the others are." He smiled at her. "Did you think you were special?" There was a short pause, and then he spoke again. "They need me, Max."

"I know." She sighed. "Will you be okay?"

"I still have some things I need to figure out, piece together," he said. "I think seeing them will help." She nodded sadly.

"What about us, are we okay?" she asked after a moment's hesitation; she had to know this, though it frightened her to think what his answer might be. Zack reached out and pulled her into his arms, holding her close. He touched her hair.

"Good as new," he said, releasing her. He took her hand, squeezed it. "Good as always." Then he smiled, and she watched him walk away until the darkness swallowed him.

Max looked down at her hand. Curled in her fingers was a piece of paper with a number scribbled on it, and a caption above it read, 'I know how much this means to you.' She gazed down at it, confused, then slowly walked the three blocks to the nearest payphone. She searched for a quarter in her pocket, deposited one, dialed the number. A machine answered on the first ring.

"Zack," her big brother's voice from a long time ago greeted her with a growl. "This better be an emergency." Then a beep. In the phone booth, a small smile spread over Max's face.

"Thank you, Zack," she whispered into the mouthpiece, and then hung up the telephone. She left the booth and looked around her for a moment; people walked the streets of Seattle, caught up in their strange little lives, and Max joined the masses of men and women moving through the city, a little more normal than she'd been before.

For her whole life, she'd had a big brother who loved her; now, he understood her as well.

Author's Note: Firstly, I realize that some people may be shocked/outraged/upset/distressed by what happened to Alyssa. But she knew too much- she knew where Max and Alec were, and that Zack was alive and well. And even though it would have been hard for him to do what he did, Zack always does what's necessary to protect his siblings (as we saw in 411 on the DL). I hope people aren't mad at me or think I painted him a monster or anything! He isn't a monster, he's just looking out for sibs; he's a great leader.

Secondly,I want to thank you so much for reading my story. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. I'll likely start a new DA fanfic soon, so if you have any requests or ideas for a topic, please email them to me; I'll be overjoyed to receive them!. Thanks again! ~Ashantai

Author's Note #2: Oh yeah, and there's a sequel to this fic by me up if you're interested. Just click on my name and then it's called "Relegare Ira, Reperire Caritas." I hope you enjoy that one too!