Saints and Demons
Chapter 2 -- Saints
"So, basically, you designed my Boo?" Cindy asked quietly. They were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee.
Tavi glanced at Bling snoring on the sofa and towards the door of Cindy's bedroom where Logan would still sleep for several more hours at least and nodded. "If you can call my part in it 'designing'. Deck was so specific on her. She had to be perfect in every respect. I did the best I could on her, on all of them, but she was sick. We tried to correct it, and the truth is that most of the subsequent versions of Max were worse off than she was. I still don't know why." Tavi sighed and buried her face in her hands. "I'm not evil, Cindy. I'm not some Frankenstein with pretensions of godhood. I just... I made some bad choices."
"You made more than a few bad choices mixing it up with Manticore."
Tavi looked up at her. "Do you remember the last wars of the twentieth century? The Gulf? Kosovo? Afghanistan? Did you lose anyone in those wars? Did you watch your twin brother die of Gulf-War Syndrome or find out that the woman you loved had been shot down over Afghanistan? All I wanted was to spare others that kind of pain." She shook her head. "I didn't think these kids would have souls. They were just another piece of military technology until I held 423 in my arms the night she was born."
Tavi nodded. "Before they took her away, her mother made me promise to take care of her. Max was like a daughter to me. I loved them all, but I loved her the best. And I did what I could to ease her way. I convinced Deck to look the other way while she broke a thousand little rules--"
Tavi nodded. "When they named each other, he was afraid that they would all have to be terminated, but I convinced him that if we kept it secret everything would be okay. It wasn't the only time. He wanted to be convinced to treat them like real children instead of tools or soldiers, so I did."
"So you were like fairy god-mother for the X-5's?"
"No." Tavi shook her head. "I'm not a complete innocent. I did my share of reprehensible things to those kids, but I also did what I could to make it up to them. It was my fault that they were the way they were, so, when I could, I made things a little more pleasant for them. By keeping their secrets or gaining them this freedom or that. Deck was a willing accomplice." Tavi sighed. "But it wasn't enough for some of them."
"You mean the ones that broke out?"
"The ones that escaped, the ones that died before the escape..." Tavi wiped away tears. "There's no atonement for the things I've done. I know that now, and I accept it. But I don't want Max to have to remember those times, so I'd ask you not to tell her who I really am."
"Why doesn't she recognize you, though?" Cindy asked.
"I changed my appearance. Dropped 20 pounds that I couldn't afford to, cut my hair, changed its color..." Tavi shook her head. "And maybe she just doesn't want to know."
"You must feel so horrible about the things you did."
Tavi looked up at Cindy, but saw no recrimination in her eyes. "There isn't a day that passes when I don't cry myself to sleep at the end of it. My own cowardice is the only reason I'm still alive."
Cindy reached across the table and covered Tavi's hands with her own. "My Boo is still alive because of you, and, no matter what else you've done, that makes you redeemable in my book."
"Thank-you, Cindy. I can see that Max chose well when she picked you as a friend. You have a good soul."
"Thanks, Sugar." Cindy patted her hand. "More coffee?"
"Please." Tavi sighed. "Damn, life was so much easier before I picked Medicine."
Cindy turned from the coffeepot to Tavi. "You know, Logan says the same thing about Journalism. I think it's not the career that makes life complicated, but the person behind the career."
Tavi stared at her as she handed her a cup of coffee. "Are you always this wise, Cindy?"
"You should hear my anti-suicide spiel."
"Catch me closer to midnight when I actually need it and I'll be glad to give it a listen." Tavi rose with a sigh and made her way towards Max's room. She stopped at the door to Cindy's room and entered, pulling Logan's blanket back on and tucking him in.
"What was he to you?" Cindy asked as Tavi left the room.
"I thought I loved him." Tavi shrugged. "Maybe I was just looking for someone to have the 'perfect' life with. Two kids, a dog, a house. Maybe I actually did love him in some way. More likely we were just convenient to each other. He had so many girlfriends then. With me, he knew he wouldn't have to give that up. And I wouldn't have had to admit the way I was. That was back when it was still a shameful thing. It was Logan who finally helped me admit it to myself."
"So what does that make him to you now?"
Tavi stared uncertainly at Logan. "Just a good friend, I guess. Maybe... maybe more than a good friend. Maybe the best friend I've ever had."
"That why you turned to him when your kids needed help."
Tavi nodded. "I knew I could trust him. Anyone else would have been tempted to sell them to the highest bidder. I always saw him for what he was, he's never been perfect, but I knew he wouldn't sell out my kids."
"So you turned to him?"
Tavi nodded. "Max was six when I contacted him for the first time. I didn't know he was Eyes Only, but I suspected that he would know who Eyes Only was. So I went to his door and said 'I need to talk to Eyes Only'. And he invited me inside and I told him everything. I cried that night, and Logan held me in his arms and told me that it would be all right. A few years later, he held me in his arms again and this time he gave me money and a new identity, too. I don't know why I came back to the States, but after I heard that Manticore was gone, I couldn't seem to stay away." Tavi shrugged. "Like a moth to flame, I guess. I returned to find my creations all over the front covers of cheap tabloids."
"Was Joshua one of yours?"
Tavi shrugged. "I don't know the names that all of them called themselves by. What was he? X-5? X-3?"
Cindy shook her head. "He was one of the early ones, I guess."
"I didn't come on the project until the X-5's were already in production. Did you see the front cover of the Inquisitor this week?"
"The lizard-man?" Cindy asked, nodding.
"She was one of mine." Tavi smiled faintly. "Her name is Sunny. Once she makes it to the desert, they'll never find her."
"Did Logan tell you about this virus thing that Max has?"
"Can you fix it?"
"Well, I certainly intend to try, but virulent diseases are not exactly my specialty. I'm more of a gene-therapy kind of girl."
"'A gene-therapy kind of girl', huh?" Cindy grinned. "Girl, you so hot when you talk dirty."
Tavi snickered and smiled at Cindy. "I should go check on Max now..."
"Oh, yeah, I guess you should."
"Let's share a cup of coffee some time."
"We just did."
"Right..." Tavi smiled shyly and bowed her head. "We should have lunch then."
"Lunch is good." Cindy grinned at her. "One of the three most important meals of the day."
"It is, isn't it?" Tavi winked and brushed past Cindy into Max's room.
"What is it with you and ex-girlfriends of Logan's?" Bling asked quietly from the couch.
Cindy walked over and picked up a pillow, hitting Bling over the head with it.
"Feeling better this morning, Max?"
Max nodded weakly and gratefully accepted the glass of water that Tavi handed her. "Kind of like I got hit by a truck, but otherwise not too bad."
"I'm guessing 'hit by a truck' to be an improvement?" Tavi sat on the edge of the bed and eyed Max eagerly.
"Pretty much, yeah." Max gulped the water. "This time was pretty bad."
"Do you remember what caused it?"
Max shook her head. "Not really. I was on a run and started feeling weak. But it didn't get bad until after I got home that night."
Tavi nodded. "Did you eat anything funny, maybe? Ride your bike through a cloud of pesticide or something? Anything at all out of the ordinary?"
Max hesitated. "I don't think so. I mean... there could have been, but I don't really think so."
Tavi nodded, frowning faintly. "Well, we'll figure it out for you. Do you think you could start keeping a diary recording any strange occurrences and the way you feel on a given day?"
"I could, but I don't see how it'll help."
Tavi rose and moved closer to Max. When she spoke, her voice was low. "Something triggered this. I just want to know what so I can keep it from happening again. Your body's only going to put up with so many of these attacks before it gets pissed at you. You do know that?"
Max nodded hesitantly. "I guess I always just looked at them as something I couldn't control."
"Well, let's look at past attacks and see if we can find some kind of trigger. It might give us a clue in this case."
"Okay. How much do you..."
"I know more about you than you know about yourself, X5-423."
"How?" Max asked, narrowing her eyes suspiciously.
"It's okay, Max." Logan assured her from the doorway.
Tavi glanced at him with a frown. "You should still be asleep."
"I wanted to check on Max."
"Do you two need a minute?" Tavi asked, rising.
Logan nodded gently. "Several would be nice."
"She doesn't leave that bed." Tavi pointed a stern finger at Max before leaving the room.
"Where'd you dig her up?" Max asked, smiling at Logan.
"Oh, I have my sources."
"I have the strangest feeling that I know her." Max shrugged. "She reminds me of Doctor Jericho."
"This really sweet doctor who used to take care of me when I got sick." Max frowned thoughtfully. "She hung out with Lydecker a lot. She had the prettiest eyes." Max's frown dissolved into a smile.
"Yeah?" Logan wheeled closer. "Did you like her?"
Max considered this for a moment. "I guess, out of everyone there, she was the nicest. For what that's worth."
Logan smiled warmly at her, then changed the subject. "How are you feeling?"
"Tired, but better. I'm sorry to have worried you all so much."
"Don't be." Logan rolled to the side of the bed. "We love you so we worry about you."
"'We', huh?" Max smiled at him.
"Yeah." Logan licked his lips and nodded. "We love you, Max."
She grinned at him. "That's good to know."
"Sometimes it takes someone getting sick to realize quite how much you depend on that person." Logan reached out to brush a stray piece of hair out of her face, then caught himself and pulled his hand back. "Doctor Johnson might be able to cure this virus."
"That's the best news I've had all day." Max noticed, for the first time, that he was in the chair. "What happened?"
"Short circuit. Never had a chance to fix it."
"Well, you'd better. Once Doc Johnson fixes me up, you owe me a dance."
Logan raised an eyebrow. "Do I?"
Smiling wickedly, Max nodded, then yawned. "Sorry."
"Get some rest." Logan suggested gently. "I'll talk to you later."
"Yeah." Max smiled at him and stretched out on the bed again, adjusting her IV tubing. "Ask the doctor when I can get rid of this, huh."
"Will do." Logan smiled at her and left.
"Is recovering from being sick always this frustrating?" Max asked Bling as he helped her out of the car.
Bling nodded gravely and supported Max until she was steady on her feet again. "If it helps, just imagine how much harder it was for Logan to get into and out of the car."
Max sighed and nodded. "I just don't understand why it's so hard to get over it this time."
"Tavi says the fever fried your brain."
Max rolled her eyes. "She probably put it in just those words, too."
Bling laughed and nodded. "She says if you're not good I have permission to make you take the stairs."
"No she didn't."
Bling laughed again. "Okay, so she'd skin me alive if I made you take the stairs. But she says that you're damned lucky to have all those undifferentiated stem-cell floating around in your blood. Without them, the fever and the seizures would have done permanent damage."
Max sighed as she let Bling help her onto the elevator. Needing help to complete even the simplest acts was quickly becoming the most annoying experience of her life. It did not help that Tavi refused to let her ride her bike.
"So, what do we have scheduled for me today?"
"Just some tests of your balance and strength."
"And some cognitive memory-recognition tasks!" Tavi called, racing to catch the elevator.
"Yea!" Max muttered sarcastically.
"Be of good cheer, lovely. Your recovery is progressing... amazingly. I've certainly never seen anything like it."
Max sighed and leaned against the wall. It had been a week since she had woken up to find a strange woman weeping in her bedroom, and life was carrying on, it seemed, for everyone but her. Tavi and Logan seemed to have picked up their friendship exactly where they had left it. Eyes Only was still broadcasting. Cindy was back at work. Bling was once again only an occasional presence, occupied with his other clients. For her part, Max was still on bedrest 18 hours out of the day, forbidden from working, and she never saw anyone but Logan, Cindy, Bling, and Tavi. Cindy and Tavi thought that Max had not noticed that they spent most nights together, but Max's brain was not that addled. At least it meant she did not have to worry about Tavi spending her nights with Logan, which was something.
Logan was waiting for them with a large breakfast. Famished, Max almost ignored him on her way to the table. Logan laughingly called this the best indicator of her recovery to date. As she ate with Bling, Logan and Tavi spoke in hushed voices. Something had them worried, Max could tell. She determined to challenge Logan on it immediately after breakfast, but he had gone by the time she was finished. That left Max at the mercy of Tavi and Bling, who worked her relentlessly for the rest of the morning. By noon, she was too tired to even consider eating, and she collapsed on the couch for a nap. As she drifted off, she was vaguely aware that Bling and Tavi were now speaking in the same hushed tones that Logan and Tavi had been using a few hours ago, but she was too tired to question.
"Not chemical warefare?" Asha asked Logan, frowning. "You're sure?"
Logan nodded. "Pretty sure."
"But people are getting sick all over the place." Asha hesitated. "Speaking of which..."
"We don't know how Max is going to be yet." Logan sighed. "She hasn't had a seizure in days, but she's still very weak and no one can figure out why or why it's taking her so long to recover."
"Why is she so much more affected than any of the normal people who have been exposed?" Asha asked.
Logan winced at that particular use of the word 'normal'. It was as if Asha was saying that everyone exposed to the mysterious toxin was normal. Except for Max, who, by process of elimination, must be abnormal. He suddenly found himself understanding why Max so frequently looked as if she wanted to slap Asha. "Tavi theorizes that it's because the toxin attacks seretonin receptors. Max is more vulnerable because her body doesn't produce seretonin very well. But Tavi says that if it were biological warfare it would be completely blocking the receptors instead of just attacking and partially disabling them."
Asha shrugged as if this explanation explained nothing. "So, if it's not chemical warfare, what is it?"
"Pesticide is Tavi's best guess. She says that this attack is not dissimilar to another attack that Max had when she was a little girl in which she was exposed to an experimental pesticide."
"So, can we use this intelligence to figure out where it's coming from?"
"So, let's find out what Max's route was that day."
"Easier said than done."
"Go to that boss of hers." Asha suggested, putting her hands on her hips. "I want to know what this thing is and why I've got seven sick operatives. Then I want to get the person who produced this toxin alone for five minutes and beat some answers out of him. And what the hell are you laughing at?"
"You and Max have a lot in common." Logan shook his head and walked off. "I'll call you when I have something else."
"Me and Max?" Asha laughed and shook her head. "Right. And all her furry little friends, too."
"You want to know the location of all Max's deliveries for the week before she got sick?" Normal frowned uncertainly at Logan. "I'm not sure I can do that, Logan. The names and addresses of my clients are supposed to be classified."
"Ray, I can understand that..." Logan smiled his most winning smile and closed the office door. "But you have to understand the position that we're in here. It's been all I can do to keep the CDC off of your back. I keep pointing out that Max is the only one of your employees to get sick to date, but they throw it right back in my face that she was also the first person to get sick." Logan sighed. "Meanwhile, everyone except Max is getting better. Ray, all I want is to find out what's wrong with her and fix it. Please... if you can help me..."
"What's your fax number?" Normal mumbled without looking at him.
Logan quickly wrote it down for him and left after shaking his hand not less than five or six times. Normal, who did not for one minute believe the CDC story, did believe that the other man was distraught by Max's condition. He had seen her only once since Cindy had reported that she was sick, and he had hardly recognized the stumbling, stuttering woman who had once been his best employee. Cindy had been lying about the chest pains, obviously, but there was something wrong with her, and Normal was willing to break the rules this once if it would help her out.
Sighing and shaking his head, he began shuffling through his back records.
"But I don't remember inhaling anything!" Max protested as Tavi drew yet another vial of blood.
Tavi's voice was patient but firm. "Max, people all over the city are getting sick. We're past the point of pretending that nothing happened to make you like this. Talk to me."
"No." Max shook her head. "Nothing happened."
"Max, please!" Logan pleaded.
"No! I don't want Joshua..." she trailed off, paling.
"Joshua?" Logan asked, raising his eyebrows. "What about Joshua."
"We were... He was showing me something he'd found in the woods outside the city. But it can't be that because he's fine. Right? I mean, Cindy's been checking on him every day and he's just fine..." Max's voice had taken on a frantic edge.
Tavi spoke in as comforting a tone as she could. "Yes, Joshua is fine, but he might be immune. A carrier, even."
"Joshua's not exposing anyone to anything. He never leaves the house."
"You said he was showing you something he found in the woods."
"That's different." Max protested. "He doesn't..."
Tavi stared up at her. "What, Max? You can tell me."
"He's not like me. He doesn't go near other people because they wouldn't understand..."
"Was he a Nomly?" Tavi asked.
Max nodded weakly. "But he's not sick."
Tavi, who knew how much the X-5's had feared the 'Nomlies' as children, did not bat an eyelash. "What did he find in the woods, Max?"
"Some old crates."
"What was in them?"
"I don't know. I was scared. I wouldn't let him look inside."
"Why were you scared?" Tavi asked gently.
"Because of the picture on the boxes. I remembered it." Max's voice had taken on a distinctly childlike tone. It was not an uncommon occurrence these days when she got emotional. It was a symptom of the continued deterioration of her mind.
Tavi handed her a pen and a piece of paper. "Show me."
Max quickly scribbled a pattern. "It was like this."
"Holy mother..." Tavi breathed.
"What is that?" Logan asked. "I've never seen it before."
"Remember back at the turn of the century when biological warfare was suddenly the big thing?" Tavi asked.
"Well, they stopped using the standard biohazard tag on biochemical weapons because it was just too common."
"So Asha was right? It is chemical warfare?"
Tavi sighed and nodded. "If this symbol was all over the crates, my best guess is that they were full of some kind of experimental biotoxin that never got used."
"How'd it end up in the woods outside Seattle?"
"Very good question. My guess is that there was probably some sort of facility there at some point."
"But where did the facility go?"
"Who knows? It could be twenty feet from where Max found the crates. They could have fallen off of a truck at some point and been forgotten before a team could be sent out to clean them up. The Pulse led to a lot of similar situations."
Logan shook his head. "It makes no sense, Tavi. Why would they pack a toxin in wooden crates in the first place."
As Tavi shook her head, Max spoke a single, quiet word. "Biostyrine."
Logan and Tavi both stared at her, open-mouthed. "Huh?" Logan asked.
"Biostyrine." Tavi nodded. "I understand. They thought that it would replace steel in a few years. It was lighter, stronger, and, unfortunately, about a thousand times more biodegradable, which no one expected. They packed a lot of germs and radioactive materials in wooden crates lined with biostyrine only to have it degrade during transport. They were able to explain the ensuing chaos away as another result of the Pulse."
"So, what you're telling me is that we've got a couple of biodegradable crates full of germs sitting in the woods just waiting for a windstorm to come stir it up?" Logan looked nauseous.
Tavi nodded. "Yeah, and for everyone who's not an X-5, the results shouldn't be worse than the common flu. For them..."
"Tell me you can fix the damage."
"If I can find the substance, yeah, I should be able to. But I still don't know how it's affecting other Manticore offspring. I'd like to be able to help them, too, if they're sick."
"Once you come up with a cure, I can do a broadcast."
"Great. Now I just need Max to show me where this stuff is located so I can get a sample."
"She's too weak."
"Then this Joshua can show me."
"No!" Max protested, shaking her head. "It's my job to protect him from people like you."
"Lo, can we have a minute?"
Looking worried, Logan left the two women alone.
"You know who I am, don't you, Max?"
She nodded. "You're Doctor Jericho. I remember you."
"Why didn't you say anything earlier?"
Max glared at her suspiciously and refused to speak.
"Max." Tavi tried to sound stern. "I only want to make things right for you, to give you the life you've never been able to have. You and I both know that this toxin is slowly killing you."
"I won't let you hurt Joshua!" Max replied defiantly, crossing her arms.
Shaking her head in frustration, Tavi decided to try a different tack: one that might well alienate Max forever, but also one that had the potential to save her life. "Joshua is a Nomly!" Tavi shouted. "Real scientists have no interest in Nomlies when there are real soldiers to be concerned with. If we were interested in the Nomlies, do you think we would have locked them in the basement? I have no interest in your little pet, X5-423. All I care about is you. But if you cross me..." Tavi pointed an angry finger at her. "I'll make you both suffer."
Max was shaking, and Tavi saw that Logan had peered back into the room at the sound of her shouting. Both were staring at her in shock. Tavi felt like being ill, but she saw that she had produced the desired effect in Max.
"I'll show you." Max's voice was a whisper. "But only if you promise to leave Joshua alone."
"You deliver and I'll pretend I've never heard the name Joshua."
"Thank-you, Doctor Jericho."
Logan gaped at the two women. "What did I just miss?"
"Oh, just some boring old girl-talk. Now are you going to drive us or do we have to walk?" Tavi regarded him curiously.
"And we're sure that this stuff will neutralize the agent?" Asha asked skeptically, staring at awe at the moldering pile of crates in the forest.
Tavi nodded patiently for the fourth time. "Positive."
"Recovering. She'll be back to work in a day or two."
"You must be one hell of a doctor."
"I consider myself so." Tavi turned her back to Asha and winked at Cindy, who was leaning against Logan's car and trying hard not to laugh.
"So, how's this work?" Cindy asked brightly.
"Basically we just smash the crates and hose down the contents with the counteragent." Tavi pulled on her respirator and took the axe that Cindy offered her. She returned to the pile of crates, followed closely by Logan. As she walked past Asha, she remarked, "Sometimes smashing the hell out of something with an axe can be very… therapeutic."
Asha stared at her uncertainly as she put theory into practice, swinging the axe with a grunt. "Never an X-5 around when you need one, is there?" she remarked with a smile, pulling on her own respirator and picking up an axe of her own.
"I'd offer to help," Alec said with a smile, holding up his still-healing arm, "but you know between this and my slight phobia of having my higher brain-functions screwed with."
"You know, Sugar," Cindy told him with a smile, "that happens to guys every day."
Alec rolled his eyes. "Really?" he asked.
"Yup. Right, Tavi?"
"Right, Sugar!" Tavi replied. "Every time they look at a pretty woman."
"Funny…" Alec walked off, grumbling to himself.
Tavi noticed that Asha looked concerned. "He'll be back," she assured her, "once he realizes how long the walk back into town is."
Asha laughed and continued demolishing the crates. Logan just shook his head, wondering what it was about him that he could not seem to attract any 'normal' women to his social circle. He reminded himself to have Cindy explain it later.
"So, now that Max is rubbing her stomach and patting her head again, I guess you'll be leaving Seattle?" Cindy asked Tavi softly.
Tavi stared into her coffee-mug thoughtfully. "I was thinking that I might hang around for a while… I guess I have some reasons to stay."
"Reasons like Max and Logan?" Cindy asked.
"Them, yeah." Tavi half looked up. "Other reasons, too, maybe. If those reasons are amenable to me hanging around."
Cindy smiled hopefully. "Any of those reasons have names?"
Tavi stared steadily at Cindy. "What do you think?" She looked down at her mug again. "Of course, it's been so long since I've let myself get close to anyone that I sort of forget how the game is played."
Cindy reached across the table and covered Tavi's hands with her own. "You play it just fine, Sugar. Like an old pro."
"That's odd, under the circumstances." Tavi shrugged. "But I meant it." She looked hopefully at Cindy. "If you want me to stay, and if Max doesn't mind too bad, I will stay."
Cindy folded her arms over her chest. "Well, then, I think you'd better get your butt into the living room and ask Max if she minds."
Tavi smiled incredulously. "You want me to stay?"
"Course I do, Sugar. Original Cindy is not into playing games with people's hearts. Their heads, sometimes, but not their hearts."
"I appreciate that, Cindy." Tavi smiled. "It's been so long since I've been close to someone… It's almost like learning to walk again. Only… more fun than walking."
Cindy laughed and shook her head. "Sugar… You're almost as funny as my Boo."
"God, it must be nice to be Max."
"How you figure that?" Cindy asked, surprised.
"Everyone she knows loves her. Just like that. She's the kind of woman that woman can comfortably call 'best friend' and men write poems about, and she doesn't even have to try. It must be nice."
"Actually, it's a real pain in the ass most days."
Tavi smiled. "Good morning,
"Can I go to work yet?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"Because it's Sunday." Tavi grinned at Max. "Sit down and have some breakfast. You can go back tomorrow."
After about five minutes of silent eating, Max said, "Mmm… Who made breakfast?"
Tavi raised her hand without looking up from her coffee.
Cindy cleared her throat. "Tavi…"
"Yeah. Max, I guess we need to talk." She smiled hopefully.
Max looked from Tavi to Cindy and shrugged. "It's not as traumatizing as when I found out Kendra was sleeping with Walter. You two have fun."
Tavi blinked in surprise. "You mean it?"
"Sure." Max nodded. "It has the added bonus of keeping you in town long enough to cure me of my other problem."
"You know that I don't know much about viruses, don't you?"
"I'm sure you're a quick learner." Max grinned at her. "And you make good pancakes. Oh! And you can keep Logan in line, which is a nice added bonus."
Tavi sniggered and shook her head. "Gee, drug a guy once…"
Max shook her head. "Oh, the horrors of being a girl with a reputation."
"That's one hell of a reputation." Cindy laughed.
"Guess I'd better start looking for an apartment."
"No need." Max grinned at Tavi. "Logan found just the place for you."
"What?" Tavi smiled at Max uncertainly.
"It's by this really cool lab that's just full of shiny new equipment." Max grinned at her before returning her attention to breakfast.
Cindy grinned and patted Tavi on the shoulder. "I think you just earned the Max Gueverra seal of approval, Sugar."
Max smiled up at them. "Someone better call hell and tell them to turn down the AC."
"Too late." Tavi shook her head. "Thank-you, Max."
"Thank-you, Doctor Jericho." Max winked at her. "Oops. Doctor Johnson."
After breakfast, Tavi muttered a few words to a shocked-looking Cindy, then walked up to Max. "Hey, can we go for a walk?"
"Um… sure." Max regarded her uncertainly. "Where are we going?"
It was Cindy who answered. "For some weird reason, Tavi wants to take you to church."
Max frowned in confusion. "I don't get it."
"You will. Mostly I just want to talk to you."
"Okay." Max shrugged and followed Tavi out the door. "What's up?" she asked once they had hit the street.
"Logan told me that a lot of your brothers and sisters are dead?"
Max frowned. "Yeah. I don't really like to talk about it."
"You don't have to. Logan filled me in. I'm sorry."
"It's… okay. I guess. Why did you want to talk about them?"
"Not all of them. Just Ben."
"Ben?" Max stopped and stared at her. "I don't want to talk about how Ben died."
"Neither do I. Hearing that story once was bad enough. I want to talk about how he lived."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Do you remember that night you got sick with the really bad seizures? Deck sat up with you all night."
"You were there, too. I remembered that when I was sick."
Tavi nodded. "Remember what Deck called you?"
Max started to shake her head, then stopped. "He called me 'Max'. He knew my name."
"We knew a lot of things about you kids. Things you thought were secret. Your names, the games you played, that secret language you invented. The religion you created."
Max winced. The conversation had come right back to Ben. "I said that I didn't want to talk about it."
"Then let me talk about your beautiful Blue Lady, Max. About how many lives she's changed."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Come with me." Tavi pointed to their destination, a large cathedral. "The Church of Our Lady of Hope, Max. I used to attend this church when I was a little girl." She turned to face the younger woman. "Have you ever been inside a church, Max?"
Max shook her head. "In case you don't remember, faith wasn't exactly encouraged at Manticore."
"No, but it was allowed. Come on." Tavi gently took Max's hand and led her into the church. She saw Max staring intently at the crucifix over the alter. "Jesus, Max, the son of God. A lot of people believe, I believe, that he sacrificed his life to save the whole world." She gently pulled her forward. "He was a teacher and a healer, Max, who preached peace and understanding and who willing died to make that point."
"He's beautiful…" Max whispered, staring at the crucifix.
"He is. Now, here's what I really wanted to show you." She led Max to a small shrine set off to one side. "His mother."
Max stopped in her tracks. "The Blue Lady…" she whispered.
"You didn't know?" Tavi shook her head. "I thought after all of these years you would have at least seen a picture somewhere. I guess I should have known better. Her name was Mary."
"Mary?" Max smiled. "It's pretty."
"She gave birth to Jesus and raised him to be a great man." Tavi smiled at Max. "I thought you were old enough to learn about these things. I used to be a very religious person. It's why I convinced Deck to look the other way when you kids found that statue."
"You want me to become religious?" Max asked uncertainly, staring at her. "Like you used to be?"
Tavi shook her head. "No. I just want you to understand what it is that a dozen kids had ten years ago that helped keep them alive through some of the worst conditions imaginable."
"Her?" Max reached out and reverentially brushed her hand against the hem of the statue's dress.
"Her, yes. But more than her. It wasn't a religion or a saint in a religion that kept you kids strong. It was hope, Max. Logan tells me that you begin to lose your hope. I can't allow that, Max. I once made a promise, and I swore it in her name, that I would keep you well and strong and full of hope and passion and all the things that make you special."
"Our Lady of Hope?" Max asked, staring at the statue.
"Our Lady of Hope, Our Lady of Peace, she has as many names as her son, Max. Find the one that suits you. Maybe you're too old to learn religion or faith, Max, but I know that you can learn Hope, Max, because you once had it."
Max stared at the statue thoughtfully as Tavi walked from the church. Looking at the rows of candles near the statue, she lit one and stared back up at the statue.
"Take care of Ben for me…" she whispered before following Tavi from the church.