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ANTE OFFICIUM - Chapter 7
"We should go in," Brin said.
"Zack won't be happy." Logan said hopefully. Alec checked his watch: 0317. Brin looked at him and they both nodded.
"I know," Brin said. She picked up her machine gun. "Let's move out." Alec hesitated.
"You'll detonate at 0325, won't you?" he asked Logan. "I don't want to get my ass kicked on account of you." He wasn't smiling.
"Just get her out," Logan said. Alec nodded, then paused and turned back; he set the charges into an irreversible automatic detonation sequence and looked at Logan.
"Nothing personal." They left and Logan turned to Joshua and the children sitting behind him, smiled weakly. He wasn't great with kids, but they looked fairly calm. Joshua grinned back at him nervously.
"So..." he said to the children. "What are your names?" They exchanged a confused look.
"Never mind." He sighed, turned back to his screen, where he could see Alec and Brin approaching the compound.
Brin crouched in the foliage and waited, scanning the area around the south entrance.
"I count sixteen on the east side," Alec told her as he joined her from the other side of the facility.
"There are seven here. Looks like our in."
"Seven?" Alec said. "We can take them." Brin nodded her agreement and gave him a quick hand-signalled mission plan. They moved in towards the building, slipping past the two sentry soldiers and taking out the other five. They located the window Joshua and the X9s had crashed through and headed for it, hauling themselves inside. The corridor was deserted. Brin signalled Alec and they moved down the hall toward the other teams' positions.
"Max?" Alec asked. "Zack? Can you hear us yet?"
"Alec?" Max's voice came, heavy with static. "How-"
"We're moving to your position," Brin announced, wasting no time.
"Passing through....generator," Max's garbled voice answered her. "...hear you... signal drop..."
"Dammit, Brin!" Zack's voice came. "...told you... order... stay..." Brin pointedly ignored him.
"Can you see team two?" she asked.
"Not yet," Max answered. "...surrounded...position...below."
"What?" Alec asked, frustrated.
"Repeat, they're surroun... we're one floor... position... explosives... floor." There was a long silence before her voice came back. "We're out of the area of the generator now. Can you hear me?"
"Loud and clear," Alec told her, relieved.
"I heard you, Zack," she cut him off. "We're just passing the Med Lab. We'll be there momentarily."
"Negative," Zack said. "We can't get to team two's position but we're below them. We're going to blow them out through the floor. I need you to set charges in our exit corridor to create a debris block."
"Copy that," she said, halting with Alec. "Where?"
"Proceed east two hundred metres and prepare to blow out the ceiling."
"Roger," Brin said. She and Alec turned right and headed down the corridor, pulling their supplies of charges out of their pockets as they ran.
Max hurried to secure the explosives on the ceiling of the mess hall, working quickly as Zack covered her. They could hear Syl exchanging fire with the soldiers through the ceiling and over the comm.
"Syl, talk to me, how are you?" Max asked as she worked.
"We're okay," she answered before another burst of gunfire.
"Just another few explosives," Max said.
"Are you out of range?" Zack asked.
"Yeah," Syl told him. "I dragged Krit as far against the wall as we can go. We're ready when-" She paused. "Wait, what's that?"
"What?" Max asked.
"There's something- oh, no."
"What?" Zack asked tensely.
"They're gassing us!" she said, and coughed. "Hurry up!"
"I am," Max muttered fearfully, increasing her speed.
"Hold your breath," Zack ordered Syl.
"What about Krit?" Max whispered; Zack swallowed hard and forgot about covering her as he got up with her on the table to help. Another minute and they would be ready to detonate.
"Approaching the mess hall," they suddenly heard a voice; six soldiers walked into the room, their weapons raised. Zack cursed himself for letting his guard down and moved fast, sweeping up his gun as he knocked Max off the table and jumping down with her simultaneously. He pulled a grenade out of his pack and pulled the pin, hurling it at the men as he as he shoved Max's head down against the floor. The soldiers scattered, but it detonated and caught them all. The mess hall grew silent again. Max got back up on the table without a word as Zack hurried past the dead men to the door so he could check if any more were coming. Max's hands shook as she worked; she wished Syl could talk to her, tell her what was happening. She secured the last explosive to the ceiling a moment later.
"I'm done!" she announced immediately; Zack motioned for her to come over into the hallway with him.
"Syl, we're detonating," he said when they'd slammed themselves against the corridor's near wall several metres down. "Are you still clear?"
"Yes," she rasped over the comm before her voice dissolved into a hacking cough. Zack shoved his thumb down on the detonation pad and there was a huge crashing sound and a series of slams and bangs from the mess hall. Dust and shards of glass shot out and filled part of the corridor before settling to the floor. They waited several seconds, making sure there wasn't going to be anymore fallen debris, and then when Zack was satisfied he motioned for Max to come back into the room with him.
The area of the room under the explosion was littered with pieces of rubble and wiring crackled from between the floors. Zack got up on the table and stuck his head through the hole in the ceiling. The office he saw wasn't in much better shape; he scanned it carefully. He could hardly see anything for about a foot in front of him because the gas; the men outside were shouting. Tears stung his eyes from the chemicals in the air.
"Syl!" he yelled, coughing. The gas was seeping down through the hole in the office's floor and Max backed up from it quickly. Just as Zack was preparing to haul himself into the room if Syl didn't show soon, she was beside Zack, dragging Krit over by his arms. Tears were running down her cheeks from the gas and her face was covered with a fine layer of dust, as was Krit's. Zack hauled his brother up, knowing that he would be causing further damage to whatever wounds Krit already had by moving him like this but also knowing that there was no other choice. He staggered slightly under the new weight but redoubled his effort, getting his feet under him and slowly climbing off the table, trying not to jar Krit too much. Syl swung herself down through the hole after him and landed on her feet, staggering away from the hole and taking deep breaths of the slightly fresher air of the mess hall.
"They'll be converging on our position," Max said, glancing at Krit fearfully. "Are you okay, Syl?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she rasped, then coughed and cleared her throat. "Let's go." The three X5s turned quickly from the mess hall as they heard the soldiers starting to crash through Syl's door blockades in the room above.
"Alec, Brin," Zack said. "We're coming to you now."
"We're ready to detonate," Brin said, relieving Zack as they hurried toward them. Zack was running significantly slower than he would have without the extra weight in his arms, but he forced himself on. Then he looked down at Krit's face and fear gripped him.
Max and Syl were in front as they hurried down the hallway, their guns ready for anything unexpected. Max tossed a weak smile of reassurance to her sister as they ran, relieved to see her okay.
"He's not breathing!" Zack suddenly yelled from behind them, freezing both women's hearts.
"He was a second ago!" Syl's voice was panicked; she and Max halted but Zack ran into them, shoving them onward.
"Go, go!" he shouted; there were footsteps fast approaching from behind. "The gas," he concluded as he motioned his sisters into an adjoining office and shut the door. He laid Krit down on a desk and Syl pushed past Zack to get to him as Max stood guard at the door, her heart pounding in fear.
"Okay," Syl said in a wavering voice, brushing her hair away from her face with shaking hands. "It's okay. Hang in there, Krit." She quickly reached down and pinched his nose, closing her mouth over his and giving him a breath of air. Zack pumped his chest, but they alternated for almost a full minute and nothing happened. Max watched in pain as Zack slowly lowered his arms.
"What are you doing?" Syl asked, panicked. Zack tentatively reached out and touched her shoulder.
"Syl-" She jerked away angrily, lowered her head again and exhaled into his mouth, then pumped his chest herself. Zack exchanged a sick look with Max as Syl banged a fist angrily on the desk Krit was lying on.
"Dammit, wake up!" she cried. Zack ran a hand through his hair. "Please wake up!" she sobbed. "Please don't do this to me! Come on, Krit, you saved my life! You did it, I'm okay! Now all you have to do is breathe! Just breathe, damn you, please!"
"Syl!" Zack yelled, trying to calm her down though he wasn't at all calm himself. "He's gone." He heard the enemy soldiers fast approaching and was sure men would now be coming from the other side as well. He didn't know if they would even be able to make it to Brin and Alec now, and they certainly wouldn't if they waited any longer. "We have to move or we'll never get out of here," he told her harshly.
"I'm not leaving him behind," Syl said firmly. She sounded vaguely like she thought he might be joking. Max felt the tears slip down her cheeks; she stared at Krit.
"Don't leave me here. Don't let them take me."
"Syl," she heard Zack snap, pulling her out of her reverie. "We have to go now, and fast, or we're all going to die. I'm not going to let that happen." Max ignored him and Syl went back to trying to revive Krit.
"Syl," he ground out. "He's dead. Now get up."
"No, he's not!" She banged her fist against his chest again and gave him another breath of air. Nothing. Zack shouldered his machine gun and marched past Max, grabbing Syl roughly by the shoulder and hauling her away from Krit. He threw her hard against a nearby wall, startling Max, and pressed the back of his forearm against her neck to stop her from struggling.
"That was an order, soldier," he hissed.
"You don't scare me, Zack!" she yelled in his face, struggling to free herself; Max gaped at her: Syl, who was always so obedient. Her eyes acquired an evil, desperate glint and she leaned in close to him. She whispered in a cruel voice, low, "And that's the only way you're different from Lydecker."
If they'd had the time, Max guessed that she and Zack would have stood there, in shocked disbelief at her words, for the rest of their lives. But there wasn't time, so Zack simply clamped his hand around Syl's upped arm and dragged her toward the door; she kicked at him.
"Don't, Zack, please, I want to save him!" she screamed, tears streaming down her face. "I can save him!" Zack ignored her pleas and the sharp kicks to his legs as hauled her to the door. Max stared at them, sadly not surprised by his actions. He fixed her with an angry look.
"Come on, Max," he said. She looked at Krit.
"The Blue Lady- why doesn't she protect him?"
"This is why I don't want you together," she heard Zack snarl in Syl's ear as he struggled with her. Max froze.
"Max," Zack warned. "Get over here."
"Zack, I can't," she whispered.
"Ben, I can't."
"There's no time!" Zack snapped. "We can't carry a dead weight out of here!"
"I can't carry you. We'll both get caught."
Zack kept hold of Syl and levelled his gun at Max. "Come here, now." She stared at him, sick. She hated this Zack. Syl was right: this wasn't their brother, this was Lydecker.
"Or what?" Now that Syl had started challenging him she couldn't stop. "You'll shoot her?" She smirked. "That's not very logical, Zack. Then you'd have to carry her out."
"She's smaller," he said, low and dangerous, not breaking eye contact with Max. She stared at him and for a moment almost believed he'd do it.
"Go to hell," Syl muttered.
"Shut up," Zack said evenly. Max looked at Krit and knew that he was dead; there was no question of it, no matter how much Syl didn't want to admit it. She slowly turned to join Zack. Desperate, Syl resumed her kicking and yelled a string of curses at Zack when he wouldn't let go, then redoubled her efforts and managed to elbow him hard in the stomach. He let out an "Oof!" and stumbled slightly; she lashed out with a well-placed kick to the knee, careful not to break the bone, and his grip loosened on her arm. She broke away.
"Leave me here," she snapped at them; Zack looked about ready to kill someone now.
"Wake up, Krit," she said in a small voice; Max heard her hand beat down on his chest again, and then again. She felt Zack's hand on her arm and wondered, amazed, if he was actually going to have them leave Syl there to die. But before she could find out what Zack was thinking, Max heard her sister exhale into Krit's mouth again, and then a second rib cracked under another chest compression.
"Oh my God," Zack's voice suddenly came from beside her, hollow and shaky; he released Max's arm and she felt him brush against her as he hurried past. Her head snapped up and she felt a sob catch in her throat. Krit's dark eyes were open, struggling to focus on the room. He coughed.
"Syl..." he gasped. "Zack..."
"We're here," Syl whispered, laying her hands against his cold cheeks as tears streamed down her own. He managed a weak smile and coughed again.
"I feel like I've been hit by a truck," he said in a raspy voice, raising his head tentatively to look down at himself. He caught sight of the bullet holes smattered over his entire body and groaned, letting his head lower back against the desk. Max reached out and touched his hand. Syl stroked Krit's hair, and then she leaned down and kissed him, long and hard and deep. Krit's hand came up and gently caressed her face.
Max was not at all surprised at the action, having seen this coming, though she was a little uncomfortable with it. Obviously not all her siblings held the belief she did that they were simply brothers and sisters. Zack glanced toward the door; the men were still coming.
"Let's move out," he said hollowly. Max's heart broke for him, knowing that he was sick with himself for coming so close to abandoning a brother who could still be saved. But how could he have known? She'd been sure Krit was dead, too... but I never would have left him here. What had happened to that Zack, the one who had turned himself in to save her from Manticore, who had shot himself in the head to save her life...
Suddenly Max wondered, Was it me? Would he have shot himself for Krit or Syl if it had been them dying that night? She stared at Zack; had he ever considered her a sister at all? She forced the thought away; there wasn't time for it now.
Zack started to lift Krit back into his arms as gently as possible, but his brother cried out and uncontrollable tears cascaded down his face as Zack jarred his wounds. Max bit her lip and a few tears slipped down Syl's cheeks as she touched his clammy forehead tenderly.
"Sorry," Zack said; Krit nodded, his eyes closed tightly in pain. The men were upon them now; Max could hear them outside. Zack let go of Krit and readied his weapon, Max and Syl doing the same, hoping that the soldiers would think they had simply continued down the corridor.
Several sharp rat-tat-tat-tat-tat sounds echoed down the hall suddenly, and there was a lot of commotion outside. The four X5s waited, tense, and a moment later there was silence. The doorhandle turned; Max held her gun out with Zack and Syl, ready to fire at the first person who came through it.
"Whoa," Alec said, holding up his hands as Max barely stopped herself from pulling the trigger. She breathed a sigh of relief.
"Alec," she said, smiling. Brin was behind him; she scanned the room and caught sight of Krit. Max saw genuine pain in her eyes.
"Is he okay?" she asked.
"He'll be fine," Syl answered; Max nodded, then frowned as she noticed how Alec was holding his arm. She touched his shoulder.
"Are you hit?"
"It's no big deal," he said, wincing slightly as she withdrew her hand. "Anyway, we don't have time. He held his watch up for her to see. It was 0323; they had less than two minutes before the charges would detonate.
"Let's move out," Zack said tersely. He motioned for Brin to take over the unit and she nodded, leading them to the door as Zack once again lifted Krit into his arms. Brin snaked her head around the doorway, then jerked it back inside as a shower of gunfire barely missed her.
"Thirteen left, nine right," she said.
"I count twenty-four in the yard," Max spoke up from the window. "They must have our exit covered by now."
"Yeah," Logan's tense voice came. "The place is swarming." The others all turned to Zack, waited for his orders. He looked terrified, anguished, destroyed; suddenly with a chill Max realized he had no idea what to do.
"Okay," he said heavily. "We split up. We'll be harder to take out alone. I'll take Krit and the rest of you try to make it to an outside wall and get out. Whoever makes it escapes, and the rest of us will go down with the building it blows. We won't be experimented on." His words hung in the air, pressing in on them painfully. Max exchanged grave looks with Syl and Brin; they knew this drill. It had been given the night of the escape by Zack, and it had worked. But not all of them had made it out that night. Max wanted to scream her objections but the others were holding their tongues, seeing clearly how much giving this order was killing their CO. Max said nothing and just watched hollowly as Syl crossed the room to Zack and dropped another soft kiss to Krit's lips. He kissed her back, deep, bringing a hand up and tangling it in her blonde hair. After a moment she forced herself to pull away.
"I'll see you outside, okay?" she said, her voice shaking; Krit nodded, trying to look unafraid for her sake, and she smiled weakly before raising her eyes to Zack. "You too."
"I won't leave him behind," he said firmly. Syl nodded slowly, but Max knew that she was as terrified as she was that Zack would live up to that promise to the point of absurdity and never make it out. Captain goes down with the ship, right? CO goes out with the unit. Max shivered and hoisted her gun with Alec and the others. They turned toward the door.
"Wait," Logan's voice suddenly came, excited. "There might be another way."
"What other way?" Zack demanded quickly.
"They've brought in additional forces."
"How is that good?" Brin asked, exasperated.
"They airlifted them in," Logan explained. "On a helicopter." The X5s exchanged looks. "Can any of you fly one?"
"We all know how to fly helicopters." Zack said it as though it should have been the most obvious thing in the world.
"Right," Logan said dryly. "Of course."
"Where is it?" Brin asked quickly.
"The landing pad is sixty metres from the east wall," Logan said. Max felt her heart lift with hope.
"Okay." Zack turned to his troops. "Looks like a change of plans." He would have been smiling except for the stress. "Let's move out, we don't have much time."
Alec and Brin took point at the door and nodded to each other, throwing themselves around the door and firing. The men in the halls scattered, fell back, then regrouped and fired back, narrowly missing.
"I got six," Alec announced.
"Seven," Brin said. Alec grinned at her.
"Oh, you beat me," he mocked, pulling a grenade out of his pocket. Max did a double-take as Brin grinned back, reaching for her own grenade. It was obvious she felt far more comfortable in mission-mode than not. They threw them simultaneously and the explosions sounded before the hall went silent.
"It won't be long before more come at us," Zack said, already heading for the door. Brin led them through the corridors toward an exterior room, Syl bringing up the rear with Max and Alec awkwardly trying to help Zack with Krit.
"There," Alec announced as he caught sight of a sliver of moonlight through the door of a room they were nearing. Max smiled as they were twenty, then ten metres away, then-
Three men rounded the bend with their guns raised; they fired. Zack threw himself to the ground, lightening-speed, trying to cradle Krit's head as he did. Syl hit the floor as well, but Brin, out in front, wasn't quick enough and fell to the ground as one of the shots lodged in her left shoulder. Max raised her gun, firing, and the men went down. She was lucky there had only been three.
"Brin, are you-" she started, then frowned. There were funny lines flooding her vision; she blinked against them, then looked down at her hands. They were shaking. She was light-headed, disoriented. She tried to pit the pieces of what was going on together but her mind was like soup.
"Max?" she heard Zack's voice from behind her; hesitant, afraid. She took a step to turn back and reassure him, but then suddenly she was falling. A pair of strong arms caught her instantly, keeping her on her feet; disoriented, she struggled against them, expecting a gun barrel to press against her at any moment. The arms tightened around her gently.
"Alec," she said, and relaxed. The moment she did so she lost her footing and the pain hit her- hard. Where was she hit? It was coming from all directions, stabbing at her. Alec stumbled slightly as all her weight came down against him suddenly. Quickly and as gently as possible he lowered her to the ground to examine her.
"Max!" Zack had left Krit's side and was instantly next to her; she opened and closed her mouth to speak, tell him she was all right, not to worry, not to do anything rash. But her throat was dry and parched, and her head swam with pain.
"Max?" Logan's voice came. "Max, what's wrong?"
"She's been hit," Brin said tersely; she and Syl were keeping the two ends of the corridor covered, both with deeply worried expression on their faces. Brin's left arm hung uselessly at her side.
"Zack, get her out of there," Logan said.
"I am!" Zack snapped. He looked down at Max and swallowed hard; the bullet had grazed the side of her neck, barely missing her jugular but leaving a significant wound. Blood made small pool on the floor around her head, matting in her hair. Alec lifted her quickly to her feet, supporting her so she could walk, pressing his hand against the bleeding. She cringed, her eyes opening and closing, unseeing, and she tried to cough but found it impossible.
"Hang on, Maxie," Alec said. "We're almost there." They reached the windowed room and Brin and Syl cracked the glass away with their machine guns before firing at the men outside, who scattered, yelling and firing back. The X5s had a significant tactical advantage, being above; Syl located the helicopter across the yard; a couple of soldiers tried to get to it but she picked them off. Alec and Zack hung back with their wounded, feeling helpless. Alec checked his watch: they had less than forty seconds before the explosives would go.
"Let's move," Brin said, and swung herself out of the window. She jumped down the two storeys and landed on her feet; Syl did the same and Zack followed immediately, staggering slightly under Krit's weight as he hit the ground. Alec lifted Max into his arms and dropped to the ground, putting her back on her feet. Brin was already running for the helicopter, Syl covering her as more guards approached from the south and north sides of the building. The yard was littered with bodies. Brin slid into the driver's seat of the old black hawk, retired from service in the early twenty-first-century; Alec noted with appreciation that it was in quite good condition for being several decades old. He could remember training on these as a child. Brin started the engine as Syl climbed into the back and helped lift Max and Krit into the cargo hold.
Zack fired at three approaching soldiers from the hold but frowned as they kept coming; had he missed? He fired again; they didn't go down. Slowly he realized that these were who Max had been talking about, the people they couldn't fight. They must have been the soldiers airlifted in.
"Let's move," he said as they ran toward the helicopter. Brin slowly lifted the helicopter off the ground, rotating it and preparing for complete lift-off; the layout of this machine started to come back to Zack and he reached for the machine gun he knew was equipped on this model. He fired it at the Familiars, letting loose at least three hundred rounds in a thirty-second burst, but again they just kept coming. The black hawk continued into the air as Alec glanced down at his watch.
"Three seconds," he said; everyone hunched down and Brin angled the chopper so it wouldn't be caught sideways in the blast, and a moment later the entire compound exploded, sending out glass and debris and fire in all directions; Zack felt the helicopter heat up momentarily as it was partially engulfed, but Brin kept control and they were quickly out of range. Zack looked down at the yard and located the Familiars; they had been thrown to the ground from the force of the blast but the debris missed them and they were now getting back to their feet.
"How high can they jump?" Zack asked Alec tensely as the three men stopped under them and stared straight upward, unnerving him.
"Not this high." He relaxed and turned to their wounded. Krit was lying quietly on the floor, trying not to dwell on the pain wracking his body. Max's eyes were opening and closing; she was struggling to stay awake. Zack touched her cheek.
"Stay with me, Maxie," he said gently. A tear slipped down her cheek. "It's going to be okay."
"Where are we headed?" Brin asked.
"South, to Crestview Hospital." Logan's voice started the X5s. "I have a friend there who knows what you are. Zack, you know him."
"Yeah," Zack answered; he remembered Doctor Carr.
"Roger," Brin said, turning the helicopter and flying toward the hospital.
"I'll meet you there," Logan said. "You're going out of range now. I won't be able to-" The signal dropped off and Zack shrugged.
Syl was sitting with Krit again, holding his hand and smiling down at him with tears in her eyes. She smoothed the hair from his clammy forehead.
"Hey," he managed, smiling up at her. "You're okay, huh?" He touched her cheek. "Thanks to you," she said softly. "You stupid ass... don't ever do that again." She turned her face into his hand and cried.
"Sorry," he whispered, and a slow smile crept over his face. Syl held his hand the rest of the way to the hospital, whose helicopter pad was luckily unoccupied since the hospital had lost funding for most of its emergency equipment besides the basics. Dr. Carr recognized Zack and of course Max, and rushed to help both Max and Krit, sending Brin and Alec off with a nurse to tend to their far less serious wounds. Logan arrived shortly after they returned, having dropped Joshua and the X9 boy off safely at his apartment. Doctor Carr returned and took the injured girl for treatment with an exasperate look at Logan, who just shrugged.
"They said they're both going to be fine," Syl assured him when he hurried over to them, wide-eyed with fear. "Max's wound is superficial and the bullets managed to miss all of Krit's organs. Zack is giving him some blood now."
"Have a seat," Alec offered, and Logan sat with them on one of the hard waiting-room chairs, breathing a deep sigh of relief as he dropped his head into his hands. Syl touched his shoulder sympathetically, having had a similar reaction only a short time before.
"That mission could have gone better," Alec said after a long silence.
"Really?" Brin answered dryly. Alec grinned.
"I like her," he said, and Brin rolled her eyes. Syl smiled; her sister was getting to have quite the personality. Alec surveyed the rest of the group.
"Why do you look so sad? Everyone's going to be fine and we completed the mission. Stop being so boring."
"Shut up, Alec," Syl said half-heartedly, taking over Max's role since she wasn't there. He was speechless with surprise for several moments but then just smiled and shook his head.
"We are never doing that again," Zack spoke up from behind them, sitting down heavily into one of the chairs. "I got us some food." He handed Syl a bag of sour cream and bacon chips, a package of twinkies, and a can of apple cider.
"Ugh," Brin said. "You call that food?"
"Is that what you got me? Because if it is then I don't want it," Alec remarked, looking just as disgusted as Brin.
"Ah, my favourite lunch," Syl said, ignoring their comments. "Zack, you know me so well." He turned and handed Brin a salami sandwich with extra mayonnaise and a diet coke. She looked at his odd choice.
"You love that," he said slowly. "Salami with extra mayo is your favourite."
"Oh," she said. "Right." Maybe she didn't remember quite everything. Brin bit cautiously into the sandwich and smiled. "It's good," she said. Zack looked slightly pleased and turned to Alec.
"I didn't know what you wanted, so I got you the same thing."
"Sounds good to me," he said, taking it. "I'll eat almost anything." His eyes shifted to Syl warily. "Except that. Who even thought of putting sour cream and bacon on the same chip anyway? Also, twinkies are like 2% actual food. And apple cider? Don't even-"
"Hey, don't knock it till you've tried it," she interrupted, taking an exaggerated bite of a twinkie.
"I don't think so," Alec answered; Logan suddenly got to his feet. They followed his gaze and saw the doctor approaching them with a smile on his face and the X9 girl holding his hand.
"You can see them now," he said. Syl took the child's hand from Dr. Carr and all four X5s quickly moved past him, hauling their food along with them. Logan hung back.
"What exactly happened?" Dr. Carr asked. "That boy was riddled with bullets, not to mention the child."
"It's a long story," Logan answered heavily. "Suffice to say it'll never happen again." The doctor nodded after a long moment.
"Well, okay. He's already healing remarkably fast. Must be that nanocyte-enriched blood in him." He smiled at Logan's anxious expression. "Go on in."
"Thanks," Logan said, quickly heading toward where Dr. Carr had motioned. The other were already in the room, smiling down at their two injured unit members. Max was sitting next to Krit's bed, a bandage on her neck but otherwise looking okay if not a bit shaky.
"Hey," she said to him as he walked in.
"Hey yourself," he answered warmly, careful not to approach her.
"Logan," Krit greeted, sounding much better than he had over the comm before.
"Glad to see you're alright," Logan said; Krit shrugged and then winced at the action.
"Yeah, well, with my blood running around in there you should be fine pretty soon," Zack said, echoing what Dr. Carr had told Logan.
"I feel much better already," Krit assured them. Syl touched his hair and smiled.
"How are Joshua and the other little guy?" Max asked.
"They're good," Logan answered her. "They're at my place, laying low."
"I'm going to need you to get some papers for those two," Max said, glancing at the girl next to Syl. "Find them some homes." Logan nodded.
"Thank you," she said softly. He nodded. There was a short silence.
"As soon as Krit's discharged I'm going to move on," Zack said. "I've got to check up on some of the others."
"What about me?" Brin asked softly. Zack looked at her.
"Come with me," he said. All eyes flew to him, wondering if he was serious. He explained, "I saw you today. You're happier when you have a mission. I know that. I know Manticore is still inside of you, stronger than in any of us. So come with me. You can help me look after the others. That can be your mission until you don't need one anymore." Slowly, Brin smiled.
"Thank you, Zack," she said. He shrugged, slightly uncomfortable.
"Yeah, well, I could use the help," he told her.
"Not to mention the company," Max added. Zack nodded.
"Yeah." He looked at Krit. "Listen..."
"It's okay," his brother cut him off. "I know. I know you did what you thought was right. I was dead." Syl glanced away. "It would have been stupid to stick around and defend my body."
"Stupid," Zack repeated, his heart not in it. "Right." Syl forced herself to look at him.
"It's okay, Zack," she said. "Krit's not angry and neither am I." After a moment Max nodded her agreement, and Logan saw a relieved look flicker through Zack's eyes.
"And I'm sorry about what I said," Syl added in a near-whisper. "About Lydecker. I didn't mean it. I was scared." Zack gazed at her for a long moment, trying not to look as hurt as he was. Syl bit her lip and said, "I love you. You're not him." Zack slowly nodded.
"I love you too, Syl," he said in a near-whisper, surprising Logan with his openness and the fact that he was obviously in very deep pain about what she'd said, so deep that he couldn't even hide it successfully. Logan could also see in Zack's eyes that he was terrified Syl's comment had been true. He saw Max watching Zack with great concern and actually found himself worrying about how this would affect him. But as always, Zack managed to put on a strong face for his family and said nothing more.
"Well," Syl said as she came to stand before to Max in Logan's apartment the next day. She had already said her goodbyes to Alec and the rest of her siblings. "I guess this is it." She touched Max's shoulder, tears shining in her eyes. "You take care of yourself, baby sister," she said softly. Max reached out, hugged her, and then with a final small smile and a mouthing of I'll call you to Krit without letting Zack see, she was gone. Max smiled to herself and turned to Krit.
"I'll see you soon, Maxie," he said, hugging her. She smiled into his shoulder, careful not to touch the other one, which was still painful. Most of his other injuries had almost completely healed thanks to Zack's nanocyte-enriched blood. He released her and smiled. "Bye," he said.
"Bye," Max answered softly. Krit hugged Brin, then shook hands with Alec and gave Zack a friendly slap on the shoulder. He shut the door quietly on his way out. Alec was looking uncomfortable with all of these emotional displays and the two children in the room were fascinated; Joshua was too busy discovering the joys of peanut butter to take much notice of anything. Brin seemed to be enjoying the goodbyes, to Max's great surprise and delight. She had come a long way and she was actually smiling now.
"I'm so glad you're alright," Max told her, hugging her tightly into her arms. Brin readily hugged her back, touched her head in a very sisterly gesture.
"Bye," she said softly. "For now, anyway." Max smiled.
"Yeah, bye," she answered; now Zack was standing in front of her. His eyes flitted to the bandage at her throat. "It's fine," she told him. He nodded, then reached out and pulled her into his arms. She held onto him tightly, not wanting him to leave again but trying to remind herself that he would be back. After a long moment he let her go.
"I'll see you," he said. "Call if you need me." She smiled.
"I will." Zack nodded, then left with Brin. Max watched him go, felt Logan's presence in the room a safe distance behind her and sighed, turning away from the door. Alec had risen to his feet and was pulling on his jacket.
"Well, that's enough excitement of one night. I'm going to go home and sleep," he said. "I'll see you guys later."
"Bye," Max answered; he rubbed the shaved heads of the two children to their annoyance and looked at Joshua.
"Come on, Josh, you can sleep at my place till we make sure you have somewhere to go," he said; Joshua smiled excitedly- fun things always happened at Alec's. He touched Max on the shoulder as he went by and Alec closed the apartment door behind them. Max smiled and rolled her eyes, then turned to the kids.
"Time to bunk down," she said. "There's a nice warm bed down the hall with your names on it." She faltered. "Well, when I give you names, anyway." She motioned for them to go to the guestroom and prepare for bed. "I'll be there in a minute and I'll tell you a story."
"A story?" the boy asked.
"Yeah," she answered. It'll be fun."
"Okay." They left the room silently together.
"In the morning I'll hook them up with papers and get right on finding them some homes," Logan said, yawning big. "You going home?"
"No, I think I'll just sit on the couch all night and think."
"The joys of not having to sleep," he remarked through another yawn. He looked at her, saw the heavy expression in her eyes. "At least everything turned out okay."
"Yeah." She forced a smile. "It's just a lot to go through in the space of a few days."
"I know." He wanted to squeeze her hand in comfort, but of course he didn't. "Well, goodnight."
"Goodnight," Max answered, and watched him turn away, then hesitate.
"Everything is okay, Max," he said. She nodded though she wasn't so sure, and he left the room. Max rose and went into the guestroom, where the X9s had already gotten into bed and were waiting patiently for her. She smiled at them and wracked her brain for a story she could tell them. The mermaid one she had told Logan's niece? No... And most of Ben's were definitely too scary. She thought hard as the children gazed at her. Then an idea struck her, and she turned back to them.
"Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived in a castle in a faraway land," she began softly. "The castle was a bad place. It was ruled over by an evil king who wanted to hurt the children. But then one day one of the princess' brothers decided that he would get them all away from the castle so they would be safe. So, the children escaped and tried to make their way in the world. It was hard because the evil king never stopped looking for them."
"What happened?" the boy asked sleepily, trying not to drift off even as his eyes fluttered closed.
"The princess was lucky," Max said softly. "She met her prince. They fell in love and had a family and she was very happy." The boy was now asleep.
"What happened to the princess?" the girl asked, wide-eyed at the magic of her first story.
"Well..." Max hesitated, then slowly smiled. "She never had to go back to the castle ever again," she said softly, blinking back tears and forcing a smile. Max touched the girl's cheek. "And neither will you." Though she was only a toddler the child had a wisdom programmed into her that was far beyond her years; she nodded in complete understanding that the castle was Manticore. Her eyes slowly closed.
"Good," she whispered, then drifted off like her brother. Max felt Logan watching from the doorway; he hadn't gone to bed after all. She gazed at the two peaceful children.
"Everything is okay," she said, rubbing her hand affectionately over their shaved heads. She turned to look at Logan, smiled genuinely and said, "I know."
A/N: Okay, I really didn't want to use a black hawk helicopter because people would think I'm copying "Black Hawk Down," but it was the only military helicopter I could find that had a large hold suitable for transporting men and the only one that was equipped with a machine gun. Plus I figured a lot more people would know what they looked like so I wouldn't have to go into a big description. :) Hopefully you didn't mind!!
Well, that's the end of Via Memorius Part 3- Part 4 is already in progress. It's called "Lacrima Amare" and it's the last VM installment (I think I may cry). So if you liked this and want to know what happens next, please read that one!! (hinthint, it stars Jondy and Zane and unresolved issues from VM Part 2) :)