Max lifted her head and winced, bringing her hand up to the throbbing pain that had woken her to begin with. She groaned.
"Finally, you're awake," she heard. Alec sat on the rack next to hers, staring at her intently. He seemed calm, but as she sat up, she saw his usually-perfect skin had a couple of abrasions on it, some on his face, and a slight black eye.
"What happened?" she asked, a little too dizzy to look around.
"You don't remember?"
She couldn't remember. Was it White? She saw a picture of him in her mind and gritted her teeth. That didn't help her headache.
"We were crawling around in the sewers on a weeknight looking for some lost transgenic," he said, rubbing his head.
Okay, she remembered that. She'd gotten a tip from one of Logan's contacts that there was a transgenic, a child, out hiding in the sewers; a child who needed help.
She had been at Crash when Logan called to inform her of his contact's information. At Crash with Original Cindy, Sketchy and Alec, relaxing after work. When she said she had to go, Alec had tagged along, out of some misguided sense of chivalry, Max had deduced – and had said as much. She'd lived on her own for ten years before the others were freed, and she'd survived that long. But Alec had insisted, so they had both gone.
Not far from Terminal City, they had descended into the sewers and discovered the quivering child. But when she'd gotten closer to the child, he turned to reveal himself as one of the familiar's offspring. It had been a trap.
Max had looked back at Alec, and then a darkness had come over her. She didn't remember anything else.
"When we found him, White was right behind him with some tranq darts – which he used on me after he knocked you out," Alec told her.
"Why didn't he just kill us?"
Alec shifted in his seat and eventually stood. "That's why we're here," he said, arms outstretched as if to sarcastically suggest 'This place is paradise' and 'What more could we want?'
Max finally looked around. They seemed to be in an iron cage, underground by the mildewy smell of it and sense of coldness. Were they even in Seattle anymore? The lights flickered.
"Oh yeah, and the power is only gonna last another two days, maybe." Alec paced the cell.
"This is not happening," Max said. It's a dream, she told herself; no, a nightmare. She recognized she was in denial at some subconscious level, but it just felt like this wasn't supposed to be happening. When they broke out so many years ago, they were supposed to assimilate to the world and no one would ever suspect they were different, and they would all make up something clever about their barcodes. This wasn't part of the plan.
"How long have I been out?" she asked.
"About a day."
"How long have we been down here?"
"I think about a day. White knocked you out then sedated you for a little while and went to town on my face. He tranq'ed me with three darts. I can only imagine he tranq'ed you, too."
"That explains the excruciating migraine," she said, feeling her neck for puncture holes. She felt two sore spots. "Bastards."
"When I woke up, that smug asshole had us welded in here. No water, no food. Nothing."
Max, panic-stricken, looked around and noticed some disturbed dirt areas near where she assumed was the front of the cage.
"Apparently, the bars go a couple of feet down before we see they are welded to an iron-bar floor."
Oh, this is bad. This is really bad.
"Are we gonna die down here?" Max asked.
Alec was quiet. She didn't like that.
The two transgenics had sat in silence for a couple of hours, avoiding one another's gaze.
I can't believe this. I followed a solid tip, doing the right thing by trying to help a kid, and now I'm stuck underground in an impenetrable iron cage with Alec, and we're gonna die down here and no one would even know we needed rescuing. We're just going to vanish.
Max thought about Original Cindy, sitting at home, worried sick about where Max was since she hadn't come home the previous night. She would be worried, right? She would know what to do – she would call Logan and they would find her. Right?
Except this wasn't the first time Max hadn't come home. It wasn't the firs time she'd gone on a mission and didn't check in for days. OC probably wouldn't' call Logan for a few days, and by then, they'd probably be out of air.
Unless she could find a way out. Maybe Alec hadn't checked completely.
Max stood up from the cot and headed to the opposite side of the cage, across from where Alec had dug before. She looked over her shoulder to him.
Somehow, this place had some power – the lights. Maybe she could find an imperfection in the welding, something weak enough that their combined strength could break it the rest of the way and they could be free and escape this bunker, go home and have a couple of beers with their friends and force this into a distant memory.
"What are you doing?" asked Alec, breaking the silence. Max moved with purpose.
"Help me dig," she ordered. She squatted down and began scraping at the dirt, frantic with determination.
"Max, it's no use," he said a little more harshly than he intended.
"Why? You're so perfect you don't make mistakes? You don't know, Alec, there could be some imperfections in the craftsmanship. We could be able to get out." Max had already been digging the whole lecture.
Alec watched her, surprised once again by her stubbornness. Though he knew it was futile, he sauntered over to her side, knelt down and began digging.
After hours of digging, they were both sweaty and dirty and had appeared to have gotten nowhere. Max wiped her forehead with the back of her hand and sat back against he bars to survey their work.
They managed to dig up about one-third of the floor, but had found no imperfections, no trap doors, and no spots wide enough for either of them to slip through.
"I can't believe I'm gonna die down here," she said, tears forming in her eyes.
Alec said nothing but thought back to his years at Manticore. Emotion is the enemy. The objective is to complete your mission, soldier. He could hear Lydecker in his head. He wracked his brain, trying to remember.
Psy-Ops had been hell. After Ben was discovered in the woods, neck broken, Manticore had done a thorough reexamination of his genetics and, though they had determined Ben's DNA had mutated strands and Alec's did not, they still went ahead with the torture, break-down of every corner of his mind, the reinstatement of the Manticore decree.
Alec had been too strong for them. Maybe his own DNA had prevented them, somehow, from reinstating the blank slate, follows-orders soldier he had once been. It was possible – but he knew he had fooled them. Surrendered himself physically to their torture, tests, every activity they wanted; kept up with the Sir, yes, sirs and blind order-following for six months.
In that time, they had tried to burn 452, Max, into his head as a traitor, a poison to Manticore and everything for which it stood. Her picture had seared into his brain, but he saw her as the one thing which offered him hope. If he could memorize everything about her, maybe he could understand how to do what she had done – escape. He waited patiently for his opportunity, like a caged Lion waiting for the perfect time to expose his enemy's weakness and attack.
Then fate, or someone or something, had handed him that golden opportunity the day she had been shot. The facility was abuzz with hushed chatter that they had caught her – the traitor.
She had actually flat-lined, but a former X5 soldier – the leader of 452's unit, had killed himself to provide a heart so 452 would live. To Alec, the whole thing had seemed foolish. Why would he kill himself to save her? Manticore was on the cutting and experimental edge of scientific advances and discovery and would be able to bring them both back to life without issue.
Then again, some of those advances had occurred just in the past five to fifteen years. Maybe they didn't know the extent to which Manticore took its own God complex. They hadn't exactly been around, nor had they seen the underground happenings that helped cauterize Manticore's mistakes. Either way, she'd live.
Prior to her weeks of recovery, Alec had done so well at being the perfect soldier; they had promoted him and given him charge of the best unit. Whatever threat he had posed as a shared recipient of 493's DNA, they felt they had eradicated it from him, psychologically and physically.
He was in a position of dominance and that came with a few perks, such as pairing his unit with breeding partners. Renfro had even come to him to assign him to the traitor – once she recovered. He had hidden his intentions well.
When he stepped into her cell the first day, he knew she had already cooked up a plan – she was a soldier after all, and a soldier in enemy territory would case the place for exit routes.
He had wanted to tell her he'd go with her, that this was something they could work on together, but what assurances did he have she wouldn't rat him out for a better deal?
Truthfully, he didn't know her character at all, not really, only that they had something in common: the desire for freedom. He knew exactly what to say to her to make her run the other direction – want out that much more – and the (possibly) worse part was that Manticore had ordered him to breed with her.
What he didn't expect was how attractive she'd be in person. Her childhood visage did little to forewarn him of her beauty. Even her picture by the sketch artist did her little justice. In real life, in the flesh, she swept long, straight hair, soft black, over her shoulder; of course her plump pout was in full effect – her younger self carried this, too; her big chocolaty eyes made his mouth dry; and her petite frame aroused in him the mental image of her holding it up against him. He was instantly attracted. Not part of the plan¸ he had thought, but maybe it could be.
Now here they were, in an underground dirt bunker surrounded by iron bars, waiting to die, and he couldn't muster the courage to tell her the truth.
"I'm sorry, Max," he said, seeing dust form on the tracks of her tears. All he wanted to do was go back in time so he would never make her cry; get them out of this hole. But he couldn't remember how.
"It's not your fault, Alec." Max moved to sit next to him on the cot.
Alec felt the lump in his throat grow. I'm not going to die a liar, he scolded himself. He cleared his throat. "Yeah, it is."
Max looked to him, innocent brown eyes melting him.
"I engineered this scenario almost ten years ago."