Crash, 9:30 p.m.

Max and Original Cindy sat at the bar, waiting for the bartender to fill the pitcher. OC was mid-story about a time when her old roommate walked in on her and her girlfriend getting busy. Max was nearly doubled over with laughter.

"I told him, 'honey, we don't have room in here for you, so just take your sausage and leave.' He was so embarrassed he almost dropped his sausage!"

"And who was this?" Max asked.

"He was Glen, the last male roommate Original Cindy ever had."

The bartender returned with the pitcher and a couple glasses for the two girls and Sketchy, who was currently trying and failing to get a girl's number over by the jukebox. Max and Original Cindy returned to the table and poured the ale.

"Whatcha got planned for the weekend?" Max asked.

"Why? You need some alone time in the apartment witcha boy?" she asked, looking past Max as Alec came down the stairs.

Max didn't see him. "Alec is not my boy," she said.

"I never said 'Alec,'" OC pointed out. Max's face reddened slightly. Before she could say anything, Alec was already joining their table.

"Hey Max, OC," he greeted. He turned to Max. Something shifted in his eyes. "You know, Max, you're lookin' really good tonight," he said, very obviously checking Max out. He shot a sideways glance to Original Cindy, who didn't notice it.

Max looked at him as if he were on some strong drugs. "Alright, Alec, what do you want?"

"What do you mean? I'm just giving a very overdue compliment to my hot transgenic counterpart," he offered, smiling suggestively and raising his brows playfully.

"I'm not buyin' it, Alec," Max said. "What do you want?"

Alec wasn't ready to divulge that information. He needed to talk to Max alone. He raised an eyebrow and gave her the unique-creature-unlike-any-other stare, which Max would see right through but OC would not. "What do I want?"

Time to think fast, he thought. "What I'd really like is to take you by to my place and-"

Although Original Cindy had abruptly stared at Alec as if he was clearly crazy for uttering such words to her girl, whom she knew would bust his head for first stating and then continuing such a conversation, Alec continued. "-and smooth you open against the wall, smearing kisses over every inch of your body-"

Max had blushed. She'd been a fleeting object of his flirtation once or twice, but he never got specific and he'd never sent her to fantasize from his imagery. He continued, Max dumbstruck. "-then taste every curve of your skin before slowly and agonizingly undressing you, letting my fingertips caress your creamy-"

Original Cindy stood up with her beer and began walking away, muttering something about getting sick.

"-skin as you creep your hands up my-" Alec stopped, noticing OC had stepped away and Max's eyes seemed to be stuck in an Alec-facing trance, looking into his eyes; her stare was vacant – she was somewhere else. "-chest," he finished, enjoying the flushed skin at her face. He watched her for half a minute before she broke out of it. He was surprised she hadn't slapped him already.

"What?" she asked.

"Where were you just now?" he asked, wondering if she was imagining a couple of transgenics they both knew using what some geneticist gave them to every advantage.

Up against a wall, getting undressed by, Max thought, interrupting her thought process. "Um, nowhere. What's up?"

Alec didn't believe her – but he needed to get Max alone so they could talk, and he knew OC wouldn't leave unless she was distracted by a potential love interest or disgusted by how he pleasured women.

"I need your help," he said.

Mac couldn't help herself. She immediately flashed back to his little scenario and thought, 'With your pants or mine?'

"I got word from my old SIC that one of my unit is in danger outside town a couple hours."

Max barely understood what he had just said. His old SIC? Alec had been a CO?

She thought back to what she knew about him. It made sense that Manticore's finest would lead a unit. Okay, I can see that, she thought. But there's also someone in trouble from his unit, and he's asking me for help. I didn't even know he kept in touch with his unit. I didn't even know he knew how to ask for help.

Then it clicked. Must be an old 'friend.' She thought about it again. He'd never asked for her help before – except for the bomb-in-the-head thing she spent all of her virus money on.

"How can I help?" she asked decidedly. And disappointedly. After all, he was about to save a damsel in distress, and she doubted the X5 would repay his kindness with money.

"Well, it kinda requires," Alec began, leaning in toward her ear, then whispered, "the help of a certain cyber-journalist-'not like that'-guy you know."

Max smiled, closing her eyes momentarily at smelling Alec from so close a distance.

What the hell am I doing? she thought. Smelling him? God, he smells good.

Max opened her eyes and felt a small pang of jealousy that she was about to send him right into the arms of the woman from his unit.

Am I going into heat? she questioned herself not two seconds later. I hope not. Might have to have Original Cindy clock me again.

Across the bar at the pool table, Sketchy couldn't believe his ears. OC had just dropped some knowledge onto him and he had watched Max and Alec's conversation from afar. They were huddled at the table and whatever he had said, she was blushing and leaning into him. When Max suddenly stood and slipped into her jacket, he couldn't believe his eyes.

"They're going home together!" he asked, astonished, and proud.

Max waved to OC and Sketchy with a slight smile, and left.

Sketchy turned to OC and said, "What did he just say to her? I gotta find out, 'cause I keep strikin' with the ladies."