The game has changed. New rules. Worse odds. Higher stakes. Season 1 re-vamped. AU – Max doesn't escape.
The escape was Zack's idea. It was a seat of the pants decision and execution. The sort of thing Max, with her reactionary tendencies and impulsive streak a mile wide, might instigate but she had been too busy trying not to collapse from seizures.
This was fortunate. It meant she got off more lightly when the finger pointing started. She was just following orders. And she wasn't in the right frame of mind. It wasn't her fault. This wasn't necessarily true, but no one got out of psy-ops by telling the truth.
Max didn't make it out. She had gotten very close, made it so far, but with one miss-step on a frozen lake she found herself right back in Manticore. End game. It seemed unfair, but that was the story of her life. No do-overs. No second chances. Instead there was psy-ops and rehabilitation.
Sometimes it seemed like it happened to someone else – like maybe it was an urban legend from the Seattle facility or it was another unit. That's what psy-ops did to your mind. It was simpler to believe this. Less lonely. Max wished the best for them, but it painful thinking about them living it up out there while she rotted away in Manticore. Left behind.
Truth was, none of them had probably set eyes on each other in years. They split up that night and stayed separate for safety. They were living on the run, always looking over their shoulders, like mice scurrying from birds of prey. Living in the gutters and filth. Lonely too. This thought didn't make Max feel much better either.
Manticore wasn't so bad. Food, shelter and security. Lot to be said for that. The first few years were brutal, but that was mostly confined to the anniversary – a harsh reminder than an escape could never happen again. Max had never been called as a volunteer. The odds weren't stacked in her favour as an attempted escapee. Or with her track record.
Every designation went into the lotto once. This was true for every transgenic. But you could have repeats. Most did. An extra entry for each misdemeanour or failure. Escaping violated dozens of rules. Each counted for one entry. In '10, the first anniversary, Max's designation was in over 40 times. She didn't want to think about current total.
Three designations, one from each facility, were pulled out of the lotto to participate in cruciamentum. The volunteers (really, conscripts, you'd have to be insane to volunteer for this) competed in three tasks, designated to test strength, intelligence and endurance, judged by the director from each facility.
The venue rotated between facilities. The games varied, lasting from hours to weeks. Always brutal and fatal. The champion was the last one standing. They usually didn't staying standing for very long. Of the nine cruciametums, only one had survived. Two others might have, but they weren't smart enough to turn down the opportunity to attempt an escape – the prize for this last event being freedom. Failure meant death.
The cruciamentum was recorded. It was mandatory watching treated like a sporting event, pitting facilities against each other. They promised honour and glory for your facility. Everyone knew though that it was a reminder than another escape should never be attempted.
Next year was the tenth anniversary. It would be hosted at Wyoming. It would be a very special event. A more glorified version to make sure no one forgot why escaping was such a bad thing. It was twelve moths away and Max already had a sickening, twisting feeling in her stomach about it.
It might be an election this time. Or they could be specially chosen. Or there might be twice the volunteers. Something worse. As an attempted escapee, the first two meant her designation was inevitable and the last two just worsened her already bad odds. There was some poetic about sparing her until a big occasion. Her designation would be called. Volunteer was basically another word for corpse.
Max didn't want to die. She'd gotten a reputation for being fearless. But she was scared. It was one thing to die out in the field. That's what they were trained for. She wasn't worried about that. This was different. Dying in a humiliating, gruesome fashion and strung up as a lesson. She wasn't ready for that.
Theoretically, amends could be made and the number of designation entries could be reduced. This was another aspect of the game, keeping them all on edge, letting them know they had no control of their lives. Max didn't play along. That was when her calling was academic rather than rigged. This changed everything. It made she had to play. It was her only way to stay off the board.
"Max, sit down," said Lydecker, gesturing at the seat in front of his desk. He closed down his laptop and pinned her with his cold stare. "You wanted to see me."
"Yes sir," Max agreed. She paused. She hadn't given much thought to the words she would use. The wrong thing would give her an extra entry. "I want to make amendments."
"For what?" Lydecker's expression was unreadable.
"That will take a lifetime. You're a bit ambitious giving yourself ten months," he commented. "Now if you had a decade…"
Max swallowed a lump in her throat. "I'll do anything."
She wasn't sure what she was agreeing to. It was reckless to give such open terms. Lydecker could easily imagine something much worse than the tenth anniversary.
"I do have something in mind," Lydecker admitted. "You would be uniquely qualified to handle it, but you're also extremely like to fuck it up."
"I won't. I swear," Max promised immediately.
"You shouldn't make promises you can't keep," Lydecker advised. "Your amendment, should you choose to accept it, is to terminate or retrieve Ben."
Max was finding it very hard to breath. Like there was no oxygen in this room. It felt a bit like being under water. The words were distorted and muffled. Lydecker continued unwaveringly.
"He has become a liability. An anomaly. Our best intel suggests that he will develop into a serial killer and cause considerable damage to Manticore in the process. There are significant resources being put together to stop this. You could be one arm of this operation. Such as assignment would be voluntary. You will need to tell me right now either way."
A life for a life. Quid pro quo. It seemed like something Lydecker had in the pipeline, waiting for her to cave in and play the game. Winning didn't mean her life would be spared. She could go through all this and end up called. They weren't good terms. But they were her only terms.
It wasn't like Ben was doing her life out there right, going around murdering people. They hadn't escaped to become unhinged killers. It was a wasted life. Ending it, either directly or indirectly, wouldn't be that wrong, would it? The good folks of America would be that bit safer.
If Max were fearless, she'd tell Lydecker where to shove his offer. Spend the next year in a blaze of trouble, fun and recklessness and go out in flames at cruciamentum. Die as herself. Not as a piece in their games. Not a slave. Not 452. Die being Max.
But Max was scared. And she didn't want to die. She'd play along.
"I'll do it."
Thoughts, feelings, opinions? It's a what if story. What if Max didn't escape? Cliff-notes version: she ends up in Seattle 2019 anyway still dealing with the same crap, with extra Manticore stuff thrown into the mix. Comment if you would like to see this written.