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"Can you move?" Max asked Alec, who immediately looked offended.
"Just asking," she said, voice dripping with disbelief, "cause up until a few minutes ago you were out cold." In truth, he still looked like death warmed over and he was badly favoring his injured shoulder.
"And now I'm not." He smiled, all charm. "Put me in, Coach. I can do it."
She shook her head. "I have no idea what that means."
"It means quit talking and let's go, Miss I've-been-out-in-the-world-so-long."
Max ignored the jibe and her eyes trailed toward where Logan was still lying on his makeshift pallet. Almost immediately, she was smacked on the back of the head.
"What did I say?" Alec sing-songed.
Max shot him another nasty glare, but took the hint. "You'll take care of him?"
Alec rolled his eyes. "No, Max. We're going to leave him here to be picked up and interrogated by the police."
"Just… promise me," she said, for once completely sincere. Logan was everything she'd dreamed of and now could never have. She couldn't bear to think of not being the one to make sure he was ok, or at least that he made it through this latest disaster.
Alec put both of his hands on her shoulders and leaned down slightly so that they were eye to eye. "I promise, Max. He's going to be ok. The virus is done for now and I'll make sure he gets back home safely."
Max just nodded. That was the best she could do for now.
Alec turned away and headed toward a group of Transgenics who were done gathering their meager belongings. The Transgenics straightened as he approached as if being approached by a superior officer. Alec smirked and gestured in a near "At ease," then started speaking while the others nodded. It only took a few seconds, then they headed toward Logan.
Alec walked back toward her, took her arm and began pulling her the other way. "Come on, Max. We have a sewer to visit."
The school wasn't so bad, Max thought. A bit dirty, a little broken down, but then what wasn't these days? Part of it was even a group of old dormitories. Turns out the rich kid school had been a boarding school back in the day.
Since the Pulse, rich people either couldn't afford to farm their kids out anymore, or they felt safer sending their kids back and forth to school with armed bodyguards. It was either that or your kid got kidnapped and held until you coughed up the money to get them back. Desperate times and all that.
Everyone else was sacked out on the bunks, but Max couldn't rest. She had already spent a bit of time prowling around their new quarters checking everything out. Other than the dorm rooms, there were a couple of kitchenette type areas, a few rooms which were probably study rooms that still had chairs and tables, and a couple of larger rooms that had probably had TVs and games, etc, at some point, although everything that was worth anything had long since been removed.
Once she'd looked around, however, she'd had nothing left to do but think. That, unfortunately, led to nothing good. Once again, everything she'd touched had completely fallen apart. The transhumans had been doing fine in Terminal City until she'd showed up and led the authorities right to them. Logan had been fine until she'd given in and admitted Alec wasn't really her boyfriend and the very same day she'd nearly killed him again. The Transgenics had all been together, all working together, and now they were broken into pieces, factions even, not to mention some of them might have been captured or killed trying to get away from Terminal City. Her grand idea of making a stand hadn't lasted more than a few hours. Max would say she was a train wreck but what she was, in fact, was a forest fire devouring everything in her path.
"Don't make me hit you again, Max. My hand's starting to hurt."
Max looked over at the only other Transgenic still awake. Alec was sitting across the table from her, one foot propped on the edge, leaning the chair back precariously on two legs. He had his bad arm resting across his ribs. With his other hand, he was holding an old radio he'd managed to snag from somewhere while she hadn't been paying attention, listening to the news through one earplug. The other dangled on his chest, allowing him to hear the news while also listen to his environment.
"Sorry," Max snapped. "I'll try to be more cheerful in our dire circumstances."
"Good." He nodded, his expression serious. "That's what I like to hear. Because you're not dead, I'm not dead, Logan's resting peacefully at home and we have a roof over our heads."
"Fine. Life's all puppies and rainbows."
Alec frowned, clearly not amused for once. "The puppies all went with Mole and the sun never comes out in this waterlogged town. I'm not telling you to dance with happiness. Just… things could be worse for us."
Max looked at him for a second and realized he knew something. He'd been listening to his radio for a while now. "What is it?"
"Nine dead," he answered. "They took the bodies to the city morgue for study, but the latest is that the military came in and secured them. Don't know if that means the real military or if White's people came in and took them."
Nine dead. Nine people who she'd convinced to stay in Terminal City and take a stand. It felt like someone had landed a punch directly over her heart. "Who?" Max could barely get the word past her strangled throat.
"No way of knowing," Alec answered matter-of-factly. "We don't know who went with Mole, who went it alone, and who's dead."
"Two in custody. They're not saying where."
Max closed her eyes, freshly horrified, her mind flying in all different directions, wondering how she was going to free them. If she weren't a Transgenic, she'd have a massive headache right now. "What does all of that mean?"
"Well," he drew the word out, "it means that most of us got away and the people with Mole have managed to hole up somewhere. Mole was ready to start shooting humans during the Jam Pony thing, and he's not the only one who'd think that way, so, my best guess, they're about as angry as a group of dispossessed super-soldiers can get and as soon as they get themselves together, it's going to get ugly."
"Are you sure?" She couldn't help asking. After all, she really didn't know much about Alec's training at Manticore. He could have been trained to be an assassin/camp cook for all she really knew.
"You can take the soldiers out of Manticore, but you can't take Manticore out of the soldiers," he replied lightly, although there was nothing amusing about the sentiment.
They fell silent for several minutes while Alec continued to listen. Max was momentarily tempted to grab the other earpiece and listen as well, but that would require sitting right next to Alec, which she was not prepared to do. She'd already been way too up close and personal with him today for her comfort levels. She couldn't really fault him since he hadn't been a jerk about it, but still… Alec. Ever since they'd talked about Ben things had been different between them, easier. She hadn't really had time, though, to know what to do about it.
"So," she cleared her throat, to get his attention again, "what do we do?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Who says we have to do anything?"
"Are you kidding?"
"Hey," Alec smirked, "I'm a self-serving jerk who just wants to live a leisurely life of minding my own business."
She scowled. "Yeah. There is that." Max shook her head in disgust. "No matter what you say we have to find the two they caught. They're our people."
"No point." Alec brushed the idea aside. "The others are going to be way ahead of us on that."
"How are you so sure? They could've been forced to hole up for a while just like us. We don't even know that they stuck together. They could've broken up into little groups and gone to ground."
"Probably some of them did break off and head for the border. There's a group though that stuck together. Some of us are loners, but a lot have the pack mentality. Two of those pack kind are the best silent recon specialists Manticore ever produced. They'd be out looking even if someone didn't tell them to because they protect pack members. They have the best chance of finding those two and figuring the best way to get them out, bar none."
Max tried not to let it grate on her that once again she knew so little about the others and their training. At times it felt like they were in a secret club and even though she had a membership card, she didn't get all the privileges or the info. "Fine," she bit out. "Then what do we do about this other group since you're so sure they're going to go all military justice."
"Don't tell me you don't want to do anything about that."
Alec looked at her, a grave expression on his face, something she'd rarely seen. "Let's just say I have mixed feelings."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Max felt her temper beginning to ratchet higher. This was the last conversation she'd expected to have. Alec was supposed to go along with her. It's just what he did.
"I'm saying Mole and the others are angry and maybe I get where they're coming from."
"Cece is dead, Max." His eyes were piercing, unrelenting as they stared at her. "You didn't know her like the rest of us did. Biggs is dead. I was a 'hostage' and they shot me to get to a transhuman. We weren't doing anything but hiding in a quarantine zone and they tried to blow us up. Nine more of us are dead. Maybe I have some mixed feelings about how hard I want to keep Mole from doing some damage."
"You can't possibly-"
Alec rolled his eyes. "I know. It's bad. We're not terrorists and we can't just take out the ordinaries who want to kill us. It doesn't mean I'm not angry and that part of me doesn't want to make someone pay." He shrugged, his mouth curled up on one side in a half-smirk. "I have issues. Tell me something I don't know."
For several seconds, Max just looked at him and it was almost like looking at a stranger. She was so used to his usual easygoing ne'er-do-well persona, that when she saw this side of him, this serious, dangerous side, it was always… unsettling. She supposed that if ever there was a time for this side of him to make an appearance, though, it was now.
Alec continued to gaze at her, a stern look on his face. "Sometimes… you think like one of them."
"How's that?" she demanded angrily. She had spent years feeling separated from regular humans, desperately looking for her brothers and sisters. Then Manticore had burned and she'd worked tirelessly trying to protect the Transgenics who'd been freed.
Alec shrugged. "I'm just saying… Your first reaction is to jump to regular people's defense. Stands to reason since you've been out so long. You were living with them while the rest of us were trying to survive Manticore."
"I'm trying to keep everybody safe. Everybody," she emphasized. "If Mole does something stupid like he wanted to do at Jam Pony, they really will hunt us all down."
Alec nodded and sighed. "I know. Mole's not really a big picture kind of guy. Hopefully, the new person in charge will be. Maybe we'll get lucky and they won't try anything nuts."
They fell silent again, Alec listening to his radio, while Max stewed over what he'd said. No matter which way she looked at it, she didn't like it.
"I don't think like one of them," Max suddenly blurted. She didn't know why the thought bothered her so much, but it did.
Alec just looked at her. "Fine."
"Then why did you say it?" she demanded.
"Because you still think we can live with them, or find a happily ever after. Nothing we do, kill them, don't kill them, it doesn't matter. They're never going to accept us, Max. There's no living the American Dream, not for us. Since the Pulse, it's dog eat dog, and we're getting our asses chewed. There's a reason we were trained for covert work. It's because all it takes is one good infantry division and we're all toast. You're worried about how to keep the humans safe, when there are a couple hundred of us, tops. Numbers, Max. We're outnumbered by about two billion. When it comes down to it, unless we hide, they can kill us any time they want to. And right now? They really, really want to."
"So what are you thinking about, if I'm so different?" So maybe she sounded a bit like a snotty fifteen year old. It couldn't he helped.
"I'm trying to figure out how to get to the others," Alec stated plainly. "You were right about one thing. We can stick together. We just can't do it in plain sight and thumb our noses at the Ordinaries. They won't stand for it obviously. If we can get to the others before they do anything crazy, we can all get out of this alive."
"You've got it all figured out, huh?" she sneered.
Alec looked up, and Max almost thought he looked surprised, and she wondered just how much of that he'd meant to say out loud. Finally, he shook his head and gave her a classic Alec grin. "Nah. You know me. I just like to skate by. You're the one in charge. This is your show."
Max sighed heavily. She wasn't sure what she was. Her great "Let's make a stand" idea had literally been shot down. She didn't have a clue what to do now. Should they make a break for it? Let Mole and his people muddle through while she tried to do the best with her bunch? Should she endanger the people with her to keep the others from doing something crazy? Could she live with herself if she didn't do something to stop them?
Alec sat forward abruptly, his chair thumping back onto four legs. "Breaking news," he said, and Max too sat forward, waiting to hear. "There's been an incident…"
"A precinct house in sector four. They don't know anything yet, but there was a small explosion. The sector police aren't saying anything. They'll tell us more as soon as they know."
"They went in and got the two," Max guessed. It felt so good to say it and it was a weight off her shoulders. Unfortunately, it also gave more credence to what Alec had been telling her. He really did know what the others were probably doing.
Suddenly, Alec cocked his head to one side. Max's own ears perked as well at a very distinct sound, one she never wanted to hear, men trying to move quietly while heavily armed and wearing body armor.
"Someone must've seen the guys coming back in from Logan's," Alec hissed, already rising to sprint toward the beds where the others were sacked out.
Max knew he wouldn't make it, though. The gunmen were coming for them and they were too close. The building was probably surrounded.
They were caught. Like rats in a trap.