Many thanks to the usual suspects for the beta.Pairing:
A post VS3 adventure. HEADLONG
“I’ll miss you.” Max’s voice was small. They were huddled in a secluded corner between the lockers at Jam Pony. Logan, wearing the exoskeleton, towered over Max, who was awkwardly leaning into his chest.
“Max, I have to do this.” He put one long finger under her chin and directed her face up to look him in the eyes.
“I know.” Her voice sounded strange to her. “It’s just…”
“I’ll be careful.”
“Heard that one before,” she responded sarcastically.
Original Cindy came around the locker, but promptly backed off when she saw them, bumping into Sketchy. She gave the lanky messenger a warning look. “Out, fool.”
“Hey, I’m not the fool here. You were there first.”
Cindy raised a hand to smack him, then pushed by as Normal called out, “Where the fire truck is Max?”
“Give her a minute, Normal.” She looked back over her shoulder.
Max gave a watery smile, hearing the voices and pulled Logan infinitesimally closer. Their eyes locked for a moment and she sighed, dropping her head to his chest again. She breathed in his masculine scent, then took his hand from the small of her back and placed it on her belly, where the baby turned somersaults, rolling under his fingertips. Logan gave a smile of wonder, brushed her hair lightly with his hand, then he was gone. Max slumped back onto the bench against the wall and sat there. Original Cindy, seeing Logan leave, came and joined her, putting an arm over Max’s shoulder.
Normal’s voice could again be heard shouting from the desk. “Get back to work! This is not a rest home! Bip bip bip!”
Max made a choking sound that could have been either a sob or a laugh.
“You okay?” asked Cindy, not sure what to make of it.
Max looked at her enigmatically. “Not really,” she replied. “Damn hormones.” Max sniffed.
Normal stuck his head around the lockers. “Get back to work!”
“Hey! Baby girl’s not feelin’ so good.” She glared at Normal.
“She’s pregnant, not dying! Get back to work!”
“Keep your shirt on, Normal!” Max snapped back.
Max and Original Cindy exchanged looks and shrugged.
“We’ll have lunch,” OC said, getting up.
Max took up her position at the front desk, sliding up on the high stool Normal had provided and donning the headset. Her back ached and her heart felt heavy. She read out a list of runs and handed out some packages, before seeing one with an address she recognized – a clothing store on Melbourne Avenue. Taking advantage of a moment’s inattention from Normal, she stuffed it under the counter thinking, This one’s for me
, before calling out the next run.
Eventually, Normal disappeared into his office, closing the door firmly after him, and she was able to pick up the phone. “Come on, come on, answer, dammit.” She drummed her fingers on the counter impatiently.
“Oh, Max.” Sarcasm dripped down the phone line. “What’s up?”
“Need a favor. Can you borrow a car?”
“Why?” he asked suspiciously. “Where’s Logan? Can he drive you?”
“Outta town for a few days.”
There was a pause. “Max…”
“Alec, it’s perfectly safe. I just need you to take me somewhere, please?”
“Need me? That’s different. All right, Max. I’ll see what I can do, but it can’t be until later, ok.”
“Say around four? That’s when I get off.” She had, so far, sailed through the pregnancy with few problems. But Normal had put his foot down and shortened her hours. “I’m not delivering any more babies in the upstairs offices, Missy Miss,” had been his latest edict as he chased her out the door the previous day. She was finishing up the following week anyway, but it was nice to know that underneath Normal’s cranky, crusty exterior, there beat an equally cranky, crusty heart.
“Sure. No problem.”
“Later, Alec, and thanks.”
“You’re welcome, Max. I enjoy wasting my afternoons on your wild goose chases.”
A couple of riders came back from their first runs. Max quickly checked the worksheets and sent them out again. She re-rolled the sleeves of Logan’s sweater – one she’d “borrowed” from the upper reaches of the closet that morning to ward off the winter chill.
Logan drove slowly out of Seattle, patiently waiting in line at the sector points. Martial law may have been slowly loosening its hold, but that didn’t mean the Sector Police weren’t still on the take. He ground his teeth, impatient to be gone, grimacing as he saw the driver of the car ahead of him roughly pulled from the vehicle and cuffed, the car driven into an impromptu impound lot at the side of the road.
Logan donned an impassive expression as his turn came. He handed over his paperwork and tried to maintain his demeanour while the second cop went round the car, demanding that the hatch be opened. Heart pounding with relief, he drove through the last few miles of Seattle and into the countryside.
He drove for three hours, stopping only once to fill his growling stomach at a roadside diner. He could hear the echo of Lydecker’s words, “An army marches on its stomach.” He took a room at the hotel designated in the cryptic message, a crumbling old place with orange-painted timber doors, and freshened up while he waited for the call, his gun and cell phone within reach. He then made himself comfortable on the bed, flicking through a few stations on the old TV set in the corner and wound down from the stress of getting out of town and prepared himself mentally for what was to come.
Max and Original Cindy slowly walked through the covered market, looking at this and that and munching on hamburgers.
“Where’d Logan go?”
“He wouldn’t tell me.”
“Oh-oh, that’s gotta be bad. Thought he knew better’n that, boo. You gonna chase after him?”
“How am I gonna do that? He didn’t tell me where he went – not even the direction, and, well, look at me…can’t ride my bike any more coz it’s too uncomfortable…can’t even go five minutes without going to the bathroom…how am I gonna chase after him?”
“So call him.”
“I can’t do that!”
“I gotta try to trust his judgment…”
“And his judgment is stressing you out, sugah. He want you to have this baby today?”
“What’s up with that, boo? It could happen, ya know.”
Max sighed, exasperated. Here she was trying to convince herself that it would be okay, and her friend was pushing every worry right back at her. “He’ll tell me, sooner or later,” she said darkly.
“Yeah, right, when he’s pushing up daisies. Well, don’t say you weren’t warned.”
Max looked around and handed Original Cindy her burger. “Here, hold this.” She made a beeline for the bathroom while her friend looked on in amusement.
Logan was jerked out of a light doze by the insistent ringing of his cell phone. He answered with a cautious, “Hello.”
“You found the place?” asked a gruff voice.
“I found it,” he confirmed.
“Got a pen?”
“Yeah, go on.”
“Here’s what I want you to do…” The voice dictated a set of complicated directions. “You got all that?”
“I got it.”
“Get moving, son. I’ll see you soon.”
Logan disconnected the call and thoughtfully tapped the phone against his chin a couple of times before making his move. He powered up the exoskeleton, shoved his gun and phone in different pockets, grabbed the directions and his keys, and left the room.Chapter 2
Logan was grimly determined as he slowly drove the battered Aztek along the potholed track to its final destination. The circuitous route seemed to have taken him in a complete circle around the small town in which he was staying, judging by the direction of the setting sun. He felt some remorse at not having filled Max in about where he was going and who he was meeting, but also firmly believed it was for her own good. She’d have worried more if he told her the truth – or insisted on coming – which was even worse. “No, I did the right thing.” He argued furiously with the devil on his shoulder. “Anyway, it’s too late to worry about it now.”
“Call her,” the devil answered back.
“No, it’s too late. I’m…there…”
He slowed the car to a stop outside a battered barn-like structure and turned off the engine. He waited a few minutes, checking the place out from his seat, before opening the door of the car and getting out.
Alec waited impatiently in the car outside what seemed to be an old clothing store on Melbourne Avenue. He could barely see Max through a filthy window as she reached up to hug a huge bear of a man who seemed to be wearing, of all things, an old Jam Pony cap. No way…he can’t be an old messenger. He shrugged and slid down further in the seat of his borrowed car, not concerned. He considered it none of his business what Max did with her free time, even when she dragged him along with her.
“Jam Pony delivery!” Max called out from the shop counter. “Got a package here for a Break!”
“Just a minute!” a voice called back. There was a crash and a muffled, “Damn!” Max grinned and looked around her. The shop was a clutter of shelves full of shoes and bric-a-brac, and stands of old clothes. She was pleased to see that Break hadn’t changed his political alliances. There was still a poster in his front window protesting something or other. “Ban the Bomb…Land Rights for Gay Whales…whatever,” she mused, barely under her breath.
“Hey! Girl’s tryin’ to earn a living here!” she called out impatiently.
“All right, coming.” A burly giant dressed in a suit and tie came out, dusting his sleeves down, an old Jam Pony cap firmly clamped to his head. He looked at Max and recognition slowly dawned. “Max?” he queried in wonder.
“Up close and personal,” she responded, with a smile.
He came round the counter with surprising agility for such a big man and enveloped her in a hug. “You said something about a package. I take it you don’t mean the one you’re wearing around your middle.”
“Hardly,” Max responded dryly. She handed over the package. “I wanted to give this to you personally and to say thank you for what you did that day. Need a signature as well,” she said, handing over a small clipboard. He scribbled in the spot she indicated and handed it back to her.
Break looked over his shoulder as a tall, slim guy with light brown hair came out of the back room and smiled at her without recognition. Max knew who he was, however, even out of uniform. Break gestured with his eyes, and the guy disappeared back into the rear of the shop.
“Aw, honey, you don’t have to thank me. Not every day I help a successful escape from Langford.”
“Well…you and a couple of others,” she said smiling. “I had a bit of…outside assistance.”
Break nodded, “Right.”
“And you’re not going to tell me about this,” he gestured at her, “Because it’s none of my business.”
“Let’s just say I had some outside assistance with that, too,” she smiled.
“Anyway, you’re not the only one I helped escape that place.” Break looked over his shoulder.
Max nodded an understanding response. “Anyway, thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” Break looked at her consideringly. He went over to a rack of shelves and rummaged for a few moments, bringing out a cellophane-wrapped parcel. “Present for Junior,” he said.
“That’s not necessary.”
“No, but I’m doing it anyway.”
“Take care of yourself, Max.”
She hugged him again and left the shop. Max noisily opened the door of the car, waking Alec who had slid so far down in the seat that his head was barely visible above the window frame and had dropped into a light doze. “Home, James.”
“Hmm? Oh, sure, Max.”
“Some watchdog you’d make,” she said sarcastically. “Sleeping on the job like that.”
Logan cautiously pushed open the door of the barn, gun ready, and entered in. “I’m here.”
There was a noise from the shadows, and a man slowly appeared from the gloom. “You’re alone?” he asked. There was surprise in his voice.
“What do you want, Lydecker?”
“What, you think I’d bring her so you can get your hands on her for your little army? Not a chance.”
“Or maybe you have another reason…”
Logan’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. He raised the gun a fraction higher.
“Like, maybe…” Lydecker let the sentence hang, seeing the tension building in Logan. He gave a grim laugh before continuing. “No matter. It’s your skills I need. Put the gun down. I’m unarmed.” Lydecker held his arms out from his side in a demonstration of innocence. Logan didn’t waver. He maintained his stance.
“To repeat my first question: What do you want?”
“And if I don’t want to give it?”
“You’re free to go.” Lydecker paused. “But you might want to stay and listen to what I have to say.”
Max walked into the kitchen of the deserted apartment and dumped her backpack and keys on one of the counters, then hoisted herself up on the stool and sat there idly for a moment. The total silence was a little unnerving. Most days, there was at least the whirr of the computers to break the quiet – the sound of Logan working away at the keyboard – even background noise from the TV as it broadcast from some news channel at low volume. Today, there was nothing. It was too quiet. Max, who had been so self-sufficient in the past, found herself wanting companionship. It scared her a little to feel so alone. She wasn’t used to it. While having numerous friends and acquaintances, she had never really needed them, as such. She could survive quite nicely on her own, thank you very much. This was a new thing to her. It was a little frightening – a combination of having become accustomed to having Logan around all the time, unlike her roommates, who had often come and gone with no regard for time or conformity – and of being just a little afraid of the future. Having a baby. Me? Who’d’a thunk?
She’d had nearly eight months to get used to the idea now, but it still scared her a little…no…it scared her a lot. There were too many “what ifs”. Max sighed, more than a little exasperated with herself. What the hell is the matter with me? I’m afraid of my own shadow today.
She pulled the cellphone out of her pack and looked at it thoughtfully – the one she’d been too lazy to fetch from the locker and use earlier in the day to call Alec – or maybe it was just that she didn’t want Logan to know that she’d asked Alec for help. Logan still occasionally showed signs of jealousy around Alec. It was unjustified and he knew it, but it was still safer to keep the two of them in separate compartments of her life. If Logan wanted to talk to Alec, then it was up to him to do so. On that basis, they got along fine. When Max tried to bring them together, however, things seemed to deteriorate. Three was definitely a crowd – as it had been with Zack in the not-so-distant past. “Jesus, Max. You are so slippin’. Since when have you been such a wimp?” To her surprise, she found herself saying the words out loud.
Leaving the phone on the counter, she pulled out of her backpack the package given to her by Break. She looked at it thoughtfully, wondering where Break had gotten hold of it. The package was pre-gift-wrapped in wrinkled cellophane that had obviously been opened and resealed at some stage in its lifetime. She slid a finger under the scotch-tape at one end and pried the cellophane up. She pulled out the contents, then tore open the plastic wrap. She pulled out a yellow baby romper suit with fluffy blue ducks marching across the front. For some reason, the little ducks made her laugh out loud, and she got an answering kick from the baby. Rubbing the side of her “bump” ruefully, she chuckled, looking down, “Guess that means you like it too.”Chapter 3
Logan listened impassively as Lydecker explained what he required. “I need someone to hack into the computer system, open the doors and set up a fake security feed while my team goes in and takes out the database. You’ve done it before.”
“So get one of your guys to do it. Why do you need me?”
“You’re better than they are…and you have more to lose.” Logan’s jaw twitched, a sign of his tension. “If they were to get their hands on Max…”
Logan closed his eyes and nodded, exhaling sharply through his nose. His skin crawled. He could feel Lydecker getting to him, but was powerless to stop it. “Max is vulnerable right now. She’s gone contrary to everything in her training.”
“Stay on the run – don’t look back – escape and evade…” Logan filled in sarcastically.
Lydecker looked at him stonily. “She was always special.” Logan allowed the most fleeting of grins to pass across his face at that one and was caught unawares as Lydecker suddenly changed tack. “When’s the baby due?”
“A month…maybe a bit less,” Logan admitted, realizing he’d been out-maneuvered.
“My wife and I were never able to have children.” Lydecker permitted himself a rare moment of humanity. “Max and her group – they were like my kids.”
“You had a damn funny way of showing it.”
“I gave them the skills they needed to survive.”
Logan gave a short angry laugh. “Give me the information. I’ll do it.”
Max swirled her coffee absent-mindedly, mixing in the sugar. She’d left the spoon sticking out of the sugar bowl on the other side of the room and couldn’t be bothered going to get it. Half a dozen times, she’d picked up the cell phone to call Logan, and half a dozen times had put it back down. She looked at it – daring it to ring – make a sound – do anything other than lie there like the piece of electronic garbage it was. She finally became aware of a hammering on the door and was about to do something about answering it when it opened anyway. “Hey, Max! You there, boo?”
“Yeah, in the kitchen!”
“Damn, girl. I was bangin’ on that door for ten minutes. Were you plannin’ on ignorin’ me all night?”
“Sorry. Didn’t hear ya.” She swirled her almost-cold coffee one more time.
Original Cindy slapped a pizza box down on the counter beside Max. “Thought you might like some company, boo, with Logan gone and all.”
Max just looked at her and shrugged.
“Whassup with you? Aren’t you gonna say anythin’?”
Max sighed. “Sorry. Guess I’m not very good company right now.” She looked up at her friend quickly, then back down to the coffee.
“Bull! Ain’t nothing wrong with you that a little deep dish action, a long heart-to-heart with Mama OC and a short chat with a certain member of the three legged gender won’t fix.” Max gave her a small smile. “That’s better. Now, you go and get yourself into somethin’ more comfortable. I got movies and food. We can pretend we old bachelor girls again. Logan will call sooner or later – you see if he don’t. In the meantime, let’s see if Original Cindy can’t stop you mopin’.”
Logan eventually found his way back to the hotel, missing a turn in the dark on his first sweep and having to backtrack for a mile or so to find it. This time, he brought the laptop and the disassembled wheelchair up the three steps into the room with him. He felt defiled after the meeting with Lydecker. The man was a total creep and you never really knew what his motives were. Logan suppressed a shudder and went to take a closer look at the bathroom. I need a bath,
was his sudden thought. He studied the shower recess, with its billowing curtain – there was no bathtub – and looked back to judge the width of the doorway. Satisfied, he went back into the main room.
The room was of a good size, with two double beds, a bedside table and the phone, and a TV on a small table in the corner. There was what had formerly been a small kitchen area, although the old stove was so rust-bound it was unlikely to be functional. A scratched table and four solid wooden chairs with colourful padded cushions tied to the seats completed the kitchen furnishings. He pulled out one of the chairs and tested it out before untying the cushion and dumping it on the table beside the laptop. He dragged the chair into the bathroom and carefully placed it in the shower, trying to wedge it in such a way that it wouldn’t slide. Then he assembled the wheelchair and began the laborious process of removing the exoskeleton – leaving it on one of the beds.
Before doing anything else, he called the number of a local pizza parlor, selecting the number from the list of local businesses beside the phone, arranging for delivery in 40 minutes. Then he wheeled into the bathroom. The transfer into the shower was awkward because of the four by four inch lip at the bottom, and the kitchen chair slid a bit as Logan transferred across, but at least it didn’t dump him on the tiles. He let the water pour down on his head for a while before giving himself a good all-over scrubbing, even washing his hair with the shampoo provided.
By the time the pizza arrived, he was ready for whatever the contents of Deck’s CDs may hold.
A pimply-faced boy delivered the pizza exactly on time. Logan gratefully paid and gave the kid a generous tip.
Max came out a few minutes later wearing a red bathrobe and fluffy pink slippers. Original Cindy, sitting on the sofa, smothered a laugh at the sight of Max wearing the ultra-feminine slippers. They were so un-Max.
Max looked at her strangely. “What’s up with you?”
“Nothin’, boo,” Cindy smiled. “Come and eat.” She patted the couch beside her.
“Right,” Max looked at her somewhat askance, but still did as she was bid. She leaned into the corner, her back supported by a cushion with her feet pulled up under the bathrobe. Cindy pushed the pizza box down the table and hit “play” on the remote control.
Logan shoved the remnants of the pizza into the tiny refrigerator and went back to the table. His hand hovered over the computer keyboard for a moment before picking up his phone instead. Almost without thinking, he hit speed dial 1 and waited, at the same time keying in instructions one-handed on the computer.
Max looked up, hearing her cell phone ringing from the kitchen. “Well? Aren’t you gonna answer that?” Original Cindy asked her.
She smiled and went to get the phone, sitting back on the abandoned stool in the kitchen to speak.
“Hey, yourself,” Logan replied, smiling. “Thought you weren’t gonna answer.”
“I thought about it.”
“Really?” Max could hear the smile in his voice.
“You know, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876.”
“Okay, I’ll bite. This is relevant how?”
“Just a reminder. I thought you’d call me sooner. I’ve been going out of my mind.”
“I’m sorry, Max. It has to be like this. It’s for your own good. I don’t want these people coming anywhere near you…”
“Logan, where the hell are you?” Come on, Logan, tell me. It’s not like I’m gonna go after you.
He didn’t answer. Max, I can’t tell you that. I won’t. It just wouldn’t be safe for you here.
“Logan?” Her voice sounded weak, almost pleading, even to her.
“Are you okay? I mean, you’re not in any trouble or anything?”
“I’m fine,” he laughed. “Warm and dry.”
There was a loud clatter from the hall, and Max looked enquiringly across at Original Cindy, who got up to investigate. “What’re you up to?”
“Original Cindy’s here. We’re watching some movie. You’d probably like it.”
“Yeah, something called…just a sec.” She covered the receiver with her hand. “OC, what’re we watching?”
“Sleepless in Seattle,” Cindy called back. “Nothing broken. Bike fell over,” she added.
“Sleepless in Seattle,” she repeated, trying not to laugh at how apt that could well be. She didn’t expect to get much sleep in the next few days – until Logan returned intact.
“Damn, I’m sorry I’m not there. That’s a good one…for a chick-flick.”
“Yeah right.” Max rolled her eyes.
“It was one of my mom's favorites.” Logan paused to smile at that thought. "Gotta go. Things to do. I’ll try to call you tomorrow. I…I miss you.”
“Logan, stay safe.”
Max snapped the phone shut, ending the call and sat there with her head in her hands. She stayed there for so long that Original Cindy came and put her arm over her shoulders. “Hey, you okay, boo?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Yeah, says he’s fine.” She gave Cindy a weak smile. “Come on, let’s watch the rest of the movie.
“That’s my girl.”Chapter 4
Original Cindy looked at Max with concern as she stirred her coffee. Cindy had stayed the night, sleeping on the sofa as she had several times in the past. “Did you sleep at all last night?”
“Not really.” The exhaustion and worry were apparent on Max's face.
“I don’t sleep, remember?”
“I shared a crib with you. I know how much you sleep. Don’t give Original Cindy the ‘I don’t sleep” BS, sugah, ‘coz I know that just ain’t true. Besides, you got the little one to think about. He needs his mama to get plenty of rest.”
Original Cindy gave a glowing smile. “Original Cindy knows these things. Never been wrong ‘ceptin’ maybe once or twice.” She bit into her toast.
“You hear that in there?” Max patted her belly and cocked her head, pretending to listen. “You better listen up good, ‘coz Auntie Original Cindy is always right, aiight?”
They smiled at each other. The smiles turned to a laugh when there was an answering movement from the baby.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” asked Cindy, suddenly curious.
“Does it hurt you when someone runs their elbow across your belly? Of course it hurts. But it’s a good hurt. It’s kinda hard to explain…”
Logan took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. He'd worked on cracking the codes all night, but it was slow going. The coding was more complicated than anything he'd ever seen. He wondered what the installation really was – whether Deck had told him the truth or just some lie so that he could get what he wanted. But then he remembered what Max said, "He's never lied to me, not in any substantive way. Just never told the whole story." Logan pushed back from the table and did some stretches, easing the knots in his shoulders. He wondered what Max was doing, a soft smile passing over his face.
A soft beep from the computer got his attention and he looked at the screen to see that a video was playing. Where the hell did that come from?
Then he looked more closely at the content. It was some sort of surveillance tape. The picture quality was grainy, the photographer had shaken the camera a few times, but Logan had no doubt as to the subject.
Logan tried to cancel the looping video and retrace the steps he had taken to cause it to pop up on his screen. He couldn’t figure out where it came from, unless someone had hacked into the satellite feed to the laptop and sent it to him anonymously. There seemed to be a date in one corner of the video window. He squinted, trying to read it without his glasses, then put them on and tried again. It was no good. The script was too small. He paused the video and took a still image from it, enlarging and enhancing until he could read the date clearly. What he read, chilled him more than he thought possible and had him reaching for his phone.
Max walked down the street headed for Jam Pony. Original Cindy walked beside her, wheeling her bike.
“Are you sure you wanna do this?”
“Do what?” Max frowned, not understanding.
“Listen to Normal
“Oh, that,” she responded. “Not really, but what am I gonna do if I don’t go to work?”
“Sleep.” Original Cindy’s voice was deadpan.
Max flashed her a slightly irritated glance. “Yeah, right. That’s so gonna happen.”
Max suddenly stopped walking and looked behind her. She felt odd – like she was being watched. “Think I’ll take the bus the rest of the way.”
Cindy again looked concerned. “You aiight, boo?”
“I’m feeling kinda punk.”
“Okay…” Original Cindy looked at her doubtfully.
Max looked back again. She wasn’t sure…but there was something.
Alec groaned as the phone rang, waking him. He’d spent the night at Crash after leaving Max – too much beer, pool, and noise. He was hung over. The last thing he wanted was to be rung at the crack of eight in the morning. He snatched the phone off the table beside his bed and snarled into it. “Yeah, whaddya want?”
“Logan?” Alec sat up slowly, rubbing his head. “What’s up?”
“Need your help.”
“Well, I figured that. You don’t call just to pass the time of day.”
Alec was slightly miffed that Logan couldn’t see fit to say more than “right” to that. “Logan, why are you calling me at the crack of dawn.”
“Aside from the inaccuracy of that particular statement, I need you to keep an eye on Max.”
She is really gonna love that, Alec thought. “And why am I doing this? She can look after herself. That’s just my opinion, you know.”
“Yeah, I know. There’s something going on. I’m not sure what yet, but someone is after Max…and right now, she’s vulnerable.”
“Well that’s new,” came the sarcastic response. “Does she know this?” There was silence. “Logan, you are going to tell her, aren’t you?”
“She has enough on her mind at the moment.”
“Jesus, Logan. You gotta tell her, man. She’ll have my butt in a sling as soon as look at me. When’re you coming back?”
“I-I’m not sure. Depends how long this takes.”
Logan put down the phone after ending his call. He thought about phoning Max, but didn’t. Something told him that in her current jumpy state, she’d already be alert, and he’d done what he could. It was up to Alec to deal with her.
Max gratefully sank into the first available seat on the rickety bus. She looked back again, trying to see whatever it was that had pricked at her sub-conscious, but it was gone. She was also glad to get away from Original Cindy for a while. Her friend was just slightly overdoing the mama routine and it had been getting on her last nerve.
Max didn't know why she was doing it, but she rummaged in her backpack for her cap, pulling it low so it shadowed her face, and tucking her hair under the back of her sweater – just causing a subtle change in her appearance. Gee, Max, you're a bundle of nerves.
She wondered idly if it was hormones making her so nervous, or if there really was something out there. When she came down to it, though, she trusted her instincts.
When she walked into Jam Pony fifteen minutes later, the first wave of messengers for the day was already on its way out the door. Alec was comfortably sitting on the counter talking to Normal. She walked past, ignoring them both for now. Original Cindy was at her locker and Max joined her briefly. She roughly stuffed the cap back in her pack, shook out her hair, and pushed the backpack into her locker. She handed Cindy the clipboard she'd use the previous day. "Give this to Normal. Back in a minute." She gestured at the bathroom.
Cindy put out a hand to stop her for a moment. "You look as white as a ghost. Something wrong?" Cindy asked.
"I'm fine." Max's reply was a little too sharp.
"Don't bite my head off. I was just askin'."
"Sorry, guess I'm a bit jumpy." Max immediately headed for the bathroom.
"Remind me to beat on Logan's skinny ass when he gets back where he belongs. I ain't never seen you like this before," she said to the vacant piece of air where Max had been a moment before.
Cindy slowly walked out from the lockers. She casually dropped the clipboard on the counter beside Alec and waited as Normal handed her a bundle of packages.
“What, no wise-ass remarks this morning?” Normal enquired.
Cindy just looked at him blankly. “Huh?”
“Out of here. Bip bip bip.”
Casting a look behind her at Max, she mounted the bike and headed out.Chapter 5
Logan was startled by a knock at the door of the room. He guiltily looked at his watch, realizing it was probably housekeeping wanting to tidy the room. Room?
He looked around him. Guess it’s a room. Guess I’m floating.
There was another knock. “Coming!”
Logan pulled up behind the door. “I was in the shower,” he said through the closed door. “Can you come back in an hour?”
“Sure, sir,” a female voice answered.
Logan sighed and looked at the exoskeleton. Despite his exhaustion, he really wanted to keep going. The sooner this was finished, the sooner he could be back…
Max donned the headset Normal handed to her, rearranged the bundles of paper on the desk, and generally set herself up for the working day. Alec didn’t move from where he was lounging on the counter, resting his back against the frame on one side and his boot against the other.
“Don’t you have anything better to do than hang around here and get in the way?” Max asked sharply. She poked him none too gently in the leg to get him to roll off the pile of papers on which he was half-sitting.
“Not really,” came the mild response. “Why, is my presence bugging you?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.” Max glared at him.
“”Well, we can’t have that, can we,” he responded sarcastically, lightly dropping to his feet. “Might affect the b-a…”
“Alec,” Max growled.
“Get outta here.”
He tipped her a lazy wave, and headed out the door.
Logan regretfully shut down the laptop and prepared to leave the room. Something made him disassemble the wheelchair and pack it back in the Aztek. Maybe it was just that the exoskeleton hadn’t failed for a while, or maybe it was just caution. He felt badly in need of a caffeine fix. The cheap instant coffee the hotel provided tasted like dissolved dirt and just didn’t have the required kick. He climbed into the SUV, started the engine, and headed out onto the main road.
Alec wandered up the street from Jam Pony and found a sheltered vantage point at a bus stop, where he could watch the comings and goings from the bike entrance without being obvious about it. He pulled a newspaper from the inside pocket of his jacket and flicked it out to read – or at least, pretend to read. The reality was more that the supermarket tabloid held no interest for him and was merely a prop. He was doing a job, one that he was good at, no matter how tedious.
Logan took up a booth in a dark corner of the diner, from which he could see the door but not be seen easily. Dinahs Dinah (the lack of punctuation in the name had made him grimace) was quiet at this late hour of the morning, but the coffee was hot and plentiful, and the food fresh. Taking a cautious sip of hot liquid, he opened the laptop. Turning it away from view, he went back into the system, retracing what he could to try to locate the source of the surveillance video and how it came to appear on his computer screen. For a moment, he was reminded of his teenage years when popups had been a common, and highly annoying, occurrence on the internet as it was then. Eventually popup blocking software had come into existence, and the popup programs had had to become more and more complex in order to beat the blocking…and then the Pulse had come and most of the internet had disappeared overnight.
Max walked out of Jam Pony at mid-day and wandered slowly in the direction of the markets, not seeming to notice anything or anyone around her, including Alec, who was bent over his motorcycle, pretending to tinker with the engine. She was aware of the dark-haired shadow who detached himself from a shop wall and followed her up the street. Alec didn’t miss him either. His eyes followed Max and her tail. He had to give her some credit for the performance she was giving, her normal sexy swagger replaced by the rolling waddle of a pregnant woman. Come to think of it,
he mused, that’s just what she is.
Still, this was different from the way she’d moved this morning, and he couldn’t help but feel she was putting on an act.
Alec started the motorcycle and revved it a couple of times, trying to show that it was faulty – malfunctioning. He slowly rode up the street. Max entered the markets at the upper level as Alec roared past. He quickly parked the bike between two cars and followed her and her shadow in.
Max became aware that she was being followed almost as soon as she left Jam Pony and deliberately headed for the busy market. She knew the rabbit warren of a building intimately and engaged in the time-honored dance of escape and evade through the crowded corridors, up and down ramps and stairs, stopping to look at this and that and making good use of her peripheral vision. She was aware of Alec in the rear, and was annoyed that he was also following her, figuring that Logan had requested him to keep an eye on her. Logan isn’t telling me something. I am gonna so beat on his ass when he gets back.
The tension was working its way down her spine, and the adrenaline surging through her system was making itself felt elsewhere. The baby kicked and rolled constantly, a distraction she really didn’t need on her tour of the markets. She caught Alec’s eye for a moment and made a quick hand-signal, blocking it from her shadow’s view with her body. He nodded almost imperceptibly and moved around behind the shadow.
Max was about to make her move when she felt a sharp prick on her arm. She pulled away, turning and swung her other fist up, connecting with flesh. She followed up with a shove that sent her assailant flying into a concrete column. His head hit with a solid thunk and slid to the ground. She smashed the dropped syringe with her foot, and found herself facing two others, Alec having already taken out a third.
“Run, Max!” he shouted. She turned and fled, pushing her way roughly through the crush of people, and out the nearest exit to the street, where she had to stop. She bent over grasping her side. Alec came up behind her, startling her. She straightened quickly and swung around, her hand a fist. He caught her arm before she swung. “Hey, it’s only me. You okay?”
“I’m fine,” she winced, rubbing her side ruefully.
He looked back quickly. “I think we better get moving!” He grabbed her hand and pulled her along for a few steps, then gave up and ran to start the bike, driving up onto the pavement to collect her. They roared off down the street, leaving any pursuit behind.
“Hey! Hey!” she hit Alec on the shoulder trying to get him to pull up. “Hold it a minute.”
“No!” he shouted back over his shoulder. “I’m getting you the hell outta here, now, whether you like it or not.”
“No!” Alec responded vehemently.
Max sat behind Alec unhappily as he drove out of Sector 9, sitting uncomfortably on the bike, her belly against his back. He exited the sector via the back-streets, avoiding the checkpoints, and headed east across into Sector 5. “Alec, if you don’t stop soon, I’m gonna pee my pants,” Max grunted through gritted teeth.
Alec smiled into the wind. “Not far now…”
Alec ran the motorcycle right into the foyer of his apartment building and into the open elevator door before stopping. Max slid off the bike, gripping her side, and hit the button for the second floor, while he turned off the engine. “Your place?”
He wheeled the bike out of the elevator and let them both into his apartment, grinning in amusement as Max headed straight for the bathroom. She came out more slowly, shaking wet hands. “You, ah, didn’t have a towel in there.”
“Sorry.” He tossed her the dish towel he’d slung over his shoulder after using it to dry a couple of cups he’d had to rinse out in order to make coffee. “Feel better?”
Ignoring his question, she sat on the sofa. “Thanks for coming to my rescue.” She looked over at him and smiled hesitantly.
“Bet that cost you,” Alec grinned, pouring boiling water into one of the two cups on the counter.
“Alec, why were you following me? Did Logan call you?”
A series of fleeting expressions passed over his face. “He asked me to watch you.”
“I’ll deal with why you didn’t tell me another time. I’m just kinda glad you were there.”
Alec shrugged. “You okay now?” he asked, bringing the two cups of coffee into the living room. “You want me to call a doctor or something?”
“I’m fine…at least, I think so…”
“Maybe I should call Bev Shankar…”
Max sighed, and rubbed her hip. The guy who had tried to jab her with the syringe had elbowed her as he went down and there was a large painful bruise forming on her hip as a result.
“Should I call Bev? You know, just to be sure…”
“I wanna speak to Logan first.” She frowned. The stress of the day had completely taken her mind off her other worry.
Alec tossed her his phone. “Go for it. Speed dial 5.”
A quiet beeping and a blinking light warned Logan that the battery in the computer was getting low. He regretfully shut it down, paid the check and returned to the car. Driving back to the hotel, he tried to think things through, still pondering the source of the video. He had been connected to the satellite uplink. All he could think of was that his secure connection had been compromised…again. He got a sudden sick feeling. Oh, God, Max. What the hell is going on? He frowned in concentration and mounted the steps to his room, intending to get out of there. If they, whoever they were, had managed to find his computer, then they could find him as well. He frowned in concentration as he inserted the key in the lock.
A voice shouted from across the parking lot, “Don’t op…”
The rest was lost. There was a loud bang and Logan was blown back hitting his head on the verandah post. He sagged to the floorboards, unconscious.Headlong Chapters 6-10Headlong Chapters 11-14