Chapter Seven – Unravelling the Past

2020, Post-Pulse Seattle, Washington –  Present Day

They sat down to a dinner of pasta, salad, roast chicken and pre-pulse wine. Max couldn’t get over the size of Logan ’s wine collection. There must be over 200 bottles. She thought as she watched him withdraw one from the huge pantry and carefully read the label, only to return it to its place and pick up another. I’ll never get people’s fascination with pre-pulse anything. What’s wrong with any of the stuff they make now? It’s all the same to me…

She’d make an exception for clothing, granted. Pre-pulse clothes had more style. The clothing sold nowadays was basic and cheap in both workmanship and design. Take Logan ’s sweater for example. It was a good quality, well-made knit, rich in color and texture. In contrast, her own, cable-knit was washed out and falling apart after less than 3 months. And by the looks of it, Asha shopped in stores catering mainly to people with pre-pulse taste. They charged outrageous amounts of money for the most ridiculous things. That could explain why Asha seemed to own only a handful of clothes. Harrumph. What a waste. Keeping up with Cale must really dent her wallet.  

Chewing her food, Max prayed that Logan would forget about their little deal. Okay, she knew he wouldn’t forget, but the longer she could put it off the better. The last thing she wanted to do was rehash unpleasant memories. And almost everything related to Manticore was unpleasant. She sighed audibly. This drew Logan ’s attention to the pretty X5. Shit. Why did I have to do that? Way to go, Max!

“So, Max, have a good day today? You were out running errands?” Jeez, this guy has to know everything, doesn’t he. Max thought in irritation. But she kept her tone pleasant and cheery.

“Yup. Met a contact; needed some basic equipment and stuff.”

Asha looked at her suspiciously. “What kind of equipment?”

It’s none of your fucking business you snooty bitch! Max couldn’t help thinking. Asha really grated on her nerves. In the two short days she’d known the girl, her dislike grew by leaps and bounds.

“For missions and stuff? You know, the things I’m supposed to be helping you guys with?”

“Right. So, successful day then?” Logan tried to level the tension by brushing over the exchange.

“Mostly. I still need a few things. My contact was clear out. Maybe you can help me find some other source.”

“Sure thing, Max. I’ll get on it later. Just let me know what you need.”

“Will do.” She said as Asha glared at her. Logan seemed to be falling all over Max and it was really ticking her off. That’s it. I’m getting out of here. I need a drink. A real drink.

“Logan, I’m gonna go to Crash, meet some of the gang. Sure you don’t wanna come?” she was clearly ignoring Max, trying to coax her boyfriend out for the evening. No such luck.

“Sorry, sweetheart. Max and I need to talk. You won’t be late, will you?”

Asha shrugged and replied. “Nah. If there’s any change, I’ll call.” She rose quickly, cleared her place and left the room. What is it about that girl that he finds so fascinating? Argh! He just wants information. Why am I letting it affect me so much? The voices in her head were giving her a headache. Maybe it’s because you’ve noticed the look in his eye when he looks at her? Asha shook her head to clear it. Girl, you’re losing it. It’s all in your imagination. Color me green. With a final toss of her head, Asha left the penthouse.

When they’d finished clearing up from dinner, Max and Logan moved to the couch in the living room. It was a comfortable room, soft cream walls, shag rug, leather couches. The walls were hung with an odd assortment of paintings and murals and statues lined the sides on pedestals. When she thought about it, the apartment looked more like an art gallery than living quarters. And Max would know; she’d spent quite a bit of time inside art galleries. She chuckled to herself at the thought. Usually when I was making off with something.

Logan turned to face her and Max squared her shoulders, mentally prepping herself for what was to come. She wouldn’t make it easy on him. But she’d made a deal and meant to keep her end of the bargain.

“So, why don’t you tell me about Manticore.”

“What do you want to know? No, wait. How ‘bout you tell me what you know already and I’ll fill in the gaps?” she suggested.

Logan cleared his throat. “Okay. I know that Project Manticore was started in the late Twentieth Century as a secret government experiment. That they use recombinant DNA to produce super soldiers with genetically enhanced abilities. Transgenics have serial numbers, which I assume is to keep track of them. Correct me if I’m wrong?”

Max just nodded and Logan continued. “I’m aware that there have been massive amounts of experimentation carried out on transgenic test subjects, that you have been subjected to subliminal messages, medical research, torture techniques and punishments. The soldiers were taught from an early age to fight, maim and kill, even amounting to assassins as young as 7 years old. Am I right?”

Max nodded once again, her face pinched as images flashed briefly in her mind’s eye with each word Logan uttered. She gripped her thighs tightly.

“I also know that a group of what is known as the X5 series escaped back in ’09. Are you one of them?”

“Yeah.” Max let out sadly, as she thought of her siblings, scattered and far away.

“When I first knew you were from Manticore you got pretty defensive and angry. I’m sure it wasn’t fun and games there, but what about it was so terrible that you’re willing to die before going back?” Logan ’s brow wrinkled in puzzlement.

“Trust me, Logan. It was hell on earth. Nothing could make me go back there. Nothing.”

“Tell me about it. What was it like?”

“What exactly do you want to know? What was what like?” she danced around the question, wishing she’d never taken him up on his offer to stay. Max, you dug yourself a really nice hole.

“What was training like?” he asked eagerly, with open curiosity.

“It sucked.”

“And?” he prompted when she didn’t continue.

“It sucked bad.”

“Is that all you have to say about it?” he prodded, clearly frustrated with her answers. He was making no headway. Max was stiff and impassive. Her face had closed off and he couldn’t read her.

“What do you want me to say, Logan? That it was a walk in the park? That I enjoyed being prodded by tazers when I stepped a millimeter out of line? That being beaten to the ground for having a shoelace untied was something I dreamt of, something I longed for? It was hell. And it was constant. It was every day, of every week, of every month, of every fucking year.”

Logan fell silent at her admission and Max curled up in a corner of the couch, hugging her knees tightly to her chest. Shit. And that’s just training, he thought. Maybe I should try something a little less upsetting.

“Look Max, I’m sorry. Why don’t you tell me about your unit? What were they like?”

Max could deal with that, was on firmer ground. She closed her eyes for a while and then began to speak.

“There were 15 of us in our unit. Zack was the oldest. He was our CO. We looked up to him, followed him without question. It wasn’t just that he was our Commander. We followed him because we knew he would do anything for us.

“Zane was Zack’s Second in Command. Ash, Brin and Matt excelled in weapons and tactics. Seth, Tinga, Jondy and Jack were the strategists. Planning and examining a line of attack from any and all angles. Eva, Krit and Syl were techies. They could assemble or dismantle any electrical or computer components, hack and crack…you name it, they did it best. Ben and me? We were good trackers. In the field, we could stalk, chase and hunt down our targets without ever giving ourselves away. Escape and Evade was something else I was good at. Am still good at. Have been for 10 years now.  We were Lydecker’s ‘all in one package’. A unit that could operate solo. Unlike the others who were pulled from various units for a single mission and then expected to work well together. He knew we worked well together as a team. It’s how they raised us.

“Our unit was different, kept separate from the others. Lydecker’s pet project. Other units weren’t allowed to fraternize. They slept in separate cells, only coming together for drills, training and ops. We were granted certain privileges the others weren’t. We slept in one communal setting. We took our meals together, spent time together. We developed a bond much like what I now know would be between siblings. We thought of each other as family, brothers and sisters. It’s the only good thing that ever came out of Manticore.

“But Deck didn’t think things through. I guess they didn’t realize just how close we were and how far we were willing to go to ensure we stayed together.” Her voice cracked at the last sentence and the pain was obvious in her voice.

Logan stared at Max in wonder. She had just described her unit. A group of fifteen children; a fully trained military detachment of fifteen kids, ranging between the ages of nine and fifteen, who were capable of completing missions that would baffle a contingent of adult, human soldiers. It was incomprehensible; unbelievable, but frighteningly true.

Logan caught the pain between her words and couldn’t resist the urge to learn more. “What do you mean by that?”

“The Xs have a major flaw. For all our genetically engineered perfection, the one thing that plagues us all is a serotonin deficiency. Causes us to have seizures. Jack–” Max clenched her teeth and fought to keep the tears from falling. She took a deep breath. “Jack had a grand mal seizure one night. The guards saw it and took him away. I went after him. He died. They ripped his body apart. It was then that I knew that we were nothing to them. Just toys for Manticore to play with. They took Jack apart to see why he didn’t work.”

“God, Max. I’m so sorry you had to see that.”

“Sorry I had to see it? I watched them rip my brother apart like a piece of meat! We had to leave after that, don’t you see? We weren’t going to let that happen to any of us, ever again! And so we escaped.”

Max looked up at Logan , tears streaming down her face. She was shaking with anger and the memories. The cold fear swept over her as she saw it all happening again, as she relived it once more. But this time she was fully awake and could put a stop to the torment.

“I can’t do this anymore! You can’t make me!” Max jumped to her feet and blurred out the front door before Logan was able to respond.

He felt guilty. Yes, it had been the deal. Information in exchange for keeping her secret and giving her a place to stay. But he’d had no idea how painful it all was. Sure, being raised as a child-soldiers couldn’t have been a picnic, but the intensity and force of her reaction frightened him. Logan no longer wanted the information for personal reasons. He had a feeling Max needed to talk about her experiences and he was going to help.

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