I made it!
Thanks to all of you and your heartfelt wishes of me coming back, I finally corralled the bunnies and decided I can make this work by posting a chapter a week. So here we are, though you might want to re-read a few chapters back to get into the story again September 5th, 2011 – Still day 1787 and counting…
I’ve been in hundreds of missions. I’ve worked alongside thousands of men and women. I’ve watched some of them die, too. I’ve come and gone around the world, knowing full well it could be my last trip.
But this mission to rescue John feels different. I’ve never been on a mission with people I care about before. Never a mission where leaving someone behind is unthinkable.
It’s never been personal.Chapter Fifty-Seven
“We need as much information as we can get,” Max said to the three members of his merry band. “I know the base, but John walked through halls and sections I’d never seen before.”
“He has the blueprints,” Anne said. “Both from the time he left when you were…born, and newer ones. I’ll print them out.”
Max nodded. “The next thing we need to know is where’s John and in what condition. It’s been three days, he can’t possibly still be inside the ship.”
“I’m still trying to hack into it,” Alex said, eager to help, “but the security level is seriously high. It might take a lot more time to break in.”
“Don’t go through the front door. Look for parallel deliveries. If there’s been a large movement of personnel. What kind of supplies. Maybe you can search for Frank’s car, or maybe Maggs’s. I have no idea what happened to her after Summers drugged me.”
“She must be so worried about you,” Parker said, and for a moment there, Max made a conscious effort of thinking of her as Liz, or at the very least as Elizabeth. But she’s Parker
, he argued, the familiar last name matching perfectly with the woman on the other side of the table.
He nodded. “We’re going to need to know where to go once he’s out, especially around the base. I know some places, but you’re more familiar with the surroundings.”
“What about my apartment? We can’t go there afterwards?” Parker asked.
“No. They’re going to track this escape down to the last inch. Nothing can connect you, any of you, to this. The only way you can go back to having a life when this is over is if you work from the shadows.”
Nameless, faceless, ghosts. Just like any other mission he’d ever completed.
“And where would you be?” Parker asked.
Max looked at his hands. “It depends. If my powers come back or not... I’m working with both scenarios.”
“What are you thinking?” Anne asked, and a voice at the back of his head noted that he did call Anne by her first name. Shut up.
“I can’t make any decisions without knowing the layout and John’s condition.”
“Then let’s start working on it,” Whitman said with his perpetual smile. He turned around and went in search of his computer, and Anne walked out of the kitchen in search of John’s blueprints.
Silence descended between Max and Liz.
“Are you sure you’re up to this?” Parker asked a moment later, filling a glass with water.
“What am I supposed to do? Go back to sleep while John’s going through hell or worse?”
“No, of course not. But going on a suicidal mission is not exactly going to help anyone, either.”
“It won’t be a suicidal mission,” Max said with a decidedly darker tone. “You will all make it out of it alive. John included. I won’t let anything happen to you, any of you.”
Her features softened, and she placed a hand on his shoulder.
“I know. I trust you. It just—it just kills me not knowing what’s going on. With you, with John, with anything, really. I don’t do well in chaotic situations.”
Maybe it was her hand on his shoulder or a lost memory from three nights ago, but he had a vivid flash of Parker helping him out of the woods and into her car.
Out of his life and into hers.
“I don’t know, Parker, you’ve been pretty remarkable in the last couple of days. You got us here. You found allies. You bought us time. I wouldn’t have done it any better myself.”
She rolled her eyes, but her cheeks blushed. “I can barely deal with these levels of stress.”
“Who’s talking about more stress?” Whitman asked, coming into the kitchen with all his tech under the arm. “Because nothing pumps out adrenaline like planning a daring escape,” he said with all the cheerfulness in the world while setting his laptop on the table, giving them his million watt smile. Max wondered if Whitman’s cheeks hurt at the end of each day.
“It’s not going to be a daring
escape,” Max said, serious. “We just need one that works. And to sort out the aftermath.”
“What about the woods?” Parker said out of the blue, and both Max and Whitman turned to look at her, confused. “Sorry, I just keep thinking about what you’ve just told me, that my apartment can’t be used? So what about camping? If there’s something you can do in Washington State, that’s camping. There are a million places we can go and get lost.”
“Maybe,” Max said, unsure. They would need an experienced hiker who knew the area, plus they had no idea if John was going to need any sort of medical help. And there was no telling their physical condition to endure hours and hours of hiking and—
“Max,” Parker said with a smile as she sensed his doubt, “We’ll make it work. Camping, my apartment, a roadside motel, we’ll make it work, okay? You can count on us.”
He’d completed hundreds of missions worldwide, with hundreds of women and men who were specialists on their own fields. He’d never doubted the skills of his team members, though he’d always prepared to act alone. After all, what mattered was to get the target, and getting back home alive. If the others didn’t make it, that was on them.
Now, facing Parker and Whitman while they waited for Anne, Max realized this mission was vastly different from any other. And it wasn’t because they were inexperienced or a liability. No, it was different because he cared. He cared about getting John out, and he definitely cared about getting everyone out alive.
It didn’t matter if he didn’t make it.