Okay, I know I've let you wait an eternity and I apologize for that. I'm not even going to try and find an excuse, life was just rough and I didn't write, period. I'm sorry for the long wait and I'll do what I can to not let it happen again. I hope you're still out there and still reading this story. Now:
cappsy: Glad you liked it. It was not what I planned at first but somehow it just played out. Yes, Zane will resurface, only briefly in this chapter but I have planned to give him some more screen time later. Thanks a lot and I hope you're still out there!
452max: As I said, sorry for the long wait. I honestly don't think Max would be able to do something like her brother did but yeah, I understand what you mean and hey, perhaps I'm going to use this idea in the future? We will see. Thanks to you too, I hope you're still reading!
Yeldi: Well, you're going to find out about the US Army in this chapter. And Ares and Blade? Yeah, I know, that was a little bit mean to stop there but you're going to see in this chapter what's happened to them as well. Let's just say things could get complicated in the near future. I apologize again for the long wait and I hope you're still with me as well! Thanks a lot!
Jasper's Imaginary Friend: Well, another rather calm chapter, no killing in this one but don't think I'm going soft. I understand what you mean and well, maybe there's going to be some more action later. You're going to get a brief glance at one '09er and the others will appear in the next chapter if everything goes according to plan. Thanks a lot to you too!
Once again I apologize for the delay and I hope you're still somewhere out there and reading this story. This is going to be a rather calm chapter where I intend to conclude the whole "Winter Contingency" operation.
In the end the takeover by the Army was both simple and nerve-racking. Using the British spy satellite Jondy was able to make sure the US forces were holding their position and did not approach during the night which was a good sign. In the morning six lightly armored humvees with mounted machine guns passed the perimeter fence and arrived on the main compound where Ares, Wolf, Kyla and Major Linder with one of his captains were waiting for them. Heavily armed soldiers – most likely special forces disguised as Army Rangers – got out of the vehicles before they had even completely stopped and established a perimeter. None of them raised their weapons or even pointed them at the small group of soldiers waiting at the entrance to the main building but everybody could feel that these men would open fire at the slightest provocation.
Luckily the officer in charge, General Tisnewsky himself, was a rather calm and self-controlled man and after the first moments of distrust things slowly began to work the way they were supposed to. That Lydecker was with the small convoy as well helped to further calm the situation. The old Colonel didn't say a word but when he looked at Kyla and Wolf his eyes were filled with relief and pride, nevertheless there was worry as well; he didn't know yet who had been wounded and he was aching to find out if all of his children were safe and sound. But for now that had to wait.
The Rangers checked on the base's staff and found them in the mess hall, a little bit shaken and nervous but unharmed. Tisnewsky's adjutant, Sergeant-Major Jocelyn Pierce, was escorted to the barracks where the Manticore black ops were under arrest and to everybody's surprise she fiercely hugged one of the black-clad soldiers only seconds after the AAD had let her into the barracks. It was Master Sergeant Pierce, the man who had been Renfro's driver the day unit two had attacked and freed Wolf. After the initial surprise it became clear that those two were brother and sister and Tisnewsky had brought her along so she could make sure with her own eyes that the loyal ordinary soldiers had not been harmed. When he learned about this small incident Wolf suddenly saw Tisnewsky in another light and had to admit that he had probably underestimated him; bringing somebody along who personally knew one of their captives was a smart move; as a sister Jocelyn Pierce would have noticed far more accurately than anybody else if something about her brother seemed off. Luckily for everybody that wasn't the case.
Slowly but surely the moment where the AAD and the transgenics would have to hand over control over the facility was approaching. Escorted by the Swiss soldiers Tisnewsky and his men checked everything, from the safety of the ordinaries on site to the well-being of the X-series and if the computer network had been hacked. They also took a look at what was left of the Alliance barracks. None of the men said anything but the way they eyed the transgenics could only be described as a mixture of surprise, compliment and slight disillusion. When he found out what had happened in PsyOps the General shot a wry glance at Wolf but said nothing.
Finally the Tisnewsky seemed to be satisfied when they found themselves in front of the main building again.
"Well, Deck" he said, "I think it's time."
"Yes, sir" Lydecker agreed sharply, then looked at Linder. "Major?"
"Understood, sir" the Swiss officer activated his radio. "Captain Hartmann, call in the Hercules, they should be within range by now, over and out."
"I think you should call back your men now, Major" Tisnewksy said calmly. "And I suggest you recall all of them. We are watching this whole area very attentively, do you understand?"
There was no threat in the older man's voice or composure but everybody felt that if the Swiss were going to try anything stupid the US forces would know about and react to it.
"Yes, sir." Linder nodded before he relayed the order to regroup within the main compound to his subordinates.
"Good" Tisnewsky looked like a man who was slowly starting to believe that a day which had begun with a nightmare was perhaps going to turn out alright in the end. "Our troops will close in as well now, so make sure none of your boys has a twitchy trigger finger. We will provide you with the necessary means of transport and escort you to the airport. You are allowed to keep your weapons, but rest assured that I have personally ordered the escort to kill every single soldier under your command if one of you does as much as spit in our direction."
"I understand, sir. Anything else?"
"Not for now." Linder nodded with a grim face and saluted before he turned away and went to his waiting 2IC. Tisnewsky watched him with cold eyes; yes, he understood why the SRTU had pulled off this mission alone and yes, he wanted to believe they were not his enemies but he didn't forget for a single moment that he was talking to a commando whose unit had attacked a facility of the United States Army. He shook his head and turned towards a waiting Lydecker. "Colonel, my men are going to take over control over this base now. I want the whole X5 unit two out of that building and right in front of me as long as they're not lying in the infirmary! You have three minutes."
"You heard him" Lydecker said to Wolf. "Get them out, 451!"
"And cut that designation crap!" the General barked. "We all know you're addressing each other by your names!"
"Yes, sir!" Wolf almost snapped at attention. Whatever that Tisnewsky had done before he became the J3 of special operations, it hadn't been a desk job, his voice, eyes and body language told that much. Quickly he radioed the others and not two minutes later the whole unit two with the exception of Jace and Kara was standing in a perfect line before the two older officers.
"And who the hell are you?" the General wanted to know from Ares. "You're not an X5."
"Delta-26, Swiss SRTU, codename is Ares, sir!" the transgenic answered sharply. "I was assigned to unit two for the duration of this mission."
"Whatever, your assignment ends now!"
"Sir, I…" Ares hesitated and briefly glanced at Blade who was standing next to him. "Sir, I'd like to ask for your permission to stay as a liaison to the SRTU, sir!"
"Permission denied! You are leaving this country today!"
"Sir…" the Delta tried again but trailed off when he saw the look Tisnewsky was gave him. "Yes, sir!"
"Perhaps I wasn't absolutely clear, soldier" the older man sneered. "In a few minutes this place will be crowded with soldiers, my soldiers! You are damned lucky we're letting you go instead of throwing all of you into a dark hole for the next couple of months. I don't care whether you were assigned to unit two or not, in my eyes you're a foreign soldier who does absolutely not belong here for the time being."
He had of course noticed the brief eye contact between the Swiss transgenic and the Asian X5 and now he glared at both of them.
"I can't afford to let your private relations – of whatever nature they may be – interfere with this and that goes for all of you, am I clear?"
"SIR, YES, SIR!" the transgenics shouted in unison.
"Good, don't forget it!" he warned them one last time. Finally his eyes seemed to soften just a little bit. "Once the Army arrives unit two will be taken into custody until we have figured out a way to clean up this mess of yours. For your information: You will remain on this base for the time of the investigation but you will be confined to your quarters and guarded by the MP at all times."
"What about the others, sir?" Wolf asked. "Colonel Lydecker, Sergeant O'Neill and Corporal Hayden?"
"They will remain here as well, though not in the same quarters as you. We have been thinking about getting them to Leavenworth but because of the rather special circumstances we decided it would be best if we kept this as quiet as possible; you have caused enough of a ruckus already. The MP will be in charge of all of you until we have reorganized and reinstated the Manticore black ops. Until they are here I suggest you use your time wisely. It may take a few months before we decide how to proceed."
He turned his back on them and went to the waiting Ranger Captain without saying another word. In the distance first helicopters could be heard closing in on their position and slowly but surely more and more AAD soldiers and Deltas appeared out of the buildings and the spotters returned from the woods and joined the growing numbers of their comrades who were already waiting on the parade ground. Fortunately all of the wounded were stable and the last of them limped towards to their waiting units with the help of their fellow soldiers.
"So, this is it?" Blade asked quietly. She had turned towards Wolf but couldn't find the strength to look him in the eye. Without a word he embraced her and as if on a silent signal the other X5s formed a small circle around them and tried to shield them from curious eyes as much as possible without standing too close to them. They had already noticed what had happened between their sister and Ares but remained silent out of respect for their privacy.
"We've always known this would happen" he whispered and for the first time Blade heard his voice tremble. "This is not the end, Blade. I will not – I cannot – just leave you but you know I have to, for all of our sakes, I'm sorry. I will come back."
He gently caressed the red bite mark his teeth had left on the skin of her neck and she shuddered and chocked back a sob. She wasn't even sure when she had felt that it would happen. One minute they had just been standing under the hot showers, then a feeling like heated electricity started to flow through her body and everything after that was a blur of images and excitement, of pure joy and love and lust. The moment he had claimed her was burned into her mind though, the pain at first, then a new level of trust, devotion and love and she had been all too happy to return the favor, marking him forever as hers. The others had been right, there had been no chance to resist it. Not that the thought had ever entered her mind. Hell, when she had felt him tremble under her grip and heard him whimper ever so quietly and pleadingly it had almost been enough to send her over the edge. Out of everything she had done in her life nothing had ever felt so completely and utterly right like when she had found her mate and bonded with him. And now she was gonna lose him.
She started to tremble and fear gripped her heart. What if Tisnewsky was just telling them what they wanted to hear? What if they would lock them all away or just simply kill them once the Deltas were gone? Her trembling got worse and she tightened her grip around him so much it had to hurt.
"Sshh" Ares murmured barely audible, trying to sound reassuring but his voice was filled with the same fear. "It will be alright, you will see, it will be alright, I'll come back to you."
As if on cue several Black Hawk helicopters arrived on the scene and soldiers fast-roped down to the ground and quickly approached the waiting Deltas and AADs but the team leaders had been thoroughly briefed and held them back at a safe distance. Tension was already high enough and provoking the other party was in no one's mind. As soon as the infantry had touched the ground the Black Hawks disappeared again but only seconds later another convoy appeared as well, three LAV-25 being on point. The sight of those "Light Armored Vehicles" with their 25mm chain guns made the Swiss frown. More and more soldiers started to pour out of the seven trucks that followed the LAVs, some of them joining the ranks of their comrades who were having an eye on the Swiss soldiers but most of them ran towards the buildings; it all worked quickly and almost flawlessly and it almost seemed as if the platoon and squad leaders' shouted orders weren't necessary; everything appeared to have been planned and trained already. Ares watched the growing number of American soldiers with a grim face. He didn't consider them to be his enemies but he could barely hold back himself from baring his teeth at them nevertheless. Their arrival meant that he had to leave soon. Some of his fellow Deltas seemed to grow nervous as well, the grip on their rifles tightened slightly and their eyes followed every movement of the Rangers attentively and slightly worried. They were not used to this. Usually they infiltrated into their area of operations, accomplished their mission and disappeared again. Never before they had found themselves so utterly vulnerable, completely in the open and surrounded, without cover or an escape plan. Luckily for them Major Linder and his officers kept their calm and the presence of General Tisnewsky helped as well.
After minutes which felt like hours several officers approached the General, saluted and apparently gave him a brief sitrep. The old officer nodded and shouted at Linder to get his men moving. The AADs and Deltas started to mount onto the trucks one after the other under the watchful eyes of the US soldiers. Fortunatey they hadn't brought along much equipment other than their weapons and backpacks so it was a rather short process. Finally Zeb and Jazi approached the small group of silently waiting X5s.
"It is time" Zeb stated in a grave voice. After short moment of hesitation Wolf nodded.
"Ares, you have to go, I'm sorry" he said quietly. "Thank you for everything, we owe you."
The Delta nodded and loosened his grip around Blade's waist a little bit but found himself unable to let go off her. Jazi stepped forward and placed her gloved hand on his shoulder.
"Come on" the female Delta said gently. "We have to go."
Ares was torn between his duty to follow his orders and the need to stay with his mate. His heartbeat and breathing quickened and deep inside he slowly started to panic. When Jazi tried to gently pull him away he shook her off. The female Delta exchanged a worried glance with Zeb and the X5s couldn't help but look at the couple in their midst with a mixture of understanding but also anxiety as well. If they started a fight now nobody would be able to tell what casualties they might cause. They had to keep this quiet!
"Blade", Max said softly and slowly approached her sister. Artemis did the same. "Let go of him!"
"I can't!" the Asian X5 almost chocked on her own words. She didn't understand what was going on with her. She was Blade! She had been in fights most people and even many transgenics would consider hopeless, she could kick practically everybody's ass and never let anything get too close to her, both physically and emotionally, but now she was scared to death of letting Ares out of her sight or even just out of her embrace.
"It has to be" Ares said, suddenly utterly calm although his eyes reflected the storm of feelings he was experiencing. He felt like his insides had been turned into ice and every fiber of his body was screaming at him to stay, if necessary to fight, but his training – his entire life – as a soldier told him he had no choice, not now. With a heavy heart he bent a little bit forward and kissed Blade one last time before Jazi and Zeb gripped him by his upper arms and pulled him away from her. Instinctively the Asian X5 reached out for him again but Max and Artemis held her back with gentle force. Seeing this Ares tensed despite his knowledge that there was no other choice and Zeb could feel how he prepared himself to shake him and Jazi off again.
"Ares, get a hold of yourself!" he hissed. "If you start a fight now they will never let you see her again!"
He noticed how his brother froze at his words before he finally relaxed a little bit. Ares sighed and his shoulders slumped like in defeat. He closed his eyes and concentrated on slowing down his breathing, feeling the hands of Jazi and Zeb on his shoulders, both of them offering him as much comfort and sympathy as they could given their current situation. When he opened his eyes again and looked at Blade he had come to terms with their fate. Zeb was right; if he resisted now both the Americans and his own superiors would never allow him to come back and he didn't even dare to imagine how the US forces would react if he started a fight now.
"I liäbä di" he finally told Blade in a grave voice, using his native tongue and not caring if the other X5s understood him. "Ond I chome zrugg, I verspreche's!"
Hearing his words Blade trembled slightly but finally nodded.
"I liäbä di o" she whispered, her voice shaking, "wart ned z'lang!"
The Deltas looked at the group of assembled X5s and none of them spoke a word but their eyes told of their trust, respect and thanks. After a short pause of hesitation, a last eye contact and a small but reassuring smile at Blade Ares turned on his heel and marched towards where Linder was still waiting for them, Zeb and Jazi followed. They mounted onto the trucks as some of the last of the Swiss soldiers and after a few words with General Tisnewsky and Lydecker Major Linder gave the signal to move out. One after the other the trucks started to roll towards the base's exit with the LAVs escorting them. Out of nowhere three AH-6 attack helicopters appeared and took their position above the small convoy, making it ultimately clear that the Americans were not about to allow a single Swiss commando to make a move on his own.
Once the convoy was finally out of sight Lydecker, Tisnewsky and a large group of men and women of the military police approached the waiting X5s. They could also see how O'Neill and Hayden were arrested by some other MPs.
"As of this moment" Tisnewsky addressed the transgenics in an authoritarian voice, "you are under arrest. I'm giving you the direct order to do whatever the MPs or any other member of the United States Army tell you to do. Until further notice you will be considered prisoners of war. You will be held in your old barracks which are currently being searched and all of your private possessions are being removed. You are not allowed to leave your cells without permission of a superior officer and with less than at least three guards. If you try to escape, contact somebody on the outside without permission or violate these orders in any other way you will be shot on sight, am I clear?
"Yes, sir!" Wolf a answered for his unit. The way the General spoke somehow reassured him; it seemed like after all the chaos they had seen during the last days something like order and control was coming back to the military hierarchy they were used to. "Sir, permission to speak, sir?"
"Sir, may I ask what exactly is going to happen now, sir?"
"A team of military and civilian officials will analyze the events since your first escape and up to this moment. The investigation has already started and we are currently analyzing the data Colonel Lydecker has brought us." He noticed how the young transgenics slightly tensed at the word 'investigation'. "The officer in charge of this team will be me. I understand that you haven't made good experiences with some of your superiors in the past, but the Alliance has been destroyed. I don't hold any personal grudge against any of you, but you must understand that from a legal point of view your actions resemble to an act of war. If everything I have heard so far is the truth there might be a chance you won't have to face any severe consequences, but this is not a promise. These things will take time and you will cooperate with the investigation team."
His tone surprised the X5s. He was talking to them like they would expect an officer to talk to ordinary soldiers; with authority but also respect. Until now their main impression had been that the officials in Washington didn't even care about them as human beings and now the CO of J3 special operations himself was taking charge of their situation? That certainly counted as a good sign as even Lydecker seemed to trust him.
"Sir, will there be a possibility for us to contact the Swiss SRTU?" Blade wanted to know. Her face was pale but she looked concentrated and composed again.
"Not for now. If it comes to this you will be informed. Anything else?"
Wolf waited a few seconds and when nobody of his team spoke up he shook his head. "No, sir!"
"Very well. Captain?" Tisnewsky turned to the leader of the MPs. "They're all yours. Pierce, you're with me."
After a sharp salute the General left together with his adjutant and the MP Captain who had silently watched the scene taking place addressed the X5s for the first time.
"My name is Captain Bowden. For the next few days you will be my responsibility and I take my responsibilities very seriously." He looked from one of the transgenics to the other. "One of my responsibilities is your safety so I can assure you you will not be harmed unless you make it necessary. Another one of my responsibilities is the safety of the soldiers under my command. We have been informed about your abilities and I guarantee you we will use whatever force necessary to hold you at bay so make both your and our lives easier by obeying any order we give you. I'm also aware of the fact that some of you are wounded and that your injuries have already been treated but you will of course be given further medical treatment if you need it. Do you understand?"
The X5s nodded silently. It was obvious that Bowden and his men had guarded prisoners before; the way he spoke and moved, his facial expression and the silent but concentrated and yet not threatening behavior of the other MPs was proof enough. Bowden nodded, obviously satisfied with their mute response.
"Lay all of your weapons down on the ground, slowly, and remove your tactical vests, then proceed like the MP in front of you tells you to!"
Instantly Wolf felt his siblings' eyes on him. This was it, they were going to surrender. Until now they had still been armed and even though the whole base was swarming with Army Rangers and most likely Special Forces as well they would probably have been able to escape somehow. But not if they were without their weapons. He looked at Lydecker and the older man understood his worries but nodded barely visible; it was a risk they had to take. Finally Wolf breathed deeply before he slowly laid his sidearm on the ground, careful not to make any sudden movement or to accidentally point the weapon at the MPs, then did the same with his assault rifle. Behind his back he could hear how his siblings did the same. The black tactical vest was next and he let it drop onto the ground next to his weapons with a shrug, then looked at the soldiers in front of him who were following each of his movements with the utmost alertness and their fingers on the trigger. There were three of them for every transgenic and Wolf almost felt a little bit melancholic when he noticed how similar this seemed to the arresting drills they had done themselves during training; always three soldiers for one suspect, two to secure him and one to cover his two comrades.
"Hands on your head!" one of them ordered him briskly. "Then turn around and get down on your knees!"
The young transgenic complied and soon the whole unit was in the same position. He could almost taste the nervousness of his brothers and sisters; what was going to happen to them? Had they been told the truth? Would they stay here for the time of the investigation? Would there even be an investigation or would the higher ups just let them disappear? When he sensed the MPs approaching them from behind he looked to his left and exchanged a worried glance with Kyla. His mate was just as anxious but for once there was nothing they could do for each other. Quickly and efficiently their hands were cuffed behind their backs and they were forced back to their feet by two of the ordinary soldiers while the third one kept his position behind them. All the while the MPs tried not to cause them more discomfort than absolutely necessary and were cautious with the wounded. It was not much but it was a sign that they were being treated by professionals and not some grunts. Once they were done the soldiers guided them to their old barrack. Once inside Bowden spoke up again.
"Now you will be brought to your cells where you will remain until I have new orders or information for you. You will be searched and we will give you a new set of clothing. If you have any medical needs inform the guards. Questions?"
"Sir" Alec began, "Are we allowed to see each other?"
"Not for now." That answer caused some of the transgenics to straighten up, most of all Alec and Max and Nova and Havoc as well. Out of instinct Alec even tried to take a step towards Max but the soldiers behind him tightened their grip and he stopped. Bowden frowned and shot Wolf a brief glance; for a second it looked like he wanted to ask something but then he shook his head. "Alright, proceed as ordered!"
The MPs moved, escorting the transgenics towards their old quarters. Max tried to look at Wolf and he caught the plea in her eyes all too clearly.
"Sir" he addressed Bowden, "permission to speak?"
"Hold it!" the Captain told his men and after a brief hesitation he held back those who were taking care of Kyla as well. "Wait with her, too!"
Once the other transgenics had left Bowden eyed them both with growing suspicion.
"You are the CO and the 2IC of this unit, right?" he asked and they both nodded in unison. "We've only received a rather short briefing about your unit so I hope you will understand that I don't know all your names by heart yet. You are Wolf and you are Kyla, is that correct?"
The two transgenics exchanged a brief glance – they didn't know how much the MPs had already been told and decided to keep a low profile for the time being – before Kyla answered: "Yes, sir, although those are our call signs."
"Call signs? Right!" Bowden snorted. He was definitely not stupid. "Whatever! What just happened?"
"Sir?" Wolf decided to play the innocent card. The hard glare he received made him regret that decision immediately.
"There are many rules I have to respect, soldier" the MP said quietly but not without a clear warning in his voice, "but in the end it all comes down to a simple 'you don't play games with me, I don't play games with you', do you understand?"
"Good. Again: What just happened?"
"We…" Wolf hesitated. Lydecker knew about the relationships between some of them but nobody else outside the unit and their Swiss Allies did. He couldn't risk that some of the higher-ups heard about it while the investigation was still going on or maybe some of them would even use it against them. "We have known each other for a long time, sir, we just don't like the whole situation, not to know what the others are doing is not something we are used to."
For a brief moment the ordinary seemed to consider his words before he suddenly gritted his teeth and moaned in realization and annoyance.
"Please don't tell me" he sighed deeply, "that some of you are…let's say romantically involved with a team member?"
"Sir, I did not…!" the young X5 tried again but Bowden cut him off with an abrupt gesture of his hand.
"Safe it!" After a long pause he continued: "Listen, I don't care about what's happening in your team and I'm certainly not here to judge you, there are other people who are getting paid for that. In my unit conversations between an MP and a prisoner are strictly confidential so you don't have to worry about us going to blab. But relationships can make a situation like ours a hell of a lot more complicated and if things between guards and prisoners get complicated people tend to get hurt. Now, do I have to worry about this or will your soldiers keep it together and their pants on?"
"They will stay calm, sir" Kyla assured him, "although it wouldn't hurt if we are allowed to move around a little bit and to see each other from time to time, just to know everybody is alright. We don't exactly like to be caged. No offense, sir."
"None taken." Bowden knew even though he would personally make sure none of the prisoners got hurt as long as he was in charge of them they needed to see their comrades with their own eyes; it was natural that while a certain interdependence between a guard and a prisoner could be developed over time a prisoner would never fully trust somebody who was holding the power over his or her freedom in his hands. "I will see what I can do but I can't promise you anything yet. Anything else?"
"No, sir. Thank you."
Bowden nodded silently and signaled his men to take the two X5s to their cells.
"The Hercules have left the US airspace and are on course, sir" Captain Sehler reported. He looked tired and exhausted but his relief and pride was evident in his eyes. "We did it!"
"They aren't home yet" Meyer reminded the communication officer but he didn't sound too worried himself. "But I agree, things are looking good. Very well, great job everybody. Captain, I want everybody to be relieved! Get something to eat and some sleep as well! That goes for you, too!"
"Yes, sir!" Sehler quickly started to contact the personnel for the next shift and soon operators and officers with heavy eyes but proud smiles on their faces started to pour out of the command center as they were replaced by their comrades. Major Coleman waited until the Colonel seemed to have a minute for him before he approached the older man.
"Sir, any word on unit two or Colonel Lydecker?"
"The US Army has taken over control of the facility, that's all we've heard from the AAD so far. Don't worry, Major, it would be foolish of your superiors to kill any of your friends but we will most likely have to wait some time before we get to hear from them again."
"Yeah, I'm afraid you're right." Coleman sighed and didn't look one bit less anxious.
"I know it isn't easy but we knew this would happen. I trust Colonel Lydecker to make the right decisions and I'm sure they're going to be alright. Get some sleep as well, Major, there's nothing you can do here for the moment."
"Yes, sir! Thank you!" He saluted and left the room together with Sehler. On the way to his quarters he briefly stopped by the mess hall. When he had gotten himself a much needed sandwich and something to drink he spotted a small group of people who were staring at him intensely and with another sigh he approached them, knowing that his bed would have to wait a little longer.
"What's going on?" Logan demanded to know before Coleman even sat down.
"Somebody's in a good mood, I see" the Manticore black ops muttered as he sat down and bit into his sandwich. "All mission objectives have been achieved, the Alliance is destroyed. The AAD and the Deltas are on their way home and the US Army has taken over in Gilette. Before you even ask: There have been no losses in our units. A few wounded, but all stable as far as we know. We have no contact with unit two or Colonel Lydecker anymore"
Coleman shrugged and tried to look calm. If they saw how unsure he was actually feeling himself they were probably going to be worried to no end. "They've probably been taken into custody."
"How can you say this so easily?" Zane finally lost his usually so calm demeanor but then snorted derisively. "Oh, yeah, sorry, I forgot, you're sitting safely in this bunker and not out there with them."
"Coming from somebody who has never actually seen combat that statement loses a little bit of its originality, '09er!" Coleman spat angrily, his temper flaring at once. "If you haven't noticed yet you're not the only one who has friends out there!"
Zane gritted his teeth but didn't say anything. For once being called a '09er hurt. Max, Brin and Jondy were out there while he had to sit back and watch.
"By the way" Coleman added after about a minute of silence, "Brin has not been injured."
Zane looked at him a little bit surprised first and then lowered his head and murmured a 'thanks'. Despite the serious situation the Major grinned when he saw the X5 blush slightly. They were the deadliest warriors on this planet but whenever it came to this particular topic they acted like shy teenagers. He didn't blame them at all but it was fun to watch them nevertheless.
"What's going to happen now?" Victoria Gibbs wanted to know. After an extensive research the SRTU had decided she wasn't a threat but of course they could not let her go until operation 'Winter Contingency' was finished. So she had remained in Fortress Delta but was being treated like some sort of involuntary guest instead of being locked away like a prisoner. Like Logan and Zane she was always accompanied by at least two guards and unlike the cyber-journalist she didn't have any access to communication with the outside.
"There's nothing else left to do for us now than wait." Coleman didn't like the situation any better than they did but he knew it was true. "Pray if you want to, keep your hopes up an everything is gonna be fine."
He gave them an encouraging nod before he left them to their own thoughts but deep inside he couldn't get rid of the nagging worry, the fear that something might happen to their friends and comrades and they would never know about it.
Meanwhile Max had been escorted to her own cell. Once inside she saw that almost everything she had called her own before their escape had been removed. The bed, her locker – although most certainly empty now – the small table and a chair was all the furniture still inside the room and she gritted her teeth. Her quarters hadn't been much but it had been where she had felt safe from curious eyes, her own private space. She couldn't help but feel a little bit angry with the MPs for invading her privacy in such a manner but then again they were only doing their job.
"Ma'am?" one of the soldiers, a Sergeant by the name of Hadrian, said. "We will take off the handcuffs now, please don't make any sudden movements."
Max just nodded and felt relieved when she could move her hands and arms freely again, but she remained in her current position, hands behind her back and facing the wall.
"Alright." The soldier sounded satisfied and calm, yet concentrated. The three guards were all female; a far as Max had seen all female X5s had been taken away by women only. "Please turn around, ma'am."
She complied and looked at her three minders with a slight spark of curiosity in her eyes.
"Ma'am, I know this has to be uncomfortable for you, but I must ask you to take off your clothes and hand them over to us. There is a clean training uniform in your locker. I hope you can understand this."
For a brief moment Max was so taken aback she didn't know what to say, but then again this was only logical; she was a prisoner now. She suddenly understood why the male and female transgenics had been arrested and escorted by men and women respectively; no way in hell she would have taken off her clothes if a man had been in her cell right then!
"Ma'am?" Hadrian knew this always was a difficult moment and her work would have been much easier and quicker if she didn't wait for the prisoners compliance but then again she was also well aware of how direly it could affect their guard-prisoner relationship if she forced that young woman to strip. "Do you understand?"
"Yes, I do" Max sighed bitterly. She eyed the three women and in all of their eyes she could only see professional concentration and attentiveness but no hostility or even… With a small growl she opened her camo jacket, took it off and tossed it in the waiting Sergeants direction with no little frustration. The MP caught it out of the air rather gracefully which was an indicator that she was most likely used to this kind of reaction. Max immediately regretted her childish behavior and proceeded to take off her boots and the rest of her clothes in silence. When she opened the locker there really was one of her old training uniforms. No shoes or boots, though. Subconsciously her fingertips brushed over the grey fabric and a melancholic smile appeared on her face before she remembered where she was and quickly got dressed again.
"Thank you, for your cooperation, ma'am" Sergeant Hadrian nodded rather satisfied and calm. It was true; she had worked with many prisoners who had been a lot more difficult than this one. "We will leave you know. A member of the medical staff will be sent to you to check you as soon as possible. Later today we will escort you to the showers."
"Yes, Sergeant." The thought of having her body inspected wasn't thrilling but Max had to admit it would do her good; even though only Kara, Jace, Blade, Havoc and Alec had been shot everybody had gotten his fair share of small cuts and bruises during the fight. She just hoped it would be Cottle or perhaps Callen. "Thank you, ma'am."
"For what?" The MP was sincerely surprised by that young woman's reactions and behavior. Sure, they had been told they were going to guard a group of highly trained and if necessary also extremely dangerous spec ops commandos and those guys tended to be a little bit strange sometimes. But seeing how young the prisoners were and yet how disciplined and almost submissive they acted made her suspect there was more to this story than she had been told.
"For how you are treating us" Max answered truthfully. She recognized that these MPs didn't just do their job, but they also tried to make it as painless and in a way as comfortable as possible for everybody. "We're not used to this."
"To what, being a prisoner? I sincerely hope you are not!"
"Oh, we are quite used to that, believe me" Max replied with a small but bitter laugh and cringed at the sudden suspicion and surprise in the three women's eyes. "But there haven't been many people who treated us with respect, at least not around here. But you do."
"You are welcome" Hadrian replied a little unsure of what else to say. She exchanged a slightly worried glance with her two companions who looked just as taken aback by the young woman's statement. How old was she, twenty, twenty-one perhaps? What had happened to her to make her say such a thing? She inwardly shook her head and decided she had to talk to Captain Bowden about this and find out if the other prisoners had voiced similar thoughts. This whole operation was getting weirder by the second but for now she would have to leave it. "Okay, we will leave you alone then. If you need anything, just call out for one of the guards, there will always some of us close by."
Hadrian just nodded and left the cell and her two comrades followed. When they closed the door and locked it Max really felt like in a prison for the first time; sure, they all called their quarters 'cells' but that was only because of how they had been trained and how they had been living before Manticore loosened up a little bit during the years after '09.
She sighed and lay down on her bed, groaning and stretching her muscles. She didn't need to constantly be on her guard anymore, the MPs were taking care of that, and after all the tension, adrenalin and the constant alertness of the last few days she felt how exhausted and tired her body actually was. Her mind, however, wouldn't let her rest. Her thoughts kept circling around what was going to happen next, what she could do if they were going to be betrayed – well, not much for the time being, she had to admit with a dark frown – and what was happening to her siblings. Were they being treated the same way she was? She had to admit she liked the way the MPs acted although this was of course not even nearly enough to make her trust them. And what about Alec? Was somebody taking care of his injured leg? Was he alright? Where was he anyway? Would everybody be brought to their old quarters or was that just her? She couldn't even hear what was going on outside, everything was so quiet and it made her feel nervous. And what about Kara and Jace? Were they alright, were they gonna make it like Hayden had promised? She didn't even know what was going to happen to Lydecker.
She growled out of frustration as all of these thoughts didn't give her anything but headaches but she couldn't stop them. Everything was such a mess. Even the Deltas had to leave them so quickly they barely got to say goodbye. Right now they hopefully were on their way back home; she didn't even dare to imagine what would happen if somebody decided to send a few surface-to-air missiles after them.
"Stop it!" she hissed at herself but the tiny voice whispering dangerous thoughts into her ear just laughed evilly. She glared at the closed door and for a brief moment considered to call one of the guards and to demand to be taken to Alec, just to make sure he was okay, but she decided against it. She wouldn't be allowed to leave her quarters just to take a look at one of her fellow soldiers anyway.
Dammit! She had only been in here for a few minutes and already she started to feel alone and missing her siblings like mad. How was she supposed to make it through the months to come?
She curled up into a tight ball and wrapped her arms around her legs, resting on her side and listening to the deafening silence. She forced herself to close her eyes and tried to fall asleep but as she waited the doubts and the emotional turmoil within her only grew stronger and when a single tear slowly ran down her cheek Max finally admitted to herself that she was utterly terrified of the future.
Okay, this is it. As I said I'm not completely happy with it but there you go. You'll see what the US intends to do with the X5s in the next chapter and you'll learn what happens to the other '09ers there as well.
Now, I know I've been a bad writer for letting you wait this long and I will do what I can to not let that happen again. In exchange:
Please let me know what you think (yes, that means review. Subtle as always, I know ;) )
Please tell me whether you want me to continue after this story or not. As I said you decision will influence how I'm going to end this one and I still have plenty of ideas!
Thanks a lot!
To finish here a few translations:
J3: Chief of operations
SOD: Special Operations Division
Sitrep: situation report
"I liäbä di. Ond I chome zrugg, I verspreche's!": I love you. And I will come back, I promise!
"I liäbä di o. Wart ned z'lang!": I love you too. Don't wait too long!