Who are you?
What do you want?
Why are you here?
Do you have anything to live for?
Where are you going?'
J. Michael Straczynski, Questions asked and pondered over from BABYLON 5
The night has always been Max's favorite time. Since her genetic makeup requires little sleep, she often prowls the streets of Seattle, looking for action of any kind. Action that's a little crazy and a little dangerous. Take tonight for instance. Max finds a fellow Ninja enthusiast wearing a black helmet with red stripes for the mystery look, and they decide to play a little Chase Me Chicken. Not for money, not for sex, not for drugs or other prizes, just for the Hell of it and the rush. It's playing with fire in its purest form.
The pair races around Downtown Seattle with only the wind and the curses of irate drivers to listen to. Max is in love or lust or just glad for a proper playmate. She ponders over whether or not she should catch the Man (or Woman) In Black and have a beer after their roadway foreplay…and perhaps even enjoy some foreplay of a different manner. Unfortunately, Red Stripe is gone like a wonderful dream. Replacing him is the nightmarish reality of the Sector Police. They're not too enthused with biker freedom or freedom of any sort. They harass Max with the usual ID check, before they ask her about the busted taillight. Max is puzzled. Her bike's taillight was fine…until the thug cop bangs his nightstick into it. Since the road rules are strict in Post Pulse America, the bike's impounded and Max will have to find some other transportation. The buses stopped running about an hour and cab fare's too expensive for 'normal' citizens like Max. For a true normal citizen, the walk back home would be deadly with the street gangs and freaks out and about. For Max, it's a merely annoyance. The one thing she loves in this earth or the next has been seized by a bunch of bored Neo-Fascists. Suddenly, the night doesn't seem so fun anymore. Max just storms off, vowing to get her Ninja back. For now, her 'lover' must wait for liberation.
Logan has other problems to deal with. His disability may not have affected his work as Eyes Only and he certainly can take care of himself with some assistance from his therapist/bodyguard Blaine, but sometimes it's the little things that get him. Like the elevator. Though his code card gives him the added security from the usual thugs and thieves (Max being the only one to successfully raid his pad.), the buttons to the penthouse are too high for him to reach. Luckily, he just finished grocery shopping and a handy loaf of French bread provides the necessary reach. He fesses to Blaine about getting an umbrella or folding stick in future when his friend drops a bombshell. She's here. Logan's puzzled. If it were Max, there would be no call for formality or long looks. Then the old memories come back. He wheels himself into the living room and there she is. Valarie, his ex-wife, moving around his furniture in some attempt at proper Feng Shui, the art of channeling good luck through exact arrangement of personal items. She looks well, her alcoholism being kept at bay for over a year and an half. With her life in some kind of order, she's been making apologies to the people she hurt over the years. She's been working her way up on the list of those she had wronged the most and Logan's the final person to apologize to. Suddenly, the old love thought dead and gone comes back. Whether it's a bittersweet memory or a bad head cold, it's for him to decide.
Max is dealing with one particular head cold of the moment. The impound yard keeper has been giving her the run-around. He can't seem to locate her bike. She's very insistent about it. She tells him in no uncertain terms that it's not a Nomad, Nemesis, or Nirvana. It's a Ninja, 650, and black…like her mood. After the verbal song and dance, he finds the invoice and names his price. Three grand, in cash, and preferably in twenty dollar bills. Suddenly her black mood is blacker. She rants about her blight with her fellows at the courier service. She bitches about police extortion and heavy handedness and how the Hell she's gonna get that much scratch in a hurry. Original Cindy can only give moral support. Herbal's more pragmatic. He makes note of the old Rastafarian teaching of letting adversity flow over her like water. He tells her about how his wife Shorty's ex-flame Winston has come over to stay for a few days. He knows about how tight they were before. He knows his beloved and where her heart is…even though she made Winston's favorite Italla soup and didn't do the same for him. Max doesn't care. She doesn't want this particular problem to follow over. She wants the bike back. Cindy's suggestion on getting a used ride galls her to no end, but she humors her best friend by looking at the classifieds. One ad strikes her dead hard. It's not a Sector Police auction with her bike as the main attraction. It's her personal bar code tattoo numbers 332960073452 in the personal ads with a 9:00 PM rendezvous at Yesler and Viaduct. Normal gives his usual pain in the ass speech about getting some work done and the gang goes off on their assignments. Herbal's calm and cool approach with Winston suddenly seems to falter a little as he asks Cindy if he should be a little wary about the man.
Almost noticed by everyone, a tall blonde stranger named Sam walks into the courier's. Like most of the youth of Post Pulse America, he's looking for work. Sketchy's humorous attempts at directions amuses the youth and points him to Normal. Normal at first is leery of him. He's been burned too often by jerks and slackers who didn't give him respect or do the job right. But, the young stranger's polite manner and courtesy warms him up. At last, someone who gives a damn about respecting the boss. Normal gives him an application and tells him to come back in the morning. Doesn't matter to him if the form isn't filled out properly or this guy's wanted by the Sector Police. Normal has already decided to hire this youth. He just wants to go through the formalities. After all, respect given deserves respect in return.
At Logan's penthouse, Max talks about the ad and its meaning. Seems someone knows what it means to her and she wants to follow the lead. Logan is more leery about this. It could be a trap by Lydecker. Max counters his theory. It could be a sign from Brin, or Johndie,…or Zack! She remembers how he took charge of the remaining twelve escapees after the Manticore Break-Out and how he split everyone up. Perhaps this is a message from him to return. Before Logan can respond, his answering machine gets a message. It's Valerie, calling him by his pet name 'Loogie' and wondering if he wanted to talk some more and perhaps go out. 'Loogie' makes a quick reply to her on the phone, promising her to call back. Max is surprised about this development. She didn't know about his ex-wife and wondering if she knew about his 'Quixote Complex'. Logan mutters about how Eyes Only came to be long after the divorce. Valerie doesn't know about it and she will never know. Logan advises caution about the rendezvous. Max smugly tells him she can handle it, teasingly using 'Loogie' with affection. Somehow, the words seem wounded. As if Max was feeling…hurt about Logan's ex coming back.
At Yesler and Viaduct, Max answers the nearby pay phone. It's now 9:02. A man scolds her for her tardiness and Max recognizes him right away. It's Vogelsang, the PI she formerly held on retainer before he sold her out and almost cost Hanna her life. Vogelsang pleads innocence, talking about the two weeks he spent in a cage with Lydecker's dogs poking and prodding with glee. He then tells her about some new information he's acquired about the Manticore escapees. About how one of them is living in Seattle right now and it's not her. His asking price is $15,000, in cash and in his hands in 48 hours. Max is not happy. First this chump damn near gets her and a Manticore project worker killed by Lydecker and now he's baiting her with crumbs in exchange for hard currency she can't score which would more likely be used to bail out her ride than feed his need for Runaway Money. Still, Vogelsang is the closest lead she has to her family. So, she makes her deal with the devil. Unknown to the two, a shadow tails them and listens to the discussion. Someone has an interest in this affair.
The next day, things are tense at the courier's. Never mind that Original Cindy met this lovely Lickety-Boo named Chrisette or that Max needs some fast cash not involving armed robbery. Seems Sketchy and the guys are pissed at Normal for firing Herbal. Normal caught him smoking a marijuana joint in the men's bathroom. This runs against the strict drug policy of the company. Sketchy pleads for some understanding. Herbal's Rastafarian religion permits the use of ganja as a sacrament. The joint wasn't recreational. It was symbolic of Jah's commandment of 'Thou shall eat the herb of the fields.' Normal doesn't care. He's all for religious expressions, but he's not amused by reefer madness. He's willing to overlook possible criminal prosecution, but Herbal's job is gone. Gone to his newest employee, the brownnoser Sam. Herbal holds no grudge on Normal. He knows the Pencil Necked Geek was doing his job and bitching about it wouldn't do anyone good. Course, Herbal's friends are not as forgiving as he.
Max meets up with Blaine at Logan's and wonders where he is. Blaine tells her about his shopping trip with Valerie and how happy he seems to be. Max wonder about what he sees in her, if she was more a brain and deep thinker. Blaine explains how nice she is, outgoing and having a nice body. This kind of talk is a bit much for Max, so she goes off. At the building, Logan and Val reminisce of old times and chances lost. There's a light in his eyes that hasn't been there in quite awhile. Perhaps people can change. He offers to help her in any way, but Valerie politely refuses. She's trying to be more self-reliant and his generous offer wouldn't be right. Max runs into the happy couple, making a joke about getting some money instead. After some guarded and polite introductions, Logan and Max have a private conference. She wants the 15 grand to pay off her PI snitch. Logan suspects Vogelsang's offer is more a trap from Lydecker and refuses to give her the cash. It's not the money that's the problem. He's worried about Max getting killed on a wasted fool's errand. Max accepts this reason, but then tells him about her other…options. Logan's unease is suddenly heightened.
Herbal too has unease as he and Sketchy chill at an outdoor bike park. It's not being unemployed that disturbs him, it's how his woman confessed about her feelings for Winston. On how she still carries a torch for him. His beliefs call him to let it pass, since Shorty knows to whom her heart belongs. His own heart is showing some well due jealousy. Herbal is having a conflict of faith, and it's troubling him.
Max is more clear on her intent. In her black camouflage 'working' clothes, she decides to kill two birds with one stone. Or rather one break-in at the impoundment yard. Leaping over the razorwire is easy. Dealing with the German Shepherd is another matter. A quick game of Alpha Male Staredown turns the growling beast into a whimpering puppy and Max rewards the pooch with some high priced steak. Porterhouse steak at about $50.00 a pop wasn't easy to secure with the supply lines being problematic, but knowing what slop the dog was eating, Max figures it's worth the expense. The raid on the office yields plenty: her cycle keys, $2.00 in the cashbox, and more than 25 grand in the safe. She pockets the keys and the dough, but leaves the two dollars behind. Why be spiteful? Her trek in the yard finds her cycle safe and sound among other Ninjas. She has a little regret about leaving behind the other bikes, but she's into Motorcycle Monogamy. The night guard finds the hound enjoying his steak like it was a last meal. He also finds Max making a breath-taking leap over the barriercades with her Ninja on high speed. The guard just stands there and swears softly. Looks like they should've gotten a Rottweiler instead of that frigging sissy dog from the pound like he told them.
At Lydecker's command center, the TAC Team has a solid lead. Seems Vogelsang was body-bugged with a micro-implant in his ear. The tape of their discussion is murky, owing to the implant's tendency to dislodge and move into other areas. Lydecker is understanding of this shortcoming. He demands a full clean up of the tape, wanting to hear every word. From the rough audio match they could get from the tape, the girl's voice matches the one recording they have of her from the Bragaza Kidnapping. Lydecker recommends continued surveillance on Vogelsang with rotating teams. He wants this girl bad and he's not going to let some fat private dick screw things up again.
Normal's having a BAAAAAD day. With Herbal gone and being shorthanded, the guys pull a work slowdown on him. The excuses of checkpoint harassment and having to deal with the Sector Police rubs Normal the wrong way. Add to that Sam's inability to find the correct address, and suddenly things are becoming even more grating than usual. The gang mocks the brownnoser's inexperience with taunting directions of Proctor and Gamble and 'left at the Power Nipple'. Normal's at the end of his rope, so he pairs Sam with Max in hopes of getting one package on time and in the right place.
Sam and Max don't get along from the start. She knows times are tough and Sam's only the victim of circumstance, but Herbal was a friend who got screwed over unjustly. Sam will not be getting any favors from her or anyone else. In the middle of their route, she stops over at a coffee shop. Sam asks her if this is part of the slowdown, and she mutters something about wanting to pee. She actually wants to be near a telephone for an important call and she'll do anything to free one up, even bribing a couple of teens to another booth and sticking gum into the coin slot. Their little 'coffee break' doesn't help with the bonding. Sam's attempt at small talk with reincarnation only frustrates Max more. She doesn't give a fig if a raindrop into the ocean 10,000 years ago and a butterfly's fart in India had brought them into a coffee shop drinking mochas tasting like goat piss. She just doesn't like him. Growling about the sound of a hand slapping on the back of his head, she gets the phone call she's been after. Vogelsang wants her to go to a rooming house on Jackson and Third, Room 18, at 6:00 with the money. Being the trusting type, Max wants some information in advance. Vogelsang tells her about a young white male adult going to a tattoo parlor in Chinatown to remove a bar code from the back of his neck two weeks ago. The numbers were 330417291599. It's Zack's tag! Vogelsang reminds her to meet him later and hangs up. Max rushes off with her 'charge' in tow. Whether it's a trap or not, she doesn't care. Zack is back in town!
During another 'break', Sketchy applauds Herbal's resolve on dealing with 'Weenston'. Original Cindy doesn't think too well about it. She thinks Herbal is being too lenient and should lay down the law. She then tells Sketchy about his incomplete tan, on how his sunglasses over his forehead has left a white patch. Suddenly, Max has a startling vision. Valerie had a similar patch of her own….around her ring finger. Following on this hunch, she tails the woman back to her apartment and discovers she's not alone. Seems Valerie has remarried and the leech she's hitched up with has drained her divorce settlement dry. The plan is to mooch as much cash from the lovesick puppy as possible before he discovers the ruse. This doesn't shock Max, since being player and played is the rule on the streets. But, having Logan soaked by this bitch rubs her the wrong way. Max decides to tell Logan about this, but not now. She has an appointment.
Unfortunately, Vogelsang had a previous engagement of his own. When Max arrives at the rooming house, she finds a crowd looking at the police making their inquiries about a possible mob hit. With her enhanced vision and hearing, she discovers the Pi's lifeless body and the speculations on his demise. A simple shot to the head from the behind his back with a .38 is the cause. Why and who did it is the mystery. Lydecker and his TAC Team make their appearance, so Max melts into the background. Her only chance to find Zack has been shot to Hell.
Max vents her frustration and concern with Logan as they try to run down a possible match on the tattoo parlor. Max is worried that Lydecker offed the oily investigator and frightened off Zack before they could all connect. She worries about her 'brother' being caught. Logan is more realistic. He reasons someone else made the hit since why would Lydecker bother to kill his only solid lead to Max and the others. He came moments after the body was discovered, so he couldn't be the shooter. Logan then asks Max about why she didn't get her bar code removed. She told him she had tried, but she didn't enjoy the painful experience and the code grew back about two weeks later. She theorizes about it being part of the general genetic code. Logan muses about it being 'The Mark Of Cain' and marvels at Zack's persistence. The search turns up four possible parlors in Chinatown and prints up a map. Max thanks him for the assist by telling him what she found out about Valerie. This isn't the thanks she wanted to give him, but in case she did get captured or killed by Lydecker, she wanted him to know about the conniving wrench.
After a brief trek of bribing and beguiling, Max locates the apartment where the tattooed guy is staying. A simple pick of the lock, and she makes a stunning discovery. In the darkness and using her night vision, she finds the same classifieds with Vogelsang's ad circled, the very familiar Ninja cycle with a similarly notable helmet, photos of her and Vogelsang talking, and a bottle of Tryp. Max is at a loss for words and emotions. So deep is her shock, she doesn't even notice the figure behind until his hand is around her mouth. They briefly struggle until she tells him her name and Zack's. They face each other and Max is flabbergasted. It's 'Sam', the brownnoser Normal hired. 'Sam' is actually Zack! At last, she found one of her family. The one she loved and respected the most. Max embraces the surprised Zack who now is at a loss of words. The moment is short-lived, however. From out of the darkness comes a row of unmarked vehicles. Lydecker's men! They have to leave now!
Without exchanging another word, Max and Zack make good their training and their escape. As if by telepathy, they coordinated their moves and subdue their pursuers with a fluid grace of aerial ballet. The TAC Team members fall one by one, not even getting a chance to use their weapons or their skills. The pair reaches the roof and using a rope from an unconscious soldier, traverse their way out of the building via a telephone wire. Once again, Lydecker comes out empty-handed.
At a nearby railroad yard, Zack and Max finally talk. All the years of waiting and searching has finally paid off for Max. But the tearful reunion she had expected never comes. Zack confesses about his murdering Vogelsang to protect himself, Max, and the other eleven Manticore escapees. When Max confronts him about the reasons, he tells her about how Lydecker had already gotten his hooks into the PI. To let him live would invite disaster. Zack has maintained contacts with the others and given whatever help they needed or he felt they needed throughout the years.
He knows where the rest are, but insists that Max follow him to San Francisco to evade Lydecker's hounds. It's no longer safe for her in Seattle. Max…refuses. She doesn't want to be on the run and watching her back for the rest of her life. She wants to be a family with the others, to have a family. Zack scoffs it out as a sentimental lie. They are soldiers in enemy territory. They must survive. Max makes her stand. She reminds him of the reason why they broke out of Manticore. To be free from it and all that it represents. She has for the most part succeeded, while Zack is still living it. The life she's living might be a lie to him, but she wants to live a normal life, as close to normal as possible. What Zack offers is just another prison. After some thought, he reluctantly concedes and leaves for parts unknown. He touches Max's face gently before he departs and marvels at how much she has grown and how beautiful she has become. Someday, the Manticore Children will be united without fear or want and they will live out that 'sentimental lie' that Max has achieved. But for now, Zack is a soldier. He must obey his instincts. As the sky starts to thunder and rain, Max wonders if it's only raindrops on her face or something else to match with her grief. In the end, it doesn't really matter.
Grief has also hold sway on Logan. He confronts Valerie about her deceit even as she offers to make dinner and make jokes about the past where her drinking and cooking sometimes ended with the kitchen on fire. On the table is an envelope with money. It's Valerie's…if she leaves right now and never comes back. Valerie tries in vain to heal the breach and make amends, but it's too late. The old wounds have re-opened and it's time to go. Sadly, she walks out on Logan for the second and last time. She only hesitates for a minute to pick up the money and then disappears. Outside, raindrops strike the window and mirrors Logan's heart. Once again, he has been left broken and alone.
At a bar, the gang is celebrating. Normal has given Herbal back his job since 'Sam' has disappeared with some unaccounted and undelivered packages in his wake. Original Cindy jokes about his searching for the Power Nipple. For Herbal, this is a double pleasure. He has reclaimed his wife's love and made his peace with Winston. Course, he had to kick out the little homewrecker to do it, but sometimes Jah favors the firm hand. He offers a toast to Winston and Normal. The gangs drinks hearty with their beer, though not with much enthusiasm about Normal. Max doesn't join them. She's drinking coffee and brooding over Zack. She wonders if he was the only one living like a hunted animal, or if the others were like him…or even worse off. Blaine shows up and tells her about Logan's equally black mood. He understands Max's actions and why she told him about Valerie's scam. What the young man needs now is someone to cheer him up, to pull him from his funk. Max decides to 'tell him a bedtime story' and rushes off, asking the barkeep to give Blaine whatever he wants.
In the quiet and the dark of the apartment, Max and Logan share each other's grief and sorrow. For a brief moment, they had experienced hope, joy, and heartbreak all in a handful of moments. Logan has thought he rediscovered his happiness with Val, only to find out it had a price tag. At least this time she was sober. Shame on him, shame on her. Max had thought finding Zack would give her the answers she had longed for, but now she has more questions than ever. Pity for her, pity for him. From these lessons they've learned, a bond is reached and strengthen. Maybe it's only due to sorrowful empathy or maybe it's something more. For now, the two have something to share beyond the struggle to liberate America from its tyrants. It could be love or understanding or something more, but it's enough to keep them warm. They decide to go off to the park for a spin. The rain won't be a bother. In a way, it would be cleansing.
In the end, the bonds you make now count more than the ones you made in the past or the one you hope to make in the future. This is the truth of things, even in Post Pulse America.