"A sound body and a dull brain is as cheap as life itself." Dalton Trumbo, from his screenplay SPARTACUS
Logan is at the doctor's office, checking out the new feelings he's been getting in his feet since he banged himself on the table yesterday after his cousin's wedding. He tells the good doctor about feeling some sensation and pain and being able to move his big toe little. The doctor chalks up it to phantom sensation, where an amputee or paraplegic swears they feel hot or cold or pain in places that isn't suppose to be feeling anything anymore. But…there's something strange in Logan's blood that does interest him. Seems he now has pluripotents in his bloodstream, basically undifferentiated stem cells that are the basic building blocks of the human embryo. Usually, these stem cells appear after a few weeks of conception before they become organs, eyes, bones, teeth, hands, and the other parts of a baby. For Logan to have these stem cells in his blood now is…unusual. It's almost like the gene therapy of the Pre-Pulse Era that gave much hope to those suffering from spinal cord injuries and those of other irreversible diseases before the Stem Cell Ban pushed by Congress by Right To Life zealots due to its source: aborted fetuses. Course, the rest of the world and the Underground Medical Community had no qualms exploiting such surgery. The doctor's pragmatic over Logan's hope to be out of the chair soon. While the Stem Cell Therapy has had some success, the lack of documentation both from the Pulse and the Ban gives him little to go on over whether Logan will recover from his spinal cord injury or if it's just blind faith. Miracles never happen in his profession, especially nowadays.
Back at Logan's apartment, Max plays with his toes, pinching them. He gives out a yelp and startles her. They talk about the diagnosis. Logan knows she had a hand in healing him, giving him back some feeling to his legs. Max supports this. Manticore wanted their troops to heal faster, so their blood make-up has an abundance of pluripotents. Logan has a theory, a faint hope actually, and the only way to test it out is to go through another transfusion. Max knows the risks involved, but she's beginning to fall in love with her mentor. A far cry from what she was when they first met. So, in the privacy of the dining room, she transfuses some more of her blood into Logan by candlelight. She falls asleep as before, but Logan will keep an eye on her. He doesn't want her hurt anymore than she wants to hurt him. The time flows slowly and the candle melts down to near nothing. To some, it could be almost romantic in a disturbing way.
An equally disturbing ritual is taking place in an abandoned part of the city. No one dares to come to this part of town, which suits these dark figures. It's Johannessen and his Red Series Boyz, now to be one short. He's dying, beyond repair, and still he lives! His fellow Red Troopers lay out a funeral pyre fit for warriors of their ilk. They cite the litany for the dead. 'There's freedom in service,' says the dying man. "You served well," they said. "No regrets," he says and they repeat the sentiment. The pyre is lit and the Trooper weeps blood tears as the flames consume him. His last wish is simple: find the girl! Johannessen carefully examines the remains until he finds what he was looking for: the Implant. The device that overrides all pain and feeling for super strength and near unstoppable…for a price. The Red Leader is mournful for his dead friend and disturbed over his death. He lasted only six months. Johannessen reminds Red Leader of the risks involved with wearing the Implant. They got paid for a year's work, regardless of length of service. They need to find the Manticore Girl to harvest her DNA and arrest or even reverse the gruesome effects. With the Manticore transgenetics, they could maximize their contracts and reap great rewards as mercenaries without equal. Already, the smashed pager has yielded a partial phone number. But since the LCD memory was damaged, a quantum scan is required for a proper readout, a time consuming process even by Pre-Pulse standards. Still, it will give them the last call received by the pager. They just have to trace it and follow the lead to the girl. They've waited this long for some Manticore technology to help out with their 'problem.' They can wait a little while longer.
Sketchy, Original Cindy, and Herbal bid themselves morning at the Jam Pony in their usual manner…except now Herbal's more refined. More proper. More like Normal almost. Seems Herbal's old lady wants him to speak more clearly for others to understand him. Sketchy doesn't see the point. He can understand his bro very well. Herbal could be understood by everyone except for the idiot Normal…but then again he doesn't understand anyone. Herbal then fesses up: it's more for his wife's sake. Ah, love.
Cindy tells him, "Don't be losing your flavor, 'cause fools ain't got ears to hear." Speaking of fools, Normal gets a call for Cindy and starts bitching about getting personal calls on official phones. He tells her to be brief and quick, she has work to do. As Max arrives from her delivery, Cindy has some good news. When Mr. Sivapathasundaram (the Indian millionaire who was to have bought out Jam Pony before the gang pulled the biohazard stunt to help change him) came by, Cindy made some connections for other work. Seems she got lucky and got another job. The guys are thrilled, with Max asking if she was going to keep her clothes on. The new job is telemarketing, basically selling insurance for death and dismemberment for Washington Meridian. If there's anything to be said about misery and profit, the insurance industry has been cleaning up during the Second Depression. She starts this afternoon. The gang gives out hugs and asks her to remember them when she gets settled in to give a good word for them. Working at the Pony with Normal's enough to drive anyone to a life of crime. Cindy faces down her supervisor and tells him something that she wanted to say to him when she first worked at Jam Pony: I QUIT! Normal doesn't give a damn. To him, it's just one less disrespectful, uppity, loudmouth, deadbeat hooligan to ruin his day. He bids her well in her other pursuits and tells the rest of the 'hooligans' to get back to work. Obviously, the poor boy is all choked up by Cindy's leaving. She gives one last hug to all her bros. Time to clean out her locker, bomb for home, and dress for success. She makes a date with Max and the guys at Crash to tell them how her first day went. Hell, things just might look up now.
Things are looking up for the Red Boyz. They've found a new recruit. Johannessen tells him about the risks involved and the whole speech. The recruit is ready for his…initiation. Johannessen removed the sterilized Implant from its casing and gives it to the recruit. He inserts it into the back of his neck. The Implant bores into his skull and there's a moment of pain. Of bulging veins and spasms and indescribable agonies as the recruit adjusts to the feelers piecing his nervous system. Soon, it's over. The recruit sheds a blood tear and then punches his fist through the desk, breaking it in two. Another brother has joined the Red Troop! Red Leader gushes with pride and welcomes him. Johannessen has more joyous news: the search has yielded fruit. He gives the Red Boyz an address and they march out. Soon, they're trashing the place in search of any leads. They get one from a nosy neighbor who should've ran out of the fire escape or just kept the door shut. Red Leader roughs him up until he gets the information. Seems some chick left for work at an insurance company. Washington Meridian Insurance. He 'thanks' him kindly by giving him a clean break in the neck, a quick and merciful death. He and his brothers may suffer in the flesh for their service, but they will not cause undue pain to their prey unless it's necessary. They are…above that butchery.
Dressed in more proper affair than she's used to during the daytime, Cindy's given the tour of Washington Meridian with her new supervisor, a wispy WASP-y kind of woman she wouldn't give time for in the street. Course, this is the working world here, and things must be done in a certain way. Cindy explains that while she doesn't have experience in insurance, she does have great verbal skills. In fact, kids at her high school paid her for 'playing the dozens,' where the better the insult the higher the status. She gave 'insurance against catastrophic tongue failure.' The woman is a little amused by this, then gives Cindy the standard script the manager Mr. Petrick had approved to speak with the clients. He likes to stick to the basics. She also gives out the schedule of the benefits in case of any questions. Cindy's eager to please. It's her first day and she wants to make a good impression. The assistant is off to the bank with Mr. Petrick, but when she gets back they'll do some cold calling and get started. No problem. After the assistant leaves, Cindy gives the script the once over. Obviously the scribe and Normal went to the School of Lame Ass Lines. Ugh!
Logan was at his computer when the transfusion begins to take effect. His feet suddenly begin to move. He can feel the air around his toe. Logan decides to go for broke. He puts his feet on the floor, feeling the hard wood under them and tries to step away from his wheelchair. He falls, head forward, and upsets everything on the desk including a blue green glass vase, which shatters into pieces. His strength has not returned as quickly as his feeling. Logan's frustrated! Blaine shows up and puts him back on his chair. He wonders what's going on, but doesn't ask. Some things you should keep mum about.
Max returns home and sees an upsetting sight. Lt. Walter Eastep, scumbag officer from the Seattle's 'finest' and wearing very little of his uniform, is handcuffing a barely clothed Kendra to the bedpost. Furious, she bangs him to the wall and tells him off. Kendra holds her back and tells her what was going on. Seems Walter had a change of heart from his usual $600 a month shakedown days. She ran into him a few weeks back at a Dunkin' Donuts and they bonded. He was actually sweet, kind and funny. Max reminds her about his married status. Kendra tells her Mrs. Eastep ran off with some kid on the skateboard and now her 'platonic' relationship with the officer is something more…interesting. He is MISTER MULTIPLES, the Sex God who has given Kendra that special glow of a woman who's experienced Sexual Nirvana. Max is alarmed, damned near disgusted. Him? She can only see through Kendra's purple bustier to notice her hardened nipples to know the truth. Fully clothed now, Walter gives his love to the ladies, calls an 'all clear' at the station, and leaves the apartment with a song in his heart. Max now wants to go to the bathroom and throw up for the next 10,000 years. Him? HIM?
Cindy's first day at Washington Meridian was…eventful. She had experienced a total of a hundred hang-ups, more than she ever got in her lifetime. Every time she played by the script, there was a click and a tone. Even now, telemarketers are not welcome in Post Pulse America. The last one for the day was a real doozy. He inquired about how much would Washington Meridian pay for his severed…well, then it got real personal when he asked her what she was wearing. Freak! And she thought Normal was disturbed. Sheesh! Bone weary, she closes up shop and makes for Crash. She doesn't even notice the three dark shadows following her. Just as well.
Logan is equally in the dark. Max has left a message on his machine, wondering if he wanted to hang with her and the guys at Crash…if he wasn't too busy saving the world or if it was his bowling night. Right how, he's not the mood for people, genetically enhanced or otherwise.
Max and Cindy talk about Kendra's new 'boytoy' over a game of table soccer. The lingering image of Lt. Walter Eastep naked and drooling on an equal nude Kendra handcuffed to a water haunts Max deeply. She wonders if she'll ever make love again…or hold down solid food for that matter. Cindy's more philosophic. So Kendra is now banging a man in uniform. She had a woman once who was 100% Marine. Semper Fi, Do Or Die, Ten-Huit! She was so Sweeet in her dress blues. Max tells about the age difference. So what? Cindy had a woman whose daughter was older than she was. It was peaches and cream, until…well, she's open-minded about threesomes, but that's a tale for another time. Max gives her a hard stare. Her world is slowly turning inside out! Kendra is making deviant love with someone whose coffee she spat in long ago, Cindy's working at another place, and Logan…Logan is suddenly having options that were once closed to him. Cindy wonders if her friend was taking it too seriously about her squeeze, and Max tells her off Logan's not her 'squeeze'. At least…not yet. Cindy just tells her to chill out. Things tend to change for the better…or hopefully less boring. Max ends the discussion with a bank shot and wins the game. Time for another pitcher of beer. Cindy can go for that.
Meeting up with Herbal and Sketchy at the table, Cindy then gives her gripe of her own. She has yet to get some bread from her first day. Her job is commission based. No sale, no pay. She's tried to follow the script and doing a little code switching, but somehow all she gets are hang-ups or worse. Max theorizes Cindy's not being herself. She has to find some way to keep the clients on line long enough to make the sale. After that, it should be easy. The pitcher now drained, Max offers to buy the next round. She turns with the empty pitcher and sees Horror Incarnate. It's the Red Leader and he wants only one thing. Max makes a scramble with the other two Red Boyz giving chase. They make it to the street, giving grief to a truck driver. Max makes an impossible leap to safety on the back of the rig and catches her breath…for about five seconds. The new recruit jumps beside her and tries to take her down. They fight fast and furious with the other Reds still giving pursuit. The truck screeches to a halt as a bus shows up from nowhere. Max takes the opportunity to hi kick the recruit and a pipe impales him. It's a mortal wound…but he's still moving. Lucky for Max, the other two Reds have left the scene and the wound is so severe, her would pursuer can only say a few words before dying. It's a simple request. He asks her to help them live. She's unnerved by this. These Red Boyz make Lydecker look like Jesus Christ Resurrected!
An autopsy is performed at Sebastian's hideaway. Max and Logan observe the operation as the quadriplegic asks why a Red Series soldier chased her down. She muses about road rage. Through his 'voice box', Sebastian reckons Max was a biosynth, a X5 from Manticore. He has interests in good conspiracies since his…condition allows him plenty of time to think.
He theorizes the Reds want Max's genetic code to prolong their lives and make a new generation of warriors who can handle the Implants better. All they really need is to harvest her ova. Max doesn't think being the mother of the New Order Soldiers is such a hot deal. Just as well, since the present stock is not very good to begin with. The South Africans have been using death row inmates as 'recruits' for the Red Series. Sebastian pulls the criminal record of the dead recruit. Logan's amused. A commuted sentence in exchange for service to the South African Black Ops with an Implant in their head. Max reckons it's more a stay of execution. When Logan asks Sebastian why the Implants can't be removed before Burn Out, the answer leaves him cold. The Implants rewire the neural pathways. There's no way it can be removed physically without killing. Sebastian has an idea to override it, but it's never been properly tested. Bottom line: While Max's Manticore make-up might be good, the Red Series would overwhelm if the Troopers ever meet her again. The Implant is finally removed and the sight is terrifying. There are branches of nano-fibers at every direction, almost like a root system. Then, terrifying turns to alarming as the 'branches' retract themselves back into its original drillhead form. The coroner drops the Implant into a flask full of solution. They'll have to study it later.
Johannessen is enraged by the latest setback. They lost an Implant, an expensive piece of Black Market technology. Red Leader's more concerned about losing another brother to death, knowing his time might be coming next. Johannessen doesn't give a damn about a dead man. In fact, he reminds his 'employee' about how close he came to a lethal injection 8 months ago today. Red Leader gives him a hard smack and is about to kill him as brutally as possible. No one reminds him where he came from without suffering. Johannessen tells him off that if he dies, their one chance to prolonging their lives goes out the window. Red Leader thinks for a moment and then helps him off the floor. Johannessen asks if the girl they follow knew if she was being tailed. Finding out she hasn't, he decides on a different plan. Maybe she can be more useful as bait.
Once more, Cindy is on the phone, trying to make a sell. She tries the script on a Mr. Rogelio Riquelmo. Realizing he's about to hang up, she drops the lame ass lines and gets to the point clear and Street. If he loses an arm or let, he can score 20 large for the rest of his ass, which is better than zip. She overhears a small child's cry and plays on his love for his child and fears of the future. Does he want to leave his wife and kid alone to starve in the cruel world without some safety net? Original Cindy vows to have him covered like foundation make-up on a drag queen if he just makes a payment on some insurance. Suddenly, she's close to her first sell. A big one. Script, her ass. She's gonna wing it from now on. Unfortunately, the joint is overturned by the two Red Boyz and Johannessen. Looks like it's no sell for her…and it could be permanent this time.
Back home, Logan wonders how the Reds knew Max was at the Crash. She has no clue. She notices a piece of glass on the ground and asks about it. Logan tells her it was an accident. She then wonders how the transfusion was working on him. He's disappointed about how slow the effects were. Maybe it was a fluke, a cruel one at that. Max gets a page from Cindy and makes a call. Cindy is being held at gunpoint by Johannessen, making sure she follows HIS script. She asks Max if she wanted to go to that new club opening tonight. Max says she couldn't. Cindy's insistent. She wants her boo to meet her new 'boyfriend' Calrito and maybe hook up with his brother. Max's senses go into red alert. Something's wrong. Very wrong. She tells her she'll be coming and tells Logan she's off to pick Cindy. He tells her to be careful. Like Hell.
Max bursts into Sebastian's lab and grabs the Implant. He warns her about the possible side effects…including immediate death. It might not work on her. Max is not listening. She tells him she needs to be all she can be. She inserts the Implant and it kicks in some major hurt. This time, she's not turning back on her nightmares. She's gonna face them down and tear their frigging faces off!
Logan arrives at Sebastian's soon after. The news is not good. Sebastian theorizes the Implant could burn out Max in a few hours, as opposed to burning out a normal human in months. Turbo-charging a turbo-charged car is not the soundest thing to do. There's one chance to save her. Sebastian's untested operation is simple: a direct current of 5,000 volts into the Implant could, would, might be able to burn it out and return her metabolism to 'normal'. A simple defibrillator will do the trick. Could, would, might, Logan's mind races over the worst cases. He has to get her immediately. Luckily, he has the address.
Johannessen's patience is at an end…assuming he had any to start. He realizes Cindy pulled a fast one on him. His prey has made like the wind and now Cindy will die. Max leaps to the rescue right through the window. Everyone's startled by the entrance…and by the blood tears she weeps. "How I look in red?" she laughs half crazed by the energy and the fever in her brain. She's undergoing serious metabolic overload. The two Reds gang up on her and try to beat her down. It just pisses her off all the more. With monstrous strength, she tosses them aside like rag dolls. Red Leader flies out the window while his brother lands on the desk. Cindy, sees Johannessen being distracted, takes Max's advice and makes a break for it. Max pins down the second Red and gives him the ass whooping of the 21st Century. This isn't just the Implant talking now. It's her fear of capture and dissection, of dying alone and in chains that fuels her rage. She wants these guys dead, dead, DEAD! Her screams and curses just urge her on.
Unnoticed by everyone, Logan sneaks into the building. He spies on the main power switch. Maybe some well-timed darkness would give Max the edge. There's just one problem: the switch is beyond his grasp while he's on the chair. He has to use his legs.
The fight continues with every blow Max delivers. The second Red shakes her off and she slams him through a wall. He just gets up and walks through the rubble. Red Leader finally shows up and tries to restrain Max. She just sneers and bitchslaps him with a bicycle kick. She notices a grenade strapped to his chest and decides to end this once and for all. She knocks the second Red off balance, slams him into his leader's body, and pulls the pull off the grenade. She barely escapes the blunt of the blast as the explosion blows up a good part of the office apart. Red Leader is still, a fire ax near his side. His fellow Trooper is in pieces, as is most of the room. Johannessen is still around with his gun pointed at Max. He would like his Implant back now. He might be able to recover the other one and maybe make a living with two Implants, save enough to score another if he makes the right price. He knows Max would not be much help anyway. The hunt for her was futile.
Max realizes, and not just from her degrading body functions, that her Manticore DNA couldn't stop the Implant from killing the Red Boyz. Johannessen doesn't care about them at all. They were criminals, expendable, and disposable. Red Leader slowly regains consciousness and overhears the conversation. Johannessen laughs the whole thing off and tells Max he expected some losses. Well, at least he can make some dough from her corpse too if he can get her froze in time. The DNA might be a little overdone, but… He cocks his gun and the room is flooded with darkness. Logan, standing up feebly and swaying by his waning strength, tells Max to run. Johannessen shoots blindly, missing his target. Max might be losing her strength, but she is still better than most humans. As Johannessen is about to reload, he gets one final shock of his life. The Red Leader, dying, blooded, wounded in places only one's worst nightmarish disaster could imagine, swings the fire ax into his boss's body and kills him instantly. It's all the remaining life he has left. He falls down and sees Max, equally exhausted and close to death herself. Somehow, he feels some kinship with her. He tells her simply 'No regrets.' and dies finally. He is at peace.
Max can't savor her victory. In fact, her body's shutting down. Logan crawls to her. Cindy returns with a well-needed flashlight. On the phone with Sebastian, the prognosis is not good. Max is unconscious, with blood in her eyes and seizures rippling through her body. It's now or never. While Cindy rushes to get the defibrillator, Logan finds the Implant's entry point at the base of Max's skull. He makes an incision with his knife and finds the Implant's tip. Sebastian tells him to leave the knife there. It is to be a conductor for the electricity. Setting the defibrillator at maximum setting, Logan and Cindy put one paddle on Max's forehead and the other on her paddle. The machine charges up and all three make a silent prayer before giving Max the juice. There's a spark, a discharge of ozone…and the seizures stop! Max's breathing returns to normal and her body cools down. The Implant has been burned out. The last of the Red Menace is finally dead.
Safe at Logan's, Cindy helps herself with some coffee. She shakes slightly. The night has not been good for her. Max wakes up with a monster headache and a joke about having some shrapnel in places she can't reach. Logan can relate. She then gets serious. She's considering turning herself over to Lydecker and Manticore. She's been a danger and more to her friends and innocents of late. The run-in with the Red Boyz was damn near fatal. If she doesn't go away, someone she loves dearly could get killed. She doesn't want that on her conscience. Logan vetoes the idea. Being a peril is one thing; being reprogrammed into a true killing machine like the Red Boyz is a worse Hell. He does suggest Max tell Cindy the truth. After what had happened, she earned it in spades.
Max and Cindy soon talk. About her past. About her abilities. About why she couldn't tell her best friend what she was or where she escaped. Max tells Cindy that she gave her something in her life that didn't involving fighting for her life or hiding from Manticore or running from dark forces. She liked living a 'normal' life of earning a living and kicking with her homegurl. She never had a true friend beyond Manticore. She was afraid of how Cindy would react if she told her what she was. About being labeled a freak. Of all the people she has known, Cindy was the closest to a sister. Cindy knows things will now change. Her voice is not the usual street bravura, it's quiet. Almost gentle. She sips on her coffee and tells Max she needs to think this over. Max is in near tears. She worries about losing a dear friend, almost as much as she had lost Johndie and perhaps Zack and nearly Logan. Cindy sees the tear and embraces her friend. She's in tears herself. She thanks Max for the rescue and says she will always her Boo for life. Max is overcome, unable to speak almost. She shows her once and always true Boo her kicking tattoo. This will have some getting use to, but she knows Cindy will keep her secret and accept both as woman and friend. It's what sisters do.
It's the usual workday at the Pony. Normal gives Herbal a package for 46 Euclid. Herbal gives it back, telling his boss how the recipient got nailed for soliciting a minor. Normal won't press the issue. Some things even he won't question. He merely tosses the package back, muttering about returning it to the sender. Normal gives Max a through dressing down about being two hours late, grumbling about her playing the 'dirty party girl' routine and wondering why her eyes are bloodshot. Was she drinking gasoline? Max tells him about her 'radical emergency amateur brain surgery to remove a nano-chip from her cerebellum before she stoked out from a neuro-chemical overload'. Normal doesn't get or like the joke. Even Sketchy on a good day couldn't think of a lamer excuse. He simply tells her to get some eye drops and if she's late one more time… Cindy walks in and Normal wonders why she's doing here. She asks for her old job back. Normal exhales, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got till it's gone?" Neither Herbal nor Sketchy knows the old 80's tune. Cindy tells her ex-boss that she had to do some soul searching and learn some lessons she had thought knew already. She wonders if she has to get on her knees. Sketchy mutters about hating to someone prostituting themselves. Normal thinks it over…and decides to give her back her job. She's on permanent probation, but she has it back. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he likes to have her back too.
Herbal's overjoyed. He tells Cindy while hugging her, "I and I be elated to have you back a yard, you know. Remember in your heart lie a power for come through any storm." She has no idea what he meant. Sketchy puts it plainly. He's glad to have her back. Now he doesn't feel so inadequate about being trapped in a lame place. Obviously, he didn't see what shape Washington Meridian was left in. Ah, blessed ignorance.
Late at night, Logan and Max meet in private. Kendra's off with her 'boytoy' Officer Walter, finding something amusing to do with his riot gear no doubt. Logan asks Max to cover her eyes. He has something to show her. She wonders what it is. A new carburetor? Flowers? Jewelry, maybe? She's always open to something like that, especially how she shined with those earrings during the wedding and when she wore Logan's mother's locket around her neck before she gave it to him. Logan just tells her not to peek. He slowly gets up from his wheelchair and meets her face to face. She uncovers her eyes and is overcome with joy and delight. "It's a miracle," she sighs. No, Max is the miracle, muses Logan. He wonders if he should kiss her or not. She forgot how tall he was before the shoot out. She whispers how he should thank the Manticore doctors for giving him his legs back…before she catches him and helps him back to his chair. He has to take it easy. Baby steps. There's plenty of time for that tomorrow. Logan prefers to go fast. Max just smiles. She decides to treat him to something she wanted to do to him the first time they meet…
The Ninja races into the night. Logan's at the controls, with Max making sure they do not crash. She never lets anyone near or even touch her baby. But then again, Logan's special. She tells him to shift and he does with some effort. It's terrifying to have him at the wheel, but it's thrilling as well. The future will be scary enough in due time. For now, her terrors will be more desirable. More pleasant. More wondrous.
For now, in the world that is Post Pulse America, two lovers embrace the fear…and make it sweet. Such is the power of true love.