2010-03-14: Ego Spem Pretio Non Emo



Date: March 14th, 2010


Translation: I do not purchase hope for a price.

"Ego Spem Pretio Non Emo"

Governer's Island, NYC

This lab. This wonderful, glorious lab. It's expansive, stocked with the finest equipment, and has the backing of the U.S. government. What more could one ask for?

Max sighs wistfully and trails a fingertip around the circular body of a centrifuge. He'd originally intended to stop in just long enough to grab a few essentials before he made his escape, but he has since been wrangled into giving a round of physicals to several prisoners. He's filling the moments before his final appointment by studying his workspace and memorizing every facet. It's likely that this is the last time he'll enjoy facilities this fine.

For Elle Bishop, wistful sighs ended long ago. So, too, did optimism. Her demeanor, as she is led into the lab by a hand gripping her elbow tightly, is quiet and resigned. Her eyes are downcast, as if she's allowed the place to beat her down. She says nothing to the man who leads her in, nor does she look his way as he releases her elbow suddenly and shoves her inside. Hands at her sides, Elle simply stands and waits for her next instructions - quite the change for the former Company agent.

The scientist doesn't even look up when his charge and her escort arrive. Instead, he flicks an imaginary speck of dust from his suit with one gloved hand. It's not until the guard retreats and the door closes that he deigns to lift his head. His gaze settles lazily on Elle and hovers for several seconds before a spark of recognition lights up his eyes. "You!" He exclaims incredulously. "You're Bishop's girl. Elle, right?"

The exclamation startles her, but it isn't until Elle lifts her own gaze from the floor that she really comes to life. Several emotions race through her expression as she stares down the man in the lab: recognition, surprise, suspicion, confusion. She doesn't dignify his question with an answer. In an instant she is standing taller than before, her shoulders no longer hunched, her curiosity overriding her desire to fly under the radar with her lowly 'dejected prisoner' routine. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Max brushes his fingers along his bearded jaw. A small smile tugs at the scarred side of his mouth and crinkles the corners of his eyes. "Leaving," he replies. "Care to join me?"

The request is met with a snort of derision from Elle, who promptly rolls her eyes. That's all the answer he gets at first. She hasn't taken so much as a step from where the guard left her, and she certainly doesn't make a move now, either. Reaching up to scratch her neck above her collar, she smirks and asks, "Where's yours?"

"Mmm? Those are only for prisoners," Max replies, clearly distracted. "Hold still."

The mental wheels are already spinning. Factors are being added and subtracted. Adding a second person to his escape will complicate things. Time to subtract a variable. He leans toward Elle, studying her collar closely. Then he lifts a hand to his lips and blows her a kiss. As he does, the collar's catch unfastens and the entire unit falls away from her neck.

Startled again as the collar falls away, Elle takes a step back, her expression suddenly suspicious once more. Her hands go to her neck, palms pressing against the newly exposed skin, resting there. "You mean you aren't one?" There's a hint of humour in her tone, sardonic, as if she was in on some joke he's not privy to. Her smirk returns, fainter this time. "Do they even know what you can do?"

Max arches an impeccably plucked eyebrow. "Hardly," he says, his tone matching hers perfectly. He strides across the room and opens one cupboard, then another, and finally a third before he finds what he's looking for. A rubbery, close-fitting overgarment complete with a sealed filter mask, gloves, and booties. The entire kit is passed over to Elle. "Hmm… Clean suit. It's not NBC, but it'll have to do. Put it on."

This is some kind of weird test. They're going to see how far she'll go, if she'll go along with his plan. At first she seems reluctant to even take the suit from him, regarding him with that same wary expression. "Fuck it. I'm tired of this," she hisses under her breath, shaking her head. As she's pulling on the strange suit, she flicks him a brief glance and asks, "Kind of playing with fire, aren't you? Working for them?" Not that she blames him. She'd probably have done the same, if they hadn't already known about her.

"It was that or the alternative." Max puckers his lips and forehead at the thought. "I spent enough time as a prisoner at Kirby Plaza. Plus, I managed to secure Molly Walker's release."

As he speaks, he rounds up several other important props. A loaded syringe. A thumbdrive. A large red sack with biohazard insignias on both sides. A wooden crate that's similarly marked. The syringe and thumbdrive are tucked away in his jacket pocket, the crate is loaded onto a metal hand cart, and the sack is offered to Elle. "Your chariot awaits, my dear."

Elle knows enough about Max Swan - at least what was in his file while she was a Company agent - to know that she shouldn't trust his every word. She also knows, however, that he doesn't play by the rules. Her muscles are tense as she watches him, but her suspicion has eased some. Taking the sack, she looks between Max and the crate a few times. "Right." One step forward, then: "What am I doing with this?"

"Climb in the sack," Max instructs. "Then I put you in the crate and wheel you out with the rest of the trash. The suit should protect you from any… contamination."

He's leaving something out. That something becomes painfully clear when he levers the lid off of the crate. 'Stench' doesn't begin to describe the foulness that's wafting out into the lab. Because, you see, the crate is filled with rat corpses that have been crowded into disposal bags not unlike the one Elle is holding.

"Jesus Christ," Elle curses suddenly, throwing a hand over her mouth at the smell of rot and corruption that emanates from the crate. "That's disgusting." And if this is all a test, then her captors must have gotten a sense of humour. Newly motivated, she finishes donning the suit and pulls the mask over her face, shuddering at the thought of climbing into a crate with even one dead rat, let alone dozens. "I'd ask why, but I really don't care as long as it's away from here." Tentatively, she climbs into the red sack.

Max cinches the sack shut, hefts it with one hand, and tosses it into the crate. Then, grimacing distastefully, he reaches in to rearrange a few of the rat-bags until Elle's body is covered. "I'll tell you more over drinks. And after a shower. Ahem. That's a particle mask, by the way. It might not help with the smell." That said, he fits the lid back on and thumps it into place.

Elle's muffled voice can be heard through the walls of the crate letting out a stream of profanities as each bag is rearranged and the crate thumped around. When the thumping has stopped, she wraps her arms around her knees and buries her face as best she can, willing herself not to think about where she is, what's surrounding her. Because throwing up right now would be very, very bad. To her credit, at least she's silent now.

"So sorry, can't hear you. Shush now, we're on our way." Max opens the door and shoves the crate-bearing hand cart out into the hall. The sound of a brief conversation can be heard, followed by a hoarse shout and a wet cracking noise. The lid is levered off of the crate again a few seconds later. "I have some company for you," Max says cheerfully. Then he dumps the guard's dead body in on top of Elle and the rats.

Buried as she is beneath dead rats and tucked safely into a sack, her eyes closed, Elle is blissfully unaware of just what is weighing down upon her now. That's what she'll keep telling herself, anyway - that she didn't hear a shout just now, that there certainly isn't any cause for alarm. She resists the urge to curse again. Still, wherever she may be going, this is one hell of a lot better than going through the motions in that prison.

The square of light overhead is blotted out as the crate's lid is replaced. Then comes a lengthy waiting period as hallways are navigated, checkpoints are passed, and inspections are circumvented. The one inspector that can't be avoided is deterred by the aroma of dead rat when Max cracks the lid a half-inch.

By his reckoning, the air in the crate must be getting pretty thin by the time he opens it again. The sack containing Elle is extracted and torn open more quickly than gently, spilling her out into a deserted, trash-ridden alley. Meanwhile, Max is already heaving the crate and its remaining contents into a nearby dumpster.

The instant she's released from the sack, Elle crawls away from the crate and gasps for air, ripping the mask from her face as if it were inhibiting her breathing. For a time she looks as though she might be ill, her heavy breathing only a short step away from heaving. With one last shudder, she pushes herself up onto shaky legs, closing her eyes to gather her composure before she turns to face Max. "I am never doing that again."

Max reaches out a hand comfortingly, but stops short of actually touching Elle. For obvious reasons. Instead, he laces his fingers together and lets them hang. "I don't blame you," he replies. "Come on, I have a place close to here. We'll get you showered and changed, then figure out what we're going to do next."

It takes her a few seconds, but when Elle finally takes a look around the alley, she nearly falls back to her knees. "You actually got me out." Her tone incredulous, faintly disbelieving, she reaches out to touch the wall beside her as if it might not be real. For a few steps more, she seems lost in a daze, the gravity of the situation still fogging her mind. Then, with a shake of her head, she snaps out of her reverie and hurries after Max. "I'm going to be really pissed off if this is a trap."

Rather than be upset, Max appears to approve of Elle's wary attitude. He produces the syringe he pocketed before they left and offers it to her as they walk toward his hideaway. "If it's a trap, you'll need your spark back. That will counteract the dampening agent you've been exposed to." He meets his fellow escapee's eyes squarely. "If I wanted to hurt you, I could've done it a thousand times already. There's nothing in it for me."

"There never is." Elle pauses long enough to pull her arm free of the sleeve of her clothing, positioning the syringe over her forearm. She hesitates, letting her eyes drift closed once more… and then she presses the needle into her arm, biting her lower lip to suppress the whimper rising in her throat. Seems someone doesn't like needles too much. Rather than tossing the used syringe into the street, she hands it back to him wordlessly. Her eyes flicking to and fro as she tries to ascertain where she is, she asks, "Why not take one of the doe-eyed airheads with you instead?"

A bare smile quirks Max's lips upward as he tucks the empty syringe away. "Nothing in it for me," he repeats, resuming his long, pavement-eating strides. "I'm not looking for a gratitude blowjob." He arches a brow, this time cracking the carefully applied cosmetics that hide the bags under one eye. "Why ask? I'm sure you don't think you deserve it any less than a doe-eyed airhead."

"The backlash factor," Elle replies, rolling her shoulders in a shrug. "Some of those morons— let's just say I don't think they'd be sending a search party after them." Why no, Elle didn't think much of her fellow captives. "But they'll come looking for me. They always do." Glancing to Max sidelong, she adds, "They'll look for you, too. Eventually they're going to figure out what you can do, if they haven't already. People like you and me— we're not supposed to be out. Not without a leash."

Max shrugs his broad shoulders, apparently unruffled. "Someone has always been looking for me. It's not so bad. You run until you get tired of running. Then you stand and fight. Then you run some more. Eventually, they catch up with you and you hope for the best."

This isn't the brash Doctor Swan who once planned to dismantle the Company all by his lonesome. This is a wiser, more seasoned version. One that has been forced to face his own limitations. He glances across at Elle. "You have somewhere to go after you get cleaned up?"

"No." No hesitation, no consideration - Elle Bishop knows that she has nowhere to go and no one to call. She cut all of her ties to the more-than-human world a long time ago, and now is not the time to go mending those bridges. Stifling a snicker, she looks back to Max and asks, "Do you?"

"Mmhmm. I'm staying here in the city." Max holds Elle's gaze and cocks his head to the side consideringly. He crosses his arms over his chest as he ponders and studies her at great length. "Come with me," he offers. Nothing more. No rational explanation, for there isn't one.

Staring him down in much the same way, Elle isn't nearly so imposing. She has to tip her chin back just to look him in the eye. She searches his face for any indication that he may be hiding something - but when she can't find any, she hardly seems surprised. "Okay," she says, nodding once. "Lead the way, Prince Charming."

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