Palladian (palladian23) wrote in superwebnovel,

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Chapter 39: Counterstrike

Author's Notes/Warnings: No real warnings this time; enjoy!

Hey, everyone! The action this time is a little more subtle than in the last chapter, but I think you'll like it nonetheless. Since the next chapter won't go up until January, I also wanted to take the opportunity to wish everyone reading a very happy end of year holidays, if you're celebrating anything, and give my best wishes to you for a great new year ahead!

Please note that the offer for a free copy of the e-book for Book 1 of this series is still open, probably for the next month or so at NoiseTrade Books. Book 2, also known as Super: Underground, is now available on Amazon, Copia, Scribd, Oyster, and Ciando. It should appear on many other major retailer's sites (e.g., Barnes and Nobles, iTunes, etc.) between January 4th and 18th. I'll post the additional links once they're available, and if you've been reading and liking this series and want to give the e-book a review where it's available, that would be awesome (book corresponds to chapters 21-36 posted here).

Big thanks to my editor-in-chief, gwoman for her aid in shaping this chapter up.

Back to Chapter 38, Part 2

Lex later found out that it had taken most of that day just to stabilize Derek enough for Lily to come home for some sleep. The doctor mentioned at dinner a few days later that Derek had finally woken up and had asked to see Victor right away. Lex listened with a raised eyebrow, knowing that she would have given Victor the same look if he hadn't been at work just then.

Two days later, Lex and Rolf sat at their desks filling out some paperwork late in the afternoon when Victor came in. Lex glanced up in surprise, realizing that Victor had arrived a couple of hours early for his shift.

“What's up?” she asked when she realized that he'd headed straight for her.

Victor had his usual serious expression, but he seemed to be restless as well. As Lex glanced at his face for a moment more, she smiled in a calm way, reading the signs of nervousness on him for the first time she could remember.

“Well,” he responded, looking from Lex to Rolf and back again, “I've talked to Derek a lot over the past couple of days. He's really not an assassin. He's a good kid.”

Lex inclined her head, acknowledging that he'd spoken more than anything else. “I stopped in to see Lily just after this all happened, and I saw him then. He looked so young, even though I know he's supposed to be almost twenty.”

Victor gave her an enigmatic look before he continued to speak. “Anyway, he told me he'd like to see you. He said he understood if you refused. He asked for Riss, too, but I had to explain that Riss works another shift.”

Lex felt her stomach contract as she heard Derek's request. Do I really want to meet the guy who terrorized me for days, making sure I couldn't leave the house without fearing for my life? As she considered that for a moment, Lex felt surprised to find an affirmative answer bubbling to the top of her mind, that she did want to meet him.

“All right,” Lex replied, her tongue seeming to slow down on the syllables as if she couldn't quite believe she'd said them.

She felt Rolf's movement before she saw it, but when she turned in his direction, Lex found that he'd stood up. “I'd like to come along, too,” he said, and when Lex met his eyes she could see his request for permission from her.

“Sure,” Lex said, and turned to Victor with her eyebrow raised, “if that's OK.”

“No problem. He already mentioned that if you wanted to bring anyone else, he'd be fine with that.”

Lex nodded, wondering what Derek might have to say to her. “Lead the way,” she replied to Victor.

The three of them made their way up to the infirmary, and Lex noted that Victor now had to use a keycard to get into the room. She remained silent as they walked to the bed Derek still lay in, and stayed quiet as she studied his face now that he'd awoken. Lex smiled to herself as she looked him, thinking that he reminded her of some typical surfer boy from a film—tall and lean with light blonde hair and blue eyes, a strongly featured face, and what looked like a tan. The only thing that spoiled the picture was what she saw in his eyes. The look there wouldn't have been out of place on a much older man and spoke volumes about loss and shame.

Her eyes flickered to Victor, but the other man stared out a nearby window, so instead Lex looked back at Derek and tried to smile. He looked so thin and exhausted that she could feel her eyes start to prickle.

“Hello, Derek.”

“Hello, Ms. Mansfield,” he began, his voice halting and thick, and Lex found herself starting to blink more in response.

“Please, just call me Lex,” she said, trying harder to give him a calm, friendly smile and keep tears at bay.

He looked away quickly, as if he'd been burned, and continued speaking, sounding sort of muffled. “Ms. Lex. Thank you for coming to talk with me.”

Please don't cry, Lex found herself thinking, because if you cry, I just know I'm going to cry too.

Fortunately, when he turned back to look at her again, Derek had a hold of himself, looking determined. “I just wanted to let you know, Ms. Lex, how sorry I am. I never came here thinking to kill you, even though that's what I'd been told to do. I've never been able to kill anything, even animals, so I didn't think I was suddenly going to be able to come here and do it.”

He'd looked down as he'd first said the word 'kill', but chanced a look back up at Lex now and seemed cheered by whatever he'd seen. “Ms. Lily explained about those drugs they'd been giving me, though, and it makes sense. It seemed to get into my mind and keep picking at me, to the point where I was thinking about trying to kill you so that I could go home and get more of whatever they'd been giving me. But by the time I started thinking about trying for real, I don't think I would have been able to do it. I felt really sick by then, and when I looked at you in the binoculars, you looked so happy, and so brave, now that I found out you knew I was there. I don't think I would have been able to do it at all.”

Lex shook her head in response. “Not really brave. If it had just been me and I'd known you were there, nothing in the world could have induced me to walk down that street. I just trusted that my teammates would take care of everything, and they did.”

Silence fell for a moment as Lex studied Derek's face once more before turning to look at Victor, who stood staring out the window but appeared to be significantly more relaxed now from what Lex could read on the lines of his back and no-longer hunched shoulders. Feeling Rolf's hand at the small of her back, she turned to her lover and smiled before turning back to face the young man in the bed.

“Anyway,” Derek continued, now looking at his hands, “I'm ready to take whatever punishment might be coming my way. I deserve it.”

“Hold on now,” Lex said, shaking her head as she glanced at the two men at her sides, “I don't know if it'll come to that. After all, you didn't end up doing anything. Did you come into the country legally?”

Derek nodded, his brows furrowing. “Yes. I left my passport and everything at the hotel.”

Lex filed it away to think about later, how Derek definitely had some interesting talents and how she didn't think he'd actually broken any laws. That brought her to something she'd wondered about since she caught sight of Derek, and even more so now that she'd spoken to him.

“So, how did someone like you get mixed up in all of this, anyway?” Lex finally asked him aloud.

He just glanced at her for a moment, then down at the sheets on the bed as if considering something. When he looked back up, he said, “I guess everything must have started around the time I turned four. Both of my parents died in a car wreck. I didn't have any relatives to take care of me, so they put me into foster care, but I never ended up staying anywhere long. The people they'd place me with would eventually complain about me, and a couple of times they accused me of bringing a poltergeist into the house. I was so young then I don't think I realized what I was doing.”

Lex had her hand in front of her mouth, biting a finger. The idea of him being completely alone at that age felt painful even to listen to. She said nothing as he continued, however, gazing up at her as he told his story.

“Someone did realize what it was, though. After going through a whole bunch of foster homes, finally Dr. Lawler came for me. He must have heard what some of the families I'd stayed with had said, because he took me into the program he ran. Eventually, he got ten of us. Dr. Lawler said that he believed in what we could do and that he would help us learn more about the talents we had that were different from other people's. He'd set up an old apartment building with rooms for each of us and a schoolroom where we had teachers come in and teach every day. After school, he and his staff would work with each of us and help us get better at the other things we could do. It was the best thing I could ever have imagined, and it stayed like that for about ten years.

“I don't know what happened because he never talked about it with any of us kids, so as not to worry us, I guess, but I think he fell upon funding troubles. Around the time I turned 15, MSI started funding some of his work, but eventually they took over the whole thing. Things changed, but not so much until Dr. Lawler disappeared.

“After that, they moved us to a MSI lab and we couldn't leave without minders. They started giving us training all the time, like the marksman class I met Victor in, usually training to do the worst sorts of things. Eventually, they started wanting us to do things like try to kill animals or fight one another. Most of us wouldn't do it, because Dr. Lawler had always taught us that we should only use the gifts we had to help people, not hurt them. So, they gave up on that after a while. Afterwards, they started giving us the drugs.”

Lex shook her head as she listened, dreading what came next. “One of the girls, Audra O'Brien, was a crack healer. She seemed good enough to even bring someone back from the dead, like Ms. Lily. She kept us all going for a while, but she couldn't heal herself. Audra got this cough that didn't go away and just kept getting worse. One night she just kept coughing and coughing. When we woke up, we all realized she'd died during the night; it seemed like something just gave out inside her from all the coughing.

“Most of the rest of us didn't last too long after that. By the time they sent me out here, there were only three of us left. Roger Ackert had been a good friend of Audra's, like me, and he's crazy now. He has these wild mood swings where he's angry and then depressed, and half the time what he says doesn't make any sense, and sometimes he just attacks people for no reason. I know how he feels, though. When Audra died, it ripped the heart out of most of us.

“The only other person left was Pamela Kirschner. She'd always been so strong and so fast; she could learn any physical skill you could think of just by watching someone do it a few times. She could do better than the best athletes once, but her body just started to give out on her. Just before I left, she could only move her eyes and eyelids. I'd sit by her and hold a book open so that we could both read it, and I'd look for her eye signal to tell me when she'd read the page.”

Lex noted Derek staring at the sheets again, this time for a long, silent minute or two before he sighed and looked back up at her. “Anyway, they told me all sorts of horror stories about you before they sent me out here, but I think I knew they'd sent me to my death; they'd already taken Roger away and Pamela kept getting worse. At most, I figured that if you'd managed to piss them off that much, I hoped I could meet you before I did die so that I could shake your hand.”

Derek just smiled at Lex as he finished, and she could feel a tear roll down her cheek as she reached out a hand to Derek. His smile got wider as he reached out his hand to shake hers.

“Don't cry, Ms. Lex,” Derek said as he took her hand. “It'll be OK.”

She wiped her tears away with the back of her other hand and managed a smile. “Of course it will.”

After that, Lex needed to get some air, and fortunately Derek looked as if he needed a nap, so Lex and Rolf stepped out of the room, followed by Victor. When they'd traveled down the hall several paces, Lex turned to her friend.

“Did you know anything about that?” she asked, still shaken.

Victor shook his head. “Not a lot of it, anyway. I knew he was connected to MSI, but didn't know most of that story.”

They looked at each other for a moment, and then Lex gazed at Rolf, who had a dead serious expression on his face. “I think we should probably let Captain Shapiro know about all of this,” he said, studying Victor and then Lex.

She nodded but looked at Victor, who appeared to be weighing something in his mind. He finally made a half-shrug, then nodded as well.

“I'm sure it couldn't hurt anything,” he replied.

Lex walked in between the two of them as they made their way downstairs to the captain's office. When Lex peeked in, she saw him sitting behind his desk with his eyes closed, and it reminded her of the way Riss looked when deep in concentration. She waited a few moments to see if he’d notice them there, but when he showed no signs of doing so, she knocked softly. Watching as his eyes moved quickly underneath his eyelids and an annoyed expression crossed his face, Lex let out the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding as he opened his eyes a few seconds later.

After the captain looked closely at the three of them, he motioned them inside his office. Victor closed the door after everyone and stood leaning against the windowsill as Lex and Rolf sat at the two chairs in front of Captain Shapiro’s desk. She exchanged looks with her two companions, hoping that Victor would speak up about what they’d heard, but she could see from the look he gave her in return that he wanted her to break the news. Rolf had glanced at Victor, too, but finally turned to look at Lex as if to say that she’d better be the one to tell the story.

Sighing as she shifted to look at the captain, she noticed his eyebrow was quirked up and saw an amused smile on his face. “OK, so what is it that you three are here for?”

Unable to help it, Lex took in a deep breath that came out as a bigger sigh before she began. “Well, it’s about Derek Anderson.”

As she summarized the story he’d told, Lex could see the expression in Captain Shapiro’s face go from mildly amused to concerned to blank, with a hint of something she couldn't identify. An uneasy feeling crawled in her stomach at the last expression he settled on, however, because she could feel something more behind it. The sense of power and anger emanating from his frame seemed so strong that she could breathe it in. After she finished speaking, silence reigned for several seconds before he finally focused on the three again and spoke.

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention, and you can be sure I’ll look into it in more detail,” he said before he looked away at his nearby computer screen.

Lex looked over at Rolf as she got up out of her chair, since she'd gotten a clear feeling of dismissal. He had moved to stand at the same time as she had, and Lex glanced over to see Victor standing again, waiting for them to pass so that he could follow them out of the office. After they made it as far down the hall as the kitchen, Lex ducked in, letting out a sigh of relief. Once she had looked all around to be sure the room held no one else, she turned back to Rolf and Victor with wide eyes.

“What do you think that was all about?” Lex asked, wondering if she'd done something wrong. “Did he get angry at me for talking to Derek?”

Rolf shook his head, bending towards the other two so that his low murmur could be heard. “No, I don’t think he was angry with you. I’ve seen that expression on his face before, and it’s usually when he feels someone’s threatening something he’s responsible for protecting.”

Lex noted Victor looking at Rolf in confusion now as well, so Rolf shrugged before continuing. “What I think is that he took what you said completely seriously. And taking it to logical conclusions, he’s probably thinking about a couple of things. First, the fact that if MSI was serious enough to lose an experimental subject that they’ve spent years and lots of money on, to send him over here where he only had an outside chance to take you and Riss out, they’re likely to send more.”

Lex’s shoulders slumped at this as her eyes widened. She knew Rolf sounded absolutely right, and she’d been too absorbed in getting back into her normal routine over the past few days (and getting over the idea that her brains could be splattered on the pavement at any moment), to have considered it. She could feel his hand at the small of her back then as he continued, and Lex straightened up because she could feel the intention there, that he would stand with her, no matter what.

“Second,” Rolf stated, looking at Victor and Lex in turn, “because I know something about how Captain Shapiro thinks now, I know he’s thinking about the fact that this kid is only one person representing at least thousands of others who have similar stories to tell. Knowing what I do about him, there's likely another level to it that he's realized that we don't understand yet. Do you know if MSI is a multinational corporation?”

Suddenly, Lex felt numb with surprise; well, maybe shock would be more appropriate to describe the feeling. “I'm not sure,” she replied, her tongue feeling thick and stupid in her mouth.

Rolf's hand moved then, and warmth seemed to seep back into her. “It's something to consider, I guess. But I figure that Captain Shapiro will likely think about it some more and then meet with everyone to let us know what's going on and what he plans to do about it. Whatever kind of crisis it is, he'll figure out the best way for us to handle it. He didn't get to be the captain for nothing, after all.”

Victor smiled then and nodded, and Lex met his glance as he looked over at her. “Nothing to worry about, then,” he said, his voice quiet and calm as usual.

Several days later, Lex got word that Captain Shapiro had called a meeting late in the afternoon. He'd set a time late enough that the second shift had already arrived, and he'd also requested the day shift to stay later than normal to attend. She filed into the meeting room with the rest of her coworkers, minus Jan and Miranda. Captain Shapiro stood at the front of the room, she noticed, but she raised an eyebrow as she spotted Riss up there with him.

Since their initial chilly reception, Riss seemed to have taken care to avoid the captain. But from their proximity, Lex guessed that they'd been working on something together, and she saw that they'd become comfortable with each other in the process, shooting each other glances as the remainder of the team came in, the two seeming to have a conversation that no one else could hear. Finally, when everyone had found a seat, they looked forward again, Riss with her usual intense gaze and Captain Shapiro assessing the room in a glance.

“All right, everyone,” he began, “I called you here to give you some important news. I'll meet separately with Miranda and Jan tomorrow morning to explain what I'm about to review now, so I'd appreciate you letting me pass the news to them.”

After another glance around the room, the captain continued. “I've been working extensively with Riss on the evidence that she gathered from the laboratory in Washington DC that she and her team mentioned. Although it may not be admissible in court due to how Riss collected it, it paints a picture of things that shouldn't be allowed in a civilized society. Also, what we've been able to determine about our assailant, now that we are able to question him, is that he is another victim from one of these laboratories, sent here to kill our teammates and probably die in the process. Given that the corporation that sent them is a multinational company with lots of resources, I find it likely that they will send someone else when they find out their first assassin failed.”

He paused here to look at the expressions around the room, which Lex did as well. She saw anger, surprise, and disbelief. Tamara spoke up to ask, “Surely they don't think they could get away with that sort of thing here?”

Captain Shapiro shrugged. “They've been able to get away with much worse than that in other countries, so I don't find it outside the realm of possibility that they think they could get away with assassination here. After all, it's so easy to deny the assassin represents them. But, I've given the matter some thought, and I think that there is something we could do to even the odds between us.”

Lex just stared at him then, along with everyone else, as if to ask what they could do against an enemy with so many resources at its disposal. “Actually,” the captain continued, “I think that we should sue them in the International Criminal Court.”

Dead silence reigned for a couple of minutes and Lex sat lost deep in thought, considering what this might mean for all of them, going forward. Finally, Tamara spoke up with a question.

“Can that even be done? I thought that was for governments gone bad, that sort of thing.”

The captain shrugged. “I'm not sure. Before I decided to bring this idea before the team, I consulted with my superiors to hear what they had to say and to request the aid of our legal department.”

A number of people looked surprised at that statement. “We have a legal department?” someone in the back asked, to which Lex couldn't help but follow up with, “We have superiors?”

Chuckling, Captain Shapiro responded, “Yes, Lex, we do have superiors. They don't like to call a lot of attention to themselves, since their major talents are planning and strategy. As may not surprise you, they've had their eye on you since you first got here. Don't worry, though: I told them I thought it best that you stay here for the time being.” He eyed the group again before continuing, “And as far as the first question, yes, we do have a legal department. Their time is usually taken up by defending us against property damage charges when we get into a big battle in a built-up area, but they confirmed that they do have the resources to take a case of this magnitude on, assuming we can go forward with it.”

Lex craned her head around to look at the man when Victor spoke up next. “So, what do we need to do to go forward?”

The captain nodded in reply before continuing. “Well, I asked that some of our lawyers start figuring out if the ICC will even let us bring suit. I spoke to one before I left and she told me that they'd begin by looking at previous precedents, because if they did let us bring suit against a company, it would be a first, since generally the previous cases had been filed against government representatives.”

He looked at Victor a moment longer before he began to speak again. “So, there's that. But they also let me know that we'll need to be able to prove standing; that is, that we have a right to sue. I think we've already got a number of people here who have been injured or otherwise had their human rights trampled by this corporation who would hopefully be willing to testify…”

Captain Shapiro broke off there to look around the room, and Lex felt unsurprised when he focused on her, Lou, and Lily. “I haven't had a chance to ask any of them yet, but I thought they might be willing to take the stand. I've already spoken to Derek and he agreed to testify against MSI. Also, I thought we could contact the leaders of other special forces groups who've had immigrants from America join their teams so that we could see if any of them had direct contact with MSI and would be willing to speak out about it. There's another piece, as well.”

As he stopped speaking, Lex noticed the captain throw a glance at Riss, who returned it, then turned to the group and began to speak. “As Captain Shapiro and I reviewed the data about MSI, we realized that I'd captured more information than I'd originally anticipated. Apparently, the Washington, DC lab held the collected records from MSI labs around the world, so there's information about the company's experimental subjects from labs all over.”

She paused to look out at the group, meeting Lex's eye for a second, then continued. “Some of the places they had established labs are now EU member states. They pulled their operations out of those areas once the countries decided to become EU members, but they've continued to work in countries that don't have laws against the sort of things they do, and those in which they would find it easy to bend the laws in the way they wanted.”

Riss looked back at the captain at that point, and he nodded then spoke again. “I've sent word to the special forces teams in those areas, along with any names we might have in the records of people who'd been said to be undergoing treatments. With any luck, we can hopefully turn up some more people who'd be willing to join the suit. I've offered to coordinate with the other teams to keep track of anyone that they identify who'd be willing to be part of the suit, but finding the people we have records about might take a while. In the meantime, please keep a sharp eye out, because this company might not be finished sending people here to attack us.”

As Lex watched, he paused for a moment, looking out at the group, then added, “Since I know I'm probably forgetting some of the details, please let me know what questions you have.”

Lex smiled and glanced over at Victor as he raised his hand, then asked his question after the captain gestured in his direction. “How is this supposed to help the current problem, which seems to be that this company has sent people to kill some of us?”

Captain Shapiro nodded, then answered. “I'm glad you asked that. The fact is that they are able to send people here that are supposed to kill us because they feel they can, that they've got some sort of indemnity to being prosecuted, and because your group has knowledge they are desperate not get out to the public. If it turns out that we can go forward with this suit, however, the people that run and own the company, and the actions of anyone in the company, will suddenly be in the international spotlight. That should prevent them from trying crazy schemes like this as long as the suit is going on, which might take years.”

Victor sat back in his chair then, considering what the captain had said, and Lex found herself doing likewise. He had a good point, she thought. If the company fell under special scrutiny, they probably wouldn't be able to make too many covert moves. Also, the more combative the special forces became on their behalf, the more likely MSI might consider it a good idea to just leave them alone, Lex thought, smiling slightly to herself.

Tamara raising her hand drew Lex's attention across the room again. “Do we have any idea how likely it is that the suit will go forward? I mean, as you said, it is a first. When you talked to the lawyers, did they seem to think that we'd have any way to actually press the suit?”

As she listened, Lex remembered a conversation with one of her new teammates in which they'd casually mentioned that Tamara came from a long line of police and lawyers, one of the reasons why the woman often interfaced with local law enforcement. From what Lex could see, she'd learned a few things from the legal side of the family as well.

Captain Shapiro nodded at Tamara and answered, “When I explained to them in some detail what's been going on, they seemed concerned and they started to speak of the fact that this company seemed to be doing the sorts of things that out-of-control governments do—kidnapping people, doing things to them against their will and against the law, and thinking that the law doesn’t apply to them. Considering that the function of the ICC is to stand up and protect the people, which should be a government function, in governments that have fallen down on the job, it sounded like they thought they might be able to bring a case against MSI.”

“So,” came Rolf's voice, shortly after the captain had finished replying to Tamara's question, “how are we going to protect the people in the special forces here? Has everyone been given the travel warning information that I gave to you a while ago?”

After giving Rolf a rather piercing look, Captain Shapiro replied, “I can see now that you had at least some of this information much earlier. Why didn't you bring it to my attention before?”

Rolf shook his head while Lex reached for his hand under the table. “I brought you the relevant information, which I requested you to distribute. The rest of it wasn't mine to give you.”

The captain skewered Rolf with a gaze for a moment, then shook his head as Rolf just returned his look, eye to eye. Finally he sighed, then continued, “I suppose you're right, but in the future, should any of you come across information of this type where the team might potentially be endangered, I'm asking you to tell me immediately. All right?”

Rolf looked away slightly, in annoyance it seemed, but nodded. Lex heard murmurs of assent and saw nods around the room, but when that died away, Meg spoke up.

“Yes, but you didn't answer Rolf's question,” she said, her voice understated but precise, as if carefully measuring what she planned to say. “I have no intention of sitting by while we're turned into lab animals and experimented on. Some of my ancestors got killed during the burning times, and I am not going to let it be said that I stood around and let that sort of thing happen again.”

Captain Shapiro looked at her seriously, almost glared at her, Lex thought, before he answered. “You aren't the only person who’s lost family to a tragedy like that, Meg, and don't think that what I'm suggesting about the lawsuit will prevent us from protecting ourselves. I've already requested that travel warnings be distributed to all of the special forces offices around the EU and that all personnel be warned, whether they're regular special forces members or auxiliaries. I also requested that our superiors try to get an official travel warning for all citizens to warn them against going to the countries that support MSI's practices. After all, you never know when these sort of ability might appear and how the people in those countries might react. If we can manage that, maybe the thought of missing all of those tourist dollars alone will cause America and some others to change their policies.”

He looked around seriously at everyone in the room again before continuing. “Actually, however, what I'd like to ultimately see as the end result of this suit is MSI becoming defunct and the people responsible for their heinous actions in jail. I don't know if that'll ever come to pass, but I figured it sure doesn't hurt to try. Other questions?”

“Yes,” Casey said, her strong voice ringing out just behind Lex. “What's the plan for how we're going to protect ourselves against these folks in the meantime?”

“Good question,” the captain responded. “Riss and I made packets with photos of all of the possible people that MSI might send to hunt us, based on who would actually be capable of the job, coupled with surviving the experimentation. The list isn't all that long, so please have a look at all of them and try to remember those faces. These are also being distributed to the other special forces groups in the area, and our superiors are weighing turning the information over to the police so that we can get extra eyes looking for them. For all of us here, I would ask everyone to be vigilant, look out for yourself and your teammates, and if anyone finds, hears, or dreams any information, no matter how small it seems to be, please let me know immediately. We can make plans based on that, all right?”

Lex nodded and listened to murmurs of assent all around the room, and heard no further voices when Captain Shapiro asked for additional questions. “One more thing before all of you go,” he continued. “Lex, Riss, since both of you are designated targets of this scheme, I'd feel more comfortable if you could make sure you're accompanied by a teammate when you go out. It's not necessary, of course, but I would like to ask you to do it if at all possible.”

Exchanging glances with Riss, Lex sighed after a minute but nodded along with her friend.

As the group filed out of the room, Meg stepped up next to Lex for a moment. “I know your housemates or Rolf are likely going to be able to accompany you, but please feel free to call me if you need to go out and no one can go with you.”

Lex could feel the heat rushing to her face as she replied. “Meg, thanks for the offer. I'm sure I'll be all right, but I'll call if I need to. I'm sorry this has all been so much trouble.”

The other woman shrugged while smiling at Lex. “No trouble; that's why we have a team. You need help this time; someone else will next time, maybe me. That's why there are so many of us.”

Lex just smiled in response, and Meg grinned back at her as she headed back to her desk upstairs. Over the next few days, Lex tried hard not to feel too weird about the fact that any time she headed out for a walk, Kate just had to come along with her, and anytime she had to go to the corner store for odds and ends, Casey thought of something she needed as well.

When she ran into Riss in the kitchen late in the morning the following Saturday, Lex nodded as she went to put the teakettle on. After looking out into the hallway to see if anyone had been following and seeing no one, Lex sat in the chair next to her friend at the kitchen table.

“So,” she began, looking sideways at Riss as the other woman sipped her coffee, “how are you holding up?”

Riss seemed to know what she meant right away, her lips just turning up at the corners. “Well, I feel like Victor and Lou have adopted me, but I’ve gotten used to it. I had no idea Lou was so brave, though. He actually said he’d come out with me to the computer store later today. None of the rest of you have ever had the courage to go.”

Lex couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “Well, when you say you’re going to the computer store, you’re usually gone for hours.”

Riss’ smile broadened as she nodded in reply, sipping some more coffee. “I understand why everyone’s doing it, anyway. Who’s adopted you?”

“Kate and Casey. Do you think they coordinated it?” Lex asked as she eyed the teakettle, waiting for hot water.

“Considering who it is, I’d bet on it,” Riss said, still smiling. “I don’t know how much longer we’ll need to keep up with all of this, though. I’ve been trying to keep tabs on the MSI bigwigs to see if I can figure out what they’ve got planned next, but it seems like they’re just trying to figure it out at the moment.”

Lex nodded, moving across the room to pour some tea. She looked down at the swirling water for a few moments, inhaling the scent of English breakfast tea and wondering what would happen next.

Two weeks later, during band practice, she finally found out. The band members had decided to practice on Saturday and Sunday afternoons due to everyone's work schedules, and had begun recording a song that day that they’d been putting together over the past few weeks. In the middle of the session to record all the instrumental tracks, Lex spotted Casey pulling her cell phone from her pocket, frowning at it as she headed for the door. A minute later, she saw Rolf, who’d come by to hear the band rehearse, stand up and take his phone from his pocket, then slip out of the room.

When they’d finished the recording, Lex noticed Casey and Rolf return while Victor set the recording system up to allow everyone to hear the playback. Something about their expressions caused her to fall silent, and one by one everyone else in the room stopped talking and focused on the pair as well. Rolf and Casey glanced at each other, and then Rolf spoke.

“Why don’t you tell them,” he said to Casey.

“OK, everyone,” Casey began, looking at them all in turn, “we both just got a call that the rest of you will probably get shortly. To summarize, the papers have been filed against MSI. Our lawyers have decided to go forward with the case.”

Lex looked over at Lou, unable to help smiling. He returned her grin, and a look at Riss told Lex that the other woman had one of her almost nonexistent smiles on. As Casey continued a moment later, however, Lex turned her attention back to her other friend.

“Captain Shapiro wanted to make sure we knew that Lex, Lou, Lily, and Derek have been named as the main plaintiffs, since you four were the first on the list of people who complained about MSI. The downside of that, from what they said, is that you may get some publicity on that front, since court filings are a matter of public record.”

As she considered the last piece of information, Lex found herself nodding anyway. I’ll think about that later, she told herself while she fished her cell phone out of her pocket as it started to vibrate against her hip.

Forward to Chapter 40
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!

Stats Of Hits

Stats Of Hits
Tags: abuse survivors, adventure, music, online novels, science fiction, serialized novels, superhero, suspense, transformation, women
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