Palladian (palladian23) wrote in superwebnovel,

Chapter 40: Forward

Author's Notes/Warnings: Secret missions, uncomfortable conversations

A very happy new year to everyone! In this chapter, we'll have more of the our former DC guys being assimilated into their new group...and a lot of them doing their own thing to change their new surroundings. Enjoy!

Just a reminder that Book 2, also known as Super: Underground, is now available in the following locations: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Copia, iTunes, Kobo, Scribd, Oyster, and Ciando. If you've been reading and liking this series and want to give the e-book a review where it's available (or on Goodreads), that would be awesome (e-book corresponds to chapters 21-36 posted here).

As always, much thanks to my spectacular editor-in-chief, gwoman for her help in making this chapter sing.

Back to Chapter 39

Monday morning back at work seemed somewhat of a letdown in comparison to the excitement over the weekend, but Lex didn't end up feeling that disappointed. She'd been called into Captain Shapiro's office the first thing that morning, along with Lou and Lily, and he reviewed what they'd been told and answered their questions. He emphasized, however, that it might take a long time for the case to ever come to court.

“Also, please don't be disappointed if they decide not to try it. It doesn't mean we can't bring suit again later if new evidence comes to light.”

Lex frowned in disappointment and looked to see her friends’ expressions weren’t too different. After a pause, Lily asked, “So what happens if they do decide to try the case?”

“Well,” the captain answered, “it's likely that you, Lou, and Derek would be called on to testify. Lex, I don't know if they'd want you to testify in court, but it's likely that they'd want to run some tests to verify the information we've given to them.”

Lex nodded. “If it could help put MSI out of business and stop them from hurting people, I'm all for it.”

After asking if anyone had more questions and being greeted by silence, Captain Shapiro promised to tell them as soon as he heard anything more about the case, and the three of them got up to go. Lex stopped, however, when the captain called to her.

“Lex, please stay behind,” he requested. “There's a case I'd like to discuss with you.”

She sat back down in her chair and waited, hearing the door click shut behind Lou and Lily.

“There's something I hoped you could look into and think about,” he said, handing a large folder of papers across the desk to Lex. As she opened the file and glanced at the papers inside, the captain continued. “Interpol gave us a copy of this file, and it is to be kept secret. Please keep it locked up and only share the information with those you eventually choose as team members. Riss knows about this case and you can ask for her help on a limited basis if you have computer-research needs that you can't handle within your team. I'll allow you to choose two other people to help you work on this case; just let me know who you need once you figure it out.”

Lex looked back up at him, waiting for more information. Since this was the first time she'd ever been put in charge of an investigation, Lex hoped the captain had more information for her about it, or some suggestions about how this sort of thing should be handled.

“A series of bank thefts has been going on all across Europe,” Captain Shapiro said, and Lex felt her interest sharpen considerably. “They have a similar method. The group tunnels into either the safe deposit boxes or the vault to rob them. The tunnels lead to the nearest sewer system, so they get away, apparently unseen up until this point. The burglaries usually occur on Saturday night or sometime Sunday and usually aren't discovered until Monday.”

Lex started flipping through the papers she'd been given again quickly, until she found some photos of the large tunnel from a bank vault to a nearby rain sewer.

“What about the cameras?” she asked, meeting the captain's eyes.

He smiled and chuckled. “I'd guess they have someone like me or Riss on staff; all we've picked up from the film appears to be a continuous feed of the empty vault, probably looped from the time before they tunneled through.”

She nodded as if a theory had been confirmed and glanced back down at the paperwork. After a moment, she looked back up at Captain Shapiro. “So, what is it you'd like me to do?”

“Have a look at all the information in the file. It should be a complete account of all the burglaries so far. See if you can figure out what's going on, who might be behind it, and if there's any kind of pattern we can count on that could help us find the burglars.”

Nodding, Lex asked, “Will I have access to a criminal database or anything like that? I'm not too familiar with how this sort of thing works.”

“Sure,” Captain Shapiro responded, “you should have access to it on your computer. Rolf has used it before, so you can ask him if you have any questions.”

Lex glanced back down at the folder of papers in her lap, trying to think if she had any other questions she wanted to put to the captain. Suddenly, one came to her. “So, I'm assuming that since this came to us. it's suspected that the people who are doing these crimes us?”

He nodded in response, his mouth a flat line of displeasure. “Yes, they suspect the burglars may be. There are a number of reasons why they think so, and I think there's a list in the Theories and Findings page on the top of the file, but one of the main reasons is that from what they've been able to tell, the group is in and out of the banks within hours. Anyway, please read through all the relevant information and let me know if it brings anything up for you. Let me know who you'd like help from once you've had a chance to think about it, and I'll be here if you have any other questions.”

Thanking him, Lex made her way back to her own desk. Smiling over at Rolf as she sat down, Lex started to read. She didn't finish her initial review of the paperwork in the folder until late that afternoon after an all-too-brief break for lunch. So far, she noted that there'd been break-ins at five banks: one in Belgium, two in Germany, one in Austria, and one in England. Lex hadn't yet found a pattern in the companies being hit either, since several different ones had been at this point. Oddly enough, she'd noted, when the group had broken into the safe deposit vault in two different banks, there didn't seem to be any pattern in how they'd emptied it, either. In one case, it seemed they'd drilled safe deposit boxes open at random, as if they'd been looking for something in particular that they may or may not have found.

Lex made another note on her notepad at that thought. A psychic? Someone who can see through walls? She looked at the questioning note and considered scratching it out, but left it. Only a thought, she knew, but probably not one that should be immediately dismissed.

When she looked at the evidence that had been collected about the suspicion that the burglars had been getting in and out of the banks with some speed, her interest grew. Apparently, in two cases someone had discovered the holes they’d dug to get into the vaults, probably not too far from when they'd been in use. The investigators had estimated the time the burglaries had begun by locating the slight glitch in the video feed that seemed to denote the time that the video went from live to a recorded loop, something Lex thought might not be too accurate a measure, but more a measure to be used in the absence of anything better.

As far as the end time of the burglaries, she'd read about a few clues that had been found. In one case, a metro worker walking back to a work location with some tools found the end of the tunnel that had been dug into the vault. He'd said that it still had dust coming off it as if it hadn't been made too long before, and he also said it felt warm to the touch. The time that had elapsed from the initial video glitch at that bank to the time the worker found the tunnel the burglars had dug had been about an hour and a half. In the second case, some electrical workers had been down in the sewers trying to fix some underground cables that had gone bad. One had heard a noise further down and gone to investigate. He’d found a tunnel new enough that it had still seemed to be settling. The time difference in that case had been about two hours.

In both cases, she noted that the men had left to find their coworkers and call the local police. The investigators wondered in their summary if the burglars had still been in the vaults at the time, and surmised that they'd heard the discovery both times and hastened to get out.

As Lex had flipped farther and farther through the file, she noted the information getting older and older as far as the case was concerned. Near the end of the file, she pulled out the account of a burglary that had been included but that a number of investigators argued had probably been done by someone else.

Lex read that sometime after the video glitch for this particular burglary, the fire alarm had begun to go off in the bank building. The sprinklers had come on, and not long afterwards the fire department had arrived at the bank. Once they’d finally made their way into the building and inspected it, they’d found the tunnel into the vault room but hadn’t seen a sign that anyone had been there other than the fact that a couple bank bags full of cash, around 100,000 euros, had been taken.

Lex found herself wondering about a few things at the end of the day, however, as she went to lock the files up. On her way back to her desk, she stopped at the captain's office, knocking when she found the door partway open.

He gestured at her to come in. “So, did you have any thoughts on what you saw so far?”

Shrugging, Lex replied, “Well, I did have a couple of ideas and saw some things I found odd, but I don't have anything solid enough to share yet; I've got to think about all of that some more. I did want to ask you something, though. What's the main point of this investigation? Are we competing with someone else to find these people, or working to some sort of deadline? Or are we going to be cooperating with someone in another agency that I'm supporting, or is there something else I haven't hit on yet?”

Captain Shapiro just looked at her for a moment, then gave a careful smile as he answered. “As it stands right now, other law enforcement bodies only turn things over to us when they think that people like us may have committed a crime. Perhaps they think we have some sort of special ability to locate the criminals, given that we're similar. Obviously, we do have special abilities, but I think the other agencies don't think enough about what we could do to assist them. There are already scores of people out there looking for the burglars, so I'd like it if you could be thorough rather than quick. I want you to be sure of what you think is going on before we make a move.”

Lex had looked at him carefully as he spoke, watching his every expression. “So,” she said after a pause to digest his words, “once I'm 100% certain, is the rest of the team going to be available to help bring these people in?”

The captain chuckled and replied, “If it comes to that point, yes: the rest of the team will be able to step in and help. All right?”

“Yes,” Lex said, fixing him with a smile. “Thanks.”

Over the next couple of days, Lex immersed herself in the problem that the pictures and descriptions presented her, forming and discarding a number of theories. It began to bother her enough that by the time Friday night rolled around, she was unable to shake the thoughts from her mind. Rolf had a number of things he needed to do that night, so they'd agreed to meet during practice the next day and go out afterwards. Unfortunately, that didn't leave Lex with much to get her mind off the burglaries, especially after dinner when everyone else had gone out or been caught up in their own projects or chores.

So, she parked herself at the desk in her room and set to thinking and drawing out some of her ideas. She'd come to the conclusion that they must have at least one person like Lou and Casey, probably to carry what they found, and someone with good digging gear or who could cut holes through things like Roger from the New York team had been able to do. Maybe a psychic or someone who could see through walls to help them find items they sought, but how would they pick their targets in the first place? Did they choose them in a random fashion, or did the burglars have an eye on something in particular?

After having sketched some ideas and pictures to try to help herself work through the problem, Lex finally sighed with annoyance and gathered all the sheets up and shredded them. She felt she hadn't come up with any new angles, so she didn't see any point in keeping the papers. Lex gasped in surprise a moment later as she looked at the clock. She'd expected it to be after midnight, but the clock read just after 2:00 a.m. Scrubbing a hand over her face, Lex realized that she felt energized rather than tired, having gotten into the idea of finding the identity of the burglars.

She moved over to sit on the bed to think for a moment, and then stood to pull out workout clothes to change into. Since she didn't feel tired, Lex figured she'd go up to the martial arts gym in the attic and practice some of her routines until she wore herself out. Well, she thought to herself as she ascended the stairs to the attic, at least I can sleep in tomorrow.

To her surprise, when Lex got there she saw light coming from the lab end of the attic, and she heard sounds coming from the room as she approached the lab door, which stood open. As Lex made to walk past the door and continue down the hall to the doorway for the martial arts gym, she had to pull up short as she saw Victor carefully place an electrode up against a sheet of something laid out on one of the lab tables, and then watched the substance jump, moving itself partway off the table.

Lex hadn't realized that she'd paused in the door, watching for what would happen next, until she heard Art's voice sound out from where his laptop sat on the lab table. “Hello, Lex.”

She started as she heard it, and then smiled and ducked her head as Victor and Riss, who'd both been intently watching the object on the lab table, turned in her direction.

“Hi,” she replied, nervously. “I didn't mean to interrupt; I was just on my way to the gym.”

Riss gave one of her tiny smiles in return. “You're not interrupting. Victor and I had been wondering if anyone would ever come up here to see what we've been up to, anyway. We keep spending everyone's money on parts, after all.”

Lex's gaze followed her friend's gesture to the substance on the lab table and to a nearby metal pole. Lex gasped as she saw the items suspended from the end of it on wires—a set of clavicles and scapula that shone with a blackish silver color. “You guys have been busy,” she said as she drew closer to the metal bones, tracing the line of the collarbones without touching them, afraid that she'd break something and cause it all to fall to the ground.

“Well, we've been working on this for a few hours every day when we get home from work. I told Victor we didn't have to spend so much time on it, but he seems to be like I am—once I get into a project, I don't want to let it go until it's done.” Lex noticed that Riss' smile seemed more pronounced as she watched Lex travel from the growing skeleton to the lab table.

“While that's pretty fancy,” Victor said, smiling at Lex's amazement, she figured, “have a look at this.”

Victor touched the substance on the lab table, gesturing at Lex to follow suit. When she touched it, she found it had some give and seemed flexible to a degree but had sort of a ropy texture. “So, why did you shock it a minute ago?”

As she watched his smile return, Victor explained, “Well, we've figured out how to construct the skeleton using cast titanium in the shape of a human skeleton, but we're still working on the design for the necessary muscles and connective tissue that we need. Since Art and Riss want the body we're designing to look human from the outside and act generally like a regular human body, we need to create things that act a lot like the parts of the body do.”

Lex nodded, thinking that made a lot of sense. “So, what is this going to be?”

“Well, there are still a number of tests we need to run on it, but if it works out, this is going to be muscle fiber, probably for long muscles, like what you have in the backs of your thighs. As you can imagine, we've asked Lily to help us as much as she can, so she's been guiding us in the right direction and giving us advice on various design improvements we want to try,” Victor continued.

“Design improvements?” Lex asked, feeling her eyebrows come together as she looked at him.

Smiling, Victor replied, “Well, we're not going to need all of the organs that humans usually need, so we've been trying to figure out how to best use that space. Also, if we come up with any ideas that deviate from average human design, for one reason or another, we review it with Lily to see if she thinks it's a good idea or a bad one. At any rate, it's a difficult problem—as humans, we're generally used to having all or most of our parts working throughout our lifetimes. As for the bones we're making, they'll probably last indefinitely. It's the flexible parts that are more difficult,” Victor concluded, working the artificial muscle on the lab table between his fingers.

“How did you guys make this, anyway?” Lex wondered aloud, and Victor grinned.

“Actually, it wasn't too difficult; I'm using a couple different types of recycled plastic and some rubber for the majority, but small things count here,” he said, lifting the edge of the artificial muscle. “Have a look. Tell me if you see something strange.”

After studying it for a moment, Lex gasped. “It looks like it's got tiny pieces of metal in it or something.”

“You're right,” Victor responded. “Those are wires, threaded through the whole thing so that you can send a charge through and make the muscle move. I read about this idea in a trade magazine, but I tried to improve on it. You see, the alloy I used for the wires is one that not only carries a charge well, but it's designed to bend a large number of times and not break.”

Lex's eyes widened. “So you could put it on something that bends and it would still work!”

“Yes, for a long time, at any rate. Unfortunately, I haven't come upon anything yet that I think would work indefinitely, so we'll probably have to make a design that's easy to repair. I've still got a lot of experimenting I want to do with the materials, however, so maybe I can come up with something more durable that will last over time. I've also got to figure out how to make a couple different muscle types in order to suit different functions. I don't think we'll need as many as are normally present in the human body, though,” he concluded.

Thinking for a moment, Lex finally asked him, “So, what about skin?”

He turned away to grab a small, flexible square on the lab table and threw it in Lex's direction. “This is my current prototype.”

She felt it between her fingers, then frowned. “It doesn't quite feel like human skin.”

As she watched, Victor nodded, rummaged through some bottles on the lab table, and came up with some hand lotion. He took the square back and applied lotion to it, then handed it back to Lex, who nearly dropped it, then gingerly stroked it with her other hand, wrinkling her nose as she raised it to her face to examine it and catching a plastic scent as she did. After a moment, she touched her own skin, then glanced up at Victor in awe. He grinned and nodded in response.

“As long as you put lotion on once, maybe twice, a day, it should feel just like anyone else's skin,” he said, standing just a bit taller with a smile. “And the new-car smell should disappear pretty quickly, too, I think.”

Lex shook her head and smiled, then noted that Riss seemed to be working on something else over on her side of the lab table. “So, what have you got over there?” Lex asked her friend.

“Well,” Riss replied, looking up at Lex, “Victor and Art are working on the body design, but I'm working on the brain.”

Stepping closer to Riss' work area, Lex stopped a couple of steps away, studying the various circuit boards her friend had arrayed in front of her. Gesturing to the boards, Riss continued, “I'm trying to figure out how to design them to get the type of brainpower we need to be able to carry Art around in that body. I'll fit what I can into the skull, but we may need to keep brain parts somewhere else. It kind of depends on how much of the excess organ space Victor needs.”

Over the next hour or so, Riss showed Lex some of the preliminary designs they'd worked out to demonstrate how the processing equipment would be housed in the skull, and then Art insisted on doing a slide show for Lex to show her some of the fleshing-out designs they'd devised. She couldn't help but smile at the way they'd figured out how to construct Art's new body, from the skeleton on out, and she talked with him about some of the initial designs they'd come up with for some of the connective tissue, in order to hold things together, including some of the bones.

“Wow, Art,” Lex concluded afterwards, “you're going to look amazing once this is finished.”

The shapes on Art's screen changed then, moving from a yellow square pattern to a round shape that changed from green to blue and back again. “Thank you, Lex; that's kind of you to say.”

She turned to include the entire lab group before speaking again. “You know, if you ever need another set of hands when you're working on things, just ask. I don't know a lot that could help you technically, but if I can help with any kind of odds and ends, just let me know.”

Riss looked at Victor for a moment, then smiled at Lex. “Sure, Lex. You've been yawning for the past half-hour, though. Isn't it time you went back to bed?”

Realizing how late it had gotten, Lex thanked them and excused herself. That night, she had dreams about looking in the mirror, each time to a new haircut, hair and eyes of a different color, and a slightly changed face. It made Lex feel nervous at first, but after seeing herself with deep blue eyes, hair the color of fire, and cheekbones so high it made her cheeks look hollow, she found herself laughing and relaxing to the point where she welcomed her transformation into a golden eyed woman with long green hair, or whatever else came next.

Early the following week, Lex sat at her desk, still puzzling over the information she'd been given. She'd gone over all of the evidence, including photos, from all of the banks that had burglaries so far. Nothing new had occurred to her yet, but Lex kept feeling as if she'd missed something important that she should have understood from what she'd seen so far. She'd written a note to herself to talk to Captain Shapiro to see if he could put her in touch with a psychic so that she could ask some questions about how the skill worked, but looked up when she noticed someone standing by her desk. Lex smiled when she looked into her friend's face.

“Hi, Lily,” Lex greeted her. “I didn't know you were in the office today.”

She knew that Lily spent some time at special forces headquarters, but the larger portion of the doctor's time seemed to be spent at local hospitals helping out with some of the “hopeless” cases. Lex had found out that not only did Lily have the ability to heal people of ills their own immune systems might not be able to, she also could sense a lot about the actual source of a patient's problem, a crucial step in helping those with rare issues or diseases.

“Hey, Lex,” the doctor replied, smiling in a way that Lex thought made her friend look stressed out. “I was hoping you could come to lunch with me today.”

Lex felt a pull to say no, since she felt perched on the edge of discovering or realizing something about the assignment she'd been given, but she paused to consider. For the first time that she could remember, Lily had approached her about something, plus her manner seemed to indicate that Lily wanted to speak to her alone. So, she nodded in response.

“Just let me put these away,” she said, gesturing to the files she had spread out on her desk, “and I'll be right along.”

She and Lily walked to a nearby lunch spot, a favorite of many of the people that worked in the Special Forces building, and Lex felt that her suspicions had been confirmed when Lily requested an out-of-the way table from the woman who received them. Once they'd decided what they wanted and ordered, Lily fell silent. Lex waited for a few minutes and then realized she'd have to be the one to break the ice, so she started fishing.

“So, how are you and Ron settling in here?” she used as an opening gambit.

Lily looked up and smiled gratefully. “He's doing well at his new school. I found a place where a lot of the English-speaking diplomats in town send their children, so they teach in English, but they also give them intensive French lessons.”

Lex smiled ruefully. “I've been studying it myself, but I wouldn't call what I've been able to do intensive. I'm glad to hear Ron's doing so well, though. How about you?”

Shaking her head, Lily responded, “I see what Casey said about you always worrying about everyone is true. I'm just fine. I love the work they have me involved in here; I feel like I'm making a difference. Plus, I'm right here to fix anyone up if anything bad happens to anyone on the new team.”

Nodding, Lex asked, “So, you like the new team?”

“I do,” said Lily with a return nod. “All the folks here seem like good people.”

Lex nodded in agreement then, not willing to say much more since the server had arrived with their food. Once they'd started to eat, however, Lex looked over in Lily's direction. She tried for a patient expression while crunching on her whole grain sandwich full of fresh veggies, and hoped her silence would force Lily to get to what she'd wanted to talk about. However, after several minutes of her lunch companion staring at her food and saying nothing, Lex decided to try for some humor.

“You know, Lily, we've been living together for months now. If you don't feel like you can talk to me by now, I don't know how I could make you feel more comfortable.”

Lily looked up at her with a wry twist to her lips that turned into a smile after a few seconds. Finally, she said, “I was starting to wonder if maybe I shouldn't say anything, but, well, I'm worried about Derek.”

“Is he all right?” Lex asked with some concern. “He seemed fine when I visited the other day.”

“That's just it,” Lily said with a sigh. “He's always happy to see me, or anyone else from what I hear, but when I watch him when he thinks no one's looking, he looks so unhappy. Not that he'd say anything about it; I think he'd rather die than complain. I bring him books and he has a TV in there, but when I go in, sometimes he's just staring out the window. It's almost like I can hear him thinking about it, about what it's like to be free.”

Lex sighed and fell silent for a moment, remembering what it had been like when she'd been unable to leave the M Agency facilities, thinking about what it would be like to have spent most of your life in situations where you had to stay in a small space indefinitely. She looked over at Lily finally and met calm, determined eyes.

“So, what did you have in mind?” Lex asked.

“I want to see if we can figure a way to get him out from, essentially, house arrest. I'd like it if we could figure out a way to have him stay with us,” Lily concluded.

Lex's eyebrows went up, surprised at hearing that from Lily because she seemed to value her privacy so much that Lex had assumed she'd never ask to take someone in that they'd met only recently. Lily seemed to misinterpret Lex's gesture, however, because she continued speaking.

“I know that he came here to kill you, but I promise you he wouldn't have done it voluntarily...”

Trailing off as Lex waved her hand, Lily stopped talking to listen to what Lex had to say. “He and I have already made our peace, and after talking to him, I think it's more likely that I would become violent before he would. It seems like your work on him let him get rid of his need for that drug they gave him, too.”

Nodding, Lily replied, “Yes, I was able to help out with that as he healed up from what happened.”

“He seems healthy now,” Lex agreed, nodding her head. “I think you're right, though: the last couple of times I've gone to visit, he's seemed so happy to see me and so sorry to see me go, even though he tried to hide it. I don't have any problem with the idea, but I'm not the decision maker. Did you want to bring this up at our next meeting and try to convince everyone?”

“Yes, that's my plan,” Lily said, “but I wanted to talk with you about it first since you're the one he'd been assigned to, to be sure you were OK with it.”

“I'm fine with it, but I wonder if anyone will be upset that we're out a guest room,” Lex wondered.

“I can sleep on the couch if anyone comes over and needs to stay,” Lily offered. “If we need two rooms, Ron can join me and I can tell him we're camping out for the evening.”

Lex sighed, knowing somehow that this topic would come up and she took a few moments in her head to try to rearrange her thoughts so she could present it as sensitively as possible. “That sounds fine to me, Lily, but I can almost guarantee you one thing people are going to talk about as a result. As you know, we only have limited room in the house. I know you feel responsible, and I can tell you feel guilty, but there are only so many people, as a group, that we can help.”

Lily glanced down at the table before meeting Lex's eye again. “I know, I know that,” she responded softly. “I won't try to adopt the world, but I think we have a chance to help one person out, and I'd like to try to do it.”

“No problem. I'll back you on this one,” Lex said, nodding.

“Also, well, maybe I shouldn't ask this...”

Lily's voice had trailed off, but Lex smiled gently as she thought she'd caught the drift of Lily's point. “You want me to talk to Captain Shapiro to see if I could get him to approve of this, is that it?”

Gazing back at Lex with a guilty look on her face, Lily nodded. “I know it's probably unethical of me to ask, but I thought maybe you could talk to him and convince him that it would be OK.”

“I don't mind doing it, but I should warn you now that it's likely that he won't want to let Derek out of headquarters. I'm pretty sure they're not planning to charge Derek with anything, but I think the captain is worried that MSI will send someone else after us, and Derek is probably the person with the most inside information on their organization, aside from you. So please watch your own back, Lily.”

Lily nodded. “Thanks, Lex. I think even if we can get him free rein to go around the building and use the rest of the facilities that it would help a lot. And don't worry: I've been keeping an eye open ever since this started.”

“You know,” Lex said, a thoughtful look on her face, “you could approach Captain Shapiro as well. You are his physician, after all, and I think he'd rather give one of his star witnesses some freedom of movement than waking up one day to find that he's thrown himself out the window.”

After a moment where her expression darkened at the thought, Lily replied, “So you want me to go in there and talk to him with you?”

“Hey, the more the merrier,” Lex said, smirking. “It's always easier when you work as a team. How about if we talk to the captain once we get back to the office to see if we can at least get Derek some freedom of movement around headquarters?”

She nodded. “All right, I’ll definitely go with you,” Lily concluded. “Is there anything else you can think of?“

“Yeah,” Lex said, “I think we should have lunch together at least once a month so we can have a chance to talk about things. I have to admit, we've been so busy since we moved here that I haven't had much time to speak to you, and I'd like to.”

“I'd like that, too,” Lily said after a moment, shooting Lex a glance as her head dips.

Lex hurried so that they finished lunch not long afterwards and then headed back to headquarters. Captain Shapiro fixed Lex and then Lily with a look and a raised eyebrow, obviously ready for something. As the two of them carefully explained why they'd come, however, his expression changed.

“I don't think we can just let him come and go on his own,” the captain said, shaking his head with a disapproving expression.

“That's not what we're talking about,” Lex reminded him. “We'd like him to be able to have the run of the place, though, so that he isn't shut up in the infirmary all the time. He seems so lonely up there.”

“As his physician, I am worried about his mental health if this continues indefinitely,” Lily chimed in, the look on her face serious.

“So, what exactly do you propose?” Captain Shapiro asked.

“Well,” Lex began, sneaking a look at Lily, who returned it evenly, “I'd like it if Derek could have a room here of his own, rather than having to stay locked in the infirmary. I mean, is anyone actually planning on charging him with anything?”

The captain shook his head in the negative. “No, we aren't. I told him that we wouldn't press charges if he'd testify, but he seemed more than willing to speak up against MSI anyway.”

“Good. What we'd like to do is give him as much run of the place as possible, at least for the kitchen and gyms, and hook him up with a computer or something where he can start to learn some French, maybe. I know we could set him up so that he could only access what he has permission to on the computer, and arrange it so that his access card only allows him where he should be going, right?” Lex asked.

“We could do that,” Captain Shapiro said, nodding in what Lex found a thoughtful way. “But are you sure he isn't going to have some sort of episode not long down the road and try to kill someone else?”

Lily sighed. “In order to save him from the effects of that drug they gave him at the lab, I had to help his body basically re-make itself. That did include some of his brain, the parts that had been affected badly by the medication. Due to that, he should be, and seems to be, stable mentally.”

“Why don't we try this,” Lex suggested. “Since a couple of us have talked with Derek over time and think that he'll be perfectly fine, but we don't know for sure, why don't we let him know that he's on probation? For the first month or so, if he tries to leave, does anything strange, attacks anyone, or tries repeatedly to get into something that he shouldn't, we'll figure he's a risk and go back to the way things are now. If he comes through all right, though, can we agree that it'd be OK to continue letting him be free to move around here?”

The captain looked down at his desk for a few long moments, an action that Lex understood as his considering expression. Finally, he looked up at the two women, meeting each of their eyes in turn. “All right, ladies,” he agreed. “You'll both have to keep an eye on him, though. I think there're plenty of people here who aren't going to be overjoyed to see him.”

Lex and Lily met each other’s gazes, then looked back at Captain Shapiro. Lily nodded and Lex replied, “Definitely. No problem.”

The next morning, when Lex had pulled the paperwork about the bank burglaries again to review some of the photos of the vaults for what seemed the millionth time, she looked up at one point to see that Lily and Derek had walked into the room. Rolf glanced over at Lex from his desk, and she gave him a grin. She'd mentioned the previous evening that she and Lily had talked to the captain, so he didn't seem completely surprised, but he didn't look at ease yet, either.

“Lex, could you finish showing Derek around the place and introducing him?” Lily asked as the two of them moved to stand in front of her desk. “We've been up on the third floor finding him a room, so far.”

Nodding, Lex closed the folder with the burglary information and stood up. “No problem. Rolf, would you like to come with us, or are you in the middle of something?”

He looked at her full on this time and she met his eyes, although the fire in them still sent shivers up her spine. “I do need to finish this, so I think you two can find your way around without me.”

I trust you, his eyes told her. I know you'll be fine.

She could feel herself blushing as she replied. “All right. I'll be back in a while.”

After locking the file back up, Lex smiled at Derek. “So, what do you think of the facilities so far?”

“Everything's so nice, Ms. Lex. The room Dr. Lily helped me get set up in is just great.”

“Have you had a chance to meet Tamara yet?” Lex asked, remembering that Tamara had communications room duty that day.

Derek shook his head. “No, just you and Mr. Rolf and Dr. Lily so far today.”

“All right, let's head up there,” Lex said as she moved towards the stairs. She walked slowly, however, allowing Derek to fall into step beside her. After a moment, she spoke again.

“You know, Derek, that the people you're going to meet are the ones who helped track you down and capture you. I'm going to speak up for you, but I should warn you that not everyone might be happy to see you at first.”

He nodded seriously. “I'm sure they're angry that I tried to hurt you, and they have every right to be. I'll just have to show them that it's nothing I'd ever do when I'm in my right mind. I'm sure they'll never forgive me, though, for doing what I did.”

Lex found herself looking at the floor in embarrassment. “Derek, it isn't like that,” she said, finally looking at him with a smile. “They were just concerned about a teammate and worked to prevent me from getting hurt. Anyway, I think you have a great idea: just keep working at it and showing them the kind of person you really are.”

Derek smiled at her then, a simple, happy smile. “Ms. Lex, I will. I'll keep trying until they can see it.”

They approached the communications room together, and Lex poked her head inside. She saw Tamara looking at something on a computer screen intently, but the woman glanced up and gave a small smile when she saw Lex.

“To what do I owe this pleasure?” Tamara asked.

“Well,” Lex said, returning the smile, “Could you take a break early today? Maybe fifteen minutes or so right now?”

Tamara shrugged. “Sounds fine to me. What's the rush?”

Lex gestured for Derek to step out from behind the doorway. “I wanted to introduce you to Derek. You probably knew he's been here, but he's going to have the run of the place as of now, so I wanted to introduce you two for real.”

Eyebrows raised, Tamara looked straight into Derek's eyes. “So, you're the one who tried to kill Lex,” she said, her tone flat in inflection, as if something dangerous lay behind it.

“I also wanted to ask you to try to give him a chance,” Lex said, ducking her head to meet Tamara's eyes again, where she sat at the communications console. “I hope you realize how serious I am because I'm here talking to you about it.”

“All right, all right,” Tamara said, her voice evening out to her normal tone as she stood. “Follow me, Derek, and let's have a little chat.”

Lex could hear the two of them in the corridor as Tamara quizzed Derek, and felt relieved that her teammate didn't sound angry enough to attack him. Reminding herself to keep the sound of their discussion in the back of her mind, Lex looked over all of the communication feeds in front of her and began to check each one for anything new. She took a look at the team email box, where nothing new had arrived for the past couple of hours, and then moved on to the various radio frequencies they monitored—fire and police, in particular. It sounded like a quiet day for the police, both according to the broadcast and the log Tamara had last made a note in an hour ago, and she heard an ongoing discussion about one house fire on another band, which the firefighters had almost finished dousing.

No phones rang and nothing else called for her immediate attention, so Lex pulled up the electronic log of team activities to review the calls people had gone out on for the past few days. She first noticed a call that Jan had participated in three days previous; a man like Casey or Lou (Lex surmised, anyway; the report referred to him as a “giant”) had been drinking after having lost his job and started destroying a section of his apartment building once he’d gotten home. Jan had been able to subdue him using the team’s standard plan: after managing to get close, he’d attacked the man with a potent sleeping powder. The attack required the person carrying it out to wear a gas mask, but they'd used it effectively a number of times.

A call Kate and Meg had covered two days ago also caught her eye. A man had been hanging around some of the tourist areas in town, using much faster than normal speed to take purses and pick pockets. The outcome of that had been that Kate had distracted the man, keeping him fighting her even though she’d said she couldn't quite keep up with his moves one for one, while Meg had performed some sort of binding on him that had worked until the police had arrived to put him in handcuffs and bundle him into a cruiser.

Lex sighed, thinking that people like her seemed not only to be known in the European Union, but respected, as well. However, she and the others had still sometimes heard whispered fears on the streets about those like them, fears about being robbed or killed by people with amazing strength, or having your mind controlled by another person. Due to the calls they got daily, people had at least some evidence that their fears weren't unfounded, which made Lex worry for the prospect of the entire special forces and more being labeled as some sort of menace to be exterminated.

Sighing again, she tried to turn her mind to other things. The situation in Europe seemed much better than the one in the US, but she privately thought she wasn't the only one who worried about such things. The captain sent each one of them out on public outreach assignments often, going to school fairs or to talk to different groups to explain the team and their mission. To make us seem more human, Lex thought.

Derek leaned his head in through the doorway then, interrupting her train of thought. “Hi, Ms. Lex.”

“Hey, Derek. Did you and Tamara finish talking?”

He nodded. “She asked you to take this for a little while longer because she said she's going to the kitchen to get her lunch.”

“So,” Lex asked in a quiet voice, “how did it go?”

Derek leaned his head to one side for a moment before answering. “Ms. Tamara didn't sound happy that I'd be around at first, but then she asked me a bunch of questions and I tried to answer them. Afterwards, she seemed to be thinking about it, so maybe she'll give me a chance to make things right.”

“Did she say anything to you at the end?” Lex asked.

“Well, she did welcome me here, so I guess she must not think I'm all bad,” Derek replied, moving out of the doorway as Tamara came back through it.

“Are you officially back?” Lex asked, looking closely at her teammate, trying to determine her mood.

Tamara nodded. “I'm good. Thanks for coming up.”

Lex and Derek made their way back downstairs, Lex trying to think about what else Derek might be interested in seeing. “How about we tour the gym facilities? Mr. Chen and Lou may be down there, too.”

They headed in that direction after Derek nodded, and Lex couldn't help asking, “So what did you and Tamara talk about?”

Derek responded, sounding thoughtful, “She knew where I came from, and mostly she seemed interested in finding out why I came and what they did to me in the lab.”

Taking the idea under consideration, Lex fell silent for a moment. “Well,” she said after a several-second pause, “I guess that's only to be expected. What did you tell her?”

“I explained how the lab had sent me out to get you, and all of the drugs and tests they gave us while I was still there. They'd always say when they brought us in for the latest round of drugs how lucky they were to have such young subjects, so much more resilient than adults.” He made a face as he finished speaking.

“I'm glad you're here now,” Lex replied as she pushed open the door to the basement level. “Things could have gone so much worse for you.”

“Oh, I didn't get away from there for free,” Derek said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I paid a price, too, though it hasn't been as big as Roger or Pam or any of the others, yet.”

Lex stopped and looked at Derek, feeling her stomach drop at his words. “What do you mean?”

“Well, my body has held out OK for me and I definitely improved my skills over the time they gave me drugs. I only used to be able to control one or two small, light things in the air at a time, but now I can control at least seven, sometimes nine or more. But, well, Ms. Lex, I don't know how to describe it other than to say that for each dose of those drugs they gave me, I think I got stupider.” He looked at her for a moment with what looked like an apologetic smile.

It took several moments of her brain working furiously before Lex found she could respond. “ did you...figure it out?” she finally managed, looking up at him in dismay.

He shrugged and answered, “Well, they'd test us at the lab on various things as they gave us drugs, and intelligence was one of those things they'd test us on every few months. After a while, they picked up on the fact that mine was going down. They didn't think much of it, but I have to admit that it worried me at first, so I started trying to test myself.

“When the other kids and I lived with Dr. Lawler, he made sure we got the best learning in school that we could. So, I'd learned math up through calculus and some statistics, and I felt like I got pretty good at them. But when I tried to go back through them after the drugs, I realized that I'd forgotten things. I tried teach them to myself again, but I found I couldn't understand parts of it so well anymore. Things that I used to know became impossible to re-learn, no matter how hard I tried. And as I kept at it over the course of a month or so, I got worse, not better. Finally, I just gave up because I didn't want to know anymore what I was losing, mostly because I felt like I couldn't do anything about it anyway. I didn't know anyone outside of the lab, and I thought if I was going to keep getting stupider, I couldn't make it on my own anyway, so it didn't matter. I got lucky with them doing what they did, I think. They probably figured that I'd eventually get so stupid that I wouldn't be able to do anything, so they sent me here, thinking that maybe they'd at least get something out of it.”

Lex felt cold after having heard what Derek had to say, and she noticed she'd begun rubbing her upper arms with her hands, trying somehow to feel warm again. Finally she asked, “So how are you feeling these days? Do you think you're still getting worse, or have you felt OK since you left the lab?”

Derek returned her gaze with a serious look, as if he hadn't considered that before. “I don't know,” he eventually answered. “I don't feel like I've lost any ground after coming here, but I guess you never know.”

“Do you want us to have someone test you, or maybe work with Lily to see if there's anything she can do to help?” Lex asked anxiously. “She brought me back from the dead, so if she did that, maybe she can do something for you.”

He ducked his head and shrugged. “Let me think about it. I feel like I've already asked so much of everyone here.”

Deciding to leave it alone for the moment, Lex gave Derek a tour of the gym facilities available. Hesitating at the doors of the martial arts gym as she heard voices, Lex smiled when she recognized them Lou and Mr. Chen's.

“They are here,” Lex said as she turned back to Derek. “Ready to meet them?”

He nodded, and the two of them walked through the doors together, Lex holding them behind their passage so they made a minimum amount of noise. She and Derek ended up standing along the wall near the door and watching as Lou followed Mr. Chen through a series of movements to review part of a form. Lex observed Derek's expression in the mirror and couldn't help but smile at his wide eyes and obvious interest.

Lex smiled again when Mr. Chen and Lou finished and turned towards them, but she sighed as they caught sight of Derek. Lou's expression changed to one that seemed closed and remote, and Mr. Chen appeared positively frosty.

Stepping towards the two of them, Lex said, “Mr. Chen, Lou, I wanted to introduce you to Derek. And, as a favor to me, I want you to give him a chance. Please.”

The two of them both studied her for a moment, and as Lex watched, Lou smiled and shook his head, then stepped forward to shake Derek's hand. As the two of them began to talk, Lex spotted Mr. Chen still looking at her, but his face had relaxed and he shook his head minutely as he stepped away to let the other pair talk, Lex following.

“Lex, I think you will have to stop telling people that I'm your teacher,” he said in a tone so grave that Lex blinked in surprise. “You continue to teach me every day.”

He bowed to Lex then, and she returned it, feeling a sting in her eyes. “As always, Mr. Chen, you're much too kind.”

“This coming from someone willing to socialize with the person sent to kill her! I sense there's a story here,” he said, quirking an eyebrow.

Lex shrugged, her gaze falling to the floor. “I'll let him tell you the long version, but in short, he's been in the labs since he was a kid. MSI didn't get a hold of their place until Derek reached his mid-teens, but once they did, they wiped out the whole dozen or so of them except for one kid who went crazy, one dying when Derek left, and Derek.”

She chanced a look over at Mr. Chen, who looked sad and tired, something that shook Lex to the core. Clearing her throat, she continued, “I remember, though, not long ago, that someone you met needed a second chance and you were kind enough to extend one. Derek deserves one too, so I hope you can find it within your heart to give him one.”

They stood silently for a few minutes, watching Lou and Derek talk. Derek seemed in awe of the older man and nodded enthusiastically in response to something he'd been asked. Lou looked to be trying to contain a smile, but ended up looking pleased anyway. After a while, Mr. Chen turned to Lex and said, “Lex, I'd like to ask a favor of you.”

“Sure,” she responded, turning to face her teacher.

“Could you please go ahead and show us the form you created?” he asked, looking at her seriously. “I'd like to see it again while Derek and I talk.”

“No problem,” Lex responded with a grin and stepped forward to face the mirror.

She took a moment to focus and then gave all three of them a final glance—seeing Lou's gaze on her, and Mr. Chen and Derek somehow managing to watch her while talking. Focusing again, Lex breathed in and out, and then she stood on that same plain wooden floor as before, light coming from everywhere and nowhere, and no mirrors or practice equipment, facing off with her father.

Lex saw the same sneer on his face, full of scorn and hate, and watched him come for her, but as she readied herself to act, a new confidence made itself known in her chest. She moved easily into the first part of the form and remembered how Casey and Mr. Chen had helped her perfect it. Somehow Lex knew, as she continued working through the form, her friends had been with her the whole time, through the whole ordeal of fighting with her father. Their care and good advice stayed with her even when they couldn't. As she continued, Lex felt herself moving with confidence and pride, and she looked at her opponent with an unshakable calm because she knew she could win.

After she'd finished the last move, the one that had driven her father to his knees, the world around Lex seemed to resolve again and she reappeared in the martial arts gym in the Brussels facility, breathing heavily and meeting three pairs of eyes in the mirror, still studying her. She couldn't help but blush and laugh after a few seconds.

“You guys,” she said, a slight protest in her voice.

Lou smiled then, an expression full of respect and pride that Lex couldn't help but return. “You've learned a lot,” he finally said, still smiling.

Lex hung her head, feeling the flush on her cheeks.

“Ms. Lex, that was really great! I could hardly see you sometimes, you moved so fast!” Derek said, and Lex lifted her head to look him in the eye.

She couldn't help but smile at the enthusiastic look on his face. “All right, all right,” she replied, shaking her head. “Well, I'm glad you liked it, anyway. Do you want to go up to meet someone else now?”

Derek appeared to be torn, like he wanted to stay. Mr. Chen intervened, however, saying, “You're welcome to come back after lunch, if you like.”

“I'd like that a lot,” Derek replied. “Thank you, sir.”

As the two of them made their way back upstairs, Lex started thinking about how Casey might feel about meeting Derek, and realized she should talk to him about it.

“Derek,” she began, looking over at her companion, “I'm going to introduce you to my friend Casey next. I'm not sure how she's going to react because after the lab tested their drugs on me, I died twice. The only reason we're talking today is because Casey was around to keep me alive until Lily could help me. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that she gets protective of me sometimes.”

He gave her a solemn glance and nodded. “Well, I can see why she'd be angry at me,” he said, his expression not registering any anger or worry in return, just sadness. “I guess I'll just have to work twice as hard to try to win her confidence.”

Derek looked over at Lex with a brave smile that she couldn't help but return. “I'm sure it'll be fine, then,” Lex replied.

Glancing at a clock on the wall that read near noon, Lex figured Casey would be in the kitchen. Once the two of them got there, it took a moment for Casey to realize anyone had arrived; she'd been in the middle of chopping vegetables for something and didn't look up until after she'd finished. The look on her face changed to surprise and became more guarded as she took in the two of them, but Lex felt relieved to see that she didn't make any move beyond that.

“Casey, I want to introduce Derek. I've been taking him around to meet everyone since he's going to have the run of the facility from today on, so we wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to talk to him,” Lex explained.

“I see. Who decided this?” Casey asked, her tone cool.

Lex answered slowly, hoping she wasn't blushing. “Actually, Lily and I talked to Captain Shapiro about it, so I hoped you could give Derek a chance, for the two of us.”

She looked up to meet Casey's gaze as she finished what she'd been saying, and Casey shook her head as the chill in her expression began to melt. “You're something else, you know that? Are you two really sure it'll be OK?”

Lex nodded in reply. “I think if you talk to him yourself you'll find that out for sure,” Lex said, then paused as she had another thought. “How are you fixed for lunch? Do you need any help?” she asked, looking at Derek out of the corner of her eye.

Casey laughed then. “I could always use some help. How about it, Derek: do you know how to cook?”

“No, Ms. Casey,” he said as he shook his head. “They never taught us to cook at the lab, but I'm good at following directions, so just tell me anything I can do to help.”

Shooting Derek a sharp, curious look, Casey then glanced back at Lex and nodded. “I see. Why don't you come on over. You can help me chop these vegetables to start with.”

Lex nodded back at Casey as she left the two of them in the kitchen and couldn't help but let out a sigh of relief as she went back to her desk. Maybe all of this is going to work out somehow, she found herself thinking as her lips formed a grin.

Forward to Chapter 41
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