Hey, All! I hope you're all having a good weekend, and that life is treating you well. Next chapter up, and we have the start of some of what's to come. Enjoy!
Thank you to my wonderful editor-in-chief, gwoman for her help in making this chapter shine.
Back to Chapter 41
About a week after their travel to Berlin, Lex sat in the team room gazing at the portrait that Annette had had delivered to them the day after they’d returned from their trip. The woman in front had dark, straight hair and looked at the viewer with a suspicious eye. She'd turned just enough so that Lex could see the small star tattoo on her neck that Annette had mentioned. Behind her, another woman stood, looking dubious and fearful, head turned down and to one side, her light-colored hair bluntly cut at her shoulders, and the clothing she wore shapeless.
Lex had talked to Tamara the day the picture had been delivered to them about trying to look the two up on any available police databases, but Tamara had shook her head.
“I’m completely occupied with trying to figure out the problem you left me,” she’d said, her eyes alight with interest. “Just let me get to a place where I have something to show you and I’ll pick up with it after that.”
She’d also showed Lex how to access the internal special forces database, after making sure Lex had the correct permissions to. Lex had been unable to match anyone in the database up to the pictures, however, either by appearance or by abilities. As a result, she often found her work day interrupted by staring at the portrait, wondering about the two of them.
Since they’d gotten back, Rolf had focused on sorting through footage. As expected, all of the security cameras near the suspected exit points had been disabled, but Riss and Art had helped them to find a number of cameras at some distance that might have gotten footage of the burglars escaping. For days now, Lex had seen him watching all of the footage that captured the exit from various cameras for several hours after the burglary had begun, trying to find anything useful. He was still at it now, and Lex glanced over at him for a moment, giving a smile at how focused he seemed, and then looked back at her own computer screen.
Scanning the new email that had arrived, she found one from Captain Shapiro marked important. Upon opening it, Lex read the request that she come to his office as soon as possible. She raised an eyebrow, wondering what the meeting could be about, but eventually came to the conclusion that maybe he’d gotten more information on the burglaries or wanted a status report. Quickly, Lex gathered up some of her recent notes and packed up her laptop. She grinned at Rolf and let him know her destination as she slipped out the door.
When she reached the captain’s office, however, she began to think that maybe he’d called her for another reason. He gave her a grave look as she sat across from him and gestured her laptop and notes away as she tried to take them out.
“Lex, we can talk about that later, but there’s something else we need to discuss this morning. I’ve called a few other people here today, as well.”
She frowned, not understanding, but her expression changed to a smile as Lou walked in, followed by Lily and Kate. After Kate closed the door and they’d all taken a comfortable position, the captain took a deep breath before he began speaking.
“I would have called Riss here, since this affects her as well, but I didn’t want to disturb her rest, so please let me inform her when she arrives this evening. The EU, and Belgium in particular, have been given requests to arrest all of you and extradite you back to the United States.”
“What?” Kate asked, immediately outraged. “What for?”
The captain gave a thin grin that didn’t speak of mirth. “The charges leveled against you are for the theft of secret information.”
The rest of the group remained silent, and Lex watched her friends exchange glances, while Kate snorted a rough laugh. “Yeah, more like we escaped with our skins still intact. I guess those are the ‘secrets’ they’re talking about.”
Captain Shapiro's frown deepened after Kate’s comment. “That is our suspicion, as well. We suspect the information you gathered about their methods and experiments is part of that charge, too. The requests sent clearly identify Riss and Lou, probably because they have changed the least out of the group of you, and Lily, since it's likely they traced her when she fled with her family. They seem to be guessing as to Lex and Kate’s identities, probably because both of your appearances have changed so radically.”
Lex fell to studying the desk, wondering if the captain had seen a photo of her as she used to look and feeling strange about it. She looked at Lou a moment later as her friend began to speak.
“What is going to be done about the request?” he asked, and Lex felt stronger as she looked at his face, since he appeared completely calm yet solemn.
“Well,” the captain replied, “we actually have a small staff dedicated to handling the diplomatic needs of the special forces here in the EU, and they’ve begun to respond to the request. They are demanding hard evidence of your ‘crimes’ and proof that you perpetrated them, but they also reminded the requestors that you are witnesses in a suit against a company that the American government is accused of colluding with, and that if the matter of your arrest and extradition is linked to that, the suit must go through its course before any decisions could be made to send you back to the US.”
Lex sighed then and smiled as she heard Lily exhale next to her, as well. “That’s good,” Lex replied. “What are their next steps going to be? Do you think they’ll try to press harder to bring us back there?”
Captain Shapiro shook his head. “I’m not sure, but I wanted to tell you this, and to let you know that we’ve had one or two cases like this before. The EU doesn’t like for anyone to try to steal their citizens for dubious purposes, and we’ll fight to protect you. In the previous cases, they eventually retracted their requests, probably because they thought it wouldn’t pay to continue them. I’m not sure what they’ll do in this case, but I have been assured that we will fight for you in the same way.”
After a few seconds of silence where everyone seemed to be digesting the news, Kate spoke up. “Can we see the orders? Do they have pictures?”
The captain looked surprised, then chuckled. “You want to see your mug shots? Sure, let me bring them up.”
He turned his monitor around so the rest of the group could see it and started opening documents. The first photo Lex saw was of Riss and looked as if it had been taken at the facility in DC. She stared at the camera with the blank, slightly hostile look Lex could remember her wearing those days. Photo number two looked to her as if it had been taken during an Alexander’s Army tour. Lex saw her friend looking off to the side of the frame and smiled herself at Riss' Mona Lisa grin.
Lex also thought the current picture of Lou must have been taken while on tour (due to the guitar strap over his shoulder) and showed him with his head thrown back and an expression of bliss on his face. Lex found herself staring at his old photo once the captain switched over to it, first because Lou's hair hung loose (odd, since she'd only ever seen it in a ponytail or braid), but eventually Lex realized something else. “They took this while they had you at the lab, didn’t they?” she asked, turning to Lou.
He looked over at her in surprise, glanced at the picture again and nodded, his expression hardening. No one said anything else for a moment as the captain clicked past the a recent picture of Lily, but Lex couldn’t hold back a gasp as she suddenly came face to face with her old self.
“Well, if that isn’t a blast from the past,” she muttered, not meaning anyone else to hear, but she saw Kate turn her head away, the corners of her mouth drooping.
Someone had taken the next picture while the band had been on tour, as well. Something about the picture Lex vaguely recognized but couldn’t quite place. It showed her smiling behind the mic, about to take a bow, from what she could tell. “The warrant information mentions that they think your eye color in the photo is due to color contacts, and that you bleach your hair,” Captain Shapiro informed her, shaking his head.
The next picture was an old one of Kate. Lex could see they'd been trying to make her look villainous in it, her expression almost scowling and the shadows in the photo seeming to emphasize her eye patch. Lex thought something about it looked familiar, however, and after she stared at it for a few more moments, she realized what it was. “Oh, Kate,” she said, clapping a hand to her mouth so that she didn’t laugh, “this is the picture they put up on the wall the day you and Victor escaped! It made you look like some kind of criminal!”
Kate grinned. “Yeah, I look like a real pirate, don’t I?”
The second photo also seemed to have been taken while the band performed. They'd gotten a side view of Kate leaning her head back and smiling, and Lex spotted part of the headstock of her guitar on the opposite side of the picture. The symbol on the wall near Kate’s head caught Lex's attention, however.
“Look,” Lex said, pointing to it. “Do either of you recognize this? I think I remember it from one of the shows we played in Germany, not long after we got here.”
Kate glanced at it for a moment and shrugged, but after Lou studied it for a few seconds, he nodded. “I think I remember it, too.”
“Well,” Lex continued studying the desk again, “this leads me to two conclusions. First, that my idea that we start a touring band as a way to stay unnoticed was not a great one.”
“Hey,” Kate broke in, “they didn’t really seem to be able to figure out who we were in America.”
“That’s the second thing I thought, that it seems like the government finally managed to identify us definitely, or at least guess who we started out as. I wonder what took them so long.” Lex continued to stare at the photo of Kate, biting her bottom lip.
“If I had to hazard a guess,” the captain said, “I think they probably got interested in the group of you when you escaped from under the noses of the lab chasing you, and they asked whoever they have over here spying on us to keep a special eye on you. After that, well, since Riss and Lou haven’t changed a whole lot, they probably just started from there.”
He cleared his throat, then continued. “I didn't want to focus on that, though. Like I said, rest assured that you won’t be abandoned and that we’re doing all we can to keep you safe. I also wanted to let you know that the court proceedings have begun to move forward as well. Some or all of you might hear from the court in the next few weeks or months. They said that they want to do some preliminary questioning of the plaintiffs and witnesses, some of it on videotape. Please cooperate with them; just let me know if the court’s requests are going to cut into your time here at work and I’ll move duties around as need be.”
Lex looked around at her friends as they nodded, and she followed suit. When they filed out of the captain’s office not long later, all four of them wandered down the hall to the kitchen and ducked inside, Lex glancing around to see that the room stood empty.
“You know,” Lily began as they sat at the table, “I think they did buy that you three died when you left.”
She’d been looking straight at Lex as she’d spoken, and Lex nodded in response. “So, they never connected us to the attack at their main lab?”
Out of the corner of her eye, Lex could see Lou studying the two of them, stirring sugar into his coffee cup. Lily shook her head in response to Lex’s question.
“Not at first, since you guys did a good job of covering your tracks. When they’d regrouped enough to try to figure out what had happened, they figured that the people in the lab had just taken advantage of the power outage to escape. Months later, someone got the idea that the labs might have been directly attacked, but by then they couldn’t do anything about it because any evidence would have been long gone. At that point they'd focused on rebuilding their lab specimen numbers, anyway.”
The face Lily made as she finished her sentence showed clearly what she thought of that, Lex thought, and the pain there made her reach over and put a hand on her friend’s forearm, trying to reassure her. “Good. It sounds like we gave them a surprise by turning back up. I guess I can see why they’d send Derek, now. Probably panicking and hoping they could clean up the mess.”
Everyone fell silent for a few seconds, and as Lex looked around the table, she could see that her friends appeared to be deep in thought. She raised an eyebrow as something occurred to her, and turned towards Lou. “Speaking of Derek, how is he doing, anyway?”
Lou returned Lex’s glance and nodded once. “He’s been joining me and Mr. Chen for martial arts lessons every day. He seems happy to have something to focus on and he’s been working hard. Still, he does seem kind of lost late in the afternoon. I think he misses having people around most of the time, the way it sounds like he used to.”
Lex found herself looking over at Lily during this, noting the serious expression the other woman wore. As Lou finished speaking, Lily asked, “Lou, can you keep an eye on him and let me know how he’s doing? I’ve been worried because he seemed depressed a while ago. I’m hoping that being able to do more and talk to people will help, but please let me know if it seems like he’s getting worse.”
Taking another sip of his coffee, Lou nodded in response. They split up a few minutes later, after determining who would spread the news to the rest of the group. When Lex went back upstairs, she paused a moment before going back into the team room, trying to formulate her thoughts. Rolf stopped what he’d been doing as he turned to smile at her.
“What is it?” he asked after having studied her expression. “You look worried.”
“Well,” Lex replied, smiling wryly, “I’m officially a criminal now. The US has put warrants out for my arrest and extradition, and for Lou, Riss, Kate, and Lily, as well.”
She briefly explained what she knew and what Captain Shapiro had told them, and watched as Rolf's expression darkened as she talked. He began talking once she'd fallen silent. “I don't like the fact that they've tried something this bold, especially after the court decided the suit should be prosecuted. It seems like they're desperate to shut all of you up.”
He paused for a moment and closed the gap between the two of them, reaching over to take Lex's hand. “All in all, it seems like it might bring your evidence more credence, but please try not to worry. The captain was right when he told you that the suit may take years to complete, and at the end of it, hopefully the government will have lost interest, or realize it wouldn't be politic to try to extradite you if your charges seem related to the lawsuit charges. If all else fails, though, we'll think of something else.”
Lex closed her eyes and leaned into Rolf's strong, solid form for a moment, breathing in his scent, something that had the power to make her feel better almost instantly. She smiled as she opened her eyes again and took a half-step back, not wanting to make Tamara feel uncomfortable if she were to arrive. “Thanks, Rolf.”
He just smiled in return as the two of them went back to their makeshift desks to continue work on the burglary leads.
Lex reflected that it hadn't taken the court long to get in touch with her when she got a call the following day requesting for her to attend initial depositions on the subsequent day, a Friday. That night, she found out that Lily had been called in on the same day, so the two of them decided that they'd travel to the courthouse together.
Early that morning, Lex stood in the front hall of their house, paused in front of the long mirror over the mail table. She pushed her short, blood-red hair into place and studied how it contrasted with her pine-green suit and black silk blouse. Glancing to her side at Lily, she appreciated how cool and in charge her friend looked in a cream-colored suit with a navy blouse, her long hair pulled up with gold hairpins in a sophisticated French twist.
“You look great,” Lex said with a smile.
Lily met her gaze in the mirror, her serious expression softening. “So do you,” she replied, her voice matter-of-fact.
Lex couldn't help her wide grin as she turned away.
She and Lily walked Ron to school, and Lex watched as her friend simply waved as her son entered the schoolyard. “He's old enough that he gets embarrassed if I try to kiss him goodbye anymore,” Lily explained, shaking her head.
As they got on the train to go to the International Criminal Court, the two talked for a while about Ron's progress in school and how he'd settled into his new home, eventually falling silent near their stop. It wasn’t until they’d disembarked and then walked about a block that Lily spoke again.
“Do you think,” she began, then cleared her throat before continuing, “do you think they'll listen to what we say?”
After considering the question for a moment, Lex replied, “Yes, I do think they'll listen.” If anyone in the world is likely to listen to us, she thought, it's the people we're going to see.
Lily gave a quick sound of relief and nodded, following Lex into the court building. They both signed in and waited while the receptionist looked them up. Lex fingered her temporary identification badge as the woman gave them the room numbers where their testimonies would be taken. After going up several stories and getting directions from someone at another reception desk on the floor they arrived at, Lex and Lily stopped in the hallway just before they had to turn in different directions. As Lex was about to turn away from her friend, she grinned at Lily. “Knock them dead in there today,” she told the doctor.
Lily looked at her in surprise, then came closer and, before Lex realized it, she'd been enveloped in a fierce hug. She barely had time to hug back before Lily straightened up. “I will. You do the same,” she replied, then headed down the hall. Lex knew she had a massive grin on her face as she knocked on the door to the room she'd been told to report at. Upon hearing a muffled voice inside asking her to enter, Lex opened it and went in.
Though she came through the door feeling uncertain, she shifted towards calm once she met with a pair of hazel eyes giving her a direct, serious look. The woman came forward, holding out her hand, looking every inch the professional in a navy suit with a white shirt. Her straight dark hair had been cut in a short, shaped style that barely covered the nape of her neck but followed her jawline down to fall even with her chin in front. The confident smile that she gave Lex as they shook hands seemed contagious, because Lex found that she couldn't help but return it.
“I'm Francesca Maes, and I'm one of the junior solicitors working on this case. I've read the background as it's been submitted so far, and we'd like to begin today by taking a preliminary statement from you.”
Lex frowned as she crossed to the chair on the opposite side of the table in the middle of the room, looking out the window for a moment at the spreading branches of an old oak tree growing not far away, then turning to watch as Francesca finished setting up a camera sitting on a smaller table along the wall, facing Lex. “What do you want to know, exactly? Is there anything in particular I should cover?”
“Please go over your story of the incidents relevant to the suit, and I’ll ask questions if there are any points that I think need clarification or more information. I should also warn you in advance that this recording will potentially become part of the public evidence for this case, so please consider carefully what you wish to say before you speak.”
Francesca looked Lex in the eye then, and Lex smiled fractionally as she could practically feel the woman's mental message. If you did anything illegal that you don’t want to have on this record, don’t talk about it.
“All right, I think I understand,” Lex replied with a smile, and then began to tell her story. She started with her reading of the contract she’d been given when she joined the M Agency, and the fact that it hadn’t contained anything about agreeing to be experimented on with unapproved gene therapy drugs. Francesca watched Lex the whole time, when not furiously taking notes on a steno pad. She would occasionally ask questions about something Lex said. Lex concluded by describing their life in exile in America before explaining how they'd been discovered and ended up having to flee.
By the time she’d summarized her story, Lex looked at the clock to find it read past noon. Francesca thanked her for the information she’d given so far and requested that Lex come back after lunch so that they could review some of the parts of Lex’s story that Francesca thought would be particularly relevant to the trial.
Lex found herself sat alone in the lunchroom downstairs, her mind wandering through the past as she gazed out at the tree she’d seen that morning. Its leaves had turned a fiery red with orange at the tips, and as she watched, a few fell at a meandering pace to the courtyard below. She sighed when she realized she needed to go back, because she still hadn’t managed to get her mind back to the present.
“All right,” Francesca said, once she’d turned the camera back on and they’d both settled back into their seats, “let’s talk more about the contract you say you signed when you went to work for MSI. Did it include anything about being given experimental drugs as part of your employment?”
Shaking her head, Lex replied, “Absolutely not. They only let us have a limited time to look at the contract, which I found fishy by itself, but I managed to read it all. They did use some language that read somewhat like an informed consent document that you might see in use for a clinical trial for an experimental drug, but when I asked about it, they told me that they'd put it in the contract because some of the tests and treatments used at the facility were newly approved for use in humans. Nothing in the contract said anything about having to take drugs so experimental that around three quarters of the people that they gave them to died.” Lex paused for a moment, then added, “The thing I felt most worried about at the time, however, was the confidentiality clause where they said they might kill you for telling their secrets.”
She couldn’t help but smirk at Francesca’s stare of amazement. “And you still signed the contract?”
Lex sighed. “I was desperate for a job at the time and the M Agency was the first employer that gave me an offer in months. The agency tried hard to downplay that part of the contract, but I guess they did try to exercise it after all.”
“Please explain further.” Francesca looked concerned, her pen poised over her steno book. The woman sat frowning by the time that Lex finished a brief account of how the team had prevented Derek’s attack on her.
“I know that some of that story is second-hand information, but you can get all of the details straight from Derek when he goes through his interview,” Lex concluded.
Francesca nodded as she finished writing a few more notes, then looked back up at Lex. “Next, I wondered how you found out that you were being experimented on.”
“Riss found out and let the rest of us know.” Lex knew she’d chosen her words carefully, and waited for Francesca’s follow-up questions nervously.
“Riss is one of the other co-plaintiffs?” she asked, looking back through her notes and then shooting Lex a glance across the table. When Lex nodded, Francesca continued. “How did she find out?”
Lex squirmed in her chair, thinking how to word what she’d say next. “Well, she and I had been tasked with figuring out how best to protect the computer systems at the facility where they housed us. As part of that, Riss tried to identify the extent of the systems they wanted us to protect. I don’t know if the people who kept us knew it, but someone had electronically connected the place we were housed at to their main facilities. I think that’s how Riss got evidence of their activities.”
“Is there anyone else who could verify this?” Francesca asked, glancing up while her hand continued writing furiously on the notepad.
Nodding, Lex replied, “Yes, I think Lily probably could.” Then, she frowned again, wondering if the people at MSI had actually allowed Lily to see their records, considering she'd been on the same team with them. As she thought of the database of information that Riss had taken, Lex looked up at Francesca again, considering. Finally, she said, “Is there any way you could turn off the video camera for a minute? There’s something I’d like to ask you.”
Francesca looked at her curiously for a moment, but moved to do as Lex had asked. When she’d sat back down, she fixed Lex with a strong, clear gaze. “I should take a moment to warn you that I am only acting in this matter for the ICC, and that I’m not your legal counsel. If you tell me that you’ve committed illegal acts, I may be forced to report them to the authorities.”
“It’s nothing like that,” Lex replied, trying to keep her voice even. She paused a moment to figure out how to word her question, then looked back over at Francesca. “I wanted to ask you a purely theoretical question.”
She couldn’t help but smile at the expression of disbelief on the lawyer’s face, but Francesca quickly wiped it away as Lex continued to speak. “Let’s say that someone obtained a copy of the database of information covering MSI’s experimental subjects around the time we escaped. If such a thing existed, could it be used as evidence in this case?”
Lex watched as Francesca’s eyebrows pulled together as the woman considered. Finally, the lawyer raised her head to meet Lex’s gaze again. “It depends. If someone obtained the data by legal means and it was clear that it hadn’t been tampered with, it could be used.”
“What if someone got the data in a way that's sort of a grey legal area?”
“Well,” Francesca replied, looking down at the table again, “it’s likely that it wouldn’t be able to be used in court.”
Lex nodded then, sighing quietly as Francesca suggested turning the video camera on again and continuing with her questions.
She continued to feel down about Francesca’s advice even later that night. Since it was a Friday night, she and Rolf had gone to see a film, but Lex got back to the house by midnight. He’d needed to call it an early night since he had an appointment early the next morning, but Lex had felt too restless to go home with him and sleep yet. She thought she’d go through some of her forms in the workout room upstairs, but grinned when she thought about stopping by the lab later as well.
Since the first time she’d accidentally stopped in and gotten a status on the body project (as she’d started to think of it), Lex had made it a point to check in on Victor and Riss every couple of weeks to see how far along they'd gotten in building Art’s physical body. Figuring she should check in again that evening, Lex changed into her workout gear and headed upstairs for a run-through of some of her forms before her two friends arrived back from work.
By the time Lex finished her workout, her muscles felt looser and she'd exhausted a lot of her restlessness. She toweled off and stretched and headed straight over to the lab, her curiosity getting the best of her. As she reached the doorway, Lex peeked in to see Riss sitting on a stool, one hand stuck into a shiny skull. Her friend looked up after a moment and smiled briefly, then continued her task. Lex walked into the room then and began looking at all of the items spread over the lab bench in front of Riss. A thick piece of something that resembled skin over muscle caught her attention first, and Lex could see the tiny wires running through it if she looked closely. The gleaming skeleton that hung from the stand now had both sets of arm bones. When Lex looked at the table near the stand, she could see the beginning of what looked like the skeletal structure of a hand, and a few gleaming vertebrae.
As she reached for one of the vertebrae, feeling completely drawn to it, Riss' voice held her in place. “Be careful with that.”
Lex could see Riss' small smile when she pulled her arm back and turned to look at her friend. “I don't mean you can't touch it. It's not like it'll break or anything, but make sure you put it back exactly where you found it. Victor's pretty particular about that.”
“Oh, OK,” Lex murmured. After a few long moments, however, she couldn't help but reach back out for one of the vertebrae in the middle of the chain of five that sat there. Lex held it up to get a good look at it, turning it in the light.
“We left more space in the middle where your spinal cord usually goes, which is good since we'll probably need the room for wiring,” Riss said, looking up from her work for a second. “The titanium has a lot more internal strength than the bones you and I have.”
“It's beautiful,” Lex said after a moment as she finished her inspection and laid the silvery vertebra back where it had come from. She registered Riss' grin before she continued. “So, how's it going overall?”
“Well, we had a setback the other day,” Riss replied as she glanced over at Art's laptop. The design on the screen changed to a random set of scribbles that showed bright red in the top left corner.
“Sorry, Riss,” a quiet electronic voice said, and Lex barely recognized Art's tones. She looked over at the laptop in concern, then back at Riss.
“It's all right, Art, we just didn't think we'd need so much memory,” Riss said in a low voice. Lex smiled, but chose to direct it at the table, not wanting Art to think she was mocking him. She couldn't remember ever hearing Riss speak so gently before, but Lex felt it suited her friend well.
“We did a test where Art tried to get into his body to try out some of the arm musculature and see if it worked, but apparently we're going to need to have a good deal more memory installed before we can do that. I'm reworking the skull now to fit more in, but we're probably going to have to add more to the body, as well. Victor said something the other day about something he called liquid memory, but he wouldn't tell me too much about it since he said he hasn't worked it out yet.”
Lex thought for a moment. “It sounds like you two might have a lot of new technology coming out of this project. Are you planning on patenting it?”
Riss shrugged. “I think all the breakthroughs are going to be Victor's. Most of what I'm doing is trying to build all the needed elements of an externally controlled system with a need for a large amount of memory and fit it all in to the space I'm allotted. Victor is the one coming up with all of the ideas for making skin and eyes and hair and designing how the body is going to work.”
Smiling, Lex thought about what else might be in store before Riss and Victor completed Art's body. “What do you think about all of this, Art?” she asked after a few moments, glancing at Art's laptop.
The shapes on his screen changed to rounded squares and circles of a teal blue color. “It's all interesting, but I'm not sure how it's going to turn out. It seems like it's taking a long time.”
“It's like I told you, Art,” Riss replied, still smiling. “Things don't move as fast here in the physical world.” After a pause, Riss turned to look at Lex. “I forgot to ask, how did things go with your deposition today?”
Lex smiled, then gave Riss a brief outline, including what she'd said about how Riss had found out about what MSI had been giving to them. “Well, I guess that's a fair enough description,” Riss said with a nod.
“I did feel disappointed about one thing, though,” Lex replied. “During the interview, I had Francesca turn off the camera for a minute, and then I asked her about the database in a ‘purely theoretical' question, but she said that they probably wouldn't be able to use the information from the database that you got if we didn't obtain it legally.”
Riss' mouth straightened into a thin line, but then she relaxed again. “That's pretty much as I expected. I've had some thoughts about how we might be able to make use of that stuff, though. Even if we can't get it admitted into court, there may be a way to get it into the public record.”
Lex looked expectantly at her friend, but Riss just gave her a secretive look. “You're going to have to wait until tomorrow to find out any more about that, though.”
“That's not fair!” Lex exclaimed, but then she got distracted by Victor showing up and reviewing some of the new things he'd come up with for Art's body to explain their progress to Lex.
Lex didn't think about her conversation with Riss again until early Saturday afternoon, when the entire group met for what most had begun calling the weekly “family meeting.” She listened as Riss went through her normal finance review, then as Victor talked about the current state of Art's body project, and afterwards as others talked about their own projects (like the Find a New Van project that Lou and Casey had taken care of the previous month.) Normally, the group left time afterwards to discuss anything else that anyone wanted to talk about, and Lex found herself paying more attention, wondering if Riss would speak up again.
After Lily had petitioned to buy another couch for the living room so that people wouldn't have to sit on the floor during the next meeting, which had been unanimously approved, Riss looked around at the gathered group and began to speak. “I know that some of you started giving testimony to the ICC this week,” she began, her voice quieter than normal, “and I understand that Lex got some general legal advice that the court can't use the information from the MSI databases as evidence for the upcoming case.”
Lex looked over at Lily then, trying to communicate what had happened in a short glance. As Lex started turning back to look at Riss, however, she stopped as she caught sight of the rest of her friends. The room had gone silent and tense and she noticed a few people looking at the floor or out the windows, but everyone's attention seemed focused on Riss as she continued.
“I understand why they say that, but I think there is a way to make what information we have publicly available. It's even possible they might be able to use the information in court if this is done correctly, but of course I'm no lawyer.”
Silence reigned for several seconds as Riss paused to look around the room, and Lex watched as her friends locked gazes, many of their expressions hard to read. Finally, Kate cleared her throat. “What is it that you have in mind?”
“I don't think I need to tell anyone who watches the news that there are services through which you can anonymously leak sensitive information to the public. I want to blur the names, faces, and anything else personally identifying for anyone who's still alive, but I think we should leave the information there for anyone who's dead. After all, none of their friends, family, or lovers have had any word about what happened to them. At least this would be a way for them to find out.”
Lex swallowed, having a hard time doing it as the tension in the room started to begin feeling as if it would choke her. As she watched, Riss paused again to survey the faces around. Lex looked over to see Casey sitting on the floor, her knees drawn up to her chest. She held hands with Lou, who sat next to her, staring out a nearby window. Lily and Mr. Chen exchanged a grave glance, and then both looked at the floor. Victor sat next to Kate, his arm around her as she stared at the wall. Lex felt a rush of sorrow as she watched Kate's shaking shoulders, realizing she probably thought of Neil.
“Can you do it in such a way as to leave all of us out of it?” Lex asked quietly.
Riss gave her a minute, enigmatic smile and nodded in reply. “Yes. They'll never know who gave them the information, just that they have it.”
“Let's do it.” Kate's gruff voice sounded like a shout in the quiet room, and everyone turned to look at her. “People need to know what's been going on at that damned place.”
“What does everyone else think?” Riss asked, looking slowly around the room.
“Please do it,” Lily responded, her voice quiet and sincere. “I think it's the right thing.” Mr. Chen nodded beside her, his mouth pulled down in a frown.
“I agree with Kate,” Victor added, his arm still over Kate's shoulders.
Casey nodded. “I agree, too. What they did to all of us is unforgivable, and the world should know about it. What do you think, Lou?”
He looked at the floor for a moment, and when he looked back up, his eyes had an intensity to them that wasn’t there before. “Yes. Let's see if we can shut them down.”
After a beat, Lex found most of her friends looking at her, specifically into her crystal green eyes, and she cleared her throat before she spoke. “I think we should let the world know what they've been doing. With any luck, even if we can't get anywhere with the lawsuit, maybe there won't be a country in the world they can do business in anymore.”
“All right,” Riss responded, one of her almost non-existent smiles in evidence. “I'll start the wheels rolling. It may take a month or two to get it posted, so be patient.”
The room fell silent after this declaration, and since no one else had anything to discuss, the meeting dissolved. Lex watched small knots of people form, talking quietly, and headed over to where Victor and Kate sat together.
“Hey, Kate, are you OK?” she asked as she got close enough.
“Yeah, I'm fine,” Kate replied, rubbing at her eyes and trying to smile. “Sorry to be such an idiot about it. Riss just caught me by surprise, is all.”
“No need to apologize. I think it hits us all in different ways.” Lex looked around the room as she spoke, noticing Lily's tense posture as she explained to Ron as best she could what they'd been discussing, and Casey and Lou silently holding hands. Riss met her eyes as she left the room, carrying Art's laptop, and nodded, a tiny grim smile on her face. Lex nodded in return, understanding the determined look in Riss' eyes, and felt her own lips turn up in a grin as well, gratified that it seemed it would be only a matter of time before MSI got some comeuppance.
Forward to Chapter 43
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Stats Of Hits
Stats Of Hits