Palladian (palladian23) wrote in superwebnovel,

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Chapter 46: Notoriety

Author's Notes/Warnings: Squirmy public appearances, press conferences, twisted wires

Hello, lovely readers! Here's some wrap-up from the string of burglaries, and the beginning of the trial...

All hail my editor-in-chief, gwoman for helping me to make this chapter its best.

Back to Chapter 45

Although she tried, Lex couldn't stop herself from squirming. She attempted to be subtle about it, however, hoping that no one would notice her trying to get more comfortable on the wooden chair and in the suit that she didn't wear too often. She leaned over, looking down the line of the table and peering at Casey, Lou, Derek, Lily, Riss, and Kate, all similarly attired, and let out a sigh through her nose, then tried to crush her instinctive return grin as Kate, who seemed to have seen the whole thing, smiled at her.

Lex straightened back up and tried to get a sense of when the proceedings would begin. Even though they'd been there for almost an hour, she could see no sign that the hearing would start any time soon, so she squared her shoulders and resigned herself to waiting.

She'd been surprised when they'd arrived back from Bruges and the trial hadn't started within the next couple of days, but their return had also been the day when their mysterious internet contacts had chosen to publish the MSI data, so Lex guessed that maybe she shouldn't have been so surprised after all. It had been spooky that night, as they'd arrived home on the train, to pass the news vendors with evening papers out and see some of the faces of the dead, people who'd gotten the same treatment she had but hadn't survived it.

For the first few days following their return, she and Rolf had blended back into the usual schedule of the office, after meeting with the Captain for a two-hour–long debriefing, so Lex had just figured that all of the excitement had blown over. The prosecutors at the ICC had called up Riss to be interviewed for several days during that time, which Lex heard had left Victor working with one of the auxiliary members on the evening shift. Lex had kept an eye on the news, noticing that stories about the capture of the bank burglars had seemed to be overshadowed by the MSI news. She'd been unable to stop herself from reading some of the stories of what the press had found in the MSI documents. So far, she hadn't found out much about the story that she didn't know, with the exception of a few features that had been done where reporters had researched the lives of some of the dead. She had only been able to read one of them all the way through; the recountings of lives cut short had felt like almost more than she had been able to bear.

One morning, however, Lex had been walking to work as usual. She'd dressed for the cold that day but felt anxious to get inside the warm building, not noticing until she'd almost reached the door that a group of people had stood on the sidewalk in front of the Special Forces building. Assuming they must have been waiting for someone, Lex had made to walk around them, only to have the group spring to life as they had spotted her.

“Ms. Mansfield, we're told that you led the team who captured the bank robbers! Is that true?”

“Was there a big fight, Ms. Mansfield? Did anyone get injured?”

“Since you're a member of the Special Forces, Ms. Mansfield, did you use super powers to apprehend the robbers? Could you share the nature of those powers with our readers?”

Lex had just stood there for a moment, almost in shock as the questions had rolled over her. After several long seconds of listening to rapid fire questions, she had mumbled, “No comment,” and pushed through the journalists, who hadn’t seemed to have had any trouble making way for her to go inside.

She had sought out Captain Shapiro right away, but he had just grinned at her. “Yes, they've been out there all morning. I happened to catch an article late last night that broke the story of the Special Forces being behind the arrest of the burglars, so I guess the press got some leads about the people involved.”

Frowning, Lex had replied, “I guess they did get some good information.” She had paused for a moment before glancing over at the Captain. “Do I need to talk to them?”

He’d shrugged. “It's not required or anything, but it is something you may want to get used to, because I suspect that you may need to figure out how to deal with them over the course of the trial. If you and your team decide you want to make a statement, let me know and I can give you some pointers.”

Lex had walked out of his office a few minutes later, feeling thoughtful and wondering what to do. A moment more had seen her pawing at her bag to pull her cell phone out to give Rolf a call and warn him to take the back door into the building.

She had met with Rolf, Lou, Tamara, Casey, and Kate once everyone had arrived to talk the situation over. Casey and Kate had both listened for a few minutes but gotten up after that, Casey shaking her head. “Face it,” Kate had summarized as she’d paused at the door before leaving, “even though we went out on the job, we didn't end up doing much of anything. It sounds like we had a nicer time than you did. We had plenty of space and spent most of our time planning how to hook up...well, you know.” She had waved as she’d closed the door behind her.

Tamara had started to laugh by the time Lex had glanced over at her. “Well, she's telling the truth about that. I don't think Victor has a chance against her plans,” she had continued, shaking her head. Then, serious again, she had turned to look at Lex. “OK, so I guess we need to figure out whether we want to talk to the press, right? Do you think he's testing us again?”

Lex had shrugged. “Maybe. I know that he said that one of the things he wanted to do with this whole effort was to show that the Special Forces could be effective in the normal course of preventing and solving crimes, not just as someone to call in extreme measures.”

“In that case, he's probably hoping that we decide to make a statement to the press,” Rolf had said, looking around the room at his teammates. “This did end up being a big success, so admitting it and maybe talking about how we worked to figure it out would serve to further his ends.”

The four of them had talked about the idea more, then had begun to think about what they'd like to say—coming up with a summary of how they'd broken the case and what had happened the day of the capture—after an hour of discussion. Once they'd finished that, Rolf had written it up with input from Lex, Lou, and Tamara. Although the one thing that Lex had assumed everyone would have wanted—official credit—had turned out to be something that no one had. Lou had just laughed when she’d asked, and Rolf had commented that he had already become more famous than he'd ever wanted to be.

“I don't deserve that much credit,” Tamara had said. When Lex had disagreed, Tamara had cut off her arguments. “No, I don't. I was just part of the team, Lex, and if no one else is interested in taking that much credit, I don't want to either. But you're the team leader, remember? It falls to you to take responsibility.”

“When I said that, I just meant the blame if anything went wrong,” Lex had replied in a near-mumble, clearly seeing where this had been leading.

Tamara had laughed. “You have even more responsibility to take credit than blame, in my opinion. You worked hard to make this case a success, so you have every right to take the bows now that we broke it.”

Lex had felt resigned once she’d called Annette and explained the situation and even the psychic had said that she had preferred not to have her name in the news. “All right,” Lex had finally said, “I'll talk to them.”

After running their press release by the Captain and making a few final changes at his request, Lex had gone outside to address the members of the press that had remained at the front door. Mainly reading from what they'd agreed to say, she had summarized how they'd worked together to crack the case and capture the burglars. The press had seemed to listen as she’d spoken, but had exploded into questions the moment she'd finished. Lex had answered a few questions, those asking for more details about how they'd solved the case, until she had felt overwhelmed and then had ducked back into the building.

She'd thought about what the Captain had said for a few days following the impromptu press conference, however, especially when more reporters had shown up at the Special Forces building or tried to follow her places. As a result, she had added an agenda item at the next weekend meeting at the house she shared with her friends, but still had felt awkward once she had seen all of her friends looking at her, waiting for her to speak.

After clearing her throat, Lex had begun, “I've been thinking, after having been followed around by the press recently, and realized that it might go on for a while with the trial and all. Then I started thinking that maybe we should take advantage of it. We've already got five tracks down for our next CD. Why don't we record the two songs we've been working on over the past few months and finish it? That way, if the press ever puts together that some of the people who brought suit against MSI are also in a band, at least we'll be in a position to get more people to hear us if we've got a new album to promote.”

Kate had let out a belly laugh upon hearing what Lex had had to say. “All right! We should definitely do it.”

Riss had sat nodding from her perch on the couch, Art's laptop in her lap facing out. “I think you're finally starting to get the idea of how to promote the band.”

Lex had been able to feel her cheeks heating in response to that and had given Riss a dirty look, which got her a chuckle in reply. She had turned in Casey's direction as she’d heard the blonde's voice, however. “I don't know. Do you think people will look at us as trying to take advantage of the trial or make money off of terrible things that happened to other people?”

“Don't forget,” Lex had said, “that some pretty terrible things happened to us, too. I don't see it as taking advantage of someone else's pain, though. I see it more as celebrating that we made it and honoring those who didn't. I can tell you that if the situation was reversed, I wouldn't begrudge anyone who made it through from celebrating any way they could.”

She had looked over to see Lou nodding. “I agree. I don't see anything wrong with making music for people who can't anymore.”

“I've been wanting to finish the CD, anyway,” Victor had chimed in. “I know we've been busy, but if we wait too long to put out the next album, everyone will have forgotten that we even exist.”

“All right, all right,” Casey had replied, putting up her hands. “I see your point. Why don't we go ahead with it, then?”

The group had decided on the cover art during a discussion they'd had later that day after practice. Based on Victor's comment, Lex had suggested that they go with the album name, Not Dead Yet. All of her band mates had liked the idea, but no one had been able to agree on an appropriate cover image. One morning later that week, however, Kate had come to work with an idea based on something she'd dreamed, and had won the group over; Lex had felt it would be their best cover yet. So, before the recording session the following Saturday, all four band members had trooped up to the living room with their instruments. Working together, they had moved all the furniture to the side of the room with no windows, and Lex had held a huge white sheet that Kate has tacked to the ceiling in front of the windows, which had been brilliantly lit that late in the morning. After trying a number of poses for about an hour, they had come up with the image Kate had dreamed: sharp silhouettes of the four of them standing side by side, instruments in their right hands down by their sides. Lex remembered shivering as she'd seen it on Riss' phone, but when she’d gotten a copy of the initial packaged CD, she had still thought the image had seemed as striking as Kate had described it.

To everyone's surprise, they'd been able to finish the last two songs over the two weekends following their decision to complete it at their weekly meeting. Prior to this, Lex remembered the band usually having done a number of takes so that everyone could get all of the parts of the song just how they liked them. In this case, however, everything had seemed to flow together, requiring only a few practice takes before they had been able to record a version that everyone had seemed happy with.

They'd finished recording the last song days before Lex had spotted the first story saying a number of the lead complainants in the MSI trial also played for Alexander's Army. The trial stories had calmed down prior to that, since it still hadn't begun, but the discovery had seemed to re-energize the press. Lex had noticed them waiting outside the Special Forces building most mornings as she had arrived, and the band members all had begun having to take circuitous routes or cabs in order to lose the press before they got home.

Hoping they might be able to ride the wave of interest, Victor had worked harder to finish the mastering work for the new music. A couple of days after the story had broken, Lex had arrived home with Lou and Casey to find a note to listen to the finalized album, and instructions by the recording gear as to how to play it. Once Kate had arrived, everyone that had happened to be home had listened to the album a few times. Lex had ended up pleased as to how well it had turned out. Since everyone else had seemed to agree, she had called Victor and Riss at work to let them know. The next day, Lex had sent the final CD off to their printers with orders to send a hundred to their distributor; at the same time she had listened to Casey on the phone, asking their distributor to begin electronic distribution right away.

Towards the end of that week, Lex had heard from Casey after she'd talked to the Captain that he'd told her the case would go forward at the beginning of the following week, so she'd prepared along with the rest of her friends. This time, however, Lex reflected as she looked around the room, it seemed that the trial had indeed come to pass. To her surprise after such a long wait, it seemed as if something had begun in the courtroom. Aside from the people behind the glass in the gallery, whose numbers had continued swelling as time had passed, she could see that people had begun to assemble at the table at the end of the room, and she could also see some movement at the judge's bench as some functionaries began to appear.

Lex couldn't help glancing up at the visitors’ gallery, looking for people who seemed familiar or looked to be writing in notebooks, studying the scene. She knew a separate press room existed, but she didn't put it past the press to seed people in the audience. Although she didn't like it, she'd gotten used to reporters following her around to some extent. She and Rolf had apparently been spotted out on a date by someone the previous weekend, something they'd only been clued in to the following Monday when the press members at the front door of the Special Forces building had begun asking her different questions when she’d arrived at work.

“Ms. Mansfield, we've been hearing rumors that you and Rolf Kaiser are romantically involved. Is there any truth to this?” a man had asked her. Lex had felt her mouth fall open, and then another reporter had chimed in, asking, “Yes, are you two dating?”

Muttering, “No comment,” Lex had hustled into the building to talk to Rolf about it.

“You know, if you keep hanging around me, you might end up more famous than you are right now,” she had warned Rolf after she’d found him and explained what had happened, worried that he wouldn't like the publicity.

As he had listened, he had nodded and adjusted the blinds so that he had been able to see the reporters outside. “Yes, I guess that's true,” he had said after a moment, pulling her close and giving her a quick kiss. “It's worth the price, though.”

Lex had felt stunned when he had let her go, and she had watched as he had stepped away and out the nearby front door. She had pulled the blinds down to create enough space to see him talk to the reporters for a minute or so, hold up his hand, and then come back into the building. “What did you say?” she had asked him once he'd shut the door.

“I told them that it's true, that we are together,” he had responded, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. “I hope that's all right.”

Shrugging, Lex had moved in closer to him. “That's fine by me. I don't have any reason to hide it.”

She smiled again as she thought of it, and of the ensuing articles she'd read speculating about their relationship. It had been even more fun to read them to Rolf, until she'd gotten to one in particular. “’It was confirmed today by Rolf Kaiser, of the mysterious Bavarian Kaisers–‘”

Lex had paused as a shadow had seemed to cross Rolf's face. “Rolf?” she’d asked. “Is everything OK?” When he hadn’t answered right away, Lex had put her laptop aside. “I'm sorry, it's probably pretty silly to be reading these anyway.”

“No, Lex,” he had replied after a few seconds, pausing to clear his throat. “It's fine, you don't have anything to apologize for. It's just...we'll talk about this at some point, but I'm not ready yet. All right?”

She'd nodded then and drawn close to him, standing beside him as he had taken her hand. Aside from the stories he'd told of his grandmother, Rolf hadn't spoken about the rest of his family except in the briefest of words or in passing. She had figured that something bad had happened between them due to his reaction when she had told him of her own family. Around the time she'd started dating Rolf, Lex had summarized how it had been for her, growing up. To her surprise, Rolf had listened to everything she'd said, his face grave. He'd slipped his hand into hers sometime during her story, and after a long pause at the end, he'd wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him, whispering in her ear how sorry he had been about what had happened to her. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes as she remembered, and again she felt understood in a way she never had before, in distinct contrast to many of the other men she'd dated who'd stared at her as she'd told the story, and sometimes asked why she wasn't over it yet.

Ripping her thoughts away from that, Lex moved to stand after her friends, realizing that she must have been deeper in thought than she'd known, since she could now see they'd stood as the judge had entered the courtroom. She found her mind wandering again as an official read the preliminary information to the courtroom, summarizing the case and the charges being brought and the particulars about them as primary victim complainants, along with the country that had filed the suit in the first place.

Lex's attention snapped back to the present as the prosecutor began her opening statement, however. “Your honor, ladies and gentlemen, we are here to begin discussing a series of crimes against humanity that MSI is accused of carrying out in several countries against thousands of victims. We are still sifting through some of the documents that have been leaked from the defendant corporation, MSI, so the absolute number is not yet clear. What is clear is their grisly documentation of their experimentation on unwilling human beings of drugs so dangerous and toxic that they killed the majority of the subjects. MSI worked hard to isolate these people from any friends and family and to control their movements so that they could be observed almost all the time during the initial phase of experimentation. Once the experimentation had gone far enough, they moved to confine their unwilling subjects in their labs so that they could be observed even more closely. This corporation kept these people, who had committed no crime, under lock and key with no trial and no end date to their confinement. Many of them died, but those who lived still suffered horrible consequences.”

Lex found her hands clenched and her palms sweating. Would anyone even believe what happened? It all sounded so improbable in a safe place like Brussels, which, as Lex knew from experience, had low crime rates and many kind people, but in some parts of the world, including where she'd been from, this was reality.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the men and women you see before you at this table are some of the few who survived their ill treatment at the hands of this corporation. None of them made it through unscathed. All of them have had crimes committed against them, and some of them have been permanently changed or injured as a result. They will have their turn to testify as to their experiences so that you can learn how the officers and personnel of the MSI Corporation treated them. I'd also like to direct you to the screen on the opposite wall so that you can see the faces of some of the other people confined and experimented on by MSI. This is the only time you'll be seeing them in this courtroom, however, since all of these women and men paid the ultimate price for their treatment.”

Everyone fell silent for a moment as pictures began flashing across the screen; a blonde young man grinning at the camera came first, then a dark-haired woman with a serious face and a small, shy smile. Lex had to drop her eyes after several seconds of looking into the faces of the nameless dead.

“We live in a society where one citizen treating others in this way would be dealt with in the harshest of terms. Yet, our corporate 'citizens—and believe me, ladies and gentlemen, I am using that term as loosely as possible—our corporate 'citizens' seem to think that they can do whatever it is that they like with impunity. We will show you evidence that MSI worked to subvert the laws of the nation it originated in, the United States of America, to create, in effect, a new class of citizens. They managed to get these citizens stripped of the human rights all others take for granted, making them the forced lab rats, or slaves, of the corporation, if MSI so chose them.”

The prosecutor stopped here and looked around the room with a grave eye before she continued. “Think about that for a moment. In this day and age, in what is supposed to be a civilized society, this corporation created a class of slaves that they could exploit however they saw fit. We are prepared to show further evidence that this arrangement suited them so much that it seems they opened branches in other countries that had human rights laws slack enough for them to replicate it, or a system of laws that they could subvert to their purposes.

“As for myself, I do not believe that corporations, or anyone else, should be able to act with impunity under the eyes of the law. I trust that once we've presented all of the damning evidence that we've collected against the MSI Corporation and its employees, that they will be punished and the guilty parties will be jailed so that they can no longer harm innocent people. I think justice would demand that the entire corporation be disbanded and all of its assets liquidated so that their victims can be at least compensated somewhat for all of the horrors they have had to experience, but unfortunately that is not for me to decide. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time and attention.”

Silence reigned for several minutes following the prosecutor's last words, and the majority of the people in the room seemed to be staring at the slide show of faces still showing on the screen. Lex heard a noise to her left and looked over to see Kate crying. She reached across Derek, giving him an apologetic look, as she grabbed Kate's hand. The other woman looked at Lex as she felt her hand being touched, then looked embarrassed and swiped at her cheeks with the back of her other hand. As Lex looked down the row of chairs, she could see Lou holding Casey's hand as well. She snuck a look at Lily then, who'd been seated on her other side, and bit her lip as she noted the serious, wooden expression on her friend's face. Leaning back in her chair, Lex reached her other hand tentatively over to Lily's.

She watched her friend shift her eyes to give her a glance that told her nothing before looking away, not grasping Lex's hand but not removing her own, either. Lex could hear in the background that the defense attorneys had begun their starting statement, but she felt more concerned about her friends and more focused on them until she heard something about consent.

“...will demonstrate that the experimental subjects that MSI worked with all consented to the trials they participated in. To suggest otherwise is a defamation of the character of MSI and its governing board...”

Lex sat up straighter then, wondering if that's what they'd gone with as their defense strategy, because she knew for a fact that none of the paperwork she'd read and signed had related to participating in a clinical trial, and it had been something she'd asked about in particular, only to be told they wouldn't need to do anything like that. She made a mental note to discuss that with the prosecutor in case she hadn't mentioned it before.

When they reached the noon recess, Lex talked to one of the juniors on the prosecution team and confirmed that they could go as expected, but that they'd be called back in to court when they needed to testify. Lex caught the woman from the prosecutor's team that she'd interviewed with before they all left and said, “I don't know if I mentioned it, but I reviewed all of the paperwork when I signed on to the team. They'd included odd language that sounded something like you'd find in clinical trial consent forms, but they said nothing about experimental drugs or trials in the paperwork. When I asked about that in particular, the interviewer got nervous but specifically told me that we wouldn't be expected to do anything like that.”

Francesca nodded. “I thought I remembered you saying something along those lines. We hadn't heard anything about their strategy until today, so I look forward to gathering evidence to refute what they've said. From what I remember hearing,” she said, turning to look at Derek, “they subjected this man to their experiments when he couldn't legally consent to them anyway, being underage.”

Derek, who'd been standing nearby, nodded in response. “That's true. I think they started using the drugs on us just after I turned sixteen.”

“Sixteen,” Francesca said, nodding and making a note on the pad of paper she carried. She flattened her lips in not quite a frown for a moment as she stared at the paper, and then she continued, “Thank you. We'll be sure to go over this in detail when the both of you are called in to testify. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention.”

Lex found the rest of her friends waiting outside when she and Derek emerged from the building. That morning they'd checked out of the hotel they'd stayed in the night before and now stood ready to take the next train back to Brussels. After spending about an hour getting to the station and buying a few things to eat in the shops, Lex boarded the Brussels train between Lou and Kate, but when she stood up about fifteen minutes after the train started moving again, Lex noticed Lily had gone missing. She asked Derek, who had been sitting next to her, where she'd gone and he shook his head. “She left a few minutes ago and didn't say anything. She looked kind of upset all day,” he said, giving Lex a worried look.

“I'll try to find her,” Lex replied with a nod and a smile that she hoped would give Derek some of the confidence she didn't feel herself.

As she turned away, she could feel her expression changing to mirror the worry she'd seen on Derek's face. She walked through each train car, glancing around in a search for her friend's slight figure and long black hair, but she came up empty until she neared the end of the dining car. There she saw a window tucked behind a table and right before the door at the other end of the car, and Lily stood in front of it, motionless and almost touching the window.

Lex stepped up beside her, looking out in the same direction. “Are you all right, Lily?” she said in a quiet tone.

“It's never going to end,” Lily replied, her voice low and rushed, at odds with her quiet stillness.

“What is?” Lex asked, confused.

“They're never going to stop,” Lily said, turning to face Lex. Her eyes looked full of weariness and sadness to Lex, as if she felt something had been broken and could never be fixed. “I just know it. They didn't even have Sauer or anyone else in custody! Their lawyers said the same damned things about how what they've done is just free enterprise. It's never going to end.”

Lily stopped speaking then and turned back to the window, grabbing the edge of the frame so hard that her fingertips turned white. Lex shook her head in response. “No, that's not what's going to happen,” she said with a conviction that surprised her. Turning to look in her direction, Lily appeared surprised as well. “Sauer may not be here yet, but they're worried enough about this to send their lawyers. Even if this case isn't successful, I don't think they'll be able to keep doing what they're doing. From what I've read in the papers, their facilities are already being investigated by some of the governments in other countries, and I've even heard some of them are being picketed in the States. I don't think the ICC is going to be impressed by their 'free enterprise' rhetoric, either. The US government may be bought and paid for by corporations, but I don't think the whole rest of the world is. We may be able to get them shut down like this, but I think you have to be patient.”

“It may take years, though!” Lily said, her voice muted, but Lex could almost hear the shout Lily seemed to be muffling. “What about everyone trapped at their labs in the meantime?”

“We have abilities other people don't, that's true,” Lex responded, looking into Lily's eyes and wishing she could take away the pain that shone there. “But we can't do everything. There are some things we have to rely on other people for. It may take some time, but I think we'll be able to shut all of them down this way, so that they can't ever do this sort of thing again. Please just be patient.”

Lily fell silent then, but as Lex watched, her shoulders relaxed a fraction and she released her death grip on the window frame. When Lily's hands fell back by her sides, Lex left her in front of the window to get them both some tea. She handed a cup to Lily and rejoined her friend in front of the window a few minutes later, watching the scenery until Lily asked to go back to sit with the others.

They had all wanted to stop by home, at least to change, once they'd arrived back in Brussels, so they went there, including Derek. He stood in awe at the front doorstep, looking up at their porch and tall house, before he went inside. When Lex called in to let the Captain know that they'd arrived back and would be coming in to the office soon, he'd made a dismissive noise instead. “No need,” he'd replied. “Take the rest of the day off; I've got a few young auxiliary people in who seem like they'd like to spend the rest of the day here.”

“So, are you going to be replacing us with younger models?” she'd asked him, trying not to laugh.

He laughed in return. “I'll consider it if any of you are late tomorrow.”

“Is it all right if Derek spends the night here?”

“I think so. From what we've seen over the past few months, it doesn't seem like they're planning to pursue us any time soon, but make sure you send someone with him if he goes out, just in case.”

Casey nodded when Lex relayed the Captain’s message, but Lex paused in the kitchen doorway when she heard Casey's question. “Did you invite him over to dinner?”

She nodded in reply. “Yeah, but he said his wife would be expecting him at home. I'll call over to invite Rolf and Tamara, though, and we can fix up something nice for Victor to take to work with him.”

“Sounds like fun,” Casey replied, and Lex nodded, then just avoided bumping into Derek as she turned to go out the kitchen door.

“So, Derek,” Lex heard Casey say as she mounted the stairs, “are you ready for a good test of all the things I've taught you about cooking so far?”

She couldn't help grinning as she ran up the two flights and pulled her cell phone out of her pocket, clicking on a number out of her speed dial list. After two rings, she heard Rolf respond in his normal low tones, sounding somewhat distracted. “We're back,” Lex replied, smiling more widely.

“I thought you might be,” he replied, and then Lex could hear the sharp focus in his voice. “How did it go?”

“You'll hear a lot about it in a while,” Lex promised. “Do you want to come by our house tonight? It sounds like we're going to be putting together a real feast, and Derek will be staying over, too. I assume we'll be discussing the whole thing in great detail at dinner.”

Rolf made a considering noise, and Lex had known him long enough now to almost hear him thinking about the last bit of what she'd said, both the news about the trial and Derek. “I wouldn't miss it,” he replied after the pause, and she could hear the smile in his voice. “Can I bring anything?”

Lex laughed in response. “Just a large appetite, I think. I'm not really sure what's on the menu, but I'm sure it'll end up being fabulous, knowing that Casey's directing the madness. Just come by after work. You can shower and change here, if you want.”

“I'll be there,” he said. Still smiling to herself as she rung off, Lex started going through her closet to find something more casual to wear.

With the addition of their guests, the meal seemed even more chaotic to Lex than an average dinner for them, but Casey made sure to make everyone feel at home. Lex had been able to tell from the smell of ginger, garlic, and tamari wafting from the kitchen that Asian food seemed to be the theme of the evening, and everyone sampled the 'sushi' that Casey had made with various types of vegetables and tofu, the soup with noodles, several types of dumplings, fried rice, and a few different stir fries. Tamara and Rolf had both been over to eat before and seemed used to the routine. Derek remained quiet at first, and Lex observed him looking all around the table and listening to several of the conversations going on, but Ron seemed to adopt him and spent most of the meal asking him questions. In the middle of washing the dishes afterwards, Lex glanced up when Lily came into the kitchen, shaking her head.

“What's up?” Lex asked, worried that Lily might still be brooding about what they'd discussed earlier.

“Oh, it's just that I had trouble getting Ron to go to bed. He insisted on having 'Uncle Derek' read him a story before he'd go to sleep.” Lily looked exasperated, but Lex saw a smile on her face as well, so she figured her friend couldn't be too angry.

After she'd washed every last dish, Lex noticed a light on in the living room and poked her head in to see who'd camped out there. She smiled to see Derek reading the spines of the books on the shelf along the far wall. “Do you see anything you like?” she asked. “I'm sure we could lend you some things if you want.”

He straightened up and smiled as he looked over in her direction. “Oh, no, Ms. Lex. I was just looking to see what you have here. You have a lot of great books.”

“It comes with having a houseful of readers, I guess. The shelves here are kind of a new edition; everyone decided we needed some overflow book storage because there are a number of us who have way too many.” Lex grinned as she said that, being one of the offenders.

“You have such a wonderful house,” he said as he looked around with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. “It must be nice to live with all of your friends like this.”

“It makes me feel very lucky,” Lex replied, clearing her throat as she felt her own eyes mist over as she remembered the feeling of being alone and without a home. Blinking, she looked up and smiled at Derek, trying to distract herself from her thoughts. “Did anyone show you where you can sleep yet? Come on with me,” she said when he shook his head in the negative.

She settled him into the guest room on the second floor and talked with him as she brought out sheets and towels for him to use. As they made the bed together, Lex asked Derek, “So, does it get kind of boring around the Special Forces building on the weekends?”

He looked away, but Lex saw his frown and downcast eyes anyway. “Well, it's rarely the same people there on the weekend, so it's not always easy to find anyone who's willing to talk. Usually I just practice and read, maybe watch some TV.”

Lex sighed. “I'm sorry, that sounds dull.”

“Oh, it's all right, Ms. Lex. Everyone here has been so nice to me that I really have nothing to complain about.” Derek looked at her again and smiled gratefully. Lex couldn't help but return such an open smile, but her stomach felt like lead.

When she came out into the hallway sometime later, she saw Lily across the hall and waved to her. Crossing over to speak to her friend, Lex said, “You know, maybe we should start by seeing if we can get permission for Derek to spend the weekends here. It sounds like he gets really bored and lonely at the office then.”

She nodded. “Fine by me. Do you want to bring it up at our house meeting this weekend?”

Lex nodded in reply. “Yes, let's do that. If you bring it up, I'll support you.”

That weekend she watched her friends discuss it for a while at the house meeting, and although most everyone seemed to be in favor, a few people, Riss included, thought the Captain wouldn't approve it.

“The way I see it,” Lex said, “I think he'd mostly object to the idea of someone trying to kill Derek, like they did Riss and me. I know you all have been kind enough to continue to make sure the two of us are protected when we leave the house, so I think he might agree if we could do the same for Derek.”

“We could certainly practice more over the weekend,” Mr. Chen said, looking thoughtful. “He's coming along as a student, but another few hours a week to practice would be better. I don't mind going out with him, either, if need be.”

“He could go with Ron and me, too,” Lily said, looking over at her grandfather. “He and Ron really seemed to hit it off when he came over for dinner this week.”

“Hell, Lex, it's no burden to make sure everyone in this house is safe, and I don't think anyone here would find it any more of a burden to look after Derek like that on the weekends either. What do you think?” Casey said, glancing in Lou, Kate, and Victor's direction.

“No problem,” Lou said in a low, calm voice. Victor shook his head, agreeing with the sentiment.

“I agree,” Kate added, and Lex found herself raising an eyebrow at her friend's vehement tone. “It sounds like it really is important to get him out of the Special Forces building over the weekend if he's feeling that down about it. We may really end up liking him here, too.”

Lex watched as Kate's eyes darted in Victor's direction as she finished speaking, only to dart away when she realized he'd glanced at Kate with an odd frown. Biting back a sigh, Lex resolved to have a word with Kate once the meeting ended.

She managed to convince Kate to come up to her room once the meeting broke up, telling her friend that she'd gotten something new that she wanted Kate's opinion on. Once she closed the door, however, she put her back to it, palms on the smooth, cool wood, and faced Kate. “Kate,” she said, choosing her words with care as she thought of the best way to explain her thoughts to her friend, “I know you mean well, and that you're excited about the idea of setting those two up, but I think you've got to play it cooler than you did today! Victor was giving you funny looks.”

Kate frowned and looked at the carpet. “Yeah, I noticed. I guess I have been too enthusiastic about the whole thing. I'm just excited, though. It seems like the first time in a while that he's hit it off with someone.”

“I know, I know,” Lex replied, putting a hand on Kate's arm. “There's one thing you've got to keep in mind, though. It may not work out between the two of them. Probably one of the quickest ways for that to happen would be to interfere.”

She looked over at Kate, who sighed. “You're right, I know. Victor does seem contrary about certain things, and I'm sure if he figured I was trying to set him up with someone, he'd never go for it. I want to help, though! What do you think we could do?”

“I think we've got to let things run their normal course,” Lex said, “but I have an idea of how to throw them together more and maybe get things going. I'll talk to him about it soon and let you know what happens. In the meantime, just try to tone it down. Don't talk about Derek any more than usual; just be like you always have been with Victor. Can you do that?”

Lex looked over at Kate, who thought a moment, then nodded. “OK, I'll do that. Don't keep me waiting too long, though, or I'll die of suspense.”

Lex had intended on moving sooner, knowing Kate was anxiously waiting to see what would happen next, but several days passed before she could try her next step. She'd set her alarm that night to wake her up around the time she knew Victor and Riss would be working in the lab, but she woke up five minutes before that and got out of bed, then put on something warmer to go up to the attic. Lex approached the lab with cautious steps, then shook her head as she realized she was worrying that Victor would figure out the hidden motives to what she'd been planning to suggest. With a calming breath, she stepped into the light coming out of the lab door and peered inside.

She saw Riss and Victor both standing over one lab table where someone had a couple of vises set up in metal stands. One held one of the upper arms for Art's new body. They appeared to have completed that arm, in contrast to the other which still seemed in process, and Lex spotted several other new pieces of skeleton, like a pelvic girdle on a lab table farther down the room. The second vise held up the completed arm's wrist, keeping the arm in a straight line. Someone had added muscles to it, and Lex just stared at it for a moment, since it had no skin. As she drew closer, Riss, who'd been rubbing at her eyes, looked up.

“Lex, I'm glad you're here,” she said. “I’m going to take a break. Do you want to step in for me?”

Lex looked over, trying to figure out what had been going on, but she only saw a pair of safety glasses and what looked like needle-nose pliers. “Sure,” she said, entering the room and approaching the lab bench. “Just let me know what I need to do.”

“Victor,” Riss said, looking over at him. “I'm going to let you cover that. I just need to sit down for a while and not look at something so close.”

She left the room as Victor finished what he'd been doing, then took off his safety glasses to look over at Lex. “Come on over here and I'll explain.”

Lex stood where Riss had been minutes before, and as she did she realized that the muscled arm gleamed in the light, as if thousands of tiny hairs had grown on the muscles. Pulling her head back in surprise, she started to lean closer again until Victor's voice interrupted her thoughts. “Don't touch where the wires are sticking out,” he said, gesturing to the middle of the arm. When Lex looked at him, waiting for him to continue, he smiled. “Let me explain. Do you remember when we talked about the material I was experimenting with for the muscles, with wires shot through the body of it?”

Nodding, Lex looked back at the half-finished arm, leaning in to study the wires that poked through everywhere. “Well, as I worked with Lily and studied anatomy books, I realized how many types of material we’d need to make the different types of muscles and tendons. I wanted to start with an arm first as an experiment to prove that what I've been creating will work, mostly because an arm is an excellent example of a limb with a number of different types of muscle, many of which we'll need to use elsewhere.”

He paused to look at the arm in front of them, and Lex could almost hear him thinking about the design. “One difficulty that came to me right away was the fact that the wires go through lengthwise, so I’d need something to make them go through the layers. Another thing that I realized as I thought about that was the fact that the expensive aspect of creating this body has been the skeleton. The muscles are cheap to make in comparison—composed of recycled plastics—so I began to think about a way to set it up so that we could recover the skeleton in the event of massive failure of the outside skin, like if Art got caught in a fire.”

Lex met Victor's eye as he looked over and she nodded, well aware of the kinds of things that people like them could get involved in without even meaning to. “Chances are, if that happened, he might be able to have enough of his brain left to at least evacuate the skeleton so that we could repair the rest of his body, as long as he had a way to move it around. Titanium isn't a real great conductor, but he might be able to at least send enough of a message to move around and get back to us.”

He paused for a moment and turned back towards the arm. “So, I decided to try this. I ran test charges through each layer of the muscles to electrify the wires while I charged the wires that I'd run through whole arm with a steady charge. Once the currents synched up, the wires attracted one another, which should allow a current to run through all the layers of muscles as needed. What we're doing now is to twist the wire connections to the bones and clip them close. When we run a current through it again to test how the muscles and skin transmit movement and sensation, everything should align and we can see how well it all works. At least, that's the plan.”

Victor rubbed the back of his neck then, and as Lex looked at him, she could see a moment of weariness on his face before it disappeared behind his usual calm expression. She put on her safety goggles to watch as he demonstrated the technique, her head bobbing in surprise as she took her first look through them to find that Victor had fitted them with magnification lenses. The wires that had looked hair-like seconds before now appeared to be the thickness of a normal house electrical wire, and she marveled for a moment at how many of them she saw. “How long do you think this might take?” Lex asked, her eyes traveling over the multitude of wires waiting to be twisted and clipped. They filled the space on the arm like a crowd standing elbow to elbow, and she could see that only the first inch below the elbow and most of the fingers now seemed completed.

Letting out a breath in a way that almost sounded like a sigh, Victor replied, “I'm not sure, but I'm guessing several weeks at the rate we're going. It's hard to work on this for too long before you start to go cross-eyed, so we're not getting through it fast.”

Picking up the needle-nose pliers that Riss had left behind, Lex found herself looking at the table as she spoke again. “You know, I thought that maybe if we could convince the Captain to let Derek visit here on the weekends, that maybe he could help us with this project. That way, we could have more people to work on it when someone needs a break. I don't think we'll have trouble with him keeping the secret, and Riss said he wanted to work with you to learn more technical things.”

Lex fiddled with her safety glasses for a moment, but looked over at Victor just before she put them back on. She noted that he had a thoughtful look on his face. “That might work out well,” he replied before turning back to his work.

Dropping her head to hide her grin, Lex began work on the other end of the arm, near the elbow. It just might work out well, she found herself thinking as she twisted her first wires together.

Forward to Chapter 47
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