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Chapter 5: Beginnings
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes: Warnings for this chapter - Angst, references to sexual activity, child abuse flashbacks

Big hugs to my wonderful editor gwoman for her work on this chapter!

Back to Chapter 4

When the alarm rang the next morning Lex looked at it for a moment and then closed her eyes to go back to sleep, but as she started drifting off, Kurt kissed her. “Hey, sleepyhead, you have to get up this morning, too! Don’t forget this is the first day of your new job.”

She groaned and rolled over, trying to adjust to the idea of being awake since she’d never functioned that well in the morning. Lex finally dragged herself out of bed as Kurt went to take his shower. Picking out some jeans, her workout sneakers, and one of her favorite t-shirts, she laid them out for later. Heading to the kitchen, she started water for tea, turned on the coffeemaker for Kurt, and put bagels in the toaster. As she finished that, Kurt came out of the bathroom, showered and cheerful. She sighed, feeling a bit forlorn in comparison.

“It’s all yours,” he said with a grin. Lex felt tired enough that she couldn’t even get up the enthusiasm to appreciate his towel-clad ass disappearing into the bedroom. Sighing again, she went to take a shower as well.

Lex felt a little more energetic afterwards but not perky by any measure. She ran a hand across the mirror to clear away some of the fog and looked at herself while she re-wrapped her hand in a clean gauze bandage and blew her hair dry enough to look presentable, then she went to dress. After putting on her outfit, Lex quickly finished her packing and then set her backpack, travel bag, and purse on the end of the couch nearest the door. The sight of her bags ready to go caused an odd lurch in her chest, but she tried to ignore it as she went back into the kitchen, where Kurt greeted her with a smile.

Lex returned it a little wearily and breathed in the bracing scent of morning coffee as she poured herself a cup of tea. While she had breakfast, she looked across the table at her fiancé. “Do you think I made the right choice?”

“Of course,” he replied with another smile. “It sounds like it’ll be a great job for you.”

“You’re not upset about me having to be away?”

“Well I’d prefer it if you could be here, but I know you’ve been looking for a job for a while, and this seems like a really good one.”

“Thanks for supporting me in this,” Lex said, smiling in earnest now, mostly because she thought Kurt sounded like someone trying to talk up a job to her in an interview. She shook her head at the strange idea that Kurt would try to sell the idea of employment to her as she finished savoring her bagel, happy that there’d been some blueberry ones left.

When she and Kurt walked to the metro together a while later, Lex kept trying to think of a way to talk to him about something real, something that would sustain her for the next two weeks, but she found she didn’t know what to say. Instead, she smiled as he talked about work and tried to keep the sadness out of her face. As they got just past the turnstile, Kurt handed Lex her travel bag so they could go to opposite sides of the station. Kurt’s way led downtown and Lex was headed into the worse neighborhoods in the opposite direction. She kissed his cheek, her voice now stuck in her throat, and watched his backwards wave as he went down the escalator.

As she made her way to her own platform, Lex heard the distinctive braking noise that meant Kurt’s train had arrived. She watched as he hurried down the escalator until the train blocked her view of him. Once she stood on her own platform, Lex looked over to see Kurt’s train pull out. The station seemed suddenly empty, despite the commuter crowd all around. Lex sighed and opened her backpack, pulling out a favorite detective novel that she’d read many times. She buried herself in it again, feeling her shoulders relax a little as the familiar passages and words appeared in front of her eyes. Lex barely noticed the train ride to the M Agency stop, and felt a little sorry that she had to stop reading when they arrived.

When she arrived at “headquarters” (as Lex reminded herself with a mental smile), she noticed that the huge puddle of paint on the sidewalk had dried completely, probably due to the heat. She pressed the front door buzzer a bit nervously as she glanced briefly upwards in memory of when she'd been there before, but she only spotted a fairly cloudless blue sky that already looked a bit faded, seeming to foreshadow the heat of the day to come.

The door slid open more quickly this time and Casey stood there smiling, dressed simply in blue bike shorts and a yellow t-shirt, her gold hair pulled into a ponytail. “Welcome back, Lex. I told you I knew you’d get the offer.”

For some reason, Lex felt a little lump in her throat at what Casey had said. She smiled a little sheepishly in return. “I know, I just didn’t believe you. Thanks for being here to let me in.”

“No problem. When anyone first gets here, they’re paired up with a buddy. So I volunteered to be yours,” the blonde added.

Lex smiled, feeling truly happy as she walked inside. “Thanks, I’m glad to hear it.”

The other woman just grinned in return as she slid the door shut.

“Where should I put my stuff?” Lex asked, gesturing with her travel bag.

“That’s probably where we should start,” Casey replied. “There are a couple of empty rooms you could pick from. I asked about them, and found you can take any one you like. Let’s go upstairs and I’ll show you what’s available.”

They took the set of stairs to the right. Once up to the second level, Casey gestured down the hall to the left. “Most of the rooms are full back there; you saw the conference room, and there’s a situation room right next to it. Riss lives across the hall from that, next to the computer room, and past that are Lily’s and Joan’s rooms. Straight ahead here is my room, and there are empty ones to the right and left of it. There’s also a room available on the other side of the hall, but I can’t say I’d recommend it.”

Lex glanced up at her with a look of puzzlement. “Is there something wrong with it?”

Casey sighed. “I don’t think so, but the placement probably isn’t good. You’d be right next to Serena.” She paused and scratched the back of her head, looking embarrassed. “She can be…loud sometimes at night.”

Lex made a thoughtful noise, trying not to crack a grin and thinking that she’d take Casey's word for it. “Could I look at the open rooms?”

“Sure, they’re not locked.”

Lex went into the one to the left of Casey’s room. It was clean but had a slight stale smell as if it had been closed up too long. The room currently had no furniture in it, which showed off the wall of windows along the back that reached from floor to ceiling. The room also contained a small bathroom with a sizeable closet opposite it. When Lex peeked into the bathroom she noted a standing shower stall, commode, and sink. She came back into the hall outside and peeked into the room to the right. It looked much the same as the other room but had a slightly nicer view over the water to the buildings beyond. Lex smiled and called out to Casey.

“I think I’ll take this one,” she said, putting her bags in the closet and closing the closet door. “How can I get some furniture in here?”

Casey handed Lex a piece of paper. “Write down what you want. If we can get this list to the shoppers before lunch, they should be able to get everything by the end of the day.”

Lex took the paper and began thinking, her gaze mapping out the space in the room. “Can we include electronics on the list?”

“Whatever you want. All of us have all different stuff in our rooms; I've never heard that there are any restrictions”

“Does this come out of our pay?”

Casey took a moment to respond as she turned from looking out at the view. “Oh, we each have a weekly limit before what we request comes out of our pay. I think it’s a thousand a week in general, but it’s different the first couple of weeks you get here. I think that limit is ten thousand so that you can get set up.”

Lex’s jaw dropped open. “Are you serious?”

Casey nodded. “When I asked about it, I was told that it’s because we have to be here pretty much all the time. I don’t think it bugs Sauer at all, though; he seems to be really loaded.”

Lex rocked backwards on her heels and then started to write. Her list included a double futon mattress and frame, bed pillows, a couple of bed sheet sets, comforters, a clock radio, a few small tables and lamps, a desk and office chair, laptop with basic software loaded, drapes, a TV and DVD player, a loveseat and some chairs, and a collection of towels, everything in greens and blues. Lex thought a moment to see if she’d forgotten anything, but realized if she had, she could just ask for it the following day. She handed the page to Casey, who laughed.

“Well, that didn’t take long!” The blonde read the list and grinned. “It’s going to look really nice in here when you get everything set up. So, are you all ready to finish your paperwork?”

Lex almost nodded, but then had a different thought. “Is there any way I could get some tea first?”

“Let’s go to the kitchen,” Casey replied with a nod. “That’s probably good, anyway, because I can explain the rules while we’re there.”

When the two arrived back in the big kitchen on the first floor, Casey turned on the tea kettle while Lex looked at a large selection of interesting and eclectic teas. “Pretty much everything here is fair game,” Casey said, continuing their conversation. “With that said, we all realize that there are some things that unspokenly ‘belong’ to someone…“

Casey had broken off to open the huge freezer and pull something out. She turned to face Lex with a container of chocolate chocolate chip ice cream in her hand. “For example, I wouldn’t recommend you eat much of this if you value your life, or at least your ears. This is Serena’s favorite, and if she’s in a bad mood and it’s gone, we’re all likely to hear about it.”

She replaced the carton and continued. “Anyway, other than that, feel free to eat what you see. If anyone orders something special that they need for a recipe or something, they can put their name on it with one of these sticky notes,” Casey said, tapping a note holder on the refrigerator door that also had a pen in it. “Cleanup is on your own. We have a big dishwasher, so usually all you need to do is rinse stuff and put it in there. If it’s full, please run it; the soap is under the sink. If it’s clean, please empty it.”

Lex, meanwhile, had picked out a nice-smelling English breakfast tea and poured near-boiling water over it into a large mug. The bracing scent coming from the cup made her smile. “Is that it?” Lex asked after a moment, surprised that Casey had stopped.

“Pretty much. We all keep fairly separate schedules here, so we usually make our own meals. Oh, one more thing,” Casey said, pointing to a pad of paper near the door. “The list for the shoppers is here. Just make a section with your name and list your items if you want any food that’s not already here.”

“OK, thanks,” Lex replied, putting a spoonful of sugar into her tea. “I’ll have to look at that later, I guess.”

Casey shrugged. “Don’t worry about it now. If you like, you can join me for dinner tonight so you don’t have to think about it.”

“I’d like that.”

“Good. All right, let me take you downstairs. Clara should be waiting,” Casey said with a smirk.

Lex looked at her curiously for a moment but decided not to ask. Whatever problem exists between Clara and Casey is between them, she thought. She followed the blonde straight out of the kitchen, past the staircases, up to the far wall of the building and went through a door to follow a staircase down. They descended two flights of stairs and then came out onto a hallway with a number of doors on either side, the setup reminding her of being back in school, since she could see classroom-style setups through the windows in the top of the doors that she passed. Lex followed Casey two doors down to the left and peered inside as the blonde opened the door.

“I think this is where she said she’d be,” Casey continued.

They saw Clara inside, sitting on the edge of a large desk at the front of the room. The rest of the room had been set up like a classroom, with rows of smaller desks facing the large one in front. Clara seemed to have been watching the door and glared at Casey with some irritation.

“I thought that I told you that Lex was to be brought straight down here as soon as she arrived,” Clara barked, continuing to stare at Casey.

“Come on, Clara,” Casey replied with a shrug, “Lex at least needed to put her stuff down and get herself situated here. How do you think you’d feel if you arrived at your new place and weren’t even allowed a few minutes to make yourself feel comfortable?”

Clara continued to glare at Casey for another few seconds before breaking it off to look at Lex. “Welcome back. Why don’t you take a seat over there? The packet you were reading yesterday is in the envelope.”

Clara had gestured to one of the desks in the front row, so Lex sat there. She pulled out the papers and found the five stacks she’d been reviewing the previous day, and felt pretty confident that they were the same papers when she noticed a stray pen mark she remembered having accidentally made on one of the sheets.

“Hey,” Casey’s voice sounded out again. Lex lifted her head to look at the woman, and Clara did, too, with a bit of a scowl. “If you’re still here by lunchtime, do you want me to bring you a sandwich or something?” Casey asked.

Lex smiled. “That would be great.”

“OK, I’ll check on you around noon time, then.” Casey waved over her shoulder as she went out the door.

Clara shook her head at the retreating figure before turning back to Lex. “All right, let’s go over your questions.” Lex found herself shooting Clara a surreptitious glance before beginning, due to the woman’s almost nervous tone. Along with reading on the train ride over, Lex had thought over this question and answer session, and realized that if she was going to be asking these questions to Clara that she’d probably have to pay close attention to the woman’s reactions, since she seemed professional enough to mask most of what she didn’t want to show.

“I do have a few of them,” Lex said as she brought out her notes from the previous day and tried to decide where to start first. “OK, I noticed that in the Probationary Period and Reassessment sections, I read language about being found ‘lacking’ during those times, but with no real explanation of what that meant. Could you elaborate?”

Clara looked surprised for an instant, as if she’d bitten into a hot pepper, before the professional look she usually kept slid over her face like a mask. “Well, you probably know that we’re searching for certain types of people for this team. We do extensive testing and training during the probationary period, as well as throughout your time on the team. If your abilities are not as expected, it may be grounds to drop you, which is what we’re getting at here.”

“Abilities? Such as?”

“Well, for instance, you probably remember from your interview with Mr. Sauer that he took great interest in your martial arts skills. If we found out that our expectations of you outpaced what you could actually offer, it could be grounds to drop you from the team.”

“But I already mentioned that I’m not going to be as practiced as I was when I was younger, or as much as someone who has hours every day to work on it. Does that mean you plan to drop me later on? If so, we should probably just keep it short and get it over with now.” Lex found herself watching Clara closely as she asked each question, looking for the slightest change in expression as a clue to what the woman actually meant but would never say.

Clara appeared annoyed and a little confused. “No, we understand all of that. In your case, we know that it may take some time for you to get back to where you were before, and I understand that we’re planning to teach you some new things, as well. As long as we have a clear idea of the situation we’re going into, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

“So, does this have something to do with potential as well as what I can already do?” Lex asked, still not sure exactly what would be expected of her.

“Exactly,” said Clara, nodding. “That has a lot to do with it. We realize that we may have to do a lot of training and practicing to get people to the level we eventually want them to be at, but as long as you keep up with the regimen we agree on, that’s usually all that’s needed to stay on the team.”

“Well, what is it you’re expecting me to become?”

Clara looked at her with a puzzled expression. “A better martial artist, of course. But, when we do more testing, we’ll be able to get a full look at your potential, so maybe we can start growing you in other areas.”

“So what would that mean as far as the team’s duties? I saw some examples, but I can’t think how I would be able to do anything to help with law enforcement or national security. I don’t have any training like that currently, so I’m hard pressed to understand how I might be able to help.”

“Those were really just examples of things the team might be called to do. Since our abilities as a team are logged into databases that law enforcement agencies across the country can access, when they have a need for people who can do something extraordinary, they call us. We have been able to help out in a number of instances.”

“Extraordinary? In what way?” Lex asked, her eyes narrowing. She felt a little beat of excitement as she asked. Maybe I’m onto something, now.

In contrast, Clara suddenly looked uncomfortable. “Well, in the different abilities we can offer. As a team, we can offer a number of special things that regular law enforcement doesn’t necessarily.”

Lex sighed. “That doesn’t really tell me anything. What could we offer that normal police couldn’t? Why would we be special?”

Clara stared at her, seemingly annoyed. “You’ll find out more as you become a full member of the team. You’ll discover that your team members can do things that ordinary people can’t. We think you can, as well.”

“What do you mean? Anyone can learn martial arts.”

Now it was Clara’s turn to narrow her eyes as if calculating Lex’s response. “Yes, but they can’t always learn them as fast as you did. And you burnt up the tournament circuit while you were in it.”

Some of Lex’s young life flashed before her eyes and she saw herself fighting opponents at matches, terrified to lose because of the beatings she’d get once she got home. She made a sound of distress and confusion in the back of her throat in response, thrown off balance by Clara’s reference and not understanding how the woman would even know what she’d done as a child. It took her another few moments to regroup, so she looked at her notes as she did, finally finding a new thread to follow.

“I guess that pretty much answers my questions about that. I also wanted to ask about the fact that my responsibilities will be determined over the first six months. Would this include anything I really didn’t want to or couldn’t do? Is this something that we can negotiate until we all agree on the details?”

Clara nodded, obviously relieved to be away from their previous topic. “Yes. Sometime near the end of the probation period we’ll go over with you in detail the things we expect you to work on for the team, and we can work the expectations over until we are all in agreement.”

Scanning her list to find her next question, Lex continued. “I also noticed a transfer clause in the paperwork that kicks in after your first three years with the team. Do people get transferred from this team often? Why would it happen?”

Clara shrugged. “Well, I don’t think anyone has been transferred off of this team for the past five years I’ve been working here. I’d have to look at past records to see if anyone ever transferred to somewhere else. At any rate, I don’t think it’s a strong possibility; we screen our candidates here very thoroughly, and the people we choose generally fit into the team well enough that to remove them would be disruptive.

“As far as why someone might get transferred, as you probably read, there are teams like this one across the country. All team members’ abilities are entered into a central database. The sponsors of the other teams can then request a transfer after a team member’s initial three years if they think the team member’s talents would fit into their team well.”

“I understand the team and sponsors have to agree on the transfer, as well as the person up for the transfer,” Lex replied. “I can tell you right now that this area is my home, and I don’t want to leave. I’d want to quit the team before transferring, but I understand I can’t unless the team and sponsors agree to that, too.”

Clara shrugged again. “I figured that would be your response, but I don’t see there being a high probability that anyone would request a transfer for you. In general, requests aren’t common, and like I said, I haven’t ever known anyone to be transferred off of this team or to want to quit. At any rate, three years is a long time away, so it’s probably not worth worrying about now.”

Lex nodded, mentally noting that Clara hadn’t directly addressed her comment about the requirements for leaving the team. “True, but I wanted to get my feelings on the table, so you know where I stand.”

Clara nodded in return, looking Lex in the eye. “Understood. What else do you have?”

Glancing at her notes, Lex next asked, “Who is the Confidentiality Officer?”

“I am,” Clara answered.

Lex lifted an eyebrow, surprised but now thinking she should have anticipated that answer. “Good. I have some questions about your Confidentiality Agreement. After reading that you could be jailed, probably forever, or killed if you release confidential information about this team, I have to say I’m not comfortable with the idea. Have these penalties ever been enforced against anyone? What if someone makes a genuine mistake?”

Clara sighed. “Really, the penalties laid out are just to underscore the seriousness of what we’re doing here, and what the outcome could be if someone maliciously let out confidential information about the team. If that happened, you or your teammates could die or be terribly injured on assignment if the wrong information got to the wrong people. My general guidelines to you are to keep secret all information about the agency, your teammates’ abilities, the entire team’s resources in general, and any testing, training, or treatment regimen prescribed to you. As long as you stick to those guidelines, you shouldn’t get into trouble.”

She paused for a moment then, studying Lex’s expression as if trying to determine whether to continue. “I don’t know of any time the penalties have been enforced against anyone. I do know that there have been a number of times that people have been given warnings on various teams for revealing secret information. So, you won’t be hit with severe penalties right away; you will be given further guidance about what to keep secret. This is to cover the genuine mistakes you asked about. Anyway, I don’t see it as too different than some of the other requirements for secret or top secret positions in the DC area, and perhaps better than some. Does that answer your questions?”

Lex shrugged. “I guess. The whole idea makes me feel nervous, though.”

“You’ll get used to it,” Clara said with a nod. “I think it’s like any other change: you just need time to adjust. If you have any more confidentiality questions, feel free to ask me anytime,” she finished, handing Lex a card.

Lex looked at it; the card had the initials “MSI” and an address, followed by Clara’s name and a telephone number. Filing it in her notebook, Lex continued to review her notes.

“OK, thanks,” she said with a nod in reply. “Next, I wanted to ask about the section called Testing Informed Consent. I have to say it looked a lot like some of the Informed Consent documents I reviewed during my time at the NIH, like something that medical trial participants would read and sign if they wanted to be in a drug study. Are we expected to participate in things like that here?”

There was a flash of a look in Clara’s eyes that Lex couldn’t get a good handle on before her work expression replaced it. Fear? Anger? A feeling of being caught? Lex mentally filed that away as she sipped her English breakfast tea and listened to Clara’s response.

“No, not really. The section is in the contract since sometimes the tests we do here to determine abilities or mark progress are still new and haven’t been used much on humans. Of course, we wouldn’t knowingly do anything to put our people in danger, so we believe all the tests to be safe. But we allow each team member to opt out of any tests we run if they are uncomfortable with them.”

Lex nodded evenly, watching for Clara’s reactions carefully. “I had one more question about this section. It goes into some detail about the physicians here perhaps prescribing treatments based on the tests run. Why would treatments be prescribed, and are we free to refuse any that we find objectionable?”

Clara’s expression didn’t change this time; Lex figured that she’d probably determined where the trail of questions might lead next. “Due to the special tests that are run here, sometimes the physicians are able to detect problems that a trip to your ordinary doctor might not uncover. The physicians here are very good at devising curative or preventive regimens to help treat any issues they might detect.”

Lex nodded again and continued. “But even with that, would we be free to refuse any treatments prescribed for us if we felt uncomfortable with them?”

Clara sighed. “Of course you’d be free to do that. As a representative of the sponsor of the team, however, I would add that we strongly recommend that all team members take treatments prescribed for them by the physicians who see them. The doctors who will work with you here are among the world’s best, and they only have your best interests in mind when they create treatment regimens for you.”

“OK, I’ll definitely keep that in mind if the subject comes up,” Lex answered as she studied Clara for a moment before glancing at her notes again. “I did have another question relating to medical treatment. I noticed that one of the benefits is fully covered medical treatment for the rest of our lives, which I definitely approve of. But I did wonder why we have to come here or to another agency’s medical facilities to get treatment. What if you’re far away or you have a life-threatening emergency? Can you still get treatment under this agreement?”

Clara looked at Lex closely again, as if trying to discern something. “Yes, you certainly can get any type of treatment you need under this agreement. However, due to some of the extraordinary capabilities you and your teammates possess, we want you to be treated by our physicians, who have access to your medical history and know any prior problems you might have. Some of your teammates also have differences in their physiology that regular physicians wouldn’t know how to handle. So, if there is a medical emergency, we’d tell you to go to the nearest hospital, but the instructions those physicians will receive for your care will be to stabilize you so that you can travel to our facilities for treatment. We’ll provide transportation for you to our medical facilities as well, if need be.”

“All right,” Lex replied, studying Clara’s face again and considering asking some more questions about the physiological differences she’d mentioned, but ultimately deciding against it, since Lex took from the closed look on the woman’s face that she wouldn’t be carelessly giving any more information away today. “Just one more thing. I noted the on-call rules, but it didn’t say whether there are penalties if you aren’t available or are late when on call. Are there any?”

Clara shrugged. “No. It really hasn’t been an issue up until this point, so we haven’t had a reason to think of any. Should it be a problem for you?”

Lex shook her head. “No, it shouldn’t be an issue; I just wondered, with the Washington traffic and transit systems being what they are.”

Clara nodded again, looking at Lex with a wary expression, as if she saw a scorpion about to strike. “You read the paperwork thoroughly, didn’t you?”

Lex shrugged this time. “I had a set number of hours to review the contract, so I didn’t get to read all of it yesterday, but I studied the points that seemed to be most important as thoroughly as I could.”

“The team hasn’t ever had a good strategist. I think I’ll recommend we consider that as a potential responsibility for you.”

Lex gave Clara a curious look at that comment before realizing she’d intended to ask something else. “One last thing…can I get a copy of the contract?”

Clara nodded. “Yes, but it can’t leave this building. Once you’re done reading and signing everything, please put it back in the packet and leave it in this room. After you’ve finished, we’d like you to change into workout clothes and report to the medical wing. Casey can show you down there when you’re ready. Was there anything else?”

“No. Thanks for answering my questions,” Lex replied just before Clara nodded, then turned to leave. Lex wondered if the look of relief she’d seen in the woman’s eyes only existed in her imagination.

Sighing, Lex turned back to the stacks of papers in front of her. After quickly signing everything she’d read the previous day, since she hadn’t heard anything yet to make her change her mind, Lex consulted her notes, identified which sections she hadn’t read yet, and started to work. Later, while deep into the finer points of the Rules of the Team, Lex heard the door in front of the room bang open and straightened in her chair.

“Ready for lunch?” Casey asked with a smile. “I can bring some down here, or you can take a break and come up, if you like.”

Lex shook her head to clear it. “My mind is spinning. Let me finish the page I’m in the middle of, and then I’ll join you. Where will you be?”

“Well, I was going to eat in the kitchen, unless you prefer eating outside.”

“Has it cooled down any?”

Casey laughed. “No. It’s supposed to be a high over 100 today and humid, but it already feels hotter than that. I can’t say I’d recommend lunch outside in that sort of heat because sometimes funny smells come up off the water.”

Lex grimaced and then smiled in amusement. “Sounds appetizing, but how about I just meet you in the kitchen?”

“You’re on. See you in a few,” responded Casey as she went back through the door.

Lex sighed again, finally noticing now that she’d been left alone that the air in the room smelled as stale as the air in her new bedroom had. Eventually she caught back up with the sentence she’d been reading and finished the page minutes later. She stood up as her stomach growled. “All right, all right,” Lex muttered, looking down at her talkative middle, and headed for the kitchen.

Casey had begun eating and sat at the middle of three stools along the right side of the kitchen island as Lex walked in, smelling something delicious. The blonde looked up when Lex entered the room, smiled, and finished her bite of food. “I made a salad, and there’s pita and hummus to go along with it. Take as much as you like.”

She’d made a large bowl of salad with some type of grain and tomatoes, peppers, olives, carrots, peas, and small blocks of browned tofu. Lex served some up and took a warmed pita. She sat across the island from Casey and started to eat, thoroughly enjoying the nutty, fresh taste of the salad and the garlicky bite of the hummus.

“This is great! What’s the grain in the salad, though? I don’t recognize it.”

“It’s quinoa, one of my favorites because it cooks so quickly and it’s delicious,” Casey replied, looking pleased at Lex’s compliment.

“Well, thanks for taking the time to make enough to share, and for helping me feel so welcome.”

“Ah, it’s nothing,” Casey said, waving a hand, but Lex thought she detected a slight blush on her face.

After eating in silence for a little while, Casey turned to Lex and asked, “So, how did it go with Clara? She can be a little stiff; I hope it wasn’t too boring.”

Lex lifted an eyebrow and shook her head while swallowing a bite of salad. “No, I can say it was anything but boring. I had a lot of questions after reading the paperwork they sent to me, and I went through them all with her. I figured that once I joined the team the secrecy would end, but there were a lot of things she still didn’t want to tell me about.”

Casey shrugged. “I wouldn’t doubt it. There are a few subjects she’s always been pretty secretive about, and I’m not sure why. Maybe that’s the way she is.”

Lex tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. “Maybe. I just felt like she had some weird reactions when I asked her what I thought were simple questions about the contract, though. What did she tell you when you filled out your paperwork?”

“I didn’t have many real questions when I got here. I transferred in from another team, so it was pretty minimal.”

Lex looked at her hard for a moment. “You transferred in? From where?”

Casey shot Lex a look of surprise, then looked away. “Let’s talk more about this later. I’ll explain it all to you then.”

“OK,” said Lex, confused but willing to wait for a response. It didn’t sound like Casey wouldn’t tell her what she wanted to know but that there was some reason not to cover the subject here and now.

Casey continued after a moment. “When I first joined up, though, I don’t think I had many questions about the paperwork. I tried reading it, but since they don’t give you much time, I just read the highlights and signed it.”

“Well, after I asked all my questions, Clara said that she’d put in a word to see if team strategist could be assigned as one of my responsibilities.” Lex gave Casey a curious look then, interested to see what the other woman thought.

“Oh, that’s Clara, all right,” Casey laughed and then took a bite of pita and hummus.

Lex continued eating for a while, trying to decide how to approach Casey to ask what her “extraordinary abilities” might be. Finally, she figured a direct approach would be easiest and took a deep breath before she spoke. “Casey, while Clara and I talked, she told me that the people on this team have, uh, abilities other people don’t.”

Casey nodded in response. “Yes, that’s pretty much true.”

“So, what’s yours?” Lex asked quickly, curiosity getting the better of her.

Casey looked at Lex for a moment, and then laughed. “I guess you could say I’m extraordinarily dense.”

Lex could feel a confused look forming on her face as Casey laughed some more. Finally, she shook her head. “Sorry, just a joke that probably only I would find funny. OK, try touching your own arm and making the skin indent.”

Doing so while wondering why, Lex moved the skin with a light touch of her index finger.

“Here,” Casey continued, holding her arm out to Lex, “try to make a dent in my skin.”

Lex touched Casey’s arm lightly. The blonde’s skin felt warm and smooth, like anyone else’s, but it also felt as solid as the table under Lex’s other hand. One finger made no impression, even when pushed harder, and neither did her whole hand when she tried a strong grab around Casey’s arm. Only when Lex gave the woman’s arm a punch, not the hardest she could manage but a solid one, could she find any give in the skin. Lex’s hand ached a little afterwards with the feeling of having hit something hard.

“Holy crap,” Lex said, shaking her head. “That is extraordinary. I don’t even know what to ask. Has your skin always been like this?”

Casey shrugged again. “It’s not just my skin, though. The doctors here tell me that my whole body is like this. I guess I only really noticed as I got older, since I weighed a lot more than the other girls my age even though I wasn’t that much taller than them at first. As a result of that, I’m a lot stronger than the average person. Also, it seems like I’ve gotten even stronger since I joined the team and began training a lot.”

Lex didn’t know what to say for a few moments. Finally, she just blurted out, “That’s really amazing. I don’t know what the hell I could do that could compare to that.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it at this point,” Casey replied. “They seem to have an eye for talent here. I haven’t seen that they’ve had to turn away anyone they’ve chosen the whole time I’ve been here, and they’ve managed to pick some pretty amazing people.”

“Really? What can everyone else do?”

“I can’t tell you.”

Lex felt her eyebrows knit themselves together, reflecting her puzzlement. “Why not?”

Casey smiled. “Our tradition has always been that if you want to know what someone’s special talents are, you have to ask them. Also, for some of the things people here can do…well, I don’t even know if I could describe their abilities, so it probably would be better to ask them.”

“OK, I guess I’ll do that. I just don’t see why they would have chosen me to work with all of you. They keep telling me they want me to apply my martial arts, but that doesn’t sound very extraordinary to me. Anyone can learn martial arts.”

“Yes, but not everyone can learn to move the way you did the other day,” Casey replied, looking at her seriously. “Which reminds me, I still haven’t seen what you can do, aside from your dodging-paint-buckets special move. When can I get a demonstration?”

Lex laughed. “Well, that wasn’t a good example anyway, since I couldn’t move my legs freely. I’d be glad to give you a demo tonight after dinner, but I’ll need some time beforehand to set my bed up so I have somewhere to sleep tonight.”

“Not a problem,” Casey responded. “I’ll help you and then I’ll watch you show off what you can do.”

Putting a finger to her lip, Lex asked, “That reminds me—how do we get laundry done here? I just realized that I’ll need to get my new sheets and towels washed for tonight.”

“Pretty easy,” said Casey as she surveyed the mostly empty lunch dishes. “Are you done eating? We can go upstairs and see what’s arrived so far and I can show you what to do.”

“Sounds good. I’m done,” Lex replied as got up and crossed the kitchen to rinse her tableware at the sink and put it into the dishwasher nearby.

When they got to Lex’s room, they found that some of the things she’d requested had arrived, including the sheets and towels.

“Good,” Casey said, reaching into the closet near the front door for something. “Here it is.”

She pulled out a big green laundry bag and held it open for Lex to put all of the sheets and towels in.

“OK,” she continued, “just put whatever you need washed in here and leave it outside your door. People come to check for laundry periodically, so you should have your stuff back by the end of the day.”

“Thanks! Why is mine green, though?” Lex asked after noting a light blue laundry bag sitting outside Serena’s door as she poked her head outside when she dropped her own bag in the hall.

Casey smiled. “Oh, you’ll see once you get your uniforms, but it’s going to be your call color.”

“Call color?” Lex squinted up at the blonde with a skeptical look.

“Yes. When we go out on jobs, and talk to each other by communicator, our sponsors say we need to use something short and distinctive. I don’t know why, but they decided to go with eye colors. So, I’m Blue, Riss is Brown, and you’re Green. Since we have a couple of repeats, they call Serena Ice because she’s got light blue eyes, Lily is Black since she has dark brown eyes, and Joan is called Gold since her eyes are light brown. Really, I don’t know why they bothered, though, because we usually just call each other by first name.”

“Hmmm. OK.” Lex looked at the floor, trying to stifle her urge to laugh.

Casey shook her head and laughed. “I know; you don’t have to tell me. It’s pretty silly. Anyway, what did Clara say was next for you today?”

“That’s right! She told me you could show me to the medical wing once I’m done reading and signing paperwork. Where will you be?”

“I’ll be on the fourth floor down, which is mostly the weight room. Can you meet me there, and I’ll take you to medical when you’re ready?”

“Sure. I’d like to check out the lifting facilities here, anyway.”

“Good,” Casey responded, then snapped her fingers. “Oh! I almost forgot.” She moved from where they’d been standing near the door and rummaged through some of the things that had been put on Lex’s new desk and came up with something on a ribbon. As Casey walked back towards her, Lex realized that it was a keycard.

“Here’s your new badge,” Casey said, handing it to Lex. “This should get you through all of the doors you’ll need. There will be some that it can’t open, so you can figure those are the ones our sponsors don’t want you to get into.”

“Thanks, Casey,” Lex responded with a smile. “I think I’m going to get changed into my workout gear before I go back downstairs, since Clara told me I’d need it when I go to the medical wing.”

“All right. Remember, I’ll be two floors underneath the one you’re filling out paperwork on,” Casey said, moving into the hallway.

“Thanks. See you in a while,” Lex replied before shutting her door.

She picked out some sweatpants and a sports bra, but kept the shirt she’d been wearing, a black t-shirt with a picture of a man on the front. He had spiky red hair and bright green eyes and stood with his arms across his chest, sand leaking from a big gourd on his back to cover part of the rest of the shirt in beige swirls. Finally, she put on sneakers and headed back downstairs to finish her paperwork.

The empty classroom seemed oddly quiet, and Lex let out a sigh as she sat back down at the desk containing her paperwork and continued reading and signing. She felt bored at first but soon got absorbed in the task, only stopping to consider the situation again when her pen hovered over the last blank space to be signed in the document.

At that moment, Lex found herself hesitating. Her mind traveled backwards, thinking about what work had meant in her life, all the way back to the first crappy fast food job she’d gotten the moment she’d turned sixteen. It had been one of the things she and her father had argued violently over, but still something that she’d felt good about. Her job had helped her to pay the rent when her father kicked her out not long after she’d gotten it. Work had allowed her to be independent in her life and to support herself, since she knew she had no other home to go back to. Lex sat very still and considered for a while, wondering if she’d made the right choice.

She closed her eyes for a few seconds, trying to think. The darkness soothed her, and she just breathed deeply for a few moments. As she opened her eyes, an image came to her of her uncle sitting beside her on the riverbank, smiling.

Lex realized then that she’d already accepted this future; the final step would be to finish the contract. Straightening up, she signed her name with a flourish and packed all the paperwork back into the envelope, sealing it this time. She went out of the classroom without looking back.

Continue to Chapter 6

Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!

For anyone who's been reading this and liking it, if you'd like to help me promote the story by reviewing it, please go to my Muse's Success or Web Fiction Guide pages. If you're the shy type, you could simply go to those pages and choose to rate the listing (although I think you may need to create an account for that), or you could simply vote for Super on Top Web Fiction. At any rate, thanks so much to all who've been reading so far - there's much more to come!

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Liked the way you described her interaction with Kurt and her feelings at the beginning. The question and answer session with Clara was interesting in terms of how Lex's was thinking about things as well as the things we and Lex are learning about the organisation and team in general. Casey's ability is really interesting and I'm looking forward to getting to know more about the other team members and their background. =)

Thanks for that...that part was definitely one of the most difficult as far as what Lex was feeling was concerned, so I'm glad you liked how it came out.

I'm also happy you found the Q&A session interesting...as I wrote it, I almost thought of it as a game of chess between Lex and Clara because of what's said as well as what Clara is also not going to reveal. More on that as we go forward...

Definitely more about all of Lex's team members abilities as the story progresses! I think you'll find what the rest of them can do equally as interesting, and their stories, as well.

While I'm responding, I wanted to add a big thank you for reading and commenting on my posts so often. I can't adequately describe to you what a big boost it gives to me, but I wanted to add a huge thanks nonetheless. :D

If I'm not mistaken, you have a minor chronology issue. Lex is surprised that the paint is dry and there's a mention of her being at the headquarters "yesterday," but I believe that was two days ago. She spent yesterday going over the contract.

Enjoying it so far. I find myself wishing that you had started this story earlier or I had found it later because the story isn't far enough along yet for me to get a good feel for it. If it wasn't for the title and the synopsis, I'm not sure I'd still be following it. I'm definitely looking forward to getting deeper into the superpower parts of the story.

Thank you for being another set of eyes for this piece! I found the passages you were referring to and reworked them, so let me know if anything still seems funny. I left a moderated reference to the paint being dry, mostly because I was thinking when I wrote it that five gallons of paint was a lot to be pouring onto a likely uneven surface (given the disrepair of the neighborhood), but after roughly a day and a half of hot days even little puddles of paint should be dry, too.

I am very glad to hear you're enjoying it so far! I do understand what you mean, though. This story does like to take its time, and I've gauged my release schedule to a time I can reliably write, do my edit, have edited, and make final for publishing one chapter, so given my small amount of free time, I don't publish as quickly as some of the other folks who do web fiction. I can see where that might be a bit frustrating as a reader.

What I can promise you, however, is that this story is not only going where the synopsis describes, but beyond it. I think you'll find the action of this piece to be like a snowball - it may have started off with just a few small things, but you can probably see that it's already started to pick up speed. It's going to be hurtling down the hill soon and be approximately the size of Godzilla. I think you'll find it worth your time to continue on the journey to see how it gets to that point, and where it goes from there. :D

Waah, I'm so behind! This afternoon, when my work is done, I'll settle down with my laptop and enjoy the last 2 chapters of your novel and comment appropriately. I've been looking forward to it for a while now, but never seemed to get more than half an hour to my name.

No worries! That's one of the things I love most about the internet - the story will be here for you to read whenever you're ready, so take your time. :D I hope you enjoy the chapters when you do have a chance to relax and read!


Lex decided that the best way to dress for her first day would be... A Gaara t-shirt? :P

Who wouldn't? XD I think she took it seriously when she was told that everyone dressed pretty casually in the building...BTW, a plate of virtual cookies for you for recognition! You may find some other familiar faces later on in the story, as well... :D

Re: So...

Hmm, virtual cookies...
nom nom nom

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