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Chapter 11: Developments
Storm
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes: Warnings for this chapter - Flashbacks of abuse and injury, illness, medical procedures

Many thanks to my lovely editor gwoman for her work on this chapter!


Back to Chapter 10

Lex woke up to a loud alarm on Monday morning, and moved to turn the clock off, but after that just continued to sit for a moment. She felt terrible, despite having gotten a good amount of sleep. She blinked grit from her eyes and her throat felt parched like she’d breathed dust all night. All of her limbs felt heavy and slow, as if unused for weeks. She staggered over to open the drapes and saw a grey day, grey water, and a grey city beyond. Beads of misty rain sat on her window, and she watched for a moment as some grey gulls fought over a piece of trash over the water.

She slowly made her way into the shower, hoping it would help her wake up, but she didn't feel much better by the time she came out and dressed. Lex felt glad that all she had to do that day involved training with Mr. Chen, but she found herself unsure if she could do it. Something had her nerves feeling shot and wired at the same time and her stomach in a queasy slide. She had a sense that something awful was about to happen, and everything, down to the hair on her arms that seemed to be standing on end, had been clued in. Lex sighed as she went down to breakfast, feeling as if she was waiting for the inevitable blow to fall.

She sat at the kitchen island sipping hot tea and crunching her way through some granola that tasted of cinnamon, but she looked up when Casey appeared. Casey nodded and smiled, but narrowed her eyes once she took a good look at Lex.

“Are you OK? You look a little rough today.”

Lex shrugged. “I’ve felt a bit off since I woke up. I'm sure it’ll wear off as the day goes on.”

Casey nodded with uncertainty, but went about putting her breakfast together. As usual, they ate in a companionable silence until Lex got up a few minutes later to clear her dishes and head downstairs.

Lex trudged to the martial arts studio and felt something as she entered the room, like a shudder running across her whole body, and it left her slightly sick and scared. Looking at her pale face in the mirrors and trying to regulate her breathing, Lex did some simple exercises and stretches, hoping that she could at least warm herself up enough before Mr. Chen arrived to get her heavy limbs moving normally.

When he arrived, several minutes later, Lex felt worse, not better. She put on a brave face for him, though, greeting him as normal. He gave her a hard look and for a moment it seemed as if he’d ask her a question she didn’t know the answer to, but the moment passed and they began the normal routine of the day instead. Unfortunately, it went poorly from the start. Lex had trouble repeating a series of moves Mr. Chen had taught her the previous week, even though she’d been performing it perfectly before. She couldn’t block some of the simplest moves when they sparred, and by late morning Mr. Chen seemed irritated and Lex felt desperate and drowned, breathing hard, waiting for the next thing to be thrown at her.

Her head had been turned in the opposite direction when she felt Mr. Chen's hand on her shoulder. She turned to look him the eye and found him staring at her, his glance hostile. He’d opened his mouth to speak when Lex felt all the muscles in her body go rigid, suddenly jolting her into the past.

“Alex, you idiot!” her father's voice rang out as he shoved her backwards, using the strong grip he had on her shoulder.

She’d been looking the other way when he grabbed her, so it had been a surprise. Due to that, she didn't have time to stop herself from sitting down hard. She was wincing from that when the real pain hit with a sharp crack when she smacked the back of her head into the wall with enough force that she saw stars.

Hearing a roar, she looked up to see her father charging her. With fear, she looked back at the wall, one of the ones that had a floor-to-ceiling mirror, and noted that it had broken where her head had landed and cracks now radiated out from that spot. She pulled a hand back from the top of her head and smelled the familiar tang as she realized it had blood on it, but quickly replaced her hand as she slumped to the ground, pulling herself into as tight a ball as she could manage.


I wonder how hard it will be to clean that, she thought as he began to attack her, kicking her wherever he could reach. I hope I can get the glass out.

Lex blinked a few times, and as her vision cleared her hearing also seemed to kick back in. She saw Mr. Chen in front of her, a concerned look on his face.

“Lex,” he asked, “are you all right?”

She felt her body fling itself backwards, away from him, as the fear from her memory seemed to catch up with her. Lex caught sight of herself in the mirror as she swung her head around like a spooked horse; she looked even paler and saw herself shaking. She felt something begin to rise up in her, starting from her toes, and Lex knew she had to get out of there.

Turning back to Mr. Chen, Lex tried to form some words, but her voice faltered. Just before her feet started to run, something made its way out.

“Sorry, I...I have to go.”

Then, suddenly, she was hurtling out of the gym and tearing up the stairs. She slipped on them at one point but heaved herself up using the handrail and kept going. Her heart pounded so loudly she could hear nothing else and all of her limbs shook crazily, but she could only think of finding someplace safe. As she burst out onto the main floor, Lex looked around to make sure no one stood in her path. Seeing her way clear she continued, shakily leaping up the stairs several at a time until she made it to her room. Locking the door behind her, Lex pressed her back up against it for a moment, still trembling. The feeling had continued up her body and had made it to her chest, which began to heave for breath, making her feel as if she’d choke. It continued upwards, and she felt the pressure in her throat, as she had many times before, but it continued this time, until it made its way to her head. Feeling she needed something to hold onto, Lex made it to the corner of the hallway leading into the rest of her room before everything came apart. She gasped as she sat hard on the floor, leaning into the wall, and realized that her face felt wet.

Suddenly overwhelmed by memories of the abuse she’d survived, the hard words thrown at her, and the pathetic, crawling life she’d been forced to lead, everything in Lex contracted. She felt as if she’d be sick, but as she curled around the corner of the wall, she sobbed for the first time she could remember in her life. It went on and on as her body curled in further on itself, her sorrow seeming to rise with all of the tears until she couldn't stand it any longer and howled, her grief pouring out through her throat. That allowed the tears to slow, finally, but as Lex calmed down, she began to feel a headache rising. The calmer she became, the more the pain grew, until the pale light coming in from the grey day outside felt unbearable. Lex tried to stand and make her way to the medicine cabinet, but the pain spiked hard through her head and drove her to her knees. The sudden onset and immense pain felt like no migraine Lex had ever had before, so her fear pushed her to try to stand again to get something to help, but the pain grew to the point that the world started going black and began to disappear. As she slumped to the ground, throwing up her arms so that her head wouldn't hit the floor, Lex thought to herself that she needed to get some rugs for her room in case this happened again.
_____________________________________________________________

Even with her eyes closed, she could feel herself going somewhere. She seemed to be half lying down, being conveyed in something with unyielding curves and angles. Gradually, her ears started working again and she heard Casey's raised voice.

“...anyone down here? Answer me!”

Lex tried opening her eyes, worried at the sound of panic in Casey’s voice, blinking against the feeling that her eyelids had been pasted together, but immediately shut them again as light entered, feeling as if needles had penetrated straight through to her brain. She cried out weakly in surprise and pain, bringing her hand up to cover her eyes.

“The light,” she heard herself saying in a voice that sounded husky and slurred.

“Lex, Lex, are you all right?” she heard Casey asking in a frantic tone, but the pain rose back up and Lex felt herself being pulled under by it again, Casey's voice receding until it disappeared.
_________________________________________________________

She stood in the middle of a long wall of what appeared to be white light. But she realized as she lifted her arm up that the light was moving around her in a swift stream past her body and on. With a start, she knew she now stood inside the wall of water she’d seen before. For some reason it didn't have the same chill or feeling as it had when she’d stood outside it, and she could move around as well. Carefully, she took another breath of the substance, sensed it move into her lungs, and sighed out in relief as she felt fine.

Suddenly something farther down the line of light captured her attention. She saw the mysterious woman again, struggling with everything she had, pushing to come inside, where Lex stood. She watched as an arm emerged, as if in slow motion, then a leg and a head. Once that happened, the woman pushed the rest of her body through as if pulling it out of a tar pit. Lex could see that the other woman looked small and fit like her, and noted that she had very short hair that seemed completely white. She wore jeans, a black t-shirt, and black motorcycle boots, and once she’d arrived inside, she ran up to Lex with a speed that didn't seem quite human, appearing to flash in and out of existence at several points along the way.

Lex stiffened and drew herself up as the other woman approached, but she stopped a few inches from Lex, breathing heavily, and Lex found her eyes captured by the other woman's, their color an unnaturally bright spring green delicately laced through with forest green. They both hesitated a moment, then the other woman looked quickly over her shoulder before yelling, “Watch out for the drugs!”

_________________________________________________________

Lex's eyes sprang open, and she immediately panicked. She didn’t recognize the location, but it looked like a hospital room. Several medical personnel were running around the room, hooking her up to machines, writing things down on clipboards, and talking to each other. She looked down at her arm to find an IV needle in it and immediately pulled the thing out and threw it away. Lex had never liked needles, but after her encounter a few moments ago, she found herself on high alert.

The medical people had finally realized she was awake and had all turned to look at her, a couple of them drawing back. Lex glared at the small crowd, attempting to move into more of a sitting position away from them, and trying with her stare to prevent any from approaching. Her muscles seemed heavy and gluey, though, and she couldn’t quite manage to sit up. When she’d slowly wrestled her uncooperative limbs to a half-sitting position, however, Casey burst through the door.

“Lex! What's going on? Are you OK?”

Lex tried to answer, but found that her mouth wouldn't open. She stared at Casey, trying to plead with her eyes for the other woman to get her out of there, but she found that her gaze had started to haze over and her eyelids had begun to close. As Lex blinked slowly, she realized that her muscles had stopped responding to her altogether, and she probably would have felt panic as she began to slump back on to the hospital bed, but her mind disobeyed her at last, falling heavily into a deep blackness instead.

She floated in the dark nothingness, and it somehow seemed safe as all her responsibilities and worries dissolved into it. After what seemed like a long time, however, she started to feel a nervous fluttering around the edges of nothing. Something else was out there. Lex found she couldn't go anywhere or do anything, though; no matter what she tried only more darkness greeted her. So, she waited with fists clenched and jaw set until a monstrous face loomed out of the black, resolving itself inches from her own. The smell of rotten eggs nearly choked Lex as she watched it drip green acid slime from its gaping, saw-toothed maw and roll its bloodshot eyes alarmingly in its sockets as it grinned the devil's grin. “Alexxx...” the thing called to her, and Lex fought her way backwards as she recognized the voice and realized it was her damnable father...

Lex gasped and sat up quickly in the hospital bed, looking frantically around and getting ready to bolt. Her sudden movement yanked an IV hard enough to rattle the pole it hung on, causing her to wince as the needle in her arm moved around.

“Hey, Lex,” Casey's voice sounded out suddenly, in the low light of the room. Her voice came across as disused and rough, as if she’d just woken up. When Lex's eyes had adjusted enough to see, she realized her friend probably had just awoken, now shifting position in a chair near the foot of Lex’s bed.

“What the hell happened? You've had the place in an uproar all afternoon. Everyone's been down to see you; the medics thought you were going to attack them-”

Casey broke off as Lex began crying, and then continued, her tone softer. “Hey, hey, none of that. You're OK, everything's fine, it's just that everyone was worried about you.”

“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to worry everyone,” said Lex, trying to keep her voice even as she cried. She felt ridiculous and wondered if she was ever going to be able to stop, thinking maybe she had to make up for lost time.

“Of course everyone's going to worry about you if something like this happens,” Casey responded, bending forward and peering at Lex. “Just relax, though, you don't need to be so upset.”

“Sorry,” Lex said, trying unsuccessfully to wipe her tears away, since they kept coming, “I really am sorry I caused so much trouble.”

After a few quiet minutes that Lex used to try to compose herself, Casey met Lex’s eye again. “Did something happen today?” she asked, concern clear in her voice.

Lex nodded and related the flashback she’d had in the studio and then the headache afterwards. “I've had the same symptoms before, but the migraine was much, much worse and came on more suddenly than any other I've had,” Lex concluded, her hands tangling together in her lap.

Casey looked thoughtful for a little while and finally said, “Well, it's not unusual for people to get sick not long after they get here. I remember Riss had some sort of terrible asthma attack, and Serena got pneumonia or something. They were both down here for a while.” She shook her head, looking worried.

“What about you? Did you get sick when you came here?” asked Lex, wiping her face with the back of her hand. The tears seemed to be diminishing but hadn't quite stopped yet.

Casey's lips suddenly thinned into a hard line. “I was actually...sick when I got here. It took me a lot longer to heal than I usually do, now that I think about it.”

“What happened?” Lex asked, anxiously considering the mental picture of her friend laid up.

Casey shook her head, a closed expression on her face. “Let's talk about it another time, Lex. You should get some more rest now.”

“I'm sorry,” Lex apologized, blushing with embarrassment as her tears started up again, “I didn't mean to upset you.”

Casey sighed and patted Lex’s leg through the covers. “It's all right, Lex, everything is OK. You just had a really big day. I'm not upset with you, I just want you to get better, so get some sleep.”

“OK,” Lex replied, snuffling a little as she dried her tears. “I do feel pretty tired again, all of a sudden.”

As she lay back in the pillows and got comfortable again, Lex looked at Casey as she sat in the chair, leaning back and trying to relax. Lex closed her eyes just for a moment as she pulled the covers up to her chin. As they settled back around her, she seemed to be surrounded by the smell of bleach until that slipped away in the darkness as well.

When she opened her eyes again, the chair was empty. The lights had been turned on, and she could clearly see the hospital room she remembered from yesterday. A man in a white coat stood with his back to her, writing something on a clipboard as he took readings from a machine that Lex was attached to.

“Where's Casey?” Lex suspiciously asked the man's back, pushing against the rough sheets as she sat up in bed.

As the man turned around to face her, Lex recognized Dr. Rogers, the same man who’d taken down all of her information when she’d first arrived.

“Ah, you're awake,” he said with a smile, “I think she went to get you some breakfast.”

He studied Lex then as he sat in the chair Casey had occupied the night before. “Would you like to talk about what happened yesterday? We assumed you must have had a bad migraine, since we tested you for other things and found nothing else wrong, but no one really knew what happened before Casey brought you down. We talked to Mr. Chen, but all he said was that you hadn't been feeling well and he told you to take the afternoon off.”

Lex looked down at her hands for a moment. Just the mention of yesterday had brought a prickly feeling to her eyes, but she thought about it for a moment and decided she didn't really feel like crying. She took a deep breath before briefly explaining the events of the previous day, up until she passed out.

“I guess Casey must have found me afterwards,” Lex concluded.

The doctor nodded. “She came down here to find someone to help, but she didn't know why you’d lost consciousness. We gave you some painkillers after Casey mentioned that you’d complained about the light, but you didn't appear to appreciate that.”

“I remember,” Lex said, grimacing at the thought. “I really am not fond of needles.”

“Ah,” the doctor replied, making a note on the clipboard, “we'll have to remember that for the future. At any rate, we’ll be running some tests over the next few days to make sure everything’s all right and to see if anything in particular set this off.”

A bolt of pure anxiety shot through Lex as the dream woman’s warning ran through her mind. She’d opened her mouth to ask for more details, but Dr. Rogers stopped speaking then, standing up as he looked at the door.

Lex glanced up to see Casey backing in through the doorway carrying a tray full of food. “Good morning, sleepyhead,” Casey said, pushing the chair nearer to the head of the bed before sitting back down. “Are you hungry?”

“Yes, thanks,” Lex replied, realizing now that she'd woken up fully that her stomach felt completely empty. She noted that the doctor had started to leave, and felt torn, wanting to question him further, but also wanting to spend time with Casey. She sighed as the door closed and turned to look at her friend.

“So, how are you feeling today?” Casey asked.

“Like I'm recovering from getting run over by a truck yesterday, and hungry, too.”

Casey pulled a little rolling table over and spread Lex's breakfast on it, then began arranging her own. “They'll probably want to look at you down here for another couple of days, I’d guess,” Casey finally said.

“A couple of days? I'm fine now, but the doctor was talking about wanting to run some tests. What will they want to do that would keep me here for days?” Lex appreciated the sweet cinnamon smell of the cereal Casey had brought, but suspicion made her stomach turn sour.

Casey shrugged. “It seems like if one of us gets sick they like to do mountains of tests to find out what happened, whether it’ll happen again, whether they should give us some drugs, and probably whether they should fire us, all that sort of thing.”

“But I feel fine. I want to talk to Mr. Chen and apologize for yesterday, though. He must think I'm crazy or something.” Lex picked up her spoon, trying to focus on eating, but her fingers kept worrying the silverware pattern instead.

Casey shook her head. “I doubt it. I think he’s had a pretty long life and seen all kinds of things, so he seems to understand a lot. I wouldn't worry about it, but I can go talk to him, if you like.”

Lex shook her head, eyes closed in humiliation as she thought of what she’d done. “I should talk to him myself. I want to explain. Maybe they'll let me out of here for a few minutes so I can see him.”

The two ate in silence for a little while after that, Lex devouring the granola and drinking the tea Casey had brought without really tasting it, lost in worry. After a while, although Lex hadn't known Casey had noticed, she finally realized her friend had brought the kinds of foods that Lex usually chose for herself, and she couldn’t help but smile as it came to her.

“So, what are you up to today?” Lex finally asked Casey, still grinning.

“I'm going to be in the gym for a while, but I thought I'd find out what your schedule is and come down here to have lunch with you at noon if I can. Then they have some tests they want to run on me this afternoon. They have some they run every few weeks on me, so I guess it's time.”

Lex found the idea that her friend needed regular medical tests strange because she always seemed to be in the best of health. Since her friend didn’t seem to find it odd, however, Lex nodded in reply as she sipped her blueberry green tea. Once they’d both finished eating, Casey gathered the empty dishes up on the tray. When she picked it up to leave, she looked down at Lex for a moment.

“Are you OK here?” she asked, her expression serious.

“Yeah, I'll be fine. And thanks, Casey. Breakfast was really good.”

Casey smiled in return and left. When the medical people returned a few minutes later, Lex reviewed the schedule they’d planned for her and negotiated with them. Instead of two full days of tests, she managed to change it to four half-days staggered in the mornings and afternoons on weekdays. She also got them to agree that she didn't have to sleep on the medical floor and that she could have her IV removed that afternoon, as long she could hold down food until then. Before the tests started for the morning, however, Lex also made them agree to give her a short time to go to the martial arts studio to talk to Mr. Chen.

She made her way down the stairs, clutching the cold metal pole and cursing the IV the whole way down, annoyed that she hadn’t been able to argue the doctors out of any of the tests they’d proposed. Fortunately, the IV pole rolled, so she’d at least been able to walk normally when she got to the right floor. Lex found her pace slowing as she approached the studio, her stomach flopping over, but she shook herself and forced her feet to walk in. She felt glad to see that he’d shown up that day, standing barefoot in the middle of the wooden floor, and she nodded to him.

“Mr. Chen,” she said nervously, trying not to stumble over her words, “I wanted to apologize for running off on you yesterday-”

“There is no need,” he replied quickly, shaking his head, “I think I understand. You were having an off day, and I pushed you too hard. It seems it reminded you of your father.”

“What?” Lex asked, her mouth falling open. Maybe he actually does understand, she thought to herself.

He sighed. “Many years ago, when I was a young and foolish man still living in China, I fought in a war. I got captured several months after I became a soldier and was put into a prison camp. Fortunately for me, the whole conflict had gotten caught up with World War II, and it was right around the time the war ended, so I only stayed in prison a couple of months. Some of the men with me had not been so lucky and had been there for years.

“The day the Allies came to break the prison camp up and send us home there was a lot of shouting and shoving. I remember the man I shared a cell with freezing up at one point, and I had to drag him to the trucks they drove us out on. He came back to himself some time later and eventually told me that all the yelling and pushing had taken his mind back to one of the experiences he'd had in the prison camp, and it got stuck there. The look you had on your face the other day reminded me a lot of his expression that day, and also the way you both froze and couldn’t seem to hear or see me.”

Lex looked down at her feet and felt her eyes start to prickle. “I'm really sorry.”

“Please don't apologize,” Mr. Chen said in a gentle tone. “You have nothing to be sorry for. I notice you have an IV, however. Did you fall ill?”

Lex glared at her IV pole, then looked back at Mr. Chen. “Yes, I had a huge migraine that came on very quickly after I left here. It was so painful that I passed out, which is odd, because that’s never happened to me before.”

Mr. Chen made a thoughtful noise then, looking at her with concern.

Lex shrugged. “I've talked to the doctors, though, and they want to run a whole bunch of tests, so I asked them to cut it into half days. So, can we work together this afternoon? Tomorrow it would be in the morning, and it would alternate for the rest of the week. Is that OK for you?”

Mr. Chen looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Are you actually ready for this, or are you rushing?”

“I feel just like I always have after any other migraine,” she replied with a sigh. “I slept a lot yesterday, and I was hungry when I woke up, but I feel fine now. Actually, they say keeping up with the same level of physical activity you're used to is a good way to prevent migraines.” She smiled at him hopefully as he gazed at her with serious eyes.

“And the doctors agreed with you about all of this?” Mr. Chen asked, looking dubious.

“Yes, but it took a little argument on my part. I'll have the IV off by this afternoon, so don't worry about that, either.”

He sighed then, glancing at her sternly and shaking his head. “All right, Lex, but please relax and rest when we're not working together for at least the next few weeks. You also must promise me that in the future if you're not feeling well you'll tell me.”

“Thank you, Mr. Chen. I promise I will.” She grinned and nodded at him as she rolled out of the room, then slowly made her way up to the medical floor, staring at the IV pole while carrying it up each step. Lex couldn't decide whether going up or down had been worse.

When she got back the tests commenced in earnest. She spent part of the morning in a CAT scan tube, but didn't remember most of it, aside from the vague sound of banging on pipes somewhere in the distance, since she'd fallen asleep partway through the test. The rest of the time had been spent with a large number of electrodes pasted to her scalp as they looked at the electrical activity in her brain. Lex had tried to cooperate, but she had gotten bored partway through and had mostly spent the time trying to watch the needles move on the sheets of paper as they measured her brainwaves and trying not to itch her gluey scalp. She felt almost giddy once lunchtime rolled around and they took the electrodes off and the IV out as promised.

Lex was feeling much more human after a shower and lunch with Casey, and she walked quickly through the door to the martial arts studio, greeting Mr. Chen with a smile. They worked through some new forms that afternoon, and Lex had started to get a feel for them. When she realized after a couple of hours that she was tired, she told Mr. Chen as promised, even though she could hear her father’s voice somewhere in her mind calling her a slacker.

Mr. Chen, however, nodded to her with a smile on his face. “Please take the rest of the afternoon and relax, Lex. You did a good job today, especially considering everything that happened yesterday.”

Lex smiled and nodded gratefully at him. “Thanks, Mr. Chen. I think I'll take a bath and then maybe a nap.”

As she eased herself into the hot tub sometime later, Lex sighed. She closed her eyes and tried to let the bubbles and hot water lift away all of the leftover tension from the events of the previous day. After twenty minutes or so, Lex felt relaxed to the point of near bonelessness and had begun to think about getting out when she heard crackling from a speaker she noticed overhead.

“Lex, I'm sorry to catch you in the hot tub, but I wanted to talk to you about something. Do you have some time?”

Lex stared at the speaker for a moment, processing the slightly computer-flattened voice, and then frowned a little. “Riss? Is that you?”

“Yes.”

Lex considered the request for a second before responding. “Yes, I have some time right now, but I can't talk for too long because I need to get some other things done this afternoon. Will that work for you?”

“Sure, that's fine. I'll be in my room when you're ready.”

Lex sighed deeply as she pulled herself out of the warm water and worried as she dressed that maybe she was being a little silly, but finally just shrugged. She knew it was important for her to keep her word to Mr. Chen, plus, she’d started to feel like she wanted a nap anyway, so maybe it made sense to keep her talk with Riss short.

When she got to the head of the stairs, she paused to consider the brief orientation Casey had given her when she'd arrived. She thought she remembered that Riss' room stood across the hall from the conference room where she’d been interviewed, so Lex walked up to that door and knocked.

“Come in,” Lex heard, the sound muffled due to barriers and distance.

She went inside and took a moment to adjust from the afternoon light that had been pouring in through the window at the end of the hall to the dim lighting of the room. She saw no lamps; all the light came from a number of computer monitors throughout the room, several of them displaying windows with information or pure computer code, and a few with moving screen savers.

“Can you close the door?” asked a low, confident female voice. Lex noted no accent that she could pick out (unlike Casey’s slight Midwestern twang) and smiled, realizing that made it likely that Riss also came from the area.

“Sorry,” Lex said, moving to shut it, “My eyes are used to more light right now. It'll take another few minutes before I can see everything in here.”

She stayed in place, since she'd noticed with the door open that power, computer, and network cables snaked all over the floor. As Lex's eyes became accustomed to the low light, she could see that the layout of the room was similar to hers, with a closed bathroom door to the left, but beyond that, she could see two large tables set up parallel to one another with a number of laptops, desktops, and maybe some servers piled closely on and underneath them. The narrow space between the tables looked just wide enough for one or two people to sit, and Lex finally spotted a woman sitting near the end of one table on a rolling office chair, one foot hooked under the opposite knee. The computer screen in front of her lit her face with a bluish glow, showing off her midnight-dark skin and dark eyes. Lex thought Riss looked to be about her height, but the other woman seemed much slighter, if the slim, graceful arm reaching for the coffee cup on her desk was any indication. As Riss turned to look at her visitor, she fixed Lex with an intelligent, somewhat skeptical gaze and ran a hand over her curly, close-cropped hair.

“Thanks for coming up,” Riss said.

Lex nodded. “No problem. And, I'm sorry if I disturbed you yesterday,” she quickly added, looking down at her hands. “It’s not anything that ever happened before, so hopefully it won’t happen again.”

She looked up to find Riss gazing back at her. “Did something happen?” Riss asked, her face impassive except for one quirked eyebrow.

Lex sighed, tired of talking about it, but finally sure it wasn’t why Riss had called in the first place. “Unfortunately, I had a massive migraine and passed out. Casey found me on the floor of my room and took me downstairs.”

“So, you never usually get migraines that severe?” Riss’ expression hadn’t changed, but somehow Lex felt the woman’s gaze had become more intense.

Lex shook her head. “No, that was the first time. I hope it’s the last.”

Riss nodded. “Sorry to hear about it. Are you feeling better?”

“I should be 100% by tomorrow, but I’m a little tired today. So, what’s up?”

This time, Riss sighed. “I've been trying to put together a plan to secure the computers in the building here. I know how it should be done, but our keepers want something in writing to show how it’ll work. Plus, they keep adding things to the network and taking things out, and there are things here that aren't connected to other things...” she trailed off, one hand on her forehead as if she had a headache.

Lex nodded, feeling more at ease now that she had an idea of why she’d been summoned. “So, you need help with the documentation and with creating a catalog of the computer resources here? Also maybe with putting together a plan to register new resources?”

Riss gave her an almost nonexistent smile. “Exactly. Have you done this sort of thing before?”

“Not really, but I've done things that were similar enough so that I can probably figure something out pretty quickly. Did anyone tell you when they want this done?”

“They wanted it a few weeks ago but they didn't like what I gave them. I'm not sure when they want it, now.”

“Could you find out? Let's assume at this point that they want the documentation in a couple months, and if we find out differently, we can adjust. I think I'll have a couple of half-days a week to work on this, but I won't be able to start until the week after next. However, we could begin over the weekends, if you're going to be here.”

Riss nodded, a flash of something Lex couldn’t read in her eyes. “Oh, I'll be here.”

“What time would you like to start on Saturday?”

“Anytime after noon; I'm not an early riser.”

“How about we plan to start at one Saturday afternoon? I can get some more information about what our sponsors want to see, and we can start figuring out how to identify everything here.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Riss said, nodding her head and giving another tiny grin. “Thanks, Lex.”

Lex waved as she made her way out the door and across the hall. She yawned as she opened her door and quickly shucked off most of her clothes before crawling under the covers and curling up for a nap. Smiling to herself, Lex drifted off, feeling deliciously warm and comfortable.

Forward to Chapter 12

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





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CAT scans: getting irradiated for SCIENCE!

I, um, don't really have anything else in particular to say. Nice seeing Riss! :P

çerez dostum

I know - such fun! XD

Glad you liked Riss finally showing up...indeed, she doesn't seem to like to leave her room at any time when she might be in danger of running into anyone else, so I'd been wondering when she might appear in the story other than as a disembodied voice. I was glad to see she finally took the chance to talk to Lex. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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