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Chapter 16: Closer
Storm
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes: No real warnings for this chapter, for a change! I wanted to set off the correspondence below a little more clearly, but this was the best I could do with LJ's editing capabilities...or maybe my ignorance of them!

Much thanks to my fabulous editor, gwoman for her work on this chapter!


Back to Chapter 15

Lex looked at the ceiling for a moment as she woke up, waiting for the alarm clock. When it didn't come, she looked over at it and then realized it read after ten. She sat up with a jerk before she remembered what had happened the previous day and relaxed a bit. Still, though, she silently slid her slippers on and headed for the door.

Grabbing her schedule and Casey's as well, she made her way to the bathroom and shut the door before turning the light on. She breathed a sigh as she noticed that their activities for the day began after noon. When she came back out a few moments later, she noticed that Casey had begun to stir. She waved at the other woman, put her finger over her lips as she glanced down at Serena, and handed Casey's schedule to her.

Casey looked at it in the dim light and smiled in relief. When Lex gestured to ask if she could put Serena into her bed, Casey nodded again and moved the other woman as Lex pulled back the covers. Lex tucked her friend in and then walked with Casey to the door.

“Meet downstairs for breakfast in a half-hour?” Casey questioned in a whisper.

Lex nodded as she silently opened the door, and then smiled as she shut it behind her friend.

Much later, after she’d cleaned herself up and had a delicious breakfast of buckwheat pancakes and blueberry syrup with Casey, Lex reluctantly wound her way downstairs to the martial arts studio. She sighed as she opened the door, but forced herself to smile as she saw Mr. Chen there, standing barefoot on the wooden floor, waiting, and nervously cleared her throat.

“Mr. Chen, did you hear what happened yesterday?” she asked, trying not to cringe but uncertain of what he might have been told.

“I understand your team was called to help evacuate an apartment building that had caught fire,” he said, looking her in the eye. “I also hear that you had a lot to do with getting the people out safely.”

Lex ducked her head, feeling her stomach flop and realizing that he probably hadn't been told about what happened with George.

“Well I guess, but I had a fight, too.”

He looked at her in surprise, an eyebrow raised. After a moment, he gracefully sat down on the floor, his legs crossed underneath him, and gestured to the floor in front of him.

“Sit down, Lex. Let's talk about it.”

Nervously, she sat down and then launched into the story of what had happened after she saw George shaking and cursing at Casey, and how she'd reacted. Once Lex had finished, she looked at the floor and her own hands, her fingers threading together and clutching each other. After a few moments of silence, Lex chanced a glance back up and saw Mr. Chen looking calmly at her.

“I see,” he said. “What did you do afterwards?”

“I wasn't sure what to do after I saw that Casey was OK, so we talked to Clara about it, and I apologized and helped George get free.”

“I see,” Mr. Chen repeated, nodding this time. “Well done, Lex.”

She looked at him in disbelief. “But I shouldn't have kicked him over! And, I don't know, I just feel like I went too far overboard in–”

Lex stopped as she saw Mr. Chen raise a hand in the air. “One of the worst things you can do to dampen good intuition is to needlessly doubt your actions after a confrontation. From what I know of the man you faced, I think the course of action you took was one of the few that would have resolved the conflict in as peaceful a manner as possible. Of course you were upset and may have overreacted. That is to be expected when people one cares about are being threatened. However, what you did seems fairly mild and you did your best to put things right afterwards. How could I find anything to criticize in what you did?”

“But I probably should have...I don't know, figured out a way to do it without fighting.” Lex could feel her shoulders slump as she responded.

“Lex, life is a journey where we all learn things in every step we take,” Mr. Chen replied, his tone gentle. “We can all only do our best based on what we know at any given step. I could look back in my life and think about how I would have done things differently if I had the knowledge I have now, as an old man, but the fact is that I could only do my best with all of the tools I had when I was young. You did your best to prevent your friend from being hurt without even injuring the person who threatened her. What more could you have done with the knowledge and expertise you have now? I think you did very well.”

Glancing at him from under her eyebrows, Lex gave him a slightly skeptical look, not quite ready to accept that she wouldn’t be punished. “Really?”

He gave her a mildly reproving stare in return. “I wouldn't say so if I didn't think so.”

She nodded, again looking at her hands. “Thanks, Mr. Chen.”

Lex glanced back up again as Mr. Chen rose to his feet in a single, smooth movement. “All right, let's get to work. We missed enough time yesterday and this morning. Are you ready?”

Lex nodded and smiled, jumping to her feet and readying herself to follow along with Mr. Chen's movements.

And so her days slipped back into their regular schedules and events, with the new addition of Lex asking Riss at least once a week if she'd like to eat with her and Casey. The first new thing happened about a week and a half after the building fire. When Lex came up for lunch that day, she stopped by her room and noticed a package in front of her door. Upon opening it, she found a pair of heavy gloves very similar to the ones included in the uniform she'd worn to the building fire, but they had Velcro at the wrists to fit them and had been connected to one another by heavy-duty strapping, like what would be used for a seatbelt. The box also contained a pair of boots that looked like the uniform boots Lex had worn that day.

With a puzzled frown she took the items out of the box and put on the gloves, finding a strap attached to both sides of each glove that she wound around her arms, crossing once at the elbow, then again near her shoulder in order to lie flat across her back. Spotting some papers in the bottom of the box, Lex reached for them, only to find them stuck to her hand. She waved them around in the air wildly, trying to get the sheets off her, but they still stayed. Finally, taking off one glove, she managed to pull the papers free without ripping them by using a downward and back motion.

At the top of the sheet, Lex noticed a handwritten note.
Dear Lex, just wanted to send along a little thank-you gift for including us the other day. We got so used to sitting around waiting that it was really fun to be involved with the evacuation the way we expected when we decided to get into this game. Hope you enjoy these; Victor got an idea when you mentioned that you'd like to be able to climb walls, so you can be his guinea pig for this invention. Let us know what you think, or just write because we both liked working with you and would like to hear from you some more. – Kate & Victor

Lex read their email addresses as she swallowed once, blinking and smiling to herself, and quickly read the instructions for the equipment. She couldn’t see the microscopic hooks that the instructions said were there to adhere the gloves and boots to surfaces, although she did feel a bumpy roughness as she stroked down the opposite direction the hooks faced. With a grin, she went into her room to put everything on and then headed back out to the hallway. After crawling up the wall nearly to the ceiling and almost falling once or twice on her way down, Lex thought she had gotten the hang of them, so she ran back into her room to put them in her closet by her jumpsuit, a huge grin spreading across her face.

Later that evening, she emailed Kate and Victor both a thank-you note and explained how she’d probably get some Velcro to put on the straps and on the back of her uniform, since one of her mishaps came when the straps across her back slipped. After that, she got a note back from Victor thanking her for troubleshooting his design and assuring her that her suggestion would be included in future versions. Lex laughed to herself as she read that, and then dug into Kate’s reply: a longer letter talking a lot about daily life with the Alpha team (including funny bits that she thought Lex would like) and asking questions about Lex and how things were with her.

From then forward, Lex usually found an email in her inbox from Kate every few days, and quickly got in the habit of corresponding with her. Lex found herself telling the other woman about her past and her thoughts about everything going on currently, and ended up finding out a lot about Kate, as well.

Two weeks after the first letter she’d gotten from Kate, Lex replied to Kate’s latest email.
Victory today! Riss finally agreed to eat dinner with me and Casey once a week if I stopped asking her about it. We ate together for the first time today. It went kind of quietly, but I think we all had a good time. I feel like I can stop worrying about her so much now.

Also, I started something new. Mr. Chen told me that I needed to be more well-rounded in my life to help my martial arts practice and suggested I take up an artistic pursuit. I asked him what he did, and he said that he’d practiced Chinese calligraphy for many years. Since I’ve never taken up a brush before in my life, I went back to something that I did a bit as a kid and liked, but never had time to pursue. The only things my mom ever browbeat my dad to force me to do other than martial arts training was the school chorus and some piano lessons. I could only take them for a few years before my other coursework and martial arts practice became too demanding, though. So, I got a little electric piano and I’ve been working on the scales I remember the chorus director teaching us and trying some of my most favorite voice pieces from the music I listen to. I don’t know if it’s helping my martial arts, but it is sort of fun. Gotta sign off now, but let me know how your last trip went. And I hope George is being less of an idiot to you since some time has passed since...well, you know.

A couple days later, Kate responded.
Glad to hear about Riss...I remember her being so silent, you barely ever saw her before now. Ha! I didn't take you for a vocalist. Make sure to have something ready to sing the next time I see you, because I hope you know I'm going to ask. ; )

The trip I just got back from ended up being too rushed. We were only in California a couple of days, with no time for sightseeing. They did have some really interesting deep-sea creatures they wanted me to look at, but I just ended up feeling sorry for them. They need to live in these super-pressurized tiny tanks, so they're probably not going to be able to live long, especially if there's a power outage. : (

Anyway, George is back to being his normal jerky self: the one that isn't mad at anyone for anything in particular, but is sort of annoyed at the world in general. But that's good, since when he's in that type of mood, I can usually avoid him indefinitely. I usually focus on working out or playing assistant for Victor in the lab. Fortunately, the Alpha facilities are big and full of places to go if you want to be unnoticed. : )

Got to get going now, but tell Casey and Serena I say hi. I really liked having the chance to work with Serena especially; she's a real trip.

A few weeks later, late one night when Lex wasn't able to sleep, she wrote to Kate, explaining how she and Kurt had broken things off.
I hope it doesn't seem too silly, but I really haven't had much time to think about what happened with Kurt until now. There was too much going on here, everything was so new, and something else always happened to distract me. But every once in a while, like tonight, I wake up and remember. We were only together for a couple years and only lived together a few months, but I really thought he was the one at the time. How could I have been so wrong? I wake up and just feel so empty, but I try not to be too loud if I cry so that Casey doesn't worry. I wonder how I can miss someone who treated me the way he did at the end, but I do. I also wonder if maybe that's going to be it for me, if I'm never going to find someone else.

I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so depressing, but I didn't want to worry anyone here and I had a feeling you might understand. Maybe I shouldn't send this, but thanks for reading my ravings, if you do. You really don't have to write back about this, just delete it. More later (hopefully when I'm feeling more cheerful.)

By lunchtime the next day, Lex found a reply from Kate.
Doesn't sound silly to me at all. I'm sorry that guy was such an asshole to you, too. I don't care who he thinks he is: he had no right to treat you like that!

I know what you mean about still missing someone, though. I was dating the best guy in the world, Neil Howard, for a few years, but a year and a half after I joined up with the Alpha team he disappeared. The police seemed to think that he’d packed a bag and gone somewhere, but it didn't make any sense to me. He didn't take anything he'd need to have with him—he has asthma and he didn't take his inhaler, he didn't take any of his guitars or gear (and he's a musician), and he didn't tell me or any of his band mates anything. It just didn't add up. I filed a missing persons report, of course, but nothing ever came of it. It's been almost a year now, and no sign of him. Some nights I miss him like I miss my eye. I wish I could figure out what happened. I've tried hiring private detectives, but still no news. I just keep hoping he shows back up one day. I won't even care where he was, I'll be so glad to see him, but I’ve mostly lost hope now.

Anyway, my letter isn't any more cheerful than yours, so I guess we're even. : / Just wanted to let you know I’m right there with you, unfortunately.

Not long after that, Lex fired off another email to Kate. After commiserating for a paragraph or two, she brought up something new that had come out of the day of the fire.
Remember how I told you that I reported on what we did that day we worked together as a strategic exercise? Well, our sponsor asked me to write some recommendations for improving teamwork afterwards. Apparently someone finally got around to reading them, because I'm supposed to set up our first team training! I'm excited and terrified; I've never planned anything like this before. I was hoping it would be something that someone else could arrange and that I could participate in, but it seems like they assumed I volunteered to run it since I made the suggestion.

Between my work with Mr. Chen and Riss, and the physical exams they want to do on me every week, I'm not sure where I'll fit this in, but I guess I'll have to figure it out. Anyway, probably anything I think of would be better than what we do for team training right now, which is nothing. Right? (I hope.) If you have any ideas or suggestions, though, or if your team's done anything you thought worked well, PLEASE let me know!

Kate wrote back the next day.
Well, I don't really know much about team exercises. As may not surprise you, George doesn't feel team practice is necessary. (I'd insert an icon here of someone rolling their eyes, but I’d have to look it up and I’m feeling lazy today.) Have you tried asking your martial arts teacher to help you? I bet he'll have some good ideas.

Everything here is kind of slow right now. Victor’s been busy with a number of new inventions, so he’s even quieter than usual. They've been sending me down to the Museum of Natural History and the zoo pretty regularly over the past few weeks to look at new insects that various researchers have been bringing in from all over the world. Believe it or not, a lot of the coolest things I can do I've learned from insects. Their bodies have interesting abilities and their strength is, lots of times, way out of proportion with their size. I keep getting told that our sponsors are planning a trip for me to look at other rare animals, but they can't seem to decide where it's going to be. I've heard Africa, Antarctica, or some sort of ocean trip. Hopefully I should know by the end of the month what the plan is.

A week later, Lex responded.
Thanks for passing on the idea to talk to Mr. Chen about the training. He's been a lot of help, both with ideas for the training session and with planning. He told me that he thought there were training facilities we could use that are part of our sponsors' outfit, and sure enough, when I checked there were some nice outdoor ones. So, we scheduled it, but it's going to be taking place three weeks from now! Only that much time to plan everything! Fortunately, Mr. Chen agreed to continue helping me put everything together, so I guess it'll probably all work out. I may not have much time to write between now and then, though, so wish me luck just in case I can't touch base until afterwards...

Lex received a reply from Kate a few days later.
Good luck with all of that! With your planning skills and knowing what you can put together in an hour or so, I'm sure you'll have something fantastic plotted out in three weeks. Glad to hear that Mr. Chen agreed to help out; I'm sure that will make everything easier.

Things are chaos here right now. Lots of little jobs they want to send us out on; I can't tell you how many times I've been called in by the local police to find someone by smell. How embarrassing is that? I don't like the things I can pick up about people when I go into a form with a keen sense of smell, either. Let's just say that as bad as some people smell with an everyday human nose, they can smell so much worse with better senses. Plus, it’s a ridiculous idea anyway, with as many strong scents as get produced in our modern, chemical-laden society.

Anyway, I should tell you (warn you? Ha!) that your encounter with George didn't leave him mentally undamaged. He trained with a martial arts instructor for a whole few weeks after you beat his ass, until he got bored. Of course, he had those two suck-ups around to tell him how great he is and how he'll annihilate you if he ever sees you again and whatnot. Good lord, what a bunch of idiots! Unfortunately, intelligence doesn't seem to be a requirement to get onto this team. Seems like most of your group is pretty gifted in the brains department, which is getting me a little jealous...any openings over there? Just joking, I really couldn't leave Victor alone here anyway…even though some days I figure he wouldn’t notice I’m gone until he finishes his latest creation. : )

All right, I should wrap up since I'm sure you won't have time to read long emails right now. I'll let you know if I hear anything more about my trip plans, and let me know how things go with the training. I'm sure it will be great, regardless. Talk more later!

Two weeks later, Lex wrote to Kate.
Well, it's finally over! I thought I would heave with relief once everything was done. I got so nervous as we went out to the facility in the morning I nearly heaved beforehand! Anyway, it was a really nice place, not far away in Maryland with about an acre field with a raised desk to one side, where a few observers could sit, surrounded by a small wooded area. We got there about 10 a.m. and got started reviewing the rules. Since I’d planned the exercise, no one felt it would be fair if I participated, so I served as the advisor to the blue team. I’d begged Mr. Chen to come along too, so he served as the advisor to the red team.

It ended up being Joan, Lily, and Serena on the red team and Casey and Riss on the blue team. I figured Mr. Chen would tell Serena to get to Casey and bring her away somewhere, then come back to take care of Riss. I also assumed he'd tell Lily and Joan to go for Riss right away to neutralize her. So, I advised Riss to see if she could get Joan's suit to pause for a little while, and then to go for Serena and try to tie herself to her. I thought Serena might have trouble getting away from that, so I figured it was worth a try. I also warned Riss that she'd probably have to deal with Lily, too. Casey I advised to dodge any contact from Serena and then to face off with Joan.

Mr. Chen and I had decided on a simple Capture the Flag exercise with a hidden flag to kick things off. We set goals to find the flag and be able to hold it for at least five minutes while ensuring the safety of your team members. A team could only win the contest if they hit both goals, however. We also gave a hint to the teams about the flag’s position, hidden someplace high up within the facility. We also showed the teams a picture of the flag: it had a stick about two feet long and had been colored safety yellow.

The weather seemed just perfect about then, sunny but not too hot. Everyone started off on opposite sides of the field. I almost held my breath, since I didn't know what to expect, but as we gave the “go” signal, the pandemonium started. Serena suddenly appeared beside Casey, but she dodged more quickly and fluidly than I had ever seen, her arms, body, and legs sliding smoothly out of range of Serena's reaching hands. She then quickly bent her knees to launch herself into the air and forward, covering several yards of distance towards Joan, who appeared to be frozen in place while turned in Riss' direction.

Serena was momentarily dumbfounded, but just as she turned, Riss had gotten to her. Before Serena could react, she had quickly looped a sash around both of their wrists and tied them together. Suddenly, the two of them were a couple of feet away from where they had been, and Serena went from looking smug to somewhat panicked as Riss went on tightening the bond between them.

Moments later, as soon as she was satisfied with the sash, however, Riss began to look around, trying to spot Lily. This was difficult, since Serena continued to move them around the field, trying in panic to separate from Riss. Finally, as the two of them flickered from place to place, I saw Riss raising her fist, and then punching Serena kind of hard on the shoulder. Abruptly, the two of them stopped moving, Serena looking at Riss in something like shock. At that moment, Riss finally spotted Lily, who was now moving into the nearby tree line.

“Oh, no, you don't,” she muttered, and started to run after Lily, dragging Serena along with her.

One thing I hadn't thought about was that Mr. Chen might tell one of his team to ignore the other team and just look for the flag. I should have, since they had three instead of two, and I shook my head and looked at Mr. Chen with a smile. He looked back at me and smiled as well, nodding, and I took that to mean that he was glad that my strategy advice to the blue team had worked, too.

But, I swiveled my head in the opposite direction as I heard a muffled noise. I saw the furrows in the ground where Casey had landed in front of Joan, and the taller woman was standing up now, brushing her hands together. They were standing face to face, and Joan still appeared to be frozen where she was. Casey put her hands on her hips, surveying Joan and her suit.

Then, Joan started to move again. She finished her suspended step forward, and then threw her fist at Casey. Without appearing to think much about it, Casey threw up a fist, as well, and their two fists met with the sound of squeaking metal. The both of them fell back a step then, Joan shaking her hand as if the impact had hurt, and Casey silently falling into a ready position.

The second charge started so quickly it seemed as if it had grown up from the ground organically. Suddenly they were together again, punches and blocks flying so fast they were difficult to see. Joan was taller in her suit than she normally is, but Casey was still taller and bigger than she was, and had more reach. Finally, though, she got in a good kick on Casey and drove her to one knee, but as she was going in with an elbow strike to Casey's neck, Casey gave Joan a lightning-quick punch to her midsection, and Joan went flying back, digging out a big section of earth as she landed a yard or two away.

I turned at that point to see if I could find out where Riss, Lily, and Serena had gotten to, but it seemed they were all in the woods right then, so by the time I turned back to where Joan and Casey had been fighting, they were several yards away from where they had been, rolling on the ground. Casey had a hold of Joan, who was struggling to get up, and Joan was punching Casey in the ribs, trying to get her to let go. When she did let go, Casey pushed Joan away and got to her feet at the same time, pressing forward to attack again.

Mr. Chen and I watched for at least twenty minutes or so as Joan and Casey fought. Joan seemed to have learned her martial arts mostly in the military, and her execution was very angular and to the point. Casey had obviously studied under Mr. Chen for long enough to pick up some moves I recognized, and I remember looking over at him at a couple of points and smiling as I saw Casey do something he'd taught me not long before.

Finally, it seemed as if Casey and Joan were getting tired, both moving more slowly and circling each other more often than coming in to fight. Mr. Chen and I were both getting reports every five minutes or so, and neither of the teams had located the flag yet; Riss was dragging Serena along with her, following Lily who had climbed the tallest tree she could find to look for the flag, and who was now trying several locations she'd spotted that seemed promising. As my latest report was coming in, however, I saw Joan lunge in for Casey and grab her sides, then a moment later, Casey cried out as there was a burning, sizzling sound.

In a blur I saw Casey lift her knee almost straight up against her chest to dislodge Joan, then snapped a kick at her. Even though Joan stood taller than normal, Casey's knee was at Joan’s head level, and the kick hit her squarely across the chest with a sound almost like a gunshot. Joan went flying for yards and hit the forest beyond, knocking parts off of a dozen or more trees with a terrible rending sound as her suit cut through them, finally landing on her hands and knees, shaking her head.

Everyone turned to look as the first tree began to splinter and crack, and as we all watched, the flag fell out of an abandoned nest. It had been on top of a shorter tree and we could see it flutter and sink towards the ground. Lily was halfway up a different tree, but Riss began running for where the flag had fallen, dragging Serena with her. Casey stood in place, trying to gather her breath, her hands on her knees and still looking pained, but she straightened up and began walking for the spot as well, moving jerkily.

Riss grabbed the flag and a moment later, Casey gathered up her and Serena and ran off into the trees. Lily made it back down from the tree she'd been climbing and looked off in the direction they'd gone, then shook her head and came to see to about Joan.

Casey, Serena, and Riss showed back up about fifteen minutes later, Serena grudgingly agreeing that they'd held the flag for the required amount of time, rubbing her wrist once Riss untied it and glaring at her. We then reviewed everything and had breakout sessions where we worked together in small teams to apply what we learned, but this email is already way too long, and most of that was way more boring anyway, so I'll sign off. I hope everything's well with you, and that you've found out more about your trip.

About a week later, Kate wrote back.
Ha! I would have PAID to see that fight. No chance you caught it on camera? I know, probably even if you did film it, I wouldn't be allowed to see it. I'm glad it sounds like it all worked out so well, though. Hopefully everyone found out a little about the importance of teamwork...and maybe that idea will trickle over to our group? Well, I can wish for it, anyway...

I didn't write sooner because I've been getting ready for a big trip. First, we'll be hitting the Great Barrier Reef near Australia for a couple of weeks, and then we’ll spend a week in Antarctica. I've been working to decide what I need to pack, and they've been giving me endless lectures and study assignments about the creatures to be found at each of those places, which to avoid and which to look out for. Fortunately, I just have to be able to see the animals and observe them for a short while before I can pick up things from them, so many of their warnings are unnecessary. But I like seeing the pictures and hearing more about all of the creatures there. The reefs look like they'll have a lot of interesting things to see, but I've been working hard at improving my scuba skills, since one of the easiest ways you can get hurt there is to get washed into a reef. There are lots of things that can sting or cut you, if you do, and some of those are even deadly poisonous in Australia.

Anyway, I'll be leaving in a couple of days, and after that I'll be going to visit my parents for Thanksgiving. I'll have my laptop with me, though, so I'll try to email you every few days about all of the things I'll be seeing. Say hi to everyone there for me! I hope no one's still mad after the training.

Lex wrote back the next day,
That's SO exciting about your trip! Definitely keep me posted, I want to hear every detail. Everyone's good here, actually. Riss, Casey, and I seem to have gotten closer since the team exercise, and we actually laugh and joke during our (now traditional) weekly meal together, something I didn't know Riss ever did. It’s also nice because Casey always seems to make her most delicious recipes when we do get together.

I've been working out a couple of times a week with Serena, as well. She seemed upset at Riss for a few days, but I guess she’s not the type to hold a grudge, so we're now all back on speaking terms. However, she did come to me afterwards and ask that I help her get stronger so that she could do more in a situation like that in the future, so of course I agreed. She's never worked out much in the past, but she seems determined to stick with it, so it's been going well. My work with Mr. Chen is going well, too. He seems pleased with me, and I feel like I've been learning an awful lot.

Anyway, I probably shouldn't send a long letter because you're going to be busy getting ready for your trip. Let me know how it's going when you have time. I'm looking forward to hearing about all of the cool new things you're going to be able to do!

A week later, Kate replied.
Hey! I really like Australia. : ) Just wanted to start with that; the people are really great here, and there's so much to see on the reef that I spend most of my days there, swimming around and watching. We’ve had this series of perfect sunny days, too, which has made everything even better.

I've learned to create crazy poisons, make my skin super slippery or gripping or tearing (sharks have skin like that, kind of like the gloves Victor made for you), and all kinds of other amazing things. The downside is that I pretty much need to be in water to do all of that, because otherwise I'll “drown”…I don't know what else to call it; it's weird to be standing in the air, unable to breathe it.

I have to say if you get a chance you should visit. It's really beautiful and a lot of fun. I wish I had time to see more on land, but I've been too fascinated with the reef to spend more than a day or so there. Most of that we spent going to zoos, anyway, to see some of the unusual land critters here, as well as some of the amphibians. : )

Glad to hear everyone's doing well, including you. I hear from Victor that everything's status quo at home base. He's been working on a few hot projects, though, so I don't hear much news. Anyway, I hope things continue to go well, and I'll keep you posted from this end. I'm attaching a few of the cool photos my team took, so I hope you like them.

In the next couple of days Lex wrote back.
It looks so beautiful there! I definitely want to visit now so I can go snorkeling and see all the amazing fish and things on the reef. I'll probably need to resort to using air tanks, though. Glad to hear you've been getting a lot out of the trip, too. I hope the Antarctic trip is just as successful.

Everyone here is doing well. I've continued to work with Riss on stuff, and between that and hanging out together once a week, it seems like she's finally getting used to us. Casey and I, at least. The workouts with Serena have been going well, too. I’ve actually had to encourage her not to work so hard that she gets hurt. I’m really happy about the fact that Mr. Chen has been teaching me a lot of new moves lately. It makes me feel like he really does trust me.

Casey found out we'd been writing, so she said to tell you she says hi and that she heard you have some fancy moves, so she wanted to spar with you one day. I forgot to mention earlier that the two of us started sparring once a week a little while ago. We'd been talking about my “fight” with George, and we both agreed it was useful to have some idea of what to do if we were fighting someone so different from ourselves. It's scary to have a fist flying at you that could easily bash your head flat, but Casey seems terribly careful, so I think we've both been learning a lot.

OK, I really should go now. Hope your trip is still going well and I’ll talk to you later!

About a week later, Kate sent another email.
Well, it's cold as hell in Antarctica, but everyone who lives here swears that it's really warm. It's been kind of cool, though (no pun intended), since a lot of the wildlife in this place isn't too wary of humans. As a result, I’m able to get a lot closer to them than I can usually in order to pick up on what they do. At first, I just focused on the animals on land (maybe “on ice” or “on snow” would be more accurate), but after picking up on some seals and penguins, I wanted to see if I could swim using my new talents in order to pick up on the creatures underwater.

I tried it with a wetsuit and it went pretty well, except for my face, hands, and feet. I could only stay under the water for about five minutes before they started to freeze up, and I had to get out and get warm. I guess the fat layers in those parts of my body are too small to effectively act as insulators like they do for seals and penguins. Even with that, I’ve been able to see some amazing underwater creatures, and I've picked up all sorts of ways to deal with the cold and other new stuff, too.

It’s weird though, I found out after overhearing the two other people they sent me with talking that our sponsors decided to send me on this trip because of global warming. That's just sad; I don't want to be the only record that all these animals and fish once lived. Apparently it hits the arctic and Antarctic the hardest, so things have really been heating up down here over the past decade or so, and wildlife numbers have been dropping like a stone. Plus they wanted me to go to the Great Barrier Reef due to the bleaching coral reef problem… : (

The people who live at the research stations we've visited here are interesting, but some seem a little weird. I guess living in this kind of environment for at least a year (which is how long most of them stay, at minimum) might make anyone seem a little strange if it's not what you're used to. They have a lot of great information about the animals that come here, though, so I've been talking to them a lot. I guess it's the start of the tourist season here (bet you didn't know there was one!), so I imagine they'll have a lot of other new folks to talk to over the next few months to shake off the winter isolation blues.

Anyway, I’ve got to go; we're arranging an expedition out to an area where the people at this station have said some penguins go to breed, ones I haven't seen yet. Hope all is well with you guys. Tell Serena, Casey, and Riss I say hi from the bottom of the world!

A few days later, Lex responded.
Hey, Kate. Glad to hear the trip's going well. I didn't know Antarctica had a “tourist season,” although I'm sure it would be interesting to see. I can't say the reason for planning your visit surprises me, though; I think any logical person can look at the world around and notice that the weather seems broken, but there sure is a lot of propaganda going on here to try to deny it.

Not really anything out of the ordinary to report here, I guess, except that everyone here is getting ready for Thanksgiving. Serena doesn't have to make travel arrangements, but she is going to her folks' house for dinner. She won't be staying overnight or anything, though (they don't get along, I understand), and she made me promise that we'd be working out on Friday and then going out clubbing that night. I was going to be here anyway, so of course I said yes.

Casey is going home for about a week. Her parents and her little brother have passed on, but she has some aunts, uncles, and cousins that she's planning to catch up with. I didn't talk with Joan about it, but I hear she's leaving for the week too. Which pretty much just leaves Riss and me here. I haven't talked with her about it, yet, but I’m planning to make something nice, so hopefully I can convince her to join me when it’s time to eat.

Early the following week, Kate wrote back.
I hope you and Riss have a good time on Thanksgiving. I'd invite you guys down here to my parents’ house, but Florida seems like an awfully long way to go just for turkey and sweet potatoes. Besides, it sounds like the two of you are getting to be pretty good friends now, so I'm sure you'll have fun. Just me and Mom and Dad here; they had me kind of late in life, so they're getting on in years now. Unfortunately, my dad has had some problems with his heart these days, so he’s not able to get out too much and enjoy the nice weather. Well, at least it seems pretty warm to me after Antarctica, but all of the people here in Florida are complaining and wearing sweatshirts and jackets. I'm hot in a t-shirt and shorts, so I guess it's not all bad. : )

The following week, Lex replied to Kate.
Riss and I ended up having an OK time on Thanksgiving. I spent some time in the gym, then made some food and forced her to eat with me. Just joking; she actually seemed to be expecting something like that and we had a pretty good time. She must have been bored because she showed me a lot of the cool systems she's set up to monitor things here.

I had fun going out with Serena the next day, but she spent a lot of time complaining about her Thanksgiving dinner. Apparently, her parents have been bugging her to get married to some guy she's distantly related to that her dad has been teaching his business to. She's not interested in that at all, but she does seem to want to hook me up. She’s always got a number of guys she wants to introduce me to when we go out together. They always seem nice enough, but, well...I guess I'm not ready to think about dating someone else yet.

Casey complained when she got back, too, which isn't really like her, but her relatives surprised her with a visit from her sister. She and her sister fell out a while back. They aren't talking and they aren't ever likely to, from the sounds of it. So, she decided she’d stay here over the December holidays, so she and I are going to plan a party here. Riss should be here and Serena said that she'd come back after she visits with her parents, so we'll have a pretty full house. I haven't talked to Joan yet, but I’ll ask her when she gets back. We want to invite Mr. Chen and Lily too, so we'll see who's able to make it. Now I just have to figure out what to get everyone...

Later that week, Kate wrote back.
Glad to hear everyone survived Thanksgiving! I know it can be stressful due to all the running around and family stuff. My parents and I celebrated pretty quietly, but no one minded that. It's just a little painful, sometimes. They’re a lot frailer now than they used to be. They don't ask about my eye anymore like they did when it first happened, but sometimes I catch my mom or dad looking at my eye patch with this terrible, sad look.

Anyway, speaking of that, I've been wondering…usually, one of the first things people ask me about is my missing eye. If they don't ask right away, they usually get around to it sooner or later, but you've never asked. Why not?

A couple of days later, Lex replied.
Well, Kate, I always figured it was your business, and that you'd tell me about it if and when you wanted to. I know how rude people can be about things like that. Complete strangers seem to think it's their right to walk up to me on the street and start commenting on my scars if I’m not thinking about it and wear a tank top or shorts during the summer. So, I figure you're probably pretty tired of people asking. But since you're asking, yes, I am curious about what happened, if you feel like talking about it.

Kate wrote back the following evening.
Well, it's not a really great story, but I don't mind telling you about it. It's all related to this case our team got sent on last year. The police had located a serial killer the police who’d been incinerating women. They found out the hard way that he did it by catching his body on fire, like something you'd see on one of those crazy videos of people spontaneously combusting. He wouldn't burn up, though, but everything he touched would. Anyway, they had this whole crappy neighborhood in Baltimore evacuated and we had to go in and get him.

George had a great idea that I would go in as bait and draw him out, and then he could catch the guy unawares because the way George is makes him more flame retardant. They gave me a long fire-resistant coat and boots and sent me out there. Well, I drew the bastard out, all right, but then no George. I fought the man through a burnt-out house and down the main street until the soles of my boots had half-melted to the pavement, the gloves had burnt to rags, and my clothes and hair had started smoking. I tried to run, but he ran just as fast and I couldn't lose him. Finally, he got a hold of me and threw me against the front of a tenement building. I tried to shake him off of me, but I think I just froze near the end. The last thing I saw in that eye was a flaming finger coming closer and closer. With the other eye, just before I passed out from the pain, I could see George across the street, leaning against the wall in a nearby alley, watching and waiting.

When I finally came to in a hospital bed, I told them everything, but they claimed that there’d been some kind of accident and that George got there as quickly as he could. They also told me my eye would never come back, since the killer had cooked it like a hard-boiled egg. Even the skin all around it got burnt, but less badly. Of course, they wouldn't let me leave the team, either, even after repeated requests, so now I just have to watch my back all the time. Thank goodness Victor came on a few months after I did.

I'm sorry to tell you this. It's a crappy story and I feel badly for having passed it along. You don't have to write back about any of this. Just tell me how the party preparations are going, and about your work with Mr. Chen. Thanks for reading, anyway.

Lex sent a reply the next day.
Really there’s no way I wouldn’t respond to your last email, and I'm glad you told me. This is the kind of story you should let people know and not feel badly about. If anyone has anything to feel ashamed for, it's George. I got him right the moment I saw him—he's just a big bully who likes to hurt people he thinks are weaker than him. I'm so, so sorry. I wish I’d been there; maybe I could have done something. Really though, you should feel proud—you kicked some serious ass on someone with abilities very different than yours. It’s lucky you’re skilled enough to hold your own as long as you did. I wouldn't put it past George to have let you die if he thought he could get away with it, from what I’ve seen of him. Please, watch your step around him, and don’t hesitate to call us if you need backup.

Anyway, as far as the party goes, Casey and I are still working on it. She's planning the food, and I'm supposed to be planning the decorations. What can I say, though, it's not really my strength. I asked for help from Riss, and she looked at me for a few minutes before she said “I'm pagan,” and went back to what she'd been working on. I explained it was supposed to be a non-specific holiday party and finally convinced her (grudgingly, on her part) to at least help me decorate the tree. So, that's something, at least, I guess.

Mr. Chen and Lily have both said they'll try to stop by for the party, so now I'm sort of anxious. I've got good ideas of what to get for almost everyone, except them. Arrgh! So, now I've got to come up with some kind of good idea for presents. I hope I come up with something. If you have any ideas, let me know.

Kate wrote back a couple of days later, which was the last email Lex received from her friend.
Lex, thanks. Maybe it's hard for me to keep it in perspective, since it happened to me, but that story has always made me feel ridiculous. Powerless. Ashamed. Stupid. Lots of other things, as well. Thanks for...giving me some new perspective. You're right; I think this is something I should have been telling more people about. And, thanks for...I don't know, making me feel better about it, as weird as it sounds.

Glad to hear your party planning has been going well; it sounds like you guys will be having a nice time. Just a thought, but didn't you say Mr. Chen was into Chinese calligraphy? Maybe you could look into buying him a nice set of brushes, or something. As far as for what to get for Lily, I really don't know; just don't get her apples. : )


Forward to Chapter 17
_____________________________________________

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

Just a reminder 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. To all of you who have been, thanks for reading so far! There's definitely more to come...


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The fact that it's the last email bothers me... I wonder what's going to happen in the next chapter...

Aside from that, I quite liked the normalcy of how things are going and that you told it by way of email correspondence. (The formatting looks fine to me by the way.) The 'Capture the Flag' was really interesting and I like how Kate's traveling and getting to know animals from all over.

Thanks for sharing! =)

I thought I should mention that, because it will become relevant in the next couple of chapters. :/

Glad you liked the day-to-day stuff, and the correspondence between Lex and Kate. I remember thinking as I wrote it that the method was reminding me of some much older stories I've read where large portions of the story were told by correspondence (like Dracula, etc.). I'm also happy the formatting looks OK, and that the Capture the Flag game and Kate's adventures were fun to read, because they were fun to write, too.

Thanks for reading and commenting! More soon...

Animal Woman and the Adventures of Cyber Lex

(Anonymous)
Psycho Gecko here.

I just have to say it...yeah, it seems like the one-eyed woman was missing a little perspective.

The mystery deepens, too. A mysteriously disappeared person. I think back when I was first reading things, I had some suspicions about who Lex's boyfriend was on the phone with as well. I'd also suspect George. They're really letting him get away with murder.

On top of that, we're seeing a pretty clear division by sex here. A lot more females than males with superpowers.

This agency didn't seem quite so impotent, at least at first, but they're awfully afraid of George. They should have the means and resources to handle a glorified strongman, so the question is why don't they? It's a good question indeed. Another good question is why they have these people all working at mundane tasks. Sure, firefighting is a noble profession, but they have regular firefighters for that. Just like cops have K9 units for sniffing.

Tests on top of tests on top of tests. An awful lot of work just to market superpowers.

Too bad Kate didn't stick around under water way up in the freezing parts of the world. There are fish down there who manage to survive by using some sort of natural antifreeze in their blood. Speaking of fish, there's really not a lot she can do with fish from deep underwater, unless they expect her to be an easily-smooshable phosphorescent person. Or maybe they want her to attach to a female anglerfish and turn into a sperm-producing parasite. Nevermind, they already have George for that.

George, you fail at life. Go snort an electric eel.

Re: Animal Woman and the Adventures of Cyber Lex

XD I guess that just comes with the territory!

Disappeared persons are also something that comes with the territory here...and there is a definite pattern to it, and a reason behind what's being done...read on to find out more!

Hmmm...I guess I could see how it would look that way from Lex's current perspective. Rest assured that changes over time, but from what Lex can see right now, you're right, women are the ones with a lot of the superpowers.

Strangely, yes. You're absolutely correct that they have the means to control someone like him. And the mundane tasks question is also another good one. Your answers are in chapters to come!

I think the agency arranges trips for Kate not only to increase her repertoire, but to see how much she's capable of learning, as well.

Agreed! Thanks for reading and commenting. : )

Riss and Lilly

(Anonymous)
I don't understand how tieing Serena's and Riss' hand together prevents Serena from using her power. Anything touching Serena goes with her so This does make sense. (What would be interesting to know is if Serena is barefoot and standing, can she still jump?). Teleporting with 1 person is something she could do all day so why does she continue jumping to find the flag or just teleport and stay somewhere taking Riss out of the fight? And even if it did prevent her from using her power, why would Serena just follow her around like a puppy on a leash? Why didn't she fight back, try to pull Riss around, or just sit down?

Also, I don't see why George is not found "lacking" and lobotomized. :)

Continuing to love the story!!

It's exactly as you say in your second sentence, currently, if she's touching it, it goes with her. Now that's a really good question, and I think it has a lot to do with expectations about what should happen in a situation like that, not really with what's possible. Given that, they do work with this idea later on, with pretty interesting results, I think.

As far as why she didn't fight back, I think that speaks a lot to the lack of training that's been done with this team - she's not used to being hit, and the threat of it effectively neutralizes her, since she doesn't want to be hit again.

Yes, well, there are a number of people out there who seem to simply get their way continually because a lot of others are afraid of them. That doesn't usually hold forever, though...

Thank you for coming to read, and for commenting!

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