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Chapter 22: Aftermath
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes: Descriptions of scary medical procedures and near death experiences.

I'm posting from the floor tonight, trying to get comfortable with a back injury, so if you have good thoughts to spare, please send them my way! Also, have a look at the fabulous thumbnail of Serena that Snowzapped made! If you'd like to see a full-sized version of the picture, please check it out at Super's Facebook page.

Much thanks to my super-duper editor gwoman for her work on this chapter!

Back to Chapter 21

Lex looked around a little after Casey left, and saw a small room and the tiny bed she lay in. The windows overhead spoke of being in a basement, but Lex couldn't place the room as anywhere she knew or had seen before. The walls had been painted off-white a long time ago, but now looked more yellow than white, marked with the occasional furniture scrape. Other than Casey's chair and the bed she lay in, Lex saw no other furniture in the room.

Gingerly, Lex tried to remember what had happened, and finally the incident at the train station came back to her. She remembered being sick, Casey picking her up and carrying her, and then nothing, just some weird dreams. Shaking it off, Lex moved to get out of bed, thinking that she should probably get ready. Although she couldn't place their location, Lex figured they hadn't gotten far since she fell ill, and since they were in touch with Lily. All three of us should get moving as soon as possible, she thought, so we don't put anyone in more danger.

When she tried to rise from the bed, however, Lex found that she couldn't even sit up very far until her muscles started to shake and another wave of exhaustion hit her. Casey and Riss came into the room at that moment, and the blonde rushed to Lex's side.

“Whoa, tiger, why don't you wait until Lily gets here? She wants to have a good look at you to make sure you're OK. She said it was fine to give you some water, but drink it really slowly, all right? You've been having a lot of trouble with your stomach.”

At that moment, Lex found she could only focus on the small glass of water in Casey's hand. With trembling hands, she guided it to her mouth and tried not to gulp it down despite her raging thirst. After a moment, she began to think about the rest of what Casey had said.

“Lily's coming here?” Lex asked, bringing the glass of water to rest in her lap. “We shouldn't do that. It will put her in a lot of danger, and—”

“Lex,” Casey said, kneeling by her bedside to look her in the eye. “Don't worry, it will be OK. I know you probably have some questions, but Lily wanted us to wait until she gets here to start talking about everything. Can you wait a little while longer? We'll answer everything then.”

“OK,” Lex said with a confused frown, and settled back in bed to sip her water again. She leaned forward as Casey arranged the pillows behind her to support her back, and looked over at Riss, who'd sat in the corner a few feet away, legs crossed tailor-style under her and a laptop in her lap. Lex had felt her friend looking intently at her face, but Riss glanced away when Lex looked over in her direction.

“How's it going, Riss?” Lex asked, causing the other woman to look up to meet her eye.

Riss shrugged. “Lots better than it was. Lily should be here soon, maybe another fifteen minutes.”

Lex nodded and slowly finished the last of her water, pleased that her stomach seemed fine as she did. Closing her eyes, Lex massaged her eyelids gently, then her eyebrow ridge. The whole area felt tight and hot.

Opening her eyes sometime later as she heard a noise, Lex blinked as she saw Lily bustle in, dressed in business clothes and a lab coat. Lily stared straight into Lex's eyes for a moment, as if confirming something, then turned to Casey and Riss.

“All right, ladies. Out. Once I'm done, we can all talk.”

The two women filed out quietly and closed the door behind them, and Lex thought she could hear someone settle in the hallway just beyond the door. Lily started taking a number of instruments out of a small satchel she'd carried in with her and laid them out on a cloth on top of the chair Casey had been sitting in. Finally, she scrubbed up with hand sanitizer and turned to Lex.

“I'm going to check you out to see how you're doing,” Lily said, donning her stethoscope and lifting Lex to put it on her back. “Breathe normally for me.”

An hour later, Lex felt exhausted again, if only because of the amount of medical observation that had been done on her. Lily nodded and actually looked pleased as she pulled her stethoscope off and put it back in the bag.

“Everything looks pretty good, all things considered,” Lily told Lex. “I can go through what I think are going to be problems for you, then we can review any other questions you have. Do you mind if I call Casey and Riss back in? We're going to have to rely on them to help take care of you for a while, so they'll need to know this, too.”

Lex looked back with bemusement before nodding, not trusting her voice at the moment. What the hell happened while I was asleep?

She forced herself to smile as the other two women came back into the room and positioned themselves—Riss in the corner she'd taken before, and Casey leaning against the corner of the room nearest the bed.

“All right,” Lily said, “first things first. Lex, you didn’t really get sick, you had what we call a body event. I think Riss filled you in on what that means,” she continued, shooting Riss a glance that was hard to decipher.

Lex nodded without replying and waited, trying to keep her hands from shaking.

“The good news is that when I checked you out, from what I can see, your basic structure seems to be fine, along with your heart and breathing. From everything I can tell, without being able to scan you in any way, your body structures all seem normal.

“Unfortunately, the event seems to have had a bad effect on your digestive system. By the time I saw you, you were vomiting so hard every few minutes that I was sure you'd pulled some stomach muscles. How long had it been since you’d been able to eat normally?”

“Well,” Lex replied, looking curiously at Lily, “everything seemed to work fine unless I left the facility. A while after I left, I’d start to get headaches and feel queasy. They usually stopped once I got back.”

Lily sighed. “Along with the experimental medications used by MSI, they usually prescribed painkillers and some antivirals so that the process didn't begin too quickly. In this case, the upshot seems to be that you didn't start feeling bad until you left.

“Anyway, we'll have to teach you to eat again. Start off with things that will be easy to digest, like rice with honey, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, or applesauce. Just remember to stick with things with as little processing as possible—avoid anything with any chemical tastes, smells, or colors—and avoid foods that have a lot of sugar, fat, or salt. What do you usually eat?”

Lex shrugged. “I was eating mostly vegetarian food before this.”

“Most of that should be fine on your stomach. In your case I'd avoid dairy, though, because it sets a lot of people's stomachs off.”

Lily paused and looked at Lex for a moment before continuing. “There's something else I have to tell you before I continue with the things you'll have to look out for. When you got ill, you stayed that way for a while. You've been here for a little over a month.”

Lex paled as she stared up at Lily. “A month? I can't believe they haven't found us yet! We should get out of here now!”

“Stop right there,” said Lily with eyes full of steel as she pushed Lex further back into the bed. “I think you're about as safe as you can be in DC; I'll let Riss and Casey explain later, since I've got to get back to work soon. Also, I have no intention of letting you go before I have at least a little assurance you won't die the minute you set foot out my door.” More quietly, Lily said, almost to herself, “My grandfather would never forgive me.”

“What do you mean?” Lex asked, still confused.

Lily faced her again, fixing Lex's eyes with her own. “You were very lucky, Lex. I've seen other people with harder body events than yours, but none who survived. You nearly died twice during the past few weeks. Casey never left your room during the day, which was good because she brought you back the first time your heart stopped. The second time she had to do CPR on you for over an hour before I could make it back here to help you.

“Your event also ended up well. You still look pretty much like anyone else. I've seen people come out of their body event so changed that they don't look human anymore. Let me say it one more time so that you actually start to think about it: you are lucky to be in as good shape as you are. Don't blow it by running off before I say you're ready.”

“OK, all right,” Lex mumbled, looking down at her hands.

“All right then. Since you haven't been able to eat and you've been bedridden for the past month with your body reforming itself, your muscles have atrophied. We'll need to work to get you up and moving again, but we'll also keep it slow so that we don't overdo it. You'll need a lot of help from Casey and Riss to be successful, and I expect you to accept it. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” Lex replied, glaring up at Lily from under her brows.

Lily smiled gently in reply. “OK then.”

“What did you mean, my body reforming itself?” Lex asked after a moment, having had an opportunity to consider Lily's previous words.

Sighing, Lily replied, “Well, that's what the body event is all about. Your system was bombarded with experimental drugs to cause your genes to change and your body to respond as a result. The event is sort of the tipping point; your body responds to the drugs by trying to reform itself. Of course, this is a difficult prospect for a living being, which is probably why most of the people who have a body event die of it. Due to all of the differing messages your body is getting—from its original set of genes and the new changes the drugs are trying to express—the results are hard to determine beforehand and are often unexpected. You may get new limbs, a new appearance, new organs, you may forget...everything. It seems to be unique for each person.”

Then Lily swore under her breath as she looked at her watch. “I have to get back to work before anyone gets suspicious. Casey, Riss, feel free to fill her in on anything now, and please get her something to eat.”

With that, Lily swooped out the door, but then poked her head back in a moment later.

“I almost forgot. Start keeping a log if you experience anything that's out of the norm for you. Make a note of the time you experienced the symptom and a brief description of what happened. I'll try to stop by later this evening to see how you're doing and we can talk about anything you noticed. And, Riss, please let my grandfather know that Lex is back with us again when you have a moment.”

The three of them glanced at each other after a few seconds of listening to see if Lily would come back a second time. In the meantime, Lex felt overwhelmed, but noted Casey’s smile and Riss’ attitude of waiting. Finally, after clearing her voice, Lex spoke.

“So, what happened that day? I need to get up to speed with how we got here. And, where's Lou?”

Riss and Casey looked at each other for a moment, and then Casey started speaking as she turned back to Lex.

“Well, like Lily said, you were really sick. I couldn't wake you, but you kept heaving every couple of minutes as if your stomach was about to come out next. I got you out of the station and called Mr. Chen like you said. As soon as I described to him what was happening, he told me that he'd send a cab. He asked if anyone else was with us, and when I told him Riss, he gave me this address and told me to ask her to wait an hour or so, then come over.

“So we got you here. I called Lou, too, to let him know to wait. We managed to meet a few days later, and thought it probably made the most sense if he just kept on with everything as usual until we were actually ready to leave town. So, he’s at home.

“Mr. Chen and his family set this place up for us. We never would have made it if it weren't for them. And, since Lily works at the main facility where they hold people like us, she knew what to do to take care of you.”

Casey stopped for a moment, looking down at her hands. “She said when she first saw you that you had probably had symptoms for a while that no one had picked up on. She said that there were things they could have done to make your event easier, if they'd known, but that it was likely you would die. And, you almost did.”

Lex cleared her throat. “But I didn't, thanks to you.”

Casey looked up then, and Lex felt her stomach contract as she saw that her friend was crying.

Feeling her heart twist, Lex spoke up again. “I'm so sorry to have worried you, and I'm sorry to be so much trouble. I'm going to be fine now, and it's thanks to the both of you,” Lex continued, incorporating Riss in her glance. “I'm going to need your help, but my goal is to be back up on my feet and out of here in a week, maybe two. Everything's going to be fine, so please don't cry Casey. We're all going to be OK.”

Sniffling a little, Casey wiped under her eyes with the back of her hand. “Sorry,” she said, gruffly.

“Thanks for worrying about me, and for taking such good care of me while I was sick,” said Lex gently.

Casey nodded and straightened, levering herself into a standing position from her previous lean. “So, are you hungry?”

“Starved,” Lex replied, “The water was fine, but I'm not sure what my stomach will put up with.”

“I think I have just the thing,” Casey said, moving towards the door. “I've been thinking about this ever since Lily said that it seemed your stomach was out of whack, so I had a few things brought in that we can try. I'll be back in a bit. Riss, can you answer any more of Lex's questions?”

Riss nodded as Casey rushed out the door. She looked at Lex then, eyebrow raised. “I think she's just embarrassed,” Riss said in a quiet voice as she slid closer to Lex's bed, still sitting on the carpet. “Lily doesn't know the half of it. Casey barely left your bedside day and night. She would roll out some bedding and sleep on the floor so she could keep an eye on you.”

Lex nodded and swallowed, feeling her own eyes get misty.

“Oh, don't you start crying too,” Riss said with a smirk.

Lex had to smile in return, blinking rapidly. “OK, OK. Do you have anything else to add to what Casey said?”

“Yeah. Publicly, it seems that MSI accepts the story that we died. We've been marked as deceased in their computer systems. I was surprised to see some press coverage of three unnamed consultants able to thwart the arsonist and clear the burning buildings, and the story of our tragic deaths at the second scene. From what I've been able to tell by monitoring communications at several MSI facilities, though, they're not sure we died because of George's story. Since he doesn't have any proof to back up what he saw, they haven't done much to search for us it seems, aside from having some of their private army out looking for us in typical spots for a week or two after we disappeared. I did notice that they circulated our general descriptions to the regular police as “persons of interest” in the arson case and told them to pick us up if they saw us. The contact numbers go back to MSI if we're found, of course, but I don't think that'll be an issue since by the time we get out of here, weeks will have gone by. Plus, well,” Riss continued, looking Lex in the eye, “we don't all look the same, anyway.”

Lex felt a little sinking in her stomach as Riss confirmed what she'd been expecting. “OK, this is what I'd like to do. Give me a little idea of what to expect before you help me walk to the bathroom. I'm guessing there's a mirror in there?”

Riss nodded in response. “Yes, a full-length one on the back of the door. Well,” she continued after a pause, “after a few days of being sick, all your hair fell out. You were bald for a little while, but it did grow back. It's not the same color, though. I'm not sure what happened to your eyes. I think that's what everyone was looking at, because we haven't seen them much for the past month.”

Lex waited for more, but that was all that Riss said. “So, other than that, I look pretty much like I used to?”

Riss nodded and moved over near Lex, her laptop abandoned in the corner. “Thinner, though. Are you ready?”

Lex nodded, and then swung her legs out. She bit back a gasp when she saw two bony legs poking out from under the covers, and Lex looked up at her arms, realizing that much of the muscle she'd become used to seeing was gone. Steeling herself for anything, Lex leaned heavily on Riss' arm as she got up. Getting to a standing position hadn't been bad, but the first few steps forward were not happy occurrences. Her muscles felt almost like they had been asleep for a long time; they seemed twitchy, uncertain, and prone to unexpected movements. With Riss taking charge of her IV pole, the two of them slowly made their way down the hall to the bathroom. Once they got there, Lex found herself feeling absurdly thankful that the room she'd been in was the closest to the bathroom.

“Are you OK to go in on your own?” Riss asked, clearly uncertain.

Lex tested herself for a moment and realized that she already felt a little surer on her feet. She nodded and went into the bathroom, then pulled the door shut behind her, seeing the full-length mirror on the back of the door out of the corner of her eye. Realizing that she'd nearly closed her eyes as the door shut, Lex took a deep breath before opening them.

She began by looking at her bare feet, which appeared almost skeletal. Lex brought her gaze up her now-skinny legs, then began to raise the hospital-style gown up so that she could see her torso. Taking another deep breath, Lex watched as her almost concave belly moved with it, and tried for clinically detached observation of her jutting hipbones and ribcage.

It could have been worse, she told herself, looking at the floor again. It could have been much worse.

Finally, Lex forced her gaze to her face, and then just stared a moment, having a hard time recognizing herself in the mirror. Her cheekbones had become so prominent that they threatened to take over her face. As she stepped closer to the mirror, however, Lex gasped.

The same eyes, amazingly bright spring green lace shot through with forest green, stared out of the mirror at her now, not just from a dream where a woman warned her. Lex put a hand to the mirror to support herself on now-shaky legs as she realized that had been no stranger, especially as her eyes moved to her hair.

It was a very short cap on her head now, and Lex gently touched the strands as if to assure herself of their reality. No color existed in her hair now; it shone pure white and felt fine and silky to the touch.

“Are you all right in there?” Riss' voice sounded from behind the door. “Don't lock the door or anything. Casey would kill me if anything happened to you.”

“I'm fine,” Lex replied, trying to keep out of her voice the sound of the tears that had sprung up. “I'll just be another couple minutes.”

Lex allowed the tears to leak for a minute or so as she continued gazing into the mirror, then rubbed them away as she carefully made her way to the sink. After she splashed cold water on her face, Lex looked herself in the eye once more as she toweled away the excess.

“What's done is done,” she muttered to her reflection. “You are still alive, you know, so get back out there.”

Once Lex had gotten back to her room, with a good deal of help from Riss, she ate miso soup and oatmeal with maple syrup that Casey brought. Although Lex couldn't eat all the food, she found that aside from lots of growling, her stomach seemed to be able to handle it.

“That was excellent, thank you,” Lex said after she'd eaten all she could.

“Well,” Casey replied as she cleared the dishes away, “I hear they fed miso soup to the survivors at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so I figured that maybe it would do OK for you, too. Also, the oatmeal is pretty mushy, so I thought that might go down easier than rice. We can try some in a few days, though, if you like.”

Lex shrugged, suddenly feeling sleepy. “That'd be fine.”

She vaguely sensed Casey arranging the pillows behind her so that she could stay in a mostly sitting position as she fell into a doze. Lex's dreams felt somewhat confused, her mind still sensing danger, but somehow her sleeping world felt friendlier than it had in a while.

After what seemed only a little while, Lex awoke with a gasp, feeling as if something around her had changed. She glanced about to find herself still in the same room, but now it looked like night. A feeble light shone from a bare bulb overhead, and Lex blinked a couple of times to clear her eyes. After a moment her eyes tracked all the way to the side of the bed and found that she had a visitor.

“Mr. Chen,” she said excitedly.

He bowed his head. “Hello, Lex,” he replied.

Lex studied him for a moment, thinking that he looked older than the last time she'd seen him, tired and drawn, and something about him appeared more broken down than Lex could remember seeing before.

She cleared her throat before continuing. “Are you all right? You look tired.”

He smiled at her then and it almost reached his eyes. “Casey told me the minute you woke up you started worrying about everyone else. I'm fine, I've just been worried about you.”

“I'm really sorry to have worried everyone—”

Mr. Chen cut her off with a wave of his hand. “There's no reason for you to apologize. That's what I came to say to you, now that we can speak freely. I wanted to apologize. I knew about the things they were doing at that facility all along.”

Lex frowned momentarily as she considered his words. “I guess that makes sense. I know Lily works at the main lab where they take everyone once they can't show us in public anymore, so I guess you would know.” She looked up at Mr. Chen and waited for him to continue.

“I am sorry I didn't say anything to you about it. I should have tried to help.” He stared at the far wall as he spoke.

“How?” Lex asked, looking at Mr. Chen with her brows pulled together. “I can't think of any way, other than what we managed because we have the biggest computer genius I know in our group. I don’t think you would have been able to let us know without all of us getting found out. I guess they would have just put all of us in the lab for the rest of our lives, then.”


Lex cut him off with a shake of her head. “They probably would have shut me away if they got wind of it, so that I didn't tell anyone else.”

She stopped there, a number of considerations running through her head. Lily working at the facility. The fact that they weren't experimenting on her. The fact that Mr. Chen was working for the same group and had been for some time. The fact that Lily was like the other women on the team who weren’t in the service. The fact that Lily had a son. Lex started to nod as everything fell into sequence in her mind.

“I think I see. Someone found out about what Lily could do and they've made you work for them since then. I always wondered why you closed your school, since I’d heard it was a big success. They told you that as long as you work for them, they won't experiment on Lily or your great-grandson. Is that right?”

Mr. Chen turned halfway back a moment later and nodded. Lex glanced away then, embarrassed because she saw the tears he’d tried to hide.

“I don't blame you. I’d probably do what you did if I had a good family, too. I'm sorry you're in such a crappy situation, and I wish I could do something to help.”

“You shame me with your kindness and generosity.”

“Shame you? Your whole family is at risk for us, and you saved my life. Thank you. I can't do anything to help you right now, except to try to get all of us out of here as soon as possible, but if I ever figure out a way to help you, you better believe I'll do it.”

They both fell silent for a little while, and finally Lex chanced another look at Mr. Chen. He gazed back at his student and they both nodded.

“I'm so glad you came,” Lex said happily, smiling again.

Mr. Chen briefly covered her hand with his, patted it once, and then brought his hand back in his lap. “I'm very glad I came, as well.”

Lily arrived then, cutting the conversation short. Lex asked Mr. Chen to stay as Lily ran through some short tests, and then Lily nodded, as if confirming something to herself.

“You were very lucky to be in such good physical shape before your event,” she said, still nodding. “I think that you had a big reserve and that was one of the things that pulled you through. I think having Casey here helped a lot, too.”

Lex nodded in response. “I agree. By the way, I was able to eat today. Casey made some miso soup and oatmeal, and it went down fine.”

“Good choices,” Lily said as she made some notes on a clipboard. “There was one thing I forgot to ask earlier, though. When you were ill, did you go through a trial?”

“What do you mean?” Lex asked, eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

“Well, a lot of people who came through their body events reported that while they were sick, they experienced...well, I guess you could call them dreams, that they were going through some sort of test. Some of them went through mazes, or worked through a puzzle, or competed against other people for some sort of prize. Many who survived their body events remember something like that, and they were usually successful, to some extent. Do you remember anything like that?”

Lex thought for a few moments, trying to move from being sick in the train station to what happened next. After closing her eyes and massaging them, she remembered a flash of fighting with her father. As she opened her eyes, the rest of the details started falling into place.

“Yes,” Lex said, nodding to Lily. “I had to fight my father.” She turned to Mr. Chen as she continued. “He looked just like he did when he was teaching me when I was a little girl.

“I fought him three times. The first time I held my own for a while before he beat me soundly. The second time I managed to fight him to a draw. Somehow, I felt that it would be the end if I didn't beat him the third time, since I kept getting more exhausted from each fight. But I did beat him. I didn't have to kill him and I didn't injure him permanently, but I had him kneeling before we finished the fight.”

Lily looked to be busy trying to make notes on what Lex had said, so Lex turned to her teacher.

“Mr. Chen, were you here at all when I was sick?”

He looked at her curiously, and then nodded. “I came as often as I could. This building is owned by my brother's family, and I normally visit here regularly, so I took advantage of that to come downstairs and see you.”

Lex nodded. “I knew you must have been here. Lily told me Casey was here pretty much all the time. In my dream, the two of you helped me. I finished the form you asked me to put together in order to defeat my father, and I beat him because you and Casey helped me. I just wish that I was strong enough to show it to you now. At this rate, I doubt you'll ever see it.”

Mr. Chen smiled broadly at her in response. “I had no doubt that you would complete it, and that you'd do well. The most important thing for you to do now, however, is to get well.”

“Can you recommend some exercises for me so that I can get stronger faster? I'm worried that the longer we stay here, the more danger you'll be in.”

“Grandfather,” Lily cut in, her voice in the tone of a warning, “don't push her too fast. I can't be sure that she's going to remain stable. We probably won't know for certain until the end of the week.”

Mr. Chen narrowed his eyes a bit as he looked at her, then answered in another language. Lily glared at him and then the two were arguing and almost yelling. Finally, Lex raised her voice to cut in.

“Please!” she said, looking at the two of them. “I'm sorry; I didn't mean to cause a disagreement. I don't want to push myself too hard, but I need to get back into shape so that we can leave and get you all out of danger. Every day we stay means more risk to you and your family. I'm grateful beyond words that you saved my life. I can never repay you properly, but I figure the least I can do is to leave as soon as I can.”

The two of them continued to stare at each other for a moment, then turned away. Lily's face looked angry, but also hurt as she turned from her grandfather. Mr. Chen's expression seemed hard and mostly unreadable. He nodded at Lex.

“I'll write something up for you and have it sent over tomorrow,” he said. “Be sure to take it at your own pace, and if you get too tired or have any pain, stop right away. Make sure that you have a friend with you when you start working on the exercises.”

Lex nodded. “I will. Thanks for your help.”

Turning to Lily, Lex continued. “Lily, thanks again for everything. I promise I won't work too hard, and I'll be sure to let you know if anything out of the ordinary happens.”

Lily looked up from her clipboard and nodded. “Be sure to do that. Are you having any pain, or any odd sensations?”

“No,” Lex replied, shaking her head. “All things considered, I feel pretty good.” After glancing up at Lily for a moment, Lex continued. “Should I assume that everything that changed will stay the way it is?”

Lily looked back down at Lex, staring into her eyes for a moment. “Most likely. Usually, if someone is unstable after their event, another change will show up within the first twenty four hours after the patient first starts to improve. So far you seem to have settled. I'll check back in with you tomorrow to follow up, and we can be fairly certain then, if everything’s remained the same.”

Lex nodded, suddenly starting to feel sleepy again. “When do you think the IV can come out?”

Lily shrugged. “Let’s wait at least a week to see how your digestive system does. Just because you were able to keep food down today doesn't mean you'll be able to digest it. Let's see how it goes.”

Unable to answer due to a huge yawn, Lex nodded again. Mr. Chen stood then, and Lex glanced sleepily up at him.

“Do you have to go so soon?” she asked, trying not to sound whiny.

He smiled briefly at her. “I should, but I will send the plan for you tomorrow. Sleep well, Lex.”

The two of them left the room then, and Lily turned the light off behind them. Lex blinked her sleepy eyes a couple of times, focusing on the dim strips of orange light coming in under the blinds, but despite her best efforts to keep them open, her eyes finally fell shut again.

To her annoyance, Lex found that she slept a lot in the next couple days. By the end of the second day she'd gotten to the point that she could get in and out of bed unassisted, but Casey wouldn't always allow it. Lex was careful to let the blonde spot her as she worked through the exercises that Mr. Chen had sent to build her strength back up, and Casey watched her like a hawk while she did. They actually argued a few times about it because Lex worried that she wasn't working hard enough to get her strength back quickly.

“Listen,” Casey finally told her, “you're up now, and you're doing a lot more than anyone expected you to do in the first few days since you woke up. Don't push it. You don't know how sick you were. Everyone else expected you to die.”

Lex was about to say that she'd gotten an idea of how bad off she'd been, even in her fever dreams, until she saw the look on Casey's face. Her insides twisted at her friend's expression, the same sad, haunted look Casey got every time she talked about Lex's body event. Lex fell silent then and put her hand on her friend's shoulder. Casey seemed to come back to herself at the contact and smiled at Lex.

“I didn't, though. I knew you'd live; you'd never die over something like that.”

Lex laughed. “Thanks. You helped, you know. I don't think I ever thanked you yet for helping me pull through.”

Casey looked at her with an eyebrow raised, as if to say she felt she hadn't done much until Lex explained how the two of them had worked together in her dream to fix her form so that Lex could defeat her father. Casey laughed. “Well, I wasn't really there, you know.”

“Oh? So, you're saying that I didn't pick up on the fact that you were here the whole time? And the only other person who showed up in my dreams was Mr. Chen. He said he came to see me, too.”

Casey considered that for a moment, then nodded. “I guess that's right. He came a number of times, and spent hours in here sitting by your bed.”

She looked away then, and when Casey looked back, her eyes seemed a little brighter than normal. “Well, you're welcome. I'm glad I could help. I hope you gave that bastard a good thrashing for me.”

Lex laughed, and then recapped her fight with her father as Casey hung on every word.

A few days later, Lex had progressed enough for everyone to agree a walk down the block sounded permissible. She'd gone from hardly being able to shuffle from one room to another to doing walking laps up and down the hall for 10-20 minutes at a time.

Casey looked Riss and Lex over nervously as they prepared to go out. Casey had left the apartment building only once since they'd arrived, to explain things to Lou, since her appearance made her especially recognizable. Riss and Lex looked more average, however, especially with the addition of a stocking cap and large sunglasses for Lex.

“OK, Mom,” Riss said with the ghost of a smile as she glanced at Casey a final time. “Lex and I will be fine. We're only going down the block. We'll be back in no time.”

“OK,” Casey replied, a thread of embarrassment plain in her voice. “Make sure to come right back if anything happens, though.”

“We will,” said Lex with a nod. “Don't worry.”

Once they got outside, Lex enjoyed the thin, wintry sunlight on her face even as she shivered from the wind tearing down the street. She turned to Riss and smiled.

“It's nice to be out. I'm sure you two must be stir crazy from having to sit around for weeks. It only seems like a few days for me, probably because I've been sleeping so much.”

Riss shrugged. “It's a big improvement for me. I never used to be able to go out unless we were on a job. Mr. Chen's family did most of the shopping for us, but when we had to go out for something, I went because we figured that if anyone was actively looking for Casey, she'd stick out like a sore thumb.”

Lex nodded, paying attention to making sure she placed her bony feet well on the bumpy sidewalk. The section of town they'd stayed in seemed a middling place, not too fancy or too worn down. They met a couple other people walking down their side of the street and saw a few children playing on the next block, but the neighborhood remained pleasantly quiet.

“So,” Riss said after a small silence, “what do you think we should do to get out of town?”

Lex tilted her head, still thinking. “I've been thinking about that, and maybe we should just rent a car and drive. Would the IDs and credit cards you put together pass that sort of check? Or maybe if you can swing it, if we could put together a one-use ID, not associated to any of us, and make the arrangements totally online. That should allow us to get out of here as cleanly as we could. Do you think you can do that?”

Riss raised her eyebrows, thinking, then nodded. “I'll look into it. It could probably be done.”

Looking sideways at Riss, Lex paused a moment, then continued. “There's also one thing I need to ask both of you, so it'll have to wait until we get back.”

Riss nodded as the two of them kept walking. The wind had eased up a bit, and Lex looked up for a moment, then back down as the sunlight dazzled her. Ever since she'd woken up from her long sleep, sunlight seemed much brighter than ever before. She shrugged off the thoughts as the two of them got to the end of the block and turned around, and noted Riss glancing over to check how she felt.

Lex gave a happy sigh, feeling she'd become more comfortable in her body again, but she also knew she'd be ready to rest once she got back to the apartment. As they made their way back down the street, Lex's eye caught on a display in the window of a little shop they passed, a display for hair dye in multiple, otherworldly colors. She stopped to look for a moment and then turned to Riss.

“Come on, let's go in. I've got an idea.”

Several minutes later, the two of them came back out into the afternoon sunlight, Lex carrying a bag full of hair dye packages and giggling.

“I know my hair is going to attract attention no matter what,” Lex explained, looking over at Riss as they walked. “So I figured that my two choices are to wear a hat, which I can still do, or to dye my hair. A lot of times, regular hair dye doesn't look right on gray hair, so I figured going with an unusual color would be better. Besides, with color like this, no one looks at your face; they'll just see your hair.”

“Blood red, huh?” Riss asked as the corners of her lips turned up slightly. “I know you just want to do it because you're such a rebel.”

Lex grinned back. “It's good to see you smile,” she replied.

Riss looked away quickly as if she was embarrassed, then back with a little smirk on her face. “You didn't have to tell her you were a cancer survivor.”

Shrugging, Lex replied, “Well, if anyone asks her about it later, I figured I'd rather her remember me as ‘that poor woman who had cancer' than 'that weirdo who bought six packages of hair dye for no reason.’”

Riss shrugged in response, then nodded as the two of them went inside the apartment building. Lex bowed her head as they passed the apartment manager in the hallway as they headed downstairs. She was an older woman, a relative of the Chen’s, and although she nodded her head in return, she looked after Riss and Lex with suspicion. Lex sighed quietly as they went through the door. One of Mr. Chen's sons owned the building and several others in the neighborhood, and the three of them had come to be here because Mr. Chen had requested it. Lex felt her stomach start to crawl again as she thought about how much danger they were putting the Chens in, but she pushed the feeling down. Just get well and get out, she thought to herself.

They found Casey in the kitchen making miso soup. Lex heard her stomach growling now, but she ignored it as she looked up at the blonde.

“So, how did it go?” Casey asked.

Lex smiled. “It went really well.”

“Yeah, we're about to have a punk rocker in the house,” Riss added, smirking again.

Casey looked at Lex, who couldn’t help smiling sheepishly. “Yeah, well, I'm going to need someone to help me dye my hair. But, there was something else I wanted to talk to the two of you about. Is that OK?”

“Sure,” Casey said, reaching behind her to turn the burner under the soup down.

Riss and Lex sat at the two chairs at the kitchen table while Casey went into Lex's room to bring the chair that was in there, a wrought iron piece, better constructed than the others. When the three of them were sitting, Lex cleared her throat and then started.

“While we were out walking, Riss asked a good question about how we're going to get out of here. I've been thinking about it, and I've come up with some ideas, but there's something I need to know before I think about it anymore. We didn't talk about this at all before we left, probably because we were too busy figuring out how to escape, but in order to get a good plan for leaving town, I need to know if we're planning to split up or stick together.”

Lex looked at Riss and then Casey before she continued. “I know lots of people would say we'd be safer if we split up, but I've thought about it a lot, and there are a lot of things we can do as a team that none of us could do individually. So my thinking is that we'll probably be safer together.

“I know I haven't been in the best health over the past month, and I want to thank you both for sticking with me through it. I know you took big risks to do it. I feel like I'm going to be fine, but I know there are no guarantees. I did want to add that you two have been some of the best friends I've ever had, and so I feel like I'd like for us to stay together regardless. Of course it's your decision, though. Give it some thought and let me know.”

Casey shrugged. “I don't need to think about it. I'll be sticking with you. We're friends, and I think friends should stick together. I'll ask Lou what he thinks the next time we talk, but I'm pretty sure he'll think the same.”

Lex smiled at Casey. “Thanks. I'm glad to hear it.”

She turned to Riss and was about to say something, but Lex shut her mouth instead as she saw the other woman begin to speak.

“I gave this some thought while you were sick, Lex, so I don't need to wait. I think we should stick together, too. I was thinking about what I might do now that I'm free, and I didn't have any good ideas. My mother is dead, and a lot of the people I knew before I was captured have moved on in their lives. But it's not like I could meet back up with them without anyone finding me, anyway. I know you two and I like you, so I'd also like to stick together.”

Lex blinked as her eyes prickled, and she smiled at Riss. “OK, then, it's settled. I'll think some more about the best way to leave town. If anyone has any good ideas about where we should go, just let me know. If there's anywhere we should avoid, where someone might recognize you, let me know that, too.”

“Kansas,” Casey said as she crossed her arms across her chest.

“Aside from here, my mother did have some relatives in the Atlanta area that might recognize me, so we should probably avoid there.”

After a few moments of silence, the topic passed on to something else, and Casey insisted that Lex eat some lunch before she took a nap.

The following day, with Lex in the middle of doing her exercises, Riss came into the room with Lex and Casey, who was spotting her in case she ran out of energy. Lex looked up, surprised, since she would have almost said that Riss “hurried” into the room, but she didn’t usually associate Riss with that word. As Casey looked up, Riss started speaking.

“I didn't say anything yesterday because I didn't want to worry you before I confirmed it, but I've lost touch with Lou.”

“What?” Lex and Casey had spoken almost at once, and turned to each other before looking back at Riss.

Riss glanced at Lex before speaking. “I'd set up a disappearing e-mail communication for him, like we used when we were still at the M Agency. I tried him yesterday and couldn't get him, but we always said that a one day lag was OK. But when I tried today I couldn't get him either. Once the e-mail disintegrated, I set up a phone call from a dummy number to his, but I only get his voice mail. So, I tracked the phone. It looks like it's at his apartment, which isn't right since he should be at work. I figured maybe he forgot it and tried all the security cameras near where he's working right now, but I can't see him. There are some blind spots, though, since he's working on a fairly tall building. I could go out there with some binoculars, if you want me to, but I'm thinking it might be a waste of time.”

Lex stared at Riss for a moment, thinking the speech had been the longest thing she'd ever heard the other woman say. When she turned to Casey, though, Lex's stomach flopped at the way the blonde's face had paled and how her hand had dropped as if forgotten.

“Go out there,” Casey said, her voice low, the sound seemingly forced out. “Please. Check his apartment, too, in case he’s sick or something.”

“OK, I'm on my way. I'll be back as soon as I can,” Riss said, slipping out of the room. Moments later, Lex heard the front door close softly. Lex looked up at Casey and put a hand on her arm, which seemed to shake the blonde out of her thoughts.

“We'll find him, don't worry. He'd be pretty difficult to hide.”

Casey nodded, trying to muster an expression as if this had reassured her, but Lex noticed her eyes were still focused on the distance and filled with worry.

The next few hours passed silently, and even though Lex had wanted to stay awake, she did nap for a while when Casey insisted. Several minutes after she'd gotten up, Riss came back.

Once she'd unwrapped her scarf and put her coat on a chair, Riss said, “I went out and looked for a couple of hours, just to be sure I didn't miss anyone, but I didn't see him. When I went to his apartment, I found the locks on his front door had been broken. He wasn’t home, and if he went somewhere, it didn’t look like he packed anything.”

Casey just looked down at her hands, her face completely lost. Lex straightened up as she put a hand on Casey's.

“Don't worry, we'll find him,” she said with more confidence than she felt.

“There's one more thing, though,” Riss said as she looked at the other two. “While you were sick, we made a way to communicate with Lily in case of emergency, on her side or on ours. She sent a message a little while ago saying that she's on her way here. It was only a couple words, and sounded like she was in a hurry, so I don't know what's up.”

Casey still seemed trapped in her own thoughts, but Lex and Riss exchanged looks of concern. “What the hell's going on today?” Lex muttered.

By the time Lily arrived, Lex had convinced Casey to follow her into the kitchen and was in the process of making tea for the two of them. Riss and Lex both looked up as Lily entered, and they could see that she looked agitated.

“What's wrong?” Lex asked, watching the doctor for reactions.

Lily sighed and put a hand to her temple. She looked over at Lex as if for support and then began to speak.

“They called me in to look at a new subject today. They told me he'd just arrived and wanted me to do a thorough physical. I was suspicious when I saw him—he was someone like you, Casey, and they usually don't take in people like you anymore, since your body type is so resistant to change. Anyway, I might as well get to the point. His name is Louis Wingfield. Do you know him?”

Lex’s steps stumbled as she headed for the stove, and Casey's head came up, her expression incredulous. Riss shook her head and put her forehead in her hand.

“I guess you do,” Lily said, biting her lip and looking sorrowful.

After Lex poured the tea and sat back down, the four of them looked at each other, now sitting around the table with Lily leaning against the door. Lex felt her brain start to kick into gear after that long moment, and began to nod after a few seconds. She came back to the present to find Riss and Lily looking at her, seemingly waiting for her to speak.

“OK, everyone,” Lex began. “This isn't as bad as it seems. I've never been one to want to leave people behind, and this is no exception. If we work together, I think there’s a way we can get Lou back safely. Riss, we'd have to lean on you for this plan to work, so it may become known that you can do a lot more than you’ve let on. On the other hand, if we can manage it according to plan, we’ll be able to deal out some payback. Not that I'm much for getting even, but in this case it might be more important for other people than for us.” She paused for a moment, looking around the table before continuing. “Unfortunately, if we’re not officially considered criminals now, if we carry out my plan, we surely will be afterward. Casey, I'm assuming you're for going in to get Lou.”

Casey nodded, eyes wide, and Lex continued. “OK, then, Riss, think it over. If this is going to work, we all need to pull together, so decide what you'd like to do. Lily,” Lex said, turning to the other woman, “this is probably something that the less you know about the better, but if the plan I'm considering works out as expected, it may interfere with your work.”

Lily shrugged in return. “That's fine by me. Working for MSI wasn't my idea in the first place.”

“Good,” Lex said, nodding, “I want to set a goal of two weeks for us to carry out Lou's rescue, assuming we all agree on the plan. So if all goes well, in two weeks we'll be out of your family's hair, Lily.”

Riss looked over at Lex. “I agree with you that no one should get left behind. As for the rest, I’m already considered a criminal without having done a thing to deserve it, so I might as well do something to earn the title. Let's work together to figure out what to do and then go get him.”

Casey looked over at Riss. Her eyes were shinier than usual, and she had to clear her throat before she was able to speak. “Thanks, Riss. You'll never know how much this means to me.”

Riss just smiled a tiny grin in response and nodded.

Lex’s smile spread much wider. “All right, this is what I’ve come up with so far…”

Forward to Chapter 23
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!

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..Maybe she can think super fast now. Or faster.

There's definitely been a change, and you'll get to read all about it in the next chapter. : ) Thanks for coming by to read and comment!

Re: Hmm...

I'm guessing her power is time manipulation. All around increased speed and reactions seems the most obvious at first, except for a couple little things. First being that she doesn't suffer crippling pain or, really, any pain at all when she uses her speed. At the speeds she was going in the sewer fight (trading loads of blows in the time it takes a drop of water to fall and hit the floor) her entire body, muscles bones and all, would be absolutely demolished, and the whole body event thing seems to suggest that she started out (relatively) normal physically. There's also the whole talking to her future self thing, which suggests she'll develop this talent a lot further in the future. Personally I don't much care for inserting time travel into a superhero story, it just ends up being an excuse either for deus ex or some angsty railing against the unchangeable nature of fate, but that seems to be what happened. Also the nature of the message suggests she's a prisoner at some point in the future, and I absolutely despise stories that fall back on such cliches to handle too-powerful characters while still keeping the tension up - "Oh noes! Now the bad guys have invented the Thingamabobby that neutralizes powers and the protagonist is stuck in a cell for a whole book of sheer boredom as you wait for the inevitable escape!" I suspect that in the near future she'll learn to slow the world around her more and more however, assuming she has the time-related speedster package and not the 'batman' powerset.

If that is the case, I'm wondering how the author will handle the physical implications. What will happen when she hits things whilst in slow-time? Obviously irl the faster you hit the more kinetic energy, so it would be equivalent to having super strength - which could be pretty devastating if there wasn't some mechanism of your power that protected your body against physical harm in this state, because the other side of the coin of slow-time would be that from the user's perspective anything they hit would act much more massive (not heavy) and therefor have a helluva lot more inertia, right down to the individual cells in a body and the atoms that made it up. Punching a person, depending on how much you slowed time, could be like punching a rubber statue, or wood, or concrete. Unfortunately a lot of authors when dealing with speedsters tend to 'solve' this dilema by just making them hit at their normal strength no matter how fast they go (even more annoying when you have a lot of superstrong characters being described as being slow and clumsy, and you've gotta wonder how in the world they land heavy hits if they don't either propel their fists much faster than a normal person or (as it was solved in this story) have much more massive bodies).

Anyway, rant over. Really enjoying the story despite the lack of action up to this point and the constant false representation of vegan food as tasty :) I'm pretty pleased because I read a review on webfictionguide before coming in that said that the powers were 'just beyond normal human abilities,' so it was a nice surprise to come in and see that it's in fact pretty standard high-end superpowers after you get past the first part of book 1 where the reader's kind of in the dark. Crossing my fingers hoping that MSI gets absolutely curbstomped (can't wait for Riss to figure out that she can just dump all their incriminating data on WikiLeaks) and that someone absolutely humiliates and then just straight up murders George in a fight at some point. Casey ripping his head off his shoulders seems promising, or perhaps simply having Serena teleport him over a body of water - guessing those super-dense types wouldn't be the best swimmer. Hopefully this won't be one of those tales where to qualify as a good guy you are required to absolutely never kill people even when they're blatantly evil and it will save lives. Thanks for the story, and looking forward to more updates. If you ever feel the urge to start updating more often don't let us hold you back :D

Re: Hmm...

Word of God says "As far as how Lex does this, I would say it's more along the lines of super speed rather than time manipulation, although it might appear more like that to someone observing her." Check out my discussion with her in the comments of chapter 18 (the sewer fight).

So unless she got some of that recently, she doesn't have time manipulation.

The prophetic dream... I figured that was just her being in tune with her spiritual side, not actually her future self sending messages back in time. I mean, this is a world with super-powers, I'm not going to complain if this is also a world where dreams have meaning and power instead of just being random stuff from your subconscious. (With all due apologies for any readers who believe in prophetic dreams IRL.)

As for some authors failing physics forever... amen to that. (If I wrote, I'd kinda want to do a story with super-strong people who can LIFT a whole lot, but are limited in how hard they hit unless they've got some other power like super-speed or rock bodies or whatever. This would probably end up with fights between "vanilla" bricks where they throw each other through the scenery a lot without actually injuring each other very much, because they're tougher than they can hit. People with secondary powers in addition to the super-strength (like speed, a massive body, using psychokinesis to use a ludicrously heavy weapon without getting unbalanced, etc.) would have an advantage. And grappling would be a valid but risky tactic: once you have a hold of your enemy, you can use proper leverage to hurt them a lot, but it's entirely possible your opponent is actually stronger than you are and you didn't realize it, in which case by closing the range you gave THEM the advantage.)

As an aside, George hasn't killed anybody that we know of and I'm not for the death penalty anyway. I won't shed tears if he gets killed in a fight, but straight up voluntarily murdering him... It would be a VERY hard sell for me to accept that as heroic.

Hey, there! Thank you for reposting that comment; I very much enjoyed our discussion after Chapter 18. : )

As far as her dreams, that's sort of how I see it, too...if you're able to tune into things (like your dreams, or the world around you), I think a lot of times you're able to get more information than someone who's more tuned out. Since the brain is a pattern-creating machine, more information = more likelihood that it can predict something that it wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

I find your idea about the super strong people interesting. I'd love to see how a story like that would play out, because the way you set it up, there's a lot of possibility for nuance there that isn't applicable in a lot of superhero tales. Let me know if you decide to write it!

You know, it's a funny thing, but a lot of times when bullies are as thoroughly beaten as Casey beat George, they just fold like cheap paper bags. I don't think he'll be any different than any of the other bullies I've known, in that regard.

At any rate, thank you for reading and commenting!

Hey, there! Thanks for coming over and reading, and I'm glad to hear you're enjoying the story, even though it's not quite what people might expect when they hear 'superhero'. When I started the story, one of my main musings was what it would be like if there were superpowers in the world all of us are currently used to - would people even recognize them for what they were? So, I guess that would account for part of the in-the-dark feeling, because it seems most people don't know about it or realize it in the first place.

Rest assured, MSI has some comeuppance heading their way, and on the hot/cold scale, you're warm as far as figuring out how some of that's going to happen.

As far as Lex's power, however, I went another way with things. :D I know what you mean about time travel; it's something that's hard to do well. I mean, I really liked H.G. Wells' story, for example, but I agree that many stories simply seem to use it more as a deus ex machina device, which always ends up feeling like a cheat.

At this point you're probably wondering how I would explain the fact that Lex seems like she can speed up during fights, or why she has prophetic dreams. Again, I think it goes back to my original musings as to recognition of super powers. I myself have experienced the sensation of 'time slowing down' (for me, compared to others) in the middle of a fight; in reality, I'm pretty sure what I experienced was having so much adrenaline dumped into my system that my reactions were much more sped up than anyone around me, making it seems like everyone else was stuck in molasses. I've talked to a number of other people who have experienced this as well, so I don't think I'm an outlier. Again, the prophetic dreams seem to be something that regular people can experience from time to time, especially if they're tuned into what they're dreaming like Lex is. Like her, however, most of the time they don't realize they're prophetic except in retrospect.

At any rate, I loved reading your amazing time-travel analysis, and I'm thrilled that reading what I wrote inspired this much thought in you. I hope you continue reading, because I've got some more (hopefully) thought-inducing twists up ahead. Thanks for reading and commenting!

If anyone's curious (because I was and I hunted it down), the dream with the white-haired woman was in Chapter 11.

"Watch out for the drugs!"

Oh well, I guess she didn't have a chance to avoid them...although she didn't take all the medications they gave her.

Re: "Watch out for the drugs!"

It's kind of interesting...writing this particular part of the story made me wonder what sort of message I would opt to give to a past self in order to warn myself about something, especially if it was in a Twitter (or less) format like this was. I imagine that it would be difficult to figure out what to say, and maybe as effective as this was. I guess it wasn't all bad, though, because it did make her suspicious of all the doctors and not likely to follow all their advice...

Thanks for that! I appreciate it, because I would have had to look it up myself, had someone wanted to know. :D

The Event

So, per Lily, Lex had a "body event". What is unclear is, given that Lex was given both mind and body changing drugs, did this "event" cover both sets of changes or just one? She definitely went through a physical ordeal during the event with not much of a nod to mental challenges so I'm inclined to believe another change is in the works. Perhaps waiting for the right catalyst...

Thanks for the great story! ^_^

That's a good question. My thought on the matter is that since they gave her all of those drugs at the same time, it's likely that her event 'remade' all parts of her that were affected. How that's going to play out...well, stay tuned!

Thank you for coming to read and comment!

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