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Chapter 32: Best Laid Plans
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes/Warnings: Secret plans, bad language, mysterious threats

Here's the next chapter, but it's a bit of a rough edit, due to my lack of time, and hasn't been looked at yet by my editor in chief, gwoman, so please let me know if anything looks or reads funny. I have been getting my sea legs with the estate so I'm not feeling as crazy about it, and I'm hoping that everyone reading this has lovely holidays ahead of them, and a fabulous new year to come!

Back to Chapter 31

They'd driven straight through until they got back to Phoenix, which took somewhere around a full day. Everyone ended up taking a turn at the wheel or keeping the driver awake. Once they finally got home, they quickly unpacked the van, but once everyone had finished, Lex noticed that most everyone's adrenaline seemed to run out around the same time, but she couldn't stop herself from pacing back and forth from the kitchen back into the main room.

After silence had reigned for several minutes, Lex watched Casey gather herself to look around at Kate, who had her head on the dining table, Riss slumped in a nearby chair and staring into a corner, Victor leaning his head in his hands, and Lou falling asleep in his chair.

“Let's all get some sleep,” Casey said, raising her voice to be heard around the room. “Once we wake up we can spend some time thinking, and then we can meet and talk about it tomorrow night. OK, everyone?”

The assembled group all nodded or said yes, then filed up the stairs. Lex stayed behind for a moment, biting her lip, before she said good night to Casey and Lou.

“Hey,” Casey said as Lex turned away. When she glanced back, her friend continued, “You did really well. You should be proud.”

Lex ducked her head before she turned to walk back up the stairs. “Thanks,” she said in return, the muffled word floating out into the emptiness of the main room.

Everyone had slept in the next day, then gotten up to leisurely eat and then work out, or think. Lex had noticed little knots of people in different discussions during most of the day, but she had been too preoccupied with doing her own planning and thinking to dwell on it.

Finally, sometime after darkness had fallen, everyone started to gravitate to the table in the main room. Everyone gradually gravitated to seats, and after a few moments, Lex noticed everyone looking at her to begin. She coughed once, then dove into what she'd thought about saying.

“OK, well, I guess I'll start,” she said, trying her best to speak calmly. “I thought of a few options that we could talk about, so I'll start going through them. Feel free to jump in at any time to add anything.”

Lex looked around the table, trying to see if anyone else wanted to begin instead of her, but everyone just continued listening. She sighed as she started talking again. “Well, the first and probably most obvious option would be splitting up. We could-”

“I'm sorry Lex,” Casey said, interrupting. “I did want to take a little vote right now, though. Is anyone here interested in discussing breaking the team up? Could you raise your hands if you do?”

Lex and Casey both looked carefully around the table. No one raised a hand; a number of people had their hands carefully placed on the table so their intentions couldn't be mistaken.

“Thanks, everyone,” Casey continued with a nod. “Apparently no one is interested in discussing that option. Could we throw that one out and continue with the other options you've thought up?”

“Uh, sure, sure,” Lex responded, ducking her head to hide her smile.

“All right,” she continued, “the first couple of options I came up with involve asking Riss to create new IDs for us. I apologize for that because I know it's hard work, but it might be the easiest way to get away clean. I figure what I did in Seattle is only a delaying tactic. So, the first two options involve getting new IDs and either moving somewhere else here in the states so that we're not recognized, or going to another country to live.

“I guess the downside to moving somewhere else in this country is that it only took them a little over a year and a half to find us. True, it seems like dumb luck, but there's no way to say if there are other people like Alison out there. It's yet to be determined, but moving to another country might be safer, especially if they have better policies about people like us and Riss is able to get us good papers for living there.”

Lex paused for a moment as Riss nodded, then continued. “The third option I considered might be the most difficult, but for any of you who are tired of feeling like we're criminals on the run, I figured we could try to leave the country as our current identities. Maybe we could do it under the guise of an overseas tour and then figure out a way to live somewhere that's friendlier to us than here.”

She took a deep breath after she finished speaking and looked around the table. Kate and Victor both looked thoughtful, Casey smiled as Lou met her eye, and Riss nodded.

“Actually, I have something I'd like to add to the last point Lex made,” Riss said, shooting a glance around the table. “The last option Lex put on the table is the one I've been thinking of, and I've been doing some research. I really like what I've seen in Europe as to their attention to human rights. Their declaration actually talks about the fact that everyone is equal under the law with no exceptions, and that the sort of 'medicine' practiced on us is forbidden. I have to admit that I've sort of focused on that area of the world after my initial searches turned that up, but I also figured that it would be likely that we could get at least one of the member states interested in keeping us, plus there are a number of them where English is spoken.”

“Good thinking,” Lex replied, then looked up at the rest of their friends at the table. “Does anyone else here speak another language?”

Only Victor raised a hand. “Spanish,” he said, “my mom hailed from Peru. I really only learned it as a kid, though, so a lot of my vocabulary is pretty simple.”

“OK,” Lex continued after looking back at Riss, who had appeared to have finished what she wanted to say. “Who here is interested in looking into option three, specifically, going to Europe?”

Everyone raised a hand or nodded. “OK, so am I,” Lex responded. “Is anyone more interested in any of the other options mentioned? Option 1? Option 2?”

There were no raised hands and a number of people shook their heads. “No,” Kate responded. “If they're going to treat us like this here, they don't deserve to have us in this country.”

“All right,” Lex responded, turning to Riss. “How long do you think it will take to get passports?”

Riss sighed. “Well, I've looked into it, and in order to get them made and not draw extra attention, I think it'll be about a month before I can get them to us.”

“OK, so we have a month to plan for our overseas move,” Lex said, almost to herself. She looked back up at Casey. “Can you see if you can contact someone over there who can help you set up a tour? Lou, could you work with Casey on the logistics of getting us out of the country? If either of you need special computer assistance, I'm sure Riss can help.”

Riss smirked while Casey and Lou both nodded. “Kate, Victor, I think we'll only be able to take a few things with us, and we'll need to buy mostly new musical equipment once we arrive due to the power differences. So, could you work on what we should do with all of the leftover things that we'll have here? If we could recoup any money, that would be great, but not absolutely necessary.”

The two of them looked at each other for a moment and then Kate looked back at Lex with a smile. “Don't worry, we're on it.”

“I'll work on the best way for us to make our exit here, so that we can get away as cleanly as possible and hopefully not make any waves,” Lex finished with a sigh. “I guess we'll all have to work on figuring out what we want to take with us. We should try to minimize as much as possible. Casey and Lou should eventually have the information about how much it'll be.”

As Lex looked around the table she saw a lot of smiles. Even for the solemn faces, everyone seemed to share an excited look. As she glanced at her friends, Lex could feel her own face soften into a smile in return. Maybe, she considered, maybe this can be an exciting adventure rather than just something that will worry me sick.

Kate elbowed Victor as Lex watched. “We're going to live in Europe. How cool is that?”

He looked over at her, giving a little smile in return. “You're going to have to have to work on your American manners and I'm going to have to work on changing over all the gadgets I bring since the voltage over there is different.”

Lex cleared her throat as Kate laughed in response to Victor's comment. “Before we break up for the night, did anyone want to add anything?”

Through a chorus of 'no's and head shaking, the group broke up. Lex had to work out again before she felt tired enough to sleep due to all the adrenaline running through her. As she moved through the form she'd created yet one more time, she found herself wondering if Mr. Chen would ever see it, now that they'd be moving even farther away than before. She still thought of her old teacher as her head hit the pillow that night.

The next morning when Lex awoke, she held the thread of a memory about a dream she'd had that Mr. Chen had been in as well, but it slipped away as she fully woke up. She smiled as she stretched, however, because she realized she'd figured out the best way for them to get out of the country. Throwing on her robe, Lex ran downstairs. As she'd hoped, she found Casey and Lou having breakfast.

“Hey, Casey, Lou,” she said, a little breathlessly, and smiled at the two of them before she continued. “I've got an idea, but I'm going to need your help in order to make it happen, and I'd like you to add your ideas, if any come to you while I explain what I've got in mind.”

Lex briefly went over what she'd come up with, watching for Lou and Casey's reactions as she did. By the time she'd finished the two of them were both smiling, Lou in the restrained way he had and Casey with a big grin on her face. “Hell, that's crazy. I love it. You're going to get some help from Riss, too, right? She's the one who has all the website stuff set up.”

“I was planning on it,” Lex agreed with a nod. “Lou, what do you think?”

He nodded in response. “I'm sure I can come up with a few things to help with misdirection, too. I'll talk with Riss about that.”

Lex smiled then, actually feeling excited, not just jittery and nervous like she usually got when trying to plan what to do next. “Sounds good. I think I'll get a workout in and then wait until everyone's up to tell them all at once.”

A couple of hours later, after Riss had gotten up and Casey had gone around the house to collect everyone, Lex stood at the head of the table. “Well, an idea came to me last night about how we should get out of here,” she began, looking quickly around at all the faces. “I think we should schedule a final US concert before we bug out of this country. You know, like a farewell show.”

She saw a few skeptical faces, but mostly people seemed willing to hear her out. As she explained the particulars, she saw more and more smiles, until she'd finished, and Kate broke out laughing.

“Every time you come up with an idea I'm sure it's your best one, and every time you come up with one to top it,” her friend said, still smiling. “I think we should do it. What about everyone else?”

Everyone nodded or said 'yes' except for Victor, who asked, “Do you think this will interfere with us being able to leave the country?”

Lex sighed. “When I tried to think about the best way for us to go,” she explained, “it occurred to me that the best way to do it would be to provide as much misdirection as possible, and lots of pageantry to hide the things we don't want them to see. From the research Riss has done on MSI's pursuit, it seems they try to keep the police at arms length, so I think we can take advantage of that by providing them with more trails than they can follow up on themselves. Between what I've asked Riss and Lou to help with and what we're going to do at the concert we'll stand a much higher chance of getting out of here unnoticed than if we didn't have anything as spectacular going on, as I see it.”

He nodded. “Count me in, then.”

“All right,” Lex replied with a nod. “Would you and Kate find someone locally to promote the show, like someone to hang posters and stuff? We don't want to spend too much on it, but we do want people to know and hopefully help drum up a good number of attendees.”

“No problem,” Victor answered, and Kate agreed with a nod.

“Riss, can you handle the promotion online?” Lex asked. “An announcement of the show and periodic reminders to our fan list? Casey is going to set up the venue as soon as she can this week, so you can get all the ticket buying particulars from her.”

“Sure. If I see anywhere else I could post it where it might get attention, I'll do that, too.” Riss' fingers flew a moment later as she noted something in her laptop. After a pause, she continued without looking up. “By the way, I've been listening in on MSI's activities, and they're scrambling after what happened. They don't seem to have any idea what happened, but they're doing their best to find out. I'll keep watching them and let you all know what I see.

They talked for a bit longer and then the group broke up to take care of their separate tasks. Lex worked with everyone over the next few days and weeks in order to get everything ready for the show. She remembered being up late one night, about two weeks before the show, talking to Riss as they checked on whether or not anyone seemed to be interested in their activities.

Riss said as she looked through some database entries, “The crew that we met in Seattle has begun remembering what happened, but no one seems to have a definite idea. They've internally posted some very bad drawings of someone in a black hoodie, and some shadowy drawings of a crowd of people they think could number anywhere from three to ten.”

“Huh,” Lex said, nodding and feeling a little numb. “I guess it did work, at least for a little while.”

Riss shrugged. “MSI appears to have realized they were on to something, though, and they've ordered more people out here. It seems they've ordered everyone to avoid working with the police as much as possible, though, probably because they want to spirit everyone away to the labs if they find us. They've spread teams out across the west coast. None in Arizona yet, but they're moving around, so I'll keep an eye on them.”

Lex nodded again, then said, “Thanks for keeping up with it. Let us know when you find out anymore. Along those lines, do you know where the passports are?”

“They should be on their way here now. Hopefully we'll get them later this week,” she finished, glancing over at Lex.

After a pause, Lex asked Riss, “How do you feel about what we're doing? Do you think this is going to work out?”

Riss smiled her almost invisible smile in response, before turning back to her computer. “With all of us working on it, there's no way we can fail.”

The week before the show, Kate and Lex were talking, making logistical plans. At one point, however, when the two of them talked about the opening bands and a shadow passed over Kate's face, Lex sighed.

“Look, Kate, I'm really sorry everything worked out this way-” Lex started, Kate's strong voice cut her off.

“Don't apologize,” Kate said with a genuine smile. “We all took our chances, and we all knew this could happen at any time. I feel bad about having to leave, and I really don't want to have to leave Jack, but we all need to stay free and the best way to do that is to stick together. I tried to explain as well as I could without giving anything away when I talked to him to let him know we'd be missing the final show date for our last tour, and it sounded like he understood.”

Kate sighed, then continued. “I'm glad Jacob's Hammer and End of the Road agreed to do this show with us, though, because at least I'll get a chance to say goodbye properly. Anyway, don't you worry about it; there's nothing more you could have done that you didn't do.”

Lex nodded, then smiled as Kate bumped shoulders with her. “Come on, let's get back to planning for the show,” Kate said with a big smile.

The show date came even more quickly than seemed possible since everyone had been so busy, but the evening before the show, Lex felt confident that they'd made everything ready. Everyone seemed to feel excited as they drove over to the hotel where their friends were staying, and exchanged lots of hugs once they found the right rooms.

“Hey,” Laura said as she and Lex finished hugging, “you didn't have to put us up at all, you know, much less in someplace as nice as this.”

The blonde looked at the suite behind them and shook her head. Lex shrugged in return. “Well, we felt like we owed you, after ditching the final show, plus, well, we wanted to have you all over, but thought it might be safer to meet you here.”

Looking seriously at Lex, Laura asked, “Hey, do you mind if I ask, what's the trouble all of you you are in? I just can't believe you'd do anything against the law or anything like that.”

Lex sighed, then looked over to catch Casey's eye. The taller woman nodded. “Well, why don't we wait until we have everyone gathered together to tell you about that? It'll probably be easier to explain it once.”

Laura nodded, then went off to gather the rest of the members of the traveling bands. Once everyone had piled into the suite, Lex swallowed once before she started talking. “It's so nice to see all of you again, and I want to thank you for understanding that we had to cut out of the last show in Seattle.”

She looked around for a moment and noted that everyone seemed to be listening intently. Lex took a deep breath and continued. “Laura just asked me what kind of trouble we were in, and it's a fair question from friends like you, especially since you've been inconvenienced by what happened. It's not so much anything we've done, really, but who we are that's gotten us in trouble. The real problem is that we can all do things most people can't, and apparently that's valuable enough to some people for them to want to keep us in a lab and do experiments on us until we keel over.”

Noting the looks of consternation on her friends' faces, Lex briefly summarized their previous employment and the fact that they had run to live, and her own experience afterwards. “So, after that, we've just been trying to live, you know, to figure out how to be safe and live our lives in peace, but these people don't want to let us go. We ran into someone in Seattle who wanted to take us back to the labs, so we had to fight and take off.”

Sarah looked outraged. “Surely what they're doing isn't legal?” she asked, her quiet voice raised for one of the first times Lex could remember.

Lex returned her look sadly. “Actually, from what Riss has been able to find out, it is. It came as one of the many backroom deals during the Bush administration. If anyone has, I think they say 'abilities beyond normal human', they are subject to this sort of treatment. Basically, they figured if they said you were different they could deny you human rights, kind of like Guantanamo, I guess.”

Everyone fell silent for a moment, and Lex stared at the floor, but she brought her head back up as she heard a question from Eddie. “So, what can you guys do that most people can't?”

She smiled as she brought her head back up, once again happy at Eddie's talent for being able to bring everyone's spirits up during tough times. “Well, we can all do different things.”

“Yeah, if you've ever heard Lex sing and noticed that you feel all these crazy things, you've experienced one of the things she can do,” Kate said, smirking as she stood next to Jack.

Lex ducked her head. “Yeah, well, I'd demonstrate, but we can't be sure they don't have someone here like they did in Seattle. I know one thing we can do, though,” she finished, her eyes straying over to meet Casey's.

The taller woman smiled broadly and moved over towards Eddie. "All right, try to make an indentation in my skin," she challenged him, and Lex couldn't help but smile as she watched him escalate from poking her with a finger to punching her arm, then rubbing his knuckles afterwards, looking at Casey in wonder.

Silence reigned again until Laura stepped forward, teasing her husband about the whole thing. When he laughed, most everyone else followed suit or smiled. After that, a number of people started talking to one another, some poking at Casey's arm, some asking Lex questions, and some just talking about other things.

They gradually worked their way out to the hotel pool, where the staff had also set up a barbecue. Some of them swam while others prepared a meal which eventually everyone ate. The weather had been unseasonably warm, and continued to be that way through around the time the sun started to go down. As some of their group made their way back inside to change or to relax for the evening, Lex found herself sitting on a deck chair by Laura.

“So what are you guys going to do?” she asked, her eyes full of concern.

Lex sighed. “Well, we're going to try to go somewhere safer for us. I don't know what we'll find there, but hopefully we can find a way to be taken in. We'll contact you guys if we think it's safe once we get there.”

Laura shook her head. “I can hardly believe this is being allowed to happen. This is such bullshit.”

“I know,” Lex replied, shooting her friend a concerned look. “I'm actually a little worried about you guys, though.”

“Don't worry about us,” Laura said, looking at Lex confidently. “I know you might not figure it from looking at me, but my dad is one of the top criminal lawyers in LA, and we're very close. I'm going to have a talk with him tomorrow and make sure he knows what's going on with us. From what you've said, though, it doesn't sound like the people who are after you are really going to act like the police, anyway.”

“Yeah, I just don't know what that means as far as you guys are concerned, though,” Lex said with a sigh. “Hopefully they'll just leave you all alone. If they don't, just remember what we talked about.”

Laura nodded at Lex as she settled back in her chair. “Don't worry about us, we'll be fine. Worry about yourselves. You guys should be out here making music, not somewhere chained up in a lab.”

Lex nodded in return and sat back in her own chair, following Laura's gaze up to the star-filled sky. She sighed a little, trying to let her anxiety go, but she still felt a tight knot in her chest that she figured wouldn't disappear until they'd safely touched down in Europe. Glancing across the area by the pool, Lex spotted Riss sitting under an umbrella, engrossed in her laptop, so she walked over to sit near her friend.

“I haven't heard anything about MSI from you lately,” Lex mentioned, her voice hopeful.

Riss shrugged. “Until today, there hadn't been much to say. They're all traveling around, and they're digging up some other people for their labs, but they hadn't been on to us. Some genius came up with the idea that we might have been traveling through the area, though, and so MSI is going to be sending a team out to the show to check us out. When I rented our place, I did it through a company name, so they couldn't find us that way, which is why they're coming to the show, I guess. At any rate, the people they're sending are planning to step in and get us after the show, figuring it will attract less attention.”

Lex raised an eyebrow. “That should fit in well with what we're planning. Let's keep our fingers crossed that they don't decided to move sooner.”

When the day of the show came, Lex found herself feeling happier and more relaxed than she'd been for weeks, probably because there had always been something for her to do, and because they'd gotten one step closer to leaving. Everyone worked in concert to carefully pack the van full of the things they'd be taking along with them on their trip and their musical gear needed for the show.

“OK, let's do a final circuit to make sure no one's forgotten anything,” Casey suggested when everyone stood around the van with nothing else to pack into it.

All six of them moved through their place silently. The main room looked much as it usually did, except all of the musical gear, save for the recording machines, had been packed into the van. They'd cleaned and put everything away in the kitchen, and had disassembled the makeshift weight room and stacked the refuse in the corners, aside from the commercially available equipment they'd bought.

Victor's lab room had been mostly cleaned out, but he pocketed a couple small things as they passed by. The rooms upstairs were clean and had most of their personal belongings removed, as had the bathrooms. When they all met up downstairs again, Lex found herself blinking more than normal and taking a deep breath to calm herself. Casey patted the doors from the outside after she locked them for the last time.

“You've done well by us,” Lex could hear her friend murmur to the building. “Sorry we have to go.”

Lou and Casey held hands all the way back to the van, and Lex found Kate leaning against her as they followed their taller friends. “I'm really going to miss this place,” Kate almost whispered, and Lex grabbed her friend's hand in response. All of them quietly got into the van, and Lex even caught Riss turning for a last look at the building they'd lived in as Lou got out to lock the gate behind them for the last time.

They carefully made their way downtown through rush-hour traffic and stopped at a rather nondescript office building while Victor got out to go in. He turned back just before closing the door, however, and said, “I almost forgot. Keys, please, everyone.”

Everyone in the van reached into pockets or bags to fish out their copies of the keys to what used to be their home. Victor put them all in an envelope and headed inside.

When he got back in about a half-hour later, Kate asked as the van started moving again, “So, are they going to get started tonight?”

Victor shook his head. “They said they'd send a team out tomorrow to get everything ready for the auction to start on Saturday morning. The guy I talked to said they'd done some good advertising in the area, and I guess on the 'net, too, so they're hoping for a good turnout.”

“Hmmm,” Lex said, sitting on the bench between Kate and Victor, “I wonder how much people will actually be willing to pay to get our old stuff.”

Victor actually grinned at her then, and Lex couldn't help but grin in return because she'd rarely seen him do so. “More than that,” he continued, “since we're, as they put it 'minor celebrities', they thought it would be best to charge admission to keep away people that would want to come only out of curiosity. So, they're charging $20 a head to get in.”

Lex stared at him. “Do they think anyone will come at all for that price?”

He chuckled. “They'd actually talked about setting the price lower, but they've been getting so many inquiries about the sale that they thought they should charge more. That way, even if there are people who just come to see our old place, at least we'll make something out of it.”

Riss turned in the front passenger's seat to look back at them. “Since we just moved out, I've posted the address on our website. I posted the event weeks ago when Victor and Kate started arranging for the sale, but I figured I wouldn't tell anyone the address until we'd moved out. I did post the auction house information, though, so that may have been the source of the questions.”

Lex shook her head. “Good job, everyone. Thanks for setting all of that up; I know it couldn't have been easy.”

For the rest of the ride to the venue, which in downtown Phoenix, wasn't far from their former home, Lex thought everyone seemed in much better spirits.

Lex walked through the stadium with her friends and examined the stage that had been set up, and found everything in order as requested. The only thing that felt strange, and sent Lex's stomach reeling, was the amount of space in the place. Even half-filled, Lex realized, it would be the largest number of people they'd ever played to. Turning down the offer yet again to set up additional seats in front of the stage, Lex smiled at the person asking them.

“No, we have something special planned for late in the show,” she explained. “We cleared it with the people here already, and that's why we have a couple extra security people here tonight.” People who have strict orders to let no one but the bands backstage, Lex thought with a smile.

The stadium manager nodded and walked away as the band got down to business and started setting their gear up. The members of the other bands came filtering in as Lex and the rest of the band finished setting up, and everyone paused to greet and hug one another.

“Well, what do you think?” Lex asked, her gaze sweeping the stage and the stadium itself.

The members of the other bands looked around with awe, and some dubiousness. Laura returned Lex's smile without reservation, however. “It looks great. Are you guys all ready to put on the best show we've ever done?”

Lex nodded and felt her own smile widen in response. “Yeah, I think we are,” she said as she looked around at her friends and band members. “How about you?”

“We're going to make everyone who comes forget they've ever seen another show,” Laura said confidently, tugging at Eddie's hand until he smiled, as well.

“Come on, all of you,” Casey called from up on the stage, “let's get everyone set up and get in a good sound check.”

Lou and a couple of people they hired for the day to carry gear arranged and rearranged the three bands' gear. The group finally decided that End of the Road would go on first, since they had a drum kit to assemble and disassemble, and that once they'd finished their set, their gear would be cleared and Jacob's Hammer would go on next, then Alexander's Army last. For now, the second and third bands' gear had been set up in opposite corners of the stage.

“All right, let's give it a go in the order we're planning to go on,” Lex suggested. “For those of us who aren't checking, we can split up around the stadium to make sure we can hear the music, and that it sounds like it's mixed right. Take Victor's number and call him if you think any adjustments need to be made.”

They ran through the sound check, and as Lex walked around listening to her friends play little bits of their songs she watched as Victor argued with the sound man at the stadium, a tall man with cowboy boots and hat, plus a paunch and an attitude. Somehow, Victor prevailed, even though anyone watching would have bet against his quiet demeanor, good grooming, and simple but well-fitting outfit as part of someone who could overcome a cowboy.

Lex smiled at Rachel as she passed the other woman on the stairs while she made her way to the stage for the sound check for Alexander's Army. Once she, Lou, Riss, and Kate had assembled, Lex couldn't help but pause to smile at her band mates after she looked around at the stadium.

“We've come a long way, haven't we?” she asked them. As they returned her smile, Lex asked, “OK, who wants to go first?”

Riss kicked it off, followed by Lou and Kate. As it came to be her turn, Lex began to play a piece they'd started work on a while ago, but hadn't completed due to all of the excitement over the past few weeks.

Stones of the earth, hold me fast against the waves
Bones of the land that made me, protect me from the storm
All of the living, I call to you
Share your lives with one another
Turn none away

Lex let her song trail away as she took her next breath, sure that it had probably been enough to sound check. As she raised her head, however, she found that everyone in the stadium, even those who'd been engaged in other jobs to get ready for the show, had stopped what they were doing and had their eyes turned to her. Many of them had radiant looks on their faces that made Lex smile weakly back at them and then drop her face to the ground. A few seconds later, as she quickly looked up again, it seemed people had begun to move again, although perhaps a bit more slowly than they had been before.

“Victor, if you think you've gotten enough, how about we have dinner?” Lex asked as she looked down the field at her friend. The mixing board had been placed in a fenced-off area just beyond the empty lawn in front of the stage, and Victor gave her a thumbs up as she watched. Lex smiled and then made her way off the stage as Lou and the temporary stage hands set up for the show that would start in a couple of hours.

Someone had ordered some food in and all of the members of the various bands made their way back to the rooms that had been set up for their use before and after their performances. The meal seemed both boisterous and quiet at times to Lex, as everyone enjoyed being together, and then realized this would probably be their last dinner together in turns. Finally, when everyone had about finished eating and things had gotten solemn, Laura spoke up.

“Hey, all of you,” she said, her glance going around the tables they'd pushed together to make one long space for everyone to eat on. “Remember why we're here tonight. Don't be so sad; we're here to put on the best show all of us have ever put on yet. Get your minds there, because we're going to play so good tonight that it'll make everyone that came forget all their troubles for a while, even us. OK?”

Rachel and Sarah looked at each other, smiling, while Kate elbowed Victor. Lou and Casey had obviously been holding hands underneath the table and looked at each other with a small smile. Laura reached over for Eddie's hand with a smile and leaned against her brother with her other shoulder, watching Jack and Kate as they smiled at one another. Lex and Riss eyed one another as Riss' expression changed to show one of her tiny smiles.

“Laura's right, everyone,” Lex agreed, smiling herself. “Let's get ready to amaze all of those people out there, because we're going to give them a performance they're never going to forget.”

They gradually broke up as Laura, Eddie, and Hal left to get themselves ready to start the show, Victor went to tend the sound equipment, and Kate and Jack wandered off somewhere to be alone. Rachel and Sarah settled onto a couch in the corner of the large room to rest a bit before they were scheduled to go onstage, which left Casey, Lou, and Riss at the makeshift dining table in the center of the room. All of them watched silently for a few minutes as Riss unpacked a couple of laptops from the backpack she carried whenever they left the house and fired them up, finally bringing up a view of multiple video camera feeds.

“This should be all of them,” she said quietly, cycling through a number of different angles of the stadium until she settled on one of interest. “Looks like people have started to show up, including them.”

She'd pointing at a man dressed in a dark trench coat who stood near one of the aisles that went up into the stadium seating. He wore sunglasses even though darkness had fallen and there was only artificial lighting in the stadium, and as he moved, they caught sight of a business suit underneath the trench coat.

“They stick out like sore thumbs,” Lex murmured as she stared at the figure. “Why are they dressed like that?”

Lou shrugged as he turned to look at Lex. “They may be trying to conceal weapons,” he said quietly. “If you had to carry something the size of a shotgun, you'd probably want to wear something to hide it.”

Lex felt her stomach sink. “Do you think they'll actually start shooting in a crowded stadium?”

She looked over as Riss shook her head. “One thing I've learned as I've gone though their files is that they're paranoid about drawing attention to themselves. They learned from a few cases in the past that the general public isn't sympathetic to their goals once they're brought out into the open, so they'll probably try to avoid open shooting.”

As Lex looked over at Riss with a raised eyebrow, the other woman glanced at her and then continued. “Examples? Several years back, they'd work more closely with the police. Apparently, a beautiful young psychic ran from their facilities that the local police picked up. By the time MSI arrived, she'd convinced the police of the entire story of what had happened to her and the police were ready to arrest the people who came to pick the girl up.”

“What finally happened?” Lex asked.

Riss shrugged. “Not sure. Apparently, one of the officers released the girl while the police and the people from the lab were arguing. Nothing in the records about her being picked up again.”

Lex nodded as she turned her attention back to the screens, noting that it looked like the stadium had really started to fill up. Casey's voice broke into her chain of thought. “So, do we know how many people are coming today?”

“Well,” Riss said, flicking the attention on one screen to an alternate window, “we got somewhere around 10,000 in pre-sales, but they're still selling tickets at the door, so it may end up being more. I don't think we'll fill the place, though, because we'd have to almost double that, though.”

They all looked at each other for a moment, Casey grinning widely. “I never expected so many,” she said as she stood up and gave Lou a kiss. “I should go out to work the merchandise booth,” she continued. “I bet we'll sell a lot of CDs today.”

Lou watched as she went out the door, then turned with the others and continued looking at the security screens. Around the time End of the Road was supposed to take the stage, one of the temporary stage hands came into the room and handed a set of keys to Lou.

“Everything's been moved over,” he said, and Lou responded with a nod of thanks.

He glanced at Lex, who looked over to the corner and noted for the first time that Rachel and Sarah had gone to get ready for their own set. She looked over to the door a couple of seconds later and smiled as she saw Jack and Kate come back into the room. Lou handed her some keys and she walked over to the couple, smiling as she held out a hand with the keys in it.

“You know we're all really thankful for this,” Jack said as he took the keys and put them in his pocket. “We've needed a new van for a while now; I've really been holding it together with baling wire, hope, and too much work.”

Lex laughed in response. “Well, you all are going to have to earn it tonight,” she replied. “Thanks for being willing to stick your necks out for us.”

He hugged Kate a little tighter as he looked over at her for a moment, then back at Lex. “Laura and I wouldn't have it any other way. The rest of us know what's being done isn't right, too, so we're all glad to help you out.”

Smiling a little sadly now, Lex nodded. “It's out on the loading dock. And thanks, really.”

Jack nodded as he and Kate headed for the couch in the corner that Rachel and Sarah had vacated not long before. As Lex rejoined Riss and the others, she heard the three of them talking about some of the plans that had been made for later.

“I've added bookings for us for flights out of LA and Vegas, and bookings through to Europe out of New York and Boston, and even a ship booking out of New York, as well,” Riss said in a low voice, answering a question that seemed to have been posed to her.

“Good,” Lou replied. “The limo is supposed to show up here around the time we finish the set.”

Riss nodded back at him, her almost invisible smile in evidence. A moment later, however, a couple of screens placed around the room came to life, showing the stage they'd be performing on later, now with Laura, Eddie, and Hal in place, ready to perform.

“Hello, Phoenix!” Laura yelled into the microphone as the crowd started to cheer. “We're End of the Road and we're here to rock this house down!”

They broke into one of their most lively songs, This House. Halfway into it, as Laura really started to let go with her singing over the driving bass she played, Eddie stepped up the guitar piece as she started belting out the chorus of the song

This house ain't big enough for our love
It wanders around in the night alone
This house is only the place we keep our stuff
We keep our dreams inside alone

By the time the song had ended, Lex thought everyone in the stadium seemed to be standing and screaming for more, but they didn't allow much time even for the applause to die down, just started ripping into the next piece. Lex looked around at her band mates and smiled.

“Laura wasn't kidding, was she?” Lex commented, still grinning. “They're really hot tonight.”

The four of them split their time between watching the cameras and paying attention to the show. About halfway through End of the Road's set, Jack left get ready for his own set and Kate joined her band mates at the table.

“How's it going?” she asked as she slid into the chair next to Victor.

Riss shrugged. “About as expected. I've spotted about twenty of them strategically scattered around the stadium.” She pointed at one of the overcoated figures as Kate leaned forward to see.

It didn't seem like too long to Lex before End of the Road had finished their set. As the friends watched their temporary roadies move the instruments around and off the stage, Laura, Eddie, and Hal showed back up. Lex rushed to hug Laura.

“You weren't kidding about your performance tonight!” Lex said with a big smile.

Laura beamed in response. “Well, we couldn't let you go away without giving you a big sendoff. So you liked it?”

“You were great, but I'm sure you know it,” Lex teased, then gave Laura a serious look. “By the way, I gave the keys to Jack.”

“Thank you all so much! I really can't tell you how much we appreciate this,” the blonde said, hugging Lex again.

“Don't thank me yet, wait until the end of the night,” Lex retorted, giving her friend a cautionary look.

“I've got to thank you now because I probably won't be able to later,” Laura reminded Lex, whose face went serious again. Laura gave Lex one more hug and said, “OK, I'm going to get out of your way because I know you all are going to get busy soon, and I'm sure Casey could use the help. Take good care of yourself, Lex. We'll miss you here.”

Lex felt herself blinking as she tried to hold it together, but managed to smile. “We're going to miss you guys, too. Keep making great music.”

Laura hugged everyone else at the table before she went back out. Lex offered her congratulations to Hal, who nodded and smiled just before sat on the couch in the corner and opened the book he'd been reading before his band went on. Eddie prowled the room restlessly for a few minutes before standing behind Riss and looking over her shoulder at the laptops displaying the security camera footage.

“I'm not even going to ask how you got access to all of this,” he said with a wide grin. “Are you looking for something in particular?”

Riss frowned a little, not wanting to give anything away, but before she could say anything Kate beat her to it. Pointing to a figure in an overcoat who'd just appeared on one of the security camera images, she said, “These guys. There's a bunch of them here.”

Turning to face, Kate, Riss glared at her. “Sorry, sorry,” Kate said to her, holding her hands up in front of her. She turned to Eddie and added, “Yeah, they all pretty much look like that, so you should probably avoid them.”

He grinned even more widely. “Hell if I will,” he replied. “I think I might give them a little trouble for all of the trouble they've given you.”

Lex's eyes widened. “Eddie, please don't. We think they may be dressed like that because...they have weapons,” she finished, trailing off.

Eddie laughed in return. “Oh, don't worry,” he said. “I'd been planning to go out and give Laura and Casey a hand. If I run into one of these guys along the way, I'll be sure to make it look like an accident.”

He waved and headed out the door, and the rest of the group went back to spending half their time watching the show being broadcast on the screens around the room and the other half watching the security camera images. Riss chuckled at one point and the others looked to see her finger under the picture of Eddie, who appeared to have run into one of the men in trench coats. When they looked over, Eddie stood in front of the man, haranguing him. Eventually, Lex's ears perked up as she heard Jack's voice from the screens in front of them.

“All right, everyone who has a special pass, you can start coming forward and security will begin to check you in. Be sure to keep it friendly out there, everyone. There's plenty of time before Alexander's Army comes on.”

There heard cheering in the crowd as he said the name of the band, and the members of the named band all looked at each other.

“We'd better start getting ready,” Kate said, looking around the table. “Come on, let's find the dressing room.”

Forward to Chapter 33
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!

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This sounds like a job for...


I'm always surprised how mellow the people in this story are with the revelation of superpowers among them. No-one wanted to know what the other Alexander's Army-ites could do? They're all so polite and reserved! That said, I think Lex and co. downplayed it such that the other bands' members have the impression it's all relatively prosaic attributes such as exceptionally dense skin.

It's also to the other bands' credit that none of them seem jealous that Alexander's Army started out opening for them and now they are opening for it (if I remember correctly).

Re: This sounds like a job for...

Yes, it does...doesn't it! : )

I thought about it as I was writing it, and I think part of that comes from that I think it would be a pretty weird thing to ask a friend (Hey! Perform like a trained monkey for me!), and the fact that a lot of their powers aren't showy. No one can fly, even Kate doesn't turn into something else, etc. In a way, I could see how that would be easier to accept...after all, if they could do things like that, it would be hard to think that maybe other people can too, and maybe they're just not mentioning it...And yes, I think everyone did try hard to make it seem like no big deal. No one wants to be thought of as an inhuman freak, after all.

Heh, heh...well, that's showbiz sometimes! It's nice when people in that sort of situation still remember their old friends, though, which is what I think the people in the other bands are appreciating.

Anyway, thanks much for coming by to read and comment!

What did Lex do to show Casey's toughness?

Lex ducked her head. “Yeah, well, I'd demonstrate, but we can't be sure they don't have someone here like they did in Seattle. I know one thing we can do, though,” she finished, her eyes straying over to meet Casey's.

The taller woman smiled broadly and moved over towards Eddie. Lex smiled as she watched the man go through the same steps she'd done while trying to make an indentation in Casey's skin.

Re: What did Lex do to show Casey's toughness?

Good question! I was using shorthand to refer to something that happens between Lex and Casey in an earlier chapter, but good point that it's likely that everyone might not remember. I've updated the chapter there to clarify. Thank you for coming to read, and for commenting!

Current or Voltage?

I was a bit surprised to see Victor commenting on the "current" being different in Europe. As he's a super-engineer, I'm reasonably sure he'd say 'voltage' (220V instead of the US 110V), and if he wants to be picky, AC frequency (50Hz instead of the US 60Hz). I'm quoting this from memory, so... Many imported (Japanese/Chinese) electronics, with a built-in PSU, has a voltage switch somewhere. Then, there's the need for 'travel plugs' due to differing standards...

Just read this from Chapter 1, very impressed, this is first 'mistake' I've seen. Excellent writing!

(Commenting from the UK, FYI)

Re: Current or Voltage?

You're absolutely right, it's the difference in volts that are relevant. Thanks for your comment - I can't believe I missed that!

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