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Chapter 2: Second Interview
Storm
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes: Warnings for this chapter - Frank discussion about sex, recollection of death threats
As always, thanks to my fabulous editor gwoman for her work on this chapter!


Back to Chapter 1

When they arrived back on the main floor, Clara directed Lex to have a seat on one of the couches in the open area while she made some calls to try to set up the meeting. Lex sat back on the couch she’d chosen and looked through the windows at the water outside. The dock along the back of the building seemed worn and she could see floating garbage in the water, but Lex found that she really liked the view of the far side of the river and the buildings that could be seen there.

“Hey, I really am sorry about what happened earlier. I had no idea we were expecting anyone today,” a voice behind her said, breaking into her observations.

Lex turned around to see Casey and smiled a little wryly, looking down at her bandaged left hand. “Really, it’s OK. It was just an accident; I know you didn’t do it on purpose,” she replied softly.

Casey smiled for a moment, and Lex felt suddenly glad. The woman's smile was genuine and open, making Lex feel more welcome than she had since she’d left her house today, so she decided to take a chance. “Casey, do you mind if I ask you some questions?”

The blonde woman shrugged. “Sure, go ahead.”

Lex thought for a little while, unsure of where to begin. “Well, just so you know,” she finally said, “I did sign a confidentiality agreement. But I’m really not interested in anything secret; I’d just like to know what you think about your experience here. I’ve never been involved with anything like this before, so it’s all new to me. Do you like being part of this team?”

“Yeah, pretty much. It’s definitely more interesting than anything else I’ve done. I was just a farmer before, which was a whole lot less exciting than this.”

“A farmer? How did they…ah…recruit you?” Lex asked.

“Well, the farm had been doing badly for a few years,” Casey recalled, “so we decided that someone should look for a job to bring in some extra money. Since we lived near the capital, I decided to apply for a few secretarial-type jobs through the state government. I’d done all right in my typing classes in high school and thought maybe I could do that kind of work for a while. Well, I didn’t ever hear back from the state, but several weeks later I did hear from the folks here.”

Apparently they don’t just restrict themselves to scooping up people applying for federal service, Lex thought. “So, I guess you never had any experience with this sort of thing when they took you on, either,” she said aloud.

“True. I think that’s the case with most of us,” Casey replied. “Except for Joan; she was in the military before. It’s hard to tell, though. Not everyone wants to talk about what they did before they came here.”

“So, if you had to make the decision over to take this job, knowing what you know now, would you do it?” Lex asked, watching for Casey’s reaction carefully.

Casey looked Lex in the eye and gave a short laugh. “You’re right to the point, aren’t you? I like that.” After considering the question for a while, Casey nodded. “I think I would. There are drawbacks, but I’ve experienced things because of this job that I never would have in a lifetime on the farm. Not all of them have been good, but I think that in my case the balance is to the good.”

”But,” Casey continued, looking Lex in the eye again, “that doesn’t mean that you’ll have the same experience. I’m guessing that since you came here on your own that you live in the city already. A lot of the things that interested me involved coming here to begin with, so that’s not going to mean a thing to you. Plus, if they told you this isn’t just a job, don’t think they were kidding. There are some good things about that and some bad, too.”

Lex had opened her mouth to ask more about that last comment, but closed it again as three other women walked into the room. Clara she recognized, but the other two women Lex hadn’t met yet. The first one stood about Lex’s height with fiery bright red hair and a very light complexion. In order to show off her long, slim legs and extensive cleavage, the redhead wore a form-fitting green dress with a deep V neckline. The woman grinned somewhat wolfishly at Lex, who gave a cautious smile in return.

The other unknown woman was tall and wiry; not as tall as Casey, but a good foot taller than Lex. Lex thought she looked somewhat older than the rest of them, and noticed that her face seemed weathered and had a bit of a tan that looked permanent, as if she’d spent a good deal of time outdoors at some point in her life. She wore her hair long and loose over her shoulders, and Lex guessed its color was what people meant when they said “platinum blonde” since it didn’t quite look like grey hair. A pink tank top and camouflage pants completed the blonde’s look, and she leaned forward to shake Lex’s hand.

“Hi, I’m Joan Morgan,” she said.

“Lex McKilliam.”

The moment their hands met, Lex felt Joan’s slightly larger hand start to tighten around hers. Lex knew exactly what to do to deal with pressure handshakers, like her father, and so she matched Joan’s grip strength, looking her straight in the eye and smiling like nothing out of the ordinary was going on. Joan stepped up the squeeze a few times, and each time Lex matched her, smiling more broadly as the handshake went on. Lex could hear Casey laughing in the background.

“I wouldn’t try her if I were you, Joan,” Casey said. “There’s a lot more there than what you can see.”

The edges of Joan’s eyes had started to tighten by this point. Lex could feel the pressure somewhere in the dim background, but nothing like the intensity she'd gotten used to when growing up. She could have kept it up for quite a while, but when she felt Joan’s hand relax, Lex let go immediately.

“Ha ha, you have quite a grip!” Joan said, smiling at Lex as if she were pleased.

Lex remembered her father sounding off with that type of fake laugh and briefly wondered if the military gave a course in it. She figured she should probably just nod at Joan and did so as she leaned back on the couch. The redhead quickly moved around everyone else and sat next to Lex, a little close in Lex’s opinion, and introduced herself as Serena Vitalé. Serena’s dress shone in the way silk usually did, and Lex also smelled expensive perfume as the other woman shifted on the couch. Trying not to think about the way Serena’s appearance contrasted with her own ripped skirt and painted shoes, Lex instead focused on the others in the room. Joan and Casey took seats on opposite sides of the couch facing Lex and Serena, and Clara pulled a chair to the space in front of the windows in between both couches.

“Riss, can you hear us?” Clara said, talking more loudly and looking up to the ceiling.

Lex looked up, and saw a speaker over Clara’s head. Suddenly, a voice responded from that direction, the sound anonymized and flattened, probably by being run through a computer. “I can hear you, Clara. There’s no need to shout. Just speak normally.”

“All right. Can you see us as well?” Clara asked.

“Yes, I can see everyone. I’m in the middle of something and can’t come down, but I’ll watch and listen from here,” Riss responded.

Clara then looked at all of the women in turn. “Now that we’re all here, I just wanted to reiterate that this is Lex’s acceptance interview. I know that Lily isn’t here right now, but we have enough team members present to take a vote today. If we need a tie breaker Lily can meet with Lex later, but Mr. Sauer thought Lex should talk to whoever was here today to see if we can make a decision now.”

Joan frowned slightly. “I don’t think we got advance notice about this, did we? I haven’t had a chance to review her file.”

Clara sighed. “Has anyone been keeping up with their candidate packets? I’ve been putting them together for everyone we’re considering so that you can review them as we bring people in for interviews. I sent Lex’s to you a few weeks ago.”

Casey snorted. “There’s no point in reading them in advance. We never have any idea who we’re going to be meeting with, since most of the people you pick fail their trials.”

Serena nodded. “It seems like most of them can’t pass the test, so why waste our time?” She looked at Lex again, curiously. “What about her trial?”

“Ah, yes,” Clara said, looking Serena in the eye. “Riss, I put together a clip of what turned out to be Lex’s trial. You can find it in my network folder; it will be named ‘McKilliam’ with today’s date. I know you’re in the middle of a project, but could you please queue it up to play on the main screen in the living room? I’ll set up the screen and everything, but if you could kick that off, I’d appreciate it.”

Something that sounded like a small exhale could be heard from the overhead speakers. “OK, give me a minute.”

Clara went to a panel at the front left corner of the room and pushed a few buttons. Curtains slid quietly over the windows as a viewing screen started to come down from the ceiling and the lights dimmed in that area. When it was halfway down, Lex began to see the footage of herself that she’d watched with Clara and Sauer earlier, the front view followed by the side view. Clara came back to the grouping and passed folders out to Casey, Serena, and Joan. “OK, take a few minutes to review Lex's information. Riss, you can find it on the network in Lex’s candidate folder. Once you’ve had time to look at it, we can go to questions and then vote.”

None of them seemed to be paying much attention to Clara, however. All eyes, except for Lex’s, were glued to the clip. Casey elbowed Joan and pointed at the screen at the point where Lex had glanced skyward. Serena gasped and Joan raised her eyebrows as Lex’s image suddenly got smaller. Lex could see the three of them watching intently as the side view came on, and then they all reacted as she jumped back.

“You could hardly see that!” Casey said, elbowing Joan.

“I don’t know,” Joan replied. “That film wasn’t tampered with, was it?”

Gasping, Serena looked at Lex somewhat narrowly and asked, “How did you do that?”

“I happened to see the bucket of paint coming, and I jumped back,” Lex explained.

Clara responded to Joan’s earlier question. “No, Joan, the security cameras captured this just over an hour ago. The only alteration to the film was that in preparation for this meeting I clipped the relevant sections and put them together so that all of you could watch it.”

Casey chimed in, “Yeah, Joan, plus I got to see most of it from the roof. She’s pretty quick.”

Joan gave Casey a hard look. “So, it was you who dropped that paint?”

“No, it was one of those idiot workmen on the roof. He really got on my nerves—”

“Ladies, please!” Clara glared at the two of them. “Can we stick to the point here? Are all of you satisfied with the trial?”

Joan looked over at Lex. “You did land a little clumsily.”

Lex raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t plan to have to jump around in my business suit. If I’d known, I would have worn something else entirely.”

Joan shrugged at Lex’s response and nodded. “Yes, I’m satisfied.”

Serena and Casey nodded as well, and the voice from the speakers said, “Agreed.”

Everyone began studying Lex’s folder then except for Clara, who’d brought out her laptop again to fiddle with it. Lex began to watch her image on the screen, jumping out of the way of the paint bucket again and again. She smiled after a few moments, realizing that she still could move pretty fast, even though she didn’t practice for nearly as many hours a day as she used to. Finally, she turned to look at the other women. Serena and Casey appeared to be reading the folder’s contents, while it looked as if Joan had finished. When Serena closed the folder after another few minutes, both she and Joan looked at Casey.

“You know I can feel you staring at me,” Casey said, still reading. “Just give me a few more minutes. Sheesh, you’d think the two of you think you’re geniuses because you’re done reading already.”

“I’m finished, as well,” came Riss’ voice from above.

Casey growled with even more irritation, but continued reading. After a few more minutes, Casey shut her folder and looked up at Clara. Clara looked around at everyone and nodded.

“All right,” she said, “now is your Q&A time. For Lex’s benefit, let me review the rules. You may feel free to ask whatever questions you like of Lex, but please try to keep them in the legal realm, according to what we’ve reviewed before,” she added, frowning slightly in Serena’s direction. Serena looked back at her with a bored expression.

“Lex,” Clara continued, “although I have encouraged, and continue to encourage, sticking to interview questions that are legal to ask, I have to add a warning to you. You are not under any obligation to answer any question that might be asked, but please understand that our final decision on whether or not to accept you into this team will depend on the positive votes of your potential team members, three of whom you see here, and one of whom you can hear over the speakers. They may cast their votes in any way they choose and are not obligated to explain why they voted one way or another. If there is a tie here, there is one more team member you haven’t met yet who will be asked to break it. I have to warn you, however, that if the majority of the women here vote against you, we will be unable to accept you as part of the team.”

Lex mentally sighed. I won’t be forced to answer any questions, she thought, but if I don’t answer them, I probably won’t stand a chance of getting voted onto the team. Well, hopefully they won’t ask anything too bad…

“OK,” Lex replied, “I think I understand.”

“All right,” Clara responded, with a nod. “Who would like to start?”

“I would,” said Casey, raising her hand. “Where are you from?”

Lex smiled. “I spent a little of my childhood in New England, but we moved here when I was about two, so this area is most of what I remember. I’ve lived in different places all over the DC metro area since then.”

“Do you have any brothers and sisters?”

“Two sisters and a younger brother.”

“How did your résumé end up with us?”

Lex smiled again. “Well, I applied for an analyst position at the Department of Health and Human Services a month ago, so I think that’s how it came to be here.”

Casey lifted an eyebrow. “What did you do before?”

Lex paused for a moment, wondering why Casey had used that tense. “I’ve worked as a business and systems analyst, and as a contractor to a number of different federal agencies.”

A noise could be heard over the speakers at that point that sounded like a thoughtful hum, and then Joan broke in. “Casey, some of this information was in the folder. I thought you read it?” She looked pointedly at Casey, but the other woman simply shrugged, leaned her arms behind her head on the couch, and stretched her feet out in front of her. “I just wanted to get Lex’s side of it. Besides, I’ve already made up my mind; I just wanted to get her warmed up for Joan the Griller.”

Joan glared at Casey at that point and then turned to Lex to begin her questioning. “How long were you in training with your father? What did you learn?”

Trying to retain a positive attitude regardless of Joan’s cold, demanding tone, Lex ran through the information about the martial arts training she’d received as a child and the same explanations about why it had stopped.

“That’s a shame. What an opportunity lost,” said Joan, shaking her head.

Lex struggled to continue smiling calmly and said nothing. Can’t fault me for not opening my mouth, she thought, her hand digging into the couch cushion a bit, feeling the threads of the loose weave dig into her fingertips.

Joan continued. “So, you studied under your father for almost 15 years, and all you got were two black belts and a brown belt? It sounds like you were resting on your laurels, to me.”

Lex felt her hand relax as she mentally drifted away from the situation a bit. It was like what happened those times her father had told her to stand in horse stance while he beat her with a kendo sword, trying to knock her over. The whole thing could last for quite some time, maybe an hour or so, but Lex had learned how to feel it only dimly while thinking of other things. She knew her face probably looked quite calm but expressionless, as it had been in the studio mirror. Lex took a calming breath and answered. “Well, those were the only forms my father knew. Also, I wasn’t allowed to rest at all while training under him.”

“What do you mean?” Joan asked, her tone still aggressive, almost angry.

“My father wanted to be sure that no one thought he was treating his daughter better, so once I got my black belts and my brown belt, he had me re-test on them every year, something that no other student had to do. He stripped me of them if I couldn’t do the forms perfectly, but he let me retest once a day until I got it right. He only stripped me of a belt twice, and never for longer than a week.”

Lex would prefer to forget all of those tests and the frantic weeks leading up to them. A blur of practicing, sometimes all night, with her father screaming about her being a miserable failure was about all she could recall anyway.

“So, at what ages were you awarded your belts?” Joan asked.

“I got my hapkido black belt at eight, my judo brown belt at twelve, and my tae kwon do black belt at sixteen. So, I tested just once for my tae kwon do belt, the hapkido belt nine times, including the initial test, and judo five times,” Lex replied, mentally adding up the years.

Joan nodded; that seemed to satisfy her. “How good are you about practicing these days?”

“I usually spend several hours a week practicing my forms and several hours lifting weights or running.”

Frowning, Joan commented, “That doesn’t sound equivalent to the amount of work you used to do as a kid.”

Lex shook her head and shrugged. “I didn’t have to make a living as a child.”

Joan sighed and gave Lex a hard look. “Well, let’s go through some situational questions. What would you do if you were being attacked by an opponent you knew was bigger and stronger than you and probably had more fighting skills?”

Lex paused as her brain quickly went through countless possible scenarios. “That’s sort of a broad question,” she eventually responded. “It would depend a lot on the situation: indoors or outdoors, if I had anything useful at hand, that sort of thing. Can you narrow it down a bit?”

Joan looked at her for a moment with an unreadable facial expression. “What would your general strategy be upon facing such an opponent?”

“So this is someone I’m certain is going to attack me?” Lex asked, to which Joan nodded. “Well,” Lex continued, “I’d do everything I could to try to get the upper hand. If I could find a heavy object to hit them across the head with and knock them out, I would do that first. If that didn’t work—”

“Wait a minute,” Joan roared, “your first strategy would be to sneak up behind them and hit them on the head? It doesn’t sound like you’re very confident in your skills, to me. What kind of martial artist are you?”

Lex laughed without mirth. “A living one. The first thing my father taught me about fighting, even before the martial arts training, was that in a real fight, there are no rules. You’ve already told me that the person I’m up against has me in height, weight, and maybe skill, so I’m probably starting at a disadvantage. That being the case, I’d do everything I could to even up the odds and end the fight quickly. I would use my martial arts training if I could get a benefit in using it, but my first choice would be to end the fight as quickly as I could, by whatever means necessary.”

Joan’s mouth opened and then closed again. Lex could see several emotions warring on her face – outrage, anger, contempt, and humor. She seemed on the verge of saying more, probably angrily, but cleared her expression and said, “No further questions from me, Clara. I’ve made up my mind.”

Serena then turned to Lex and smiled that toothy smile again. “I guess it’s my turn. Gay, bi, or straight?”

Lex blinked. “Excuse me?”

Serena tilted her chin down to give Lex a withering look and spoke more slowly. “Are you gay, bi, or straight?”

Lex shot a glance at Clara, who suddenly seemed busy typing and staring straight at her laptop, obviously trying hard not to look at Lex. Realizing there would be no help from that direction, she looked at her hands and thought for a quick moment. Do I really want this job enough to answer questions like this from a total stranger? Then, Lex considered her bills, the lack of offers, and the temp work that she hadn’t been able to get much of recently and sighed as she turned back to Serena’s heavy gaze, thinking that she might not ever see these people again after today and would feel stupid losing out on a job at this point just because she didn’t want to answer questions as silly as this. “Straight, mostly,” Lex answered, meeting Serena's eyes with what she hoped was a calm expression.

Serena’s eyebrow quirked and she smiled a little more deeply. Lex kept her expression neutral, but the gears turning in her head told her that at least some people had refused to answer Serena’s questions entirely. Lex smiled cautiously in return.

“Single, spoken for, married?” Serena continued.

“Ah, well, I’m actually engaged to be married,” Lex answered, suddenly feeling the weight of the ring on her left hand.

“Oh,” Serena said, quickly grabbing Lex’s hand to examine the ring. “The stone is huge. Your boyfriend must be loaded.”

She shrugged. “Well, uh, his family is pretty wealthy.”

“Oh, one of those,” Serena said, putting Lex’s hand back into her lap. “There are a lot of trust fund babies in this area.”

Lex wriggled uncomfortably in her seat. The topic of Kurt’s money always made her nervous. She couldn’t quite figure out how the flow of money between him and his family worked, but her skin crawled at the idea of being dependent on parents for support. Lex had worked very hard to take care of herself ever since fleeing her family’s house, so she didn’t like to think too much about how Kurt was able to afford his expensive condo and car with the tiny salary of a Senator’s aide. When she’d tried to broach the topic, he’d just laughed it off as being unimportant, so she hadn’t tried to bring it up again.

“So,” Serena continued, “when are you two getting married?”

“We haven’t really set a date yet, since we just decided the whole thing recently,” Lex replied. Since asking her to get married a few weeks ago, Kurt had said he wanted to talk it over with his parents before deciding on a date or determining where they would get married. The whole thing made Lex want to throw up through sheer nerves. His parents were always outwardly nice but somehow ended up making Lex feel like they thought they were talking to the trash they’d rather take out, so having to consult with them on wedding details set her teeth on edge. And then, the questions would almost certainly come about her own parents…

“Hmm,” said Serena, cutting into Lex’s thoughts and sounding bored of the topic, “so how many men have you slept with? Including this guy?”

Lex gulped while taking in a breath and then gave Serena a hard look. Serena looked back at her, smirking. Lex shook her head as if to clear it, glanced beseechingly at Clara (who was still avoiding her gaze), and finally answered in a small, strangled voice, “Five.”

Serena’s eyes widened. “Only five?” she said, much louder than Lex had. “You’re just about as pure as any girl I’ve met. Have you slept with any women?”

Lex shook her head. “No.”

“Too bad. So what’s your favorite sexual position?”

Lex looked over at Clara again and noted that the other woman still had her eyes firmly fixed on her laptop. “Clara,” Lex began, unable to hold her tongue any longer, even if it meant jeopardizing her shot at the job, “I don’t meant to complain, but is this line of questioning really necessary?”

Clara still gazed at her laptop but cleared her throat and responded. “Serena does have the right to ask any questions she wants, but the number of questions is limited if they aren’t directly related to what you’ll be doing. So, Serena, can we agree that this is your last question?”

Serena pouted for a few seconds. “Yes,” she agreed reluctantly, “unless there’s something I need to ask to clarify Lex’s answer to this one. OK?”

Clara finally looked at Lex. “That’s fine by me. Lex?”

Lex nodded.

“OK, so what is it?” Serena prompted, grinning.

After thinking for a little while, Lex answered, “Well, I don’t think I’ve tried them all, but I can’t say I have a favorite. I like pretty much all the ones I’ve tried for different reasons.”

Serena’s eyebrows nearly shot through the roof. “Really? What reasons?”

Lex sighed again, her eyes turned to the floor. She could feel the heat of a blush on her cheeks, but resolved to answer the question anyway since it should be the last one.

“Well, ah, each one I’ve tried is…stimulating in different ways…” she said in a slightly strangled voice, trailing off at the end, still staring at the floor.

Clara’s voice cut in at this point. “All right, Serena, I think Lex has been a good sport in answering your questions. Do you agree?”

Lex somehow managed to look at Serena as she spoke again. “Yes, she has,” Serena said with a laugh. “All right, I’m finished.”

Lex took in a couple of good breaths, not sure whether she was trying not to laugh or blush. She saw Serena gazing at her with that predatory look again, but she couldn’t tell if their exchange had made it lessen or grow. Lex struggled for a pleasant, neutral expression and waited for the next onslaught.

“Riss, did you have any questions for Lex?” Clara asked, turning her attention to the speakers overhead.

“Yes,” the electronic voice responded. Computer keys could be heard tapping in the background. “What sort of work did you do as a contractor?”

“Creating, deploying, and maintaining computer systems,” Lex replied. “More on the business side, though, usually doing initial analysis, requirements, customer interfacing tasks, that sort of thing.”

Lex heard an indeterminate sound over the speakers then, as if Riss was considering something. “Did you ever do any work like setting up computer security?”

Lex thought for a moment and then answered, “No, not much. That wasn’t really the main business of the company I worked for. The most I ever did along those lines was to identify security standards our system would be required to interface with, or meet.”

Another sound issued from the speakers, sort of non-committal this time, before Riss continued. “Lex, if you were convicted of a crime and you either didn’t do it or didn’t think it should be a crime, what would you do? Would you serve your time or would you run?”

Lex paused before she answered. Sometime during Serena’s questioning, Lex had decided to just go with the truth. Since she’d signed a non-disclosure agreement, she couldn’t really talk about the interview anyway. She also figured everyone present had signed something like that as well, so they couldn’t spread her answers around the world. Not that anyone would probably really care, but having some kind of protection from the revelation of her responses felt freeing. So, after considering her answer for a little while, Lex replied, “Well, I guess it depends. If they wanted to jail me for a few weeks, or maybe even a couple of months, I would probably go through with it.”

Riss responded, “Let’s say it would be for a number of years. Maybe decades.”

Lex snorted. “I’d do everything in my power to remain free to live my life.” Her eyes widened as she finished speaking because the response had come out automatically; she hadn’t intended to be quite that honest.

Clara stared at her for a moment, Joan frowned, Serena smiled and glanced at Joan, and Casey just had the ghost of a smile on her face, still leaning back on the couch.

Lex shrugged. “Let me explain. I understand how our justice system works, innocent before proven guilty and that we try to establish guilt with trials. It’s a fine idea, but I also understand that it doesn’t always work, and that you end up with individuals going to jail for crimes they didn’t commit. Now, our justice system is forced to take the stand that, well, we’re not perfect, but things work most of the time, so if you’re convicted, you’re a criminal. To add icing to the top of that cake, it seems justice in this country has become almost completely weighted in favor of people with money; if you can hire the cleverest (and usually most expensive) lawyer, you’ll probably win regardless of whether you’re guilty or innocent.

“I can’t fault the wealthy for buying the best defense they can, but that leaves us with a justice system in which, if you’re poor, you’re likely to lose your case. I’ve been poor in my life, and I remember being quite aware at the time that if someone just decided they didn’t like me and somehow set me up and said I committed a crime, there would be very little I could do to defend myself. With all of that in mind, I certainly couldn’t fault anyone who decided to do what they could to escape and live their life if they had been falsely accused of a crime, including me.”

After concluding, Lex looked around at the audience that she could see. Clara had gone back to typing on her laptop and Serena smiled more broadly now, still looking at Joan. Joan didn’t notice, a considering look on her face, and Casey was chuckling to herself.

Clara spoke up at this point, since everyone had been silent for a while. “Riss, did you have anything else for Lex?”

“No, I’ve made up my mind,” Riss replied.

“All right, ladies,” Clara said, looking at each of them in turn and sort of automatically at the speaker in the ceiling, “in the interest of fairness, so that our candidate can know what you’re thinking about her, are you ready for a vote?”

“Yes,” all of them responded, more or less in unison.

Clara looked down at the laptop again, tapping on the keys. “OK. Joan?”

“I vote to accept Lex,” Joan said.

Serena lifted a shapely eyebrow, and Casey chuckled to herself again.

“Casey?” Clara asked.

“I vote to accept, as well.”

“Riss?”

“I vote to accept her,” the electronic voice from the speakers crisply rang out.

“Serena?”

“Who could spoil a party like this? My vote’s the same, though; I want to accept Lex, too,” Serena said, with another smirk in Lex’s direction.

Lex looked around a little suspiciously at the women she could see. The only thing she had ever been voted for in her life was “Most Unusual” in her high school graduating class. Lex suspected that had been due to the fact that after she’d left her parents’ house she could dress how she wanted and had ended up looking pretty freaky, since her only real way to change her wardrobe was working with her friends to decorate the clothing she had with magic markers or paint them with bleach, then later repair them with duct tape and safety pins. Pushing back that memory, Lex waited to see what would happen next.

Clara finished typing and looked up. “All right, Lex. Since a majority of the team voted to accept you, you’ve passed that hurdle. I’ll still need to meet with Mr. Sauer to bring all of your information together in order to get a final answer as to whether or not you'll be offered the spot.”

Casey groaned at this point and sat up, looking annoyed. Serena looked at Clara in a peeved manner as well, and Joan shook her head.

“You didn’t even know yet?” Joan asked Clara, sounding put out.

Clara sighed and turned to Lex. “Usually, when we have candidates interview with the team, they’ve already passed all of the previous interviewing, but since we had you over here today, Mr. Sauer thought it would be best if we could cover all the bases at once. Especially since you already had your trial—impromptu as it turned out to be,” she finished, glancing at Casey.

Lex just nodded, figuring she probably wouldn’t get this job, either. Oh, well, she thought, at least I had an interesting afternoon, if a bit like a jarring roller coaster ride. Tomorrow, it would probably amount to just another rejection notice in her e-mail inbox.

Clara continued, “We’ll either call or send our courier over tomorrow morning around ten to deliver our answer. If we decide to offer you the position, you have until 5PM tomorrow to give us your decision; just follow the instructions on the paperwork the courier brings. I take it the address on your résumé is current?”

“Yes, that’s where you can find me,” Lex replied, thinking about the likely 'thanks but no thanks' call she'd receive the following day.

“OK, everyone,” said Clara, “thanks for agreeing to meet at such short notice. I’ll let you know what the outcome of this is.”

“Nice to meet you all,” said Lex, as the others began filing out of the room, then quickly added, “and, uh, thanks.”

Serena turned to flash a smile full of sharp white teeth at Lex before swaggering out of the room. Casey had stayed, however, and as Clara looked up at her asked, “Is Lex all set to go?”

Clara thought a moment. “Yes, I don’t think there’s anything else we need to cover.”

“Then I’m going to walk her to the metro stop,” Casey replied, then turned to address Lex. “I’m assuming that’s how you got here?”

Lex nodded, suddenly reminded of the not-so-nice neighborhood she had come through to arrive there.

Clara shrugged. “All right. Don’t be long, though.”

Lex and Casey fell into step as they passed out of the large room. Casey turned left to go up the set of stairs and said, “I’m going to get my bag. Could you wait for me in the kitchen?”

“Sure,” Lex replied, heading in that direction.

“If you want something, you can take whatever’s in the fridge,” Lex heard Casey’s voice, floating down the stairway.

Lex opened the refrigerator and lost herself for a while, getting dazed at the size of the unit and the extent of its contents. The amount of food in it could probably feed several large families at once, she thought.

“Are you ready to go?” Lex craned her head around the refrigerator door to see the person calling her. Casey had reappeared wearing a long-sleeved button-down shirt over a t-shirt along with jeans and boots. “I hope you don’t mind, but I took the time to change.”

“No problem,” Lex replied, grabbing a bottle of water. “Let’s go.”

When they got outside, Lex wrinkled her nose at the smell she guessed was coming off the water behind the building and noted that the light was starting to fade a bit as the sun passed behind some of the taller buildings in the distance. She frowned and looked at her watch, which read almost seven. How could it have possibly gotten so late, Lex wondered, frowning slightly. She mentally shrugged it off, though, thinking she would have something to eat and then hit the gym after Kurt headed to bed, since he was an early sleeper.

As they started the walk to the metro, Lex noted as she stepped over the paint that it seemed mostly dry. That made her wonder what had started the incident in the first place. “So, what were you two arguing about up on the roof?” she asked Casey.

Casey made a noise that could have been described as a growl and blushed slightly. “That guy was making some horrible comments and really made me angry. When I warned him to stop, he just got worse, so I showed him the door.”

“What happened with the paint?” Lex asked, now more curious than ever.

Casey looked away a little guiltily. “Well, we’d been standing near the edge of the roof, and when I grabbed him to throw him out, I bumped the paint bucket and it fell. That jerk shouldn’t have had it there, anyway.”

“Probably not,” said Lex, trying to hide a grin. Since nothing terrible had happened, Lex clearly saw the humor in the situation now, but she didn’t want to laugh because Casey still seemed upset.

They walked in silence for a moment, Lex enjoying the clouds that were starting to turn colors as the sun sank lower. She still felt a bit edgy, so she opened the water bottle and took a sip, noting from the plastic flavor that it had probably been in the refrigerator for a while. Lex never usually had to talk so much about her past, and the experience had brought up feelings that she usually tried to leave buried or forgotten. She’d tried to explain some of her history to her fiancé before, but he didn’t really seem to want to know. At one point, he'd even asked her why she wasn’t “over it” since everything had happened so long ago. That hadn’t been what Lex had thought of as a high point in their relationship.

Casey’s voice brought her back to the moment. “So, what did you think of everyone? I know Lily wasn’t there, but I think you’ll like her when you get to meet her.”

Lex laughed. “Everyone seemed very nice, but I don’t think Joan liked me much. I figure there’s no way I’m going to get the job, though. It just doesn’t seem like something I’m suited for.”

Casey looked down at her again, an eyebrow raised. “I figure it’s pretty likely you will get the job. Don’t worry about Joan; she’s like that in all the interviews. In the two years I’ve been here, though, you’re the only candidate everyone in the team has voted for. Well, not Lily, I guess, but I bet she would have, if she’d been around.”

Now it was Lex’s turn to look up at Casey, puzzled. “Really? Why do you think everyone voted me in?.”

“The only vote I figured you wouldn’t get was Joan’s because she’s always been sort of law-and-order. But I think some of the things you said got her liking how your mind works. Riss, well, I knew she’d vote for you after your little speech.”

“Oh, that,” Lex said, feeling a blush on her cheeks as she remembered her long response to Riss’ question. “Well, I figured after a while that it was probably better just to go with radical honesty, but maybe I went a little overboard with that answer…”

Casey held up a protesting hand. “I didn’t have a problem with anything you said, I just said I thought Joan might have. But I was pretty sure Riss would eat it up. Just a hunch, really, but when you get on the team, you may want to ask her how she got involved with us. No one else has been able to get the story out of her. As far as Serena’s questions, well…” Here, Casey broke off into laughter.

“I figured she wouldn’t vote for me, since I protested them,” Lex admitted.

“Are you kidding? Most of the people we’ve interviewed wouldn’t answer any of her questions! A couple folks answered one or two, but you’re the only one who answered all five.”

“What do you mean, ‘all five’?”

“As current team members, we’re allowed to ask any questions we want of candidates. However, five questions are all that are technically allowed for anything not specifically related to the position. I think you may have answered more than that, though,” Casey responded, with a bit of a smirk.

Lex shook her head and tried not to blush again. “What can I say? I’ve had some friends in my time that have asked me wilder questions than that. I guess you just get used to it after a while.”

“So,” Lex continued after a few seconds, turning her face to look in Casey’s direction, “what’s this ‘trial’ thing all of you kept talking about?”

Grinning back at her, Casey replied, “Well, you’ll find out more about this when you get the job, but all of us on the team are able to do things most people can’t. That’s what the trial is about—testing your abilities.”

Lex digested that bit of news and decided not to pursue it further at the moment. Instead, she asked, “Are you adding a bunch of people to the team? It sounds like you have lots of candidates.”

“We’re only adding one person, from what I’ve heard,” Casey replied. “It seems like it takes running through a lot of interviews to find someone good, though.” Casey elbowed Lex then and they both started laughing. Surprisingly, Lex started to feel herself relaxing and even feeling a little happy while talking to the taller woman.

“Hey,” Lex began, still looking at Casey, “when you said you’d already made up your mind about me, it almost sounded like you’d decided before the question and answer thing. Why did you vote for me?”

Casey cocked her head to the side for a moment, as if considering. “Well, I liked our initial conversation. You didn’t try to get me to tell you any secrets, you just asked my opinion. Also, when we met I just got a good feeling about you.”

Lex smiled, looking straight ahead at the sidewalk, but glanced back up at Casey for a second. “Same here.”

They continued to walk quietly for a while amongst the spray-painted warehouses with broken and boarded-up windows. Lex smiled to see the colors of the clouds, now glowing bright gold, pink, and purple.

After a while, Casey turned towards Lex. “So, did you grow up poor? You said something about that during the interview and I was wondering. If you don’t want to talk about it, though, that’s OK.”

Lex thought for a moment, then answered carefully. “It’s OK, I don’t mind. It was after I left my parents’ house.”

She bit her lip then, hoping Casey wouldn’t ask any further questions on the topic. Lex also couldn’t help but think about the pact she’d made with herself after fleeing from her parents. Since she’d been forced to lie constantly there in order to survive, Lex had sworn to herself that she’d learn to be truthful, especially when people asked questions about her past. She knew she could tell more or less of her story, given different situations, but she’d resolved never to lie anymore to cover up what her parents had done. That fact made her nervous as the conversation continued because she felt like she didn’t want to burden Casey with those stories. At least, not yet.

“Why? What happened?” Casey asked curiously, bringing Lex’s thoughts back to the present.

She could feel the sweat start to pop out on her forehead. “I had to go when I turned 16. It didn’t give me a good starting point, so I lived very close to the edge for years.”

“Why did you have to leave so young?” said Casey, looking down at Lex with concern.

Lex sighed, bit her lip, and then dove quickly into the explanation, face turned towards the ground and mumbling. “My father told me to leave or he would kill me.”

“What? I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you,” Casey said, leaning her ear closer.

Lex sighed and felt herself mentally disengaging from the situation a bit. She said again, more calmly and a little more loudly, “Well, my father told me to leave or he would kill me. I figured it was a no-brainer, so I left.” When she realized she’d started rubbing at the scar on her right forearm, she bit her lip again and stopped, dropping her arm.

She wasn’t sure how Casey would respond, but she’d gotten used to dismissive or non-existent responses to information like this. Oh, well, Lex thought, at least I’ll probably never have to see her again, anyway.

Casey was looking down at Lex with an angry expression. “What an ass! How could he do that to his own daughter? Does that sort of thing happen a lot in the city?”

Hearing that made Lex feel as if the ground under her were no longer solid and the air stuttered in her lungs. She took a new breath but had to stop walking, the thought bearing down on her that none of the few people she’d ever told had spoken out so strongly against what her father had done. When she felt she’d gotten the raging storm in her chest under control again, she saw Casey gazing down at her with concern.

“You really are a kind person, aren’t you?” Lex finally asked, too overwhelmed to add anything else.

Casey shrugged. “I don’t know about that, but are you sure you’re OK? You look kind of pale.”

Smiling up into Casey’s frown, Lex answered, “I’m fine, don’t worry.”

Lex started moving once more, and Casey fell into step beside her. “To answer your question, though, I don’t really know if this sort of thing happens more in the city than the country. What was it like, growing up in the country?”

Casey looked up at the clouds, smiling a bit, and started to tell Lex stories of growing up on a working farm: planting and plowing, catching fireflies on summer nights, playing hide-and-seek in fields of corn much taller than a child, eating an ear right off the stalk, learning to ride the neighbors’ horses, and a million other things that a kid would love. At some point, Lex noticed to her surprise that they’d almost reached the metro.

Just after Casey had finished telling a story about chasing raccoons with the farm dog, Lex said, “Thanks a lot for walking here with me. I liked talking to you, and I hope we’ll meet again.” She smiled then, even though she thought that, unfortunately, the likelihood of that happening wasn’t too high.

“Same here,” said Casey, sticking out her hand. Lex put her comparatively tiny hand in Casey’s, hoping she wasn’t a squeezer like Joan. Happily, Lex found Casey’s handshake gentle.

“Listen,” Casey said, as Lex began to move towards the subway escalator, “when you make it onto the team, I think you’ll find out I’m a good listener. Maybe we can swap scary stories of the past, once you’ve settled in.” Lex frowned, realizing Casey probably meant they had some things in common from their pasts, and began to open her mouth to ask what she meant, but Casey continued, “Well, I only really have one bad story, but it is nice to know I’m not alone.”

Lex nodded, an odd feeling in her throat. She cleared it and said, “I agree. Thanks again, Casey. If I get on the team, I look forward to it.”

Casey laughed as Lex headed into the metro. “I tell you, you’re going to get the offer,” Lex heard from behind her, the sound following her down the escalator. She waved a hand behind her as a goodbye, hoping Casey could see.

Continue to Chapter 3
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Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!

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LIke the story

(Anonymous)
Heyla!
I like the story and the characters.
Try to do a little more showing then telling.
The handshake contest between Lex and Joan was good, because it showed Joan's character and that both woman were physically strong and fit.

Check some of the flow. It seems that there are instances of personal names being used frequently in the same paragraph. Perhaps personal pronouns can be used? For example, the last paragraph:

As she disappeared down the escalator into the Metro, Casey's confident laugh followed her, "I tell you, you’re going to get the offer.” Lex raised her hand behind her, partly as a farewell and partly as thanks, hoping that the other woman saw the gesture.

/arrogant presumption of my example.

Anyway. Write more. Don't taunt me like that Robert Jordan did.

love ya' Raindancer!

--Fletch


Thanks so much for coming by and reading! Glad to hear you like the story and characters so far. :D I have it on good advice from my beta reader (he's someone you know...) that the ratio improves in the next few chapters, but I see I'll have something to keep in mind as I continue editing and eventually look back over the opening chapters. I'll definitely have a look at the names vs. pronouns issue, as well - thanks so much for the feedback!

Glad you liked Joan vs. Lex - handshaking...that was a fun bit to write. As far as keeping writing, don't worry - there's a lot more of this story to come! Thanks so much for the encouragement! *big hugs*

Liking the other characters you've introduced and I'm looking forward to getting to know them. Also looking forward to the next chapter where I hope we find out what exactly it is that they do. ^^

Glad to hear your liked everyone so far, because we'll definitely be seeing more about them. Eventually Lex does get more information about what it is they're supposed to do, but she has to be quite insistent about it. Kind of strange that it wouldn't be more up front... Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting!

Looks good!

Thank you, I'm glad to hear it! If you've enjoyed reading so far, please do continue on...

Very first online novel I've read

(Anonymous)
Up to chapter 2. I'm liking it. Thanks!

Stephen

Re: Very first online novel I've read

Yay! I'm honored that you chose mine to read first, because there's so much great stuff out there. I'm very happy to hear you've been liking it so far, and I hope you continue to like it as you read further. : )

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