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Chapter 36: Plans
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes/Warnings: No real warnings for this one - enjoy!

Thanks, as always, to my editor-in-chief, gwoman, especially thank you for staying the distance with me on this, as well as all of the other stuff I've written in recent history. :D For anyone who's interested, the first book of this series is now up in its corrected form at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Copia, and Scribd here in the States, and at Flipkart, Oyster, and Ciando for those of you in other locations. For those of you who've been reading and liking this series, I'd love reviews at any location you'd care to leave them.

In other news, due to trying to juggle closing out my sibling's estate, working, and recovering from the surgery I'm going to have in a couple of weeks, I've decided to go on hiatus until October 15. I didn't want to leave you with too much of a cliffhanger in the meantime, so please note that this is the final chapter of Book 2. So, I'm also going to be prepping for the e-release of Book 2 in my time off, as well. Please mark your calendars, because I'll be back on October 17th (changing post day to Saturday!) with the first chapter of Book 3. Enjoy, and see you then!

Back to Chapter 35

“It's perfect. I think we should take it,” Kate said, surveying the front porch from the sidewalk.

Lex looked over at her friend as a breeze blew through the tiny spring leaves of the oak that overshadowed them. “That's what you've said about all of the ones we've seen,” she replied with a little smirk. “I think you don't want to live at the base for another week, but that's no reason to just pick anything.”

Kate laughed as she returned Lex's gaze. “OK, so you're right, but I really mean it with this one. I think it is perfect.”

Nodding in agreement while thinking how grateful she felt that Lily and Mr. Chen had done the legwork to set up all of the house tours over the past couple of days, Lex looked back up at the front door to see Ron come bouncing out of it. “Come on in, aunties! I want to show you the room I want,” he said excitedly.

Watching as Kate ran up the stairs, Lex laughed as her friend picked Ron up and went back inside. “OK, let's go take a look,” Kate said, scooping him up in her arms and making him laugh. Turning to face Lex from behind the screen door, she continued, “Why don't you see if you can get everyone together so that we can vote on it?”

After taking a final look at the outside of the stone house, Lex nodded and went inside. She took a glance at the large kitchen on the left and the dining room on the right and then noted Lily in the living room gazing out the back windows into the garden below. “Hey, Lily,” Lex began, then waited to continue until her friend faced her. “I think we should vote on this place since it seems to meet all the basics. If anyone comes by here, can you get them to stay? I'm going to go over the rest of the house and get everyone else down here.”

Lily nodded in return and gave a small smile. “Sure, I'll just wait here.”

Ducking back out, Lex took the stairs down to the basement. She found Lou and Casey in the back room, a large and airy place with French doors leading to the garden outside. “What do you two think?” she asked with a grin.

“The house is solid,” Lou replied as he looked back at Lex. “It'll need some work to get it the way we want it to be, but it's in good shape, which is the most important thing. Besides, with the stone and metal roof it should last nearly forever.”

“Glad to hear it,” Lex said as she shot a look at Casey, smiling back at her. “Come upstairs to the living room in a couple of minutes, because we want to vote on it.”

“Sure,” Casey replied as she took Lou's hand.

Lex poked her head into the large basement room that she thought would be perfect for the band's practice and recording studio, before skipping up two flights of stairs to find Ron riding on Kate's shoulders in one of the front rooms. Both of them gazed out the window at something Ron had pointed to. “Hey, you two,” Lex called, “go on downstairs in a couple of minutes so we can hold a vote.”

“No problem,” Kate said, waving behind her.

She searched the other rooms on the floor, which consisted of two bedrooms on each side of the hall joined by a bathroom in the middle, and found Mr. Chen in the last room she peeked into. “What do you think?” she asked her teacher.

He smiled at her. “It seems like a nice old house,” he replied as he turned to face her.

“You know, I was thinking,” Lex continued, “I know that Riss and Victor have their eyes on the attic for a lab, but I think we could use half for a workout space. I think we'd need to reserve any sparring for the base, but we could use it to practice, maybe put up some mirrors, that kind of thing. What do you think?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment. “I haven't seen it yet, so maybe I should take a look.”

“OK, but then come down to the living room because a vote's been proposed,” Lex said with a smile. “I've got to go find everyone else and tell them, too.”

“I'll check quickly and then see you there,” her teacher replied with a nod.

Mr. Chen followed her up the stairs, but he continued up while Lex only took the first flight and then started searching the third-floor rooms, which had been arranged the same way as the ones on the previous floor. She found Riss in one of the front rooms.

“So, what do you think?” Lex asked, grinning as her friend turned to her.

“I think I'll need some more power outlets,” Riss replied as she surveyed the walls.

Lex shrugged in return. “Well, all of the places we looked at have needed some work. Fortunately, we have someone here who can do just about anything we need. What do you think aside from that?”

Riss gave one of her minuscule smiles as she met Lex's eyes. “I like it. It's got character, plus we can walk to work from here. Are we voting?”

“Yeah, go downstairs to the living room. I'm going to check the attic to finish collecting everyone and we'll be down after that.”

Her friend nodded and headed downstairs. Lex went back out into the hallway and took the temporary pull-down stairs up to the attic and looked around the mostly empty, slightly dusty space to find Victor and Mr. Chen both up there, each surveying a different end of the house.

“Hey, you two,” she called. “Let's go to the living room for a vote. You can come back up and look some more afterwards if we decide we want it.”

All three of them went down to the living room to find it filled with the rest of their friends. They took positions around the room, some leaning on the wall or a windowsill, a few of them sitting on the floor.

“Hey, everyone. Let’s talk a little about what we like about the house,” Lex said as she leaned against the wall near the door. “Who'd like to start?”

Lou raised his hand, then began to speak. “The foundation seems sound and the house itself is in good condition. They used care and good materials to build it.”

Continuing around the room, everyone mentioned the things they liked about the place, many of which Lex had already heard as she collected the crew. As they went around a second time, to talk about issues, Lou kicked off the discussion saying, “It’ll need some work to get it exactly like we want it to be, but I've said that about every house we've seen. I don’t think we could find a house that’s already been built that fits all of our specs.”

A few people passed before Kate piped up. “I wish it had more bathrooms,” she said. Victor, who spoke next, snorted a laugh. “I don't think you'll have much to complain about, since you'll probably end up sharing one with me and of course I'll always give in to you when you want more time.” Kate grinned at him and nodded as he shook his head with a smile. “I would like a larger lab space, but it's adequate. It's also bigger than the space in any of the other houses we've looked at.”

Riss's only comment noted a desire for more electrical outlets, but she admitted that it was well within the group's power to change that if they decided on the house. Silence reigned for several moments before Lex spoke back up.

“All right, let's have a vote. Everyone that wants to buy this house, please raise your hands.”

She looked around the room to see that all hands were raised, including Ron's. Lily said softly, “Ron, I told you that only the grown-ups get to vote.”

“I know,” he said quietly in return, “I just wanted to let everyone know that I want to live here, too.”

“I guess it's unanimous, then?” Lex asked, looking around the circle at everyone smiling and nodding back at her. “I'll go get the realtor and let her know we'll buy the place, then.”

About a week after they'd moved into the new house, Riss called everyone together that happened to be home. On that day, an early Saturday afternoon, it had turned warm, so they’d opened many of the windows to let in the scent of the flowers that had begun to bloom in the garden below as people gathered in the living room. They had added some furniture since their move—two large couches and an end table—but they were still working to pick out all of the pieces they wanted for the house, so Casey and Lou made themselves comfortable on the floor. Kate and Victor sat on one couch and Lex and Mr. Chen took the second. Lily and Ron had gone out shopping, so Lex looked expectantly at Riss once everyone had assembled, as did all the other people in the room.

Since Riss kept so much below the surface, most people missed any upset she might have, but to Lex's eye her friend looked nervous. “I mentioned this to Lex a while ago, so I finally decided to stop putting off talking to all of you. I have someone I'd like all of you to meet,” Riss said, turning the laptop in her hands to face the assembled group.

Lex saw a picture on the screen of a continually moving set of shrinking and expanding bars that moved around the screen, changing colors and bouncing off the sides of the screen. After a moment of silence, a voice came from the speakers.

“Hello. It's very nice to finally meet you, Casey, Lou, Kate, Victor, and Lex. Mr. Chen, I haven't seen you before, but I have heard of you and it is nice to meet you, as well.”

Lex thought as she listened, that the voice sounded typically automated, but as she continued paying attention, she felt she could begin to hear some expression in it. Riss flashed the screen a rather cryptic look as the voice finished speaking, before pulling the end table out and setting the laptop on it so that the screen faced the group. “This is Art, everyone. And yes, he's usually this honest. What he means by that is that he's 'seen' all of you through the cameras on my laptops,” Riss said, pointing to the tiny lens over the laptop screen. “I set up all of my laptops a while ago so that Art can use them to 'see.' As you can guess, that means he's been with us a long time. As long as I've known all of you, actually.”

She paused a moment to let that sink in, looking around to see many pairs of curious eyes directed back at her. Finally, Lex said, “This isn’t exactly what I expected. So, Art is...”

Trailing off, she looked back at Art, then at Riss. Her friend sighed and started to speak again. “He began as one of the first programs I ever wrote to go out and find me information I needed.” As Lex watched out of the corner of her eye, she could see the lines on the screen oscillate a little faster in a mostly square pattern and turn a rich green. “Over the years, I worked with him more to be able to get him to learn how to find everything I wanted, and before I really realized it, we started actually talking together. I think I finally understood that he'd become more than he started out as when he started continually asking me questions about the world and people and everything else.”

Riss looked over at the laptop then with the ghost of a smile, and it responded by oscillating into complex interlocking triangles of a royal blue. She took a deep breath and looked back out at the rest of her friends before continuing.

“The reason that I'm telling you now, along with the fact that Art has been bugging me to forever, is that we’re going to need your help. Art wants a body. And not just any body,” Riss said, pausing to take a breath, “he wants it to be like any other man's, because we want to be able to be together in the physical.”

“I want to be able to–” Art began saying, only to be cut off by Riss.

“Art, we agreed that you'd let me talk about this part of it,” she said quickly, and Lex could detect the embarrassment in her friend's usually smooth, calm voice.

“Yes, Riss,” Art agreed, and it seemed to Lex that she heard some disappointment in his voice.

Out of the corner of her eye, Lex could see Kate with her hand in front of her mouth, looking as if she might laugh, and Lex quickly turned to subtly shake her head to get Kate not to. By the time Riss had turned back to face everyone, both women had faced forward again, Lex attempting a bland expression.

“The thing is, I know it will cost a lot of money. I've talked to Victor and emailed Luke, the robotics guy who was End of the Road's roommate, about it without letting them know why I’d asked,” Riss continued, glancing at Victor.

He nodded in return and spoke up. “It might not end up being as expensive as you think. Now that I know what you have in mind, we can really start making a design,” Victor said, a grin on his face as he anticipated the challenge.

“That would be good,” Riss responded with a sigh of relief. “I'm also thinking that if we do decide to put money towards this project that we could probably recoup it later on by putting designs out for prostheses, advanced robotics, that sort of thing. I'm sure someone could turn what we make to bad ends, though, so I guess we'd have to think about that, as well.”

The group then started discussions about what to do next. When they'd arrived in Europe, the rest of the group had explained to the Chens how they'd set their money up: pooling it and investing half, paying all expenses out of the same account. The group now discussed whether they should change this, since part of the original reason for doing it that way had been to conserve what they had until they could decide what to do next, as well as to make it harder to trace the money back to its initial source and have a large amount readily available for emergencies. However, everyone decided they only wanted to raise the amount each of them could spend at their own discretion to three-quarters of their salary amounts, with the rest going to investments. All of the money that came in from the band endeavors would continue to be added to the joint and investment accounts as it always had been. The Chens agreed that they would add their money to the joint accounts as well.

“As you can see from the report,” Riss continued, passing some printed pages to everyone, “the amount we have in ready cash would last us almost a year right now, even with no new money coming in. Our investments have grown about 5% since last year, just looking at the returns. Music sales are currently around $3,000 a month.”

Silence reigned for a short time while a number of people paged through Riss’ summary, and Lex could see surprise on a number of her friends’ faces as she looked back up. “Well, I guess we picked the right person to look after our money,” Kate muttered, shooting Riss a smile.

Riss turned her head in Lex’s direction, so Lex got to see the slight smile her friend had been trying to hide.

“I’d like to propose something,” Victor said, then paused as people turned his way. “Our music is a group project, so I think we should look on building Art’s body the same way. Since it would be a group project, I propose using the money that comes in from the music sales to fund it.”

“I like that; I think that could work,” Casey commented, and Lou nodded beside her.

“Since we’ve discussed that spending to three-quarters of our salary is discretionary, I want to potentially include that amount as well,” Riss added.

Heads nodded around the room in response, and Kate leaned over to ask Victor, “When do you think you’ll have some idea of the full cost?”

“Probably not for a couple of months, but Riss and I can give reports when we all meet in the meantime.”

After a few seconds of silence, Lex said, “I propose that we go forward with this and that as long as the costs aren’t more than the music sales we’re making and Riss’ salary portion, it doesn’t need further approval. What do you think?”

Hands flew up around the room to vote for the idea until everyone had given their consent. Lex nodded and smiled as they did.

“Riss,” Lex continued, turning towards her friend, “there is something else I wanted to suggest. Do you think you could set up a laptop in the front hall or the living room so that Art can get involved with what goes on in the house? He might feel more at home once he gets a body if you can do that, and everyone can get used to having him around.”

“I'd like that,” Art jumped in, speaking from the laptop in Riss' hand.

“I guess it's settled then,” Riss said as she smiled a tiny smile at the laptop screen.

A week later, Lex found herself in her room, sitting in front of the mirror she'd bought not long before, while Casey, Kate, and Serena , who’d just arrived minutes previously, discussed her hair. Riss sat somewhat removed from the others, but she'd perched Art's laptop on the bed so that it faced in the direction of the other three women.

“Would you three stop talking about me like I'm not here?” Lex said, a little irritably. “I think my hair looks just fine.”

“Oh, come on, Lex! I could make it look even better than it does now,” Serena said, gesturing to the hair products she'd brought along with her.

Finally, Lex gave in and allowed Serena to shape her short hair just a bit to give it some more lift. She looked in the mirror once Serena finished and smiled at the result; it lay parted to one side now, her bangs seemed more defined, and the blood red color shone.

“Thanks, Serena,” she said quietly. “It does look really good.”

“I don't know why you always fight me on these things,” Serena replied, shaking her head in mock sadness while a mischievous glint lit her eyes. “Now, let's do some makeup for you.”

“Not too much,” Lex said, looking at her friend out of the corner of her eyes. “You know I don't usually wear any.”

“Oh, I'll only put enough on to show off how beautiful you are,” Serena responded, smiling at her friend in the mirror. “Now someone, tell me about this guy!”

Kate and Casey alternated, filling Serena in on how they'd met Rolf and the part he'd played in their eventual decision to join the special forces and become European citizens while Lex watched Serena carefully work her magic with makeup, enhancing all Lex's best features and hiding any flaws. Lex almost felt she was looking at someone else once Serena was done.

“Now, for the little finishing touches,” Serena said as she dug into another bag she'd brought.

When Serena seemed satisfied, she gestured for Lex to get up and see the final effect. Lex studied herself in the mirror, looking at her perfect hair and makeup and at the clingy, short black dress that Serena had picked out for her earlier that day when they'd gone shopping. The dress had short sleeves and a v-neck that didn't fall too low (much to Serena's disappointment), but it made Lex feel comfortable in the heat that had begun unseasonably early that year. Serena had added a silver ankh necklace because she felt it matched the ankle-height black boots she'd chosen for Lex that night. They had about an inch-and-a-half heel and straps that wound around Lex's ankles twice, terminating in a silver-capped end piece that fastened through a silver buckle. Serena had finished the whole outfit with a long, skinny silk scarf in rainbow watercolors that she’d looped several times around Lex's waist and then tied so that the ends flowed freely.

“As usual, Serena, you made me look great somehow,” Lex said, grinning at the reflection of her friend.

Serena laughed. “It's not hard when you have great material to begin with,” she replied, grinning back.

At that moment, they both turned as they heard noises out in the hall, and Lex smiled as she saw Ron's head appear around the doorframe, peeking into her room.

“Ron,” Lily's voice came a moment later as she and her son both appeared at the door, “you know it's rude to just look into someone's room like that without knocking or anything.”

“I'm sorry,” Ron said a bit shyly. “I just wanted to see what Auntie Lex looked like now that she's dressed up for her date.”

Lex blushed at that while Serena laughed. It had been almost a month since the end of the tour, but various things—such as house shopping, moving, and a conference Rolf had to attend—had interfered with Lex and Rolf's planned dinner. Until now. Of course, that had allowed word of the event to go so far that Serena had heard about it when she'd popped over to see the new house, and she'd insisted on coming by later to get Lex ready.

“I think she looks beautiful,” Art said from his perch on the bed, his colors oscillating from deep green to deep blue as the bars danced and bounced across the screen.

“Me, too,” Ron replied, smiling as he stood by his mom.

“Thanks, you guys,” Lex said, blushing deeper now.

Casey chuckled. “Yeah, you'll knock him dead.”

Silence descended for a moment as everyone looked at Lex and Lex stared at the floor, but movement started up in the room again as the sound of a knock on the front door floated up to them. Lex felt like a spooked deer, while Riss shot her a small smile.

“Sounds like he's here,” Riss said, eyes briefly looking up to meet Lex's as her fingers continued moving on the keyboard of the computer in her lap.

“OK, Ron, let's go and get you ready for bed,” Lily said, smiling at the other women as she turned for the door, holding her son's hand.

“Oh, Mom,” he said, sounding disappointed, but he went along with her.

“I should go downstairs,” Lex said, but Serena grabbed her hand and put her back in the chair in front of the mirror.

“No, let me finish looking at you,” Serena said, smiling mischievously as she looked closely at Lex's face and made a few swipes with a makeup brush.

“But he's here,” Lex replied in some annoyance, but Serena brushed at the lines that had appeared between her friend's eyebrows.

“Hey, the guys have it downstairs,” Serena reminded her. “Besides, you should always make them wait a little on the first date. It's tradition, really.”

Lex rolled her eyes while Casey chuckled and Riss smiled without bringing her eyes away from her screen, but Lex continued to sit until Serena nodded. When Lex got up to go a moment later, all of the other women in the room rose as well, Riss grabbing Art's laptop and stacking it on top of the closed one that she'd been working on.

“Well, come on,” Serena said when Lex hesitated. “You didn't think we were going to let you go down there all by yourself, did you?”

“I guess not,” Lex grumbled, but couldn't help smiling as well.

To her surprise, Lex suddenly felt like Serena might have been right as she walked into the living room to see Rolf talking with Victor, Lou, and Mr. Chen. The look he gave her as their eyes met made her heart speed up and brought her blush right back.

“Hi, Rolf,” Lex managed after a moment, smiling across the room at him. Even just dressed in a simple white dress shirt and black slacks, something about him made Lex catch her breath at the sight of him.

She noticed then that he'd stood up when she'd entered the room and somehow managed to look serious while smiling back at her. “Hello, Lex. You look lovely.”

Then pandemonium took over as Serena, Riss, Kate, and Casey came into the living room from behind Lex while Art said he'd been saying the same thing, and questions flew around the room about where Rolf would be taking Lex and what sort of things the guys had been asking Rolf and what everyone had planned once Rolf and Lex left since all the excitement would be gone from the evening then. The last, from Kate, caused Lex to turn to her and laugh since it seemed so unexpected, and then she saw Victor elbowing Kate while shaking his head.

“The next thing that's going to come out of your mouth is that you want to go along with them,” he said, looking at her and shaking his head.

“Well, no, but I didn't really think of anything else to do tonight,” Kate said, frowning.

After a few moments of this, Lex caught Rolf's eye from across the room and gestured with her head to the door. In a voice pitched to be heard over all the conversation and questions in the room, Lex said, “OK, everyone, we're going to go, so if there's anything else you wanted to say before we did, now's your chance.”

“OK, have fun!”

“Don't do anything I wouldn't do!”

“Stay out late!”

“Don't stay out too late!”

“Have a good time!”

Lex laughed as all of the pronouncements her friends made came out quickly and half on top of one another, but she felt sure she could figure out who had said what nonetheless. The group followed Rolf and Lex out onto the porch, and a few waved as they walked down the street to where Rolf had parked his car. Lex still chuckled softly as she waited for Rolf to unlock the door of his black Honda Accord. Once they both got in, they just sat for a moment and smiled at each other.

“They're quite a group of people,” Rolf said. “It's obvious how much they care about you.”

“The feeling's mutual,” Lex said, her smile growing. “So, what would you like to do tonight?”

Lex met his eyes as she asked the question, and what she saw there made her realize that she wouldn't care if they just sat in the car all night. She could feel her heart in her throat again as she found her hand in Rolf's for a moment.

“I'd like to take you to one of my favorite places to eat, and then I figured we could decide whether we wanted to see a movie or just take a walk or something. Does that sound good?” Rolf asked.

Smiling in return, Lex squeezed his hand before she released it so that he could drive. “That sounds great. Let's go.”

- End of Book 2 -

Forward to Chapter 37
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!

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Some happy times at last for the gang. Have a good summer :-)

Art = Artificial Intelligence. ha ha ;-)

Edited at 2015-04-23 06:45 pm (UTC)

I was happy that they were in a good place by the end of this book! I think they've earned it. Thanks for the good wishes, too...I'm hoping that by the time I'm back that a lot of the chaos in my life will have been cleared away. *fingers crossed*

Heh, heh...yeah, something like that. I think Riss looks at it that he was artistically created. :D Thanks, as always, for coming by to read and comment!

Edited at 2015-04-25 04:41 pm (UTC)

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