Chapter One-Welcome Home, Alex! Alex was excited to be coming home after so long away at college. She had just graduated with her bachelors, and coming home to Paradise Valley for one last summer of fun before she began her job as a science teacher at Danielle Atron High School in the fall.

Being a science teacher wasn't something Alex actually thought she'd ever get into. She could be good at science if she applied herself; that she learned in the seventh grade. And she had grown up being Annie's science project. Science had dominated Alex's life; it was what she knew. She was hoping to teach a few Annie Macks herself, but she was hoping as well that she'd run into at least one Alex Mack in her classes.

When Alex pulled up to the drive of her parents' house (Alex was going to stay there until she found a place of her own), she was surprised to see Ray there. Alex and Ray hadn't seen much of each other since they had graduated high school; Alex went to college in another city, and Ray had stayed in Paradise Valley.

"Hey, Ray!" Alex called out as she ran up to him.

"Hey, Alex!" he returned, catching her in a hug. "Long time, no see."

"We have a lot of catching up to do," Alex agreed as the two entered the Mack residence.

"High school, here we come," Jackie groaned as she leaned up next to Marina's locker. "Junior High was so much fun. Why grow up so fast?"

Marina shook her head. "You were the one who skipped sixth grade. You could still be in Junior High another year."

Jackie gave her friend a look. "Yeah, right. And stay in school any longer than I have to? Heck no! I'll survive high school if I have to."

Marina giggled as she shut her locker, and the two walked off to find Thomas. "It might not be so bad, Jackie," Marina told her. "After all, there's going to be a new science teacher next year."

"Really?" Jackie asked, giving her friend a look. "Tell me. Who?"

"Alex Mack," she answered matter-of-factly as they ran into Thomas.

"What about Alex Mack?" Thomas pondered, joining his two friends.

"She's going to be a science teacher at the high school next year!" Jackie cheered.

"I've got better news," Thomas said. "Let's swing by the high school and get Jason and Meaghan. This is news worth sharing."

The girls shook their heads knowingly, and the three cut out of school to find their older friends.

After catching up with her parents and Annie, who had moved back to Paradise Valley after she had graduated MIT, Alex and Ray cut out and stopped by the Junior High to reminisce about the good old days. They sat there for the longest time, talking about GC-161, about their trials and tribulations, and about everything.

That's when three kids ran by, and one of them bumped right into Alex. Alex looked at the kids, who looked quite strange. In fact, Alex could have sworn.

"Sorry, Miss Mack," the pigtailed one who had run into her apologized.

"You know my name?" Alex asked, confused.

"Yeah," the boy replied. "We heard about you years ago when we were mere children. We've always thought you were super cool."

"Uh, can we have your autograph?" the dirty-blonde asked.

"Sure," Alex replied, sort of weirded out. She had never had fans before.

"Five autographs," the pigtailed one corrected. "Can't forget about Jason and Meaghan."

"How many fans do I have?" Alex wondered.

"Just us five, to our knowledge," the boy replied. "I'm Thomas Wilkins, by the way."

"Nice to meet you, Thomas," Alex greeted.

"I'm Jackie Hendy," the pigtailed one introduced herself.

"And I'm Marina Hapsher," the dirty-blonde said.

Alex greeted them as well, and gave them autographs, including two extra for their friends Jason Hawking and Meaghan Walters.

"You are too cool, Miss Mack! I hope you're our science teacher next year!" Jackie cheered.

Alex beamed, almost afraid of glowing. She never had gotten around to telling Ray about the fact she had never taken the antidote.

"You know what?" Alex started, "Ray and I are going to get some fries right now. Why don't you get your friends and join us? I have a feeling there's something interesting about the five of you collectively."

Alex winked at them knowingly, and nudged Ray. There was going to be no time better than the present to finally let Ray in on her little secret.

When the three Junior High students furnished Jason and Meaghan with autographs from Alex Mack, the two thought the younger were playing a joke on them.

"No, seriously," Thomas explained. "Jackie, Marina, and I were on our way here to tell you Alex Mack is back in town, and Jackie ran right into her!"

Jason gave Jackie an incredulous look. "You are one lucky kid. Your klutziness has gotten you the best things."

Jackie tried to stop herself from glowing, when Marina added, "We think Alex knows, though."

"How?" Meaghan demanded.

"We don't know," Thomas answered.

"How she was acting though, you could tell she knew we had a secret. We think she knows what that secret is, too," Jackie added.

"But we'll find out soon enough. We're meeting her and her best friend Raymond Alvarado for fries right now. Come on, let's go!" Marina bubbled.

The five ran off as quickly as they could. Actually hanging out with Alex Mack was more than any of them could dream of.

Ray was quite cool about Alex not telling him her secret for five years. He even said he understood. Then five kids-the three kids they had run into near Atron Junior High, and two new ones, presumably their friends- walked up to their table.

"Oh my gosh, you're Alex Mack!" the brunette girl, possibly Meaghan, cried out.

Alex tried not to glow. "You're Meaghan, right? And Jason?"

The two nodded, and Alex and Ray motioned for them to sit down. "You know our secret, don't you?" Jackie asked out of the blue.

"May Jacqueline!" four other voices groaned.

"Don't worry guys. I won't tell. You're secret is my secret, too," Alex answered.

"You mean, like since you know you won't tell?" Jason pondered.

"Yeah, but more specifically, I mean, I have the same secret."

"No, we read the newspaper!" Meaghan protested.

"I lied. It's not like I was going to let the universe in on my secret, was I now?" Alex asked. Then after a pause, she asked something she had been wondering about for the past five years. "Why were you five running in socks?"

The five looked at each other and laughed. Of all the people they could have run by, they had run by Alex and Ray! "Our shoes were leaving golden footprints, and we didn't want to be tracked down," Marina answered.

"And then Thomas told us how forensics scientists could find us based on the footprints and turn us into lab rats," Meaghan added.

Alex stifled a giggle. "What a homecoming," she gasped. "I came home the only one knowing my secret, and now seven people know, and I know yet another secret."
Alex had asked the kids if they had ever had their powers tested. They all said that Jackie, who wanted to grow up to be a Nobel Prize winning scientist someday, anyway, had conducted all the tests, but it was never formal. It was just what they felt like doing.

Alex didn't know if this was good or bad, but she told them she'd test them based on the tests designed by Annie Mack. They'd meet in Alex's garage after school and Alex would test them. The kids complained, but Alex told them it was for their own good.

Alex also told them to not get caught. She didn't want Annie horning in on her testing. Alex knew what it was like to be a science project, and Annie didn't. Alex knew she'd be the better one to test the kids. They'd respond to her better than they ever would to Annie.

"What kind of testing, Alex?" Thomas asked.

Alex shrugged. "Fair enough," she started. "I'm going to see how long you can morph, measure your zappers, see how easy telekinesis comes to you, and check your strength."

Marina giggled. "You said nothing about burping up bubbles."

Alex gazed at her. "Do you like burping up bubbles?"

Marina nodded. "It's cool."

Alex shrugged again. Everyone was entitled to their own opinions. "If I can think of a test to check your burping bubbles ability, than I'll administer that one, too."

The kids sort of giggled. Alex was way cool, even cooler than they could have ever imagined.

Jackie finally decided to ask Alex something she'd been meaning to. "Hey, Alex? Did you see who was chasing us that day?"

"Yeah," Alex told her. "It was FDA agent Gino Lawless."

"Is he dangerous?" Meaghan asked.

"Not to my knowledge," Alex replied. "But I'd still be careful. Anybody could want to turn you into a science experiment and use you to make an army of supermen or whatever."

Jackie entertained the thought a second before Jason asked, "So, are we going to set up some kind of testing schedule now?"

Alex nodded. "Everyday after school, and every weekend morning, and in the summer, we'll test in the mornings then, too."

The kids groaned. "That's such a time waster!" Marina complained.

"How'd Jackie conduct the tests before?"

"Well," Jackie responded, "if we were really bored or whatever and had nothing better to do, we'd test our powers. We'd test zappers by seeing if we could turn on a lamp post from a far away distance. We'd test morphing ability by seeing who could morph the longest. We'd test telekinesis by."

Alex interrupted. "Okay, first of all, some of those tests were conducted in public, which wasn't smart. They also seem quite competitive. Sounds to me you were trying to test to see who was the best, not to test to see how GC-161 has affected you and whether you personally have improved any." "So? They were fun," Jason said.

Alex sighed. She knew this was going to be fun. She couldn't wait to get started working with the kids.