*

I thought I had been scared when I heard Dani had gone missing. That was nothing. Maybe it was just nervousness. First time out. Concern for more than just myself. Maybe all of it. I wasn't sure I was cut out for this line of work.

This simple little rescue had turned out to be a lot more dangerous than anyone had expected when we first came up with this crazy idea, though Chris' talent hadn't kicked in to tell us we were in any unforeseen trouble. That intuition of his had saved many peoples' lives and several projects in the past. He could sometimes see a solution or a resolution with very limited information. His only commentary, so far, had been that I was needed for this rescue. Right now I was simply hoping to survive it and fearing that I wouldn't. Not that any of them would let me be hurt, but if we were all caught there wouldn't be much they could do.

Trying to find Dani was turning out to be difficult because every time I 'tried' I lost her location. It was only when I concentrated on other things and let my talent guide me unconsciously that I 'knew' where she was. The other thing I noticed was that it was getting more and more difficult to keep in telepathic contact with everyone. It had to be that energy field Mom encountered. I could sort of feel it hovering over everything now that we had crossed into lab, and I could definitely feel the effects, like a buzzing in the back of my head that muted everything. It must be driving my mom and Rose nuts, but they kept going without a complaint. The goal was the important thing. Rescue Dani.

Rose stopped in front of me. *End of the road. Security gate.*

Her mind voice was muted, distorted, but we understood her.

Mom crawled up next to us. *It should be the power distribution center.* She ran her hands over the metal of the door.

*Problem?* my dad asked and she shook her head. She quicksilvered her hands and held them against the edge door. I watched the frost spread along the frame. With a snap, she shoved the door with her mind, breaking the now-brittle heavy-duty locks, and then caught the door before it fell to the floor with a clatter. She did something else, and I could hear popping sounds as the various security cameras and sensors overloaded. Climbing out, she waved for us to follow.

She began to wander the room until she discovered the main distribution box. *I'm going to shut down that annoying field.* Her hand reached out to the breaker that would do exactly that, but Chris reached out and touched her arm.

*Don't. It has to stay on.*

Alyx looked at Chris searchingly, and after a moment nodded. *For now.* She began to flip other switches, shutting down other parts of the security system, leaving only the back-up power and the computer system up and running. *Ben, get us to Dani.*

I looked at her, and then at the switches behind her, realizing she'd done more than just turn off a few systems. She'd fried the connectors so that it would take major repairs to get those systems running again. I turned away then and, pulling out my computer pad, I oriented and headed for the ventilation system. That would still be the easiest way to get to her. One thing I noticed before leading everyone away was that my mom's eyes had begun to glow. That only happened for two reasons: her body was trying process too much power, or she was angry. I had the feeling she was very, very angry.

I found the vent shaft and she ripped the cover off with a thought, then stuck her head in to check the place out. Voices could be heard behind us, so she ordered us inside with a hand signal. We all quicksilvered, just in case, and as I watched so did she. However, instead of following us, she went after the voices, which were most unhappy at having been dragged down here this late a night.

I heard a couple of thuds, and then there was silence. Mom came back a few moments later and shook off her quicksilver. She was carrying a couple of guns. She handed one to Rose and kept the other for herself. I shook off my quicksilver and led the way, trying not to think about the fact my mom was now carrying a gun like it was a part of her.

I wasn't an idiot. I knew my mom was quite skilled with a variety of weapons, but actually seeing her with one made it that much more real. Or maybe that would be surreal. To me that wasn't my mom, or at least not my internal perception of my mom. My mom wouldn't have any idea how to hold a gun, much less fire one. No matter how many times I told myself that wasn't true, that my mom was perfectly capable of killing when necessity required it, it just didn't seem like the person I knew, the one who raised me, the one who taught me right from wrong.

That person seemed so very far away at the moment.

We ended up at a four way junction with the choices being back the way we'd come, up, down, or straight ahead. We needed to go up.

"Mom?"

She shushed me. *Voices will carry. I'll lift you to the next level.*

Nodding, I stepped out over the open shaft and felt myself lifted straight up. It was about fifteen feet but I was able to grasp the edge of the new tunnel and sent. *I'm there. Need to cross the shaft.*

*Gotcha. Rose is on her way up.* And moments later Rose appeared and I helped her into the slightly smaller shaft. It wasn't long before everyone but my mom had crowded in. A weird thing about my mom was that she rarely used her abilities on herself. We had never figured out if she couldn't or if she simply didn't want to. She had to physically climb the shaft to get to us, with her back pressed against one side and her feet on the other. She inched her way up until Dad was able to help her into the side shaft we were waiting in. She lay on her back for a few minutes to catch her breath. Lifting all of us and then climbing was work, and she needed a moment to recharge.

*Are we above or below the level?* she asked as she lay with her eyes closed.

*Above,* Manda answered after checking the computer pad.

*Good. Ben, find her.* Her mind voice was even more distorted now, as if that field was focused on this level. As I moved down the shaft, I could hear my dad whispering to her. They must be having trouble communicating with him because of the distortion field. I knew I was having trouble doing more than sensing his presence. I really didn't like this. It would be too easy to lose each other in here if we couldn't keep in contact. If we got separated...I didn't want to go there.

Soon we started encountering vents that looked into rooms or hallways. Thankfully this shaft was mounted in the wall and not hanging freely in the air. We were moving as quietly as possible, but still making a lot of noise as the metal shifted and popped. Most of the rooms appeared to be basic labs. Nothing fancy, nothing dangerous. A few offices, and then we began to encounter rooms. Rooms designed for occupants. Some unwilling occupants. We were close.

I stopped. *Mom, here. Dani's here.*

She crawled forward and looked in the vent to see Dani curled up and a bed. *Dani, wake up.*

She tried several more times with no success. *She's drugged. Hand me the gun, Chris.*

The dart gun was passed along until I could place it in her hand. She did something, perhaps checking for surveillance in the room and then pushed out the vent, twisted it, and drew it into the shaft with us. Then she aimed and fired the gun and an instant later the dart appeared sticking out of Dani's thigh. *Dani, come on.*

This time there was a groggy response. *Mom?*

*Yes, sweets we're here. Cover yourself up; I need to make the vent hole a bit larger to fit you in.* We didn't need her to tell us; we all moved back to give her enough room. She just blasted, a controlled blast, but blasted the shaft and the wall away, leaving a hole more than big enough for Dani to climb through. Dani may still have been feeling the effects of the drugs, but she didn't hesitate. As soon as the way was clear she was climbing into the shaft to join us.

The door to her room opened and she let fly with a telekinetic blast that threw the three men that entered back into the wall, knocking them unconscious.

*Let's go,* she sent to all of us.

I'd never really noticed before how much like Mom Dani looks. Right now, though, she both looked and felt just like her. Dani was very angry. Up ahead, my mom chuckled and then spoke aloud.

"I know, and you will get your chance." She was talking to Dani, obviously, and I could only imagine what Dani had said to her.

When Mom moved forward instead of backtracking us, I wondered about it, but Manda asked about it first. *Ummm, wrong way?*

*No. We have followers in the shafts. We'll go to the next cross shaft and head back down.* My mom sent to us all.

Followers! They knew we were here. This was not good, even if it was, at least partially, expected.

I wanted this done. I wanted to go home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As they crawled through the shaft, looking for a place to get off of this sub level, Alyx would glance into the rooms they passed. If there was an occupant she would force the door open, giving the trapped people a chance to escape what she knew was coming. When she grew tired, Dani took over. As they made their way deeper into the complex that field that affected their telepathic and energy abilities kept getting stronger. Eventually Alyx had to stop; her head was spinning and she was having difficulty orienting, never mind trying to communicate.

"What the hell is that?" she complained. It left her other abilities mostly unaffected, but she was becoming unwilling to use them for fear of losing control.

Rose was looking a bit green herself. "I don't know, but I don't like it."

Darien was the only one unaffected. "Guess it's good to be normal on occasion."

"Normal, huh? Gland man," Manda commented with a chuckle.

"We need to keep moving," Chris said. Darien nodded and took the lead. Rose and Alyx were in the middle, since they were the most affected. Ben brought up the rear. He was jumpy and nervous. A good thing at this point.

Darien swore. Up ahead the shaft suddenly dead ended. It was obvious that at one time it had continued, but had been altered for some reason. "Crap. Now what?"

Alyx shook her head and then began to search. She found a sealed over vent and, considering their situation, ripped the damn thing off and looked inside. At first she was confused, but then she realized there was another cover, this one even more solid. She tried to probe beyond, but could not get far with the field. "Manda, what's in there?"

Manda closed her eyes to concentrate. "Someone. Alone." She shook her head. "That's all. That field is a pain in the ass."

"Vote time. Back and hope we avoid our followers, or through this way and hope we're not screwing ourselves?" Alyx asked them all. This time she needed input.

"Go through," both Ben and Chris said at the same time.

Darien raised his eyebrows. "Talent attack?"

They nodded.

"Girls?" Alyx asked.

Dani spoke for all of them. "Get us the hell out of here."

"All right. Back off a bit then." She didn't wait more than an instant before simply blasting her way into the room. When the dust settled, she got a look at the space and found it huge. It must have penetrated down to the next sub level easily. Wires and power boxes lined the walls and it only took a moment for all of them to figure out this was the source of the diffusion field and that Alyx had just made a hole in it with her blasting.

*Who are you?* The voice boomed in her mind and she threw herself backwards, smashing into the far wall of the shaft with enough force to see stars.

She didn't notice, she was grabbing at her head and screaming for the presence to get out of her mind.

"What the hell?" Darien moved to her side, trying to support her and grabbed her wrists to keep her from tearing her eyes out of her head. He wasn't sure what was going on, but whatever it was it was causing her a lot of pain.

Both Dani and Manda attacked. Dani just simply shoved at the one person in the room while Manda let fly with a fireball the size of her head. Neither hit its mark, but they weren't sure why.

Alyx was still screaming "Get out!" over and over. The presence in her mind was so strong, so overwhelming, that her efforts to keep it out, to keep it from going through every experience in her mind, were less than ineffectual. It was the proverbial butterfly wings against a hurricane. And she was the strongest among them.

Ben watched his mother writhing in his dad's hold, unable to really comprehend what was happening. It was obvious she was under attack, but by what? The field was no stronger -- in fact, because of her blasting the hole in the wall, they were in a relatively quiet place where the effect was greatly diminished.

Manda and Dani continued to try and attack until they suddenly grabbed their heads in pain. Whatever it was that had Alyx in its inexorable grip mentally spanked them. Chris had moved over to Alyx and Darien trying to help control her.

Rose looked to Ben. "What is it?"

He shook his head. "I'll find out." He looked out into the room and saw a young child sitting on a platform hanging in the center of the room. He decided to try something, perhaps he was being foolish, but he had to try.

*You're killing her. Stop, please,* he sent to the child in the room.

It turned to look at him and Ben had to hold himself in place. The child's eyes were blood red orbs with no visible pupil. To say it was freaky did not adequately describe Ben's feelings on the matter.

*Who are you?* it said into his mind, nearly causing him to go into the same reaction Alyx had. It hurt, but he had the oddest feeling that it wasn't intentional. More like the child did not realize how much harm he was causing by simply speaking to them.

*Ben,* he sent to the child, keeping his mind voice calm and steady. *Benjamin Fawkes. Can we help you?* He wasn't sure why he asked that, considering it felt like his mind was being shredded by the child's presence in it.

Alyx felt the intrusion on her mind ease, the presence suddenly realizing that he was causing far more harm than he intended. She shook her head and relaxed in Darien's hold.

"Alyx?" he asked her, feeling somewhat reluctant to release her hands.

"I...I'm okay. We have to help him." Alyx looked at her husband and then at Chris. "He's why you wanted us to go through, why you didn't want me to take down the field."

Chris' lips tightened, but he nodded. When his intuition kicked in, not even he really understood it. All he knew was that if he followed it, the results would ultimately be positive. If he didn't, the results tended to be bad, very bad. "Who... What is he?"

Alyx sat up, finally feeling strong enough to do so. "He's what they made him." She pulled out the hand gun she'd appropriated and checked to make sure it was loaded and working properly. "And he's only a child."

Alyx moved to sit next to Ben, who was still talking to the young child sitting before him. He saw the gun in her hand and feared the worst.

"Mom, no!" Ben shouted as she began to fire, but instead of hitting the child she fired at the power boxes lining the room.

Rose caught on after a moment and joined her, until the clips in both guns were empty.

*You are not from here?* the voice echoed through all of their minds, but this time it was quieter. No longer shouting, overpowering their minds with his voice.

*No,* Manda sent. *We came for one of our own.*

*They are coming. I will help if you can shut down the rest of this diffusion field which traps me,* he sent to them.

*Done.* Alyx sent to the child. Leaning out through the hole in the wall she set her hands on the webbing of power lines that lined the room. It was ingenious, really. They had created an energy field that kept this child's mind trapped in this room, preventing him from influencing those outside of it. They had played god once too often, and Alyx was going to make sure these people never had the chance to do it again. She sent a burst of energy into the system lining the room and shorted it out; one power box after another exploded into sparks. With every explosion they could feel the effects of the field lessening until, with the last few, it dissipated completely.

Alarms began to go off. Alarms that had been tied exclusively into this system.

*Go. They will not harm you. Those that can be allowed to leave will find their way out.* He looked directly at Alyx and somehow she knew he could see her even with those eerie eyes of his.

*Can we...* she began, but he interrupted her.

*No, and you realize this. I am too dangerous.*

Alyx wanted to protest, wanted to help him, wanted to give him the chance she had be given.

*Go. Do what is needed, as I will.* He turned away from them and refused any more contact.

"Go." Darien said, giving Manda a shove to get her moving. "Break through the first vent you find and get us out of here."

Everyone did as he said except Alyx, who still watched the young boy sitting in the room.

"Alyx?" Darien rested a hand on her shoulder. "We have to go."

She nodded, but before she turned away she sent one last message to the small but powerful figure in the room. *I will remember.*

She allowed Darien to urge her away and they followed the kids to the first potential exit. They still had to get out of here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After they had left, the small child looked over to where she had been. When he'd been in her mind he'd been surprised to discover that she was like him, and even more surprised that they all were like him. He was pleased to know he was not alone. He only wished he'd had more of a chance to know her, to know them. He'd done the only thing he could. Guarding their backs while they escaped and destroyed this place. He smiled slightly, something he rarely did. Not even she truly knew what she was, what she was capable of, but he knew. One day she would discover the gift he had given to her. One day she would discover the truth. That day would change her life forever.

Again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They smashed their way out of the next room they found and began to make their way through the lab. It was amazing how few people they saw. Most must be in bed for the night, but still, they had expected the Lab to be reasonably staffed even at this late hour. Alyx accessed the system at the first computer station they found that was connected to the mainframe. She made short work of the system by triggering its auto destruct programming, which would fry every bit of information on every computer connected to the mainframe. Manda tried to lead them up, but both Alyx and Dani said 'no,' though for different reasons. Dani explained that the main building was essentially a front. It had the vehicles for those who worked here, mostly trucks and heavy-duty jeeps. Also a couple of helicopters, or at least there had been when she was captured. But it had another purpose as well. It was a trap designed to capture anyone trying to break in, including those with their skills.

Alyx needed to get back to the power plant. She was going to make sure nothing remained here to be salvaged. The child was as good as his word; they encountered no resistance. The few people they did meet were gone. She touched one of them and found that his mind had been taken over by the young boy in that room.

There had been a time she had hated the world for what had been done to her, hated the Agency for forcing her to use those abilities, hated those she worked with for forcing her to care again. Now she just wished she could save one child from the horror that had been done to him.

When they reached the power plant, she made the rest of them go on ahead. She wanted them out of the way when this place came down. Darien stayed with her, refusing to allow her to do this alone.

Alyx turned to her kids. "Ben, Rose, get them back to the tunnel."

They shook their heads. "How?"

"Rose, I left that comp pad active for this reason. You'll be able to sense it. Ben, let your talent lead you," Alyx said to them. "It'll be bad out, so make use of the quicksilver."

"Mom..." Ben sounded frightened.

"We'll be along. I promise." That was all they needed to hear.

Dani took over the group. "We'll contact you when we're clear." Then she got them moving out of the power plant.

When they were gone, up the elevator -- there was no one to hide from now -- Darien asked, "So now what?"

Alyx waved at the row of turbines before them. "All this power. Shame to let it go to waste."

Darien looked rather shocked. "I'm going to repeat myself: You are insane. Completely. Insane."

Alyx laughed and turned to him. He didn't hesitate and wrapped his arms about her as she leaned against him. "You should go. This is dangerous."

"No. If you run into trouble, you'll need me to get you out. You already have a headache," he said, resting his chin on the top of her head. "This might push you over the edge."

"True." She turned about and looked at the turbines. "I'm going to overload the system, as well as make sure the river is released. If this works the way I think it should, this entire valley will become a lake."

He held her a bit tighter. He could feel her anger and frustration radiating from her. He felt the same, and was more than willing to let her vent that anger by destroying this place. If she could sow the ground with salt, he'd gleefully help her.

"Do what you need to do."

Alyx closed her eyes and concentrated. She began with the turbine furthest from her. Within moments it had began to whine with an ear piercing tone. She then moved to the next one. As they neared the peak, and just before they would overload and tear themselves apart, she held them. Kept them from taking that last step to complete destruction.

"Go," she said. "We need to get clear."

They ran to the elevator that he had already called back down for them. When they were on the way up, he asked her, "How long can you hold it?"

"Till we're clear," Alyx said, already finding holding the coming explosion back difficult. They made their way out the door and into the storm.

*We're clear.* Dani's voice said in her mind.

Alyx was unable to quicksilver, as her concentration was taken up with other things, so Darien did the both of them and simply led them uphill, not worried about finding the tunnel entrance at this point. They just needed to be out of range.

Alyx sent a blank query into the lab and made contact with the child still there.

*Those that were deserving are safe,* he sent to her.

*And you?* She just couldn't leave him there. She wanted to save him if she could.

*You have saved me. Now go, before you too are trapped.* A wave of peace washed over from him. With what she was about to do, she was going to set him free.

She couldn't deny him that.

"Hold on," she said to Darien, sending the same warning mentally to everyone else. Then she released her hold on the turbines.

For a long moment, nothing happened. Then the ground shuddered. A deep rumbling that could be felt as much as heard vibrated through the mountainside.

"Ah, crap," Darien said as he began to pull Alyx higher up the hillside. Alyx redirected him, aiming him in the direction of the tunnel and the only hope of safety in this valley. Behind them, water exploded out of the entrance to the power plant with a roar. Secondary explosions began to go off, causing the entire bowl of the valley to shake and knocking both Alyx and Darien to the ground.

Darien dropped the quicksilver and they rolled over to watch the show. Even through the near white-out conditions, the explosions were impressive. Flashes of blue, like giant sparks jumping into the air, some fire and flames, and lots of water. With one last immense explosion, the entire Lab installation collapsed upon itself and vanished both into the mountain and into the rising water.

Alyx and Darien both got sprayed with water that was flung into the air as they lay in the snow, rather astonished at the amount of destruction they had caused. Though they did have a tendency to do exactly that; it wasn't the first building they had blown up, and somehow they knew it wouldn't be the last.

Alyx probed at the wreckage with her mind, part of her hoping the child had survived, perhaps to be rescued, but she got nothing. She changed her focus to her own children, starting with Ben.

*Ben? You guys all right?*

*Mom!* he all but shouted into her mind.

Alyx put her hand to her forehead and laughed. *Easy. Report please.*

*We're fine. Some dust shook loose. Manda and Rose are checking further in to make sure the way is clear, but everything seems to be fine.* Ben sent with a confidence he hadn't been feeling for most of this adventure.

*You guys need help?* Chris broke in.

*No. We'll be there in a few.* Alyx assured them and then broke contact.

Alyx wrapped her arms about herself. As Darien would say, 'it was fricking cold out here.' She got to her feet a bit shakily. She was quite tired, and her head hurt to the point that it was a strain to stay conscious. Once again she had pushed herself beyond what she could normally do.

"We done here? Can we go home?" Darien asked as he wrapped his arms about her. "I'm tired of being cold."

With a laugh Alyx quicksilvered.

"Damn. Okay, some things are colder than a blizzard." But he also quicksilvered, and together they made their way to the tunnel where their family awaited.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We stayed put for a while to recover. Dani was still dealing with side effects of the drugs, and Mom...well, Mom had overdone it as usual and collapsed shortly after making it back to the tunnel. Instead of trying to move them, Manda and Rose went back to the monastery to get a few items we could use and we set up a temporary camp right there. Once the storm was over, we each got a chance to look at Mom's handiwork.

There was nothing left. A lake had replaced the valley. The water sat higher than the doorway to the power plant, and I found it oddly peaceful considering the amount of pain and destruction that had gone into its creation.

My mom stood there for long time, just looking over the water. I knew she was thinking about that child, that child who had been anything but a child, thanks to what they had done to him. I wasn't sure why it was affecting her so much, but I was afraid to ask. Even I knew there were times our thoughts were better kept private, and I was pretty sure my mom needed to keep these to herself.

Maybe she'd talk to Dad about it. Maybe not. By the time we were ready to leave, to head back to the monastery, I think she had found some sort of peace, or maybe an answer. Something she could live with anyway.

We contacted Piotr from the monastery and told him of the destruction, and of how helicopters from the Chinese government had flown over the former valley for a day and a half. We weren't sure what it meant, but we made sure Piotr knew about it as a precaution. Because of the risks we had taken, he took one of his own and sent a rather large and heavily armed helicopter to retrieve us which, thankfully, my parents accepted gratefully. So, instead of hiking through snow-covered woods for three days to get back, we were flown there in a matter of hours.

We spent a week in a guest house of Piotr's while we finished recovering and told him everything. And I do mean everything. Apparently, although he'd known there was something different about my mom, he'd never known the whole truth about what she could do. Until now.

I could see in her eyes that she was afraid he was going to reject her. Instead he pledged his loyalty and his family's to her and her family for as long as both existed. Stunned, she did the only thing she could. She thanked him and pledged the same. Might be a good thing. Bethany, who is about my age, is awfully cute, and we decided to remain in contact with each other. If nothing else, I've learned that contacts in high places can have their uses.

Mom seemed in no hurry to get back to the States, back home. She spent a lot of time on the computer or on the secure phone in Piotr's office. When I asked her about it, she just said she was tying up a few loose ends and no more.

I wanted to worry, but no one would let me. They told me that, on this occasion, Mom needed to do this herself. So I tried to stay out of the way and let her get it done. I had fun. In some ways it felt like my last chance at just being a kid. Oh, I had to practice, to make sure my new skills were working, to refine my control, but I'd done that most of my life anyway. It was part of who I was. Being able to have a snowball fight with both my family and a passel of royals, well, that was the epitome of being a kid and it wasn't something I was ready to lose just yet.

I knew we'd be leaving soon when my mom joined us in the granddaddy of all snowball fights. By the end it had devolved into a contest to see who could hit her with a snowball. Between her powers and her natural reflexes, it was nearly impossible.

In the end it took a concerted attack by all of us that simply overwhelmed her defenses. In one instant, one moment of pure clarity, I realized that someday this was what would happen to her. One day she would be brought down, just as we had done to her, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. The only thing I could hope to do was delay it.

I looked at her, and she still did not look old. Maybe she never would to me, but all it took was to see her eyes and you could tell that she had seen far more than she ever needed or wanted to. Even with all the knowledge, all the pain, all the joy, all the horror that I knew she had dealt with, she could still smile. I hoped that I would be able to face the world in the same way when I reached her age.

You know, somewhere along the way, after we found that child, that poor creature that was trapped in that room with nothing but a mind that was far beyond even what my family considered normal, somewhere in there, I lost my fear. I found myself and what I wanted to do. Maybe it wasn't what had been planned, or thought I might do, but I had decided.

I'd let them know in a few years. I still wanted some time to really grow up. In my family, even with all our responsibilities, being a kid is still fun. And I was planning on enjoying it to the fullest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alyx stood in front of the three man review committee, her hands clasped behind her back. They kept offering her a chair, a drink, anything to get her to relax her stance. Nothing was going as she had planned, had arranged while still at Piotr's. All those phone calls and secure computer communications had been for naught. Instead of being called first and taking the blame for the whole scheme, from the gland stealing, to using her connection with Piotr for personal reasons, to all but creating an international incident with the Chinese government, she'd been forced to wait while committee called dozens of people in before her. Everyone, including all her kids (excepting the twins), Darien, even Bobby and Claire. Johnson had even gotten a chance to speak to the committee before her, and she had a good idea what he'd said. Their feelings about each other, both personal and professional, were well known, as well as the reasons why.

So instead of sitting, she stood before the committee, waiting for them to rip into her and then fire her, perhaps even throw her in jail to await extradition to China, though that last wasn't very likely.

"Miss Silver," the gentleman in the center said to her.

The woman to his right leaned over and whispered, "Mrs. Fawkes."

The gentleman turned to the woman and Alyx decided to forestall the argument. "Either will do."

He turned and glared at her. "Miss Silver, I would be very careful today if I were you. You are on very shaky ground."

Alyx shrugged. "Do what your going to do."

He seemed a bit taken aback by her careless attitude. "You do realize how much trouble you are in?"

Alyx nodded. "And?"

The woman elbowed him, and whatever he was going to say was swallowed. "Mrs. Fawkes, you are aware that you destroyed a multi-billion dollar power plant and power research facility in China? And that you could be held liable by both the Chinese and US governments for the damage?"

"Of course." Alyx resisted the temptation to laugh at the description of the lab. Power research, indeed.

"That you could be tried by the UN council for what could be considered an act of war?" the third gentleman asked.

"Look, I know all this. I knew all this going in. Just get to the point, would you?" Alyx had no need for this long, drawn-out build-up to the climax. Whatever they were going to do was already decided. She'd known that the moment she walked into the room, and that was without even peeking in their minds. After all these years she could read posture and subtle signals that the person didn't even realize they were sending.

"All right. We had planned to turn you over to the Chinese government for punishment, but they have declined to press any charges." The woman spoke in a flat tone, but it was obvious she really wanted to know how Alyx had managed to get out of it.

"What did you blackmail them with?" the gentleman in the center asked.

"Let's just say they discovered that prosecuting me would reveal more information than they want the public at large to know about," Alyx replied truthfully. If anyone tried to prosecute her on the matter, she would make sure the world knew exactly what was going on in that Lab.

They nodded, knowing better than to ask exactly what it was she knew. Sometimes you just didn't want, or need, to know.

"Now, as to your status with the Agency," the woman began. "We have interviewed quite a few of your co-workers, as well as Mr. Johnson, your superior. Without exception, they all consider you pushy, overbearing, disrespectful of your superiors, opinionated, and trouble on two feet. However, with the exception of Mr. Johnson, they also find you highly skilled in all facets of your work, highly intelligent and focused, an efficient leader, and an excellent judge of abilities and capabilities." She tipped her head to look at Alyx, who was doing her best to control her reactions.

"And all of them," the gentleman to the left continued. "Most especially those designated I-Men, would gladly follow you into any situation, knowing that you would use them to the best of their abilities and yours." He smiled at her. "There are not many men who would follow a man, much less a woman, into some of the situations you have been in. All six of the current I-Men stated for the record that they would gladly work with you." He picked up a sheet of paper and read from it. "'She has an incredible sense of self-sacrifice, to the point that she'll protect one of us over herself. She is the first person to take a bullet for me, and she shouldn't have needed to, but, by doing so, she gave me a chance to improve my skills. One day I hope to be worthy of her respect.'"

Alyx knew who had written that and recalled the incident that it involved. That bullet wound had been no more than a scratch, and it had been the fellow's first assignment as an I-Man. Of course she wasn't going to let him be hurt. She'd only done what made sense at the time. The kid was just being a bit overzealous in his praise of her.

"We thought he might be exaggerating, but they all had the highest praise for your skills and abilities." The woman said. "We are suitably impressed."

"Johnson, however, has a completely different opinion of you," the gentleman in the center stated.

"Johnson is a fool. No one since Charlie Borden has had the faintest idea of how to handle the special talents of those at the Agency." She waved her hand to forestall any comments. "Even the 'normal' agents have to be specially trained to work with the others. Between the regular I-Men and the QSX agents, it is a unique work environment that requires a completely different management style. Johnson has treated us as tools, with no regard to our individual talents and personalities."

Alyx wound down. She'd kept her voice even and calm. Amazing really, considering exactly how much she didn't like her boss.

"You are correct, and Johnson has been removed with prejudice," the woman said to her.

Alyx sighed. Great, now another bozo who would be unhappy at being stuck at the backwater Agency would come in and try to screw things up yet again. To most, the Agency was the last stop before complete obscurity. Only Charlie Borden, and for a very short time Luke Lawson, had seen the true potential and value of the Agency. All the rest had been fools, not looking beyond doing that one impressive thing that would get them out before the rest of the world forgot their names.

"Who is his replacement?" Alyx said, with little hope in her voice.

"Actually, we were hoping you'd take the job."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Mom showed up back at the house, we all cheered. We'd known what was coming, had done our damnedest to set it up and run roughshod over all her plans. They, we, wanted her in charge. She was the only one who really understood what the Agency had become and what we could really do. And after nearly twenty-five years working for them, she deserved some sort of recognition. There was no way we were going to let her get fired over rescuing Dani, especially after discovering Johnson had been working with the Chinese to get them information. Dani had, indeed, been set up.

When Dani confronted him on the matter, he'd admitted his involvement after she had threatened to rummage through his mind while he was stuck to the ceiling. Seems he has this slight problem with heights. That had been after he'd testified before the committee about Mom, so we knew he had ripped into her. Not that it mattered. We could be very persuasive, even without using our powers to influence people.

Mom looked flabbergasted. I don't think the reality had set in, or maybe she'd turned down the offer. Dani made sure to find out.

"So, did you take the job or not?"

"You knew. You set me up," Mom said as she walked down into the yard.

"You bet we did, kid. You should have been in charge a decade ago," Bobby said as he walked over to her. "Congrats." He gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"And what if I say I didn't take the job? That I chose to retire..." She didn't get to finish, as the majority of us burst out laughing.

"Right, Mom, the day you retire is the day the sun runs out of energy," Rose said to her, still laughing.

"Not fair. I hate being set up," Mom grumbled. I watched my dad as he walked over to her. It had taken all of us hours to convince him this was the right thing to do. For all of us. I mean, we all knew she planned to work with him when she left the Agency, so we knew she was not about to really retire. To rest and relax. She'd be bored inside of two days with nothing to do, nothing to plan, nothing that needed her attention. Even the twins were far more self-sufficient than she liked to admit. In the end, though, he agreed it was probably for the best, given that most of the family was working for the Agency.

He looked down at her with a smile. "So, what did you decide?"

Mom sighed. "I took the job."

Everyone cheered.

She waved them to silence. "There will be a few changes, though."

There were groans from all those who had dealt with the previous changes.

"Like what?" Manda asked with a look of dismay.

"How about full funding for a start?" Mom said with a hint of a smile.

"Full... How the hell did you manage that?" Bobby asked, sounding impressed.

Mom shrugged, grinning. "I have my ways."

That she did.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A month ago, it was my birthday, and I thought I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life. I had made some choices and decisions that now seem so foolish, so short sighted, that I'm not sure what drove me to make them. I had thought that my thirteenth birthday was the start of my real life.

Boy, was I wrong.

I may not know exactly what I'm going to do with my life, but I do know that I'm going to make sure to enjoy it. At least I'm not going to have to spend time wondering who I am or where I belong. I'm already there, with friends and family for whom I don't have to pretend to be something I'm not.

And in the end, that's all that really matters.



Finis


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