Author: A. X. Zanier
Rating: PG-13 (subject to change at the author's whim)
Disclaimer: a) The characters and basic story ideas of The Invisible Man are the property of others including, but not limited to Matt Greenberg, Studios USA, Stu Segall Productions and NBC Universal. Any additional characters or story ideas are mine. I make no money from this intellectual exercise. b) This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any opinions or views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the author and are used for story-telling purposes only.
Timeline: Alternate Universe XOver between Alyx Silver and Alex Monroe
Spoilers: Pick an ep or fic and it might get a mention. Anything major and I'll get specific.
Comments: Due to a warp in the space/time continuum all of the eps up to and including JA have happened and Alyx has been at the Agency a bit more than a year. Don't worry it gets stranger.
A/N: So, I wrote this one up a while back, but only posted it to the yahoo groups. I've given a quick clean up and edit, but not done the major overhaul it really needs.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Yeah, that bad boy, Willie Shakespeare, he said it all.
Alex Monroe walked into the Official's office carrying copies of the files he had requested from her. The first thing she noticed, as always, was the Health and Human Services logo displayed behind the desk. She was the reason that logo was there and, though it had taken some time, they seemed to have adjusted to the change. The second thing she noticed was the very young redhead leaning casually against the side of the Official's desk and arguing good-naturedly with Eberts, who sat at his computer station in the corner.
"... gone just a few months and it's like the world fell apart. I'm going to have to reformat my entire system thanks to this move," the redhead was saying. "Whose bright idea was it anyway?"
Alex raised an eyebrow. The attitude of the girl was interesting. "Mine, actually." She set the files down in front of the Official and waited for the girl to turn and face her.
Alyx did and just gave the new agent the once over. "What was wrong with F&G?"
The Official cleared his throat. "They chose not to renew our lease."
"Idiots. You should have called me. I wasn't incommunicado you know." Alyx had turned to face her boss. They may not have liked each other much, but by this point they understood each other.
"It wouldn't have mattered. I still needed them assigned to this agency," Alex said to the young woman. She had reassessed her age upward a few years based on the way she spoke to the Official. Even Fawkes couldn't get away with that attitude. "Who are you? By the way."
The Official started chuckling. "Agent Monroe meet Agent Silver. She's been on loan to the CIA for a few months and just returned this morning. I want you to bring her up to speed on the Chrysalis situation and fill her in on the current mission."
Alyx groaned. "Charlie, I haven't had sleep in nearly two days. I only stopped here instead of going home because you asked. If you want me to be of any use you're gonna have to give me a few hours to recharge."
"I realize this. Take the files with you, check in with the Keeper, and be back first thing in the morning. The situation will hold until then," The Official assured her.
Alex wondered why the Official - she called him Charlie? - was putting an important mission on hold for this... this... child. More than that, she wondered who the hell she was. On loan to the CIA or not, Alex should have turned up information on her when she had researched this Agency, but she had found nothing, knew nothing about her, and that made her uneasy. A new player could interfere with her plans, and goals. She would not allow that to happen.
Alyx picked up the file and thumbed through it. "Chrysalis again? I suppose I could help, though I thought you wanted to keep them from knowing about me?"
"Read the entire file then come to me with any concerns," The Official said to her. It was true about them trying to keep Alyx off the radar where Chrysalis was concerned, but this mission was one he felt was worth the risk.
"Miss Monroe, I'm betting you have a few questions, care to walk with me to the Keep?" Alyx gave Eberts a pat on the shoulder and a quick smile. "Upload the data I'll need, will you. You have my codes, right?"
"Unless you changed them recently, Alyx," Eberts answered.
"Then you'll have the new data by the time you arrive at home," Eberts said, turning back to his computer.
"Thanks Ebes." Alyx turned to Monroe who was giving her an odd look. "What?" She was too tired to bother with being polite right now.
"Did he say your name was Alex?" Alex asked her not really believing it.
"Yeah, Alyx Silver, spelled with a 'y' not an 'e' though. Wanted to annoy the fat man," Alyx answered, leaving the room with Monroe trailing after her.
Alex laughed. "Miss Silver, I'm Alex Monroe. With that 'e'."
Alyx didn't even pause, just shook her head and chuckled. "The 'Fish always does like redundancy." She turned to look at the taller woman. "I take it you're in the dark about me. The Official probably ordered them to keep their mouths shut. I'm amazed they succeeded." Alyx waved her hand in front of the key lock and the door to the Keep opened. "The prodigal has returned," she said with a flourish as she entered.
"Alyx? Alyx!" With a whoop Darien appeared from around the glass screening, still holding the bandage to his arm, grabbed her into a bear hug and spun her about. "You never call, you never write."
"Liar." Alyx laughed. "I talked to you a week ago and I've been busy. Duke made good use of my talents. There hasn't been this many troublemakers weeded out in years. Or so he claimed."
Alex watched this display with a frown. It was quite obvious that these two had paired off and that was not acceptable in this business. Guess he wasn't hitting on her that day, she realized. Maybe he had just been offering her friendship, a connection that had been with the Agency for a while.
Darien looked at Alex who was frowning at them and set Alyx down. This was going to be interesting. "So I see the two of you have met."
"That is one way to put it, though I would still like to know who she is." Alex was beginning to feel like she'd had a grand joke played on her and she still wasn't getting the punch line.
"She's what they made her," Claire tossed out the standard answer, coming around to join them. She looked at Alyx. "You haven't been sleeping again."
Alyx shrugged. "There's only one of me so they work me as hard as they can. Duke didn't want to give me up."
Alex made the connection finally. "Duke Montgomery. CIA. Internal Affairs Division?"
"Yeah. He needed some help and he worked out a deal with the boss man. I've been gone three months. Missed out on some excitement from what I understand," Alyx answered as if it was something that happened every day. "I get loaned out a lot these days."
"Too much," both Claire and Darien said.
"You get worked too hard," Claire finished. "Now, to the chair. You know the routine."
Alyx sighed and slipped away from Darien. "Yes, mother. It'll tell you I'm exhausted and underweight just like every other time I've been on long term loan." She climbed onto the chair and began attaching the electrodes herself. This had become routine.
Alex tapped Darien on the shoulder to get his attention. "And you guys failed to mention her, why?"
"Orders. Since you didn't know about her, we wanted it kept that way," Darien said to her. He had been rather surprised that she had not known about Alyx and they had all managed to avoid even mentioning her in passing for the past months. They had all, the Official especially, found it rather amusing.
"Isn't she a bit young." Alex couldn't help but let her feelings about the relationship show in her tone. She was a girl for god's sake.
"She's a lot older than she looks," Darien said to her. He knew the rules, but in this case, the rules were being broken with the Official's blessing. He... they, didn't need her looking down her nose at them.
"Hey, I'm not that old, bub," Alyx said with a grin from the chair. Claire was currently taking a blood sample while Alyx was having her brain waves monitored. Standard procedure after a longer than normal mission.
Alex decided she had seen enough for now. "Nice to meet you, Alyx. I'll see you in the morning." She fully intended to find out exactly who the woman was and why the Official had made a point of keeping her hidden all this time. She also wanted to know why she had not known about her existence at all. Her research had turned up pretty much everything about this place, but not her. Something odd was going on here.
"I'll be here." Alyx gave her a wave and watched as she left the room. "Well, she is not a happy camper."
"You read the reports, didn't you?" Claire said to her as she was taking her pulse.
"Yeah, but she's upset because she didn't know about me." Alyx smiled. "Guess the new security program worked."
Darien came over and leaned against the upright portion of the chair looking down at her. "You are going to drive her nuts."
"Speaking of nuts, where is our Hobbesy anyway," Alyx asked. She had missed Bobby almost as much as she had Darien.
"Checking out 'Hobbes-net' for info," Darien answered. "This one is looking to be a bitch."
"Hmmm. So I noticed. Can you stop by later?" Alyx asked him as she looked over the file again.
"I think I can arrange something." Darien's voice was soft.
Claire chuckled. "Like you could keep him away. Poor boy has barely survived without you."
"Not true. I had her alter ego to keep me distracted." Darien wasn't kidding. Dealing with Alex Monroe had made life interesting. "Course there was Arnaud as well."
"Pulled a Simon Cole has he? What good are the Quicksilver files here going to do him? It's not like anyone can see him to operate." The man was a complete fool in her opinion. "What idiot puts an untested gland into his own head?"
"One with an overly inflated ego," Claire commented and began turning off the machines and removing the electrodes from Alyx's forehead. "Go home, eat, sleep. In that order. Six hours minimum. You should be tired enough to do that."
Alyx slipped off the chair. "Will do. Walk me out?" she asked Darien.
He nodded and said, "See ya later," to Claire. They actually made it all the way to her car, discussing some of the things that had happened while she was gone, before he was unable to fight temptation any more. Pulling her close, he kissed her lightly. "Missed you." Then his hunger for her came to the surface and he really kissed her. His hands buried in her hair, his tongue finding its way into her mouth and finding hers. Missed her was not an adequate description and it wasn't just for this.
When he pulled away, she sighed. "I know the feeling. Three months is too long."
"Go home. I'll bring dinner when I'm done here." He tipped her head up to look her in the eye and, for a moment, he was tempted to play hooky. To hell with work, but knew that she needed some rest and that he and Bobby had to work on this Chrysalis thing. Like he'd told her. This one was going to be a bitch.
"You do that. I have a feeling my fridge is furry by now." Alyx smiled at him. It was good to be home.
Alex had watched the exchange between the two agents from her office window with a frown. There was something decidedly odd going on here. She'd gone back into the Agency's files and still found nothing on Miss Silver that is until she spoke to Eberts and he gave her a password she had not known about. Then she had discovered a whole lot of information that had been kept hidden from her. In fact, the information she had gathered prior to coming here had been nothing more than dummy information. The real files, obviously opened to her now with the Official's blessing, were both the same and different. For example, the records for Robert Hobbes were the same until he joined the Agency. Those records from other agencies matched, but those for the Agency itself were markedly different. Same for Darien Fawkes. Details even going back to his prison record had very little resemblance to the information she had retrieved. About the only thing the same was the information on the QS-9300 Project and even those were different, though mainly in how detailed it was. She had tracked down the bare bones information only.
She had dealt with security system layering like this before, but this was the first time she'd actually been fooled by it. Whoever had set this up, and it was not Eberts - he was good, but not this good - must have a very high degree of expertise with not only computers, but also security programming.
Once Miss Silver had driven off and Darien walked back to the building, Alex moved back to her computer.
So, now she had access to Miss Silver's files for all the good it did her. She didn't believe half of it and the fact that she had obviously been given a new identity when joining the Agency left Alex wanting. The woman, she now knew and believed that much anyway, was nearly as skilled as herself, especially if the report about her portrayal of Ariana Goranov was true. It was the other information that she couldn't believe. That she could Quicksilver, but did not have an artificial gland. That she had ESP type abilities and not parlor trick ones. Actual abilities like telekinesis and telepathy.
Alex shook her head. She would have to see that to believe it. The woman could probably move a pencil across a desk and not much more. If that.
She had to wonder why the Official wanted the woman on this case. She had been kept away from most of the other Chrysalis missions either because she was working elsewhere or as some sort of security precaution. This one they were currently working on was strange. The daughter of the current President of Russia had defected to the US when a group led by the Secretary of State Hoffner had gone over there to discuss some small matters. She had smuggled herself onto the plane and was not discovered until they were over the Atlantic and halfway home. The child, who was about twelve, had been hysterical, claiming her father had been replaced by another man.
It was laughed off as the imaginings of a young child until she told them she wanted to defect. That they had been trying to kill her because she had discovered the switch. When asked who wanted to kill her she had just kept repeating what the translator said was 'butterflies' and that caught the attention of the Official and he volunteered his Agency to investigate the girl's claims.
Because of the influence that Chrysalis wielded over various government officials, the Agency had kept their discovery pretty much to themselves. Understandable, if a bit annoying, she could have known about them ages ago if they had shared the knowledge, but then someone might have shut them down to keep the information quiet. It was a dangerous game the Official was playing.
And she had shoved herself smack dab in the middle of it.
. . . . .
Darien walked in the open door of Alyx's apartment laden with various containers of take out food and drink. He figured her cupboard was probably pretty bare. In fact, he knew it was. He'd finished the beer a week ago. As he slid the door shut with a foot he said, "You know, one of these days it's gonna be the wrong person coming down that hallway." He set the offering down on her table and then wandered over to see what she was doing. Her hair was still damp from a recent shower, but hung loose down her back the way he liked it.
"Ri-ight. They'd have to be real, real good to copy another's mind pattern. Identical twins might, and I do mean might, be able to do it, but not your average Joe." Alyx tapped few keys and growled low in her throat. "Miss Monroe is very curious and very stubborn. She's been trying to break into my secure files all afternoon. I had to call Eberts, which apparently didn't do any good."
"So what are you doing?" he asked her, dragging over a chair and sitting down. His day had been rather unexciting. Just tracking down a few leads and heading out to talk with young Serena, without much success. The translator they were using sucked as far as he was concerned and the child was still terrified of both himself and Hobbes.
"I'm am setting up a trap. If she tries again I'll give her wrists a virtual slapping." Alyx hit a few more keys and then leaned back and stretched. "That should hold her till tomorrow." She turned to look at him. "Do I smell extra spicy eggplant?"
"Of course. Your wish is my command." Darien leaned in close and gave her a quick kiss.
"Then how about a weekend off. I'm wiped." She leaned against him. "And dealing with Chrysalis is not going to be fun I imagine."
"You imagine correctly. The reports just don't do them justice." Darien stood up and pulled her with him. "Eat. Even I can tell you lost too much weight. Then you will sleep for a change."
"Hey. What happened to 'your wish is my command'?" Alyx groused, getting out some plates and chopsticks from the kitchen.
"After dinner," Darien said with a sly grin. Dinner with Hobbes, though amusing, just wasn't the same.
She handed him a plate. "What do you think of Miss Monroe?" She helped herself to a few different items and then sat down, waiting for an answer.
Darien thought about it as he served himself. He'd tried not to think too much about their newest agent. There was just something about her he wasn't quite sure about. Like how he always knew when a job offer to team up with another thief was going to end badly for himself. They inevitably did for the schmuck who would end up taking the job. A couple that he remembered had ended with the guys getting shot, one fatally. Something about Alex Monroe just set his spidey-sense to tingling.
"I'm not sure, really. I can sympathize about her son and understand why she would like to see Chrysalis brought down…"
"But..." Alyx could hear that 'but' in his voice.
He shook his head. "I have a feeling she's hiding something."
"That's because she is," Alyx said matter-of-factly.
Darien gave her the 'you didn't' look.
"No, I didn't. I also made sure not to touch her. Come on, who doesn't hide something. I have an entire life I hide from most of the world to keep it from being used against me. Hell, how much of my current life is classified? How much of yours?" Alyx opened the bottle of wine he had brought and poured a glass. "Everyone has secrets, especially in this line of work. Though I do have the feeling she has more than most."
"That's putting it mildly." Darien's tone was dry. "Just about turned the entire place upside-down. She even has a bigger office than yours."
Alyx raised an eyebrow. That was not a difficult task. Not only was her office only about the size of Hobbes' it was also rather spartan much like her apartment. Just the basics. Top of the line equipment all, but no more than just what she needed. "So she's got some pull, I take it. I'll check her out tomorrow. I have other things planned for tonight."
"And what might that be?" He knew what he was in the mood for. Shoot, she had been gone three months after all.
"Well, since I spent most of the day sleeping I'm going to have to do something to tire myself out before I can get any sleep tonight." She got to her feet and took her plate to the kitchen. "Care to join me in a rousing self-defense workout."
Darien had followed her to the kitchen, but stopped dead at her suggestion. "Self-defense? Karate?" She had to be joking. Please, let her be joking.
"Krav Maga, actually. I took some classes while in DC. It's a little different." She was hiding her smile when she turned around to look up at his stunned expression. While it was true she had taken the classes, she was currently just teasing him.
"Alyx, you have got to be kidding." He reached out to touch her face and she closed her eyes.
Stepping closer to him she sighed. "Yes, I'm kidding. Now will you hurry up and kiss me."
What else could he do?
. . . . .
Alex Monroe waited impatiently for the last two members of their little group to arrive for the meeting. The Official and Eberts seemed unworried about Fawkes and Silver's tardiness as if it was a normal occurrence. Hobbes already sat at the large table reviewing some notes while he waited. Alex was not in the best of moods. Her computer was currently displaying an annoying little message from Miss Silver and she could not get rid of it without a password that she did not know. She had tried one last time yesterday evening to get into the secure files on Miss Silver only to have the admonishment appear on her screen. She was not in the mood for jokes. Not where Chrysalis was concerned.
"Monroe. Stop pacing. You know Fawkes is always late. He'll be late to his own funeral given half a chance and a days warning," Hobbes grumbled at her. Sometimes she took things too seriously. Not that what they did wasn't serious, but one of the few things he had learned from Fawkes was to relax when and while you could because most days life was way too dangerous.
The Official snorted. "Fawkes would miss his death by oversleeping given half a chance."
Alex ignored the comment. "What about Miss Silver? Is she normally this late?"
"The kid was in her office working when I showed up. She's probably still there," Hobbes answered. He'd stopped in to say good morning and welcome her back. Things just weren't the same without her around and there had been a few changes since she had left.
"Forgetful, then." Alex debated going after her, but decided to let her be. She had been unsure about Miss Silver from the moment she'd met her she was even less impressed with this display of failed responsibility.
"That is the one thing she never is," Eberts spoke up. "She has a very impressive memory."
"Yeah, like an elephant. She never forgets," Hobbes added. Hell, it was true.
"Then why is she not here?" Alex moved to a window and looked out at the nonexistent view.
"Because I have been waiting for some information to download," Alyx said as she opened the door and walked in. "I have very good hearing as well," she explained when she saw the look on Monroe's face. "By the way I corrected the problem with your computer. If you have any questions ask me and not go snooping in my secure files. They are secure for a reason."
The Official watched this exchange in silence, not even lifting his head, just looking over the top of his glasses, watching them. They were going to have to figure out how to work together on their own.
Alex just glared at the woman. She did not need to be dressed down in front of these people. Especially not by this nobody. "Next time I would prefer it if you were on time."
"Interesting. And here I thought I worked for the Official and not you." Alyx moved over to Eberts and handed him a disk. "Load that up would you, please."
Hobbes groaned and decided it would be safer if he said nothing at this point. He did not want to be in the middle if these two decided to go at it. He'd probably get hurt. He was thankful when Fawkes chose that moment to walk into the office carrying a couple of cups of coffee. He handed one to Hobbes and kept the other for himself.
"This is nonfat right? 'Cause you know I won't drink the regular." Bobby sniffed at the coffee.
"Yes, Hobbes. Just the same as I always get it." Darien made his way around the table and took a seat. "Morning."
"I don't know, Fawkes. This ain't from where you normally get the coffee. How can I be sure?" Bobby had removed the lid and was checking the coffee carefully.
Some days... "Hobbes, drink the coffee," Darien said taking a seat at the table.
"Fawkes, so nice of you to join us," Alex sneered, allowing the sarcasm to drip off her words.
Darien glanced over at her noting the glare and the overly aggressive stance. "I could leave," he suggested.
"Fawkes..." Hobbes warned shaking his head. Now was not the time for a battle, though it had been brewing for a while and now that the kid was back... If he was right, it was going to be a very long week.
Alyx turned from the computer to watch Darien and Alex glare at each other. "Perhaps we should get started? I've read the files and based on that info I did a little research this morning."
"And what could have possibly discovered that we didn't?" Alex asked in a smooth, precisely controlled voice.
"At least one hundred and twenty other possible switches of major government officials around the globe," Eberts answered looking at the information on the screen before him.
"Is that true?" The Official asked after spending a moment looking shocked.
"Based on this? Yes. She has compared votes and decisions going back nearly a year and with all those listed and there was a marked change in the last two to six months," Eberts answered turning to face the room.
"But why?" Hobbes asked to the room. "If it's Chrysalis why would they change tactics? They used to just buy or blackmail what they needed."
"Santa Ruego," Darien commented.
"Yes," The Official agreed.
Alex looked a touch confused. "Santa Ruego? Explain."
"Since you asked so nicely," Darien replied just so pleased with her attitude. It was interesting to catch her out.
"Our first encounter with Chrysalis," Eberts began.
"As well as Allianora," Alyx added. "Don't you read the reports?"
Alex fumed, not wanting to deal with this. "Just tell me."
"There was a major vote about a bio-weapons system. Chrysalis wanted the Prime Minister to vote for. We wanted him to vote against. We met in the middle," Hobbes answered, giving the short version.
"Both sides were using his superstitious nature against him. Allianora played the part of La Llarona and Darien played the part of a ghost. A US Marine killed during the short revolution there," Alyx filled in. "In the end the prime minister voted against."
"What does this have to do with the current situation?" Alex snapped.
"I think they got tired of having to buy the influence they needed. It's a lot easier to get the votes or decisions you want if you control the puppet in charge," Alyx said in a tone that suggested it should have been obvious. Ignoring the glare leveled at her from Ms. Monroe, she turned to the Official. "I need to speak with Miss Tchaviscky."
The Official didn't get the chance to answer. Alex stalked across the room to the other woman. "What can you hope to find out that we haven't?"
"More than enough, I assure you," Alyx answered, meeting the woman's glare without flinching.
"Maybe we should break this up," Darien said to Hobbes just loud enough to be heard by everyone.
"Nah, betcha twenty the kid can take her," Hobbes said then sipped at his coffee.
Alex's focus switched to the men at the table and she looked like she was about to say something when the Official chuckled. "I'll take that bet."
Alyx didn't react. She hadn't intended to antagonize the woman, but she seemed to want it that way. There was obviously a major conflict going on here and she had been dumped into the middle of it. Ignoring the various glares and other looks for the moment, she turned back to Eberts. "Ebes, can you expand the search parameters while I'm gone?"
"Sure. What do you want me to add?" Eberts asked her figuring she had some idea of where to go.
"Add in the factor of recent deaths of family members, personal doctors, friends, advisors and the like. If they went after Miss Tchaviscky they most likely have eliminated others who were close to those switched," Alyx answered.
"And that, Miss Monroe, is why I wanted her on this case," The Official said to the woman standing before his desk. "For all that she is annoying and unorthodox in her methods she is also damn good at what she does."
Alex couldn't help but grudgingly agree. They had had the case for a week and hadn't even thought this far into it. They'd been focusing on President Tchaviscky and why Chrysalis might want to influence him. She turned to Alyx who was looking at her with a bland expression on her face. "Good work."
Alyx nodded in acknowledgment of the grudging praise. "So, who wants to take me to see Serena?"
"Fawkes, you escort her to the safe house. Hobbes, see what info you can dig up on Chrysalis' current headquarters. Miss Monroe..." The Official just looked at her.
"I will work with Hobbes," she said and the Official gave a slight nod.
"This search will take a while, but I should have some preliminary information in a few hours," Eberts said to the room at large. Then in a quieter voice to Alyx, "Piotr is on this list."
Alyx set a hand on his shoulder. "I know, Ebes. I'm going to contact him later, but with Misha still alive I don't think we have anything to worry about."
He smiled. "Good point."
Alyx moved over to the table to stand next to Darien. "Well, Dare, you awake enough to drive the Jag?"
Darien got to his feet. "Always. Back in a couple of hours," he said, escorting Alyx from the room.
She waited till they were outside the building before saying anything. "What the hell happened while I was gone?"
"What didn't happen?" Darien muttered. "We've only worked with her a couple of times, but it's like having two Officials. When she decides we need to do something the Fat Man ends up backing down." He opened the car door for her and waited until she had slipped in.
"And now she has a vendetta for Chrysalis because of her son," Alyx said to him after he started the car. "I checked her record five ways to Sunday, including going through Duke's department. She's legit and has some very, very powerful connections. She pulled some major strings to get the Agency reassigned." Alyx dug in her backpack and pulled out a bottle of water. After a quick drink she continued. "Fish and Game was... encouraged... to not renew the lease. BIA stepped in by sheer luck and then Miss Monroe made her move."
"Her concern about the kidnapped children was... is legitimate," Darien pointed out as he navigated through the late morning traffic.
"Agreed, but you guys recovered only minimal intel after shutting down Teanaustaye. They fried the computer systems before you got to them and the older kids are so brainwashed they could only chant the party line." Alyx grimaced. She'd had more than enough time to consider the ramifications of what Chrysalis had done. "Alex only followed the trail back, what a decade or so?"
"We have no idea how long they have been doing this. Hell, for all we know they could have been doing this for decades." She shook her head. "They are so far above what our government will admit to being capable of that it scares me. Removing the introns? Not only did I spend most of my life looking younger than my years, but then I go and get my time clock reset. It's frightening to realize that the twelve year old I'm talking to could be a thirty year old spy getting ready to surreptitiously kill me."
"Alyx, what are you talking about?" Darien asked. Beyond saving the kids they knew about he hadn't thought all that much about what Chrysalis was trying to accomplish with their little camp.
"Dare, be glad you don't think about stuff like this." She patted him on the leg. "Think assassin. Say the president's daughter has a new friend. Gets an invite over to play. Who is going to suspect a twelve year old of plotting to kill the President?"
Darien pulled off the road and into an apartment complex. Driving around back he parked, but did not immediately get out of the car. Instead, he turned to look at Alyx. "Shit, Alyx, have you told the Official?"
"I've written a preliminary report based on the information I have. It gets worse. If they have managed to switch adults, what if they start substituting the kids of high powered officials with ones they control?" Alyx said to him and he paled a bit.
"Is that what you think happened with Serena?" he asked quietly. He really hoped not. Even though the girl was still frightened of him, she was very sweet and he'd hate to find out she was nothing more than a Chrysalis plant.
"It's possible, but I should be able to tell. An adult who looks like a child will still have thoughts of an adult even if they are deep into the role. The adult thoughts will still be there, if only in the background," Alyx answered. She lowered her voice. "I don't like these guys messing with kids, Dare."
If Monroe was sensitive about this subject Alyx was doubly so and he could understand why. There had been several attempts made against her kids in the time she'd been with the Agency, one of which she'd broken up herself. It was part of the reason she'd remained uninvolved directly with the Chrysalis cases. Even the Agency could only do so much to protect her family, hell to protect her. They weren't sure why Stark hadn't bothered to take out Darien in recent weeks, especially after the cryo-coffin theft. Though there must be a reason. They always had a reason. "We'll do everything we can."
She smiled at him. "I know." She opened the door and climbed out. "Come on, you need to introduce me to the little Miss."
. . . . .
Hobbes had followed Miss Monroe to her office where she attacked her now usable computer to try and track down where Chrysalis had staked out territory this time. He watched as she viciously pounded the keys to do whatever it was she was trying to do. He cleared his throat trying to get her attention.
"What, Hobbes?" she snapped.
"Monroe, if you'd cool down for thirty seconds I can give you a place to start," Hobbes said, making sure to keep his tone calm. He'd thought the kid was bad when her temper got up, Monroe was worse and she didn't have Fawkes to calm her down if she decided to go after him.
"Hobbes, I don't need any of your Hobbes-net shit right now." She hadn't even bothered to turn and look at him and he threw his attempt at politeness right out the window.
"Fine. I'll just take this phone number for Stark Fawkes gave me and trace it on my own," Hobbes said, turning to leave the room. He made it to the door before she caught up to him and pushed it shut as he was attempting to open it.
"I'm sorry." She almost even sounded like she meant it, but Bobby wasn't buying any today. "I should have realized that one of you knew how to contact him after the meeting Fawkes arranged. I wasn't thinking."
"No kidding. What's got your back up?" Hobbes moved back from the door and really looked at her. The look on her face was suddenly very familiar and it was no wonder it, reminded him of the kid when she first got here. What was it Fawkes called it? A mask. The face she hid behind to get by day to day. Not who she really was. He was only partially surprised he hadn't noticed before now. Maybe it was the kid coming back or maybe it was the fact she had come in and tried to take over. Kinda made him not really give a damn what her personal problems were. Finding out about her son had been a surprise, but it made her attitude no easier to deal with. They were supposed to feel sorry for her, work with her, and be subordinate to her? It didn't sit well with either him or Fawkes. Maybe if the kid had been around things would have gone a bit different, but now there was this line drawn in the sand, one he and Fawkes constantly pushed at just to piss her off, and the kid had been added in as another irritant. He bet Miss Monroe did not like it one little bit.
Alex considered his question seriously and, for today, narrowed it down to Miss Silver. It wasn't that woman wasn't skilled; if only half her record was true she was damn good at what she did. It was more that she had changed the neat little set up she had here, by adding a new player that she had no idea how to handle. Miss Silver obviously wasn't easily intimidated, far braver men had backed down once Alex had gotten into their faces, but Miss Silver had simply sat there and let it wash over her, confident that she was doing the right thing. It was, to put it mildly, annoying as hell. "Miss Silver," she admitted to him.
"The kid? She's good, Monroe. In every way. It took some time to get used to her, she'll never be a by the book agent - a bit like Fawkes that way - but she's damn good," Hobbes answered truthfully. If the two of them could learn to work together they'd be a formidable team. For a moment he really thought about that, and came away feeling slightly frightened. They'd be a damn dangerous combination if they worked together.
"Ah, yes, Fawkes. And how long have you been helping hide their relationship from the Official," Alex said in a sly voice. She was betting he was helping to cover it up much like the Keeper obviously was.
"Monroe..." Bobby gestured for her to sit and after a moments hesitation she did so. "I'll explain this once so you don't make a fool of yourself in front of the Official like I did."
Her eyebrows went up.
"The Official knows all about their relationship and approves of it. Going over his head wouldn't change anything either so don't even think of it," Bobby said, sitting in the nearby chair. When it was obvious she didn't believe him, he decided to explain a bit more and it was information he didn't even know if the two he was talking about knew. "The kid was brought in to distract Fawkes. To keep him happy here, she just turned out to be one hell of an agent as well."
Alex shook her head not believing a word of it. "You're saying the Official brought in a doxie, a toy, for Fawkes to play with after hours? That's crazy. Even for this agency."
"Tell me about it," Bobby muttered. "It's true though. The kid, Alyx has been damn good for both the Agency and for Fawkes. I'd warn you not to screw it up, but you can't. Those two..." He shook his head. He'd never understood it, not even after having been with Viv. "Just let it be. They don't let it interfere with work and they work together real well because of it."
"Nothing good can come out of that relationship. When there's danger they'll worry more about each other than the innocents." Alex couldn't believe what she was hearing from him. Of the three, he had the most experience. He should know better, even of they didn't.
"That's what I thought, but they don't." When she looked like she was going to argue with him he held up his hand to stop her. "I've worked with the two of them for while. They don't let it interfere."
She ground her teeth but nodded willing to let this subject drop for now. "What about these special abilities she supposedly has?"
"Supposedly? Monroe, you wouldn't believe me if I told you. Ask her for a demo. She'll give you one, no prob." Bobby got to his feet. "Shall we try to contact Stark?"
Alex got to her feet without feeling all that much better about the situation, but knowing that it would simply take time getting used to this new woman and finding out for herself what she was capable of. Finding out of she was going to be useful or not. Because of she couldn't be of use to her there were many ways to get rid of her. A promotion to another Agency would be the simplest of methods and the least suspicious. "Sure, Hobbes. Lets see if this number you got from Fawkes can do us any good."
. . . . .
Alyx spent a few minutes talking to the translator who was also acting as the caretaker for the girl. She seemed to be a nice enough woman, in her mid forties, motherly, but it was immediately obvious her skill at translation was limited. Based on what Alyx had dug up on the girl's family, the woman was using the entirely wrong dialect and was probably screwing up one word in three. Her accent was also horrible. She would have to talk to the Official about it later.
Darien hung out in the kitchen playing gin with a couple of the Agency suits that were guarding the girl. He was really hoping Alyx had more success than the rest of them and suspected she would. He sat in the chair nearest the doorway so that he could see what was going on in the living room from where he was. He could see Alyx waiting patiently off to one side for Ms. Crenshaw to bring the girl out from her bedroom.
When she did, Alyx remained in place. The girl was nearly as tall as she was with brown hair and green eyes. She was also very nervous and very unsure about the woman in the room with her. Alyx could feel the jumbled emotions coming from the girl, but waited until she was perched uncomfortably on the sofa in the room. The first thing Alyx needed to ascertain was if she was even a child at all.
Once the girl had settled and the translator had left the room, Alyx opened a very light link to the girl's mind just to get an idea of her basic reactions to her presence here. It was obvious even without the link that the child was frightened, but now was not yet the time to comfort her. First she needed to find out why she was afraid by pushing just enough.
/ Good morning, Miss Tchaviscky,/ Alyx said in clear voice.
The girl almost fell out of her seat in surprise that she could speak what she considered correctly. No only that, but that she had included the proper inflections for one greeting one of higher, though only slightly higher, rank. /Who are you?/ she asked, suspicion creeping into her voice.
/A friend,/ Alyx assured her.
The girl laughed. A harsh bitter laugh. /I have no friends here. Just guards./
Alyx couldn't disagree and she could sympathize. She'd dealt with months of Agency baby-sitters herself and knew how tiresome it could get. /They are here to protect you. From the 'butterflies.'/
The girl got angry. /No. No. No. Not butterflies. Chrysalis./ She threw up her hands obviously tired of trying to explain to people who refused to understand.
/Chrysalis. How do you know this?/ Alyx asked much to the girl's surprise. She opened the link a bit more so that she could get a better impression of what was going on in the girl's mind.
/I heard them. Heard them talking about killing me because I knew. Telling him that they would have to eliminate me,/ she paused fighting the tears that threatened to overwhelm her. /I ran. Hoping the Americans could help, but you are all fools apparently./
/Not all fools. Will you answer a question?/ Alyx looked at the girl who nodded reluctantly.
/Did they wear any jewelry you remember?/ Alyx saw the image in the girl's mind and listened while she described it. A golden double helix. The trademark of Chrysalis. Now was the time to comfort the girl. Alyx moved closer and squatted down before her. /I believe you and I need your help./
Serena shook her head. /How? I don't know anything./
/You noticed that he was not your father when the rest of the world didn't. I'd say you helped already./ Alyx kept her voice soft.
/What did they do to my papa?/ she asked tears filling her eyes.
Alyx sat beside her and held her. /I don't know yet, but I promise you I'll find out./
Serena buried her head against Alyx's shoulder and cried for several long minutes. Even for a young woman this had to have been a horrible experience and to then be thrown in with a group of people who seemed to refuse to understand what she was saying; it was little surprise she broke down with the one person who not only understood, but believed.
It was Darien who brought the box of tissues and a drink for her, but it was a while before she even noticed he was there and when she did, she squealed and tried to squirm away. Alyx held her still. /Serena, this is Darien Fawkes. My partner. I swear he would never hurt you./
She sat shaking while Darien watched in confusion. *Alyx?*
*She seems to recognize you, but I'm not sure from where,* Alyx replied to his mental query. /Serena, where do you know him from?/
The girl shook for several minutes before answering. /Those Chrysalis men. They had photos of him and the one called Hobbes. I assumed they worked for them./ She had such hope in her voice Alyx was glad to be able to ease one fear from her heart.
/No. They definitely don't work for Chrysalis. In fact Chrysalis would probably like to see them dead,/ Alyx answered and she could feel the girl calming down. She probed a bit more, and was convinced that this was indeed a child and who she claimed to be. She also discovered something else. /You little minx. You speak English./
She blushed and looked embarrassed. "Not very well." The accent was very heavy, but she could be understood. "Some words I could not translate."
Alyx nodded. "How well do you understand English?"
"Understand? Good. Much better than speak." She was relaxing more now, and accepting both the tissues and drink from Darien.
"Serena, this is Darien," Alyx said trying the introduction again.
Her eyes got a bit round, the fear was still there. "You no work for... for..." she turned to Alyx and said /Chrysalis./
"Chrysalis," Alyx supplied in English.
Darien rolled his eyes. "No way. Their retirement plan sucks."
The girl stared at him for a long moment and then broke out into slightly strained giggles. /Is he always this odd?/
Alyx shook her head. "Nah, usually he's weirder." She gave Darien a quick wink and he smiled.
Serena managed a shaky laugh, but Alyx could sense the worst was over for the girl, at least where dealing with the Agency was concerned. After a few more minutes of silliness between the three of them the real questions began.
. . . . .
It was later that afternoon when they got back to the office, the first thing Alyx did was chew out the Official about Serena, and then recommend that she be moved again. They had been out to that particular place too often and the risk was getting high that someone would figure out she was there. He didn't argue and also agreed to arrange a better translator for the girl. That decision was pretty easy since Alyx gave him a list of several others who could do the job and pass the security requirements. He assured her that by morning everything would be taken care of.
The next order of business was to meet Monroe and Hobbes and see if they had any success on finding one of Chrysalis's current front businesses. Alyx met up with everyone else in Miss Monroe's office where they were arguing about something, but silenced themselves quickly as soon as she entered.
"Don't stop on my account," Alyx said as she moved over to the couch and sat down. "I'd like a chance to bet on the outcome."
Miss Monroe turned to glare at Alyx while both Darien and Hobbes tried to hide grins. "Don't worry about it, kid. It's handled."
"Did you guys have any luck?" Alyx asked of both Hobbes and Monroe.
"Yes, we have narrowed it down to two possibilities. A Dionysus International, they supposedly deal in high quality wines, have an Internet business to sell and swap and they have an office and small storage facility in town," Alex answered, relieved to drop the subject the three of them had been discussing before she had entered.
"The other is Chimera Corporation. They are supposed to deal in long-term data storage and retrieval. Both computer and hard copy," Hobbes said, filling in the remainder of the information. "They have a web site, but it only has basic information."
Alyx nodded. "Split up into teams and check them out tonight?"
Alex was rather surprised. She hadn't expected her to be this eager to get the job done. "That was my thought. I'll go with Fawkes and you can pair with Hobbes." Alex waited for the argument that she was expecting, but instead saw them all nodding in agreement and it irritated her for some reason. "So you have no complaints about not being paired with Fawkes?"
"Why should I? While both quite good at your jobs, last time I checked neither you nor Bobby could Quicksilver and you're more comfortable with Darien at this point," Alyx answered honestly. It made sense to her and couldn't understand why the woman would expect her to react otherwise. "Miss Monroe, no matter what you may think about Darien's and my involvement, work is work. Neither of us expect special treatment just because off duty we spend time together."
Alex looked from Alyx to Darien and then to Hobbes. "I told you," he said with a shrug.
Alyx ran a hand through her hair. "Miss Monroe... Alex, I didn't intend to cause a problem for you. This is my job. I take it damn seriously. I've known about Chrysalis for months, but was told to stay out of it. If you truly do not want my help just talk to the Official. Or tell him. From what I understand you could probably have my ass shipped to the Embassy in Nairobi with one short phone call." Alyx pushed herself to her feet and looked at the taller woman. "At least give me the benefit of the doubt, just as I am doing with you." Picking up her bag she walked to the door of the elaborate office. "I'll be in my office."
Alex watched the other woman leave with more than a little surprise.
Neither Darien nor Bobby were quite sure what to say at first, then Bobby turned to Darien. "Hungry?"
"Yeah, getting to be about that time." Darien turned to look at him. "Burgers?"
"Nah, Chinese?" Bobby countered.
Darien shook his head. "Did that last night. Pizza?"
Alex groaned not wanting to experience another one of their debates over food. "We'll get Italian. I know a place. I'll buy." She moved to get her portable computer while the men looked at her. "Well... Go get Miss Silver, we have few things to discuss at dinner."
Darien and Bobby didn't argue.
They sat outside on the patio at the restaurant. The evening air was pleasantly cool and they took over a couple of tables so that both women could use their laptops while they were eating dinner. Darien and Hobbes found it amusing, for all that the women were so very different, watching them working across from one another with almost the same slightly annoyed looks on their faces made it difficult for the two men to not break out in laughter.
Alyx broke in on their not so hushed commentary. "You two. What is it now?"
"Nothing that is safe to say aloud in the current company," Darien answered and Alyx shot a glare at him. "Lighten up you two. It can't always be about work. Relax for five minutes."
"Fawkes, now is not the time," Monroe snapped at him.
Alyx shut down her computer and put it back in her backpack. "He's right." Alex changed her focus to her. "I know you're curious about me. There must be something you want to ask."
Monroe looked at her for a long moment and then shut down her own computer. "Your file is interesting reading and quite unbelievable."
"And what part are you having trouble believing?" Darien asked Alex.
"All right, lets start with the Quicksilver: I know there are only two glands in existence; the one in Arnaud de Ferhn, and the one in your skull. I'm supposed to believe she has one and without any of the existing side effects?" Alex tried to keep her voice calm, but it was difficult.
"Nope," Hobbes supplied. "She doesn't have an implanted gland."
Alex just shook her head.
"I was just genetically altered within a couple of days of my birth. I got a few extras as well," Alyx answered. Reaching out with her hand she set it atop the saltcellar on the table. With no effort, she efficiently covered it in Quicksilver while Alex watched. Once it was gone from sight, she lifted it into the air and moved it to hang in front of the woman's face.
When the Quicksilver hardened and flaked away, Alex flinched back at the sudden appearance of the cellar that was directly before her. Once she had a hold of herself, she reached out and waved her hand above and beneath it to make sure there were no tricks. When she grasped it, Alyx let go and allowed it to be set back on the table. "What's your upper limit?"
"Upper limit?" Darien asked.
"Is she supposed to have one of those?" Hobbes added.
"Depends if you are talking a single item or not." When Monroe looked at her blankly, Alyx continued, "I've lifted a fairly large truck and I've managed to control dozens of smaller items at once. I can overdo it and get severe headaches when I do so."
"No kidding. Fawkes' headaches are nothing compared to the kid's," Bobby commented.
"That's not true, Bobby. I know how painful his can be. They are not fun." Alyx wasn't kidding. The headaches caused by too much Quicksilver use were enough to knock Darien to his knees and had on more than one occasion.
"Kid, one shot of counteragent and he's fine. I've seen you overdo it so bad you killed your powers for four days and had headaches for the week after," Bobby tossed right back at her and she couldn't argue. It was very true.
Poor Alex felt both confused and overwhelmed, though she tried her best to not let them see it. "What else? I got the impression that you are... multi-talented."
"Well, you never need a headset with the kid," Bobby offered.
"And why is that?" Alex asked, her voice taking on that overly sweet tone of someone getting very irritated.
*Because I don't often need one,* Alyx sent to all three of them.
Alex twitched. "Get out," she snapped.
"Of course. I don't peek. Being able to read minds is not an easy thing." Alyx kept her voice calm. Monroe was truly upset.
"I know it's weird, Monroe, but it's great for passing messages in tight situations," Bobby explained, trying to placate her. With his paranoia, it had taken him a while to get used to it and could sympathize.
Alex just shook her head, starting to realize why the Official wanted Miss Silver working for him. An agent who could Quicksilver and read minds. The possibilities were endless. She was betting the woman got sent on a lot of infiltration missions. She'd be perfect for it. Her mind was starting to run through the potential uses she could put her to. "So why are you working for the Agency, aside from Fawkes here, that is."
Darien laughed. "Oh, no, I don't hold her here."
"I have my reasons, the same as Darien does," Alyx answered quietly. She didn't know this woman nearly well enough to divulge that information to her. In fact, it wasn't until she had sent her little message to her that she had been around her enough to guarantee that she would always recognize her by mental contact. That unconscious mental contact that she touched everyone with.
Alyx glanced at her watch. "One more demonstration." She thickened a section of the air in front of her, picked up her butter knife, and stuck it into the section where it hung for a moment before slowly sliding down causing subtle ripples in the changed area. "I'm sensitive enough to sense and control air molecules."
Alex was suitably impressed. This was so far beyond the pencil pushing that she found it hard to believe. Standing she walked around and plucked the knife out of the section and then stuck it back in. "What good is this?"
"Kid's become pretty good at stopping bullets and it's effective to hide behind when things decide to explode," Bobby answered, having dealt with both situations.
"I think we should get moving guys," Darien suggested to the group after checking his watch.
"Yes, past time." Alex watched as the knife slipped to the bottom of the affected area and then drop to the table with a clatter.
. . . . .
"You ready for this, kid?" Bobby asked as he checked the signal from the headset. They were parked on the far side of some bushes dividing the property of this building from the next in this small industrial park.
"Bobby, I think I can handle a simple sneak and peek even if it does turn out to be Chrysalis." Alyx was grinning. "I haven't been gone that long, have I?"
"Yeah, kid, you have. Monroe may have a top rating, but she's not you," Bobby stated, honestly.
"Thanks, Bobby." She lowered her voice. "I missed you too." She dodged away with a quiet laugh as he mock swung at her.
"Smart-ass. Hurry up, I want some sleep tonight." He watched as she danced away, Quicksilvering as she went.
He waited a few minutes, she had to actually walk the distance to the building and then find a way in that wasn't going to set off every alarm in the place. "Kid?"
"I'm back at the loading area. I get five in the building. Two security, two cleaning crew, one late worker." She paused as she checked the security where she was. She kept her voice as soft as possible. "I get cameras and code locks everywhere. Nice sized computer system and a secure room down one level. Extra security there."
"Check it out," Hobbes advised.
Inserting her mind into the keypad, she convinced the lock that she had given the correct code, then unlocked the door and fuzzed the cameras as she entered so they would not pick up the door opening. She made her way through the building, checking out offices at random and finding nothing suspicious. So far, it seemed that Dionysus International was a legit business.
Accessing the elevator, she went down one level to where she sensed the extra security measures. It opened onto a short hallway with one door at the far end. There were cameras, but they wouldn't see a heck of a lot with her doing the see-through routine. Making her way to the door, it took her an extra moment to trick the security lock, but then the door slid open without a problem. It shut behind her as soon as she was through and she immediately understood why.
The temperature was carefully controlled in this room and she quickly adjusted the temperature around her Quicksilver covered body to compensate. The extra security she sensed was the temperature control system. This was a wine cellar of the highest quality. After glancing over just a few of the labels, she realized the value of the contents of this room was easily in the millions. Even Chrysalis was not likely to go this far in a cover story. As a precaution, on her way back out, she'd checked the computer database and found nothing suspicious.
A few minutes later, she was back at the van with Quicksilver flakes falling to the ground at her feet. She climbed into the back and Bobby started the engine. "Everything go okay?"
"Yeah, the collection they have in there is amazing. They had one bottle from 1622 that has to be worth at least a million and would probably bring more at auction," Alyx said as she stripped off the headset and put it away. As Bobby pulled away, she climbed into the passenger seat with a sigh.
"Kid, Fawkes has corrupted you. Don't go getting any ideas," he was smiling as he said it so he wasn't completely serious.
"No worries, Bobby. Your average thief wouldn't go after that stuff. It would be a job for hire, probably by a collector that was unable to purchase that one rare find he thinks he must have." She stifled a yawn. It had been a long day for her.
"Now I know you've been hanging around Fawkes too much. Though if the situation ever did come up, it is nice to know where to start." Bobby had to admit his partner's less than legal former occupation had provided a perspective that was useful on occasion. "I'll drop you off at your car and we'll meet in the morning. Say eight?"
"Works. I'll make sure his sleepiness gets there," Alyx assured him. She would be up long before any of the rest of them and it was always possible that Darien would end up at her place anyway.
. . . . .
Alex handed Darien the headset and the horrid turtle hat he hated. The one with the miniature camera hidden inside. They were at another smaller industrial park about fifteen miles from the others as the crow flies. Darien waited while Alex set up her computer on the front seat beside her and verified that both the headset and the camera were working.
"All set, Fawkes. Don't get caught."
"And which one of us can go invisible?" he reminded her as he moved away and Quicksilvered.
He made his way around the building looking for the easiest way in. The occupied guard station at the front door gave him an idea and he rattled the door watching the guard's reaction. It took three more tries, but the guy got to his feet and dragged out his keys. Opening the door, he stepped outside to see what the was making the door do what it should not be doing and Darien just walked right on in. He made his way to the bank of elevators to one side and pressed all the down buttons. It was a good bet if there was stuff to hide it would be below ground.
The guard came to check on why the elevators were all arriving, but found nothing, as Darien was careful to avoid him. Choosing one pretty much at random he entered and pressed for the lowest level available to him. There were lower levels, but they required an access card that he did not have. That was enough to make him suspicious. It was apparently enough for Alex as well.
"Lots of security for a storage facility," she said in his ear.
When the door opened, he stood for a moment to check the hall for obvious surveillance and there was plenty. Cameras, motion sensors, and what looked like a laser grid further down the hall. Most of the doors had mag locks that also required a code. Heading into the hall, he lucked out as a white coated technician stepped out of one of the doors. Moving quickly he just managed to catch it before it closed and slipped inside.
He wanted to speak, but didn't dare. There were other technicians in the room. Well, it was a storage place. There were three cryo-pods in the room. One of which had an occupant.
"Get out, Fawkes. We have what we need," Alex said to him.
He didn't argue.
As soon as he was clear of the building, he tried to contact her. "Monroe." He was met with silence. "Yo, Monroe," he said a bit louder. He could feel the headache building and wanted to warn her. "Alex, quit screwing around." He was getting irritated now, which was a bad sign. He was far enough away from the building and dropped the Quicksilver. He checked his wrist and found two segments left green. Could be worse, but it might be a good idea to get him a shot soon, based on his headache.
Walking up to the driver's side of her roving he found her muttering under her breath and fighting with the computer from the looks of it. "Monroe."
She jerked upright with a curse. "Damn it, Fawkes. Scare me half to death."
"Well you apparently weren't listening." He tapped the headset.
"Sorry. The computer crashed and I lost the signal." She moved the computer to the back seat and started the Rover. "Get in."
He didn't argue and one inside pulled off the hat and tossed it in back. Once they were out on the road she asked, "Where to? Pick up your car?"
He thought about it and about the way his head was aching and decided that driving might not be the best of choices right now. "Can you drop me at Alyx's place?"
She glanced over at him. "You okay?"
"Yeah, just a headache. Don't think I should drive," he answered not wanting her to maybe insist they go wake Claire, which was unnecessary as Alyx typically had a supply of counteragent for emergency use. He rattled off directions to Alyx's apartment and they arrived within fifteen minutes. "See you in the morning, Monroe."
She nodded. "Goodnight, Fawkes."
Digging out his keys, he headed into the building and up to her apartment. He managed to get inside and the door shut behind him before he was forced to his knees grabbing the back of his head in pain.
Alyx was at his side in seconds as the pain echoed through to her. "Easy," she soothed, as she offered what comfort she could. When he finally relaxed in her hold, he groaned.
"I hate it when they do this," he complained. There was still some inconsistency in when the really bad pains would come. The different stages Claire had worked out helped, but sometimes he would hit Stage Two with three green left and other times not until one was left. He was obviously splitting the difference tonight. He never hit Stage Four until the monitor was completely red, but by hitting Stage Two earlier meant that he suffered the more severe headaches for that much longer.
She rested her hand against his face, noticing how much warmer he was. "Damn, you're in Stage Two already. You were invisible for too long again."
"But we found them," Darien said, shifting and then getting up with her help. "Can I hope you have counteragent here?" He suddenly realized that since she had been out of town that she might not have any. For one long instant it didn't matter. She was wearing a tight fitting tank top and snug shorts. He suddenly was interested in something other than getting a shot. Following her to the kitchen, he grabbed her and spun her around.
The lust in his eyes was blatant, but she had learned long ago not to fight him when he got like this. He ran a hand across her cheek, then down the side of her neck and across her shoulder, sliding the tank strap aside and down her arm. When he leaned in to kiss her it was harsh, rough, demanding and ended with a grunt of pain as the gland decided he was not paying it the attention he should.
Alyx slipped away and retrieved the pre-filled syringe. Quickly wrapping the rubber tubing about his upper arm, she swabbed the crook of his elbow and injected the contents into his vein. He ended up on his knees again with his head leaning against her abdomen. She removed the needle and set it aside. "Better?" She freed his arm from the tubing and moved her hand up to rub the back of his neck.
He lifted his head to look at her. "Yes. Sorry about..." He trailed off and then returned the strap to where it belonged.
She shook her head at him. "Not a problem." She got to her feet and dealt with the various items, including the syringe, which she would have to return to Claire and get a replacement for. When she was done, she turned to find him standing behind her. "Let's get you to bed. We have a eight a.m. meeting."
He groaned. He really was a night person.
Alyx laughed and took his hand, pulling him towards the bed. "We don't have to sleep right away. It's not that late, yet."
"Good," he said just before kissing her. It wasn't long before more than just a shoulder strap was out of place and his memory of the headache had faded into the far background of his mind.
. . . . .
It was Alex Monroe who was late to the eight a.m. meeting. Alyx had made sure there was a message waiting for her on her answering machine when she had gotten home, but there was always the possibility that she had not checked her messages. Though Alyx found it odd since the woman had made sure to comment about her own tardiness the day before.
When she did finally arrive, half an hour late, she looked fine. Her same calm composed self and got right into reviewing what she and Darien had learned the night before. The Official seemed more than satisfied that Chimera was Chrysalis and authorized a mission to get in and retrieve some information, hopefully about these government switches. When they began to try to work out some sort of plan, Alyx interrupted.
"Later, please. Darien needs to get down to the Keep." Alyx pushed herself to her feet.
"Oh... Of course. Meet back here in one hour," The Official said dismissing them for the time being.
"I'll see what more I can dig up on the Chimera Corporation while you're busy," Alex said to them and, after picking up the files she'd brought, left the room.
"Come on, Dare," Alyx said, gently grasping his arm and urging him out of the room. Bobby trailed along.
Outside the Keep, Darien stopped and turned to Alyx. "What's going on?"
She shook her head and opened the door to the room with her mind. "Inside."
"Morning, Keepy," Bobby greeted as soon as the door had slid shut behind them. "Okay, kid, what's the problem?"
Alyx actually shuddered. She gave the room a quick scan to check for bugs and found the place clean. "That was not Alex," she hissed.
The three of them stared at her. Darien managed to find his voice first. "What do you mean?"
"I mean the woman in the Official's office less than ten minutes ago was not Alex Monroe." Alyx knew this was going to be difficult for them to understand.
"Kid..." Bobby began.
"Yes, she looks the same. Sounded the same, but think; what are we investigating?" Alyx snapped at him.
"A point, but how could you tell when we noticed nothing?" Darien commented.
"Oh, and how well do you guys know her?" Alyx threw right back.
That shut them up and made them think.
"She felt wrong didn't she?" Darien said to her after remembering their conversation from the other evening.
Alyx nodded. "Completely wrong."
"Huh?" Bobby asked her.
"It's part of her abilities, Bobby. You know she can sense people around her." Bobby nodded at Claire's words. "Just as no two people look exactly alike, no two people feel alike to her."
"Shit," Bobby commented. "When did they grab her? You were with her, Fawkes, was she out of communication at any time?"
"Damn it. Yes. When I was on my way out, she didn't respond, but she was at the car when I got there. Said her computer had crashed," Darien answered, wondering how he could have missed picking up that she was not herself.
"Don't go blaming yourself, Fawkes. These guys are good," Bobby said to Darien. "We have to prove this. To stop her."
Alyx shook her head. "We don't dare."
"Huh? Why not?" Darien asked.
"Nanobots. We have assume she's sending information back to Stark or whoever she answers to," Alyx answered.
"Can you turn them off?" Claire asked her.
Alyx thought for a moment. "Probably not. The energy signal would probably be hidden by the naturally occurring energy in the body. If I had time to carefully check her over, maybe."
"All right. So now what do we do. Everything we plan she and Stark will know about." Bobby didn't like this one bit. A spy they didn't dare touch or they'd give the game away.
"And what about the real Alex? Do you really think they just killed her?" Alyx set that in front of them and watched them all frown. "Bet you they're drugging her and pumping her for intel."
"It's what I would do," Bobby said, nodding.
"Okay, here's what we need to do. Two plans. One she knows about that involves us getting in and getting the intel we're looking for, but that is a fake. A distraction that covers the real plan," Alyx said to them in a low voice.
"And what is the real plan?" Darien asked for all of them.
"To get Alex."
. . . . .
They met back down in the Keep later that afternoon. In front of, and approved by The Official, they came up with a basic plan to get into Chimera and get out with intel from the main computer system. There was no way of knowing if it had the information they needed on the switches, but the only way to find out was to get in. Darien and Alyx would go in and search. Alex and Hobbes would oversee from the van, and Claire would be along in case there was problem. Pretty simple.
In truth, it was far more complicated than that.
When the four of them met down in the Keep later that afternoon, they had pretty much worked out their plan thanks to Alyx allowing them to communicate mind to mind.
Alyx walked through the doors of the Keep, the last of their group. She'd spent the last hour working out some problem with Miss Monroe and now was rubbing her head with the joy of an impending headache. "You got that piece for me, Claire?"
"Right here." Claire picked up what looked like a small jewelry box and handed it to Alyx.
"Thanks." With swift efficiency she set up her laptop and pulled out an odd looking probe and plugged it into her computer. After hitting a few keys, information began to scroll across the screen. "Hot damn. I was right."
"What, kid?" Bobby asked coming over to her.
"This," she held up the golden double helix they had gotten from Allianora months ago, "is not just a pin. It's also an ID."
"Really?" Claire sounded impressed.
"How did you figure this out?" Darien asked her.
She looked a bit embarrassed. "I designed a similar system years ago as part of the security for a big-ass company." They just stared at her. "It's not that difficult. They imbed microchips in credit cards these days. Shoving the chip into something as innocuous as a pin isn't that big a deal."
"What does this do for us?" Bobby found this interesting, but wasn't sure what good it would do them.
"Come on, Bobby, it has everything here including her access level. You said all the bigwigs wear them right? Not the grunts?" Alyx had turned to look at him.
"Yeah. At least as far as we know," Darien answered.
Well, with this," she spun the pin between her fingers, "we should be able to gain the access we need. I'm betting their world wide systems are linked together. With all they do they would need to be to coordinate things in real time."
Bobby shook his head. "You think too much." He patted her on the shoulder. "Good work. Now we need to put our plan together."
. . . . .
Darien and Alyx sat behind a car in the parking lot of Chimera Corporation. She was not looking forward to this little stunt, but it was necessary if they were going to succeed.
"You ready for this?" Darien asked her. He knew exactly how much she disliked doing this.
"No, but it's not going to stop me." She closed her eyes and tried to relax. "I hope to god they don't have a full staff in there at night."
Darien chuckled. "They didn't last night."
"All right," her voice grew soft. She swallowed hard and then opened her shields. She flinched. There were far more minds than she was expecting and she had a hard time not getting lost. She'd been practicing this, but it was never easy. She felt Darien's hand come down on her shoulder and that gave her an outside focus, which helped.
"Report," he ordered.
"At least fifty of them. Most tech-heads, some security, some cleaning crew," Alyx said in response.
"Alex. Find Monroe." He knew he'd need to remind her of the purpose. She still got lost too easily.
"Searching. Don't know her mind that well yet," Alyx snapped at him. She sorted through the various minds, looking for pain, discomfort, anger, and slowly, to her perceptions, narrowed the field. Pushed the minds she wasn't interested in to the background. Narrowed it to a dozen choices, a manageable amount. A few moments more and she had her. The woman was drugged, but conscious. Restrained, somehow, and very angry, tinged with a touch of despair at this point. "Got her. Attempting contact."
*Alex?* she sent the query as gently as she could into the other woman's mind.
Alex managed not to snap her head up at the sudden voice in her mind. Not thrilled at the method, but thankful for contact from those who might save her she tried to answer the same way. *Silver?*
*Yes. We're going to attempt a rescue. Be ready.* Alyx also sent a wave of reassurance to her.
*I will be.* Alex felt the contact break and began to fight the drugs flowing through her system. She needed to be as conscious and functional as possible when the time came.
Alyx came back to herself with a moan and closed her shields. "I hate doing that."
"Easy." He helped her shift. "Did you make contact?"
"Yeah, she's down two levels. Northwest corner of the building." She opened her eyes trying not to flinch at how bright it seemed. "Give me five and I'll be ready."
He nodded then spoke into his headset. "Five minutes, Hobbes."
"Got it, Fawkes." Hobbes replied.
When the five minutes was up, Alyx gave her head a quick shake to clear out the last of the fuzz from her little search and held out a hand to Darien. She would be handling the Quicksilver for both of them until they had to separate. The one advantage of unlimited Quicksilver, though there was most likely an upper limit, she had yet to even try to hit it.
They had already chosen to use the back entrance where deliveries were made and that, they now knew, was closest to the location where Alex was. Then they just had to get to her and get her out. There were to also try to get the information they needed from the main computer system if at all possible, which is why Alyx carried her wireless Internet connection and her computer headset. Just in case the information was on a dedicated computer system with no outside connections.
Making their way to the door, she overrode both the keypad and the cameras focused on the door and had them inside in seconds. They made their way through the small warehouse/storage area to the oversized service elevators that they had hoped would be back here. The cryo-pods would not fit into the normal elevators Darien had used last night on his little scout. Alyx controlled, scrambled the signal, or redirected the various security measures as they moved through the building.
In the elevator, she focused on Alex again to more accurately ascertain her position and found her in the same location with two others in the room with her. She also found the main computer just down the hallway. This could work.
The elevator doors opened onto an oversized hallway that had all double doors. Probably the back way into most of the rooms so that large items could be brought in with little effort and without needing to go through the more public hallways. She continued to handle the security as she led him down the hall and stopped at one particular door.
*Monroe?* Darien asked her.
*Computer.* She performed her little trick and had the door open. Moving swiftly, she went to one of the computer stations. The security in the room was tight, but she managed to set up a little loop that would give her just enough time to get this set up. She shook off her Quicksilver and pulled out the small pin that had formerly been Allianora's - she'd made a few changes to it - and slipped it into the small slot that was obviously meant for it. The computer happily recognized her code and granted her access to the system.
"All righty then. Let's see what toys we can find." She closed her eyes and slipped into the system, within seconds she had access to more than enough information to give her nightmares for weeks to come, including at least a partial list of government officials that had been switched. She also discovered that, with very few exceptions, the originals had been eliminated. Not that she was surprised by this, but she had hoped, for Serena's sake, that there was a chance her father could still be alive.
Splitting her attention, she rigged up her connection and dialed into the Agency computer, they'd set up a special computer location that was not connected to any other system just for times like this. That way, if the information was corrupted or contained a virus or worm program, there would be nothing for it to access. The Official had hated to pay for this extra system until Alyx had started using it and then he had to admit it had been more than worth the cost.
Once she had the data transfer set up and running on its own, she came back to the real world and turned to Darien. "All set here."
"Good, let's get Monroe and get out of here. This place gives me the creeps." He got to his feet and she followed, Quicksilvering them as they went.
Once back in the hallway, she took the lead to where she could sense Alex. *There are two others inside. I'm just going to blast and smash to gain surprise.* She waited for him to acknowledge.
*Yeah. I'll get Monroe, you clear the way,* he said in agreement.
*Stand behind me.* As soon as he had, she shoved at the doors, slamming them hard enough to swing them fully open and smash them into the walls so hard that the door handles imbedded themselves into the walls. With only a bit of effort she swung them back into proper position, jamming them in place to prevent anyone from entering easily while they worked to free Monroe.
Darien separated himself from her, took over control of his own Quicksilver, and rushed to where Alex had been strapped to an examination table set nearly vertical. As gently as he could, he removed the IV's from her arms and then began to unstrap her.
"Fawkes?" she mumbled. Obviously, still being affected by the drugs. "You're bloody cold you know?"
"Not for long, Monroe. Hold on." As soon as she was free and had collapsed into his hold, he Quicksilvered her. He wouldn't be able to do this for long, but it would be for long enough. *Got her. We're out of here.*
*Gotcha.* Alyx responded. She had knocked out the two in the room and been mucking with the security, as well as keeping others from coming in. *Go.*
As they escaped out the back, the main door of the room exploded as Chrysalis members forced their way into the room. Their way forward clear for now, Alyx played rearguard, doing what she could to distract the security that had come crawling out like ants to protect the nest being poked at by sticks being wielded by a curious child. The elevator gave them their first problem.
"They've locked it," Darien said aloud, still supporting the groggy Monroe.
"Damn. Okay, hold on." Alyx fried the security for the hallway and then set up one of her 'walls' across it to keep anything unwanted from getting at them while she did what was necessary. "Drop the Quicksilver for now. They already know we're here."
Darien did with a sigh. Doing two people took effort and ate into his time. "Now what?"
A now visible Alyx pinched the bridge of her nose as the headache began to make itself known. She was doing too much at once, yet again. "I bring the elevator to us." Opening the elevator doors with her mind, she stuck her head in to find the damn thing, which was two floors above. Pretty standard that the lock out sent it to the ground floor. "Move to the side." She waved at him. Then she pulled the elevator down to them and stopping it suddenly.
"Shit! Look out," Alex warned, words slurred much to her annoyance, as guys came down the hall firing weapons. She nearly swallowed her tongue when she noticed the bullets stopping a few feet away and just hanging there. She definitely felt more awake now. Adrenaline will do that to a person.
Alyx ripped open the car's doors to find two sleeping security agents inside. Stopping the car as fast as she had worked like she'd hoped. Dragging them out, the three of them climbed in. Alyx waved to the Chrysalis men as the doors closed and she moved the car up to the ground floor. Reaching out she Quicksilvered the three of them, dropped the wall in the hallway down below and rebuilt it across the entrance to the car. When the doors opened, the security team looked about in confusion for a moment then opened fire.
Alyx shoved them away, dropped the wall, and got them moving out of the building. *Go. I'll watch your backs.*
*On it. Contact Hobbes,* he reminded her, and got Monroe moving faster.
*Hobbes...* Alyx sent and waited for his response.
*They're on their way out. Take her down,* Alyx said as she shoved security out of the way to allow Darien and Alex to get out the door.
Bobby turned to Claire and gave her the hand signal they'd agreed upon. She pulled the readied syringe out of her pocket and popped off the plastic cap. With swift precision, she jabbed it into the back of the false Monroe's neck and watched as she quickly passed out. Bobby they turned to the radio. "Beta team go," he ordered to the back up team that would meet Darien and the real Monroe.
He turned back to see Claire getting the necessary blood samples and then rigging the headphones and blindfold on the mystery woman. Bobby got his cuffs and handled the restraints. By the time he was done, Beta team made contact. "We have Fawkes and Monroe. No sign of Silver yet."
"Acknowledged. We are secure and on our way." Bobby slid into the driver's seat and started the engine.
Darien got Monroe to the back-up group and dropped the Quicksilver. Turning, he realized Alyx was not behind them. *Alyx?*
*Trouble, she sent back. *I'm trying to get away and keep them from going after you.* The black cars that had pulled up were obviously filled with pissed off Chrysalis members. She needed to distract them and keep them from going after Darien, so she dropped the Quicksilver and lashed out at one of the cars with a small static charge, blowing its engine. The other two cars stopped suddenly, tires squealing on the pavement, and men began to boil out waving weapons.
Alyx heard the fourth car pull up behind her, but was too focused on those before her to do anything about it yet. She felt the tranq dart enter her back and screeched in anger. Even knowing the risks, planning for just about everything they could think of, hadn't prevented Murphy's Law from stepping and screwing everything up. She felt arms grab her as she fought against the drug rushing through her system. She could already tell this was a new tranq, one she hadn't been hit with before and it was dragging her down. Darien's sudden shout caught her attention and pulled her, rather blearily, from the edge of unconsciousness she had been dangling over.
"Stark, let her go," Darien shouted, as the Quicksilver flaked off of him. They'd been successful in the first part of this little switch. They had the real Alex Monroe back, but Alyx, though acting as rearguard, was not supposed to get caught. There was always the possibility of being outmaneuvered, they had tried to cover every contingency, had gotten away for all intents and purposes, when out of nowhere a group from Chrysalis had appeared and Alyx had stayed behind to cover them while he got Alex away. Darien had made sure Alex was with the Agency team and had rushed back to go after Alyx, arriving in time to see her hit with the tranq after flipping one of the Chrysalis cars over with her mind. She was beyond pissed.
Two of Stark's goons had grabbed Alyx who was struggling as much as she still could. "Mr. Fawkes. I want to thank you for your assistance. We no longer have any interest in you." Stark raised his gun and fired. Intending to hit Darien in the head. He wanted the gland destroyed, but Alyx had just enough consciousness left.
Concentrating past the effects of the drugs, she deflected the bullet just enough. Instead of his head, it struck him in the upper right chest throwing him onto his back in the parking lot. Alex came screaming out of nowhere just then, with the Agency suits right behind her. They began to fire at the car Alyx had been pulled into as it drove off at a high rate of speed. Once they were out of range one of the suits spoke into his handheld explaining what had happened and calling for back-up.
Alex dropped to her knees next to Darien. "Fawkes, you fool." She checked him over and didn't like what she saw. The bullet hit low enough to have penetrated his lung and, based on the way his breath was wheezing in and out, had done so.
"Nice to know you opinion of me hasn't changed," Darien managed to toss out causing her to laugh for a moment.
"Fawkes," she shook her head, "you're bleeding everywhere." She looked over at the suits. "You, your coat." She barked at one and he handed it over without hesitation. She quickly folded a section and pressed it over the wound and Darien groaned in real pain as she did so. She lowered her voice so only he would hear. "Help is on the way. Just hold on for a little while."
"Gee, Monroe. Didn't think you cared," Darien commented rather flippantly.
"I... Of course, I do. I just choose not to let you guys see it." She shifted the jacket a bit, adding a bit more cloth over the wound. It was still bleeding like crazy. "Fawkes, can you... I'm not sure... freeze the wound. We have to stop the bleeding."
He coughed then and tasted blood in his mouth. This was not a good thing and he knew it. He'd seen Alyx do just that on a couple of occasions, but he wasn't sure he had the strength to do it on his own. "Yeah, but you gotta help. I'm not feeling so good right now."
"No kidding," she muttered. As she watched, he held up his hand, the palm Quicksilvered. Swiftly she removed the coat that was nearly soaked through and set his hand over the wound. In seconds, the blood soaked clothing hardened and then began to frost over. Figuring it better to risk a little frostbite than to have him bleed out while lying here on the ground, she held his hand there a bit longer and then released him.
Darien had nearly bit through his tongue at the burning cold sensation, but endured it on the off chance it would keep him alive a while longer. "Alex."
"What, Fawkes?" Alex asked him. He wasn't looking so good even though he was no longer bleeding, at least externally. Who knew how much damage there was inside?
"You have to get her back." He was quickly losing his hold, wanting to just slip into the blackness that was swiftly forcing itself upon him.
"Yeah, Fawkes, don't worry we will." Hell, if it hadn't been for Silver, she'd still be getting shot full of drugs and questioned by Chrysalis.
"You don't unnr'stand." Darien tried to shake his head and regretted it as the world began to spin in a really nasty way about him. He realized there was no way, no time for him to explain. "Talk to, Bobby. He'll 'splain." He lost his grip then and slipped into the darkness.
Alex swore even as the emergency vehicles finally arrived as well as the Keeper and Hobbes.
Things moved quickly after that and it was hours later in a hallway outside an operating room at Fort Leavitt Hospital that Alex remembered to ask Bobby.
"Hobbes," she watched as he raised his head to look at her, "Fawkes said we had to get her back and I got the impression that it was something more than just their relationship he was talking about."
Bobby nodded. "The kid, Alyx, is a very special situation. We can't, and she won't, allow them to find out who and what she is."
"What does that mean?" Alex actually sounded exasperated. Even after being shown what she could do, she didn't understand all the secrecy surrounding the woman.
"Monroe, what I'm about to tell you never gets repeated, understand." Hobbes sounded very serious.
"Fine, whatever," Alex agreed.
"Not good enough. What I'm going to tell you, is one of the biggest secrets the Official keeps. The only reason Fawkes and I know is because we got involved in one of our missions shortly after the kid joined." Hobbes got to his feet and walked over to her. "There are only five of us actually at the Agency, besides the kid, who knows this."
"Hobbes, tell me or not. I know when to keep my mouth shut," Alex said quietly to him.
"Alyx has four kids that are potentially just as talented as her and she has orders to keep anyone from finding out about them," Hobbes said, watching for Alex's reaction. Which was to blink and hide whatever emotions he was sure that were running through her. She had this thing about kids. "She will die to protect them. That's why Fawkes wants us to get her back. After forty-eight hours she will try to kill herself by any means necessary."
"Crap," Monroe muttered. "How the hell do we find her? Stark has to have cleared out of the Chimera building. We have no idea where he's holed up now."
"As soon as I know about Fawkes, I'm heading out to find her, somehow. Will you help?" Hobbes eyed her.
"Yeah, Bobby, I'll help." She swept the hallway with a look. "Call me with how Fawkes is doing." She turned to walk off, but Bobby's hand on her arm stopped her.
"Monroe, I wasn't telling you to leave," he said to her. She might be overbearing at times, but he didn't hate her. He remembered how long it took himself to loosen up around Fawkes. She just needed some more time, is all.
"I know, Bobby, but he's your partner, your friend. I'm just a... a co-worker." She gave him a half-hearted smile. "Let me get started. I'll let you know if I find anything."
"I know, Bobby." She slipped out of his grip and rushed down the hallway. She needed to get back to the office, and get started on this. Too much time had gone by already.
. . . . .
It took Alyx several long minutes to realize she was indeed conscious and, for an instant, she wondered if she had been rendered blind somehow. It was completely dark in here, wherever here was. She tried to adjust her sight, to compensate for low light levels, but it did no good. She knew Quicksilver sight would be just as useless, so she tried to read energy signatures and came up blank as well and that frightened her.
She took a moment to calm herself, lifted an arm, and was pleased to see her own odd pale blue aura before her. Okay, so it wasn't her; it was where she was. Craning her head around in her horizontal position, she finally spotted the low power camera mounted up in one corner of the tiny room. Moving as best as she good, she learned she was wearing a thin bodysuit lined with electronics she could just barely sense and lying in a body temperature pool of water. The walls of her... cage... were lined with one of those few metals that read as no energy to her. Lead was one of them. There was also an odd variant of steel that read similarly to her sight. Since only a complete idiot would shut someone in a lead coffin, it had to be one of the other less harmful metals.
Opening her shields, she tried to get a read on who was out beyond the walls of her prison and encountered nothing. A complete blank. She knew her abilities were working, she could sense the camera after all, but they were being blocked somehow. She could not reach beyond the box she was in for some reason. Fighting a growing sense of panic, she stacked the few things she did know atop one another and tried to figure out where she was. What she came up with almost sent her straight into a panic attack.
They had stuffed her into a sensory deprivation chamber. About the worst thing to do to someone with her abilities, as they had learned after the Arnaud incident in Cabo San Lucas. If Chrysalis was trying to break her or drive her insane, this was the perfect way to do it.
"Sir, her blood pressure is soaring," the technician said as he watched the monitors.
Stark was watching the monitor that showed the inside of the chamber. "Dangerous?"
"Not yet," the tech answered.
"How long before it begins to affect her?"
The tech shook his head. "It's different for everyone." He frowned at the screens he was watching. "Damn. Blood pressure dropping. Heart rate and respiration dropping as well."
"What's going on?" Stark was still watching the screen and saw nothing unusual happening. The girl was just lying there unmoving.
Everything bottomed out then, but the tech didn't move. "She's flat lined, sir."
"Hmmm. All right, get her out and bring her back. As soon as she's stable put her back in."
The tech pressed a button and instantly the technicians in the room below went to work. In seconds, they had her on the floor and were working on her. Stark waited impatiently for five minutes before being told she was indeed alive.
Once Alyx had calmed her panic, she realized there was one source of input they could not stop. Near as she could tell nothing could break that link she had with Darien. Distance weakened it, but it never actually disappeared. Forcing herself to relax she sought it out and followed it back to its source, where she encountered... pain... overriding all encompassing pain.
She remembered Darien being shot at, her trying to deflect the bullet away from his head, obviously she'd not done as well as she had hoped and he'd been hurt. Rather badly at that. Unable to help herself, she chose to do what she could to help him and sent every bit of energy she could, even at the risk of hurting herself. If she couldn't find a way out in the near future she was dead anyway.
She was brought back to herself with an idiot pounding on her chest and another pumping air into her. She wasn't sure whether or not to be happy about it. It did mean she'd just have to do this again if she couldn't free herself. She was very tired and was well on her way to a full blown overuse headache, but she was still aware enough to try to make an escape attempt. With a mental shove, all the fools hovering over her were tossed back and out of the way, allowing her to roll agiley and get to her feet. Reaching out with her mind, she found Stark.
*Let me go,* she snarled into his mind.
He kept his surprise contained. They had suspected many things about her, but it was still startling to have them confirmed. "I think not." His voice was being broadcast into the room below. "Put her back in the tank."
Stark was then treated to an impressive demonstration of her skills, but in the end another tranquilizer put her out and they got her locked back into the tank. "How is she?"
"She won't be out long. She can obviously adapt to the sedatives. This one will most likely not work again," the tech answered.
"I'm impressed. She'll be worth far more than Fawkes and will make a more than adequate replacement for Allianora." Stark looked over the room once more. "Keep her alive and keep me informed of the progress."
"Yes, sir," the technician said to him, still watching his monitors. It was only minutes before she awoke and after a moment of uncontrollable shaking, she began to thrash about and scream. She'd gone into a full-blown panic attack. The technician simply watched and smiled.
. . . . .
Claire came out through the double doors looking more than a little exhausted. Bobby didn't react at first, trying to wait patiently for her to tell him the news. Good or bad. She slumped into the chair beside him and tipped over against him. "He'll be all right."
Bobby let out the breath he hadn't even known he'd been holding. "How bad?" he asked quietly.
"Bad. At one point I was certain we were going to lose him, but something happened and... and he'll be okay." She yawned then. "He'll be in recovery for a while, but I can sneak you in if you want."
"Yeah. For a minute." Bobby pushed himself to his feet and then turned to help Claire stand. She led him down a maze of hallways and to the recovery room, which Fawkes had all to himself at the moment.
He stood next to the bed, looking down at his friend. He was trying to ignore all the tubes and monitors that were hooked to him, trying to ignore the large white bandage covering almost half of Darien's chest. Trying to ignore the smell of hospital and blood that was ever-present in the room.
Setting a hand on his partner's forearm, he spoke quietly, "You just get better. We'll find her. I swear it." He turned to Claire. "I have to go help Monroe. We don't have much time to find the kid."
She nodded. "I know. Call me if you need anything."
"You just worry about getting him well." Bobby gave her hand a quick squeeze and looked at Darien's still form one last time before gathering himself together and leaving the room. By the time he reached hallway, he recognized he was at a run that didn't stop until he was at the van in the parking lot. As he started it, he hoped like hell Monroe had made some headway on locating Stark.
. . . . .
When Bobby walked into Alex's office, she was growling and swearing at her computer. The damn thing was all screwed up thanks to her double and it was going to take her hours, if not days, to repair the damage.
"Everything okay, Monroe?"
"No," she snapped. "My double has completely mangled my computer. Some geek of a technician came by and drew a blood sample on the orders of the Keeper and wouldn't tell me why, and... and..." She trailed off looking at the expression on his face. "And I am being a callous idiot again. How is Fawkes?"
"He'll make it. Thanks for asking." He grabbed a chair and slid it over beside her. "Any luck?"
She shook her head. "I have Eberts looking for possibilities and he is going through all the information Silver sent. Apparently, she cleaned out almost their entire mainframe before they figured it out and disconnected. Some of it is encrypted, but he's working on it. They've tried interrogating my double, but she is resistant to most of the techniques." She leaned back in the chair and ran a tired hand across her face. Her arms hurt from the needles that had been stuck in them. The drugs were finally wearing off, leaving her with one hell of a headache, she knew she had told more than she should have, and possibly compromised several important missions, and two of her co-workers had been hurt, one way or another, rescuing her. "I'm sorry about your friends."
"You could give them… us a chance you know. We may have an unusual style, but it gets the job done." Hobbes tried to keep his voice neutral. She had made a point of keeping herself above everyone else here, including The Official when she could.
"It's not that simple, Hobbes," she said turning away. Nothing was ever simple when you were in the position she was, male or female. Attachments of any sort, even partners, had to be kept at a distance. Family had to be ignored. One's life had to become the job, else everyone could and would be in danger. Family and friends became nothing more than pawns to be used when they were known about. Not making friends when the world was filled with enemies was the only way. Or at least the only way she knew.
"Monroe... Alex, I understand. Thought that way myself, but this is a unique situation, in a unique work environment. The rules that you know, that you follow, don't really apply." She turned to say something but he held up his hand. "Just making an observation. Get a couple of hours of sleep. We can't do the kid any good if we're walking zombies." He got to his feet and made his way to the office door.
"Thanks, Bobby," Alex said quietly. She glanced at the clock. "Four hours?"
"Yeah, I'll be here." He shut the door to her office and made his way to the kid's. She wouldn't mind him crashing on her futon. It's why she put it in, or so she claimed. Grabbing a pillow and blanket from the storage beneath, he turned the sofa into a bed, pulled off his jacket, and kicked off his shoes. After a couple of minutes to get comfortable, he fell into an uneasy slumber. The image of Fawkes lying in the hospital bed, and the loss of Alyx creeping in to disturb him.
. . . . .
Over the next two days, the entire Agency was turned upside down. Everyone underwent testing to verify who they were and that they were not infected with the nanobots. Alex, Bobby, and Eberts worked on trying to narrow down potential locations that Chrysalis could have moved to, but every lead they chased down turned out to be a false one. Hobbes was getting desperate. Forty-eight hours had come and gone, but he refused to stop and, for once, The Official didn't argue with him. In fact, he encouraged him to continue looking.
Alive, dead, or cryo-preserved she had to be found.
They were headed out to visit Fawkes before running down some more leads. The Keeper had said there was a good chance he'd regain full consciousness today. He'd been in and out since the surgery and overall was recovering quite well. He still looked awful as far as Bobby was concerned, dead pale, and pitiful looking, especially with the way the nurses kept styling his hair.
They walked in as Claire was giving Darien a shot of counteragent. She had waited as long as she could before doing it. He needed to regain some strength and putting his body through the madness would probably adversely affect him, so when his monitor read only two green and his blood pressure began to rise signaling that his body was in more pain than could be accounted for by his injury, she decided to go ahead with the shot.
"How is he, Keepy?" Hobbes asked coming up to the side of the bed and looking down at his partner.
"Much better. He almost made sense this morning." She gave a weak smile. She had been living at the hospital for all intents and purposes. The Official wanted Agency personnel with Fawkes at all times, but Claire was the only doctor and therefore got stuck with the majority of the work. Once she was done with her examination, including checking on the bullet wound, Bobby urged her to sit and relax for a few minutes.
Alex leaned against the wall next to the window staring out at nothing. She felt bad for Fawkes, felt guilty for not finding Silver. Felt they were fools for getting involved, because when Fawkes finally woke up and realized she wasn't there they were going to have to tell him that she was most likely dead, and that was not going to help his recovery in the least.
After about thirty minutes of quiet conversation, Darien groaned and moved a hand to his head. "What the hell hit me?"
"A nine millimeter from a modified Glock," Bobby answered moving to his side.
Claire immediately went into doctor mode. Ran through the entire routine before speaking to him. "How do you feel?"
"Like I was shot." He shifted trying to sit up and Claire didn't stop him. It hurt like hell, but he got himself upright and looked about the room. "Alyx?"
"Yeah, Fawkes," Alex said from by the window and realized instantly that he meant Silver. "Sorry."
"Fawkes, they grabbed her," Bobby filled in. "We've been looking everywhere, but with no luck."
"Well, lets get moving. She can't have much time left." Darien tried to shift his legs off the bed, but both Claire and Bobby stopped him.
"Fawkes... Darien, it's been three days. She would have done it by now." Bobby tried to keep his voice calm, but knew that the emotions had seeped in. "I'm sorry. We're looking at recovery alone at this point."
Darien leaned back against the pillows in shock. "No. If she were dead I'd know it."
"Darien, we faked her death before and you didn't know. What makes you think this time is any different?" Claire said in a quiet voice.
Darien shook his head. What she said was true, but... "I can't believe that I wouldn't know." He turned to Bobby. "You don't believe she's dead."
Bobby just shook his head. "You know she will try, by any means. She has too much to lose. Especially to Chrysalis."
Darien closed his eyes. Not wanting to believe, even though he knew it was true.
"She's still alive," Alex said in a quiet voice.
Darien's eyes snapped open and he turned to look at her.
She pushed away from the window and walked over to the bed. "They wouldn't just allow her to die, would they?"
"No," Hobbes agreed, "at the very least she'd be worth studying."
"And a bonus if they could convert her through whatever means," Alex added. She didn't mean to sound callous, but they had to be made aware of the possibility. They might find themselves fighting against her weeks or months down the road because of brainwashing. Everyone could be broken, eventually. Her voice dropped as she turned away. "Besides, she has plenty to live for, to fight for. I can't see her giving up that easy."
Claire was nodding in agreement. "If the situation warranted it, I could see her holding off."
Hobbes nodded in agreement. "We still have to find her."
"What would break her?" Alex asked them.
"Jeez, Alex, did you have to start with that one?" Darien complained with a groan.
"She's got a point, Fawkes. It's pretty standard and the kid ain't easy to break." Hobbes patted his friend on the arm.
Claire thought about it, but wasn't entirely sure. Alyx was damn tough and resistant to most forms of interrogation, including drugs.
"Damn, there is one thing," Darien said, wishing he hadn't thought of it. "She's gets a little freaked when her senses are cut off, remember?"
"And how would they do that. Even if they did the sensory deprivation thing, her other abilities would still work," Hobbes said. "Right?"
Claire frowned. "Not necessarily. They could use inhibitors or..."
"Or what? Claire, don't leave us hanging here." Hobbes went over to her.
"When we were running some tests on her abilities we discovered that an electromagnetic field can disrupt her abilities," Claire answered. "We kept the information out of the system, but..."
"What do you mean?" Alex asked, not quite understanding.
"Alyx's abilities are based on energy and the one she's most comfortable with is electricity." Alex nodded at Claire to let her know she was keeping up. "An electromagnetic field at just the right frequency acts like a wall she can't get past, or, if it's in contact with her, shuts down her system."
"It can kill her?" Darien squeaked and Claire nodded.
"That's why we made no record of the discovery." Claire began to pace. "They could trap her in her own mind and if they shut off any other sensory input..."
"She'd go into a panic attack and then crash. She wouldn't be able to do anything. She'd be lost in her own mind," Darien finished. "Find her."
"We will, Darien. I promise," Alex said looking at him. "You get better, 'cause when we do, she's going to need you." Moving towards the door she called to Bobby, "Come on, we have work to do."
Bobby patted Darien on the back. "I'll stop by later if I can. Take care of him, Keepy."
"I will, Bobby." Claire watched them leave the room and then turned to Darien. "No," she said stopping his comment before he had a chance to say it aloud. "Today you will rest and eat. If you behave I'll let you out of the bed tomorrow."
Darien managed a small chuckle. She knew him so well at this point. "All right, but am I allowed to worry?"
"Yes. I will be as well."
. . . . .
Alex sat staring at her computer screen, hoping for a miracle at this point. They'd tried contacting Stark via the phone number they used originally, but it was no longer functioning. Eberts had come up empty on other locations in the area. He'd managed to track down a few others around the world, but they didn't do them a whole lot of good right now. He was truly apologetic about it. Even with his skills, the encryption that Chrysalis used was excellent and highly resistant to being broken.
"Damn it!" she swore, slamming her fist into the top of her desk. They were getting nowhere.
"Monroe, calm down. Getting all riled ain't gonna to help," Hobbes said from across the room. He was looking through the data printouts Eberts had handed to them. About two dozen other agents had gone through the Chimera building and gathered what other information they could, but Chrysalis had cleared out most everything by the time they'd been organized enough. They were past masters of bailing in a hurry. The one thing they did know was that there had been no facilities designed to work with a sensory deprivation chamber of any kind. With what he knew of the kid, the only kind he could see working was the water tank version. He'd done training in one of those and they were damn eerie for a normal person. If they had figured out the electromagnetic field thingy, the kid would be in a bad way. She wasn't a claustrophobe per se, but her body... craved sensory input.
"Hobbes... I'm getting a bit frustrated," she admitted. The afternoon was nearly gone and they were no closer to finding her. "Why did you eliminate Dionysus International?" she asked. For some reason her search parameters kept throwing that name back at her along with others, but that one showed up pretty consistently.
"The kid checked the place out, including the computer system. The place appeared to be legit. Why?" Hobbes got to his feet and walked over to her.
"It keeps showing back up when I run a search. Could she have missed it?" Alex wasn't accusing, sometimes even the best agents missed clues, and with Chrysalis anything, literally, was possible.
"I don't think so. She spotted the extra security down in the wine cellar and checked it out. Aside from wine and the modified temperature control system she didn't find anything unusual." Hobbes pulled a chair over and sat down thinking. "There are some substances she can't see, for lack of a better word since they register as such low energy. Lead is one of them, there are a few others as well."
"Can she still affect them, move them and such?" Alex asked him. She still didn't completely understand how Miss Silver's abilities worked.
"Like tossing a lead pipe?" Alex nodded. "Yeah, she just can't see them." He tapped a finger on the armrest. "You thinking that wine cellar might have been lined with something?"
"Maybe. I'm not sure what I'm getting at. How does she know what it is? Lead and the others?" Alex was trying to get somewhere with these questions she just wasn't quite sure where.
"She sees them as black... Damn that she would have noticed." A thought flickered through his mind. "Monroe, assume they know that an EM field affects her and that she would be put on a case involving them eventually..." he trailed off still trying to sort it out.
"Hobbes, if they truly know about her, even after all you guys have done to keep her a secret, she's screwed," Alex said honestly. She turned back to her computer. "I think we should check out Dionysus International a bit more closely. Specifically, that wine cellar of theirs."
"I think you might be right. I'll fill in the Chief. See what you can come up with to get us in. We'll have to do this without, Fawkes." Hobbes got to his feet and headed to the door of the room.
"Hobbes," Alex said, "we'll find her."
"Damn straight." Hobbes managed a grin. "Thanks for your help."
"No need. Move. If they do have her we don't have a lot of time." She watched as Bobby nodded and then left the room. Now, she just had to figure out a way to get them access to the building and the wine cellar without raising suspicion.
. . . . .
Darien had spent most of the afternoon dozing even though he wanted to be doing anything but sitting on his ass in a hospital. He had to admit he hurt like hell, but nowhere near as bad as he thought he would. Claire had mentioned that he was healing remarkably well, considering everything. She fully expected him to be transferred to the Lab Three at the Agency tomorrow. That just didn't thrill him at all, but it was better than being here. He disliked hospitals just on principle, and his last experience at this particular place was not one of his fonder memories. The sooner he was out of here the better.
Claire wandered in carrying a tray covered with food just after six in the evening. "You're awake, good." She set the tray down on the rolling table. "Do you mind if I join you for dinner?"
"A'course not. Any word?" He tried not to sound worried, but it was difficult. He had always known this could happen. Hell, it was almost inevitable in this line of work, but knowing it could happen and dealing with it were two different things he was learning.
Claire divvied the food up into what was his and what was hers and with a nudge, encouraged him to eat. He was juggling the fork with his left hand; his right was restrained across his chest to keep him from accidentally pulling out his stitches or doing anything else to damage himself.
"Bobby called about an hour ago. Said they were going the check out that wine place again," Claire answered after taking a bite of her food.
"Dionysus? Thought Alyx checked that and it came back clean?" Darien set down his fork and picked up the glass of water.
Claire shrugged. "I only know what I've been told."
"Ah yes, the ol' need to know. I hate that," he grumbled and pushed his food around a bit.
"Sometimes it is necessary. They probably don't want you to get your hopes up." Claire set a hand on his arm. "We are all worried." She thought for a moment. "Would you change anything if you knew this was coming? Not gotten as involved as you are?"
Darien shook his head. "I... I'd rather have had five minutes with her in my life than a lifetime without her," he said quietly. "It's weird, neither of us belong here, or want to be here, but without the Agency screwing with our lives we never would have met." He turned to look at her. "There are some things about this mess that I'm happy with. You and Hobbes are part of that."
Claire looked him in the eye, amazed at the sincerity she saw there. "Thank you, Darien. You've grown on me too." She smiled at him and he grinned back. "Now eat, or you'll be stuck here tomorrow."
"Yes, ma'am." He picked his fork back up and got to work on shoveling the mostly tasteless food before him. After a few minutes, he spoke up again. "Shouldn't you be there in case they do find her?"
"As far as I know, they are just checking out the place. I would hope they'd think to bring me along if they were going to attempt a rescue." Now he had her a bit concerned. Bobby might be worried that she was needed more for Darien than for Alyx at this point. "Bloody hell. Let me make a call." She got to her feet. "I'll be right back. You keep eating."
Darien watched as she left the room at a fast walk. He turned back to his food with a sigh. Hospital food was bad enough, government hospital food was worse. Now, if he could just get the weird images from his dream out of his mind, he'd be just fine. Well that, and figure out how to eat without his right hand. You'd figure his being rather dexterous he wouldn't have much trouble, but his coordination seemed to off visiting someone else today.
When Claire came back twenty minutes later, Darien had managed to eat the majority of his meal without making a complete mess. She looked more than a little agitated and was carrying his overnight bag.
"You need to get dressed, quickly," Claire said, moving the table out of the way and yanking off the covers.
"Ooookay. What's going on?" She was rather insistently moving him towards the bathroom.
"They found the place and the Official wants us there," Claire answered, practically shoving him in. "Do you need me to dress you?" she asked in response to his stunned expression.
"Uh, no." He swung the door shut and began to hurriedly change. He managed the pants and shoes all right, but when it came time to put on his shirt, he needed help and opened the door.
When she saw him, she understood his dilemma, between his arm being held in place and the pain every little movement caused he really needed the help. She was simply amazed at how well he was recovering. Normally, a person having gone through what he had wouldn't be up and around for another week, but here he was dressing pretty much on his own and not even complaining other than the occasional justified hiss of pain. For an instant she almost, almost understood why, but it flitted away quicker than she could grasp it. It had been annoying her for days, but given the choice between him recovering slowly versus making an astounding recovery she'd take the good side every time.
"Did the Official really want me along or is this your decision?" he asked her as she was buttoning his shirt for him.
"Mine," she admitted. "You are about the only person who can keep Alyx calm when she's out of it." She finished with his shirt and then helped put the restraint back on. "If they've done what we fear, she may have lost complete control. No shields, no control on her reactions. She'll be just as likely to injure friend as well as foe."
"And how do you think I can help?" She had knelt to tie his sneakers for him and didn't answer until she stood back up.
"Darien, the one thing I've noticed is that she always knows where you are. If you are there it might even help to bring her back." Claire looked over the room to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything. "I have to sign you out, I've got some gear to pick up, and then we'll meet the Agency teams."
She began to leave, but Darien's arm on her shoulder stopped her. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Now lets get moving."
. . . . .
When Hobbes and Alex pulled up out in front of Dionysus International just before they closed at five p.m., it was with an interesting set of credentials that Alex had managed to acquire and the guarantee of getting into the wine cellar to verify the existence of a particular bottle of wine for the gentleman they were claiming to represent.
As soon as they had walked in the front door they were greeted by a Mr. Kinkaid, to whom Alex had spoken earlier, and escorted several levels below ground. Mr. Kinkaid rattled on about the quality of their storage facility, including the advanced temperature control system they had installed, and the fact they stored wines for some very important people and well as having been used by Christie's auction house to verify the authenticity of wines before they went on the auction block.
Alex made all the right noises and Hobbes acted like himself. He was supposed to be her bodyguard after all. To be suspicious would expected, and Mr. Kinkaid made no commentary about his actions.
As Alex was escorted to see the particular bottle her employer had expressed interest in, Hobbes made his way around the room, examining it closely. The one admonishment from Mr. Kinkaid was to please not touch anything without him there. As Alyx had mentioned the other night, some of the bottles were extremely rare and very, very expensive. Hobbes grunted in acknowledgment and then made his way out of line of sight. He pulled a small item out of his pocket that Eberts had dug up for him. It was something the kid had come up with and had been useful before.
Holding it before him, he turned it on and began to search for any power lines in the walls or floor. What he discovered bothered him. The entire floor glowed with power, which didn't make any sense whatsoever. No lines. No delineation. Just a consistent low-power glow. When he checked the walls, the pretty lines that meant power cables of one sort or another appeared. Power for the security system, the lights, the outlets, phone and computer lines, just like it should be.
Wandering farther from the pair, he discovered one corner of the room where a whole lot of power was concentrated. A nice tight bundle of assorted cables went from floor to ceiling in one corner. With a little more searching, he found what could only be a hidden door behind a rack of wine. The wiring for the keypad was visible on the small screen hidden behind the wine rack.
"Mr. Thomas?" Mr. Kinkaid called out.
"Yeah," Hobbes said gruffly, as she hid the item back in his pocket and wandered back to the pair. "Just verifying your security."
"Ah, of course. Miss Brennan, perhaps I could show you a few more items your employer might be interested in?" Alex nodded to the man and they spent another fifteen minutes in the cellar. In the end, she told him that she would be quite pleased to tell her employer that he had exactly what they were looking for and that he would be sure to make a formal proposal in the near future. Mr. Kinkaid showed them out, to all appearances quite pleased with the way things had gone.
Alex said nothing to Hobbes until they were back in her Rover and well away from the building. "They are a front company, but I don't think they are directly involved with Chrysalis."
"Agreed. That back corner hides one big ass door. The power cables run from floor to ceiling and I couldn't read the floor. A complete wash out," Hobbes said to her.
"Like maybe they were generating an EM field?" Alex asked him.
"That was my thought. We're gonna need a full team for this." Hobbes was already thinking ahead. "That can't be the only entrance, unless the building was built after Chrysalis was already there."
Alex tapped the steering wheel with one finger as she drove back to the Agency. "Good point. We'll have to set up one team outside and see if we can't catch a few of them." She glanced over at him. "Tonight. We don't dare wait any longer."
"We'll work it. The Official will scream about overtime, but I don't really care." Hobbes was tired of dealing with Chrysalis and wanted a little payback for messing with his partners. "Good work, Monroe."
She snorted. "Like I could do anything else."
For second Hobbes thought she was serious then he caught her look and realized she was actually joking with him. He chuckled and felt the tension between them ease. "Good to know you're human, Monroe."
"I always have been, Hobbes," she said with a hint of a smile.
. . . . .
"Okay, Claire, give. What's got you so damn antsy?" Darien asked her as they drove to the Dionysus building. Claire was driving amazingly like Hobbes and that couldn't mean anything good.
It had taken longer than she had planned to get Darien released and gather together the items she wanted. She glanced at her watch. The Agency teams were incommunicado at this point. Just about to head into the building. "I spoke to Eberts. He partially broke the encryption and turned up some information that he passed along to me."
To Darien, Claire sounded like she was about to give him the worst news in the world. "Remember when Arnaud posed as Eberts?"
"Yeah, he was trying to steal the Quicksilver files to fix his little problem," Darien answered wondering what the hell this had to do with anything.
"Perhaps. Eberts found communications between Chrysalis and Arnaud." She glanced over at him and saw the anger spring to life on his face. "Near as he can tell Arnaud got the formula for the biosynthetic skin from them in exchange for information about the QS9300 project and..." she paused not to drag it out, but because she had to.
"What?" he asked, with more anger than anything else in his voice.
"He also gave them information about Alyx. They've known about her for months." Her voice was filled with anger and a hint of despair. "Arnaud knew more than enough about her for them to be more than prepared."
"God damn it!" Darien wanted to punch something, but a stabbing pain through his chest was more than enough to remind him that he was not running up to speed. "I hate him. Hasn't he done more than enough to both of us by now?"
"Darien, I understand, but you need to keep it together. Bobby and Alex are out of contact now and don't have this information." Claire kept her voice calm. He couldn't afford to get excited. She wasn't sure how his body would handle the necessary metabolic changes Quicksilvering would require. He could easily pass out cold or burst the stitches that were holding him together internally. She hadn't yet informed him exactly how badly he'd been hurt. He'd probably be rather surprised.
"I know. Damn it. I know." Darien got control back. The anger was still there, roiling below the surface. The last thing he needed right now was to get injured again, and screw this whole thing up. "I'll be fine."
"Well then one of us will be," Claire growled. There were just too many enemies and too little knowledge about them.
"Hey, you're supposed to be keeping me calm," Darien reminded, trying to lighten the mood. "I am the injured party here."
She managed a chuckle. "Neither you nor I should be out here, but we have to be. I just hope she's still with us. If they stuck her in a cryo-pod or... or..."
"She's not, Claire." Darien said quietly.
She just nodded. Not wanting to argue with him at the moment. For now, she would hold onto hope.
. . . . .
It was just after eight at night when the Agency teams were finally ready to investigate. Eberts was sitting in the back of the van running the kid's Destiny program and had confirmed he had control of the security for the main building, however he did not have control over anything below the level of the wine cellar. So, if there were actually anything down there, they would be on their own.
Monroe and Hobbes would go with the team infiltrating the building, while a second team watched outside to see if that theorized back door did exist. They had orders to capture any and all that appeared. They'd sort out who was who later.
When the go was given, Hobbes led the team to the rear door of the building and did what Eberts told him to do. The little geek might be annoying, but with him running the kid's program there should be few problems. The few security people they ran into were quickly and efficiently dealt with, and in a matter of minutes they were in the wine cellar and moving one very heavy wine rack out of the way. The door was hidden behind a false wall panel, but thanks to the scan Hobbes had done earlier, he knew exactly where to look for the hidden keypad.
"Eberts, we're at the door and I'm looking at the keypad. Any chance you can override?" Hobbes asked glancing over a Monroe who had joined him.
"No. It's on a separate system that I do not have access to," Eberts' tinny voice said in his ear.
"All right. Lets see if Fawkes has taught me anything." He pulled a modified PDA out of his pocket that had an odd looking attachment stuck to it. A thin piece of wire about three inches long. Sliding it into the slot that looked about the right size for one of those pins the Chrysalis mooks always wore, he immediately began to get information scrolling across the screen. He tapped a few keys and, in less than a minute, the door slid open.
"I'm impressed," Monroe said to him.
"Sometimes having a thief for a partner has its uses," Hobbes said to her with a hint of a smile.
The elevator was larger than they thought it would be and the entire team was able to fit inside. The exit for the car was on the opposite side of the one they had entered. Everyone had their weapons out and ready. By some miracle, there was no one on the other side of the door when it opened. Using a pretty standard leapfrog pattern, they made their way through the elaborate underground lab. And a lab it undoubtedly was.
They had five more minutes of luck that ended when a guy in a lab coat stepped out of a door while reading some printouts. He was rather surprised to see the unknown and unexpected men in the hallway. The two nearest went after him, but not fast enough to prevent him from setting off an alarm that was directly behind him.
Hobbes got to the guy, once he was under control. "Where is she?" he shouted at him.
The guy just shook his head. His eyes wide with fear.
Hobbes grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and slammed him into the wall. "Where the hell is she?"
Monroe came up then. "The sensory deprivation chamber. Where is it?"
The guy looked relieved. "Down the hall to the left. Big double doors at the end. Y... you can't miss it."
"Move!" Alex shouted to the group of agents.
They did and found the place easily enough. Technicians were flipping switches and pressing buttons like crazy, but stopped as soon as they saw the armed agents enter the room.
"Seal the doors," Hobbes said. He wanted the room secure. The other agents secured the four techs in the room while Hobbes and Monroe surveyed the situation. It was mere seconds before they found the monitor displaying the interior of the tank. It was designed to work in the dark and showed everything with and eerie green light. Alyx was huddled in one corner with her arms wrapped tightly about her knees. She was visibly shaking and looked as though she'd been through hell.
They were in the viewing room, looking out the angled glass they could see the room below, and in it was a pretty standard looking sensory deprivation tank. There were no techs in the room itself. At least none that he could see.
"Check it out," Monroe said to two agents, who moved to do so. "Hobbes, do you find it odd that no one has tried to break into this room?"
"Yeah. I noticed that myself." He turned to the techs. "Shut it down." They just kind of looked at one another. Choosing one pretty much at random he set a foot on the guy's chest and repeated his statement. "Shut it down."
"Can't, when the alarm went off, we had orders to lock the system," he said defiantly.
"Damn. Eberts," Hobbes said into his headset. "Eberts!"
. . . . .
Eberts and the other team were a little busy at that moment. They were dodging bullets that were being shot in large quantities at them by the Chrysalis personnel that had come boiling out of that no longer theoretical back door. In fact, it was one huge mother of a door. The entire side parking lot had split down the middle and men, cars, and then a helicopter had come out of the opening in the ground. The men laid down a covering fire allowing the cars as well as the helicopter more than time enough to get away.
Once they were clear, those laying covering fire scrambled for vehicles parked above ground and got the hell out of there.
Claire and Darien pulled up in time to see the helicopter appear out of the ground and then duck as bullets impacted the side of her SUV. When it was clear, and Claire had made sure Darien was no worse for wear, they made their way to the van where Eberts was shouting into his headset, and the second team of agents were restraining the couple of men they had caught.
"Eberts," Claire said to him. "Eberts!" She tugged on his arm to get his attention.
"Claire, one moment." He refocused back on the voice shouting in his ear. The connection was horrible because of the shielding Chrysalis had rigged for their lab. "Yes, Hobbes, backup is on the way. No, Stark got away. And how the hell were we supposed to stop a helicopter?" He paused listening. "Yes, a helicopter. Yes. Yes." He turned back to Claire and noticed Darien standing just behind her. "Fawkes, good to see you."
"Thanks. Think you can get us an escort down there?" Darien asked him.
"Claire?" Eberts turned to her.
"They found her, yes?" Eberts nodded. "Then we need to get down there now," she told him in no uncertain terms.
"All right. Parker," Eberts shouted at one of the agents, who came over. "I need you and two others to escort the Keeper and Agent Fawkes to Agents Hobbes and Monroe."
The raised his eyebrows, but nodded. Parker called over two others by name and headed for the underground helo pad and they made their way to where Hobbes and the other team had holed up. Once underground, communication became easier and Monroe directed them to their location with a few questions to the techs they had in the room with them.
Hobbes had the door open for them. Once Eberts had confirmed that the place had pretty much been cleared out except for the few they had caught, there was no real reason to keep themselves locked in the room. He was very surprised to see not just Claire, but Fawkes as well.
"Partner, what are you doing here?"
"Talk to the Keep. She said I'd be of some use." He looked about. "Where is she?"
Alex waved at the monitor. "Still inside. The thing is sealed and they," she glared at the techs sitting against one wall, "claim the system is locked."
Both Darien and Claire stared in dismay at the image on the screen. Darien had to close his eyes and take a deep breath. Then he turned to the men sitting on the floor. "What the hell did you do to her?"
"Our jobs," one snapped. "Standard reprogramming. Break 'em and remake 'em."
"Assholes," Alex cursed at them. "You have no idea what you've done. Shut the damn thing down."
"We can't," another yelled at her.
"The system is self-contained. Until Stark sends the codes she will stay in there," one of the others shouted.
"Monroe," Darien got her attention and she turned to look at him. "Can I borrow that?" He was pointing at her sidearm.
She raised an eyebrow at him, but said, "Sure." Pulling it free, she flicked off the safety and handed it to him butt first. "What are you going to do?"
"Oh, something." He held the gun uncomfortably in his left hand, but didn't let it stop him. Aiming as best he could, he fired at the control panel several times.
All of the techs began screaming for him to stop and had to be restrained by the agents; two forcefully. Alarms began to go off and the power switched to emergency lighting.
"God damned fool. She was in there for a reason," one of the techs screamed, the very real terror in his voice making it hit pre-pubescent notes.
None of them got the chance to ask why. They could hear the whine of some motor winding down and, at a guess, it was the power generator for the EM field in the room below. In another moment, something flickered and then dissipated from around the tank down below them.
One of the techs kept chanting 'oh god' over and over. The one with the big mouth hissed at them, "She's killed four people already. Do you really want to be next?"
"Killed? What did you..." Darien didn't get a chance to finish. The entire building shuddered and the lighting began to flicker and dim.
"You fools," Claire snarled at the men from Chrysalis. "You broke her control."
Just then the heavy metal door went flying off the tank to imbed itself in the far wall. Then the window before them was hit with something and shattered, spraying glass, so fine, it was nearly a powder, over all of them. They were all flung into the far wall of the room. Several of the agents and techs were knocked unconscious. Hobbes was stunned as he managed to cushion Darien's fall, keeping him from hitting the wall with full force.
They dragged themselves upright, leaning heavily on anything nearby and, after a moment to assess their condition, headed down into the room below. Looking into the tank, they found Alyx huddled against the back wall barely conscious.
"Is... is this what happened at the place she was originally at?" Darien asked in a barely audible voice. He had heard about the incident, but Alyx refused to talk about it.
Claire shook her head. "Increase the damage by a factor of ten." She looked at Alyx again and didn't like how pale she was. She must have been pushing against that field for hours to have built up that much energy. How much damage it had done to her was an unknown as of yet. "Bobby?"
"Yeah, I'll get her." He only felt the slightest bit of concern about doing this. "Hey, kid. It's just me, good ol' Bobby Hobbes. Try not to turn me into a pretty smear on the far wall, would ya?" Carefully he lifted her out of the water and got her to the doorway where one of the other agents helped maneuver her out and onto the floor at Claire's direction.
"Bobby, find me blankets, something, anything. I need to keep her warm," Claire ordered, as she began her exam. Her pulse was barely there, her breathing erratic, and her color pasty. Her arms were covered in a variety of puncture wounds, which suggested that they'd been drugging her with something, but until Claire could run some tests, they'd have no idea what.
What really worried Claire is that when she lifted her eyelids to check her eyes there was nothing but that eerie blue white glow that occurred when she was very angry or when she was pulling in far more power than she could handle, though sometimes it occurred when she was deep in concentration. Claire was really hoping it was that last one. She also could tell Alyx's shielding was gone, but she was picking up very little from her. "Darien, come here."
He came over and knelt down. He was having a hard time believing what he was seeing. "Is she alive?" he whispered the question, afraid to give voice to what they feared.
"Yes, Darien. Very much so." She chuckled. "Now talk to her. Let her know you're here and that she's safe."
Alex snorted. "Sorry, but in this line of work there is no such thing as safe."
Bobby came back then with his arms loaded with not blankets, but towels. He and Claire got to work on wrapping Alyx in them, while Darien supported her as best he could with only one arm. Alyx had started to shiver, though whether because she was cold or due to power overuse there was no way to tell here.
"Alex, could you get a car ready to transport her?" Claire requested. "Give us fifteen to make certain she's stable."
"Of course. Where to, Leavitt?" Alex asked, more than willing to help.
"No. The Agency," Claire answered.
Alex moved off. "On it."
"You sure you want her there?" Bobby asked her.
"No, but she can't go to Leavitt. If she lets fly again, how do we explain it?" Claire really needed to get her someplace with as few people as possible, but that wasn't easy in the middle of a city.
Darien brushed the wet hair off her face. "Come on, Alyx. Wake up for me."
Her eyes opened for an instant, but even he could tell she wasn't seeing anything. He looked at Claire who was not succeeding in keeping the worry off of her face. She was checking Alyx's pulse again and her frown deepened. "Bobby, we need to move her now."
The moment Bobby tried to move her away from Darien she reacted by causing every loose item in the room including the very heavy tank to lift into the air. They didn't move, but the threat was obvious.
Bobby swallowed hard and froze. "Fawkes, you better stay close. Hold her hand or something. I have a feeling that even in her condition her aim is just fine."
Darien moved along side them and said, "Alyx, it's just Bobby. Relax and let us help."
The items wavered for a moment and then dropped; the tank with enough force to crack it, spilling the water across the floor.
"I agree, kid." Bobby would like to see the thing melted down into its component parts if he was given the chance to choose. He held her a bit closer, thankful she was okay. For all that their beginning had been a bit rough, he did like her and wouldn't see her hurt for anything. He looked at Fawkes who was holding onto one of her hands as they hurriedly made their way out of the underground lab. "She'll be fine, Fawkes."
"I hope so, Bobby," was all he could manage.
. . . . .
It was late the next morning and Alex was sitting before her computer again. She'd been down to Lab Three to check on both Silver and Fawkes, but beyond that there wasn't much she could do. And really, considering they were nothing more than co-workers, she couldn't justify sitting down there and waiting like Hobbes was. So instead, she was in her office reviewing the disks Eberts had handed to her this morning. The information was still incomplete, but he'd made some real headway in breaking the encryption.
Turned out Chimera truly was a storage depot of sorts. Apparently, they were one of the Chrysalis databases for several of their larger projects including the body double one, they had stumbled upon. Information on those switched had been stored there, so they now had a rather long list of those swapped and by what means they had used to alter them. Those chosen to play the parts all began as a similar body type, from there a combination of plastic surgery, memory reprogramming, and use of the biosynthetic skin was used to create near perfect doubles. The biosynthetic skin was useful for doing things such as duplicating fingerprints, necessary for someone with high security issues.
Some, like her own double, had been completely reprogrammed based on gathered intel and then would be fed more once the original had been captured and drained for all their information. Some of the originals had been stored for various reasons. The others were used for the samples Chrysalis needed; blood, sperm, ova, tissue samples, and then they were eliminated. Serena's father was one of those that had been eliminated. She truly felt for the child, but had no idea how to help her.
The list of names included quite a few in power in the US government and she had a meeting with the Official in a couple of hours to try and figure out what they were going to do. If they revealed what they knew about Chrysalis, the Agency ran the risk of being shut down due to outside pressure. Most likely, they'd come up with some roundabout route to expose the impostors. It would be difficult to accomplish, but with two invisible agents of their own, far from impossible.
There was other data that was of specific interest to her. It was far from complete. Just a list of names - some with locations - and there was one name on that list she couldn't help but recognize. Teanaustaye.
It was at least a partial list of the camps Chrysalis was using to train those children they had arranged to breed and then stolen. And somewhere, at one of them, was her son.
Now... now she had a place to start, a chance, a real hope that she might be reunited with him.
. . . . .
Sound began to intrude first. Uncomfortably, painfully. Too loud. Too distorted to be clearly understood. Focus, control still had not returned. Things had to happen in their own time, in their own way. Slowly, so very slowly, the sounds resolved themselves into voices, though there remianed no real comprehension of what was being said or by whom.
"...ell, Keepy, how is she doing?"
"I wish I knew?" Followed by an audible sigh. "She's stable, but disconnected." The voice dropped becoming softer. "What they did was worse than Heilburg's deep programming."
"Damn. Have the guys we caught been of any help?" There was anger audible in that voice.
"They are so very proud of their technique. They were more than happy to explain what they did." The sound of movement was heard. "Drugs, sensory deprivation, and full reprogramming. It's effective."
"What went wrong? Why's the kid unconscious?" Concern and worry flowed from that voice.
"When they tried to... to... erase her, the control she needs went first. Her shields are gone, but for now, she's so lost that it doesn't matter. She's not unconscious. She's gone." Anger, frustration and despair could be heard/felt.
"What can we do?"
"I don't know. I don't dare give her inhibitors to protect her, it could just drive her deeper. The drugs they gave her are finally clearing out. I'm hoping she'll come back on her own and remember enough to regain control." The voice sounded so tired, so worried.
The voices began to fade as new input made itself known. Emotions, dozens, hundreds of them forcing their way in, causing discomfort, and causing pain. There was a reaction, an attempt to force the intruding sensations away. When it didn't work, when it couldn't be stopped, everything faded. The sounds, the sensations, the feelings. All of it was suddenly gone.
When next sensation returned it came with pain, everything hurt. From dull aches to serious pain and, for an instant, the temptation to run was there, but instead the sensation was grasped onto like a lifeline, a connection that was needed, but for what reason, was not yet known or understood.
Sound came back again. A familiar sound, accompanied by a familiar comforting presence. Slowly comprehension dawned, understanding of what was being said and that urge to run and hide vanished for the time being.
"...rows scooped out of the top of the chalk subsoil. Rabbits do not line their sleeping places and a hard, rocky floor is uncomfortable for those not accustomed to it. The holes in the bank, however, had runs of the usual bow shape, leading down onto the chalk and then curving up again into burrows with floor of trampled earth." The voice paused for a moment. "Come on, Alyx, it's supposed to be your turn to read. You picked this book."
She had? Everything happened with a suddenness that was painful. One moment there had been nothing but discomfort and the calm soothing voice and then... Then there was light and sound and voices - so many voices - and it hurt. It all hurt.
Darien flinched as he was suddenly shocked and then flooded with voices and emotions through the hand that he held. He was unable to pull away and ended up swearing. He was not used to having so much shoved into his head at once. "Alyx, wake up," he groaned at her.
Her eyes flew open and she stared about the room sightlessly for a long moment. She still wasn't all that sure what the hell was happening or where she was.
"Ground and center, damn it. Before you kill both of us," Darien snapped. He wasn't angry, but if she didn't get some control back soon they were going to be forced to drug her and Claire had insisted that she wanted to use that as the last resort.
"Ground and what?" her voice sounded odd and she was more than a little confused. His fear became foremost in her mind, fear of her. Somehow, she knew that shouldn't be. He wasn't supposed to afraid of her. She couldn't bear it if he was afraid of her. So caught up in her thoughts, her confusion, her guilt she began to interact with everything her mind could access.
The power in the building became very erratic and items in the room began to lift from their places.
Darien's head came up as Claire rushed into the room and stopped suddenly. "Darien?" She kept her voice calm, quiet. Alyx wasn't yet broadcasting to everyone and she wanted to keep it that way.
"She's back, sort of," he managed around the pain.
The name brought back more, reduced some of the confusion, cut through the noise that was crowding into her head. "D... Darien?"
"Come on, Alyx. Get back your control. Shield, please." The pain and fear were still there, but better controlled now.
She closed her eyes in confusion. Ground and center? Shield? What the hell was he talking about?
Alyx opened her eyes to look at the woman standing at the foot of her bed. "Pattern."
"Acknowledged," Alyx said and then relaxed completely.
All the items that had been floating in the air fell. Those that were breakable shattered. The lighting in the room returned to normal. Everything returned to how should be again.
Darien sighed in relief. The death grip she'd had on his hand loosened finally and she was no longer leaking everything to him. He had one hell of a headache, but he could deal with that. "Claire, I thought she got rid of that pattern thing?"
"She did." Claire began to check Alyx over. "Or rather our Alyx did. I'm not entirely sure who that was."
Hobbes burst in at that moment. "Is she okay? Everything in the entire building just went nuts."
"Yes, Bobby. Well enough, anyway." Claire finished her exam and took a seat in a nearby chair. "How are you, Darien?"
"Headache. But I'll live." He shook his head and looked at Alyx who suddenly opened her eyes again.
"Stupid programming," she muttered. "I'm going to have to purge it again."
"How are you feeling?" Claire asked her.
"Ummm. Give me a day to sort out some things and then ask me." She turned to Darien. "Sorry. I meant for Stark to miss you."
"I'm alive, somehow I don't think he intended me to be." He set the book aside and picked up her hand again. "You really have to stop doing things like that."
Alyx managed a small laugh. "I'll try."
"Bobby, Darien, why don't you two inform the Official of the good news," Claire suggested, going into doctor mode. "I need to really check her over, right now."
"Sure, Keepy." Bobby smiled. "Good to have you back, kid."
"Thanks, Bobby." She gave Darien's hand a squeeze.
He leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. "I'll stop back later."
Alyx watched the men leave and then turned to Claire. "Is Alex all right?"
"She's fine. In a meeting right now. Why?" Claire was gathering up some of the equipment she was going to need.
"Why? I didn't get my ass caught rescuing her for nothing I would hope," Alyx said to her, astonished that Claire didn't think she would care. Maybe it wasn't that Claire didn't think she'd care and more that she couldn't find it in herself to care about the woman. "Claire, how much did you like me when I first arrived?"
Surprised at the question Claire stopped what she was doing. "Like? It was more pity I felt than anything else."
"We worked things out though, right? Even though I was a major bitch at times. All attitude, didn't give a damn?" Alyx was carefully leading her.
"Of course we did." She paused then, thinking. "Oh. It's not quite the same though. She just came in and took over for all intents and purposes."
Alyx shook her head. "Doesn't matter. In her position, I would have done the same. I'm not asking you to like her or be her friend. Just don't write her off entirely yet."
Claire looked at Alyx. "You can see something we don't obviously."
Alyx shrugged with a grin. "Always. Now, lets get this done. I would like to get home."
Claire nodded and they got to work.
. . . . .
It wasn't until the following morning that Claire decreed Alyx was well enough to be turned loose. Even at that she wanted Alyx to be careful; who knew what aftereffects of the attempted reprogramming would linger about for months to come. Her shielding was stable and all of her abilities seemed to be working just fine. She'd also been checked to make sure she was not infected with the nanobots and pronounced clean.
Claire wanted her to take it easy for a couple of days. Not that hard for her to do, considering Darien was still on light duty and riding a desk when he wasn't sitting down in Lab Three with her. Alyx had no problems lazing about with Darien while he recovered, she knew that soon enough both of them would be back at work once again, hopefully dodging bullets instead of being hit with them this time.
She spent an hour in the Official's office discussing a few things brought up by the information they had acquired and the fact that they had secured two of Chrysalis' locations relatively undamaged. There was also the problem that Chrysalis now knew about her and her weaknesses. He was unsure what would happen the next time the Agency crossed paths with them. Alyx had a rather philosophical view about it. If the Official put her on a case involving Chrysalis, fine. Otherwise, she'd do her job just like always. When she left neither of them had been very satisfied with the situation, but there wasn't much either could do about it.
Then Alyx headed to Miss Monroe's office. Knocking on the door, she went in at the muffled, "Enter."
"Miss Silver. I'd heard you'd recovered. Good to see it." Alex only glanced up from her desk to look at her.
"Miss Monroe... Alex, can I speak to you for a moment?" Alyx wanted to make this gesture even if it got ignored.
Alex looked up at the younger looking woman and sighed. "Go ahead."
"I just wanted to thank you. Your willingness to help find me probably saved my life," Alyx said to her and was not surprised to see no visible reaction on her features. "I'm going to be taking a trip at the end of the week. I've made some arrangements for Serena's care and I need to see to it personally."
"And what does this have to do with me?" Alex kept her voice neutral. She was thankful someone was able to do something for the girl. The death of her father had hurt her deeply.
"Nothing, I suppose. When I get back, I'll be here for a while and I wanted to offer my help." Alyx made sure to keep any emotion out of her voice.
"Your help? For what?" Alex sounded confused.
"They found a list of other camps in the information I retrieved, didn't they?" Alex nodded. "I'm offering to help you search for your son. I know what it's like to be separated from your family, your children." Alyx stopped, noting the closed off look on her face. "Just something to consider. I've taken up enough of your time." Alyx turned and went back to the door. After opening it, she paused and looked back at Alex who was still watching her. "I think I'm going to like working with you."
When she was gone, Alex blinked in surprise and allowed herself a small smile. "I know I'm going to like working with you, Miss Silver." Then she turned back to the paperwork on her desk. Before her were requisition forms and potential travel plans to investigate the different camps. Travel plans for two.
"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art...It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival." This small truth was thought up by C.S. Lewis. Hobbes was faced with this truth when he found himself with far too much intelligence that any person should have. I think our newest member was beginning to learn it as well.