PART TWENTYTWO

It was midnight as Vince Carter pushed aside the curtains over the back sliding glass patio door of his house after hearing a light rapping noise. There stood a stocky black man in his early forties looking around him nervously. It was the very same man that worked at the PV Chemical Plant Recovery Area who phoned him earlier in the evening with the information that most of the FBI's contingent of agents had been pulled out.

With a satisfied grin, Vince unlocked and opened the door, stepping out on the concrete patio. "Carl ..." Vince said in recognition of the man, still dressed in his dark blue work jumpsuit. "Vince..." he responded in kind. Vince handed Carl an envelop which he quickly opened and closely examined it's contents. He counted off twenty one hundred dollar bills.

Carl Sanks first met Vince when they served in the Navy Seals together, and got a job on Vince's security force at PV Chemical when he was named Head of Security there. Carl remained a trusted inside man for him even after Vince was fired by Danielle Atron. Once, right after Vince's dismissal, Carl left the evil CEO's office unlocked so that David Watt could steal Vince's records for him. Though the plan failed, the ex-Seal still had trusted contacts in Paradise Valley. A little 'monetary' encouragement once in a while didn't hurt either, especially since the plant had been destroyed and many people in Paradise Valley were out of work because of it. Vince, of course, played on that weakness like a pro.

"Thanks ..." he said gratefully as he closed the envelop and stuffed it in an inside pocket of his coveralls. "I appreciate the information" Vince replied. "But I need another favor". Carl didn't look the least bit surprised or offended. "Sure, whatever I can do for you Vince". Carl Sanks was about as underhanded as they came, and that's why he was such good friends with Vince. When it came to his former security force at the plant, Vince was very harsh and cruel in his treatment of them, but there was that few he always treated right. Those were the men he hired which he knew from the Navy Seals that would honor the 'military code'. They were as ruthless as he was, and he knew they could be trusted.

"So, the evidence repository at the plant is closed up and Gino is gone for the night?" Vince inquired. "Tight as a drum until Monday morning" Carl answered steadily. "Only a pair of FDA amateurs Gino left behind to look over the place".

"As you already know, I'm under surveillance by the FBI and I've been holed up here lying low for the last couple of days ....". Carl nodded understandingly. "But I have to act on the info you gave me tonight, or I might not get another chance. This has to be executed perfectly".

"Are you sure you don't want me to do this for you?" Carl asked.

"No, I need your eyes and ears on the inside where I can keep track of Gino, but I appreciate the offer".

"O.k. then, I'll be waiting for your call in the next few minutes" Carl assured, reaching up and patting Vince on the shoulder. "Just like the good 'ole days, huh?".

"Just like the good 'ole days..." Vince repeated, " ...and remember, if this goes off without a hitch, there's some more greenbacks in it for you. Let's get hopping".

------------------------------------------------------

Ten minutes later, Agent Tim Black was sitting in his car keeping a casual watch on Vince's house. His attention was aroused when he saw the electric garage door suddenly begin to rise, and the ex-PV Head of Security backing his jeep down the driveway. He pulled out onto the street and began to drive in the opposite direction. Agent Black cranked up his car to follow, but never saw the old pickup truck with it's headlights off racing across the intersection towards him until it was too late.

The truck's loud engine alerted him at the last second, and he dove across the front seat as it slammed into the driver's side of his black sedan. The truck's large, thick, welded steel bumper caved in the side of the agent's car, shoving it up onto the curb by and nearly rolling it. With a loud creak, the driver side door of the truck swung open.

Out of the cab leapt a man wearing a ski mask holding a bottle of liquor, and with a quick inspection, he noted there was no movement in the car. Almost the entire driver's side of the car was collapsed. He neatly turned and began pouring the liquor all over the bench seat of the truck, discarding the near-empty bottle onto the pavement near the smashed sedan. The man raced across the intersection to another pickup truck which was idling one hundred feet down the adjacent street, jumped in, put it in gear, and sped off. As he did, house lights all around began to turn on.

He drove off and didn't turn on his headlights until he turned the corner. After he did, he pulled his ski mask off. It was Carl Sanks. "Yep, just like 'ole times ..." he chuckled as he drove off into the night.

------------------------------------------------

Fifteen minutes later, Grace Lasky was stunned as she drove up to the accident scene of her fellow agent's car, which was surrounded by several squad cars and an ambulance, their emergency lights illuminating the entire street. A small crowd of local residents dressed in bathrobes and long coats lined the sidewalk. "Oh my God ....." she said, her mouth agape.

----------------------------------------------------

The early morning light of a cold Paradise Valley Sunday shone through the large bedroom window above the beds of Alex and Annie Mack. The warm, bright rays danced on Alex's eyelids long enough to waken her and cause her to roll over and bury herself further underneath the covers to escape the light. She didn't feel like getting out of bed. It was cold outside and she was warm and snuggled under the covers, and after yesterday's great exertions, the last thing she wanted to do was get up.

Annie was awoken not so much by the sunlight, but by her little sister's restlessness. She slowly sat up in her bed to examine Alex closely. After everyone left the night before, including Grace Lasky, Ray helped carry Alex upstairs and then Annie got her dressed and into bed when Ray went home.

She was so worried about Alex. Yesterday, her powers seemed to increase by leaps and bounds. Telepathy, flying, and even morphing while still remaining in human form. She knew Alex wasn't going to be happy when she began the tests later this morning, but Annie had to know what was going on with her.

Then, there was Agent Grace Lasky of the FBI who Alex exposed herself and her newly-returned powers to. Alex assured Annie that Grace was not an enemy, but it still worried her. At least Grace offered to assist their group in finding out if they could link Vince Carter to the bombing of Dave's trailer. It made perfect sense, that the unstable former Head of Security of PV Chemical would do something like that.

"Alex?" asked Annie softly. "Everything o.k.? You alright?".

Alex mumbled something incoherently from under the covers. "Typical Alex" Annie thought. "I'm fine Annie" she finally replied, her voice muffled and sleepy. "Go back to sleep ...". Annie glanced at the clock. It was already ten o'clock.

"Alex, you have to get up. Mom and dad will be back this afternoon and you know I have to run tests on you after everything that happened yesterday. Anyway, after all the exertion you had, I want to make sure I get a big breakfast into you". Alex moaned. "I'm not getting up ....".

"You don't have a choice Alex" Annie insisted. "You can either get a good breakfast in you before I run the tests, or I can run them now right here in the bedroom". Alex slowly pulled the covers back from her head and looked at her older sister. "Annie, is it really necessary to poke and prod me all day? I mean, you yourself said that my powers are going to be a lot stronger since they returned".

"I know Alex, but running tests on you is the only way I know that we can be sure you're alright" Annie preached. "Geez Louise ..." she complained, pushing away her covers and sitting up on the edge of her bed, pausing to stare across at Annie.

Alex's eyes suddenly brightened and a slight smile formed on her lips. "What?" asked Annie, curious. Alex bolted out of the bed and looked out the window. Annie swept back her covers and joined her just in time to see Brad Patterson cycle by on his ten speed bike.

"Something I should know about?" she asked Alex, assuming she must have somehow sensed Brad passing by. "Oh, I don't know. Maybe ...." Alex said with an almost dreamy quality to her voice. The boy cast a glance at the Mack house as he passed. "You like Brad Patterson don't you? So, did you sense him riding by with your powers?". Alex rolled her eyes. "No Annie. Brad always rides by at this time on Sunday mornings. Not everything has to be related to my powers you know". Annie blushed, Alex sensing her brief embarrassment. "He's cute" added Annie.

"Too bad he's afraid of me ....". Annie remembered Alex explaining what happened three days ago when Brad nearly ran her down on the front walk while making his daily rounds. She gazed out the window at the partly cloudy California sky. "Annie, do you think I'll ever have a normal relationship again like I did with Hunter? Now, the guy I like .... at least I think I like him, may be afraid of me because I had ....". Alex paused mid-sentence to correct herself, " ..... 'have', super powers".

The two sisters turned to gather their robes and made their way into the bathroom. Annie couldn't help but be amazed. After everything that happened yesterday, after all the incredible new powers Alex discovered she had, the only thing on her mind at the moment was what a cute boy from down the street might think of her. "So, are you saying that you would you give them up again?" she prodded. She waited patiently for a reply.

"My powers?" Alex said aghast as she stepped up to the sink and retrieved their toothbrushes from the wall mount above the sink, handing Annie's to her. Annie reached across and picked up the toothpaste and squeezed some onto her toothbrush, then offered the tube to Alex.

"Yes your powers. What else would I mean?" Annie emphasized, beginning to brush, speaking through a mouth full of toothpaste. "Are you suggesting that you would give them up again just to be normal?". Alex also began to brush her teeth as Annie listened for an answer. She noticed her older sister peeking at her reflection in the mirror over the sink. Alex rolled her eyes and paused.

"After what I went through when I thought I lost them forever before? No way!" Alex insisted, reaching for a hand towel and wiping away the suds from her mouth. "It would be like asking me to cut my right arm off Annie! They're ..... they're a part of me, a part of who I am". Annie said nothing and just listened to her sister express her feelings. "Anyway, you said they're permanent now, and so if I meet someone that I really like, then ..... then they'll just have to accept me for who I am". With a smile, Annie gave her sister a hug. Alex was perplexed. "What? You're getting toothpaste all over me!" Alex demanded with a confused giggle, careful not to do any mind reading without her sister's consent.

Annie stepped back, took the hand towel from Alex, and wiped her mouth. She dabbed at the shoulder of Alex's robe where she smeared some suds and also used it to clean several strands of Alex's hair that had toothpaste on them too. "Sorry about that Alex" she apologized. "But I just want you to know that I'm very proud of you".

Alex's eyes filled with guilt and she quickly turned and walked out of the bathroom. Annie followed. "Are you still proud of me after I pushed you down with my telekinesis last night? How about exposing myself to Grace? I'm sure that was a big confidence-booster". They entered the hall, and descended the stairs into the den, turning into the kitchen. "Alex, sisters have fights. It's not the first time we've had one" she pointed out.

"Yeah, but most sisters don't have genetically altered freaks like me..." Alex pointed out sarcastically, turning on the kitchen light with a thought to emphasize her point. Annie looked upwards as the light clicked on, but dismissed it. She stepped up to Alex and took her by both shoulders.

"Alex, I don't ever want to here you talk like that again" she said with a stern look. "Your aren't a 'freak', you're a human being, and my little sister who I love very much". Alex's eyes trailed off, looking downward and even more guiltily. Annie still had hold of her shoulders, and gently shook her for effect, stooping her head down and catching her little sister's gaze. Alex's big, sad eyes slowly looked upwards. "I'm sorry Annie. I, I didn't mean to push you down .....".

"I know you didn't Alex" Annie interrupted with a reassuring smile. "I know you feel guilty about what you did last night, but there's no reason to keep punishing yourself about it. Anyway, it was as much my fault as it was your's. You've grown so powerful over the last week and I should have known that arguing with you was the wrong thing to do. The emotions I stirred up caused your powers to react without your meaning them to".

"That isn't good enough for me" Alex added, turning away from Annie and opening the refrigerator to peer inside, still unable to face her sister directly. "You were right that I have to be more conscious about using my powers", she admitted as she scanned the interior of the fridge. "I've been so wrapped up in the excitement about their returning that I was totally ignoring everything you were trying to warn me about. I've got to realize how powerful I am and that I could accidentally hurt someone, or even myself". Annie rolled her eyes and placed her hands on each side of Alex's face, pulling her away from the fridge.

Alex's eyes opened widely in surprise as her sister tugged her towards her, kissed her affectionately on the forehead, and then hugged her tightly. "Alex" said Annie gently. "I never said it was going to be easy, but what you just said is a very good indicator that you're going to do just fine". Annie released her and held her at arm's length again. "... But just like when you had the powers before, there are going to be times when you're going to face obstacles and this is just another one of them. Your powers are permanent now, and there's no changing that. But that will never change the fact that you're my little sister who I love very much, and have complete confidence in to make the right decisions".

"You, you really mean that?" Alex asked sheepishly. "Alex, you know I mean that" Annie countered. "Now, how about taking some eggs and bacon out of the fridge and let's make some breakfast, o.k.?".

-------------------------------------------------------------

Forty minutes later, after a lazy, late Sunday breakfast, Alex and Annie were enjoying some of the best time they've ever shared just between themselves in a long time. Alex always liked having Robyn Russo or Nicole Wilson over to chat "girl stuff" with, but quality time like this with her older sister Annie was what she enjoyed the most. Nothing could replace times like these, where there was no one else in the house except her and her sister sharing everything with each other.

But just as the Mack sisters thought this time could never end, there came a loud knock at the kitchen door. Alex got up and answered the door and was surprised to see Grace Lasky standing there, a look of desperation on her face.

"Grace?" Alex asked, startled to see the FBI agent had returned. "What's going on?".

"Alex" Grace said in a short breath. "we've got trouble".

-------------------------------------------------------------------