PART TWENTYSIX

Vince Carter quietly closed the back door of the Mack's garage behind him, turned, and casually made his way down the front sidewalk towards the curb. He was wearing grease-covered, dark blue overalls with the name 'Jack's Plumbing' emblazened in large white letters on the back, and had his face disguised by a fake beard and horned-rim glasses.

Thirty minutes ago, while parked nearby in a borrowed van, he called the Mack house on his cell phone to see if anyone was home, and George Mack's oldest daughter Annie answered. Hanging up, he thought of leaving and waiting to conduct his 'business' another day. He wondered why the girl was not back at college by now, as nobody should have been home. Little did he know Annie had taken a stay from M.I.T. until next semester so she could be with her little sister Alex.

Barbara Mack was attending Central University twenty miles away in Pinewood, and a little digging told him that George Mack started work today at Sedgewick Chemical in Pittsville Gardens. The youngest Mack daughter, Alex, who he despised the most because she was the GC-161 Kid he sought for so long and could never find, was not due home from school for over an hour.

Cranking up his van to leave, he was surprised to see Annie Mack making her way across the street at the end of the block on a ten speed bike, heading into town. It didn't take long for Vince to seize the opportunity, and he quickly drove to the Mack house. Parking a little ways down the curb from their residence acting like a service-man innocently trying to find an address for any prying eyes, Vince made his way to the rear garage door of the Mack's garage, jimmied the lock, and entered.

With his 'job' inside completed now, half an hour later, Vince got into his van just as Annie Mack suddenly passed by on her bike, swerving into the driveway of her house with two small plastic bags of groceries slung over the handle bars. He sighed in relief at the close call, but couldn't believe his eyes at what he saw next.

A dark Ford Taurus sedan arriving from the other direction pulling into the Mack driveway, the very car owned by FBI Agent Grace Lasky! He watched Grace get out of the car and walk towards Annie Mack, who saw her pull in. The two exchanged words then walked into the garage through the back door. Vince's mind raced, but he only could only assume Grace was conducting official FBI business by being here.

He knew the FBI suspected him of bombing Dave's trailer, the wreck that hospitalized Grace's partner, and the burning down of Gino's evidence storage facility at the old PV Chemical Plant; questioning the Macks only made sense if she was conducting an investigation.

But it seemed a little suspicious that she would show up here after their encounter this morning when she and Gino Lawless came by his house to question him on the wreck and the fire at the old plant. Using the age-old tactic of 'divide and conquer', it didn't take long for Vince to reveal to Gino that he and Grace were once associates together in a plot to expose Alex Mack to Danielle Atron. Gino went ballistic as Vince expected, and he knew the agent's days with the FBI were numbered.

Yet, the idea that Grace was secretly working with the Mack sisters and their friends to expose him never crossed his mind.

Vince paused for a moment to stare at the closed door through which the girls just entered the garage. "Two birds with one stone" he hissed. "It just doesn't get any better than this". With an evil, satisfied sneer, Vince cranked up his van and slowly drove off.

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

"Just what do you think you're trying to prove Alex Mack?!" demanded Libby Flanders, grabbing Alex by the arm and swinging her around to face her. After seeing her kiss Brad Patterson in the school hallway moments before, she followed Alex outside and all the way down the sidewalk half a block from the school. Robyn, Nicole, Louis, and Ray were not with her as they decided to go to the Halflife Diner for cheese fries while Alex opted to head home after her experience in the school hall. Having the emotions of others control how she acted unnerved her, and she thought it would be best to go home and talk to Annie about it.

Alex was caught completely unaware by the sudden assault. Standing with her mouth agape, Libby let go of her arm and stepped closer, almost nose to nose.

"Nothing to say freak?" accused Libby. "Is your tongue made out of 'liquid' just like your spine?". Libby's words cut deep into Alex. But unknown to Libby, by physically touching her rival, Alex had begun absorbing her emotions of hate and anger. Alex was desperately trying to control the feelings welling up inside her but knew she was close to losing the battle. She was in danger of lashing out in retaliation against Libby with her powers.

"Why don't you back off Libby?" challenged another girl's voice from behind them. Alex couldn't believe her eyes as Libby spun to see who it was. Before her with an angry scowl on her face, stood Kelly Phillips, one of the prettiest and most popular girls in school. Kelly leaned into Libby's face. "Don't you have anything better to do with your time than pushing people's buttons?". Libby didn't know what to say, intimidated by the junior's appearance. Composing herself quickly, she turned and walked around Alex, offering a final threat. "This isn't over yet Alex...".

With an urgent sense of relief, Alex felt the intense emotions within her begin to ebb as Kelly's expression softened and locked eyes with her. She placed her hand on Alex's shoulder. "Alex, are you alright?". "Uh yeah, I am now Kelly. Thanks" stuttered Alex. "Are you sure? You seem a little shaken up".

"No, really Kelly, I'm fine. Libby just caught me off guard is all" assured Alex. Of all the people Alex knew in her history in high school, Kelly Phillips was the most perplexing. Alex met Kelly on her first day of eigth grade at Danielle Atron Junior High, but the new girl took an instant dislike for her when she realized Alex had feelings for one of the popular boys in school that she had her own eye on, Scott Green. For the next two years, Kelly made Alex's life at school nothing short of difficult whenever given the chance, but during this past vacation when both girls were counselors at summer camp, they found a common ground between them.

Both of them wound up getting lost in the woods and chased up a tree by a bear until Alex's father came to the rescue. Later that evening, while telling their younger charges the story of the bear chasing them, Alex and Kelly established a fledgling friendship which continued to grow stronger to this day.

"I can't believe that girl" Kelly said, watching Libby turn the corner in the distance and disappear. "I saw her following you after your friends left so I decided to follow her too. I hope you didn't mind". "Not at all" answered Alex positively.

Kelly paused for a moment then began again. "I heard what happened between you and Hunter, and I just wanted you to know that I'm really sorry about that".

Alex offered a slight smile. "I know, and thanks. But that's all over now and maybe it's for the best". Kelly offered her patented beauty contest smile and gave Alex a polite wave. "Well, I better get going. Maybe I'll give you a call soon, o.k.?"

"Sure, and thanks again Kelly" smiled Alex in return. Without another word, Kelly turned to head back to the school parking lot where her car was parked. Alex stifled a laugh at Kelly's somewhat snooty demeanor, but she knew the girl was honestly trying her best to be friends so she accepted there were some things about certain people that would never change.

Alex turned to resume her walk home, but another thought crossed her mind. She felt exhilarated and didn't feel like walking as any normal human being could do. Looking around her to make sure no one noticed, Alex stepped through a small gap in a hedge of tall, thick bushes which bordered the sidewalk for the remainder of the block. Once concealed she began to concentrate, and she felt a familiar warm tingling deep down in the middle of her torso and in her extremities as her body transformed into a silver, gelatinous ooze. In seconds, Alex's form collapsed onto itself and puddled on the ground. She quickly sloshed along the interior of the hedge to the end of the block, where she emerged onto the sidewalk just long enough to cross it and slink down into a sewer drain.

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

Libby Flanders made her way along the sidewalk on her way home, fuming about Kelly Phillips' intervention in her confrontation with Alex. She utterly hated Hunter's pretty, blond haired ex-girlfriend and she never intended to let Alex Mack live down humiliating her three years ago in Junior High, no matter how many others interfered on her behalf. It made her even angrier that Alex had so many friends who always seemed to be around to thwart her every time she attempted to confront her!

Still in her own little world, Libby blindly turned the corner only to be surprised by girl standing in her path. Letting out a quiet yelp of surprise, Libby managed to stop before colliding with her.

"Hello Libby" said the girl in a husky voice, a hateful grin on her face. Libby took a step back to take a look at the imposing girl. "Who are you?" she asked, slightly intimidated by the girl's size.

"My name is Amy Jo Rollings, but everyone just calls me Jo" she answered calmly. "Yeah? Well how do you know me?" Libby snapped back. "I've been watching you lately..." Jo answered. " ...and I think you and I have a lot in common, mainly a certain person named Alex Mack".

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

The sewers beneath Rivernut Avenue were pitch-black dark unless you neared an open drain above where the light shone in, but this didn't deter Alex Mack in her morphed state. In this form, she enjoyed a highly-evolved sense of direction and everything around her. Where human eyes could not see in this darkness, Alex's morphed vision actually allowed her to see in an eerie, panoramic view similar to what a soldier sees through night vision goggles.

Of all her powers, she thought morphing was the best one. She felt like she could do anything while morphed, and in a sense, she could. To be able to shape-shift at will was something she wouldn't trade for anything. Since Annie said her powers had grown so much stronger, she wondered just how much more powerful this ability would get. She'd already done some amazing new things with her morphing power in the past week.

Passing through underground pipes, she could 'hear' the traffic on the street above and people talking in their houses when she passed through their drain systems. One sense she didn't have while morphed was smell, and Alex was thankful she couldn't get a whiff of some of the disgusting and scary things she passed by while traveling underground. Usually, she bypassed sewage pipes and stuck to run-off drains, but it goes without saying there was always something disgusting she encountered.

She remembered once when she was forced to morph down a toilet in the girls' bathroom at school to avoid being caught skipping detention by one of her teachers. "Yuck" she thought, recalling that slimy memory. Luckily for her, none of the odors or debris in underground pipes ever stuck to her morphed form, as she just slid by everything like a figure skater on ice. When she reformed, she never had traces of anything on her that wasn't there before she morphed. "If smells and all that yucky stuff stuck to me..." she considered with a morphed grin. "Then I would have stunk up the entire school after morphing down that toilet".

Clearing her mind, Alex concentrated on where she was and where she was going, and her uncanny sense of direction immediately kicked in. She was under the street directly in front of her house, so she took a left turn into a smaller pipe which led onto her home's property. Nothing difficult for the liquified Alex Mack, as she just shape-shifted herself from a puddle-shape into a thinner, snake-like form the diameter of a baseball and slithered easily into the pipe.

Underneath the front porch, she stopped as she reached her preferred route into the house; the pipe that led to the run-off drain in floor of the garage. With a thought, she instantly shrank her snake-form down, constricting to the diameter of a quarter, and entered the pipe. In seconds, she reached the grated covering of the garage drain, but paused to reach out with her senses to scan the room before entering and reforming.

She sensed Annie right away, as she was familiar to the 'vibes' her morphed form got from her older sister, but she was unsure for a moment who the other one was. Alex concentrated on the person. "Grace Lasky" she confirmed. Even without seeing people, once Alex morphed with someone or was in close proximity to them when she was liquified, she could identify people in her ooze-state much like an animal did by smell. Since she sneak-attacked Grace two nights ago, she had a 'reading' stored away on her and was able to verify who she was.

But as Alex slithered upwards towards the covering to exit the drain and transform into human shape again, something else suddenly alerted her senses.

'Click ... click ...click'. It was a sound she'd never heard coming from the garage before. She knew Annie and Grace above could not hear with it human ears, but Alex could with her enhanced morph-senses. After years of morphing throughout the house, Alex knew every single sound it made and everything around it, and in it.

She even knew about the small field mouse that lived in the bushes in the back yard next to the patio. Nothing in the immediate area escaped her detection in this form, not even this faintest of clicking noises.

She zeroed in on the noise with her senses. It was coming from near the bottom of the hot water heater in the back corner of the garage, near where the copper natural gas line attached to it. It was a small rectangular box about the size of a eye-glasses case, and it was ticking.

"Oh my God!" she gurgled out loud.

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