PART TWENTYEIGHT

Tuesday morning at Danielle Atron High went by without incident, but Alex and her friends remained wary after Vince's foiled bomb attack on the Mack house the afternoon before, especially since Vince had to realize by now he failed.

"And what are we supposed to do about it?" Alex thought to herself as she walked along the corridor with Robyn and Nicole towards fifth period class. "Run to the local police and tell them my GC-161 spawned abilities told me in psychic visions that Vince Carter tried to blow Dave Watt and my family up?".

She knew they couldn't count on the FBI anymore because Grace believed the Field Director was somehow involved in all of this. When Grace told them no police department would question her former boss, it all seemed so hopeless, and going to the police would just make them that much more of a target. It wasn't easy to tell her friends about what happened yesterday, because she worried what sort of affect it would have on them, but Alex emphasized that they couldn't count on anyone now except themselves and their own ingenuity.

But when she informed them this morning to meet Annie and Grace at Wayne's Wigwam after school to discuss what they planned to do, Alex was truly impressed with their eagerness to stick by her, even though the odds seemed to be impossible ones. The only possible problem Alex could detect was Robyn, who appeared to be clearly shaken that they intended to take the initiative against Vince and his mysterious benefactors.

Alex was walking on the outside of Robyn and Nicole, near the middle of the hallway, and Nicole noticed her quiet revery. "You're awfully quiet over there Alex. Penny for your thoughts?". Alex cocked her head, realizing she'd been distracted.

"Oh, sorry guys..." she apologized, returning to reality. "I guess I'm just thinking about our meeting with Annie and Grace after school". Nicole offered a shaky, uncertain smile. "Can't say that I blame you, but wouldn't they tell you anything?".

"Nope, nothing, and it wouldn't have been right to, well, you know, 'eavesdrop' in my own way, y'know? I was kinda tempted to, but I didn't" Alex pointed out. " I'm not really sure if they had it figured out either, but they probably do by now".

"I think this whole idea of trying to take these powerful people on is completely foolhearty" Robyn interrupted sharply. "We're in way over our heads, and we're going to get caught and be in more trouble than we can possibly imagine".

"There isn't any other way Robyn" argued Nicole. "If we're going to put a stop to all of this, and also protect Alex's secret in the process, it's the only way". Alex didn't say anything, because a feeling of guilt came over her about having to involve her friends in this, but what else could she do? It was them against Grace's former FBI Director as well as Vince.

Robyn shrugged in defeat at Nicole. "This is going to be the end of us all, you know that don't you?" she added.

Alex shuddered. "Robyn, please..." she pleaded softly, sensing the powerful anxiety emitting from Robyn. Her friend's doomsday attitude was beginning to overwhelm her emotions. She could feel the familiar warm flush beginning to overcome her, and Alex knew she was only seconds from glowing a bright, golden color, exposing her to everyone in the hallway. As they passed the bathrooms, Alex surprised Robyn and Nicole by darting inside the girl's room.

Inside, washing her hands at the sink, was Beth Gaskin, a pretty brown-haired girl Alex had known for years who lived in the neighborhood adjacent to her own. When Alex was fourteen, one of Vince's operatives at Atron Junior High started a rumor that the "GC-161 Kid" had been caught and was being held in the hyperberic chamber in PV Chemical's main labs.

When Louis Driscoll put the idea in their minds that the 'kid' was Beth Gaskin because she had already missed a couple of days of school, Alex and Ray decided to investigate the plant and make sure Beth was not being held hostage there. After Alex morphed into the plant, it wasn't long before she realized it was all an elaborate plot by Vince to catch the real 'kid', but luckily, they managed to avoid being caught and humiliating Vince in front of Ms. Atron yet again. As for Beth, she'd been out of town with her parents.

"Hey Alex! How's it going?" Beth addressed her sweetly. Alex felt the glow just below her skin about to surface. "Uh, hi Beth!" she said, returning a fake smile. Alex hid her next expression, one of desperation, and quickly ducked inside a stall to her left, closed the door, and locked it.

She placed the lid down on the toilet and sat down, trying to cover as much of her skin as possible as it began to glow brightly. She pulled her sleeves up over her hands and tugged her baseball cap down over her face. Finished washing her hands, Beth's intrest was slightly piqued by Alex's strange behavior, and she walked over to the stall and tapped lightly on it's door.

"Alex? Are you alright?" she asked. Nicole and Robyn rushed in the door after realizing in the hall why Alex ducked into the restrooms. They stopped abruptly when they saw Beth.

"Oh... yeah Beth! I'm fine!" Alex lied, wishing the girl would go away before she noticed anything suspicious. "Just a little stomach ache is all, but thanks for asking!". Beth offered the door of Alex's stall an odd look, and finally walked towards the exit.

When she passed between Robyn and Nicole to leave, the two of them gave her huge smiles. Thoroughly confused, Beth walked out, and Nicole and Robyn rushed to the stall door. "Alex?" asked Nicole worriedly. "Are you alright?". Alex rolled her eyes in frustration.

"Geez, how many people are going to ask me that this week?" she sighed loudly.

Alex inspected her hands and saw the glowing was quickly fading. She got up and walked out of the stall to face Robyn and Nicole. "What happened?" Nicole pressed.

Alex was prepared this time and tried to mentally shield herself from Robyn's powerful fears, but she could still sense some of them. "I was just catching some of the tension off of Robyn" she explained, looking at her red haired friend. "Robyn, you've got to calm down. You're making me glow...!" she said, pleading with her.

"This, this is my fault?!" Robyn asked aghast, placing her hand on her chest in offense. "Well excuse me for being scared Alex, but I can't help it. I'm not the one with super powers who doesn't have to be afraid!". Alex's jaw dropped. She could sense Robyn's welling anger and now her friend's mixed emotions were beginning to affect her again. Her temper began to flare too, and Nicole could see it in her eyes.

Several days ago, Nicole had a private conversation about Alex's new powers with Annie. Respecting Nicole as an intellectual peer, Annie asked her to keep an eye on Alex whenever she or Ray weren't there to do it. She wanted someone with a level head that could deal with any potential problems with her little sister. Nicole was seeing one of those problems Annie warned her about arising now. Alex's emotions were being controlled by outside influences.

"What's that supposed to mean?!" Alex reacted angrily, taking a step towards Robyn. "It meant exactly what you think it meant..." Robyn retorted, surprisingly not backing down. "I'm not the one who can melt down a drain and get away if I get in trouble. I can't believe I'm going to help you take on the FBI and Vince and you're blaming me for making you glow!". But before Alex could counter, she noticed her friend's eyes had begun to mist over and a tear suddenly roll down her right cheek.

As Nicole was about to step in, Alex paused and forcibly took control of the strong emotional forces raging within her. She loved having her powers back, but she knew this ability to unpredictably sense and be affected by the emotions of others was going to be as difficult a side-effect to control as her glowing was. If she wasn't careful, she was going to expose herself to everyone as still having her powers, or even worse, hurting someone she cared about. What was worse, is this side-effect was activated this time by mere proximity to Robyn, not just by physical contact!

Alex took a deep breath and finally managed to completely shield her emotions, then calmed herself. Nicole stopped when she saw Alex was in command again. "Robyn, I'm, I'm sorry..." she apologized softly, realizing her friend was right. Over the past four years, Alex had grown more and more confident when taking on Vince or Ms. Atron when she was hiding from the plant, because she had incredible powers that enabled her to do things no other human being could do.

Sometimes, it never even occurred to her that her powers were such a great advantage over others. Alex hugged Robyn as her friend began to sniffle and cry.

"You guys are my friends and mean the world to me" Alex assured Robyn as Nicole's eyes began to well up too. "I guess sometimes I forget that you're not used to doing this kind of stuff".

"It's... it's o.k. Alex" Robyn replied sincerely, pulling back and holding Alex at arm's length. "I'm sorry too. I guess I just had to get that off my chest, but I didn't mean to do it like that. You're my friend, and you mean a lot to me".

"Group hug guys" said Nicole with a broad smile, hoping to add a final touch of finality to what could have been a disastrous fight between Alex and Robyn. The last thing they needed now was to be divided when they had the biggest challenge of their lives ahead of them.

The three girls laughed and hugged. "C'mon guys" added Nicole. "Let's get to class before we're late".

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Johnson's Garage was a run down building at the end of Borrough's Drive on the outskirts of Paradise Valley, and had long ago gone out of business. The property had been in ruin for years, and sat over a hundred feet off the main highway.      

Behind the structure, hidden from the road, Vince Carter waited impatiently beside his jeep in the hot afternoon sun, neatly dressed in tan Dockers and a white dress shirt, dark shades covering eyes which scanned the entrance to the rear of the property. He'd only been waiting a few minutes when he saw the dark Mercedes quietly drive into the back where he was waiting and slowly roll towards his position. It came to a stop beside him, and out got Danielle Atron's lawyer Samuel Cook. The portly man immediately began to pat his forehead with a handkerchief in his left hand as the sweltering California sun started to beat down on him.

"Samuel..." Vince said steadily, but his voice didn't have the confident tone it had the night before when he spoke with the shady lawyer. "Vince..." acknowledged Cook. "I trust you have an explanation for your failure to successfully carry out phase two of 'Dearborn Way?'". Cook's eyes cut straight into Vince, waiting for an answer.

"Nothing much gets by you, does it?" Vince sneered back at him, irritated that Cook seemed to know everything he did even before he reported back to him. "No, and 'much' doesn't get by others who are watching from behind the scenes". Vince's irritation with Cook began growing into anger, and he squinted his eyes threateningly at him. "Like who, Cook? Just 'who' is watching from behind the scenes?".

"That isn't anything I'm at liberty to discuss Vince. Just know that we all stand to benefit when we've secured Danielle Atron's release from the Federal Penitentiary", replied Cook. Vince shook his head in frustration.

"Cook, ever since Danielle was arrested, you've had me sneaking all over Paradise Valley doing your dirty work in the name of Ms. Atron, bribing plant employees involved in the GC-161 project with this endless resource of money at your disposal. Then you hand me Ms. Atron's 'Dearborn Way' message, and I have to hospitalize an FBI agent to destroy Gino Lawless' evidence storage at PV Chemical. Not to mention I tried to eliminate the Mack girl...".

"Which you did quite unsuccessfully..." quipped Cook. Vince stepped close to him and pointed a finger in his face. Surprised by Vince's sudden advance, Cook took a step backwards towards his car.

"Don't look down your nose at me Cook" he growled. "I've been putting my neck on the line for you ever since the GC project was exposed. I don't know why my mission failed yesterday, but Alex Mack should be in a million pieces right now and scattered all over the county. I heard the bomb explode with my own ears! The only thing I can figure out is Grace Lasky somehow found my bomb and moved it out of their house before it went off".

"Vince, I don't need to remind you again what will happen if the Mack girl, David Watt, and others involved testified against Ms. Atron, or do I? Her defense is imperative. A number of her... financial backers, are concerned about the possible ramifications if all the 'loose ends' are not taken care of" Cook urged.

Vince gave him an impatient stare as the lawyer continued. "Destroying the evidence storage facility was a big step in protecting Danielle, as was bribing those formerly involved in the GC project, but you're being well paid to make sure those 'loose ends' do not come back to haunt us".

"So that's who it is behind the scenes Cook, Danielle's former backers?" huffed Vince. "Is there something you're not telling me? I mean, just what do they gain by Danielle getting out of prison? Why should they care if she remained there for the next thirty years if nobody knows who they are?".

"If telling you will encourage you to double your efforts, I'll disclose that her backers have a huge financial intrest in Danielle's release, and one of the more influential backers has their own personal reason that I cannot elaborate on" Cook answered.

Vince placed his hands on his hips and chuckled sarcastically. "Danielle broke just about every law in the book during the past fifteen years developing GC-161. I might be able to destroy some evidence and bribe people with your dirty money on my end, but there's no way what I alone do is going to get Danielle out of prison".

"We aren't talking about a 'jailbreak' Vince, but there are others working as diligently as you. If we can eliminate the proper... 'liabilities', then Ms. Atron will be able to win her trial and escape prison time, and that will make her backers extremely happy".

Vince crossed his arms, his ice-blue eyes burning accusingly into Samuel Cook's.

"And once you've gotten Danielle out of prison, she and her backers will be able to start their research into GC-161 again elsewhere, correct?". Cook leaned towards Vince. His voice lowered as if worried there were unwelcome ears all about them.

"Danielle covered her tracks quite well when she was CEO of Paradise Chemical. She kept hidden files on everything related to GC-161, especially certain files on other top secret research projects concerning the chemical that are potentially worth tens of billions of dollars to her investors. Only she knows the location of these files and how to access them. Our backers want her out of prison Vince, so we cannot afford anymore... 'setbacks'".

"Like I said Cook, I don't know what happened at the Mack house until I can investigate it closer, and as for bombing Dave's trailer, well, that was a 'freebie' on me. But I think if I can silence the Mack girl, Dave will clam up too. If he doesn't, I'll just have to eliminate him".

Cook turned back towards his car and opened the driver's side door. Stopping, he looked back at Vince. "We are counting on you Vince. Although you've already seriously damaged the authorities' case against Danielle when you destroyed the evidence facility, it still wasn't enough".

"You've already made that painfully clear" Vince replied with an agitated snarl. "But Vince Carter always finishes what he starts, and that's what I intend to do".

"Excellent Vince. You've reaffirmed my faith". As Cook got into his car, Vince quickly stepped forward and positioned himself in the doorway, looking down on the seated lawyer. "But there's something else I want to know Cook....." he indicated seriously. Cook looked genuinely irritated by now. "What is that Vince?".

Vince leaned in further towards Cook's face. "I want to know how you, or Danielle's 'investors', managed to keep the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the FDA off my back the way they have. I'm suspecting that there are some big-time players in all of this right now besides Danielle's backers, as well as a lot of money too. I want to know that I'll be getting a piece of the action when it's all said and done".  

Cook took a deep breath and looked up at the ex-Navy Seal hovering over him. "Trust me Vince, if you can take care of things on your end, you'll get a very big piece of the action, and we'll all be very, very wealthy men". Vince seemed to find solace in Cook's assurances as the lawyer offered him a wry smile, closed his car door, and drove off.

Vince watched Cook's car disappear around the dilapidated gas station and stood there for a moment, pondering what he told him. "Yeah, you can rest assured I'll take care of things on my end Cook..." Vince mumbled aloud. "No 'liabilities' will remain when I'm through with my mission, and according to 'Dearborn Way', that includes you too".

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"Oh man..." Ray groaned, rubbing his forehead.

"That plan is... pretty intense guys" Louis Driscoll said solemnly to Annie and Grace, who were sitting across from him, Ray, and Robyn in the booth. Alex and Nicole sat in chairs pulled up to the booth which was located in the back of Wayne's Wigwam, a popular donut shop in the huge Paradise Valley Mall located in the center of town. During the past thirty minutes, Annie and Grace related to Alex and her friends the plan they had devised to take on Vince and whoever was helping him behind the scenes.

Thousands of people wandered the mall's stores and massive halls every day, and Alex and her friends were no exception, on having everyone meet at Wayne's Wigwam was the best way to remain as inconspicuous as possible, and it also prevented them from having to convene at anyone else's house where others could inadvertently overhear them discussing their plan.

"'Risky' is the word for it..." Robyn added gloomily. "Robyn..." Nicole scolded with a steady stare. Robyn looked at her and cringed slightly, realizing what she was doing. "Sorry..." she apologized. "...just habit".

"Well, I agree with Robyn..." Alex said to Grace and her older sister, trying to show Robyn she was sympathetic to her fears. "...this is an awfully risky plan. If we go through with it and it doesn't work, we'll really be putting our necks on the line".

"If it 'doesn't' work?" Nicole asked dramatically. "What is it 'does' work? Even if we expose the bad guys, how do we keep Alex's secret safe too? Someone's bound to ask how a bunch of questions". Annie sighed, not surprised the insightful Nicole brought up the possible implications if they did succeed. "I suppose that's something we'll have to deal with if we succeed, but right now, we have to decide if everyone is going to help".

"You're right Annie" Grace said pointedly. "If anyone doesn't want to be involved in this, they need to speak up now". The table was quiet for several seconds as everyone looked into each others' eyes. No one declined to participate.

"Then it's set" said Annie, interrupting the silence. "We go into action tomorrow. Everyone will meet at the front entrance of the mall tomorrow at nine a.m., and we'll go from there".

"Skipping school to go after Vince. Now I think we've done it all" speculated Ray with a woeful shake of his head.

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Alex and Ray made their way along the sidewalk on Main Street which led from the Mall. Alex sent Annie home in her jeep, asking her to give her friends a ride home too. She wanted to walk home alone, but Annie, always the constant worrier, didn't like the idea at first. She was afraid Alex could be a target for Vince, but Alex insisted.

She wanted some time to herself to think, but agreed to take Ray along with her. Ray had remained quiet since they left the mall, allowing his best friend some privacy in her thoughts, but he soon grew tired of the silence.

"So..." he began. "What'cha thinking about Alex?".

It was after six-thirty, and they could feel a cool north wind taking the warm edge off the day as dusk began to fall. The chill wind this time of the season indicated an early winter was on it's way to replace the long, hot summer. The last time either one of them felt a wind like this was two years ago, when Paradise Valley experienced an unseasonably cold winter.

It brought back memories. Ray recalled how he, Alex, and their friends began a drive with several senior citizens to supply Paradise Valley's needy children with toys. He and Alex also lit up the huge fir tree in Paradise Valley Park with Christmas lights, carrying on a tradition that many thought had ended that year. He secretly hoped a cold winter was on it's way again this year. Unknown to him, Alex felt the same way.

Looking at Alex, he wondered if she was ever going to answer his question, so he playfully bumped elbows with her to get her attention. Alex was strolling along with her hands in her pants pockets, protecting them from the wind, and seemed genuinely startled at Ray's inquisition.

"Huh?" she stuttered. "You say something Ray?". He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, and apparently, you didn't hear me from whatever other world you were in" he teased. Alex blushed. "Sorry 'bout that, just thinking about stuff". Ray chuckled. "I could tell. So, what were you thinking about? My guess is about what we're going to do tomorrow".

"You guessed right, among other things" she replied honestly, but indirectly. "I have to admit, I'm pretty nervous about it. If we don't succeed, we could be setting ourselves up as targets for Grace's ex-boss at the FBI too". Ray nodded gravely. "I know, but we have to do something Alex. We're already targets if you ask me, and we need to take the fight back to Vince and whoever is helping him". She glanced at her friend and gave him a nod.

"So, what else is bothering you?" he asked accusingly.

"What makes you think I'm thinking about anything else?".

"You said 'among other things'" he indicated. "That means there's something else on your mind".

"Geez Ray! Who are you? My psycho-analyst? I've just got a lot of things on my mind, that's all" she said defensively.

"Just asking..." he answered with a dismissive tone, stuffing his hands into his pockets like Alex. Alex could tell her best friend was slightly offended that she wasn't being completely candid with him and was trying to make her feel guilty. They told each other practically everything, and had no secrets between them. She didn't like his guilt tactic either, because in most cases, it was her that used it on him.

Flustered, Alex took Ray by the arm and pulled him into a narrow alley off the sidewalk. "What are you doing?" he demanded. "Just relax Ray, and keep hold of my hand" she instructed. The alley was located between an Italian restaurant and an eight story hotel, the tallest building in downtown Paradise Valley. Ray watched Alex look upwards towards the roof of the hotel, and in turn, he glanced upwards too, thinking she was about to morph them both to ascend. But when she squinted her eyes in concentration, Ray got an entirely different surprise when both of them suddenly lifted off the ground under Alex's telekinetic power and shot upwards towards the roof!

In seconds, the two teens glided silently over the upper brick facade of the building eighty feet up and gently came to rest on the roof. Before them sat a modest rooftop garden of several small trees and professionally manicured hedges which supplied an elegant observation deck for the hotel's guests.

"Wow!" exclaimed Ray, reeling from how quickly they flew upwards to the roof.

"Annie told me you could levitate yourself and others now, but I didn't think it was as easy for you as that! Alex... you can fly!".

"Yeah, I guess I'm Paradise Valley's local 'Supergirl'" Alex replied sarcastically.

"C'mon Alex. You have to be excited that you can fly...?" he stuttered unbelievingly after hearing her uncaring tone. "Maybe I would be if things weren't the way they were right now Ray" she said, walking past the edge of the rooftop garden towards the corner of the roof.

Ray followed, but realized his best friend's super powers didn't change the fact they were a group of teenagers who were facing a dangerous challenge tomorrow. Alex reached the chest-high brick railing at the roof's edge, and leaned on it with her elbows. Ray did the same, and they both looked out over Paradise Valley.

"Super powers aren't the answer to everything Ray, as much as I'd like them to be..." Alex pointed out, realizing she just accidentally invaded his thoughts. "Oops! Sorry about that Ray, I guess I let my powers get away from me for a moment".

Ray reached over and put his hand on her shoulder in a supportive gesture. "It's o.k. Alex, I know you didn't mean any harm. So, what made you decide to come up here anyway?". Alex chuckled. "I don't know Ray. I've been up here a few times when I just wanted to get away from people and think about things, y'know?".

"Yeah, I know...." he agreed quietly. "Let's take in the view and just enjoy each other's company for a while". Alex leaned over and kissed him affectionately on the cheek.

"You're the best friend anyone could ever have Ray". Ray couldn't help but blush.

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