PART THIRTYTHREE

"O.k., do we have this straight?" Grace checked with Alex and Annie. "We go to the cabin as Vince instructed and set up an exchange, the disc for Louis. But before we get there, we let Alex out so she can go ahead and free Louis. Then, when they don't have anything to bargain with, we bring Agent Torres and the local police down on Vince and the FBI agent he's with".

Alex and Annie nodded in agreement as they stuffed backpacks in the garage with items they may need to for their rescue attempt.

"Alex's powers are our ace in the hole" Annie said confidently. "But Grace, who do you think is with Vince, and do you think Agent Torres will be here in time to help us?".

"Monica will be here, trust me" Grace said, referring to her friend in the FBI who she called earlier to inform her of their plan. Grace explained to Agent Torres what they intended to do, and against her urgent warnings, Grace insisted her friend not risk herself until they could absolutely prove Director Walsh's association with Vince and Danielle Atron's illegal GC-161 project. Reluctantly, she agreed, but she vowed to make the arrest of Director Walsh if their plan worked.

"As for who's with Vince, I wouldn't be surprised if it was one of the higher ranking field agents who were investigating the bombing of Dave's trailer before. I know Agents Garth and Briggs were specially chosen by Director Walsh for the assignment. But rest assured, no matter who it is, he'll be covering for the Director".

"Great, another bad guy to worry about..." Alex quipped as they finished packing their satchels. "It seems like there's one around every corner lately. By the way Annie, what are we going to do about mom and dad? Mom's not stupid y'know. If she knew to call here looking for us, then I wouldn't be surprised if she has the police out looking for us".

"I know Alex" Annie answered. "But hopefully, Ray didn't go into detail about everything that's happened so far, so maybe we'll...".

Annie's words were cut short by screeching tires outside in the street. Annie and Grace immediately looked at Alex. Since she'd been able to tell it was their mother and Vince calling on the phones before, they didn't waste any time in asking who was outside.

"Is that who I think it is?" Annie gasped at her sister. Alex closed her eyes for a moment and then nodded.

"It's mom and dad" she acknowledged, her shoulders sagging.

Annie hurriedly grabbed Grace's wrist and pulled her over beside Alex. The sound of two car doors thumping closed could be heard outside. Annie slipped her free arm around her little sister's waist while she still held onto Grace's wrist.

"Alex..." she started. "You gotta get us by them and into Grace's car".

"On no..." Grace cringed. "Not again".

Alex nodded her head and concentrated, morphing the three of them almost instantly. With Annie incorporated into the puddle with her, Alex could sense her sister's thoughts very clearly. They had to get past their parents because they couldn't afford to waste any time explaining to them Louis' life was at stake, and that there was no time to lose. Vince's conditions was no police were to be involved, and that's what they intended to do; at least for now.

Alex quickly moved to the far side of the room away from the door which led into the garage from the driveway. She knew her parents would be bursting through it any second now and would probably spot her silvery puddle if she tried sliding past them. She sloshed underneath a tall collection of shelves to the wall behind them, where a small crevice the width of a pencil and several inches long existed along the baseboard between the cement floor and the wall's wooden framing.

Alex found this crack one summer afternoon playing around in the garage with her morphing powers when she was fourteen. She knew it was a defect in their home's original construction, but it was one of her favorite nooks. She had a lot of these 'secret passages' all through the house, not to mention the entire neighborhood, and she felt a pang of sadness that someone else finally knew about it.

Alex oozed them through the impossibly narrow crack directly outside into the side yard, which was brightly illuminated by the noon-time sun. She could sense her parents already in the garage as she rapidly slithered across the grass towards the corner of the house.

Past the corner, she zipped underneath Mr. Mack's car to Grace's, which was parked at the end of the driveway. She flowed up through the lower crack of the car door and onto the front seat. There, she materialized Annie and Grace back into human form. Grace looked at herself with amazement as she was in a sitting position right behind the steering wheel, with Annie sitting in the front passenger seat beside her. Still morphed, Alex squeezed down into the seat and spilled out onto the rear floorboard where she reformed herself into a sitting position in the back seat.

"I am 'never' going to get used to that" Grace said.

As a final touch, Alex telekinetically strapped all of their seatbelts around them once she was solid again.

"Let's go!" Annie shouted, and Grace cranked up the car, backed it out of the drive, and sped off with a screech of the tires. Seconds later, Mr. and Mrs. Mack, alerted by the girls' hasty departure, came running back out of the house to see that the strange black sedan which had been parked in their driveway was now gone.

"What the hell is going on around here?!" Mr. Mack roared angrily.

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Agent Simmons pulled the car out of the Paradise Arms parking lot, coming to a complete halt at the stoplight. He looked over at his superior, Gino Lawless.

"What next Gino?".

"I'm not sure Simmons, but we've got to be careful about how we proceed" Gino pondered, nervously stroking his goatee.

"For some group of kids to break into my room, access my computer, and hack into Director Walsh's personal files, it tells me that our 'dear' Director has kept us in the dark about a lot of the things that have been going on in Paradise Valley lately. It seems to me our 'intruders' also wanted to know what's been going on behind closed doors, and to be perfectly honest with you, I do too".

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"Annie, check in with Nicole and see what the situation is like at the cabin" Grace instructed as their car passed outside the city limits towards the hillsides surrounding Paradise Valley. Annie grabbed the cell phone Louis supplied them and began to hit the speed dial for 'team three'. Just then, Grace suddenly reached over and placed her hand over the phone.

"What?" asked Annie, confused.

"No cell phones Annie, remember? It might give away Nicole's position. We told her we'd try contacting her by radio as soon as we got close enough. We should be in walkie talkie range by now".

"Oh, right. Sorry..." Annie muttered, angry at herself that she forgot. She was under as much stress as she's ever been, probably more than when she was hiding Alex from Vince and Danielle. She didn't like showing signs of weakness during times like this; people were counting on her.

Alex felt her sister's emotions of frustration pour into her, but she willed them out of her mind. She reached her hand up into the front seat and placed it on Annie's shoulder.

"We're going to be alright Annie" Alex assured her. "I just know we are. I can 'feel' it". She turned to look at her younger sister and saw the confident look on her face. Now, with Annie's complete attention, Alex suddenly winked, contorting her face with a funny sneer and poking her tongue out at her. The effect was absolutely hilarious.

Annie laughed out loud at the display, remembering how when they were younger, Alex would make this face at her when they were in a group and no on else was watching. It always made her laugh uncontrollably in front of people, a joke Alex thoroughly enjoyed pulling on her. Grace wondered what was going on, but decided not to prod.

"Team three, this is team one. Come in..." Annie said into the radio after taking several seconds to compose herself. Then came Nicole Wilson's hushed response. "This is Nicole. I can hear you Annie, over".

When they originally went over this plan with the others, Annie was adamant about everyone using only their team names, just in case someone was listening. She figured it wasn't much of an issue now.

"We're on the main highway just outside of town, heading north" Annie reported to their stranded friend. "We should be turning onto Tanner's Trail in the next couple of minutes...".

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"'We should be turning onto Tanner's Trail in the next couple of minutes...'" said the young girl's voice over the walkie talkie in Gino's hand. All of a sudden, it was starting to come together.

"Nicole?" Gino asked aloud to no one in general. "Annie? Geez Simmons! This has got to be the Mack sisters and their friends doing all of this! I wouldn't be surprised if Grace Lasky was involved too!".

"Tanner's Trail..?" Simmons said quizzically. "I know where that is! I saw in it in one of our files before our evidence storage shed was burned down. It's a bike trail north of town off Highway One. There's a cabin up there where a former scientist who worked on the GC-161 project named Charles Vernell lived. The Mack girls mentioned him in one of the statements they made after Ms. Atron was arrested!".

"Get us there, ASAP" Gino ordered as Agent Simmons swung the car around at a busy intersection , squealing tires all the way. Other cars screeched to a stop as their drivers honked their horns angrily at the two FDA agents barreling through the intersection.

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"How do we know these girls aren't going to double-cross us Vince?" Agent Garth asked bluntly, staring menacingly at Louis Driscoll tied up to a chair in the corner of the cabin.

"I've had these brats under surveillance for four years now" Vince scoffed. "I know 'how' they think. They'll do what's asked of them".

"...And what about Grace Lasky?".

"She's one of your's isn't she?" Vince hissed at the FBI agent. "When they get here, why don't 'you' take care of her and Driscoll here, and I'll take care of the rest of them. That is, at least until we get the disc".

Agent Garth looked at Vince skeptically. He didn't like this situation one bit. "You seem awfully confident after the way those girls gave you the slip for almost three years when you were working for Ms. Atron. What makes you so sure it's going to be that easy now?".

"Because things will be different this time" Vince explained. "The Mack brat doesn't have her powers anymore, and that makes it a whole different ballgame now". Sitting silently in his chair confined by ski rope, Louis smile quietly to himself. Were 'they' in for a big surprise.

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"There she is!" Alex said excitedly, pointing at Nicole emerging from some bushes along Tanner's Trail. She had backtracked down the trail to wait for them, and spotted Grace's car the moment she pulled off the main highway. Nicole ran up to the car, her face flushed and pale with worry. Alex let her in and Grace maneuvered up the trail for another one hundred years before pulling off and parking onto a connecting trail.

"O.k." began Annie. "The cabin is about fifty yards up the trail around that curve, so they can't see us from here. I guess this is where we split up".

"Split up?!" Nicole exclaimed. "Don't you think we're safer in a group? That's Vince and a crooked FBI agent up there!".

"Alex, give Nicole your hat" Grace instructed. Alex took off her cap and placed it on Nicole's head.

"What is going on?" Nicole demanded, completely confused.

"It's just part of the plan Nicole..." Alex explained, now digging in her satchel for her walkie-talkie. "We figure they didn't suspect Louis had an accomplice with him when Vince caught him because he probably would have found you if he had looked. They expect only 'three' of us to be coming in Grace's car".

"So..." Annie continued. "'You're' going to be Alex when we pull up near the cabin to exchange 'this' for Louis". Annie held up a floppy disc.

"And Alex will be sneaking in from behind to morph Louis out of the cabin and to safety while we have them distracted" added Grace. "Then, we'll hit the speed dial number on our cell phone that'll signal Agent Torres to send the Sheriff's Department up here as well as arrest Director Walsh for conspiring with Danielle Atron".

"You mean, after all the trouble we've gone through to get that information on Director Walsh, you're just going to hand it over to Vince and that crooked agent?" Nicole said belatedly. "It's a no-brainer they're going to check to see if it's the real thing before handing over Louis".

"Annie made a copy at the house" Alex said as she continued to dig through her satchel for her walkie-talkie. Annie noticed her dilemma. "What's wrong Alex?".

"My radio, I can't find it. It's not in here" she complained, looking up from her satchel at Annie and Grace. Then, Alex's eyes went wide and her skin began to glow. "Oh no!" she exclaimed.

"What?!" asked Annie, Nicole, and Grace at once.

"I think I left it in Gino's apartment!". Annie and Grace looked at each other, their minds racing and exploring every scenario. Then Grace blinked and regained her composure.

"We can't worry about that now. If Gino found it and has been listening to us, then there's nothing we can do. We have to go through with our plan and get Louis away from Vince and his partner, and then we'll have all the cards in our hand".

"Nicole, give Alex your radio" Grace ordered. Nicole instantly obeyed.

"But guys, don't you think they're going to know you made a copy?" asked Nicole. Grace was extremely impressed with Nicole's contemplation of strategy. She'd make a great FBI agent just like Annie and Alex she thought. But she didn't like what she had to say next.

"That's just it Nicole. They won't know whether or not we have a copy, but I know they'll suspect it. But it doesn't matter anyway, because there's no way they can just let us go even if we do give the disc to them. We know too much already, and they have to eliminate us to protect Director Walsh".

Nicole's face went totally pale. "I.. I guess I see what where you're coming from" she squeaked. "So why don't you just call the Sheriff's Department now?".

"Too risky..." Grace elaborated. "They'll have a scanner and will hear if we call the police. They'd think the deal was off and they'd just eliminate Louis then and there".

"That's why Alex has to get Louis out of there as quickly as possible" Annie cut in. "We believe they'll keep him alive until we're close enough to get us 'and' the disc. They think they're dealing with a bunch of stupid, scared kids, so we 'want' them to keep thinking that. If we do this right, we can beat them".

"Alex, are you ready?" asked Annie.

"Yeah, as ready as I'll ever be, I guess" she answered nervously. "You guys just keep them occupied and I'll get Louis". Alex got out of the car, and then leaned down by Annie's open window.

"Do you remember everything we discussed?" Annie asked her little sister.

Alex rolled her eyes and smiled. "Yeah, I remember Annie. Be careful up there...".

"We will".

Alex stepped back from the car, squinting her eyes in concentration. Suddenly and silently, she shot upwards into the air and disappeared into the treetops.

"You be careful too Alex..." Annie said quietly.

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