Alex was, not for the first time, regretting his decision to allow the Ministry to continue with their tests. He had managed to grow another fifteen centimeters or so since his last check up and it was decided that another physical was in order. After the obligatory and, in his opinion, unnecessary examinations, the tests began. And continued -- and lengthened! In fact they had now been going on for about three and a half weeks.
Three and a half weeks of physical tests, mental tests, daytime, night time, with adequate sleep and without. Combat tests, intelligence tests, academic tests, and even blood tests. Sometimes sitting across a table from a doctor. Sometimes jumping through hoops -- literally. There had been combat simulations in addition to the regular combat training that he normally received.
During all of these tests, there had been a constant stream of music. All kinds of music -- some of which Alex had never encountered before. Everything from tribal chants to Mozart to the Rolling Stones. Alex had noticed that some of the songs had been repeated but usually under different circumstances. When he asked about it, one of the scientists, Benton Pewitt by name, explained as though to a child that they "wanted to see if a song would manifest the same powers under different circumstances." So far it hadnít happened that way and the scientist acted as though it were Alexís fault. The scientist went on, saying, "Now if you would turn your attention to the series of images on the screen--"
Something in Alex snapped.
"I think not," he replied in a calm, steady voice.
"Young man," Pewitt started in the same condescending tone, "I realize that, to you, these experiments may seem trivial and a waste of time. However, what you are failing to understand--"
"I understand a great deal, Mr. Pewitt," replied Alex acidly.
"Thatís Dr. Pewitt," the doctor replied with a touch of indignation.
"Of course, how rude of me," continued Alex. "I understand, Mr. Pewitt, that I have been playing the proper little lab mouse running around your little mazes. I understand that I have been doing so almost non-stop for nearly a month."
"Now see here--" Pewitt tried to interject. Alex, however, was on a roll and he wasnít about to stop.
"I understand that I have been subjected to more poking and prodding than any three terminally ill patients you can name. Iíve been subjected to a variety of music, some of which only marginally qualifies as such, on a sound system that seems to delight in ruining the sound quality."
"Impossible! I selected each component myself --"
Alex began to slowly approach Pewitt, using his size to add a factor of intimidation. "And finally, I understand that you have your own little pet theories as to how my powers manifest and that those theories are obviously not panning out!! In short, Doctor, Iíve had enough!!" The last part of his tirade was enough to force Pewitt back a few steps.
"Captain Anderson wonít be happy that youíre not cooperating," Pewitt said, a little petulantly.
Then a new voice interjected. "Iím certain that heíd be more interested in why youíre willing to waste Ministry resources running and re-running experiments to support a hypothesis that has already proven false." The new voice belonged to Captain Anderson.
Pewitt paled noticeably and turned to face Anderson. "I was just--"
"Yes, Benton, I know what you were doing. I think this will conclude the tests for now." Turning to Alex, he said, "Why donít you hit the showers, lad. We can pick things up later."
Fuming, Alex nodded and headed for the locker room. As he reached the other side of the room, he could hear Pewitt and Anderson speaking in hushed tones. Oddly enough, he could hear them clearly.
"--You have a reputation as a brilliant scientist, Pewitt. But you clearly lack anything regarding a sense of self-preservation.
"What do you mean?" asked Pewitt
"The last time I saw that look on his face was on the video feed from that nightclub affair in America. Just before he put that Ďbindingí on Vox. It took one of the other Matrons to help her get free. Do you think you could fare as well?" Anderson asked, pointedly.
"I, uh, I think I see what you mean"
Alex left them to their conversation and turned on the shower. The confrontation with Pewitt was already fading from his thoughts. Something Anderson had said had sent Alexís thoughts in a different direction. I wonder what Anderson meant by Ďthe video feedí
The next couple of days seemed to be as much of a marathon as the Ministry testing heíd undergone. Alex spent a great deal of time packing up various instruments: several guitars, a violin, an electric keyboard, a flute, a trumpet, and an elaborate drum set. He could have let Maurice and his staff pack them but Alex preferred to do it himself. Besides, the butler had quite enough to do managing the day-to-day household affairs without having to shoulder another task.
He checked over the DAT recordings of some of his performances, making certain that he had the ones he wished to submit for the admissions board. He packed these and a few CDs along with his playback equipment and closed the last of the trunks. He had managed to get the mountain that was the immigration paperwork filed for processing a couple of weeks ago and had been assured that everything was going smoothly with it.
Alex checked his watch and frowned. He was to have lunch with Gerry and Jessica in an hour. He had called Jessica in the hopes of being able to spend some time with her this afternoon, but Gerry had been there when he called and she had immediately extended the lunch invitation to him as well. Despite the events of the last few weeks, Alex still hoped that they would change their minds about their feelings for each other. Maybe today he would see some evidence of that.
About thirty seconds after they met for lunch, Alexís hopes, if not dashed outright, were at least broken beyond any possibility of repair. As they spoke of the how they had been since last meeting, Alex couldnít help but notice the way they held hands or drew close when sharing some private joke. In fact after they had eaten and were walking through the park, Alex began to feel like the proverbial "odd man out" -- almost held at armís length. The feeling only intensified when he spoke of his days of testing and training at the Ministry.
After an hour of meandering, Gerry noticed the time.
"Oh, damn. Iím supposed to be meeting with someone from Oxford in half an hour. Alex, would you mind seeing Jessica home? I hate to impose, but my parents will make my life extremely miserable if I miss it."
"Oh, go ahead," Jessica replied before Alex could speak. "We couldnít very well have you suffer such a terrible fate, now could we?" Jessica leaned in and gave Gerry a quick kiss on the cheek before giving him a playful shove.
Alexís heart dropped a few more feet.
"Well then. Until later" And Gerry was off, jogging lightly across the park, his limp only slightly in evidence.
Alex and Jessica walked for a bit more before Jessica indicated that she should be heading home. The bus would be by almost any time.
"I could give you a ride home. It isnít that far out of my way," Alex said as lightly as he could manage.
"No, thank you, really," She replied. "Itís sweet of you to offer, but I know you still have a good deal of packing to do and a thousand other things as well. Besides, I rather like taking the bus, there always seems to be something new to see."
Alex assumed an expression of mock injury, which at the moment wasnít too much of a stretch. "Well then, Milady," he said as though in a medieval court. "May I at least walk you to your stop? It would not be seemly for a woman of your station to be walking about with no proper escort in sight"
"Oh, very well," replied Jessica in her most regal tone. "If only to keep up appearances, I shall allow you to escort me as far as the point where my carriage awaits...."
They walked a few more blocks before Alex spoke again.
"Listen, Jess. Iíve been hoping to talk to you alone. I know you and Gerry have grown cl--"
Suddenly, Alex was interrupted by a loud, piercing scream from somewhere ahead. Moving closer, the pair notice a large group of people running away from the vicinity of an medical building. Once the crowd thinned, Alex was able to make out the figures of a small band of what appeared to be knights -- in full livery no less. As he approached, he realized just what the danger was. They were the Yeomen -- and the appeared to be attacking the building itself.
"Oh, Hell! Jessica, I need you to call the authorities -- and quickly! Iíll try to hold them or at least distract them long enough for help to arrive!"
"Are you out of your mind? There are four of them--" she began to protest.
"And they are harming defenseless people! I have to do something. Now go! And please stay as far away as you can. I donít want to have to worry about you as well." With that, Alex began sprinting toward the knights, dodging the fleeing pedestrians as he went.
I truly wish I had something resembling a plan. A nice heavy metal tune would be helpful right now, thought Alex. As he approached, he heard a halberd-bearing knight, a brawny ox of a man in a silver breastplate and ram-horned helmet, call to another.
"Pellinore! Do something about all of that screaming. A man canít think for all the noise!"
The plate-and-mailed Pellinore responded by lifting his helmet's eye-guard while staring in the direction of a group of nearby pedestrians. The entire group fell silent, their screams cut short as their flesh and hearts petrified and turned to stone.
"Will that do, Constantine? Perhaps less ale last night might have eased your sensitive ears," called Pellinore to his fellow Yeoman.
A third knight, this one in padded leather and employing a pair of single-edged swords, interjected, "That may be, Pellinore, but perhaps you should concentrate on the matters at hand. For instance, there seems to be a young whelp approaching who is in sore need of a lesson in manners."
"What do you mean, Lamorak? There is no -- whuugh!"
Too late, Pellinore turned to see what his comrade had been trying to tell him. Using the confusion generated by the fleeing pedestrians, Alex had managed to get close to the knight while he had bantered with Constantine. He slammed into the surprised Yeoman with enough force to knock him on his back.
While the knight was not unconscious, he was stunned. Before Pellinore could reach his visor to petrify his attacker, the Yeoman felt a tremendous jolt to his helmet. The impact had been from Alex slamming his fist down on the knightís visor, jamming it shut.
As Pellinore began to struggle with his helmet, Alex looked up to see Lamorak closing on him with impossible speed. The armored Yeoman was everywhere -- bounding off car tops, using a wall as a springboard to catapult himself to a lamp post. Swinging off of the lamp post, the knight launched himself at Alex, drawing his swords in one smooth motion as he landed. Alex barely had time to dodge as Lamorak swung, first one blade then the next.
Alex continued to dodge, desparately hoping that help would arrive soon. Each sword stroke came a little closer to striking him and Alex was becoming keenly aware of what the gleaming blades would do to his body. The last sword stroke had neatly sliced a hole in the arm of his sweater, leaving a thin red line on his arm underneath.
In desperation, Alex grabbed the nearest thing at hand to fend off his attacker -- it happened to be Pellinore. Alex grabbed him by the leg and threw him into the oncoming Yeoman. Lamorak had to stop his attack in mid-swing to avoid hitting his comrade and the two went down in a tangle of arms and legs. Alex almost cracked a smile but it disappeared before it was fully formed. The remaining two Yeomen were advancing.
"It seems that we have a more challenging obstacle here, Pendragon," said Constantine. "What do you say to a little fun?" Alex looked at the fourth Yeoman. He was wearing a vest of scaled armor, a pair of heavy gauntlets, and brandishing a shield that seemed to hold half the stars in the night sky. As he watched, Alex thought he saw the stars starting to coalesce toward the center of the shield.
Alex's fascination with Pendragon forced him off-guard as Constantine swung his massive halberd at his head. Alex tried to step back but found his way blocked by a lamp post. Again, Alex barely managed to dodge the blow, this time by ducking under the blade. The next instant found Alex trying to dodge the falling lamp post that Constantine had cleaved through instead.
Alex rolled under the next swing and grabbed for the fallen piece of the post. Just before his hand closed on it, a glittering ball of energy from Pendragonís shield sent it careening out into the street.
Instead of trying to dodge Constantineís next attack, Alex stepped inside the swing and used the Yeomanís momentum to throw him toward the advancing shield-bearer. He then sprinted out into the street to retrieve the remains of the lamp post to use as a weapon. Before he could reach it, another ball of energy grazed his side. The damage wasnít enough to do permanent harm but it knocked Alex past his goal and he landed hard on the pavement.
Alex rolled to one side and regained his footing. Lamorak had extricated himself from Pellinore and Constantine was also starting to stand again. Alex quickly glanced around, hoping to find something with which to defend himself. The lamp post was no longer in reach and Pendragonís shield was also beginning to glow again.
He quickly spotted a manhole cover a few feet away and grabbed for it as another ball of energy flew from Pendragonís shield. Alex was able to deflect the attack but the impact sent a jolt of pain up his arms. Gritting his teeth against the pain, Alex threw the manhole cover at the attacking Yeoman. The object squarely hit the shield and knocked the knight down. Alex barely had time to notice before he felt a weight slam into his back, knocking the wind out of him.
Alex had forgotten how fast Lamorak had been and was now looking at two very sharp -- and very pointed -- reminders. Lamorak drove the points of his swords towards Alexís chest. Instead of the expected pain of being impaled, Alex found that he had been effectively immobilized. The swords had pinned him to the pavement through his clothing. He breathed a small sigh of relief. Then he saw Constantine advancing.
The hulking halberdier stopped at Alexís feet and raised his bladed polearm above his head. Without a word, he swung the weapon down in a blurring arc.
Constantineís weapon froze mere milimeters from Alexís face. Alex could feel the air charge with ions as a powerful figure slowly descended, his crimson cape wavering like a war banner. The figure looked very much like an artist's depiction of what a Spartan warrior might have looked like had their culture survived to progress into the distant future. He wore a helmet that seemed to have Roman influences. He was also covered neck to toe in a form-fitting suit of armor that seemed to move with him and bend even where there were no obvious joints. There also seemed to be cables of bio-circuitry looping out of his arms, hips, and legs, but from his limited vantage point, Alex could not say to what they were connected to.
"Do not harm him!" The figure spoke as though his very word was enough to still an avalanche. Fortunately, in this case at least, it was enough to stop Constantineís deathblow.
"Yes, Liege Autocrat," the Yeomen replied in unison, each trying to stand taller in the presence of their leader.
"Pellinore. Do not make it permanent," said Autocrat in a way that left no question as to what he meant.
Pellinore approached Alex and lifted his visor. Alex received some small gratification out of the fact that the visor creaked in protest as the Yeoman lifted it. Then Alex could see the grotesque features behind the eye-guard of Pellinore's helmet: craggy cheekbones, an aquiline nose, and beady reptilian eyes surrounded by cracked gray skin. Alex felt the force of Pellinoreís gaze and moments later he lost consciousness.
When Alex woke up, the Yeomen were gone. It took a few moments for him to realize where he was, and his skin itched unmercifully from the petrification sloughing away. He tried to get up but could feel a hand gently pushing him back to rest. It was at that point that he realized he was lying on a stretcher. After a few more moments, he realized it was Jessicaís hand that was on his chest.
Alex relented while his heart did a mometary leap inhis chest. Maybe the hero will get the girl after all, he thought to himself. His joy was short lived, however. Moments later, Gerry arrived and Jessica threw her arms around him as he comforted her.
"Son, if youíre up to it, weíd like to ask you a few questions."
The new voice belonged to a police officer who seemed a bit nervous at having to disturb him, but was determined to get the task over with as soon as possible. There were a few representatives from the Ministry there as well. Each interjecting questions as the interview went on. Finally, the authorities were satisfied as to how events transpired and Alex was allowed to go home.
Alex paused before he left and asked, "Officer? What were they after anyway? Why attack a medical building?"
The officerís expression was a mixture of sorrow and outrage. "Two babies," he replied. "Twins -- a boy and a girl. They were the children of Colm and Susan McEachnie. Because of a medical condition, they had apparently hired Catherine Iverson to be the surrogate mother. The Yeomen killed both Miss Iverson and the doctor in attendance. They also kidnapped the babies."
Alexís had clenched on the edge of the stretcher and the wooden frame snapped.
Alex packed the last of his instruments and carefully labeled each one for the trip. Once he finished with that, he headed down to the kitchen to find something to eat. He made himself a few sandwiches and found a couple of bottles of water in the refrigerator and decided to go and eat in the garden. He sat on a bench near the entrance of the hedge maze and started eating. Several moments later, he heard a disturbingly familiar voice and almost choked on his food.
"Hello, Alex. Itís been a while. Mind if I join you?"
"Weaver? What --? How --?" Alex spluttered, trying to speak and swallow at the same time.
"Easy, my boy. Wonít do anyone any good if you choke to death." Weaver eyed the food next to Alex and added, "I havenít eaten lunch yet myself. Mind if I join you?"
Dumbfounded, Alex looked at the old man, shook his head and said, "Help yourself."
Weaver picked up a sandwich and took a bite. "Mmm", he said around a mouthful. "Not bad. Maybe a bit too much mayonnaise"
The old man had not changed at all, at least not in any way noticeable. He was still dressed completely in tattered clothing, looking more like a robust scarecrow than anything else. It seemed even his scarf had patches.
Finally finishing his food, Weaver looked intently at Alex, looking him up and down. "Youíve grown a bit more, havenít you? You should watch that or youíll end up spending a fortune on new clothes." Alex smiled, not knowing which was more amusing, the statement or the man who made it.
"It seems to be motherís chief complaint as well," Alex replied.
"You have questions for me."
Alex was a bit startled by the Weaverís abruptness. He hadnít made it a question but rather stated it as fact. He was right.
"How did you get here? Weíre thousands of miles from New York and you just show up here as though it were perfectly normal. And speaking of New York, how do you even know who I am? Granted, the London tabloids throw my picture on the front page from time to time but"
"You wanted to know what to do about the babies. And about Gerry and Jessica."
This time the hair on Alexís neck stood up. Angrily, he stood up, towering over the vagabond and demanded, "How did you know about that?!"
"Easy, lad. Easy. Iím not here to cause any harm to you or those you care for," Weaver said calmly. "Iím just here to offer a little advice. Not unlike Merlin did for Arthur, although I hope the outcome is a little better this time"
Alex forced himself to calm down and sat down again. He asked again, a little more calmly, "How do you know about Gerry and Jessica?"
"Hard to say, really. Probably the same way I was able to show up across an entire ocean. One minute I was following a white rabbit through a hedge and the next" Weaver shrugged. "I know that youíve had a thing for Jessica nearly as long as youíve been noticing girls. That is, noticing them as something other than a target for practical jokes. I also know Gerry has felt along the same lines nearly as long as you. It might interest you to know that Jessica has seen the both of you in the same way for a bit longer. Always seems to be the case between the sexes. Iíve never really understood thateither"
"You hinted that you know what to do about Gerry and Jessica," interrupted Alex.
"What? I did? Oh. Yes, I suppose I do."
Alex paused, uncertain he had heard correctly. When it was obvious that he had, he asked, not too calmly, "What do you mean, 'nothing?!' Howís that supposed to help? What good is your advice if it doesnít offer a solution to my problem?"
"I never said it would solve your problem, I was just telling you what you should do," replied Weaver, looking somewhat amused. Alex was definitely not amused and stated so in no uncertain terms.
Just before Alex could launch into a long list of things Weaver could do with his 'advice,' Weaver asked, "Why didnít you do something about your relationship with Jessica before now?"
Alex stopped, his tirade stuck in his throat. "What?"
"Why didnít you pursue this relationship with Jessica sooner?"
"Iím not certain."
Weaver raised an eyebrow. "No?"
"Well, it never seemed to be the right moment," Alex replied weakly.
"I was going to ask her out to a formal dance a couple of years ago," Alex said defensively. "The dance was still a couple of months off but I thought it would be best to ask early before someone else could. I spent an entire week working up the courage to do it.
"Then I began to change. I put on a lot of weight and a lot of height very quickly. It hurt. A lot. I was hungry all the time and I had severe cramps every time I moved. While I was waiting to find out how long I had to live, I remember deciding not to ask her. It didnít seem fair that she should have to go out with someone who would likely be going to his own funeral soon. Besides, if sheíd said yes Iíd have never known if it was out of sympathy or something more. Jessica ended up going with Gerry and then a few weeks before the dance the bastards told me I was going to live after all and that I was a metahuman to boot."
Weaver nodded. "So then you decided to ask her out to dinner a few months later"
"Yes. I was still getting used to my new physique. I frequently broke doorknobs and dishes and the like. My reflexes were such that Iíd drastically overcompensate if I felt I was about to drop something. I finally felt like my Ďclumsy oafí period was coming to an end and I decided Iíd ask Jessica out again. She had been teasing both me and Gerry for a little while, telling each of us that she had practically said yes to the otherís invitation.
"Gerry and I were playing in a football match that afternoon. We were doing pretty well against the other team. At one point, we both went for the ball, hoping to score a goal in order to impress Jessica. We collided and the ball went flying somewhere. I stood up and Gerry lay there in the grass, clutching his leg. He still has a limp.
"After that, it seemed to me like I had an unfair advantage over Gerry where the girls were concerned. I felt that I had pretty much all of the cards. Iíve always had my talent with music and the family money behind me. Now I was a metahuman: stronger, faster and so on. I felt like Gerryís injury was my fault. So I sort of just, well, unofficially bowed out."
Weaver sat listenin to Alex, munching on another sandwich all the while. Finally he spoke. "So in essence, everything thatís happening is, at least in part, your own doing."
"What do you mean?"
"Havenít you been paying attention? How am I going to teach you anything if you arenít going to listen? I mean, for crying out. Oh, never mind. What I mean is that youíre sitting here feeling sorry for yourself because your would-be girlfriend has gone and found someone else. Youíre the one that more or less sent her to someone else because you didnít want her getting hurt. And I ask you: 'Why?'"
Alex thought for a bit and his shoulders sagged. Then he stood upright and said to Weaver, "Well now youíve done it. Youíve gone and ruined a perfectly good sulk. I ought to have you thrown off the grounds"
"Oh, no need for that," replied Weaver, smiling. "I was just going anyway. Have to find that rabbit and give him a piece of my mind. Or was that retrieve a piece of Oh, Iíll figure it out later." With that, Weaver stood up and began walking down the hedge.
"Wait a minute. Whatís to be done about the babies that were kidnapped? I thought you had an answer for that as well"
Weaver stopped and replied, a sad expression on his face. "Youíll find out what to do about that soon enough. Yes. Soon enough. Until we meet again, Alex." Then Weaver turned at the end of the hedge and was gone.
Surveillance Team Gamma
Survellance Log Excerpt
several hours in the garden apparently eating lunch and having a discussion
with an unknown individual. Despite the best efforts of the team,
the identity of the other individual remains a mystery. Request further
instructions as to procedure should similar activity be observed in the
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