Super: Underground by Palladian - Read Online
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Summary

Although Lex and her friends escaped the shadowy company that wanted to use them as lab rats, she ends up having to fight for her life as the experimental drugs they gave her take effect. Upon her success in the fight, Lex returns to find herself changed. She and her friends flee DC and start a new life for themselves as traveling musicians, so that they can scout out a permanent home. This enables them to reconnect with old friends they'd thought lost forever, but as they become more successful, they come into conflict with people from their former profession. After gaining some breathing room, the group of friends plans for an escape that they hope will put them permanently out of harm's reach. Will they be successful, or will the labs be able to reclaim their lost property?
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ISBN: 9781682228401
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Super - Palladian

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unconscious…

Chapter 21: Darkness

After the light disappeared, it took a long time for anything to resolve. The darkness seemed complete; Lex couldn’t see her own hand in front of her face, or any of the rest of her body. After what felt like an age, she realized she stood on something and looked down to see her own bare feet on a wooden floor like the one in the martial arts studio. Nothing could be seen in the near or far distance, which vanished away into the dark, but she could see her own limbs again and she had a floor to stand on.

Lex smiled to herself, feeling good about that last part at least. She tried to figure out her location and what she was supposed to be doing, but as she did, her head felt as if she’d been pierced through with a spike under her chin that came out through the top of her brain, and she fell to her knees, clutching her hair until the pain subsided again. Deciding to abandon that line of thought as she began to feel normal once more, Lex instead planned to continue to work on the form that Mr. Chen had challenged her to create, rather than stand around with nothing to do.

She felt it had been coming along well, but she hadn’t completed it yet. Lex knew she would probably have been further along or have completed it by then if she hadn’t been trying to engineer an escape at the same time, but maybe now she would have time to finish. She began by running through what had been completed, and Lex felt her body relax as she slid into the now-familiar movements. As she raised her right arm in a block, however, Lex felt her shoulder stiffen, throwing off the normal arc, as an all-too-familiar voice broke into her workout.

"What the hell is that weak form that you’re doing? It looks like some ballet shit."

As usual, her father’s voice seemed to ruin everything it touched, but for some reason, Lex didn’t panic like she used to. In this place, somehow nothing seemed strange or odd. She felt as if anything might happen as she turned her face up to look her father in the eye.

Actually, she said calmly, this is a form I created.

You created, he said mockingly, while standing up straight and broadening his shoulders, a familiar move meant to intimidate, she knew. What the hell for?

To defeat you, Lex replied, launching into the first move of her form.

He was caught off-guard by her swift attack and by the fact that one of her fists thrown at his chest turned into a pointed striking attack on the right shoulder at the last moment, hitting a pressure point and numbing the muscles of that arm. Her father roared then and came at her just as Lex had suspected, and she used her sticking hands and feet technique to control and redirect a number of quick blows, redirecting the hard punches and kicks he tried to hit her with.

You’re going to lose, Alex, you piece of shit, he yelled, continuing to come at her with a series of strikes meant to be withering. You’re weak. God knows I tried to train it out of you, but you’re weak! You always have been.

Lex ignored his words, continuing to work her form, and to her dismay found that most of the hard blows she directed against her father didn’t have much effect. The sticking hands and feet seemed to work best, and most pressure-point hits and joint locks also seemed effective. Remember this, Lex told herself as she pressed her attack.

She held her own, taking a few blows but giving more, until she ran up against the end of her form. As Lex hesitated for a split second, her father turned and jammed a large fist into her left kidney. Doubling over from the pain, he knocked her legs out from under her. Lex struggled to get back to her feet from under a hail of blows, finally falling back to her knees as the pain in her head started to return.

That was almost too easy, she heard her father saying then, through his laughter.

After that, Lex couldn’t be too sure of what happened for a while, but eventually found herself staring down at her bare feet on the wooden floor again. She checked herself for the expected bruises and found none. Upon stretching and trying her muscles, Lex found everything in good working order, but she felt more tired than she had been before her fight with her father. Shaking off her thoughts, Lex began to stretch out in preparation for more practice when she heard a voice.

Hey, Lex, Casey’s said.

Looking everywhere, Lex only saw darkness. Casey? she asked the nothingness. Where are you?

I’m right here, a voice returned faintly, and then Lex saw her friend. Casey seemed mostly an outline, ghostly at first, but in a moment she solidified. Hugging her friend, Lex noticed Casey was smiling but still looking worried as their eyes met. Lex sighed as she stepped back.

My idiotic father was here. I did fine at first, with the new form you helped me put together, but he beat me at the end.

Casey nodded. You know, I should have said this before, but I figured it wasn’t any of my business. I think you may have put too many power moves into that form. The things that Mr. Chen taught you will probably be way more effective against your dad. He sounds like he’s the same sort of bully as George. Use the same tactics against him—go for his weak spots. Don’t attack him where he’s strong.

Lex thought for a moment, then nodded in reply. Can you help me rework what I have so far?

Yeah. I’ll try to come at you like George, so maybe it’ll help you think like it’s your dad.

The two of them started running through the form and Casey tried to fill in for Lex’s dad as best she could, alternately charging at Lex and offering suggestions for areas where she thought the form should be changed.

Remember, Casey said as she moved into Lex’s mock throat blow, he’ll be even easier to beat than George. Your dad is just an ordinary guy, so he’ll have any sensitive area that most people have: eyes, ears, throat, joints, and so on. It’ll be a piece of cake for you.

Yeah, said Lex, unconvinced, sighing and smiling, but not feeling it.

Casey stopped then and looked directly into Lex’s eyes. "Don’t try to downplay what you did. That guy nearly beat me to death and you defeated him. And because you won, it gave me courage to do what I did. Your dad is just another bully. I bet there’s about as much behind him as there was behind George."

I’m sure you’re right, Lex replied, straightening up and looking at Casey with a new confidence. Let’s keep going.

They continued to work on the form and had reworked everything Lex had completed when Lex felt her strength start to seep away. She stopped and sat down for a moment but couldn’t keep sitting upright.

I’m sorry, Casey, she murmured as the darkness closed in again.

Just get some more rest, Lex. You’ll feel better later.

After that it seemed to be dark for a long time again, and Lex didn’t know whether she slept or floated in it. Eventually enough light gathered so that Lex could look down and see her own feet standing on the wooden floor again, however. She yawned and stretched, then went through her new form once quickly to make sure she remembered all of the changes she and Casey had worked on. Smiling when she reached the end of the sequence, Lex jolted forwards a moment later from a blow to the back of her head.

Lex spun quickly to find her father behind her, smiling at her evilly. Ready to get your ass handed to you again?

Are you? asked Lex, her eyes narrowing.

The very air seemed to vibrate with the stillness for a moment, and then the two of them came together in a blur of movement and the sound of Lex’s father shouting obscenities and insults. Casey had been right; the form she and Lex had developed together worked like a charm against the big man. Lex felt her heart sing with pride as she continually directed the bulk of her father’s blows away from her and then delivered stinging jabs to his pressure points, locked up his joints, blurred his eyes by hitting near them, and a number of other nasty techniques. However, as they fought, Lex felt her energy being sapped away. It didn’t seem to be so much from the few blows her father landed on her, but from his constant, screaming insults.

You piece of shit, Alex! Did you really think you could get me with such weak shit? Come on now, little pussy girl, just give up and cry already! You’ll never beat me, Alex!

Lex found herself drawing back as the form abruptly ended, unsure what to do next. She and her father eyed each other from a few feet away warily, Lex panting and her father standing awkwardly due to some of the pressure-point strikes Lex had managed to land on him. When he suddenly faded away into nothing, Lex almost sobbed with relief, but instead just collapsed to the floor as the darkness rushed in everywhere around her.

Although she had no way to tell for sure, Lex started to get worried as time seemed to drag on. The darkness seemed interminable now, and finally she tried hard to see again, to get oriented, and gradually saw her feet on the wooden floor once more, seeming to materialize under her from the blackness. The light was even dimmer than it had been, and Lex felt weary in a way she never had before in her life. She started to get scared but instead sat for a few moments, getting her breathing steady, until she felt she was ready to stand again and tried to think. How should the form end? From what Lex had worked up so far, she had been able to keep most of her father’s attacks at bay as well as attack his weak points. But, she found she had no idea of where to go next.

I wish Mr. Chen was here, she murmured to herself as she began running through her form as it was so far, hoping it would give her inspiration about how to end it.

As she turned naturally during part of the form, Lex stopped suddenly, surprised to see Mr. Chen standing there. He nodded to her.

Please continue, Lex. I didn’t mean to interrupt.

Lex felt a smile bursting onto her face and nodded at him, picking up near to where she left off. She worked the form through what she’d put together so far, then stopped, looking at her teacher.

That’s all I have so far. I don’t know how to end it, yet.

He looked at her and nodded. Well, I think what you have so far is a good combination of elements. May I make a few suggestions while I think about what might be needed for a strong finish?

Lex nodded, and the two of them went through a few of the sections together, Mr. Chen making a number of small suggestions that Lex felt made the form flow much better. Afterwards, they were both silent for a moment, and then Mr. Chen spoke.

My first thought is that when a man goes through life trying never to bend to the forces around him, eventually he will be driven to kneel before them. The wiser man flows with the forces in his life, figuring out how to gently push himself where he wants to go.

Looking at him speculatively for a moment, Lex’s mind started working. Forced to kneel… Suddenly, however, a wave of exhaustion overtook her. She staggered as she looked back at Mr. Chen.

I’m sorry, she said, I’m so tired.

Why don’t you rest for a while, Lex, Mr. Chen said, his eyes infinitely sad. You’ll probably feel better when you wake up.

Mr. Chen, what’s wrong with me? Lex asked, her voice sounding slurred even to her own ears.

Mr. Chen just looked at her then, assisting her in reaching the floor safely before shrugging one shoulder and shaking his head gently.

The idea that her teacher didn’t even know chilled Lex. I’ll get back up in a little while. You’ll see. I’ll beat him this time. I won’t let you down, she said after a moment, hoping her voice sounded surer than she felt.

You have done nothing but make me proud from the first day I started to teach you, Lex, he replied quietly as he faded from view when the light dimmed.

Lex could feel herself smiling even as oblivion overtook her.

Sometime later, she came to the realization that she was just floating. So peaceful, Lex thought, feeling almost insubstantial, as if she could dissolve in the constant blackness surrounding her.

No, a feeling of certainty came to the fore. I won’t let go yet.

The struggle seemed to go on forever once again, and Lex felt exhausted by the time she could see her bare feet on the wooden boards. She fell to her knees and rested a while, comforted by listening to her own breathing, hearing it even out and become steadier.

OK, she said to no one as she stood. Time to end it.

Lex ran through the form as far as she’d completed it and then went through a quick set of steps. She used sticking hands to control her opponent’s punches, and then came down with a sharp stomp on the side of his knee. It all ended up with her standing over her opponent, controlling his arms with a joint lock while he knelt on the ground.

She smiled to herself, satisfied with what she’d put together, and started from the middle again to practice the end part. As she turned while ending it, Lex looked up to see her father beginning to materialize from the darkness surrounding her. She just stood ready then, all her muscles relaxed as she waited for him to finish appearing, watching him as he solidified and smirked at her.

I’m here to give you another lesson, Alex! Aren’t you glad?

Don’t fucking call me that, Lex snarled, a sudden anger flaring as she waited for him to make the first move.

She anticipated his charge at her and met him, avoiding the bulk of his blows and landing her own strikes to pressure points and other vulnerable areas. This seemed to infuriate him, and her father started shouting and screaming obscenities and insults at her.

Hey, Lex finally said, the quiet yet commanding tone of her voice enough to make her father stop in his tracks. Stop having a fit and fight. I didn’t think you were still two years old.

The look that her father gave her then almost made Lex smirk. She knew that if he could have reached out and killed her at that moment, he would have done it. He came at her with a wordless yell and she found herself easily evading what he had to throw at her. Lex moved surely, her breath coming easily and rhythmically.

He seemed to fall into every trap she set, and Lex either danced gracefully away from his blows or controlled them so that the force went past her. She became worried, though, as each movement seemed to drain a little of her strength, but at length the final sequence neared. By that time, Lex observed her father breathing hard and that the movement in his right arm and left leg seemed impaired. Lex herself breathed calmly and had suffered little damage, but her weariness continued to increase and she hoped she could keep herself moving as quickly as necessary. She waited as her father seemed to collect himself to come at her again. Controlling his movements with sticking hands and feet, Lex barely managed to work his arms into the correct position, and after she stomped on the side of his knee, she joint locked one of his elbows, forcing him to retain his kneeling position.

Don’t make me kick you over and step on your neck, Lex said with quiet authority.

Her father didn’t reply for a few moments as he knelt, almost panting, but finally spat out, You always were a little monster, you bitch.

Something in Lex seemed to snap then, and she felt her stomach drop as a tidal wave of rage and adrenaline started to pump through her. She leaned forward a little, causing her father to wince as she pushed a little harder on his arm, and got her mouth close to his ear before shouting back at him.

I was a little girl, you asshole! I had to depend on you to take care of me. Instead, all you did was beat up on me and tell me how worthless I was! I loved you and looked up to you, but you tried to thrash the life out of me and make me feel like I was worse than nothing! YOU’RE the monster, you goddamned piece of trash!

As Lex bent over her father, nearly screaming, an amazing thing happened. Instead of yelling back at her, he bowed his head and cringed, almost looking as if he were trying to get away from her words. Lex paused and then blinked rapidly as the dim light in the room quickly went to almost blinding. Suddenly, her hands were empty and she stumbled, then came to rest in a sitting position on the floor.

She put a hand over her eyes as the light continued getting brighter. After a few moments, it felt as if she was lying down, so Lex struggled to a sit up again. The exhaustion that had fled as she yelled at her father had returned in force, which made it a difficult task, but eventually she made it.

Lex tried blinking her eyes to clear her vision, but the light seemed intensely bright, so she squinted against it instead to see her surroundings. She sat in a small bed, and to her delight she realized she could see everything: the covers, her own hands, and even the lumps that were her feet. As her eyes traveled up her arms, Lex frowned to see a needle taped into one of them, and she visually followed the attached tube up to an IV bag. As her eyes adjusted further, Lex spotted Casey sitting in a chair along the wall a few feet away, engrossed in a paperback. Lex tried to call out to her friend, but when she opened her mouth, she found her throat so dry that she couldn’t make a sound. Swallowing a few times with difficulty, she felt relieved to find it seemed to help.

Casey, Lex finally managed in a wispy, dry-sounding voice. Why is it so bright in here?

At the sound of her name, Casey’s head whipped around to stare, the book falling forgotten to the floor. She arrived by Lex’s bed in a second, closing the blinds at the window over her head. When Casey turned back towards the bed, Lex could see her friend crying.

Are you OK? Lex asked with concern. What’s wrong?

Casey ran a hand under her eyelids and smiled. "Count on you to be worrying about everyone else. I’m fine, just surprised is all. How are you feeling?"

Thinking about it for a moment before answering, Lex responded, Tired and thirsty, but OK otherwise.

Casey nodded, smiling now. OK, I’ll get you some water. Then, she stopped in her tracks as she had another thought. Now that I think about it, I’ve got to talk to Lily first. Let me get Riss so she can get you some water. She’ll want to see you anyway, once I tell her.

Casey’s smile threatened to take her face over as she almost ran out the doorway.

Chapter 22: Aftermath

Lex looked around a little after Casey left, and saw a small room and the tiny bed she lay in. The windows overhead spoke of being in a basement, but Lex couldn’t place the room as anywhere she knew or had seen before. The walls had been painted off-white a long time ago, but now looked more yellow than white, marked with the occasional furniture scrape. Other than Casey’s chair and the bed, Lex saw no other furniture in the room.

Gingerly, Lex tried to remember what had happened, and finally the incident at the train station came back to her. She remembered being sick, Casey picking her up and carrying her, and then nothing, just some weird dreams. Shaking it off, Lex moved to get out of bed, thinking that she should probably get ready. Although she couldn’t place their location, Lex figured they hadn’t gotten far since she fell ill and since they were in touch with Lily. All three of us should get moving as soon as possible, she thought, so we don’t put anyone in more danger.

When she tried to rise from the bed, however, Lex found that she couldn’t even sit up very far until her muscles started to shake and another wave of exhaustion hit her. Casey and Riss came into the room at that moment, and the blonde rushed to Lex’s side.

Whoa, tiger, why don’t you wait until Lily gets here? She wants to have a good look at you to make sure you’re OK. She said it was fine to give you some water, but drink it really slowly, all right? You’ve been having a lot of trouble with your stomach.

At that moment, Lex found she could only focus on the small glass of water in Casey’s hand. With trembling hands, she guided it to her mouth and tried not to gulp it down despite her raging thirst. After a moment, she began to think about the rest of what Casey had said.

Lily’s coming here? Lex asked, bringing the glass of water to rest in her lap. We shouldn’t do that. It will put her in a lot of danger, and—

Lex, Casey said, kneeling by her bedside to look her in the eye. Don’t worry, it will be OK. I know you probably have some questions, but Lily wanted us to wait until she gets here to start talking about everything. Can you wait a little while longer? We’ll answer everything then.

OK, Lex said with a confused frown, and settled back in bed to sip her water again. She leaned forward as Casey arranged the pillows behind her to support her back, and looked over at Riss, who’d sat in the corner a few feet away, legs crossed tailor-style under her and a laptop in her lap. Lex had felt her friend looking intently at her face, but Riss glanced away when Lex looked over in her direction.

How’s it going, Riss? Lex asked, causing the other woman to look up to meet her eye.

Riss shrugged. Lots better than it was. Lily should be here soon, maybe another fifteen minutes.

Lex nodded and slowly finished the last of her water, pleased that her stomach seemed fine as she did. Closing her eyes, Lex massaged her eyelids gently, then her eyebrow ridge. The whole area felt tight and hot.

Opening her eyes sometime later as she heard a noise, Lex blinked as she saw Lily bustle in, dressed in business clothes and a lab coat. Lily stared straight into Lex’s eyes for a moment, as if confirming something, then turned to Casey and Riss.

All right, ladies. Out. Once I’m done, we can all talk.

The two women filed out quietly and closed the door behind them, and Lex thought she could hear someone settle in the hallway just beyond the door. Lily started taking a number of instruments out of a small satchel she’d carried in with her and laid them out on a cloth on top of the chair Casey had been sitting in. Finally, she scrubbed up with hand sanitizer and turned to Lex.

I’m going to check you out to see how you’re doing, Lily said, donning her stethoscope and lifting Lex to put it on her back. Breathe normally for me.

An hour later, Lex felt exhausted again, if only because of the amount of medical observation that had been done on her. Lily nodded and actually looked pleased as she pulled her stethoscope off and put it back in the bag.

Everything looks pretty good, all things considered, Lily told Lex. I can go through what I think are going to be problems for you, then we can review any other questions you have. Do you mind if I call Casey and Riss back in? We’re going to have to rely on them to help take care of you for a while, so they’ll need to know this, too.

Lex looked back with bemusement before nodding, not trusting her voice at the moment. What the hell happened while I was asleep?

She forced herself to smile as the other two women came back into the room and positioned themselves—Riss in the corner she’d taken before, and Casey leaning against the corner of the room nearest the bed.

All right, Lily said, first things first. Lex, you didn’t really get sick, you had what we call a body event. I think Riss filled you in on what that means, she continued, shooting Riss a glance that was hard to decipher.

Lex nodded without replying and waited, trying to keep her hands from shaking.

"The good news is that when I checked you out, from what I can see, your basic structure seems to be fine, along with your heart and breathing. From everything I can tell, without being able to scan you in any way, your body structures all seem normal.

Unfortunately, the event seems to have had a bad effect on your digestive system. By the time I saw you, you were vomiting so hard every few minutes that I was sure you’d pulled some stomach muscles. How long had it been since you’d been able to eat normally?

Well, Lex replied, looking curiously at Lily, everything seemed to work fine unless I left the facility. A while after I left, I’d start to get headaches and feel queasy. They usually stopped once I got back.

Lily sighed. "Along with the experimental medications used by MSI, they usually prescribed painkillers and some antivirals so that the process didn’t begin too quickly. In this case, the upshot seems to be that you didn’t start feeling bad until you left.

Anyway, we’ll have to teach you to eat again. Start off with things that will be easy to digest, like rice with honey, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, or applesauce. Just remember to stick with things with as little processing as possible—avoid anything with any chemical tastes, smells, or colors—and avoid foods that have a lot of sugar, fat, or salt. What do you usually eat?

Lex shrugged. I was eating mostly vegetarian food before this.

Most of that should be fine on your stomach. In your case I’d avoid dairy, though, because it sets a lot of people’s stomachs off.

Lily paused and looked at Lex for a moment before continuing. There’s something else I have to tell you before I continue with the things you’ll have to look out for. When you got ill, you stayed that way for a while. You’ve been here for a little over a month.

Lex paled as she stared up at Lily. A month? I can’t believe they haven’t found us yet! We should get out of here now!

Stop right there, said Lily with eyes full of steel as she pushed Lex further back into the bed. I think you’re about as safe as you can be in DC; I’ll let Riss and Casey explain later, since I’ve got to get back to work soon. Also, I have no intention of letting you go before I have at least a little assurance you won’t die the minute you set foot out my door. More quietly, Lily said, almost to herself, My grandfather would never forgive me.

What do you mean? Lex asked, still confused.

Lily faced her again, fixing Lex’s eyes with her own. "You were very lucky, Lex. I’ve seen other people with harder body events than yours, but none who survived. You nearly died twice during the past few weeks. Casey never left your room during the day, which was good because she brought you back the first time your heart stopped. The second time she had to do CPR on you for over an hour before I could make it back here to help you.

Your event also ended up well. You still look pretty much like anyone else. I’ve seen people come out of their body event so changed that they don’t look human anymore. Let me say it one more time so that you actually start to think about it: you are lucky to be in as good shape as you are. Don’t blow it by running off before I say you’re ready.

OK, all right, Lex mumbled, looking down at her hands.

All right then. Since you haven’t been able to eat and you’ve been bedridden for the past month with your body reforming itself, your muscles have atrophied. We’ll need to work to get you up and moving again, but we’ll also keep it slow so that we don’t overdo it. You’ll need a lot of help from Casey and Riss to be successful, and I expect you to accept it. Is that clear?

Yes, Lex replied, glancing up at Lily from under her brows, frowning.

Lily smiled gently in reply. OK then.

What did you mean, my body reforming itself? Lex asked after a moment, having had an opportunity to consider Lily’s previous words.

Sighing, Lily replied, Well, that’s what the body event is all about. Your system was bombarded with experimental drugs to cause your genes to change and your body to respond as a result. The event is sort of the tipping point; your body responds to the drugs by trying to reform itself. Of course, this is a difficult prospect for a living being, which is probably why most of the people who have a body event die of it. Due to all of the differing messages your body is getting—from its original set of genes and the new changes the drugs are trying to express—the results are hard to determine beforehand and are often unexpected. You may get new limbs, a new appearance, new organs, you may forget…everything. It seems to be unique for each person.

Then Lily swore under her breath as she looked at her watch. I have to get back to work before anyone gets suspicious. Casey, Riss, feel free to fill her in on anything now, and please get her something to eat.

With that, Lily swooped out the door, but then poked her head back in a moment later.

"I almost forgot. Start keeping a log if you experience anything that’s out of the norm for you. Make a note of the time you experienced the symptom and a brief description of what happened. I’ll try to stop by later this evening to see