Chapter 70: Dragnet

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"At least yours is a solid color," Lex said, grumbling as she pulled her helmet out from under the bus seat.

She looked at the safety green color, shot through with electric blue lightning bolts, then looked over at the red helmet in her husband's lap. Glancing up, she saw Rolf smiling.

"Well, you didn't have to settle for the pink one with the flowers," he replied. "Come on, it's not that bad."

"Yeah, I guess I don't have to look at it when I'm wearing it," Lex said, pulling it on and opening the face shield. She sighed as she looked at their schedule, which showed another information-gathering trip, this time to a worn-out industrial park in a small town a few hours west of Philadelphia, reminding her of their first job, which had been at a similar place in Maryland.

Lex sighed again as she got out of the bus and looked across the cracked hardtop parking lot in front of what looked like a big warehouse. Looking at the two-story building with an appraising eye, she could see where there used to be a sign across the front of it, going by the rectangle of deeper-colored green paint in the center near the roof. It had long since gone, however, along with any cars that used to park in the lot, giving the property at the end of a secluded cul-de-sac a desolate and abandoned look. She gave a slight grimace as she turned to Rolf and gave the rest of their friends, where they stood assembled in a loose group past him, a brief glance.

"Not another one of these," she heard Kate grumble a few feet away.

She didn't even have the heart to chide Kate, Lex realized, since she'd had similar thoughts upon seeing their surroundings. Aside from some successful shows, and a day or two at a university lab to construct their helmets, most of what they'd been seeing over the past few weeks consisted of places like these. At first, they'd been on the outskirts of DC or Baltimore. A defunct hotel, an abandoned warehouse by the railroad tracks, or a set of never-used tunnels off the metro. As spring had settled in, however, they'd continued going farther north. Now, into April, they'd come here, again looking for any trace of people with unusual abilities. Their handlers had said nothing about what to do about the almost-inevitable groups of squatters they came upon; people who'd lost their jobs and homes, perhaps with no relatives or friends and nowhere else to turn.

Lex swallowed hard as she thought of it, all of the dirty, desperate faces they'd seen and she closed her eyes for a moment against the onslaught. After a deep breath, she opened her eyes again and looked around at her friends. "Is the advance team ready?" she asked, watching as Lily, Victor, Kate, and Lou stepped forwards.

She smiled at Rolf and then joined them. "You make it sound so nice," Kate grumbled, glaring at Lakshmi as the woman detached from the rest of the group and approached.

Clenching her teeth, Lex reached out and grabbed the loathsome handful of plastic zip ties Lakshmi handed her, then stuffed them into a zippered pocket on her thigh, already trying to forget they existed. "Do we need to wait for the property owner this time?" Lex asked, struggling to keep her voice calm and even.

"No," Lakshmi replied as she handed a bunch of zip ties to Victor. "The former owners went bankrupt, and the paperwork is still hung up in court. Technically the bank owns this, but the court still hasn't wrapped up the former corporation's affairs yet, so we have no keys or anything of the kind. The appropriate people know we're here, and they approve of what you're about to do."

Lex exchanged quick glances with Lou and Kate before replying, "So, we just go in the way the squatters do, I guess?"

Looking unconcerned, Lakshmi shrugged. "I'm sure you'll find a way. No property damage, please."

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