Touring Under Pressure
04: Setting Oneself Up
Everyone was up and out early the next morning. Megan and Ryan had stuck around just long enough for Alex to have a discussion with her and Lauren about what they should try to accomplish after he left. He also took a cue from his interactions with Tommy, Jenny Cox’s husband. He suggested Ryan work with the spouses, boyfriends and families of his followers in Houston to help them adjust to their women’s new role in his mission. Ryan seemed to like the idea, getting enthused about helping others in a similar position, proving once again that including people was one of the best ways of winning friends.
Lauren accompanied them to breakfast, which meant Cate and Gail couldn’t question Alex about his behavior the previous night, although Cate kept giving him surreptitious looks throughout the morning. But then she was busy talking to Frank Osmon about his background, particularly his family, and how it might fit in with her current scientific hypotheses, so she didn’t really have a chance to confront him anyway.
They managed to get started early, early enough to miss most of the early morning commuter traffic, so Patricia and her group were happy, but they were ecstatic that their big performance the previous night had gone so well. She had teased Alex about his followers ‘messing up my show’, but he knew she was just teasing and had actually helped cover for him, so they took it in stride.
Once they got into the car, though, all bets were off. Alex and the others chose to drive his car, so they’d have time to stop if they encountered anyone without slowing down Patricia’s bus, giving them time to set up for that night’s concert in San Antonio. The fact they each knew they needed to discuss the events of the previous night also weighed in on the decision.
“So what was that about last night, Alex?” Cate asked. Gail simply remained silent and kept driving, choosing to stay out of the discussion for now.
“I think you know what last night was about, so why don’t you ask me what you really want to ask?” Alex replied.
“Fine, what the hell were you about to do to Ryan last night?” Cate asked, taking her gloves off and getting right to the point.
“I was tempted to drain the energy from the hand he’d used to grab Lauren, maybe leaving him with a useless blackened husk to think about.”
No one responded to that right away, thinking it best to leave it while their emotions were still running so high.
“You do realize why that would be a bad idea, don’t you?” Cate eventually asked him.
“Of course I do. It would have been horrendous. It would have made me a permanent enemy, it would have terrified my followers, and it would have attracted the attention of the authorities. The doctors who’d have to remove the arm would have called the police, not knowing what caused it, and they’d have launched a full investigation, during which my name would have come up… repeatedly.”
“Yet if I hadn’t spoken up, you might have done just that,” she reminded him.
“Actually you weren’t the only one to warn him,” Gail added. “I gave him a talking to as well.”
“Well I’m glad someone did. Alex, if you know it was so dangerous, why did you allow yourself to get to that stage?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I felt like I was forced into a difficult position. I knew I shouldn’t have gotten involved with Megan and Ryan, but she was the best person for the position. I thought I could defuse the situation, but Ryan kept going, kept trying to goad me.”
“If you knew he was trying to goad you—” Cate started to argue.
“It wouldn’t have mattered. I was trying to deal with him but I wasn’t having much luck. I should have simply refused to have had sex with anyone last night, and even once I had, I should have walked out once things got difficult.”
“Yes, you probably should have,” Cate agreed. “But the fact of the matter is you were right. It was a difficult situation, but you chose the best option. Ryan acted like he was OK with it, and he only acted out once it started. What’s more, you couldn’t very well have backed out, and even if you did you would have had a permanent enemy on your hands. Once again you managed to pull off another miracle, but you did it by listening to your own intuition, which always seems to get you out of trouble. The problem is you almost made a huge mistake because you didn’t take the time to think the situation through. Now what I’d really like to know, is why you let yourself get so bent out of shape about things?”
Alex sighed. He’d been thinking about that very question all night. He’d come close to permanently disabling someone simply because he’d acted like an ass. Something he had every right to do, considering that Alex had been screwing his girlfriend. If Ryan had changed his mind, it was his to change. Alex should have recognized he wasn’t comfortable with the situation and stopped what he was doing immediately.
“I don’t know, I guess the truth of the matter is that I’m starting to get overwhelmed. The pressure of everyone looking up to me, trying to figure out what to do in every instance, and to always make the right choice is intimidating.”
Cate simply looked at him, not sure of how to respond. Her immediate impulse was to comfort him, to tell him it was understandable and that it would all be OK, but she knew it wouldn’t be. If he continued on this course, he might very well make a mistake even bigger than the one he’d almost made the previous night, and then she may lose her brother altogether. She was trying to prepare herself for his eventual death, but she couldn’t imagine him being taken away from her even before that, especially if it was something like the previous night they could prevent, but which Alex had decided to confront instead.
“I hate to break it to you, Alex, but you’re going to have to deal with it,” Gail said simply, stepping into the breach in the conversation. “Things are only going to get worse as time goes by and more people come to rely on you. You’re doing well learning how to adapt to it, to adjust and put people to use helping you. You’ll figure out how to handle it eventually, but you can’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed.”
Gail took a moment to consider Alex before continuing. “You need to work with Cate more on your coping mechanisms, play with her relaxation techniques until it becomes second nature. I’m also going to push you to start exercising again. All this sitting around waiting for someone to find you isn’t good for you. In fact there are exercises you could be doing while you’re sitting in the damn car.”
“I’m not sure it’s going to be so easy,” Cate argued. “While it wouldn’t hurt, he is under a tremendous amount of stress, and having to dance around a constantly changing group of sycophants isn’t helping anything. But I’ll tell you what, Alex, you aren’t going to go sit in a damn mall this time. We’re taking you out for a nice walk around town. We may not be able to take you far, but we’re going to get you to relax more even if it kills us. Luckily San Antonio is a smaller city, so it shouldn’t be quite as intense as Houston was. Hopefully there won’t be that many people to worry about this time.”
“Those are probably good ideas, but I’m not sure taking it easier for an afternoon or exercising a few days a week is going to ease the pressure on me. They might help temporarily, but it doesn’t resolve the central problem. The only thing that’s going to do that is if I can get a handle on what I’m dealing with. But I’ll admit just having a pleasant afternoon would be a welcome change of pace.”
“You’ve also got to give up this idea of being able to control everything and protect everyone,” Cate said, getting into what she saw as the central problem. “There was really no reason why you had to boost Megan, especially when you had Lauren there, another Seer who didn’t have a current boyfriend. I know you thought Megan made a better choice, but you’ve got to be willing to accept imperfect choices. You may not find someone you can boost in the next city, or the one after, but it won’t stop your mission. It may not even endanger your followers there. It just means you can’t control every potential risk to each of your followers. Now that is what you really need to be working on.”
They fell into an uneasy silence as Alex considered the idea, so Gail began instructing him on how to exercise in a moving car, while Cate proceeded to give him a quick backrub from the backseat. It wasn’t great, but it was better than ignoring the stresses he’d been facing.
The route between Houston and San Antonio takes one through a lot of uninteresting terrain without many structures, with only a few scrub trees and a few clusters of small cacti for distraction. Alex leaned his seat back and was working at relaxing following Cate’s advice. But she was the one who distracted him this time.
“Alex, quick, get up. And, Gail, you’d better pull over.” Alex didn’t take long to respond, since he was used to having to respond to unsettling events. He quickly glanced back and forth, not knowing where to look. “Look behind us to the right, you may have to look a moment, but….”
Alex twisted in his seat and scanned the sparse vegetation in this region of Texas before his eyes focused on the object of Cate’s interest. A figure on a horse, clearly a woman, her hair streaming behind her, raced across the countryside apparently following the car as she angled towards the highway.
“You’d best…,” Alex started to say, but found Gail was already edging into the breakdown lane.
“We’re not going to be able to reach her,” Cate told him, taking into account the fencing which separated the highway from the surrounding property. “Give me a second and I’ll figure out where the nearest exit is and we’ll see if we can double back and find which road leads—”
“Never mind,” Alex told her as their car came to a halt on the side of the road, cars continuing to zip past on their left. “There are other ways to communicate under the circumstances,” he said, as he got out of the car and looked back at the figure hurrying to catch up with him.
He had to wait for her to get closer, but when she got close enough for him to see her eyes, he saw the figure pull back, but it apparently wasn’t enough to dissuade her horse, which continued its gallop. Luckily the horse knew its way around the countryside and wasn’t relying on its rider, because it continued to weave around the cactus scattered around the area. Figuring the woman had made eye contact based on her actions, Alex let her know she didn’t need to continue to risk her own health and wellbeing to reach him.
‘Don’t panic, it’s OK,” Alex told her. “I see you and I can communicate with you, so you don’t need to rush to meet us.’
‘Who, or what, are you?’ the woman asked in amazement, as she pulled back on the reins, slowing the horse to a walk. ‘I’ll have you know I’m a good Christian woman, so if this is some kind of a trick…’
‘This is no trick, and no, I’m not the angel you currently see me as. I’ll explain everything, but it looks like it’s going to be too hard to reach you. If it isn’t too difficult, we’ll be staying in San Antonio tonight. If you could get there, either today or tomorrow, I can explain everything to you, but you need to realize how important this is to you,’ Alex told her.
‘Believe me, I can feel how important it is, if that makes any sense. I’ll get there as soon as I can arrange it. Where are you going to be staying?’
‘Uh… I’m told we’re staying someplace called the Menger, if you know where that is, but if you contact me when you get to the city we can coordinate where we are and where we can meet. Finding each other with telepathy is much easier than it is otherwise.’
‘Yeah, I know the place. I’ll be there later this afternoon. Thanks for stopping to… uh, talk with me,’ she said, pausing to consider the language she wasn’t speaking. ‘My name is Linny Gabberts, by the way.’
‘Linny, huh? You’ve have to tell me the story behind that name when we meet. Mine is Alex, but we’ve got to be heading out as we’ve got to meet a lot of others like you.’
‘Uh, Ok, but are you—?’
‘Look, we’ll cover that when we meet. But keep in mind I’m looking for others like us, so if you have any relatives who seem as intuitive as you are, bring them with you,’ Alex told her as he signed off. Turning, he saw Cate and Gail watching him from beside the car.
“She’ll meet us in the city,” he told them simply, not explaining any of the conversation he’d had with her. “Seems like an interesting girl,” he commented as he climbed back in the car, ready for the rest of the trip.
The hotel they’d booked in San Antonio was the Menger, which was not only right downtown next to the Rivercenter Mall, but it was a famous hotel from the 1850s located next to the Alamo. The place was gorgeous, filled with historic artifacts, but since it wasn’t as ‘modern’ as the more recent Rivercenter Marriott it was actually cheaper. Cate was excited it was right downtown. That way Alex could draw the maximum amount of people to him, but they were also right next door to various tourist spots so there was no reason for Alex to beg off touring the city.
They checked in quickly, leaving Cate downstairs to watch for anyone looking for Alex. Once that was done, Alex was all for heading to the Mall complex, a nice center connected to the famous San Antonio River Walk by a special diversion which ran through the center of the mall, but Cate vetoed the idea.
“Yeah, it’s a great place to sit and stress about how tough your life is, but we’re going exploring today. If anyone wants to find you, they’ll just have to follow you.
“While you guys were putting our luggage away, I talked to Jordan and Chelsea. They agreed to round up any Watchers surrounding us so we’re covered. Now we’re going to visit the Alamo and you’re going to learn some Texas history!”
Alex tried to argue with her, but it was only half-hearted. He was tired of isolating himself and thought it would be good to relax for a change, and the way Cate described it, the Alamo, the Rivercenter and the River Walk were all close together and were heavy tourist destinations, so they’d all be good for attracting new followers.
So they walked to the Alamo, which was right next door to the hotel, where Cate and Alex did the self-tour while Gail kept subtle watch from behind them, and Jordan and Chelsea kept watch for anyone paying an inordinate amount of attention to Alex. When they finished their tour Alex noticed Jordan had a woman with her, but since she didn’t bring her forward to meet Alex he figured they had something planned, so he didn’t worry about it. Cate pulled him behind her as she led him across Alamo Plaza and down a little public park pathway which featured running water leading to the river walk.
Alex had to admit the sound of the water, the bright sun and the warm weather all made for a relaxing morning. When they reached the River Walk, Jordan introduced Alex to Lisa Beadrow, who it turned out worked in the Macy’s in the nearby Rivercenter mall. While they’d been touring the Alamo she’d felt Alex from where she spent her lunch breaks. Jordan had been explaining what she knew of being a Watcher to her, but had wanted to spare overwhelming Alex at the time. Now, however, they used her familiarity with the neighborhood to figure out the best place to have lunch.
Lisa happily led them to her favorite spot, a little French restaurant that sat across from several larger Tex-Mex places, and which provided a nice view of the river—actually a small diverted stream which flowed through a concrete path laid out for it—and also gave them easy access to anyone walking along the River Walk. When Gail complained about eating overpriced French food instead of the more local Mexican, Lisa informed her the prices were about the same, the food was better—not as touristy as the other places—plus it had a great view of the entertainment the Mexican restaurants across the River Walk offered. It also got them on the less populated side of the River Walk, so anyone walking nearby could find them, but they wouldn’t stop traffic if anyone stopped to stare.
The food was actually very good, and Lisa talked the adults into drinking the house specialty: cactus-pear margaritas. Gail had to be talked into it, but the others assured her a single margarita wouldn’t incapacitate her, especially not one from here. Lisa informed her if she wanted a more potent one she’d take her someplace special later.
“So, Lisa, tell me a little about yourself?” Alex said while they were eating.
“Well, you know I work at Macy’s, right? Well, I went to school at Rice University in Houston. I decided to move to San Antonio because it’s not as crowded as Houston, and everyone seems more relaxed. Plus because of its location it gets enough rain to make it more comfortable, and it has more forested land around it that’s good for weekend trips. I spend a lot of time rafting the local rivers north of here. Like virtually all Texans, I also do a lot of dancing at the local dance halls. That and Football are the central tenets of being a Texan.”
“And here I thought religion was one,” Cate commented, trying to test just how she might respond to Alex’s professed atheism.
“Oh, well of course, being a practicing Christian is a requirement in Texas,” she said with an easy laugh. “The rule is you party at the ball game on Friday, you sin on Saturday in the dance halls, repent on Sunday, and then recover floating down the river with a beer in your hand.”
They took turns eating, so there were always two people talking up anyone watching Alex from afar, but there weren’t that many. However, Alex was still eating when a woman on the other side of the ‘river’ loudly exclaimed, “Oh my God, there he is!”
Alex looked up in alarm, expecting trouble, and saw an older woman staring at him in front of one of the Mexican restaurants, blocking traffic as she pointed Alex out to everyone around her. As soon as their eyes met she reeled and almost fell into the shallow river. Several people nearby stepped in to help her, one of them being Chelsea. Alex wasn’t sure what she said to the woman, but she managed to convince her to approach Alex without attracting any more attention.
As she crossed the little walkway bridge over the small river, Alex was able to examine her in more detail. She was older with red hair, and the red cheeks and skin of a woman brought up under the hot Texas sun. She wore a denim outfit which practically shouted she was on vacation.
When she neared Alex, Chelsea practically had to hold her up to keep her from falling to her knees. Alex got up to help her into a seat. The waitress seemed to have figured there was something odd about this group of tourists, so she gave them their distance, giving them a little leeway. In exchange they made sure to order drinks for everyone to justify a bigger tip.
“This is Martha Dunbar,” Chelsea said, introducing the woman. “When everyone was trying to help her she kept going on about ‘the Angel descended to us from on high’, so don’t be surprised if you get a lot of looks.” Alex nodded he understood, but decided to give the woman some time to adapt to her new visions.
“So you seemed to recognize me before we made eye contact. Did you know who I was or—?”
“Oh, no, one of my daughters told me you’d be in San Antonio, so I came here to see if I could see you at the concert tonight,” Martha answered, much too loudly in Alex’s opinion. “I live in Rockport, which is near Corpus Christi on the coast. She mentioned you’d be here for the Diane Kennedy concert, so I came up today to see it and figured I’d spend the day enjoying the city while I was here. I was surprised when I felt myself attracted to you. I was shopping in the mall up the road when I felt this overwhelming need to seek you out. When I saw you, I just knew you were him.”
“Well, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t spread the information too widely,” Alex told her. “I’m still trying to maintain a low profile, since I don’t want to get into a fight with the various religious factions around the country. I’m not trying to establish a new religion, I simply want to reach out to people like you and teach them what they need to know about themselves.”
“Melissa, that’s my daughter in New Orleans, told me that it runs in families and only affects women. What you’ve just done to me is amazing, could you visit with my granddaughters and see if you could help them the same way?”
“I don’t see why not,” Alex answered. “I’m assuming they’re a little young to attend the concert tonight. I also see you don’t have your other daughters with you.”
“Alas, my youngest daughter died two years ago from colon cancer, so I help my son-in-law raise them occasionally. If you can see them sometime before you leave, I’d really appreciate it.”
“I guess we could meet for breakfast or lunch tomorrow, would that work?”
“Oh, that would be wonderful. I’ll call George and tell him to bring them up so they can meet you. Either breakfast or lunch is fine. We’ll work to fit into your schedule, after all, you’re the important one with a mission to accomplish.”
“Well, just don’t get too excited. It does run in families, but there seem to be a lot of things which switch the abilities off we don’t fully understand yet. They may not respond to me. We’ll only know when I see them.”
“There are probably other genes that prohibit the expression of the particular gene in question,” Cate corrected him.
“Still, it would be good to find out, and it would also be good for them to see an honest to God Angel as well,” Martha replied.
“OK, although I’m not pushing my own beliefs here, I’m not…” Alex said, repeating once again his standard disclaimer about not being an angel. He tried to tell her what she needed to know as quickly and as quietly as he could. However her hearing wasn’t very good, so he had to speak louder than he’d like and she tended to speak loudly in return. As a result Alex was sure the many people sitting around them were hearing a lot more about him and his followers’ abilities than he really felt comfortable with. That was when he finally decided to finish up telling her everything telepathically instead. That solved the problem, but it didn’t solve what everyone around them had already heard.
They were still talking with a strange mix of speech and telepathy when another woman walked up to them. She got up from a table not far away so Alex had assumed she was making a run for the restroom, but instead she stopped by and leaned over to say something to him. Alex had been aware of her, even if he hadn’t been paying much attention to her, so he already knew she wasn’t either a Seer or a Watcher, so he wasn’t sure quite what to expect. She was a pretty woman, fairly tall, in a bright scarlet top with long curly dark hair and a distinctive mole at the corner of her mouth which accented her smile, making it seem even larger. Her eyes seemed to laugh as well, so Alex assumed she’d be good-natured.
“Pardon me, but are you the guy they were talking about on TV?” she asked. “You know, the angel of New Mexico or something?”
“He’s the angel of New Orleans,” Martha answered proudly. “His power and righteousness shine brightly for all to see.”
Alex groaned, but tried to recover enough to get a handle on the situation.
“My ‘righteousness’ might not be apparent to everyone, since it shines inside the minds of everyone,” he said, trying to obliquely correct Martha while not alienating the new woman.
“Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe you’re him,” the woman exclaimed. “My name is Linda Tamar, and I’d love it if my husband could take a picture of us so I can show my friends I actually met you in person?”
Alex was about to fly into a panic over the idea of Linda posting photographs of him all over Facebook, labeling him as the angel of New Orleans, but Gail set his mind at ease.
‘Don’t worry, Alex, Patricia gave me her little device to disable the memory card in cameras. If they take a picture, their pictures will suddenly disappear or turn solid white.’
“Uh, that might not be such a good idea,” Alex told the woman, hoping to use the information to help dissuade her from bothering with the camera at all. “I don’t exactly photograph well, and if you try to take my picture you’re liable to lose all of your vacation photos.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about that. You’re hardly an ugly sour puss and we’re hardly on vacation. My husband works at the Randolph Air Force base out near Universal City. We like to come into the city to enjoy the River Walk on occasion.” She turned and motioned for her husband, calling to him loudly enough for everyone around them to hear. “It’s him; it’s the real Angel here in San Antonio. Come take our picture.”
Alex figured he’d warned her, so he got to his feet slowly enough for Gail to get her hidden equipment ready. Alex positioned Linda and himself in such a way her husband was standing beside Gail so she could do her magic. He snapped off several pictures as everyone around them made room for them, but when he went to see how the pictures looked he seemed confused.
“Honey, did you do anything to the camera? It doesn’t seem to be working.”
“Alas, it’s not the camera,” Alex tried to explain. “There’s just something about my… ah, about my aura which seems to interact with electronic devices. That’s what I was trying to warn you about.”
“It’s true,” Gail offered, since Cate was out looking for hesitant Watchers. “If you Google ‘Angel of New Orleans’ and ‘camera’, it’ll give you a whole discussion of the phenomena. Many people think God doesn’t like people focusing on him, since he’s on a specific religious mission and isn’t out seeking publicity for himself.”
Alex groaned inwardly again. While what she was saying was part of what they’d planned as their defense, she was doing it by emphasizing Alex’s supposed ‘religious mission’. That was the last thing these people needed to hear.
More people began to gather around, each anxious to ask Alex about what he was doing and what he could do. Apparently most people had taken at least a passing interest in the news reports about him, so while they may not know much about him, they knew enough to be highly interested in him. Alex tried to fend them off as best he could, but even as he did he noticed Cate returning with yet another Watcher for him to talk to.
“Look, I’d really love to stay and talk, but I have other people to help. Let me just say that, yes, I am the supposed Angel of New Orleans, but I’m not trying to change anyone’s belief system. I was simply given the task of reaching out to specific individuals to give them information they need to live their lives more fully. But that’s about all I can say about it.”
That didn’t really dissuade anyone, however, and they continued to shake his hand and ask about his ‘mission’. It took a while, but he managed to finally disengage from the crowd. He’d sent a silent message to Martha and Gail to bring the Watchers and to meet him at the East Commerce Street Bridge.
‘Instead of that, just head up the River Walk on this side and walk over at the next crossover,’ Gail suggested. ‘That’ll put you on the path leading back to the Rivercenter complex.’
‘Thanks, which isn’t something I can say about that scene,’ Alex responded as he tried to walk away from the crowd surrounding him. ‘Couldn’t you have offered some help?’
‘Hey, it all happened too soon, and talking you out of difficult situations isn’t the same as taking down an armed assailant,’ she replied. ‘I never received any training on talking down an enthusiastic fan. Besides, you’ve got to get it through that little head of yours that this mission of yours is bigger than just your precious Watchers and Seers. There’s a general interest in you, and people want to know what you represent. You should try to use that to swing people over so they’ll be more sympathetic to you. After all, that’s what you’ve been telling your followers to do.’
Alex grunted an acknowledgment that what she said made sense, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to embrace it quite yet. It seemed to him it would simply expose both him and his followers to more scrutiny, and right then he was mostly concerned with escaping the public’s attention.
He was afraid to look back, but when he reached the little footbridge, he did, only to see Linda and her husband following along behind him, as well as Gail walking with Lisa behind them, and Cate and her watcher walking on the far side heading towards him as well. He knew better than to groan this time. Groaning to himself never seemed to help situations, and doing it internally didn’t seem to achieve much. Bowing to the inevitable, he stopped to wait for Linda.
“Sorry, but we just wanted to learn more about what it is you’re doing,” she said when she reached him.
“Yeah, you’re probably the most interesting person we’ve meet this week,” her husband said, agreeing with her.
Alex motioned for them to cross over the bridge, while checking to make sure there weren’t any others trailing behind him. He saw a lot of people looking on, but no one else was actively following him.
Everyone met up again when they turned off to head back to the mall. The River Walk was frequented by the occasional water taxi which ferried large groups of ten to twenty people up and down the river. They used the mall entrance to turn around for the return journey, so the walkway was always active and there were plenty of people to wave to, especially if you were looking for distractions to prevent you from having to talk to those you were walking with. But Alex could see the Watcher Cate was escorting was anxious to talk to him, so Cate managed to slip in beside Linda and her husband and launched into a discussion with them, allowing Alex to focus his attention on the new girl, giving her just enough information so she wouldn’t be completely lost.
As they started walking into the mall complex from the side and a few shops started appearing next to the walkway, Linda and her husband managed to catch up with him again.
“You know, we’re both members of the UU Church. That stands for the Unitarian/Universalist Church,” she explained. “If you don’t know, we’re a collection of free thinking people from a variety of different positions regarding religion. The group merged some longer standing groups which formed in the 1800s. The Unitarians didn’t accept the holy trinity, while the Universalists believe all religious organizations have something to teach us. Given that, we thought it would be interesting if you could come and speak to us about your organization. Give us your own perspectives on religion.”
Alex was about to flatly refuse, but something gnawed at the back of his mind, telling him it wouldn’t be as bad as it sounded. Besides, he remembered what Gail had said, so he ended up surprising himself.
“Actually, I’d be glad to. Although I’m only in town for a short time, so it’ll have to be over lunch tomorrow. And make sure you warn everyone to not bring their camera, cell phones or recorders, so we don’t have a repeat of what happened to you. It doesn’t seem to be a problem if they have them on them, but it will wipe the memory clear if they try to use it to record me. Again, I don’t really understand why, but we’ve found it to be the case after it’s happened repeatedly.”
“Oh, that sounds perfect. I’ll try to call everyone and see if we can arrange an emergency session. In fact, we’ll arrange something downtown here so it won’t inconvenience you too much having to drive all the way to our church.”
“Actually, I believe the Air Force base is on the way to Austin, so we should be heading that way on Saturday,” Cate suggested. “If you could arrange it for Saturday brunch, I’m sure that would be easier to arrange.” Cate had no idea what Alex was planning by talking to a private religious group, but she’d learned long ago not to question when Alex had one of his spur of the moment inspirations. He’d proven his weird off the cuff decisions usually worked out for some reason.
“That sounds perfect. I’ll set it up,” Linda responded with a smile, pulling her cell phone out to make the arrangements right then and there.
“I’ll take down the information.” Cate told her. “I’m kind of his social secretary. He’d be lost if it wasn’t for me keeping track of his appointments.”
They continued into the center of the mall, which constituted of a large circle of steps surrounding the River Walk, surrounded by the glass walls of the mall. That was ideal for Alex, as they could actually entertain a fairly large group without impacting anyone else from the nearby mall. And that was necessary, since they already had several new followers, both Alex’s newest girls as well as a few type 3 people like Linda and her husband, who seemed to gravitate to him as well. Of course, every time someone asked about who he was, Linda gladly told them. But the other girls quickly got the knack of distracting the other people while Alex and Cate talked to the people they needed to.
Linny Gabberts, the cowgirl they’d met on the way from Houston, met them there. She’d arranged with Alex to meet there when she finally reached the city, so she was waiting with several coffees and muffins from the nearby Starbucks, something Alex always appreciated.
Now that Alex could actually see what she looked like he was impressed. She was dressed as she had been out in the countryside, with a straw cowboy hat hooked under her chin to prevent it from blowing away, and wearing a casual tank top and bikini combination that was perfect for the hot Texas sun. She was pretty with a spotless complexion, although it was plain she got plenty of exposure to the sun as she seemed like the epitome of a ‘farm girl’.
“I didn’t know who the hell you were,” she told him after they’d sat down. “All I knew was you were the most important thing to happen to me, and you were going to disappear from my life if I didn’t do something. So I set out after you as fast as Spyder could carry me.”
“Spyder is your horse, I take it?” Alex asked.
“Yeah, he and I go way back. But as loyal as he is, I really suspect he could feel how powerful you were too. He ran faster than we’ve ever run before, and I’ve really put him through his paces a time or two. I don’t know whether he felt my own emotions, or whether he possesses whatever it is which attracted me to you, but he was just as determined to reach you as I was. I had to really pull back on him hard to get him to stop his charge to catch you. I was sure he was going to leap over the damn fence separating the highway.”
Alex considered that, and Cate clearly took an interest, as she edged closer to take part in conversation. That was a point neither Alex nor Cate had considered, that the Watcher/Seer gene combo might actually cross species. But Alex wasn’t ready to accept something that outrageous yet. So far it seemed to affect humans only, and since it seemed to be genetically based, he was sure it was tied into the human genome. He was also aware of just how receptive many animals were to their owner’s feelings and reactions. Linny had told him she could often guide Spyder even without their reins.
“So where does the name ‘Linny’ come from?” Alex asked, curious about the odd name.
“Oh, my name is actually Linda, but my little brother used to always call me ‘Linny’ since he couldn’t pronounce the hard d sound, and the name kind of stuck. The family took to calling me Linny, then my classmates took it up, and it stuck through college as well. Now I wouldn’t know how to respond to Linda. Anytime someone calls me Linda I look around to see who they’re talking to.”
“Just what do you do then?” Alex asked her, once again pressing to see how he could put his followers to use.
“Oh, my family owns a small cattle ranch back where you saw me. I was riding along the outskirts of the property. I didn’t know what drew me there today, but something did. I don’t think it was you, because I just had this odd notion to head there today. It was only after I’d been there about twenty minutes that I suddenly felt your presence approaching.”
“It’s almost as if someone or something was directing your motions so you’d meet Alex, wasn’t it?” Gail added from the side, having been listening to the discussion.
“Yeah, it was. I swear, I think God directed me there just so you could restore my faith. I’ve kept it, by the way, but it’s been hard over the years, seeing all the nonsense religion has been used to justify, but what you did was surely a reward for maintaining my vigilance over the years.”
“Well I don’t know about…” Alex started to argue before Gail shot him a dirty look, so he allowed the statement to die on its own. She had a point, he didn’t really know where his abilities came from, and it seemed more than just random chance how everything always seemed to work out all the time. Maybe there was something to Anh’s theories after all.
They didn’t pick up any more Seers, but they did pick up a fair number of Watchers, and this more relaxed approach was much easier on Alex’s psyche. He liked acting like a tourist, even if he ran into trouble doing it. However, he didn’t know whether he’d be able to do the same thing in any other city. The layout of San Antonio, and the size of the city, seemed to account for a lot of what made it work out so well.
For dinner the others managed to talk Alex into returning to the River Walk to try out another restaurant. They tried a Mexican one this time, which was big in this region seeing how close they were to the border. Alex was still concerned with being overly exposed on the narrow River Walk, but the other girls assured him they’d try to keep a better watch of people coming and going, and they picked a restaurant across from the other, where he could sit back from the River Walk itself but still overlook it and observe anyone approaching him. That seemed to settle it for Alex, and he had to admit the relaxed atmosphere definitely beat eating in the mall.
Chelsea and Jordan ate quickly, begging their leave, as they really needed to be at the Reliant Stadium in time to help the band prepare for the concert that night. As they were still getting their things ready, Cate kicked Alex in his calf to get his attention. When he turned to complain, looking away from Patricia’s two assistants where his attention had been focused, he saw a gorgeous blond woman approaching them with big puppy dog eyes.
Just as he expected, as soon as he noticed her, her head jerked back and those eyes, the same gun metal gray as her companion’s uniform, glassed over. She was even more beautiful than most of Alex’s companions, her face was flawless and her every feature was perfect. But her companion, a young man in an Army uniform, quickly glanced between his suddenly confused companion and Alex.
“Should I ask?” he asked rhetorically.
“You wouldn’t believe it if we told you,” Cate told him. “Come, have a seat so she doesn’t attract any more attention than she already has, and tell us who you are.”
“Ha, that’s a laugh. Sergeant Caity Stern always attracts attention wherever she goes. She draws men to her like shit draws flies,” The young enlisted man glanced at Caity before deciding she wasn’t quite ready to speak for herself yet, but Cate and Lisa were watching her, so he continued. “She’s an ex-Miss America contestant who just came back from Afghanistan, where she worked as a combat medic. Between her model good looks and her no-nonsense kick-ass attitude, she demands attention wherever she goes. And the Army agrees with me, because they keep sending her out on publicity jaunts whenever they can, despite the fact she’s not overly fond of them, preferring the life of a grunt instead.”
Caity seemed to have recovered by then, so she was busy glancing around in surprise at the changes in her vision she saw all around her. She was looking at everyone and everything.
“Are you OK, Caity? You told me this guy was some big dude, so I didn’t say anything when you got dizzy, but if you need any help say the word and I’ll—”
“No, I’m fine. I think,” she responded, still not sure how to respond.
“You’re fine,” Alex told her. “What you underwent is what everyone like you goes through. What you have, and what you experienced, are very rare, and we’ve only been doing this for a little while.” At this stage Alex took in her companion as if trying to determine what to say in front of him. As Alex expected, his hair was cut short and he looked to be in great shape. He wore the standard Army camouflage uniform, which Alex guessed was expected around here since everyone seemed to accept it so readily. Alex remembered San Antonio was the home of Fort Sam Houston, which was the center of the American military medical establishment. Walter Reed in Washington D.C. had a fair amount of responsibilities as well, but most of the injuries coming in from overseas were sent here, where the military specialists from the various services worked together to get them whole again. Or as close as they could manage, given the extent of their injuries.
Caity saw his look, and glanced quickly between the two men before coming to a decision.
“Jeff, could you excuse us for a little while. I want to discuss a few things with…” she paused, waiting for Alex to reveal his name. But Alex wasn’t so sure he wanted to reveal it if Caity didn’t trust him enough to listen to whatever he told her.
“Just call me Gabby,” Alex told her.
“I just need to discuss a few things with Gabby and his friends,” she finished, looking at Jeff, asking for his cooperation.
“Are you sure? It didn’t sound like you’ve ever met this guy before, and I’m not about to leave one of my people unprotected in a dangerous situation,” he told her, keeping a straight face for several seconds before breaking into a grin. “Yeah, I’ll make myself scarce for a little while.”
He started to get up, but Alex flicked his head towards him as a signal for Gail. She pointed to herself in a ‘who me?’ expression, but Alex motioned again. Gail wasn’t pleased to be leaving her charge, but she recognized the guy would respond to her best, as a fellow serviceman, even if they were in widely separated arenas. She got up, took him by the arm and guided him to a nearby table so they could talk. Caity turned and regarded Alex seriously at that point.
“Now could you kindly explain just what the heck you did to me?” she asked, as she smiled at him to let him know she was simply teasing him.
“You don’t trust your pal, Jeff, to overhear what we might say?” Alex asked, just to confirm his own suspicions.
Caity sighed. “Jeff is an Army man. As such his first loyalty is to the Army, which is the center of his life. Somehow I suspect you’re going to tell me some things the Army wouldn’t exactly be inclined to take lightly. Thus I think it would be better to not overwhelm Jeff with information which might test his convictions.”
Alex smiled at her understanding of events. “That was exactly my own thinking. I’ll try to cover the basics as quickly as I can, so we won’t leave him hanging for too long.” So Alex proceeded to give her the rudiments of her new abilities and what it entailed, with Cate adding anything he may have temporarily forgotten. She was shocked when he first spoke telepathically to her, and was overwhelmed when he connected her to multiple people hundreds of miles away who she could converse with instantly, without the need for translations in some cases.
“Man, we could definitely use something like this out in the field. When we were in Afghanistan, our damn radios often wouldn’t receive anything over the surrounding mountains, plus communicating with the people in charge of support, the people who controlled access to bombers or rescue ‘copters, would be sporadic at best, and they often wouldn’t understand what we were trying to tell them.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m sure it would be beneficial there. But right now I’m trying to help as many people here who have your abilities as I can. If I were to join the military, I’m sure I’d search out people with the same abilities in Afghanistan or Iraq, regardless of which side they were on. As I keep telling everyone, I’m not picking sides, I’m trying to reach my people, whatever they choose to believe.”
“Yeah, I can see how the military brass might look down on an attitude like that.” She smiled at him again with a look which caused an involuntary shiver to run down his spine. Man, she could charm the pants off a troll, Alex told himself. I’m going to have to watch myself. But then he rethought that idea. If he could utilize her ability to both charm and disarm people, she’d be a tremendous bonus to his growing community.
“You know, I can see how these abilities of mine may have been helping me over the years. I’ve often been very good at detecting who was sincere in wanting to do something, and those who were only going through the motions. Thus I’ve been able to avoid those who merely seek to use me, or those who aim to discredit me. I’ve also used my feelings about people to avoid getting myself into difficult positions, which is something women in the Army have serious problems with. I’d always know who was looking to put me into a bad situation, so I’d always find some way of avoiding them, or at least surrounding myself with other people if I couldn’t avoid them altogether. That saved my ass a bunch of times.”
Alex smiled at the fact that, for as prim and proper as Caity liked to portray herself, once she let her hair down the soldier in her came out and her language got a lot looser.
In order to cover additional material, Cate quickly provided an overview of how Caity could see the health and emotions of people, and how Alex could also affect people’s health as well.
“Holy shit,” Caity swore. “That’s phenomenal. Look, you’ve got to do me a favor. As Jeff told you, I’m a medic currently stationed at the medical center here. I work with the people sent here for injuries they suffered overseas. The military especially likes how I can inspire the soldiers to recuperate faster and work harder at getting better, as well as how much attention I bring to both the military and to those getting help here. It would mean a lot to me if you could come with me tomorrow to see some people at the Brooke Medical Center.”
“Uh, that would involve entering the military base wouldn’t it?” Alex asked, feeling a bit reluctant about exposing himself to watchful eyes in the military.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be my guest, a personal friend. If the patients show a marked recovery, they’ll just chalk it up to their being inspired by my bubbly personality,” she told him, flashing another of her toothy smiles. Alex had to admit, she was good at what she did. He was ready to march onto the military base and do things he knew were utterly stupid for him to do.
“What about getting Gail and Cate in as well. I need Gail there so she can advise me, but also because she’s my private security detail. Cate, I need, so she can interpret any surprises we may encounter, and believe me, we end up getting more surprises when we try to help people medically than we do anything else.”
“I don’t see any problems with that. The guards at the gate might look askance at you, but as long as I sign you in it should be fine. If it would make you feel any better, I could ask some press people to come along, that way all you’d need is a camera and you’d fit right in.”
Alex had images of not only military doctors watching him perform miracles in a hospital, but of the local press capturing it all on film, and he shuddered for a completely different reason than he had before. “No thanks. I think I’d rather avoid that if we can. Yeah, sign us up. I’m not promising I can do anything, especially if we encounter something we haven’t before, or if we don’t actually understand what’s happening, but it should be interesting.”
“Just wait until Gail finds out about it,” Cate warned her brother. “You know she’s not going to be pleased about you taking a risk like that, especially since she won’t be able to protect you while she’s surrounded by armed guards.”
Alex grunted his acknowledgment that he’d have trouble justifying taking such a risk to Gail, but he felt he needed to do this, both to see what he could do with a different sort of medical problem, and to see how Caity worked with people. He really wanted to see how he could potentially utilize her abilities and how she could help people. Well, she was already helping people, but he wanted to see how he could get her to help his people.
Having covered most of what they needed to, they called Jeff and Gail back. Surprisingly Jeff was more surprised by the news than Gail was. Gail just seemed to assume Alex knew what he was doing, while Jeff told Caity she was always trying to skirt the rules more than she should, but she told him she knew what she was doing, which shut him up.
Finally, Alex told them they were heading to Patricia’s concert, which he strongly hinted Caity might want to observe as well. Jeff informed them he needed to get back since he had early duty in the morning, and Caity hesitated, but when Cate asked her in a slightly pleading voice she relented.
“Sure, it should be fun. I’ve been intrigued by the ads I’ve seen for her portion of the show.”
“Yeah, and as an added benefit, if I attract too much attention you’d be a perfect distraction to take the attention off of me,” Alex added with a wink, meaning every word of it.
Gini settled her helmet on her head and checked her outfit one more time, making sure nothing was loose to cause her trouble as she rode. She still wore her camouflage uniform because she’d been so anxious to get away she didn’t want to waste time changing into her riding outfit. Once she got away from the city, she could change into her road gear, away from the presence she felt bearing down on her. She had everything packed so there was nothing left to hold her back. She’d felt the strong presence which demanded her attention when it arrived earlier in the day, but she wasn’t about to seek it out this time.
She’d learned long ago to follow her intuition, and it had helped her in her daily life, but when she joined the army and was stationed in Afghanistan, it had become a bit too much for her. Her teammates had quickly learned to trust her instincts as well, labeling her ‘Lucky’, since she managed to keep them out of so many ambushes or booby traps. But they’d come to rely on her too much, and despite her best efforts she’d seen too many of her friends die. She was tired of the responsibility, especially now that she was home and couldn’t deal with civilians or the dreams which constantly haunted her.
She’d wake up in a sweat, desperately trying to save her companions from an unexpected attack which had already taken many of them. She’d jump out of bed, grabbing any weapon available to defend herself, only to recognize the shocked expression on her family and friends when she finally realized she was stateside once again. They couldn’t deal with her wild nature, and she couldn’t deal with their inability to grasp what she’d gone through.
Instead, she thought she’d prefer to simply survive on her own. She learned overseas how to live in the wild on her own, so she figured she didn’t need anyone anymore. All she’d have to do was to visit the local grocery store every few weeks and she’d be fine. Maybe then she’d be able to figure out where her life was going, or had gone, she wasn’t sure which was the case anymore.
But the last thing she needed now was to purposely seek out what she could only guess was a bigger pile of shit than she’d ever encountered before. Sure, it seemed positive from this distance, but she knew how quickly feelings of happiness could switch to terror, and the power she felt calling to her was more than she ever wanted to deal with again.
No, it was better for her to simply seek isolation. She didn’t need anyone else and they certainly didn’t want her around anyway.
With that thought, Gini mounted her Harley, moved out onto the street and set off heading away from the city. She was free and there’d be no looking back now.