03: A Long Day in Memphis (Part I)

03:  A Long Day in Memphis (Part I)


The next morning Alex woke feeling disoriented, he wasn’t used to only a couple of girls in his bed. Glancing around he noticed two girls clutching him, but there was still another spooned up against him and he instantly knew it was Cate, his sister. The night before, after Alex, Tina and Amy had exhausted themselves, Cate had quietly slipped in amongst them and curled up naked behind her brother, the same way she’d been sleeping with him for the last several weeks. It had gotten to where she was almost addicted to his energy, unable to be away from it for very long. She hadn’t thought about it much, but she was afraid she’d be unable to function once they had to separate. That moment was approaching. For one, Alex had a very short timetable hanging over him. From what Cate had been able to determine, it appeared the energy coursing through Alex was killing him. It wasn’t apparent, since the selfsame energy also healed anything wrong with him, but the sheer volume of energy coursing through him was straining his body too much for it to manage.

Beyond that, Cate arranged to alternate taking care of Alex on this road trip with her other sisters. They had specifically asked to accompany him for part of the trip, afraid he may not live long enough for them to spend much time with him. Now that Cate and Melinda had reconciled, they were anxious to taste what Cate was already enjoying a steady diet of, not only sex with Alex, but simply the chance to spend time with him and appreciate what this new version of their younger brother was.

However, Cate was scared that once she separated from Alex, she may be unable to cope without the daily dosage of the energy she drew from him. But she also knew she’d have to learn to cope without it. That was the reason she’d agreed to alternate with her sisters. If she couldn’t deal with a short separation from him now, she’d never survive the long term separation his death would cause. The very thought of it made her shiver in fear.

Cate’s mini-terror got Alex’s attention, and he turned and pulled Cate even tighter to him than she was already clutching him. The movement also got Tina and Amy moving as well.

“Good morning, Alex,” Amy said, smiling cheerfully but sleepily. “Oh, good morning too, Cate,” she responded in surprise.

“Hi,” Tina told them both. “Couldn’t sleep on your own?” she asked. They’d both suspected something was going on between Alex and his sister, but neither was forward enough to ask. Besides, they’d also been told the story of how Cate had been quietly absorbing his energy over time, and they were both familiar with just how sexy it was feeling his energy flow through them, tingling their senses and making them feel more alive than they’d ever felt in the past. Thus it was only a short leap to assume she’d at least sleep with him regularly, even if they didn’t regularly create the beast with two backs, as Plato had called it.

It’s about time you got up,’ Alex heard Gail’s voice in his head.

You been waiting?’ he silently asked her.

“Yeah, I been sitting here watching the four of you sleeping,” she replied out loud, surprising each of the naked foursome. They turned and saw her sitting on the desk chair, which she’d dragged past them so she could sit between them and the door. “It’s very reassuring to see you so relaxed and comfortable with each other, despite the threats you constantly face. I think just watching you can fill someone with calm, confidence and energy. As I keep saying, if I could bottle a little bit of you, I’d be a very rich woman.

“Anyway, it’s time we all got up and got moving. There are several people expecting to meet with us for breakfast, and you’ve got a full day of trolling for new followers today,” Gail concluded.

“All right, I’m up,” Alex complained, as he moved to the end of the bed, trying not to disturb the girls on either side of him. “Do we have enough time for a communal shower?”

“Ha, not if you have to be somewhere. If we have anything to do about it, you’ll be busy in there for quite some time,” Tina assured him.

“All right,” Alex conceded. “It wasn’t overly hot yesterday, and I freshened up last night. I’ll skip a shower this morning and just do a quick wash up. Let’s get moving. The rest of you can take your time and meet us downstairs if you want. I’m anxious to get down there early so we can watch for anyone who entered the hotel looking for me last night or this morning.”

The girls protested they could get ready quickly if necessary, but Alex assured them it wasn’t necessary as he’d be fine with Gail to protect him. So Gail and Alex headed downstairs, leaving the other three to finish their morning preparations.

As soon as the door closed, Tina and Amy started pestering Cate to tell them more about what Alex was like. When she started in with some generalities they interrupted her, asking for specifics about what he was like in bed with her.

“It’s got to be different than it is with us, and I’m sure it’s different with the Seers as well,” Tina said. “Is it different for everyone, or is it as wonderful for everyone?”

Cate blushed, and after a hesitant start she finally relaxed enough after they goaded her to give them the more personal details they were after. They each finished dressing and prepping as they listened to her description of her and her brother’s relationship, and her details of how he related to the many others he fooled around with. They’d suspected she knew a fair amount of all of his sexual encounters, so they also asked her about his two girlfriends and what they were like.

Cate told them they were both wonderful, and as dedicated to him as any of the other women, despite the lack of any biochemical inducements. Surprisingly, they were both pleased by that. Although it was nice to focus on their own private community, they wanted Alex to be able to enjoy some normal moments of life and were glad he got to achieve his share of normality.

Despite the initial shock, Cate found she wasn’t disturbed at being ‘found out’, since she considered Tina and Amy part of Alex’s stable of girls from back home. But she told herself she’d be even more careful about revealing things in the future. The women Alex would be meeting each thought the world of him, and it wouldn’t do for them to think his sister was a sex starved slut. No, she realized everything she did reflected on Alex. It was important, despite her still young age, for her to act like the scientist and advisor she played the role of for Alex. He depended on her for her advice, and she couldn’t embarrass him because of her actions on the side. If she had to do without getting any attention from him for several weeks, it was simply something she’d have to put up with. But even as she said it, she realized she couldn’t keep from spending time with him, or from sleeping with him at night. The well-being he filled her with whenever they slept skin-to-skin was simply too much to surrender. But she could at least put a better cover over it.

Yes, that was it. She’d stick to the story that she absorbed his energy, but not let on to anyone there was any more to it than that. That should be enough to keep from embarrassing him in front of his new followers. After all, she didn’t mind sharing her brother, but she wasn’t about to give him up entirely.

The conversation continued as they finished dressing and all the way down to the dining room, and covered many other topics as well, as they asked about his attitudes on many things. They both seemed fascinated with how he approached life and how he decided things. They were appreciative he seemed to take in everyone’s opinion, but impressed that his decisions were always final. They were also touched he was so nervous about making mistakes, and always asked for honest advice since he had so little experience with a lot of things.

When Alex and Gail reached the dining room they found Sarah and Emma holding a table large enough for everyone. They greeted each other and ordered breakfast just as the Otts came down. As Kelly headed for the seat besides Alex, Henry squeezed in between them, which Alex didn’t think was a good sign. However Kelly just waved it off and sat across from him. Jenny sat next to her mother, but as close as she could get to Alex.

“So, we’ve been talking,” Henry began.

“Henry, let me handle this,” Kelly told him. “Alex, as much as I’m thankful for what you’ve done for me, I feel I’m too tempted to flirt with you. I don’t think it’s very healthy, and I think I’d better keep my distance, so we’re going to return home a little early.”

Alex was surprised, since this was the first time a woman he’d activated hadn’t thrown her current life out the window and followed him home. “Are you sure? You don’t have to do anything, in fact after breakfast we’re going to head over to the Emporium Shopping Center. We figure we’d encounter more people there, since it’s downtown and between the ballpark and the FedEx Forum. I won’t even be around. I’d hate to mess up your trip.”

“No, if you’re that close I’ll be able to feel you nearby. I’d be distracted and Henry and the kids would notice.”

“Well, if you feel it’s necessary, but you should still stop by New Orleans. I’ll be there a few days, but I’ll probably be pretty distracted, what’s more I’ll be gone by … how long are we scheduled to stay in New Orleans, Gail?”

“You’ll have to ask Cate. I’m not really sure. I think we’re scheduled to stay for three days, though.”

“There, so you’ll be free to travel to New Orleans in another several days, and it should be completely safe after a week.”

“I don’t know, from what Cate said last night there are people talking about you all over there. I’m not sure it would be any better.”

“Look, anyone with these abilities is going to be familiar with me by definition. They only got their abilities because of me. You can’t ignore who you are just because you’re uncomfortable with me. I’ll tell you what, forget me, forget New Orleans, but take the number for the Angel Vision Foundation. Give them a call and talk to some of the people there. Tell them I told you to call to make sure you talk to the right people. They’ll tell you everything you need to know about what being a member of the community involves.”

“All right, I’ll do that much, but my family is everything to me and I’m not about to abandon them just because you breezed into my life,” she replied with a flippant wave of her hand.

“That’s fair, Kelly, and I believe in family, so I think you should do whatever you’re comfortable with. Just be aware I probably won’t be around if you change your mind,” he warned her.

“Oh come on, you’re laying it on a bit thick, aren’t you?” Henry scoffed, giving him a dirty look. It looked like he thought this was just a come-on line by Alex.

“Actually it’s true,” Cate said, coming up behind him. “Sorry, but I just overhead the last of the conversation, but Alex is sick and only has a short amount of time left. Like everything about Alex, what he’s suffering from is as new as the rest of this is, so we have no idea how long he has. That’s why this trip is so important. We’re trying to reach as many people as we can.”

All the girls, including the two who just came down with Cate, started commiserating with Alex, but Henry looked unconvinced.

“Come on. You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re young, you look healthy, you have women all over you, and it looks like you’re used to getting your way all the time. It’s a little extreme to pull a fake sympathy card to get your way. Personally, I resent how manipulative you are about this whole thing. Maybe what you told Kelly and Jenny is true, but the way you’re taking advantage of it is practically criminal.”

Alex just looked at him for a moment, taking his measure. Everyone else froze, they weren’t used to people telling Alex off, although Gail was prepared to throw herself between the two if it proved to be necessary. Kelly looked especially ill at ease, and Jenny looked even more upset than her mother, looking like she was ready to cry. But she was biting her lip, trying to prevent it.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Henry. I’m not after your wife, but I suspect you’re going to feel paranoid about me even after I’m gone. I’ll do you a favor and promise I won’t contact your wife, but I don’t think that’s going to make you any happier. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m afraid I may have broken up just what you are trying to preserve by leaving. I’m sorry to have done that. In retrospect I guess it was a mistake being honest with you. I guess I’ll chalk it up to experience. But I’ll tell you what, we’ll pay the bill. Tell the waiter we’re sorry but we couldn’t stay. We’ll leave so you won’t be distracted as you pack. I’m really sorry we couldn’t have gotten along since it doesn’t hurt me, but it will impact Kelly and Jenny.”

With that Alex stood up, waited for each of the girls to stand as well, and escorted them out as Gail hurriedly laid out enough cash to cover the expense of breakfast. She then hurried to catch up with Alex and the girls. She heard Jenny crying behind her as she left the dining room.

When Gail caught up to Alex and the girls, he was angrily stalking away. As much as he claimed it didn’t, it still bothered him when one of his girls couldn’t learn what she needed to because a guy in her life took exception to him. He knew it was likely to occur, but it remained hard to deal with personally. He also recognized he wasn’t used to rejection and wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. He knew he was overreacting, but he had trouble putting it aside. He was afraid he’d hurt both Kelly and her daughter because of his inability to deal with males once again. Thus much of his anger was directed internally, though it wasn’t immediately apparent to those around him.

Cate was busy trying to console him, while the other girls followed along behind him. Gail reached Sarah and pulled her aside, asking her to watch the lobby for new followers while Gail escorted Alex to their room to get whatever they needed to leave the hotel. Alex overheard her, and walked back, telling her he didn’t want to stay long enough to affect Kelly negatively.

“I’ll head over to the Emporium,” he told her, turning to the other girls. “The rest of you can catch up when you’re ready. I think each of you can find me easily enough, but I think it’s important for me to leave the hotel as soon as possible.”

They all assured him they were ready to leave then as well, so they headed out of the hotel. Gail had wanted to alert the hotel staff to keep an eye out for anyone who looked like they were searching for someone, but didn’t have time if she wanted to keep up with Alex. As always, her first priority was watching out for Alex. Whatever else might need to be done, his security was paramount, and he wasn’t particularly good at staying out of trouble, as the encounter in the dining room just proved.

The short walk to the shopping center was quick, since Alex appeared to be walking off his anger and frustration. Gail thought that was best, as it allowed him to get it out of his system so he’d be more collected by the time he met anyone. The girls had to hurry to keep up with him. Gail’s long legs and good physical condition allowed her to do so easily. She continued to scan ahead of Alex, though, always on the lookout for trouble. Her years of being a cop had ingrained habits which took over, even when she wasn’t aware of it, but she found them especially useful now that she was protecting the most important person she’d ever been responsible for.

Entering the Emporium, Alex pulled up short and tried to regain his emotional bearing as he took in his environment. He saw a directory so he headed over to figure out what was nearby. The girls caught up as he was selecting the best location for them to hang out, trying to calculate out traffic patterns, ease of access, and whatever else could impact their meeting as many people as posssible. Gail continued watching for trouble. Alex found a nearby coffee shop near the South end of the center, close to some of the biggest and most popular shops. He situated himself and began to calm down a little more. Cate, being familiar with his tastes, walked to the counter to order them all coffees. She was well aware their little encounter had cost them their breakfasts, so she made sure to order something to eat as well. She knew Alex ate like a horse due to his body processing the energy he generated. It was one of the things which alerted her to the fact he was actually much sicker than he appeared to be.

Sarah came up to help her carry her booty. They’d only had a couple croissants, so she’d gotten some banana bread and some biscotti’s as well. It wasn’t much of a breakfast, but hopefully it would carry them until they could find something more substantial. The food court was nearby, but Cate knew Alex had picked the most visible and accessible place in the shopping center, and it would be hard getting him to move. He knew he drew people to him, so he liked to remain in one place so they would have time to find him.

When they got back and handed out the drinks and snacks, Cate turned to Alex.

“You know, I think that’s the first girl that’s ever said no to you.”

“What do you mean? There have been lots who have. Why, it took me forever before—” Alex started to argue.

“Yes, we’re all familiar with how much of a loner you were before. But since New Orleans you’ve had women seeking you out. Between the Seers, the Watchers, and all the girls at school, you’ve never been rejected. Now, not only has someone refused to sleep with you, but she doesn’t even want to have anything to do with you. I don’t want to make this personal or make a big deal out of the rejection, but I think it’s significant because it may finally put the whole mind control nonsense to bed.

“If you were controlling anyone, they wouldn’t refuse you. What’s more, it would impact people more or less equally. Instead you have people who want to thank you for what you’ve done for them, and the only way they can think of doing it is to make love to you. That isn’t mind control, Alex. I think Kelly’s actions, just like Sarah and Michael Grant’s yesterday, prove all these women are perfectly capable of making their own decisions.”

“You know, you make a good point. The girls at home certainly were never in a hurry to agree with me,” Alex said, considering the idea while he sipped his steaming latte.

“I think Cate makes sense,” Gail said, as she joined their table to get some food. She’d been looking forward to breakfast when Alex had stormed out this morning. “The reason why everyone follows your directions isn’t because they have to, but because you are the equivalent of a CEO. You are leading this movement of yours, and so your decision counts. You set everything in motion, it’s your ideas which everyone follows. You give everything you can to others, but you also listen to each of them. They’ve got every reason to listen to you and they willingly follow your lead. You’ve got to stop being so paranoid about this.”

“Yeah, Dad mentioned that mind control nonsense because he was teasing you,” Cate explained, continuing this train of thought. “I don’t think he ever expected you to take it so seriously. I suspect he didn’t object to your subsequent ruminations simply because he was so surprised when you took them seriously. The fact so many guys are jealous of you proves you have no mind control abilities, and the fact everyone has such strong individual opinions shows that you hardly control everyone’s thinking.”

“I agree,” Amy said, offering her opinion, even though she had never discussed the theory before. “Tina and I never felt compelled to make love with you, but with everything you’ve achieved, you are just one damn sexy hunk. What more could a girl want? You have power streaming from you, you have to fight off the women, you are leading a movement, you’re decisive, attentive, and a good listener. Face it, girls like you just ‘cause you’re sexy.”

As everyone around the table began agreeing, Alex found himself sinking lower behind the table. What started out as an object lesson was descending into a cheering session, which was the last thing he needed, especially since he didn’t want to attract attention or to intimidate anyone approaching. However Cate recognized his distress and came to his rescue. She told everyone firmly they’d made their point and they should let it drop. She then started issuing marching orders, even though the others knew what to do. The fact they snapped to attention when told what to do, illustrated to Alex just how much everyone liked having a purpose and a specific role in the organization.

It wasn’t long before the first couple of Watchers showed up. Cate, Tina and Amy were familiar with how to handle things, and Emma and Sarah watched so they’d know what to do in the future. Tina and Amy would circle around and approach them from behind, so they wouldn’t scare or intimidate them. After talking to them for a few minutes, they’d accompany them to the table where Alex and Cate would take over the discussion. Gail, as always, was standing off to the side so she could keep a watchful eye over the proceedings.

They managed to process a few Watchers, but not as many as they were hoping to encounter. After the initial discussion with each one they tended to gather around, anxious to talk to either Alex or one of the girls. Alex had to ride herd on everyone, telling them they couldn’t cluster around his table because he had to appear open and approachable. Thus the new Watchers found side tables to sit and discuss their new lives, or they took advantage of the fact the other girls weren’t busy and took them aside to gossip about Alex.

They hadn’t wanted to spend all day there, wanting to move around so they could reach more people. So they moved to the food court to discuss where they’d go next. They discussed several potential locations, including several shopping centers. Cate felt bad for her brother. Here he was traveling the country, and about all he’d ever see was a string of hotels, coffee shops and shopping centers, because he didn’t want anyone to miss him. Running from one attraction to another would leave many people trailing after him, not quite able to keep up. Thus he kept restricting his movements. For a potential final trip, this wasn’t quite the kind of grand vacation anyone would expect a dying man to undertake.

They finally settled on the hospital complex, an area housing several hospitals near Southwest Tennessee Community College and Owen College, so they felt secure there’d be a nice potential collection of people. It also bordered routes 240 and 69. It may not be a comfortable place to hang around, but it was a likely place to find people.

While they were discussing moving, Cate reached up and grabbed Alex’s arm. Alex looked up and she pointed behind them. Twisting around, Alex saw a woman in a red dress and a silk scarf around her head, down on the floor with her head pressed against the floor, shuffling towards them. Sighing heavily, Alex told Emma to get the woman so she didn’t have to humiliate herself. They watched as Emma approached the woman, but she refused, while Emma glanced back in frustration. Glancing around, Alex noted the others in the food court watching agape at the scene unfolding before them. Wanting to avoid drawing more attention to themselves, Alex got up and walked to the woman himself.

The woman refused to look up as Alex approached, which Alex considered a good thing if she was a Seer. When Alex neared her, he could hear her mumbling, and she was slowly moving towards him with her forehead against the cold tile floor, her hands on either side of her head as she shuffled forward, almost like a ritualistic motion. Alex stopped near her and listened to her soft chanting, curious even though he was well aware they were being watched intently.

“I’m unworthy,” she softly repeated. “I’m not worthy of your grace.” Alex slowly knelt and grasped the woman’s arm, lifting her up. However she kept her head bowed. Speaking louder, she told him “I beg your forgiveness for my faults, and ask you grace me with your presence and advice.”

“Excuse me, miss, but I’m not a holy figure,” Alex told her. “I’m just a young man who has something important to give you, and who needs to explain several things about your life. Now, I’m going to ask you to look up at me, but you’re going to get a shock, so just prepare yourself.” With that Alex placed his finger under her chin and lifted her face up until their eyes met. Her eyes widened and she stiffened, but that was the extent of her reaction as her eyes glazed. While she recovered Alex considered her.

Despite her strange behavior, she was very well dressed with a darker complexion. She was dressed nicely with thick black glasses and a black scarf covering her head, which contrasted with the red dress she wore. It was apparent she was both beautiful and took great care to look her best. Alex had no idea why she felt she was so unworthy.

Alex and Tina helped the woman to the nearby table, well aware they were still being carefully watched, though she was a bit unstable as she got used to her changed surroundings. They got her seated and Alex sat across from her.

“My name is Alex. I’m not a religious figure of any kind, so don’t start with any angel this or reincarnated that. I’m simply a guy who has the ability to trigger some unique talents in others. A few others claim that God works through me, although that implies God himself isn’t much interested in the religious establishment, since he chose an atheist to do his bidding. I’m doubtful myself, for obvious reasons, but it seems to make the girls feel better about what’s going to happen to me if they think someone is guiding my actions.”

Alex knew he was stalling, but he didn’t think she was ready to speak quite yet, and he figured she must be religious, so talking about God acting through him, while not exactly a lie, would at least give her some comfort.

“My name is Sanaa Shenouda,” she told him, finally indirectly glancing at him, “although here in the states I go by the name of Shanna. You must be sent from God, because you look just like an angel of legend, and I could feel your might from a long ways away.”

“Well, Shanna, what you felt was an energy which surrounds all living things. For reasons we don’t fully understand I seem to have more of it than most do. The reasons are complex, but they are related to what I did to you. I triggered your new vision, and I also enabled you to communicate telepathically to me. I’m going to try it now, so don’t panic and think God is speaking to you, OK?” She meekly nodded her head while trying to look at him with great difficulty.

Shanna, I know you can hear me, and if you try, you can communicate with me without speaking a word.

I can?’ she asked.

Yes, absolutely. Now, I’m going to introduce some more people. Say hello to Patricia, she’s currently in New Orleans.’ Alex then remained quiet as he let the women talk, hoping Patricia could calm the woman down. When Patricia slowed, Alex got Anh to speak to her as well.

“Now, Shanna, I think it’s time you talked to me a little bit since I need to know who you are. Where are you from, what do you do, and why do you think you are so unworthy?”

“I’m sorry, I’m from a Coptic family who emigrated from Egypt. I fell away from my beliefs, not because I don’t believe them, but simply because I didn’t have time for them. When I saw you, I was sure you had descended to remind me of my position and my obligations,” she explained.

“I don’t think Angels typically descend to discuss family duties. That’s not why I’m here,” Alex told her with a smile.

“Well why did you?” she asked. “I didn’t know why you chose me.”

“Ah, but that’s just it. I didn’t choose you. You felt drawn to the energy I possess, but I have no control over it. I didn’t choose it or my abilities. That’s why I say this has nothing to do with religion. Now I have no idea if anyone or anything is guiding me, but I feel pretty certain we are talking about new phenomena which, while unexpected, can be explained by science. In fact, we’re trying to document as much about it as we can.”

Shanna simply nodded her head meekly. Alex once again reached over and lifted her chin, looking into her eyes, even though he knew she couldn’t meet his gaze.

“Shanna, you look like an intelligent, capable woman. Why are you so afraid of yourself? You need to trust your instincts. The reason you felt attracted to me is because you already have the ability to sense people’s moods and personalities. You can feel their intentions and what they plan. Now you have the ability to see those things as well. I’ll have some people discuss what these new visions mean, but it’s just an extension of the abilities you already possess. It’s necessary that you trust those instincts, since they are what led you to me.”

She once again hesitantly nodded, then she seemed to come to a decision and she lifted her face to look at Alex, even though she couldn’t look into his eyes.

“I’m sorry. I’ve never trusted my intuition before, because it always caused me to question respected, trusted people. My family has deep religious roots, and there are many tales of what many petitioners did to renounce their sins over the years. That’s what I was trying to do when you saw me,” she explained.

“If you didn’t trust them, then it’s because they weren’t trustworthy,” Alex said, ignoring her history lesson and focusing on what he thought she needed to know at the moment. “Your intuition is more reliable than what anyone else says. If there is anything from God, it is the ability he gave you to evaluate individuals. People are not always what they claim to be. You have the ability to detect lies, motivations and ill intent. I need you to accept these things with more certainty so you can help others who can’t detect such things. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Alex, I understand,” she replied, and he could see her backbone grow three sizes, paraphrasing Dr. Seuss. Once again Alex was reminded his women each needed their own tasks. It gave them a purpose and allowed them to feel they were a part of his own mission, even if he wasn’t sure he had a mission aside from activating as many women as he could. Already Emma, Sarah, Tina and Amy were excitedly working hard, because they too had their own assigned tasks which allowed them to pitch in. It was the fact they were doing it all for him that he didn’t like. He thought there was more than a grain of truth to what Henry Ott had accused him of.

“So, I really don’t know much about the Coptics,” Alex said, trying to get Shanna to participate a bit more. However she surprised him, speaking clearly and eagerly now.

“The Coptics are a Christian group in the predominantly Muslim country of Egypt, so we’ve become fairly adept at trying to avoid trouble, while still preserving our religious traditions. Although they were formed early, they were one of the first Christian groups outside of the Catholic church, many argue it is made up of the remnants of the ancient Egyptians, though personally I think it’s mainly because outsiders favored them when they controlled the area, and thus they got access to more of the ancient possessions and properties than anyone else.”

Alex sat back, a bit surprised by the turnaround in her. “Why, Shanna, you are even more beautiful when you speak up for yourself. I didn’t think you could possibly become any more beautiful than you already were.” She blushed profusely at his remark, but it was clear she was pleased by the comment, and she sat up even more as a result.

They proceeded to tell her what she needed to know, with Tina and Amy helping out adding their own information to the mix, but what caught Shanna’s attention near the end surprised Alex.

“Wait, you mean you’re traveling across the country, meeting and activating women, and they’re all likely to travel to New Orleans, your headquarters in Carbondale, or both?” she asked.

“Yeah, that’s the general idea. There’s a lot for them to learn, and we won’t have time to tell them everything. What’s more, we don’t have the specific knowledge to teach them everything, plus we want them to get to know the others like them in the communities there,” Alex explained.

“So all these women, all over the country, are going to set out on their own, traveling cross country for an area they’ve never been to before, to visit people they don’t know?”

“Uh, I guess so. Are you getting to a point with these questions?”

“Yeah, I’ve been working in my family’s business for years, and I’ve saved up a fair amount and I’ve been meaning to start my own business, but so far I haven’t found anything I thought would be a reasonable option. I think I may have just found one. How about this, how about I set up a small travel agency? I’ll call it Messianic Travel. I’ll arrange travel, hotels, introductions, instructions and I’ll respond to any problems any of them have?”

Alex just sat back, stunned someone would jump from learning about their possessing inhuman abilities to offering to start a business dedicated to helping the people he was reaching out to.

“I think that’s a great idea,” Cate said, jumping on the concept. “How soon do you think you could get something like that started?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve been looking into starting a company for a while, so I know much of what it’ll likely take to get setup, but I’ll have to see what’s involved. But this sounds like a readymade market. It shouldn’t take much to start, just a small office, a phone, a computer and maybe a couple of employees.”

“I think I’ve got problems with the name,” Alex told her, finally recovering. “Calling it ‘Messianic Travel’ leaves no ability to avoid suspicion. As much as I dislike it, even ‘Divine Travels’ has a bit more subtlety to it. At least that has a more legitimate sound to it. But how long could you keep a business like that running?” Alex countered. Shanna just looked at him.

“Alex, each of the women you meet is going to want to visit both New Orleans and Carbondale. They’ll probably want to spend a long time at both locations. You have no limit to the number of people you may eventually meet. As long as you keep moving I’ll have a steady stream of business, and your new followers will have a much easier time adapting to their changing environment,” Shanna answered with obvious enthusiasm.

“I think what Alex is trying to say,” Cate said, saying what Alex didn’t want to, “without broaching the subject, is we suspect he may not be around long. It seems the energy which gives him these abilities is slowly killing him, so he doesn’t know how long he has to find additional followers.”

“Oh, wow, that certainly changes things,” Shanna responded, displaying a serious expression as she considered what that thought implied for several minutes, then started smiling again. “You know, as upsetting as it is, it really doesn’t change anything. Anyone you find will want to travel to learn what they need to know. If you get sick, they’ll all want to travel to visit you. If you die, there’ll be a huge demand for a big memorial service. If you don’t get sick, you’ll need to travel to more than just the continental states. You’d need to try Europe, Japan, India, and many other countries and continents. Even with all of that, I’m sure once each girl makes the initial trip, they’ll probably make a yearly pilgrimage just to renew friendships and learn everything everyone else has discovered. I can’t see any downsides from a business perspective. Well, aside from your dying, of course.”

Alex couldn’t help himself, despite the talk of his imminent demise he liked how decisive and enthusiastic Shanna had become. Despite the obvious name of her new business, and how it might reflect attention on him, he was impressed how she’d managed to find a task she could fill in his organization, and she’d adapted quickly as a result. It showed just how important it was to involve everyone as fully as he could. Idle minds make for idle hands, he reminded himself. Still, there were other considerations. As if reading his mind, Cate spoke up.

“Could you operate such an organization from here in Memphis?” she asked.

“Oh good lord, no,” Shanna answered. “I’ll definitely have to move to New Orleans to start. That seems like a logical place, since it’s just a short trip by Amtrak or car to Carbondale. But part of the reason I was looking for a business to start was so I’d have an excuse to get away from my parents’ business. The idea I have a payroll and business concerns can excuse all kinds of behavior in my family’s minds. This works on so many levels. I’m helping Alex, I’m providing a needed service, I can make money and employ several people, I can immerse myself in this new community of Watchers and Seers of yours, and I can get away from my overprotective family as well.”

“Well how long would it take you to get started?” Alex asked. “We’re leaving for New Orleans tomorrow. I have no idea how long we’re supposed to stay, but I imagine at the very least you’ll need to supply us with a phone number we can give anyone we meet.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I can get a rush production on a bunch of business cards and I’ll simply use my cell phone number. I figure anyone you give it to will be a ‘preferred customer’, so it shouldn’t matter if they call my personal phone. Once you’re on the road again I can concentrate on opening an office and getting it staffed and equipped. Besides manning a phone, I’ll also have to find a few people to schedule and organize things. I guess if we’re leaving tomorrow I’d better get home, pack a few things and make arrangements to be gone for some time. My parents won’t like how soon I’m leaving, but once I tell them it’s for business they’ll be OK with it.”

“We, Kemo Sabe?” Alex asked teasingly.

“Of course. I need to be in New Orleans to get started, and you’ll need a bunch of business cards. I’ll also need to speak to multiple people there. While we’re there you can give me the numbers of everyone in Carbondale. Don’t worry, though, I’ve got my own car, so I’ll drive down separately, but I’ll travel with you just so we can help each other out. You can show me around and introduce me and I’ll help out any way I can.”

Alex simply held his hands up in the air in defeat. “Hey, you’ve convinced me. The sooner I can get someone to help me, the happier I am. Hurry home and make whatever arrangements you need. Cate, give her your phone number as well as Patricia’s, Darice’s and the one for the foundation as well. We’ll probably leave fairly early in the morning, so either meet us for breakfast in the hotel, or arrange to leave town when we do telepathically, and we should be able to schedule our movements pretty efficiently.”

“Isn’t that what Natalie is doing for you?” Cate asked nervously.

“Actually, no, Natalie is scheduling my travels, and they’re more involved than this,” Alex replied. “Besides, she’s also more tied into the activities at the foundation. She would be a good resource for Shanna, though. They might be able to come to an arrangement between them.”

So Shanna and Cate got together and traded numbers, leaving Alex feeling pretty good. He figured keeping people busy with tasks was a good thing, so he headed over to Emma and Sarah.

“Hey, I’m slowly learning that although I draw people to me they can’t always find me in time. It seems I’ve been missing a lot of followers I never knew were attracted to me before. I think it’s a good idea to leave someone here to talk to anyone who comes looking for me here after I’ve left. If the two of you could, I’d appreciate it if you could stick around for an hour or two. Talk to anyone who looks lost, and bring them back with you, or tell them to stop by the hotel tonight and we’ll deal with them then. If you could do that it would really mean a lot to me.”

“Sure, Alex,” Emma replied. “We’d be happy to. It’ll be exciting. It’s almost being like spies, sneaking around looking for other spies. Besides, it’ll give us a chance to tell whoever we meet everything we’ve learned about you.”

Alex groaned at the thought, since he hated the idea of dealing with people’s presuppositions. But it would take care of anyone they might miss, and that would help a lot. So he thanked them as he, his sister, Gail and the other two girls all prepared to head off to the next location.



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