[Reminder: Nasty tends to swear. Discretion advised.]
Nasty pushed away from the desk, rolling her chair across the room. She rubbed her eyes. I can't believe this. I've only checked back a year. How long have I been here? Nasty checked the time on the wall. Damn. I missed supper. I better go see if there's anything left.
As Nasty stood up, the door to the computer lab opened. Micki walked in, a clipboard in her arm. "There you are," she said. "Didn't Peregrine tell you that I was looking for you?"
Shit. "She did."
"Did she tell you to show her how to use the heads-up display?"
"She was in a hurry when I saw her."
"Jessica, you have to keep up on Peregrine's equipment. Peregrine is a busy woman, and she can't wait for you. Why haven't you told her about her helmet?"
"No one told me about it," Nasty said. "It's not that obvious just looking at the helmet."
"Why didn't you ask anyone?"
"How am I supposed to know there's a heads-up display to ask about?"
Micki sighed. "Come with me," she said.
"Can it wait? I haven't had supper yet."
"No, it can't. Where's Peregrine?"
"That's another thing. You have to know where Peregrine is at all times. What if she was suddenly called out? You're down here doing who knows what and Peregrine will waste time getting her gear together. This isn't a comic book, Jessica. Peregrine's life depends on you."
Yeah, yeah. Spare me the lecture, fuck. "Peregrine sent me here to do some research for her. I am supposed to be her assistant, right?"
"I'm going to have to speak to both of you," Micki said. "The Foundation has procedures that must be followed."
I'd love to see you talk to two of me, Nasty thought. "Can we just get on with this? Peregrine is waiting for me to finish this research, and I would like to have supper before it's cold."
"Fine. Come with me." Micki led Nasty to the elevator. "I realize that you're new here, but you have to get with the program quickly. Peregrine is counting on you to keep her gear in perfect condition." They stepped into the Foundation's private elevator. Micki pressed the button for the lower level. "Peregrine could get hurt out there if her equipment breaks," Micki continued. "She's counting on you."
No shit, Nasty thought. Geez, you sound like Mom. "As long as someone explains to me how something is supposed to work, then I'll be fine."
Micki looked as Nasty. "Right. I'll find out who was supposed to talk to you about the helmet."
The elevator doors opened. Micki and Nasty walked through the corridor to the Peregrine-cycle's hangar. "Okay, here's how the heads-up works," Micki said, picking up the helmet from the work-bench. "Turn it on by pressing this button here, just underneath the chin strap. If there's somewhere Peregrine needs to be, we'll download it to the helmet. If you take a look here," Micki turned the helmet so Nasty could look inside, "the display appears on the visor. Think you can tell Peregrine that?"
"Button on and off, appears on visor. I'll let her know," Nasty said. "Anything else?"
"R&D is still working on a secure radio link for both Peregrine and Eagle. Once it's done, someone will give both you and Peregrine the details." Micki checked her watch. "I have to get going. Don't forget to tell Peregrine." She strode out of the hangar.
Sheesh, Nasty thought. She put the helmet on, trying out the display. Not too bad. It'll get annoying if I have to keep looking at it, though. I'll have to test it out. *After* supper. She took the helmet off. As she started to leave, the intercom buzzed. Now what? "Yes?" she said, answering the call.
"It's Anne. Is Peregrine there?"
"Just me here, Anne," Nasty said. "What's up?"
"Can you meet me in the conference room on twenty-seven? We'd like your opinion."
"Um, sure. Now?"
"Now, yes. Something wrong, Jessica?"
"Nothing. I missed supper, that's all." Nasty's stomach growled in agreement.
"I'll order something up for you. Any preferences?"
"Italian. Whatever's good around here."
"Italian it is," Anne said.
"I'll be right up." Nasty closed the connection. Great. I don't know what those two idiots are up to. I'm not going to be useful. Her stomach growled again. Right. No meeting, no dinner. Better go.
Nasty made her way up to the twenty-seventh floor conference room. She knocked softly on the door. Anne opened it, inviting Nasty in. Inside, Nasty saw Kathryn and three people she didn't know. Hesitantly, she slipped into the room and sat down.
"Jessica, you already know Kathryn," Anne said. "This is Mark, Ross, and Christine. They know about your relationship with Peregrine, so don't worry about letting anything slip. We five and Edward, who you'll meet eventually, are Eagle's confidants. We've been helping him narrow down where Cinder and Ember will strike. I understand that you've been helping, too, and we would like your input."
"I don't know," Nasty said. "I've read through the Foundation's files on them, and I can't see anything. I don't know what I'm looking for."
"Don't worry about it," Ross said. "We're just brainstorming. Anything you can tell us would be helpful."
"I'll try," Nasty said.
"What's your impression of Cinder and Ember?" Christine asked.
"They like setting fires. They've been here before. They're not expecting to be paid the money."
"Why do you say that?" Mark asked.
"Well, they didn't really give the mayor much time to raise the money," Nasty said. "Not many people have ten million dollars hanging around. They seem to know the city well enough to know the stadium's name. They're also show-offs. I mean, fireworks? Kinda obvious to the people at the stadium."
"The stadium is just a ballpark," Ross said. "There's normally no one there at night."
"Oh." Right, it's mid-November, Nasty remembered. I missed the World Series.
"You're right about Cinder and Ember showing off, though," Kathryn said. "The video is typical of their behaviour."
"Any idea where they could be hiding?" Ross asked.
"Someplace where they can see Eagle coming, from what they said," Nasty said. "For all I know, they're on a mountain top."
"They're not known for commuting," Mark said.
"Eagle's easy to spot in his costume. Would they know who to look for if he wasn't wearing it?" Nasty asked.
"Eagle's identity is known to a very small number of people," Christine said. "Even his closest advisers aren't aware of his true appearance. It's highly unlikely that Cinder and Ember would recognize him out of costume."
"Does this mean that they're somewhere where men aren't allowed?" Ross asked.
"Probably," Anne said.
"Wherever that is, it's not a convent," Nasty said.
"Why would you say that?" Mark asked.
"You saw them on the video. Not many nuns act like they did."
"Could be an act," Anne said.
"Not from what I read about them," Nasty said. "They've left behind a lot of expensive toys each time they've been found. I can't see them giving up their stuff just to avoid Eagle."
"What about an all-girls school?" Ross suggested.
"I'll get on it," Christine said. She stood up and pulled out a cell phone. Dialling, she walked to the back of the room.
"Jessica, any other thoughts on Cinder and Ember?" Anne asked.
"I've seen their type before," Nasty said. "They think that the world owes them, and they're making sure that they get their due. They've probably been in a lot of trouble before, even when they didn't have powers. I'll even bet that they got into trouble on purpose."
"Interesting," Mark said.
"There's several all-girl schools in the city," Christine said, done with her phone call. "However, only two have a female-only staff. Both have spots available to new students." She looked over at Nasty.
"What?" Nasty noticed everyone else looking at her. "What?"
"I can't do this, Anne," Nasty said, fidgeting in the passenger seat.
"Sure you can, Jessica," Anne said. "Just be yourself."
And just which self do you want? Nasty mused. "I'm going to blow it. I don't even know what I'm doing. What if they ask who my parents are or what they do or where I live? I don't even know how to get back to the Foundation from the school, let alone the apartment."
"Relax, Jess," Anne said. She checked over her shoulder as she changed lanes. "You're supposed to be new in town. No one will expect you to know how to get around the first day, especially if your mom drives you on your first day."
"That's another thing, Anne. What do I call you?"
"Not 'Anne'. Call me 'Mom', 'Mother', 'Mommy', 'Ma', whatever you feel comfortable with. Just don't worry about it for now. You'll do fine. Trust yourself."
Nasty adjusted her long overcoat to cover her bare knees. "I'd do better if I could wear pants."
"You'll look out of place with pants. Besides, you have nice legs. You should show them off more."
"Thanks," Nasty mumbled. Her cheeks turned pink.
"Have you looked over your schedule yet? You still have a couple of courses to choose."
"I know. I definitely want Phys. Ed. so I can pass something here. I was doing okay in Physics at my last school, so I guess I could take that. You think that Cinder and Ember would take Art?"
"Probably," Anne said.
"No auto mechanics, though. What kind of school is this?"
"One for proper young ladies who go on to university."
"Another reason why I'm not going to fit in."
"Jessica, you'll fit in. Stop putting yourself down." Anne slowed to make a right turn. She drove by a large brass plaque reading "Sarah J. Fieldson Academy for Girls".
[End Issue 21]
Next: Back to school