Nasty stared out the window during her ride home, trying to leave her problems at school. Anne may have a point. That's the worst of it. I need to keep Jessica and Peregrine separate. I'm going to go crazy at this rate. All I want right now is to be in my own bed or making dinner on Mom's cranky stove. Christ, was that my stop? Nasty rang the bell, signaling for the next stop.
The bus rolled to a halt several blocks further. Nasty dashed out and walked briskly back to her apartment. I can't believe I did that. The wind picked up, ruffling Nasty's overcoat. She felt a chill through her legs. "I hate this fucking uniform!" The wind carried away her shout of frustration. Holding her coat closed against the wind, Nasty trudged along. She saw her building grow closer, step after step, the promise of warmth driving her on. He cell phone trilled. Biting off choice words, she retrieved the phone from backpack. "Hello?"
"Jessica, it's Paul Millar, from the American Eagle Foundation. Peregrine is needed."
"Sooner, if possible. Are you still at school?"
"No, almost home, actually. Anything I should know?"
"Not over the phone. Micki will fill you in when you arrive."
"Okay. Anything else?"
"Be ready for a long night. See you soon."
"Bye." Nasty hung up. She shoved the phone into a coat pocket. Those bitches broke out of jail. That has to be it. I can go another round or two with them. Nasty broke into a run.
A few minutes later, she arrived at her apartment building. A taxi pulled into the driveway as she fished out her keys. The cab driver rolled down his window. "Hathaway, number 509?"
"Yeah, that's me." Nasty abandoned her search for her key and got into the cab. "Eagle Foundation."
The cabbie arched an eyebrow. "Eagle Foundation, huh?" he repeated as he put the car into gear. "What's going on there?"
Nasty shrugged. "My mom needs a gofer." She shifted her cell phone from her coat pocket back to her backpack. 'That was lame.'
"Cool. You hear about what happened over the weekend?" As Nasty drew breath to answer, the driver continued. "Those two pyro chicks really got their asses handed to them. Damn, but Peregrine laid the smack down on one of them. Sent her half the football field away."
Nasty closed her eyes. I don't need this.
"About time we saw Peregrine in action. Did you get to see the clips?"
"Kinda," Nasty replied. "I was at the game."
"No way! What were you doing there?"
"I go to Lincoln's sister school. It was the big game."
"So you saw everything live. What'd you think?"
"It . . ." Nasty hesitated. Time to split Peregrine from me. It's not like I was seen there as me.
Nasty shrugged. "I thought she was a little brutal."
"Brutal? She gave what those two deserved."
"Peregrine pounded the crap out of them."
"So she was supposed to let the chick burn down the stadium?" the cabbie persisted.
"All I'm saying is that Eagle could've handled it better."
"One of Eagle's fans, huh?" The driver chuckled. "Explains a lot."
The fuck? Hell, play along, Giuliano. Nasty sat back in her seat. "Yeah, so?"
"Then you wouldn't have noticed that Eagle's far more competent whenever he has a Peregrine to do his dirty work."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Nasty demanded.
"Eagle's out of touch. He needs Peregrine to deal with the regular folks. If you ask me, Eagle's been a hero too long. He's gotten so far into the role that he can't get back out."
"How long has Eagle been around?"
"Over twenty years. That has to have messed up his mind."
Nasty let out a low whistle. "That's a long time. How did he last that long?"
"That's why he has his Peregrines. Distraction, cannon fodder, hell, I've heard rumours that Eagle sucks the life force out of his sidekicks. Not that I believe the rumour, mind." The driver brought the car to a halt. "Here you go."
"Thanks." Nasty paid the fare and got out of the car. She walked into the Foundation, only to be greeted by a hive of activity. Avoiding people rushing about, Nasty made her way to the courtesy phone.
"There you are," Micki said as she walked out from behind the receptionist's desk. "Come with me."
Nasty rushed to keep up with Micki as the older woman strode to a private elevator. The lift doors opened. As Nasty stepped inside, she asked, "What's up?"
"There'll be a full briefing. Here, give me your coat."
Nasty slipped out of her trench coat. "I don't have my costume with me."
"You're fine. It's just the Board of Directors. They know you're Peregrine." Micki looked over Nasty's uniform. "Cute skirt."
Piss off. Nasty scowled. "I didn't get a chance to change."
"I'm sure you have guys fawning all over you." The elevator stopped and opened its doors. "Go to the conference room at end of the hall. I'll leave your things in Peregrine's garage. Where's your cell phone?"
"In my backpack."
"Good. Anything you hear in the meeting stays there. Understood? Any questions from the press get referred to the Foundation's media liaison."
"I got it," Nasty said. Micki's serious. "What's going on?"
"The briefing will answer all your questions. Get going."
Nasty dashed to the conference room and let herself in. Inside, six people, including Anne, sat around the large table in the centre of the room. "Hello, Jessica," Anne said. "Please, sit." As Nasty took a chair, the woman continued, "This is Paul. He was the one who called you in. Beside him are Kathryn and Ross. Over on my left are Edward and Christine."
"Hi." Nasty smoothed her skirt. "Where is Eagle?"
Paul picked up a wireless keyboard. "He's already working with the authorities." He tapped a few keys. The lights dimmed and the drapes closed. A projector hanging from the ceiling lit up, displaying a computer's wallpaper on the room' whiteboard. Paul clicked on several icons. "As of 1730 GMT, 12:30 locally, high security prisons in Colorado, Italy, Australia, and Brazil were assaulted by well-armed, well-trained teams. Their goal, not evident at the time of the assaults, was the release of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse."
A murmur of concern came from the other adults around the table. Nasty looked around, confused. "Who?"
"They are a group of supervillains whose goal is the destruction of the world," Kathryn explained. "Any one of them would be a match for Eagle. Combined, and only the premier teams can stop them."
"Exactly," Paul said. "They were separated six years ago after their last attempt was stopped by the Vanguard."
Christine ordered, "Switch to feed two." On screen, the display changed to a composite satellite image of the planet. Four red blips moved across the map. "The Vanguard is sending us this signal. The four dots are the Horsemen. The two we're most concerned about are War and Famine. Paul, can you focus in on them?" The image zoomed in to show only North and South America. "War is following the Brazilian coast line northwards. Teams from Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador are moving in to intercept."
"How many people are involved there?" Anne asked.
"Sixteen altereds and at least three fighter squadrons and several ships, mainly Brazilian," Christine answered. "Move in on Famine."
Paul highlighted the western United States. "He's already left Colorado."
"It's still too early to say for certain where he's heading, but there's a chance he will pass over the New England states. Eagle did have a hand in stopping them the last time they threatened the world."
Edward answered his cell phone. After a moment, he hung up. "Bring up northern Italy," he said." Paul typed a command on the keyboard. The map shifted to central Europe. The red blip representing the Horseman jiggled. "Focus as close as you can."
The image levelled off several hundred feet above the ground. Several beings surrounded the red figure. "The Vanguard have engaged Death," Edward announced. A rock exploded underneath the Horseman. "I see they accepted Detonation Lass on the team."
"Interesting choice," Ross commented.
Anne nodded. "Not exactly the best intro for her."
Nasty watched the fight develop. Death backhanded one woman, smashing her through several trees. A runner circled the villain at high speeds, almost a blur, distracting the Horseman. A metallic figure plowed into Death from behind. The villain staggered forward but remained standing. Before Death could recover, the woman he hit earlier pounced on his shoulders. Dark energy crackled around Death, repelling the woman straight up in the air.
The runner broke away, following his airborne teammate. A black energy bolt laced out from Death's hands at the runner, sending him head first into the ground. Anne winced. "That was always Laser's weakness, not thinking ahead." The flying woman slammed down on the rock and remained still.
"Shit," Nasty breathed. "And Eagle and I are supposed to stop one of them?"
"Hopefully not," Kathryn said. "However, Rochester is along Famine's current projected flight path. All four Horsemen have bounties placed on them. Given that Famine is known for holding grudges, we are expecting numerous people wanting to cash in to arrive here. The police will be on full alert. However, you, Peregrine, will be on stand-by as well. Once the news of the breakout is known, we are expecting crime levels to escalate."
"Does this mean I shouldn't go to school?"
"We'll have a van near you at all times, Jess," Anne said. "I'll also call Fieldson to get you out."
"Is it possible for you to wear Peregrine's costume under your clothes?" Ross asked.
Nasty made a show of looking at her bare legs. "No, not really."
"Fieldson doesn't have an alternative uniform to use, either," Anne added.
Edward nodded. "I'll get a change room installed in the cube van."
The image on screen broke to static. "What happened?" Ross asked.
Paul tapped several keys before answering, "Death destroyed the satellite."
Anne stood up and walked over to Nasty. "We'll check on Peregrine's gear. Call us if there are any updates." She patted Nasty's shoulder. "Let's go, Jess."
Nasty stood up and followed Anne out of the conference room. As they walked to the elevator, she asked, "This is serious, isn't it?"
Anne pressed the button for the garage level. "Very. You'll be kept busy. Crime rates will go up. Our best hope is that not all the Horsemen will meet up. Otherwise, all hell will break loose."
"So we're hoping none of them come here?"
"The opposite. Eagle can take the fight over Lake Ontario. That way, the Air Force can shoot with out too much collateral damage."
"And I stay on the sidelines."
"You watch for anyone trying to help Famine." The elevator stopped. Anne walked out as soon as the doors opened. "Eagle has several enemies who would take the opportunity to strike."
"Guard Eagle's back. How long are we on alert?"
"Until the Horsemen are caught again."
"Two, some bad news for you."
"Go ahead, Boss."
"The Four Horsemen are out of prison."
"My feelings exactly. Suspend your search for Thirteen for now. Eagle may need her. I'm sending a plane to collect you and Five. Ten will stay behind to monitor the situation in Rochester."
"A plane? Where are we going?"
"You're being sent to stop War before she reaches North America. The Directors don't want her anywhere near our operations. It's bad enough having Famine in our borders."
"We'll be packed and ready to go."
"Good. Tell Ten he is not to interfere with Thirteen or Eagle, even if it means the loss of Thirteen. Until the situation is over, she is expendable."
With both hands busy adjusting the Peregrine-cycle, Nasty heard her cell phone ring. Swearing, she set down her wrench and ran over to her backpack. She managed to fish her phone out on the third ring. "Yeah?"
"Jessica, there you are," a cheery voice said. "It's Cynthia."
"Cynthia." Nasty rolled her eyes. Fuck.
"Em and I were talking, you know, about the football game and how it was so rudely interrupted."
Nasty didn't try to hide her sarcasm. "Dreadful."
"Wasn't it? Made a complete mess of the field and cancelled our surprise. And those girls, weren't they annoying? I can't believe how they acted."
"Cynthia, I'm kind of busy."
"Oh, right, of course, Jess. Em and I still have our routine to do and the game will be made up Friday after school. We would be thrilled to have you join us."
"Can't," Nasty said. "Mom's already got me busy this weekend."
"Can you get out of it Friday?"
"Does this have anything to do with you getting called to the office last week?"
/Sure. Why not?/ Nasty sighed. "It does, yes."
"On a first offense?"
"First one here. Cynthia, I really have to get going."
"Okay, Jess. Talk to you at school."
Nasty hung up. "I don't need this." She retrieved her wrench as she returned to the motorcycle. The elevator dinged as its doors opened. Nasty glanced over her shoulder and saw Micki step into the garage. I don't need her, either.
"There you are," Micki said.
"Where else would I be?" Nasty knelt beside the Peregrine-cycle.
"The board is ordering out. You have a choice between pizza or Chinese."
Nasty shrugged. "Chinese, I guess." She wiped her hands on her coveralls and stood up. "Any more news?"
"The Vanguard stopped Death in Germany. Laser, Detonation Lass, and the Emerald Flame are in stable condition."
"And the others?"
"Q-Ball is going to be in the shop rebuilding his armour. Feral's already walking around." Micki walked further into the garage. "Death's recapture should prevent the lunatic fringe from coming out of the woodwork."
The intercom crackled to life. "Peregrine, we need you in the media room, full costume."
"On my way," Nasty acknowledged.
"Is Micki down there?"
"I am," Micki answered. "Want me to prep Peregrine?"
"Get the briefing notes from Edward first."
Micki returned to the elevator. "I'll meet you on the sixth floor. Sounds like we have a press conference."
The elevator doors opened. "That's the spirit." Micki entered the car, the doors closing behind her.
Alone, Nasty let herself slump. Better get changed. I really hope Eagle can handle the questions.
"They have got to be kidding," Maria said. The news of the curfew continued on Skeet's television. "There's no way they can do this to us."
Skeet took the woman's hands into his. "The Apocalyptic Horsemen are loose. It's safer for us if we stay in."
"They're not real." Maria let herself be pulled on to the couch. "They're just alties!"
"Dangerous ones, and other people might believe them." Skeet pulled Maria closer. "Besides, think of what we can do while confined to my apartment."
Nasty looked around the hectic backstage area. Where the fuck is Micki? I just want this over with. She edged her way through the things of Foundation employees. Whoever wanted me around for this better find me soon. Nasty spied Micki near the wall. There!
Micki waved. "Peregrine, over here!" She met Nasty halfway and pulled her aside. "Here's what will happen. Ross is briefing the press about the breakout. After a brief Q&A session, you'll be brought out. You are there to answer questions about the roles you and Eagle will take. If they ask about Cinder and Ember, keep your answers short. Anything else not related to the Horsemen gets brushed off. Got it?"
"What about Eagle? Shouldn't he be answering these questions?"
"He's not here. You are. Deal."
Nasty glowered at Micki. A fat lot of help you are. "And if I don't know the answer?"
"Fake it. Make it believable and the Foundation will issue a correction later. Just don't freeze up." Micki looked at her watch. "Two minutes. Let's go."
Dragged by Micki, Nasty resigned herself to her fate. This better be painless. They stopped at the edge of the stage, out of sight of the reporters. "I'm not ready," Nasty said.
"Too late. Look, just remember the meeting this evening. Don't go into details; just tell them enough to answer the question."
"Anything new since then?"
Micki nodded. "Famine is heading here, but don't tell them that unless they specifically ask. Just say we're ready if he does arrive."
Micki looked past Nasty, then nodded. Giving the costumed girl a push, she said, "You're on."
Nasty stumbled on to the stage, recovering quickly. Cameras clicked. Feeling her cheeks growing warm, she reached the podium. A smattering of applause came from the gathered reporters. Ross stepped aside, saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, Peregrine will now answer questions."
More flashbulbs exploded in front of Nasty, leaving white spots floating in front of her eyes. She blinked, trying to clear her vision. Ross adjusted the microphone. Nasty leaned closer to the mike and said, "Hi." Her voice boomed in the press room. She jerked back from the loudness.
Ross put a hand on her shoulder. "Relax," he whispered so only Nasty could hear him. "They're not going to eat you. I'll be here if you need me."
Nasty nodded. "Hi," she repeated. Her voice, still amplified, didn't reverberate the room. "I'm ready to answer questions." Reporters called to get Peregrine's attention. Nasty pointed at one at random. "You."
"Peregrine, what is your role in the crisis?"
"My role?" Nasty placed her hands on the podium. "I'm going to help the police keep the peace where needed, filling in for Eagle."
"Filling in how?"
"The usual sh- stuff. Dealing with threats to the city. Next? You." Nasty pointed to the other side of the room.
"Following up, what threats, Peregrine?"
Oh, shit. She gripped the dais. "We're prepared for any threat that comes to Rochester."
"Are you expecting anyone in particular?"
Nasty shook her head. "The Foundation doesn't know. We're not taking risks, though."
"What are you, yourself, expecting, Peregrine?"
"I don't know." Nasty shrugged. "A bunch of idiots with more powers than brains coming to score points off either Eagle or Famine. Eagle's busy, so I get to watch out for these morons and hopefully prevent them from trashing Rochester. What are you expecting?"
Ross stepped to join Nasty. "The Foundation hopes that people will realize the danger even one of the Horsemen represents. Yes, next question?"
"Will there be a curfew?"
"That'll be up to the police," Ross answered. "We at the Foundation hope that one isn't needed."
"Peregrine, you mentioned Famine. Will you be facing him?"
"Who knows?" Nasty said. "Probably not. I don't fly around like Eagle does."
"Peregrine, how do you feel about dealing with a second altie threat after fighting Cinder and Ember?" another reporter asked after being pointed to by Ross.
"As long as this new guy doesn't yammer like they did, I'll have no complaints." Nasty's answer earned some laughter. I hope this is over soon.
"Are you afraid, Peregrine?"
The hell? Nasty shook her head. "Afraid of what? What's-his-name may not even come here. If he does, Eagle's here. All this planning and such is just in case something goes wrong."
"What are the chances of something going wrong?"
Do I look like I'd know, dumbass? Nasty took a deep breath. "I don't know. I don't have a computer with me to work out the odds. What do you think the odds are?"
Ross gently moved Nasty aside. "We're not expecting any problems, but we're prepared for anything that may occur. We have time for a few more questions."
Nasty stifled a groan as the next reporter asked her question. "Are you and Eagle romantically linked?"
The fuck? Nasty edged back to the microphone. "Let me get this straight. One of the biggest dangers to Rochester may or may not be heading this way and you want to know about my love life? Eagle is putting himself at risk to protect this city. So am I. Everyone here is working hard so that Famine doesn't trash Rochester and all you want to ask is if Eagle and I are seeing each other?" Nasty took a deep breath. Calm down, Giuliano. She felt Ross touch her arm. He nodded to the reporters. Nasty withheld her sigh. "For the record, no, we are not romantically linked."
Ross took over at the microphone. "Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, that's all the time we have. Peregrine has another briefing to attend."
Nasty left the stage. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her of the hour. Micki approached her, clipboard in hand. "Well, that was different." She fell into step beside Nasty. "You have seen press conference before, haven't you? Have you ever seen one where the spokesperson chews out the press?"
"It was a stupid question."
"There's no such thing as a stupid question." Micki darted out in front and stopped, forcing Nasty to do so as well. "There are such things as people too stupid to ask questions."
Nasty laughed, some of her tension ebbing. "Can you believe what she asked?"
"She's from a local scandal sheet. Ignore her for now. Go change then meet me in Anne's office."
Nasty nodded. "When will the take-out get here?"
"I'll let you know. Go. And don't chew anyone else out." Micki left, heading back to the press room.
Fuck you. Nasty glowered for a moment, then made her way to the elevator. The ride down to Peregrine's garage was quiet, giving Nasty the time she needed to recover. She slipped her clothes on over her costume, then made her way to Anne's office.
The smell of warm food wafted over Nasty when she opened Anne's door. Her stomach growled. Nasty tried to ignore the scent as she entered. Anne and Micki sat at the coffee table, sharing a pizza. Anne waved Nasty over she swallowed her but. "Jess, have a seat."
Nasty sat on the couch, her eyes flicking to and from the pizza box. "Hi."
Micki reached down beside her and brought out a bag. "It came while you were changing." She handed the Chinese food to Nasty. "Enjoy."
Nasty tore open the bag. "Thanks."
"I saw the Q&A session," Anne said. "You were doing well until the end."
Nasty blushed. "I wasn't expecting the question."
"It shouldn't have been asked," Micki agreed.
"But it was. We'll find out later how the media will spin it. In the meantime, you have to work on your presentation skills. I realize that you had little notice, Jess, for today, but we can't have another outburst like that."
Nasty dipped an egg roll into her plum sauce. "I'm just not good at public speaking."
"Now's the time to become good." Anne turned to Micki. "You've been through this a few times."
Micki nodded. "Not too hard after the first couple of speeches."
"Then you can help Jess."
In unison, Micki and Nasty snapped their heads to face Anne. "Tell me you're joking," Micki said.
"Micki, I'm promoting you to Peregrine's assistant."
"I don't need an assistant, Anne."
"How is this a promotion?"
Anne sighed. "Jess, you said that you're not good at public speaking. Micki, the Foundation still has you listed as an admin assistant, despite the work you've been doing lately. You also have a degree in Public Relations. You both need each other. Jess, Micki can help you get past your stumbling blocks. Micki, here's your chance to use your degree."
Nasty looked over to Micki, meeting the other woman's gaze. "Does this mean Micki can do my press conferences for me?"
"That isn't a bad idea, Anne. It's too late for the one today, but Peregrine could use the professional image a spokesman lends."
Anne nodded. "Work with the local media, too. Try to avoid too many store openings, but see if you can get Peregrine out to some public events."
Micki smiled. "What about that SF convention? They've been trying to get Eagle for the past six months."
"SF convention?" Nasty said. "You mean, get surrounded by kids and geeks?"
"And fans, too, Jess," Anne said. "One of the perils of being a hero."
"And after today's outburst, you need to be seen being friendly," Micki added.
"Can't I think about it?" Nasty plead.
Anne laughed. "Sure. Finish up dinner and Micki will take you home. Unless you had plans this evening, Micki."
"I already had to cancel dinner with Pierce. I'll drive her home."
The bitch has a boyfriend? Poor SOB. Nasty shrugged. "You don't have to. I can take a cab to the apartment. I've got that art assignment to finish."
"I can take her," Micki insisted. "There's a few things we need to discuss."
"Tia, we have to hurry," Eric urged.
"Oh, relax, Eric," the blonde replied. "We still have a half hour. Plenty of time for us to get home."
"It's twenty minutes by bus. Can't you come back to finish the painting tomorrow?"
"The light will have changed, Eric. It's perfect now." Tia brushed a stray bang from her eyes. "And I just want this assignment out of the way."
"Alright, alright. Just hurry, okay? I'll call Dad to pick us up."
"You worry too much." Tia returned to her painting.
Eric pulled out his cell phone and dialled his home number. After a couple of rings, the other end picked up. "Hi, Mom, it's me. Yes, I know. Can you or Dad pick us up? Tia's still painting. Thanks!" He hung up. "Mom'll be here soon. I know I'm not supposed to rush you when you're being all artistic, but there is a curfew and there are four really dangerous world destroyers on the loose."
Tia rolled her eyes. "Alright, Eric. But there's only three now. Vanguard got one in Europe, remember?"
"And there's one on his way to New York State. Your point?"
"Relax, Eric. I'm almost done."
Eric peeked at the painting. "It looks good, Tia."
"Thanks." Tia continued adding paint strokes to her work. "Really peaceful here, looking out to sea."
Eric peered across the moonlit waves. "It is," he agreed. "I wonder if Tasha would --"
"Do you have to mention her?" Tia interrupted. "Eric, she's gone. We'll probably never see her again."
"Why don't you like her? I know about the rumours and such, but she never even said anything threatening to me."
Tia set down her paint brush. "She has to the girls. Don't forget the football team, either. And her friends from her old school aren't much better."
"Tom and his cronies here hanging around her building waiting for her."
"Who told you that?"
"Matt Miller. He overheard the football players talking about it after it happened."
"Ignore Tom, then. You haven't been in the girls' locker room with her. She's hostile to everyone there."
"And the other girls aren't being nasty to her?"
Tia paused. "Eric, it's not that simple."
A pair of headlights illuminated both teens, pre-empting Eric's comment. "Mom's here."
"I'm done here anyway." Tia packed up her art supplies. "Can you get my easel for me?"
"Sure." Eric grabbed the painting and the easel and brought them to the car. "Hi, Mom."
"Hi, guys," Mrs. Westergren said. "You two are cutting it close."
"I wanted to get things done tonight," Tia explained. "I thought I had more time."
Mrs. Westergren checked her watch. "It's going to be tight. Tia, I'll call your parents and let them know you're staying with us tonight."
"You have everything put away?"
"Yeah, Mom," Eric said as he opened the car door for Tia.
Tia slipped inside. "Got everything."
Mrs. Westergren waited for her son to get in before putting her car into gear. She navigated the minivan through deserted streets back to her home. Once parked, she ushered the young adults inside. "I'll get the spare room ready for you, Tia. Eric, bring her things upstairs."
"Yes, Mom." Eric picked up Tia's backpack and easel and followed his mother to the extra bedroom. He set the items down at the foot at the bed.
"Did I interrupt anything?" Mrs. Westergren asked.
"You're not just saying that, are you?"
"Mom . . .."
"Just asking, Eric. Go get Tia something to drink. There's juice in the fridge."
"Alright, Mom." Eric returned downstairs. He found Tia in the living room. "There you are. Want some juice?"
"Sh! You'll want to watch this." Tia turned up the volume on the TV. On screen, a picture switched from the new anchor to a videotaped press conference.
Eric sat beside Tia on the couch. "I haven't seen her before."
On the television, the reporter said, "A press conference here in Rochester today displayed a weakness in the city's newest hero." The camera angle switched from the report to the costumed hero. "The latest to take up the mantle of Peregrine for the American Eagle Foundation held her first solo press conference today about the threat the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse present. Her frequent unrehearsed and unpolished answers frequently had the Foundation spokesman stepping in to help."
"She's kinda cute," Eric said.
Tia glanced over at him. "Cute? Her?"
"You don't think so?"
"They're not real, Eric."
Eric looked puzzled. "What do you mean?"
Tia pointed at the TV. "Her boobs. They're defying gravity. The only way they can be that perky is by padding, surgical or otherwise."
Eric peered at Peregrine. "How can you tell?"
"Same way I know Amy pads her bra."
Tia rolled her eyes. "You never noticed?"
"I never paid attention. Amy really discourages me looking in her direction."
"She's not worth the effort. Trust me on this, Eric."
The image on the TV returned to the reporter. "However, this wasn't all that Peregrine had to say. When asked about romantic attachments . . .."
Eric looked over to Tia, his eyes flicking to her chest before meeting her eyes. "What about Tasha?"
"What about her?"
"Is she, you know, padded?"
Tia glanced sidelong at Eric. She sighed. "No, hers are natural. You can't let her go, can you?"
"I'm allowed to miss her, aren't I?"
Tia shook her head. "Eric . . .."
"I know. You don't trust her. But she's never been nasty to me."
"She just wanted something from you."
"All I did was help her with homework."
"That's what she wanted."
Eric shifted on the couch. "But she never asked me. I made the offer and had to insist. She was supposed to go over her last English essay with me. It's not like her to forget something like that."
Tia sighed. "Why couldn't you be fascinated with Janie instead?"
"Janie's cute, I guess, but I don't know. You can't talk to her."
"Maybe you can't."
Eric shrugged. "She keeps talking about gossip."
"Yeah, and? I gossip, too, Eric."
"But that's not all we talk about, Tia. Janie doesn't talk about anything else."
"So what do you and Natasha talk about when you study together?"
"Mainly the homework," Eric replied. "How our days went. Her work. Her hobbies. My hobbies. Stuff like that."
"Nothing about anyone else at the school."
"Only if she had trouble with them that day. The football players really had it in for her."
"She didn't help her cause." Tia shook her head. "Enough of her. Do you think we're really in danger from the Horsemen?"
Eric turned off the TV. "I think everyone's overreacting. The Vanguard took care of Death, and all sorts of supers are after the other three. They're not going to get here."
Tia leaned over and kissed Eric on the cheek. "You're sweet. I think I get what Natasha sees in you."
"I can't believe this!" Cynthia paced around the room she shared with her sister.
Emily rolled her eyes as she sat at her desk. "Would you sit down?"
"Why, sister dear? Am I disturbing you?"
Emily glared at her twin. "I – we – have an essay due in the morning. One of us better get it done."
"Homework? You're worried about homework when Mother and Father virtually have us prisoners?"
"Cut the crap, Cyn. I'm not your audience."
"Well," Cynthia fumed. "I don't know why we're stuck here when there's no curfew."
"Mom and Dad don't want us getting stuck like we did at Homecoming. Neither do I."
"Where's your sense of adventure?"
"Working on the essay."
Cynthia flopped on her bed. "What are the girls going to think when they find out we're hiding?"
"Who cares, Cyn? Can't your social life wait until the fucking crisis is over?"
"We have to make up for not getting our surprise out at the game. Those bitches screwed us over."
"There's a supervillain heading this way. I think people have other things on their minds right now."
"It took six weeks last school we were at to get to the top of the social circles. I am not spending that much time here to claw back up."
"So why are you recruiting that Jessica girl? She's not part of any clique. She's not even trying to fit in."
"That's why she's perfect," Cynthia explained. "I can get her to join clubs that we wouldn't. She can be an extra set of eyes and ears for us. Besides, she's from New York. She must know people there. Imagine the circles she can get us into."
[End Issue 29]
Next Issue: Eagle's enemies start to appear.