LaGuardia Airport, New York City, later the same morning
Vicki strolled around the boarding gate, trying to find a way to pass the time. Her sewing project sat somewhere in the bowels of the airport, waiting to be loaded on to her flight. The "hurry up and wait" approach at the airport was getting on her nerves, not that she wanted to admit it. The young teen glanced over at her father who sat and read a brick-sized airport fantasy. More people trickled into the area to await the flight.
With a sigh, Vicki flopped into a plastic seat across from her father. Not getting a reaction from him, she sighed louder. Her father looked up from his novel. Vicki gave him a bright smile. Richard returned to his reading. I should have charged my iPad overnight. She started swinging her legs as she sang Lady Gaga's latest under her breath. Before she reached the chorus, her cell phone chimed. Vicki answered it with practiced speed. "Hello?"
"Oh, good, you're not on your flight yet," Sandra said.
"You're not going to believe this."
"Hello, Sandra," Vicki repeated, emphasizing the words.
"Oh, sorry. Hi, Vicki. You're not going to believe this!"
Vicki shifted in the chair, trying to get more comfortable. "Jordan called you by your name?"
"Better. Wait, Jordan's called me by name before."
Vicki laughed. "I don't think Sandra-dude counts."
"Anyway, you know that con you're going to?"
"I looked at their web page a few minutes ago. They found a replacement for Eagle: Peregrine."
"Peregrine, yeah, right." Vicki rolled her eyes. "Sandra, there isn't one right now, unless . . . No way! Her?"
Sandra's light laugh carried well over the connection. "Yes, her."
Vicki's squee of joy echoed around the boarding gate. People around gave her the glare of doom. Her father looked up from his book. "Vicki, indoor voice," he said in a stern tone.
"Sorry." Vicki tried to disappear into her chair. "Sorry, everyone," she said meekly. "Sorry, Sandra. I can try to talk to her again about joining us."
"Good luck with that."
"What could it hurt to try?"
"Remember who we're talking about."
"I know, I know." Vicki straightened up in her chair. "Want her autograph?"
"Sure. On her photo if you can."
"I'll see what I can do."
Over the public announcement system, a voice droned, "First call for Delta Airlines Flight 173 to Cleveland and Seattle, at boarding gate 27. First call for Delta Flight 173 at gate 27."
Vicki looked over at her father who started gathering his carry on luggage. "Sandra, gotta go. We're about to board. I'll text you when I get to the hotel."
Newark Liberty International Airport, Newark, same morning
The Eagle Foundation helicopter set down on its pad. A Port Authority car sat just outside the helipad, two figures standing beside it. One, Nasty recognized right away. Micki hadn't changed much since the last time they met. The other was dressed in his uniform, pistol holstered at his belt. Mitch killed the rotors, letting them spin down. He looked back at his passengers. "I'll open the door for you in a moment. Have a good flight?"
Nasty nodded as she removed the helicopter's headset. "Yeah. This doesn't look like what I've seen on TV."
"Television can't afford a chopper like this. Built for comfort, she is.
Eric nodded in agreement. "Thanks for the ride."
"Hey, anytime." Mitch unbuckled his safety belt and climbed into the back of the aircraft. He unlocked the door, opening it. "Here ya go. I'll get your luggage. You two go say hi."
Nasty let Eric get out first. Once she herself was out, she stretched. Despite the comfort provided, the ride still left her shaken, and just working out the kinks in her arms and legs went far to restore herself.
Micki reached Nasty in mid-stretch. "Hello. Don't get too far in your warm up. The jet is waiting for us."
And fuck you, too. Nasty bit her tongue, holding back comments. Instead, she said, "Bet you weren't expecting to see me ever again."
"I could say the same." Micki grabbed one of Nasty's arms and pulled her aside. In a lower tone, she said, "You never said your friend was a guy."
Nasty looked over to Eric. "I thought I did."
"No, you didn't. Natasha, the American Eagle Foundation isn't running a getaway service for horny teens. You're on Foundation business this weekend."
"What?" Nasty caught herself before she continued shouting. "It's not what you think!" she hissed. "Why does everyone think I'm going to, to, whatever!" She shook out of Micki's grasp. "Eric's a friend."
"Just so we're clear, okay? Last thing I want is your mother yelling at me for letting you have sex while under my supervision. And before you object or swear, until you're eighteen, that's the only arrangement available for assignments like this one. Are we on the same page?"
Nasty glared at Micki, who returned her own stony stare. "Fine, yes," the young red head snapped.
"Good. Get on the plane and get settled. I'll brief you once we're in the air."
Flight 173, New York – Cleveland – Seattle, over New York State, mid-morning
Vicki stared out the window. Most of the passengers on the flight were her father's age, business travellers; very few families were around this early in the morning. Not that she minded; Vicki liked children, but knew that the flight would be far worse with the cries of an infant on the jet. Still, with her father engrossed in his fantasy novel, she had nothing better to do than just look out at the endless clouds, glimpsing the land below when the cloud cover cleared briefly. The young woman sighed.
Movement in the clouds caught her attention. Vicki craned her neck, trying to get a better look at what she saw. She adjusted her position in her seat, loosening her seat belt. In a break between clouds, she espied the source of the movement: a small private jet. Vicki tried to look at the logo on plane's tail. After a moment, she recognized it. She gasped, covering her mouth to stop herself from yelling from excitement. Instead, she tapped her father on the shoulder. "Dad! Dad, look out there!" She pointed at the jet.
Richard leaned over his daughter as he tried to find what she was excited over. "What is it?"
"It's Eagle's jet. Look!" She cursed under her breath as another cloud covered the aircraft. "There!" she said as the cloud dissipated.
"Interesting. I wonder where they're going."
"Cleveland, I'll bet," Vicki answered.
"I thought Eagle could fly on his own."
"He can. Peregrine can't. And she's supposed to be at the con instead of him."
"Was that why you squealed at the airport?"
Vicki shrank down in her seat. "Um, yeah. Sandra called me to let me know."
"I see. Is she as interested in supers as you are?"
"Kinda? I mean, we talk about them from time to time, but I'm more up on things than she is." Vicki shrugged. "Just went that way."
"Why didn't you invite her along? You could have had someone you knew with you."
Vicki went back to looking out the window. "Her parents are a little strict and really cautious. They don't mind her going to events back home, as long as it's not dangerous or anything, but they'd have had a conniption fit over her going somewhere out of town unless they went with her." She brushed a stray bang out of her eyes. "Kind of sucks, really."
Below the commercial airliner, the smaller jet dashed ahead, twin contrails left in its wake.
Keith's Yugo, Interstate 90, Cleveland city limits, mid-morning
"About time," Meredith remarked as the tiny car, more primer-coloured than anything else, passed a sign welcoming visitors to the city. "How much farther to the hotel?"
Keith glanced at his GPS unit. "Twenty minutes, if we don't hit all the lights. Why, need another pit stop?"
Trying not to squirm, Meredith answered, "Yes, actually. I didn't think the coffee would go me that fast." She checked her watch. "Five hours. You do realize we could have left at a more sane hour."
"Take a look at the schedule for this afternoon and tell me that we could have left later. It's in my backpack." He indicated its location with a motion of his head. "Besides, you've driven in Toronto's morning rush hour. If we left any later, we'd still be stuck on the Don Valley Parking Lot."
"Point." Meredith reached into the back seat and grabbed her friend's pack. She started rifling through his books and clothes. "Wait, you brought along a textbook? Keith, you are such a geek."
Keith rolled his eyes. "Look, it's just some bedtime reading, and you're looking in the wrong spot. Left side pocket."
"All right, all right." Meredith zipped up the pack and opened the side pocket. "Ah, here." She pulled out several pieces of paper. "You need a stapler."
"I have one. Back at the dorm."
"It must be hiding from you." Meredith started reading the text on the papers. "Friday . . . Friday . . . does ordering things ever occur to you? Never mind, found it. Let's see. Okay, the con starts at . . . Keith! The first event is at four!"
"Opening ceremonies are at three."
"Okay, the first event is at three. We are early."
"Gives us time to check in, stretch, eat, get changed, get in line for passes, all that stuff, without rushing. I've seen you when you rush."
Meredith shook her head in disdain. "Geek. Oh, look! There's a dance tonight! You never told me there was a dance tonight. Why didn't you tell me there was a dance tonight? Keith, we're going."
"That'd be why I never told you there was a dance tonight." Keith winced as Meredith punched his arm. "No hitting the driver!"
"Tell me these things and I won't have to hit you." Meredith stuffed the papers back in the backpack. "I would have brought something nice to wear there. Fine, to make up for it, you're taking me shopping."
"If you want to sleep soundly tonight, you are taking me shopping."
Eagle Foundation Jet, over New York State, mid-morning
Micki turned her chair to face both Nasty and Eric. "Okay, this isn't just a pleasure trip. Eric, Natasha is going to be working. She may not have time for you. Are you okay with that?" Eric nodded. "Natasha?"
Nasty huffed. "Yes."
"And the trip isn't about the convention. It's a good cover for why Peregrine is really there." Micki crossed her legs, her pant legs whispering against each other. "How much do either of you know about alternate dimensions?"
Nasty's face wore a puzzled expression. Eric answered, "In theory, there are multiple universes, some that might resemble ours. Most of what I know come from books and comics, though."
"Good enough. Just remember that everything I'm about to tell you doesn't leave this airplane. Got me?" Micki waited until both teens gave an affirmative. "Okay. First, several groups, including the Foundation and the Global Vanguard, have discovered a dimension that lies 'close' to ours."
"Close?" Eric asked.
"I'm not a math major. I couldn't tell you what close means when it comes to dimensions. Just work with me here." Micki leaned back and took a breath. "From what I was told, this dimension doesn't need a huge – don't ask, Eric – a huge energy output to make a connection to ours. The Eagle has met his double from that dimension a few times, and there are, um, shall we say agents? Agents, yes. Agents who analyze the culture there. The best way to describe it is a reversal of sorts from our own."
"You mean a mirror universe with evil versions of ourselves?" Eric asked.
Nasty looked from Eric to Micki. "You're joking, right? I thought evil mirror twins were bad fiction."
"We wish," Micki said. "There's been indications the past few days that someone over there is trying to break through to our dimension. Could be good, could be bad. We don't have enough information. Having Eagle there means having his mirror-self there, too."
"Why would his evil twin be there?"
Micki shrugged. "There seems to be a link between the people in one dimension and their mirrors in the other. They live in the same city, are born at the same time, die at the same time, generally have parallel lives. Not exact, but enough that the Foundation thought it best to not have one of the most powerful altereds around when there's a breakthrough."
"And I'm not powerful. Gee, thanks."
"Relative to the Eagle, you're not. Natasha, I've seen your power in action. It's great when you're in a brawl. Not so great when someone aims a tornado at you."
Nasty forced a brief smile. "Okay, evil me isn't as hard to take down as evil Eagle. So, I just have to patrol, look for my twin, and lay the smack down on her. Sounds easy."
Micki laughed. "Not so fast, there. For all we know, someone wants to escape to our dimension. Could be your evil self. You just can't start hitting people, much as that method works for you."
"So, I patrol, look for someone who might or might not be from the mirror universe, and find out what they want. If I can somehow recognize the person from there."
"More or less."
Eric put up his hand. "Maybe I can help, somehow? I mean, I don't have powers or anything, but I have read books and such."
Micki raised a perfect black eyebrow. "Maybe, but make sure you stay out of the way if things go south in a hurry. I don't want to have to explain to your parents what had happened to you."
"I can keep him safe," Nasty said. "There has to be a better way to find out who is coming over to our side. Energy can't be that hard to disguise."
"The Foundation is working with people from Three-Q Enterprises to find the crossover point. I'll keep in touch with them and with you." Micki looked at her watch. "Natasha, you better go get changed. We should be landing soon. I'll call the con organizers and let them know we're almost there."
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, late morning
Keith let the Yugo coast to a stop at the front door. "Just wait until I get back. I managed to get the last room here last night. Some large group cancelled at the last minute."
Meredith stepped out of the little car. "Let me get the bags out, okay?" She stretched as she waited for the rear doors to be unlocked.
"Meredith, you do realize that the car doesn't have power locks?"
"Oh." Feeling sheepish, Meredith reached inside and unlocked the back door. The door opened with a creak that worried her. "Keith, when are you going to get a new car? Something that isn't the butt of a thousand jokes?" She closed both her door and the rear one. "I'll meet you inside."
Keith tapped the horn twice in response. The car lurched forward, then rolled away. The porter at the hotel's entrance watched the vehicle disappear around the corner. "You came in that thing?" he said to Meredith. "You're braver than I thought."
"Ha ha." Meredith picked up the luggage at her feet. "It got us here from Toronto without losing a piece."
"I didn't know they still made Yugos."
"You'll have to talk to him about it." Three young men, barely out of their teens, walked by. All three were dressed as members of the Global Vanguard. The one on the left wore the tight and bright red satins of Laser; on the right, a slightly out of shape Sirocco in a close approximation of desert browns; and in the middle, in a plaster replica of Q-Ball's power armour. Meredith couldn't help but watch how the Laser wannabe walked in his outfit. 'Hello, hello, hello. I am going to enjoy this weekend.'
Keith returned after a few minutes. "Sorry about that. I had to park near the back and get all the electronics. Don't want anything stolen."
"Who is going to steal a Yugo, Keith? It can't even be used for parts."
"Yeah, yeah. Let's go get checked in."
Meredith led the way inside and to the registration desk. As Keith handled the payment for the room, Meredith watched as the early bird con members arrived. Several acted like they hadn't seen each other in a few years. 'Maybe they haven't. They might have met here.' Meredith shrugged.
A few minutes later, Keith completed the check in. "Ready?" he asked.
Meredith handed him his backpack, then grabbed her own baggage. "After you."
Tori slammed the door of the sedan. "Where did you learn to drive? We could have been killed!"
Natasha stepped out of the car, closing her door with a gentle push. "There was plenty of space in front of the big rig."
"I'd still like to live to see our plan work." Tori looked back at the trunk. "Mind popping that open?"
"Yes, I do. We can get our stuff out later. Omega is waiting inside." Flicking her hair behind her, Natasha strode to the door of the decrepit building. "The sooner we make the initial crossing, the better."
Tori ran to keep up with the red haired mastermind. "Can we at least eat at some point? A growing girl needs her nourishment."
Natasha turned back to face the blonde. "They have food on the other side, too. I've heard that something other than Beavertails," she grimaced at the thought, "are available."
"Stupid Canadians." Tori crossed her arms and pouted.
From inside, Omega said, "I can hear you." The voice was modulated electronically, making it hard to tell whether Omega was female or male. "Hurry up and get in before someone sees you."
Natasha and Tori both hurried inside, closing the door behind. Tori made sure that the door was locked before going further inside. "Well? Do you have what we need?"
Omega, wearing a full suit of powered battle armour, turned his blank faceplate to Natasha. "Do you let your minion do all your talking? I don't deal with the help."
Natasha laid her arm on Tori's shoulder and gave a small squeeze. "Do you have the device here?" she asked. "The entire plan depends on it."
Omega nodded. "Naturally." He tapped a code into a panel on his left arm. Lights deeper inside the building turned on, revealing a cube van painted deep blue. "It's in there."
"Interesting." Natasha walked up to the van. She ran the fingers on her left hand over the paint job. "I believe you neglected a small detail. Who is going to drive this?"
"I have staff on hand to do that."
Tori joined Natasha at the van. "And you trust them?"
"She's Canadian, like me."
"Good enough for me," Natasha said. "Get your staff and let's get started."
The mechanism started with a loud whine, startling the teen. She tensed, prepared to leap into action, before she realized it was just the noise of the carousel. Relax, Pixie. There's no bad guys here. Except for the places selling overpriced chocolate. And Pixie's powers are useless against that sort of evil. She laughed at herself.
"That's the only bed." Eric gave a sheepish smile. "I can sleep on the couch, though."
The elevator doors finally opened, revealing the lobby. The scantily dressed young woman bounded off first. Meredith pulled Keith by the elbow out and toward the parking lot. "You can look forward now. The evil breasts went another way."