Featuring Subject 13, Prototype Alpha, and Pixie of Youth Brigade
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, early morning
"Meredith, I don't see why you're so upset." Keith rushed to keep up with the brunette.
"Of course you wouldn't." Meredith stabbed the elevator call button. "Keith you are so flipping blind at times."
"What?" Meredith spun around to face her roommate. "I am so not jealous. Keith, you were out all freaking night! I got worried!"
The elevator doors opened. Meredith stepped inside. Keith was just able to get in before the doors closed. "What was I supposed to think when I got back to the room before you?"
Keith lowered his voice to try to influence Meredith to follow suit. "You didn't think to call me? Or check the hotel's bar? And you're the one who keeps encouraging me to go out and meet people. How did you put it? 'Get away from the computer and see what a living girl looks like.' Sound familiar?"
"I didn't tell you to do that with Boob Girl."
"Her name is Naomi and she's a nice person."
The elevators let the duo out on the first floor. As she walked out, Meredith asked, "Did she let you touch them?"
"Give me a break, Mere," Keith huffed. "Turns out, she's thinking of going into Engineering, too. We talked all night about school and costuming and the attention she gets. She even gave me her ICQ number."
Meredith stopped at the restaurant's hostess booth. "Okay, I don't know which is worse, you staying out until who knows when or you staying out all night with a chick and just talking."
"I got back a little after four in the morning. By the way, if you want to claim being worried, it helps if you're not fast asleep."
"Four in the morning. I am not a morning person, remember?"
"It doesn't count as morning if you never went to bed."
The hostess showed the bickering couple to a table along the wall. Meredith continued her line of attack even as she sat down. "Call me next time, okay?"
Keith picked up a menu as he parked himself across from the brunette. "Oh, that would look good on me. 'Wait, I have to let my friend, you know, the girl, know that I'm with you."
Meredith sighed. "A text message. Or something."
"Next time, I will. Promise."
The waitress set out two coffee cups and took their order. Once she had left, Keith said, "Funny thing, though. While I was showing off my car--"
Meredith laughed. "You showed off the Yugo?
"Enough of the car jokes." Keith glared at his dining companion. "At least until I finish."
"Alright, alright. Go on."
"Anyway, I was showing Naomi the upgrades in the car, like the GPS and the energy sensors when they went off." Seeing Meredith opening her mouth, Keith added, "The energy sensors. I had put them into scan mode, just to show off a little, when they detected a tachyon burst followed by something completely weird."
"Take this wall here. Now imagine that there was a bright red spot here," Keith tapped just above the sugar shaker, "caused by a laser on the other side."
Meredith nodded. "Okay."
"Except, there was no wall, and the energy wasn't a laser."
"I don't get it."
"Take away the wall, but leave the red spot there, growing, without any source to cause it to expand."
"Keith, that breaks several laws of physics."
"You're telling me. However, once it was big enough, the sensor caught something behind the red spot. How good are you with n-dimensional math?"
Meredith covered her ears. "No math before coffee."
"Fine. Okay, then how are you with parallel universes?"
"No. No way! Is that what you found?"
"Shh!" Keith motioned with his hands palm down to get Meredith to lower her voice. "Not so loud. First, it's a major discovery if it is what I think. Second, I'm not completely sure."
Meredith brought her volume down to Keith's. "How can you not be sure?"
"Do you know what a dimensional breech looks like?"
"Okay, point. But what about Boo-- Naomi?"
"There's plenty of fame to go around for this. Besides, Meredith, think of the academic papers."
"Great. Major discovery, and you're thinking of the school."
"That, and I now have proof that my sensors are innovative. Think of it, Mere. Me, selling versions of them to NASA."
Meredith smirked. "Making enough money to get a real car."
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, early morning
"I know, Dad," Vicki said. "This afternoon you'll be at the baseball game. If I run into any problems, I can call you after the seventh inning stretch. If it's an emergency, I can call Mom."
Richard tried to give his daughter a stern glare, but couldn't hold it. "If there's an emergency, call me. The Indians can deal with Toronto on their own." He kissed Vicki on the cheek. "And if you leave the hotel, let me know, okay?"
"Okay." Vicki grabbed her backpack. "See you!"
"And get something for breakfast!"
"I will!" Vicki bolted out of the room. She took the stairs, avoiding the expected crowd on the elevators, and arrived on the main floor close to where she wanted. The convention's rooms were still shut; all that meant to her was that she could still get in line for the first panel so she could get a good seat. As she arrived, she noted that she was the first to get there. Man, if Damage Magnet was here, he'd tell me I was such a geek. Of course, if he was here, he'd still be asleep, so he wouldn't be here to tell me anyway. Once he was up, he'd be too busy drooling over the cleavage some of the costumes have. Vicki sighed and looked down at her chest. Would be nice to have some. I mean, what sort of superheroine doesn't have a bit of bust to her name?
Vicki slid down the wall to sit on the floor. She dug her digital camera out of her backpack. Then again, I wonder how the Hurricane is able to turn. I'm surprised she doesn't land face first all the time. She must have practiced. To pass the time, the blond girl started going through the photos she already took. A few she removed because of problems with focus. Others she noted to get printed on the proper paper to hang on her bedroom walls at home. More and more people fell in line behind her as time passed. The din of conversation pulled Vicki's attention away from her camera in time to see the door being unlocked. Getting up of the floor quickly, she grabbed her backpack and zipped inside. With a small crush of con goers behind her, Vicki hurried to get to the front row. She got comfortable as others filed into the room and sat around her. Her digital camera sat ready in the blond's hand.
After a few minutes, the author and artist guests entered. They took their place at the panelists' table. Pierce poured a glass of water for both himself and Alec as his partner looked around the room. "The one thing cons never have in these rooms: coffee. Or tea in Pierce's case." A smattering of laughs met the remark. "Lively crowd. I guess most of you weren't at one of the all-night room parties."
"Not so loud, Alec," Pierce complained. "I tried to. I couldn't keep up."
"Teaches you to get old."
"Get off-a mah lawn, you whippersnapper!" Pierce checked his watch. "Still a few minutes. So, how did the Cubs do last night?"
"Lost to the Dodgers, as expected."
"It's the lack of wind." The door to the room opened. "Ah, here we go."
Peregrine rushed inside. "Sorry about that."
"Nah, you're on time." Pierce poured a glass of water for the heroine. "Okay, everyone's here now. Welcome to our panel. 'Effective Costumes: How to Keep a Secret ID Secret.' Quite a mouthful. I'm Pierce, this is Alec. We are the co-creators of the independent title Hero Ablaze! Joining us is Peregrine, who I hope everyone here knows."
Peregrine shifted under the attention. She gave a feeble wave to the assembled crowd. "Hi."
Yep, not her thing. Vicki got her camera up and shot several photos of the panelists.
"First off, this is not a how-to-make panel. Pierce is a writer, I'm the artist. If either of us tried to do anything fancier than sewing a button on a shirt, we'd wind up sewing the costume on to us."
"It's why I don't wear shirts with buttons." Pierce's comment received more laughs than before.
Alec sighed. "He's here all day. Try the house special. So, us, not tailors, not fashion designers, not professional clothes people. Trust me, drawing impossible outfits is easier than making them. The masquerade tonight is where you can see the results of people doing the impossible."
"That out of the way," Pierce began, "we can help show how some costumes are not so useful in reality. Alec and I have gone out of our way to reflect that in our work. That's why we invited Peregrine here. She will be our model for this morning." The bearded writer started clapping. "Let's give a round of applause to thank her."
Vicki saw a tinge of red peeking out from Peregrine's mask. Man, of all the people to go up there.
"First off, most costumes in comics and worn by supers in our world are there to do two main things. One, to give a constant appearance so everyone who sees you knows who you are." Alec pointed at Peregrine. "Here, we see the classic Peregrine costume, first worn by the original Peregrine over twenty years ago. Naturally, some changes have been made, like tailoring the outfit for a woman. But, overall, if someone from twenty years ago woke up from a coma and saw our distinguished guest, that person would see Peregrine."
"And wonder if Peregrine had a sex-change operation." Pierce smiled at Peregrine. "After that, our no longer comatose person would see the small changes, like handy pockets, the fingerless gloves, the sleeker design to the helmet. So that's one. The other reason is to hide one's identity. It's a trope, but it's a handy one. Last thing a daring hero of the night wants is to have the lawyer representing the villain who was just arrested handing over a subpoena for a civil suit. Laugh, but that's why the Amazing Lyle from the seventies lasted a grand total of three months as a costumed hero."
"Let's apply this to Peregrine." Alec motioned to have Peregrine stand up. Vicki took another picture of the heroine. "Back to my first point, well, Peregrine. Everyone here should recognize her. The second point, well, right now, I can tell you that Peregrine is about five foot nine, has red hair, no idea about eye colour, and is, what, a D cup?"
"I'd say so," Pierce agreed.
Peregrine shot a look at the co-creators. She crossed her arms over her chest. Vicki hid her mouth to stifle her giggles.
"Sorry, Peregrine," Pierce said. "We have a point. You can sit down again." As the embarrassed heroine took her seat, the writer continued, "Right now, I can start trying to find out who Peregrine really is. All I have to do is look up in my magical database all five foot nine young women with red hair and a D bra size. I also have other measurements to try to narrow things down, like waist size, torso length, shoe size if I'm lucky to get that. I could add green eyes, but there are redheads with blue eyes, with hazel eyes, with brown eyes that I could possibly miss who I'm looking for. Or, I could just go on the Internet and find Peregrine's interview on TV. I know you had your reasons, Peregrine, but for most people, unmasking on national television is not the way to remain secret."
"So, how can a hero avoid being easily identified?"
Vicki put up her hand. "Could you add padding to the costume?"
"Gold star for the lady!" Pierce downed his water. "That's a great way to make yourself look different. Add some bulk. Works for the guys, too. No one expects Mr. Muscle with the bulging biceps to look like Alec here."
Alec flexed his arms in a parody of body building routines. "Just make sure the padding is built into the costume. It's really embarrassing when the foam inserts fall out during a fight."
"If you're lucky, the villain will be too busy laughing and you'll be able to sucker punch him." This time, even Peregrine laughed at Pierce's joke. "So, Peregrine, can you tell us if your costume is padded?"
After a moment, the red haired heroine answered, "Yes. I mean, yes, it is padded. Around the shoulders, armoured on the chest, arms, and legs."
"Thanks. And thanks for bringing up another good reason for a costume." Alec got up and walked behind Peregrine. "Mind if I pound your shoulders. Just enough to make a point."
Alec struck Peregrine's left shoulder with his closed fist. A dull thud came from the contact of flesh to costume. "Not every hero is nigh invulnerable. Sometimes, a costume can be used to save a life; the hero's." The artist sat back down. "In Hero Ablaze!, Blaze doesn't need a bulletproof suit. When he's all aflame, bullets vapourize. Shooting him is as effective as putting out a fire with a squirt gun, even if it is one of those nifty Super Soakers with pump action."
"Guess whose girlfriend gave him a new toy." Pierce topped up everyone's water glass. "However, other heroes, including our fictional Major Flagg, aren't so lucky. So, naturally, the good Major has a technobabble weave Kevlar-based costume that stops him from getting hurt. I imagine that you have something similar, Peregrine."
Peregrine nodded. "Something like that."
Vicki held up her hand. "How do you feel about capes?"
Alec smiled. "I was hoping someone would ask that question. Pierce, want to field this?"
"Oh, no. You've been wanting to answer this one since the last con."
"Thanks. Okay, first, a certain movie, very incredibly well done, if you catch that, made great arguments against capes. However, it didn't take into account heroes who are nigh invulnerable. Let's take the American Eagle. He has a cape. At no time has he ever been caught in a jet's air intake, nor caught on a rocket. Let's face it, Eagle is a smart person. He knows better than to let his cape snag on an obstruction."
"Alec, Eagle has had his opponents grab his cape in a fight. Remember back to last November when he fought that Horseman of the Apocalypse? Famine used that cape more than he did."
"Thanks, Pierce. Sure, a cape can be used against you. So can hair. However, Eagle can take the beating. Then there's the pose after the fight. Somehow, it wouldn't be the same without the wind ruffling his cape like a flag on a pole. That's a key part of the Eagle mystique."
"I'll give you that. Blaze still isn't getting a cape."
"No, and he doesn't need one. He has swirls of flame. Those are much cooler than an old cape. However, taking another example, this time from the Global Vanguard, Q-Ball."
"He's doing it to set off his armour."
"Nothing wrong with that. Not to mention that he won't get sucked into a jet engine, either. He made the cape's clasp to breakaway when things go wrong. And look at the Crimson Shadow in Chicago. He uses the cape to help hide in the shadows and to look menacing. The cape is part of his shtick."
Pierce nodded. "So, what you're saying is that a cape can be useful, if thought through?"
"Precisely. And to make sure it can be torn away somehow in case it does get stuck on something. So, Peregrine, pro-cape or anti-cape?"
"Me? I'd prefer to not have one. Might get caught in the motorcycle." She cocked her head, then turned away.
Alec looked right at Vicki. "Does that answer your question."
"Thanks!" Vicki glanced over at Peregrine. The heroine sat sideways in her chair, her back to her fellow panelists. Odd. Unless . . . maybe she's getting word from the Foundation of something happening? Great! Oh, wait, I'm stuck in the middle of the front row. Smooth move, Pixie.
Peregrine spun to face Alec and Pierce. "Sorry, something just came up and I have to leave."
"We understand," Alec said. "Supers, always getting the call in the middle of something. Go take care of the problem. Pierce and I can handle the mob here."
Peregrine got up and dashed out of the room. Vicki watched as the door closed. 'As soon as this is over, I can ditch my bags in my room and try to follow her. Can't be much time left.'
"The news is reporting two altered humans causing havoc not far from here."
Nasty reached up with one hand and snagged the lilliputian girl around the waist. Bringing Pixie to her face, Nasty snarled, "What are you doing?"
Nasty glared at the diminutive figure. "Just get ready. On the count of three. One. Two." Before she could say, "Three," a silver streak crossed the skies overhead. "Oh, what the fuck now? Foundation, we have a problem."