Featuring Subject 13, Prototype Alpha, and Pixie of Youth Brigade
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, late-morning
Eric paced in the hotel room. The Foundation radio signal had gone quiet. Not dead; he could hear the faint hiss of static from a carrier wave. There was just no traffic on the band, none since Tash's last words. It was the lack of conversation that had him worried. He dropped on to the bed. The urge to just run out and look for Tash was overwhelming.
The lock clicked open. Eric stood up. "Tash?"
Micki entered the room. "Sorry. We're still looking for her." Someone followed her in. "Eric, this is Keith. He's," Micki searched for the words, "involved with this."
"That's what we're about to find out." Micki pulled out the chair at the desk. "Keith, sit."
Keith took the seat. "Look, I don't know what happened."
"Keith, this is Eric, Peregrine's friend."
"Now, Keith, why are you and this Prototype Alpha here?"
"I told you, we're here for the con. Last night, we found the breech in dimensions."
"You and Prototype Alpha."
"No. Naomi and I. I was showing her the car."
"You honestly expect me to believe that this Naomi would be impressed by a Yugo?"
Keith sighed. "I was showing her the modifications. That's when we saw the breech. It lasted for ten minutes."
Micki turned to Eric. "What do you think?"
Eric shrugged. "I didn't tell anyone about the other dimension. I don't think Tash did, either."
Micki let out her breath. "That was my feeling."
"Does this mean I can go?" Keith started to get up.
"I need to find Prototype Alpha."
"We need to find Peregrine. We're in the same boat. If you can hold on, Pete will have the satellite photos we need."
"You don't have a tracking signal on her?"
Eric sat back down on the bed. "Tracking signal?"
Micki shook her head. "Only on her motorcycle."
"I've got one on Alpha." As Eric and Micki both glared at him, Keith added, "How else am I supposed to find the Powered BIKINI again?"
Micki blinked. "The what?"
"The Powered Bilaterally Independent Kinetic Induction of Natural Ions." Seeing eyes glazing over, Keith added, "Her power armour?"
"You can track it, you said?"
"Yes. Everything I need is in my car."
Micki picked Keith out of his seat. "Let's go. Eric, stay in contact. If you hear from Peregrine, let me know right away."
Nasty woke up with a team of miniature jackhammers breaking through her skull. She winced from the headache. Her mouth felt dry. Her arms ached. She pulled on one, trying to bring it down to clear her eyes. A chain rattled, and her arm jerked. Preparing for the brightness, she opened her eyes and looked up. Both of her wrists were chained above her head. Her hands were encased metal globes. "Fuck." She pulled as hard as she could, but the chains proved to be stronger. Looking down, she saw that her costume had been removed, leaving her in her mismatched bra and panties. A large bruise was still forming on her bare shoulder, a smaller already turning purple on her side.
"Hello?" a tiny voice called. "Peregrine?"
"Pixie?" Nasty looked around. She saw a brunette woman in her underwear locked up in a similar manner to herself. On a table in the middle of the stark, windowless room, Pixie was stretched out spread eagle, a metal spike an inch above her stomach.
"Hi." She coughed, a task made difficult by her position. She groaned. "My sides hurt."
"My counterpart let me watch you get hit by the taser before she squeezed me. That's all I remember before I woke up here."
Nasty dropped her head. Great. Just fucking great. She swallowed, trying to get rid of the dry mouth. "I think I've been in worse situations. Can't you just return to your normal size?"
Pixie looked at the spike above her. "Not without stabbing myself. That might kill me."
"At least you're not half naked."
"My clothes don't fit my counterpart."
The brunette stirred, waking up. She blinked twice, then looked around. "I really hope that someone will explain what happened at the party."
"Who the fuck are you?" Nasty demanded.
"And hello to you, too. I don't suppose you know what happened to my armour?"
"Can we not get into a fight among ourselves?" Pixie laid her head back on the slab she was on. "Let's try to find a way out of this mess."
"How?" Nasty rattled her chains. "I can't break these fucking things. I don't have my radio anymore. I don't know where the fuck we are!"
"Are you sure you're from this dimension?" the brunette asked.
"Again, who the fuck are you?"
"Meredith Sabati, otherwise known as Prototype Alpha when I'm in my battle bikini."
"Hi. Pixie. Vicki Parsons. Just don't spread that around. Secret identity and all that."
"I kind of figured, with the mask and all. Right now, it's hard to deny who I am, being in my underwear and all. And who is your friend with foul mouth and humour to match?"
"Does Peregrine have a proper name?"
Nasty growled, "Yes." She caught her next reply, burying it as she tried to force her tone to be less hostile. "Natasha Giuliano."
Meredith pulled on her restraints. "I'm going to side with Natasha for now. There's no way we're going to be able to escape from this like we are. I'm normal outside the armour."
The cell's lock rattled, clanging open. Natasha entered, still wearing the same leather outfit. "Oh, good, we're all awake." She walked to the centre of the room, letting Omega and Tori enter. "Any attempt to bluster? At all?" She sidled to Nasty. "Not even you?"
Nasty glared at her leather-clad counterpart. Keep it together. She's trying to push your buttons, Giuliano. Don't let her.
Natasha patted Nasty's cheek. "Pity. I like it when the hero tries to brave things out. Gives me shivers." She turned on her heel. "Welcome to our Cleveland. Even if you could escape, this side is under my control. Where could you go where I couldn't find you. However, you have no need to worry. I don't need you dead, just out of the way." Natasha flounced over to Meredith. "You, however, are an enigma. Here I was expecting Omega's counterpart and here you are. Omega, is this your counterpart?"
Omega removed his helmet. "No."
Meredith gasped. "Keith?"
"Do you know this woman, Omega?" Natasha asked.
"Never." Omega turned and lumbered out of the cell.
"Interesting. However, I didn't need him to fill in over on your side. Tori and I can slip into your lives and work to our goal without him. Pixie, I really wish your regular clothes were near the fight. It's going to be a pain finding all your cards and ID." Natasha returned to Nasty's side. "I do hope your room is comfortable. It'll beat the absolute hovel I had to endure last night."
Parking lot, Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, early afternoon
Micki whirled about, annoyed at the interruption. "What is it, Paul?"
"The energy surge reappeared. It didn't last as long as before, maybe five minutes."
"Just fucking great!" Micki threw her hands into the air. "Where was the surge?"
"The last known location of Peregrine."
Micki brought her hands down. "And, of course, no where near the other to sightings. They have to have a mobile emitter."
Keith edged into the conversation. "There is a way to detect the breech before it opens. There's all sorts of subatomic particles disrupted by the opening. Quirks and quarks apparently don't like being around a rip in the space-time continuum."
"Pete, did you understand any of that?"
"I think so."
"Good. Work with the kid. He's got gear in his Yugo that's ahead of Foundation tech."
"In a Yugo?"
"Yes, Pete. In a Yugo. Deal with it."
Pete's expression turned dubious. "Okay. Kid, show me your . . . Yugo."
Micki watched the two men walk away. Okay, girl. Time to bring the A game on line. The Foundation board put you in this position because they saw potential. Time to bring it out. She returned to the Foundation's green van. Once the door was shut, she asked, "Any news besides the energy surge?"
A woman sitting in Pete's seat answered, "Yes, Ms Sinisis. The Foundation board called, asking for an update."
"Did you update them?"
"They wanted the report from you, not me."
"Of course they did. Is there any other way this day could go bad?"
"Meteor strike, tsunami, atmospheric inversion, escape by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse--"
Micki cut the woman off. "Gwen, getting a rhetorical question answered rates up there right now."
"If the Foundation board calls, transfer them to my cell phone. In the meantime, I'm going to try to drown myself in the pool."
Western area of Cleveland, early afternoon.
The breech finished opening. Natasha, now dressed as Peregrine walked through the opening, crossing the dimensions. Tori followed, still dressed in her costume. "I don't know, Natasha."
"Who is the planner here?" Natasha adjusted the costume. "No one is going to notice another geek in a costume at the hotel. From there, we'll go to my counterpart's hotel room so we can get changed and blend in. This will work unless you panic and make mistakes."
"Fine. I don't know why we had to come all the way out here."
"If we came out where we started, there'd be all sorts of uncomfortable questions. Here, I can give a plausible story. Now go. I'll meet you at the hotel."
Tori dashed off, looking for an available taxi cab. Poor girl, doesn't even understand why I have her. Natasha felt around the helmet, trying to find the communicator's switch. She found a button and pressed it. After a brief squeal of electronic garbage, the radio signal came in full. "This is Peregrine. Is anyone listening?"
"Peregrine, this is Aerie. Stand by. Repeat, stand by."
"Standing by." Natasha allowed herself a smile. 'Everything is going exactly as I want it to.'
"Peregrine, this is Micki. Where are you?"
Natasha located a street sign. "I'm at Main and Washington."
"Don't move. I'm sending a van out to pick you up and bring you back to the hotel. I'll see you in your room."
"Thanks." Natasha sat down on the curb, watching the breech as it started to close.
The cell door opened again. Two women entered. The first one reminded Nasty of Micki except for having longer hair and a ugly scar on her right cheek. The other looked exactly like Meredith except with her hair cropped short and wearing a severe uniform. Micki's double stopped short on seeing Nasty. "Is this the lot?" Meredith's double asked.
"Obviously," Micki's double replied.
Meredith stared at her duplicate. "This is who I am on this side, a reject from a World War II movie?"
Meredith's duplicate smacked her crop into her hand. "Silence."
"Omega's orders are to make sure they're alive and in one piece. You can wait to have your fun."
Spinning on her heel to leave, Meredith's double spat, "Very well." She storm out of the cell.
"Aren't I a fine bitch." Meredith rattled her chains. "I don't suppose you could let me down?"
"If I let you escape, she's going to roast me alive. Trust me, you don't want to be on the wrong side of a Canadian."
Pixie laughed. "Canadians have a mean side? Since when? I thought they apologized when you bumped into them."
"Maybe on your side. On ours, they're the most dangerous of the Western world. The US is lucky to not be invaded. As it is, they've got their fingers in all of our industries."
Nasty snorted. "So what are they getting out of it?"
"Money. I don't know how much Omega is being paid, but it's enough to pay for my services."
"Bully for you."
Micki's counterpart whirled on Nasty. "Look, you bitch. I have to put up with her condescension. I don't need any from you. Got me?"
Nasty glared, not willing to break away first. "You're not the one chained up in her underwear."
Micki's duplicate turned away. "I suppose all of you want water?"
"Please?" Pixie said.
"Fine." Micki's double left.
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, early afternoon
Natasha followed the Foundation agents up to her counterpart's room. One knocked on the door, then waited. When the door opened, Micheline stood on the other side. Natasha worked to keep any sign of recognition off her expression. "Thanks. Go back to the van and keep looking for the surges." Micheline stepped aside. "Come on in, Peregrine."
Natasha stepped into the hotel room. She saw the lone double bed. 'I hope we're not sharing this room.' She sat down on the couch. "I should have reported in sooner."
"Just tell me what happened," Micheline said. "From the top, if you can."
Natasha stretched out on the couch. "I got there, then this woman in a metal bikini arrived and started the fight. I wasn't sure whose side she was on, so I waited until the bad guys threatened a mother and her baby. That's when I jumped in. There was this totally weird energy that surrounded us and then I was in this strange place. Looked like New York but everything was broken and no one else was around. I wandered around until I found my way back and, well, here I am."
"Were you hurt? Do you want to see a doctor?"
"I'm fine." Natasha looked up at Micheline's doppelganger. You're just as easy to fool on this side, aren't you?
The double started to leave. "Okay. Go clean up. You can get out of the uniform. I'll see about getting the con staff to move your appearances around so you can wind down from the excitement. Get some lunch while you're at it."
Once she was alone, Natasha started looking through the bags left behind. Let's see what we have here. The first backpack she unzipped was full of men's clothing. Oh ho! Looks like my counterpart has brought her own boy toy along for the fun. She set the pack down and continued her exploration. The second pack she opened had clothes her size. Natasha dumped the contents on the floor. A box of condoms landed on the top of the pile. And she expected to be busy. Lucky boy. I hope I don't disappoint him. She pawed through the clothes. Does she not have any other colour beyond black? She held up a black t-shirt. This will have to do until I can go out shopping.
Natasha stripped out of Peregrine's costume and quickly put on her counterpart's clothes. I'm doing her a favour, taking over her life. There's no way anyone should be allowed to dress like this. How long has she been wearing these jeans? She huffed. Tori had better be here. I really need something more me.
The door unlocked. Eric walked into the room. "Tash?"
"Eric?" Natasha stood dumbfounded. What is he doing here?
"Tash, are you okay?" He ran over and hugged her. "When I didn't hear from you, I got worried."
Natasha returned the hug. "I'm here now, baby." She kissed him lightly on his lips. "You don't have to worry anymore."
"Do you still have to go to your events this afternoon?"
"Miss Sinisis was going to take care of that for me. I just need to dash to the store. Girly supplies."
"Okay. I'm just going to wander the con. I'll see you for dinner?"
Eric left. Natasha stared at the door. She managed to get him? I should have crossed over long ago. Oh, tonight is going to be wonderful. She picked up her duplicate's track pants. Once I get something far more appropriate to wear.
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, early afternoon
Eric put the Foundation's Bluetooth receiver into his ear. "Micki, are you there?"
"I'm here. What is it, Eric? Can it wait?"
"I don't think so. It's about Tash. Something's wrong."
"I'm in the hotel's bar. I'll get you in."
"Thanks." He put the receiver back into his pocket.
The elevator trip down wasn't crowded, but still took longer than Eric wanted. He was almost running when he arrived at the bar. Looking inside, he spotted Micki sitting in a booth, a half-filled mug of beer in front of her. She waved to him.
Eric slipped in, trying not to be seen by the wait staff. He sat across from the Foundation liaison. "Hi."
"Hi. Don't look so nervous." Micki sipped her beer. "What's wrong?"
"Are you sure that's Tash?"
Micki leaned in. "Are you?"
After a lengthy pause, Eric shook his head. "No. In fact, I'm sure she isn't. She looks like her, but that's not her."
"Why do you say that? Not that I think you're lying. I want your impression."
"She didn't feel right."
"I need more of an impression than that."
Eric looked around, then leaned closer in to Micki. "It's how she spoke to me and kissed me. It wasn't her."
Micki sighed. "This isn't just some teenager hormone thing, right?"
"I know Tash. This isn't her. She's too, I don't know, what's the word? Forward?"
"Maybe the word you want is 'nice'?"
"She's not herself. She's normally more reserved. I mean, we only kissed for the first time last night, and then she got upset. What she did upstairs just now doesn't fit. You know?"
"Yeah, I know." Micki leaned back and drained her beer. "I was really hoping you weren't going to say that. Really, really hoping."
"Because I have the same suspicion. Natasha was nice. She didn't swear, at all. She didn't even put the effort into not swearing. Sort of like you. I bet that you have to get worked up before you curse, right? Otherwise, not swearing is second nature to you."
Eric shrugged. "I suppose."
"I've heard Peregrine in a fight. She doesn't hold back. She has to make an effort to keep her language clean. This one, she didn't make an effort, and her language was G rated."
"So you believe me?"
"I believe you."
"What should we do?"
"Pretend that she's the real McCoy. Go along with her. Make her think that everything she says and does is what we expect her to do."
"What about the real Tash, our Tash?"
"We're looking for her, but she's a needle in a haystack far far away from here. She's going to have to help herself."
"Crossing to another dimension is still considered theoretical physics. Heck, alternate dimensions are theoretical physics. I am trying tweak the sensors to look for disturbances in subatomic particles from a source that isn't in our reality, and making sure that the power requirements don't burn out the circuits or the engine. Do you know how hard it is to get parts for a Yugo back home, let alone in a city I've never been before?"
Nasty nodded. "Once back home, I can get you to people who can keep you safe."
The room gave everyone pause. The walls were a light pink, the carpet a deeper shade, almost red. The wood dresser and nightstands all had pink doilies on which rose coloured lamps sat. The bedspread was a quilt embroidered with thread, all different shades of pink. "Who puked up the Pepto Bismol?" Nasty growled.