Featuring Subject 13, Prototype Alpha, and Pixie of Youth Brigade
Micki's duplicate returned with the promised water. She started by giving a thimbleful to Pixie, elevating the tiny heroine so she wouldn't choke on the liquid. Meredith was next, with a few sips from a water bottle. When she approached Nasty, she said, "You could try at least looking grateful."
"What's your name?" Nasty asked.
"Mine's Natasha. Friends call me Tasha or Nasty. Your choice."
Meredith looked over to the redhead. "Nasty? Why would someone call you that?"
Pixie answered, "Because she is." Seeing Nasty's glare, she clarified, "My cousin has a girlfriend whose sister's boyfriend goes to your old school. That's what everyone there called you, and they all said the same reason why."
"I know, because I am." Nasty rolled her eyes. "Anyway." She returned her attention to Micki's double. "What's your name?"
"Micheline." She held up a bottle so Nasty could sip from it. "Why?"
"So I know what to call you. You don't like the other me, do you?"
"It's that obvious?"
"I've seen that look often enough. Is she the one who gave you that scar?"
Micheline shook her head. "Gave me, no. That implies she did it herself. Responsible for, definitely."
"If you could get back at her and not get caught, would you?"
"If you're asking me if I'd let you go, no. Hell no. Merry would make me wish I was dead. Forget it."
"Who?" Pixie asked.
"The Canadian." Micheline pointed at Meredith. "Her."
Meredith shook her head. "She calls herself 'Merry'? Does she have any idea how long it took me to break people of that?"
"She doesn't look like a Merry," Vicki added. "I doubt she's smiled ever. Why is she called Merry?"
Micheline nodded at Nasty. "Because she isn't. Kind of like your Giuliano here."
"What if she couldn't strike back at you?" Nasty asked.
"How? She'll track me down. That'll just piss her off more."
"Come with us. We're not staying on this side of whatever the fuck it was we were brought through. I'm going back home, one way or another. You can stay here and be in my way, a place where most people avoid, or you can come with me and out of this shit hole. Your choice."
Meredith took several steps back away from Nasty. Without a word, she turned and left, her pace brisk.
Parking lot, Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, mid-afternoon
Keith set the Yugo's dashboard on the car's hood. "Alright, now, if you can just adjust the neutrino receiver with a one quarter twist counter-clockwise, that should be enough to extend the sensitivity to detect tachyons. In theory, at least."
Pete raised his head from the electronic spaghetti installed in the car. "In theory?"
"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?"
"If you put it that way." Pete followed Keith's instructions. "Okay, quarter turn, counter-clockwise. What's next?"
Keith returned to the open door. "Plug the CD player into the lighter."
"Done." Pete put the power adaptor into the cigarette lighter. "Why?"
"It's too quiet out here without music and I don't want to look for a station that's tolerable. The CDs are in the door pocket."
"Mind if I look?"
Keith shrugged. "Go ahead." He slid in on the passenger's side.
Pete looked through the small collection of burned CDs Keith had. "Interested collection you have. Barenaked Ladies. Great Big Sea. Jethro Tull. Arrogant Worms?"
"Hey, good one. Go ahead and put that one."
"Sure." Pete dropped the disc into the CD player and pressed play. "This helps you work?"
"Definitely. Soothing, really." Keith examined the circuits in front of him. "Okay, this should be good. Next thing is to tie it into the GPS."
"So you can be driving and still tracking, right?"
"Right." Keith sighed. "Do you think she's okay?"
"Your friend?" Pete thought about the question as the song "Kill the Dog Next Door" played. He glanced down at the CD player. "That song's not helping, but, yeah, I think she will be fine. If your armour, what did you call it, the Powered BIKINI? If that works half as well as your car, she's already got a good start on getting back. And with working on the detector on this side, how can she possibly not be okay?"
The Atrium, Cleveland, early afternoon.
Tori slipped out from behind a planter inside the mall when she saw Natasha approaching. She caught up to the redhead. "About time you got here. What happened?"
Natasha pulled her blond assistant down to a bench. "Nothing. Micheline's doppelganger wanted me to tell her what happened. I then got changed and came here. You were supposed to meet me at the hotel, not here."
"My father is here."
"My. Father. Is. Here."
Natasha shrugged. "And? How does that affect us?"
"It means that my idiot double came here with him. It also means /my/ father is in our Cleveland."
"Let me rephrase. How does that affect me? Your father, yours, not our little prisoner's, is blissfully unaware of our plotting and scheming. There's nothing he can do. We are here. He is not. Or do I have to use words of fewer than one syllable?"
"But what about hers?"
"Tori, dear, haven't you noticed anything by now? Everyone on this side is our mirror counterpart. Mine is a foul mouthed pugilist who can't think past her next breath. Omega's doesn't even like to get into a fight. And Merry's, well, just be thankful that she isn't at all like Merry. Thus, you don't have to worry about your counterpart's father and I don't have to hear about him. Understood?"
Tori shrugged. "I guess."
"Good. Now let's go." Natasha pulled on her black t-shirt. "I have clothes to replace before I go insane. Can you believe what the girl wears? Tacky."
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, early afternoon
Micki made a note of the attendance of her impromptu briefing in a borrowed conference room. Two Foundation agents, Pete and Gwen, sat drinking their coffees. Prototype Alpha's boyfriend sat in the corner with a small toolkit and a circuit board. Peregrine's boy sat in the corner, looking forlorn. Micki shook her head. Right. This can't be as bad as cleaning up after Peregrine. She cleared her throat. "Let's get this started. Gwen, situation update."
"Three heroes - two altered humans, one in powered swim wear - have disappeared. One has returned, Peregrine. Of the other two, no sign. Best guesses have them still on the wrong side of the dimensional barrier with no way for us to get over there."
"We can't, but they can."
Keith held up his hand. "Um, if I may? I think I can reverse engineer how the barrier is being opened. At least a stationary gateway. The power output must be incredible just to stabilize the window."
Micki turned her attention on the Canadian. "How long do you think you need to get something working?"
"I don't know. Two or three months?" Keith shrugged. "They've had more time to come up with their design, having planned on breaking through. I couldn't tell you how long they took to get a working prototype, let alone a mobile one."
"Okay, call that Plan C. Let's see if we can come up with Plans A and B first. Pete, anything back from the Foundation?"
"Satellite photos arrived twenty minutes ago." Pete started handing out copies to everyone in the room. "The Foundation couldn't identify two of the opponents. Giuliano, they did."
"Wait, I recognize one," Keith said. "The armour there. That's a design I came up with but never followed through with."
Micki looked closer at the photo. "Don't leave us hanging here."
"This was the first go at designing powered armour. It had some issues, like balance and weight, that made me discard it at work on the Powered BIKINI. I also didn't like the idea of cops wearing full-on body armour that hid their humanity."
"Gwen, has anyone spotted that armour since the fight?"
Micki got up to pace. "Okay, Keith, you start working out the weak points to that armour. Pete, keep the guys on the sensors sharp. Gwen, take Eric out for dinner. Eric, stop worrying. That's my job right now. Dismissed."
The small group got out of their seats and left to do as they were told. Micki sat back down and exhaled. I need a vacation. Her cell phone trilled. She fished it from her waist band. "Micki here."
"Micki, it's Anne. The Board is still waiting for an update."
"Sorry, Anne. The situation is a little fluid here."
"Micki, I've seen situations that were so fluid they were flooding. What's going on?"
Micki paused to gather her thoughts. "Breakthrough occurred. Three hostiles, one the mirror of Peregrine, came through. There was a fight, then contact was lost. Right now, I'm assuming that Peregrine and the others are still alive. We also have the wrong Peregrine back."
"Why do you think the missing people are still alive?"
"The nature of the mirror universe. Remember how each person here has a counterpart there, and the two of them tend to die around the same time, no matter the cause of death?"
"I wouldn't want to kill my double, in case something happens to me. In fact, I'd make sure my double was well rested and healthy for as long as possible. Insurance policy for my own benefit."
"Where's the false Peregrine now?"
"Wandering the convention. I'm trying to keep the fact that she's not from this side a close secret. Only her friend knows the truth right now, and only because he figured it out himself."
"I'll pass your findings to the board. Keep me informed."
"I will, Anne. Talk to you soon. Bye."
Vicki squirmed, trying to get comfortable on the table. She pulled on the cords holding her down, hoping they'd loosen enough to let her try to escape. "Come on already!"
"Oh, what now?" Nasty groaned.
"My arms are tired. My back is getting sore. I'm hungry. I just want to go home!"
"I want a pony."
Meredith tsked. "Tasha, not now. Vicki, the rest of us aren't exactly having fun. At least, I hope not. I don't suppose you can get any smaller?"
"I've tried. This is it. Vicki, the Human Barbie doll, except I'm anatomically correct." Vicki sighed. "I really hope they haven't forgotten us."
"She hasn't." Nasty glanced at the door. "She's just thinking."
"I wasn't convinced." Meredith tried to shake some feeling back into her hands, causing her chains to clank.
The door unlocked and opened. Micheline stepped through the doorway and hurried to Nasty's side. "You'll protect me?"
Nasty nodded. "Once back home, I can get you to people who can keep you safe."
Boot steps from the hallway interrupted the conversation. Merry walked into the room, riding crop at her side. "Ah, there you are. Aren't you supposed to be getting the van ready?"
"I wanted to check on the prisoners, make sure they're not hungry and not needing the washroom."
"That can be done later. They aren't going anywhere." Vicki choked back a sob. Merry approached the table. "You don't approve?"
"That defiance will have to be removed." Merry shifted her grip on the crop. "I can beat it out of you right now."
"No, wait," Micheline pleaded. "I'll get the van ready."
Merry's smile had no warmth to it. "No, I want you to watch. It might help you remember your place."
Vicki moved as far away from Merry as her cords would let her. Merry brought her crop down, touching Vicki's chest with it. "No escape for you, little one." She brought the crop up to strike.
Vicki flicked her wrist. Silver sparkles wafted over Merry. "Nighty night, Merry."
The Canadian enforcer collapsed to the ground, breathing lightly. Micheline stared at the body. "What . . . what did you just do?"
"Gave her a time out."
"Micheline, now." Nasty nodded at the prone body. "If that bitch wakes up and we're still here, we're all going to be sorry."
"Right, right." Prodded into action, Micheline searched Merry for the keys to the locks. She located them in the Canadian's pocket. The scarred woman flipped through the keys, almost dropping them once from nerves, and started working on freeing Vicki. Once the tiny girl's cords were removed, Micheline turned to work on Nasty.
"Wait," Meredith said. "Can you keep those iron things on Tasha?"
Nasty shot a dirty glare at Meredith. "What? No. Fuck that."
Vicki rolled from underneath the spike. "Yeah! Tasha, you want that. Micheline, tie my arms up, too."
"Are you both out your fucking minds?"
"Tasha, Micheline and Merry are taking you and Pixie to the washroom."
Meredith shook her head in dismay. "Tasha, you and Vicki here are my prisoners. You're both still chained up while we, meaning me dressed as Sleeping Beauty there and Micheline, escort you to the washroom. Get it now?"
Nasty let the idea mull in her head for a moment. "Fine, yes, as long as I can get rid of these chains when I need to."
Micheline started working on Nasty's shackles, letting her down from her awkward position. The older brunette loosened the rings holding the metal orbs encasing her wrists and hands. "You should be able to slip these off when you need to." She moved over to free Meredith.
Nasty stretched, working out the kinks in her arms and legs. She eyed the sleeping Merry. "If she moves the wrong way, I'm stomping the crap out of her."
"Tasha, save the stomping for later." Vicki landed and grew to her normal size. "Much better. Do you know how loud I have to talk to be heard when I'm that small?"
Micheline finished with Meredith's shackles. Vicki held her wrists out to be cuffed. She wasn't as enthusiastic for the plan once she found her hands bound behind her back. The binders were loose, enough to let her shrink without problems. Meredith, in the meantime, fought to get her double's clothes off her without waking her up. Nasty stood near by to make sure that Merry wouldn't get a chance to sound an alarm if she did awake.
At least, the group was ready to leave. Merry was left hanging from Meredith's chains, a sock stuffed into her mouth. Micheline led the way out. Nasty and Vicki followed, arms behind their back and looking forlorn. Meredith was last, marching out with measured steps, riding crop tucked under her arm. The hallway outside the cell was as stark and bare as back inside. Meredith's and Micheline's boot steps echoed off the walls.
The group reached another door. Micheline unlocked it, then opened it a crack. She peeked out. "Okay, we're clear." Opening the door fully, she rushed out, then slowed up as she tried to keep her emotions under control. The escaping heroes followed her, keeping an eye out for other guards. "The van isn't far from here."
"We can't leave yet," Meredith said. "I need the BIKINI back."
"And I'm not going back without clothes on," Nasty added.
Meredith spun around to face the heroines. "We're pushing it as it is. What if someone else goes into the cell and finds Merry?"
"If she's as popular as you say she is, I think there'll be time while the guards go get their cameras." Meredith brushed a lock of hair back behind her ear. "I need the BIKINI back. I'm not going anywhere without it."
"Giuliano might have it in her room."
Nasty started walking off. "Good, let's go get it."
"She has guards stationed at her door."
"We can take care of them easily."
Micheline sighed. "Fine. Let's go. And when you get your ass handed to you and we're all back in the cell facing Merry's tender admonishments, I'll just laugh at you and say, 'I told you so.'" She turned in a different direction from Nasty. "This way."
Micheline led the group deeper into the complex. Vicki and Nasty managed to keep their eyes lowered as they passed guards. No one questioned them; they were all too busy not looking at Meredith. After a flight of stairs, Micheline stopped. "Giuliano's room is at the end of the hall." She checked around the corner. "Two guards. I'm not going."
"That's fine." Meredith marched out of the stairway. "I'll handle it." She strode down the hall, footfalls loud enough to be heard by the guards. Both turned to face the newcomer. Meredith adopted an imperious tone. "Stand aside."
"Sorry, ma'am," one of the guards stammered. "Our orders are that no one enters."
"Do those orders include me?" Meredith walked past the guards, then spun on her heel to face them again. She brought her riding crop out and started bending it.
"The orders are explicit, ma'am. No one except Miss Giuliano."
"I'm sorry to hear that." Meredith fell back a step. "If I were you, I'd duck."
"Huh?" The guard turned around in time to catch Nasty's metal aided punch on the jaw. He spun around. Nasty struck with her other fist, still encased in the metal sphere. The guard collapsed into a heap.
The second guard, shocked at the initial violence, at last tried to draw his weapon. Vicki appeared in front of him, her wings beating a furious rhythm. "You were warned." She tossed her pixie dust in the guard's face. A moment later, he was fast asleep on the ground. Vicki touched down on tiptoe, resuming her regular size. "Vicious much?"
Nasty kicked her guard in the side. "We won, didn't we?"
"Not now, children." Meredith pulled one of the fallen guards away from the door. "Let's get these guys hidden, get our stuff, and go home."
Micheline ran to join the others. She tried the door to Natasha's room. "Locked."
Nasty shook the metal globes from her hands. One clanged on the floor; the other hit a downed guard. "How loud do we want this?"
"Ideally, not at all." Meredith stepped over the guard she moved. "Why?"
Purple energy formed around Nasty's hand. "I have a way in."
Vicki shrank down to doll size. "Let me handle it. Less destructive." She flew over to the lock and stuck two fingers into it. After a few moments of her fiddling and feeling around, the lock clicked. "There. Opened." Using both arms, she turned the doorknob. Vicki flitted aside to let the others in. Meredith and Nasty each dragged an unconscious guard inside. Once everyone had entered, she returned to full size and closed the door.
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.
"It is a little much," Meredith agreed.
Micheline nodded. "Pink is her favourite colour."
Nasty shuddered. "I need to get out of here." She began rummaging through the dresser. Several halter tops, tank tops, and mini-skirts flew across the room. "I think I prefer to be naked."
"It can't be that bad." Meredith joined Nasty at the dresser.
"Take a look." Nasty held up a white tube top. "What am I supposed to use this as, a slingshot? It's going to slip if I do anything, like take a breath." She tossed it over her shoulder.
Vicki caught the article of clothing before it hit the floor. She examined it with a critical eye. "It's not going to move much if you wore it, Tasha."
"How is it going to stay up?"
"First, it's a little smaller than it needs to be." Vicki held it out so it hung naturally. "On you, it's going to emphasize your breasts. Might be difficult to breath, especially if you keep wearing your bra underneath it."
Nasty twisted around. "How the fuck can you tell?"
Vicki twirled. "I designed my own costume. It's what I want to do, be a fashion designer. I've got an eye for it. This," she flung the tube top on the bed, "is designed for one thing – to get attention."
"Fuck the attention. I don't need every perv out there staring at my boobs."
Meredith dropped a t-shirt on Nasty's head. "Try this. You might be stuck with a mini-skirt. Your evil twin seems to avoid pants of any sort."
"Makes sense. If she's your mirror self, Tasha, then she's going like things you don't, do things you don't, have tastes you don't, might even--"
"Oh, fuck me." Nasty's jaw dropped. "We have to get back right the fuck now."
Meredith stopped rooting through the drawers. "What's wrong?"
"Eric's in danger."
"The guy you came with?" Vicki cocked her head. "Why would he be in danger? I'd say that Natasha is more sexually open than . . . oh, right. I'll just shut up and keep an eye on the guards, okay?"
Meredith grabbed a red mini-skirt from the dresser. "Here. Hurry. I'll start looking for the BIKINI while you're dressing."
Nasty disappeared into the adjoined bathroom. Meredith began her search, looking through the closet. She found the BIKINI in a box stacked neatly in the corner of the closet. Quickly stripping out of Merry's uniform, she put on the powered armour.
Nasty returned from the bathroom. She tried to pull the hem of the skirt down past mid-thigh with no success. "I hate skirts. I really fucking hate skirts. Do you know how much I really fucking hate skirts? Especially skirts that feel like they're revealing my ass to everyone in the world who walks behind me?"
Vicki noticed the redhead's bare feet. "Aren't you going to wear some shoes?"
"Fuck, no." Nasty pointed at a pair of pumps with two inch heels. "I'd kill myself trying to walk in them."
Meredith adjusted the BIKINI's visor, then tapped the power switch. The head's up display flickered, then cleared, giving readouts from the room. She switched to thermographic and looked at the wall. Seeing no heat sources on the other side, she said, "It's clear. Let's go."
Micheline took the lead again, showing the heroines the way to the garage. The van was still parked where she expected it to be. She unlocked the back to let people in there, then slipped into the driver's seat. Nasty tapped at the passenger door. "I'm up here with you." Micheline reached over and unlocked the door. Nasty climbed in and sat down. She took a moment to try to adjust the skirt before giving up in frustration. "Go."
"Right now, out. Then we'll figure out where."
Shrugging, Micheline started the van's engine. She eased the vehicle out of its parking space. "We're going to have problems when we get to the exit. Omega controls when the van is used."
"Just get us there. I'll deal with getting us out."
The ride through the enclosed parking was silent, only the noise from the engine heard. Micheline's knuckles turned white from clenching the steering wheel. Nasty kept looking into the rear view mirror on her side, expecting guards to burst out to pursue them. "Figure out where we're going yet?"
"Near the hotel on our side. Is there something similar here? Or like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?"
"Hall of Fame, yes."
"There. That's where I want to come out on my side."
Micheline looked up at the metal door that served as the exit. "What about that?"
"Can we talk to the guys in back?"
"Right here." Micheline pointed at the intercom. "Press the red button."
Nasty hit the button. "Hey, Meredith, you there?"
"And Vicki, yes."
"Can your vision tell me what that door ahead is made of?"
Meredith flew out the back of the van and caught up to Nasty. She stared at the door for a moment. "It's sheet metal."
"Hit it!" A blue ionic burst zapped out from Meredith's bracer, striking the garage door. A klaxon shrilled. Nasty turned to Micheline. "Now! Floor it!"
Micheline gunned the engine. The van crashed through the weakened door, sending it clattering to the side. Guards swarmed out of the building. Several dove out of the way of the van as it zoomed past. Meredith flew up, giving covering fire from above to keep guards pinned down. Micheline never let up, keeping the gas pedal depressed. She shot the van through the chain link fence.
Ten minutes of doubling back and random turns later, Micheline began driving to the Hall of Fame. She instructed Meredith and Vicki to begin charging the capacitors. Twenty minutes later, as Micheline parked the van behind the Hall of Fame, the dimensional breech inducer was ready.
"Whoa. Hold on." Micki regarded Nasty's outfit and bare feet. "First of all, prove to me who you are."
Vicki hung up. "Great. Just great. Okay, bright side, he's still at the ball game. Down side, I'm talking to myself in an empty hotel room." She dropped her phone on the bed, then left, key card in hand.
Micki stopped pacing. "Possibly, though she may have other plans for tonight." She ignored Nasty's bristling. "Okay, we'll start with her. We'll keep an eye on her as long as we can. Is everyone on the same page."