Featuring Subject 13, Prototype Alpha, and Pixie of Youth Brigade
Giuliano apartment, Queens, a day later
Nasty set her novel down on the kitchen table, a slip of paper marking where she stopped reading. "I give up, Eric," she groaned. "This isn't going anywhere. Why are they making us read this over the summer?"
Eric looked up from his book, the same story Nasty had set aside. "You've never had a reading list over the summer before, Tash?"
"No. Well, never read anything on the list, at least. I had other things to do."
"I guess it's supposed to get us in the habit of reading."
"But you already read tons. You shouldn't have to do this."
Eric shrugged. "It's homework that needs to be done. Now is better than the week before class."
"I suppose." Nasty heard the phone ring in the loving room. "Mom will get it. Okay, it's homework. Why can't it be more interesting?"
"That's how it goes." Eric set his book down. "Maybe if we read to each other it'll go better."
'Read to each other?' Nasty felt herself growing warm. "I, uh, I guess that might, um, might help."
From the living room, Maria called, "Tasha, telephone!"
Nasty started to get up from her chair. Saved! She smiled at Eric. "Back in a moment." She walked the short distance from kitchen to living room where her mother waited with the phone. "Who is it?"
"Some woman named Micki, from the Eagle Foundation."
Nasty took the handset from her mom. "Hello, Micki?"
"There you are, Natasha," Micki said at the other end of the connection. "Are you busy this coming weekend?"
"Not that I know of. Nothing planned, at least. Why? What's up?"
"Eagle had to bow out of a convention. I was asked to ask you if you wanted to go. The Foundation will pay for your trip, and the convention will pay for your hotel room. All you need to do is put on Peregrine's costume and do a couple of question and answer sessions."
Nasty blinked. "Um, sure, I guess." She saw Eric step into the frame of the kitchen doorway and lean against the jamb. "Say, Micki, can I bring a friend, someone who has been to this sort of thing before?"
Micki hesitated. "I don't know, Natasha."
"You said that the Foundation is paying for the trip. How much more can it be?"
More hesitation came from Micki's end. "I'm emailing the board about this. Someone should be around to answer."
"So where is this convention anyway?"
"Cleveland? Wait, hang on." Nasty covered the mouthpiece. "Eric, want to go to a convention with me? It's in Cleveland next weekend."
Eric pushed away from the doorway. "You mean the Cleveland Heroic Con?"
"I guess. I'd have to ask."
"Just let me call my folks." He pulled out his cell phone and dialled a number.
Nasty uncovered the mouthpiece. "Micki, you still there?"
"Still here. Still waiting for a reply. The plan right now is that the helicopter picks you up Friday morning at the East Thirty-fourth Street heliport. You can find your way there, right?"
"Good. From there – wait. The board just replied. Yeah, no problem with you bringing a friend, as long as she knows that you're working on this trip."
Nasty looked over at Eric and his conversation with his parents. He held a thumb up. "That's not a problem," Nasty said. "The helicopter will meet us Friday morning and fly us to Cleveland."
"It's going to fly you to where you transfer to the jet. Much faster without having to refuel every state. I'll meet you on the plane."
"Meet me? Why?"
"Someone has to hand over the outfit. I know we didn't give one to you as a souvenir."
Nasty laughed nervously. "Oh, right."
"I'll email the details to you. Thanks, Natasha."
"Bye, Micki." Nasty hung up.
Eric walked over to join Nasty. "Thanks, Tash. My folks don't have a problem with me going to the con. I've always wanted to meet the American Eagle."
"Yeah." Nasty traced a line in the carpet with her toe. "He can't make it. I'm sort of filling in for him."
"Really? That's just incredible! But, why invite me?"
"Because you've been to this sort of thing before. I haven't. I don't want to look stupid in front of a crowd."
"Tash, you'll do fine. I'll help you."
Nasty blushed. "Thanks, Eric."
Parsons residence, New York City, same evening
Vicki ran to greet her father, Richard, at the door. She hugged him before he could remove his jacket. "Hi, Dad!"
"Yes, I confirmed the flight, Vicki. We leave Friday morning."
"Thanks, Dad." Vicki kissed her father on the cheek then let him go. She dashed back upstairs to her computer. As she sat, she wiggled her mouse. The screen saver disappeared. An instant messenger window flashed for attention. Vicki read the text from Sandra and sent a quick answer. Finally meeting the Eagle. Maybe he'll want a new Peregrine while I'm there. Sandra's reply arrived after a few moments. Vicki's eyes widened as she read. No way. Not possible! She opened her web browser and pulled up the home page for the Cleveland Heroic Convention. Just as Sandra's message said, the home page reported the cancellation of the American Eagle's appearance. "That's not fair!" she wailed.
Vicki picked up the phone and dialled Sandra's number. Her friend and teammate picked up in the middle of the first ring. "Vicki, I knew it was you."
"Hi, Sandra. You knew I was going to phone?"
"I know you're upset about the Eagle, too."
Vicki shook her head. "You know, I'd like to be able to surprise you some day."
"I just told you about it."
"Oh, right. Duh."
"Vicki, you'll get to meet him."
"You've foreseen this?" Vicki's doubts came through in the tone of her voice.
"No. I know you well enough to know that you are persistent. Did the con say if anyone was replacing him?"
Vicki looked back at her computer. "Let me check." She read through the announcement. "No," she sighed. A knock came from her door. "Hang on for a moment, Sandra?" Hearing her friend's affirmative, she set the phone down and ran to open the door.
Louise Parsons, Vicki's mother stood outside. "I heard you scream. Something wrong?"
Vicki looked down at her feet. "Nothing, Mom. Just . . . just nothing."
Louise fixed her daughter with a stern glare. "Vicki, I recognized that scream of yours. What happened?"
"I found out that the person I wanted to see this weekend wasn't going to be there."
"Oh, the drama," Louise said in a flat tone. "Vicki, try not to over react like that, please. It's bad enough that your brother is entering his teen years. I don't need both of you yelling, shouting, or screaming."
"Sorry, Mom. Won't happen again. Promise."
Louise turned to leave. "Thank you." She shut the door as she left, making her muttering inaudible to Vicki.
The teenager returned to the phone. "Sandra, sorry about that. It was just Mom. Anyway, it looks like the trip's for nothing."
"You'll get to hear tips on being a hero. I wouldn't call it nothing."
"We're already heroes. You've got the perfect secret identity; you don't even look like you as Kid Inscrutable. I'm almost as good; I'm tiny. What else could I learn there?"
"I don't know. I don't go to these things."
"You should, Sandra." Vicki switch the phone to her other ear. "At least one of the cons here in town. We don't have to wear our costumes at all. Just wander around to stuff we're interested in. That way I can spend more time in the costuming panels and events without worrying that I'm missing something that someone else wants to hear about."
Sandra sighed over the phone line. "Have you tried getting everyone together for something. Even for heroing, it's difficult."
"I know, I know. It's not easy as it is. It would help if we were all at the same school."
"Anyway, Vicki, don't let Eagle's lack of appearance get you down. I have to take off, but I'll call you when you get back to hear all about the trip. Bye!"
CN Tower, Toronto, same evening
Meredith maintained her distance above the CN Tower at a steady hundred metres. She adjusted the visor settling on her eyes. "Okay, Keith. I'm in position." A burst of static caused Meredith to stab at a button on her left bracer. "And get your hearing checked!"
Between the static, Keith replied, "Barely hearing you, Alpha. Switch frequencies."
Lovely. The interference couldn't because I'm over a radio tower, could it? Meredith reached up and adjusted a small dial on the side of her helmet. "Keith, can you read me? Keith?"
"There you are," Keith said, his voice much clearer. "I forgot that the tower broadcasts. We should be out of its frequencies now."
"What am I doing up here, besides the obvious jokes of hovering and loitering?"
"Is the SkyDome open or closed today?"
Meredith looked over at the stadium. "Open. Looks like the Blue Jays are in town."
"Yeah, they have a travel day tomorrow. Can you tell me what the score is?"
Resisting the urge to bury her face into the palm of her hand, Meredith answered, "No. The scoreboard's facing the wrong way for me to see. And before you ask, no, I am not flying over. Turn on the TV if you want the score."
"No, it's okay. Can you look around for a garbage bin or something similar?"
Meredith tapped on her visor. Her field of vision narrowed down to several hundred metres away. She spotted a green bin behind the SkyDome. "Found one."
"Good. Go down and pick it up."
"What? Ew! No! And why would I have to come all the way out here when the same bin exists on campus?"
"The garbage collectors have already been through here. The ones at the ball park? They should be full. Maintenance is always emptying the garbage cans during a ball game."
"There has to be an easier way to do this," Meredith complained. She returned her visor's display to normal. "Anything on the police scanners?"
"Yeah, hold on." After a moment, Keith returned saying, "There's a report of a figure flying over the-- oh, um, Alpha, you might want to go somewhere else right now."
Meredith rolled her eyes. Engineers. She slipped sideways, letting gravity take hold. Her arms stretched outward, giving Meredith the feeling of diving. The grey of the CN Tower hurtled by before she pulled out of her fall. The ionic impellers in her greaves and bracers pulsed too quick for her to feel, but Meredith imagined that her legs and arms were being massaged as the energy broke her dive and levelled her off.
The feeling of flight always thrilled Meredith, even the first time she used the Powered BIKINI. The freedom to not only take the road less travelled, but the road completely untouched by others made up for Keith's constant tinkering with less than desirable results. This was the main reason she had agreed to test out the invention and was the main reason why she still kept wearing it. Meredith banked over Lake Ontario, turning back inland toward downtown Toronto. She kept well above the traffic, still below the danger zone for air traffic control. No need to worry her spiritual brothers and sisters flying aircraft around and over the city.
Meredith's reverie broke as the din of sirens reached her. She looked down on the streets, using her visor to focus in on the problem. A trio of police cruisers chased a candy apple red Corvette down Yonge Street. The driver being chased had to dodge the traffic in front of him and couldn't use his car's more powerful engine to pull away from his pursuers. Ahead, where the police couldn't see but Meredith could, the traffic thinned out to the point escape was possible. Meredith keyed her radio. "Yeah, Keith? I think I found a better test. Go look up the weight of a Corvette while I help the cops again."
"Alpha, just . . . just be careful, okay? Don't break the suit!"
"Yes, Daddy." Meredith angled herself for a power dive down to the streets. As she flew between the police in pursuit, she waved to the officers. One, in slight shock, waved back. Smiling, Meredith tapped the throttle control on her right bracer. The ionic force field surrounding her became a visible blue as she soared past the police and the traffic in front of them, the sirens receding.
"Meredith, I could use the year the Corvette was made."
"Can you just figure it out from my display?"
"If you can keep it in sight long enough, maybe?"
"Whatever, Keith." Meredith saw her quarry pull out of the thick of traffic. She angled up high enough to avoid the cars in her way. In the corner of her eye, she saw her velocity climb past ninety kilometres per hour. Meredith let out a shout of joy at the speed, then opened her throttle more.
The Corvette made an abrupt right, scattering pedestrians out of the crosswalk. Meredith made the same turn but tighter, keeping pace with the vehicle. Buildings on either side of her became blurs. Her force field turned a deeper shade of blue as it compensated for her speed. She inched closer to the Corvette. "Keith, you still there?"
"I am, yes. I got the license plate of the car. It's from 2003 and has a mass of--"
"How difficult will it be for the BIKINI to lift the car if I'm still flying when I do it?" After a few blocks, Meredith repeated, "Keith? I really need an answer soon."
"I'm working on it. Alpha, I don't recommend it, not for a test. There's too many variables to solve."
Meredith frowned. "Okay, what if I just lift the back end so the wheels aren't on the road?"
"I'd prefer it if you didn't do that."
"I don't have many choices here."
"Meredith . . . okay, sure, go ahead. Just the back. Shouldn't be more than half the cars mass. Drop it if anything goes into the red."
"Oh, stop worrying." Meredith reached out for the car's rear bumper. I must be insane to try this. The human body isn't meant to pick up a car. I could rip out my shoulders. Her fingers touched the Corvette. But I'm this far. No backing out! She hooked her fingers under the bumper. "Keith, got it!"
"The feedback enhancers are working. Go ahead and lift."
Meredith raised her hand, straining to pick up the red car. The force field along her arms shimmered. An opaque blue stream flowed up each arm from her hands as the Corvette's rear wheels cleared the ground. "Keith, it's working! It's working! Can you slow me down now?"
"Slowing you down. Yell if something isn't working."
Meredith angled her legs to help with the deceleration. The Corvette's wheels spun to no effect. The driver leaned out the window to see what happened. He sighed with resignation on seeing Prototype Alpha pulling his car to a stop.
Once the car stopped, Meredith called, "Get out of the car, please." The driver obeyed the request and stood, not trying to run. Meredith set the car down. "Thank you." Sirens filled the air once again. "The police should be here soon. Stay here. Have a nice day." Meredith tapped on her throttle control and leapt into the air. She watched as the police arrive, then accelerated away from the scene.
A few minutes later, she touched down behind the residence Keith lived in on campus. Meredith looked around before slipping in through a door left ajar. Keith met her on the stairwell with a robe. Meredith managed to hold back her excitement until just after Keith closed the door to his room. "That was awesome! Man, you really have to build one of these for your own."
"Meredith, I get motion sick, remember? The way you fly the BIKINI, I'd be losing every meal I ever ate."
Meredith gathered her clothes. "Maybe you can do something to make the armour more stable. Hey, what about wings?"
Keith raised an eyebrow. "Wings? Meredith, this was meant to be worn under normal clothes, to help cops and guards and anyone else who had to deal with alties daily survive the encounter. Wings are very hard to put a shirt over."
"It was just a thought." Meredith slipped on her track pants. "Though the bottom is still a bit bulgy. People might suspect something is amiss."
"Maybe, but that's why I'm still on the prototype and not the actual production model. There's still some issues to work out. Oh, can I get a download of your sensor logs? I just want to see how the BIKINI performed today."
Meredith unbuckled the bracers on her arms and passed them over to Keith. "Hey, my opinion is that it worked perfectly."
"You picked up a car. I need to check for stress failures."
Meredith pulled her t-shirt on over her head. She sat down on Keith's bed. Noticing a stack of flyers, she ruffled through them. "What are these?"
Keith connected the armour pieces to his computer. "What are what?"
"These." Meredith ruffled the papers. "Going to a convention?"
"Oh, those." Keith set his computer to pull the logs off the on-board recorder. "Yeah, there's a super hero con in Cleveland this weekend. I'm thinking about going."
"Cool! Let's do it!"
Keith looked over at his friend. "Meredith, I never said I was going. Just that I was thinking about it. I haven't decided."
"I have. We're going. I can pick up the bus tickets as I pass through the station tonight."
"I am not taking the bus. Motion sickness, remember? The bus is just as bad for me."
"We can't afford the airfare and Cleveland is too close to fly anyway."
"I was going to drive there."
Meredith set the papers down. "Keith, your car is a Yugo. You've been lucky so far that it, well, runs. We'll be taking the highway down and back. It's going to get blown off the road, assuming it can reach the highway."
Keith shook his head. "Meredith, Meredith, Meredith. I've modified the car. Half the parts the original designer wouldn't recognize. The rest, I've retooled by hand myself. Gas mileage is amazing, and I'm working on turning it into a hybrid next summer. And, if you're with me, I have no fear of being blown off the road."
"Good." Meredith stood up. "Wait, are you going to use me as your personal tow truck?"
The laundry basket never knew what hit it. One moment, it was in the spot it always had been, unaware of the world around it. The next, it was overturned, its recently laundered contents dumped without ceremony on the bed, then tossed aside like an over-sized plastic wadded up piece of paper.
"Huh? No, no, nothing wrong. Just thinking. About the convention. Since I've never been to one before. I hope I'm not going to bore you there." Nasty felt her cheeks grow warm.
Natasha fought the urge to smack her partner. "Have you seen how tight air security has gotten these days? Last thing we want is paperwork following us. Now that we're out of the city, we can slip off everyone's radar." She glanced over at Tori. "Will you stop that? It's annoying."