Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport, Cleveland, late morning
The Eagle Foundation's jet rolled to a stop on the tarmac. Nasty unbuckled her seat belt and stood up. Even after not wearing the Peregrine uniform for several months, it still felt familiar to her. She adjusted the outfit, making sure the padding fell into the right spots. "Hey, Eric, how does this look?"
Eric gave Nasty the once over. "You look great in that, Tash. Really great!"
Nasty blushed under the costume's helmet. "Thanks," she said, subdued.
Micki pulled out her cell phone. "Hang on, you two. Wait for the pilot to give the okay."
"Yes, ma'am." Eric sat back down.
Ducking down, Nasty looked out the porthole. "We've stopped and I don't see that walkway thing coming out to us. I don't see any walkway thing on the building."
"You're supposed to wait until the seat belt light is off."
"Then you're supposed to wait until the pilot says it's okay to use your phone there."
Micki turned to Eric. "Is she like this all the time around you?"
"Well, I, uh, I couldn't really, um, say." Eric's cheeks turned crimson. He looked over to Nasty for help.
"Do you want me to sit down, Micki?"
Micki punched in a number on her phone. "Never mind. Oh, hi, this is Micki Sinisis from the American Eagle Foundation. We spoke earlier this week about Peregrine. Yes. Yes, we just landed. No, the Foundation has that covered. What about the hotel room? Perfect. There is, yes. I just want to know if there's a way to bring Peregrine in without going through the front door. Okay, give me a call or text me on this number. No problem. Thanks. Bye." She hung up and slipped her phone into her pocket. "The con committee will meet us at the hotel to get you in. Your room is ready for when we get there, and someone will be on hand to tell you where you need to be during the weekend."
"Great. What about lunch?"
"What about it?"
Nasty started pacing. "Just saying that it'd be nice to get something to eat today."
Eric watched the heroine cross the length of the jet. "You haven't eaten yet?"
Nasty stopped and shrugged. "I don't eat breakfast. I just can't eat that early in the morning."
"One way to keep your figure, I guess," Micki remarked.
"If you care about that sort of thing." Nasty glowered at the Foundation liaison. "Ever since I started at Seward, the choice was wake up really early and eat or wake up at a reasonable time and dash in and hope to get a coffee in the cafeteria. I'm not a morning person."
"You'll be getting breakfast at least once this weekend," Micki said. "There's a brunch Sunday morning for all the guests. You'll be there."
Nasty sighed. "How bad can it be?"
The cube van drove through the city of Cleveland, looking innocuous. In the back, Natasha sat beside Omega, leaving Tori to deal with the bumps and turns of the van while standing. Not paying her assistant any heed, Natasha examined the controls for Omega's device. "Is there anything special that needs to be done before we start the breakthrough?"
"Nothing. It's already been done. The capacitors are fully charged. Where would you like to emerge?"
"Away from the airports. Heck, away from anything important. No need for anyone, their side or ours, to suspect something is happening."
"The lake shore should be isolated enough," Omega suggested. "As long as we do not dally, the energy signature shouldn't be detected."
"Good, good. The lake shore it is."
Omega pressed a recessed button on his helmet. "Driver. Head to the lake and find someplace without traffic." He let go of the button. "Shouldn't take long."
Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport, Cleveland, noon
Vicki followed her father down the airway and into the arrival area of the airport. She stretched her arms, finally having enough room to swing them. The flight hadn't taken that long, but the waiting got to her. Still more waiting to go, too; she and her father made their way to the baggage claim. None of the luggage carousels moved when they got to them. Vicki looked around for a place to sit, leaving her father to keep an eye out for their bags.
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. I wonder if Peregrine ever felt like this, like the strangest noise is someone sneaking up on her. I should ask her that and the question and answer session.
Her father snagged his luggage on the first pass, letting his daughter's go for a full circuit. "Vicki, can you come and help me here?"
"Coming, Dad." She ran over to join him. Seeing her small travel case slide down the chute, she readied herself to grab it. This would be so much easier if I just shrunk down. No need to push in with everyone else. Of course, I'd have to carry the suitcase somehow. Vicki caught her suitcase's luggage handle with ease. She pulled the case aside and waited for her other one to finish its ride back around to her. Flashbulb is luckier this way. She gets to stay the one size and still flies. And Sandra, well, if her parents would let her, she could just magic herself here. Being Barbie-sized isn't all that easy as they think.
"How's it going, sweetie," her father called to her.
"Going good, Dad!" She urged the mechanism to move faster. Lucky Sandra can also tell her folks about her hero-ing. And explain odd bruises. It's much harder to explain a full body bruise. "Yeah, Mom, Dad, I got hit by a guy on a bicycle who didn't see me, because I was eleven inches high. Yes, it really hurts. No, I didn't try to dodge because he was trying to escape from us." Like that would go over well. Her bag edged closer and closer to her. Vicki extended her arm and grabbed the luggage. "Got it, Dad!"
"Good. Let's go!"
Vicki hauled her bags, keeping pace with her father as they made their way out of the airport. Richard flagged down a taxi and gave the driver the hotel's address. As the cab started moving, he faced his daughter. "Penny for your thoughts."
"You were brooding a bit back there. Something wrong?"
Vicki shook her head. "Nothing."
"Are you sure? You didn't seem your normal self for a moment."
"I'm fine." Vicki forced a grin. "See? Smiling!"
Richard returned the smile, his more warm. "If there's anything you want to talk about while we're here, let me know."
"I know, Dad."
The van coasted to a stop. Omega got out of his reinforced seat and pushed past Tori to open the cargo area's doors. Tori gave the armoured figure a dirty look, but did nothing else. Natasha climbed out of her chair and followed Omega out. A breeze off Lake Ontario ruffled her hair and skirt. She looked around. "Good, no one here," she remarked. "Let's do this. Everything else can be sent over in due time."
"Not so fast," Omega intoned. "You need a way back."
"Indeed. How do we contact you?"
Omega laughed, the voice modulator turning it into a monotone chuckle. "I'm going across with you. I need to keep my interests under my close watch."
"Then how do we get home?" Natasha demanded. "Have you found a way to communicate through the barrier?"
"In a way, yes."
Tori stomped over to join the other two. "Would you stop being so damned mysterious and tell us already?"
"Natasha, do we have to put up with this?"
"Yes. Go keep watch by the lake." As Tori stormed away, Natasha returned her attention to Omega. "My apologies. As you were saying?"
"Thank you." Omega ahemed, causing electronic noise. "As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, I have, in a way, created a method to communicate through the barrier. I've incorporated a signaller that resonates tachyons on the same frequencies that the dimensional borer leaves behind in the space-time continuum. The van has a receiver that will pick up the signal sent."
"How detectable will your signal be?"
"Whoever it is will have to be listening for a tachyon burst. Highly unlikely." Omega laughed again. "Your secrets are safe with me, Giuliano."
"Good. Shall we cross over?"
Omega waved to the van's driver. The driver's side door opened and a woman with long dark hair and a two inch scar on her right cheek stepped out. She stopped on seeing Natasha. "Omega, you never told me /she/ would be here."
"Micheline Sinisis, I never thought I'd see you again." Natasha whirled on Omega. "You never mentioned that she was your staff."
"You never asked," Omega answered.
Micheline glared at Natasha. "Did you think you could leave me for dead in Rochester, bitch?"
Omega held up a hand. "Sinisis, enough. You're being paid to work for me."
"Go start the borer."
Micheline disappeared into the back of the van. From inside, a hum began, first being felt more than heard, then growing louder as it climbed through several octaves. An actinic green light radiated from the top of the van. Omega tapped several buttons on his helmet. "Stand by." Natasha called Tori back. The younger girl was already running back to watch the light show.
A small radar dish extended from the roof of the van's cargo hold. It turned deliberately, ending it's motion once it was pointing at an empty part of the lake front. Dark green beams of light shot from the edge of the dish and hit the focal point. The rays coalesced into one and sped out several hundred metres away from the van. The view behind that point the beam ended shimmered. A black dot formed in at the end of the beam, expanding as more energy hit it.
Natasha smiled. "Impressive, Omega." The hole in the space-time continuum grew larger. The beam cut off. The rip in space remained, large enough for even Omega to walk through. "Is it stable?"
"It will remain for ten minutes. If we're going, we go now."
Natasha strode to the dimensional corridor. She examined the edges. After taking a deep breath, she leapt into the gap.
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, noon
The Eagle Foundation's van rolled to a stop near the back door of the City Center Hotel. Several people, all wearing bright red T-shirts with the Cleveland Heroic Convention logo on the front and the word "EXEC" emblazoned on the back, milled around. One of the con executive stubbed out a cigarette on the ground when he saw the van pull up.
Micki left the van first. "I'm looking for Stuart. Is he here?" An exec wearing a well loved, well worn baseball cap raised his hand. Micki offered her hand. "Hi, Micki Sinisis. We talked on the phone earlier."
"Hi," Stuart replied. "No problems finding your way here?"
"None." Micki beamed. "Peregrine is in the back. Is there a way to get her to her room or your con suite without too much attention?"
"Yes. The hotel's manager is used to this sneaking people past crowds."
"Great." Micki opened the back door of the van to let Nasty and Eric out. "Peregrine, this is Stuart. He'll tell you what he wants you to do. Eric, come with me. We'll get the hotel room squared away."
Stuart took several steps to the back entrance. "Is this your first time at a con?" he asked.
Nasty gave a nervous laugh. "Does it show?"
"Don't worry about it," another exec said. "We're old hands at this. You won't notice when things go horribly wrong."
"Craig, now isn't the time to scare the guest. Do it at the brunch."
Nasty looked from Craig to Stuart. "I'll do the best I can," she promised.
Stuart laughed. "Long running joke here. Just remember no schedule survives contact with the con goers. If something goes wrong, laugh it off and keep going like you meant to have it happen that way."
'What the fuck have I gotten myself into?' Nasty shot a look at Eric as he disappeared with Micki into the hotel. 'Damnit, Micki, I needed Eric with me!'
"Ready?" Stuart asked.
"I guess." Nasty followed the con exec inside and into a service corridor. She noted the contrast from the soothing earth tones in the public area of the hotel and the stark yellow and white of the staff-only area. The exec talked amongst themselves about details; Nasty tuned them out to try to get her bearings back. This is just too weird. I'm not a celebrity. I'm not important. I'm just one person. Nasty shook her head. One person who can hit things real well and used that power to help. I suppose that makes me a hero. Why, then, don't I feel like one? She sighed. It's the attention, stupid. Helping a kid get to school without being beaten up is one thing. Fuck, beating up the Pyro Bitches wasn't much different. It was after that when things got weird. Damn it, I am not a role model.
The con executive stopped at a service elevator. "You' re invited to come to the the post-con staff dinner, Peregrine," the female exec said. "All our guests are, compliments of the con."
"Can I bring along a friend?" Nasty asked.
"Sure, if you want. Just let us know by tomorrow evening."
"I will." The elevator door opened. The exec let Nasty on first. 'They seem nice. Older than I expected.'
"We have a full package waiting in our office for you," Stuart started. "Basically, and you are allowed to say no to any of this, there's just a few things we'd like you to be at. The first is the Opening Ceremonies, where all we'll do is introduce you. Later tonight, we have a meet and greet at seven, where con members can mingle with the guests for an hour or so before the dance. After that, you're free to do whatever you want."
"There are passes for you and your assistants," the female exec said. Nasty read her name tag – Amy. "They're good for the entire weekend if you want to wander around the con when you're not part of it. Tomorrow, I've pencilled you in for a question and answer session in the main ballroom, and have you at your autograph booth for the afternoon. Sunday, you just have the brunch in the morning, a second Q&A in the afternoon, and the Closing Ceremonies. Sound good to you?"
Nasty tried to digest the information she was just given. "I think so?"
"It'll be easier once you have something in your hands to read," Craig said. "We can have a staff runner assigned to you if you want."
"That might be a good idea," Nasty said. How much planning goes into one of these things? I can't believe they already know where I'll be. The con hasn't even started.
The elevator let everyone out on the fifth floor. Nasty followed the exec to a hotel suite at the end of the hall. Stuart unlocked the door. He opened it, letting Nasty go in first. The room continued the earth tones of the hotel, with several reproduction prints of wildlife scenes hanging on the walls. "This way." Stuart directed the group into a conference room in the suite. The decor changed. The meeting room resembled the aftermath of a tornado strike, except messier. The conference table had several printers, all of them chugging away with jobs as con staff worked on last minute flyers. "Don't mind the chaos." Stuart rummaged through several bags in the corner of the room. "Here." He pulled a bag from the collection and handed it to Nasty. "Our guest package. Has everything you need to know and several things that might help you." A pounding knock came from the door. One of the staffers left the table to answer the door. Stuart continued, "If you have any questions, feel free to flag down anyone wearing a staff or exec shirt."
"Micki mentioned that you may be called away," Amy said. "If that happens, try to let us know, but an emergency is an emergency."
A young teen burst into the room. "Stuart, there's a problem in the Dealers' Room. Not enough power outlets."
"Go tell them I'll be right there. I'll talk to the hotel about extension cords." Stuart turned back to Nasty. "Never work at a convention you want to see. You'll never have the time to actually do stuff." He followed the teenager out of the suite.
"I'll take you to your room," Amy said. "Take the time now to relax from your trip. You'll be amazed at how fast the weekend goes here."
The exec led Nasty to the regular elevators instead of the service one. "How long have you been doing this sort of thing?"
"Ten years." Amy thought about the question. "Has it been ten already? No, longer than that. Twelve, at least."
Nasty whistled in appreciation. "I didn't know this con was around that long."
"This con, no. The CHC has been around for five years. We, the exec, have done other events, smaller ones, that led up to this one."
Before Nasty could say anything, the radio in her helmet crackled. "Peregrine, this is Micki. We've had an energy reading."
Nasty stopped. "Sorry, call coming in." She flipped a small switch on her headgear at the base of her throat. "Where do you want me to go?"
"Hang on." Nasty waited, her patience thinning as the pause became pregnant. "No idea. The energy surge didn't last long enough to get a location. We have to assume the barrier has been breeched. Go back to whatever you're doing."
Nasty killed her end of the conversation. "False alarm."
"Don't worry about it. You're on duty. Things happen. Two years ago, Laser had to dash out to help the fire department battle a nasty factory blaze. Which reminds me, your motorcycle is set up near your autograph booth. If you have to take off, it has an unobstructed run straight out of the hotel."
The elevator arrived. Both women got on. Amy hit the button for Nasty's floor. "You should like the room. Mostly soundproof, and set away from the bulk of the room block the hotel set aside. All of our guests are in the same wing."
The elevator doors reopened. Nasty stepped out, letting Amy point her in the right direction. "And if you're around Monday, Charles has arranged a tour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."
Amy stopped outside a door. "Here you go. Enjoy your weekend!" She left to return to her convention wrangling.
Nasty knocked on the door. After a moment, Eric opened it and let her in. "Hi, Tash. Come on in." He stepped aside to let her in.
Nasty barely notice Micki sitting on the room's only chair as she made a beeline to the bed. She flopped spread-eagled on the bed and let out a sigh of relief. "That was weird. Eric, I really could have used you there. I can't remember half of what they told me."
"Did they give you anything?" Eric asked.
"Yeah." Nasty shook the bag Stuart gave to her. "I should look."
"Yes, you should," Micki admonished. "Give it to me. I should have a copy of your schedule."
Nasty tossed the bag at Micki. The package landed short. "How long are we here?"
"Until we find out what's going on or Tuesday, whichever takes longer."
Eric picked up the plastic bag and passed it to Micki. "There's a small problem with the room, though."
Nasty shut her eyes. "What sort of problem?"
"That's the only bed." Eric gave a sheepish smile. "I can sleep on the couch, though."
"You kids can work that out later." Micki pawed through the contents of the bag. She handed the teenagers their convention passes. "Wear these." Once the name tags and their badge holders were out of her grasp, she continued her exploration of the convention package. "Aha!" Micki pulled out the schedule. After a quick read through, she jotted down Nasty's events on the scratch pad supplied by the hotel. "Doesn't look too bad. During your talk, try to keep Foundation secrets secret. I can help you answer if you want."
"Whatever," Nasty dismissed. She felt her stomach rumble. "Can we get lunch now?"
"Call room service. I don't want to have to track you down in a city you don't know."
Eric picked up the room service menu. "Want to take a look?"
"You look first. And what's this about only one bed? How are the three of us going to sleep here?"
"Who is 'we', paleface?" Micki said. "I've got a bed elsewhere. You two have to work out the sleeping arrangements."
"Oh. I'm too hungry to worry about that now."
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, early afternoon
Vicki stared in undisguised envy at the costumes she saw people walking around in as she waited for her father to check in at the registration desk. Amazing work. I have to get to the cosplay panels this weekend. I need to learn how they do so good. A group walked by dressed as the villain group, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, with the woman dressed as Famine having a cloak that lit from inside. Okay, too much work in that for a real costume, one that has to stand up to a real fight.
Richard finished at the registration desk and joined his daughter in watching the people dressed up walk by. "Nice work," he remarked. "Did you bring a costume? I thought you wanted to."
"I didn't get a chance to get one ready. You know, with having to keep my marks up so I could come here." Vicki smiled, letting her dad know she was joking. "Besides, I didn't have any ready. Couldn't think of who I'd want to dress up as."
"What about that new group back home, what do they call themselves again, the Youth Brigade?"
Wow! Dad's heard of us. Vicki blinked. "I suppose."
"You'd be one of a kind here dressed like any of them."
Vicki nodded, agreeing with her father. And no one would put me together with Pixie. After all, as long as I didn't shrink, I could just say that I'm a fan of hers.
"Hey, Flashbulb's costume looks good. How long would it take you to do up hers?"
Wha--? Tracey's costume? It took me months of convincing her that sweat pants are not the look she wanted. It took Vicki several attempts to speak before she found her words. "Six or seven weeks, maybe?" It took a Herculean effort to keep the disappointment she felt out of her tone. I can't believe Dad --
"How long would it take to create the leader's costume? What's her name again, Kid Mystery?"
"Kid Inscrutable." Vicki forced herself to keep a smile on her face. Mere moments if I let Sandra cast her Change Clothes spell. She pretended to think for a moment. "Maybe two or three months, if I could get the material I needed, once I worked out the pattern."
"Let me know what you decide. I can give you the money for the material." Richard picked up his suitcase. "Our room's ready."
"Right behind you, Dad."
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, early afternoon
Meredith watched Keith as he stared intently at a spot on the elevator's ceiling. Between them, a young woman, Meredith put her age at around seventeen or eighteen years old, stood wearing a costume that amplified her already considerable cleavage. Damn, Keith, that must be a strain, not looking at that. Most guys would be drowning in their own drool by now. Meredith glanced up at the floor indicator, then back at Keith. Three more floors. Keith, at least try looking somewhere else, you geek.
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."
Keith's cheeks reddened. "Looking at them, er, her would have been rude."
"And staring at that fly on the ceiling wasn't? At least, a fly only you could see?"
"What was I supposed to do?"
Meredith laughed. "Look straight ahead and enjoy the reflection in the mirror. And not drool. Drooling isn't pretty."
"I wasn't drooling."
"You weren't looking."
"I didn't want to offend her by peeking."
"Keith, she wanted people to look. No one goes out in a costume like that and hopes no one sees what's on display."
"She was too young."
Meredith rolled her eyes. "Dude, she's maybe a year or two younger than you. You wouldn't be going to the special hell."
Keith huffed. "Can we drop this? Or do I have to hear about this all afternoon?
"Depends on how the shopping goes." With a laugh, she pulled Keith toward the back entrance. "If you behave, I won't make you wear a costume."
Meredith walked out of the hotel with an enigmatic smile, Keith protesting as he followed.
Natasha resisted the desire to hold her nose. Breathing through her mouth let her ignore most of the room's odour, but enough of the stench got to her to make her want to gag. "Hello. You have five seconds to vacate. If you are not gone in that time, you will be forced out. You do not want that. Five."
Vicki turned a sympathetic expression to Peregrine's somewhat cute friend. "And some of it is just her being her." She patted the young man. "You don't have to make excuses for her. Just tell her I'm in room 825 if she decides she wants to be civil." She began to walk away. "Oh, or, just call me yourself if you want to talk or something."