Featuring Subject 13, Prototype Alpha, and Pixie of Youth Brigade
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, early evening
Nasty shut off the tap. Water dripped from her bare hands into the ladies' room sink. She looked up into the mirror, the featureless mask of Peregrine's helmet looking back at her. Why couldn't Doll-girl have been invited? I'd be better off as just another face in the crowd. It's not like I need this costume anymore.
Micki's voice sounded in her ear. "Peregrine, are you there?"
"Yeah, I'm here." Nasty grabbed a handful of paper towels to dry her hands. "Tell me you've found the signal again."
"No. Where is 'here'?"
"Are you okay?" Nasty heard the concern in Eric's voice.
After a count of ten, Nasty answered, "I am."
"Guys, as touching as this is, remember why we're here. Peregrine, keep visible. You should be okay as long as you don't linger in there too long."
Nasty put her dark red fingerless gloves back on. "I'm coming, I'm coming."
Natasha stopped at the entrance to the skate park. She surveyed the people, mainly boys, as they ran their skateboards over the concrete obstacles. Promising. Definitely promising. The redhead walked further in, her two inch heels adding to the sway of her hips. Several of the young teens craned their necks to watch Natasha stride across the lot; one on a rail fell off his board, landing straddled on the obstacle. Except him. Natasha smiled, enjoying the scene.
One of the young men rolled to a stop near her. His dismount let him catch the skateboard in his arm without effort. "Hi. Couldn't help but notice you."
Natasha deigned to give him her attention. "Hello." She kept her tone cool.
"I'm Cole. I don't think I've seen you around before."
"I'm new here."
"I figured, what with what you're wearing."
Natasha looked down at her neon fuscia halter and white leather miniskirt. It's doing what I want, Cole. She let herself warm to the dark-haired teenager. "This old thing?"
Cole shifted, leaning closer to Natasha. "Want me to show you around?"
"I'd love a tour."
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, evening
Meredith tapped her foot, the thump from her blue pump hitting the rug muffled. She brushed off lint from her recently purchased full-length skirt. "Keith, what's taking so long?"
"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Keith emerged from the bathroom. He wore a plain blue t-shirt and a pair of faded jeans.
Keith looked down at himself. "What?"
"You're wearing that? Keith, you're not going to get a girl's attention dressed like that. Go get changed."
"Into what? This is the best I have."
Meredith shook her head sadly. "Keith, Keith, Keith. You have a lot to learn."
"I came here for the panels, not the dance. You can go alone if you want."
"And leave you in here, alone, where you could rewire the television to receive signals from Mars?" Sighing, Meredith grabbed Keith's elbow. "Let's go." She pulled her roommate out to the elevator and held on to him until the doors opened. "I want to see you out on the dance floor at least once tonight. No disappearing on me until after that."
Keith rolled his eyes. "Any particular dance step you want me to perform for you?"
"Avoid the Macarena."
Meredith broke into giggles. She recovered when the elevator reached the ground floor. A line up had formed at the doors to the main ballroom, extending down one side of the hall and back up the other, heading out to the lobby. Meredith led Keith to the end of the line. Music started from inside then cut off as the DJ fine tuned his gear.
A few minutes later, the line started moving. Each person entering the ballroom had his or her con badge checked by security staff dressed in red shirts. Meredith made note of the circular name tags each one had. Once inside, she took Keith out of the way of the flow of traffic. "Go have fun. And remember, dance at least once. Ideally with a girl, but baby steps first." She gave her roommate a shove, then twirled on to the dance floor. The music started, a loud pounding beat filling the ballroom. A cheer erupted from the crowd just as loud. People swarmed on to the floor, swaying to the tempo. Meredith threw herself into the music, letting herself get carried away by the rhythm.
Several songs later, Meredith retired from the mass of bodies. She wiped her brow, removing a layer of sweat. /Now /that/ is the way to do it./ She spied a water station not too far from her. /That will hit the spot./ Slipping past a few people in costume, Meredith reached the table. Two people were already there, a teen-aged couple, the red-haired girl wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, her sandy-haired friend wearing a button-down shirt and cotton pants. "Hi," Meredith said, raising her voice to be heard over the music. "Having a good time?" She grabbed one of the water pitchers and started pouring herself a glass.
The redhead shrugged. The boy answered for them both. "So far. A lot of people here, isn't there?"
"It's Friday, end of the work week. Even if you're on summer vacation, it's good to have a chance to unwind. I'm Meredith."
"Eric. This is Tash." The girl gave a half-hearted wave. Eric continued, "You were at the Meet and Greet earlier, weren't you?"
"Yeah. Did you get a chance to talk to Peregrine? I couldn't believe the number of people who wanted to see her."
"Me, neither," Tash said.
Meredith looked at the girl a little closer. "I don't think I saw you there."
Eric looked from one woman to the other. "Where are you from?"
"Toronto. Came here on a whim. What about you?" Meredith downed her water in one gulp.
"We're from New York. Last minute sort of thing."
"Nice meeting you." Meredith turned to look out on the dance floor. She saw Keith twirl around and try to stand up on his toes. He lost his balance, almost falling over completely. Meredith covered her mouth to restrain her laughter. Oh, God, Keith. I have to teach you how to dance when we get home. She set down her glass. "Have fun!"
Meredith returned to the dance floor, barely noticing that Tash stepped out of the room. Teenagers. Hard enough dealing with Keith. And I remember what I was like at her age. Here's hoping that Eric has her figured out if he wants to maintain a relationship with her. She swayed with the music as she danced out to the middle of the floor. Hands over her head, she gave herself over to the beat, a crowd forming around her.
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, evening
Vicki unfolded the note from Peregrine as she left the elevator. She heard the music coming from the dance as she made her way through the lobby. What the heck does this mean? How am I supposed to know where she is. With a mental shrug, Vicki folded the letter back up and shoved it into her jeans pocket. Maybe at the dance, though I can't see her wanting to be in something that popular.
A figure left the ballroom and crossed the hall. The woman stretched, then leaned against the wall. As Vicki got closer, she recognized the girl. "Um, excuse me?"
Caught, the girl spun around. "Oh, you."
"I read your note."
Peregrine looked around. "We need somewhere private."
"The lobby is deserted."
"Not private enough."
"What about your room?" Vicki suggested.
Peregrine levelled a glare at Vicki. "It's hard to explain in public."
"What about the hotel restaurant? It shouldn't be busy at this hour."
"Fine." Peregrine led the way, walking fast enough to force Vicki to run a few times to keep up.
The hostess no longer was on duty at the restaurant, letting anyone who arrived to find a table on their own. Peregrine chose a table in the corner and sat down. Vicki took a seat across from the heroine. She looked around, then leaned across the table. "What's going on?"
"I kinda need your help," Peregrine mumbled.
"I didn't catch that."
"I need your help." Peregrine sat up straight to look around.
"Help with what?"
"I'm not just here because of the convention. The Foundation has me working for them on a mission. How are you with alternate universes?"
Vicki sat back in her chair. "They're okay in fanfiction, as long they make sense. No making the cast of Lost into high school students or anything like that."
"That's not what I mean." Peregrine sighed. "Maybe I shouldn't have asked you for help."
"Tell me what's happening and maybe I can help."
Peregrine sat back as the waitress arrived. After giving her the order, the heroine waited a few seconds until she was sure the server was gone. "There are people from another universe coming over to ours. A mirror universe."
Vicki nodded as she processed the information. "As in, goatees and all evil and such?"
"I don't know about the goatees, but yeah. I've got my suspicions on who it is that came over, too."
"Is that why you wanted the privacy?"
"I didn't want to leak your secret identity."
"Oh." Vicki shifted in her seat. "Okay, so why me?"
"First, keep in mind that I have no idea if what I'm saying is the truth or even makes sense, okay?"
Vicki nodded. "Okay."
Peregrine took a deep breath. "I think the people coming over are alties. In fact, I think they are our counterparts."
Vicki blinked. "You're not joking, are you? Did you want me to call in the rest of the Youth Brigade?"
"Oh, hell no. Last thing we need is more alties here. Look, um, oh, hell, what should I call you, since you're not in costume?"
"Vicki. What should I call you? I mean, I know your name from the interview, but that might not be what you want to be called."
"Natasha's good. Or Tasha."
"Thanks, Tasha. So, you don't want any more of us altered humans here. Why?"
"The way it was explained to me, for every one of us here, there's one of us there. Somehow, we, us and out counterparts, are in the same city at the same time."
Vicki twisted her neck as she made a connection. "So that's why Eagle cancelled. He was worried that his evil duplicate would come over to this side."
Tasha relaxed. "You've got it."
"Why do you think that it's our evil selves coming over?"
"We're the only alties here, that I know of," Tasha explained. "I can't be everywhere, but if you can keep an eye out for something strange, it'd help out a lot."
"Sure! All you had to do was ask me. Hey, why didn't you just ask me earlier?"
"Your secret identity, remember? My costume has a built in radio. If I asked you, the Foundation would know who you are."
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, evening
Nasty watched as Vicki dipped her French fries into ketchup. How the hell does she do it? I just told her that there's an invasion from a mirror universe, and there she is downing her food. At least she's not telling her little friends about the problem.
"Hey, Tasha, is that guy with you working for the Foundation?" Vicki asked as she dipped a handful of fries in the puddle of ketchup in the middle of her plate.
"Eric? No. He's my age."
"Is he seeing anyone?"
The fuck? Nasty clenched her fist. "What?"
"You must have talked to him. Did he say anything about his dating life?"
"He, uh, I, er, look it's complicated."
Vicki blushed. "Oh, I didn't mean to. I didn't know. How long have you two been dating?"
"We're not dating!" Nasty forced herself to speak normally. "We're not dating. It's not a date."
"I mean, we're seeing each other, but we're not."
"Tasha, it's a yes or no question. Either yes, you are seeing him or no, you're not. Unless you're seeing him and he's seeing other girls, too."
"He's not seeing other girls."
"So he is seeing you."
"Do we have to talk about this?"
"I was just wondering. He's cute, if a little geeky."
"Eric is not a geek!" Nasty took a deep breath. Simmer down, girl. Over a count of ten, she exhaled. "Vicki, it's complicated, okay?"
"How complicated can it be? Have you two gone to movies together?"
"Had dinner together without anyone else around?"
"Sat in the back seat of a car and made out?"
"No! He doesn't have a car. Neither do I."
"What about your parents?"
"Mom doesn't have a car, either."
Vicki waved her hands. "Okay, forget the back seat of the car. But, in my mind, going to movies and going out for dinner together counts as dating. What did you think you were doing?"
Nasty shrugged. I don't know. Fuck, I was just happy having him around. I don't know if he feels the same way.
"Well, sounds like dating to me." Vicki dug back into her French fries. After swallowing the latest handful, she continued, "Have you told him your feelings?"
"Why would I do that?"
"If I told him, he might get uncomfortable and stop talking to me. I don't want that."
"Stop saying that!" Nasty slumped in her chair. "There's other things going on."
"Like you being a hero?"
"Like that. Other shit, too. I'm not exactly a prime choice."
"Does he feel that way?"
"I don't know."
"Haven't you asked him?"
"No. And don't ask me if I'm kidding."
"So, you like him, and you're out here while he's . . . where is he?"
"At the dance."
"Why aren't you dancing with him? Go! I'll pay."
"I'm not going to stand in your way. Go and dance with him. I'm sure he's waiting for you."
Nasty started to get up. "If anyone asks about what we talked about--"
"Yeah, yeah. You'll deny it, all Mission Impossible-like."
Tori flopped down on the blanket she had laid out on the floor. She twisted, trying to get comfortable. I don't believe that bitch. I just know she went out for a roll in the hay, leaving me here to watch over the Canadian. Tori looked over in Omega's direction. The Canadian in the power armour stood silently in the corner, unmoving. The SOB is a real good conversationalist. Really thrilling. She rolled over. I should just head out and pull a few crimes, just to show her. She sat up, unable to sleep. God damned night owl. I need sleep so I can wake up at that ungodly hour. "Hey, tin head! Have you got the TV working yet?"
"Three hours ago. The remote is on the remains of the table."
Tori got off her makeshift bed and padded in stockinged feet to the ruins of the coffee table. She picked up the remote, then dropped on the couch. The springs creaked in protest of having a weight on them. Tori ignored the noise and turned the TV on. Channel by channel, she flipped through the available stations. A news broadcast caught her attention. As she watched, her mouth dropped bit by bit. "Son of a bitch! Of all the things to have going on while we're here."
"What is it." Omega maintained position.
"A fucking gathering of hero wannabes." Tori huffed with indignation. "Can you believe that? And look who the fucking guest of honour is."
"Why are you complaining? Do you not see the advantages, girl?"
"What advantages? A bunch of sheep dressing in homemade costumes that don't even try to hide the flaws their bodies have milling around a hotel waiting to meet the bitch's double. Yeah, there goes that plan to surprise her upside the head with a baseball bat."
"You don't see the advantages at all?"
"What advantages? The only thing that I can think of is that I can walk around the hotel and know one would care . . .." Tori's voice trailed off. "Even better, bitch cake can't go in. If she doesn't return, I can just march in there and take over! You're a genius, Omega!"
"That is why I'm here."
Nasty smiled up at Eric. She craned her neck up, her lips reaching for his. Eric, eyes closed, brought his down, meeting hers.
Natasha traced a trimmed and polished fingernail on Cole's bare chest. "Mmm, baby, you really know how to show a girl a good time." She allowed herself to giggle. "Ready for another ride?"