Featuring Subject 13, Prototype Alpha, and Pixie of Youth Brigade
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, early evening
Eric returned to his hotel room. He opened the door and stopped short. The number of shopping bags he saw was unbelievable, most from stores he never went to and he was sure Tash wouldn't step inside under penalty of death. "Hello? Tash?"
The bathroom door opened. "Tash" dashed out and pulled him into a hug. "Hi!" She kissed Eric on the cheek. "Missed ya!"
"I missed you, too." Eric walked into the room, the false Tash still holding on to him. "Did you go shopping?"
The fake detached herself from him. She swept her arm around at all the bags. "This? Just a little trip. I got something special for you." The red-haired impostor dug into a bag from Victoria's Secret. Leering as she came up, she held out a lacy and revealing baby doll set. "I can't wait to put it on for you."
Eric felt his cheeks grow warm. He gulped. "Can't wait." As he tried to loosen the collar of his t-shirt, he gave the fake "Tash" what he hoped was a warm smile. "Hey, are you hungry? Want to go out and get dinner? My treat." He felt a piece of him shrivel inside.
Natasha tossed the lingerie on the bed. "Really?"
"I'd love to!"
"Let me go get cleaned up and then we can leave." He backed into the bathroom, keeping an eye on the real Tash's replacement until he was able to close and lock the door. Keeping panic at bay, he ran the water in the sink, turning the faucets fully open. He reached into his pocket for the Eagle Foundation's Bluetooth device. "Micki, are you there? Micki, it's me. It's Eric."
"Eric, yes, I'm here. What is it?"
"Natasha? Since when?"
"I don't know. She was here when I got back."
"Eric, how can she be back? Last I knew, there wasn't any dimensional openings."
Eric rolled his eyes. "Not Tash. The other one. The double. The fake."
"Oh, her. What does she want?"
"Me." Eric her Micki laughing over the link. "It's not that funny."
"I know, I know. Still . . . okay, what's the problem?"
Eric began pacing. "She's not Tash. I don't want to sleep with her. I don't even know her."
"I don't suppose I could convince you to take one for the team right now, could I?"
"Then you're going to have to delay her somehow. We're still trying to find a way to get to the other dimension. What are you doing right now with her?"
"Right now, nothing. We're about to head for dinner down the street."
"Good idea. Take your time. I'll-- wait. Are you sure? Yes!" Eric winced as Mickie whooped. "Eric, are you still there?"
Eric shook his head, trying to clear the ringing in his ears. "Yeah, I'm here. What happened?"
"Energy surge, near here. We're going to investigate. You try to keep Natasha's double occupied. I'll try to contact you later. Do you have a cell phone?"
"I do, yes."
"I'll text you when I know more. Just take it easy and keep the wench happy and unsuspecting for now. Micki out."
Eric removed the receiver from his ear and shoved it back in his pocket. He washed his face then shut off the water. Checking himself in the mirror, he sighed, then left the bathroom. The false Tash laid spread out on the bed. She had managed to change her clothes while he was talking to Micki. She now had a red blouse on, off setting her cream mini-skirt. "Ready?" Eric asked.
Parking lot, Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, early evening
"Where is it?" Micki asked. She peered over Keith's shoulder.
"How should I know? I'm not from around here. If we were in Toronto, I could tell you, but this place doesn't look anything like TO." Keith sat back in the Yugo's driver's seat. "Television and movies have lied to me repeatedly."
Micki resisted the urge to swat Keith on the head. "Can the comedy already. I need to know where that energy surge is."
"I could take you there. I did have mobility in mind when I put this together." Keith waved at his GPS. "Otherwise, I would've used a laptop and a mapping program. It'd have made the interface so much easier."
Micki ran around to the passenger's side. "Pete, Gwen, get the van and follow us."
"But, ma'am, what if we lose you?" Gwen asked.
"Are you telling me you can't keep an eye on a one of a kind car? Really, Gwen, we're not going to try to lose you."
Dubious, Gwen left to follow Pete to the van.
Keith slammed his door shut. "Ready?"
Micki ducked into the Yugo. "Ready." She fastened her seat belt. "Try not to lose her."
After two attempts, the Yugo's engine came to life. Keith put the car into gear and threaded his way through the parking lot, trying to get a better reading. "Okay, got it." He brought the car out of the parking lot, easing it on to the road. "According to the readings, the breech isn't complete yet. Give it another few minutes."
"How do you know this?"
"I watched this happen overnight last night. It was fascinating, especially when chatting with someone about her dreams."
Micki watched the road. "How close are we?"
Keith watched as the directional arrow on the GPS reversed itself. "I think we passed it."
"Passed it? Turn around!" Micki looked around for landmarks. "Wait, no, don't turn around. Keep going. Find the entrance for the Hall of Fame."
"The what?" Keith winced as the Yugo's tires squealed.
"The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We just passed it. It makes perfect sense."
"I'd like that sense explained to me, please."
"You, your friend, Natasha, and her hero friend, all of you aren't from here. The Hall of Fame is probably the one thing they can all find."
Keith nodded. "Okay, yeah, I can see that." He turned the corner. "One minute to breech."
Micki pointed at the parking entrance. "There. Go there."
"What about your people?" Keith checked his rear view mirror. "There they are." He made a hard turn into the parking lot. "We should be seeing it soon."
Harsh green light erupted out of nowhere, forming an uneven circle close to the ground. The ring of light grew larger, the view through it shimmering. Over the radio, Keith and Micki heard a heavy burst of static, followed by, "there? Come on, Keith, you better be listening!"
Keith picked up his end of the radio. "I'm here, Mere."
"How soon can you be at the Hall of Fame? I've got a few people here needing rides."
"How soon can you be there?"
"Keith, just answer the question."
Keith laughed. "I'm already here, waiting for you."
"I could just kiss you. We should be through soon. Micheline says it'll be another thirty seconds."
Micki bristled at the name. She watched the green ring as it finished growing. Several figures ran through the centre. "That's them!" She jumped out of the Yugo and ran to meet the returnees.
"Micki!" Nasty called. "We have to get going!"
"Whoa. Hold on." Micki regarded Nasty's outfit and bare feet. "First of all, prove to me who you are."
"The Natasha I know doesn't wear skirts that short."
"Micki, we don't have the time to fuck around like this."
Micki smiled. "That's a good start. Explain the skirt."
"The fucking bitch who wants to be me has a fucking closet full of them. This is one of her longer ones. Can we just go? I need to find Eric before the bitch does."
"I'm convinced." Micki guided Nasty toward the Foundation van just pulling in. "Eric's okay."
"I need to see him."
"That's not a good idea right now."
Micki took a deep breath. "Because he's having dinner with the mirror you."
"And you let him?"
"Just get in the van. I can explain on the way back to the hotel."
"Um, ma'am?" Pixie flitted up to Micki. "I could use some help getting back in the hotel, too. I think Dad might be worrying about me."
Micki looked over at the assembled group. "I'll call the con exec and get them to set up the same way in that we used for Peregrine yesterday. Go do what you need to do, then I want everyone in Peregrine's room in forty-five minutes. Everyone good?"
Nasty persisted. "What about Eric?"
"Everyone good?" Micki stared at Nasty.
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, evening
Vicki landed a few stairs away from the fire door for her floor. She resumed her normal size and walked up the last few steps. Pausing, she listened at the door, trying to hear if there was anyone in the hallway. Hearing no one, she dashed out of the fire escape and ran to her hotel room. She felt around the door, trying to find the key card she hid earlier. I really need to find a way to shrink plastic. It's beyond nuisance now.
From inside the room, her cell phone started ringing. "Damn," she muttered. Her hand found the edge of the card tucked in the door. She pulled it out and unlocked her room. The cell phone trilled again. "Coming!" she snarled. During the third ring, she answered the call. "Hi!"
"Vicki, there you are. I was starting to worry."
"I know, Dad, but I left my phone up in the room. I didn't want it disturbing anyone at the costume panels, you know? I mean, you know me, I'm likely to turn it up loud and forget about it until someone calls." Vicki forced a laugh. "How was the game?"
"I'm still there. I was trying to let you know it's gone a little longer than I expected, and it's now tied. I'm going to be here a while."
Vicki held the phone away from her mouth as she sighed in relief. "That's okay, Dad. I'll find something to do here at the con."
"I don't want you to go hungry."
"I'll get a small snack before you get back and take me for dinner."
"I'll bet you have a lot to tell me."
Vicki gave a nervous twitter. "A little, yeah. I should let you go before you miss a touchdown or something."
"See you soon, honey."
"Can't wait, Dad." 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.
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, evening
Nasty opened the door to her hotel room. She stopped in the middle of the doorway. "The hell?" Her draw dropped. "Son of a bitch!"
"Oh, what now?" Micki peered over Nasty's shoulder. "Did you buy all that?"
"Hell, no." Nasty ran inside. "She fucking robbed me!"
"You don't know that." Micki made sure the door was closed behind her.
Nasty rummaged through one bag to get the receipt. She read over the list of items bought to the bottom. "She used my fucking bank card. She fucking used my fucking bank card."
"Keep the receipt. You can get it returned once we're done here."
"I was saving for college. She's run through my entire fucking savings! I'm going to fucking kill her."
"Calm down." Micki sat down at the desk. "It's not the end of the world. Just take a deep breath."
Nasty tossed the receipt back in the bag. "Micki, how can you be so calm?"
"I'm paid to do that. And thanks for bringing my double back with you."
Nasty flounced on the bed. "She could get us back. What was I supposed to do, stay there hanging by my wrists for the rest of my life?" A splash of pink caught her eye. She picked up the discarded lingerie as if it was a dead animal. "What the fuck is this?"
"Looks like a baby doll." Micki shrugged. "I take it that it's not yours."
"Why would I wear something this flimsy?"
"To impress . . . oh, shit."
Nasty dropped the lingerie and jumped back from it. "Over my dead body. Over her dead body."
A knock came from the door. Micki jumped up to answer it. "Come in, please." She stepped aside to let Meredith, now wearing jeans and a grey t-shirt, and Keith in. "We're still waiting for Pixie."
"Coming!" the young heroine called. She slipped into the hotel room. "Sorry. Dad called. I had to make sure he didn't worry. Did I miss anything?"
"Just getting started." Micki closed the door once everyone was inside. "Get comfortable. This hopefully won't take long."
"Yeah, mirror me is going to die a horrible death." Nasty made space on the bed for Vicki.
The young blond pointed at the baby doll. "Is that yours."
Nasty shot a dirty look at the younger girl. "No."
Vicki shivered at the tone of Nasty's voice. "Just asking."
"Girls, your attention?" Micki remained standing. "Okay, we have three visitors from another dimension who are here to, what are they here for?"
"Take over our lives," Nasty grumbled.
"Hide here, from what I can tell." Meredith looked over to Keith. "We were supposed to be their life insurance policy."
"I really hope Pete and Gwen get something useful out of Micheline." Micky started walking the length of the room. "Right now, we know where one of them is. We need to get the other two with her before we do anything."
"How the fuck do we do that?"
"I have no clue, Natasha. I'm not the only person in the room involved. It'd be nice if the superheroes of the group did more than just swear and complain."
"I've looked over Omega's powersuit," Keith said. "It looks like he made several modifications to the original design, probably because of the limitations that made me develop the BIKINI."
"You designed a bikini?" Vicki's expression was a mix of amusement and amazement.
"The Powered Bilaterally Independent Kinetic Induction of Natural Ions," Meredith supplied. "The battle bikini I'm wearing. Keith and I were looking at Omega's armour, trying to figure out the weak points."
"It was a brute force method of making powered armour. He's driving it more than wearing it. The arms are controlled by waldoes and the legs are attached to a drive train."
Meredith turned her attention to Keith. "Where is his weak point?"
"My best guess, and that's all it can be right now, is that the joints are the weakest point. No surprise, hard to armour them properly when they have to be mobile. I'm sure Omega has figured that out already. Aim for the shoulder joints, elbow joints, knee and ankle joints. The neck is heavily armoured, though. Basically, if it has to move, it'll be harder to armour, and easier for us to knock out."
"That's just the tech side, though." Meredith patted Keith on the back. "The evil Keith inside has his own weaknesses. I'm sure I can work my knowledge of the real Keith can lead Omega in a pleasant chase."
"Good, good." Micki turned back at the window. "We need to draw the rest out, though."
Vicki raised her hand. "What if we watch the one we know about? She has to talk to the others at some point."
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." Affirmatives of various levels of enthusiasm met her. "Good."
Cleveland City Center Hotel, Cleveland, evening
"Keith, you're holding everyone up." Meredith held out a bare arm. "And I could really use that arm guard back. What are you doing to it?"
Keith set aside his soldering iron as he remained bent over his work. "Work with me here. Somehow, these guys got through at least twice, right?"
"And you said that they had a van set up with the dimensional breech gun, so they're mobile, right?"
"Think about it for a moment, Mere." Keith picked up a small flathead screwdriver.
Meredith tapped her foot. "I'm thinking. I'm thinking that I'm going to hit you soon if you don't get to the point soon, Socrates."
Keith sat up, working the kinks out of his back. "They have to have a way to call for the breech to be opened. They could send reinforcements in from any direction."
"Okay, good point, I'll give you that." Meredith sat down on her bed. "So why the work on the bracer?"
"I think I've got a way to close a breech as it's opening. It'll take a good chunk of power from your batteries, though. I didn't have time to make it efficient."
"Define 'a good chunk'."
Keith shrugged. "An hour's worth of operational time, plus or minus twenty minutes."
"So, I'll have six attempts at closing a breech."
"Or maybe as many as nine or as few as four."
Meredith smiled grimly. "Wonderful. How does it work?"
"Just point your shield at the hole. I'll handle the rest from my end."
Keith nodded. "Yes. Why?"
"The shield that can block railguns."
"You're repeating yourself."
Meredith stood up to loom over her roommate. "Keith, this guy fired a railgun at me in the last fight! Are you trying to get me killed?"
"It was the only thing on the suit that could be used." Keith pulled a page full of diagrams from off the desk and held it up to let Meredith see it. "I needed something that's like a radar dish. That shield is the closest thing you have."
"Is it ready?"
"Just a few more adjustments. The circuits weren't designed to transmit this much energy."
Natasha eyed Eric hungrily. "Waiting for the right moment." She reached out to caress his arm. "I couldn't wait to see you again."
Nasty stomped to the table, reaching it in several strides. She grabbed Natasha's hair near the roots. "Get your fucking hands off my boyfriend, you bitch!"