New York MCO Headquarters, 09.30 am
The bad thing about being in the New York MCO office was that all the staff frequently had to come in and work on holidays. With many of the regular police tied up in things like crowd control, upper management (the ones who didn't have to come in) thought that a holiday would be the perfect time for mutants to try and get away with something, and made sure to have the office fully manned - just in case.
Jeff Hawke looked up at the virginally-bare incident board and sighed. He wouldn't have minded coming into work and missing the Labor Day holiday with his family if something had actually been happening. At least that would have meant his presence in the office would have been justified, rather than him being here just to make sure his minions didn't spend the time goofing off rather than working. That would have made it a lot easier for his wife to understand why her husband was missing. He scowled and sipped some more of his coffee, mentally bitching at how the mutant menace kept him here having to look after the office. Then his phone rang.
Jeff reached for it in a mix of anticipation and annoyance. Anticipation that something might be happening, and annoyance that they couldn't even relax and goof off today.
"Yes? What is it?" he listened to the frantic voice on the other end of the phone, waiting for her to calm down and actually tell him something useful while he made some generalized and meaningless words of support. Finally, the voice calmed down a bit, and he started to make some notes.
"OK, you have a potential Class 3 mutant incident in New York, but you can't give us the details as to where and when yet?" Typical, he thought to himself, all that going on about the threat and no useful data. "Look, I need time, place, and who's responsible..."
Instead of getting the needed information, the voice doubled in speed and volume. Wincing slightly, he moved the phone further away from his ear and waited for the woman to calm down. What were they teaching these youngsters nowadays... Eventually, he did have some notes, although the exact nature of the threat - two mutant operatives from Karedonia, who posed a significant threat to the city of New York and who were expected to arrive later today - seemed a bit bizarre. But then, this was New York. So, after gleaning that minimal but hopefully sufficient amount of pertinent data from the woman's gabble, it only took him five minutes more to calm her down yet again and reassure her that yes, suitable support would be arranged. Finally, the line went dead and he breathed a sigh of exhaustion. Whoever this woman's superior was, he certainly didn’t envy them their task.
Examining his meager notes, he tapped his pencil on the desk, ignoring the fact that the nearer agents were looking at him curiously while he decided on a course of action.
"OK guys, listen up. We have a potential class 3 threat in New York City, exact location not yet known but expected to take place today. Since we don't know anything more yet, we need to make sure we've covered off all the usual sites and options. So...start surveillance, see if the police can spare anything from crowd control - they probably can't, but ask so we can say we did try to get them to help - and mobilize our own resources."
He didn't say it was likely a false alarm - that voice on the phone might have been a confirmed agent, but he didn't have much confidence in her experience. Still, it would give them something more to do here than sitting around on their collective asses, and if having to be here to worry about mutants was going to ruin his holiday, he might as well make it miserable for some mutants in return. He grinned unpleasantly. That had given him an idea...
"Bob, I think we need to put the screws on any potential backup or escape. Without a load of police, we can't do much about public transportation, but we can make sure that if something goes down no-one gets out through the airports. Contact the FAA and the airports in the area, tell them we have an emergency situation developing, and they are to hold departing flights until we give them clearance. Suggest they divert incoming flights if possible."
"Hold all the flights on Labor Day, boss? That's going to cause a lot of screaming."
Jeff shrugged. "So what? It's all the mutants' fault, and it's past time we showed those wimps in the TSA and FAA who the big dog is around here. Order them to hold everything, and if they complain point out it's a mutant problem and that we have the authority in this case. Set up Screening Level Three in the airports and get observer teams to the train stations and the main bus terminals.”
“We’ll have to call in more manpower.”
"Call whoever we need. Oh, and get Public Affairs to run announcements on all available media. The standard spiel - potentially serious mutant threat, safety is number one priority, temporary measures to protect public, we apologize for the inconvenience, blah, blah, blah. They know what to say.”
Bob turned to his computer and started to type out the necessary instructions. He knew this would end up being trouble, but he was going to keep quiet and obey orders. Besides, his boss was right - it had been too long since the MCO showed their teeth in New York. Today was going to be a bad day for any mutants expecting to travel through the Big Apple.
American Airlines Flight 6138, Heathrow - JFK, somewhere over the Atlantic.
The naked girl looked up with stark hatred at the glaring light in the ceiling of the cell, at the deliberate random flickering that made it hard to rest, even with her long hair pulled over her eyes to try and mask it. She hunched forward, trying to keep as little as possible of her skin touching the stone wall which leeched the warmth from her. Even so she shivered constantly, breath making puffs of smoke in the damp cold of the air.
She'd lost all track of time, the endless light, the randomness of when she was given water - if she was given any at all - had broken her link with the cycle of days. For a while she'd tried gouging a mark in the stone with one of her claws, but had given up when she realized she had no idea how much time each one represented.
There was a metallic jangle as she turned to the wall, as the manacles around her wrists drew her chains through the ring on the floor, her neck muscles protesting a the change in a long-held position. But worth it, there was a trickle of condensation running down the wall, that she could just manage, with a stretch, to lap. Even those drops felt wonderful against her desiccated tongue; without them she felt she would have gone mad with thirst some while ago.
Having removed all the moisture from the wall, she settled back down again with a soft moan. The way she was bound made it impossible to find a comfortable position in which to rest, all she could do was to minimize the inevitable pain.
The faint noise of boots on stone drew her attention to the door. Reflexively she scuttled back towards the wall until her horns clacked against the stone as if somehow doing that would make her invisible. She knew it was pointless, not delaying the inevitable for more than a second, but she couldn't help herself.
The door opened with a tortured groan, showing the outline of a man standing in the doorway. Although the light from the room fell on him, his face remained invisible, as if it was scared to illuminate it. She trembled as she saw the whip looped at his belt - no, not a whip, a knotted leather thong encrusted with jagged pieces of the same silvery metal that held her prisoner. A whimper escaped her throat as she remembered what it had done to her flesh before, and she pressed back, trying to push herself through the stone wall, to get away, even as his hand reached out to grab her, feeling her heart pounding in her chest like a trip-hammer gone mad...
Morgana jerked upright against her seatbelt, just managing to choke down the scream bubbling up in her throat. She sat rigid, heart pounding as she took in her situation, that she was safely in an aircraft, not back where her nightmare had taken her. The man across the aisle from her had looked up from his laptop, a concerned look on his face, and she hoped fervently she hadn't said anything out loud. Or screamed, screaming would have been bad.
"Are you OK, Miss?"
She looked over at him and nodded, trying to smile. "Thanks, but I'm fine. Just a bad dream. I guess I shouldn't have eaten the fish."
He chuckled, her response reassuring him. "Yes, I've always thought airline food wasn't good for you." Seeing her fumble her seatbelt open and stand, he turned back to whatever he was doing on his laptop, curiosity seemingly satisfied.
Morgana grabbed her purse, pushing herself to her feet before almost running back down the plane to the tiny washroom. Luckily for her it wasn't busy, so she slipped in, locking the door with shaking hands. Leaning against it, she felt her skin still clammy as she tried to control her breathing. Rummaging in her purse, she grabbed her bottle of Prozac, gulping a couple of pills down dry even as she winced at the foul taste. Splashing some cold water on her face helped a bit, as she stared at herself in the mirror. She looked pale, eyes large in her face as she carefully stroked a finger over her incisors. Good, just teeth, no fangs. Her nails looked normal as well. She didn't want to think what the passengers near to her would have thought if she'd manifested her other form. An aircraft over the mid-Atlantic probably wasn't the best place to cause an anti-mutant riot.
Even so, that man had been surprisingly calm considering how she looked. She dug out a brush, pulling it through her long red hair as she tried to make it look a bit less like she'd been dragged through a bush. The banal normality of the task helped calm her. Finally finished, she made her way back to her seat. Telling herself that she would make it through the rest of the flight. It didn't matter if she'd been up since 3 am, she had to make sure she didn't fall asleep again.
Delta Airlines Flight 3899, Chicago-JFK
Bianca stared out the airplane window, watching buildings and cars grow from toys to real things as the plane rapidly descended towards JFK Airport. This was the first time she'd ever flown, and though the experience had been exciting, the approaching ground made her a little nervous. What if they landed wrong and the plane slid off the runway?
Tearing her eyes away from the window, Bianca glanced at the empty seat beside her. She wasn't supposed to be traveling alone. She was supposed to have an escort...a bodyguard named Tony. But unfortunately, Tony had gotten into a small scuffle with another passenger back at O'Hare and had been detained while she'd continued on by herself.
Once the plane landed, Bianca remained in her seat and let most of the other passengers get off before her. She wasn't in any hurry, not when she still had a bit of a wait before she had to board her connecting flight to Berlin.
Of course, Bianca had another reason to avoid the crowd as well. She didn't want anyone else getting close enough to notice that her skin and hair were pure white, the same color as chalk or freshly fallen snow. So far, wearing a hoodie with the hood up, and remaining quietly in her seat for the entire flight had helped her avoid drawing much attention. The flight attendant had noticed, as had a few other passengers sitting nearby, but none of them had done more than give her odd looks or make a few quiet grumbles.
"Time to go," Bianca whispered to herself once most of the other passengers had departed and the aisle was nearly empty. She got up and quickly collected her carry-on bag from the overhead compartment, then made her way off the plane as well.
Bianca stepped into JFK airport a minute later and paused to warily look around. No one seemed to be paying her any attention or loitering suspiciously, so she let out a faint sigh of relief though didn't lower her guard.
"Another airport," Bianca mused as she looked around, feeling nervous about being in an unfamiliar place and surrounded by strangers. "At least I won't have to go through security again."
It was probably a good thing for her peace of mind that she didn't look back to see the airport and MCO officials setting up a security barrier at the entry she'd just passed through.
JFK International Arrivals
Morgana had to restrain herself from pushing herself up as soon as the seatbelt light went off. It wasn't going to get her out any faster, and there were a lot of oversized American tourists pushing for places in a hopeless attempt to get off the plane faster. Letting the crush clear a bit, she slid out of her seat and got her belongings together before following the crowd of people. At least it was a pleasure to get out of the seat after such a long flight - whatever system they used to design aircraft seats, they were just as bad a fit for mutants as they were for baselines. The only positive point had been that the discomfort had diverted her from worrying about other things. After all, just because she was about to land in a strange country, get past a check operated by gun-happy MCO operatives and go to a boarding school full of dangerous mutants, while coping with having been changed into the opposite sex, there was no reason to get panicky, was there?
Trying not to look nervous, she waited in line at the security gates. The few times she had flown before, the line in front of her had always flowed like molasses; this time they seemed to race through the people. Finally it was her turn, as she handed her passport and paperwork to the unsmiling customs official in her cubicle, who seemed to be looking at her as if she was Professor Reaper in disguise. The woman motioned to her to put her finger on the pad, as she glanced through the documents. The second look she got as her papers were returned was considerably less friendly, and the tone of her voice was decidedly cold.
"Please go through the door to your right, Miss."
Morgana looked over, seeing an unremarkable security door. Except unremarkable doors didn't usually have their own heavily armed guard standing next to them. She grabbed her carry-on and walked over, the guard's eyes flicking over her coldly as she nervously pushed the door open. The room inside looked rather like the MCO facilities at Heathrow, except bigger and busier. There was a man dressed in a suit and dark glasses - dark glasses indoors, what shows do these people watch - so she walked over and presented her paperwork again, as the door closed behind her with the heavy thud of something more substantial than an ordinary door.
"I was told to come in here, Sir."
She tried to look calm, but looking around just let her see that nearly everyone in the room was armed. Which wasn't exactly reassuring. <Breathe slowly, relax, stay calm. Don't get upset.>
The man looked at her and nodded. "Stay there while I check your documents." The tone was cold and flat, and despite her best attempt at self-control she shivered slightly. It brought back memories, and not good ones.
Trying to distract herself from standing there and sweating, she looked around the room. She could tell from the different uniforms some of the people were wearing that they came from different agencies, but she had no idea what that meant. Most of them were bustling about officiously, and something about their attitude gave her the distinct impression something was up. She couldn't put a name to the feeling, but someone had definitely stuck a big stick in their anthill.
After what seemed an age, but was probably only a minute or so, the man looked up at her again. "Everything seems to be in order." He didn't seem terribly happy her paperwork was correct, in fact, the way he'd been glowering at it made it seem like he wanted to find fault with it. Instead, he reached out a hand. "Your bag."
She fumbled her shoulder bag off, wondering what he thought she had in it? Without looking at her, he dragged a plastic tray in front of him, upended her bag and just dumped everything into the tray. The cavalier way he did it, obviously not caring if there was anything fragile in it, made her start to bristle instinctively. She quashed that thought, hard. Just get through this and get out. He rummaged through the small pile in the tray. Nothing to interest him, except her vial of pills. He picked it up, looking at it as if it was something nasty.
"What's this? Drugs?"
"Uh... it's just my medication. Prozac. I'm a nervous flyer."
She blushed. "I don't have one - it was just for flying, that's all."
Her reply seemed to make him happy, in a nasty sort of way. "You can't bring drugs into the USA without a prescription." He juggled the bottle of pills in his hand, stretching out the suspense, then casually tossed the bottle into a disposal close by. "Confiscated. And just be glad I don't charge you with bringing in illegal drugs."
She opened her mouth, then shut it quickly before she said anything she'd regret and he'd enjoy using against her. Despite her attempt to keep calm, she felt hot inside. Not a good sign, especially not in the middle of an MCO search. Just keep calm and let him be an asshole. Since when was Prozac a dangerous drug, she thought half the women in the USA were on it. "Yes Sir, I'm sorry."
"Good." He jerked a finger at a pile of cases in the corner of the room. "Your luggage should be there, take it and go down into the main area."
He made no attempt to do anything with her small pile of belongings in the tray, just pushed it towards her with a smirk. Trying not to sigh in annoyance, she slipped it all back into her bag. What was up with these people? The MCO at Heathrow hadn't been friendly, but they'd been politely professional, not assholes like their US equivalents seemed to be. Again she was convinced something unusual was going on, but they hadn't said anything and given the way they were treating her she wasn't going to ask. Just grab her bag and get out of here as fast as possible. Even as she grabbed her suitcase it was obvious it had been opened - it wasn't locked anymore. With another long-suffering sigh, and trying to ignore the glower of a woman in a TSA uniform, she popped it open, to reveal a tangled mess of clothing. Given that they obviously didn't want her here - and she shared the feeling - she rapidly shoved stuff around into a bit less of a chaotic heap before closing the case. This time making sure it was properly locked. God, the MCO here were so petty. As she picked the case up, she noted the additional orange stickers on it. Those would have to come off as soon as she got out of here.
JFK Airport, Terminal 8
Disembarking last from a plane meant waiting a good fifteen minutes, the last five of which was spent waiting as patiently as possible while everyone else exited. Even though the figure in the faded gray hoodie was not the only one with that idea, they were the one most aggressive in its deployment. Patience had been a hard-won virtue, and the use of it was now rigorous.
The man next to the figure was a fairly typical looking business traveler clad in a gray pinstriped suit and sporting perfectly styled hair which showed white at the temples, atop a blandly handsome but nondescript face. He stayed seated as well, also accustomed to the art of disembarkation.
“Sorry about asking you questions the entire flight; it's just, I follow the news and to have you sitting here, right next to me, well... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that.”
A gentle ghost of a smile showed itself as the head of the figure shifted, displaying hints of the hourglass figure beneath... as well as the slight twitching bumps on the head. The lovely soprano that had been music to his ears for the entire boring flight sounded again.
“It's alright. You were nice about it at least; nicer than the reporters were, at any rate.”
“Oh, ouch. You wound me, my dear.”
He grabbed his chest in mock hurt and flopped back in his seat, earning him a slight giggle for his efforts, as well as an admonishment.
“You shouldn't do that. People might get... ideas.”
He waved that thought off. “Nonsense my dear. If anyone says something, I'll simply set them straight. You've been more than kind to me, satisfying my curiosity. I know it couldn't be an easy thing to talk about.”
The figure shrugged in that apathetic way that all teens seemed to have, especially when discussing things they rather wouldn't. “Well, I'm told I need to talk about it more. Some sort of bottling up nonsense. I think psychologists make that crap up or use stock phrases for everyone or something.”
“They do. But it doesn't make it any less true or useful. Speaking about it today helped, didn't it? Even if you didn't get that sleep you wanted?”
Another smile, this one stronger. “Yeah, yeah it did. So we should probably get out of here now, that flight attendant is looking at us, and I think she wants to finish clearing the passengers.”
“Quite right young lady, and I'm the one holding up the process, being closer to the aisle. My apologies.”
He got up and stood to one side as she stretched and yawned, pulling the two remaining bags from the overhead compartment. His own small tan suitcase he kept, holding up the battered blue duffel bag emblazoned with a rather generic cat mascot. She accepted it gently from his hands.
He led the way off the plane. She could tell it was against his chivalrous side and thanked him again in her head for that. At the entry to the jetway, he held out a hand in front of her and she stopped, curious. He stuck his head out and took a look, then stepped out.
“Looks free of reporters. You're safe.”
That smile was the biggest yet; the sun peeking out from a cloud lined sky. “Thanks.”
She stepped out, taking in the crowd. “Is it always this busy?”
He looked around with a chuckle. “Normally, actually. A far cry from Redding.”
The nod threatened to dislodge the hood; a quick hand caught the edge before it could tip back in a movement that spoke of long practice. At least the airport was air conditioned, something people in suits and concealing clothes alike could appreciate.
“Well here is where we part ways; got to make my flight to D.C. Do you mind if I come up and say hello if we see each other again?”
A fourth smile sallied forth. “I don't, but next time you get to tell me your life story; after all you got mine.”
He laughed. “Fair is fair, I suppose.”
Waves were exchanged, and the figure was alone again, with the politely smiling but vaguely hostile flight attendant still looking on. No one was even paying attention to her, which was a welcome change. She pulled out her phone; she didn't have time to find a quiet corner; her flight had been delayed by storms over Colorado and she was worried that even with the connecting flight being in the same terminal she couldn't stop or she would miss her flight.
Made it with no problems. Just some storms on the way. In New York now.
Text sent she pulled up her map on the phone, studying the tiny screen. Her connecting flight, a puddle jumper, was at the other end of the absolutely crowded terminal. Threading that crowd would be tiring.
The standard TSA station was at the entrance and exit of the terminal according to her map, but there was something else going on. She skirted the edges of the crowd, getting closer. And there, at the absolute center of the mess, was a security station, complete with scanner kiosks, that shouldn't be there. The map had that entire section and the walls separating it from the rest of the terminal listed as empty space. Everyone was going through the six line pile-up. A moment of observation revealed four of the lines were moving quite quickly, and the other two were stalled. They also revealed the distinctive logo of the MCO.
She sighed in relief; her own right to pass had already been purchased with time and embarrassment back in Redding. She got into one of the quicker moving lines.
New York Air Route Traffic Control Center
"You know how you said it was all going well for a holiday?"
Martin Straw looked over at the grinning MCO agent with a scowl. "Don't tell me, you think you're about to win the pool again, don't you?"
The man nodded, handing over a very official looking printout. "Here we go, a missive from the MCO via the FAA. Unspecified event in NY area, probably mutant or other supers involved. No details yet, but they are telling us to shut down everything to and from Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia until they find out more."
Martin sighed deeply. He hated lockdowns, they could screw up air traffic for hours at the minimum, and all the annoyed and angry passengers wandering around the airport didn't help in the slightest. Still, orders were orders. He placed the paper next to his terminal and started to make arrangements.
"Ok, first cut. Anything less than 20 minutes from landing gets in. Anything over an hour out from 1100 gets diverted. Then we'll do the rest on a case-by-case basis. Give the pilots a head-up first so they can look at possible airports. And see if there are any flights with known mutants or problem passengers, we may need to keep an eye on them."
His team started to busy themselves at the terminals, and in a couple of cases on the phone, in a well-rehearsed emergency protocol. Damn, just once he'd like to get through a month without someone declaring an emergency for no obvious reason.
The girl was visibly exhausted; she'd awakened way too early to catch her flight. The encounter with the MCO at the airport had been intimidating, leaving her in tears as she finished the check-in at the very prominent and separate MCO station. When she finally walked out, it seemed that everyone was staring at "the mutant", and so she slunk along to her gate, trying to be unobtrusive and hide. It wasn't easy; her carry-on bags bore large, insignia orange tags indicating that they had passed the MCO checkpoint; she could just as easily have been branded or wearing a T-shirt that said "Mutant" in huge, bright letters. Now, in New York, trying to get off the plane, the aisle was crowded - as usual for a plane - as people deplaning seemed to wander aimlessly and slowly up the jetway. Worse, they milled about once inside the terminal building, blocking the path so others behind them - on the jetway and still on the plane - couldn't move forward.
Moving forward. Laura couldn't help but scoff at those words. That's what her mother had called this adventure - moving forward, an opportunity to pick up her new life and forget the past. "Easier said than done," she muttered unhappily to herself as she thought of the past. How once she and her family had visited New York City for her father's business, a bouncy, energetic, enthusiastic kid eager to see the Big Apple. That was then. This was now. That bouncy, enthusiastic kid was gone, mutated into something so completely unrecognizable. The last time, the summer before she manifested, she'd been Larry Thorsen, a short, wiry, boy. Now she had a huge chore ahead of her - to carve out a new life as a girl, and without the familial support she'd had before.
How could she ever move past being so completely rejected by her older twin brothers Ron and Don and her father, 'Big Bob' Thorsen, part-owner of a successful barbecue restaurant chain? How could she get over being rudely expelled from a prestigious private school in Kansas City because she was suddenly a 'security threat'? How could she ever not feel that it was her fault that her parents had separated and were in the middle of fighting an ugly divorce? All of Larry's life crashed down around him the day he manifested, and then it got worse as his manifestation began to change him into what he was rapidly becoming - a fourteen-year-old girl.
At least Laura's mother and little sister Julie loved her. That thought brought a smile to her face as she recalled the tears in their eyes as she departed on her trip. The hugs and kisses and promises to call and text and e-mail often. Her little sister's gigantic, loving hug for her bigger sister. And her mom's and Julie's acceptance of her change, even when Larry admitted - reluctantly - that he wanted to change, that he'd always felt wrong. Mom had been so understanding of the change, and Julie squealed with the delight of a five-year-old girl who'd just been given a present, and she figured that, in the eyes of Julie, getting a big sister was a present. The memory of that delightful little exuberant hug wiped out even more of Laura's worry, and her eyes moistened with the remembrance of the acceptance and the sadness of their parting.
Her mom believed in her. Julie believed in her. She could do this, she told herself. Squaring her shoulders, she took small steps, her body half-twisted so her carry-on bags wouldn't hang up on the seats on either side of the aisle. Turning the corner toward the jetway, she faked a smile at the flight attendants who were giving their mandatory "Bye and thanks for flying with us. Have a nice day," platitudes to the throng of humanity that was in a rush to get off the airline's cramped metal tube with too many seats.
As she picked her way through the crowd that had inexplicably stopped just inside the terminal, she spotted a flight status board. Carefully, trying to avoid attention despite having royal blue hair hanging down to her shoulders, she ducked and dodged until she got near the board. With dismay, she hear the loud grumbling and complaining as she neared, and her fears of something being wrong were confirmed when she saw that not just her connecting flight, but all flights were listed as delayed or canceled. "Oh, shit!" she swore to herself.
At least people weren't calling out her hair color; the New York airport had more than its share of punk, rebellious, and artsy kids who wore strange clothing, had numerous piercings or tats, or had hair in almost any imaginable shade. Laura's hair stood out - but only as a kid who wanted to be different, not incite rebellion against all adult authority. The rest of her outfit - jeans, a polo shirt with a blue-and-white pattern, and sneakers, offset most of the rebellious look, and her nails were painted to match her hair, so Laura appeared as an independent, attractive young lady who wanted to make a mild statement with her hair.
At that moment, the loudspeaker clicked on. "A reminder - due to enhanced security measures, all holders of an MID are required to check in at a temporary MCO checkpoint on the concourse before proceeding to their next flight or leaving the airport."
Laura winced; she didn't have an MID - yet; there was a loophole in the law that allowed students traveling to her new school to not need one, so she had a letter documenting her travel. Even so, it seemed that the MCO wasn’t particularly fond of this loophole, as her use of that letter rather than an MID had been the main source of her problems dealing with them back in Kansas City.
Shaking her head Laura realized she had a problem. Her self-doubt came back as she realized that she was a mutant high-school freshman stuck in the Big Apple with very little cash, no credit card, and only a cell phone and a number to call in her Whateley information packet. She wasn’t supposed to need muchmoney because of Whateley’s pre-made travel arrangements, which Laura's mom had taken advantage of when the school offered because of everything else going on in their lives. Feeling a bit helpless, Laura wandered through the crowd, dejected, and slunk over by a wall, away from the biggest part of the crowd. She turned to slip one of her carry-on bags off her shoulders to find the information packet.
From the corner of her eye, she saw a blur moving toward her, and as she instinctively looked towards the unexpected motion, something tugged very hard on her shoulder. She felt the shoulder strap pulling down her arm, scraping and chafing, and then she stumbled from the sudden force, still trying to figure out what had happened. In the fraction of a second it took for her to recover her balance, she saw a young man running down the concourse with her carry-on bag.
"He stole my bag!" she screamed to hopefully alert someone to help her, and then she took off after the thief. "Stop him! He stole my bag!"
A large man stepped in front of her. "Miss," he said, blocking her path and speaking sternly, "you need to check in."
"He stole my bag!" Laura protested, trying to move around the man, but he blocked her. She started to feel panic again at her desperate situation.
"Your first priority is to comply with an MCO directive," the man ordered, glaring at her. People were staring, a lot of people, both because of her screaming about the theft and the loud orders the MCO agent was giving her.
"But ... he stole my bag!" Laura was nearly in tears. "And you're letting him get away!"
The man pointed to the bright orange sticker on her remaining carry-on bag. "That sticker says that your first priority is to follow MCO directives." He glared at her. "Now!" Taking her by the shoulder in his huge, beefy hand, he steered Laura to the line of mutants who were checking in at the temporary MCO station.
"But ... my bag!"
"Report it when you finish checking in," the man growled.
Laura looked at the line; there were four people in front of her, and two agents at the temporary desk, and from the sound of things, these guys were as big of assholes as the MCO agents in Kansas City. The large man stood near her as if to emphasize that she was going to comply and not try to chase down the thief or find a police officer. Not until after she checked in with the MCO.
It had taken almost fifteen long minutes before Laura got to the counter, fifteen minutes in which she knew the thief was getting away; by the time the MCO man called her to his table, she knew the thief was almost certainly long gone, and with him, her bag.
"MID card," the officer demanded, sounding almost angry.
"Um, I don't have one," Laura said meekly.
"Travelling with no MID?" The man got a wicked grin as if he loved handling problem mutants. "That's a felony offense."
"Um," Laura stammered, frightened by the man - which was his intent, "I have a letter ... from the MCO in Kansas City," she replied, digging through her purse. "They told me there's a provision for students traveling to some special schools." She handed the paper to the man; fortunately, that hadn't been in the carry-on bag that had been stolen.
"Let me see your bags," the man demanded. Dutifully, Laura put her remaining small carry-on bag on the table next to her purse. The man glowered at them, looked at the note, and then looked at the bags again before looking up to Laura. "This says you have two bags and a purse. Where's the other bag?" he demanded.
"Someone stole it," she replied, her lip trembling.
"I'll have to see the report that it was stolen."
"But ... it was just stolen, and that man," she looked at the stocky man who'd stopped her, "wouldn't let me go after the thief, or even report it!"
"You checked in with two carry-on bags and a purse. You have only one carry-on bag now. It's a violation of the rules for a mutant to discard luggage in a security-controlled area," he said with a serious frown.
"I didn't discard it, it was stolen!" Laura cried. "I just told you!
"But you don't have a police report," the man continued in a deceptively calm but stern voice, knowing full well the facts but antagonizing the mutie girl. The game went around and around for over five minutes, all the while Laura became more distraught at the man's unwillingness to listen to reason.
Finally, the man gave in. "Affix this to your remaining bags," he said, shoving two stickers on their backing paper toward Laura. "And try not to lose any more of your luggage!" He turned away from her. "Next!" he called out, already ignoring the sobbing girl at his station.
By now completely rattled, Laura stumbled away from the MCO check-in station, looking for a policeman or any other type of security officer. When she found one, he kept looking strangely and suspiciously at her, but directed her to a security station, where a rather bored-looking older woman sat, watching people walking back and forth as if that was her entire job. Laura stepped up to the counter. "Excuse me?" she asked meekly.
The woman, overweight but not quite obese, looked up at her. "Can I help you?"
Laura nodded. "Someone stole my bag," she said, her voice trembling from the theft and then the treatment at the hands of the MCO.
"How long ago?"
"About twenty minutes," Laura answered.
The woman scowled. "Why didn't you report it immediately?" she demanded.
"Because ... because the MCO officer wouldn't let me until I checked in!" Laura started sobbing, fatigue and emotional stress starting to show on her.
The woman's eyes narrowed. "A mutant, eh?" She tried not to show her disdain, but the slight shake of her head, the half-roll of her eyes, and the slow, deep exhalation made it all too clear how she felt about mutants.
"Uh, yes, ma'am," Laura answered, now feeling intimidated by this person as well.
"Okay, describe the bag and its contents," the woman said after a brief pause. She pulled her keyboard closer so she could take notes on her computer.
Working a bit from memory and a lot from looking at what wasn't in her other bag, Laura managed to get an inventory - and the more she discovered missing, the more distraught she was. The bag had contained her toiletries, her nightshirt, two changes of underwear, two change of clothing - including her favorite T-shirt, and the information packet from Whateley. Worst of all, though, was the fact that the bag had contained her makeup. She had a limited supply in her purse, but the majority of her special makeup had been in the bag. And now it was gone.
The woman finished the report and looked up, bored once again. "Okay," she announced unenthusiastically, "I'll alert security to watch for the bag. And the janitorial staff - sometimes, they'll take a bag into a restroom, pilfer anything valuable, and toss the rest. But if it's like most of these guys, he's probably long gone from the terminal so he could have tossed your stuff anywhere." She shrugged. "There's not much more we can do." With that, she dismissed Laura by going back to her game of watching people.
Disheartened, Laura turned away from the counter, just in time to bump into a girl who was quick-stepping through the terminal building. She had to have been moving quickly; Laura was knocked onto her backside, barely catching herself in an ungraceful sprawl on the floor. At least the girl turned, possibly to apologize.
At the same time, a little girl of five or six, walking with her mother, looked at Laura, sitting on her rear with her hands splayed out behind her like she was crab-walking. "Mommy," she demanded in a loud, little-girl whine, "why is that lady blue?"
Laura's mouth dropped open in shock at the words, and she looked down.
The makeup on her arm over which the bag strap had been pulled was smudged and scraped away in places, exposing some of her natural light-blue skin color. Laura looked up at the girl, and her mother, and realized that the little girl's statement had drawn more attention; several people were standing, mouths agape, staring at Laura's arm.
Overwhelmed by the events of the day, Laura fled, fearful and sobbing, to the fortunately nearby restroom.
New York Air Route Traffic Control Center
"Sir, got a couple of problem flights inbound."
Martin stopped listening to the chatter of his tower as pilots started asking if it was safe to land, and his ATC's reassured them. Fucking MCO, screwing up his traffic. He sighed and reached for his coffee, only to scowl when he realized he'd already emptied it.
"What is it, and why can't we divert them somewhere?"
His assistant gave him a sympathetic look. They'd been working like beavers on crack for the last half hour thanks to some security cretins worry about a radioactive mutant gerbil or something equally dangerous, and by now even the highly trained air traffic controllers and their supervisors were getting a bit strained.
"Two flights, one Russian, one Japanese. Both flagged as having diplomats on board. JAL 382 Heavy wants to know what's the reason for the staged shutdown of our airspace, they have a diplomat onboard and have at least 1 hour of fuel."
Martin took a look at his display and zeroed on the JAL logo. "Inform them MCO requested a safety shutdown and the FAA obliged, and that the airspace is safe, and given pattern, they should remain on course."
"And the Russian? They have more fuel, we could divert them easily."
"Oh, wonderful." He thought for a few seconds, then gave a mental shrug.
"Let them land. It's not worth all the screaming we'll get if we send a couple of diplomats to Poughkeepsie instead of JFK. Copy it to the MCO, if they are worried, they can always meet the flights themselves and do some actual work for a change."
His controller cleared her throat. "The Japanese flight is listed as carrying mutants."
Martin gave her a cold stare. "So? That's the MCO's problem. They have the data; let them handle all the phone calls from the embassy if they want to hold up people with diplomatic papers."
A New York City Boutique
Quite a ways from JFK Airport -- practically on the other side of the city, in fact -- a girl was sitting on a complementary bench in a changing room in some upscale boutique, the name of which she'd never bothered to remember. Her cousin would chew her out for that, later, she knew, but young Erica von Abendritter simply could not find it in herself to care. The fact that she'd needed to dress up in something besides her usual jeans and gaming tee-shirt was enough of an annoyance in itself.
New York City was a new experience, Erica had decided. For a kid raised in Arkansas, it might as well have been an alien planet for all its weirdness. Not even the Ozark Mountains had that much up and down to them, for all that the land was as flat as Oma's pancakes. The last three days had been a long series of museums and tourist stops, punctuated by shopping, and an amazing amount of the time had been spent on stairs and elevators, most of which led to more stores. While it was a far more mundane experience than, say, getting kidnapped by Nazis, Erica was pretty certain she still preferred the latter.
And now, even after her shop-a-holic cousin had been safely whisked away to the far-off realm of Indiana to continue her studies, she was still stuck in the shopping cycle. Her grandmother would not even allow her to bring her 3DS along for entertainment, so she was contenting herself with a third read-through of a book on World War II historical heroes and villains. There were highlights on almost every page. She sighed, theatrically.
"Oh, don't be like that, liebchen," her grandmother chided. Winifred von Abendritter was a serious-looking older woman, but no one would ever say that she was old -- a fact that she took some delight in. But for the silver hair and the laugh lines, she and her granddaughter had faces like a matched set, with strong Teutonic features and piercing blue eyes. Old family photos would show that Erica's golden locks ran in the family as well. "We have time to spare, and you need the experience."
"But nothing. I know how much you like to shop," Oma said dryly, "and I've let your cousin Penny take the reins for most of this trip, but she's not here now, and you'd best learn to manage without her. Besides, it's not like you're alone in this."
Oma nodded to the changing booths, where a door was rattling slightly. After a moment's difficulty, or perhaps nerves, the partition swung open to let the third member of their little excursion out. "Ah, yes. How does it fit, Calliope dear?"
Fiorella Persico preferred to call herself Calliope, or just Cally, for reasons that Erica still wasn't sure about. Sure, that was the name on her MID, but that didn't mean she needed to go by her code name all the time. Erica surely wasn't going to go around demanding that people call her Eisenmädel, after all. The Italian girl was a little taller than she was, and almost a half-year older, with dark brown hair streaked with gold to match Erica's own. The two of them had met over the summer when she'd needed to get checked over by specialists at a center up in New Hampshire. One of those had been Cally's older brother, who'd been happy that his little sister could make a new friend while visiting the U.S.
They'd only discovered later on that the two of them were attending the same school nearby, but oh, hadn't that been a happy surprise! Erica was all ready to give this roommate thing a try. The fact that Cally liked role-playing games as much as she did, well... that was, as Oma would say, wie die Kirsche auf dem Kuchen -- with the cherry on the cake.
Right now, however, she was feeling a bit jealous of how her friend was looking in that new dress, all dark blue with white highlights. Not that she'd ever admit to it. The last thing she needed was to give Oma another excuse to put her in a new outfit. The pile of bags sitting next to her was big enough as it was.
The Italian girl twirled around, looking about as nervous and self-conscious as Erica had felt twenty minutes ago when it had been her turn. All that was left now was the official grandmotherly opinion, which was interrupted by a chirpy imitation of the "Ode to Joy" emanating from the older woman's bag.
"Yes? Oh, Adolf!" said Oma. "What are you... oh."
Oh, indeed. Uncle Adolf should have been flying somewhere over Pennsylvania at the moment, with her Aunt Margit and cousin Penny in his personal Cessna. If there was one thing Erica had learned from the past summer's crazy hijinks, it was that a random call from Uncle Adolf never bode well for somebody. The last time, there had been explosions. Really big ones.
"What do you think is going on?" Cally asked her quietly. The Italian girl looked like she wanted to sit down, but was too afraid of ruining the dress.
"You tell me," Erica said in reply. Oma had moved off a fair ways from where they waited, and her ears couldn't work that far.
"She's... worried, a little," said Cally. Golden eyes squinted a little. "Her... how do you say? Aura? Whatever. She is not liking what she is hearing, but it is not troubling her too much for now."
"That's a relief." For a moment, Erica had been afraid that the Nazis were about to catch up with them again. Or the terrorists. Or someone else entirely. It was hard to say just what would happen when Uncle Adolf was involved. Nervously, she flexed her arm, watching the muscles bulge and strain against the fabric for a second before releasing them to their quiet state.
Calliope was humming a tune now, simple as a lullaby but quite a bit jauntier. Erica could almost feel the notes hanging in the air, spreading feelings of ease and calm. Quietly, she wondered who the Italian was trying to soothe, her friend or herself.
"Ja, ja," her grandmother was saying as she walked back over. Erica tensed up a little, despite the song. Oma always lapsed back into colloquial German when things got serious. "Gut. And be sure to let Hans know soon. Dankeschoen. Call if you find out more." The older woman hung up and then looked at the girls with a shrug. "It looks like we may have to alter your travel plans, liebchen. Oh, and that one last walk through Central Park will have to wait for another time as well."
JFK, Terminal 8
Bianca let out a faint sigh, then stood up straight, trying to act confident and in control. She didn't want anyone to see how nervous she actually felt because that could be seen as a sign of weakness, and as she'd been warned, that could be very dangerous for her. Making the change from Terminal 4 to Terminal 8 without her bodyguard had made her nervous. While her companion was almost certainly missing due to chance, there was always the possibility it had been a deliberate act.
A minute later, she went to check the arrival/departure board. "Right on time," she muttered in relief. Then as she watched, the status of her departure flight changed from 'on time' to 'delayed', along with every other departing flight. "Just my luck," she groaned.
For a brief moment, Bianca just stood there, feeling worried and wondering what to do. Then she remembered that she'd been given an emergency contact from the school, just in case something went wrong on the journey there. Pulling out her cell phone she considered herself fortunate to get through quickly. "Hello," she told the woman on the other end of the phone. "This is Bi...," she started, then paused as she remembered that she'd been told to use her codename. "This is Glyph. There's a problem with my flight..."
After Bianca had explained the situation, the woman on the other end said, "We'll be sending someone shortly to assist you and the other students. Please wait in the terminal where your flight was scheduled to depart from..."
When she hung up a minute later, she let out a faint sigh of relief. She felt a little better for having a plan, and for the assurance that she wasn't going to just be abandoned in a strange airport and expected to find her own way. With that, Bianca picked her carry-on bag up again and started towards Terminal 8, where she was supposed to meet up with this Whateley representative. However, her stomach chose that moment to grumble, and she decided that she had plenty of time to stop and grab something to eat on the way. Of course, as this was her first time flying she wasn't familiar with the 'food' available at an airport.
Whateley Academy Security Department
Sandra Daley was a consummate professional. A secretary and receptionist for the temporary agency "Files first" for ten years, she had seen much and done more. She was the agency's best, with a solid work ethic, ironclad discretion and bottomless well of patience.
But what was happening now was sorely testing the depths of that well.
She answered her 23rd phone call in the last 10 minutes. The person on the other end would never know just how frustrated she was at being forced to answer the phones for the entire complex alone while everyone else ate lunch.
"Whateley Academy, how may I help you?"
The voice on the other end was tense and hesitant as if afraid Sandra would bite her through the phone. Knowing the place as she'd come to know it over the last week, that might not be an unreasonable expectation.
"Hello, This is Bi... this is Glyph. There is a problem with my flight out of New York. It seems to be delayed indefinately. All the flights are."
Sandra had sat through an exhausting day detailing all the circumstances in which emergency measures could be used, and what those measures were. She knew this was one of those circumstances, and the proper number confirmed it. A glance at her computer screen confirmed that all flights out of New York airports that Whateley had flagged had been delayed for an unknown reason. A quick search also confirmed the presence of a student named Glyph in her files, no real name, part of a batch of students ear-marked as P2. Which stood for Poe batch two. Poe was a cottage, and the students placed there were usually brought in first. No one had told Sandra why, and she wasn't paid to speculate.
"We'll be sending someone shortly to assist you and the other students. Please wait in the terminal at the departure gate for your connecting flight. Just sit tight Glyph, help is on the way."
She had been paid extra to use the code names, a practice she still viewed as unnecessary. But she was a professional and was not paid for her beliefs on the matter. What now had to happen was quite clear. The phones to security were all busy. Every single line.
Sandra sighed. There were no 'gophers' around either, no one else she could con into taking the message. She could stay and keep calling, but this was an emergency or a potential one. She could leave her desk, but she would be playing catch-up the rest of the day if she did. It was a good walk to security, and Sandra wouldn't run. That would break decorum.
With a sigh she flipped her phone over to the automated network; it would now take messages and give various recordings based on the line called until she was back. She didn't trust the network, as it missed properly sending calls to the correct departments sometimes something about available lines and routing. That was why she was stuck walking to security now. This was security's problem, and the sooner she handed it over to them, the better.
New York, Near JFK Airport
Steel Falcon sat on the top of the skyscraper and brooded. He'd gotten into this business to do some good, but not being one of the chosen few - the mutants, the hosts for weird forces or spirits, the cyborg super soldiers or any number of the other weirdos meant that for all his good intentions, he was forever going to be second (or when he was drunk and honest with himself, third) tier.
He had many things going for him; a brother that knew a mutant, a gadgeteer, and who gave him all kinds of things to test out in his nightly jaunts in the city. Usually no questions asked and an admonishment not to use his name anywhere, which was why Falcon decided they weren't actually friends themselves.
That and the one night he came home early after breaking up a jewelry store robbery, fighting the fight of his life and catching the villain responsible, only to find his brother and his gadgeteer friend laughing about him being a Batman clone. Complete with angst. The Gadgeteer had promptly apologized, but seriously, how could he make devices for the cause and not understand the city was a festering pool of corruption?
All Falcon wanted to do was be able to walk down the street and not feel the slime and filth seeping past his street clothes. The minute he felt that possible, he would hang up his reinforced bodysuit and wings forever; it was far more intelligent to let the powered handle their own anyway. He wasn't insane, just civic minded.
His frequency scanner continued its mindless scroll of police and other authority bands, stopping on one he didn't normally get anything from; the channel reserved for JFK's airport security.
Be advised all outbound flights are delayed. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has declared all flights grounded pending further notice, due to a manhunt for a super-powered fugitive. That is all the information we have at this time.
Well there went his peaceful morning. As a cape without powers, he could easily investigate the airport without setting off the alarms, and he could do it in his civilian identity using his holographic imaging disguise; the MCO hadn't been able to foil it yet; he had tested it last year. And it wasn't likely any supers would respond since the MCO security "presence" liked to cause trouble for them when they could. They had no beef with The Steel Falcon, however, mainly because they didn't know how he got his gear. Someone would have to watch the airport; someone both sides would trust.
Decision made Steel Falcon spread his wings and flew. He would have to fly very low to avoid all the planes on hover; smacking into a 767 or Airbus would really screw up his day.
American Airlines Flight 5193, Memphis - JFK
“Aww, that’s so COOL!” proclaimed the five-year-old boy who was currently belted into Tanya’s assigned seat, gazing excitedly out of the airplane window.
“I know, right?” Tanya replied back with a broad grin. She’d hit it off with young Ryan almost as soon as he and his mom had taken their seats next to her back in Memphis, and she’d been more than happy to offer him her window seat when she found out it was his first flight. She’d then spent a large part of the following four and a half hours chatting with the little guy about what all he wanted to do when he got to New York. His mother, who had introduced herself as Linda, had seemed quite grateful for the chance to rest a bit, apparently not put out in the least by the lavender hair and violet eyes that Tanya had decided not to hide.
And now that the seatbelt sign had been turned on and the plane was descending, Tanya got to enjoy watching Ryan’s face as the famous New York skyline finally came into view. It was a simple joy that she hadn’t expected, but she cherished it nonetheless.
Once the plane finally set its wheels to the ground with a shudder, Tanya discretely unfastened both buckles so the two could promptly switch back to their proper seats, just in case the flight attendants decided to take note. Ryan offered her the kind of quick but genuine embrace that only a five-year-old was capable of before leaning over and clinging tightly to his mother. Linda hugged the boy close and offered Tanya a warm and grateful smile of her own, which Tanya happily returned.
As the plane pulled up to the terminal, Tanya mentally went through her checklist. Now that she’d arrived at JFK airport, she’d have to disembark and make her way to the connecting flight that would take her the rest of the way to Berlin, New Hampshire. From there she’d be taking a bus to the small town of Dunwich where she would meet a shuttle from the school. A quick glance at the time display on her phone told her that her flight had actually been a bit delayed, and she would only have about forty minutes to make her connection. She felt that should be plenty of time, as long as she didn’t get delayed by anything else.
Goosebumps of excitement spread across her body. She was finally going to WHATELEY!!! She’d known for a couple of months now that she’d be going to the school her mom and the Wardens had told her so much about, but now it just seemed so much more REAL.
Well everyone, as you can see we’ve finally arrived at the Big Apple’s John F. Kennedy International. We at American Airlines hope you’ve enjoyed this flight and eagerly desire to accommodate you again for your traveling needs. Please be advised, the FAA has issued an emergency grounding of all departing flights at this time, in response to a federal threat advisory. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
Tanya’s head spun as she met Linda’s questioning gaze. All flights were grounded? What could that be about?
I’m sorry, but I’ve also just been informed by airport officials to remind everyone that they should be sure to check in with security upon disembarking the plane. This includes any individuals who may be traveling with an MID. Again, we apologize for any inconvenience.
Over New York State, American Airlines Flight 2033, Philadelphia - Boston
The young teen was jarred out of his fantasy novel as the stewardess clipped his elbow hard enough to send tingling pains down his arm. He rubbed at it, shooting her a nasty look as she continued up the aisle to the first-class section. With a twist and flick of his fingers, he reopened his GridGear's display and scrolled through the apps to re-load his reader. There was little hardware involved in the device, just the projection systems, and the motion sensing parts all tucked into the wristband on each wrist and the ring on his left hand.
"While our staff sets up for your mid-flight snack, you might be interested in taking a look out the right side of the plane. We have a nice clear view of New York City off in the distance there, and if you look carefully down in the Bay; you can see Lady Liberty... the statue, of course, not the superheroine. It isn't a great view, but considering there are alerts going out about some sort of paranormal troubles; you should be very glad that your flight today goes directly into Boston instead of the Big Apple. At this time, all flights out of the city are postponed."
The teen glanced to the right from his left side seat on the aisle and sighed in frustration before running his hand through his scruffy brown hair. Not a one of the three sitting there or in the rows ahead or behind them made any effort to glance out the window. Complacent, all of them. With super-powered battles. With flying. With the little in-flight snack and their tiny rows of seats. He hadn't even started high school yet and he already felt cramped in what little space he was expected to use on the plane. How did adults put up with it?
His wristband pinged and his fingers flicked through the motions to open the text window:
[Broggy] Get on your flight alright, Jimmy?
[EyesOpen] Sure thing, boss. Thought I'd have to use big guns to get dad up in time to make it, though.
Broggy was Detective Vincent Braughnan, and the closest thing Jimmy had had for a boss for the past few years... and maybe the closest thing to a parent. Cops worked long hours and they rarely had time to handle basic things like getting food or coffee, having their uniforms pressed, or any of a hundred things normal people did during lunch breaks or during working hours. So downtown cop shops would attract errand runners. Kids who, for a couple quarters, would run a couple blocks to the officer's favorite bakery or deli and grab the basics. Some of the kids even kept their eyes open and passed along info about what was happening in town... often things that would stop the moment a cop was in sight would play out in full view of a kid. No one cared about the kids. But that didn't stop the kids from feeling like they did something important in helping take care of the cops.
For Jimmy, Broggy was everything that was right about law enforcement. He cared about the people he served. He knew all the kids names, every runner... every pair of eyes. Everyone knew that if someone tried to hurt a kid, the cop to go to was Detective Broggy. He listened and he made sure the lawyers did everything possible to keep them safe. Even if that meant fighting a parent who would just go right back to abusing the kid.
[Broggy] You didn't get caught up in the mess going on up in NYC did you?
[EyesOpen] Nossir. Pilot was just telling us about some no-fly stuff. Don't know much else.
[Broggy] You should be ok as long as you're not in NYC. If you do have any trouble in Boston, you let me know. Davidson has a cousin on the force there. We'll get you a police escort all the way to your school if we have to.
[EyesOpen] I don't think we'll have to do that.
[Broggy] Alright then. If you don't need any help in Boston, you let us know when you're safe on board your train and heading to the school? I'll let the boys know how your trip is going.
[EyesOpen]Thanks, Detective. *the channel pinged closed*
His legs felt cramped and he wanted to get up and stretch or something, but he had a feeling the moment he stood up; the stewardess would be back with the cart. Jimmy gave one more reluctant glance toward the windows and the potential troubles in New York before putting his nose back in his book.
A Secret Lab, somewhere in New York (possibly, but then it is a secret lab...)
The ringing phone interrupted the labcoat-clad figure just as he was about to take a blood sample from the wriggling lab rat being held by her assistant, who was also in a labcoat, gloves, and a surgical mask. "Phone, on," the woman commanded in a gruff voice. "speaker!"
In the background, a click sounded, and the room was filled with the noise from the caller's phone.
"This is Silverplate. You're interrupting my work, Foxhound Two."
"I think I've confirmed the target has arrived, but there are complications."
"What complications?" The woman in the labcoat wasn't happy, judging by the sound of her voice.
"Target's flight has been canceled. There's something big going down; the MCO had the FAA hold _all_ departing flights."
"Our target?" the woman asked with a worried frown.
"Negative. Target is safe."
"How certain are you that you've got the target?"
"Very certain. There's enough revealed that matches the subject." The voice on the other end paused. "Do you want me to take action?"
The labcoat woman shook her head vigorously. "Negative. Observe discretely. You will intervene _only_ if necessary to protect the target from harm. Otherwise, just ensure the subject gets to the destination where other operatives will take over."
"Confirmed. Observe and protect if necessary. I'll report anything else that's unusual. Out." The overhead speaker clicked off.
Phone, off," the woman commanded, and then turned back to the little white rat still doing it's best to escape her assistant's hands. "Now, my precious little friend," she purred to the rat as she once again hefted a syringe, "time to give us a little more serum."
JFK International Terminal 1
The Japanese boy walked down the jetway following the beautiful, self-confident Japanese girl who had attendants from Japan Airlines on either side of her, asking continually if she needed anything, offering any and all help they could give. To others disembarking from the plane, it seemed that she was getting all the attention, even though she seemed to be put off by it a little. It wasn't surprising; though she appeared about fifteen, she was dressed like a professional businesswoman, with a skirt of red silk and a blazer patterned in red and gold over a simple camisole of white and gold, with simple but tasteful jewelry. Though somewhat short, her three-inch heels added to her stature. She carried a small handbag; the JAL attendants each carried one of her bags. Her figure was almost perfect for a Japanese young lady, and she was very attractive, carrying herself with an almost regal air.
The boy was a completely different story. Also around fifteen or sixteen, his steel-blue cargo pants were decidedly casual, and his cream-colored poet shirt with laces instead of buttons and full sleeves that seemed a bit medieval, and tai-chi slippers made him look like a flamboyant tourist or a male model. Or gay. Considering the bemused and upset stares he was receiving, it was probably a combination of all of those, in that he looked quite 'pretty' in a strangely bisexual way that was definitely catching the eye of many a girl and woman who walked past. The loose leather jacket he carried over his shoulder in the style of an American movie star added a bit of masculinity to his appearance, and the loose-fitting outfit didn't really disguise that he was well-built like Bruce Lee, and not some muscle-bound weightlifter. He looked sleek and very fit, and that didn't diminish his sex appeal in the slightest.
<Damn, that boy is handsome! I wish I were forty years younger!>
Taka Ono, the Japanese boy, turned at the words and saw an older Japanese woman eyeing him appreciatively. He felt his cheeks redden but smiled pleasantly at her. At least he tried to smile pleasantly despite being embarrassed.
<I bet he gets a lot of girls,> another woman walking with the first said, also smiling.
It was with gratitude that the JAL attendants decided that they could move; it took Taka Ono away from the line of women and girls staring at him longingly. As they walked, he couldn't help but reflect on his strange journey to this foreign land, destined for a school he'd never heard of, accompanying a girl who treated him more as a burden than as a traveling companion. Indeed, the entire government of Japan seemed to consider him a burden after he'd manifested and found out that he had a unique talent for rapidly acquiring martial arts and weapons skills. That had led him to wander the area as a hero for hire, a solitary throwback to heroes of a bygone era. But when he'd crossed one of the Yakuza gangs and the police in Tokyo, the government intervened. He'd been given a choice - leave Japan and attend this Whateley Academy or be thrown so deep in a prison that he might as well be part of the foundation.
At the head of the jetway, the attendants directed Myoujin Hikaru, the girl, and Ono Taka, the boy, off to one side, away from the rushing mob of people.
The girl turned to the boy, her visage stern. <What are the rules you must follow?> she politely demanded, her voice hard as iron and commanding.
Kenshin showed no nervousness. <I am not to start fights. I am not to join in a fight. I am only to defend myself when attacked. Unless I am attacked with a weapon, I am not to draw my sword. I am to pause to evaluate every situation before I act. I am to avoid all amerika-jin politics. I am not to antagonize police or security guards. I am to cooperate with all amerika-jin authorities.>
<You forgot the most important one,> the girl chided him. Besides the girl, the two female JAL attendants giggled behind their hands, even as one of them was clearly giving him the once-over, as had been several of the Japanese girls and younger women deplaning.
Kenshin winced slightly, speaking as they walked toward the Immigration and Customs station. <Ah, I am to be polite at all time and ensure that my behavior does not disgrace the Emperor or Nihon.>
One of the JAL employees bowed slightly. <Excuse me, Hikaru-sama. Your luggage, and that of your aide are waiting for you at the priority line.>
<Thank you. And Ono-san is not my aide. He is ... my responsibility until we get to the Whateley school.> She sounded less than thrilled at the task - and troublemaker - that she'd been assigned. She turned to Ono Taka. <Remember, you carry a diplomatic passport only as a convenience to me. Once we are through the amerika-jin customs, you will use your normal passport.>
Customs was easy as the two were traveling on diplomatic passports. Hikaru seemed quite relieved to have rid herself of the useful but annoying attendants from JAL; her goal was to keep a low profile, and having attendants around her worked counter to that goal. So did the outfit she was wearing, but she seemed ignorant of that fact.
As soon as they were on the other side of the customs checkpoint, however, two new JAL employees waited, taking Hikaru's bags without even asking. <Welcome to America, Hikaru-sama.> the male employee said, bowing formally. <We have a car waiting to take you to the secure area of your departure terminal so you will not have to go through the security checkpoints again.>
Car was an understatement. How they'd gotten a limo into the ramp area of the JFK airport was a puzzler, but the diplomatic flags of Japan flying on the fenders probably had something to do with that feat. Short moments later, refreshed by a bottle of soda from the limo's refrigerator, Taka Ono and Hikaru Myoujin walked into the concourse area of terminal eight, the terminal from which their Berlin, NH flight would depart. The concourse seemed more crowded than normal.
<Sumimasen, Hikaru-san,>one of the two JAL attendants interrupted with a bow. <Your flight to Berlin has been delayed. In fact, all departures have been delayed.>
<What?> the girl asked, startled, which caused the attendant to flinch. <Delayed? Why?>
<The announcement didn't say,> the attendant replied quickly.
"Attention on the concourse," a loudspeaker overhead blared. "Attention on the concourse. Due to heightened security, all MID holders must check in with the temporary MCO checkpoint. All MID holders in the secure area must check in at the temporary MCO checkpoint on each concourse.
Taka Ono looked around and quickly spotted the makeshift station. <There is where we check in, Hikaru-sama.>
Hikaru turned to the two JAL employees. <Thank you for your service.Please return to your normal duties so you can assist other passengers. Taka-san and I will take care of things from here on.> Her tone of voice left no doubt that the attendants were dismissed. Taking her bags from the somewhat stunned attendant who'd been carrying them for her and handing them to Kenshin, Hikaru set off determinedly toward the temporary checkpoint.
Hikaru walked past the two people in line directly to the table. "Excuse me," she half demanded, half asked.
The agent didn't even look up but pointed to the short line. "The line forms there."
"On diplomatic passports we travel," Kenshin attempted to point out to the MCO agent.
"I said, the line forms there," he repeated, a lot less politely, as if having his orders questioned was beyond his experience and alien to him.
Kenshin started to object again, but the girl's fingers lightly touching his arm distracted him, and from her expression, it was obvious that she didn't want to cause a scene, which she feared Kenshin would do. Correction, she knew Kenshin would cause a scene. Obediently, Kenshin walked to the end of the short line to wait their turn.
It seemed the MCO agents at the temporary desk were taking their time and being quite rude to the mutants in line; the lady at the head of the line was trying to answer questions barked angrily at her while also attempting to calm an infant in a stroller. Kenshin noted that her MID card had a red border, and that was drawing a lot of negative attention from the agents.
The girl touched a bangle on her arm, and a holographic image popped up, a foot-tall miniature Japanese lady in a red and gold business suit. <How may I assist you, Lady Hikaru?>
<What is the meaning of a red border on an MID card?> the girl asked.
<Red border is reserved for active, retired, or rehabilitated villains,> the Virtual Assistant replied almost immediately. While they waited in line, Hikaru and Kenshin learned more about the American version of the MID card. The more they learned, the less comfortable they felt; Unlike Japan, which classified all information on the Japanese Special Identification Cards and Restricted SICs, the American version classified almost nothing, leaving the data open to rampant abuse in Taka Ono's opinion. His suspicion was confirmed by Hikaru's virtual assistant.
"Next!" the agent barked. Kenshin dutifully stepped to the station and presented his MID. The agent frowned as he looked at the SIC. "Classified?" He glared at Kenshin. "MIDs are not classified!"
Kenshin handed the man his passport. "Classified SICs are in Japan," he said in broken English. "Travel on diplomatic passport," he added. Beside him, at the other agent's station, Hikaru was having much the same argument.
The agent angrily pushed the documents back. "Get this fake crap the hell out of my face and give me your real ID," he demanded of Kenshin.
Kenshin screwed up his face in puzzlement. "My real ID? You have."
The agent in front of Hikaru turned to the one 'helping' Kenshin. "Dave, you get one of these, too?" He was holding the girl's SIC card and diplomatic passport.
"Yeah," the one called Dave answered unhappily. "I've never dealt with any Japanese documents. Maybe we ought to check with the office to see how to handle this."
"Answer your questions, I did," Kenshin interrupted politely but firmly.
"Shut up, mutie!" the agent growled at him. "I ain't interested in your excuses."
"Goddammit," the other agent growled lowly, "Japan isn't cooperating at all on controlling the mutie menace. Just one teeny liaison office in Tokyo!"
"Where are you going to?" Agent Dave snapped at Kenshin.
"To Whateley Academy I go," Kenshin replied courteously.
"To study? Do you have a visa?"
"Passed through customs and immigration I did," Kenshin answered. "Satisfactory my paperwork is. Visa stamp ... in passport."
"Let me see that passport again," Dave demanded, practically snatching it from Kenshin's hand.
"Dave, I think this stuff is forged," the other agent with Hikaru commented acidly. "I think we better call HQ to see what they want us to do." He sounded a bit nervous; if the diplomatic credentials were, in fact, proper, then they could get into a world of shit if they mishandled this situation. The MCO couldn't afford to be in the middle of a major diplomatic incident.
The situation was threatening to get out of control very quickly, and Hikaru shot a warning glance at Taka to control himself.<Cooperate with authorities,> she directed Taka in case he'd forgotten.
"While we call for directions, you two can wait in our lounge, located by the security entrance," Dave said gruffly. The implication was clear - they were being detained, albeit under terms that sounded innocuous.
"You won't mind if I call the Japanese Ambassador for clarification on this little matter, will you?" Hikaru asked, her voice annoyingly calm and innocent.
The agent helping the Japanese girl sighed heavily; there seemed to be a lot of mutants traveling, and the lines were busy. He scanned the line, scowling, when suddenly his eyes went wide. Instead of a complaint about the 'damned muties', what came out of his mouth was a tiny squeak as he goggled at a girl back in the line. "Eeep." He elbowed his partner, staring transfixed at the girl. "Um, Dave, is that who I think it is?
Dave looked up from Kenshin's paperwork, and his eyes widened as well."Erk!" He gulped and nodded. "Yup, that's her!" he hissed to his mate.
The two officers' demeanors changed as if they'd turned a switch. "Uh, okay, it seems your paperwork is in order," Dave said smoothly. "We ... uh, we weren't ... familiar with Japanese MIDs, er, SICs," he made up an excuse on the fly, "and, so, you know, we wanted to be careful." He shoved the documents back at Kenshin with a sticker still on its peel-off backing. "Please put this sticker on your carry-on bags to indicate that you've checked in." He looked up at the next person in line with a pleasant smile - which was obviously, for him, a struggle. "Next, please."
Kenshin scooted to the side, but the Japanese girl said firmly, <Wait near me. This one claims his scanner is having problems reading my SIC and he's on the phone with his managers.>
While the second MCO agent fiddled with the scanner and spoke, somewhat flustered, with his headquarters, his partner quickly processed three or four more people. Then an American girl walked up to the table, wearing a slightly faded hoodie with her head covered, which was unusual for August in New York City, and baggy pants. More strikingly, her eyes were purple and her face was quite attractive.
"I hope this goes quickly" she said innocently, "because I have to get checked in and get to my next flight to Berlin, New Hampshire."
"May I see your MID, please?" Dave asked the newcomer politely.
The girl replied by pulling a card from her clutch purse and presenting it to the agent. Even from a distance, Taka Ono could see that the card had ratings enumerated on it, unlike the Japanese SIC cards. Unlike with the two Japanese kids, it took the agent only a moment to help the newcomer, and they were almost syrupy-sweet to her. It was a far cry from the gruff, bullying way they'd treated him and Hikaru-sama, although it seemed that their aggressiveness had abated sharply when someone important had gotten into the line.
"Excuse, please," Taka said to the girl as she turned away from the desk.
The girl turned, and Taka Ono found himself captivated by her lovely purple eyes. "Yes?"
"To Berlin you travel?" he asked in his stilted, awkward English. "Student at Whateley, perhaps?"
The girl frowned, but then relaxed somewhat at Taka Ono's golden eyes - an unnatural color marking him as quite probably a mutant like herself. "Yes. Are you going there, too?"
"Yes," he replied stiffly. "With Hikaru-sama. Introduce self. Am Ono Taka." He frowned, wrinkling his nose and rubbing the back of his head as he tried to deal with the unfamiliar language syntax. "No. Taka Ono is how you say?"
The girl smiled at him pleasantly. "Taka Ono?" She saw his nod. "Call me Tia." She extended her hand for a handshake.
"Moment please," Taka said before turning to the Japanese girl. <Hikaru-sama, do you think ....> He stopped when he saw the girl taking her cards back from the MCO agent.
"Japan is a very lovely country. Tokyo is a very exciting, vibrant city," Hikaru said sweetly to the MCO agent. "It's a pity that you and your fellow agents will never see it."
The MCO agent frowned at her. "What?" he asked, puzzled by her words.
"You ignore a diplomatic passport and lawfully-issued RSIC from the government of Japan, bully and delay unnecessarily a representative of the Imperial House of Japan, and you perhaps expect that I won't report this to the consulate? As if the Prime Minister needs any further excuse to eject your entire organization from my homeland!" She pasted on a predatory smile. "I'm certain your superiors will enjoy learning that your actions contributed to the expulsion of the MCO from Japan. Have a nice day." Smiling smugly at the stupefied expression on the agent's face, she turned back to her charge.
"Hikaru-sama, this girl Tia. Go to Whateley, she is."
Hikaru smiled and extended her hand. "Pleased to make your acquaintance. "Unlike Taka Ono, her English was flawless. She glanced at Taka. "Has this fool caused you any trouble?"
"No," Tia asked, eyeing the good-looking youth. "Does he do that?"
"More than you would believe." She sighed. "According to the JAL attendants," she reported with dismay, "all departures from New York City are delayed or cancelled." She glanced around the overly-full terminal and sighed.
Tia frowned. "All departures? Including to Berlin?" Seeing Hikaru's nod, she sighed heavily. "At least we don't have to run to catch our flight then. But what ...?"
Taka looked at Hikaru. <You can call the consulate to find out what to do?> he asked in Japanese.
The Japanese girl nodded. <Yes. And I need to report the actions of these two,>she gave a slight head nod in the direction of the temporary MCO station, <to the Consul General as well.> She smiled again. <The consulate will send a limo and make hotel and transportation arrangements.>
"Hai," Taka said.
"Since you are also destined for Whateley, you could share a ride," Hikaru offered to Tia.
Tia winced. "I probably should get hold of the school to find out what to do."
"Can you watch this fool while I contact the Japanese consulate?"
Tia nodded. "Yes, I suppose I can do that." She glanced around. "There are a couple of open chairs over there. We'll wait there, and I'll call Whateley to find out what to do."
Hikaru nodded. "Do you have a cell phone? In case we are separated?"
"My number is ...."
The Japanese girl touched the bangle, summoning the tiny holographic woman. <Kurenai-chibi-chan? Please send contact information to her phone.> The virtual assistant waved a hand toward Tia and then nodded. <Done.> Hikaru smiled. "My VA already scanned and got your phone number and sent you my contact information."
As Hikaru stepped off for a bit of privacy, Taka led Tia to the open chairs. Immediately, she took out her phone and flipped through her contacts, selecting one and putting the phone to her ear. After a few moments, she spoke, "I'm Lapin, and I'm traveling to Whateley. All the flights through New York are delayed." Her eyes widened a bit. "Oh? So what are we supposed to do?" She paused again, and as she held her phone, Taka Ono watched a pair of small and peculiar bulges under her hoodie shift.
"Okay, we'll meet them there." She hung up the phone and, putting it away, turned to Taka. "The school said we're supposed to meet one of their representatives at our scheduled departure gates. Apparently, there are several students in the same boat we're in."
Taka looked puzzled. "Boat? By plane we travel."
Tia chuckled. "The same situation. Stranded here in the airport." She stood. "Let's go meet the Whateley rep."
The Japanese boy frowned. "Wait for Hikaru-sama, I must," he protested.
The girl sighed, shaking her head. "Did she leave me in charge of you?" The boy winced but nodded. "Then we're going to the departure gate over there. I have her contact info, so I'll send her a text."
Reluctantly, the boy rose to his feet and walked beside the new girl. "Recognize you, I think," he said hesitantly, watching the girl's eyes widen in shock. "Name on phone, yes? Famous in Japan you are."
Lucretia's eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets. "Would you keep it down!?" she hissed at him. "I do not want any extra attention right now."
Taka recoiled as if stung. "Why? In Japan, many jobs. Good pay. Famous, no? In Tokyo, much money to earn for idol." He thought a moment, considering if what he wanted to ask was too forward. "See your ears, please?" he said very softly. "Pretty they look." He gave a big grin. "Fan of yours I am."
"No!" the girl replied, shocked and a touch angry. "That's ... a really bad idea here. We don’t really want the attention today, and you can never tell where reporters are lurking."
"Hai," Taka said. "Sorry. Not intended to offend."
"Sorry, too," Tia said, reining her anger back in. "I'm just a little ... sensitive about publicity," she confessed. "It's ... overwhelming at times."
Taka thought a moment, deciding to change the subject. "Why - MCO men act drunk with power?"
Tia sighed. "In America, mutants aren't well-liked."
"Why?" Taka asked. "In Japan, very special. Desire mutant children, families do." He smiled. "Good jobs. Respected. Gadgeteers most. At time of getting powers, job offers start."
"You're kidding me!" Tia looked ahead of them, at a collection of people around a gate that bore a label, 'Berlin, NH - cancelled'. "Looks like we're not the only ones," she said with a sigh. "Let's see what they're going to tell us to do."
JFK Airport, Terminal 8
After her phone call, Bianca wasn't at all surprised to find no evidence of the departure gate actually processing passengers, instead a slowly growing mass of disgruntled passengers were sitting around on the uncomfortable airport seats. She gave the area a quick survey, but it looked to her that this was indeed just a gate that wasn't boarding anyone, not any sort of trap for her. While she hadn't really thought that likely, she was, with good reason, paranoid about unexpected situations that left her alone in a crowd. So she looked around for somewhere to sit, preferably somewhere where she could put her back to a wall.
There wasn't a lot of choice - this was hardly a major flight departure, after all - but there was a suitable seat close to a couple of other teenagers. Giving them a curious look, she sat down and checked her surroundings again, just to be sure. Hmm, they had the tell-tale orange stickers on their bags too, even if they'd been careful not to be too obvious, but Bianca had learnt the hard way to keep an eye on the little details. So she gave them a calculating look - one that was returned with interest by a girl in a grey hoodie - before venturing a greeting.
"Are you heading to Whateley?" It seemed safe enough to her, after all if they weren't it wouldn't mean anything to them, after all. But why else would MCO-tagged teenagers be sitting at the Berlin flight gate?
The girl sat up a little straighter. "Yes, we are. Or at least I am; I'm not sure about him." She has a nice voice, Bianca thought, as she turned her attention to the Japanese boy sitting next to her. The girl continued. "I got him dumped on me by a Japanese lady; she intimated he was going there, but I think they were getting a car or something. She just told me to look after him." From her dubious tone of voice, the girl didn't sound terribly thrilled at being turned into an involuntary baby-sitter.
Well, Bianca reckoned she had to introduce herself at some point, she could hardly go around as The Girl With No Name, no matter how well that helped protect her identity. So she turned to face them properly and held out her hand. "Hi, I'm Bianca. I'm heading to Whateley too, or at least I will once they get this situation sorted out." The hoodied girl took her hand carefully, as she smiled back. "I'm Tia, and this is Taka Ono."
Secret Cephalopod base, somewhere in New York (yes, really New York this time)
"Sir, there's something interesting happening on the police bands."
The Mighty Squid turned to his minion, not pleased that his meditation had been interrupted, and raised an eyebrow arrogantly.
"Well, what is it, fool."
The minion sighed quietly, wondering yet again why he'd taken this gig. Oh, right, he'd been broke. And his previous employer had been arrested.
"There is some sort of disturbance going on, or about to go on. They are alerting various sections to heighten their alert status, and most of them seem to be being directed to Central Park. Nothing is actually going on yet, but it looks like something may be shortly."
The Squid thought for a few moments, hand absently caressing Albert. The small pet cephalopod wriggled in his little tank, waving a tentacle at his master, who finally came up with a plan of action.
"So the available police are being diverted to Central Park, and the rest will be tied up all day looking after the holiday parades," he smiled down at Albert. "Well, time for us to take advantage." Carefully setting the tank down on a table, he stood up and addressed the men who were busy (or at least trying to look busy) around his lair. "Since the police will be distracted, we are going to move up the operation to rob the jewellery store on 29th street. Get the plans out, get everyone here and into uniform. Make sure everyone has their weapons. We'll head out as soon as whatever it is the police are waiting for in Central Park happens."
The men present exchanged a few glances, but for once their leaders actions seemed sensible - the less police around when they did their robbery, the happier they would be. While their activities were hardly those of a well-oiled professional gang, they were only going to rob a local jewellers shop after all, not Tiffanys.
New York MCO Headquarters
"Sir, we have a problem."
Jeff Hawke looked up sharply at the tone of voice, which conveyed that yes, this was a real problem.
"What is it?"
His assistants eyes were locked on his computer screen as he replied to his boss.
"Remember that call we got this morning? About the possibility of something going down in the city?" Jeff waited as the man read a bit more. "Well, it's looking like it was a real warning after all."
Jeff scowled as he looked at the new messages starting to scroll up his display, with far too many of the in red for his peace of mind. Still, it wasn't too late to get into action."
"OK, now we have a real threat, the centre seems to be Central Park. Get the Power Suit squad ready to roll, and tell everyone on the action teams to get tooled up and head for the park. " He thought a bit more. Much as he hated it, it was looking like this was going to need more than just the MCO's resources. "Inform the other agencies, tell them we’ve upgraded the threat level to Class 2, and it’s going down in Central Park. Inform them we are responding, and request their assistance for backup. Tell them we need meta-capable squads at the airports and overwatch on the bridges."
The room was already a disturbed beehive of activity, men either hunched over their computer screens or running to get their kit. Jeff shook his head in disgust. Bloody mutants couldn't even give them some peace on a holiday. He conveniently forgot his own earlier actions as he got up and made his way down to the armoury to get his own equipment.
JFK International, Terminal 8
Tanya suppressed a shudder as she walked out of the MCO checkpoint. They hadn’t hassled her as much as she could have expected though they did try to raise a stink about her phone being non-standard in its construction and had threatened to seize it. Thankfully, Mechanist had warned her about that possibility when he’d given it to her as a birthday gift, so she’d been able to call their bluff. Of course, that had left them none too happy with her, and they’d then done everything they could to hold her up, which is why a security check that should have only taken five minutes had stretched to just under half an hour.
With a sigh of frustration, Tanya glanced over at the nearby information desk, only to see that it was surrounded by irate travelers assailing the haggard clerks with rather forceful questions and demands. So much for this being an easy trip. She started towards a more civilized section of the gathered crowd, in the hope that it wouldn’t take too long to find out more about what was going on, when her phone started to vibrate and play one of her favourite dubstep tunes.
She quickly slipped the phone from its pouch on the strap of her backpack and flipped it open. Once she recognized her godmother’s number, she hurriedly hit the green key to accept the call.
“Hey Aunt Jorunn, what’s up?” she asked as she stepped into the information line, being careful not to use her godmother’s usual nickname. Since the name Sylphie was derived from her codename, Silver Sylph, Tanya had learned long ago not to use it in public.
“I think I should be the one asking you that,” Sylphie replied with the faintest hint of a chuckle. “I just received word from Whateley that flights out of New York have been cancelled and that they haven’t heard from you yet. Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, everything is fine,” Tanya replied with an exasperated sigh, “I just got held up while checking in with the MCO as directed. Would you believe they tried to give me a hard time about my phone?”
“Honestly, yes, I can believe that.” Tanya could practically hear the smile in the woman’s voice. “Though I’m guessing that you handled it well enough, considering it would be difficult to talk to you right now if they’d taken it.”
“Definitely, I’m just glad that Mr. Finn warned me they might try something like that and told me to just stand my ground.” Jacob Finn, better known to the world as Mechanist, was another family friend, as were all of the River City Wardens back home in Memphis. “So you’ve been in touch with Whateley already, huh? And they already know about the delay?”
“Yep, that they do, and they’ve already made arrangements for you and the few other students who also happen to have been stranded. In fact, that’s why I called you now. You’re supposed to meet up with the others and a school representative at the check-in desk for your cancelled flight at 12:30.”
On hearing that, Tanya looked up at one of the airport’s many overhead display boards to check the time. The board indicated that it was now 12:24. Tanya groaned.
“Well it looks like I’m going to have to run then,” she stated with a grimace though she knew that Sylphie couldn’t see it, “I’ve only got a few minutes to get there. I’ll call you back again later once I find out more of what’s going on.”
“Alright, sweetie, stay safe!”
Flipping her phone closed and slipping it back into its pouch, Tanya glanced up at the display board again as it flashed a map of the terminal and showed her where she needed to go. With a nod, she spun around on her heel, gripping the straps of both her backpack and her carry-on duffel bag that were slung over her shoulder as she set off to find this meeting place.
Or at least, she would have set off to her meeting place if she hadn't immediately bumped into another girl who looked to be about her own age and had vibrant royal blue hair. Tanya was only mildly staggered by the impact, but she winced when she realized that her momentum had been enough to unbalance the slightly taller girl and send her sprawling to the floor.
"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry!" Tanya hurried to apologize, "I shouldn't have spun around so fast, I..." Tanya's mouth stopped working with a gasp as the other girl looked up at her. The girl's scared and tearful eyes would have been enough to stop Tanya in her tracks on their own, but that wasn't all that jumped to Tanya's attention. The girl had apparently been wearing a layer of flesh-toned makeup on her face, but her tears seemed to have done a number on it, leaving faint streaks of what looked like pale blue skin visible underneath. And as if that wasn’t enough, it looked like the girl had also used the makeup on her arms, though one of them was also badly smudged, revealing still more of the obviously abnormal blue skin. Tanya's eyes widened as she realized that she'd quite literally just run into another mutant.
Taking in Tanya's shocked expression, the girl lifted a hand to her face as if to feel where her secret was now exposed. Her own eyes widened with panic as she glanced around furtively at the few people close by who had stopped to take notice of the incident. Among them was a small girl, no older than four or five, who tugged on her mother’s skirt before pointing.
“Mommy, why is that lady blue?”
Tanya felt her stomach drop.
"Hey, wait!" she called out futilely as the blue haired girl jumped up and bolted away with tears freely flowing down her cheeks, heedless of the fact that she'd left both her carry-on bag and her purse on the floor where they'd fallen. With a frustrated groan at in the face of her terrible luck, Tanya quickly grabbed the abandoned luggage before chasing after the girl.
It didn't take long for Tanya to catch up, especially after the blue-haired girl ducked into a restroom. What did take a while, however, was waiting as a throng of angry women with disgusted looks on their faces made their way out of that same restroom. Tanya ducked her head and avoided their eyes, not out of fear but frustration. A clearly upset young girl had just run in there, and none of these women could be bothered to see past a little bit of blue skin? Had any of them even bothered to find out what was wrong?
Once the restroom door swung shut and didn't open again for a few seconds, Tanya figured it was now safe to go in without bumping into someone else. Stepping inside, she could see that the restroom had virtually emptied, though the blue-haired girl was huddled in a far corner with her arms wrapped around her knees, and another middle-aged women was crouched next her and seemed to be trying to talk to her. Both looked up briefly as the door shut again behind Tanya, who tried to offer an encouraging smile and instinctively raised her hands with the girl's bags to show why she had followed and that she didn't mean any harm. The only response she got was for the girl to turn away again and stare at the wall.
And of course as Tanya stepped forward, fate decided that moment was a good time to be funny. The sound of a toilet flushing was followed by a very confused looking older woman exiting her stall and then quickly leaving at the sight of the dishevelled girl in the corner. Tanya shuddered as the woman walked past her and through the door without even stopping to wash her hands.
"Excuse me, do you know this girl?" Tanya was startled as the one helpful person out of the twenty or more women who had been in the restroom asked her a question. The woman had a concerned look on her face as she walked up to Tanya and motioned to the girl in the corner. Tanya absently noted that the woman looked really pretty in a sky blue sundress that did wonders with her auburn hair.
"Um...not really, ma'am," Tanya shyly replied, "I kind of just ran into her and knocked her over, so I thought it was only right to come and check on her."
The woman nodded with a slight frown and a sigh of frustration that matched Tanya's own. "Well maybe you can get her to talk at least; she's not saying anything to me." She turned a sad gaze back to the girl in the corner. "I would stay and see if I could do more, but my cousin and her son are waiting for me." Then she turned back to Tanya, a knowing look in her eyes as they lingered on the teenager's own lavender hair and violet eyes. "And I get the feeling neither you nor she wants to be here too long yourselves, not when security will likely be here shortly to check on things."
Tanya blanched a bit at that suggestion. Of course, security would be on its way shortly, considering a whole bunch of upset women had just exited the restroom in a hurry. Tanya swallowed the lump in her throat and gave the older woman a firm nod, which she returned before stepping past Tanya and walking out the door.
Now that it was just the two of them, Tanya could easily hear the other girl's sobs from where she still sat huddled in the corner. With a sigh, she walked over and sat down next to her, just close enough that she would know she was there but hopefully not so close as to make her more uncomfortable. She waited just a few moments to let the girl see that she wasn't angry or upset with her.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated to the girl.
The girl shook her head, tears on her cheeks doing further damage to her makeup. “Why can’t things be normal?” she sobbed, looking up momentarily at Tanya. "It's just ... I had a really crappy day. The MCO was mean in Kansas City, my luggage was stolen, the MCO was nasty to me again, my flight was cancelled, and then my makeup was ruined so everyone knows what I am!" She wiped at her tears, oblivious to the further damage she was doing to her camouflage.
Tanya was struck by a sudden realization and asked the first thing that came to her mind.
That seemed to do the trick, and the blue-haired girl suddenly stopped sobbing and looked up at Tanya with teary eyes. "What?"
"Are you going to Whateley?" Tanya clarified slowly, giving the girl a questioning look.
"Um...uh...yeah," the girl replied uncertainly, before she sniffed and raised a hand to wipe her tears away, inadvertently revealing more of her apparently natural blue skin. "How...how did you..."
"Well between your skin and the MCO tags on your luggage, it seemed pretty obvious that you were another mutant," Tanya sheepishly explained. "Then add in the fact that you seem to be about my age and travelling alone, and well...I can't really think of anything else at the moment that makes sense." Tanya blushed a bit as she offered the girl an embarrassed grin but then noticed that the girl still looked somewhat confused.
Tanya reached up and slapped herself on the forehead, frustrated at her own foolishness. Of course the girl was confused. Tanya wasn't nearly as obvious as she was, even with her unusual hair color.
"Um...yeah," she sheepishly told the girl whose name she still didn't know, "I guess I should tell you that you're not the only mutant in the room at the moment." Then with a quick glance toward the door to be sure that they were still alone, Tanya closed her eyes and reached out for her power, flipping the mental switch that she knew was at the back of her mind.
The blue haired girl gasped as Tanya was suddenly wrapped in a faint violet glow. "You're a mutant too?" she finally asked.
"Yep," Tanya replied with a sheepish grin before she quickly switched off her power with another nervous glance at the door. The last thing she wanted was for security or someone else to walk in and see her using her powers. Which in turn made her feel guilty for having accidentally exposed someone else's secret simply by bumping into them, even if only a few people had noticed. "I might not be as visibly obvious as you most of the time, but I'm just as much a mutant as you are. And I really am sorry for bumping into you out there and...well, you know...it's just that I was in a hurry and I wasn't paying attention to who was around me and..."
"Hey, hey, calm down. It's okay," the blue haired girl interrupted gently while trying not to giggle at Tanya's energetic apology. Then her shoulders sagged a bit as she looked away from Tanya to gaze at the floor. "It was just an accident. I'm the one who overreacted and caused an even bigger scene. Not exactly my brightest moment."
"Hey, don't beat yourself up about it," Tanya shot back as she reached out and gently placed a hand on the girl's shoulder, "I would have probably reacted the same way if things had been different and I'd been the one exposed. With the way the MCO is acting today, I certainly can't blame you for being a bit jumpy when I would have been just as bad."
The girl's striking blue eyes looked up to meet Tanya's violet ones, and she offered just a hint of a reluctant smile. "Thanks. I guess I needed to hear that. I've been having a pretty shitty time ever since, well, ever since I started looking like this." Her smile broadened ever so slightly. "It's really nice to have someone to talk to about it."
"No problem," Tanya replied as her face broke into a broad grin and she pushed herself up from the floor, "it's the least I could do after causing this whole mess today." Once she was on her feet, she turned around and offered the blue-haired girl a hand. "I'm Tanya, by the way. Figure we might as well be friends now that we know we're both going to Whateley."
The blue-haired girl, with her now almost totally ruined makeup, eyed Tanya's hand warily for a moment before hesitantly accepting it and allowing Tanya to help her to her feet.
"Yeah, I suppose having a friend would be better than trying to figure this out alone." Her cheeks turned a slightly darker shade of blue with what Tanya could only imagine was a shy blush. "My name's La...Laura. Laura Samuels." Tanya felt a brief pang of jealousy as Laura's cheeks darkened even further. Even with the odd color, the slightly taller girl was really cute when she blushed.
"Well it's nice to meet you, Laura" Tanya responded, giving the girl's hand a good shake before letting it go, "I'm just sorry it had to be after I knocked you over." She chuckled a bit and was glad to see Laura do so as well.
"Well yeah, it would have been nice to do without that part," the slightly taller girl replied before getting a curious gleam in her eyes. "By the way, just what was the hurry about that made you bump into me?"
"Oh, I just had to...Oh CRAP!" Tanya suddenly exclaimed as she reached for her phone, "Crap. Crap. CRAP!"
"What? What is it?" Laura asked nervously, starting to get a worried look in her eyes.
"I was on my way to meet up with some other students and a representative from the school!" Tanya hurriedly replied, finally extracting her phone from its pouch to see that it was now 12:36. "We were supposed to meet up at our outbound flight desk at 12:30. We're late!"
"Oh shit!" Laura exclaimed in return as her eyes went wide and she started frantically looking around. Then she quickly started digging through her purse as she walked over to the long mirror above the row of sinks. "I just need a minute to touch up my makeup. Can you watch the door?"
"Sure thing, just hurry!"
After that, Laura must have set a record for quickest emergency application of makeup ever, on both her face and arm. While it didn't look perfect, it was good enough that random strangers hopefully wouldn't give her a second glance. Then she stuffed her makeup kit back into her purse and the two of them bolted out the door.
Both girls wasted only a moment on sighs of relief upon finding that no one was paying them an inordinate amount of attention and that no security seemed to be close at hand with two young mutants in their sights. Then they both turned and scurried on their way, hoping that their luck wouldn't run out and that they would find their group still waiting for them.
Berlin flight reception area, JFK terminal 8, 12.25pm
Morgana heaved her luggage around the corner - exemplar strength or not, inertia meant the damn thing still wouldn't go where it was told - and gave the reception area a disgusted look. About half the seats were filled with unhappy-looking people, and there were some more who looked like they were collecting their baggage. They didn't look happy either. This didn't look like an airline who'd sorted out their problem and would be ready to fly people to Berlin. At least it had meant she had been able to take her time, and she'd managed to find a shop selling SIM cards and got a US phone plan to replace her British one. That boringly mundane task had helped calm her a bit, although the rather-too-helpful salesman had been annoying. OK, he hadn't actually done anything, but his insistence on 'helping' her with the simplest things had annoyed the hell out of her. Not to mention his constant pushing into her personal space. At one point, she'd even given an idle thought to what he would have done if she showed him she was a mutant, but common sense stamped on that. Still if this was the sort of attention she was going to get now, she wondered if investing in a burka might be a good idea?
Casting her gaze around the waiting area, she spotted a small group of teenagers sitting close to each other in the corner. Two girls and a guy. Both the girls were wearing hoodies, and covering their heads as well, which given how warm it was made it pretty obvious they were trying to look normal. Of course, the bright orange tags on their carry-ons rather gave the game away to anyone who knew what they meant. Taking a deep breath, she walked over slowly. Sooner or later she was going to have to socialise with other mutants, and she might as well make a start now. Even if her instincts were telling her to hide in a corner and hope no-one noticed what a freak she was. At least the nervousness of meeting new kids was something she'd had before - that she could handle. In fact, it was a nice, familiar worry, rather than the one she'd had on the flight over of being arrested by the MCO and locked up. She didn't know if she could have stood being locked up again. But that event hadn't materialized, and just having to cope with the normal social problems of meeting new kids was a familiar issue that was rather reassuring by comparison.
Stopping in front of the closer girl, the one with unusually pale skin, she stopped and pushed her bags forward so her MCO tags were presented obviously.
"Um, hi. Are you waiting for the Berlin flight?"
The girl eyed her appraisingly for a moment - Morgana got the weirdest feeling she couldn't quite describe as she thought she saw some sort of lines glow on her skin - before nodding.
"Yes, we are." She hesitated for a moment. "Are you heading for Whateley?"
Morgana nodded with an inward sigh of relief. "Yeah. I was hoping they would have sorted the flight issues out by now, but..."
"I don't think they are going to. Apparently it's some sort of security issue." Bianca paused for a second as the tall girl seemed to flinch for a moment. "It's nothing to do with us, but it looks like we won't be flying today. We contacted the school, though , and they told us they are making other arrangements. " Bianca looked quickly at her watch. "In fact, someone should be here anytime to tell us what's going to happen."
Morgana nodded her thanks as she took a nearby seat. "That's good, these crowds are making me a bit uncomfortable."
"Yeah, tell me about it. Still, someone should be here in a few minutes."
Berlin flight reception area, JFK terminal 8
The three girls were still giving each other cautious looks, none of them prepared yet to open up a meaningful conversation in public when a man holding a clipboard walked up and stopped a few feet away. Given that everyone else who'd approached the waiting area recently had either come to recover their luggage or to complain loudly at the reception desk - often both - this at least looked a bit different. The man looked them over briefly and nodded to himself as he saw the orange MCO labels on their luggage.
"Is one of you ladies - he paused for a second to consult his notes - Ms. St. Claire?"
Two of the girls looked at the third, who stood up with a small sigh. "That's me. What can I do for you?"
"Ah, good. I'm James Carter, I'm an airport agent here. Your school, Whateley, has asked me to handle the arrangements for you since it doesn't seem your flight will be leaving today after all."
Bianca took a good look at him. Casual but smartly dressed, he looked just like what he said he was. Which didn't reassure her, because so would someone passing himself off. "That's very nice, but have you got any proof of who you are? ID?"
James looked slightly disconcerted, as if not used to being asked to prove his identity to a 14-year-old girl, but then shrugged and slipped an airport ID card from around his neck. "Here you go, this is my ID."
Bianca nodded politely, then took a look at it as she dialed Whateley on her phone. The card did seem genuine, but then she wouldn't recognize a genuine card if her life depended on it. Which at some point, of course, it might.
"Whateley Security, how can I help you?"
"Hello, my name is Glyph. I called earlier regarding our transport problems at JFK." There was a short pause. "OK, Glyph, I have your details. You and your companions should be contacted by a representative of ours shortly."
"Yes, that's why I'm calling. A man is here, and I'd appreciate it if you could confirm his ID please?" She flipped her phone, taking a picture of the card. "Here, this is a copy. I'd like to be certain he's genuine before we go with him."
"That shouldn't be a problem. Just wait a moment while I bring his details up here..." The phone went quiet for a short time. "Yes, he's who he says he is, and he's our authorized agent. The ID and picture all check out, it's safe."
"Thank you." Bianca handed James back his ID with an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry about that, but with all this stuff going on here I wanted to be sure."
He smiled reassuringly as he slipped the loop around his neck again. "That's quite all right, best to make sure." He looked at the three girls, and at the Japanese boy seated nearby. "I was told there were five girls to pick up? Have you seen the other two?"
The three exchanged curious glances, none of which indicated any knowledge of the missing pair. Then Bianca pointed over at the desk, where two teenage girls had arrived and were questioning the girl at the counter. "Could it be them?" Since one girl had royal blue hair and the other lavender, and both had the incriminating orange tags on their bags, it seemed a reasonable supposition,
"Ah! Thank you - please wait here, I'll go and check." Walking over to the desk, he started talking quietly with the two girls while Bianca and the others watched.
"That was clever, to check his ID."
Bianca gave the British girl a quick smile. "Well, I was warned to take care till I got to the school."
Morgana smiled back. "Yeah, so was I. But it was still quick thinking." The other girl just nodded. Morgana wondered about her - Bianca just seemed reserved and cautious, but the other girl seemed almost scared of something. And there was something strange she couldn't put a finger on about the way her hoodie didn't quite fit normally, as if she was wearing something odd on her head under it. She'd like to take a proper look, but didn't want to upset the girl by being so obviously nosey. Her musings were cut short by the return of James, with the two new girls in tow. She raised a mental eyebrow at the one with the royal blue hair, bluish lips and heavy makeup. Did they have Goth mutants?
"Please just wait here a moment, ladies. "Without pausing, he walked over to the Japanese boy sitting next to some piles of luggage, leaning down to speak quietly to him. The boy listened, then nodded and took out his phone, obviously messaging someone. After a brief wait, he suddenly smiled and got to his feet, before following James over to the rest of the group.
"Now first I have some information for you all, then I am going to tell you what arrangements have been made. The reason for all these flight problems is that there is some sort of threat advisory, and, as a result, they've raised the threat level and temporarily cancelled all flights." He raised a hand as a couple of the kids started to say something. "Please. This kind of thing does happen occasionally, and usually nothing happens. The alert gets cancelled and we all go back to normal. Usually, they then fly everyone out a bit late. But in your case, they only do one flight a day to Berlin, so it's very likely that even if things get settled today, you wouldn't get out until tomorrow. That's even if there are places on the flight - they don't have a huge plane, and it's pretty much filled up. So your school has made alternative arrangements."
He paused for a minute to check his notes. "OK. We're going to take you to a New York hotel for the night, and then you will take the morning train to Boston. There you'll change to the train for Dunwich. The hotel is convenient for Grand Central, and anyway the airport hotels will be full of people with delayed flights. I've arranged a shuttle to take you directly to the hotel. Any questions?"
The blue-haired girl who'd been collected from the desk raised a hesitant hand. "Uh...what about paying for the hotel and stuff?"
"That's all been arranged with the school. They'll cover the hotel, but you will need to keep your tickets - the school will need them to get refunds from the airline for the flights and help cover the hotel rooms."
The teenagers exchanged glances, but none of them seemed to want to push forward and question him further.
"Ok, good. Now if any of you haven't got their bags, go and retrieve them from the airline, and we'll get you off to the shuttle before this place becomes any more of a madhouse."
Morgana watched the other girls look at each other as if seeing who needed to collect anything - with her big suitcase sitting next to her, it was fairly obvious she didn't need to, and as everyone stayed put if looked like she was the only one there with a lot of luggage. She noted that the Japanese-looking boy stayed put too. She had assumed that he was travelling international too, maybe actually Japanese, but all he had with him was a small bag. Then she thought of something, turning to the agent who was checking through his notes.
"Yes? Another question?"
"Sort of. If we're going on by train in the morning, we won't need the luggage tags anymore, will we?"
"No, you can take them off if you want. Might be a good idea, some people do know what the orange means, and there's no point in attracting attention to yourselves."
Morgana nodded her thanks, as she bent down to rip the incriminating tags off, balling them up in her hand.
"Is there a reason you're taking them off?"
Morgana turned to the young lavender-haired girl who was looking at her curiously. She hadn't noticed her walking up so close to her.
"Two reasons, actually. First, I don't want to walk around with a big sign saying MCO-labelled-mutant for anyone who knows what it means. Second, they are using RFID chips in the tags now at Heathrow, and while I don't know if they can read them here, I don't want to take the chance."
"Oh! You mean the MCO can track us? Here?"
"Probably, and anywhere else where someone has an RFID reader."
The girl hadn't bothered to wait for her answer, she was hurriedly stripping the tags off her own luggage, as were the other girls who'd been listening.
JFK, Terminal 8, Shuttle pickup area, 1.00pm
"Well, kids, here we are."
Morgana looked up from her barely successful attempt not to crush an idiot tourist with her rolling luggage and started to read the sign in front of her.
'There is no parking in the red zone. The white zone is for loading and unloading of passengers only'.
She looked puzzled as she tried to work out the logic, then realized she was supposed to be looking at their transportation, which was probably the medium sized, rather scruffy-looking shuttle bus pulled up to the white curb before her. Not impressive, but presumably it would get them to a hotel. She was getting really tired of wandering around the large international airport; it had been a long day already for her. And at least the shuttle looked ready to move, unlike the shiny and sophisticated - and grounded -aircraft currently decorating the airport concrete like so many lawn ornaments. The driver was already opening up the storage for their luggage.
"Now remember, you're going to the Comfort Inn at 44th and 9th, so don't get out anywhere else. The hotel is expecting you, and they've been given your real names - please check in using them."
Neil looked over at the group of teenagers who were heading towards a small shuttle bus nearby and prodded his friend. "Johnny, look over there. Possible recruits? "
Johnny paused from reorganizing his stack of Evolution Rocks literature to inspect the kids, then snorted in derision."Oh come on, it's a group of kids going to a hotel, that's all."
"But look at them, their hair colors are weird. That means they are rebelling against their parents, hell they could easily be mutants! We should go and give them some pamphlets.
"Oh please! They're teenage girls with silly hair colours!. If that made them mutants, half the kids in New York would be, too. And anyway, why on earth would a group of mutant kids be wandering around JFK? Makes no sense!"
Neil gave the group another look. "Hey, it won't hurt to give them the spiel anyway, would it?"
Johnny sighed. "Oh, what the hell, why not?" He picked up a handful of the colourful brochures and headed over to intercept the kids.
"Hi there. Are you kids off to New York?"
There was a certain amount of confusion at Johnny's words, finally followed by a couple of mumbled 'guess so' comments. Johnny plastered a big grin on his face. "Have you thought about the issues and blatant discrimination confronting mutants in today's society? Especially in a big city like New York?"
This time, the looks the kids exchanged were more puzzled. Finally one of them, a young girl with lavender hair, piped up. "Well, of course we have! We're socially responsible, you know! "
Behind her, Morgana raised one eyebrow as she looked at Bianca and mouthed a silent' we are?' Receiving a half smile in return. Fortunately, Tanya and the men didn't notice the byplay.
Johnny had a fake smile worthy of a TV game-show host plastered on his face, as he held out some of the glossy brochures. Most of the girls stepped back slightly as if he were offering them something unpleasant and slimy, but the smallest girl, the one with the lavender hair, smiled back and took a fistful. Both Johnny and Neil smirked at that - a potential recruit; maybe she would persuade some of her friends as well.
The girl looked curiously at the brightly-coloured fliers. "So what are these about?"
"Well, there are some leaflets there that tell you all about Evolution Rocks' mission, and some info on our meetings. We have a regional rally this week here in New York City, and then we are holding our very first annual conference in Memphis this January."
One of the other girls, this one in a hoodie with a couple of odd bulges under it, stepped forward to put her hand on the lavender-haired girl’s shoulder. "That's nice, but we won't be in New York for it - probably not in Memphis either."
Neil was about to go into yet another proselytizing sales pitch when the man accompanying the kids came back with a scowl on his face. "Kids, you need to get in the van and get going." He gave the two recruiters another glare. "Stop bothering them. They have a bus to catch."
Most of the kids seemed quite relieved to have an excuse to leave; only the small girl smiled at them as she put the pamphlets into her bag.
Neil raised his voice in one final hopeful comment. "You can also sign up for our mailing lists and stuff online! It's all in the brochures!"
The bus finally started up, belching a cloud of noxious diesel fumes. The kids settled down for a moment - it had been a hectic morning for all of them, and they were all looking forward to a break while they drove into New York. The relaxation only lasted a minute. As the bus started to pull out of the airport waiting area, the others turned to the worried-sounding exclamation from Lucretia. She pointed out of the window towards the inbound traffic lanes. A stream - well, half a dozen, at least - of large black armored vans and 4x4's were pulling up, disgorging men in body armour. Not just body armour, though; the back of a van opened and a suit of black power armour started to come down slowly on the rear lift. The kids remained pressed to the windows as the bus stopped, waiting until it was clear to move out onto the main road.
The reason for Morgana's quiet comment was obvious, as two of the men in body armour had hold of a man. They'd pulled his hat off, and the long green tentacles hanging down his back in place of hair made it pretty obvious he was a mutant. As the girls watched with wide eyes, the man was slammed against a wall by some more men, who were pointing guns at him even before the original men grabbed his luggage and started to open it, pulling the contents out onto the pavement. Before they could see what would happen next, the bus driver ground his gears and the vehicle lurched onto the main road, the heavy traffic obscuring the armed men.
"Wow, it looks like we got out of there just in time!"
Lucretia looked at Laura, who was looking shaken. "I'm sure they weren't after us. It must be something to do with all that security mess at the airport." Her reassuring tone did seem to settle the girl a little.
"Still, she's right about us being lucky." Morgana was still looking a little nervous. "It was bad enough getting through the airport with just the checkpoints. Can you imagine what might have happened with some trigger-happy MCO idiot in power armour?"
“Was it really the MCO though? I’m pretty sure they don’t use BLACK power armor…” Tanya’s statement was somewhat hesitant, as she was well aware that the only person in the vehicle that she could claim to know even a little bit was Laura, yet all of these people were apparently going to be among her new classmates at Whateley. She REALLY didn’t want to make a bad first impression by sounding defensive of the MCO.
"FBI or DHS." Bianca looked thoughtful. "Most likely, anyway. The MCO are normally in powder blue, and most of the other agencies who are equipped with it aren't likely to be called to an airport." The pale-skinned girl seemed remarkably certain of her analysis, leading to a couple of curious glances from the others, which just caused her to shrug. "Hey, I was interested in that sort of thing."
"But why would they be deploying power armour to the airport?"
Morgana's question remained unanswered - none of the girls had any idea, but it didn't seem a good omen.
End of Part 1