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The Secret Return of Alex Mack

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This story is No. 3 in the series "A Brane of Extraordinary Women". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Alex is back from her 5-day trip to Hermione Granger’s world. But she's going to need everything she learned if she wants to survive, starting with finding her world's Willow Rosenberg. (Cross with BtVS, SG-1, HP, DCU...)

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > General
Harry Potter > General
Stargate > General > Characters: Jack O'Neill
Television > Secret World of Alex Mack, The
DianeCastleFR132351,177,0232896487753,83012 Dec 1215 Nov 14Yes

NOTE: This chapter is rated FR15

Fall Colors

A/N: Alex’s powers and new knowledge will make more sense if you go read the first story in this series: “The League of Extraordinary Women”. The disclaimers, spoilers, and other information are all in previous chapters.
A/N2: This chapter’s FR15 for some swearing in the last third.

On Sunday, Alex waited until they got home from church and she ate a big lunch before she started making Terawatt calls. First, she Skyped Willow. “Hi! How are things?”

Willow complained, “I don’t know! I mean, Cready’s being Mister Responsible in the jail, and not being a problem, but Jo’s vanished off the radar. Where she dumped the first car, there’s a couple used car lots not that far away, and a strip mall, and so there’s been maybe four car robberies in that area that are maybes, and she might not have done any of them, but there’s no trace of three of the four cars, and the fourth one was a joyride that got dumped about ten miles away. So, that one… not her. But we don’t know about the other three. And they haven’t gotten any reports of a big blue girl rampaging around, so I have no idea, because all she really has to do is break the lock on the back of a semi truck and hitch a ride down the interstate to wherever she wants to go.”

Alex said, “I really thought she’d keep trying to come after Alex Mack. And it’s not like there are a lot of Macks in the phonebook, so anybody could find me in about two minutes with just a cellphone. Less than that, if she just looked in a phonebook and knew my dad’s name, which Danielle sure does.”

Willow asked, “Did you know there are Azure Crush fansites?”

Alex just about dropped her laptop. “You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m totally not, and they’re all using footage that ‘A.L. Mack’ took of the fight with Terawatt, and the news footage of her arrest afterward, and her at the trial date, and that stuff after. Although there is an Azure Crush website that I’m pretty sure is cheating, and they just took a picture of a buxom girl in a shorty wetsuit and they Photoshopped her so she looks bigger and they colored her blue.”

Alex sighed unhappily. She didn’t like Jo, but she didn’t think some of this stuff was fair.

Willow went on, “There’s almost as many Poison Ivy websites, and I’ve found four Action Girl websites even though they pretty much just have that footage from that museum fight to work with. And Hustler magazine has a five million dollar offer for a nude pictorial with any one of you four.”

“Eww!” Alex gasped.

Willow said, “That’s what I say. And seriously, how do they think they’re gonna get a nude pictorial of a wanted criminal? Especially one who’s in jail? That’s just dumb, unless they’re hoping Jo or Pammie can beat the rap or get out on bail or something. Maybe probation.”

Alex complained, “There are some really creepy guys out there. It’s a good thing we have really great boyfriends.”

And then they got into a really important discussion about dating and where Jack last took Willow, and where Ray last took Alex, and how dating while taking care of a ‘little sister’ was harder than it sounded, and how Willow was still worrying about how Charlie felt about her being with Jack. There wasn’t even any TMI the whole time.

Although Alex had to shut her bedroom door, because Shar was playing “The Iron Giant” on the big tv downstairs really loud, and acting it out too, with her as the iron giant and her Skipper doll as Hogarth. Shar seemed to think you acted out the part of the iron giant by shouting the lines at the top of your voice. “YOU STAY! I GO! NO FOLLOWING!” Okay, she was only eight. And a half. Shar cared a lot about the ‘and a half’ part.

When October rolled around, Alex found out what Louis and Mina and Robyn had been up to. And she found out about Azure Crush. And she ran into a new problem with Shar.

October was shaping up to be a cruddy month, even without another Terawatt crisis. Yet. She wasn’t going to say that out loud, because she vividly remembered the last time she said something mega-stupid out loud, and she got that call from Hermione. She wasn’t even going to think it, if she could help it.

So the first thing was the school photos. Way more people wanted their school photos redone than she’d figured. She’d been really happy with the way things went. But when ‘picture retake day’ came around, there were like five times more kids than she’d expected, so it took about six times as long as she had figured. Even getting more photographers in still meant that she missed four periods. Including lunch. And then she had to worry about how many people would gripe about their new pictures. Okay, she’d been pretty sure that people like Mike Malone and Therese Waterman would want new pictures taken, because Mike and Therese were both the type of person who complained about everything and nothing was ever good enough to make them happy. But there were way more kids who wanted their photos redone, and some of the time it was just totally unfair stuff, like they had a better hairstyle since picture day or their mom didn’t like the top they were wearing in their photo.

And the second thing was the Homecoming Queen ballot. Alex was walking down the hall to math class when a Science Club posse walked past and gave her a big thumbs-up, and one of them even said, “We already got our votes in!”

Alex kind of cringed, because she’d been hoping she could duck out of the whole Homecoming Queen thing. This year, everyone got a ballot and got to vote for up to three people. She’d already turned in her ballot, but she’d voted for Nicole, naturally, and also Terri Williams and Elissa Conroy because Alex liked them and she thought Kelly was being mean about them. But it looked like someone was making a big push to get people to vote for Alex Mack. So at lunch she asked Mina and Louis, because she figured they were probably behind it.

Louis started right in. “No one looks at this from a market segmentation perspective. So I did a quick business study, and I came up with 37 market segments that I combined into 21 ‘voting blocs’ that we did targeted marketing for.”

Holy crud.

Mina grinned, “Like there’s one of the big voting blocs that hardly ever bothers to vote, and that’s the nerd bloc, like the Science Club and the Computer Club and the Robotics Team and the Chess Team and them. So we sent everyone in that bloc a text telling them to get out and vote for their people: you and Helen and Tanya.”

“Me?” Alex squeaked.

Louis insisted, “You. We included a link to a picture of you and Phoenix on a major cosplay site. And let me tell you, hardly anyone thinks that’s not a booth babe Marvel hired for the con.”

Alex sternly said, “Louis, I don’t want you telling people that’s Willow. Especially not people on the internet. It was a lot of fun for her, but having people pestering her and friending her just because she looks hot in those pictures would not be great.”

Robyn just went on, “So we sent out texts sorta like that to the sk8erbois and the goths and the cheerios and every one of Louis’s voting blocs, and it just sort of happened that every one of the ‘three people to vote for’ lists has you in it.”

Alex rolled her eyes at that. “And how many of Louis’s voting blocs got a message with Kelly’s name as one of the three?”

Louis gave her a mischievous smile. “Gee, I knew we left someone’s name off.”

Alex checked, “How many voting blocs with Donna’s name?”

Mina looked at Louis and wondered, “Four? I think it was three or four.”

Louis reeled off, “The cheerios, the main-sport jocks, and the playas. The off-sport jocks don’t like the cheerios that much because they never come out and cheer at their meets. But the main-sport jocks like Alex partly because of Ray and partly because of her snaps of them, and the off-sport jocks like her because she always gives them good photo coverage for the yearbook and the paper. And she did do track for a little while, so she’s got cred.”

Ray asked Alex, “So who’d you vote for?”

Alex said, “Well, Nicole, naturally, and Terri because she’s really nice and she is so not a moose, and Elissa because she deserves to get some votes.”

Louis smirked, “I bet Kelly votes for herself three times.”

Robyn frowned, “That’s against the rules. You can only vote for a person once on your ballot.”

Marsha sarcastically said, “Gee, that would be too bad if Kelly and her posse all put her name down three times and all those ballots got tossed for breaking the rules.” She gave Louis a naughty smirk.

Alex knew there was something going on with that smirk. She just hoped Louis and Marsha weren’t tricking Kelly so her ballot would get thrown out, because that was totally not nice.

At least the votes all had to be in by Friday after next, and then the Homecoming Queen and her court would get announced the following Monday, and then Homecoming was the second Friday in November, at halftime of the football game.

Alex was going to all the home football games anyway, because she was doing photography. She had a team of photographers for the football games this year, with a guy on their side of the field in each endzone, and two guys on their side of the field bracketing the line of scrimmage on either side of the yard markers, so they could get a lot more of the good shots. But she had the best photographic equipment of all the school photographers, so at every home game she was out there too, and she tried to get a couple dozen mega-good shots every game with her 70-200mm lens. Nice, big, clear, color images so by the end of October she’d have at least five really great action photos for every senior on the football team and every senior on the cheer squad. And really good shots of her photographers who were also seniors. Plus some pictures she could sell to the newspaper. She would totally love to have a top-of-the-line 400mm lens with a nice monopod, but it wasn’t like she was being paid by Sports Illustrated to cover pro sports, so that was not happening. At least, not this year.

If she was in the Homecoming Court, she’d have to have a nice dress, and she’d have to do her hair really nicely, and she’d have to do all her makeup ahead of time, and she’d have to wear whatever lingerie she needed under her overalls and t-shirt, and she’d have to hope nothing messed her stuff up for when she had to run off the field just before halftime to get dressed up.

Okay, Shar would love it if Alex was in the Homecoming Court and she got to go to the game and stay up late and scream when Alex was announced, and Alex figured her folks would be really stoked, and her friends would be really happy for her. But somewhere along the line, Alex had stopped being the girl who was dying to be Miss Popularity. If she had never gotten superpowers, this would probably really matter to her more than life itself, but now that she had to worry about stuff that really was life itself, Homecoming Court was just a big headache that would probably be a disaster when Alex had to rush off to go do Terawatt stuff, just like with Ray’s birthday party.

And the next day, when Shar had a playdate with a little friend so Alex didn’t have to pick her up until six, Alex went right home to do her workout and martial arts practice. And Willow called her on the tPhone.

“Tera here.”

Willow burst out, “I can’t believe it, I mean, it’s so of the yucky, but it’s already hitting a bunch of net sites, and my software picked it up!”

“What? I need you to calm down and tell me.”

Willow gasped, “Azure Crush is doing a naked photoshoot for Hustler! She’s doing the nakedness thing for the five million dollars, and Hustler’s going to be making a ginormous deal about her being all of the naked and all, and this is just wrong!”

Alex sort of had a sick taste in her mouth. “She didn’t get forced into it or anything, did she?”

Willow paused, “I dunno, but… Oh wait, there’s matching hits on two of the Azure Crush fansites… Let me read these…” She gulped, “Oh God, there’s these three dorks who have a bunch of pics of them with Azure Crush in this completely skanky slingshot bathing suit, and they had to wait until the Hustler announcement before they could tell that they drove her down to L.A. and introduced her to the people at the magazine. Ick, and there’s some pictures of them and Azure Crush and some Hustler centerfold sluts or whatever they call them and… eww, they look way more skanky than Azure Crush.”

Alex suddenly realized something. “Wait, doesn’t that mean these guys are guilty of aiding and abetting? And the magazine’s guilty of harboring a fugitive? And other stuff?”

Willow muttered, “That’s what I said to Jack like two minutes ago about the magazine, so he’s already on it.”

“Oh.” Alex wasn’t sure what else to say.

But by the next day, it was all over the web and the news and everything. Azure Crush was doing a ‘pictorial’ for Hustler. Guys all over the place were wondering when Terawatt would do one too, which was so gross it made Alex’s skin crawl.

So that evening, Alex wasn’t too surprised to get a call from Graham on her tPhone. “Terawatt? It’s Captain Miller. I’m on speakerphone with Lieutenant Lupo.”

Alex couldn’t help smiling. “Hi, Graham. Hi, Jo.”

Graham continued, “The colonel called me with some bizarre news on Azure Crush.”

Alex groaned, “Umm, yeah, Acid Burn gave me a heads-up.”

Graham sounded kind of angry as he said, “Larry Flynt has already done an end-around on us, through his contacts with law enforcement in Kentucky. He’s got some federal marshals monitoring Azure Crush in ‘witness protection’ at his mansion, and he’s trying to get all her charges dropped in exchange for rolling over on Atron. His lawyers are already assuming that may not work, and are also filing motions to plead out on all charges in exchange for probation and restitution. Maybe community service, although I’m not sure what kind of ‘community service’ goes with a Hustler centerfold who can crush cinderblocks in her bare hands.”

Alex muttered, “Yeah. What kind of restitution does it take to pay off attempted murder of a superhero?”

Jo explained, “Besides you, and the fractured skull she gave her cellmate, and one police officer’s broken arm, and the concussion she gave Cready, and threatening some high school girl with a knife, she’s basically looking at property damage, resisting arrest, and escape. And it’s probably pretty doubtful that a jury would think you could be hurt by hitting you with a car. So that’s one cop that they can claim was accidental, and two convicted felons they can claim were self-defense. On top of that, there’s the whole issue about GC-161 affecting a lot of people mentally, so it could be argued she wasn’t responsible for her rampage.”

Alex tried not to wince as she remembered what happened to her mom, who was the last person in the world who would go all supervillain on anyone. What if that really was what happened to Jo Baker after she drank that stuff? What if it just made everything worse in Jo’s head so it really wasn’t her fault?

Jo Lupo went on, “With some really good lawyers, her charges could probably get plea bargained down to a stack of misdemeanors and low-level felonies. And keeping a supervillain contained is expensive. Having a supervillain who wants to cooperate at low cost? A lot of D.A.s would probably jump at that, especially in California given the current budget problems.”

Alex frowned, “So she just… walks?”

Graham stiffly said, “House arrest isn’t walking on the charges.”

Jo complained, “House arrest at Larry Flynt’s mansion? That’s not walking on all charges, it’s driving away from the charges in a Lamborghini. While drinking the world’s most expensive champagne. And having Brad Pitt sitting next to you pouring it for you!” There was a tiny pause before Jo remembered to add, “Sir.”

Alex grumbled, “Well, now I’m even more depressed than I was after Willow called.”

Graham said, “Sorry, but I called because I was hoping you could join us Saturday afternoon. The colonel wants us to make a little surprise inspection on Flynt’s mansion and make sure Azure Crush is still there, and that there really are federal marshals keeping an eye on her.”

Jo muttered angrily, “I bet there are. And I bet they’re guys. And I bet they’re keeping both eyes glued to every woman in the place.”

Graham insisted, “Regardless, we need to check. And we really need you there in case Azure Crush objects to our visit.”

Jo added, “I think Colonel O’Neill is hoping that having you there will get her to go ballistic and wreck the place, and if that happens, I think we could take her into custody over the objections of the marshals.”

Alex admitted, “Jack is a lot sneakier than he looks.”

Graham disagreed, “He’s just really good at strategic thinking. It’s the military training.”

Alex said, “If you say so… But I think he’s just really sneaky.”

And so, on Saturday, right after her martial arts lesson, Alex flew from Building G over to the airfield, where an SRI Super Huey was waiting for her. She had a big lunch packed in her gymbag, but the pilot, Lieutenant Reynolds, had a gift from Graham. It was two foil bags to keep things hot or cold, and one had four cans of diet coke with an icepack, and the other had three twenty-piece chicken McNuggets boxes with large fries and extra sauces and ketchup packets and a hotpack to keep everything piping hot. She just barely finished eating everything in the bag and drinking two of the cokes before they were flying into the L.A. airspace.

The pilot talked to her over the chopper’s comms, “Captain Miller said you should jettison at this point and fly in under your own power. He’ll have a beacon you can track. Afterward, I’ll be waiting for you with your gear at the LA AFB near his transport, and he’ll convey you there. Then I’ll fly you back to Camp Atron.”

Alex just said, “Roger that.” If she’d been wearing real lipstick and makeup, she would have had to fix her makeup before she bailed out, but she wasn’t wearing any makeup at all, just the plastic eyeshadow and plastic lipstick. So she checked her tPhone, used Willow’s app to locate an SRI beacon, and bailed out in that direction.

She flew at maybe two hundred feet up, and found herself flying over some of the really mega-nice houses and stores and buildings. Okay, at two hundred feet, she had to fly around some of the taller buildings, or else pop up high enough to clear them. If she only had to go up a little bit, she flew over the tops. Otherwise, she flew around them in ‘Iron Giant’ pose with both arms pointing forward.

Then she was flying over the mega-mega-nice parts of Los Angeles that looked like movie star mansions. Her tPhone rang, and she answered on her earjack, “Terawatt here.”

Graham’s voice came through loud and clear. “Just fly in on my beacon. The LT has your position, so I’m going to try and time it that you can land at the back side of the security gate just as I arrive. If you can zap it open so we don’t have to talk to a speaker for ten minutes, that’ll keep them from pulling a fast one, or just jerking us around.”

Alex wondered aloud, “Do we have permission to do that?”

Graham insisted, “Definitely. We have DHS documents, because Azure Crush constitutes a clear and present danger just by being there.”

Alex could see Graham’s Humvee pulling up into a driveway and stopping at a big security gate, so she dropped down to maybe twenty feet in the air and twenty feet from the gate. She zapped the control box, and it yanked the gate open. Graham drove right on in and headed for the mansion at the head of the driveway. She flew about twenty feet above him.

Alex nervously asked into her earjack, “Umm, do I ‘constitute a clear and present danger’ too?”

Graham firmly told her, “No. The colonel made a big push with General Hammond and the DHS Secretary after the Bloomington-Normal op to get you some temporary deputization, and now he’s working on getting you officially permanently deputized by the DHS.”

“Oh. Okay.” She wasn’t sure what she should say, because she knew someone with powers like hers was a real threat. Just look at Danielle Atron or Victor Cready. Or for that matter, Charlene Roberta McGee. But Alex didn’t want to be the kind of person people were scared of.

Okay, maybe she wouldn’t mind if badguys were scared of her.

And she wondered just how much paperwork Jack had needed to go through to get her any kind of deputization when he wasn’t even going to list a real name or address or anything for her. She knew how much Jack hated paperwork. Even figuring he got Walter to do most of it, Jack would have had to do a bunch of paperwork just for her. That made her want a smile a lot.

Graham asked, “Can you take a quick look on the back side of the structure to check for Azure Crush?”

“Sure.” She darted forward, popped up another fifty feet so she would clear the peak of the mansion’s roof, and ducked into the back yard.

Only it wasn’t a ‘back yard’. It was an amusement park. Or something. There was a big pool on one side with waterslides and swimming lanes and stuff. There was a shallow pool on the other side of the yard that looked like it was two or three feet deep everywhere but covered more area than her house. In between there was a big concrete area with chairs and lounge chairs and a covered thing that looked like a really fancy bar. Past the pools, she could see a tennis court on one side, and on the other side a beach volleyball area that was all sand. There were little cabanas. There were half a dozen outbuildings that might be poolhouses or party rooms or maybe even really gross stuff. Off to the back of the yard, which was surrounded by a huge concrete wall, there was a bandstand. And there was even more stuff at the sides, against the concrete walls there.

And in between the pools, sunning herself along with half a dozen other women, was Azure Crush. There were even three guys in gray uniforms with holsters and stuff, who were pretty much ogling her and all the other women. And there was a maid bringing people drinks.

This was so not ‘witness protection’ or whatever they were calling it.

She spoke into her earjack. “She’s in the back, sunning herself between the pools, with some other women.”

Between the pools?” Jo asked sharply.

“When you get back here, you’ll see.”

Graham instructed, “Lieutenant, take the left flank around the structure, and I’ll take the right.”

Jo suggested, “Sir, the front door’s wide open, and I can see right down a main hall to what has to be the sun coming in from the back. I’d like to recommend that we move directly through the mansion to the objective.”

“Good enough,” Graham agreed. “Tera can see our objective, and can keep things under control long enough for us to arrive as backup. Tera, please drop in on our objective and check that she’s all right. Do not initiate battle, but if anyone attacks, you have permission to engage.”

“Roger that.” Alex dropped down until she was maybe twenty feet above the concrete and forty feet in front of the ladies sunning themselves. Half of them were starkers. Completely naked. And only two of them weren’t topless. Those federal marshals were probably thinking this was the best job in the history of federal marshaldom.

Alex made sure she was in her best Terawatt tones, and she spoke, “Excuse me, Miss Baker, but I wanted to check that you are all right.”

Jo opened her eyes and sat up and choked, “What the fuck are you doin’ here?”

Alex tried again. “As I just said, I wanted to check that you are all right. After all, Danielle Atron is still on the loose, and three federal marshals with handguns wouldn’t be able to stop her.”

“Watch yer mouth, bitch!” yelled the marshal who needed to lose the most weight. The guy sounded like he was from Alabama or someplace Southern. Oh, right, Graham said Larry Flynt used his law enforcement contacts in Kentucky, so maybe these were guys he knew from Kentucky.

“We’re federal officers, so why don’t you take your super-twat outta here?” said the ugliest one, who had a bad Southern accent too.

“Beat it, afore we arrest you!” said the shortest one. And then he called her the C-word, which really made her not like him. He had an accent too, and it was even worse than the other two guys.

She glared at them. “I am duly deputized by the Department of Homeland Security and the President of the United States, so perhaps you three should ‘beat it’.”

One of the naked women laughed, “Yeah, they beat it plenty around here.” Several of the other women giggled at that.

Alex landed on the concrete and glared, “You three are clearly not doing your job. If you are supposed to be guarding Miss Baker, you are woefully unprepared for Danielle Atron’s superpowers. If you are supposed to be keeping Miss Baker under house arrest, you are woefully unprepared for Azure Crush’s superpowers. I will be reporting this to the Federal Marshals’ Office.” None of these guys were nice, either, so she was going to think of them as Fatty, Ugly, and Shorty.

Fatty started to stand up from his folding lawn chair as he reached for his gun. But Alex didn’t bother to do anything, because Lieutenant Lupo moved swiftly up behind him and slammed him back down into his chair hard enough that it broke and dumped him onto the concrete. When he got mad and tried to pull out his gun while looking up at Lupo, the lieutenant stomped down on the guy’s wrist. There was a really icky cracking sound, and the guy screamed.

Ugly and Shorty went for their guns, so Alex used her tk to yank the guns out of their holsters and throw them into the deeper pool.

Shorty crouched down and went for an ankle holster, but Graham was behind him by then. He tipped Shorty over onto his face with a well-placed boot and calmly said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Just to make sure, Alex yanked that holdout gun out of Shorty’s hand and launched it off toward the roof of the mansion.

Jo Lupo smirked, “Looks like these losers aren’t prepared for anything more dangerous than a loose bikini tie.”

Ugly came up out of his chair when he heard that, and he took a swing at her. The guy was big and fast and musclebound. He was probably twice what the lieutenant weighed, and looked like he could play linebacker for an NFL team if he was ten years younger. He threw a vicious right cross at her face.

Lupo casually used an open palm to slap his fist out of the way. It was an inside-out guide parry that moved his fist from landing in the middle of her face to going well outside of her ear. She then gripped his forearm in something that looked like tiger-style kung fu, and pulled him forward so he was suddenly way off-balance. As he fell forward, her other arm shot out twice, once to his solar plexus and once to his groin. He curled up as he fell over and crashed face-first onto the concrete.

Most of the sunbathers applauded. Two cheered. One even gave Lupo a wolf whistle. Jo Baker looked at Alex and said, “They look pretty tough for sidekicks.”

Alex insisted, “They’re not sidekicks. That’s Lieutenant Lupo, Special Forces. And Captain Miller, Army Rangers. They’re some of the toughest fighters on Earth. Captain Miller’s been through ops in other countries that make Danielle Atron look like Suzie Homemaker. And both of them faced down the giant spider problem in Arizona.”

One of the topless-but-technically-not-naked sunbathers said, “And she’s pretty. With a makeover, she could definitely do a centerfold.”

Graham firmly said, “Lieutenant Lupo has far more important things to do. Like protecting the safety of this planet. And protecting people like Terawatt and Action Girl. And Azure Crush too.”

Jo Baker growled, “I don’t need no fucking protection.”

Alex asked, “Are you sure? They didn’t trick you into posing for their pictures? They didn’t take advantage of you?”

Jo frowned, “Fuck no. All they did was pay me a hell of a lot more money than I’d ever see in my life if I said no, and get me some decent lawyers instead of that pansy P.D. I had before.”

Lieutenant Lupo sternly told her, “That still doesn’t change the fact that – even if you’re content to stay within these walls forever and the courts decide to let you – Danielle Atron may not feel so inclined. It’s obvious where you are, and she’s dangerous.”

Alex pointed out, “You couldn’t stop me. Atron may have even more dangerous powers than I have.”

Azure Crush just shrugged. “I didn’t have any future before the crazy bitch kidnapped me. I don’t see why I should worry about anything past my next drink.”

Alex frowned, “You’re only eighteen.”

Azure Crush smirked, “I’m twenty-one. I got held back a couple grades. Why do you think I was in with the hard cons, instead of being in juvey?”

Alex thought Jo was lying, but she just stalled, “I think we’ll have to verify that. After all, we wouldn’t want Mister Flynt to publish pictures of an underage girl and end up in prison for it.” On the other hand, Jo had been a grade or two ahead of Alex when Alex had to deal with her. One or two grades ahead, plus held back a couple years, and Jo would now be… twenty or twenty-one. She could even be twenty-two. Okay, it was possible.

One of the stark naked sunbathers took a big swallow of something that was probably really alcoholic and asked, “How come you talk like that? You sound so know-it-all. On the news, you come off like a total dick.”

Alex asked, “How would male reporters and male police officers and male soldiers treat me when I look like this, if I sounded like you?” Not that she wanted to be mean, but whoever the woman was, she had a soft Texas-ish drawl and a high-pitched bubbly voice that made her sound like she was a total airhead.

The woman shrugged, which made her chest bobble so all three of the marshals zoned in on her breasts, even the guy cradling his broken arm. “If you’re blonde and got big tits, guys think you’re stupid no matter how you sound.”

Alex insisted, “Not if you stand up for yourself and sound right.”

Graham added, “And not if you’re extremely smart, like Terawatt. Or Lieutenant Lupo.”

Alex went on, “Or NASA astronaut Samantha Carter. She’s blonde and pretty, but she’s a captain in the Air Force, and she’s flown fighter jets in combat, and she has a Ph.D. In astrophysics. She’s a genius.”

Jo just shrugged. “I don’t have brains. All I got going for me is what you’re lookin’ at, and the toughness to get through a lot of stuff.”

Alex insisted, “Miss Baker, I don’t think that women should be posing naked for men’s magazines, but I do think you have the right to choose what you do with your own body. So we’re going to give you a phone number. If you ever need help, just call that number, and the SRI will put you through to me as soon as possible.”

Jo looked at Alex like she’d just sprouted a second head. “Why would you do something nice for me? I tried to kill you, remember? We’re not buddies.”

“Maybe she wants ta get into your panties,” suggested another of the sunbathers.

Alex managed not to turn beet-red in embarrassment. Eww! Even if she was being supportive for Willow and that whole bisexuality thing, Alex was not interested in anything like that.

“Doubt it,” Jo told the sunbather. “In prison, you learn pretty fast how to spot the lezbos, or else you get in serious trouble. Terawatt ain’t into girls.” She looked over at one of the totally-naked women. “Now Didi’s totally inta the girls too.”

Didi grinned shamelessly, “Oh yeah. Throw in a couple hunky security guys like Hank and Sergei, and this place is Didi’s dream house.”

And speaking of hunky security guys… Alex saw Graham walking over and talking with three armed security guys and showing them several pieces of paper. She needed to keep an eye on that and be ready to go help out if she needed to.

Lieutenant Lupo handed a business card to Azure Crush. “Here’s a set of numbers for us. In an emergency, call the one in red. We can get you in contact with Terawatt any time you need, and we can help you as well. We’ll also be talking to the DHS and the Attorney General about providing you with better security than these three redneck losers.”

One of the ‘redneck losers’ started cursing her out and threatening her and promising to dish up some payback. Lieutenant Lupo ignored him, which made him even angrier.

Alex stiffly said, “Miss Baker, just because we engaged in a superbattle does not make you my mortal enemy. It just means I still have a lot to learn about handling people.”

Didi smirked, “See? She wants to ‘handle’ you. Too bad for her you only let Sergei do that.”

Azure Crush frowned, “How the fuck do you know about that?”

Didi smiled naughtily, “You’re not the only one who’s sneaking out of the security guys’ rooms at six in the morning.”

Alex really hoped this didn’t turn into a ‘Willow Rosenberg TMI’ thing. She interrupted, “Now that we have verified that you’re really here and you’re all right, and we have evaluated the federal marshal corps guarding you, our work is done.” She really felt like she ought to warn Azure Crush not to get in any fights or do other bad stuff, but that would probably make Jo mad, or make her want to do bad stuff just because someone told her not to.

Alex flew over the mansion and hovered over Graham’s Humvee while she waited for the captain and the lieutenant to walk back through the building. Then she flew along just forty feet above the Humvee as it drove through the L. A. traffic over to the Los Angeles Air Force Base. She was totally not surprised to see her helicopter sitting next to one of the SRI’s Cessna Citations. She gave Jo Lupo a hug, shook Graham’s hand, and flew back to the helicopter. Then she ate the lunch she had packed in her gymbag while the chopper flew her back to Paradise Valley.

It was only a little after three when she puddled up through the storm runoff system and flew into her house. Her mom was waiting for her in the kitchen, looking worried.

Uh-oh. She went normal and dropped down into a chair opposite her mom. “What’s wrong?”

Her mom said, “Shar went over and played with one of her new friends. Maria.”

Alex nodded, “Yeah, I know. Maria’s got a big sister at my high school, and she’s nice.”

“Maria showed Shar a cartoon that’s been running on one of the cable channels for a couple seasons.”

“Okay…” Alex still didn’t see where this was going.

“Did you know there’s a cartoon called ‘Last Airbend’? Well, something like that.”

Alex said, “I think you mean ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. Yeah. I’ve seen some of it.” Now she was starting to get a bad feeling.

Her mom cringed, “Shar wants to learn something called firebending.”
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