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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
DianeCastleFR132351,177,0232896487754,32412 Dec 1215 Nov 14Yes


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 or at the bottom of this one.

Alex studied all weekend for her AP exams, and then carried a whole baggie of energy bars into the auditorium with her so she didn’t starve while she was writing. She really didn’t want a repeat of what had happened to her on the India op, because she had been pretty loopy by the end of things, and that would not be good for exam scores.

But the morning AP exam was American Lit, and it went really well. Being able to write a really good essay in ten or twenty minutes helped just a ton. She finished early enough that she had time to go back over all of her stuff and check for spelling and grammar and comma weirdness. The comma was totally not her friend. Then she ate two energy bars before the time was up.

At lunch, Hal came by to complain that he was sitting about ten rows behind her and when she stopped writing and put her exam paper away and started eating ‘granola bars’, it freaked him out. Alex apologized, but Ray and Louis thought it was funny.

Then in the afternoon, she had the AP calculus exam. That wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be. The derivative problems were pretty straightforward, and only one of the integral problems was really tricky, and the story problems weren’t all that different from some of the homework and classroom examples. So she felt pretty good about both exams.

After that, Ray took her out to dinner, and then she had to pack for her trip. Okay, it wasn’t exactly like packing for a Terawatt op or for a big vacation. She just needed to pack one nice outfit, and she totally wasn’t taking any Terawatt gear.

She decided she would just use the ‘Annie Farrell’ disguise bag that folded up nice and small. So she was going to wear a buttondown blouse and khakis and flats on the jet, with a lightweight jacket in case the jet was really cold or it was cruddy in New York City. Then she folded her nice dress with plenty of tissue paper, and she used her sleepshirt as extra padding for the dress. The Annie Farrell bag had this cool fold-out thing you put your nice stuff in and then folded it back up so it stayed nice and uncreased. She figured she could wear her flats with her dress too. An extra bra and underwear, and tights for the dress, and her makeup kit and her travel dop kit, and she was done. She was planning on using her tk Wednesday morning instead of a hair dryer. She just had to pull all the liquids out of the makeup kit and the dop kit and toss them into a quart baggie for going through airport security.

She used the big outside pocket of the bag for her computer tablet and two file folders: one with chem notes and one with Spanish notes. She already had the chemistry textbook in a file on her tablet, and Willow had sent her a file of the textbook publisher’s study notes for her Spanish textbook that Alex wasn’t going to ask how Willow got them. There was a smaller outside pocket on the other side that zipped closed, and she managed to fit half a dozen energy bars flat in it so she had some extra calories.

She had a little flat card wallet that had her driver’s license and four one-hundred dollar bills and a couple charge cards and her credit card and her United Mileage Plus card. And a debit card that KPVC gave her to pay for all her expenses on the trip, which she thought was super-nice of them. That and her tPhone were going to go in her front pockets, and she’d be set. It wasn’t like she needed to pack for a month.

Naturally, Shar needed to fuss that it wasn’t fair that Alex got to skip school for two days and it wasn’t even a Terawatt thing. Alex just told her that being cooped up on a plane for five hours after you had to wait two hours for it would not be much fun, and she wouldn’t like having to go to a lunch with a bunch of stuffy old people in suits and then hear a couple long speeches.

Shar just complained, “Well, it oughta be fun, and I oughta get to go with you!”

In the morning, Alex needed to take off way before her mom would drive Shar off to school, because she needed to drive up to San Francisco International Airport to catch her direct flight to New York City. She had been to New York on a Terawatt op, and so one of Jack’s Corcoran College cover stories for her was flying up to New York with a potential mentor to photograph people on the streets. That way, if someone asked her if she had been to New York before, she couldn’t slip up by saying ‘yes’. And if she knew something odd about the city, like maybe something about the Batman, she had her cover story as her excuse.

Jack was way sneakier than you thought, even after you remembered he was really sneaky.

Alex parked her car in one of the long-term parking lots and made sure she had everything. Card wallet and tPhone and carkey, check. Valise with one outfit and tablet and files and the baggie of small bottles, check. Jacket, check. It just seemed like she ought to be carrying a lot more stuff, but she was sure this was all she really needed.

She totally should have warned Shar not to get into the Annie Farrell stuff that Alex had just left piled on her desk.

Oh well. She wrote a note on her parking ticket about which lot she was in and where she was parked, so she could find her car when she got home. Then she tucked it into her card wallet and trotted over to the closest bus shelter and took the shuttle bus to the airport.

Paradise Valley didn’t have much of an airport. It wasn’t worth messing with, since you had to fly to San Francisco or Los Angeles or else one of a dozen other nearby cities to get flights to anywhere else. It had two little concourses that didn’t even count as concourses when you were at a place like Los Angeles International Airport. And if you flew out of Paradise Valley Airport – which still had the airport code DAA for D. Atron Airport – to San Francisco to get to somewhere else, your ticket cost about three times as much as driving up to San Francisco and flying directly from there.

But she wasn’t overwhelmed by San Francisco International Airport. She’d been at big airports before, including military airfields that had jets which were a hundred times cooler than a Boeing 767. She had supposedly flown to Corcoran College and back over half a dozen times in the past year, and a couple of those trips allegedly had an extra flight somewhere and back to do photography with a potential mentor, so she supposedly had a ton of air miles and so she had been upgraded to a pretty fancy United Airlines Mileage Plus Premier card.

The card and her first-class ticket let her walk up to a kiosk and insert her card and get her boarding pass without going through a line. Well, that and not having any bags to check. And the card let her get in the ‘special passengers’ line at the security gate so instead of having a half hour wait, she had like a five minute wait. She still had to put her phone and tablet and shoes and baggie of tiny bottles and bag in tubs on the conveyor belt and then go through the security screening.

She kept an eye on her stuff as it went through the x-ray machine, because she had heard about guys who just walked off with your stuff while you were trying to get your shoes or whatever back on. Then she walked down to her gate and checked on her flight. It was listed as being on time, but she knew it wasn’t like getting on one of Jack’s Cessnas.

Boy, was she spoiled rotten. At least when it came to flying somewhere.

She walked over and bought a hot chocolate with her KPVC debit card, and then she looked at books. They were mostly suspense novels. Her dad called them ‘airport books’ because he said no one bothered to read books like that except when they had hours to kill on flights. There were three bestsellers that were superhero suspense, which was apparently kind of new. One of them was the first Hypergirl novel, which Ray said she would hate because Hypergirl was like twenty-five, and really, really sexually active, and she cheated on her boyfriend, and she didn’t get serious about stuff until her best friend who got her involved in the first place got murdered by the supervillain, and Hypergirl’s boyfriend the hunky scientist had to figure out everything. It seemed like everyone was trying to jump on the Terawatt bandwagon. There was some stuff for kids, too. Alex managed not to smile too much at the new Kari Strong book, ‘Kari Strong and the Creepy Squeaky Blobs’. The picture on the cover even looked a lot like Kari facing off against three silicates.

Alex still had a ton of time to waste before they started boarding, so she found a seat away from the crowded gate area, and she just people-watched while she reviewed Spanish on her tablet computer. There was a dad walking his toddler up and down the concourse trying to wear the little boy out before they had to sit still in a jet for hours. There were two girls about Shar’s age who were running around with Terawatt Barbie dolls that were flying through the air being superheroines. There was an angry guy snarling at a bunch of people over his hands-free phone, and he had a New York accent so Alex figured she might get stuck with him on her flight. There were three teenaged girls who looked like models who were being chaperoned by a tall, thin woman who looked and dressed like she used to be a famous model. There were two really slutty twenty-something couples who were obviously hanging out together and who looked like they were going to go to Las Vegas and have the kind of wild vacation people talked about when they said ‘Vegas vacation’. There were several guys who looked a lot like Ivan from Russia, and were ogling all the pretty girls and talking loudly in what sounded like Russian to Alex. She even recognized a couple of the words, and they sure weren’t ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.

People-watching and studying kept her entertained until it was time to board. The gate agent let the first class passengers board first, so Alex walked on and found her seat up in the bubble of the Boeing 767. A nice flight attendant was going around asking what people wanted to drink. Her little pin said her name was ‘Alicia’. When Alex asked for a diet coke, the flight attendant asked if it was okay if she gave Alex the whole can and a separate glass of ice, so of course Alex said yes. The forty-ish businessman in the expensive suit who sat down next to her asked for a vodka tonic. Eww, and it was still morning!

It dawned on her that she knew why the flight attendant didn’t want to pour diet cole in a glass for her. It was the ‘Mentos and diet coke’ deal. The experiments that Shar did with her dad had shown that the diet coke was the most carbonated thing out there, so it was probably a mega-headache for the flight attendants when they needed to fill dozens of glasses and the diet coke was busy fizzing and foaming instead of cooperating. It was probably way worse at altitude.

At least Expensive Suit Guy left her alone. He spent the whole flight wheedling more vodka tonics out of the flight attendants and reading through stacks of papers on investment stuff and taking tons of notes on a big legal pad and dumping wads of recycling on the flight attendants when they went by. She got lots of studying done, and the flight attendant brought her plenty of diet coke, along with a really nice lunch that she totally could have eaten two of. Maybe three. She was glad she had those energy bars for snacks.

When she landed in New York City, she was planning on taking a cab over to the hotel. After she stopped in the concourse and ate a couple burgers with fries. But when she walked out past the security barrier, there was a twenty-ish woman standing there with a sign that said ‘A.L. Mack’ on it.

Just in case, Alex took a picture of the woman and sent it off to Willow. Then she walked right over and smiled, “Hi, I’m Alex. I didn’t know anyone would be waiting for me.”

The woman smiled back and shook hands. “I’m Cari. The prize committee heard from your paper that you were traveling alone, and they figured it might be better if our youngest prize winner didn’t get mugged or ripped off in her first couple hours in the city.”

Alex didn’t think she looked like a target, but she knew she didn’t really look all suspicious or untrusting. Maybe she needed to channel Bruce a little while she was in town.

Her phone buzzed in the ‘text message’ buzz so she took a peek. It was from Willow: Carina Williams. Checks out.

Alex glanced at the time. “How about we get some dinner, and you can tell me what I need to know for tomorrow?”

Cari checked, “Do you have a suitcase to pick up?”

Alex smiled, “No, just this. I’ve got to fly home tomorrow afternoon, so I only need a nice dress for the luncheon and a change of underwear. I’ve got AP exams to take.”

Cari nodded, “Right, right, you’re still a senior in high school. It’s just so… different. Normally we’re giving prizes to people who have been in the industry for years and years. Do you have any food requirements or things you won’t eat?”

Alex confessed, “I eat everything. Although really spicy kimchi and red-hot curry is a bit much for me.”

“Great! There’s a terrific Thai restaurant just around the corner from your hotel. I’ll show you how to get to the Low Library when we get there. It’s only a couple blocks away, right on campus.” Then Cari got an excited look in her eyes. “So… what’s it like meeting Terawatt?”

Alex woke up the next morning when room service brought her breakfast. It was a pretty big breakfast for a little 5’7” girl, but not so huge that people would notice. After the really good but normal-sized Thai dinner with Cari the night before, she had checked in at the hotel and then had eaten another normal-sized dinner in the hotel dining room. And she had only put one of them on her KPVC debit card.

She ate and went through her regular workout, only she used the table and chairs and nightstand instead of cast iron weights. Then she put on the blouse and khakis from yesterday and walked a couple blocks to a MacDonald’s she had seen the night before. She got three quarter pounders and three large fries to go, using her own money instead of the KPVC debit card, and she ate them as she walked around looking at the really pretty campus. She had sort of figured a college in the middle of New York City would be gritty and dark, but it totally wasn’t. It was really pretty awesome and tera.

Then she went back to her hotel room and changed into her nice outfit for the luncheon. She did her hair and her makeup, and she was ready to go. She had her tPhone and her lipstick under her bra band where it went over her sternum, and she had her card wallet inside her tights against her inner thigh, where no one was going to spot it. She had the room keycard in the card wallet. With a tiny bit of tk, it was easy to keep everything hidden, and it was easy to get at everything when she wanted it.

The weather was nice, so she left her jacket in the room with her bag. She walked across the campus to the Low Library and joined the other prizewinners in the lobby while they waited to go into the meeting room.

A voice she recognized called out, “Excuse me, you’re A. L. Mack, aren’t you?”

She turned around and found Bruce Paine there with Julie. He even looked like he was sober. She pretended to not be sure who he was. “Yes I am, but aren’t you Bruce Paine the corporate magnate?”

He smiled, which she had never seen him do before. Okay, she had never really seen ‘Bruce the playboy’ except at a distance. Even in his house, he had really been Batman around her. He shook her hand and said, “And this is my girlfriend Julie Madison.”

“Nice to meet you,” Alex said.

Julie smiled and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you and all these other fine journalists.” Then she whispered, “My God you’re young!”

It turned out that the Thomas Paine Foundation was giving the awards that went with the Pulitzer Prizes, and Bruce was giving a short speech. And so it ‘just happened’ that Alex was at the table with Julie and Bruce. And also a nice reporter from Iowa who had been trying for two years to uncover what the Umbrella Corporation was really up to, so now he looked like a really brilliant investigator. Alex figured he was lucky the Umbrella executives hadn’t kidnapped him and his family and turned them into monstrosities. The nice reporter was named Lucas Kincaid, and he had brought his wife Mary Beth and daughter Tina with him. Tina was about twelve, and she obviously had fallen for Bruce as soon as she saw him. Well, Bruce was really good-looking. Lucas and Mary Beth had noticed too, but Bruce was pretending he hadn’t spotted it.

Alex figured Tina was going to be writing ‘Mrs. Bruce Paine’ and ‘Tina Paine’ in her notebooks and diary for the next couple months.

Alex talked with Lucas about how he had gotten suspicious about Umbrella. His wife hadn’t really thought he was onto anything, even when his sources ‘got transferred out of town’ but now she was kind of freaked just thinking about what Lucas had been poking around the edges of. It had to be awful thinking that your spouse was looking into something boring like maybe some bribes to city officials, and then it turned out to be worse than you could ever imagine, and really incredibly dangerous.

And the food was really good, even if Alex couldn’t eat as much of it as she wanted because they only served her one plate of food, like everyone else. Bruce’s speech was kind of funny, and the head of the prize committee spoke and he was really interesting, especially since several of the prize winners were getting awards for journalism that was superhero or supervillain-related.

And then it was kind of a shock to get the certificate and see the award notice inside it, because it was a receipt for ten thousand dollars that had just been deposited in her bank account. Getting her picture taken was a little embarrassing too, and when the winners did a group photo out on the front steps up to the library, she had to stand in the front row because she was one of the short people. A couple of the older, heavier journalists teased her that they were too fat to be in the front row and they needed someone photogenic to keep people from looking at them in the group photo.

Alex hiked back to the hotel, changed back into her blouse and khakis, and packed her bag. Then she checked out and let the hotel shuttle drive her off to the airport. She got her boarding pass at a kiosk again, and she went through the fast line at security again, so she ended up with way over an hour to waste before boarding. Again. So she found a place to sit and had a couple energy bars to tide her over while she reviewed Spanish.

Once again, she got to board early. And Mindy the flight attendant was extra-attentive to the first-class passengers. The person who sat down next to her was a tall, mega-thin woman not much older than Alex who had awesome cheekbones and had obviously spent a stupid amount of time on her hair and makeup just to be on a jet for hours. Across the aisle were two more model types. The three of them only drank mineral water the entire flight, and they all skipped the snacks and had special meals ordered. If you can call nothing but raw vegetables ‘special’. And all they talked about was fashion and gossip and makeup, and all they looked at were fashion magazines.

Alex was so totally glad she didn’t have to watch her weight like that, because it really didn’t look like it would be fun at all. And she really didn’t think first class was anywhere near as nice as flying in your own jet, like for Jack. Okay, it was light-years better than the time she had to fly to Roswell puddled in her gymbag.

It was after seven at night when the flight got into San Francisco, and so Alex didn’t get home until after ten. At least she didn’t have to get up super-early or anything.

The next morning, Alex slept in an extra hour. She helped get Shar off to school before she ate breakfast and did her morning workout and showered and started the slow cooker with a chicken stew she and Shar really liked. Then she ate a hearty lunch, and she drove off to school. The Spanish exam went really well, and she even had time to go over her essays looking for dopiness before it was time to turn stuff in. She rewarded herself by getting Ray and Louis and Robyn to go with her to Gloria’s for donuts. Gloria even gave her an extra Bavarian cream donut for free. Mmmm.

And on Friday, she had to get going and drive Shar in, because her AP chemistry exam was in the morning. At least she didn’t have finals too, since she was taking AP exams in all her classes and she had solid A grades in all of them.

So that meant that all she had to deal with was prom night the next night, and then the yearbook work party on Sunday, and then having a week off before graduation. She was totally looking forward to prom with Ray. And a week off would be pretty great.

She had her prom dress, and she had perfectly matching pumps even if she never would have spent all the money on them if she hadn’t been making a lot of money as a photojournalist. And she had the dress and the shoes already over at Robyn’s house so Shar wouldn’t try them on and mess something up. Nicole had her prom dress over at Robyn’s for pretty much the same reason: so that all of her sisters wouldn’t take turns trying on her dress and ruin it totally. And Marsha had her dress over at Robyn’s so she wouldn’t spazz out and have a tk obsessive attack and ruin her own dress. So Saturday afternoon was going to be a fun time over at Robyn’s with the four of them helping each other get ready.

Saturday morning late, she took a long bath and then showered off and made sure to shave her legs and armpits. Then she ate a big lunch and brushed her teeth really carefully. She shoved all her stuff into her Annie Farrell valise that she still hadn’t put back together for missions even if she totally needed to. She had her makeup and nail polish and hair stuff, her accessories for her dress, and a dozen energy bars.

Around two in the afternoon, she drove over to Robyn’s. She got there before Nicole or Marsha, so she helped Robyn set up her bedroom and bathroom, and the room across the hall from Robyn’s room that had been Robyn’s playroom when she was little and still had a bunch of really cute stuff like Robyn’s old My Little Pony and Rainbow Brite and Barbie dolls. Guys didn’t have dolls. Well, they did, but they insisted they were ‘collectibles’ and ‘action figures’ instead. So the playroom had the dresses hanging in the closet, and Robyn’s full-length mirror that swiveled on an upright stand. Robyn’s room had drinks and snacks on Robyn’s desk, and a bunch of spare makeup brushes on Robyn’s makeup table, and a ton of CDs on the shelf because they always disagreed over who to listen to. Robyn was more a Regina Spector girl, while Marsha was more Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, and Nicole was more Macy Gray. They usually ended up taking turns picking the songs. Ray said the guys had arguments about what to listen to, but they ended up playing HORSE or videogames, with the winner getting to choose, which meant Louis pretty much never got to pick what he liked.

They had a great time, just listening to music and chatting and getting ready. As far as Alex could tell, guys were like ‘Oh I showered last night so I just have to pull on my pants and button my shirt and brush my hair, and I’m ready.’ Her mom said it took her dad years to figure out that her mom needed way more time to get ready for a date than he did. Marsha said that when she said ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ Louis added ‘and high school guys like to say Uranus a lot’.

Their dates still managed to show up before all four of them were ready. And then Robyn’s mom had to get pictures of all the couples before they could go off to dinner, and she had to use a digital camera so she could send copies of the photos off to all the other parents, so Alex had to help her with the camera and then Robyn had to help her with the emailing part. The eight of them had dinner together at a nice Italian restaurant downtown, and they got there early enough that they could take their time and still get to the prom on time. They even got through an entire meal without Louis getting his food dumped in his lap or anything.

Then the prom was awesome. Alex voted for Ray as Prom King and Nicole as Prom Queen, even if Ray voted for himself and Alex. And Nicole voted for Ray and Alex.

She knew she wanted to get elected Prom Queen too, but that was just being really greedy. She’d already been Homecoming Queen, and she knew Donna and Kelly and Trish and a couple other girls had all really wanted it way more than she did. And Kelly and Donna really, really wanted to be Prom Queen. Alex just kept telling herself that a ton of the kinds of people who were more likely to vote for her wouldn’t buy tickets and wouldn’t come even if they could afford to buy tickets and prom dresses and all the other stuff.

Okay, she was totally surprised that there were like twenty of the Science Club and Computer Club people who had taken over two tables they pulled together, even if Alex only saw two girls total in the group. It looked like Helen and Tanya and about eighteen or nineteen guys.

She led Ray over, and said hi. Helen grinned, “Look! I got a whole harem!”

Alex smiled, “Good for you. I really like your dress.”

Helen giggled, “I cut a deal with my mom. She’s been wanting to teach me to sew for years and years, and I always wanted to play videogames or like that, so she made my dress and I learned how to sew a little by working with her on it.”

“Your mom’s really good,” Alex said. “And you should totally learn to sew. I have a friend who learned how to sew just so she could make cosplay costumes. If there’s a reason for guys to learn how to sew, that’s probably it.”

Tanya said, “This is great. Normally, it takes me all night to get one dance, but we have a deal that everyone has to dance one dance with me and one with Hel, so I figure I’ve got maybe an hour and a half of dance partners, and the guys don’t have to do more than get out on the dance floor two times unless they want to.”

Marc snorted, “Yeah, my dad’s always hatin’ on me to be less like me and more like him, so when I told him I was going to the prom and I had a date, he was all ‘that’s my boy!’ and ‘party down!’ Mom made fun of him for like three days.”

Alex walked around the room with Ray, just saying hi to people, since she figured she wouldn’t get to see a lot of them again except just to nod their way at graduation. But once the band started playing, she wanted to dance with Ray. And it was tera. She just melted against him and let him waltz her around during the slowdances, and it was just as great as she had hoped.

And when they announced the prom king and queen, she was totally not surprised that Ray was picked as the Prom King. He was the star athlete on the best team they had, and he had cred with a ton of non-sports people, and he was way nicer to people than guys like Brock Ledersen. Still, she was kind of surprised when she got picked as the Prom Queen, even if she was Ray’s girlfriend. She had kind of figured Donna would get picked, given who didn’t go to the prom.

She was also surprised at how excited she was. She couldn’t stop grinning, and it was all she could do not to cry. Ray put an arm around her while the photographers took pictures, and he whispered, “As long as Libby didn’t win, I’m good.”

“Ray!” she fussed. Even if it was sort of funny.

And so she got to dance with Ray and she didn’t have to let some Prom Queen like Donna or Trish get to do the ‘King and Queen’ dance with him, and it was all great. Even Donna and Kelly and Trish were nice about it, and Kelly even gave her a big hug.

After the prom ended, there was the big after-prom party to go to. They all drove back to Robyn’s house and changed into fun stuff in Robyn’s room, while the guys took turns changing into jeans down in the downstairs bathroom. Alex put on what she wore over to Robyn’s in the first place: jeans and a cute top. And she moved her card wallet and her tPhone and her lipstick into her front jeans pockets. Marsha went with a sexy minidress, because she was probably planning on some serious sex with Louis as soon as they could manage it.

Alex dropped her car off at her house and let Ray drive her to the party. Her mom and dad already knew the after-prom party would go really late, so she didn’t have to worry about being home by her regular curfew. Still, she had her whole yearbook work party the next day, so she had to get home and get a lot of sleep. She still danced with Ray and chatted with friends and ate a bunch of snacks and had a great time. Even if she lost to Donna at Dance Dance Revolution three straight times because Donna wasn’t trying to do it in mega-skyscraper heels this time. Even if every time Donna won at DDR, she did a fist pump and yelled, “Tera!”

She got home at two in the morning, and she was up by nine, and even with a big breakfast she was over at the school before ten. She was figuring on helping Mina set up, and helping Tommy get the computer lab systems ready. There were forty computers in there, not counting the teacher’s computer which had a stack of ten DVD burners on the side, so she had been figuring on being about to crank out fifty DVDs every seven minutes. That meant they would be burning DVDs until seven that night, but she was okay with that, and she had three-hour work groups scheduled throughout the day so no one else had a ridiculous load.

But when she got there, Tommy and Wade were running cables from the computer lab over to the keyboarding classroom and the on-line coursework room, and Mister Kredermann the computer lab boss was helping them. And Tony was setting up a wireless hub too.

“What’s all this?”

Wade grinned, and Tommy explained, “Well, at our last meeting we talked it over, and we figured you deserved a break. So we talked it over with Mister Kredermann, and we’re gonna burn DVDs in the on-line room and the keyboard room too, and everyone who had a machine with at least a 12X drive is bringing their machines to the caff and they’ll read the data off the wireless hub and burn DVDs there.”


Tony came over and said, “Hub’s running. Let’s go see how many people we got in the caff.”

“But we only bought enough sodas and snacks for twenty people!” Alex managed. “And if you’re doing all this stuff, you ought to be in the yearbook as ‘yearbook staff’ and there’s no way I can get that changed now, because we already got the yearbooks delivered from the printers!”

And there must have been another fifty people in the cafeteria, all set up with their computers. Most of them had laptops, but three people had big desktop systems with big burner stacks attached.

Tony called out, “Everybody connected?” He got a wave of thumbs-ups.

He looked over at Michael, who hollered, “Seventy-three, counting all the burner stacks!”

Mina popped up beside Alex. “Isn’t this great? I’ve gotta go buy more drinks and snacks.”

Mister Kredermann told them, “We’re ready when you are.”

And so, instead of being able to crank out fifty DVDs every seven minutes, they were cranking out two hundred and three DVDs every seven minutes. That meant that Alex had to move most of her yearbook people over to the room where they had the yearbooks, and the rest gathering up newly-burned DVDs and delivering them, just to keep up with putting the DVDs in yearbooks as fast as they were coming in. Alex took the hard job: tearing open the boxes that the yearbooks were packed in. She could slice open the packing tape and peel open the glued-down box flaps faster than anyone else, because she could yank with her hands and also use her tk without anyone spotting it.

It only took two hours to get all the DVDs burned, and since all that most of the people were doing was putting a blank DVD in a computer or two or five and clicking on an icon and waiting seven minutes, people had time to get drinks and eat snacks and chat with friends and just have a pretty nice time. And Mina called all the later work party groups to tell them that they could either come in right away or have the day off because they were going to be done by a little after noon.

Wow, that was a lot of yearbooks.

As they were closing up and letting the computer guys undo all the cabling they had done, Mina nudged Alex and showed her the changes that someone had snuck in after Alex last looked through for typos. There was now a two-page spread on Alex winning a Pulitzer, with several photos Alex had taken, like Terawatt floating in the air looking about seven feet tall and pointing down at the intimidated photographer and saying, “I… AM… TERAWATT!” Wow, that picture totally did not look like Alex Mack did now. It looked like a Marvel Comics superheroine brought to life.

After staring at the huge stacks of yearbooks to be handed out, Alex changed her plans for Monday. She drove Shar to school and then went over to the high school and spent the day helping with handing out yearbooks as people came by to pick them up. You had to have your official slip of paper saying that you bought your yearbook already, or else you had to go over to the principal’s office and have the head secretary check that you paid for your yearbook and write you a note, or else if you hadn’t bought your yearbook yet you had to go over to the principal’s office and pay them and come by with a slip saying that you just paid. That was working okay so far, because they ordered extras. They needed 2737 yearbooks for the already-paid-for-it crowd, but the printers gave them a big price break for ordering 3000 books, so it actually cost them less to buy three thousand than it would have to get exactly 2737. That meant they had 263 extras for people who decided to buy yearbooks at the last minute, and any extras that got sold were pure profit. And she stayed until twenty minutes after the last period, because people were still coming by to pick up books. So they managed to unload 2346 of the already-paid yearbooks, plus 184 last-minute purchases. She figured everyone else could handle the 391 yearbooks still to be picked up, along with up to 79 more last-second buys. And if people couldn’t pick their yearbooks up on the pick-up day, she figured they would be straggling in throughout the week to get the things, or else they would show up after the last schoolday of the year and then hope someone in the office could let them get their yearbook.

But on her way to pick up Shar, her tPhone buzzed for a text. So when she pulled up at the Boys and Girls Club, she checked. Jack wanted her to fly on Wednesday morning to Andrews Air Force Base on ‘Corcoran College’ business. That didn’t sound bad.

In fact, the more she thought about it, the better it sounded.

Once she got Shar home, she checked the time and then called Jack. She didn’t want to call him in the middle of dinner.

Even thought it was Jack’s tPhone, he answered it with it on speakerphone. “O’Neill-Rosenberg enclave, harassed frycook speaking!”

“Oh behave yourself!” Willow laughed in the background.

“Oh be-ha-ive!” four different voices chimed in. Alex spotted Charlie and Hanna in there too.

Jack said, “Willow wanted me to say ‘the Rosenberg-O’Neill condensate’ but apparently you have to be Sam Carter to get these kinds of jokes.”

“Oh stop it.”

Alex giggled a little, because Jack and Willow already sounded like an old married couple. “Are you really frying stuff?”

“Sure,” Jack insisted. “We’re doing Italian, and to go with the spaghetti and Willow’s vegetarian red sauce, we have the optional chicken cutlets flattened-”

“Hanna-hammered!” called out Charlie.

“-and breaded and fried and then topped with mozzarella for the carnivores to sink their fangs into. Because I have to keep Charlie and Hanna from trying to chew my leg off if we don’t throw them enough meat.” There was snickering and also objecting going on in the background.

Alex tried to get the conversation re-directed, because now she wanted veal parmigiana or maybe chicken parmigiana for dinner, even though she knew they were having a pork roast. “You said Corcoran stuff for Wednesday?”

“Sure,” Jack answered. “Fly south toward Edwards at four ack emma Wednesday, and we’ll do the usual chopper pick-up. Then you take the Cessna over to Andrews, where we’ll pick you up. We’ll ‘do lunch’ as the Hollywood types say, and you’ll meet your official Corcoran College mentor we’ll be working with for the next four years. And then we’ll take you over to your apartment we’re getting ready over by the college. If there’s time, we’ll even look around the neighborhood for fast food places and greasy spoons.”

Willow cut in, “Or maybe we’ll manage a few minutes walking around on the campus.”

“And we can check out the snack bars and fast food places on the campus,” Jack continued unrepentantly. “And then maybe dinner, and then we’ll fly you home on Air SRI so you can eat dinner when you get home without telling your mom you pigged out already.”

She reminded him, “Jack, I don’t really eat like that all the time.” Although she sure had been eating like a pig on her trip to get her Pulitzer. Maybe she had been really nervous. Maybe it was the tk workout she did that morning in the hotel room.

But Jack just said, “I think you’ll be pretty happy with what we managed to get you for a place to live. It’s a single a few blocks off-campus, because there’s no way you can preserve a secret identity if you have to fly off while a couple roommates watch. You can just tell people you used your Pulitzer money to swing the monthly payments on the apartment.”

Wow, like that totally wouldn’t make her sound like the biggest journalism jerkhead since Joe Frady. She didn’t say that. She just thought it.

Craig looked over the new counselors he was going to have to whip into shape for this summer’s Outward Bound programs. Okay, he had to admit they looked a lot more prepared than last summer’s dorks. He had a solid crew from last year and the year before, and he only had five newbies: three guys and two girls.

Craig was only 5’4” and not exactly Tom Cruise, so he spent a lot of time working out and training. Maybe he wasn’t the most handsome counselor at Outward Bound, but he was always the toughest. Still, it really cut into his chances with the new chicks if one of the new guys was another fucking mini-Orphan.

And just his luck, one of the three new guys was another Mister Tall Dark and Handsome. He glanced at his clipboard. “Okay Andy, why don’t you start off?”

“Andrew. I like ‘Andrew’. Not Andy, not Drew, not ‘hey you’.”

Oh great, the guy even smiled politely while he said it. Why couldn’t a Canadian counselor have one of those Canuck accents and ask if there were moose to hunt?

“Well Newbie Drewbie, I call ‘em like I see ‘em. And welcome to Maine. There’s not anything out here except me and my domain. The nearest wide spot is ten miles north up the coast, and the nearest town is Chamberlain, which is twelve miles west, and you got driven through it on the way here, so you know it’s an armpit that makes other armpits look good by comparison. Even if you get to Chamberlain and you try to let off a little steam, there’s a crazy fundamentalist lady who’ll come over and get in your face until the cops drive over. So lots of luck there.”

“Just Andrew.”

Craig smiled, “Well Drewbie, once-”

The guy just smiled politely. “Andrew. And hey…”

The guy looked at Craig’s biceps. Well, Craig was wearing a sleeveless shirt so the ladies would get a look at his guns. So they were out there for the world to notice.

‘Drewbie’ just suggested, “How about we arm-wrestle for it? You win, you get to call me Drewbie or whatever. I win, you have to call me Andrew. Pretty harmless right?”

Craig just looked at the guy. There was no question the guy was built, but he didn’t have massive biceps and forearms like Craig did. So what kind of scam was the guy trying to pull? “Okay. We use the bench over here. You can grab the side of the bench with your off hand.”

The guy just smiled and nodded. They sat down, grabbed hands, and waited for one of the new girls to count them down.

“Three… two… one!”

Craig slammed in to the guy with everything he had. All he had to do was overwhelm the guy for a split second, and that arm would be slamming against the table.

Nothing happened. The guy’s arm quivered, but it didn’t move more than a fraction of an inch. And then the guy started pressing harder. And harder. And harder!

No matter how much effort Craig threw into it, he couldn’t keep his arm from slowly being pressed down to the bench. Hell, he could hardly keep his arm from being torn off at the shoulder! The guy was just too damn strong.

Craig’s hand pressed hard against the bench, and the guy just smiled, “Give?”

He strained for all he was worth, and he couldn’t budge his arm. “I give, goddamn it!”

The guy carefully let go of Craig’s hand and smiled, “Okay, so my name is Andrew. Sorry to do things this way.”

Fucking Canadians. Making him look bad, and being so frigging polite about it too. And half the girls in the area were already making googoo eyes at the guy. Well, fine. Andrew was going to get some of the shit details this summer.

A/N: If you’ve pegged the two upcoming crossovers, you’ll know that I don’t own them.
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