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 disclaimer, spoilers, and other information are in chapter 1. An additional note will be found below.
Selina had been very clear on this one. Don’t flub it when someone calls you by your real name. Don’t drop the ball when someone accuses you of being your other identity. Be prepared for when – not if – it happens. And she had practiced this one.
She said as smoothly as she could, “Who? Did you just call me Alice?”
“Nicely done!” he cheered. “I’m gonna get Finn to practice like that. He’s pretty lame at the secret identity bit when he has to work undercover.” Then he said, “You do go by Alex, right? Even though your copyright is A.L. Mack.”
She insisted, “I know who that photographer is, but I’m not her.”
He said, “Terawatt has to be female, white, age sixteen to twenty-two, about 5’7”, fit and trim, athletic, a connection to the PVC plant and Danielle Atron, and educated. She has to fit a psych profile we put together: serious, conscientious, family values, responsible. She has to have had her powers for long enough that they’re stable and reliable now. She had to be missing from school for at least three straight days, not that long ago. She has direct connections to chemists or biochemists or doctors with chem backgrounds, so she didn’t freak out and go screaming to the hospital as soon as she started showing crazy symptoms from that GC-161, like glowing funny colors or shooting lightning out of her hands or turning into a silvery blob. Put all those together, and we get… Alex Mack, whose dad has been a big researcher at the plant and whose sister is a chem genius too. Alex, whose family was kidnapped for undisclosed reasons by Atron just before GC-161 was going to be released. Alex, who was ‘home sick’ for most of a week not too long ago, even though according to the plant’s HMO’s records she never went to a doctor. We came up with only seven possibles in all of Paradise Valley, and really only two of them were likely, but you were the only one with the right facial features and body shape. So… tell me, what was it like suddenly having superpowers you couldn’t control when you were… what? Fifteen? Must have been scary as hell.”
Crud, crud, and double crud. It looked like she didn’t have a choice on trusting Jack O’Neill anymore. He had her pegged, and she wasn’t going to talk her way out of this one. So it was time to use some of Selina’s other lessons. Get them on your side and then find ways to keep them from blabbing.
She said, “I was just turned thirteen. It was the first day of seventh grade. It was terrifying. In the short run, it was the worst thing I could have thought of. In the long run, it was probably a blessing. It forced me to grow up, and stop slacking off just because there was no way I could be another Annie, and take responsibility, not just for me, but for others too. I learned to stop being so self-absorbed and so desperate to fit in with the cool kids. I learned my family is the greatest anywhere, and I learned that my best friend was the kind of guy who would be a great boyfriend. But I don’t know what I would have done if Annie hadn’t been there for me.”
He said, “We’ll get some ugly glasses and a wig for you to wear, so no one will recognize you. You’ll have to figure out your own makeup for the role. You’ll be… my dorky twenty-something photographer who I’m stuck with because I’m an annoying reporter and you’re the boss’s daughter. I’ll have an ID and background for you. What’s a name you can stick to?”
He said, “Works for me. Do you have some ugly business outfits, or do I need to procure some?”
She admitted, “I’m not really set up for the whole undercover thing.”
So he got her to give him her sizes in blouses and dresses and pants and skirts and shoes and even hats. And just like that, she had agreed to fly off to Illinois with secret government agents and try to be an investigator, and her secret identity was already trashed if Jack wasn’t trustworthy.
He said, “I’ll see you at the Camp Atron tarmac Wednesday morning at 0600. You know what that means?”
“Yes, Jack. Six in the morning. I’ll be there.”
“So you’ll need your supersuit just in case, four changes of underwear, and four days of toiletries. We’ll supply the shoes and outerwear for ‘Annie’ along with the ID and background. If this takes longer, we’ll buy you more stuff.”
As soon as he hung up, she called Willow, who instantly went into panic mode and started backtracking Alex’s records to change minor details so no one else would make the connections that Jack’s team had. Then Alex had to talk Willow down from tracking down every one of Jack’s people and downloading files onto their computers so she could get them arrested as a child pornography ring. Then Alex had to talk Willow into getting some sleep instead of staying up all night hunting down the mysterious supervillain in Normal, Illinois.
She just knew her folks would hit the roof when she told them in the morning.
Tuesday morning, she got up and hurried through her morning routine so she could give her parents the bad news. Big surprise, they both went bananas. Completely mega-bananas. It took like ten minutes to calm them down enough that they could talk normally, and then her mom suddenly had a great idea. Alex would be out of school, going off to visit an important college for photojournalism now that she was a famous news photographer, even though she was still a junior. So Alex spent the day telling her teachers she would be out of school the rest of the week doing a college tour of Kent State University and its journalism school and its photojournalism program.
Wednesday morning, she got up at five. As soon as she showered and ate breakfast and packed a big lunch, she grabbed her uniform gymbag and tucked into it everything she needed: her lunch, her toiletries and hair dryer, the makeup she’d decided on, her pajamas and five days’ worth of undies, one small purse, and one spare change of outerwear that was just a top, a windbreaker, capri pants, and a soft baseball cap. She checked that her camera bag had everything she needed for a week, and she went downstairs.
Her mom and dad were both up. Her mom looked really worried. Her dad gave her an envelope with ten one-hundred dollar bills and a debit card, just in case. She hugged both of them hard, and left the Terawatt way. She held her gymbag in her arms, puddled out under the back door, went straight up about five hundred feet, and then stayed silvery as she flew east to Camp Atron.
She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to stop and report to the gate guards, but she just flew straight to the tarmac. That Cessna Citation X was waiting for her, with Jack walking about outside it. She flew down and landed in front of him before she went normal.
He looked her over and gasped, “My God, you look young. Are you sure you’re not still in junior high? Or maybe elementary school?”
She asked, “Am I supposed to make ‘old person’ cracks at your expense?”
He grinned, “When we get there? Around our targets, absolutely. Every chance you get.”
She got on board, and saw Riley Finn, a big, blocky-looking guy who could be a sergeant, and two really nerdy-looking guys who looked like the nerdiest chemists at her dad’s plant. Riley nodded at her and pointed out her seat. Well, the Cessna only had six passenger seats, so it wasn’t like there was a lot of choice.
Once the plane took off and rapidly got to cruising altitude, Jack said, “This is ‘Annie Farrell’. In my award-winning role as annoying journalist John J. Jacobson, I have pissed off my boss back at our tv station KNBC Los Angeles, and so I am saddled with his daughter as my photographer.” He pointed at Riley Finn and the blocky guy. “These are our arch-enemies, up-and-coming CBS field reporter Rich Frank and his cameraman Stewie. Rich doesn’t care enough to learn Stewie’s last name, but it’s ‘Scott’ in case you need to talk to him. And over here are Dr. Something and Dr. Someotherthing, two dorky parapsychologists supposedly from a local university who are hoping to find a real poltergeist or ghost at the high school. We may even interview them at some point because viewers love that crap, but I’m too arrogant to bother learning their names ahead of time.”
Jack handed out IDs and credit cards to everyone, and he gave her a sheet with her ‘story’ on it. Annie Farrell’s name and history and family and skillset, along with her strengths and weaknesses. He had a wig and wardrobe for Annie, along with a shoulder-mounted camera for her to use. It was way smaller than the massive things a lot of the news crewmen hauled around, and it only weighed about twenty pounds, but it didn’t have the full steadicam system and all the other features of the usual systems like ‘Stewie’ would be using. She practiced with it when she wasn’t reviewing Annie’s story.
About halfway through the flight, she changed clothes. She took the wig and one dress and the matching shoes into the toilet and changed there. There was no way she was changing out in the aisle, and she wasn’t going to do her silvery clothes-change where the rest of the team could see her. She was going to assume Jack and Riley were keeping her secret, because she didn’t have any other choice. She went silvery, pulled the new clothes in, and changed into the dress and pantyhose and flats before she went normal again. Then she pulled on a wig cap and the mousy brown pageboy wig. She went with too much foundation, and the kind of makeup a middle-aged woman would wear. She topped all that off with the glasses. Heavy black frames in an unattractive square shape. And she looked nothing like Alex Mack or Terawatt, or really anyone you’d want to date.
She moved some stuff from her purse into the ugly brown purse Jack had for her persona, and she moved a couple small things into the side pockets of the dress, like her phone and her fake taser. She stepped stiffly out of the bathroom and cleared her throat. “Ahem.” She put a little nasal whine into her voice so she sounded sort of like Bob Berdue from the A/V club. “John, I assume you have separate rooms for us, and that there will be none of the sort of hanky-panky daddy has told me about.”
Jack laughed so hard he fell back into his chair. “Sweet! This is great.”
Riley did his best to stand up in the cramped jet. He gave her a really slimy smile and put out his hand. In an oily voice, he said, “Rich Frank, CBS News. I don’t think we’ve been introduced, honey.”
She almost laughed out loud too, because that was so not like Riley Finn. She pretended to blink at him and flutter her eyes. She gushed, “Annie. Annie Farrell. But you can call me anything you want.”
Jack rubbed his hands together and said to her, “Eggggcellent. Now that we’re done with the performances from the Actors Playhouse, here’s what we’re going to do. I will go interview school officials and see if we can find out what’s been going on around the school before the deaths. Rich Frank, CBS News, will go interview distraught families and distraught witnesses, and try to find a common link between the dead kids and the ones who have been victims of the ‘poltergeist’. Our two favorite nerds will go pester the school and walk the halls with their equipment, trying to find spoooooooky ghosty stuff. We land at a military base that’s only an hour or two away from Normal. You and I will have a new, high-end SUV for our gear and luggage and junk. I’ll have you running annoying errands and like that, so feel free to gripe about it to everyone you meet. Rich Frank is too important to ride with his cameraman, so he’ll have a hot sports car that will just happen to be the fastest vehicle in the county including police cars, just in case we need the speed at some point. Stewie will have a news van with a satellite dish on top – the dish and equipment are real, in case we need sat comms at a moment notice. And our two parapsychologists, Bill and Ed, will have a ten-year-old panel truck for all their ghost detection gear. As soon as we’re on site, we assume we’re under surveillance, since we have no way of knowing what kinds of powers our supervillains have. Maybe even psychic abilities or remote viewing. So we’re in character 24x7 until I say so.”
Riley asked, “How do we debrief? Email ‘reports’ back to the drop?”
Jack said, “No, not even that. Rich Frank and Johnny Jacobson are on different floors at the Hilton in the Normal-Bloomington area, but we don’t talk to each other when we’re ‘away from work’. And our two parapsychologists are at a Days Inn over near one of the universities. At midnight tonight we all meet at Location N in Peoria. It’s less than an hour’s drive up I-74, so we can all leave around eleven pm. If our supervillains can track us that far and monitor us from that far away, we’ve lost the element of surprise already.”
She glanced over at the two scientists, who were going to be playing sort-of-scientists. “Do you want me to help with their gear?”
He smiled, “Nah. We’ll have a couple airmen lugging everything over to the vehicles, and then we’ll split up so it looks like we don’t know each other.”
Between the fast takeoff, and the flight at just below Mach 1, and the steep landing, the flight only took a little over three hours from the time she stepped onboard. So it was only a little after 11 am local time when they were unloading the Cessna into the cars. She saw that she had a big folding suitcase on roller wheels, and a case of gear for the videocamera, and a big plastic case to protect the camera when she wasn’t using it. Jack had a similar suitcase and a leather guitar case.
He saw her looking at the guitar case, and he said, “Weaponry. Two Tasers, a couple automatics, a tranq dart gun, a combat knife and five throwing knives, a P-90, and enough spare ammo to hold us against anything up to a pack of werewolves.”
She stared at him. “Have you seen real werewolves?”
“Nope.” He popped the ‘p’ just to be silly. “But now that we’ve seen some of the stuff out there, I don’t feel like taking a lot of chances.”
As they loaded the back of the SUV, she asked, “What about C-4? Or a claymore mine?”
He scowled, “I wasn’t gonna mention the C-4. How’d you know?”
She said, “The other Sam used both when we were in that hell dimension, and she said you guys routinely carried C-4 on off-world missions to blow up alien equipment.”
He smirked, “Well then, I’ll let you guess what else I’ve got in there.”
They got into the SUV, and she drove, following the directions from the OnStar system. Jack waited until they were maybe ten minutes off the base before he started talking. “Look, ‘Annie’, I know you’re scared, but you’re doing great. I’m sorry I squeezed you into taking this assignment, but you’re never going to trust us fully until you see what we actually do in the field. Riley and Graham and I are not gonna blow your secret ID, and your computer hacker who went wild over your records yesterday isn’t gonna get in trouble for protecting you. In fact, I’m hoping you can go Terawatt on these guys so we can push for the whole deputization deal that your state governor is peeing himself over.”
She asked, “Have you thought about how much I need to eat?”
He said, “No, I didn’t know it was a problem. Your family food bills looked kind of high, but we figured that might be your boyfriend eating at your house a lot, or you inviting friends over. If you need more food, we’ll fake it. You eat normal amounts when we’re out, and then we’ll drive through fast food places so you can get the rest of your recommended daily allowance of cholesterol and artificial cheese food.”
She managed not to laugh. It occurred to her that Jack would be a pretty fun guy to work with if she wasn’t being pressured into this and worried about being outed as Terawatt and everything.
She asked, “Do you need to know about my cover for my real identity? Because a certain teenaged photographer has her parents telling the school she’s going to look at the Kent State photojournalism program for the rest of the week, even though she’s only a junior.”
He nodded. “Good plan. We can help with that, in a lot of ways. Okay, any more questions?” She shook her head no. “Any answers?” She shook her head again. “Then from here on out, we’re Johnny and Annie, two colleagues who don’t like each other and don’t want to work together. Johnny is always tasking Annie with crap jobs like getting him coffee. Half-caff tall mochaccino with a shot of vanilla. He thinks she’s a lead weight his boss stuck him with. They eat together because of work. They don’t socialize, they don’t have rooms near each other – he got a nice suite on an upper floor at the Hilton and gave her a regular room a lot further down in the hotel. He hits on chicks and drinks on the job. She scowls at his behavior. He’s a jerk. She’s a dork. Just remember: when Johnny’s being a prick to Annie, it’s all acting. Okay?”
He grinned, “Then, my little peon, drive us to the school so we can go pester Principal Roy Baxter and his staff.”
As she drove, he spent about ten minutes looking in the visor mirror, styling his hair with some hairwax and practicing looking smarmy. Then, once they got to Bloomington, ‘Johnny’ insisted on a nice lunch where he could get a couple martinis. Her ‘Annie’ ID said she was 23, so Alex wasn’t worried, but she hoped he wouldn’t really get loaded. She watched carefully, and he managed to pour most of his martinis into his water glass. He was really a lot sneakier than he looked. So she played her part. She had the lo-cal fettuccine and vegetables and a cup of coffee, which definitely wasn’t what she would have ordered normally. Then they drove through a Burger King and got her three burgers.
They got to the high school before one pm. Johnny had Annie park in one of the visitor spots close to the front doors, and he waited impatiently while she got the big camera out and prepped. Then he marched into the administrative offices and insisted on talking to the principal right away.
Principal Baxter looked like a caricature of grumpy principals from bad sitcoms. He reluctantly shook hands with Jack.
Jack was deep into his role as a slimy newsguy. “John J. Jacobson. KNBC, Los Angeles. You can call me Johnny.” He pointedly didn’t introduce his camera operator.
The principal didn’t want to talk to any reporters. It sounded like the school board or the school superintendent had come down hard on him already. She wasn’t surprised. After all, the report Jack’s people had pulled said two cheerleaders were found dead in an empty locker room only seconds after they raced ahead of the rest of the cheer squad and two teachers. That sounded like a lot more than a ‘poltergeist’ or someone just having fun with telekinesis.
In fact, after ‘Johnny’ got the principal riled up enough, the guy said, “There was no suspicious event, and there were no suspicious incidents beforehand!”
‘Johnny’ smoothly said, “Well, that’s not what we heard from some of your staff.”
Principal Baxter fumed, “Carl’s an idiot! You can’t believe what some idiot janitor says!”
Johnny smirked, “It wasn’t the janitor.”
Principal Baxter looked like he was going to rip out his hair, if only he had enough to get a grip on some of it. “It was that stupid Hoskins, wasn’t it?”
Johnny smiled knowingly. “Nope.” He even popped his ‘p’ just to irritate Baxter more. Alex was beginning to wonder if ‘Johnny’ was going to irritate the principal into a heart attack.
“When I find out…”
Johnny looked out the window at the two scientists from the plane, and pretended he didn’t know them. “And what’s the deal with those guys? Your school putting on a production of ‘Ghostbusters, the Musical’? Don’t tell me you’re bringing in parapsychologists. What next? An exorcism?”
Principal Baxter growled, “I am not commenting on those guys, and I have no control over them coming onto my school grounds.”
Johnny smirked, “Ohh, so the school board pulled the rug out from under you. Well, I can give you some play on that. Make you look good and make them look like wackos.”
Principal Baxter looked like he desperately wanted to say ‘yes’ to that, but gritted his teeth and said, “No comment.”
Johnny patted him on the shoulder and said, “No problemo. I know how it works. You can’t say what you want. Don’t worry. Guys like you and me have to stick together.” Then he turned to Alex and said, “Come on, Farrell. Get your camera turned off and get your ass in gear.”
She whined, “If you weren’t too decrepit to carry anything, I could move a lot faster.”
Johnny gave the principal a ‘what can you do’ shrug and walked out with her following. He glanced at a sheet with room numbers that was posted on the wall. “Janitorial staff… Okay… And Hoskins… There we go.”
She had watched Jack as ‘smarmy Johnny Jacobson’ and she knew she couldn’t have done what he did. Because in between fifteen minutes of angry ‘no comments’, Jack had gotten two excellent leads: Carl the janitor, and science teacher Harold Hoskins.
They watched as the two ‘parapsychologists’ pushed a cart full of gadgets and meters off toward the girls’ locker room, and then they headed down a different hall to see if Mr. Hoskins was in and willing to speak. But his classroom was empty and the door was locked.
As they walked back to see if they could find Carl the janitor, Jack suddenly froze. Had there been a crash down the hall? She wasn’t sure. But Jack was. The silly act vanished, and he moved stealthily down the hall. She moved as silently as she could, although she had to use her telekinesis so she was hardly touching the floor anymore. There were more sounds, too. It sounded like steel repeatedly hitting steel and plastic. She hoped it wasn’t steel repeatedly hitting people.
He moved to the doorway of the girls’ locker room, and he stopped. He held up a hand, and she froze too, hoping that was what he wanted. He pointed at himself and made a motion indicating that he was going to duck into the locker room and dash over to the far side of the door. Then he pointed at her and indicated with his hands that he wanted her to move in and toward this side of the doorway.
At least, that was what she thought he wanted. She totally needed more military hand signals than the few things Sam had taught everyone.
Jack moved. He was pretty spry for an old guy. She darted after him, and while he ducked to the far side of the doorway, she used her telekinesis to help her cut back to the near side. She hoped she made it look like she was just agile. And she hung onto her videocamera.
There was no one moving in the room. The two scientists were on the floor, both unconscious. The cart was knocked over and the gear looked like it was smashed.
A heavy pipe floated in the air over the electronic gear. It turned and pointed directly at them.
A/N: Extra disclaimer: I don’t own this work of fiction, either. In case you haven’t identified it yet, I’ll wait until the next chapter to tell you about it.