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.
Alex got to drive the SUV, while Jack drove the beat-up panel van that the scientists had arrived in. Jack led the four-vehicle caravan to the Hilton so they could all check in. But they took a detour. Through a carwash. Jack asked for the steam-cleaning on the interiors too, and even in the trunks. Then they stood and watched each of the four vehicles go through the wash.
Jack grinned as the workers used the wands that jetted steam to clean the insides of the cars. “Okay campers, no naked invisible stowaways inside or outside to worry about. Let’s get checked in…” He tilted his head toward Alex. “…feed the bottomless pit here, and meet in my room for a conference.”
She managed not to stick her tongue out at him. But she had to admit she was getting hungry again.
Since they weren’t playing ‘news reporter’ all the time now, Jack and Riley and ‘Stewie’ (whose real name really was Stewart) carried her stuff for her, although she carried her gymbag since it had her uniform in it. Once they got keycards for their rooms, Jack reminded everyone to move into their rooms in pairs, so no invisible people got a chance to sneak in. She helped Stewart haul his stuff into his room, and then he helped her get her stuff into her room. Since he just dumped his stuff inside the door, that wasn’t a lot of extra work.
When they got up to Jack’s room, they found him using a CO2 fire extinguisher to blast all over the room. She realized it was a really simple way to spot an invisible someone, since the CO2 ‘fog’ would show up anything invisible or transparent in the room.
Riley asked, “Can we get a fog machine or a large-scale steamer so we can work room by room and clear the school?”
Alex said, “I wanna know why they aren’t freezing to death if they have to run around naked all the time.”
Riley and Jack looked at each other, and then Jack smiled, “Good work, padawan. Maybe the place to be looking for these guys, if they’re not at their homes, is the school’s boiler room. And I think I know just the thing to handle our more… difficult cases.”
Stewart said, “Sir, I can take a vehicle and see if I can acquire any infrared cameras locally. If not, I’ll see if I can pick up some infrared detectors from any of the local military bases.”
Jack grinned, “Good thinking. You get on that ASAP, and remember our invisible dorks may be targeting anyone who shows up with infrareds for that very reason. Watch your back.”
Riley said, “Sir, I could go with him and provide backup. I’d rather not risk having another soldier down.”
Jack said, “Okay. You two get a move on. My cameragirl and I are gonna go have a little chat with Grover Dunn’s mommy and honey. First thing we need to find out is… Grover? Seriously? Did they hate the baby that much?”
“Sir, he is named for his father.”
Jack said, “That’s really not an excuse. It just means Grandpa Dunn was a dork too.”
Alex bit the inside of her cheek to keep from giggling. She just said, “Do you really want me to bring the camera?”
He said, “Not unless you can get infrared readings off it.”
She said, “I don’t think so, but I can get some infrared off my personal camera. Which I brought along, because it’s in my… umm… special bag.”
Jack nodded and said, “Fine, just don’t show Stewie and Ri any of your top secret Double Oh gadgetry. I mean, a laser watch? Whoever said ‘you know, I might need to tell the time and also cut through a steel pipe at the same time’?”
Riley smiled, because he knew what was probably in the ‘special’ bag, but Stewart looked puzzled. And resigned. He probably already knew there was a bunch of stuff he wasn’t going to get told about, and he probably already knew his commanding officer would make weird jokes about it.
Jack looked at Alex. “I’ll drive this time. There’s a McDonald’s two blocks back the way we came. If you’re a good girl, I’ll buy you a couple Big Macs.”
She asked, “Could I get the twenty-piece Chicken McNugget box instead? With some sweet and sour sauce? And honey mustard sauce too?”
Jack gave her a big grin and checked, “Are you sure you don’t want two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun?”
She just shook her head no. But she had a feeling he could sing the jingle too.
He said, “Okay, we all meet in here for dinner at seven. Room service is on me. Call in your orders by six. And I’m picking up one of those big room steamers and we’ll keep it plugged in over by the door so we can spot sneaky guys creeping in when the door gets opened.”
Alex said, “They have a whole range of ‘em at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. We went past one on the way here.”
Jack nodded, “Okay. You’re in charge of buying one on our way to chat with Grover’s fam.”
Jack was as good as his word. He dropped her off at the store, while he circled back to get her some Chicken McNuggets. He even got her some extra sauce packets, and a diet coke! She bought the biggest room mister they had, because they had this display of about eight different misters, and that one was way better at putting out a big blast of steamy air big enough to fog up a whole doorway. She didn’t bother with buying any distilled water, because she doubted Jack would care if it was still working perfectly in two months.
She had all the McNuggets devoured before they got to Grover’s house. Jack teased her, “Like I said, bottomless pit.”
She admitted, “It’s the GC-161. It’s a great diet supplement… if you don’t mind all the side effects.”
“And glowing weird colors, and uncontrollably burping bubbles, and a dozen other freaky things that happened to me over the years. And all the side effects your prisoners are showing.”
He grimaced. “Yeah, if it wasn’t for the whole ‘complete lack of control over some powers’ thing and the ‘going whacko’ problem, one of our scientists would probably already be testing it on some of our volunteers. Having even one person handling it well just makes ‘em think they could get a success once in a while. But I’m not about to let certain psychos test stuff like that on my people. One success in a thousand means nine hundred and ninety-nine soldiers having way too many dangerous side effects. And as long as we’ve got you to help us out here and there, I can tell ‘em where to stick their experimental designs.”
“It’s really that bad?” she wondered.
He frowned more. “Do you have any idea how many soldiers would volunteer if you told ‘em the truth? That they might be risking their lives for their country, but they might get superpowers that would make them an unstoppable asset for their country? Everyone who enlists knows they may someday be risking their life for their country. That’s why most of ‘em sign on the dotted line. That’s one reason why I did. And how many of ‘em would try that GC-whatever? Way too many.”
She said, “If Dave Watt hadn’t gotten the FDA to stop the plant just in the nick of time, millions of people would’ve been experimented on without their permission. It could’ve been bad. Totally mega-bad.”
He grinned, “If you’re gonna be undercover as an adult, you need to stop saying stuff like…” He switched to a silly Valley Girl imitation. “Totally mega-bad.”
She asked, “Does that include phrases like ‘going whacko’? Or ‘Grover? Seriously?’ Because I wouldn’t want people to think you’re not an adult either.”
He just grinned. “Just spray a little gray in your hair and complain about your knees, and presto! Old guy.”
They drove up to a not very impressive house. Jack studied it. “Not exactly upscale for around here. You think they had to sell the old house and move here when dad passed away?” She shrugged, even if it was what she was thinking. He looked over the yard. “I wish I had four men with IR viewers in position ahead of us. But we’ll just have to make do. And another thing? I’d rather you got spotted as a superhero than you got hurt. Okay?”
He said, “One other thing. Your camera’s the only IR detector we’ve got right now. So turn it on, set it to pick up IR, and have it ready just in case.”
They walked up to the door, and Jack knocked. Hard. A middle-aged lady who used to be really pretty but now was wearing too much makeup for her age answered the door, not letting it off the chain. “Who is it?”
Jack pulled out his ID. “Homeland Security, ma’am. We’d like to talk to you. And your son’s girlfriend.”
“Umm, what? Why?”
Jack insisted, “Just open the door, ma’am, and let us in. We’ll explain then.”
“I don’t know… You’re awfully cute, but…”
Jack sternly said, “Ma’am, you can let us in now, or we’ll have a SWAT team bust this door down and you can go with us to a military base in Rock Island and answer questions there. I don’t think you or Cindy would like it there.”
“For a hot guy, you’re not real nice. Wanna drink? It’d mellow you out.”
Alex wondered if the ‘crazy goofball’ thing was all an act, or if she was like this all the time.
A pretty blonde who was seventeen or eighteen walked into the room. “Deborah? I think you’d better let them in.”
Jack said, “Thanks for being reasonable, Cindy.”
Jack stuck one heavy shoe out and didn’t let ‘Deborah’ close the door enough to lock it when she undid the chain.
But as soon as Deborah opened the door, she walked off into the kitchen and called out, “Does anybody wanna drink?”
Jack carefully said, “No thank you.”
Deborah came back with a glass full of liquid and ice, and Alex was pretty sure it had a lot of alcohol in there. Deborah sat next to Cindy on a big couch, while Alex and Jack took armchairs over by the front window. She noticed that Jack carefully sat so he wasn’t a target if someone wanted to shoot at him from outside through the big window.
He insisted, “We’re more interested in talking to the two of you. In particular, we’d like to talk to Cindy about what she knows of the murders Monday evening, and we’d like to talk to both of you about Grover’s experiments based on research done by his late father.” The two women looked at each other nervously. Jack pressed, “You know. The experiments that produced that invisibility formula
There was a quick, frantic “Shit!” from the back of the house, and the slam of maybe a sliding door or something.
Alex leapt out of her chair and went for the back of the house. She didn’t have time to dodge all the way around the big couch and the big end tables on either side of it, so she leapt like she was clearing a hurdle, only she used her telekinesis to fly high enough to clear the couch and the women sitting on it.
She ignored the yelps from the couch, and she landed in a sprint. She got to a sliding glass door into the back yard just in time to see a bathrobe being tossed into the air, apparently by no one. A branch of a tree at the back of the yard suddenly bent down.
She yanked open the door as she pulled out her camera. She snapped off two shots as the branch snapped back up and the fence at the back of the yard shook.
She checked her viewfinder and looked at the images. Yep.
Alex walked back into the front room, where Deborah was cleaning up her spilled drink and Cindy was staring at her in shock. She held up her camera and said, “Definitely Grover Dunn. I got one shot of him most of the way over the fence and looking back toward me.”
Cindy finally blurted out, “Who ARE you?”
Jack smirked, “What? You never heard of ‘be all that you can be’?”
Cindy insisted, “I see track and field guys. I cheer at all the meets. That’s not track and field. That’s… that’s…”
“Use the Force, Luke?” Jack snarked again.
Alex bit the inside of her mouth so she wouldn’t laugh.
“That’s impossible!” Cindy insisted.
Jack smiled, “Yep, completely impossible. Like a teenager using his father’s research to make a working invisibility formula.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Cindy insisted.
But at the same time, Deborah fussed, “I told him to throw all that garbage out!” Cindy winced at her words.
Jack said, “Let me tell you what we think happened. Feel free to chime in whenever you want. Grover experiments with his late father’s research. Since there wasn’t anything like invisible test animals from Dr. Dunn’s research, I’m guessing no one saw anything like this before. So Grover tried some absolutely ridiculous additives and got lucky. He and his buddy Milton tried out the formula and had tons of fun with pranks and things… until they couldn’t turn back to normal anymore.” Both women cringed.
Jack took that as a sign he was on the right track. “So then after a few weeks of increasingly desperate labwork, they give up and go dose the school bullies. Only said bullies don’t go for cute little pranks. They go for murder and blunt force trauma. And why would they try to kill cheerleaders instead of just watching them in the showers, or something even creepier?”
And that was when Alex got it.
Cindy whimpered, “They were probably after me. Grover was trying to come up with an antidote. He was trying hard! But Milton was coming apart, and his dad was freaking out and wanted to call the cops on him, or maybe the FBI. Pete figured it out, he’s always been the smart one of the three jerks, and he got his dad and Mike’s dad to get some attack dogs and shotguns and stuff to handle any invisible invaders, and they left this really mean note at Milton’s house about how they were gonna get back at Milton and Grover for the pranks. Milton I guess panicked, and he swiped the invisibility stuff off of Grover’s research table, and he knocked out Donny and Pete and Mike when they busted into Milton’s house to beat him up. He called Grover, and I heard it too. He had ‘em tied in chairs and he was dosing them over and over. The first dose? Half an hour of invisibility. After that, the time goes down by about five minutes with every dose, like your body’s getting used to it. And then after six or eight doses, it bings back up to half an hour. But a couple more times after that… it’s permanent. Grover ran over to Milton’s and got there too late. The jocks got loose, but not until after Milton made ‘em permanently invisible. And… and… they hacked him apart and dumped his body in the river behind his house. Grover got there in time to see ‘em throwing his legs in after the body. They spotted Grover and chased him for like an hour until he lost ‘em. He’s been hiding out here, afraid to go outside in case they’re waiting for him. So they probably tried to kill me Monday night… and so it’s my fault Terri and Linda are dead.”
Jack firmly said, “It’s not your fault. It’s the fault of three high school psychopaths who were asshole bullies before they turned invisible, and now they’re psychos with a superpower.”
Alex asked, “Are you sure Milton is dead?”
Cindy nodded miserably. “Grover said they didn’t just beat him up, they chopped off his arms and legs and head with axes.”
Jack leaned back in his chair. “So the invisibles can see each other? In infrared?”
Cindy nodded again. “You can’t see normal light when you go invisible. You just see in black and white. Grover says it’s a medium infrared wavelength, whatever that means.”
Jack said, “If you could see normally while you were invisible, your eyeballs would have to be visible to pick up the incoming light.”
Alex noticed something weird about the way Cindy had phrased that last bit. She said, “So when you tried the invisibility formula, you had trouble seeing too?”
Cindy flinched. “How did you know?”
Alex said, “The way you talked about it.”
Jack asked, “How many times did you try it?”
Cindy cringed, “Just twice. But now I have these nightmares where I wake up and I’m invisible and I can’t get anyone to see me anymore. And Grover…” She burst into tears.
Jack gave her a look in Cindy’s direction, and she gave him a tiny nod. So, while Alex talked with Cindy and got her to stop crying, Jack slipped off to check out the house. He came back in ten minutes and went into the kitchen to get himself a drink. He came back with a glass of water for himself and a diet coke for Alex.
He sat down and said, “Cindy? Deborah? We’re going to check out your story, and if it pans out, we’re going to try to help Grover. We already caught Donny, and we’re going to catch Pete and Mike. They’re looking at a couple counts of murder one, on top of everything else, so they’ll get put away until they need invisible Depends.”
Deborah asked, “How can you help my boy? He can’t go back to school like this. He can’t lead a normal life.”
Alex said, “He’s not the only person out there with superpowers now. He’s just the most recent one.”
Jack said, “We have a base. He can live there, and do normal things like finish high school and take online college courses. He can learn to deal with being ‘different’ in a way that’s pretty useful.”
Cindy said, “You mean you’ll lock him up and turn him into a secret government spy or something?”
Alex said, “We won’t do that. And we won’t let anyone else do that. And Terawatt, the west coast superheroine, knows about us, and she won’t let anyone else do that.”
Cindy pointed at Alex. “What about you? You have superpowers, and they have you doing this kind of stuff.”
Alex said, “I got to make a choice. I chose to help other people and do the right thing. Grover’s going to get that kind of choice too. He doesn’t have to be a superhero. As long as he doesn’t try to be a supervillain, he can just be… a guy. A guy who looks different. But if he’s like me, sooner or later he’ll want to make a difference.”
Cindy whined, “He’s just a high school guy!”
Jack laughed rudely. “Try telling that to a woman who had to make that call when she was a lot younger than you and Grover.”
Cindy looked nervously at Alex, who admitted, “I got my powers the first day of seventh grade. And I wasn’t trying to get any abilities, like Grover did. It took a while, but I realized that I needed to use my powers for good, so other people couldn’t use them for evil.”
Cindy tried, “Well… you didn’t have three jocks after you!”
Jack smirked, “Nah, she just had a supervillain
… with a small army of mercenaries.”
Cindy opened her mouth, thought a bit, and finally said, “Okay, I can’t top that. That sounds really bad.”
Alex said, “It had its moments. But that’s why I’ll support Grover. And it’s why I’ll support Terawatt. And it’s why I’m on this project, so I can help other people who get exposed to biochemicals and get a lot more than a rash.”
Cindy looked at Deborah and then asked, “If you take Grover away, can I go with him?”
Alex looked over at Jack. He asked, “Are you eighteen yet?”
Cindy nodded and added, “So is Grover.”
Jack said, “We’ll see. I’m going to want Deborah to agree to us helping Grover, and I’m going to want your parents to agree to you going along.”
Cindy pursed her lips and stubbornly said, “If I have to, I can take more of the formula until I stay invisible all the time too. Then you’ll have to take me.”
Jack said, “Don’t do anything rash, okay? We still have to deal with two more invisible jocks, and the repercussions from that.”
Deborah asked, “But you will deal with them, right? I mean, they’re trying to kill my Grover!”
Jack nodded. “Yep. But we really need to get Grover to somewhere safe, so they can’t get their see-through hands on him. Where’s he likely to go?”
Cindy and Deborah looked at each other. Cindy lied, “I dunno.”
Jack said, “Fine. If we have to blanket this town with helicopters carrying infrared detectors, it won’t look good for Grover. Or you two.” He handed both of them little business cards for the Hilton hotel, and told them his room number. “Have him call me or get in touch, because right now the people most likely to find him first are the people he doesn’t want to see. Or not see. Or see through.”
Alex followed Jack out to the SUV. She buckled in and said, “They know where he’d hide out.”
He agreed, “Yeah. Let’s drive around the neighborhood for a bit. You use your IR setting and take pictures. Maybe we’ll get ridiculously lucky and spot him. Or one of the bullies.”
They started by driving around Grover’s block a couple times. Nothing. Jack slowly expanded the search until they were maybe twelve blocks out from Grover’s house and it was time to order dinner from room service. Still nothing. She was glad Jack had a copy of the room service menu along. And she was glad he didn’t mind that she ordered the biggest steak on the menu with all the trimmings, plus a huge salad, plus two pieces of cake for dessert.
While they searched, Jack told her what he’d found when he peeked through the house. “Grover’s bedroom’s being used regularly. By a guy and a girl. The dirty clothes hamper has fresh dirty clothes, including Cindy’s cheer uniform, so she probably came straight here after the police finished talking to her about the locker room murders. Two pillows on the bed. The desk has been cleaned up, so it can be used for girl stuff too, but it has chemical stains all over it, so it used to be Grover’s chem lab. Cindy’s got clothes in the dresser and in the closet. Deborah may be pretty ditzy, but she has to know what’s going on in Grover’s room.”
“So where’s his chem lab now? Cindy said he’s still trying to design an antidote.”
Jack said, “Good question. I didn’t have the chance to check the laundry room or the garage, and he may have a storage unit he’s using as a hiding place slash laboratory.” He called Stewart up on the phone and asked him to check on storage unit rentals, only this time Jack called him ‘Sergeant Scott’.
When they got back to the hotel, they took the room mister up to Jack’s suite and set it up where it would blast a big fountain of steamy air right at the door into the suite. Jack unlocked and opened the sliding door out onto his balcony and checked that it was completely inaccessible unless you had climbing gear and you were willing to rappel down from the roof. He said, “It’s gonna be dark soon. I don’t think the Invisible Jerks have had a chance to learn Army rappelling techniques, but I don’t want to find out the hard way.”
She kind of figured rappelling down a wall naked would be really
painful, with all kinds of icky ropeburns.
Then he shrugged out of the coat and tie, and fixed himself a drink. Alex wasn’t all that surprised that it was a coke with lots of ice and no liquor. She figured a guy like Jack might have a few beers or a bourbon and coke at home, but there was no way Jack was going to drink on duty unless it was part of his role. And with invisible guys creeping around town, they could be on duty at any second.
Riley and Stewart showed up a few minutes after seven. Jack managed to open the door just enough for them to get blasted with steamy air as they came in. She was pretty sure he did it on purpose, just to be mischievous. Then he got them sodas and asked them for reports.
Stewart held up a big paper shopping bag and said, “Four IR viewers, sir. We need to get them set up and charge all of them overnight, so they’re ready to go tomorrow.” He took the packages out of the bag. Then he started opening up boxes, assembling viewers, and getting them plugged into wall outlets to charge their batteries. Alex thought they looked really cool: each one looked like a big camera on a thick pistol grip, with a 2”x2” viewscreen on the user’s end of the thing.
Riley said, “All three of our jocks vanished Sunday afternoon, sir. The Thomases reported a break-in to the police Sunday night. The police think that’s linked to an animal cruelty case that happened roughly the same time in the back yard of the house behind them. Someone beat the neighbor’s Doberman to death with a shovel.”
“That Thomas kid is a real piece of work,” Jack muttered.
Stewart said, “Yes sir. Our people back at the base report that Thomas came around less than an hour ago, and has been screaming and cursing and pounding on the walls of his cell since then.”
Jack said, “Steroids. Just say no.”
Alex said, “I don’t know if this matters here, but we found out that some of these chemicals that cause superpowers have really weird reactions to other unusual chemicals. So maybe he was using steroids or something, and this is having an extra side effect on him.”
Jack frowned, “Terrific. I love an insanity plea.”
Stewart said, “And no luck on the storage units. Half the ones around here will take cash up front and no ID if you offer them a little extra off the books.”
Not too long after they finished with stuff, someone knocked on the door and called out, “Room service!”
Jack gestured for Riley to move into the bedroom and have a weapon ready. Then he gestured for Alex to move toward the window so she’d be out of the line of fire, and he gestured for Stewart to move to where he could shoot at anything coming in the door without getting in Jack or Riley’s way.
Jack checked his Taser and tucked it in the back of his pants. He peeked through the peephole and moved hastily away, like he was worried someone might try shooting him right through the peephole. Then he carefully opened the door about two feet and stood in the doorway. “Hey, yeah, you got four dinner orders?”
“Yes sir,” the guy said. Alex could see the guy had a three-level cart that had food and drinks and trays and things on all three levels, so there was no place for an invisible guy to be hiding.
Jack moved just barely enough for the guy to push the cart through. The guy tried to pretend he wasn’t bothered by getting a faceful of steam. He rolled the cart into the room.
And Alex saw the shape of an invisible guy’s arm and shoulder as he moved into the steam in an effort to slip into the room.
“Bandit!” yelled Jack.
Stewart leaned out and tried to take a shot with a Taser at the invisible guy.
The hotel bellman covered his head in terror and ducked right into Stewart’s way.
The invisible guy sprinted down the hall as fast as he could. Stewart moved after him, even though the bellman got in his way. Riley ran from the other room, a Taser in one hand and a can of spray paint in the other, and pushed past the terrified bellman to run after the invisible guy and Stewart.
Jack pushed the bellman out into the hall and slammed the door. He turned to Alex and said, “Take the window!”
Alex looked at her purse on the other side of the room. She used her telekinesis to grab her camera and yank it over to her. Then she slid open the glass door and dove off the balcony.