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.
On Monday, Alex got up and found she already had missed calls on her tPhone from Jack, Willow, Cindy, Hanna, and Riley. Riley? Had Riley ever called her before, except in the middle of a live op?
Just in case something bad was happening, she called Riley first. “Terawatt here. Is there a crisis?”
Riley fretted, “Oh no. I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. I just didn’t think it was important enough to leave a message, when you have your own projects going on.”
She asked, “Then what’s up?”
He asked, “What’s your impression of Steve Andrews? He put his neck on the line several times last week, and he ran in front of a monster while he was trying to rescue Jane’s little brother when as far as I could tell, Danny and Mr. Martin haven’t exactly been welcoming to him. I was thinking Steve would make a heck of a good team member for the SRI, but I didn’t really think he had the ‘team player’ mentality to get through West Point. So I wanted to ask your opinion.”
Wow. Riley Finn wanted to give Steve a chance at a career in the Army? She wondered if Steve had any inkling. She said, “He was sure concerned about everyone else, like his friends and Jane, so maybe he’d be a good team player. And maybe people weren’t giving him much of a chance. His dad sure seemed to think better of him after the whole ‘just saved the town from a giant goo monster’ deal.”
Riley said, “Thanks. The colonel seemed to think Steve would do better at the Air Force Academy, but he always says that.”
Alex said, “Jo called them the Chair Force.”
Riley snickered a little and told her, “Well, a lot of them do their best work sitting down, way away from firefights. The ones like Colonel O’Neill can be pretty darn impressive. Lieutenant Frank Luke, the World War I fighter pilot Luke Air Force Base is named for? He didn’t die in a plane crash. After he was shot down, he died in a gunfight with German ground forces who tried to round him up.”
Alex nodded, “I’d hate to be in the group that had to round up Colonel O’Neill if he didn’t want to go peacefully.”
Jack, Willow, and Cindy had all left messages. Hanna hadn’t but Hanna wasn’t really up with some of the stuff like leaving messages when you didn’t connect. Jack and Willow wanted to talk Terawatt business. Cindy wanted to talk about Grover.
Alex really wanted to call Hanna and Cindy first, but she decided she’d better call Jack first, then Willow second.
When she called Jack, Walter put her directly through. Jack said, “Tera! Thanks for calling. I’ve been looking for a good reason to get off the phone with a certain DHS guy who just will not take a hint. You haven’t ever heard stories from another universe about a guy named Colonel McNamara, have you?”
Alex thought hard for several seconds. “Umm, I’m not sure, but that might have been the name of the guy who ran the DRI in Buffy and Willow’s world and hired Maggie Walsh. But don’t quote me on that, I could be totally
Jack groaned. “Well, that goes with my impression, anyway. The guy would just not get over me not letting his science weenies ‘borrow’ a piece of that blob monster for scientific research by his oh-so-important agency that’s bigger than mine.”
Alex winced at that. She was pretty sure Buffy had called the guy Colonel MacnaMonster in her story about Maggie Walsh, so that didn’t sound good. But that didn’t mean it was the guy from Buffy’s story, either. She totally didn’t want to get some guy on Jack’s hate-list just because his name sounded like someone else. That would be like deciding to hate everyone whose name reminded her of ‘D’Lazza’ in any way. That would be crazy.
So she said, “I’m just not sure if I got the name right, so don’t beat him up just because his name sounds sorta like a name I might’ve misheard. In another universe.”
Jack smirked, “Oh, that’s not the reason I’m gonna beat him up.”
She tried hard not to giggle, because Willow said they shouldn’t encourage him, even if Jack made Willow laugh just a ton. That was one of the things Alex really liked, because she didn’t think Willow had gotten a whole lot of laughing in her life before Jack came along. Instead, she asked, “Did you talk to Steve Andrews about going into the Army?”
Jack said, “He wants to be a race car driver. I think he should’ve outgrown that one about five years ago. But I told him the SRI needs hot drivers and top-notch mechanics and hotshot flyboys in fancy jets and choppers. I don’t think I sold him on that, even if I did sort of mention the Blackbird that hauled you out there. And maybe I let him look in the general’s helicopter. Finn wants Steve to go Army, but I think there’s about as much chance of that as his girlfriend Jane ending up married to the town sheriff.”
Alex had no idea where Jack got some of his comments, but she figured there was something in his past that he was using as a private joke, just because he seemed to do that a lot.
Jack said, “Well, I didn’t call you to complain about some guy who might or might not be like a guy from another universe. I called to give you a heads-up on what my IT guys found on our Wacky Maggie. Turns out she was adopted at about two months by Mary Elizabeth and Timothy Walsh. The Walshes were a good Catholic family who couldn’t have kids of their own, so they adopted four babies. So Maggie was the baby of the family – no Simpsons jokes, I already did all of ‘em – and got treated pretty well. She was also the brain of the family, and got two huge scholarships for college, plus some really nice assistantships for grad school. And her folks coughed up the same amount for her that they did for her big brothers and big sister, who never came close to earning a college scholarship. That probably meant she had a pretty cushy life in college and grad school.
“So anyway, no suspicious deaths in her childhood that we’ve found so far, but several years ago, mom Mary had a stroke, and passed away in her sleep from yet another stroke while in hospital in the days afterward, while making a very slow recovery with some secondary strokes. Tim didn’t get over her, got depressed, started drinking too much, and died in his sleep about five months later. Both could have been natural deaths. Or not. And no one’s ever going to know, unless Maggie decides to confess to someone, which I think is pretty damn unlikely. I showed the file to Janet, and she thought it was suspicious that her folks stayed alive while Maggie was getting something out of them, and died when they might have started being an economic or social burden on her. Her three ‘siblings’ haven’t heard from her since the funerals, but she was never close to them. You’ll never believe this, but they described her as ‘cold’ and ‘intellectual’ and ‘not really social’. So, as long as her siblings don’t try to get money out of her, they’re probably safe.”
Alex asked uncomfortably, “So there’s ways to kill someone without leaving any traces?”
Jack said, “There are definitely ways of killing someone without leaving anything that could be found by an autopsy years after the fact. Someone having strokes in a hospital is hooked up to IVs and all kinds of jazz. You could inject something into a vein, and no one would think twice, when the person has tons of punctures from all the medical tests and treatments. Or you could inject something into the IV itself. Janet said you can inject something that mimics a stroke, or makes it more likely a stroke will happen, or counteracts an anti-stroke drug the person’s on, or just makes the effects of a stroke worse. Or you could go straight to a murder that would probably get passed off as a stroke unless someone was really suspicious. And we’re talking about a woman with an MD and a PhD in biochem and a PhD in genetics so she would know all the drug options on this, not to mention having an ability to invent new biochemicals that do horrible stuff.”
Alex shuddered inwardly. How could anyone be so creepy they’d kill their own mom? That was just… wrong. “That’s just… Danielle Atron levels of disturbing.”
Jack said, “Okay, we’re putting our own spin on the whole Walsh issue, because there’s not a scrap of evidence she did anything. But a person who’d unleash a monster on a town for no reason we can even see? That’s not someone I want being the caregiver for Aunt Gerda.”
“Do you even have an Aunt Gerda?”
He said, “Someone’s bound to, somewhere.”
Alex complained, “I only got into this to help people. I had no idea I was going to be finding stuff like… this.”
Jack gently said, “Look, if it’s any consolation, even after the stuff I saw in Russia and Eastern Europe, I wasn’t expecting stuff like we’ve seen. And even with Finn and Miller, we couldn’t have done what needed to be done without you and Acid Burn. Who is definitely
hotter than Angelina Jolie, I don’t care what anyone else says.”
Alex smiled, “You should tell her
“Who, Angelina? I tell my Acid Burn that all the time, but she doesn’t seem to believe me.”
Yeah, Alex could believe that. Willow still saw herself as a nerdy, unattractive, dorky person. Which was totally not fair, and Alex blamed all the mean people like Cordelia Chase and the ‘Cordettes’ if she remembered what Buffy said was Xander’s nickname for Cordelia’s posse. Every time Alex thought about that, it just made her happier that she stood up to Jo Baker back when Jo was still in school, and sadder that no one stood up to Jo any sooner.
So Alex Skyped Willow on the tablet using the super-secure encryption protocols Willow had in the software she had hacked and put on the tablet. “Hi, Acid Burn! Your boyfriend was just telling me how sexy you are. You up to naughty stuff again?”
Willow blushed beet red and said, “Oh no, he didn’t tell you about the Skype phone-sex thing, did he, because I’d just die if he did, and he really thought it was hot but it was so naughty and I don’t think I’ll do it again and I’m pretty sure he’s okay with that, but I… I mean, he didn’t tell you about…”
Alex just tried not to wince as Willow went on and talked about something she’d never even imagined Willow might do, because this was so much past TMI that she just wanted to plug up her ears. She said, “Umm, Willow, Jack wouldn’t talk about you like that. And he definitely wouldn’t tell me. He just said you were prettier than the movie Acid Burn.”
Willow gasped, “Oh my God you mean I just told you all about the Skype sex thing and you didn’t know about it and I just outed myself?” Her face got even redder, and she clapped her hands over her face. “I need to go hide. For like a month.”
Alex said, “Was this a Libby idea?”
Alex said, “Well, you don’t need to do stuff like that because Jack already thinks you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. Did he show you the Simpsons yet?”
Willow said, “Oh yeah, they’re hysterical. And Homer is just so… Homer-y! I decided I wasn’t going to watch them by myself, though. Jack loves showing eps to me, so it’s great to just sit and watch ‘em with him. And Jack really likes hockey, but I still haven’t caught the sports bug yet. Not that I’m saying so, but I’ll watch with him and Charlie. But if it’s just Jack, I go turn up the heat in the room and start taking my clothes off, and start taking his clothes off…” Willow gave Alex a wicked smile. “He hasn’t made it to the third period yet!”
Alex wondered if she was ever going to be ready for this kind of conversation. She said, “You left me a message that you had top secret Terawatt business about Downingtown?”
Willow nodded eagerly, like she was dying to get off the embarrassing topics. “Oh yeah! After our guys took care of the big bad blob baddie, the DHS guys swarmed through that whole secret lab. The piece of paper Riley Finn found with the labs and the scientists’ names is maybe the best thing they’re gonna get out of it, though. That thing ate everything in the bottom two levels except the gene sequence samples in that freezer Grover hid in, and most of those are too fragile to do much with. I’ve been peeking past their firewall a little bit – Jack said it was okay – and you won’t believe this, but they had some DNA from dinosaurs! And other prehistoric stuff! Okay, it’s all unusable as DNA for something like cloning because it’s like 99% ruined, but still… really cool. So anyway, they think there were ten PhD scientists and maybe three times that many technicians and helpers. They’re searching the town and the surrounding towns for houses and hotels and apartments and condos these people might have been living in, and so far not a lot of big successes. They’ve found about a quarter of the residences, but nothing other than fingerprints and stuff like that. No notes taken home, no secret samples in the bathroom, nothing. And all the research was either in paper journals that the blob ate, or else in the special memory in the midframe they had down in the bottom level, and it was designed as all RAM for extra speed and killer security. As soon as the power for the midframe went, all the memory was gone. Unrecoverable, too. All we have is our one little super-encrypted hard drive from the head guy down there. I got an electronic image, and Jack’s boss sent a copy to the NSA to decrypt. I’m trying to beat them, but the NSA has a ton more computing power than I do. If it would take me a century to crack the codes, they should be able to crack it in… months.”
Alex said, “But you’re way smarter than they are.”
Willow frowned, “I wish. But decryptions like this are pretty standard. You just try every possible combination until you unlock it. Like Weird Al says, it’s all about the Pentiums.”
Alex tried to be encouraging, even if she didn’t get the joke. “Well, really, all that matters is that someone cracks it. Right?”
Willow nodded, “Right. But I’d like to be first anyway. Like my stuff with captainmal and jackryanrules, whose real names are Jeremy and Franklin, but their handles are way cooler, like mine. So anyway, Jack and General Hammond pretty much made the Downingtown mayor and city council – well, the ones who didn’t get eaten – pee themselves in fright, and they got the whole story from all of them. A guy who said he was from the EPA met with them in secret, and he wanted them to take part in this test on waste treatment and it had to be a secret, because everyone knows the U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania who’s on the EPA oversight committee hates the EPA because of the whole ‘steel mill emissions’ thing, so this was going to be secret until it was proven to be a huge success, and the EPA would pay Smith & Smith Construction to build and run the plant, and the Department of Health and Human Services would underwrite special grants to the city. So free money, and free wastewater treatment, and free getting the EPA off their back! Of course they said yes. They pretty much said ‘yes even if you want my right arm and my firstborn male child’. Except there was no wastewater treatment, just a secret evil lab, so now the real EPA is going to fry them for water treatment violations. Jack said ‘you can’t cheat an honest man’ and boy did those guys prove that’s true. Well, I think W.C. Fields said it first.”
Alex asked, “So they have a name and a face and they can trace this guy down?”
Willow said, “I doubt it. He said his name was Mister Jones, and they just bought it. And he spent all his time in the ‘research wastewater plant’ right up to the end, so he might be an ex-badguy now.”
Alex said, “Wait a minute, Mister Jones, and Smith & Smith Construction Company? And these guys didn’t suspect anything?”
Willow said, “Jack says they didn’t want
to suspect anything. They really needed the money, and they needed the wastewater treatment facility they couldn’t afford, and they really needed the EPA off their backs. But the EPA dropped their whole ‘your water is icky’ enforcement stuff. So Jack thinks somebody at the EPA has to be involved, and maybe somebody at the Department of Health and Human Services, and who knows who else. So this may be a really big
conspiracy. And what kind of conspiracy spends a quarter of a billion dollars to create a blob monster? I mean, what’s the point here? This is totally making a sense that is… not. Even James Bond movies have better plots than this, which means we’re missing something huge, because nobody sinks tons of money into really stupid stuff that’s just going to kill them if they succeed.”
Alex said, “Well, that’s why we have you to figure stuff out.”
Willow frowned, “I hope I can, because whoever is behind this is smart
. So there has to be something smart going on. Not the dumb thing we think we’re seeing. We tracked down Smith & Smith Construction and three other connected companies that were providing supplies and manpower and all that. They’re all dummy companies with paper trails that vanish around about the Cayman Islands banks and Russian banking holdings and some Swiss banks too. Whoever is behind this is highly competent, international, and is probably doing bad stuff like this elsewhere.”
Willow nodded, “And now we’re checking on other towns that suddenly went from fiscal disaster to fiscal health, and suspicious construction companies, and any underground construction in the last ten years, and a bunch of other things like that. Except I went to check on Downingtown satellite imagery, and someone really good at cracking got into Google Earth and deleted all the images that would have shown the construction area when it was open, so Google Earth had just one old image and one new one, so if anyone tried to find the underground construction through Google Earth, they’d miss it! So mal and rules are working with the NSA to hunt through the really top-secret satellite imagery, and I’m searching for other Google Earth photographic patterns that have holes in the temporal coverage.”
Alex asked, “Was the Desert Research Institute like that?”
Willow said, “Nope. I checked that already. And I checked Grover’s dad’s chemical plant, and the Paradise Valley chemical plant, and Hanna’s house in Finland. Nada. Whoever’s behind this may not be involved in the other stuff we’ve been facing.”
Alex asked, “Is that good, or bad?”
Willow sighed, “Either way it’s pretty bad. I mean, one minute I’m saying ‘hey, it’d be pretty cool to play Penelope Garcia for a real superheroine’, and then the next thing you know, I’m uncovering an international conspiracy dealie that even Jack doesn’t know about, and they have billions of bucks hidden all over the world, and they’re doing freaky Bond villain stuff like making monsters and that makes no sense!”
Boy, and Alex thought she was the one who was all freaked about this stuff. She tried to sound reassuring. “We’ll figure it out. After all, you’re S4l1x680. You’re the best anywhere. You’ll find these guys, and you’ll buy like twenty million Beanie Babies with their credit card numbers and bankrupt them, and then just before they run for governor of New York you’ll play a video of them revealing their secret evil plan all over Times Square.”
Willow said, “Somehow, I don’t think their big evil plan is running for governor of New York. And Jack’s idea that they were trying to wipe the Philly cheese steak off the face of the Earth? Pretty sure that’s not it either.”
Alex said, “That does sound like something Jack would say.”
“Oh! And that reminds me! Something super important!”
Alex wondered, “What?” More bad news?” She just hoped it wasn’t something else seriously gross about Willow having sex with Jack.
“Cake!” Willow exclaimed. “I made five chocolate zucchini cakes today! I figured out how to make ‘em so they’d fit perfectly in a plastic shipping mold like the fancy catalogs use, and I’m sending two down to you, and one to Jack and Charlie, and one to Hanna and Janet, and one to mom and dad! And yours is coming from ‘AB Studios’ in Palo Alto, so you’ll know what it is when it gets there. And the best part?”
“I dunno. They’re low-cal?”
Willow grinned evilly, “Jack doesn’t know there’s zucchini in it! I can’t wait to tell him, right after he eats half the cake!”
Alex smiled, “Just be sure to get pictures of his face when you tell him.”
After that, Alex Skyped Hanna. She smiled, “Hi, Hanna! You could’ve left me a message, you know. Even if it wasn’t important. I like hearing from you.” She could tell Hanna was at home and Cindy wasn’t over, because Hanna had obviously been trying to learn to do mascara, and it was totally uneven, and really clumpy on her left eye.
Hanna shrugged. “Cindy showed me how to leave messages, but I knew Colonel Jack and Major Riley needed to talk to you, and that is much more important.”
Alex said, “But if you leave me a message, then I know if it’s important, or it’ll wait, or if you just wanted to tell me something and I don’t even have to call back.”
Hanna looked down at her keyboard as she thought about it. “Okay. I will try that. I just wanted to tell you that Willow is mailing you a chocolate cake, but it has something called zucchini in it. A zucchini is a green vegetable shaped like a cylinder. Janet fixed ‘pasta primavera’ for me, and while it was very tasty and I had never had anything like it before, the zucchini was not suitable for desserts. And do not tell Colonel Jack this. I did warn Charlie, but he said it would be okay.”
Alex nodded, “It’s okay. Willow warned me. I know all about zucchini. And Willow promised me you can’t taste the zucchini in the cake. So pretend it’s just chocolate.”
Hanna said, “I have eaten much worse things than a chocolate cake with a vegetable inside it.”
Alex tried not to scowl, but she had a feeling Erik Heller had made Hanna eat all sorts of horrible things when they were living way up above the Arctic Circle and never going into a city for shopping. She just said, “But you don’t have to eat icky stuff anymore, unless, you know, you’re just doing it to be polite. Like Charlie fixes you dinner but the casserole is overcooked, or something like that.”
Hanna nodded, “Cindy and Janet have explained about white lies and politeness to me. Colonel Jack is the only one who said it in a way that makes sense: he said act like it’s a cover story for a covert assignment.”
Honestly, that Jack! Alex said, “Well…” She thought it over and said, “Maybe he’s right. Being polite sometimes means lying, but it’s so you don’t hurt people’s feelings. Instead of saying ‘get out of my way before I break your legs’ you say ‘excuse me, may I get by you’ and it works better too. Especially if you smile, because you’re pretty, and a pretty girl can get people to do pretty much anything just by smiling and being, well-”
“Manipulative?” Hanna asked.
Alex winced a little. “I wasn’t gonna say that, but manipulative works too. I know a couple ‘pretty girls’ who are really good at the manipulative thing. But I also know some pretty girls who just try to be nice. Most guys will do anything a hot girl asks, and she doesn’t have to be a mean bitch about it. And lots of girls will do what you want if you’re just polite about it. And if there are bad people who won’t do what you want, well, you still don’t have to break their legs.”
Hanna said, “I would not break their legs. That’s more difficult to do, and gives them time to reach for a weapon or trigger an alarm. Snapping their neck is much more effective.”
Alex said, “Sorry, bad example. Don’t break their necks either just ‘cause they won’t get out of your way, or they want to take the last carton of chocolate chocolate-chip ice cream.”
Hanna asked, “At what point should I stop being polite and use a more efficient tool?”
Alex asked, “You mean like throwing them over a wall? The real answer is ‘pretty much never’. If it’s a guy with a gun who’s going to shoot someone and you can’t talk them out of it, then go ahead and stop ‘em. But that’s pretty much it. If it’s just a guy who wants that last ice cream, or a guy who wants a date from you and won’t take no for an answer, that’s not a ‘break their neck’ situation. It might be a ‘call for store security’ sitch, but really not a ‘reveal your secret superpowers’ deal.”
Hanna nodded. “That makes sense.” She frowned for a few seconds and asked, “Alex, I am not sure I should ask Cindy, but Deborah hugged me and called me ‘honey’. Was she being… motherly?”
Alex nodded. “Sure. Doesn’t Janet hug you?”
Hanna nodded, “Yes, but she really does behave like a mother to me. I mean, she acts like the good mothers in the tv shows Cindy and I watch. I… Sometimes I hug her too. The other night I almost called her mutter
. Do you think… my real mother would mind?”
Alex made an effort not to cry, and she said, “I’m sure your real mom would want you to have a mom, and friends, and a real life, not being all alone with no one to care about you.”
After she finished talking with Hanna, and she was finally sure she wasn’t going to burst into tears, she Skyped Cindy.
“Hi, Alex! Did you get the pictures of Hanna?”
“Oh, she looks so pretty! She really needs a lot of practice on her mascara, and probably more practice on blending her eyeshadows.”
Cindy nodded, “And she does a lot better on lipstick if she uses a lipliner first. She’s getting the hang of it pretty quick. I just need to get her to stop looking at Wendy’s ‘Seventeen’ magazines because a lot of the ad models wear WAY too much makeup, and she totally doesn’t need it. And…”
They got involved in a really important discussion about makeup and Hanna’s complexion and hair and bone structure and stuff. It went on so long Alex’s mom had to come upstairs and get her to stop talking and go eat lunch.
Then, Tuesday, in the middle of Skyping with Grover and Cindy, the UPS guy showed up with two boxes from AB Studios, and Alex had to spend a lot of the day sampling chocolate cake, just to make sure there weren’t any zucchini chunks in it or anything like that.
Well, that was what she told her mom, anyway. And it was really good cake! And the look on her dad’s face when he found out what was in the chocolate cake was awesome! She had her GoPro ‘sitting’ on the kitchen counter when really she was operating it with her telekinesis, so she got a video of her dad freaking out about secretly getting fed zucchini. She sent it off to Willow before she even cleaned up the dishes.
He still ate another slice before bedtime. She was so
going to tell Willow.
Wednesday morning, when she Skyped Willow, she meant to talk first thing about her dad eating more of the chocolate cake, but Willow rushed, “Ooh, it’s a good thing you called, because my programs have been picking up some freaky police reports in this town in New Jersey, and sure I sent that stuff past Jack and his IT guys, but I just got a new hit from there, and this is looking way more like an SRI kind of job.”
“What happened?” Alex was almost afraid to ask, after the last couple assignments.
“Well, it looks like a giant monster guy murdered a little old lady… by shoving her into a washing machine.”
A/N1: The disclaimer will be at the end of the next chapter. If you know what crossover this is going to be, then you know that I don’t own it or the characters.
A/N2: Obscure ref time: Steve Andrews’ girlfriend *does* end up married to the town sheriff… in Mayberry. The same actress played Jane and also Sheriff Andy Taylor’s girlfriend (and eventually, wife) Helen Crump.