Sunday, November 11, 2012

Leech Chapters One Through Three!

Hey', y'all!  There really is no point in my apologizing for my long absences at this point, is there?  In my defense, NaNoWriMo has been eating my face right off, but in a good way.  I haven't pantsed a novel in almost a decade, and it's been an interesting experience.  I'm still in the first act, so I'm kind of throwing guns up on mantelpieces with wild abandon right now.  I'll figure out which ones I need to go off later.  And, in other news, my regular photographer, Audrey, has confirmed that she's not going to be able to do the cover for Leech.  Her pregnancy is just kicking her ass way too hard right now; since the baby's not due until January, we would be looking towards March at the earliest if we decided to sit out her pregnancy.  Happily, I'm investigating a few other artists right now (I don't get the biffle discount with them, alas, but what can you do?) and am aiming to premiere Leech on December 5th.  Because that will get it out in time for the holiday bump and, well, I turn 28 on December 6th and want to look at my sales page as a present to myself.  :P  Here are the first three chapters, I hope you like them!

Chapter One
Personally, Mindy never would understand fashion, but who was she to judge?  A woman wanted to spend the better part of a month's salary on a pouch made of dead animal, it was her business.  Mindy didn't understand what it was about one cow-pouch that made it better than the next cow-pouch on the shelf, but hey.  She didn't expect other women to understand the finer points of the Cowboys' defensive strategy or why Tony Romo was an unsung hero.  The universe balanced.

What Mindy did have a problem with, however, was when people had to go on and steal their ludicrously priced handbags from others.  If the people buying the cow-pouches made a premium for them, people selling them sure didn't get up for much less.

Mindy shifted her weight from one leg to the other as she crouched on a rooftop ledge and studied the goings-on down below.  Three—no, four—forms thus far, every one of them female, every one of them moving with a brisk efficiency tiptoeing on the edge of hurry.  They must have disabled the alarms to keep the police from showing up before they had carried off their goodies.  They hadn't counted on Mindy.

Mindy stretched as her calf started to cramp, still watching.  "I don't know how you do this for hours at a time," she said into the empty air.  "I'm already getting a charley horse."

A male voice spoke into her ear, "I'm efficient.  You'll learn to relax your calves."

Mindy extended first one leg, then the other, and wiggled her toes.  "Shoot, keep this up and I won't need pilates."

The male voice didn't respond.  Marcus said little, preferring to let his silences speak for him, and Mindy understood the meaning behind this one as clearly as the words on a newspaper.  She had told a giant lie for several years and had nearly gotten her friends killed as a result of her subterfuge.  Trust didn't come back overnight.  Sometimes, Mindy didn't think it came back ever.

The last of the women below exited the pricey boutique with an armful of handbags and a pack slung across her back bulging with rectangular objects—shoes, Mindy guessed.  The back of their dark SUV had been loaded up to the roof; they would be lucky not to be pulled over for obstructed view.  The perfect time for Mindy to make her move.

"Do me a big favor?" she murmured into her comm.  "Get the police on the way?"

"Made the call thirty seconds ago."  Marcus's voice rang as clearly as if he stood right next to her here in Austin rather than being several hundred miles away in California, getting ready for his own night on the prowl or possibly already right in the middle of his own stalk.  The bud in Mindy's ear making the conversation possible had been designed by Marcus himself. 

Mindy jumped, grabbed for the rain gutter with both hands, and hopped to the ground by bracing her feet against the brick.  About halfway down, she slipped and barked her knee against the wall, tearing a hole in the thick black stockings she wore to keep her legs warm and save her hide whenever she had to make a tackle or take a tumble.  Brushing herself off, Mindy remembered again why she had never gotten into fashion.  Designer would cost five hundred bucks to replace, not ten bucks at Target.  And she couldn't pick up a gallon of milk at Nordstrom's either.

The women parked at the back of the boutique didn't see Mindy through the shadows.  Mindy wasn't surprised; each of them wore a heavy rubber mask in the shape of a United States president.  Maybe they were going for political commentary--two of the women wore Bill Clinton and JFK, respectively--or maybe a gangster movie had been on in the background in the heist's planning stages.  They couldn't have anything in the way of peripheral vision, though.  Mindy's own "mask", such as it was, consisted of a straight line of eye-black encompassing each eye and disappearing towards her temples.  She might have watched old Westerns a little too avidly while she had been planning her own future, but at least she could still see from the corners of her eyes.

"Don't talk to me," Mindy murmured into her earpiece to assure Marcus's continued silence.  She crept up on a tall woman with a wiry build who had proved her sense of humor by wearing an Abraham Lincoln mask, complete with stovepipe hat.  The woman carried the car keys in her hand.  Mindy stood by the corner of the boutique, letting the shadows hide her from view while the other three scurried back and forth from the back door to the SUV, unable to stop themselves from picking up one more thing even though at least ten minutes had passed since Mindy had begun observing them. 

Honest Abe must have felt the same way, because she checked her phone before turning and calling in the whisper-hiss that always carried farther than if someone had just bit the bullet and shouted, "Guys!  Come on, we gotta move!"

"Thirty more seconds!" JFK hissed back.

 Honest Abe muttered something nasty about the people who were supposed to be her friends and unlocked the SUV.  She didn’t any farther than putting her foot against the doorframe in preparation to hoist herself up before Mindy struck.  She wrapped her fingers through the back of Abe's mask and bounced Abe's head against the top of the frame.  The noise of her skull bouncing off the metal echoed even through the mask.  The stovepipe hat tumbled to the ground.  Mindy moved quickly, wrapping her arm around Abe's throat and applying pressure hard.  She doubted that any of the four had actual fighting experience, but Abe still had a good six inches on her. 

Mindy eased Abe to the ground, plucked up the SUV keys, and hurled them far off into the shadows.  They made a slight tinkling noise as they disappeared.

"Oh-kay, Leslie, we're ready to go," Clinton said, bouncing out of the back door.  She skidded to a stop upon finding Mindy with her hands braced upon her hips.  Mindy knew what she was seeing: a short, athletic white woman with a messy ponytail of brunette hair tied up high on her head.  Her clothing was snug, skin-covering, and solid black, and she had a pair of combat boots capable of ringing a mugger's skull with their steel toes.  A pack of Marcus's design, only slightly lighter than the one Marcus himself carried, rested strapped to her back and containing anything a girl could ask for if she wanted to fight crime without being tied down to the rules of the actual police force.

"Hi," Mindy told Clinton brightly.  She pointed at the handbags in the other woman's hands.  "You know you can get those on Ebay, right?  For a lot cheaper than a defense attorney."

"They wouldn't be real," Clinton breathed.  She jerked as she seemed to realize that chatting with Mindy was a bad plan.  Clinton spun towards the interior of the boutique.  "Amy, Stacey, come on!" she yelled.  "It's—"  She paused and looked over her shoulder.  Mindy thought of the several nicknames she had picked up throughout newspapers and internet forums.

"I'm not telling you my name," Mindy said, almost gently.  "Maybe you should have thought things through a little more before you told me yours?  Or came out tonight?"

Even Clinton's mask seemed to go pale as she realized how big a mistake she had made.  "STACE!" she screamed into the darkness of the boutique.  The first police sirens echoed towards them.  While Mindy didn't think any of these women presented a physical danger, it was probably best that she subdued them before the cops showed up.  She started forward.  Clinton threw a half-hearted punch at Mindy.  Mindy dodged and threw one of own back, sending Clinton ducking.  Mindy's knuckles still caught the top of her head hard enough to knock the mask askew and send a tangle of red curls falling out around the edge of the rubber.  Clinton squealed and went down to one knee, fight clearly out of her.

She was an optimist at heart, but this was going better than even she had expected.  Mindy whirled back towards the boutique as a third woman rushed out wearing a Woodrow Wilson mask.  Mindy had only a second or so to register the third woman's appreciation of history before the woman yanked her disguise off, revealing long, blonde waves and a face twenty-one, twenty-two years old at most.  She stared at Mindy with wide brown eyes.  The girls wouldn't be keeping their identities a secret for much longer, what with the police ninety seconds away at most, but a curl of warning still ran up Mindy's spine.  The girl's eyes started getting bigger.  Mindy said a bad word and lunged.

She covered perhaps half the distance between them while the girl's eyes kept swelling, getting bigger and bigger and turning glassy.  Mindy doubled over with vertigo until she felt dinner rising from her stomach.  The world swirled and tilted; the red of the brick became the gray of the cement and the shiny black of the SUV, humans scattered dots of peach and pink between.  Mindy hit her knees hard enough to tear a second hole in the knee of her tights.  Her dinner hit the cement and splattered back against her face. 

"Rock on, Stacey!" one of the women yelled gleefully, followed by the meaty smack of a high-five.  A boot collided with Mindy's ribs hard and lifted her off of the cement and out of the path of her own sick.  She closed her eyes and groaned; the vertigo went away.   A second kick made contact against her body, this time on her thigh.

"What did she do to Leslie?" Stacey asked.  Her voice echoed close, her breath tickling against the side of Mindy's neck.  Mindy shifted her weight onto her hands and reached for Marcus's new design with all the subtlety she could muster.  "What did you do to her, bitch?"

Leslie--Honest Abe--groaned as she came to, and said in a wheezy voice, "I'm fine.  Come on, we got to get out of here before the cops show up."

"We're going to run her over."  The voice sounded like Clinton, doubtful and soft.

"It's her own fucking fault," Leslie snapped.  Mindy heard feet scuffing across the cement.  She opened her eyes a crack.  Stacey watched Leslie with a conflicted expression on her face, her eyes gone back to normal, but she turned her gaze back to Mindy almost immediately.  Oh, dang, the second dose was even worse than the first.  Mindy groaned and sank back down to the cement as her whole body prickled hot and cold with the urge to retch.  Her fingers touched against a cool metal cylinder.

Point and shoot, Marcus had told her upon asking her to test his newest doo-dad.  You're Texan, it should be easy.  Mindy had stuck her tongue out at him and refrained from otherwise answering, since her daddy took her out to shoot at cans with a BB gun for the first time when she was eight.  Didn't mean Marcus needed to know.

"Point and shoot," Mindy murmured to herself as her fingers closed around the cylinder nestled against the small of her back.  The SUV's engine turned over.

"Point and what?" Stacey asked.  Her voice echoed very near to Mindy's face.  She must be leaning down close to make certain Mindy got the highest dose of vertigo possible before Stacey ran off and left her to her fate.

Mindy rolled over onto her back rather than trying to leap all the way up to her feet while her inner ears still did a crazy cha-cha, freeing her tingling and numb arm.  Not so numb that she couldn't point her canister directly at Stacey's face and press the button on the top.  She also held her breath.  Marcus had been extraordinarily clear about the final part.

A fine white mist shot out of the top of the canister and enveloped Stacey's face.  Her eyes widened even further, forcing Mindy to turn her face away, and she let out a chirping sigh of protest before crumbling to the pavement.  Two police cars careened to a halt at the mouth of the alley.  Leslie, halfway into the driver's seat of the SUV, looked back with eyes widened by fear and not impending superpower.  She had her Lincoln mask hiked up on her forehead, and her previously heat-flushed face lost all color.

"Get out of the vehicle with your hands above your head!" one of the police officers boomed through a microphone.  The three girls who had made it to the SUV were frozen, while Stacey on the pavement stirred and moaned as she began to come around again.  Leslie dove for something in the front seat of her car, and Mindy saw a flash of gunmetal through the open door.

Before she had time to think, Mindy seized Stacey about the wrist.  Stacey squawked and went rigid while the police officers shouted, and Mindy ignored them all.  She felt her eyelids fluttering down to half-mast while her entire body grew tense and taut, as if she were pulling Stacey's blood out of her skin and into Mindy's own like sucking down an extra-thick milkshake through a straw.  Not blood, though.  Something else.  Mindy had never wanted to poke too deeply at how her powers worked, and Evelyn had never been inclined to share what she learned so long as her machine kept working.  All she knew was that Stacey went pale and slumped back down to the pavement again, holding her hand over her mouth as if she might retch.  Mindy pushed herself up to her feet.

Her vision went haywire, with loops and swirls like heat waves wafting up from hot tar coming off of every surface, even her own arms when Mindy chanced to glance down at them.  She turned towards the officers first without thinking, and they ducked down behind their cars on shouted protests and the sound of at least one person vomiting.

Get a grip, the boys in blue aren't the ones you want to be tussling with tonight.  Yeah, but it always seemed so easy in theory to take over another person's powers until she remembered that the other person had like as not spent most of their lives figuring out how to control and fine-tune what they could do, and she was stuck peeking in like trying to change the oil on a foreign car with a Chevy's instruction manual.  Mindy spun towards the sorority sisters.  They yelped, and several shots echoed wild.  Damn it, damn it, she was supposed to stop people from getting shot, this is why she didn't use her powers, they only wound up with people getting hurt--

Mindy took a deep breath and forced down her panic.  She nudged at Stacey with her toe, not looking down at her.  The girl still gave a queasy groan.  "How do I control it?" Mindy asked.

Stacey paused for a particularly wet-sounding cough before she asked, "What?  I'm not--"

"Cops are gonna start shooting at any minute," Mindy rolled over her.  "One of those bullets is bound to hit a gal pal.  Come on.  You can end this without getting anyone hurt."

Stacey considered for a second.  "Cross your eyes," she said.  "Tones it down while until you get your bearings."

Mindy did as Stacey said, and the heat waves grew shorter, though she still felt over-full, very aware of power rumbling beneath her skin that she had no call to be using.  The three girls at the SUV let out sobbing groans and collapsed down to the pavement, one of them following up with the distinct sound of someone puking like…well, like a sorority girl just trying on her first taste of trouble.  Mindy didn't dare look at them, kept her gaze fixed squarely at the brick wall in front of her while the cops rushed past to start slapping on handcuffs.  One of them hesitated, then put his hand on the back of Stacey's neck to angle her gaze towards her feet.  His stare laid heavy on the back of Mindy's neck.  This part was always awkward, the bit where they tried to figure out whether they should be thanking her or trying to throw her in the backseat of the police car along with the criminals she had just stopped.  On more than one occasion they had tried to do both, and a time or two when she had still been a rookie had come damned close to succeeding.

"Ah," the officer said.  That made him a half-step wittier than Mindy herself.  "Thanks."

"Don't worry about it," Mindy said, turning away from the wall and shielding her eyes with her hand to avoid unleashing vertigo again.  "Happy to help."  She was sincere, too, even though she knew she made a silly sight with her hand over her eyes as if to ward off flash photography.  She had made her fair share of mistakes, and paid for them, too, but she had never once regretted the decision to go out in the world and do something with her skills.  Not even when Evelyn had had her claws hooked into her.  Nothing rang the same, as doing the right thing.  Cheesy, but true.

Mindy lunged for the same drain pipe that she had clambered down before the other officer finished securing the four women and had clambered halfway up within seconds.  She dimly heard one officer ask the other, "So we have to deal with criminals pulling the same stunts now?" 

The second replied, "Looks like.  You ask me, these freaks should all be tagged or have to wear the same color or something." 

Mindy scrambled over the edge of the roof and disappeared before the police officers went on, telling herself that it wouldn't do any good and would only ruin her mood for the rest of the night.  Not much could put her in a funk most of the time, but it seemed more and more as if she was doomed to walk around with her eyes crossed until Stacey's power wore off, and…okay, what the cop had said still bothered her.  She had trouble remembering good things when people made Evelyn sound as if she had had a point.

"Don't think your spray worked as well as you were hoping," Mindy said into her earpiece.  Marcus said nothing on the other end, though Mindy still picked out soft rustlings and the occasional thump.  She waited another thirty seconds and tried again, "Marcus?  Are you all right?"

A louder thump, and then Marcus replied.  "Fine.  Carjacking."

"Ah."  She might have guessed that Marcus wasn't going to sit on his couch and watch the fireplace while she ran his tests.  "I said, your spray doesn't work too well.  Only put the girl down for a few seconds before she popped back up again."

"Drugging someone is a lot harder than movies make it look," Marcus said.  "Much better to disorient them for a few seconds than risk a fatal overdose."

"I had to get awful close to use the spray, though."  Mindy scrambled down another fire escape and yelped softly as she misjudged the distance from one rung to the next and caught herself in the nick of time.  "That's not going to be very practical in a war-time scenario."  Marcus kept many of his inventions for his own use, but more than a few he also sold to the government for enough money to keep him funded in the nighttime work for the rest of his life.

"The applications are much more likely to be in the realm of riot control," Marcus said.  Something thumped from his end of the conversation, making Mindy wonder if his carjacker had a concussion now, or if he had moved on and found another crime in progress already.  "Though I may have to reconsider if the spray knocked her completely unconscious.  Danger of trampling."

Mindy stubbed her foot on a curb and blurted, "Dang it!"

A pause.  Marcus asked, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, one of the thieves just…"  Mindy didn't want to go on all of the sudden, even though her powers weren't any secret to Marcus.  "She had a vertigo ability or something, and I sucked slurped up more than I bargained for.  'M not ready for the training wheels to be off yet."

Marcus stayed silent for a considered five seconds before he said, "More stories about people like us make the news every day.  We shouldn't be suprised that it would also encourage those who don't have altruistic motives to stretch their wings."

"Uh-huh."  Marcus's tone was measured, courteous.  Mindy had lived in Texas all her life, and she knew the sound of a man playing the gentleman. 

"We would be more efficient if we joined forces and shared databases on each new threat."  Marcus used a bland and mellifluous voice.  Mindy pictured him standing in front of a table seated by soldiers with more honors than she had hair elastics, explaining why a million-dollar price tag was a small price to pay for his latest doo-dad.

Mindy shook her head, forgetting that Marcus couldn't see her.  Stacey's abilities didn't compensate soon enough, and the world tilted sideways and nearly dumped Mindy on her rear before she was able to compensate.  "That's not you asking," she said, "that's Ophelia."  Marcus didn't answer.  Mindy sighed.  "Okay, she's doing a great thing, I'm not going to take that away from her, but--I can't.  Way too much water under the bridge between us.  Rivers."  Marcus didn't answer.  Mindy blinked a few times and let out a sigh of relief as she realized her vision was going back to normal.  She let another ninety seconds pass by and said, "Oh, come on, Marcus.  This is between me and Ophelia, don't you go being sore at me, too."  Mindy aimed for a joking tone and startled to hear how frightened her voice sounded, barely brave enough to rise higher than a whisper.

Marcus grunted and said at long last, "I had a situation.  Get the spray canister back to me and I'll work on the dispersal issue."  After a few beats more, Mindy realized that Marcus had disconnected.  Finally safe, she let out her breath on a long sigh.

The girl's borrowed vertigo wore off within an hour, but Mindy didn't plan on getting much more done before the end of the night.  She made a few more loops about the neighborhood, across rooftops and down alleys, satisfying herself that she was not being followed, and then headed for her car and the change of civilian clothes in the backseat.  The sky shaded purple at its eastern fringe as Mindy pulled into the garage of her new house, purchased to replace the one Evelyn had turned into a charred husk months before.  Firefighters had pulled a charred body from the rubble, meant to stand in for her.  When Mindy had turned up again afterwards, employing her brightest smile and thickest drawl as she made up an impromptu vacation out of town, the official story had become that a burglar had entered with the intention of robbing the place and was then trapped when fire broke out.  Mindy still didn't know who the body belonged to, though she and Ophelia had gone through every one of Evelyn's files line by line trying to give faces back to the victims.  When she thought about walking through those halls again, touching the things her imposter had touched, maybe even where the victim had lain, the loss of the house turned into a relief.  The new structure still smelled faintly of fresh paint and had enough security wired into it courtesy of Marcus to flash-fry a small army.  Mindy almost felt safe here.

Mindy turned on the lights in each room she passed and made a thorough examination for trespassers before flicking them off again, her nerves more jangled than she cared to admit by the Marcus's invitation.  Ophelia couldn't have known about it.  For that matter, J definitely couldn't have known about it, or else Mindy would have heard her yelling in protest all the way from San Antonio.  Nipping that foolishness in the bud saved everyone a lot of heartache, Mindy included.

Mindy had been in the house for ten minutes with the security engaged before she touched her face and realized she still wore her face paint.  She ducked into the bathroom and scrubbed it off to become a different girl, smiling at herself in the mirror when she was done.  Brown hair falling to her shoulders, a round face, and deep brown eyes made to look soft.  She got called cute a lot, when she didn't have her face paint on.  Not so much when she was on the job.

Mindy left the bathroom and shut the light off as she went.  All things considered, it had been a good night, with lots of bad guys in jail and no civilians hurt along the way.  Marcus had thrown her with his impromptu invitation, but Mindy wasn't one to stay brooding and sad for long.  She nodded and flashed herself a thumbs-up in the hallway mirror.  Mindy shed clothes all the way into her bedroom, where she changed into a comfortable pair of pajamas.  Her actual fighting clothes still ranked high on the comfort scale, as she had decided a lot time ago that she wasn't going to do a spin-kick with vinyl running up her butt just to please some fifteen year-old's idea of what a female crime fighter should look like.  Been a lot more comfortable before Evelyn, though, and not out of any changes in the design or material.

Mindy could have banged her head against the wall when she realized how cranky and self-defeating she sounded.  "Don't take J's job from her," she whispered into the silence of the house, and forced herself to smile a little.  Only took four muscles, after all, and at the end she did find her mood perking.

Mindy had too much energy to sleep yet, but the lazy hours before dawn didn't offer much in the way of news broadcasts.  She would have to wait until tomorrow to see how big a splash Stacey made and if the police had the resources to hold her.  The internet didn't yield any news yet, either, though Mindy's casual search for people with their kind of skill set soon turned up a mysterious earthquake in New York City (luckily, no one had been hurt and the property damage was minimal), a web board filled with people who seemed split between praying for Naomi's and Ophelia's souls and hoping that they would make out in front of a camera, and ultimately a news article on J herself.  The leading picture showed J as she tried to leave the scene of a foiled bank robbery. Her smile sat pinched and uncomfortable on her face.  A black woman in a dark mask kept her face turned to the side with a grace suggesting long practice, leaving the camera with only her hair and the uppermost corner of her ear.  Mindy closed the window and told herself to go to bed.  Mama and Daddy's financial advisors wanted to meet with her the next day in order to go over her finances for the next six months.  Mindy's parents themselves lived in Florida, having sold the family newspaper empire less than five years before newspapers had imploded, and for the most part trusted their cheery, levelheaded daughter to handle her own affairs without interference.  Formality or not, Mindy still wanted to be rested for the meeting.  If the accountants had to be up and early doing their best, then Mindy ought to do the same.

She had gone no further than a step into the bedroom before she felt a gaze upon her.  Mindy didn't abide stealing the powers of others any more than she abided criminals stealing regular property; like Marcus, she relied on regular old fighting skills to get things done.  She spun, already kicking out before the other person had time to realize she had caught them.  Short herself, Mindy aimed high out of reflex, and didn't realize that her opponent stood of a height with herself until too late.  She caught the blonde under her armpit and listened to her squeal.  The blonde fought back with a kick of her own, but Mindy deflected her foot easily, ducked under a wild punch, and slammed the woman up against the bedroom wall by her throat.  A pretty ocean print found at a starving artist's sale the weekend before teetered and fell from the wall.  The blonde jumped at the sound of glass breaking.  Mindy herself didn't notice, finally in a position to recognize her intruder's face.  She didn't get angry often, but all of the sudden her fingers wanted to shake, and Mindy fought hard to keep from squeezing.  She took several deep breaths before she trusted herself to speak. 

"What are you doing here, Jane?" she asked the woman who wore her face for more than a month while Mindy herself beat against the walls of Evelyn's hell, the woman who had gone through her house and touched her things and stolen her life.

Jane's eyes were wide.  She swallowed several times and at last managed, "I need your help."

Chapter Two

Mindy startled enough to loosen her grip on Jane's throat.  Jane, taking this as a sign of friendship, relaxed and even started to smile. 

"How," Mindy started.  Her voice failed her, came out belonging to someone else.  Someone frightening.  Mindy took a moment and tried again.  "How did you get into my house?"

"Evelyn used Marcus's security, too," Jane said.  She met Mindy's eyes with a bright, almost eager hopefulness, as if expecting Mindy to praise her for her ingenuity.  Jane stood only a smidge or so shorter than Mindy herself and accompanied bright golden hair falling in thick waves across her shoulders with big, brown doe eyes.  Her body was lush with the kind of curves that had made Marilyn Monroe famous, a sharp contrast to Mindy's compact athleticism.  She didn't climb up and down roofs like Mindy did; when Jane got into trouble, she just became someone else and ran away.

"New house," Mindy said.  "I changed all of the codes." 

"Yeah, but you still use a retinal-scan backup," Jane said.  She began twirling the ends of her hair around her fingers.  Mindy slapped her hand back down.  "Ow!" Jane exclaimed, and pouted.  "Stop giving me that look, it's not like it was hard.  I can become an exact physical duplicate, remember?"  As if Mindy would ever forget.  The roots of Jane's hair darkened, spreading brunette across her head in a wave, and face began to shift, features running together like an oil painting splashed with turpentine. 

"Stop!" Mindy blurted before Jane got too far.  "Stop doing that."

Caught halfway between herself and Mindy, Jane pouted a bit before she reversed the changes.  "I thought you would be nicer than the others," she complained.  The others, Mindy thought incredulously.  "The others" meant Ophelia, Naomi, J, Bonnie…the survivors.  So many more would never have a chance to confront Jane over her role in their murders, and Jane whined as truculently as if the grudge were over spilling wine on a borrowed blouse.  Feeling sick, Mindy took a step back.  Jane straightened up against the wall.  For the first time, she seemed to realize that Mindy wasn't happy to see her.

"Because you screwed up, too," Jane finished.  Mindy flinched hard, and Jane drew back against the plaster as if she expected Mindy to hit her.  Catherine must have warned her about Mindy--but that didn't then explain why Jane had come here, anyway, what she possibly hoped to accomplish.

Mindy took a few moments to center herself and push away the memories before she asked, "What do you want, Jane?"

"Like I said, I need your help."  Jane resumed twirling the ends of her hair around her fingers.  "Or someone's help, anyway, and I couldn't go to any of the others because, you know, they would probably kill me--that blonde one is crazy."  Did she mean Naomi, or J?  They both fit the description sometimes.

"So you thought you would come to me?"  Mindy's jaw dropped before she thought better of it, and Jane looked hurt.  "Do you even remember what you did to me?  I'm nice, not a doormat."

"And I thought your powers might be more useful than any of the others'," Jane admitted, casting her eyes downward.  "That, too.  But, really, it's mostly because you're nice."  Jane took a deep breath and appeared to be steeling herself before she said, almost whispering, "It's Catherine."

Mindy stopped herself from jerking in surprise, but only just.  The last time she had heard of Catherine, the woman had been trapped on a burning staircase as it collapsed beneath her.  "What about her?" she asked.

Jane stopped playing with the ends of her hair seconds before she would have set the ends on fire.  "She's insane," Jane whispered, her brown eyes big and wide.  Mindy didn't need Jane to tell her that; Catherine had been one of Mindy's main guards during her imprisonment.  She had also been strong enough to bend steel.  Thinking about her again brought a sour taste into the back of Mindy's throat. 

Mindy clenched her hands at her sides as the first of the dawn birds started singing to each other outside her bedroom window.  "Keep going," she said.

Jane looked first surprised and then pleased.  "She's alive," she said.  "Catherine and I split up after Ophelia ki--after Evelyn died.  We were scared that y'all--"  Jane's accent marked her as being from the Midwest, and the word sounded strange from her mouth.  Mindy wondered if she picked up vocabulary from every place she visited the same way she picked up faces.  "Were going to come after us for revenge, and Catherine was hurt real bad."

"So you left her," Mindy said.  She knew her voice rang with disapproval; she didn't try to hide it.  However bad things got between Mindy and the others, they wouldn't abandon her to infection and pain, nor she them.

Jane paused.  For the first time since she had revealed herself, Mindy didn't think she looked at a reflection of whatever Jane expected to get her the farthest.  "I thought she would kill me if I stayed near her too long," Jane said simply.  She shrugged and picked at the ends of her hair.  "Catherine was always crazy, but she started…just ranting, night and day except for when the painkillers knocked her out, talking about what she was going to do with Ophelia once she caught up to her.  She tried to cut me once, mistaking me for one of you guys, but I managed to get back.  She found me again a few weeks ago and has been pushing at me to go help her with something going down in New Orleans, and I don't know how to put her off anymore." 

"So you want me to save you?" Mindy asked.  She tried and failed to keep the incredulous note out of her voice.  Evelyn had held her hostage longer than anyone else, she should have the most reason to kick Jane right out on her rear and tell her to clean up her own mess.  And yet Jane still stood before her.

Jane shrugged again and looked down, still fidgeting with her hair.  "I don't have anywhere else to go," she said.  "And you…you're supposed to be one of the good guys, aren't you?  Whatever Catherine's planning, it can't be good.  She could be after your friends."  Jane looked up and took stock of Mindy's expression.  "She could be coming after you."

"Get out of my house," Mindy finally said.  Jane straightened, her eyes going wide with fear, maybe even a touch of panic.  "Leave a number where I can contact you."

"But you'll do it?" Jane pressed.  "You'll help me?"  She stepped forward.  Mindy leaned back and out of range before Jane made contact with her.

"I'll stop Catherine," Mindy said.  "Now go.  Before I change my mind."

The pinched and desperate expression left Jane's eyes for the first time.  "Thank you," she breathed with a gratitude that might have made Mindy's heart ache, had it come from anyone else.

"Just go," Mindy repeated.  She pulled her hand out of the way when Jane would have grabbed for it.  Jane finally, blessedly, seemed to realize that she shouldn't press her luck and turned to leave.  Mindy followed her all the way to the front door and watched her until she was out of sight before she set the locks and the alarms, dismantling the retinal backup.  She drifted back to her bedroom and stared hard at the phone sitting in its dock.  They all used burner cell phones and changed numbers frequently, and Mindy didn't know the current contact info for most of the others. 

Most, though.  Not all.

Mindy put her earpiece back in and activated it.  "Are you there?" she asked.

"Heading in for the night," Marcus answered almost immediately.  The barest undercurrent of surprise colored his voice, in Marcus-speak meaning that Mindy had shocked the hell out of him.  She turned towards the mirror above her dresser and practiced smiling until it would carry in her voice.  "Is everything all right?"

"Fine," Mindy said.  Her voice came out chirpy and normal.  "I'm just thinking about upgrading my security system into something that requires a DNA match rather than just a retinal scan."  She chuckled.  "I mean, I'm up Crap Creek if my security can't even beat Big Pharma's, don't you think?"  Yes, that cake tasted all right, so long as she kept Marcus from taking too close a look at the ingredients.

Mindy couldn't tell if Marcus's silence was evidence that he was onto her, distraction by a potential crime, or simply his customary way of measuring his words before he spoke them.  He finally said, "Your request shouldn't be too difficult.  The security on Ophelia's loft is based on a similar premise.  I have meetings for the next week or so, perhaps a consultation the following Saturday?"

One week.  Plenty of time to deal with whatever Catherine had cooked up in New Orleans, no need to bring anyone else into danger at all.  Because it had turned out so well the first time.  "Great!" Mindy said.  "I'll see if there's a Cowboys game on, maybe pick up a six-pack and order in a pizza."

"Of course."  Marcus chuckled.  "Have a pleasant night, Mindy."  He hung up before Mindy's finished her internal debate.

That means it's meant to be, Mindy told herself as she put the phone back into its cradle.  Jane was as skittery as an underfed deer.  J and Bonnie flipping out all over her would only make it worse, to say nothing of Ophelia or Naomi.  They didn't all tell each other every little mission they went on, anyway.  She could still find a way to signal them in if she started to get over her head. 

Mindy wrote down her observations on Marcus's new toy and put both them and the cylinder itself into a messenger box for a carrier specializing in industrial discretion to pick up in the morning.  She cleaned up the glass from the broken picture frame.  Upon calling Jane's contact number, Mindy discovered that it belonged to a sleazy by-the-hour motel near the airport, perfectly in character for someone running from an inhumanly strong psychopath.  Mindy drew the curtains across her bedroom windows in order to more firmly block out the birdsong, laid down across her bed, and did not sleep.

Chapter Three

Mindy carried two sets of ID on her.  One of them featured her real face, but neither bore her actual name.  Flying commercial attracted less attention than commissioning a private jet after hurriedly blowing off her parents' financial advisors in the pre-dawn hours.  Going through an airline certainly attracted less attention than borrowing Marcus's personal jet.  Mindy got into an animated discussion with the TSA agent, namely concerning their shared belief that the New York Giants were heathen scum who ought to be shunned by any decent society, charming the woman until she forgot to give Mindy a pat-down and thereby missed the carbon-bladed knife Mindy wore strapped to her calf.  Jane, on the other hand, was jittery enough to make Mindy, out of sympathy, nearly forget what Jane had done to her.  Jane's bag had been packed and sitting beside the motel room door when Mindy collected her a few hours after sunrise, as if she was ready to run at the slightest provocation.  Part of Mindy's labor through the night had been in constructing a decent fake ID for Jane, not knowing what watch lists she might have landed herself on.  She stood back at the airport, cringing, as Jane nearly blew it with a series of flinches and stammers that might as well have held up a sign saying, "Ask me about my dark secret."  Tears stood out in Jane's eyes by the time they left security behind them.

"Wow," Mindy said.  "Noor told me to pass on a 'thank you' for diverting security away from her, but we're going to get picked up and thrown in Gitmo on suspicion of extreme squirreliness if you keep acting like a cat dipped in turpentine."

"Who's Noor?" Jane asked.

"The woman with the purple hijab, didn't you notice me talking to her?  She's a mineral rights lawyer, and she said that of all the flights that she's taken since the TSA went rabid, you were the first blonde she's seen singled out.  They hardly did anything more than glance at her with the show that you were putting on."

"No, I didn't catch it."  The corners of Jane's mouth turned down into an unhappy bow.  "How do pull it off, schmoozing security and strangers and stuff?  I try to fake my way through, but they always can always tell."

"I don't fake it," Mindy said.  Though her tone remained mild, Jane still jumped and stared at her with big eyes.  Just a second before, Mindy had caught herself almost forgetting that Jane was one who had kept her locked in a cage for a month because her friends hadn't been able to tell the impostor from the real deal.  Mindy shook her head, leading them towards the first coffee kiosk in the terminal.  She ordered an extra-large and dumped in enough cream and sugar to serve as a meal until she got something more substantial.  Jane tugged morosely at the waistband of her slacks before ordering hers black and taking dainty sips while she eyed a tray of Danishes.

"I don't fake anything," Mindy tried again once half the cup of coffee was gone.  As much as Jane's thoughts seemed to zip about like a hummingbird, she half-expected her to have lost the thread, but the other woman's brown eyes fixed on her immediately.  "I'm not putting on a show or pretending to be something I'm not.  I like talking to people." 

"Oh.  I do, too."  Jane dropped eye contact with Mindy and went back to studying the pastries.  "I mean, I'm not very good at it, I get all flustered and stupid, but I like chit-chat.  I just don't know how you make talking to people look so easy."

Because if you can get people talking about themselves, they don’t notice the things about you that don't make much sense, Mindy thought but did not say.  She gestured towards the tray instead.  The clerk had stopped smiling brightly in anticipation of a sale and had started sighing with increasing volume in Jane's direction over a minute before.  "Eat if you're hungry, no telling when we're going to get a chance to slow down again."

"Oh, but they're so bad for me—"  Jane tugged at the waistband of her pants again and threw an almost envious glance towards Mindy's shape.  "What the hell, if Catherine's going to kill me, I don’t want to die with a Caesar salad being the last thing I ate in my whole life."  Jane flashed Mindy a bright smile as if that settled it, leaving Mindy once again with the disquieting feeling that one of them didn't know what this trip was, a mission to stop a lunatic or a girls' weekend.  Mindy purchased a cherry turnover for herself.  A few steps away, she discovered the half-dozen donut holes the clerk had slipped into her bag.

"Oh, gosh, thank you!" she called over her shoulder at him as she and Jane resumed walking to their gate, Jane still looking as baffled as if Mindy had announced an ability to do magic.  They managed to get onto the plane without Jane going into pieces in front of the ticket agent, whereupon Jane resumed a steady chatter over the course of the two-hour flight, stopping only to down two mimosas in quick succession.

"I'm sorry," Jane said after their flight attendant had taken the second glass away and the 'Fasten Seat Belt' signs had come back on.  "Am I talking too much?  I do that when I get nervous, just a way to fill the time.  It's like cracking my knuckles, I don't even realize until someone points it out."

"It's fine," Mindy said..  "I need to listen to you.  For your accent."

"My accent, what about your--"  Jane cut herself off on a self-conscious giggle.  "I guess everyone thinks they don't have an accent, don’t they?"

"Naomi tried to imitate mine for six months after we first met."  Mindy expected Jane to jump forward as she had at every other hint of bonding time between them, but Jane took to twirling her hair around her fingers again and stared out the plane window at the approaching ground.  Mindy had chosen seats in the exit row, wanting Jane in plain sight at all times.  The tape holding the knife still strapped to her calf began to make her skin itch.  It would be a little weird fighting with pants on, should she and Jane come down to blows, but she didn't expect the blonde to put up anywhere near the fight that Joey Marcone had when Mindy had busted his heroin operation up.  J had helped with that one.  It had been more fun than any girl's night at a club or spa in Mindy's entire experience.

"You look sad," Jane said.  She turned her head quickly back towards the window as Mindy leaned back in her seat, but still kept track of Mindy from the corner of her eye.  "Sorry.  I, um, study people, even if I'm not planning on imitating them later.  It's a nervous habit."

"You have a lot of those, don't you?" Mindy asked.  The flight attendant came by on a final sweep of the cabin and to make sure they didn't need anything else.  Mindy waited until she had gone and watched Jane stick the edge of her thumb into her mouth, start to nibble at the cuticle, and then push her hand back down into her lap as she realized what she was doing.

"Just wound up.  I'm not sure what Catherine's going to do when she sees me after I put her off for so long.  You don't know what she's like."

"You're wrong there," Mindy corrected.  Jane glanced towards her and flushed.

"Right," she said.  "Sorry."  Mindy blinked to hear it, even if she knew Jane's apology rose for the faux pas of bringing up Mindy's captivity, not the act of putting her there.

The plane touched down, and Mindy and Jane exited.  Mindy grabbed for Jane's arm so they wouldn't get too far away from each other in the crush of bodies and said, "Keep an eye out for a handicapped bathroom, sometimes airports will have them set off separate from the main lavatories."  Jane opened her mouth as if to question the request, only to shush again and point.  Now that they were on the ground in New Orleans, Jane's skin had blanched to the color of milk, and she trembled against Mindy's hand. 

Mindy nudged Jane into the bathroom ahead of her and cast a cautious peek around before entering herself.  "Push up your sleeve," she said.  "I need to be touching bare skin for this to work."

Jane, to her credit, realized right away what Mindy meant.  "Now?" she asked.  "Already, are you sure?" 
Yes, I'm sure.  Wanting to?  That's a whole 'nother story.  Mindy felt herself starting to scowl, her relative peace sluicing away like sugar in the rain.  "Postive," she said, firmly, convincing herself.  Jane still drew backwards and tucked her chin down towards her chest as if Mindy had popped her one.  Unkind thought or no, Mindy couldn't imagine what Evelyn had seen in her.

Mindy turned towards the mirror and took a few breaths to calm herself.  "Look," she said over her shoulder to Jane, still watching her reflection from the corner of her eye.  "I agreed to come along and help you deal with Catherine, not do all the work for you.  We're not friends."  Jane's chin, just starting to lift from where she had been tucking it against her chest, abruptly dropped again.  Lord help her, Mindy actually felt a little bad about hurting her feelings, too.  Maybe she ought to rethink her "nice, not doormat" stance.  "Catherine knows what I look like.  I'm not about to walk around New Orleans with my actual face on and risk her seeing me."

"I guess that makes sense," Jane allowed.  Her voice came out small and a little sullen, as if she thought Mindy owed her an apology for snapping.  Mindy studied herself for a few more seconds in the mirror, asking if she was ready for this.

At Mindy's ultimate nod, Jane pushed her sleeve up to her elbow.  In the inner crook stood a patch of pink scar tissue, shaped almost like a rose.  A familiar scar, identical to the one Mindy stared at every time she took a shower or changed clothes.  She tried not to look at it and laid her fingers against Jane's wrist instead, like a nurse about to take a pulse.  A jolt like static electricity leapt between them, and Jane gasped.

"It's not going to be like Evelyn's machine," Mindy promised, though she couldn't promise it would be any better, either.

Shaking off thoughts of the island, Mindy steadied herself and concentrated on the veins under Jane's skin, the pathways of the nerves and the little snaps of electricity crackling between them.  So what if Jane's powers were foreign to her; this part mostly ran on instinct.  She pictured her fingers dipping down into Jane's skin and pulling a white-silver substance out by the handful, then letting the strands sink down into her palm and flow along her own veins until they became her power, too.  It didn't hurt.  This moment scared Mindy more than anything, was the part that she would going to tell anyone even if they put her on the rack or forced her to watch one of the many reality shows about makeovers and dating.  She was never going to tell them that it actually felt kinda good to do this when she meant to do it, as opposed to the unintentional snatching that left the both parties dizzy and disoriented.

"Mindy."  Jane's voice came out strangled and weak.  Mindy ignored her and kept concentrating.  Her whole body turned warm and glowing.  She was very aware of her skin and her bones, especially the ones in her face, how plastic and malleable they could be. 

"MINDY!"  Jane sounded a lot more than nervous now.  She sounded panicked, just like when she talked about Catherine.  Mindy's eyes flew open, and she jerked her hand away from Jane's wrist as if she had been burned.  Her face milk-pale and her blonde hair turned dark where it stuck to her sweaty temples, Jane reeled backwards.  She swayed on her feet a few times, flinched away when Mindy tried to take her elbow in order to steady her, and staggered towards the toilet.  Jane fell to her knees just in time.  The sound of retching filled the small space.

Mindy backed away until the edge of the sink stopped her.  She gripped at the porcelain and focused on regaining control of her trembling hands.  When Mindy at last felt in control of herself again, she stepped forward to hold Mindy's hair as she vomited.  She expected Jane to jump at the touch of Mindy's hands against the back of her neck, but she didn't.

"I'm sorry," Mindy said as Jane finished heaving and grabbed from some toilet tissue to wipe her mouth.  "That wasn't—I wasn't trying to get back at you or anything—I didn't expect it to be so strong."  With Jane's head still bowed down over the toilet, Mindy couldn't tell if the other woman believed her.  Maybe Mindy didn't entirely believe herself, but she had never pulled someone's powers from them and gotten a response so strong before.  She was telling the truth about that much.

"I'm all right, don't worry," Jane finally managed in a croaking voice.  "I guess I wouldn't get to be mad at you even if you had."  She spit a few more times and before rising shakily to her feet.  Mindy offered her arm; Jane gave it the same expression she would a bug before she managed to mask her face and shake her head.  She stumbled over to the sink and turned on the cold water, splashing it across her face and rinsing her mouth.

Mindy waited until Jane had gargled and spit several times.  "I really am sorry," she said, "but I need you to show me how your powers work."

Jane laughed for a second before she covered her mouth with the back of her hand and turned green again.  "You weren't kidding about not being a doormat, were you?" she asked, and shook her head before Mindy answered.  "Sorry.  Babbling.  Did I mention that I do that when I get nervous?"

"A time or two," Mindy said.  She gave Jane a few more seconds to gather herself before pressing forward, but Jane spoke just before Mindy nudged at her.

"You have to want to be someone else," Jane said.  She watched Mindy through the mirror.  "You have to want it so badly that you can see every detail of their face and count their eyebrows.  You have to study them until its perfect, and then it'll happen."  Jane shrugged unhappily.  "I don’t really know how it works beyond that, just that I've been able to do it since I was in junior high."

Right about the time that girls started being fed constant images of women who were smarter, prettier, better than themselves and were told that they had failed personally when they couldn't meet such an ever-shifting standard of perfection.  Jane might boast curves to send men's eyes bugging out of their heads like the horny wolf in old cartoons, but Mindy didn't guess it had been easy for her fifteen years ago, when her baby fat had still coating her in a soft layer but her insecurities remained the same.  If she kept thinking like this, then she was going to wind up being exactly the doormat that Jane had come to her house hoping for.

She kept you locked in a cage and drew gallons of blood from your screaming body by the time it was all said and done, Mindy reminded herself, letting all three of the faces responsible float in front of her mind's eye.  She didn't realize how hard her fingers had latched around the edge of the sink until her knuckles popped.  Jane eyed her hard, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.  By this point, she probably wondered if Catherine couldn't have given her better odds.

I'm not keeping you locked up like you did me, you can run any time you want to.  Mindy practiced smiling several times in the mirror, not caring if Jane thought her nuts, until some of the blackness ebbed away and she felt herself again.  She lifted up the edge of her shirt in order to fumble around beneath the strap of her bra.

"Um, okay," Jane said.  She took a step towards the door and then eyed her suitcase.  Mindy had a mind that the siren song of shoes was the only thing keeping Jane in the room.  Mindy stood between her and the suitcases.  "Did I mention nudity?  Because I really don’t have to get naked in order to do my thing."

"Haven't you ever been in a girl's locker room?" Mindy asked, and then looked Jane up and down.  "Never mind."

"Hey."  Jane sounded offended.  "I still had to go to PE.  I changed in the bathrooms."  She hugged her arms across her chest , and in the process only made her breasts seem larger.  Mindy gave an inward wince.  "I thought Southern women were supposed to be modest, anyway."

"You're thinking of the Deep South.  I'm from Texas.  It's not true, anyway."  Mindy located the second of her fake IDs at long last.  As much as the darned thing had been poking at her all morning, she didn’t think it could migrate without her notice, but the danged thing had gotten nearly all the way into one of her bra cups.  "Unless you think Ophelia and Bonnie are dainty, swooning belles."

If anything, Jane became even paler than she had before vomiting.  She shook her head.  Mindy rinsed the identification off under the sink and dried it with paper towels—Victoria's Secret would make money hand over fist if they ever came out with a line designed to combat the perils of boob sweat, though that would entail admitting that boob sweat was a phenomenon in the first place—and then held it up to study the woman in the picture.  She wasn't far off from Mindy's own appearance: brown hair, a round, friendly face, large brown eyes.  Her skin was a few shades darker than Mindy's own, and her height and weight listed her as being two inches taller and ten pounds heavier, but Mindy had chosen the image to allow for a little screwing up while she worked the learning curve.

"I want to be you," Mindy told the woman in the picture.  The other brunette did not appear inclined towards conversation.  Mindy lifted her eyes back towards the mirror, but the only reflections belonged to her and Jane.  Concentrating on the photo again only brought about the same lack of results.  "Dang it!"

Jane shook her head until her hair waved back and forth across her shoulders.  "It's not enough to say you want to be her," she said.  "You have to mean it."

"I mean it," Mindy said.  "Trust me, I really, really mean it."  She thought that her hair might be a few shades darker when she looked from the ID to the mirror again, but the change passed so quickly that she was half-convinced that she wasn't seeing things.  Jane shook her head and took the ID from Mindy with only a second's worth of hesitation, easily ignored, when their fingers touched.

"Not enough, you don't," Jane said.  For the first time since Mindy had known her, Jane didn't end the sentence on half a question, waiting to be scolded back at any moment.  She stared down at the driver's license in her hand.  "You named her Shelly," Jane said.

"If you're going by a fake name, picking one close to your own is better—" Mindy started.  Jane held up a hand to silence her.  Shocking in and of itself, more so with the serenity blossoming across her face from someplace deep down inside.

"Her name is Shelly," Jane went on in a soft and subtly confident voice.  "She's five feet and three inches tall and weighs one hundred and thirty pounds.  That's not heavy, but she still feels fat sometimes, especially since she's thirty and her metabolism's changing.  She hates how curly her hair is, but loves her skin.  She likes musical theater and can't balance her checkbook."  Jane's turned into a hypnotic sing-song.  Mindy glanced down at Jane's hand and startled as the skin began to darken.  Where the blonde had been standing before the mirror less than thirty seconds before, now the reflection showed a woman with deeply tanned skin, long waves of dark brown hair, and dark eyes.  Shelly, a thousand times more real than Mindy would have guessed possible from the picture that she had hastily drawn from a database and thrown onto a fake ID the previous night.

"Hell's bells," Mindy breathed.  Jane smiled into the mirror.

"Now your turn," she said.

Mindy reached for the ID as an impatient knock came at the door, making them both jump.  Shelly's ID fell to the floor.  Mindy cursed and dove for it, while Jane shivered and destroyed her illusion with her expression, well before her own features took over again.
"Excuse me!" a crisp voice said at the door.  Crap, they were dealing with an employee.  "This bathroom facility is for our customers with physical disabilities, it's not so you can have extra privacy!"
Mindy motioned for Jane to stay quiet and called back, "I'm real sorry, we'll be out in just a minute!"  She stared down at the ID in her hand and tried to block out everything else. 
"It's already been ten."  The knocking resumed, if anything with even less patience than before.  Mindy sighed.  She's only doing her job.  Jane hissed Mindy's name as the employee on the other side of the door continued, "Ma'am, if you do not open this door, I'm going to have to call security, and that is no small matter in an airport of this size."
My name is Shelly.  She was here for a girl's weekend in New Orleans, because her day job was so stressful that she needed a break.  She didn't have secrets.  She always felt just as nice as she behaved.  She had lots of friends.
Mindy looked up, into the mirror, and nearly came out of her shoes as she saw the woman from the ID staring back at her.  Jane let out a little squeal and clapped her hands together.
"You did it!" she cried, and then clapped her hands over her mouth as she remembered the airport employee on the other side of the door.
Not that it mattered any longer.  Mindy threw the strap of her luggage over her shoulder and unlocked the door, staring coolly at the ticket agent standing there.  Shelly, she decided, could sometimes be a bit of a bitch.
"Was that really necessary?" Mindy asked.
The ticket agent actually flinched before remembering the power of the FFA stood behind her.  She lifted her chin.  "These bathrooms are clearly designated for our customers with particular physical needs," she said.  "They are not to be used by anyone who doesn't have a verifiable disability."
"Do you go around asking everyone to bring the handicapped sticker in from their car?"  Feeling a flash of guilt, Mindy took a look around to make sure she and Jane hadn't been holding someone up, but the ticket agent stood alone.  Mindy jerked her thumb over her shoulder to indicate Jane.  "They served her bad eggs on the plane.  We couldn't find any other bathroom."  Jane was still pale and sweaty about the temples; she did an admirable job of slumping against the wall once Mindy indicated her.  "Unless you wanted her to yark all over the floor?"  Mindy raised her voice just high enough for the well-dressed people waiting to board first class a few yards away to turn their heads in her direction.  Mindy turned without waiting for an answer and strode away.  Jane scurried after her.
"That was amazing!" Jane enthused as soon as she caught up. 
"That was mean," Mindy corrected.  "The poor ticket agent was probably having a bad day, and we really could've been making someone wait."  Mindy adjusted her bag on her shoulder and muttered under her breath as she discovered that "Shelly's" arms didn't have nearly the muscle tone of her own.  Soon as they got to the hotel, she experiment with Jane's powers a bit, see if she couldn't keep her face and skin tone consistent without losing her own body's physicality. 
"Yeah, but it was still fun." Jane stayed silent for a moment.  "I know you say that you're not faking being polite and all, but I still don't have the nerve to do anything like that while I'm wearing my normal face."
Mindy let the obvious invitation for girl talk to slide by without comment.  She concentrated, and her arms became strong and toned again, without anyone in the terminal screaming and pointing at the amazing melting girl.  Jane stayed quiet, though Mindy caught her flicking a quick sideways glance as she realized Mindy didn't intend to play along.
            "Come on," Mindy said.  "We need to hurry if we're going to make check-in."

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