"Hey, guys," Adana greeted her friends, walking into her room after returning to campus.
She stopped even as she stepped into the room, one hand still on the door, staring as she realized that Barb Wilson was sitting in her room with Lena, Pinkie, and Carla. She looked, she realized, like she had been crying.
"Uh, Barb? What is it," she asked.
"Thank God," the blonde rasped as she leapt to her feet. "You have to help me. No one believes me, but….someone kidnapped my dad, and now I think…. I think they're after me. My car blew up. Someone has been through my room. I know they have, even if my roommate doesn't. I can just tell. And last night, I dropped a book, and….. And even as I….bent over, something pinged off a wall. They shot at me, Ada! Me! I swear, someone is after me, and…..I need help," the blonde all but whimpered.
"Someone is seriously outside their comfort zone," Carla said quietly. "How about it, Ada? Think you can put up with helping Barb out? I mean, you are…."
"Don't say hero. But…. Yes," she said, walking over and putting a hand on the blonde's shoulder. "I will help. I'll do everything I can. First, let's go to your room, and let me….look around. For clues," she said when the girl frowned. "It might help us figure this out."
"But….what kind of clues would they leave in my room?"
"Spycams. Wireless mikes. Subliminal beacons. Jeez, the list is endless, depending on who they are, and what they're really after," Pinkie told her.
"Exactly. So, let's go look around. Don't worry, I'm here to help," she said, deciding the less said about her briefing, the better. Barb seemed nervous enough, and if she thought the League was worried, she might just go off the proverbial tracks.
"Thank you. Thank you. I know…. I know I've ridden you a lot the past few months, but…. I really appreciate this. I really do," she sniffed as she shuffled her feet, and looked at the door.
"You first," the blonde asked when she gave a weak smile.
To her surprise, Pinkie said nothing.
"Afterward, I'll have a friend check out your car. And I want to see where you said you were shot at, too."
"So, you're really into this…..hero stuff?"
She sighed, and smiled blandly at Lena.
"I'm just trying to help someone that needs it, Lena. It suddenly occurs to me that this might be connected to those nut jobs that attacked the poli-sci building earlier this year."
"But….I'm not even in politics!"
"But your father is," Adana told her. "In a big way."
"How do you know that," she gasped.
"Provisional League member," Adana reminded her. "I do know what's going on that is connected to metas, and the League," she told her.
"Oh. Oh, right. So, you think those posers grabbed dad, thinking they might make a bigger statement after you shut them down last time?"
"It's possible," she murmured, though while she had grabbed at it as an excuse, she did now wonder. Maybe she ought to have J'onn track down those original gunmen, and find out just who really outfitted, and funded them. Because even loons like that didn't seem the type to have gotten access to military ordinance. Not even in this day and age.
"Barb," another girl called out as they emerged on the lower floor after Adana led the way, not too surprised that her three friends all followed. "What are you doing with those posers," the petite, perfectly groomed blonde asked. "And honestly, what happened to your hair, girl?"
"Not now, Gina," she groaned. "This is serious."
"I'll say. If Doug sees you looking like you're slumming…."
"Gina, just leave me alone," the blonde all but wailed as she ran the last few steps to her room, and started to shove her key into the lock.
"Barb, wait," Adana cried, her hearing abruptly picking up something even as the girl turned the key.
Wedding movement to instinct, she rushed forward, scooped up the blonde, and turned her back to the door even as the wooden panel creaked open. Just behind her, before she could take a single step, a small explosion went off peppering the air with wooden shrapnel that had the girls around her screaming in shock as she felt the missiles bouncing off her skin.
Straightening up, she stared back at the smoldering doorframe, and eyed the mess beyond.
If there were any clues, or any doubts, they were both all gone now.
"Oh…..my…..God," Barb rasped, still clinging to Adana, eyes wide with fear as she looked at the ruined doorway. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," Adana murmured, a little surprised herself, since she had never demonstrated any real invulnerability until now. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that Artemis had cut a long gash down her bicep during spear practice.
"That shirt is ruined, girlfriend," Carla told her, gaping as she carefully moved forward to study her. "But there isn't a mark on you. I didn't think even Amazon could do that," she exclaimed.
"What's ruined," Pinkie said, "Is any chance of finding clues.
"Actually, someone left something behind. Hold on a minute," she said, and pulled out her necklace watch, and slid a switch upward.
"This had better be important," a somber voice declared curtly.
"Captain, it's me. Someone just tried to blow up Ms. Wilson."
"Is she all right?"
"I….shielded her. But I have to wonder if they didn't leave something behind that might give us a way to trace the bomber. Barb also mentioned someone breaking in last week, and blowing up her car earlier. Considering they arranged an explosion the minute we mentioned investigating, I have to wonder…?"
"I'll send a team to the dorm now. I suspect the girl is in too much danger to stay on site if they're taking overt actions against her now. Bring her to the safe house. I'll arrange for your….mutual absences. Don't forget to cover your tracks."
"Uh, yeah. I'll need to change first," she said the four girls stared at her.
"Safe house," Pinkie asked, her eyes bright with curiosity.
"We're….leaving," Barb asked her, staying very close just then, barely aware of the faint trickle of blood that now flowed from a small nick on her left shoulder where a wooden sliver had just grazed her.
"Yes. I need to change, and then we'll go. I'd ask if you needed anything, but….."
They all looked into the ruined room, and Barb just stared.
"This isn't supposed to be my life," she moaned.
"We'll get you through this," Adana told her. "Trust me, you'll be fine."
"We," Pinkie asked.
"Sorry, guys, but….I can't say anything just now," she said as they headed upstairs again. "From here on I have to keep this all top secret."
"Totally understand," Carla nodded.
"Totally," Pinkie agreed.
"Will you be okay," Lena asked.
"Jeez, Red," Carla called her. "She just shrugged off a blast that would have torn anyone else apart. I think she's going to be fine."
"And so will you," Adana told the still pale Barb. "Trust me."
"I…. I do. You saved those other people that day. And now you've already saved me today. I trust you," Barb told her.
"What," Adana asked when she reached her room to change clothes, putting her 'worksuit' under her jeans and sweatshirt this time. Just in case.
"It's just…. I was wondering what you call yourself when you're….in costume," Barb asked. "Or is that secret, too?""I….don't really have a hero name, because….I never planned on being an active hero," she admitted.
"Well, you're going to need one now," Pinky declared.
"Definitely," Carla agreed.
"Amazon Two," Pinkie carelessly tried. "Nah. Kind of….wonky."
"Oh, how about…."
"Meta. I am one, and it fits," Adana told them with a grumble. "So, just call me Meta."
"Meta-Woman," Lena asked.
"Uh, kind of…..redundant. So, no," Adana told her. "I'll just stick to Meta. But only until I can retire, and go back to college, and live an ordinary life again."
All four women stared at her.
"Girlfriend," Carla predicted. "I don't think that one is in the cards."
"Nope. Not even close," Pinkie agreed.
"Why can't she do both," Lena asked. "I mean, doesn't her mother do that? Normal life, and heroine?"
"Mom technically retired a while back," Adana said quietly, Captain Atom's words still roiling in her head.
He had told her things that made far too much sense to deny. Only they were things that her mother had never shared. Never even hinted at before now. So, why? Why would her mother lie about her father? What was really going on that she had to make up a story about an intimidated man running off to leave them on their own?
She was going to have to figure that one out. Even if she had to ask her face-to-face. First, however, she had to take care of the blonde that looked like she was going to try to cling to her like a second skin the way she was behaving.
"Okay, so Meta. That's cool," Pinkie finally nodded.
"Let's just keep this all low-key, guys. I really am just an ordinary….person at heart."
"Yeah," Carla smirked. "You just keep telling yourself that, girl."
"Come on, Barb," she said, turning back to the frightened girl. "We'll sneak out the front, and then meet up with some friends who will get us where we need to go."
"Shouldn't we go out the back," Barb asked uneasily.
"They'll expect that if they are still watching you. Everyone is about to head for lunch, so we'll mingle, take off with the crowd, and then slip away while any potential spies will hopefully be busy watching the back doors."
"Wow, that is smart," Pinkie declared. "Must be why you're on the honor role."
"Studying helps," Adana told her.
"For some of us," Carla smirked. "Seriously, be careful, and good luck, Ada. Uh…I mean, Meta."
"Thanks. With any luck, the League's cleaners can find a clue here, and then we'll find these guys in time to get back before we miss too many classes."
"Only you would worry about missing classes when you're about to have an adventure."
"I don't like adventures," Barb complained, but stood very close to Adana all the same.
She had yet to notice her slightly bloody shoulder, and no one else had pointed it out either. Adana gave them credit for guessing that seeing any kind of injury might send the girl into hysterics just now, and that was why she had not mentioned it yet either.
"Come on. We don't want to get left behind when everyone starts out. We need to be in the middle of the crowd."
"We'll help," Carla said.
"Because you're half a crowd all by your lonesome," Pinkie drawled.
"Jealous, Blondie," she grinned, flexing a big bicep.
"Astonished you find clothes that fit that well," Pinkie shot back.
Adana rolled her eyes, but she was used to their byplay by now.
"What about your friends," Barb asked, now wearing a hat that covered her blonde hair tucked up inside the lowered headgear after they left the campus. She also wore the windbreaker that Adana had brought along, carrying it until they left campus, and then tucking the blonde into the cap and jacket to better hide her usual appearance.
"Didn't want to risk calling them from campus in case they had monitors in the quad."
"But you made that other call….?"
"Yes, and it would be expected. So, while everyone is waiting on the 'cleaners' the League is sending, supposedly to hook up with us, we'll slip away, call my friends, and hopefully get away without leaving any trace. Or, that's the plan."
"Good plan," a lean, red-haired boy in a gray sweater drawled as he walked up behind her.
"Call me, Todd, Ada. We are undercover. Remember?"
"Right. What are you doing here?"
"Cap relayed your likely ploy, and had me come out to meet you so you wouldn't have to send a call that might be intercepted."
"Smart," Ada agreed.
"So, this is Ms. Wilson. Doesn't look much like her photo. Which is a good thing," he added as the blonde blushed furiously at his comment.
"You have my picture," Barb asked.
"Uh, only because the League has to know who is around us when we are….in civilian disguises," Adana adlibbed, shooting a warning glare at the master of flame.
The last thing she needed was to set the girl off in the middle of a public street by having her learn she was in the middle of a major investigation.
"So, who are you," Barb asked him as Ember/Todd turned to lead them down the block.
"Ember, gorgeous," he winked. "Gordon is waiting up the block. Here's how we're playing it. I'm going to lead you into an alley, and we'll make a show of getting into a van with tinted windows."
"A bit stereotypical, isn't it," she grumbled.
"Exactly. Which is why while I start up the engine, and drive away, you two bail out the back, and then go to the end of the alley where you'll find a back door to Maroni's Tailoring open. Go inside, go to the second door on the right, and you'll go down into a basement. Gordon's waiting there to take you to the safe house. I'll meet you after I ensure I blow off any tails. Got it?"
"Got it," she nodded as Barb just stared at him.
"Ah, he's a fellow that thinks he is the world's gift to women," Adana muttered. "He calls himself Dreadnaught."
"Dreadnaught! I saw him on TV once. They say he can't be stopped. That's he likely one of the strongest of the new metas in the world."
Ember eyed Adana, and smirked.
"Well, he thinks so," Ember said quietly.
"Let's go. Get ready to move fast," Adana told her.
"I…. Will this really work?"
"It's Cap's plan. Cap's plans are pretty much foolproof," Ember told her. "Right, Ada?"
"She's Meta now. That's her hero name," Barb told him.
"Meta, huh? Guess it's apropos," the younger teen nodded at her as they neared the alley in question. "Okay, there's the van. Remember, climb in the passenger door, and go right to the back. While I start up, you bail, and take cover until I pull out. Then get inside the shop, and meet Gordon. Any questions?"
"We've got it," Adana nodded. "Just be careful, Todd. These people aren't playing games. Two explosions, and at least one close call with a sniper."
"Got it. You watch your own butt, girl."
Five minutes later, Adana pulled the door closed behind her, locked it, and then led Barb to the basement door.
"Whoa, what's with the light show," Barb cried out when they stepped into the basement off the last step as a sudden, iridescent light pulsed around them.
"Sorry. My bad. I meant to warn you," Gordon said as the big teen came forward in jeans, and a tee that was stretched over his torso like a second skin. "I borrowed a scan-popper from Feral, and decided it wouldn't be a bad idea to use it."
"Scan-popper," Barb frowned at her.
Adana nodded at Robbie as she answered.
"It detects any tracking beacons, or bugs, and shuts them down," she told the blonde. "Smart thinking," she told him, trying not to be impressed.
"Hey, I'm more than just a pretty face," Gordon winked.
Adana just stared at him.
"Uh-huh. So, if you planned for a scan, thinking she might have been bugged, then the plan Todd gave us is obviously a blind."
"Right. Let's go back up, we'll go out the loading dock, and into a panel van waiting to make deliveries. The driver is one of ours, and he'll take us the safe house without anyone guessing we're not down in the tunnels supposedly under the shop."
"Smart," Adana had to admit again.
"I have been doing this a bit longer than you, Wonder-Clone."
"Call me that again, and I'll punch you into orbit next time," she growled.
Barb frowned at her reaction as Robbie just sniggered.
"That was a lucky shot, girl, and we both know it."
"Save it for the next training session, Gordon. Let's go."
"Right. This way," he said, leading them back up into the shop.
"We now have cause to believe her metagene is still evolving," the man said as the agent in the dark gray suit stood in front of the men and women gather around the table.
"Still," the agent frowned.
"Three years ago, she became stronger, faster, and obviously….feminine. The tests from our initial probes indicate she is now even stronger than her initial manifestation. Faster than ever before," the scientist said, gesturing to an image of the slender girl rushing down the hall toward the two gunmen in apparent slow motion. "And, according to eye-witnesses, she now possesses a marked degree of genuine invulnerability."
"Define the degree," the government agent demanded of the man in the white coat.
"Three hours ago, she intercepted Ms. Wilson about to enter her booby-trapped quarters."
"And she anticipated the trap. Which proves beyond coincidence she has a degree of heightened sensory development atop all else," another pointed out as the film continued.
"Exactly. She put herself between the explosion, and the target, and while it shredded her garments, she was not so much as scratched."
"Bruising? Evidence of hematoma? Any indication of any trauma?"
"She wasn't even blistered. And our cams got a very good look at her back when she, ahem, changed."
"Even the Princess isn't that tough," a woman on the far end of the table declared.
"It is possible that the meta-gene is being influenced in unexpected ways thanks to the influence of Amazonian magics," someone else suggested.
"Old news. Yet Amazon, and Tala Winter never showed any indication of these power levels."
"No. What about her….transformation? Turning into a girl like that," the agent smirked coldly. "Could the gender-morphing have something to do with the elevated power levels?"
"We….aren't sure," the scientist admitted. "Without direct samples, or the subject herself, we have no way to ascertain how her powers work. Or why."
"Status of containment?"
The agent took a step closer to the table.
"I ordered direct, and continuous monitoring on both females. Are you telling me a couple of witless children managed to slip our security grid?"
No one spoke as more than a few of the seven men and women present looked away.
"Find her. Find them both. Wilson must be neutralized before she inadvertently spills what she doesn't yet realize she knows. And I want that…..creature in our labs before the end of the week. If she is half what we surmise, she might well finally had us the key to complete power, ladies and gentlemen. And an end to the meta arms race."
No one spoke as they all stood up, and left the room.
Once the door closed behind them, he pulled out a cell phone, and opened it.
"Connors," he said after dialing a number. "Yes, she eluded us. Yes, both of them."
He cringed at the reply, and clenched his hand around the phone.
"Don't worry. I have a ploy to smoke them out again. Trust me. We'll soon have them both, and an end to the meta problem, too. Trust me," he went on after a moment. "Have I ever failed?"
He said nothing to the response, and snapped his phone closed before stalking out of the room.
To Be Continued…