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Mutants & Masterminds: Future Imperfect - Labyrinth

z-Ronnie Collins

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Ronnie had always needed less sleep than most people. It was a function, she’d been told, of her body’s unique shifts. They still weren’t sure why it worked that way, but it had been something that May could do as well. It was something, like their resistance to poison, that linked the Et als to one another. So she was the first to wake up.

She wasn’t alone.

Ronnie stiffened as she became aware of the foot resting against her calf – a masculine foot, given the roughness of the hair she felt. Her hand balled up in a fist as she twisted, prepared to pummel whoever had dared to sneak into her bed.

Her pummeling fist hung in midair when she saw her partner sleeping next to her. Even in the dark of the room, she knew that face. Travis was as perfect in sleep-tousled repose as Ronnie had always imagined he look. The urge to touch him was unavoidable; her fingers brushed over his jaw, feeling the scratch of his overnight growth of whiskers. Ronnie pulled her fingers back as he murmured sleepily at her touch. So he was real. Nervously, she fell still and silent, hoping he wouldn’t wake up. When he seemed to drop into sleep again, she relaxed. That was good. It gave her time to sneak out of bed-

She stopped with a foot on the floor, staring at her toenails. They were painted. They were painted a soft pink color. Ronnie blinked, wondering what the hell was going on. She never painted her nails, and if she wanted to, she’d never pick a color like that. It was… girly.

She turned her head, making the things in her hair bounce. Ronnie felt at one of the round things; it felt like a roller. “What the fuck?” she said, rising from the bed. She immediately winced and looked at Travis. He stirred again, but she didn’t stick around to see if he’d wake up. She headed for a door and exited into the hallway. The bathroom was directly across from the bedroom and she closed the door softly before turning on the light. The room was decorated in an older fashion, but Ronnie didn’t notice the décor. She was interested in the mirror.

Her reflection drew a horrified gasp out of her. Someone had put rollers in her hair. With shaking fingers, she yanked them free, jerking on her hair since she wasn’t sure how to remove them. Even with them out, even after she’d raked her fingers through them, her hair stayed in curls. That wasn’t the worst indignity. Someone had dressed her in a white, lacy nightgown that fell to her ankles. It left her arms bare and had ruffles down the center. “Someone must die,” Ronnie snarled before turning off the light and opening the door.

She snuck back into the bedroom and rifled through the closet, finding a man’s dress shirt and pants. She pulled them on without removing the nightgown, as skilled as most women in the art of changing clothes without getting naked. As soon as she was decent, she snapped on the light and barked, “Travis, get up, we’re in-” She started to say ‘trouble’ but the word died in her throat when she saw the room. It looked like her grandmother’s bedroom, had she ever had a grandmother. It was all as old-fashioned as the bathroom had been, with decorations that were the height of style fifty or more years ago. An honest-to-god vanity was in one corner, while the bed skirt had enough ruffles to suffocate a child.

“… Hell.”

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Travis say up, rubbing his eyes and blinking against the sudden light. "Wha? What's going on, honey? Did you hear a noise again? Are the children alright?" Pushing the covers back Travis swung his legs out of the bed. Ronnie saw he was wearing cotton pajamas, light blue with dark blue piping and pinstripes, button up front, with a pocket bearing his monogrammed initials. His feet hit the floor softly and searched out the slippers that lay beside the bed, "OK, what's wrong?" He stood and stretched before finally looking around the room for the first time. "Why are you wearing my clothes?"

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There were too many things wrong with what Travis had said for Ronnie to address even one of them immediately. For several seconds, she stared at her partner, trying to decide what to ask about first. But as soon as she decided which problem to address, another intruded on her thoughts. So she just stared, her purple eyes wide.

“Sweetie?” Travis asked, his expression sliding from sleepy to worried as he realized that she was visibly struggling.

“Why are you calling me that?” It wasn’t the most pressing concern, but Ronnie blurted it as if it were the single most important point his sleepy ramblings had called up.

“Because you hate being called Veronica?” Travis said, sitting down on the bed. “It’s three a.m., I have work tomorrow, what is going on?”

“Work? What the hell is going on?” Ronnie was all but shouting, falling back on anger as her confusion wasn’t abated. “Why are you acting like everything is ok?”

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"Shh, shhh, you'll wake the kids." Travis made hushing gestures as he came over to her. He looked positively Ward Clever in his pajamas, but he felt entirely real and looked wholly concerned has he took her into his arms. "What's wrong? Did you have another of those nightmares again? It's ok, shh, shh, it's alright." He guided her to the bed and got her to sit down, stiffly, her body still primed for action, but now fighting itself with confusion.

Travis caressed her hair, "Was it the crazy blond again? Did you dream that she was going to kill me again? There's nobody here, nobody wants me, or you, dead. Nobody wants to hurt the children." Travis sighed, "You really shouldn't read those spy novels before bed my love, they can't be healthy."

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This is not fucking happening, Ronnie thought as she sat stiffly on the bed. “Crazy blonde?” she asked, looking at Travis. “Lena?” she blurted before thought.

“Your sister?”

Ronnie stared at him, her mind whirling. “Lena… my sister.”

“Do I need to call her?” Travis asked, looking concerned. He pressed a hand to her forehead. “You look unwell. I’m sure she’d be willing to come over and watch over you. Or Becky.”

The thought of Lena caring for her was unnerving. The thought of meeting an Et al was just crazy. This had to be a dream. A fantastic, outrageous dream. “I’m… fine,” Ronnie said, leaning forward and pressing her hands to her eyes. Travis’s fingers began to rub her back. She tried to block it out as she thought. Clearly, her partner had been compromised. Protocol for this was easy – find the cause of the compromise and remove it. If you didn’t know the source, you played along until you did and then you eliminated it. Or you eliminated your partner, but they weren’t there yet.

So play along. Gather information. Test the limits of the charade.

“I want to… check on the kids,” Ronnie said.

“Oh, honey… they’re fine and asleep.”

“I can’t sleep until I do,” Ronnie said emphatically.

Travis petted her hair again and kissed her temple. “Alright. But change into your nightgown, in case they wake up.”

Ronnie wasn’t up on how 1950’s housewives were supposed to behave, but she was pretty sure they weren’t supposed to decry their nightgown as ruffled nightmares. Instead, she forced herself to smile and say, “Sure, honey. Let me… just slip into the bathroom.” He didn’t stop her but he did look confused as she gave herself privacy to change.

“This had better resolve itself fast,” she hissed to her reflection once she was back in the gown, staring at her reflection. She stalked back into the hallway to find Travis standing at another door, signaling for her to be quiet again. He had a gentle expression on his face as he turned to look into the room.

Ronnie joined him in the doorway, blinking at the inhabitants. Two adorable blond-haired boys were asleep in their beds, as picture-perfect as a Norman Rockwell painting. Ronnie had been prepared for anything other than actual children; the fact that she saw hints of Riley in both their faces was painful. “See?” Travis whispered and shut the door. “Now come back to bed.”

Ronnie let him walk her back to the bedroom and let Travis tuck her into the sheets. He put his arm around her and was soon asleep again. Ronnie lay in the darkness, thinking hard about her next move. This deception was incredibly elaborate. How was she going to get them out?

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Despite herself Ronnie felt comforted, and comfortable, in Travis' arms. There was nothing sexual in this, instead a comfortable familiarity that was entirely unlike Travis. His quiet breathing soon had her drifting off as well ...

The alarm went off like a maniac banging on a bell and Ronnie snapped awake and jumped out of bed before she realized just what was making the noise. Travis' hand fumbled for the clock and finally located it, picking it up and flipping the switch to turn off the ringing. Travis worked his mouth silently, and looked at Ronnie with amusement on his face. "I thought you didn't like the Green Hornet honey?" Ronnie relaxed from her stance, as Travis got himself out of bed and moved toward the bathroom. "What's for breakfast this morning?" he asked as he set to shaving.

Ronnie blinked. Everything was still here. The room, the furniture, the white cotton nightgown that covered her without any attempt to flatter; like a sack for sleeping. Travis had removed his shirt and was working up a cup of shaving lather with a stuff brush. Ronnie blinked again as he looked at her quizzically, waiting for her answer. "Oh ... um," Ronnie stalled. She didn't cook much, or well, and now she was assuming she would need to cook a proper breakfast for the whole family. "Cereal?"

Travis stopped, the straight edge resting on his cheek, "You mean like corn flakes?" She nodded, almost frightened. "OK, by me, but I dunno if the boys'll be happy. Tuesday is pancake day."

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“Pancakes,” Ronnie said. Despite her growing worry, she was getting distracted. Watching Travis shave was interesting. She’d never watched a guy do this, and she couldn’t stop herself from watching. She became aware of him smiling and grunted, “What?”

“I just remember the first time you watched me do this,” he said, looking at her with half a face of lather. His current smile was much more like Travis’s normal grin, full of heat and lust – but there was more, too. It was an expression that she’d never seen on his face before. “Niagara,” he murmured, still smiling at her. “The honeymoon cabin.” Ronnie’s stomach tightened and threw itself into a series of backflips. Part of it was in reaction to the purr in his voice. The rest was from that un-Travis-like expression in his eyes. “However, as much as I enjoy you staring at me like that, breakfast is needed.” Travis turned back to the mirror. “The boys do have school and they’ll need a hearty meal for that.”

“Pancakes,” Ronnie said. “Right. I’ll… go do that.” Somehow. The kitchen was intimidating, not from its size but from its cleanliness. Ronnie was afraid to soil anything but she had to fit in. She dug through the cabinets, looking for the Bisquik. Her mom had always used Bisquik. There was nothing remotely that in the entire kitchen and Ronnie stood in the middle of the kitchen, fighting panic.

She could leap over buildings, repulse bullets with her skin and kill with her bare hands. But making pancakes for two blond-haired boys was overwhelming her. In desperation, she dragged out the cook book and found a pancake recipe. Frantically, she started to mix ingredients, hoping that it was right. Additionally, she got out some bacon and fried it up, hoping that if she failed at the pancakes, at least there’d be something to eat.

“Mommy, you made a mess.” The child’s voice froze her in her tracks. Slowly, as if facing a terrible monster, she turned to face the little person. The boy was just as adorable as he’d been last night.

“I… was putting extra love in them,” she stammered, glancing around at the now-messy kitchen, “and… that takes extra effort.”

“Okay,” the kid said, still looking at her. “Why are you in your nightgown? Are you sick?”

“Your mother had a bad dream,” Travis said, walking into the kitchen. He was dressed in a nice shirt and pants, though not his usual custom-made white linen. “I think I can serve the boys if you want to go get dressed.”

“Thanks, Trav,” she said, glad to flee the room. She showered and went to the closet, hesitating over her choice of clothing. Finally, she reluctantly bowed to expectations of the period and chose a dress. It was a simple blue dress but Ronnie hated it. By the time she got back into the kitchen, everyone else was eating. “How’s the food?” she asked nervously as she sat down.

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"Mommy, why did you make the pancakes hard?" Tyler, the younger boy, said all too quickly. Beside him Morgan laughed as he assaulted the disc on his plate with a knife and fork. Travis wisely took a sip of coffee, and hid his amusement behind the ceramic.

Ronnie blushed and stammered before Travis spoke up. "Your mother is very tired this morning, she had a bad dream last night." The two boys looked up at Ronnie, who, bewildered, nodded in agreement. Morgan stopped laughing, and gave up on the pancake while little Tyler jumped out of his chair and ran over to her throwing his arms around her legs, and hugging her fiercely.

Travis looked up at the clock, "Oh, da- ... darn, I'm going to be late." He finished his coffee in one long draught and then pulled on his jacket. "My tie straight?" he asked, fidgeting with it. He looked acutely uncomfortable in the suit, which was acutely unlike Travis. "Ok good," he said at her nod. He headed for the door and then stopped and looked back, "Are you sure you're ok?"

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Oh, god… they’re adorable. Ronnie put her hand on the small back, feeling the frailty of the body. Tyler… She felt a flare of protectiveness; not uncommon when there were children involved. She wasn’t sure where these had come from, but she felt that need to defend the wee ones. Of course, part of the reason she was good at her job was her desire to protect the innocent people of the world from those who would kill them. Perhaps being protective of the children wasn’t unusual. Smiling, she pulled Tyler up in her lap and whispered, “Thank you” in his ear.

She watched silently as Travis prepared himself to leave, fussing with his tie. An odd sense of peace filtered into her and she found herself resting her cheek on the boy’s head as he munched bacon. The realization that she was falling into the trap of the lie was enough to snap her out of it. She didn’t react, but she steeled herself mentally. This wasn’t her life – this wasn’t even her dream life! Yes, she was stupid-in-love with Travis, but she’d never pictured this life with him. She’d never pictured any life with him. It would be too painful.

Travis headed for the door and then stopped and looked back, “Are you sure you're ok?”

“Yeah,” she told him, lifting her head and smiling.

It wasn’t a good smile and the expression on his face said as much. He came back to her, leaned down and kissed her lightly on the lips. For him, the action was natural, a light caress. For her, it was something she’d longed for a long time – and far too short. “Call me if you need me,” he murmured, then turned and hurried out the door.

“Well…” Ronnie said softly, trying to think.

“Are going to walk us to school?” Tyler asked, blinking up at her with Travis’s blue eyes. “Or do you not feel well enough to take us?”

“I… can.” Ronnie had no idea where the school was. “Hey, you guys wanna play a game?”

“Sure, Mommy!” Little Tyler was the brown-noser, Ronnie saw as she grinned at him.

“We have school,” Morgan reminded her.

“Yep, and we can play this without interrupting school.” Ronnie put Tyler down and stood. “The game is, ‘Pretend R- Mommy has amnesia’.”

“What’s that?” Tyler asked.

“That means she doesn’t know anything,” Morgan interjected.

“Actually, it means I’ve forgotten what I knew,” Ronnie gently corrected. “So while you guys show me how to get to school, I’ll ask questions for you to answer.”


After the boys were at school, Ronnie came back to the house and cleaned the remnants of breakfast. Then she went through the house, looking for more information. The photo albums were extremely helpful, giving her an idea of her ‘life’ as Travis’s ‘wife’. Their wedding pictures were like a mockery of their true relationship: they’d never get married. He’d never look at anyone like that, much less her, or want to marry anyone, much less her. It was perfect – picture-perfect and so fake she felt like one of the kids should have been nicknamed Beaver. She was supposed to buy this crap?

Still, she played the game. Thankfully, she found steaks in the fridge, which she marinated in beer. At the appointed time, Ronnie went back to the school and picked up the boys, walking them home. She laughed and smiled and pretended to be ‘Mommy’ despite the fact that she had the mothering skills of a rabid wolverine – a male one.

With the boys settled into their homework, Ronnie cooked the steaks, throwing in some frozen peas and mashed potatoes for the sides. Again she had no idea if this was appropriate, but she could fix steak and mashed potatoes, and the peas were frozen. It was easy enough that she shouldn’t fuck it up.

“Honey, I’m home!” Travis’s cheerful voice sent the kids running for the front door, yelling for him. Smiling despite herself, Ronnie followed, watching as the boys hugged him, chatting at him.

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"Daddy's home!" Travis declared as he came in the front door.

"Daddy's home!" little Tyler yelled as he broke away from his toys and barreled toward Travis with pure glee and jumped into his father's arms.

"Hey dad," Morgan said from his spot lounging on the couch and tossing a baseball up in the air repeatedly. "Wanna play some catch later?"

Travis oofed as Tyler all but tackled him and then hung the boy upside down as he dropped his briefcase. "Sure, after dinner."

"Can I play too?"

Travis shook the upside down boy, "I think you should ask your brother, Tyler."

"Can I play too, Morgan?"

The older boy sighed, and Ronnie saw much of his father in him in that simple act. He looked at Travis, who pretended not to see the look, and then sighed again, "OK."

"Yay! Thanks Morgan!" Travis set the boy down and watched as he woozily ran circles before falling over giggling.

"Hi, Honey," Travis said coming over and giving Ronnie a quick kiss. "What's for dinner?" He moved to the kitchen and got a beer from the fridge and an iced glass from the freezer. "Feeling any better now? You seemed really out of it this morning."

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The kissing again. Ronnie was more ready for it, but the casual intimacy sent the blood soaring up her cheeks. With effort, she focused on the questions. “Dinner is steak, peas and potatoes. I’m feeling better, thank you.”

“Do me a favor tonight? Please don’t read anymore spy books before bed,” he asked her, carefully pouring his beer.

Ronnie pressed her lips together, fighting annoyance. The conceit that spy books were causing her anxiety was really starting to get to her. “Sure.”

Travis sighed. “Please don’t be like that,” he said softly, his eyes flicking toward the living room.

“Like what?” Ronnie’s question was curt.

“I just need the sleep, and so do you,” Travis told her, his blue eyes locking onto hers. “I don’t want you waking up again, thinking someone is trying to hurt us. It’s not healthy.”

There was something in his expression that stopped her. Ronnie was never good at emotional subtext; she couldn’t always read it but she knew Travis better than she knew anyone else. There was something more going on. “What’s up? What’s really up?”

Travis was quiet for a second. “I lost the Shoemaker account.”

Her investigations today had told her that Travis sold insurance. Ronnie blinked. “That’s all? You lost a customer?”

“That’s all? Ronnie, that’s our income. That’s my ranking at work. That’s my boss yelling at me for losing a big account,” Travis said, stress and tension in his voice. “Look, don’t worry about the money or any of that. We’ll be fine. I just need you and the kids to be healthy.”

She narrowed purple eyes at him, reading between the lines. “This happened because you were tired?”

Travis dropped his head, sighing. “Honey…”

“If you need the sleep, you’ll get it.” Ronnie was beyond pissed at whomever had done this to him. Travis should never look this beaten over some damned desk job. When she got ahold of those responsible, she was pulling their brains out through their assholes.

“I also need you to not be mad about this.” He’d been patient but now he was angry, too.

Ronnie clenched her jaw. “I’m not mad about your request.” She looked at him, her expression filled with wrath. “I’m pissed that you’re… upset. At seeing you like this. You deserve better.”

“Better than Unison Insurance?” Travis asked. Ronnie stiffened at the name as he continued talking. “Honey, that’s the best company in town. I’m proud to work for them. I just… need to be able to focus more.”

Ronnie was silent, mulling over the names. “Why don’t you go play with the boys? You have about forty minutes until dinner’s ready.” She needed some time to think.

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Travis sighed and walked away, "Boys, are you done with your homework?" Groans and replies of no came back, "Well you better hurry, your mother says dinner is in half and hour and if you aren't done by then there'll be no catch after dinner for either of you."

"Aww!" cried Tyler. Morgan simply put his head down and continued with his homework. Travis sat down and started to leaf through the paper, a watchful eye on the two children.

Dinner was uneventful, if anybody minded the overcooked steak or the underdone potatoes nobody said anything about it. Afterwards Travis played catch with the boys for an hour before it started to get dark. An hour later and the boys were asleep. Travis sighed and turned down his side of the bed. "You're still angry aren't you?" he asked. Ronnie was angry, angry at the nightgown that looked to her like a sack with arms. Disappointed too that at no point had Travis' eyes contained even the barest leer as she got dressed. "Can we talk about this?" he asked. "I don't need you angry at me too." He sounded small, weak almost, and a little lost.

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The Stepford version of Travis was really starting to get on Ronnie’s nerves. He was too polite and far too meek for her tastes. There was none of the fire she was used to from her partner. A nagging suspicion had taken root in her mind: what if this wasn’t her Travis? It certainly didn’t act like him, or talk like him. Perhaps her partner wasn’t here and she was trapped with a pseudo-Travis. Otherwise, someone had done a first-class mind-fuck on him. She had heard stories about those before; sometimes, people didn’t come back from them. And if that was the case, she was going to kill whomever had done this to him.

His words jarred her out of her dark, angry thoughts. Her purple eyes came to rest on him, her scowl still on her face. “God damnit, Travis,” she said, crossing her arms. Travis gaped at her in shock as she added, “I told you I’m not angry at you. I’m pissed at… the situation.”

“I’ll get another account,” Travis told her, managing a smile that was both brave and fragile. The ‘big man’ was putting on a show for his wife.

Fuck the account,” Ronnie snarled, her temper snapping. “I’m worried about you. You’re not yourself! Where’s the man I fell in love with?” Her cheeks blazed with warmth as she realized what she’d blurted, but she pushed on. “I just… I want you to be safe. Happy. Yourself.

He pulled back from her, leaving her grasping at air. “You want me to be happy? I’d be really happy if my wife would stop swearing like sailor. I’d be extremely happy if she’d stop being angry and costing me sleep. I’d be thrilled if she’d stop making herself so sick that I can’t focus on work!”

“Are you f- freakin’ serious?” Ronnie sputtered. Curbing her language was only pissing her off faster, making her blood boil like water over a fire.

“You say you want me to be happy. That’s what it will take,” Travis told her. The meekness was gone and there was only anger. “I want you to stop acting like this and start acting like my wife.”

“Your good little wife?” Ronnie spat, her modern thinking rebelling at the very thought.

“Yes! A good wife and a good mother and I don’t like the way you just said that. What is wrong with you?”

“I’m not good wife material!” Ronnie all-but shouted.

“Why would you say that?!” The pain in Travis’s voice was real and Ronnie winced. “You have been a great wife and a great mother, until today. This makes no sense!”

“Mommy? Daddy?” Tyler stood in the doorway, staring at them with wide eyes. “You woke me an’ Morgan up but he didn’t want to come in here.”

“It’s alright,” Travis said soothingly, immediately stepping forward to scoop the boy up. “Let me put you back to bed, big guy.” The look he gave Ronnie was hurt and angry as he left the room. Frustrated, Ronnie flopped back on the bed, grinding her teeth together. She lay there, alone and angry, until Travis came back into the room. Without a word, he got his pillow and a blanket and left again.

“Fuck,” Ronnie whispered after the door had closed behind him. It was a long time before she fell asleep.

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Rain fell on the city, making the streets glisten with a silky sheen, pattering on the windows like a thousand tiny fingers drumming on a table. Droplets of water scattered the soft glow of the red neon sign as it passed through the window and into my office, casting long and fuzzy shadows in the indistinct red haze.

Travis jerked awake suddenly. His head was muzzy, throbbing with a dull ache that was cutting through the pleasant buzz that remained of the fifth of bourbon that lay drained and broken on the floor. The tumbler still held a small sliver of ice. He looked around with bleary, bloodshot eyes and mumbled, "Huh? Who? Who said that?"

No reply came except the continued drumming of the many tiny fingers, and the occasional sound of passing cars. I-

"Who the fuck is saying that? Unng, my head." Travis reached for the bottle, found it instead on the floor, and broken. "Damn." He grabbed the glass and tottered on inebriated legs to the kitchenette in the corner of the room. He filled the glass from the tap and then manhandled the top off a bottle of aspirin. Slugging three pills down with a gulp of water Travis looked at the dirty mirror over the sink, "God I look like shit."

I felt like shit too. That's what you get when you drown your sorrows in a bottle of cheap bourbon with the six dollars that were left after you barely paid the month's rent. I started for the Murphy bed, which was thankfully down, and stepped on something soft realiz-

"SHUTUP!" he yelled the voice. Instantly he groaned, the loud noice made his head feel like the target of a thousand spikes, "Oh, that was a mistake." Travis looked down, his bare foot was entrenched in a paper bowl of old oatmeal. He made a face and lifted his foot up. "Gets better and better." He was hopping back to the kitchenette when there was a knock at the door to the office. Groaning he quickly made to clean himself up.

I yelled that I would be a moment, and quickly set to wiping the mess from my foot. Stuffing my feet into a pair of shoes, and making sure I didn't look entirely disheveled I made my way through the office and to the door out.

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The door was a simple, old-fashioned wooden on with translucent glass. In reverse letters, the door announced that it housed Travis Kincaid, Private Investigator. Travis didn’t have time to question this; the knock came again, and he could see a rather shapely shadow through the glass. He paused only an instant as he remembered his image in the mirror, but frankly, he was confident that he could overcome this temporary setback. “Hell- Ronnie?”

Travis’s surprise wasn’t just because it was his partner there. Ronnie was dressed in a tight dress with stockings and classy three-inch heels. She even had a hat, a wide-brimmed affair with an edge of a veil that covered her eyes. Her purple hair had been carefully styled to frame her face fetchingly. Everything about her screamed ‘classy’ and she looked hot. But her eyes regarded him distantly, with no hint of recognition.

She was trouble. I knew it the moment I saw her. Dames like her don’t come to men like me unless they need something. And that something is always trouble.

“Veronica. And it’s Ms. Collins, if you please, Mr. Kincaid,” Ronnie said, her voice cool. “I’ve been told you’re a good private investigator. I need to hire you to find something stolen from me.” She raised a purple eyebrow and asked, “Can you help me?”

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Travis recovered quickly enough, muttering to himself, "That answers so many questions, and raises so very many others." He now understood the voice over, it was his voice, narrating the scene. Travis laughed, "This is a bad noir film."

"Excuse me?" Ms. Collins asked. Even her voice sounded urban and sophisticated, every inch of her exuded a kind of coiffed privilege.

Travis beckoned her inward and glanced at the clock; nine in the evening, he felt less bad about his appearance. "Come on in Ronnie." She frowned as he used the nickname, but followed nonetheless.

The dame walked into my grubby office, her heels clacking on the dingy tile floor. For a second I had trouble looking away from her gams, long and shapely; the pencil skirt and the silk stockings just added to the effect. I knew I was in trouble. I tore my eyes from her legs and forcing myself to look her in the eyes. Those purple eyes, like violet pools that could drink your soul and leave you a hollowed out husk of a man.

"You can't hear that voice can you?" Travis asked, swallowing hard and sitting down, lest he embarrass himself. The desk was a disaster of papers. At one corner a .45 automatic sat next to a pile of magazines and a box of shells. Opposite it there was a camera that Travis realized would be high end for the character he found himself in.

"Voice? No, I don't hear anything except the rain Mr. Kincaid."

Her voice was sultry, and I wondered how much better it got; a woman like that could talk a man crazy if she had it in her mind to do so. She sat down and crossed her legs and I knew that this wasn't going to be an easy evening.

Travis sighed, "Nevermind then. So, somebody stole something and you want it back?" She nodded, her face unreadable. Travis set his jaw, he wasn't sure what the hell was going on, but this was clearly Ronnie, and yet entirely unlike her. "I guess you better tell me about it then."

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Ronnie picked up her sleek, black purse – another oddity for his partner – and reached inside, pulling out an envelope. She opened it and removed a picture, which she handed over the desk. The long reach required her to lean forward, and though she was modestly dressed, Travis looked at the brief glimpse she offered him. Taking the picture, he held it in the light to see better. A young man who looked vaguely familiar to him was holding a statue, as if showing off a new prize or acquisition. The statue was old, with a strong Egyptian appearance. It appeared to be a man playing some kind of string instrument.

“You’re looking at a picture of ‘The Lyrist’, a North African object d’art that my family purchased last year,” Ronnie said. Her face remained largely impersonal, but there was a tinge of some darker feeling as she said, “It was stolen from my parent’s house three nights ago. The police have no leads and we want to know who took it.”

“And you want it back, I assume?” Travis guessed.

“If you can retrieve it, yes. But I’m more interested in the man who took it.” Ronnie paused and asked, “Do you mind if I smoke, Mr. Kincaid?”

“No, and it’s Travis,” he told her, waiting for the usual cigar. Instead, she produced and lit a slim cigarette, as elegant as she was.

“I prefer to keep this professional, Mr. Kincaid,” Ronnie told him coolly.

“And why does that never change?” he muttered, studying the picture. “Is the guy in the picture involved in taking it?”

“In a way.” Her voice softened a touch as she said, “That’s my brother. Whomever took the statue also killed him.”

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Missing valuables and a dead brother. I knew this dame was going to be trouble. This was a job for police, not a PI, not unless she wanted something special, or she already knew who did it and they were untouchable. I watched her smoke that thin cigarette of hers, and cursed to myself silently. Days like this I wish I didn't have to make rent.

Travis groaned, "Who talks like that?" he asked himself. Ronnie, Miss Collins this is, quirked an eyebrow at him. "Nevermind," he mumbled in reply. Shaking the photo he said, "Your brother's name?"

"Tyler Morgan Collins." She blew smoke out slowly and tapped ash into the glass ashtray on the desk. "He was shot in the back Mr. Kincaid, and the statue stolen. We will pay considerably to see the perpetrator brought to justice, and the Lyrist returned of course.

"Of course." Travis nodded, "And the police? You must have gone to them first, do they have no leads? Do you have any idea who may have done this? Who wanted the statue enough to kill? Or who had a grudge against your brother bad enough to kill him?"

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“My brother was a good man. A sweet man.” Ronnie’s eyes dropped and he could hear a tremble of emotion in her voice. “The police say that he was there when the thief broke in, that it was just bad luck. They have their leads and their theories – their thoughts and points of view. They’ve already decided what’s happened.”

“And you think otherwise,” Travis said, studying Ronnie as the picture of Tyler was much less interesting to him. He wished she’d take off her hat; she was using the tilt to hide her eyes from him.

“I know what happened to him.” Ronnie unnecessarily tapped the ash off her cigarette again. Travis saw the slight tremble in her fingers. “Raven Lacroix happened to him. She… seduced him. And then she betrayed him, all for a statue. I can’t prove it, but I know she was there, with him. And if she didn’t pull the trigger, she was behind the person who did.” His partner reached for her purse and dug out a tissue. As Travis watched, she touched the tissue to the corner of her eye, blotting away a tear without mussing her makeup.

Waterworks. The greatest arsenal in a woman’s toolbox. She might be turning the taps on, but I’m the one who’s going to be drowning. Damnit, but I hate it when they cry.

“I need you to find her. I need you to find who she’s working for.” Purple eyes glistening with tears, half-shielded, were lifted to meet his. “I need to have her and her employer brought to justice.”

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"Raven LaCroix?" Travis nodded, "I know of her." Travis searched the desktop, dropped into the middle of this situation he wasn't sure what he should know or shouldn't, but now he knew how to get out, who was behind it, and, possibly, why. Raven. Telepath. Agent of UNISON. Agent of AEGIS. Current ballbuster of one Travis Kincaid.

Raven LaCroix. I knew the name. She was a ghost, a rumor, a story told by underworld goons. I didn't believe for a moment that a woman was running the single greatest criminal empire in the country. I didn't believe it because I didn't believe it existed. Criminals need boogeymen too, and that's all the Raven LaCroix and her Blackbird Group was.

Travis grunted, "Thank you Mr. Voiceover." He looked up at the false Ronnie, "Why do you belive the Blackbird Group has something to do with this? Personally I haven't seen anything that even convinces me they exist, let alone Raven LaCroix."

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“Raven exists. I’ve seen her, met her, with my brother.” Ronnie’s voice was sure, despite the tissue with the tell-tale wetness on it. “As for the Blackbird Group, my brother believed they were real. You see, we won the Lyrist at auction. My brother was the one who loved it, thought it was beautiful. And when he received an offer lower than what we paid for it, he refused it. Tyler told me that he was soon approached by a man on the street who implied that it would be unhealthy to keep the statue. The man said ‘little black birds’ would come after Tyler. Still he refused, and it was shortly after that he met this… woman at a party. My brother is a good man but his tastes in women are poor. She besotted him quickly.”

Travis quirked an eyebrow. That was Raven’s modus operandi: use a social event as cover to meet the target, then use sex and wiles to maneuver him. “That’s a pretty unusual story.”

“And now you know why I need you, Mr. Kincaid,” Ronnie said. “The police will not work on it, but if I pay you enough, I’m sure you’d try to find a unicorn for me.” Her smile was world-weary and wry. “Imagine the billable hours that hunt would create. Fortunately for my pocketbook, I’m asking for less mythical prey.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

Travis appeared to consider the job offer. Then he shook his head, "No. I don't think so."

"What? Why not?" The fake Ronnie seemed surprised, maybe even a little angry and disappointed as well.

"Because I am not a private eye, you are not a damsel in distress, and my life is not some crappy film noir. This is a setup. Either I'm being tested, or this is some jackasses half-assed attempt to gain access to classified information." Travis leaned back, the chair creaked and the spring resisted join wobbled convincingly, "Either way I'm not playing along. Go find some other patsy to play your knockoff of the Maltese Falcon or something. Bogart I ain't."

I wanted to take the job-

"No. I do not!" Travis yelled at the ceiling.

... but I had my suspicions. Raven and the Blackbird group were dangerous, and nobody'd ever seen the woman before, if she really existed. For all I knew the broad across from me was Raven, just waiting to put a .22 caliber hole in my skull if I agreed.

"Oh, god. Worst. Voice over. Ever," Travis complained as Veronica slide backwards away from him.

"So the stories I've heard are true then, you are just a drunken shadow of the man you used to be." He placed a business card down on the desk, "If you sober up, please reconsider my offer."

"Lady, if I sober up there won't be an offer to reconsider. There won't be a you to call, because you are not you, you are Ronnie, and Ronnie wouldn't be caught dead dressed like that. Which sucks cause you look rather amazing." Travis waved her towards the door, "Bye bye now. Go tell whomever is running this bullshit test that I'm not playing."

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  • 2 weeks later...

James watched the monitor, taking a sip of coffee. This is brutal, he sighed to himself. Dr. Horton gets to go home and sleep with his fat wife, and I’m stuck here watching the damned machines. The monitor on the left showed bursts of images, dreams from the first occupant of the sleep bed. They didn’t make much sense but Kincaid featured in them heavily. That woman was obsessed. “Kinda pathetic, lady,” he muttered as he sipped at his shitty coffee. He’d kill for some Starbucks, a mocha latte, iced, with whip cream. His mouth watered just thinking about it.

The second monitor showed a view of Ronnie looking over the desk, her expression aloof but so enticing. “Nice,” James muttered, rubbing the top of his head. He winced as the thinness of the hair up there, wondering if he was going to have to shell out for a balding treatment. It wasn’t fair, Horton was twice his age and had a full head of hair. If James had that, he sure as hell wouldn’t keep that fat wife. Chicks loved the gray hair; they saw ‘sugar daddy’. Ditch the bitch, get a hot twenty-year-old and fuck her into his eighties with Viagra.

“Walters.” Horton’s voice made James jump; he barely kept from spilling coffee down his front. “How’s it coming?”

“Fine, she’s sleeping and he’s deep in his simulation,” James reported, waving at the screens.

“Why’s the sound off?”

“Because she snores and he’s an asshole.” James shrugged. “Seemed the lesser of three evils.”

Horton stepped forward and clicked the mute off, just as Ronnie rose from the chair. “-my offer.”

“Lady, if I sober up there won’t be an offer to reconsider. There won’t be a you to call, because you are not you, you are Ronnie, and Ronnie wouldn’t be caught dead dressed like that. Which sucks cause you look rather amazing.” Travis waved her towards the door, “Bye bye now. Go tell whomever is running this bullshit test that I'm not playing.”

“Shit!” James snapped, setting the mug down. “What the hell? The simulation is perfect!”

“Calm down, he isn’t challenging that,” Horton replied icily. “End the simulation. Move to Phase Two.”


Ronnie snapped awake suddenly. She was strapped to a bed; she could feel the needle in her neck. The tall mutant strained against her bonds, then gave a sharp jerk. The thick leather split like rotten cotton and Ronnie jerked her other arm free. The needle was yanked out next, even as the technician in the room turned. “Hey!” he yelped, taking a step toward her.

He should have gone for the alarm. By moving toward Ronnie, he gave her the moment to rip her feet free and grab him. He started to shout, but she stabbed the needle into his throat and instead he wheezed. A quick flex of her fingers and the balding man dropped.

Only when he was down did she take full stock of herself and the room. She had a sore neck and was dizzy; the effects of the drugs in her system. Must not have accounted for my resistance, Ronnie thought. Then that was all forgotten as she saw her partner on the other table. “Trav!”

Ronnie hurried to his side and gently eased the needle out of his neck. Like her, he was in his street clothes; apparently whatever they were doing didn’t require medical sterilization, thank god. “Trav,” she murmured, cupping his face gently. “Hey, you there?” She wondered how long it would take for the drugs to clear his system. “Shit,” she muttered, unbuckling the straps so that they could move when he was up – or before if she had to carry him. “C’mon! Move your ass!”

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Travis blinked and found himself looking up at Ronnie. "Was that a dream?" he asked as he mentally grasped at the hazy and fading memories. "You were ... wait, no it wasn't you. Was it?" Travis sat up and looked around. "What the hell?"

"Move it Trav, somebody captured us, I don't even remember how, but I doubt that guy was alone." Ronnie pointed to the carcass on the floor, the obvious needle jutting from his neck, and the more subtle bruising and deformation of the man's windpipe.

"Fuck me." Travis jumped down off the chair, somehow making it look easy despite the raging vertigo and the swimming of his drug confused mind and vision. "You were all dressed up."

"What are you talking about?" Ronnie was agitated, she wanted out, and now.

"How do I know this is what it looks like?" Ronnie glared at him. "No really. I mean its kinda convenient that you would wake up and find just a squint right?"

Ronnie blinked at him as though he'd said something stupid. "We don't have time for this. We need to get out of here first, we can think about that crap second."

Travis stepped closer, "Time enough for this." He grabbed her shirt and pulled her close, planting a kiss forcefully on her lips. And then reeled backwards as Ronnie's fist came up from under and caught him in the chin as she pushed away from him stepping back.

"Asshole, stop fucking around."

Travis frowned, "Yeah, OK, clearly this is the real world."

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“You didn’t have to do that!” Ronnie growled, furious at her partner. She directed that energy into rummaging through the coat pockets of the downed scientist. Her hand ached though and she shook it out as she cursed her unreasonable partner. “Fuckin’ asshole!”

“I wanted to be sure!” Travis protested, even as an alarm started to go off.

“They were watching us,” Ronnie guessed, unclipping his ID card-on-a-cord from the unfortunate’s belt.

“I’m sure.”

“You wanna question the guards to see if they’re real, too?” Ronnie asked, pausing at the door.

“Only if they’re a cute girl,” Travis rejoined, moving to stand next to her. As she jerked open the door, he stepped into the hallway. Small arms fire slammed into him from the right, the distorted shells dropping to the floor with metallic pings. “No, they are more your speed, Ronnie. Well, assuming you don’t linger in neutral.”

Ronnie peered out to see three men pointing guns at them, though the security guards seemed to be reassessing their situation since the bullets had bounced off of Travis. Ronnie darted around her partner and slammed into two of the men, wrapping them up in a dual bear hug. They hit the wall together; by the time that Ronnie untangled herself, Travis had taken out the other one. “You’re an asshole, Travis.”

“So you say,” he said with a grin.

“No, I have proof,” Ronnie growled at him. “And witnesses, dozens. Hundreds. Which way, left or right?” she asked, peering up and down the hall at their options.

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"Christ!" Travis yelled back at her. He tossed a hand up and sent a duo of men tumbling ass over teakettle further down the hall. "I don't know what they were doing to you, but they were in my goddamned head!" Travis lashed out, blasting a secure door from its hinges as effortlessly as breathing. "They were in my head. I can't explain that half remembered dream any other way. I know telepaths, I know what they can do."

"You didn't need to do that to-" Ronnie protested as she clubbed a man into oblivion.

"And you didn't need to enjoy it and pretend you don't," Travis told her heatedly.



Ronnie lashed out in a brutal roundhouse kick aimed at Travis' head. He threw himself to the ground and rolled up ready to restrain her as he saw he boot slam into the face of the man who'd been charging Travis' back with a wicked combat knife ready. He blinked and looked up at Ronnie, her chest heaving as she took rapid, ragged breaths. "Thanks."

"Yeah, well, you're more useful alive than complaining about a knife wound." Travis smirked at her. "What?" she asked in irritation.

"You look totally hot right now."

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So do you. Ronnie rolled her eyes, hoping her blush wasn’t obvious. “Get up. Check out my ass later.”

“Well, it wasn’t your ass, but you know I’ll be doing it later, too,” he told her, coming easily to his feet before she could offer a hand. “Have you ever considered wearing a pencil skirt?”

“What are you talking about?” Ronnie asked irritably as they double-timed it down the hall. As was customary, she matched her pace to his, trailing a step or two back. Ahead, another door loomed; Ronnie hoped it was an exit but it was far more likely to be a door to a room full of bad guys. Some fucking days…

Travis knocked the door open with kinetic force, unintentionally tearing it off its hinges and knocking down the four-man group waiting for them. Ronnie and Travis shot forward, Ronnie taking the left and Travis the right instinctively. Ronnie stomped on one man, hearing ribs pop. She spun and went after the second man, intent on taking him down. Her leg swept his out from under him as he was trying to get up. The third man was up and on his feet as Ronnie brought her foot up and kicked him in the gut, driving him backwards. The second man, will conscious, managed to snap off a shot and Ronnie felt pain erupt in her shoulder. That didn’t stop her from kicking him in the chin, snapping his head back, hard. Ronnie wasn’t completely sure, but she might have broken his neck.

Turning, she saw Travis mopping up so she took a look around. Rows of computers behind glass walls were all busily working on something. There wasn’t anything helpful and with a snarl, Ronnie started for the opposite wall, where there was another door. “Have I mentioned how much I hate these scientific complexes?”

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"Four times in five minutes, yes, yes, you have." Ronnie scowled but didn't reply. Travis scanned the room and made his way to the door, "Let's go. Out is better than in I always say."

"You just compared our escape to one of your belches," Ronnie sounded thoroughly disgusted.

"Technically, I was comparing our escape to a f-"

"Stop! Just shut up. You're disgusting." Travis grinned at her as they pushed through the opposition and located a stairwell. "Are we up or down?" she asked.

"Beats the fuck outta me. Pick a direction, and move your ass. I say up." Travis hocked a wad of spit and grunted, "This is weird, is the virus bothering you at all?"


"Because I've been going pretty hard and not so much as a bloody nose or a wet cough." Trav looked over his shoulder at her, "You don't think they cured us do you?"

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Ronnie snorted. “Right,” she growled and followed him up the stairs. “Because they’re going to cure enemy mutants instead of their own mutants.” She checked her shoulder; it was no longer bleeding and she could feel the pain subsiding already.

“Ronnie, babe… think. Why waste your own mutants when you can waste someone else’s?” Travis replied.

“And why pick up combat-capable mutants to cure who are likely to use that cure on you?” Ronnie shot back. “Either way, let’s get out of here first.”

“Aren’t you curious? Or wondering why you aren’t tired?” Travis asked.

“I’m not pushing myself,” Ronnie said with a smirk. “If you’re feeling the burn, maybe you need to hit the gym more.”

“Right, like you’ve lifted a barbell since your hair turned purple. You smoke, you drink, you eat shitty food and you’re in prime health because you’re a mutant,” Travis replied, scowling a little.

“And same for you, bub,” Ronnie said. She was about to continue, but they ran out of stairs. Travis blew the door at the end open. Blue sky and a killing field greeted them just before the heavy weapons fire started. “Someone has a mounted gun out there!” the female mutant shouted as she huddled from the assault.

“No worries,” Travis said with a grin. “You’ve got me with you.” He grabbed her and pulled her close, clearly enjoying himself way too much. Ronnie grabbed his shirt front for stability, not wanting to expose her arms to the barrage. Travis’s protection ended where his body did and he wasn’t that much bigger than her. With her head buried in his chest – and her trying not to think about how nice that chest was – she said, “Then let’s go.”

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Travis looked back towards the door behind him; flying backwards was kinda awkward, he realized. With nary an appreciable effort he sent the two of them out the door and into the sky faster than the minigun could track them. A few rounds slammed into him, falling away in deformed nuggets, their energy making his flight a little easier. In seconds they were soaring through the air and well out of range. In minutes they were a few thousand feet up and Travis was getting his bearings. "Australia? I don't remember us going Down Under."

"Are you sure?" Ronnie asked, peering down. "How can you tell?"

Travis pointed, "That's Sydney. I recognize it from another mission."


"Always. I know a UNISON safehouse, we can figure out what the shit is going on there." Ronnie squealed as Travis accelerated them from a virtual standstill to a few hundred miles per hour almost instantly, her vision blurring black around the edges.

"IF I GET SICK YOU'LL BE WEARING IT!" she yelled over the sound of rushing wind in her ears. Travis apparently heard because he slowed down some and ceased the corkscrews and loop-the-loops, settling into an even flight arc that landed them on a roof several minutes later.

"You can let go now. If you want I mean."

"You're a pig," Ronnie said, shoving herself away from him. For all her strength he moved about as much as the building itself.

"And yet you keep hanging out with me." Travis shook his head, smirking and headed for the roof access door. "Come on. I could use a drink, or better yet, a Drink."

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At the mention of Travis’s favorite vice, her hand dove into her thigh pocket. There was nothing in there; her Cubans were gone. “Fuckers!” she hissed; Travis looked concerned until he saw the source of her anger. Now Ronnie wished she’d taken the time to kill a few more of them. Vindictively, she hoped there was no booze. “Let’s hope this place is stocked then,” Ronnie grumbled as she followed Travis into the building, “because I am not making a run for booze for you.”

“Not even if I ask really nicely? With sex on top?” Travis asked, grinning over his shoulder at her.

“When has that ever worked with me?” his partner grumped, looking more annoyed than before his suggestion.

“Don’t you think it’s about time it did then?” Travis asked as they exited the stairs and entered a code into a door. This admitted them into a mock office setup which they ignored as they went on back to the rooms beyond. There was a well-stocked break room and the corner ‘office’ held six cots instead of the usual set-up. To Ronnie’s mixed annoyance and relief, someone had left a six-pack of Bud in the fridge. Griping about the quality of the booze, Travis and Ronnie helped themselves to some refreshment and sustenance.

“Alright,” Ronnie said around a microwaved corn-dog and Doritos, “what were you saying about telepaths?” She had her own murky half-remembered dream and was privately hoping it was the result of mental tampering rather than her own subconscious. Just thinking about it was enough to draw forth a blush.

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"Fuck me. We're in Australia and we get Bud. I'd would literally kill for a Foster's. Literally." Travis cracked the top of the can and took a long drink of the cold brew. "Ugh, it's cold and it's wet, but I've had water with more body than this."

"Quit complaining, you big baby." Ronnie took a swing of her own and grimaced, "Wow, this is bad." Travis smirked his special "told you so" smirk. "Anyway, what were you saying about telepaths?" Ronnie knew to keep prodding with the question if she wanted it answered.

"I dunno, what was I saying?" Ronnie narrowed her eyes at him dangerously prompting him to put his hands up in mock surrender. "OK, OK, sheesh, was your sense of humor in your other panties?" Travis finished the beer and threw his feet over the arm of the sofa, reclining on it. "I said I know what telepaths can do. They can get into your head, change your memories, give you new ones, make you see stuff that ain't there." He looked at her from across the way, "Ever wonder why every enemy teep we've been sent after is a kill order? That's why. They're dangerous, and they can fuck you up without you even knowing they are doing it."

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“No, my humor is kept with my cigars,” Ronnie said sourly, causing Travis to smirk at her. Before he could segue into questions about what she kept in her panties, Ronnie sighed. “Trav, I know all that. What I don’t know is why you thought telepaths are involved. Drugs can cause weird dreams, too.”

Travis’s eyes narrowed. “You had weird, really real dreams?”

Ronnie hesitated, pondering. Finally, she reluctantly admitted, “Yeah.”

“Like what?”

“I’m not interested in talking about it,” Ronnie stated flatly.

“We totally did it, didn’t we?” Travis asked, grinning widely. “I knew that you had hot dreams about me! We should make your dreams come true. Let’s start right now.”

He was so sure of Ronnie’s answer that he didn’t even move from his reclined position. Ronnie stared at him and considered letting him think she’d be amenable before shaking it off. Not only was this not the time or place, but nothing had changed with their situation. Travis was still going to give her less than what she wanted. “Let’s talk about what happened. What else could have affect us like that, other than telepaths?”

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Travis thought about it for a moment, "Chinese before bed." Ronnie glared at him. "What?! I could, hell, it has before. You remember last New Year? I woke up sure as hell I had wrecked my car."

"No, you wreck my car."

"Exactly! It was totally surreal," he smiled, and despite herself Ronnie wanted to smile too, but instead she hid it with a chug of the worst beer ever.

"What else then? Do you know of any tech that can do this?"

"Nope. Sounds like a bad movie." Travis finished his second and looked at the fridge, "Nah, I can punish my taste-buds this much, they don't deserve it." With a sigh he tossed the empty into the garbage, "So regardless of what they did and how, what do we do next?"

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Ronnie let her forehead drop softly to the table at that question. She wasn’t sure what was going on; all she did know is what she’d normally be doing at a time like this. She’d be calling Raven and getting the evacced. “If we’ve been hit by telepaths, we could be sleepers,” she said, giving voice to her worst fears. “First, some orientation. What’s the last day or thing you remember?”

Travis paused. “You mean before that weird whatever?”

Ronnie waved her hand in irritation, inscribing a ‘go on’ gesture in the air. “Of course, I mean before that. Unless that has any bearing on what we’re going through.”

“I remember the Rhino,” Travis said. “This hot chick was giving me this lap dance. I mean, I get a lot of lap dances, but this one-”

“Point, get to the point,” Ronnie groaned, lifting her head to scowl through purple locks.

“Anyway, that’s the last thing I remember, really,” Travis said. “They have a no-touching policy, but she gave me this incredible kiss-”

“And poisoned your dumb ass,” Ronnie grumped.

“Fine, what do you remember?” Travis asked.

“I remember being on a mission, something about crashing a lab,” Ronnie said, rubbing her eyes. They felt a little grainy, like she was tired. If she’d been drugged, then that could be a side effect. “They were doing brain surgery on mutants in the second-world.”

“That was our last mission,” Travis told her. “We finished that the day before I passed out at the Rhino. We completed that and came home. You weren’t captured.”

Ronnie nodded. “I’m resistant to drugs, so they probably had to dose me more than you.” She sighed, feeling sluggish. “Let’s boot a computer in the office and find out how many days we’ve lost.”

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Five minutes later Travis scratched his head, "No wonder I feel all scuzzy, six days without a shower, yuk!"

"You're pretty ripe too," Ronnie added.

"Said the grape. Ugh, sour grape. Fine, so six days. Halfway around the planet, that's a good twenty hours unless they used Powers. Five days at worst, less if we just can't remember cause of the drugs." Travis mock counted on his fingers, "By my calculations that gets us ... nowhere. So what if we know its been five days or five months, that doesn't help us know what they hell is going on."

"Fine. You're right, it doesn't help, but what would you have us do then?" Ronnie saw the grin start on Travis' face even before she realized what she'd said, "Open that mouth of your's and I'll feed you your teeth."

"Hollow threat my dear, you couldn't if you wanted to." Travis walked out of the room laughing, "But let's see if maybe this place has a secure line." His voice sounded odd coming from the other room, not quite right, there was some auditory quality that Ronnie couldn't put her finger on as being wrong despite knowing that it didn't sound right.

In the main room Travis picked up the phone but found the line was dead. Unsurprised he dropped the handset back onto the cradle. "Nope! Line isn't connected. Wait ... did you hear that?" Travis swiveled to face the door. The squeak of the mail-slot flap being lifted made Travis bend over halfway to see what was on the other side. A pair of black goggles stared back at him as a black gloved hand pushed something through the opening. "Oh, crap..."

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What Travis possessed in finite telekinetic control, Ronnie possessed in brute strength. So he wasn’t surprised when she grabbed the edge of a desk and threw it at the door. Had the object in question been a grenade, her actions likely would have spared them from the brunt of the explosion. It didn’t stop the plumes of white gas that rapidly expanded to fill the room.

Travis was coughing within seconds as the vile gas invaded the room, filling it. Ronnie was coughing, too, but the tear gas had less effect on her rapidly morphing physiology. Travis couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see and couldn’t feel anything other than the burning sensation in his throat. Ronnie grabbed another desk as the team coming in the door encountered the first overturned desk acting as a door jamb. That respite gave Ronnie time to throw the second desk through the window. The furniture sailed out in an arc; it was almost pretty as shards of break-resistant glass rained from above.

Travis had enough sense of self to throw out a wave of kenetic force which caught the first desk and threw it harder against the door, stopping the men from rushing them. Ronnie stepped out of the billowing mists and caught his arm, pulling him toward the window she’d ‘opened’. Before he could stop coughing, she tossed him over her shoulder and leapt out the window. It was a short leap for her, just to the next rooftop, but before she landed, both mutants could hear the pulsing thump of a helicopter in the air.

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Travis threw up. It sounded like somebody pouring soup into a garbage pail.

"Jesus, Trav," Ronnie said dropping him disgustedly like a sack of bricks.

"Hey, fuck you, and your morphogenic physiology, I'm just a guy," Travis complained, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth and rubbing his watery eyes with the other.

"Cry baby," Ronnie spat back. She looked back across the chasm between buildings, "Um, break time's over, they're aiming at us."

Travis, still blinking away tears and coughing from the gas, tried to laugh, "Oh no, I might get a tickle." Ronnie didn't laugh. "OK, OK, get behind me, I can't fly like this, can't see two yards." Rapid chattering bursts of automatic weapons fire hit Travis as he set to blinking his eyes clear. He ignored them as easily as one would ignore insults. After a moment he took a step back, bumping into Ronnie, "All aboard. Gotta find a phone, call Hong Kong, maybe come in from the cold." Ronnie put her arms around Travis' shoulders and they were flying away in the blink of an eye, the speed and wind helping to clear the last of the teargas from Travis' eyes.

Halfway across the city they landed and quickly located an electronics store. A cheap disposable pre-paid phone later and Travis was dialing one of any number of one use unsecured contact lines. "Hello?" the voice on the other end answered. Travis made a face; Lena was not somebody he wanted to deal with, but Travis found himself with a lack of better options.

"It's Kincaid."

"Travis! Hoped you were dead. What do you want?" Lena sounded positively acerbic.

"A number two lunch special with lo mein, what do you think? I need to come in, but my partner and I are compromised."

"Sucks to be you. Lemme talk with your partner." Travis could hear the smile on Lena's face, she'd love nothing more than to watch Travis squirm, or, barring that, leave him twisting in the wind.

Travis shoved the phone at Ronnie, "Your turn. Play nice, Lena's seven cans short of a six-pack."

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Ronnie took the phone, a long-suffering look on her face. Great, she sounds like my Lena, Ronnie sighed as she cleared her throat. “Collins.”

“I fuckin’ know who you are,” Lena snapped. Ronnie felt the air rush out of her, as if she’d been punched in the gut. “So, Purple Plum… what’s in it for me?”

“You fuckin’ bitch,” Ronnie growled, mostly because she’d always wanted to say that to Lena.

This is how you play nice?!” Travis hissed, throwing his hands up on the air. As her partner paced and muttered about how she was killing them, Ronnie continued.

“See, when an agent talks about needing to come in from the cold, you don’t give them shit,” Ronnie snarled. “Also, you fucked up, big time.” She snapped the phone shut and tossed it back to Travis.

“What… what… what the hell was that?!” Travis sputtered, bouncing the phone from hand to hand until he got a grip on it again.

“That wasn’t really Lena,” Ronnie said, turning and walking away. “C’mon, we need to stay in motion until I think of something else.” It came to her immediately. “Can you fly us to India, west coast, the state of Goa?”

“Why, what’s there?” Travis asked.

“An agent named Morgan has a beach house there,” Ronnie admitted. Normally, she’d never do this, but since she’d just spoken with Lena on the fucking phone, something was wrong. Someone else was breaking the rules; Ronnie was just playing their game. “It’s a secure safehouse; UNISON doesn’t know about it. It’s the only place I can think of to recoup.”

“How do you know about it?” Travis asked.

Ronnie paused, then sighed. “I’ve been there.” That was true, kinda. “Wild weekend of fun.” Also true, though it had been Morgan’s weekend, not hers. Several weekends, come to think of it.

“Bullshit. That is such bullshit,” Travis said immediately.

Ronnie rolled her eyes. “I knew you’d say that because you can’t stand the thought that I’d sleep with someone else but not you.” She smirked at him. “I bet those dreams you had while we were being held had me all sexualized. Probably sprawled naked on your couch, begging for sex.”

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"No, I'm calling bullshit because I'm pretty certain you're anhedonic Ronnie. I also think it speaks volumes about our relationship that you want to be in my dreams." Travis stuck out his tongue as she gave him the finger, "Enough foreplay, if we've going we'd better get started, it'll take several hours to get to India, unless you can shift to withstand the high speed and cold? Not sure about your wardrobe, but then I'm not shy around nudity."

"Fuck off. Ass," Ronnie said back, but there was little heat in her voice, and what there was lacked any malice.

"As you wish. Come on, time's wasting." He picked her up, mock groaning as he did, and then took off. Within an hour Ronnie had been forced to shift to better withstand the battery of the wind and he clothes were already flapping themselves ragged around the edges. "It's a few thousand miles at least," Travis said in reply to Ronnie's question about how far and how long. "I can push harder, the virus seems to be gone. At my top speed we could be there within an hour or two more. Not sure if you can handle Mach five though, your clothing wont."

"Just do it!" she yelled over the rush of air.

Travis shrugged and Ronnie felt a gut dropping acceleration and then a pressure in her ears. A series of muffled booms followed as the wind become too great for her to keep her eyes open. She buried her face in Travis' chest and trusted that he could at least find India and slow down before needing directions. An hour later, maybe more the wind lessened, and the air became warmer, or perhaps she simply felt warmer without the wind to tear the heat from her body. She opened her eyes and looked around.

"Pilot to navigator, where the fuck am I going?" Travis asked, sounding tired.

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