Bez stepped forward, smiling. "Hey, long time no see! Had us worried there for a second."
Matrix nodded. "Mmmhmm." He grinned childishly. "I still think we should have a party on the moon."
At this, NT's expression suddenly lit up. "Yes," she silently mouthed.
Bez turned to face Matrix partially.. "You know we don't have enough artificial atmospheres for everyone here."
NT's heart sank, and her excited expression faded.
"Are you saying you couldn't make any more?"
Bez narrowed her eyes at him, but smiled. "That was sneaky, my robotic friend. But enough of that!" She turned back to Indy. "I brought other-planetary food!"
"Cool!" Indy exclaimed, beaming.
Most everyone else looked extremely curious. There were murmurs and nods etc. as various people quietly expressed their interest. This was really going to be something!
"Oh, neat!" Misery piped up.
"Wow!" That was Madonna.
"Yes, we'll actually be having a party so good it is out of this world!" Pippi said, grinning broadly.
Sigma shuddered. "Do NOT eat the purple stuff."
Sarah and NT giggled.
Bez scoffed.. "Don't listen to her. Pickled farritoed leg's are surprisingly good." Her face brightened. "Oh! And games-I brought games! Everything from 3D chess to holographic robot battling."
"Oh, cool!" Madonna exulted.
Heidi and Misery made similar exclamations.
Sigma shook her head then smiled.
"I'm pretty daring, unlike a lot of sissies - not to mention any names, Ariel," Capri joked, taunting Ariel and anyone else who wasn't too adventurous when it came to strange foods, "I'm not afraid to try new dishes."
"What?" Ariel looked at Capri, "You calling me a sissy?"
There was some laughter.
"And Thande wishes you well. He wouldn't phrase it that way, but seeing as he can't come into the open at the current time, he'll have to deal with how I say his things." Bez smiled dryly.
"We appreciate it." Capri smiled.
"Wonder how things would turn out if he were to come out?"
Matrix shuddered. "Let's not find out just yet. No repeats of past fiascos."
Bez rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Come on! Someone play a game with me!"
"Yes, let's try this stuff out! Heidi said enthusiastically.
They opted to try out holographic robot battle first. Indy teamed up with Sarah against Heidi and Misery, Madonna and Ameh against Kristina and Ariel, Capri and Pippi against Bez and Sigma, and so on. Indy had to move for both herself and Sarah, whose vision was too impaired to even read the written word.
When that game was played, each team announced their victories, and before moving on to another, they milled about, chatting and eating.
The food went over very well too, even for those who weren't normally too adventurous. Several eyes lit up when the Jupiter bars were brought out. They were aptly named, because they were huge, and looked and smelled like the best chocolate bars in a kid's pleasant dreams. Indy commented on the various snacks and finger foods. She tried them all, but soon fell to taking a few favorites.
NT quietly checked out the various types of games, looking longingly, wistfully at each, marvelling that they had come from out of this world. How she wished they really could have that party on the moon.
She sampled various foods as well, and grinned in bemusement as Madonna and Kristina staged a mock fight over a Jupiter bar. Every now and then, she'd cast a nervous glance out the front window when she was near, but did her best to stay inconspicuous among the happy, laughing crowd.
Indy was enjoying herself, but once in a while, she got a stab of emotion from the troubling experience at the pet shop, and she had to fight them back. This was, after all, her party, and a unique, fascinating one at that.
At Indy's suggestion, and others encouragement, Sarah tried out the piano. She was a professional musician with a soft touch, playing by memory. The lyrical music seemed to comfort Indy.
There was some applause when Sarah was done the first tune, to which she responded with a pleased smile and soft giggle. She abliged them with another few tunes, then Indy showed her back to her seat.
Bez looked around the room. Sigma had started up a conversation with Heidi and Misery. Matrix hovered around the food, chatting amiably with anyone that passed his way. She trotted over to him.. "I'm going to visit the lizard. Tell me if anything happens." She deftly left the main room and entered the one Thande was in.
He stood stalk still in the center of the room, a mildly bored look on his face.
Bez smiled. "Patience, gasshoper. Maybe you can come out later."
He looked evenly down at Bez. "As things currently are, I would prefer to stay here."
Bez shook her head. "Not much of a people person, as always." She left the room, joining Matrix by the food. "Stoic, as usual." She reported. She surveyed the guests and smiled. Everyone seemed to be in a great mood, which was more than understandable.
She frowned suddenly. Something seemed a bit off with NT and Indy. Just slightly, but enough to be noticed by the trained eye. "Hey, Matrix-"
"I noticed, too. Not now, though. Maybe after the party." He smiled. "Let's not spoil the mood. Come on. I'm going to cream you at 3D chess."
Bez smiled dryly. "Your powers are weak, robotic one."
Matrix chuckled. "We shall see."
As they prepared to get started at chess, Capri and Pippi joined them, wanting to try their hands at it.
The game had only been set up, and not everyone had taken their turn.
Madonna had noticed Pippi and Capri setting up for the game, and it reminded her that she needed to have a word with one or both of them. Excusing herself from chatting with Ameh and Matrix a moment, she approached Pippi.
"Uh, can I talk to you about something quickly, or later if you'd like to get started on the game?"
"Sure, what is it, Madonna?"
"Well, can we slip into the kitchen a moment, or somewhere a little quieter?"
Okay," said Pippi, giving Madonna a questioning look. She could see that Madonna had something of a serious nature on her mind.
"I'm sorry, please start without me, if I miss a turn, it shouldn't matter that much."
"Will do." Bez said, making her first move..
Pippi and Madonna made their way through the crowded front room and Madonna took a seat on a kitchen chair.
Pippi did likewise.
Madonna looked around to make sure Indy or NT weren't coming in. Then she began. "Remember Cherie Evans from the reckoning?"
Pippi's eyebrows raised. "Has she been bothering you with unwanted emails too?" she asked.
"No. She upset NT at the mall today, and probably Indy as well."
"What!?" Pippi looked shocked and dismayed. "How?"
"Cherie drudged up some unpleasant memories from the past with NT and told her that her mom had just been killed."
"What? Oh, no!"
"Wait, that's not all; then somebody approached Indy with a similar story only about a sister's murder. What are the chances that...?"
There was a pause, and Pippi frowned. "I'm shocked that girl even found out where were living." she shook her head. "But this - did you see her?"
"No, but the way Indy described her, it sounded like Cherie. I was waiting at our meeting place, and first NT arrived, in tears, then Indy came up a little later, also in tears. I thought you should know so you could be on the lookout. if it was Cherie, and she told Indy one thing and NT another...?"
"Well, the only one who could say for sure if it is the same girl is Indy, and I don't want to risk upsetting her," said Pippi, "Ariel has some photos, and I know Cherie is in at least a couple of them." Pippi shrugged."On the other hand...?"
"If Indy does positively identify her, then we've just caught Cherie in a lie. Then who knows how many others she's told and who else she's conned? It might even help Indy to feel a lot better to know it isn't true. And if it wasn't Cherie she saw, we don't need to tell her why we showed her the photograph in the first place."
"Good thinking, Madonna."
They left the kitchen and joined the others back in the front room. Pippi returned to the chess game which was now underway, and Madonna sought out Ariel.
Ariel left, and came back with a few pictures she had taken. She passed them around to those who weren't occupied in a game and who wanted to see them, with explanations of what they were.
One picture was of what looked like Ameh only as tall as Capri would've been. Ariel explained that was taken during a meeting where a young mage was just receiving some help trying to get her own magic under control. The young mage was also in that picture, standing next to Ameh, getting a feel of what was going on as Ameh and Capri were doing their demonstrations for her. The young mage was Cherie, and she had this sad look on her face.
The other was from the same meeting, but this time it was NT holding a laughing little girl in her arms. The baby looked about two-years-old. This was when Ameh turned Capri into a little girl during that same meeting. Everybody was smiling in that picture, even Cherie, though it looked as if she was trying hard not to.
There was a lot of laughter as the pictures were passed around.
Indy got a kick out of Ameh, Capri and NT in those pictures too, but upon seeing Cherie's image, her expression darkened. "That looks just like the girl I met in the pet shop today."
Ameh took a look at the one Indy was holding, "Who, that?" She also indicated Cherie.
"That's Cherie Evans." Ameh narrowed her eyes. "And she's here in town?"
"So it IS her." said Indy, straightening up. "She upset NT today, and then she totally took the wind out of my sails as well. I hope she told neither of us the truth, even though that would make her a first-class creep."
Bez left the chess board, examining the photo's more closely. "Not to be intrusive, but would someone mind filling me in? I thought I noticed something off about Indy and NT, and this girl seems to be the culprit." She shivered slightly. "There's something off about her, too." She pointed sharply at Cherie.
"That's Cherie Evans, a young mage - or - some sort of, I'm no longer sure exactly what." said Ameh.
Sigma came over and studied the pictures. She frowned. "She looks so sad."
Ameh nodded. "I know, she always looks that way, and she has always seemed determined to be sad and hopeless no matter what anyone says to the contrary."
"She told me anyway, that her sister had been brutalized and murdered. I guess she told Nt something a little different." said Indy.
NT came over to put in her two cents as well. "She told me it was her mom. It just never ends with her."
"To begin with," said Ameh, "we first met her when working against and taking down a really twisted pair. Even then, Cherie was doing her best to be a big hinderance."
"Like refusing to hand over something that needed to be destroyed because it was an aid in a hostage taking. If that device hadn't been done away with, half of my friends would still be walking around with those stupid collars around their necks. All she wanted to do was go on about how hopeless it was to work against the captors, and how they had abused her - I had to yell at her to make her listen and give me that thing." said NT.
Ariel nodded. "Cherie listened to our enemies and obeyed them with only the smallest show of protest. Even after we had things well in hand, and she should've seen these bullies losing ground, she fought like crazy against any help or anything encouraging said to her by one of us."
Then NT began, and it all came tumbling out.
"And the freakiest things she did were begging me to take her magic power away on her, and threatening to kill not only the enemy, but herself, right in front of a bunch of people."
"OMG!" chorused Indy and Sarah.
Misery and Heidi's expressions showed horror.
NT continued. "Then once those enemies were vanquished, Cherie still did everything to make me feel terrible. She grabbed me and zapped into some other place where she claimed I was supposed to help free some people. But she wouldn't let me get on with it. She just wanted to stand around and talk, telling me all about her own experiences there when she was taken away from her - guardian - and she tried to make me sit through a slave market. I still have nightmares about that!"
"What!?" exclaimed Indy."
"Yes, and you should've seen the disgusting fit she through when I created a disturbance to put a stop to that proceeding. I'm not sure she really wanted to help anyone at all!" NT fumed. "She claimed fear of retribution again if I did anything before she gave me the okay.
"And when did she plan to let you do what she said you were there for?" asked Capri.
"I asked myself that the whole time." said NT. "And when we got in to help the girls in that camp, Cherie had the nerve to say that all those girls were going to be sold and that the lucky ones got to be housemaids, as if I hadn't already figured as much, but she actually said that out loud, right in front of them, what was she trying to do, panic and depress them all!? And the way she pointed out the boymart. She pointed to their section and said 'guess what they keep in there' as if it was some kind of freakin guessing game!"
"I'd wonder exactly what was really going on with her too," said Sarah, "If she really cared as much as all that, she wouldn't act that way."
"Yes. A guessing game?" Heidi said, "If she really was concerned, she wouldn't have tried to make you sit there and do nothing while human trafficking was going on, and wouldn't have flippantly pointed out the boys' section that way."
Misery's expression had darkened considerably. "She sounds emotionally very cruel to me."
Bez's expression had been darkening gradually as she listened. Her upper lip curled in disgust.
Sigma's frown became disdainful.
"Was that mission even a success, NT? You came back so despondent and wouldn't even talk about it until now." asked Capri.
"Yes, everyone was free by the time I got back home. I deliberately lost track of Cherie and hoped she would do the same. But after that time, all she ever did was email me about it and how bad she claims to feel about not being able to help me. She did that again at the mall today. And now she's managed to hurt Indy."
No one had noticed Pippi quietly leave the room. She returned. "I just got off the phone with Cherie's guardian. She has not been killed, and neither has the sister she never had. I don't know why the complete fabrications or what her game is, but that girl is a mennace."
"Gah, that Cherie is incredibly messed up!" said Indy.
"Then it was okay to scream at Cherie that enough was enough and run away from her?" NT asked, looking for some kind of validation.
"You had every right to react that way, especially since she never respected your feelings to begin with." Ariel said.
"What a relief." NT said, "I'll be back, please excuse me." She stood up hastily and left the room to pull herself together.
"Somebody ought to give that Cherie a good...No," Indy suddenly changed her mind, "She'd probably like that, ugh..."
"A good dose of happiness?" Capri quipped. She'd probably hate that."
This brought about a few chuckles and laughs.
Bez folded her arms assertively. "Regardless of how we do it, we still have to take her down." She blinked and surveyed the room. "Assuming no one has anything against my companions and I assisting."
"I for one would appreciate it." said Ariel, smiling.
"Definitely." said Ameh.
There were several nods all around.
Bez smiled gratefully.
"She's not the kind of crook we're used to bagging, so we're all going to need to spit out some ideas and get a plan formed." Matrix suggested. "Seeing as the snag, bag, and tag method has been removed as a possibility...." He trailed off, thinking.
"I think research is going to be required again to determine just what she is really about," said Pippi. "how she really ended up in the custody of that enemy in the first place, who had custody before her current guardian, and what's been going on with her since that mission where she nearly gave NT a breakdown."
Bez remained silent for a moment before speaking. "Research, h'm? Once we have a plan, we'll need to track her down. Someone magically inclined could track her, right?" She smiled crookedly.
Ameh and Capri nodded.
"I'm not too experienced in this field, so anyone feel free to stop me when I flub something. And if magic tracking won't work, we could always get her scent and use Thande." Bez frowned and looked cautiously around the room. "Speaking of which, d'you think it'd be all right for him to come out now? If we closed the curtains and such. Besides, I'm pretty sure he can hear all of this and he might have some insight on the matter."
"Certainly." said Ariel.
"I'll get the curtains." said Misery, who was about the closest. She drew the curtains closed.
It was at this point that Kristina excused herself to go to the washroom.
That still left Madonna and Sarah who weren't acquainted with Thande, and Madonna, sensing that Thande might be more comfortable with a slightly lesser crowd, said she'd go see if NT was okay. Sarah had said nothing through this exchange, but her expression showed keen interest in the subject of this con, and disgust at the way Cherie had treated Indy. She also wouldn't freak out at the sight of Thande.
Bez left the room and returned a few moments later.
Thande entered, looked quickly over the guests.
"Hi, Thande," Heidi smiled, "It's good to see you again!"
"Yes," Misery smiled. "Is the lighting okay in here?"
There were greeting smiles all around.
"I'll never forget how you all helped save me from Tonya." Indy said.
"Hi Thande," said Sarah, looking at him but without seeing. "Sorry you were left out. I'm Sarah, Indy's friend since back in grade school."
Thande studied the people and almost smiled. "It is good to be back." He said.
Bez chuckled, shaking her head. "So, Scaly. I assume you heard what the situation is." she said.
"A trap." He said bluntly.
Capri grinned. "Great minds." she said.
Bez smiled. "I like it. How d'we get her into it?"
"From what I understand, she seems to enjoy causing others pain. If we create a situation that offers her that opportunity, we should be able to capture her." said Thande.
Bez was about to comment when Sigma spoke.
"What about the bait? You are aware that we're talking about a person here? I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want to shove someone into that situation." Bez shrugged.
"I'll do it. Besides, we still haven't even got to that part in the plan." She smiled. "This is going to be fun."
"If you can do it, that would be excellent." said Capri. " We might need NT's help to get you into wherever Cherie might be at the time we trap her, but I'll let NT know what we're doing and that we won't let Cherie get to her."
"I'm sure she'll agree when she's certain we're all behind her." said Ariel.
"And by the time we get to that, I will hopefully have found out more about her." said Pippi. "If she's been going around emotionally crippling people, she needs to be researched, trapped, and exposed publically for the victimizer she really is."
"Dang straight." Sigma said sharply.
"And then she can be subjected to watching as people get really ticked at her, relieved that stuff she's been lyin about didn't really happen, and celebrate." said Capri, smiling broadly.
"Yes," said Heidi, "Count me in as well, if I'm needed. Whoever her guardians were, will probably need some support when coming to grips with this."
Misery nodded in agreement.
"I don't know if there's anything I can do, but keep me in the loop anyway." said Sarah. "There's nothing worse than someone taking advantage of others by exploiting their emotions."
Bez smiled proudly, looking around the room. "Hey, we're quite a team! We've got..." She did a quick mental tally. "over ten people vs one Cherie. We can take her! Besides, we've got something she doesn't: A dang good thing to fight for."
Sigma smiled. "I just realized something." She said. "Once everything's been taken care of, she'll need to be put somewhere she can't mess anything up. That eliminates prison. She'd probably love making everyone miserable, and while the people there deserve punishment, we can't let her get her fix."
"Yes, we can't give her an opportunity to cry her way out of prison, which is probably what she'd do." said Capri.
"I assume she can be transported somewhere fitting." She shrugged. "If not, we could always drop her off on an uninhabited planet."
Capri grinned. "I might need to give her the same treatment as the original enemy she was working for when we first met her, and turn her into something harmless but useful. I dunno yet. The uninhabited planet idea sounds good to me."
Matrix nodded. "We ought to split the work-make smaller teams. Then we can meet up again, compare notes, and get this party started."
Bez smiled and addressed the others. "You have more expirience with this creep, so I think you oughta set up the teams. Matrix is good with computations, basically the heavy lifting in the brain. He'd also be useful in a situation that may require medical help. Sigma's good with sciency stuff, biology especially. I'm good with chemicals, and anything mechanical. And Thande..." She frowned. "Well, in this town it's probably best that he lay low, at least during the day. When anyone does need him, he's great with tracking, and martial arts...of a type." Bez smiled childishly. "This is so cool! Been awile since we had to get so involved in a case."
Thande nodded. "Acting in ignorance is foolish. We must be prepared to end her, cleanly and efficiently." He smiled. It was far from a pleasant sight. "It is an Y-myg-d'ny."
Bez smiled. "Ah, right! We're all on board. Let the games begin!"
"All right, then," Capri grinned. "Why don't we have Matrix, Pippi, and Ameh do the research on Cherie's background, Ameh, you can help them by fixing up anything Cherie has magically tried to skew in that area,"
"We're in." Pippi said, and Ameh nodded.
Matrix smiled. "Background research-can and will do!"
Capri nodded, smiling broadly. "Misery, Heidi and Sigma, you can branch off and find out if there any concerns or discrepancies, such as long lost relatives Cherie claims, dead or alive, and if what she says about them, jives with what you find."
"We're on board." Misery said.
"Definitely." said Heidi.
Sigma nodded. "Count me in." She smiled. "This ought to be interesting.."
Capri nodded, still smiling. "Thande," said Capri, "Cherie may try to hide her whereabouts, especially from me. Whatever magic she uses to get this done, she can't disguise herself from you. Since she was in such close contact with NT and Indy today, they should still have traces of her escence on them, giving you some idea what Cherie's signature is. If you could let us know when and where she is when you detect her. Cherie also travels to various different worlds where there are different sorts of inhabitants. Some of them may have magic wards, but NT can get through those and could get you in to see what Cherie is up to."
Thande nodded grimly. "She will be interesting prey."
"I agree," Capri said slyly, "Seeing as she looks for all intents and purposes like the world's biggest damsel in distress."
"It was then that Madonna came back down along with NT.
"You two," Capri indicated them, "I'll need you to report to me if you happen to run into Cherie again, and this includes if she tries to talk to you, what she says or does etc."
"All right," said Madonna.
Nt looked disconcertedly at Capri.
Capri gave her a quick rundown on what was discussed so far, and NT agreed to help.
"I don't know what you or I can do yet, Bez," said Capri, "other than oversee and keep things coordinated, but something'll probably come up."
"You can be our headquarters." Heidi suggested.
"Something like that." said Capri.
Bez smiled. "Cool!" She glanced at Matrix. "Ground control to Major Tom."
He rolled his eyes. "Major Tom to Ground Control: get me outta this crazy thing."
Bez smiled and waved him off with a casual gesture.
Capri and Pippi laughed goodnaturedly.
there were smiles all around.
With the arrangements and ideas in place, everyone turned their attention back to Indy and the celebration of her recovery. The chess game was resumed, people went back to chatting and eating, and eventually, it was time for the gift opening, which commenced with Madonna. She confessed the packages she had to go leave in the car when meeting Indy and NT at the mall contained Indy's gift among other things.
Indy received everything gratefully, and the gifts ranged from gift cards to favorite restaurants, to cds and lovely scented body products.
When the party was over, everyone helped tidy up, and then filed out, saying their goodbyes, but knowing this really wasn't goodbye. There was going to be a lot of communication and interesting things going down as this new mission got underway.
Misery and Heidi left with Sarah, giving her a ride home. Madonna was among the last to leave, and Pippi and Capri filled her in then on what she had missed. They talked a while, and then she too, left.
It was arranged that Indy would stay at Pippi's for the next while until she was ready to be on her own. Just because she was released from the hospital didn't mean she didn't still need some looking after both physically and emotionally.
Bez and her friends settled down aboard the Nautilus, talking eagerly about the various aspects of the job.
Matrix and Sigma were browsing through the ship's library.
Bez had gone to her quarters, searching around for anything she thought they might need. She rifled through the contents of her desk, muttering to herself.
She started and turned around. "Oh, hiya Thande." She smiled and cocked her head. "You're surprisingly quiet for a giant lizard."
Thande shook his head. "She is here."
Bez stiffened. "What?"
"She is not in the ship. But she is close."
Bez pulled out her Burner and charged it up. "We'll see about that. Her direction?"
"She is by the on-ramp."
Bez nodded and the pair headed to the cargo bay.
"Sheesh, this girl has managed to stay fairly under the radar." Matrix muttered.
"That's why we need help." Sigma pointed out. "That's why we teamed up-so her little cover-ups can get un-magiced."
Matrix nodded glumly. "She's like Soundwave, for goodness sakes. Has her path all scrambled..." He brightened suddenly. "But if she's Soundwave, I want to be Ratchet!"
Sigma missed the reference entirely and stared at Matrix with a perplexed expression.
He shook his head. "Oh, forget it."
Bez and Thande descended into the Cargo Bay.
Thande's crest rose. "Something is-"
A young woman appeared several feet in front of them. She had a tragic expression on her face.
"Hey, you!" Bez spat, caught somewhat off guard. "You're tresspassing, y'know!" She pointed her Burner at Cherie. Cherie looked at the weapon and burst into tears.
"You don't like me either-I should have known! I know you're friends with-"
"Hang on a sec, how the heck do you know that?" Bez narrowed her eyes at Cherie. She didn't answer. "Answer me!"
Cherie's crying intensified. "It's my magic-it's evil, I want it taken away so badly-I-"
"Shut up! Listen, brat, I didn't like you before and I dislike you even more now for tresspassing and for all I know magically stalking me or a member of my crew." She darted a look at Thande.
His tail was lashing the air, his crest fully risen.
She resisted a smile. He had her scent all right. "Now, beat it! Before I have to use deadly force."
Cherie bit her lower lip, looking thoroughly pathetic.
Cherie cried out, and disapeared.
Bez spat and turned to Thande. "You've got her scent now, good and strong."
Thande nodded. "She has no escape."
Bez smiled mischievously. "Excellent."
"Um, Bez?" Matrix's voice sounded on the Com. "Did we just get visited by who I think we just got visited by?"
"Yup. Come morning, we're going to need to call Ground Control and update the situation. Until then...Matrix, make the ship as detestable to warp-aparate-beam-into-whatever- as possible."
"Will do, Cap'n."
Bez shook her head. Now she had a memory to fix to Cherie. She smiled dangerously. "She's going to wish she didn't visit."
Outside the ship, Cherie was mumbling to herself. How had it not worked? She should have gone straight for the heart-wrenchers, that would've done it! "I'll have to figure out some stuff about this one." She muttered. "Next time we meet, I'll be ready!"
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