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Mistaken Identity (IC)


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2:53 PM

September 16th, 2012

Claremont Academy

Tona Baudin crossed the grassy quad of Claremont Academy quickly, short hair moving in the breeze. Her shirt was long-sleeved and dark red, and the word HERO was appliqued across the chest. It caught a few eyes and knowing grins among the Academy's student body, but it was a common enough appellation in the city that it wouldn't draw too much attention. Aside from that she had her standard black jeans and steel-toed boots. She was also lugging around a bulky green messenger bag, which seemed stuffed to the gills; it was the gear she was never without.

She came to the Mathias Cook wing and climbed the stairs up to the top level. There she found a specific room -- a room she'd received a piece of electronic mail about -- and entered. Only to find that, aside from the desks, it was empty. She paused, and looked closely at room. The chalkboard wrapped along two walls and had been recently cleaned, but some scribblings in the corner were marked by a border and a 'DNE' logo. There were several rows of long tables with plastic chairs set behind them; she bent over and checked underneath the tables, but there wasn't anything there except old, hardened chewing gum. The room's trash bin was empty. There wasn't even a layer of dust on the teacher's desk. It was all perfect and empty.

Maybe that was it, maybe it was a subconscious instinct, but Tona felt her skin crawling and wished dearly for a target.

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Six minutes later, Samantha Vance steps out of a nearby janitor's closet. She's scoped out perpetually shadowy corners of the campus to help her get around easily, just stepping through the shadows. It lets her show up on time when she sets out a minute before she's told to be somewhere, just like today. Her hair is cut shorter than when Tona last saw it, tamed at considerable effort and she wears a men's button-down shirt in white, which she had tailored to lower the back to her needs, plus a deep blue smoking vest and slacks to match, a very trim look on a very trim body, completed with a set of white gloves and pearl earings.

She would have worn red, but with her hair plus her flushing skin once she gets worked up, she ended up looking like a tomato.

She steps into the room right on time, her walking shoes- a compromise from the dress shoes the outfit demands, but the smallest one she could manage- making little noise as she slips in the open door.

"Hey, Tona. Why are you digging through the trash?" she asks, strolling in.

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Tona straightened, looking almost guilty as she looked at Sam. "Something's not right here," she said. "I got a computer-mail message that told me to be here, right around now. But there's nothing here." She looked around, backing away slightly so that if someone or something attacked either her or Sam, it wouldn't be able to get both of them. "I think the message was sent by one of the teachers. So why isn't anyone here to see us?" Unless they can see us but we can't see them, the archer thought to herself.

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Sam shrugs, not particularly worried. "You mean one of the teachers who teach breaking and entering for justice? How to set an ambush? Infiltration?" She'd long found it hilarious that the school of heroes made it so easy for students to learn basics of The Trade. Apparently, there's plenty of overlap between the skills of a thief and the skills of a crime fighter.

"And if it's a villain, anyone who can strike at the heart of Claremont has much better things to do than go after the likes of us." She takes a seat, looking thoroughly unconcerned as she begins her own ploy to find whoever's hiding out around here. Despite her words, she finds the arrangement plenty fishy. She starts doing her own scan for hiding places, though not so obviously as Tona's. She simply looks around, setting her eyes on places more plausible than a garbage can.

Her first thought is the ceiling. The beams and girders could hold a person easily, and may be quiet enough. Her eyes drift about for a hole in the ceiling tiles someone may be spying through when a thought occurs to her. If this is a teacher, they must be watching. Teachers tend to be quite fond of keeping school property intact.

So, she flexes her fingers, a wispy blue flickering ball of light. No one's entirely sure what it is, exactly. It's certainly not real fire, but it's definitely anathema to things that exist. It's not about to level a building. She offers Tona a gesture for patience before floating it up towards the ceiling along where a beam probably is. She could use it to cut along the ceiling, shed some light on it, see if anyone's there. More importantly, she looks like she's about to break something, which should send the faculty running. Or send a villain to do something panicky.

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"Okay, that's about as far enough." The voice drew the attention of the girl's to a tall blonde woman standing in the back of the room. She was dressed in a bright floral tee-shit and flared jeans, with flip-flop sandals on her feet. She smiled brightly and waved, coming closer to Sam and Tona. It would be an entirely disarming appearance, if the back of the room hadn't been empty just moments before. "You can call me Changling," she said, her voice cheery. "I used to study here at Claremont, but Mr. Archer asked me to come back for a little lesson." She glanced between the two young women. "So who is Antoinette, and who is Samantha?"

Tona gave the new arrival a suspicious look. "I'm Tona," she said. "Where did you come from? I didn't see anyone back there."

"That's for me to know and for you to find out," Changling replied airily. "Or rather, for you to figure out. I'll be going around town today. The two of you have to tail me and make sure not to lose me. Do you think you can do it?"

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"Schoolwork on a Sunday," Sam whines. Not that it's particularly rare, but usually, there's a chance of actual crime-fighting, not just a game of tag.

But, she gets up and stretches out a bit, ready for the game to suddenly and unexpectedly begin without adequate explanation. "So, what're the rules and how do we win?" She sizes up the opposition, knowing full well looks don't count for much. But if she doesn't know which of the girls is which, then she probably doesn't know what they can do. After all, if she knew anything about that, she'd have pegged Tona by the big bag of gear.

Though that makes the whole exercise a bit odd. The powers and skills change everything about the chase, and if she doesn't know that...

Her mind keeps working overtime, looking for the trick. One way or another, that's what this is all about, after all. Once she figures that out, she's won.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"You win," Changeling said, "by following me around and not being seen. I'll be visiting a few different places around town; once all this is over, you each have to write a paper tallying where I went and what I did." She paused and added with a smile, "Oh. And I'm going to be driving to the Promenade, but I won't tell you where I'm going after that. So first thing, I would recommend finding a way out there." She walked through the door and left the pair of crime fighters standing there, stranded.

Tona frowned hard. "Have to track a car? Without a car of our own? And then we have to... Hm. She's cheating." She grinned suddenly. "Good." The archer walked over to one of the windows, reaching back and rummaging in her pack. "Sam, can you figure out how to get us to the Promenade? I think I can figure out how to find her after we get there." The archer ran her free hand along the edge of the window pane. How did these open, anyway?

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"I have a way, don't worry," Sam answers. "We may even get there before she does." After all, the entire city's just a step away, and she knows a few good places on the Promenade. Though it can't hurt to scout a few more.

"C'mon, if we just get in the hallway..." she begins, gesturing her friend along, but stops herself. Apparently, there's actual business to be had outside the window, though she has no idea what that might be. "Here, let me," she says, nudging Tona aside and taking a look at the window, unconsciously slipping into her 'professional' mode as she assesses it. "These don't get used much. Tend to build up crud, get jammed. Need to do a little..." A series of soft taps at strategically selected points to loosen the buildup, a slow controlled turning of the levers, then a tentative rise bit by bit for that first couple inches and the window is open almost without noise.

Then, she realizes what she's doing. She's not shy about her particular 'talents,' but usually she shows them off on purpose, not out of hand, and the realization leaves her blushing as she just lifts the thing the rest of the way with a whoosh, grinning dopily and failing to beat down a giggle.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Tona stood back and let Sam work on the window. She was impressed by how easily the other woman got it open once she cleaned some of the crud off it, cranking open a slim opening. "Okay," she said, swinging a leg over the lip of the window. Fingers and toes found niches easily and she lowered herself down. It was a tight fit but it seemed to be going well -- until her rucksack caught on the window. Tona struggled but there simply wasn't any room. She sighed and leaned back into the room, hanging off the lip, her upper body inverted. She wriggled and the bag fell over her head; the archer hooked her arm and caught it at the last moment, swinging her head back upright.

She opened a zip pouch on the front of the messenger bag and pulled out a small plastic bag, inside of which were a number of tiny electronic devices that looked a bit like resistors. Not that Tona knew what a resister looked like; they were a new tool for her. She tossed the bag over to Sam and slipped further through the hole. "Meet me by the front gate," she said, and then began her climb.

Fingers and toes found their holds in the rough brick of the facade and she descended quickly and with ease. The walls of the campus even blocked most of the wind; the climb down the side of the building was almost as easy as taking the stairs. Once her feet touched the grass she was off and running, making for the front entrance. She paused at the corner of the building and peeked around; Changling's blonde figure was unmistakable, talking to some of the other students. Male students mostly, and mostly they were drooling over her. Of course, Tona could see why they would, but right now it was a useful distraction. She sprinted to the gate and slipped through, waiting on the other side.

She didn't have long to wait. A started up and rolled towards her position. She crouched and opened the plastic bag, shaking a couple of the little devices into her hand. Now, she was supposed to twist the wires together like... so. And then she had five seconds before they were stuck fast. The young woman breathed slowly, forcing the heart to beat slower, even though it wanted to speed up in anticipation. One-one thousand, two-one thousand -- a dark blue sedan rolled past. Tona fought the urge to hunker down next to her cover, knowing that movement drew the eye. Three-one thousand -- she rolled out of her position and slapped the micro-tracker on the bumper of the car. Four-one thousand -- she kept rolling until she was in cover next to the opposite pillar. Five-one thousand -- and she let out the breath she'd been holding since the car appeared.

Once the vehicle was out of sight, Tona stood up, brushing her pants off. "Well," she muttered to no one in particular. "That part went right, at least."

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  • 2 weeks later...

"We have doors," Sam mentions as Tona starts squeezing through the window. "Or, y'know, I can just-" Tona's out and gone. "Or not."

She shrugs, drops the blinds, and heads back across the room to hit the lights, casting shadows across the room. Shadows she uses to cross campus her own way, as she slips between them and ends up behind a wall near the parking lot.

There aren't a lot of ways Changeling can get here, so she walks over to a bench near the campus' main exit, keeping her eyes open for her and Tona. And in the meantime, she opts to put in the extra effort towards not being seen, extending her will upon everyone in the area. She's quite visible, but she simply chooses not to let others notice her. If she could, she'd limit it to Changeling, but she can't spare the moment it would take to notice her.

And now, the waiting game. Always the worst part of a job, in her experience, but it doesn't pay to move before you get your break.

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Sam didn't have very long to wait at all. In just a few minutes Changeling extracted herself from her admirers and climbed into a dark sedan. The car maneuvered around the quad and through the gates, and Sam had a perfect seat to watch Tona's roll-and-slap.

The young archer watched the car roll down the hill with shining eyes, then turned and found Sam there, watching. If that put her off she didn't show it, punching the air in triumph. "Cars aren't nearly as hard as they look," she said. "You can't barely see out when you're in one!" Terrible idea." She dug out a smartphone, a stylish plate of plastic and touchscreen, and started pecking at it. "Now we just need to... Now we can... If I can just..." Tona bit her lip as she struggled with the device. Electronics were something she always struggled with, and this seemed no exception. Finally, she thrust the phone at Sam. "Here. There's supposed to be a way to track the thing I put on her car, but I cannot seem to find it. Do you know phones?"

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She knows she shouldn't, but Sam can't help but laugh at Tona trying to fiddle with technology. But she takes the phone and takes a look. "I think I know phones, yes." She drops her veil entirely as Changeling leaves the lot and gets to work, going on the assumption someone helped her set the tracker up, which means they probably put an app on her smart phone, and anyone who knows Tona would make sure to keep it simple, so she just goes through looking for anything weirder than Bejeweled, and... "Here we go."

She finds the app, opens it up, and a couple button-presses later, she has it. A map with a moving, numbered red dot. "Found her. And she already told us where she's going." She starts moving, "C'mon, I'll get us to her."

Sam leads Tona to a dark, secluded corner behind a building, which just so happens to be well away from prying eyes. "Now, give me your hand," she commands, suddenly realizing what this must sound like. She starts to clarify, but instead just swallows and blushes, taking the hand and getting on with business. "N-now just relax. This'll be... weird. And I need to make a stop first." With that, a sudden coldness washes over the pair, and from where Tona sits, it looks like the shadows just grew around her, swallowing her. The sensation only lasts a moment, and then, black.

"Stay still a sec, Tona," Sam says before calling out, "JUST DROPPING SOMETHING OFF REAL QUICK!" in case her roommate's still in. She slips her hand out of Tona's and takes off her vest; she has a feeling she won't be able to wear it much longer, and she'd rather not carry it all day. "Oh, careful you don't stare at my back. Magic tattoo. Not dangerous, but it'll give you a headache." And with that, she reaches for Tona again, missing her hand and grabbing her wrist. The cold comes and goes again, and this time, they're across town. Specifically, behind the main dumpsters for the Hanover Zoo; one of the little nooks in the city Sam'd scoped out in advance, so she's not hopping around blind. Not quite where they wanted to go, but close enough, and they have a few minutes before Changeling gets to the Promenade.

As she steps out of the shadowy corner, still leading Tona by the wrist, all she can do is offer an old woman (at least forty) nearby a nervous smile as they're noticed. She offers Tona the phone back, hoping she's confident enough to try and following the map (once it finishes reestablishing a signal and recalculating their position). She needs to work with modern tech more.

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Tona's head was spinning and she stumbled free of the shadows, leaning against Sam while she got her breath back. All the rapid jumps disorientated her, and for a moment all she registered was the rich, rank scent of garbage. After a moment's searching she did find a street intersection, but her mental map of the city was hazy at the best of times. Still, with the help of her phone she realized that she and Sam were now in the north side of the river valley, miles away from where they had started -- and probably miles ahead of Changeling.

There was a bit of park not too far away, with broad trees and grassy rises. Tona walked over to it and sank to the ground underneath one. "That's a pretty neat trick," she said to Sam. "Is that all by, um, magic?"

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Sam slows down and lets Tona recover. She's been making those jumps since before she even came to Earth, so she's barely phased, and she'd forgotten what it can do to someone who wasn't used to it. And she has no objection to the position, besides.

When Tona sinks, Sam crouches down next to her, to avoid mussing her clothes. They should have a few minutes of peace to talk, so she trusts Tona to have 'em back up when Changeling gets closer. "Yeah," she answers, not particularly awed by the notion. "My weirdness is magic." Her word for most powers. "Science doesn't know how to do most of what I do yet. Especially not well. It's a perk of being able to tell the laws of physics where to stick it. Even if they make me take physics anyways."

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Tona's lips quirked. "I'm taking two classes in history," she said, "because I'm not from this world. And even back home, history didn't seem real important, you know? Everything before getting pulled into the Terminus always seemed... not necessary, you know?" She squeezed the phone as a sudden wave of homesickness and despair crashed over her. "When you're fighting for your life every single day, it really doesn't matter how you got there, especially when the answer is 'A big space demon came and swallowed up the planet.'"

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"I-" Sam takes a deep breath, starting to get worked up, ready to go into a long-winded explanation about how Terminus aren't actually demons, a distinction important to her personally, but she then realizes Tona probably doesn't particularly care right now. So, instead, complaining about school! "I really don't like history," she begins again, with a bit too much energy. "I mean, it's alright, but in class it's, like, you start with a kinda neat story, but then you have to remember exactly who did what to who and when as a part of what group and for how many pickles, and it just takes all the fun out of it, y'know? And have you seen the American history book? It has, like, one paragraph on the entire golden age of piracy!"

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Tona sniffed and smiled at Sam. "Going to be a pirate, then?" After a moment the young woman nodded sharply. "That seems like it would be plus interessant than waiting for a woman to drive across town and --" Tona stopped abruptly. Her phone was vibrating in her hands. The blip representing the tracker on Changeling's car was drawing closer. The young woman stood and looked around for a hiding spot. It wouldn't do to be found at the very beginning of the exercise, even if they had beat their target here.

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"Gonna be? Try-" Sam starts to reply when Tona stops talking, but then realizes the alarm's more important than a story about that week she and her mentor spent lake pirating, especially with the editing and explanations it would take; she still hadn't told Tona about her life of crime, or the Phantom Fox.

Instead, she gets up and readies herself to spring into action. And in that half second, she has a plan!

She grabs Tona by the wrist, having a better idea than hiding. "Wait! Remember the joke we played on Mali the other day? Just relax a second." She takes a deep breath and starts weaving an illusion. The problem with these spells is always coming up with a solid image to hold onto, one that'll last through the spell, so she reaches back and focuses on a pair of girls she saw walking around in the mall the other day and decided to add to her mental Rolodex. Within a few seconds, Tona stops looking like Tona; instead, she looks like a freckled redhead, just slightly taller, with mousy hair in a pink fleece and jeans. Sam looks like a Japanese girl about her size, shoulder-length hair, cream hoody and jeans.

"We can trail her better like this," Sam says, even her voice having changed, now softer, and far less shrill. "Just act natural."

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Tona frowned, not sure exactly what Sam was talking about -- until she looked over at the other girl and saw someone who looked a lot more like Asimova than Kit. She blinked and took a step away, but then remembered Sam's trick on Mali. "Alright then." Tona stopped speaking abruptly, realizing that her voice sounded more nasal and high-pitched. She crossed her eyes for a second, trying to look at her own mouth, then sighed and surged on, partially pulling Sam but mostly trusting the other girl to keep close.

Changeling was carrying a big bag and moving from shop to shop on the Promenade, keeping up a brisk pace. The walkway was moderately crowded but Tona didn't know much about hiding in a crowd, so she hurried to a nearby lamp post and half-crouched there, watching her target intently. She glanced over at the nearest store and did a double-take at the image of her new self. She reached up and slowly touched her fluff pink sweater, pulling at the yarn. "I owned something this color when I was six," she said softly, momentarily lost in her look.

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Sam follows, noticing that Tona's idea of 'natural' is considerably faster than her norm. Unlike her friend, she's utterly unperturbed by the disguise. Then again, she's been pulling heists with it since before she'd even come to Earth.

But when Tona starts hiding behind a lamp, she can't decide whether to laugh or panic. It's kinda hard to stay inconspicuous when you're in the middle of a crowd looking like you're chasing down a rabbit. She's even starting to get looks, while Sam strolls along at an easy pace, knowing exactly how to float through a crowd unimpeded. And she's not bad at casing a mark, either, as she takes a rough stock of which shops Changeling slips into, and keeps a rough gauge of how heavy the bag's looking.

When Tona tugs at the yarn, she can't feel it. In the reflection, she sees it move just fine, but it's just an illusion; there's nothing actually there for her to feel. And then, Sam catches up and with her unfamiliar face rests a hand on her back, feeling like she's intruding on a private memory, but they need to address the practical for a moment. "Remember, natural," she says in a low voice, the sounds itself strange but the tone clearly a friend's. She's not terribly worried about random passersby taking time out of their busy schedule to eavesdrop. "We're just a couple friends out shopping. Nothing suspicious about that, so long as we don't look like we're following someone."

She slinks to her other side, taking the hand that's pawing at the phantom yarn, not pulling, but inviting Tona along; she can set the pace for her, guide her through the crowd, show her how to move and how to watch without drawing suspicion. "Besides, looks like she has good taste. Maybe we can pick up something nice while we're at it."

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The fact that the girl in the mirror could pull at her sweater while Tona couldn't feel anything between her fingers was disconcerting, but then life at Claremont was full of weird situations. This was just one more to get used to.

Sam took her hand and lead her through the press of people. Tona hung back a bit, watching how the other girl moved, how she put her feet, how she swung her arms and hips. How she moved her rear end, how her hand felt in Tona's...

The young archer's face grew bright red suddenly and she took a step to the side, pointedly looking away from Sam. "I didn't. Um. If we bought things. Ahem. I mean, shouldn't we stay outside of the shop? If we went inside and Changeling saw something weird..."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sam looks back to notice the redheaded guise blushing, and can't help but look past her own illusion so she can see Tona doing the same, which she finds oddly satisfying, but she has to turn her mind back to watching where she's going before she can pay it too much mind. Though some corner of her mind has a good idea what those passing on the street think about the pair.

"What would you think is weirder," she asks as they continue along, "Two random girls waiting outside of every shop you come out of, or two girls looking at handbags? Besides, I have some cash and that spends without any questions. As long as we mix up the pattern, it shouldn't get too fishy." She'd gotten in the habit of using less traceable means of paying for things, and some habits die hard. Still, a card could be a problem right about now.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Handbags. Another hurdle to cover, it seemed. Tona glanced over and noticed Changeling stepping into a shop whose windows were filled with merchandise bearing the city logo of Freedom City, not to mention the faces and symbols of the more popular superheroes-of-the-moment. A bit of old training kicked in; if you don't know how to do something, spend time with someone who does. "Alright, then. Handbags." Tona walked up to the window of a store next to the one that Changeling was in, and fixed her gaze on the mannequins in the window. "Why so many handbags? If you have one that carries what you need, why do you need more?"

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Sam looks at Tona almost as if she'd grown three heads. After this, there needs to be one hardcore introduction to the world of consumerism. "You have more than one outfit, so why should you only have one hand bag? At the very least, you need something sturdy for day-to-day, then a nice one for your best outfit, though you're better off with at least a couple colors."

She drags Tona in (to the extent the puny girl can drag anyone), not much hiding her usual energy, which rather clashes with the calmer tone of her guise. "But we can get you the bag first and find a nicest outfit to go with it later. We need to get you in a proper dress some time. I'm thinking red." Though she talks a mile a minute as far off the job as can be, she's already got her eyes open to track Changeling, wherever she may be.

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Tona could feel herself going further and further out of her comfort zone. "Um. I used to have a leather satchel that I carried everything in," she said. "It was supposed to blend into the leaves and the living forest, and when the winter came I had this net I'd put the bag in to make it looks more like snow..." She trailed off, still staring at the bags. "But I don't think that's what you meant.

"Can we at least keep away from dresses? How can you run or climb or kick in a dress?" She'd seen people wear dresses and skirts, and the young woman couldn't understand why someone would wear an outfit that would restrict their ability to fight like that.

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