It's ben a long road, but here we are, all done. I hope those reading enjoyed it well enough. If you read this long, I assume you did. ;)
So, what should I write next?
"You noticed that, huh?" she asked. "I was hoping those would sneak by you."
I nodded. "I can be pretty observant. I can't make you give up your powers, but I don't think the world should risk having a real Phoenix out there. If you get hungry, brocolli everywhere is doomed."
Ashley barked out a laugh at the reference to an alien race her costume's inspiration snuffed out in the comicbooks, as part of her downfall to becoming Dark Phoenix.
"There's the problem. I'm the little flaw in your master plan, Martin." Her gaze shifted to her feet, and she wrung her hands, the fabric making a soft noise as it was crushed and squeezed in her grasp.
"Once I start picking apart my own reality, to use the Phoenix to take the Phoenix Force away, well, you can surely see the problem there?"
I could indeed. "You're trying to erase what's been written with the wrong end of the pencil."
"Or with a permanent marker," chimed in Chris.
"I don't think the situation lends itself well to analogies," said Ashley. "But you've got the idea. I'm stuck like this as much as Chris is. Well, I could fix my physical appearance. I don't see why I would want to, though. This was cheaper than plastic surgery, and a lot less invasive, in the long run."
"I really don't think that's the kind of message we should be sending," I joked. "You should be happy with who you are."
"I mean, were. Positive body image, and all that rot."
Ashley crossed her arms and sulked. "If I wanna keep some extra curves, I'm going to. And there's nothing you can do about it, puny mortal!"
"I'll be good."
Chris sat up and interrupted our silliness, "Wait, if you can change your looks back, and I can certainly see why you'd want to keep that body, couldn't you alter my form back? To at least male?"
With a shake of her head, Ashley gave her answer. "Like I said, the magics have tied you to this form. I couldn't even make your hair brown without making everything crumble around us. Powerful magics. Sorry."
It was Chris's turn to sulk, and her shoulders slumped forward. "It's ok, I guess. Nothing you can do about it. Are you still keeping me calmed down?"
"A little bit, yes," Ashley said apologeticly. "Would you like me to stop?"
Chris nodded. "I'm going to have to deal with this sooner or later, I might as well start now."
It was plain to see when Ashley released the calming centers of Chris's mind. Her eyes expanded, and she gasped for breath, her entire body quivering like jelly. She pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes, and fought back the sudden surge of feelings welling up within her.
After several minutes, she recomposed herself, not quite to the levels she was at under Ashley's control, but close. I could see she was fighting to hold it back still, but Chris was putting on a brave front.
"I guess we should get back to our room," she choked out, as she wiped at her cheeks. "It's really over? All done?"
I helped Chris stand, and she wobbled on her heels, like she had a lifetime ago when she first put the costume on that morning. She no longer had a full-time girl's voice in her head to help with the little details, it was all Chris from here on out.
"Yeah, I think it's all done." I turned to Ashley, still resting on the chair. "What about you? Got the voices in your head under control?"
"For the moment," she smiled. "Going through all that, was a bit of a crash course. I've got everyone else's voices sorted out, and should be able to manage those well enough. Cutting those voices in half definitely helped too, and all that screaming. What I can do with the Phoenix force is pluck Jean and the Phoenix out of my head, at least. I think. Worth a shot."
"Telepath, heal thyself."
"Exactly! You two take care, and keep in touch?"
The two of us nodded, and left Ashley in her room to settle in for the night. Outside, I saw the evidence of the Hulk's crash to the ground, now only two regular guys laying in the indentation; Sebastian still unconcious, and whomever had dressed as the gamma irradiated behemoth.
Down in the lobby, there wasn't a sign of anyone superpowered or abnormal around, just confused people in costumes. There memories of what had happened while they were literally not themselves were fuzzy, and hard to focus on. I don't know if that was just from the mental takeovers, or because their own minds were protecting them, or a by-product of whatever Ashley and I had done to them, but they were all better off, I'm sure. Just seeing Chris trying to cope with her own actions was bad enough. I wouldn't wish memories of Lex Luthor's actions upon that costumer.
As we moved through the lobby, we saw the scattered bodies of those we couldn't save in time, including the guy with the red gem, now the green it originally had been, and attached to a headband by a pipe cleaner on his head. A head which sat askew thanks to his broken neck.
Chris grabbed my arm when she saw that body, and the others, looking back over her shoulder to watch the unmoving forms as I tugged her out into the darkened streets. The lights dotting the area were intermittent, as power flucuated, and some bulbs were just plain broken.
People were returning to the streets, and the sound of sirens was growing closer, as they were finally able to get past whatever was on the outskirts of the area. I suspected a dragon or two were protecting their new roosts from the loud, noisy officers with their sirens all day long.
We ignored the growing throngs of people, and returned to the Herriott at last, and made our way to the elevators once more.
Chris broke the silence between us as we waited. "None of this would have happened if not for me."
I squeezed her arm, "Hey, you've got to stop beating yourself up over this. We've covered it, it was Sebastian's fault, ok? If you weren't here, or weren't in costume, he may have found some other target. The guy had problems."
Shaking my head with a sigh, I continued, "And if you weren't Batgirl, Mister Freeze would've put me on ice."
"I should hurt you for that pun."
"Oh, chill ou...ow!" I rubbed the back of my head where Chris had fwapped me for the second pun, and I believe a little extra force for the first one as well. "As I was saying, I might not be here right now, if not for you. You also protected us from Sebastian later on. Who knows what would've happened without all of us, without you? The price may be steep but..."
She looked around the corner at the bodies being cleaned up by the hotel staff, just barely visible through the spaces between the banks of elevators. "I'm not sure if it was worth paying, but I see your point. And better to be standing here, alive, than out there, I guess."
The wall dinged, and we travelled up the many floors to our room, and when we arrived at the doorway, we just stood there for a moment.
"We forgot we have no door," I pointed out.
"Do you really think we'll be bothered?"
"I guess everyone will be too busy with their own issues. Give me a hand at least putting it up in the doorway to get it out of the way?"
Chris did, and we closed the door as best we could, propping it up against the wall, and light from the hallway spilling in around the edges.
The rest of the convention was cancelled, which gave me plenty of time to write up my story for the paper the next day. I didn't give the full details, just what would be believable. This is the only complete account of what really happened that day.
Everyone was questioned by the cops, but no one gave any concrete answers. Sebastian never showed up, but we did see Ashley waiting to give her deposition once we were done with the cops. All three of us gave the same story as everyone else, fuzzy memories, weird happenings, got lucky.
When Monday rolled around, Chris and I went our seperate ways, but not before having breakfast at the food court with Ashley. I snapped a picture of the three of us, with a little telekinetic assist from the newborn Phoenix, one last photo of the saviours of UniCon, even if no one knew it.
Chris found that his passport was indeed changed like the rest of him, and his luggage was even full of clothing more befitting his new gender. I'm sure if we asked anyone, they'd remember a girl checking in that past Thursday, or on the plane. Chris was grateful for that much, making it easy to slip into this new life minus explanations, since it was her life, just a little different.
She'd picked out a simple outfit of black jeans, over her yellow boots from her Batgirl costume, and a t-shirt she'd found in the dealers' room, which had remained open to make a few bucks. Someone had shirts made up in record time, and Chris had aquired one that said, "I survived the UniCon Massacre and all I got was this lousy shirt."
With our luggage packed, I pulled on my trenchcoat, and Chris grabbed her jacket which was now much smaller for her new frame, and black as well. She pulled a pair wire-framed glasses from her coat pocket and adjusted them on her face. She found those the day after, and was still getting used to needing them, or the contacts she'd found herself wearing after her costume became more than real.
"Same time next year?" I asked, after opening the door for her. The hotel was nice enough to give us an empty, undamaged room for the remainder of weekend.
"I think I'll skip the costumes, but if there is a next year, definitely."
There wasn't a next year, or the year after. With all the damages, and unexplained occurances, after over two decades, UniCon shut down for good. There were other conventions, and Chris and I started going elsewhere, but that venue was closed to everyone.
Ashley did indeed keep in touch, but in a rather unexpected way. All the time we had spent together in such close, mental contact, had left a permanent impression upon my mind, leaving us with a strong psychic rapport that remained active no matter how far apart we were, at least so far. Neither of us have left the hemisphere yet to really test it. We opted to do most of our communication via the internet or phone, but having a friend that could be talked to without any interference at all, and that understood the ordeal we'd been through was a boon.
Cami enjoyed the story I'd sent, but it was never published. No one would believe even the watered down version I'd given her. I rewrote what happened, making it even more simplified and believable, and we used a few photos that were acceptable, and the story still went to press, with one of the few first hand accounts of the memorable Memorial Day in Boston that had come out of that weekeend. A few other reporters had been there, but no one had quite the view I did.
Most people chalked up whatever had happened that weekend to a mass hallucination and hysteria, everyone feeding off everyone else's impressions of what happened. Some of the damage was unexplained by that, but it made people happy to believe what they wanted to believe.
The truth may never be known by more than a handful of people, but I was one of them. I knew what happened. The issue could have been pressed, but sometimes the truth didn't need to be known. I'd always have my memories, good and bad of that weekend, and I had made new friends, for life.
And best of all, I got some awesome photos.
November 1st, 2007 - December 29th, 2007