End of a Dream, Part One: Long Shot

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(October 22nd)


Bryce Ecchs yawned heavily, cracking open his eyes at the insistant sound of the buzzer. After a few moments, he sighed and reached over, pressing the intercom. “Y'hello?”

“This is your morning wakeup call, Mr Ecchs.” The chipper voice on the other end chirped at him triumphantly. “The time is now 9:30 A.M.”

“Thank you, Irene.” Bryce sat up slowly. “Too early by half. Any messages?”

“Let's see… two from your father. He wants you to call him.” There was a half-second pause. “Again.”

“Yeah, yeah, I'll talk to him eventually. Anything else?” Bryce closed his eyes, massaging his temple at the thought of admitting what was going on to his father.

“Your uncle wants you to know that tomorrow's Detroit trip is still on.” Irene spoke cheerfully. “He's made the arrangements with the schools there, and if you like them, you can sign up and start next term.”

“Cool.”

“Oh, and Ms Tyler is here to see you.”

Bryce paused, blinking. “Really?”

“Yes.” The response was simple and direct.

“That's weird. I haven't seen her since… um….” Bryce broke off, gears turning in his head. “Tell her I'm not in.”

“Gotcha. Not in. So when will you be back?”

Bryce paused, frowning. That was not Irene's voice. “Speakerphone?”

“Speakerphone.” Nadia sounded faintly annoyed. Bryce considered covering his bets, and fell back on damage control with a wince.

“I'll be back in about an hour, after I've had time to shower and eat. Try me then.” Bryce sighed under his breath. “Irene, was there anything else?”

“No, I think that covered it.” The receptionist had the cheerful tone of someone who knew full well that they had just gotten someone they were technically working for in a bind, and he couldn't complain about it. “Have a nice day, Mr Ecchs.”

Bryce hit the line off button without a comment, and sank back onto his pillow. “Damn it.”

An hour later, almost to the dot, the lobbey elevator hissed open. Bryce Ecchs stepped out, wearing one of his grey business suits – the blue tie loose around his neck, but otherwise perfectly pressed. Nadia straightened from where she had been leaning on the front desk, chatting with Irene, and turned to face him as he approached her with a smile. “Ms Tyler. What can I do for… are you wearing duct tape?”

“Uh, yeah, sort of.” Nadia self-consciously pushed the grey material that was peeking out from above her shirt back down, with an embarassed smile. “Jim made me a suit of body armor for the time being. Got a utility belt and everything.” Her smile gradually turned brittle as she continued. “Just call me the Duct Tape Avenger.”

“Uh-huh.” Bryce nodded slowly. “You wanted to see me.”

“Yeah. I kind of need to ask a favour of you. Little one.” Nadia's smile turned even more strained.

“I can't fix your suit.” Bryce shrugged.

“Not that!” Nadia paused a moment. “You can't? Crap, there goes my next plan. I mean, never mind!” She sighed heavily. “I need you to try and convince your uncle to do it.”

Bryce gave her a flat look. “You want the villain you spend most of your time fighting to repair your super-powered suit so that you can continue to fight him.”

“Pretty much. Yes. That is the goal.” Nadia's smile was now more like a grimace.

Irene burst out laughing. Bryce and Nadia turned as one to look at her, and she tried to raise her hand apologetically, but she was laughing too hard. After a few moments, the laughs died down to chuckles, and she opened her mouth to speak. As she did, she looked at Nadia, and laughter burst forth again.

Bryce, sighing heavily, took Nadia by the shoulder and quietly steered her towards a side corridor, while Irene brought herself under control. “I assume you asked him about this already?”

“Ye-es.” Twiddling her thumbs, Nadia looked everywhere but at Bryce.

“And?”

Nadia gestured towards Irene. The receptionist, catching sight of this, burst into another fit of giggles. “A lot like that. Basically.” She gave Bryce a lost-puppy look. “Please? You've got sway with him, right? And he owes us after that whole Witch Doctor thing. If it weren't for that, I'd still be flying! Pretty please?”

Bryce chewed his lip thoughtfully. “I am not making any promises. But I will talk with him. Maybe – just maybe – I can convince him that the quality of his enemies is important.”

“I would owe you forever.” Nadia spoke solemnly, but her eyes were shining.

“Great.” Bryce tried to smile, but his mind was racing. Sucker for a sob story, that was him. But maybe he could pull this off. “Wait here, I'll be back in a few minutes.”

He walked to the elevator, and stepped in. Nadia watched him go with baited breath. Irene, finally under control, managed to look almost sympathetic, speaking after two minutes. “What did he say?”

“He's going to ask.” Nadia crossed her fingers. Then, for good measure, she crossed her toes.

Three minutes passed. A moment later, the speakerphone buzzer went off. Irene raised her eyebrows, and pressed it down. “Reception.”

The sound of Doctor Ecch's uproarious laughter filled the room. Irene tried to look appropriately disconsolate, but within moments she had been set off too, and she fell into a fit of laughter that merged with that coming out of the intercom.

Nadia sighed heavily. “Right.”


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