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This story arc has been published as a novel!

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---

Say Nighty-night and Kiss Me

Nereid was surprised to find Sophie strolling toward her in a tuxedo, top hat, and monocle; a cane was tucked under her arm. "Come on," Sophie said impatiently, "we'll be late."

A curvy dark-haired woman glanced back over her shoulder at the pair and smiled reassuringly at Nereid. "It's okay," she said.

Nereid put down the scrub brush that she had been using to clean all the thoroughly filthy toilets in the monstrously large bathroom that was buried somewhere in Wonder City University, possibly near the physics laboratories. There were no doors on the stalls, and people were wandering through the room aimlessly, making snarky commentary about her lack of clothing. Or possibly about her flowered underwear. Or her torn sports bra.

Once she stepped out of the room, she found herself wearing her uniform. She washed her hands by emitting a trickle of water from each palm and rubbing them together vigorously. Sophie nodded at her. "That's better."

"Where are we going?" Nereid said, tentatively touching the smooth metallic walls of the corridor they were traversing.

"A party," Sophie said. "Where did you think?"

They emerged from the still hallway into an explosion of voices and light and music and food smells.

"Oh," Nereid said. "Whose party?"

Sophie gestured at the woman in the lead. "Leah's."

Leah grinned. "So you're Nereid," she said, offering her hand. "Sophie's told us a lot about you."

"Really?" Nereid said, shaking hands automatically, feeling dazed.

"Don't sweat the wooziness," Leah said. "It's normal for first-timers." She glanced over her shoulder. "Oh, hey, sorry, I've gotta pick up someone else. Have fun!" She waved and vanished into the crowd.

"'First-timers'?" Nereid said to Sophie, who was leaning on her cane, the top hat cocked rakishly over one eye.

"It's Leah's Dream Party," Sophie said. "You've heard of Lucid, right?"

Nereid searched her memory, then had a brainstorm. "Oh! The really expensive courier service, right?"

Sophie nodded. "Leah is Lucid. 'Safe, secure, and secret, overnight.'" Sophie gestured expansively. "She's been running the Dream Party for a little over a year now. It's good for her husband, Dave's, business." Sophie nodded at a bearded man in one corner, jamming with half a dozen other guitarists. "He's my luthier. The Party is for friends and networking. Once you're in, you're usually in for good, and it gets easier to find the place on your own."

"Wow." Nereid smelled food, and her dream-stomach growled at her. Looking around, she spotted the table piled high with victuals. "Is that the buffet?"

"Yeah, I'm starving too," Sophie said, and they made their way through the crowd.

It was slow going, since every few feet, someone hailed Sophie and hugged her, or shook her hand, or complimented her outfit. The other outfits were wild, too, even for someone as accustomed to the spandex vista as Nereid: plastics and satins and silks, gem colors and blinding patterns and funny hats. Nereid was, in fact, beginning to feel acutely underdressed.

They finally gained the table, and Nereid ravenously scooped Swedish meatballs and delicate pastry hors d'oeurves and cream puffs and cheese-and-onion pasties onto her plate, which was cobalt blue glass with copper edging. When she looked more closely at the glass, she could see distant stars drifting through it.

"Cool, huh?" The guy Sophie had pointed out as Dave grinned at her from across the table.

She nodded. "Does she make them herself?"

He nodded and said, "You know she makes everything herself here, right?"

Nereid smiled faintly. "I think I'm still a little confused."

He took something that appeared to be women's fingers, dipped in chocolate, off a plate on the table. He noticed her appalled look. "Lady's fingers," he said. "Cookies, honest." He broke one open to show her the spongy yellow center. "It's a little disorienting until you get used to it. And everyone's subconscious is a little closer to the surface, you know." He waved a hand in front of his face. "Filters are low. You have to be careful."

She nodded again and waved as he turned away into the crowd to answer someone who was calling his name.

Nereid drifted around the party, letting the sights and sounds flood over and around her. She ate the extremely good food on her plate and drank an exceptionally tasty raspberry Italian soda. She didn't really engage in any conversation, though she listened to the guitarists for a while.

Finally, something burrowed up into her consciousness. It was urgent that she speak to Sophie. Imperative. Right now.

So she went looking for her.

She found her, after a long search that involved rock-climbing, a set of stairs that reminded her of the Winchester mystery house, and a brief fling through the ballroom scene in Labyrinth.

"Sophie!" Nereid said, out of breath.

Sophie turned from the conversation she'd been having with a tentacled alien and a small blue dragon and frowned with some concern. "Pacifica, are you all right?"

"Sophie!" Nereid said again. "They're kicking me off the team!"

Sophie's face went blank and still. "I know."

"You know?" Nereid said. "You didn't tell me! Wire told me!"

"I know that too," Sophie said.

"But you're on the team too," Nereid said. "You didn't vote against me, did you?" A small part of her cursed at having asked the question, because she really didn't want to know the answer. And yet she did.

Sophie's face was still expressionless, but she said, in a soft voice that somehow carried over the party hubbub, "I wasn't invited to the meeting."

Which didn't answer the question, Nereid thought. "Will you still like me when I'm not on the team any more?" she asked, and writhed inwardly at her voice, which reminded her of her whiny, wheedling, pathetic high school self.

Sophie turned her face away and went back to talking to her scaly companions. Nereid watched her, pain curdling in her chest, expecting that Sophie would turn around and say something to her any moment.

Any moment now.

Really.

But Sophie didn't.

Nereid eventually staggered away, clutching at her breastbone. She sloshed as she walked, weeping copiously from every pore of her body. She curled up in a corner near what she thought was the hallway they came in, and covered her face.

Leah found her there a little later, sitting in a puddle, next to a wall that was weeping along with her. She gently guided Nereid down a quiet corridor. "Next time won't be so bad," Leah said as she turned to go. "It takes some getting used to." And she left Nereid in a blessedly amnesiac dream of a sunny, empty beach.

---

And now, a word from your author:
My first two contributors are featured in cameos in this episode; I hope y'all enjoy your appearance!

For the next month or so, I'm running an experiment. Taking a page from Cecilia Tan's book, over at Daron's Guitar Chronicles, I'm going to put up a ChipIn widget for tips every week on the post I make on either Monday or Tuesday. If, by Friday, folks have tipped up to $25, I'll post a second episode of Wonder City on Saturday.

Why? Partly because I want to see if I can; I have an empirical mindset. Mostly because I've spotted a gift I really want to get someone who's difficult to shop for (especially for Xmas), and can't afford it under normal circumstances. :)

So, if you're enjoying what you're getting here at Wonder City, and have the means to chip in, please do. And if you can't? Please continue to support Wonder City by reading and commenting and reccing and reviewing, as you can and when you can.

Thanks!


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