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There has been a lot of freelancing and some writer's block lately, therefore this update is stupidly late. I apologize. However, I have attempted to provide you with downloadable versions of this episode -- I hope they work for the folks who want them!



Of All My Demon Spirits

Normally, I have a professional ethic against looking up any information I accidentally glean from telepathic contact with anyone. I don't want to violate their privacy more than I've already done. I don't want to become curious for more information, because even that subconscious urge might be enough to allow me to walk into their minds again in search of more tidbits. I do my best to forget it.

After waking up from incredibly intense and vivid dreams for a week, though, I got online and looked up just who the flaming hell this "Bernie" was I was, as Jane, sleeping with.

Some poking around found me this entry on Parapedia:

Bernadette Andruzzi
Code Name: Spare Change
Born: June 14, 1923 in Philadelphia, PA
Died: April 10, 1965 in Wonder City, PA
Para ability: Shapechanging

Bernadette ("Bernie") Andruzzi was a Class 7 shapechanger, capable of exactly reproducing another human being's form, down to details such as the fingerprints and retinal patterns. It is unknown as to whether she also replicated the powers of paranormals she changes into—there are no records of her using powers other than her own Class 2 superstrength and Class 3 invulnerability.

Her shapechanging ability was originally rated by the U.S. Army as Class 3 [this cited her declassified enlistment record]; it is unknown how her abilities were enhanced.

History
Very little is known about Andruzzi's private life. She was born to a large family in Philadelphia, the second generation of the family born in the United States. Andruzzi rarely discussed her parents or siblings. (Searches of ParaDB.gov find two other people with her surname, neither identified with a similar paranormal ability, and no indication of relationship.) She enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in May 1942.

Her service throughout World War 2 is still classified, but biographers have gleaned enough information to determine that she mostly served as a spy in fascist Italy, passing information to Allied forces. After the war, she remained on the Gold Stars roster until her death.

Death
In 1964, the Gold Stars announced that Andruzzi was being placed on indefinite medical leave. In a rare interview with Andruzzi in late 1964, she stated that she had inoperable pancreatic cancer and expressed frustration that her paranormal abilities were extending her life in a way that was "nearly intolerable." She died at the home of her longtime friend Jane Liberty on April 10, 1965.

Personal Life
Andruzzi never married, nor was she ever romantically linked with any of her colleagues. She occasionally appeared at Gold Stars events with a nonparanormal celebrity companion. In the 1964 interview, she stated that her friends in the Gold Stars were her family and she had never had a need for romance in her life. Her closest friends were Jane Liberty and Betsy Starr. Andruzzi and Liberty both attended Starr's college and law school graduations, and Andruzzi appeared at the baptism of Starr's daughter Florence (of the team known as Ebb and Flo) as her godmother in March 1965.


There were very few pictures with the article: one of her during the War with Jane and Betsy, one of her appearing at the Hollywood premiere of "The Three Musketeers" in 1948 as Vincent Price's date, and one of her in a Gold Stars lineup in 1960. She looked a lot like Jane, actually, though she was taller and more statuesque to Jane's shorter and chunkier look.

I shut the windows and sat back, staring at the screensaver. I knew why I'd been having the dreams. Given my own history, with its dearth of consensual sexual experiences, one of the things my subconscious seeks out—and which I try desperately to guard against—is other people's experiences to fill the gap. Unfortunately, when I'm distracted and can't guard against my subconscious, I'll pick up way too much information. And that whole situation was one giant distraction. I expected that in addition to the Jane stuff, I probably had too much information about Brainchild's pansexual adventures stuffed away somewhere in my head.

A tiny corner of my mind was paranoid that Jane may've been consciously thinking about some of those things in order to leave some sort of legacy, or explanation, or something, after her death. I had known Jane for many years, and I knew that she had a manipulative streak in her. I suppose some of that comes from having to lie for so long to both the government and the public at large. She just got in the habit of lying to everyone, making all her own plans, and carrying them out without asking for permission.

I wondered if she'd enhanced Bernie's powers without asking, or if Bernie had asked, or if the government had ordered Jane to do it.

I resigned myself to a few more months of these dreams and occasional flashbacks while conscious, because my mind was going to continue to chew on these stolen memories, will I or nil I. And I would rather have obsessive thoughts about some people who were dead than end up having to talk to a living person, like Nereid, whose sex life I probably knew way too much about anyway, while thinking naked thoughts about her.

Floribunda came thundering in at that moment and bounded into my lap, which, of course, knocked the wind out of me and spun the chair around with both of us in it. She had that crazy, wild-eyed look of a dog who just decided that it is the Time of Scampering and after one full rotation of the chair, she leaped off and galloped out, butt slightly tucked under and ears swept back in full-speed mode. When I could breathe again, I started laughing and couldn't stop until I staggered out of the room to strip off and throw myself into the swimming pool. I think she's glad to be home too.




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Homecoming

Of course I knew what had happened.

Jane had tried her best to cut all the mental ties between us, but she and I were well intertwined. She managed to break most of them, and I managed to break more when I realized what was happening.

But I still woke up on the floor of my "office" with Flori worriedly pressing her cold, wet nose to my cheek and neck. As I painfully pushed myself up to a sitting position, I broke, just fucking broke, crumpled back down onto the floor weeping.

"Rennie," Ruth said, kneeling down at arm's length from me. "Rennie, what can I do?"

I dragged myself to her and clung to her, like I did that day she took me out of the hospital, clutching at her black spandex and just wailing. A piece of me had died, had just stopped being, and it was like someone had cut me open and tore my liver out while I was conscious.

I really can't explain more than that.

Ruth held me, and Flori pressed herself against my back, whining, and life went on around me as the Gold Stars presumably took possession of the ship and did whatever the fuck it is superheroes did when they weren't dying in my head.

I could feel them all, despite the weird protective thing the aliens gave me, and was of course tangled up in Ruth's mind, but she had practice with me doing that. She rubbed my back, and rubbed Flori's ears, and generally just tried to get us both calmed down. I think Sekhmet came to talk to her over my head once—I could feel Sekhmet close by, and I knew she was telling Ruth about Jane. Ruth had, I think, figured it out already from things running through my head. She didn't really react, she just kept projecting her stolid facade at me.

Eventually, I did calm down. I don't know how long it took. I just finally subsided into hiccoughs and shudders.

Ruth said, "What do you need, Rennie?"

I took a deep breath and tried to talk like a grownup, but it still came out pathetic. "I want to go home."

"Okay, baby," Ruth said. "Okay, I'm gonna take you home."

They rustled up an air-secure escape pod or something and put me and Flori in it, and Ruth flew us home. Flori snaked out of her restraints to huddle in my arms the whole trip down.

And then we were on Terra Firma.

Ruth cracked open the pod on the lawn of the house under which my bunker resided. I had pulled most of my shit together on the trip down, and the alien artifact around my neck kept the worst of the city's psychic explosion away from me. While Ruth moved the pod back to the Gold Stars compound, I took my dog for a walk in the well-trimmed grass and through the less-maintained back yard. There were trees, and birds, and a breeze, and just me and Flori (and a crowd of minds, held at a slight distance) walking in the twilight.

It had been years since I felt free air. My bunker had never—well, okay, rarely—felt like a prison to me the way the spaceship had. This was… therapeutic.

Ruth came back, carrying my mama, and that made me cry again. I hadn't touched my mother in thirty years, I think, and here I was, able to hug her because of those fucking aliens.

At least one good thing came from it.

At least one.
good.
thing.

"I've gotta go, Rennie," Ruth said. "There's cleanup to do."

"I know," I said around my mother's embrace. "I know. You'll come back, though? Coffee?"

"You know it, baby," Ruth said. She hesitated, and I reached out for her. She kissed me on the cheek and gave me a quick squeeze before she took off.

"That Ruth," Mama said, and Mama was looking so much older than I remembered the last time we'd talked on video phone—ages ago, more than six months, I know. There was grey in her hair now, and I could swear there wasn't before. "That Ruth," she said again, shaking her greying head.

"I know," I said. "Would you like to come down and have something?" I added, inviting my mother into my house for the first time.

"Are you sure it will be all right?" she said, peering into my face worriedly.

"Please, Mama," I said, stroking my dog's head. "I don't want to be alone right now."

"All right," she said, gathering herself up like she was visiting her sister's house. "Just for a bit, then."






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When last we gathered here in Wonder City, Tinkermel and Tizemt, with help from Angelica, Simon, Ivy, and the Sparklebutch Posse, had just put in motion the resistance's initial plan to resist the alien invasion of Earth. And now we continue with weekly posting after our slightly-longer-than-we-meant hiatus. Thank you so much for your patience!


Go to Yellow Alert

There was one head of state in Africa who I had a very pleasant conversation with, letting him know just enough to guess that he was under the dictates of an alien invasion fleet (I'm not sure he got to the "alien" part, but he got the "superior firepower" part). He agreed to pull in the reins on some aggressive initiatives his government was considering toward a neighbor. Another became reasonable when I possessed his motor centers so he wrote himself notes, in his own language and handwriting. The notes revealed to him at least the superior firepower part of things, and that the way to avoid "action" was to find a way to create peace in his rather turbulent region. He wasn't sure how to go about it, so I made a few suggestions in terms of intelligent advisors (who I'd done some research on) he could consult, and left him to it, promising that he was being watched.

Two countries down, 60-odd to go. I wondered if I would continue to feel as disgustingly colonialist after every subsequent conversation as I did after those two, or if it wore off, and that's how Western politicians managed.

Apparently, I was using my powers enough, though, to avoid more meetings with Sara West, Mark West, or even Fluffy.

I was working out when the door ping came. I rolled to my feet, mopped my brow, and picked up a kettleweight that was near at hand. Floribunda attempted to compress herself into the space under my easy chair. (Note to self: Get one of the psychic dampeners for her collar to see if that helps her reaction to the aliens.) I gestured to turn down my fast-paced workout music and said, "Come in."

The Hoover rolled in when the door slid aside. There was something odd and reluctant in the motion, I thought. Or maybe hesitant? It was so hard to tell with a vacuum cleaner.

I had, however, learned to spot the markings on the bag (while ignoring the way it seemed to breathe) that indicated that this was probably Joshua.

We waited for the door to shut, and then I said, "What do you want, Joshua?"

It started to speak in the usual stilted monotone, but adjusted on the fly to my preferred speech mode. "I wish to confide in you, Renata Scott."

"Do you?" I said, and I could feel my eyebrows rising right on off my forehead. I bent over to set the weight in its rack.

"Yes," it said, totally missing the tone, which meant it was distracted, because it liked to catch nonverbal meanings. "I wish to tell you… something I have been told I should not."

More and more interesting. "I'm listening," I said, and even turned off the music.

It lowered its vocal volume. "The family in charge of this mission has, as you may have gathered, a militaristic viewpoint."

I nodded.

"Its decisionmakers are also…" Joshua paused. "... short of patience?"

"Okay," I said.

"Our mission is under some considerable pressure from our home fleet to clear the interference out of this region of space," Joshua said.

"Meaning psychic interference that keeps you from moving unimpeded?" I said.

"Yes," it replied. "We have been here for a long time. Several of your planet's years. And the mission is… not moving according to schedule."

"Humans are less tractable and peace-inclined than you'd hoped," I translated.

"I wanted to impart the knowledge that time is short," it replied, and began to roll away from me, toward the door.

"What will they do if they lose patience?" I said.

Joshua stopped rolling for a moment, then went on to the door. "I do not know," it said. "I have never participated in one of these missions before. All that I know is... hearsay." It managed to hint via tone that said hearsay was pretty doomful.

When the door shut, I went and dragged Floribunda out from under the chair and fussed her for a little while, chewing on the news. Then I had a seat (complete with Floribunda lapwarmer) and tightbeamed, We have a deadline now, but I don't know what it is, down to Sophie.
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We have heat! It's amazing how grateful one can be for singing steam radiators.


All the Pretty Little Horses

The door chimed, and this time, before I could acknowledge it, the door popped open and in rolled one of the alien Hoover suits.

"Excuse you," I said, deciding to get up, wanting the advantage of height. My dog had abandoned me for whatever hiding place she'd found this time.

The Hoover hesitated, swiveling its hair dryer toward me. It said, in the 50s machine voice, "Unclear transmission."

I crossed my arms and stood with as much hipshot attitude as I could muster. "Well, you sure aren't Joshua."

"You may address me as Joshua if you wish," it said.

"I'm not buying this 'We are all Josh' shit," I said. I noticed a few little differences in this Hoover from Joshua's Hoover -- a subtle metallic weave through the breathing bag, a very slight difference in color. "You can at least introduce yourself after busting in here."

"Our names are private," it said. Although I couldn't read it telepathically, I could certainly perceive an aura of what I chose to perceive as annoyance. "You may address me by whatever misnomer you prefer. Clarify your first transmission."

"I was telling you that you were being rude," I said, deciding that blunt communication was the way to go with this Hoover. "And I think I'll call you Fluffy."

"Ah. In the future, you will perceive that humor does not translate," Fluffy said.

"Oh, I knew that," I said. And neither does politeness, apparently. "What do you want?"

"Our peacebringing efforts are not working with adequate speed," Fluffy said. "We require your powers. You will cooperate."

Although humor doesn't translate, I couldn't help mocking its machine voice. "CO-OP-ER-ATE," I said. "No, it just doesn't have the same ring."

Fluffy apparently had decided to ignore anything I said that it didn't understand. "My family is now in charge of this mission. We require your cooperation."

"What exactly is your glorious mission?" I said. "No one has been able to tell me."

"That is why I have been tasked to be your liaison in place of the one you call Joshua," Fluffy said. "Your world is excessively turbulent. Your people are reaching out beyond the bounds of its orbit and of your solar system. We bring peace to newly developed worlds so that the dimension your people call Psychespace does not become cluttered with your unpeaceful transmissions and interfere with our movement through it."

"Peace through force," I said.

"However necessary," Fluffy said. "We will only interfere for one of your generations, but we will educate your telepaths and others with similar abilities so they can maintain the peace."

"I doubt you'll manage on this world," I said.

"We have successfully pacified hundreds of worlds," Fluffy said.

"How many of them did you pacify by killing everyone?" I said, fists on hips.

"That was unnecessary," Fluffy said. "If they did not accept peace, then they destroyed themselves with their unpeaceful transmissions."

"I begin to see that by transmission you mean speech, thoughts, or bullets," I said.

"You will cooperate," Fluffy said, its aura of annoyance increasing. "We have studied your transmission archive and have identified the individuals with whom you have familial connections."

"You will not fuck with my people," I said, my stomach twisting in a knot at the thought of these fucking vacuum cleaners taking up my mama or my sisters.

"We have no need of further acquisitions," Fluffy said, and something blinked on its hair dryer.

I felt the telepathic screens on my holding apartment fall for just a moment. If I'd been prepared, I suppose, I could've grabbed someone's mind on Earth and told them where I was. But I hadn't expected the exposure, and the sudden influx of the shipboard human minds -- as well as the weird pressure of what was probably thousands of Hoovers -- brought me to my knees.

There was an agonizing psychic ripping sensation nearby, and for a split second, through all the psychic noise in my head, I could feel Ruth. She wasn't conscious, but I'd know her anywhere. And so help me, I recognized the feel of the place she was in on the other side of that bleeding dimensional wound.

The Hoovers had stuck her in the psychic dimension I'd been slowly exploring for the last decade or more. It was just a pocket, but it was stuffed with a bunch of other minds that I didn't have the energy or attention to focus on beyond Ruth. I didn't feel any way out before it sealed back up and my apartment's shields came back up too.

"You fucker," I spat, wiping my face where the involuntary tears had started to run down as soon as the shields dropped. "You shit-sucking sockfucker." I crawled slowly to my feet. "I will see every one of you passive-aggressive imperialist weasels in hell for this."

Fluffy said, "You perceive the reason for your cooperation."

One mistake a lot of people have made with me is assuming that because I'm a fat girl, I don't move fast. But I have spent a long time with not a lot to do but work out and swim, and I am lightning when I put my mind to it, which I did, right then. I had one hand wrapped around the neck of Fluffy's hair dryer and the other bunched into the breathing bag, and I ripped those things sideways with all my might. There were one or two pleasant rending sounds.

"Cease! Stop!" Fluffy squawked.

I lifted the Hoover over my shoulder -- it wasn't much heavier than my mama's Hoover at home -- and walked to the door, which opened for me. I threw Fluffy down as hard as I could on the deck outside the door, and it bounced on the metal floor, pieces clattering off it. It squawked wordlessly.

"You don't come back in here," I said, careful to stay inside my shields. "You send Joshua. Or no one at all, by preference."

I stepped back inside and let the door shut.

I cussed and cried and even screamed for a while, and smashed a couple of plates against the not-glass of my view of Earth. If Ruth was captured, I was utterly screwed. So was the Earth. So was the whole human race. I couldn't think of anyone else who had the ability to stop this fucking huge ship while it was outside of Earth's atmosphere.

I finally settled down and extricated poor terrified Floribunda from my closet. I cried with her on my lap some, and finally settled into the kind of flat vagueness I get after a psychic thumping like I'd just had. My dog tucked her head under my arm and shivered.

My music started to sink in through the exhaustion after a while, though, and I tuned in just in time to hear Sister Rosetta singing,
Everyday (everyday)
Everyday (everyday)
There are strange things happening every day.

If you heal right through the lies
You can live right all the ties
There are strange things happening every day.


I thought, slowly, There's one person who I know feels the same way I do about Ruth, and I have spent considerable time inside her head.

And then I thought, even more slowly, Tomorrow. I'll take that right up... tomorrow.

And Sister Rosetta sang me to sleep.











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Something to distract you from the news of the real world. Let's pretend that Wonder City is somehow having a worse time than we are.


Where We Must Be

I stared at the Earth on the wall-sized screen that pretended to be a window in my exclusive, yet mandatory, penthouse. My dog slept on my lap, trailing a leg off one side and lolling her head off the other side. She snored, occasionally obscuring Billie Holiday's "Lady Sings the Blues". I kept music playing constantly now -- my "hosts" had put the entirety of any repository of music I'd requested at my disposal--and it made my confinement somewhat more tolerable.

I was lonelier than I'd ever been in my bunker under Wonder City.

I wondered how my mother was doing. I wondered if my sisters had noticed anything had changed in the world. I wished I knew where Ruth was. I considered trying to reach out to get hold of Oum Veha, my old friend in Cambodia. He and I usually communicated via a mental link -- he can't be around electronic devices easily, since he is a Class 10 electricity generator -- and he's one of the few people I think I can reach out to easily. But it occurred to me that the aliens had definitely neutralized one of the Class 10 club -- me -- and may have neutralized another -- Ruth -- so what was the chance they had him? Or, worse, had used one of the low-grade telepaths I'd sensed around the ship to somehow alter his mind?

Besides, I'd tried to reach him first thing and couldn't penetrate the shields.

So I sat and stared at the Earth, and wondered if I had any options at all in this clusterfuck, or if I would just be sitting here until some superheroes (or supervillains -- it had happened!) Saved The Day (TM).

Which is when there was a hesitant, barely discernable knock at my door.

I only really noticed it because it was in a break between Lady Day and my girl Nina. Floribunda raised her head, perked her ears, and looked at the door when it happened.

I thought about getting up, but could not summon sufficient damns to give to the effort, so just said loudly, "Come in."

The door opened after a moment. I swiveled the chair to look at my visitor.

She was the sort of woman who had probably been pop-and-fresh pretty at 16, with dark hair and big dark eyes and milky-white skin with a few strategic freckles. However, at what I guessed to be about thirty, she had wilted into one of those women with transparent skin and dark circles under her eyes and blue veins running over the backs of her hands. She was wearing a rumpled pink blouse with a polyester sheen and mommy jeans, and well-worn girly running shoes.

We stared at each other for a long moment as Nina sang along,
But oh, I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood.


Then I felt something sliding over my mind, something that I supposed to most people would feel like a soft fleecy blanket, but to me felt like...

Let's put it this way. I mostly only ever felt like that in middle school, before my trip to the institution, when some of the little white girls would feel up my hair and then ask permission to do so.

I mentally swatted at it, and it was sticky, clinging to my mind with gooey pink tendrils until I gathered my wits enough to just burn it the fuck out of my mind.

She recoiled hard, grabbing for the door jamb to hold herself up. Her other hand went to her forehead. "What happened?" she said in a soft, fading sort of voice.

"I just pushed you out of my skull," I said through gritted teeth. "In my world, it's polite to ask before you go fucking with someone's head." Unless it's a case of self-defense, I added to myself.

"Oh, I... I'm sorry," she said, checking her ponytail and the hair that was pulled tight against her scalp in front. "I just... I don't really control it. I mean, I never have controlled it, until now, and now I'm still not very good at it..."

I gave her a bored look. "Come in or go out," I said, laying a hand on Flori's neck. "I don't want my dog to get out." Lord only knows what she'd get into in a spaceship, I thought.

The woman made a little incoherently apologetic noise and scooted inside the doorway enough to the door slide shut behind her. That was not the side I'd hoped she'd choose.

"So I..." she began, but then she looked up, saw my extremely unwelcoming expression, and immediately stumbled over her words, flushing blotchily. She pulled her ponytail over her shoulder and nervously wound a strand of hair around and around her finger.

I let the silence fall. I found it vaguely interesting that Flori wasn't reacting as badly to this woman as she'd reacted to the man, but then I suspected that whatever mental bubblegum the woman emanated might work on dogs too. I'd have to check that later.

She sighed. "My husband told me about you," she assayed.

I raised my eyebrows. "Oh, so you're Mrs. Mark West." And the "the most powerful paranormal human" in the aliens' employ. "I'm sure he was very complimentary about me."

"No," she said. "My husband is a man of... fast judgments."

"Hasty, even," I said.

She gave me a fleeting vaguely hunted look from under her brows that made me think, Oh, hell no, I will not have to have this conversation here.

"So why are you here?" I said. "It would be nice if you'd get to the point. I have a busy schedule of dog-grooming and window-staring to get on with."

Aretha came in for a bit here, while girlfriend tangled her own hair up, singing about chains of fools. Hah.

"Do you have a name?" I finally said, and thought, Because I am so not calling you "Mrs. West," junior miss white lady.

She looked up at that, giving me a big-ass blank stare before saying, "Sara."

"And just so you know, my name is Renata Scott, though your husband probably referred to me by a different word altogether."

She flushed all blotchy again, and I knew I was right.

There was another long pause, long enough that Aretha finished up and we were back to Nina, and Nina was singing,
Now you're living high and mighty
Rich off the fat of the land
Just don't dispose of your natural soul
'Cause if you do you know damn well
That you'll go to hell (yes, you will)
You'll go to hell.


Finally I said, "Well, this has all been just stimulating..."

"I just wanted to know!" she said suddenly, clutching the end of her ponytail.

I waited.

"I just wanted to know," she repeated more softly, "if this... having all this power gets... easier. Because they gave it to me. I had it, only a little bit, before, and I didn't know it, but then they did something to me when I was sleeping -- Mark told them it was okay -- and now I have all this... this." She waved her hands in a helplessly grand gesture.

I watched her for a moment, lips pursed, and then said, "It depends what you're doing with it."

She met my gaze soppily, looking like she was about to burst into tears, looking like she wanted someone to pat her head and tell her it was all right. "I'm making the world a better place. Only it keeps not working the way I think it will."

"Then you're doing it wrong," I said bluntly. "Controlling other people is wrong, full stop. No matter what the aliens say, no matter what your charming hubbykins says."

"But there's so much I can do to help!" she exclaimed, taking three steps toward me, still with that look of appeal.

"If you think that before you think of the harm you can do," I said, "there's nothing more to be said." She staggered one more step, reaching out, opening her mouth to say something, and I snapped, "Don't come to me for comfort. I am no one's mammy, but especially not yours."

She made a little gasping noise, turned, and ran out of the room.

I sat and fumed for quite a while as I picked chewed bubblegum out of my dog's mind before it hardened and stuck. Nina went on to sing,

Some say that hell is below us
But I say it's right by my side
'Cause you see evil in the morning
Evil in the evening, all the time
You know damn well
That we all must be in hell
We got to be in hell
We all must be in hell
We must be in hell.












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Asking No Questions, Passing No Criticisms

"So you said you had something to tell me, Ruth," I said from my seat on the floor. Floribunda, my newly-acquired Pit Bull rescue puppy, cocked her bowling-ball head at me. She was mostly white, with brown ears and a set of adorable worry lines on her forehead above her big brown eyes.

"I thought you'd like to hear the latest from the Wonderful House," Ruth's voice said from the speakers. Flori wobbled over -- she was only 8 weeks old -- and sat in front of the nearest speaker, looking for all the world like a tiny version of Nipper in the "His Master's Voice" painting.

"Oh, god, there's more?" I said, tossing a squeaky toy toward Flori. She pounced on it in that floppy-puppy way, her legs stiff and jaunty.

"Better believe it," Ruth said, and I could tell she felt immensely pleased with herself. "One of the producers apparently was a plant from another network. He'd been sabotaging the whole production since before it started to air."

"Really?" I said, not really surprised. I reached out for the toy, and Flori nipped my finger accidentally. I told her Careful. She sat down in surprise and looked around, apparently puzzled as to the source of the voice. It would take her a while to figure it out. "Was Brandon his brainchild too?"

"Oh, no, that was the director," Ruth said. "The director actually wanted the show to succeed, and everyone, apparently, loves assholes."

"Ah," I said, nudging Flori's butt with my toe and sending her into a frenzied sprint around the room with her butt tucked under. "So what sort of sabotage was he engaging in?"

"Oh, things not getting edited," Ruth said. "Equipment going missing or breaking. Permits and licenses for things not being processed on time. But that's not the best part."

"Quit holdin' out on me, girl," I said, watching my puppy carom crazily off chairs and tables.

"Someone got a wild hair up his ass," Ruth said, "and thought that maybe if this guy was sabotaging the production, he had hired that guy to kill Brandon. So now the mole is singing like a bird to get out from under the conspiracy to murder charges."

"That would explain why they wanted my 'inside information,'" I mused. Flori trotted over and flopped into my lap, where she almost immediately went to sleep.

"Exactly," Ruth said. "I was wondering why they were harassing you like that. It took a few days for my lawyers to dig up this dirt."

"That is fascinating," I said. "But not altogether unexpected. I figured something hinky was going on. I'm glad the kids are out of it, though. The producers are settling out of court, I heard?"

"Yeah," Ruth said, and I could hear her typing in the background. "For a pittance compared to what they were supposed to win, but it cuts all ties and makes for a nice deal if the company decides to release it on DVD or something."

I watched Flori breathing, her eyes tight shut. "I'm glad," I said again. "How's Sophie?"

"Much better," Ruth said, and I heard her stop typing and felt her giving me her full attention. "Though the kid's up to something. I'm not sure what."

"Maybe it's to do with your birthday party," I said, and Flori rolled onto her back in my lap, all four paws in the air.

"I guess I'll find out soon enough, right?" Ruth said, though she didn't sound too displeased. "How's the dog?"

"She's perfect," I said, grinning like a loon as Flori's too-large paws twitched in some vague puppy dream. Her mind radiated pure uncomplicated contentment. "Just perfect."

---

Note from the Author:

Because we don't have enough crazy dog ladies in Wonder City yet.

The Rose & Bay Crowdfunding Award nominations are open, and I would love it if someone were to nominate Wonder City Stories. Take a look at the other categories, just in case there's something else you want to nominate for voting! Nominations are a little low compared to last year, so please go nominate!

And remember to vote for WCS!









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Wonder City Stories

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