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Sorry for the late-in-the-week posting, but this one was a hard episode to write for various reasons. (Jane's death was hard to write, but it was one of the first episodes I wrote when I started this volume, continuously editing and revising as I got closer to it.) Hope you enjoy the longest ep we've had in a few weeks.


This Neighborhood Has Gone to the Dogs

Tinkermel and Tizemt brought a levitating gurney up from the lab and a blanket, and helped Lady Justice and Madame Destiny arrange Jane's body on it.

Angelica looked up at one point during this process, after the brief and lovely taking-down of Pastor Al. Apparently living things are just really fucking around with themselves constantly, because she kept getting dizzy on her new vision/sense/whatever the hell it was Jane had thrust upon her. The gravel was restful by comparison—still teeming with tiny life, but not as… busy as human bodies.

"I brought a stasis field too," Tizemt said. "Since we don't know how long it will be before we can get her, um, somewhere appropriate."

"She's going nowhere," Lady Justice said with a grim vehemence that startled Angelica into looking up again.

Angelica and Tinkermel traded glances (she was grateful she could see his face through the haze of !!LIFE!!). Tizemt nodded. "Why don't we go into the house?" she said.

A sudden panic seized her. She was heartbroken and devastated, and felt like she should help comfort Jane's oldest friend. But every time she looked at people, the rage at what Jane had done to her welled up. Jane had been really fucking vehement about her not telling anyone until she knew what she was doing. If she went into that house, it would all come out, will she or nil she.

Her brain flailed around for something else to do, and Angelica suddenly realized there were riots in her neighborhood, and her grandmother was right in the middle of it all.

"Watson?" she said, when Watson had stuffed her cell phone into her pocket. "Can you take me to my neighborhood?"

Watson and X stared at her for a moment, blankly, then glanced after the little trail of people going into the house.

X said, "We can turn Aloysius over to the cops."

Watson said, "If we can find any that are actual cops, as opposed to paramilitary troops."

X grimaced. "That's what I like about you, Watson: your unstoppable optimism."

Angelica summoned a smile, still looking at them despite the dizzying constant shift of their bodies, and said, "Guys? I just want to see my grandmother."

Watson and X swung into the Divine Sarah, and Angelica joined them. She spent a lot of time staring at the garnet-carpeted floor or walls. The Divine Sarah might have a personality all her own, and be older than either Angelica or X, but she wasn't ALIVE in the way Angelica's new power recognized.

It was a long, brutal drive across town as the sun set and darkness slid in over the city. Some areas were clearly without power, as people sat out on stoops with flashlights and candles and maybe weapons in complete darkness. Something was burning off to the east, possibly down by the river. Masses of people surged across streets from time to time, causing Watson to jam on the brakes (and Angelica always regretted looking up at those moments—LIFE!!!111!!!). Men in black ran pell-mell away from baseball-bat-wielding middle-aged white women. (Okay, she didn't regret looking up for that one.) A group of super-types in full colorful spandex ("Supervillains. They're called The Bloggers," Watson said. "You're shittin' me," Angelica said. "I wish I were," Watson replied.) strolled slowly down the street after a panicking trio of men in black, and Watson chose another street to take.

The drive that was normally 30 minutes took three teeth-grinding, stop-starting, nerve-frazzling hours.

(Somewhere in there, they did, in fact, manage to find actual real Wonder City police and offloaded the swollen-faced Aloysius to them. Watson suggested that they fingerprint and book him while he was unconscious, as he was Faerie-touched, which made them just get on the horn with an urgent request for the Equestrian. As Watson drove the Divine Sarah away, she was smiling grimly.)

The power was out in Angelica's neighborhood, but little knots of people were standing around on street corners with 55-gallon drums that held fires, like it was the dead of winter instead of midsummer. Her stomach clenched when she saw that the groups around these fires were not her friends and neighbors, but little masses of armed white men with appalling emblems tattooed on various parts of them (like their shaved heads). One group pushed off from their "guardpost" and swaggered toward the Divine Sarah, assault rifles lazily resting on their arms.

Watson slowed to a drift as one of them walked in front of the van, and shook her head at the gestured command to roll her window down. Angelica felt unspeakably relieved that Watson's "soft butch" persona did not include so much macha as to try to talk her way past a bunch of armed racist fuckheads.

Angelica noticed that one of the guys with a gun in front of the van had something going on inside him that looked like what happened to Jane, only much smaller and less terrifyingly active. She allowed herself a tiny vindictive grimace and tried not to think about it too much right now.

The guns erected into full assault mode, and one of the men shouted, "Roll the fuckin' window down."

Watson, already humming like a struck guitar string, ran her gaze along the line. Her hands tensed on the wheel, her right thigh tightened slightly. Angelica started to slide down to the floor.

Just then two men were taken down by huge golden streaks from the darkness. The blurs of motion slowed enough for Angelica to see the glinting yellow eyes of Simon's wolf form, and to guess that the other was Ivy. The men yelled, the men around them yelled, guns slewed around wildly…

… And then a tsunami of yelping, growling golden-brown bodies poured into the scene. Half the men went down with bloodcurdling shrieks, and the other half turned and ran. The tide of lean, brown, hungry canines followed them. The men who went under weren't there when the canine-line retreated.

A few beats later, absurdly, a tiny brown dog ran through the headlights after the horde, yipping excitedly.

The three of them sat there, staring, for a long moment, before X said, "What the fuck?"

The two wolves flashed into their human forms, and Angelica clapped a hand over her mouth in a moment of terrifying vertigo. The act of transformation changed everything about their bodies in a few seconds.

After getting control of her stomach back, Angelica had to stifle her slightly hysterical laughter at Simon wearing nothing but tiny black briefs, and Ivy wearing a pair of black shorts and a bikini top. Simon walked to the driver's door, and Watson cranked down the window.

"They're all over," he said, and it wasn't clear whether he was talking about the supremacists or the dog tidal wave. "It's been a long night."

"Yeah," the three in the van said in unison.

"You keep going, we'll run an escort," Simon said.

Angelica looked away in time to avoid seeing the pair's switch, and just watched the shadows in the alleyways out the side window, trying not to dig her nails into her legs or arms in anxiety. What the hell had happened to bring a fucking militia into her home? What had happened to her grandmother, her grandmother's house? Was her mother all right? What about Kit? Her other friends? The bodega? Her apartment?

They made painfully slow progress, especially since the militia had dumped debris and other barricade-like things in the streets, when they didn't park cars across them. Watson, X, and Angelica occasionally had to stop and duck because men with guns were being taken down by wolves (and at least one more iteration of the mass of little yellow-brown dogs), and there were some shots fired. (Angelica hoped the guy who owned the van — Watson's landlord? — would be okay with a few new decorations.)

Just when she thought she was going to explode, she realized Watson had taken them around a twisting way through a part of the neighborhood she hadn't seen in a few years, and the alley they had crawled along had dumped them out right in front of her grandmother's house.

Sitting on the front steps, near the street, was the lean, lanky, familiar form of Kit Castaneda. He was cleaning his nails, from the motions of his almost-silhouette in the city glow.

They pulled up in front and Angelica leaped out of the van. Kit flashed a grin and threw his arms around her.

A second later, she was sobbing into his shoulder and saying in a low voice, "Jane. She… it was awful, IS awful. Oh my god, Kit? ¿Está bien?"

He murmured, "Está bien, she's fine, honest, I've been here the whole time."

Angelica hugged him hard, and pulled away to look up at the front door. She didn't remember pulling away from him or running up the steps, but the next thing she knew, she and her grandmother were hugging and crying and hugging some more.

After Angelica calmed down—much later, it felt like—she was suddenly terrified by the idea of looking at her grandmother, actually seeing her with the new eyes Jane had foisted upon her. Was she some sort of horrible Valkyrie now who could see Death coming for someone? She kept her eyes screwed shut for a few moments, then decided she had to find out.

In the dim light of Abuelita's glassed candles—she saw various saints represented on the candle labels—she looked at her grandmother.

Abuelita was tiny, under five feet, brown-skinned with wavy iron-gray hair cut in a bob. She was wearing one of her good dresses for Sunday Mass, a short-sleeved floral print, and none of her jewelry, not even earrings. Angelica guessed that she was preparing for someone to break in and kill her — wearing her Sunday best and having hidden her jewelry under that floorboard she'd shown Angelica a few years earlier.

Most importantly, while there was a haze of life over and around her, there was no horrible knot of mutation present.

"Your young man, he is very kind," Abuelita said, mopping her eyes with one of the tissues she always seemed to have in her dress pocket. "He brought over a couple grocery bags of food from your place, and something he'd cooked before the power went out. We had a nice dinner. He's a good cook, a very good cook. For a man."

Angelica laughed, partly from the relief and partly from the image of Kit and her grandmother, calmly having dinner while the world went to hell. She went to the door to invite everyone in.

Just then, the horde of little brown dogs ran, yelping and howling, up the street. Watson and X bounded up the steps as the wave came toward them. Kit, however, calmly watched them approaching.

Angelica raised the light level without thinking so she could see what was happening. She almost shouted to Kit, but then the dogs started merging together as they got closer to him and confused her. They went from a mass of little brown dogs to a pack of lean, sandy, pointy-faced dogs that looked like skinny, grinning wolves.

The pack leapt for Kit so fast no one had time to react.

As they arched toward Kit, in the split second before impact, they shrank. Several leapt for his arms, a dozen or more for his lean torso, two for his feet or knees, and one directly at his crotch. They all vanished as they touched him, looking like they were pulled inside him. The echoes of the yelping faded away.

Then Angelica realized something about Kit: he didn't register on her new vision. There was no cloud of changing life there, no haze, no glow.

She felt like she'd been punched in the gut.

Kit turned toward them with a lopsided smile. He seemed different somehow. Bigger. Leaner. Hungrier. Happier. Sadder.

Her grandmother crossed herself and said, "Madre de Dios," just as Angelica said it herself.

Kit's smile got more lopsided and uncertain, and he gave them a rueful little wave. "Heh," he said.

The silence was very awkward.

Then Simon cleared his throat and said, "Well, I guess we know who let the dogs out."






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Ping! We hit 10 comments this morning, and so here is your bonus episode for the week! Thank you so much! We'll do it again next week.


Cry Havoc

Angelica's phone buzzed, and she picked up without looking at the number. "Yes?" she said.

"Angelica, it's Simon," crackled the reply. Reception was breaking up. She wondered idly if it was because of their interference broadcast or because of something else. "Shit is breaking loose in the city, like, all over. We just saw a report of a riot near your neighborhood."

Anxiety clutched at her belly and adrenaline spiked into her veins. Abuelita! Also Kit and her friends -- hell, even her mother and sisters. They were not in a neighborhood that commanded a lot of protective attention from the authorities at the best of times. She forced her voice casual, though, because she knew there was nothing she could do. Oooh, she could glow at the riot. "You're staying at the Cosmics HQ then?"

Her eyes strayed to the dozing Jane Liberty in the recliner. Well, okay, there was something she could do, if things got bad.

Simon snorted. "No, Ivy and I are heading for your apartment. Your grandmother is a few blocks from there, right? Give me her address, we'll make sure she's okay."

Angelica leaned against a nearby lab bench with relief. Her voice shook as she gave him the address. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you so much."

Simon laughed a little, and said, "What, you think we were gonna hunker down all with our tails between our legs? We're Canises. We get into the middle of shit, even when we're trying to avoid it." She heard Ivy's voice in the background, and Simon added, "We'll go by and make sure Kit's all right too. If you want." His tone was so offhand—clearly jealous—she almost laughed.

"Yeah, please," Angelica said. "Call if you need support. We have a big gun we can send out if you get too deep into the shit."

"Will do, boss," Simon said, and hung up.

Angelica touched the cross at her throat and thought, Keep everyone safe. Please.




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We alllllmost made it to 10 comments, so I'm posting early in the week. If we can actually get 10 comments by Friday, I'll post a second episode. Let me know you're reading!


The Rabble Are Roused

"Oh, my god," Sophie said, staring at her screen. "The fucking Internet is going crazy."

Ivy opened her laptop and flipped through several windows. "My Twitter feed is nuts. People are talking about the broadcast, things that have been happening, the mod squads. Damn, Sophie, you streamed it into the BBC broadcasts too?"

"They're not very secure," Sophie said. Nereid squeezed her shoulders and Sophie looked up at her with a faint smile.

"I'm seeing it on Chinese and Japanese news outlets too," Ivy said.

"Al-Jazeera's got it," Simon said from behind his laptop.

"Okay, okay, we're stars," said Mercury impatiently. "Can we go do something now?"

Vector turned from the local troublespotting monitors with wide eyes. "Um, yeah, I think so."

"What's up?" Wire said, walking over.

"Riot in the business district," Vector said. "Assaults on men in black in the college district. Guys, I'm getting trouble lights all over the city."

"Let's split up and cover more ground," Mercury said, pacing.

"Michael forbade us to split up," Wire said tiredly.

"What's he going to do if we save more lives this way?" Mercury demanded.

"Cut us off without a penny," Wire said. "He'll do it, too."

Sophie said, rising and putting on her glasses, "I've got Cosmic Flyer 1 warming up now. I suggest we head for the riot first. Biggest casualty risk. Well," she said with a twisted smile, "biggest casualties we care about. Men in black? What men in black?"

Citizen Pain walked to the elevator door and said, "I am going out. Indeed, I will go without you if you continue to argue, Mercury. I do not care for your attitude when people are being injured."

Nereid and Sophie walked over to join him. After a moment, so did Vector, saying, "Mercury, you and Gemini can stay here and watch the monitor."

"But Ivy and Simon…" Mercury said, in between gaping at them.

"Aren't members of the Young Cosmics," said Wire, following the rest onto the elevator. "Or we can patch it into the transport. Your choice, Merc."

In the end, of course, the whole team left together, though Mercury didn't shut up with his bitching. Nereid had to wonder what Ivy and Simon were doing. Hopefully having a beer and a pizza.




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Things are starting to move along...



99 Red Balloons Go By

Sophie's eyes lit up suddenly and she pulled the microphone up from where it was draped over her shoulder. "Roger, wilco," she said, then jerked her head toward the door while looking at Nereid.

Nereid bounced up and hurried into the next room, where the rest of the Young Cosmics were sitting around nervously. Mercury's leg was jiggling so fast his knee was a blur. Vector was glaring at him in between reading something on her StarSeed. Wire was pacing, repeatedly flexing the metal hand that Sophie had built to replace the one she'd lost a few years before. Citizen Pain and Gemini were playing a game of chess.

"Showtime," Nereid said.

Mercury leapt to his feet, grinning. "Right!"

They all moved to the corner of the room, where Simon and Ivy were fussing around a small television studio they'd set up. Simon looked more normal than Nereid had seen him in a long time, with a fresh fade haircut, neatly trimmed Van Dyke, and wearing tight black jeans. Both Mercury and Gemini kept running their gazes over him with extreme interest. Both Simon and Ivy were wearing their "Puppy Patrol" t-shirts, and both were wearing necklaces with sparkling globes strung on black rattail.

"Okay, on your marks," Simon said, pointing them all onto the clean white platform he and Ivy had set up. "No one lean back against the backdrop, or it will fall over."

"Pull together," Ivy said, looking at her screen. "Pay, move a little to your right. Wire, you need to take one step forward. Gemini, close ranks behind her."

Simon flicked on the glaring white lights and moved from one to another, tweaking the positioning, then ducked forward to dot Mercury's nose with a dusting of powder. "There, okay, we just don't want you glowing like Rudolph, there, dude."

Mercury's face twisted as he tried not to sneeze. "Right!" he said again, mastering the sneeze, then crossing his arms to strike a belligerent pose.

Everyone followed suit except Wire, who fidgeted in front, rearranging the collar of her uniform to make the microphone cord more comfortable. Nereid felt silly with her arms crossed, but it took less room than putting their hands on their hips, which was the other acceptable superhero pose.

Ivy leapt up and stuck her head through the door to Sophie. "We're set here, Brainchild."

Nereid could hear Sophie telling Tizemt at Headquarters that they were ready to broadcast. Then Sophie walked into the room and stood with her screen projection flickering a few feet in front of her. She watched the screen for a moment, listening to her headset, her hand moving in the air to manipulate her screen. Then she nodded to Ivy.

"All right," Simon said. "Wire, you're on in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6…" He raised his hand and finished the countdown on fingers. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Then he pointed at Wire.

Nereid reflected that he'd learned a lot about television production during his time on the Wonderful House reality show.

They all looked into the camera Ivy had told them to look into and then Wire said, "Hello, Wonder City. Hello, World, for that matter. We are the Young Cosmics, and we are duly deputized substitutes for the missing Gold Stars. And we have something very important to tell you."



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Materiel Girl

"And that is the last Nega Projector off the line," Tinkermel said, picking up the tiny box in his enormous hands. He spun it gently, checking the connectors.

The stacks of matte black boxes were lined up along the long lab bench in Professor Canis' Laboratory 5. Angelica, Simon, Ivy, and Tizemt, Professor Canis' lab manager, were standing around, drinking sodas, when this momentous announcement came.

Tizemt, an extremely tall, lanky woman with high cheekbones, medium-brown skin, and short natural hair, carefully set her soda can in a sink. She stepped around the bench to take the box from Tinkermel, apply a tiny bar code sticker, and scan it with a handheld scanner.

Simon leaned over to Angelica while this ritual was going on. "Where's your boyfriend?" he said out of the corner of his mouth.

Angelica smirked at him. "Kit is not, in his own words, mechanically inclined. At least not for delicate stuff. Also, he has a job this afternoon, and that's rare enough I didn't want to discourage him. Also, not my boyfriend."

"Is he still crashing with you?" Simon said, eyebrows rising.

"Yes, he is," Angelica said. "He cooks, and even does some cleaning. And he keeps Jane company when she stays there. Which does not equate to boyfriend."

"Is the security system doing all right?" Simon said. "Do you, er, need me to come by and check it?"

Angelica eyed him for a moment, then said, "You know perfectly well that you're always welcome, and if Jane isn't around, Kit is happy to step out for the evening." She kissed his cheek. "I miss you, you know."

Simon blushed a little and headbutted her shoulder. Angelica caught Ivy's gaze over his head and both of them shook their heads and rolled their eyes.

Tinkermel planted a kiss on Tizemt's cheek. "We couldn't have done this without you, sweetie," he said.

"Well, your design was brilliant," Tizemt said with a shrug and a smile, "and simple, for what it does. Scaling up and automating production was commensurately simple."

"All right, kids!" Tinkermel said, snapping on purple nitrile gloves. "Time for quality assurance!"

They all donned purple gloves and joined Tinkermel and Tizemt at the bench.

"Step one!" Tinkermel said, plucking a box from the pile. "Pick a box. Step two! Push the battery into the connector." He picked up a tiny battery from another box and pushed it into the box. "Step three! Check the monitor." He pointed to the modified StarSeeds on the benchtop. When he waved one over his chosen box, it displayed a sparkly purple icon that said, FABULOUS. "This one is good, so it goes into the good pile." He unplugged it and set it in one of the cardboard boxes on the bench behind him. "If it's not good, put it in the to-be-checked pile, there."

"We have fifteen hundred of these tinkertoys to get through," Tizemt said to a collective groan. "So let's get plugging."

Tinkermel started up his own StarSeed to boom some Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Pointer Sisters, and similar artists helping them along with remarkably speedy and singable disco/80s pop.

"All right!" Tizemt said several hours later, when they'd worked their way through the entire bench of boxes. "We've got a less than five percent failure rate, which I say is pretty bloody good. Now we distribute."

Angelica raised her hand. Tinkermel looked at her with a raised eyebrow and nodded imperiously. "I was just wondering," she said, "how we're going to accomplish that distribution. Because fifteen hundred little boxes, spread in a precise configuration all over this city? Is gonna take weeks with just the five of us."

Ivy, Simon, and Tizemt all nodded agreement.

"Aha!" Tinkermel said with a grin. "I have a secret plan, you see." He opened up his pink sparkly Star laptop, clicked something, and, when a low tone sounded, he snapped, "Sparklebutch Posse, Form UP!"

The other four exchanged amazed and baffled looks.

Voices started to come in over Tinkermel's speakers. "Acknowledged," said one. "Affirmative," said another. "Right on!" said a third. And then there were too many voices to parse individually.

"Eat some pizza," Tinkermel said over the noise, beaming at them. "Drink some beer. Cause the Posse is gonna take it from here."

Tizemt shooed Angelica, Ivy, and Simon upstairs. "You've been in the lab for hours and hours, and there are no windows. Go see the great outdoors while you eat."

Angelica got into the elevator gratefully. Simon leaned his forehead against her shoulder. She scritched him behind the ear absently.

"He'll thump if you do that," Ivy said.

"I know," Angelica said.

"My back is killing me," Simon whined.

"That's because you haven't been exercising," Ivy said. "All your human muscles have gone wibbly."

"No, I think it was the lab bench," Simon said.

"If that were so, Angelica's back should be killing her because she's a bunch taller than us," Ivy said.

Angelica said, "I'm pretty good at ignoring pain. After all, I wear high heels regularly. But you said that I and I noticed that my back hurts like a bitch."

"Well, okay then," Ivy said. Just then, the elevator stopped and opened onto the back hallway of Professor Canis' house.

They picked up a hot pizza from the temporal kitchen safe and a six-pack of beer and carried it all out onto the deck, where they settled down. It was a silent summer evening, just a hint of a breeze starting in the slanting golden rays after what had patently been a hot, still day. Simon took a long swig of beer and looked around.

"I hate to say it," he sighed, "but I miss Jasmine's kids."

"They're sweet kids," Ivy said. "What you don't miss is Jasmine, I imagine."

"I… actually kind of miss her too," he said, plucking irritably at his shorts.

"Well, they're doing just fine," Ivy said. "I checked on them when I was driving down from Boston. They're safely ensconced in western Mass," she said to inform Angelica, "Jasmine took them all there when she realized what was going on here."

Angelica vaguely remembered that their sister Jasmine had had a litter of wolf pups. Superintelligent talking wolf pups. She just nodded and drank her beer.

"I miss Mom," Ivy said, grimacing. "I wonder where she is."

"She's probably with the rest of the Gold Stars," Angelica said. "In that… place Renata apparently sensed them. Or something. I don't really understand it."

The siblings exchanged a glance. "Yeah, she's probably fine," Simon said. "She probably just talked too much and the aliens shoved her in there to shut her up."

Then the sound of a motorcycle engine distracted them.

"Coming this way," Simon said, standing to peer down the long driveway.

The motorcycle turned the curve at this point and roared up to the house in a cloud of summer dust. The rider parked it neatly to one side of the drive facing them, then swung off in a creak of black leather, pulling off the helmet and stowing it on the back of the bike. Six feet plus of solid muscle with an iron-gray flattop and a weather-lined face gave them a brief nod and a laconic, "Mel?"

Simon pointed at the door and said, "Through the kitchen, then turn right and the first door on the right is the elevator. Take it to level E."

There was another nod and a, "Sir," followed by a very slight smile, nod, and, "Ladies," before the rider turned to follow Simon's directions. The back of the jacket was emblazoned with the Dykes on Bikes logo—Oh, thought Angelica, trading impressed looks with Ivy, I may not be as straight as I keep telling myself—and a reflective rainbow pegasus.

And then they just kept coming, dribbling in one at a time at first, and then arriving in groups. Motorcycles stacked elbow-to-elbow in the driveway, pickup trucks lining the drive and then, with Simon and Ivy directing them, parking on the front yard. Angelica was dazzled by the metallic glitter helmets, the rhinestoned jackets, the pink and purple lights along the running boards, the glitzy motorcycle saddlebags. Every one of the riders or drivers were definitely on the masculine end of the spectrum, but oh, what a shiny spectrum it was. Most of them greeted Angelica and Ivy with some level of cheer, and all were respectful and polite to Simon.

At one point, Simon sat down, after directing a butchly horde indoors, and said, "You know, I'd seen some of these people around town at one point or other, but I had no idea that there was… this!" He gestured at the enormous variety of vehicles in his mother's yard.

"Have you been counting?" Ivy said. "Because I've been counting."

"I gave up at 74," Angelica said, mopping her brow with a handkerchief from her purse. "I have to say I've never been privileged to see such a parade of fine, fine people as I have tonight."

"The lab must be bursting," Simon said, picking up his pizza slices and eating half of it at a bite.

Ivy snorted into her beer. "All the butch is rubbing off on you, Simon."

Angelica smiled at him fondly and wondered if he wouldn't mind taking her off to his childhood bedroom for a romp.

At that moment, the door opened and a stream of dykes, bears, and othergendered/otheridentified butches began to stream out, talking, laughing, high-fiving, punching, hugging, wrestling, kissing, voices filling the night so loudly that Angelica feared briefly, ludicrously, that the aliens would overhear them. Pinks, purples, greens, yellows, satins, silks, jewels, leather, lights, and bells flashed and turned and crowded, and then the motorcycles and trucks and cars started coming to life, headlights flicking on and engines purring into the cacophony.

Then the din faded, leaving only a trickle of hearty hunks still chatting, exchanges news or phone numbers, pausing to compare paper maps to maps on phones. At last, Tizemt and Tinkermel emerged from the house, carrying their own pizza box and a six-pack of beer each.

Tinkermel went to hug one of the motorcycle dykes before joining the crew on the deck. Tizemt threw herself into a padded chair and looked around wild-eyed. "What a bloody great crowd!" she exclaimed.

Angelica smiled and said, a little dreamily, "Yeahhh," which got balled-up napkins thrown at her by the siblings.

The last motorcycles rolled down the driveway and Tinkermel came up to take his seat, like a king taking his throne. "I told you," he said to their wondering expressions, "I got this."











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Jubilee

It was my first time running the android avatar that Larentia Canis had built me in a crowd, but I was going to by damn be AT Ruth's birthday party, not just watch it on a camera.

She was somewhat awkward to handle at first, no matter how much practice I'd had running her in my home. I called her Metro because Larentia, in a fit of whimsy, had recreated the android from Fritz Lang's Metropolis, with the feminine body and helmet-shaped head and deco styling, only with a dark copper finish. I was sititng in my long distance chair, wearing the control coronet. I was also drugged to the gills. Metro also had all sorts of electronic filters that affected mental powers, but the meds brought me down to a level actually manageable by those filters. I had full physical sensation, just as if I were there, without the mental onslaught of the people around me. I was just me, walking around on the hot sand beach of the remote island where everyone had gathered.

I spent a little time enjoying the feel of the sun warming the metal of my skin and the smell of the ocean and hot sand.

Of all the (few) people who knew me, Suzanne Feldstein found me first. "Renata? Renata Scott?" she said, a brown-haired, middle-aged white woman peering into Metro's eyes inquiringly.

"That's me," I said through Metro's speakers, and offered a hand. "Glad to meet you in the flesh, Suzanne. Well, flesh and metal."

Suzanne shook my hand vigorously. She was dressed in a yellow-floral-print sundress, and the sun was already starting to redden her shoulders. "I'm so glad you could come. C'mere, let me introduce you around some."

And so I met Simon, and he was just as fine in person as he was on camera, and if possible, sweeter. "Ms. Scott!" he said, shaking my hand. He was wearing a blue muscle shirt with "TEAM SIMON" on it in block letters and loose black shorts. His hair and Van Dyke were sharply trimmed. "I'm glad to meet you! Oh, I'm glad Mom did such a good job on that android body; it's really gorgeous."

How could I blush at a compliment meant for his mother's handiwork? Don't ask me. "Your mother has been very generous and kind to me over the years. This is only one example."

"She's like that," Simon said, then he stepped back and gestured to someone. "And here's someone who's been wanting to meet you too. Ira, this is Ms. Scott."

"Please," I said, shaking the old man's hand, "both of you, please call me Renata."

Ira beamed at me. He was wearing a big straw hat, a yellow polo shirt, and khaki shorts that showed his pale knobbly knees. He was a little thin and stooped, but otherwise looked younger than his 83 years. "I'm honored to meet you, Renata. You did such a bangup job that night, though I can't imagine it was easy."

"You did a pretty good job yourself, sir," I said.

"Ira," he corrected me.

"Ira," I said, wishing Metro's smile wasn't so very... scary, and that Larentia's attempt at the overlay projection (a la Maria's duplicate) hadn't failed so spectacularly. Someday, I'd be able to smile at people too.

Suzanne, I realized from her movements and her half-empty drink, was already more than a bit tipsy. She reached out and snagged the arm of a mousy, bespectacled white woman in jeans and a t-shirt. "Watson, Watson, come meet Renata."

So there was an orgy of introductions conducted by Suzanne, who was adding every moment to her "sheets to the wind" quotient. I met Watson Holmes, Megan Amazon, Ivy and Malik Canis (each holding a squirming puppy they introduced as belonging to their sister Jasmine -- I wasn't entirely sure what they meant by "belonging", given that the puppies were exclaiming my name delightedly), Ana Hernandez, Flo and Ebb Starr, the Silver Guardian (who was an old friend of Suzanne's apparently), and Sekhmet of the Gold Stars, and... a lot of other people whose names I'd heard but who I'd never met "live" before.

I was glad to be drugged to the gills, honestly. It was the largest crowd I'd been in for over 20 years.

Simon finally, kindly, as the afternoon advanced alarmingly toward evening, led Suzanne off to the buffet tables, saying, "We'll catch you later, Renata," over his shoulder. He winked at me, the little devil.

Left to my own devices, I made my way from the beach, where I'd been trapped by the introduction nexus after arriving there via the teleport link, up toward the line of umbrellas and beach chairs where I spotted Gloria Revelle's lean, solemn face peering around periodically. I figured that wherever Gloria was, Ruth was likely to be.

I was right. Ruth was ensconced in a thronelike wooden beach chair with some colorfully umbrella'd adult beverage in an enormous glass in one hand, grinning like a fool up at me. "You did make a gorgeous thing there, Larentia," she said, glancing up at Larentia, who was standing nearby. Ruth carefully balanced the glass on the arm of the chair, and got up to hug me. I saw Sophie reach out and steady the glass behind her, just as Ruth got me in a careful bear hug.

I leaned Metro's chin on her shoulder and enjoyed the various sensations of a solid, muscular, warm human body in my arms. I loved Ruth for many reasons, not least because for her, hugging one of her friends manifested in an android body was hardly the oddest thing she'd done in the past five minutes. "You look so much better than you did last I saw you, Ruth," I said.

"I feel so much better, Rennie," she murmured, not letting me go yet. "You helped give me back my baby. I won't forget that."

"Hell, Ruth, you gave me my life," I said, not willing to let go, feeling like I'd been in the desert for 20 years and was just getting a small sip of water. It had been so long since I'd touched a human being, and I can't actually remember when I last hugged someone without immediately being inside her or his head. "I'm glad to give something back. I mean, what do you get the most powerful para on Earth for her birthday anyway?"

We laughed, and finally stepped back a little, but our arms lingered around each other's waists. Ruth gestured around, saying, "You know Gloria, of course."

I shook hands with Gloria, and was amazed to actually see the woman smile. She had a little lopsided smile, with a mostly closed mouth, and I noticed that she had a bit of an overbite -- I suspected that might be why she doesn't smile more often. "Gloria, thank you for everything you've been doing lately with the chef roster. The variety has been really wonderful."

"I thought we could use some new blood in the kitchen," she said in her deep voice and blunt MidAtlantic accents. "You're my lab rat, you know. These are all chefs I try out on you before using them for catering and events."

"Glad to be of service," I said. "Delicious service."

"Here's Olivia," Ruth said, drawing the Fat Lady into the circle. The Fat Lady was wearing a remarkable gauzy white dress that drifted dramatically on the breeze and looked just right with her complexion, and her sleek black hair was caught up under an extravagant white sun hat.

"Renata, I've heard so many good things about you," Olivia said, turning her famous dimples and dazzling smile on me.

I confess to feeling just a little overwhelmed and, well, fangirlish, so I think I managed to mutter something polite and possibly gushed about loving her work before Ruth sicced Sophie on me.

The girl had some of the most intense dark eyes I've ever seen, and even though I technically shouldn't have been able to sense a damned thing about her, I could feel the wheels of her mind turning and turning. It was almost like I could see and feel the clockwork moving through those remarkable eyes. That's what you get from the intimate connection of stuffing someone back into her head, I suppose. There we were, caught in mid-handshake, staring into each other's minds, I think, for what felt like a piece of eternity, before we both shook ourselves and she said, "I've been wanting to thank you for everything you did."

I shrugged. "There were lots of folks who did more than I did."

"Yes, well," Sophie said, flashing a grin. She reached behind her and dragged another white girl her age foward. This one was brown-haired and utterly average in terms of looks and overt charm, but I recognized her.

"Pacifica," I said, shaking her hand. "Glad to meet you outside your head."

She smiled shyly, pressed her lips together and hunched her shoulders a bit. "I'm flattered you remember me, Ms. Scott."

"Renata," I said, thinking, Girl, how could I possibly forget you? Aloud, I added, "Your arm seems to've healed up nicely."

"It's still stiff," she said, "but Sophie makes good healing accelerators. Even if I did have to spend time in tank full of blue goo. Why was it blue, anyway?" she added, turning to Sophie.

"I didn't want anyone eating it," Sophie said.

"No one would eat that, it smelled too bad," Nereid said.

Sophie grinned. "You'd be surprised..."

There was a loud crack of lightning overhead, and everyone tensed. Ruth looked up quickly, then rolled her eyes and said to Sophie, "Didn't you give that child an invitation?"

Sophie shrugged. "I did," she said, "but she always prefers to crash." I thought I picked up just a bit of mischief there, as if, perhaps, she'd had some idea in advance.

High above us was a flying stage, limned in neon and flashing lights against the twilit sky. It slowly lowered until it was hovering just above the ocean, with the spectacular painted clouds of sunset sprawling out behind it. Myriad small, hovering robots levitated from the stage and sprang into formation in the air, turning colored spotlights onto the platform. A backdrop of enormous metal struts extruded from the back of the stage, arching up into Gothic points and then blooming into weirdly delicate curlicues that suggested tentacles, or possibly fruit.

"What the hell is that?" Sister Power said, as though she knew exactly what the hell it was but was a bit afraid of the answer. She crinkled a smile at me, her dark brown face highlighted by a glorious mane of silver hair. I'd forgotten how old she was; she'd gotten her start in the 1970s, so she must be in her 60s by now.

Ruth massaged the bridge of her nose. "It's Sophie's little friend. You remember her, Imara. The one who started a band in college. Calls herself Gogo."

Sophie snorted at this description.

An enormous grinding noise silenced us all and a pillar rose up from the middle of the stage. It appeared to be girdled with a bank of steampunk consoles and quite a lot of flashing lights. The grinding noise stopped, and then, in a burst of music, it flew open, revealing a young white woman whose top was dressed in a silver jumpsuit, and whose lower half was a kickline of seven sets of robot legs. A drum line started. She leapt down to the stage with surprising agility for someone with fourteen legs, and subtle instrumentals started up. She started to declaim in a deep voice that was projected to several points around us.

People keep saying it's the end days,
Skynet's won, we've run the maze.
In the center is Room 101:
Can we boldly go when all is done?
All the things I tried to save
Are just putting flowers on a mouse's grave.
Game over, man, and everybody dies
And there's nothing to eat but lies, lies, lies.


"I do believe," Gloria said, "we are about to have a concert."

"Oh, god help me," Ruth said, taking the umbrella out of her drink so she could swallow it faster.

A robot guitarist, keyboardist, bassist, and drummer emerged from the surface of the stage, apparently fused to their instruments. I noticed the drummer had long hair so it could swing it back and forth. All of them were silver-skinned, like Gogo's jumpsuit and legs, but with gold accents. Gogo strutted down to the front of the stage (there's a lot of strut in seven sets of robot legs), seized a microphone that was dropped from above by one of her ubiquitous flying drones, and burst into song with a crash of music.

I won't be just a worker in the heart machine
I'm going to see the light of day.
I'm going to crack the world's shell is what I mean
Put on my wings and fly away.

Everyone asks me am I bad witch or good
Or one of the genetic elite
But I am telling you I'm Lilith's Brood
And we have never known defeat!

We're from Ultima Thule
And we include me and you.
She's the hero we need
Cause she makes us heroes too!


"Oh, no," Ruth groaned, and finished her drink.

Sophie looked contrite. But only a little. Nereid was watching Gogo with her mouth hanging open. An attractive androgynous Asian person appeared over Nereid's shoulder and raised inquisitive eyebrows at Sophie, who said defensively, "It's not my fault!"

Just living day to day
Learn to rise up and say
She's the hero we need
To sing Hero of Heroes today!

She's the Ultimate test!
In her Prometheus rests,
She's the hero we need
Because we give her our best!


I was pretty amazed at the dancing you could do with fourteen legs in perfect unison. At the end of the first chorus, backup dancers also melted out of the stage. I felt distinctly upstaged when I realized that they all looked just like my android body, except in silver. Talk about embarrassment for wearing the same outfit to the party.

"Hey," Larentia said faintly. She patted my shoulder apologetically.

Gogo spoke into her microphone again.

At Yoshiwara's we'll dance and fight
Always alone in the night,
But reaching out, touch hand to hand,
Galadriel or Servalan.
Is the Slayer really born this way?
Or Sleepless walk both night and day?
Or maybe we'll stand up and see:
You have no power over me.


Sister Power said, "None of this makes any sense. What the hell is a servalan?"

Sophie started laughing helplessly into her hands.

The music kicked up again.

For some reason, Gogo threw her microphone into the audience. Then, with a satisfied little smile, she leaned back and another one sprouted, or seemed to sprout, out of her chest. She grabbed that one and kept singing.

I noticed a middle-aged black woman, oddly wearing a suit on the beach, making her way through the crowd with purpose in her eyes. She didn't even flinch at the volume of the music. I nudged Ruth.

Ruth looked over. "Marilyn, heeeey, girl!" she said, waving her hand. I wondered idly how many of those giant glasses of booze Ruth had already consumed.

The woman, who I now recognized as Marilyn Henderson, lawyer to paras, arrived in front of Ruth with a grim little smile on her face. "Interesting entertainment."

"It's not what I would've chosen, true," Ruth said. "But the girl's got a good heart."

"And is showing a great deal of leg," Marilyn said with a glance upward.

"What're you doing, wearing that penguin suit here on the beach?" Ruth said. "Take that jacket off and set a while."

Marilyn straightened her shoulders in an ominous way that made both Gloria and I tense up. "Ruth Thomas, I am here to give you some important paperwork."

Ruth laced her fingers together and placed them under her chin. "At my birthday party." She didn't make it a question.

"Yes," Marilyn said. She whipped a folder out from under her arm and extended it to Ruth. "It couldn't wait."

Gloria's thin form had risen up and arched in a predatory fashion, inclining very slightly toward Marilyn.

Ruth sighed and took the folder.
We'll come down like angels on Tokyo

And we don't need roads where we're going.

At the end of the world can you tell me where

And in what way the time is flowing?


I can build my friends but I can't build you

A place for opossums to call their own.

But don't look back, don't blink I'm telling you

It's dhoom again but we are flown!


A hero right through

Like flying snow in bamboo

She's the hero we need

Cause she makes us heroes too!


Take my ansible call

'Cause it's for one and all

She's the hero we need

Cause she makes us stand tall!


She won't be suppressed

Or sent into the West

She's the hero we need

Because we give her our best!


Gogo chose that moment to distract us all with another spoken piece.

We need a hero that's worth our while
Whether Wonder Woman or Trio-style
So put on your clothes, or dye your hair
And sing electric grandmother
From Alderaan to Whileaway
The winning move is not to play.
They tell us we're beyond the pale
Bionic-made or automail,
Whether you are you or me
Virtual or karakuri
Rise up and greet Red Dawn today
Like Nauscicaa we'll fly away;
To Iskandar we'll fly away;
On ships that sing we'll fly away.


And she then started singing again.

Ruth looked back down at the folder in her hands, heaved another sigh, and flipped it open.

I have never before seen Ruth stunned. I'm not sure anyone has. Her whole body jerked and her eyes went wide and she stared fixedly at the papers. Then her hands began to tremble, and Gloria snatched the folder away before those tiny muscular tremors could reduce what she was holding to paper pulp.

Sophie had moved to stand at Ruth's shoulder, and I noticed her giving Marilyn what I sensed was a conspiratorial and questioning look. Marilyn's smile widened incrementally.

The thing about Ruth is that she is the most powerful para in the world. And so the fact that none of us saw her move is just not that surprising. The look on Sophie's face changed to triumphant delight as Ruth threw her arms around her, though.

"You two!" Ruth roared, only locally drowning out Gogo's band. "You two!" she said again, apparently at a loss for other words.

"What's going on?" asked Imara, peering curiously over Gloria's shoulder.

Gloria said, mock-grumpily, "That girl finally pulled her head out of her ass is what's going on."

Sophie said, breathless with embarrassment and her mother's embrace, "My adoption papers. I signed them."
She's returned from the blue

And Zaha'dum too--

She's the hero we need

Cause she makes us heroes too!


Dark Lords big and small

We will spit on them all

She's the hero we need

Cause she makes us stand tall!


Stand tall, stand tall, stand tall

Stand tall, stand tall, stand tall

Stand tall, stand tall, stand tall...


Gogo's army of tiny flying robots, which looked, I noticed, like dragonflies, chose that moment to shower us with her new album.

Larentia caught one and so did I. The cover was a brown-skinned woman's arm, reaching up as if to pluck a fruit from a tree, but the fruit was a giant oval containing a twisty, maze-like structure. To give Ruth and Sophie a moment of pseudo-privacy, Larentia began to read from the cover. "'Mitochondrial Eve,'" she said. "I like the title."

I overheard some people passing nearby. One of them said, "I liked her second album the best, 'Amazon Women and the Space-Time Continuum'."

The other said, "Oh, I haven't heard of that one."

"It was back when she was Gogo and the Gadgettes," the first said, and they drifted out of hearing.

"'My Mother's Positronic Brain,'" Larentia read from the track list bemusedly. "'Dear Mr. Heisenberg.' 'Cyborg Manifesto'?"

I skimmed down the list myself. "'Bad Chemistry,' 'Soylent Blue,' 'Love Me and Despair'."

Gloria said, with a roll of the eyes, "Anyone else get the feeling that child is trying too hard?"

Nereid, who I had forgotten, said wistfully, "She looks like she's having fun."

On stage, Gogo had swung into her well-known song, "A Robot of One's Own."

The well-tailored Asian person to whom I really needed an introduction said, "There's a dance floor over there, Pacifica. Would you care to join me?"

Later, around the time that Sophie was finishing up her guitar-playing on-stage with Gogo (oh, yes, she'd just happened to have her guitar with her), I overheard Suzanne saying to Watson, "Is this your work? Remind me never to piss you off!"

I looked over and saw Suzanne showing Watson her StarPhone. Watson frowned down at it, clearly puzzled. "No," she said after a moment, "that's not my work."

Suzanne noticed Metro looking her way, so she turned the display toward me. "'Aloysius MacCready, legally 93 years old,'" I read aloud, "'has been arrested on a charge of second-degree murder and multiple charges of armed robbery, among other offenses. MacCready was processed for a temporal displacement grant upon his return to this dimension, and had disappeared from his stated address. More in-depth analysis of historical records found that in 1932, he participated in an armed robbery of a bank for African-Americans during which he pistol-whipped a bank teller. The teller, 26-year-old Norman Jefferson, later died of the head trauma.'"

"I know the statute of limitations doesn't expire for murder," Suzanne said. "And the temporal displacement laws extend the limitation for the armed robbery charges. But the witnesses must all be dead, so how can they prosecute?"

Watson skimmed more of the article. "They had eyewitnesses who knew MacCready by name and appearance, and who gave depositions identifying him. So with that in hand, they could use the Stefanopolous Laws."

Ana had looked over from her conversation when I started to read, and now she spoke up with, "I think I've heard of the Stefanopolous Laws, but I've never been sure what they're about."

Suzanne said, breezily, "Watson'll have to explain. I'm too drunk. But they involved a vampire."

Watson quirked a smile. "Andrei Stefanopolous was a vampire who was a repeat spree killer. He was notorious in Europe in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and then he moved to New York City. They caught him after a rampage through an Italian and Greek neighborhood in the 1880s, but of course, there weren't para-ready prisons then, and he escaped to go underground again. He resurfaced in the same neighborhood 1952, and the grandchildren of the original people victimized went to the police with the photos from the 1800s and their own photos of him in the neighborhood, begging police to pick him up. They didn't -- all the original witnesses were dead and it seemed like too much trouble and besides, there weren't many people who actually believed in vampires at that point. So then he went on a much wider-spread killing spree."

"Oh, yes, the Vampire Murders," Ana said. "That's all in the college para history books."

"Yep," Watson said. "And after they caught him and the Gold Stars imprisoned him, the story broke that the police had refused to pick him up and why. So the Stefanopolous Laws were passed in a hurry to cope with immortal or temporally displaced violent offenders."

"Technically," a sleek, black-haired, white -- very white -- man said, sliding easily into the conversation and gently twirling his black parasol, "it is for the long of life, not the immortal. Because no one is truly immortal, yes?" He had an eastern European accent and what had to be a hand-tailored white linen suit. He was also the only person I'd ever seen wearing a Panama hat on whom it looked stylish.

Watson nodded and waved a hand of acknowledgement. "You're the authority there, Zoltan."

"Zoltan," Suzanne said in that floppy-headed drunk way some white women have, "it's night time. Why are you carrying that parasol?"

"Ah, dear lady," he said, "to protect against the bites of sharks."

"Oh," Suzanne said, blinking.

"Not to mention robots," he added, "and other undesirable things that fall from the sky."

"So what will happen to this MacCready anyway?" Ana pursued, having produced a StarPhone of her own and apparently searching for the article.

"He's being held in prison," Watson said. "Apparently some anonymous person provided the police with both his DNA and a single-use scanner to locate it, because he has para powers that enable him to avoid direct detection." She looked up and past the dance floor and nearest buffet table toward a line of well-occupied comfortable chairs.

I glanced in that direction and saw Sophie sitting there, with Nereid on her lap, chatting with Simon and Ivy.

"Who could've supplied a device like that?" Ana pondered, frowning at her phone.

Watson and I looked at each other, then back at Sophie. Sophie noticed our regard and gave us a smile and a little finger wave, as if she knew exactly what we were thinking.

---

Note from the Author:

Apologies if the table format didn't work well for you -- I optimized for what I thought would be a usual sort of view.

Gogo's song was written as a winter holiday present for me by my multiply-gifted, brilliant, beautiful, magnificent wife. I had been banging my head against how to do it, and then she volunteered. I don't think I've ever seen quite so many SF&F references packed into one place so effectively, and I think it also works beautifully as a pop song. (And yes, Lady Gaga DOES exist in the Wonder City universe, so Gogo IS in fact purposefully referencing her.) See this document (PDF) for most of the references.

Also, in case you're interested, the full track list for Gogo's new album, "Mitochondrial Eve", contains:
My Mother's Positronic Brain
Mitochondrial Eve
Dear Mr. Heisenberg
Cyborg Manifesto
Les Guérillères
Bad Chemistry
Soylent Blue
To Milton, Love, the Monster
Ultima
Love Me and Despair
The Doom Song
I Can't Be Having With This
Bonus Track: Schoolhouse Rock Mashup (feat. "Sufferin' for Suffrage")

---

Wonder City has been nominated for the Rose & Bay Crowdfunding Award! Thank you! Now, y'all should go check out all the nominees for fiction, webcomics, art, poetry, patron, and other projects. And VOTE!

And remember to vote for WCS at Top Webfiction!









wonder_city: (Default)
What I Did On My Summer Vacation

"So have you been watching the Wonderful House?" Malik asked, leaning back in his chair and knocking back his espresso.

"Of course," Ivy said, examining her glass of chai.  "What about you?"

"Hell, no," Malik said, running his brown hands over the mass of his longish natural hair that he hadn't bothered to control with his usual headband.  "I don't really want my roommates to connect me with him."

Ivy gave him a skeptical look over the lip of her glass.  "What makes you think they haven't?"

"None of them have asked me," Malik said.

"Why would they?" Ivy said, a toss of her head setting her beaded braids clicking.  "We're all on Parapedia.  Anyone looking up Simon -- and you know that thousands of people looked him up the day of that first episode -- saw us."

Malik looked away, rolling his head to one side to look out the windows in the garage door at the front of the coffee shop.  "You know, you and I are the normal ones in the family."

"Are we?"  Ivy watched him from under her eyelashes.

"Oh, come on," Malik said.  "You've changed your name so no one will know you're one of the family..."

"I changed it," Ivy said slowly and carefully, "so I wouldn't get special treatment from my professors."

"Ivy Sullivan," Malik said, as if testing the flavor of it.  "Rolls off the tongue better than Ivy Canis."

"Aesthetics were not the first thing on my mind," Ivy said stiffly.  "Though changing the last name is better than trying to drop it entirely, Mr. I-Have-Only-One-Name."

"I'm a musician," Malik said complacently.  "It's a tradition."

"And that's normal?" Ivy said.
Read more... )

---

From the Author:
Wow. That was hard work.

Through May, I'm running the commenting incentive again. If I get 50 total comments in May, I will post twice weekly through June. As before, if you all post 75 comments, I'll post twice weekly through July too. Get up to 100 comments, the twice-weekly postings continue through August.

Vote for us at Top Web Fiction. Clicky please!







wonder_city: (Default)
I came into deep waters; the floods overflowed me.

“You never felt jealousy, did you, Miss Eyre?  Of course not: I need not ask you; because you never felt love.  You have both sentiments yet to experience: your soul sleeps; the shock is yet to be given which shall waken it.  You think all existence lapses in as quiet a flow as that in which your youth has hitherto slid away.  Floating on with closed eyes and muffled ears, you neither see the rocks bristling not far off in the bed of the flood, nor hear the breakers boil at their base.  But I tell you—and you may mark my words—you will come some day to a craggy pass in the channel, where the whole of life’s stream will be broken up into whirl and tumult, foam and noise: either you will be dashed to atoms on crag points, or lifted up and borne on by some master-wave into a calmer current...

"Hey, look, it's the Soggy Soggy Dew!" one of the girls in the clique shrieked, shattering Pacifica's concentration. Their voices were all alike, so it was anyone's guess as to which one it was. Their expensively-shod feet pattered across the asphalt.

Pacifica, seated on the cement top of a low brick wall, refused to look up from the paperback she was reading. She gritted her teeth, stared determinedly at the text, and resolved not to cry.

“I like this day; I like that sky of steel; I like the sternness and stillness of the world under this frost..."

The feet came into her peripheral vision, not shut out by her unruly sweep of unbound hair. There was a pause as the girls selected a route of attack.

"I like Thornfield, its antiquity, its retirement, its old crow-trees and thorn-trees, its grey façade, and lines of dark windows reflecting that metal welkin: and yet how long have I abhorred the very thought of it, shunned it like a great plague-house?  How I do still abhor—”

"How's California, Pacific Ocean?" Bitsy Fields assayed sweetly.

"When it falls off the coast, you're gonna have a lap full of fruits and nuts!" Elaine Wilhelm said, and all the other girls giggled madly.

"Will they call you Tidal Wave then?" Bitsy said.

"What're you reading, Drip?" Mitzi Harker said, snatching the book out from under Pacifica's nose.

"Be careful, Mitz!" warned Kim Terranova. "She might cry, and then we'd all drown!"

Elaine leaned in close enough that Pacifica could feel her breath. "Are you gonna cry, Soggy? Or are you gonna call your mother? So your big terrifying mom can come wait on me? Tell her I want a burger and fries, if you call her."

"Jane Eyre," said Mitzi. "That isn't for a class. Are you reading it for fun, Drip?"

The giggling made Pacifica's head spin; possibly she was hyperventilating with the effort of not looking at her tormenters. She reflected bitterly that if she lived in Jane Eyre's time, she could swoon and maybe everyone would go away, or take care of her, or something. Except, of course, she probably wasn't rich enough to swoon. She'd just pass out and some carriage would run over her in the street.

She clenched her fists in her lap and refused to look at the girls. She fought the burning in her eyes. I will not cry. I will not cry. I will. not. cry...

There was the half-expected ripping sound. The two halves of Jane Eyre, torn along the spine, hit the asphalt at her feet. She couldn't even hear what the girls were saying over the roaring in her ears. Roaring like the ocean. Like the tide at the springs. Or the riptide that would drag them under, that would fill their lungs, that would crush their bones...

The feet moved away. She bent and picked up the two pieces of book. She turned them over in her hands blankly.

It would be so easy. But Mom would be disappointed. Really disappointed. And Dad would get that hangdog look.

Or maybe no power would happen at all. That had happened to her before. And then they'd have one more arrow in their quivers.

There was a shrill scream from the other side of the courtyard. She looked up despite her misgivings. Jasmine and Ivy Canis were standing over the shrieking Mitzi, identical bland expressions on their faces. Mitzi was on her face on the asphalt, and no one picked her up until a teacher got there and did so. Blood was streaming from Mitzi's perfect nose and ivory chin. It took three teachers to lead her away, still wailing and sobbing.

Ivy and Jasmine blinked innocently at a teacher. Bitsy was pointing at them and saying something. Elaine and Kim were cowering behind Bitsy. Jasmine said something to the teacher that was probably entirely reasonable.

When the teacher turned away to look after Mitzi and her rescuers, Ivy flashed a toothy, unpleasant smile at the trio. Bitsy, Elaine, and Kim leaned back from her as one.

Eventually, the ruckus died down.

Jasmine handed something to Ivy and went into the building.

Ivy came over to Pacifica and produced a roll of masking tape from her pocket. Pacifica looked up at Ivy, meeting that terrifying yellow-amber gaze, and smiled, just a little. Wordlessly, they meticulously taped the parts of the book back together.

Pacifica hugged the book against her chest. Ivy squeezed her shoulder. Then the bell rang, and they went back to class.

---
For Moira.


From the Author: And in other news, bullying sucks. Stop bullying when you see it happening, because the victims can't, for any of a number of reasons (contrary to the victim-blaming assholes who often claim that victims are doing "something" to encourage the bullying).

ETA: I want to particularly bring to attention the fact that this story doesn't follow up with a view of what may have happened to Jasmine and Ivy, given that they were girls of color being accused, presumably, of bullying by a group of wealthy white girls. I think it's safe to assume that they were both penalized -- probably suspended with records of physical assault, because of course the teachers will be more likely to believe the white girls over the black girls. Of course the "normal" versus "para" dynamic is also an issue, but certainly takes a back seat to the racial dynamic. And I think we can also assume that Prof. Canis went to bat for them.

I have set the precedent of trying to keep the narrative to the perception of the point-of-view character, and Nereid is, alas, a notoriously clueless white girl/woman. But I think that the aftermath that she may or may not have perceived and/or thought about is worth discussing as well. I will work at addressing this in a future interlude or episode.

Thank you, everyone who donated last week! We love donations! And it's still a good time for them, for me and my household.

We have another interlude coming up soon, too, that will give everyone a look at the life of another minor character. I hope to post that one next week, just in time for Hallowe'en!



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This story arc has been published as a novel!

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---

Aftershocks

"How are you doing?" the Amazon asked as she helped Megan with her cufflinks.

"All right," Megan said, frowning down at her wrist, where her mother was twitching the small silver Trylon-and-Perisphere emblems into place. "I don't think I remembered to thank you for bringing my suit with you and coming in time for me to wear it to the funeral with Simon. So thanks."

"You're welcome," the Amazon said, stepping back to take in the effect as Megan shrugged into the black suit coat. Her own suit was an impeccable navy blue. At least, Megan thought, her mother had eschewed the string tie and cowboy boots she'd affected until a few years ago.

"I wasn't hurt, after all," Megan said, checking that her wallet and keys were safely in her trouser pockets.

"There are ways and ways of being hurt," the Amazon said, running a tanned hand through her very short salt-and-pepper hair. "Blue Eagle's body wasn't very pleasant to trip over, I expect."

"Well," Megan said, hesitating for a second over the memory before saying, "no."

"I understand they just found bones for the Bronze Guardian," the Amazon said, opening the door of her daughter's apartment and stepping into the hall.

"Yes," Megan said. "That and his armor." She followed, pulled the door shut, and locked it.

"Got the umbrella?" the Amazon asked. "It looks like we're in for another storm."

"Yeah," Megan said, picking up the golf umbrella from the stand in the hall. "Think all this weather is some weather villain being a jerk?"

The Amazon snorted. "Weather villains aren't likely to be this successful," she said, and went out the front door into the freezing, dank air. The sidewalk crunched under her feet, the sleet from the other day having solidified into rotten ice.

Megan saw that the sky was leaden, as it had been for the last several days, but that there was darker lead, as it were, to the west. "Guess it's going to be a white Christmas around here."

The Amazon beeped the lock on the van she'd rented and glanced casually over her shoulder at Megan. "I was wondering if you'd like me to stick around for Christmas."

Megan stopped and stared at her mother, who climbed into the driver's seat. Then Megan got into the passenger's side. "I... really hadn't expected that you'd do anything else. Than stay, I mean."

The Amazon gave her a twisted little smile, and Megan noticed the lines in her mother's face, cut into the southwest tan around her mouth and between her brows and around her eyes. "I don't want to cramp your style, kiddo," she said, starting the car. "You wanted to come here to make a life for yourself. I don't have to stick around if it bugs you."

There was a little silence as the Amazon backed the van out of the Marigold Lane driveway and Megan breathed. She wasn't really sure how to take the offer. Was her mother trying to weasel out of holiday stuff? Was there a new girlfriend waiting back at home? Another in the long string of starfuckers her mother still managed to bring home? Or was her mother being sincere about not wanting to get in the way? And one way or the other, how did she feel about doing the holidays with her mother, but on her own turf?

Pretty good, actually.

"I'd like you to stay," Megan said cautiously, "if you don't have anything pressing to get back to."

She decided that her mother's real smiles should be on the National Endangered Species List, because, like so many endangered species, they were stunning in their beauty when they crept out of the woods into clear sight.

"I'd like to stay," her mother said. They drove for a while in companionable silence.

"Zoltan's having dinner for everyone in the house who doesn't have somewhere to go," Megan said. "Simon's going to his mom's, but everyone else will be there. If you'd like to come, I'm sure Zoltan would be flattered."

"I've never had dinner with a vampire before," the Amazon said.

"Well! I never thought I'd ever be able to offer you a novel experience other than childrearing," Megan said.

"Will wonders never cease?" her mother said, turning the minivan into the already-crowded parking lot.

"Mom, that's a terrible thing to ask in this town," Megan said.

"I know," her mother said cheerfully, parking the van. "You're sure you don't want to walk with the Gold Stars? I can grandmother you in."

"No, thanks," Megan said. "I'm going in the back, with the retired people and other relatives, like Simon and his Puppy Pack."

The Amazon shook her head. "You're going to bitterly disappoint the media. They're so certain you're the new me."

"I would rather face Simon's crazy-ass sister Jasmine and all her puppies than give one moment of satisfaction to that rumor," Megan said, turning away.

Her mother's laughter followed her as she headed for the back end of the biggest heroes' funeral procession in Wonder City for years. She paused to acquire her two armbands -- one black with a bronze stripe for the Bronze Guardian, and one black with a blue feather printed on it for the Blue Eagle -- from a thin, conventionally pretty white girl in a fluffy white down jacket.

Simon was leaning on his crutches, chatting with a taller, slightly lighter-skinned black man about his age, and a slightly younger, rounder, darker black woman. He waved her over. "This is my sister Ivy and this is my brother Malik," he said. "Jasmine's around somewhere with the kids."

"I'm sure we'll hear them before we see them," Ivy said, shaking Megan's hand. "It's good to meet you finally." Ivy looked just like Jasmine -- the taller, sleeker build than Simon -- but her hair was in fine, shoulder-length braids tipped with multicolored cloisonné beads that clicked together agreeably when she moved. She was wearing a light grey wool car coat over black slacks.

Malik claimed her hand next. "I understand you extracted my wild man of a twin from the mess." Malik was stockier than Simon, and had a long natural afro held back from his face with a band, as well as a narrow strip of chin spinach under his lower lip. His coat looked like a crazyquilt of various striking jewel-tone fabrics (varying from plain to patterns, full of fleur de lis and paisleys and African prints), with big pewter wolf's head buttons fastening the asymmetrical front. His well-worn jeans were neat enough under the calf-length coat.

"No, no," Megan protested. "Simon totally saved the day!"

"By biting the jerk in the ass," Ivy said, nodding. "Typical."

Malik nodded sagely. "He always was a dirty fighter."

Simon's ears were turning dark red. "Standing right here, guys." Megan noticed, in the subsequent grimace, that Simon's newly-regrown teeth were bright white.

Ivy leaned over and kissed Simon on the cheek impulsively. "I'm just glad I don't have to call you 'Stumpy' now."

Megan had only seen Simon look really angry a couple of times before. "That's rude, Ivy, and fucking ableist," he snapped, "and I'm really glad Speed Dugan wasn't here to overhear you."

Megan recalled that Speed Dugan, one of Wonder City's speedsters, had lost a leg to diabetes a little less than ten years ago. It had been big news, apparently, but she'd heard about it because her mother was one of his boyfriend's friends.

Ivy recoiled and looked contrite. "I'm sorry, Simon."

Simon continued, almost without hearing her, "And the only reason I've got both legs right now is because I'm a hypocritical jerk who didn't hold up to my principles..."

"... and got completely fucking terrified, just like any normal person," Malik said, punching Simon in the shoulder hard enough to make Simon wobble on his crutches. "I know you're angry about it, and that you're angry you're in the situation, but Mom would never have let you refuse treatment anyway."

"And that's wrong too..."

"Y'all," Megan said over the impending argument doom, "funeral? Not the place for this. We'll go back to the apartment later and have drinks, and that will be the place for it."

"Did I hear the word, 'drinks'?" a black woman nearly as tall as Megan said, strolling up.

"Tizemt!" Megan exclaimed, hugging her. "So Professor Canis let you out of the lab today."

"She couldn't avoid it," Tizemt said. "I said that as she was leaving me in the lab, I would run a few of my own experiments, and oddly enough, I found myself brought along for this historic event."

"Haircut?" Megan said, gesturing toward Tizemt's closely-shaven head.

Tizemt smiled sheepishly. "Lab explosion. Now I know why the prof keeps her hair short."

Whistles blew in the crowd, and a couple of Guardians flew by overhead, calling for silence, and calling directions. Megan gave Simon's shoulder a gentle squeeze, and he smiled tightly at her.

Megan heard the drums start with a riff that was clearly a call to attention. She recognized one of the drummers, after a moment, as one of the duplicates of Thomas Jefferson "Dozen" Baker, a handsome dark-skinned hazel-eyed man she knew from news stories as an activist for biracial, para, and veterans issues. After everyone fell silent and faced the correct direction, he started a slow beat. Megan knew that elsewhere in the crowd, his other duplicates were drumming in perfect synchronization with him.

A trumpet sounded somewhere overhead (probably, inevitably, Iris in her chin-to-toes iridescent spandex, high above, invisible in the weather), and everyone slowly started forward through the dreary freezing mist.


---

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