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Happy sixth anniversary to us! More things to be said tomorrow; for now, please enjoy this finale for Volume 3, with its special surprise just for you all.






Everything Dies

Angelica was changing into her new dress in Madame's bedroom—carefully, carefully, so as not to muss either hair or makeup, done professionally less than an hour earlier—when she heard the commotion out in front of the house. X knocked on the door a few moments later and said, "Our chariot is here."

"Come give me a hand?" Angelica said, after struggling with her dress halfheartedly and deciding she'd rather have a handsome helper. She deserved it for dealing with today.

X came into the room. Sie was wearing an exquisitely tailored black three-piece suit and a snow-white dress shirt with French cuffs and onyx rose cufflinks. The tie was deep blue silk with a pattern of pale grey gingko leaves, and was restrained by an onyx rose tie clip that matched the links. Angelica gave a low whistle.

"You're too kind," X said with a small smile. "What can I do?"
Read more... )


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Happy New Year! I hope your holidays—or not-holidays—were lovely and that your 2015 is better than your 2014!




For What We Are About to Receive

Angelica sat next to Lady Justice in the wood-panelled attorney's office. The leather chairs were deep and comfortable. There were some other people on their side of the room that Angelica didn't recognize at all; she was sure they were thinking the same of the tall Hispanic chick in dark glasses. She'd armored up that morning: patent leather pumps that boosted her to six foot two, knee-length black pencil skirt, red silk blouse with neckline that allowed her mightiest bra to serve the girls up front and center, black damask cutaway mock-tailcoat, and full-on femme face with lipstick that matched the blouse and her nails. She'd blown her black hair out to full supermodel-in-the-wind volume and clasped on her grandmother's best garnet necklace with the dramatic drop that pointed straight to her cleavage.

Lady J was armored up too, she was amused to note, but in her own way. The iron-gray bob was impeccable, and she was wearing the Lady Justice costume that was closest to an Army uniform, in navy blue with the stars-n-stripes "ladies" tie and the Lady J balance insignia pinned to her lapel. Lady J was even wearing makeup, the kind of nearly transparent makeup that took about ten years off her age and made her blue eyes even more piercing than usual.

An elderly white man in an expensive grey suit sat behind the broad antique desk. There was a much younger South Asian man standing unobtrusively to his right — his paralegal or intern, Angelica guessed. They handed a small piece of paper to everyone in the room that was a legal statement about Lady J's power and the necessity of having her in the room for the reading (stipulated by Jane's will, apparently) and that anyone could feel free to leave if they did not consent to her power, and the lawyers would contact them later.

No one left.

The lawyer looked over his gold wire-rim glasses at the assemblage and made Angelica feel like she was sitting in a BBC mystery series. "Thank you all for coming. I am Ms. Liberty's attorney, Charles Worthgate. Have been, for several decades now. You have all been asked here because you are part of Ms. Liberty's last will and testament, which, I will note, she updated only a few weeks ago."

"How did she do that?" asked a blonde, middle-aged white woman who looked like she'd bitten into a few thousand lemons in her time.

"By temporary sanity order, duly processed and certified," Worthgate smoothly replied. He'd probably been expecting the question. "Before we begin, I need to ask a question—" he turned and looked directly at Angelica "—of Ms. Luna here."

Angelica cleared her throat and said, "Yes?" in a voice that she hoped was unconcerned.

"Did Ms. Liberty find you before she died?" he said.

Angelica grimaced at the memory and said, "Yes, yes she did."

"And was she in her right mind, do you think, when she found you?" he pursued.

Angelica traded a glance with Lady Justice, and said, "Yes, I think she was."

"That's fine then," he said, nodding.

His assistant turned away and brought back a sheaf of papers to set before Mr. Worthgate. From Angelica's angle, she could tell that there were two distinct stacks of papers. Oho, she thought. That's the version for if she hadn't found me and dumped this on me. Well, maybe I'll get a few dollars at least.

Worthgate flipped through the first couple of pages and nodded. "Right, all right then."

He began to read the will. Angelica mostly tuned it out, because she expected some… set of collectibles or something, really. The sour blonde woman was a cousin of Jane's from her father's side of the family. The woman's face when she heard her legacy—Angelica thought, Oh, honey, 500 grand is nothing to sneer at—led Angelica to believe that perhaps she'd expected to get everything.

She perked up when Lady J's turn came though: "To Dorothy Sanderson, who has always been my dearest and most long-suffering friend, I know you will not permit me to leave you personally a sum of money. Instead, I leave you the control of the Lady Justice Foundation, which position will pay you a minimum annual salary of $100,000 for the rest of your life, and will enable you to create modest grants for whatever purposes you deem best."

Lady Justice laughed and hiccoughed around a sob. "Damn you, Janey," she muttered.

Angelica had already noticed a trend for Jane's legacies to draw out some form of obscenity.

Worthgate glanced up over his wire-rims in her direction and said, "And to Angelica Luna, whose affection and generosity I have repaid with great trouble, I leave the rest, residue, and remainder of my estate, to use or dispose of as she will."

Angelica blinked.

There was an eruption of outcries on the other side of the room.

Lady J took her hand and squeezed without looking at her.

Angelica blinked again.

The attorney occupied himself with assuring Jane's jilted next-of-kin that the will was entirely legal, yes, including the temporary sanity certificate. The next-of-kin was saying some things that she was probably regretting as soon as they came out of her mouth, since she wasn't used to the best way to avoid being influenced by Lady J's power: not saying anything at all.

Angelica blinked a third time and found the very nice-looking South Asian man at her side. "If you would care to step into my office, Ms. Luna, I can help give you more perspective on this, as I can see that you are surprised."

Office? Angelica thought. She stood up automatically, and Lady J came with her because she hadn't let go of Lady J's hand. Lady J squeezed her hand again and accompanied her into the hallway and thence into another wood-panelled office.

They settled into the comfortable silence of his office and the identical leather chairs, and he leaned against his desk and smiled. "I'm Anirvan Das, one of the partners. Mr. Worthgate asked me to look after you, if you don't mind."

"No, of course not," Angelica said, taking a moment to actually focus on his face, rather than the blur of Life! all around him. He still looked too young to be a partner, without a sign of either lines at the corners of his eyes or grey in his very black hair. Well, maybe he was a child prodigy.

Lady Justice remained silent, just holding Angelica's hand.

"I expect you're probably wondering what, exactly, being Ms. Liberty's residuary beneficiary means in terms of dollars," Das said, smiling. His suit was at least as expensive as Worthgate's, Angelica thought, eyeing the custom cut that fitted his shoulders rather beautifully. His cufflinks—gold with tiny diamonds set in them—winked at her from under the cuff of his jacket.

"The thought had occurred to me," Angelica said, adding, "Not very much, I expect, given the size of some of the other legacies."

He pursed his lips and reached behind him for a sticky pad and pen. He wrote something on the top sheet, pulled it off, and handed it over to her. "That's according to an estimate our firm made at the end of last week."

Angelica looked down at the yellow square of paper stuck to her fingertip. That couldn't be right. There were so many zeroes. How many zeroes? She counted. Really?

She realized that she'd stopped breathing a few moments before, and let out a rush of air and inhaled.

"You have to remember that Ms. Liberty didn't touch her money at all for nearly a decade," Das said kindly. "She gave carte blanche to her very capable investors long ago, and only drew a relatively small monthly allowance when she was, er, at liberty. Her investors and media management arranged multiple licensing deals over the years, and many of those pay a significant regular fee. And so on, and so forth."

Angelica counted over the zeroes for the third time, then looked up at him over her sunglasses. "Are you sure about this?"

Das gave her a dazzlingly pretty smile. "Oh, yes, Ms. Luna. I did have my assistants triple-check their numbers. I wanted to give you the most accurate information I could. I note that we have seen a significant uptick in licensing income since Ms. Liberty's death, so this number could change by the end of the month, but only in terms of growth."

She slumped back in her seat and looked at Lady Justice with wide eyes. "I guess I'm… rich?"

Lady Justice patted her hand and smiled. "Rather ridiculously rich, I'm afraid."



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We're at about 10 more episodes to the end of volume 3! (Don't hold me to that exact count—the episodes keep changing under my feet.)

Are you folks who asked for alternate delivery forms able to better use the EPUB and/or PDF for reading? How are they working out?






Journey to the Sky

"Affirmative, Houston, lifting to orbit on my mark," Sophie said into her headset. For the people in the cockpit and passenger area of the Cosmic Orbiter, she tapped the large digital countdown clock above her head.

Nereid helped Lady Justice arrange her launch restraints and settled into her own couch next to Vector.

"Hey, your armband's slipping," Vector said, and reached over to slide the star-spangled black armband up to Nereid's bicep.

"Thanks," Nereid said, clicking her restraints into place. "The new costume material is really slippery."

"Still, it converts with you more easily, right?" Vector said.

"Yeah," Nereid said, running a hand over the knee of the blue-and-green washed material. "I don't have to think about it as much. Less nudity on the battlefield is good, right?"

Vector grimaced, and Nereid was immediately consumed with guilt for saying something typically stupid, having her own flashback to the horrible day a few months before when she, Sophie, and Pay had to rescue the team from an alien-enhanced pheromone-producing sociopath. She said, "Sorry."

Vector patted her hand. "No, it's okay. I… it just sneaks up on me sometimes. But if I can get to joking about it, that's good, right?"

"It's not something to joke about," Nereid said, squeezing her hand. "And it was thoughtless of me. I'm sorry."

Vector sighed. "It's not like it was a battle or anything anyway."

"Mark!" said Sophie. "Lifting now."

The engines revved up and the white noise flooded through the cabin. Nereid leaned over to say to Vector, grateful for the noise, "The therapist didn't work out?"

Vector shook her head. "He didn't… really understand. Not para. Or, um, queer."

"I know someone really good," Nereid said. "If she can't take you, she can recommend someone as good."

"Really?" Vector gave her a bleak look. "It… would be nice to talk to someone."

Nereid knew the feeling, and regretted that she hadn't really been talking to her teammates lately. She'd been focused almost entirely on keeping Sophie going day-to-day, making sure she ate and slept at a minimum, and dragging her out of the lab when she could. She wasn't feeling like she had a girlfriend so much these days as someone she had to keep boosting back up onto a tightrope of functioning. She understood why Sophie was so depressed, she knew why Sophie kept punishing herself by working obsessively, but… it was taking everything Nereid had to keep doing it. And she couldn't just walk away. And… yeah. Time for therapy again for herself, at least.

Nereid gave Vector as much of an affectionate headbump on the shoulder as she could, given they were pinned in their seats by the acceleration. "Let's go out after this," she said. "You pick where. We both need it."

Vector looked so grateful that Nereid felt nearly sick with guilt. They hadn't gotten off on the right foot when she joined this team, but then again, Nereid hadn't gotten off on the right foot with anyone on the team except Pay, and she'd very nearly fucked that up too. But she had been quietly admiring Vector for a long time for the fact that she was maturing out of her stupid little mean girl phase into someone Nereid actually liked. It sucked that it had taken that horrible day to really make Nereid admit to herself that she liked Vector.

The acceleration abated and Sophie announced, "We're in orbit. We'll have some more accelerations when we need to alter our course, but for now, you all can unlatch. I'll let you know when you need to strap down again."

Nereid was very impressed by Lady Justice's familiarity with zero gravity. She knew she shouldn't have been; Lady J had been with the Gold Stars for so many years and they'd had so many outer space missions, after all. But it was startling and beautiful to go from watching Lady J limping awkwardly in Earth gravity to seeing Lady J navigating around the cabin gracefully, with just a few touches here and there. Without gravity to pull on the wrinkles in the veteran's face, too, Nereid could imagine what Lady J looked like as a young woman (live—she'd seen all the photos, of course).

Sophie gestured for Nereid to follow Lady J into the Orbiter's cargo bay, and turned away to discuss something with Mercury.

Nereid found moving in zero gravity easier to cope with if she thought of it as swimming. In fact, she'd floundered hopelessly until she figured out how to think of it that way. She just had to remember that she was not helped by friction here. She didn't move nearly as effortlessly as Lady Justice, but she did manage to follow her down the center tunnel of the ship and into the rear bay.

Lady J was hovering next to the cylinder that held Jane's body, one hand resting on its surface. When the door cycled shut, she looked up and smiled at Nereid.

"Thank you ki… all for helping with this," she said, the smile returning the wrinkles to their proper places.

"Sophie and I, at least, totally understand why you want to do this," Nereid said. "I hope someone will do it for me when I go."

Lady J's smile stuttered a little at the corners of her mouth. "I hope that's a long way off, Pacifica."

Nereid laid a hand on Lady J's shoulder. "Me too. I just… I think someone should do it for all the Class 10s. So no one tries to dig us up and, I dunno, clone us."

"A lot of people who aren't Class 10s have had that done, you know," Lady J said, looking back to the cylinder. "I'm mostly worried about keeping her out of the government's hands. Any government's hands."

"Yeah, she was a one of a kind," Nereid said. "Power-wise, I mean. I know she was as a person."

Lady J nodded, her face sad. "It's hard, not having her to see any more. Even when she wasn't all there, you know, at least I saw her, could talk to her—even if she didn't understand all the time, even if all she talked about was whether the lights stayed on all night, or what the weather looked like out her fake window. Everyone else is gone now. It's just me."

"You're not alone," Nereid said, thinking of Ira and Andrea, and all the other Forgotten Heroes, and still knowing that she was saying something for the sake of saying it, because she couldn't understand right now.

Lady J smiled. "I know, honey. Thank you."

They stayed there for a long time, it seemed, hanging in middle of the chilly cargo bay, Nereid holding Lady J's shoulder, and Lady J touching Jane's high-tech coffin.

Sophie's voice crackled over the speakers, "Please make sure the satellite is prepared for deployment. We'll be starting maneuvers to station-keeping position in half an hour." Code for them to get on with their secret mission. Nereid silently cursed the cockpit recording devices mandated for all para spacecraft.

Lady J reached up and squeezed Nereid's hand with the hand that had grown chilly against the metal cylinder. "I guess that's our cue to load her up, right?"

"Yes," Nereid said, "and Pay should be along in a moment to help."

He came through the door at just that moment, smiling broadly and beautifully as usual. "Indeed, here I am!"

The three of them unstrapped the coffin and gently angled it across the bay to the new satellite that the Cosmics had gotten permission to put into orbit. Pay opened the hatch to the main body of the satellite and pulled out the modular transmission equipment. Lady J and Nereid slid the coffin into place, and it fit neatly, just as Sophie had calculated.

Lady Justice lingered for a second, touching the end of the coffin, then pushed herself backward. Pay shut the hatch as gently as he could, spun the fastenings into place, and activated the hidden alarm that Sophie had fitted to this compartment.

As the three of them floated toward the door, Pay said, "I still do not understand why Doctor Thomas could not simply fly her up herself."

"Ruth is under a great deal of government scrutiny all the time," Lady J said. "As Jane was herself. If they saw her leaving planet with a body-sized item, they could put two and two together, and there might be repercussions for Ruth personally."

"The government really wants Jane's body," Nereid said with a shrug. "Everyone does."

"You have explained it before, Nereid, you and Brainchild," he said, "and I still do not understand why these people are so interested in violating common American death taboos. I mean, I do indeed understand that they do it, but I do not understand why. It is difficult to understand these motivations."

"You have never spoken a truer word," Lady J said, patting him on the back.

Back in the cockpit, Sophie was playing one of the songs her friend Gogo had released on the underground online communities during what was now being called the Psychepirate Occupation (oh, the way the media picks up someone's Twitter contents and runs away with it with no citation—apparently Sophie knew the woman who started calling it that). This was one Nereid hadn't heard more than once or twice, with the chorus, "Arrest, Retry, Fail," running through the background.

Mercury and Gemini were chatting with Sophie, while Vector worked the navigation console, probably running the last calculations for maneuvers. Wire had her back pressed to a support pillar, staring out at the starfield moodily. She was fiddling with the black starry armband with her flesh hand; her metal hand—the beautiful shining prosthetic Sophie built for her—was tapping out the rhythm of the song on the plastic of the pillar.

Lady Justice settled back in her seat, and Pay went to see if he could help Vector (he'd been coaching her on translating her innate understanding of motion to numbers), so Nereid drifted over to Wire.

Wire glanced up at her from under her weird floating blue forelock (Nereid could never figure out how she did that) and grimaced in greeting.

Nereid leaned against the wall nearby and said, "Long time, no chat."

Wire shrugged and looked away. "All this paperwork with Mr. Moneybags… hell, I mean Michael… to retroactively get us government-approved to be Gold Stars deputies and whatnot has been eating my schedule."

"The government is still kicking up a fuss about that?" Nereid said. "I thought—" she dropped her voice just under the crashing chorus of the song "—Lady J was legally allowed to do the deputizing."

"She is, but one of the government nitpickers who doesn't like paras has discovered that Gemini is technically a minor," Wire said, rolling her eyes ceilingward. "Apparently, some parts of the government are still refusing to acknowledge that time travel happens."

"This is what you get when people who failed high school science run the technology committees," Nereid grunted.

Wire shrugged again, a little too vehemently, as the motion propelled her away from her pillar. She grabbed onto it with the metal hand and pulled herself back against it. "So, anyway, Michael's lawyers are working on getting Gemini declared an emancipated adult with alternate-dimensional standing, and we're working with the Gold Stars to get certified. Whichever happens first will get us off the hook, because the Gold Stars can just declare military necessity for Gemini."

"Wait, they can use minors as long as there's military necessity?" Nereid said, outraged.

"Only for para minors with Class 4 powers and above," Wire said.

Nereid gave her a dubious look and Wire said, "Yeah, I know. One of the Jane Liberty Laws from World War 2. Passed to retroactively make Jane's enlistment good."

"Oh, I didn't think of that," Nereid said. "Still, it's kind of… terrifying."

"Legal ways to make a para child army?" Wire said. "Oh, yeah. It only got used once that way, I'm told, to make the 'Liberty Girls', this little pack of underage bulletproofs who were all supposed to be Jane's sidekicks."

"Maneuvers in five minutes," Sophie announced, killing the music.

Everyone assumed their seats and strapped in, and there wasn't much talking as they waited for the final approach. Sophie concentrated intently on her controls. Vector was seated at her console, hands at her sides, sweat beading on her forehead as she used her powers to make microscopic changes in their kinetic energy and direction.

Finally, Sophie locked down her console with a loud click and said, "All right, opening cargo bay. Satellite deployment shortly."

People unstrapped again, and Lady J went to the window overlooking the cargo bay doors. Everyone but Sophie ended up drifting over there with her.

The robot arms of the cargo bay lifted the satellite out—almost reverently, Nereid imagined. The solar panels opened like flower petals, blooming from the skeletal supports and sprawling into an array that dwarfed the orbiter. A tiny (relative to the solar array) American flag deployed beneath the array, on their side of the satellite.

Lady Justice came to attention and saluted, and the rest of them watched in silence as Jane's penultimate resting place glowed to life as they turned the curve of the Earth and came into line with the sun's rays.

None of them would see the final disposal of Jane's body. The Ultimate would come here on her next space jaunt, first angling out to get away from the monitoring devices that usually followed her, then removing the coffin from the satellite and… taking it somewhere. Nereid guessed that she was going to toss it into the sun, or somewhere else it would certainly be destroyed and wouldn't contaminate anything.

The cargo bay doors shut and the orbiter rolled slowly away from the satellite, acceleration so gentle that Nereid hadn't even noticed it. Lady Justice wiped her eyes with a handkerchief, and Wire was blinking suspiciously hard. No one said anything, just returned to their seats.

There was really nothing to say, Nereid thought. Things could be said at the memorial in a few weeks.




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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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Life, Jane Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Jane Liberty landed a few feet from Angelica in the Canis front yard, and wavered on her feet. Angelica stepped forward hurriedly to take the fragile-seeming arm of the old woman, to steady her.

"You're a good girl," Jane said huskily, looking up at her with dark eyes that were a little too bright. "I'm sorry, but it's got to go on."

"What do you mean...?" Angelica said.

Then she had to stop herself from staggering backward. Suddenly, she was perceiving things. Strange things. Everywhere. Every. Where. Things she couldn't really understand. Worse, there were things happening inside Jane Liberty, terrible, awful things.

"It's a gift," Jane was saying, "a gift to the world. To let it go out, to let it die with me, that would be... I know it would be... wrong."

"What have you done?" Angelica said, her eyes wide, half about whatever she was seeing and half about whatever was going on inside Jane's body. She couldn't see Jane's face or figure, there was too much happening there, like a cloud obscuring everything.

"I'm sorry, it's a hard gift," Jane said, patting her hand absently. "Don't tell anyone about it, not till you figure it out."

"Oh, god," Angelica said, finally letting go of Jane's arm to press both hands over her eyes. She could still sense the things, new things, everywhere. "Oh, god, what have you done?"

Jane gripped one of her arms tightly, hard enough to bruise. "Listen to me, before anyone comes," she said. "What you're seeing inside me, that's cancer, super-accelerated by the powers I've been using. You're a scientist, maybe someday you'll be able to cure it because you'll understand it. I never could, I couldn't save... I couldn't save anyone." Her voice broke. She cleared her throat. "Don't tell anyone about the power until you know what you'll do with it. I trust you, you're a good, good girl with a good brain. You won't hurt people with it if you can help it."

Angelica lowered her hands and stared at Jane. "You've... this is your power?"

Jane nodded once, tensely. Squinting through the fog of… whatever... Angelica could just see the shine of perspiration on the old woman's skin. She'd heard of people being gray with pain, but hadn't really believed it till now. Jane Liberty's face was pale pasty gray. "Don't... don't disappoint me, Angelica."

Angelica felt hot tears dripping off her own chin. "I won't, I promise." Her head was pounding. What the hell? What the hell?

She caught Jane as the woman's legs buckled and gently lowered her to the ground. She had a moment's ridiculous fear for her nylons, then gave them up for lost.

The Divine Sarah skidded to a stop in the driveway and the doors burst open.

"Jane!" Lady Justice shouted, running toward them. She fell to her knees and took Jane from Angelica. One of her hands rested on Jane's abdomen, and she recoiled from something she felt there. "Jane! Janey, turn it off! Stop using Maddy's powers!"

Jane Liberty opened her eyes and she smiled beatifically up at Lady J. "Oh, Dottie, what for?" she said. "It won't hurt for much longer."

"Janey," Lady J said softly. "Oh, Janey, don't leave me alone."

"Dottie, honey, I did that a long time ago," Jane said, reaching up to touch Lady J's cheek.

Angelica swept a glance around as the others caught up. Madame Destiny was holding herself tightly, the heel of one hand pressed against her mouth and tears running freely. X and Watson were standing behind her, eyes wide and faces horrified.

"Look at it this way, Dottie," Jane said, her breath coming in quick, pained gasps, "I'm going out with a hell of a bang."

"That you are, Janey," Lady J said, looking older than Angelica had thought she could, her face crumpled with grief.

There was a long pause, punctuated only by a sob escaping from Madame and Jane's harsh breathing. The two old friends on the ground just looked at each other.

"Oh, Dottie," Jane said, looking past Lady J at last at the blazing orange and red sunset, "that sky is so beautiful. How long has it been since I really looked at something like that?"

And then Jane Liberty died, watching the skies.





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Welcome to the Wonder City Stories Fifth Anniversary Week! It's not exactly an extravaganza, but there will be a second episode on Thursday, and on Friday, I'll post download links for the set of short stories I'll be posting for you -- the collections will be functionally identical, but one will include the NSFW episode and one won't, so you don't have to have the NSFW ep if you don't want it.

Some of you have stuck with Wonder City Stories for five whole years, while some of you only started reading over the past several months, and I just want to thank you ALL for your support. I couldn't keep doing this without you.




Come With Me If You Want To Live

Suzanne burst through the doors of Westside General and snapped, "We need some help out here!"

She felt extraordinarily focused, even though there was a mess in the back of her head. Something about one's father figure at death's door perhaps? A woman responded to the tone of her voice, grabbing a wheelchair. Beyond, the emergency room was crowded with people, some shouting, some ashen and still -- the nearest had a bloody rag held to his head. A group, some of whom were holding someone upright, was standing in front of the desk where the receptionist, headset slightly askew, was speaking and gesturing for them to go to the waiting area. There was a loud rumble of talk, beeping machines, and the PA system crackled, "Doctor Armstrong, Doctor Rock, Doctor Steel, to main lobby stat."

She stepped back through the sliding glass doors with her wheelchair-pushing compatriot and found Lady Justice carrying Ira toward the emergency room, Madeline hurrying beside her, speaking to Ira. Ira's face was gray and his eyes were fluttering as he tried to speak.

The woman with the wheelchair (a nurse?) said, "Sorry, we're shortstaffed. It may be a while before we can see him."

"He's having a heart attack," Suzanne said helplessly. It hurt to say it out loud. She hadn't even had a chance to apologize.

Lady J set Ira in the wheelchair and Madeline kept pace with the wheelchair as the woman moved it inside. The rest of the crew was trailing behind, and Andrea caught Suzanne's elbow and hurried her forward through the doors after the wheelchair.

Inside, Madeline paused, looked around the room. "No one in charge?" she asked the nurse. The nurse pointed at a young man, probably a resident, who was staring around, then back at his clipboard, then around again. He pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his face, then shoved it back in his trouser pocket.

Madeline snapped out, loudly, "I need vital signs and intake assessments on everyone. Alert the cath suite for an acute anterior ST-elevation MI in need of possible angioplasty and stenting." As the people in scrubs responded to the authority in her voice, she snagged a gurney-pushing orderly, and helped lift Ira onto the gurney, asking, "Does the cath suite have Class 5 equipment?"

A passing white-coated woman said, "No, we only go up to Class 4. You need Wonder City Hospital for Class 5."

"We can't get to Wonder City Hospital because of the riots!" Andrea exclaimed, gesturing around at the crowd.

Madeline passed her gaze over the room again as directed motion started to happen. She reached out a hand to touch the bleeding arm of a toddler as her mother was carrying her past, and the wound closed, ejecting a small shower of tiny bloody glass shards as it did so. The mother stared. Madeline smiled briefly and said, "I don't see any other damage, but why don't you have a seat so someone can check her over when we have a chance?"

Madame Destiny stepped forward to Ira's side. She looked at him from the top of his head to his feet, a strange, distant look in her eyes. Suzanne wondered what the hell she could do without the Oracle. Reading Tarot cards was not going to save Ira.

Madame reached out and plucked a Sharpie out of the pocket of a passing person in a white coat. One of the nurses had already wrenched open Ira's outer shirt, cut his Mister Metropolitan t-shirt from neck to waist and cut on down through his belt (his favorite belt! Suzanne thought pointlessly) and trousers. While the nurse was applying EKG electrodes to Ira's chest, Madame grabbed Madeline's shoulder. Madeline slewed around to look at her.

"Cut right here," Madame said, drawing an X on the inside of Ira's thigh. "His invulnerability is weakest right there. I think Class 4 will work."

Madeline nodded and murmured, "Bless you, I'd forgotten." One of the orderlies started pushing Ira's gurney down the hall, through the crowd, and she moved after it, answering questions as she went, calling, "I'll be back in a moment to help with triage," to the resident.

"Forgot what?" Suzanne said vaguely.

"That Madame's original para power was to see weaknesses," Watson said beside her.

Suzanne was about to ask how she knew, but remembered Ira. As Andrea, Suzanne, and Lady J started after the gurney, though, a crackle and light change made them turn. X's eyes were crackling with blue lightning. There were some screams in the waiting room as the light spread over the room with its terrible revelation of, well, everything.

"LADY JUSTICE, YOU MUST RETURN TO THE DEN OF WOLVES," intoned the Oracle.

Lady J stared and said, "I was going to…"

"IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU RETURN TO THE DEN OF WOLVES," the Oracle said, and X collapsed to zir knees, released from the terrible light of possession. Madame hurried over and helped zir to stand.

Lady J turned pale, swallowed, and said, "All right, then."

"We'll call and let you know how it goes," Andrea promised and she and Suzanne started after Ira.

"Right," Lady J said. She looked at Watson.

Watson said, "Let's go then," and the last Suzanne saw, before she moved into the noisy chaos of the cardiac care bays, was Madame Destiny, X, Watson, and Lady Justice pushing through the crowd and out the door, heading for the Divine Sarah.




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And we have 5 new additions to the TVTropes page! Thank you so much! (I would've posted earlier, but by computer apparently reloaded a cached version of the page when I checked earlier. Sigh.)


You Have to Learn to Pace Yourself

Ira clutched at his chest and gasped for breath. He was pretty sure Dr. Noontime's Giant Foot was invisibly pressing on his chest, somehow. It was hard to inhale completely, and something hurt. But I'm invulnerable, the Foot shouldn't be able to break my ribs, he thought vaguely.

"Dammit, where's his nitro?" Andrea was saying somewhere far off.

"He keeps it in this pocket!" Suzanne said, and Ira could feel her going into the correct pants pocket.

"Watson, go! Drive! Go go go!" Lady J said somewhere else in the car. The van lurched into motion.

"I've got him," Madeline said in a low, even voice. "Ira. Open your eyes, Ira."

The pain eased some and he pried his eyes open—he hadn't even been aware they were closed—and Madeline was kneeling on the floor of the van in front of him, one hand resting lightly on his chest.

"We need you to take your nitro, Ira," Madeline said.

Such a pretty girl, he thought. Always so sweet and thoughtful, such a shame she never married.

Suzanne pressed a tablet to his lips, and he opened his mouth and let it fall under his tongue. The pressure let up a bit, though it was still hard to breathe and his brain was fuzzy and his arm and back were aching. Maybe too much punching?

Everyone grabbed at him and the seat as Watson guided the Divine Sarah around a corner at speed, practically tipping up on two wheels.

"Given what's on your laptop," Madame said calmly, "we won't be able to get to Wonder City Hospital, Watson."

"But…" Watson said, then she glanced at Madame and nodded. "Right, you're right. West Side General is probably clear, and it's on our way." She took the next right.

"Don't close your eyes, Ira," Madeline said a moment later. "Keep looking at us. Does it still hurt?"

Ira pried his eyes open again, nodded, and obediently took another nitro tablet.




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Ten comments by Friday again?


Purity Control

"They have come to persecute us, my brothers and sisters!" Pastor Al bellowed through the speaker system. "And they have struck down Brother Michael and Brother Damian without provocation!"

Ira rolled his eyes and continued to walk with the others as they rounded the corner of the Welcome Pavilion that Washington had just brought down on the heads of the two burly uniformed security guards who had drawn guns on her. When Lady J had given her a Look, Washington just said, "They're alive," and kept walking. Dragons.

"The time I warned you about is upon us!" Pastor Al continued. "It is time to defend your right to peaceful assembly!"

Ira wondered how close they had to get for Lady J's power of truth to kick in. He was kind of looking forward to hearing Pastor Al's ranting turn to confessions.

It was standing room only in the fenced and covered field, with approximately 500 hopefully normal humans between them and the transmitter that was presumably under Pastor Al's feet. Ira heard Lady J say, "Washington, can you fly?"

Washington snorted and said, "Yes, but I would crush everyone here if I did."

"Damn," Madame said mildly, watching people stand and pick up baseball bats and other similar items that were kept apparently at the ready.

Another voice—deep but somewhat panicked—cracked over the speakers. "Get the ones without weapons! Get them!"

The crowd surged toward them in terrifying almost-silence. Washington crashed into part of the tide, arms spread, crumpling the front line and eliciting gasps, grunts, and cries from her opponents.

Madame immediately deployed her own weapon, the little rod telescoping out into a staff her own height with a flick of her wrist. Apparently, this took her off the radar temporarily, and people ignored her to swing their weapons at Lady J, Ira, and Andrea, who made up the other three of the four-person wedge that would drive toward the transmitter at the same time as Washington—hopefully the wedge or the dragon would reach it and destroy it, and it didn't matter who was first.

It had been quite some time since Ira had to make the snap judgements of whether, where, and how hard to punch, but it came back to him pretty easily. He overestimated his strength a few times, but he compensated on the next punch, or throw, or whatever he was doing. Rusty, but fairly competent. And old, of course.

A couple of people got in good shots, of course. One big fellow's bat connected squarely with the side of Ira's head, and then the guy stared, appalled, at the bat in his hands. As far as he could tell, he'd just tried to crush the skull of a little old man. Ira drove an elbow into his gut and left him wheezing in their wake.

He caught glimpses of the others in between combatants. Lady Justice, of course, was her usual competent self, if a little weak on the stroke side. Andrea was sloppy, but able, and surprisingly athletic.

It was Madame Destiny who would have had his jaw dropping if he'd had time—she moved smoothly and fast, for all her apparent chunkiness, kicking high, punching hard, throwing people effortlessly, taking stubborn foes down with a sweep of her staff, never once pausing, never once getting snagged by any reaching hands, never once breaking her intense look of concentration.

Ira guessed she had kept up the training and was a helluva high level blackbelt at this point. Who knew?

It was going as well as could be expected. Ira couldn't see the dais, and the crowd was roaring now, drowning out the speakers. All he could see was another person in front of him, all he could feel was another impact of his fist or his elbow or his knee on some other human being. He followed Lady J's lead and assumed they were making progress. Most of their opponents were people who weren't used to being hit and hurt, and so they tended to stay down or run away once they were hit, unlike most hardened supervillain mooks.

That was when he noticed that the mob was turning on its own—anyone who hadn't picked up a weapon, or who'd dropped theirs, became a target. He glimpsed a few but couldn't get to them, but then…

"Oh, god, Suzanne!" he shouted, and shoved through the two people in front of him, ignoring Lady Justice's restraining yell. He leapt over the heads of the next little wave of people, and landed just in time for someone to break a plastic folding chair across his back instead of over Suzanne's head.

She looked at him with wide, unrecognizing eyes. He grabbed her against him just in time to shield her from another wild swing from one of her compatriots.

Then, of course, she kneed him in the groin. Hard and extremely competently.

Invulnerable or not, those parts were still delicate.

It also threw him off-balance as he tried not to flinch, but dammit, he'd lost his really good cup somewhere over the years, and the two of them fell—Ira onto hands and knees to continue to shield her—under a rain of bats, clubs, and chairs. Suzanne was also fighting him from underneath, and he saw stars when her forehead connected with his nose.

He wasn't sure how long they were like that before he heard, "You idiot!" from Andrea and Lady J shouting, "Ira! Ira, are you all right?" as the dogpile was dispersed by force.

Lady J dragged him to his feet, and he saw Madame shrug a pair of football player types over her hip and shoulder. Andrea got Suzanne up and after staring into her eyes a moment, slapped her. "We don't have time for this!" she bellowed.

Suzanne blinked, putting a hand to her reddening cheek. "Andrea?" she said faintly.

"Ira, get her out of here!" Andrea said, shoving her toward him.

"Ira?" Suzanne said, staring at him as he put an arm around her. He smiled reassuringly at her, though he was feeling quite out of breath and sore.

"No time," Lady J said. "We're almost there, look!"

The platform was all of twenty feet away, Ira saw through a lull in the crowd. Off to their right, a small geyser of people erupted and Washington emerged from the center. She was grinning in a way that made something in the back of Ira's head cringe.

Madame Destiny led the charge, but she wasn't heading for Pastor Al. She ran at a sweaty, pasty-faced middle-aged man who was clutching a thick book and a microphone. Before he could say anything else into the mike, Madame's fist crunched into his nose, and he slid down the pole next to him into a heap. "Mind control is a nasty power," Madame said primly, compressing her staff and tucking it into her pocket.

Lady J grabbed up the book and tore it open, revealing all the tiny transmitter parts inside, then smashed it back together with enough force that Ira saw parts fly off in all directions. Then she turned toward Pastor Al.

Pastor Al, for all his apparent terror, had perfect, unruffled hair and a suit without a crease. Ira imagined, though, that there was quite a set of sweatstains on the crisp white shirt.

The fellow tried to run for it, but Andrea was too quick for him and laid him out flat. When she dragged his unconscious form upright by the front of his coat, though, Ira had to blink several times. She was holding a different man entirely. This one was handsome enough, but not nearly the perfect televangelist face. And his suit was rumpled. And his hair wasn't nearly so flawless. In fact, Ira could swear he'd seen him somewhere before.

There was a loud rending noise, and when Andrea and Ira turned, Lady J had ripped open the platform and was lifting out two handfuls of wires and plastic shreds.

Madeline, who had been picking her way across the field, healing people as she put them to sleep—Ira didn't know where she learned that trick, but was damned glad for it—caught up with them at last. "Is that it?" she said to Lady J.

Lady Justice nodded, flinging the transmitter bits aside.

"Good," Madeline said, "because Watson says we need to run for it. Riots are breaking out across the city… across the country. We've got to get out of town now!"

Lady J nodded again. "All right, folks, let's go." She looked over at the little cluster of armed security guards who had closed with Washington. "I think she'll cover our retreat."

"Are you all right?" Ira said to Suzanne.

Suzanne rubbed the side of her face and stared at Pastor Al for a moment, then said, shakily, "As right as I can be. Let's get out of here."

Andrea threw Pastor Al over her shoulder in a fireman's carry. To Ira's inquiring look, she said, "He might have useful information about the aliens."

They all started running across the field, heading for their rendezvous at Zoltan's van, the Divine Sarah.




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Want another episode this Friday? Let me know you're reading! Can we get 10 comments?

Like Dust, We'll Rise

Lady Justice looked up at Ira as they watched the Young Cosmics' announcement of the alien invasion and mind control on her StarSeed. "She's got some screen presence, all right. Good choice."

"Better than Mercury, I think," Ira said. "He's too jittery and fidgety, like his old man. Look at him in the back there, just kinda vibrating."

They turned to the others. Andrea was standing on her left leg with her right leg propped on a nearby bike rack and was carefully stretching forward. She was wearing a tight black running suit with racing stripes. Madeline was watching passerby from behind her sunglasses, lounging against the back of the park bench Watson Holmes was sitting on, staring at her computer screen. X was listening to the cell phone updates from Tizemt. Madame Destiny was in jeans, which Ira didn't think he'd seen her in for twenty years, and was carrying, Ira knew, a small telescoping staff in the inside pocket of her jacket. He couldn't remember who had taught her to fight back in the early 70s—he suspected maybe Karate Jo or Women's Libra—but he hoped she'd kept up on the training.

And there was… another… person.

She was tall and willowy, with long white hair. Her clothing seemed to consist entirely of black leather. And Ira had not yet seen her move, except to blink. She crouched on a low wall about fifty feet away. X had introduced her as Washington and assured them that she was there to help.

X tucked the cell phone into a pocket of the short, military-style jacket zie was wearing. "Tizemt says levels are optimal. It's time to go in and shut the backup transmitters down. Jane is on standby once we know the lay of the land."

Everyone looked at Watson, who said, "Judging from these aerial photos I got from Hel, I'm guessing the transmitter is right in the middle of the camp, probably right under Pastor Al's feet when he's speechifying. So it really doesn't matter whether you go in the front gate, through the audience, or the back gate, through the staff, except you're more likely to get armed resistance from the staff." She smiled wanly.

Washington stood abruptly and walked forward to where they were gathered around Watson. "Then let's go in the front gate. Closer, faster, better for you old humans to get through."

They all stared at her for a moment, until Watson said, "Tactless, but I concur."

"Good, let's go," Washington said, striding past toward the front gate of the revival camp across the park.

"'Old humans'?" Ira said to X.

X smiled. "Reptilian-American."

There was a small chorus of "Oooooohhhhh!" from them all.

"Right, let's get this show on the road," Andrea said, linking arms with Ira and almost dragging him after Washington.

"You sure you're okay with this?" Ira said.

"Jane gave me back my invulnerability and tuned up my strength," Andrea said. "I should be fine. How about you?"

"I'm good," he said, pulling open his buttondown shirt a bit to reveal a Mister Metropolitan t-shirt underneath.

"You old fool," she said fondly.

Ira glanced back and saw Lady Justice, Madame, and Madeline following in a little knot. Watson and X were to wait outside, watching, prepared to call Jane in if needed.

"We should have a team name," Ira muttered.

"Well, we're technically Gold Stars for this," Andrea said.

"But we're not, you know that," Ira said. He knew he sounded silly, and maybe a little petulant. The Gold Stars had never wanted him.

Madame apparently overheard and said, "Well, Ira, we can be the League of Forgotten Heroes, because the only reason we can do this is everyone forgot us."

"And 'The Underestimated' is too long for a team name," Madeline said.

Ira looked at Andrea and they both laughed a little. He said, "I like it."

They reached the front gate of the camp where Washington waited for them irritably. There was something going on inside—Ira couldn't make out the words from the speakers, but it definitely sounded like Pastor Al was going at it. The metal mesh gate was shut tight, but there were no guards posted that they could see.

"Everyone set?" Lady Justice said. When everyone nodded (or, in Washington's case, grunted and tapped her foot), Lady J said, "All right, then, let's move out!"

Washington snapped, "Finally," and ripped open the gate with her bare hands.




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Weaponizable

"No," Jane said tiredly. "It can't be me."

"Why not?" Lady Justice asked. "You can be psionic. You have been plenty in the past."

"Because no one should trust me with a power that could dement the whole city," Jane said, covering her eyes with a hand. "Because I may look like I'm holding it together and am like I was ten or fifteen years ago, but I'm not."

Ira rubbed his face and looked around at the group of dissidents, awkwardly dreading the possibility of Jane Liberty crying and just wanting to say anything to turn attention away from her. "All right, Lady J, Jane knows best on this point. The question is, if not Jane, then who?"

"I wish we had some idea of what the deadline is," Madeline said, stopping herself from playing with the beaded fringe of the scarf on the couch arm.

"I'm sure our sources feel the same way," Pearl said, steepling her fingers thoughtfully. "I can say that I don't know anyone who qualifies as a 'powerful psi' though. Not among my acquaintances, nor among my clients."

Lady J sat back in her chair and pressed the heels of her hands to her forehead. "Ideas, Madame?"

Madame glanced at X, and they both shook their heads. "The Oracle doesn't qualify as 'psi' and wouldn't consent to be used that way anyway. And I can't think of anyone else. It's so frustrating that Renata is up on that spaceship."

Andrea fiddled with her teacup. "Tinkermel says he's ready. Everyone else has said they're set. We have to move quickly, given Renata's warning. What about…" She drifted off, staring toward the kitchen, where the younger people were putting together a snack for the group. "What about Kendis? Is her power psionic? If it is, is she powerful enough to work through Tinkermel's device?"

Everyone turned to stare at Andrea for a long moment.

"Well?" she snapped irritably. "Can't you imagine how much it would help people to have their minds cleared or boosted or whatever it is she does after all this mess?" She waved a hand around, generally indicating the city.

Ira nodded at Andrea, grinning and giving her arm a little friendly squeeze that made her smile. Damn, that was a nice smile.

Lady J said, "Jane, what do you think? You're the power expert here."

Jane gave her a weary nod. "I think she projects in the psi spectrum, and I know she's powerful. Convincing her, though, is going to be a chore."

Lady Justice pushed herself to her feet and said, "You leave that part to me," with a wry little grimace. "I'm good at being persuasive, remember?" She strode toward the kitchen.

"Oh, I remember," Jane murmured, resting her head against the wing of the chair and shutting her eyes.


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Revolution By Committee

"All right, folks," Lady Justice said, self-consciously smoothing her strangely stylish iron gray hair (Ira couldn't remember the last time it was that neatly done) and mock-cracking her knobbly knuckles. "I certainly have some news, and I get the impression some of you do too."

Madame Destiny, looking better and younger than Ira had seen her in a long time (even before he lost his sight), dimpled in Ira's direction, then sobered and said, "Well, I think most of you know the big news here." She gestured over at X, who, while still immaculately pressed and dressed, looked haggard around the edges. X's cheekbones and jawline were just a little more pronounced than Ira thought they had been, and there was the hint of dark circles under the terribly perceptive eyes. "X has taken on the burden of the Oracle."

Pearl reached for X's hand and squeezed it gently. X turned a wan smile on her and returned the caress.

"How is it going?" Madeline asked. "I remember when we first found you, Madame, back in '62 or '63. Things were rather out of hand."

"Madame has been extremely helpful," X said smoothly.

"One of my issues," Madame said with a smile, "was that the previous 'vessel' had died and I'd had absolutely no introduction or guidance. The Oracle came into me out of the blue, and I'm very lucky to have kept my sanity."

Madeline nodded. "It was touch and go."

"It was," Madame admitted. "But that was a long time ago, and besides, the wench is fine now." She smiled. "The other bit of information is that we have some Mystikai support. Financial support from two of the local Reptilian-Americans, safe houses offered by the Family -- you may not know, but their homes are heavily shielded from emotional emanations by magic -- and an offer of physical participation in any actual combat from the youngest of the Reptilian-Americans."

"Well, that's something," Madeline said, eyebrows high. "I can't recall a dragon getting involved in our doings since the War."

"They're a standoffish bunch," Jane Liberty said from the depths of one of Madame's overstuffed chairs. "And the safe houses are good. Any limitations on who can take them up on it?"

"Not that Zoltan mentioned," Madame said, "but I expect that he'll be the gatekeeper." She gestured to Ira. "Go on, Ira, you're bursting."

"Oh, well," he said, feeling a little abashed. He knew he'd been grinning like a loon through the whole proceedings. "Everyone's probably guessed it. Jane, Madeline, and Lady J took me off and got my silly old eyes fixed the other day."

There were exclamations of delight all around, a clap on the shoulder and a handshake from the burly black man Ira guessed was Tinkermel, applause from the handicapped thirtyish black woman he figured was Kendis, a hug from Pearl, a radiant grin from X, and even a lightly-perfumed kiss on the cheek from the tall, beautiful Hispanic woman who had to be Angelica.

When everyone had settled back down, Andrea patted his hand and smiled at him. It had been a long time since he'd seen her smile at him. Really, had she ever? Since he couldn't remember their married life at all, it was pretty much a new experience to him. She was an angular old lady now, but that smile led him to believe she must have been quite a looker once.

"Well!" Lady J exclaimed. "That was the sort of thing we need in these meetings more often."

"Definitely lifts the energy," Angelica said. "What have you got, Lady J?"

"I've had a messenger from Hel," Lady J said. In response to the very odd looks that came over the faces of Kendis, Angelica, and Tinkermel, she laughed and said, "Doctor Hel Blau, the Sentient Airship."

This only slightly cleared Kendis and Angelica's faces. Tinkermel's face broke into a broad smile, and he said to the two women, "I'll explain later why that's just so awesome." Ira wasn't sure how a man that big could squeak like that.

"In any case," Lady J continued, "she was able to do a high pass over Wonder City and environs with her cameras going -- she doesn't normally come near the place these days, but did it as a favor to us -- and her messenger brought me not only the photos but Hel's analysis of them." Lady J held up a rolled poster and said, "She's overlaid a map of the city on this set of photos, and marked where they've hidden the major receiving and transmitting station. She also detected that they've got backup transmitters -- she spotted the generators and antennae -- in the tent revival camp."

"Which is horrible, but not much of a surprise," Angelica said. "The Shining Brethren are behind the God Squads roaming my neighborhood and other areas of the city."

X nodded. "One of my friends refers to the God Squads also as Mod Squads. She says she's pretty sure there's at least one telepath in each group, and they're altering the minds of troublemakers."

Ira wondered what friend that was who had that kind of insight.

Angelica briefly closed her eyes and laid two manicured fingers on the gold cross at her throat. "More reason to avoid them," she said.

"Yes, indeed," Lady J said. "The key here is that we'll need to somehow take out the main transmitter, I think. But I'm not sure what to do beyond that. I mean, they could just replace it."

"We need a coordinated attack," Pearl said. "Not just superheroic action, but information warfare. We need to explain to people what's happening."

The group collectively frowned into silence.

Hesitantly, Tinkermel said, "Well, I think I've got something that might help."

Every head turned to him.

He fished in one of the inner pockets of his biker jacket (it was lined in purple silk, Ira noticed, bemused) and extracted a small plastic ball, about the size of the tip of his thumb. It was strung on a piece of black rat-tail. Inside the ball was a constant swirl of pink glitter. "This," he began.

"Is fabulous," Kendis said, staring at the swirl. "How have you got it doing that?"

"If you hush, girl, I will tell you," Tinkermel said with a disapproving glower.

Angelica nudged Kendis with her elbow. "Give him his big reveal."

"Thank you," he said, then turned his attention back to the ball dangling from his fingers. "This is my Omni-directional Personal Venus Nega Charm. It gives off similar emanations to what's transmitted through those rings, but in a way that interferes with the waveforms. So it significantly reduces the effects of the transmitters on anyone wearing it." He smiled at Kendis. "And the generator vibrates very slightly at the center of the globe, moving the glitter, so you always know if it's working or not."

"That's amazing," Madeline breathed. "You've tested it?"

"You bet," he said, beaming proudly. "I developed a detection device for the emanations, and when I'm wearing the Venus Nega Charm, the quantity of emanations that reach me are reduced by almost 75%."

"Oh!" Angelica exclaimed, her eyes lighting up. "Oh, I know someone who could really use that."

"So do I," Ira said, thinking of Simon's sad whine.

"That's terrific work!" Lady J said, rising and coming over to shake Tinkermel's hand, which seemed to daze him. "Just terrific."

"Say," Andrea piped up suddenly, "do you think you could do something like that on a larger scale? Because that might just could help the sort of thing Pearl was talking about, freeing some minds so they'll be receptive to a little knowledge about what's going on."

Tinkermel's massive brow settled into a frown. "I'd need the materials, and a bigger space to build."

"Well, we have offers of financial help," Lady J said. "Think about what you'd need, while the rest of us think about how to get that for you."

"I'll do that," Tinkermel said. "Meanwhile, I've brought Nega Charms for everyone." He pulled out a handful of them, all in different glitter colors, and handed them around with a grin. "You all tell me right away if you have any strange effects from wearing them. I didn't notice any, but I don't have the powers some of you do."

X picked up a silver Nega Charm, examined it for a moment, then handed it to Madame Destiny with a smile and a little shake of the head. Madame nodded and took it for herself.

Ira took a rainbow glitter one and slung it around his neck. He did feel better.

"Well, this has definitely been productive and no mistake," Lady J said. "Anyone have anything else?"

Jane stirred in her chair. "I was wondering if anyone had room to put me up for a little while," she said.

Lady J gave her a sympathetic grimace, while everyone else looked startled.

"Dottie and I are great friends," Jane said, "and I'd like us to stay that way. Her place is really only big enough for one, and I'm not the easiest person to live with. So, anyone willing to give an old girl a break?"

"No room," Kendis said briefly, and Ira was startled by the undercurrent of hostility in her voice. He glanced aside at Jane, who smiled, just a little, very oddly.

"We don't have a viable guest room right now," Pearl said. "My partner is coping with all this--" she waved over her head "--by renovating everything."

Ira could practically feel Andrea gathering herself to make an offer -- she'd told him that she and Jane disliked each other from something that happened long ago, but she liked Lady J a great deal -- when Angelica said, "I have room!" with the biggest, most starstruck smile Ira had seen in a long time.

Kendis looked aside at Angelica as if she'd grown a second head.

Jane smiled gratefully at Angelica across the room, and that settled that, then and there.











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Sorry! I had this all ready to go and then got caught up in a work deadline. Here's some Ira for you Ira-lovers.



The Milkweed of Human Kindness

"But I don't understand, ladies," Ira said plaintively. "Where is it you want to take me?"

"Just get in the van, you stubborn old buzzard," Jane Liberty said, taking his hand and putting it on her skinny arm.

Her arm might be withered from her more fleshy prime, but it was rock steady as she led Ira down the front steps of Andrea's little suburban ranch house to Lady J's van.

"We'll take good care of him, Andrea, I promise," Lady J was saying behind them.

"Oh, I never worry about him," Andrea said, and Ira smiled, since she'd done nothing but fuss him since taking him in like an abandoned puppy from the roadside.

Jane helped him into the van's seat and buckled him in. "I can do that," he mumbled, swatting uselessly at her hands. He was beginning to remember why Jane Liberty had been such a terror to everyone who knew her. It was easy to forget that indomitable will, given how her mind had gone in the last few years before they put her away.

He heard Jane and Lady J get into the van and shut the doors, and then Lady J started up the old engine and pulled smoothly away from the curb.

"So where are we going?" he asked again.

"We're going to get your eyeballs taken care of," Lady J said cheerfully.

"What?" he said, thinking it had to be a joke.

"I've got to be good for something," Jane said sourly. Oh, yes, the sarcasm and bitterness were all back with her mind. It was so nice to hear it. "Don't you dare trip or anything in the next few hours, Ira. I've knocked down your invulnerability."

"What?" he said, and his voice cracked over it. That was the one thing he had going for him, after all.

"Just temporarily," Jane said. "Look, we're going to this eye doctor Dottie and Madeline know who works on paras all the time. He's going to take out those damned cataracts, and then I'll bring your power back online."

"Really," he said, sitting with his shock. He appreciated the act -- he only missed Lizzie more than his sight, really -- but he'd liked to have been consulted, at least.

Lady J must have given Jane one of her Looks, because Jane said, hesitantly, "Look, Ira, I know this is all… sort of sudden. But we need you in top form for whatever's coming. And besides…" She paused, then forged on, her voice only wavering a little: "Besides, what's the damned point of having all these damned powers if I can't help out one of my friends. Will you… can you let me do this for you?"

Dammit, there went the old man tears again as he leaned forward and reached for her shoulder, and she caught his hand in hers. He blinked and dashed water from his cheeks and said, "Jane, who the hell could say no to that?"

So there was no more discussion, and Lady J drove them wherever it was she was driving them. When they got out of the van, Madeline was there.

"You told him?" she asked anxiously.

"Of course," Lady J said.

And of course, Madeline would ask, he thought, given how much she'd gone under the knife nonconsensually in the War.

The three women bustled him -- carefully -- out of the parking lot, onto the sidewalk, and into the quiet office. As they sat in hard chairs in the lobby, Ira said in a low voice, "Jane, I just… how am I going to pay for this? I have Paracare, but I'm not sure they'd cover this without a referral and all…"

Jane patted his hand. "Turns out I'm a stupidly rich woman, Ira. Comes of having smart friends invest everything for me, not touching any of my royalties and licensing fees for nearly a decade, and having put money into a couple of up-and-coming computer companies back in the day who've now struck gold. Don't you worry about a thing."

"You're not serious?" he said, but he knew she was. After all, Lady J was in the room, and therefore even Jane couldn't lie.

"Completely," she said, and then a girl called his name, and they all got up and went down the tiled hallway to the room.

"This is Dr. Sato," Madeline said. "Doctor, this is my old friend, Ira Feldstein."

Dr. Sato's handshake was warm and firm. "Good to meet you, Mr. Feldstein. I understand you've got some issues with your eyes."

"Yes, sir," Ira said, and allowed himself to be settled in an examination chair.

After the exam, Dr. Sato said, "You've got some pretty good cataracts there. We can definitely get those out today, and my staff has gotten me your last prescription before you really started losing vision. I'd like to replace your lenses with correcting lenses. I think you'll only need to wear glasses to read. Is that okay with you?"

"If I had to wear glasses all the time, Doc," Ira said earnestly, "it would be fine with me."

The doctor explained the procedure carefully, and Ira was pleasantly surprised that he followed almost all of it. He was feeling pretty sharp today, really. Maybe it was just hope.

Madeline did correct the doctor when he started in on the several weeks of healing. "That won't be necessary, though. I'll take care of that."

The doctor paused and then said, "Of course you will! I forgot."

The procedure hurt more than the doctor had let on, and Ira wasn't used to that kind of pain -- he only dealt in a long, slow, grinding old person ache. He gritted his teeth and gripped Jane's hand hard, trying not to make any noise or move while the doctor worked. He was embarrassed at one point when a whimper slipped out, but Jane squeezed his hand supportively.

Light was pouring into his eyes, though, and he caught glimpses of the doctor's middle-aged face and the office beyond as work proceeded. Real glimpses. Real seeing.

It took a long time to do both eyes. It was a lot of pain. At the end, Madeline put her hands over his face and he felt the pain leach away slowly. His eyes felt strange as things shifted inside them.

"Are you sure it's safe to heal him so fast?" the doctor asked.

Madeline made a small, strangled noise of surprise and did not quite take her hands away, but it was Jane who said, "Maddy, how many times have you been through medical school?"

Ira heard Madeline laugh very softly, very bitterly, before saying, "Three."

"Three?" Dr. Sato said. "But... why aren't you in practice?"

"Because they never gave me a degree," Madeline said.

"They said your power was cheating, didn't they?" Lady J said.

Madeline sighed. "The first time, it was because I was Asian and a woman and probably unstable after my ordeal in the War. The second time, it was because I probably wasn't stable after my ordeal in the War, and, unspoken, because I was Asian and a woman. The third time it was because my power was, yes, cheating."

"That's insane!" Dr. Sato said. "Your power is something any doctor would want."

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Madeline said, finally taking her hands away from Ira's eyes. "How are you feeling, Ira?"

Ira opened his eyes slowly, the light making them water. But the first thing he saw was Madeline's face, clear as daylight and twice as beautiful. "Oh..." he gasped, and tears and semi-coherent words of gratitude spilled out in a sudden torrent of joy. Madeline gripped his hand and smiled.

"Here, Ira," Lady J said, pushing a handkerchief into his hand. "It's clean."

"Don't blow too hard," Madeline said, looking a little teary herself, patting him on the shoulder.

He blew his nose as gently as he knew how and looked around again, realizing he'd never really known what the phrase feasting your eyes meant before that moment.

Dr. Sato was an Asian man in this mid-to-late thirties, with short black hair, square glasses, and a white coat. He was grinning. Lady Justice was looking younger than Ira had seen her in years -- this leadership thing was treating her right -- dressed up in a navy blue pantsuit with her iron gray hair brushed and cut stylishly short for an old lady. She was grinning. Jane Liberty was a tiny, ancient bird of a woman, her white hair cut not so stylishly short and her clothes baggy and hanging on her. But she was grinning widest of all.

"This is what being para is all about," Jane said, wiping at her eyes with the heel of her hand. "Making miracles happen."










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There has been much stress around this house this month. I'm glad it didn't (so far) derail me on writing.



Locked Room of One's Own Mystery

"Corporal," Lady Justice snapped in a deep, commanding voice that Angelica had not heard from her before, "do you know what rank I hold in the Gold Star Brigade Reserves?'

The babyfaced young man, muscularly at ease in his Army fatigues, looked surprised, but tried not to. "No, ma'am," he drawled.

Lady Justice produced a card from her pocket and displayed it at his eye level. The blue eyes widened abruptly, and he popped to attention, cracking off a salute and lifting his eyes to gaze into the distance. "Ma'am," he said.

Angelica glanced at her friend Kendis, who raised her eyebrows, then gave Madeline an interrogative look. Madeline, with a small smile, leaned over, under the cover of Lady Justice dressing down the corporal, and whispered, "She's a major."

"Ah," Kendis said, and shifted on her crutches.

"... and according to Paranormal Order 5117J, the Gold Star Brigade can, in fact, take possession at any time, and as you can see from that authorization there, I am currently in charge of the Brigade," Lady J concluded, then stopped looming over the sweating corporal. "So if you will clear myself and my duly deputized assistants, Corporal, we can get on with this."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, gratefully stepping to his desk and doing something at the computer. His printer whirred to life and shot out a half dozen printed sheets of some sort of glossy plastic. He picked them up, popped out cards for each of them and handed them over to Lady J. He also handed her a last whole sheet and gestured to the elevator door.

"Thank you, Corporal," Lady J said, giving him a smart salute, which he returned, and led her three satellites onto the elevator.

The door shut and the elevator began to descend.

"So that's what you meant," Kendis said, passing a hand over her forehead and back over her shaved pate, "when you said that you had legal rights, but wasn't sure they'd be enough?"

Lady Justice nodded and sighed. "Currently, I am the Gold Stars, because they're missing and only their reservists remain. As such, I walked into headquarters and got all the permissions put through for my activation. And now I'm activating another reservist. All legal and proper, but I wasn't sure it would all go all right, given everything that's going on."

"Who are you activating?" Angelica said.

"You'll see in a moment," Lady J said. She exchanged an unreadable look with Madeline.

The elevator stopped and the doors parted. The guards on duty had apparently been apprised of Lady Justice's status, because they all came to attention when she stepped into the room. One of them stepped forward and saluted. She returned the salute and handed him the printed sheet of plastic.

"How has she been, Sergeant?" Lady Justice said casually.

"About the usual, ma'am," he said, using a digital scanner on the sheet and returned it to her. "Calm enough during the day. You've come at a good time. Do you require a power damper, ma'am?"

"No, Sergeant, we'll be fine, thank you," Lady Justice said.

"Yes, ma'am." There was a dubious tone in his voice, but he pressed a button on his keyboard and nodded to one of his underlings. There was a loud clunk. The private went to the other side of the room and opened a door there that was at least a foot thick.

Lady Justice strode confidently across the room, almost without her usual limp, Angelica noticed. The rest of them trailed her through the door.

It was a small studio apartment with fake digital windows, pastel walls, and an array of aged and comfortable furniture. In the midst of it all, on a rocking chair, sat a tiny wizened woman with short white hair, wearing a blue sweatsuit. She looked up slowly.

"Janey," Lady Justice said. "It's Dottie."

"Oh, my god," Angelica said under her breath, suddenly recognizing in the lines of the old woman's face her childhood idol, Jane Liberty.

Jane Liberty's dark eyes focused on Lady Justice, and she got up from her chair carefully. "Oh, Dottie, you brought Janna?" She gestured at Kendis, who frowned and seemed to be concentrating.

"No, Jane," Lady J said. "She's not Janna. This is Kendis, and this is Angelica. And do you know who that is?"

Something was changing in Jane's face, Angelica noticed, as Lady J was talking. The blank geniality shifted to something more like concentration and attention. When Jane looked at Madeline, her face lit up with recognition. Then frustration.

"I can't remember her name," she said plaintively.

"Madeline," that woman said, stepping forward and extending her hands to Jane. "It's been a long time, Jane."

Jane automatically took the proffered hands, and a glow that Angelica hadn't noticed around Madeline suddenly spread to Jane.

Angelica glanced at Kendis. The other woman had her gaze locked on Jane Liberty and her jaw was set, but sweat gleamed on her dark brown skin. As subtly as possible, Angelica pulled a handkerchief from her purse and mopped Kendis' brow. Kendis gave her a quirk of a smile, but kept her eyes on Jane.

"Janey, we need your help, and we'd like to take you out of here," Lady Justice said. "Are you okay with that?"

Jane blinked several times and took a long, deep breath. Finally, she looked at Lady J and said, "You must be desperate if you're here for me, Dottie. If you're sure, then I'm ready."

"Excellent," Lady Justice said. "Back to the van then."

Jane tottered a little as Madeline backed away from her, and Angelica stepped forward to take her elbow. Jane looked up at her, then over at Kendis, with a crooked smile. "Dottie's got herself a new brigade, does she?"

Kendis gave Jane a wry grin, mopping her chin with Angelica's handkerchief, then pivoting on her crutches and leg braces. "If the Army takes handicapped lesbians, that's the first I've heard of it."

Jane waved her free hand dismissively. "She's just got a... a... thing, you know. People like her. Damn this brain of mine." She clutched at the side of her head.

Once they were past the soldiers and on the elevator, Kendis said to Jane, "I have to hang around you for a few more hours, but you should start feeling more focused soon. Losing words and stuff is the slowest to come back."

Jane looked at her sharply. "You can fix old people's brains?"

"Not permanently," Kendis said with a shrug. "But if I hang around, things improve. If I work at it, I can make a dramatic change for a while."

They went out past the saluting corporal and climbed into Lady Justice's battered old grey van. Madeline gave up the passenger seat to Jane and sat on the bed in the back with Angelica and Kendis.

"Where are we headed?" Jane said, squinting against the bright April sunshine.

"Right now, my house," Lady J said. "The kids settled me in a little mobile home at the edge of town."

Jane looked back toward the low-slung bunker as Lady J drove out the gates of Fort Wilson. "You'll bring me back when I've done whatever it is you need, right, Dottie?"

Lady J nodded slowly. "Yes, just like you made me promise, Jane. All those years ago."

Jane put her head back against the headrest and closed her eyes wearily. "Good."











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Here's a little movement and action in Wonder City for the new year!



The Inevitable Law of Revelation

The sight of the massive leather-clad bulk of TinkerMel seated on Madame Destiny's floral sofa, sipping tea from a tiny china teacup, very nearly reduced Angelica to helpless giggles.

"I'm very glad to meet you, Angelica," Lady Justice said, shaking her hand firmly. The old woman was less unkempt than that old newspaper article had implied: her hair was recently cut and washed, so that it was an iron-grey, wavy mass a little shy of her shoulders, and her clothes were old, but certainly clean and there was a neatly mended tear in one knee of the woman's jeans. "Now, Pearl has briefed you, right?" Lady Justice had the keenest, bluest eyes Angelica had ever seen.

"Yes, ma'am," Angelica said, using the honorific automatically. "And I'm fine with your power."

"You can just call me Lady J, or whatever you like, dear," Lady Justice said with a grin.

"You need to get used to being 'ma'am'ed again, Lady J," said a balding elderly man sitting in a straight chair next to the chair Lady J had risen from. He looked mostly in their direction, but his gaze was vague. His smile, however, was utterly charming. "You're the bosslady here."

Everyone settled down and Pearl made introductions to which Angelica attended carefully. The old man next to Lady J was Ira Feldstein, formerly the hero Mister Metropolitan. Madame Destiny was their elderly hostess, and she looked both sick and exhausted. X, Madame's apprentice, was a dashing spark of light in the room, genderqueer as hell and dressed to the nines. And the young, plain Asian woman with the terribly old eyes was Madeline Fukuda, the biggest single-person U.S. scandal of the Second World War. Ah.

No wonder Pearl was recruiting younger people. Poor X.

"All right," Lady J said, limping back to her chair and settling into it. "Let's summarize for our new folks, Angelica and Mel."

"Alien invasion," X said, with a gesture upward.

"A little too succinct, dear," Madame said, sipping her tea.

"Noooo," Angelica said. "That makes sense, actually. I'm guessing they've infiltrated the government and that's where we're getting the little mobs of men in black?"

"Your guess is as good as ours," Madeline said with a little shrug. "We know it's aliens from questioning in the Oracle. How they're controlling things so invisibly and making everything so wrong is still a mystery to us."

"I think I can help with that," Mel rumbled, carefully setting the teacup down on the table and reaching into one of his many inner jacket pockets. He set one of the rings he'd confiscated down on the table, and then held up a little plexiglass display case with another one of the rings taken apart and exploded like a display skull, each miniscule piece attached to a slender pin.

The group leaned in close, but couldn't really make anything of the rings out, though Pearl said, "Wait, isn't that one of those promise rings that the men in black have been handing out? Some of my patients have been wearing them."

"Yes," Mel said. "They're not transmitters, which is what I thought they were originally. I've dissected a dozen of them in various ways. They're similar to the TeslaNet receiver-transformers, absorbing some sort of ambient energy and then transmitting it to the wearer in concentrated form. I can't tell you what the energy is, though." Angelica knew how hard that last sentence had been for him -- Mel prided himself on being able to figure out any device.

The group stared at Mel for a moment. Then, Angelica, thinking of Simon, said, "Could there also be... larger versions of the rings that don't need to be touching someone?"

Ira turned his head toward her, his face lighting up. "Like a speaker system? To focus it on somewhere in particular? Watson said something about the Marigold Lane house being worse for whatever-it-is than elsewhere. And it felt worse."

Mel chewed his lower lip, scowling down at the exploded ring. "Yes, I think so. A repeater type of technology."

"Technologically-enhanced mind control?" Pearl said. When everyone looked at her, appalled, she said, "Well, that's what we're all thinking, isn't it?"

Mel nodded heavily. "I can also tell you this: whoever made this is either human or well-versed in human technology. I've seen some alien tech, and this is totally down-home."

Lady J sighed. "That means the involvement of someone who's made a special study of paranormal powers and 'improbable physics', like Professor Canis."

"Who is missing," Madame noted. "So not her."

"That would explain why I couldn't figure out the energies," Mel mumbled to himself, looking a little pleased. He tucked his show-and-tell items back into his coat. "But Professor Canis has written extensively about her work. I'll do some research, see what I can find."

X had turned very pale, Angelica noticed, but wasn't saying anything.

"If the aliens are projecting something down at us," Madeline said quietly, "then we really do need to get to their ship or ships. Or into orbit at least. And we don't have anyone who can do that."

Madame nodded. "That was the thing we were bringing to the table: we either couldn't contact the superhero teams we know, or they couldn't help us for some reason."

Madeline said, "There are a couple of small, young teams, but all of them are street-focused vigilante types. We don't have any cosmic heroes willing, able, or available."

"Speaking of cosmics," X said, "the Young Cosmics have been forbidden to engage in any major actions by their backer. So no help there. Though..." X's lips compressed into a line and the word cut off. "No, no help there."

Ira said sadly, "Watson Holmes said she didn't want to draw attention to us, since she felt there was attention being paid to her household. I... saw some very disturbing things. That poor boy, Simon... so reduced..."

Feldstein! Angelica didn't quite snap her fingers with realization. Of course! Ira was Suzanne's father-in-law.

She was so distracted by her epiphany that she nearly missed Lady Justice raising her head and saying, distinctly, "We have one last hope, ladies and gentlemen, and it's a damnable long shot."

This managed to rivet everyone's attention.

Lady J turned to Pearl and Angelica. "Do either of you know anyone who's got a knack for focusing other people's minds?"

The two women looked at each other quizzically. Angelica pursed her lips and said, "What do you think about Kendis?"

Pearl made a surprised noise and said, "What is she registered as?"

"I have no idea," Angelica said, "but she once said that if she ever took a superhero name it would be 'Ginkgo Biloba.' Students hire her to sit in the next room when they take exams and shi... stuff like that."

"She works at that para nursing home," Pearl said, rubbing one of her thumb joints thoughtfully.

Angelica looked at Lady J, and she had to admit that there was something thrilling about being the focus of that woman's intense gaze, being the person appealed to for expertise. Yeah, okay, Lady Justice was awesome. "I think so. I don't know how much control of it she's got, though."

"It's worth a try," Lady J said. "All right, I need you, Angelica, to bring that friend of yours to the Stars 'n' Garters Cafe Saturday morning. And I'll need you too, Madeline."

"What are you going to do?" Madame said, a little worried.

Lady J smiled grimly, cracking her knobby knuckles. "A little jailbreaking."











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Am I Invisible? Am I Inaudible?

The group reconvened a few days later in Madame's living room, after X had called them all to let them know that Madame had recovered from the session with the Oracle.

"The question of the day is," Madeline said, "now that we know, what do we do about the alien invasion?"

Ira sipped his tea. He couldn't stop himself from squinting to see his companions' faces and being frustrated, as always, by his blindness. Finally, he said, "Well, who can we contact who can take on an alien... is it an armada? Or one ship? I mean, if they're somehow... controlling things, do they need an armada?"

"Unfortunately, the Oracle is never precise," Madame said.

"And always obscure," X muttered.

"Does it really matter?" Pearl said. "Either it's one ship or many. Either they're in orbit or hidden somewhere on Earth. The facts are that they are, I think, meddling with people's minds, and I'll tell you this as mental health professional: if someone doesn't stop it soon, there will, in fact, be irreparable damage done to thousands, if not millions, of people."

There was a silence, and Lady Justice said, "Is what you're seeing that bad, Pearl?"

Pearl cleared her throat. "I have clients coming to me, week after week, who just don't remember what they said the week before. It's like they're all being reset to be maximally screwed up." Ira could tell from the waver in her voice that she was upset. "Some of them stop coming to me because they've forgotten I exist. And... I've been talking to other therapists in town, and we all agree that the rate of attempted suicides has at least tripled."

"Oh," Lady J said, and they all sat in silence again.

"I tried calling the Gold Stars," Madeline said. "They're still 'on a mission in space'. I tried calling Ruth, too, but there's no answer at home and there's... someone else in charge of her company right now. And it's not Ms. Revelle."

"They've been on that mission for at least 6 months," X said. "Sophie mentioned that Ruth had gone with them. I tried the Guardians. They're currently unavailable and, uh, I think they're compromised."

Madame snorted mirthlessly. "I think that's safe to say, given that their voicemail message is full of Biblical verses, and while I think most of the Guardians are, in fact, Christian, none of them have ever been so... forward about it."

Ira grappled at something in the back of his mind for a moment and finally said, "Mental!" out loud. Then he was sure everyone was looking at him, and felt his face heat up. "I... was just thinking. If it's a mental thing, why don't we ask a telepath?"

"Do you know any these days?" Lady J said.

"Yes!" Ira said. "At least, I've worked with one. Two years ago, that killer, remember? We had someone I was told was the Class 10 telepath networking us."

"Renata Scott!" Madeline said. "Of course! Do you have a way to get in touch with her? Because... well, I know her but Ruth always handled the contact."

"I don't," Ira said, slumping in defeat. Then he straightened up. "But I know someone who does! I can't count on Suzanne right now, but I bet Watson Holmes knows how to get hold of her."

"Okay," Lady J said, sounding businesslike and leaderly, "we have one person to contact. Ira, that's your job. Who else?"

Ira was noticing a lot of silence in this meeting.

"Well, let's list some of the other groups we have contacts with," Lady J said patiently. "For me, there's the Lightning Family, the Solarians, the Animal Kings, the Regulars..."

"The Regulars are just a neighborhood group," Madeline said.

"They might be under the radar of whatever is going on," Pearl said.

"They're not going to be able to fight an alien invasion," Madeline pursued.

"We're just brainstorming," Pearl said, "so let's not pooh-pooh anything right now."

Madeline said, "All right. Well, then, while we're at it, let's talk not only Wonder City and environs, but beyond. I know the Blazers in New York, and the Patriots in Philadelphia."

"The Minutemen and the Stormriders in Boston," Ira said. "I know the Minutemen's founder."

"What about that group you know in Britain, Madame?" Lady J said. "The Next Generation?"

"Have you seen the things people are saying about the UK right now?" X said. "People are saying that the cities in the UK make them believe in a zombie apocalypse. Except, you know, without all the parts falling off."

"I hadn't heard," Ira said, and there was a general murmur of agreement.

"There's nothing in the news, but there's a lot of talk online," X said. "People in the rural areas are avoiding the cities and warning other people to avoid them too, because everyone in the big cities is acting really... robot-like. No thought, no conversation... no crime, but I'm not sure about the trade-off there."

"Hmm," Madame said. "The Next Gen was based in London last I heard, too."

"What is it with London anyway?" Lady J said. "They're as bad as Tokyo with apocalypses."

X said, slowly, "There's also the Young Cosmics." Ira thought X must have looked around the room before saying, hurriedly, "I know they're not very... together. But I know they're not totally under control AND they have a Class 10 elemental, an unclassable intellect, a speedster, and a android with a range of Class 6 powers. If they can't search space, they can at least canvass Earth for the aliens, right?"

Lady J exhaled. "All right, X, you contact the Young Cosmics. Madeline, are there any other folks in the Tens who might be helpful?"

Madeline paused in a way Ira suspected was thoughtful. "Jennifer Lombardi might be helpful. Her power is, ah, being able to see everywhere at once. I can't think of a better person to have a look around. Though she's a little... random sometimes."

Lady J made a noise of agreement. "That sounds good. Also, I've been thinking that maybe we need some more people who're... under the radar like us. I mean, no one pays special attention to us. But we're... some of us are old and not very mobile. It would be good to get some more young folks in so X doesn't end up doing our footwork all the time."

X laughed, Ira thought, just a little bitterly.

"I think I can help with that," Pearl said. "And I can do it without even violating patient privacy. I know a woman who's a receptionist at Queer Energy. It's a sort of community center and low-income clinic for paras -- mostly queer people, but some not. I bet she knows some folks, but I think she'd also be good for adding to our little cadre."

"Oh, are you thinking of Angelica?" Madeline said. Presumably Pearl nodded, because Madeline went on with, "She's a smart cookie -- a good ideas person."

"Okay," Lady J said, clapping her hands together lightly, "I think we have the start of a plan. If X will give me a hand with Parapedia, Madame and I will put our heads together to see what other groups we can call, and make some of those calls."

Ira nodded, smiling. "It's good to be working with you again, Lady Justice," he said, giving her shadow a sloppy salute.

She leaned over and squeezed his shoulder. "And it's good to have something to do, isn't it?"

Ira nodded, thinking that perhaps he'd just go actually visit Watson Holmes. After all, didn't she live in the same building with Simon? Maybe he could kill two birds with one stone -- or two conundrums with one bus fare, at least.

---

Trying very hard to remember that Ira is blind while I write. Please let me know if you notice any slips.








wonder_city: (Default)
The Truth Is Out There

Ira was both prepared and relieved when the light of the Oracle permeated the room. As that time more than two years earlier, the strange, harsh, bluish light returned his vision in youthful clarity. He was able to see the other people who had all gathered of their own accord in Madame Destiny's workroom: Madame's androgynous Asian assistant, X, who was wearing a plain blue buttondown shirt and tailored black trousers; Lady Justice, whose unkempt grey hair was roughly tidied back with bobby pins and whose face looked like a topographic map of some mountainous place in the unflattering light; Madeline Fukuda, who still looked as young and lovely as she had the first time Ira had met her in the 1950s, though, perhaps, the lines around her eyes were more pronounced with worry and sadness; and the woman to whom he'd just been introduced, Pearl Wong, X's grandmother, who did, in fact, look a great deal like X except very definitely a woman in her mid-60s, with all the wrinkles and grey hair to go with it.

Madame was sitting in her accustomed chair, her back ramrod straight, her eyes wide and glowing with Oracle-light. Ira saw that she'd aged shockingly since the last time he'd been able to see her; she looked exhausted. There was a long pause after the light came up, and Ira could see that her shoulders and head were trembling very slightly. Finally, with almost a little sigh, the Oracle said, "SPEAK."

X stepped into Madame's line of sight and said, "Oracle, those gathered in this room have observed strange happenings in the world. We would like to ask you about the source of these happenings."

"EACH OF YOU MAY SPEAK A SINGLE QUESTION."

X had briefed them before the session, while Madame was preparing alone in the room: the Oracle only took yes/no questions right now, especially from a large group, because Madame's endurance was not what it used to be, and one should assume that the Oracle will know the circumstances around one's question, because delay for lengthy explanations would only tax Madame more. X glanced around the room to make sure everyone was ready, then gestured to Ira, who had drawn the straw to ask the first question.

Ira briefly reflected on the fact that X apparently knew about the Oracle's ability to clear the vision of the blind, given the gesture, then shook himself and said, "Has there been a major reorganization of the timeline in the past two years that is causing the odd behaviors I've observed?"

The Oracle turned Madame's head slowly to consider him. "NO, IRA FELDSTEIN."

Ira said, "Thank you," and looked at Lady Justice.

Lady J chewed her lower lip for a moment, then said, "Is there a single person responsible for the behavior changes?"

The Oracle again turned Madame's head, and Ira fancied the hesitation was a little longer. "NO, DOROTHY SANDERSON."

She nodded briefly and said, "Thanks."

X looked at Madeline, who drew a long breath and said, "Is the government at the root of the new behaviors?"

The Oracle said, without hesitating, "NO, MADELINE FUKUDA."

After Madeline had muttered her thanks, everyone looked at Pearl. She looked around at the rest of them, and said, "Does it come from the skies?"

Everyone stared at Pearl. Ira recalled her mentioning something her therapy clients had been saying lately.

The Oracle snapped Madame's head around to look at her, and said, "YES, PEARL WONG."

Now they all stared at the Oracle. Ira noticed that Madame's tremors were worse, and there were tears tracking down her face. X apparently noticed as well, moving forward to put a hand over Madame's wrist and a finger on her pulse.

Madame's face turned up to X and the Oracle said, "YOU HAVE NOT ASKED, EMPTY VESSEL."

X stared into Madame's possessed face, and glanced at Pearl. "Have we been invaded?"

Again, no delay. "YES, EMPTY VESSEL."

X nodded, then said, "You should go."

Ira saw the Oracle sweep an unreadable gaze over the group. Then the light went out and Ira's vision returned to its usual blurry glow. He heard a scuffle and X let out a pained exhalation.

"A little help here?" X said with an audible effort to sound calm.

"Let me," Madeline said, and Ira could see her move rapidly across the room, trailed by someone he assumed was Pearl. Certainly, he knew, Lady J hadn't moved that fast or well since the stroke. "Get her a glass of water," Madeline added. He heard X jog out of the room.

"What's wrong?" Ira said, keeping his seat with difficulty.

"Madame collapsed," Lady J murmured. "Let the kids handle it, Ira. We'd just be in the way."

Ira reached out toward her, and Lady J took his hand. They gripped each other's hands tightly, their ancient superstrength and invulnerability keeping them safe from one another. "It's another invasion," Ira said in a low voice, tuning out the quiet hustle around Madame.

"It seems like we get them about once a decade, doesn't it?" Lady J said. "I mean the really big ones."

"They're changing the world this time. It's just... just..." Ira stopped.

"It's kind of like the Great Gulf, without the time manipulation, isn't it?" Lady J said, giving his hand a squeeze.

"Yeah," Ira said, wiping at his eyes where they were watering. "But without the time manipulation, it won't be as bad. It can't."

---

Author's Note:

Being the vessel of a cosmic entity is hard work.

Don't forget to vote for Wonder City Stories at Top Webfiction!








wonder_city: (simoneyes)
Abiit, Excessit, Evasit, Erupit

Suzanne hurried out of the kitchen of the Stars 'n' Garters on Simon's heels. Simon, for his part, bolted out the cafe door after Nereid, speedy even on two legs. The Equestrian and Lady Justice were standing, looking after him.

"That sounded like a suboptimal result," Suzanne said, grimacing.

"Damn noisy kids!" the Damned Yankee exclaimed from behind his newspaper. "All on drugs, the lot of 'em!"

"I found out what I needed to find out," the Equestrian said, sighing and sitting down. "He arranged it all. I can check that little monster hunt off my to-do list."

"And you picked out some of the holes in the rest of his story," Lady Justice said, edging around the Equestrian to put an arm around Flo's shoulders.

"If he shows his face anywhere near me," Flo said through gritted teeth, "I will damn well shatter his bones and crush him to paste and wash the rest away into the sewers."

"I know, dear," Lady J said, her hand pat-patting Flo's very tense shoulder.

Suzanne poked her head back through the kitchen door curiously. Ebb was sitting on his stool next to the prep table, crumpling his little white cook's hat in his hands. He looked up at her bleakly. "Will she be all right?" he whispered.

She took a leaf from Lady J and patted him on the shoulder awkwardly. "Teenagers are very resilient," she said. "And she has her friends."

"I know Molly said it had to be done," he said, still in a low voice, "but I wish... I wish we could've warned her or something. It was just so brutal."

Suzanne hugged the man in a spontaneous rush of affection. He was a soft, round teddy bear of a man who smelled of fried food. "I really do think it will be all right, Ebb."

By silent agreement, everyone settled in to waiting for Simon, at least, to return. The Equestrian and Lady J fell to playing chess. Suzanne took over Madame Destiny's table with her laptop and wrote. Flo and Ebb went about the business of their cafe, dealing with a number of takeout customers as the dinner hour drew close. Damned Yankee cursed kids and drugs and the war several times. The Tinkerer never looked up, but continued to, as far as Suzanne could tell, disassemble and reassemble a pocket watch.

Molly got antsier and antsier as the hours drew on. She stood up and moved around restlessly, muttering to no one in particular that it was her responsibility to see this all the way through, and returning to her game.

It was dark by the time that Simon reappeared in the diner. "I caught up with her," he said, flopping down in the chair opposite Lady J. Suzanne got up and hugged him from behind. He gave her a tired smile over a sagging shoulder.

"Well?" the Equestrian said irritably.

"She was upset," he said, pausing to smile and thank Flo for the soda she brought him. "Obviously. He'd just vanished when he left -- I couldn't even track his scent."

"He learned a little something over there, then," Molly said. "Something for covering his tracks. Probably some other glamour too."

"Well, he did it pretty well," Simon said. "I got her to sit down and stop running around calling him and things. And then she cried a lot. But..." He stopped and looked perplexed while taking a long drink. "She didn't... like... leak at all. Usually she's so, um, soggy, you know?" He looked at the Equestrian and Flo, clearly baffled.

Lady Justice laughed without any trace of humor. "She's been learning control. Because she has to. Because she's killed someone."

"My poor girl," Ebb said from the doorway.

"She did what she had to do," Flo said, in his general direction, "and I'm proud of her for it."

Simon sighed. "She... felt different while we were talking. Anyway, she cried for a long while, and she was really angry with you guys. I don't think she'll be talking to you for at least a couple of days," he added with a twisted smile.

Lady J mirrored his smile, but Molly was on her feet again, pacing. "So what happened next? Did he show up?"

"No," Simon said. "I finally walked her back to her flat at the Cosmics. And... he'd tossed it. The whole place. Anything that wasn't nailed down and was reasonably portable, he took. Cash she had in a nightstand drawer, her laptop, her StarSeed, some jewelry -- that made her laugh in a way I'd never heard from her before -- even her clock-radio. Anything that looked like it might be expensive or pawnable, I guess, to him."

"Little bastard," Flo, Molly, and Suzanne all said simultaneously.

"Anyway, she cried some more, and I think she would've sat there on the floor in the mess, crying, if I hadn't started cleaning up." Simon finished his drink. "That was what really took so long. He made a thorough -- spiteful -- mess of the place."

"I wish she'd gotten a chance to throw him out," Lady J said. "It would've felt much better for her."

"How do we find him now?" Flo said.

"We don't," the Equestrian said, finally standing still. "It's over, except for the crying and other things. He's got Faerie magic to help him hide out, and some money. It'll be very difficult to track him."

"But surely...!" Flo said, turning to her angrily. After a short, silent staring match, Flo dropped her gaze. "He doesn't deserve to be able to do that to my daughter," she said, hunching her shoulders a bit. "Not and get away with it."

"I promise that if I encounter him," the Equestrian said, "I will deal with him accordingly."

"Flo, I understand," Lady J said, "but we all have better things to do than go on a manhunt for this... Aloysius."

"There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it," Suzanne quoted thoughtfully.

Simon let out a short bark of a laugh. "Well, in terms of people who do matter, I left Pacifica in an apartment that was much cleaner than she left it this afternoon, I daresay, with an impossibly cheerful android for company."

"You're a good man, Simon," Flo said with a sigh, stroking his cheek. "Thank you for taking care of her."

"Any time," Simon said, standing.

The gathering had started to become awkward, so Suzanne snatched up her purse and laptop and they departed in a flurry of farewells.

In the car, Simon closed his eyes and laid his head back against the headrest. "Jasmine could have handled all that better," he said wearily.

Suzanne started the car and looked over at him. "You handled it as it should be handled," she said. "You did the needful things. That's all anyone can do."

He opened his eyes and smiled at her. "You're the expert on that, love."

---

Note from the Author:

Here is the final episode for 2011. I expect it's just made y'all angrier at Aloysius, because he's a right little asshat. Still, Simon's getting a bit overworked in terms of helping resolve crap, poor guy.

See y'all in 2012!

Please remember to vote for WCS!









wonder_city: (Default)
That Name Does Not Belong To Me

Author's Note: A little experiment, playing with typography. This contains the entirety of the episode below. Please be aware that there is language above and beyond my occasional-f-bomb variety, so it is probably NSFW. There is, however, no sound to the video, so there's that.

ETA: If you can't see the video, try this link and let me know if it works.





Cut for language above and beyond anything I usually use. )
---

Note from the Author:

I hope my little experimental holiday present is something you all enjoyed. I apologize for any timing issues you encounter; it's my first attempt at such a thing.

There will be one more episode next week for the year, though I suspect it will be February before this story arc wraps (since today's ep is #78, you may notice that this novel is running longer than the first one!).

In the meantime, I hope the holidays (or the long weekend, if you don't celebrate these particular holidays) treat you extremely well and you get some relaxation time somewhere in there.

Please remember to vote for WCS!









wonder_city: (Default)
Stormcrows and Sympathy

As Suzanne was driving them through the evening sleet storm, Ira said, "By the way, hon, I found a new one in the archives."

Suzanne had been thinking about Simon and how she would get to see him next week and whether or not to try the little boutique hotel in town, or if they should run down to a B&B in New Hope for the overnight, so her entire romantic steam engine of thought had to come to a halt before she could switch over to the more prosaic Amtrak train. "New one?" she said to cover the hiccough in her usually-swift mental processing.

"Another murder," Ira said. "A guy named the Jellyfish was killed last December, not too long before... you know, everything. His body was shoved under one of the Staybird docks, instead of up in the park around the main town dock area like the rest of them. Little tiny back page item."

"Between the location and the timing, it's no wonder he was a back page item," Suzanne said, frowning. "No one likes to hear about violence in Staybird. It's supposed to be our quaint little Victorian town within the city or something, according to the tourism board."

"Despite the fact that it's always been one of the poorest areas," Ira said, looking out the window. "Anyway. I thought you'd want to know. I pulled the clipping out of the stack for you."

"Thank you, Ira," Suzanne said, pulling up at the curb. "Do you know anything about the Jellyfish?"

Ira shrugged. "He was a middle-aged thug, though he started out trying to be a hero twenty-odd years ago. Poor kid. You should probably check with your police friends to see if he was strangled too."

Suzanne nodded, stuffing her keys into her purse. "I'll do that." She thought of Ira, painstakingly poring over the clippings in that stack while she was at work, peering through his cataracts and a magnifying glass to find just one more clue, and finding it. She added, "That was great work, Ira."

Ira gave her his dazzling smile. "Glad to do it."

They got out of the car and Suzanne dropped a few quarters into the meter in front of the Stars 'n' Garters, squinting against the driving tiny stinging shards of ice. The blue door was a little kooky and inviting, though the sign hanging lopsidedly and the cracked windows were somewhat less attractive. The windows were steamed up, and Suzanne could only see a few shadowy figures moving ominously inside.

Then Ira opened the door, and the cheery little bell dissolved the threatening illusion. The inside was brightly lit and warm and comfortable, if a little shabby around the edges. The melamine tables were occupied by, mostly, Ira's contemporaries, several of whom she'd last seen at Josh's funeral. She smiled at Madame Destiny, who gave her a little wave. She nodded at the Damned Yankee, who blinked at her in confusion, apparently not recognizing her as the cute young thing whose posterior he had smacked with such vigor at his centennial birthday party. The Tinkerer, swathed in coats and sweaters and scarves and goggles and a hat, didn't even react to the door. Lady Justice rose to greet them, her straggling grey hair more or less captured by a rubber band at the nape of her neck. A slight, short-haired Hispanic woman in her twenties rose with her and grinned madly at Suzanne.

Ira shook hands with Lady J and said, "Lady, you remember my daughter-in-law Suzanne, right?"

"Of course," Lady Justice said in her husky voice. "You know, don't you, dear?"

"That one of your powers is to cause people around you to tell the truth?" Suzanne said. "Yes, ma'am." She laughed inwardly at herself -- she hadn't called anyone "ma'am" in quite that tone of respect in a long time. Simon was rubbing off on her. "If I hadn't known it before, reading Ms. Hernandez's excellent article would have told me." She extended her hand to the younger woman. "Ana Hernandez, I presume."

"Suzanne Feldstein, of course," Ana said, shaking her hand with enthusiasm. "You've been one of my journalistic idols since I was in school. We read your classic 'Masks In Silence' piece on sexual harassment on para teams. It was brilliant! It's such an honor to meet you."

Suzanne managed to keep her face from showing too much; she wasn't certain how she liked being a "classic." "You're very kind," she said, one of her standard platitudes dug up for the occasion. "And this is Ira Feldstein, my --" she quickly discarded her temptation to call him her "trusty sidekick" and just said "-- father-in-law."

"Mister Metropolitan!" Ana said, shaking Ira's hand. "I feel like I'm meeting so many legends because of meeting Lady Justice. It's all so amazing."

Lady J patted her on the shoulder. "You're seeing that we're all just human after all." She gave Ira a wry smile and shot an ironical glance toward the Damned Yankee. "Just one more word of warning," she added to Suzanne. "If you don't want to be forced to tell the truth, don't try to say anything at all."

"That's interesting," Suzanne said.

"No one's ever figured out if she just stops up the part of the brain that lets you spin tales," Ira said. "Didn't have the science to find out back in the 40s."

"And now no one seems very interested," Lady J said, mock-sadly. "Ah, well."

Tthey all settled down at their table. Flo, her orange beehive hairdo resplendent and her traditional waitress uniform crisp, emerged a few seconds later with a single menu that she handed to Suzanne. "Everyone else want your usuals?" she asked, snapping her gum.

"Yes, thank you," Lady J said, and there were affirmative murmurs from Ira and Ana.

"Just a cheeseburger and a diet cola for me, please," Suzanne said, returning the menu.

Flo nodded. "Flo," Lady J added as the woman turned to go. "Still no word?"

Flo gave the table a tight smile. "Not since the message from the Equestrian, no." She hurried into the back.

Suzanne and Ira gave Lady J quizzical looks. She said in a low voice, "Her daughter went off with the Equestrian -- some quest for the Young Cosmics, after one of their friends that got lost. Molly sent word back that Pacifica got separated from the group and they were looking for her."

"Lost in Faerie?" Suzanne said, voice low but appalled. "That's awful. Poor Flo."

Lady J nodded and Ana made a sympathetic noise. "Anyway, she's been waiting for any more news, but you know... Faerie." Lady J grimaced. "I just hope the poor kid doesn't have an experience like mine; it's hard to come back to a world that's run past you. At least now she's not likely to be declared dead while she's missing."

Ira patted Lady Justice's hand awkwardly. "She'll be fine. Molly'll find her, and everything I've heard about Pacifica tells me she'll find her way all right. She's got that true-of-heart thing going for her."

Lady J gave him a twisted smile. "So did I," she said.

They all fell silent at that, until Ana pounced on Suzanne in a frenzy of trying to overcome the mood. "So! You're taking up blogging! I've been reading your coverage of the murders, and I have to say, your evidence is pretty convincing. I can't understand why the police won't acknowledge it."

"I think I've shamed them with Yanaye Smallwood's story," Suzanne said, thinking back to the funeral, where she hadn't approached the family, but one of their friends came over to earnestly shake her hand and thank her. It was only after a short frenzy of conversation that she found out the woman was the sister of Renata Scott, her contact. Theresa Price was a dignified, matronly black woman of fifty-something, with only a few silver hairs in her perfect coiffure that weren't concealed by her hat, wearing a black dress that fit her perfectly, who had made Suzanne feel both welcome and awkward, as well as terrifically underdressed. She sighed inwardly and chalked it up, again, to a learning experience. "One of my contacts says that they're reexamining all the evidence, and they've contacted the Pittsburgh PD."

"I'm glad, though I doubt the impetus came from within," Ana said, with a cynical twitch of her eyebrows. "I'm betting you have a reader in high places who made a few phone calls."

"Oh, you're probably right," Suzanne said with a sigh. "I like hoping that maybe my golden prose will make a difference in and of itself."

"It probably did, dear," Lady J said. "Just not the way you hoped."

"As long as they're starting to take the serial killer proposal seriously," Ana said. "Maybe you can prevent any more deaths."

Suzanne pursed her lips doubtfully. "I expect we're going to get a few more bodies before the police manage to spot anything useful. Or maybe the killer will just move away, wait a little while, and change his victim profile again."

"They usually don't," Ira said.

"But he might, since he's done it once already," Suzanne said. "Or maybe we really are dealing with two separate killers and the Pittsburgh killer just moved to town to join in the fun."

"You'd think that in a town full of people who can see through walls and jump tall buildings in a single bound," Lady J groused, "we wouldn't have issues like this."

"What if it's one of the rooftop-dwellers, though?" Suzanne said. "What if it's someone all these noble protectors trust? Or are just used to seeing out there every night, and suppose him to be fighting the good fight?"

That silenced the group again, long enough for Flo to deliver their food and drinks.

Suzanne cleared her throat. "So. Anyway. Yes, I'm blogging. And I saw your call for fellow feminist journalists to work together on a group blog. If you don't mind an old fogey joining up, that is," she added with a lopsided grin.

Ana's jaw dropped open and her eyes shone. Suzanne kept her grin on her face, but was aware of Ira and Lady J at the edge of her vision, both trying desperately not to laugh. "Oh, Mrs. Feldstein, we'd be SO honored to have you on the team!"

"On one condition," Suzanne said.

"Anything!"

"Do me a favor and never call me 'Mrs. Feldstein' again," she said, and swatted at Ira, who was giggling into his hand.

---

From the Author:
If you don't remember Ana Hernandez, you may want to read the Wonder City Interlude, "Truth, Lady Justice, and the American Way" as a refresher.

Have you seen the cleaned-up sketch [personal profile] meeks did of the faerie wedding? Go! Gaze upon its awesomeness! If you can tip, do tip, or at least leave a comment. You know artists and writers LOVE comments. It always makes my day to see my readers' reactions.

Speaking of which, through May, I'm running the commenting incentive again, because reading your comments is the most fun on the Internet I have all day. So 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. Noooooooo we iz fallin down the list into oblivion! (Apparently, my writing goes all LOLcat sometimes.)







wonder_city: (Default)
Truth, Lady Justice, and the American Way

“Of course, given the codename,” Dorothy Catherine Sanderson told me,” we tried to come up with a transparent blindfold sort of thing. It didn’t work, so I just stuck with the sword, though I went through swords like Grant through Richmond.”

Sanderson is the civilian name of the iconic, much-decorated World War II superhero, Lady Justice. We should have been having this conversation over tea in her neat, well-appointed living room in a small but immaculately-kept house. But we spoke while seated in battered nylon folding chairs outside the rusty silver van she calls her home, drinking instant coffee in chipped, mismatched mugs. Hers read, “#1 Mom.”

Later, she opened the back of the van and showed me the milk crates containing row upon row of painstakingly labelled cassette tapes. “I tape every conversation I have with the VA,” Lady Justice said, running her fingertips over the plastic, “and I file it here.”

Most of us know that Lady Justice enlisted in the Gold Star Battalion in December of 1941. Her superiors expected that she would simply be the secretary of the commander at the time, but she soon distinguished herself on the test field.
Read more... )

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