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The Art of Losing

"The thing is," Madeline Fukuda told us, "I've regenerated the parts of the brain that were damaged by the bullet. Also the bone and skin, both lungs, her liver, and the damage to her leg and hand. Fortunately, there was no intestinal perforation, but she'll still need to be on antibiotics for a while. But she's going to have to reeducate the portion of the brain that was damaged."

Ruth sat in her chair there in the basement of the Gold Stars facility, radiating rage like a dark star, her forehead contracted in a frown. "Can you guess at what kind of therapy she'll need?"
Read more... )




#BLACKLIVESMATTER
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I know at least a couple of my readers have been wanting this episode for a while.


Even Though You Broke My Heart and Killed Me

Madeline's face: "I've got him."

Blink.

"Charge to 360 joules."

"Still in VTach, doctor."

"Blood pressure dropping."

"Crank it up. They said he was Class 5."

Blink.

"Get me a second stent."

"Deploying second stent."

Blink.

Madeline's eyes, drawn and tired above the surgical mask: "Damn you, Ira Feldstein, I'm not going to let you do this."

Blink.

It was a very long, very echo-ey, dimly-lit metallic hallway that curved gently to the right. He could hear his footsteps very clearly as he walked. Oh, you have to be kidding me, he thought. Really? Superheroes always see a damn satellite base when they die in the movies.

A tearing pressure in his chest lifted him out of the hallway. Madeline, gloved and gowned arms red nearly to the shoulder, was bending over him. He thought he could hear her singing softly as she rummaged in his chest, "... has only got one ball. Goering has two but very small…"

Ira wanted to protest that this song wasn't really appropriate for the time and place, but every time he tried to open his mouth, she tugged on something inside his chest that made everything snap shut. He felt a bit like the action figure of himself that came out in the 1970s, all held together with elastics.

Ira walked past a door. It slid soundlessly open, and he could hear many voices, and music, and the clink of glasses inside, though the light in there was too bright to see in. It sounded like one of the old Christmas parties! He could swear he heard Jane Liberty bellowing a carol with Bernie and June.

He was on his back again, staring up at a giant, blinding light. He felt something land on the sheet over his belly. He heard the voice of his old nemesis, Dr. Noontime, from one side of the gurney say, "Two kings."

"Oh, my dear sir," another man said, and Ira had to scrape around in his memory for the name—Professor Fortune! that murdering scumbag. "You can hardly hope to win his body with just two kings."

Body? Whose body? MY body? Ira thought and wished he could move. He felt an overwhelming urge to shout, "It's only a flesh wound!" Was that a quote from somewhere?

"Shut up and play, Fortune," Dr. Noontime growled.

A hand took Ira by the shoulder and squeezed gently as he peered in the door at the party. "No, Ira, not yet."

He spun around in time to see a familiar smile and brilliant blue eyes. "Lizzie?" he nearly shouted.

She winked, still young. Well, middle-aged. "You're still needed, you…"

Blink.

Andrea, leaning over him: "... stubborn old goat."

Blink.

Lizzie, at the side of the bed, looked up at him from a battered copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, and smiled.

Blink.

Suzanne, leaning on the edge of the bed, covering her face: "I'm so sorry, Ira. I'm so, so sorry."

Blink.

A nurse: "Just checking your drain, Ira."

Blink.

Andrea, again: "You're a silly old man and you need to wake up soon." She leaned back in her chair and stretched. "These hospital chairs will be the death of me."

Ira tried to say something but it came out a mumble because his mouth was so dry that things were sticking together in there.

She came to attention. "Ira? Suzanne, he's awake!" Andrea reached to the side and produced a familiar little sponge on a stick. "Can I wet your whistle, mister?"

Ira nodded feebly, and she gently (and expertly—he remembered that her husband David had spent a lot of time in hospitals) wetted his lips.

Suzanne appeared on the other side of the bed and squeezed his hand. "I'm so glad."

He realized he was in a hospital bed, cranked up till he was nearly sitting upright, and had tubes in his arm and other tubes running places he wasn't sure of. "What happened?" he croaked. His chest hurt like hell, and he didn't like breathing too deeply.

"You tried to keel over on us," Andrea said.

"You had another heart attack," Suzanne said. "Worse than that little one you had."

"They tried stenting you," Andrea added. "That kept you stable-ish until the riots settled down enough that we could transfer you to Wonder City General."

Riots? Ira wondered, but didn't ask. All things in good time. He looked around surreptitiously for a deck of cards.

"Well, that and Madeline practically growing you a new heart," Suzanne said.

"Anyway, you've had open-heart surgery," Andrea said. "Four bypasses."

"How did they get in?" Ira asked, guessing and dreading the answer.

Andrea shrugged. "I called Carolus, like we did for getting Josh's feeding tube in."

Ira could feel himself blanch. He was glad he hadn't woken up for that part. Carolus Lew, the Master of Wonderland, had access to the Vorpal Sword, which could pierce pretty much anything. If you knew him and were friendly with him, he could often be persuaded to use the Sword to help medical procedures on invulnerable paras. Word was that he actually had trained as a surgeon before he became the Master, though Ira really didn't know when that had been. Possibly before anesthetic became a thing.

Snicker-snack, indeed.

"You've been really slow to come out of anesthesia," Suzanne said.

"Probably because you're old as dirt," Andrea said.

"Anyway, we were getting worried," Suzanne said with a small roll of the eyes at Andrea.

Ira smiled. A wave of exhaustion washed over him just then. "I'm gonna sleep I think," he mumbled. And he let himself slip off to sleep, with his family holding his hands.





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Yes, this is terribly short! Help me decide whether to be merciful and post the next section this week: can we bump Wonder City up higher on Top Web Fiction? Click the link at the bottom of the episode and get us up to 20 votes, then I'll post the next episode!



Let Go the Jumble of Worn Words

A nurse in scrubs sprinted out of the cath suite toward the emergency room. Suzanne looked at Andrea, and their gazes met and held.

The nurse returned just a minute later, with Madeline running behind her. There was a streak of something across the white coat Madeline was stripping off as she went by. The pair went through the doors without glancing at the two women across the waiting room.

Andrea reached over and took Suzanne's hand. They sat in the renewed silence, hanging on for dear life.





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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: (Default)
All Water Has a Perfect Memory

"I'm really not sure about this," Nereid said, hanging back under the maple tree at the edge of the street. The day was hot and humid, and a sun-drunk bumblebee swam lazily through the thick air, narrowly avoiding Sophie's head.

"Ruth must be sure, or she wouldn't have invited you," Sophie said, tugging on Nereid's hand. "Come on, we'll be late."

They were both very firmly out of costume, in shorts and sandals and t-shirts. Sophie was even wearing a normal pair of glasses. They'd driven over in Sophie's deceptively rattletrap decade-old compact car. Nereid didn't know what customizations Sophie had added to the car; she just knew that any car that had a full keyboard integrated into the steering wheel couldn't be normal.

The Ultimate's house was a small, neat surburban box of a ranch house with a large green lawn and several copses of trees. There was brick trim and a two-car garage, and everything looked so very normal. Sophie had parked on the street because the driveway was full of vehicles that also, surprisingly, looked normal.

It was a quiet party, once they got inside, but Nereid was so nervous, her later memories of it were spotty. She remembered things in chunks:

1.
The Fat Lady took a glass of lemonade with a sprig of mint in it from the Ultimate. "So glad you could make it, Pacifica," she said in her beautiful voice. "Have you met Madeline Fukuda?" She gestured to the young Asian woman sitting beside her on the beige sofa.

Nereid felt a shock of recognition at the name. "You... you're...," she said, shaking hands with the woman.

"Yes, you've probably read about me," Madeline said with a sad smile. "It's all right. I get that a lot."

"Speaking of history," the Fat Lady said, "what's going on with that documentary?"

"Ah, well," Madeline said, shrugging slightly, "it's going forward, but slowly. There's very little funding, and, as you can imagine, the government and military are not pleased with the idea of it being made. People have almost forgotten World War II now, and they'd like to keep it that way."

"How are the girls doing?" Renata Scott said, carefully seating her dark copper android body on a nearby easy chair.

"Well, Annie died last year," Madeline said, and Nereid realized that she was talking about one of the clone bodies that had been grown from parts of her by the Army during the war.

"I'd heard," Renata said, and Nereid could hear the sympathy that the android face couldn't express. "I'm so sorry."

"Well, they've none of them had what you could call a good quality of life ever, though lord knows I've tried my best," Madeline said, shaking her head. "They weren't raised, like us, they just became. Barbara still has nightmares and violent episodes -- she's physically the strongest of them still, and earlier this year, the group home said they couldn't handle her any more, so she's in an institution. Georgina had a stroke a few months ago and has been paralyzed ever since; she refuses to do the physical therapy, and they've moved her out of the general home area into the hospital ward. Zeta has become even less verbal than she ever was. And, of course, Dorothy and Edith have been gone for years. Sandra, Theresa, and Iris are still living in the group home, and are doing all right, I suppose. Certainly the other people living there are doing better than they might otherwise." She grimaced a little.

"Are they... it sounds like they aren't all still young like you," Nereid said hesitantly.

"They're not," Madeline said, gently and sadly. "We don't know why I stayed young and they didn't. It's like they got a... a limited supply of my power, and the Army used it up. It's just as well, really. Like I said, they've always been... limited. In other ways." She pressed her fist flat against the center of her chest. "It still hurts when they go, though. Like I'm losing children."

"I hope the documentary happens," Nereid said, clenching her own hands angrily. "What they did to you, that should be more than a note in a textbook."

Madeline smiled. "Mine was just a small story in a much bigger story. Have you heard about the musical that George Takei man is putting together about the Japanese-American internment camps?"


2.
"How. are you. doing. Jennifer?" Avis Wysocki said, via her curiously stilted and old-fashioned computer voice, to the young olive-skinned woman seated on the floor.

Jennifer Lombardi looked vaguely in the direction of the middle-aged woman with the speaker on her shoulder and the keyboard on her lap. "I'm okay," she said in a faint, fading sort of voice. "I'm trying not to watch something really horrible right now, so I'm looking at about three dozen preschools."

Avis looked at Nereid and typed. "Jennifer. sees. everywhere. at the same. time." Nereid noticed that the computer voice had a faintly... Swedish?... intonation.

"That sounds hard to manage," Nereid said, unable to think of anything else. All those days working the tables at the diner and listening to people talk about their lives had helped after all.

"No, not difficult," said Jennifer in a distant tone. "More... distracting. I tend to walk into doors. And get lost. Of course, I do have to remember to keep an eye on certain things."

"Speaking of which," the Ultimate said as she passed through with a plate of hors d'ouerves, "are the G-men still bugging you?"

"Oh, yes," Jennifer said, with a few signs of animation. "They never seem to get tired of it. I just make sure I'm never home when they call."

"Does that mean the G-men are responsible for the time I had to fly to Venezuela to get you?" Sophie said from her perch on a tall chair at the breakfast bar.

"I don't remember," said Jennifer.

"Did you at least like Venezuela?" Nereid said.

"Oh, yes," Jennifer said, handing a bright tropical flower to Nereid, apparently from nowhere. "Of course, I don't have to be there to like it."


3.
Oum Veha, a plump, dark-skinned Asian man, sat in a carved wooden chair surrounded by a lovely confectionary wall of filigreed copper wires. When he hiccoughed briefly, there was a flash of blue-white light, a sizzling noise, and a loud, startling pop. After a moment, he said, sadly, "Ruth, I'm sorry, but I seem to have shattered another glass."

The Ultimate snorted something like laughter and went into the Faraday cage with a couple of dishtowels. The two of them muttered to each other, and Veha laughed at one point, accompanied by the tinkling of the pieces of glass.

"They have crushes on each other," Sophie whispered, handing Nereid a can of soda.

"Really?" Nereid said, trying not to stare at the round brown woman with the threads of silver in her corkscrew curls and the younger man, both stooping to the floor of the protective cage, their heads close together.

"Totally," Sophie said, popping open her own can. "She won't admit it, though he does, cheerfully. They see each other every week. It's adorkable."

Veha's hand brushed the Ultimate's as they both reached for the same shard of glass, and their gazes met for a moment before the Ultimate snatched the glass up, crushing it in her hurry. "You're being klutzier than usual, Veha," she said audibly, standing. "How many glasses are you gonna break today?"

Veha straightened up as well and smiled as she slid out of the cage. "Oh, as many as it takes."


4.
"I. like. your new. outfit," Avis said as Renata sat down next to her.

"Thanks! Larentia made it for me," Renata said, running a hand over the shining copper thigh of the android body.

"She. made. my. set. up. too," Avis said, gesturing at her keyboard and speaker.

"Really?" Renata leaned back a bit and the android head shifted obviously to bring the cameras to bear on the rig. "Why didn't she give you a smoother voice?"

"I have. gotten. used. to. this one," Avis replied. "I can not. imagine. my voice. being. any. different." She shoved light brown curls out of her eyes.

"Um, can I ask?" Nereid said.

"We told you," Renata said, the unnerving android eyes looking at her, "no questions are off-limits. If you ask something hurtful, we'll tell you. But we would like for you to feel like you really can ask us anything."

"Thanks," Nereid said, ducking her head a bit. "I was wondering, um, Avis, why you have to use the computer voice?"

"My. power. is. command. voice," Avis said. "If I say. something. imperative. most. people. have to. do it."

"Oh," Nereid said. "Oh. Wow."

"Yes," Avis said, looking skyward and shrugging. "It. was. awkward."

"And you can't control it?" Nereid said.

"I. could. for a while. as. a teenager," Avis said. "But. you. know. teenagers." She shrugged again.

Nereid looked faintly embarrassed. "You could, but you didn't. And then you couldn't at all?"

"No," Avis said, shaking her head, for emphasis it seemed.

Nereid started to say something, then paused to bite the inside of her cheek hard, which was one of her best techniques for stopping tears. "It's really hard... when you do something you didn't intend to."

Avis and Renata exchanged glances. "Yes," Avis said after a moment. "I remember. telling. a boy. who was. picking. on. me. to just. go. away. And his. parents. could not. find. him. again. I still. do not. know. what happened. to him."

Nereid clapped a hand to her mouth. "Oh god, I'm so sorry."

Avis grimaced and said, "Most. of us. should think. before. we speak. but I. need. to think. a lot. more."


5.
Nereid thought how strange it was to see the Ultimate laughing. She'd seen her laughing at the birthday party, but that had been so big and glittering and unreal that her laughter seemed so too.

"Veha, you are such a tease," the Ultimate said, sliding her hand along the doorframe of the Faraday cage.

"I have to make the most of my qualities," he replied, sipping his drink.

Madeline leaned closer to Nereid and said, "You're quiet."

Nereid blushed. "I'm just... everyone is so... famous."

"Famous people are just people," the Fat Lady said, twirling the fan in her hand skyward. "Even Sophie is famous, in her way."

"Yeah," said Nereid, glancing at Sophie, "but I met her before I knew she was famous."

Sophie flopped down at Nereid's feet and tilted her head back into her lap to say, "I can't believe you didn't know I was famous."

The Ultimate quirked a smile at them. "Not everyone's into cypherpunk or fanfiction like you are, kiddo."

Sophie looked at her mother, eyebrows high. "Hey, I've done quite a lot more than just that stuff."

"Being responsible for Gogo and the Gadgettes is important," Madeline allowed.

"I swear, I didn't tell her to crash the party!" Sophie said for the fourth or fifth time that afternoon, letting her head fall backward again. "And she's just Gogo now anyway."

Nereid gave in to the urge to stroke Sophie's hair, and blushed when she saw the Fat Lady wink at her over the top of the fan.

"I liked the album," Jennifer said while staring at a corner of the ceiling. "It goes well with all kinds of music."

Avis said, "Of course. Jennifer. someone. like. you. has to. listen to. a lot of. music. at. once."

Jennifer replied, wistfully, "People like us need a lot of music, don't you think? So you don't have to listen to the scary parts."

The Fat Lady said, "That's why I often sing in harmony with myself. More complexity, more concentration."

"'Swhy I play guitar," Sophie said, waving a hand. "Inside my head is pretty scary sometimes."

"Interesting," Veha said. "I started taking lessons on the khim a few months ago. It's a kind of hammered dulcimer," he added as explanation. When the Ultimate gave him a startled look, he ducked his head. "I didn't want to tell you, Ruth, until I got, you know, better. You sing so beautifully."

Nereid gave the Ultimate a startled look and tried to imagine the woman singing.

"Sometime, we ought to all have a family singalong around the piano," Madeline said with a dreamy little smile. "My parents did that, you know. It was so American. Could we, Ruth? Next time?"

Avis grinned. "I even. know. how to. play. I will. have to. practice."

"And I'll hafta get a piano," the Ultimate said, frowning around the room, hands on hips. Her gaze fell on the Fat Lady. "You're gonna insist on a grand, aren't you?"

"What's the point of anything less?" the Fat Lady said, fluttering the fan below her chin.

"Seriously, Ruth," Renata said. "Since when do you settle for the upright when you can get a grand?"

"You know better, Rennie: I don't settle," the Ultimate said, smiling around the room. "And neither should any of you. All right, there'll be a grand piano here next time. You gonna be here, Pacifica?"

Nereid blinked, looking around at the expectant faces, then smiled hesitantly and said, "I wouldn't miss it for the world."

She was pretty sure she meant it too.



END of Volume 2: Deep Freeze

---

Note from the Author:

Welcome to the finale of volume 2! Thank you for sticking with Wonder City through TWO novels! I'm kind of amazed that I've managed to write this much, and that we'll be hitting Wonder City's third anniversary this coming May.

This isn't the end of Wonder City, of course! In March, we begin the Zoltan miniseries. Being Zoltan, he couldn't just settle for a short story. At some point in March, I also plan to do a one-card draw event in collaboration with Madame Destiny and her Wonder City World War II Tarot Deck.

And then in April (or possibly May, depending on when Zoltan's story finishes up), we begin Volume 3 of Wonder City Stories. We will jump from summer 2010, which is when this episode occurs, to 2012, and so there will be some off-screen development, and there will be a new POV character added to the mix.

Thank you, everyone, for all your support and kindness and enthusiasm over the past two volumes. Please keep sticking with Wonder City Stories! There's lots of fun and drama on the way!

Best,
Jude

---

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

And remember to vote for WCS at Top Webfiction!









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