Sorry about my post-fail last week. It's been a little rough weather here. But so is it rough weather in Wonder City.Partying the Hard Way
Tam Lane was pressing her up against a cold metal wall, bending over her, his long auburn hair shading their faces. "Come on, baby," he was whispering, pulling her hand against the bulge in his jeans. "Do it."
Before Nereid could say anything past her horror, Tam was dragged away from her and thrown to the ground. Sophie brought a baseball bat down on the man's pretty face. There was a crunch, and a wail, and Nereid turned away.
A warm hand pressed against her back. "It's okay, Pacifica," Lucid's sympathetic voice said. "It's just a dream."
Nereid turned back to look at her, slowly rising into lucidity through her paralysis and confusion. "Really?"
Lucid smiled at her. "Yes, really. I should know, right?"
Nereid looked toward Sophie, who was still plying her baseball bat, even though most of the dream was fading away around them. Lucid said, "Sophie, time to go."
Sophie dropped the baseball bat with a little grimace and nodded, pushing some of her hair out of her face.
They walked silently away from the disintegrating scene, Lucid keeping an arm around Nereid's shoulders. Shortly, they came to a train station and mounted the steps into one of the waiting silver cars. They sat down along the side of the subway car, and the train started into motion, the rubber loops swinging silently with the motion of the car.
Nereid blinked, and took deep breaths, and looked down at herself. She was wearing her uniform, the swirling blues and greens in close-fitting spandex. She ran her hands over the fabric and forced herself to feel the texture, still breathing deeply. She'd done this a number of times, visiting Lucid's Dream Party, but it had been a while since their last trip.
"Just a baseball bat this time?" Lucid was saying curiously to Sophie as the train slanted downward into a dark tunnel.
"I've got a lot of anger issues right now," Sophie said.
"Apparently," Lucid said. "How've you been doing, Pacifica?"
Nereid blinked hard and smiled. "All right, I suppose, Leah. Wonder City is just kind of... hard."
Lucid nodded. "Seattle's no bed of roses but at least we're not having a modern-day Les Mis, like in California."
Nereid looked at her and said, "Les Mis?"
Lucid smiled briefly and bitterly. "Food riots. Water riots. Police declaring martial law and killing people left and right. It isn't just the LAPD, but that's where it started."
Something flickered in the window opposite Nereid. It was one of those advertisements consisting of a series of stills posted on the subway tunnel wall that become a little animated movie when the train rushes past them. This one only had a man's face in the center of a bright starburst. He was a handsome thirty-something with short, sleek ash-blond hair and bright, earnest blue eyes. He was speaking in the image, enunciating carefully so, Nereid supposed, someone could lip-read what he was saying.
Almost against her will, she was drawn to stare at his mouth, trying to puzzle out the words.
Lucid got up, walked across the car, and yanked down a window blind that Nereid hadn't seen there before, breaking the spell. "I am so very
tired of that fucker."
"Who is he?" Nereid said, rubbing her eyes.
"Pastor Al," Sophie growled. "Tent revival boy. Is he appearing in the dream world a lot?"
"All the fucking time," Lucid said. She sat down heavily. "He's always trying to say something to the dreamers. It's not like he's actually
here -- believe me, I've looked. I think that he's just a really potent symbol."
Suddenly, his face reappeared in every
window of the car, and each face was saying something different, smiling a slightly different way.
Lucid's eyes narrowed and she stamped on the floor. Blinds snapped down over every window.
"We'll be there soon," she said after a moment.
"Good," Sophie said. Then, more softly, "Thanks."
Lucid squeezed Sophie's knee and patted Nereid's shoulder. "I couldn't let down some of my favorite people."
The Dream Party was less populated than Nereid had ever seen it before. The buffet was still busy. There was still a small jam session in the corner, consisting of variously-dressed people playing guitars, Vulcan harps, and drums. But there were definitely fewer beings chatting in little groups, and they spoke in lower voices.
Nereid noticed a woman sitting nearby, calmly watching roses grow from her left arm. Green sprouts burst through her skin, grew and extended, and eventually exploded into blood-red blooms. When one bloomed, she carefully snipped it off at the base with a pair of scissors, and slid the rose into a nearby glass vase that was overflowing with flowers. The water in the vase was red.
A small blue dragon alighted on the table, arranged its feathers carefully, and watched this ritual for a few moments before asking, "Does that hurt?"
The woman said, "Like a bitch. But it's the only way I know to get rid of them."
"Your friend is waiting in the private room," a second Lucid said, gesturing over her shoulder toward a door. The two Lucids nodded to each other and stepped together into a single Lucid. "Let me know if you want anything."
Sophie cast a longing glance at the buffet, but said, "Thanks," and, taking Nereid's hand, went through the indicated door.
X was seated on a straight chair with long legs crossed in the very masculine way Nereid had noticed before when X was angry. The outfit for this Dream Party outing consisted of a dark blue velvet cutaway coat over tailored black trousers and waistcoat. X was also wearing sunglasses.
X looked in their direction but didn't get up or say anything, though there was
a nod to Nereid.
Sophie shut the door and said, without any introduction, "This
is why I asked you both to come here." And then there was a sound like wrenching metal. Sophie let out a little gasp and staggered to one side, while another woman staggered away from her in the other direction.
The other woman was a stocky, dark brown African-American woman of medium height. Her dark hair was shaped into a short afro. There were deep lines around her eyes and mouth, lines that made her look a great deal older than Nereid would have guessed from the rest of her body. She was wearing a t-shirt and old jeans. After she caught her breath, she straightened up and put her hands on her hips.
"This is damned weird," she said, looking around at the three of them.
Sophie coughed and slid into a chair. "X, Pacifica, meet Renata Scott."
"Oh!" Nereid said, then covered her mouth with both her hands. Renata, the telepath who'd been in her head when she'd killed Sator. Right.
X rose, swept off the sunglasses, and crossed the room, extending one elegant hand. "So pleased to meet you."
Renata looked at X, grinned, and -- somewhat gingerly -- shook hands. "Hah!" she said. "This is
damned weird. I'm glad to meet you finally, X. I saw you at Ruth's birthday party and didn't get introduced." She looked at her hand, then Sophie. "You must be filtering me big time."
"Well, me and your prison, I think," Sophie said, then waved a hand. "Tell them what you told me."
Renata shook hands with Nereid. Nereid gave her an embarrassed, somewhat hopeles little smile.
Then Renata threw herself into an overstuffed chair and said, "Sit yourselves down, and I'll tell you about the aliens."
X sat obediently, eyes fixed on Renata. Nereid sat down more slowly, glancing over at Sophie, who was leaning her forehead on her hands.
"They've been trying to get me to work for them," Renata said. "They won't say outright what it is
they want me to do
. But I suspect."
"They're projecting some sort of psionic energy via mechanisms Brainchild built," X said, and Nereid was a little startled by hearing X use Sophie's spandex name.
Renata nodded. "I know," she said, and glanced aside at Sophie, who hadn't raised her head. "And I know whose psionic energy it is."
X sat forward in the chair, perching on the very edge. Nereid blinked at Renata.
"Look," Renata said, looking at them, but running her fingers over the tooled leather of the chair she'd ended up in, "I'm imprisoned on the spaceship until I either work for them or they decide what else to do with me. They've given me a very comfortable apartment, and I'm heavily shielded from psionics there. The only reason I can project to Earth, in fact, is because I stuffed Sophie back into her head a few years ago, and so I know her better than any other human on the planet and could probably find her anywhere. The aliens have captured and imprisoned Ruth and the rest of the Gold Stars in an interdimensional prison, and they've got some jackass as their 'human liaison' whose wife is an empath. Somehow, they amped her up and she's projecting her own emotional dogma down at the U.S. of A."
X slumped back in the chair, exhaling, "Shiiiiiittttt."
Nereid looked over at Sophie again, but Sophie wasn't moving. So Nereid said, "Does she know about the new church and stuff down here?"
"Probably," Renata said with a shrug. "What little I got during my brief interviews with them was some serious right-wing religion."
X said, "That's probably what's doing it, then."
"Doing what?" Renata said.
X sat forward again, counting off on slender fingers. "Here it is: resource riots, little teams of men in black roaming the streets, martial law, nationwide mental health crisis, tripled suicide rate."
"I can't get hold of Simon any more," Nereid said slowly. "Every time I call, his friend Megan answers, and she doesn't seem to know that... that Simon's human. I don't think he can be
human any more. He told me he was feeling horrible about himself about and... you know he's trans, right? He was even thinking about... going back to living as a girl, just to try to make it easier to be human."
"I think the men in black may be minor telepaths," X said. "I think they may be altering potential troublemakers. A therapist I know told me that people who say they've met up with a group are often... never quite right afterward."
"I met some," Nereid said with a shudder, and started remembering like a nightmare. "For a little while afterward, I felt better. Or I thought I did. Everything was so clear. They gave me a ring. Every time I met them, they gave me a ring, and Sophie took it away from me. But after a couple of days, things weren't so clear any more, and my brain was like thick soup, and I'd feel even stupider than I used to in high school."
X reached over and put an arm around her shoulders. Nereid could feel herself shaking in the circle of that arm, but was so grateful for X's familiar warmth.
Renata's face had grown stern. She looked like an old woman, Nereid realized, though her body was young. "I can't play any more," she said. "I can't hide in my room. I didn't... I wouldn't face what was going on, but I've got to do what I can to... make it less horrible." She stood up, and her hands were clenched into fists.
"We're doing what we can," X said, also standing. "Or we'll try. I have friends who're trying."
Renata nodded sharply. "Once I know more, I'll get Sophie to bring us together again. Perhaps Lucid will be willing to bring in some of your friends, X."
"Will you come if we need to talk to you?" X asked.
"Tell Sophie," Renata said. "She knows how to get in touch."
Renata walked over to Sophie and laid a hand on the younger woman's shoulder. "Quit beating yourself up," she said quietly. "You can't help anyone that way." And then she vanished.
X sighed and said, "She's right, you know. We all need to work together in any way we can."
"Easy for her
--" Sophie said, gesturing over her shoulder and upward violently "-- to say. She's not party to mass murder."
"You made an outstandingly shitty choice," X said, going to stand over Sophie, hands on hips. "I'm certainly not going to argue that you didn't. But you've got to find a way to try to make up for it now. It isn't like you're the first para to accidentally almost destroy the world."
Sophie snorted. "I could at least have done it more cleanly if I'd done it myself."
Nereid walked over to the two of them. "Yes, we all know how much better you'd be as a supervillain. You tell us all the time." She crouched down in front of Sophie and butted her forehead against her girlfriend's, looking up cross-eyed into Sophie's glasses. "But you're not, and I won't let you be, all right?"
Sophie almost smiled as she pulled back, shaking her head. "Puppydog eyes don't work at that range, dammit."
X smirked. "They do, though. From Pacifica, at least."
"That's her other damn superpower," Sophie said, standing and pulling Nereid up too. "Class 10 puppydog eyes. Let's eat, for fuck's sake."