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






Everything Dies

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

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

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

"You're too kind," X said with a small smile. "What can I do?"
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Sorry for the late-in-the-week posting, but this one was a hard episode to write for various reasons. (Jane's death was hard to write, but it was one of the first episodes I wrote when I started this volume, continuously editing and revising as I got closer to it.) Hope you enjoy the longest ep we've had in a few weeks.


This Neighborhood Has Gone to the Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The silence was very awkward.

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






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Thank you all so much for your assistance with Madame's fundraiser. I think I only have one Tarot reading left to get out. (I won't be posting this set.) We raised $150 for my friends, and that's pretty freakin' awesome. And now, after last week's little night-before-the-battle pause, we continue our tale. Please remember to click the banner at the bottom to upvote Wonder City Stories at topwebfiction!


How Futuristically Dystopic

"All you gotta do is sit still, girl," Tinkermel said, adjusting the padded brass headband hugging Kendis' scalp.

"I am gonna have some kinda hat head after this, aren't I?" Kendis said, irritably re-propping her crutches against the wall next to her comfy leather recliner.

"At least you keep it short?" Tizemt said, checking the gauges.

Angelica gave Kendis a sympathetic smile. "Wish I could help."

Kendis rolled her eyes. "I wouldn't be in this position except for someone deciding to make my power go off the damn charts."

Angelica glanced over her shoulder at the recliner where Jane Liberty was, apparently, napping.

"Well, it's not like anyone is gonna figure your shit out," Tinkermel said, connecting the first wire to the thing he insisted on calling the "tiara." "You got one of those subtle powers. Who's gonna test you? How are they gonna test you?"

"We're getting serious output levels though," Tizemt said with a low whistle. "Shit, I think this just might work."

"I told you it would work," Tinkermel said. "You just aren't mad enough, girl."

"I'm just not fabulous enough," Tizemt said, rolling her eyes. This was a conversation Angelica had heard them have several times now.

"Are you ready?" Tinkermel asked Kendis, looking up from his modified StarSeed's screen.

Kendis sighed and gripped the arms of the chair more tightly. "This isn't going to hurt, is it?" she asked in a small voice that surprised Angelica.

"Oh, no, honey," Tinkermel said sympathetically, patting her arm. "This is just broadcasting bigger what you already broadcast. You don't even need to concentrate, because your power is so passive, but it would probably boost levels if you, I dunno, meditated on clear mountain streams or something."

Kendis laughed a little and nodded. "Okay. All set."

Angelica went and held her hand, though, while Tinkermel threw the big theatrical switch.

Tizemt went to the wall touchscreen with all the subscreens that Angelica thought of as the Enterprise dashboard. She started flipping through screens. "We have 80% interference in the nearest parts of of the city, and about 60% interference in Staybird, along the river. 95% of the repeaters are in place and functioning."

"Thanks to the Sparklebutch Posse," Angelica murmured, and Kendis squeezed her hand.

Tinkermel picked up his cell phone and hit a fast-dial button. When the other end picked up, he said, "We're live. Break a leg."


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Materiel Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ivy, Simon, and Tizemt all nodded agreement.

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

The other four exchanged amazed and baffled looks.

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

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

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

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

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

"I know," Angelica said.

"My back is killing me," Simon whined.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the sound of a motorcycle engine distracted them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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











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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.











wonder_city: (Default)
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."











wonder_city: (Default)
Committing to Sparkle Motion

"Just the person I was hoping to find!"

Angelica looked up from editing her manager's excuse for a budget spreadsheet and recognized the not-quite-elderly Asian woman standing in front of her receptionist's desk at the Queer Energy Community Center. "Oh, hey, Pearl," she said, briefly admiring the therapist's purple tie-dyed silk scarf and many-shades-of-purple crazy quilt jacket. "What can I do for you?"

"I need to talk to you about something that isn't business for the center," Pearl said sedately. Pearl did everything sedately, as far as Angelica could tell.

"Well, technically, I'm off the clock right now," Angelica said, saving her work on the spreadsheet and logging out of the computer with a few quick keystrokes. "We can walk and talk, if you want. I just have to fix my face."

Pearl nodded and followed her to the ladies room. Angelica looked at herself in the mirror and scowled -- she had a bad habit of chewing her lips while she revised Jed's chaotic documents, which played havoc with her lipstick, of course. She opened her purse -- noted to herself that she needed to switch purses, because this was her trusty winter bag, and she needed something lighter and brighter now it was spring -- and pulled out her makeup case. In the mirror, she could see Pearl glancing under the stall doors for feet.

"So," Pearl said, leaning her hip against the counter, "how are things with you?"

Angelica managed not to sigh. There was no rushing Pearl. "Same old, same old," she said, repairing her eyeliner. "Still going to classes when I can afford it. Still single. Well, mostly," she amended a little guiltily, thinking of Simon, and thinking of the date she was looking forward to on Friday.

Pearl nodded, watching Angelica's face, her back to the mirror. She had a habit of really listening to people, even when she wasn't "on duty." It made it easy to tell her more than one really meant to.

Angelica put away her eyeliner pencil and fished for her lipstick. "How about you?"

Pearl pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I'm busier than ever right now," she said. "I mean, yes, I'm glad to have a full slate of clients. But I'm frustrated. I like to be doing some good with my sessions, and people keep coming to me with the same problems, week after week."

Angelica shot a look at the older woman. "Yeah, I hear there are other businesses that are really booming right now," she said slowly, thinking of her friends and acquaintances who were sex workers. "People aren't happy."

"That, my dear, is an understatement," Pearl said with a raised eyebrow. "Water riots in LA, food riots in a dozen other cities, and general violence to self and others on the rise."

"Prices on everything on the rise too," Angelica said, applying the darker red lipstick and studying the effect in the mirror. "I know so many people who're out of work right now."

"How's your grandmother doing in all this?" Pearl said, and Angelica was touched that the therapist had remembered her grandmother.

"She's holding on all right," Angelica said with a little smile. "Tough old bird, my abuelita. She says I'm her only family left."

Pearl looked startled. "Did something happen to your mother and sisters?"

"Yeah," Angelica said, a sarcastic twist to her voice. "They went to one of those tent revivals for this 'Shining Brethren Church' and came out born again or some shit. Abuelita says that I'm the only one who's stayed in the Church, so I'm her only family, even if I've done some other things people might not think of as Catholic." She shrugged and put her lipstick away.

"Ah," Pearl said. "Look, Angelica, I'm not going to dance around the subject. I've got some friends who are... well, they're ex-superheroes, and we're trying to figure out how to make things better. But we're mostly... well, old people. It would be good to have a younger perspective."

Angelica examined her face in the mirror one more time, then turned to Pearl. "You know, in my neighborhood, there're these guys all in black who wander around 'saving' people," she said gravely. "They're government agents. They could mess up my life, the lives of everyone I know, really bad."

Pearl let her gaze drop, nodded, and stood up straight. "I understand completely."

"When and where?" Angelica said, snapping her purse shut.

Pearl blinked at her, startled. "What?"

"When do you people meet and where?" Angelica said, slinging her purse over her shoulder and adjusting the neckline of her blouse. "Because I'm tired of living in fear. Even just talking about it with some people who still have their minds would help."

Pearl smiled. "You did that on purpose, didn't you?"

"Yes," Angelica said, grinning down at the older woman. "I wanted to see if you'd jump to the conclusion."

"We're getting together this Thursday around 7," Pearl said, shaking her head. "Why don't you come over to my place and we can drive there together?"

"Sounds good. I'll be by around 6?" Angelica pulled her StarSeed out of a pocket in her purse and popped the appointment into her calendar.

"Excellent," Pearl said, leading the way out of the rest room.

Turning the corner to the main reception area, they almost collided with a massive wall of a man in faded jeans and well-worn leather who was clearly in a heated conversation. He was a light-skinned black man, so the flush of rage was clearly visible in his cheeks.

"You don't bring this shit in here!" he bellowed. In one enormous hand, he held a stack of pamphlets, and in the other, a fistful of silver-colored rings.

The other man, a nervous white man in a black wool car coat and khakis, said, "I have every right to bring what I want to the community center!"

Angelica peered at the pamphlets. The title, in large friendly sans serif letters, informed her that "You too can be cured!" She glimpsed the outline of a white hand with a black cross in the center of it in the top corner of the front cover, and saw the word "homosexuality" in the line of text along the bottom of the page. She bit down on a curse.

The large man's biker jacket and keys jingled violently as he tore the entire stack of pamphlets in half. "This is private property, you little fucker. You do not bring shit like this into a queer safe space." He doubled the stack and tore it in half again. "You do not bring in shit like that and not expect to be called on it." He shoved the quartered mass of paper into a recycling bin, threw the rings on the floor, and brought the heel of his steel-toed boot down on them with a satisfying crunch. "And you do not expect to be welcomed ever again." He loomed over the man, fists bunched, leather creaking.

With an incoherent cry about a lawyer, the man fled out the front doors like his pants were on fire.

"Sorry, ladies," the big man rumbled to them. "Sorry, Angelica. I know I don't really have the right to kick someone out..."

"Pearl, this is Mel, one of our addiction counselors," Angelica said, "who has every right to throw someone like that out of our center, as far as I'm concerned."

"What a pleasure. Pearl Wong," she said, extending her hand.

"The therapist?" he said, his big fingers almost completely engulfing Pearl's hand. "One of my friends goes to you. He says you're great."

"Thank you," Pearl said. "That was admirable handling, and very cathartic to watch."

"Thanks," Mel said, stepping back and kneeling down to pick up the metallic mess on the floor. "Huh!" he exclaimed.

"What?" Angelica said, retrieving a dustpan and brush for him from the broom closet.

He picked up one of the broken rings, and held it up for the women to look at. Angelica and Pearl obligingly squinted, and Angelica said, "Is that... circuitry?"

He nodded. Then he bent back down and picked up one of the rings that escaped his boot's wrath. Standing, he opened his biker jacket. Angelica was delighted to see the purple silk lining was arrayed with an amazing number of pockets. Mel ran a broad brown finger over a row of pockets with cylindrical objects tucked into them, then selected one. He flicked his wrist and the cylinder extended into a sparkly pink wand about a foot and a half long. It played a few sprightly notes when it hit full extension.

Pearl watched him wave his wand over the ring for a few seconds. "Will that tell you what the circuitry does?"

Mel nodded again, and said, "In a general sort of way. It will tell me what it's doing right now." Rings of hot pink light appeared, moving toward the tip of the wand, and the wand played another little tune. "And it's a transmitter."

"A transmitter," Pearl said, peering at the ring. "Of what, do you think?"

Mel's jaw set and he gently collapsed the wand back into its pocket. "I don't know, but I'm fuckin' well going to find out." He bent and swept all the pieces into the dustpan, then dumped the contents into a paper bag he produced from another pocket. He nodded to them. "Good night, ladies," he said, then stomped out the front door, displaying the back of his leather jacket to them, where the name TINKERMEL was spelled out in purple rhinestones.

They watched him go, and when the door shut, Angelica said thoughtfully, "He might be another good one for your 'group therapy.'"

Pearl grimaced at her. "Don't call it that! I'm hardly the leader there."

Angelica raised both eyebrows at that. "Who is?"

"You'll find out Thursday night," Pearl said, heading for the door. "See you then. And bring Mel if you've a mind to."

---

I've been a little lax on new characters in this volume. I hope to make this up. :)








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