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[personal profile] wonder_city
And So the Argument Began All Over Again

I was sorting through my email when I found a message from my friend Veha's assistant, asking if I would have time to contact Veha soon.  There was something about the note (possibly the three instances of "please") that made me think that Veha was feeling particularly lonely with Ruth off-planet.

Oum Veha is the only known living man with Class 10 para powers.  It displeased the various First and Second World nations that prided themselves on being the sole homes of Class 10s that Veha was born in Cambodia, just after the American evacuation in 1975.  Of course, his powers didn't manifest until many years later, but some idiot US politicians still seemed to think there would have been a chance to "rescue" him "if only."  He's still in Cambodia now, despite many offers of "asylum" from other countries, living in a small city on the south coast and powering it with his immense electrical generation powers.  He has amassed a small fortune by selling power to Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia, but insists on using his powers gratis for his impoverished homeland.

The problem is, of course, that like me, he has problems controlling his powers.  He can't touch a computer for fear of frying it.  In fact, anything sensitive to electromagnetic impulses is generally better off far away from Veha.  He's better now than he was as a teenager; he knows how to rein in his temper, for instance.  But still, the only person who can safely spend a long time in a room with him without a Faraday cage in the way -- much less touch him -- is Ruth. She visits him weekly.  I understand from Ruth that they play a lot of chess and she spends a lot of time fending off his romantic advances.  I understand from Veha that they play a lot of chess and he spends a lot of time fending off her romantic advances.  They're kind of cute that way.

I'm one of the only people who he can communicate with remotely without a lot of shielding and fuss.  (A few of his assistants are also telepaths so there's an emergency line if he EM-pulses his own location.)  We exchange emails to decide when communication happens; thus this email.

I sent a note back, offering a few times that afternoon or the next, and went on with my email and other work chores.  One of my clients cancelled, another one arrived late; it was a relatively normal day.  By the time I managed to check in again, Veha's assistant had accepted "any of the times that afternoon or evening."  So I took myself off to my greenhouse with a glass of iced tea and a ham-and-cheese sandwich, arranged myself comfortably in my favorite Adirondack chair, and opened up a narrow thread of telepathy across the planet.

Renata! Thank you! Veha said after I'd knocked.  My mama taught me right, you know.

Veha, what's up? I said.

Oh, you know, the usual, he said, and I could see his big desk laid out before him: piles of paper, a manual typewriter, fountain pens.  I was just wondering how you were.

You were lonely, I said. There's no point prevaricating in telepathic communication.

Yes, he said cheerily. Any idea when Ruth will be home?

If she didn't tell you, why should I know better? I said.

You've been helping her with her daughter, he said.

I wouldn't call it 'helping', I said. I think that my input is what sent her off-planet.

She doesn't honestly think Sophie's been blasted out into space, does she? he said.

Stranger things have happened, I said, avoiding the straight answer. Which was, yes, it was possible that Josh Feldstein had done to Sophie what had been done to him. The cases were similar enough. But no, I didn't think Ruth could find her. Space is a big place, no matter what they show in the comic books.

Veha sighed. I wish I could help her somehow, he said.

I could catch glimpses of the extra sentiment behind the statement. Veha, quit that, I said. I know you've got the world's biggest crush on her, but I really don't need to see it.

Sorry, he said, embarrassed.

And you know nothing's ever going to happen, I said. The whole 'woman of iron' mystique goes deeper than her invulnerability. I gave him a quick glimpse of Ruth on video screen a year or two ago, saying, "I hope the man has better sense than settling for the one woman he can touch. I'm old enough to be his mama."

She is nothing like my mother, Veha said, amused.

You know what she means, I said. Hell, I'm old enough to be your mama.

You are both fine-looking women for your ancient, ancient years, he said.

Brat, I said.

Anyway, I'm sorry, he said. I'll try to keep my imagination under control. Anything new in your world?

So I told him about It's a Wonderful House and all it's bizarre appeal. He could understand; the boy had his own obsessions and hobbies. One needs to have them when one's life is as isolated as ours.

I reached the part about accidentally stumbling on the live feed, and he said, Are you sure you didn't end up with a line to him, Renata? I remember that one time a couple of years ago...

When I'd stumbled over something horrible in the mind of one of my client's parents and had had that psychic thread stuck in my teeth, as it were, for months. Ruth had come into that eventually, making sure the right evidence was gathered and the man prosecuted. I didn't like my vicarious taste of prison life, though; it reminded me too much of the institution.

I'm sure, I said. I'd gone through every ritual and exercise I could remember to exorcise the touch of the serial killer's mind. I was relatively certain I'd managed to forget what it felt like sufficiently that I wouldn't wander into his mind again.

And no identification either, he said.

Nothing useful, I said. Maybe it limits the suspects, though. We'll find him.

You're not still pursuing this, Renata? Veha said, alarmed.

I have to, Veha, I said. This waste of flesh killed one of my niece's friends. He'll kill more if he's not stopped.

You're not a superhero, he said.

No, I said. I'm just a person.

There was a conscious silence, but I could feel the torrent of things he was trying to decide to say.

It's not like I'm going out in public or anything, I said. There's this journalist who's very hot to find him. She's doing most of the work. I just gave her my tip. I just... want to feel like I helped.

You help so many people, Renata, he said. You help me all the time.

Thank you, Veha, I said. And you help me too, you know. You're one of my best friends.

We had a little rush of emotion then that wasn't very coherent, and I felt obliged to cut things short before we both got more embarrassed. My mother's supposed to call soon, I said. I have to get back to my office.

Thanks for calling, he said. Talk to you soon? Let me know if you hear from Ruth.

After all that, I was barely in a condition to talk to Mama, but I managed. She looks forward to the calls very much... and so do I. I hated to reschedule on her if I didn't really have to.

"Reesy told me your friend came to Yanaye's funeral," Mama said after the usual preliminaries.

"Did she?" I said. "I don't know her that well, but I know she's interested in finding the killer."

"Reesy said she looked like she was a hard kind of white woman," Mama said, and I glimpsed her entirely wrong image of Suzanne Feldstein, somewhere between a Jersey Shore caricature and a New York City marketer.

"She's that man's widow," I said. "That man who flooded downtown at Christmas."

"Oh, him," she said. "No wonder she looked wrung out. Still, it was nice of her to come."

"Yes," I said. "It was." And, I thought, she had probably spent the whole time wondering why she'd come and wishing she were anywhere else. She seemed nice, but hardly the sort to cope well when surrounded by black folks.

And the conversation turned to which grandchild was doing what. Mama hadn't really liked being a mother -- with a problem child like me, who could blame her? -- but she loved being a grandmother.

"You know," Mama said thoughtfully, and I recognized and dreaded the tone, "I bet you would be a fabulous mother."

"Mama," I said, keeping my tone level, "I am 45 years old. I am well beyond the point at which I could have a child."

"You have all those friends," Mama said. "All those scientist friends. And you haven't had your change yet. You've still got time."

"I would make a terrible mother," I said, clenching my fists against the old discussion. "You know that. You know how much you hated the way Grandma got all up in your business. Think of me. Child would run away from me like... like Lady Justice's children did."

"Your grandmother was an evil woman," my mother said flatly. I winced away from the abundance of hatred Mama had for her mother, who had been, in fact, an evil old woman as far as I could tell as a child -- she'd been dead by the time I got out of the institution. "You are not."

"I could be," I said. "I wouldn't trust myself here alone with a child. There's no one could help me down here, and if I lost my temper, I'd be worse than Grandma ever had been with her willow switch."

Mama sighed. "I know there's no convincing you that you'd be fine. I just have to try sometimes."

"Reesy and Lashawna gave you grandchildren," I said. "And Michael will too, soon, I hear."

That got us off on the subject of my little brother and his latest amorous adventures, and spared my sanity for another day.

When I finally got off the phone, I was irritated to discover that I only had ten or so more minutes of It's a Wonderful House to watch. (Of course I could watch it recorded. I've recorded all the episodes. But there's something about watching it immediately and being able to get onto the fan forums and... yes, I am crazy, why do you ask?) I kicked back there in my office to watch what was left.

There was Simon, looking very fine in a grey tweed vest, white buttondown shirt, and black slacks, sitting in the kitchen while Jeshri, who was in her purple yoga pants and matching hoodie, was cooking something in a wok. She happened to glance over her shoulder when Simon made a horrible grimace. "Oh, what did he say now?" Jeshri said.

The view cut away to Brandon, who was in his hideous bathroom, dripping wet and muscular and supposedly -- to the Brandon fans on the forums -- looking very attractive with just the white towel wrapped around his waist, though he doesn't work out nearly as much as Tom. He was shaving, but had paused to let out a bray of laughter. "Man," he said to his cameraman who was, I think, the last person willing to tolerate his company any more, "it was awesome. She was so drunk she didn't know what was going on."

The view cut back to Simon, who said, with a curl to his lip, "He's bragging about 'banging' a drunk girl on his night off."

"Tuesday?" Jeshri said, lifting the big wok effortlessly and scooping the contents into a bowl. "You'd think he'd be more... tolerable or something if he got laid so recently."

Lizzie shuffled into the room. She was looking less perky since her arrest; no doubt she was dealing with a lot of press and other issues. There was a stubbornly insane group of people online who hate her and spend a lot of time spamming her Twitter and other social media with vitriol for disobeying her sainted papa; I'm guessing that was part of what was wearing on her. Simon and Jeshri both paused to greet her, watching her worriedly.

Lizzie said hi to both of them, and walked straight to the kitchen sink, which was stacked high with dishes. She pulled as large a stack of dirty dishes out of the sink as she could carry, and under Simon and Jeshri's astonished gazes, walked out with them, saying, "I'll wipe up the floor in a few minutes."

The next thing we saw was Lizzie stepping between the betoweled Brandon and his room, holding the stack of dishes.

"Hey," he said obliviously. "'Scuse."

She looked up at him with a dreadfully impassive face and said, "Are you going to wash the dishes tonight?"

"Well," he said, backpedaling a step and glancing at the camera with one of his "can you believe this?" expressions. "I've got a date, see..."

Lizzie threw a plate at him, smashing accurately into his bare chest. "Are you going to wash the dishes tonight?"

"Jesus, what the BLEEP?" he said, stepping back.

She smashed another one into his chest. The bowl shattered, spraying him liberally with filthy water. "Are you going to wash the dishes tonight?" she said relentlessly.

"You're so BLEEPing crazy! Get away from me, you BLEEPing trailer trash whore!" he screamed, slipping on the water and sliding a step down the stairs.

She got him in the head with the next one, and he was covered with moldy tomato sauce. "Are you going to wash the dishes tonight?" she said again.

"Jesus BLEEP, yes, BLEEP, yes, just please BLEEPing go AWAY, you crazy BLEEPing BLEEP!" he shrieked.

"Good," she said, adding, "Think fast," before flinging all the rest of the dishes at him.

The view cut to Simon and Jeshri daintily stepping aside as Brandon fell backwards down the stairs, arms full of dishes. He landed, as one would expect, with a crash of china and glassware, and a large black rectangle over the part revealed by the falling-away of his towel.

Simon looked at Jeshri, who was blocking her own view of the offending Brandon-part with an outstretched hand, and said, "Why didn't we think of that?"


From the Author:
A little comeuppance fan service for all you lovely people.

Comment incentive in June: if I get 50 total comments from readers in June, I will post twice weekly through July. As before, if you all post 75 comments, I'll post twice weekly through August too. Get up to 100 comments, the twice-weekly postings continue through September.

Vote for us at Top Web Fiction. Clickety-click. I'll make this button soon.

Date: 2011-06-11 12:37 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
JESSIE <333333

....I dunno man, I love her, but she's also just a tiny bit of a ticking time bomb. Poor girl. I can just see her going vigilante and swooping down on would-be rapists in dark alleys (and who could blame her).

Date: 2011-06-11 01:21 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
She'd mostly have to go Bat-vigilante, since her para power is dependent on having energy around to absorb. I mean, she could knock out power for a few blocks around and zap someone, but that would cause more trouble, I think...

Date: 2011-06-11 03:56 pm (UTC)
kyleri: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyleri
I'm not quite sure she'd care that much about trouble, if she went vigilante.

Date: 2011-06-11 05:47 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
True enough. :)

Date: 2012-01-28 08:05 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Oh man Lizzie. <3

Date: 2015-01-20 04:19 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Repeated line:
I understand from Veha that they play a lot of chess and he spends a lot of time fending off her romantic advances.

Thanks for the chapter!

Date: 2016-04-30 07:21 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
...is Brandon literally bragging about raping a drunk girl? What the fuuuuuuuck. I have officially downgraded my emotions towards him from "disgust" to "hatred"


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