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The Grave of Your Deserving

The Wonderful House boards were crazy with the news.

Somehow, it didn't surprise me, though. We'd never heard about Brandon's family on the show. They'd talked about Professor Canis, we had the memorable visit from Lizzie's father, Tom's aunt and uncle had come up from time to time, and Jeshri's family was always in her conversation. But not Brandon's. It seemed somehow fitting, karmically, that even his family abandoned him in the end.

Of course, it didn't seem fair that the people who had the most reason to dislike him were forced into the position of taking care of him. And of course they had to, especially after their closing video laying claim to him as "their jerk." They would have been ripped to shreds if it had come out that Brandon's body had been surrendered to the government for dissection.

I popped to a different screen and signed a half dozen petitions to do away with the Gold Stars research law. I knew that Ruth -- or someone -- would take care of me when I died, because god knows no one wants the government to dissect a Class 10 telepath. But didn't all the other paras, all the regular paras, all the homeless paras, anyone at all who wasn't quite the ideal human being, have a right to be buried with their secrets? Patriotic duty, my left asscheek.

It also didn't surprise me that the show's producers had abandoned any responsibility for Brandon along with their responsibility for payout or, you know, the safety of their "contestants". I did notice, however, that the producers tried to jump on the funeral bandwagon once it got rolling. In an interview with Simon:

WonderBlog: So will the funeral be televised?

Simon: We'll be livestreaming it for the fans.

WonderBlog: But no TV?

Simon: We couldn't reach an amicable compromise with the show's producers, who are in the best position to produce a televised version. They were interested in the funeral, but not interested in meeting any conditions, and we weren't interested in being screwed over again.

WonderBlog: Speaking of screwed over, who's paying for the funeral?

Simon: Fortunately, not us. There's a fund established by the Guardians and Gold Stars for the funerals of paras without families who die in a supervillain action.

Oh, good, I thought, at least the kids weren't going to have to cough up for the ridiculous costs of a funeral.

The livestreamed funeral was fascinating. I tuned in late (after taking practically every drug in my pharmacopeia that suppressed my powers without just knocking me out), just in time to see hundreds of fans packing into the largest room of the Weinstein Funeral Home. The camera view switched to Simon, in a tailored black suit, and Jeshri, in a somber brown skirt suit, walking out to meet Tom, who was pulling on a tweed sportcoat over a black polo shirt and khakis as he crossed the parking lot.

"You made it!" Simon said, shaking his hand.

"I couldn't let you guys face this without me," Tom said, next hugging Jeshri. "No luck with his dad though."

"What happened?" Jeshri said, and they all turned and started walking toward the funeral home.

"I stopped at the address you gave me, just outside Pittsburg," Tom said. "Parking the rig was a bitch and the neighbors all came out to stare. Upscale but older neighborhood, almost all white."

"Surprise," Simon muttered.

"Anyway," Tom said with a shrug, "I rang the doorbell. The lights were on and the TV was going, so I kept at it till he opened the door. And guys, the fumes just about knocked me the fuck over."

"Drunk?" Jeshri said.

"As a skunk," Tom said. "He was in his wifebeater and a pair of sweatpants and had about a week's worth of stubble. Looked just like Brandon would have after twenty years of partying and smoking."

"Yugh," Jeshri said.

"I'll spare you more gory details," Tom said as they neared the door. "Let's leave it at him telling me he wouldn't attend anything associated with his wife's filthy para crotch-dropping, in those words, even if it was the funeral for every backstabbing bastard para in the world at the same time. And then he mock-apologized that his wife was on the other side of the world, probably screwing someone who looked like me, when she could have been here, comforting me for the loss of my buddy, if only all paras weren't also great big homos."

"I think I'm going to be sick," Jeshri said, looking the part.

"Guess we know more about why Brandon was such a jackass now," Simon said.

"It's no excuse," Lizzie said, emerging from the doorway. "I mean, look at my dad."

"Must I?" Simon said.

"He's at least as big a jerk as Brandon's dad," Lizzie said, "and I, at least, try to be decent to other people." She was wearing a white blouse and pair of dark blue slacks.

Tom nodded. "You've got a point."

They hesitated outside the door, and then group-hugged.

"Time to butch up," Simon said, breathing deeply.

"Let's get this over with," Lizzie said, breaking away from the others and opening the door.

The camera switched back to the interior of the packed room. My computer system was blurring out faces except those I knew personally, so I noticed Ira and Suzanne Feldstein sitting in the front row, Ira in a crisp, bright Mister Metropolitan uniform and Suzanne in a dark burgundy suit. I saw Ruth, Olivia, and Larentia sitting together a couple of rows back, noticeably not in their more recognizable Ultimate, Fat Lady, and Professor Canis personas. The Steel Guardian was there with Sekhmet, representing for their particular teams. Brainchild, looking pale and wan, all nose and glasses, in a shirt, vest, and many-pocketed trousers, sat next to Wire, whose weirdly floaty blue forelock only briefly distracted me from the shining metal hand she flexed idly in her lap. And just as people were settling in and a man was stepping to the podium, the Equestrian and her horse (in his human form) strode up the aisle to sit with Ira and Suzanne.

The camera view then shifted to the plain black coffin with chrome trim and rails, against which leaned a small easel holding a photograph of a slightly younger, pleasantly-smiling Brandon -- probably a school photo of some sort. I could see any number of floral offerings around the coffin, including an ostentatious bunch of white lilies from the "It's a Wonderful House" producers.

The man at the podium was pastor of a local church who knew Tom (we were not vouchsafed an explanation for that). He was an uninspiring speaker -- I wished for the preacher from Mama's church, whose eloquence she always spoke of in glowing tones -- but white preachers have never particularly impressed me. I tuned out everything he said and concentrated on the images: the camera pans over the crowd (mostly young white people, I noticed), the expressions on the faces of the Wonderful House cast and crew (my system recognized Eartha the camerawoman in that group, and from her face I guessed she shared my assessment of the speaker), and the repeated switches back to the coffin.

He spoke for only about five minutes, which was a blessing, and no one else apparently cared to speak, so Olivia got up and sang "Ave Maria" in her most restrained voice, accompanied by a pianist I didn't know (and so couldn't see). When she was done, the pianist swung into something slow and somber, and Simon, Lizzie, Jeshri, Tom, Eartha, and another crew member I didn't know went forward, lifted the coffin, and carried it out on their shoulders. The crowd began to pour out the doors after them.

I walked away from the livestream while they drove to the cemetery. My computer system was excellent, but with the speed the cars were moving, it would inevitably miss blocking some people, and I just didn't need the headache. My family phone rang while I was pouring myself a glass of tea.

"Hey, Mama," I said.

"Are you watching the funeral?" she said.

"Of course," I said.

"You made yourself so sick over all that," she said, sucking her teeth in annoyance. "I can't imagine why you want to watch that horrible boy's funeral now."

"Because he's the end of the story," I said, adding three teaspoons of sugar to my iced tea. "It's about closure, Mama. He was that man's last victim."

"Well," she said, somewhat mollified. "When you put it that way. I suppose. Is that woman there?"

"Suzanne Feldstein? Yes, she was in the front row with her father-in-law," I said, sipping the tea and going through a door into one of my little parks, where I kept promising myself to start an aviary so I could have birdsong, another one of those things I miss.

"She wrote a very nice memorial to Yenaye and the other women, I thought," Mama said.

"Yes, I thought it was good too," I said, sitting on one of the wooden benches. The tone of her voice was detached, and I could tell there was a pressure of something she wanted to tell me. I waited.

"Rennie, I called you to tell you something," Mama said finally.

"What's up?" I said.

"Well, first thing, your cousin Benjamin asked me to ask you if you were serious about wanting a puppy, because he knows one that needs a home," she said. Mama doesn't like dogs, and that dislike dripped off her voice.

"Tell Ben that I absolutely want a new puppy, and he should send me photos," I said, feeling really excited for the first time in a while.

"You know him and his foolery with dogs," Mama said. "Of course he'd find you a dog. It'll have fleas, you know."

"There's medicine for that, Mama," I said, tamping down the excitement. "What else did you want to tell me?"

She fell silent. "I had one of my seeing dreams, Rennie," she said, her tone uncharacteristically hesitant.

"And?" I knew better than to say anything else at all, because she'd take it as disbelief and never tell me.

She cleared her throat uncomfortably. "I saw you alone with your dog. All alone, mind you, and not in your house." She always called the bunker my "house". I guess it made it sound less like I was locked away. "Looking out a great big window over the city." Throat-clearing again. "That's all. But I knew it was a seeing."

"Thank you, Mama," I said, feeling chilled. "I don't know what it means, but I'll remember it."

"You do that," she said, but I could tell she was gratified. I was the only one of her children who believed in her seeing dreams. I had reason to. "All right, I'd best be getting on. You take care now, Rennie."

"I will. You too, Mama," I said. "I love you."

"And I love you, girl," she said, and hung up.

When I got back to the screen with my half-glass of tea, they'd gotten to the cemetery and were lowering the coffin into the raw hole in the green earth. As I watched fans and acquaintances pass by the grave to throw flowers into it, I raised my glass. May it be sweeter for him next time around.


Note from the Author:

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L’appel du vide

"Now you," Sator said, glancing over his shoulder. "Megan Amazon, shatter yourself." I had to drop filters in place as Megan took a magical blast that went straight through her invulnerability, ran up every nerve ending, and back down, spasming all the muscles in her arms and legs. Meteor got an accidental punch to the nose from Megan, one that knocked her backward to sprawl on the floor.

On another "channel," I apologized quickly to the Wonderful House kids and dropped them out of the link entirely: Tom was in the ambulance with Brandon on the way to the hospital, Jeshri and Lizzie and Eartha were talking to the police and the Gold Stars.

Block her motor nerves, Watson said tightly. Do it now!

She was right, the spell wasn't stopping, and Megan was apparently strong enough to overcome her own invulnerability, judging from some of the pain I was reading. I stopped everything anomalous that was happening in her motor cortex and knocked her out. She dropped limply to the floor.

Meanwhile, Simon's shape swarmed up to human form (naked) and lunged for Brainchild. His hands couldn't touch her, but he managed to catch the glass fragment -- presumably magical -- that her spirit was standing on. There was a stab of pain as the razor edges of the glass sliced into his hands. Brainchild was stable for just a second, then her spirit turned and tried to grab onto the glass, as if she was being sucked into the funnel by some secret wind.

"Oh, let her fall, child," Sator laughed. "Let her fall and see my century-old plan come to fruition at last!"

Nereid hit him with a firehose blast... of blood. While he sputtered at the mouthful he'd got, she stared at her hands, and I could feel the hysteria welling up amidst her panic.

It's not permanent! the Equestrian snapped at her. It's just this place doing it to you. Do it again!

I can't help her! Simon exclaimed, gripping the glass that was slippery with his own blood and trying to pull it away from the machine without losing Brainchild. She's going to fall!

Meteor! Ira snapped. You're a spirit when you're not in that girl's body. Do something.

The Equestrian and Maelstrom were attacking Sator again to distract him. Nereid, to give the girl credit, pulled her shit together and added her geysers of blood.

Meteor hesitated. I'm not sure I can, she said. Can't Renata help her?

I can't reach her mind, I said. I've tried. And I'm not spiritually telekinetic anyway.

Meteor, you have to save her! Suzanne nigh-shouted. You're her only hope!

Feeling Meteor peel out of the body she was possessing was like nothing I'd ever felt: like someone burning their skin off, and then being totally without pain because there were no nerves any more. Her spirit leapt out of the woman -- G, Watson told me -- and threw herself across the mouth of the black abyss just as Brainchild slipped off the glass. Brainchild hit the "surface" that was Meteor and bounced off her onto the floor.

Meteor said to me, I only ever wanted to be a hero, before her grip slipped and she was sucked into the void, her mind sliding too far away for me to reach.

G staggered backward and fell over Megan. I apologetically seized control of her motor functions, got her ass up, and walked her out the door.

One less potential victim in that room. Go me.


Note from the Author:

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At Present Low, But Will Soon Be Better

Ira's attention was snatched away from the chase by Jeshri's sudden lurch of dismay. He looked through her eyes and saw Brandon shored up against the river wall.

Brandon smiled briefly, wiping at the corner of his mouth. He tried to rise (a second time, apparently, according to Jeshri), but fell back against the wall. Tried again and failed again. He frowned and focused on the remaining group. "Hurts," he said, not very loudly.

Tom walked over quickly. "Did you hit your head?" he asked, crouching down next to his housemate.

"Uh," Brandon said, licking his lips. "I don't know?" He tried to reach up to touch the back of his head, but winced and dropped his hand to his side. "Hurts."

"What hurts?" Eartha said, standing a few feet from him.

"Um," Brandon said, trying a deep breath and making a pained noise. "Chest."

"He hit him in the chest," Jeshri said, reaching into her pocket and producing a cell phone.

"That won't work," Lizzie said to her, pointing at the phone.

Jeshri gave her a brief smile as the screen lit up under her fingertips. "Hardened. I work with electricity, remember?" She dialed and put the phone to her ear.

Brandon was frowning again, looking perplexed. "Can't... breathe right," he said between short breaths.

"He probably broke your ribs, dude," Tom said. "It's gonna hurt."

Brandon touched his chest vaguely, and his fingers caught in the strings of his hoodie. He wrenched them free impatiently. "Hurts," he said again. "A lot."

Jeshri was talking to the 911 operator. "Yes, supervillain combat at Staybird Park. No, he's run away toward town. We have an injured person here, though."

Ira looked at Brandon through Tom's eyes. He didn't like the ghastly grey color of Brandon's face, even allowing for the sodium vapor lamplight. Or the way Brandon's eyes were rolling. He's passing out, he said through the link. Try laying him back flat, son.

Tom needed Lizzie's help to stretch Brandon out on the chilly concrete. They bore with gritted teeth Brandon's pathetic hisses and whimpers, and Lizzie pulled off her own hoodie to drape over Brandon.

"Shock?" Tom said.

"Looks like it to me," Eartha said, peering. "I'll go to the front of the park to meet the ambulance." She zipped off, cautiously, in the direction the battle had gone. Meteor's head was not visible in the distance.

Oh, yes, Ira thought. He's in shock. Ira replayed what he'd seen of the blow through his memory. Oh, yes. Just like McMullin.

Can either of you take a pulse? he said into the link.

Lizzie said, Yes, I just finished my CPR cert at the Y. She knelt next to Brandon and fumbled for the pulse in his wrist.

Brandon was gasping for breath, short shallow inhalations through his teeth. His eyes were open, but slitted. "Thought he was my bro," he mumbled.

"He wasn't," Tom said, more than a little bitterly.

Jeshri knelt down and actually took Brandon's hand. "The ambulance is on its way."

I can barely feel his pulse, Lizzie said into the link.

The harsh panting suddenly stopped. "The fuck?" Tom said, only just barely stopped by Ira from unadvisedly shaking the man on the ground. "Brandon? Brandon?"

"He's not breathing," Jeshri said, eyes wide. "What can we do? We've got to do something!"

Mouth to mouth, Ira said, keeping the subsequent thought of for all the good it will do to himself. When none of the kids moved, he said, more urgently, Mouth to mouth, Lizzie. No compressions, I think.

Lizzie shoved Tom out of the way peremptorily and lurched forward. She carefully cleared Brandon's airway and started breathing for him.

In the distance, there was a faint wail of a siren.

"Just like McMullin," Ira said out loud at the table, rubbing his face. Watson looked at him, and he said, "Seen it before, in Korea. Corporal McMullin was hit by a boulder thrown by one of the bulletproofs on the other side. When they opened up his chest, he was full of blood."

Watson looked down at her phone. "Ambulance is 2 minutes away."

Ira looked back through the link, at the woman breathing for the man on the ground, another woman standing by worried, the man on his knees watching, all so very young. He hadn't felt this helpless since the Platinum Protector had died in his arms of a gut punch that not only pasted her insides but severed her spine. He drank his coffee and wished for something stronger. To toast McMullin, perhaps.


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I Have a Bad Feeling About This

The energy flare receded quicker, Suzanne thought, than it would have had she seen it in the flesh rather than through the telepathic link.

The cameraman -- the killer -- was standing there, his costume tattered around the edges and smoking lightly. He laughed, a short, ugly sound, and stepped toward Lizzie, who was still dazzled by her own attack.

MOVE, LIZZIE! Simon and Megan both screamed through the link. Lizzie threw herself backward as he lunged forward.

From one side came a swoop of wind and something hit Camerabro hard in a tinkling crash of machinery. He flew backward a good ten feet, landing in a bed of tulips.

The camerawoman, Eartha, dropped the remains of her useless camera. "I always KNEW you were an asshole!" she screamed, skidding to a halt six inches above the ground.

(Renata picked her up into the link, and Suzanne could hear the edges of Renata's high-speed explanation to Eartha. The camerawoman circled rapidly behind the House crew.)

Jeshri noticed Brandon bending down and retrieving something that had bounced to his feet: it looked like a tiny gramophone, with a large black horn and a box made of moving gears.

Camerabro made an incoherent noise of rage and bounded to his feet, then to Brandon.

Brandon looked up at him, still with that silly little smile on his face. "Bro?" he said, and held the thing out to him.

The cameraman snatched it out of his hand and slammed Brandon out of the way with a backswing of his forearm, starting for Jeshri again.

There was a moment's stab of panic through the link -- from Jeshri, who was too far from the light post to grab any electricity, from Lizzie, who had depleted her stored energy, from Simon, who wasn't sure he could get there in time, and from Megan, who was leaping for him.

Then Meteor's giant hand swatted the killer away as casually has he'd just swatted Brandon. He flew in a neat parabolic arc back toward the entrance to the park.

Simon was running as fast as his four legs would carry him, which was blindingly fast to Suzanne, and snapping through the link, Goddammit, Meteor, you DON'T fucking throw the supervillain so he's CLOSER to civilians. Megan, c'mon. The rest of you, stay here and call the cops!

What was I supposed to do? Meteor snarled. Invite him to dance?

Knock him into the river. Squash him flat. I don't care. Simon bounded over a bush. But move your giant ass. Let's try to stop him from killing anyone else.

Oh, Simon, Suzanne thought, Simon, be careful. She remembered him telling her about going to classes at the Gold Star Academy when he was a teenager, learning how to be a better team leader and all that. She thought, You may not be in spandex, but spandex keeps chasing you.

The boy's all right, Renata said. He knows what he's doing.

Yes, Suzanne said, and didn't add, But so did Mitch. She wrenched her attention away long enough for a gulp of coffee and a glance at Watson's intent but calm face before diving back in.


Note from the Author:
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Secret Identities Hide Many Things

"Move!" Megan hissed, springing to her feet and starting to run.

She felt more than saw Meteor catch up with her and whisk her into the air by catching her under the arms. She managed not to flail her suddenly relativley tiny size-32 feet in the air while this happened.

It was a matter of three giant strides across the park (she'd have to beg Ladybird to come out to fix the crushed bushes and snapped-off trees) and Megan was back on the ground.

Simon's empty trouser legs barely protruded from a fist-sized hole punched in the ground. The shredded sweater was nearby. A giant golden wolf crouched, snarling, between the housemates and the newcomer who was rising to his feet, a white man in midnight blue spandex and a billowing, hooded black cape.

A horrified shock of recognition rocked Megan back on her heels. Fuck! I know him!

Really? came Watson's interested query, over the flurry of other inquiries.

I met him my first day in town! Megan said, blank with horror as the man turned his sparkling, if somewhat sinister, large-chinned smile on the crowd. He was chasing the Merlin. Oh my god. Oh my god. I handed the Merlin to him. He said he'd been after him, and I just handed him over. I as good as killed him!

FOCUS! Renata's mental command poked Megan straight in the adrenal glands. Angst later, girlfriend, she added, a little more kindly.

The man had spun to face Megan and Meteor, and just seized Meteor's ankle and tossed her partly into the air, off balance. Meteor shrank rapidly as she fell, and she dropped with a crash into a copse of trees and boxwood hedges. He turned to Megan.

He had been trained to fight, somewhat. He knew how to throw a punch, for instance. Megan's arm registered a significant impact as she blocked -- she guessed that Watson's Class 5 estimate might be a little low.

Unfortunately for him, she'd been trained better.

When he skidded to a stop, shoring up against the lamp post recently vacated by Brandon, Simon pounced on him. The man twisted away, rolling to his feet. Simon's flashing teeth caught and tore off the hood and cape, leaving his face exposed. His eminently recognizable tiny eyes and birthmark shared space with a bleeding scrape across his cheek where one fang had scored him.

"Bro?" Brandon said hesitantly. Events had apparently confused him.

The cameraman's eyes narrowed and he slapped something on his belt. The camerawoman, Eartha, yelped and dropped her rig as it sparked vigorously.

The streetlight flickered briefly, but the hardened Wonder City infrastructure held.

"No more film," he said, sneering. "Just you all, dying."

"God, I've wanted to do this forever," Lizzie said, and, raising her arms toward him, dumped a vast red explosion of energy into the killer.


Note from the Author:
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I settled into what I call my long-haul chair. It's intensely soft and it floats on some sort of magnetic cloud and is more stable than the floor, so even if I lose my shit and try to get up without the proper escape sequence, it won't totter over or anything. All my monitoring systems were online and checked. All my robots were nearby to try to minimize anything physical that I might try to do to myself. I had taken my pain medications and my focus-enhancing medications. At hand was an automated system that could detect incipient psychic flares (which are like solar flares, except they disrupt mental processes rather than electromagnetic processes) and either administer a fast-acting intramuscular tranquilizer or a hard electric shock, depending on the predicted magnitude of the flare.

I took a few deep breaths. It had been a while since I last did this. Being the nexus of a telepathic network is a surprising lot of work, primarily filtering of content and translation of the way that a given person thinks about things into a mutually understandable language. Doing this for a group of non-telepaths simultaneously requires the most exacting walls and split-second multitasking. I expected, when I agreed, to be wrecked for at least a week afterward.

I had remembered to go to the bathroom before I started. My mother had crammed some valuable life lessons into my brain on those long car rides to the Shore.

"Imaging on," I said, and the computer flipped up photographs of my telepathic targets. Which first? I contemplated the Wonderful House crew and decided, as I had expected, that I felt the most connection to Simon, so I focused on his photo, paying minute attention to the perfect lines of his jaw and cheekbones, the tight ripples of his brown-black hair, the yellow eyes behind their tinted shields...

Hello, Mr. Canis, I said when the tingle of contact rippled down my spine. His was a warm, quick-moving mind, full of an idealism I'd not had since I was eight or so.

Hello! he replied, trying not to sound startled, though I knew he was. A pleasure to, uh, meet you.

He had the pleasantly repressed mind of someone who has been trained to cope with psionics. The pleasure's mine, Mr. Canis. I stopped short of telling him I was a fan. Nothing like having a telepathic fangirl in your head to make you nervous.

Now it was easy. I looked at the others through Simon's eyes (and his other senses, which were distractingly acute) and added them to my collection: Jeshri, whose mind was a sharp stacatto of thoughts like blows; Tom, who was in an agony of fast-moving anxiety; Lizzie, whose world was always a little blurry; Megan, who was quivering with a steel-jacketed terror; Suzanne, whose inner world flew apart in pieces and crashed back together with her heartbeat; Watson, whose turbulent ideas had parted and smoothed for my entry; and to my surprise, Suzanne's father-in-law Ira, who was abuzz with excitement and nostalgia.

I stopped short of picking up the camerawoman, and after a quick consultation with Watson, left her out. She had not, after all, consented to a telepathic link and all its risks. I did scan her quickly, though, and discovered that she was Jeshri's camerawoman, her name was Eartha (yes, named for Eartha Kitt), she was, in fact, para, and she was rather nervous and excited about all this. At least they'd warned her it might be dangerous.

I saved the ghost for last. Meteor was alarmingly present for someone possessing another person, and I only got the faintest whiffs of the host personality. I wondered if Watson had set this up to see if I could pry Meteor loose from her moorings. I would believe in that sort of Machiavellian scheming from her.

All right, I said to them all. Everyone's in the loop.

I naturally picked up things I shouldn't know from their subconscious emotional levels. It shouldn't have surprised me that Megan and Simon had a history, I suppose, but it did; they'd played it very cool in Megan's one appearance on-screen. Watson and Megan were lovers, and both of them had been involved with the woman possessed by Meteor, resulting in some spectacularly conflicted emotions. Suzanne and Simon, of course, were desperate for each other. Lizzie had mad crushes on all three of her housemates (that was another surprise). Meteor hated everyone equally for being strange, perverted, and living (that was not a surprise). Lizzie also felt like she really should have gone before she left the house; I had to filter that like whoa or everyone would need to pee, including me.

Thank you, Watson said once I'd delivered all the general greetings. Her mental voice was crisp and snappy, and she was also speaking aloud for Eartha's benefit. You all know where you need to be. Megan, Meteor, you start now. House crew, give them two minutes and then start strolling to your destination.

What about you? Jeshri said. She was speaking aloud as well.

I'll be only a few blocks away with Suzanne and Ira, coordinating with Renata's help, Watson said.

There was a wisp of an apology as soon as my first name came out. Nothing like being inside each other's minds to bring everyone to a first-name basis, is there? I assured her.

Amusement came back from Watson, and I turned my attention to following Megan and Meteor.

The two of them proceeded in silence that was angry on Meteor's part -- I could tell she hadn't been entirely warned that she'd have to work with Megan -- and irritated on Megan's part -- because Meteor was snappish and because she had a terrible conflict between wanting to hate Meteor and having some sympathy for the girl. They were trying not to be noticeable as they hurried to the dilapidated dock where they were to hunker down and wait. Meteor, growing, could get them to the meeting place in a few seconds rather than the couple of minutes it would normally take to run there. I would have to do a tight job of filtering on these two: Meteor not only hated Megan but was terrified of her, particularly of being touched by her. A contagion sort of terror. Homophobia at its most refined. Lovely.

I watched the Wonderful House crew trying to stroll casually to the appointed meeting place. Jeshri and Lizzie kept exchanging reassuring hand-squeezes. Tom was concentrating on looking as intimidating as possible, throwing back his broad shoulders and puffing out his chest. Simon was quivering with nerves, paying exquisite attention to every breeze and every sound. He was worried about being able to get out of his clothes fast enough, and so had worn a thin knit v-neck sweater and a loose pair of linen trousers -- things he knew he could rip easily.

Watson was chattering easily and meaninglessly with Suzanne and Ira. Ira was peppering her with questions that even I could tell came from long experience -- no wonder Watson wanted him there as part of her strategy team. If nothing else, he could make a general prediction of the behavior of most sorts of supervillains.

I took a deep breath and consciously relaxed the muscles that had tensed up during this preparation.

It was almost midnight.


Note from the Author:
And so...

Beginning next week, I'm starting a new comment incentive: if I get 10 or more comments on the posts I make on Tuesday -- and they can be ANY comment, from "Hi" to "+1" or whatever, anything to tell me you're out there! -- I will post the next episode on Thursday. This incentive will continue at least through the climax of the story.

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Wonder City Stories

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