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As last week, this is Ira as presented in the novel. If you haven't checked out the novel yet, see my website at judemclaughlin.com for links for the print and ebooks! The novel could also use some more reviews at Amazon and Good Reads, if you have a few moments to write and/or rate!

Ira Solomon Feldstein

Birthdate: 9 April 1928

Height: 5'10" (in prime)

Weight: about 175 lbs

Race: Hebrew (as they say in the old census records!)

Spandex name: Mister Metropolitan (retired)

Sign: Aries

Blood type: B

College degree: Accounting, Wonder City Business College

Paranormal powers
- Strength: Class 4
- Invulnerability: Class 5

Other notes
In my original timeline, I was married to Elizabeth McCallum, a.k.a Tin Lizzie, and we had one child, Joshua. In this timeline, though, I was originally married to Andrea Prinz, who was Mrs. Metropolitan for a while, and she was the mother of Joshua. Apparently, I cheated on Andrea with Violet Stein, and ended up divorcing Andrea and marrying Violet for a decade or so of misery before we divorced. I don't remember any of the stuff that happened in the current timeline, but everyone else does. As far as I'm concerned, I've been a widower since Lizzie went into the Great Gulf in 1984.
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Remember to check the latest on the availability of the Wonder City Stories novel at judemclaughlin.com! We have eBooks up, but the Kindle version is still to come!

All the Secrets and the Mysteries You've Been Selfishly Withholding

Ira sat in the Guardians' waiting room with his coat folded on his lap. Andrea sat on one side of him, slowly and deliberately texting one of her friends with her Starphone. Suzanne sat on his other side, also texting, probably her beau Simon. Ira couldn't help but notice how Suzanne's hands had aged as she'd lost weight on the chemo. Only Andrea's knobby knuckles and age spots differentiated the two women, if he only looked at their hands.

He studied the watercolor landscape prints on the beige wall of the waiting room, and felt very much like he was in a doctor's waiting room. Possibly this had something to do with how often he was in doctors' waiting rooms these days.

The door opened, and a tall man in his 50s with short dark hair showing silver streaks at the temples emerged, wearing a grey pinstriped suit and metallic copper tie. He smiled and said, "Ah, Mr. Feldstein and Mrs. Morgenstern." His smile froze as he added, "Mrs. Feldstein."

Suzanne looked up from her phone and gave him a slow smile that did not reach her eyes. "Hello, Terry. Ira, Andrea, you might remember Terry Fillmore, the Copper Guardian."
Read more... )

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Cover reveal AND BOOK LAUNCH!

Buy in print at my Createspace store!
(I hope they can get it -- I'm on expanded distribution.)

Just LOOK at that beautiful cover art by Alex Heberling! (OMG IRA'S GRIN! I've had this image as my desktop for a couple of months now and his grin makes me smile EVERY TIME I SEE IT.) And the amazing cover and interior design by C Victoria Root!


The eBook is coming -- we're having a few technical difficulties with it -- but it will come soon!
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L'illusion des sosies


Ira Feldstein came into the living room at the best jog a fit 87-year-old could manage. The last time Andrea had used that urgent tone, she'd just fallen and broken her hip. However, this time, she was sitting in her favorite pink overstuffed chair, leaning forward, pointing at the television and staring at him in horror.
Read more... )

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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?"
Read more... )

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There is so very much snow here. And it is so cold. Except, apparently, during our next storm, which is just cruel.

Covered With Proud Scars

Ira reached for the screen door that opened into Madame's kitchen and heard voices at a little distance—probably in the dining room, he guessed. He couldn't help hearing the details, since the inner kitchen door was open for the summer breeze, in Madame's usual style of resisting air conditioning.

"That's a very condescending thing to say," Madame said, her voice betraying more than a little anger.

"I'm only trying to help you," a gravelly woman's voice replied. Ira recognized the slight Midwestern twang as belonging to Juniper Wolf, Madame's new girlfriend. "I've got a lot more mileage in being gay than you do."

"Do you?" Madame said, offended. "How do you know that?"

"Well, you're only just coming out…" Juniper began.

"Am I? Or do you only think that because I only just came out to you?"

"I don't know," Juniper growled. "Maybe if you actually answered questions instead of answering WITH questions all the time, I'd know!"

"I realized I was queer in the 1960s," Madame said levelly. "I figured out I was bisexual in the 1980s. I told a few people. Just because I happened to be celibate doesn't mean I wasn't thinking about my identity or feeling desire."

"Well, how was I to know?" Juniper said. "Look, it's just…"

"That you think you know better than me," Madame said.

"All right, fine," Juniper said. "If you're going to make me the villain here…"

Madame's voice softened. "I'm not making you the villain. I'm trying to tell you that I'm sixty-eight years old and I've had a few years to think about things. Really, to do nothing BUT think about things. Treating me like a callow maid who doesn't know her own mind is condescending and unkind."

"I… I'm sorry," Juniper said grudgingly.

And then Madame's voice grew edges. "Speaking of lecturing callow youth, it would be a favor to me if you would stop lecturing my protege on zir identity."

Juniper sighed. "That's such a stupid word."

"What, identity?"

"Zir!" Juniper said. "Zim, zir, zu, zee, zip-a-dee-doo-dah. What's wrong with real pronouns?"

"In case you haven't noticed," Madame said dryly, "English hasn't got a nongendered pronoun."

"Why does she need it anyway?" Juniper said, and Ira could hear her pacing around. "What's wrong with 'she'?"

"Zie doesn't feel like a 'she'," Madame said in a slowly and carefully enunciated way. "Or a 'he'. And it's none of my business, or your business, or anyone's business what words zie chooses to use to describe zirself."

"See, this is why I think she's bad for you…" Juniper began.

"'Zie'," Madame said.

"Whatever," Juniper said. "This kid has brought that whole 'queer' thing into your head, instead of…"

"Instead of your binary," Madame said tiredly. "You know, I've had this exact discussion about X several times, but there's never been anyone around who was rude enough to lecture zir about it. How, exactly, does zir choice of pronouns or identity hurt you enough that you have to harass zir?"

"She told you, huh?" Juniper said.

Madame exhaled a sharp sigh, and then said, "Please leave. No. No. I won't have this intolerance under my roof. If you can't be civil enough to acquiesce to a simple request to use my protege's chosen pronouns, I can't count on you to do… anything really. Please don't come back, unless, against all odds, you rethink your whole point of view."

Ira backed off the kitchen stairs guiltily as he heard Juniper's angry footsteps heading his way. He did his best to look like he'd only just arrived when she stormed out the door, looking nothing at all like the muscled woman he remembered from thirty years before: slightly shaggy graying brown hair cropped to the nape of her neck, body thin and jagged around her bones, wearing a purple batik shirt and matching pants that sort of hung on her like they'd hang on a clothes hanger. She almost cannoned into him, but changed direction just in time to avoid him, grunting in a way he chose to interpret as apologetic. He pretended not to know who she was.

He watched her climb into the battered old tan Toyota at the curb and drive off. When he turned back to the kitchen door, Madame stood at the screen, watching as well. She smiled down at him. "Come on in." She opened the door and beckoned.

Ira followed her into the comfortable little kitchen. "Are you all right?" he asked carefully.

Madame shot him a brilliant smile as she opened the refrigerator. She was wearing sweatpants and a faded t-shirt with her logo on it, and a red kerchief over her greying hair — he suspected she'd been cleaning the house. "You know what? I am. I expect you heard at least some of that. Want iced tea?"

"Some, yes," he said. "Is it decaf? The ticker, you know."

"Oh, I've got herbal," she said, producing a plastic pitcher of red tea. "I feel great actually. Do you know, Ira, that's the first time I've gotten to break up with someone else?" She partly filled a glass with ice cubes from the refrigerator door, then topped up with the red tea. "I've always been the one getting dumped, and I was always so grateful to anyone willing to date me for longer than the first date that I put up with positively anything." Madame handed the glass to Ira. "Come on, downstairs is cooler."

They went down into her consultation room, which was usually curtained and cozy, but since the heat had really set in, she'd turned it into a wide-open room with fans, a comfortable sofa and chairs, and a large-screen television. The Forgottens had had their last several meetings there, drinking iced tea and lemonade and talking about revolution.

"How are you, then?" Madame said, flumphing down into her favorite chair. "How is Andrea?"

"I'm feeling pretty good for a guy who nearly died a month ago," he said. "And I haven't had a chance to thank you for your part in that. Without you, they couldn't have done the initial surgery."

Madame waved it off. "It was nothing. I've got a power and it's nice to have a very direct way to use it sometimes. And of course I'd use it for you."

Ira smiled. "You're too modest, Madame. I'm glad you remember that you're so much more than just a carrier for the Oracle."

"I worked hard to be more," she said, glancing away at the wall in a slightly sad way. "Juniper helped with that all those years ago. I'm sorry things turned out this way."

Ira wasn't sure where to go with that, and said, "As for Andrea, she's just fine. Back to exercising at the Y and everything. She's even teaching a swim class for old ladies, as she puts it. It's Suzanne I'm worried about now."

"Is she going to the counselor Pearl suggested?" Madame said, seemingly glad to be distracted, for all her protests that she was fine.

"I think so," he said. "And she sent me email to let me know she'd gotten a new job. I guess she lost the old one when she got pulled into that cult. She's not managing software projects any more, she's writing press releases and stuff like that."

"Sounds good for her," Madame said with a nod.

"She's just so alone," he said. "Andrea and I have talked, of course. She… Andrea I mean… asked me to stay at her place. So I guess I'm officially shacking up now." He gave her his prize-winning smile, and Madame returned it with a hand to her heart.

"I'm so happy for you two, Ira," she said. "But, yes, I see that Suzanne is very alone in that house. With all that history and all."

"Yeah," he said, noticing that he was wringing his hands a bit and forcing himself to pick up his glass. "I… I've been trying to convince her to talk to Simon… try to work it out. She was so happy with him, Madame."

"That's all you can do, sadly, my dear," Madame said, leaning over to pat his knee. "She has to save herself."

"Could you… maybe…" Ira paused, feeling silly. "Just pull a card to see how it's going to go?"

Madame beamed like a happy cat. "Of course, Ira." She reached into the drawer of the endtable and produced a Tarot deck. Just like Madame, Ira reflected, to have a deck in easy reach at all times.

She shuffled expertly, and he reflected on how odd it was to see her doing that without any rings or bracelets on. That just solidified his suspicion of housecleaning.

Madame flipped a single card out onto the coffeetable. It showed a woman in full golden armor, with a helmet of Grecian styling, with a tongue of metal over the nose and a prominent central ridge over the crown of the head. The woman was blocky and muscular, and held a great golden shield adorned with a hideous, snarling face in the center. Ira recognized the costume: the Aegis, one of the superheroines of World War 2.

"Wheel of Fortune," Madame said, touching the card, then looking up to meet his gaze. "It all depends on her."

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After a painful episode, let's have something a little more lighthearted. I hope your holidays (if you celebrate them) are very gay (or queer! or whatever you would most like them to be!) indeed. I hope to get one more episode up before the New Year, but my schedule is looking very tight, so I'm not sure that will happen. If so, it will be a nice lagniappe for the year. If not, see you next year!

Think of All the Things We Learned

"He's in here, shouting at the TV," Andrea said, walking into the living room with Madame Destiny.

Ira had, in fact, just been shouting at the TV. He was used to remembering things differently from other people, but this slapped-together retrospective on Jane Liberty's life was officially Too Much for his usual high tolerance level. (Also, he had to admit to himself, he'd been on a shorter fuse with everything lately. Andrea told him it was usual with anesthesia and having your insides muddled with, but it didn't make him like himself very much.) Jane had NEVER been romantically linked to anyone but the Flag for any real length of time. The idea that she and the Damned Yankee had had a secret thing going was ludicrous.

"Madame!" he said cheerfully, glad of the distraction, and starting to get up.

"Oh, Ira, stay in your chair," Madame said, coming over to take his hand. "You've had a big few weeks." She was wearing one of her astonishing outfits, of course, this one involving a gold silk dress with a floral pattern in it and a confection of emeralds at her throat and holding her matching gold silk turban together.

"I really ought to get up more often," he said guiltily. "My cardiac rehab trainer will kick my ass if I don't." He shot a smile at Andrea, and she snorted.

"Have a seat, Madame," Andrea said. "I'll just go get us something from the kitchen."

Madame opened her mouth, probably, Ira thought, to protest that she'd come to help, but then shut it again and sat down in the chair across from Ira. Andrea had a fantastically repressive look sometimes.

"So why are you shouting at the television?" Madame inquired.

"No good reason," he said, sheepish. "Tell us about what's actually going on out there." He waved a hand generally toward the front of the house. "As opposed to the dribs and drabs on the news."

"Well, all the humans from the ship and everyone who could be found that was part of the Men In Black have been jailed and charged with conspiracy to world domination," Madame said, sitting back and clattering her many gold bracelets together. "There's a call for the US citizens to be prosecuted only in US courts, but the World Court and all other signatories to the World Domination Prosecution Accord are prevailing."

"I saw that West fella is pulling the Flag defense on his wife," Ira said, grimacing. "Can't imagine how Lady J feels about that."

"Angry," Madame said simply. "I hear that the Ultimate is working on that, though I'm not sure what she can actually do. In any case, the enhanced paras who were all involved in dominating particular geographic regions are all locked up in New Alcatraz—except Renata, of course. The one that was mind-controlling all of England is, I guess, not in very good shape. It looks like he may end up in care rather than in prison."

Ira grimaced again. "What a mess, what a mess," he mumbled.

"There are also a few countries that are starting para registration," Madame sighed. "And doing it badly, of course. They all do it badly."

"How many dead so far?" Ira sighed too. It was hell getting old and seeing this over and over.

"No Amnesty reports yet," Madame said, shrugging. "The governments are saying, 'Only a few,' and the activists are saying, 'Hundreds or thousands.' Of course, the activists are going to probably have more correct numbers."

Ira rubbed his face. "Well, how's X doing?"

Andrea swept back in with a tray holding plates of sandwiches and cookies, and three cold Arnold Palmers as Madame said with a shrug, "Sie is getting used to the… unpleasant little interruptions in life that the Oracle brings. Inheriting during a very complicated time makes for more interruptions. I keep assuring zir that it will settle down as the world settles down. I'm not sure sie believes me."

Ira raised his glass as high as he could (which wasn't as high as he'd like—having one's chest muscles cut by the Vorpal Sword does that, despite some regeneration from Madeline) and said, "Well, here's to the world and the Oracle settling down."

They all drank to that. Then Andrea said, "You're looking like the cat that ate the canary, Madame."

Was she? Ira peered at her face more closely—he'd gotten used to not watching people's faces when he was losing his sight, and he really had to get back into the habit. Madame was, in fact, looking well-rested and fairly youthful for a lady of a certain age. She also smiled and blushed at Andrea's comment.

"Well, as a matter of fact," Madame said, examining her dark red manicure, "I'm dating someone, and it's really quite lovely." She dimpled at them. "I thought the two of you would be the most understanding of my friends."

Andrea beamed and Ira was fairly certain that he blushed. Damn Madame and her perceptiveness! She must've been sitting on that for weeks.

"Can I ask who the lucky sod is?" Andrea said. "Do we know him?"

"Well, as to that," Madame said, covering her mouth with her fingers, "perhaps you remember Juniper Wolf?"

Ira's jaw dropped, and he was having trouble following the next couple of moments of conversation. He didn't know why he was so shocked that Madame had gotten together with the woman who'd been Women's Libra back in the 70s. He'd just been suspecting that they'd trained in martial arts together a few weeks ago. But Madame was just… she was always so… he'd heard of her dating… but… but… but…

The part of his brain that had so readily accepted Simon kept swatting down the "buts".

When he tuned back into the conversation and levered his jaw shut, Andrea was saying, "All right, I'm going to be crass: I never thought you were gay."

"Not gay," Madame said primly. "Bisexual. And really, after fifty-odd years of having a cosmic being tucked into your head, the body and all the cultural beliefs hardly matter any more."

"You always dated fellas, though, didn't you?" Andrea said, sipping her drink.

"I didn't date very much at all," Madame said mournfully. "Having the Oracle suddenly manifest in one's bed is quite a turnoff, I've found."

"I bet," Ira said, trying to imagine it. He'd thought Madame was quite a looker back in the day, and he'd always thought she was just swimming in men, but now he tried, he couldn't remember a single name or time when he saw her out with someone. She'd even come stag to the Christmas parties. Flirted with everyone, of course, but never left with anyone.

"I've tried talking to X about it, as a matter of fact," Madame said, frowning with concern, "but sie only ever says that sie doesn't think it will ever be an issue."

"Huh," Andrea said.

"So you're dating Juniper," Ira said with a disbelieving grin. "What's she been up to all these years?"

"Oh, this and that," Madame said, with a clattery dismissive gesture. "She's a massage therapist now."

"Nice hands, then," Andrea said approvingly.

The two women cackled conspiratorily, and Ira suspected that he blushed again.

"Anyway," Madame said, finishing her drink. "I should be getting along. I'm meeting with Zoltan and Washington to discuss the request for an 'official' Mystikai response to the World Court."

"Washington's reaction is going to be her middle finger," Ira said with a wry twist to his mouth.

"You're probably right," Madame said. She got up and so did Andrea and, after a moment's work, Ira. "But Zoltan's family will probably want something more serious. They're not so used to being asked for input."

They all hugged. "You'll be getting an invitation to a party," Madame said. "I'm inviting all the Forgottens over, just for one last meeting, you know?"

"Yeah, I was starting to miss those," Ira said. "But why make it one last meeting? Why shouldn't we all just keep on meeting? At least us old folks."

Andrea said, "Let's have the one after that here." She glanced over at Ira. "That okay with you?"

Ira felt a warm rush of something threaten to make his legs turn to jelly and also to make him cry. It was her house but… "That's just fine with me," he said, grinning, possibly stupidly.

"You two are just adorable," Madame said as she sailed out the door.

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I have the most magnificent surprise for the end of this story arc, and I can barely contain myself over it, I have to just start cranking out the rest of the episodes for volume 3, right?

Apology Is Policy

Suzanne steered as gently as possible over the speed bumps in the hospital driveway so as not to jar Ira. He said he was having a lot less pain in his chest, but she didn't actually believe him.

"Who the hell puts in speed bumps at a hospital?" Andrea groused from the back seat. "Stupidest planning ever. When I had the breast lump out, I would've screamed over every goddamn one, even with that bandeau thing they had me strapped up in. Can't even imagine people with abdominal surgery dealing."

Ira embraced his red, sort-of-heart-shaped-but-mostly-oblong pillow to his chest over the next speed bump, confirming Suzanne's suspicions. (He'd been given the pillow to clutch and brace his sternum against when he had to cough.) "Sadists," he muttered grimly.

He dozed after they got onto the regular streets, waking up only if she accidentally hit a pothole (she managed to dodge most of them, but clearly the Wonder City road crews hadn't yet gotten to the area around the hospital). She and Andrea exchanged occasional looks in the mirror, but didn't say anything. What was there to discuss, after all?

Ira leaned on her arm as they walked into Andrea's house. Andrea held the doors and Ira puttered in slowly, Suzanne behind him in case he stumbled.

He stopped and stared into the living room. Andrea and Suzanne gave each other tight little smiles as they waited for his reaction. The two of them had rearranged it to ease his navigation from living room to kitchen and bathroom, and Suzanne had brought over his favorite recliner from her house.

"Oh, girls," he said, his voice shaky. "My chair. And everything. Oh, girls." He reached up and rubbed at the corners of his eyes.

"Well, I have some experience with you guys with your heart surgery," Andrea said, referring to her late husband David and his long saga of heart issues. "We got in a hospital bed as well, so you can prop up until you feel better."

"So much trouble," he mumbled. "You really shouldn't have. I could have managed."

Suzanne said, "It wasn't much work at all, Ira. And you deserve to be comfortable. After all," she added with a wry grin, "you did help save the world."

"Ha!" he said, turning to hug Andrea, then Suzanne. "Yeah, I guess I did. One more time," he said, winking at Andrea, "for old time's sake, right?"

Andrea visibly restrained herself from shaking his shoulder. "I'm just glad you made it through, you blasted old goat."

"Me too, me too," he said, shuffling over to his chair and slowly lowering himself into it. "I think I'll be well enough to go to that memorial for Jane."

"Don't push yourself," Suzanne said.

Andrea snorted. "He'll be fine. They're still planning it. It'll be weeks before it happens, you know. They have to get the President in and all."

"She never got to meet this one, did she?" Ira said with a faint smile. "She was always so proud of meeting every president since FDR."

"I think we can put it down as a posthumous meeting," Suzanne said.

Andrea waved a hand dismissively. "I'm going to make some lunch. You keep him company, Suzanne."

Ira appeared to doze off immediately, leaving Suzanne to sit on the couch and check her email on her StarPhone. She was considering an email from an ex-coworker asking for a recommendation with some dismay when Ira said, "Have you called him yet?"

Suzanne looked up, slightly alarmed and distracted. "Who?"

Ira opened his eyes. "Simon."

She dropped her gaze back to the tiny screen. "Oh… no."

"Why not?" he said.

Why did he have to ask her hard questions now? He was supposed to be recovering from major surgery! "I… I just haven't."

"But you remember him now," Ira said, one of his hands rubbing lightly over the well-worn tweedy fabric of the chair arm.

Suzanne looked away from the screen, away from Ira, face burning with shame. "Yes. Yes, Renata helped me with… with that."

"Things aren't going to get any less awkward by avoiding the phone call," Ira said gently.

"I know but… he's probably got a whole new life now, a new…" She swallowed the word "girlfriend" and let the sentence trail off.

"I'll tell you something," Ira began, but he grabbed his pillow and coughed several times. After he was done, he fished a handkerchief out of his pocket and dabbed at his eyes, where the pain had sprung tears. "Okay, now I'll tell you something," he said with a weak smile. "I'll tell you that boy made you happier than I've ever seen you, and I've known you at least thirty years now. You glowed when you came home from seeing him. I don't care what garbage that flim-flam artist filled your mind with about Simon and other… dammit, why don't I have a brain? … other people like him, but you know it's garbage and I know it's garbage, and you need to do your best to put that garbage out on the curb. You're not going to do that by sitting around feeling bad."

"Oh, Ira," she said, biting her lip and trying not to cry. "I don't know what to say to him."

Ira laughed a little, hugged his pillow and coughed. "Oh, sweetheart, just call him and say you're sorry, and ask him how he is."

She did cry then, and said, "Maybe it's just better to let it go entirely. It's… it's been almost a year since I knew who he was."

He reached over to her and gripped her hand. "Life is too damned short, Suzanne. You've lost a year you could've had with him — it was taken from you by those damned assholes on that spaceship. Yes, it may be over, but you need to know whether it's over or not so you can move on. And it may not be over. You won't know until you call him."

Suzanne folded over his hand and wept harder than she had since she thought Ira was going to die. At some point, Andrea pushed a box of tissues into her other hand and sat on the couch with her arm around her shoulders. And at some later point, she promised both of them that she'd call Simon.

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

Even Though You Broke My Heart and Killed Me

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


"Charge to 360 joules."

"Still in VTach, doctor."

"Blood pressure dropping."

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


"Get me a second stent."

"Deploying second stent."


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snicker-snack, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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Welcome to the Wonder City Stories Fifth Anniversary Week! It's not exactly an extravaganza, but there will be a second episode on Thursday, and on Friday, I'll post download links for the set of short stories I'll be posting for you -- the collections will be functionally identical, but one will include the NSFW episode and one won't, so you don't have to have the NSFW ep if you don't want it.

Some of you have stuck with Wonder City Stories for five whole years, while some of you only started reading over the past several months, and I just want to thank you ALL for your support. I couldn't keep doing this without you.

Come With Me If You Want To Live

Suzanne burst through the doors of Westside General and snapped, "We need some help out here!"

She felt extraordinarily focused, even though there was a mess in the back of her head. Something about one's father figure at death's door perhaps? A woman responded to the tone of her voice, grabbing a wheelchair. Beyond, the emergency room was crowded with people, some shouting, some ashen and still -- the nearest had a bloody rag held to his head. A group, some of whom were holding someone upright, was standing in front of the desk where the receptionist, headset slightly askew, was speaking and gesturing for them to go to the waiting area. There was a loud rumble of talk, beeping machines, and the PA system crackled, "Doctor Armstrong, Doctor Rock, Doctor Steel, to main lobby stat."

She stepped back through the sliding glass doors with her wheelchair-pushing compatriot and found Lady Justice carrying Ira toward the emergency room, Madeline hurrying beside her, speaking to Ira. Ira's face was gray and his eyes were fluttering as he tried to speak.

The woman with the wheelchair (a nurse?) said, "Sorry, we're shortstaffed. It may be a while before we can see him."

"He's having a heart attack," Suzanne said helplessly. It hurt to say it out loud. She hadn't even had a chance to apologize.

Lady J set Ira in the wheelchair and Madeline kept pace with the wheelchair as the woman moved it inside. The rest of the crew was trailing behind, and Andrea caught Suzanne's elbow and hurried her forward through the doors after the wheelchair.

Inside, Madeline paused, looked around the room. "No one in charge?" she asked the nurse. The nurse pointed at a young man, probably a resident, who was staring around, then back at his clipboard, then around again. He pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his face, then shoved it back in his trouser pocket.

Madeline snapped out, loudly, "I need vital signs and intake assessments on everyone. Alert the cath suite for an acute anterior ST-elevation MI in need of possible angioplasty and stenting." As the people in scrubs responded to the authority in her voice, she snagged a gurney-pushing orderly, and helped lift Ira onto the gurney, asking, "Does the cath suite have Class 5 equipment?"

A passing white-coated woman said, "No, we only go up to Class 4. You need Wonder City Hospital for Class 5."

"We can't get to Wonder City Hospital because of the riots!" Andrea exclaimed, gesturing around at the crowd.

Madeline passed her gaze over the room again as directed motion started to happen. She reached out a hand to touch the bleeding arm of a toddler as her mother was carrying her past, and the wound closed, ejecting a small shower of tiny bloody glass shards as it did so. The mother stared. Madeline smiled briefly and said, "I don't see any other damage, but why don't you have a seat so someone can check her over when we have a chance?"

Madame Destiny stepped forward to Ira's side. She looked at him from the top of his head to his feet, a strange, distant look in her eyes. Suzanne wondered what the hell she could do without the Oracle. Reading Tarot cards was not going to save Ira.

Madame reached out and plucked a Sharpie out of the pocket of a passing person in a white coat. One of the nurses had already wrenched open Ira's outer shirt, cut his Mister Metropolitan t-shirt from neck to waist and cut on down through his belt (his favorite belt! Suzanne thought pointlessly) and trousers. While the nurse was applying EKG electrodes to Ira's chest, Madame grabbed Madeline's shoulder. Madeline slewed around to look at her.

"Cut right here," Madame said, drawing an X on the inside of Ira's thigh. "His invulnerability is weakest right there. I think Class 4 will work."

Madeline nodded and murmured, "Bless you, I'd forgotten." One of the orderlies started pushing Ira's gurney down the hall, through the crowd, and she moved after it, answering questions as she went, calling, "I'll be back in a moment to help with triage," to the resident.

"Forgot what?" Suzanne said vaguely.

"That Madame's original para power was to see weaknesses," Watson said beside her.

Suzanne was about to ask how she knew, but remembered Ira. As Andrea, Suzanne, and Lady J started after the gurney, though, a crackle and light change made them turn. X's eyes were crackling with blue lightning. There were some screams in the waiting room as the light spread over the room with its terrible revelation of, well, everything.


Lady J stared and said, "I was going to…"

"IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU RETURN TO THE DEN OF WOLVES," the Oracle said, and X collapsed to zir knees, released from the terrible light of possession. Madame hurried over and helped zir to stand.

Lady J turned pale, swallowed, and said, "All right, then."

"We'll call and let you know how it goes," Andrea promised and she and Suzanne started after Ira.

"Right," Lady J said. She looked at Watson.

Watson said, "Let's go then," and the last Suzanne saw, before she moved into the noisy chaos of the cardiac care bays, was Madame Destiny, X, Watson, and Lady Justice pushing through the crowd and out the door, heading for the Divine Sarah.

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And we have 5 new additions to the TVTropes page! Thank you so much! (I would've posted earlier, but by computer apparently reloaded a cached version of the page when I checked earlier. Sigh.)

You Have to Learn to Pace Yourself

Ira clutched at his chest and gasped for breath. He was pretty sure Dr. Noontime's Giant Foot was invisibly pressing on his chest, somehow. It was hard to inhale completely, and something hurt. But I'm invulnerable, the Foot shouldn't be able to break my ribs, he thought vaguely.

"Dammit, where's his nitro?" Andrea was saying somewhere far off.

"He keeps it in this pocket!" Suzanne said, and Ira could feel her going into the correct pants pocket.

"Watson, go! Drive! Go go go!" Lady J said somewhere else in the car. The van lurched into motion.

"I've got him," Madeline said in a low, even voice. "Ira. Open your eyes, Ira."

The pain eased some and he pried his eyes open—he hadn't even been aware they were closed—and Madeline was kneeling on the floor of the van in front of him, one hand resting lightly on his chest.

"We need you to take your nitro, Ira," Madeline said.

Such a pretty girl, he thought. Always so sweet and thoughtful, such a shame she never married.

Suzanne pressed a tablet to his lips, and he opened his mouth and let it fall under his tongue. The pressure let up a bit, though it was still hard to breathe and his brain was fuzzy and his arm and back were aching. Maybe too much punching?

Everyone grabbed at him and the seat as Watson guided the Divine Sarah around a corner at speed, practically tipping up on two wheels.

"Given what's on your laptop," Madame said calmly, "we won't be able to get to Wonder City Hospital, Watson."

"But…" Watson said, then she glanced at Madame and nodded. "Right, you're right. West Side General is probably clear, and it's on our way." She took the next right.

"Don't close your eyes, Ira," Madeline said a moment later. "Keep looking at us. Does it still hurt?"

Ira pried his eyes open again, nodded, and obediently took another nitro tablet.

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Ten comments by Friday again?

Purity Control

"They have come to persecute us, my brothers and sisters!" Pastor Al bellowed through the speaker system. "And they have struck down Brother Michael and Brother Damian without provocation!"

Ira rolled his eyes and continued to walk with the others as they rounded the corner of the Welcome Pavilion that Washington had just brought down on the heads of the two burly uniformed security guards who had drawn guns on her. When Lady J had given her a Look, Washington just said, "They're alive," and kept walking. Dragons.

"The time I warned you about is upon us!" Pastor Al continued. "It is time to defend your right to peaceful assembly!"

Ira wondered how close they had to get for Lady J's power of truth to kick in. He was kind of looking forward to hearing Pastor Al's ranting turn to confessions.

It was standing room only in the fenced and covered field, with approximately 500 hopefully normal humans between them and the transmitter that was presumably under Pastor Al's feet. Ira heard Lady J say, "Washington, can you fly?"

Washington snorted and said, "Yes, but I would crush everyone here if I did."

"Damn," Madame said mildly, watching people stand and pick up baseball bats and other similar items that were kept apparently at the ready.

Another voice—deep but somewhat panicked—cracked over the speakers. "Get the ones without weapons! Get them!"

The crowd surged toward them in terrifying almost-silence. Washington crashed into part of the tide, arms spread, crumpling the front line and eliciting gasps, grunts, and cries from her opponents.

Madame immediately deployed her own weapon, the little rod telescoping out into a staff her own height with a flick of her wrist. Apparently, this took her off the radar temporarily, and people ignored her to swing their weapons at Lady J, Ira, and Andrea, who made up the other three of the four-person wedge that would drive toward the transmitter at the same time as Washington—hopefully the wedge or the dragon would reach it and destroy it, and it didn't matter who was first.

It had been quite some time since Ira had to make the snap judgements of whether, where, and how hard to punch, but it came back to him pretty easily. He overestimated his strength a few times, but he compensated on the next punch, or throw, or whatever he was doing. Rusty, but fairly competent. And old, of course.

A couple of people got in good shots, of course. One big fellow's bat connected squarely with the side of Ira's head, and then the guy stared, appalled, at the bat in his hands. As far as he could tell, he'd just tried to crush the skull of a little old man. Ira drove an elbow into his gut and left him wheezing in their wake.

He caught glimpses of the others in between combatants. Lady Justice, of course, was her usual competent self, if a little weak on the stroke side. Andrea was sloppy, but able, and surprisingly athletic.

It was Madame Destiny who would have had his jaw dropping if he'd had time—she moved smoothly and fast, for all her apparent chunkiness, kicking high, punching hard, throwing people effortlessly, taking stubborn foes down with a sweep of her staff, never once pausing, never once getting snagged by any reaching hands, never once breaking her intense look of concentration.

Ira guessed she had kept up the training and was a helluva high level blackbelt at this point. Who knew?

It was going as well as could be expected. Ira couldn't see the dais, and the crowd was roaring now, drowning out the speakers. All he could see was another person in front of him, all he could feel was another impact of his fist or his elbow or his knee on some other human being. He followed Lady J's lead and assumed they were making progress. Most of their opponents were people who weren't used to being hit and hurt, and so they tended to stay down or run away once they were hit, unlike most hardened supervillain mooks.

That was when he noticed that the mob was turning on its own—anyone who hadn't picked up a weapon, or who'd dropped theirs, became a target. He glimpsed a few but couldn't get to them, but then…

"Oh, god, Suzanne!" he shouted, and shoved through the two people in front of him, ignoring Lady Justice's restraining yell. He leapt over the heads of the next little wave of people, and landed just in time for someone to break a plastic folding chair across his back instead of over Suzanne's head.

She looked at him with wide, unrecognizing eyes. He grabbed her against him just in time to shield her from another wild swing from one of her compatriots.

Then, of course, she kneed him in the groin. Hard and extremely competently.

Invulnerable or not, those parts were still delicate.

It also threw him off-balance as he tried not to flinch, but dammit, he'd lost his really good cup somewhere over the years, and the two of them fell—Ira onto hands and knees to continue to shield her—under a rain of bats, clubs, and chairs. Suzanne was also fighting him from underneath, and he saw stars when her forehead connected with his nose.

He wasn't sure how long they were like that before he heard, "You idiot!" from Andrea and Lady J shouting, "Ira! Ira, are you all right?" as the dogpile was dispersed by force.

Lady J dragged him to his feet, and he saw Madame shrug a pair of football player types over her hip and shoulder. Andrea got Suzanne up and after staring into her eyes a moment, slapped her. "We don't have time for this!" she bellowed.

Suzanne blinked, putting a hand to her reddening cheek. "Andrea?" she said faintly.

"Ira, get her out of here!" Andrea said, shoving her toward him.

"Ira?" Suzanne said, staring at him as he put an arm around her. He smiled reassuringly at her, though he was feeling quite out of breath and sore.

"No time," Lady J said. "We're almost there, look!"

The platform was all of twenty feet away, Ira saw through a lull in the crowd. Off to their right, a small geyser of people erupted and Washington emerged from the center. She was grinning in a way that made something in the back of Ira's head cringe.

Madame Destiny led the charge, but she wasn't heading for Pastor Al. She ran at a sweaty, pasty-faced middle-aged man who was clutching a thick book and a microphone. Before he could say anything else into the mike, Madame's fist crunched into his nose, and he slid down the pole next to him into a heap. "Mind control is a nasty power," Madame said primly, compressing her staff and tucking it into her pocket.

Lady J grabbed up the book and tore it open, revealing all the tiny transmitter parts inside, then smashed it back together with enough force that Ira saw parts fly off in all directions. Then she turned toward Pastor Al.

Pastor Al, for all his apparent terror, had perfect, unruffled hair and a suit without a crease. Ira imagined, though, that there was quite a set of sweatstains on the crisp white shirt.

The fellow tried to run for it, but Andrea was too quick for him and laid him out flat. When she dragged his unconscious form upright by the front of his coat, though, Ira had to blink several times. She was holding a different man entirely. This one was handsome enough, but not nearly the perfect televangelist face. And his suit was rumpled. And his hair wasn't nearly so flawless. In fact, Ira could swear he'd seen him somewhere before.

There was a loud rending noise, and when Andrea and Ira turned, Lady J had ripped open the platform and was lifting out two handfuls of wires and plastic shreds.

Madeline, who had been picking her way across the field, healing people as she put them to sleep—Ira didn't know where she learned that trick, but was damned glad for it—caught up with them at last. "Is that it?" she said to Lady J.

Lady Justice nodded, flinging the transmitter bits aside.

"Good," Madeline said, "because Watson says we need to run for it. Riots are breaking out across the city… across the country. We've got to get out of town now!"

Lady J nodded again. "All right, folks, let's go." She looked over at the little cluster of armed security guards who had closed with Washington. "I think she'll cover our retreat."

"Are you all right?" Ira said to Suzanne.

Suzanne rubbed the side of her face and stared at Pastor Al for a moment, then said, shakily, "As right as I can be. Let's get out of here."

Andrea threw Pastor Al over her shoulder in a fireman's carry. To Ira's inquiring look, she said, "He might have useful information about the aliens."

They all started running across the field, heading for their rendezvous at Zoltan's van, the Divine Sarah.

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Want another episode this Friday? Let me know you're reading! Can we get 10 comments?

Like Dust, We'll Rise

Lady Justice looked up at Ira as they watched the Young Cosmics' announcement of the alien invasion and mind control on her StarSeed. "She's got some screen presence, all right. Good choice."

"Better than Mercury, I think," Ira said. "He's too jittery and fidgety, like his old man. Look at him in the back there, just kinda vibrating."

They turned to the others. Andrea was standing on her left leg with her right leg propped on a nearby bike rack and was carefully stretching forward. She was wearing a tight black running suit with racing stripes. Madeline was watching passerby from behind her sunglasses, lounging against the back of the park bench Watson Holmes was sitting on, staring at her computer screen. X was listening to the cell phone updates from Tizemt. Madame Destiny was in jeans, which Ira didn't think he'd seen her in for twenty years, and was carrying, Ira knew, a small telescoping staff in the inside pocket of her jacket. He couldn't remember who had taught her to fight back in the early 70s—he suspected maybe Karate Jo or Women's Libra—but he hoped she'd kept up on the training.

And there was… another… person.

She was tall and willowy, with long white hair. Her clothing seemed to consist entirely of black leather. And Ira had not yet seen her move, except to blink. She crouched on a low wall about fifty feet away. X had introduced her as Washington and assured them that she was there to help.

X tucked the cell phone into a pocket of the short, military-style jacket zie was wearing. "Tizemt says levels are optimal. It's time to go in and shut the backup transmitters down. Jane is on standby once we know the lay of the land."

Everyone looked at Watson, who said, "Judging from these aerial photos I got from Hel, I'm guessing the transmitter is right in the middle of the camp, probably right under Pastor Al's feet when he's speechifying. So it really doesn't matter whether you go in the front gate, through the audience, or the back gate, through the staff, except you're more likely to get armed resistance from the staff." She smiled wanly.

Washington stood abruptly and walked forward to where they were gathered around Watson. "Then let's go in the front gate. Closer, faster, better for you old humans to get through."

They all stared at her for a moment, until Watson said, "Tactless, but I concur."

"Good, let's go," Washington said, striding past toward the front gate of the revival camp across the park.

"'Old humans'?" Ira said to X.

X smiled. "Reptilian-American."

There was a small chorus of "Oooooohhhhh!" from them all.

"Right, let's get this show on the road," Andrea said, linking arms with Ira and almost dragging him after Washington.

"You sure you're okay with this?" Ira said.

"Jane gave me back my invulnerability and tuned up my strength," Andrea said. "I should be fine. How about you?"

"I'm good," he said, pulling open his buttondown shirt a bit to reveal a Mister Metropolitan t-shirt underneath.

"You old fool," she said fondly.

Ira glanced back and saw Lady Justice, Madame, and Madeline following in a little knot. Watson and X were to wait outside, watching, prepared to call Jane in if needed.

"We should have a team name," Ira muttered.

"Well, we're technically Gold Stars for this," Andrea said.

"But we're not, you know that," Ira said. He knew he sounded silly, and maybe a little petulant. The Gold Stars had never wanted him.

Madame apparently overheard and said, "Well, Ira, we can be the League of Forgotten Heroes, because the only reason we can do this is everyone forgot us."

"And 'The Underestimated' is too long for a team name," Madeline said.

Ira looked at Andrea and they both laughed a little. He said, "I like it."

They reached the front gate of the camp where Washington waited for them irritably. There was something going on inside—Ira couldn't make out the words from the speakers, but it definitely sounded like Pastor Al was going at it. The metal mesh gate was shut tight, but there were no guards posted that they could see.

"Everyone set?" Lady Justice said. When everyone nodded (or, in Washington's case, grunted and tapped her foot), Lady J said, "All right, then, let's move out!"

Washington snapped, "Finally," and ripped open the gate with her bare hands.

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"No," Jane said tiredly. "It can't be me."

"Why not?" Lady Justice asked. "You can be psionic. You have been plenty in the past."

"Because no one should trust me with a power that could dement the whole city," Jane said, covering her eyes with a hand. "Because I may look like I'm holding it together and am like I was ten or fifteen years ago, but I'm not."

Ira rubbed his face and looked around at the group of dissidents, awkwardly dreading the possibility of Jane Liberty crying and just wanting to say anything to turn attention away from her. "All right, Lady J, Jane knows best on this point. The question is, if not Jane, then who?"

"I wish we had some idea of what the deadline is," Madeline said, stopping herself from playing with the beaded fringe of the scarf on the couch arm.

"I'm sure our sources feel the same way," Pearl said, steepling her fingers thoughtfully. "I can say that I don't know anyone who qualifies as a 'powerful psi' though. Not among my acquaintances, nor among my clients."

Lady J sat back in her chair and pressed the heels of her hands to her forehead. "Ideas, Madame?"

Madame glanced at X, and they both shook their heads. "The Oracle doesn't qualify as 'psi' and wouldn't consent to be used that way anyway. And I can't think of anyone else. It's so frustrating that Renata is up on that spaceship."

Andrea fiddled with her teacup. "Tinkermel says he's ready. Everyone else has said they're set. We have to move quickly, given Renata's warning. What about…" She drifted off, staring toward the kitchen, where the younger people were putting together a snack for the group. "What about Kendis? Is her power psionic? If it is, is she powerful enough to work through Tinkermel's device?"

Everyone turned to stare at Andrea for a long moment.

"Well?" she snapped irritably. "Can't you imagine how much it would help people to have their minds cleared or boosted or whatever it is she does after all this mess?" She waved a hand around, generally indicating the city.

Ira nodded at Andrea, grinning and giving her arm a little friendly squeeze that made her smile. Damn, that was a nice smile.

Lady J said, "Jane, what do you think? You're the power expert here."

Jane gave her a weary nod. "I think she projects in the psi spectrum, and I know she's powerful. Convincing her, though, is going to be a chore."

Lady Justice pushed herself to her feet and said, "You leave that part to me," with a wry little grimace. "I'm good at being persuasive, remember?" She strode toward the kitchen.

"Oh, I remember," Jane murmured, resting her head against the wing of the chair and shutting her eyes.

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Once more, work ate my brain. My apologies, and thank you for sticking with us.

I Don't Want to Believe

Ira met Watson at the kitchen door. Her distracted frown cleared momentarily as she focused on his direct gaze. "Ira, I'm so glad for you!" she exclaimed, reaching out and shaking his hand with a grin.

"Thanks," he said sheepishly. "It was all-- it's good to have friends, you know?" He caught himself before saying Jane's name to her. He remembered both her admonition about being dangerous to the little resistance cell and Lady J's quiet aside that perhaps it would be best if only a few people knew about Jane's recovery.

She almost, but not quite, grew teary at that, and gripped his hand harder. Her hair had grown out some, an uncontrolled mousy-brown bush, and she was wearing a blouse and slacks, rather than her usual flannel and jeans, with just a touch of makeup. He thought it looked good on her, for a moment, then remembered that it wasn't her usual style and was likely a product of all the crap vibes going around.

"But never mind me right now," he said hurriedly, since he wasn't sure what he would do with an emotional Watson. "What's this about Megan? Big girl like that having seizures is serious business."

"Come on, I've got Zoltan's van," Watson said, turning to head back to the van.

Ira carefully locked Andrea's door and followed.

The Volkswagon van was painted too artistically on the outside to go over well in today's world, but Ira was amused by the garnet shag carpet that lined the inside and the red and gold upholstery. He strapped himself into the surprisingly comfortable seat. Watson pulled away from the curb and navigated down the residential streets effortlessly.

"Has she had them before?" Ira said.

"No," Watson replied shortly, then added, "not that I know of."

Ira nodded. "Well, I'm glad to help you get her home."

Watson sighed and rubbed her forehead. "I'm really grateful—I'm not sure I could manage her alone. I'm not sure I should take her home. I… the thing is… god, I feel guilty about this. I mean, it was clear she was being manipulated. She just kept getting… wronger. Stranger. Treating me like… treating Simon like a dog, for instance."

"It's the waves, you know," Ira said, gesturing around with his hand. "They're being beamed at us, you know."

At the traffic light, Watson turned to look at him. "You know what's happening."

Ira looked back at her, then slowly nodded.

"It's psionic, isn't it?" she said.

He nodded again, glanced at the green light and gestured to it. Watson turned back to driving.

"Okay, stop me if I go wrong, but don't tell me anything," she said. "It's a psionic para power and it's somehow being… saturating the whole city. Maybe the whole country?"

Ira just kept nodding. The woman was good at what she did. He wondered if Tinkermel's sparkly necklace was helping her right now; she wasn't sitting too far from him.

"And there're also individuals with psionic powers who are meddling with other people directly. Hamhandedly."

Ira nodded a little, then said, "We think."

"Hmmh," Watson said. She turned onto Broadway and headed for downtown. "Telepaths, you know. Telepaths who don't know what the hell they're doing can do all sorts of shit. Because if they change your mind, they're changing the way neurons are acting. They're changing chemical and electrical signals. If they do it too much, too many times… oh, hell," she snarled, her voice breaking.

"You think that's why she had the seizure?" Ira said.

"I'd stake my reputation on it," she said, looking miserable. "She was telling me that she had weekly meetings with a 'counselor' at work, and now I look back I can see that her strangest changes happened after those meetings and… god, why have I been so dim?" She banged her fist on the steering wheel, then had to make a quick lane change and turn to get to the hospital.

In the emergency room, Ira was startled to hear her introduce herself as, "I'm Irene Holmes," to the desk nurse. "I'm here for Megan Amazon."

"Oh, good," the nurse said. "Are you next of kin?"

Watson bared her teeth and said, "I have medical proxy," unfolding a piece of paper and putting it in front of the nurse.

The nurse smiled back, took the paper and ran a copy of it, then returned it to Watson. "If you'll wait just a moment in the waiting room, I'll see if I can find the doctor to talk to you."

They sat in the uncomfortable plastic chairs and Ira raised an eyebrow at Watson. "What's all that about?"

"We have medical proxy for each other," Watson said. "She worried that she'd end up in some sort of tussle, like she has a couple of times already, and they wouldn't be able to get hold of her mom. And my next of kin is also a bit hard to get hold of these days, so we thought…" She stared off at one of the walls. "I'm glad we did it. At least I can do this for her."

It took over an hour for the doctor to come find them. He looked slightly askance at Ira, but Watson just towed him along with them as if he belonged.

"It's fortunate she's as invulnerable as she is," the doctor said, walking them back to one of the emergency room cubicles with a closed curtain. "She had a tonic-clonic seizure in a rather enclosed space, I understand. They're checking the building for structural integrity, since she hit a support pillar."

Watson's face was masterfully blank. Ira felt appalled and tried to hide it all under a concerned frown.

"We've administered some fairly heavy-duty anti-seizure meds," the doctor continued, pulling the curtain back so they could see the extra-sized gurney with the sleeping woman on it. "They've made her very drowsy, on top of the seizure's probable effects. I understand this is her first seizure?"

"As far as I know, yes," Watson said, staring at Megan's breathing form.

"Well, you'll get some prescriptions on discharge," the doctor said. He smiled a little grimly, and said, "I'd get them filled as soon as possible. We're seeing a lot of this recently."

Watson's gaze lasered in on him. "Really? Have you notified the CDC perhaps? It could be a viral outbreak."

"I don't know," the doctor said, retreating a step or two. "Anyway, I've signed for the discharge. The discharge nurse will give you the details and care suggestions." And then he fled before she could ask anything else.

"We waited an hour for that?" Ira said, shaking his head.

Watson moved to Megan's side and took one big hand in both of hers, looking down into the still face. Ira let her have a few moments, but then said, "Sweetie, why don't you go get the discharge moving? I'll sit here with her." When she looked up at him, he smiled and said, "I've got practice."

She quirked a smile at him and headed out to do battle with the discharge nurse and front desk. Ira pulled up the inevitably uncomfortable chair in the ER cubicle and sat down next to the big woman.

He had a chance to study Megan's face at last, and noticed that she'd grown her hair out and was wearing some clumsy makeup. She was wearing an oversized hospital johnny, but he was willing to bet that her wardrobe had changed the way Watson's had. He sighed and touched the little sparkly ball necklace hidden under his shirt. It probably wouldn't help her now.

It took Watson a while to return, and when she did, she came with a plastic bag he'd noticed in the van. "Let me see if I can wake her," she said.

Megan was groggy, but did respond to gentle shaking. "W-Watson?" she said vaguely.

Watson's voice broke on her response, "Yeah, it's me. Let's get you up and dressed, gorgeous."

"What happened?" Megan slurred, sitting up slowly with Watson's help. Ira stepped in and put a hand on her back to steady her.

"You had a seizure," Watson said, helping her get her legs around to the edge of the bed.

"I've never had one before," Megan said, confused.

"I know, sweetie," Watson said, then, to Ira, "Could you get the sweatpants out of the bag?"

Ira fetched the big blue sweatpants and the t-shirt with the Amazon's logo on it. The subsequent struggle between Megan's grogginess and confusion and their attempts to dress her was suitably proportional to her size. Ira was out of breath afterwards and had a sit-down while Watson asked a nurse to bring a wheelchair.

They got her out to the van and settled her in the back seat, where she sagged into sleep almost immediately. Watson stared at her, jaw set, and said, "I can't take her home."

Ira finally answered the niggling idea in the back of his head. "You said this was Zoltan's van?"

Watson stared at him. "Yeah, he's our landlord."

Ira nodded and patted her shoulder. "Call Zoltan. He has a solution for you."

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Revolution By Committee

"All right, folks," Lady Justice said, self-consciously smoothing her strangely stylish iron gray hair (Ira couldn't remember the last time it was that neatly done) and mock-cracking her knobbly knuckles. "I certainly have some news, and I get the impression some of you do too."

Madame Destiny, looking better and younger than Ira had seen her in a long time (even before he lost his sight), dimpled in Ira's direction, then sobered and said, "Well, I think most of you know the big news here." She gestured over at X, who, while still immaculately pressed and dressed, looked haggard around the edges. X's cheekbones and jawline were just a little more pronounced than Ira thought they had been, and there was the hint of dark circles under the terribly perceptive eyes. "X has taken on the burden of the Oracle."

Pearl reached for X's hand and squeezed it gently. X turned a wan smile on her and returned the caress.

"How is it going?" Madeline asked. "I remember when we first found you, Madame, back in '62 or '63. Things were rather out of hand."

"Madame has been extremely helpful," X said smoothly.

"One of my issues," Madame said with a smile, "was that the previous 'vessel' had died and I'd had absolutely no introduction or guidance. The Oracle came into me out of the blue, and I'm very lucky to have kept my sanity."

Madeline nodded. "It was touch and go."

"It was," Madame admitted. "But that was a long time ago, and besides, the wench is fine now." She smiled. "The other bit of information is that we have some Mystikai support. Financial support from two of the local Reptilian-Americans, safe houses offered by the Family -- you may not know, but their homes are heavily shielded from emotional emanations by magic -- and an offer of physical participation in any actual combat from the youngest of the Reptilian-Americans."

"Well, that's something," Madeline said, eyebrows high. "I can't recall a dragon getting involved in our doings since the War."

"They're a standoffish bunch," Jane Liberty said from the depths of one of Madame's overstuffed chairs. "And the safe houses are good. Any limitations on who can take them up on it?"

"Not that Zoltan mentioned," Madame said, "but I expect that he'll be the gatekeeper." She gestured to Ira. "Go on, Ira, you're bursting."

"Oh, well," he said, feeling a little abashed. He knew he'd been grinning like a loon through the whole proceedings. "Everyone's probably guessed it. Jane, Madeline, and Lady J took me off and got my silly old eyes fixed the other day."

There were exclamations of delight all around, a clap on the shoulder and a handshake from the burly black man Ira guessed was Tinkermel, applause from the handicapped thirtyish black woman he figured was Kendis, a hug from Pearl, a radiant grin from X, and even a lightly-perfumed kiss on the cheek from the tall, beautiful Hispanic woman who had to be Angelica.

When everyone had settled back down, Andrea patted his hand and smiled at him. It had been a long time since he'd seen her smile at him. Really, had she ever? Since he couldn't remember their married life at all, it was pretty much a new experience to him. She was an angular old lady now, but that smile led him to believe she must have been quite a looker once.

"Well!" Lady J exclaimed. "That was the sort of thing we need in these meetings more often."

"Definitely lifts the energy," Angelica said. "What have you got, Lady J?"

"I've had a messenger from Hel," Lady J said. In response to the very odd looks that came over the faces of Kendis, Angelica, and Tinkermel, she laughed and said, "Doctor Hel Blau, the Sentient Airship."

This only slightly cleared Kendis and Angelica's faces. Tinkermel's face broke into a broad smile, and he said to the two women, "I'll explain later why that's just so awesome." Ira wasn't sure how a man that big could squeak like that.

"In any case," Lady J continued, "she was able to do a high pass over Wonder City and environs with her cameras going -- she doesn't normally come near the place these days, but did it as a favor to us -- and her messenger brought me not only the photos but Hel's analysis of them." Lady J held up a rolled poster and said, "She's overlaid a map of the city on this set of photos, and marked where they've hidden the major receiving and transmitting station. She also detected that they've got backup transmitters -- she spotted the generators and antennae -- in the tent revival camp."

"Which is horrible, but not much of a surprise," Angelica said. "The Shining Brethren are behind the God Squads roaming my neighborhood and other areas of the city."

X nodded. "One of my friends refers to the God Squads also as Mod Squads. She says she's pretty sure there's at least one telepath in each group, and they're altering the minds of troublemakers."

Ira wondered what friend that was who had that kind of insight.

Angelica briefly closed her eyes and laid two manicured fingers on the gold cross at her throat. "More reason to avoid them," she said.

"Yes, indeed," Lady J said. "The key here is that we'll need to somehow take out the main transmitter, I think. But I'm not sure what to do beyond that. I mean, they could just replace it."

"We need a coordinated attack," Pearl said. "Not just superheroic action, but information warfare. We need to explain to people what's happening."

The group collectively frowned into silence.

Hesitantly, Tinkermel said, "Well, I think I've got something that might help."

Every head turned to him.

He fished in one of the inner pockets of his biker jacket (it was lined in purple silk, Ira noticed, bemused) and extracted a small plastic ball, about the size of the tip of his thumb. It was strung on a piece of black rat-tail. Inside the ball was a constant swirl of pink glitter. "This," he began.

"Is fabulous," Kendis said, staring at the swirl. "How have you got it doing that?"

"If you hush, girl, I will tell you," Tinkermel said with a disapproving glower.

Angelica nudged Kendis with her elbow. "Give him his big reveal."

"Thank you," he said, then turned his attention back to the ball dangling from his fingers. "This is my Omni-directional Personal Venus Nega Charm. It gives off similar emanations to what's transmitted through those rings, but in a way that interferes with the waveforms. So it significantly reduces the effects of the transmitters on anyone wearing it." He smiled at Kendis. "And the generator vibrates very slightly at the center of the globe, moving the glitter, so you always know if it's working or not."

"That's amazing," Madeline breathed. "You've tested it?"

"You bet," he said, beaming proudly. "I developed a detection device for the emanations, and when I'm wearing the Venus Nega Charm, the quantity of emanations that reach me are reduced by almost 75%."

"Oh!" Angelica exclaimed, her eyes lighting up. "Oh, I know someone who could really use that."

"So do I," Ira said, thinking of Simon's sad whine.

"That's terrific work!" Lady J said, rising and coming over to shake Tinkermel's hand, which seemed to daze him. "Just terrific."

"Say," Andrea piped up suddenly, "do you think you could do something like that on a larger scale? Because that might just could help the sort of thing Pearl was talking about, freeing some minds so they'll be receptive to a little knowledge about what's going on."

Tinkermel's massive brow settled into a frown. "I'd need the materials, and a bigger space to build."

"Well, we have offers of financial help," Lady J said. "Think about what you'd need, while the rest of us think about how to get that for you."

"I'll do that," Tinkermel said. "Meanwhile, I've brought Nega Charms for everyone." He pulled out a handful of them, all in different glitter colors, and handed them around with a grin. "You all tell me right away if you have any strange effects from wearing them. I didn't notice any, but I don't have the powers some of you do."

X picked up a silver Nega Charm, examined it for a moment, then handed it to Madame Destiny with a smile and a little shake of the head. Madame nodded and took it for herself.

Ira took a rainbow glitter one and slung it around his neck. He did feel better.

"Well, this has definitely been productive and no mistake," Lady J said. "Anyone have anything else?"

Jane stirred in her chair. "I was wondering if anyone had room to put me up for a little while," she said.

Lady J gave her a sympathetic grimace, while everyone else looked startled.

"Dottie and I are great friends," Jane said, "and I'd like us to stay that way. Her place is really only big enough for one, and I'm not the easiest person to live with. So, anyone willing to give an old girl a break?"

"No room," Kendis said briefly, and Ira was startled by the undercurrent of hostility in her voice. He glanced aside at Jane, who smiled, just a little, very oddly.

"We don't have a viable guest room right now," Pearl said. "My partner is coping with all this--" she waved over her head "--by renovating everything."

Ira could practically feel Andrea gathering herself to make an offer -- she'd told him that she and Jane disliked each other from something that happened long ago, but she liked Lady J a great deal -- when Angelica said, "I have room!" with the biggest, most starstruck smile Ira had seen in a long time.

Kendis looked aside at Angelica as if she'd grown a second head.

Jane smiled gratefully at Angelica across the room, and that settled that, then and there.

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Sorry! I had this all ready to go and then got caught up in a work deadline. Here's some Ira for you Ira-lovers.

The Milkweed of Human Kindness

"But I don't understand, ladies," Ira said plaintively. "Where is it you want to take me?"

"Just get in the van, you stubborn old buzzard," Jane Liberty said, taking his hand and putting it on her skinny arm.

Her arm might be withered from her more fleshy prime, but it was rock steady as she led Ira down the front steps of Andrea's little suburban ranch house to Lady J's van.

"We'll take good care of him, Andrea, I promise," Lady J was saying behind them.

"Oh, I never worry about him," Andrea said, and Ira smiled, since she'd done nothing but fuss him since taking him in like an abandoned puppy from the roadside.

Jane helped him into the van's seat and buckled him in. "I can do that," he mumbled, swatting uselessly at her hands. He was beginning to remember why Jane Liberty had been such a terror to everyone who knew her. It was easy to forget that indomitable will, given how her mind had gone in the last few years before they put her away.

He heard Jane and Lady J get into the van and shut the doors, and then Lady J started up the old engine and pulled smoothly away from the curb.

"So where are we going?" he asked again.

"We're going to get your eyeballs taken care of," Lady J said cheerfully.

"What?" he said, thinking it had to be a joke.

"I've got to be good for something," Jane said sourly. Oh, yes, the sarcasm and bitterness were all back with her mind. It was so nice to hear it. "Don't you dare trip or anything in the next few hours, Ira. I've knocked down your invulnerability."

"What?" he said, and his voice cracked over it. That was the one thing he had going for him, after all.

"Just temporarily," Jane said. "Look, we're going to this eye doctor Dottie and Madeline know who works on paras all the time. He's going to take out those damned cataracts, and then I'll bring your power back online."

"Really," he said, sitting with his shock. He appreciated the act -- he only missed Lizzie more than his sight, really -- but he'd liked to have been consulted, at least.

Lady J must have given Jane one of her Looks, because Jane said, hesitantly, "Look, Ira, I know this is all… sort of sudden. But we need you in top form for whatever's coming. And besides…" She paused, then forged on, her voice only wavering a little: "Besides, what's the damned point of having all these damned powers if I can't help out one of my friends. Will you… can you let me do this for you?"

Dammit, there went the old man tears again as he leaned forward and reached for her shoulder, and she caught his hand in hers. He blinked and dashed water from his cheeks and said, "Jane, who the hell could say no to that?"

So there was no more discussion, and Lady J drove them wherever it was she was driving them. When they got out of the van, Madeline was there.

"You told him?" she asked anxiously.

"Of course," Lady J said.

And of course, Madeline would ask, he thought, given how much she'd gone under the knife nonconsensually in the War.

The three women bustled him -- carefully -- out of the parking lot, onto the sidewalk, and into the quiet office. As they sat in hard chairs in the lobby, Ira said in a low voice, "Jane, I just… how am I going to pay for this? I have Paracare, but I'm not sure they'd cover this without a referral and all…"

Jane patted his hand. "Turns out I'm a stupidly rich woman, Ira. Comes of having smart friends invest everything for me, not touching any of my royalties and licensing fees for nearly a decade, and having put money into a couple of up-and-coming computer companies back in the day who've now struck gold. Don't you worry about a thing."

"You're not serious?" he said, but he knew she was. After all, Lady J was in the room, and therefore even Jane couldn't lie.

"Completely," she said, and then a girl called his name, and they all got up and went down the tiled hallway to the room.

"This is Dr. Sato," Madeline said. "Doctor, this is my old friend, Ira Feldstein."

Dr. Sato's handshake was warm and firm. "Good to meet you, Mr. Feldstein. I understand you've got some issues with your eyes."

"Yes, sir," Ira said, and allowed himself to be settled in an examination chair.

After the exam, Dr. Sato said, "You've got some pretty good cataracts there. We can definitely get those out today, and my staff has gotten me your last prescription before you really started losing vision. I'd like to replace your lenses with correcting lenses. I think you'll only need to wear glasses to read. Is that okay with you?"

"If I had to wear glasses all the time, Doc," Ira said earnestly, "it would be fine with me."

The doctor explained the procedure carefully, and Ira was pleasantly surprised that he followed almost all of it. He was feeling pretty sharp today, really. Maybe it was just hope.

Madeline did correct the doctor when he started in on the several weeks of healing. "That won't be necessary, though. I'll take care of that."

The doctor paused and then said, "Of course you will! I forgot."

The procedure hurt more than the doctor had let on, and Ira wasn't used to that kind of pain -- he only dealt in a long, slow, grinding old person ache. He gritted his teeth and gripped Jane's hand hard, trying not to make any noise or move while the doctor worked. He was embarrassed at one point when a whimper slipped out, but Jane squeezed his hand supportively.

Light was pouring into his eyes, though, and he caught glimpses of the doctor's middle-aged face and the office beyond as work proceeded. Real glimpses. Real seeing.

It took a long time to do both eyes. It was a lot of pain. At the end, Madeline put her hands over his face and he felt the pain leach away slowly. His eyes felt strange as things shifted inside them.

"Are you sure it's safe to heal him so fast?" the doctor asked.

Madeline made a small, strangled noise of surprise and did not quite take her hands away, but it was Jane who said, "Maddy, how many times have you been through medical school?"

Ira heard Madeline laugh very softly, very bitterly, before saying, "Three."

"Three?" Dr. Sato said. "But... why aren't you in practice?"

"Because they never gave me a degree," Madeline said.

"They said your power was cheating, didn't they?" Lady J said.

Madeline sighed. "The first time, it was because I was Asian and a woman and probably unstable after my ordeal in the War. The second time, it was because I probably wasn't stable after my ordeal in the War, and, unspoken, because I was Asian and a woman. The third time it was because my power was, yes, cheating."

"That's insane!" Dr. Sato said. "Your power is something any doctor would want."

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Madeline said, finally taking her hands away from Ira's eyes. "How are you feeling, Ira?"

Ira opened his eyes slowly, the light making them water. But the first thing he saw was Madeline's face, clear as daylight and twice as beautiful. "Oh..." he gasped, and tears and semi-coherent words of gratitude spilled out in a sudden torrent of joy. Madeline gripped his hand and smiled.

"Here, Ira," Lady J said, pushing a handkerchief into his hand. "It's clean."

"Don't blow too hard," Madeline said, looking a little teary herself, patting him on the shoulder.

He blew his nose as gently as he knew how and looked around again, realizing he'd never really known what the phrase feasting your eyes meant before that moment.

Dr. Sato was an Asian man in this mid-to-late thirties, with short black hair, square glasses, and a white coat. He was grinning. Lady Justice was looking younger than Ira had seen her in years -- this leadership thing was treating her right -- dressed up in a navy blue pantsuit with her iron gray hair brushed and cut stylishly short for an old lady. She was grinning. Jane Liberty was a tiny, ancient bird of a woman, her white hair cut not so stylishly short and her clothes baggy and hanging on her. But she was grinning widest of all.

"This is what being para is all about," Jane said, wiping at her eyes with the heel of her hand. "Making miracles happen."

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My apologies for falling down on the posting last week. It's been an interesting couple of weeks, with very little time or brainspace for writing, but I'm attempting to put coping mechanisms in place. While we wait to see if they work, here's your next episode!

Resistance Is Futile

Ira was listening to the television when Suzanne said, suddenly, "Ira, will you please come to church with me tonight?"

He hadn't heard her come into the living room, her steps on the carpeting drowned out by the news coverage of some sort of atrocity in the Midwest, another house firebombing, the third that week. His surprise addled his wits for a moment. "What?"

"I need you to come to church with me," Suzanne said, and there was something strange in her voice, something half-desperation and half-tears.

"Suzanne, sweetie," Ira said gently, "I've told you before that I don't like churches. I'm a nonobservant Jew, and I'm happy that way."

"Please," she said.

He thought about it. What cost to him if he went with her? But she'd changed so radically after starting there, and he was worried about what sort of technological mental broadcasting was happening at those gatherings. He certainly wasn't one of those people who couldn't be affected telepathically -- his encounters with Master Mind in the 60s were proof of that. And what if he started talking about the sedition happening in Madame Destiny's living room? No, the potential costs were too high. And besides, he really didn't like churches. "I'm sorry, sweetie," he said.

After a long moment, she choked on a sob. "Oh, Ira," she said, and hurried from the room.

He puzzled over that as he listened to an interview with an "expert on superherodom" discussing the apparent absence of the Gold Stars. "We're better off without them," the expert said. "They're a danger to every American, both morally and physically, particularly heroes that style themselves as ultimate humans." He put an emphasis on the word "ultimate," of course. "They're just the sorts to put themselves above the laws of man and God."

He heard Suzanne come in this time. Her voice was subdued as she said, "I'm sorry, Ira, but I have to ask you to... to leave." She hiccuped.

Ira went cold from his scalp all down his back. He didn't have to ask her to clarify; he understood perfectly. It was, in fact, the sentence he'd thought he'd hear three years ago, after Josh died. His stomach tying itself into knots of panic, he kept his voice as steady as he could when he said, "When?"

Suzanne gasped around another sob, swallowed, and said, "Before Sunday."

Sunday. Sunday. What had she been saying yesterday about Sunday? That the tent revival was coming back to town. He tried to force his brain to focus on the conversation at hand. "All right," he said, feeling an unnatural calm settle over him, and he knew it for shock and welcomed it. "I see." Well, he didn't, but he wasn't going to go there.

"I'm sorry," she said again, miserably. He could imagine her wringing her hands.

"It's all right, sweetie," he said, and the endearment drew another sob from her. He fumbled for the remote and shut the television off. "I guess I'm making things difficult for you."

"I have to go," she said, voice thick with weeping vibrato. "To church. Tonight."

"You go ahead," he said, nodding slowly. "Just go on."

He heard the front door slam shut a few moments later, and sat in the silent house, waiting for the reverberations to die away.

Slowly, his brain started to turn over the possibilities of why this was happening, but he quashed that. No use speculating now. There were more important things to think about -- specifically, where to go, and when.

Madame's was right out -- the second bedroom was X's, and the guest room had been turned into holding space for Madame's extensive wardrobe. Jane was staying in Lady J's tiny house with her. Maybe Ebb and Flo could put him up for a bit. There might be other folks he wasn't thinking of. And then there was always his old friend, the YPCA.

As to when... staying after tonight was out of the question, he suddenly decided. He couldn't stand the idea of Suzanne drooping and sniffling around him until Saturday -- he couldn't stand it for even one night.

He stood up and fumbled his way to what used to be his bedroom.

Suzanne had thoughtfully organized the room so he could always find things by touch, folding and hanging his clothes in the same places week after week. He opened his closet and reached into the back to find his battered old leather suitcase. He set it on the bed, opened it by old instinct -- he'd once used it a great deal, when he was subbing for different hero teams week after week -- and started to pack. Underwear and undershirts first, then his two best dress shirts and a half dozen lesser shirts, and two pair of his khaki trousers. His one suit. His sneakers, his loafers, and his dress shoes. He packed his precious little box of mementos of Tin Lizzie, his wife-who-never-was, and his lockbox of papers last, padding around them with socks and his shaving kit. He closed the case and snapped the catches into place.

He sat on the bed for so long he lost track of time, thinking about the years of living there, caring for his comatose son, and existing in the same space with Suzanne. He'd long since come to think of Suzanne as his child, and he knew he was going to be devastated in a day or two. Better to get this over with now. Rip off the bandaid, Ira.

Ira stood and picked up his suitcase, carrying it easily to the front door. There he set it down and started to populate his pockets with his wallet and everything else, but stopped when he got to his keys. With fingers that trembled a little too much, he tore the metal that held the housekey to his keyring and dropped the key into the bowl with a dull clink, the only evidence of his reaction. He took up a pen and the pad of paper that was always there, flipped to the second page, and shakily wrote his best sightless version of, "Will send for the rest when I have a place."

He put on his overcoat and hat, took up his suitcase, and extended his white cane with a flip of the wrist. He went out the door and pulled it shut behind him very softly but firmly, and then made his way to the bus stop.

Upon entering the Y, he immediately collided with the new chairs that hadn't been there last time he could see. He stifled a curse and made his way toward where his desk had been.

"Ira!" a familiar voice exclaimed from down the hall.

He turned that way, feeling utterly betrayed by his deity and the universe at large. He heard the hurried footsteps on the tiles and tried to force a smile. "Andrea," he said, and his voice sounded dead in his ears.

"Ira," his first ex-wife in this timeline said angrily -- she said almost everything angrily -- "what the hell are you doing with that suitcase?"

He glanced downward at the suitcase in his hand as if he could see it. "Carrying it," he said.

"That's your old suitcase," Andrea said. Then, more softly, "I thought I'd thrown that damned thing away years ago."

"Yep," he said. He felt something trickle down his cheek and drip off his chin, and nearly died of embarrassment on the spot as he realized he was weeping old man tears.

"Ira," Andrea said almost softly, laying a hand on his arm. She smelled of talcum powder and a faint lilac perfume. "Ira, sweetie, what's wrong?"

"She's... she asked me to leave, Andrea," he said, and bit his lip in mortification as more tears made their awkward way down his lined cheeks. "Something with her church, I think. I didn't ask."

Andrea started to say something several times and stopped each time, until she finally said, "So you were just going to come break your back on these springloaded cots, rather than call any of your friends. Just like you, you proud old beast."

"Just until I could think of someone to call," he said plaintively.

"You're coming with me," Andrea said firmly.


"With me," she said. "You can stay in David's room." She added, uncharacteristically apologetic, "I... I haven't gotten around to clearing it out..."

He was about to try to refuse, recalling that her husband had only died six months earlier, but she'd already taken his suitcase from him, tucked his arm in her free elbow, and started towing him down the hall toward the parking lot door. "Thank you, Andrea," he said in a low voice.

Andrea sniffed as they emerged into the open air. "I'm not about to leave an old blind man to stay alone in the goddamn Y, even if he is my ex-husband."

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Here's a little movement and action in Wonder City for the new year!

The Inevitable Law of Revelation

The sight of the massive leather-clad bulk of TinkerMel seated on Madame Destiny's floral sofa, sipping tea from a tiny china teacup, very nearly reduced Angelica to helpless giggles.

"I'm very glad to meet you, Angelica," Lady Justice said, shaking her hand firmly. The old woman was less unkempt than that old newspaper article had implied: her hair was recently cut and washed, so that it was an iron-grey, wavy mass a little shy of her shoulders, and her clothes were old, but certainly clean and there was a neatly mended tear in one knee of the woman's jeans. "Now, Pearl has briefed you, right?" Lady Justice had the keenest, bluest eyes Angelica had ever seen.

"Yes, ma'am," Angelica said, using the honorific automatically. "And I'm fine with your power."

"You can just call me Lady J, or whatever you like, dear," Lady Justice said with a grin.

"You need to get used to being 'ma'am'ed again, Lady J," said a balding elderly man sitting in a straight chair next to the chair Lady J had risen from. He looked mostly in their direction, but his gaze was vague. His smile, however, was utterly charming. "You're the bosslady here."

Everyone settled down and Pearl made introductions to which Angelica attended carefully. The old man next to Lady J was Ira Feldstein, formerly the hero Mister Metropolitan. Madame Destiny was their elderly hostess, and she looked both sick and exhausted. X, Madame's apprentice, was a dashing spark of light in the room, genderqueer as hell and dressed to the nines. And the young, plain Asian woman with the terribly old eyes was Madeline Fukuda, the biggest single-person U.S. scandal of the Second World War. Ah.

No wonder Pearl was recruiting younger people. Poor X.

"All right," Lady J said, limping back to her chair and settling into it. "Let's summarize for our new folks, Angelica and Mel."

"Alien invasion," X said, with a gesture upward.

"A little too succinct, dear," Madame said, sipping her tea.

"Noooo," Angelica said. "That makes sense, actually. I'm guessing they've infiltrated the government and that's where we're getting the little mobs of men in black?"

"Your guess is as good as ours," Madeline said with a little shrug. "We know it's aliens from questioning in the Oracle. How they're controlling things so invisibly and making everything so wrong is still a mystery to us."

"I think I can help with that," Mel rumbled, carefully setting the teacup down on the table and reaching into one of his many inner jacket pockets. He set one of the rings he'd confiscated down on the table, and then held up a little plexiglass display case with another one of the rings taken apart and exploded like a display skull, each miniscule piece attached to a slender pin.

The group leaned in close, but couldn't really make anything of the rings out, though Pearl said, "Wait, isn't that one of those promise rings that the men in black have been handing out? Some of my patients have been wearing them."

"Yes," Mel said. "They're not transmitters, which is what I thought they were originally. I've dissected a dozen of them in various ways. They're similar to the TeslaNet receiver-transformers, absorbing some sort of ambient energy and then transmitting it to the wearer in concentrated form. I can't tell you what the energy is, though." Angelica knew how hard that last sentence had been for him -- Mel prided himself on being able to figure out any device.

The group stared at Mel for a moment. Then, Angelica, thinking of Simon, said, "Could there also be... larger versions of the rings that don't need to be touching someone?"

Ira turned his head toward her, his face lighting up. "Like a speaker system? To focus it on somewhere in particular? Watson said something about the Marigold Lane house being worse for whatever-it-is than elsewhere. And it felt worse."

Mel chewed his lower lip, scowling down at the exploded ring. "Yes, I think so. A repeater type of technology."

"Technologically-enhanced mind control?" Pearl said. When everyone looked at her, appalled, she said, "Well, that's what we're all thinking, isn't it?"

Mel nodded heavily. "I can also tell you this: whoever made this is either human or well-versed in human technology. I've seen some alien tech, and this is totally down-home."

Lady J sighed. "That means the involvement of someone who's made a special study of paranormal powers and 'improbable physics', like Professor Canis."

"Who is missing," Madame noted. "So not her."

"That would explain why I couldn't figure out the energies," Mel mumbled to himself, looking a little pleased. He tucked his show-and-tell items back into his coat. "But Professor Canis has written extensively about her work. I'll do some research, see what I can find."

X had turned very pale, Angelica noticed, but wasn't saying anything.

"If the aliens are projecting something down at us," Madeline said quietly, "then we really do need to get to their ship or ships. Or into orbit at least. And we don't have anyone who can do that."

Madame nodded. "That was the thing we were bringing to the table: we either couldn't contact the superhero teams we know, or they couldn't help us for some reason."

Madeline said, "There are a couple of small, young teams, but all of them are street-focused vigilante types. We don't have any cosmic heroes willing, able, or available."

"Speaking of cosmics," X said, "the Young Cosmics have been forbidden to engage in any major actions by their backer. So no help there. Though..." X's lips compressed into a line and the word cut off. "No, no help there."

Ira said sadly, "Watson Holmes said she didn't want to draw attention to us, since she felt there was attention being paid to her household. I... saw some very disturbing things. That poor boy, Simon... so reduced..."

Feldstein! Angelica didn't quite snap her fingers with realization. Of course! Ira was Suzanne's father-in-law.

She was so distracted by her epiphany that she nearly missed Lady Justice raising her head and saying, distinctly, "We have one last hope, ladies and gentlemen, and it's a damnable long shot."

This managed to rivet everyone's attention.

Lady J turned to Pearl and Angelica. "Do either of you know anyone who's got a knack for focusing other people's minds?"

The two women looked at each other quizzically. Angelica pursed her lips and said, "What do you think about Kendis?"

Pearl made a surprised noise and said, "What is she registered as?"

"I have no idea," Angelica said, "but she once said that if she ever took a superhero name it would be 'Ginkgo Biloba.' Students hire her to sit in the next room when they take exams and shi... stuff like that."

"She works at that para nursing home," Pearl said, rubbing one of her thumb joints thoughtfully.

Angelica looked at Lady J, and she had to admit that there was something thrilling about being the focus of that woman's intense gaze, being the person appealed to for expertise. Yeah, okay, Lady Justice was awesome. "I think so. I don't know how much control of it she's got, though."

"It's worth a try," Lady J said. "All right, I need you, Angelica, to bring that friend of yours to the Stars 'n' Garters Cafe Saturday morning. And I'll need you too, Madeline."

"What are you going to do?" Madame said, a little worried.

Lady J smiled grimly, cracking her knobby knuckles. "A little jailbreaking."

wonder_city: (Default)
Wonder City returns! Thank you all so much for your patience.

The Fall of the House at Marigold Lane

Ira tapped each step of the bus with his cane as he descended -- three steps, then the step down to the pavement. The bus door accordioned shut behind him and he heard the engine roar as the bus accelerated away from the stop.

He stood there a moment, trying to squint through the bright clouds in his eyes, hoping to spot a figure or anything beyond the post of the sign that probably denoted the bus stop.

Then there were hurried footsteps crunching on gravel. "Sorry, Ira," Watson Holmes said, coming up to him a little breathlessly. "Got distracted by folks in the yard."

"It is a nice warm day," he said, smiling in her direction.

"Can I help?" she said, and took his hand when he reached out, tucking it in her elbow. She was wearing a thick flannel shirt. They began a slow stroll.

"It's quiet out here," he said, paying most attention to where his feet were going. "I remember this neighborhood. They really built it up in the '50s, but there were a few old farmhouses and such out here before that."

"Yeah, we're going to Marigold Lane," Watson said, "which is a dead end street at the end of this one. There's a mansion there, late Victorian, three stories and a carriage house and all. The outside looks like a madman with a jig saw was allowed to gingerbread it, and it's a Painted Lady in yellow, red, and blue. Pretty spectacular. Our landlord built it when he first moved to Wonder City."

Ira puzzled over this a moment. "And he first moved to Wonder City... before it was Wonder City?"

"Yep," Watson said. "He's one of those types."

"Ah," Ira said sagely, mentally cataloguing all the different types her landlord could be.

"Okay, now we've got five steps down from the street to the front walk," Watson said, slowing down so Ira could feel his way with his cane.

He felt terribly awkward doing it all, and awfully self-conscious of his awkwardness. He cringed when he stumbled over the join of the pavement, but Watson kept him safely upright. Not that he'd actually take any damage to anything but his dignity and clothes if he did fall.

"The front walk isn't precisely straight, and it's in bad repair," Watson said, her voice warm and friendly. "We'll just go as slow or fast as you can."

"So, about why I came..." Ira started.

"Hang on," Watson said in an undertone. Louder, she said, "Hi, Megan."

"Oh, hello, Irene." Ira blinked at the voice -- definitely the voice of Megan Amazon but... something was different. Like she was... trying to imitate Marilyn Monroe? And... Irene? "Oh, hello, Mr. Feldstein! It's so nice to see you!"

He smiled bravely and shook her hand. Her handshake was... strangely limp. And she was wearing perfume. Perfume? She hadn't seemed like the sort to wear perfume. But he was hardly a judge of young women these days. He'd never been much of a judge of women. Any women. Why did everyone think he'd been such a womanizer anyway? He'd been a good, upright man.

"Hey, Simon," Watson said, interrupting Ira's brown study.

Ira turned with a smile. Simon Canis, at last! He stuck out his hand. "Son, it's good to run into you," he said.

A furry head bumped his hand from below, and a cold nose brushed his wrist. A long tail thumped against his calf.

"Simon?" Ira said hesitantly, letting his hand drop onto the thick fur. He remembered, suddenly, that Simon was a shapeshifter.

"Yeah," Watson said sadly.

"He's a good boy today, isn't he?" Megan said inanely. "Simon and I are headed for walkies! We'll see you later, I hope, Mr. Feldstein!"

Ira scritched Simon's head and said, in a low voice, "Oh, son."

Simon whined and licked Ira's hand before having to follow the heavy steps crunching away on the walk.

Ira let Watson lead him onward, across the apparently never-ending front yard. She said, "So on our left is the carriage house, which is where Jack Hammer lives these days. Not that I've seen him recently."

"Jack Hammer, the Iron Sergeant?" Ira said, perking up a little and looking uselessly in the indicated direction. "I didn't know he was still in Wonder City. He left for a while, back in the 60s, I think."

"Yeah, he used to work construction for Ultimate Construction," Watson said, "before the big reorganization."

"What reorganization?" Ira said.

"Oh, some sort of hostile takeover -- okay, three steps up here," Watson said. "It would take a long time to explain."

"But Dr. Thomas --" Ira began, taking the steps slowly, forgetting for a moment the Gold Stars and their space mission.

"Is missing," Watson said. "Hang on, let me get the door."

Inside, the front hall smelled of furniture polish and old leather, and was even quieter than the neighborhood had been. The floor was hardwood, given the sound of the cane's taps. Ira folded up his cane and tucked it into the pocket of his old sportcoat.

"My place is up on the third floor," Watson said. "Can you make that climb?"

"Slow and sure," Ira said with a smile. She'd asked him that on the phone, too. He was a blind old man, after all. It would serve him right if he had another damn heart attack climbing those stairs. He should've just stayed home. This was ridiculous. He should just mind his own damn business. He added reassuringly, "I've got my nitro with me, just in case."

Watson walked slowly up the stairs to the second floor with him. "So, our landlord lives in the basement, when he's in house at all these days -- haven't seen him for a few months, says he's off on family business. Megan has some of the rooms on the first floor, and up here on the second floor, there are two apartments. The one on the right used to be Simon's."

"What happened to him?" Ira said as he paused to catch his breath.

"I'll tell you in a bit," Watson said. "Let's get upstairs."

"Didn't that young woman... G, was it?... live here too?" Ira said, making his way to the next set of stairs.

"She did," Watson said, her tone reluctant and flat. "She, ah, decided to stay in Europe for a few more years. So someone else is living in her apartment now."

"Oh, well, I'm sorry to hear it," Ira said, trying to soothe whatever feathers he'd ruffled. He felt terrible for bringing it up. The stairs took his breath for several minutes after that.

Watson guided him to a chair in a room that smelled somewhat of cats and, after a moment of what seemed to be shooing of one of said cats, said, "Okay, you can sit down now."

Ira was surprised by the comfort of the chair. When he ran his hands over the arms, it reminded him of his old friend Molly Pitcher's favorite chair, leather smoothed silky with age and wear. He wondered where Watson had got the chair, or if she'd inherited it.

"Would you like something to drink?" Watson said, sounding vaguely flustered for the first time in Ira's short acquaintance with her.

There was a tickle in his throat. "A glass of water would do me fi--YIPE!" He jumped as something small and furry leapt into his lap.

"MWAH!" said the cat in his lap.

"Really?" Ira said, extending a hesitant finger in the general direction of the animal that was trampling his skinny legs. "I'd never have known."

"That's Madame Blavatsky," Watson said, pressing a glass into his hand. "I think she likes you."

The cat, whose paws felt very tiny indeed, stomped around for a few more moments, and then curled herself into a tiny furry ball in Ira's lap. Ira very carefully stroked her fur. The cat vibrated with an inaudible purr.

"So," Watson said, and Ira could hear her sitting on something opposite him. "About why you came."

"Oh! Yes," Ira said. "I... expect you've noticed that things are a bit odd."

Watson snorted a laugh. "You might say that."

"Well, there's some of us who've been..." He tried to think of a good way to briefly explain the gatherings in Madame Destiny's living room. He was such a stupid man, a terrible man, he was surprised that Suzanne put up with him the way she did, that Watson was being so patient with him. It must just be the fact that he was an old blind man and it was the nice thing to do to listen to him. "... thinking about all of it, you know?"

"I'm right there with you," Watson said.

"Well, we were wondering if you knew how to get hold of Renata Scott," Ira said, deciding to just come to the point.

"I do," Watson said, sighing. "But it won't do you any good, I'm afraid."

"What do you mean?" Ira said, leaning forward. Madame Blavatsky indicated her displeasure with this shift by extending one paw full of claws gently into his leg. He leaned back again.

Watson paused, and Ira could hear her scratching her head. "I mean that Renata isn't at home right now. She hasn't been for a couple months at least. I tried calling her when it occurred to me that people were being mind-altered, and her robots told me that she was gone."

Ira slumped and tried to hide his disappointment by petting the cat. He was always behind the eight-ball on these things, that's why he was a crappy third-line superhero back when, and why he was a stupid old man now. How could he have thought that Watson could help them? She might not even be telling him the truth now -- she might be hiding Renata's information because she'd been controlled herself, or maybe because she couldn't trust a stupid old man with the information, or any of a hundred reasons he could think of. He put his face in one hand, trying not to let miserable tears roll down his cheeks.

There was a long silence, and he fancied he could feel Watson looking at him. Finally, she said, "You're feeling it, aren't you? The ridiculous miserable feeling? We're in the middle of some sort of... focus of whatever is going on. It hit Simon the hardest, as you... felt. He can barely take human form any more. And I don't know what happened to Megan." Her voice broke over Megan's name.

Ira rubbed his face hard. She was right. He was being ridiculous. He felt terrible. Even his joints ached more than usual. "What the hell is going on?" he murmured. "You've got to get out of here."

"Simon tried moving out," Watson said, so sad and defeated-sounding that Ira wanted to cry again. "He said the feeling caught up with him, and started in on everyone around him. I suppose it could be following Simon -- he was pretty high-profile there, with doing that queer variety show and that guest appearance on Glee and everything."

"Suzanne missed him when he went off to film that," Ira said. "Oh, god, you haven't heard what's happened to Suzanne."

"Simon told me she forgot him," Watson said, her voice gone flat. "Just... forgot him one day. That was when he stopped even trying to be human."

"What's going to happen to all of us?" Ira said in a small voice, laying his hand on the warm purring cat.

"I don't know, Ira," Watson said. "I really don't know."

They sat in dejected silence for a while, until Ira finally remembered to take a sip of water. He said, "Will you come to one of our little get-togethers? We could use your brain."

Watson started to say something, then stopped, paused, and said, "I don't think I'd better. I'm afraid I might bring... unwanted attention down on you all. But if there are things you think I can do and you can ask in a coded sort of way, feel free to give me a call."

"What if you... forget?" Ira said, fighting down the uncontrollable wave of disappointment that her refusal brought him.

"Another good reason for me to not get involved, no matter how much I want to," Watson said. "If I suddenly turned into a Stepford Wife wannabe like Megan, I'd be a terrific liability."

"Ah," Ira said, running his fingers gently over the tiny cat's pointy spine.

The cat said, "Prrt?"

"I'm sorry," Watson said. "I just... I don't even feel comfortable visiting my sister right now."

"No, your reasoning makes perfect sense," Ira said. He flopped a little helplessly around the cat, wondering what to do about her. "I should leave you to your work."

Watson silently rose and scooped the cat from his lap. The cat said, "MWAH," indignantly, and Ira could hear little claws going tick-a-tack on the hardwood floor.

The next few moments were awkward, as Ira tried to get out of the chair himself and failed, despite his invulnerable and still super-strong muscles. The depth of the chair and the angles just foiled him, and finally, he mutely extended one hand, fighting down the wave of unreasonable humiliation it brought him. Watson helped him up.

As they passed down the stairs to the second floor, Ira heard footsteps trudging slowly up from the first floor. "Hey, Watson," that person said. Ira thought the voice was vaguely familiar. Then she added, "Oh! Ira!"

"Lizzie?" Ira said, pleased and astonished. "Tin Lizzie? I haven't seen you in a dog's age."

"Ira?" Lizzie said. "Oh, god, I can't... you can't..." She didn't take his hand, didn't step to meet him. He got a whiff of cigarettes and beer.

"Lizzie, Ira can't see you," Watson said patiently. "It doesn't matter you're in your PJs, okay?"

"I... oh. I'm... I'm working the late shift these days, I'm sorry, Ira," Lizzie said hurriedly, and took his hand. At least her handshake wasn't limp and characterless.

"No worries," Ira said, trying to put the young woman -- the woman who had looked nothing at all like his long-gone wife, but who had reminded him of her in some strange way for a time -- at ease. "I was just leaving, but maybe I'll run into you sometime."

"Yeah," Lizzie said, relief filling her voice. "Yeah, that would be great. You look good, Ira."

"Thanks," he said, letting Watson guide him past her and the awkwardness between them after all this time. "The old bones keep on moving. Take care."

"You too," she said, a little wistfully, but he heard her open and shut her door.

Outside the front door, Ira said, "So she's the one living in G's apartment."

"Yeah," Watson said.

"How is she doing?"

"About as well as you might expect," Watson said. "I've tried to get her to move -- she's nowhere near as high-profile as Simon was -- but she's just... sticking it out, I guess."

They continued on to the bus stop in silence. As Ira heard the bus pulling up the road, he turned to Watson and pressed her hand. "You call if you need anything. Or someone to talk to. I don't have much to do but listen these days," he added, trying to lighten the moment.

"Oh, Ira," Watson said, pressing his hand back, "thank you."


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Wonder City Stories

June 2017

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