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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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Life, Jane Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Jane Liberty landed a few feet from Angelica in the Canis front yard, and wavered on her feet. Angelica stepped forward hurriedly to take the fragile-seeming arm of the old woman, to steady her.

"You're a good girl," Jane said huskily, looking up at her with dark eyes that were a little too bright. "I'm sorry, but it's got to go on."

"What do you mean...?" Angelica said.

Then she had to stop herself from staggering backward. Suddenly, she was perceiving things. Strange things. Everywhere. Every. Where. Things she couldn't really understand. Worse, there were things happening inside Jane Liberty, terrible, awful things.

"It's a gift," Jane was saying, "a gift to the world. To let it go out, to let it die with me, that would be... I know it would be... wrong."

"What have you done?" Angelica said, her eyes wide, half about whatever she was seeing and half about whatever was going on inside Jane's body. She couldn't see Jane's face or figure, there was too much happening there, like a cloud obscuring everything.

"I'm sorry, it's a hard gift," Jane said, patting her hand absently. "Don't tell anyone about it, not till you figure it out."

"Oh, god," Angelica said, finally letting go of Jane's arm to press both hands over her eyes. She could still sense the things, new things, everywhere. "Oh, god, what have you done?"

Jane gripped one of her arms tightly, hard enough to bruise. "Listen to me, before anyone comes," she said. "What you're seeing inside me, that's cancer, super-accelerated by the powers I've been using. You're a scientist, maybe someday you'll be able to cure it because you'll understand it. I never could, I couldn't save... I couldn't save anyone." Her voice broke. She cleared her throat. "Don't tell anyone about the power until you know what you'll do with it. I trust you, you're a good, good girl with a good brain. You won't hurt people with it if you can help it."

Angelica lowered her hands and stared at Jane. "You've... this is your power?"

Jane nodded once, tensely. Squinting through the fog of… whatever... Angelica could just see the shine of perspiration on the old woman's skin. She'd heard of people being gray with pain, but hadn't really believed it till now. Jane Liberty's face was pale pasty gray. "Don't... don't disappoint me, Angelica."

Angelica felt hot tears dripping off her own chin. "I won't, I promise." Her head was pounding. What the hell? What the hell?

She caught Jane as the woman's legs buckled and gently lowered her to the ground. She had a moment's ridiculous fear for her nylons, then gave them up for lost.

The Divine Sarah skidded to a stop in the driveway and the doors burst open.

"Jane!" Lady Justice shouted, running toward them. She fell to her knees and took Jane from Angelica. One of her hands rested on Jane's abdomen, and she recoiled from something she felt there. "Jane! Janey, turn it off! Stop using Maddy's powers!"

Jane Liberty opened her eyes and she smiled beatifically up at Lady J. "Oh, Dottie, what for?" she said. "It won't hurt for much longer."

"Janey," Lady J said softly. "Oh, Janey, don't leave me alone."

"Dottie, honey, I did that a long time ago," Jane said, reaching up to touch Lady J's cheek.

Angelica swept a glance around as the others caught up. Madame Destiny was holding herself tightly, the heel of one hand pressed against her mouth and tears running freely. X and Watson were standing behind her, eyes wide and faces horrified.

"Look at it this way, Dottie," Jane said, her breath coming in quick, pained gasps, "I'm going out with a hell of a bang."

"That you are, Janey," Lady J said, looking older than Angelica had thought she could, her face crumpled with grief.

There was a long pause, punctuated only by a sob escaping from Madame and Jane's harsh breathing. The two old friends on the ground just looked at each other.

"Oh, Dottie," Jane said, looking past Lady J at last at the blazing orange and red sunset, "that sky is so beautiful. How long has it been since I really looked at something like that?"

And then Jane Liberty died, watching the skies.

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Made it! Thank you so much!

I Am Nobody's Friend

"That's the last one we need to hit," Sophie said. "The whole system is destabilized, but we need to take out the projector now. Come on up, Jane."

I felt the G-force rip at my consciousness as she changed directions to fly upward. How did she manage this kind of flying without passing out or puking? I was carefully not looking not looking out through her eyes unless I had to, because I was afraid of agoraphobia or acrophobia or everything-phobia.

Oh my god, how was space going to feel?

"Hal, you shithead," I whispered over the coffin. He'd been fucking around with some of the other women on the team ever since I just couldn't do that to Dottie any more. We hadn't spoken since. Now he'd keeled over and we would never...

The chill went straight through us and snapped me out of being swamped.

"I'm turning off Blinken's power now," Jane said. "I think that will help."

"Thanks," I said. I didn't actually think it would.

My body was shivering, I could feel it, even though it was physically warm and snugged up against Floribunda. Sophie was cursing with my mouth, trying desperately to type.

PSA: Space is fucking cold.

The headline—Lady Justice Declared Dead—shredded between my shaking fingers. They'd never let me go look for her, never let me try to find the body, and when I'd finally worked up the courage to disobey them, I couldn't find the original base to search, someone had obliterated it.

Never again. Never fucking again. I would damn well do what I knew was right.

"Right there!" Sophie said, mentally drawing a circle with an arrow pointing at the center on a mental schematic of the spaceship for Jane. "Hit it right there!"

"Trying to find that," Jane said. "Fucking assholes parked in the shadow, of course, and I can't fucking remember who had see-in-the-dark vision."

Sophie scrambled for an exterior view of the ship, but failed. I held onto Jane's mind and let Sophie look out her eyes.

Jesus, every time Jane blinked, she shattered the ice over her eyeballs. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

"There!" Sophie said, spotting it, and I steered Jane.

The acceleration dropped my stomach into my toes, even though it wasn't in that body. The impact of both Jane's fists reverberated through my arms. Something exploded around us. Something rocked the ship.

"She's not killing us all here, right?" I asked Sophie.

"No, she just took the projector offline," Sophie said with a mental sigh of relief. "It's over."

Jane snapped, "Where are the ones responsible?"

The tone chilled me more than space did.

"The aliens?" Sophie asked.

"The humans," Jane snarled.

Sophie gave her a mental map of the ship, drawn from the computer files.

I swung through the corridors with Jane, hanging on for dear life. I heard someone scream as she tore his power out of him, then another, then another.

She was taking the powers of the telepaths.

I had to look out her eyes to keep from getting sick this time.

The Liberty Girls was a stupid, stupid, STUPID marketing ploy from the fucking Gold Stars Corporation. It was stupidest when I held one girl—16 years old, bulletproof, could fly a little—in my arms as she fucking bled to death after one of the Gladiators put a spear through her throat. An accident, he claimed, just before I shattered every bone in his body…

Jane hovered at a stop, having torn through the ten foot thick bulkhead into the West's quarters.

Mark West looked up from his desk, where he'd been sitting with his head in his hands.

Sara West stared at her a long moment, surprised with a toddler in her arms. She stood up, handing the toddler to a girlchild of about 8, then pushed as many of her children behind her as she could.

I think that saved her life, honestly.

"I am Jane Liberty, Defender of Earth," Jane intoned, floating a foot above the floor, looming.

"Oh my god, she did the line," Sophie squeed to me.

"Fangirl in your own head," I snapped.

I felt Jane's upper lip curl into a sneer. "You disgust me. I've spent my life walking a goddamn tightrope, trying to make life better for the most people I could. And you just spent a year of your life doing the opposite, on a huge scale. At least when I killed people I hated, I did it honestly." I felt her power reach out. "I'm shutting you down, you pathetic little girl."

Sara's eyes got big and what little color she had in her face drained out. She wrapped her arms around herself, tried to keep her feet, but collapsed in a heap. She didn't make a sound as she went down.

Mark was standing, but just stared at the crumpled shape of his wife.

Jane looked at him and said, "She'll live. I'd like to end you, but there are children here. I'll leave your punishment to someone else."

She looked back at the little knot of kids—5 of them, I think?—and thought to Sophie and me, "All of them inherited it. Especially the baby. Take care of that. I don't have time now."

Sophie said, "Jane, I need you to come here, if you're done."

Bernie was really invested in it being Hal's, so I let her think that, though I knew it was hers all along, from some time when she'd been a boy with me. Because it was hers, I wanted it. I wanted it so much. But I just wasn't made to be a mother—War is a terrible, awful, abusive mother—and my body knew it. It never happened again after that one ended.

We were there so fast I felt like my eyes were the spinning things in a one-armed bandit. It was really fucking weird, looking at myself: I recognized my own long-chinned, dark brown face and my big boobs and hips, my muscular forearms and hands, the comfortable clothes I'd put on that morning. But I didn't recognize that manic grin, or the wide eager eyes, on my face. No wonder Floribunda was so freaked out. I was freaking out.

In my body's voice, Sophie's brusque, syncopated words came out: "I need you to put some extra power into that conduit right there." My finger, pointing at the corner.

My perception swung around—the cognitive dissonance was too much and I reverted to my own body for vision—and watched frail, birdlike Jane Liberty float over to the corner. I could see her face was pale, that she was panting a little, that there was a fine sheen of sweat over her whole face. She was really fucking good at clamping down on some things, I guess, despite the dementia. She put her hand on the indicated spot and dumped a huge quantity of electricity into it.

"Now, Renata, you need to find the opening!" Sophie said to me.

"Opening?" I said—I had not been privy to this part of Sophie's thought process.

"My mother," she said with a surge of raw anguish. I reached out to that psychic space I'd been exploring for years—to which Jane had first introduced me, I remembered.

The opening had been nearby all along, right in the damn ship, right here and all it needed was some extra juice to the magic psychic generator become obvious.

I ripped that fucker open, projecting into it as hard as I could: RUTH.

Jane caught them, somehow, despite how shitty she looked, as the Gold Stars all tumbled out of the dimensional pocket. She did let Ruth hit the ground, but I understood—she was more likely to hurt the metal floor than herself.

"Okay," Jane said through gritted teeth. "Okay, they can handle it now." She looked into my eyes. "Renata, I need you to get me back to Larentia's house."

Sophie's control slipped and I said, with my own mouth, "Jane, you look like hell, let's get Ruth to get you to—"

Inside our shared head, Jane said, "RENATA. NOW." In the reverberating aftermath, she added a sheepish and pathetic, "Please."

Sophie pointed us out the nearest airlock, where Jane waited impatiently for the atmosphere to cycle before rocketing into Earth's atmosphere. Where I'd been too cold before, I was cooking now, like the world's worst hot flash. We fireballed downward on a direct course for Professor Canis' house.

"Oh, Mama," I sobbed, holding her hand gently, so, so gently.

"Be good, Jane," she whispered on the thin stream of air that would move in and out of her lungs. I couldn't see her face any more, all I could see was the thing, that horrible thing the doctors couldn't take from her, that I couldn't cure, that she wouldn't let me try to cure. "Always. Just. Be good."

I wasn't, Mama. I'm sorry.

The house had just come into view when Jane said, "I'm all right now, Renata."

"Jane, let me help yo—"

Then I was back in my body on the ship, thrown in with the force of someone who could move planets, her voice shouting, "GET OUT, YOU FOOL."

"Jesus," I said to Ruth as she clambered to her feet nearby. "Oh, Jesus."

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This just gets harder and harder to write...

Only Got Four Minutes To Save The World

I'm pretty sure I was getting seasick, even though I'd never been on a damn boat in my life. Poor old Flori wasn't sure what to make of me—my scent had changed, I think, with Sophie driving, and all my body language was different. Poor baby kept trying to crawl into my lap to make things better, and when Sophie wouldn't let her, she settled for crawling to the chair behind me.

Allow me to remind you that Floribunda is not a small dog.

So there's my gloriously fatass body with a brainiac twenty-something running it, teetering on the edge of my seat with a giant coward of a pit bull squished in behind it.

And there's me, mashed into Jane Liberty's tempestuous head, going down for the fifth or sixth or hundredth time.

... I looked at the President and said, "Sir, it's time."

He blinked at me. "For what?"

"For the bunker at Fort Wilson," I said, looking as grave as I could manage.

"But if I..." he said. He ran his hand through his salt-and-pepper hair. "Can't you just wait another few months, until after the election…?"

"No, sir," I said. "I can feel myself slipping away, day by day. How long will it be before I slip in a way that kills people? No, sir, I would feel much safer if you gave the order." And maybe this would kill his party's chance in the next election…

I couldn't afford to be curious, because I'd get pulled in, but this woman kept a fuckton of shit in her head.

In the present: she'd destroyed six of 25 generators. "How many before you can bring her up here?" I asked Sophie.

"Another six or seven generators, I think," Sophie said, mentally gritting her teeth at me. "Hang…"

I could see the thing growing in Mama, I could see it growing, but I couldn't figure it out, I couldn't fix it. "Go to the doctor, Mama," I pleaded.

"There is no money," Mama always said.

"... I think the reason you're getting swamped so much is the power she's using," Sophie was saying. "There's a temporal element…"

I handed Mama a wad of cash and said, "Now you can go to the doctor."

She looked at me so gravely. "Where did you get this money, Jane?"

I looked at her, seeing the thing inside her staring back at me, and said, "Does it matter? You can go to the doctor!"

She exclaimed something I'd never heard her say in Spanish before and threw the money in my face. "It matters. If you don't think it matters, then you are not my daughter."

"... can feel it fucking with the telepathic link, can't you?" Sophie was saying.

"I can, but there ain't shit I can do about it," I said.

Dottie understood, Dottie always understood. I was legally too young—I'd told her that when she asked me, though I hadn't intended to—but she could see the potential. She brought me into the Gold Stars and gave me the advance on my pay I'd asked for.

I handed Mama my check, my check with its shiny gold foil star in the corner, and said, "Now will you go to the doctor?"

Mama gave me her most beautiful smile, the smile I knew had won my father's heart, and said, "Yes, now I will go."

"Get her back on course!" Sophie snapped.

I gently wrenched Jane's mind back on topic, and our stomach clenched painfully with shame, and stayed that way, agonizing, though I tried to soothe her embarrassment. I felt her punch through the next one in Africa.

"That's perfect, Jane," Sophie said. "Now I need you to cut across the south Atlantic…"

I made myself look at Bernie at the end, even though all I could see at that point was the thing that had taken her body from me. I could just see, through the thing, that she was smiling at me as I gently, so gently, held her hand. "It's okay, Jay," she growled in the voice the thing had given her, "it's really okay. I'm ready."

"You're leaving me alone, Bern," I said, and I couldn't stop the tears then.

"I know, I'm sorry," she whispered. "But you've got Hal now. He's kind of a shithead, though," she admitted.

"And he's not you. None of them are," I said. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry I couldn't do anything."

"Jay, even you can't work miracles," Bernie said.

I managed to stop Jane from overshooting her destination in south Chile, and she came around in a sharp turn that made our stomach lurch. Jesus, had she always flown like this?

"Got it," Sophie said. "There are three more in the mountains up the coast, just run up the coastline, just like that…"

"Mama, please let me try to fix it," I said quietly.

"No, Jane," she said, just as quietly but firmly. "God put it there, and if He wills, He will help the doctors take it away."

"Mama, please," I tried again, wishing God would just fuck right on off.

"No, Jane," she said. "Healing is not your gift. You know that, I know that. The doctors will help me."

We were navigating the complicated coastal mountains of South and Central America all together, so that kept me from going under for a while.

"Why are you using this blinking ability?" I asked her at one point.

"Because I can't use Blitzkreig's full speed in atmosphere," Jane said. "Using Blinken's power lets me move nearly as fast without the atmospheric disruption. I'll drop it when I head to space." After a moment, she said, "I'm sorry it's making it harder for you."

"It's all right," I said, though we both knew it wasn't. Jane had been my first teacher in reining in my telepathy, and she knew what riding another's mind was like. She knew, possibly better than anyone else, what my history was with that.

I stripped Blitzkreig's powers from her as she ran past me. She had just killed the first American Dream, an earnest young man with beautiful blue eyes and a big voice who now had a hole where his chest used to be. (I'd copied his eyes whenever the Army wanted me blonde and blue-eyed for photos.) I tried not to hear her screams as she shattered her feet, but at least they didn't last long once she started sliding across the ground at just sub-sonic speed…

"All's fair for War," I said, not quite to Sophie, feeling a little glazed.

Floribunda's tail thumped against the arm of the chair, and we felt her shove her cold, wet nose against the skin of my back where my shirt had ridden up.

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I'll be at WisCon this coming weekend! I'd love to meet any of my readers who are going to be there. Let me know to look for you, if you like.

It Is Hard to Shake Hands With Her

"Okay, Jane," said Sophie, telepathically, in my head, "the first generator is here." Sophie presented Jane with a mental map of Europe, marked with a big red circle.

"Acknowledged," Jane replied tersely, sounding and feeling like she was talking on a walkie-talkie instead of mind-to-mind. "Please monitor my progress and… and… I need you two to be my brain. Just fuckin' steer me, girls."

I watched my hands dance over the keyboard, lines racing by on the screen. I said, privately, to Sophie, "I told you this was a bad idea."

Sophie snapped, "And who else was gonna do this? We don't have another spaceworthy flier with my mother locked up. Jane Liberty just handed us the second biggest gun in our corner of the universe. We just have to point it at the right things." She paused. "I… need you to be the one riding in the back of her head. I'm sorry. I need most of my concentration to hack this damn spaceship. I don't read their language."

I shuddered, which made Sophie mistype, so we had a little confab of apology. Then I said, "Fuck. All right." I had already violated one of the things I'd sworn never to do that day: letting someone else into my head to run by body. Now for my second stupid trick of the day, I would ride herd on someone with dementia.

Let me explain: I think of a neurotypical person's mind as being a familiar ocean. I can sit on the surface without problems—think of me as a telepathic duck, I guess—and float there, watching the waves and tides, the winds and upwellings. There are currents and rough seas, and of course there are the rogue tides that can swamp me-the-duck, but I mostly understand and can predict the physics of the place. Mostly.

The kids I work with, the ones on the autism spectrum, are unfamiliar seas, even the ones I work with all the time. I've grown to know the particular shifts and gravities and weather of the minds of the individual kids I work with all the time so I can read something of what's going on for them without diving in. But I avoid even doing my duck thing with those kids if I can help it: I prefer to let them communicate for themselves in whatever media they prefer. (It's my job to help their families learn to understand them, not to try to "fix" their minds, as some parents fail to understand.)

And then there's dementia.

I settled as lightly as possible on the surface of Jane's mind. It all seemed very understandable, as calm a surface as I could ever ask for.

Then the gravity shifted and turned everything at not-right-angles to itself and the water was blown into my face as I was falling down and sideways and the surface under me lurched and swept over me…

... Hal—The Flag—turned the corner toward the locker rooms and nearly ran into me where I was leaning against the wall. We both knew I'd been waiting for him—waiting for an hour at least for that damned meeting to end—and he wasn't surprised when I grabbed the front of his shirt and the front of his jodphurs—a handful of Old Glory, I used to call it back when we were actually together, and dragged him into the empty locker room behind me, kissing him hard. He was taller than me—taller than most everyone—but being able to levitate makes things easy, you know. Even when he was kissing me back, the bastard making my head spin like always, though, I kept praying that Dottie would never ask either of us what we did in the evenings these days...

Usually I'd pull up out of the water completely when something like that happened, but I couldn't leave Jane's mind at this point; all I could do was hang on and try to point her in the right direction. I clamped down a little to keep some portion of her mind on her job, paying attention to Sophie's instructional monologue. Damn that girl could talk.

"Right, you've hit it, that was perfect, Jane," Sophie said. "Now we've got a building in the middle of Kazakhstan…"

Ah fuck bigass wave.

... the Great Gulf was chewing away at the fabric of the world under my feet. Someone I couldn't see—two people? three?—threw themselves into that maw and for a moment, the pull on me let up. I tore away from that ravenous gravity and lunged for Dark Universal, who'd been laughing at us, calling us fleas and mites and insignificant just seconds before. I rammed my fist into his open mouth, crunching through constructed teeth and bone, and out the back of his cosmic skull, and then I dumped all the energy I'd sucked up from Sun Master's overload death down his measureless throat, shattering his empyrean construct...

"Head for north Africa," Sophie was saying. "Right here, see? I'm trying to plot a course that's reasonable…"

"You've got me jumping all over the globe like a frog," Jane groused.

"... but I'm getting my information piecemeal, I was going to say," Sophie snarled. All of us were tense. "I'm doing my best to run you over wilderness too, so you don't cause speed damage."

"You're doing fine," I said, trying to keep the peace in my poor skull while also trying not to be sick. "Both of you."

Then. There was. A goddamn. Tsunami.

... Bernie breathed my name into my mouth and shuddered under me, and damned if I didn't come too. It didn't matter if she was herself or someone else when we were fucking, just knowing it was her made the whole thing hot as hell. She changed then, changed her smooth arms, her round hips and legs, into knotty muscle and bone, and under my hand the softness and slickness surged into something else, and she grinned at me with Midnight Mask's broad jaw and slightly crooked teeth…

Jesus Christ, I didn't want to see these things. I didn't want to know these things. Who the fuck was Bernie? No, goddammit, this was too personal, too in-person, all these dead people and loosey-goosey time slipping back and forward, running me down. Go, go, Jane Liberty, and smash the thing in Sudan.

"How many more?" I asked Sophie, feeling like I was losing myself so, so fast.

"There's two dozen," Sophie said, like she was gritting her teeth. "I think we can get away with only destroying some of them, but I have to figure that out. And then I need her to go to the ship you're on and smash all their damn weapons."

"And we need to get Ruth and the rest out of limbo," I said. "Don't forget."

"I'm not forgetting," Sophie said, and I worried briefly about her snapping.

All the air went out of me.

... I was holding the heart of the man I'd just killed in my hand. It was hot and still pulsing, the steaming blood all over my hand. I held half a tank in the other hand. He'd been a butcher of a man, experimenting on para children in Italy, stealing away their parents to see if he could make more to serve the Axis. This was War, right? I was War. I am War. Someone else is Death, but I am War. I will always BE War...

"Jesus God, hurry up!" I shrieked in my own head.

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And we zing back to Jane Liberty and Angelica!

Remember, you can still click here to get your 5th anniversary thank-you gift! As I mentioned, you have a choice of two versions of the short story collection, depending on if you want an all-new NSFW episode or not.

Deliberate and Afraid of Nothing

Jane Liberty sat up suddenly, eyes gone wide.

Angelica grabbed her hand. "Jane? What's wrong? Jane?"

Jane looked at Angelica, her face pale. "Angelica, help me. I need to remember something: who was it whose power I took in the War? She was… dammit… she was a speedster?"

"Blitzkrieg?" Angelica said, racking her brain. Help me, Fangirl Powers! You're my only hope! she thought irrelevantly.

"No, I remember that one, I turned that power on already," Jane said, banging on the table with her free hand. "No, no, it was… dammit… she actually did time stuff…"

That rang a bell. "Blinken?" Angelica said. Blinken had been a tiny footnote in an obscure Jane Liberty biography, but it was one of the books Angelica had read over and over.

"That's her!" Jane said, squeezing Angelica's hand gratefully. "I have to go now. Renata will tell you why." She leaned forward and said intensely, "But you wait for me right here, all right? I'll be back. I promise that I'll be back."

Angelica, startled, nodded. "Sure. Absolutely. I'll be right here."

Jane nodded and peeled off the ill-fitting sweatsuit she had on, revealing the sleek black bodysuit underneath. "Borrowed from the Ultimate's stores," she said in response to Angelica's baffled look. "The sweatsuit wouldn't stand up to the friction, and these shrink or stretch to fit." Then, with a ghost of her trademark jaunty salute, Jane Liberty took off.

Angelica stared after her, watching her accelerate and blink along a high arc away into the sky. What the hell was that about?

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This episode is a little short. 10 comments by Friday gets you another short episode, if you want!

Flying Ace in the Hole

After Jane woke from her nap, she and Angelica had moved up to the deck, while Tinkermel and Tizemt monitored things in the lab. Angelica had a communicator and her phone in case someone needed Jane sent out, and had stopped in the kitchen for some iced tea and snack food.

The sky was cloudless clearwater blue and the trees were still in the early afternoon heat. Cicadas buzzed lazily. She and Jane ate the chips and salsa and drank tea in silence for a while.

"You look tired," Angelica said finally.

"I'm exhausted," Jane said, nodding. "But it's almost over."

"What is?" Angelica said.

"All this," Jane said, and munched on a chip. After she swallowed, she said, "Holding it together. Pretending to be me."

Angelica frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I'm a pretty good actress, right?" Jane said, chuckling without humor. "I got really good at pretending I remember things. Or substituting in words when I don't remember them. God, one of the reasons I needed to stay with you—thank you again for that—was because Dottie kept on reminiscing about things, and I… it hurt to keep realizing how much of it I'd lost. I remember being young pretty well, but the connections and times are… aren't connected." She leaned her forehead on the back of her hand. "That doesn't make sense, I suppose. But this is why I got them to lock me up in the first place."

"You got them to lock you up?" Angelica said. "I always thought the military had just decided you were too big a threat."

"Do you actually think they could've held me if I'd wanted to get out?" Jane said without looking up. "Do you think ten feet of reinforced concrete could really hold me?"

Angelica didn't want to admit that she'd wondered about that—even mentioning it aloud to Kit at one point—but she shook her head.

"All Kendis and Madeline's powers have been able to do," Jane said, "is put me back in the place I was in when I asked to be locked up. It takes a lot of energy to pay attention all the time. To keep from letting out the frustration and anger, to know all the time that there might just be a hole in my head that would let everything leak out or explode." She leaned back in her chair and looked up into the sky.

"I'm sorry," Angelica said. "I didn't realize it was so hard."

"When this is all over," Jane said with a sigh, "I can finally rest."

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Ping! We hit 10 comments this morning, and so here is your bonus episode for the week! Thank you so much! We'll do it again next week.

Cry Havoc

Angelica's phone buzzed, and she picked up without looking at the number. "Yes?" she said.

"Angelica, it's Simon," crackled the reply. Reception was breaking up. She wondered idly if it was because of their interference broadcast or because of something else. "Shit is breaking loose in the city, like, all over. We just saw a report of a riot near your neighborhood."

Anxiety clutched at her belly and adrenaline spiked into her veins. Abuelita! Also Kit and her friends -- hell, even her mother and sisters. They were not in a neighborhood that commanded a lot of protective attention from the authorities at the best of times. She forced her voice casual, though, because she knew there was nothing she could do. Oooh, she could glow at the riot. "You're staying at the Cosmics HQ then?"

Her eyes strayed to the dozing Jane Liberty in the recliner. Well, okay, there was something she could do, if things got bad.

Simon snorted. "No, Ivy and I are heading for your apartment. Your grandmother is a few blocks from there, right? Give me her address, we'll make sure she's okay."

Angelica leaned against a nearby lab bench with relief. Her voice shook as she gave him the address. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you so much."

Simon laughed a little, and said, "What, you think we were gonna hunker down all with our tails between our legs? We're Canises. We get into the middle of shit, even when we're trying to avoid it." She heard Ivy's voice in the background, and Simon added, "We'll go by and make sure Kit's all right too. If you want." His tone was so offhand—clearly jealous—she almost laughed.

"Yeah, please," Angelica said. "Call if you need support. We have a big gun we can send out if you get too deep into the shit."

"Will do, boss," Simon said, and hung up.

Angelica touched the cross at her throat and thought, Keep everyone safe. Please.

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

How Futuristically Dystopic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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"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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Dancing, So As Not To Be Dead

Angelica made her way homeward carefully and casually, hoping that the God Squads weren't out in the neighborhood. She carried her heavy grocery bag in the crook of one arm and her purse slung across her chest messenger-bag style, just in case she needed to run. She'd taken to wearing sneakers when outside the house, especially since the warmth of spring had settled in and her heels were now strappy and easy to compact into her purse.

She had been embarrassed that morning when she realized her sneakers were covered in tiny Jane Liberty logos—the stars particularly prominent—but Jane hadn't seemed to notice.

As she rounded a corner, Angelica could hear Kit's voice saying, "So this Raven guy hacked into the company database..."

"That's not what a database looks like, man," said a young male voice that cracked over his adolescent protest.

Angelica peered up at the stairs at the side of the house next to her and saw Kit and two vaguely familiar hangers-on crouched against the worn brick wall.

"How would you know? Have you ever seen one?" asked Kit, angling what looked like the flat screen of a StarLeaf tablet. From her position, she could mostly see a bright reflection, although there appeared to be some sort of animation under it. She wondered vaguely where he'd gotten it; she didn't have a tablet and hadn't ever seen the need for the expense.

A second boy punched the first in the shoulder. "Shut up! This is the good part!" The first subsided reluctantly.

Kit smiled and glanced down at the square object he held. "ANYway, he hacked in and had to get through all the mazes and fight all the defenses they'd set up." Angelica could just see pixellated swoops and arcs under the reflection of the sodium vapor streetlamps, bright swashes of color glowing. "He knew the code he was looking for was in there. But when he found it, it changed his icon..."

Kit glanced up and saw Angelica watching. The glowing screen between his hands resolved, focused, and became a picture of a black bird holding something bright in its beak, revolving slowly. "You'll have to wait to see the rest of it. My date is here." The picture blinked out, and Kit was left holding a pane of window glass.

Angelica reminded herself that he'd already admitted to being para. Just because she'd never seen him do anything with his powers before shouldn't freak her out now.

The two teenagers looked over their shoulders. One of them grinned and muttered something to Kit under his breath. Kit smiled easily and said, "Yeah, she is pretty gorgeous isn't she?" The boy flushed brick-red and fled past her, his companion laughing and running after him.

Kit set the glass down in the grass next to the stoop, stood, and stretched. Angelica sighed happily at the sight of his brown belly peeking out between t-shirt hem and waistband, and the long, denim-clad legs that led to his impressive derriere. He kissed her, his sparse four-day-old stubble scratching at her chin, his warm and slightly beery breath washing over her as he laughed at her silly grin. "You look like a woman who's enjoying herself."

"Just reflecting on my luck," she said, glancing away from his amused gaze. "Come on home and make dinner for me."

"And your guest?" he said, taking the groceries and falling into step next to her.

"Yes, and my guest," she said. "How is she anyway?"

"I left at lunch, and she was flipping through channels," he said. "She waved and told me to have a good day at work."

"And did you?" she inquired. She noticed that the knuckles of his right hand were skinned and scabbed, and that he had a cut over one eye.

He laughed. "Oh, sure. I helped out at the shop."

The chop shop, Angelica knew, was one of the more consistent employers of less discriminating individuals in the area. He usually avoided it because the guy who ran it had a grudge against him. "Manny wasn't there today?"

"I didn't think so, but he came in," he said with a vaguely sheepish glance at his knuckles.

She unlocked the front door of the building and let him in. "What did you do to him anyway?"

"Oh, this 'n' that," he said, holding the stairwell door for her as she made sure the front door was locked again. "Might've had something to do with a lady. I don't actually remember."

Angelica snorted and they fell into companionable silence as they climbed the narrow steps.

The security system opened for Angelica and the two of them stepped into the living room, where the television was turned up to an ear-shattering volume and the whole place smelled of Lysol.

Kit and Angelica exchanged a bewildered look before turning to look for the houseguest.

Jane's tousled grey head poked into view over the sofa, and then she stood up from the kitchen floor, her sleeves shoved up. "Hi, there," she said, almost but not quite trying to hide the scrubbrush in her hand behind her.

"Were you…" Angelica began, advancing a step or two.

"Yes, I was scrubbing the floor," Jane said, somehow sounding irascible and embarrassed at the same time. "I got bored."

Kit slouched into the kitchen past her with the groceries and managed not to slip on the wet linoleum.

Jane dropped the brush into the bucket at her feet with a plop. "Sorry," she grumbled.

"No, it's awfully kind of you to do it," Angelica said, hanging her purse up and smiling to hide how baffled she was. "I just never seem to have the time to… do much of anything around here. I vacuum. You know."

"No, no, I used to hate it when my mother would show up and clean my apartment while I was off, you know," Jane said, drying her hands on her sweatpants. "And here I am, doing it."

Angelica said, "It's really all right. My grandmother would thank you."

Kit grinned at her over Jane's head as he unpacked the bag. "Okay, that's enough work outta you today, ma'am," he said, chivvying Jane out of the kitchen. "I hafta cook here." He picked up the bucket and dumped it into the sink.

Angelica said, as she headed for the cabinet where she kept her booze, "Would you like a drink, Jane?" She was suddenly feeling the need of one herself.

"Oh, sure," Jane said, lowering herself onto the couch. "Got whiskey or tequila?"

"Both," Angelica said, after a quick glance over her supply. "Though the whiskey's better. The tequila's cheap stuff, and I don't have any mixers."

"Whiskey and soda is fine," Jane said, rubbing her wrinkled forehead with the heel of her hand. "So I guess you're kind of a fan, huh?"

Angelica spilled whiskey on the tabletop and restrained herself from drinking straight from the bottle in embarrassment. "Yes! Yes, I guess I am."

"I like the glass case of the kitsch you've got over there," Jane said, waving a hand toward Angelica's little collection. "I remember most of those things. That doll was such a goddamn hoot, and so was the decoder ring."

"I just pick things up when I see them, you know," Angelica said, adding soda, mopping up the spill, and bringing Jane her glass. "I've been a fan since I was really little."

"I remember that poster too," Jane said, gesturing toward the framed print on the wall with her glass. "That was during the time they made me change my eyes blue, you know."

Angelica's hand twitched at this, but she managed to keep her beverage in its glass. "Really? I didn't know you could do that."

"I always thought I should study medicine or science or something," Jane said, examining the contents of her glass. "It might've made my power more useful. But I never had time."

Kit was deep into food preparation in the kitchen and didn't notice the look Angelica sent his way. To cover the fact that none of the histories or biographies of Jane Liberty had really covered the exact mechanics of her power, Angelica said, "I'm studying biology. Well, was studying biology. Genetics. I'm trying to save up enough money so I can go back to graduate school."

"You can't get a loan?" Jane asked, looking up and seeming suddenly very interested.

"I got caught up in a lot of red tape," Angelica said, sitting down opposite Jane and considering all the paperwork she had already filled out and would have to fill out again. "And my parents, uh, opted not to help me out." She waved a hand in a way she hoped was elegant and expressive. "It was a mess."

"You want to be a doctor?" Jane asked.

"Not… not a medical doctor," Angelica said. "A PhD. A researcher. You know, trying to cure cancer and all that."

Jane stared at her with an intense, disquieting dark gaze for a long moment, then looked down into her glass again.

"Dinner!" Kit sang, just when the silence was getting strangely ominous. "Hope no one minds rice 'n' beans 'n' some fish."

"Hah, sounds like something my mother would've made," Jane said, levering herself upright.

"Where was your mother from?" Kit asked, serving out dinner onto plates.

"Mexico," Jane said, "but no one was ever supposed to know that." She set her glass down on the table, then settled into the chair Angelica had put a pillow on for her comfort.

Angelica blinked. "You did a good job of keeping that quiet. I never saw anything like that in the biographies."

"It was easy to pass herself off as Italian, if anyone asked," Jane said, picking up her fork. "She didn't have an accent, and it was New York in the 1940s, after all. And then she died young, poor thing, so once I got famous, no one could pester her."

"Why break the habit now?" Kit said, falling to his meal while watching the old woman.

"Because everyone who wanted it kept quiet is dead," Jane said, picking out a piece of spiced fish. "And I'm as good as." She put the morsel in her mouth and chewed carefully.

"Aw, come on now," Angelica said with a horrible sinking sensation in her stomach.

Jane smiled at her briefly, lips pressed shut against the food she was chewing. After a moment, she swallowed and said, "It's a brief enough resurrection, kiddo. Take advantage of the weirdness of paranormal miracles. Do you have any questions you've always wanted to ask me?"

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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."

wonder_city: (Default)
There has been much stress around this house this month. I'm glad it didn't (so far) derail me on writing.

Locked Room of One's Own Mystery

"Corporal," Lady Justice snapped in a deep, commanding voice that Angelica had not heard from her before, "do you know what rank I hold in the Gold Star Brigade Reserves?'

The babyfaced young man, muscularly at ease in his Army fatigues, looked surprised, but tried not to. "No, ma'am," he drawled.

Lady Justice produced a card from her pocket and displayed it at his eye level. The blue eyes widened abruptly, and he popped to attention, cracking off a salute and lifting his eyes to gaze into the distance. "Ma'am," he said.

Angelica glanced at her friend Kendis, who raised her eyebrows, then gave Madeline an interrogative look. Madeline, with a small smile, leaned over, under the cover of Lady Justice dressing down the corporal, and whispered, "She's a major."

"Ah," Kendis said, and shifted on her crutches.

"... and according to Paranormal Order 5117J, the Gold Star Brigade can, in fact, take possession at any time, and as you can see from that authorization there, I am currently in charge of the Brigade," Lady J concluded, then stopped looming over the sweating corporal. "So if you will clear myself and my duly deputized assistants, Corporal, we can get on with this."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, gratefully stepping to his desk and doing something at the computer. His printer whirred to life and shot out a half dozen printed sheets of some sort of glossy plastic. He picked them up, popped out cards for each of them and handed them over to Lady J. He also handed her a last whole sheet and gestured to the elevator door.

"Thank you, Corporal," Lady J said, giving him a smart salute, which he returned, and led her three satellites onto the elevator.

The door shut and the elevator began to descend.

"So that's what you meant," Kendis said, passing a hand over her forehead and back over her shaved pate, "when you said that you had legal rights, but wasn't sure they'd be enough?"

Lady Justice nodded and sighed. "Currently, I am the Gold Stars, because they're missing and only their reservists remain. As such, I walked into headquarters and got all the permissions put through for my activation. And now I'm activating another reservist. All legal and proper, but I wasn't sure it would all go all right, given everything that's going on."

"Who are you activating?" Angelica said.

"You'll see in a moment," Lady J said. She exchanged an unreadable look with Madeline.

The elevator stopped and the doors parted. The guards on duty had apparently been apprised of Lady Justice's status, because they all came to attention when she stepped into the room. One of them stepped forward and saluted. She returned the salute and handed him the printed sheet of plastic.

"How has she been, Sergeant?" Lady Justice said casually.

"About the usual, ma'am," he said, using a digital scanner on the sheet and returned it to her. "Calm enough during the day. You've come at a good time. Do you require a power damper, ma'am?"

"No, Sergeant, we'll be fine, thank you," Lady Justice said.

"Yes, ma'am." There was a dubious tone in his voice, but he pressed a button on his keyboard and nodded to one of his underlings. There was a loud clunk. The private went to the other side of the room and opened a door there that was at least a foot thick.

Lady Justice strode confidently across the room, almost without her usual limp, Angelica noticed. The rest of them trailed her through the door.

It was a small studio apartment with fake digital windows, pastel walls, and an array of aged and comfortable furniture. In the midst of it all, on a rocking chair, sat a tiny wizened woman with short white hair, wearing a blue sweatsuit. She looked up slowly.

"Janey," Lady Justice said. "It's Dottie."

"Oh, my god," Angelica said under her breath, suddenly recognizing in the lines of the old woman's face her childhood idol, Jane Liberty.

Jane Liberty's dark eyes focused on Lady Justice, and she got up from her chair carefully. "Oh, Dottie, you brought Janna?" She gestured at Kendis, who frowned and seemed to be concentrating.

"No, Jane," Lady J said. "She's not Janna. This is Kendis, and this is Angelica. And do you know who that is?"

Something was changing in Jane's face, Angelica noticed, as Lady J was talking. The blank geniality shifted to something more like concentration and attention. When Jane looked at Madeline, her face lit up with recognition. Then frustration.

"I can't remember her name," she said plaintively.

"Madeline," that woman said, stepping forward and extending her hands to Jane. "It's been a long time, Jane."

Jane automatically took the proffered hands, and a glow that Angelica hadn't noticed around Madeline suddenly spread to Jane.

Angelica glanced at Kendis. The other woman had her gaze locked on Jane Liberty and her jaw was set, but sweat gleamed on her dark brown skin. As subtly as possible, Angelica pulled a handkerchief from her purse and mopped Kendis' brow. Kendis gave her a quirk of a smile, but kept her eyes on Jane.

"Janey, we need your help, and we'd like to take you out of here," Lady Justice said. "Are you okay with that?"

Jane blinked several times and took a long, deep breath. Finally, she looked at Lady J and said, "You must be desperate if you're here for me, Dottie. If you're sure, then I'm ready."

"Excellent," Lady Justice said. "Back to the van then."

Jane tottered a little as Madeline backed away from her, and Angelica stepped forward to take her elbow. Jane looked up at her, then over at Kendis, with a crooked smile. "Dottie's got herself a new brigade, does she?"

Kendis gave Jane a wry grin, mopping her chin with Angelica's handkerchief, then pivoting on her crutches and leg braces. "If the Army takes handicapped lesbians, that's the first I've heard of it."

Jane waved her free hand dismissively. "She's just got a... a... thing, you know. People like her. Damn this brain of mine." She clutched at the side of her head.

Once they were past the soldiers and on the elevator, Kendis said to Jane, "I have to hang around you for a few more hours, but you should start feeling more focused soon. Losing words and stuff is the slowest to come back."

Jane looked at her sharply. "You can fix old people's brains?"

"Not permanently," Kendis said with a shrug. "But if I hang around, things improve. If I work at it, I can make a dramatic change for a while."

They went out past the saluting corporal and climbed into Lady Justice's battered old grey van. Madeline gave up the passenger seat to Jane and sat on the bed in the back with Angelica and Kendis.

"Where are we headed?" Jane said, squinting against the bright April sunshine.

"Right now, my house," Lady J said. "The kids settled me in a little mobile home at the edge of town."

Jane looked back toward the low-slung bunker as Lady J drove out the gates of Fort Wilson. "You'll bring me back when I've done whatever it is you need, right, Dottie?"

Lady J nodded slowly. "Yes, just like you made me promise, Jane. All those years ago."

Jane put her head back against the headrest and closed her eyes wearily. "Good."

wonder_city: (Default)
Truth, Lady Justice, and the American Way

“Of course, given the codename,” Dorothy Catherine Sanderson told me,” we tried to come up with a transparent blindfold sort of thing. It didn’t work, so I just stuck with the sword, though I went through swords like Grant through Richmond.”

Sanderson is the civilian name of the iconic, much-decorated World War II superhero, Lady Justice. We should have been having this conversation over tea in her neat, well-appointed living room in a small but immaculately-kept house. But we spoke while seated in battered nylon folding chairs outside the rusty silver van she calls her home, drinking instant coffee in chipped, mismatched mugs. Hers read, “#1 Mom.”

Later, she opened the back of the van and showed me the milk crates containing row upon row of painstakingly labelled cassette tapes. “I tape every conversation I have with the VA,” Lady Justice said, running her fingertips over the plastic, “and I file it here.”

Most of us know that Lady Justice enlisted in the Gold Star Battalion in December of 1941. Her superiors expected that she would simply be the secretary of the commander at the time, but she soon distinguished herself on the test field.
Read more... )

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