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I'm going to take January to do some catch-up writing, since the holidays tapped my last buffer. In the meantime, I'll cross-post the short character overviews I'm doing over on my blog at here for your amusement. This is Megan as presented in the novel. :)

From Parapedia Staff:
We sent out short surveys to many characters in Wonder City Stories to see what information they might be willing to share. Our first survey came back from Megan Amazon!

Megan Pantariste Amazon

Birthdate: 30 November 1986

Height: 7'11.5"

Weight: None of anyone's business

Race: Biracial at least, your guess is as good as mine

Spandex name: FUCK NO

Sign: "No Trespassing"

Zodiac sign (put "Western" in there, you ethnocentric jerks): Sagittarius

Blood type: O negative (yes, ha ha, let's laugh at the universal donor who can't donate blood)

College degree: BA in Psychology from University of California, Berkeley

Paranormal powers:
- Strength: Class 6
- Invulnerability: Class 6

Other notes: Why am I doing this again?

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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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Megan thought, Someday, I need to just buy my own damn van and quit borrowing Zoltan's, as Watson drove The Divine Sarah, their landlord's Art Deco vintage VW bus, past the Wonder City limits and onto the winding Pennsylvania back roads beyond. Early spring was more visible here on the drizzly day, with the trees just putting out dark red buds and pale yellow-green early leaves, and a few stray daffodils popping yellow onto the landscape. I'm very nearly cleared for driving again; hell, I'm nearly cleared for getting back on public transit. I think I'm tired of being driven everywhere for a while. Since the telepathic mucking about in her head two years earlier, she'd had periodic seizures that prohibited her from driving. Since her super-strength was above Class 5, she also couldn't be on public transit when she might have a seizure—to do so endangered the public. She also couldn't be on ladders at work, and the whole thing had put a serious hitch in her informal carpentry apprenticeship. Aggressive medication and careful telepathic therapy to undo some of the damage had mostly controlled them, finally. It's been nearly six months since the last one. Fingers crossed that was the end.
Read more... )

How about another detail from the novel cover? Angry Project Manager Suzanne!

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This is the Fate You've Carved on Me

Megan Amazon woke to someone calling her name very softly, but urgently, and a hand stroking her short hair. She opened her eyes on her familiar bedroom ceiling and her lover's voice in her ear saying, "Megan, honey, please don't move."

Frozen, Megan only then noticed the heavy weight pressing across her chest and belly. "Jen? What the hell…?" Carefully, she looked downward and found an enormous wing sprawled across her. She turned her head toward her girlfriend: Jen's brown eyes were panic-stricken, with tears leaking down her dark cheeks and trickling across the bridge of her nose.
Read more... )

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I finally managed to pound this one out. It's a little rougher than I like, but perfect is the enemy of posted, as it were. I hope y'all don't mind.

One more episode. It will be extra bonus-sized, and also will break my usual tradition of only having a single POV in an episode, just to warn you. I promise to remember to cut the text. :)

All Lies Lead to the Truth

"I told Watson I was angry with her finally," Megan said, fiddling with a wrinkle of her jeans.

Pearl's eyebrows rose with attention. "And how did that go?"

Megan sighed and let her head fall back in her chair. "She asked me why."


"I told her, just like we practiced," Megan said, still looking up at the ceiling. When Pearl didn't answer, she said, "I said because I felt like she could have done more to help me. That everything I remembered since the point where the company got bought and the 'company therapist' started working on everyone was that I felt abandoned and alone."

Pearl nodded. "How did you feel telling her that?"
Read more... )

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Wow, the holidays were more exhausting than I thought they'd be, but I managed to knock this off finally.

Collateral Damage

Megan was trying to decide whether to call over to Death's place to see if Diarmid needed a hand with anything when there was a polite, very recognizable knock on her door. She opened it and looked down at her long-absent landlord, astonished.

"You're home?" she said.

"Indeed," Zoltan said with a smile that didn't quite reach the rest of his face.

Megan thought he looked paler and thinner and older than he had a few weeks ago, when he'd introduced her to his family and left her at their mansion for safekeeping. "Well, welcome back," she said as a precursor to her inquiries about his health.

He intercepted her verbally with a, "Thank you. I need your able assistance, if I may, with some entirely legal breaking and entering."

She blinked. "Legal…?

"Yes," he said, stepping back from the door and gesturing toward the stairs up. "If you wouldn't mind?"

Megan followed him up the stairs to the second floor. She glanced at Simon's door out of (old) habit (that she was still pleased to find had not been deleted), but knew he was out job-hunting today. Zoltan paused in front of the other door on that landing.

"No one has seen Lizzie for several days," Zoltan explained in a low voice. "And she lost her job last week."

"How do you know that?" Megan asked, also in a low voice.

"I have sources," he said with a dismissive wave. "While I have a key to her apartment and have attempted to use it, she appears to have barricaded the door in some way."

"And you want me to get the door open."

"S'il vous plaît," he said with a bow.

"It's unlocked now?" she said, putting a hand on the door.

"Yes," he said.

She turned the knob carefully and then pushed against the opening side of the door. There was some stubborn resistance, but she increased the pressure and the door started to move, accompanied by a scraping sound from inside. As gently as possible, she pushed the door open enough for Zoltan to slide inside.

A wave of hot sour air hit her in the face, full of stale beer and less pleasant substances. She swallowed hard against the initial sickly urge, and turned away from the door.

Muffled, inside, she heard Zoltan say, "Ah!" and then she heard him on his cell phone, giving the address and information to the 911 operator.

After a few moments, there was a small commotion on the other side of the door. He said, "I have removed the smaller items that were heaped against the door, but I cannot move the sofa myself — it is upended, and somewhat tipsy."

"All right," she said, taking a breath of the potpourri-scented air in the hallway and then reaching around the door to take hold of the sofa with one hand. The sofa was one of those older monsters made of neutron star material and prickles. She lifted it to one side and pushed the door open.

The interior of the apartment was dim, all the windows heavily curtained. Zoltan was trying light after light, but they were either unplugged or the bulbs were burnt out, until he tried one of the cheap floor lamps, which illuminated the space but also threw long shadows. A figure she guessed was Lizzie was swathed in a blanket and curled up on a loveseat that did not match the sofa she'd just moved aside. The floor was littered with bottles and cans. There was a box fan on the floor, aimed at the loveseat, but it wasn't on, and all the windows were shut. The room was sweltering in the late summer heat.

"Oh, shit," she said.

"She's alive," Zoltan said, turning back toward the loveseat. "And even responds somewhat. I am hopeful she is not as bad as this room looks."

Poor Simon came upstairs at just that moment. He started to say something to Megan, and then he turned almost visibly green as the smell hit him. He galloped back downstairs and out the front door with impressive speed.

"Simon's waiting outside for the ambulance," Megan told Zoltan.

"Ah, wise boy," Zoltan said, with a grimace. He bent over the loveseat and shook Lizzie. "Come, my girl, you need to wake up for your old landlord, whose heart is not good enough for these kinds of scares."

Lizzie moaned in response, which Megan had to admit was better than she expected.

The EMTs arrived a few minutes later, and were guided inside by Simon, who stayed downstairs on the porch, holding the door for the gurney's return. Megan helped them kick a path to the loveseat, and then retreated back to the door to set the sofa down on its legs, off to the side.

Zoltan answered their questions about Lizzie as if he were related to her, down to knowing her birthdate and wallet name. He presented them with a document that was apparently his authorization to stand as her medical proxy (in lieu of her awful next-of-kin), then moved back to the doorway to join Megan while they examined Lizzie and got her onto their gurney.

Megan frowned down at Zoltan with some confusion, and said, back to her low voice, "I thought you had enhanced strength. You should've been able to take care of this door yourself."

He avoided her gaze and shrugged. "It is daylight. And I have been… not very well lately. I probably could have handled the door, but it seemed ill-advised to burst in, not knowing where she was and how the barricade might fall."

Megan watched him for a moment, and something that had been niggling at the back of her mind since she had stayed with his family tackled her. "Oh, wait, were you the person they were talking about at the house who lost all your, uh, 'donors' to the men in black arresting them?"

Zoltan cleared his throat and looked more uncomfortable than Megan thought she'd ever seen him. "Yes, I suppose I am. Voluntarily being a… partner for a registered vampire was subject to arrest for 'perversion' under our invading overlords. My lawyer is hard at work, trying to get my friends released."

The EMTs emerged at this point with Lizzie strapped onto the gurney. She was pallid and greenish, eyes closed.

"Pardon," Zoltan said, watching them negotiate the stairs. "I need to go with them."

"Of course," Megan said.

Zoltan closed and locked Lizzie's door, and returned his keyring to the pocket of his sleek black trousers. "Perhaps you could mention to Watson that I will need a ride home in a few hours and will call her?"

"Yes, of course," Megan said again. Watson was out on some case or other, but Megan knew she'd probably be back inside of a couple hours.

"I will see you later, then," Zoltan said, trotting down the stairs. He paused and looked back at her. "Could you also perhaps call that charming elderly gentleman of whom Lizzie is so fond? She might like to have a friendly face if… when she wakes up."

"I can get Ira's number, no problem," Megan said, knowing Watson would have it.

"Thank you very much, Megan," he said solemnly, and hurried out the front door.

Megan went downstairs and stood on the porch with Simon, leaving the front door open so the stairwell could air out. They watched the EMTs carefully settling the gurney in the ambulance and finally inviting Zoltan to jump in the back, which he did as gracefully as one can. The ambulance lights came on and it rolled out of the driveway onto Marigold Lane, and away toward town.

They stood in silence in the humidity of late afternoon. A vague breeze crept onto the porch and ruffled Megan's freshly butched hair.

"Well, that sucks," Simon said finally.

"Yeah," Megan said. Her stomach tightened and she knew it was time to say something to him. "I've been really self-centered about the fallout from everything." She bit her lip to try to keep the tears out of her eyes and said, "I'm sorry about what happened. Forgetting that you were human… locking you into my apartment and asking Watson to walk you! It was horrible, I wasn't even paying attention to what was going on with you. I'm so sorry."

She saw him turn to look at her out of the corner of her suddenly wet eye. Dammit, stop being a fucking faucet, Megan. It took serious force of will, but she finally looked at him.

His expression was, she thought, a little surprised and more than a little sad. He took one of her big hands in both of his and looked up into her face over the edge of his tinted glasses. "Thank you. That means a lot to me." His yellow eyes were bright and damp around the edges. "But I know what was happening to you, Megan, and having your mind actively fucked with is not something to take lightly. I'm good, I'm okay. I had other people taking care of me through all that, and I'm really not pissed at you, I promise. You can let go of blaming yourself for that."

Megan tried to hold it together for another ten seconds, and then they ended up in a mutually bawling hug, her on her knees, him standing.

"I'm sorry…"

"No, I'm sorry…"

"I was so terrified…"

"I missed you so much…"

"Everything hurt all the time…"

"When you didn't say anything after…"

"But you were out all the time…"

"I feel so alone…"

"I can't…"

"I love you."

"I love you too."

"God, we're dorks."

"Yeah, but we're sexy dorks."

"I am SO not sexy right now."

"Well, me either."

They finally let go and looked at each other's puffy red wet faces. Megan fumbled for her handkerchief to wipe her nose and Simon used the front of his t-shirt to rub his whole face.

"I feel really bad that I didn't pay more attention to Lizzie," Simon said, sitting down on the porch swing. "I'm supposed to be her friend."

"She wasn't letting anyone in, I think," Megan said, who thumped down to sit crosslegged at his feet. "I heard you knocking on her door a couple times, and she kept sending you away. I know Watson tried too." She snorted. "I was too wrapped up in my own shit."

"You and she have always just been nodding acquaintances, though," Simon said.

"Maybe she would have talked to me because of that," Megan said with a shrug.

Megan scooted around and rested her head on Simon's leg. He ruffled her hair. "I missed you a lot," he said.

"I missed you too," she said. She had a sudden flash of memory—which gratified her, as such things did these days—and added, "And I promise I'll never make a 'Megan's best friend' crack about you again."

"I appreciate that," he said with a hiccoughing laugh. "Though you're still allowed to skritch me behind the ear occasionally."

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Life has been rather too exciting and tense through October, and so I had some serious writer's block. I hope this extra long episode will help make up for the lack, though.

At Death's Door Again

Megan started paying attention to where they were driving when she noticed the tall stone wall topped with colorful broken glass shards and wrought iron spikes. "Wait, I thought we were going…"

Watson didn't look away from the road, but gave a wry smile. "They lost the house in town."

"Oh," Megan said. The stone wall gave way to an equally tall, ornate, wrought iron fence that gave a clear view of a vast overgrown park beyond, and tantalizing peeks of a large house in the distance.

Watson slowed the Divine Sarah and turned in at a driveway guarded by two enormous black iron dogs. As they approached the gate, Watson reached into her tweed sportscoat and fumbled with something in the inner pocket. The gates glided apart. Megan continued to be riveted by the statuary, and said, "What's with the dogs?"

Her girlfriend snorted a laugh and said, "Welcome to Baskerville Hall."

Megan's gaze slewed around to Watson. "You're kidding me."

Watson gave her a jaundiced look. "You're saying that to a woman named for three major characters in the Doyle body of work?"

"Never mind," Megan said, looking up the winding drive. There were tall, unkempt evergreens lining the way, so it wasn't until they actually entered the circle in front of the hall that she got a good view of the house.
Cut for length )

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I'm so sorry for missing last week! The summer is kind of hectic and my schedule for late June and all of July left me without a lot of brain. Plus the next several episodes are hard to write. At some point in the near future, I will double up a week and get you two eps to makes up for the missed one.

If you're in the Boston area today (Saturday August 9, 2014) and are at all inclined toward suit-wearing or watching suit-wearing butch-type people strut their stuff, I and a number of very attractive individuals will be modeling Saint Harridan's clothing tonight at 11 pm at a nightclub called Machine on Boylston Street. Come on out and enjoy the eye candy!

Denial Is Policy

Megan sat down hesitantly in the big chair in Pearl's office. It felt familiar. It looked familiar. It even smelled familiar.

Pearl sat down in her chair and smiled at Megan. Her iron gray hair was pulled back in a braid, and if the lines in her face were deeper than when last they met, Megan really couldn't say.

Megan fidgeted with the sideseam of her jeans for a moment, then said, hesitantly, "I found your name and number in my address book. Under my mattress. I mean, my address book was under my mattress. I never put anything there. But it was there." She ran out of words and let the silence dribble in.

Pearl studied her for a moment, then said, "Why did you call me when you found it?"

Megan looked away. "I asked Ir-- Watson about you. She said you were my therapist."

Pearl let the sentence hang between them for a long time. Then she said, slowly and clearly, "Megan, what have you lost?"

The enormity of the question collapsed in on Megan, and she went down under the weight, bending forward almost to her knees, face in (too-big) hands, and trying to choke back the tears that were suddenly there. When that threatened to make her (too-big) throat explode with agony, she finally let out a bellow of pain that echoed throughout her (too-big) chest and rattled her ribs and the small bones of her face. Caught somewhere in that sound was the word Everything.

At some point, Pearl pushed a box of tissues into easy reach, and Megan used most of its contents over the next twenty minutes of unleashed misery.

When the paroxysm passed, Megan sat quietly for a while, worn out, staring at the massive handful of tissues she was apparently compressing with the aim of making them into diamonds. She focused on the black smears across the surface of one, and she held it out to Pearl as if displaying an uncharacteristic shit produced by one of Watson's cats.

"This. That's eyeliner," she said. "I hate it. It makes me want to retch. But I'm terrified of being seen without it now. I hate myself for messing up my fucking makeup. I hate makeup. I can't… I don't think I ever wore it before. Except maybe when I was 13, before I grew too big to be a woman."

Pearl glanced briefly at the offending tissue, then watched Megan's face for the rest of the rant. She said, "I don't think you did either. What do you mean when you say you grew too big to be a woman?"

"I…" Megan reached for the explanation and there was nothing there. It was just like something had been dropped into her brain and left there, like a Lego brick to be stepped on in the dark. No attachment, no rhyme or reason. "... I don't know." She hated the sound of her voice. Her inner, utterly baffled, child.

Pearl leaned forward a little. "You know what's been happening around the world, right?"

Megan nodded. "Aliens invaded. They got a bunch of psionic paras to work for them."

"The aliens also provided the psions with power enhancers, but failed to provide them with any training." Pearl folded her hands together in her lap. "What you just experienced is happening to a lot of people right now. The official term for it is, ironically, 'alien thought syndrome.' Which is the psychiatric establishment's attempt to categorize what happens when a telepathic para meddles with someone else's mind."

Megan exhaled a sharp laugh. "We all need t-shirts: 'The aliens invaded and all I got were these lousy thoughts that aren't mine.'"

Pearl smiled. "I suspect something like that may happen. You might find some online communities starting, or, if you're interested, I can probably find you a therapy group focused around it."

Megan hiccoughed around a leftover sob. "Not yet, I think."

"That's okay." Pearl leaned forward and put her hand on Megan's. "This is hard stuff, but I want to encourage you to think about what you're thinking behind things that you're saying. Our normal thoughts have a sense of connection to one another, or at least to ourselves. These… items dropped into our brains by other people have that same sense of disconnection you just felt. That's how you tell what's yours, and what's someone else's."

Megan couldn't stop herself from asking, "How do I get rid of them?"

Pearl squeezed her hand. "You don't, I'm afraid. But you learn to think around them. Eventually, a lot of people learn to put them in a box and forget most of them."

"Oh," Megan said in a very small voice. "Oh."

Pearl sat back in her seat and watched her again.

Megan sifted through the detritus of tumbled thoughts that kept flying through her head, and noticed a few that were "aliens," just like Pearl said. She finally asked, after a few minutes of feeling vertiginously aware of her own mind's activity, "Can you please tell me what kinds of things we were talking about… before? Because I've tried to remember, but I can't."

"You will, with time," Pearl said. "No one can take away your memories. They can try to divert you away from them, they can try to block them off, but in the end, your mind is your own, and you will find your own way back to them. That is to say, no, I can't tell you, but I can help you remember."

Megan nodded. She'd expected that, really. A sudden thought, all her own, warm and furry with all the proper lines of connection, came to her. It was so comforting to have one she knew was hers that she cuddled it close, and said, "I know we're almost out of time, but can I say hi to the dogs?"

Pearl broke into the biggest smile yet. "At least Mulder and Scully remain unforgettable. Sure, let me go get them for you."

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The Choking Weeds

Suddenly the theme of "The Addams Family" shattered the silence in the room, startling Megan out of her doze. Harald raised his eyebrows as Megan struggled to fumble the phone out of her jeans pocket and silence the music, but turned back to his book when she answered the phone.

"Watson?" she said.

"I love you," Watson said.

Megan sat up straighter, anxiety constricting her throat. She glanced surreptitiously toward Harald. No one could hear her say this. If anyone heard her say this, they'd know she was Wrong. She'd lose her job. Her pulse was racing, nearly deafening her with the pounding in her ears. Another part of her was demanding So what? but she'd been shutting that part of her away for so long now, being so terrified…

"I just wanted to tell you that," Watson said into the pause.

"I… is anything wrong?" Megan managed past the garrote of her fear.

"Yes," Watson said, and Megan kept trying to hear what was going on behind her carefully neutral voice. "But I'm not in danger. It's all right. I just wanted to hear your voice."

Strangling on the voices, Megan whispered, "Love you," and hung up before she accidentally crushed her phone.

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So there were 5 comments when I woke up this morning BUT someone, I have no idea who, has given me an early Wonder City 5-year-anniversary gift! They created a Wonder City Stories TV Tropes page! So here is a bonus episode for you wonderful people.

Guess what I'm gonna do in celebration? There are currently 15 tropes on that page by my count. If you folks can get it to 20 tropes by Saturday noontime (Eastern DST), I'll post ANOTHER episode Saturday evening!

Limping Into Safe Harbor

The silence of the vast house enfolded Megan softly, cradling her in a soothing warmth that not only washed over her physically, but also mentally. She sat in the enormous chair that Zoltan had brought her with her eyes closed, enjoying the sensation of only her own thoughts rattling through the fire-damaged hallways of her brain, of being able to breathe without the ever-present invisible pressure to which she'd grown so accustomed.

The silence was occasionally punctuated by the sound of a page turning. Her only companion, an elderly gentleman named Harald Lakatos who had told her several times, gently, that the house wasn't his, was reading some enormous leatherbound tome off the nearby shelves.

There was a creak as the door opened. Megan opened her eyes. Harald, a lean, craggy man with immaculately-groomed white hair, closed his book on a finger and looked up.

A young-looking, graceful woman with dark hair and eyes leaned in the door. "Ah, Grandfather—" pretty much everyone in the Lakatos mansion called Harald this, though Megan had yet to figure out actual familial relations "—I wanted you and our guest to know that there is some… unrest happening in the city. But there is no threat to the house."

"Do you know what is happening, my dear?" Harald inquired.

"There have been some revelations on the television," she said, glancing at Megan. "And people are understandably upset."

"Ah," Harald said with a nod. "Well, thank you, my dear."

She nodded, gave Megan a small, tight smile, and backed out of the room, closing the door quietly.

Watson had told her, in an evasive way that reminded Megan that her own mental processes were not what they were, that something would be happening today, and that it might get "messy." Megan sighed and smiled vaguely at Harald's inquiring glance. "I guess Watson expected something like this."

"Zoltan did too," Harald said, nodding and opening his book. "Go back to your nap, my dear. There's no use worrying. Others, who are more capable than we at this point, are handling things."

Megan obediently put her head back, closed her eyes, and hoped Watson was all right.

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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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Finally. I've been beating on this episode for months. It does what it needs to do.

Believe the Lie

Megan hurried out of the office cafeteria with two small but expensive sandwiches and a bottle of skim milk in her hands. She counted herself fortunate that her counselor let her eat during their sessions. She'd heard a couple of the others complaining because theirs wouldn't, and so on counseling days, they just lost their lunch hour. Granted, the counseling sessions were supposedly voluntary, but pretty much everyone who'd refused to attend had been canned.

Her counselor was sitting in the former "small conference room", her sizeable file open in front of him, next to the pocket-sized but still hefty employee manual he always carried. As she came in and closed the door, he smiled and closed the folder. "Hello, Megan," he said smilingly. "How are you today?"

She responded, cheerfully, "Just fine," because she'd already learned that to answer any other way invited questions that attempted to pry open her feelings like a can opener. She sat down across the table from him.

"Go ahead and dig in," he said, sipping from his cup of coffee. "I'd really hoped I'd see you wearing some of the things we discussed last week."

She forced her smile to stay in place. "Facilities doesn't like us to wear necklaces or rings. Safety issues, you know." Megan had no intention of telling him that she owned no jewelry of the appropriate type, and on her current salary couldn't possibly afford to buy any.

"Ah," he said in a slightly disbelieving tone, taking another sip. "Well, how are things this week?"

Over the past months of her counseling meetings, Megan had wrangled with the difficulty of talking while eating, but never came up with a really successful compromise. She just tried to chew fast. "Doing just fine, really," she said.

"And have you considered some of the things we discussed last week?" he said.

She nodded, and swallowed, and said, "Yes, and I'm going to keep my name as it is. It was my mother's legal name when she had me, and her family has never been very interested in me."

"I see," he said, in a mild tone that put Megan's hackles up. "And what about your father's name?"

"I don't know my father," Megan said, probably a little too shortly. She winced internally, expecting backlash.

"Surely your mother knows his name," he said, "and his name would better fit your... presentation to the world."

Megan chewed a little more slowly. It was hard to read between the lines these days, but it was obvious enough that he was talking about her skin color. The new Human Resources department had been frustrated by her for months now as they tried to fit her into one or another category. She swallowed finally, when he started to fiddle impatiently with his coffee cup, and said, "But you told me that my mother was a bad influence who would ruin my career and I shouldn't speak to her."

He nodded, face impassively friendly as usual, and said, "Just checking."

The butterflies in her stomach relaxed as she realized she'd given the correct answer. For now.

"Have you been working on the feeling better about yourself thing?" He leaned forward, looking her up and down with what may have been meant as a "concerned" look but which came out as a slightly contemptuous sneer.

She really, really didn't want to discuss the makeup failures with him. "Yes," she said, doing her best to look wide-eyed and honest and blank. He made a note on his clipboard.

"How are you feeling about the other thing we talked about?"

She was immediately on the alert. She remembered talking about her frustration with the work -- she'd been learning construction site management before the reorg -- and he'd pointed out that her performance had fallen off before they'd moved her to the facilities group. They'd had a long and convoluted discussion that she couldn't remember very well -- her problematic memory was one of the things that he'd said argued against her getting a more responsible position -- though in the end she'd agreed with him that perhaps... oh yes. "The whole finding new challenges in my current work?"

He beamed. "Yes, good, I'm glad you remember. Have you been looking for challenges that you feel are attainable?"

A treacherous part of her mind said, I have a college degree in this, you asshole, which is more than you do, Mr. MBA. I know what you're doing, which is more than I can say for you. She struggled with that part of her that her counselor found unconstructive and unhelpful. She didn't actually know what he was doing. She couldn't. He was the guy who'd been hired for this, whether she had a degree or not. She'd never been very good at psychology anyway. It wasn't a way to make a living.

He watched her closely, gripping his coffee cup in one hand and the employee manual in the other.

"Yes," she finally choked out. "Yes, I've been looking."

"Nothing has looked interesting yet?" he asked.

She knew it was the wrong answer the moment she said, "No," but couldn't actually think of anything. She finished her sandwich and avoided his eyes.

"Hm," he said, fiddling with the handbook. "Perhaps you need to think smaller. Little things that would give you quicker satisfaction."

She was about to protest that she didn't want smaller things, but bigger projects to be happier, but she stopped even before she opened her mouth. It would only have caused problems -- another argument, more condescension from him -- and besides, really, was she up to big projects these days? Maybe the new management was right and she couldn't keep all the moving parts of a project in mind any more -- if she ever had been able to. It wasn't like she could even keep a friendship going, much less a relationship these days. If she couldn't handle something simple like a friend, how could she deal with the complexity of a construction project? Better to leave that to people who weren't… who were functional.

"Well," she said tentatively, "I do like to have projects I can finish. And, you know, see that I've done a good job with them."

"That's the ticket," he said approvingly, and elation at getting the right answer loosened her joints. "I've heard that the supervisor is very pleased with the very thorough work you've been doing on the floors and kitchenettes in Engineering. I think he might even give you some of the after-hours work on the executive floor."

Oh, joy, she thought, remembering the tiny rake Esteban had shown her, the one that was supposed to be used to comb the fringe on the expensive Persian rugs the new owners had put in. But she smiled as best she could and said, "That's great."

He reached across the table, as he did at the end of every session, and put a hand on hers. She had to force herself not to jerk her hand away. He said, smiling warmly, "You're doing very well, Megan. We appreciate the effort you've put into learning to be a good team player."

She walked out, taking the sandwich wrappers and bottle with her, and as usual, spent the next several moments in the nearest janitor's closet, shutting her eyes and leaning her head against the cinder block wall.

After a few minutes, she fumbled the cheap compact out of her pocket and tried to inspect her face in the mirror. She smoothed the hair around her face and checked her ponytail, but didn't bother with trying to do anything with makeup. She inhaled deeply of the cleaning-product-scented air and sallied back out to her work again.

An hour later, she encountered one of the temp workers in the hall. She was nearly as tall as Megan, with broad shoulders, very dark skin, and a flattop haircut. She punched Megan lightly in the shoulder and growled, "Hey," as she stomped past.

Megan looked after her, stricken by something. Several somethings. Thoughts leapt through her mind: How does she get away with that? Did anyone see her touch me? Am I going to hear about this next week?

She retreated to one of the service corridors, where she folded up on herself and wept torrentially, biting her arm to keep from making noise. There was a pain in her chest where something enormous was missing, and she'd only just noticed.

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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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Welcome to volume III of Wonder City Stories, which is titled Trust No #1.

If you're just joining us here in Wonder City, please check out the two complete novels already posted! The table of contents lists them by episode, and also, at the bottom of the page, there are Wonder City Interludes, which are short stories and a novella based in the Wonder City universe. Check it out! Stay a while!

For our regular readers who are champing at the bit for the next installment of the story, I present you with Episode 1 of Trust No #1. For present, the update schedule will be once weekly on Wednesdays.

Remember that I love comments. Comments give me writing power!


Somewhere That's Green

Megan Amazon woke to her alarm clock and the usual sensation of something not being quite right. Fortunately, the sensation faded almost immediately -- sometimes it took hours to diminish, and those were very bad days indeed.

The unfortunate tangle of her nightgown around her hips made her resolve to go back to wearing pajamas. It's not like anyone else saw her in them anyway.

She stood up and nudged the new frilled baby blue curtains away from the window looking over the back garden. It was a clear spring day, probably a little chilly given the frost subliming off the just-greening plants in the sun. She stretched up onto her toes and yawned, then turned around and affectionately scratched the ears of the big tawny dog curled up on the foot of her bed. "Hey, boy, hey, Simon. Want to go out?"

Simon blinked golden eyes up at her and opened his mouth like he was going to talk. But Megan knew he didn't do that any more, so wasn't surprised when he shut his muzzle and slid off the bed onto the floor.

She held the back door open for him as he trudged out. She wondered if she ought to take him to the vet; he seemed so depressed these days.

Washing her hair was taking longer than it used to, but of course it was more appropriate for her to have longer hair. And there was something satisfying about slicking it down into a smooth black ponytail. It was really the makeup that she just couldn't get the hang of, no matter how many times Juanita showed her how to put it on. She settled for the eyeliner and dark lipstick. It was something, at least.

She put on a mahogany brown ballet top and black slacks, and wolfed down two ParaSlim shakes before letting Simon back in. He stared up at her like she was an alien, then slunk to his dog bed and curled up.

"I'm putting down some kibble in case you want a nibble," Megan sang to him from the kitchenette. When Simon gave her a withering glance that kind of hurt her feelings, she added, "Well, okay, I guess it sounds stupid from someone my size, but I'm trying, you know." When he looked away, she said, "Irene will be down to let you out at noon, like usual." She walked over and bent down to pet his head. He didn't even thump his tail. Definitely time for the vet. "I'll be home at 5:30. I don't have anywhere to be except work."

Megan let herself out and trotted up to the bus stop. She should be on time, which was good. After all, she'd survived the big reorganization of the company. She wouldn't want to lose a good, steady job like being a janitor at Ultimate Construction. Even with the weekend work.


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It was my first time running the android avatar that Larentia Canis had built me in a crowd, but I was going to by damn be AT Ruth's birthday party, not just watch it on a camera.

She was somewhat awkward to handle at first, no matter how much practice I'd had running her in my home. I called her Metro because Larentia, in a fit of whimsy, had recreated the android from Fritz Lang's Metropolis, with the feminine body and helmet-shaped head and deco styling, only with a dark copper finish. I was sititng in my long distance chair, wearing the control coronet. I was also drugged to the gills. Metro also had all sorts of electronic filters that affected mental powers, but the meds brought me down to a level actually manageable by those filters. I had full physical sensation, just as if I were there, without the mental onslaught of the people around me. I was just me, walking around on the hot sand beach of the remote island where everyone had gathered.

I spent a little time enjoying the feel of the sun warming the metal of my skin and the smell of the ocean and hot sand.

Of all the (few) people who knew me, Suzanne Feldstein found me first. "Renata? Renata Scott?" she said, a brown-haired, middle-aged white woman peering into Metro's eyes inquiringly.

"That's me," I said through Metro's speakers, and offered a hand. "Glad to meet you in the flesh, Suzanne. Well, flesh and metal."

Suzanne shook my hand vigorously. She was dressed in a yellow-floral-print sundress, and the sun was already starting to redden her shoulders. "I'm so glad you could come. C'mere, let me introduce you around some."

And so I met Simon, and he was just as fine in person as he was on camera, and if possible, sweeter. "Ms. Scott!" he said, shaking my hand. He was wearing a blue muscle shirt with "TEAM SIMON" on it in block letters and loose black shorts. His hair and Van Dyke were sharply trimmed. "I'm glad to meet you! Oh, I'm glad Mom did such a good job on that android body; it's really gorgeous."

How could I blush at a compliment meant for his mother's handiwork? Don't ask me. "Your mother has been very generous and kind to me over the years. This is only one example."

"She's like that," Simon said, then he stepped back and gestured to someone. "And here's someone who's been wanting to meet you too. Ira, this is Ms. Scott."

"Please," I said, shaking the old man's hand, "both of you, please call me Renata."

Ira beamed at me. He was wearing a big straw hat, a yellow polo shirt, and khaki shorts that showed his pale knobbly knees. He was a little thin and stooped, but otherwise looked younger than his 83 years. "I'm honored to meet you, Renata. You did such a bangup job that night, though I can't imagine it was easy."

"You did a pretty good job yourself, sir," I said.

"Ira," he corrected me.

"Ira," I said, wishing Metro's smile wasn't so very... scary, and that Larentia's attempt at the overlay projection (a la Maria's duplicate) hadn't failed so spectacularly. Someday, I'd be able to smile at people too.

Suzanne, I realized from her movements and her half-empty drink, was already more than a bit tipsy. She reached out and snagged the arm of a mousy, bespectacled white woman in jeans and a t-shirt. "Watson, Watson, come meet Renata."

So there was an orgy of introductions conducted by Suzanne, who was adding every moment to her "sheets to the wind" quotient. I met Watson Holmes, Megan Amazon, Ivy and Malik Canis (each holding a squirming puppy they introduced as belonging to their sister Jasmine -- I wasn't entirely sure what they meant by "belonging", given that the puppies were exclaiming my name delightedly), Ana Hernandez, Flo and Ebb Starr, the Silver Guardian (who was an old friend of Suzanne's apparently), and Sekhmet of the Gold Stars, and... a lot of other people whose names I'd heard but who I'd never met "live" before.

I was glad to be drugged to the gills, honestly. It was the largest crowd I'd been in for over 20 years.

Simon finally, kindly, as the afternoon advanced alarmingly toward evening, led Suzanne off to the buffet tables, saying, "We'll catch you later, Renata," over his shoulder. He winked at me, the little devil.

Left to my own devices, I made my way from the beach, where I'd been trapped by the introduction nexus after arriving there via the teleport link, up toward the line of umbrellas and beach chairs where I spotted Gloria Revelle's lean, solemn face peering around periodically. I figured that wherever Gloria was, Ruth was likely to be.

I was right. Ruth was ensconced in a thronelike wooden beach chair with some colorfully umbrella'd adult beverage in an enormous glass in one hand, grinning like a fool up at me. "You did make a gorgeous thing there, Larentia," she said, glancing up at Larentia, who was standing nearby. Ruth carefully balanced the glass on the arm of the chair, and got up to hug me. I saw Sophie reach out and steady the glass behind her, just as Ruth got me in a careful bear hug.

I leaned Metro's chin on her shoulder and enjoyed the various sensations of a solid, muscular, warm human body in my arms. I loved Ruth for many reasons, not least because for her, hugging one of her friends manifested in an android body was hardly the oddest thing she'd done in the past five minutes. "You look so much better than you did last I saw you, Ruth," I said.

"I feel so much better, Rennie," she murmured, not letting me go yet. "You helped give me back my baby. I won't forget that."

"Hell, Ruth, you gave me my life," I said, not willing to let go, feeling like I'd been in the desert for 20 years and was just getting a small sip of water. It had been so long since I'd touched a human being, and I can't actually remember when I last hugged someone without immediately being inside her or his head. "I'm glad to give something back. I mean, what do you get the most powerful para on Earth for her birthday anyway?"

We laughed, and finally stepped back a little, but our arms lingered around each other's waists. Ruth gestured around, saying, "You know Gloria, of course."

I shook hands with Gloria, and was amazed to actually see the woman smile. She had a little lopsided smile, with a mostly closed mouth, and I noticed that she had a bit of an overbite -- I suspected that might be why she doesn't smile more often. "Gloria, thank you for everything you've been doing lately with the chef roster. The variety has been really wonderful."

"I thought we could use some new blood in the kitchen," she said in her deep voice and blunt MidAtlantic accents. "You're my lab rat, you know. These are all chefs I try out on you before using them for catering and events."

"Glad to be of service," I said. "Delicious service."

"Here's Olivia," Ruth said, drawing the Fat Lady into the circle. The Fat Lady was wearing a remarkable gauzy white dress that drifted dramatically on the breeze and looked just right with her complexion, and her sleek black hair was caught up under an extravagant white sun hat.

"Renata, I've heard so many good things about you," Olivia said, turning her famous dimples and dazzling smile on me.

I confess to feeling just a little overwhelmed and, well, fangirlish, so I think I managed to mutter something polite and possibly gushed about loving her work before Ruth sicced Sophie on me.

The girl had some of the most intense dark eyes I've ever seen, and even though I technically shouldn't have been able to sense a damned thing about her, I could feel the wheels of her mind turning and turning. It was almost like I could see and feel the clockwork moving through those remarkable eyes. That's what you get from the intimate connection of stuffing someone back into her head, I suppose. There we were, caught in mid-handshake, staring into each other's minds, I think, for what felt like a piece of eternity, before we both shook ourselves and she said, "I've been wanting to thank you for everything you did."

I shrugged. "There were lots of folks who did more than I did."

"Yes, well," Sophie said, flashing a grin. She reached behind her and dragged another white girl her age foward. This one was brown-haired and utterly average in terms of looks and overt charm, but I recognized her.

"Pacifica," I said, shaking her hand. "Glad to meet you outside your head."

She smiled shyly, pressed her lips together and hunched her shoulders a bit. "I'm flattered you remember me, Ms. Scott."

"Renata," I said, thinking, Girl, how could I possibly forget you? Aloud, I added, "Your arm seems to've healed up nicely."

"It's still stiff," she said, "but Sophie makes good healing accelerators. Even if I did have to spend time in tank full of blue goo. Why was it blue, anyway?" she added, turning to Sophie.

"I didn't want anyone eating it," Sophie said.

"No one would eat that, it smelled too bad," Nereid said.

Sophie grinned. "You'd be surprised..."

There was a loud crack of lightning overhead, and everyone tensed. Ruth looked up quickly, then rolled her eyes and said to Sophie, "Didn't you give that child an invitation?"

Sophie shrugged. "I did," she said, "but she always prefers to crash." I thought I picked up just a bit of mischief there, as if, perhaps, she'd had some idea in advance.

High above us was a flying stage, limned in neon and flashing lights against the twilit sky. It slowly lowered until it was hovering just above the ocean, with the spectacular painted clouds of sunset sprawling out behind it. Myriad small, hovering robots levitated from the stage and sprang into formation in the air, turning colored spotlights onto the platform. A backdrop of enormous metal struts extruded from the back of the stage, arching up into Gothic points and then blooming into weirdly delicate curlicues that suggested tentacles, or possibly fruit.

"What the hell is that?" Sister Power said, as though she knew exactly what the hell it was but was a bit afraid of the answer. She crinkled a smile at me, her dark brown face highlighted by a glorious mane of silver hair. I'd forgotten how old she was; she'd gotten her start in the 1970s, so she must be in her 60s by now.

Ruth massaged the bridge of her nose. "It's Sophie's little friend. You remember her, Imara. The one who started a band in college. Calls herself Gogo."

Sophie snorted at this description.

An enormous grinding noise silenced us all and a pillar rose up from the middle of the stage. It appeared to be girdled with a bank of steampunk consoles and quite a lot of flashing lights. The grinding noise stopped, and then, in a burst of music, it flew open, revealing a young white woman whose top was dressed in a silver jumpsuit, and whose lower half was a kickline of seven sets of robot legs. A drum line started. She leapt down to the stage with surprising agility for someone with fourteen legs, and subtle instrumentals started up. She started to declaim in a deep voice that was projected to several points around us.

People keep saying it's the end days,
Skynet's won, we've run the maze.
In the center is Room 101:
Can we boldly go when all is done?
All the things I tried to save
Are just putting flowers on a mouse's grave.
Game over, man, and everybody dies
And there's nothing to eat but lies, lies, lies.

"I do believe," Gloria said, "we are about to have a concert."

"Oh, god help me," Ruth said, taking the umbrella out of her drink so she could swallow it faster.

A robot guitarist, keyboardist, bassist, and drummer emerged from the surface of the stage, apparently fused to their instruments. I noticed the drummer had long hair so it could swing it back and forth. All of them were silver-skinned, like Gogo's jumpsuit and legs, but with gold accents. Gogo strutted down to the front of the stage (there's a lot of strut in seven sets of robot legs), seized a microphone that was dropped from above by one of her ubiquitous flying drones, and burst into song with a crash of music.

I won't be just a worker in the heart machine
I'm going to see the light of day.
I'm going to crack the world's shell is what I mean
Put on my wings and fly away.

Everyone asks me am I bad witch or good
Or one of the genetic elite
But I am telling you I'm Lilith's Brood
And we have never known defeat!

We're from Ultima Thule
And we include me and you.
She's the hero we need
Cause she makes us heroes too!

"Oh, no," Ruth groaned, and finished her drink.

Sophie looked contrite. But only a little. Nereid was watching Gogo with her mouth hanging open. An attractive androgynous Asian person appeared over Nereid's shoulder and raised inquisitive eyebrows at Sophie, who said defensively, "It's not my fault!"

Just living day to day
Learn to rise up and say
She's the hero we need
To sing Hero of Heroes today!

She's the Ultimate test!
In her Prometheus rests,
She's the hero we need
Because we give her our best!

I was pretty amazed at the dancing you could do with fourteen legs in perfect unison. At the end of the first chorus, backup dancers also melted out of the stage. I felt distinctly upstaged when I realized that they all looked just like my android body, except in silver. Talk about embarrassment for wearing the same outfit to the party.

"Hey," Larentia said faintly. She patted my shoulder apologetically.

Gogo spoke into her microphone again.

At Yoshiwara's we'll dance and fight
Always alone in the night,
But reaching out, touch hand to hand,
Galadriel or Servalan.
Is the Slayer really born this way?
Or Sleepless walk both night and day?
Or maybe we'll stand up and see:
You have no power over me.

Sister Power said, "None of this makes any sense. What the hell is a servalan?"

Sophie started laughing helplessly into her hands.

The music kicked up again.

For some reason, Gogo threw her microphone into the audience. Then, with a satisfied little smile, she leaned back and another one sprouted, or seemed to sprout, out of her chest. She grabbed that one and kept singing.

I noticed a middle-aged black woman, oddly wearing a suit on the beach, making her way through the crowd with purpose in her eyes. She didn't even flinch at the volume of the music. I nudged Ruth.

Ruth looked over. "Marilyn, heeeey, girl!" she said, waving her hand. I wondered idly how many of those giant glasses of booze Ruth had already consumed.

The woman, who I now recognized as Marilyn Henderson, lawyer to paras, arrived in front of Ruth with a grim little smile on her face. "Interesting entertainment."

"It's not what I would've chosen, true," Ruth said. "But the girl's got a good heart."

"And is showing a great deal of leg," Marilyn said with a glance upward.

"What're you doing, wearing that penguin suit here on the beach?" Ruth said. "Take that jacket off and set a while."

Marilyn straightened her shoulders in an ominous way that made both Gloria and I tense up. "Ruth Thomas, I am here to give you some important paperwork."

Ruth laced her fingers together and placed them under her chin. "At my birthday party." She didn't make it a question.

"Yes," Marilyn said. She whipped a folder out from under her arm and extended it to Ruth. "It couldn't wait."

Gloria's thin form had risen up and arched in a predatory fashion, inclining very slightly toward Marilyn.

Ruth sighed and took the folder.
We'll come down like angels on Tokyo

And we don't need roads where we're going.

At the end of the world can you tell me where

And in what way the time is flowing?

I can build my friends but I can't build you

A place for opossums to call their own.

But don't look back, don't blink I'm telling you

It's dhoom again but we are flown!

A hero right through

Like flying snow in bamboo

She's the hero we need

Cause she makes us heroes too!

Take my ansible call

'Cause it's for one and all

She's the hero we need

Cause she makes us stand tall!

She won't be suppressed

Or sent into the West

She's the hero we need

Because we give her our best!

Gogo chose that moment to distract us all with another spoken piece.

We need a hero that's worth our while
Whether Wonder Woman or Trio-style
So put on your clothes, or dye your hair
And sing electric grandmother
From Alderaan to Whileaway
The winning move is not to play.
They tell us we're beyond the pale
Bionic-made or automail,
Whether you are you or me
Virtual or karakuri
Rise up and greet Red Dawn today
Like Nauscicaa we'll fly away;
To Iskandar we'll fly away;
On ships that sing we'll fly away.

And she then started singing again.

Ruth looked back down at the folder in her hands, heaved another sigh, and flipped it open.

I have never before seen Ruth stunned. I'm not sure anyone has. Her whole body jerked and her eyes went wide and she stared fixedly at the papers. Then her hands began to tremble, and Gloria snatched the folder away before those tiny muscular tremors could reduce what she was holding to paper pulp.

Sophie had moved to stand at Ruth's shoulder, and I noticed her giving Marilyn what I sensed was a conspiratorial and questioning look. Marilyn's smile widened incrementally.

The thing about Ruth is that she is the most powerful para in the world. And so the fact that none of us saw her move is just not that surprising. The look on Sophie's face changed to triumphant delight as Ruth threw her arms around her, though.

"You two!" Ruth roared, only locally drowning out Gogo's band. "You two!" she said again, apparently at a loss for other words.

"What's going on?" asked Imara, peering curiously over Gloria's shoulder.

Gloria said, mock-grumpily, "That girl finally pulled her head out of her ass is what's going on."

Sophie said, breathless with embarrassment and her mother's embrace, "My adoption papers. I signed them."
She's returned from the blue

And Zaha'dum too--

She's the hero we need

Cause she makes us heroes too!

Dark Lords big and small

We will spit on them all

She's the hero we need

Cause she makes us stand tall!

Stand tall, stand tall, stand tall

Stand tall, stand tall, stand tall

Stand tall, stand tall, stand tall...

Gogo's army of tiny flying robots, which looked, I noticed, like dragonflies, chose that moment to shower us with her new album.

Larentia caught one and so did I. The cover was a brown-skinned woman's arm, reaching up as if to pluck a fruit from a tree, but the fruit was a giant oval containing a twisty, maze-like structure. To give Ruth and Sophie a moment of pseudo-privacy, Larentia began to read from the cover. "'Mitochondrial Eve,'" she said. "I like the title."

I overheard some people passing nearby. One of them said, "I liked her second album the best, 'Amazon Women and the Space-Time Continuum'."

The other said, "Oh, I haven't heard of that one."

"It was back when she was Gogo and the Gadgettes," the first said, and they drifted out of hearing.

"'My Mother's Positronic Brain,'" Larentia read from the track list bemusedly. "'Dear Mr. Heisenberg.' 'Cyborg Manifesto'?"

I skimmed down the list myself. "'Bad Chemistry,' 'Soylent Blue,' 'Love Me and Despair'."

Gloria said, with a roll of the eyes, "Anyone else get the feeling that child is trying too hard?"

Nereid, who I had forgotten, said wistfully, "She looks like she's having fun."

On stage, Gogo had swung into her well-known song, "A Robot of One's Own."

The well-tailored Asian person to whom I really needed an introduction said, "There's a dance floor over there, Pacifica. Would you care to join me?"

Later, around the time that Sophie was finishing up her guitar-playing on-stage with Gogo (oh, yes, she'd just happened to have her guitar with her), I overheard Suzanne saying to Watson, "Is this your work? Remind me never to piss you off!"

I looked over and saw Suzanne showing Watson her StarPhone. Watson frowned down at it, clearly puzzled. "No," she said after a moment, "that's not my work."

Suzanne noticed Metro looking her way, so she turned the display toward me. "'Aloysius MacCready, legally 93 years old,'" I read aloud, "'has been arrested on a charge of second-degree murder and multiple charges of armed robbery, among other offenses. MacCready was processed for a temporal displacement grant upon his return to this dimension, and had disappeared from his stated address. More in-depth analysis of historical records found that in 1932, he participated in an armed robbery of a bank for African-Americans during which he pistol-whipped a bank teller. The teller, 26-year-old Norman Jefferson, later died of the head trauma.'"

"I know the statute of limitations doesn't expire for murder," Suzanne said. "And the temporal displacement laws extend the limitation for the armed robbery charges. But the witnesses must all be dead, so how can they prosecute?"

Watson skimmed more of the article. "They had eyewitnesses who knew MacCready by name and appearance, and who gave depositions identifying him. So with that in hand, they could use the Stefanopolous Laws."

Ana had looked over from her conversation when I started to read, and now she spoke up with, "I think I've heard of the Stefanopolous Laws, but I've never been sure what they're about."

Suzanne said, breezily, "Watson'll have to explain. I'm too drunk. But they involved a vampire."

Watson quirked a smile. "Andrei Stefanopolous was a vampire who was a repeat spree killer. He was notorious in Europe in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and then he moved to New York City. They caught him after a rampage through an Italian and Greek neighborhood in the 1880s, but of course, there weren't para-ready prisons then, and he escaped to go underground again. He resurfaced in the same neighborhood 1952, and the grandchildren of the original people victimized went to the police with the photos from the 1800s and their own photos of him in the neighborhood, begging police to pick him up. They didn't -- all the original witnesses were dead and it seemed like too much trouble and besides, there weren't many people who actually believed in vampires at that point. So then he went on a much wider-spread killing spree."

"Oh, yes, the Vampire Murders," Ana said. "That's all in the college para history books."

"Yep," Watson said. "And after they caught him and the Gold Stars imprisoned him, the story broke that the police had refused to pick him up and why. So the Stefanopolous Laws were passed in a hurry to cope with immortal or temporally displaced violent offenders."

"Technically," a sleek, black-haired, white -- very white -- man said, sliding easily into the conversation and gently twirling his black parasol, "it is for the long of life, not the immortal. Because no one is truly immortal, yes?" He had an eastern European accent and what had to be a hand-tailored white linen suit. He was also the only person I'd ever seen wearing a Panama hat on whom it looked stylish.

Watson nodded and waved a hand of acknowledgement. "You're the authority there, Zoltan."

"Zoltan," Suzanne said in that floppy-headed drunk way some white women have, "it's night time. Why are you carrying that parasol?"

"Ah, dear lady," he said, "to protect against the bites of sharks."

"Oh," Suzanne said, blinking.

"Not to mention robots," he added, "and other undesirable things that fall from the sky."

"So what will happen to this MacCready anyway?" Ana pursued, having produced a StarPhone of her own and apparently searching for the article.

"He's being held in prison," Watson said. "Apparently some anonymous person provided the police with both his DNA and a single-use scanner to locate it, because he has para powers that enable him to avoid direct detection." She looked up and past the dance floor and nearest buffet table toward a line of well-occupied comfortable chairs.

I glanced in that direction and saw Sophie sitting there, with Nereid on her lap, chatting with Simon and Ivy.

"Who could've supplied a device like that?" Ana pondered, frowning at her phone.

Watson and I looked at each other, then back at Sophie. Sophie noticed our regard and gave us a smile and a little finger wave, as if she knew exactly what we were thinking.


Note from the Author:

Apologies if the table format didn't work well for you -- I optimized for what I thought would be a usual sort of view.

Gogo's song was written as a winter holiday present for me by my multiply-gifted, brilliant, beautiful, magnificent wife. I had been banging my head against how to do it, and then she volunteered. I don't think I've ever seen quite so many SF&F references packed into one place so effectively, and I think it also works beautifully as a pop song. (And yes, Lady Gaga DOES exist in the Wonder City universe, so Gogo IS in fact purposefully referencing her.) See this document (PDF) for most of the references.

Also, in case you're interested, the full track list for Gogo's new album, "Mitochondrial Eve", contains:
My Mother's Positronic Brain
Mitochondrial Eve
Dear Mr. Heisenberg
Cyborg Manifesto
Les Guérillères
Bad Chemistry
Soylent Blue
To Milton, Love, the Monster
Love Me and Despair
The Doom Song
I Can't Be Having With This
Bonus Track: Schoolhouse Rock Mashup (feat. "Sufferin' for Suffrage")


Wonder City has been nominated for the Rose & Bay Crowdfunding Award! Thank you! Now, y'all should go check out all the nominees for fiction, webcomics, art, poetry, patron, and other projects. And VOTE!

And remember to vote for WCS at Top Webfiction!

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Careful to Tuck Their Shrouds Neatly About Them

"So G has moved out," Pearl said, folding her hands in her lap.  "How are you with that?"

Megan shrugged one shoulder.    "It's her life."

Pearl raised an eyebrow at that, and let the silence stretch out.

"She's angry, you know," Megan said, looking down at her knees.  "She says she's mostly angry at Watson for not doing anything for months, despite knowing that G was possessed.  And I kind of wonder why Watson didn't do anything."

"Have you asked her?" Pearl said.

"Yeah," Megan said, plucking at her jeans.  "She said she's really bad at being decisive about people she cares for.  She was worried that maybe she was misreading the situation, and says she has always second-guessed her instincts about family and friends, because she was so often wrong about her parents and her sister."

"Do you believe her?"

"Yeah," Megan said, her voice coming out flat.  

Pearl cocked her head.  "I'm not sure I believe you."

Megan started to bang her fist into her thigh, and caught herself before doing it on the broken leg, because jarring the leg was an experience she didn't enjoy.  She settled for grasping frustratedly at the air.  "I don't know whether to believe me or not.  I don't know whether to believe her or not.  I want to trust that she'd always have my back, you know?"  She sighed.  "She's the first person in forever I've wanted to have my back."

"Not G?" Pearl said.

"Not G," Megan said, heaving a large sigh.  "Not G.  I didn't have time, really, to get that far with G.  I'm not sure how much of the woman I met and slept with and lived in the same building with I actually ever knew."

"I'm sorry," Pearl said.  "That sounds incredibly painful to realize."

"It is," Megan said, rubbing her throat and frowning.  Her throat hurt suddenly, like she'd strained all the muscles leading up to her mouth.

"So now there's an empty apartment?" Pearl said.

"Actually," Megan said, glad for the distraction, "G told me she found a subletter.  I only found out who it was this morning."

Pearl raised both eyebrows at her tone.  "Not a welcome addition to the big house on Marigold Lane?"

Megan huffed.  "It's Lizzie.  Tin Lizzie?"

"The woman from the Wonderful House?" Pearl said.

"Yeah," Megan said, throwing up her hands in despair.  "The crazy, crazy chick from Wonderful House.  The one who stabbed her dad -- who, to be fair, was assaulting her -- on national TV."

"Well," Pearl said, "it sounds like your house is one place where she might feel safe."

Megan froze, staring into space, then slumped.  "Yeah," she said.  "Yeah, I guess that might have something to do with it.  I mean, Simon's across the hall, and I'm downstairs, and Mr. Hammer is in the carriage house, and our landlord is a fucking vampire, after all..."

Pearl watched Megan as the sentence drifted to a stop.  Their gazes met and Megan nodded sharply.

"So what else is keeping you up at night?" Pearl said after a moment.

Megan had noticed in the mirror this morning that there were some serious dark circles under her eyes; she hadn't really expected Pearl to miss them either.  "I guess," she said slowly, "the big thing is the Merlin."

"The Merlin?" Pearl said, and Megan remembered she hadn't told Pearl yet.

"The first day I was in Wonder City," Megan said, "almost as soon as I stepped off the bus, some guy tried to mug me.  I heard him coming, from above, and I got him down on the ground, smashed his flight harness.  And then this other guy... this guy in a hood and cloak showed up on the roof, called me 'Citizen' and said he'd been chasing the Merlin for... a while, I guess, days or weeks or something.  So I handed the Merlin over to him."  She inhaled slowly, and exhaled again.  "And that guy in the hood was the serial killer."

"Oh, that's very hard. I'm so sorry," Pearl said.

"Yeah," Megan said. "Thanks."

Pearl said, "Did the Merlin give you any indication he was in fear for his life?"

"No," Megan said. "I think he thought the guy was a real superhero. He just seemed resigned."

"So -- and I don't mean this flippantly at all -- you're upset because you aren't a mindreader?" Pearl said.

"No," Megan said, her voice catching on her rage. "I'm angry because I reacted entirely to his white male authority: he was up on the rooftop, speaking down to me, addressing me in what I can see now was a parody of comic book heroes from World War 2. He was on his own turf, laying down the law. And I just rolled over without question and let him take the Merlin. I should have doubted him. I should have called the police. I'm an eight-foot-tall superstrong, invulnerable queer feminist of color, raised by an eight-foot-tall superstrong, invulnerable lesbian feminist, and I just fucking rolled over for the Man. And the Man did what he does best: kill people. Kill some poor, stupid, middle-aged crook who didn't deserve to be hauled down to the river and strangled."

Megan discovered that her hands were shaking, and she balled them up on her knees. But when she did that, she couldn't do anything about the hot tears that were suddenly running down her cheeks.

Pearl leaned over and pushed the tissue box closer. Megan carefully uncurled her fingers and pulled a tissue from the box to blot her eyes and nose.

"I'm having nightmares," Megan said finally. "I can't stop reading articles about the victims and searching for more information about them. Did you know that they're investigating a murder in fucking Acapulco as possibly being connected to the killer? They think it may have been his first murder, back when he was in high school and went down there for Spring Break."

Pearl's brow furrowed with concern. "Have you ever had this sort of reaction before?"

"Yes," Megan said wearily, "And I ran away from Berkeley because of it."

"Are you thinking of leaving Wonder City?" Pearl said.

"Yes," Megan said, staring at her lap. "I just... a new city, where I don't know anyone..."

"That's what you did coming here, right?" Pearl said. "You had all your things in a backpack and you took a Greyhound across the country, found a job the next morning, and an apartment a week later. What's to stop you from doing it again?"

Megan rubbed her face with her hands. "Watson, I guess. I mean, I know I want to see how this turns out."

"Is she really the only thing keeping you here?" Pearl said.

"No," Megan admitted. "There's Simon, who's the best friend I've ever had. And G, even though she's not here right now. And I like my job, I like working with my hands, and I think I've just about convinced one of the carpenters to take me on as an apprentice. And I like my apartment, and I have a good landlord, and..." She shrugged. "I guess I don't want to leave all that much."

"That sounds like a good analysis," Pearl said. She gestured apologetically at the clock. Megan saw they had less than five minutes left. Then Pearl added, "So have you revisited your feelings about spandex in light of recent events?'

Megan snorted and said, "Oh, yeah."

Pearl said, "What do you think, then?"

Megan waved a hand.  "Being para makes normal problems huge and life-threatening.  It doesn't matter whether we're wearing spandex or not.  And I can't fucking get away from it, because I have these stupid powers."

Pearl smiled.  "Well, that's progress in the direction you wanted to go, right?"

"Also," Megan grumbled, "all paras are freaking insane."

Pearl said, mildly, "Well, it's job security for me.  Do you mind if I let the dogs in now?"


Note from the Author:

Megan just keeps acquiring more angst, alas. Just to let y'all know, we now have only 3 episodes left for volume 2, which means we will wind up this story just before my birthday at the end of the month, timing which I did not, actually, plan, but which is lovely nonetheless.

Also, thanks very much for donations received this past month!

Wonder City has been nominated for the Rose & Bay Crowdfunding Award! Thank you! Now, y'all should go check out all the nominees for fiction, webcomics, art, poetry, patron, and other projects. And then VOTE!

And remember to vote for WCS at Top Webfiction!

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What Did I Know of Drowning or Being Drowned

The three of them said, "Oh, shit," in perfect stereo as they stared down at the fateful red lines. Nereid threw the stick into the trash with angry force, then sat down on the sofa, covering her face with her hands.

Megan and Simon exchanged glances, both of them raising their eyebrows interrogatively at the other.

"I wasn't sure what to think about my period," Nereid said, her voice muffled. "Everything was fucked up after the trip to Faerie, but I haven't had it once since I came back. I was puking in the mornings. I thought it was stress. But it kept happening after he left."

Simon sat down next to her and put a hand tentatively on her shoulder. "This is a hell of a shock, I know."

She shook her head, face still in her hands. "I should have known. I was so stupid. I believed him when he said nothing could happen in Faerie. That was stupid, a stupid teenager trick, the kind of thing those girls who've only ever had abstinence education believe. I should have known better. I made him use condoms after we came back... most of the time... but the damage was already done, I bet. The story. God."

Megan cleared her throat awkwardly, wishing desperately she'd been able to get hold of the Equestrian. "I expect you'll want to think about things..."

Nereid took her hands from her face and gave Megan an "are you crazy?" look. "There's nothing to think about."

Megan blinked. "No one you want to talk to?"

Nereid almost, but not quite, rolled her eyes, and Megan recognized a bit of the Nereid she met first in the shadow of the Perisphere. "My mom? No. Simon's mom? Even more no. No, no one to talk to, nothing to talk about, nothing to think about. Just my doctor."


Note from the Author:

I've only been there for one "Oh shit" moment, but it was definitely in stereo.

The Rose & Bay Crowdfunding Award nominations are open, and I would love it if someone were to nominate Wonder City Stories. Take a look at the other categories, just in case there's something else you want to nominate for voting! Voting happens in February.

Please remember to vote for WCS!

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Well, Hell...

Megan ran to the door in response to the frantic pounding and threw it open. Simon stood there, eyes wide, dressed in only a t-shirt and boxers. Ordinarily, this state of semidress would have distracted Megan no end, but his obvious distress was the bigger issue.

"Simon!" she said. "What's wrong?"

Simon shoved a twenty dollar bill into her hand. "Please," he said in a low voice, "go to the drug store and buy a home pregnancy test."

"What?" Megan blinked at the money, then at him. "Simon, what have you been doing?"

Simon tossed his head impatiently. "It's not for me," he said. "Jesus, give me a little credit." He started to run up the stairs, came back down, and said, "And call the Equestrian. Tell her to get her ass over here." He started back up the stairs again, pounded back down, and looked up at Megan with his best puppydog eyes. "Please?"

Megan sighed and shook her head. "Yes, of course. Go stay with Nereid. I'll handle it."


Note from the Author:

And here is the second short episode of the week, complete with continued Simon fanservice.

Remember to check out Wonder City Wonders, my new store at Cafe Press, with the TEAM SIMON design on all sorts of things!

And remember to vote for WCS! We were in the top 5 last I saw. Any chance of boosting to the top 3?

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Exit, Pursued By a Bear

Megan maneuvered herself wearily up the front steps of the house on Marigold Lane. She wondered why it was as exhausting to sit at a desk, proofreading contracts and scrubbing the database, as it had ever been to fetch and carry on a construction site.

When she opened the front door, she heard voices upstairs, so she paused to listen to identify them. She recognized G's gruff tones -- she hadn't realized how much she'd missed them -- and a murmur that was definitely Watson's milder contralto.

At the foot of the stairs, she paused again to, frankly, eavesdrop.

"-- can't cope with living here right now," G was saying. "And I... I know I'm unreasonable about a lot of things."

"I admit a change of scene may do you good," Watson said. "But six months?"

"It's the contract length," G said. "It'll give me a chance to check out some of the really old architecture. I've been getting a lot of requests for Renaissance Italy, and photographs only go so far."

Looking up the stairs, Megan could just see the top of Watson's mousy head -- they were standing far back from the stair landing, against the door to the third floor.

"Gonna keep this place?" Watson said in a painfully casual tone.

There was a pause. "For now," G said. "I've got a subletter for the time I'll be in Europe. After that, I'll see how I feel."

"Ah," Watson said.

"I'm afraid I'll have to impose on you a while longer with the cats," G said, her voice wavering dangerously, but her phrasing carefully formal.

"It's the least I can do," Watson said softly.

Megan shook herself and crutched noisily to her own door. But she could still hear them as she fumbled her keys out of her pocket.

"You did your best," G growled. "I... wasn't clear. Asking for help."

"Megan was the reason I broke out of my idiotic indecision," Watson said.

Megan was transfixed by her own name.

"You're both good people," G said. "Great people. At least you two came out of this mess together."

"It doesn't have to be just the two of us," Watson said. "We've had this conversation before."

G laughed. "I saw Vivian a few days ago. She said you'd brought Megan to Death's place." She used the British pronunciation of Watson's sister's name. "Guess it's serious."

Watson sighed audibly. "Not any more serious than I ever was with you, and you know it."

"Yeah," G said quietly. "I guess I do. But this is what I mean. I'm so... angry. I'm unreasonable about everything."

"We'll take care of the cats," Watson said in tones one might use to soothe a wild animal. "Say goodbye to them before you go?"

"I... yeah. Yeah, I'll be by," G said.

Megan finished fumbling for the proper key on her keychain and promptly dropped the whole bunch of keys on the floor in a clatter. G descended the stairs as Megan was stooping to retrieve them, balanced precariously on her crutches.

"Hey," Megan said helplessly from her ridiculous position.

G smiled, showing new lines cut into her rugged features. Her red hair was newly shorn into a nearly military buzzcut that was starting to show some grizzle at the temples. She bent, scooped up the keys, and handed them to Megan. "Hey," she said. "I, uh, I wanted to let you know I'm... going away for a while. To Europe. For work."

Megan nodded. She spotted Watson at the top of the stairs and said, "Cool. That's cool. I'd need a change too. And for work, that's great. Is it one of the, uh, lizard folks?"

G grimaced. "Yeah," she said. Then she reached out and dragged her knuckles lightly down Megan's arm. "I never got a chance to thank you."

Megan clamped down on the strained, nervous laugh that was trying to burst out. She smiled -- she hoped she smiled -- and shrugged instead. "I didn't do anything. Ira and Suzanne did it all, you know."

"You tried," G said. "That counts for more than I can say." She flashed a last smile, though this one didn't reach her eyes, and nearly bolted out the front door.

Megan looked after her for a long moment, feeling a wrench of muscles somewhere in the vicinity of her throat. She looked up the stairs when G was out of sight, and Watson nodded.

"See you in a few," Watson said, then turned and trotted up the stairs.


Note from the Author:

First ep of 2012!

I'll be posting on a bit of an accelerated schedule over the next several weeks; you find out why soon enough. In any case, I hope you'll enjoy getting more than one episode a week!

And remember, if you've ever wanted a Team Simon t-shirt (or tank top, or mug, or water bottle), just check out Wonder City Wonders, my new store at Cafe Press. And if there's an item you'd like to get either of the existing designs on that's not in the store, let me know, I'll see if I can get it in there.

Please remember to vote for WCS!

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Snapping His Superfingers At All Man’s Trumpery Ideals

Megan wasn't sure why they were at the Tower of Fortune, but she'd long since learned not to argue when she saw that particularly grim and determined look on Watson's face.

The elderly Mr. Minamoto, resplendent in his Chinese garb, opened the door and smiled benificently at them both. "May I help you?" Then his gaze focused more tightly on Watson. "Ms. Holmes! It is a pleasure to see you again."

"Thank you, Minamoto-san," Watson said. "I was wondering if your employer might have a few moments to talk to me."

He studied her for a moment, then said, "My esteemed employer's consulting hours just finished, but I expect that he could be convinced to speak to such an eminent detective." He motioned them into the house, and said, over his shoulder, "Besides, I can hold his tea hostage until he does."

"Much appreciated," Watson said, winking back at Megan.

Megan tried to move quietly, but the walking cast was quite substantial, both with its own weight and the weight of the electrical stimulation unit that Professor Canis had sent her. So she clomped in a subdued fashion, and most of the noise was consumed by the Persian carpets. Unfortunately, she forgot to duck her head and so set the crystal chandelier ringing energetically. She tried desperately to quiet all the component parts with her big hands while Watson and Mr. Minamoto watched her, amused expressions on both their faces.

"Sorry," Megan mumbled.

Mr. Minamoto shook his head, shrugged (as if to say, "Not my place, don't much care"), and led them slowly up the blindingly white marble staircase. At the top, he tapped on the brass panel on the massive carved wooden door. As before, Megan could hear a pleasant chime in the room beyond.

The plate glowed and the door unlatched, and Mr. Minamoto bowed them through, retreating down the stairs before his employer could notice that he had more guests, not his tea tray.

Megan had decided since her last trip here that Professor Fortune looked rather like a 1970s troll doll, with crazy white tufts of hair and a round belly. The only differences were the little round gold glasses and the expensive silk suits he tended to wear under his gold-embroidered royal blue cloak of office. She had to give him credit: he only looked surprised for a fraction of a second, and if she hadn't been watching for it, she'd've missed it.

"Ah, ladies," he said genially. "Ms. Holmes, Ms. Amazon, what a pleasant surprise."

"I expect so," Watson said.

He looked like the failed pleasantry exchange put him slightly off-balance. "What can I do for you today?"

Watson smiled in a way that Megan could read as predatory, and said, "Tell me, Professor, when did you acquire the Marshall Building?"

Professor Fortune looked perplexed. "I'm... not sure what building you're asking about. I've owned a lot of real estate in the area."

"The Marshall Building," Watson said, "where an unidentified young woman's body was found last summer, just before demolition of the building."

"Ah, that," he said, apparently on firmer ground. "Sad case that, sad case."

"I understand you attempted to determine her identity?" Watson said.

"Yes," he said, sighing, "yes, I did. There just wasn't enough aura left to her for identification."

"It's a shame you didn't decide to share her identity then," Watson said, ambling around the room, examining items on some of the shelves and tables. "It might have given her sister some relief. Sadly, her sister passed away early this year."

"What... do you mean by this?" the Professor said, turning on the spot to keep Watson in view.

"I mean, Professor," Watson said, "that you knew who she was all along, didn't you?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he said.

"No?" Watson pulled a volume off a shelf and flipped through it. "Isabelle Pierce. She was a young para woman who had lived in the Marshall Buildling. But she went missing during World War II, during the summer of 1943."

"Well, that's nothing less than I'd expect from one of our greater detectives," Fortune said, his face tightening into a mask.

"She'd been partly merged with the stone by someone who had the power to turn insubstantial. Interestingly," Watson continued, turning the book to better see something on a page, "there is no record of any para with the power of insubstantiality being present in Wonder City -- or, in fact, on the Eastern seaboard -- during the summer of 1943. All of them had been drafted and were fighting overseas."

"Fascinating," Fortune said, still watching her.

Watson reshelved the book and turned to face him. "No, really, Professor, what is really fascinating are multiple accounts of you being able to turn yourself and others insubstantial. Accounts that ceased to appear in any newspapers or para diaries after the summer of 1943."

Fortune stood very still, very straight, his hands clasped behind his back. "What are you suggesting, Ms. Holmes?"

"I suggest, Professor," said Watson, striding slowly closer to the man, "that you purchased the Marshall Building in early 1943, according to city records, in advance of the completely premeditated murder of Isabelle Pierce by means of your spell of insubstantiality. As building owner, you then had authority to brick up that particular portion of the basement so that her body would not be found until the building was demolished. A demolition you ordered last year, to take place after an architectural review you also ordered." When she finished, she stood very nearly nose-to-nose with him, both unflinching.

"You do your parents credit, Ms. Holmes," Professor Fortune said.

"Thank you," Watson said without an ounce of sincerity. "The thing of it is, Professor, I can't determine a motive. Would you care to enlighten me?"

"To save the world, of course," Fortune said, drawing himself up to his full height so he could look down at Watson. "You saw it in action yourself. The girl was a key player in stopping the machine that would have ended the world as we knew it."

"So you committed cold-blooded murder 67 years ago?" Watson said, honestly appalled. "Because you foresaw that she would be important in saving the world?"

"I would do it for nothing less," Fortune said haughtily.

"You know what?" Watson said, looking at him over her glasses. "I don't think that's nearly good enough reason. You murdered one woman and nearly caused another one to lose her life."

"And what do you propose to do about it, Watson Holmes?" Professor Fortune asked, smiling. "Denounce me in public? Call the police? You have no proof."

"I have your confession," Watson said.

"Hearsay," he said with a snort.

"In front of a witness," Watson said.

He glanced over his shoulder at Megan and visibly dismissed her. "Is that all? In the end, it's none of your business, Holmes."

Watson laughed. "'It's every man's business to see justice done,'" she said, in such a way that Megan knew she was quoting. "And every woman's too." Watson gave a little smile and walked past him to the door, gathering Megan to her side with a glance.

As Watson reached the door, Professor Fortune said, "I could burn you both down where you stand," his voice trembling only slightly.

"But you won't," Watson said, opening the door and gesturing Megan through. "Because I didn't need the legal sort proof to suggest reasonable doubt to Carolus Lew, Deliria, the Outsider, the Equestrian, Lady Klotild, or Madame Destiny." She shot him a winning smile. "And I understand that the Mystikai have their own form of determining guilt, and their own form of justice, which is probably more appropriate to this situation than the mundane sort anyway. Have a nice day, Professor." And she pulled the door shut after her.


Note from the Author:

I admit to a small amount of cheating in the style of Doyle to keep quite all the pieces of this mystery from you, though I did give you a few breadcrumbs. Sorry 'bout that. But Watson insisted. :)

Let's stay up high! Vote for WCS!


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