Oct. 31st, 2016 11:50 am
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EPHEMERA is here!

Megan Amazon has a world of problems, and the fact that her girlfriend is possessed by the ghost of a wannabe superhero is at least 90% of them. Nereid's girlfriend's soul has gone on walkabout to Faerie. Simon Canis has joined the cast of It's a Wonderful House, and it wouldn't be reality TV without a boatload of roommate drama. There's also a serial killer stalking Wonder City, and Suzanne and Ira Feldstein are just a few steps behind him.

And then there's Renata Scott: the most powerful telepath in the world, who lives in a bunker a mile beneath Wonder City for her own sanity. Yet somehow she's now in the center of this messy Venn diagram: ghost stories and fairy tales and serial killers and an addictive trainwreck of a reality TV show.

Love, lies, murder, and a long con collide with a band of reluctant heroes in an explosive battle to save the world, Wonder City-style.
Ephemera deals frankly with sexual consent, homophobia, transphobia, racism, death and injury, and graphic onscreen death.

Print book available now here, Amazon to come.
eBooks available ASAP for Kindle and non-Kindle ereaders
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Last episode of 2015! Thank you for all your continued support, and the kind reviews I've been seeing around the web! I hope 2016 is kinder to you than 2015, whether you had a great 2015 or a terrible one (or an okay one, like I did).

Print and ebook versions of
Wonder City Stories available! Find links to sites where you can buy them at judemclaughlin.com!

A Man Does What He Can; A Woman Does What a Man Cannot

"Guys," Nereid said into the general hubbub of the Young Cosmics meeting room. The loud conversations—particularly from Mercury holding court—continued unabated. "Guys?" she said again.

Sophie looked over at her and raised her eyebrows. Mercury was playing his boyfriends Gemini and Deflector off against each other in some sort of flex-off. Gemini had just done his power trick, making his two muscular brown arms into four, and Deflector was peeling his shirt off to reveal his pale but muscular chest. Vector was egging them on, to the annoyance of her girlfriend Meridian, who had not just turned away, but turned her entire wheelchair toward a conversation with Tin Lizzie, giving the gayboy display the cut direct. Wildstar, their featureless mask off for a change, revealing their androgynous tan face and short black hair, was chatting with Citizen Pain. Pay was giving Nereid side glances of attentiveness, but was also trying to be polite to Wildstar, their newest member. Wire was leaning back in her chair, arms crossed, one foot braced against the edge of the table, scowling at her boot, with her blue forelock drifting distractingly across her face.

Irritation bloomed and spread inside Nereid, making her feel like her skin was stretched taut with fury. Why did they elect me commander if they had no goddamn intention of paying attention to me? She fumed in silence for a few more moments, until Deflector was reaching for his belt, apparently to drop trou, and the anger exploded into her vision. She came to her feet, slammed both hands on the tabletop, and bellowed, "This meeting of the Young Cosmics will come to order."
Read more... )

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Print and ebook versions of Wonder City Stories linked to sites where you can buy them at judemclaughlin.com!

Names Your Mother Never Called You

"That's… really unfair," Simon said, glowering at Nereid.

"I know!" Nereid exclaimed in her alarmingly deep voice. "Why did it have to happen to me when there are people who want this kind of thing?"

"Have you told your parents?" Simon said.

"They remember me as… a guy, like you do," Nereid said, running her too-large hands over oddly bumpy and hard thighs, remembering her mother fondly calling her "Pace"—short for Pacific, of course. I never got a nickname as a girl, she thought, not-quite-bitterly. "So, no. Though, I mean, it's not like Mom and Dad haven't been through weird para shit before. Not as much as your parents, but still."
Read more... )

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Cover reveal AND BOOK LAUNCH!

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

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


The eBook is coming -- we're having a few technical difficulties with it -- but it will come soon!
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Spare Parts

"Sophie!" Nereid bellowed at her girlfriend in a panic. "Please tell me you didn't do this! You can't still be mad about the noodles!"

From the bedroom, Sophie sleepily said, "I thought we weren't going to discuss the noodle incident again. And do you have a frog in your throat or something, sweetie?"
Read more... )
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Happy sixth anniversary to us! More things to be said tomorrow; for now, please enjoy this finale for Volume 3, with its special surprise just for you all.

Everything Dies

Angelica was changing into her new dress in Madame's bedroom—carefully, carefully, so as not to muss either hair or makeup, done professionally less than an hour earlier—when she heard the commotion out in front of the house. X knocked on the door a few moments later and said, "Our chariot is here."

"Come give me a hand?" Angelica said, after struggling with her dress halfheartedly and deciding she'd rather have a handsome helper. She deserved it for dealing with today.

X came into the room. Sie was wearing an exquisitely tailored black three-piece suit and a snow-white dress shirt with French cuffs and onyx rose cufflinks. The tie was deep blue silk with a pattern of pale grey gingko leaves, and was restrained by an onyx rose tie clip that matched the links. Angelica gave a low whistle.

"You're too kind," X said with a small smile. "What can I do?"
Read more... )

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Next ep will be a little lighter, I promise.

Believe to Understand

Nereid took a deep breath and walked into Sophie's lab.

Sophie, sitting amidst a circle of junk and parts, barely looked up at her. "Hey," she said.

Nereid walked around the bench and took hold of Sophie by her heavy leather belt with its many hooks and compartments. "Come with me."

"I'm working," Sophie said.

Nereid pulled her backward on her rolling stool, drawing a squawk out of Sophie as she did so. "No, you're coming with me right now."

"What the actual fuck, Pacifica?" Sophie said, trying to stand up, pull away, and turn around at the same time.

Nereid kept her grip, bracing herself to catch Sophie when the stool inevitably tottered over and Sophie fell. "I am removing you from your laboratory because we have to talk."

"We can fucking talk here," Sophie said, stumbling over the stool and barely managing to keep her feet under her as Nereid towed her toward the door.

"No, we can't," Nereid said. "I've tried. I talk, you don't listen, lather, rinse, fucking repeat." Her voice broke and she gave up trying to keep from crying. "You're coming with me right the fuck now and we are going to talk somewhere that it's harder for you to ignore me."

"What?" Sophie said, stumbling again, since she was trying to walk backwards. Nereid caught her with her free hand, lifted her, and bodily carried her out of the room. Fortunately, the doors were Star Trek slidy doors and Nereid didn't need to manage that somehow.

"Put me DOWN!" Sophie bellowed, struggling.

Nereid noticed that Sophie neither used a single move that would have hurt her, nor any of the nearly failproof escapes of which she was capable. Nereid kept walking, tightening her grip.

Sophie finally stopped struggling when Nereid deposited her on the sofa in her own apartment. Nereid snapped, "Sit there. Don't move," and went into the kitchen for two glasses of soda. She mopped her hands off on the dishtowel before carrying the glasses back to the sofa.

"What is it you want to talk about?" Sophie said sullenly, taking the glass but not drinking.

Nereid set her jaw. "Us. You. Whether you're still interested in a relationship with me."

Sophie blinked. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that you've spent the last month and a half in your lab," Nereid said. "The only reason you've eaten, as far as I can tell, is because I've brought you food. The only reason you've showered is because I reminded you to. You've been sleeping in there for three weeks. You haven't come out at all for more than a week. I only see you if I come to the lab and beg you to talk to me. We only sleep together if I beg you to."

Sophie looked away, flushing. "Working," she muttered.

"No, you're not," Nereid said. "You're punishing yourself."

Sophie's lower jaw jutted out stubbornly, even though she still wouldn't look at Nereid.

"You're not only punishing yourself," Nereid said, "but you're punishing me. You're punishing all your friends. You're punishing your mother. You feel guilty, and you're pissed at all of us for existing so you have to feel guilty."

"When the fuck did you become an armchair shrink?" Sophie snarled.

"The moment I realized that I hadn't done a damn thing to deserve being punished," Nereid snarled back.

Sophie's head snapped around, her mouth open.

"I'm not buying this 'working' excuse any more," Nereid said, and cursed herself for the tears that started, that she couldn't stop. "Either you are in a relationship with me and you start figuring out how to live with yourself, or I have to assume that you're purposely doing this to manipulate me, and that this relationship has gone to fucking hell."

Nereid had to admit to herself, despite how angry and upset she was, that she enjoyed seeing Sophie speechless.

Still, she had to steel herself for the words she'd promised herself that she'd say. "You need to give me one good reason not to walk out the door right now. And if you don't, I'm not only leaving you, I'm leaving the Cosmics, because I can't be here with you like this. I won't sit and watch you destroy yourself, and I won't let myself be pulled further into your spiral of making the world around you shittier. I'm at the end of my rope. I keep giving but there's nothing coming back."

Sophie's mouth worked for a moment, her eyes wide, and then Nereid watched her face change as she mentally played through everything Nereid had just said again. Her jaw closed with a clack of teeth.

They watched each other in silence. Nereid prepared herself to wait through the silence, as her therapist had suggested.

Sophie was good at waiting too, but apparently Nereid had pushed some buttons.

"Look, I nearly destroyed the goddamn WORLD," Sophie said, bouncing to her feet. "I need to help put it back TOGETHER."

Nereid set her glass down. "Okay then," she said. She gritted her teeth and stood up.

Sophie had clearly been about to continue, but stopped and stared. "Okay… what?"

"You gave me your answer," Nereid said. The damn tears just kept coming, and the pain in her chest didn't help it.

"Wait, what? No I didn't…"

"Yes, you did," Nereid said, working just to keep her voice steady. "Your guilt is more important than me. Okay. I understand. But I'm not going to stick around to watch."

"You didn't let me finish!" Sophie looked completely off-balance at this point, and Nereid felt sorry for her.

"Look," Nereid said, unable to keep her voice from squeaking, "your first reaction when I basically said that you needed to figure your shit out or I have to assume that you're purposely driving me away and we're over was to tell me that the world needs you."

"I… what? Wha…?" Sophie reeled back onto the couch.

"Sophie," Nereid said sadly, "this whole cycle is abusive. To both of us. I want you to break out of it and come back to me. But you have to want to, and if you don't want to, there's nothing I can do to make you. If you're depressed, then tell me. If you just can't cope with life, then tell me. But also try to do something about it, because I can't save you this time around."

Sophie stared at her, then tried to say something, but her voice failed.

Nereid felt like she'd lost the thread of her argument. It didn't feel like it was coming out right, or anything like how she'd rehearsed it with her therapist. It had gotten all mushy. "Two years ago," Nereid said, "you sat me down and told me you loved me." She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and said, "I need to know if that has changed."

Sophie took her glasses off and scrubbed at her eyes. She said, "No."

"Then will you try to get out of this?" Nereid said. "Will you find someone to talk to if you need them to help?"

"Will you leave if I don't?" Sophie said.

"Yes," Nereid said, choking on the word. "I would have to. I can't live like this."

Sophie put her glasses back on and looked up at Nereid. "Please don't go."

Nereid knelt in front of Sophie, taking her hands. "Then please come back."

Sophie swallowed hard. "I'll try."

Nereid pulled her into her arms, which were regrettably damp with emotion, but Sophie slid off the sofa onto her knees with her.

Nereid said, "Thank you," into Sophie's neck.

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Wow, I never thought I'd still be writing Wonder City into 2015—I just had to update the dates on my sticky posts to 2020. Thank you all for continuing to read my work!

This episode addresses something I had little conscious awareness of until I made the mistake of doing a fundraiser a few years ago: transphobia in the feminist community. It is not, by any means, present in all feminists, but there are some who are very damaging, like the woman for whom I did the fundraiser. I ran the fundraiser on very little information—except glowing reports from people who were her friends—and not knowing her history.

I was reminded of two key life lessons: always do the research and always stay aware of the privilege of your informants, as well as your own privilege. I think I've apologized here before for the mistake, but I just want to reiterate it: I'm sorry, and I'll continue to try to do better.

Nothing Important Happened Today

Nereid smiled and waved at the owner of the newly reopened Sufferin' Sappho Cafe, a sweet-faced not-quite-elderly butch dyke named "Two-W" who used to occasionally slip Nereid "samples" of new pastries she was experimenting with in the kitchen. Two-W grinned at her while cashing out a trio of college-aged women with buzzcuts and tattoos, and gestured with her head back toward the corner.

X was there, sipping a cup of coffee. Sie was dressed in a black wool suit, a black silk shirt, and a red brocade tie patterned with dragons. There was a distracted smile for Nereid as she dropped into the chair opposite, feeling inevitably underdressed.

"How's it going?" X said.

Nereid sighed and opened the menu (all new and shiny—it had been almost a year since the cafe had been closed for "sanitation" issues that everyone knew had to do with Two-W and the screaming match with the Mod Squad out on the sidewalk). "Sophie's not coming out of her lab pretty much at all, and she's not taking care of herself. I'm feeling a little fried."

X studied zir cup. "The problem with mad scientists is that there's this culture of immersing themselves in their work. Breakup? Build a new robot. Problems with your parents? Invent a superweapon. Nearly destroy the world? That requires an even bigger project."

Nereid smiled up at the server, who was a college-aged queer she'd never seen before, as she dealt a cup of coffee onto the table. "Yeah. Mom says the men are even worse. She says they get all Frankensteiny and start trying to build children for themselves."

"Ugh." X finished zir coffee and sighed. "You shouldn't be doing all this work, you know. Sophie's an adult. She can feed and bathe herself without being cozened into it. She did something really fucking stupid and she needs to learn to live with it. Or not. But you shouldn't be part of that equation if she doesn't."

"I… guess I've thought about breaking up with her," Nereid admitted. "Sometimes. But it hurts to think about."

"Because you love her," X said kindly. "But this kind of thing is one reason she and Wire had such a tempestuous relationship. She would get depressed and Wire—who is, in case you haven't noticed, a control freak—would burn out on managing her, and then there would be a big blowup. Sophie would drag herself out of it by sheer force of will, get back on an even keel, and they'd end up back together. It was a stupid cycle."

"She stuck with me when I was down," Nereid said, voicing the thing that had been running through her mind repeatedly for the last week. "I feel like I can't abandon her."

"You were constantly dragging yourself out of it," X pointed out. "You figured out what had happened, you were sad about it, and then you just kept going. You never decomped into no eating, no drinking, no talking. You're not depressive like Sophie is."

Nereid said, "Huh," because it had certainly felt like she'd needed someone to lead her around by the hand for at least a year after the whole Tam incident. She drank her coffee to buy herself some thinking time, and finally said, "I don't want to abandon her. I know she did something stupid and horrible. But I get why she felt like she had to, and I get why she feels guilty. I just wish she'd stop hurting herself all the time."

"Then you need to talk to her about it," X said, with a grimace. "She's running roughshod over you with all this. You have shit to deal with too, and you're not because you're taking care of her. Your whole team is fucked up at this point. Are you taking care of all of them too right now?"

Nereid ducked her head a little and thought of taking Vector out and giving her time to vent, and the couple of times she'd let Gemini drunkenly cry on her shoulder for a few hours. "But, you know, I didn't go through that horrible thing with them."

"No, you saved them from it," X said. "Just talk to her, okay? That's all I'm saying."

"I'll try," Nereid said.

They studied their menus in silence for a few moments. X sighed and closed zir menu, looking away at the art on the wall.

"Are you doing okay?" Nereid said, spotting a sandwich that looked interesting and closing her menu.

X shrugged. Nereid reflected on the fact that everything X did was ridiculously graceful and beautiful to watch, and was once again sorry that X wasn't interested in a relationship with her. But X was a terrific friend, and the crush was mostly under control.

"What's going on?" Nereid said, and then they had to pause and order their food.

When the server left, X said, "Madame is incredibly sweet and I mostly find her much easier to get along with than before the Oracle 'moved in' with me. Except she's like a teenager with this new relationship. Which would be charming, except Juniper is a bitch to me."

"Oh, no," Nereid said, having little flashbacks to her early interactions with Wire. "Do you think she's jealous of all the time Madame spends with you?"

"No, I think she's a fucking TERF," X said, expression more angry than Nereid could remember seeing zir. X immediately lost that look when the server came to pour more coffee for both of them, and smiled. If it were possible, Nereid thought, X would sparkle while smiling.

"Remind me?" Nereid said after the server was gone, feeling ignorant.

"Trans-exclusionary radical feminist," X translated. "And, yeah, I'm not trans, but TERFs don't like anyone who's nonbinary, really. And I've heard her giving Madame shit for calling herself bisexual."

Nereid bristled on both their behalf. "Why is Madame putting up with that? She hasn't had a relationship in how many years and her first lover is doing that?"

"Madame's feeling old and unloved," X said, with a depressed grimace and shrug. "She and Juniper have been friends for years and years. I didn't think it was a good idea anyway, with Juniper having been her martial arts teacher, but Madame said that was so long ago, et cetera, et cetera. Madame's really good at excusing everything."

"Even Juniper being bitchy to you?" Nereid said, outraged.

X shrugged again. "Juniper only does it when Madame isn't around, like when she's waiting for Madame to get home from something, or in email to me."

"In email," Nereid said flatly. Even she knew not to say things in email that could be forwarded to other people or otherwise tracked.

"Oh, yeah, I have these long emails about how confused I am and how sad it is that Madame has had to deal with me all this time, and that my being around must be why Madame is not dealing with her own sexuality."

"You need to say something to Madame."

"And pop her cloud of joy?" X said, leaning zir chin on zir hand. "I can't bear to do that to her. She's so happy, Pacifica. You just can't imagine. I've been living with her since I was 19—5 years now. She got me through college, through coming out, through everything. I've watched her fight depression and just the weight of the Oracle on her practically every fucking day of her life just to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other." X rubbed zir face. "You know, I heard her singing the other day. I've never heard her sing before. She's not bad! It's like she's getting a chance to open up finally as a sixty-something. I can't destroy that."

Nereid put her head to one side. "I don't think you'd destroy that. I don't think her being happy is all about getting laid, X. That's kind of shallow, and Madame is anything but shallow."

X was about to respond, but the server returned with their lunch just then, and they fell silent.

After the server was gone, Nereid added, "You're like the child she never had, X. You're her kid and her protégé and her student and her friend, and I think she would be devastated to find out that her lover was being horrible to you and you never told her."

The surprised look on X's face was very rewarding, Nereid thought. For once in her life, Nereid was getting to be the voice of reason. I can't believe I'm giving effective advice! Go me!

"I… do you really think she thinks of me that way?" X said.

"Yes," Nereid said without a second's hesitation. "Madame loves you. You love Madame, though you always deny it. You guys are family. Juniper can't be making her as happy as you say if Juniper is already talking over her self-identification."

X stared down at zir plate and started assembling the falafel and other items into a pita sandwich. "I hate talking about emotional things with Madame."

"I hate talking about emotional things with anyone," Nereid said.

"I'll talk to Madame if you talk to Sophie," X said.

"All right," Nereid said, nearly losing her appetite with the stomach-clenching that went with that agreement. "Deal."

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We're at about 10 more episodes to the end of volume 3! (Don't hold me to that exact count—the episodes keep changing under my feet.)

Are you folks who asked for alternate delivery forms able to better use the EPUB and/or PDF for reading? How are they working out?

Journey to the Sky

"Affirmative, Houston, lifting to orbit on my mark," Sophie said into her headset. For the people in the cockpit and passenger area of the Cosmic Orbiter, she tapped the large digital countdown clock above her head.

Nereid helped Lady Justice arrange her launch restraints and settled into her own couch next to Vector.

"Hey, your armband's slipping," Vector said, and reached over to slide the star-spangled black armband up to Nereid's bicep.

"Thanks," Nereid said, clicking her restraints into place. "The new costume material is really slippery."

"Still, it converts with you more easily, right?" Vector said.

"Yeah," Nereid said, running a hand over the knee of the blue-and-green washed material. "I don't have to think about it as much. Less nudity on the battlefield is good, right?"

Vector grimaced, and Nereid was immediately consumed with guilt for saying something typically stupid, having her own flashback to the horrible day a few months before when she, Sophie, and Pay had to rescue the team from an alien-enhanced pheromone-producing sociopath. She said, "Sorry."

Vector patted her hand. "No, it's okay. I… it just sneaks up on me sometimes. But if I can get to joking about it, that's good, right?"

"It's not something to joke about," Nereid said, squeezing her hand. "And it was thoughtless of me. I'm sorry."

Vector sighed. "It's not like it was a battle or anything anyway."

"Mark!" said Sophie. "Lifting now."

The engines revved up and the white noise flooded through the cabin. Nereid leaned over to say to Vector, grateful for the noise, "The therapist didn't work out?"

Vector shook her head. "He didn't… really understand. Not para. Or, um, queer."

"I know someone really good," Nereid said. "If she can't take you, she can recommend someone as good."

"Really?" Vector gave her a bleak look. "It… would be nice to talk to someone."

Nereid knew the feeling, and regretted that she hadn't really been talking to her teammates lately. She'd been focused almost entirely on keeping Sophie going day-to-day, making sure she ate and slept at a minimum, and dragging her out of the lab when she could. She wasn't feeling like she had a girlfriend so much these days as someone she had to keep boosting back up onto a tightrope of functioning. She understood why Sophie was so depressed, she knew why Sophie kept punishing herself by working obsessively, but… it was taking everything Nereid had to keep doing it. And she couldn't just walk away. And… yeah. Time for therapy again for herself, at least.

Nereid gave Vector as much of an affectionate headbump on the shoulder as she could, given they were pinned in their seats by the acceleration. "Let's go out after this," she said. "You pick where. We both need it."

Vector looked so grateful that Nereid felt nearly sick with guilt. They hadn't gotten off on the right foot when she joined this team, but then again, Nereid hadn't gotten off on the right foot with anyone on the team except Pay, and she'd very nearly fucked that up too. But she had been quietly admiring Vector for a long time for the fact that she was maturing out of her stupid little mean girl phase into someone Nereid actually liked. It sucked that it had taken that horrible day to really make Nereid admit to herself that she liked Vector.

The acceleration abated and Sophie announced, "We're in orbit. We'll have some more accelerations when we need to alter our course, but for now, you all can unlatch. I'll let you know when you need to strap down again."

Nereid was very impressed by Lady Justice's familiarity with zero gravity. She knew she shouldn't have been; Lady J had been with the Gold Stars for so many years and they'd had so many outer space missions, after all. But it was startling and beautiful to go from watching Lady J limping awkwardly in Earth gravity to seeing Lady J navigating around the cabin gracefully, with just a few touches here and there. Without gravity to pull on the wrinkles in the veteran's face, too, Nereid could imagine what Lady J looked like as a young woman (live—she'd seen all the photos, of course).

Sophie gestured for Nereid to follow Lady J into the Orbiter's cargo bay, and turned away to discuss something with Mercury.

Nereid found moving in zero gravity easier to cope with if she thought of it as swimming. In fact, she'd floundered hopelessly until she figured out how to think of it that way. She just had to remember that she was not helped by friction here. She didn't move nearly as effortlessly as Lady Justice, but she did manage to follow her down the center tunnel of the ship and into the rear bay.

Lady J was hovering next to the cylinder that held Jane's body, one hand resting on its surface. When the door cycled shut, she looked up and smiled at Nereid.

"Thank you ki… all for helping with this," she said, the smile returning the wrinkles to their proper places.

"Sophie and I, at least, totally understand why you want to do this," Nereid said. "I hope someone will do it for me when I go."

Lady J's smile stuttered a little at the corners of her mouth. "I hope that's a long way off, Pacifica."

Nereid laid a hand on Lady J's shoulder. "Me too. I just… I think someone should do it for all the Class 10s. So no one tries to dig us up and, I dunno, clone us."

"A lot of people who aren't Class 10s have had that done, you know," Lady J said, looking back to the cylinder. "I'm mostly worried about keeping her out of the government's hands. Any government's hands."

"Yeah, she was a one of a kind," Nereid said. "Power-wise, I mean. I know she was as a person."

Lady J nodded, her face sad. "It's hard, not having her to see any more. Even when she wasn't all there, you know, at least I saw her, could talk to her—even if she didn't understand all the time, even if all she talked about was whether the lights stayed on all night, or what the weather looked like out her fake window. Everyone else is gone now. It's just me."

"You're not alone," Nereid said, thinking of Ira and Andrea, and all the other Forgotten Heroes, and still knowing that she was saying something for the sake of saying it, because she couldn't understand right now.

Lady J smiled. "I know, honey. Thank you."

They stayed there for a long time, it seemed, hanging in middle of the chilly cargo bay, Nereid holding Lady J's shoulder, and Lady J touching Jane's high-tech coffin.

Sophie's voice crackled over the speakers, "Please make sure the satellite is prepared for deployment. We'll be starting maneuvers to station-keeping position in half an hour." Code for them to get on with their secret mission. Nereid silently cursed the cockpit recording devices mandated for all para spacecraft.

Lady J reached up and squeezed Nereid's hand with the hand that had grown chilly against the metal cylinder. "I guess that's our cue to load her up, right?"

"Yes," Nereid said, "and Pay should be along in a moment to help."

He came through the door at just that moment, smiling broadly and beautifully as usual. "Indeed, here I am!"

The three of them unstrapped the coffin and gently angled it across the bay to the new satellite that the Cosmics had gotten permission to put into orbit. Pay opened the hatch to the main body of the satellite and pulled out the modular transmission equipment. Lady J and Nereid slid the coffin into place, and it fit neatly, just as Sophie had calculated.

Lady Justice lingered for a second, touching the end of the coffin, then pushed herself backward. Pay shut the hatch as gently as he could, spun the fastenings into place, and activated the hidden alarm that Sophie had fitted to this compartment.

As the three of them floated toward the door, Pay said, "I still do not understand why Doctor Thomas could not simply fly her up herself."

"Ruth is under a great deal of government scrutiny all the time," Lady J said. "As Jane was herself. If they saw her leaving planet with a body-sized item, they could put two and two together, and there might be repercussions for Ruth personally."

"The government really wants Jane's body," Nereid said with a shrug. "Everyone does."

"You have explained it before, Nereid, you and Brainchild," he said, "and I still do not understand why these people are so interested in violating common American death taboos. I mean, I do indeed understand that they do it, but I do not understand why. It is difficult to understand these motivations."

"You have never spoken a truer word," Lady J said, patting him on the back.

Back in the cockpit, Sophie was playing one of the songs her friend Gogo had released on the underground online communities during what was now being called the Psychepirate Occupation (oh, the way the media picks up someone's Twitter contents and runs away with it with no citation—apparently Sophie knew the woman who started calling it that). This was one Nereid hadn't heard more than once or twice, with the chorus, "Arrest, Retry, Fail," running through the background.

Mercury and Gemini were chatting with Sophie, while Vector worked the navigation console, probably running the last calculations for maneuvers. Wire had her back pressed to a support pillar, staring out at the starfield moodily. She was fiddling with the black starry armband with her flesh hand; her metal hand—the beautiful shining prosthetic Sophie built for her—was tapping out the rhythm of the song on the plastic of the pillar.

Lady Justice settled back in her seat, and Pay went to see if he could help Vector (he'd been coaching her on translating her innate understanding of motion to numbers), so Nereid drifted over to Wire.

Wire glanced up at her from under her weird floating blue forelock (Nereid could never figure out how she did that) and grimaced in greeting.

Nereid leaned against the wall nearby and said, "Long time, no chat."

Wire shrugged and looked away. "All this paperwork with Mr. Moneybags… hell, I mean Michael… to retroactively get us government-approved to be Gold Stars deputies and whatnot has been eating my schedule."

"The government is still kicking up a fuss about that?" Nereid said. "I thought—" she dropped her voice just under the crashing chorus of the song "—Lady J was legally allowed to do the deputizing."

"She is, but one of the government nitpickers who doesn't like paras has discovered that Gemini is technically a minor," Wire said, rolling her eyes ceilingward. "Apparently, some parts of the government are still refusing to acknowledge that time travel happens."

"This is what you get when people who failed high school science run the technology committees," Nereid grunted.

Wire shrugged again, a little too vehemently, as the motion propelled her away from her pillar. She grabbed onto it with the metal hand and pulled herself back against it. "So, anyway, Michael's lawyers are working on getting Gemini declared an emancipated adult with alternate-dimensional standing, and we're working with the Gold Stars to get certified. Whichever happens first will get us off the hook, because the Gold Stars can just declare military necessity for Gemini."

"Wait, they can use minors as long as there's military necessity?" Nereid said, outraged.

"Only for para minors with Class 4 powers and above," Wire said.

Nereid gave her a dubious look and Wire said, "Yeah, I know. One of the Jane Liberty Laws from World War 2. Passed to retroactively make Jane's enlistment good."

"Oh, I didn't think of that," Nereid said. "Still, it's kind of… terrifying."

"Legal ways to make a para child army?" Wire said. "Oh, yeah. It only got used once that way, I'm told, to make the 'Liberty Girls', this little pack of underage bulletproofs who were all supposed to be Jane's sidekicks."

"Maneuvers in five minutes," Sophie announced, killing the music.

Everyone assumed their seats and strapped in, and there wasn't much talking as they waited for the final approach. Sophie concentrated intently on her controls. Vector was seated at her console, hands at her sides, sweat beading on her forehead as she used her powers to make microscopic changes in their kinetic energy and direction.

Finally, Sophie locked down her console with a loud click and said, "All right, opening cargo bay. Satellite deployment shortly."

People unstrapped again, and Lady J went to the window overlooking the cargo bay doors. Everyone but Sophie ended up drifting over there with her.

The robot arms of the cargo bay lifted the satellite out—almost reverently, Nereid imagined. The solar panels opened like flower petals, blooming from the skeletal supports and sprawling into an array that dwarfed the orbiter. A tiny (relative to the solar array) American flag deployed beneath the array, on their side of the satellite.

Lady Justice came to attention and saluted, and the rest of them watched in silence as Jane's penultimate resting place glowed to life as they turned the curve of the Earth and came into line with the sun's rays.

None of them would see the final disposal of Jane's body. The Ultimate would come here on her next space jaunt, first angling out to get away from the monitoring devices that usually followed her, then removing the coffin from the satellite and… taking it somewhere. Nereid guessed that she was going to toss it into the sun, or somewhere else it would certainly be destroyed and wouldn't contaminate anything.

The cargo bay doors shut and the orbiter rolled slowly away from the satellite, acceleration so gentle that Nereid hadn't even noticed it. Lady Justice wiped her eyes with a handkerchief, and Wire was blinking suspiciously hard. No one said anything, just returned to their seats.

There was really nothing to say, Nereid thought. Things could be said at the memorial in a few weeks.

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This episode was hard to write to start with, and given recent events it became exponentially harder to write (something you will likely understand as you read).

Best Intentions Going Down for the Third Time

"Sophie," Ruth said at the door of Sophie's apartment in the Young Cosmics Building, "we need to have a talk."

Sophie held the door and mutely gestured her mother inside.

Nereid wanted to stand up and go, but Sophie pinned her in her seat with a fleeting, desperate glance. She sat still. She could understand why anyone, even Sophie, would fear a confrontation with the Ultimate.

Ruth glanced at Nereid, then Sophie, and nodded.

Sophie cleared her throat and said, while heading for the kitchenette, "Would you like something to drink, Mom? Pacifica?"

Nereid shook her head, and Ruth said, "I'll take another of whatever you're having."

Nereid could see Sophie pause to contemplate her liquor cabinet, then turn away to pour two glasses of iced tea.

After they were all sitting down, Ruth turned a look on Sophie. "So, Larentia Canis has been disassembling some things."

Sophie nodded, and sipped from her glass.

"She says that some of the technology uses components she knows you built."

Sophie nodded again, setting her glass aside.

Ruth's voice continued calm and measured. "Do you know how that technology came to be in the hands of the aliens?"

Sophie looked at her hands, spread on her knees, for a long moment, then swallowed, looked Ruth in the eye, and said, "I built it for them."

Ruth and Sophie remained locked in their poses, staring at each other. Nereid had a nearly uncontrollable urge to turn to water and sink through the floor just from the reflected pressure of those looks.

Ruth finally said, choking slightly over the word, "Why?"

Sophie's gaze dropped at last, and after fighting to get words out for a few seconds, she covered her face with her hands. She scrubbed her eyes hard for a moment, took a deep breath, and said, "Because they had you."

Nereid had a fleeting glimpse of something she never wanted to see again: unbridled rage in the Ultimate's eyes. Ruth clamped it down, looking away from both of them. After a moment, she said, "I can't say that I'm comfortable with being party—even passively—to that."

"There is nothing about what I chose to do that implicates you in the least," Sophie said through her teeth. "Don't you dare try to ladle on more guilt here. I know I made a wrong choice."

Ruth's head snapped back around to face Sophie. "You're damned right you did."

Nereid thought about speaking up, about what she saw as ameliorating circumstances—that the empath, or even a telepath, was probably fucking with Sophie during that entire conversation she was having with the aliens, that there was no way Sophie could have known that the equipment would be used to broadcast the empathic powers of someone with abhorrent political views, that Sophie had helped save the world... yeah, she kept her mouth shut.

"What you did was beyond irresponsible," Ruth said, her voice clipped and hard. "It was selfish, and it was stupid, and both are high crimes for someone who has an unclassifiably high-Class para brain."

"I know, already," Sophie said, control slipping off like a leash ducked by a terrier next to a busy street. "I'm selfish for putting family first over the rest of the fucking world, I'm stupid for not miraculously foreseeing who they were going to put behind that, and that I was so irresponsible by actually doing shit to stop it…"

"You close your mouth for just a moment," Ruth snapped. "First, you're famous for thinking ahead for consequences. You're going to tell me that you didn't even suspect how this was going to go wrong?"

Sophie's shoulders sagged. "Of course I did," she said, but there was almost no attitude to it.

Ruth rubbed her forehead with her fingertips. "Also, do not give me the line about putting family first. I invented that line. For para shit, anyway."

"Oh, bullshit," Sophie said.

"What did you just say?" Ruth turned a slow stare on Sophie.

Nereid didn't think they'd notice if she just seeped really slowly through the floor. Except she knew she couldn't seep through these floors, because Ultimate Construction built superhero bases too well. Every suite was a separate, contained entity with layers of armor around it.

Sophie lifted her chin. "Bull. Shit. I don't think I've ever seen you put family first. How many goddamn times did you leave me with Gloria, or Olivia, or with some other babysitter, while you kited off-planet to fight an alien menace? Or the way you stuffed Renata into a bunker and left her there alone? Or the way you've never said what happened to any of your own actual family? And then there was Fort Starr, Colorado."

"You do not know shit about that," Ruth said, "and I am not here to listen to you talk shit about..."

"Fort Starr was hit by a fucking tac nuke," Sophie said, back straightening. "A few thousand people died. Where the fuck were you at the time?"

Ruth looked away again, but Nereid saw her lips and jaw tighten. Nereid wished she'd gotten up and walked out despite Sophie's appealing look.

"All the history books, even the private Gold Star records, claim there was warning from Techmeister, the supervillain behind it," Sophie said, throwing herself headlong into what Nereid could already see was a defensive attack going horribly awry. "So where were you when your sister was killed?"

Ruth sat back in her chair and folded her hands across her belly with a snort of laughter. "How long have you been holding onto that? Damn, girl, you work for your derailing arguments, don't you?"

Sophie opened her mouth to continue, but Ruth leaned forward suddenly, one hand spread on the coffee table, and said, "Let's get this all out on the table, shall we?" Sophie's mouth shut with a snap.

"I started avoiding my family after I met Sister Power," Ruth said in a low, even voice. "Who warned me that just by being a para woman, I was putting them in danger. A year in, my parents, sister, and brothers were all in the witness protection program, moved far from anyone they knew or loved, because some supervillain had tried to kill them. I stayed away from them to keep their covers, I offered, and they asked me to. My sister was para too, only a little, really, and she kept that under wraps as much as possible, but whereas I kept refusing the draft, she joined up. The government did not love the fact that I wouldn't let them draft me into the Gold Stars, but what were they gonna do?"

Nereid knew her own eyes had gone wide with all this, and was so focused on Ruth that she didn't think to look at Sophie.

"I'll tell you what they did," Ruth said. She paused, swallowed, continued: "They finally warned me that there would be 'consequences' if I didn't join up, if I didn't stop my 'activities' — which consisted of little things like stopping wars, interfering in police actions, taking medical supplies and food directly to refugees. I was young and stupid and surprisingly idealistic for a black girl, and didn't think they could do anything to me. Except they had a para on tap whose codename, amusingly enough, was Tac Nuke."

Nereid covered her mouth reflexively.

"They took out one of their own facilities to punish me. Six thousand seven hundred and seventy-three souls killed by a para whose only power was making big atomic explosions with himself at ground zero. When I blew into that general's office, he said, 'We know where your parents and brothers live too.' And that's when I joined the Gold Stars." Ruth leaned across the table until her face was within inches of Sophie's blankly horrified face. "Never, ever tell me I don't put family first, Sophia Jean. Never pull Fort Starr, my sister, my parents, or my brothers on me. Never tell me I didn't put you, or Renata, or any of the rest of my people before myself, before everything else. You used to ask me when you were little why I didn't just take over the world. The answer is: because I'm just one woman, and they would kill everyone I held dear while I slept."

Ruth held Sophie's gaze for a few more seconds, until Sophie said, in the tiniest, hoarsest voice Nereid had ever heard, "I'm sorry."

Ruth nodded once, and stood up. Despite Ruth being such a short woman, it felt to Nereid like she was towering over them both. "You're right, you made your own choices, and you know they were wrong. And I'm disappointed that you made them. You're trying to do whatever it takes to make it right. I'm proud of the fact that you're trying your best, because if I didn't teach you anything else, at least I taught you to clean up after yourself." She walked to the door. "I'd better see both of you Sunday night for dinner." She opened the door and went out.

Nereid and Sophie sat in stunned silence in the aftermath.

Finally, Sophie said, "You'd think that after all these years, I'd know better than to try to pull that kind of shit on her."

Nereid nearly laughed at the rueful tone, and said, "Sweetie, I've only known her for two or three years, and I know better than that."

Sophie quirked the corner of her mouth. "Yeah, but you're the one with common sense in this relationship."

Nereid reached out and touched her cheek. "Yeah. Don't hold that against me though."

10 Ways to Help the People of Ferguson, Missouri

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There will be a second short episode on Thursday.

All She Wrote

Sophie's whole body shook like she'd just fallen from a great height. Nereid started up to her knees and found Sophie's eyes open and staring.

"We did it," she croaked, clutching Nereid's hands like a lifeline. "We did it."

Nereid threw her arms around Sophie's neck and tried hard not to cry. When she heard Sophie sob, though, it was all over and they were crying together, clinging to each other. She didn't care if the other Cosmics came and found them like that.

"We did it," Sophie said again, hiccoughing. "She did it."

"Who?" Nereid said, though she guessed.

"Jane Liberty," Sophie whispered. "Defender of Earth."

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Second episode of anniversary week!

When It Rains, It Pours

Out of the corner of her eye, Nereid saw Sophie turn and bolt for the Cosmic Flyer. So she stopped looking like she was making it rain (appearances were everything in the superhero game), kept making it rain, and followed, soggily, into the Flyer.

When she got inside, she heard Sophie yelling: "You have the biggest goddamn processing center available right now with full surround-sound imaging coverage of the planet. Let me in!"

Nereid ran and caught herself on the doorjamb of the cockpit. Sophie was sitting in the pilot's seat, staring upward, looking distraught. She wasn't on the communicator, the speakerphone lights weren't on, she was just shouting at the sky.

"Jesus Harriet Christ, Renata, we need to know where the goddamn ground-based generators are. You've got all the locations in that system in front of you. Yeah, you could probably look for them, but do you know how long it will take them to power up?"

Renata. She was talking to Renata Scott in her head. Nereid stared—she couldn't remember a time she'd seen Sophie look or act this rattled. Sophie had never spoken aloud to Renata, though she'd told Nereid when she was talking to her.

"I know, Jesus fuck, I know," Sophie said, her voice breaking over tears. "Please, please, I can do this, just let me do something that's good."

There was a moment's pause, and then Sophie's body fell forward over the controls. Nereid stepped forward and pulled her away from the controls so if she had any random twitches, the Cosmic Flyer wouldn't suddenly take off. She knelt next to Sophie and held her hands, half of her mind still concentrating on the rain outside, trying not to feel a little jealous of Renata. Both Sophie and Renata were such intensely private people; the level of trust—or desperation—between them to do this was astonishing.

She reached up and gently wiped the tears off Sophie's face with her thumb. Appearances were everything in the superhero business.

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I know I'm a little late posting this week, but if you would like more than just this short update -- I promise that the next episode is MUCH more exciting -- I'd love to see 10 comments by Saturday morning. Or you can do an entry on the Wonder City Stories TV Tropes page! to count for 2 comments. (There are currently 20 entries.) I'll post the next episode whenever we hit the threshold... or next Tuesday, whichever comes first. :)

Raining in My Head Like a Tragedy

Nereid didn't like altering the weather patterns—again—but this time she really needed it to rain on the whole city to try to put a damper (ha ha) on everything that was breaking loose.

Were the mayor and the city council at all to blame for everything that had happened? She didn't know. She supposed they might've been working with the aliens. (She mentally shied away from adding "too" and thinking about Sophie.) But City Hall was an expensive building full of innocent people and really didn't need to be on fire, and the surrounding businesses probably didn't have anything to do with the men in black either, so they didn't deserve to be vandalized. But all the people here, the people who were so angry and damaged from everything, they really didn't deserve to get waterhosed.

It didn't stop her from waterhosing some of them to keep them from hurting other people.

At least it was a hot day this time, unlike the last time she hauled in the rain. It was probably pleasant in the neighborhoods where all hell wasn't breaking loose.

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We alllllmost made it to 10 comments, so I'm posting early in the week. If we can actually get 10 comments by Friday, I'll post a second episode. Let me know you're reading!

The Rabble Are Roused

"Oh, my god," Sophie said, staring at her screen. "The fucking Internet is going crazy."

Ivy opened her laptop and flipped through several windows. "My Twitter feed is nuts. People are talking about the broadcast, things that have been happening, the mod squads. Damn, Sophie, you streamed it into the BBC broadcasts too?"

"They're not very secure," Sophie said. Nereid squeezed her shoulders and Sophie looked up at her with a faint smile.

"I'm seeing it on Chinese and Japanese news outlets too," Ivy said.

"Al-Jazeera's got it," Simon said from behind his laptop.

"Okay, okay, we're stars," said Mercury impatiently. "Can we go do something now?"

Vector turned from the local troublespotting monitors with wide eyes. "Um, yeah, I think so."

"What's up?" Wire said, walking over.

"Riot in the business district," Vector said. "Assaults on men in black in the college district. Guys, I'm getting trouble lights all over the city."

"Let's split up and cover more ground," Mercury said, pacing.

"Michael forbade us to split up," Wire said tiredly.

"What's he going to do if we save more lives this way?" Mercury demanded.

"Cut us off without a penny," Wire said. "He'll do it, too."

Sophie said, rising and putting on her glasses, "I've got Cosmic Flyer 1 warming up now. I suggest we head for the riot first. Biggest casualty risk. Well," she said with a twisted smile, "biggest casualties we care about. Men in black? What men in black?"

Citizen Pain walked to the elevator door and said, "I am going out. Indeed, I will go without you if you continue to argue, Mercury. I do not care for your attitude when people are being injured."

Nereid and Sophie walked over to join him. After a moment, so did Vector, saying, "Mercury, you and Gemini can stay here and watch the monitor."

"But Ivy and Simon…" Mercury said, in between gaping at them.

"Aren't members of the Young Cosmics," said Wire, following the rest onto the elevator. "Or we can patch it into the transport. Your choice, Merc."

In the end, of course, the whole team left together, though Mercury didn't shut up with his bitching. Nereid had to wonder what Ivy and Simon were doing. Hopefully having a beer and a pizza.

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Things are starting to move along...

99 Red Balloons Go By

Sophie's eyes lit up suddenly and she pulled the microphone up from where it was draped over her shoulder. "Roger, wilco," she said, then jerked her head toward the door while looking at Nereid.

Nereid bounced up and hurried into the next room, where the rest of the Young Cosmics were sitting around nervously. Mercury's leg was jiggling so fast his knee was a blur. Vector was glaring at him in between reading something on her StarSeed. Wire was pacing, repeatedly flexing the metal hand that Sophie had built to replace the one she'd lost a few years before. Citizen Pain and Gemini were playing a game of chess.

"Showtime," Nereid said.

Mercury leapt to his feet, grinning. "Right!"

They all moved to the corner of the room, where Simon and Ivy were fussing around a small television studio they'd set up. Simon looked more normal than Nereid had seen him in a long time, with a fresh fade haircut, neatly trimmed Van Dyke, and wearing tight black jeans. Both Mercury and Gemini kept running their gazes over him with extreme interest. Both Simon and Ivy were wearing their "Puppy Patrol" t-shirts, and both were wearing necklaces with sparkling globes strung on black rattail.

"Okay, on your marks," Simon said, pointing them all onto the clean white platform he and Ivy had set up. "No one lean back against the backdrop, or it will fall over."

"Pull together," Ivy said, looking at her screen. "Pay, move a little to your right. Wire, you need to take one step forward. Gemini, close ranks behind her."

Simon flicked on the glaring white lights and moved from one to another, tweaking the positioning, then ducked forward to dot Mercury's nose with a dusting of powder. "There, okay, we just don't want you glowing like Rudolph, there, dude."

Mercury's face twisted as he tried not to sneeze. "Right!" he said again, mastering the sneeze, then crossing his arms to strike a belligerent pose.

Everyone followed suit except Wire, who fidgeted in front, rearranging the collar of her uniform to make the microphone cord more comfortable. Nereid felt silly with her arms crossed, but it took less room than putting their hands on their hips, which was the other acceptable superhero pose.

Ivy leapt up and stuck her head through the door to Sophie. "We're set here, Brainchild."

Nereid could hear Sophie telling Tizemt at Headquarters that they were ready to broadcast. Then Sophie walked into the room and stood with her screen projection flickering a few feet in front of her. She watched the screen for a moment, listening to her headset, her hand moving in the air to manipulate her screen. Then she nodded to Ivy.

"All right," Simon said. "Wire, you're on in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6…" He raised his hand and finished the countdown on fingers. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Then he pointed at Wire.

Nereid reflected that he'd learned a lot about television production during his time on the Wonderful House reality show.

They all looked into the camera Ivy had told them to look into and then Wire said, "Hello, Wonder City. Hello, World, for that matter. We are the Young Cosmics, and we are duly deputized substitutes for the missing Gold Stars. And we have something very important to tell you."

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This week has been weird and surreal -- I live in central Massachusetts, and work in Cambridge -- and today has been particularly strange, with the refreshing the browser and checking Twitter and such. I have successfully distracted written the lion's share of this episode today, however, and I hope you will forgive any little gaffes as being products of my distraction.


"Ah, Mr. Frost," Zoltan said at the door of the enormous luxury board room, his eastern European accent rolling softly over the name. "And Nereid. So pleased you could make it to our little discussion group."

Nereid stared at Zoltan. For a man who never aged, the very fine lines around his eyes and mouth seemed much more pronounced than they'd been last time she'd seen him, at least a year before. He was dressed very finely in a pale grey three-piece suit, a white shirt, and a pale blue tie. She noticed his cufflinks, though, as they shook hands -- tiny gold bats -- and it was all she could do not to giggle.

"I was pleased to be invited," Michael Frost said, staring beyond Zoltan's head at the far side of the room.

"Ah, yes, you see that Baroness Von Drachenberg has arrived before you," Zoltan said, stepping aside gracefully and gesturing them into the room. "We still await Ms. Washington, from your folk. My folk are represented, as are most of the other Mystikai."

Nereid stared around the echoing room and was gratified by the presence of Madame Destiny and X, and also the Equestrian and her steed (in tall, lean, redheaded human form) Maelstrom. She didn't know any of the many others, and noticed that a certain amount of space was left between every knot of beings as they stood around and drank coffee. Sophie would probably snark about it if she were here. Which she wasn't. And Nereid wasn't sure why she wasn't, but the absence made her anxious.

The Baroness was a short, round, cheerful woman who appeared to be middle-aged, accompanied by a couple of stocky, balding men in tweed suits. She gave Mr. Frost a little finger wave that he ignored. Nereid smiled nervously in the woman's direction.

A moment later, a ridiculously tall, willowy woman with long white hair, wearing a strangely familiar long, flowing black leather coat (with large spiky shoulder pads) and pants, strode past Zoltan into the room without a word. Under the coat, she seemed to be largely wearing straps, which accented her... prominent cleavage. She paused to regard Mr. Frost, then the Baroness with a sneer, and made her way to the center-back of the room, throwing herself into the chair at the foot of the ridiculously long table. She put her booted feet up on the table with heavy clunks.

"And with the arrival of Ms. Washington," Zoltan said, nodding to the t-shirted bar bouncer-types in the hall and shutting the door, "our numbers are complete. I am, as most of you know, Zoltan Farkas, and I speak for the Grand Matriarch of the East today, though her granddaughter --" he bowed to an African American woman who was taking a seat near the middle of the table "-- is here to correct me if I step wrongly. Speaking for the Grand Matriarch of the West is Doña Juana Salazar. Between us, we speak for the Family here in North America."

He nodded, and the Equestrian stood, looking very out of place as a young blonde teen dressed for a horse show in a velvet coat of bottle-green, breeches, and tall leather boots. "All of you know who I am," she said in her British accent. "I'm here for the Good Neighbors, specifically the one known as Lady Daphne, my sometimes-patron."

A broad-shouldered, tanned man in a black suit, surrounded by several individuals in similar suits, introduced himself as the elected speaker for the shapechanger Mystikai. Several more people introduced themselves as chosen or appointed speakers for various schools of magic. There was a fascinatingly tiny woman who was the representative of the Appalachian Gnome Queendom. A pair of thin, pale women who were clearly twins said they were there on behalf of the Wonder City vampires. A perfectly normal middle-aged middle-class woman in jeans and a sweatshirt that sported a picture of a kitten, with the glittery legend, "Hang in there!" arcing over it, introduced herself as the Outsider.

Madame stood and bowed. She was dressed elegantly in a long black dress and a black turban, a silvery-grey wrap draped around her shoulders. She was made up extravagantly, with dramatic swooshes of shadow above her eyes. "I am Madame Destiny, the current vessel for the Mystikai known as the Oracle, and I have been asked here by my friend Zoltan in case we need to consult the Oracle's wisdom." She gestured to X, who was conservatively done up in a black suit and garnet-colored cravat. "This is my apprentice, X." And she resumed her seat.

Nereid became aware, as silence fell, that Mr. Frost and the Baroness were staring at each other across the room. After a long, tense moment, Miss Washington drawled, without standing, "I'm Washington. I'm a dragon."

Both Mr. Frost and the Baroness looked at her at the same moment, a fleeting glimpse of disgust crossing both their faces. They looked at each other again, and the Baroness shrugged, and said, "I am the Baroness Von Drachenberg, and I am a Reptilian-American." She glowered in Washington's direction, then gestured grandly to Mr. Frost.

He inclined his head briefly and said, "I am Michael Frost, also Reptilian-American, and I am the patron of the superhero team, the Young Cosmics." He dropped a hand on Nereid's shoulder. "This is my team's Class 10 elemental, Nereid, who kindly agreed to accompany me."

Zoltan seated himself at the head of the table and folded his hands. "Thank you all for coming. I think we can agree that the situation in the United States, and in Wonder City in particular, is growing intolerable and is threatening everything each of us has worked for. Several of us wanted to bring the community together to discuss possible options for information-gathering and action."

One of the myriad magic-using people -- one of the few dressed in what Nereid thought of as normal clothes -- raised her hand. Zoltan nodded, and she said, "I think it would be helpful if we pooled our intelligence as to the nature of the troubles and possible sources."

"Agreed," Zoltan said, nodding cheerfully all around the table. "So let us do so. I confess that the Family has very little information on the nature or source of the troubles, only a fairly close analysis of the results. So who has more information?"

Several of the magic-using people spoke up about scrying and analytical magic and things that immediately and pedantically went over Nereid's head -- another reason to regret Brainchild's absence, she thought, was her inability to ask Sophie later what something had meant. Nereid was also distracted by Washington's openly bored posture with her head tilted back, staring ostentatiously at the ceiling.

"So what you're telling us," Zoltan said, smoothly interrupting one of the interminable lectures, "is that the main threat appears to be in orbit, and radiating something down at us that is affecting human behavior?"

"Uh," said the man in burgundy robes. "Yes. Essentially."

"Thank you," Zoltan said, and he even sounded like he meant it. "Have any other Mystikai ascertained any details?"

Nereid glanced aside at Mr. Frost's pleasantly-smiling face, expecting him to say something. Instead, Madame Destiny said, "Yes, we have."

All heads turned her way. X met Nereid's look with briefly raised eyebrows.

"Our group of... friends," Madame said with a self-deprecating air, "have determined that the ships in orbit are, in fact, of alien origin, and that the nature of the projection is a technological enhancement of a para with empathic abilities."

And then the meeting exploded into discussion, debate, and questions. Nereid watched it all, bewildered, and also watched the three drago--- Reptilian-Americans, she corrected herself. The Baroness beamed delightedly as her two tweedy companions leapt into a debate with a trio of mages and one shapeshifter. Mr. Frost watched the proceedings with a small smile. Washington continued to stare at the ceiling. The only other person who appeared so disconnected was the Equestrian, who slumped in her chair and frowned at the tabletop.

During a brief lull in the conversation, Washington burst out with, "Tell me why I should care."

Everyone froze. Nereid heard Michael Frost inhale, but whatever he was going to say was preempted by the Baroness Von Drachenberg saying, sweetly, "I would explain, but I think that you are too young to understand."

Washington leapt to her feet and glared at the Baroness. Nereid felt obscurely that she ought to have a large magical sword in one hand, then realized that as a drago-- Reptilian-American, she didn't need a weapon of any sort: she was one.

After a long moment, Washington said, in tones not nearly as sweet as the Baroness', "Try me, old woman."

Nereid noticed one of the tweed-clad men next to the Baroness discreetly scribbling notes in a battered leather-bound notebook, while the other was sliding an old pocket dictation recorder onto the table and looking around surreptitiously. Some of the mages and a few of the shapeshifters were subtly fading back from the table. Nereid herself was feeling more and more nervous sitting next to Mr. Frost.

The Baroness folded her hands on the table and, still smiling, said, "As someone without much experience in the markets of the world, you perhaps do not know how very destabilizing these sorts of events can be. You may think that such disquiet would make your particular objets du dèsir easier to obtain -- whenever you decide to obtain them -- but it is not so." She paused, reached down without looking, and clicked the tape recorder off. "At least, not in the long run."

Washington was pale with a cold rage that Nereid could feel from across the room. She leaned forward to place her hands flat onto the table, her white hair starting to blow behind her in a breeze that seemed to affect nothing else. Before she could say anything, though, Michael Frost began to laugh.

The look Washington turned on him was very little altered from what she had just been aiming elsewhere, but the gaze the Baroness turned on him was cynical, withering, and underneath it all, so sharp that Nereid had to repress the urge to run out of the room. The mages and shapeshifters took the opportunity to slide entirely back from the table toward the outer walls.

"Do forgive me, Baroness," Michael Frost said, in his suavest voice, "but it seems to me that if we are here, we have already agreed to act. There is no need for this attention-seeking posturing."

The Baroness was no longer, at all, a pleasant-looking little woman. Nereid saw the representative of the Gnome Queendom retreating behind a heavy credenza and felt an urge to join her. As if reading her mind, Michael Frost chose that moment to lay his hand over hers on the table, and action that made Nereid unbearably uncomfortable for too many reasons to list.

Nereid attempted to comfort herself with her ability to dissolve into mist at the first sign of actual violence.

At the head of the table, Zoltan looked as if he might be comforting himself similarly. He was exchanging looks with the other representatives of his Family -- whatever that was, Nereid thought, wondering if it he was a member of some kind of vampire mafia -- and both women were giving him cheerful sorts of "I wouldn't be you for a million dollars" encouraging smiles.

Washington was staring at Michael Frost, and Nereid noticed that she was becoming visibly more irritated when he refused to stare back. Her long, slender fingers gripped the edge of the table, and Nereid had an unpleasant image of her flipping it. But the moment passed, and she sat down in a kind of anticlimax.

The Baroness and Michael Frost, however, continued to match gazes, and Nereid thought that perhaps there was some sort of battle going on that she was too human to perceive except on the most uncomfortably lowest levels of her lizard brain. Like the so-called brown note, she thought.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," the Equestrian exclaimed, slamming her small hands on the table with moment-shattering slaps. "The rest of us don't have time for your--" she paused over word choice for a moment, then continued sourly "--politicking."

The two dragons snapped their heads around to look at her and the Equestrian pursed her lips and tilted her head slightly in the direction of Maelstrom, who appeared to be dozing in his chair. Mr. Frost and the Baroness each glanced back at each other, then exhaled, and the tension oozed out of the room.

Zoltan shuffled some papers. The mages and shapeshifters glided back to the table. The Gnome Queendom representative returned to her chair.

"I think," said Doña Juana Salazar, smiling thinly around the table, "that perhaps we should take advantage of the presence of the Oracle to ascertain what level of action would work best for the Mystikai as a whole."

"Yes," the Baroness said, her good humor apparently restored, though Nereid was unsure if that was true. "It is so very easy to overreact and do more harm than good."

Michael Frost said, "Yes, let's." He yawned elaborately.

Washington just waved a hand irritably.

"Perhaps it would be best to determine what the maximum level of involvement we would be willing to pursue should be," piped the tiny representative of the Gnome Queendom.

This led to another bewildering half hour of conversations, cross-conversations, and sub-conversations that Nereid could not parse at all. None of the dragons involved themselves in these discussions; they just watched.

Zoltan tapped a glass (where did he get the glass?) with a spoon (likewise?), and the sound rang out over the room, bringing conversation to a faltering halt. He said, "If we are going to make use of the Oracle, then I think we should do it quickly. We are unlikely to come to a consensus on this issue, nor do I think it is necessary. We simply need to remember to ask yes or no questions for optimal accuracy."

"And minimal cryptic ramblings," the Equestrian muttered, getting a short laugh out of Madame and X, at least.

Madame got up and moved her chair well back from the table, then resumed her seat. X moved to stand facing her, a little to the side. Everyone at the table turned to watch Madame with great interest -- even the dragons.

Nereid had seen Madame do this many times before, and all went as usual. Madame composed herself in her chair and closed her eyes for a few moments. X watched her fixedly. Then the light in the room changed to the harsh, focused, bluish tinge it always took.

Madame's face in that light startled Nereid, like she was seeing straight through the makeup. Madame looked old. Really old. And sick, and strained. Tears began leaking from the corners of her eyes. Then her eyes popped open and blue light crackled there, making everyone blink and look away for a moment.

"SPEAK, CHILDREN OF MAGIC," the Oracle said with Madame's mouth.

X turned to Zoltan and nodded.

But then the Oracle said, "STOP."

Nereid could see Madame's head and hands vibrating as if she had a palsy. The tears were coursing down her face and dripping off her chin. Her face looked grey in the blue light.

Madame gasped, in her own voice, "No!"

The light changed again -- instead of seemingly radiating from Madame's whole body, it shifted to solely from her head. And then blue lightning stabbed out from Madame into X, who echoed Madame with a more gutteral, wrenching, "No!"

Nereid ran to Madame as the older woman toppled from her chair, pulling her up from the floor and cradling her head against her shoulder. For a long moment, Nereid gazed down into her exhausted, drawn, tear-streaked face, and irrelevantly remembered the same woman, five years earlier, patiently helping her with her math homework. She remembered that Madame had been studying to be a mathematician, that she was really good at it, until the Oracle took up residence in her body.

X was suspended in mid-air in the middle of the room, blue light and lightning leaking out spasmodically. Most of the people in the room were at least standing, if not moving cautiously toward X.

Madame's eyes opened and she tried to sit up, but couldn't, then relaxed back into Nereid's arms. She croaked urgently, "Don't touch X!" into the tense silence, and everyone moving stopped.

"If you touch X," Madame said more calmly, "it could distract zir from what focus zie could gather. If that happens on the first possession, we might never get X back." She closed her eyes again.

Nereid was chilled to the bone by the idea of the Oracle being permanently "on" in X's body. She looked at the disheveled figure dangling like a marionette in mid-air.

"NOW YOU MAY SPEAK," said the Oracle with X's mouth.

"Oh, god," Madame groaned.

"It's all right," Nereid whispered to her.

"I thought I could hold on," Madame said, tears trickling out of her eyes again. "I thought I could keep going. Anything so X wouldn't have to..."

"X knew this would happen eventually," Nereid said in low tones, vaguely registering that questions were being asked and answered with a staccato precision elsewhere in the room. "X was prepared for it."

"You're never prepared for it," Madame said faintly. "Never. I knew for years, and I never expected what happened."

"Is it so bad?" Nereid said.

"It's like a seizure," Madame said opaquely. "Oh, god, I should get up, I should spot X, keep people from asking too many questions." She began to struggle to sit up, at least.

Nereid helped her sit up when it became clear that she was too agitated to rest. X was still held off the floor, but was no longer quite so high in the air. Madame took one look at X's face, which was lined with strain, and made a throat-cut motion to Zoltan, who nodded and stepped between a ponderous mage and X.

"Thank you for your generous assistance, oh, Oracle," Zoltan said with a graceful bow. "Your vessel needs rest, and we have our answers."


With that, X was released into Zoltan's waiting arms. Maelstrom took X from Zoltan and the Equestrian peremptorily gestured Zoltan back into the scrum of loudly-discussing Mystikai.

Madame reached out as Maelstrom knelt to set X next to her. She stroked X's sweat-beaded forehead maternally and whispered, over and over, "I'm so sorry."

Nereid stayed on the ground with the two of them, an arm around each, content to be a literal support. X was moving slowly, blinking dazed eyes up at the ceiling. Madame was still murmuring what sounded like apologies. As an afterthought, Nereid dried their clothes and faces and hair -- sweat and tears and whatever else would leave a bit of a crust, but at least they wouldn't feel damp.

"You have my promise," Michael Frost was saying, coming to stand near Nereid and Madame and X, "that I will match the Baroness' contributions financially, and that I will permit limited involvement of my Cosmics in a decisive para action."

Washington strode almost up to him, then past, saying, "And you have my promise that I will participate in the para action myself... if it seems fun." She kicked the door open and walked out of the board room.

"I am going to take Madame and X home," Michael Frost said, reaching down to effortlessly lift Madame in his arms. Nereid helped X to stand, and stayed under the strong arm that she remembered so vividly holding her up at one time. "The rest of you may go on discussing whatever you like. Zoltan, if anything significant comes up, I trust you will notify us via the usual channels."

"Of course," Zoltan said, catching Nereid's eye with a questioning raise of his eyebrows. Nereid smiled, she hoped, reassuringly, and turned to help X follow Mr. Frost out of the room.

wonder_city: (Default)
Sorry about my post-fail last week. It's been a little rough weather here. But so is it rough weather in Wonder City.

Partying the Hard Way

Tam Lane was pressing her up against a cold metal wall, bending over her, his long auburn hair shading their faces. "Come on, baby," he was whispering, pulling her hand against the bulge in his jeans. "Do it."

Before Nereid could say anything past her horror, Tam was dragged away from her and thrown to the ground. Sophie brought a baseball bat down on the man's pretty face. There was a crunch, and a wail, and Nereid turned away.

A warm hand pressed against her back. "It's okay, Pacifica," Lucid's sympathetic voice said. "It's just a dream."

Nereid turned back to look at her, slowly rising into lucidity through her paralysis and confusion. "Really?"

Lucid smiled at her. "Yes, really. I should know, right?"

Nereid looked toward Sophie, who was still plying her baseball bat, even though most of the dream was fading away around them. Lucid said, "Sophie, time to go."

Sophie dropped the baseball bat with a little grimace and nodded, pushing some of her hair out of her face.

They walked silently away from the disintegrating scene, Lucid keeping an arm around Nereid's shoulders. Shortly, they came to a train station and mounted the steps into one of the waiting silver cars. They sat down along the side of the subway car, and the train started into motion, the rubber loops swinging silently with the motion of the car.

Nereid blinked, and took deep breaths, and looked down at herself. She was wearing her uniform, the swirling blues and greens in close-fitting spandex. She ran her hands over the fabric and forced herself to feel the texture, still breathing deeply. She'd done this a number of times, visiting Lucid's Dream Party, but it had been a while since their last trip.

"Just a baseball bat this time?" Lucid was saying curiously to Sophie as the train slanted downward into a dark tunnel.

"I've got a lot of anger issues right now," Sophie said.

"Apparently," Lucid said. "How've you been doing, Pacifica?"

Nereid blinked hard and smiled. "All right, I suppose, Leah. Wonder City is just kind of... hard."

Lucid nodded. "Seattle's no bed of roses but at least we're not having a modern-day Les Mis, like in California."

Nereid looked at her and said, "Les Mis?"

Lucid smiled briefly and bitterly. "Food riots. Water riots. Police declaring martial law and killing people left and right. It isn't just the LAPD, but that's where it started."

Something flickered in the window opposite Nereid. It was one of those advertisements consisting of a series of stills posted on the subway tunnel wall that become a little animated movie when the train rushes past them. This one only had a man's face in the center of a bright starburst. He was a handsome thirty-something with short, sleek ash-blond hair and bright, earnest blue eyes. He was speaking in the image, enunciating carefully so, Nereid supposed, someone could lip-read what he was saying.

Almost against her will, she was drawn to stare at his mouth, trying to puzzle out the words.

Lucid got up, walked across the car, and yanked down a window blind that Nereid hadn't seen there before, breaking the spell. "I am so very tired of that fucker."

"Who is he?" Nereid said, rubbing her eyes.

"Pastor Al," Sophie growled. "Tent revival boy. Is he appearing in the dream world a lot?"

"All the fucking time," Lucid said. She sat down heavily. "He's always trying to say something to the dreamers. It's not like he's actually here -- believe me, I've looked. I think that he's just a really potent symbol."

Suddenly, his face reappeared in every window of the car, and each face was saying something different, smiling a slightly different way.

Lucid's eyes narrowed and she stamped on the floor. Blinds snapped down over every window.

"We'll be there soon," she said after a moment.

"Good," Sophie said. Then, more softly, "Thanks."

Lucid squeezed Sophie's knee and patted Nereid's shoulder. "I couldn't let down some of my favorite people."

The Dream Party was less populated than Nereid had ever seen it before. The buffet was still busy. There was still a small jam session in the corner, consisting of variously-dressed people playing guitars, Vulcan harps, and drums. But there were definitely fewer beings chatting in little groups, and they spoke in lower voices.

Nereid noticed a woman sitting nearby, calmly watching roses grow from her left arm. Green sprouts burst through her skin, grew and extended, and eventually exploded into blood-red blooms. When one bloomed, she carefully snipped it off at the base with a pair of scissors, and slid the rose into a nearby glass vase that was overflowing with flowers. The water in the vase was red.

A small blue dragon alighted on the table, arranged its feathers carefully, and watched this ritual for a few moments before asking, "Does that hurt?"

The woman said, "Like a bitch. But it's the only way I know to get rid of them."

"Your friend is waiting in the private room," a second Lucid said, gesturing over her shoulder toward a door. The two Lucids nodded to each other and stepped together into a single Lucid. "Let me know if you want anything."

Sophie cast a longing glance at the buffet, but said, "Thanks," and, taking Nereid's hand, went through the indicated door.

X was seated on a straight chair with long legs crossed in the very masculine way Nereid had noticed before when X was angry. The outfit for this Dream Party outing consisted of a dark blue velvet cutaway coat over tailored black trousers and waistcoat. X was also wearing sunglasses.

X looked in their direction but didn't get up or say anything, though there was a nod to Nereid.

Sophie shut the door and said, without any introduction, "This is why I asked you both to come here." And then there was a sound like wrenching metal. Sophie let out a little gasp and staggered to one side, while another woman staggered away from her in the other direction.

The other woman was a stocky, dark brown African-American woman of medium height. Her dark hair was shaped into a short afro. There were deep lines around her eyes and mouth, lines that made her look a great deal older than Nereid would have guessed from the rest of her body. She was wearing a t-shirt and old jeans. After she caught her breath, she straightened up and put her hands on her hips.

"This is damned weird," she said, looking around at the three of them.

Sophie coughed and slid into a chair. "X, Pacifica, meet Renata Scott."

"Oh!" Nereid said, then covered her mouth with both her hands. Renata, the telepath who'd been in her head when she'd killed Sator. Right.

X rose, swept off the sunglasses, and crossed the room, extending one elegant hand. "So pleased to meet you."

Renata looked at X, grinned, and -- somewhat gingerly -- shook hands. "Hah!" she said. "This is damned weird. I'm glad to meet you finally, X. I saw you at Ruth's birthday party and didn't get introduced." She looked at her hand, then Sophie. "You must be filtering me big time."

"Well, me and your prison, I think," Sophie said, then waved a hand. "Tell them what you told me."

Renata shook hands with Nereid. Nereid gave her an embarrassed, somewhat hopeles little smile.

Then Renata threw herself into an overstuffed chair and said, "Sit yourselves down, and I'll tell you about the aliens."

X sat obediently, eyes fixed on Renata. Nereid sat down more slowly, glancing over at Sophie, who was leaning her forehead on her hands.

"They've been trying to get me to work for them," Renata said. "They won't say outright what it is they want me to do. But I suspect."

"They're projecting some sort of psionic energy via mechanisms Brainchild built," X said, and Nereid was a little startled by hearing X use Sophie's spandex name.

Renata nodded. "I know," she said, and glanced aside at Sophie, who hadn't raised her head. "And I know whose psionic energy it is."

X sat forward in the chair, perching on the very edge. Nereid blinked at Renata.

"Look," Renata said, looking at them, but running her fingers over the tooled leather of the chair she'd ended up in, "I'm imprisoned on the spaceship until I either work for them or they decide what else to do with me. They've given me a very comfortable apartment, and I'm heavily shielded from psionics there. The only reason I can project to Earth, in fact, is because I stuffed Sophie back into her head a few years ago, and so I know her better than any other human on the planet and could probably find her anywhere. The aliens have captured and imprisoned Ruth and the rest of the Gold Stars in an interdimensional prison, and they've got some jackass as their 'human liaison' whose wife is an empath. Somehow, they amped her up and she's projecting her own emotional dogma down at the U.S. of A."

X slumped back in the chair, exhaling, "Shiiiiiittttt."

Nereid looked over at Sophie again, but Sophie wasn't moving. So Nereid said, "Does she know about the new church and stuff down here?"

"Probably," Renata said with a shrug. "What little I got during my brief interviews with them was some serious right-wing religion."

X said, "That's probably what's doing it, then."

"Doing what?" Renata said.

X sat forward again, counting off on slender fingers. "Here it is: resource riots, little teams of men in black roaming the streets, martial law, nationwide mental health crisis, tripled suicide rate."

Renata stared.

"I can't get hold of Simon any more," Nereid said slowly. "Every time I call, his friend Megan answers, and she doesn't seem to know that... that Simon's human. I don't think he can be human any more. He told me he was feeling horrible about himself about and... you know he's trans, right? He was even thinking about... going back to living as a girl, just to try to make it easier to be human."

"I think the men in black may be minor telepaths," X said. "I think they may be altering potential troublemakers. A therapist I know told me that people who say they've met up with a group are often... never quite right afterward."

"I met some," Nereid said with a shudder, and started remembering like a nightmare. "For a little while afterward, I felt better. Or I thought I did. Everything was so clear. They gave me a ring. Every time I met them, they gave me a ring, and Sophie took it away from me. But after a couple of days, things weren't so clear any more, and my brain was like thick soup, and I'd feel even stupider than I used to in high school."

X reached over and put an arm around her shoulders. Nereid could feel herself shaking in the circle of that arm, but was so grateful for X's familiar warmth.

Renata's face had grown stern. She looked like an old woman, Nereid realized, though her body was young. "I can't play any more," she said. "I can't hide in my room. I didn't... I wouldn't face what was going on, but I've got to do what I can to... make it less horrible." She stood up, and her hands were clenched into fists.

"We're doing what we can," X said, also standing. "Or we'll try. I have friends who're trying."

Renata nodded sharply. "Once I know more, I'll get Sophie to bring us together again. Perhaps Lucid will be willing to bring in some of your friends, X."

"Will you come if we need to talk to you?" X asked.

"Tell Sophie," Renata said. "She knows how to get in touch."

Renata walked over to Sophie and laid a hand on the younger woman's shoulder. "Quit beating yourself up," she said quietly. "You can't help anyone that way." And then she vanished.

X sighed and said, "She's right, you know. We all need to work together in any way we can."

"Easy for her --" Sophie said, gesturing over her shoulder and upward violently "-- to say. She's not party to mass murder."

"You made an outstandingly shitty choice," X said, going to stand over Sophie, hands on hips. "I'm certainly not going to argue that you didn't. But you've got to find a way to try to make up for it now. It isn't like you're the first para to accidentally almost destroy the world."

Sophie snorted. "I could at least have done it more cleanly if I'd done it myself."

Nereid walked over to the two of them. "Yes, we all know how much better you'd be as a supervillain. You tell us all the time." She crouched down in front of Sophie and butted her forehead against her girlfriend's, looking up cross-eyed into Sophie's glasses. "But you're not, and I won't let you be, all right?"

Sophie almost smiled as she pulled back, shaking her head. "Puppydog eyes don't work at that range, dammit."

X smirked. "They do, though. From Pacifica, at least."

"That's her other damn superpower," Sophie said, standing and pulling Nereid up too. "Class 10 puppydog eyes. Let's eat, for fuck's sake."

wonder_city: (Default)
Why, yes, X DID figure something out last episode.

Ringed Round

Nereid walked into Sophie's lab, noting idly that the locks were engaged, but her special permissions got her through.

She pretty much immediately regretted having special permissions.

X was rampaging around the lab, yanking drawers out of the lab benches and stacking them on the benchtops, opening cabinets and rifling through them, pulling every closet door ajar and peering in. Sophie was standing very still in the midst of the chaos, head down.

Nereid had never seen or heard X so angry before.

Sophie said, quietly, "Please stop."

X whirled around, face red and contorted with fury. "If you won't tell me the truth, then I'll fucking well find the truth."

Sophie said, not raising her head, "Do you even know what you're looking for?"

X snarled, "Yes," and, after shoving a sliding door aside, added, "This."

X turned around, holding a plastic bin. Beyond, in the small closet, Nereid could see a small, sleek machine that hummed gently, and then spat something metallic out onto the floor.

The bin held what looked like hundreds of silver metal promise rings.

X plunged a hand into the bin and shook a handful of the things under Sophie's nose. "What. Is. THIS?"

Nereid said, finally, "What's going on?"

Both Sophie and X looked at her. X's jaw set. An expression of agony passed over Sophie's face.

After a silence, X said, "Your girlfriend is working for the alien invaders." X's hand opened and all the rings clattered onto the floor, ringing flatly and bouncing away from Sophie's boots.

Nereid's jaw worked but no voice came out.

"Please," Sophie said, covering her face with one hand, knocking her glasses off and onto the concrete floor, where the main lenses cracked and the frames broke in half at the nosepiece.

Nereid reflexively stepped forward and knelt to pick up the glasses. She stopped, her hand inches from the frames, but also from the scattered rings, and looked up at Sophie.

A tear dropped from between Sophie's fingers onto Nereid's hand. Nereid stared at it, feeling panicked. Sophie got sarcastic. Sophie got snarky. Sophie got angry. Sophie. Never. Cried.

X looked back at Sophie and in a voice whose anger had been replaced with pain, said, "Why?"

Sophie looked at X finally, her face red, eyes swollen, and said in a ragged voice, "Why else? They have Ruth."

X sighed and ran a hand through the perfect, sleek, black hair, tousling it perfectly. "Ruth wouldn't want this."

Sophie curled her lip and said, in what was clearly to Nereid a desperate attempt to regain some poise, "I have not my mother's scruples."

Nereid reached up and gripped Sophie's shirt hem in an attempt to hold onto that moment of sarcasm. She would have done anything for her own parents in the same situation, instantly and without a thought. Flo would yell at her later, but at least Flo would be there to yell.

"They said that if I didn't do it, they had others who would, and who might do it in return for Ruth's -- or someone else's -- death," Sophie said bitterly. "They have all the Gold Stars."

"How do you know?" X said. "How do you know they didn't lie?"

"Because I saw them," Sophie said. "The aliens met me in the middle of the desert -- at Area 51, as a matter of fact!" she added, her voice going high and strained, "and showed them all to me, let me run whatever tests I wanted to make sure I believed they were real. I couldn't wake her up, though I tried."

"They could've been messing with your head!" X said.

"Don't you think I thought of that?" Sophie shouted, gesturing vehemently. "I have been over and over this. I can't find Ruth anywhere in the known universe by any method I've tried except that one moment. I even tried calling Renata Scott to get her to telepathically hunt for her, but Renata is missing too! The aliens claim they're holding the Gold Stars in a dimensional pocket they control, and that's the only logical answer." Sophie's long, thin fingers tangled into her hair and pulled hard.

Nereid stood and put her arms around Sophie, pinning the anguished hands against her lover's skull with her own grip. "All right, we know now," Nereid said in the same tone she'd once used to soothe her panicked pet dog. "We know. Do we know everything?" She glanced at X. X gestured disgustedly and turned away.

Sophie pressed her face into Nereid's shoulder and let her hands fall to her sides. "I made the broadcast technology for them. They knew it was possible, they have a tech like it for themselves, but it wouldn't work with humans. The rings are the only thing I'm still making for them. They produce everything else. Main system. Transmitters. Repeaters, I'm guessing."

"What does it broadcast?" X said, back still turned.

Sophie exhaled, her breath hot on Nereid's neck, and Nereid held her tight. "They have a mentalist of some sort. I think it's an empath, but I don't know for sure. They wanted something that would transmit human psionic powers."

"And you built defenses on the Cosmics' compound and put everyone under house arrest here to protect them," X said, shoulders hunched.

"Yes," Sophie said, voice muffled in the fabric of Nereid's shirt. "It was the only concession I could get from them."

"You know what they're doing to people, don't you?" X said, turning to look at them.

Sophie just nodded, her nose rubbing against Nereid's collarbone.

X faced them and said in a resolute voice, "We're going to stop them. It. Everything."

Sophie said, "I can't help. They'll kill her."

Nereid said, meeting X's gaze, "But I can."

Sophie put her arms around Nereid finally and clung as if she would drown otherwise.

"I'll talk to Mr. Frost," Nereid said. "I'll explain. Get permission. Whatever I can do to help, X."

X nodded and went to the door.

Sophie looked up and said, "Who is going to stop them? They've got the Gold Stars, and the Guardians and all the other major teams are under the influence."

X looked back, handsome and sad and tragic, and said, "Some people they forgot about," and went out.

wonder_city: (Default)
My schedule has just gone to heck, but here I am, giving you another Wonder City just under the November wire. I hope you enjoy it!

Enter the Dragon

Nereid was surprised and pleased to open the front door of the Young Cosmics' headquarters to find X leaning indolently against the stair rail. X was wearing a hip-length double-breasted black wool coat against the spring chill, and also neatly creased grey trousers over long, slender black-and-white patent leather oxfords. X's hair was a little shorter these days than it had been when X and Nereid were first introduced by Brainchild, with a little more masculinity and a little less androgyny. Still, X was striking, handsome and beautiful at the same time, and always made Nereid's heart do a little pit-a-pat. Just a little.

"Hey," X said in a smoky tenor. "How's it going?"

Nereid smiled and stepped back from the door. "Not bad," she said, lying through her teeth because she was really feeling pretty stir-crazy, trapped in the headquarters.

X strolled into the headquarters and Nereid saw the line of tension across those admirable shoulders relax. There was something, Nereid had noticed, about their headquarters. It was palpably more comfortable, like someone turning off a white noise machine you didn't realize was running. It didn't stop her from hating being cooped up there -- the headquarters was not designed to be some sort of self-contained habitation. Sophie often described it as being built in "Soviet Brutal" style, a bizarre, ill-lit convolution in concrete and other materials designed to resist explosions and similar supervillain assaults.

"So," Nereid said, shutting the door and turning to lead X toward the flat she shared with Sophie, "what brings you to this part of town?"

"I came to ask you all for a favor," X began, but they turned the corner and ran smack into a knot of Cosmics.

Wire, Mercury, and Vector were clustered around a tall, tanned man with longish white hair that sported a heavy lock hanging dramatically over one eye, wearing an exquisitely tailored pale grey suit. Nereid had only seen the man that her team leaders called "Mr. Moneybags" a few times in her tenure with the Cosmics, but she knew him on sight anyway -- who could miss him, really?

"Ah, Nereid," he said in a low, faintly British drawl. "How are you, my jewel?"

Wire shot Nereid a frustrated glance that Nereid knew to interpret as, You have derailed him just when I thought we were getting somewhere, and then Wire exhaled hard enough to make her floaty blue forelock flip back across her otherwise closely-shorn head. Nereid smiled quickly and nodded. "Fine, sir," she said quickly, trying to sidle past them. Mercury, resplendently muscular in his tight black spandex outfit, at least, made way for her, and she thought, for a bare second, that she could get away.

"Mr. Moneybags" managed to intercept her, twining his way between Vector and Wire, who half-reached for his sleeve, but wisely withdrew her hand. He leaned against the wall in her path in a slightly predatory way and looked down at her from his always startling height. "Are you really well, though?" he pursued. "You looked a touch pale, my dear."

"I'm fine, sir," she repeated, then said, "Have you met X, sir? X, this is Michael Frost, the Cosmics' backer. Mr. Frost, this is X."

"Ah, yes, I recall you," Mr. Frost said, raising one pale eyebrow. "You have some interesting potential, you know."

"I know," X said with a tight smile. "It's a pleasure meeting you again."

Mr. Frost's attention was not long held by X, though. His icy blue gaze was turned back to Nereid before she could think of another distraction. "I don't want you becoming ill," he said.

"Sir--" Nereid clamped down on a moment of rage, bit down on a demand to be let out of confinement, and swallowed her unhappiness, giving herself quite a stomachache. She was saved from answering by her usual rescuer.

"Hello, Michael," Sophie said, somehow appearing at Nereid's elbow. "I was wondering when you'd turn up."

Mr. Frost straightened up to loom from his full height and turned to face Sophie. His expression didn't change much at all, something that had always creeped Nereid out about him. "Brainchild," he said. "Thank you for pulling them out of an untenable situation. Again." His gaze darted to Mercury in particular, and Nereid had the rare pleasure of seeing their boisterous, cocky leader wilt.

"That's my job," Sophie said, taking Nereid's arm. "Isn't it?"

"I wish you had managed the press as well," he said.

"The press isn't amenable to my style of prediction right now," she said, also taking X's arm. "Logic doesn't work very well in the current climate."

His lips compressed. Sophie's face was her most indestructable mask of cool cynicism, and the extra lenses of her glasses were fanned down over one side of her face, which Nereid always found unsettling.

Mr. Frost turned on Mercury, Wire, and Vector with cool precision. "I will make myself clear now," he said in a low, penetrating voice. "My team will not become involved in any long-term situations that will bring the gaze of the government or media down on it. These short-term emergency actions are quite enough, and I understand that it would be... irresponsible for any hero group to fail to respond to such emergencies. But there will be no pursuit of nemeses, no trips to space, nothing of the sort, and you will always respond to even small emergencies with a full team, unless waiting would endanger lives, you understand?"

Wire and Mercury said, reflexively, "Yes, sir," at the same moment.

Sophie chose this moment to silently draw Nereid and X down the hall and around the next corner into the flat.

They all exhaled simultaneously when the door of the flat was shut.

"That was about the university thing, wasn't it?" X said.

"Yeah," Sophie said, pushing off from the door and moving into the kitchen. "And more, probably, but it's hard to tell with him."

"I can never tell anything with him," Nereid said.

Sophie shrugged and said, "Humans find it hard to read Reptilian-Americans. Want a drink, X?"

"Sure," X said, sitting on an arm of the sofa.

Nereid stopped and stared at Sophie. "He's a Reptilian-American? Why didn't you tell me?"

Sophie gave her a slightly disbelieving look, and Nereid knew instantly she'd said something stupid, and could almost say, word for word, what came out of Sophie's mouth next. "Would it have made a difference in how you interacted with him?"

Nereid sighed explosively and moved around the room, turning on more lights. "No," she said, then added, in a brighter tone to X, "You said you came to ask us a favor?"

X grimaced and glanced toward the door. "I was," X sighed, "but I think that point is moot."

"Oh, was it something Mr. Frost just forbade us to do?" Nereid said, and she could feel a whole vista of hope of getting out of the building opening up before her.

"Probably," X said with an air of gloom.

Sophie brought X a tumbler of tawny liquid and said, "No."

X nodded and sipped the drink.

"You don't even know what it is yet!" Nereid protested.

"I'm not going to buck Michael on anything he just said," Sophie said, handing Nereid a similar glass of alcohol, "because he's right. Completely. Fucking. Right. This team mostly needs its nuts pulled out of the fire, and mostly by thee and me, sweetheart."

"There's something really wrong out there and I'm sick of doing nothing," Nereid started.

"Nereid, it's fine," X said mildly. "Sophie knows her stuff here."

Nereid caught some sort of look between X and Sophie, something sharp from X and something almost... guilty? from Sophie. Looking back and forth between them, she said, "What?"

X looked at her, one elegant eyebrow raised. "She knows something she isn't telling us, isn't she?"

Nereid blinked. She'd thought it was all in her own head, but if X had seen it too... "I've... thought so," Nereid said slowly.

Sophie raised her chin in a defiant look.

X considered her gravely, then shrugged. "I know you too well to try to press you. You'd rather make something up than tell us if we do."

Nereid looked down into her glass, then looked back up and said, "I trust you, Sophie."

The defiant look shattered with sudden violence and a cry that sent Sophie fleeing to the bathroom. Nereid looked at X, alarmed.

X nodded and shrugged. "She'll tell us when she can." One corner of X's rather perfect mouth curled up in a wry smile. "Or when we can squeeze it out of her."

wonder_city: (Default)
Storm Warning

"No, no, no, no, no, no, no," Sophie said, clutching her head. "They didn't wait for me?"

"No," Nereid said, watching her girlfriend worriedly. "It was a big thing. Lots of people involved. All the police who'd gone in went silent, and no one knew exactly what was happening."

"But you could plainly see it was Phil the Pheromoaner," Sophie said, gesturing angrily to the big screen that showed an aerial still photo of a dirty-blond man in his thirties, sitting partly unclothed on the front steps of the Wonder City University library, surrounded by mostly-unclothed college women. She scowled. "And it looks like he found a power booster somewhere."

Nereid blinked. "I don't know this guy."

Sophie sighed and rubbed her face. "That's because he's been in jail. He's a serial rapist. The worst sort of rapist: the sort where circumstances convince juries that his victims are consenting. His para power is producing roofie-like pheromones. His victims lose most of their inhibitions and willpower."

Nereid's eyes got big. She clenched her jaw and firmly put aside a sick memory of her very bad relationship of two years before, focusing on the screen. "So how many people can he usually do that to?"

Sophie grimaced. "That's the thing: he's a Class 2 or 3 at best, only able to really affect a single person at any given time. He's got something bigger going on here. I wish there weren't so damn many trees in the quad so we could see just how many people there are. Who did you say went in?"

"Mercury, Wire, Vector, and Mercury's new boyfriend, that guy Gemini? The one who can multiply his extremities or something?"

Nereid glanced at Sophie's face, and the half-appalled, half-intrigued look she saw there brought images to mind that made her blush furiously.

Sophie coughed, then said, "You mean they didn't even call in Citizen Pain? The one person who is likely to be immune to this?"

"They signaled him, just like they signaled you," Nereid said.

Just then, as if summoned, Citizen Pain burst into the room, his long white hair romantically windblown, beautifully sculpted face distressed. Nereid regretted, for just a second, that he "wasn't attracted to biological lifeforms." "Indeed, I have only just received the signal!" he exclaimed. "What is the matter, Brainchild?"

Sophie heaved a massive sigh. "Oh, the team just went in without either of their two heavy hitters OR their brain."

"I'm not allowed out, you told them," Nereid said in a small voice. "And they didn't think it would be that difficult."

"I know, I know," Sophie said, rubbing the bridge of her prominent nose. "But that's because Mercury really takes this whole 'hotheaded impulsive leader' schtick too seriously."

"I do indeed agree with you there, Brainchild," Citizen Pain said, resettling his white-and-black uniform tunic on his shoulders. "I wish that he would step down from his position and allow someone else to try leading for a change. Indeed I do."

"Like you, Pay?" Sophie said with a grin. "I can't help but think you'd be better at it than he is."

"I was thinking of you, in fact, Brainchild," he said seriously.

"Thanks, that's very flattering, Pay," Sophie said, and Nereid could see that had flustered her a bit. "Let's talk about it later. While we talk, our teammates are most likely getting naked."

"Oh! You don't really think so, do you?" Nereid said, chewing her lower lip. "Mercury thought he could run fast enough to get to him and stop him."

"Mercury still has to breathe while he runs," Sophie said, turning to the screen and trying to request another aerial shot from the police flyer. "What Mercury actually thinks is that Phil's roofies only work on women. And he would be wrong." An error message rolled across the screen, asserting that the flyer was busy at this time. She cursed.

Nereid said, "Should we go then?"

"Yes," Sophie said, turning to her two eager minions and stalking past them into the elevator. They followed her. "Nereid, you'll need to stay in water form until I tell you it's safe to turn back. Pay, I'll need you to patch into Cosmic Flyer 2 and give me flyover visuals."

"I will indeed be pleased to do so," Pay said, and when the elevator disgorged them onto the flight deck, he immediately went to the flyer's external computer port and pushed his fingers into the custom dock Sophie had built for him. The secondary flyer's engines came online immediately and Nereid could see the systems inside beginning their diagnostics, screens flickering information faster than anyone but Pay or Brainchild could process.

"Wait here while I get my containment suit," Sophie said, and she trotted into her armory.

Nereid said to Pay, "Where were you when they signaled? They got a message that your receiver was out of range."

"I was not out of range," Pay said, removing his hand from the port and sliding the port cover into place. He turned tragic blue eyes toward her. "Indeed, I was only in a place that does not get good reception. I was seeking to speak to my boyfriend."

"Oh, Pay," Nereid said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "But he broke up with you months ago!"

"I know," Pay said, and his lower lip quivered. "But I found that I desired nothing more than to hear him call me a 'toy boy' again." He rubbed at his eyes, which were, human-like, producing some tears. "I found, indeed, that Mr. Hammer seems to have forgotten who I am."

Nereid thought about that, and then thought about the fact that when she called Megan and asked to talk to Simon a month ago, Megan had chided her, reminding her that Simon "didn't do that any more," and yesterday had spoken as though Simon were no more than her pet dog. Sophie was right that something really bizarre was going on out there. "Oh, Pay," she said again, hugging him. "I'm sure he hasn't forgotten you."

Sophie emerged from the armory at that point, dressed in her sleek humanoid-mecha-armor, which was stylishly painted in dark blue and gold. Her apparently-blank faceplate was still open, revealing her face. "Come on, you two, let's move along. Nereid, what did I tell you?"

"Oh, right," Nereid said, and shifted into her water form. It was still a weird experience, this new trick of hers, but she tried very hard not to wonder how she continued to think if her brain had turned to water.

The roof opened and Pay rose up into the sky. Sophie took the pilot's seat while Nereid carefully squished into a passenger seat.

"Cosmic 2, you have clearance for your flight plan," a bored woman's voice said from the speaker. "Please to not deviate more than 10% from your plot except for evasive maneuvers without clearance."

"Affirmative, Flight Control," Sophie said into the microphone. She switched to internal mic and said, "Thanks for filing the plan, Pay."

Since he was wirelessly patched into the flyer's systems, he responded, via speaker, "I am glad indeed to be of service."

The flyer, under Sophie's expert guidance, rose up smoothly, pivoted to face the Wonder City University campus, and, clearing the top of the nearest skyscraper, moved forward.

"What is the plan, Brainchild?" Pay said, easily keeping pace with the flyer.

Sophie pursed her lips in thought for a moment, then said, "You're gonna fly over and give us aerial visuals. Then Nereid is going to bring in a full-on monsoon for the quad and anywhere else we see activity."

"That's going to mess up weather patterns for weeks," Nereid said, trying to facepalm and forgetting that she was in water form. There was a splash as her "hand" passed through her "forehead" and out the back of her "head". GOD that was WEIRD.

"Tough shit," Sophie said. "That's what paras do: mess stuff up." There was a strange, strained, bitter tone to her voice, but Nereid only noted it and didn't pursue it. "While she's washing people down and knocking as much pheromone out of the air as possible, Pay, you're going to go in and deck the sucker. Try not to hurt anyone else in doing it; I'm hoping the rain will break up some of the scrum so he won't have anyone to hide behind. I'll come in with a containment unit for him."

"Visuals commencing," Pay said, and Sophie put the screen up.

The entire quad was full of naked or mostly-naked humans engaging in acts not normally seen in public. Nereid immediately looked away, feeling sick, and was sure she'd be blushing if she currently had blood or skin. Sophie's face turned red with something other than embarrassment as she stared at the screen.

"A lot of people worked hard for almost four years to put that waste of flesh behind bars," Sophie said in a low voice. "It took a shitload of work to get a jury that would agree to put him away. And now someone has let him out and taken off his power repressor. In fact, someone may have given him a power enhancer of some sort." She stared a moment longer, then said, "I may need to invent something that will cut his dick off from the inside out."

"You shouldn't joke about that," Nereid said.

"Who's joking?" Sophie said, cocking her head to the side as she watched the visuals updating. "Besides, I have to either laugh or explode from homicidal rage at this point. Castration jokes are the least of it." She snorted. "Though I guess guys wouldn't agree with me."

"I find castration jokes somewhat uncomfortable," Pay said over the loudspeaker, "even though my apparatus is technically detachable."

"Pay!" Nereid said, clapping her hands over her ears with a useless sploosh. "I didn't want to know that!"

"Why not?" Pay said, and Nereid suspected that he was only playing innocent this time. It had taken her a while to discover that her android friend actually could have a wicked sense of humor. "Indeed, I think it is a distinct perk of my design. I have, in fact, had my apparatus remodeled several times for the pleasure of my partners..." And he was obviously going along with Sophie's laugh-or-cry idea.

"PLEASE tell me that you weren't involved in the design," Nereid exclaimed, letting her hands dissolve and turning to Sophie.

"Of course I was," said Sophie, adjusting the visual display. "Do you think Pay would trust anyone else with his apparatus?"

Nereid said plaintively, "I don't know whether to count that as you cheating on me or not."

Sophie snorted. "Honey, there are people who do that for a living."

"There are?" Nereid said, trying to imagine a market for redesigning... apparatus.

"They're either called 'surgeons'," Sophie said, giving her a sly glance, "or 'toy designers'."

"Indeed," Pay said, "I count myself extremely fortunate that I can modify my apparatus in ways not normally available to biological lifeforms."

"Nooooooo lalalalalalala!" Nereid bellowed.

"All right, y'all," Sophie said, absently patting at Nereid's watery knee, "I think I've got a grasp on the scope of this thing." She picked up an electronic stylus and drew several quick lines on the screen map of the university and environs. "Nereid, start bringing in the water over this space."

"I need radar," Nereid said.

"Right," Sophie said, flipping the appropriate switch. "Pay, are you experiencing any abnormalities in your biomechanical systems that could be Phil's roofies?"

"Negative, Brainchild," Pay said. "Indeed, I am fully functional."

"Yes, you are, indeed," Sophie muttered under her breath.

Nereid concentrated on the radar screen, the map, and the environment beyond. She could certainly feel everything that was going on in the atmosphere -- she could sense where their own flight disturbed water vapor, and she could even sense approximately where Pay was, but she had only a vague connection between what she could feel and actual geography if she wasn't in the middle of things.

And she really didn't want to be in the middle of those things.

"Oh, there's Vector," Sophie said.

Nereid glanced at the screen without thinking, and her attention was arrested. "Wait, is that a girl she's with?" she said.

"Oh, yeah," Sophie said dismissively. "I know she says she's our 'token straight' but she so isn't. We don't have a token straight."

Nereid blinked at the screen and said, "Huh," deciding to think about it later. She went back to cloudgathering.

"I don't see Mercury," Sophie said. "I can only hope he's found someone invulnerable."

Nereid tried to do a mental "lalalala" to stop thinking, but she gave in and said, "Do you think Gemini can really multiply his... his..."

"Apparatus?" Sophie said with a wicked grin. "I don't know, why don't you ask him?"

Nereid would have blushed again, she was sure, and turned back to the radar. The water vapor began to show as blue on the radar, then green, and Nereid knew that it would begin raining soon on most of the university campus. Now she redoubled her efforts to pull together water vapor, trying not to carelessly evaporate reservoirs and ponds as she had sometimes done when pressed for time.

The radar slowly, slowly turned yellow and orange, and finally Sophie said from behind her faceplate, "That's enough, Pacifica."

Nereid looked out the windscreen at the dense downpour that had engulfed the campus. Apparently, the flyer had landed while she was working. She couldn't actually see through the rain (though then she was left wondering how she was "seeing" at all since everything was water, etc).

Pay's voice came over the loudspeaker. "I have obtained my target, Brainchild." He paused. "I am afraid I may have damaged him a little."

"I'll be there in a moment with the containment unit," Sophie said. "Do I need a backboard?"

Pay made a thoughtful noise. "Perhaps. I believe his jaw is broken, so that may be a wise precaution, indeed."

"On my way," Sophie said. "Nereid, stay in here, no matter what. And is there anything you can do about the temperature? It only just occurred to me that having a lot of wet, naked people in the springtime is kind of a prescription for hypothermia."

Nereid gave Sophie's faceplate a pained look. "I'll... try. But heating is mostly transfer from the sun or an air mass."

"Try, that's all I ask. And stay here," Sophie said, before departing with the required emergency equipment.

Nereid stared at the rain, feeling the water bouncing off Sophie's suit, sensing all the people in the quad near them starting to stand and move around. She didn't want to see them, the people who had been violated during this... thing that had happened to them. She didn't want to think about them too much, but couldn't help it. Could the university's counseling program cope with this? Did they even have a plan for dealing with a supervillain attack like this one? How many of them had considered themselves virgins? Would any of them have to deal with family repercussions because of it? How many of them had been raped before and would have nightmares for weeks or months? What about pregnancy?

She shook her head in a vain attempt to clear it, as the last thoughts were too close to home, and turned her powers toward trying to warm the area.

Sophie and Pay came in, dripping water, and carrying a transparent capsule between them. The semiconscious man inside was strapped to a backboard with his neck efficiently immobilized. The left side of his face was starting to swell and a bruise over one eye was darkening rapidly. He was one of those men who ooze unattractiveness, skinny and pallid and mean-looking.

"Keep up the rain for a bit longer," Sophie said, lifting her faceplate. "There's still going to be some around where he was holding court."

"Brainchild, you said to look for anything odd. In addition to that," Pay said, nodding to a black collar with a canister attached to it that Sophie was idly bouncing in her hand, "he was wearing this ring." Pay said, holding up something that looked very much like the ring Nereid had been given the week before. "Indeed, this looks familiar."

"Crap," Sophie said, taking it from him and shoving it into one of her many armor compartments.

"Sophie, was that...?" Nereid began, but Sophie cut her off with a gesture.

"We'll talk about it later," Sophie said.

Phil the Pheromoaner made a face at them and paid for it in pain, his yelp resounding out of the containment unit. Sophie raised an eyebrow and said, "Pay, please take him to Fort Wilson. They have holding cells for his type there."

"Indeed, Brainchild," Pay said, taking a firmer grip on the man's container. "What will you do?"

"I'm going to go back out and find our teammates," Sophie said with a sigh, flipping her faceplate back down and tucking the collar into another armor compartment. "And their costumes."


Author's Note:

In case you're wondering, yes, I do have issues with characters who use pheromones to convince people to have sex, a la Marvel's Starfox, the Purple Man, and the Mandrill, as well as other characters. And while the whole sexual assault thing is sometimes explored (as with Starfox), mostly it's passed off as being just another power effect. What if one has to actually deal with the aftermath?

Don't forget to vote for Wonder City Stories at Top Webfiction!


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Wonder City Stories

June 2017

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