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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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."
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Defying Gravity

Suzanne Feldstein was just putting her book and StarLeaf into her bag on top of her blue cotton blanket and green cardigan when her StarPhone buzzed in her pocket.

Hey you, texted Simon, bringing, as always, a smile to her face.

Hi yourself, she replied.
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These characters did NOT want to behave. Finally overcame more than a month of writer's block. Perhaps the thaw helped.

I Want to Believe

"Thank you for agreeing to meet me," Suzanne said, determined to keep her poise no matter how much she wanted to grovel. She'd worn her favorite suit, the one that made her feel best, a navy blue number with slacks that actually looked good on her and the mandarin-collared jacket that fit perfectly over her chest. It made her feel a decade younger. She needed that right now.

Simon had a fresh clipper cut and had clearly neatened his Van Dyke, plus he was wearing a sportscoat and dress shirt over black jeans, so Suzanne guessed he was feeling as unhappy about this meeting as she was. He unfolded the napkin into his lap and said, "I… no problem."

Suzanne fiddled with the silverware. She'd asked him to meet her at a restaurant she found written down in last year's daily planner as one they wanted to try together. Now they were there, all she could think was, What was I thinking? He's young enough to be my son!

The server arrived to distribute water into their glasses and ask if they had any questions about the menu. This prompted them both to actually pick up their menus and study them.

The next awkward moment was when they both had put their menus back down and were waiting for the server to return for their order. Suzanne was just thinking, This was a terrible mistake, when Simon said, straightening his tinted glasses on his nose, "I'm sorry, I really don't know what to say right now."

Suzanne twisted the corner of her napkin. "Neither do I. I mean, I thought of a lot of things I could say." She took a deep breath and looked at him. "The most important one is: I'm sorry."

He smiled at her, sadly and sweetly, and her stomach fluttered at a happy rushing memory that bypassed whatever blocks were inside her head. He said, "Women keep apologizing to me these days. I don't know what that says about me."

She laughed a little. "More than just me? The aliens must've really had it in for you."

He shrugged. "I don't know what I ever did to them. I understand their encounter suits look like old upright Hoovers, though. Maybe it was because I always hated vacuuming."

When Suzanne smiled at that, he smiled back, and that smile warmed her in ways she didn't think she could be warm. That gave her a little courage to say, by way of explanation, "I have to tell you that my memory is really… spotty. It's like someone tried to scratch you out of my head."

"That sounds painful," Simon said.

"It is sometimes," she said. "Like right now."

He looked away and was about to say something when the damned server came back for their orders. Suzanne ordered something and immediately failed to remember what she'd ordered. At least dinner would be a surprise. Nothing else about how awkward and horrible this was becoming was a surprise.

When the server was gone, Simon said, looking down at his hands, "I have to tell you that… I'm still really angry. I understand that it wasn't your fault. I know it wasn't your fault. I don't know why I can forgive one of my closest friends for forgetting I was human, but I can't stop being angry at you for forgetting I existed at all."

Suzanne wanted to ask about the friend and what happened there, but she knew the rest of it was the important bit, no matter how hard it was to hear. "I'm sorry."

He grimaced. "It's my issue, really, honestly. I have to figure out how to work through it. Because I do… I think… still love you."

That made her want to cry, reached right back into her lizard brain and dragged tears stinging into her eyes. She looked away, blinking hard, trying to get the stinging to stop. "I think I still love you, too, but other parts of me feel like I hardly know you."

"I know," he said sadly, and he reached across the table for her hand.

They sat like that for a while, his warm hand enclosing hers.

"Ira said," she began when she thought she had mastered the tears that were trying to choke her, "that he'd never seen me happier than when I was with you."

Simon nearly beamed. "I'm glad he felt that way. I… I was really happy with you too. I was… I'd started to think about maybe asking you to marry me."

She couldn't stop the tears this time, and they just spilled over, fast and big, dripping off her chin onto the dark skin of his hand. With her free hand, she caught up her napkin and covered her face. He didn't let go of her hand, but gripped her even tighter.

He had to let go when their dinners arrived, and she had managed to pull herself together by then, though she suspected her nose was bright red. Dinner was a perfectly workmanlike General Tso's Chicken, though the vegetables were markedly tasty. There was a bottle of white wine with dinner that was probably Simon's idea. She wasn't sure she should be drinking—one of the teetotaller ideas that had been packed into her head alongside the horrible anti-sex stuff—but maybe it would make things easier.

Eventually, she said, as casually as she could, "Maybe we could… start this over? Try to get to know each other again? Because I… I expect I've changed from… how you remember me."

There was a long terrifying silence as he ate and drank thoughtfully. Finally, he said, "We can try, but I, um… I kind of have someone now. She was the person who was there for me when everyone else got mindfucked. She was the one who took care of me when the mindfucking was getting to me. I love her and I'm not going to dump her because things might work out again with you."

Suzanne's stomach crashed into the ground, destroying her appetite entirely. That was not something she'd expected him to say. Of course he wasn't waiting around for an old lady like you! she thought.

He reached over and took her hand again, despite the plates and other impediments. He took his glasses off with his other hand and looked at her with his compelling yellow eyes. "This doesn't mean I don't want to try. I'm not involved in an exclusive relationship with her. She's had another lover for the last several months. What I'm saying is that if you can accept that we're not monogamous, I'm willing to try again with you."

Suzanne stared at him, distracted by his gaze, by barely surfacing memories of looking into his eyes in more intimate moments than this, and didn't understand what he'd said for a few minutes. Then she realized what he'd just said.

"I… I don't know whether I can do that," she said. "I guess I don't understand how that would work."

He squeezed her hand and released her, both with his gaze and his grip, returning to finishing his dinner. "Once upon a time, a long time ago," he said, "there was a lady who wasn't sure she could deal with her boyfriend telling her he was trans." He looked up, and this time, he was the one with tears in his eyes. "But she went away and did research and came back and apologized and wanted to try. And it worked. I really want to try again with you, Suzanne. But I need you to want to try."

She stared at him for a long moment and said, "I want to try too, Simon."

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

Collateral Damage

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

"You're home?" she said.

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

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

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

She blinked. "Legal…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes," he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, shit," she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Of course," Megan said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Well, that sucks," Simon said finally.

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

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

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

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

"I'm sorry…"

"No, I'm sorry…"

"I was so terrified…"

"I missed you so much…"

"Everything hurt all the time…"

"When you didn't say anything after…"

"But you were out all the time…"

"I feel so alone…"

"I can't…"

"I love you."

"I love you too."

"God, we're dorks."

"Yeah, but we're sexy dorks."

"I am SO not sexy right now."

"Well, me either."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Today is the first day this week I've had some time to put this posting together. I hope you're enjoying a long weekend however you choose to enjoy it.

People Couldn't Believe What I'd Become

Angelica leaned her aching head back against the couch, stared at the ceiling through the tinted computer glasses that helped reduce the visual noise of her new power, and listened to her friends amble around, getting drinks and snacks from the kitchen. As they chatted with each other, she thought about how she was going to do this.

She became aware of an expectant silence and looked around. Kit was perched on a kitchen stool, a bottle of soda held in both hands between his knees. Kendis was settled in the chair she found easiest to get out of, her crutches propped in the corner, and her glass of soda water on the end table next to her. Simon was folded into the deepest armchair, his jeans-clad legs tucked up tailor style. They all watched her with a vaguely inquiring air.

"You may all be wondering why I asked you here today," Angelica said, not intending a joke, but covering her face as soon as the line was out of her mouth. "I mean… oh, hell. All right, I have something I need to tell you. And I need you to swear on whatever you hold dearest that this doesn't leave this room."

Simon and Kendis nodded, giving her looks that said, almost identically, "What do you take me for?" and Kit made all the motions that go with the "cross my heart and hope to die" promise.

"Okay," Angelica said, and she narrowly avoided biting one of her freshly manicured nails. "Okay. This is… really stupid, actually. But huge. And… well, shit, I guess I have Jane Liberty's power."

There was a silence. Then Simon said, in a small voice, "Which power?"

"The main one! The big kahuna!" Angelica exclaimed. "The one that made all the others possible. Shit, I don't even have words to describe it. Like, I can see everything alive. Every. Fucking. Thing. I guess, eventually, I'll be able to figure out what bits I'm seeing are powers, and what bits are normal. I… already know what cancer looks like." She shuddered. "I might be able to figure out how to change them. Powers. Genes. That sort of thing."

"You mean," Kendis said, picking her words carefully, "that Jane wasn't always superstrong, invulnerable, shit like that? That this one power made it all possible?"

"Yeah," Angelica said. "Yeah, that's what I mean."

"And she gave it to you," Kendis said.

"Like she made your power more powerful, yeah," Angelica said.

"Shiiiiiiiit," Kendis breathed.

"Yeah," Angelica said, letting a little of her misery out in an exhausted sigh.

"You can see and manipulate genes?" Simon said thoughtfully.

Angelica nodded, and when his face brightened, she said, "I've already thought about it, dude. Eventually, maybe, I can give you a Y chromosome in every cell. Someday I might be able to give myself a second X chromosome. Maybe we can just swap. I don't know. I kind of think I probably can't. Even Jane's superpower can't work miracles."

Kendis said, "And anyway, even if you two swap chromosomes, you've still got the outside junk to deal with."

Simon's shoulders sagged. "I know, I know."

"You could remove the power from yourself," Kit said. "Just delete it."

"If I knew how to spot it, I suppose I could," Angelica said, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Maybe. I wonder if I would remove my own ability to edit it before I could delete the power entirely. I could end up stuck with the vision, for instance, and no way to get rid of it. I can't believe it's only a single gene thing. From the reading I've done, no paranormal ability is a single gene mutation."

"You know better than I do," Kit said with a smile and a shrug. "Just an idea."

"No, it's a good one," Angelica said.

They sat in silence for a while.

"Anyway," Kendis said, "you'd never forgive yourself for getting rid of the power."

"What?" Angelica said.

"It's like my power," Kendis said, tapping the side of her own head. "I can't give it up. I couldn't at this point. I couldn't ask Jane to knock it back down. Because I do too fucking much good with it. I make people happier just by existing in their space. Who could give that up?"

"As long as no one really figures out it's you," Simon said. "Think of the Plum Blossom case."

"That the chick they chopped up and grew clones of?" Kendis said. She shivered. "Shit, thanks, Simon. I hadn't thought of that."

"You met her," Angelica said absently. "That was Madeline."

Kendis stared at her and said, "Wut."

Simon said, "Yeah."

Kendis looked freaked out and kind of ill; Angelica felt bad for having sprung that on her. One does not meet people who were at the center of a gigantic military atrocity every day.

Kendis finally shook her head as if to clear it. "Anyway. My point was: how can you… I mean, 'one', really… refuse a power that has so much potential?"

"I guess one would have to find a way to pass it on to someone who wanted it," Angelica said with a grimace. "Jane said it had to go on. I guess she felt pretty strongly about it."

"Why you, though?" Simon said.

Angelica shook her head and shrugged. "She said that maybe because I was a biologist, I could figure out how to do things, like cure cancer, that she never could. Really fixated on cancer. I guess 'cause she was dying of it right then."

"Is that what happened?" Kendis said. "I figured her heart just gave out. She was pretty old. Eighty-six the obit said?"

"No," Angelica said, rubbing the bridge of her nose again and the area between her eyebrows, hoping to relieve the headache. "Definitely cancer." She remembered the scene again, for the umpteenth time, and finally said aloud, "Lady J was asking her to 'stop using Maddy's power.'" She turned a baffled look on Simon, their resident para historian.

Simon scowled and put his chin on his fists, elbows on knees. "I think one reason the Army decided on Operation Plum Blossom was because they tried… kind of… giving some of their recruits infusions of Madeline's blood or something. Anyway, the research showed that if you weren't born with her power, use of the power would make things grow that shouldn't."

"Like cancer," Angelica said.

"Like cancer," Simon said.

"Why was she using Madeline's power?" Kendis said.

"For the same reason she was using yours, I think," Angelica said.

"She told me it was slowly helping fix the holes in her head," Kit said, interrupting Kendis' outraged outburst. "Or something like that."

Kendis settled back into cynical silence with a snort.

"Anyway," Angelica said. "Jane told me not to tell anyone until I knew what I was doing. But I can't do that."

"She was probably thinking of Plum Blossom too," Kendis muttered.

"Probably," Simon said. "Don't worry, no one will hear about it from me."

"Or me," Kendis said.

"No one smart believes me anyway," Kit said with a grin.

"Also, if there's anything I can do to help you figure it out," Simon said, "I used to help people figure their powers out all the time when I was in high school."

"Thanks," Angelica said, sunk in a brown study. Then she shook her head and pulled herself up out of it. "No, really, thank you."

"We could make you a costume," Kendis said. "With all the stars and shit."

"You should have a code name ready," Simon said. "Just in case you need to anonymize yourself quickly."

Angelica didn't want to admit she'd already been thinking about that. She didn't want to be in spandex, would never be in spandex like Jane had been. But… "I already know that," she finally said.

"Oh?" Kendis said. Kit and Simon both perked up with interest.

"Of course I do," Angelica said, with a little more confidence and her first smile of the whole conversation. "I can't be anything other than… Libertad, right?"

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Sorry for the late-in-the-week posting, but this one was a hard episode to write for various reasons. (Jane's death was hard to write, but it was one of the first episodes I wrote when I started this volume, continuously editing and revising as I got closer to it.) Hope you enjoy the longest ep we've had in a few weeks.

This Neighborhood Has Gone to the Dogs

Tinkermel and Tizemt brought a levitating gurney up from the lab and a blanket, and helped Lady Justice and Madame Destiny arrange Jane's body on it.

Angelica looked up at one point during this process, after the brief and lovely taking-down of Pastor Al. Apparently living things are just really fucking around with themselves constantly, because she kept getting dizzy on her new vision/sense/whatever the hell it was Jane had thrust upon her. The gravel was restful by comparison—still teeming with tiny life, but not as… busy as human bodies.

"I brought a stasis field too," Tizemt said. "Since we don't know how long it will be before we can get her, um, somewhere appropriate."

"She's going nowhere," Lady Justice said with a grim vehemence that startled Angelica into looking up again.

Angelica and Tinkermel traded glances (she was grateful she could see his face through the haze of !!LIFE!!). Tizemt nodded. "Why don't we go into the house?" she said.

A sudden panic seized her. She was heartbroken and devastated, and felt like she should help comfort Jane's oldest friend. But every time she looked at people, the rage at what Jane had done to her welled up. Jane had been really fucking vehement about her not telling anyone until she knew what she was doing. If she went into that house, it would all come out, will she or nil she.

Her brain flailed around for something else to do, and Angelica suddenly realized there were riots in her neighborhood, and her grandmother was right in the middle of it all.

"Watson?" she said, when Watson had stuffed her cell phone into her pocket. "Can you take me to my neighborhood?"

Watson and X stared at her for a moment, blankly, then glanced after the little trail of people going into the house.

X said, "We can turn Aloysius over to the cops."

Watson said, "If we can find any that are actual cops, as opposed to paramilitary troops."

X grimaced. "That's what I like about you, Watson: your unstoppable optimism."

Angelica summoned a smile, still looking at them despite the dizzying constant shift of their bodies, and said, "Guys? I just want to see my grandmother."

Watson and X swung into the Divine Sarah, and Angelica joined them. She spent a lot of time staring at the garnet-carpeted floor or walls. The Divine Sarah might have a personality all her own, and be older than either Angelica or X, but she wasn't ALIVE in the way Angelica's new power recognized.

It was a long, brutal drive across town as the sun set and darkness slid in over the city. Some areas were clearly without power, as people sat out on stoops with flashlights and candles and maybe weapons in complete darkness. Something was burning off to the east, possibly down by the river. Masses of people surged across streets from time to time, causing Watson to jam on the brakes (and Angelica always regretted looking up at those moments—LIFE!!!111!!!). Men in black ran pell-mell away from baseball-bat-wielding middle-aged white women. (Okay, she didn't regret looking up for that one.) A group of super-types in full colorful spandex ("Supervillains. They're called The Bloggers," Watson said. "You're shittin' me," Angelica said. "I wish I were," Watson replied.) strolled slowly down the street after a panicking trio of men in black, and Watson chose another street to take.

The drive that was normally 30 minutes took three teeth-grinding, stop-starting, nerve-frazzling hours.

(Somewhere in there, they did, in fact, manage to find actual real Wonder City police and offloaded the swollen-faced Aloysius to them. Watson suggested that they fingerprint and book him while he was unconscious, as he was Faerie-touched, which made them just get on the horn with an urgent request for the Equestrian. As Watson drove the Divine Sarah away, she was smiling grimly.)

The power was out in Angelica's neighborhood, but little knots of people were standing around on street corners with 55-gallon drums that held fires, like it was the dead of winter instead of midsummer. Her stomach clenched when she saw that the groups around these fires were not her friends and neighbors, but little masses of armed white men with appalling emblems tattooed on various parts of them (like their shaved heads). One group pushed off from their "guardpost" and swaggered toward the Divine Sarah, assault rifles lazily resting on their arms.

Watson slowed to a drift as one of them walked in front of the van, and shook her head at the gestured command to roll her window down. Angelica felt unspeakably relieved that Watson's "soft butch" persona did not include so much macha as to try to talk her way past a bunch of armed racist fuckheads.

Angelica noticed that one of the guys with a gun in front of the van had something going on inside him that looked like what happened to Jane, only much smaller and less terrifyingly active. She allowed herself a tiny vindictive grimace and tried not to think about it too much right now.

The guns erected into full assault mode, and one of the men shouted, "Roll the fuckin' window down."

Watson, already humming like a struck guitar string, ran her gaze along the line. Her hands tensed on the wheel, her right thigh tightened slightly. Angelica started to slide down to the floor.

Just then two men were taken down by huge golden streaks from the darkness. The blurs of motion slowed enough for Angelica to see the glinting yellow eyes of Simon's wolf form, and to guess that the other was Ivy. The men yelled, the men around them yelled, guns slewed around wildly…

… And then a tsunami of yelping, growling golden-brown bodies poured into the scene. Half the men went down with bloodcurdling shrieks, and the other half turned and ran. The tide of lean, brown, hungry canines followed them. The men who went under weren't there when the canine-line retreated.

A few beats later, absurdly, a tiny brown dog ran through the headlights after the horde, yipping excitedly.

The three of them sat there, staring, for a long moment, before X said, "What the fuck?"

The two wolves flashed into their human forms, and Angelica clapped a hand over her mouth in a moment of terrifying vertigo. The act of transformation changed everything about their bodies in a few seconds.

After getting control of her stomach back, Angelica had to stifle her slightly hysterical laughter at Simon wearing nothing but tiny black briefs, and Ivy wearing a pair of black shorts and a bikini top. Simon walked to the driver's door, and Watson cranked down the window.

"They're all over," he said, and it wasn't clear whether he was talking about the supremacists or the dog tidal wave. "It's been a long night."

"Yeah," the three in the van said in unison.

"You keep going, we'll run an escort," Simon said.

Angelica looked away in time to avoid seeing the pair's switch, and just watched the shadows in the alleyways out the side window, trying not to dig her nails into her legs or arms in anxiety. What the hell had happened to bring a fucking militia into her home? What had happened to her grandmother, her grandmother's house? Was her mother all right? What about Kit? Her other friends? The bodega? Her apartment?

They made painfully slow progress, especially since the militia had dumped debris and other barricade-like things in the streets, when they didn't park cars across them. Watson, X, and Angelica occasionally had to stop and duck because men with guns were being taken down by wolves (and at least one more iteration of the mass of little yellow-brown dogs), and there were some shots fired. (Angelica hoped the guy who owned the van — Watson's landlord? — would be okay with a few new decorations.)

Just when she thought she was going to explode, she realized Watson had taken them around a twisting way through a part of the neighborhood she hadn't seen in a few years, and the alley they had crawled along had dumped them out right in front of her grandmother's house.

Sitting on the front steps, near the street, was the lean, lanky, familiar form of Kit Castaneda. He was cleaning his nails, from the motions of his almost-silhouette in the city glow.

They pulled up in front and Angelica leaped out of the van. Kit flashed a grin and threw his arms around her.

A second later, she was sobbing into his shoulder and saying in a low voice, "Jane. She… it was awful, IS awful. Oh my god, Kit? ¿Está bien?"

He murmured, "Está bien, she's fine, honest, I've been here the whole time."

Angelica hugged him hard, and pulled away to look up at the front door. She didn't remember pulling away from him or running up the steps, but the next thing she knew, she and her grandmother were hugging and crying and hugging some more.

After Angelica calmed down—much later, it felt like—she was suddenly terrified by the idea of looking at her grandmother, actually seeing her with the new eyes Jane had foisted upon her. Was she some sort of horrible Valkyrie now who could see Death coming for someone? She kept her eyes screwed shut for a few moments, then decided she had to find out.

In the dim light of Abuelita's glassed candles—she saw various saints represented on the candle labels—she looked at her grandmother.

Abuelita was tiny, under five feet, brown-skinned with wavy iron-gray hair cut in a bob. She was wearing one of her good dresses for Sunday Mass, a short-sleeved floral print, and none of her jewelry, not even earrings. Angelica guessed that she was preparing for someone to break in and kill her — wearing her Sunday best and having hidden her jewelry under that floorboard she'd shown Angelica a few years earlier.

Most importantly, while there was a haze of life over and around her, there was no horrible knot of mutation present.

"Your young man, he is very kind," Abuelita said, mopping her eyes with one of the tissues she always seemed to have in her dress pocket. "He brought over a couple grocery bags of food from your place, and something he'd cooked before the power went out. We had a nice dinner. He's a good cook, a very good cook. For a man."

Angelica laughed, partly from the relief and partly from the image of Kit and her grandmother, calmly having dinner while the world went to hell. She went to the door to invite everyone in.

Just then, the horde of little brown dogs ran, yelping and howling, up the street. Watson and X bounded up the steps as the wave came toward them. Kit, however, calmly watched them approaching.

Angelica raised the light level without thinking so she could see what was happening. She almost shouted to Kit, but then the dogs started merging together as they got closer to him and confused her. They went from a mass of little brown dogs to a pack of lean, sandy, pointy-faced dogs that looked like skinny, grinning wolves.

The pack leapt for Kit so fast no one had time to react.

As they arched toward Kit, in the split second before impact, they shrank. Several leapt for his arms, a dozen or more for his lean torso, two for his feet or knees, and one directly at his crotch. They all vanished as they touched him, looking like they were pulled inside him. The echoes of the yelping faded away.

Then Angelica realized something about Kit: he didn't register on her new vision. There was no cloud of changing life there, no haze, no glow.

She felt like she'd been punched in the gut.

Kit turned toward them with a lopsided smile. He seemed different somehow. Bigger. Leaner. Hungrier. Happier. Sadder.

Her grandmother crossed herself and said, "Madre de Dios," just as Angelica said it herself.

Kit's smile got more lopsided and uncertain, and he gave them a rueful little wave. "Heh," he said.

The silence was very awkward.

Then Simon cleared his throat and said, "Well, I guess we know who let the dogs out."

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

Cry Havoc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Materiel Girl

"And that is the last Nega Projector off the line," Tinkermel said, picking up the tiny box in his enormous hands. He spun it gently, checking the connectors.

The stacks of matte black boxes were lined up along the long lab bench in Professor Canis' Laboratory 5. Angelica, Simon, Ivy, and Tizemt, Professor Canis' lab manager, were standing around, drinking sodas, when this momentous announcement came.

Tizemt, an extremely tall, lanky woman with high cheekbones, medium-brown skin, and short natural hair, carefully set her soda can in a sink. She stepped around the bench to take the box from Tinkermel, apply a tiny bar code sticker, and scan it with a handheld scanner.

Simon leaned over to Angelica while this ritual was going on. "Where's your boyfriend?" he said out of the corner of his mouth.

Angelica smirked at him. "Kit is not, in his own words, mechanically inclined. At least not for delicate stuff. Also, he has a job this afternoon, and that's rare enough I didn't want to discourage him. Also, not my boyfriend."

"Is he still crashing with you?" Simon said, eyebrows rising.

"Yes, he is," Angelica said. "He cooks, and even does some cleaning. And he keeps Jane company when she stays there. Which does not equate to boyfriend."

"Is the security system doing all right?" Simon said. "Do you, er, need me to come by and check it?"

Angelica eyed him for a moment, then said, "You know perfectly well that you're always welcome, and if Jane isn't around, Kit is happy to step out for the evening." She kissed his cheek. "I miss you, you know."

Simon blushed a little and headbutted her shoulder. Angelica caught Ivy's gaze over his head and both of them shook their heads and rolled their eyes.

Tinkermel planted a kiss on Tizemt's cheek. "We couldn't have done this without you, sweetie," he said.

"Well, your design was brilliant," Tizemt said with a shrug and a smile, "and simple, for what it does. Scaling up and automating production was commensurately simple."

"All right, kids!" Tinkermel said, snapping on purple nitrile gloves. "Time for quality assurance!"

They all donned purple gloves and joined Tinkermel and Tizemt at the bench.

"Step one!" Tinkermel said, plucking a box from the pile. "Pick a box. Step two! Push the battery into the connector." He picked up a tiny battery from another box and pushed it into the box. "Step three! Check the monitor." He pointed to the modified StarSeeds on the benchtop. When he waved one over his chosen box, it displayed a sparkly purple icon that said, FABULOUS. "This one is good, so it goes into the good pile." He unplugged it and set it in one of the cardboard boxes on the bench behind him. "If it's not good, put it in the to-be-checked pile, there."

"We have fifteen hundred of these tinkertoys to get through," Tizemt said to a collective groan. "So let's get plugging."

Tinkermel started up his own StarSeed to boom some Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Pointer Sisters, and similar artists helping them along with remarkably speedy and singable disco/80s pop.

"All right!" Tizemt said several hours later, when they'd worked their way through the entire bench of boxes. "We've got a less than five percent failure rate, which I say is pretty bloody good. Now we distribute."

Angelica raised her hand. Tinkermel looked at her with a raised eyebrow and nodded imperiously. "I was just wondering," she said, "how we're going to accomplish that distribution. Because fifteen hundred little boxes, spread in a precise configuration all over this city? Is gonna take weeks with just the five of us."

Ivy, Simon, and Tizemt all nodded agreement.

"Aha!" Tinkermel said with a grin. "I have a secret plan, you see." He opened up his pink sparkly Star laptop, clicked something, and, when a low tone sounded, he snapped, "Sparklebutch Posse, Form UP!"

The other four exchanged amazed and baffled looks.

Voices started to come in over Tinkermel's speakers. "Acknowledged," said one. "Affirmative," said another. "Right on!" said a third. And then there were too many voices to parse individually.

"Eat some pizza," Tinkermel said over the noise, beaming at them. "Drink some beer. Cause the Posse is gonna take it from here."

Tizemt shooed Angelica, Ivy, and Simon upstairs. "You've been in the lab for hours and hours, and there are no windows. Go see the great outdoors while you eat."

Angelica got into the elevator gratefully. Simon leaned his forehead against her shoulder. She scritched him behind the ear absently.

"He'll thump if you do that," Ivy said.

"I know," Angelica said.

"My back is killing me," Simon whined.

"That's because you haven't been exercising," Ivy said. "All your human muscles have gone wibbly."

"No, I think it was the lab bench," Simon said.

"If that were so, Angelica's back should be killing her because she's a bunch taller than us," Ivy said.

Angelica said, "I'm pretty good at ignoring pain. After all, I wear high heels regularly. But you said that I and I noticed that my back hurts like a bitch."

"Well, okay then," Ivy said. Just then, the elevator stopped and opened onto the back hallway of Professor Canis' house.

They picked up a hot pizza from the temporal kitchen safe and a six-pack of beer and carried it all out onto the deck, where they settled down. It was a silent summer evening, just a hint of a breeze starting in the slanting golden rays after what had patently been a hot, still day. Simon took a long swig of beer and looked around.

"I hate to say it," he sighed, "but I miss Jasmine's kids."

"They're sweet kids," Ivy said. "What you don't miss is Jasmine, I imagine."

"I… actually kind of miss her too," he said, plucking irritably at his shorts.

"Well, they're doing just fine," Ivy said. "I checked on them when I was driving down from Boston. They're safely ensconced in western Mass," she said to inform Angelica, "Jasmine took them all there when she realized what was going on here."

Angelica vaguely remembered that their sister Jasmine had had a litter of wolf pups. Superintelligent talking wolf pups. She just nodded and drank her beer.

"I miss Mom," Ivy said, grimacing. "I wonder where she is."

"She's probably with the rest of the Gold Stars," Angelica said. "In that… place Renata apparently sensed them. Or something. I don't really understand it."

The siblings exchanged a glance. "Yeah, she's probably fine," Simon said. "She probably just talked too much and the aliens shoved her in there to shut her up."

Then the sound of a motorcycle engine distracted them.

"Coming this way," Simon said, standing to peer down the long driveway.

The motorcycle turned the curve at this point and roared up to the house in a cloud of summer dust. The rider parked it neatly to one side of the drive facing them, then swung off in a creak of black leather, pulling off the helmet and stowing it on the back of the bike. Six feet plus of solid muscle with an iron-gray flattop and a weather-lined face gave them a brief nod and a laconic, "Mel?"

Simon pointed at the door and said, "Through the kitchen, then turn right and the first door on the right is the elevator. Take it to level E."

There was another nod and a, "Sir," followed by a very slight smile, nod, and, "Ladies," before the rider turned to follow Simon's directions. The back of the jacket was emblazoned with the Dykes on Bikes logo—Oh, thought Angelica, trading impressed looks with Ivy, I may not be as straight as I keep telling myself—and a reflective rainbow pegasus.

And then they just kept coming, dribbling in one at a time at first, and then arriving in groups. Motorcycles stacked elbow-to-elbow in the driveway, pickup trucks lining the drive and then, with Simon and Ivy directing them, parking on the front yard. Angelica was dazzled by the metallic glitter helmets, the rhinestoned jackets, the pink and purple lights along the running boards, the glitzy motorcycle saddlebags. Every one of the riders or drivers were definitely on the masculine end of the spectrum, but oh, what a shiny spectrum it was. Most of them greeted Angelica and Ivy with some level of cheer, and all were respectful and polite to Simon.

At one point, Simon sat down, after directing a butchly horde indoors, and said, "You know, I'd seen some of these people around town at one point or other, but I had no idea that there was… this!" He gestured at the enormous variety of vehicles in his mother's yard.

"Have you been counting?" Ivy said. "Because I've been counting."

"I gave up at 74," Angelica said, mopping her brow with a handkerchief from her purse. "I have to say I've never been privileged to see such a parade of fine, fine people as I have tonight."

"The lab must be bursting," Simon said, picking up his pizza slices and eating half of it at a bite.

Ivy snorted into her beer. "All the butch is rubbing off on you, Simon."

Angelica smiled at him fondly and wondered if he wouldn't mind taking her off to his childhood bedroom for a romp.

At that moment, the door opened and a stream of dykes, bears, and othergendered/otheridentified butches began to stream out, talking, laughing, high-fiving, punching, hugging, wrestling, kissing, voices filling the night so loudly that Angelica feared briefly, ludicrously, that the aliens would overhear them. Pinks, purples, greens, yellows, satins, silks, jewels, leather, lights, and bells flashed and turned and crowded, and then the motorcycles and trucks and cars started coming to life, headlights flicking on and engines purring into the cacophony.

Then the din faded, leaving only a trickle of hearty hunks still chatting, exchanges news or phone numbers, pausing to compare paper maps to maps on phones. At last, Tizemt and Tinkermel emerged from the house, carrying their own pizza box and a six-pack of beer each.

Tinkermel went to hug one of the motorcycle dykes before joining the crew on the deck. Tizemt threw herself into a padded chair and looked around wild-eyed. "What a bloody great crowd!" she exclaimed.

Angelica smiled and said, a little dreamily, "Yeahhh," which got balled-up napkins thrown at her by the siblings.

The last motorcycles rolled down the driveway and Tinkermel came up to take his seat, like a king taking his throne. "I told you," he said to their wondering expressions, "I got this."

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I'm afraid that rather a lot of titles I've been coming up with lately are punny...

Love in the Time of Choler

When Angelica opened the door, the last thing she expected out of Kendis' mouth was, "What the fuck has she done to me?"

"What?" Angelica said, frowning.

Kendis shouldered past her into the apartment, her crutches thumping loudly on the hardwood floor. Kit emerged from the bedroom, pulling a t-shirt on. "Hey, Kendis," he said cheerily.

Angelica shut the door and listened to the locks throwing themselves a moment before turning to the room. "What the fuck are you talking about?" she inquired sweetly.

Kendis scowlingly lowered herself into a chair. "I'm talking about fucking Jane Liberty," she snarled.

Angelica sat in the chair opposite her, knees carefully pressed together under her silk dressing gown. "What has she done? Sorry. What has she fucking done?"

"I've been going to work," Kendis said, mopping her sweaty brow with a bandana handkerchief. It was the first really hot day of spring, and it looked like she'd been in a hurry. "As you do. But the thing is, everyone at the home is a fucking genius the whole time I'm there. I was suspecting that something was going on. Everyone was sharper than usual, even the staff. But then…" She lost her coherence in a growl of rage and made helpless little grabby gestures with her hands.

Kit pressed a glass of icewater into one of them and Kendis gave him a grateful look. She drained half the glass at a go, and then continued. "Then Betty, who's been demented and almost completely nonverbal for a fucking decade, out of nowhere starts lecturing one of our elderly Libertarian jackasses on history. Complicated political history about the fucking Harding administration. I didn't even know she was a political history professor before the Alzheimer's." She finished the glass and mopped her face some more.

"So you think…" Angelica began, but Kendis cut her off.

"I know that woman had to've done something to me," she said. "When I saw her last, she patted me on the hand and said that she couldn't thank me enough, but she'd try. I think this is what she fucking meant."

"She amped you up," Kit said, refilling the glass with the pitcher he was holding.

"Like fuckin' crazy," Kendis said, taking another long drink.

Angelica and Kit traded a slightly baffled look. Finally, Angelica said, "So what's the down side here?"

Kendis stared at her. "What's the… she fucking messed with me, that's the down side. Without asking."

"Oh," Angelica said, light dawning. "Oh! Yeah. When you put it like that… yeah, that's fucked up."

Kendis thumped one of her crutches on the floor irritably. "It's seriously fucked up. But… I can't ask her to turn it off! That's the really fucked part!"

"Wait, why not?" Kit said, topping up her glass again.

Kendis sighed and rolled her eyes. "Because… you didn't see their faces, dude. The people at the home. They were so happy, most of them, when they realized they could recognize their kids or grandkids or just their fuckin' nurse. They could talk, mostly. They're not all there -- there's a bunch of shit that's frustrating, like not having words, or having huge holes in their memories, or not being able to do something. But I heard one lady telling a nurse that it was what she'd prayed to happen when she was first diagnosed, it was this enormous gift from God. And…" She scrubbed at her face irritably with her free hand. "If I can give these people a few scraps of joy in what's left of their lives, I can't give that up. I would be the shittiest excuse for a human being ever if I did."

Kit looked at Angelica with his eyebrows raised, then said, "They'll figure out it's you, eventually. Someone will notice that they don't do as well on your days off. And then what will you do?"

Kendis shrugged. "I'll… I dunno. I've gotta think about it."

Angelica was about to say something when she heard scratching at the door. She leapt up, flustered, and hurried to the door, saying, "Sorry, sorry," over her shoulder. She barely glanced at the identification panel before throwing open the door.

The great golden wolf was skinny and drooping as he slunk in the door. He didn't even look up at the people in the room, but let Angelica lay a hand on his neck and hurry him toward the bathroom. "We'll be a few minutes," she said to Kendis and Kit's surprised faces, and shut herself and Simon into the bathroom.

"It's been a long time," she said, pulling towels from the closet as he shifted shape.

"I know," he mumbled, climbing into the shower and turning on the water.

"She still locking the door on you?"

"Yeah, but Watson lets me out every day," he said, and she could smell her chocolate shampoo already. "I just... didn't have the energy to leave."

"Oh, baby," she said, and got the sweatpants and t-shirt she always kept for him out of the closet as well, and plugged in the clippers and put down newspaper, and all the preparations she kept ready for his intermittent visits. She set out the T and syringe for him on the sink, next to her own various medicine bottles.

He finally mustered, "How have you been?"

She thought about the meetings in Madame Destiny's living room, about the fact that she knew what was wrong with him and why it was happening, about the fact that she had no idea whatsoever how to fix it... and said, "Doing all right. Work's been busy. No men in black on the streets around here lately."

"TV says they're mostly at the big tent revival thing," he said, emerging from the shower and rubbing himself all over with her fluffiest towel.

"Huh," she said, plugging in the clippers and setting to work on bringing his hair and beard under control. "I guess they're all shiny brothers or whatever it's called."

"Yeah," he said, standing still and naked and dripping on the newspapers while she made short work of his excess hair. "Job still busy?"

"Yeah," she said. "I'm applying to new jobs to replace the shitwork I got fired from, but that's pretty soulsucking."

He stepped back into the shower to wash the bits of hair off. "I'm sorry. I could talk to Mom about that lab job?"

"No, still not desperate enough to jump into her field." She bent and folded up the hair cuttings in the newspaper. "Still, if she's got a need for a bookkeeper or something like that..."

"Okay," he said, drying off again and reaching for the sink. "I'll let Tizemt know. She's pretty much running the lab now."

She politely turned her back, busying herself with making sure she managed to get all the hair into the trash while he stabbed himself in the ass.

It was only half an hour later that she emerged with Simon, having scrubbed, shaved, and clothed him in the meantime. Kit was telling Kendis a story, but he stopped when the door opened and both of them looked up.

Kendis broke into a grin. "Simon, man, it's been a dog's age!"

Simon smiled wanly and scratched at his beard. "Yeah, things've been kinda fucked up. You're lookin' good, Kendis."

"More'n I can say for you, man," she said, bluntly enough to make Angelica wince. "You look like hell. Not workin' out?"

"No," Simon said.

Kit had somehow managed to slouch to his feet without Angelica noticing, but now he stood up straight and was watching Simon closely.

Angelica half-smiled, half-grimaced, and said, "Kit, this is Simon, one of my old friends. Simon, this is Kit. He's been… staying here." She did not want to try to explain that.

Simon looked up and stepped forward automatically, the well-trained little gentleman, but when his gaze struck Kit's, he straightened right up, shoulders back, looking up into Kit's face while they shook hands. The handshake went on for a little too long, and both of them stood taller, legs locked and braced, staring intently into each other's eyes.

Angelica glanced at Kendis, who put a hand over her mouth to hide a smile.

"Nice to meet you," Simon said, baring his teeth.

"Likewise," Kit said, showing his suddenly long and pointed-seeming choppers.

"You from around here?" Simon asked, and Angelica could almost see the hairs on the back of his neck standing up.

"Nope," Kit said, and added, with a faintly pitying air, "Guess you are, though."

"Yep," Simon said, bracing his hands on his hips, which made his still-admirable pecs stand out in the tight t-shirt. "That means I've known Angelica for a long time."

"Bet so," Kit said, with a stiff dip of his chin that suggested he conceded that small point. "I've travelled a lot. Seen a lot. She's one of the finest folks I've met in a long time."

Angelica noticed that Kendis' shoulders were shaking. While she agreed with Kendis that this was comedy gold, she had to admit that she didn't mind having this kind of macho posturing happening between two extremely hot men over her.

"I agree with you there," Simon said, offering a stiff little nod of his own.

The two men continued to stare at each other until Kendis finally snorted laughter out loud. Then they both turned looks of such outraged dignity on her that Angelica started to laugh too. And then the boys turned sheepish, Simon rubbing the back of his head and Kit barking a laugh.

When Angelica recovered finally, she said, "We've got the makings for a big dinner, you two want to stay?"

"Oh, hell, yes," Kendis said, chuckling and reaching over to punch Simon in the arm. "I haven't laughed this much in forever."

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Wonder City returns! Thank you all so much for your patience.

The Fall of the House at Marigold Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah," Watson said sadly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What reorganization?" Ira said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"MWAH!" said the cat in his lap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cat said, "Prrt?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah," Watson said.

"How is she doing?"

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

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

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

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I Have Measured Out My Life in Coffee Spoons

Angelica peered at her phone for the time. On any other day before yesterday, she would have been late for one of her jobs. Alas, it was the day after yesterday, and she was down to one job.

She pried herself out of bed and took a leisurely hot shower, and she was just finishing putting her makeup on when she heard the scratching at the front door. She very nearly dumped her mascara into the sink in her hurry to put it away. The black silk robe slipped out of her fingers as she fumbled for it, so she ended up tugging on the silly terrycloth robe imitation of Jane Liberty's star-spangled costume as she sprinted for the door in her bare feet.

Angelica checked the identity panel recently installed beside the front door and sighed, throwing back the three deadbolts and two chains and opening the door. "Hey, there, fuzzy," she said.

The big golden wolf with the winsome yellow eyes padded silently into her apartment and sat politely, waiting for her to refasten her front door.

Angelica made sure all was secure and then crouched to put her arms around the wolf's neck. "I was getting awfully worried about you," she murmured into the neck ruff. "I was deciding whether to come looking for you or not."

She felt the wolf changing in her arms, losing fur and gaining muscle and bipedality. To her, it felt like the transformation did not happen as fast or easily as before. "Oh, god," Simon whimpered into her neck. "I wasn't sure I could get back here. She started locking the door, and the deadbolt's key only. I'm so grateful for Watson's still being sane. It's like Megan's completely forgotten who I am!"

She didn't ask him -- again -- why he stayed with Megan, but Angelica was distressed to feel tears dripping onto her neck. In all the months since Simon started coming to her, he hadn't been this miserable. He was confused and upset that he was finding day-to-day life so brutally difficult that retreating to the wolf form was his only escape. He was terrified, because he'd figured out that he felt it more or less in different parts of the city. And he was furious when he found that the feeling caught up with him when he spent more time somewhere he felt comfortable, like her apartment, and that the feeling somehow started to carry over to her too. But he'd never been just abjectly miserable.

She leaned back and looked at him. He scrubbed at the tears on his dark face with the heel of his hand, then scratched in annoyance at the uncontrolled growth of his beard. His hair hadn't been cut by a professional in months. She had no idea what she was doing with African-American hair, so all she could do was get an electric razor and a blade guard and try to cut it short without making it look too bad. But it looked bad, and a couple of weeks had made it worse.

"Look, why don't you put on your clothes and I'll take you down to the girls at Hair Today?" she said, as she had before. "They'll put you right. You know you always feel better when you look good."

He shook his head, like he had for several months now. "I can't," he said helplessly. "I just can't... I... the idea of someone else seeing me... please, let me clean up here."

As usual, Angelica took him into the bathroom and let him shower, because he always smelled doggy after a while in wolf form. He used the razor she'd bought him to take the scraggle off his cheeks, and after the shower, stood before the mirror with a towel around his hips to clean up the Van Dyke the way he liked it. She brought some newspapers and a stool for him, and shaved his head as short as she dared, leaving a thin layer of short, tight curls over his scalp. They didn't talk much, and she left the room after setting his syringe of black-market testosterone on the counter.

After he emerged in his sweatpants, scrubbed and shaved and freshly infused with hormones, he stood behind her at her desk and kissed her neck. And without any discussion, Angelica took him to bed, where he was silent and fierce and forceful and terribly, terribly needy.

She stroked his muscular back as he dozed amidst the fortunate abundance of her bosom and watched his face in something like repose. She liked to look at their bodies intertwined: their skin tones weren't that far apart -- she was relatively dark for Latina and he was relatively light for black. Her skin was softer and his smoother. She was glad he hadn't grown a lot of body hair on T, though she knew the hair he did grow -- chest and arms and legs -- was a point of pride for him.

She wondered if he'd ever smile again, like he did those years she'd known him back in college, when she'd fallen so head over heels for him, though nothing had ever happened between them -- or like he had over myriad lunches, telling her about Suzanne, when it was clear he was hopelessly in love.

And she knew he didn't love her now, not like he still loved Suzanne, but she'd take what she could get.

Angelica didn't know what was going on, but she knew that Simon was only the worst symptom of a terrifying wave of something happening.


Author's Note:

New POV character for you! More Simon! More annnnnngst!

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wonder_city: (Default)
Welcome to volume III of Wonder City Stories, which is titled Trust No #1.

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

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

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


Somewhere That's Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ira," he corrected me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophie snorted at this description.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gogo spoke into her microphone again.

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

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

Sophie started laughing helplessly into her hands.

The music kicked up again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the end of the world can you tell me where

And in what way the time is flowing?

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

A place for opossums to call their own.

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

It's dhoom again but we are flown!

A hero right through

Like flying snow in bamboo

She's the hero we need

Cause she makes us heroes too!

Take my ansible call

'Cause it's for one and all

She's the hero we need

Cause she makes us stand tall!

She won't be suppressed

Or sent into the West

She's the hero we need

Because we give her our best!

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

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

And she then started singing again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Zaha'dum too--

She's the hero we need

Cause she makes us heroes too!

Dark Lords big and small

We will spit on them all

She's the hero we need

Cause she makes us stand tall!

Stand tall, stand tall, stand tall

Stand tall, stand tall, stand tall

Stand tall, stand tall, stand tall...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh," Suzanne said, blinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Note from the Author:

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

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

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


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

And remember to vote for WCS at Top Webfiction!

wonder_city: (Default)
For the People Who Are Still Alive

Suzanne glanced back and forth between the two men in her life and continued to be boggled that they were all sitting at the same table, in her house, eating a meal together.

Ira, who hadn't stopped smiling since Simon came in the door, swallowed his bite of pasta salad and said, "It sounds like you need this vacation, son."

Simon grinned a little awkwardly and glanced at Suzanne. "Telling tales out of school?" he said to her with raised eyebrows.

Before she could answer, Ira said, "No, no, Flo's been singing your praises, actually."

Simon blushed and ducked his head. "Oh. Well. She really doesn't have to."

"She's grateful, Simon," Suzanne said, rubbing his back affectionately. "You just have to deal with the fact that people will sometimes be grateful for your thoughtfulness."

"She says great things about you being good to Pacifica," Ira pursued, apparently enjoying Simon's discomfiture. "That and dealing with that unfortunate young idiot's funeral... really, you deserve a vacation."

"Fortunately, we're taking one," Suzanne said.

"We just have to be back in time for the Ultimate's birthday party," Simon said. "You're going, right, Ira?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Ira said, finishing his lunch. "Well, I better toddle off to the Y. I'm not on today, but they need some help stuffing envelopes." He stood up and leaned across the table, offering his hand to Simon. "I hope you'll be around a lot, son."

Simon stood and shook the old man's hand. "I hope so too, Ira."

After Ira deposited his plate in the kitchen, exchanged a word with the companion in there, and went out the front door, Simon looked up hesitantly at Suzanne. "Did I pass?" he said.

Suzanne burst out laughing. "What test?"

"The 'girlfriend's dad' test, of course," Simon said indignantly.

This reduced Suzanne to hysterics for no good reason she could explain. She hid her face in her hands on the tabletop and giggled madly for a good five minutes.

"Feeling stressed?" Simon asked finally, handing her a tissue from the box near the dining room table.

"Just a bit, I guess," Suzanne said, mopping her streaming eyes.

"Is your bag packed then?" Simon said.

"Yes," Suzanne said, rising.

Simon took her plate from her and trotted into the kitchen with all the dirty plates balanced neatly. She heard him chatting with the companion, who was not, for a change, the Outsider, and then he reemerged. "All right," he said. "Let's get on the road."

Driving up into the Poconos had always been a dull and annoying trip before. Josh didn't like to drive, so Suzanne had always driven them up to the little vacation house that Ira and Andrea had bought back in the 1960s, and Josh hated to talk on drives, so it was always a long, silent slog. Vacations there had usually been pretty cheerless as well.

This time, Simon insisted on half the driving, he chattered about inconsequentials nearly endlessly (and thus Suzanne learned much more about his coworkers' sex lives than she'd ever wanted to know), and he had also brought his StarSeed, packed full of boppy, energetic music.

And Ira, blessed old Ira, had sold that damned house five years ago, split the profits with Andrea (in a move that had surprised both Suzanne and Andrea), and hadn't once mentioned it when Suzanne told him about her plans with Simon. In fact, he'd just said, "Tell me if you two want to go to the beach later in the summer. A friend of mine from the war still has a house on the Jersey Shore. I bet his son would cut you a deal."

If they shocked the owners of the bed and breakfast, the owners did a good job of hiding it. The woman handed them their keys and showed them up to their room. She did a quick turn around the room, pointing out amenities, and then said, with a big smile, "You two have a good time, and let us know if there's anything we can help you with," before departing and shutting the door behind her.

Simon turned to her, grinning, and opened his mouth to say something.

Suzanne didn't really regret that he didn't get to say it.

As they lay tangled together on the floor (they hadn't made it to the bed), Simon, as he stroked her hair, said thoughtfully, "Did we make sure the door was locked?"

This was enough to get them both up and moving around. He shucked his jeans (which were around his ankles) and checked the door (not locked). She peeled out of her disarray of clothing (nothing entirely removed, just rearranged) and got into bed. He paused to pluck his water bottle out of his backpack (they were both thirsty), grab his small bag of toys (for the nightstand), and climbed in with her.

A while later, as the late afternoon June sunlight slanted across the room from the tall windows, Simon said, from somewhere between her breasts, "Do you think the city will still be there when we go back?"

"Oh, probably," Suzanne said, aimlessly running a hand over his shoulder and back, enjoying the drowsy serenity of it all. "It only ever went missing on me once before, and it was back by midnight."

"Wonder City has a midnight curfew?" Simon mumbled.

"Yep," Suzanne said, moving to drifting her fingertips over the back of his neck. "The world will not stop turning if you don't happen to be there for the latest emergency, dear heart."

"I just worry," Simon said.

"About who in specific?" Suzanne said.

"Well, there's Pacifica," Simon said, rolling to count on his fingers.

"She's got a lot of people worried about her, and keeping an eye on her," Suzanne said. "She'll be fine."

"Okay, then there's Megan." Simon counted a second finger.

"She's a big girl, in more than one way," Suzanne said. "And she can handle a broken leg."

"Oh, the leg's not the worry," Simon said. "G is moving out this weekend."

"Ah," Suzanne said. "Off on her European adventure, eh?"

"Moving most of her shit into storage," Simon said, letting his hands fall onto Suzanne's belly. "Actually, she already did most of it herself, moving it into the attic over the carriage house. Tomorrow morning's her plane."

"How's Megan taking it?" Suzanne said.

"Stoically," Simon said, drawing designs on her belly. "I think she's pretty much mad for Watson anyway -- and the feeling's mutual -- but they're both hung up on G in a lot of ways. So it's kind of sad to watch."

"But that means there's nothing for you to do," Suzanne said. "Besides, Megan and Watson can commiserate in their own way." She started to scratch Simon's upper back.

Usually, this put him into conniptions of ecstasy, but he was not so easily distracted. "Third," he said, though he paused to wriggle and hum with pleasure at the scratching, "Lizzie. She's still living at the damned Y, and now her parents know where she is."

Suzanne looked up at the stucco-textured ceiling, wondering Didn't that go out in the 80s? while saying, "Didn't one of the producers fess up that he'd called her dad and paid for his trip to try to bump up the drama or something?"

"Oh, yeah," Simon said, closing his eyes and sighing. "Now she's not on-screen, her parents may try something again."

"I don't know about that," Suzanne said. "Geographic cure and all, her dad probably can't afford the trip himself. And if he's a farmer, then he's got better things to be doing right now than trekking across the country to harass a girl who knows how to dial 911."

"I hope so," Simon said.

After a short silence, Suzanne said, "Anyone else?"

Simon pursed his lips in concentration, then shook his head.

"Not Jeshri or Tom?" Suzanne pursued. Simon shook his head. "Not Zoltan or Jack Hammer?" He shook his head again. "Not Ivy or Malik or Jasmine or the puppies or your mom?" He tilted his head to give her a strange look, but shook his head. "Or any of your buddies at Great Scot?" Still eyeing her, he shook his head. "Not the Equestrian?"

"Who in their right mind would be worried about the Equestrian?" he said finally.

"Ira is," Suzanne said. "Whenever she comes up, he sighs and shakes his head and says, 'Poor old Molly.'"

"That," Simon said with great precision, "is Ira's privilege, since he's known her forever. No one else worries about her."

"So, that means I have your complete and undivided attention again?" Suzanne said.

"Ma'am," he said, rolling over to lift himself on all fours over her, looking down into her face. "You can always have my undivided attention. You have but to ask."

She stroked him under the chin. "Exxxxcellent," she said in her best supervillain voice, grinning madly. "You may begin again, then, with your usual ministrations."

"Oh, ma'am," he said, showing his teeth, "I hope that my ministrations are anything but usual."


Note from the Author:

Because we all need something fluffy after that last episode, don't we?

The Rose & Bay Crowdfunding Award nominations are open (they close on 1/31), and I would love it if someone were to nominate Wonder City Stories. Take a look at the other categories, just in case there's something else you want to nominate for voting! Nominations are low compared to last year, so please go nominate!

And remember to vote for WCS!

wonder_city: (Default)
What Did I Know of Drowning or Being Drowned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Note from the Author:

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

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

Please remember to vote for WCS!

wonder_city: (Default)
Well, Hell...

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

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

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

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

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

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


Note from the Author:

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

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

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

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Facts Are Like Cows

Nereid walked slowly down Marigold Lane and up the front path of the house. The air was sweet with early summer blossoms. All around her, spring had erupted into vivid yellows and purples and reds, the grass turned lush, and the leaves darkening on tree branches. The sun was warm on her hair, but her face was turned down, watching her feet move over the flagstones, then onto the porch, then across the threshold.

She mounted the stairs as silently as she could, straining her ears to hear the least noise on the upper landings. Thus, she could hear the soaring strains of the Fat Lady, hitting some impossible high note, and she sighed.

She leaned her forehead against Simon's door, listening to him attempting to sing along with the Fat Lady. His voice came closer to the door, then faded farther away, a sure sign that he was dancing.

Finally, at a break between songs, she straightened up and knocked on the door.

Simon swung the door open wide and stood there, grinning madly, a dustmop in his hands. He was wearing a white t-shirt and his favorite rocketship boxers.

As the first phrases of the next song on the CD began, Simon's grin faded and his brows furrowed. "Pacifica?" he said. "Are you all right?"

Nereid tried to smile, but her mouth was trembling so hard that the effort crumbled immediately. "Simon," she said, her voice cracking, "I've missed my period."


Note from the Author:

First short episode of the week! And for some of you, this isn't much of a surprise. While the quote is, "Facts are like cows, if you stare them in the face hard enough they generally run away," in my experience (mostly anecdotes from friends), cows are just as likely to charge you, or possibly eat your mitten.

Remember to check out Wonder City Wonders, my new store at Cafe Press.

And remember to vote for WCS!


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Wonder City Stories

June 2017

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