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Wasuremono

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

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




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




At Death's Door Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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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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The Choking Weeds

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

"Watson?" she said.

"I love you," Watson said.

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

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

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

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

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






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The Flim-Flam Artist

Angelica heard crunching gravel, and looked up from where she and Madame were holding Lady Justice just in time to see a white man scrambling away from the Divine Sarah. Watson and X outran him easily and flanked him. He crouched, at bay, a smear of dried blood under his nose and across his mouth.

"Behave, Aloysius MacCready," Watson said in a low voice. "Someone worth a thousand of you just died."

A strange expression crossed X's face—Angelica might have called it rage—and sie suddenly spun into a beautiful, flawless roundhouse kick that caught him in the back of the head and planted him face-first into the Canis family's rocky driveway.

Watson raised an eyebrow at X, then knelt and clicked handcuffs around the man's wrists behind his back.

X stared down at him for a long moment, and said, distantly, "Not everyone gets to kick the guy who raped their best friend in the head." Then sie helped Watson throw him back into the back of the van.







Thought I'd forgotten Pastor Al, didn't you? Michelle Yeoh is here to help you envision this little moment.
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Life, Jane Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then Jane Liberty died, watching the skies.





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

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




Come With Me If You Want To Live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Forgot what?" Suzanne said vaguely.

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

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

"LADY JUSTICE, YOU MUST RETURN TO THE DEN OF WOLVES," intoned the Oracle.

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

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

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

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

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

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




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


You Have to Learn to Pace Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

Like Dust, We'll Rise

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

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

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

And there was… another… person.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

X smiled. "Reptilian-American."

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

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

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

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

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

"You old fool," she said fondly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




wonder_city: (Default)
Once more, work ate my brain. My apologies, and thank you for sticking with us.



I Don't Want to Believe

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

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

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

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

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

Ira carefully locked Andrea's door and followed.

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

"Has she had them before?" Ira said.

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

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

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

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

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

Ira looked back at her, then slowly nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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











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


The Fall of the House at Marigold Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah," Watson said sadly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What reorganization?" Ira said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"MWAH!" said the cat in his lap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cat said, "Prrt?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah," Watson said.

"How is she doing?"

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

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

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










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Jubilee

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
Ultima
Love Me and Despair
The Doom Song
I Can't Be Having With This
Bonus Track: Schoolhouse Rock Mashup (feat. "Sufferin' for Suffrage")

---

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And remember to vote for WCS at Top Webfiction!









wonder_city: (Default)
Exit, Pursued By a Bear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ah," Watson said.

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

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

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

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

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

Megan was transfixed by her own name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---

Note from the Author:

First ep of 2012!

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

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

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wonder_city: (Default)
Snapping His Superfingers At All Man’s Trumpery Ideals

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sorry," Megan mumbled.

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

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

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

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

"I expect so," Watson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Fascinating," Fortune said, still watching her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I have your confession," Watson said.

"Hearsay," he said with a snort.

"In front of a witness," Watson said.

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

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

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

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

---

Note from the Author:

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

Let's stay up high! Vote for WCS!









wonder_city: (Default)
Full of Evil Clowns

I'd finally conquered my headache after drugging myself unconscious for about twenty hours, and I'd rescheduled all my clients for the next two weeks.  I felt better -- sore all around the edges, but better -- and I'd been swimming a lot.

Ruth called and I managed to keep the call short.  "Have you talked to Nereid and Wire?" I said after the initial greetings and stream of gratitude.

"Yes," Ruth said.  "Well, I've talked to Wire.  She said the whole thing was Nereid's idea, so I've been trying to get in touch with Pacifica.  She hasn't returned my calls yet."

"She's shy," I said, but I frowned and made a mental note to talk to the Equestrian.  "And probably exhausted."

"That's what Wire suggested," Ruth said.  "Anyway, thank you, Rennie, for everything.  I know what you did with those kids wasn't easy at all for you."

"They needed me," I said.  "And I wanted to be part of bringing that bastard down.  He killed a friend of my family."

"Damn, girl, you didn't tell me that," Ruth said.  

"Sorry," I said.  "I just... well, you were busy."

She sighed.  "All right.  Well, I'm glad you could be part of the resolution, at least."

"Me too," I said.  "Hey, Ruth, you know I love talking to you but..."

"You're still fried, I know.  Take care of yourself, boo," Ruth said.  "You're still coming to the party, right?"

Until that moment, I'd completely forgotten about Ruth's upcoming 50th birthday party.  "Oh, hell, yes," I said.  "I wouldn't miss it."

"I'll tell Sophie," she said.  "Love you."

"Love you too," I said, and we hung up.

I was grateful that I'd managed things so well, because I had a chance for a swim before the last episode of Wonderful House.

The speculation on what this final episode would be like had run wild on the Internet.  A memorial to Brandon?  The other housemates talking in detail about that night, since very little of the real story had come out?  Lizzie reconciling with her father?  (I vehemently hoped not.)  Simon and any of the other housemates confessing their undying love for each other?  (The biggest part of the fandom I frequented was pro-Simon/Lizzie, but a not-insubstantial proportion was pro-Simon/Jeshri.  There were lesser contingents for all the other combinations, including triads and even all four together, and even smaller groups that 'shipped non-Simon pairings.)  (I don't go to the parts of fandom that like Brandon.)

I think that no one, not even me, expected what we got: an hour of retrospective, talking heads analyzing the interactions and relationships, and a lot of voiceover on the scenes of the housemates packing their rooms.  Not a single line of current dialog from the housemates.  The only time any anger at all was allowed to show was when all of them were sitting in the producer's office, glowering at the PARABI executive who was, reportedly, letting them know that Brandon's death violated the agreement and there would be no payout.

I could almost hear the "OH HELL NO" in all their minds as I watched that scene, even though the voiceover was attempting to spin their glares as anger about Brandon.  I wondered what the fan response would be, so when the episode ended, off I went to the forums.

Many people were baffled.  "Wait, why isn't anyone being allowed to talk?"  More were angry: "The deal was no damage to the house! How does getting killed in a freak accident off the property count as violating the deal?"  Others were paranoid: "Brandon was killed by one of his housemates, probably Lizzie!  The lawyers have a gag order on everyone!"

The forums exploded for about half an hour, and then the link appeared.

A few of us were half-waiting for it, and pounced on it.

SuperTube's dynamic hit counter started running up while I was waiting for the video clip to load.  And then the video started to run.

The usual Wonderful House logo appeared, then "It's" was crossed out and replaced by "It Was Never", and the theme music slowed and morphed into something more sinister.

Simon was sitting in a leather chair by a roaring fireplace, dressed in an impeccably tailored black suit with a red silk pocket square and matching tie.  He looked squarely into the camera and said, in a voice more mellow and trained than he'd previously demonstrated (why, yes, he had attended acting classes in college after all, thanks, Parapedia), "After learning what the final episode of 'It's a Wonderful House' was to show, the cast and crew met in secret to discuss what to do.  All of us felt that the episode was a copout, cheating the fans who stuck with us all this time.  Today, we would like to present you, our fans, with our best gift, the only gift we can give you: the truth."

The usual opening, sans music, played, and Simon's voiceover said, "We thought we were participating in a perfectly normal, every day reality show.  What we didn't know was that the deck had been stacked -- both knowingly and unknowingly -- against us by the powers that be for the show."

"Knowingly," he went on, and the view zoomed in on one of the all-too-common images of Brandon, leerly vaguely and drunkenly at Lizzie and Jeshri in the living room, "because there is now documented evidence--" the view switched to a file folder in Brandon's disaster of a room, opened to a contract clearly branded with the IaWH logo "--that the producers paid Brandon a considerable sum to appear on the show to act as a prod to induce conflict."  The key clause of the contract was circled in red, and a clickable link to the document appeared.  I let the video continue to play.

We were then treated to a montage of images of Brandon getting shoved aside by one or another housemate, of Tom only just stopping himself from throwing a punch at Brandon's grinning face, of Jeshri electrocuting Brandon (leaving him rolling on the floor, his shorts showing a wet patch in front -- I note that this had never appeared on the show, of course), of Simon going semi-lupine in the face and snapping at Brandon with his flashing teeth, and finally of Lizzie throwing the boiling water on him, hitting him up the backside of the head with a sizzling frying pan, nailing him in the balls with his own baseball bat, and throwing the dishes at him so that he fell backwards down the stairs.

"Unknowingly," Simon said, "because they failed to carry out background checks on any of the crew, though they checked the cast out very thoroughly, even down to checking our credit ratings."

Watson appeared onscreen, with an identifying caption ("Watson Holmes, Consulting Detective").  She was dressed up only slightly, having added a tweed blazer to her usual buttondown shirt.  "It took me all of fifteen minutes to run superficial background checks on the entire camera, sound, and light crew, as it would for any professional.  I found that there is a member of the sound crew who likes to drive very fast, a member of the light crew who had recently divorced with allegations of abuse on both sides, a member of the production staff with a history of stalking, and a member of the camera crew with a history of domestic violence, sexual assault, and even a rape arrest that did not end in a conviction, due to technicalities rather than a failure to prove guilt."

"We got our first indication that something might be amiss," Simon said, returning to the screen, "when a member of the cast received a tip from a para fan that she had picked up a detail during a live broadcast that suggested we had a murderer in our midst.  That cast member shared this information with the rest of the cast, other than Brandon, because we had some indication that Brandon might be violent himself."

We then saw the clip of Brandon bragging about raping the drunk woman from the frat party, and the clip of Brandon talking to his cameraman about Simon and making vague threats. Then there was a scene in the dark of him coming in drunk late one night and wandering into random bedrooms until there was a wild scuffle that ended with Simon walking him up to the third floor, twisting Brandon's arm up behind his back and holding onto a handful of his hair.

"Then someone tried to blackmail Jeshri," Simon said, "by threatening to release personal photos of her to the Internet at large. The condition for not releasing them was meeting the blackmailer at a nearby park in Staybird in the middle of the night."

The camerawork was uninspired, but showed the housemates walking through the park. "Of course, we weren't about to let her go alone," he said in voiceover. They came around a curve and there was Brandon, clearly visible in the streetlight.

They played a bit of film that showed Brandon confessing to being involved in the blackmail, and then events dissolved into the chaos of the fight. The picture froze on Brandon's confused face. "Yes, Brandon was party to the blackmail, and was part of setting up the meeting, but we believe he didn't know about the murderous aspect of his partner in crime. Our best evidence is the casual manner in which the true criminal cast him aside." The video played forward, and even played through the killer hitting his scrambler device, so the bug cams were certainly hardened. We got a slo-mo image of the killer slamming Brandon in the chest, played from several angles.

"This blow, unbeknownst to us, ruptured Brandon's aorta," Simon said, and the picture returned to his cozy parlor. "Several of us went after the killer, while others called the ambulance. Tom rode to the hospital with Brandon, who was declared dead shortly after reaching the emergency room."

The view switched to Tom, who appeared to be sitting in a cafe. "He never woke up," Tom said in an uncharacteristically rough voice. "He said, 'I thought he was my bro,' and passed out and never fucking woke up again. I mean, what kind of fucking epitaph is that? He thought everyone was his bro, even people he insulted. He was like some kind of malevolent golden retriever. But goddammit, he might've gotten better some day."

Then Simon was sitting at that table, wearing casual clothing and looking angry. "I'm told I shouldn't feel bad about not staying to check on him," he said in a subdued voice. "I'm told he was a dead man, sitting there, and there was nothing I could have done. I'm told it was better that I went after the killer to try to keep him from hurting anyone else. But, you know, it's hard to believe that."

Jeshri was looking up at the ceiling and saying, "It pisses me off that every time I think about him, sitting there on the ground trying to breathe, I start tearing up. I don't want to cry for him. I thought he was an asshole and worse. But I can't get it out of my head: that look on his face when he couldn't understand why he couldn't stand up, why he couldn't breathe, why the one person who he thought was his friend had just hurt him so badly, and..." She wiped her face savagely with her sleeve. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

Lizzie was sitting there now, being filmed from the same angle, and she was slowly tearing a cardboard cup sleeve into thin strips as she spoke. "When I started giving him mouth-to-mouth there in the park," she said, not looking at the camera, "all I could think was that when he woke up, he was never going to let me live that down. There would be all the stupid comments about missing out on kissing me and everything, and I would kick myself every time he said anything. I hated every second of taking that stupid moral high ground of trying to save his life. And then the shit died. And I felt so goddamn guilty about thinking bad stuff about him I could barely breathe. I still feel guilty. I feel guilty for being relieved that I never have to face him again." She crumpled the mass of cardboard in her hands and gritted her teeth, saying, "When someone you love dies, you cry and scream about it. What the hell do you do when someone you hate dies?"

Back in the parlor, Simon stood up gracefully and posed with an elbow on the mantelpiece. "Was this tragedy avoidable? The cast and crew of 'It's a Wonderful House' thinks so. Was this tragedy the fault of the producers? Certainly in part, since the killer was one of their camera crew -- one that a simple background check would have revealed." A clickable link to a file appeared on the screen. "Does a tragedy in which the producers were partly complicit, even by omission, void the contract of the cast? Our lawyer doesn't think so."

A black woman a bit older than me appeared on the screen; her caption said she was Marilyn Henderson, Wonder City attorney. "I have reviewed the contracts of all surviving cast members and I find nothing in it that would suggest that the manner or fact of Mr. deJong's death would void the agreement, as the producers of the show have claimed."

Back to Simon. "The cast and crew have discussed the matter, and, given our own limited resources and the comparatively limitless resources of PARABI and the producers of 'It's a Wonderful House', we feel a lawsuit would be worth less than the energy we would have to put into it. Our fans are the only good thing to come out of this experience, and so we decided that it would be most productive to give this information to you. If we manage to instill a little shame in the producers while we're at it, good." He shrugged and smiled, and Jeshri, Tom, and Lizzie came in from the wings (Tom in a suit, Jeshri in a little black dress, and Lizzie in a white blouse and black slacks). "Thanks for sticking with us. I, for one, will be glad to get back to the coffee shop."

"Me too," Lizzie said.

"I'm looking forward to my own apartment and my own truck," Tom said. "And about a month's worth of sleep."

"I love you guys, but I want my own roommates and my life back," Jeshri said, and they all nodded.

"And maybe some of us will go on to do stuff in the spotlight," Simon said. "Or maybe not."

"I'll still be on Twitter," Lizzie said.

"Me too," Jeshri said. "I've met some awesome people that way."

"I was thinking about writing a book about all this," Tom said thoughtfully.

"You better change my name," Lizzie said, punching him playfully in the arm.

"Mine too," Jeshri said. "And no wild imaginings about our 'alone time'."

The camera pulled back and back, the audio fading into an instrumental song that was nothing like the theme song, the former housemates moving into a group hug as they faded from view.

Credits rolled. At the end of the credits, on a black screen, the words, "In memory of Brandon deJong," appeared, and after a second, under that line, in fake typewriter script, "He was a jerk, but he was our jerk."

I sat back from the screen. "Hoooooo," I exhaled. "I hope they've got Ms. Henderson on retainer."

---

Note from the Author:

Sorry, y'all. I spent all day yesterday in a car, and just didn't have the brain juice left to post anything. I keep hoping things will get back to "normal" again after Thanksgiving, but I just know I'm kidding myself. :)

We've been falling down the list, so please remember to vote for WCS!









wonder_city: (Default)
Death's Dinner Party

"So here we are, at Death's door," Watson said.

Megan crutched up the front steps of the narrow Victorian townhouse.  "Do you really have to roll out the puns?  I'm nervous enough."

"Puns relax everyone," Watson said, shifting aside as Megan gained the porch.

"Why did she pick the name Death anyway?" Megan said a little irritably.

"I suspect she didn't want to be 'Bree' and got tired of being 'Harry'," Watson said.

"'Harry'?" Megan said.

"Big sisters are cruel," Watson said, and rang the doorbell.

Al opened the door, his Apollonian face breaking into a bright smile as he recognized them. "Death!" he shouted over his shoulder. "They came!"

"Of course," Watson said, vaguely indignant. "I said we would."

Al raised an elegant eyebrow. "You've bailed before. C'mon in."

"More of my sister's adventures in action?" Death asked as she arrived in the front hall in time to see Megan maneuvering awkwardly under the low lintel.

"What, you think my adventures are inherently violent?" Watson said, following Megan in.  

"I grew up with you," Death said.  "Do you need to prop it up while you're sitting?"

Megan smiled lopsidedly.  "Yeah, if that's not a problem."

"Oh, I'm pretty sure we can find something to fit the bill around here." Death gave Al a significant look, and he slithered past Megan and hurried down the hall. "We're not far from dinner, so let's get you set up in the dining room."

There were three women standing in the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen, but Megan didn't have attention to spare for them until she was settled in the large, reinforced chair at the end of the table and Al had brought a burgundy paisley-upholstered ottoman in and helped her get her leg onto it. Then she looked around. Watson was greeting the women with mild familiarity, and they all turned toward Megan when she looked up.

"Megan Amazon," Death said, waving a hand in the appropriate directions while she fussed with something at the vast mahogany sideboard. "Denny Silver, Vivian Chen, and Mack Janetsdottir."

Mack reached her first, a big, square, sixty-something white woman with short iron-gray hair, a weather-worn face of wrinkles, and a firm handshake. "We've been seeing your name in the papers," she said in exactly the rough, butch tones Megan had expected. "You do good work, kiddo."

"Thanks," Megan said.

Denny was an androgynous white woman who might be in her thirties, forties, or fifties, face smooth of most wrinkles and her short dark hair just starting to show threads of silver. She wore well-tailored grey trousers, a white men's dress shirt, and a patchwork vest made from sari material. "Yes, definitely," she said as she shook Megan's hand, then gestured down at the cast. "A badge of honor."

"Heh, well," Megan said, rubbing the back of her head with her left hand. "I'm not so sure about that."

"Pish, and also tosh," said Vivian, a curvy Asian high femme in a sequined little black dress and purple-toned eyeshadow and nails that highlighted one lock of her short black hair that was also purple. Her handshake was warm and thorough. "Still, I admire modesty." Megan was too distracted by everything else about Vivian to try to guess her age.

"Food!" Diarmid bellowed from the kitchen. He emerged, wearing pretty much what Megan saw him wearing before except that this apron read "Kiss the Cook or Make Him Cry." He was carrying a giant platter full of a large roasted bird of some sort -- Megan thought it was too small to be a turkey and too big to be a chicken. This was set at the head of the table, and then he hurried back out, returning moments later with a vat of mashed potatoes. Al followed with a heaping bowl of salad greens and pecans and goat cheese. Diarmid cycled back to the kitchen and appeared again with a bowl of steaming green beans.

Everyone settled down at the table, Watson at Megan's right and Vivian at Megan's left, Mack beyond Watson and Denny beyond Vivian. Death sat at the head of the table, Al on her left and Diarmid on her right.

"We don't say grace or anything in this house," Death said, brandishing a large, undoubtedly sharp knife and a large metal fork. "But it is the weekend of Beltane, so let's all think sexy thoughts or something while we eat."

"Mm, food and sex!" Mack said. "My favorite conflation."

"Better than Death and taxes," Watson said.

Death smiled at her mirthlessly and began carving the bird. Just a little vengefully.

"So, um, what do you all do?" Megan said politely to the trio of unknowns as they waited for the food to start getting passed their way.

"I'm a locksmith," Vivian said. At Megan's glance down at her remarkably sparkly fingernails, she grinned. "I have to take the polish off when I work," she said, mock-mournfully. "For some reason, people don't take me as seriously as they ought to. Besides, they chip like a chipping thing." She passed a hand over the shoulder of Denny, who was distracted by mashed potatoes. "She's a professor of high-energy physics at Wonder City U."

"I am, possibly predictably, a professor of women's studies," Mack said, winking at Vivian, "at the same eminent institution. And an anthropologist."

"Oh," Megan said.

"How about you?" Vivian said, serving herself salad.

"I'm, um, still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up," Megan said sheepishly.

"Meanwhile, she's doing construction gofering," Watson said.

"Thanks," Megan said to Watson through slightly clenched teeth.

"No prob," Watson said, clearly delighted with her self-appointed role as cattle-prod to the guests.

"Well, you gotta keep body and soul together, right?" Mack said, grinning in a way that threw all the lines of her face into relief. "I painted houses all through college and grad school, when I wasn't off in exotic places studying exotic brown people like everyone wanted me to. It was good money, and it was completely different from writing my dissertation."

"Where did you do your diss work?" Megan asked, mostly politely.

"Palau," Mack said. "In a tent on the beach."

"Sounds nice," Megan said.

"Can't get that kind of gig these days," Mack said, a little mournfully. "But, you know, you really couldn't back then either," she added cryptically. "So I do women's studies instead. I like the people."

"Neat," Megan said, at a loss for anything else to say. Fortunately, the parade of food came through. In a few moments, she had a heaping mound of buttered mashed potatoes, balsamic-dressed salad, green beans in lemon and parsley, herbed chestnut stuffing, and dark, juicy slices of poultry meat. She took a forkful of the meat and exclaimed, "This is fabulous! What type of bird is it?"

"Goose," Diarmid said, working on his salad. "And thanks, it's my grandmother's recipe."

"Except she usually made it for Christmas," Death said, adding pepper to her green beans. "I persuaded him that it fit any time of year."

"I save it for holidays, though," Diarmid said, leaning over to give Death a peck on the lips.

"So, Watson," Denny said, breaking the silent feeding frenzy that had ensued. "Death tells us you were behind that big newspaper splash about the serial killer."

Watson shrugged, slicing her meat into smaller-than-bite-size pieces. "It was just a bit of research."

"Aw, c'mon," Vivian said, "it's got to be more than that."

"Have the police confirmed that the camera kid was the serial killer?" Mack asked. "And not the TV kid? Or someone else?"

Watson shrugged. "They went to the cameraman's apartment and found quite a panoply of evidence. Maps of the city with certain areas highlighted. A scrapbook of newspaper articles and prints of blog entries about him. Most incriminatingly, a lockbox with items taken from the victims."

"'Items'?" Al said, his voice a little strained.

"Some of them were jewelry, like Yanaye Smallwood's missing locket," Watson said, "or the Steel Man's grandfather's watch. Others were... fragments. Like Dani Williams' false fingernail with the rhinestone set in it. Nothing entirely gruesome, like body parts, but certainly souvenirs. And I'm pretty certain they'll find that the things they couldn't identify from here will be found to belong to the Pittsburgh victims."

"Wow," Vivian said.

"What was the killer's name, anyway?" Denny said. "I haven't seen it yet."

At the other end of the table, Megan saw Death and Diarmid exchange an unreadable glance.

Watson fiddled with her wine glass, smiling mirthlessly, for a moment. Then she said, "You know, I'd rather not say." She looked up and glanced around at everyone at the table. "People get so hung up on the killer's name, and we tend to forget the victims' names in all the mess."

There was a bit of an awkward silence, but Mack nodded and turned to Watson, extending her hand. Watson blinked at the hand in surprise, then slowly took it. Mack shook her hand firmly, then turned back to dinner, changing the subject by asking Death how business was doing.

It took Megan most of dinner to understand from both comments dropped in conversation and body language that Denny, Vivian, and Mack were a threesome like Death and her boys. Well, actually, Megan corrected herself, not at all like Death and her boys. Because there was a vibe to Death's relationship where both Diarmid and Al were clearly lower on the power pyramid than Death herself. With the three women, there was a playful, familiar back-and-forth that had nothing to do with their relative ages (Vivian was possibly younger than Denny, who was clearly younger than Mack) nor the butch/femme/whatever dynamic.

Megan also noticed Watson watching everyone at the table. She could almost see the gears turning in Watson's head, snapping everything into pattern after pattern faster than lightning, finding the most likely ones and rejecting the others in ways that made her seem almost telepathic sometimes.

Death was keeping an eye on Watson too. Megan thought that Watson would have been a very hard older sister to have.

Dinner was a lovely thing, but Megan was drooping by the end of it, unable to do justice to the cherry and apple pies Denny had baked, or even to the chocolate shortbread Vivian and Mack had made. Her leg was throbbing, and she was thinking fondly of the bottle of painkillers she'd confidently left on her nightstand.

"I'm sorry, folks," she said, crutching back from the bathroom, which had been an exercise in cramming herself into a very small space in order to pee. "I think I'm just done for the night."

Watson stood up instantly, laying a hand on her arm. "I'm sorry, hon. I should've noticed you were wearing down. Did you remember your meds?"

"No, and that's one of the problems," Megan said, grinning sheepishly at the solicitous group who were all getting up and gathering around. "I guess it's true that the narcotics make you stupid."

Everyone was gratifyingly kind and concerned, and shook her hand and Watson's. "Let me know if you need a cane or something made to size," Diarmid added.

"Well, I'm glad you made it," Death said, trailing after them into the foyer. When Watson turned to her, she said, seriously, "Really glad."

Watson seemed taken aback by this, but got her face under control quickly. "I'm glad we came," she said.

"So am I," Megan said.

"Come over again soon, huh?" Death said, looking at them over the edge of her glasses and smiling.

"Yeah," Watson said. "Yeah, we will."

The sisters looked at each other for a long moment.

Megan nudged Watson forward with her elbow, and Watson, to her credit, did go ahead and hug Death. It was kind of cute, Megan thought, the way Death's eyes got so big at the gesture.

Once the two of them were safely ensconced in Zoltan's VW bus, the Divine Sarah, Megan said, "You two," in a tone of disbelief.

"What?" Watson said, skillfully guiding the van along back streets toward Marigold Lane. "I hugged her, didn't I?"

"When was the last time you hugged her?" Megan said, trying to stay chatty and ignore the sharp stabs of burning pain she got with every jar of the car.

Watson thought a moment. "Our parents' funeral."

Megan let that sit in silence for a moment, then said, "I'm sorry."

"No," Watson said. "You have a point."

They pulled into the driveway, and Watson stopped to help Megan out, rather than wrangling with the garage. Both of them frowned to hear raised voices from the garden, and hurried that way.

"Is there something wrong with your hearing?" G was almost-shouting. "I said no. And I also asked you to get out of here. Do I have to get the police to eject you?"

They came around the corner of the house and found G in her shirtsleeves and jeans, tending a sizable fire in the fire pit, a sooty poker in one hand. There was a cardboard box on the ground next to her, and Megan noticed the corner of a frilly blue curtain hanging out of it. G was addressing a young white man in a polo shirt and khakis, his dishwater blond crewcut mussed by his hand running through it repeatedly.

Zoltan was standing in the shadows on the back porch, watching.

"I'm just asking for... for a little something," Dr. Insight said more than a little desperately. "That little locket she wore. Anything."

"And I said no," G said. "There's no locket, by the way. Nothing she wore was real. Like her."

"She was real!" he shouted. "Stop saying she wasn't!"

G very deliberately set the poker pointfirst in the ground and stepped up to him. "I'm going to say this very slowly. She was a ghost. She wasn't a full person. She was a piece of a person left over after a terrible crime."

Dr. Insight ground his teeth audibly. "Gwen was a person!"

G flushed brick-red with rage. "Don't you get it? That wasn't even her name. IT'S MY GODDAMN NAME THAT SHE STOLE."

Dr. Insight reeled back a few steps. G advanced.

"She stole my name," G said, her voice dropped to a growl. "She stole my body. She stole my apartment. She lost me my girlfriend, and nearly lost me my job. She was a crazy shred of a person, a parasite that tried to kill me and take everything that was mine." She poked him in the chest with one finger. "Nothing that she brought into my home leaves it except to burn. Nothing. Because the Meteor you knew was a thief and a would-be murderer and doesn't deserve to have anything left of her."

Dr. Insight took another step back, then turned and started to walk out of the yard. He came up short when he saw Megan and Watson. He hesitated a long moment, then started to turn back to G.

G watched him for a moment, her lips pressed together tightly, but when he opened his mouth to speak, she said, voice harsh in her throat, "And you were a lousy fuck."

He went stark white, then his eyes opened wide in horror. Dr. Insight turned and ran out of the garden.

G watched him go, then looked at Megan and Watson. Megan remembered to shut her mouth.

Watson said, elaborately casual, "Want a hand?"

G shook her head. "This is something I need to do."

Watson nodded. "Come up for a drink after," she said, then turned and guided Megan back to the front of the house.

They watched Dr. Insight's car cannoning up the lane, and Megan said, in a low voice, "Can someone even apologize for something like that?"

Watson shook her head and shrugged.

---

Note from the Author:

I'm late, but, um, better late than never?

Remember to vote for WCS!









wonder_city: (Default)
Resolving Powers

The wind was screaming. Simon leapt between Sator and Brainchild, teeth flashing. The Equestrian and Maelstrom banished the spell that entrapped them.

For one hollow second, the right side of Sator's face darkened and his eyes opened wide, mouth frozen mid-incantation. A pink mist coalesced in the air to the right of Sator. Then Sator dropped to the floor, his flesh crumbling stickily around his bones. The mist rained down and was lost in the general oversupply of gore.

The wind blew itself apart and the gears stopped cold.

There was silence.

"Well," said the Equestrian, staring at the remains of Sator. "That's a thing."

Holy shit, Simon said. Did she...?

My god, Ira said, she killed him. Took all the water... or blood... or something right out of his body.

It was the only thing to do, Suzanne said firmly, but I could feel her reeling with nausea.

We'll deal with that later, Watson said grimly. Start cleaning up, we're on our way.

Be careful, Maelstrom said. Magicians generally leave nasty surprises for posthumous applications.

So a few minutes later, a handful of Gold Stars bounced through the portal and found the Equestrian exclaiming, "I found your hand, Wire. I... think it got in the way when Nereid did her thing, though." She looked up from the object on the floor and said to Sekhmet, "Oh, hello. About bloody time you got here."

"My gods!" Sekhmet said, staring around the blood-spattered room in horror. "Who...? How...?"

The Equestrian snapped, "Later. Look, we've got a massive injury over there--" pointing to Wire "--and another couple of people down. Could you, perhaps, lend a hand?" She looked back at the floor. "I mean, help out?"

Simon was gently nudging Nereid with his cold nose, and Nereid was waking up slowly. I noticed he wasn't trying to, say, lick her face. She was blood, head to toe. (Of course, so was everyone else.)

Sekhmet and her compatriots (I recognized the Blue Eagle costume, but knew it had to be a new one -- or maybe not, if he'd somehow come back to life, which wasn't unusual for the spandex teams -- and the Green Hood) spread out, inspecting Megan and Nereid and Wire from a distance and looking up at the ceiling, where the hole was slowly closing up.

Watson and G went through the portal together and straight to Megan, who was still out cold (because I do my work right). They struggled a little -- she's a big girl -- but between them (and their minor superstrength) they backboarded her (why wasn't I surprised that Watson knew how to do that correctly?) and got her onto the giant-sized stretcher they'd brought.

Professor Fortune, in his cape and with his wacky Einstein hair looking especially Einsteinian, strode into the room like he owned it. "Ah, Molly," he said, smiling benignly at the Equestrian. He looked around quickly, and his gaze lingered on the funnel. "Oh, good," he said softly. "Nice to see the thing with the machine worked out."

Watson and G were slowly walking Megan out, and paused at the door while Watson gave the professor a strange, unreadable look. Her mind was shuttered completely from me. G shook her head at the solicitous Eagle and Hood, and gestured to Watson with her chin. Watson nodded and moved forward; they carried Megan out into Sator's shop, and the Eagle and the Hood followed them.

Sekhmet knelt next to Wire, producing a thick band of leather from some part of her costume to tourniquet the girl's arm.

"Bugger off, you useless toad," the Equestrian said to Professor Fortune. "This is my gig, not yours."

"Molly, my dear," Professor Fortune said, beaming at her, "I'm just here to help out with an analysis of the situation. The Gold Stars called me in."

"Analyze this, Harvey," the Equestrian said, flipping the bird at him (she did it both ways, in case he was too dim to figure out the British way). "Get out of here before Her Nibs notices that the self-styled Grand High Poobah of Earth is standing on her turf, from which, I note, he has been banned for more than four decades. I won't be responsible if she shows up."

The pool of blood on the floor rose up and coalesced gracefully into a replica of Nereid. It wasn't an exact twin: the replica was wearing a long gown streaked with all the shades of red and brown found in blood. Her face kept shifting and it took me a moment to figure out why: I was seeing her through the eyes of several people, and I guessed that her face altered according to the viewer's ideals of beauty. It was like looking at a very peculiar animation, especially since it was still recognizably Nereid's face.

I didn't even try to get near that mind. I'm stupid, not suicidal.

She turned and stared at Professor Fortune with the mad, cold expression of a bird of prey. He tried to smile urbanely and failed. She said in a voice that resonated in several registers, "You know the penalty, of course. I need not insult you by repeating it."

The Equestrian radiated an unholy glee as Professor Fortune backpedaled toward the door. I felt unadulterated terror from Tam Lane, who was trying to shrink behind a bit of debris.

"No offense meant, of course, Your Majesty," he said, pausing at the threshold and producing a handkerchief to mop his suddenly gleaming brow. "We had no idea that the door led to..."

The woman stared at him, motionless. Her dress rippled toward him liquidly where it met the floor.

He caught his cloak in both hands and bounded hastily through the door.

The Equestrian and Maelstrom both executed handsome bows to the creature that had manifested from the blood. "Your Majesty," the Equestrian said. "My apologies for not detecting this mess sooner."

She lifted a hand and gazed incuriously around the room. "You have stopped it, according to your bargain."

"I think we've a good bit more to do," Maelstrom muttered ruefully. The Queen ignored him as she swept into a walk so inhumanly graceful that it reminded me of a jellyfish.

Tam actually ducked his head beneath his arms as she glanced in his direction; I wasn't sure, but I thought I caught the traces of a smile on her face through the Equestrian's eyes.

The Queen paused and looked down at Nereid. Simon, who had turned human in order to lift Nereid's face out of a puddle of blood, looked nervously up at the Queen and I could sense from him that she didn't smell right -- not like blood, not like anything he'd ever smelled. "It is impolite to tamper with the lifeblood of another's realm, yet sufficient unto the day is the repayment thereof." She turned her head towards the Equestrian. "I forget the words," she said sweetly, with an undertone of malice so clear it was like metal. "How is it I should curse her?"

Nereid, who only just recovered real consciousness, looked up into that face and began leaking blood incontinently: I could see it dripping from her fingertips and it streaked her face like tears. I could feel her sheer, bone-draining terror: the closest I can describe it is that of an acrophobic being pressed to the edge of a sheer precipice.

The Equestrian blinked. Then her expression hardened, and she answered, "Your Majesty, I believe it is him you usually threaten, at least in the songs I am familiar with."

Tam came out from under his arms for long enough to shoot the Equestrian a hateful look.

The Queen raised a hand with impossibly graceful fingers -- and possibly too many of them -- to her lips. "Ah, now I remember. I cannot call shame upon her face, because after all, I am using it. Such shame as her ill-favored face may have is only that which she herself shall bring upon it. Let it be so."

She smiled at the Equestrian, as though she had just won a round of a game, and said, "Be off with you all, I want no more of you." With that, the figure collapsed to the floor in a viscous splash, the blood spreading once more into a shining pool.

"Can we get out of here now?" Simon asked the Equestrian. "Before someone changes her mind?"

Maelstrom strode over, nudged Sekhmet aside, and, with an interesting impulse of protectiveness I didn't poke at, picked up Wire, who looked grey and chalky. "Let's."

Sekhmet acquiesced to Maelstrom's preference and walked over to Simon. "May I? At least if I carry her, I can feel like I did something here."

"Please," Simon said. "Feels like she's broken her right arm and maybe some other things." He turned wolf again.

Sekhmet moved around to Nereid's left and carefully picked her up. Nereid's eyes closed.

Tam looked cautiously out from his hiding place, then rushed out to Nereid's side. He reached out for her hand, paused and grimaced. It was coated and shining with blood. Overcoming his squeamishness, he gripped her hand and looked into her face, murmuring, "Ah, my dear, my dearest." He trotted alongside as Sekhmet carried her out.

"Don't move her arm, you git," the Equestrian called after them. "It's broken!"

Nereid's eyelashes didn't so much as flutter. I couldn't parse the terror and anxiety I could sense from Tam, so I didn't try. Then they were through the door to Earth.

You look a mess, Suzanne said as she envisioned throwing her arms around Simon gratefully, and I let that go through, just to Simon.

He gave a wolfish grin and bounded out through the door.

The Equestrian took a last look around after the others had left. This is going to be a long night, she said.

Surely you're done? I said.

Not a chance, the Equestrian said, and let me have a little of her Faerie sight. I could see gaping holes ground into the dimensional wall as far as I could see. This is all over the realm. All over the Earth. We've got to gather up the escapees.

"Speaking of escapees," she added aloud, spinning one of her green balls of fire into a net. Her gaze moved to Brainchild, whose spirit was standing, looking around her with a horrified expression, in the corner of the room furthest from where the machine used to be.

Damn, girl, you have a rough job, I said.

"Yep," she said, flicking the net over Brainchild, who shrank down inside it into a green ball of light. The Equestrian strode over to pick her up, absently tucking Wire's mummified hand into her belt as she bent to receive the ball of light with both hands. She sighed.

Beer first, she said to me. Then onward. She strode through the door.

---

Note from the Author:

Okay! The cliffhangers are over, and the denouement has begun. What loose ends are you most looking forward to seeing tied up?

(Also, much gratitude to Akycha for helping me with the Queen's characterization.)

Remember to vote for WCS!









wonder_city: (Default)
L’appel du vide

"Now you," Sator said, glancing over his shoulder. "Megan Amazon, shatter yourself." I had to drop filters in place as Megan took a magical blast that went straight through her invulnerability, ran up every nerve ending, and back down, spasming all the muscles in her arms and legs. Meteor got an accidental punch to the nose from Megan, one that knocked her backward to sprawl on the floor.

On another "channel," I apologized quickly to the Wonderful House kids and dropped them out of the link entirely: Tom was in the ambulance with Brandon on the way to the hospital, Jeshri and Lizzie and Eartha were talking to the police and the Gold Stars.

Block her motor nerves, Watson said tightly. Do it now!

She was right, the spell wasn't stopping, and Megan was apparently strong enough to overcome her own invulnerability, judging from some of the pain I was reading. I stopped everything anomalous that was happening in her motor cortex and knocked her out. She dropped limply to the floor.

Meanwhile, Simon's shape swarmed up to human form (naked) and lunged for Brainchild. His hands couldn't touch her, but he managed to catch the glass fragment -- presumably magical -- that her spirit was standing on. There was a stab of pain as the razor edges of the glass sliced into his hands. Brainchild was stable for just a second, then her spirit turned and tried to grab onto the glass, as if she was being sucked into the funnel by some secret wind.

"Oh, let her fall, child," Sator laughed. "Let her fall and see my century-old plan come to fruition at last!"

Nereid hit him with a firehose blast... of blood. While he sputtered at the mouthful he'd got, she stared at her hands, and I could feel the hysteria welling up amidst her panic.

It's not permanent! the Equestrian snapped at her. It's just this place doing it to you. Do it again!

I can't help her! Simon exclaimed, gripping the glass that was slippery with his own blood and trying to pull it away from the machine without losing Brainchild. She's going to fall!

Meteor! Ira snapped. You're a spirit when you're not in that girl's body. Do something.

The Equestrian and Maelstrom were attacking Sator again to distract him. Nereid, to give the girl credit, pulled her shit together and added her geysers of blood.

Meteor hesitated. I'm not sure I can, she said. Can't Renata help her?

I can't reach her mind, I said. I've tried. And I'm not spiritually telekinetic anyway.

Meteor, you have to save her! Suzanne nigh-shouted. You're her only hope!

Feeling Meteor peel out of the body she was possessing was like nothing I'd ever felt: like someone burning their skin off, and then being totally without pain because there were no nerves any more. Her spirit leapt out of the woman -- G, Watson told me -- and threw herself across the mouth of the black abyss just as Brainchild slipped off the glass. Brainchild hit the "surface" that was Meteor and bounced off her onto the floor.

Meteor said to me, I only ever wanted to be a hero, before her grip slipped and she was sucked into the void, her mind sliding too far away for me to reach.

G staggered backward and fell over Megan. I apologetically seized control of her motor functions, got her ass up, and walked her out the door.

One less potential victim in that room. Go me.

---

Note from the Author:

Because I'm mean, here's a new challenge for Team Commentariat: 15 commenters get you a third new episode on Saturday!

And remember to vote for WCS!









wonder_city: (Default)
Hope Like Hell That Man Is an Evil Man

Megan shouldered Meteor aside and leapt over the contorted body of the serial killer they'd chased and through the doorway. She felt Meteor follow via the link. In a corner of her mind, Megan was very impressed with Renata's power -- not every telepath could maintain contact with multiple minds through a dimensional gate, even initiating new links on the other side of the gate. In fact, Megan couldn't think of a single telepath in the literature who could.

Sator's a showier mage-type than we thought, she reported to Watson.

Sator was inspecting his opponents coolly from his vantage point, hovering well above the floor. "Ah, you," he said, his gaze falling upon the Equestrian. "I wondered when she would send you my way."

"You can hardly imagine that she'd ignore what you've been doing here," the Equestrian said, rolling a green glowing ball from hand to hand.

You knew what was going on? Nereid exclaimed in the link.

Of course not, the Equestrian said.

What is going on here? Simon asked, and Megan could hear an echo of the question from Suzanne and Watson.

If evidence can be believed, the Equestrian said, he's collected hundreds of human souls to power an interdimensional engine.

"She rarely cares about the outskirts of her realm," Sator said.

"She cares when you start rearranging the furniture in her house," the Equestrian said, gesturing upward.

"Oh, she'll like the results," Sator said with an unpleasant smile. "For about five minutes. And then I'll destroy her."

The Equestrian looked over at Maelstrom. "Where've we heard that one before?"

"Only every two-bit pretender that's come along," the horse, now much more horselike, said.

I think you all should probably back out slowly, the Equestrian said. We're used to dealing with blokes like this.

Sophie! Nereid and Wire said simultaneously, and Megan noticed, for the first time, the bell jar containing a tiny version of Brainchild.

Dammit, the Equestrian said, and there was an edge of dawning horror from her mind. She's probably the linchpin to kick his machine into high gear. There are few things more powerful than a disembodied living human spirit in this realm.

Bugger, Maelstrom said, and stepped in front of the Equestrian again just as the room became a fireworks show of multicolored magics.

"Where did you get this many souls, Sator?" the Equestrian said, gesturing a magical shield into existence.

"I've been here a long time," Sator said. "And humans -- particularly paranormals -- are very useful for fetching and carrying."

Like the serial killer? Suzanne said. I wonder if he demanded the victim type switch for some magical reason.

"Like the poor chump you've been using lately?" the Equestrian said, raising blue vines from the floor to entrap Sator.

"Oh, he was a killer to start with," Sator said, creating a shredding whirlwind around himself that took the vines to pieces. "He came to me, pathetic thing, wanting to know how to get rid of the ghosts that were following him. So I took them away, and tucked them here for safekeeping. And he went off to make more."

"Not all girls, though," the Equestrian said. Maelstrom kicked a ball of fire up at Sator.

"Oh, it was some Oedipal thing," Sator said, flicking the fireball away. "He didn't get to kill his father, so he wanted to kill his father. I promised to raise his father so he could kill him -- imagine me going to all that trouble for a foolish little creature like that -- and he went out to fetch more souls. But temptation took him back to his original targets. Humans are so predictable."

There you go, the Equestrian said to Suzanne.

That's terrible, said Suzanne.

At least there won't be any more, Ira said comfortingly.

By this one, Suzanne said.

Megan looked around as she ducked the lightning and fire and wind. There was a big, heavy control panel nearby, behind Sator. She ran to it and found herself face-to-face with Meteor, who apparently had the same idea. They nodded to each other, bent, and jammed their fingers underneath the solid mass of steel and lights.

Megan counted, One... two... THREE! and they both heaved with all their might.

The panel tore free of its moorings and slammed into Sator's back, exploding into more lightning and fire and wind.

Sator lost concentration, apparently, as his part of the fireworks ceased for a moment. There was a whirring, whining sound that cut through the air, and Wire's trademark wires, which she reputedly never used on living things, lashed out to wrap around Sator.

His clothing was reduced to ribbons, but his skin was impervious. He pursed his lips and raised a hand. The wires rebounded, lashing back toward their creator.

Wire leapt aside just a fraction of a second too late, and her left arm just... fell off below the elbow.

Megan felt Renata clamp down on Wire's reaction, but she saw the blood burst onto the floor. Wire fell, clamping her remaining hand over the stump. Somehow, Wire stayed silent against some sort of desperate panic that Megan didn't understand.

Worse, the churning, spinning wires kept on and slashed through the glass bell jar that hovered above the funnel, sending glass fragments everywhere.

Nereid screamed as Brainchild's spirit slipped toward the abyss of the black cone.

---

Note from the Author:

Ten commenters get you the next episode on Thursday!

And remember to vote for WCS!









wonder_city: (Default)
Definitely a Boojum

Where the fuck did he go? Megan said through the link.

This way! Simon said, and everyone paying attention could smell slightly scorched spandex and male sweat, with a number of overtones none of them could identify, but I could feel Simon's translation: fear, rage, hope, desperation, frustration.

Meteor shrank down to about ten feet tall so as to follow Simon, since she'd lost her aerial view of the killer in the shadows almost immediately.

Down this street? Megan said, skidding around the corner after the much tighter cornering of the wolf. But this is...

Sator's, Watson said. He's gone to Sator's. Don't you remember him?

For the second time that night, Megan had a bitter taste of memory that I had to filter and poke her out of. C'mon, girl, no time for expository flashbacks, I said.

They paused outside the door of Sator's, which was neatly closed. Simon listened.

"Sator! Sator!" Camerabro was bellowing, moving away from them into the store.

"What is it?" came an irritated reply, and I could feel, via Watson and Megan, that it was Sator's voice.

"It's all gone to shit," Camerabro said. "Instead of just the kids and the dog, there was a spandex ambush."

I could hear Megan thinking, NOT spandex, very loudly. Meteor shot her a hateful look.

"And so you've come here expecting what exactly?" Sator said, and his voice was a silken-smooth growl.

"Enough power to get you what you need!" the cameraman said. "You wanted one more soul. I can get it for you. But first I need what you promised me."

"Were you followed?" Sator demanded.

Meteor started forward, but Simon said, No, wait, and kept listening.

"Damn you, give me what you promised!" the killer shouted. Then he moderated his tone: "I'll go get a soul for you. Three souls. Six souls. I'll bring them all to you! There are so many girls out there in this city, so many with soft throats and powers that bounce off me. I can kill them all."

"Were you followed?" Sator said.

"I'll bring you more souls than you can count," the man said, "just give me what you promised and I'll go out and get them for you."

Sator said, his tone hard as diamond, "You brought them here, you fool, you hopeless excuse for a human. And now I shall have to kill them myself."

"I'll do it!" Camerabro shrieked, and the shop was oozing the scent of terror now. "I'll take care of them...!"

"I don't think so," Sator said, his voice matter-of-fact. "I only need one soul, and yours is as good as any."

I didn't have time to shield myself much, but I managed to shield everyone else in the link from the mind-searing death that went with the most horrible scream Simon, Megan, Meteor, and I had ever heard torn from a human throat.

---

Note from the Author:

YES! You all did it! If you do it again (ten comments), I'll post a THIRD new episode on Saturday!

Vote for WCS!









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