The Direct End of Government

Not many people remember that Patrick Henry, the fiery American patriot and founder who famously declared “Give me liberty, or give me death!” opposed the United States Constitution which replaced the Articles of Confederacy. He believed it gave too many powers to the proposed government and in particular to its Chief Executive. A revolutionary who’d risked all for independence, he didn’t want what he saw as another king, and he believed the new Constitution a threat to American liberties. Ironically, decades later during the Civil War he was claimed by both northern abolitionists and southern secessionists.

Of such complicated characters is history made, but I bring Patrick up because I wonder what he would think of our current constitutional crisis.

I should put “constitutional crisis” in quotes, because it’s not a legal crisis. Yet. But as a student of history it disturbs me that two of our fundamental institutions are experiencing deep legitimacy crises right now. The Electoral College is under attack because under the right circumstances it can choose as our Chief Executive Officer and Commander in Chief a candidate who fails to achieve a majority of the popular vote–an undemocratic result. The Supreme Court is under attack because it’s perceived as an autocratic and therefor undemocratic body in the process of being captured by one of our two major political parties. There is strong support among those who feel that the Electoral College is thoroughly anti-democratic and the Supreme Court is becoming the tool of . . . regressive actors . . . and that Something Must Be Done. Let’s look at each from Patrick’s perspective.

The Electoral College

As currently structured, the Electoral College was intended to check the national influence of the most populous states (the claim that it was constructed to protect slavery in the southern states is a base canard; it got more support in the North than the South during the convention and ratification debates). The EC was originally intended to be a kind of elite debating society–under the Constitution, electors are chosen by the states and the electors were to choose the President–but it became a kind of rubber stamp institution where the electors swear to choose the candidate who wins their constituent’s popular vote. A not-so-trivial legal constitutional battle is now being fought over the question of whether electors must give their vote to the candidate most popular with their constituents. But a larger legitimacy crisis now looms over the entire Electoral College. It pops up every time the EC elects as President a candidate who came in second with the national popular vote.

So what would Patrick Henry think of this?

He’d totally back the legitimacy of the Electoral College, especially when it goes against the popular vote.

What? Really?

Absolutely. Of all the things he worried about with the new Constitution, the leverage the EC gave to the smaller states wasn’t one of them. Quite the opposite. Since he was critical of even the limited powers granted the proposed US President at the time, it made sense that any candidate for that office should enjoy the widest popularity possible, among Mainers as much as Virginians or New Yorkers. At the time of the ratification debates Virginia had 10x the population of Kentucky, and the Electoral College would force presidential candidates to pay attention to the smaller states and not simply act as the Chief Executive of the Big States of America.

How would this look to Patrick, today? As of the 2010 Census, our most heavily populated US State (California, pop. 37 million) has 67x the population of our least populous state (Wyoming, pop. 550 thousand). Trump won the popular vote, and therefor the electors, of 30 of our 50 states. He lost the popular contest in California by 4,269,978 votes, accounting for all of the 2,868,691 votes by which he lost the “national” popularity contest. As one commentator noted, as an illustration of what this meant, you could imagine the 2016 results with Trump keeping every state he won, while adding a 1-vote victory margin “in every state Clinton won except just five states: California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York. That would subtract 2,636,017 votes from Clinton’s total, which would still give her a 232,642-vote majority of total votes. So, Trump would have won 45 states and the District of Columbia representing 74 percent of Americans, which would give him a 413-125 Electoral Vote win. Yet, under the California popular vote model, Clinton would still have won the presidency by 232,642 votes.”

To rephrase that, in 2016, under a single National Majority method for electing our presidents, Hillary Clinton could have lost in every state she won but California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York (total pop. around 83 million), and she would have won the election. Think about that for a moment; she could have been President of a United States in which a majority of voters in 45 states voted against her. That might still make sense, if we had a unitary national government. But we don’t; we have a national federal government which shares power with sovereign state governments, and in which the powers of our federal government are, in theory, limited.

It concerned Patrick Henry that a strong national government could ignore the majority will of the smaller states, or even most of the states if the largest states formed a political coalition. He would not have been a fan of Donald Trump, who is far from a Small-Government Conservative, but he’d be one of the first to defend the EC, which forces candidates to stump widely as well as deeply, focusing on more than a handful of states. Want a revolution? Create a national electoral system in which our most powerful political figure can be chosen by the popular majorities of just five states. If One Man One Vote meant an end to the EC and domination by a small coalition of states, Patrick Henry would be first in line with “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

The Supreme Court

Nobody really saw Marbury v Madison coming. With one decision, Chief Justice John Marshall established the justices of the US Supreme Court as high priests with the power to interpret the meaning of our holy writ–the sections and amendments of the Constitution–and to invalidate any action or subsequently passed law that violated the sacred national contract. It put teeth into the declaration that “Congress shall make no law . . . “

Because Supreme Court Justices aren’t robots, angels, or Vulcans, every court since has rendered its unappealable decisions based on reason, precedent, ideology, prejudice, partisanship, and often accepted “truths” of their time that turn out to be horribly untrue later. Patrick Henry would not have been surprised. I have no idea if he would have approved.

What he did approve of was the degree of separation between the federal administration (elected and appointed, its composition changing with each election), and the federal courts (whose members’ appointments are essentially for life). While the power to fill judicial seats was a reward for winning elections–the party winning the Presidency and a Senate majority filling the seats to their advantage–the fact that turnover was slow meant that a party would need to hold power for a significant period of time to tilt the judiciary in favor of their politics. The downside, of course, was that a party, on achieving majority control of the executive and legislative branches, would find itself opposed by the judicial branch for years in areas where its policies conflicted with current judicial interpretations. The judicial branch remains the branch most resistant to swift change, the branch least likely to bend to currently popular political doctrines.

Since the Supreme Court is supreme in its domain, it’s been fought over ever since, its seats the ultimate prize for winning elections. One way we’ve kept the never-ending War of The Seats from turning into a scorched-earth total war is the filibuster. It was used to require 60 votes to bring a Supreme Court nominee to a vote in the Senate. Since neither party tended to hold a 60+ Senate majority for long, this gave both parties leverage to stop judicial nominees from taking up lifetime appointments. Neither party liked the filibuster when it worked against them, but both parties understood the compromises also protected them when they were out of power.

Then a Democratic Senate majority ended the filibuster rule for lower federal court seats so a simple majority could vote on the nomination. After that the next Republican majority ended the filibuster rule for all federal judiciary nominees, including the Supreme Court.

And now it’s total political war, baby!

Seriously. It’s still seldom that either party has a filibuster-proof majority (60+ seats) in the Senate, which means if anything is to get done then some bipartisanship is required to get support from “across the aisle.” Where once both parties could usually block a Supreme Court nominee that they perceived as too extreme (in the wrong direction of course, since obviously it’s impossible to be too extreme in the right direction), even when out of power, now neither party has any legal way to block an unacceptable nominee if the majority party votes as a block to approve the nomination.

The result is the absolute vitriol of the last Supreme Court appointment. The Democrats wouldn’t have resorted to character-assassination in a last-minute attempt to derail the nomination if a filibuster would have served. And now there’s no way for the Democrats to stop the Republican-majority Senate from voting to confirm a replacement for Ginsberg before the 2020 Election.

The Filibuster Rule isn’t coming back for judicial nominations; neither party will reinstate such a limit on their power while they’re the majority. That means where the War of The Seats used to fill our judiciary with a healthy share of judicial moderates (a judicial moderate being a judge neither party is completely happy with), both parties will now be exclusively filling those seats with their own judicial activists. The stakes are now higher than ever.

And the current makeup of the Supreme Court? It’s about to tip towards the judicial textualists, which to Democrats is the same as “right-wing.” (It’s really not, but hey, nuance.) And it will stay there for quite awhile, since the younger justices will now mostly be textualists. The Republicans have played by the rules in their long campaign to move the court, and though you can argue they’ve played ugly, politics has never been pretty. But the outcome of this election may very well be a complete Democratic sweep of the White House and both houses of Congress, right after the court tips to become “constitutionally conservative.”

This brings up the second crisis.

The US Constitution does not dictate how many justices will sit on the Supreme Court. That was established by federal law, which means a Democrat-controlled Congress could blow up the Filibuster completely and change that law by simple majority vote. They could then “pack the court” with politically progressive nominees, as many as they want. Franklin Delano Roosevelt threatened the Supreme Court with this, once, but there’s an obvious reason why no Congress has ever done it; there is no constitutional limit to such a move.

If the Democrats change the law and pack the court with their preferred judges, when Republicans regain the majority again (and they will), there will be nothing to keep them from changing the law again to bring in more of their preferred judges, or to reduce the number of seats as the older, progressive judges, retire or die in their seats. The Supreme Court has never been truly unpolitical, but it’s always been an independent branch. These kinds of shenanigans would fatally compromise the judicial independence that Patrick Henry and the other founders saw as a vital check on executive and legislative power.

So, what happens now?

To be honest, I have no idea, but let me point out some possible roads.

Road 1: Donald Trump wins reelection, with both an Electoral College
and popular-vote victory.

At this point the polls are so unreliable that I wouldn’t be surprised by this outcome. If it happens, the simmering constitutional crises won’t boil over, at least for now. There might be riots, and if there are then gun shops everywhere will do even brisker 2nd Am. business (they have had a very good summer).

Road 2: Donald Trump wins reelection, again with an incontestable Electoral College victory but not a popular-vote victory.

More likely than Road 1, and more dangerous. Riots are almost certain, and a majority of the country will be confirmed in their hatred for the EC. Resistance will kick into a higher gear, with half the country refusing to accept Trump as a legitimately sitting Chief Executive. Ironically, this will be a worse outcome for both parties as the Left moves further left, further alienating the Moderate Middle and further radicalizing the Far Right in response.

Road 3: Donald Trump wins/loses reelection by a contestable voter margin in swing states.

The darkest road. If the voting is this close, the country will go into recount-and-litigation mode. It will be Bush v. Gore writ large, playing out across several states at once and certain to be decided by a Supreme Court that Democrats are convinced the Republicans have stolen. The Supreme Court’s legitimacy will be at an all-time low at the moment it needs to be rock-solid.

Road 4: Donald Trump loses his bid for reelection by an incontestable margin, Biden winning the Electoral College and popular vote.

With the Big States tilting Democrat, it’s mathematically impossible for Biden to win the national popularity contest and lose in the Electoral College. No riots, but almost as perilous an outcome for the Supreme Court, which if the Democrats also take the Senate must now face a vengeful party.

Constitutionally, none of these roads look good. If we come through all this intact, I hope that everybody realizes how close a thing this has become and we begin to take steps. This is probably wildly optimistic of me, but if even a little bipartisan sanity bubbles up from all this, there are some possibilities for compromise. The most important move to make would be to constitutionally regularize the Supreme Court. I suggest an Amendment.

The Supreme Court shall be comprised of 9 justices, the sitting justice with the most seniority being retired every 2 years if no other vacancies have occurred in that period, vacating the seat on the fourth Friday of that year.

As to the Electoral College, there is no constitutional fix short of an additional amendment, and since there’s no way the smaller states will go along with it chances of success are slim to none. But I think all the hating on the EC is really a symptom of unitary nationalism. Unitary nationalists are populists who pretty much want to ditch federalism (on paper, our current system), reducing states to mere administrative appendages of a unitary national government (ironically, something many “conservatives” would approve of if they remained the majority party). Patrick Henry’s nightmare. But if that’s your thing, have at it. Go ahead, I’ll respect you as long as you’re honest about it.

MGH

Note: whether you disagree with me or with others who disagree in the comments, please keep it civil. I’ve never had to moderate a comment-thread on one of my posts, and I don’t want to start now. Whatever your political convictions, we’re all citizens engaging in dialogue here.

Posted in The Radical Moderate | Tagged | 63 Comments

She’s Killing Me

Ever lose a day to something you totally shouldn’t have done and not regret it at all? Yeah, I thought so. In this case it’s NOT MY FAULT. I totally blame Alexi and Melinda.

Just so you know, Alexi is a crazy Spaniard (Andalusian, actually) from Queens. If you attend many Comic-Cons you’ve probably seen him stalking the dealer hall floor looking for victims. He’s the compact mustachioed d’Artagnan who hands you a book with a twinkle in his eye and a “You’re going to love this.”

Seriously, he’s the owner of Bards Tower, a traveling bookstore that follows the cons to get authors in front of their fans and introduce them to new ones, and he loves every sci-fi/fantasy genre there is. Except vampires, which is ironic. He’s the reason you’ve seen me in places like Hartford and Pensacola, and despite the fact that I didn’t see him at the seven cons that just didn’t happen this year, we’ve kept in touch; among other things we both love analyzing What Went Wrong with certain popular franchises. That and talking superheroes.

And he’s still introducing unsuspecting people to great books. Yesterday he reached out to me with a “You know, Melinda just re-released a fantastic book of hers, This Case is Gonna Kill Me. Heard of it?”

Yes, re-released. It may shock you to hear that books don’t just explode or disappear on their merits; publisher decisions (covers, titles, series names, amount of marketing, etc.) have a huge effect on how well a book will sell. Sometimes a fantastic piece of writing appears with poor packaging and thin marketing, and rises to the heights it deserves because enough readers love it enough to do what Alexi does–push it to an unsuspecting friend with a “You’re going to love this.” But there are so many good books out there, and more often than not, a good or even great book that’s poorly marketed will just disappear.

This Case is Gonna Kill Me was originally published under the pen-name of Phillipa Bornikova (because apparently a New York Times best-selling sci-fi writer writing fantasy is . . . bad?), with a deceptive cover (the protagonist isn’t a blonde action-girl, she’s a tiny new-minted attorney with midnight hair) and a crappy series name (yes, our little lawyer’s name is Linnet Ellery, but does The Linnet Ellery Series grab you?).

So the series didn’t find its wings. Shocker. But Melinda, and that’s Melinda Snodgrass of Wild Cards fame (also a writer for Star Trek: TNG back in the day), got the publication rights to the series back and found a new small publisher that knew a good story when it saw it and knew what to do with it. So, re-published under her own name, with a new and descriptive cover, and a catchy new series name. Also some minor scene rewrites here and there, because every author that ever published regrets that one scene or that one line of dialogue once they’ve given their baby into the hands of the publishing house.

And Alexi pushed it at me with a twinkle in his eye. “You should recommend this to your Artemis fans.”

I was skeptical. It was a vampire book. Yes, I’ve written a vampire book, but I wrote it as a writer who doesn’t like most vampire fiction. Just read Bite Me’s opening line. (Mind you I don’t hate vampires, per se, I just hate how most fang-fiction stories handle them.) But Alexi knew this, and I trusted Alexi. I said “I’ll check it out, pass it along if I think it’s worth it.” Not that Melinda ever writes anything bad, just, you know, it was a vampire book. I half-expected to read the first few chapters and put it down. Well, I put it down.

When I hit The End after midnight.

Linnet is not a vampire. She’s a lawyer, which on some days she thinks might arguably be worse. There is no vampire love-interest. Vampires are bastards.

There are also werewolves and fay. They’re bastards, too.

Warning: I give the book an R rating; it’s not full of sex and violence, but what there is is fairly graphic (I seem to recall the word viscera used once), so, FYI.

If you’re okay with that, I’ll just say it reads like a John Grisham story in the world of Supernatural. You’re going to love this.

MGH

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Long Overdue Update.

If you look close . . . you can’t see me (I’m taking the picture.)

So what have I been up to? Oh, you know. This and that. A little while back I attended Pensacon (the Pensacola Comic-Con), or as I’ve come to call it, The Last Con. Seriously; I was supposed to go to Emerald City Con a couple of weeks later, but Covid canceled that one . . . and then the one in Kansas City . . . and you get the idea.

I’ve been to several cons, now, and my experience as a con guest has been varied, but I can absolutely say that Connecticon (Hartford) and Pensacon both treated us authors like VIPs. At Pensacon I shared the booth with some great authors. You can see Jodi Lynn Nye and Phil Foglio up there. Jim Butcher was there, but didn’t make it into the shot. I will happily return to Pensacola. Phil and I became con-buddies; mostly because we were both interested in checking out the local food (we discovered an amazing hole-in-the-wall pasta place better than a 4-star restaurant). Both of us were scheduled to fly out the next day on the flight to Dallas. We went to check out the beach (one week pre-Spring Break) and dip our feet in the Gulf, ignored each other like two cats while we hung out in the hotel lobby doing our own creative thing before heading to the airport. Phil’s described what happened next. As eloquently as only an artist can.

Yeah. . . At least they comped him the hotel. I just got rerouted to Miami.

Then of course Covid set in and my lifestyle . . . hardly changed at all. It’s like I’ve been training for this all of my life.

So! Updates on the important stuff: my work!

WtC: Grrl Power. All the text work on this was completed in the spring; the hangup is the art. Dave indicated an interest in doing profile images for all of the character files, and some have been completed. Since it’s the last item from the Kickstarter, I may wind up doing a text-release for everyone who backed for it, followed by a fully formatted release once the art comes through. We’ll see. Meanwhile, all the RPG work has resulted in . . .

Super Powered Fate. This is almost complete. It’s a PDF supplement for tabletop RPG gamers who want to use Fate Condensed as the rulebook for their superhero campaigns, and it should be out next month.

Future Days. Book 9 of the series has been slow going. Since it needs to deal with the aftermath of Repercussions it’s going to be more like Wearing the Cape in structure than most of the rest of the books. Repercussions took place over a handful of days, one hit after another; Future Days will take place over more than half a year. However, like Book 8, it will be told from different POVs though still mostly Astra’s. It begins with Megaton’s experience, where Book 8 began, but goes beyond Book 8 before the third chapter. For everyone patiently waiting, I’ve decided to drop a teaser here.

————————————————————————–

Mal slipped and got a mouthful of Lake Peppas’ warm water as his head went under. Digging his feet into the sand, he pushed up and grabbed Ellie around the waist, lifting her laughing off her feet and dunking her in turn as her tiny rainbow drakes darted around his head. She sputtered as he brought her up, hair covering her face.

“Hey hey hey! I need to breath!”

“Then stop laughing! It’s—” He yelped and went under again as Megan took him out at the knees. Letting go of Ellie, he grabbed for the other girl but she pushed away and then Julie landed on his back, double-teaming him with her girlfriend. He came up again to see Jamal, holding the beachball and laughing at him. “Hey! If it’s boys against girls, then save my ass!”

The kid showed his tactical smarts by bouncing the ball off Mal’s head and Julie let go to lunge for it. Free of her weight, he wrapped his arms around Megan’s legs and heaved to easily lift and toss the shrieking Bee away. The Sentinels’ physical training regimen was really paying off. “Tiff would love it here!”

“You’re just bummed she’s not here to check out your abs,” Jamal taunted. “You can’t show off for your girl.”

Megan came up spitting water. “You’re going down, pretty-boy!”

“Julie’s got the ball,” Jamal pointed out as she spun. “You’re on defense now.”

“Then try it—hey! No fair no pow—!”

Jamal blurred in stutters, on Megan’s left before she could blink and fingers tickling sensitive ribs to turn her protest into a shriek before he stuttered again and held the ball. “Gotta balance your numerical advantage, ladies! I won’t speed while I’m it, don’t need to!” Spinning, he pushed away through the water, all three outraged girls splashing after him—and disappeared beneath a pile of avenging drakes.

Mal laughed so hard he had to brace himself as Jamal speed-swam from under the leather winged mass so fast he breached the lake surface like a dolphin. “You might want to rethink that, buddy!”

“So not cool,” Jamal gasped when he came up again, and Mal laughed harder when the beachball bobbed up in the middle of the rainbow scrum of drakes, Ellie’s little critters hissing happily as they swarmed each other for it.

“Anybody want to get the ball?” Julie asked.

“Nope.” Mal shook his head. “I think they’ve won.”

Ellie shrugged sheepishly, straightening her purple suit. “Sorry, they really don’t— What’s going on? When did Ozma and Brian get back?”

Everyone turned to look, and Mal’s gut tightened. What was Shelly doing on the beach in her office clothes? The girl had been planning to join their Littleton Vacation the instant her last Ouroboros meeting got out, but she’d have changed first, right? “I’ll be right back, guys.” He started wading in, and after a moment the rest followed.

Hope turned towards them before he hit the shore, calling out “Everyone!” Jamal blinked away to stop beside her as Mal picked up his feet to splash the last few yards to the sand, Ellie right behind him.

“In uniform, now! We’re going home!”

“Shit!” He twisted his changing ring and his swim trunks disappeared between one step and the next, replaced by his armored jumpsuit and helmet as he broke into a run. Beside him Ellie slipped and recovering her footing, his supporting hand on her elbow as she did the same, swapped her swimsuit for her new articulated armor Kindrake costume. Beachball forgotten, her polychromatic flock of flying lizards caught up to swirl around her, settling on her as they skidded to a stop in the forming circle. Pushing a drake-wing out of his face, Mal got a look at the group standing by the beach blankets.

What? Hope and Jacky stood in uniform beside Shelly, who was holding Cat-Shell—who’d gone to Oz with Ozma and Brian—all of them standing protectively over Shell’s sprawled gynoid cybershell.

What the hell?

Ignoring them, Hope gave Cat-Shell a quick ear rub. “Shell will be safe, I promise. Take care of everyone while we’re gone?”

Shelly nodded, stepping back and clutching her furry twin tighter as Hope beckoned them in. Everybody linked up, Mal clasping Ellie’s right hand and Jacky’s left even as he groaned. With the pouch of Travel Dust in Ozma’s hand, he knew what was coming. A couple of the drakes settled on his forearm, jostling for room, and when Hope looked around the circle and gave Ozma a nod, he closed his eyes against the blast of wind that caught them up and whirled them away.

Shitshitshitshitshitshitshitshit! He kept his eyes shut, swallowing repeatedly as the air buffeted them, throwing him about and yanking on his hold to the girls. He hated flying under anyone’s power but his own; it always flashed him back to his first, triggered flight when he hadn’t been in control and one-hundred percent positive he was going to die.

On combined family vacation last year, Tif had teased him gently for his nerves as their plane had made a controlled, easy taken off—which had been fine, she’d been holding his hand and stroking the short hairs on his arm, a great distraction—but Tif wasn’t there now and nothing said Not In Control like spinning through the “sky” propelled by Ozma’s teleporting Travel Dust!

The magic whirlwind felt like it went on forever. When it let them go, he opened his eyes to find himself looking down at the Dome and—

What. The. HELL?

Chicago burned below them. Fires filled the air with smoke between lit towers in the Loop, and to the south and west Mal could see at least a half-dozen rising white columns. Streams of fleeing people crossed Michigan Avenue into the open spaces of the parks. Letting go of Artemis and Kindrake he lit off, using just enough kick to slow his descent and let everyone else fall away from him before opening up on the thrust once he had enough room to avoid toasting anybody, as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

Com-check!” Astra called. “Ast—”

Astra, report!” Lei-Zi cut in on their single team channel.

Full team present, directly above the Dome and closing fast!

Open channel, Young Sentinels com-check!

They sounded off in order as Mal rocketed down Michigan Avenue, and then Lei-Zi fired orders. “Keep Jackson east of Michigan Avenue clear! Evacuate bystanders through the parks with Seven as overwatch! Multiple threats with standoff capability!”  He could see the weird little tanks she described as Astra started calling shots. “Megaton take the mini-tanks first, Kindrake drop east of Michigan and protect bystanders, Ozma provide cover! Go!

Targets. Now that he could handle.

Dropping almost to street-level for cover, Mal strafed the line of mini-tanks pushing up Jackson like something out of an invasion movie. Broad hot blasts to toast video and ultrasonic targeting sensors—there was no way he could blast through their armor without slowing enough to get pot-shotted himself. Twisting into a tight turn up State Street, he used the buildings as cover for his turnaround, looking for targets spilling north and south of Jackson to encircle the line the Sentinels held to keep the way open for evacuating bystanders.

A ripple of automatic fire echoed off the towers as some of the creepy-ass soldiers tried to bring him down but they moved way too slow and had no concept of leading their shots. Zombie soldiers? Really? Mal walked his blasts through them between mini-tanks. They ignored it but burned nicely.

At least we’ve got

Astra’s inarticulate yell cut through the open channel and a ringing hit loud enough to filter over their coms. Mal went into an evasive, jinxing climb while trying to get eyes on her.  Where? Where? Without Shell feeding them tactical intel they were freaking blind. “Astra! Where are you?”

Another yell answered, another crashing impact, more crashes, and then Astra came flying out of a business tower in a shower of glass—not flying, falling ahead of a hulking figure in black armor, flying above them on massive boot-jets and swinging a ridiculously huge sword. What. The. HELL?

Astra didn’t hit the street; pulling out of her fall, weaponless, she threw herself upward with a scream to smack into her attacker. Calling out their location, Mal pulled himself around in a g-pushing turn that made his vision gray out as she reeled from another hit and fell again to smash off an abandoned truck and hit the street hard. Big-and-ugly dropped after her, sword raised, and Mal hit him.

He’d dialed his blast for pure punch to throw him away from her and the hit blew big-and-ugly into the side of a till-now undamaged building. That felt good, but the mystery-villain didn’t even drop his weapon.

Okay, we go big then.

Putting himself between big-and-ugly and Astra, Mal drew the heat roaring through him into his center, maintaining only enough blast to stay in the air to stoke the burning pressure at his core as the armored villain shook himself free of the broken wall and came on like a flying freight train.

That’s it, ugly, come to daddy. Wait . . . wait . . . now!

Mal gave a shout, letting go with a point-blank blast of mixed heat and punch that blinded him before they crashed together. Smashing impact lower down radiated through his body and ripped his breath away as he hit the street beside Astra. The impact drove the air from his lungs as he reached for her, scrabbling to grab hold and blast them away.

Sudden pressure over his whole body told him Variforce had arrived to cover them with his fields and then his hair stood up beneath his helmet as a cracking explosion of electricity arced past him. Yes! Eat lightning and like it, ugly!    

Mal thought Lei Zi’s blast didn’t do anything until the big armored sucker seemed to stagger in air—maybe she’d fried it’s boot-jet’s guidance systems? Then he vanished.

Crap, armored flying teleporting hulks. Not fair. Mal tried to sit up but golden fields weighed him down, tightening around his legs, and then Variforce was beside him.

“Don’t move, kid!” the older cape needlessly instructed him. “Help’s on the way!”

“I’m fine.” His head hurt and his legs throbbed hotly but he’d hit the street pretty hard and his bodysuit’s armor could only do so much but he was fine. “How’s Astra?”

“She’s out and you’re not fine. You’re— Just stay still, I’ve got you.”

“What are you talking about?” Mal managed to lever himself up on his elbows. “Oh. Shit.”

His legs were missing at the knee. Both of them, and he stared at the stumps like they were a magician’s trick. “Doesn’t hurt.”

“Adrenalin, shock, what’s missing can’t hurt. I’ve seen it before and I’ve got your legs too, you’ll be fine. We’ll get tourniquets around you and then we’ll move—”

Blasts rocked the street and the world went black.

———————————————————————–

That’s all for now, hope so see you sooner than you think!

MGH

Posted in Uncategorized, Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , , | 19 Comments

I Need Beautiful Words

Waverly

I wanted to be a poet.

Some of my earliest memories are of my father reading to us from his collection of books. Verses, humorous and nonsensical, rhythmic and livening, melodic and moving. A lot of them were “moral verses” that poured lessons and inspiration into our young ears. Love. Bravery. Faith. Perseverance. Wonderment. And fun.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night

   Sailed off in a wooden shoe,—

Sailed on a river of crystal light

   Into a sea of dew.

“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”

   The old moon asked the three.

“We have come to fish for the herring-fish

   That live in this beautiful sea.”

 

The light stuff prepared us for the more serious journeys later.

 

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

 

Verses that rhymed and marched along to meter were going out of style long before I was taught to appreciate the stuff, with the result that my interest in modern poetry has been minimal at best; but I encountered 20th Century gems in the oddest places. Like fantasy literature.

 

Through Rohan over fen and field where the long grass grows

The West Wind comes walking, and about the walls it goes.

“What news from the West, O wandering wind, do you bring to me tonight?

Have you seen Boromir the Tall by moon or by starlight?”

“I saw him ride over seven streams, over waters wide and grey.

I saw him walk in empty lands until he passed away

Into the shadows of the North, I saw him then no more.

The North Wind may have heard the horn of the son of Denethor.”

“O Boromir! From the high walls westward I looked afar

But you came not from the empty lands where no men are.”

 

(Note: I loved the Lord of the Rings movies, and the absence of even a few lines of the Lament of Boromir was one of my few true disappointments.)

I forgive Rudyard Kipling a lot because he created not just memorable and real characters but stirring verse. For one of the funniest poems of all time, I dare you to read A Code of Morals (but before you do, learn about how the British military used heliographs for signaling). MacDonough’s Song gets deadly serious, and The American Rebellion gets very thoughtful about war.

The  snow lies thick on Valley Forge,

  The ice on the Delaware,  

But the poor dead soldiers of King George

  They neither know nor care.

 

Not though the earliest primrose break

  On the sunny side of the lane,

And scuffling rookeries awake

  Their England’ s spring again.

 

They will not stir when the drifts are gone,

  Or the ice melts out of the bay:

And the men that served with Washington

  Lie all as still as they.

 

They will not stir though the mayflower blows

  In the moist dark woods of pine,

And every rock-strewn pasture shows

  Mullein and columbine.

 

Each for his land, in a fair fight,

  Encountered, strove, and died,

And the kindly earth that knows no spite

  Covers them side by side.

 

Do I get too serious? Fact: I rarely am for that long.

 

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,

Jumping from the chair she sat in;

Time, you thief, who love to get

Sweets into your list, put that in!

Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,

Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,

Say I’m growing old, but add,

Jenny kiss’d me.

 

From here I could drift into some choice Shakespeare or Lewis Carroll, but I won’t. I wrote a few verses of my own back in high school and college, none of them good, most of them forgotten. In the Wearing the Cape books I not only can’t seem to refrain from dropping a few verses in as chapter-headers or references, I’ve even snuck some verses of my own in as in-setting lyrics and poetry.

Because I love beautiful words.

So, favorites? Does anyone have similar tastes? Or find their poetry elsewhere? (I’ll admit some song lyrics approach the beauty of poetry–some are poetry.) I’ll even read good blank verse. If it’s good.

MGH

 

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The Great Place

the-good-place

In 2016 I reviewed the premiering TV series, The Good Place. I have a weakness for oddball shows that don’t always do well (one of my favorite Best Canceled Series will always be Wonderfalls). So I worried that The Good Place would prove too outside-the-box for many viewers to appreciate and stick with. I also worried that the writers of the show itself would wander off into the woods and away from what it all appeared to be “really” about. I needent have worried; I watched the series final last night and the show stuck the landing.

So, what was it about, really?

My initial hot-take on the show had been: “I watched the premier last night, it was delightful, and I highly recommend that everyone catch it and judge for themselves. Especially since I have a strong suspicion that Eleanor and everyone else is being lied to. Something…benevolently sinister is afoot. Can something be benevolently sinister?”

The summation of the action, with the big reveal at the end of the first season (SPOILERS AHEAD), was “…human-loving Good Place architect, Michael, is a demon sent from Hell to run an experiment on the idea that humans are their own best torturers. He selectively chooses a group of four people who he decides are perfectly offset to torture one another and, in the beginning, it appears to work. Chidi tortures Eleanor with his indecisiveness, inflexibility, and scholarly disposition, likewise Eleanor tortures Chidi by constantly putting him in situations where he must make decisions or go against the very moral tenets he espouses. Tahani tortures Eleanor by continuously reinforcing her superiority, Jason tortures Tahani by being unable to return her incessant need for validation (as he is initially the silent Buddhist monk Jianyu), and for Jason the mere fact he is forced to pretend he is someone other than himself is torture in itself. Each character is designed to bring out what they hate most about each other and themselves, resulting in the new form of torture Michael is experimenting with.” (Wikipedia)

So, I nailed it–except that I thought that the TRUTH would turn out to be that Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jianyu were being lied to and were really in Purgatory–a sort of afterlife correctional facility designed to give them the opportunity to unlearn their mistakes and become better people. This turns out to be more than a little ironic.

The overarching theme of The Good Place turned out to be an exploration of ethics. What does it mean, to be good? The amazing thing about TGP was that it 1) never lost sight of its core theme, and 2) that it remained hilariously and cleverly written from beginning to end; the medicine of moral philosophy went down with the sweetener of sometimes hysterical laughter.

But as great as all that was, I think TGP turned into something more. A second theme that emerged in the 3rd and 4th seasons was the question of what an ethical universe would look like. This took the show from philosophy to theology.

To be clear, the show went out of its way to not address systems of religious belief: Christianity, Buddhism, etc. (thank the writers for that). It never tried to imagine the afterlife it presented in any way other than allegorically. It was agnostic. But every religion holds to some theological construction of cosmic justice, and every religion claims that the universe is, in fact, a morally ethical creation. For the last two seasons the show asked that very theological question; what would the afterlife look like in an ethically just universe?

The irony was that in the end it envisioned an ethically just afterlife operating exactly as I’d imagined at the beginning of the show: it eventually recreated the “neighborhoods” as places of spiritual reform and improvement, where all who wound up in the Bad Place due to their actions in life could learn, grow, and eventually enter the Good Place.

And what is the Good Place? The show conceived it as an inversion of Jean Paul Sartre’s formulation “Hell is other people.” The Good Place is the place where our human relationships are restored and made whole. Heaven is other people, too.

Could it be true? Serious Christian writers have argued that it could be so, and I do personally believe that a God worth worshiping would require that it be so. I hope that it is so. In the meantime I do think that, true or not, we should act as if it were so.

MGH

Postscript: apropos to my declared love of oddball and probably short-lived shows, check out the Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist pilot. You’ll thank me, I promise.

 

 

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A Merry Christmas To All!

Carol Cover Small

I hope everyone has had a good 2019 and is now enjoying a warm holiday season. I don’t mean Las Vegas-warm, of course, although if you live in warmer climes like I do and consider this the perfect weather, God bless you. But I hope you have a Hallmark-style, heartwarming Christmas.

This is not so much a news update as a thank you to everyone who’s stayed with me for the ride that is the Wearing the Cape stories. Who knew a self-published novel (sold for $.99) in 2011 would result in a full-time writing career and all of the experiences that have come with it. I’m talking about the tremendous feedback and support, the travel to conventions to meet readers across the country (I’ve been to such exotic cities as Minneapolis, Indianapolis, San Diego, and Heartford, and next year I’m going to check out Seattle, Atlanta, and Orlando), and to meet fellow authors (this year I discovered a great steakhouse in Salt Lake City with Jodi Lynn Nye and Phil Foglio).

(Note: huge thank you to Alexi Vandenberg, the magician of Bard’s Tower who’s made it possible for me to ride the convention-circuit. If you attend any comic conventions anywhere next year, look for Bard’s Tower, buy a book, and talk to the author. If your local convention doesn’t host Bard’s Tower, then get them to.)

So, other than how late Repercussions turned out to be, I’ve been very happy with 2019. Also, it turns out I did one last little thing this year; I wrote the Wearing the Cape Christmas Episode.

Everyone who picked up Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game and decided to spring for the little Christmas mini-adventure, Operation Pole Star, will already know the general plot: Santa Claus comes to town. With most of a year for me to think about it, the story has turned out slightly different than it does in the mini-adventure, but it’s the same spirit. And it fills yet another superhero-comic trope! The Christmas adventure where the heroes help or are helped by Santa.

Yes, this story is canon. No, it’s not a big story with Plot Implications for our heroes going forward. I hope you’ll find it funny, heartwarming, a holiday treat, but if you’re not into Christmas stories you can always skip it without worrying that you’ll miss something you’ll need to know for Book 9 and onward.

So sing some carols, eat good food, share some time with the people close to you and with people you’ve never met. Celebrate with readings of the sacred story—and with ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, White Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, and as many versions of A Christmas Carol as you can find (I love them all; every one of them has a song or a scene that stands out as a jewel). And if you curl up with this little story and find it an enjoyable addition to the season this year, thank you.

Merry Christmas.

MGH

 

 

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Here There Be Spoilers!

2019-11-01 Amazon Best Sellers Best Superhero Science Fiction

Thank you, everyone, who downloaded Repercussions on the first day! Thanks to all of you, Book 8 hit #3 on Amazon’s Superhero Science Fiction list. (Technically it was the #2 superhero book yesterday, because that book hogging the #1 slot ISN’T A SUPERHERO BOOK. In fact, the only other book in the Top 50 which seems to involve actual costumed-and-codenamed superheroes is the one in the #2 slot, Masked by Vengeance–which premiered on Halloween as well.

At least the Top 50 is no longer filled by vampire erotica.

So with that fun brag out of the way, the purpose of this post is to fill a need several readers have expressed: a place to ask questions, throw around theories, point out editing errors (yes, there are always a few), and just talk about Repercussions.

So have at it! I’m working hard on the Archon Files and maybe a Christmas surprise, and will see some of you in Minneapolis next week.

MGH

(Note: The price of talking about Repercussions on this post is an amazing Amazon review. I will be checking. 😉 )

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And Then There Were Eight

Repercussions, final cover

So at last, it is done! (Click here to purchase.) Bwa ha ha ha!

Ha ha ha ha!

Ha ha ha ha!

Seriously.

The 8th WtC book took over a year to write. In my defense I was distracted by getting the last details finished and the Barlow’s Guide & The B-Files sourcebook out the door early in the year. It’s a weak defense, but I’ll take what I can get.

A stronger reason for the delay this year is that Repercussions is a pivotal book. Ronin Games, Team-Ups & Crossovers, and Recursion all had plots that advanced Hope/Astra’s personal character arc (plus were a lot of fun to write), but didn’t move things along in regards to the Big Picture very much. Repercussions, on the other hand, most certainly has (it’s sort of in the name).  It’s also upped the ante on the Big Questions behind the Post-Event World.

What Big Questions, I hear you ask?

The biggest. No less than What The Heck Is Going On?

To illuminate, waaaaaay back in Small Town Heroes, I intimated that future-humanity had yet to encounter any actual aliens (and dismissed self-proclaimed aliens like the Servitor of Ganymede as delusional breakthroughs). In Ronin Games, I used the excuse of a conversation with the Warden of The West to introduce two science/science-fiction concepts; one was a flirtation with Plasma Cosmology (look it up sometime, it’s fascinating fringe science), and “. . . against all predictions, in a century of looking, listening, and searching no life would be found anywhere else in the Universe. Future theories would include abiogenesis as a cosmically unique event, colonization from another universe (maybe an extrareality more real than we’d thought), and Intelligent Design.”

I did all that with serious malice aforthought, a method to my madness. This is because the Wearing the Cape stories have always been a deconstruction-reconstruction of superhero tropes. One of the oldest tropes of the superhero genre is to throw in everything, all fantasy and elemements equally valid. Also all sci-fi elements. The result is a world including sorcery and superscience, gods and aliens, and being threatened by would-be alien overlords and ancient Atlantians at least once a year.

It’s easy to understand how this happened; the instant comics creators realized that Superman and Batman fans would love to see them team up Gotham became part of the same world as Metropolis (in some “settings” they’ve been right across the river from each other). As other heroes came along, it didn’t matter what their reality implied (or outright claimed) for the wider universe–the more the merrier! Before the Golden Age ended, you had Superman (alien), Green Lantern (mystical), Hawkman (reincarnated plus superscience), Wonder Woman (semi-divine), and the Flash (science accident) all on the same team. Don’t get me started with Martian Manhunter, Zatanna, the Phantom Stranger, etc.

Don’t get me wrong; I loved it. Still do. But . . . at least five different “magic systems”, three takes on time-travel, four ways of getting around the Speed of Light Limit, ancient advanced civilizations, more alien species than stars, etc. And, this being the impossible part, none of the revelations of any of this having any sort of real impact on society.

In the Real World, if Superman showed up then NASA’s budget would get more than the entire US Military and we’d be out conquering our Solar System and launching interstellar probes within a decade. (And Lex Luthor would have a serious following.) In the Real World if persons displaying verifiable magic powers showed up we’d have an explosion of New Age mysticism and religious traditionalism. In the Real World, the development of anti-gravity, teleportation, artificial intelligence, etc., would be agressively monotized and capitalized. In the Real World, if Wonder Woman showed up with a message from the Greek Gods to share with Man’s World . . . yeah.

And so on. You get the idea. Kitchen Sink + Status Quo.

So with the Post-Event World, I set myself the task of having all those wonderful kinds of heroes, without breaking social realism while maintaining the Status Quo. And it worked. At first. At first there was Artemis; a vampire-but-not-really-a-vampire, created by a psychotic breakthrough’s obsession. And there was Vulcan and Verne-Types who could only make superscience work when they built the stuff; obviously breakthroughs. And there was Dr. Cornelius and Hecate; delusional mystic breakthroughs. Again, you get the idea.

And then the idea began to feel a little too small. When I created the Young Sentinels, I’d originally intended their mystic-hero to be a cheerful, even ditzy, witch. With a pointy hat, wand, broom, everything (obviously inspired by reading a Series of Books About A Humorously Named Magic School). A running gag was to have been that she’d drive Vulcan crazy. She didn’t feel big enough.

And so . . . Ozma.

She was perfect. Huge back-story, public domain, a whole world and mythology of her own. Working right from her own history, a marvelous reason for her to be here, in the Real World. She became my magical version of Superman, Last Son of Krypton. And of course everyone who knows of her thinks she’s just another delusional breakthrough–in this case probably a teen who suffered a severe psychotic break with reality.

Yeah, a delusional teen whose powers included the ability to imagine artifacts of great power, scattered around the globe, waiting for her to find and use them.

Now that’s a new level of personal reality-shaping, if that’s what’s going on.

And then in Ronin Games I dropped Hope and her posse into a contest refereed by an extrareality being with cosmic powers, and then into some kind of spiritual plane.

Umm. Let’s fix this with a cross-reality roadtrip through alternate timelines, mythic realms, a couple more superhero realities, and a television series.

Yeah . . . I sort of blew up my universe. As in expanded it explosively.

Worse, I made the mistake of firmly establishing that Oz itself existed (and whether it exists independently or due to Ozma creating a whole realm from her delusion doesn’t matter).

<Sigh.>

At least I had the forsight in Team-Ups and Crossovers to give a kinda-sorta scientific rational for the existence of alternate histories and fantasy worlds: the whole Infinitude and Stage I and State II realities business.

And this has all led to an Important Encounter that Hope has in Brussels, back to Big Questions and What The Heck Is Going On? And to the invasion of Oz.

I did not see that coming.

And that’s a big part of why Repercussions was late. Believe it or not, I do know what’s going on, why everything has happened. But I don’t know everything that’s going to happen anymore. I know the general destination. I’m still feeling my way through the new geography between here and there, though. And the Post-Event World is changing, the Status Quo shifting, sliding. Exciting times.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

MGH

BTW: on this first day of Book 8’s release, more than 150 have been sold (might break 200, there’s still a few hours in the day). Thanks, everyone, for waiting patiently and now spreading the news. I can’t wait to see the first Amazon revies and all of your comments here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Repercussions, Literally.

Cover_final, Half, small

“This is taking forever!”

That’s Shell inside my head. I’ve overrun my self-imposed writer deadlines before, but never like this. I find myself constantly apologizing to her (again in my head, because out loud would be weird), and to all of you patiently (or impatiently) waiting. I haven’t put up a blog-post since July because I kept telling myself I was about to hit that part of writing where the major issues of the new story have been ironed out, the sailing is smooth, the winds at my back, and completion is just weeks away.

In other words, I wanted to put it off until I had great news.

Well, now I’ve got great news.

Completion is just weeks away. Possibly as few as two.

So, why has it taken so long this year to get my once-a-year Astra story finished?

Repercussions. Literally.

Some of the big factors are personal, but the two professional factors are 1) the book’s POV-shift, and 2) the direction Astra’s story is going. First, I had written all of the previous books (except chapters of Team-Ups and Crossovers) in tight First Person POV. That is to say, the stories are told by Astra, as her own lived experience. This makes for a comparatively simple story, relatively easy to handle plot-wise. Young Sentinels was written First Person POV from multiple POVs (Astra, Grendel, Megaton), and it took a bit longer. I should have remembered that. Repercussions is written in Third Person limited POV. While Astra’s remains the principle POV, just about every other major character and quite a few minor characters have their own scenes. Why? I wanted to try and widen the perspective on events significantly beyond just Astra’s pair of eyes. I like the way it’s turned out, but I’ve been essentially learning a new writing style as I go. Mastering new styles is hard.

As to the events themselves!

I’ve “hinted” at big changes. That’s not a tease; from the beginning I’ve had plans for both Astra and the Post-Event World. Pursuing those plans, I intentionally set each story from 3 to 6 months apart, with things happening between the action. Rather than a string of superhero stories that can stand alone and don’t really affect the MC (Astra) much, I’ve pushed her story along from 18-year old newbie sidekick to 21-year old veteran team leader. I’ve introduced dozens of characters, groups, etc., enough to need glossaries; don’t worry, there will be one with Repercussions.

Well, you can consider Wearing the Cape 1-8 as Stage I; Repercussions ends some things and begins some things. It is a game-changer, thus the name.  And that’s scary. I’ve been struggling to get some things into the story that need to be there. I hope everyone appreciates the directions that things take, but I know some of you won’t. I may lose some readers. I hope that most of you decide that the wait has been worth it.

So, to recap: Repercussions will be out soon, and much will change. With publication just weeks away, I’m going to break with my plans and start you off now. So here’s all of Chapter 2–not the final-final-final-polish draft, but absent only the last grammar-punctuation editing pass. Call it the ARC (Advance Reader Copy). Enjoy.

Repercussions Chapter Two

Ann-Marie Corrigan, aka Astra’s Mother and she often whimsically considered putting that on her business cards, looked up from her quarterly Foundation financial report. Across the desk Susan twitched, glancing out the window. “Ma’am?”

“I felt it, Susan.” Something had shaken the building. Had she heard something?

“You can’t go in there!” Her thick office door didn’t block out her office admin’s yell before it opened and Shelly poked her head in.

“Well he’s new,” she said. “Hi, Susan, Mrs. C. We need to go right now.”

Ann-Marie stood even as she hit the panic button on her watch. “You’re not Shelly.”

“No, Shelly’s in Littleton, and I’m not one of Shell’s Galatea-shells either but you know that ’cause all of them look older than this! I looked like this just a minute ago.” She snapped the fingers of her hand not holding a business case and grew a foot to become the tall and rather handsome black accountant who’d moved into the private office down the hall. “Wearing Shelly got me past your front receptionist.”

Ann-Marie blinked. “Kitsune?”

“Got it in one Mrs. C. The Dome’s gone silent and something’s happening outside, so right this way and bring everyone with you.”

“Wait. Show me, first.”

The man sighed, set down the case, and shrank to a large white fox with seven bushy tails spread out like a peacock’s fan. Winking at an open-mouthed Susan, he returned to his accountant shape. “Ahem. Please, follow me.”

“Come along, Susan.” If he wasn’t Kitsune, Hope’s team could follow her watch. “Everyone!” she shouted, stepping out of her office. “We’re leaving and following Mr. Daniels! Leave everything and move!” Heads poked out of open offices and she counted as her people scrambled. Four, five, seven, Frederica’s out sick today. . .  Headcount met, she matched action to words by stepping along close behind her daughter’s secret husband, heels clicking on the tiled floor.

The whole office lined up behind him like little chicks, Kitsune led them down the hall to the emergency stairwell doors and stopped. “I’m going first, ma’am, please keep everyone behind you and stay one floor above me. If anything starts with me, take everyone off the stairs on your floor and head for the other stairwell. If you hear anything above you, use your judgement.” He didn’t wait for her answer before pushing the door open and heading down. She scrambled to catch up, considering losing her two-inch heels.

Starting twenty floors above the street, they’d only gone down five when the fire alarms went off. Kitsune sped up and they followed until, gasping and short of breath, she heard the echoing clang of the street exit onto Jackson—and the pop! pop! pop! of unmistakable gunfire. Everyone on the stairs piled up behind her before Kitsune called for them to hurry.

He stood in the open exit, using the solid metal door to shield himself. “Something’s coming up the street,” he said, looking far too calm, “but it looks like the building’s on fire and you’re not staying.” Reaching into his briefcase, he extracted a pistol and passed it to her. “Whoever’s coming hasn’t crossed State Street yet, so I want you to head for the Dome.” He gave her a reassuring smile. “Please hurry, I’ll follow as soon as I can. I know you know how to use this, don’t let anyone slow you down.”

Heart thundering in her chest, Ann-Marie checked the gun’s safety. “Let’s go everybody. To the Dome.” Leading the way out and down the street, staying close to the building, she stopped to send everyone ahead as she counted them one last time. Kitsune nodded to her, briefcase on the pavement and a new, strange gun in his hand. Then he was Shelly. “I’ll catch up, Mrs. C! Go.” Climbing onto the roof of a blocked taxi, she fired a shot down the street, a snapping beam of light that hurt Ann-Marie’s eyes. Ejecting a glowing cartridge from the gun, the girl reloaded and jumped down to head west through the stalled traffic and fleeing pedestrians.

As a new ripple-fire of shots echoed down the canyons of the Loop, Ann-Marie turned and ran.

———————————————–

Detective Max Fisher saw the truck only because he’d stepped into the 1st Precinct’s vehicle park to sneak a vape. Dragging vaporized nicotine deep into his lungs and shivering in the chill morning air, he watched it stop directly in front of the gates, angled so its long body blocked entry. When the driver jumped out and sprinted away, Fisher barely had time for “Oh shi—” before the hammering blast ended his world.

His world started up again with shockwaves still bouncing off the brick wall behind him as glass rained down. “—it!” Since he couldn’t see anything but metal in front of him the explosion must have bounced his broken corpse off the wall and down behind the dumpster and despite the barrier he curled into a fetal position—an instinctive but useless reaction as more blasts ripped through the vehicle park, gas tanks ruptured or cooking off in the fireball, killing him a second time.

Shit!”  Back again he rolled fast, ignoring the shattered glass lying everywhere in favor of putting his burning clothes out. Fire hurt. Coming to his knees, he gave the destroyed vehicle park a single sweep and decided nobody but him was walking away from there.

Pulling himself up, Max ducked for the blast-scorched doors. The warped left door refused to cooperate, but he managed to force the right door open. Inside emergency lights cut the darkness into manageable pools, but people were actually moving. Moving, shouting, crying, calling out to each other too loudly, half-deafened by the blast and stunned by the overpressure shockwave that had blown the windows inward. The fire alarm’s spiking wail didn’t help either. Heading down the hall and through the detective’s room to his desk, he almost tripped over Jenny. “Kid! Are you alright?”

“Fisher?” She climbed to her feet to lean on his desk. “What—what’s happened?”

“Truck bomb outside the lot. Big one.” He opened a drawer and pulled out a fresh shirt, shrugging off the shredded rags hanging on him. “Help me look for people this side of the building.”

“Nobody’s answering. Not dispatch, not 911.”

“Nobody—” Pulling out his cell—miraculously whole as he was—he tried himself. Busy signals? What the fu

“It’s a TDS—telephony-denial-of-service,” Jennifer explained, still sounding stunned but damn if she wasn’t sighting in on what mattered. “A systems attack.”

“Gotcha. Arm up.” Fisher opened his upper drawer and pulled out his backup piece and spare clips, slipped the clips in his pockets and strapped the backup to his ankle. As an afterthought he checked his primary. It had come through everything okay, and he nodded. “Let’s go. Head for the front.” If someone was assaulting the precinct, they wouldn’t come in through the burning hell they’d made of the back.

They wove through the halls, guns out but down and not answering questions. The lobby, brighter with all its windows, had filled with shaken but alert troopers getting shouted at by the desk sergeant. And no signs of action, impending or otherwise. Fisher tried his cell again. Still nothing. “Jenny, doors.” She nodded and they headed for the glass entryway doors, stepping sideways like they were moving into a potential hot-zone. Sergeant Acharya took note and started shouting again for attention. Uniforms turned to see, came up behind them as he and Jenny went through the doors and turned to cover opposite zones.

Feet in the street, confusion, no visible threat. Okay. Fisher stepped back inside. “Where’s the captain?”

“Michigan Avenue!” Acharya told him. “They’re not answering!”

“Right. Send a car, tell them somebody parked a truck bomb out back. Help everyone we can, but get everyone able armed up. With the TDS, this is more than just a bomb attack.”

“You think this is— Damn.” She started pointing and yelling instructions, and Fisher waved to Jenny and headed back outside to find a ride of his own. “Kennedy!” He grabbed the patrolman closest. “Are you parked on the street?” The kid pointed with his thumb. “Great. My wheels were out back, so let’s go.”

“Where, sir?”

“North. Downtown. This is probably bigger than here. We’re sending a unit south, so we’re going to look north.”

Kennedy lit his siren as they pulled out, weaving between cars that had stopped in the street as stunned Chicagoans stopped to watch the smoke and flames from the back of the building. “Look!” Jenny pointed south as they hit the intersection. A pillar of smoke rose into the sky south of them too, the direction of headquarters. Kennedy swerved to skid them into a right turn.

“No!” Fisher shouted. “There are plenty of us down there. There!” Turning their heads to look behind, Kennedy and Jenny saw what he saw—a third cloud rising from somewhere in the Loop. Kennedy swore and pulled a U-turn, bouncing over the curb as they turned into the northbound lanes.

They didn’t make it past Roosevelt. Traffic ahead stood at full stop, and as Fisher stepped out of the car the ratcheting sound of automatic fire echoed down the street.

“Kennedy, get you and Jenny back to the precinct. Tell everyone the fight’s here.”

“Fisher—”

“Move it, Jen. I’ll be here when you all move up.” He slammed the door and headed north between stopped cars, scanning the sky. Where are the capes? “Go south!” He yelled at everybody close. “Go south!”

A lightning-storm erupted between towers up the Loop. There they are.

—————————————-

“Forget about the fires!” Lei-Zi yelled. The dispatch network was still down, leaving them with just the emergency open channel and no real time intelligence. In electro-static hover over the Magnificent Mile, she discharged another arcing sweep of lightning at the arson-drones still in the air. Too many had found targets, and rooftop fires blossomed around her. “We can evacuate the towers if we can secure the streets!”

Below her, Watchman swept through a concentration of attackers, whatever they were—Infantry-armed green zombies, wŏ de mā!—and took a hit from a round that threw him into the building. “Rush! Work on the launchers! They’re targeting flyers!” Heavily armored and low-slung gun platforms, basically mini-tanks—she’d never seen anything like them.

Rush’s red blur bounced off one and it blew up. A second went up, a third as the speedster emptied his arsenal of limpet-charges, sticking them to the thing’s vulnerable points. “Moreofthese mushrooms arecomingupJackson!” The zombies ignored the fireballs even as the blasts lit a squad or two of them on fire. Lei Zi surveyed the zone.

“Open a way into the park and keep it open this time! Evac through the park!”

Waterspouts erupted as Riptide popped hydrants like bottle tops to make water cannons, sweeping zombie clusters away as Variforce kept zombie and mushroom-tank fire off both of them with his layered fields. The zombies laid full-auto fire on any visible targets, spending ammo like it was infinite, but the mushrooms were more selective with their heavy shots. They couldn’t touch The Harlequin as she bounced between and through zombie clusters, the concentrated zombie-fire she attracted bouncing off her rubberized body. Explosions further west rattled tower windows and Lei Zi swore again. How many assaults were they facing? “Rush! Check west! Tell me what’s out there!”

—————————————-

“Where’re the goddamned Sentinels?” Jack Frost ducked around the edge of the burning car to touch concrete and send more sheets of snot-slick hoarfrost down the street towards the oncoming mold-covered zombie soldiers. The ugly things had mostly run out of ammo, but were still silently coming on and they completely freaked him out.

K-Strike stood in the open, away from where Jack had taken shelter. He’d drawn most of the zombies’ fire, his k-field stealing the kinetic energy from the bullets before they could touch him. He’d blown through his own ammunition pouches of steel bearings, and now he swept up another handful of the spent rounds lying all around him, throwing them back with power-imparted velocity. “You see the smoke over the Loop? They’ve got their hands full!”

The zombies pretty much ignored the return fire—one went down when a round shattered its knee—but K-Strike kept them focused on him as they advanced, slipping and sliding on the ice-covered street. SaFire landed on another of the freaking mini-tanks, crushing its gun barrel. Damn if she wasn’t kicking the crap out of those things.

Jack nearly wet himself when pop-pop-pops of semiauto-fire started up behind them. Unhit, he twisted to see a squad of uniforms moving between cars towards their position. They advanced under good fire-control discipline, behind shields and targeting the closest zombies. Yes! We’ve got them now! Even normal people had a hard enough time staying upright when Jack frosted a street; the puke-ugly things in front of them weren’t zombie movie shamblers, but hits from high-velocity rounds and shotgun slugs knocked them down to pile up the ones coming behind them. Jack grinned savagely. We’ve got this! We’ve got

Then the car bombs spaced up and down the street blew.

———————————————–

Lei-Zi saw the explosions and then Rush was shouting in her earbud. “CarbombstheWestSideGuardiansaredown! K-Strikeout—SaFireinjured theothers fallingback.”

“Check every car in our battlespace!”

Done!” Red spray-painted X’s appeared on five cars below her along Jackson, down the middle of the zone.

“Turtle! Turtle now!” Lei Zi gave everyone two breaths, then walked her lightning strikes from car to car. Four of them blew like vehicles hit by megajoules of electricity, one of them like a bomb, taking out a zombie swarm and shattering windows on both sides of the street. “The zombies are thinning! Take them down! Clear the buildings!”

————————————————-

The whirlwind vortex of Travel Dust cleared, leaving them freefalling high in Chicago’s sky and Hope got her first look at the city. Dear sweet mother of God! Fires burning across the city, the biggest of them leaping from tower rooftops in the Loop. At least the Dome looks intact.

“Shell? Shell?” Still no answer in her head, but then she hadn’t really expected one.  She whispered a quick prayer of thanks for her inspiration to ask Ozma, after their trip to Japan, to provide Changing Rings for every Young Sentinel if she could; now their team transformation had shaved who knew how many minutes off their arm-and-respond time.

Over the wind of their fall came the weird slapping sound of Kindrake’s mini-drakes merging to make one big rainbow dragon below her, its wings biting air as it rose beneath Kindrake, Ozma, and Crash. Hope released her grip on Ozma’s hand as the three settled in, keeping her reciprocal grip on Grendel as Megaton lit off to jet away from them and circle downward. Artemis just let go of Megaton to freefall alone; with Ozma’s enchantments on her hooded uniform, she could dance into mist under the brightest sunlight.

“Com-check!” Hope shouted as she angled downward. “Ast—”

Astra, report!” Lei-Zi’s response startled her into a wobble.

“Full team present, directly above the Dome and closing fast!”

Open channel, Young Sentinels com-check!” came the reply. The team sounded off in coms order, all on the open channel, and Lei Zi fired orders. “Keep Jackson east of Michigan Avenue clear! Evacuate bystanders through the parks where Seven has overwatch! Multiple threats with standoff capability!” She described the mushrooms, what sounded like remote piloted mini-tanks, and Hope picked out the threats, throwing herself and Grendel at them.

“Megaton take the mini-tanks first, Kindrake drop east of Michigan and protect bystanders, Ozma provide cover! Go!” She matched her words by releasing Grendel at the bottom of her dive, dropping him onto the closest mini-tank as she flew on to smash into the next one up the street, flipping it over before climbing into a turn that took her through chemical-smelling smoke and down Jackson Boulevard, smashing through clusters of—zombies? What the hell?

Skidding off Variforce’s barriers, she cannonballed down the street and through more metal mushrooms. Pressure off the buildings on the north side of the boulevard, doors opened and a red blur passed her as Rush did a stop-and-go pass to hurry civilians out of the ground floors of the burning towers. A second blur joined him as Crash hit the street.

Please, please let Mom be in the park.

Feeling the absence of Shell’s running connections, updates, and virtual visuals of the action like an ache, Hope climbed for altitude and perspective on the fight.

Kindrake had landed behind them, her flock of flying lizards rising to sweep the sky over the park clear of drones, diving to deal with a few aggressive green zombies. The distinctive snap-snap of Artemis’ Vulcan-made guns echoed down the city canyon, and with Kindrake’s little friends and her new Vulcan-made dragon knight armor—and Seven’s added luck—they could protect Ozma from any physical threats long enough for the rest to get back if something broke through. Everything in hand for the moment, Hope dropped again to grab Grendel and loft him hard into the next cluster of green zombies, followed to come down on the closest mini-tank as its turret turned to track him and—

The wave of numbing cold felt so real she flashed back to her long-ago fight with Cryo.  Spinning in air, she searched for the source even as her mind fought the dark weight crushing it. It’s not real. It’s not real! She wasn’t freezing solid, even as dread trapped her breath in her lungs and dimmed her sight. She barely saw the falling bulk above her that hammered her into the ground, barely felt the impact over the despairing fear that choked her.

Honed reflexes saved her, trained responses that made her move without thought. Rolling away while half-blindly swinging Malleus at whatever had smacked her down, she felt the shock of impact as one hundred pounds of titanium alloy rang off armor and mass. Thrown back by her hit, her attacker recovered and came on, faceless and monstrous in shiny black armor, swinging a massive sword Astra barely leaped over as it decapitated a lamppost.

Hope shook her head. Fight! Come on! Her target swept her desperate swing aside, rising to follow as she retreated for distance and she couldn’t think, could only feel the cold and the fear and hear voices rising in her head. “They glided past, they glided fast like travelers through a mist.”

Choking, she flew higher. “They mocked the moon in a rigadoon of delicate turn and twist.”

She barely got Malleus in front of her attacker’s swing, the impact forcing the battle-maul into her, throwing her helplessly back and through the windows of the office tower beside them.  “With formal pace and loathsome grace the phantoms kept their tryst!” the words rang.

Stop! Shaking her head, she rose from the glass-strewn carpet and shattered office furniture, Malleus heavy in her grip. Stop! She barely saw her nemesis coming on like an aerial freight train.

“With mop and mow, we saw them go, slim shadows hand in hand.” The hit smashed her through flimsy interior walls and out into the open air again—had he really smacked her all the way through the building?

“About, about, in ghostly rout they trod a saraband, and the damned grotesques made arabesques, like wind upon the sand!”

Hope screamed, not caring that Malleus fell from her slackening grip as she turned her ballistic fall into a rising turn to strike back at the source of her fear as he cleared the building. Surprise let her come up under his weapon to wrap hands around his sword arm and drive her knee up into his armpit, his gargled scream a distant whisper in her ears.

“With the pirouettes of marionettes, they tripped on pointed tread”—a desperate twist to his slackened arm forced the huge sword from his hand—”with flutes of fear they filled the ear as their grisly masque they led”—his answering punch rang her skull—”and loud they sang and loud they sang they sang to wake the dead!”

The last thing Hope saw was an impossibly close sunrise behind the looming hulk that filled her darkening world, but the heat drove the cold away.

 

Last Things

If you watch the Wearing the Cape Facebook page you’ll have seen the announcement of Team-Ups and Crossover’s audiobook pre-release! Huzza! Of course Tantor is contracted for the last two as well, including Repercussions when complete, so all of the current books but Bite Me: Big Easy Nights will be out on audio by the middle of next year.

Once Repercussions is out, I’m pushing hard to finish the last Kickstarter RPG project: The Archon Files. I hope to have that will be done by the end of November. I also hope to post here more.

Thank you for your patience.

MGH

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The End of The Beginning

Hello, everyone! I’m back from my various convention adventures, and working hard on finishing up the first full draft of Repercussions. I won’t be on the road again until early September (Salt Lake City Fan-X), and my goal it to be through the first-draft stage entirely and deep into the alpha-read and polishing stages. I appreciate everybody’s patience through this; as I’ve said before, Repercussions is a game-changer for Astra, her friends, and much of her world. So I need to “stick the landing” as never before. (And no pressure at all.)

Just to reassure everyone, although there’s been hints of other projects (for one, an informal Facebook poll on the possibility of producing a high-quality Astra figure, something on the order of DC’s Bombshell figures), none of that is slowing down the writing.

On the writing itself, I appreciate the feedback many of you have given on the released scenes from Chapter 1; your comments have been very helpful (in one case causing me to go back in a later chapter and expand on a description of the aftermath). I intend to release additional scenes past the first chapter over the next few weeks to return the love. In the meantime, here’s the last scenes from Chapter 1. Enjoy.

Somewhere, On a Beach.

Wisps of cotton floated across Littleton’s clear summer sky, a sky one-hundred percent free of jet contrails and the slight tints of gray from civilizational haze that Hope could see in every skyscape in the “real world.”  The whispering warm breeze lulled her into a meditative drowse, unbroken by the laughter drifting up the beach from the water. The breeze had evaporated the last drops from her skin and dried her suit, the warm sand under her towel unwinding the little knots of tension in her muscles, and even knowing their idyll would end in a couple of days couldn’t shake her contentment. She closed her eyes, drifting like the clouds.

The team deserved it. Everybody did. She and Mal hadn’t been back very long from their top-secret space trip to help reduce an asteroid-of-mass-destruction to a really impressive meteor shower, and none of the team had had any real downtime before or since. On top of that the “junior team,” all of them now at least eighteen and fully certified, had caught Mnemomic (their horribly named supervillain-of-the-month) and weathered a total media circus while she’d led them all a merry chase from crime to crime.  They’d even managed to tie everything up in time for Annabeth and Dane’s wedding—where of course Astra’s presence as one of the maids of honor threatened to turn it into an even bigger media circus. One with all three rings and aerial and clown acts.

Before what would probably always be remembered as WD, Wedding Day, Annabeth and Dane hadn’t been enthusiastic about Shelly’s invitation for everybody to come to Littleton where they could honeymoon while the Bees and the team vacationed in one of the most secure places on Earth. WD had changed their minds.

Hope still couldn’t believe what one photographer had done to smuggle himself into the wedding venue.

“Are you going to sleep all day?”

She opened her eyes as Shell dropped to the sand beside her.

Her BF had worn her Shelly/Galatea body to the beach. The very first one Vulcan had made for her, the teleoperated body sculpted with muscle-mimickers and syntheskin wrap let her pass as the “real girl” she’d been before she’d died.

“Well, are you?” Shell proceeded to undo the sun and wind’s work by shaking out her long red hair, raining drops of water all over her.

“Hey!” Hope jackknifed up, reaching for her BF as Shell dodge her grasp.

“You could always throw her in the middle of the lake,” Jacky murmured lazily from her other side. “It’s two hundred feet of water and she’d sink like a rock.” As a living breathing Daywalker (the only one, as far as Hope knew), even though Jacky couldn’t exactly tan she loved laying out in the light and warmth of the Sun.

“Shut up, Vampirella.”

“Make me, Robotica.”

Laughing, Hope dropped back down on her towel. “I will separate the two of you.” Looking around, she saw that Dane and Annabeth had left the swimmers to head off down the beach by themselves. Megan and Julie had started what looked like a game of beach ball water-tag with Jamal, Mal, and Ellie, their newest teammate. Ellie’s flock of little Rainbow Drakes darted around their heads and Hope smiled to see it. Despite the rockiness of their first couple of meetings, she’d pushed to bring Ellie—Kindrake—on the team when Tsuris left to join the L.A. Guardians, and it was good to see her in the middle of the fun. Of all the Young Sentinels, only Brian and Ozma had passed on the vacation.

Kitsune had passed, too.

“Hey,” Shell said, reading Hope’s frown. “Missing your hubby already?”

Hope huffed without force. “I haven’t had a chance to get used to him being here, yet. He’s off playing James Bond for the Chrysanthemum Throne again.” She hadn’t seen her husband since just after their short trip to the Bear Mountains to watch the spectacular meteor shower from the cabin. And didn’t that make her parents happy? They were a long way from accepting her coming back from an adventure married. To a non-Catholic, non-Christian spirit-fox.

She’d thought she was past having to fight her parents over her life choices.

Shell sat back and laughed, squeezing water out of her hair to pull it into a tail. “Out of sight, out of mind? The Harlequin’s good with that—she’s going crazy trying to figure out how to spin the inevitable big reveal of you two. I think she wants you to keep your married status under wraps and publicly date first. And your mom would love to throw a big wedding.”

“Noooo . . .” Hope moaned, hiding her face in her hands. Quin really did want to turn the whole thing into a romcom plot. Kitsune would love the idea; introduced to America as Yoshi Miyamoto, sneaking around behind everyone’s back while “dating” under the public eye (he was after all, in Shell’s words, the greatest sneak-master of all time). Her fans would go insane, the media-frenzy would make the one they’d just lived through look like a minor blip of public attention…

Their names would be linked. They’d be Hoshi.

Or Astune? Oh, that’s just awful. Hope swallowed a hysterical giggle. “Don’t say any of that too loud. He’ll try and sneak up on me when he gets back. He always does.” She looked up and down the beach half-expecting to see him pop up from the sand. If he finished his business while they were still on vacation, he’d probably jump at the chance to break into Littleton again just to prove he still could. “At least I can spot him coming now. . . What?” Shell was suddenly looking improbably innocent.

“How do you know it’s him?”

She tapped her nose. “My super-duper sense of smell. I’ve got his scent, now. Male, female, whatever of his thousand faces he wears he always smells the same under it. And he’s got some tells—that lopsided smile, the way he stands. Stuff like that.” Within thirty feet, she could spot him every time now.

“Yeah . . . Not so much.”

“Huh?”

Shell sighed, gave up on her hair. “I’ve got hours and hours of video files of that sneaky fox in lots of shapes now, and motion analysis only confirms it’s him when you’re around. Chemical air analysis also only finds a consistent olfactory signature when you’re nearby. He does all that just for you.”

What? Wait, what?

Jacky burst out laughing. “So Kitsune’s developed a ‘secret signal’ just for Hope?”

What?

Shell started laughing too, probably at Hope’s gaping-fish expression, the traitor. “Duh. Everything about him’s a trick. Okay, it’s a thoughtful trick maybe, but he—” She collapsed right on top of Hope, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

“Shell? Shell?” Hope rolled her friend’s robot body off her, easy enough even with her heavy carbon-alloy bones and musculature. When she flopped limply to the sand Hope almost reached to feel her pulse—which was absolutely stupid since she was a dronebot. “Shell?” No virtual-Shell popped up to explain why her teleoperated body had suddenly collapsed.

Jacky stood up beside them, eyes scanning the sand, sky, and water like she expected something else to happen any second. “You can’t hear her?”

“No, she’s not in my head at all.” Rising to look around, Hope couldn’t see anything that shouldn’t have been there and her senses were even better than Jacky’s vampire ones. “But her body’s still live—I can hear her micro-servomotors going, the tiny ones that power her fake respiration.”

“Do you think Littleton is testing a new security measure? Something that blocked her connection?”

“Yes!” That would do it. Hope looked around for her cellphone, which rang. There she is. The first thing Shell would do if something blocked their quantum-link would be to reach out the fastest low-tech way she could. She snatched up her cell. “Shell—”

“Astra,” Dr. Leiman Hall said in her ear. “Ms. Hardt is on her way to you. She said Shell has gone silent, and she believes it’s a sign of an imminent attack on Chicago.”

A burst of wind blew Hope’s hair in her face and, clearing her vision with her free hand, she watched Brian and Ozma come rushing out of nowhere to wipe out in the sand. She dropped her phone.

—————————————–

Shelly leaped out before the security minion brought the jeep to a stop, her office loafers slipping on the sand as she ran. She almost tripped over the blur of fur that scrambled from Grendel’s pack and hurled itself at her as the big guy got to his feet—somehow he’d managed to face-plant into the sand without squashing Ozma under him.

She hugged a stiff-furred Shell. “I’m not there!” Shell hissed, and she didn’t need to ask what she meant. Back from Oz, even in the pocket-reality of Littleton, cat-Shell should have reconnected with herself. She looked once at Shell’s fallen Galatea body, lying too much like a corpse, and looked away.

“We’ll be fine,” she whispered, scratching cat-Shell’s ears before clearing her throat. “Guys, there’s a coordinated strike going down against hydroelectric dams across the country. And a minute ago electronic and quantum interdiction cut off all links to Shell at her source.”

“Her source?” Hope squeaked, dialed her voice down, and tried again. “Where’s her source? Shell’s AI core is in some super-secret base somewhere, right? So secret only God and you guys know where it is?”

Shelly scratched harder, trying to calm cat-Shell’s continuous low yowling. “Yeah, but the super-secret location is under the Chicago Dome. The Teatime Anarchist set it up by going back to when the Dome was being built and installing us under the foundation before the final concrete footing was poured. It’s completely shielded and self-powered.”

Why?”

“He knew we’d likely be joining the team. Or we’d at least be hanging around there virtually because of you. Psychologically, it helps us to feel present by being present.”

And now it was too present. If something destroyed the Dome it might just take out Shell. Shelly tried to imagine what having a piece of her quantum-twin permanently stuck in a cat body would mean. If Shell was gone, would Ozma be able to keep cat-Shell from eventually transforming back into a drone? If her transformed drone-body did change back, then would the piece of Shell in it now disappear too? She tightened her grip on her furry twin. “So something’s happening at the Dome and I can’t think of any move to isolate it on every level that’s not a prelude to an attack on it or Chicago.”

“But—” Hope sputtered until Ozma caught everyone’s attention with the sparking blood-red orb she held up. “Right. Ozma, if you have any Travel Dust left we need to use it now. Everyone!” She hadn’t needed to shout; Jamal popped in behind her and the others had started wading ashore when Grendel and Ozma appeared. “In uniform, now! We’re going home!”

She matched her words by twisting the tiny gem-green ring she wore, changing into her Astra outfit complete with armor in a flash of light as Malleus appeared in her hand. Jacky, Grendel, and Ozma followed suit as down the beach Mal and Ellie got to the sand and triggered their own transformations into Megaton and Kindrake. Julie and Megan watched it all from the water, Julie wrapping her arms around the shorter girl.

Hope absently gave cat-Shell a quick ear rub. “Shell will be safe, I promise. Take care of everyone while we’re gone?”

Shelly nodded, stepping back and clutching her furry twin tighter as the team circled up to link hands and Kindrake’s rainbow of tiny drakes settled on her like birds covering a tree. When Hope nodded, Ozma flung her pouch-full of Travel Dust over them and the team disappeared in a blast of wind.

“So that’s it,” she said to herself—or to cat-Shell, pretty much the same thing. Toeing off her sand-filled shoes, she headed down the beach to brief the Bees. At least it was something she could do.

“Keep me out of the water,” Shell muttered in her arms.

———————————————–

That’s all for now! Have a great weekend.

MGH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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