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!


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I Need Beautiful Words


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.



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The Great 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.


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.




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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.


(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!


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).


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.


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.”


“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.


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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.”


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?”


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.”


“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.

















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Movie Review, Update, and Closer to Home.

Spider-Man, Far From Home

Prepping for my flight tomorrow, I realized that I couldn’t go off to a convention without meeting people who were going to ask me what I, as a writer of superhero fiction, thought of Spider-Man: Far From Home. And I hadn’t seen it yet…

Have no fear! I ran out and caught a matinee showing. My thoughts? I can’t discuss it much without spoilers, but 1) it was an excellent movie, very much in line with Spider-Man: Homecoming, and 2) it does a very good job of providing an epilogue for Avengers: Endgame.

Seriously, this movie sets us firmly in place for the next stage of the MCU, showing us how the Great Snap–what they’re calling The Blink, because that’s how it felt to everyone who got snapped away and then back again–affected people like Peter, Aunt May, MJ, etc., were affected by it. The MCU Spider-Man story has been about web-slinging and teen angst, and  Far From Home sticks to that formulae; if you enjoyed Homecoming as much as I did, you won’t be disappointed.

So, where am I flying to? I’ve decided to attend a convention that wasn’t on my schedule, Connecticon! Well, Bards’ Tower called and said, “Hey, want to come to Connecticut?” I said “Sure!” So that’s where I’ll be from Friday to Sunday this week. (And I just got news I’ll be sharing the booth with Jim Butcher of Harry Dresden fame. Very cool. Last time I got to meet Mercedes Lackey, so it’s all a fan-boy experience.)


And next week, I’ll be at the San Diego Comicon!


I’ll be attending with a writer friend also from Vegas, Maxwell Alexander Drake. He’ll be there to teach a few genre-writing classes, and they give him a table for his stuff. He said “Marion, would you like to put your stuff at my table this year?” I said . . . well you get it. Really this is just an excuse for me to finally attend THE biggest comicon in the US at least once. I won’t be spending the entire time at the table, but I will be around if someone attending wants me to sign stuff or just chat.

So, what does all this mean for Repercussions?

I’ll not lie, it’s going to slow me down a bit. But I’ve bought a new laptop, and am committed to writing during the conventions. Actually not so much committed as obsessed; I hit a major stretch of writer’s block earlier this year, which put me way behind. The block overcome, I can’t not forge ahead.

Meanwhile, just to prove I have written more words than the ones you’ve seen so far, this takes place before/after the An Inn in Oz scene. Enjoy.


Earlier and closer to home . . .

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art long and dry.”

Shelly snorted, slapping a hand to her mouth before a full-blown laugh could escape and sink her. If Shell had been virtually present in the conference room instead of just whispering in her ear, she’d have glared at her quantum-twin. Instead she turned the snort into a cough and supported her cover by taking a sip from her water bottle.

Not that she fooled anyone around the table—her fellow Ouroboros all felt the soporific power of Dr. Hall’s “summations.” Usually she stayed awake by subvocalizing moves in a verbal chess game with Shell, but today wistful daydreaming of fun with the team on Littleton’s beach made even focusing on chess moves impossible.

“In short,” Dr. Hall concluded way too late, “with three years since the final ‘future-history’ update from the Teatime Anarchist, the emergent property of causation has reduced our predictive abilities to close to parity with that of other think-tanks that have no access to our library of formerly likely potential futures.”

The Big Book of Contingent Prophecy has pretty much passed its expiration date,” Shell interpreted needlessly. Shelly’s last sip nearly came out her nose.

On her right General Rajabhushan politely ignored her coughing fit. “We’re still ahead of the game with our future-actors watchlist,” he pointed out, Vivian and Kelly nodding their agreement.

“Yes, and no,” Leiman launched smoothly into his next point as Shell blew a raspberry only Shelly heard. “We’ve observed that breakthrough triggers are hugely contingent. Most post-California Quake breakthroughs our future-histories recorded have not been experiencing those triggers and breaking through as they previously would have. A very few have experienced different triggers, with the same or divergent results, but most post-quake breakthroughs have been new superhumans not seen in our future-histories. Since most threat vectors of our time come from superhumans and organizations that make use of them, this means that fresh threats are increasingly unanticipated as our future-actors watchlist also loses its predictiveness. We’re still able to better read constellations of events and predict repercussions, but—”

Shelly nearly jumped out of her seat when the alarm went off and the conference room’s lights went red.

The alarm tone meant Urgently Bad News-Feed Crap Coming In, very different from the Incoming Threat Prepare for Immediate Institute Lockdown alarm—as if anything could reach them in Littleton without more warning than that—and she got a few be-cool points back by not joining in the four-expert stampede from the conference room to their group workroom. “Shell, what’s happened?” she asked as she followed in the wake of her senior Oroboros.

Her quantum-twin wasn’t allowed anywhere near the Oroboros Group’s data systems, but she had her own newsfeeds and now she appeared beside her, wearing beach shorts and a printed top that read Life’s a Beach and Then You Die. Shelly almost returned her twin’s earlier raspberry; Shell’d made her virtual image a copy of the gynoid drone-body she was wearing down at the beach—a twenty-one-year old version of them, one that looked their mutual chronological age. Experientially only eighteen due to the three-year gap between her death and “awakening,” Shelly’d been a living, breathing girl for only sixteen of those years and she was so ready to be done with her protracted teens, which meant she’d look old enough to drink by the time she was twenty-five. But Shell, more than half a year younger than Shelly experientially, could just virtually age herself out of their teens or pilot a more mature looking drone-body. She liked to rub it in.

But not now. “Somebody just blew a huge hole in the Grand Coulee Dam,” she said. “No idea how, yet, but video-feed of the attack hit the internet right behind the government alert.”

“Bystanders? Tourists?” The rest of the group ignored her, by now totally used to Shelly interacting with her invisible quantum-twin.

“They’re not the source. The video’s too steady and pointed in just the right direction, and it’s a new account.”

“So, totally planned. Crap.”  The Grand Coulee Dam was one of the country’s largest designated infrastructure-security targets. It didn’t just generate nearly seven megawatts of power for the state of Washington, it provided irrigation for more than half a million acres of agricultural production in the Pacific Northwest.

And it wasn’t on any of the Oroboros’ prospective target lists. Shelly’d held out a small hope the explosion was from a new, disastrously manifesting, breakthrough.

In the operations room, she barely looked at the screens the rest grouped in front of; she’d grown taller than Vivian in the past year but she still couldn’t see over any of the men’s shoulders and Shell was feeding her a virtual heads-up display of data anyway. The signal boost her twin got now meant that translating from the Real World into the extrareality pocket that was Littleton barely slowed her down.

“Fast-response capes up and down the coast are scrambling to get there now,” Shell supplied. “Washington State doesn’t have a lot of local capes.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.” So much for the beach. Shell was there now, multi-tasking quantum-ghost computer AI that she was, but she’d be here analyzing probabilities and repercussions for hours as the facts came in and—

“Hoover Dam just went,” Shell said flatly, and Shelly’s blood turned to ice. Hoover Dam, outside Las Vegas Nevada. Her brain kicked into overdrive “General, Hoover Dam’s hit. Get everyone off the top ten hydroelectric dams in the US. Bath County PSP, Chief Joseph Dam, Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant—”

His fingers flew over his station keyboard. “Department of Homeland Security confirms, civil emergency alerts sent, downstream evacuations ordered. Reasoning?”

She took her eyes off the second video-file Shell was playing just for her. “One is an accident or terrorist act, two is a bigger statement and who knows how loud the statement is going to get?”

“Suspects? Nobody in any potential future used this angle of attack before.”

Tell me what I don’t know. “No idea boss, but a coordinated infrastructure attack rules out a lot of maybes.” She kept her focus off the spinning meter ratcheting up the number of estimated dead in the corner of her virtual display. When she’d been Shell, a future-tech quantum-computer AI, she’d had no real adrenal response and could always mute her simulated one; now she missed that useful ability—horrified panic wasn’t helpful.

Who do we know who can do this? And this absolutely ended Hope’s vacation. Dammit.

It was a horrible, heartless thought, but her BF deserved some downtime; between secretly saving the country from a Meteor of Death, Annabeth and Dane’s wedding, and the never-ending training and publicity grind that was just being Astra, she deserved every carefree second on the beach she could—

“The Bath County and Niagara dams just went,” Shell sang out. “Evacuation of the dams was only—” She disappeared.

“. . . Shell? Shell!” Hearing only silence in her head she rushed to her console, ignoring the stares of her fellow Ouroboros as she typed furiously. A password and query of signal security status buried one nightmare and dropped her into another. “General I’ve lost Shell that means quantum interdiction. The interdiction isn’t on Littleton, it’s on Chicago, the city’s being targeted!”

Cool brown eyes stared into her wide green ones for seconds, then the old military man turned away to bark into his console mic. She breathed for only a moment before heading for the door.

“Ms. Hardt!” Dr. Leiman called. “Where are you going?”

“Hope! My team!”

“If there is an unfolding attack they can hardly get from the beach to Chicago in time to do anything!”

“You couldn’t possibly be more wrong! Call Hope, tell her I’m coming!” The door slid closed behind her as she bolted up the hall to the open inner well and took the emergency stairs up, three at a time, calling ahead to Ed. The institute’s head of security didn’t ask why, and sprinting through the lobby Shelly found one of his minions waiting for her outside. Lake Peppas was two minutes away. One minute if they didn’t stop between the institute parking lot and the sand.


Be safe, stay cool out there, later.


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Updates, Thoughts, and Somewhere In Oz . . .

Wow the year is flying, and wow am I behind. I blame my shifting to a very different POV with Repercussions (Third Person Limited, multiple POVs) than I’ve used for most of my other stuff. The result has been an exponentially more complex plotting process. Also, a lot is happening in Book 8. The status quo is getting completely upended in this one, folks, so I’ve got to get it right.

I do have other activities this year, although I’m trying not to let them get in the way of the work. For anyone attending Fyrecon ’19 in Salt Lake City (a writer’s conference), I’ll be there presenting superhero fiction subjects (defining the genre, creating superhero worlds, etc.). I’ll also be at San Diego Comicon, with some of my stuff available for signing at a table shared with Maxwell Alexander Drake.

Nobody’s more impatient for Book 8 than I am. As I said, it’s going to be big. And since I’m way past deadline on this, by way of apology here’s one of the scenes from Chapter One.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Oz . . .

Brian kept his scowl in place without pointing it directly at the object of his anger, the quisling officer in Emerald City greens talking to their host. The Weary Traveler’s common room had been warm and inviting when he’d sat down in the corner by the stairs and propped his pack and staff against the wall. Now that he might need to fight his way out of it, not so much.

Ozma had left him there with their things to attend to “female business” upstairs—female business being the idiot girl up in one of the inn’s guest rooms. She’d been caught on the road by labor pains and stout Master Gwelf, their harried host, had almost wept with relief when Ozma and Brian had arrived and he’d seen her broad-brimmed pointy hat, the headwear that declared her a witch. They were still dusty from the road, but when Ozma heard that the last local witch had departed a year ago, she’d frowned disapprovingly and left Brian with a kiss on the cheek to go upstairs and see to the Quadling girl and her child.

That had left Brian in the common room to down mugs of heather ale and look intimidating for any locals who might carry word to those who might want to know for a few coin. The job wasn’t hard since with his hulking form, gray skin, and fanged mouth, Brian looked like nothing so much as a Quadling troll. Nome-occupied Quadling Country had gotten pretty lawless, but even on the open road Ozma’s pointy hat and his huge iron staff (held in his huge troll fist) were enough to warn away all but the most ambitious bandits. The small but well-armed troop of Ozian soldiers that had just entered the inn might be braver, and with their spears and guns they could probably take down a troll.

Brian was a lot more dangerous than any troll, but he might have to teach them that the hard way. And if I do, our cover’s blown to shit.

Taking care not to change the shape of his ears, he sharpened his hearing and focused on blocking out masking audial frequencies, a skill built up from hours of mind-numbing training. Gotcha.

“What’s he saying?” Shell asked, licking white drops off her whiskers. In Oz the sight of a cat elegantly polishing off a bowl of cream while talking to its tablemate didn’t turn any heads at all.

“Quiet,” he growled softly. And how the hell could an artificial intelligence, living in a secret CPU somewhere, be the soul of an animal that wasn’t wired for quantum-wifi or whatever it was? When he’d made the mistake of asking, Ozma had simply replied “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” Hope had fallen out of her chair laughing.

“What’s he saying?”

He put his hand on Shell’s tiny head, rubbing behind her ears with thumb and finger as she reflexively closed her eyes and purred. “He’s asking about new and recent travelers. Finish your cream, we may be running.”

How long did labor take? Hours? A day?

Shell flicked her tongue over her whiskers again, scrubbed with a paw and licked it. “Yeah, like a full stomach will help. . . Uh oh.”

Brian tightened up. “What?” The officer was still talking to their host, and his men hadn’t looked towards them again.

“Not them. Look down.”

He did. “Well, shit.” He’d leaned his tall pack against the wall by their table, one of its many pockets open so he could see her majesty’s storm glass. They always had to be able to see it or feel it, and on the road it sat under the top flap where Shell could feel it under her perch. Looking at it now, he had to force his shoulders down and stop his claws and teeth from growing.

He’d helped Ozma make the damn thing before they left. She’d filled the crystal sphere with a pinch of water from Lake Michigan, rain runoff from the Dome, and cloud vapor she’d had Hope collect, all mixed in with a breeze from a bright summer day. Crazy Oz magic, it didn’t predict the weather like a real storm glass was supposed to do. It predicted danger, danger back home in Chicago. If the blue of its sky darkened and clouded, danger loomed. What the hell does a red sky full of lightning mean? He could practically feel the static charge coming off the thing. “Get Ozma. Now.”

Shell nonchalantly jumped down from the table and sauntered up the stairs to the inn’s guest rooms while Brian kept his eye on the soldiers. None of them looked his way, but the officer, a young lieutenant, finished his questions and crossed the crowded room to their table. Silence followed him like an invisible shroud as the inn’s patrons bent their ears or tried to be invisible.

“Good day, Master . . .”


“Good day, Master Benagain.” He emphasized the Ben properly, obviously working to attach such a proper Emeril name to a Quadling troll (Ozma had told Brian it was like naming a Black kid Aethelred). At least the name and the embroidered patterns of Brian’s vest and tunic sleeves—the princess had been quite firm about the fancy stuff—marked him as a civilized troll. “Lieutenant Borgan, at your service.” He touched the brim of his polished helmet. “Master Berimore tells me you’re traveling south?”

“My wife and I, yes.” He kept his hands below the table and away from his iron staff. Whatever his fancified clothes said, his oiled dreadlocks marked him as a troll proud of his strength and ready to defend his honor.

“Travel is getting dangerous, especially away from the high road.”

“The yellow brick one is risky, too.”

The man nodded reluctantly. “The Royal Army is spread thin. Since measures taken after the attack on the Tick-Tock Works, desperate people haunt the hills.”

Brian scowled. “And not a local tinker or hedge-witch to be found from the Cascades to the Great Sandy Waste.” His ears twitched as the high wail of a healthy new pair of lungs echoed down the stairs. The lieutenant looked past him and swallowed as Brian chuckled.

He couldn’t get over the average Ozian’s fear of babies. But fair was fair, he still had a hard time wrapping his head around the way reproduction worked in Ozma’s fairyland where almost nobody died of old age. Elders could live for centuries, until they eventually either heard a call to wander or just got tired of life and slept a lot until they didn’t wake up. And if the population level was where it should be (and who knew how the Land of Oz knew where that balance was) parents didn’t mature beyond a healthy young middle-age and kids just didn’t grow up either. Some of them didn’t leave their teen years for centuries, some of them never hit puberty, and childbirths only matched the incredibly low death and maturation rates.

It was just one more crazy thing about Oz, but Mombi and the Nome King’s conquest had killed a lot of people and Quadling Country’s low-boil resistance was killing more. Which meant suddenly lots of kids were growing up and lots of women were having babies in a society that didn’t normally see that many of them at a time.

And the paranoid co-rulers of Oz were imprisoning all the witches or chasing them into hiding. Also all the wizards, tinkers, mechanics, anyone with knowledge and powers that could threaten them and whose loyalties were the least bit questioned, but the witches with their magic and midwifery skills were especially missed.

Lieutenant Borgan brought his gaze back to Brian. “Your wife, Mistress . . . Pennigal? Is upstairs?”

Brian put his hands on the table. Big, clawed, troll hands. “And from the sounds, will soon be down.”

The man hooked a finger in the strap of his brimmed and peaked helmet—the thing looked like a shiny steel hat to Brian, something old Spanish conquistadors would wear. “Good. That is very good. And where are you—”

Footsteps on the stairs turned Brian’s head and his fists clenched, nails tips digging curls of wood from the table. Shit.

Ozma descended the stairs in all her glory, Shell at her heels. Though she still wore her Quadling outfit—red vest, embroidered white tunic, and matching short bloomers Brian liked to make fun of—she’d changed her willow wand back into her royal scepter and her flame-red hair back to its golden locks. Her golden wire crown wasn’t needed at all; any Ozian would recognize the perfect face minted in profile on their pre-conquest coins. She ignored the lieutenant to look to their host, frozen like the rest of the room.

“Mistress Pansy is resting,” she informed him, her perfectly modulated voice commanding attention without volume. “And young Mistress Delia as well. If your good wife would attend to them, I must be on my way.”

Brian had to give the lieutenant points, he didn’t stay frozen.

“Your—your majesty. You are to be arrested.”

She turned lambent blue eyes his way and smiled an even more perfect smile. “And will you arrest me?”

Brian gave the officer more points for not flinching. Instead, whatever he was thinking, he dropped to a knee—an act followed quickly by the whole room. “Lieutenant Borgan, your majesty, at your service. But . . .” His eyes left hers to dart to his own men and then sweep the now deathly-silent common room.

Ozma’s gaze changed from regal to sympathetic. “I understand, lieutenant. And everyone.” She raised her voice to be heard from the stairs to the kitchen door. “Oz is conquered. The blood of the fairy Lurline no longer sits on the Emerald Throne. I know that you are loyal, but I am not yet ready to return. Since I am not, I cannot be seen. That would ignite an open rebellion that we cannot yet win, and the cost would be truly terrible. Brian.”

Handing Brian her scepter, she drew a crystal vial from the pouch she’d taken upstairs with her, holding it out to the lieutenant as all eyes watched. “This is crystalized Water of Oblivion. One grain in each cup will be enough and all here will forget that you have seen me here today. Master Berimore, will you serve yourself and your guests?”

Their host shook off his paralysis and bustled about, bringing fresh mugs, glasses, and goblets to everyone. The lieutenant walked behind him to infuse each drink with a grain of Ozma’s magic, an especially sharp eye turned to his own huddled soldiers. Brian picked up their pack, scooping Shell up and dropping her on top of it as Ozma accepted her scepter back, whispering “Lim tin tak!” Her hair returned to red, her alabaster skin tanned, her crown and magic belt disappeared, and her scepter shrank back into a willow wand. She looked around, satisfied. Nobody had refused a cup, and her soft smile took in the room. “Will you all toast my health?”

Lieutenant Borgan stood at attention. “Masters and mistresses, her majesty’s health!” Brian and Ozma crossed the room and slipped out the door as toasts echoed around them. In the courtyard, she turned them towards the stables.

“You just asked a roomful of people to drug themselves,” Brian growled, “and they did it?”

“They are my loyal subjects,” Ozma returned cheekily.

“All of them? And that was nice timing, upstairs.”

“She turned the baby into a rattle!” Shell enthused.

“You what?”

His princess laughed, a sound like chimes. “There was no time, Brian, and Mistress Delia’s mother had hours to go yet to bring her into the world. As a little rattle, she came out very quickly. And I didn’t leave her that way for long.”

“Yeah, well that still can’t be good.”

“She might show a talent for turning herself into small knickknacks and oddments as she grows. I imagine she’ll excel at hide-and-seek. But we couldn’t stay. The storm glass—” She fished it from the pack as they reached the stable doors, took one look at the sparking thing and dug around some more to pull out a pair of silver filigreed slippers.

Brian stepped away as she bent down. “Oh, no. Not those.”

The Princess of Oz rolled her eyes, elegantly of course. “Don’t be a gooch, Brian. We need to go now and we’re not going straight home. We need to get to the team.”

“Fine.” He tried to ignore her laugh as she pulled both his boots off and slipped on the silver shoes that magically became just his size. Patting his leg, she stood up and then gave a little hop, forcing him to reflexively catch her. “I hate you,” he growled. Tapping his heels three times, he chanted “There’s no place like Hope!”

Wind roared through the stables, catching them up and whirling them invisibly through the air, out the back, and into the sky.


Hope you enjoyed it.


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