Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire
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Velveteen Presents Polychrome vs. The Court of Public Opinion and Not Punching Anyone.

Title: Velveteen Presents Polychrome vs. The Court of Public Opinion and Not Punching Anyone.
Summary: And now for something completely different. Velveteen is gone, and Polychrome is still putting her life back together, one heroic escapade at a time.

***

Victory Anna’s whoops of joy echoed over the rooftops. Someone on the ground below might have mistaken them for screams, but Polychrome was close enough to see the sheer glee in the other woman’s face as pursued the giant clockwork bats across the sky. Victory Anna had been tinkering with a new model of jetpack recently, and this was its maiden outing. She looked something like a bat herself as she bobbed and weaved through the air. A very large bat, inexplicably dressed in Victorian finery, and carrying an extremely large gun.

She looked nothing like a bat at all. She looked like a profoundly self-satisfied time-displaced mad scientist who enjoyed the challenge of blasting someone else’s automatons out of the sky. Polychrome smirked as another bat fell. Sometimes dating was really all about knowing where to take your significant other. For some girls, dinner and a show might have been the answer. For Torrey, “want to go see if the people who’ve been reporting giant bats near the site of recent robberies were high or onto something?” was the perfect outing.

Normally, Polychrome would have been right there in the thick of it, zapping bats with beams of coherent light and sending them, smoking, to the alley below. Not tonight. Tonight, she was on the lookout, hovering above the battle on a platform of glitter and bad physics, watching to see if any of the bats broke formation. According to Torrey, either the swarm was pre-programmed for a variety of situations, which didn’t mesh up with their relatively limited processor power, or there was a “control bat” being used by the scientist who’d created them. If they could follow the control bat back to its belfry, they might be able to cut this crime spree short.

“Look alive!” shouted Victory Anna, before blasting another bat. Polychrome spun in mid-air, scanning the edges of the fight. There: a bat, slightly smaller than the others around it, was breaking from the flock and flapping frantically down an alleyway.

“On it!” called Polychrome, and dove, adjusting the angle and power of her light beams instinctively as she bled height and gathered speed, turning herself into a shooting star. There had been a time when flight was difficult for her, something she needed to think about. Her early training runs had been made while wearing heavy padding, to save her from bruises. Now flight was as natural as breathing. She only had to know where she was going.

The sound of Victory Anna’s joyful destruction faded behind her as she followed the bat through the night. It would have been difficult for anyone else to see, but her eyes were adapted for everything from blinding light to absolute darkness. Her own bioluminescence provided more than enough light to make chasing one little robot easy.

She spared a brief pang of concern for Torrey, who was going to have to finish the cleanup on her own, and gave chase through the night.

*

The weakening of The Super Patriots, Inc.’s hold on the superhuman community of the world was immediately and keenly felt, although nowhere as immediately as in North America, where the corporation had always been at its strongest. Splinter groups sprung up essentially overnight, with formerly retired heroes putting their spandex and masks back on, while minor supervillains whose wickedness had always been more informed than actual suddenly announced themselves as heroes. Super teams with no corporate sponsorship sprung up across the continent.

(While the foundation and funding of the majority of these teams does not reflect on the scope of this project, it is important to note that of the “sponsorless” super teams, a full eighty percent were backed by one or more independently wealthy members, and more, that all but one of the documented private backers were white males. Most had inherited their wealth from previous generations, and were uniquely well-situated to serve the public good without worrying about where their next meal would come from. The remaining twenty percent of super teams were dedicated to protecting one neighborhood or community, were active less than fifty percent of the time due to other commitments, and often received financial and material support from the people they were sworn to serve. Even superpowers do not guarantee a level playing field.)

More common than independent super teams were the independent heroes, vigilantes working either above or alongside the law. Many of them worked solo, at least at the start of their careers, before later settling into duos and trios--groups small enough to avoid the funding issues that plagued the super teams, but large enough that no one had to fight the forces of evil without backup. Going into danger completely unsupported was often fatal, especially for those heroes who had been working with The Super Patriots, Inc. for the majority of their careers. The collective noun “funeral” entered common use to describe solo heroes during this time period. “Enough of them showed up for the mugging that it was like a funeral.”

Most people viewed the reduction of The Super Patriots, Inc.’s control over the superhuman community as a bad thing. After all, most people did not know a superhuman personally: with a distinct minority among the human population, those who had close family or social ties to a superhuman were equally rare. From the perspective of the common man on the street, taking away the careful controls on superhuman movement and behavior was akin to taking away all gun legislation in an instant. The new age of superheroic freedom was more like the pause between “bad” and “worse.”

Within a year of Supermodel’s death, superhumans around the world were mourning for the “glory days” of absolute control by The Super Patriots, Inc. Sure, the corporation had been draconian, cruel, and dedicated to complete ownership of the heroes in their employ, but at least then, there had been someone to answer to. Most superhumans had never known a world in which they were expected to make their own decisions or choose their own paths. Like show dogs suddenly released back into the wild, they reeled.

It was perhaps only natural that the governments of the world would begin stepping in, proposing legislation to protect “the common man” by controlling and commanding the uncommon one. By the time the superhuman community realized that their freedoms were once more being eroded, this time by people whose interests were less commercial, and more military, it was too late for any organized resistance.

Perhaps it was ironic that within a very short period of time, the superhuman community would look back on their days under the control of The Super Patriots, Inc. as a time of peace, prosperity, and decent dental care. But then, they were always only human, and it is human nature to mourn the past.

*

The bat was fast. Polychrome was faster, especially now that she was putting all her power into speed. She hung just behind it as it flew, keeping her sparkles black and dark gray to prevent them from being too obvious. The last thing she wanted was to be called to stop and show her license when she was in pursuit of a possibly dangerous automaton, especially since Victory Anna was at least a mile behind her now. Torrey didn’t get along well with the local authorities. She’d been a supervillain for too long, back in her own reality, and while she had always been on the side of good--assuming anyone knew which side was the “good” one anymore--she didn’t take kindly to people asking her what she thought she was doing. People asking her what she thought she was doing was a good way to wind up having a long wait in a windowless room while the Portland P.D. drew straws about who had to talk to the superheroes this time.

Governor Morgan was doing everything she could to protect her state’s superhumans. The fact that the governor’s sister, Jennifer Morgan, was an earth-manipulator from a parallel Earth where she hadn’t been killed as a child hero, helped a lot. No one with actual family ties to the superhuman community could ever be completely against them. That wasn’t going to keep the wolves away forever. Public opinion was swinging too hard, and sooner or later, even Oregon would have to admit that times were changing.

The mechanical bat abruptly folded its wings, dropping like something that had just traded all its aerodynamics for the elegance and grace of a brick of solid brass. Polychrome almost overshot before she could correct herself, flip around, and drop after it. Once she went into her own descent, she quickly found that keeping up required her to fall so fast that the wind brought tears to her eyes. She gritted her teeth and swallowed her natural instinct to tell gravity to go fuck itself. Just this once, she needed to be as subject to the laws of nature as everybody else.

The bat unfurled its wings and flew through a gap in a pair of storm shutters. Those alone would have been noticeable enough to attract attention, had they not been on a window two floors above the ground. Most people didn’t look up, especially not when there was a chance that they might see a superhero getting ready for the night’s patrol. Pictures of superhumans at work were no longer worth money: they were a quick ticket to a police summons and a long night of matching costume details against known powers, trying to keep the databases up to date and accurate. No one was paying the hero insurance anymore, after all. Someone had to be accountable.

Polychrome managed to pull up before she overshot the window, trading her semi-controlled descent for a much less stressful hover. The air around her sparkled with sprays of pink and gold, the colors brought on by her exhaustion. She wiped the moisture from her eyes before focusing on the window.

The shutters were open wide enough to allow the mechanical bats to pass through; no wider. Whoever had calibrated the little machines had been making them to an exacting standard. Carefully, she reached out and tested the shutter. It swung toward her when she tugged. Good. People who couldn’t fly often didn’t consider the need to actually lock their windows, considering them secure by sheer virtue of height above the ground.

Moving slow and easy, Polychrome worked the shutters open wide enough for her to slip through, and slid into the darkness beyond.

The room on the other side of the shutters was small and empty, the sort of featureless expanse of real estate that she had encountered in a hundred urban lairs, the sort where you didn’t expect to get your security deposit back, but you couldn’t afford anything nicer. She had looked at a few extremely similar apartments during her brief spate of house-hunting after leaving The Super Patriots, Inc., before Torrey had told her to stop being a bloody fool and just move in.

Maybe they had rushed things a bit. Maybe they had gone from “first kiss” to “living together” too fast. Maybe there were moments they should have savored, things they could have lingered over and enjoyed more if they had taken them slow. But in the end, they’d both been willing to sacrifice a little maybe for a whole lot of definitely. She was definitely waking up each morning with the woman she loved; she was definitely happy. That was all that mattered.

One nice thing about being able to fly: if there were pressure plates or tripwires are floor level, she didn’t need to worry about them. Polychrome hovered across the room to the open door, peeking out into the hallway on the other side. The lights were out, which made her faint natural glow a disadvantage: she dimmed it down as much as she could without losing the light that lifted her, and moved into the hall.

There was one source of light that wasn’t her, seeping around the base of a closed door. Polychrome floated closer, pressing her ear against the wood. Someone was typing on the other side, their keystrokes loud enough to indicate that they were using outdated equipment. She clenched her left hand into a fist, summoning as much solid light as she could, and turned the knob, pushing the door gently inward.

A slim silhouette appeared, black against the glow of a computer monitor the size of a wide-screen TV. The person sitting in front of the computer was typing madly, hands flashing back and forth across three keyboards. Wires extended from the person’s temples into the guts of the machine. Polychrome hung where she was, trying to decide on her next course of action. Punching, she was good at. Punching, she had been prepared for all her life. Stealth and secrecy weren’t things the company had ever wanted from her--while black light was essentially shadow, allowing her to move unseen through any dark environment, she had been their showpiece girl, always dressed in white, symbolizing their bright future for mankind. Put into a position where she needed to choose between hitting and keeping quiet, all her training said to start swinging. Somehow, in this situation, it seemed...wrong.

“You can come in,” said the typist. They had a light, high voice. A teenager’s voice. Polychrome still wasn’t sure whether she was talking to a boy or a girl, but she was sure that whoever it was, they were under eighteen. “I knew you’d show up eventually. Which one are you, anyway? The Princess? Jack O’Lope? Uncertainty?”

“Polychrome,” said Poly, finally letting her feet touch the ground. She allowed her natural glow to brighten at the same time, until it filled the room. “You’re going to have to come with me.”

“Did you know that they actually let superhumans join the police force in Hong Kong?” The typist kept typing. “It’s probably way easier on everybody when the heroes can just say ‘you’re under arrest’ without worrying about getting sued later for acting under false pretenses. You’re not the cops. You have no actual civic authority. Technically, I think you’re trespassing right now.”

“Portland has an exception for registered heroes in pursuit of criminal activity,” said Polychrome, her cheeks flushing blue with embarrassment. She hated this part of the job. Where were the defiant shouts and exploding light fixtures when she needed them? “I can’t be trespassing. You used robot bats to rob the city.”

“It’s amazing what they’ll use to take our rights away, isn’t it?” The typist kept typing.

Polychrome frowned. “Stop that,” she said. “You’re being detained because you committed a crime. Stop doing whatever it is you’re doing.”

“I’m updating all my social media feeds so that nobody worries about me,” said the typist. “If I don’t post at least once an hour, people tend to freak out. And no, my friends don’t know that I’m an extra-legal superhuman. I’m telling them that one of my cousins had a medical emergency, so I need to go offline for a few days. Internet people are like cats. They can be super-needy sometimes, but mostly, if you go away long enough, they’ll get on with their lives. And they’ll be happy to see you when you get back. In my case I figure that’ll be what, five to ten? Unless the government decides to draft me. Have you read some of the bills they’ve been passing lately?”

“I’ve been busy,” said Polychrome. That wasn’t entirely true. She’d read most of the superhuman control legislation, the things proposed by frightened senators who wanted to protect their larger “normal” constituencies; the somehow more terrifying things proposed by politicians who were virtually salivating at the idea of living weapons who carried no development cost, who would do as they were told and make “friendly fire” a thing of the past. She just didn’t like to think about the picture those people were painting of the future--a future she would have to live with.

“Maybe you should be a little less busy, before you’re a lot more drafted,” said the typist, taking their hands away from the keyboard and removing the wires from their temples before turning the chair around, revealing themself as a skinny, flannel-clad teenager whose gender was no more clear--and no more relevant--than it had been a moment before. “They’re only leaving you alone because you’re a symbol of the old way of doing things, and because your girlfriend is loco. You know that, right? Ditch the crazy girl and see how fast they snap you up.”

“Victory Anna is from a different timeline; she’s perfectly sane, for the world where she originated.”

“Oh, I know,” said the typist. “She’s also smart, funny, easy on the eyes, and a talented technopath. I was honestly hoping she’d be the one who followed my bats. I figured there was a good chance she would listen to me. You’re just a corporate shill who got out. You’ll go crawling back.” The teen stood, holding out their hands, wrists together. “Cuff me. I’m bored.”

“I’m not a corporate shill,” protested Polychrome, even as she sketched a figure eight in the air with one finger. A loop of light appeared around the typist’s wrists, binding them together. “I have a job to do and I do it. That’s all.”

“You’ll have to pick a side sooner or later,” said the typist. “Do yourself a favor. Tonight, when you get home, look up a bill called ‘Animus Regulation and Control.’ I think you might be surprised.”

“What are you talking about?”

The typist didn’t answer. The typist didn’t say another word as Polychrome called the police and waited for them to show up. When she handed the typist over, the teen was still silent. There was something unnerving about that. Polychrome couldn’t put her finger on exactly what...but the job was done, the crime was thwarted, and it was time to go home.

*

“Pol?” Torrey sounded sleepy. No wonder: it was almost three o’clock in the morning, long past time for all but the most passionately nocturnal supervillains to be in bed. She stood in the doorway of the office--once Velma’s room, before she’d gone and run off to frolic in the Seasonal Lands, leaving her friends holding the bag--holding her dressing gown closed with one hand. No matter how much Victoria Cogsworth adapted to the modern age, there were some areas where she would always be an old-fashioned girl. Nightclothes fell into one of those areas, the one labeled “modesty” and outlined with little silver stars and copper hearts. “What are you still doing up? I’m cold. Come to bed.”

“In a second.” Yelena’s eyes were glued to her computer monitor. She’d been reading for the past two hours, pulling up site after site, all funneled through Imagineer’s cunning anonymizer software. She hadn’t seen the technopath since they’d both left The Super Patriots, Inc. God, was Imagineer all right? They hadn’t been friends, but they had been teammates. How could she have allowed things to go this far?

“That’s not a good tone,” said Torrey. She stepped into the office, walking barefoot across the carpet to place her hands on Yelena’s shoulders. “What are you reading?”

“A piece of proposed legislation that would formally and fully define the ‘animus’ power set on a national level.” Yelena turned in her seat so that she was looking back at Torrey. “I like it here in Portland. The last two years have been a dream. You know that, right? I wouldn’t trade what we’ve had for anything in the world.”

“All right, now you’re starting to frighten me,” said Torrey. “What does it say? You people, with your laws and rules about the gifts we get from the very gods themselves. Can any law of man bind what Vulcan grants to me? I say no, but the barristers and the judges contradict me whenever they may.”

Yelena smiled a little, despite herself. “I love how you get all old-fashioned when you’re worried about me.” Her smile died. “I wish your gods existed in this world. We could really use the help.”

“Pol...” Torrey frowned slowly. “Now you’re really starting to frighten me. What does it say that’s so terrible you’d wish to fill the heavens with gods your world rejected centuries ago? Because I truly don’t feel like being caught up in a holy war just because you would rather not put labels on things.”

Yelena was quiet for a moment, gathering her thoughts. Finally, she said, “I wish Vel hadn’t gone to the Seasonal Lands when she did.”

“From what I understand, she had no choice; her bargain had been made before the final battle, and she had to honor it.”

“Yeah. I know. Jacqueline has explained it often enough. And Vel was tired, and it must have seemed pretty tempting, to have a little time to think. There was no way she could have known that Supermodel was still alive, or that they shared a power set--or how many terrible things Supermodel had used that power set to do.” The atrocities committed by the CEO of The Super Patriots, Inc. seemed to be without number. Supermodel had been a starving woman, and the world had been her banquet. “But with Supermodel dead, and Tag...whatever Tag is right now, Vel was the only animus we had. She was the only one who would have put a face on the power. And she’s gone. There’s nobody good for people to point to when they talk about a power that’s weird and scary and seems almost limitless.”

“When I was a girl, there were some who wanted to use those of us who had been blessed with strange abilities in the formation of an empire,” said Torrey carefully. “They said that if we truly loved Britannia, if we truly wanted to serve our lady of the white horses, we would give ourselves over to the crown, and allow ourselves to be reforged into swords for our nation’s service.”

“What did you say?”

“I? Why, I said nothing, for I was scarce but nine years old, and none outside our walls knew what I could do with a hammer and a bit of wire. My father, on the other hand, marched in the city streets with others of our kind, shouting that it was unfair to conscript for no reason save the accident of birth. We had banned slavery within our borders. Were we to allow it again, all for the sake of calling lightning from the summer sky?”

“Well, nobody’s marching for us now.” Yelena resisted the urge to turn back to her computer. The words on her screen wouldn’t have changed. “They passed the law requiring that all animuses register with the federal government last year. They presented it as a safety measure. Said ‘well, we only know of one, and she’s off playing around with Santa Claus, so it’s not like we’re inconveniencing a bunch of people.’ It was just a precaution.”

“Yes, I know,” said Torrey. She began stroking Yelena’s hair, unsure of what else to do. “Registration, and then government service or submission to power blockers. I hope Jacqueline has informed Velma. I hope she can make an informed decision before she comes back--if she comes back. I wouldn’t.”

It was suddenly difficult for Yelena to swallow. It felt like a vast knot had formed in her throat, blocking everything. Finally, she managed to say, “You know that broad power sets are defined by pieces of paper, and not by people.”

“Well, yes. To do it any other way would be to admit that no two people have the exact same gifts. Even those who have what you term the ‘flying brick’ capabilities show variance.”

“So those pieces of paper, they can move things. Like when they shifted water-control into elementalism, instead of weather-control.” There were still heroes who blurred that line. Lake Pontchartrain, for example, who created not only lakes, but the weather patterns associated with them. “They can change what a power is called with the stroke of a pen.”

Torrey went still. She was a smart girl: she was a genius. Sometimes people forgot that, looking at the way she carried herself, the way she dressed, and assuming that she was completely divorced from reality. That wasn’t true. She was separated from reality, sure, but she had visitation, and she was never going to leave it completely. Reality was where she kept all her things.

“Ah,” she said, finally. “I see. Well, is it a done deal? Have the papers been signed, and the ink dried?”

“They vote next week.”

“What of the telepaths, the mind-readers, the empaths? Are they to be re-categorized as well, or is this pleasure to be reserved solely for those such as I?” Torrey’s voice was stiff and cold, the formal cadence of a daughter of the Eponean Empire. “When will they come for me?”

“The psychic power sets are still classed that way, although there’s apparently some discussion of whether psychometry should be considered a psychic-animus hybrid, since it works mostly on the inanimate.” And wouldn’t all those psychometrists make wonderful government investigators? They could uncover terrorist plots with a touch of their bare fingers. Who wouldn’t want that kind of power? Who wouldn’t think that a little overreach was justified, when it might save lives? “Right now, it’s just the plant-manipulators and the technopaths.”

“Just,” said Torrey bitterly. She removed her hand from Yelena’s shoulder. “I notice you failed to answer my second question, Pol. When shall they come for me? Should I already have started running?”

“Once this goes into effect, all power classes under the ‘animus’ umbrella will have forty-eight hours to report to their nearest police station for intake and processing.” Yelena shoved her chair back, almost knocking it over as she stood and pulled Torrey into a hug. The shorter woman squeaked but didn’t process. Instead, she melted into her lover’s embrace. She was shaking. That, alone, made Yelena want to burn down the world.

“They won’t come for you, because we won’t be here,” she whispered, and her voice was ice and diamonds and glittering light. She had started to glow brighter in her anger and her fear: now she was strobing through all the colors of visible light, unable to express her fury in anything short of a rainbow. These people, these people. How dare they? They had no right. They had no right to make these choices for other people, for people who had never done anything wrong, apart from being born.

Torrey pulled back, looking at her uncertainly. “Do you understand what you’re saying, Yelena? Even when you left The Super Patriots, you were still fighting on the side of good. They’ve never called you a supervillain before. They’ve never besmirched your name that way, not in this world. I know you don’t like to be reminded about...before...”

“You mean how you fell in love with another version of me, and I’m just your rebound girl?” asked Yelena. She made the question as light as she could, to cover the fact that it was completely serious. The unusual nature of their first meeting was an unavoidable part of their relationship. Sometimes she caught Torrey looking at her and frowning, puzzled, because she had done something that the other Yelena would never have done. Sometimes Torrey cried for no reason that she could understand, and Yelena knew that she had just reminded her of the other world, the other woman who called herself “Polychrome” and kissed those lips, ran her fingers through that hair. They were haunted, and while Yelena didn’t mind sharing her lover with another version of herself, sometimes their bed felt dismayingly crowded.

“Yes,” said Torrey, with quiet candor. “My first Yelena hated being called a supervillain. She flinched every time a headline talked about how wicked she was, or presented her as a danger to herself and others. I never minded much. The distinctions you people use are very odd to me, and I don’t see why I should give them that sort of power. But it tore her up inside.”

“I’m not her,” said Yelena.

“No, you’re not, and I’m glad of it, because I wouldn’t have come to love you for you if you’d been identical. I would have had to leave if you’d been exactly the same as she was. It would have been the only way to be fair. But you’re close enough, Yelena--my Pol. You’re close enough, and I know that if we run, if we go underground, it will hurt you the way that it always hurt her. It will tear you up inside. I can’t do that to you.”

“You’re not doing anything to me,” said Yelena. She took Torrey’s hands and squeezed them, firmly. “I’m doing it to myself. If you have to run to avoid being taken, then I am going to run with you. I love you. You matter more to me than what they want to call me in the papers. And if staying a superhero would mean letting them take you, fuck heroism. I’ll be a villain any day.”

Torrey bit her lip, a tear escaping to run down her cheek before she pulled back, turning her face away. “I know,” she said, in a careful voice, “I know that you have never been reluctant to love me because of my origins. I’ve always considered myself doubly blessed, to have found and lost a version of you, only to find another who could see fit not to be jealous of herself. You are my miracle. But please, consider what you’re offering me. A reputation, once besmirched, can never be truly clean again.”

“Oh, I know. Believe me, I know.” The Super Patriots, Inc. had run a decades-long smear campaign against Velveteen. They had painted her as a drop-out and a waste and finally as a dangerous supervillain. They had been doing it to protect themselves, and in their process, they had lain the groundwork that was now being used to justify every abuse of power in the book. If there were only two animuses in the world at the time of Supermodel’s defeat, and they were both bad, how could it be wrong to put more controls in place to keep things like that from happening? If Vel hadn’t been treated the way she had been, more people might have seen her for the hero that she was, and this might not have been happening.

But it was happening. All the regret in the world wasn’t going to change that. Carefully, Yelena said, “My girl and my best friend have both been supervillains. I can handle a few stains on my reputation if it means I get to stay with you.”

Torrey turned back to her, searching her face for a moment before she asked, very seriously, “Do we have time to make one last use of our bedchamber before we flee into the unending night?”

“Yeah, we do,” said Yelena, and reached for her. “And then, I have the perfect first act of villainy.”

“What’s that?”

Yelena told her.

Torrey smiled.

*

Sunrise chased the shadows from the front of the police station. Sleepy-eyed cops lingered on the steps, some heading home after a long night’s work, others preparing for a long day of protecting and serving. None of them batted an eye when Polychrome and Victory Anna walked by. The two women made no effort to hide themselves. They were familiar here, part of the extended family of Portland law enforcement. It was better if they came in openly, and didn’t make a fuss. Less chance of someone getting in their way and getting hurt.

The cells designed to hold superpowered prisoners were protected by a special door, thick enough for a bank vault, meant to be proof against all attempts at access. Polychrome and Victory Anna stopped when they reached it.

“This is it,” said Victory Anna. “This is your last chance to back out.”

“No, it’s not,” said Polychrome. She produced a slim phone from under the sash that circled her waist, breaking up her outline and concealing the lumps of her pockets. “My last chance came and went a long time ago. Get to work.”

Victory Anna smiled, and pulled out her lock picks.

*

Governor Celia Morgan was at breakfast in her home, eating a waffle and watching her sister read the paper, when her phone rang. She checked the caller ID, then picked up. “Polychrome. I wondered when I’d be hearing from you. I want you to know that it wasn’t my idea.”

Jennifer looked up, suddenly alert. Governor Morgan waved for her to be still.

“I understand,” she said finally. “No, really, I do. It’s the same choice I might have made, if our situations were reversed. Was anyone hurt?” A pause. “That’s good. Thank you for being so careful. And thank you for letting me know. I genuinely do appreciate it. I’m sorry you’ve been forced into this situation. I won’t try to call you back.” She hung up and looked at her phone for a long moment before holding it out toward Jennifer.

“Celia?” said Jennifer, warily.

“It seems I’ve had an accident and destroyed my phone,” said Celia calmly. “I can’t imagine how it happened.”

“What a pity,” said Jennifer. She took the phone, looking at it quizzically for a moment. All the dust and dirt that had collected on the keys flowed together into a thin stream of particles that wormed under the edge of the screen. The phone threw off some surprisingly bright sparks and went dead. “I don’t think it can be fixed.”

“Good,” said Celia fiercely. “That was Polychrome. She wanted to let me know that she and Victory Anna had broken the young technopath they caught yesterday out of prison, and that the three of them were now officially on the run. I’ll need to report them as supervillains. By now, I’d be surprised if they hadn’t crossed state lines.” Her hand was shaking as she reached for her coffee. She forced herself to complete the gesture. She was going to need the caffeine.

“I see,” said Jennifer. “It’s really too bad I was off on a training exercise when you heard about this. I might have been able to stop them if they hadn’t been given such a good head start.”

“Yes,” said Celia, before taking a sip of her coffee. It was too hot; it scalded her lips. “It’s too bad.”

“I thought...” Jennifer stopped, gathering her thoughts, and tried again: “I thought things were supposed to get better after we got rid of The Super Patriots, Inc. I thought we were going to have a world where people were allowed to just be people, and no one had to fight, and no one had to die. Where we could be happy.”

“Sometimes I forget that you’re the idealistic one,” said Celia. She took another sip of her coffee, staring off into space. “Do you think an hour will be long enough to wait?”

“The phone’s dead,” said Jennifer. “No one will ever know when the call came in.”

“That’s good. Thank you, dear. Well.” Celia stood, still holding her mug in one hand. “I suppose I should get dressed. It’s going to be a very long day.”
Tags: short fiction, velveteen vs.
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