Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire
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Velveteen vs. The Alternate Timeline, Part II.

Title: Velveteen vs. The Alternate Timeline, Part II.
Summary: Into every superhero's life the occasional alternate timeline must fall. Whether she wants it to or not. Of course, then the question becomes...what if you like this new timeline better? Part I is here, if you need to refresh your memory.

***

Waking was a long, slow process made more difficult by the fact that all Velveteen's muscles felt like they'd been scooped out and replaced with strips of wet cotton. She was lying down, which was only natural after being electrocuted into unconsciousness. She wasn't lying on her face, which meant that someone had probably moved her.

Swell. Less than twenty-four hours in a world where she was a professional superheroine with a long and distinguished career, and she was already getting herself knocked out and abducted from bars that she probably shouldn't have been visiting in the first place. How much did she really know about this timeline, anyway? She was married to Action Dude here. There was no way she didn't have enemies.

Voices approached the place where she lay sprawled, raised in argument. They were blurred together at first, impossible to untangle. Then they separated, the first, unfamiliar voice saying, "She's not dead. And if she were, I could probably fix it. Might take a little time, probably mess her powers around a bit, but I could fix her. Nothing's as easy to reanimate as an animus." It was a woman, British, petulant and worried at the same time, like the opinion of her companion mattered more than anything.

That companion sighed, and said, "I don't want you to fix her. I don't want you to kill her. I'm still not sure why you brought her here." The second voice was also female...and it was familiar. Familiar enough, in fact, to startle Velveteen into opening her eyes.

The ceiling was covered with exposed piping in a variety of sizes, from narrow pipes that looked like they would have trouble carrying anything bigger than a molecule to wide-bore pipes that wouldn't have been out of place in a sewer. Velveteen blinked. The ceiling remained the same. She blinked again, and then asked, in as reasonable a tone as she could manage, "Sparks, why am I lying on the floor in a mad science lair? Shouldn't I be on a slab or something?"

There was a long pause before the unfamiliar voice said, sullenly, "I told you I ought to have her up on a slab, didn't I? And you said it would make her uncomfortable on account of she'd expect vivisection."

Velveteen closed her eyes. "I have no idea who you are, or why I should expect vivisection from you, so no, I'm not currently worried about that. I'm a little worried about the fact that I can't move my legs, but I'm assuming that's going to get better, since my toes are starting to tingle. Also, hi, Sparks. Did the Princess call you?"

"She did," said Sparkle Bright—Polychrome, here, and Vel had to admit that it was a good name for her; better than "Sparkle Bright" for a grown heroine. A moment later, Vel heard her kneel, and felt the familiar shape of Polychrome's hand pressing itself flat against her cheek. "Now if you could just explain to me in simple words why I'm not flash-blinding you right now, I'd appreciate it."

Velveteen sighed. "Oh, good," she said. "And here I was worried that this was going to be hard."

*

When asked to imagine alternate worlds, alternate versions of themselves, most people default to one of two extremes: idyllic wish-fulfillment, realities where every good thing they could imagine happened, and absolutely none of the bad; or absolute vilification, worlds where every terrible impulse and twisted urge was fulfilled to its extreme. This "mirror universe" theory would place Earth A at the median of all realities, a place where good and bad are balanced in equal measure, meaning that all other timelines and worlds must be, in some ways, either superior or inferior, but never of exact and equal worth.

As is essentially always the case, the reality of things is somewhat more complicated than theory would propose.

Alternate realities are divided into three primary types: divergent timelines, worlds whose continuity branched off from Earth A at some point ranging from the distant past to fifteen minutes before the timeline was discovered; alternate dimensions, places which present warped and twisted versions of the world we know; and full-bore alternate universes, where up may be down, gravity may be toxic, and life as we know it may be considered the equivalent of a social disease. Alternate universes range in nature from the exceedingly friendly, like the fairy tale wonderland inhabited by the Princess, to the technically neutral, such as the seasonal worlds, to the actively hostile.

One of the unregarded dangers of transit between realities is downward slippage. It is commonly accepted that a superhuman who has once traveled from one reality to another is likely to do so again. What is less well-known is that each layer encompasses the layers below. A superhuman who has only visited alternate timelines may never see another world or universe. A superhuman who has visited alternate universes, on the other hand, is at risk from every opportunistic timeline or world which comes along.

Scientists who study alternate reality science have discovered, much to their dismay, that the mirror universe theory collapses upon exposure to almost any reality. While there are timelines which are markedly better or worse than Earth A, the majority are, in fact, of equal and balanced value. They are simply the result of different choices. Alternate worlds and universes have more divergent values, but are less likely to contain cognates of known individuals, or of the superhumans themselves. The mirror universe theory is most frequently applied to alternate timelines, and it does not hold up to scrutiny.

This, then, is where the true danger for the traveler between timelines makes itself known: in any world where a superhuman exists, they will have a past. They will have friends, and they will have enemies, and because our present is made up of all the choices we have made in our lives, they will not have the information they need to tell friend from enemy. It is not a surprise that many of the superhumans who find their way into other timelines fail to return to their original reality. It is more of a surprise that any make it back at all.

*

"What are you doing here?" demanded Polychrome. "Why are you looking for me? Who sent you?" She kept her hand pressed against Velveteen's cheek, adding a warning to her words. Give me answers I like, said that hand, or suffer the consequences.

"I'm here because your friend hit me with some sort of stun gun while I was standing next to the payphone in Technophilia," said Velveteen carefully. "I'm looking for you because I needed to talk to you. I'm trying to figure out where the point of divergence is, and you and I seem to be the big anomalies. I sent me."

She was gambling that this version of Yelena would be enough like hers to have suffered through the same endless lectures on recognizing an alternate timeline, the ones that they spent pretending to be their own out-of-timeline cognates. They goggled at each other and pretended they didn't know what ceilings were, or that no one in their worlds spoke English. Those games could go on for days, and they were always looking for the point of divergence—big words they didn't fully understand until they got older, and learned that alternate reality science was no game.

Polychrome hesitated. Then, more slowly, she asked, "What sort of anomaly are you looking for?"

"The sort that results in a timeline where I'm with The Super Patriots, and you're not," said Velveteen. "In the timeline I went to bed in last night, you're the co-leader, and I've been officially a supervillain in Marketing's eyes since my eighteenth birthday."

There was a long pause before Polychrome's hand was withdrawn from Velveteen's cheek. "Get up," she ordered brusquely. "Before I change my mind and decide that you're just messing with me."

"If you let me zap her again, she won't be able to get up, and then it won't matter," offered the British woman.

"You're hanging out with a violent crowd these days, huh?" Velveteen found that, by really focusing, she could get her arms to respond to her instructions. She levered herself slowly into an unsteady sitting position, and turned her face toward Polychrome, opening her eyes at the same time. "Hi. Nice to meet you. I'm Velveteen."

The local version of Yelena raised an eyebrow. "Hello," she responded. "They call me Polychrome."

"I like the new look," said Velveteen.

Now the faintest trace of a smile crossed the other Yelena's face. "Okay. Now I know you're not my Vel." Sparkle Bright had always worn white skirts and skimpy tops, all accented with rainbows. Polychrome, on the other hand, wore a solid black unitard, with only a rainbow belt to provide a slash of color. Her sunshine blonde hair was cut short, practical, with a rainbow streak right up at the front, where it would provide the most immediate identification.

The woman next to her was short, curvy, and dressed in what you might get if a Jane Austen fan convention somehow got caught in the crossfire of a fight between the Clockmaker's Union and a group of angry riveters. Her corset looked like it could have been used to deflect machine gun fire, and there were cogs stitched to the sides of her burgundy leather boots. She was glaring daggers at Velveteen, something that was only enhanced by the large ray gun in her hands.

"I don't like her talking to you," she announced.

"I'm getting the impression that my cognate isn't very popular around here," said Vel, and started trying to stand. It was harder than sitting up had been, but eventually, she managed it, and extended a hand toward the buxom British girl. "Hi. I'm Velveteen. I'm not from around here. Please don't shoot me."

The British woman looked perplexed. "This isn't how this is supposed to go," she complained, flicking her long red braid out of the way as she turned to glower at Polychrome. "Isn't she supposed to be threatening us by now?"

"Maybe not," said Polychrome, slowly. "You're Velveteen from another timeline."

"Right," said Vel. "When I come from, we're on opposite sides of this conversation. I don't know your friend at all."

"Vel, Victory Anna, Torrey, Velveteen," said Polychrome, with a quick motion of her hand. Her eyes didn't leave Velveteen. "Why did you quit the Super Patriots?"

Velveteen knew a test when she saw one, and she knew better than to lie to any timeline's version of Yelena. She could never lie to her Yelena, and she wasn't going to assume that she could lie to this one. "Because you slept with my boyfriend and then beat the holy shit out of me in the locker room," she said, mildly. "I figured I should probably get out of dodge after that."

Polychrome stared at her. Finally, in a very small voice that sounded heartrendingly like the voice of the Yelena Vel knew, she whispered, "That's what they told you? That's what...that's why..." And then she burst into tears.

The effect on Victory Anna was immediate. She swung her ray gun around to point at Velveteen, and said, in an entirely reasonable tone, "You made her cry. That means I get to shoot you until you've got more holes in you than Einstein's theory of relativity."

Velveteen, who was unaware that the theory of relativity had any holes, blinked. And Polychrome put out a hand, pushing the muzzle of the gun down toward the floor. "No, Torrey," she said, sniffling. "It's not her fault. It's really not."

"But sweetheart—"

Polychrome wiped her tears away with the back of her hand, leaving glittering pink trails in their wake as she looked toward Velveteen, and said, "I never laid a hand on you in this world. I was too heartbroken after what Marketing told me."

"What did they—" Velveteen stopped, eyes widening. "Did I sleep with your boyfriend in this timeline? Oh, jeez, alternate me sucks."

Startled, Polychrome laughed. Then she shook her head. "You really never knew, did you? You always told me you didn't, but I thought you were making fun of me."

"Knew what?"

"Jeez, Vel..." Polychrome sighed heavily. "Marketing called me into a meeting. They said that they were being blackmailed by one of my teammates, and that they were willing to pay, because I was such a valuable attribute, but that they wanted me to know. They told me it was you, Vel. They told me you were threatening to go to the tabloids with what you'd figured out. I left the next day."

Velveteen stared at her. "Lena..." she said, barely aware that she'd used Polychrome's given name. "You were my best friend. I would never. No matter what I thought I knew, I would never. How could you believe that?"

"The same way you could believe that I slept with your boyfriend," Polychrome countered. She put an arm around Victory Anna's shoulders, pulling the other woman possessively close. "Even if I'd been that kind of bitch, which I wasn't, there was just no way."

Velveteen blinked. Polychrome nodded. Victory Anna smirked. And finally, Velveteen said:

"You have no idea how much sense this makes. Now how the hell are we going to get me home?"

*

The underground lair shared by Polychrome and Victory Anna turned out to be surprisingly cozy, once they got out of the creepy room o' pipes and into the living quarters, which were open, well-lit, and filled with places to sit and have a cup of tea. "Torrey's very tea-oriented," said Yelena, as she walked Vel toward the kitchen. "She's from an alternate Victorian England that ceased to exist in a freak accident involving a time machine and a black currant trifle. After spending a few years stranded in parallels without other people, she got very focused on the important things in life."

"Like tea," said Vel.

"Tea, and shooting people who bother my girlfriend," said Torrey, walking over with a tray. She had managed to put together a complete tea service without leaving them alone for more than five minutes. Catching Velveteen's bewildered look, she held the tray out toward her, and said, "I have many talents. And I never miss what I aim to hit."

"Noted," said Vel. She looked back to Yelena. "So you're, um..."

"Gay. It's why my parents sold me. I was their perfect little rainbow angel, right up until the day I said I wanted to marry the girl who lived down the street. The Super Patriots, Inc. promised that they could 'fix' me." Yelena scowled briefly. "They failed."

"Oh my God, Lena." Vel stared at her. "I'm so sorry."

"Don't be," said Yelena, eyes going hard. "I'm not broken."

"No!" Vel grabbed Yelena's hands before she thought about it, ignoring the ray gun that Torrey was suddenly holding. "God, no, Lena, I would never think that you were broken! I'm sorry I was such a lousy friend in two timelines that you couldn't tell me. That you'd believe them when they said those things. I was supposed to be your best friend. I was supposed to look out for you. I failed you."

Now it was Yelena's turn to stare. Then, solemnly, she said, "We failed each other. Besides, maybe your in your timeline, something different happened. Maybe your Yelena isn't..."

"No." Vel shook her head, remembering the absolute betrayal in Yelena's face that day in the locker room. "It happened the same way both places. All that changed were our reactions."

"Then we both suck," said Yelena, and gathered her into a hug.

Torrey groaned. "Are we going to sit here talking about feelings until The Super Patriots show up looking for their runaway bunny? I ask out of natural curiosity, mind, and because I want to know if I need to turn on the laser traps in the steam tunnels."

"I think we're done," said Yelena, letting Vel go. "We need to get you home. This isn't where you belong."

"Some things about it are nice, but...yeah. I need to get home. My toys will miss me, and I bet your Vel is not getting along with my Sparkle Bright."

Yelena groaned. "I'm still using that code name? God, it's a wonder I haven't gone supervillain for real."

Vel laughed. "You'd make a great villain. You could glitter people to death."

"Hey, I'd be subtle." Yelena snapped her fingers, sending a spray of black sparks into the air. "All visible light is my toy."

Vel's eyes widened. Then, before she could think too hard about what she'd just realized, she said, "Aaron told me I'd started hallucinating other timelines after Dr. Darwin zapped me with some kind of crazy time gun. Maybe this world's Vel hasn't been hallucinating. She's been skipping worlds."

"So that's our first stop," said Torrey, sounding pleased to have someplace to go. "Let's go talk to Dr. Darwin."

Vel frowned. "But...he's a supervillain."

"Sweetie, you forget," said Yelena, and grinned. "In this reality, so are we."

*

Victory Anna couldn't fly any more than Velveteen could. Instead, she drove a modified hover-cycle, once standard Super Patriots-issue, now stripped of most of its decorative flourishes and somehow rigged to run on steam. There were apparently useless gears welded all over the outside. Velveteen, who was tucked in the side car, decided it was better not to ask. If this was one of those things that flew because the driver believed it would fly, the last thing she wanted to do was make Victory Anna doubt its aerodynamic properties.

Polychrome flew easily alongside, propelled by a stream of navy blue glitter. She swerved close enough for Vel to hear her above the wind as she called, "It's not that we're bad. We're just not considered good guys anymore."

"I know how that goes," Velveteen called back. "What about that metamorph Action Dude told me about?"

"The kid?" Polychrome looked briefly regretful. "We almost got him not to sign...they prey on kids, Vel. No one should go through what we went through. We didn't get a childhood because of them."

Velveteen paused. Then she shrugged and said, "We got each other. I think that might be better than what we would have had without them."

"Yeah. Nothing's easy, is it?" Polychrome straightened. "We're here." She zipped ahead before Vel could say anything, landing lightly on an unlit rooftop. Then she lit up like a beacon, guiding Victory Anna in.

"Not bad for a maiden flight," said Victory Anna smugly, climbing off the motorcycle.

"I'm pretending I didn't hear that," muttered Velveteen. She looked around the rooftop as she got out of the side car. "This is Dr. Darwin's hideout?"

"No," said Polychrome. "This is where we go when we want to get his attention. No one's ever seen his hideout."

"You're sweet and all, maybe a bit daft, maybe a filthy liar, but there's no way we'd take you to his hideout, even if we knew where it was," said Victory Anna.

"Fair," Vel admitted. "Now how do we get his attention?"

"I sent him a text," said Polychrome.

"A...text." The idea of texting villains to arrange for meetings had never occurred to her. Maybe because "come over and let me beat you up" was a little tacky.

Polychrome smiled. "Welcome to the future."

"Our future, maybe, but you, evil-doer, are about to be the PAST!" boomed a dramatic voice, dripping with justice.

Polychrome and Velveteen exchanged a look, before Vel groaned and dropped her head into her hands. "Oh, swell," she muttered. "It's the cavalry."

Victory Anna grinned, pulling a ray gun out of thin air. "I love the smell of carnage in the evening."

Velveteen felt a hand on her arm and looked up, meeting Polychrome's anxious blue eyes. "You have to pick a side, Vel. I'm sorry. I can't let you stand here and not fight."

"You're my best friend," said Vel, feeling only a slight pang at the thought of facing Aaron across a battlefield. "Let's kick their asses and send me home."

Together, three women who might or might not be supervillains turned, and waited for The Super Patriots, West Coast Division, to descend.

*

Action Dude was the first one to hit the roof, followed closely by Firefly, who was carrying Jack O'Lope by the back of his vest. Firefly and Jack fell into offensive postures. Action Dude held up his hands, showing that they were empty (as if that mattered; as if he couldn't bench-press a tank when the urge took him). "This doesn't have to be like this," he said, in the same sonorous voice that had been booming catch phrases only a minute before. "Vel, honey, you're just confused, that's all. Come on home, and we'll make sure everything gets sorted out. You haven't done anything wrong."

"This isn't my home," she shouted back. "I'm not your Vel. Polychrome and Victory Anna are just helping me get back to my own timeline." She paused, a thought striking her. "How did you find me here? I didn't tell anyone where I was going!"

Action Dude didn't say anything. The quick, guilty glance he took at her ears told her everything that she didn't want to know.

"Oh, Aaron," Velveteen whispered, too softly for anyone but the wind to hear, and who was the wind going to tell? "I thought you loved me more than you loved them." If he'd loved her that much, he wouldn't have activated the tracking device in her headband when he woke to find her gone. He would have let her take care of things. But he didn't, and he hadn't. He'd just followed the party line, the same way he always had. The same way that he always would.

The whine of Victory Anna's ray gun powering up was loud enough to catch everyone's attention, including the just-landing Mechanimation. "Ladies and gentlemen," she said, brightly. "I invite you all to attend a demonstration of the raw power of steam, science, and torqued-off mad genius whose girlfriend's well-being is being threatened by assholes without the sense Epona gave the French."

"Does she always talk like that?" asked Velveteen, too bemused to wallow in betrayal.

"All the time," said Polychrome fondly. Her hands moved as she spoke, gathering a large ball of glowing green light. She paused, frowning as she looked at Velveteen's belt. "Vel, are you armed?"

"I wasn't planning to get into a superhero fight against this timeline's Super Patriots when I left the house!" said Vel. Casting about with the part of her mind that housed her powers found...absolutely nothing. There were no toys close enough to call. "I think I'm dead weight on this one."

"You always are," shouted Firefly, and stopped when the rest of The Super Patriots turned to glare at her. "What?" she asked. "I was taunting the villain. I'm supposed to taunt the villains."

"Not when the villain is Vel," snapped Action Dude. "She's not bad, she's just confused because of stupid Dr. Darwin. We're here on a rescue mission. You don't taunt the victims."

"I can hear you, you know," said Velveteen.

"So can I!" declared Dr. Darwin, stepping out of a large rectangular doorway that had suddenly opened in the middle of the roof. It closed behind him, leaving the short, pudgy mad scientist standing between the two super teams. "Now you will feel the wrath of DR. DARWIN!"

There was a long pause as every other superhuman on the roof, including the newly-arrived Uncertainty, stared at Dr. Darwin. Dr. Darwin pulled a ray gun from inside his lab coat. Victory Anna scoffed.

"Mine's bigger," she said.

That was, in some strange way, the straw that broke the metaphorical camel's back. Everyone started moving at once, and the fight was on.

*

Watching the fight was sort of fascinating, in an academic, I'm-going-to-die way. Firefly and Polychrome went head-to-head almost immediately, their photon blasts illuminating the night sky, while Jack O'Lope and Victory Anna shot bolts of gleaming energy at one another. Mechanimation and Action Dude went after Dr. Darwin, who shot his own bolts of energy at the pair. Both dodged easily, as Mechanimation's army of tiny robots began swarming out of her pockets and toward the evil genius. That left Velveteen and Uncertainty. They exchanged a look.

"This is awkward," said Vel.

"There is an eighty-seven percent chance that you will seize control of Mechanimation's toys and use them to defeat me if I initiate hostilities," replied Uncertainty. "There is also a ninety-nine percent chance that you're telling the truth, and aren't actually this reality's version of Velveteen. I'm just glad you're a version of Velveteen, since the alternatives are far less pleasant."

Velveteen blinked. A bolt of light went zipping by overhead. "Sometimes talking to you is extremely weird," she said finally.

"I know," said Uncertainty. "It is my purpose."

"Right." Velveteen turned to peer around the increasingly chaotic roof. None of the various rays, beams, or bullets were entering the small area around herself and Uncertainty; that would be Uncertainty's quantum field making sure that they didn't get hurt. "Where's Imagineer?"

"Maintaining the coms back at headquarters, and making sure Marketing doesn't realize that the rest of us are gone." Uncertainty grimaced as another collision of photon blasts turned it momentarily as bright as day. "There is a sixty-four percent chance that they'll notice within the next fifteen minutes."

"Fucked-up times fifty-seven thousand," muttered Velveteen.

To her surprise, Uncertainty smiled. "I thought that might be you," he said. "Earth A."

Velveteen blinked at him. "You can identify my source reality from the way I swear?"

"You'd be surprised at what profanity can tell you about a person."

"I guess." Velveteen ducked to avoid having her ears grazed by one of Dr. Darwin's rays. Uncertainty's field might protect her person, but her costume? Not so much. "Any ideas on how to get me home? This is a nice world and everything, but I don't belong here." More than nice, in some ways; the idea of finally being with Aaron, really and truly, was so tempting that it hurt. But Aaron loved The Super Patriots more than he loved her, and there was her Yelena to think about. If she was going to make things right, she had to go back to her own timeline.

For the first time, Uncertainty looked abashed. "I am unfortunately unable to predict the mechanisms via which an individual might move between timelines," he said. "It is outside my available data set."

Velveteen paused as she puzzled that through. Then she asked, "Is this your home timeline?"

Uncertainty looked at her calmly. "All timelines are my home timeline."

Velveteen stared at him, briefly forgetting that they were standing in the middle of a superheroic battle that might get one or both of them shot at any moment. "That makes...so much sense," she said slowly. "Why did I never think of that before?"

"Because every time the probability of someone realizing my nature rises toward certainty, I adjust it downward," said Uncertainty.

"...oh. So you're telling me now because...?"

"There is a ninety-four percent probability that any solution which you find for returning to your original reality will result in your forgetting some part of this timeline," said Uncertainty. "Six percent is worth the risk."

Velveteen stared at him. If she was going to forget what she'd learned, what was the point in going back? Why not stay here, where she had the life she'd always thought she was going to have? Sure, things weren't perfect, but they were closer than they were when she'd come from...

And Jackie and the Princess and Tag would always wonder where she'd gone, and she'd never have the chance to fix things with her version of Yelena, no matter how much she wanted to. "I guess you're right," she said, slowly. "Six percent is worth the risk." Then she whirled and bolted away from him, running full-speed toward Dr. Darwin.

Uncertainty sighed. "There was a ninety-nine percent chance that you were going to do that," he said mournfully, to the air where Velveteen had been a moment before. "Good luck."

*

Velveteen seized control of half of Mechanimation's robots as she ran, using them to distract the combatants long enough for her to reach the startled-looking Dr. Darwin, who was too confused by having a non-physical hero charging at him to bring his gun to bear. She grabbed his shoulders, giving him a solid shake before he pulled away.

"Send me back!" she shouted. "You're the one with the stupid zappy ray gun of fucking up my entire life, so use it right now, and send me back!"

"I—" stammered Dr. Darwin. This was an experience utterly unheralded in his villainous career, and he had absolutely no idea how to respond. He'd never had a superheroine ask him to shoot her before. Finally, he settled on the evil option: "No. If that's what you want, then no." He moved his ray gun away from her, aiming it at the sky. "I'll never send you back. Never never nev—"

The blast from Victory Anna's ray gun caught him square in the back, and he collapsed like a broken doll. Velveteen stood there staring at him as Victory Anna strolled over and bent to retrieve his ray gun. "You were the first one she ever loved, you know," said Torrey conversationally, as she adjusted the settings on Dr. Darwin's gun. "You broke her heart. Took me years to fix it. So I'm probably going to enjoy this a bit more than I ought to. But I also know that wasn't you. Your Lena have a girl?"

"No," said Vel.

"Tell her from me, she'll be happier if she gets one. I recommend a scientifically-inclined young lady from London, but what do I know?" Victory Anna took careful aim at Velveteen.

Somewhere across the battlefield, Action Dude shouted her name. Velveteen closed her eyes, doing her best to ignore him. I am going home, she thought. Aaron, I love you, but not this you, and I am going home...

"Say 'trans-dimensional transit'," said Victory Anna cheerfully, and pulled the trigger.

The blast from Dr. Darwin's gun caught Velveteen square in the chest, flinging her backward. She didn't hit the roof; instead, she fell, and kept falling, down, down, down the rabbithole between worlds, until she landed, hard, in what felt like a snowbank—except that snowbanks were supposed to be cold, and this one was as warm as sheets fresh from the dryer. Velveteen opened her eyes, and blinked slowly at the man standing in front of her.

"Oh," she said, unsurprised. "It's you."

"Yes," Santa Claus agreed. "It's me. Hello, Vel. Welcome back to the North Pole."

***

TO BE CONTINUED IN "VELVETEEN VS. THE RETROACTIVE CONTINUITY"!
Tags: short fiction, velveteen vs.
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