Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire

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Velveteen vs. Vegas.

Title: Velveteen vs. Vegas.
Summary: What happens when a former child superheroine and her allies finally decide that it's time to go up against the greatest enemy of all? Where can they find the information they're going to need to win?


“This is a terrible plan,” said Sparkle Bright.

“I don't normally make a habit of agreeing with Stripy the Rainbow Clown, but kid's got a point,” said Jackie. She crossed her arms, trying to glare Velveteen into submission. “You’re not exactly what I’d call one of the world’s top ten all-time planners, and even for you, this is a terrible plan. Most people need to work to come up with a plan this bad. Why do you think this is a good idea?”

“We need leverage on The Super Patriots if we want to have a case when they figure out where Sparkle Bright has gone to ground,” said Velveteen--aka “Velma Martinez,” “The Super Patriots, Inc.’s Most Wanted Deserter,” and, when she was feeling particularly snarly, “The Bride of Chucky”--not budging. “Vegas can give us what we need if we’re going to even the odds.”

“Vegas doesn’t help anyone but Vegas,” said Jackie. “They invented ‘the house always wins.’ If you go to Vegas expecting to come out on top, you’re either stupid or delusional, and I honestly couldn’t tell you which one it is. Don’t do this.”

“What would you prefer, Jackie?” Velveteen gestured toward Sparkle Bright. “They’re going to come for her. Not ‘might.’ Not ‘could.’ Going to. I already lost her once. I’m not willing to stand by and let it happen again. That means we need leverage, and the only place we’re going to get it is in Las Vegas. It’s neutral territory.”

“You have a responsibility to Portland,” said Jackie. “I’m not going to stay here and do your heroing for you because you feel the need to hare off like an idiot.”

“You don’t need to stay here,” said Sparkle Bright. The other two turned to look at her. She shrugged. “I’m here. Victory Anna is here. Tag and Jory are here. Four superheroes should be able to keep Portland in one piece long enough for Vel to get to Vegas and back with whatever it is she’s hoping to find. I still don’t think this is a good idea. I also don’t think that there’s anyone in this world who can talk Vel out of a course of action once she digs her heels in. All we’re doing is wasting time trying.”

“Finally, someone speaks sense,” said Velveteen. She smiled toothily at Jackie. “You head for the North Pole and annoy the elves. I’ll call you when I get back.”

“You’re going to get yourself killed.”

“Maybe, but until I do, I’m going to do my damnedest to do the right thing.” Velveteen shrugged. “That means I’m heading for Las Vegas. And whatever happens there, it’s sure as hell not going to stay there.”

Jackie Frost shook her head, and didn’t say anything more.


Prior to the appearance of the “Big Three”--Supermodel, Majesty, and Jolly Roger--there were no known superhumans in the United States. Even taking into account the holiday-themed heroes who claim to have existed for as long as mankind has been capable of commemorating seasonal events, the population of North American superhumans has been rising steadily since the Big Three made the scene. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these superhumans have often chosen to settle in large metro areas, where they can enjoy the company of their peers and commit or thwart super-powered crimes on a regular basis. New York, San Francisco, Detroit, and Toronto sport some of the densest superhuman communities on the continent.

And then there is Las Vegas.

Considered “neutral ground” by heroes and villains alike, this is a city where the flashier, more exotic superhumans tend to make their homes. Resident heroes include Vaudeville, with her glitter and flash, as well as Dame Fortuna, with her elegant, impossible probability manipulation. For all their unique glories, the city’s superhumans are often ignored in favor of the mundane glories of the Strip, which is, after all unique. Everyone has heroes at home, but how many people can say the same of Cesar’s Palace? The superhuman community can relax in Las Vegas, knowing that they will never become the headline attraction. They like it that way.

Interestingly enough, the high density of probability manipulators in Vegas--at least eight at last count, including Dame Fortuna, her daughter, the lovely Lady Luck, and Lady Luck’s husband, Fortunate Son--has resulted in The Super Patriots, Inc. having rather serious trouble establishing a true foothold in the area. Oh, nothing has ever been proven, but after losing eight branch offices to freak accidents (including the historically ridiculous Guinea Pig Stampede), they’ve stopped trying. The heroes of Las Vegas live untroubled by corporate regulations.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t aware of what’s going on elsewhere in the superhuman community, or that they’re not willing to get involved. For a price.


The Princess was able to get Velveteen to the city limits and no further, due to some complicated flight pattern registry that required a bunch of certifications for anyone who wanted to pilot a flying carpet within Las Vegas proper. Velveteen found herself dropped quite unceremoniously at the place where natural desert met aggressive landscaping. She sighed, waved after the departing bit of home decor, and began to walk.

She hadn’t gone very far before she started doubting the wisdom of this plan, since the sun was high and merciless, and she was far enough from the Strip that no one was investing in public misters. Grumbling, she tensed her shoulders and kept going. This was going to be worth it.

It had to be.

Hiding her concern from the others was getting harder every day; she was tired all the time from the stress of it all. Sparkle Bright had been a defector from The Super Patriots for almost a month. There was no way they didn’t know where their former team leader was, and there was absolutely no way Marketing was going to let the situation stand. They were going to move, and they were going to do it soon. Velveteen needed to be ready when they did.

She realized as she walked that crowds were starting to form around her. Lifting her head, she discovered that she had reached the Strip--and more, that her destination was not that far ahead of her. She picked up the pace, very nearly trotting to the building surrounded by animatronic pirates. Then she stopped, looking at them dubiously. This was where she was supposedly meeting her contact. She just hadn’t expected it to be so...Vegas.

The animatronic pirates ignored her judgmental stare as they continued in their sanitized piratical ways, which consisted mainly of hoisting empty tankards and plundering the ships of their fellow buccaneers. “Fucked-up times five thousand,” she finally declared, before opening the casino door and stepping inside.

Entering the Jolly Roger Casino was something like stepping into the hybrid offspring of a Renaissance Faire and a strip club, only with more slot machines and less class. Busty barmaids wearing slutty pirate costumes that were probably purchased at a Halloween store clearance sale worked the crowd, distributing complementary cocktails to the high rollers and snubbing the tourists at the nickel slots. Velveteen froze in the doorway, realizing that for once in her life, her formal “work attire” didn’t stand out even in what should have been a mundane locale. No one looked at her twice. It was almost as disorienting as the casino’s carefully-controlled artificial twilight.

Then a hand was at her elbow, and a redheaded woman with a sunny smile and an outfit that consisted almost entirely of sequins was tugging her gently out of the flow of traffic. “Velveteen?” she asked.

Normally, Velveteen would have responded with something snarky about “how many women in bunny suits do you have around this place?” Under the circumstances, she was slightly worried about the answer she’d receive. “That’s me.” She pulled her arm free, eyeing the woman. “You are?”

“Showgirl,” said the woman, in a tone that made it clear that she was giving her name, not her profession. “I know you were expecting Dame Fortuna, but I was the one sent to watch for you. Will you come with me? Fortunate Son would very much like to have a word with you before you’re allowed to meet with his mother.”

Velveteen briefly considered asking for the woman’s credentials, but dismissed the idea as unnecessary. Given the number of stuffed pirates and cuddly plush pirate ships scattered around the room, she could re-enact the siege of the Spanish Main if she had to. Short of FAO Schwartz, this was the last place on Earth she needed to worry about an ambush.

“I’m always happy to meet new people,” she said. “Let’s go.”


Getting to Fortunate Son’s office required a brief tour of the Jolly Roger Casino, which Showgirl delivered with the smoothly practiced ease of a long-time guide. Gift shops, slot machines, and small theatres were pointed out with the same cheerful , seemingly automatic blandness. Velveteen did her best not to pay any attention at all. She was just enjoying being inside, where the blazing desert sun wasn’t.

“...and this is the private elevator leading to the quarters of Dame Fortuna and family,” said Showgirl blissfully, pulling aside a curtain to reveal a golden cage. “Anyone caught beyond this point without invitation is subject to seven years of abysmally bad luck. No take-backs, no lucky charms. Going up.”

“Wait--what?” But it was too late. Velveteen found herself hustled into the elevator, and then immediately back out again. The cage hadn’t moved.

The casino had completely changed.

Gone was the floor of beeping slot machines and dead-eyed tourists, replaced by a sleek, modern-looking security room, the walls lined with monitors that showed the casino Velveteen had so abruptly left behind. A pool table sat dead center in the middle of the room.

The man who leaned against it was barely six feet tall, with desert-sand hair and eyes the blue of ten-dollar poker chips. He leaned against the pool table as Showgirl led Velveteen forward, his eyes raking her up and down and making her wish she’d thought to wear the lead-lined underwear. His power profile didn’t say anything about X-ray vision, but with the Vegas heroes, you never knew.

“Fortunate Son, I presume?” she said.

“Velveteen,” he said, after an uncomfortably long silence. “I expected something fluffier.”

Vel bristled. “I expected something taller, so I guess we’re even.”

Showgirl looked alarmed. To Fortunate Son’s credit, he laughed, shaking his head. “Girl, you are a piece of work. You know you’re in the temple of fortunes, don’t you? Any one of us could trash your world with a snap of our fingers, and you’d never get it back to where it was before you angered us.”

“Uh, hello, have we met? The name’s Velveteen. You may remember me from the 10 o’clock News. I’m as close as a hero comes to being excommunicated. If The Super Patriots catch me outside Oregon, I’m under arrest, the Governor of Oregon gave me back my heroing license purely to piss them off--and PS, it worked--and my roommate is from an alternate Victorian England that doesn’t exist anymore. My parents just sold their life story to the Pow Network for six figures, while I’m counting quarters for a trip to Starbucks. How are you going to trash my world? Give me bad hair?” She folded her arms, glaring at him. “Bring it on. I have conditioner.”

“If you’re not allowed outside of Oregon, how did you even get here?” asked Showgirl.

“I told the Princess that I needed a lift, and she dropped me off at the edge of town.” Velveteen didn’t have to feign her shudder. “Flying carpet rides from Portland to Las Vegas are so very not fun. But I’ll still call her for my ride home. It’s better than the alternative.” She turned her attention back to Fortunate Son. “I contacted you because I wanted to make a deal. As far as I’m aware, you usually do those remotely. So what was so important about this deal that it meant you had to call me out of my home territory, and why do I care?”

“You must care, or you wouldn’t have come,” he noted reasonably. “As for what’s so important...we’ve got ourselves a leprechaun infestation.”

Velveteen snorted. “I’ve been to the Spring Country. Leprechauns don’t exist outside of the seasonal worlds.”

“Sorry to countermand you, missy, but they do exist. At least if Lucky Charms is back in town.”

“Lucky...oh, that fucker.” Vel groaned. “I thought he was dead.”

“Guess he had one more four-leafed clover to deploy. Anyway, they’ve infiltrated the casino, and things are going wrong a heck of a lot faster than Mama likes. Leprechauns bend probability just enough to make it hard for us to see them clear. They’re about the size of our mascots, so we figure they’re playing dolly, and--”

“You want me to call the toys and see what doesn’t respond.” Velveteen eyed him skeptically. “Why am I going to do you this favor? You haven’t even agreed to help me yet.”

“Because there weren’t three original heroes,” said a voice behind her. It was one of those impossible old-style movie star voices, the kind that promised sin and salvation at the same time. Vel turned to see an elegant blonde woman who could have been cloned from Rita Hayworth herself come gliding up to the group. She was wearing a floor-length green satin sheath dress, and a small smile painted her cupid’s-bow lips. “There were four, darling, and I’m the one that got left off the books when they decided to go public.”

“What?” Velveteen blinked. “That’s not possible.”

“Oh, it is. If you’re lucky enough.” Dame Fortuna smiled. “Luck’s always been my speciality.”

Velveteen’s mouth went dry. “You mean you—”

“All the dirt, darling, all the petty little back-room deals and nasty little lies, I’ve got it all on paper. You want to take down The Super Patriots? I can’t say I have any desire to stop you, but there are a few things you’ll need.”

“Jolly Roger,” whispered Velveteen.

Dame Fortuna nodded. “Exactly that, my sweet little poker chip. You want to find Jolly Roger? This is where you start looking. All you need to do is one tiny little service for the heroes of Vegas, and our files are yours.”

If she could find Jolly Roger-- the last of the Big Three, the only one whose death had never been confirmed--she could give Marketing something to worry about beyond the activities of one middle-grade animator who’d decided she wanted out. Something even bigger than a runaway photon manipulator. The Super Patriots, Inc. would leave them all alone forever if she showed up knowing how to find Jolly Roger.

“Right.” Vel sighed. “What do you want me to do?”


There were approximately two thousand, seven hundred, and eight toys of one description or another within the confines of the Jolly Roger Casino, not counting the ones who were attached to specific children. Velveteen couldn’t have explained how she knew the attached toys from the ones who would be happy to help her; she just knew, the same way that she knew all the toys would answer her call if it were truly an emergency. She stood in the middle of the main casino floor with her eyes closed and her hands raised in front of her chest, concentrating.

Fortunate Son and Showgirl stood nearby, leaning up against a bank of slot machines that had started to return jackpots slightly more often than was statistically likely, and watched her work. “So that’s an animus,” said Fortunate Son. “I’m not impressed.”

The doors of the casino opened as the animatronic pirates from outside came marching in, still singing their jaunty pirate songs.

Showgirl hid a smile behind her hand. “How about now?” she asked. “Are you impressed now?”

“...I suppose I am,” Fortunate Son allowed, his attention swinging from the pirates back to Velveteen.

She was still standing with her hands raised, but she had started to shake slightly, and a fine sheen of sweat had appeared on her forehead and her upper lip. Toys all over the building started to get up of their own accord, running to reach her. The animatronic pirates moved to form a circle around her, their swords at the ready. Fortunate Son didn’t remember them looking quite so sharp, or the pirates looking quite so bloodthirsty.

Velveteen lowered her hands. Eyes still closed, she smiled, very slightly, and spoke the first words to leave her lips since she stepped back onto the casino floor:

“Go get ‘em.”

The leprechauns, who had been enjoying their anonymity, never knew what hit them. Final count and analysis of the security recordings would show that there had been exactly nine hundred and two leprechauns within the confines of the Jolly Roger Casino when Velveteen cried havoc and let slip the dolls of war. The number dwindled quickly after that.

First blood went to an “I Love Las Vegas” teddy bear that had been sharing its owner’s purse with a leprechaun for hours. It whirled on the unsuspecting psychic projection, suddenly showing teeth and claws before ripping the little green man’s head clean off his little green shoulders. The leprechaun dissolved in a puff of whiskey-scented smoke, and the teddy bear went seeking new prey.

Casino customers screamed and fled in droves, some pursued by toys bent on taking their leprechaun hitchhikers away. Fortunate Son and Showgirl did not move to intervene. Losing a little business was bad. Acquiring a reputation as a casino that couldn’t crack down on pickpockets and cheats was worse. Through it all, Velveteen remained frozen at the center of the floor, the sweat beginning to stand out more and visibly on her face. Her cheeks were starting to redden, and the shaking was getting worse.

The toys battled on, until finally, the last leprechaun’s head had been sundered from its shoulders. Velveteen wobbled. Velveteen trembled. And finally, without another word spoken, Velveteen fell, landing on a cushion of suddenly inanimate plush pirates, random Beanie Babies, and “I Love Las Vegas” teddy bears.

Everything was silent.


“I think she’s dead.” The voice was Fortunate Son’s. He didn’t sound particularly upset about the idea of having a dead woman in a bunny costume lying on his casino floor. Then again, this was Las Vegas. Things like that probably happened every day.

“Be nice,” said an unfamiliar woman’s voice. It had the same syrupy accent as Dame Fortuna, but it was lighter, sweeter, and somehow more capricious, all at once. “She came here because we asked her to, and she did us a big favor. There’s no cause to go wishing her death happen any faster than it’s already coming.”

“You think the best of everyone, sweetheart.”

“That’s my job, just like it’s your job to think the worst of everyone who isn’t family.” A cool hand stroked Velveteen’s cheek. “Poor little thing. She’s burning up, and for what? A few files that Mama should have burned years again? It’s not worth it.”

“She’s the one who decided to play after we told her what the game was.” Fortunate Son sounded almost defensive now. Velveteen, who was only just coming to realize that she wasn’t dead, decided that she liked the woman who was scolding him. “It’s not my fault if she went and pushed herself all the way into burnout.”

“That’s the thing. She shouldn’t have pushed herself into burnout. I remember the betting pools with her in them, back when she was with that awful junior team. She managed situations much larger than this one without any sign of strain.”

“Maybe she’s out of practice.”

“Or maybe something’s draining her.” This voice was familiar: Dame Fortuna herself. “I know you’re awake, little girl, even if you aren’t completely sure one way or another. It’s time to open your eyes, get off your back, and have a little talk with Mama.”

“You’re not my mother,” said Velveteen, and opened her eyes...

...only to find herself looking up at the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. Her eyes were the color of new felt on the finest card table ever made, and her hair was the gold of top-shelf whiskey poured in a smoky room where old men bet on ponies and young men bet on souls. She was plainly dressed, T-shirt and jeans, but on her, they were finer than any designer gowns or jewels could possibly have been. Velveteen stared.

The woman sighed and snapped her fingers. Something about the sound changed the picture. She was still blonde, yes, still curvy and soft with big green eyes, but she was only a woman, not the embodiment of all feminine desire. “Sorry,” she said. “I came straight from work, and as long as you didn’t have your eyes open, I didn’t have to dial it back.”

“My poor put-upon darling,” said Fortunate Son, stepping up behind her and putting his arms around her waist.

Velveteen wracked her mind, despite the pounding headache she had somehow acquired, to remember the family connections of the Vegas heroes. “Lady Luck, I presume?” she ventured. She sat up, or tried to, anyway. Her headache got worse. She allowed herself to flop back down.

“Guilty as charged,” said the younger blonde. She leaned back against Fortunate Son, clearly comfortable. “You gave us quite a fright when you collapsed in the casino like that. There was nothing in any of your files to indicate that you’d burn out so quickly.”

“I’ve been tired lately,” Velveteen admitted. “I think it’s stress.”

“Best friend finally escapes The Super Patriots, Inc., you wind up with a roommate from another dimension, and three holidays are jockeying for your hand--I can see where that might get stressful,” said Dame Fortuna, stepping up next to her daughter. Seen like this, side by side, the family resemblance was more than just unmistakable: it was absolute. Lady Luck looked like Dame Fortuna seen twenty years earlier, before the casinos took a maiden and turned her into a mother. Dame Fortuna smiled a little at Velveteen’s expression. “My Lucky-girl doesn’t have a father. Just me, and the night wind, and the roll of the dice. So it’s no wonder we look so much like each other.”

“No wonder,” said Velveteen faintly.

“It’ll be different for me,” said Lady Luck. “I think it’s important for my babies to know their father. Don’t you agree, dear?”

“As long as they have your disposition and not mine,” said Fortunate Son.

“How are you feeling?” Dame Fortuna stepped away from her daughter and son-in-law, moving to peer into Velveteen’s eyes. “You were out for a good long time.”

“It’s probably sunstroke,” said Velveteen. “I walked from the city limits to your casino. That can’t be good for me.” Part of her knew that answer was too easy. She pushed that part aside. There were some things it was better to let go.

“You walked?” Dame Fortuna turned a glare on Fortunate Son, who had the sense to look abashed. “There’s no reason you should have needed to do that. We have a shuttle.”

“She didn’t call,” protested Fortunate Son weakly. “If she’d called, I would’ve sent Showgirl to pick her up.”

“The Princess doesn’t have flight clearance for her carpet in Vegas,” said Velveteen, trying to prevent a full-scale family brawl. “I didn’t realize you had a shuttle.”

“Fortunate Son, get temporary clearance for the Princess to fly her carpet in here. I won’t have anyone saying that we mistreat our guests, especially after they’ve publically collapsed doing favors for us.”

“On it,” said Fortunate Son, and disentangled himself from Lady Luck before walking quickly out of the room.

Dame Fortuna nodded, looking satisfied, and turned back to Velveteen. “Now you, me, and Lady, we’re going to have a nice lunch, and we’re going to talk about what you need from me. Vegas may stack the odds, but we always, always pay our debts, when we incur them.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” said Velveteen. She wasn’t so sure about anything that involved getting off whatever she was currently lying on--what was she lying on? She turned her head just enough to see the green felt underneath her. Ah. The pool table.

“But first, let’s get you a little hair of the dog that bit you.” Dame Fortuna leaned in and kissed Velveteen’s forehead. Her headache popped like a soap bubble, fading almost instantly into nothingness.

Velveteen sat up, eyes wide, and looked into Dame Fortuna’s smirking face. “How did you do that?”

“Most gamblers bet a little freer when they’re drunk, and not at all when they’re hungover,” said Dame Fortuna. “It’s not my most useful power, but it can come in handy when you want to keep the game going.”

“I can do it, too, almost as well as Mama,” said Lady Luck.

“Oof. Remind me never to go drinking with the two of you and the Princess,” said Velveteen. She swung her legs around, carefully testing their willingness to obey her commands. Everything seemed to be in working order, despite a faint, lingering dizziness. She stood. “Thank you.”

“It’s no trouble at all, sweetheart,” said Dame Fortuna, taking her arm. “Now let’s have that lunch.”


“Lunch” turned out to be a private table in the casino’s five-star restaurant, which they entered by walking past a long line of hopeful diners. No one said anything about their blatant line-jumping. Everyone was too busy staring at Dame Fortuna, and at Lady Luck, who was once more wearing her devastatingly beautiful work persona. Velveteen felt like a grubby favorite doll as she tagged along in their wake. Vegas might be easy on the eyes, but it was hell on the nerves, at least as far as she was concerned.

Once they were seated, with tall glasses of cucumber water and a bowl of steaming fresh bread on the table, Dame Fortuna focused on her again. “Drink your water,” she said. “Then drink your refill, and drink the refill that comes after that. If there’s any chance you’ve been sunstruck, you’re going to want to hydrate.”

“Hydration is a good idea regardless,” said Lady Luck. “This is a desert, after all.”

The advice felt bizarrely practical coming from a heroine who was generally regarded as the living embodiment of good fortune. Velveteen sipped her cucumber water and tried to figure out how to raise the topic that had brought her to Las Vegas in the first place.

Fortunately--no pun intended--Dame Fortuna did it for her. “So you’re going to look for Jolly Roger,” she said. “That’s a bold decision for a hero as young as you are. I’ve followed your career since it started up again, and I never expected anything this ambitious. Why the change of heart?”

Velveteen hesitated before deciding that, when dealing with heroes who may or may not be the living embodiments of the world’s good fortune, honesty was the best policy. “I finally have something to defend,” she said. “I’m going to do my best to defend it.”

“Ah. An idealist. I remember when I was an idealist--back when I was Lady Luck, and my lovely daughter wasn’t even a glimmer in a croupier’s eye.” Dame Fortuna broke open a bread roll, freeing the sweet smell of baked yeast. “You should have seen us in those days, my little bunny-eared heroine. We were gods. This world had never seen anything like us, and oh, how they loved us...”

“So why doesn’t anyone know that you were part of the original team?” The question was out before Velveteen realized that it might be a dangerous thing to ask.

Thankfully, Dame Fortuna just smiled. “I was never a member of The Super Patriots; my involvement was over by the time Supermodel decided that they needed to be a brand. She couldn’t stand having another woman in her spotlight, and well...I’m very good at seeing which way the wind is blowing. I cashed in my chips and got out while the getting was good. Sometimes I think I made a mistake. That if I’d stayed, Majesty might have lived, and Roger might not have disappeared the way that he did. But the past is another country, or so some people say.”

“Judging by my roommate, the past is a whole different world.”

Dame Fortuna laughed. “I wouldn’t be surprised. Now come. Let’s stop talking about this for a little while, and see if we can’t put some color back into your cheeks. I promise, no rabbit stew.”

“Gee, thanks,” said Velveteen, and picked up her menu.


“I don’t think this was a good idea,” said Fortunate Son, watching as Velveteen tried to balance three file boxes atop each other. “The Super Patriots are going to know where she got this info, and they’re not going to be happy about it.”

“No, they’re not,” said Dame Fortuna. This time, her smile was a skeletal grimace, nothing like the friendly face she showed outsiders. “If they want to talk to me about telling my side of the story, they’re welcome to come to Vegas for a chat. I think they’ll be surprised by how ready we are for them.”

“Besides, Sonny, we came out on top.” Lady Luck held up a DVD in a bright cartoon package. “The epic battle of the leprechauns vs. the plush denizens of the casino, available now from the gift shop for twenty-five ninety-five. They’re selling like hotcakes.”

“The house always wins,” said Dame Fortuna serenely, and watched Velveteen carry boxes to the roof.


The Princess brought her carpet in for a careful landing on the roof of the Jolly Roger Casino, knocking her tiara askew and frightening off a large flock of pigeons that had been enjoying the remains of a bag of birdseed. Velveteen waved before hoisting the first of the stack of file boxes and carrying it over to load onto the carpet.

“Uh.” The Princess eyed Velveteen’s burden dubiously. “Do I even want to know what you’ve got there?”

“Papers. Records. Maybe, if we’re really lucky, a treasure map.” Velveteen dropped the box before going back for the next. “Everyone was very helpful, except for maybe Fortunate Son, but ‘helpful’ isn’t really his thing.”

“I thought you were coming here for information.”

“This is information.” Velveteen picked up another box, stroking it lovingly. “This is what’s going to change everything in our favor. The people here are pirates, Princess. So I plundered.”

“You plundered what, the admin office?”

“Something like that.”

“Well, was it worth it? Did you get what you needed?”

Velveteen paused, remembering the malice that had sparkled in Dame Fortuna’s eyes when she talked about The Super Patriots, Inc. “I think it was,” she said, finally. “Now let’s go home.”

“Mind if we stop for pizza on the way?”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“You want to bet?”

Velveteen’s screams followed them all the way back to Portland.
Tags: velveteen vs.
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