Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire
seanan_mcguire

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Velveteen Presents Victory Anna vs. The Difficulties With Pan-Dimensional Courtship.

Title: Velveteen Presents Victory Anna vs. The Difficulties With Pan-Dimensional Courtship.
Summary: And now for something completely different, as a young science heroine strives to find True Love despite the many obstacles intended by the world to Thwart her.

***

After two months of sharing her home, off and on, with the woman who might as well have been the love of her life--and very likely would have been, had the Snowfather refrained from using his powers to teach her a lesson she still did not fully understand--Victoria Cogsworth had had enough. She rose early, before there was any chance that this world’s version of her beloved would have arrived via magic mirror from the North Pole, and lay in wait for her roommate.

When Velma finally staggered out of her room and into the kitchen, following the alluring smell of fresh-brewed coffee, she was expecting, well. Coffee. She wasn’t expecting to find Victoria, already fully dressed and perfectly groomed, holding the coffee pot hostage.

“We need to have a discussion about Yelena,” said Victoria.

“Can it wait until I’ve had caffeine?” asked Velma. How anyone could look perky in a corset before noon was beyond her sleep-fogged ability to comprehend. Quite honestly, she probably wouldn’t understand any better once she was awake. At least this way, she could pretend she was still dreaming.

Although there was a distinct lack of Tad and whipped cream in the kitchen. So dreaming was probably out.

“No.”

Velma whimpered.

Sensing that any chance of a rational discussion was dwindling, Victoria relented and held out the coffee pot. “Oh, all right, indulge your vulgar addictions,” she said. “But after you have rejoined the ranks of the living, we must discuss Yelena. Agreed?”

“Whatever you want,” said Velma, grabbing the pot and heading for the counter, where her coffee mug waited in the dish drainer.

Victoria watched her go, frowning slightly. She hadn’t lived with Velma long, as such things were measured, but she would have had to be blind to overlook her housemate’s growing reliance on stimulants. Not just coffee, although that was the most obvious: there were also energy drinks, purchased and consumed while on patrol, and herbal supplements, most of which were questionable at best. “Are you feeling all right?”

“Just tired,” said Velma, filling her mug. “I had a late night last night.”

That wasn’t true: Victoria had been awake when Velma came in from her nightly patrol. It had been barely half-past midnight. As patrols went, that was the equivalent of taking a half-day at work.

And yet all that was irrelevant, and did nothing to forward the discussion at hand. “Be that as it may, we have put off this discussion far too long.” Victoria took a seat at the kitchen table, folding her hands primly in her lap, and announced, “I have decided to court Yelena, and would very much appreciate your blessing.”

Velma choked on her coffee.

Unwilling to let something as petty as her conversational partner’s inability to breathe interfere with her planned script, Victoria continued, “I have drawn up a list of one hundred and three reasons why I would make an ideal girlfriend for your dimension’s version of Yelena. It’s annotated and simple enough that you should be able to read it unassisted, but I am willing to review it with you if you think this would sway you in the direction of assent.”

“You used to date her alternate-reality self!” protested Velma, finally getting her breath back.

“Yes, and that is one of the six items listed in the ‘negatives’ column,” said Victoria implacably. “It ranks just above ‘inconvenient height differential’ and just below ‘homosexual union still tacitly frowned upon by state and local laws,’ which I believe could make her uncomfortable with the idea of beginning a relationship with me.”

“But that’s...it’s creepy, okay? You know her inside and out, and she barely knows you at all.”

“Ah, but you see, that is where you are wrong.” Victoria leaned forward, eyes burning with an intensity of focus that Velma normally saw from her only when she was about to take the toaster apart. Again. “This woman is not my Pol. I admit that my physical attraction to her is at least partially based on how much they look alike, and on my intimate knowledge of her more private anatomy--”

“Too much information, seriously,” said Velma.

“--but if it were only that, I would have begun courting her weeks ago, and your approval, or lack thereof, be damned. This Yelena is different. She’s more vulnerable in some ways, and stronger in others. She’s lonely, even when she stands among friends. She needs someone.” Victoria looked down at her hands. For a moment, Velma wondered who, exactly, she was talking about: herself, or Sparkle Bright. “She needs me.”

“Victoria--Torrey--” Velma paused. “I can’t make her love you.”

“I wouldn’t want you to.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think so somehow. If you want to court her, that’s between the two of you. But you should probably tell her the full story about you and that other Yelena. Starting something like this...I think you’re right. I think she’s lonely. And I don’t want you to mess things up by not making sure she understands exactly what’s going on.”

“You’re very protective for someone who didn’t speak to her for years.”

Velma shrugged. “We grew up together. She was my best friend. She still is. We may have let each other down, but that doesn’t mean I ever stopped loving her. It doesn’t mean I ever could.”

“Well, good then.” Victoria stood, thrusting her hand out for Velma to shake. After a puzzled blink, Velma did just that. “Thank you for your candor. I assure you, I will not harm her in any way.”

“Good to know,” said Velma, and watched as Victoria gathered her skirts and marched out of the kitchen like a tiny redheaded general marching off to war.

Finally, she said, “That girl is really weird,” to the empty air, and sat down at the kitchen table to drink her coffee in peace.

*

Victoria Cogsworth was a survivor. She had survived the total destruction of two worlds, and the uncontrolled passage through dozens of others. She had survived growing up as a lesbian in a culture where women who loved women were second-class at best. She had survived Oxford, for Epona’s sake. But as she carefully braided her hair into the appropriate plait for going courting, she wondered whether she could survive what she was about to begin.

What if this world’s Yelena rejected her? Saw her as tainted, somehow, by her love for a version of Yelena who no longer existed, and never would again? What if she presented her suit, and was given nothing but scorn in response?

“Epona favors those who seize the reins of destiny and ride it triumphantly into the future,” she said sternly to her reflection, and continued braiding her hair, working the plaits around the crown of her head in a tight style that would have made her intentions perfectly clear to someone from her home world. She smiled a little as she worked, allowing herself a pleasant fantasy in which Yelena was the one stranded in her world, under the laws of life and love that she had been raised with. Ah, it would have been beautiful.

Tucking the end of the braid under the base, she stood and crossed to her carpet bag. It was worn and tattered, but it was all she had left of the life she’d been living since that beautiful world was destroyed. If not for Santa Claus, she wouldn’t even have had that much. She opened the clasp, pulling out the gold and green courting dress that was waiting for her on the top of the carefully folded clothing. Not for the first time, she wondered whose the bag had been before it came to her. At least there was no chance they would be coming to reclaim it: that was one positive consequence of the destruction of her second home world, at least.

“It is a vain soul who thinks only of her appearance,” she chided her reflection, as she pinned her green feathered fascinator into place and studied the overall effect of her outfit. She looked...quite good, really. Perhaps appearance alone would be enough to make her suit plain.

If not, there was always the classic combination of poetry, flattery, and flowers. Victoria retrieved the bouquet of clockwork flowers that she had been working on all week and turned to head for the bathroom, where the mirror Jackie Frost used most often for transport to and from the North Pole was waiting.

Dealing with Yelena’s daily commutes to and from Santa’s Village had eventually necessitated a series of compromises between the residents of the house and the residents of Winter. The mirror, which would normally have responded only to requests by Jackie herself, was now rigged with catchphrases provided by the Princess. One would open a connection through which conversation could occur; the other would unlock the mirror for transit. While they all knew that Jackie could come and go regardless, she had been respecting the arrangement since it was put in place, and shower-related incidents had decreased dramatically.

Victoria positioned herself carefully in front of the mirror, pausing to adjust the angle of her hat before she cleared her throat and said, “Mirror mirror, on the wall, please would you complete my call?”

Frost spread across the inside of the mirror with disturbing quickness, signifying a connection to the Winter, rather than a connection to the Princess’s Crystal Glitter Unicorn Palace. Victoria waited with ill-concealed impatience until the frost cleared, and was replaced by the puzzled, blue-skinned face of Jackie.

“What’s up, gear-girl?” she asked.

Victoria, who would have taken those words as a dire insult from virtually anyone else, smiled. She had grown fond of this world’s Jackie Frost, in part because of her unflinching honesty, and in part because she was so different from the cold, uncaring Frostbite. “May I have passage?”

Jackie stared for a moment. Then she laughed. “I’m sorry, it sounded like you were saying...”

“I am saying that I would like to visit the North Pole, that I might fairly present my suit to Miss Yelena,” said Victoria, her back ramrod straight with the effort of retaining her composure.

“Uh...no. You being here messes up Winter something awful, remember? You’re all attuned to holidays that died centuries ago, and never existed in this world in the first place.” Jackie paused. “You’d think those would be mutually exclusive things, wouldn’t you?”

Victoria grimaced. “As you say. Well, then. Is Miss Yelena available?” she asked.

“Sure, Stripy the Rainbow Clown is kicking around underfoot,” said Jackie easily. “Why are you asking? Does Vel want her for something?”

“No, I...” Victoria took a deep breath. “I do. May I speak with her, please?”

“Wait.” Jackie looked at her, seeming to take in the carefully selected outfit, the hair, and the clockwork roses for the first time. “You said you wanted to ‘present your suit.’ Are you serious?”

“Exceedingly so.”

“You realize she’s never actually done this before, right?”

“And I have ‘done this’ precisely once, with a girl who never was. I believe that while I may have marginally more experience in this arena, it is, for the most part, irrelevant.” Victoria took a deep breath. “Please, Jacqueline. If you have ever been a friend to me, be a friend to me now.”

Jackie groaned. “Sweet Santa, you people are going to be the death of me...wait here. I’ll go get her.” She walked out of the frame, leaving Victoria to face an empty room painted in glacier blue and snowflake white. It was quite nice, if a bit chilly-looking.

This is a terrible idea, she thought. There is no way she will accept my suit. I should run now, while there is still a slim chance of retaining my dignity. Immediately on the heels of the first thought came a second: I would be a fool to reject a second chance at the greatest happiness anyone has ever known. I will be open. I will be honest. And she will love me, or not, as Epona wills.

“Um, Victoria?”

The sound of Yelena’s voice snapped her back into the present. Victoria brought her head up, forcing herself to smile as she presented her bouquet of clockwork roses to the glass. “Hello, Miss Yelena. If you do not have other plans this evening, I wondered if you might do me the signature honor of joining me for dinner on the rooftops of Portland. I am assured that the views are incomparable, and the forecast indicates a seventeen percent chance that it will not, in fact, be raining.”

Yelena blinked. She was wearing a Christmas-y sweatshirt with a reindeer on the front, and her hair was braided back in a simple three-strand plait. The braid helped, oddly enough. Victoria’s first Yelena had never worn her hair long enough to style.

“Are you asking me out on a date?”

No. “Yes, Miss Yelena, I do believe I am,” said Victoria. “Contingent, of course, on your being willing to risk such a situation with me, knowing as you do my past with your parallel world counterpart.”

Something hardened in Yelena’s expression. “You mean the one who was actually happy? Sounds good to me. I’ll be there in an hour.” She turned and stalked out of the mirror’s field of view.

Jackie appeared a moment later. “I don’t know whether to applaud you or start writing your obituary,” she said, without preamble. “Good luck either way. You’re gonna need it.” The mirror frosted over, and in a matter of seconds, Victoria was alone with her own reflection.

“Yes,” she said, to no one in particular. “I suppose that I am.”

*

One hour later precisely, Yelena--who had always been punctual, and would probably make it a point to be on time to her own execution--stepped out of the bathroom mirror. She was wearing clean jeans and a nice, if bulky, cable-knit sweater. The outfit was as much a matter of practicality as anything else: whatever she wore had to allow her to wear a full-body unitard underneath.

She was still wearing her Blacklight costume to fight crime, even though she didn’t feel like a Blacklight. She didn’t feel like a Sparkle Bright, either. At the moment, she wasn’t sure what she felt, except possibly like she was going to be sick.

The mirror had turned back into a mirror behind her. She turned and looked at her reflection. “It’s going to be fine,” she informed herself. “She wouldn’t have asked you out if she didn’t want you to go out with her.” And Velma was never going to love her that way. It was time she moved on, or at least started the process of trying.

The mirror, which was probably getting used to people using it to talk to themselves, didn’t say anything.

Yelena opened the bathroom door, stepped out into the hall, and was promptly greeted by Victoria’s bouquet of clockwork flowers.

“Hello Miss Yelena you look lovely today your hair has the scent of fresh snowflakes I made these for you they’ll never die and if you wind them every time they close they’ll bloom I can show you how later would you like to have lunch with me?” Victoria’s words came out in an undifferentiated rush, rattled off one after the other.

Yelena blinked. Then, slowly, she smiled. “They’re beautiful,” she said, taking the flowers from Victoria. “Thank you. No one’s ever built me flowers before.” No one had ever really given her flowers before either. Oh, Aaron had tried, but they’d only been together because Marketing told them to be, and he knew she didn’t really like him that way. They’d both done what they could to do the right thing while trapped in an impossible situation.

These were really her first flowers. And they really were beautiful.

Victoria’s cheeks reddened. Then, pulling herself a bit taller, she said, “I thought, given the hour, and the time difference between here and the North Pole, that the lunch menu at the Dash-o’-Danger steakhouse might be sufficient. I have verified that they can meet your dietary needs.”

“What about yours?” asked Yelena, only half-jokingly.

“I am happy in any dining establishment which will provide me with a slice of beef, a baked potato, and a pudding afterward,” said Victoria.

Yelena hesitated, looking at her. She looked so earnest, and so hopeful, like this was a chance she’d never dared dream she’d have again. Yelena understood what that felt like. “Dash-o’-Danger sounds great,” she said.

“Brilliant,” said Victoria. “I’ll get my coat.”

*

The Dash-o’-Danger steakhouse had been constructed with the superhuman and superhuman groupies of the world in mind. Bored paparazzi and amateur photographers lounged outside the garish entryway, waiting for a potential paycheck to wander by. A few of them raised their cameras as Yelena and Victoria approached, recognizing the gadgeteer, if not the blonde woman who was with her. Yelena cringed, automatically slowing her pace.

“Are you well?” asked Victoria, with a concerned glance at her companion.

“I don’t want my picture taken,” said Yelena. “We can go somewhere else.”

“No. No, I don’t think we will. I’ll handle this.” Victoria sped up, marching forward until she made a prime target for the cameras. The swarm promptly closed in around her, shutters clicking. “Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I must ask that you cease this at once, and destroy any pictures you may have already taken of myself and my companion.”

“Or what?” asked a photographer. The shutters continued to click.

“Ah. I take it you do not acquiesce?”

There was no response but a flash going off.

“Very well.” Victoria produced a small brass sphere from inside her jacket, pressed a button on the top, and dropped it. Thick smoke began pouring out, blanketing the area in seconds. Moving quickly, she walked back to where she had left Yelena, grabbed her by the elbow, and steered her past the coughing photographers into the steakhouse.

“Barbarians,” she muttered, once they were safely inside. “They’ll find this day’s film and memory cards have been sadly corrupted. A true tragedy, and one hopes, also a lesson in respecting the boundaries of others.”

Yelena blinked at her before she laughed, hiding it quickly behind her hand. Victoria smiled smugly.

“Ah, good. A sense of humor is key in maintaining good relations with the world around you. Well, that and a large ray gun. Shall we put ourselves in line for a table?”

“We shall,” said Yelena grandly, and kept laughing all the way to the front desk.

*

It was early, and the Dash-o’-Danger was primarily famous as a dinner establishment. In no time at all, Yelena and Victoria were seated in a corner booth, and the waiter had gone to fetch their drinks (Diet Coke for Yelena, an assortment of hot teas for Victoria).

“So...” said Yelena awkwardly.

“Yes,” said Victoria. “So.”

“You’re, uh. From Victorian England. How was that?”

“Oh, very much like your world’s version of same. Somewhat more scientifically advanced, although more and more, I have come to suspect that my world simply gained superpowers earlier than yours, and forced them all into a form of scientific advancement.” Victoria’s smile was wry. “I understand that many of my inventions cannot be operated by anyone but me, much less repaired should they happen to malfunction. My father was no doubt a superhuman of a type, and so am I. I shudder to think of the havoc my children would have wreaked, had I any interest in having them.”

“Heh.” Yelena grinned a little. “Your kids would totally take apart the microwave and use it to build a death ray.”

“I take umbrage to that,” said Victoria. “Microwaves are cheap, tawdry technology, used to ruin perfectly good food. My children would take apart meaningful things. Like cars.”

“Belonging to other people, of course.”

“Yes, of course.” Victoria sobered a bit. “It was...there is this impression of the past as being a simpler time, like I must constantly be amazed by the wonders of the world. And I am constantly amazed by the wonders of the world. But it’s not because my world was simple. It’s because this world is magnificent. So was mine. So is every other world that is. They are all complex machines on a scale that I could never hope to construct, and I am in awe of their mechanic.”

“Oh,” said Yelena.

“And what of you? The shock of joining this world, where things are chaotic and undecided, must be quite great after spending so many years in the sheltered confines of The Super Patriots. How do you find it here?”

“It’s amazing,” said Yelena. “It’s...I’m wearing a sweater, because I want to. I’m out to lunch with a pretty girl who gave me flowers, because I want to be. No one had to approve my outfit, or my date, or what I’m going to be doing afterward. I’m free. I can think for the first time in years.”

“That must be lovely,” said Victoria slowly. “I...Miss Yelena...”

“I know you dated another version of me in another reality,” said Yelena. Victoria stopped talking. “Jackie and Vel told me, I think so I wouldn’t think you were totally weird. I also know that the two of you were pretty serious.”

“We shared a home and a bed for four years,” said Victoria.

Yelena’s cheeks flamed orange, her powers turning her blush into something exotic. “Okay, well, that was blunt. I’m assuming, since you’re a super-genius and all, that you’ve already worked out that I’m not her, and I’m never going to be her, right?”

“I have.”

“So why did you ask me to have lunch with you?”

“Because you are not her, and you will never be her, but I, like everyone else, have a ‘type.’ I like tall, occasionally tongue-tied blondes who can shoot rainbows from their hands.” Victoria shrugged. “It may seem terribly specific to you, but I note that it has worked quite well for me thus far. You are not my lost love. You will never be the woman who kissed me under the moons of Jupiter, or went with me to bargain for the life of Lady Luck in the Arcade of Destiny. But I believe that, given time, you and I could form bonds just as strong. I am lonely. I think that you are, too.”

Yelena stared at her, tongue-tied. Victoria picked up her menu.

“I think I will try the sirloin,” she said, thoughtfully.

Yelena didn’t say anything at all.

*

Lunch was excellent--the Dash-o’-Danger generally was, as long as no one ordered the radioactive lasagna--and afterward, Yelena and Victoria went back to the house, where Velma was conveniently absent. They sat down on opposite ends of the couch, Victoria with her ankles demurely crossed, Yelena fighting the urge to fidget.

“So,” she said.

“Yes, ‘so,’” agreed Victoria. “Have you considered my proposal? Will you permit me to press my suit?”

“You mean, will I keep dating you?”

“Or start dating me, as might be a more accurate descriptor, but yes.” Victoria looked at her hopefully. “I can be an excellent girlfriend. I have practice.”

“I don’t.”

“That’s all right. I’m sure you have a very flexible learning curve.”

Yelena raised an eyebrow. “Is this based on knowing the other version of me?”

“No; it’s based on the fact that you have been dwelling at the North Pole with Jacqueline Frost for more than a week, and no one has been brutally murdered. If you did not have a flexible learning curve, her body would have long since been discovered in one of the local skating pools.”

Yelena blinked. Yelena snickered. And finally, Yelena laughed out loud.

Victoria tilted her head to the side, apparently trying to decide whether or not to be offended. Yelena kept laughing, and Victoria slowly smiled.

“I see I have amused you.”

“Oh, yeah, because you have no idea how many times I’ve been tempted. Like, did you know she swears in front of Santa Claus? Like, Santa Claus, the guy who keeps the Naughty and Nice lists. And she leaves wet towels on the bathroom floor, which is completely unhygienic, and she keeps trying to trick me into admitting that I’m secretly on the payroll of The Super Patriots, so that she can kick me out before I do any damage. Also, is there a reason she needs to remind us that she’s blue all the time? I have eyes. I can see. I can be blue if I want to, but you don’t see me prancing around claiming to be the new girl in Smurf Village.”

“As you were not created by Gargamel, I doubt that would hold much water even if you were to try,” said Victoria.

Yelena paused. “You know about Smurfs?”

“Without creepily reminding you that I shared a residence with a version of you for four years, I will note simply that the show about the little blue forest people existed in my last dimension as well. And my world’s Yelena was very fond of it.”

“Smurfs are comforting,” said Yelena, wrapping a lock of hair around her finger. Then she paused. “What did you say the Yelena in your world went by?”

“Polychrome. The Rainbow’s own daughter.” Victoria shook her head. “I was never sure what led her to select that name...”

“Polychrome and the Patchwork Girl of Oz were friends,” said Yelena. “I like it.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I said, I like it. ‘Sparkle Bright’ is really a name for a five-year-old, don’t you think?” Yelena stopped fiddling with her hair and smiled. “And I like you. We’re both a little out of place, and trying to get over women who we can’t be with. Who cares if yours looked a whole lot like me? That doesn’t mean this isn’t worth trying.”

Victoria wanted to cheer. She wanted to punch the air and thank Epona for Her mercy. Instead, she nodded. “Very well, then. I will commence courting you properly, and we shall see where the future leads us.”

“You know, in all my ‘someday I’ll get a girlfriend’ fantasies, this was never how I imagined things going,” said Yelena.

“It never is.” Victoria’s smile was radiant. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

Yelena laughed again, and was opening her mouth to answer when the doorbell rang.

“It’s probably a delivery for Velma,” said Victoria, standing and smoothing her skirt with the heels of her hands. “She receives shipments of toys on a daily basis. Wait here.” Turning, she walked toward the door.

*

Velveteen and Tag were cleaning up the last of a hive of giant wasps--probably the work of Insecticide, who thought his name meant “I am a cool supervillain who kills people with bugs,” and clearly didn’t own a dictionary--when her phone began blaring out a klaxon-like ringtone that she’d never heard before. They exchanged an alarmed look before she moved off to the side, letting Tag handle the rest of the wasps himself while she answered the phone.

“Hello?”

“THEY TOOK HER THEY TOOK HER THEY JUST CAME TO THE DOOR AND THEY TOOK HER YOU HAVE TO GET BACK HERE RIGHT AWAY THERE HAS TO BE A WAY THAT YOU CAN FIX THIS THEY TOOK HER YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!” Victoria’s words were an anguished howl, so loud and unpunctuated by the normal pauses of human speech that it was briefly hard for Velveteen to realize what she was saying.

Then the three words that had been repeated most often lodged themselves in the front of her brain, and all the air went out of the world.

“Victory Anna, calm down,” she said, through numb lips. “Who took who? What’s going on?”

“THEY TOOK HER YOU HAVE TO--”

“I can’t understand you if you shout! Who took who?”

There was a long pause as the science heroine fought to catch her breath. Finally, in a hoarse tone, she said, “I was sitting in the living room with Ye--with Sparkle Bright when the doorbell rang. I assumed it was a package for you. I went to answer.”

“And?”

“It wasn’t a package. They said they were from The Super Patriots, Inc. legal department. They said that if she went with them willingly and of her own free will, they wouldn’t press charges for her unauthorized vacation. I thought she would fight them, but...” Victoria’s voice broke. “But then they said that if she resisted, they would be forced to take me into custody, as they had evidence of my being an unregistered superhuman. She went with them, Vel. She said ‘don’t hurt her, I’ll come,’ and she went with them to protect me. Why would she do that? She didn’t have to do that!”

“We’ll get her back,” said Velveteen. “I’ll be home as soon as I can.” She lowered her phone, turning to stare dully back at Tag, who was subduing the last of the giant wasps.

He hit it on the head with a graffiti hammer before meeting Velveteen’s eyes curiously. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

“No.” She shook her head. “Everything isn’t okay. Everything isn’t okay at all.” She was tired. Her head was pounding. And now The Super Patriots, Inc. had reclaimed her best friend.

This was officially war.

She was just no longer sure that she was going to survive it.

*

The men who had been sent to retrieve Sparkle Bright were not, technically, superhumans: to be superhuman, they would have needed to be human in the first place. They were extremely clever automatons, constructed by Mechamation and sent on the retrieval once it was confirmed that Velveteen was not on the premises. They couldn’t be blinded. They couldn’t be bribed. But they could clamp their tungsten fingers around Sparkle Bright’s arms, holding her to the ground until she could be dragged to the waiting van.

“Get her inside,” snapped the man from Marketing, opening the door as they approached. The automatons did as they were told. In short order, Sparkle Bright was strapped to a chair, and turned to face the inhabitants of the van.

Mechamation was there. That made sense; she would need to operate her robots. So was Firefly, probably damning Sparkle Bright’s recapture. The two men from Marketing were unfamiliar, but that didn’t really matter; they were all interchangeable anyway.

“You don’t have any right to do this,” she said, as the automatons closed the van doors behind her. The engine started. “Let me go right now and I won’t press charges.”

“Oh, no, you see, we do have the right to do this,” said one of the men from Marketing. “You broke your contract, little hero, and you’re going to pay for that.”

“You want my money? Take it. I don’t need it.”

“Your money is ours; we only gave it to you to make it seem like we cared,” said the second man. “We want something much more valuable. We want your loyalty. And we’re going to have it.”

Yelena paled, involuntary yellow and green sparks bursting in the air around her. She looked toward Mechamation. Mechamation looked away.

Eventually, she started shouting for help. But by then, it was long past the point when anyone could possibly have heard her.
Tags: short fiction, velveteen vs.
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