Summary: The time for patience is over. Now is the time for war. The first step? Finding allies powerful enough to make the war winnable...
Celia Morgan, Governor of Oregon, shook her head. “No,” she said.
“What?” Velveteen stared at her. In all the possible scenarios she’d considered for this day, the governor simply refusing her resignation hadn’t even cracked the top twenty. “What do you mean, no? I’m quitting. You can’t tell me not to quit.”
“Perhaps not, but I can refuse to accept your resignation, which has essentially the same result.” Governor Morgan pushed the paper back toward Velveteen. “You’re still the official superheroine of Portland, with all the powers and responsibilities that the position conveys.”
“But--” protested Velveteen.
Governor Morgan continued speaking as if she hadn’t been interrupted. “At the same time, the state of Oregon recognizes that this is a difficult time for you. Because another superheroine is willing to take on your duties on a temporary basis, I have approved a six-week bereavement leave. I realize this is irregular, since the two of you were not registered as married, but I believe that teammates should be afforded the same rights under the law as domestic partners. Go. Grieve. Get your head together. Jory will keep the state safe while you’re away.”
Velveteen blinked, too stunned to speak. After a moment of silence, Governor Morgan took pity on her.
“We both know that whatever cosmic strings you pulled to get my sister returned to me, you pulled them for a reason,” said Celia quietly. “At the time, I suspected it was because you were getting ready to make a frontal assault on The Super Patriots, and didn’t want any repercussions that followed to find Oregon undefended. I should have been angry at you, playing on my emotions like that, but I wasn’t angry then, and I’m not angry now. You gave me the most valuable thing in the world. Now it’s my turn to give you the only thing I have that could mean half as much.”
“What’s that?” Velveteen asked.
“Time.” Governor Celia Morgan, who had lost her only sister to The Super Patriots, and regained her from a bunny-eared, second-string heroine, leaned back in her chair and smiled. “Get those bastards, Velveteen. Make them pay for everything they’ve ever done, to anyone.”
Velveteen nodded. Then, without another word, she stood and left the office. Governor Morgan watched her go, unable to shake the feeling that she would never see the superheroine again.
“I did all I could,” she whispered, and wished she could believe herself.
Velveteen stepped out of the office to find three women waiting for her in the reception area. Only three: the fourth, the receptionist, had fled at some point, doubtless fearing that a massive superhero battle was about to take place. She wasn’t too far wrong.
“I know you weren’t really thinking of leaving without us,” said Jackie, folding her arms. She was wearing what passed as a uniform for her, a silver and blue ice skater’s delight with so many sequins and semi-precious stones stitched into the fabric that it probably qualified as armor. “That would be silly, and if there’s one thing a woman who brings toys to life and uses them to fight crime would never be, it’s silly.”
“She was doubtless just informing the Governor that there would be rather fewer superhumans in town for the next few days,” said Victory Anna, whose attire was much more suited to an H.G. Wells fan convention. She even had a backpack-powered ray gun. All the rage with the modern gaslight costume set.
“She was leaving,” said the Princess. It was a blunt statement, made all the blunter because it was coming from a pretty blonde Southern girl who looked like she was going to break into song at any moment. “She doesn’t want any of the rest of us getting hurt, ain’t that right, bunny-girl?”
“Yes,” said Velveteen firmly. “This isn’t your fight.”
“Tag was my friend before you knew him,” said Jackie.
“They have my girlfriend,” said Victory Anna.
“I’m not even going to dignify that statement,” said the Princess. “Bless your heart, I know it’s in the right place, but if you want to leave without us, you’re going to need to fight us first, and you’re going to need to fight us like you really mean it. Can you do that, sweetie? Are you prepared for the consequences? Because I honestly don’t think you are. I think you need your friends with you. And I’d like to think you’re smart enough to know that.”
Velveteen looked from face to face. Then, finally, she sighed. “All right,” she said. “You can come with me. I guess having a flying carpet will come in handy, anyway.”
“See? You’re getting smarter already.” The Princess linked her arm with Velveteen’s, and the four heroines walked out in a line. They looked mismatched and shabby, nothing that could possibly challenge an empire.
Appearances can be so deceiving.
Three hours later, Victory Anna was sitting primly in the middle of the Princess’s flying carpet, watching as Velveteen was noisily sick over the side. “If you can, try and hit a seagull,” she suggested. “They’re essentially rats with wings, so it isn’t impolite, and at least if you can aim your vomit, we can pretend that it’s an asset.”
“Someone kill her,” moaned Velveteen, before going into another series of dry-heaves.
“She really doesn’t fly well, does she?” Jackie was avoiding the whole “flying carpet” issue by skating alongside, using moisture pulled down from low-hanging clouds to form her ice bridges. The seawater was too salty to really work, unless she wanted to risk the ice dissolving under her skates and sending her plunging into the Pacific.
“Her powers don’t require her to.” The Princess was standing like the figurehead at the front of a ship, her toes actually skirting out into the open air. Her hair and dress both whipped out behind her in a way that was just so, so perfect that it would have broken the hearts of a thousand animators. This was her element. This was where she belonged.
“Neither do mine, and I appear to be doing quite well, thank you very much,” said Victory Anna primly, as she powered up her ray gun. A seagull flew by. She blasted it out of the air and smiled. “I find this invigorating.”
“You were a supervillain when we met,” moaned Velveteen, before she went back to vomiting over the side.
“Victory Anna, stop shooting at the seagulls, they’ve never done you any harm,” said the Princess, eyes still fixed on the horizon. “We’re flying by a chart here, and I’d rather not lose my focus because I’m too busy yelling at y’all to behave like human beings.”
“My human being status is provisional and has not been independently verified via scientific review,” said Jackie.
The Princess shot her a glare, but didn’t budge from her position at the head of the carpet. “Second star to the right,” she said. “Straight on until morning. Hold your places, girls, it’s going to be a long night.”
The charts provided by Dame Fortuna had been long on symbolism, low on actual directions. According to the Princess, this was par for the course when trying to track down a magical hero who had chosen to go to ground. “You try drawing a map to the Crystal Glitter Unicorn Cloud Castle,” she’d said. “It can’t be done. It’s all ‘wish on a star’ and ‘believe in your heart.’ Well, this is about as specific. I can get us there. No wishes required.” That simple statement had somehow resulted in them flying for hours over the Pacific Ocean, startling yachts, ocean liners, and the occasional jumbo jet as they maintained their steady bearing.
Velveteen (who had long since run out of any cookies to toss, and was now reduced to tossing the memory of cookies that had been eaten years before) was on the verge of suggesting that they turn around when one of the Princess’s songbirds came flying out of a cloud bank, wings beating frantically as it tried to stay aloft. It looked exhausted. Velveteen understood the feeling.
“There you are.” The Princess held up one delicate hand. The songbird collapsed gratefully into it, beginning to chirp and warble. “Really?” More chirping. “Are you sure?” A long, drawn-out note, that ended in the avian equivalent of coughing. “Oh, you poor dear. Of course.” The Princess tucked the bedraggled little pile of feathers into the bodice of her gown before turning to the others, a smile on her face.
“We’ve got a sighting, ladies. Check your masks and ready your powers, because the Phantom Doll is moored just ahead.”
“You mean we actually found him?” Velveteen stood up, forgetting to be airsick. “We actually found Jolly Roger?”
“We found Jolly Roger’s ship,” said the Princess. “Whether that comes with the man himself is yet to be seen--but yes, we actually found him.”
“Let’s see if he makes us walk the plank,” said Jackie, with far more good cheer than that sort of statement really deserved. She did a spin on her ice bridge, then skated down on the wide swoop that had suddenly appeared, causing her to resemble nothing so much as a glittery pinball rocketing toward certain doom.
“That girl’s gonna die ugly one day,” said the Princess fondly. She made a complicated gesture with her hand and, before Velveteen could take a breath, the flying carpet dropped straight down. Velveteen clung to the fringe, screaming. Victory Anna clung to the fabric, looking faintly put-out. And the Princess stayed exactly where she was, looking as serene as if she were not riding a piece of home decor down into the mists above the sea.
Jolly Roger’s ship, the Phantom Doll, was almost as famous of the eponymous pirate, once upon a time. Despite Jolly Roger having left the team before The Super Patriots, Inc. could become the power that they would develop into, no fewer than five Phantom Doll play sets had been developed, and all of them had retained their value well on the secondary market. Consequentially, everyone knew what the Phantom Doll looked like.
But no plastic play set could encompass the reality of a great, barnacle-encrusted ship, its sails limp in the absence of a breeze, with its mahogany mermaid figurehead. It was the figurehead who greeted them as they approached, the Princess now steering her carpet low and tight above the surface of the water, Jackie skating carefully on an ice bridge that was mostly foam.
“Who goes there?” asked the figurehead. Her voice was much sweeter than anyone would have expected from a piece of wood.
“Um. Hello.” Velveteen stood, feeling considerably better now that she didn’t have as far to fall. “My name is Velveteen, and--”
“That name is more honest than it should be, but it’s not enough. Not here.” The mermaid turned her head, regarding them with blank wooden eyes. “What name were you born with, girl?”
“Velma Martinez,” said Velveteen, who couldn’t quite see the point in lying to a statue. It could be hers if she wanted it, if she was willing to fight for it, and because it had eyes, the whole Phantom Doll could be hers as well. There was something comforting in that knowledge. “Most people just call me Vel.”
“A good compromise. Who are your friends?”
“Victoria Cogsworth, at your service,” said Victory Anna.
“Jacqueline Snow-Frost,” said Jackie.
“My name is Carrabelle Miller,” said the Princess. “If you want to know what my parents called me, then you’re looking for Scott Miller. But that’s never been my name.”
The mermaid nodded, seeming to accept this without question. “Why are you here?”
“We need to talk to Jolly Roger,” said Velveteen. “I’m getting ready to go up against The Super Patriots--I mean, we’re getting ready to go up against The Super Patriots--and I want to know if he can help us.”
“Jolly Roger is retired,” said the mermaid. “You have come for nothing.”
“I don’t think you understand,” said Velveteen. “I was a trainee, and they nearly broke me. They did break my best friend, only she put herself back together and managed to run away. Now they have her, and I need to get her back. He has to help us.”
“Jolly Roger is retired,” repeated the mermaid. Her pretty wooden lips parted, revealing teeth that would have been better suited to an anglerfish. “Leave.”
“No,” said Velveteen flatly.
“Uh...” said Jackie.
Victory Anna’s only response was a feral smile, and the sound of her ray gun powering up.
Velveteen held up a hand, indicating that the others should be still. Then, narrowing her eyes, she reached out with her mind and seized the Phantom Doll.
It wasn’t like animating a doll or a statue, something that had no will of its own; the ship was awake, aware, and if it had been a true intelligence, she wouldn’t have been able to take it at all. But the Phantom Doll was just an extension of Jolly Roger’s power. The mermaid was just wood, animated by a magical hero who wanted to be left alone. Velveteen wanted the ship more in that moment than he did, and so she made it hers.
“Welcome aboard,” said the mermaid, sounding dazed.
The Princess gave Velveteen a concerned look as the carpet rose up to the level of the rail, sailed gently over it, and touched down on the deck. Victory Anna bounded past her to the wood, seemingly unaware of the significance of the moment. As she passed, she said blithely, “Changing your name was a good idea, really. ‘Scott’ is a terrible name for a little girl.”
Jackie skated to the deck, blinking after Victory Anna. “Uh, Princess, I don’t think she--”
“Leave it.” The Princess smiled. “She’s right. Scott was a terrible name for my parents to slap on their only daughter. Not their fault they were confused.” Then she stepped off the carpet, which promptly lost the last of the tension that had been holding it rigid. “Vel, honey, you coming?”
“I am.” Velveteen stepped off the carpet, eyes still narrowed in the way that meant she was working hard to use her powers. “He should realize I’ve taken his ship by now. He’ll be here in five, four--”
The door to the captain’s cabin banged open and a man in full pirate regalia burst onto the deck, a sword in either hand. “Stand, ye lily-livered villains!” he bellowed.
“You’re a little off today,” said Jackie, and then Jolly Roger charged, and the fight was on.
At the height of his power and popularity, Jolly Roger was potentially one of the greatest magical heroes the world would ever see. He could control the weather surrounding his ship, command the ocean, and with his trustworthy crew keeping the Phantom Doll shipshape, it seemed like nothing would ever defeat him. But that was before he left the crew stranded in Tijuana and parked himself in the middle of nowhere, using his powers only to keep himself fed, stave off scurvy, and cloak his location in a shroud of unyielding fog. He was out of practice. He was out of shape. And he was up against four superheroines in their prime, who felt that they had nothing left to lose.
He could have taken any one of them if they’d been fighting alone. He could potentially have taken any two of them, as long as those two weren’t Velveteen and the Princess, since having his ship refuse to obey his commands while the rats from the hold swarmed him in a living wave was disconcerting, to say the least. But four of them? It was no contest. It was just a short, more than slightly painful trouncing.
When the fight was over, and Jolly Roger was tied to a chair with rope from his own deck, the four heroines assembled nervously in front of him. Velveteen and the Princess, at least, appreciated the enormity of what they’d just done. Victory Anna had grown up in a world where Jolly Roger didn’t help to define the childhoods of a generation, and Jackie was, well, Jackie. Velveteen sometimes wondered if there was anything that could actually impress her.
“Ye’ve shivered me timbers but good,” snarled Jolly Roger. Then he coughed, and continued, in a perfectly normal Middle American accent, “So I suppose you’ll be plundering my ship and heading on your way, then. Could you give her back to me before you go? I know that her personality is technically just a side effect of my presence, but we’ve been together for a long, long time, and I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
“Your powers would generate a new ship in short order,” said the Princess.
“Ah, but that ship wouldn’t be my Phantom Doll, now, would she? I have a lot of good memories on this deck, although it’s hard to bring them to mind when I’m being tied up by a bunch of children.”
“A lady never reveals her age, but I assure you, we’re not children,” said Victory Anna. She powered down her ray gun, pointing the muzzle at the sky, where nervous seagulls rerouted their flight patterns around her. “Why are we bothering with this prat, Velveteen? It’s clear that he can’t help us.”
“No, it’s clear that he doesn’t want to. Yet. That’s going to change.” Velveteen stepped forward. The others stopped talking, moving back slightly to make it clear that she was in charge; that she was the one he needed to worry about dealing with. “Hello, Jolly Roger.”
“Hello, bunny-eared girl who’s taken over my ship.” He squinted. “You’re an animus, aren’t you? A damned powerful one, if my measure’s not off. And the way you fight--you were trained by The Super Patriots. Have you come to collect the bounty on my head?”
“I’ve come because Dame Fortuna told me how to find you, and we need your help.” Velveteen crossed her arms. “The Super Patriots are corrupt, and I think Marketing is probably evil, and they have my best friend, and we want her back. Not just her. We want all the heroes they have in their control to be able to choose their own lives, without being bound by illegal contracts.”
Jolly Roger blinked, several times, before turning to the Princess. “Is she for real?”
“She is,” said the Princess, sounding smug. “She would have been happy stayin’ out of the way for her entire life, but The Super Patriots forgot the first rule of rabbits.”
“Don’t follow them into their dens. They’re meaner than they look.”
“Princess, untie him,” said Velveteen. Eyes still on Jolly Roger, she continued, “You were the first one to get out; you were the first broken heart they couldn’t bury. They’ve killed my boyfriend. They’ve killed a lot more than just him, and no one’s willing to stand against them. Please. Help us.”
“You can’t just punch a corporation into submission, girl,” said Jolly Roger. Rats ran up his legs, heading for the ropes; he didn’t flinch. “They have lawyers. Rules. Legal protections.”
“Oh, but see, they were in charge of setting a lot of those legal protections, and they wanted to be able to stage messy coups for team leadership every once in a while. For the sales, you know.” Jackie smiled, white teeth startlingly bright against blue skin. “So we sort of can punch a corporation into submission, as long as it’s this one.”
“You quit.” Jolly Roger’s attention snapped back to Velveteen. She was staring at him pleadingly, hands now clasped in front of her chest. “After the fight, after Majesty and Supermodel and the trainees died, you walked away. You knew that it was turning bad.”
“Oh, girl.” Jolly Roger stood, rat-chewed ropes falling away. “It had been bad for a long time when we reached that point. The fight was...it was the last that was good in a lot of us, trying to do what we all devoted our lives to. Trying to make us into heroes, one last time. Supermodel was already too far gone. She’d been fighting against her own inner darkness longer than any of the rest of us had known that the danger was there. Maybe if she’d told us sooner...”
“Santa tried,” said Jackie. “He put her on the Naughty List, year after year, hoping you’d get the clue.”
“Ah, lass, we didn’t put that much stock in Santa. Trick and Treat were only trainees then, and we still half-believed that they were lying about their origins. You come from a holiday. You’ve always believed they were real places. For us, that’s a pretty new sea to sail.” He shook his head. “We didn’t know. We couldn’t save her.”
Velveteen bit her lip. “Please--”
“We couldn’t save any of them!” Jolly Roger wheeled on her, and for a moment--just a moment, but that was long enough--she could see the hero he’d been when he was in his prime. The man who’d helped to found The Super Patriots. The one who’d known how to bring the heroes of the world together. “Do you understand me? We had eleven trainees. Four of them were assessed as level five heroes. Only five of them survived, and if what news has reached me here is true, not all of them truly recovered.”
Deadbolt had a drinking problem. Second Chance took risks that no one should take. Trick and Treat were, well, Trick and Treat. Only Imagineer seemed even halfway normal, and she’d always been a little odd. “What, you think those were the last casualties? They bought me from my parents. Me, and all my friends, and they broke us just like your trainees got broken, only they didn’t have the decency to do it in a battle, where other people would be willing to acknowledge we’d been hurt. They did it with focus groups, and with surveys and with rule after rule after rule, until most of us were too shattered to get away.” Velveteen dropped her hands, looking at him. “You were the first one broken. Help me. Help us. This has to stop.”
“I’m just an old, retired pirate, girl. There’s nothing I can do.” Jolly Roger tipped his hat to the group. “Thank you kindly for your visit, and for the rumble. You can show yourselves out.” Then he turned, and walked back into his cabin, and shut the door.
“We can do this without him,” said Jackie. Her words sounded thin even to her own ears. “He said it himself. He’s just an old dude who got out of the game. The four of us mopped the floor with him. He wouldn’t be any use.”
“We only beat him because he’s removed himself from the public eye,” said the Princess. “Magical heroes, we need to be seen once in a while if we want to keep our powers charged. If he sailed back to shore, he’d be unstoppable.”
“He’s an icon,” said Velveteen, reaching up to straighten her bunny-eared headband. “A figurehead, like that mermaid of his. We don’t need him because he’s awesome. We need him because he’s Jolly Roger, the one who got away, and having him with us will mean that we’re serious.” It would bring all the undecided and half-decided heroes out of the shadows, the minor powers, the malcontents, the ones who would make up their army.
“Well, he shan’t come, so you had best come up with another plan,” said Victory Anna. “I could cobble something together in a surface-to-air missile array...”
“No.” Velveteen dropped her hand. “He’s coming. You three wait here.” This said, she stormed toward the captain’s cabin, her furious pose only slightly spoiled by the twitching of her costume’s plush rabbit tail. She didn’t knock. She just went inside. The door slammed behind her.
Jackie and the Princess exchanged a look.
“This is either going to end really well, or really poorly,” said Jackie.
“How about we all just stand on the carpet for right now?” suggested the Princess, whose mother had not, after all, raised any fools. “Just in case.”
The three remaining heroines moved, and waited.
Jolly Roger was sitting at the captain’s table, morosely staring into his mug of rum, when he heard the cabin door slam. He didn’t look up until Velveteen’s palms impacted with the surface of the table, and she snarled, “You are going to help us, whether you want to or not. So stop fucking around and get your things.”
“This is part of the narrative, you know.” He looked up, and for the first time, Velveteen realized how tired he looked. “The wicked pirate captain, lured out of retirement by the needy young maiden who came from so far away. I couldn’t have said yes to you the first time if I’d wanted to.”
“Did you want to?”
“No.” He took a swig of rum. “Lass, this is a bad idea. Whatever they’ve taken from you, count yourself lucky that they left you with your life, and let it go. Walk away.”
“I can’t do that.”
“I think you’ll find that you can; you just don’t want to, and that’s something very different indeed. You’re alive. You’re free. If the presence of your day-glow friend means anything, you’re being scouted to serve the Winter. Go with her, make a new life there, and never think about The Super Patriots again.”
“They took my best friend.” They took my childhood, they took my first love but they did it so badly that I can’t even be sure of saving my second love; they took so much, and they gave so little...
“They took my true love.” You’re not the only one who’s lost something.
“So help us stop them from doing this to anyone else.”
Jolly Roger sighed. “The Super Patriots aren’t the source of all the evil in the world. If you take them down, there will still be villains. There will still be great, world-shattering events. Things will still go wrong. There just won’t be a single central face to put on your problems.”
“When you were there, when you were a part of the team, did you mind-control the trainees?”
“What?” Jolly Roger blinked before shaking his head. “No. Supermodel was making their worst impulses stronger, but none of us knew about that. They were all with us willingly. I’d swear to that.”
“Well, that’s changed. We know, for a fact, that the trainee heroes are being mind-controlled. They’re literally creating the people that they want us to be. And there’s a lot of data to support that, beyond my experiences. According to the power registry, one in every fifteen heroes is psychic. Telepathy, or empathy, or some other power that affects the brain. So how come we have all these teams made up of bruisers and teleporters and energy manipulators--even the occasional animus or fairy tale princess--but almost no one has a telepath? Where are they all going?”
“They’re manufacturing supervillains now, did you realize that? They said I was a supervillain, when all I ever did was walk away from them. I didn’t want to be controlled, and so they said that I was evil. I was never evil. My only crime was wanting to be left alone.”
“Funny thing that,” muttered Jolly Roger, and raised his mug of rum.
Velveteen stared at him for a moment. Finally, she shook her head. “You were my hero, you know,” she said. “Even before I left, you were the one I looked up to, because you were the one who was brave enough to leave when you needed to. And now you’re not even willing to stand up for people who have no power to stand up for themselves. You’d just leave them, and all the children who are going to come after them. You’re no brave pirate captain. You’re a coward.”
“At last, you’re starting to understand the situation.” Jolly Roger shook his head. “I’m sorry, lass. Whatever it is you came here hoping for, it’s not going to happen.”
“If you won’t come with us, will you at least tell us if there are any weak spots? I’ve never seen the CEO. No one has. It’s just the heroes, and the staff from Marketing and Legal--”
“Don’t be silly. The CEO is a man named Michael Wellman. He was Majesty’s sidekick for a while, until he lost his powers.”
Velveteen blinked. “No, it’s not.”
“What?” Now it was Jolly Roger’s turn to blink. “What do you mean?”
“Michael Wellman died in the fight that killed Majesty. Right before you left. How do you not know that? There’s a statue of him in the foyer of the Marketing wing.”
“The CEO who took over for him was never named in public, to avoid possible assassination attempts.”
“I...” Jolly Roger stopped, straightening, a new coolness coming into his eyes. “Lass, what is the current lineup of The Super Patriots?”
“Uh. West Coast Division is Action Dude, Sparkle Bright, Uncertainty, Imagineer, Mechamation, and Jack O’Lope. I think they brought in Firecracker from the Midwest Division as a stand-in for Sparkle Bright while she was unavailable, but I’m not sure if she’s still affiliated with the team. Midwest Division is Trick, Treat, Mississippi Queen, Cosmo-not, Dotty Gale, and Firecracker, usually. East Coast Division is the American Dream, Flash Flood, Deadbolt, Second Chance, Firefly, and I think Leading Lady?”
“Are any of them psychic, in any way?”
“No, not unless you count the Nanny from the West Coast junior team, and she’s pretty much limited to knowing whether someone has been naughty. And I think she has to be in the room with them for that to work.” Velveteen shook her head. “Everyone else has physical powers, or manipulates energy. Oh, and Imagineer is a technopath. So she’s psychic, but only when she’s dealing with machines.”
“I see.” Jolly Roger took a deep breath. Then he downed the last of his rum in a single gulp, stood, and slammed the mug into the table. “Tell your friends I’ll have cabins made up for them. We set sail with the tide.”
“You wanted a pirate, lass. Well, you’ve got one, and we’re going to pillage The Super Patriots before our fight is through.”
“But you said--”
“You asked for my help. I’m giving it to you. Don’t question, or you might make me change my mind, and you wouldn’t want to do that, now, would you?”
“No, sir,” said Velveteen. “I’ll tell the others.” She turned to flee the cabin.
“And give back my ship!” he shouted after her. The door slammed. He sighed, shoulders sagging.
He should have seen it. He should have guessed. There were so many clues, so many signs, but ah, he’d been so tired, and the fight had been so hard; he hadn’t wanted to complicate things. Slowly, he turned to the closed cabinet that hung on the back wall, watching over everything he did. He couldn’t see her portrait, but he didn’t need to. Some things were too beautiful to be contained by something as simple as a sheet of polished oak.
“Oh, love,” he said, resting his fingers against the cabinet door. “What have you done? What have I allowed you to do?”
Safely shut away, the painted face of his beloved did not answer.
The four heroines found themselves sharing a single cabin, which was less ideal than it could have been, given Jackie’s tendency to slowly drop the temperature of a room while she slept, and the way that all the ship’s rats really wanted to snuggle with the Princess. Still, they had individual hammocks and plenty of blankets, and Victory Anna was able to cobble a space heater from a bunch of pieces she’d found in the hold. (None of them asked. Where Victory Anna’s inventions were concerned, not asking was the only safe course of action, or at least the only course of action that allowed them to avoid headaches.)
“So you got your man,” said Jackie, leaning out of her hammock to peer down at Velveteen. “I gotta say, I didn’t think you’d pull it off.”
“Neither did I,” said Velveteen. “I’m still not quite sure how I swung it.”
“What comes next?” asked the Princess.
“We go out and find our army.” Velveteen folded her hands behind her head, staring up at the ceiling, or at least, staring up at Jackie in her hammock. “We gather every superhuman with a grudge, and we sail right through their gates. They should have left us alone. They should have left me alone.”
“Ah,” said Jackie. “So what you’re saying is that things are finally going to get fun around here.”
“Here’s hoping,” said Velveteen. “Good night, all.”
The four girls slept as the Phantom Doll sailed proudly through the clouds with Jolly Roger at the helm, the world’s last great hero, heading home at last.