To My Rapist’s Baby

This week, because of what happened with Roe, I’ve written a new short story.

Trigger Warnings: Rape and suicide.

Dedication: For all of the women (and people of other genders) this Supreme Court is going to kill. All. Of. Them.

Story

The letter starts with the words, “To My Rapist’s Baby,” but it’s scribbled out; written next to it are the words, “To My Darling Daughter;” each introduction breaks my heart in turn as I read.

* * *

I want you to know it isn’t your fault. I don’t blame you. And I tried to love you as if I’d loved your father, as if I’d consented to share my body with him. I’m sure there have been moments when I couldn’t be the mother you deserved, when I couldn’t help but see him in your eyes as he pushed me down, or hear the way he threatened me in your voice when you were angry with me.

I was still too young to be upset when the decision came, too naïve to know what Roe v. Wade had been to know what it meant that it had been gutted, to know what I’d lost until its protections weren’t there when I needed them.

I knew your father before; 8 in 10 know their rapists, while 1 in 5 are related. Your father isn’t technically the latter; his family were friends with ours, essentially treated like family without the blood. At the time I was young, and naïve enough that at first I thought it was my fault, that I misled him, that I hurt him. I actually… I apologized, when he was done. I couldn’t stop crying, and I felt like I couldn’t pull my skirt low enough, but…

I still don’t know if I ever managed to squeak, “No,” but that’s academic. Every inch of my body was screaming it. I was shaking. I didn’t move my arms or legs. I didn’t respond when he kissed me. My body didn’t respond, period. For a virgin, I didn’t understand how thoroughly I was saying, “No.” But he did. And he ignored it anyway.

It took me a long time to process it. To realize how he maneuvered me, made me feel older than I was, made our friendship into something other people couldn’t understand or appreciate, that I had to hide away from everyone else. What I think finally made me understand was how much more aggressive he became afterward about secrecy- how certain he needed to be I wouldn’t tell anyone.

Eventually I broke down and told your grandparents. Mom… wasn’t helpful. His family were friends from hers; and maybe she just couldn’t believe she failed to protect me. Dad was better. Wanted to kick his ass, at least. Wanted to make space for me, to cry, to rage, to talk to whoever I needed to. They fought a lot, in the days that followed; eventually they decided to take me to a doctor, and let me file charges.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I’d seen already in my parents that I was going to have to fight. If even my mother was going to call me a lying little slut…

The doctor was really nice. I was scared. And she walked me through the exam. She said she’d been through one, when she was my age, and so she knew how to make it less scary. And I remember her being good all the way until the end, when my tests came back, blood and urine they took at the beginning of the exam. She couldn’t look at me, anymore, after that, but read from a paper, that I didn’t have any STDs… but that I was pregnant. She handed another paper to my parents.

I barely understood what was going on, but… by law the pregnancy had already been logged into the state database. If for any reason I hadn’t given birth within ten months, there would be an investigation, and all three of us would be held criminally liable. We could go to jail. They could lose their home.

They fought every night after I went to bed for a week. To this day I don’t know which one of them wanted to stay and which wanted to go; they were arguing whether or not we should leave our home, move someplace we could still terminate. The arguments sucked both ways; there weren’t a lot of places you could go that record wouldn’t follow, and fewer still where both of them could readily find work. And they would definitely take a bath on the house; the downturn had been so bad they’d lose some of their equity- it would be harder for them to buy another home, and they might just end up renting the rest of their lives.

Finally I told them to stop. That I wouldn’t- I couldn’t– do that to them, either of them. It wasn’t an option on the table. We weren’t becoming fugitives over this. I think it was what they both wanted to hear, because just like that, we all decided I was becoming a mother. I… have complicated feelings about that. About them. But I don’t hate them for it.

I had to change doctors; my mom had it out with her, after months of canceled appointments. I half expected her to emerge with a head tucked under her arm. But her eyes were red from tears. “She’s a coward,” mom said, “or too soft-hearted for this world.”

I was a cautionary tale all of Senior year. I don’t know if people thought I couldn’t hear what they whispered about me, or if they deliberately whispered them loud enough so I could hear. But almost none of them asked what happened. Even most of my friends stopped talking to me. Their parents would freak out if they knew they were hanging out with someone like me. Worst of all, I knew there was every chance that if I had been one of them, and one of them was me, I would have done the same.

I barely dated that year. I think, in that regard, I was also a cautionary tale; nobody wanted the reminder that our young lives could be derailed so utterly violently. And truth be told, I don’t think I wanted anyone else to touch me; it was all still too raw, too fresh, and even my dad kissing my cheek goodnight made me flash back.

I think, too, that I wanted to prove everyone wrong. Every single person who saw my belly, after seeing that I wasn’t just overweight, wrote me off. My life was over. I was going to be on food stamps and welfare forever. And I had been such a bright young woman, too. So all of that time and energy I might have put into dates and friends, I put into books. Those were the two best semesters of my academic life.

It was good I wasn’t anywhere near valedictorian, because I missed graduation. You just had to come out. It’s honestly probably for the better; in my gown I looked like a pumpkin in a death shroud. And it also felt kind of perfect; my classmates were celebrating a threshold crossed, and so was I.

I don’t think, when I decided it would be less disruptive to our lives not to move, that I realized how the end of Roe upended adoption politics. I expected there was a mail chute or something I could drop you in- I’m kidding, obviously. I’m not saying I didn’t want you; really, I’m saying I hadn’t really considered that an option, at all. But when I started looking into adoption, it quickly became clear that wasn’t really an option at all.

And your grandparents were really supportive. I ended up staying home longer than any of us expected. They saved what they could for college, and instead of a state school, I did a community college, instead, and used the difference to pay a sitter. But dad got laid off, and suddenly my rainy day fund was our rainy day fund, and so I stopped taking classes and started working as a barista at the coffee stand on campus. Slow days they’d even look the other way if I kept you in a sling.

Then, one day I got served. Your father was suing me for custody. Dad got rehired, just in time for his entire salary to go to a lawyer to fight him. It didn’t matter that I didn’t press charges, she said; most DAs don’t prosecute a rape unless it’s iron clad, even when it’s statutory, and even a conviction wouldn’t have precluded him from suing me.

I slashed my wrists when I got home from meeting the lawyer; I couldn’t protect myself from him, no matter what I did, let alone protect you. Mom found me in the tub and got me to the hospital. I spent a couple of weeks in a facility, until they were convinced I wouldn’t try it again. I wasn’t anywhere near as convinced.

We talked about bringing it up in court, that your father was so dangerous and frightening that he drove me to the unthinkable. The lawyer suggested we keep the attempt out of the record; his lawyer could argue I couldn’t care for myself, let alone you. Somehow he found out, anyway, and told the judge, who told me if I made another attempt, he’d have no choice but to take you away, and either give you to my parents, or, more likely, to your father.

My lawyer was pretty great, though; she got the judge to only give him supervised visitations. That saved my life, and also my sanity, because as much as I hated the thought of him stepping foot in your life, at least this way you were safe.

In cause you hadn’t figured it by now, whatever we’d been to each other before, I was now very much invested in being your mother. I don’t know how or when it happened, other than it was definitely before your father served me, but I realized I loved you, despite your head looking mostly like a wad of clay that got stuck under couch cushions during the warm parts of summer- you’ve seen the pictures, you know what I mean. And you were still the most precious thing I’d ever seen.

Necessarily, the shape of my future changed. An advanced electrical engineering degree was out; I set my sights on trade work. I got a job working alongside dad; he was already starting to slow down- this was a few years before his heart attack. Between the three of us, we could do things in shifts, one of us always with you, one of us always working. At some point you stopped drooling and pooping (at least in the ways that required me to wipe up after you), and started walking and talking.

And I don’t think I really realized how much we were all burning the candle at both ends until dad keeled over. He was in the hospital for days, as they tried to fix his heart, and mom was with him the whole time, which meant I was trying to watch you, and get you ready for school in the fall, all while keeping his business going.

You starting school was maybe the thing that prevented us all from a collective breakdown, and possibly more heart attacks. It meant we all started getting more than 5 hours of sleep. It meant we could be people in our own rights again, have interests, and thoughts. We loved you, and we gave our time for you willingly; I only mean to say it’s hard to understand how much you’re giving until you suddenly have a lull.

And you started growing up into just the most wonderful little person. You reminded me mostly of me, but also so very much you, too. Most of the time I really only saw our odd little multi-generational family in you; you had mom’s weird, Skeksis feet, my rebellious eyebrows, and from a startlingly young age you impossibly had your grandfather’s barrel-chested laugh. But the older you got, the more I could see your father in you, too. The way your eyes crinkled at the corner when you were serious. And it hurt me, and I know, there were times, I let my hurt hurt you, too.

Things changed when your father drug me back in front of a judge. He was married, now, and a model citizen. No one had ever managed to file any kind of charges that ever stuck to him. So now he wanted unsupervised visits with you. I was terrified, because you were just the age that he started grooming me. Worse, he could afford a crueler lawyer, one who got the judge to forbid me from telling you all of this, from telling you who he is. I remember the judge yelling at me, that if I did, he’d give your father joint custody.

Mom and dad wouldn’t leave me alone for days; they could see how much I was hanging from a thread. I couldn’t let what he did to me happen to you- but the judge hadn’t given me a choice, so I kept vacillating between killing myself or your father. Neither plan got very far along; mom and dad were good at distracting me enough to keep the ideation in the early stages long enough for me to realize I needed to stay, for you, that whatever happened, I wasn’t going to fail to protect you.

But it was also the beginning of the end, because I realized I wasn’t living for me any longer; your father finally managed to choke the life out of me, and the only thing keeping me on my feet was trying to minimize the harm he could do to you.

I’m sure you noticed it, too. I’d tried dating, a few times, when you were growing up. Not anymore, not after that. And I know I became that mother, the one always asking about your bathing suit area, always talking about enthusiastic consent. Always insisting on meeting your friends, and staring into their eyes in the vain hope I’d be able to see that thing in your father I’d missed. You called me a prude; you said just because no one was seeing me naked I didn’t want anyone to be able to see you. That hurt little girl inside me agreed with you, but adult me was too scared of everything to stop, or at least be better at drawing those lines.

Around then mom got sick; the cancer took her quick. Dad didn’t last two months; she was the only thing keeping him going, after his heart attack. They left me the house, and their life insurance meant maybe there’d be money for your college after all.

I told myself I could wait until you graduated high school; it wasn’t that long until you’d be 18 and move out. It was every other day you spent telling me about a plan to move in with this friend or that, to go to San Diego, or Houston, or some other thriving metropolis. Then one day you walked in, beaming, holding a letter. I didn’t even know you’d applied, but you’d decided to go to the community college, to get your transfer degree, stretch out the money longer. I was proud of you, and thought that I could last a few more years, to support you.

Visitation ended, but by then you had enough of a relationship with your father you kept seeing him regularly, anyway. Worse, you stopped talking to me about it. I found little gifts around the house from him, and had to wonder if they were signs of a doting father, or a man grooming his own daughter. There were nights that I slept in the tub with a razor blade pressed against my wrist; I needed to know I could escape if I had to, that staying to protect you was a choice, and one I could revoke.

You took longer to graduate, because you got a part time job to help out with the bills, and stretch out the money from mom and dad. I tried to tell you you were getting the house, that so long as you downsized, you could buy something smaller and have as much money as you needed for school. But you wouldn’t hear it- you insisted I’d bury you, and you’d never take my home from me.

Eventually you got your transfer degree. But you didn’t go to the state campus, you went to the satellite campus in town, so you could stay home, and save money on food and rent. I didn’t mind… and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t treasure having two more years with you.

I want to stress that the problem was never you. It was always your father. Having to see him every other weekend. Having to smell his goddamned cologne on you when you came home, and having to remember the smell coming from me. Having to wonder if he’d done any of what he did to me to you. And I think, more than anything else, that is what breaks my heart. I let him make me a worse mother. I couldn’t tell you to stay away from him; even when you turned eighteen and he couldn’t threaten me anymore, you couldn’t hear me, and I know that put distance between us.

And I’ve read your latest email for the fifth time. It’s everything a mother could want. You’ve found an apartment. You’re getting on well at your job. And you’ve met someone. I hate that I won’t get to see the person you become, but I am so weary from this lifelong vigilance. I hope my loss won’t hurt your stride; I’ve spent my entire life eager for you to run.

But before I go, I want you to know that you are not the worst thing your father’s ever done; no matter what that judge said, you were always mine, always the best part of my life. The role your father played in our life was a stolen one, taken from someone more deserving, someone who could have loved us as we deserved. But that never made you any less my daughter, or any less at all.

Don’t be sad. Some parts of our story have been tragedy, but I promise you, this ending is a happy one. I raised a woman I could be proud of, one I’m happy survives me.

I’ll always love you,

Mom

* * *

“So should we send this to the daughter?” my junior partner asks me. He’s still new, though not as new as the asinine questions he asks imply.

“What have I told you? You take the stupid out of your mouth every morning before you come to work or I’ll slap it out of you.” He stares blankly at me, and I know he’s going to need the simplified version. “We failed this poor woman in life; we are not going to compound it by failing her in death, too.”

“So what do we tell the family?”

“Society failed to protect her twenty-five years ago. And it’s been failing to protect her every day since. This one’s on all of us.” I can see it in his puppy dog eyes that his heart’s about to break, and I sigh to let some of the anger off as steam. “And we tell her that her mom fought like hell to hold on for her, fought depression through years of suffering to get her where she needed to be, make sure she could handle herself before she let go.”

“You want me to write it up?” he asks, and he’s bounced back enough like a puppy I feel a twinge for kicking him.

“Sure.”

“And, uh, I’m sorry. I know this shit’s gendered, and sensitive, and I can be thick-”

“Christ, I don’t want you to apologize for your gender. I want you to do better than your peers. I want you to raise your boys to be better than their peers. I want you to be a part of the solution- including fixing reproductive rights into law- so twenty-five more years from now we aren’t standing over another woman we failed.”

“I, uh, hadn’t had the chance to tell you, we got some of the prenatal testing back. Apparently the sonographer was wrong. The twins are going to be girls- not a trace of y chromosome.”

On instinct, I grab him and pull him close. “Shit,” I tell him, feeling a little bit worse for the kicking now. “My condolences. You’re in the shit with the rest of us, now.”

DCEU ’22 Pitches 1: Milestones 2: Bound by Blood

The Windup: Wait, I haven’t even finished up with ‘21’s Marvel pitches, so why am I posting the first of this year’s DC pitches? Procrastination? Time travel? Nope. It’s Juneteenth. Last Juneteenth, the first where it was officially a federal holiday, saw the posting of Milestones 1, following Milestone’s (the 90s own voices Black imprint) premier superhero trio, essentially their Superman, Iron Man and Spider-Man. Well, this here’s a sequel to that one, introducing Milestone’s take on the X-Men, as well as continuing the story of Icon, Hardware and Static. I’ve tried to modernize some elements, but as with last year, my pitch notwithstanding, this kind of project would need to be written and directed by Black professionals. As such, I’ve taken a relatively light hand, because I know enough to know that I don’t always know what I don’t know, you know? My goal here is to highlight the potential of a Black franchise, not whitesplain the work of Black artists or Elvisize it.

The rest of the DC pitches for ’22 will have to wait; I’ve got more to finish from the MCU ’21 pitches, so it will be a bit before more of these DC pitches happen (tentatively scheduled for mid-August) . If you want notifications of pitches, you can always follow me on the bird app.

The Pitch:

Night, at Alva Technologies. For a moment it’s a peaceful corporate campus. It’s subtle, but Rocket zooms into a window on one of the upper floors during this establishing shot.

We cut to the inside of the facility, into Curtis’ laboratory, and see his Hardware exosuit. Curtis and his most recent handler/assistant, Tiff, hear a boom from nearby. “What was that?” she asks, flat-footed.

Curtis dives for the assistant, pushing her out of the way as the metal door flies off its hinges where they had just been. We hear gunfire, as Icon walks into the room. Alva’s security, using high-tech assault weapons, are firing on him, hanging off him, desperately trying anything to even slow him down, and failing. He throws the one holding onto him into another shooting at him, as bullets ricochet near Curtis and the assistant. When the assistant tries to speak, Curtis covers her mouth. You can go one of two ways with the assistant; she can be Curtis’ protege that turns against him in her own suit of armor, Technique, or you can have him be the white supremacist patsy Curtis frames for joy-riding in the Hardware armor- I’m going to assume we do the former, because I want to play with all the action figures.

Icon looks up into the security camera pointed down at him. “You didn’t think that just because you stole Metcalf’s tech and expertise I’d let you keep them, did you?” Icon asks, before blasting the Hardware armor. If we’re looking for an opening credits montage, molten metal dripping off the armor could work. Icon turns his energy blasts next to the camera, before flying through the wall.

Cut to later, after Alva and more security arrive. He’s mid-lecture.

“You have close to a billion dollars worth of tech at your fingertips in this room, Curtis, and the second most impressive mind I’ve ever seen at work.”

“Yeah, the same tech your security used and he shrugged off- or that he melted without even having to try hard.”

Alva sighs. “Enough posturing, Curtis. Neither of us believe that armor was still nonfunctional, and we’ve both seen footage of someone wearing it out on the streets of our fair city. What I think happened, is you decide to steal my technology, and sell it to Arnus Freeman, only you tried to hardball him, and instead, well, you’ve cost me enough for a lifetime, I should think. You’re fired, with cause, so expect no severance, and if I can tie you to this catastrophe, you will be held liable to the fullest extent of the law, both criminal and civil. My lawyers will feast on whatever remains hanging off your bones.”

“Sir,” the assistant says, turning a screen towards Alva, “you should probably see this.” We see files rapidly changing in a server log, too quick to really understand.

“I’m too to important to guess at the significance of this.”

“Well, I believe it started with this.” She calls up security footage of Rocket accessing servers in their server room, attaching a drive of some sort. “It’s a worm. It crawled through our servers, and deleted everything Curtis Metcalf has ever touched. So far as I can see, that includes any consulting he did on other projects he wasn’t technically on. And… it happened just as the nightly back-up occurred; the worm was transferred to our offsite back-ups as well. It’s all gone.”

“You’re both fired,” Alva sneers. “And it might be prudent of you to flee the city, or possibly the state, in the event I’m feeling vengeful later.”

Alva’s security escort both of them out of the building at gunpoint. The assistant is hostile, clearly blaming him. “Tiff, I’m sorry,” she storms off.

Curtis walks past his company car, that security have already booted. “Company car,” one of them says to him, and he keeps walking with his box of goods.

We cut to deeper in the city. Curtis passes an alley, and is grabbed and pulled inside. “You didn’t think you’d evade me that easily, did you?” It’s Icon, but aside from projecting menace, he’s paused.

“Were we followed?” Curtis asks over an earpiece.

We cut to the sky above them, where Rocket is surveilling from just beneath cloud cover. “Clear skies,” she says over their radios, then dives, landing at the entrance to the alleyway, seemlessly moving from flight to walking. “No drones, no cars, no foot pursuit. You were right- Alva got so pissed he acted without thinking.”

Curtis touches a brick in the wall, and it scans his fingerprints. The bricks start to slide away, creating a doorway, that they all go inside. This is a hole new lab, better than the one at Alva, outfitted by Arnus, and supplying him with myriad alien tech, as well. At the center of the room is the real suit of Hardware armor, newly upgraded, augmented and visually redesigned both to sell a whole new series of action figures and to hide the stolen tech from Alva (and his lawyers).

“Think he bought it?” Icon asks.

“Not sure it matters,” Curtis says. “This tech is 9 generations from the suit he knew about. Even if they can reconstruct the data- which I doubt- they don’t have anyone left on their payroll smart enough to tie it to their tech. Tiff might have been able to, but he canned her with me.”

“You think we should bring her in on this?” Rocket asks, because she’s emotionally the most intuitive of the trio.

“Thought about it. But there’s no safe way out if we do. She says no, she’s a liability to us- it’s coercive even to ask. She says yes, and she could have Alva chasing her for payback the rest of her days. I’ll email her in a couple days, offer to get her a letter of recommendation.”

“I could offer her a job,” Arnus says.

“Same problem. We let her be with us, no matter how clever you are about hiding her in some shell company, and Alva will come after her. She’s smart, she’ll bounce back.”

We cut to the alley. She’s listening on a bug she planted in Curtis’ things. She hits the brick wall, we think out of frustration. But then she plugs a wire from a gauntlet into the hole she made, and hacks his transformer wall. “Screw that,” she says testily. “Who do you think you are freezing me out like this?”

“I think that settles your moral conundrum,” Rocket says, bemused.

“Tiff, why don’t you come inside?” Curtis asks. She does, and the door closes behind her. “Tiff, this is Arnus and Rocket. I think maybe we should talk.”

Static gets his own action scene, since he’s the more popular character of the group. He’s flying along on a manhole cover, chasing down a couple of member’s of Francis’ gang. I’m thinking they’ve stolen a backpack with a laptop in it from a fellow classmate on the way to school, and are trying to run away with it. Static swoops in among traffic, to much honking. He’s got his finished costume, now, and is clearly more steady flying. He zaps one on the butt, making him bonk his head on a street sign, then yanks a stop sign off its post, slides it under the running thug then pulls it out from under him to get a nice, satisfying, Home Alone style fall. Static is standing there triumphant holding out the girl’s backpack when off-screen we hear the sound of breaks squealing, a crash, and horns honking, and he realizes he hasn’t put the stop sign back. He winces, pantomimes “Sorry” and floats the sign back in place.

Static slides into his seat by the classroom door as the bell rings; he was in enough of a hurry he neglected to remove his mask. Rick is seated next to him, trying to get his attention whispering, “Dude” and miming removing the mask. He takes a moment to understand, and tears it off just as the teacher turns and notices him (just missing the mask).

At lunch, Rick tells Virgil he’d really like a chance to talk, that if he’s got a moment after lunch… but Virgil already promised he’d meet with the friendly gang leader to talk about Francis. He’s the same friendly-ish character from the last movie, only now he’s resembling, more and more, the Blood Syndicate’s Tech (sometimes called Tech-9 in the comics, but we don’t want to open up a trademark dispute- we’d lose- and Tech is a better overall name, anyway). He’s appreciative of what Virgil did for their sister (in the communal, not familial, sense), retrieving the girl’s bag during our chase scene, and once again offers Virgil the opportunity to join. But Virgil is savvy enough to know better, and declines. That hurts Tech’s pride, a little, because he’d prefer to have asked Virgil for help as a peer- but now finds himself coming hat in hand.

A quick aside, on Tech’s entourage. Masquerade is a shape-shifter; assigned male at birth, she’s been female since Freshman year, but once she got her powers, was able to look how she always felt. She’s got it bad for Tech, and he’s mostly playing like he doesn’t see it. Also with them are Fade, who is gay, but closeted, and might be the last person to know that he’s in love with Wise Son. They’re all a little skeptical of Static; Tech views him as a partner, even if he won’t join up, same as the ministers he distributes food through (his gang is modeled very much more on the Black Panthers- a civic-minded organization); some of that is Masquerade’s influence; she’s always been the angel on his shoulder.

One of their members was hit especially hard by her transformation. She was always autistic, but had been at least somewhat towards the Asperger’s end of the spectrum, but the mutagen interacted poorly with her condition, and she’s been really struggling since. Tech befriended her when they were kids. Because of her conditions she was teased, bullied for being “thick as a brick.” Boys stopped teasing her when she got older (and prettier); they didn’t understand that calling her “Brickhouse” would call back to their cruelty, and ensure she’d never want anything to do with them. Tech’s looked out for her his entire life- though this has its flaws- he steered her towards the same gang he was in for protection.

But since the accident she’s been different, more volatile, more susceptible to anxiety and triggers. She’s been staying with him as he tries to care for her, but he’s always viewed her as a sister, while for her he’s always been her knight in shining armor. Not wholly understanding the situation, she made a pass at him; even if he were interested, at that moment, when she’s most vulnerable, and most dependent on him for her survival, would not be the right time to consummate it. Tech blames himself when the combination of the anxiety and rejection makes her leave. But it gets worse. Ever since her mutation, Francis has been sniffing around, trying to recruit her for his gang. It’s predatory, and creepy.

Static is, of course, immediately sympathetic, and wants to help. This might be a good moment to clarify our status quo. Clearly, Hardware and Icon are working together. But Static is still an independent operator. Part of the reason Tech approaches him is hoping to call in the big guns; Static tells him what they did- that he’s a kid, and this is a war– they’re not going to encourage him to fight in it until he’s grown enough to make that call for himself. Tech’s disappointed, but still happy for the help, since Static can fly, and is quasi-friendly with the cops in a way that Tech and his syndicate aren’t. On that note… we probably shouldn’t call his gang “Blood Syndicate;” I think you could get away with tying a gang to a real-world one in a 90s comic, but in a 2020s movie, I don’t think that’ll fly. On the other hand, my subtitle for the movie is clearly a reference… so I’m conflicted, obviously.

But Static is clever, and asks if she’s got a phone. Tech says she never goes anywhere without it- it’s got this cat game she’s addicted to. He has Tech call it, and can feel the signal pinging off of cell towers. Problem is, he can also feel Francis and several of his other gang members closing in through their phones. Tech wants to fight; Static says there’s no time- which is likely also true, but he mostly didn’t want to get in the middle of yet another gang war. Static tells him to keep up, then flies off.

We cut back to Curtis’ lab. He and Tiff are working together. “I’m telling you, this is a bad idea,” Rocket says to Icon.

“Why’s that?” he asks.

“She’s still pissed. She’s not going to be able to just stow it.”

We cut to Tiff and Curtis, laboring over his redesign. “So what’s the plan?” she asks.

“I’m still not happy with the handling. Struts shimmy any time I pass the sound barrier, and it feels like I’m going to lose an arm.”

“I mean with us,” she touches his arm meaningfully, just long enough for us to start to wonder if we’ve missed something between them before she laughs. “And Alva.”

“Oh. I suppose you deserve the truth. He’s… involved in all kinds of shady things.”

“Really? The wealthy old white man’s up to no good?”

“More even than you’d guess. He supplied the mutagen the cops deployed last year. And he controls at least one of the gangs that started the brawl in the first place.”

“He turned a neighborhood into a petri dish. That’s dark, even for me.”

“So, mostly, we’re trying to counter his next moves. Trying to get ahead of him.”

“Since all of this has stayed out of the news, I assume he sues, threatens, or,” she drags her hand across her throat, “anyone who could point a finger.” They spend a moment silent. “That’s not going to work with the cops.”

“Oh?”

“My dad was a beat cop. Most days, they act like any other gang, scrap for turf, beat on anyone who doesn’t give them their proper respect. One way they’re different, is they won’t turn tail. I’m not talking about bravery; there are plenty of cowards in blue. But most gangs, you shine a light on them long enough, and they go to ground- they have to. But the cops… their pride won’t let them. Their whole mythology is about how much we need them. Mutated cops are going to be a problem- their pride won’t let them go quietly.”

“Then we need to fix this armor, so we can be part of the solution.”

Static runs into some trouble when he finds Brickhouse. Francis kind of freaks her out (he was one of her bullies growing up), so she’s kind of trying to hide from him in a warehouse when Static arrives. But she doesn’t know him, either- nor trust him. Tech realized that, and tries to call her. Now… I would pay Disney to use enough bars for an A Whole New World ringtone- though frankly I imagine they’d probably let you use it just for the cross-promotion if you said pretty please, but Tech’s ringtone is the song from Aladdin. She tries to answer, but she’s freaked out, and freaked out plus super strength and rock-hard fingers equals smashed phone. But again, Static is clever. He grabs an old throw rug and tosses it on his manhole cover so it looks like a flying carpet, and offers to help her get back to safety with Tech. Static is charming, but in a sweet, innocent sort of way, when he offers her his hand and quotes, “I can show you the world.”

“Shining?” she asks, taking his hand tentatively. “Shimmering?”

He helps her somewhat awkwardly onto the manhole cover, which was not designed for two people, as he says, “Splendid.” They fly off, over Francis and his goons. A few blocks away, they hear a car honking frantically below, and land. Tech and his crew, along with Rick, get out.

“He with you?” Fade asks of Rick. “He said he was, and tagged along.”

“Dude, you followed me. I’m the one with the find my friend app.”

But then Tech notices Brickhouse, wobbling on the manhole cover, not quite sure how to gracefully get off. He gives her a hand down. “Marta, I was so worried.” She wraps her arms around him, then recoils, feeling self-conscious that he doesn’t share her affection. “Hey,” he puts his arms around her, “I spent my whole life looking out for you. I don’t want to stop being here for you.” She latches back on again. “Why don’t you hop inside the car, huh? We’ll get you home. I’ll make you some cocoa.”

Tech helps her in, and the car sags noticeably, before he turns to the two of them. “I owe you, both of you. And I know this is a lousy way to start repaying you, but car’s full up.”

“We’ll manage,” Static says. Tech and crew ride off. Static walks with Rick.

“You sure you don’t want to take me on a magic carpet ride?” Rick teases.

“Figured we could use the walk. So what’d you want to tell me?”

“I didn’t know how to say it earlier, you know, in mixed company, but your fly has been down. All day. From the moment you left your house, to when you left me to stop a robbery. I’m pretty sure you exposed some pipe, while you were flying on your somewhat ironically named manhole cover.”

“I’d know. You get quite a breeze flying. So… what is it really?”

“Seeing the two of them… they’ve been friends as long as we have. I don’t know if that’s sweet or demented. It seems like there have been times in my life when your mom was more my mom than my mom was.”

“I didn’t hit my head, if that’s where you’re going with all of this…”

“I think I want you to remember the history, because… I’m worried it won’t be enough. That… what I’m going to say to you, you’re going to be different with me. And that is the last thing I want. You know?”

“I… don’t.”

“Of course not. That is practically the opposite of context. Okay. Um… I’m not looking for anything to change. Between us. About us. I just… there’s something I need you to know. About me. Because it hurts feeling like there are parts of me I don’t share with you.”

“I already know you watch My Little Pony. Like, way more than any human being should.”

“It’s a great show. And that is actually almost a mislead, because it is a super-straight fandom. Oh. Crap. That was… not how I meant to broach that.”

“That is legitimately hilarious.”

“Not the reaction I was hoping for…”

“No, I mean, I’ve heard you rehearsing pieces of your speech for weeks. You’ve obsessed over getting it across perfectly, and then… just blurt it out. It’s very you. That is hilarious. You coming out? Is cool. It’s brave. I’ve been rooting for you. Because I never want to be someone you have to hide from. Not even My Little Pony.”

“You need to watch it.”

“I need churros. I maybe should watch it. But I’m glad you told me.”

“Me, too. But it was hard. You’ve always been cool with every other gay person in school.” Static gives him a confused look. He becomes more confused with every new person mentioned. “Like Ms. Ellen, the Librarian. Pete on our soccer team. Pete’s boyfriend. Your gaydar may be completely broken.”

“Maybe I don’t see orientation.”

“At this point I’m not convinced you see, period. How many fingers am I holding up?” It’s three.

“Two more than I’m about to,” he says (this is all playful, if that didn’t read).

“Regardless, I knew you weren’t, yourself.” Again, Static is confused. “I have seen you literally fall over when a cute girl bares the tiniest amount of cleavage.”

“Bi is a thing.”

“Dude, the day you stare as hard at any guy as you did at Brickhouse, I will hand-sew you your own bi flag.”

“You sew?”

“Because sewing’s gay?”

“Is it?”

“I… don’t know. And of course I do. Who do you think fixed that awful sewing job on your costume?”

“My mom?”

“And you think she just fixed your costume and let you continue your life as a teenaged vigilante without a word?”

“Until this moment, I think I did.”

“Then thank God for both of us you reacted sweetly; I honestly don’t know how you’d survive without me.”

We cut to a news broadcast. “Violence erupted today at the downtown police precinct. An internal affairs investigation into the day shift found several officers had broke in, working in concert with one of the city’s main gangs. They have since seized control of the precinct, leading to a siege.” Footage of cops outside the building from different angles.

Rocket shows them a social media video on her phone. It’s Oro, a policewoman acting as a spokesperson for the cops holed up inside. “They’re trying to silence us. We were set up. The weapons Alva gave us changed us. They told us we could keep their secret, and work for him, or they’d get rid of us. But some of us can’t just keep going. A third of our guys can’t work, period. They took Gina off a respirator this morning. Alan will never walk again. This is about more than those of us still fit to serve, it’s-” the feed disconnects abruptly.

“We’re out of time,” Icon says.

Curtis kicks up his welding mask. “I need two minutes. I’m no good to you if the armor won’t stop a spitball.”

“Fine. We need to talk strategy, anyway.”

“I’ve been thinking about that. I think you need to stay out of sight.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because the cops can get their head around a man in a metal suit. It’s maybe stolen military tech. Maybe just a clever entrepreneur. But you? A bulletproof Black man who can fly, throw a building? Racist cops won’t sleep again.”

“Sounds all right to me…”

“That’s because your bulletproof.” Curtis finishes, and steps into the armor, which closes around him. “Cops are so much worse when they’re scared; we don’t want to make them feel cornered- at least not until we’re ready to move on the ones who are dirty. But I can draw fire without freaking them out too much.”

“While I get the mutated ones out. Any ideas?” He lifts his arm, and a projection from his gauntlet shows the sewers flow right next to the building’s basement. “Clever.”

We cut to the cop shop. Hardware lands in front of the line of cops hiding behind cars. He broadcasts through external speakers, “I’m going to handle this situation. Disperse, so we can avoid violence.”

The cops, predictably, overreact, and open fire. Hardware is careful not to cause more damage than necessary, mostly taking and breaking police firearms. To that end I’d put a powerful electromagnet on his back, one that rips the guns out of the hands of the cops nearest him.

Icon flies through the sewers, going on foot when his GPS says he’s close. He finds a S.W.A.T. team manned by mutated cops who played ball, setting breaching charges. “I’d ask you to desist and let me peaceably through… but I’d rather put you in the sewage where you belong.” Icon tears through them in the confined space. It should be a pretty wild action scene. We can intercut between Hardware on the street and Icon beneath it. After Icon finishes dealing with the S.W.A.T. team, he walks through the wall. Cops open fire on him.

We cut to the police line outside. “That came from inside. Did our team breach?” They try to reach S.W.A.T. on the radio, but can’t reach them, so decide to breach. They ignore Hardware (though one does try to pry his shotgun off Hardware’s magnet, Sword in the Stone style, before giving up), and instead break down the door, only to find the precinct empty. Stacked in front of the hole in the wall is the unconscious S.W.A.T. team, preventing a timely pursuit.

Icon leads the mutated cops, including Oro, away. “I appreciate the assist, and everything,” she says, “but where does this leave us? They weren’t negotiating; they didn’t even try. They were going to execute us.” They exit the sewers, to find Hardware.

“I had a thought about that on the flight over, and called some friends.” Static lands beside him, and a moment later, Tech arrives in his car, and the rest of his crew arrive in other cars.

We’re now at a warehouse where Tech and his gang hang out. Tech agrees to help smuggle most of the cops away, that the other cops will keep trying to kill them if they stay. He offers to protect anyone who does stay, that they could use strength, since Francis has been jostling for control.

Fade arrives, tells them that Francis is doing a charm offensive. Only it’s more offensive than it sounds- he’s been straight-up threatening people who don’t join, but the get-together in the park is the carrot. Oro recognizes him- he threatened her, too- and realizes that Francis is working with Alva and the cops. They realize they have to show up in force, fight if necessary, but show them that it’s safe to say no to Francis, or he’ll gather enough metahumans to be unstoppable.

At first blush, it looks like public outreach, snacks, games. But there’s an undercurrent of fear and intimidation; the stick is the threat of Francis turning his wrath on those who don’t sign on. Tech and his crew arrive, and tell Francis it’s not okay to threaten people. Francis claims that Tech’s the real aggressor, and attacks.

Initially Hardware, Icon and the mutated cops (I’d throw in both Donner and Blitzen, too, since they’re locals, even if we may not be able to give them better screen time until 3) are able to stem the loss of life/bloodletting, but it’s also clear they can’t hold Francis back forever. Tech is preparing to fight- to make it bloody. That’s when Masquerade intervenes. She tells him that he’s more than he thinks he is- that he knows what they need, even if he hasn’t let himself see it. They don’t need guns- there are more than enough of those on the street. But he can do so much more than he realizes- he can make so much more than guns. He teams with Static to instead create a microphone, and gives a rousing speech into the park’s speakers. Some stay with Francis, but most walk away; a few stay and fight. Eventually, the good guys win.

Epilogues: Masquerade spells out for Tech her feelings- shifting to who the boy he used to know, then back into herself, sad that he can’t love her for who she is, because he’s hung up on who she was. He tells her it’s not that. She’s beautiful, and she’s always been one of his best friends- so much so he wondered growing up if he liked men. But when she came out, he realized he always knew, and loved her for who she’d been even before then- and if that makes him bi? So what. But… he’s been trying to wave her off because of Brickhouse. She loves him, and she’s fragile. And he loves her like a sister, and always will, but can’t hurt her… only Brickhouse overhears this, and confronts them. “Don’t.” She takes his hand. “I love you. Enough to want you happy. Even if it can’t be with me.” She gives Tech’s hand to Masquerade.

I’m not deep into Milestone lore, to know if Static has a better love interest, but personally, I’d likely set up Brickhouse with Static in the sequel. To start in that direction, after Tech and Masquerade walk off to talk, she sees Static being sweet and heroic and community-spirited (so many of the things that attracted her to Tech to begin with), helping to make a young girl frightened by all the violence smile and feel safe again. He notices her looking at him, and smiles, giving a dorky little wave. She waves back.

Rocket talks to Icon, milling about the edge of the park. She chides him, because this is exactly the kind of thing she wanted, and exactly the kind of thing he’d removed himself from by being above it. “You’ve missed out on a lot of this. But what matters is you’re here, now. You helped create this. You helped people who couldn’t help themselves- couldn’t protect themselves from Francis. You made an impact.”

Credits. Mid-credits scene: Hardware and Tiff are working on a new piece of tech. “I want to do more- I can do so much more.” It sounds like they’re having a fight. “I’m wasted as a glorified lab assistant.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” he says, and hands her a breastplate for a new suit of armor, one fit to her dimensions. She holds it up, and we zoom in on it to go to more credits.

End credits scene: We follow Alva into a secretive base, some kind of high tech/elevator Hallway. I’m assuming we won’t have the entire Shadow Cabinet cast- though we can have Donner and Blitzen here, if we’ve had them kicking around for 2 movies. I would like to cast Dharma for this scene, as he’s the one Alva’s meeting. Dharma greets him as an old friend, before asking what brings him to the Shadowspire.

Alva smiles. We know it’s a wicked sort of smile, but others, Dharma included, need to be able to see him as friendly. “Same reason I always visit. I want to help you save the world.”

We pull back, and can see Alva’s wearing some kind of high-tech equipment under his clothes; it can be a bracelet or something subtle, but the idea, I think, is that Alva’s found a way to disrupt Dharma’s ability to see the future and past of any object he touches. He’s going to use this to turn the Shadow Cabinet against the other heroes. Next Juneteenth is going to be fun.

Pitchmas 2021, Part 5: Spider-Man and the Future Foundation

Just so we’re all clear, this starts as a sequel-ish to Fantastic Four as I described it. If you don’t want to read that pitch, the gist is Doom has sullied their names, and they’re time-displaced from the 60s, broke and largely without any tech to their names- so they’re in a remarkably similar position to Spider-Man at the end of No Way Home. This is also being bumped up a few weeks, because of some timely casting thoughts.

We start with Reed and Sue in bed. No, not like that. They’re sleeping. Reed mumbles a name in his sleep, then sits bolt upright. Sue asks him what’s wrong. “What’s a Peter Parker?” he asks.

Sue yawns. “I don’t know. Did he pick a peck of pickled peppers?”

Reed is using some kind of 3D hologram computer thing to search online. “I think that was Piper. Nothing on the internet- I mean, nothing useful– there are dozens of Peter Parkers in this borough, but… it’s a tickle in my brain. I can’t even describe it, let alone explain. But that name. It’s important, somehow.” He gets up, and is already on his way out of the room. “I’ll be in the lab, honey.”

“I guess I’ll just try to go back to sleep then…” she drops frustrated back onto the bed. She closes her eyes and sighs wearily. “No, I’ll make coffee.”

We cut to a little later. She enters his lab, with two cups, now dressed. “Oh, thank you, darling,” Reed says, stretching across the room to take his. “So I have fascinating news. One, magic really is just technology we didn’t previously understand, though I’m in the process of inventing a new branch of mathematics to be able to- but more importantly, someone used it to make us all forget ‘Peter Parker.’”

“Who?” she asks, because the spell has already made her forget him all over again.

“Right. I’ve been able to change the shapes of the impacted neurons in my own mind to circumvent the spell, but I also invented an innoculation,” he’s already stretched an arm with an injector, and shoots the serum into her arm, startling her.

“Reed, we’ve talked about this. It’s not okay for you to inject people with new inventions without consent- informed consent.”

“Sorry. I get caught up in my train of thought and completely forget. The spell made all of us forget Peter Parker.”

“You mean Spider-Man.”

“Precisely. But the reason this has been on my mind, is that the morning of the spell, I received this email.” He pulls it up as a hologram. “Purported to be from Tony Stark, but clearly arrived after his death. It’s supposed to be automated, triggered by Jonah Jameson outing Parker to outrage and vitriol, apparently asking me, as the currently most intelligent adult available, to take Parker under my wing. My to-do list kept trying to ping this information; I don’t know if it was a flaw in the spell, my coding, or just the spell not being calibrated to handle a brain made of chewing gum, but his name kept creeping into my dreams.”

“Should I be worried you’re dreaming about underaged boys?”

“He’s an adult. College-aged. And just the name. My dreams are typically equational, not prurient; I’m not Johnny.”

We cut to Johnny, and show bouncy bed springs from below, and his face, bouncing, sweaty, from enough of an angle for a moment we worry what we’re about to see. Then we pull back, and see he’s jumping up and down on the top bunk of a bunk bed.

“Come on, I’m bored.”

“It’s night,” Ben grumbles, “you’re supposed to be sleeping.”

He drops onto his butt, bounces to the floor. “I’d say you’re supposed to be grumping, but you’re holding up your end on that.”

Ben sighs. “Matchstick, I got a complexion you could only fix with an angle grinder, and most of the rocks on my face are still cracked from our last fight. Stretch still don’t know if they’ll ever properly ‘heal,’ and somehow I’m still sore. I need my beauty rest.”

“Why, are you worried about getting uglier?” We see he’s actually hurt by this, and Johnny flops down beside him. “Oh, come on, Ben! I always teased you about your mug.”

“Yeah, but it used to be subjective. Now… well, look, it’s a face only the blind could appreciate, even then, only from afar.”

“Okay, it’s just sad when you rag on yourself. So let’s go. Let’s do something. Anything has got to be better than moping around here. We could mini golf.”

“No, we can’t. Last time we tried, I snapped the club like a toothpick.”

“Right. Motion control games.”

“They suck.”

“They suck a lot less than having to replace controllers every time you try to hit ‘X.’” Ben sighs, resigned. “Or, I could make us some BLTs.”

“Now you’re speaking my language.” Okay, it’s at this point that I’m actually forming an interesting casting thought. We raid the Community closet for this movie. Jeff Winger as a brainy but dickish Reed (or Abed, and lean into Reed on the Spectrum, and use Jeff for the antagonist, instead). Donald Glover as Johnny. Either Annie or Britta could work for Sue (their takes would of course be different, I’m not suggesting they’re interchangeable). And Chang for the Thing. He’s already played a Jewish Asian in Community. It… works better than it has any real right to, frankly.

“Sorry to interrupt, but I actually have something for us,” Reed says from the doorway.

Now, for this sequence, I’d probably do a Sinister 5 kind of thing; Spider-Man’s bench continues to be impressive enough that I think that could work. I’d stay away from characters we’re using in Sinister 7, which does limit us somewhat.

Spider-Man is fighting a team led by Kraven featuring Lady Octopus, Rhino, Electro & Sandman. At first he’s quipping, doing okay… but they’re wearing him down, just too many villains, especially now that Kraven has pegged that all they have to do to make him act recklessly is threaten civilians. Lady Octopus knocks Spider-Man back with her metal arm, and Kraven catches him, ready with a ceremonial dagger. He plunges it down, but it hits an invisible forcefield.

The Fantastic Four arrive, and make short work of the villains, who expected a 5-on-1, not a fair fight, and Spider-Man rallies. As part of the fight, Sue ends up in the water, and uses an invisible forcefield to make an air bubble around her.

After the fight, Spider-Man is apologetic. “I’m so sorry,” he says, as they watch from a rooftop while the cops cart the bad guys away. “I wanted to handle it myself. I should have called the Avengers- would have…”

“But they don’t remember you,” Reed says. “Well we do, Peter.”

“Uh…”

“Magic is just science we don’t understand. Well… I’m working to understand it. So we know who you are. And just as importantly, we want to help. You’re practically a kid. You shouldn’t be taking this kind of weight onto your shoulders. Not alone. We don’t have a lot. But what we have is yours.”

“Reed, did you… read?” Sue asks. “Like the whole email? Because what we have just got a lot more substantial. Tony Stark didn’t just ask you to look after Peter. He gave you a grant of millions of dollars to do it.”

“We should probably talk to someone about that.”

We smash cut to a legal office (you’ll see what I did there in a second). My preference is always for She-Hulk, because I like the character more, but Matt Murdock is all but certainly cheaper. She explains, “The money is coming out of a fund Starkset up for philanthropic enterprises, nominally overseen by Pepper Potts. Her administration has been largely hands-off, because Stark set up automatic triggers using his Friday A.I. to watch out for certain circumstances. Like this one. The money is yours if you agree to watch out for a Peter Parker’s well-being. There isn’t a lot of detail as to what that entails.”

“I have some thoughts,” Reed says. “But one thing I did want to check in on… does it say the funds can only be used to see to the well-being of Parker… or can they be used more expansively.”

“As I read it, you have a wide degree of latitude. It’s always possible Ms. Potts or the foundation could ask how the funds are being used, or even seek an injunction if they feel they aren’t being used wisely, but even in that scenario, I’m not certain there’s even the possibility of a clawback, since there doesn’t seem to be an enumerated mechanism.”

Now, this idea basically builds off the one that I mentioned in the Iron Man 4 pitch; I’m going to both assume, for our purposes, that happened, but also like it was a blip, and didn’t create any kind of permanent infrastructure, that this is basically an attempt to codify that and make it lasting.

We do a quick build-up montage, as Fury’s dingy hideout is turned into a state of the art laboratory. Peter enters. “This is amazing.”

“I’ve always been partial to fantastic,” Reed says, “but it’s all thanks to you.”

“All I did was get found by Mr. Stark.”

“You impressed Tony- and not many did. Tony wanted to provide for your future. I’m… trying to build on that idea. And before anyone else arrived, I wanted to thank you. Plenty of people in your situation would want to, what’s the phrase, take the money and run?”

“I’ve learned the hard way that it shouldn’t be about me. The world is bigger and better than just me. And I’m excited to meet it.” Here’s where it gets fun.

Amadeus Cho (Note: this comes after Incredible Hercules), Riri Williams, Moongirl, Prodigy and any other child geniuses/prodigies we can think of enter the room. “Welcome to the Future Foundation,” Reed says. “The minds in this room are some of the greatest of your generation. You will build a future that will make men like Tony Stark, Hank Pym and myself pale in comparison. You have the opportunity to build something beautiful and utopian, solutions to problems that don’t devolve into punching. Spider-Man here is our example; what he did to help people some would have written off as villains speaks well to his character, and well of those who raised him.”

“I’m just… Peter. That’s already enough pressure. I guess, I’ve seen enough people who just wanted to provide for their family, or right an injustice, who ended up on the wrong side of things… I don’t like people getting hurt, when what they really need is help.”

We pull back, and see that Sue is feeling left out already. We hear Johnny before we see him, “I can’t believe you’re jealous of his test-tube babies.”

“I used to be his test-tube baby,” Sue says sadly.

“Gross.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I was worried my sister might be sitting sullenly in a lab somewhere being gross.”

“You are such a dork.”

“Did you know dork means whale dong? The internet is awesome.”

“Don’t believe everything you read on wikipedia.”

“That sounds like what you’d name an encyclopedia of micropenises.”

“Then you’d be all over it,” Ben says as he enters.

“Hot foot,” Johnny says, setting Ben’s foot on fire. Ben hops on one foot as he smothers it with his hands.

“Real mature.”

Sue sighs. “This was weeks in the making,” she says. “When it started, we were partners. But every day, he’s gotten a little more distant. This is such a great thing we were doing… and now it’s a great thing he’s doing, while I watch from the sidelines.”

“So,” Ben says, “why don’t you get off the sidelines?”

We follow her into the room. “Ah, Susan,” Reed starts. “You all know Susan. Most of you spoke to her on the phone. I would posit myself as the brain of this operation, but the heart, the soul, the hands- the rest, really- is her. I have been known to disappear into my puzzles and problems, but if you ever need something, she’s the person who can help. I hope I’m not signing you up for more than you want, dear.”

She smiles, awkwardly. This story is, in part, about Sue feeling unseen and neglected, and I absolutely want to display the emotional truth of that… but it’s also a balancing act, because it won’t have the depth, either, if we don’t show the moments of true and genuine affection between them, too.

Later, Sue is sitting with the geniuses. “So,” Amadeus leans forward, “what are you hoping to accomplish, here?” She’s confused. “I guess I assumed we’re like a think tank, right? So we’re here to solve a particular problem.”

“Yes, and no,” Sue responds. “You’re here to solve the future. Reed, if he hadn’t been ripped out of our own place in space-time, likely would have single-handedly advanced human technology twenty years. But he sees the same possibility in all of those here. You have all, already, single-handedly created math and technology that could change the world- should change the world. Ms. Walters has already put us in touch with a good patent attorney. What we’d like to do is, with your individual permission, of course, file those patents under your names, but place royalties accrued into a general fund that can be used to continue the Future Foundation indefinitely. No funds or fees will go to any of the adults here. But if you’d prefer, we can set aside all or some of those funds for your family or your personal use, as well. You’ll be provided an opportunity to speak to Ms. Walters or Mr. Murdock individually- while we will be compensating them for their time from Tony Stark’s grant, in these matters they are your representatives- to help you understand whatever elections you make, and of course any selections will require, for those of you under 18, parental signature, as well.”

“What about rent? Or food?” Peter asks.

“The stipend we have from the Stark foundation should be enough to pay room and board and cover the cost of this facility for this inaugural class. After that, it all depends on contributions, and how quickly Reed’s patents and any others become profitable.”

At first Sue does get to be involved, but what she complained about continues to happen. Quickly, what looks like the A story, about the Foundation, is going to become the B, as Sue spends time at the harbor, trying to deal with her melancholy and loneliness.

It comes to a head when Sue, on one of her sabbaticals, misses a mission with the other 4. Spider-Man subs in, and she arrives home to see their triumphant return. She watches, invisible, as they celebrate, as she feels more and more like a fifth wheel as they celebrate one another.

She leaves, but on this walk, she’s approached by a strange man. He’s handsome, and offers to walk with her. As they hit the waterfront, he invites her to his place out on the water. He takes her to the dock, and she asks where his boat is. He says where they’re going, they don’t need boats, and jumps in the water. His clothes go floating up behind him, and she says “You’re insane if you thinks I’m skinny-dipping with a man I just met… “she drops off as he climbs out of the water, his moist skin glistening in the moonlight. “Okay, that might be the single greatest possible argument for skinny-dipping with a man in the moonlight I’ve only just met…” He assures her she doesn’t need to remove her clothes, but she will need to her own supply of air, which he’s seen her create before. “You were there,” she says, putting together that he saw their fight with the Frightful Five.

“I was. And I was instantly enchanted, so much so that I scarcely remembered to intervene. But please. Come with me. We both know I could scarcely touch you if you didn’t allow it, and I would lay my life down at your feet before I allowed harm to come to you- even from myself.”

She pulls away from him. “But why? Why me? Why like this? When not just call it a night, and get coffee tomorrow?”

“Because I know you’d go back to him, and that would break my heart. Not for myself, but because you deserve a man who adores you like I do. You deserve to be treasured, and cherished. And he doesn’t. He won’t. I doubt that he can. Even if it’s just to spend a night away, even if you never allow me the touch of your skin, I plead that you not return, just this one night. After that, if you still want to go back, I won’t seek to stop you, and you won’t have to wonder if you’re stuck, staying with him in a rut because he’s convenient and there.”

Sue texts Reed to tell him not to wait up, that she got a room near the pier, and a glass of wine and just needs an evening away. His phone buzzes on the laboratory table; he doesn’t notice it.

I think it’s Amadeus who brings it up to the kid geniuses. “So, this is weird, right… but my equations are incredibly predictive. I knew Reed Richards was going to start the Future Foundation likely before he did, and guessed his initial line-up with 93% certainty. It’s not a brag it’s just… behavioral modeling. And… my modeling predicts something bad is going to happen?”

“Should I start polishing my helmet?” Riri asks.

“Uh…” he really wants to make the dirty joke on the tip of his tongue, but Moongirl is super young and he’s hoping he can stall long enough for the temptation to pass.

“It gets dents and scuffs I have to polish out- never mind. Is it a helmet kind of problem, is the salient question?”

“I’m not sure. Sue’s unhappy. Reed’s been spending more of his time with us, and she’s feeling left out, and unfulfilled. Missing out on an emergency situation just, it makes that worse.”

“You can really predict what’s going to happen?” Peter asks.

“Not what. That. I can predict that something will happen. Sue’s not coming back tonight. Maybe she meets somebody. Maybe she gets mugged in the park. Bad things happen tonight.”

“Helpful,” Moongirl says.

“Actually… knowing that something will happen is half the battle,” Riri says, wearing her helmet. She holds out her gauntlet, and projects some camera footage of Sue going into the water with a stranger. “From there it’s just a matter of tracking her phone to the docks, and pulling up a camera when her phone stopped moving.”

“Um… is anyone else worried she’s not coming up for air?” Peter asks.

“With him? I’m not sure I can blame her not wanting to come up for air,” Riri says. “What? Like I haven’t seen the way either of you look at Sue.”

“Fair enough,” Amadeus shrugs. “But then the question becomes… what do we do with it?”

“We shouldn’t tell Reed,” Peter says. “If it’s nothing, if it’s innocent, then we’re inserting ourselves in their relationship in a way that isn’t healthy for them or us.”

“And if it’s not?” Riri asks.

“Then it’s probably better it come from family.”

Ben and Johnny investigate, Ben in his hat and trenchcoat. It’s a relatively quick scene, since the video mostly tells the tale. But they find some lockers nearby, with her phone inside, and her keys and wallet. There’s no sign of a struggle. They reason one of two things have happened, that either she went willingly, or there’s some kind of coersion. And they can’t verify which without Reed.

Spider-Man is with them when they tell Reed, who is largely nonchalant. His posture is mostly, “I don’t want Susan to feel obligated, not to me, not to us, not to the Foundation.”

“Sure,” Johnny says, “and I get that. But what if she was threatened. There are any number of ways she could have been coerced. If she’s okay, we can leave her alone. The bigger issue is going after her.”

“Best we could come up with was having you stretch into a diving bell,” Ben says.

“Depending on how far down, I don’t know that I could hold a bell shape indefinitely. We might be better off figuring something else out.”

“I… might have a solution.” Peter is… weird about bringing it up. “But none of you can ever say anything. To anyone. Ever. Not even to me.” Quieter. “Especially not to me.”

They go to Stark Tower. There’s a secret elevator that goes down. “Did Tony have Iron Man diving suits?” Reed asks, his curiosity clearly peaked.

“It’s just better if you see it for yourselves.” Peter shows them an undersea bachelor pad. It is just as Love Motel as you might initially assume. Johnny is enamored. “One time, when Mr. Stark had a martini, he told me about this place. Before he and Ms. Potts started dating, he’d bring women down here to, seal the deal. Apparently bringing women underwater, or taking them for a ride on his private submarine, was sometimes what it took.”

“What I think the kid is saying is this whole place is six degrees from Tony’s undercarriage,” Ben says.

“Likely less,” Reed remarks.

We go back to Sue. Namor’s underwater palace is phenomenal, beautiful, but also exotic. And he really is into her, in all of the ways that Reed just hasn’t been able to be. So she’s legitimately torn. Namor seems like he really values her, and Reed… doesn’t need her. He’s found his calling, his people, his place. I think that is what makes this arc work- it feels like a tragic ending to their love affair…

And then she finds out that Namor, while absolutely adoring her, is going to completely screw up the world. He was there to begin with doing reconnaissance for his entrance to the United Nations. He was going to demand they recognize Atlantis as a nation, and then the ceding of all bodies of water connected to the oceans to him- that humanity had proven themselves bad stewards, and he was going to take over where they had proven incapable. That would mean no more territorial waters for countries, that instead the beaches would become shared territorial property. He is fanatical in his description; refusing to hear that no country would yield to his demand, let alone all of them, that what he’s demanding would at best make him a rogue state, but likely a global ecoterrorist.

She argues for another solution, that his problem is exactly the kind of thing she and Reed built the Future Foundation to solve- that they can solve pollution and garbage and make the oceans clean and habitable again. But he doesn’t trust humans. Even if Reed manages a solution, humans can’t even get ahead of climate change, even as disasters ramp up and kill increasingly more of the population. That is why they aren’t right for one another- Sue’s is ultimately a hopeful view of the future, and Namor’s isn’t (and maybe can’t be, because he’s responsible for so many sea lives that hang in the balance).

It’s then that Reed arrives, having heard enough of Namor’s rant to know the score. Namor’s sad, and when Sue looks like she wants to go, says, “I won’t stop you.”

But she turns, and squares to him. “I’m afraid I have to stop you.” They have a big old fight, culminating in the destruction of Namor’s palace. He’s essentially too strong for them, especially in the open sea, but Sue makes sure that he knows he’d have to destroy her to get to them- that he relents, and departs.

I’m in a weird mood today (or maybe I’m just incensed by the misogynist fury pointed undeservedly at the actress), so I’m going to suggest Amber Heard as Sue Storm. And I’d wave just so much money at Jason Momoa to be Namor, because it would be hilarious (and because he has, thus far, actually been a stand-up dude and supportive of Heard). Come on, think about it. Ridiculous, trolling casting. Otherwise, any dude who can rock a tiny pair of green trunks will do.

Back in the lab, Reed confronts Susan about her betrayal; Reed, for all his aloofness, is genuinely hurt to find that Sue went with Namor willingly. “I don’t understand, Susan. I know I can be an imperfect partner, immensely flawed, even. But even in your disappointment, I don’t see how you could choose to treat me this way.”

“I didn’t think you’d notice I’d gone,” she says, then quieter, “I didn’t think you’d care.”

The pain in her voice absolutely melts him. “Susan…” his voice catches. “That’s my fault. I get so caught up, in trying to fix things, things that are my fault, things that happened because I wasn’t where I should have been, or who… and I neglect the most important people in the world to me. I don’t want to pursue invention for invention’s sake, or to make a better world in the abstract. I want to make a better world for you, for us, for our family, for our children… but I recognize that a single-minded pursuit of that cannot come at the expense of our relationship, cannot come at the cost of me neglecting you, neglecting to tell you that, Susan… I would be lost without you. And I don’t mean in the sense that you compensate for my faults, and make me a better man that I otherwise would be- though you do. I mean that without you I am far from fantastic; I’m not even a man, clanging tools together in a cave. I can imagine a life without limbs, without my intellect, but a life without you? Blackness. Bleakness. Empty. And it should not take a fishman in a tight bathing suit to prompt me to tell you that you are my world, and I am truly sorry for that.”

“That fishman did fill out his bathing suit,” she teases. “But I’m sorry, too. This is not how you should find out I’m unhappy, or feeling alone. You might not always be the partner I want… but I still have a responsibility to be the partner you deserve, too. And, nicely though he filled out his bathing suit, Namor is not the kind of man I could ever fall in love with, because he lacks the quality I need most in my life: hope. Hope that the future can be better than today, and that we can get there, together, if we work hard enough to build it. Which means I’m stuck with you.” He wraps an arm around her.

We pull back, and can see that the future geniuses have been watching. To make it cute, silly, and marketable, they’re watching through a Spider-Bot (as seen at a Disney Theme Park near you). “We did a good thing, guys,” Riri says.

“And ladies,” Moongirl adds.

The girls leave, and we linger with Peter and Amadeus. “Want to talk about it?”

“I don’t know if I’m ready,” Peter hedges.

“Well, if you ever need-

We go to high-speed nervous rambling Peter, “So I think I had what they have but then she forgot because of a magical spell and I thought at the time it was best to leave her alone so she didn’t have to worry about being attacked for knowing me but seeing them work through things makes me miss her and wish, well, wonder, if maybe I made a mistake, if it should have been a love conquers all moment instead of me sacrificing my happiness to protect her, and now I’m sort of seeing this other person who’s really neat and sweet and I feel like my heart and my head are clacking like those weird little silver ball desk things constantly.”

“You understand I’m the only person in the world who could keep up with that, right? I am… not well-versed in women and adjacent issues. But what I can say is this: what happened in there happened in part because you are one of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve ever met. I think you listen to the Peter in here,” he points at Peter’s chest, “that you’ll know what you want, and what’s right, and how to navigate the differences between those two things.”

“Could your equations tell me what to do?”

“No. They might be able to tell me what you will do, but figuring out what you should do… that’s something only you can figure out.”

We start credits. Mid-credits scene. Lawyers and repossessors exit the elevator just behind Peter and Amadeus. The lawyers hand Amadeus paperwork, as the repossessors begin to box everything up.

“What the hell?” Peter asks.

“It seems Victor Von Doom, which apparently is his real, legal name, somehow, sued Reed for damages done to his face. And won. The entirety of the grant and all assets procured therewith are being seized. Dr. Doom just beat the Fantastic Four without lifing a finger.” More credits.

End-credits scene. The elevator opens again, this time it’s She-Hulk. “You’re to cease and desist all seizure,” she says, handing the paperwork to the overseeing lawyer. The FF arrive from the other room. As the repossesors and layers leave.

“What’s going on?” Sue asks.

“Doom seized the grant. Apparently they served illegal notice, but managed to force a trial anyway. Matt and I did our best to fight it when we found out, but… he’s taking all of the money Tony gave you. But, Reed’s patent for unstable molecules has already been approved, and a licensing deal struck with several chemical-producing conglomerates. Licensing fees alone are going to keep the lights on in this place for the foreseeable future, as well as cover the cost of any equipment already purchased with Tony’s funds. Wisely, the unstable molecule patents were all filed under the Foundation’s name, so Doom can’t access them. So the Future Foundation is here to stay.”

Whores 1.5 Epilogue

.09 Epilogue

“Hey boss,” Jezebel said, finding Anna alone in the kitchen, staring into a beer before taking a swig.

“I refuse to lead any organization that would have me for a leader,” she replied dryly.

“And yet we follow you. Except when we don’t.” She winced. “I’m still undecided, if I should be bracing for this, worried you’ll drum me out for good, or see this as a right of passage. But I’ve been anxious all day.”

“You should be. Mimi ratted you out.”

“I’ll believe that when I have details.

“About driving past her hotel, blasting Springsteen.”

Balls. That’s going to cost me, isn’t it?”

Anna laughed, the bite of her half-drunk beer wafting on her breath. “I went out with Lisa.”

“Does Ellen know? Is this like a unicorn situation? Because Mae would be devastated.”

“Accompanied her on her mission, wiseass.”

“Oh. Mae will still probably be jealous.”

“She’ll survive. My point is, if we had better options, you and I would be insulated by layers of security and protocol. But we aren’t- we can’t be. We’re improvising, and oftentimes making shit up as we go. That means that, yes, we need to be as prepared and professional as we can be. But it isn’t because- or at least not strictly because- I’m a control freak. It’s because we can’t control everything. We can’t even control most things. But for the sake of the women depending on us, we have a responsibility to control as many things as we reasonably can- and not to bullshit or push the envelope on that measure, either.”

Anna polished off her beer before continuing. “What I’m saying is maybe this is a rite of passage. There was a time Mimi was a mentor to me, when I thought she was never going to run out of things to teach me. And… one day I realized I was teaching her, more and more. Part of doing what we do is evolving, growing. There’s going to come a day when you and I shoudn’t work together anymore, because we’re redundant. When one of us should set up shop someplace else- or maybe by then I can find some less crummy place in Canada to retire.”

“Oh?”

“I love Ellen. But here? I barely get to. And a part of me… a part of me will always  want to have kids with her. A family- and I don’t just mean you misfits.”  

“I really expected this to go differently. I expected you to stomp me much harder, and probably in stiletto heels.”

“If discipline is becoming a kink for you, I can have Mae do it. She doesn’t have entanglements, and she’d have fun with it. You two could go nuts.”

“The idea of her swinging a riding crop is frightening… but also hot.”

“So it is becoming a kink.”

“Only because we’re talking about it out loud. But for one… I didn’t expect you to disobey your own orders at the same time I was.”

“Well… you and I are a different breed, I think. Certainly, I trust the others, as far as it goes. They’d stall, evade, play stupid for as long as possible. But interrogators always break you, in the end.”

Right. But that’s also not the whole story,” Jezebel said. “Torture- and interrogation is just torture with pretensions- doesn’t work- not if by ‘work’ you mean getting accurate information. And the reason it doesn’t work, is that it takes time to break someone. And anyone who knows anything of any real value knows that, knows that all they have to do is stall and lie, obfuscate, give them bad intel to chase down and otherwise be a brat, to give your friends a chance to change up the organization. It’s why it’s especially ineffective against cells like ours, with relatively little infrastructure, light on personnel, already mobile by nature and used to setting up and breaking down at the drop of a hat. So if the cops had swept me up, maybe because I was an unescorted woman driving by a hotel frequented by sex workers, I would have stalled. Hours protesting my innocence. A woman suspected of gender crimes doesn’t automatically get access to a lawyer or a phone call, so I’d have to tap dance a bit more, but you make up stories. I was an informant for that GC detective who was killed, Harmon. Spin a tale of half-truths, anything to buy time, with the bonus that any lies you tell when you’re still pretty fresh and hydrated make it harder for them to believe the truth once you become delirious from a lack of sleep, water or food.”

“But all of that only works if we know you got picked up,” Anna said.

“I told Ellen before I left. Her stink eye is almost as strong as yours.” Anna didn’t smile. “God, this is so much worse. I honestly wish you had yelled at me. Because then I could focus on the ‘You’re not my mom’ of it all, and how unfair it was you were targeting me. But instead… I’m forced to face the enormity of what happened. Almost everyone I care about could have been killed today. And for what? It’s supplies to keep that little pop-up clinic going for two weeks, max- that’s if it’s a light two weeks. And that’s why they’re winning, isn’t it? Because we have to run the table, every time. We won today. But every time we screw up, every time one of ours gets caught, at best they get beat up, traumatized. As often as not they get killed. How can it be worth it? How is that not a slow, depressing slide into death or powerlessness?”

“I-“ Anna’s phone rang.

“Please, be rude and pick it up,” Jezebel said, taking a swig from her own bottle, “unless you’ve got a rousing speech to pull me out of my tailspin.”

Anna put it on speaker. “Oh, good, I was worried I’d end up in your voicemail.” For a second, they couldn’t place the voice. “Oh. Duh. You don’t have this number. It’s Ofelia. I’m in Canada.”

“You made it!” Jezebel said, practically snatching the phone from Anna.

“I did. I’ve actually been here a few days, and it’s been overwhelming. But I wanted to call and tell you I made it, and I’m safe. There’s a lot of people who settled around here who know you. I’d met a few, people we helped travel North, or get drugs, procedures, whatever. But most of them stay locally, because they’re all like-minded people, who escaped just awfulness to make it here. And I think the reason it’s taken me this long to call is… it’s home.

“And I want be careful how I say that. Because for forever home was down there, with all of you, and I will never stop missing all of you. But up here… it’s the world you’ve been working so hard to build, the people you’ve risked so much to save. This is the home you all deserve, and my heart is so full and at the same time so heavy because you’re not all here with me…”

She sniffled, then continued. “But you can’t be. Because not everyone can just up and leave; when I first met you, I wouldn’t have been able to, and I know there are so many men and women trapped down there who rely on you. And I am so sad and angry that right now those people need you there more than I do, but so proud and grateful to have known you, to have had a chance to help, even for just a little bit. Every single one of you down there is my hero, and every one of you better figure out a way to join me up here, because I am lonely and horny and miss you. Share my love with everyone. I’ll want to call, and talk, as I can, with all of them, but in the meantime hug the hell out of them for me. Crap. People have noticed my weeping, so I should probably go explain that it’s more because I’m happy even though I’m also sad. It’s been good to talk. Next time I might even try listening for a minute. I love you two. Bye.”

“Bye,” Anna said, as the line went quiet.

“It was a dense question, wasn’t it.” Jezebel said thoughtfully. “Of course it’s worth it.”

“No, it wasn’t a dense question,” Anna said. “Each of us has to ask it. Because it is a deeply personal question. We have a right to ask it, and to decide the answer every day. This might be a war, but we aren’t going to win it by treating ourselves or each other like wheat to feed into the thresher. We win by remembering our humanity, valuing each other as people first and foremost, including respecting the choice to stop if or when we need to. Or else what’s all of this even for?”

End

Afterword: I’d like to stop writing Whores. It’s an alarmist, panicked cry about a world we shouldn’t want to live in- a semi-pocalypse we can absolutely avoid if we just make better choices. But until then, here’s the novel this short follows immediately after:

https://amzn.to/3lc3KOQ

And yeah, thanks to the right-wing fascists on the Supreme Court, I’m writing the sequel. In the meantime, take care of each other.

Whores 1.5 Chapter8

.08 Lisa

Anna adjusted the rearview mirror as the sun set behind them. “Something up?” Lisa asked, sitting up.

“Mae’s here,” Anna said. “She flashed a signal with a mirror. She’s posted up on the hill behind us.”

“That does make me feel better,” Lisa said, sighing heavily, “as much for her as for us.”

A buzzing noise in Anna’s jacket made Lisa jump. Anna removed an older phone from a pocket, and checked it. “Mitchell’s clear.”

“His team had a phone?”

“A burner, like this one. They were at the highest risk. Multiple stops, any one of them potentially compromised…”

“And if they didn’t make it away clear?”

“From the sounds of it they were nearly made, at the bolt-hole. But to directly answer what I think you’re asking… I’m not going anywhere. Aside from Jezebel’s source telling us BH was blown, it’s been a beautiful day in the neighborhood. So I’m going to give her until midnight to show.”

“And what about me?”

“Hypothetically?” Anna asked, eyeing her.

“Sure.”

“Generally, I’d say if you want off the mission, you can make it out of here on foot with relative ease. Pretty much as soon as you clear the lot, you can pretend to just be a lost little girl.”

“But less generally…”

“Less generally, the more traffic there is in or out of this place, the more likely some concerned citizen calls a cop. You’re probably safer staying put.”

“But I still have a choice?” Lisa asked uneasily.

“You do.”

“Just checking. I’m not going anywhere… but I get twitchy being told I can’t go anywhere.”

“I get it. Even after what happened to me- even though I can’t get pregnant- it still pisses me off to be told that I couldn’t choose to terminate if I did. And barring pretty egregious examples of internalized and self-destructive misogyny, the name of our game largely is choice.”

“Do you… think we’re going to be okay?”

“I think we’re past the worst of it. Even if the cops found us here, it’s trespassing, at worst.”

“I don’t mean tonight,” Lisa said.

“I know. But tonight is all I can answer with any real certainty. All romanticism aside, we are criminals resisting a violent, fascist regime that is buoyed by the largely silent complicity of the world around us. It’s possible the police will develop another mole in our ranks; they may have already. Tonight, I think we get to go home with our family; tomorrow we could all conceivably be lined up against a wall.”

“You probably could have lied to me,” Lisa said wryly.

“No, I couldn’t, not after the conversation we just had about choice. Hold up.”

“What’s going on?”

“Mae just flashed. Someone’s approaching, on foot.”

“She flashing in morse code?”

“God, no. Nothing so complex- or interceptible. Two flashes was for her arrival, three if she has to leave. Four is a person approaching on foot, five in a car. One single, solitary flash is get the hell out of there. That’s the approach of more than one vehicle, or a car that obviously belongs to the police. In that case, I’d wait, until they stopped and parked, so she could put a few shots into their tires.”

“What’s the phrase, you can’t outrun a radio?”

“That’s true, as it goes. But that’s why disabling the vehicle’s so important. If there’s a cop car disabled in a field with a sniper, the cops will go there. They likely won’t even bother calling us in- and even if they do, we’ll be a much lower priority. In the meantime, Mae can put another round or two into the car, maybe into the radio, if we’re lucky and she can get an angle on it, then drive off. It’s not a perfect set up, but it’s solid. Jezebel put together a solid extraction plan.”

“Unless this is a cop approaching our car,” Lisa said, as they watched a figure cloaked in shadow walking along the tree line at the edge of the property.

“It’s not,” Anna said, smiling. “Because a beat cop wouldn’t be carrying their weight in a duffle bag. Help her get it into the trunk, would you?”

Lisa hopped out as Anna started the engine. She jogged towards the woman moving towards them with increasing speed. “Let me help with that,” she said, and they shared the weight as they walked through gravel and pock-marked earth. Anna popped the trunk as they approached, and the two women lifted the duffle inside. Lisa closed it. “You take the front,” she said. “I insist.”

Lisa hopped in the back, and buckled up. The older woman wasn’t exactly what Lisa expected. Her clothes were pretty, but conservative, and likely expensive. Her hair and makeup were flawless, and aside from the strain of hefting the duffle around town, she was very well put-together.

“That your supply run?” Anna asked. She didn’t wait for confirmation. “You should have left them. That is contraband up the ass, probably life in prison, if they caught you with it on the street.”

“That is lives, period,” the other woman replied, still fighting to catch her breathe. “That is autonomy, and freedom. From abusive boyfriends. From bosses who will dislodge a woman’s career the second she gets knocked up. It was worth the risk to me, because I know what that freedom is worth to those who need it.”

“God, you’re stubborn,” Anna said, and threw her arm around her as she pulled the car onto the street. “It’s good to see you made it. Lisa- uh, by the way, this is Lisa-“ she stuck a thumb in the direction of the back seat, “and this is our Black Hoe.” The older woman grinned broadly. “You know that callsigns are supposed to obscure your identity, right?”

“I think if the other side could see past their pecker envy I might have taken them more seriously. But I have never met a man who wanted to shackle a woman didn’t have something to prove.” She turned back to Lisa, and waved. “It’s a pleasure. And I appreciate the risk you both took to come and find me.”

“Wasn’t just us,” Anna said. “We had half the Shelter crawling all over town trying to intercept you, and get warning to the clinic.”

“I checked the dead drop this morning, before a client meeting; I thought I was clear, until Jezebel drove by my hotel, blasting ‘Born to Run.’ So instead I booked another couple of regulars, and took my time, pretending it was just another ordinary day.”

“That was clever of her.”

“She’s a clever girl; would remind me of you, if she were more ornery.”

“She’ll get there,” Anna said with a smile, “likely when she finds her own Jezebel.” But her smile faded. “You know you’re going to have to move on.”

“Yeah, you said that last time.”

“Things are worse, now. And because of last time, you’re even more of a liability, this time. We have to assume you’re blown, maybe even twice over. That puts any job we put you on at risk. Any supplies we entrust with you. Any associates. I can’t let you keep working for us. And you shouldn’t freelance anymore- not around here. You want, I know people who do similar work to us a few counties in either direction. The other alternative is you retire from your day job, and you work with us full time.”

“I’ll think about it,” she paused. “I meant what I said. I know what you risked coming to get me. I don’t want to keep putting you at risk like that.”

“It’s good to see you. It’s good you’re still in the world.”

“Try as they might, they ain’t killed me yet.”  

“So,” Lisa said, from the back seat. “Maybe it’s because you’re old friends, and that has me feeling like a third wheel, or maybe it’s just because Anna brought it up earlier, and it’s been effectively driving me up the wall since. Why should I be glad it isn’t Friday?”

“You been talking out of school?” the older woman asked, eyeing Anna. “I expect she’s mentioned that my code phrases are all old vices. Fridays happen to be John’s johnson. Uncircumsized, amongst other descriptors.”

Lisa frowned. “And that was a vice because…”

“Because we had great chemistry, sexually. But personally? We had a different kind of chemistry- a combustive kind.”

“Oh,” Lisa said. “But why vices as code words at all?”

“I’m not so spry a chicken as I used to be, and it helps me remember. But the deeper answer… there’s two ways to quit something. The one way is to carry its loss, and hurt when you remember it. The other is to remember the parts of it that soothed you, to remember the good with fondness. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep perspective about why you quit it, but you can remember the things you had, too. Me and John, we had some good times. Too few, but they were good.” She sighed, long, and heavy. “You got me reminiscing about an old lover. Makes our introduction inadequate. You should call me Mimi.”

“That your given name, or a…”

“Nom de foutre?” Mimi asked, and laughed lightly, delicately. She extended a hand somewhat awkwardly over the back seat. “It’s what my friends call me. And I got an inkling you and me are going to be fast friends.”

Lisa shook the hand warmly. “I’d like that.”

“She’s more polite than Mayday, course, I’ve known bulls more polite than Mayday. Sweet girl, but before I met her I didn’t know a soul who could make me blush…” she laughed, but it turned heavy. “I was sorry, to hear about Maria. She deserved better. Hell, we all deserve better.”

“We do,” Anna said, and nodded.

Whores 1.5 Chapter 7

.07 Mae

Mae wiped the man’s blood on an old, oily rag she found sitting on the floorboards of the stolen truck. It made her miss Clint all the more, and not just because he was the only one who seemed to flirt the way she did. He was her brother in arms, and understood better than most what they did for the cause- what it cost them, every time they pulled a trigger, or pushed a knife under someone’s ribs.

Right now, without him backing her up, she felt more alone, and naked, than before. Her friends counted on her- which wasn’t new, but after what happened… she didn’t have Clint to share that load with, or make en tendres about load-sharing with. She wanted to be angry about that, to channel the anger into wanting to hurt people… but more and more she just wanted to crawl back into the bottle where Anna first found her, and never come back out.

She checked her rearview, both to make certain Sabina was still with her, and see if they were being followed. Sabina was far enough back to make it look less like they were in a convoy, and as they turned, no one mirrored. Mae tapped her breaks three times; Sabina responded with three flashes of her headlights- they both believed they were clear to run.

Mae parked beside the alley behind the police station, then pulled a black ski mask over her head. Jezebel’s intel told her where she knew there were cameras, but that didn’t guarantee there weren’t cameras she couldn’t see, or her contacts might not have divulged. Finally, she checked her gloves for tears or signs of wear.

She dropped down the tailgate, and Sabina was already there, wearing her own mask. She climbed into the back of the truck. “Assembly line,” she said, and held out her pliers.

“Right,” Mae said. She managed to insert the wires on the first bomb with her hands, then she cinched a garbage back up around it. She laid it down by the corner of the building, besides bags of overflow trash piling up next to a dumpster.

By the time she was back to the truck, Sabina already had the next barrel cinched up and ready. Mae put three of the barrels together, and two more at the corner of the building, by the sidewalk.

The last they didn’t bother putting into a bag. An ‘accidentally’ frayed wire rendered it inert. “No prints on this one?” Mae asked.

“Been wearing the gloves, like Jez asked,” she said, holding up her gloved hands. Mae nodded. She set the final barrel by the back door to the police station, so much in the way they’d practically trip on it when they came out to investigate. When they were done, Sabina jogged back to the van, parked across the street, while Mae got behind the wheel of the truck. She pulled around to the corner of the block where the entrance was, where she was certain she was on camera.

Between the two of them, they could see the approach to all of the explosives, either from the alleyway, or from either direction down the sidewalk. Sabina gave two quick honks of her horn- they were clear from her end.

Mae dialed a burner to the number wired to the first cluster of bombs and waited. Sabina, since she could see down the alley still, was the final go/no-go. Their eyes met, and Sabina glanced one last time to ensure the coast was clear, before hitting a button on her own phone. The explosion shook the air, and car alarms and screams followed immediately. Mae hit ‘send’ on her own phone, and a second explosion followed, this one at the corner of the building and the alley, where Mae could see it.

Mae jammed on the gas, so hard that her tires squealed and the truck fishtailed a moment, climbing the curb onto the sidewalk before she could muscle the vehicle back into the road. Mae took an indirect route, so that Sabina could beat her back to the compound. Mae didn’t want to add risk to her, so she didn’t circle to make sure she was in position before she made her approach.

The driveway was largely a straight shot, so she lined the truck up at the entrance from the street, wedged the peddle down and kicked the truck into drive. It lurched forward as she leapt off, slapping the door shut. She had her canvas bag and the plastic case; she had left the burner in the rear of the truck.

Mae knew the truck would be caught on camera, and if the angles were right, would either clip an old tractor in the field, or possibly hit the edge of the farm house; either way, it would be arrested by the collision and eventually flood.

She ducked into a row of corn opposite the brush she made her way through earlier. These were proper crops, and provided less cover, but Sabina was with her within thirty seconds. “Want the stick?” Sabina asked.

“You drive. I imagine you’re a better driver than you are a shot,” she hefted her canvas bag for emphasis.

“Oh, right.” They drove for several miles before they hit the suburbs, and skirted them all the way across town. The sky was turning a golden orange as Sabina guided the van up a hill. “And we’re overwatch, right?” she asked. Mae nodded. “And that means…”

“To watch over,” Mae said.

“Oh.”

“In practical terms, it means you and I climb someplace high, and offer fire support, in which case I’m sniping, you’re spotting.”

“And that means…”

“That means you use the binoculars to keep an eye out for threats. Watching the world through a scope you can get tunnel vision. A sniper without a spotter is a sitting duck, more often than not, because it’s all but impossible to watch your own back while looking for targets. But it also means we can watch a larger area.” Sabina pulled to a stop at the top of the hill, overlooking a partially cleared area; it wasn’t until she saw the screen at the far end that she realized it had been a drive-in theater. “I can mostly scope the road from here, but you can watch for a foot approach.”

Mae hopped out of the van, and opened her bag. She handed a pair of binoculars to Sabina. She spotted Anna’s car, and could make out Lisa sitting inside. “At least we know they’re all right,” Sabina said.

“Unless the cops are waiting for our girl to arrive, so they can sweep all of us up at the same time without spooking any late arrivals.”

“And you couldn’t have lied to me?”

“Nah, I respect you too much,” Mae said with a smirk.

“Do you think this will all work?”

Mae considered her answer. At least parts of the day had felt… less than optimal. But they had made it this far, and while there was always a possibility the cops were waiting, she couldn’t see a real reason why. If they were setting a trap, grabbing any girls on the way made more sense than letting them all gather, because capturing one or two people at a time was less difficult than catching two or three cars, each containing multiple people that could scatter on foot any moment. A competent response would focus on arrests early and often; you could always try to flip a prisoner for information after the fact. But if they managed to lose everyone because their eyes got too big, that was riskier- there was no way to turn around an empty interrogation room. “I think we should be happy we made it this far, and otherwise keep our eyes open; we’re not safe until we’re all at home., and we have a better chance of getting there if we keep alert.”

At the thought of that, Sabina yawned. “You didn’t have the foresight to…” “Coffee’s in a thermos in my black bag. Sip it. We don’t have any more, and we could be here until midnight. We also want to avoid any bathroom breaks if possible.”

Whores 1.5 Chapter 6

.06 The Janes

A truck pulled up to the curb as the Janes arrived at the sidewalk that hemmed the park. Jane averted her gaze and diverted down the street, with Janey on her heels. She heard the sound of a car door open, and a man’s footsteps, and tensed. “It’s okay,” Janey whispered into her ear, “just keep walking.”

“Excuse me!” she heard a man yell not ten feet behind them. Janey pulled her along like they were a team of sled dogs. “Just what the hell do think you’re doing?” this time she recognized the voice, their ‘dad,’ Mitchell. She had never heard him so angry, belligerent, menacing. She knew him as the sweet man who held her as she cried when she first came to the clinic, not because she was ashamed to be there, but because of how terrifying the thought of being discovered either coming or going was.

Even as they gained distance his voice seemed to grow; his words were nearly unintelligible, almost the snarling bark of an angry dog. “I watched you, stalking two nice young ladies through the park. At your age? You should be ashamed of yourself. This is a family park. We don’t appreciate perverts following girls around. Yeah, creep away. Pervert!”

Jane heard the truck door slam, and heard the engine gun as the vehicle roared away. They didn’t stop walking until they rounded a corner, with a building between them and the park. Jane collapsed against the red brick of the building, gasping for air. “He wasn’t supposed to do that,” she wheezed.

“It worked,” Janey said. “If he was a creep, he’s creeping elsewhere. If he was a cop, the attention made him worry more about his cover than what we were up to.”

“And what if he goes and checks the drop? Then we’re blown and so is Mitchell.”

Fuck,” Janey said. “What do we do?”

Jane exhaled out angrily, pushed off the wall, and yanked them by the hand. “First off, we keep moving. Mitch should circle to make sure no one touches the drop. But… she’s already been there. The coin… it was there, like it was supposed to be. Whenever she checks the drop, she flips the coin. It was tails up, so she’s already been there today. I left the message anyway, just in case some kid or parent happened to turn it over, but… I’m pretty sure we missed our chance to head her off.“

“Maybe,” Janey said. “But from what they said about her… she’s bound to be savvy. When I was just a baby, still, you know, figuring things out, I met an elder. I mean, she wasn’t much older than me, now, but… she was a sex worker, because she lost her office job when hormones got harder to come by, and she couldn’t pass as easily. But she was smart. People hate us, people hate sex workers, she told me once the world was always looking for a place to stick the knife, so she had to be five steps ahead of everyone. Sex workers are survivors, is what I’m saying, in a way most people can’t even start to understand.”

“What are you saying?”

Janey laughed lightly. “I’m saying I’m terrified of the cops, but I’m going to that bolt-hole. If we can get her out, I’m going to. But… if you want, you can get back in Mitch’s truck.”

“Hey,” Jane spun around, and cupped their cheek, “I appreciate the pep talk, and you wanting to protect me, but there is no way I’m letting you go in there alone. Besides, we’re here.”

The apartment building was painted a creamy blue. Jane led them to the last corner apartment on the ground floor. She found the key where Jezebel said it would be, on top of the doorframe. The key fit, and the door opened with barely a jostle of the knob.

“Hello?” Janey called through the still apartment. They bolted the door, noting that it was a different color to the knob. They parted, Janey stopping in the bathroom, while Jane proceeded deeper inside. The bed wasn’t touched. The living space seemed only partly lived-in, like a hotel room minutes after check in. “No sign of her, not in the kitchen, either,” Janey said, rejoining her.

“No signs of struggle, at least. She just hasn’t been here. Got the message?”

Janey reached into their shirt, and produced a piece of paper, folded four times. “And this will mean something to her?”

“Yeah. It’s not in code. It’s just protocol. She’ll recognize the letter, and know that it means to proceed to the extraction point.”

“Yeah… I think I was freaked out enough when they were talking I lost several minutes.”

“I figured,” Jane said. “Your heartbeat hammering through your palm felt like I was being jabbed with a nail.”

“Maybe my hand was just happy to see you,” Janey said, before tensing. There was a soft knock at the door. “Shit. Whatever happens, stay behind me, okay?” Janey squared to the door, raising their fists.

“Suddenly you’re a spinached-up Popeye?”

“I’m butchbidextrous,” they said, but their usual lightness and humor was drained from their voice.

“Hey!” they heard, a whisper, but somehow yelled, from the opposite side of the apartment as the front door. It was Mitchell, speaking to them through a window cracked open enough to let in a breeze. “Come on.”

The knocking at the front door became louder, more urgent. Jane helped Mitch open the window. “Come on,” he said, and supported her as Janey boosted her through. “You, too,” Mitch said, as Janey slid over the door frame.

Mitch’s truck was parked a few feet away, the engine still running. He got in the driver’s side, and gently slid the door closed, giving it one final, firm tug to engage the lock. “Like that,” he said, “to cut down the noise.” Jane slid across the bench, and Janey in after her, then they closed the door as Mitch had shown them.

“This was my fault,” Mitch said as he pulled away. “I screwed it up yelling at the creep in the park.”

“Or maybe it bought us time to make it here,” Jane said. “And we don’t know it was the cops at the door. Neither of us look like an older Black woman. Could have been the super checking in, or a nosy neighbor.”

Janey frowned. “Are we that suspicious?” they asked.

“Could be,” Mitch said. “There’s an older woman, from a distance she looks like BH, who lives a few blocks away. Periodically, she’d go in or out, make the place look lived in. But she’d sneak out the back window; neighbors saw her come with groceries once a week, and just assumed she was otherwise a shut-in.”

“The point,” Jane began, “is the only way we can get the details is to go back and talk to whoever was banging on that door, which was either the cops or could quickly lead to them getting called… I think I’m willing to live with the mystery, if it means avoiding that.”

“Me, too,” Mitch said.

Whores 1.5, Chapter 5

.05 Lisa

“Are you coming inside with me?” Lisa asked, realizing that one whole side of her clothes was soaked through with the man’s blood.

“Anna asked me to check in, if I could, on my way,” Mae said, smiling sheepishly. “But I’ve got a distraction to make- and sitting around with a stolen truck full of explosives seems like a bad idea.”

“To the door?” Lisa asked. Mae bit her lip, hesitating pensively.

“Sure,” Mae said. “But if you think it might be anyone other than the clinic staff, you bolt with me, you hear?”

Lisa reached out her hand, and Mae took it. They walked together down the path.

The woman behind the desk didn’t look up before beginning to say, “Crisis Pregnancy Center, we know what you’re going through is tough, but you don’t have to do it without- Jesus,” she gasped, “Is that blood?”

“I think you’ll be okay,” Mae said with a grin. “I’ll see you back home.”

Lisa sighed. It was home. Which was screwed up. But, in order, her two previous homes had been burned down by the police, and violently raided by them. So the new Shelter did feel like home.

“Do you need help?” The woman behind the counter stammered out. “Because we’re more of an advisory clinic than a full-fledged hospital. I can- I can call you an ambulance.”

“It’s not my blood,” Lisa said confidently. “And you don’t need to worry about me at all. Though, if you have it, I’d take a box of frosted cupcakes.”

“Cupcakes?” the woman asked, the increasing surreality clearly threatening her sanity.

“Orange ones.”

“Oh, God,” she said, deflating. “God, god, god, god, god god, god.”

“I’m sorry,” Lisa said, leaning onto the counter. “I know this is scary. I know drilling, practicing, trying to prepare… it doesn’t prepare you. It can’t. Because the moment… the moment is awful. Your body turns against you and your mind feels in no way up to the task. But what you need to do is tell the others. You’ve been compromised, and you need to get out of here.”

“God, we have an appointment, in an hour, and she was too scared to leave a name or number.”

“I almost forgot,” Lisa said. “Could I borrow some gauze, bandages?”

“I thought it wasn’t your blood.”

“It’s not.”

“Right,” the woman nodded, and opened a drawer, and handed Lisa a first-aid kit, then snapped her fingers. “The patient’s neighbor is the one driving her in. We’ve got his number.” She picked up the phone and dialed, and while it rang through, she called, “Shirley? A woman just asked for orange cupcakes.”

Lisa heard excited movement as she turned on her heels and left.

Her attacker was still laying where Mae had dragged him, moaning. “Still with us?” Lisa asked. He didn’t respond until she nudged his stab wound with her foot. “Whatever advantages you thought you had, size, muscle mass, privilege- a stab-wound is a hell of an equalizer. I’m going to try and stabilize you enough that you don’t die, but I’m not losing sight of the fact that, roles reversed, we both know you’d leave me bleeding out in the street- so don’t try me.”

He groaned as she peeled back his shirt. The wound was clean. She managed to get a gauze pad taped in place, wrapped to hold at least some pressure onto the wound. “If you can, keep your hand on the bandage and push. It’ll hurt, but it’ll improve your chances of surviving. And I think we both know you deserve at least this much pain.”

Lisa stood, brushed herself off, and saw that Anna was waiting at the end of the long walkway with her car. She jogged to it, and slid into the passenger’s seat.

“Mae’s doing?” Anna asked. Lisa nodded. “I thought that was her in the truck. Take off your top.”

“I don’t think Ellen would approve.”

“I only take that kind of cheek off Mae.”

“And Ellen.”

“Fair, and Ellen.”

“And often Jezebel.”

“Don’t push it. Now take it off. We can’t drive you around looking like Carrie coming home from the prom.” Lisa peeled away the shirt; where it was wet with blood, it stuck to her skin like a bathing suit. “There’s garbage bags under your seat. There’s some wet wipes on the floorboards in the back, and an extra sweater back there.”

“You came prepared.”

“Sadly not the first time one of us ended up hosed down with blood.”

“So do we get to go home and get drunk now?” Lisa asked.

“Not quite. We’re the extraction team,” Anna said, pulling into an overgrown lot with periodic mounds of Earth that Lisa recognized as an abandoned drive-in theater. “Protocol says she has til midnight to show; after that, she’s on her own.”

“But realistically, if she hasn’t shown by then it’s because it wasn’t safe to… which may well mean we’re sitting in a cell.”

“If it makes you feel better, Mae- assuming she can get here safely, is our overwatch.”

“It actually kind of does; she’s like Batman, if he stabbed people and gave surprisingly warm hugs.”

“I know what you mean… she seems almost superhuman, sometimes. But she’s also a person. When I found her, she was so drunk she could hardly stand, just barricaded in her place, waiting for the cops. She killed the men who murdered her husband, and after, she was content to take down as many of the men who protected them as she could. What I mean is… she bleeds, like the rest of us. And this fight has cut her, deeply. She is the sweetest person I know, and also possibly the most hurt. I trust her, with my life, with all of our lives… but it’s important not to let her carry more weight than she can. Because she’ll try. It’s who she is. And those of us who love her have to make sure she’s got the help she needs.”

“You’re uh, speaking from a different kind of experience, aren’t you?” Lisa prodded gently.

“No. God. She’s… not my type. And I’ve known Ellen since before I met her. And-”

“Not what I meant, and you’re not deflecting me.” Lisa touched Anna’s shoulder. “You carry too much. Sometimes you buckle, and if you’re not careful, some day you’ll break. So listen to your own advice: let the rest of us carry more.”

“That was really sweet,” Anna started, and Lisa felt the turn in her tone even before she added, “until you wiped blood on me.”

Shit.”

“I hope not. Blood would be bad enough.”

Stop deflecting,” Lisa said; “I’ve still got plenty more blood I could wipe on you.”

“You’re right,” Anna said with a sigh, leaning back in her seat. “I know you’re right. Most of the time I’m,” she shook her head, “an out-of-control control-freak who is impossible for anyone but Ellen to put up with, and even then, she doesn’t, always… but then, in a crisis, all of that bossiness and bitchiness becomes actually helpful, and I feel, fleetingly, like instead of being a burden to everyone around me emotionally I’m finally useful, maybe even enough to justify everything I hate about myself…”

“You’re useful all the time,” Lisa said. “And maybe you’re extra useful in a crunch- but that’s why we need you over the long term. You give yourself a heart attack or a stroke or an aneurism, who takes over? The Janes?”

“They would definitely solve internal conflicts with pillow fights…”

“You and Mae, both, w’[;pe need you. But that means we need you taking care of yourselves, too. This gender war is a marathon, not a sprint. We have to be ready to go the distance.”

“I think I’m beginning to see why Ofelia liked you. And Mae.”

“For the longest time I felt like an adopted puppy. Pitiful, maybe adorable, but…” she stopped, uncertain if she wanted to press ahead, “Clint changed that. He saw me. Me me. And on the one level he sold us out… but on the other, he was protecting me. It’s…”

“It’s tragic,” Anna interrupted. “He would have died for the rest of us- I guess, in the end, he did. But when push came to shove, he chose you over us, and it really is tragic that he was ever asked to. No one should be forced to choose between people they love.”

“A man and his mistresses?” Lisa asked.

“There’s a difference between love and who you want to fuck, though so long as everyone’s on board for polyamory, even that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. And now you’re the one deflecting…”

“I still… it’s hard for me. Because half of me still loves him, the man who would have forsaken everything for me, who gave up everything to protect us… but he’s also the same man who betrayed us. I know that’s not… fair doesn’t even feel like a word that could apply, here. He was coerced-”

“Violated, even?”

“I guess… though I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that metaphor.”

“Well, it’s my metaphor, and as a survivor, I was comfortable enough with it to draw the parallel- not that it necessarily means any other survivor would agree with me. But what was done to him was a violation. He deserved better. You deserved better. We all deserve better than this- that’s why we fight.”

“I wish I were like Mae. It would all feel less… terrifying if I felt I could fight in anything other than a metaphorical sense.”  

“I know what you mean,” Anna said, taking her hand. “But I’ve been at this long enough to know that most battles aren’t won or lost at the end of a gun- they’re won by people like you, doing the right thing, again and again, knowing the risks and facing them. Violence is easy- but its ability to craft lasting change is small. The future is built, one brick at a time, through tiny, often even passive, acts of resistance, and all of us have a role to play.”

“You mind if I turn on the stereo?” Lisa asked, and Anna shrugged. For a few minutes, they listened. It reminded Lisa of going out on dates back in high school, lots of pressure and tension- would they kiss her, would she like it if they did? But also no real idea of what was going to happen; most of the time they’d chat nervously, listen to music and then drive home.

Her nostalgia for the relative safety of her youth was cut off by the sound of sirens passing on the nearest road, the police cars near enough they could see their lights flashing through the trees. Both women tensed, and glanced from one another to the entrance to the lot. No lights refracted off the small ticket booth in the entryyway, and the sirens began to fade into the distance.

“Mae’s distraction?” Lisa asked. “Let’s hope so,” Anna replied.

Whores 1.5 Chapter 4

Sorry about the lateness; domestic bliss.

This is a longer one, and I weighed chopping it into two parts, but because it’s late already, I figured, what the hell, you call could use the treat. I think posting will resume Monday, and will from here continue weekdays, lasting about another week. But thanks for dropping in, and have a pleasant weekend.

.04 Mayday

“And your fourth team?” Anna asked, her patience clearly waning.

“I was thinking Shock and Awe,” Jezebel said as coyly as she could.

“Oh, Lord. I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“You haven’t liked anything anyone but your girlfriend has done in the entire time I’ve known you- and even then, you’re very selective.”

“If you’re going to piss me off, you should just skip to that part, rather than pissing me off as an appetizer for a meal of even more fury.”

“We don’t want the cops focused on tracking down the underground abortion clinic. We also don’t want them focused on our girl supplying said clinic. So, we decide what they’re going to focus on- we give them a much bigger fire to put out.”

“I assume you have a worthy target to draw fire.”

“This is an awful lot of cowboy talk today,” Mae said with a grin. “Not that I’m complaining, it just feels like I should have worn my spurs.”

“You have spurs?” Lisa asked.

“Keep asking, and I’ll put ‘em to you to prove it,” she replied, throwing an arm over Lisa.

“Down girl,” Lisa said, but leaned into Mae’s arm anyway.

“She may have fallen asleep to a Western marathon…” Ellen said, her eyes flicking fiendishly from her nurse back to Anna.

“That’s private,” Anna protested.

“No. Private would be telling them you get the John Wayne toots.”

“I… have questions,” Mae said.

“If she sleeps through a John Wayne movie, and I swear this is true, she will toot whenever the old bigot speaks. It is… uncanny, like ninth wonder of the world. I am a doctor, and a good one, and I have no explanation for it.”

“Your patsy?” Anna asked, redirecting.

“I’m actually a little proud of this,” Jezebel started. “There’s a men’s rights militia operating outside of town. They’re… bad people. I found out they were buying… just way more fertilizer than you could ever need if you weren’t a straight-up industrial farmer. So I bought some from the same lot, which will have the same chemical signature. We’ll plant some fertilizer bombs outside of the police station- not enough to cause any serious damage to people, but more than enough to get their attention… and leave enough breadcrumbs to lead back to the militia.”

“I assume you got this from your federal contact?”

“He’s what’s going to link the two, yeah.”

“And doesn’t that kind of investigation usually take months, or at least weeks?”

“You sound just like him,” Jezebel said with a smile. “One of the bombs won’t go off- but that is minor. They’ll come to the conclusion a lot quicker, because we’re going to steal one of their trucks, use it to transport said explosives, and then peel away, being sure to get the truck noticed. And of course, there’s only one person I know of capable of that level of both shock and awe…

“Mayday,” Anna groaned.

“Me?” Mae asked, exaggeratedly batting her eyes. “Awe, you guys…”

“We don’t have time for you to dance around the Mae Pole,” Anna said.

“That’s okay; I still haven’t installed the hook for my stripper pole.”

“Or any of your other antics or shenanigans,” Anna said.

“But what do I have without antics or shenanigans.”

“A mission,” Jezebel said. “A dangerous one. Without which everyone else is at so much extra risk I can feel ulcers developing just thinking about it.”

“Yup, you’re right, time to focus up,” Mae said, straightening to attention the way her father taught her, emphasizing the words “Talk Loud” printed in white on her black shirt. It reminded her of her time in the Marines. Mae loved her time in the Marines, but she had loved Marine husband, Frank, even more. A part of her died the day he did- the way he did. The only way for her to cope was to indulge the silly little girl who first met him, the one who had fun in basic training. Her life with Frank taught her about love, honor, and duty- and her life without him she could only really handle at the end of a bottle or a barrel. Today, her friends needed the latter. “What do you need?”

She listened to her objectives, breaking down the ‘simple’ tasks into the realistic steps needed to achieve them. It was hard, sometimes, not being annoyed working with civilians like this. They didn’t really appreciate everything that went into her work; most of them treated her like a wizard who would just accomplish whatever they needed. “Explosives?” Mae asked when they were finished.

“In the shed at the edge of the property,” Jezebel said. “Not hooked up, but otherwise assembled. When the day came, I knew we were going to need to deploy in a hurry.”

“I’ll inspect them, make sure they’re what we need before we go. But I’m going to need a second driver.”

“Oh?” Anna asked.

“Even if I can lift and place your explosives myself, we can’t leave your transport within walking distance of the compound where I steal a truck. They come snooping, find the van-”

“It could lead right back to us…” Anna said.

“And that’s assuming they weren’t lying in wait for Mae when she tried to swap back,” Jezebel added.

“Second driver can shadow me in the van,” Mae said. “That way I’m exposed for the least amount of time. Suggestions?”

Jezebel started to raise her hand, “Volunteer and I’m keeping the hand and locking you in time out in your shed,” Anna said. “We need someone comfortable driving a big vehicle. The panel van… if the biggest vehicle you’ve driven is a sedan, now isn’t the time to learn.”

“I used to have a Bronco,” Sabina said. “Stick, too, if that matters.”

“It’s automatic,” Jezebel replied.

“Should be easier, then.”

“And you’re okay driving with explosives?” Anna asked.

“Not remotely,” Sabina said. “But I’ll take a lot of deep breaths.”

“Do it, then. Quickly. The more time we talk, the likelier this all ends in tragedy.”

Mae followed Jezebel to the shed. She pushed past the smaller woman inside. The explosives were carefully assembled, but inert, and Mae felt a pang, because she recognized the work. “Clint put these together?”

“Yeah,” Jezebel said.

“Why are all the good men dead?” Mae asked with a sigh. She tested the weight of one of the barrels, and was confident she could lift them on her own. She started assembling the detonators. “Sabina?” she asked. The other woman poked her head inside, and watched as Mae held up two components. “This wire, into the blasting cap? It stays disconnected until we get to the police station. When we do, your job is to shove them in, while I place them.”

“Do I need any tools?”

“Take two pairs of needle-nosed pliers with cutters and strippers, just in case you do.”

The three of them loaded a half-dozen small barrels of fertilizer and their accompanying detonators into the back of an off-white panel van. “The registration’s good?” Mae asked.

“Yep. Registered to a friend out of state, who sold it for cash- even has a copy of the bill of sale and a driver’s license- I edited in a photo of Pablo Escobar onto the license. Even if the feds get involved, it’s a dead end.”

“That is… very elaborate,” Sabina said.

“I’m good at what I do,” Jezebel said.

“Yeah, remind me not to cross you,” Mae added. “Anything else we need to know?”

“Steering pulls a little to the right. Tires are almost new. Wipers squeak obnoxiously, so hope for clear skies.”

Mae took the keys, and loaded a long, black canvas bag and a gray, plastic case into the back. Then she got in on the driver’s side. “Figured we’d both be more at ease with me driving around the explosives,” she told Sabina, who nodded.

They drove mostly in silence, until Mae asked, “Got that map?”

“Yeah,” Sabina said, holding up Jezebel’s hand-drawn map in her hand. “We’re going the right way. Another ten mile markers in this direction.” She sighed.

“You okay?” Mae asked.

“This is all still… new to me. I lived in Lisa’s building, before it was torched. At first, I was pissed off. How dare some woman operate an underground abortion clinic in my building? I blamed her for us nearly getting killed. That’s how they get you, right? They turn you against the people trying to help, instead of the ones who are actually causing the pain and devastation. Because it wasn’t Deb who started the fire; she wasn’t even trying to fight it, really, she just set up a burn ward, and they killed her for it. And I might never have seen it, if I hadn’t run into Lisa at the store… But it was the cops who tried to kill me. It was the cops who shot Deb, and that poor girl… how the hell does ‘pro-life’ mean that? But it’s hard. My brother was a cop for a while. And I was raised to respect them, to appreciate their service. Putting a bomb at a police station…”

“If it’s any consolation, the goal isn’t to hurt cops. These things are the explosive equivalent to a dummy round. It’ll cause some noise, scare the people inside the building. But cop shops have pretty strict construction standards, same as buildings on bases. They expect to someday have to withstand an explosion, even if they hope that day never comes. It’s really more a provocation than an attack.”

“Oh,” Sabina said. “That actually does help… though I’m not sure it should.”

“It’s complicated. For me, too. Even though it was cops who killed,” she swallowed, his name catching in her throat, “my husband, a lot of military guys end up in the police, Marines included, some guys I knew included, ones I trusted. And honestly, that’s part of the problem. If police were still about ‘serve and protect,’ things would be different, but their militarization means it’s more ‘control and subjugate’- military goals that make sense in some contexts, but are completely out of place in domestic affairs. It means even the good ones get bad lessons, and the few who remain truly good usually get isolated, drummed out or worse. But it isn’t about them being bad people. It’s a bad culture, executed through poorly considered means, and often empowering the worst impulses.”

“But no one’s going to get hurt?”

Mae considered lying, but she’d been lied to in the field; it was better to know the lay of the land than be surprised when you didn’t. “I don’t want to hurt anyone. But my goal is protecting our friends, protecting our rights. I will do the least harm I can in pursuit of those goals- but I’m not willing to trade the safety of oppressors for that of the oppressed.”

“Hmm,” Sabina said. “You kind of scare me, I hope, it’s okay to say that.”

“It is,” Mae said. “I kind of scare me, too.”

“Fudge.”

“What?” Mae asked, her muscles tensing.

“We just missed the driveway.”

“That’s fine,” Mae said. “We’re not driving up.” She pulled off on a side road, then over to a turn-around and parked. “I’m going on foot. You’ll wait here. You hear gunfire, you take off. If I can, I’ll rendezvous with you at the gas station we passed three miles back. But if  can’t- head home.”

“What about the bombs?” Sabina asked, anxiety lifting her voice an extra octave.

“I don’t think you could lift them alone.”

“I could park the truck by the corner of the building. Kick the ‘broken’ one out the back to make sure there’s a trail to follow, leave on foot then blow them remotely.”

“I’m… not going to tell you what to do. But take care of yourself. Okay? And if I’m not back within thirty minutes, don’t wait. Understand? Being brave and being smart aren’t mutually exclusive.”

Mae took the plastic case from the back and walked tall as she left. She waited until she disappeared into the brush to breathe out raggedly. Sabina was already scared; none of them were prepared for what was happening. Jezebel had tried, but there were always contingencies that couldn’t be planned around- especially not on a tight, relatively improvisational time frame.

But Mae was the strong one; she had to be strong. She crept through the brush and grass towards the compound. If farming was a part of their cover, they weren’t even pretending that the area nearest the home held crops.

Her first bit of luck was a flattened field of what had been corn. Rather than properly clear it, they just drove over it enough to use as a parking lot. All their vehicles were there, removed enough from the farmhouse to give her at least some privacy.

Before breaking cover, she spotted a pair of cameras hanging off the home. From the angle, they seemed positioned to cover the approach of the driveway, and then the walk from the cars. Still, between the two of them, there was potential cover for some 70% of the lot.

Mae weighed her options. What remained was mostly cars, with a handful of trucks, really only two that felt suitable to her purpose, parked side by side. One was new, its chrome bumper catching the sun’s light and throwing it into her eyes. The other was older, its paint peeling, windows yellowing. As she approached the older truck, she saw a sticker in the windshield for a car alarm company, old, faded, coming up at the edges. She heard noise, and rolled under the newer truck.

She heard a man talking loudly on a phone, and caught the scent of his cigarettes. From beneath the truck she could see the after-market alarm wired to the battery. It, too, was new, which meant sensors for if it was jostled. The man closed towards her as he paced, talking excitedly about his ex-wife and how badly she screwed him. Her hand settled on the knife in its sheath on her thigh as a black combat boot stopped inches from her head.

Then the man laughed, a laugh so deep it unsettled the tar in his lungs and gave way to a hacking cough that continued until he’d made his way back inside. May crawled under the older truck. The battery looked clear, no additional wires snaking off to an alarm, and it was an old enough model it wasn’t likely to have come standard. So either the sticker was a ruse, or vestigial, from some previous owner who felt it worth their effort to remove the alarm when they sold the truck. She knew the model well enough to know which tools she needed, a plastic blade, and a long, circular hook that looked almost like a corkscrew on the end of an unwound coat hanger.

The lock was old and worn, so it didn’t take much convincing for it to give, and she slid into the driver’s seat, tossing the plastic case onto the bench seat next to her. The wires were held together with duct and electrical tape; it clearly wasn’t the first time someone had hot-wired it. She cut through the tape, exposing the correct wires, and tapped them together while giving it pumps of gas. The engine purred to life.

Mae put the truck in reverse and let it idle out of the spot until she was angled towards the driveway, then dropped into drive, and again, let it idle down the road. She cringed at every crunch of gravel, or creak of the suspension, one eye glued to her rearview. But there didn’t seem to be activity. She reasoned if she made it away with the truck, she was probably clear; the cameras were a warning system. The last thing violent extremists were likely to do was keep a record of who came and went to their compound.

She made it to the side road where she left Sabina, and found the other woman nervously tapping on the steering wheel. “Almost left,” she said.

“Good girl,” Mae said. “You stay where you are, and keep the engine running. Anyone looks like they’re going to stop, you lean on the horn, and as soon as I get the back closed you gun it out of here.”

Mae pulled the truck so their rear bumpers were facing, then got out, careful to leave the truck idling. She unloaded her black canvas bag from the van, and unzipped it, before putting it on the tailgate. Then she moved the barrels, one at a time, into the back of the truck. When she was done, she called, “We’re good,” and closed the van’s doors.

Mae got in the truck and led Sabina back into town. They went by a different route- no reason to drive right by the place they’d stolen the truck. They stopped at an older office-building with an overly long walkway and ostentatious lawn. Sabina stopped beside her, and rolled down her window. “What are we doing here?”

“Logistical support,” Mae said. “Anna asked if I could drop in, if we made it this far without getting spotted.”

“What kind of-”

“Shit,” Mae said. “Park. We’ll need to leave in a hurry after this.”

Mae exited her truck, and started across the street. She glanced up and down; it looked empty, no one sitting in their vehicles, no one walking down the street. Either it was bad luck, or the world’s most professional set up, in which case they were likely all going to jail.

One of the things being a Marine had taught Mae was to spot a fight before it happened. Civilians, and even plenty of soldiers, would say violence came out of nowhere. But usually, there were signs, angry body language, even the way someone was shifting their weight to throw a punch, or to put their body weight into a tackle.

She was almost certain the woman walking towards the clinic doors was Lisa, but regardless, the man moving towards her definitely meant her arm. Whatever hateful sign he’d been holding he’d practically thrown when he noticed her approach, and was moving fast enough Mae wouldn’t be able to intercept him.

Mae knew Anna expected her ‘support’ to involve the rifle in her black canvas bag. But the rifle would bring attention quickly, and if Lisa was only making her approach, that attention would mean the women staffing the clinic would be more exposed, more likely to be caught out. It meant they’d have to abandon their supplies, hard-won, and all the lives those shortages would harm, potentially even end.

Mae opened the strap on her sheath that kept her knife from moving as she walked. She managed to pull it loose as the man impacted Lisa, knocking the wind out of her, sending her sprawling, and pinned her almost immediately. It was fluid enough he had some training- medium-level martial arts, maybe. But he wasn’t a professional, because he was laser-focused on his victim, still hadn’t even clocked Mae as he raised a fist in the air.

Mae caught it, and used his arm for leverage to bury the knife in his side. She thought of every woman whose path he crossed, all the fear and anger and sadness, and wanted desperately to twist it, to all but guarantee he’d bleed out.

But he was already going limp; if not for her holding his arm, he’d have fallen. The fight was over, and it was going to do more than enough extra damage taking the knife back out of him. She pulled him to the sidewalk and dropped him, then extracted her knife out of his side, and wiped his blood off it on the hideous Hawaiian shirt he was wearing.

“Mae?” Lisa asked, her breathing ragged.

“You’re okay,” Mae said, and slid the knife back in its sheath. She helped Lisa to her feet. “Nobody fucks with my girl.”

Whores 1.5 Chapter 3

Author’s Note: Janey’s pronouns are they/them/their. It is possible I’ll screw that up; in the writing sometimes pronouns get squirrely in my head, becoming something of a pronoun superposition of every applicable pronoun over a characters’ entire existence. This being a rough and rushed first draft, I might screw it up. It’s not through malice, and I apologize in advance if it causes anyone discomfort (or even if this disclaimer does). But for whoever needs to hear this (and I think I do, as much as anyone else, these days): I love you for exactly who you are; this world we built does not deserve you, but I hope, through effort and empathy, it one day will.

.03 The Janes

“We’re going to need a team to pass a message at a dead drop,” Jezebel continued. Lisa’s eyes were already glazing over, but it seemed at least she knew what she needed to do. “We’re going to need to check our bolt-hole and possibly the extraction site. I’d like to use two teams for this- that way they can take turns watching to see if the other team picks up a tail. We’re not worried about losing locations- anything we touch with this operation is burned, but we don’t want anyone tracking home fleas. We need at least two people.”

“Agreed.” Anna cast her gaze across the room, stopping on the youngest two women in the room. Both had short, curly brown hair, and every time conversation stopped, they’d turn to one another, a grin slowly forming on one of their faces before being mirrored on the other’s. You’d be forgiven for assuming them siblings, until they kissed. “How about the Janes?”

At the mention of their names, a coincidence, they both insisted, they stood to attention, the slightly shorter Jane snapping off a crisp salute that was sincere enough no one knew if she meant it. “We need two volunteers. So naturally I thought of you.”

“They’re too young,” Mitchell said gruffly, running his fingers through his beard, before smoothing down his blue scrubs. “Alone they’ll fit the profile. Young women alone get extra scrutiny from gender crimes. Together they can giggle and bubble and flirt safely- that will get most police off their backs. I’ll be the second team, and if anybody asks, I’m just a filthy old sex-pest following around a pair of ingenues- which is somehow much more legal than the truth.“

“Yeah, I’m not letting that happen,” Ellen said, adjusting her glasses so they caught the light, hiding her eyes. She milked the moment, cracking her neck from side to side, sliding her fingers down her white lab coat. “Not only do I refuse to lose my nurse, but inside his head is knowledge on virtually every one of the patients we’ve seen since he got here.”

“Maybe,” he said with an impish grin, “but I’m a man. They won’t bat an eye at me. Happens all the time. Other men just assume their attitudes come with the tackle; they don’t even question whether or not I agree- and that assumption is inversely proportional to how medieval their ideas are- the more misogynist the guy, the more certain he is that you’re on board.”

“As much amusement as I garner watching mommy and daddy fight,” Anna said; Ellen immediately flipped her off, and Anna pretended it was a kiss she caught on her lips before depositing in the breast pocket of her shirt, “I think we need him. Male privilege can cover for a lot of sins and fuck-ups, and it’s possible we’re walking into a morass here. If things go wrong, he’s got the best chance of extracting the Janes- and let me say, top priority for everyone is getting out. Helping who we can help along the way is a close second, but if we can’t do that, throwing more bodies into the thresher only makes our job harder going forward. But I think Mitch should play ‘daddy,’ instead, wrangling his precocious but willful daughters.”

“Pervert will play better,” Mitch insisted. “On the one hand, they’ll get it. And on the other, they’ll have to retrain their focus on me, rather than admit to themselves where their real loyalties lie. Which keeps the girls safe.”

“Plus he has experience in the role,” Ellen said, her lips pursed into an angry smile.

“Now you’re just being a sore loser,” Anna said. “Mitch is valuable enough to the op to take the risk- I’ll agree to that much. But play the fucking ‘daddy’ card. You can protect them better without a truncheon up your ass. You’ll nurse better, too; we can’t spare you, so don’t be a hero- be a dad. And start thinking that way now- give them a ride to the bus stop. And take Hyde, so we aren’t a rolling convoy leaving.”

Jezebel finished detailing assignments, and the two Janes followed Mitch out to his truck. He held the door for both of them. “Daughters,” he said. “Don’t think I’m old enough to be their father,” he grumbled, walking around to the driver’s side.

“What was that about bulletholes?” Janey, the broader, taller of the two asked nervously.

“Bolt-hole,” Mitch said, starting the engine. “Comes from a hole in a den an animal can bolt through to escape danger. Safe-house, might be a more general term. I think some of us shy away from it, because calling any place ‘safe’ feels like tempting the gods. Kids want some music?” He switched on his stereo, and they drove through a few old country-inflected pop songs before reaching the bus stop. Mitch checked his watch. “Right on time. You girls have bus fare?”

“Uh,” Janey said, patting their pockets. “They told us anyone not driving should leave anything identifying behind. I didn’t even think…”

“S’okay,” Mitch said. “I’m playing poppa.” He pulled out his wallet, and handed them some small bills. “This should do it.” He handed the cash to the slighter Jane.

“Thanks,” she kissed his cheek, “dad.”

“It’s going to be okay,” Mitch said. “We’re all getting through today. I’ll be with you every step.”

There was enough wind that Jane tucked herself under Janey’s arm for warmth as they waited for the bus. “I haven’t ridden a bus like this in years,” Janey said.

“Not even a school bus?” Jane asked.

“Not since elementary school. We lived close enough to walk to middle and high school. I could leave later, and pick up a donut on the way- and it was enough of a walk I burned through it without getting doughy myself.” Jane smiled at them.

The bus pulled up, and Jane led Janey by the hand inside. She paid their fare, and escorted them to the rear of the bus. Janey shifted uncomfortably a moment, staring at the trees they passed. “You think,” they swallowed, “this will be enough to earn my wings?” Their voice was trembling. “I mean, I appreciate the hormones…”

“It’s really not like that- it’s not transactional. If Ellen were that kind of doctor, she’d operate in a heartbeat. But she’s not going to half-ass your surgery. And I know what it means to you, but that’s why it’s worth waiting to get it done right. And if Ellen and Anna say they think they can swing a favor, they’re working on it, not just stringing you along. But in the meantime,” Jane rested her head on their shoulder, “I think you’re perfect the way you are.” She kissed Janey sweetly on the lips.

“But what if I want to be more perfect?” they asked.

“Then you’ll be even more perfect,” she said, and stroked their cheek.

“And you’ll still want me?”

“How was it I heard it? I’m in love with the taste of the wine; it doesn’t matter the label or the shape of the bottle. Those change. But who you are,” she pressed her palm flat against their chest, “that’s who I love. And hormones or no hormones, different wrapper, different shape, none of that changes the person you are.”

“Wait,” Janey said with wide eyes, “are you saying I can get fat? No more hours jazzercising?”

Jane chortled. “I’m not encouraging it; you’re hot and I love that you’re hot… but some day I would cherish the chance to get old and fat with you.”

“Wait,” Janey said, with a teasing smile, “you’re going to get old and fat, too? I don’t think I agreed to you being able to age.” They nuzzled her nose, and she nuzzled back.

“Time makes fools of us all, then. And I think we’d be cute old and chubby- a couple of gray pill bugs.”

Janey sighed heavily. “I’m just so scared of everything. A part of me needs change; I’m closer to who I’ve always felt like I was than I’ve ever been… and at the same time, I’ve never felt so loved, so supported. And I’ve seen what previous changes cost me. My dad…” they stopped themselves, and thought better of it. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been. But it also means that I’ve got so much more to lose.”

“You’re not losing me,” Jane said, and nuzzled into their neck.

The bus made several stops, before the automated voice over the speak announced their destination. Jane rose first, and Janey followed. On the sidewalk, Janey looked from left to right, trying to get their bearings. “It’s this way,” Jane said, taking their hand and leading them down the street. She turned right, and they walked several more blocks, before finding the park.

She led them on a looping path through the grass and trees. “My Bubbe lived in this neighborhood when I was little, and she used to take me to this park.”

“Oh,” Janey say, their shoulders relaxing, “I thought I was just crap at following directions. Wait, used to?”

“Oh, she’s still alive,” Jane said. “She just moved to a senior community. Still feisty as ever.”

“Cool. You think,” they gasped shallowly, “not to push…”

“I think she’d adore you. I just don’t get to see her often. Even before we went into hiding, it’s not like I’ve got a car. But I’d love for her to meet you. You’re my two favorite women.”

“You’re going to make me blush, or cry, or… I should be watching for someone following.”

“No you shouldn’t,” Jane said. “Just act naturally.”

“You mean like we aren’t breaking discriminatory laws trying to rescue another gender-criminal who we know for a fact is being hunted as we speak?”

“Exactly. Like we’re two normal, lovestruck girls enjoying the park. This is it.” Jane sat down on the far end of a bench made of curling wrought iron and faded wooden planks.

“Okay, so this is lousy timing,” Janey said, as they planted themselves on the bench next to her, “but I’ve just realized that ‘dead drop’ is just ‘drop dead’ reversed.”

“God, that is lousy timing, as is you sharing it right now,” Jane deadpanned. She nudged one of the bricks at the base of the bench with her foot, and it gave. “Throw an arm around me and keep an eye out.” Janey did, and Jane doubled over, pantomiming tying her shoe. She pulled a small, folded piece of paper out of it, and slid it under a coin under the brick.

She brushed a few crumbs of Earth from her fingers, and pushed off the bench. “Ready to go?”

“More than,” Janey said, rising. “You’ve got an admirer, and since he noticed you he’s been moving this way.”

“Trouble?” she asked, taking their hand and pulling them in the opposite direction.

“I’m not sure. Not to defend leering, but you are very eye-catching today, and he could just be, uh, smelling the roses.” Janey winced, uncomfortable with their own metaphor.

“No, that’s completely the right reaction,” Jane said with a smirk.

Janey glanced over their shoulder, and started; the man in the gray trench coat was closer. “He’s still coming. Should we run?”

“Our cover is we’re innocent, walking through the park. We hide behind that until we can’t anymore. But we can walk a little faster,” she said, speeding her pace.