DC Reboot Pitches: Justice League vs. the Suicide Squad

The Deal: this is the ninth in a series of pitches for the rebooted DC Movies, and the end of Phase One. I’m leaning on AI art to mock-up these pitches, because it adds a layer of humor and weirdness.

The Pitch

Our story begins en media res. The screen is black, and we hear, heavy, human breathing, the sounds of someone running in the rain, and narration, as black boots go crashing through puddles before cutting back to black. “People believe I’m arrogant. That I believe I belong standing shoulder to shoulder with Gods.” It’s Batman speaking, which becomes clear when we see Metallo, just his metal skeleton, the glowing kryptonite powering it exposed, strolling out of the burning wreckage of the Batmobile.

“His car is gone,” Metallo says.

Black Manta floats out of the water. “His sub is gone.” A burning boat floats on the top of the water behind him.

“And I killed his drone,” Cheetah says, watching through a scope as a bat-shaped drone falls from the sky. Her rifle is actually a long-distance taser, single-use, because Flag doesn’t trust her with a firearm.

Batman is running, turns and throws three batarangs, each colliding with one of Boomerang’s boomerangs before continuing to run. “He’s still on the move,” Boomerang says.

“It isn’t about where I belong, it’s that someone has to stand up.” Batman stops, and allows Joker to strafe his cape with a tommy gun to protect a ‘child’ in the middle of the alley. “And in Gotham, not many do.” Batman rises to his full height. The ‘child,’ it turns out, is just a doll stuffed with C4, and Batman has to resume running, rather than confront Joker, as it explodes behind him.

“I told you Amanda,” Joker taunts over their radios in a sing-song.

“You keep these comms clear, or I’ll blow that bomb in your neck just to get your voice out of my head,” Waller barks.

“She’s going to be disappointed when she finds out it’ll take more than that,” Harley says. “Like electroshock. But I wouldn’t rule out a lobotomy.”

“Quinn,” Flag says, and she drops into a side street, keeping Batman going down the alley. But he slices left, and hops a fence on the opposite side of the alley, just over the boards and under a sheet of industrial metal siding. “Damnit,” Flag says, catching up with Quinn. “Are we funneling him, or is he funneling us?” She leaps through the same hole.

“Just keep to the plan, Flag,” Waller says, watching events from a monitoring room through a series of drones and satellites.

Batman gets into the open, and fires his grapnel to the top of an apartment building. Harley and Flag are just behind him, climbing up a fire escape.

“No way,” Harley says, stopping just outside a rooftop door. “I seen Mr. J make this mistake too many times. Never follow the bat into a cave.”

“It’s an apartment building,” Flag says.

“And it was a metaphor. There’s no place he’s more dangerous than when you think he’s trapped.”

“Quinn, there’s two buses out of here, and one goes to the cemetery.”

“Ooh, field trip!” she squeals happily. “I love the cemetery.”

“Just get in there,” Flag shoves Harley through the open door, into darkness.

“Aw, nuts,” she says from inside, before being kicked back out, over the edge of the building. In the same moment, a batarang, carrying a wire, loops around her feet, so she doesn’t go far, and swings down and hits her head against the side of the building. “I feel like I should remember whether you can get a double-concussion,” Quinn says, before passing out.

“I’m going to need backup,” Flag says into his comms.

“This suit was designed for deep sea submersion; it doesn’t fly,” Manta tells him from the street.

“And Luthor didn’t give me rocket boots,” Metallo snipes, running up beside Manta.

“Fine,” Flag says, “Team Full of Density and Excuses, start on the bottom floor. We’ll sweep from the top. You flush him, holler.”

“I’m with you,” Cheetah says, landing in a catlike sprawl after climbing the exterior of the building. “Though I still say I’d be more effective if you let me have a sidearm.”

“He eats mercs for breakfast.”

“I’m here as well,” says the White Martian, “and he doesn’t have to be a telepath to know you’d use the gun on him at the first opportunity.”

Cheetah sticks her tongue out at the Martian. Flag leads the way inside the building. “It’s quiet,” Flag says.

“Too quiet?” Cheetah asks with an edge to it.

“He’s correct,” the Martian says. “The building is empty. In fact, I don’t even see-” liquid dribbles from the ceiling, onto the Martian, and an instant later the liquid ignites as Batman drops down on him, kicking him out of the door and back onto the roof.

Batman takes on Flag and Cheetah hand to hand; they’re both military-trained, so their styles mesh well, for a moment, until Batman compensates. He knocks the wind out of Cheetah, then smashes Flag face-first into a door-jam; Flag does manage to get a shot off, and it pancakes against the back of Batman’s cowl.

Cheetah gets up, slowly, having taken a knife Flag dropped in the fight. Instead, Batman hands her his cape, and points outside, at the screaming Martian. “He’s coated in a napalm derivative; smother the fire, deprive it of oxygen for a few minutes, and it will go out.”

She pauses, and calls in to Waller. “Orders?”

“Damnit,” Waller mutters. “Stand down. Aid the Martian asset.”

She drops the knife, and takes the cape.

Batman only gets a few steps in before Black Manta collapses a wall on his left while Metallo collapses a walls on his right. One goes high, the other low, and Batman is able to leap down the middle, and they clang together, loudly. “Ah,” Manta says. “Clearly I need better sound-dampening.”

“Or a smaller head,” Metallo says. Both give chase. At the end of the hallway, Boomerang turns out of a door. He flings four boomerangs; Batman does, too. Three of the batarangs knock the boomerangs out of the air; the fourth smacks Boomerang in the head, so that he’s falling as Batman runs past. Boomerang’s last projectile detonates as it flies past Metallo and Black Manta, knocking them into Boomerang. As he rounds the end of the hall and into a stairwell Batman slaps an oval slab of plastique with a bat-symbol detonator in the center onto the wall. It detonates as he leaps down the stairwell, catching Boomerang, Manta and Metallo in a pressure wave and sending them flying in the opposite direction from the initial explosion.

The stairwell collapses behind Batman. “I really did tell her,” an eerie voice echoes, through the stairwell, “but no one listens to the jester.” Joker leaps from the shadows and slashes Batman with a knife, managing to cut him, though superficially- mostly because Batman slipped out of his cowl, leaving Joker holding it as he notices a rope hanging over the edge of the stairs. He cuts it, and cranes his neck, holding his hand to his ear, hoping for a thud, but instead hears a door open, and shut. Joker crosses his arms and harumphs, then starts to put the cowl on himself, though we cut away before it’s clear what’s happening.

We see Batman from behind, without his cowl or cape, through a rifle scope. “I’ve got your target in my sights. Advise.”

“I want him identifiable. We have to be able to put a face to this. Give me a realistic assessment of whether you can give me that.”

Batman leaps over and onto a motorcycle, and very swiftly speeds away. At this distance, with Batman moving quickly, armored save for his head, it would be a shot in the dark, at best. “No shot,” the sniper says, and lowers the rifle. Those who saw Cyborg will recognize the voice as belonging to Deathstroke, but shh…

Flag comes to to someone in a Batman cowl slapping him across the face, then in his best Bale Batman voice howling, “Who do you work for?” Flag yelps, and draws, trying to fire an empty gun into the Joker’s chin as he scrabbles to get out from under him.

“See?” Harley says, handing Flag back his magazine and bullet, “funnier with an empty gun.”

“It’s barely a joke if no one lands in the hospital,” Joker pouts from under the cowl.

“I’ve got a broken rib, if that tickles your funny bone,” Cheetah says.

“Me-ow,” Joker says.

“Can the Martian pick him back up?” Waller asks over comms.

“The Martian’s currently extra-crispy,” Cheetah says. He’s mostly off-screen, but we can see a charred limb raised out of Batman’s cape, and hear him moaning.

“Fall back,” Waller says. “We’ll regroup.” She throws her headset across the room.

We cut to black, and show white text: One hour earlier.

Joker is wrapped in a cape from a Phantom of the Opera Halloween costume and leaps over the end of a table, singing “Kill the bat!”, ending what was clearly an energetic song and dance number, most likely to the tune of “Kill the Beast” from Beauty and the Beast. “Come on,” Joker says, “it’s worth whatever we have to pay Disney.” Harley leans into him and whispers in his ear. “They wanted that much? And they call me a villain?” He cackles uproariously, before adding. “I’m joking– we’re both monsters.”

Flag drags Joker off the table by the cape. “Let me just say, this team was designed in the hopes of overwhelming a demonstrably superior force with intel from previous encounters. But you two are the only pair with largely duplicative knowledge.”

“Then why are we both here?” Harley asks.

“Both your psych profiles indicate an unwillingness to play well with others. And since we happened to sweep you both up on the same night, Waller let me have a spare, in case one of you goes boom.” He pantomimes the bomb at the base of their skull exploding.

“Not it,” Harley says, putting a finger to her nose.

Waller clears her throat. “Captain,” she says, before leading Flag away. “Any luck with the alien, Flag?”

“This time it only took 10,000 volts to get him to stop trying to eat my men’s hearts… but I don’t think he’s giving up the goods.”

“That’s fine. We don’t have to get buy-in. We just have to get him in the room with the right one of these do-gooders, and his anger will take care of the rest.”

“What about the Bat?”

“If we need the big guns to take down an industrialist with too much man-pain, you need to find another line of work.”

Batman is driving his, at this point still functional, Batmobile through Gotham. The interior lights turn red, right before Alfred calls over the radio. “Sir, sensors show you’re being shadowed by multiple aerial drones, as well as an armored personnel carrier.”

“Insignia?” Batman asks, taking a turn sharply.

“No known government markings, sir.”

“I’m diverting to site 21.”

“Would you like assistance?”

“At this stage, I’m not willing to risk anyone else.”

“Very good, sir. Happy hunting.”

Lights go from a low red to bright red, with alarms blaring loudly as Metallo leaps from a building down towards the car. In slow motion, we see Batman’s ejector seat send him hurtling just out of the reach of Metallo’s clawed fingers as his feet crumple the Batmobile’s cockpit. The ejector seat fires a small rocket burst before loosing a parachute. Almost immediately, the parachute’s wires are cut by several boomerangs, and Batman bounds off of a nearby wall, kicking free as the chair explodes. He’s able to use the cape to slow his descent enough for him to land, albeit roughly, in a roll. Batman touches his belt to cue his comms. “It was an ambush. Send a drone and the submersible to my location.”

“The bike?”

“Set it to circle the site. I might need a quick egress.”

And we’re now caught up to the beginning, matching one of the shots of his boots running, then, where that shot cuts to black, we stay at black, and put up white text: Now.

We go back to the Task Force X HQ. Waller, trying to save face, pivots, saying Batman is maybe the most dangerous of them, that he’s managed to survive on grit and wit, that they need to take out his potential allies to keep him exposed and vulnerable. Joker actually confronts Waller- accusing her of letting Batman go in the hopes of drawing in all these other players, and their weaponizable tech- Martian, Kryptonian, Amazonian, Atlantean, etc.. Waller won’t confirm or deny, but it’s clear there’s some truth to it- that him figuring that out almost gives her a grudging respect for him. He storms off, seemingly in a reasonably normal huff, stating he agreed to kill the Bat, not this suicide mission. Flag tells two of his operatives to follow Joker. He loses contact with them thirty seconds later. Waller triggers Joker’s bomb, and the guard nearest Waller’s head explodes. “Shirt,” she demands of Flag, and he strips it off. She uses it to wipe her guard’s blood off her face. “I told you the clown was too dangerous.”

“And I told you your security was sloppy,” Flag says, sliding the shirt back on. They each think Flag continuing to wear the shirt is a middle finger to the other, proof of the other’s screw-up.

“Uh,” Harley points out the cowl Joker left behind is playing a message on repeat- the same message he’s sent to the rest of the Justice League.

The message continues, as we show a montage, proving that Batman has secreted beacons in each of the League member’s homes, that activate, first showing a holographic bat signal, then playing his message. “These aren’t the circumstances I was hoping to contact you in. In fact, I was hoping I’d never need to. I was content to confine my activities to Gotham, and leave you to your own. That option’s off the table. A rogue government operative has assembled a team of our foes. Tonight they’re hunting me, and I have no doubt, they’ll hunt all of you, next. Divided, we’re easy prey. Together… we might stand a chance. I’ve cleared out the old Gotham Penitentiary. I was going to use it as a training facility, but I also realized a time might come when I needed a hardened site for an assault, isolated enough to prevent civilian casualties. Meet me there. And be careful. Waller has resources and cunning.”

We’re back with Waller and Flag at her HQ. He asks to see her without the guards. “I think there’s something you’re not telling me, Amanda. If you really wanted a military team, you’d have gone with the team I suggested. Or at least let me put these clowns through boot. This is barely a step up from that Central City amateur hour.”

“If there’s anything you need to know, I’ll let you know it.”

“You don’t get to pull that chain of command crap with me. I don’t work for you- that’s our deal.”

She smiles. “I know. But you’re fun when you’re angry.” She pours herself a drink, and doesn’t offer him one. “I did ask. The answer was ‘no’ on both fronts. Eiling. Never said a word to me, but he’s the only one in a position to make a case against us. Fear was we’d be creating better, more disciplined criminals; best-case scenario, we’d be replacing slap-dash heroes with trained ones- who would be that much harder to depose if they ever went rogue, and already have a history of doing just that.”

“And that’s why you let us screw up with the Bat.”

“Oh, he’s good. And I did not put my thumb on the scale. But I also didn’t go all in on that mission, either.”

“Because if we can’t take this ‘Justice League’ without training our operators, maybe they’ll let us do that.”

“Or even give us clearance to start recruiting ex-military, like Deathstroke and Deadshot.”

“Didn’t know Deadshot-”

“Yeah, he was one of ours. Second-most decorated sniper in history. Until we found out he was taking private contracts on the side- and wasn’t picky about whose side they were on. We wiped his identity, and there’s been a Presidential kill order for him ever since. I imagine he’d be willing to do some work for us, to have that rescinded.”

“Deathstroke, though… he doesn’t come cheap.”

“I didn’t say anything about hiring him.”

“I don’t think he’s broken any laws.”

“Mercs always break laws. And even if he was so clean he squeaked, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

“This is why I don’t work for you.”

“Keep talking like that, and I’ll find a way to make you.”

He ignores the threat. “So either we win, you get your proof of concept and your green light, or we lose, and you get proof you need more funding and access to better trained operators. I hope I never have cause to be on your bad side.”

“Good luck, Captain,” she says, and raises the glass she never once drank from.

Batman arrives at the prison on his cycle wearing a new cape and cowl. He interacts with a screen in his gauntlet, checking that his security measures are working. “There’s still time to call in the family,” Alfred says over his radio. “Batgirl and Nightwing are less than three miles out.”

“No. These people are too dangerous, even if I had time to prep them.”

“And if your reinforcements don’t show? Master Bruce… you barely escaped your last encounter intact.”

“I’ve got a radar ping, Alfred. Keep the kids away from here. Keep them safe.”

“As you wish, sir. Godspeed.”

The wind blows past him, and then an invisible jet lands. Wonder Woman leaps out of the cockpit, and shakes Batman’s hand.

“I thought about inviting you to a charity fundraiser,” he tells her.

“I bet they’d pay millions just to see the two of us dance.”

“I meant out of costume.”

“I bet they’d pay double for that,” she says with a glint in her eye.

“She’s funny,” Flash is there an instant later. “I knew she’d be intimidating. But funny? I bet you had the Batman blushing.” Flash runs up to Bruce, only to realize he’s towering over him, and comedically lurching back. “Though I could be mistaken.”

“I’m glad you came,” Batman says before turning around.

“I had to,” we hear him before we see him, Superman flying majestically into their midst. “My mom would kill me if I refused a polite invitation from Batman. Unless I sent one of those little cards, but I can never remember the right etiquette for those. Easier just to show.”

Could she kill you?” Batman asks. “Does she have access to the right minerals?”

“Huh,” Superman says. “I can’t tell if you’re joking. I usually can. Microexpressions, heart-rate fluctuations, even tell-tale changes in cerebral blood-flow or neuronal activity.”

“He isn’t joking,” Martian Manhunter says. “He rarely does. Though he does remember how.”

“Stay out of my head,” Batman growls.

“You probably shouldn’t be ornery with the Martian,” Hal Jordan says, landing next to John. “He was the one who convinced me to trust you.”

“Oh yeah,” Flash says, as if the thought is only dawning on him now. “This could have been a trap.”

“No,” Aquaman says, rising out of the reservoir beneath the prison. “I don’t believe anyone else could have found us all.”

“I’m not so sure,” Batman says. “Victor, you might as well come out.”

For a moment we join Cyborg in the shadows. “You can totally do this. You’re a fricking Cyborg.” He walks out of the shadows.

“I was hoping he was with you,” Superman says with a smile. “I… heard the pep-talk you were giving yourself. I’m sure you’ll do fine, son.”

“Don’t say ‘son,’” he replies, largely doing a bit.

“Oh, sorry,” Superman says, genuinely taken aback. “I didn’t mean to imply a patriarchal imbalance; I know you’re younger because I can see your telomeres, but-”

“I just thought we were doing a bit- wait, you can see my telomeres?” Cyborg looks down at his arm, and his cybernetic eye scans it. “Weird. So can I. Why didn’t I ever think of that?”

“Presumably because you already know how old you are,” Flash says, suddenly standing in front of Cyborg, “I’m Flash, by the way.” He puts out his hand at superspeed.

“I think introductions can wait,” Wonder Woman says. “You were about to describe the threat.”

Batman drops a metal ball on the ground which projects an image of Amanda Waller. “She’s basically me, if I worked for the government, was a complete sociopath and had been recruiting the most dangerous criminals we’d ever fought to weaponize against us.”

“If she’s basically you the suit quite effectively shapes your thunder,” Flash says.

“And it kind of washes you out,” Cyborg adds.

“Quiet, children, the adults are speaking,” Arthur says.

“Dude, you’re like thirty, not Arthurian.”

Arthur’s confused. “My name is actually Arthur.”

“That’s no excuse for talking like a Shakespearean character.”


“Clever,” Flash rolls his eyes, “because Le Morte d’Arthur was written in ye olde English.”

Batman gets an alarm on his gauntlet. “We don’t have time for any of this,” Batman interrupts, “or any time for me to prep you. They’re on their way.”

“You’re leading them here,” Superman says, turning towards Batman, suddenly short.

“Like I said, we fight them here, they can’t hurt civilians- or use the fact we’ll protect innocent people against us. I asked all of you here for two reasons- one, there’s someone coming here each of you has fought before. Two, I think we share the same goal- saving innocent lives. You want to hate me after, you want to kick the hell out of me after, you can.”

“Something tells me he gives a similar speech on dates,” Flash says to Cyborg.

“Man, I’m just happy to be included,” Cyborg replies. “I’ve fought precisely one costumed weirdo. Usually somebody’d slap an ‘S’ on my chest and make me a sidekick, or put me on the JV squad.”

“We aren’t a team,” Batman continues. “We don’t know one another. Our best bet is to continue to work alone, fan out across this place. I’ve built in automated defenses; all of you have been white listed. But knowing the people coming, my traps will only soften them up.”

Cyborg raises his hand. “Yeah, as the one Black guy in the spooky, derelict prison, I think I’d be remiss in not objecting to us splitting up.”

“Anybody want to pair off with Stone?” Batman asks. “You’re welcome to. I’d suggest refraining from sleeping with him, though-”

“No reason to tempt the Gods?” Wonder Woman asks wryly.

“I will,” Flash says, before stopping himself, “go with you, I mean, not sleep with- I have a girlfriend.”

Cyborg puts up his hands. “No one asked, man.”

“So it’s a no questions asked situation?” Aquaman asks Wonder Woman.

“I heard that,” Cyborg says. “And we’re the children,” he says

“I mean you are like ten,” Flash deadpans, waits a beat, then adds, “Kidding; I can’t see telomeres, and you’re also mostly a robot. Though you do have a very youthful cheek.”

“I moisturize.”

“It’s working for you.”

Superman and Batman pair off, mostly because Clark doesn’t trust him (which makes Bruce like him more), and because he wants to try to keep the vulnerable human alive (which makes Bruce like him less). But Batman has his own plans, and takes him to his control room.

“You really trust this Bat-guy?” Green Lantern asks.

“Trust isn’t a concept in my culture. Agendas, subterfuge, are only possible for short durations, and usually by means of rogue technology. I know who he is; I know what he wants, and what he needs. He has been honest with us, to a point.”

“It’s that caveat that has my Lantern senses tingling.”

Manhunter reconsiders. “He would die to protect any one of us, without hesitating. He involved us only reluctantly, after nearly dying twice earlier this evening.”

“I’m beginning to feel like all of us are metaphorically naked around you.”

“Your ring provides rudimentary telepathic defenses. And it’s not polite to pry. I did look into the man, before we came. I’m a father; I can’t risk myself recklessly.”

Batman comes over the loudspeaker. “They’ll likely let the White Martian take point, in the hopes he can disable some of our defenses. He’s easily the largest threat. He’s a telepath. He could shut us all down from a distance without John.”

“So I’m your shield,” Hal says.

“Did I not mention that?” John asks wryly. “Although you won’t need to be for long. He’s here.”

John telepathically tells Flash and Cyborg where the Martian is. John has Cyborg scan to locate him despite him being invisible, and has Flash attack him with a whirl-wind, which John tells them will disrupt his ability to control his atoms- especially after Batman’s attack. Then he attacks the Martian’s mind.

For a moment Martian Manhunter and the White Martian posture, turning into vast webs of limbs and weapons, before John lowers his weapons. “You aren’t like the others. No bomb in your neck; I suppose you could phase out of it the second you wanted. What did they use to leash you?”

The White Martian lowers his weapons. “Megan. They threatened her- to drop thermobaric bombs on her, her school, your apartment. I couldn’t chance it.”

“No. I wouldn’t ask you to. But your heart’s not in this fight. Yield, and I will make it painless. You will tell them you were injured, and lost.”

He takes John’s hand. “Keep our daughter safe.” John shuts down the White Martian’s mind, and John tells Flash to stop, and the Martian falls.

Suddenly we’re in a different control room. Somewhat subtly, to start, it’s the same basic décor as Batman’s. “Martian’s down,” Flag says, as they watch on cameras.

“With time to spare,” Waller says with a smile, as she watches the Suicide Squad make their way through the halls. “He bought us our in.”

“I’m still not happy to have you on-site. You’re what we refer to as a high-value target, and we brought you into the lion’s den.”

“Had to be done,” she says. “This billionaire playboy has tech even DARPA doesn’t understand. The only way I could control this battlefield without being noticed and digitally cut off was to be on site, hard-wired into the system- a lot of which is our system.”

Waller takes control of a security panel, and tells it to target the Flash, before stopping herself, because he’s too fast to shoot. So she’ll give the hero a chance to save someone, and instead targets Cyborg with an automated gun. Flash tries to save Cyborg from as many bullets as he can, but takes several shots in the legs; Cyborg is able to build a metal shield with his tech that’s able to sop up bullets- though clearly the gun is slowly cutting pieces from it.

Back in the control room, Superman stands over Batman, both staring at a monitor. “Stop shooting at them,” he menaces.

“That’s not my gun. I don’t do guns.” There’s a flash of understanding on Superman’s face; he had an idea of who Batman was under the cowl, but that confirms it for him. “Someone else installed it. And they control it.”

“Then I’ll-”


“Can’t you hack into it?” Flash asks, as Cyborg protects him behind a shrinking shield.

“I can’t. It’s hard-wired,” he says, distracted by the gunfire.

“Then hard-wire.”

“Right.” Cyborg scans the nearest wall, finding the right cable, and punches into it, ripping the wiring out and inserting it into a port in his arm. The gun dies. “Whooh!” Cyborg says, raising his arms before collapsing with Flash. “Think I’ll lay back and have a little celebratory heart attack.”

“S’cool,” Flash says dazedly, largely laying in Cyborg’s arms. “I’m just gonna lay here trying to regrow my legs. I feel safe here, as the little spoon. Don’t tell Iris.”

We cut to Batman’s control room. “You’re not, are you?” Superman asks. “Going to tell her?”

“Only with a compelling reason,” Batman says.

“I assume you have one, for keeping me here, for why I’m not fighting with others.”

“I’ve seen the footage, from your coming out party, at Kansas State.”

“That’s not what it was.”

“I wanted you here because you’re vulnerable, in a way most of the team isn’t.”

“I thought you said we weren’t a team.”

“Teams train together. They trust one another. I don’t see either of those happening.”

“You really have trust issues, don’t you Bruce?”

“What?” Batman menaces. Superman is already a blur, but he’s back an instant later.

“God,” Superman says, putting his hand on Batman’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry. I know what it’s like to lose parents too young…”


“It’s not healthy to stay this closed off.”

“I mean don’t get distracted.” Batman is focused on a camera, and we zoom into it.

Black Manta is advancing on Aquaman. “I thought for sure they would have sprung Orm,” Arthur says. “Or at least found a Colossal Squid salty I kicked it or something. Those diving suits are cool, but this is going to feel a lot like punching do-” Black Manta blasts Aquaman off his feet. Aquaman is wheezing, struggling as he tries to gets up. A little nozzle telescopes out of a wall, and hits him with a comedically large spray of water.

Superman grins, watching Aquaman knocked back on a jet of water. “And they think you have no sense of humor.”

“I’m about 90% sure that his powers are in part water-based, and judging from the heat coming off that blast, it dehydrated him.”

“Any defenses you were planning on using on the bad guys?” Superman asks, as Manta continues to advance. A different device telescopes out of the floor, and sprays oil onto it.

Manta’s suit gives him a warning, about low-friction, right before he starts sliding, kicking his legs wildly before doing a full Home Alone fall on his back. “Nyuck nyuck,” Superman says.

“Quiet,” Batman replies.

Aquaman punches Manta, but the suit is hardened, originally to withstand crushing ocean depths, and then redesigned to withstand Aquaman’s punches, so it barely dents. Manta tries to blast him from the ground, with Aquaman diving out of the way. “Remove the helmet,” Batman says through a speaker.

“Oh, right,” Aquaman says. He rolls out of the way of another blast. Manta tries to stand, but is even more oily than before, and falls face-down. Aquaman gets a knee into his back, and uses the leverage to tear Manta’s helmet off him. Suddenly seeing David, he feels a pang of remorse. “David, I-”

Manta punches him, knocking him back.

“You want me to-” Superman gestures in that direction.

“No,” Batman says, holding up his hand.

Aquaman lunges, reeling back to throw a punch, but Manta has ample time to punch him in the face. Manta freezes, and we see that Aquaman wasn’t throwing a punch at all, but delivering an octopus, one holding a small glass vial, sitting on Manta’s shoulder.

“I imagine you’re familiar with box jellyfish.” The octopus holds the vial up so that Manta can see there’s a little baby jellyfish inside. “Their tentacles are covered in microscopic cells that function like hypodermic needles. I’ve been working with Percy to get the dosing right; too much venom can cause cardiac arrest, but the right dose leads to paralysis. Because I don’t want to hurt you, David; I didn’t want to hurt your dad, either. You can blame me for his death, if you want; but he made a choice, not to look out for himself, or for you. He risked himself for profit. But… I am sorry. I know I played a role in his death. I was rash, and angry, and I lashed out. It was the first time someone tried to kill me, and I didn’t react well. But we don’t have to do this. You don’t have to take your obvious genius and bend it to hurt people. You could extend humanity’s reach into the deepest parts of the ocean, and further into the reaches of space. I hope you choose something better than this.” He turns to go. “Oh, the octopus is going to stay. He’ll give you a couple of injections. The first is a cocktail, some Atlantean medicine, spiked with some cholestorol agonists. It should prevent any long-term damage from the venom. He’ll also give you a dose of tranquilizer.” The octopus produces a syringe, and hovers the needle over Manta’s eye. “It doesn’t go in the eye, though.” Arthur leans in. “He’s not really a sadist; he just has a warped sense of humor.” The octopus flips Aquaman off as he walks away. “I saw that.” The octopus looms over Manta, wringing his tentacles menacingly.

“Diana,” we hear Aquaman call. Then we cut to him searching. “Diana!”

We cut to Diana parrying a strike from Cheetah. “We don’t have to do this, Barbara.” She catches another blow on her bracelet, which clearly hurts Cheetah’s hand. “I have no desire to hurt you.”

“No,” Minerva scoffs. “You just want to protect the status quo, and all the predators that protects.”

Diana ponders a moment. “I don’t. I also don’t know who preyed on you, Barbara, but I would love to help you stop them- or stop those like him.”

Minerva weighs the offer. “You might even believe that. But they don’t.” Aquaman passes on the other side of two-sided glass, thick enough he can’t hear their fighting. “The men you’re fighting with. Men can’t accept strong women. You’ll find that out.”

“They don’t get to make my decisions for me.”

“You might believe that. I can’t.” Barbara unsheathes her claws. “I know I can’t beat you. You’re faster. Stronger. And you’ve been at this a hell of a lot longer than I have. In a fair fight, I’m catnip. So why fight fair?” She produces Flag’s sidearm, and fires slowly. She’s trying to lead Wonder Woman towards a Claymore mine she and Flag set.

“You should help her,” Batman barks.

“I’m not a dog you can order to attack.” He uses his x-ray vision to ascertain her location in the prison. “I have her- if she needs me.” There’s an awkward silence for a moment. “I do have a Kryptonian dog with similar powers… but he’s shorter, cuter, likes being scritched behind the ears.”

Batman pauses a beat. “What breed?” Batman asks, both because he’s genuinely trying, and because he actually likes dogs, or at least, he likes his.

“Uh, Kryptonian, I otherwise don’t know how to answer that.” He pauses, too, realizing what’s happening. “Yours?”

“German Shepherd. Smart, loyal. Alfred named him ‘Ace.’”

“I guess Krypto resembles a labrador, a white one. He’s smart, too.”

“Do you make him wear a cape?”

“He… gets really anxious if you try to take it off him. Yours?”

“I’m not a monster.”

Pause a beat.

“Have you ever called him your bat-hound?” Clark asks.

Awkward silence, before we cut back to Wonder Woman deflecting more bullets.

“I want you to know something, Barbara, that you taught me. I always saw these bracelets as a shield. I used them to protect myself, and my sisters. I was so focused on protecting people, that I didn’t realize, sometimes the best defense,” she turns her wrists, so a pair of Minerva’s bullets bounce off the bracelets, and ricochet to hit Minerva in the knees, and she goes down, “is offense.”

Barbara’s lying on the ground, holding her gunshot knees. “If I call that a sucker punch, do I have to admit you suckered me?”

Diana holds out a bit of cloth to bind the wounds. “I can’t make promises, Barbara, but I meant what I said. If I can help you, or help you help others, I will. And may the gods make room in Hades for the men who oppose me.”

Cheetah thinks a moment, before taking the cloth.

We cut back to Waller’s control room. “Damnit, I’ve lost visual on Quinn,” Flag says. “Should I blow her?”

“If it’s permission you’re asking for, I think it’s the lady who’d be the one to give it,” Boomerang says, tapping Harley’s monitor.

“No,” Waller says. “This place was a prison, built in the old Gotham mines. There’s feet of rock, concrete and ore in places. We still have audio.”

We cut to Harley, walking into Batman’s control room, holding a white flag in one hand and cue cards, the first of which reads, “Hiya, Bats!” with a little heart dotting the I. She quickly flips to the next card. “I’m bugged” (with a crudely drawn cockroach illustrating it). “And booby-trapped.” Her next card has two diagrams, one with an outline of a chest that’s Xed out, and the other with a circle at the neck.

Batman holds up his hand to stop Superman. We zoom in on his mouth, barely moving; we hear it as Superman does, a whisper, but LOUD. “X-rays might set it off.” Clark nods grimly.

Batman pulls a device with a needle and a scalpel from his utility belt, and Harley stumbles backward, falling back into a chair. Batman signs at Clark, and we subtitle it. “Distract her.”

Superman begins pantomiming, and Harley, confused, follows along. “Look? It’s a bird? No, a plane? No- ow, my neck,” Harley moans, as Batman jabs something into her neck.

“The device is inactive,” Batman says at full volume. “It’s probably safer not to remove it in the field.”

“So it’s safer to leave it in my neck?” Harley asks, springing to her feet.

We cut back to Waller. “Detonate,” she commands, and Flag hits the red button with her name on it. She waits a moment, listening for a detonation. “Shit.”

We’re back with Batman, Superman and Harley. “You could have been wrong,” Clark says.

“But I wasn’t,” Batman says. “Receiver was using a WayneTech chip. I removed it.”

Harley collapses back into her chair. “I really need anxiety meds.”

“Who’s left?” Batman asks, leaning threateningly over her, tilting her chair to put her even more ill-at-ease.

“I’d tell him,” Superman says. “He’s really not rational when he’s like this.”

“Who is left?” he asks again.

“When I left the other control room, there was Boomer, Flag, and Waller.”

“Waller’s on site,” Batman says. “And Flag has a fractured rib; should take some of the fight out of him. Should have broken his trigger fingers while I was at it. That’s all?”

“That, and ‘the big guy’ who was apparently a big fan of eating hearts, and the only one who spooked the guards more than Mistah J.” Metallo crashes through the rear wall, and immediately the shielding around his kryptonite core slides away. “Oh, and that guy.”

“Damnit, Quinn,” Batman says, ducking under one of Metallo’s arms even as he connects with Superman, knocking him into the opposite wall.

Batman starts kicking one of the console panels. “What are you doing?” Quinn asks.

“These systems are all water-cooled.” The panel bends inward, and he’s able to tear it loose, and slices through a hose with a batarang in his fist.

“Heh,” Harley chuckles to herself, “his water broke.” The water crests against Metallo’s metal feet, where he’s using Superman, embedded in the rock at this point, as a punching bag. Batman climbs on the chair with her. “Hey, what gives?”

“We’re improvising. Lift your feet.” She does, as he flings several batarangs at some insulated cords along the wall, slicing through them. One strikes the water, electrifying the floor, frying Metallo, freezing him. Superman, no longer held in place by the force of punches, slides to the floor, where he starts being electrocuted. He struggles to the cable, and picks it up, stopping the flow of current.

“That hurts more than you might think,” Superman says.

“We improvised,” Harley says, as Batman sprints across the room. “You should have listened when he said to lift your feet.”

“I’m sure he’s shielded, we’re probably just waiting for his processors to boot back up,” Batman says as he welds a piece of lead-lining from an x-ray protection gown in Metallo’s chest. “That should help,” he says. “Just don’t hit him in the chest.” Metallo grabs Batman by the throat, but Superman is there in an instant, and knocks him back.

“You okay?” Superman asks.

“I’m fine.”

“A choking like that won’t do any more than a day of vigorous growling,” Harley says, as Metallo and Superman punch each other in the face. “It’s kinda like rock ‘em sock ‘em robots,” Harley says, having to leap out of the way as Metallo throws Superman.

“Sorry, ma’am,” he says, before flying at Metallo.

“Ma’am me again and I’ll make you sorry,” she says, kicking at the empty air where he’d been. Batman grabs hold of her chair and rolls her into the hall as a man-shaped dent appears in the door behind them.

“I think we’re safer out here,” Batman says.

“Unless they’ve got some kind of redundancies in the arming mechanism,” Harley says.

“Fair point. Stick close.”

“Yeah. Nobody wants to die alone if they can take someone else with them.”

“If they need line of sight to set off any redundancies, they have to expose themselves.”

“Ew,” Harley says, making a face.

“Now this is awkward,” a voice echoes menacingly through the halls.

“Run,” Batman says, but Harley stands her ground.

“I never thought I’d find you rubbing another man’s rhubarb,” Joker says, stepping out of the shadows with a large gun.

“I thought the emoji was an eggplant,” Harley says.

“I just can’t decide who to shoot first,” he laughs to himself, before jamming a drum magazine onto his gun. “But I’m not Dent- I don’t have to choose- I can just shoot everone!” he cackles gleefully, filling the hallway with gunfire that doesn’t quite drown out the sound of his laughter (or last as long).

Batman shoves Harley down, taking the brunt of the shots in his armor, protecting her. They’re both lying on the floor, unmoving, Batman with his face covered by a few inches of water.

Joker walks slowly, reloading as he speaks. “Of all the girls I shoved to the floor, I never thought I’d find you sleeping with the enemy, though so long as you’re both sleeping with the fish, who am I to com-” close on Joker’s feet, as we see he’s tripped a wire. Joker stops dead in his tracks, and says, “heh, booby,” before an explosion knocks him into the far wall.

Batman sits up gasping for air. “My hero!” Harley says, wrapping her arms around him. Batman is clearly uncomfortable with the affection, and stands stiffly up.

“I knew he had to be hurting you, too. It’s who he is.”

“It is who he is,” she says indignantly, stamping over to Joker and beginning to kick him.

“Ow, my heart,” he says pathetically, as Batman lifts her up and puts her down away from Joker. Batman lifts him up, and Harley kicks him back down. Batman raises a stern finger to her, and she puts up her hands. Batman gets him up enough to cuff him to a metal bar, then turns to leave, before stopping.

“You know, we’d all be safer if he was unconscious.” Unbridled joy spreads across Harley’s face.

“You wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses, would you?” Joker asks, putting on a pair.

“Those are mine!” she squeals indignantly, kicking him, taking the glasses, and then scissor kicking him into the bar with a gloriously satisfying clang. “I just use ‘em for reading,” Harley says, folding them and putting them in a pocket.

We cut back to Waller and Flag. “Given I can hear the thunder of steel men’s fists, I take it Corben’s still in the fight,” Waller says.

“That’s a bad sign,” Flag says. “He’s not supposed to go toe-to-toe. His edge was the surprise. Longer the fight goes, the better the odds it doesn’t go our way.”

“Then let’s stop dicking around,” Waller says. “Time to put our big gun in play.”

“I’m not sure how wise that is. He might decide to just kill the two of us and leave.”

“Captain, if I stopped every time a man might decide to kill me, I wouldn’t have made it past elementary school.” She cues up a mic. “Do it.” She opens a channel into a cell. “I know we’re still getting to know one another. I know you’re still considering whether to just slaughter your way free. But I have a counter-offer. Kill one of these ‘heroes’ for me, and I’ll see all Earthly records of your time and crimes here expunged. Kill a second, and you’re free. Kill them all, and I’ll tell you where I have William Hand stashed away. Whatever you decide to do with him, it will be like he never existed. Oh, and the first ‘hero’ you get to kill is a Green Lantern.”

We see sharp teeth smiling in the dark cell, lit very faintly by a red light. “With blood and rage of crimson red,” the large alien’s foot stomps, shaking his cage as Waller’s soldiers run.Ripped from a corpse so freshly dead,” his other foot stomps as he tears off his shackles, sending the metal chains flying at camera, “Together with my hellish hate,” he smashes his metal cell, and the doors and all of the walls and even the ceiling fly off in different directions, “I’ll burn you all, That is your fate!” Atrocitus screams, the final words of his oath, as a red lantern symbol burns behind him.

“So… that’s bad,” Hal says. “I thought Sinestro removed him from the planet.”

“Apparently he was stopped by the Earth authorities,” John says, gleaning that much from a superficial reading of Waller’s fleeing soldiers.

Hal’s ring fills them in. “His ring assessed that human casualties sustained in retaining custody of the prisoner were unacceptable, not to mention that the odds of the prisoner escaping during any conflict approached the 90th percentile.”

“John can you-” Hal doesn’t finish the thought before he’s knocked back by one of Atrocitus’ projections.

“No,” John says, phasing through another. “Like your ring, his provides a degree of telepathic shielding. This calls for a more direct approach.” John phases through Atrocitus’ force-field.

“Martian, huh?” Atrocitus says, almost a laugh. “Burn.”

John is engulfed in a burning red flame, before Hal is able to douse him with green foam to put him out. John is able to phase back through the field. “That hurt like fire,” John says.

“You know what else burns like fire?” we hear the words as Flash blurs by. He vibrates through Atrocitus’ shield, and punches him a thousand times, before Atrocitus stumbles backward. Flash vibrates back out. “That’s right: getting punched like a thousand times in a second. You know what that answer wins you?”

“Another thousand punches?” Atrocitus asks wearily as Flash vibrates back through his force-field. This time, however, he’s met with a second, growing field, that shoves him back, screaming, through the first.

“Okay, John, you were right,” Flash says, “that does burn like fire. Vic, you got anything?”

“Yeah,” Cyborg says, “just didn’t want to step on your moment.” He’s got the sonic canon he used on Deathstroke, only now it’s fancy and sleek, and he blasts Atrocitus with it. It looks, from the outside, like the force-field absorbs it without anything happening, but Vic explains, “See, I scanned the frequency of his field, and calibrated my sonics to harmonize with it, turning his field into one big echo chamber.” For a second we pop back inside the field, where the noise is hard to take. Atrocitus drops the field for a moment, to let the sound out. In the moment his field is down, he’s hit in the chest with a batarang that explodes. He stumbles backward, into Diana’s lasso, which she yanks, sending into to the ground, where we see that on his back is the octopuss.

“You know what else burns like fire?” Aquaman asks.

“I can’t be the only one who’s expecting him to say gonorrhea,” Flash interjects.

“Box jellyfish venom.” We zoom on the octopus injecting atrocitus. “Lantern?”

“I got you, little guy,” Green Lantern says, pulling both the jellyfish and octopus away from Atrocitus in a little protective bubble.

Atrocitus scream. “I don’t imagine it’ll cause paralysis in your species, which presumably come from another planet. But sounds like it’s still unpleasant.”

“Fools!” Atrocitus screams, lashing out in all directions with a wave of energy and weapons and flames, knocking them all to the ground. “I will peel the flesh from your skulls and eat it.”

At that precise moment, a human face barely sticking to a metal exoskeleton impacts with Atrocitus’ force-field; it’s Metallo, thrown by Superman. “I wouldn’t start with that one,” Flash says. “I’m pretty sure it’s artificial. I’m sure it would do lousy things to whatever your equivalent of a colon is.”

“Fast-men, stress his shield,” Batman says. Superman and Flash run circles around Atrocitus, pummeling his force-field. “Diana, put the squeeze on him.” She lassos his field and tightens it.

“Lantern, let John in; make sure he can’t surprise us.” We zoom in. Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern are, in effect, standing on the sheath of energy around Atrocitus’ body (the one that’s inside his larger force-field bubble). They see armies of red energy monsters form and unform.

John explains that, “The rings anticipate you; they try to be prepared for whatever you might need. I have connected you, so that whatever he attempts you will counter, automatically.” Another army rises, but this time, they’re joined in battle by a tiny green one.

“Cyborg,” Batman says. “I need the opposite of what you did before- a frequency that will cancel his field. I need a hole.”

“Then call me Dr. Stone,” Vic says, before adding, “kidding, ‘Doctor Stone’ is my father.” He blasts the field, slicing a hole in it.

“Shuck him like an oyster,” Batman commands. He manages to get a batarang in the hole, and pulls, himself, as the others grab on the hole in the field and pull. Atrocitus tries to create a red energy tentacle, but it’s caught by a green glove, he creates a battery of missiles, only for a green ramp to aim the missiles directly into his own face.

“John? I’m pretty sure he’s not fire on the inside,” Batman says.

John smiles. “You terrible, clever man.”

John oozes through the hole into the force-field, then phases past the energy sheath around his body, poring into his mouth and disappearing. “Would you like to do the honors?” John asks in Batman’s head, as Atrocitus’ sheath dissipates.

“John knows everything about your species that you or the Green Lanterns do. Like where to put pressure to bisect your spinal cord.” Atrocitus’ legs go limp, and he crashes onto his stomach. “Drop the ring, and yield, and it stops. Or John and I start getting creative.”

“Bastards,” Atrocitus yelps, peeling off the ring.

“Lantern?” Batman asks.

Hal picks up the ring in a green energy box, and his ring tells them it’s an authentic ring, that Atrocitus is unarmed. “You can come back out, John.” Manhunter phases out of Atrocitus, which lets him leave all of his bodily fluids where they had been.

“I thought he smelled bad on the outside,” John says. “Is that a reference humans still make? I’m… making a list.”

Quinn arrives with the Squad Members, and Waller in tow. Waller has a boomerang sticking out of her forearm. “Tell them what you told me, B-man,” Harley says.

“I can disarm the bombs in their necks, Waller. But you’re going to let them go.”

“Really?” Waller asks, shoulder-checking Harley as she steps to the front of the group. “From where I’m standing you’re holding an exceedingly weak hand. I know who all of you are, under the masks. Two of you are aliens. Two others aren’t human. One is in thrall to an alien military force, another a threat to modern society, and the other a threat to the very fabric of reality. This is one fight you can’t win, B-man.” She leans on the “B” in a way to make clear she considered calling him “Bruce.”

“That’s your problem. You don’t realize you’ve already lost.” Batman has footage from her control room, played holographically. Harley breaks in. Waller is nearer to the door, and tries to slow her down.

“Her bomb is disabled,” Waller barks. “She stops, or we start blowing the other Task Force members.”

“I’m not killing random people for you, Amanda,” Flag says, stepping away from the control panel.

She hits Harley with her gun, and pushes past him, “Then I’ll do it.”

Boomerang hits her with a boomerang in the arm (the one still embedded in the meat), and Harley punches her in the face. Flag puts up his hands.

The footage cuts to Waller training a gun on Cyborg, shooting Flash, shows Waller ordering Atrocitus to attack them.

“I’ll spell out for you what I have, Waller: it’s an agent of the government weaponizing a criminal army on US soil against citizens, none of whom have been accused of a crime. Worse, two of your targets are diplomatic envoys from sovereign nations. And,” documents flash across the screen, “here are the contracts for the tech you hoped to steal and then have replicated. So door number 1 is the end of your career, and your seedy little Suicide Squad.”

“Then what’s the carrot?”

“You live to fight another day. But your indentured army goes free. And so do we. An end to hostilities against anyone in this room. You still get to operate in the shadows, you just stop using us as your proving ground. There will be no reprisals- not from any of us, and not from you, or I go public, and the chips fall where they may.”

“You trust them?” she asks of the Squad.

“I trust that they understand their situation. Right now, I’m the lesser of two evils. But I’ll worry about that. This agreement is between you and me. Of course, you can always try to renegotiate with them.” Flag and Harley in particular are staring daggers at her, but Cheetah understands she could have been the one Waller tried to kill despite their agreement.

“Fine.” She shakes his hand. Waller leaves. Flag stays behind.

“You sure I can’t just kill her on her way out?” Cheetah asks.

“No,” Batman says. “But I do have an offer I’d like to make to all of you.”

“I should make sure she doesn’t make a beeline for the control room,” Flash says, zooming away.

We cut to later. “I’m not sure how I feel about you hiring yourself a mercenary army,” Superman says.

“We’ll have plenty to talk about that, though I view it more as an unorthodox rehabilitation program,” Batman says, but holds up his hand. Batman says, “Mask of Zorro,” into a bit of rock wall, and a piece of cave slides away, revealing a number pad. He removes his glove, and taps in a code, his fingerprints providing the biometric portion of the lock. The cave wall slides away, revealing a sleek black train. “All aboard.”

The ride is smooth, and doesn’t last very long, before they arrive in the Batcave. Alfred has prepared a feast for them, and set a table and chairs out for them to eat. “What is all this?” Superman asks. “You said yourself we aren’t a team.”

“No,” Batman says, “but maybe we need to be. Waller isn’t going away. I’ve known her kind. She may not be this brazen again, but she isn’t done testing us. And she’s far from the worst threat waiting in the wings. I haven’t changed my mind- not completely; I’m not ready to build a hall of justice and schedule regular meetings of our justice…”

“Family,” Superman suggests.

“Corps,” Green Lantern tries.

“Titans,” Cyborg adds.

“Legion?” Wonder Woman says.

“League?” Aquaman offers.

“Avengers?” Flash asks.

“I’m regretting this already,” Batman says. “But for tonight, we endured. For tonight, I need to say,” he removes his mask, “thank you for coming.” He can’t quite bring himself to admit that they came to his rescue, that they saved him, but they did, and they all understand- and understand that each and every one of them would have done the same for them, but also for anyone. That whether or not they say it tonight, they have built something, something that will endure.

We roll credits.

Mid-credits scene: “There’s a bloody morals clause?” Boomerang asks.

“And a death waiver,” Harley adds.

“It’s a liability waiver,” Flag says. “Death, dismemberment, other injury. Benefits are generous; life insurance if we’re killed, full disability insurance if we’re injured on the job. The morals clause just says we punch who we’re supposed to; looks to be modeled on a military code of conduct.”

“It was,” Batman says, walking into their midst. “But like I said, you don’t want to sign, you’re free to walk. You stay, you work for me. I put a team of high-priced lawyers on any prior issues you’ve had, and compensate you handsomely for your time and talents. Unlike Waller, I don’t view any loss of life as acceptable- especially my people’s lives.”

“How handsomely?” Quinn flips to a different page for Boomerang.



Boomerang scoffs. “I got that much in a single day from hitting Central City Bank.”

“And how much of it did you get to keep?” Batman asks. “Scratch that. How deep in the hole were you, between boomerangs and dental work after Flash was done with you? 10 thousand? More?” He pivots away from Boomerang, who is a little pissed, but Harley puts her hand on his arm and he chills. “There are also bonuses. I anticipate us hitting criminal enterprises. Drugs and weapons we destroy, but we keep cash or anything else. Fifty percent goes towards operating costs- with the hope of reaching sustainability- the rest is yours to split evenly. So that figure is guaranteed base pay; you step on a landmine two steps into your first mission and lose a foot, you get that to live on- maybe more, if the rest of the team keeps paying out your portion of the bonuses. Oh, and if you stay on, you train.”

A woman with short red hair and military workout gear drops her bags. This is Batwoman, though we aren’t going to see her in costume for a while yet.

More credits, then one final end credits scene. Bruce Wayne is walking Ace on the grounds of Wayne Manor. He bends over to pet the dog’s head as a gust of wind blows, and the dog whimpers. “It’s okay, boy,” he whispers. “What are you doing here?” he asks without turning around.

“There’s someone I thought you needed to meet,” Superman says, before floating aside, revealing his flying dog, Krypto! The dog lands beside Ace, and they smell each other. “And you must be Ace,” Superman puts his hand out, and Ace sniffs it. Ace looks to Bruce for approval. Bruce gives a little nod, and the dog responds happily, and rubs his face into Clark’s hand.

“Krypto, meet Bruce.” Krypto floats in front of him.

“Does he shake?” Bruce asks. Krypto shakes like he was covered in water, and stares at him with a dopey dog smile on his face.

“Told you he was smart. And yes. If you put out your paw, he’ll shake.”

“How smart?” Bruce asks, putting out his hand. Krypto shakes it.

“I don’t have a precise answer; smarter than an Earth dog, not as smart as a human. The sun affects him the same way it has me.”

“Strong as you?” Bruce pulls the dog forward by the paw, and it rolls, flipping him over. He rolls, landing gracefully.

“Proportionally, at least.”

“Hmm,” Bruce says, eyeing the dog. “That might make him, pound for pound, the most dangerous thing on the planet.” Bruce turns back towards Ace. “I hope he’s a good boy.”

“You said the magic word,” Clark says, as Bruce is mauled by Krypto’s tongue, giving him dozens of slightly too-fast face licks. “Who’s a good boy?” Clark asks, and Krypto flies to him next.

“I think that depends on what you value,” Bruce says, snapping, and Ace sits at attention. Bruce gives him a treat. An instant later Krypto is sitting next to Ace, sitting just as behaved and attentive. “Touche,” he says, and tosses Krypto a treat of his own.

“Wait,” Superman says, “what’s he got in his mouth?” Ace is holding a small plush of an impish figure in an ill-fitting Batman costume.

“Damnit,” Batman says. “That’s his Bat-Mite.”


“Alfred found it on a trip to India. As far as we can tell, the name is a corruption. One of the meanings of ‘man’ is ‘value,’ which can translate to “mite” in Urdu. I’m not sure how he keeps finding the damn thing; I keep hiding it.”

Ace holds it out, and Krypto sniffs it, before licking the doll’s face. We don’t see it, and neither do our heroes, but Krypto notices the imp wink at him, and tilts his head in that confused way dogs do.


Unsuck Heroes: Martian Manhunter

Unsuck Heroes is a series about making characters who suck not suck, as explained here:

I’ve always liked the Martian Manhunter. Superman is what happens with an extrovert starting over blissfully unaware he’s the last of his kind; Manhunter is an introvert who witnessed his people’s last gasp and knows what he lost. He’s an empath whose whole existence has been a trauma, but he’s still trying to make the world better… even as he struggles to truly be a part of it. But I’m also not making the argument that he doesn’t suck. He does, most of the time, despite all of this potential.

1) Calling him the ‘Martian Manhunter’ makes as much sense as calling Superman the ‘Kryptonian Plumber.’ Sure, he’s probably fixed a toilet or two in his day, but that’s… really not what he does. So we fix that by making John… a manhunter by trade. At one point, the Oan Manhunters reached as far as Mars. While the Manhunters were marginally in charge of the sector, the Oans had discovered they lacked social graces, and sometimes partnering with locals meant that they could more easily handle cases requiring nuance and tact. Depending on the timeline, John can either be one of these who partnered with the Manhunters, or just someone brought up in the same traditions- that all sort of hinges on how old you want your Green Lantern Corps. to be. John was on one of these manhunting missions off-world, on Earth, actually, when the Martian cataclysm occurred. He returned, to try to help, but was powerless to stop it, and forced to watch his family’s demise. He tracked the origins of the cataclysm back to Earth, where an unethical scientist accidentally created the psychic virus that killed every other Martian. John wonders if he’s immune, which brings the horrifying realization that he might have been the carrier that transmitted the virus home.

2) Because he’s a second-stringer, he’s always being sidelined for Superman. But some of this inevitably comes from the fact that he’s been a second-stringer, and therefore never got his own rogues, which leads to a spiral- no archnemesis of note means no starring role and down and down we go. This is helped by the backstory in 1. That unethical scientist is a Luthor type. But unlike Lex, having his own resources to fall back on, he’s a con man- smart enough to fleece people to fund his research, and then disappear before the check comes due. This also makes it necessary for John to hunt for him- especially since his first invention upon meeting John was a helmet that shields him from John’s telepathy.

3) Fire bad. Okay… this one’s going to be a bumpy ride. Because the thing is, the one thing guaranteed to be at literally every superhero fight, is fire. He might as well be vulnerable to oxygen. But… I have a solve- courtesy of Batman. Wayne was working on new heat-absorbing panels for a next-gen shuttle; they’re meant to function like scale armor, or a phalanx’s shields, interlocking in such a way to minimize heat leakage between them. John essentially carries some of these in his body at all times, and can assemble them in such a way that he can make himself somewhat fireproof; he can’t phase them, and holding them in place would essentially require all his shapeshifting concentration, so they would greatly reduce his ability to move or pass through matter, but it means that he can at least withstand some fire temporarily. It’s not a complete fix… but honestly, I wouldn’t want one. John’s already the Superman problem times 20- he has a superpower for literally every situation and only the one, largely silly vulnerability. We have to give the villains at least a little bit of a chance.

4) Personality-wise, though… John sucks. This is honestly probably where he sucks the absolute most. Because his entire character is essentially locked in as a perpetual outsider. It’s lazy, and worse, nonsensical. He’s a telepath, skilled at manhunting, which involves at least some ability to blend into a native population. Sure, at some core level, he’d struggle as one of the last Martians. But he can read minds, he’s empathic even when he’s being portrayed as cold. I think this calls for a whole arc, frankly. John starts pissed at being alone, the last of his kind. He hunts down the scientist responsible for his specie’s near-extinction… but along the way realizes how many people are just as vulnerable and deserving of care and protection as his family. John goes from wanting to burn the world and the entire species responsible for his loss, to wanting to hold the scientist responsible according to the Earth’s laws, while working to help humanity embrace its better nature, and his own.

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.


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,


* * *

“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.


“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.”

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.”


“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?”


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:


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.


“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.


“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.”


“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.”


“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.