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.

Whores 1.5 Chapter 2

.02 Lisa

“Fair,” Jezebel said. “We’ve got three main objectives, and I’d propose 3 teams, 4 if we’re being cautious. We need to notify the clinic; they’ll need to shut down and relocate. That’s… probably the most dangerous leg- because they’re the most likely compromised. And it’s my mess, so I’m taking it.”

“You’re not compromising security on all your operatives just because you helped this one shit the bed,” Anna said sternly. “You’re non-operational, and that’s non-negotiable. Volunteers for the extra dangerous leg?” She fixed Mae with a stare. “Priority goes to the newest girls- the less you know, the less you can give up under interrogation.”

“You ever heard you get more flies with honey than with shit?” Mae asked.


“I’ll do it,” Lisa said.

“That’s my girl,” Mae said, and slapped her too hard on the back, doubling her over.

“Stop marking territory,” Anna said.

“Nothing like that,” Mae said. “I could be so lucky.”

Lisa could barely focus through the rest of the briefing, because she was filled with nervous energy. She was eager to prove she belonged, and at the same time, horrified at the prospect of proving that she didn’t. She lingered, even as others started to filter away, and was scarcely aware of Anna’s approach until she said, “She’s a big personality, Mae.”

“I know, she’s like two of me broad.”

“You know what I mean. She loves big. Enjoys life big. But sometimes she’s got a big mouth, and I don’t want it to be making you uncomfortable. I can talk to her…”

“Oh,” Lisa said with a light laugh, “nothing like that. She’s a big goofball. And I get the sense that she’s probably intensely sexual, but there’s no pressure. First boyfriend I had in high school made me feel the exact same way. He told me the first time we made out that he didn’t want anything that wasn’t on offer, and he meant it. He was probably more faithful to my boundaries than I was.”

“And you’re sure he wasn’t just… interested in a different sort of person?”

“I wondered. And then… all I will say, because I am a lady, is I know for a fact he was just very respectful. I don’t know, I guess I just feel safe with her.”

“Okay. But if that ever changes; I know we’re not a conventional workplace in any sense of the word-”

“Including because we don’t get paid.”

“Including that, yes,” Anna said with a smile. “But unconventional though our workplace is, I don’t want it to be a hostile.”

“Maybe don’t glare so much,” Lisa offered.

“Yeah. I walked right into that. And you’re not wrong. I feel… responsible, for all of it. All of you. And I don’t trust Jezebel.”

“You don’t trust her?” Lisa asked.

“Not like that. I mean her judgment. BH, she’s done a lot of favors for us over the years. And she always took risks. And on one level, I love her for it. On another… well, days like today happen. But what I mean, is… I don’t know what she knows. Understand? Her being compromised… it could expose hundreds of people who worked with us, helped us, turned a blind eye- just in the city and the suburbs, and each one of those… put it this way, if any one of the nurses or doctors who’ve performed care just in our clinic alone were swooped up by the police, they could, potentially, implicate hundreds of women across multiple states. I’m terrified of how many people get hurt if those dominos start falling. I don’t even know if Jez knows what this could mean… and maybe that’s on me. Maybe I compartmentalized too much.”

“We can’t do that right now,” Lisa said. “Right now, we have to try to mitigate the damage. We focus on that. Because if we’re caught flat-footed navel-gazing…”

“Yeah,” Anna said. “I know better. Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Lisa said. “If I’ve learned one thing being here, it’s that no one can be strong all that time- and no one should try to be. We have to be strong for each other, because, we all need moments to exhale. I still… Clint’s an ache,” she clasped her hands to her chest. “He was the first man I felt safe with after what happened.”

“I know. And… I don’t judge him too harshly. I ask what would happen to any of us. If the cops picked me and Ellen up, and they threatened her… it’s hard to do the right thing when it’s going to cost the people you care the most about. Or maybe it’s that I knew him a while. He helped a lot of us. What he did after, the way he died… that was the real Clint. What he did before- that’s what happens when you terrify someone enough to do something they normally know better than to do.”

“Shoot. We’re right back to maudlin navel-gazing,” Lisa said with a laugh that came out part sniffle.

“We’ve been through a lot; we’ve still got a lot to process.”

“But no time to do it,” Lisa said. “I’m your ride.”

Lisa followed her out to her car, a faded red and sporty without feeling out of place for Anna. She waited until they were both buckled inside the car. “I thought Jezebel had too much operational knowledge for field work.”

Anna started the car, and pulled out of the driveway, and onto one of the forest roads surrounding the property. They’d chosen the location because it was remote enough to provide some safety, and also some advanced warning in the event that the authorities were closing in.

“I just picked up a hitchhiker,” Anna said, flipping her blonde hair self-consciously, her voice at least two octaves higher, and almost flirty. “I’d never seen her before in my life, but she wouldn’t shut up about how sacred the lives of babies are, She sounded like she either was on her way home from church or her way to an abortion clinic to burn it down- either way, she felt like a kindred spirit.”

The persona melted away, and Anna’s usual demeanor returned, though with a self-satisfied smirk. “My point is I’m faster on my feet. And I will be shocked, and maybe even a little disappointed, if she doesn’t find some way to provide logistical support at least. But don’t worry about me. You’re going to walk in, and tell the woman behind the counter that you ‘Want to buy a box of frosted cupcakes.’ It doesn’t honestly matter how they respond. You’ll tell them, “Orange.” If there’s an organic way, at that point, to leave, by all means do so. Otherwise, act confused and stumble away. Anyone asks, you thought they were a convenience store. Got that?”

“Yeah. Any particular reason that’s the code phrase?”

“Apparently they were BH’s favorite treat, before she had to quit them- troublesome blood sugar. She likes to keep her vices alive in her code phrases. Just be glad it isn’t Friday.”

“Why, what happens Friday?”

“She’ll tell you when we get her back home safe.”

Lisa hadn’t noticed the trees receding, and suburbs creeping back in, but Anna paused the car at the curb. The building was a single story, with a long walkway that took up half the block, and a large, well-manicured lawn cut in half by a paved walkway.

“I’ll circle the block,” Anna said. “See any police, act turned around and walk away, otherwise pass the message, and I’ll stop for you the minute it’s safe. If for whatever reason I can’t, hope the F bus. Now get out. We’re drawing attention.”

Lisa got out of the car and froze. Her body felt new and strange; it took a moment to remember how to make her legs move in a way that didn’t draw extra attention to her. The distance to the clinic seemed unending, that paradoxically it got further from her with her every awkward step.

She saw what was perhaps movement inside, a dark head move behind the kind of posters she recognized from Crisis Centers. Were the police there already? Was she about to be taken into custody all over again?

She was so preoccupied she didn’t hear the man’s approach until she felt his shoulder in her ribs. The slur he yelled before tackling her into the grass seemed to hang in the air, echoing still. He was on top of her, raising a fist, and Lisa curled into a ball, waiting for the blow to fall.

(to be continued…)

Whores 1.5 Chapter 1

Look… the last day and the next few are going to be rough. I can’t help that. But I’m going to try and provide a little catharsis, by doing literary violence. Updates (which I’m going to call ‘chapters’ so I can be more pretentious) are going to be daily as long as they can be given the other obligations I have. I will keep at it as much as I can and as long as I can, and I will finish this story. And I will never stop being angry that I have to write Whores 2- and neither should any of you. (This story, by the way, takes place directly after the first Whores, the semi-apocalyptic novel where birth control and abortion aren’t just illegal, but are often met with an extrajudicial death sentence- but I’ll try and keep it as new-reader friendly as I can).

.01 Black Hoe Down

“Jez,” Anna said, rubbing her temple, “I’m in no mood, and it wouldn’t be funny even if I remembered how to have a sense of humor after the last few days.” Losing Clint would have been bad enough on its own, but they lost him and Jeanine to betrayal, first. And Ofelia was already on her way North; her injuries made her too recognizable for the kind of underground work they did. And poor, sweet Maria…

They had barely settled into their new location. Mae insisted on calling it their hideout, in a voice like a cartoon gangster. But it was impossible for it to feel like home, and Anna worried no place ever would again, after their last shelter was raided so violently by the police.

“It’s not a joke,” the woman most of them knew only as Jezebel said. “I meant what I said: Black Hoe down.”

“What’s a Black hoedown?” Lisa asked. “Is that like a southern thing?”

Jezebel smiled at her, because she was once the new girl, too. “There’s a sex worker who freelances for us. Her job lets her travel locally without too much scrutiny- the cops care about girls working the corner, but when there’s a chance you’ll catch a councilman in a hotel… your incentives start pointing in the other direction. She’s used that blind eye to smuggle our kinds of contraband- mostly birth control and supplies to run an underground abortion clinic. Nothing like what we have, here, but it’s a smaller town- something like we run,” she stopped herself and winced, “ran, it would get found out in a second.”

“Black Hoe down,” Anna groaned. “I knew letting people choose their own callsigns was a mistake; a callsign should not include any identifying information, let alone race and occupation.”

“The price of freedom is sometimes dealing with other people’s sense of humor,” Mae shrugged her broad shoulders.  

“Don’t you have someplace else to be?” Anna asked, glaring. Mae held up her finger to signal needing a moment, and the timer on the microwave dinged.

Mae opened the microwave, removed a plate, and took a comedically large bite of burrito. “Sowwy, buweego.”

“How was she compromised?” Anna asked.

“No specifics, yet. But a sympathetic deputy passed the information to me, and it doesn’t sound like we’ve got a lot of time to act.”

“Do we know if she made her drop?”

“I don’t even have contact information for the pop-up clinic she was supplying. Compartmentalization- her idea.”

“You tell her she’s been made?”

“Can’t. She operates in the cold. She always said that there was too much risk doing what she did of getting found out, so carrying anything that could trace back to us wasn’t an option.”

“And I’m hearing about this now because…”

“Because she’s a stubborn bitty and you weren’t going to convince her. I chose to accept the risk our asset herself proposed.”

“And do you now understand why it wasn’t your risk to accept?” Anna asked, raising her voice enough that the other women in the home poked their heads in from all corners. Jezebel’s eyes tightened into a glare. “Then I will spell it out for all of you: you aren’t in this alone. If you get in trouble, the rest of us here will move Heaven and Earth to help you. You’re never just risking yourself. So no cowboy bullshit.” Jezebel sighed. Anna softened, from her eyes to her jaw, and it echoed in her voice. “I’m not doing this for the sake of meanness. We live and die through our fidelity to one another. And sometimes, yes, we have to compartmentalize, and keep things from one another. But it’s to keep each other safe- not to sneak one over. So what do we know?”

“We have rotating contingencies in place: dead drops, bolt holes, and an extraction point in the event it becomes necessary.”

“So all we have to go on is your love of spycraft?”

“She’ll check the drops before delivery. If she’s told, she’ll go to our bolt hole, and if she’s found out, she’ll proceed to the extraction point.”

“Okay. Do you have an extraction plan?”

“I… have some thoughts.”

“But let me guess, you’re being cagey because you’re not sure how many bodies I’ll give you- and you don’t want to sell your plan short- because a full-court press is more likely to work than an anemic response- but you also don’t want to be so greedy with it I take over. Okay. Everybody listen up. We’re riding to the rescue, only it’s possible we’re riding straight in an ambush. So I’m not asking anyone to come along. Strictly volunteers. But I know from experience we’ll reenact whole scenes from The Fellowship of the Rings if I let you, and time is of the essence. Anyone not interested, whether it’s because you’ve got a tummy ache or a dentist’s appointment or just because you really don’t want to die on a Tuesday, leave the room. No one’s going to look at you sideways, because I will kick them sideways if they do. I mean it. No one makes life or death choices for other people- and that includes any bullshit peer pressure.”

The room was quiet, for a moment, before a creak echoed through, and all eyes turned in the direction of Mae, who was standing still. “Sorry, burrito.”

Anna’s eye twitched, before she continued. “Some of you need to learn to be more selfish; someone has to survive after the idealists get themselves all killed.”

“Would you ever leave the room?” Lisa asked.

 “Fine. Everyone’s in. But that doesn’t mean this turns into an episode of the Little Rascals. You can have anyone you’ve got a compelling reason to use. But everybody you add is another person who can get caught- and one of us gets caught we’re all at much greater risk…”

(to be continued…)

(I hope you read those dots like I do, as a dramatic sting, “Dun dun dun!”)


Family things have prevented me from keeping up with writing obligations, let alone trying to publish anything to the blog. I’m hoping I can start back up next week, and keep up; I’m cautiously optimistic the family pressures are alleviating.

In the meantime, go watch Encanto. I tear up every time Luisa’s song comes on.

Update: More strife, unfortunately. So it’ll be another week. I’m going to try and make some headway this weekend. In the meantime, be safe out there.

Pitchmas 2021, Part 4: Spider-Women: Edge of the Spider-Verse

The Deal: I pitch movies set in the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. Also other things. This pitch isn’t a direct sequel, but Miles did get his abilities in Sinister Seven.

I think we open on Miles Morales for a prologue. He’s listening to music, walking to school; he attends the same school as Peter Parker did. He walks by an alley, and we see, in shadow, a hulking figure. He’s bearded, and looks disheveled enough he passes as homeless, for the moment. Miles glances back at him, experiencing his very first Spider-Sense. He rubs his temple, and gets some painkiller out of his backpack, and continues walking. There’s another alley. This time, the figure is there before Miles, waiting. Just as Miles is about to cross the threshold of the alley, he’s snatched up by Ghost Spider, sometimes called Spider-Gwen or Spider-Woman. She swings him to a nearby rooftop. Miles is surprised, but trying to play it cool. “So you got the powers, and nobody thought to get you some webshooters, a costume, maybe a little self-defense training?” she asks him.

“I’ve been working on my costume,” Miles says a little sullenly. He might just pull out his sketchbook.

“Yeah, no offense intended, kid. Your Spider-Man should have handled this. Spider-Woman? Whatever it is you’ve got here.”

“Actually,” Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, in the red and yellow, lands beside her, “we though it best to leave Miles alone. Let him have a chance at a normal life. And we keep an eye on him.”

“Shoot, was it your day?” Julia Carpenter swings in, in the black and white Spider-Woman costume, landing besides Jess.

“I was in the neighborhood,” Jess says. “And the arrangement’s still new. Especially when I couldn’t raise Spider-Man…”

“He’s still missing?” Silk asks, landing beside Jess. “That’s worrying.”

“Is that everybody?” Ghost Spider asks.

“Unless Arachne’s cutting class again,” Julia says, and they wait a moment, before deciding she isn’t coming after all.

“Wonderful. This actually saves time. I’m Gwen Stacy. But not your Gwen Stacy.” She takes off her mask. Now, for my money, I’d say it’s worth springing for Emma Stone, and really, she deserves it after troopering through the two Amazing movies. “I’m here, from an alternate dimension, because anyone with Spider-related powers is being hunted, and across universes Miles is a pretty prime target. He rarely has the kind of experience under his belt that would let him survive the attack- and I’ve seen seasoned Peter Parkers fall to the Inheritors. Ones with symbiotes, ones in Iron Man armor. I cried the day they killed Spider-Thor, because, if even he was vulnerable…

“But we’re spiders. We live to fight another day. So first things first, anyone who you know or think has powers that fit, you should bring. Lady Spider’s developed, well, these things,” she rolls up her sleeve to reveal a big, chunky bit of steam punk wrist tech. “The inheritors are… bloodhounds. They can smell us. This messes with their ability to track us. Not terribly fashionable, but it goes better with my outfit than a big bloody hole through the chest.”

“No,” Spider-Woman says. “I’ll go with you. They take Mile someplace safe. If you seem on the level, we’ll meet back up. If you’re not, I’ve only put my head in the snare.”

“We don’t have time to pussy-foot around.”

“Lady, I don’t know you from Eve, and I get traps instead of breakfast every morning, so we’re doing it my way. But if you’re so concerned, give them your little cloaking doohickey.”

“It will only hide one of them.”

“Or only let your people track one of them. Volunteer?” Julia puts up her hand, and Ghost Spider tosses her the device. “You get any static, and you split off. Lead whoever it is away from Silk and Miles, then ditch the doodad.”

The others swing off, with Miles hanging off of Silk’s neck. Ghost Spider asks about her origins, that she’s very take-charge, military? “SHIELD, back in the day. I volunteered for an experiment. They told me it was a vitamin supplement; apparently it was the blood of some kid vigilante in New York.”


“That’s always been my guess. I thought, since the experiment was being run by my parents, I could trust them, but they also didn’t tell me they were secretly working for Hydra all along. Hydra used them; threatened to expose them as double-agents if I didn’t join them. Some of the time, I could not tell you where my true loyalties were. As a result, I was always playing everyone, and the only person whose side I knew I was on was my own. I got exceptionally good at reading liars, and if you lie to me, even once, I’ll snap your neck just like ‘my’ Gwen and drop you off a bridge.” (Note: So far as I know, MCU Gwen is alive and well…. But I love this line enough I’m leaving it in anyway, even if it would need to be changed- though I suppose it’s possible this Jess is from an alternate world).

Ghost Spider and Spider-Woman head back to the her base. Jess meets Lady Spider, a steam-punk Spider-Woman who is nearly as technophilic as Tony Stark. She gives Gwen another cloak; Spider-Woman declines the one offered to her, and wants more information.

Gwen tells her story. She was bit by the Spider, Peter continued working with Dr. Connors, in part trying to save her from DNA that he was worried would kill Gwen. An Inheritor shows, Morlun. Peter’s experiments have turned him into the Lizard, and he stands between Morlun and Gwen; Morlun goes through him. Morlun is making short work of Gwen when Lady Spider shows, giving Gwen a cloak that also acts as a transporter, and they’re able to escape.

Meanwhile, an Inheritor attacks the three other Spider-People, knocking Miles off of Silk’s back. Julia swings away, trying to lead him off. We follow her, and a moment later hear “Julia,” forcefully in her mind. It startles her enough she bobbles her swing.

“Madame Web what-”

“There’s no time, child. You must return to Silk, or he’ll consume them both.”


“No time!” Web says more forcefully, and Julia turns, and is surprised not to see Morlun chasing her.

“Where the hell?”

Morlun made a bee-line for Miles. Silk swings into him, and he backhands her into a dumpster, and lifts Miles up. “I do so love the flavor of young spiders,” Morlun says, “before their first swing under their own steam- like a veal calf.”  

Julia returns, surprising Morlun (who is largely blind to her presence unless she’s in his sight-line), swinging into him, smashing him painfully into a brick wall; the force spider-webs the wall. Julia helps Silk and Miles to their feet, and they square towards Morlun, who is already struggling to his feet. “We can take him together,” Julia says.

“No,” Madame Web says forcefully, her likeness flashing in the sky behind them, and they all react, all of them hearing her this time, “you cannot. Flee, or you will surely perish.”

Julia throws a glowing purple psychic net around Morlun, and Cindy sprays him with web fluid, then they run.

Back at the Lady Spider’s lair, Madame Web emerges. She is an older, white-haired woman, with a cloth across her eyes. She looks pretty much like Aunt May from the comics; I’d probably go so far as to make her an alternate dimension Aunt May, one where Peter gave her a transplant to save her after an attack, which attuned her to the web and the weaver. “What do you know of totems?” she asks.

Spider-Woman is defiant; she’s had a lifetime of people manipulating her, and scaring her, and she doesn’t move easily. “Wooden. Kind of creepy. Tend to congregate in poles.”

“Save your venom for our foes, Jessica,” Web says.

“Just who the hell are you?” Jess asks, taken aback by the reveal of her identity.

“Madame Web,” Julia says from the door.

“Julia,” Web’s tone softens. “I’m so heartened that you’re safe.”

“We’re hardly safe,” Silk says, winded. “That monster was hot on our trail.”

Web cocks her head. “He will not attack here- not yet. He will need time to heal his injuries- though that will provide but a moment’s reprieve.”

“Another lair bites the dust,” Gwen says. “I’ll start packing the essentials.”

“Wait,” Web interrupts. “Morlun knows where we are. But does that make this his trap, or ours?”

“Are they prepared for the fight that’s coming?” Lady Spider asks.

“They will have no choice but to…” Web stops, “wait. Where’s Mattie?”

“Mattie?” Miles asks.

“Mattie Franklin,” Web says. “Arachne.”

“Does everyone but me have a name and a costume?”

“Madame Web’s wearing more robes than a costume,” Julia offers.

“They’re comfy,” Web says. “You can’t expect a woman my age to flit about in drafty spandex.”

“Hey!” Jess snaps her finger, “what about Maddie?”

“Morlun knows of her. She’s in danger.”

We cut to a classroom. We’re going to hover over a young girl who’s about the right age, even though, subtly, there’s an empty seat.

Morlun smashes his way inside, caving in a window and the wall surrounding it. He picks up the teacher and screams, “Where is Franklin!” Timidly, a young boy’s hand goes up, shaking more the higher he raises it in the air. “Martha Franklin!” Morlun yells.

“Mattie’s home sick with a chest cold. She sounded awful in her message. I emailed her work so she could keep up.”

Morlun looks at him like he’s the true monster (because seriously, if we don’t lean into at least a little comedy, here, this Spider-Verse stuff can get real dark). “You sent work to a sick child?” Morlun disdainfully flings the teacher and we cut to the Spider-Women swinging through the city. They’re all wearing the cloaking devices.

“You’re sure we didn’t just voluntarily strap bombs to ourselves?” Jess asks.

“I don’t know what it does,” Julia says, “but it seemed to make it harder for Morlun to know I was there. And I trust Web.”

“I don’t. And I trust you less for keeping her from me.”

“She’s not picking up,” Cindy says. “Which could mean she’s in class. Or the bathroom. Or ditching. Or talking to a boy. Or patrolling.”

“I thought we were going to slip a tracker into her costume,” Julia says.

“We have. She keeps finding them, and taping them to pigeons.”

Gwen chortles, and they all land on a rooftop together, where they stare at her. “Okay, I get why right now it’s not that funny… but it is pretty funny.”  

“This isn’t getting us anywhere,” Jess says, punching a wall. “Our only advantage right now is that there are more of us than there are of him.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen that movie,” Silk says. “As soon as we split up, the slutty one dies first- sorry, Jess.”

“Feels a little pot calling the kettle black,” Spider-Woman says.

“She’s not wrong,” Lady Spider communicates with them over their cloaking devices. “Franklin could be anywhere inside a triangle from her home, to her school, to your meeting place.” A hologram projects a map of part of the city, along with a triangle. “From there, I’ve mapped likely patrol routes, factoring in her height, vantage points, securing webbing anchors. If you split into two teams, you can maximize the chances of finding Mattie before Morlun, without spreading our forces so thin he can isolate and overwhelm us.”

“I’m going with Ghost Spider,” Spider-Woman says. “I still don’t trust these people. You two watch each other’s backs.”

Madame Web finally gets to have her Totem talk; depending on whether the telepathy FX are more jarring or the communicator ones, she’ll use the less obtrusive method of communication. “What do any of you know of totems?”

“Animals that are symbols of great power?” Julia offers.

“And responsibility?” Silk asks.

“Precisely. Totems are… animal heroes, similar in concept to the demigods of Greece. Have you ever wondered why so many of Spider-Man’s foes are animalistic? Rhino. Vulture. Lizard. Octopus. Rabbit. Armadillo. Gibbon. The Spider-Totem, which all of you are connected to, is the most important, because they are connected to the web between realities- the same web we traversed to your world, and the same web the Inheritors use to stalk their prey.”

“And let me take a wild stab,” Jess says, “that Spider-Totems are their prey.”

“Indeed. Their name they chose because they view themselves as the Inheritors of all things, conquerors on a scale that would make Alexander look like Wilson Fisk and his petty empire. They consume all totems, but they hunt us for sport, because of a prophecy, that the spiders would be their undoing. 

“Great,” Jess responds. “So how do we stop them?”

“The prophecy… was incomplete. It speaks of a Scion, a Bride, and an Other. It would seem they hail from your world- which is why the Inheritors have, until now, refused to come here. They assumed that unless disturbed, your world would remain oblivious of the Web, until your Spider-Man stumbled across it.”

“You’re saying Spider-Man found it?” Jess said. “Did something happen to him?”

“I believe he crossed the Web into another world, at once garnering the Inheritor’s attention, and showing them that your world was less guarded than it had ever been- and might ever be again.”

“So you’re saying you didn’t bring Morlun down on us, you followed him here?”

“Yes,” Lady Spider cuts in. “My tech is crude, but it was able to detect Morlun’s arrival on your world. The prophecy has been the only thing holding the Inheritors back; it made the Inheritors cautious, deliberate. They’ve culled tens of thousands of Spider-Totems across realities; I shudder to imagine what they would do unhindered.”

We cut to a rooftop, hanging off from a slightly peculiar angle. Below, we see Mattie Franklin, Arachne, swing by. Three seconds later, Morlun bounds after her, closing the distance.

Subtly, there is a webbed foot in the foreground (I want this so subtle most people don’t see it on first viewing). We cut in close, Mattie swinging by, as she’s tackled mid-air by Morlun. She uses his momentum against him, rolling him over her body and flinging him into a wall as she lands gracefully on a fire escape.

Morlun leaps at her, faster than she expected, and they crash together down into a rooftop with him on top of her. The impact is brutal enough she coughs blood, which Morlun wipes from her lip and tastes. “The blood of young spiders is always so invigorating.” We start to hear a car alarm going off; it’s distant enough it sounds like it must be on the street, at first, but it’s getting louder, until an entire damn taxi cab bounces into Morlun, smashing him into a water tower. Spider-Girl lands gracefully behind it, and grabs up Mattie and swings off. This Spider-Girl, for the uninitiated, wears a costume very similar to Peter’s, but obviously, tailored to a lady. 

“Since when does Spider-Man have boobs?” Mattie asks.

“Since he got old and flabby. But I’m Spider-Girl- Mayday Parker. His daughter. From the future.”


“Now Mattie, I’m going to throw you as hard as I can; Uncle Wolverine called it a fastball special.”


“You’ll love him when you meet him; everyone loves Logan, he’s an angry little teddy bear. But when I throw you? Swing away, okay? My friends will be here any minute, and we’ll take care of Morlun; we  know how to deal with him, and I don’t want you getting hurt.”

Spider-Girl throws her, before swinging back towards the roof where she left Morlun. “Where the?” her line is cut off as he attacks her from behind. He’s fast, brutal. She fights like a Spider-Person, but he’s personally killed hundreds of them. She’s outmatched, and the fight doesn’t last long. He pins her against a wall, his arm across her throat as he leans into her (personally, I’d remove the ‘psychic’ part of their vampirism and just make them drink blood, but whatever the mechanism, he’s leaning in for the kill, when he’s kicked from behind, and when his head hits the wall it’s webbed in place. Spider-Girl collapses to the ground. Morlun reaches up to tear through the webbing, only for that hand to get webbed to the back of his head, then the other when he reaches up to tear through that webbing.

“Not the sharpest tool in the belt, is he?” Arachne asks. Spider-Girl, wheezing, peels back her mask enough for blood to dribble out of her mouth. “Gross.” Arachne is shaken, but trying to keep up the Spider-patter, because it’s always worked for Peter, and she’s trying to be strong. “Your friends are right around the corner, May? Come on. We’re all heroes, here; don’t expect me not to recognize a heroic sacrifice when I see one.”

Morlun screams, tearing the chunk of wall he was webbed to away, shredding through the webbing in the process. “Two for the price of one? I’m starting to feel like a glutton.”

“Actually,” Ghost Spider lands beside Mattie, “her friends were right around the corner.”

Spider-Woman, Silk and Julia Carpenter all land with them, “And so were yours,” one of them says.

The Spider-Women wail on Morlun for a bit; it’s still a brutal fight, as he’s able to bloody most of them in the process, as Madame Web helps Spider-Girl slink away to safety. Morlun tries to flee, but is stopped by the arrival of Lady Spider. She prevents him from using his tech to call home, before stabbing him through each limb with her metal arms. He shoves himself towards her, willing to stab himself four times over so long as he can get close. She splays her metal arms, tearing his flesh (I imagine, for the desired rating, this will likely have to be done in silhouette, or perhaps just from reactions shots of whichever Spider person feels the most innocent).

“Damnit,” Gwen says, kicking an air conditioner.

“We needed him alive,” Lady Spider says.

“Why?” Jess asks. She’s not squeamish about a monster killing itself.

“Because the Inheritors have beaten death,” Web says. We cut to their spire on Loomworld, then inside, to row upon row of clones. Most are hidden by mist/fog, but we can make out the row of Morlun clones. “When they die, their consciousness is sent to their clone matrix; if you can capture one alive, you can remove them from the board. But if they die… they are reborn.” One of the clones opens his eyes, as his pod opens up.

“They’ll just keep coming, until we’re all dead,” Spider-Girl says, haunted by her near-death experience.

“Mayday!” Web scolds.

May shakes her head. “Sorry. Got my bell rung harder than it’s ever been.” Web touches her face gingerly.

“It’s understandable to be afraid; only a fool would not be. But we are Spiders, and not so easily cowed.”

Now… depending on runtime, you could end it there, as a lead-in for next year’s Spider-Verse. But I’m just going to assume we’re a little too light, and could use one final action set-piece. Plus, it’s more dramatic to have the Spider-Women, now much the worse for wear, have to take on a refreshed Inheritor- it ups the ante considerably.

I’d probably stick to Morlun’s perspective for this scene. He warps back into our world, and travels to their headquarters, able to smell them. From the neighboring rooftop, he’s able to see, in a red and blue vision that’s almost like thermal, nine red orbs, all connected by a web, and all looking like spiders as a consequence.

Morlun crashes in. He fights brutally, shooting for quick, maximum damage, mowing through the Spider-Women, who go down with just enough fight to be convincing… but only just (think Hulk vs. Thanos at the beginning of Infinity War). Morlun is heaving, but triumphant. But he pauses. He scans around the room. “I felt nine of you.” We can see that there are only eight down, including Madame Web. “But now I only see eight.”

“About that,” Miles says from Morlun’s back, suddenly appearing (Miles, for those of you who don’t know, can become invisible), wearing his home-made black and red costume, and hitting Morlun with the full force of his venom blast in the head.

The Spider-Women start to get up, their worse injuries melting away, to reveal Julia and Madame Web had used their telepathy to convince Morlun he was doing more damage than he actually was. They beat on him, a stream of fists and kicks, more even than he can rally from, culminating in a stream of leaping punches that put him on the ropes, with every single one of them getting in at least one good lick, before Lady Spider says, “Legs.” Spider-Girl and Julia use webbing and psychic webs to bolt his feet to the floor. “Arms.” Two spider-people each grab one of his arms and restrain him, with Lady Spider levering her metal appendages to break Morlun’s arm.

“Tooth,” Web says.

Gwen reaches into his mouth and tears out of one his teeth, before dropping it; it cracks on the floor, spilling liquid out. “You’re not swallowing cyanide this time, asshole.” Even wounded, even with one arm broken, it takes all of them to wrestle him into a metal straight-jacket with a clamp over the mouth.

Once he’s sealed inside, Lady Spider yells, “Clear,” and they all step back. She hits a button on her gauntlet, and a jolt of electricity travels through Morlun. He tries to fall, but his legs are held in place, so he just kind of sags. Lady Spider hits another button, and we zoom in to the collar, where little needles jab into Morlun’s neck. His eyes roll up into his head and he goes limp, starting to fall forward. One of them webs his back, so he doesn’t fall forward; last thing they need is his leg breaking and slicing his femoral artery. They carry him into a modified metal shipping container. It has a drain, and a sprinkler system. Lady Spider hooks him to an umbilical tube. “The clamp will keep him fed, sedated and hydrated; the umbilical keeps it charged and supplied. If I have a free moment, maybe I’ll design similar to deal with his waste, but for now that’s why there’s a drain.”

“Gross,” Mattie says.

They have a pow-wow. Lady Spider tells them they’ve struck a blow, and a significant one; they’ve never taken an Inheritor alive before. But it’s also a minor victory, in a war they’ve been losing on every front- a war they’ve all just been recruited into.

“Um, excuse me?” a familiar voice says. We do a reverse shot, all of the Spider-Women clustered together since there’s nine of them to fit in one shot, and opposite them is Spider-Man, alone in the doorway, the same rough amount of space alotted to him in the shot as any one of them in the reverse (playing up how relatively alone he is in that moment). Attached to his finger is a sticky note (get it?) with the words, “Spider-Man, come quickly” on the front (there’s an address on the back but we don’t need to see that). “I think somebody was looking for me.”

Cut to credits.

Mid-credits scene: There’s a pounding on the door. A web-gloved hand opens it, and we see an older Dr. Strange is outside, winded. “I need to see Peter.” We keep old man Peter offscreen, mostly because Tom Holland is going to look weird in old man make-up. “I’ve checked it and rechecked it, and Peter, if your son stays here, with you, you die. Your wife dies. Your daughter dies. And he dies. Followed swiftly by every other Spider Totem in existence. Peter Parkers across the multi-verse, Gwen Stacies, MJs, Miles Moraleses, Miguel O’Hara’s, May Parkers.”

“Will I ever see my son again?” he asks from offscreen.

“That’s a difficult question to answer, Peter, because this threat is going to happen across all realities at once, all timelines. It is a crisis across infinity; I don’t know if any of us will live to see the end of it.”

End-credits scene: We see the spire on Loomworld again. This time we even throw in a title, “Loomworld, Earth 001.” It’s possible, at this point, that we won’t have cast the Inheritors. Any we have, can be in this scene, but we hear the patriarch, Solus, arguing with one of them about Morlun. Solus isn’t happy; Morlun went against him in going to the MCU, risked the entire family. But he also won’t stomach a Totem holding his kin hostage. Karn is an easy one to include, since all you need is to design the mask and shove an intern inside. We pan across a fancy board room table as the arguing commences, before we see a strange combination of Victorian era dress clothes, and an intimidating looking mask.

“Karn, I want you to track down your wayward brother for me, and kill every spider you find.” Karn seizes his trademark two-pronged fork (a bident?), and we cut.

Nexus 3, Chapter 19

Sam was still holding our daughter, still sleeping peacefully. Elle had asked me to crawl into her bed with her, and hold her; nothing sexual, just… holding her.

“I think… I think the reason things worked with Sam for as long as they did was because she never saw you as competition. She didn’t care that I loved you- that just meant that she loved you, too. I could be with Sam without denying the parts of me that loved you, even needed you, needed to be able to imagine our life together, or children together.”

“You might want to think twice on that one; I’m not sure I want a replay of what just happened. Ever. With anyone.”

“I know. I’m not writing any checks your body would have to cash. The point is, I think with Sam I could be who I needed to be.”

“And now?”

“It feels like that’s changed. That the parts of who I need to be are at odds, maybe even at war. I don’t know how to make peace with destroying what we’ve had.” Elle started to shift. She’d done this before, wanting to look me in the eye, really feel how what she said landed. But she wasn’t still swollen from pregnancy, with the pair of us sandwiched into a bed that wasn’t really meant to accommodate two adults spooning, let alone anything more acrobatic.

The earnestness in her eyes made it simple enough for me to set aside my own amusement. “That’s why you need to let us go,” she said, and the words landed like a body in a quiet hall. “The next pod. There’s a window coming in a couple weeks. Right now, you’re a starving orphan staring lustily into the candy shop.”

“So why don’t you let me into the candy shop?”

“You couldn’t handle the candy shop,” she said with a smile. “I’m saying we have to get you to stop pining for all the things you want, long enough to figure out what you need. And I think the first step in that is not just stepping out of our way, but embracing us going- embracing the chance to spend time with our daughter and… figure out who you want to be. What kind of life you want to lead… and who you want to live it with.” She stopped herself. “I’m sorry. I didn’t lure you here for this.”

“No, I know,” I said. “But feeling safe, and loved… it bought you the moment you needed to tell me how you really feel. And it sucks. And it hurts. But I still appreciate what it took for you to say it.”

“You certainly seem to be,” she said, grinding her hips into me.

“I’m more than just a piece of meat,” I said, feigning injury.

“You always were to me,” she said. “But that’s the last I’m going to say on the subject. Until we go, I want us all to just… be a family. Because whatever you do, we have a daughter together. Sam and I will always have some kind of relationship, a friendship at the minimum. And we never know who’s going to come home. Between the people we’ve lost on the pods, and the Nascent bearing down on us… there really is no guarantee any of us get to live into old age. And that’s not how it maybe sounds…”

“Like you’re planning on Old Yellering Sam on your mission?”

“Yeah. That. Can you imagine trying to sneak up on a telepath? And you’ve seen the eyes on her,”

“I’ve nearly drowned in them,”

“I’ll assume you aren’t being gross and actually mean her eyes- it would be like choking out a cartoon baby seal.”

“So that’s why that gave me an erection.”

“On that note…”

“The erection?”

“Your distractibility. Maggie… sort of… not let slip, but intimated enough I could subtly interrogate… she offered you some meds, right?”

“I’m not sure how I feel about you finding out about it…”

“She didn’t mean to let anything slip. She was pumping me for information, but she’s not used to doing it surreptitiously, which clued me in and I pumped her, at the same time. She wanted to know if you were taking them, not for cracking the whip, just, wanted to know if they’ve helped.”

“Yes and no. At the best of times I feel like I’m firing on all cylinders. And then somedays, it’s just a drop in an endless ocean.”

“Can’t blame you, there. I… get to ignore the larger strategic concerns, I only have to worry about repelling the Nascent’s crew if they manage to catch us. You have to coordinate trying to make it so they can’t. I’m drowning, just trying to deal with our family drama and trying to be ready for a fight we might not win…” she stroked my cheek and my lip trembled, “I can only imagine how much heavier your load.”

“I’m sure it hasn’t been that long, mere hours if you count the kid.”

“I don’t. I still hold out hope she was conceived immaculately and has nothing to do with your material lucky enough to wash up on my shores.”

“Ouch,” I said. “Please. Like I don’t know when you’re trying to deflect. It’s okay, to be sad, to be scared, for everything that’s been going on between us and even everything beyond the four of us to hurt. For a moment, just shut up, and hold me while I hold you.”