Mandy left me, and I stopped caring. I didn't answer the phone, I quit my 'cover' job. I ignored a ping from Dreamland.

I suppose I should thank her, in a weird way, because if I had answered the ping I would have been sent out with Fatboy and White Dragon and The Illustrated Man, and I'd be dead now. Instead I unplugged the phone and lay in my bed and sulked until someone knocked on the door.

It was McLeary. "Where have you been? Get dressed, we're going to the Presidio. I'm driving, I'll brief you on the way."

I didn't care enough to argue. When he told me what had happened to B Team, I started to get angry. Not just angry at Micro, angry at the world. Angry at being a Cape. Angry at Mandy for leaving me now, and not some time in the future.

We got to the south end of the bridge and everything was a mess. We squealed to a stop at the police barricade across Presidio Parkway and I climbed out.

Rapture was there, in the white suit. Rapture glows. There's not a religious bone in her body, but she plays the part it for all it's worth. "Nice of you to join us."

I just looked at the bridge. It was… blurry. "What the hell?"

"Grey goo. There's just enough of the bridge left to keep it standing. He's right in the middle. I don't know how he's keeping it from going runaway, but as soon as he takes his foot off the brake that mess will eat San Francisco."

"What does he want?" They always want something, and it's never something anyone can actually give them, and you'd think they'd know that. The Speaker wanted to be the only show on television. We tried to compromise: offered him an hour on cable every Sunday. We shouldn't even have gone that far. Panix wanted money. They want money at least half the time. The Game Player just wanted to 'play the game' and didn't care who got hurt.

"Who cares? Somewhere in there is what's left of B Team."

Much as I hate to admit it, Rapture is stronger. Rapture has telekinesis. Rapture can fly. "You have a plan?"

"I'll handle the grey goo; you take out Micro."

McLeary piped in. "D1 wants him alive."

Rapture was icy. "We don't care." She leapt into the air, and I walked towards the edge of the churning blur that was the Golden Gate bridge. I could see him: Micro, standing atop a double-decker tour bus window-deep in the goo.

I can yell pretty loud. "Time to give up now, Micro."

"You think you're putting me in jail, Fleet?"

Rapture, hanging above us like some strange cathedral's neon cross, shouted, "It's gone too far for that, Micro."

I grimaced. Wrong thing to say. But she started to do her thing: the goo started to lift from the bridge as if sucked away by a vacuum, stretched away from the superstructure in pseudopods, pulled apart into streams and filaments, and then began to converge into a ball, high in the air, near Rapture. She does it with her mind, somehow. There aren't a lot of telekinetes; Rapture is the strongest. We're all just glad she didn't go bad.

He still had control — some control, anyhow — over the baitball of nanomachines. It bubbled, it spat. It lunged at her.

The Golden Gate Bridge is nearly three thousand yards across. When it was clear enough, I ran at Micro,  fast. The deck, under my feet, felt as if it had been sandblasted within an inch of its life as I went supersonic. Three figures lifted from the pavement ahead of me.

Fatboy, White Dragon, and The Illustrated Man. Corpses, animated by nanotech. If they still had their powers, Fatboy would be a real threat…

They launched themselves at me, fists swinging like hammers. That answers that. Strong, fast, but otherwise, just big dumb zombies. "This is going to take a minute!"

Rapture didn't answer: she was concentrating on fighting the baitball. How it was pushing itself closer to her I have no idea. Micro must have re-programmed the nanomachines to use the air around them as reaction mass for a hurriedly-configured thruster. But while the roiling ball strained to reach her, it was shrinking. Not shrinking: compressing. Rapture was squeezing them. 

Putting down the zombies of B Team hurt. But not physically. By the time I was done, my anger had drained away from me. I wasn't angry at Mandy anymore, or Dreamland, or anyone. I wasn't even angry at Micro, somehow.

Micro, who had climbed down from the half-converted tour bus and was looking in vain for an escape route; his nanomachines had eaten all the vehicles but his virtually impregnable (and apparently goo-proof) MicroMobile. I closed the rest of the distance before he could reach it, and forced him to the ground. The gadget guys, they never fight back once their tech has been neutralized. What would be the point?

Above us, Rapture had squeezed the baitball into a glowing point-mass brighter than the sun. When she let go of it with her mind, it exploded into a cloud of harmless ash that floated away on the wind. She floated down over me and Micro, landed. "Time to finish it."

"It's over." The SFPD had sent an armored car in behind me, it had managed to negotiate the broken bridge surface to reach us, and it was now disgorging cops in riot gear.

"He killed B Team. He killed White Dragon."

"And he's going to pay for it."

She was a statue as I handed Micro off to the cops. I could see her working it through in her head, making a decision. "Fine."

McLeary was the last out of the armored car. He gave Micro a hard look before turning to Rapture, and to me. "Congratulations. The two of you are now 'B Team'."

Fantasy Drabble #317 "Nicky The Knife"

I make the rounds of the secondhand stores, goodwill, salvation army. I do it once a week, usually, sometimes twice a week in the spring. Most of the selection is cheap, not that old, poorly maintained, shouldn't have been bought even when it was new.

The suit is from the forties, easily. Great condition, fits me like a glove. Somebody's grandfather had it in an upstairs closet that he hadn't been well enough to reach for years.

Now, wearing it, I know what he knew, feel what he felt, see what he saw. I know where the bodies are buried.

SF Drabble #405 "Association General Order E-12b"

All Class D humans with a work assignment will work one half local day, unless your local Labor Direction Center has declared a 'work holiday'. Meal and rest breaks are an earned privilege.

If you are a Class D human without a work assignment you will report immediately to your Labor Direction Center with your ID slip (legacy documents such as 'driver's licenses' will not be accepted) to receive your work assignment. Any Class D human detained for any reason who cannot provide record of a current work assignment will forfeit their Ration Card and may be re-designated Class E.

We Don't Do Magic

She was a movie star, or would have been if the world was right. She sang a familiar song: the husband with a wandering eye and a zipper that was down when it should be up. She already knew where he'd be, she'd found a receipt. Too easy.

I had half a roll of beauty shots of the seedy airport motel before the mark even showed. He was exactly the type you'd expect: doughy, sweaty, clothes off the wrong rack. I've never been able to understand why a mook like that steps out when he's already fighting over his weight class at home.

Camera time. The mark knocked on the door. Click. He looked over his shoulder. Click. The door opens…

It was the movie star, only instead of dressed to the nines she was down to her ones and twos. Click. I'm making a personal copy of that one, I thought. She reached out to grab him by the tie, pulled him in, and the door shut behind him, leaving his fedora rolling on its rim outside. It looked lonely. Click. I'm a goddamned artist with this thing.

A billy-club rapped against the rolled-up passenger's side window. "Move it along, friend."

"Sure thing, officer." I had what I came for.

Why would the dame run me in circles? I could understand spicing things up with a little role-play before the dirty deed. And some girls get a cheap thrill out of a cheap room. If the movie star was playing a game, was paying me good money part of it?

Well why not ask her, you big palooka.

The next day she comes into the office. She played it straight. Fine, if that's the way you want it, I thought. I laid out the evidence. The money shot of her in her unmentionables was the big finish. I didn't bother with the lonely fedora. "Look familiar?"

The waterworks started. "I can't believe he would do it!"

"Do what, sister? Spill it."

"He wanted to bring in another girl, see? You know how you men are. But I said no dice. I'm not a prude, it's just… who could we trust? So he says, 'You trust yourself, don't you? Why don't we just make a copy?' But I said—"

"A what?"

"A copy. A copy of me." She looked up at me and shrugged as she wiped her nose. "You know, magic."

"Your husband's a warlock? And you had me following him dumb."

"I'll pay you double."

"I don't want your money. I don't want your case; I stay away from arcana."

"I just don't understand why he would do it over my express ob—"

"Are you out of your mind? Of course he made the copy. He probably did it while you were asleep, and set her up at the hotel and was back before you woke up. She'll do everything you won't, and it isn't even cheating, not really."

She stormed out. At least I have the photo.

The New Amsterdam Vampire Social Club

It's busy tonight.

Rocky is already there, at a booth in the corner, coke laid out in lines on the table, surrounded by glassy-eyed would-be model types in transition between humoring him and ensorcelled by him. Wen dances, glimpses of her small frame flashing from within a sea of moving bodies. Coral leans against the bar, drink in hand, daring men to approach her with her wry but icy stare. Gunnar won't show for another hour. Gunnar doesn't really go for the scene anymore.

I don't blame him. But there are rules.

Five of the several hundred people packed into this club will have a moment of terror and probably ecstasy and possibly death. Though, to be fair, a couple of those people may not even be here yet: Wen is fickle, and impetuous, and often changes her mind at the last minute. Gunnar will choose one at random, possibly one who's just walked in the door. Gunnar doesn't care.

Rocky will pick the prettiest girl he can seduce, which won't be the prettiest girl in the club or usually even at his table. Low self-esteem is Rocky's wingman. Coral will choose the one who earns it.

Mine will live, and so will Coral's. Rocky's usually lives, and so does Wen's, though her control is questionable. This might be one of those nights. Gunnar's will die.

Wen sees me and waves. I smile and nod and begin scoping the crowd. I don't always choose a woman, but—

"How are you?" Coral is at my elbow. She never talks to me until after, until the post-game. This is unusual.

"Shouldn't you be working your magic? You've only got an hour before Gunnar—"

"Gunnar's not coming."


"Gunnar was a liability. He made us more vulnerable." She fixed me with her eyes. I'm serious about this now. "I made an executive decision."

Meaning Gunnar is dust, somewhere, probably nearby, and I am not to make a scene. We don't have a leader, except for Coral.

Your Grandparents

He already had the gun. That's the thing I remember most. Mother had the thermometer, the ice packs, the antibiotics left over from three or four different expired prescriptions. Dad had the gun.

He'd spent the morning watching the news, in the front room. The news was where someone would appear on your television and tell you what was happening in the world that day. The television was… it was a magic box, all right?

The news was bad. The hospitals, first, mostly, and the streets around the hospitals as people tried to get help for themselves or their friends or their family members. Mother didn't want to take us in: the emergency rooms had closed early on, and she didn't want to risk the streets anyway. It only got worse into the afternoon. The news didn't ever come right out and say zombies.

Josephine was sicker than me. Josephine was my little sister. Your aunt. She lapsed into a coma; I thought she was just asleep. I was exhausted from crying so I closed my eyes and tried to sleep too, but there was too much pain. My stomach, my head, my joints.

They must have thought I was asleep, must have assumed because I was so still.

My mother's hand was on my forehead, testing my temperature. "Allie's getting better, I think."

"You can't be sure."

"I think she is."

"You know Jo isn't."

"Not yet."

He didn't even come all the way into the room. I remember him craning his neck around to check all the windows. He'd scurry to the end of the hall to check the ones in the front room, and then scurry back to the bedroom door, like a frightened mouse. All with the gun in his hand.

I remember being reassured by the gun. I didn't really even understand what there was to be scared of outside, not really, not yet, but I knew that he would protect us. "There's a free clinic by the hardware store. We could…"

"They're telling people to stay indoors."

"We have to do something."

"The car is packed."

I remember thinking that was a good thing. My eyes were closed so I don't know how Mother looked at him. "We're not leaving."

He didn't try to convince her. I think he was waiting for her to change her mind of her own accord. Their relationship was like that a lot of the time. She was a strong personality; stronger than him, anyway. He listened to the news standing the hall, one eye on the television and one eye on us, and repeat anything it said that he felt she needed to know, anything he felt would tip the scales a little bit further.

"Reports of gunfire downtown. The reporter can't get close enough to see what's going on."

"We're a long way from downtown." She pointed to the bathroom. "Get me a clean wet washcloth."

A few minutes later: "They've closed off the highways and the bridges."

"It doesn't matter, we're not going anywhere." She listened at Jo's chest for a heartbeat. At the time, I thought it was a hug.

"The Governor's declared martial law statewide."

No response. She took out the thermometer and looked at it very carefully. She stroked the wet, matted hair from my face and gave me an attempt at a reassuring smile.

At some point I must have fallen asleep.

I don't know why Josephine, when she got up, when she went looking for something to eat, why she left me alone. I was right there, right next to her on the bed. All she would have had to do was roll over. Maybe it was because I was sick, and maybe going to turn myself. Maybe she wanted something fresher.

I remember the scream, which must have been when Mother saw her; I think it woke me up. I remember the shot, which must have been when Father saw her.  I sat up in the bed, felt dizzy. I remember a long silence through which a beam of late afternoon sunlight cut through the dusty air of the bedroom, and sirens keened in the distance. I don't know what time it was, the clock on the nightstand was dead. The power must have gone out at some point.

She screamed again. There was crashing and swearing and wailing. She must have attacked him. I don't blame her, I understand. She screamed something about killing her baby and he yelled something about she's already dead. I don't know what she came at him with.

There was another shot.

When he came in, I was standing. I'd gotten out of bed still wrapped in a comforter and holding a teddy bear, too afraid to stay still, but too afraid to actually go to the door, go down the hall, go into the front room, find out. I just stared at him. He pointed the gun at my forehead. "Say something."

"Where's Mother?"

He scooped me up, blanket and teddy bear and all, and put me in the car still in my nightie. I don't suppose he would have known where in our room to look for a clean outfit. I don't remember seeing anything of the front room. I think I had my eyes closed.

I curled up on the back seat and pulled the comforter around me like a shield. His driving was stopping and starting and cursing. I don't know long we were in the car before we had to abandon it, but the sun was still up. I left my teddy bear on the back seat and he wouldn't go back for it.

I wore that nightie for three months after that, before he cared enough about anything around him to loot a store for clothes for me. After we found a group to put in with, it was as if I didn't even exist. I honestly don't know why he even took me out of the house.