Velveteen vs. the Junior Super Patriots (10 page)

BOOK: Velveteen vs. the Junior Super Patriots
4.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Sometime between that quote and the end of the article, Velveteen started crying. She never really stopped. It was Velma who looked up, offered back the magazine, and said, “I understand, sir. Is that all?”

The man from Marketing smiled broadly. “We knew you’d be a trooper.”

“I try my best, sir,” she said, and stood, and walked out of the office, back into a life that she didn’t want any part of anymore. Six days. That was all she had to get through. Just six days, and then she’d be free.

The urge was strong, but she somehow managed not to punch anyone before she left.


“You tell them,” she said, slowly, “that they are never,
going to get me back on their team. Not the main team, not the auxiliary teams, not the super-special alumni team that they only break out of retirement when the universe is about to end. I have walked that walk, I have talked that talk, and I have learned that there are some things that are simply not worth it.”

“Please,” he said, very softly.

Velma opened her eyes, looking across the table at the one and only man she’d ever loved, the one and only man she’d ever allowed to get close enough to betray her. The one and only man that she was never going to find it in her to forgive. There were a thousand things she wanted to say to him, a thousand questions she wanted to ask him, starting with “Why?” and getting more and more painful from there. Some wounds never heal. Some cuts never stop bleeding.

“Thanks for the mocha,” she said, and picked up cup and coffee cake, stood up from her chair, and left the Starbucks behind.

Aaron Frank—also known as “Action Dude,” also known as the only man on the planet dumb enough to have Velma Martinez in his hands and let her slip away on the orders of a man from Marketing—watched her go. Once he was sure she was gone, he picked up a napkin, wiped his eyes, and stood to make his own departure.

Sometimes there’s just not a happy ending. Sometimes there’s not really an ending at all.



The Junior Super Patriots, West Coast Division

for long enough that she was fairly sure her ass had developed calluses. Any wayward, unspoken desire she might have had to become a professional truck driver had died somewhere on the road between San Francisco and the California/Oregon border. She couldn’t have said exactly what delivered the killing blow—was it the engine trouble? The wrong turn that stranded her in Isley during their annual crawfish festival? The traveling carnival whose rides were maintained in top condition through black magic and blood sacrifice? The conditions of the rest stop bathrooms? Whatever it was, she was done. If she never took another drive longer than the one between her next dead-end apartment and the nearest Starbucks, it would be way too soon.

Back when she was in the superhero business, there had been dozens of website forums devoted to discussing her admittedly unusual power set, debating what it was good for, and theorizing on what applications it might have in combat. She used to read them semi-religiously. At first for fun, then because she was so horrified by the things that people felt it was okay to say about her, and finally for the combat tips. The Super Patriots, Inc. training division really had nothing on a community of teenage geeks who’d been raised on real-time strategy games and epic
Powers and Patriots
RPG campaigns. They analyzed her moves in battle, cross-referenced the ways she’d been known to use her powers, and came up with suggestions that she promptly put into practice, all without them every knowing that they’d become her secret advisers.

(Maybe she would have felt bad about taking advantage of their strategy skills without sending them so much as a “thank you” card or an autographed photo, but these were also the people who’d described her second year bunny suit as “
does Lolita” and “totally spank able bunny-babe.” After the fifth piece of pornographic fan art and the real-person slash frantic novella where she liked to “do it like a rabbit,” she figured the strategy tips were sort of like protection money: as long as they stayed semi-useful, she wouldn’t feel compelled to wipe them off the face of the planet.)

One of the common threads in those forums had been the geek version of dick-waving—the endless discussions with titles like “Action Dude vs. Majesty WHO WOULD WIN???” and “Velveteen vs. Sparkle Bright THE ULTIMATE SHOWDOWN.” She lost more of those fantasy battles than she won, but that was understandable; she didn’t have a power set that really lent itself to one-on-one combat. In the post-“battle” strategy discussions, her lack of flight capabilities was often cited as her largest disadvantage. If she could fly, her supporters argued, she could
the battleground. She’d mostly managed to laugh those threads off back then, because back then, she could pretty much go flying whenever she wanted to. All she had to do was ask Yelena nicely, or bat her eyes at Aaron and offer to sneak into his room after lights-out.

But that was a long time ago. That ship had sailed; that velvet domino mask had been thrown in the trash, atop the shredded remains of a hundred marketing contracts and a hundred thousand failed ideals. She didn’t miss the life. That was true, or at least she told herself that it was true, and since she didn’t have anyone else to ask, she basically believed it.

Still, sometimes—like times like this, when she was stuck at the end of a mile-long line of cars trying to get past an overturned tanker truck that had decided to block the entrance to Oregon—she missed flying. There was something to be said for being able to go up and over anything that wound up in her path with nothing more than a thought.

Flying was the only thing she missed. The convenience, the freedom of it. She didn’t miss the people who’d been responsible for giving her that freedom. She didn’t miss them at all.

Maybe if she told herself that enough, it would all be true.

Velma sagged in her seat and closed her eyes, listening to the horns that blared on all sides of her. She was almost home free, and soon she could put all this behind her again. Soon, and forever.

She was almost there.


An uncounted number of books have been written about the practical monopoly that The Super Patriots, Inc. hold over the superhero industry. Between the parent company and their dozens of divisions, sub-divisions, branches, training offices, charities, and other holdings, an estimated ninety-seven percent of the world’s heroic superhumans answer in some way to The Super Patriots, Inc. The name on the checks may change, but the Board of Directors stays the same. Some of those books have even managed to see print, although none have stayed on the shelves for long. Most of them wind up shelved under “Fiction,” and most of the authors responsible have quietly retired from the literary life not long after. Not that The Super Patriots, Inc. has anything to do with that. Oh, no.

Of course not.

Of the three percent of the world’s heroic superhumans not employed by some division or sub-division of The Super Patriots, Inc., two percent have either failed to manifest or have manifested in some way that falls well below the increasingly well-honed super-spotter radar. Consider the case of Ms. Ethel Matheson, whose super powers were discovered during a routine cancer screening when she was eighty-five years old. Most of her surviving family members believe that it was the shock of learning that her cookies had always been perfect not because she was a good baker, but because she was a very low-grade superhuman, which killed her. The tiny heroes, the every day heroes, can go their entire lives without being spotted. They live and marry within the standard human population, the genes growing stronger with each generation, until full manifestation occurs.

Ms. Matheson’s granddaughter, Amy, graduated from The Junior Super Patriots, East Coast Division two years ago, proudly joining The Super Patriots in her role as The Baker. She has since gone on to lead up the world-renowned superteam’s French chapter, and uses her powers for the good of all mankind. The tabloids adore her, since the caloric nature of her powers means than whenever the news gets thin on the ground, they can run another story about her radical diet plans.

And so it goes.

The remaining one percent of the world’s heroes contains those individuals like Velveteen, Jolly Roger, the Unicorn Girl, and Mr. Tambourine Man. The ones who, when faced with the heroic life, its perks and its problems, shook their heads and said “no, thank you.” Studies conducted by solemn, handsome scientists (all of whom receive their funding through The Super Patriots, Inc.—in a round-about way, of course, to make it more difficult to trace) show that this final one percent will almost always turn to super-villainy, joining the ranks of the fallen. They are to be pitied. They are to be saved from themselves, if at all possible. They are definitely to be reported to the authorities. After all, friends don’t let friends destroy the planet with pinpoint black holes just because they couldn’t afford their pills anymore, now, do they?

No one has ever done a case study on the world’s villainous superhumans, to determine exactly how many of them chose a life of crime and terror less out of a natural inclination toward evil than from the desire to make The Super Patriots, Inc. leave them alone already. The results might be interesting, if someone ever did.


Velma hiked down the window—which took considerable effort; the handle had broken off months ago, and been replaced by a pair of rusty pliers—and stuck her head out, almost gagging on the taste of hot exhaust fumes. “Excuse me?” she shouted, once she could breathe again. “Could you come over here for a second?”

The group of teens eyed her suspiciously before taking a moment to murmur between themselves, no doubt assessing the likelihood that she was some sort of serial-killing freak. After a few seconds, they clearly came to the conclusion that she was too small to present any real threat, and came sauntering over to the side of the road.

“What do you want?” asked the one at the front of the pack. He was wearing an old black trench coat about three sizes too big for him, and his scrawny shoulders were hunched up in what was probably a habitually defensive posture. Not the big kids on the local campus, then. That was good—they were a lot more likely to answer questions without feeling like they needed to act cool and impress their friends. It was also bad, because it upped the odds of them being hero-chasers. The last thing she needed was an “aren’t you. . . ?” incident, especially when she was effectively held prisoner by the traffic.

“What’s going on up there?” Velma waved a hand vaguely in the direction the cars were struggling to go. “I never knew this was a big traffic spot.”

“It’s not,” said another of the teens, a girl dressed in the very latest Hot Topic chic. “They’re doing some sort of car check up ahead.”

“What, like checking to make sure no one’s trying to smuggle redwood trees and oranges into Oregon?”

The group’s leader shrugged expansively. “No clue. We tried hiking up and asking them, but they just waved us off. Said we weren’t who they were looking for.”

You can tear up contracts and take off costumes; you can quit teams and refuse reunions. But no one has ever mastered walking away so completely that they forget their training. Velma felt suddenly dizzy, as if all the blood had drained out of the top half of her body. Struggling to keep her composure, she leaned further out the window and said, “Look, I know this may sound a little weird, but . . . I really have to make it to Oregon in the next hour. If I miss my appointment, I’m basically screwed. Is there a way off this highway?”

The teens looked uncertain, exchanging glances amongst themselves. “Well . . .” said Miss Hot Topic, with obvious reluctance.

“I swear I just want to get on my way,” said Velma. The teens exchanged another glance, and several of them took a step backward. Desperate now, she added, “I’d be happy to tip for a tip. Say twenty bucks if you can tell me where to find a frontage road?”

“This is my dad’s field,” said Trench Coat, abruptly. “If you make it another fifteen feet up, I can open the gate for you. The farm road connects up to the surface streets. Normally, I’d say that was the slow way, but right now—”

“Right now,
is better than this.” Velma fumbled a twenty from her purse—almost the last of her money, but this wasn’t the time to worry about that—and handed it out the window to Trench Coat, hoping he wouldn’t notice the way her hand was shaking.

To her relief, he either didn’t notice, or he decided that twenty dollars was worth ignoring a little distress. “I’ll have the gate open by the time you make it up there,” he said, making the money disappear into a pocket.

“Thank you,” said Velma, fervently, and cranked the window up again.

Fifteen minutes later, Velma cleared the gate and went roaring off down the farm road, passing fields of potatoes and parsnips and feeling her heartbeat slow with every inch she put between herself and the “car check” that had backed up traffic all the way to Oregon. Was she being paranoid? Just possibly. The more important question would have been “was that paranoia unfounded?” In her tragically vast experience, it almost never was.

“Fucked-up times five
,” Velma muttered, and hit the gas.


“Swallowtail to base, Swallowtail to base, come in, base.”

“What is it, Swallowtail?”

“What sort of car did you say we were watching for again?” Swallowtail let herself drop a little lower in the hazy afternoon air, the excited molecules around her feet cooling just a few degrees as the stunt was performed. Anyone looking up would have seen her hovering there, a slim teenage girl surrounded by a corona of light that fanned out its gold and brown wings like a vast butterfly. She was technically classed as an energy manipulator, although her use of light and heat was limited to crafting swallowtail butterflies. They could be as small as a fingernail, or large enough to let her fly. Also, they were pretty. She didn’t regret her power set, even if some people said it would never make her one of the big guns.

BOOK: Velveteen vs. the Junior Super Patriots
4.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Braving the Elements by K. F. Breene
Taboo2 TakingOnTheLaw by Cheyenne McCray
The Art of Dreaming by Carlos Castaneda
The Gangster by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott
Shopping Showdown by Buffi BeCraft-Woodall
Wet: Overflow by Zenobia Renquist