Available May 5, 2015 from DAW Books Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Yeah, I have no idea what that means, either. But it’s what they say when you’re ready to go after someone who’s done their best to destroy you. I think it’s supposed to mean that you should be levelheaded and calm while plotting your enemy’s ultimate, untimely, and ugly demise.
Sound plan. Pity that I work better angry. But then again, I’m pretty angry. So we should be good here.
Of course, that’s probably being far too optimistic
Not sure what was more shocking – discovering that there’s a multiverse out there and I’m representing in most of the zillion and one universes, or discovering the identity of the Mastermind.
Visiting another universe was kind of cool. Nice to see how the other half was living with basically no aliens on the planet. Not as well in some ways, just dandy in others. It was a “fun” vacation, if we define fun to mean spending a couple weeks unsure if I’d ever get home again or if I was going to spend the rest of my life in Oz, both literally and figuratively.
Coming home was better – always nice to have that “took a trip but boy it’s great to sleep in my own bed and have great sex with my alien mega-sexy husband again” feeling.
But while I got to save the day for the other world, back in mine, I’m not so sure how to manage it. The term “it’s complicated” has never been more apt. And, as in the other world, a frontal attack is probably not the right plan.
A battle will be coming, though, one way or the other. Because it’s time to take the bull by the horns and ram those horns right into the Mastermind’s personal tenders. So to speak.
But at least I won’t be fighting this battle with a small commando force. For this battle, I’m going to ensure I have an army. And, to quote one of my favorite ‘80’s glam rockers, it’s time to make the Mastermind Stand and Deliver. For I am a Woman of the Multiverse and I will not allow evil to continue its run unchecked.
Yeah, fine, fine. Let’s go with what’s been working all this time. Yo, Mastermind – just thought you should know that Megalomaniac Girl is back and she’s madder and badder than ever. So watch your step, ‘cause I’m coming for you.
Early morning and I are not best buds. I’m not a girl who sees any virtue in watching the sun rise. However, it was the morning after I’d come back from an unintended vacation, and my husband and I had spent the night wide awake and extremely active in the best sense of the words.
Now we were lying next to each other, relaxing in the afterglow of a night very well spent.
“I know who the Mastermind is.” As post-coitus comments went, this was probably not going to go down as the World’s Most Romantic Statement.
“Yeah?” Jeff rolled onto his side to face me, leaning on his hand. His other hand stroked my body. It was great to feel his hand on my skin – I’d spent the last couple of weeks wondering if that would ever happen again.
We had music on, and as Weezer’s “My Best Friend” hit our airwaves, I shifted likewise so we were face to face and I could also stroke Jeff’s chest and such. And I could look at him. Considering I hadn’t been sure I’d ever see his face again, it was nice to be here, like normal, as if nothing much had gone on.
We were in Sydney Base, and because of that, the standard nightlight glow was in the room, meaning we could see each other. Aliens, of which Jeff was definitely one, were different from humans in many ways, not all of them physical. As near as I could tell, no A-Cs liked to sleep in the extreme dark. I’d never asked why – and as I’d learned during my foray out of this world, I probably needed to be a bit more curious about many things.
However, since we’d moved into the American Centaurion Embassy in Washington, D.C., I’d gotten used to sleeping in the actual dark again. But this was kind of a nice retro moment. My first night discovering aliens were on the planet I’d spent in a room very like this one, half of it with Jeff. The best half.
I was willing to stay in bed with Jeff forever but, somewhat because I’d had a two week “vacation” in another universe, duty was calling in a loud and insistent manner. Also, Mr. Clock shared that it was six in the morning, and that meant that our daughter was going to be up in an hour, give or take.
“Yeah. Only…I don’t know if I can tell you.”
“Because you’re worried I’ll give away that I know because I can’t lie, any more than the rest of the A-Cs can, right?”
“Right. You sound like you had this conversation already.”
“I did. With you, in that sense.”
“Oh. Other Me figured it out?” I’d switched universes with another version of me. Yeah, my life was just that kind of exciting. Hers was, too, now, come to think of it. Oh well, she was me. She’d roll with the punches.
“How? I mean, I realize I’m great at looking at accepted truths and quickly spotting the flaws and all that, but she couldn’t have had a lot to go on.”
“Oh, she didn’t. But she had the one key piece of information we’ve never had. The same thing to go on I figure you discovered while you were in her universe – her Chuck hates the Mastermind’s guts, with good reason.”
Other Me was married to my best guy friend since high school, Charles Reynolds. Well, her universe’s Charles Reynolds, at any rate. It had been instructive and interesting to see how my life might have been different. Hoped she’d enjoyed seeing how the other universe lived.
“Wow, yeah. So, you know who it is?”
Jeff nodded as “Bad Blood” by Ministry came on. “Almost the worst person it could be.”
“Got that right. So, does Chuckie know?”
“No.” Jeff sighed. “We’ve managed to keep it from him. For the all of about a week and a half that we’ve known. And only because we were frankly so busy and focused on fixing things with the Australian government and getting you and your Cosmic Alternate to switch back.”
“Did Malcolm already know?” Malcolm Buchanan had Dr. Strange powers. At least as far as I was concerned. If he didn’t want you to see him, you didn’t see him. If he said it was so, it was probably so. Luckily for me, my mother had assigned him to be my bodyguard when we first got to D.C. She’d assigned the Buchanan in the other universe onto Other Me a lot sooner. Apparently things were dicey wherever I was. Go me.
“Yeah. Buchanan’s known for what sounds like three years. But he has no actual proof. None of us here do.”
“We had no proof, either, other than the fact that Cliff Goodman was that universe’s Charles’ lifelong enemy. And the fact that he tried to kill Other Me, their kids, Charles, James and Malcolm. He’d already…” Murdered my mother in that world. Along with the rest of her and Buchanan’s teams, which included other people I knew and loved in this world.
“I know,” Jeff said gently. “We figured it all out. Well, most of it. I’m sure we’re both missing parts of the whole nightmare.” He grinned. “And I know I don’t have the full story of how you kicked butt and saved the day.”
“You just assume I did that?” I hadn’t really had time to brief everyone on what had happened, in part because Chuckie was here with the group that had come to fix things with Australia and I hadn’t wanted to let anything slip.
Jeff kissed me, his typical awesome kiss. “Yeah, that’s my default assumption,” he said after his lips and tongue had owned mine for a good, long time, emphasis on good. “That you’re going to do what has to be done, better than anyone else ever could.”
“I could get used to this form of hero worship.”
He laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with accurate hero worship, baby.”
Snuggled my face in between his awesome pecs and rubbed against his chest hair as the Veronicas sang “I Could Get Used To This”. “Works for me. After all, I hero worship your bedroom and leadership skills, so we’re even.”
Jeff chuckled. “Always nice to be appreciated.”
“Back atcha. So, what do we do? I don’t know how to tell Chuckie that the guy he thinks is his best friend is the reason his wife is dead. He’s normally laid back and able to roll with whatever’s thrown at him, but I’m not willing to bet he’ll be able to deal rationally under the circumstances.”
Naomi Gower-Reynolds wasn’t really dead in the technical, universal sense. She’d taken so much pure Surcenthumain – what we called the Superpowers Drug – in order to save Jamie and Chuckie from being destroyed by the Mastermind that she’d become something far more than human or alien. She’d become a superconsciousness. And she was never allowed to come back to Earth. Our Earth. However, she’d found a way around that rule by covering the protection of her beloved goddaughter and husband in every other universe they existed in. And I was the only one who knew this. Well, me, and my daughter Jamie. Daughters Jamie, I guess.
There was a multiverse out there, and I discovered that I’d seen it before. In the past, when I’d seen the Universe Wheel, I’d never remembered it when I’d woken up or come back to life or whatever. But now, after this trip, I remembered it all. And I was pretty sure I did because of Naomi’s influence.
I existed in a large number of the universes out there, and in every one I was in, Jamie was there as well. Same birthdate for every Jamie throughout the multiverse, though her father was usually Chuckie, or James Reader. This was the only universe where Jeff was on Earth, so it was the only one with him as her father.
Jamie had learned how to communicate with her other selves. I wasn’t sure if it was because my Jamie housed a superconsciousness in her mind now, since ACE had taken up residence there, or if she was just that highly talented. Probably both.
“None of us have a plan for that yet,” Jeff admitted. “It needs to be broken to him gently, if that’s at all possible.”
“There’s a slight possibility that I’m wrong about Cliff being the Mastermind in this universe. Very slight.”
Jeff shook his head. “No, you’re not. Too many pieces fit.”
“Yeah, they fit to me, too. I don’t know what to do. Other than get a three-way mirror pronto.”
The Jamie I’d spent time with in the other universe was also special – she could see every other Jamie in all the other universes. But she needed help to do so – a large three-way mirror set up as if it was in a department store’s dressing room. I was pretty sure that she didn’t need a magic mirror, but I wasn’t completely confident – in my experience it didn’t pay to assume.
“Yeah, you told me that when you, ah, came back. I ordered a set. Should be at the Embassy when we get home. But unless those mirrors are going to give us proof that Cliff’s the Mastermind, or show us how to break the news to Chuck safely, I don’t think they’re what we need the most.”
“Yeah. What we really need to know is if Cliff and LaRue have a death ray.”
Before I could explain what I was talking about, “Trouble” by Pink came on and we were interrupted by a voice on the intercom. “I’m sorry to wake you, Vice President and Ambassador Martini,” a woman I’d never heard before who had an Australian accent said. “But we have an incoming call from a restricted number.”
“Did the caller give a name, Melissa?” Jeff asked, as he sat up and turned the music off.
“No, Mister Vice President, he did not.” Apparently Melissa was as big on the titles as Walter and William Ward were. Walter ran Embassy Security and, since Gladys Gower’s death, his older brother William had taken over as Head of Security out of the Dulce Science Center.
“Why are we taking this call then?” I asked as I sat up as well. This was far too reminiscent of the start of Operation Confusion for my liking.
“Because the caller said it was a matter of life or death, Ambassador.”
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