Some Assembly Required will be out November 6th!
Two weeks and counting!
|Rise of the Amazons book 2|
Renowned photographer Dianne Fender was too late to save her Grandma Maggie. Now, no matter what she has to do or suffer, she is determined to control her psychic abilities so she can protect Liesel Grant, the new Amazon Matriarch. The odds are against her since Liesel has been shot at, kidnapped, robbed, and generally pissed off by the Mightys—a secret race of superhuman men.
Doctor Sergei Sky must find a cure for the harsh Amazon gene mutations to help his family and others. Dianne, a double Amazon, is his best bet to test his early research. Plus, once he teaches her how to use her powers, she can find Liesel’s stolen codex—an ancient record of the Amazons.
Together they travel to Las Vegas for the first International Amazon conference. Assassination attempts, all you can eat buffets, a Harvest Team out to slaughter those who would expose the Mightys, and a Vegas wedding— Amazon style. Yep, things are totally going as planned.
Dianne Fender’s thoughts, and those of the hundreds of people in the church, flipped through her mind like a slide–show set on extra fast. She knew, even before she left the hospital, that her grandmother was dead. The new goal—keep Liesel Grant alive.
Grandma Maggie should have been buried in an Indian ceremony, not this grand-scale chapel and graveside service. Dianne was pretty sure that thought was hers. With little effort she could take a mental survey on A) how many people felt the ‘service was lovely’ or B) those who wished there’d been candles instead of the brightly lit overhead electric chandeliers. Option C) that Maggie had never died in the first place. Dianne choose that one.
At least the pallbearers would be Amazons.
The solid wood pews were worn. The funeral flowers were buried three arrangements deep, ten across, and had no scent. Dianne adjusted the long sleeves of her dress, pulling with a nervous twitch to cover her burns. Part of her mind knew the burns were no longer there but she tugged at her sleeves anyway.
A young girl sang the words to Britney Spear’s Toxic. Damn it. How dare they allow such a song to be part of this sacred ceremony? But Britney was in somebody’s head. Or rather, some young girl had the song stuck in her head. When Dianne laughed, the thoughts flooding her mind switched to thoughts of Dianne. Which was freaky-ass creepy. The drugs must be wearing off.
Escaping now would be good. At least to the rafters, her camera in her hands. The rafters weren’t anywhere near far enough to avoid the torrent of thoughts, nor would the camera shield her. But to have her equipment, to be dangling from a high dangerous point, that was familiar. Hell, necessary.
The only reason she’d ventured forth was Maggie.
Grandma Maggie had taken her to her first pow-wows. Before her abilities kicked in. Rich memories of colors, the sharp swish of shiny beads and the chanting rhythm. Her first photos had been of dancers, bonfires, her white grandmother, and the tribe that had adopted her a hundred years before. Pictures of people. Before being that close caused pain; before she became a hermit.
Liesel, the young Amazon leader, gave the eulogy. Tears streaked Liesel’s face as her kind voice eloquently paid tribute to a lost friend, a mentor. Liesel had worked tirelessly to connect all Amazons and Mightys—women and men of extraordinary strength. She had guided them to the answers they so desperately wanted, Dianne and Grandma Maggie included. Dianne owed Liesel more than just her devotion and respect.
Liesel had explained why she was different and that she wasn’t alone. Her Amazon mother and her father, the stiff empty man sitting next to her, the son of Maggie Mountain Fender, both carried the Amazon gene. Two Amazon genes were unmixy. Made a Blue Hair. In Dianne’s case a FUBAR human. And the drugs that helped block all the thoughts, that made the pain tolerable, breathable, were fading.
Dianne fumbled in her purse for a glass vial. Barney, her agent, had taken her to Wise Woman Daisy, a Navajo Indian who sold herbal medicines. She’d needed something for the pain and none of the drugs at the hospital had worked to block out the mental noise of those around her. The doctors had thought her quick recovery from the fire was a blessing from God for her great self–sacrifice. Please. As if. There was nothing shiny enough in her karma bank to pay for something like that.
"Maggie lived a life to be proud of. She died peacefully in her sleep and now is with her soul–mate. In her own words—” Liesel said. What Grandma had said Dianne didn’t hear.
The carousel in her head paused a short second longer on a man. The man knew that Maggie had been killed. Just like Dianne knew that Maggie’s death wasn’t a quiet passing in the peace of sleep. The slide was gone, and with the cold vial clasped in her hand, seconds away from peace, she closed her eyes to focus. All the thoughts, not just those of the mourners, but the thousands of people in a three mile radius, flooded her. Hot painful air caught in her throat. Her mind staggered under the weight. His oily presence was torn out of her grasp. She could no longer find him in the sea of noise.
The groan pulled from her tight chest sounded feral. She couldn’t do it, not even for Maggie.
She tipped the vial into her mouth, painting her tongue with the tart fluid, and felt her father place his arms around her. His grief and fear of loneliness made her black out for a second but then she felt him. Not his mind or his thoughts or anyone’s thoughts, him. Just the physical feel of her father. Solid, warm.
It was the first time that she had physical contact with another person in…a very long time. Unless you counted the painful touch of each doctor or nurse; of Barney, helping her walk out of the hospital.
"Liesel is stalling,” her father whispered. “You’ve been out for almost ten minutes. Are you okay?"
She straightened and nodded at Liesel. Sending a mental thank you. Probably a bit loudly, if Liesel’s jerk and then smile was any indication.
Dianne yanked at her sleeves again as she stood with the congregation. Her whole body shook as if she had Parkinson’s and her mind could only focus on the immediate.
Stand. Wait. Watch. Watch as six women, dressed in long black dresses, spread around the coffin. Who was in that coffin? Oh, Grandma Maggie. Right.
And the women weren’t wearing black, she just couldn’t take the time or effort to figure it out. She was watching.
The ladies lifted the solid mahogany casket easily—Amazons, her mind explained—and walked out of the church, carrying it on their shoulders to the waiting hearse.
Was it too bloody much to ask that her powers make sense? That they be useful? For almost fifteen years Dianne had lived on her own, traveled, photographed and finally, finally found peace. Found acceptance. Then she had a vision. What the fuck? If she was meant to make a difference, to help, was it too much to ask for a guide? Her very own Watson or Gandalf? Instead a vague sense of doom and she was sleeping on a couch in a city. Bringing her mental baggage to Liesel, who deserved her own peace.
Yet Liesel was the only one who believed Maggie had been killed. So, until she knew what happened to Maggie, she would stay close to Liesel. She’d have another chance to make this right. She just needed to suppress her powers enough to cope.
Having psychic abilities was like reading a novel with all points of view present. Today, because of some street-acquired Mary Jane, Dianne only heard the points of view of the five women present.
"I don’t need a point guard," Liesel said and thought, My life is so screwed up.
They might not believe Dianne’s vision had predicted Maggie’s death but they were determined to protect Liesel. She’d already been kidnapped, shot at, and her home broken into. Plus, there was a very powerful family of Mightys—the Mathews—that had made it quite clear they disapproved of HOAX, the rising Amazon community. All of which didn’t include inside threats.
"All queens have, at the very least, a set of body guards," Tammy Griffon said. Tammy personified the suburban housewife, conservative dress and manners in neutral colors.
"I am not the Queen." Liesel buzzed around the room, sorting through mail, wiping off the kitchen counter. She was doing her best to be polite to these women but was growing weary of their bossy insistence. She even smiled, thinking how ironic it was to be designated queen. She didn’t have enough influence to get them to stop pestering her about a guard detail. Again.
All four women were shorter than Dianne’s obnoxious 6’1’’ height and, worse, Dianne was suffering major hair envy for Liesel’s red curls—a thousand black exclamation marks covered Dianne’s head. She placed her hand over her recently bald scalp, as if that would hide her short hair.
Liesel tried again. “I can’t be called Queen, that’s just ridiculous. This isn’t a country. I’m a political figurehead for an organization. A web-based organization."
Dianne’s drug oblivion from the funeral had lasted the night and she awoke on Liesel’s couch ashamed of her retreat. That man in the congregation had known something about Maggie and she couldn’t suck it up long enough to learn his secrets, whether or not he was the killer. If Maggie had been killed at all. Like a selfish child, she’d hidden behind the drug, used it instead of fighting.
Dianne stayed on the couch as Liesel’s baby sister Harriett started loading the dishes. It would be nice to stay busy by helping, but she couldn’t risk being that close to everyone.
"So Madame President, you still need to consider—" Harry, the only non-Amazon in the room, didn’t broadcast her thoughts like the others. If Dianne concentrated on the blonde she could read emotion and surface thoughts. But the whole point of the marijuana was to not think. Harry blocked her mental scan. How? Dianne was busy not thinking about it and envying the long, straight blond hair.
Liesel interrupted her younger sister, "I don’t like President." She was putting leftovers from a late breakfast into the fridge and looking out into the back yard where Tammy’s girls chased each other.
"What about Monarch?" Tammy said.
"The butterfly?" Liesel asked. She rolled her eyes and pictured herself lying in a huge bed, thick blankets and a warm male body surrounding her. Jim Griffon, the boyfriend and Tammy’s brother-in-law. Dianne felt a deep ache of desire in Liesel’s stomach that made her own skin flush with heat.
Dianne shook her head to get out of Liesel’s thoughts. Out of Liesel’s and into Anna’s, Liesel’s assistant. Anna Marie Fort-Porter’s brain was like a super computer. Dianne wasn’t sure what a super computer was but had learned not to ask Anna questions. Dianne would get encyclopedia-level details.
Monarchs, Danaus Plexippus, Greek for ‘sleepy transformation’. Related to the Greek myth, the daughters of King Danaus of Libya. The information rolled through Anna’s mind, who ignored it.
Each adult butterfly lives four to five weeks. In autumn a special generation are born that survive seven or eight months. In human terms 525 years old.
"Then isn’t that fitting? Since we live a long time. Or can," Dianne said to Anna. Unlike Anna’s thoughts, Dianne spoke out loud.
The two sisters and Tammy looked at Dianne. Anna groaned and slumped further down in her chair in the corner. Liesel thought, I don’t know how to help her. I need to get a hold of Sergei. Maybe he can help. At the same time Dianne heard Tammy’s Freak. Dianne brushed their thoughts away. Whatever. Nothing new there.
"Who’s Sergei?" Dianne asked.
"Even though you can read people’s minds,” Anna said, “doesn’t mean you should say what’s in their heads. It’s in there for a reason." We’re all hiding something. Dianne knew Anna’s cynicism, unlike that of other eighteen year olds, stemmed from battle-weary experience.
"Let’s get something clear." Liesel smiled. "Tammy, you live in San Francisco with Frank and the girls. You can’t be my bodyguard. Harry, you’re my sisters and I love you but you need to work and can’t be here twenty–four seven. Anna is in her first year of college. Nuff said."
They were due in Las Vegas for the first national convention of HOAX, Home Of the Amazon eXchange. There Liesel would be voted in as leader—title to be determined—and a board of directors appointed. Surviving in Vegas would make Dianne’s visit to Boise look like a fun field trip to a sunny park.
And me? Dianne asked Liesel.
Liesel smiled at her. "We need to figure out a way you can survive in a city." She rubbed her fingertips against her temple.
Preferably without weed, Anna thought.
"I heard that." Dianne glared at Anna.
Anna just smiled and said in her head, Welcome to my mind, Jean Grey.
Anna laughed again and got up to get a glass a water from the fridge. Her mind filled with old comic book pictures of a red headed superhero who could move things with her mind.
"I’m not telekinetic," Dianne clarified.
"What?" Tammy asked, irritated.
"She can’t move things with her mind," Harry explained.
Stop. Stop. Liesel pushed at her temple, feeling pain throb there.
Dianne didn’t think about it, she just scooped Liesel up like a young child and carried Liesel to her bedroom. The weight of her queen in her arms, the scope of light bleeding into shadows, were still muted by the drugs she had taken during the service and the marijuana. So it felt like carrying a pillow in a dim room.
"What the hell are you doing?" Harry demanded.
"She’s in pain." Careful not to touch Liesel skin to skin, Dianne angled sideways to avoid bumping the narrow hallway walls. The house was both home and office to Liesel’s web design company and headquarters for HOAX. What if the threat wasn’t a potential killer but an illness? Breast cancer ran in the Grant family. Dianne checked Liesel’s mind for her last physical.
"I’ve just got a headache. Dianne, put me down," Liesel said. She wasn’t frightened of Dianne, but still she was fully capable of walking to her room on her own.
"No," Dianne said. Liesel had had a full exam and blood work done after she was kidnapped. Everything looked fine.
"D, you need to chill," Anna said.
Tammy had her dander up and Dianne sent a mental command to stay the hell back, do not touch. Sometimes they listened.
The women followed them down the hall into Liesel’s room. It was messy, and Liesel cringed in embarrassment.
Then as she realized Dianne was carrying her she jerked still in her arms. Dianne!
Understanding her friend’s concern, Dianne said, “I’m being careful not to touch skin.” She stumbled at the bedroom’s threshold as it switched from hardwood to carpet. Startled, Liesel grabbed Dianne’s neck.
In that brief instant of touch, nightmarish images took over. Dianne stood in a glass cube where Griffon bled from deep gouges. Her sister Harry sobbed and a small child, muscular like a circus carnies’ sideshow, cowered in the darkness.
Someone tortured Griffon. Sliced deep. Blood pumped in rhythmic streams down his body. Harry, the gray of decay, dripped pungent water and didn’t breathe. Dianne tried to offer Harry comfort, save Griffon and lead the child into the light. Her muscles tore away from her bones, pulled in three different directions.
Dianne dropped Liesel onto the bed. She experienced a brief moment of black sharpness before all the other thoughts flooded back in. And not just the house. Dianne swayed on her feet and fell like a cut tree. Liesel made it out of the way just in time. She lay stomach down, face turned to the side on Liesel’s bed.
Before Dianne succumbed to unconsciousness, she saw Liesel reach out to brush the hair out of Dianne’s face. Oh god she wanted that, a motherly touch, soothing, strong. Liesel stopped, remembered not to touch.
I’m so sorry.
How was she supposed to help protect and support Liesel if she couldn’t be within miles of a city without her life being totally fucked up?
Doctor Sergei Sky ran his hand over the top of his head, feeling the short blue bristle of his hair. He was wet. Runny–wet. If you stand in the shower or in the rain then you are dripping–wet but water from inside—sweat—runs off skin. Runs at different speeds in rivulets; runny–wet. He grabbed a grungy towel he kept for the purpose and wiped down his muscular arms and scrubbed his head. His t–shirt and the towel were tossed in the hamper and he took the single step required to go from home gym to office.
Enjoying a rush of endorphins and adrenaline, unwinding a bit before his vacation, revved him up. He flipped a page in his battered notebook and read page three for the eight hundredth time.
“Nice abs,” crackled across the walkie–talkie.
Sergei started and laughed looking outside to the apartment building across the way. He placed a finger in the notebook to keep his place. Yeah, as if he would forget what it said. Somehow the answer would present itself. It had to.
He picked up his walkie–talkie and pressed the send button. “Well, Veranda, that’s why I leave the drapes open. To enhance the view.” He made his voice slick and flirtatious. He turned his body toward the window and undulated his hips once to really show off the goods. He laughed at how ridiculous he probably looked.
“If you got a gym membership you’d have a reason to get out of the building. Maybe meet someone.”
“Veranda! Are you breaking up with me?”
His neighbor had a motherly tone to go with her sassy, wise-woman persona. “Darlin’, I’m too much woman for you.”
Sergei laughed and tossed the notebook into his carry-on. Every word Liesel Grant had translated from ancient texts, the gene research, even the sporadic bits of the Amazon codex—before it was stolen, was in that notebook. Everything he’d ever found on Blue Hairs.
“I’m going to miss you next week,” Veranda said. He pulled his water bottle out of the fridge and chugged it while she spoke.
“You could come to Las Vegas with me.” He wiped his mouth. “We’ll take in the Blue Man Group and get married in one of the cheesy chapels.” Sergei walked to the window and waved to Veranda.
The seventy-year-old woman was wearing her favorite bubble-gum pink sweater. It engulfed her frail body and made Sergei think of those coconut stacked sweets—pink, brown and white.
“Can’t afford it.” It was a difficult subject, money. Veranda lived on bread bought at wholesale and the ‘discounted groceries’ Sergei took in twice a week. Shortly after moving in, Sergei saw the old woman, who he smiled at in passing, fall on a loose rug. It was late and hard for him to see but Sergei knew she didn’t get back up.
He alerted the police. She’d broken her hip. The walkie–talkies were his idea. Him eating his only non–microwaved meals at her apartment was Veranda’s idea. She was a nice enough lady that he occasionally felt bad for taking advantage of her generous nature. The groceries were an attempt to make up for his general lack of a heart. Okay, as a doctor he knew he had a heart, but not much of a soul. Those great-tasting meals and the home-like feel of their visits was worth the price of compliments and the time Sergei spent.
“You’ll bring back pictures?” Veranda said.
“And shot glasses and pink M&M’s from M&M world.” He could see her laugh even from this distance because her whole body shook. “Your nephew Tony’s coming on Monday and his wife Sarah on Wednesday—” The walkie-talkie squawked and stuttered as she interrupted. Her version of sticking her fingers in her ears and going ‘La-la-la.’
He released his button.
“Get cleaned up and come over. I’m making spaghetti.”
He rearranged his mental schedule and kept his sigh to himself. She’d be alone until Monday and it wasn’t like he had anything to cook here. His chest twinged with guilt over his reluctance. She was a good person. She deserved a faithful and grateful friend. Instead Sergei dragged his feet.
“I need to check my email. Half hour?” Sergei said.
“Ten four, Blue Hair.”
Sergei set his walkie-talkie down on the small coffee table that also doubled as a kitchen table. The place was small but just a block from the D.C. hospital where he had done his residency. If he had had student loans to pay back like most new doctors, there was no way he could afford it.
The flat consisted of three rooms: bath, bed and catch all. The minuscule bathroom had needed a shower head extension, which he installed the first day. The old one didn’t reach above his shoulder. At least on the top floor the ceilings were all high. Just as long as he remembered to duck in the doorways.
He turned on his radio and set the volume to the piece of tape marked ‘approval line.’ Above the tape and the neighbors started pounding to turn it down. He nodded his head a couple times and gave a snap to The Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop. Above the radio hung a framed photograph of a Life Flight medical helicopter landing at sunset. A blanket, his only successful sewing project from Home Economics class, lay on his bed. Every remaining shelf, surface, and floor space held his medical books.
He left the radio on as he checked his email. Credit card offer. Couldn’t they just stick to snail mail? Monthly subscription to an online doctor’s magazine. He’d read that on the plane. Save on your car insurance. What? No, penile implants? The last was an email from Liesel Grant with the subject line ‘I need your help.’ His body tensed, the press of his heartbeat against his chest so much stronger than when he’d been exercising.
Maggie’s granddaughter Dianne is a Blue Hair with extreme psychic abilities. She’s suffering in Boise but refuses to leave. I know you don’t start your new job until after Vegas but could you recommend something?
Crap. He knew exactly what was wrong and didn’t need the hassle. He had finished his residence. Three years of being the bottom of the totem pole. Little sleep, almost no social life and every spare moment filling his notebook. Not only was this his first adult vacation but he hadn’t had more than two days off in nearly four years.
He would start his new job for NEWCo Labs in a couple of weeks. The company had helped him obtain his research grant to study the effects of different medications on Schizophrenic patients. A disease the world believed his father suffered from. He wanted to help Blue Hairs before it was too late. Help those who suffered like his brother had, like his father did. Like Dianne was suffering.