Sunday, December 27, 2015

World of Wonders Fanfic: Every Prince A Frog

Last one I'm going to pull over from the LiveJournal for a while. This one's a story I wrote, inspired by the creations of Dr. Comics himself, Jason Tondro, for ICONS. I have rewritten one paragraph that always bothered me.
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No, really: It hasn't had the proper editing, but it's fan-fiction: I'm not going to pursue it. (Where would I try to sell it?) At Dr. Tondro's request, I'm going public with this story.

Characters of Frog-Girl, the Veil and Matrix and parts of the setting copyright 2011 by Vigilance Press. Characters of Frog-Girl, the Veil, and Matrix created by Jason Tondro and visual look created by Dan Houser. Of course, I claim copyright on the arrangement of the words, and my moral right as the author.

That should cover all the legal stuff.


Every Prince a Frog


Polly Sanchez stood on the sidewalk outside her date's home and looked at the motorcycle helmet with horror. "You said you had a full-face helmet." She hated that it made her sound vain.

"It's a helmet." Jason scowled, which made him merely good-looking instead of handsome.

"You said full face. Like with a mask," Polly said. "I'm not gonna have bugs in my teeth." How could she tell him about eating bugs and turning into Frog-Girl? She couldn't. But he had said he had a full-face helmet. Without the right kind of helmet, she wouldn't have agreed to go to this concert on his motorcycle. Their relationship was only two dates old. It was practically new-born.

"Suit yourself." Jason threw a leg over the bike and kicked the engine into life.

"You're going to leave?"

"Hey, it's two tickets for a hot band. Someone will want to go. See you at work tomorrow." He pulled into traffic.

She stared at his retreating form. She finally shouted after him, "Not if I see you first!" If he heard, he didn't respond.

"Jerk," she muttered. She turned—

—and a flying body knocked her down and away from a stone gargoyle that fell to where she had stood.

She lay on the ground, with a hard-bodied person on top of her. A man? "Sorry," he murmured, and practically levitated up, all lithe muscle and grace. He wore a stylish pair of jeans and an equally expensive windbreaker, with a white scarf draped carelessly around his neck, almost covering
his mouth. He tucked it up hastily, at some attempt at anonymity, so naturally Polly memorized his face. His clothes looked careless to first glance, but Polly could tell that the outfile had been assembled with a couturiere's eye for fashion. He wore a fedora, which she noted: you just didn't see many fedoras these days. This one was askew but hadn't come off.

"You should watch out," he said in the same quiet murmur. Tenor voice, maybe striving to be a little less effeminate and not quite sounding natural.

She spat out the thing in her mouth. Good, it was just gravel and not a bug. "Yeah," she said. "Hey. Thanks."

But by then, he was gone.

* * *

Polly sighed as she let herself into her apartment. Walking home had taken until after dark. She held her mail in her free hand, but it was just bills: she always hoped there would be something from her mother's side of the family, in Europe. It looked like they had disowned her since the curse of Frog-Girl showed up.

She smiled. She used to get a kick from birthday gifts from her grandmother; twice—her twelfth and sixteenth birthdays—the gift was even money from Grandmother's numbered Swiss bank account. All of Grandmother's letters smelled faintly of nutmeg, which probably meant that a cook typed them, but still, they meant something to Polly. They might have even influenced her decision to become an investment banker, the closest thing to royalty on Wall Street....

No, this royalty was going to spend the night with a pint of Haagen-Dazs chocolate. A movie. Maybe some tweeting.

"He was trying to kill you," came a woman's voice from the shadows.

A Wonder who's into mysterious, Polly thought. Greeeeeat.

She heard the droning of a fly somewhere if she needed one. "What, my rescuer?" she asked as she tossed the bills on a table.

There might have been a smile in the voice. "No: the man who aimed the gargoyle at you."

Polly shrugged. "Gargoyles fall. Old buildings, you know."  She wished she knew who she was speaking to. Frog-Girl, not Polly, could see in the dark. Duh—normal people turn on the light.

She did so. "I'm making tea, if you want some," she said to the invisible figure. She strode into her kitchen area and opened a cupboard. "I got...green tea, Ceylon, and I can make chai lattes if you're not lactose intolerant. 'Cause, you know, I don't want to spoil the whole stealth thing for you."

A woman stepped from the shadows, swathed in dark clothing and a veil over her face. "You are taking this quite calmly."

Polly pulled out the makings of tea. "Lady, I'm from New York. Last week, I saw ghosts of slime men, a horde of rats each as big as a German shepherd, and a doctor making a house call. Nothing shocks me." She put on the kettle. "Well, maybe the house call. You want tea?"

The woman shook her head.

"What, the veil doesn't move?"

The woman glided like a dancer to the edge of the kitchenette. "It was
not his first attempt."

"If I haven't even noticed, he's not very good."

"Listen to me." The woman threw down photos. "He arranged a subway accident, but the train was mobbed by mutant rats and had to be diverted."

And finding a fly on the subway car was the hardest part of dealing with them. "Could have been anyone on the subway. Or all of us. I know—maybe we're all marked for death!"

"Then he tried a trapped cab but you evaded that entirely by abandoning the cab."

A cab? She usually took the subway— Oh. Right. The accident with the burning zeppelin—well, technically, the ghost of a burning parallel-universe Hindenberg. She scooped tea into a ball, got the ball in the teacup.

"You're unusually lucky—Frog-Girl."

Polly laughed. "You think my eyes are that bulgy? Who are you? Maybe BurqaLady? Or is it a hijab, because I can never keep those straight." Just before the water boiled, she poured it into the teacup.

"Some call me...the Veil."

The Veil? In her apartment? Crap. She had to get the woman out of there! Even if the Veil was better than her reputation, which Matrix claimed, she was still too kill-happy by ten.

Polly said carefully, "Sometimes I see Frog-Girl going by. I'll bet she lives near here. So if you waited on the roof, she might go by."

The Veil backed up to the window. "How long would I have to wait?"

"Don't know. Maybe you'll be lucky and Frog-Girl will be going by in the next few minutes."

"Perhaps." And the Veil was gone: Polly barely caught a musical whisper of boots on the fire escape. Then she heard only the sounds of the city. She should have gone out the other window, Polly thought. Nobody can see you. That was why she had the place.

Well, that and the rent-control.

She inhaled the scent of the steeping tea. "We are two single women in the greatest city on earth, and we're gonna spend tonight dealing with a man. We would so fail the Bechdel test," Polly told the empy room. She sighed, poured out her tea, and headed to eat the droning fly. Maybe it will taste better with just a bit of ice cream.

* * *

Five minutes later, she had circled away from the building so she could leap back as if on her way from somewhere else. The Veil waited in the shadows on the roof of her building. Not invisibly, she saw: the Veil was just very good at staying in the shadows.

Frog-Girl squatted upside-down on the bottom of the water-tower and looked at the Veil. She croaked to get the woman's attention. "Hey, Vey. I assume I can call you that."

"Frog-Girl. You may not." She said it gracefully; the Veil seemed to do everything gracefully, even when she wasn't moving.

"Pretty formal for a woman in pyjamas." Frog-Girl leapt across the roof to the wall beside beside the Veil. "Thinking of moving from Titan City to the Big Apple?"

"This apple has worms in it."

"You don't have to tell me—I've dated half of them. So: bad guy in town, and you would like moi's help in catching him? Or do you just want girl talk? You think the girl Wonders are cute, or the boys?"

"I think an assassin is trying to kill you."

"That is like the worst girl talk I have ever heard." She pointed at the bum hiding at the edge of the roof. "We need something to amuse that guy. Get outa here, you," she shouted. "Never seen two Wonders talking before?" She turned and saw that the Veil was already lithely running to the next roof like a parkour expert.

Frog-Girl sighed and bounded over. "Look, who would want to kill little old me? Seriously."

The Veil stopped in the shadow of a ventilator shaft. "Listing only suspects who have motive and the resources to hire an expensive retired assassin—"

Once the list got depressingly long, Frog-Girl interrupted. "I meant, who would want to pay to kill me? My foes take a DIY approach to retaliation and homicide."

"Nonetheless, Tufan is trying to kill your other self." The name sounded like "Tufan" but was in another language. "I think that means he knows who you are. In that identity, you are vulnerable."

"He's been stalking me?"

"You have a Twitter account. You are easily stalkable." The Veil ran and grabbed the edge of the next roof, pulled herself up. Frog-Girl paced her easily. "But what I want to know," said the Veil, not out of breath at all, "is why a contract for the murder of a Wonder would pull Tufan out of retirement and have him change MO. Ideas?"

"He doesn't normally use falling statuary? Because I hear it's the rage in Europe."

"Tufan controls winds. He fills your lungs until they burst."

"Ew. Kind of a CPOP machine?"

"This is my first break in finding him in a decade."

"You were looking for him? Like, not to avoid him?"

The Veil stopped. "Long ago, Tufan killed someone I knew. A young girl. He was just one of the soldiers, then." She shook herself—but gracefuly. "I thought perhaps his powers had faded with time. It happens. It would explain the change in MO." She touched her side, and for the first time Frog-Girl noticed a slight bulkiness that might be a bandage. "That turns out to be untrue."

"I hear you're kinda badass. What do you need with me?"

"I thought I would give you a chance to face your would-be assassin." The Veil jumped to grab a pipe running down the next building and slid part of the way down.

Frog-Girl followed. "But you haven't been able to find him."

"Until now. I got a tracer on him after his attempt on you, during our fight." She made the drop to a fire escape. Frog-Girl landed on the wall beside her. "And Matrix speaks highly of you," the Veil said.

"Okay. I'll help. On one condition." Frog-Girl got to where the Veil could see her. "No killing. I mean it."

"I thought 'Justice croaks at midnight'—'croak' does mean die in the idiom, does it not?"

Frog-Girl stared after the retreating woman. Was that a joke? I think that was a joke.

* * *
The tracer led them to a sewer manhole in an alley. On the street, traffic hummed by.

Frog-Girl whispered, "Why is it always sewers? I hate sewers."  The Veil's posture showed she was about to speak and Frog-Girl said, "Rhetorical!" Frog-Girl laid one hand flat against the cover and pulled, lifting it as it stuck to her hand. "After you."

The Veil held a finger to her mouth for silence and dropped into the hole. Frog-Girl braced herself for the splash or worse, the roar of wind, but there was only the sound of a word in Arabic. Probably a curse word, the way the Veil said it.

Frog-Girl dove in and looked at the puddle of cloth on the floor, and then she flinched from the smell. "I hate sewers!"

"He left his clothes and the tracer here," the Veil said, and said the word again.

Frog-Girl looked up and down the sewer shaft. "Maybe he just changed here. No obvious hideout or exit."

"No; he found the tracer and dumped everything here." When Frog-Girl poked at the clothes, she said, "I checked the pockets. Nothing."

"But did you check the labels? This is not Wonderwear."

"It's what he was wearing." She inspected the sewer ladder.

Frog-Girl looked up from the clothes. "Is he cheap? Because this is cheap stuff. Disposable?"

"He used to wear Wonderwear, even with the surcharge for criminals."

Frog-Girl fingered the cloth. "But he doesn't now. Maybe too expensive for him?"

"That could be why he came out of retirement. He needed the money."

Frog-Girl would have smiled, but her mouth wasn't made for it. "I can check credit ratings if we need to. It's a chain label, and this chain has a store nearby that's open 24 hours, and it's the most convenient of the three—" She noticed movement behind her, almost like something were solidifying, and the Veil tackled her, knocking her to the ground as chitinous claws slashed through the space where she had been.

The Veil fired twice over Frog-Girl. Even silenced, the gun seemed loud in the tunnel. The Veil rose to one side and fired once again.

Lying on the floor of the sewer tunnel was an enormous translucent bug, more than six feet long. It had claws that would have torn through each of them.

Frog-Girl swallowed, and was annoyed by the gallumphing sound. "So that's what's been eating the alligators. I wondered where they'd gone."

"You have the oddest luck," said the Veil.

"All bad. But— Thank you. That's a heck of a gun."

"Incendiary rounds. For someone who might be able to turn into wind."

"Tufan can do that?" Frog-Girl swallowed again.

"He couldn't before. But rampant growth of his powers would also explain the need for money." She holstered the weapon. "Possibilities."

What cost Tufan his retirement money? wondered Frog-Girl. Stock crash?

* * *

"It doesn't look open," said the Veil.

"It is." She pushed open the door. "I needed a change of clothes once. Cheap was good."

The clerk in the store was a young Asian woman, maybe eighteen. "Frog-Girl! You need another poncho?" She leaned forward. "What about this guy who saved your life? Was he cute?"

"You tweeted that?" asked the Veil.

"Just that it happened. I didn't give away my secret ID," said Frog-Girl. To the clerk, she said, "Definitely gay. Too nicely dressed."

The Veil plopped the clothes on the counter. She said, "We're looking for the man who bought these."

The clerk examined them. "Our store label, but I didn't sell these," she said to Frog-Girl. "Mama's asleep, but I'll ask Papa." To the Veil, she said, "He has insomnia. You guys will watch the place? I'll be a minute." She bustled away.

The Veil said, "She's calling the police."

"She's getting her dad."

"I'm a wanted criminal."

"I'm a humanoid frog. We all have our problems." She was talking to empty air. She shook her head. "So rude."

* * *

"I told you she was getting her dad. Anyway. Big Arabic guy," Frog-Girl told the Veil. "Middle-aged, moustache but shaves his head by the stubble. Someone invents a hot wax treatment for heads, they make a mint."

"Frog-Girl—" said the Veil.

"Okay. He paid cash, but he's been coming in here for the last couple of months. Always alone. Smells of disinfectant. Once he bought kid stuff—pyjamas. Shopping here, though, I'd guess he's economizing." She shook her head. "Penny wise, pound foolish. I still have a Burberry trenchcoat—"

"Frog-Girl. I listened. The man told us where Tufan is."

"I'm telling you he doesn't know."

"But he told us that the man smells of disinfectant, and that he comes in late, but not late enough to be working night shift. Which probably means after visiting hours at the hospital. We just have to figure out which hospital. We'll start with childrens' hospitals, because of the pyjamas."

"Oh." Frog-Girl pulled out her phone. "I'll tweet it. Someone will recognize him."

The Veil closed her eyes as if in pain. "If he knows who you are, he probably reads your tweets."

Polly used her tongue to put away her phone, then said, "All right, we'll do it your way."

* * *

"Who knew your way would involve B&E?" said Frog-Girl from the ceiling. This was their second hospital. The first had been easy, quick, and negative.

"Shh. If you can't be quiet here, stand lookout."

Frog-Girl padded along the ceiling, moving to the wall when the drop tiles began. Behind her, the Veil slipped into the office. Down the hall, a paunchy red-headed security guard was walking along with his big timeclock. And the timekey was by the office the Veil had just entered. Security guards are bad, right?

There was no way the guy was gonna miss a giant tree frog clinging to the wall. Frog-Girl could hide, but this wasn't a good spot. She backed up and dove through the transom. The Veil stopped trying to crack into the computer and looked at her. Frog-Girl indicated quiet with one orange finger to her lips.

The doorknob turned.

The guard stepped in and scanned the room with the beam of his flashlight. He saw the computer unattended and on, shook his head, and came into the room to turn it off.

On the way out, he saw the humanoid frog clinging to the ceiling. He stopped.

Frog-Girl didn't want to knock him out or paralyze him; he was just doing his job. "Shhh," she whispered. "I'm hiding."

"From what?" he asked.

Good question. From what? "Killer...shape-shifting...robot. From the future."

"Like the Terminator?"

"Where do you think they got the idea?" That's where I got it. "Right now it looks like a big bald Arabic guy. Seen anyone like that?"

"Just Mr. Fakhoury. Up on the sixth floor. His daughter's sick. But he's been there for months." The guard looked at his watch. "He might still be there—sometimes the nurses let him stay late, him being her only relative and all."

"Thanks. The robot's too dangerous to tackle alone."

"Should we evacuate?"

"Don't even know if it's him." Behind the guard, Frog-Girl saw the Veil raise her arm and— "No!"

The Veil hit him on the base of the skull with a pistol. He fell like an empty potato chip bag. "You were taking too long."

"It was peaceful!"

"Now he has a better story, and we don't risk of alerting Tufan with an evacuation." She shook her head. "Killer shape shifting robot?"

"We don't even know if Mr. Fakhoury is Tufan!"

"We will."

* * *

The rolling cart was hard under her, and everything smelled of disinfectant and plastic. Frog-Girl felt exposed, even though the cloth covered her. Like they were going to see her and laugh at her. Sure, she could fight mutant rats, tangle with ghosts or other-dimensional slime-men, deal with the insidious plans of the Subtle Cuttlefish or the Singing Sprite, but really, she looked just stupid going down a hospital corridor. And the windows here did not open far enough that she could slip out and go up the outside of the building, like last time.

All the Veil had to do was throw on a labcoat and she looked like a technician with a burqa. (She was pretty sure it was a burqa.)

And then the cart stopped moving. Another elevator? She heard the click of a door. Muffled distant hospital sounds. A scream.

She threw off the cloth. She was in a closet. Damn that Veil! She had gotten rid of Frog-Girl, which meant that Mr. Fakhoury probably was Tufan.

The door was locked. She could probably break it open, but this was a hospital, and that would be noisy— She saw the hinges. Oh. It opened inward.

She placed one sticky finger on a hingepin and lifted. It came out smoothly; obviously they greased their pins on a regular basis. Twice more, and the door was loose. She fastened both hands against the door and pulled. It came off smoothly and she set it aside.

People in the hallway were running away, so she leapt toward what they were running from.

Papers and chairs whirled and obscured, caught in the cyclone that stretched from Mr Faroukhy's hand. Sofas from the small guest alcove were tumbled against walls, two windows were broken, and the smashed computer equipment from the nurses' station lay scattered on the floor.

Movement showed her that the Veil had slipped into the nurses' station.

"Hey," she called to the man as a greeting, but he aimed a hard stream of air at her. It didn't knock her loose from the ceiling tile, but it did knock the tile free. I hate ceiling tiles. She leapt off the tile in mid-air, but the gust of air slammed her into a wall.

The Veil took the opportunity to stand and fire twice at the man.

Frog-Girl shouted, "No killing!"

"He has killed scores of men and women!"

Standoff: if the Veil moved forward, the man would kill her, but his winds couldn't deflect a bullet. Frog-Girl looked around. She needed to know where Fakhoury's daughter was. Over there—a nurse, hiding, that room. Problem was, she was hiding close to the nurses' station, so the Veil might overhear.

Not to be helped. Frog-Girl began making her way slowly along the floor, sticking to the floor and keeping low even as the winds threatened to tear her loose. In the nurses' station, she could see the Veil reloading. What now? Explosive rounds?

Frog-Girl slipped into the room, and the sudden lack of wind was like a balm. "Mr. Fakhoury's kid—where?"

"Room six-twenty-four." Frog-Girl didn't move. "Across the guest area, down that corridor. Third room on left."

"Thanks." She scuttled out of the room, saw that the Veil was already halfway across the space, pinned down by the man—she guessed she could call him Tufan. If she went across, the same would happen to her, and the ceiling was those damned drop ceilings—

Ah. Drop ceilings. She scurried up the wall and lifted a tile so she could squeeze inside. The real ceiling was a maze of ductwork and cables and dust—she saw one dustbunny that was due to gain sapience soon, based on size alone—but movement was not impossible. Slowly, she picked her way, trying not to shudder as grime stuck to her slimy skin.

Ah. There. She crawled into the third room on the left, across to the far wall. From behind, she could paralyze people entering the room and they could talk—

She carefully lifted a tile—

Too late. The Veil stood beside the dark-complected tween girl in the bed. The Veil had a gun to the girl's head and one aimed at the doorway. The girl looked like one of her nieces, except surrounded by cables and tubes and machines that went ping.

And Tufan was in the doorway.

The Veil was saying, "You killed dozens of people in Yemen, and for this crime—"

Frog-Girl shot out her tongue and pulled back the pistol aimed at the girl. The pistol tasted of gun oil and sweat. She tucked it in her belt.

"Ptu," Frog-Girl spat. "I said, no killing!"

In response, the Veil wrapped an arm around the girl's neck. The pistol aimed at Tufan didn't waver. "I can break her neck."

"I know you can," said Frog-Girl. "But do you want to avenge the death of one innocent girl by killing another?"

"If necessary."

"That's not the woman Matrix told me about. You mean he was wrong about you."

There was a long moment: no one moved—then the Veil pushed the girl away as she fired at Tufan.

Frog-Girl's tongue lashed out again, but this time wrapped around his wrist and yanked him into the wall. The bullet tore into the place where he had been.

"And you!" Frog-Girl said. "Who paid Tufan to kill Paulina Sanchez?" She used his name deliberately: give him the chance, later, to make good with his daughter.

The Veil's pistol swiveled, aimed at his head. Now less than four feet separated them.

The man looked at the pistol, and at Frog-Girl. "It was a numbered account."

"Show me," said Frog-Girl. She could at least track it; Polly knew people in Switzerland. She could even reach out to her Grandmother. "You can use my phone. It has a web browser."

It took him a few moments. "Here."

Frog-Girl looked at the number. "Keep the money," she told the man. "Help her get better. Stay with her."

She told the Veil, "I know who they are."

"But Tufan—"

"Has given up killing. And if not, you know who he is now, and what he looks like, and that he has a daughter. Surely you can find him with that."

"But—"

Frog-Girl grabbed the Veil by the waist and bounded from the room. Three more leaps and they were outside, on the side of a neighboring building. Frog-Girl scaled easily to the roof, where she set the Veil down.

"I could have got him," the Veil said.

"At what price?" Frog-Girl said. "And you won't. Because, unlike everyone else, I have some idea of what you look like under that veil."

The Veil started to move—

"If I have to paralyze you to make you listen, I will. You were following Paulina Sanchez, trying to find Tufan. I know that. So it stands to reason that you were the guy who rescued her from the gargoyle. Right height, right size, right moves. Then you disappeared to fight him. Right?" Frog-Girl handed the Veil back her pistol.

The Veil checked the chamber and then holstered it. "Matrix was right.  I am impressed."

"I notice you didn't confirm or deny. But I don't want that girl to lose family like I did."

The Veil drew her eyebrows together. "Your family loves you. I've seen you with your nieces."

"My father's side loves me." Frog-Girl gave a small croak of despair. "My mother's side—they're the ones who paid Tufan."

The Veil looked away for a moment, and then she said, "I do not have to return to Titan City immediately."

Frog-Girl leapt to the edge of the building and crouched there. "I'd like that."

"I can get a jet to take us to Switzerland."

"I mean a movie and some girl talk," said Frog-Girl. "I have work tomorrow."