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About the Author
Susan Forest is a three-time Prix Aurora Award finalist and a writer of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and a freelance fiction editor. She co-edited two anthologies from Laksa Media, Strangers Among Us and The Sum of Us, with Lucas K. Law. They are currently working on their third anthology, Shades Within Us (Laksa Media). Her stories have appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tesseracts, AE Science Fiction Review, OnSPEC Magazine, and The Urban Green Man, among others. Her collection of short fiction, Immunity to Strange Tales, was published by Five Rivers Publishing. Susan acted as judge for the Endeavour Award, and the Robin Herrington Memorial Short Story Contest, and she contributes to Calgary's annual literary festival, When Words Collide. Susan is also Secretary for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She teaches creative writing at the Alexandra Centre, and has appeared at numerous local and international writing conventions.
Lucas K. Law is a Malaysian-born freelance editor and published author who divides his time and heart between Calgary and Qualicum Beach. He co-edited two anthologies from Laksa Media, Strangers Among Us and The Sum of Us, with Susan Forest. They are currently working on their third anthology, Shades Within Us (Laksa Media). With Derwin Mak, Lucas co-edited Where The Stars Rise (Laksa Media). He has been a jury member for a number of fiction competitions including Nebula, RITA and Golden Heart awards.When Lucas is not editing, writing, or reading, he is an engineering consultant and business coach, specializing in mergers and acquisition (M&A) activities, asset evaluations, business planning, and corporate development.
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the dunschemin retirement home for repentant supervillains
Here we go again. Mornings in the Home always began the same way. No matter what time Stafford reached Anarcho's room, Anarcho was invariably awake, waiting for Stafford to open the chintz curtains. But he never reprimanded Stafford for being late or wasting time. In the old days, Anarcho had been as impatient as all supervillains, ever eager to pursue some cunning scheme. Now there was no rushing and shouting and clanking; no messy experiments left bubbling overnight; no lairs to build or dungeons to dust.
Today's tasks were more homely. Stafford pulled back the duvet to reveal Anarcho's shrunken frame, tinged green from over-exposure to tachyons. First came the bathroom routine: toilet, sponge wipe, shave, and so forth. Then the mechanical maintenance: eye lube, claw sharpen and polish, exobrain defrag and reboot. These prosthetics were all obsolete. Anarcho was the Home's oldest resident, his life convoluted by time travel.
"Attention all residents," the intercom blared. "Please report for roll call in the lounge. This is not a drill; the perimeter alarm has sounded. Urgent roll call!"
"Sounds like mischief," Stafford said. "I presume it's not yours."
He didn't expect an answer. For form's sake, he checked the control panel on Anarcho's wheelchair but saw nothing. It had been years since Anarcho's last caper.
Stafford couldn't decide whether he missed the old days. Back then, life had felt too frenetic, with a never-ending list of chores; every new plot always needed its own elaborate control room, destruct mechanism, and escape tunnel. Yet he'd enjoyed the craftsmanship of building vast laboratories and sinister machines. Now the chores were mundane: the new enemy was incontinence. Had all those intrigues been for naught?
"Let's get you down there," he said.
He settled Anarcho into the motorized wheelchair and draped a tartan blanket over his knees. The blanket lacked even the most basic hidden enhancements: no blast-proof shielding, no explosive tassels, not even a hypnotic fractal pattern on the reverse. It was merely 100% wool, soft and warm.
The Home bustled with activity as the residents and their carers converged on the lounge. Stafford ducked aside as Madame Mayhem and Miss Rule zoomed past on their hoverchairs, racing each other along the corridors. Proceeding more sedately, Stafford and Anarcho were the last to arrive.
"Hurry up!" roared Betty Beast. "I'm missing breakfast for this."
"Oh, I'll get us some breakfast," said Doctor Havoc. With a well-practiced dramatic gesture, he conjured puffs of blue smoke from his hand. The clouds of nanites drifted through the kitchen doorway, returning with toast and mushrooms. One blue globule collided with a hoverchair and tried to drag it back, to Madame Mayhem's furious protests. She retaliated by stealing slices of toast before the smoke took them to Doctor Havoc. In the tussle, stray mushrooms fell to the floor, where three of Legion's tiny scuttling avatars scooped them up.
"Hush!" cried Matron. "Stop playing with your food."
A tall, spindly woman dressed in an old-style black-and-white nurse's uniform, Matron seemed to glare at everyone simultaneously. "Please answer the roll call, and I'd better not hear any cackling. Phipps will physically check that everyone's here. No decoy holograms!"
Stafford said, "What do you reckon, Anarcho — is it an escape or a kidnap?" Some supervillains couldn't bear retirement and returned to the metropolis like grizzled rock stars craving one last comeback.
Matron called out, "Narinder Atwal."
"Here," said Doctor Havoc. "And hungry!"
Phipps, Matron's diminutive assistant, touched Doctor Havoc's shoulder to verify his existence. Coincidentally — or not — a blue puff of smoke swirled into Phipps' face and made him sneeze.
"Sophie Béranger." Matron only ever used civilian names; she insisted that every retired supervillain must abandon their alias along with their antics. While no-one openly defied her, many surreptitiously clung onto their monikers and misbehaviour.
"Here," replied Madame Mayhem, her fingers idly stroking a memorial necklace of fangs from Fidosaurus, her deceased pet dinosaur.
The roll call continued until it reached, "Russell Fletcher." Stafford waited a few seconds, then pinged Anarcho's exobrain.
"I'm here, wherever this is," Anarcho said, his voice low and hoarse.
"It ain't heaven, that's for sure," said Doctor Havoc.
"Come sit on my hoverchair, and I'll show you heaven," Madame Mayhem purred.
The supervillains dissolved into giggles until Matron raised her voice to resume the roll call, which ended with no absentees — or none detected.
"That's reassuring," said Matron, addressing the group. "But what set off the alarm? I've checked the video, and most of the outside cameras are obscured. It's remarkable how fast the ivy grows in our grounds. Quite remarkable indeed." She stared at the motley reprobates. "If anyone knows anything, please enlighten us."
"I know why galaxies collide," said AlphaMega, his bass voice augmented with infrasonic rumble.
"Yeah, your huge ego turned into a black hole and sucked them in," retorted Madame Mayhem.
"If you can't be helpful, be quiet," Matron said. "I've warned the authorities about the perimeter breach. If anything happens outside and it's traced back here, there'll be consequences."
She paused for emphasis. "This is the Dunschemin Retirement Home for Repentant Supervillains. I may overlook your little pranks when they're confined within these grounds. But I will not tolerate the slightest nuisance to the public. Any culprits will be expelled from the Home and transferred to the Lockdown Penitentiary, where I can assure you they don't bake monster-shaped cookies for afternoon tea." Her gaze pinned each one of them, in turn. "While you have breakfast, we'll sweep the grounds and clear the ivy from the cameras. Until we know what's happening, I want you all to stay indoors. No exceptions."
Stafford smiled, hoping for a peaceful morning with everyone on their best behaviour. Perhaps he could make progress on his writing projects. He'd nearly finished the script for a musical about Anarcho — renamed Anachro in the show, for a veneer of deniability. Yet Stafford also wanted to write his own material, his own stories. Expediting Anarcho's fame was his job, but it wasn't — quite — his life.
On Anarcho's wheelchair, a red light began flashing: a relay from the control room hidden below the pond in the Home's garden. The relay also triggered an emergency Alertness mode in Anarcho's exobrain.
Drat, thought Stafford. No rest for the wicked. He hurriedly grabbed a breakfast tray and steered Anarcho back to his room.
Anarcho flailed into life as jolts of electricity galvanized his meatbrain, sparks coming out of his ears. He consulted the wheelchair's control panel to see what had roused him.
"The Time Hole has activated," Anarcho announced with glee. "Bye bye, Matron. Hello, world domination! Starting with a new timeline for recent decades...."
Clearly the Alertness module had already run the Revoke Repentances subroutine and the I'm Back, Baby! nefariousness boost. However, the Same Old Plan loop was still stuck.
"Are you sure you want to go back?" Stafford asked. "It didn't work out so well last time."
Many years ago, Stafford had just built Anarcho's first lair when the older Anarcho arrived from the future, envisaging himself as the younger version's mentor. Their meeting was a battle of bristling egos. The young Anarcho denounced the arrival as a senile old failure and rebuffed him with a barrage of explosivators.
"I'll choose a different year," Anarcho said. "Last time, I arrived when I was young and confident. If I appear after the Nebulon debacle, I should be more receptive."
"But why go back at all?" Stafford asked. "You've already given it your best shot. Maybe you should stay here and take it easy. Your musical can be notorious on your behalf." It was hard to finalize the script if Anarcho resumed scheming; conquering the world would mean a major rewrite, or at least an extra song.
"I need to visit the Regeneration Chamber before it gets destroyed ten years ago." Anarcho flapped a feeble arm and scowled at its steel claw. "This body is old and worn out. It's letting me down. And I don't like things that let me down —"
Stafford deftly interrupted the rant. "We can't go yet: Matron asked everyone to stay indoors while they investigate the perimeter breach." He frowned. "Why would the Time Hole activate on the same day the alarm sounded?"
"It means there might be an extra passenger," said Anarcho, with an Enigmatic Mode smirk. "If there is, make sure he goes alone — no interference. Just be ready to leave soon, when everything's quieter. While we wait, I'll download Wikipedia and whatnot, so I can take the latest science back."
Stafford shook his head at the sudden outpouring of meaningless drivel. Another stuck subroutine, no doubt. He walked behind the chair as Anarcho took control and drove to the computer room, where other staff could watch him for a while. It wouldn't take long for Stafford to pack their possessions for the trip back in time to the Regeneration Chamber. Then he could work on his new play, a down-to-earth bedroom farce with no supervillain antics whatsoever. He'd tinkered with several scripts over the years but never found enough time to finish them. Things always kept cropping up: rusty claws one morning, Time Holes the next.
Before Stafford could slip away, he was summoned to Matron's office.
"Stafford, this is Honora," said Matron. "She's conducting an investigation for the city and needs our cooperation." Honora was a young woman dressed in scarlet Lycra, emblazoned with three eyes inside a shield. She was either a superhero, or on her way to a fancy dress party. And fancy dress parties rarely started just after breakfast.
Stafford didn't say Pleased to meet you, because he wasn't.
Matron went on, "Honora, this is Stafford. He'll take you around the grounds and show you anything you want to see. Phipps will search inside the building and keep the residents indoors, so they don't disturb you."
"Thank you," said Honora. "Shall we start?" Her voice was high and firm, accustomed to command. Her hair was dyed red, the same shade as her costume, as though signifying total commitment.
Stafford followed Honora out. As he turned to close the office door, Matron made a "keep the lid on it" gesture: she wanted Honora out of the residents' sight. Not easy, with Honora wearing a typically vivid costume. There had never been a superhero called the Subtle Sleuth.
He ushered Honora through a side exit, into a blustery autumn day. Fallen leaves whipped across the overgrown grass. "What are you looking for?" he asked, hoping this delay could be quickly resolved, before Anarcho grew impatient.
"A missing boy," Honora replied. "He's fourteen. We've swept the neighbourhood and there's no sign of him. When I heard about the perimeter breach here, I wondered if he'd sneaked in."
"So he might be wandering around the grounds?" asked Stafford, conscious of the Time Hole in the grotto. If there's an extra passenger, make sure he goes alone — no interference, Anarcho had said. Stafford frowned. Had Anarcho's cryptic words been more than just a stuck subroutine?
"Or he could have injured himself. This is the kind of place where accidents happen, isn't it?" Honora's tone was full of insinuation.
"Anyone who walks into a home for supervillains deserves whatever they get," Stafford said, returning her stare.
She looked away, her gaze sweeping the area. "Let's start at the perimeter, and see if we can spot where he came in." Stafford and Honora walked all the way down the drive until they reached the tall iron gate at the edge of the grounds.
"Is this always closed?" Honora asked.
"Yes. Staff cars have a transponder to open the gate. Any visitors announce themselves at the intercom and are buzzed in. Mostly that's deliveries. The residents don't get many visitors." Supervillains usually needed a retirement home because they'd alienated — or eliminated — any family and friends.
A high wall topped with spikes and stern warning notices extended on each side of the gate. Pine trees stood on the right; to the left lay a rhododendron border.
"Which direction?" Stafford asked Honora, facing right with an implied preference for the trees. He wanted to steer her away from the Time Hole, which seemed the best way of ensuring no interference, whatever that meant. Anarcho's trip to the Regeneration Chamber would have to wait until Honora had gone and Matron had calmed down.
Honora glanced around, scrutinizing the rhododendrons. She pushed through the bushes and pointed. "Let's ask this lady what she's doing out here."
Rats. Stafford followed and glimpsed Madame Mayhem's hoverchair attempting Skulk mode. "Are you sure you want to confront her?" he asked, thinking wearily of the chaos superheroes always caused when they started poking around. More clean-up work! He would never get his scripts finished. "You're on our turf, so you can't complain if anyone whacks you." Though, to be fair, he should let Phipps know one of the residents had defied Matron's orders to stay indoors.
Honora ignored this warning and strode ahead. "Looking for someone?" she challenged.
Madame Mayhem's hoverchair retreated, floating a little higher. "Not at all. I'm just looking for my, for my ... monocle. Yes, monocle. Have you seen it? It's rather fine; the frame is antique ivory and the glass was hand-blown by artisan ogres."
"Perhaps you've forgotten where you put it," Honora said. "It's in the top pocket of your jacket, alongside a matchbook and a miniature disruptor gun with an expired charge."
Madame Mayhem gaped in bogglement. She reached into her pocket and retrieved the ivory monocle. "Ah, so it is. I guess I'll just be, just be ... heading back inside. Yes, inside. I've got an excellent book to read, now that I've found my monocle. Good day!" Her hoverchair zoomed away. Clearly she'd only emerged on the off-chance of discovering something to liven the long twilight of retirement.
"If the absent-minded lady was happy to leave, there's nothing here." Honora turned toward the trees. "We'll walk the other way."
Relieved, Stafford followed Honora past the gate, into the trees. The ground was a soft carpet of dead pine needles, spattered with pungent droppings.
Honora looked everywhere with a keen gaze. "This is a sizable patch of woodland. How does it all fit within the grounds?"
She'd noticed straight away; he'd hoped it would take longer.
"It's Professor Perdition's pocket dimension, where he keeps his monsters," Stafford said.
"What does he need monsters for?" she asked, her voice sharp with disapproval.
"Companion animal therapy. For some residents, playing with monsters is a happy reminder of days gone by. It's soothing." Stafford attempted a diversion. "Maybe the alarm means a monster escaped. You should check outside to see if anything's threatening the public."
Honora shook her head. "I already swept the area when I was looking for the missing kid. I would have spotted any monsters."
She was as arrogant as all the other fancy-suited meddlers. "You sound awfully sure," Stafford said. "Perhaps you'd better take another look."
"I have sharp eyes. And I can't see any monsters here, which means they're not hunting prey. So our missing child is somewhere else. From the dimensional warping, this looks the shortest way out...."
They arrived at the raspberry canes of Miss Rule's kitchen garden. Honora kept striding forward as fast as Stafford could walk.
"How long have you worked in the Home?" Honora asked Stafford.
"Just a few years, since Anarcho began needing specialist care."
"So you were Anarcho's henchman beforehand?"
Stafford grimaced. "I dislike the word henchman. It's sexist and derogatory. I'm surprised that someone so virtuous would use such an obnoxious term," he said, enjoying the chance to lecture her.
"Minion, then," said Honora impatiently.
"No one wants to fill in a form and call themselves a henchman or a minion. My business card says "Executive Implementator'."
They entered a formal flower garden bordered with black roses. All the flowers were so beautiful as to invite plucking, and all were deadly poisonous. Honora ignored the temptation of the siren flowers and hurried onward.
"You must be sweating inside that suit," Stafford observed. "I bet someone else does your laundry, slaving behind the scenes to help you prance about in public. You must have staff, or at least an intern."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Sum of Us"
Copyright © 2017 Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law.
Excerpted by permission of Laksa Media Groups Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Lucas K. Law; Introduction by Dominik Parisien; The Dunschemin Retirement Home for Repentant Supervillains by Ian Creasey; Bottleneck by A.M. Dellamonica; Mother Azalea's Sad Home for Forgotten Adults by James Van Pelt; Things that Creep and Bind by Christie Yant; The Gift by Bev Geddes; The Gatekeeper by Juliet Marillier; The Healer's Touch by Colleen Anderson; The Crystal Harvester by Brenda Cooper; The Burdens We Bear by Hayden Trenholm; A Mother's Milk by Heather Osborne; The Mother's Keepers by Edward Willett; The Oracle and the Warlord by Karina Sumner-Smith; The Beautiful Gears of Dying by Sandra Kasturi; The Gardener by Amanda Sun; Number One Draft Pick by Claire Humphrey; Orang Tua Adventure Home Academy by Charlotte Ashley; Sunshine of Your Love by Nisi Shawl; Good-bye is that Time between Now and Forever by Matt Moore; Ambassador to the Meek by Alex Shvartsman; Gone Flying by Liz Westbrook-Trenholm; Am I Not a Proud Outlier? by Kate Story; Blinders by Tyler Keevil; Dreams as Fragile as Glass by Caroline M. Yoachim; Afterword by Susan Forest; Acknowledgements; About the Contributors; About the Editors; Copyright Acknowledgements; Appendix: Mental Health Resources & Caregiving and Caregivers Resources