It’s always interesting to go from “the plan” to the execution. Scenes you think will be long and drawn out turn out to be perfunctory. Scenes you figured wouldn’t go anywhere will recast your series in an entirely new light. The characters in your notes come to life and start making noises at you. Sometimes, you doubt your sanity.
Someone asked me the difference between Leather and Lady Velvet. Well, there are a few. For one, Lady Velvet started out wanting to be a villain.
But the major difference between the pair is something close to twenty years. There are times age doesn’t matter at all. I have a lot of friends who weren’t even alive when I was their age. They’re fun and funny and sometimes a lot smarter than I am.
And sometimes, it matters. More than you might like to admit, it matters.
We haven’t had a chance to see any more of the good old days just yet, but that’s on the horizon. For now, though — please enjoy today’s chapter of Vilify 5.
*** *** *** ***
May 28, 2005.
Saturday – 9:06 am
Conventions ran on adrenalin and enthusiasm, but first thing in the morning on a Saturday they ran on caffeine. Elle was on her second latte. She wasn’t bone weary — that would come midday on Sunday and then hit hard Monday morning — but you still needed a pick-me-up first thing in the morning. She should have made some of her own coffee. Alchemy had its uses.
“A’course things are different than the old days,” the Hook was saying. “Back in the old days, why — a pirate with a hook hand? That was enough for villainy. A few henchmen to be me swabbies? Why, we took on the Centurian in Mountainview or the Ancient Mariner on the high seas for years!” He shook his head. “But then, it’s like an arms race — and me with only half an arm! Arrr!” There was a chuckle. Elle smiled a bit too. The Hook was great in these panels. “More and more of the money I got from me villainy went to weapons and defenses. Me hook began firing energy bolts. Me boat became a military fortress. I stopped recruiting deckhands and started hiring tech support!”
“For me,” Elle cut in. “It was more a question of tone. I mean, when I first began threatening Greystone City, instead of the Nightwatch we had ‘Nightstick’ being followed around by teenaged sidekicks. Remember Cudgel and Shillelagh?” There was another chuckle. Elle kept her cheerful face on. Nightstick and Cudgel had been her enemies. Now they were Eighties camp nostalgia. “There was danger and excitement, but there was also this sense of fun in it all.” She shook her head, artfully tossing her hair. “Then, the Jack O’Knaves got deadlier. One by one the dark lords of Greystone either changed to match or retired. It took three jailings by the Nightwatch before I realized this wasn’t what I had signed up for.”
Tim Gordon, the assigned moderator for the panel, cut in. “I think most authorities recognize the real shift in tone happened between ’93 or ’94 and ’97. The rise of the Overking. Scourge’s attack in Greystone City. The slaughterfields in the Midwest, Paragirl’s death, Shillelagh being maimed, and Freya– yes? You have a question?”
The person asking was a Latina woman in the second row. She was maybe thirty. Attractive. “Yeah — I have a question for Refraction.”
Refraction had been quiet most of the time. He wasn’t in his element at all. Ah well, he’d learn soon enough. “Yes?” he asked.
“You first appeared in 2001, right? That fight against the Beacon? You were robbing the First Paramount City Bank?”
Refraction blinked, and laughed. “I guess that’s right,” he said. “Well, that’s the first place I fought the Beacon. How did you know that?”
The girl blushed and shrugged. “I guess I’m a fangirl,” she said, and there was a knowing laugh from the crowd. Elle smirked again. She was always amazed at what her fans knew about her — what they remembered or researched or verified. More than once she had been corrected on her own life. “Anyway — you first started after the whole Overking thing. I mean, you’re the only guy up there who started his life of crime after everything went dark–”
“We need to get to your question,” Tim Gordon cut in. The tyranny of Panel Moderators.
“Sorry. My question is — why’d you do it? Why’d you get into crime? And then why’d you quit?”
Refraction sat back in his seat, brow furrowed. “Well, the why I got into crime was simple enough. I built these optical processors for a dot com startup, and then they shafted me, sold my patents off from under me, and crashed out. I had thousands of shares of worthless stock and a mortgage payment. And then I realized I could put my optics to making a little money the easy way.” He grinned. “You know, by taking it.”
There was a laugh. Refraction looked a little more at ease with that.
The woman in the audience leaned forward, intently. “Then why did you quit?” she asked.
“I was wondering that, too,” Elle said, grinning and facing Refraction. “Did the Beacon just wear you down?”
Refraction’s smile slipped a bit. “Well, not really. I mean… she was always tough. I started really reworking my arsenal to fight her, you know? I mean, here I was — an optics master, and here’s a girl who turns into light.” He shook his head. “That last time, I was ready for her, too. Black light lasers. Refraction chambers. I was ready to suck her into the power pack for my ultimate weapon.”
“So why didn’t you, laddie?” the Hook asked. “Teach that Light House Lass a thing or two?”
Refraction chuckled uncomfortably. “Well, I baited the trap for her. But she didn’t show up. Paragon did.”
That got a laugh. Paragon’s name always got a laugh in these cases. Even the odd Paragon villain who showed up to these things seemed to understand how inevitable his victories were.
The fangirl wasn’t laughing. “So, Paragon knocked you out of crime?”
Refraction sort of laughed. “The Beacon was the best foe I could have asked for. But — it was like the Hook just said. I spent a shitload of cash on this arsenal, and then there’s an invincible alien over my head, blowing it all up and knocking me over like a two year old. With the investments I sunk into the arsenal to beat her lost in fighting an invincible alien? I just packed it in. Served my time. Got out. And here I am.” He grinned. I guess you really shouldn’t tug on Paragon’s cape.”
“Getting back to the topic of the panel,” Tim Gordon said. “Do you think there’s a difference between old school villainy and modern day criminals, Refraction?”
Refraction glanced at Elle. “I dunno,” he said. “I guess.”
May 28, 2005.
Saturday – 10:22 am
“Mm. I’m surprised. The clove stuff’s selling, huh?”
Juliet shrugged. The seventeen year old was in a purple leotard and tights, with a demicape. ‘Working the evil.’ Elle remembered when she thought that was fun instead of a chore. “They like the stinky stuff this year.”
“It’s the villain aspect. You get a lot of goths and goth wannabes.”
“Can I put on some of the Enchantress?” she asked. “I like that one.”
Elle nodded. “Take it from the sample bottle. Don’t open a new one. Where’s Mary?”
“She’s on break. I think she’s hitting on that guy from Bookthuggery.”
“She’s been on break a lot today, hasn’t she?”
Juliet shrugged. “It’s not so bad. She comes back when we get a line.”
Elle glanced around. “Here’s hoping she has to come back, then,” she muttered.
“You know, I don’t want to know how many situps you must do to fit in that bathing suit, squishy.”
Elle smirked, turning. Fletcher Joan had come up along the other side. “At least I can still wear a bathing suit, dahling. That leather hides the cellulite so well, though.”
Joan snorted. “So, looks like you staked the fresh blood early.”
“Mm? Refraction? Do you want him, dear?”
“Hey, I’m not sleeping with Potipher this year.”
“Well then. You’ll have to fight for him, won’t you?” Elle smiled a predatory smile.
Joan arched an eyebrow, smiling one of her own. “Well, if I have to.” She looked around. “Oh — oh, Elle. Have you seen this one guy? He has the best costume I’ve ever seen at one of these.”
“Hm?” Elle looked around too. “I don’t see–”
“There.” The archer pointed. Elle followed her finger. Just some guys in civvies.
Elle blinked. One of the men was in a blue suit with red tie. Horn rimmed glasses. Hair slicked back. He looked intentionally awkward. He was blond instead of brunette, but otherwise….
“Oh my God,” Elle murmured. “Some fan came as a mild mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper?”
“Isn’t it delicious?” Joan asked. “I might let you have Refraction. He looks fun. And well built, too.”
“The ice woman deigning to sleep with a fanboy?”
“I thought you and the Hook had something.”
“The operative word being ‘had.’ Besides, you know we shouldn’t mix business with desperation.”
“Which one of you were desperate?”
Joan laughed. “At my age? Who can tell? Mm. I’m going to try a little target practice on that fanboy. Do I smell all right?”
“A bit leathery. I’ve got a musk that will go well with it, though.”
“Nothing at all.” She looked around the stand. “Where’s the sample of Black Glove?” she asked Juliet.
“I think we’re out of the Black Glove,” she said.
“How’s it sold?”
“I think we sold two.”
Elle made a face, and grabbed the sample bottle of Elegant Dominion. “What do you think of this?” she asked, opening the bottle for Joan to smell.
Joan sniffed, and her eyebrows arched. “Oh, I like that,” she said.
“Good enough then. Let me do you up. I know a thing or two about lust potions.” She began to dab. Really, it’s not what she would have picked. There was musk, yes, and a hint of leather in the scent, but it had tannins and florals — more of a society dominatrix who wore leather as an accent.
But, then, Joan was lucky it wasn’t knockoff Charlie. “There, dahling,” she said. “You are enchanting.”
“We’ll see,” she said. “I’m goin’ in. If you don’t see me, watch for my hostage demands.”
“Hold out for a million,” Elle said, nodding as Joan withdrew. She watched her go for a moment, walking like a hunter through the crowd. She remembered back — oh, ’89 perhaps? Yes. She and Joan had taken on Nightstick and Arrowhead as a team. She’d been so cold then….
“All right,” Elle said, turning back to Juliet. “How did we go through three quarters of a sample bottle of Black Glove but only sell two? Are you sure you’re watching them try it?”
Juliet shrugged. “Maybe they didn’t like it.”
Elle snorted. “This crowd? Well, maybe.” A woman leaned over the other side, looking at the massage oils. “Ah… welcome, dahling. Is there anything in particular you’re looking for?”
She blinked, stepping back. Elle recognized her — the woman from the morning panel. The Refraction fangirl. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean–”
“Not at all,” Elle said with a smile. “Mm. Looking for massage? Sensual or therapeutic?”
“Therapeutic,” she said. “I… don’t get much of a chance for sensual.”
Elle chuckled. “A lovely woman such as yourself? I’m shocked and disheartened.” She ducked around. “Clearly, you need to accessorize, dahling. Have you ever had a makeover?”
She looked around, a little nervous. “Well, no,” she said. “These things don’t have mind control chemicals in them, do they?”
Juliet giggled. “Perhaps they do,” she said. “But you will never know….”
Elle rolled her eyes. “Clearly, I should be training her as my apprentice. The Viscountess Velvet, perhaps. Or Princess Satin. Lady Lycra.”
“I could be Spandex Babe!” Juliet said with a grin.
“I take it back. You’ll never be my apprentice.” She encouraged the fangirl — the customer — to sit. “So what’s your name, dahling?”
“I — Rita. I’m Rita.”
“Hello, Ihmrita. That’s a pretty name. Persian, is it?”
Rita smiled, a touch self consciously. “Sorry. I didn’t really expect to be talking to you.”
“Mm. And now you’re star struck? Or disappointed I’m not Refraction.”
Rita flushed. “It’s not like that. I…” she paused, looking back at Elle. “Do you know Refraction? Outside of here, I mean?”
“I just met the boy yesterday, dear. Or do you mean know him? I mean, I’ll admit I work fast, but….”
Rita blushed even more. “Sorry. I didn’t… I can’t seem to get the words right today. This is all so strange.”
“Strange?” Juliet asked. “I don’t see how. Oops. ‘Scuse.” She stepped to the other side of the table, where a somewhat heavyset girl was looking over the perfumes. Attractive girl, red hair out of a bottle. A little too much eye makeup and kind of a goth schoolgirl thing going. “Salutations, dahling,” Juliet said, leaning and giving the trademark smile. “The Mistress bids you welcome and wonders what you might be looking for.”
Elle smiled. “Maybe I will make her an apprentice,” she said. “She likes doing that.”
“I don’t understand something,” Rita said. “You’re… an alchemist, right? Not a perfume maker?”
“Six of one. I don’t use quite so many eyes of newt these days but it’s all taking base components and synthesizing gold, my dear.” She smiled a bit.
“So… was there any magic to it?”
“Of course. Alchemy isn’t chemistry. It’s also not sorcery. It’s the natural meeting place of the two. Alchemy was prized by the nobility, suppressed by the church — banned and yearned for throughout time.” She picked up a bottle of the Nocturne and drizzled in some of this and that. She started to stir with a cedar stick. It wasn’t unlike whisking eggs, really.
“So… how’d you end up doing it?”
“How else? My father. How did you imagine I ended up named ‘Elle Chemical,’ anyhow?”
Rita blinked. “That’s your real name?”
“Elle Chemical, only child of Albert Chemical, himself the only son of Allen Chemical, and I think there’s an Elton back there somewhere too.” She added a couple of dried flower petals, crushing them with the stick and working them into the froth. “A long line of alchemists, desperately seeking to unlock the secrets of the universe. For my father, it was all about immortality — the regeneration and rejuvenation of the flesh, the recapturing of lost youth.”
“Wow,” Rita said. “Did it work?”
Elle shrugged. “He’s dead. I assume that means he failed.”
Rita flushed. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know.”
“No worries. It happened decades ago — before I ever became Lady Velvet.”
“So why’d you do it?”
Elle smirked. “I decided I wasn’t interested in immortality. I didn’t want to live forever. I wanted to live well. And I had the means to do just that.” She threw in the last bit of spice, and there was a burst of purple fire and light. “Hah HAH!”
There was a gasp, and light applause. A crowd had gathered — it usually did, when Elle was actually mixing something up at the table. “Thank you, dahlings. But don’t just watch. Buy.” That got a laugh, of course, even though Elle meant it.
Rita cocked her head. “Is that for me?” she asked.
“Not exclusively, dahling. But here.” She began to work on Rita — using what she made, along with her makeover board’s samples. She gave a few of these away per trip, because it meant people would pay later. It was a scam, really — but no one got hurt. And she had to steal something. Scent on the neck and a touch behind the ears. Creams in the skin. Slight color in the cheeks and on the eyes. A little bit of tingle to refresh the skin and open the pores.
“The MAC counter was never like this,” Rita murmured.
“Hacks, the lot of them. One step off from greasepaint. Cosmetics should be mysterious and personal, don’t you think.” She smiled a bit, and held up a mirror. “Well?”
Rita blinked. A casual observer would never think she was wearing anything, but her natural beauty was accentuated and drawn out. “That’s me?” she asked. Then flushed. “Wow, that’s the dumbest thing I ever said.”
“Then you’re an uncommonly wise speaker.” Elle smirked. “A perfectly baited hook for a rogue, perhaps?”
Rita opened her mouth. “Uh, you… you mean Refraction?”
“But of course. You are his biggest fan, aren’t you?”
Rita sort of shivered, folding her arms in front of herself. “I didn’t say that,” she said. “And… no. No, I’m not… it’s not like that.”
Elle smiled a bit more. “Good. I won’t feel so bad for stealing him away from you then.” She set the supplies down. “Now, let me select a few things. If you’re not buying right now, we’ll write them down for you. But you’re far too pretty to hide behind graduate student chic.”
“I — thank you,” Rita said. She looked a little overwhelmed.
“–think my girlfriend would like this?” Elle heard nearby. She looked. Juliet was talking to a man — a boy, really. He was holding one of the men’s scents. ‘Dominion,’ it looked like.
“Hm,” Juliet said, biting her lip and touching her chin with one gloved hand. A pose. “I’m not sure. Here.” She leaned forward, slightly arched, and opened the bottle. Elle frowned — she should have used the sample — but watched her take the top and dab it on either side of his face. The man was trying very hard to look anywhere but down the girl’s top.
Elle watched Juliet lean forward and sniffed, letting the scent from her shampoo hit his nose. “Oh yes,” Juliet said. “Your girlfriend will love that.”
The man didn’t quite faint or explode, but it was a near thing. “I’ll take it,” he said, not quite squeaking.
“Wow,” Rita said. “Are you sure she isn’t your apprentice?”
“I just hope her father doesn’t show up while she’s doing that. He’ll kill me.” But Elle was frowning. Juliet lacked a certain polish, and of course she wasn’t any kind of alchemist, but beyond that…
“What are you thinking?” Rita asked, very quietly.
Elle had asked her father why he cared so much about immortality, once. She couldn’t have been any older than Juliet was now. “It just seems silly,” she’d said.
“Elle, my belle, you have no idea,” he’d answered. “You don’t know what it’s like to look at some young buck — nineteen years old and convinced he can’t die, no pains in his knees, no gout in his toe, no sense that it’s almost all over.” He shook his head. “You don’t know what that’s like. You don’t know how badly you’ll want to just go back.”
“Nothing,” Elle said. “Here. Let’s start with fragrance.”