What Happens in Vegas...I asked Seanan McGuire, author of a new urban fantasy coming out in September, Rosemary and Rue (which I'll be reading and reviewing sometime in the not-to-distant future), if she'd like to write a piece about a favorite character of maybe one of her own creation. She agreed, and I was thrilled when she sent me this story about Velveteen from her superhero universe of short stories (several of which are available online).
Pick one of your favorite characters (or a group of your favorite characters). Describe what kind of trouble they would get into if they spent one week in Las Vegas.
Velveteen vs. Vegas
Velveteen—aka “Velma Martinez,” “The Super Patriots, Inc.’s Most Wanted Deserter,” and, when she was feeling particularly snarly, “The Bride of Chucky”—looked dubiously at the animatronic pirates in front of the casino she was supposedly meeting her contact in. The pirates continued in their sanitized piratical ways, which consisted mainly of hoisting empty tankards and plundering the ships of their fellow buccaneers.
“Fucked-up times five thousand,” she finally declared, opened the casino door, and went inside.
Stepping into the Jolly Roger Casino was something like stepping into the hybrid offspring of a Renaissance Faire and a strip club, only with more slot machines and less class. Busty barmaids wearing slutty pirate costumes that were probably purchased at a Halloween store clearance sale worked the crowd, distributing complementary cocktails to the high rollers and snubbing the tourists at the nickel slots. Velma froze in the doorway, realizing that, for once in her life, her formal “work attire” wouldn’t have stood out even in a “mundane world” locale. It was almost as disorienting as the casino’s carefully-controlled twilight.
Then a hand was at her elbow, and a redheaded woman with a sunny smile and an outfit that consisted almost entirely of sequins was tugging her gently out of the flow of traffic. “Vel?” she asked.
“Yeah.” Velma yanked her arm free, eyeing the woman. “You are?”
“Showgirl,” said the woman, in a tone that clearly denoted it as a name, rather than a job position. “They sent me to watch for you. Will you come with me? Fortunate Son would really like to meet you before…well, before things go any further.”
Velma briefly considered asking for the woman’s credentials, but dismissed the idea as unnecessary. Given the number of stuffed pirates and cuddly plush pirate ships scattered around the room, she could re-enact the siege of the Spanish Main if she had to.
“Great,” she said. “Let’s go.”
The population of super-powered humans in the United States has been rising steadily since the “Big Three” first made their appearance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these “superhumans” have often chosen to settle in large metro areas, where their unusual tendencies are more easily overlooked. New York, San Francisco, Detroit, and Toronto sport some of the most dense superhuman communities in North America.
And then there is Las Vegas. A city where the flashier, more exotic superhumans tend to make their homes, from the glitter and flash of Vaudeville to the elegant probability-manipulations of Dame Fortuna. They are often ignored in favor of the mundane glories of the Strip, which is, after all unique. We all have heroes at home, but how many of us can say the same of Cesar’s Palace? In Las Vegas, the superhuman community can relax, knowing that they will never be the headline attraction. They like it that way.
Interestingly enough, the high density of probability-manipulators in Vegas—at least eight at last count, including Dame Fortuna, her daughter, the lovely Lady Luck, and Lady Luck’s husband, Fortunate Son—has resulted in The Super Patriots, Inc. having rather serious trouble establishing a true foothold in the area. Oh, nothing has ever been proven, but after losing eight branch offices to freak accidents (including the historically ridiculous Guinea Pig Stampede), they’ve stopped trying. The heroes of Las Vegas live untroubled by corporate regulations.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t aware of what’s going on elsewhere in the superhuman community…
Fortunate Son stood barely over six feet, with desert-sand hair and eyes the blue of ten-dollar poker chips. He leaned against the side of a pool table as Showgirl led Velma into the casino’s back room, his eyes raking Vel up and down and making her wish she’d thought to wear the lead-lined underwear. His power profile didn’t say anything about X-ray vision, but with the Vegas heroes, you never knew.
“I expected something fluffier,” he said, after an uncomfortably long silence.
Vel bristled. “I expected something taller.”
Showgirl looked alarmed. To Fortunate Son’s credit, he just laughed, shaking his head. “Girl, you are a piece of work. You know you’re in the temple of fortunes, don’t you? We could trash your world with a snap of our fingers.”
“Uh, hello, have we met? I’m as close as a hero comes to excommunicated. If The Super Patriots catch me outside Oregon, I’m under arrest, the Governor of Oregon gave me back my heroing license for reasons I still don’t quite understand, and my parents just sold their life story to the Pow Network for six figures, while I’m counting quarters for a trip to Starbucks. How are you going to trash my world? Give me bad hair? I have conditioner.”
“How did you even get here?” asked Showgirl.
“The Princess dropped me off at the edge of town.” Velveteen didn’t have to feign her shudder. “Flying carpet rides from Portland to Las Vegas are so very not fun. But I’ll still call her for my ride home. It’s better than the alternative.” She turned her attention back to Fortunate Son. “So what was so urgent that you had to call me out of my home territory, and why do I care?”
“You must care, or you wouldn’t have come,” he noted reasonably. “As for what’s so important…we’ve got us a leprechaun infestation.”
“Those don’t exist.”
“They do if Lucky Charms is back in town.”
Vel groaned. “I thought he was dead.”
“Guess he had one more four-leafed clover to deploy. Anyway, they’ve infiltrated the casino, and things are going wrong a heck of a lot faster than Mama likes. They’re about the size of our mascots, so we figure they’re playing dolly, and—”
“You want me to call the toys and see what doesn’t respond.” Velveteen crossed her arms, eyeing him skeptically. “Why am I going to do you this favor?”
“Because there weren’t three original heroes,” said a voice behind her. It was one of those impossible old-style movie star voices, the kind that promised sin and salvation at the same time. Vel turned to see an elegant Rita Hayworth-clone blonde woman in a floor-length green satin sheath dress gliding up to the group, a small smile painting her cupid’s-bow lips. “There were four, darling, and I’m the one that got left off the books when they decided to go public.”
Velveteen’s mouth went dry. “You mean you—”
“All the dirt, darling, all the petty little back-room deals and nasty little lies, I’ve got it all on paper. You want to find Jolly Roger? This is where you start looking. All you need to do is one tiny little service for the heroes of Vegas, and our files are yours.”
If she could find Jolly Roger—last of the Big Three, the only one whose death had never been confirmed—she could give Marketing something to worry about beyond the activities of one middle-grade animator who’d decided she wanted out. The Super Patriots, Inc. would leave her alone forever after that.
“Right.” Vel sighed. “What do you want me to do?”
There were approximately two thousand, seven hundred, and eight toys of one description or another within the confines of the Jolly Roger Casino. Velveteen stood in the middle of the main casino floor with her eyes closed and her hands raised in front of her chest, concentrating. After a while, she started to shake slightly, and toys all over the building started to get up of their own accord, running to reach her.
There were exactly nine hundred and two leprechauns within the confines of the Jolly Roger Casino. Video tapes of their epic battle against the plush pirates, random Beanie Babies, and “I Love Las Vegas” teddy bears can be purchased at the casino gift shop for twenty-five ninety-five. Attempts to pirate this recording onto YouTube have met with a series of inexplicable failures, some of which resulted in melted computer monitors.
In the end, separating the combatants proved surprisingly easy. Leprechauns bleed. Plush pirates don’t. Which is why leprechauns make for a much more satisfying, if PG-13, version of Whack-A-Mole.
The Princess brought her carpet in for a careful landing on the roof of the Jolly Roger Casino, knocking her tiara askew and frightening off a large flock of pigeons. Velveteen waved before hoisting the first of the stack of file boxes and carrying it over to load onto the carpet.
“Do I want to know?”
“They’re pirates.” Vel shrugged, dropping the box and going back for the next. “I plundered.”
“You plundered what, the admin office?”
“Pretty much. Hopefully, it was worth it.”
“Well, what do you think?”
Velveteen paused, remembering the malice that had sparkled in Dame Fortuna’s eyes when she talked about The Super Patriots, Inc., and the way that she’d laughed when the toys tore the casino floor apart. “I think it was,” she said, finally. “Now let’s go home.”
“Mind if we stop for pizza on the way?”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
Thanks Seanan! Where can I meet up with Velveteen while I'm there? She sounds like fun! I'm going to have to read the rest of the Vel stories now, especially since I saw there is one entitled Velveteen vs. the Coffee Freaks - I'm very curious about that one being a bit of an