Note from Barb:
Thank you so much Marcia for all you do to promote other writers, and for allowing me to participate in Excerpt Week. The following excerpt is from End of the Line, the final book in my Null City series.
End of the Line
by Barb Taub
You have to understand that everyone in Null City is a normal human. Most of them just didn’t start out that way. Imagine you’re some superhero with special gifts or abilities that are, frankly, damn awkward. Let’s say, for example, that you are the Man of Steel, but you don’t dare have sex with the Plucky Girl Reporter because your LittleMan of Steel would probably split her in two. (And we’re not even going to discuss the havoc your Swimmers of Steel could wreck on Woman of Pasta…)
The point is that when you think about it, most people with special powers would be lining up to get rid of them and get their normal lives back. That’s where Null City comes in. After one day there, those with extra gifts turn into their closest human counterparts. Dragons, for example, might become realtors. Or imps become baristas. (Of course, those imps are now ex-PhD candidates in literature or classics who claim to be experts on third-world coffee blends and obscure world music groups. But hey — there is only so close to human that hellspawn can get…)
POPPY: Null City, 2016
I paused on the landing of the grand stairway leading down to the main waiting room and on to the platform of the Metro Station. Above me the pearly light of a typical Null City afternoon streamed through the green and gold stained glass arched ceiling and huge matching rose windows at either end.
Just below the window, a tiled mosaic spelled out Ø CITY above a painted banner bearing a quote from Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. Visitors are usually impressed, at least until someone shares the Null City version that it was painted by an artistic imp standing on an actual giant who was waiting for his one-day window to pass until he became a normal human.
Dark old polished wood benches from the waiting room—the round ones whose central lamp posts now bloomed with tissue flowers and white ribbons, and the long benches with elegantly curved backs—were filled with guests, both from Null City and those who had poured in on the special Metro run.
Null City residents know that the needles on any compass here point to the Metro Station as our own version of true north. But as far as I know, only the Anchor feels that pull. I closed my eyes, and opened my connection to the City. It wasn’t words, not exactly. But…images of feelings, like holding the most effervescent of champagne to my nose…dry and tingling and full of delicious, intoxicating promise.
I smiled at the tickle as the fizz of the connection spread over my skin and I passed my own feelings back along the connection. I know you’re pleased. This wedding is just the right thing, in the right place, with the right people.
Opening my eyes, I started down to the landing halfway up the stairs, where my brother Zach and Claire’s husband Peter flanked a visibly nervous Iax Zahavi. Until this moment, I’d have said that nothing would ever frighten Iax. Except for my cousin Carey, he was quite possibly the scariest person I’d ever met in my life. And that was the problem. Carey had been stalling on this wedding thing for the past three years. Claire told me that just this morning Carey had still been threatening to show up in her bike leathers in case she decided to make a quick getaway.
It probably wouldn’t be nice (and maybe not particularly safe) to laugh at Iax, or listen to Peter wind him up with remarks speculating on whether Carey would actually show up or not. I tried to catch Zach’s eye to share a snigger, but he was staring warily at the assembled guests.
Following the line of his gaze, I saw Leigh Ann giving him a dazzling smile. She’d changed from her Executive Barbie suit into something that involved a floaty hem (pink of course) and a huge hat that must have been the last word in designer wedding guest attire back in her fancy Seattle suburb.
Since most of the other guests came from Null City and Seattle, their usual fashion choices tended to run more to Birkenstocks and denim, with a sprinkling of Accords Wardens looking uncomfortable in their dress uniforms. If a Null City occasion demanded more formal attire from residents, it was likely to be tie-dyed, right down to the socks (still worn with the Birkies, of course).
Despite the fact that wedding guests included imps who looked like teddy bears (if teddies came four-feet tall with red scaly skin and attitudes), fallen angels, Null City natives whose Amnesty Day would see them turn back into everything from witches to dragons, and one long bench full of what I knew were were-badgers, I was pretty sure that Leigh Ann stood out like a lone zebra in a herd of deer.
The doors of Lattes Inferno coffeeshop opened, and two women stepped out. Claire’s knee-length rose dress looked suspiciously like one of the bridesmaid dresses from her own wedding a few years earlier. Beside her was a teenager in an equally familiar rose-colored dress whose sleeveless halter and low cut back revealed the swirling tattoos covering her shoulders and arms. Nervously pushing at her rainbow-colored dreds with the hand not holding her bouquet, Feyala looked above my head where massive antique brass hands turned the stained glass window into a gigantic clock.
I couldn’t blame her. Despite her delicate appearance, Fey was a troll, her immense strength and her very existence tied to her Seattle bridge. If she overstayed her twenty-four hours in Null City and became human, her bridge would die, triggering her own death. But she and Carey had been friends for years, and I knew she’d never miss this wedding. Claire patted her shoulder encouragingly, and Feyala started walking up the aisle marked by tissue flowers and ribbons on the ends of the benches.
Claire turned around and frowned into the doorway. Carey stumbled out as if shoved, followed by her brother Connor, hands extended. He put one arm around his twin and I saw her visibly relax. His gift would normally allow him to share feelings of joy and calm, but that wouldn’t work in Null City, of course. So as their erstwhile guardian Harry Daniels—former rock star and even more former angel—launched into to Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up On Us, Carey’s grin was all for Iax’s face when he saw her.
With a little shrug, she peeled off the leather jacket—one so large it could only belong to Iax—to reveal the short beaded ivory sheath dress that had shown up a few weeks ago with a note.
“I might be a fallen angel, but you’ll look like the real thing in this. All my love, Harry”
A pair of lace-covered white boots completed the retro mod bride look. Nobody who knew Carey doubted for a second that each boot also contained a knife. Nor would too many people have trouble figuring out the words she was currently and obviously hissing to Claire. “Let’s get this over with already.”
Ignoring both Feyala—who was almost at the steps already—and the seething bride at her heels, Claire fell deliberately into step with the music and slowly moved up the white aisle runner leading between the benches to the stairway where I was waiting with Iax.
And that’s when I felt it. It was no more than the faintest whisper, a tiny ripple in the City’s satisfaction. I tried to probe it, but there was nothing else. I shrugged it off, reminding myself that the City wasn’t alive in an organic sense, and that its alien awareness didn’t always see things the way I did.
I pushed back the sleeves of the long-sleeved black sheath dress that I wore for official occasions—Zach called it my anchoroos—and looked out at the crowd. “Welcome family and friends to the wedding of Carey Parker and Iax Zahavi. Traditionally, I would start with a blessing that recounts the history of our City followed by prayers, some poetry, and advice for the bridal couple.” I lifted the thick sheaf of papers I held and watched Carey’s jaw drop in horror. Iax firmed his grasp on her arm but shook his head at me.
I wasn’t sure how long I could hold onto my officiously pious expression. “But that would be pointless in this crowd. So I’ll just say what an honor and a privilege it is to welcome two people who were born in Null City. You’ve both lost family and friends to its defense, dedicated your lives to its preservation, and earned our gratitude.”
I leaned in to kiss Carey’s cheek and breathed, “Gotcha.” Still grinning, I set the papers onto the step beside me. Finally! Revenge for all those Beer Tuesday morning-afters. Straightening, I stumbled as another, stronger, ripple of wrongness from the City hit me. Something’s coming. Finish this now.
Carey’s eyes narrowed as she grabbed my arm, but her words were barely audible. “What is it? Are you okay?”
I nodded and whispered back. “The City says something’s wrong. We need to hurry.”
I let my voice ring out. “Do you, Iax Zahavi, take Carey Parker to be your wife, to love and honor her all of your days?”
For the first time since I’d met him, the big man looked shaken, his answer low and raw. “I do.”
“Do you, Carey Parker…”
“I do,” she interrupted, “Move it.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Claire’s eyes narrow.
“Rings,” I ordered. As the couple exchanged rings, the strongest wave yet hit me and I nearly went to my knees. Somehow, my voice stayed strong and calm. “Right now, I want everyone out of the station. This is an emergency. Don’t run, but make sure you leave by the nearest exit. Oh, and by the authority vested in me as Null City Anchor, I pronounce you man and wife. Kiss later.”
If you’re ever facing an emergency threatening almost everyone you care about, I recommend you have an audience that includes Claire Danielson and her Accords team. I want to tell you they had the place organized and people pouring toward the doors almost immediately. I just wish it had been fast enough.
The window above me exploded outward in a spray of green and gold shards, the two huge clock hands plunging down like spears hurled by an enraged titan.
While I’m finishing up End of the Line, why not check out the special pricing on Null City series?ROUND TRIP FARE by Barb Taub
Warden Carey Parker’s to-do list is already long enough: find her brother and sister, rescue her roommate, save Null City, and castrate her ex-boyfriend. Preferably with a dull-edged garden tool. A rusty one.
Carey knows superpowers suck, her own included. From childhood she’s only had two options. She can take the Metro train to Null City and a normal life. After one day there, imps become baristas, and hellhounds become poodles. Demons settle down, join the PTA, and worry about their taxes. Or she can master the powers of her warrior gift and fight a war she can’t win, in a world where she never learned how to lose.
And then there is… him. For the past two months, a dark stranger has persistently edged his way onto the mental game board behind her eyelids. Well, whatever trouble he’s selling, Carey Parker is not buying.
She just has a few details to work out first. Her parents have been killed, her brother and sister targeted, and the newest leader of the angels trying to destroy Null City might be the one person she loves most in the world. And her sexy new partner’s gift lets him predict deaths. Hers.
It just would have been nice if someone told her the angels were all on the other side.
Urban Fantasy (with romance, humor, a sentient train, and a great dog)