After the Golden Age

After the Golden Age

by Carrie Vaughn

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Overview

It's not easy being a superhero's daughter....
Carrie Vaughn has captured legions of fans with her wildly popular Kitty Norville novels. Now she uses her extraordinary wit and imagination to tell a sensational new story about superhuman heroes-and the people who have to live with them.
Most people dream of having superheroes for parents, but not Celia West. The only daughter of Captain Olympus and Spark, the world's greatest champions, she has no powers of her own, and the most exciting thing she's ever done is win a silver medal in a high school swim meet. Meanwhile, she's the favorite hostage of every crime boss and supervillain in Commerce City. She doesn't have a code name, but if she did, it would probably be Bait Girl, the Captive Wonder.
Rejecting her famous family and its legacy, Celia has worked hard to create a life for herself beyond the shadow of their capes, becoming a skilled forensic accountant. But when her parents' archenemy, the Destructor, faces justice in the "Trial of the Century," Celia finds herself sucked back into the more-than-mortal world of Captain Olympus-and forced to confront a secret that she hoped would stay buried forever.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429960854
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 04/12/2011
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 927,047
File size: 405 KB

About the Author

Praise for Carrie Vaughn:

"Brilliantly structured, beautifully written…. Vaughn brings together mythology, fairy tales, and very human lives, immersing readers in the stories these complex characters tell themselves to make sense of their war-torn worlds."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review, on Discord's Apple

"Carrie Vaughn weaves a gorgeous tapestry of the human condition in a post-apocalyptic world filled with mystery, magic, and immortals. Her world-building is masterful!"—L.A. Banks, New York Times bestselling author of The Thirteenth, on Discord's Apple

"Carrie Vaughn masterfully weaves together comic books, Greek gods, King Arthur, and a world on the brink of nuclear war. Discord's Apple is phenomenal!" —Jackie Kessler, co-author of Shades of Gray, on Discord's Apple

"Enough excitement, astonishment, pathos, and victory to satisfy any reader."—Charlaine Harris on Kitty and the Midnight Hour


Carrie Vaughn is best known for her New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts a talk radio show for the supernaturally disadvantaged. Her novels include a near-Earth space opera, Martians Abroad, from Tor Books, and the post-apocalyptic murder mysteries Bannerless and The Wild Dead. She's written several other contemporary fantasy and young adult novels, as well as upwards of 80 short stories, two of which have been finalists for the Hugo Award. She's a contributor to the Wild Cards series of shared world superhero books edited by George R. R. Martin and a graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop. An Air Force brat, she survived her nomadic childhood and managed to put down roots in Boulder, Colorado.

Read an Excerpt

After the Golden Age


By Carrie Vaughn, David G. Hartwell

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2011 Carrie Vaughn, LLC
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-6085-4


CHAPTER 1

CELIA took the late bus home, riding along with other young workaholic professionals, the odd student, and late-shift retail clerks. A quiet, working bunch, cogs and wheels that kept Commerce City running.

Only a block away from the office, the person in the seat behind her leaned forward and spoke in her ear: "Get off at the next stop."

She hadn't noticed him before. He was ordinary; in his thirties, he had a rugged, stubbled face, and wore jeans and a button-up shirt. He looked like he belonged. With a lift to his brow, he glared at her over the back of the plastic seat and raised the handgun from his lap. Without moving his gaze, he pushed the stop call button by the window.

Damn, not again.

Her heart pounded hard — with anger. Not fear, she reminded herself. Her fists clenched, her face a mask, she stood. She could hardly move her legs, wanting only to turn and throttle the bastard for interrupting her evening.

He stood with her, following a step behind as she moved forward toward the door. He could stop her before she called to the driver for help. And what could the driver do, but stand aside as her kidnapper waved the gun at him?

She was still two miles from home. She could try to run — in pumps and a dress suit. Right. Really, she only had to run far enough away to duck into a corner and call 9-1-1. Or her parents.

9-1-1. That was what she'd do.

She didn't dig in the pocket of her attaché for her phone. Did nothing that would give away her plan. She stepped off the bus, onto the sidewalk. Her kidnapper disembarked right behind her.

"Turn right. Walk five steps."

She turned right. Her muscles tensed, ready —

The bus pulled away. She prepared to launch herself into a run.

A sedan stopped at the curb. Two men jumped out of the back, and the kidnapper from the bus grabbed her arm. The three surrounded her and spirited her into the car, which rolled away in seconds.

They'd planned this, hadn't they?

In the backseat, one of the men tied her hands in front of her with nylon cord. The other pressed a gun to her ribs.

The one from the bus sat on the passenger side of the front seat and looked back at her.

"You're Warren and Suzanne West's daughter."

Not like this was news.

"What will the Olympiad do to keep you safe?"

"You'll have to ask them," she said.

"I will." He grinned, a self-satisfied, cat-with-the-canary grin that she recognized from a half-dozen two-bit hoodlums who thought they'd done something clever, that they'd figured out how to corner the Olympiad. As if no one else had tried this before.

"What are you going to do with me?" She said it perfunctorily. It was a way to make conversation. Maybe distract him.

His grin widened. "We're going to send your parents a message. With the Destructor out of the picture, the city's wide open for a new gang to move in. The Olympiad is going to stay out of our way, or you get hurt."

He really was stupid enough to tell her his plan. Amateurs.

Wasn't much she could do until he'd sent the message and the Olympiad learned what had happened. She'd leave the hard work to them. She always did.

Then, of course, they blindfolded her so she couldn't keep track of their route. By the time they stopped, she had no idea where they were. Someplace west, by the docks maybe. The air smelled of concrete and industry.

A stooge on each arm pulled her out of the car and guided her down a corridor. They must have parked inside a building. Her feet stepped on tile, and the walls felt close. Finally, they pushed her into a hard wooden chair and tied her wrists to its arms.

The blindfold came off. Before her, a video camera was mounted on a tripod.

The man from the bus stood next to the camera. She smirked at him, and his frown deepened. He'd probably expected her to be frightened, crying and begging him to let her go. Giving him that power of fear over her.

She had already been as frightened as she was ever likely to be in her life. This guy was nothing.

"Read this." He lifted a piece of paper with large writing.

She just wanted to go home. Have some hot cocoa and cookies. Supper had been microwave ramen and her stomach was growling. The blindfold had messed up her short red hair, making it itch, and she couldn't reach up to scratch it. Irrationally, she thought of her parents, and her anger began to turn toward them. If it wasn't for them and what they were ...

Thinking like that had gotten her in trouble before. She focused on her captor. This was his fault.

She skimmed over the text, groaned. They couldn't even be a little creative. "Are you kidding?" "Just read it."

In a frustrated monotone, she did as she was told.

"I'm Celia West, and I'm being held in an undisclosed location. If the Olympiad has not responded to their demands in six hours, my captors cannot guarantee my safety —"

"Wait. Stop."

She glared an inquiry.

"Couldn't you sound ... you know ... Scared or something?"

"Sorry. But you know I've done this before. This isn't exactly new to me."

"We're different."

"They all say that."

"Shut up. Finish reading."

She raised her brow. He waved her on.

She said, "If you really want to scare everyone you'd cut off one of my fingers and send it to them. Of course, then you'd really piss them off. That whole nonlethal force thing might not apply then."

He stepped forward, fists clenched, like he might actually hit her. "Unless you really want me to do something like that, just stick to the script. I know what I'm doing."

"Whatever you say." She read out the usual list of demands: the Olympiad was to leave Commerce City and not interfere with the actions of the Baxter Gang — "Baxter Gang?" she added in a disbelieving aside, then shook her head and continued. They'd let her go when the Baxter Gang had the run of the city. They'd send another video in six hours to show just how mean they could be, etcetera.

The plan must have sounded so good on paper.

She made a point of not looking at the men with guns who seemed to fill the room. In truth there were only five. Even so, if she did anything more aggressive than mock the man she assumed was Baxter, they just might shoot her.

There was a time when even that wouldn't have bothered her. She remembered. She drew on that now. Don't reveal anything to them. No weakness.

She didn't want to die. What an oddly pleasing thought.

Finally, she reached the end of the script and Baxter shut off the recorder. He popped the memory card out of the camera, gave her a final glare, and left the room. The men with the guns remained.

All she could do was wait.


* * *

How it usually worked: the kidnappers sent the video to the police. The police delivered it to the Olympiad. The kidnappers expected Warren and Suzanne West to be despondent over the imminent danger toward their only child and to cave in to their every demand.

What the kidnappers never understood was that Celia West was expendable.

She'd understood that early on. When it came to choosing between her own safety or the safety of Commerce City, the city always won. She understood that, and usually even believed it herself.

She thought she might try to sleep. She'd been losing lots, with the late nights at the office. Leaning back in the chair, she breathed deeply, closed her eyes, and tried to relax. Unfortunately, relaxing in a hard-backed chair you were tied to was difficult at best. Though she imagined her falling asleep in the midst of her own kidnapping would annoy Baxter, which made her want to do it even more. But she was sweating inside her jacket and wanted to fidget.

All the breathing and attempts at relaxation did was keep her heart from racing, which was enough. She could meet the gazes of the gun-toting stooges in the room and not give in to blind panic.

Eventually, Baxter returned to the room. He eyed her warily, but didn't approach, didn't speak. He broke his minions into shifts, sending one of them for fast food. The food returned a half hour later, and they sat around a table to eat. Her stomach rumbled at the smell of cheap hamburgers. She hadn't eaten, and she needed to use a restroom.

Just breathe. She'd had to wait longer than this before. Her watch said that only three hours had passed. It was just now midnight. She had a couple more hours at least. More dramatic that way.

She might say a dozen things to aggravate Baxter. She figured she could annoy him enough to get him to come over and hit her. That was the bored, self-destructive teenager of yore talking. And a little bit of revenge. If she ended up with a big black eye, things would go so much more badly for him later on.

Then, the waiting ended.

Celia, are you there?

It was odd, an inner whisper that felt like a thought, but which came from outside. Rather like how a psychotic must feel, listening to the voices. This one was understated, with a British accent. She'd felt Dr. Mentis's telepathic reach before. She couldn't respond in kind, not with such articulate, well-formed thoughts. Instead, she filled her mind with a yes, knowing he'd read it there. Along with a little bit of, It's about time.

I'm going to put the room to sleep. I'm afraid I can't pick and choose. You'll feel a little dizzy, then pass out. I wanted to warn you.

She kept herself from nodding. Mustn't let the erstwhile archvillains of Commerce City know anything was happening.

The guard by the door blacked out first. He shook his head, as if trying to stay awake, swayed a little, and pitched over sideways, dropping his gun. Startled, his compatriots looked over.

"Bill? Hey, Bill!"

Two at the table keeled over next. Then one standing by his chair. Baxter stood and stared at them, looking from one to another with growing urgency. Her vision was swimming. Squinting to focus, she braced, waiting, wanting it to be over.

Baxter looked at her, his eyes widening. "You. What's happening? You know, I know you know —"

He stepped forward, arm outstretched. Then he blinked, stopped, gave a shudder — She thought she smelled sage.

Sleep


* * *

"Celia?"

The world was black and lurching. If she opened her eyes, she'd find herself on the deck of a sailing ship.

"Celia, time to wake up." A cool hand pressed her cheek.

She opened her eyes, and the light stabbed to life a headache that ran from her temples to the back of her neck.

"Ow," she said and covered her face with her hands.

"There you are. Good morning."

She was lying on the floor. Dr. Arthur Mentis knelt beside her, his brown trench coat spread around him, his smile wry. The cavalry, finally. Now she could relax.

He put an arm around her shoulders and helped her sit up. The headache shifted and pounded in another direction. She had to hold her head. On the bright side, members of the Baxter Gang were all writhing around on the floor, groaning, while the police picked them up and dragged them away.

"Sorry about the headache," he said. "It'll go away in a couple of hours."

"That's okay," she said softly, to not jostle herself. "I think I used to be better at this hostage thing."

"Are you joking? That ransom video was a riot. Even Warren laughed."

She raised her brow, disbelieving.

"Will you be all right for the next few minutes?" he said.

"Yeah."

He gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze and left her propped against the wall while he helped with cleanup. As the police collected and removed the gang members, Mentis looked each of them in the eyes, reading their minds, learning what he could from them. They wouldn't even know what was happening.

The wall around the door was scorched, streaked black with soot, and the door itself had disappeared. Spark must have had to blast it open. The room smelled toasted with that particular flavor Celia had always associated with Spark's flames: baking chocolate. Celia was surprised to find the scent comforting.

Her mother entered the room a moment later.

Suzanne West — Spark — was beautiful, marvelously svelte in her form-fitted skin suit, black with flame-colored accents. Her red hair swept thick and luxurious down her back. She moved with energy and purpose.

She paused, looked around, and found Celia. "Celia!"

This was just like old times, nearly. Suzanne crouched beside her, gripped Celia's shoulders, and pursed her face like she might cry.

Celia sighed and put her arms around her mother. Suzanne hugged back tightly. "Hi, Mom."

"Oh Celia, are you all right?"

"Headache. But yeah. Did you guys find my bag? I had notes from work in it."

"I don't know. We'll look. I was so worried — did they hurt you? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." She tried to stand, but the headache made her vision splotchy. The floor was nice and stable.

"Don't try to move; paramedics are on the way."

"I don't need paramedics. I just want to go home."

Suzanne sighed with frustration. "I really wish you'd come live at the plaza. It's so much safer —"

Celia shook her head. "No way. Uh-uh."

"This sort of thing wouldn't happen —"

"Mom, they picked me off the bus on the way home from work. I can't not leave home."

"What were you doing riding the bus?"

"I don't have a car."

"Celia, if you need a car we can —"

Headache or no, she wasn't sitting still to listen to this. Bracing against the wall, she got her feet under her and managed to push herself up. Suzanne reached for her, but Celia shrugged her away. "I'm fine."

She hated being like this. She felt sixteen years old, all over again.

"Why won't you let us help you?"

The question wasn't about this, the rescue from the kidnapping, the arm to get her off the floor. It was the big question.

Celia focused on the wall, which didn't make her dizzy. "I haven't taken a cent from you in years; I'm not going to start now."

"If it'll keep you from getting assaulted like this —"

"Well, I wouldn't get assaulted like this if I weren't your daughter, would I?"

If she'd said that to her father, he would have lost his temper, broken a chair or punched through the wall with a glance, and stalked out of the room. Her mother, on the other hand ... Suzanne's lips pursed, and her eyes reddened like she was about to cry. Instantly Celia felt guilty, but she couldn't take it back, and she couldn't apologize, because it was true.

"Everything all right?" Mentis had returned. He stood, hands in the pockets of his trench coat, and looked between the two of them inquiringly. He was in his thirties, with brown hair grown slightly shaggy and a pale, searching face. The Olympiad had been active for over ten years already when he joined, as a student at the university medical school. Despite his younger age, he carried around with him this maddening, ancient air of wisdom.

Celia and her mother stared at one another. Mentis, the telepath, must have seen a frothing mass of pent-up frustrations and unspoken thoughts. They couldn't hide from him like they could from each other.

Nevertheless, Celia said, "Fine. I'd just like to go home and sleep off this hangover."

"Right," Mentis said. He held out her attaché case, unopened and none the worse for wear. "I think this is yours. We found it in Baxter's car."

"Thanks."

He turned to Suzanne. "We should move on. Captain and the Bullet have cleaned up the bank robberies, but two branches of the gang are still at large."

Celia paused. "What's happening?"

"This was more than a simple kidnapping," Mentis said. "It was a distraction. Baxter's people launched attacks all over the city. He wanted to see how much he could get away with while we were busy rescuing you."

If Baxter could have held her indefinitely, moving from place to place, keeping one step ahead of the Olympiad, he might have run them ragged.

They'd taken the time to rescue her.

"Detective? Could you see that Miss West arrives home safely?" Mentis called to a young man in a suit and overcoat standing near the doorway. One of the detectives on the case, he held a notepad and pencil, jotting notes as Baxter's men were escorted out. The cop looked at Mentis and nodded.

She suppressed a vague feeling of abandonment, that she could have died, and now Mentis and her mother were just leaving her alone. But she remembered: the city was more important. And Celia was always saying she could take care of herself, wasn't she?

You'll be fine. I have faith in you. — Mentis's smile was wry, and Celia nodded in acknowledgment.

"Thanks," she said. "For coming after me. Tell Dad I said hi."

Suzanne crossed her arms. "You could call once in a while."

He could call me. "Maybe I will." She managed a smile for her mother and a last wave at Mentis before leaving.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn, David G. Hartwell. Copyright © 2011 Carrie Vaughn, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.

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