Carrie Nation was in Sojourner’s Truth’s face in the main conference room of SASSLab, where the Society for American Solutions and Sensibilia was headquartered. “What were you thinking, Truth?!?”
Sojourner was not one to be intimidated by anybody, even if she was a really tall white lady with a booming voice who carried an axe. With her finger in Carrie’s face, she exclaimed, “You got to get ’em where they are! People ain’t gonna pay no attention to the League of Historical Women.” She spat the last word out like she’d taken a bite out of a stink bug. Just then, Stanton came on the intercom. This was what the women had been waiting for.
“It’s too late now, Carrie. What’s done is done. The League of Historical…Bitches, it is. I’m not exactly happy about it either, but we had just one shot at branding. Truth may have a point. This name may appeal to the young in ways that our original idea might not have.”
At that, the room erupted into chaos. Amid Truth and Nation’s verbal brawling, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s soft tut-tutting, Anne Bonny was silent. Annie Oakley grinned and shrugged her shoulders, flopping into a massive leather chair at the head of the table. She laid her revolver on the table and kicked her legs onto the table along with it. Marie Curie paced the room, wringing her hands, trying not to touch anybody.
“Bitches!” Stanton’s voice boomed. The room finally fell silent. “Well, there’s that,” she remarked to herself, chuckling, and filed the data away for later. Bitches was a verbal silencer. “As you well know, we’ve got work to do. Tell me how it went.”
“It was just as you said, Stanton. They were vampire squid,” Carrie remarked dryly. “I ended up killing four of ’em myself.”
“Soledun O’Murphy didn’t even put up a fight,” said Sojourner, obviously disappointed.
“Well, she didn’t see it coming,” said Eleanor. “I took control of that newsroom pretty quietly.”
“And you were able to disable communications at Ghouldmen Suchs, Madame?”
“No problem,” remarked Curie. “And I killed one. And a half. Anne took care of the other half.” Anne flashed her a grin.
“Very good,” Stanton remarked. “Very good, indeed. Already the stock market is dropping on news.”
“And that helps how?” shot back Annie. “The monster part is obvious enough, and reason enough, too. But how does a dropping stock market help our cause?”
” I want to know, too,” piped Marie Curie, finally taking a seat.
“Okay,” said Stanton. “Good question. You ladies learned during your training about all the monsters that inhabit the centers of power in this once-great country. You learned about the zombies of Academia and the wereweirds of Hollywood, as well as the alien vampire squid and the media golems you fought yesterday.”
The ladies nodded, paying intense attention to the intercom. Sojourner stood sentinel behind Marie Curie and Eleanor Roosevelt, her hands clasped behind her back.
“All of these areas of power are connected by the vampire squid, who are the top of the monster of food chain. And they feed off greed. As you could see from your weapons and bullets, silver and gold are deadly to them. This is the reason, in fact, that we have paper money today.”
“But wait. We had paper money back in my time,” said Carrie. “I remember when it was introduced during the Civil War. Are you saying that vampire squid were around back then?”
“Yes, I am, Carrie. They’ve been around since before America existed. They were introduced to America in the 1850s by Alois Suchs, who brought some from his native land. There he’d learned how to please them, and in return they made him a rich and powerful man. Now his name is on everything, from Ghouldmen Suchs to MicroSuchs to This Suchs! Studios.”
Carrie could not wrap her mind around this. “You mean, while I was smashing up bars and organizing women to sweep the streets for reform, these monsters were taking control of our country?” She slumped on the table, burying her face in her folded arms.
Eleanor began softly, “Well, I knew.”
“How?” asked Annie Oakley, defiantly.
“How else do you think? Franklin.”
“Your husband?” Annie asked.
“Yes. He knew of them. Every President since Buchanan has.” Eleanor explained. “Now you ladies may not know this since I’m technically the youngest among you, but Franklin once banned gold. He did that because he was enthralled by the vampire squid. They convinced him it was a good idea. No gold meant they only had to worry about silver. They were going to go after that next, but Franklin was much less cooperative after they fought him on Social Security.”
“Well I’ll be. Ain’t it a small word,” Annie lamented.
“I also–” Marie Curie started, but Stanton cut her off.
“Alright, ladies. We’re getting away from ourselves here. We didn’t stop anything with our attack. What we did accomplish is a sort of shot across the bow, if you will. We let them know that we are here, and we know. And we let the public know who we are. You can bet they are meeting already to talk about us. What we have to do next is expose some of these monsters to the public so they know what we know. That will help us build support for our efforts. And with money draining from the stock market, we might just have a shot at funding.”
Anne Bonny, who was slouched against a wall, asked, “So what’s next?”
“What’s next,” replied Stanton, “is candidate number 10. You’ll get to meet her here shortly, so prepare yourselves. Rest up and let William tend to your wounds. I’ll call Alba to see how it’s going.”
Alba Scarlett had just pulled the corpse from the bath and was strapping it to her operating table when Stanton’s face and voice drew her attention to the television screen overhead. “Is candidate number 10 ready yet, Alba?”
“Not yet, Stanton. Be another hour, at least.”
“Okay, then. Don’t delay. The ladies…um, the bitches, rather, are ready to meet her.” The screen flashed into grayness.
Alba smiled at Stanton’s correction and set about her work. As she tightened straps across the body, which was already transformed from the long soak in her secret concoction of nucleic acids and various other ingredients, her mind wandered back to the days before she and Stanton had started this ambitious project of theirs.
They had met at Harvard University as graduate students, she in biochemistry and Stanton in law school. Their paths might never have crossed, but they had both attended a lecture on the works of Mary Shelley given by famed feminist scholar Betty Bern. Alba had attended because she was the great-great-great-great-great granddaughter of Mary Shelley and was slated to introduce Ms. Bern. Stanton was routinely a reserved guest at Harvard’s feminist functions, a tall and imposing red-head hidden away in the corner, always. As it turned out, Stanton had been waiting for an event like this one, and the chance to meet Alba, for a long time.
The last strap was tightened, and the dome over the corpse’s head was snapped into place and with it, Alba snapped herself back to the moment at hand. She smoothed her scrubs and slipped her surgical mask over her mouth, and then marched to the control panel, where she immediately went to work.
It was done five minutes later. The tiny brunette on the table began to flutter her eyes and roll her head, just as every candidate before her had done. Alba approached the table. “Alice?” she said. “Alice Paul?”
Alice jolted into full consciousness. Her eyes were filled with terror and her face, restored to youth by the magic of Alba’s secret bath, contorted. She began to struggle against the straps, looking around wildly at an environment that surely must have been foreign to her. “Alice, relax. I’m not going to hurt you,” she said in a voice she had learned to adopt in these cases. It oozed lyrically out of her, dripping sympathy and kindness into the air.
“Alice, listen to me,” she said, taking the woman’s hand in her gloved one. “Alice, my name is Alba. The year is 2045 and we’ve just brought you back to life.” Alice bucked harder against the straps and a strange, high squeal came out of her, the first sounds she had made in over half a century. “Alice, don’t fight. We’ll get you out of there as soon as you calm down. We are not going to hurt you.”
“You’re in a place called SASSLab, far below the earth’s surface,” Alba continued. “There are no enemies here. We are all friends. You are safe. We brought you back to help us makes some changes. Do you remember how you helped the country before?”
Alice’s body went lax. She nodded. It suddenly occurred to Alba how terrifying and ironic this particular position must be for Alice. She hadn’t really thought about it before, but then previous candidates did not share Alice Paul’s peculiar history. “Alice, I’m going to release these straps at the top now, and just ease you out of it, okay?” Alice nodded. The look on her face was changing from one of terror to what Alba could only describe as grit.
She had no sooner unbelted the candidate to the waist when Alice bolted upright, and her hospital gown, which had swallowed her tiny frame, slipped off one shoulder. She held up her index finger. Her jaw tightened as she declared, “I have one question. Has there been a woman president?”