Ihpkmn's Talebox 2

Detroit
August 1942

The punch clock awaited Rita Walker at the front of the floor of the tank plant. Above the puncher was a sign which read:

The Most Effective Weapon

In The

Arsenal of Democracy


And below that was an arrow, pointing to a mirror which reflected her West African face back at her. Rita avoided her own eye-rolling face in the glass and punched her card in. After replacing the yellowing piece of paper in another slot, she tightened her bandanna, and headed onto the floor proper.

Before Chrysler bought out the abandoned building, it had been a toy factory. Despite their re-painting and re-branding, some of the original signage was still present. Giant, purple W's seemed to superimpose themselves over the Chrysler insignia. Even now, women were trying to paint over them for the third time this week.

Now, instead of making toy soldiers, the plant was making toys for soldiers; M3 Lee and M4 Sherman tanks. She was assigned to the Shermans— specifically, she worked the wheels, making a white man's war run.

"Heya, Ritz!" Diana Valentine smiled down at Rita from the top of the tank they'd be working on. Di was the kind of person who looked like she belonged in movies, with hair the color of smoke and skin as white as glass. Her hands fiddled with her welding mask. "Can ya climb up here? Straps are caught in my hair again."

"Honestly, woman." Rita put down her toolbox and climbed up, looking at the back of her head, "I keep telling you to cut your hair. This happens every day."

"Yeah, well, Drew's gonna be back any week now, and he likes my hair long."

"He'd like it better if your hair didn't catch fire from the welding you're doing." Rita undid and adjusted the strap on Di's welding mask. She patted her on the back, and nodded, "You're good."

"Thanks, hun." Diana put her mask on and helped Rita climb down. "You'll never guess what I found!"

"A picture of Drew so you can prove to me he exists?"

"Funny," Diana shot back, before reaching into her uniform and pulling out a catalog— the front of it advertised that it was 'For The Boys and Girls of the United States of America! Dr. Wondertainment's Wartime Wonders!'

"Where the heck did you get that?" Rita took it from her hand, flipping through it. Diana had talked about Wondertainment toys for months, and had seen the odd sign around the factory, but this was the first proof she had of any of the products.

"Found a stack of 'em outside when I got here— must've been delivered by mistake." Diana shook her head. "Mailman must've not got the memo that no plant east of the Mississippi is running anymore. There's one or two in Nevada and California that still produce stuff, but even then, Boeing's got their eye on them for when they do collapse."

Rita stopped at a page that had been torn out, with several coffee stains on the following pages. She frowned. "What was here?"

"Don't know. Spilled some brew on it, and it soaked the whole page. Woulda ruined the catalog if I kept it in." She adjusted her visor. "Y'know, I got a pretty good collection of toys from when I was a kid. You got a niece, yeah?"

"Di, I can't—"

"A grown woman's not gonna need a teddy bear anymore." She grinned down at Rita. "These ones hug you back. Come by my place some time!"

Rita looked around the factory, her eyes landing on the skylight above; even those had been branded with a great, purple W, which altered the light when it shone in. She saw people on the roof covering it with another tarp— fifth one that week, and it was only Tuesday.

Rita nodded. "All right, why not? This Friday after our shift ends, okay?"

"Yes!" Diana beamed and put her visor down, while Rita waited for the first set of wheels to arrive, so they could get to work.


The first scream of the day came right before the lunch bell.

Some poor woman working on the treads of an M4 had cut her hand open on the chain. It wasn't unusual for there to be injuries; plants like these were bound to have an accident-prone employee or two. Most of them were just glad that they weren't working with explosives.

The whole floor stopped when they saw what was coming out of the wound. Rather than blood, a red, stringy foam was emerging from the Hispanic woman's hand. It landed in the mouth of someone next to her— "She's bleeding cotton candy!"

A pair of men in suits came down from the office and took the woman, escorting her off the floor. People looked around, confused; this wasn't the first time something like this had happened. The men called out something about "business as usual" and "back to work".

Rita looked down at the packet of M&Ms she was holding. Disgust passed over her face, and she stowed it back in her dungarees with a sigh.

"Ever get the feeling this place doesn't like us?" Julia Hernadez, Rita's partner in riveting, put her gun down.

"It's a building. Buildings don't like or hate anyone." Rita frowned, adjusting her mask.

Diana pulled up her visor and killed the heat on her welder. "Yeah, but this place used to be a toy factory, y'know? Can't imagine it terribly likes being used to make real guns instead of pop guns." She tapped one of the rivets, which had gone in at an odd angle. ""You're gonna have to redo this one."

"Son of a bitch," Julia groaned. "It'd be easier to take apart the whole tank!"

"Y'know," Rita said, pulling down her mask, "I've never seen any Wondertainment stuff on the shelves. I saw the factory pouring out smoke, day in and day out, but never any toys."

"They've mainly got stuff further east, in New York," Diana shrugged.

Rita and Julia helped pull her off the tank, and Diana knocked on it. Instead of the clunk-clunk of metal, it was the tap-tap of bakelite. Rita picked at one of the cracks, and found it pulling away, revealing a purple underside. "Did it… look like that when it went on?"

"No." Diana sighed as the two men in suits approached. "Guess it's my turn to talk with the boss. I'm responsible for weldin' this."

"This wasn't welded," Rita tapped it. "This was solid steel a second ago. Now it's… not." She started flipping over more of the once-steel plate, exposing writing on the underside.

Introducing Dr. Wondertainment's Wonder-Tanks! Easy to assemble and re-assemble, blows apart like

That was all that she could read before a tall, white man in a pair of sun cheaters and a nice suit clapped her hands on her shoulder. "Rita Walker?"

"T-that's right."

"You're to come with us."

"Wait a minute!" Diana snapped. "She didn't do anythin'! It's my fault it broke! I welded it wrong!"

"Mrs. Valentine, Miss Hernandez, your new assignment is two tanks down. Miss Walker…" the man squeezed her shoulder. "Mr. Fitzgerald will see you now."

Rita's heart fell into her stomach.


Rita had been waiting in a very hot office for half an hour. She had given up on asking the men standing beside her for water; they just stood there, ignoring her, stoic in the heat. Was it just her imagination? Were they doing something to her? With things in the factory the way they were, she wouldn't be surprised if they had some kind of military heat ray rigged up for interrogation.

Finally, a tall, bald man in a brown suit entered, playing with his cufflinks, and looking down at Rita. He looked at the pair of men. "What the hell are you two doing? It's eighty degrees in here, at least! Get her some water."

The man on the right rolled his shoulders, and exited the room. Fitzgerald looked at Rita, picking up a clipboard on his desk. "Miss Walker, you're from Detroit, yes?"

"Yes, sir." The man who had left earlier re-entered with a glass of cool water, handing it to Rita. She got the feeling he was giving her the stink-eye through the thick, dark glasses. "Thank you," she nodded, taking a long drink of the water.

"I can tell from the accent. You have a particular way of saying 'sir' here— I'm from Virginia, myself." He looked at her, a smile on his face that seemed just genuine enough to be real. "You're aware of the… anomalies happening in the factory, yes?"

"Yes, sir."

"Now, every plant has hiccups in manufacturing. Detroit Arsenal had to scrap ten tanks yesterday because they found faults in the treads they had manufactured. A Boeing plant had to destroy three planes because they found faults in their engines last month." He steepled his fingers. "But I think you'll agree that having steel turn into pure bakelite, or having gunpowder turn into sugar, or guns assembled on our tanks blowing soap bubbles is more than a hiccup."

"Of course, sir."

"We've noticed a pattern among those whose builds have been experiencing anomalies." He picked up the clipboard. "Does the name 'Dr. Wondertainment' mean anything to you?"

"Uh. Diana— that's Diana Valentine— mentioned that it used to be the company that ran the factory." She almost let slip the fact that Diana had, as she put it, 'a collection'. "I… I think I remember seein' it when I was a kid, growing up here. Had a big purple smokestack on it, kinda shaped like a top hat."

"Have you ever bought or owned any products made by Dr. Wondertainment?"

"Not that I know of, no. My family… we couldn't afford expensive toys like that. Sir." She took another drink of water.

"Show me your left calf."

Rita blinked, bringing the glass down from her lips. "I'm… sorry, sir?"

"Lift up your left pant leg, please."

Confused, Rita bent down and moved the leg of her uniform up, revealing bare, black skin underneath. "Can I ask—"

"No." Fitzgerald chewed his lip as one of the men in suits inspected it. "Sorry for troubling you. Feel free to take an extra ten minutes on lunch. I'll see to it that your pay isn't docked." He nodded at the two men; one of them opened the door to let her out, a sneer on his face.


In the small room designated as a mess hall, Rita found Diana waiting for her, eating a spam sandwich of her own. She had a second one in her lunchbox, which she pulled out as Rita sat by her. "How'd it go?"

"I'm not fired," Rita smiled as she took the sandwich. "Which is good. Only work I can get around here is doing this." She opened it up, her eyes going wide as she realized it was not spam on the sandwich, but beef. "Di! How many ration stamps did this take?!"

"I'm good for it," She assured Rita, holding up a hand and taking a bite of her sandwich. "Jules devoured hers, so if you don't want it…"

"Don't put words in my mouth!" Rita laughed, and took a chunk out of it. When she swallowed, she said, "Fitzgerald asked me the strangest fuckin' thing. He told me to pull up my pant leg so he could see my calf."

Diana snorted, her face contorting into a look of disbelief. "You're jokin'. What, he can't see a skin show like every other guy stuck stateside?"

"I don't know. Maybe he expected somethin' tattooed on it, like a swastika." She shook her head. "Hitler's ruined that symbol forever. I read about a high school in Wisconsin that had to change its team name from the Swastikas to the Stars."

"I've heard of one in New York." Diana offered Rita the lid of her thermos, which was filled with a creamy light liquid. "Milk?"

"Beef and milk? Your ration card's gotta look like it was used for target practice at this point."

"I've been saving books for months. Plus… I maaaaay have traded a whole book of gas rations."

"Y'know you're not supposed to do that," Rita frowned, but the words were muffled through a mouthful of beef and mayonnaise.

"You know I take the bus to work every day. I don't have a car. And besides— Mr. Fitzgerald is the one I sold it to."


The rest of the week went by without anyone bothering Rita. Others were called up to see Fitzgerald, and no matter how many times the W's got painted over, they bled through. Friday came, and with it, the start of the weekend, and Rita's visit with Diana.

Diana beamed at Rita when they walked to the bus stop together, chatting about the events of that week. "I've heard that more girls are getting asked to lift their pants," Diana shook her head. "Never knew Fitzgerald was such a pervert."

"I don't know what that's about. And those two men from Washington that have been hanging around are weird. And I saw a white guy in a lab coat waving some kind of wand around one of the W's on the wall."

"It's queer, yeah." Diana shifted her trousers slightly as the bus pulled up. "I've got some sugar at home. Maybe we can make some cookies?"

"Sugar, beef, and milk in one week? God alive, woman." Rita laughed. "You could buy an entire Woolworth's with all the stamps you have!"

"Don't have a fridge. Most of it'd go bad within a week."


As it turned out, there wasn't enough sugar to make the cookies in Diana's cookbook. Like a lot of things in her apartment, it belonged to Drew's family— Diana seemed to have little, if any, family to call her own. Instead, beef stew was the meal of the day.

"Can you believe some of the stuff they expect you to cook up with rations?" Diana asked as she chopped carrots. "I saw a recipe that called for peas, mayo and cherries. Does that sound appetizing?"

"Maybe if I got pregnant," Rita laughed, checking on the stew pot. She looked away from it to Diana, her attention drawn down to her pants. A large, dark stain was grown on her leg, below the knee. "Di, your leg—"

"Huh?" Diana looked down at it, eyes going wide. She stared for several seconds, before swearing. "Oh, shit. It's nothing, just— old wound I got, healed weird. You cut the veggies—" she slid past Rita — "And I'm gonna gauze it up before it gets infected."

"Holler if you need help!" Rita called.

Diana nodded, ducking into the bathroom and shutting the door. The lock didn't click.

She stripped off her trousers, exposing her underwear, and the tattoo on her calf, hissing at the sight of it healing. She had tried crossing her real name out, and carving a new one in:

Ms. Pacifist by Dr. Wondertainment Toy Co., Part of the Little Misters Series
Mrs. Rosie the Riveter

She opened the medicine cabinet and popped a barbiturate pill into her mouth, before taking up a brush. She scrubbed away at the "Ms. Pacifist" logo like it was ink on linen. She couldn't afford to be a pacifist right now. Drew needed his tanks to work, and for them to work, they couldn't turn into toys.

It was half the factory's fault, half her's. She wanted to just tear off the tattoo, but it would be easier to tear off her leg than to do that.

She forced herself to imagine the sign above the mirror. "The Most Effective Weapon in the Arsenal of Democracy". That was her. If she had to change for that to be true, then so be it. "Doc—" she panted, "Just a little longer, please. It's gonna be over by Christmas, I promise, then I can go back to this, but I need to… I need… I need to help Drew."

Drew— she had a hard time calling him that, still. He was Mister Soldier Boy, and she was Miss Pacifist. They had come off the assembly line together, and they should have hated one another, but it was love at first sight. She was one of many— she wondered how many other Miss Pacifists there were out there, and if any of them were trying to do the same for their Mister Soldier Boys.

Doc wanted to support the war effort. But war wasn't fun, war got people killed. So, the Mister Soldier Boys were the fighters, and the Miss Pacifists were the housewives, the victory gardeners, the ration-card owners. A way for Doc to balance things out. "Miss Home Front" would have been a better name, but Doc…

Doc didn't like his toys being used to build bigger, less-fun toys.

"Doc," she begged. "Let me be a Rosie for a little longer. Please."

Diana bled onto the toilet seat as the last of the Mrs. Pacifist logo was removed by the brush. It was no use, anyway; they were starting to check for tattoos. She had to pull up roots, find somewhere else. Somewhere away from the factory.

"I'm sorry, Drew," she sighed. "I'll help some other way. Promise."

Diana bandaged her leg, and exited the bathroom, getting back to work with helping Rita make the stew.


On Monday, the first thing Diana did was apologize to Rita. "After my leg started bleedin', I forgot to show you some of the toys I had! I'm so sorry…"

"Ain't your fault," Rita assured her, struggling with her uniform. "You can show me this Friday, all right?"

"Right." Diana looked down at her leg with a sigh, before turning her gaze back to Rita. "Having trouble with that?"

"I swear it shrank when it got washed…" She stuck her arm in a sleeve and stared as it ripped open. A loud groan escaped her lips. "Oh, shit."

"I've got a spare top in my locker— you're about my size." She looked at the time. "I'll punch you in, just get to the tank as quick as you can, okay?"

"Thank you," Rita gasped, making her way to Diana's locker as the other woman started for the punch clock. As Diana adjusted her hair in the mirror proclaiming her an important weapon, Rita found something in the pocket of the other top.

It was a drawing of Diana, crumpled up. A grin was on her face, brighter than any grin that Rita had ever seen her wear in the six months they had been working together. There was a spot of purple by her hair. She pulled it out of her pocket, revealing a man dressed in an Army uniform standing by her; tall, handsome, with an All-American smile, in a uniform sharp enough to cut steel. She had to admit— Drew as a looker.

Rita's curiosity got the best of her. She pulled the rest of the page out, and found herself staring at an advertisement.

She's all flowers, and he's all about show of power!
Introducing Ms. Pacifist and Mr. Soldier Boy, part of Little Misters by Dr. Wondertainment Toys! All sales go to help the American War Effort!

Rita crumpled the paper in her hand tightly enough that her knuckles blanched. An announcement came over the livespeakers, and with it, Rita knew what she was going to do, and that she would hate herself for it.


Diana stood alone in the restroom, talking to a spot of purple visible through the mirror.

"I know," the Little Miss sighed. "I know you don't like it. But this is gonna be over by Christmas. That's what they're all saying. Over by Christmas. Promise."

Diana's leg started bleeding again. She felt her clothes stick to her leg as they became soaked with blood.

"Doc, please," she begged. "Don't make me be a Pacifist. I gotta be a Rosie. Gotta be. Gotta be."

The purple in the mirror shook their head.

"Doc. C'mon, I'll do anythin'."

Writing appeared on the mirror, inverted.

Do your job.

"Diana?"

The writing vanished with a giggle. Rita had walked in, flanked by a man in sunglasses.

"I-I don't know what's going on, but these people— they say they're here to help you."

"Help me?" Diana— Miss Pacifist— laughed. "No. They're not going to help me. They're going to throw me in a cell, and then I'm never gonna get to see Drew!" She shook her head. "What was your price?"

"Di—"

"What did they say to make you sell me out?"

"Fifty dollar bonus. For any information related to… to things like you."

Diana sighed, and looked up at Rita. "Y'could've asked for help, Ritz."

Rita looked down and away from Diana, her face clouded by shame.

"Miss," the man in sunglasses said, reaching under his jacket, "Even with your… capabilities, you're going to need medical attention for that wound."

"Yeah, and I'm sure that the pea-shooter you're goin' for is gonna help me with that." Diana looked in the mirror. The purple spot nodded.

"Thanks, Doc."

Diana smashed the mirror and walked forward, taking a shard of glass in her hand and brandishing it at the man in the sunglasses. He drew his gun, and fired.

Cork came out and hit Diana in the face. She laughed. "Miss Pacifist, remember?" She threw the glass at his face, where it exploded into rock candy. He winced and fell back against the wall as some shards of sugar entered his skin.

"Ritz," Diana took Rita's arm. "Come with me. We can hide. Together."

"I can't. I— this is the only work I can get. I need to eat, Di."

Diana let go of her arm, and stepped back. She blew Rita a kiss on the way out.


Six weeks later, Rita finished the riveting on her fiftieth tank. Her lunch started immediately after.

The fifty dollars she had gotten wasn't much, but the bonus turned out to be weekly— hush money, so she wouldn't blab about what Rita was. Whatever she was. Rita was going to buy a car in a few weeks.

"Hey, hermana," Julia slapped her shoulder. "There's somethin' in your locker."

"What is it?"

"Don't know. Just a big, purple box."

Rita put her gun down and headed to her locker, grabbing her lunch pail on the way. Crossing the factory floor, past the W sign that had finally been painted over, she found herself in front of a large, purple gift box. On it was a note:

I'm okay.

Rita never opened it, or any of the ones that came after. They were left for her niece, at the holidays.

People to Thank:

  • UncannyClown (Find wiki username)
  • "Dave"
  • UraniumEmpire
  • Gaffsey
  • DrChandra