The flying carpet glided low over the grass, sending ripples of green movement across the field. It said something about Mabel’s mood that this was the best she could come up with. At least its constant, sourceless motion made for a smoother ride than the Thoat.
Nobody felt much like talking, after what they had seen in the witch’s tent. They couldn’t remember all of it clearly. Like dreams, visions burn easily in the light of day, no matter how deep the truths they reveal.
Elsewhere remembered enough, though.
“It was like they were at Roberts, and they don’t know it.”
“They have a pool and a television with four thousand channels, I wouldn’t be whinging.”
And then there was the other thing he’d seen. He desperately hoped Myriad didn’t ask him about it. She’d think he hated her, and then she’d hate him. It wasn’t as though she really needed him anymore, with the whole score of songs she now had access to. Elsewhere may not have been Myriad, but he was no fool. He’d put the dots together when she’d explained how her power worked. Especially now that he knew his own had been inside him since before they met.
Myriad blinked at him with Maelstrom’s eyes. “What’s up with you?”
“Nothing,” Elsewhere blurted. “That witch-lady just freaked me out, okay?”
“But you were looking at me weird.”
“I thought you looked sad.”
“We all look sad right now,” Mabel pointed out. “And you didn’t look so good when you were getting your face painted…” An italicised question mark bounced over her head.
Growing up with Angela Barnes as a mother, there are only two real approaches a boy can take to lying. Elsewhere’s brothers had become better than average at it, for what little good it did them. Elsewhere, however, had the misfortune of being born at the height of his mother’s powers, and had taken the other approach.
“I saw Eddie!”
The children all crawled in closer, their faces worried and curious in equal measure.
“Eddie? You mean the big guy from when we…” Mabel didn’t finish her sentence. She didn’t need to.
Maelstrom’s reaction was perhaps predictable. “He’s gonna dob on us!”
“…To who?” Mabel asked.
“I don’t know, his parents? The police? Lawrence will hear about it anyway.” He twisted and squirmed, squeezing one hand in the other. “Why wouldn’t he tell someone? After what we did to him…”
Despite herself, Mabel’s tone was more chastising than consoling. “You didn’t do anything!”
“He didn’t remember us,” said Elsewhere.
Myriad looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“I was trying to say sorry, and he didn’t know who we were. He said he never even went to the Institute.”
“Maybe he was lying?” suggested Mabel, mostly trying to comfort Maelstrom. “I bet he would’ve gotten into trouble if his folks knew he came ‘round our place.”
Elsewhere shook his head. “You weren’t there. He wasn’t lying. He got really mad, but I think that was just because I said I was a new human.”
“When something really bad or scary happens to someone, people try to block the memory out. Maybe that’s what Eddie did?” said Myriad.
“But Bazza was there, too, and he said he wasn’t at the Institute, either.”
“We still chased him around like a fox,” Myriad reminded him.
“But he was so calm…”
“Does it matter?” said Mabel, testily. “So he doesn’t remember getting his blood ripped out. Who cares? Isn’t that a good thing? There’s lots of stuff I don’t want to remember. And Bazza looked like the kind of fella who gets ‘forgetful’ a lot.”
Distressed, Elsewhere said, “But what if he’s sick? Maybe Żywie missed something, and his memory’s leaking!”
The argument lasted the rest of the flight. Privately, Myriad was relieved. It meant nobody asked her about what she had seen at the carnival.
When they reached the spot where Mabel had conjured the Thoat, she insisted they walk the rest of the way. On the surface, there wasn’t anything incriminating about a flying carpet, but having a mode of transport might have given people ideas.
Tiresias was waiting for them on the other side of the river. His attention was divided between his bottle of wine and jangling keys in a delighted Ophelia’s face. “Look, birbantella, it’s the world’s driest, landiest fish! How was your swim?” His voice was uncharacteristically cheerful, but characteristically slurred.
“Fine,” Mabel called back flatly. She felt it best to humour the telepath. “The water’s great.”
“Oh,” said Tiresias, as though remembering a chore, “speaking of which.” He tossed a bag at Mabel, almost knocking her off her stone. “Your lord and saviour told me to give you this.”
Recovering her bearings, she looked inside the bag. “Wet towels?”
“Thinks of everything, Windshear.”
The children had to admit, she did. As they skipped their way back onto dry land, Tiresias looked at their faces. Their powers left a stigma on each of them. The psionically nearsighted couldn’t make them out—at least not consciously—but for him they were as clear and unremarkable as freckles or missing milk teeth. Like most superhumans he had seen, the girls’ skin swirled with iridescence, forming patterns that danced on the border between organic and mechanical; tree roots with aspirations to circuitry. The boys’ marks were a bit more distinctive. Elsewhere’s forehead bore a calligraphic mark drawn in luminous green ink. Tiresias thought the symbol might be Oriental, but he wasn’t actually interested enough to look into it. Maelstrom meanwhile appeared to simultaneously exist as ice, mist, water and flesh. None of those were what caught his attention, though:
“Going to show Laurie the new paint job?”
The children all looked at one another, or more precisely, at the facepaint they still had on. They then leaped into the water as one, frantically trying to wash it off, the psychic and his young companion laughing all the while.
Myriad spent the next week in a state of complete anxiety. It was almost worse than at McClare. There, the worst she had to fear was nothing changing. Now she expected every morning to awaken to screams, or Lawrence waiting at the foot of her bed, cane in hand. It shamed her that she couldn’t decide which idea inspired more dread.
She wondered how Tiresias hadn’t picked up on her fear. Sometimes, she wished he would. Then it would be out of her hands. It would be handled—even if it meant another beating. But maybe it was a good sign that the esper wasn’t concerned. He’d know if AU’s warning would come to nothing, right? Unless he’s in on it. Basil did say they were mates.
She checked the haypile where she sequestered the gold pouch as often as she could, which wasn’t nearly as much as she would have prefered, thanks to The Tempest auditions. She knew AU could well have intended it as a weapons stockpile, but she still couldn’t bring herself to get rid of it. What if they did end up having to run?
She had to talk to someone, before the stress burned a hole in her stomach. She couldn’t work up the steel to speak to Lawrence himself, and the idea of bringing it to Melusine was even scarier. Żywie was infinitely more approachable, but there was the note, and that part she hadn’t read the others…
Eventually, she settled on Basilisk. Excusing herself from what distantly resembled a game of soccer, Myriad headed down to the nursery.
For the sake of everyone else’s good night’s sleep, the youngest of the New Human Institute’s students were housed in a separate building closer to the edge of the property. The adults took it in shifts looking after the infants. To Myriad’s perpetual amusement the most frequent volunteer by a fair margin (after Żywie, of course) was Tiresias.
Or he might have been, until the unfortunate incident by the river. Since that day, Basilisk had kept almost completely to the nursery, to the exclusion of all his other duties. Therese Fletcher and Mrs Gillespie had all but taken over his classes, with Myriad being passed from teacher to teacher like an itinerant knight.
The nursery smelt of baby powder, disinfectant, and stale milk, almost but not completely smothering the scent of sick. Myriad had been told that many mothers found the aroma pleasant. She suspected all the screaming made something in the brain rupture. The walls were painted with stars and planets, covering up a mural of Superman Lawrence had once begrudgingly tolerated1.
Having somehow managed to get Ophelia, Chant, Chorus and Spitfire to sleep at the same time, Basil was reading a maths book in his usual manner: very carefully. He got up when he saw Myriad enter, flashing her a forced smile. “Miri! Thought you might have forgotten about me.” Although he was whispering, Basil still managed an impression of exuberance.
“Oh. I’m sorry,” Myriad whispered back.
Basilisk chuckled. “It’s no problem, dear. You shouldn’t be spending all your time with a geezer like me, anyway. You might pick up grown up words, like mortgage.”
Myriad laughed uncomfortably.
“Something the matter?”
“Nah, everything’s fine,” Myriad lied. “Some of us were wondering when you’d get back to maths.”
“Soon, soon. A man’s entitled into a holiday now and then, isn’t he? And it’s good for the littlies to have a consistent face, now and again.”
Myriad couldn’t imagine what difference it made when they all lived in the same school, but she didn’t dispute the idea. It sounded like something Basilisk needed to be true.
“How’s the play going, by the way?”
“It’s okay. We finally got a Miranda.”
Myriad was finding it surprisingly hard to move the conversation towards Basil’s supervillainous former friend. “Stratogale.”
Basilisk smiled to himself. “She’ll like that.”
“As long as she doesn’t get any more fat,” said Myriad.
“Don’t be nasty, Myriad. Back in my village, a girl didn’t look good if they didn’t have a bit of a figure. Made them look rich. Actually, Miri, could I ask you a favour?”
Myriad felt like this was the reverse of how these conversations were supposed to go. “I can try? What is it?”
His smile had a trace of bashfulness. “Could you maybe try steering Maelstrom into taking a part in the play? If Phantasmagoria doesn’t mind, of course.”
This only elicited confusion. “But he’s already part of the play. He’s doing the waves and stuff.”
“I know, and believe me, could not be more proud, but I mean being a part of the cast. I think he’d make a smashing Ariel.”
Myriad tried to picture Maelstrom performing on stage. She imagined it would look much the same as if the roof sprung a link. “Uh, I don’t think he’d go for it.”
Basilisk grinned out the side of his mouth. “You’d be surprised. Maelstrom can be pretty gregarious if you catch him in the right moment.”
Myriad remembered playing in the clouds with Maelstrom. He had seemed more at ease with himself. But this would be in front of the whole Institute, with Lawrence watching… “Um, Basil, are you sure that’s really true?”
The expression on Basil’s face was one Myriad had rarely seen from the man. He looked angry. “What are you saying, Miri?”
She tried to phrase it like a therapist. “Maybe that’s the way you want Maelstrom to be, instead of how he is?”
“Are you saying that I don’t know my son?”
“There’s a lot you don’t get to see.” Like secret trips to carnivals and encounters with probably evil witches.
“Myriad, you’ve only know Maelstrom for a few months.”
“Yeah, but it’s different when you’re a kid—”
“Are you serious? You’re telling me that you think you know my boy better than me because you’re the same age?” There was a disdainful edge to Basil’s voice Myriad would never have expected from him.
The problem with trying to engage with a child on their level on a regular basis is that after a while they start to think it’s a good idea for them to do the same. “You only hang out with him in class!” Myriad shouted.
One of the babies woke up and started wailing, the other three quickly joining them.
“Just go, Myriad,” Basil snapped while trying to quiet the screaming infants. “Maybe you could get to know Maelstrom better.”
She did not take his advice. Instead, she wandered out of the nursery, angry and shellshocked. Curled up under an out of the way tree, she cried confused tears. She wasn’t concerned about anyone coming across her. Weeping fits were common enough at the New Human Institute that it was considered impolite to ask about them.
Ugly, paranoid thoughts filled the girl’s mind. He knows I don’t like babies, maybe he’s been hanging around them so much so I’ll stay away…
“Oh, oh Myriad.”
She was dimly conscious of Lawrence taking her hands pulling her to her feet. “Chin up, girl,” he said. “I know it can be rough going sometimes, but it’ll be alright.”
He knows, thought Myriad. Better this way. Hope he doesn’t know the others were there, too. Maelstrom would die…
Lawrence tilted her head up so she was looking at him. “If it will help dry your eyes, I’ve got some good news.”
“What news?” asked Myriad, sniffling.
“I’ve been talking on the phone with Tim Valour—that’s the headman at the DDHA, but try not to hold it against him—and I’ve convinced him to let me put on a little demonstration for the bigwigs over in Canberra.” He grinned proudly. “I’m told the Prime Minister will be in attendance. Now, obviously if I’m to show the great and the good the merits of our little experiment, they’ll need proof. So I’ve decided to take you and Maelstrom along; if you’re so inclined, of course.”
“Wait, Canberra?” said Myriad.
“Yes. I know, dreary little testament to the folly of planned cities, but we must go where we are needed.”
“How long would we be gone?”
Lawrence ran his fingers through his beard. “Hmm, I have some business I need to attend to while we’re there, but all in all we shouldn’t be gone more than a week.”
“…When would we leave?”
“I’ve got our flight booked for the Tuesday coming. You ever flown? No? Well, I’m sure it’ll prove more fascinating than our destination. You will be coming along, won’t you?”
Myriad put on some false cheer. “Sure! Sounds like an adventure.”
Lawrence smiled kindly. “My child, you don’t have to put up a front for me. I won’t think any less of you for having butterflies in your stomach.” He began to walk back towards the farmstead. “I’ve already told Maelstrom, but I want to keep the announcement for dinner, so try and keep it under your hats!”
Myriad sat back down beneath her tree, staring at some nondescript insect crawling painstakingly slow through the grass. She tightened in on herself. It’ll happen while we’re gone, she thought to herself. There’ll be nowhere to come back to.
Elsewhere lay in the dark, listening to the night-sounds. The crickets were quiet this time of year, leaving only the steady, out-of-synch breathing of his schoolmates and the space heater rumbling away like a friendly dragon. Winter had well and truly set in, with the long pyjamas and the thickest blankets brought out of storage. The days were getting intolerably short, though at least the children could still play by the light of Ēōs and Snapdragon’s powers. It seemed the height of extravagance to Elsewhere that Lawrence could afford to constantly heat the dormitories as he did. Sometimes at home he’d been forced to sleep in his parents’ bed for warmth.
By then most of the other children had settled into sleep, after an hour or so of whimpering and whispered conversation. By the standards of posthuman children, Elsewhere was an easy-sleeper. Most of his classmates suffered chronic nightmares. According to Żywie, it was because of something the Physician called “links”, which he didn’t have. It was a silly thing to let make him feel like an outsider, but it did.
He wasn’t surprised Lawrence was taking Myriad to Canberra. It made sense. If you want people to be impressed with your school, show them your smartest student. He also wasn’t surprised by the poorly concealed jealousy of the other children, especially from the older ones.
Elsewhere understood, though. He couldn’t help but feel a little angry at his friend, too. Myriad was the one constant note of familiarity in a still strange land—and much more of a sibling to him than either of his brothers ever had the time to be—and she was leaving him alone. It was stupid and petty, he knew, but when had that ever stopped anyone?
He loved her, deeply, but there was nothing revelatory about that. Their friendship was like the corner of the schoolyard they favoured: utterly comfortable and completely taken for granted. And it wasn’t until Roberts that he realised how much he feared losing it. She was spending an awful amount of time with Maelstrom…
It won’t be so bad, he attempted to reassure himself. Mabel will need someone to talk to, and most of the other kids like me alright—that’s new. And I can always send Miri—Oh. Oh. Ooooh.
Elsewhere sat bolt upright, swearing at himself for not remembering the idea sooner. Allowing a trickle of power to flow through him cast a faint aura over the pencils and paper he had stashed in his drawer. Most children at the Institute didn’t have much in the way of personal property, but Lawrence had given Elsewhere the stationary to help keep track of the play. Gathering them up, he padded as quietly as possible over to Myriad’s hammock.
“Miri,” he whispered excitedly, shaking her gently. “Miri!”
She woke with a gasp. A few glasses of water on bedside tables rattled, as though there was a small earthquake only they noticed. Thankfully, none of them shattered. She stared at Elsewhere with Maelstrom’s eyes, like stray remnants of day sky in the dark. “What’s happening? Is someone—”
He put a finger to her mouth. “Everything’s fine. I just remembered something we should have done as soon as we got here.”
Myriad’s eyes narrowed. “What are you on about, Elsie?”
He still rued the day that nickname popped into his friend’s head, or whoever’s head she got it from. “Remember back at McClare.”
Her fingers throbbed. “I try not to,” she said, annoyed.
“Remember how I told you I was coming?”
“I know, right?”
“I feel stupid.”
“Same. It’d be easy. I got that letter to you, and I didn’t even really know where you were. I could send a letter to the butcher’s, and you could send yours to—I don’t know—your dad’s office?”
Myriad shook her head. “Mags might see it first.”
“Dad’s secretary,” she explained.
“Oh… does that matter? Is it illegal or something to teleport letters?”
“I don’t know. Feels like the sort of thing that might be.”
Elsewhere shrugged. “Well, you’ll think of somewhere to put it. Do you have a torch or something?”
Myriad pointed towards the ceiling. Throat singing Martians. A luminous, translucent red square appeared over the hammock. “Why would you even ask that?”
“Oh shush. And move over.” He climbed into Myriad’s hammock beside her. “So, how do we start?”
They lay there for what seemed like hours, agonizing over what to tell their parents. They could both have covered multiple pages solid black, but neither had the composure for more than a couple paragraphs each. Myriad offered to dictate for the both of them, but Elsewhere insisted on writing his own letter. Myriad’s handwriting was certainly impeccable, but it had a tendency of changing styles frequently whenever she wrote something. He also had to correct her on one point.
“Don’t use my new name, silly. They won’t know who ‘Elsewhere’ is.”
The girl laughed, realising she was almost about to sign her’s as “Myriad.” “Right, right, boring old names it is.”
Eventually, the two were content with what they had written, or at least as close to it as was possible. “Do we-do we just send them off?” Myriad asked.
Elsewhere thought about it. “…Nah, wait a bit. It’ll wake everyone up if we do it right now. And they’ll all be asleep back home, anyway. ”
She nodded. “Okay.” A quick, tight hug. “Thanks for letting me in on this. Now get out of my bed.”
They both slept easier after that.
Myriad stretched out in her first class seat, trying to tune out the stewardess’s pre-flight announcements and focus on her book. It was hard work. Tiresias had sold it to her as a story about a princess marrying a god, but it was turning out to mostly consist of her ugly sister being bitter about everything. She ignored the crash instructions. They unnerved her, and besides, if anything happened, she had Maelstrom’s song playing next to her.
Maelstrom gripped his armrests hard, as though they were already flying through turbulence. Neither child had been looking forward to their first plane ride. They were both ultimately country children, and this was the first time either of them had ever travelled outside Western Australia. It was worse for the boy. Myriad had at least been up and down the state in her time. Maelstrom was lucky if he made one new acquaintance in a year. He’d tried unsuccessfully to convince Lawrence to let him be shipped as an ice sculpture. He would have at least avoided the stench of cigarettes that seemed to permeate everything from the carpets to the very steel of the Boeing 707. He reminded himself to get Żywie to squeeze out his lungs when he got home.
It didn’t help that they were dressed to the eights and nines—all stiff-collared shirts, hair clips, and starched, pastel dresses. Myriad had gotten quite accustomed to the simple, unisex clothing the Institute normally provided its students, and was especially put off by Lawrence’s insistence that her hair be trimmed. The shoes were a bother, too: it’d been weeks since she’d worn any kind of footwear.
And then there was AU, lurking always at the corner of her mind.
“Do you think it hurts?” Maelstrom couldn’t get that Cordwainer Smith story out his head; the one where flying through space hurt worse than anything else.
Myriad silently thanked her friend for the distraction. “Think what hurts?”
Myriad looked at him funny. “…No. Not unless you get deep vein thrombosis or something, but that’s not terribly likely. Your ears might pop a bit from the pressure change, though.” She broke out laughing. “Be funny if it did, though. Stratogale would be all, ‘AAAAAAHHHH, I ENVY THE DEAD!’.” She twisted and turned in her seat, waving her hands before noticing that Maelstrom wasn’t laughing. “Sorry.”
A couple of rows behind them sat Lawrence and the other two adults he’d chosen to accompany the group. He’d thought it appropriate to bring one of the adult new humans and one of the baseline teachers. Żywie was immediately ruled out; she rarely ever allowed herself to be away from the Institute for long. Melusine… well, nobody needed to voice aloud why she wasn’t coming along, despite her protestations that Maelstrom would cope better if she did. The idea of Basilisk on a plane was too horrible to contemplate2, so that left Tiresias to serve as the ambassador for his generation of posthumanity, an opportunity he seized upon eagerly. Anything to get out for a change.
As for the human representative, the only real criteria Lawrence had in mind was “not Mary Gillespie”, for he trusted no one better to keep things running in his absence. So, pretty much randomly, he had drafted Therese Fletcher, the somewhat drippy science teacher.
Much as Therese thought it was an honour, she was of much the same mind as Maelstrom when it came to flying. And she had misjudged the dosage of her sedative.
“Don’t fret, my dear,” said Lawrence, patting the teacher on the hand. “Flying really is the safest way to travel. Statistically proven!”
“Yes,” said Tiresias from the seat to her left, lighting another cigarette. The general shape of the futures he saw indicated plane travel would sooner or later become much less smoky, and much less comfortable, so he was trying to enjoy it while it lasted. “I think the Flying Man said that when he caught that plane over the Atlantic.” He grinned, and turned to look Therese right in the eye. “I hear he’s a dish.”
Therese shuddered a little.
Lawrence glared at the psychic. “And never mind him.”
Minded or not, Tiresias kept talking. “He was right, though. There aren’t that many crashes a year. Most of the time, when anything happens, the plane just sort of disappears. Maybe the Flying Man takes the people on them and has them dust his undersea palace, or whatever it is he calls a house.”
Lawrence smiled tiredly at the frightened woman. “At least Qantas doesn’t skimp on the drink.”
Finally, the plane took off. Maelstrom clutched Myriad’s hand tight as they felt the wheels part from the ground and the G-force sunk them deeper into their seats. Myriad thought it was like being on an elevator, only inclined, while Maelstrom was uncomfortably reminded of the only time he harangued Stratogale into giving him a ride.
Their elevation wreaked havoc with their bundle of unusual senses. Beyond the mass of mediocre songs packed tight into the plane, Myriad was greeted by only a vast, resounding emptiness—a candle floating adrift in a lonely sea. As uncanny as it felt, she was glad to find no one lurking in the clouds outside.
For Maelstrom, it was a little less ominous, though still deeply strange. While they were of course surrounded by water vapour, apart from what was onboard the plane or bound up in living cells, there was very little liquid to be found, creating a strangely dry abundance of water. He couldn’t help but absently prod and stir the clouds. Shaking his head, he opened the book his mother gave for the trip, a well-loved copy of Le Petit Prince. Melusine had insisted he read it in the original French, something Lawrence had not been slow to declare awfully quaint of her3. Maelstrom didn’t mind, though. There was a certain pride to be found in multilingualism.
“Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.”
“Wanna swap?” Myriad asked.
“You finished yours already?”
“Yeah!” she said with false enthusiasm.
“…How was it?”
“Really, really good.” She lied. “Especially the elf bits.”
Maelstrom smiled. “Miri, I read that one ages ago. When did you realise the lion wasn’t going to turn up?”
She sighed. “When she started going on about her castle’s tiling. Kinda surprised when she started going on about Jesus at the end, but all this guy writes about is Jesus.”
“…Narnia was about Jesus? And wait, the God of the Mountain was Jesus? Jesus is married?”
Myriad regarded the boy with something almost like awe. In that moment, she wasn’t sure if Maelstrom had read all the wrong books, or all the right ones. Not eager right that second to try and explain the relationship between Christian allegory and Greek fairy tales, Myriad retreated back into her book, to try and figure out exactly what deformity the protagonist possessed.
Soon after, Maelstrom felt a tap on his shoulder, along with a pleasant voice asking, “Would either of you like some orange juice this morning?”
He looked up at the air hostess, and immediately wished he hadn’t when he saw her startled expression. Lawrence had told him to expect at least some shock at his eyes. He was surprised, though, to see the woman’s initial surprise give way to what he thought was genuine wonder.
A pretty, open faced young woman, as company policy dictated, the sky-blue clad hostess was examining Maelstrom’s face with more open curiosity than was probably polite. Yet, right then, he found he welcomed it. “Well look at those. How’d you get eyes like them? They contacts?”
Maelstrom shook his head. He’d suggested—many times, in fact—that he wear the Physician’s special contacts, at least for the flight, but Lawrence had held firm on him going undisguised. “No, ma’am.”
The hostess smiled warmly. “Well they’re certainly a sight, I can tell you that. Can you tell me your name?”
Maelstrom bit his lip. He was already more than a little surprised that this woman seemed to like his eyes, and he really didn’t want to push it… “David,” he answered, pronouncing it French style. “My name’s David.”
Myriad looked back up from her book, wondering where Maelstrom had gotten the pseudonym.
“Nice, solid name, that. So, orange juice for the both of you?”
Maelstrom watched her go, as Myriad made inquiries as to the origin of the name he gave.
“Did you just make it up? Or do you use it in town and stuff?” She didn’t bother whispering, thanks to the engine noise.
Maelstrom only answer was continual, vague nodding, which didn’t clear up much. Lawrence had prepared him for a lot on this trip. Fear, revulsion, resentment, gawking horror. Somehow, though, he missed honest fascination.
They played Bye, Bye, Birdie during the flight. That was nice.
When it came time to write a retrospective on the 20th century, many popular historians would cite the destruction of the world’s nuclear arsenals by the Flying Man as the end of the Cold War4. A self satisfied Zeus had stolen back Oppenheimer’s fire from mankind: who could possibly give a damn for dueling economic systems and political philosophies after that? With the ascendance of the superhuman, old-style humanity could finally rally together against a common devil.
Sir Timothy Valour would laugh at such a suggestion. A new player did not do away with the game. A new slight did not erase old grudges. That old war by proxy, that war of ideology, moonshots, chess, and Olympic medals still waged—there had merely been a slight reordering of things. Before, you had the West Bloc and the Warsaw Pact, and everyone else unfortunate enough to find themselves between the the two giants. Now, you still had the First World and the Second World, but both with one eye turned skywards at the Third Man.
Cold spray in his greying hair pulled him from his musings, accompanied by shrill laughter. He shouted over the lawn, “Oi! Tone it down a bit!”
Maelstrom poked his head out from one of the twisting tunnels of water that rose out of Valour’s swimming pool, flowing into each other before returning to their source. “Sorry!” he yelled back before diving back in after the other shape that flitted through them. Valour was amazed they were able to cope with the frigid water, flecked with the first signs of snowfall, without even the benefit of bathing costumes, but then, he supposed, that was probably the least of what they could do. He wished it wasn’t, to be honest. Then he wouldn’t have had to sit outside minding his young guests in the below freezing weather.
“I’m sorry about that,” said Lawrence from his end of the garden table, all too solemnly. “I’ll have some words with them about this later.”
Timothy sighed. “It’s no matter, Doctor, really.” He was glad to hear children playing, honestly. His own sons and daughters had long since grown up and left home, and he hadn’t been present for as much of that process as he would have liked. It was good to see Maelstrom enjoying himself, too. He had feared the boy was composed entirely of nerve tissue till he showed him the pool.
He did wish they had had some bathing costumes in the house, though.
“It’s the principle of the thing. And thank you again for letting us stay for the duration.”
“To be frank, Lawrence, I was worried you wouldn’t have been able to find a hotel willing to take three supers, two under the age of ten. I swear, Herbert, you’d have an easier time travelling if you just didn’t mention it!”
The look on Lawrence’s face was just short of outraged. “Maelstrom and My—” He caught himself. “—Allison are very well behaved.”
Timothy gave his guest a pointed look. He was handsome, even as old age began to seep into his bones, but battered: his face nicked with dozens of small scars, his blue eyes war-weary. Those cartoons they made about him never included the scars. “And if they weren’t?”
Lawrence knew the man had a point, but it was not something anyone halfway attached to a child in their care would ever want to admit about them. “A disturbed baseline child can do unspeakable things with just a pair of craft scissors. Do we bar them from public spaces?”
“No, but we do take the scissors off them. Tell me, how do you manage that when the child has scissors for brains?”
“…That metaphor got away from you there, Tim?”
“We didn’t all have tutors growing up, Lawrence. I’m just saying, the fear is understandable.”
That sent the old Oxfordian into a long tirade on the comparative barbarity of the average rootstock human versus the typical superhuman. A lot of heartwarming anecdotes about the Institute’s students that made Tim feel like he was in danger of developing diabetes. It was like his old divinity teacher had risen from the grave, with new objects of worship.
The DDHA had been founded in a panic, the result of a government’s fervent need to be seen doing something, even if they had no idea what. The asylums were a decidedly ineffective stopgap, able to contain only the weakest or most easily cowed supers. For a lot of them, it was more a trick of psychology than any real difficulty preventing their escape, like that Barnes boy Lawrence had taken on: there was a reason most of their inmates were children. It was a solution that only allayed the fears of the least informed members of the public, the ones who didn’t know what a superhuman could really do. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact nobody could decide if the administration of superhumans was a matter of military security, public hygiene, or wildlife management.
Eventually, as people became accustomed to the chaos, parliament of course started arguing about what to replace it with. The first head of the DDHA—a colourless unfortunate whose name Timothy couldn’t even recall—had been forced to step down in order to recover from his burns and learn to trust suspension bridges again, courtesy of a disgruntled, floating employee calling himself the Hylothesist5.
“Tim Valour will sort this out,” some cretin in the parliament chamber had doubtlessly declared. “He knows how to handle these supers! He chews lead6 and spits bullets that hit their mark from the other side of the globe!”
They were right in part. Not so much about the bullets—he wasn’t even a terribly good shot. But he did know superhumans. Much of his career as an air pilot had been spent stalking through lairs covered from floor to ceiling in formulae and equations—often childishly, laughably flawed, yet still capable of producing workable anti-gravity—pursued by clanking horrors, the malformed offspring of equal parts brilliance and mad, dejected bitterness. He had seen men fly long before Kennedy laid eyes on such a thing. The only reason he could still walk was because a little Polish girl had knitted his spine back together with a wish.
He had also seen two wars. He had lost friends—good friends—and had born witness to and committed what he would unhesitantly call atrocities. Military targets had a habit of nestling among civilians, and a bomb can exercise no judgement. And so Timothy Valour had accepted a knighthood for services rendered to King and Country, less than half of which were the public even allowed to know about, and entered the civil service: a well worn path for used-up war heroes tired of the smell of blood.
He had been enjoying a productively obscure working retirement when he was called upon to take the reigns of the DDHA. And because he was a patriot, and because he was sure someone else would do it worse, he did. Now he had to find some way of phasing out the asylums before they produced a new generation of vengeful supervillains, without sending the public into a panic. And without letting loose someone who could cause another Circle’s End.
To his displeasure, it was looking like this would mean a lot of time spent dealing with Doctor Herbert Lawrence.
“And I can assure you, I’d rather put my life in the hands of—”
The back sliding door opened. To Timothy’s relief, one of the servants, the improbably named Mr. Thumps, stepped out onto the veranda, a tray carrying coffee and a couple of towels in his arms.
Lawrence ceased his lecture. If there was one thing you could say about Mr. Thumps, it was that he demanded attention.
He moved towards where the two men were sitting with a measured, deliberate pace. Seven feet tall, muscles churned beneath his suit like Volkswagens parking. If Lawrence or Timothy were to hazard a guess as to his genetic background, both would have suggested he was Scandinavian. His blond hair and chiseled, expressionless features uncomfortably reminded Lawrence of a lot of posters he’d seen during the War. It didn’t help that the other servant he’d seen looked like the same man, just with different hair colours.
Mr. Thumps set the tray down on the table. “Coffee and towels for the children, sirs.”
Lawrence knew intellectually that it was impossible for anyone to speak “without an accent”, but that was the only way he could describe Mr. Thumps’ mode of speech7. “Thank you… Thumps. If you don’t mind me asking, where are Alberto and Therese?”
“Mrs Valour has taken Miss Fletcher and Mr. Moretti sightseeing, Doctor.”
“Alone?” asked Tim, concerned.
“No, sir. Mr. Jives is escorting them. Your wife wished me to inform you they would return by 5 0’clock at the latest.”
“Ah, thank you, Thumps.”
Mr. Thumps made a guttural sound in his throat as acknowledgement, before standing completely still. Valour knew from experience that he would continue standing there till he was either told to leave, or mold started growing on his suit.
“How about you go entertain the children?” he told the hulking servant.
When Mr. Thumps had moved to the side of the pool, Lawrence burst out in his great booming laugh. “Mr. Jives! Oh, John does know how to name them, doesn’t he?”
The DDHA chief pursed his lips. “I have no idea what you might mean by that.”
Still smiling, Lawrence asked, “But did the Physician put you in touch with Mr. Thumps and Jives, Tim?”
Timothy looked towards the pool. The children by then had let their tunnels collapse back into the pool, and were now simply drifting with the current they created. If you didn’t look closely at their eyes, they could’ve been mistaken for baseline children simply enjoying a swim. They both seemed bemused at the interloper looming over them.
“I have been ordered to entertain you,” Mr. Thumps said stoically.
“Yes. Yes he did,” Tim admitted.
“They do look rather similar,” Lawrence pointed out cheerfully.
“Must be related.”
“Oh, Timothy, why do you play along? All it accomplishes is making him think people fall for it.” He glanced at his students, who were busy splashing Mr. Thumps to no response. He was like a guard in front of Buckingham Palace, except he never started screaming at the children to stop or cursed Lucille Ball’s name8. “He once offered me the services of one of those… let’s call them men. I had to decline.”
Lawrence smiled as he watched Mr. Thumps summersault for the children, his face still betraying no emotion or even exertion. He was surprisingly nimble for such a bulky creature. “I worried the students might wear them out.” He slapped his lap, his expression becoming serious. “Right, down to business. Is everything in place for the demonstration tommorow? That American super arrived?”
“She’s Vietnamese, actually,” Tim corrected him. “Khí Cụ. Does some magic with plants. The Americans were using her as a defoliant to root out guerillas. Arrived a few nights before your lot. I’m told she’s very insistent on seeing a kangaroo while she’s down here.”
Lawrence frowned. “Please, Tim, don’t tell me you’re letting the Americans have the last word on powers! Writing it all off as ‘magic’.” He pronounced the last word like it was four letters long.
“There’s Pendergast. I’ve seen his work in person. If anyone’s ever done magic, it’s him.”
“I’m sure Mr. Pendergast is a very powerful esper, and I’m charitable enough to assume he believes he’s some kind of magician, but magic is a word people use when they’ve thrown up their hands and decided they can’t be bothered trying to figure out how the world works.”
Valour tried to resist rolling his eyes. “Whatever the nature of Pendergast’s powers, or any power for that matter, the Americans say this girl makes trees strangle Vietcong. They weren’t eager to tell me anything more specific. Do you think Allison will be able to handle it? It’s not as if she’ll have an opportunity to practise.”
“If this Khí Cụ is competent in her powers, so will Allison.” Lawrence shook his head, tutting. “Such a shame to see such wonders wasted on something as futile as war.”
For a long time, Timothy Valour just looked at Lawrence. Then he laughed, more out of pity than anything like humour. “Oh, Herbert, what do you think will happen if you impress people tomorrow? If Menzies decides to build a hundred New Human Institutes? That they’ll just send all the super-tots to run around on a farm?” He looked sideways, grinning. “Christ alive, am I talking about children or the family dog?”
“What are you saying, Tim?”
“What I’m saying is that the only way the taxpayer is putting up supers in some bucolic retreat is if they think they’re getting something out of it. That’s half the problem with the asylums: we’re paying to keep the inmates fed and sheltered without getting any use out of them. And when thousands of their boys are fighting and dying in some country they hadn’t even heard of three years ago, I’m sure you can guess what folks will be clamouring for.”
Lawrence crossed his arms. “Is that why you’re doing this? So you can convince the powers that be to turn those two children into weapons.”
“No. I want to give them a chance to grow up into respected, well compensated public servants. I want a class of soldier that can claim any strategic resource without one more drop of blood spilled than is absolutely required. Most importantly, I want to make sure they have something more productive to do than knocking over gold mines!”
The other man stiffened. “That’s not fair, Tim. I called your lot as soon as I had any idea what Chen was getting himself into.”
“Yes, and you were kind enough to lend us Françoise for the operation. Only cost us thousands of pounds in property damage.”
“That was not her fault.”
“So which of your students was it, then?”
Lawrence sighed deeply. “So this is the future of posthumanity: to be tools in the squabbles of their predecessors.”
Timothy Valour looked back at the children. They were arguing about whether they should command Mr. Thumps to walk on his hands or throw them into the pool. Much as Timothy appreciated the children’s presence, he preferred them to keep their distance. He was awkward with children, mostly from lack of practice, and he could barely bring himself to look these two in the eye. And it had nothing to do with their colour. “You never had kids of your own, did you, Lawrence?”
Lawrence had not. He had in fact actively avoided marriage or children, the better to focus his energies on his students’ well being. “Not in the sense you mean, I’m sure. Why do you ask?”
“Just a thought,” Timothy replied. “Just a thought.”
Maelstrom and Myriad laid down wooden tracks across the floor of the guest bedroom, preparing to run an express railway through the shag carpeting. There were still enough pieces left in the cardboard box that they could imagine them eventually bridging the gap between the door and the closet, with enough leftover to turn the bed into an overhanging bridge. They would be sorely disappointed, but it was fun getting there.
The children had been gently but firmly ordered to the room about half an hour earlier, after dinner and baths. They’d thankfully been able to prove that personal transmutation meant that Mr. Thumps didn’t need to wash the salt and chlorine out their hair. They didn’t mind too much: while Timothy Valour didn’t go out of his way to antagonise the children, he didn’t make much effort to make himself approachable, and his wife looked at them like she expected the glorious new human revolution to start right there in her sitting room. The room had belonged to one of their daughters, and seemed to have been left untouched since she moved out. The pair had felt awkward in there at first, like they were playing in someone else’s memory. Their rapidly approaching bedtime, however, and what awaited them in the morning, made them eager to squeeze in as much enjoyment as possible.
And much to Myriad’s joy, she had finally found another child who liked toy trains as much as she did.
“What’d you think of Valour?” asked Maelstrom as he put together a track switch. “He wasn’t as… hatey as I thought he’d be.”
Myriad frowned, trying to decide if it was better to put a curve along the bed leg or another straight piece. “He’s still the boss of the asylums. And he’s more boring than his comics made him out to be. You ever read those?”
Elsewhere had been quite fond of Tim Valour, the comic. His father had approved of them mostly on the basis that they were about an armyman of sorts. Myriad of course thought they were completely brainless, and only read them over her friend’s shoulder so she knew what to tease him for.
“Nah. Lawrence says most comics are fascist. Though, Batman and Superman and all them never really seemed much like the people from Mels and Tiresias9 and Żywie’s stories.” Myriad looked frustrated at something, grabbing railroad pieces only to immediately discard them. “Is something the matter, Miri?”
She dropped the track piece in her hand, scowling. “I can’t stop thinking about all the things I could do with the others’ songs. If Automata was here, I could make the train move on its own! And I don’t know why we’re being all polite with the bloke who had me, and Elsewhere, and hundreds and hundreds of other kids locked up, and why we need to put on a big show just to make the humans leave us alone, and the smokestack on the train is weird and-and…” She stopped herself before she blurted out what was really eating away at her.
All Maelstrom could do in the face of outburst was nod slowly. “I just don’t want to embarrass Lawrence.”
“Is he the one who has to get up and dance for the prime minister tomorrow?”
Maelstrom looked terrified. “There’s a dance? Lawrence didn’t say I had to dance.”
“You don’t. I was joking.”
“You didn’t sound like you were joking.”
“Not at you.”
“Good.” He clambered on top of the bed, bouncing lightly. “Floor is made of lava!”
Myriad yelped like her feet were catching fire and flung herself onto the bed after him. For a few minutes they leapt between the few pieces of bedroom furniture Cassandra Valour10 had owned, giggling not very quietly. Part of the thrill of furniture hopping in any new environment is seeing how long you can get away with it before a grownup tells you to knock it off, or the old study-desk gives way. Maelstrom was better at it, having a more instinctive grasp that his body was ultimately replaceable.
He was about to make a jump onto the armchair when he was blinded by a burst of green light. Shocked by the flash and the loud crack that filled the room, he tumbled onto the floor, badly twisting his ankle. He breathed sharply through his teeth, managing to hold back tears long enough for his features to fade into translucence and back.
“Mealy!” Myriad hopped down from the desk to her friend’s side, the same time as she heard hurried footsteps.
Tim Valour burst through the door. “What’s happening? I heard thunder.” He had his hand in his jacket.
The children both looked at the man. “Sorry, Sir Valour. Me and Miri got kind of excited. Don’t know about the thunder.”
“Maybe it’s going to rain tonight?” suggested Myriad.
Valour visibly relaxed, loosening his grip on the cold metal he had concealed. It was an ugly precaution, but there had already been one attempt on his life that year by some Perthite supervillain. If his experience with empowered humans had taught him one thing, it was that you trusted a few, and feared the rest. “I hope not. It would put a damper on the show tomorrow.”
He saw the apprehension in the children’s eyes. “Look, kids, don’t get too worked up about tomorrow. The people who’ll be watching, not a man Jack of them has ever seen a super in person, and most of what they’ve heard is cops and robbers nonsense. Just do something pretty, don’t boil their blood in their veins, and they’ll be telling their grandkids about it till they die.” He made to leave. “Lawrence wanted me to tell you bedtime’s in five minutes. And it’s Mr. Valour, Maelstrom. Good night.”
Once Mr. Valour was well and truly gone, Maelstrom rolled off the small, string bound bundle he had fallen on. There was a note tucked on top.
“What’s Elsewhere say?” asked Maelstrom.
Myriad read it out. “Myriad, Maelstrom, got this to you in only two—no three—FOUR tries. Things are dead boring around here. We’re thinking about letting Haunt be Stephano, but we’re waiting for you two to get back to decide. Melusine cried at dinner last night. You’d think she’d be able to make that not happen if she really wanted. Basilisk’s still in a state.” Myriad tried not to meet Maelstrom’s eyes. She hadn’t told him about her fight with his father. “Anyways, we didn’t know if you’d have tele or anything over there, so me and Mabel got some old comics together. One of them’s pretty terrible, but Mabel said she likes it because it’s bad. No, I don’t know how that works.” Myriad looked up from the note. “She means she likes it ‘ironically’.”
“It is.” She finished up: “Signed Elsewhere, production manager of the Watercolours, sans their Orchestra.” Myriad smiled. So AU hasn’t turned up and killed everyone… unless he made Elsewhere send this so Lawrence would come back. But why would he send comics?
Undeterred and unaware of his friend’s paranoia, Maelstrom severed the string with an icy, sharpened finger. There were three comics. One was an old Marvelman11 annual, another something called G-Men that he didn’t recognise at all. Oddest of all was the Superman title. Well, Superman adjacent:
“Superman’s girlfriend had her own comic?”
“Why not? She’s a reporter, sure she gets up to stuff, give us a look.”
Maelstrom held the comic up for inspection. The cover was dated to July of 1959: a relic of a time when the antics of superhumans were looked upon as a diversion for children, instead of enough reason to found an entire new governmental department. Though whether the DDHA or its foreign counterparts ever had to deal with the groupies of superheroes being turned into babies and adopted by their romantic rivals was something Myriad and Maelstrom did not know12.
“Okay, I need to see what this looks like.” Myriad flopped onto the bed, gesturing for Maelstrom to join her.
As was typical of comics of the time, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #10 actually contained three stories. The first was the one depicted on the cover, an almost disappointingly straightforward tale about Lois Lane gradually regressing through childhood, followed by a bizarre romantic farce in Italy, and finally a story where Lois posed as a fortuneteller. They skimmed that one quickly. By the end of the issue, neither child had any idea what Superman saw in Lois Lane. On the other hand, they couldn’t understand what she saw in him, either.
“Why’s it called Superman’s Girlfriend?” asked Maelstrom.
“Because that’s what she is, silly.”
“Really? Because it seems like he hates this lady more than anyone has ever hated anyone.”
“Guess she can’t take the hint… do you think the Flying Man has a girlfriend?”
“Maybe. Do you think he pulls tricks on her like this?”
Myriad tried imagining the Flying Man blowing clouds away like birthday candles, or convincing mobsters that his woman could command spirits. She giggled. ‘Nah. She’d have killed him by now.”
“…He’s the Flying Man.”
“She’d find a way.”
From their combined observation of teenage boys, they both concluded that if Marvelman actually existed, his ability to become a grown man would exclusively be used to get into pubs.
“You ever heard of G-Men?”
Myriad searched her patchwork memory. “No, but—Oh, Lawrence hates it. A lot.”
“Just read it and you’ll find out.”
As it turned out, the issue in question had only been released a couple of months prior. The cover was quite simple in composition: the silhouette of a little girl, surrounded by a profusion of black circles like poorly rendered sunspots. Cowering from her as bravely as possible were four dashing men in jumpsuits and one in a costume just dissimilar enough to the Crimson Comet’s that nobody had to pay him any royalties. A yellow caption box proclaimed someone to be “THE MOST STARTLING SUPERVILLAIN OF ALL!”.
Maelstrom regarded the book dubiously. “Should we? I don’t think it likes us very much.”
“What, you’re worried we’ll start hating us because the stupid comic said to?”
He pouted. “Fine, we’ll read the dumb comic.”
The art was okay. Flatter than the Lois Lane comic, and lacking the faint storybook charm of the Marvelman annual, but it did the job well enough. It opened with a single large panel dominating the top half of the page, which more or less replicated the cover image from a different angle. The main difference was the addition of dialogue. One barrel shaped man was shouting at the Crimson Comet lookalike—their token new human, Myriad surmised—to “Take the shot, now!”
“Oh, they’re gonna shoot a little girl,” said Maelstrom. “This is a nice story.”
Myriad thought it might’ve been the first time she had ever heard the boy be sarcastic. “You really need to read more of Mabel’s stuff. They don’t have the guts to kill a little kid.”
The story proper opened with said little kid bounding into the kitchen to find her family all slumped face down on the table, unable to be roused, with the narrator trying and failing to be enigmatic as to the cause of their predicament.
“She’s radioactive, isn’t she?” asked Maelstrom.
“Bet my life.”
“But does radiation work that way?”
It then cut to a nondescript, official looking set of rectangles, a sign out front proclaiming it the headquarters of the National Demi-Human Response Team. It could have been in any large city in Australia, America, or Great Britain. One of the quirks of Australian comic books at the time was their dogged refusal to admit they took place in their country of origin, even if they were never intended for foreign markets13.
Within, the National Demi-Human Response Team—Myriad was sure no such thing existed—made weak banter with each other. A lot of it was aimed at their pet superhuman, the Red Raven. He seemed to possess a very watered down version of the Flying Man’s most obvious powers: flight, enhanced strength, the general durability of an old boot14. Myriad was amazed they dared joke about such a man right to his face, but he just smiled and took their jokes, till a klaxon blared and the team were summoned to what looked like nothing more than an enormous TV screen.
“Do you think they watch movies on that thing?”
Myriad snorted. “Yeah.”
What followed was a long string of truly mad technobabble. Something about a genetic mutation of all things causing radioactive materials to build up in the bones and baby teeth of the girl from the prologue—because of course a single twenty-six page story needed to be divided into discrete sections. It bore a slight resemblance to some actual science Myriad knew off, but substantially more demented15. They then piled into their cutting edge spy plane and headed for the nameless hometown of Isabel “Izzy” Thope.
“Did the DDHA have a plane like that?”
“No,” Myriad answered, bitterly. “Just a truck and a needle.”
Despite Izzy’s radiation evidently being invisible up to this point, it was a veritable light show by the time the G-Men arrived on the scene, as she wandered delirious down the mainstreet. There was a lot of false tension about whether or not they might have to execute the poor girl, though Myriad wasn’t sure how they would make her any less radioactive fast enough to matter.
The debate was rendered moot when one of the G-Men managed to slam some kind of contraption over Izzy’s head. It looked like a colander covered in radio parts. There was a onomatopoeic crackle of electricity, and in defiance of all known laws of physics, the radiation vanished. And it must have been a very unique frequency, powerful enough to cause immediate harm at close range, but leaving no lasting effects once its source was cut off16.
Maelstrom frowned in confusion. “Uh, what’d he do?”
As the next page revealed, the Red Raven had used their “Cerebral Reorganizer” to burn out the “anomalous brain element” that caused Isabel’s radioactivity. Myriad didn’t even know where to start with that one.
“What does that even mean?” asked Maelstrom.
Myriad’s fists were balled up. “It means they gave her brain damage so she couldn’t use her powers anymore,” she answered, flatly.
“Oh… isn’t that called a lobotomy?”
The wrap-up was insultingly brief. Everyone in town was none the worse the wear from hours of hard radiation exposure. Izzy was reunited with her parents, and she thanked the G-Men for making her like all the other boys and girls.
The children stared at each other. Maelstrom spoke first, “You don’t think there’s something that can do that, right?”
Myriad shook her head. It was a nonsensical idea. If the DDHA could strip a new human’s powers so casually, her stint in McClare’s would have been much shorter. They would have simply held her down, attached electrodes or whatever they used, and burned out part of her brain. It’d be like if they cut out her eardrums, though she would’ve chosen that over losing the songs. Otherwise, it would be like if one day she could no longer see faces. It would be awful for Maelstrom, too, she knew. A world as dry and barren as hers would be quiet.
They’d be human. No, crippled posthumans. Neither of them had ever been human to start with.
Finally, Myriad answered. “No.” She wished Snapdragon was here, so she could burn the damn comic, or failing that, Elsewhere, so she could send it back to the writer with an itemised list of all the ways he was an idiot. She settled for throwing it under the bed where the sight of it could no longer offend her. “If it did Elsewhere would be sending this stupid thing by post.”
“Then why’d they have it happen?”
“Because they’re lazy and jealous. They don’t want to admit we’re better than them, so they tell themselves it’s awful being like us, and that we’d thank them if they took it away.”
She was angry. Angry at Lawrence for dragging them all the way across the country to impress some old, crumbly baselines. Angry at AU for hanging a sword over their heads, and not having the decency to give her a date for when it would all fall down. Angry at herself for letting a cheap comic’s dumb contrivances get to her. Angry at Mabel for sending it to her instead of another Lois Lane. Angry at Superman for not telling the stupid bint to leave him alone and go work for another paper. She reached over and turned off the bedside lamp. “I’m going to sleep, night.”
They both lay there in darkness, keenly aware that neither of them seemed quite at the point of sleep yet.
“I didn’t make that name up.”
“David. Mummy calls me that sometimes. Mabel, too, when nobody’s around.”
His outline shrugged. “Mum says it’s good to have something that isn’t all about the powers.”
“But what’s it mean?”
David considered the question. “Whatever I want it to.”
“Why are you telling me this now?”
“Because we’re friends… I think.” He forced a giggle. “And you’ll know what to call me if they get the Cerebral Reorganizer on me.”
“I’d blow their heads up before they did that.”
Myriad’s eyes hadn’t acclimated to the dark enough to make out details, but she felt a smile coming from the boy. “I know you would.”
“Night, David. Pleased to meet ya.”
Given the context, David wasn’t sure what name would be appropriate. It didn’t really matter. She knew who she was. “Night.”
When the two of them awoke the next morning, they were slightly relieved to find the world was still wet, and people still had songs.
1. Superhero comics experienced a considerable lull in popularity in the period immediately after the Flying Man revealing himself. Many parents and politicians accused the genre of promoting superpowered vigilantism, and many publishers shied away from the genre as a result. Some publishers, such as the recently rebranded Marvel Comics, folded altogether. Often regarded as a probable inspiration for the Flying Man, Superman was pulled from the shelves completely. While superhero comics as a whole eventually rebounded, Superman never quite regained the pop-cultural presence he once enjoyed. He would experience periodic revivals, however, including a well-regarded run by Alan Moore.↩
2. Lawrence could tell stories about merely trying to transport the man by boat. ↩
3. “I do not see you learning Esperanto, do I?”↩
4. See John Lewis Gaddis’ The Cold Peace, originally published 1987.↩
5. He was last seen telling a flaming copy of Einstein’s Relativity to choke on its lies.↩
6. Please do not chew lead. ↩
7. But that was only because he had never watched The Addams Family.↩
8. He was also similar to the King’s Guard in that he was not in fact stationed in front of Buckingham Palace.↩
9. “If they were fascist, kid, they’d have much spiffier duds.”↩
10. After Cassandra Valour was engaged, she sometimes wondered whether she would be relieved or saddened when the time came to trade in her surname. ↩
11. Although the United Kingdom was not spared the loss of its nuclear weapons, the reaction of its comic book industry was substantially more restrained than the United States’s. Marvelman—a legally distinct but functionally identical British localization of the Captain Marvel franchise, which itself would later be revived by DC Comics during its resurgence—would continue to be published almost continuously for many decades, even receiving a film adaptation in 2013.↩
12. Superhero groupies have led to immense leaps in the field of obstetrics.↩
13. This would become easier after the switch from pounds to dollars in 1966. Less so in timelines where Sir Robert Menzies got his way, and the new decimal currency was named the royal. Or worse, the roo.↩
14. Despite the actual rarity of this powerset, it is generally what people picture when they imagine “superpowers”, even back in the days before the Flying Man.↩
15. She was probably thinking of the Baby Tooth Survey conducted by the Greater St. Louis Citizens’ Committee for Nuclear Information, which measured the level of radioactive materials absorbed by the deciduous teeth of children.↩
16. Admittedly, it wasn’t as though Maelstrom and Myriad had access to later issues to see if the G-Men struggled with cancer or impotency. ↩