Chapter Forty: Damnatio Memoriae, or, True November

It was Mary Gillespie who shook Lawrence awake.

“Lawrence!’

The old man stirred groggily, his nightcap draped over his face.

Mrs Gillespie shook him again, shouting “Laurie!”

He jerked awake, blinking at his colleague before smiling bashfully. “I’m sorry, my dear. Did I sleep through my alarm clock?”

Mary still had her hair-curlers in. She was also very pale. “Żywie’s gone.”

Lawrence squinted. “What? Where?”

“And she’s taken the babies.”

“…What?”

Therese Fletcher sat wrapped in a blanket at the bottom of the stairs, trying to clutch a mug of scotch coffee in trembling hands as she told the Institute’s staff and young parents what had happened in the night. “She was just rocking the new baby. I asked her if anything was the matter, and she just said she was sorry. I could smell booze on her breath, I think she was drunk.” She took a long, unsteady sip. “Then she grabbed me by the throat, like she was choking me! I couldn’t stay awake. I thought I was dying…”

“I think she did that to Artume as well,” Linus said, trying to keep his face very still while he looked down at his folded arms. “She was in her hammock when Laurie and Mary woke me up. She’d slept just a couple days ago.”

“Tiresias too, I’ll wager,” Bryant Cormey added from beside Miss Fletcher, his arm drawn protectively around her shoulders. “We couldn’t even wake him up.”

Maybe he’s… you know…  Reverb mimed swigging from a bottle.

Cormey shook his head. “I screamed in his ear. He’s completely out of it.”

Lawrence just stood there, trying to fit what his students and staff were saying into his reality. His Żywie, assaulting her fellow new humans, stealing their children…

Ex-Nihilo, on the other hand, did not just stand there. She pushed past everyone, yanked Therese to her feet, and shouted, “How could you let her take them!”

“I-I’m sorry,” Miss Fletcher sobbed. “I didn’t know…”

Bryant tried stepping between the woman and girl. “You’re being way out of line, young lady—”

Ex shoved him back, ghostly orbs circling her hands. “You don’t get to call me that when my bloody kid’s been taken.”

Stratogale put a hand on the other girl’s arm. “Lana, do you really think Miss Fletcher could’ve stopped Żywie? Or that any of us could have?”

Lana looked at her sister. Dried trails of tears streaked the other girl’s face. “No,” she sighed. “We couldn’t have.”

“What should we do, Lawrence?” Mary asked him. “The other children will be waking up soon. I can’t even begin to figure out how we’ll explain this…”

“Can we please hold off on that, Mary? At least for an hour? I need to call… someone. Valour, the police, I don’t know yet.”

Mary nodded. “Of course, sir.” Gently, she suggested, “Maybe you go think that over while I keep an eye on this lot?”

“That seems wise. I’ll get to it.”

Lawrence climbed the stairs to his study. He tried not to look at the founders portrait as he entered.

Almost half of us gone…

Lawrence stopped still when he saw the letter lying on top of his desk. He had no doubt who it was from. He regarded the envelope like it was a dark totem: a paper prison for evil spirits.

Lawrence approached it slowly, the way a man would a sleeping lion. He didn’t know what he thought he would find inside the envelope. Guilty madness over Panoply’s death? The manifesto of some new, secret ideology brought to the surface by this awful month? A murder-suicide note?

Instead, he found this:

Dear Laurie,

First, I must assure you the little ones will not be harmed. I do not know yet if I will be able to find anyone better equipped to look after the children, but I will care for them as long as they still need me.

It is a cruel thing I am doing, I know, taking them from their mothers and fathers like this. But they were the ones I had to save from you first.

A long time ago, when David (and yes, that is his name) was still just an idea, I asked how what we would be doing was different from my old masters had dreamed. You told me we would only be adding to the beauty and diversity of the next generation. That we did not destroy.

Except things didn’t turn out that way, did they? We have destroyed childhoods, and taken away the choices of our students. We shut out the world, and told the children this farm was all they had. You may say we didn’t coerce the girls we made mothers, or the boys we forced on them, but I’m not sure how you can believe that anymore. Even if we didn’t, they were children. How could they have said no?

We destroyed Adam Sinclair because he was an inconvenience. Because he separated you from the powers. But those children are precious and irreplaceable, even without their powers. Adam was precious. We are more than what we can do. I’m not sure when you forgot that. Maybe when you decided Hugo had to be a superman to be part of our family, no matter how much pain it caused him.

There’s still time, Lawrence. We can both still do the right thing. Stop the stirpiculture; turn yourself in; let the children be children; stop trying to make them the future you dream of. Maybe then, when all lights fade for us, we can go into the shadows without this on our shoulders.

If you love us, let us go.

Eliza.

Lawrence screwed up the note. He never wanted to look at it again. He reached for his phone, but he stopped just short.

What would happen if clumsy, human authorities caught up with Żywie? Policemen or soldiers pointing their guns in the faces of scared, new human infants. The thought made Lawrence shudder.

That somehow wasn’t the worst outcome. What if Żywie was captured? Interrogated?

Lawrence gripped the edge of his desk, breathing slowly.

No, the risk was too great.

“Have you called someone, Dr. Herbert?” Mrs Gillespie asked from the doorway.

Lawrence swallowed. Mary rarely used his title out of earshot of the children. “Yes. I gave the DDHA a message to pass along to Timothy. I can’t imagine the urgency escaped my voice.”

Mary nodded. “I hope he handles this gently. The police?”

Lawrence shook his head. “No. I decided that wasn’t  prudent. We don’t want a mob of scared Northamites trying to hunt down our Żywie.”

Mary inhaled. “The odd thing is, I can’t even be angry at her. What must be going through that poor girl’s head.”

“Hopefully, she’ll be able to tell us soon. Grief, maybe? We both know what too much death does to people.”

“Yes. I’ll go check on Tiresias. See to breakfast. We can’t let things fall apart.”

Once Mary Gillespie was out of sight and the door closed, Lawrence let go of the crumpled stationary he had been gripping. He hated lying to Mary more than anyone, but she would understand once it was all sorted out.

This was the right way to handle it, Lawrence was sure. Once Żywie had time to think about what she was doing, she would come home. There was no chance of her going to the authorities. Not with the part she had played in the stirpiculture, or Adam’s demise.  

It wasn’t the first time Herbert Lawrence underestimated Eliza Winter’s basic decency, but it would be the last.

“Why do you think she did it?”

Nobody in the barn had an answer for David. Last night, Żywie had seemed like one of the unchanging facts of the New Human Institute. Now, she was gone. Gone in a way somehow deeper and more frightening than even Basilisk. Basil had wanted to be gone from the world altogether. Żywie, it seemed, just wanted to be gone from the Institute. Away from all of them.

Except, not quite.

“Why did she take the babies?” Mabel wondered. A bedraggled magpie sat perched on her hair, trying fruitlessly to dry sodden wings. “I mean, what’s she doing with them?”

“Maybe they’re her… guns?”

The other four Watercolours all looked at Elsewhere. The attention made him squirm. “So, if the coppers catch up to her, she could make Ophelia clap and—yeah.”

“I guess,” Mabel said. “I just don’t get why she didn’t take anyone bigger. Like one of us…”

Growltiger broke the silence that followed. “I liked Żywie.”

David shot the other boy a questioning look.

He shrugged. “I just wanted to say, she was always really nice.”

Mabel nodded. “Yeah. I never knew my mum, but I think Żywie was nearly as good.”

“She made me strong.” Myriad added.

Nobody but David really got that. Arnold at least didn’t question it. He’d had years to get used to Allison saying things he didn’t understand.

“And her classes were fun,” Billy said, adding solemnly, “Even if she didn’t like Famous Five.”

David found himself giggling. “Oh, she hated those books.” He hopped to his feet, launching into an impressive mimicry of his English teacher. “Can you blame me? Those books hate independent girls and anyone from east of Sussex. And well…” He pointed grandly at himself. “Mich selber.”

The others laughed. David did, too. Then, for the first time since his eyes changed, he cried.

“I can’t believe we’re still doing this,” Melusine said as she watched Lawrence straighten his tie.

“This?” he replied, playfully waving the purple strip at the nereid. “I know it’s stuffy, but it’s tradition.”

Melusine shook her head in disbelief. “This party! After everything that’s happened!”

Lawrence frowned. “I know this month has been trying—”

Melusine shouted, “Trying? We’re in mourning! Żywie kidnapped some of our kids half a week ago! And you want us to celebrate?”

“And how will sulking fix that?”

“Tiresias hasn’t woken up in three days. He needs to see a doctor.”

“Mrs Gillespie is keeping him fed and hydrated. You really think human medicine can undo Żywie’s efforts?”

“We don’t know. It’d be better than just leaving him in his room and spooning him baby food!” Melusine’s voice grew quiet. “And the girls will be needing checkups. And a midwife, now that Żywie’s gone.”

Lawrence shook his head. “Too much of a risk. A midwife would ask questions.”

Melusine glared. Lawrence didn’t notice the contents of his liquor cabinet starting to bubble in their bottles. “And that’s more important than the girls? Or their babies?”

“Don’t be so melodramatic, Melusine. Żywie left our mothers in top shape. And women have been giving birth unassisted for thousands of years. Why, the ǃKung1—”

“We are not African bushmen, Lawrence.”

“If complications arise, we could have Haunt phase out the children. A posthuman solution to an age old problem. Much preferable to a caesarean, I should think.”

Melusine gave the incongruously empty space on the study wall a long, hard look. The portrait artist had completely botched her eyes. “You know, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s time to move on from the Institute.”

Lawrence’s fingers froze. “Are you sure that would be wise, Melusine?

Melusine very deliberately quirked her shoulders. “I’m sanctioned, and a citizen. I can go where I like.”

“And you would be willing to leave Maelstrom behind?”

Melusine blinked. For a second, her eyes were white. “David would be coming with me.”

“He’s as much our child as he is yours, Melusine.”

Françoise stalked towards the office door. “I’m his mother. And the only other person here with any claim to him is gone.”

She slammed the door behind her.

Lawrence sighed. He was counting out the seconds so he and Melusine wouldn’t run into each other on the stairs when his phone rang.

“New Human Institute, Dr. Herbert Lawrence speaking.”

Timothy Valour’s voice crackled over the line, “Hello, Lawrence.”

Lawrence’s breath caught in his chest, but he recovered fast. “Ah, good to hear from you, Tim. Is this about the inspection? Still on the 10th, correct?”

A breath hissed down hundreds of miles of wires. “No, it isn’t. Me and the wife had a visitor last night. Six of them, actually. Eliza dropped in.”

Lawrence couldn’t speak.

“We had a lot to talk about, Laurie. Some developments at your school I wasn’t made aware of. If half of what Eliza says is true… I’m not sure I have the words.”

“…Where is she? What have you done with her?”

“You”—the word was sharp, sudden, followed by a short silence as the man forced the calm back into his voice—“don’t get to ask that sort of question, Lawrence. Not anymore. Eliza is fine. She and the children are on their way somewhere quiet and safe. And far away from you.”

Even over the old phone-line, Lawrence couldn’t mistake the quaver in the old soldier’s voice. That shaky self-control that was probably more exhausting than running a marathon, and likely the only thing keeping Valour from throwing something, if he hadn’t already.

“You know, Lawrence, I always knew you were an odd bloke. But I also thought you cared about those kids. Loved them, even. This—it never even occurred to me you could think of this. All those kids I let you take on. I thought they were going somewhere better…”

“I—listen—I—”

“There it is!” Valour barked. “You can’t even deny it! I wanted to believe Eliza was lying. I didn’t know why she would make up something like this, but I still hoped. But those babies. Where else could they have come from? One of them flies, Lawrence, just like Sadie. The birds in our garden kept landing in her little hands…”

“It’s more than you understand, Tim—”

“I’ve listened to enough of your speeches, Lawrence. There’s nothing you can say that’ll make this alright. All these years, you’ve looked down on me for doing my best, while you molest your girls just to see what happens! Enough, Lawrence! The New Human Institute is done.” He spoke the school’s name like it had curdled in his throat.

“What?”

“You’re finished, Lawrence. The inspector will be assessing the students for transport to a new facility come New Year’s.  They will be cared for, trained humanely, and not treated like cattle by some old bastard with too much Wells on the brain. If you care at all for them, I suggest you don’t make it any more traumatic than you already have. Given what Eliza told me, I’m not sure what we’ll be doing with Moretti and your staff. You, you should be glad they’re phasing out hangings. I for one know that if I weren’t a civil servant, I’d be heading across myself. To see for myself or to shoot you, I don’t know. Thank God Eliza’s conscience woke up. Goodbye, Lawrence. I—I wish I had known your heart better.”

The long full stop of the disconnect tone.

Lawrence’s hand was shaking when he put the phone back on its reciever. Fumbling, he managed to open his liquor cabinet and pour a drink, drops of amber spilling onto the dark wood of his desk. Two full measures. Then another.

He gulped it down. Then, he put Timothy Valour’s call away, in the same dusty place he had already hidden Eliza, Tiresias, Adam Sinclair, and a hundred other things. He had a party to go to.

The November birthday party was waiting for Lawrence when he emerged grinning from the Big House. Children in intermediately formal outfits milled about white-sheeted snack tables overseen by Miss Fletcher and Mr. Cormey while Linus manned the barbecue. Mary Gillespie, saint that she was, was up in Tiresias’ room, watching over his sleeping form.

One table was heavy with presents. They weren’t so much gifts for the individual birthday celebrants as they were for the whole student body, but Lawrence stood by the ritual.

Behind that table stood three high backed chairs, in which sat Myriad, Maelstrom, and Artume: two newly minted nine year olds and a fifteen year old, plus the child growing within her.

There would have been four, if little Chorus was still here.

The birthday children were all dressed in white, like on the naming days, with flowers braided in their hair. Lawrence liked to think Graves would have been chuffed by that2.  

As he walked over to them, though, Lawrence couldn’t help but notice most of his students were still in poor spirits. They listlessly chewed junk-food and carried on grunted half-conversations amongst themselves.

He passed Windshear lying on her belly in the dirt, absently sending tiny dervishes sporting through the dust while Haunt’s blueprint floated lazily in still tides of earth. Britomart was using a chunk of brick as a stress-ball. Metonymy in particular looked very out of sorts, sitting all hunched in on himself. The only children who appeared to be making an effort were Ēōs and Growltiger, the former creating elaborate tunnels of light for the marbles that rained from the other’s silver cloud.

Frankly, Lawrence was disappointed in them. All the effort he and the other teachers had put in for today. And who knew if there would even be—no, he wouldn’t let Valour’s threats pollute things. Not today.  

The old man slapped Maelstrom on the shoulder, asking, “So, did you three feel any different when you woke up?”

Maelstrom shrugged, white petals shaking in his black locks. “My birthday was a week ago.”

“Two days before that,” Myriad added, before poking her tongue at Maelstrom. He didn’t seem to notice.

“Second of the month,” Artume said.

Lawrence frowned, but his smile reasserted itself quickly. “You know, we in the west are actually in the minority celebrating the passage of age on one’s actual birthday.”

The children didn’t respond.

Suppressing a mutter, Lawrence turned to the milquetoast crowd and cleared his throat.

No response. Lawrence did it again, louder.

It was less that the students and staff turned their attention to Lawrence and more they took the excuse to cease what little activity they were engaged in. Still, he launched into his speech:

“The most wonderful and tragic thing about childhood is its finity. With Maelstrom, I have at least had the privilege of watching his journey from the very beginning.”

The boy shuffled in his chair.

“As for Myriad, I have been less fortunate. I have known her for less than a year, and already she is growing up before my eyes.” He turned to address the two nine year olds directly. “In some cultures, ten marks the beginning of adulthood. In a way, for you two, this is your last year of true childhood.”

Myriad felt queasy.

“And you, Artume.” He took the teenager’s hand. “We don’t celebrate just a girl’s birthday, but a woman’s. A woman truly unique in the history of this world, helping make the next generation of her kind even more beautiful.” Still holding Artume’s hand, Lawrence looked back at the crowd and smiled indulgently. “Not without the help of our Metonymy of course.”

“No.”

The word was quiet, but in the hot summer silence, everyone heard it.

“…Pardon?” Lawrence asked.

Metonymy stood up. His eyes were welling, while his whole body shook like he was at the centre of a private earthquake. “Don’t talk like this is great! Sheilah’s pregnant.” He shouted, “Because I raped her!”

There were gasps. Ēōs looked questioningly at Growltiger. “What’s ‘rape’?”

The other child shrugged. He didn’t know either. Sounded bad, though.

There was no wind to blow the words way. They hovered in the air between Metonymy and Lawrence like tense wasps. No one dared speak.

Lawrence stammered. “I—you—”

He was interrupted by Artume pulling her hand back. “Bran, you didn’t rape me.” She walked over to his side, pulling him into a hug. “You’re my best mate. You’d never do something like that.”

Lawrence was relieved. Name-slip aside, at least Artume was talking sense.

She glared at him. “He raped us.”

Lawrence felt over two dozen pairs of eyes on him. The children, it seemed, were finally eager to hear him speak.

“I’ve never forced you children into anything,” he lied, trying to keep his voice as even as possible. “You’ve always had a choice.”             

“You don’t make it sound like a choice,” Myriad mumbled from her seat of honour. “That night in the nursery, you said ‘One day, your children will sleep here.’ And you didn’t say ‘if you want to have them.’”

“That—I will admit, I could have worded that better. But have I ever said you children had to take part in stirpiculture?”

“Laurie, mate, you didn’t have to.” Linus had abandoned his post at the barbecue. Lawrence could already smell the sausages and steaks burning. “Most of these kids were in the asylums before you came along. I was on the streets. I don’t even wanna talk about some of the others. We’d have done anything to not go back. To not disappoint ya.”

Lawrence looked at the young man. He didn’t look angry. If anything, he just looked sad. “Laurie, would you really have let it be if I said no? If Met or Gwydion said no?”

“…Of course I would.”

“Do you think you could still say that if I was singing? Really singing?”

The headmaster straightened himself. Clearly the children were losing perspective. “I can understand your feelings, Linus. But you boys can’t pretend you didn’t show some… enthusiasm for the job.”

Linus sighed.

“What?” said Bran. “You mean it felt good? Well, yeah, it kinda did. It kinda felt really good for one second. Sheilah is pretty and that’s just what happens. But that doesn’t mean you don’t feel rotten inside. It makes it worse.”

Artume’s grip around her friend tightened, but her eyes were still fixed on Lawrence. “You know, Bran, I think the married days are how he gets his jollies. Is it, Laurie? Do you think about us at night?”

Right. Lawrence stalked towards the drinks table, picking the silver ladle out from the punch-bowl. He never liked using metal, but this needed to be immediate.

He ran towards Bran and Sheilah, unable to contain a yell. The children braced themselves, still holding onto each other.

There was a blast of cold air, and the blow didn’t come.

David, bare and icy, stood between the man and his schoolmates, a small, carved hand holding onto Lawrence’s wrist.

“Knew he was going to do something dumb,” Allison said archly from her throne. “His song sounds like glass breaking.”

It took Lawrence a moment to realize who the girl was talking about.

David resumed flesh and blood, making his teacher stumble backwards, if only from surprise.

“No more,” the boy said, his voice calm and steady. “No more hitting. No more making us feel bad all the time. No more ” He looked around at the other children, asking, “You know what the really dumb thing is? The thing I should’ve realized ages ago?” He pointed at Lawrence, frowning with a kind of disdain the old man had before only seen from his mother. “He can only hurt us because we let him. He’s just a man. A mean, old man with a stick.”

Lawrence glanced towards Melusine, standing at the snack table between the human teachers. “Rein in your son.”

Françoise smiled, the way a lioness watching her cub stalk a gazelle might have. “I don’t know, Laurie. That sounds very old human.”

Therese looked wide-eyed at her. Cormey was glaring. “Mels, you aren’t seriously suggesting—”

Fran patted her and Cormey on their shoulders. “Come on, you two.” She began to lead them towards the Big House. “The three of us are going to have a glass of wine, and leave the children to sort this thing out with Laurie.” She looked back at him. “That seems like the posthuman way to go about it.”

Right, thought Lawrence. If Maelstrom’s mother won’t remind him…

He made to swing again, but the ground turned to air beneath him, and Lawrence was buried up to his shoulders like an angry Oxfordian mo‘ai.

Haunt was looming over him. “Huh. Twice in two months. Shit luck, innit’ Lawrence?”

“Haunt, I implore—”

He almost choked on the mouthful of dirt Haunt kicked in his face.

“It’s Tom, mate.” He knelt down, and began to talk loud enough everyone couldn’t help but hear him. “You know, Laurie, I’ve been thinking about ya lately. I’ve also been thinking about the mob up at Wandering. A lot in common, you and them.”

Lawrence spat out enough soil to retort, “Haunt—”

“Tom.”

“…My boy, you can’t possibly be comparing me to those racist, chauvinistic—”

“But I am, Lawrence! You’re all just a buncha old, rich whitefellas telling anyone who ain’t as old, rich, white, or fella as them what to do!” He leapt to his feat, asking his peers, “And how much sense does that make? We’re meant to be the next step in evolution! Supers! We’ve all read comics, haven’t we?”

A loud, raucous melody of “yeah!” and “yes!” in a dozen different pitches and rhythms.

“Does Superman have some old git telling him if he can go out with Lois Lane?”

No!3

“Does Captain Marvel need anyone’s4 permission to say his magic word?”

No!” interspersed with a few shouts of “SHAZAM!”

“Does Batman’s butler set his bedtime?”

“Actually,” Mabel chimed in, “Batman doesn’t have any superpowers.”

Haunt’s lip curled. “Doesn’t he? Well, does Wonder Woman let a man tell her what to do?”

The girls shouted the loudest. “No!

Satisfied, Haunt bent back down, hovering his index and pointer fingers just in front of Lawrence’s forehead. “You know, I could stir your brains around a bit. Don’t know if it’d kill ya, but you’d definitely not be you afterwards. Have to be an improvement.”

Lawrence remembered Eddie Taylor. “Ha—Tom—you can’t!”

Haunt’s fingers drifted closer to Lawrence’s skin. “I dunno, Laurie,” he said, almost soberly. “Couple of years ago I didn’t think I could walk through walls…”

Images of himself sprawled drooling in his office chair rushed past Lawrence’s eyes. Those were the pleasant ones. The other children had started shouting again, jeering:

“Do it!”

“Stir him up good!”

“Me and Windy can braid his beard!”

Lawrence screamed. Screamed until he thought his throat would bleed. He thrashed, trying to extricate himself from the heavy soil while he fruitlessly tried to sway his head out of the way.

The boy’s fingers brushed his skin and—

Haunt snatched his hand back. He was grinning. “Gotcha.”

Lawrence felt numb. He couldn’t even feel the tears he was weeping. He was now almost glad most of his body was buried out of sight. All that was left inside him was fear of the fear itself.  

And the children were all laughing. Maelstrom was laughing at this.

What Reverb said next barely registered after that:

You should do it for real.

All the children looked at the songstress. She looked more serious than death.

“No!” cried Billy. “That’s… baddie stuff.”

“Be real messy,” Haunt said absently.

Reverb’s voice was like lightning in cold water. I’m eighteen bloody years old, I have three babies! There are literal broodmares with less kids than me! And Laurie down there couldn’t even keep his favourite from stealing one! That sounds like baddie stuff to me!  

“Mavis, do we really wanna turn into murderers just to hurt Laurie?” Linus asked. “I mean, he’s already looking pretty miserable.”

“And he can’t hurt you guys anymore,” David pointed out. “What’s he gonna do?”

“I’d rather not prove some completely different set of dickheads right,” Stratogale added.

“The inspector’s coming in ten days,” David said. “If Lawrence is still around, we can tell him what he’s been doing. Then, he’ll be the one in trouble, and we won’t have done anything wrong.” He looked down at Lawrence. He was still in shock, with tear-cut paths winding through the grime on his face. “Okay, maybe a little. Still a lot less than him.” The boy smiled at the eldest students. “We’ll be free.”

Reverb regarded the water-sprite. There was an unfamiliar ease in the boy’s shoulders. As though, for once, he wasn’t expecting a blow or a lecture.

Fine. Reverb turned to Ex Nihilo. You alright with this, Lana?

“Sure,” she said. “Now we don’t have to dig a hole… do we have to pull Laurie out right now?”

“Nah,” David said. “He’s fine there.”

“What if the inspector tries to haul us back to the asylums?” asked Gwydion.

David shrugged. “They can try.” The boy bounded over to Mabel, taking her hand. “Me and Mabs are gonna go play in the river.” Briefly remembering his manners, he blinked at his friend. “If you’re up for it.”

Mabel smiled. “Sure, Dave.”

Most of the children followed David and Mabel, even Windshear. Not Allison, though. She tugged on Arnold’s arm.

“You wanna come smash up the Quiet Room?”

Arnold thought about it. Thought about Adam. “Sure,” he finally answered. Then he grinned. “Race you there!”

Allison slowed as they passed Lawrence. She was willing to forgo her massive lead.

The buried man looked at her, pleadingly.

There was a time, Allison recalled, when she was deathly afraid of a dark shape in the clearing beyond her bedroom window. It was like a great, shadowy octopus, lurking in the long grass. Eventually, her father had hoisted her under his arm, and dragged her kicking and screaming to confront the beast: a rotten tree trunk with its roots pointing towards the sky. She could never fear that old lump of wood after that.

She swung her foot towards Lawrence, laughing as he flinched.

You couldn’t blame him for that. He was only human. And she was not.     


1. The exclamation mark denotes a click consonant, similar to the one found in the name of the !Quell, a meta-species originating in the Eastern Spiral.

2. Back at Oxford, Lawrence and Robert Graves would often debate the involvement of superhumans in European myth.

3. To be fair, by the time Superman stories were put on hiatus in 1963, Superman likely would have swallowed kryptonite before taking Lois Lane out for dinner. And he had.

4. Aside from the wizard Shazam.

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