Chapter Seventy-One: The Third Man

“She’s ready to see you now.”

Alberto Moretti stubbed out his cigarette against the hallway wall, before following Eliza into the Institute’s spare bedroom. Or as it served tonight, the delivery suite. 

Fran was opening the bedroom to let the smell of blood and mucus escape, while Hugo ministered to Sadie’s last round of visitors: the ones lucky enough to see the main event to its conclusion. Judging by how palid they were, it had been quite an education for the children.

“I am really, really glad I’m not a girl,” said Haunt. Phantasmagoria had been sick, Brit was staring at the wall, and Mealy was just shaking in the corner.

“You’re telling me.”

Sadie was lying in the bed, face still red with exhaustion and beaded with sweat like acne. A bundle of blankets the size of a loaf of bread squirmed in her arms. Lawrence was standing beside them, looking down at both children with a mask of pure pride.  

“Ah, should I approach?” Alberto asked. Even with his safeguards, he’d been wary of getting too close to Stratogale ever since they’d… done their duty. 

Sadie flopped her head against her pillow. With her eyes closed, she said, “Sure. Why not?”

Lawrence lifted the newborn from her mother’s arms, presenting the child to her father. “You’ve produced a healthy young new human daughter, Tiresias. I hope you’re proud.”

Alberto took the baby from the old man, not answering. He looked down into her mud brown eyes, and he could swear she met his gaze. She already had a thin mop of sticky black hair. The esper could feel her breathe against him. 

Sometimes, glimpses of strangers came unbidden to Alberto’s future-sight. A middle-aged, snow-haired woman sitting by a hot-dog stand, casting dark, weary eyes over ominously watermarked documents. A nineteen year old strawberry blonde girl hanging up laundry in a trailer-park. A tan-suited man with artfully grey temples and false smile-lines sitting behind what Alberto could swear was the Resolute desk. Flying children, dancing over the sea. Alberto could never figure  out what any of these people had to do with him.

The baby gurgled, lifting out of her father’s hands. Alberto grasped her reflexively. 

Well, that at least made more sense. He found himself smiling at the girl. 

“Hey, kid.”

The baby slipped her hands out of her swaddling and smacked them together.

The thin ice of reality cracked, plunging the whole room into the roiling undersea of possibility. Reality and hallucination swapped places. For the first time in decades, the world made clear, wonderful sense to Alberto.

Wait, no, that didn’t—  

The world was awful again. Everyone who wasn’t already in bed was groaning on the floor, all except for Eliza, who had already ran to the window. “I think the baby’s… escaped.”

That broke right through the dizziness. Alberto stared at the empty blankets lying over his chest, before jolting upright and shoving Eliza out the way. A small, dark shape bobbed over the night grass.

A new, bracing horror gripped Alberto. “Grab a net!” he shouted. “Grab a fucking net!”

Three years later and minus about two feet, Alberto stood impassively while David Venter Barthe screamed in Allison Kinsey’s face, eyes bright white. 

“I knew it!” he shouted. “All the bossing, and not letting me explode Valour, and the clothes in the pool!”

“Oh, God,” said Arnold. The boy gagged. Alberto could see black spots of renewed self-doubt swirling in his head. “I swam with you…” He couldn’t finish the sentence. “You made her do that!”

“Wait,” said Billy, completely confused, “you’re really Alberto?”

Alberto sighed. “Yes, Billy,” he said, voice reverting to a hoarse, high-pitched version of his usual Italian lilt. “I’m Alberto.” 

“…Then where’s Allie?”

“She’s still here,” Alberto explained. “It’s like we’re… roommates.” 

Mabel glared at him. “I bet she isn’t happy about you walking around telling everyone you’re her.”

Penderghast grunted, struggling against unseen chains. “Kids… I can help her! I’ve seen—”

Alberto grabbed the warlock’s hand and squeezed. “I think we’ve heard enough from you.”

Sleep pulled hard at Penderghast. “I can—I…”

The American sorcerer fell face-forward onto the floor with a hard thud. 

Alberto winced. “Oof. Hope he didn’t knock any teeth out.”    

Mabel shook her head. “You’re wearing our friend!”

That was about when Alberto gave up on remaining calm.

“She fucking ate me!” he shouted back at her. “Sucked my soul right out of me! And like it or not, kids, I’m still your best chance for getting out of this alive.” He gestured around at the ruined hall and smiled. “I’ve gotten us this far, haven’t I?”

William St. George looked around at the scars and burns on the walls; at the sleeping wizard who’d tried to help them; at the frightened, scattered hostages; at the strange, smirking man who’d slipped under their friend’s skin. The one who’d brought them here. Made them do all these things.  

Slowly, he said, “…I don’t think I like you.”      

Alberto smile dipped slightly. “You wouldn’t be the first, mate. At least you waited till you had a reason.”

David turned to mist and reformed as ice in front of Alberto, before grabbing his throat and lifting the imposter an inch off the ground. 

David’s glass harp voice rang, “Give us back Allie. Now.” 

Alberto glared at the boy right in his face. “How?” he asked. “Fucking how, kid? How am I supposed to get myself out of her?”

David, hesitated a moment, then set Alberto down and jabbed a finger at Penderghast.

“He said he could get you out.”

“And he didn’t say anything about giving me a body, did he?” Alberto snapped, eyes flashing red as he melted his way free of David’s grip. “So fuck you. I’m staying until I find a way to un-murder myself. Call me an asshole for that. I don’t care. Your little girlfriend’s the one who killed me.”

The puddles that had been David’s hand formed into sharp blades of ice, flitting up to Allison’s throat. “Well, I like Allie better.”

Alberto grinned. “Fair enough.”

The shark-bear crept up behind Billy and wrapped its arms hard around the tiger-boy. Billy shrieked.

“Mabel!” David yelled. “What are you doing?”

“I don’t know!” the girl protested. “I’m just… doing it!”

Arnold found himself pointing toward Mabel, his body sparking with power. “…Mabel, I’m thinking about Jupiter!”

“Lay a finger on me, they all die,” Alberto told David. He smiled again, picturing a blue triangle. The psychic snatched one of the floating ice-knives.  “Not that you’d be hurting me anyway.” He drove the blade hard into Allison’s other hand, not even taking her eyes off of David as bright red blood oozed around its tip. “This isn’t my body.”

David growled as he reverted to flesh, his entire body shaking with pent up, helpless rage. He felt like his eyes were blue again, that he was standing there and letting Lawrence flog him. 

“Good,” said Alberto, absently staunching the bleeding in his hand with a few biofeedback commands. He started walking away from David and the paralyzed Watercolours. “I trust I can leave you in charge of the others?” he said, twigging the water-sprite’s ear as he passed.

“Screw you, Bertie,” David spat. “I wish Allie had just killed you.”

“Join the club,” Alberto said as he ambled up the hall. “I was going to make it so bloody nice for you kids. I was going to fly in Billy’s nanny, have Fiji declared the national posthuman homeland.” He sighed and shook Allison’s head. “But then you told Penderghast to go fuck himself. So much for charity.”

John Smith staggered up to the esper, legs still mangled from Penderghast hurling him. A thin patch of skin had grown over the mouth Alberto had forced him to grow on his forehead. “So, Allie assimilated you,” he said, all smiles. “I wish one of you had told me, Alberto. We could’ve had such fun exploring that.”

“John.”

“Yes, Alberto?”

“Death has better bedside manners than you.”

“Granted. Nevertheless—”  

The Physician found himself collapsing into a perfect sphere. Alberto gave the ball of flesh and lab-coat a sharp kick before moving on.

He found Timothy Valour sitting in front of the wrecked entrance, perhaps hoping one of the Melbourne PD would try firing into the hall. He looked almost meditative.

“I heard you and the kids,” he said quietly as Alberto approached. “I should’ve guessed it was you, Moretti. You always were a parasite.”

Alberto sat down in front of his former boss, legs crossed. It almost put Tim in mind of the little girl whose body he stole. “From where I’m sitting, Tim, Allison Kinsey is a goddamn vampire.” He examined the back of the girl’s hands. “Has the complexion for it, now that I think about it.” Alberto looked back at Valour. “Honestly, I’m a little relieved it’s all out in the open now. It was doing my head in trying to think of why Allie would give you my real demands.” 

Tim tilted his head back, letting out a long, sad breath. “And what would those be, Alberto?”

Hard and cold, the psychic said, “Eliza Winter. Where have you stashed her?” 

Timothy’s quiet despair curdled into confusion. “What do you want with Eliza?”

Alberto put Allison’s hand under her chin. “Well, aside from the fact she’s a priggish, moralizing, judgy old Nazi, she stole my fucking daughter.” The girl’s eyes flared. “I want her back!”

Valour was silent for a moment, staring at Alberto. The idea that the esper could feel attachment to anyone he didn’t want to screw had never occurred to him. “…You do?”

Alberto shot to his feet, glaring down at the DDHA chief. “Why shouldn’t I? Ophelia’s mine! She’s the only family I have who didn’t trade me for a year’s pay and a fucking medal! What other bloke has to explain why they love their daughter?”

Valour wondered darkly whether Alberto thought Sadie Jones had a claim on the child. “Alberto, in all the time I’ve known you—the time we worked together—you never mentioned Ophelia once.” 

“Of course I didn’t. You tend to murder the shit I care about. I wasn’t about to give you leverage.” 

“What would you do with the girl?”

“Eat her. Or be her dad. I’ll leave it to you to guess which one’s more likely.”

“You’re eight years old.”

“Here’s the great thing about childhood, Tim: it tends to resolve itself.”

Valour kept protesting, “For Christ sake, Alberto, listen to yourself! Even if you pull this off, you’ll be feared for the rest of your life! Hated. More than the bloody Flying Man!” He waved his arms around the hall. “At least he doesn’t pull shit like this!”

“Oh no,” Alberto said flatly.

“What way is that for a little girl to grow up?”

“Won’t be an issue,” Alberto retorted. He looked up at the ceiling, like he was trying to stare through the wood and plaster at the sky beyond it. “Not where we’re going.” 

“There’s nowhere you can run away from this!”

“Enlil I think will be far enough.”

“…Where?”

“Other planet,” Alberto replied casually. “My folks came from there, way back when.” He pointed at the Physician-ball rolling wildly across the floor. “Me and Ophelia will be heading there in Johnny boy’s ship.”

The ball quivered and shook. Its fabric wrapping tore with a loud rip as a waving stem of flesh unfurled from it. A blossom of fleshy petals opened at the top, revealing a pistil of china blue eyes around a sharp beak. 

The flower buzzed like a swarm of wasps. “You absolute idiot.” 

The Watercolours all stared at up at the Physician-flower in surprise. They’d never heard the alien be so direct in its insults.  

“Problem, Doctor?” Alberto asked cooly.

“Do you know how far Enlil is?”

“Yes, actually. Fifty light-years, give or take?1

“The ship’s uptick-drive packed it when she crashed onto this rock! She’s lucky to hit nine tenths the speed of light!”

“…That doesn’t sound very slow,” said Arnold, trying to distract himself from the pain in his arm. It was getting sore pointing at Mabel.

The Physician’s improvised face twisted around to look at the children. “It’ll take over fifty years!” The flower spun back to Alberto. “That body you’ve hijacked might still be young when you make planetfall, but your spawn will be menopausal before she feels dirt beneath her feet again.”

Alberto wagged a finger. “You’re forgetting time dilation, Dr. Smith. Those fifty years will pass like one for me and Ophelia.”

He was right, of course. Dusty2 Allison, the Physician thought bitterly. 

“You can’t take Allie to space for fifty years!” shouted Arnold. “She’ll…” He tried to figure out where to even start with that. It was like trying to cup a planet in his hands. “…She’ll miss us!”

“It’s alright, Arn,” said Alberto. “You kids can come with. I’ll be needing some servants on Enlil.” He looked at David. “Except you. You’re weird and I’m tired of looking at your todger all the time.”

David sputtered with more wracking anger. “Piss off!”

“That’s the plan, Davie.”

“Why do you even want to go to Enlil?” asked Mabel, eyes still fixed on Arnold’s glowing finger. “You’ve never even seen the stupid planet.”

“Everyone and their dog’s psychic there.” Alberto tapped Allison’s temple. “Maybe they can get me out of here.” The girl’s shoulders slumped slightly. “And maybe me and Ophelia won’t be such bloody freaks there.”

The Physician let out an honest, drowned engine cackle. “Alberto, your daughter can punch through steel. Even without her, yours is a line of berserk mutants. Trust me, boy, the great and the good of Enlil don’t forgive weakness, but they don’t brook strength, either.”

“Then I’ll be a king.”

“They managed to see your progenitor off, Alberto. And that was over two centuries ago. Us aliens don’t just stand around for hundreds of years, you know.”

Alberto ignored the creature, turning back to Tim. “Just tell me where Eliza is.”

Having decided that the psychic was clearly mad, Valour asked, “What will you do with her when you’ve got Ophelia?”

Alberto leaned forward, till he was looking Tim right in the eye. “I’m going to tie her down, and make her grow me a body. A grown, male body; with all the little extras Allie copied off her.”

David scoffed. “Or Auntie will just knock you out soon as she touches you.”

“Not unless she wants some of those throwaway babies dashed against the wall,” Alberto said over his shoulder.

David didn’t have a retort for that strategy.

“…And then what?” asked Valour.

“Then I burn the witch.” Alberto folded Allison’s arms. “Now, Tim, I’m gonna let you choose to tell me where the bitch is. Don’t want you pulling the mind control excuse at the pearly gates.”

In some ways, Timothy Valour mused, Alberto was more of a child than the one whose life he had stolen. “Until I refuse, I suppose?”

Alberto flashed a cold, pale smile. “No, Tim. If you refuse, my great big spaceship blasts Marvelous Melbourne into atoms. Two million lives, Tim, all on your conscience.”

Almost imperceptibly, Valour’s eyes widened. There was a chance—or maybe just the shadow of one. If he was wrong, he might be dooming all of Melbourne, but even if he went along with the esper’s game, Tim wouldn’t put it past Alberto to fire a few pot-shots at Australia on his way past the Moon. 

He’d played against worse odds.

“…You’re bluffing.”

Alberto’s smile wobbled. “I’m what?”

It was Timothy’s turn to smile. “Alberto, you’re not a supervillain. You’re too piss-weak for that. I’ve met people who’d blow up the world just because they can. You on the other hand are probably the most powerful esper on Earth, and you spent the last twenty years getting drunk on a farm. You’re not evil because you’re cruel; you’re evil because you’re too lazy to be nice.” He gestured emphatically at Arnold. “You got a little kid to do your killing for you, for Christ’s sake!” 

The boy kept his silence, but the old soldier got back to his feet. “You’re not going to nuke Melbourne, Alberto. You’re going to use your weird mind powers like you always do, get your kid unless you decide that’s too much work, and probably turn back halfway to Enlil because you can’t be fucked to learn the language3.” Valour dared to poke the esper in the chest. “Even in that body.”

Allison’s nostrils flared. “Is that what you think, eh?” Alberto closed his eyes. “We’ll just see about that.”

He followed a tether of thought and coercion five hundred feet above downtown Melbourne, up to where the enormous, ancient mass that was the Physician festered like a tumour in the heart of his great ship. Through his thrall, Alberto gave the vessel two simple orders.

Move.

He opened his eyes, staring defiantly at Timothy Valour.

Be seen.

The city started screaming immediately. Hundreds of thousands of voices crying up at the sky like pagans of old. The hall thrummed with a sound like a sea-quake, growing stronger by the second. 

Alberto raised a finger above Allison’s head. “And here, she, comes…”

The hall’s dome and vaulted ceiling was torn away like an old bandage, clouds of wood, glass, and metal snatched up into a twisting tornado of red light. The scarlet-storm dissipated in an instant, sending rubble flying across the horizon. 

Tim winced. There was no way that wasn’t landing on someone.

The Physician’s ship hovered above Royal Exhibition Hall, plain as day. Free from its mountain cradle, the starliner resembled a stone water droplet. There are few constants throughout the universe, but a tear is the same everywhere. 

“Still think I’m bluffing?” Alberto asked, voice almost lost among the renewed screams of the hostages and the sound of settling wreckage. 

But amongst the pandemonium, David was bent laughing.

“So—” David sucked in a breath. Laughter was one of the few things he needed air for. “So stupid.”  

Oh, jeez, Billy fretted, still in the shark-bear’s clutches. David’s cracked

Alberto noticed the water-sprite’s mirth. “The hell are you laughing about, sea-goblin?”

David jeered, “Remember why you cloaked the ship, Bertie? In case he noticed…”    

It was impossible for Allison’s face to get any paler than it already was, but Alberto made a good go of it. He swung around to Valour. 

“You bastard.”

Timothy Valour cleared his throat, before saying at the top of his breath. “Flying Man! I know we’ve had our differences, but I really recommend you get your arse down here!”

David laughed again, crowing, “Flying Man!”

Mabel and Arnold shared a glance, before joining. Billy followed suit, too. For just a moment, glee edged out fear in the children’s voices, like they were playing a game. 

Soon the human hostages were shouting for the Flying Man as well. Even Lawrence’s geist-ridden corpse was yelling, if only for the feel of air through the old man’s vocal cords. 

The Physician was flailing like a wounded hydra. “Stop it, you stupid apes!” he screamed, voice wavering and distorting. “You don’t know what you’re calling down!”

Howard Penderghast stirred on the floor with a groan. “What’s going on…”  

David of all people helped the warlock up. “Look, Pender-whatever, if you want to get out of this okay, start calling the Flying Man!”

Penderghast blinked down at his recent nemesis, still a little dazed from Alberto’s whammy and the battle prior.

What the hell.

He banged his staff against the hardwood floor. “Strange visitor! I demand your presence here!”

“Is that a spell?” asked Mabel.

“Nope. Just force of habit.”

Panicking, Alberto tried to peer into the future—just a few minutes past ‘now.’

It was like throwing open the doors of a darkroom. One by one, all the psychic’s futures were blotted out by white, blinding light. All he could mate out was a vast, terrible shadow, like a whale swimming through the sun. 

Fuck!

Alberto commanded the ship to cloak again. It vanished like a memory, but he knew it was too late. All over Melbourne, people would be running to their phones. Hungry reporters had their cameras trained on the ship the moment it appeared. Cries of alarm, both of sound and of thought, would radiate through the atmosphere. Nobody could ignore this…

Over mountain, over sea, over city…

The song exploded in Alberto’s mind like a supernova. It had the force of suns. It was the sand upon which broke the waves of time. It was the secret order chaos danced to.   

The psychic fell to his stolen knees. Everywhere he looked glowed with layered lattices of terrible, powerful knowledge. He was at the centre of a storm that could think

The Flying Man descended softly into the hall through the void where the dome had been, deep purple cape falling around his white-clad shoulders as his boots touched the ground. As he did, the Physician let out a shrill shriek and curled back into a ball.

The blond superhuman surveyed the devastation and frightened humans with faint disappointment. He looked over to the head of the hall. “Twice in one month, Mr. Valour? Don’t you think that might be telling you something?”

“Probably,” sighed the DDHA chief.

Pulled in by a strange paradox of awe and fear, people slowly started approaching the Flying Man.

“I never thought…”

“He’s real!”

“What did you think he was? A hologram?”

“…Yes?”

The Watercolours crept in between the grown ups. 

“Do you think he’s going to do anything to us?” Arnold whispered to Mabel. 

“I don’t know.”

The Flying Man spotted the little girl. There seemed to be recognition in his moss-green eyes. “I remember you,” he said with some amusement. He tapped the side of his nose. “Cheeky thing.”

Mabel froze, remembering that dying summer day in the barn. “We’re dead.”

David didn’t seem overly perturbed. “I can take him.”

Penderghast shoved his way to the front of the crowd. “Flying Man!” he said.

The Flying Man sighed. “I should’ve picked a name before I started this.”

Penderghast pointed his staff over at Allison’s body curled up in front of Valour, eyes screwed shut. “The children behind this attack were manipulated by a psionic parasite. Can you help her?”

The Flying Man gave a small nod. “I’ll try.”

The superman moved in a blur across the hall to the little girl. He looked down at her sadly. “Oh, you poor things.”

Alberto opened Allison’s eyes. It was like being trapped at the core of a galaxy. He only had one chance to salvage this. 

Valour noticed the movement. “Look out!”

Alberto screeched, leaping up and wrapping Allison’s hands around the Flying Man’s neck. He sunk his power into him and—

Oh, God. He was tiny. Insignificant. A match flame floating in a roiling sea. 

Alberto gasped and stared, shaking, up into the Flying Man’s eyes. “The hell are you?”

“It’ll be alright, Allison.”

A child sat alone in a dark cavern. Was it a cavern? She wasn’t sure. Sometimes she felt rough stone beneath her, sometimes smooth concrete. It was claustrophobically small, but no matter how long and how far she wandered, she couldn’t find the walls.

Right then, though, she was just trying to remember who she was. 

“I’m a girl, right?” She looked down at herself. She looked like a girl, but sometimes she remembered being a boy. Sometimes she remembered her parents speaking Italian, but the next time she thought of them again, all she could recall was English and snatches of Hungarian. She couldn’t even decide if she was an only child or not.

How did she get here? She remembered dancing in snow, and fighting pirates, and swimming with a boy she liked (or were there two of them?) but none of them fit together…

She started to hear music—distant, but closing in fast from the direction the girl couldn’t name.

A door opened in the empty space in front of her. A man with a head full of curly straw hair leaned out. He smiled down at her. “This way, Allison.”

The girl blinked at the interloper. “…This way there?”

The man frowned. “Hmm, might have to be a bit rough here. Sorry.”

He grabbed the girl by the arm and yanked her through the door—  

Allison Kinsey staggered forward. Where was she? There were people shouting and broken bits of wall everywhere, and—wait—why was she giving some bloke in a Flying Man costume a hug?

No, she realized, it was the Flying Man. There was no mistaking him, standing there spewing light and music like the Lord of Song himself. 

“What the—”

She watched her body detach from the Flying Man’s neck and fall to the floor. Much to Allison’s confusion, she could see her own thoughts shining behind her face. But there was a foreign constellation clinging tight to her mind like some parasitic starfish.

Allison scowled. “Alberto!”

The git had stolen her body, led her friends on a weird quest to try and run away to outer-space. And he had gotten to swim with a mermaid instead of her. 

The esper didn’t seem to notice his prey’s astral self, instead glaring up at the Flying Man. “Still here, arsehole.”

Is that what my voice sounds like? Allison asked herself. It’s like I’ve got asthma. 

“This isn’t your body,” he said. “You’re stealing a child’s life, Mr. Moretti.”

“She did it first!”

“I know,” he said, “but I can’t let you keep her.”

A green bolt struck the Flying Man in the back. He vanished.

Alberto grinned woozily. “Shows you.”

“For fuck’s sake!” yelled Valour.

Arnold’s arm snapped back to his side. “He made me do it!”

Penderghast shouted at the boy, “Where did you send him?”

Arnold dropped to the ground and wrapped his arms around his knees. “…Far away.”

“Good riddance,” said Alberto. He grabbed Valour. “Good news, Tim. You were right!”

“Eliza’s in the Northern Territory,” blurted Timothy. “Arnhem Land. Near a little mining township called Nhulunbuy.” His words got cut off with a gasp.

“Thank you,” said Alberto. “I’ll tell Eliza you sent me.” He looked towards the Watercolours. “Come on guys, it’s time we headed off.”

Allison had to act fast. The Flying Man may not have given her her body back all the way, but he’d loosened Alberto’s grip. She needed to shake him off somehow. She flitted across to her friends.  

“Come on, Davie!” she shouted in David’s ear. “Make all the blood in my brain rush to my feet for a second!”

The only response she got from the water-sprite was a small twitch of his eye. Even if David could really hear her, Allison knew he’d never hurt her. It was sweet. Also deeply annoying.

She had to try someone else.

Billy had returned to hugging Mr. Thumps’ side.  

“Scream, Billy!” Allison begged. “I just need you to knock him down…”

Billy just kept clinging to Valour’s servant. It was a dumb idea, Allison knew, for all the same reasons as David, even before factoring in mind-control.

She was about to try her luck with Penderghast when she noticed the slightest bulge in Mr. Thumps’ suit-jacket. 

Allison doubted the Physician would grow anything with a goiter. She focused on the drone’s meticulously ordered thoughts.

Oh.   

He had a gun. All this time, Thumps had been armed. Why hadn’t he used the gun? 

Two reasons sprung to the drone’s mind. The first was that it’d be useless against five angry super-children. The second reason was simple: Mr. Thumps would never shoot a child. 

Allison shot a glance back at her body, currently being used to say something petty and mean to Timothy Valour. 

She could take it, couldn’t she? 

Allison looked back at Thumps’ blank, carved features. She remembered the penguins.

“Sorry, Thumps.”

She stepped towards the drone. 

“And another thing,” said Alberto, “Just because you didn’t go to boarding school doesn’t make you—”

Alberto gasped as the first bullet slammed into Allison’s side. He barely managed to stay standing, almost falling onto Timothy Valour. He put a hand to the wound, feeling the warm blood trickling from under Allison’s ribs. 

“Good God…” whispered Tim.

Trembling, Alberto turned to find Mr. Thumps shaking on his feet, pointing a smoking pistol at him.

Billy backed away from the drone, weeping hysterically. “You shot Allie!”

“It—it’s not his fault.”

Thumps fired again, hitting Alberto right in the centre of mass. Pain exploded across his chest. He fell backwards. Back into the dark.

 Allison let out a sharp breath. Her super-suit glowed as it reformed into its rainbow pattern.

She was herself again. She also had two bullets in her. She tried to latch onto David’s song, or deaden the pain, but everything was so slippery… 

The Watercolours ran to her side, David dropping to his knees and squeezing her arm. “Allie!” 

Allison managed a weak smile. “Hey, David. I’m back.” She felt her bleeding slow. That was nice of David. 

She was dimly aware of someone weeping. She realized it was Thumps.

Billy was rubbing his cheek against her head and mewling. Arnold’s skin burned with his lightning. He was staring fire at Mr. Thumps. “You bas—”

Allison grabbed her friend’s hand. “Don’t,” she groaned. “I shot me.” 

Mabel was shouting at the gawking hostages. “Someone call an ambulance!”

Allison giggled. It was like nails in her lungs. “I don’t think—I don’t think they…”

The thought escaped Allison. Penderghast was looming over her now. 

“It’s going to be alright, kid,” the warlock said, his voice tight. He pointed his staff at Allison’s chest. “Oh, Loco4, first Houngan—”

“Just leave us alone.”

The ship reappeared above the Exhibition Building. It turned on its side and opened its great eye, raining down red light upon the Watercolours.

The children found themselves rising into the air. They all held tight to Allison.

“Allie?” David said, with more fear in his voice than Allison knew he was still capable of.

“It’s okay,” she said. Sleep tugged at Allison. She wasn’t sure if she ought to stay awake or not, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. She closed her eyes. “It’s gonna be okay.”          


1. Approximately forty-six light-years, in fact. Enlil orbits the yellow dwarf star 47 Ursae Majoris, later dubbed Chalawan (named for a crocodile from Thai mythology) by the International Astronomical Union in 2016. Several Enlian names for the star would be added to the registry after formal first-contact with the planet.

2. A mild squishy oath roughly equivalent to “bloody” in Commonwealth English.

3. A valid point, but on Enlil, mutism is often regarded as a mark of good breeding.

4. Loa patron of healers and plants, considered to be the archetypical Vodou priest.

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