Allison’s dreams were wonderful. She swam through oceans that spilled into space. Nebulas shattered into schools of fish and spiral galaxies became sparkling sea-jellies, their arms fraying into thousands upon thousands of fine tentacles.
She was leviathan, trailing stars and their insignificant, rocky satellites in her wake…
“Wake up, Allie!”
Allison woke with a start. The sky shone nearly white above her, freshly pulled from the forge of days. The waves hissed like quenched coals, and the island’s birds were screaming at each other. Allison wondered why birds always got so loud in the morning. Were they sharing their dreams? She probably knew the answer, but she couldn’t be bothered to try remembering it.
Mabel was still asleep beside her. Her costume made her look like she had fallen overboard and washed ashore from the world’s most garish business cruise. Allison hadn’t bothered summoning her suit. She reckoned it would just be giving the sand something to rub against.
David appeared to be missing. That might’ve worried Allison more, if there wasn’t a strange girl floating above her.
No. Not strange. Also not really there.
Allison rubbed her eyes. “Miri?”
Miri grinned and alighted excitedly in front of the other child. Her feet left no mark on the sand. “Morning, Allie!”
Allison stared at the phantom-girl, before jumping to her feet and hugging her. To her surprise, she felt warm skin against hers, stitched together from every hug she could remember. She must’ve looked incredibly silly, but Allison couldn’t care less right then.
Miri laughed. “What for?”
“I… it doesn’t matter.” Allison stepped back and examined Miri. Her visage wasn’t quite what she’d been in her life. Less painfully thin, for starters. The Nordic cast of her features had been softened by some baby-fat. Allison couldn’t quite remember if Miri’s eyes had been blue or green, but now they were definitely hazel. Like her own, Allison realized, before they’d turned red and glowing.
That wasn’t where the resemblance ended, though. Both girls now had the same button bose and rounded chin. They could’ve been sisters, but they maintained some differences. Miri’s hair was still yellow-blond, and unlike her host, her skin was about as brown as you would expect on a child who’d spent a great deal of time naked outdoors in the summer. Allison had no idea how a girl who grew up in a jar before moving into her head could be more tanned than her. She wasn’t sure whether this bothered her or not. Still, there were more pressing questions:
“What’s it like in there?” Allison asked, quickly adding, “In me I mean.” She gave a small shudder. “Alberto said it was dark inside me.”
Miri sucked in her lower lip, trying to think of the right way to describe her new existence. “When you ate me—”
Allison shuddered once more.
Miri tilted her head. “Did I say the wrong thing? That’s what you call it.”
Allison closed her eyes and let out a deep breath. “I know. I just don’t like thinking about it.”
“Okay.” Miri returned to her story. “I woke up someplace dark. So dark I couldn’t even see myself.”
Allison kicked the sand, angry at… someone. Probably herself. “So Alberto wasn’t lying…”
“Oh, you mean the man in your head?” asked Miri. “He’s weird. I like him.”
Allison looked fretfully at her. The things she saw Alberto do to David rose to her memory. She wondered if the esper himself was dredging them up. “He wasn’t mean to you, was he?
“Nah,” said Miri, before grinning and spreading her arms out like she was presenting the beach to Allison. “He taught me how to go outside your body! Everything on this island’s so pretty! I saw a turtle!”
Allison raised an eyebrow. It was hard to picture Alberto teaching anyone anything, besides the true awfulness of the world or Australian wine vintages. “What was he like?”
“Sad,” replied Miri. She glanced towards some corner of the sky. “Kind of lonely. Also, what does ‘fuck off’ mean?”
“…I’ll tell you later.”
“Kay! So, when he stopped talking to me, I was alone again. But then I started wanting to know stuff, and the dark started telling me! Sounded kinda like you, now that I think about it.”
“Huh, weird,” muttered Allison. “What did you ask it?”
“Buncha things! What the sun looks like, how to make sad people feel better, how people happen when Dr. Smith doesn’t grow you up.” Miri stepped forward to examine Allison. “Did you really start out so tiny?”
Allison giggled. “That’s what people tell me. I don’t remember.”
“I also figured out how to use your eyes and nose and skin and everything!” Miri continued. “So I could see and stuff, instead of being in the dark all the time! It’s kinda weird, having someone else do all the moving for you, but that’s okay.”
Allison thought it sounded like a nightmare. Moving through the world without a choice. “You—you don’t mind that?”
“Why would I?” asked Miri. “Everything feels so good. The sun, the wind, swimming, the other kids’ skin on ours…” She hugged herself, smiling dreamily. “We should do that kissing thing again, it’s fun. What about Arnold?”
“Not right now,” said Allison, a little red. “He’s asleep—hey, did you see where David went while you were exploring?”
“I saw him walking into the ocean,” said Miri. “I think he’s with his grandpop.”
That was what Allison called her grandfather. She hadn’t thought about the man in months. The reminder didn’t sting as she thought it should. She quickly inspected the storm of futures. All the brightest, most probable futures had David returning before sunset. The main variable appeared to be what hat he would be wearing. It was reassuring.
“There is one thing I don’t get,” said Miri. She regarded Allison disbelievingly. “Why haven’t you flied yet?”
Allison blinked. “I’ve flown.” She snorted. “There was this bit with David’s granddad—”
“I know,” cut in in Miri. “I mean really flying! In the sky! It’s buzzing in your bones. Can’t you feel it?”
It was, Allison realized. Now that she thought about it, gravity felt like a heavy blanket in summer.
Miri smiled. “Let’s go, right now.”
Allison nodded without hesitation. “Yes! Just let me do one thing first.”
She bent down and pulled Mabel’s sketchbook from her arms, along with a pencil from her drawing set. Ripping out a page, Allison scribbled, “Gone flying, back soon.”
Considering it, she added:
“Love, Allie and Miri.”
“Time for me to show you something,” Miri giggled.
Allison slipped the note into Mabel’s suit-jacket and turned back to Miri. Counterintuitively, she dug her feet into the sand. She gave a determined, giddy grin “Let’s do this.”
Allison shot into the sky like a gull rising from the ocean. Miri flowed up after her, her visage melting into a misty second skin around her corporal sister. Faster and faster they rose, the island becoming a mote in the iris of the sea. The air dessicated and chilled around them. Tiny, cloudy jewels formed on their shared skin. Gravity snatched their heels, trying to drag the girls down into its prison. They paid it no mind.
Allison laughed. She soared against the curve of the horizon, savouring the feeling of her atoms all moving in the same direction. She could feel something inside her, burning and spinning.
Miri, she realized. Miri was laughing too.
The girls angled downwards, diving through the layers of sky to where the shearwaters and long-beaked frigatebirds fought over fish.
“I feel kinda sorry for those things,” Miri whispered in Allison’s ear. “All that flapping looks a lot harder than what we’re doing.”
“Yeah,” answered Allison, half whispering like she couldn’t commit to saying or just thinking the response.
“Yep,” said Allison. The little girl grinned toothily. “Want to get a closer look?”
A second later. Allison plunged screaming and flailing into the birds’ midst, puncturing the motley flock like a very aggressive balloon. She tumbled head-over-heels amongst the squawking, fleeing birds, laughing with her entire body. The world spinning around her should have made Allison dizzy, but apparently Miri had toughened her inner-ear, too1. That wasn’t the only change Allison noticed in her sensory landscape. She could feel the prick of clouds swapping charge against her skin. Currents of air and magnetism moving about the Earth like streaks of neon paint across the sky. In the back of her head, Allison knew she could find her way back to the island with her eyes closed, as though the Physician had lodged a perfect compass in her gray matter…
“Thank you,” Allison said aloud.
“No problem,” said Miri.
For a while, Allison flew just a few feet above mirror-smooth stretches of ocean, pulling faces with her reflection zooming below.
“Stop flying,” Miri said.
“Just do it!”
Allison let the force inside her go out, but her momentum stayed. For the briefest moment, she soared, the last remnants of her upward momentum keeping her in the air.
“Okay,” she asked. “What now?”
Miri started giggling.
Allison realized what was happening just half a second too late to stop it. She plunged into the water with an aborted shriek, the dynamic nature of her entry causing lasting trauma to a nearby basking shark, and came to a stop. She shot her new friend a glare to melt through steel, and kicked her away upwards.
“You tricked me!” Allison cried when she surfaced, locks of wet hair plastered over her eyes.
“No I didn’t!” Miri retorted, floating in the water in front of her, a wide grin plastered to her face. “I told you to do it and you did it! Because swimming is fun!”
“True,” Allison grumbled. She rose above the waves. “Do you know how fast we can go?”
“Let’s find out.”
Allison took off again, rapidly building speed and altitude as she followed one of the magnetic currents. Sun-tipped wavelets blurred into roads of light stretched out beneath her.
There was a quiet pop somewhere far behind Allison. She must’ve cracked the sound barrier.
She sped up.
The air should’ve been a wall of glass at those speeds. It wasn’t. Allison’s skin should’ve been shearing off her muscles. It didn’t. Her flesh was diamond, adamantine; and the force of the world against it only made her stronger.
Within a few minutes, the girls ran out of sea. They were hovering above a hive of spiralling hot drafts and electromagnetic gibberish. A city. It took Allison a moment to spot the familiar buildings. To recognize the river that girded it.
They were in Perth. Or above it, at least.
Allison wasn’t sure what to think. It wasn’t quite home, but it was closer than she’d been in what felt like most of her life. If that dairy-town Allison Kinsey was born in was still home.
Quickly, though, one question dominated the child’s thoughts:
“Miri,” she asked. “The Physician didn’t tell you about ice-cream, did he?”
Vince Russo was what some called a simple shopkeeper. As was often the case, this actually meant he possessed many finely-honed skills that all flowed in one direction. For him, that direction was ice-cream. He was one of the world’s hidden artists.
He’d run the Russo Family Ice Cream Bar ever since his father had retired to the Gold Coast fifteen years earlier, and he liked to think he’d gotten good at it. He’d perfectly divorced cold from ice, and brokered peace between his ingredients and empty air. Under Vince’s watch, the creamery had even managed to spurn the scourge of soft-serve without losing foot traffic, and his products brought simple joy to the face of any child lucky enough to sample them2.
Unfortunately this skill and success brought Allison Kinsey down on his head.
Vince looked up from his copy of The Australian at the jangle of the door-chime and the sudden murmuring of his patrons. There was a naked, ice-pale little girl standing imperiously in the entrance.
Mr. Russo scowled. Some beach-brat wandered up from Mullaloo while her dozy parents turned into lobsters, no doubt.
“God’s wounds, girl, where’s your…”—Vince trailed off when he noticed the child’s burning orange eyes—“…Shame.”
Allison looked down at herself. “Oh, right.” She made a pose. “SHAZAM!”
In a flash, Allison was draped in rainbows.
Beside her, Miri’s visage was also now dressed. She plucked at the jerkin. “Clothes are weird.”
Allison snorted. “David’s gonna love you.”
Behind the counter, Mr. Russo was going pale. This girl was a demi. A demi who was talking to thin air. She must be—
Oh, God. Did she have an invisible friend? Which was worse? A pair of demis, or a single crazy one?
Allison started striding towards Vince. One of the customers—a beady-eyed man in a yellow bowler—stepped from the queue, grabbed the girl by the shoulder and swung her around.
“Look kid, your kind ain’t wel—”
Allison reached up, grabbed her assailant’s hand and squeezed.
There was a crunch, and the man ran screaming from the shop.
Allison frowned after him. “Rude.” She started back towards Mr. Russo. The poor ice-cream man stood rooted to the ground, even as the girl burst into flames—her every step cracking and melting the red and white floor-tiles. People were shouting now, backed into the corners of their booths or (more smartly) trying to climb over the dividers towards the door. A few brave idiots tried advancing on Allison again, but quickly retreated when they felt their skin start to crisp.
She stopped something approaching a safe distance from the counter and grinned. Her teeth glowed like blown coals. The flames only made her skin seem more bloodless. A burning ghost.
“Give me one of everything.” Allison spread her arms out. A ball of lava bubbled in each of her hands. “Or I melt all your ice-cream.”
“With a flake, please.”
Over the next ten minutes, Vince Russo dutifully laid out bowls of every product he had. Coke-spiders, gelato, real banana ice-cream, fake banana ice-cream, even the rum & raisin. All while wishing he could shave a word or too off “ice-cream bar.”
Allison devoured it greedily. To call Miri’s reaction to the ice cream mixed would have been charitable. Allison found it nearly annoying, truth be told. Vanilla only got a little enthusiasm. Allison supposed that was fair. Mint chocolate chip was rightfully underwhelming. But then they hit strawberry.
“A shrug?” Allison asked. “Really? A shrug? This is the best ice cream in the world!”
“Huh?” Miri asked, perplexed. “How can it be? That green and brown one was nicer.”
“You’re weird.” Allison scowled. “Whatever, just. I dunno. Choose the next one.” She glanced at Vince. “Where’s the flake, Vince?”
Vince Russo, who, to his horror, had never actually told the girl his name, pointed to the end of the counter, where the flake indeed lay just beyond the melting range of Allison’s magma spheres.
“Good,” she tented her fingers. “You have done well. You will be my first disciple.”
“What’s fudge ice-cream taste like?” Miri asked before Allison had a chance to explain. She was pointing to one of the bowls, the mix within dotted with large chunks of hazel brown.
“Oh!” Allison snapped back to her. “Right! You need to try the fudge.”
Their tasting didn’t proceed too far beyond that, largely due to a demand on Miri’s part that they simply leave with the rest of Vince’s supply of fudge3.
Soon, the pair were lying on a nearby rooftop in sugary rapture next to a drum of half melted ice-cream, licking fudge off their mutual fingers while police sirens wailed below. Allison’s face was mottled with pale, sticky stains every colour of the rainbow, like she was trying to accessorise with her costume.
“So good,” said Miri dreamily. “Isn’t this stuff supposed to be bad for us?”
“Bad for humans,” clarified Allison. “See how rubbish they are? Can’t even enjoy ice-cream without getting all fat or their pancreas going bleh.” She wiggled happily. “Laurie was wrong about everything, but it’s so much better being us.”
“Yeah,” said Miri, “looks like it.” She pointed idly at the stained newspaper they had been using as an ineffective napkin. “What’s that say?”
“I wanna see!”
Allison sighed. For all her extra-human competence, she had no more interest in current affairs than any other child. Maybe less. Still, this was Miri’s day. She picked up The Australian and smoothed it out in front of her. The front page was dominated by a photo of four people—three men and one woman—saluting tall and proud against two Australian and American flags fluttering side by side. The picture was black and white, but Allison had no doubt their striped uniforms were red, white, and blue. The headline read:
REINFORCEMENTS FROM THE USA!
That got Allison’s attention.
Miri asked, “What’s a ‘USA’?”
“The place where everything important happens,” Allison quoted Arnold as she ran her eyes over the article proper:
In light of the recent spate of demi-human terrorist attacks, most recently the assault on the DDHA’s provisional headquarters in Melbourne…
…A walking corpse later reportedly attempting to gain entry to an exclusive restaurant…
That made Allison giggle. She hoped that whatever Penderghast shoved into Laurie’s body left bits of him all over the Hoddle Grid.
…The United States Department of Psychonautics and Occultism has, to use their own words, ‘extended a hand of help to their cousins across the sea,’ during our national hardship…
…Ten such paranormal strike forces have been stationed in population centres across the country, in order to both reinforce DDHA agents in the field and trial run American ‘occult management’ strategies in an Australian context. A spokesperson for the department has expressed ‘full confidence’ in the experiment, and goes on to state that the DDHA hopes and expects to roll out the first Australian squads by June, 1966.
Allison broke out in laughter. Miri gave her a curious look. “Is that funny?”
“Totally,” said Allison, clutching her stomach, “the Yanks are trying to sic army man superheroes on us! And then they’re gonna ask us pretty please if we’ll work for them!” She shook her head. “This we gotta see.”
She skimmed the article again:
As one of the cities directly affected by the December bombings, Perth was near the top of the list to pay host to some of our Americans guests…
Allison put down her ears and took in the sirens for a second. She made up her mind to stick close to Vince’s ice-cream shop. The decision rippled through the future’s reflection in the dark lake of time.
Allison moved to get a better view of the action below. She lay down on her stomach, chin resting on the edge edge of the roof. Far up the street, a police officer was radioing someone.
…This was going to be fun.
1. An enhanced sense of balance and orientation is one of the common fringe benefits of flight that often goes unmentioned by its practitioners, and one often forgotten by cybernetic super-projects. ↩
2. These talents would prove to be of surprising military use as the super population increased. ↩
3. Vince Russo used the ten thousand pounds that he received for information on the whereabouts of Australia’s most wanted gang of supers to rebuild and refurbish his ice cream shop. It was from his recounting of events that Allison Kinsey received her first villain monicker: ‘The anti-child’. Also, his store no longer sells fudge. ↩