Lyonesse had a surprising number of swimming pools for an undersea hideout. Arnold and Allison’s favourite was definitely the zero-g one1.
Allison plunged through a bubble of water like a javelin, shattering it into a thousand tiny jewels that refracted the blue and green lights shining from the walls off each other like a wild neon spider-web. She twirled in the air, her wet hair whipping around her like Medusa’s coils. The girl’s eyes glowed green, and the stray droplets settled on her skin like chameleon scales.
Allison reclined backwards in the air, hands folded behind her head. “How the heck did David turn this down again?”
“Dunno,” said Arnold, still focused on the miniature storm he was swirling around him, his lightning flashing about the chamber while his thunder vibrated through the water. “Guess for him, this is pretty much what water is always like.”
“Maybe,” said Allison. David had spent most of the day playing with Billy and Mabel in the paint room. Allison suspected he was trying to reverse engineer whatever drew Miri to Billy. Besides the fur.
Allison suddenly heard Miri’s voice in her ear. “Look out, Allie!”
A solid wave of water slammed up into Allison’s back. Water immediately forced its way into her nose. She sputtered and tumbled in the air, Arnold laughing underneath her.
Allison twisted around and glared down at her friend, before promptly teleporting him close enough to tickle his ribs.
Giggling wildly, Arnold managed to kick Allison away. “Okay, okay, I surrender.” He flicked some tears off of his cheeks. Stretching, he wondered, “When do you think the Flying Man’s gonna get here? It’s been like, a week.”
And a good week it had been. The only time the Watercolours had left Lyonesse (to much tutting from the caretaker) was a candy-raid at a random Woolies back in Australia. They’d watched more movies than had been made in their homeland in the last decade, and they’d become the first earthly children to ever enjoy video games2. David and Allison had chased whales, and somehow, the Flying Man had either invented or acquired ice-cream that tasted like spring and summer.
“No idea,” replied Allison. “He must be really busy.”
What would happen when the Flying Man came home? Would he send them all away? Allison guessed David could go live with his grandfather, but what about the rest of them? Arnold had his mum and dad, but where would Mabel live? And Billy’s parents were more likely to grow fur themselves before they took their son back. Allison had checked.
And Allison… Allison had one coin toss out of ten.
Of course, maybe the Flying Man would take them all in. Let them be his wards, like Batman and Robin. They could stay at Lyonesse forever.
It sounded like a dream, but Allison couldn’t quite imagine it. For some reason, she kept thinking about Lily Nichols.
A musical tone like a very relaxed claxon rang through the antigravity room. The caretaker’s voice repeated, “Visitor in the foyer. Visitor in the foyer…”
Arnold and Allison shared a look. Allison shrugged.
The Watercolours all reached the grand foyer about the same time. True to their name, Mabel, Billy and David were all covered in half-dried paint.
Instead of the Flying Man, there was a plump old lady in a dark-brown coat with matchstick red hair standing in front of the foyer fountain. She was glaring up at the ceiling through thick crescent-moon glasses.
“…Now you tell Joe right now this trick has gone on long enough!”
Watching from behind Allison, Miri asked, “Why is that lady all wrinkly?”
“I’m sorry ma’am,” said the caretaker, “this is no trick.”
“Who are you, lady?” asked Arnold.
The woman blanched at the sight of the children. “Who am I?” she said, frowning. “Who are you?” She squinted at Allison and David, before pointing at them and asking the caretaker, “Why does my son have a bunch of naked children in his home?” Out the corner of her eye, she spotted Billy’s tail swishing behind him. “And why is that one a cat?”
Billy grinned proudly and rocked on his heels. “Luck!”
The woman’s mouth moved like she was about to inquire further, but instead she shook her head and turned her ire back up towards the caretaker. “I swear to Christ, all this nonsense about a nuclear explosion…”
David looked at Mabel. “I didn’t know we still had those?”
“I’m afraid the news you’ve heard is anything but nonsense, Mrs Allworth.” A sigh filled the room. “There’s something you need to see:”
The lights dimmed. A hologram of the Flying Man appeared above the fountain, just like when the children had arrived at Lyonesse. Except then it started talking:
The young man smiled bashfully. “I honestly don’t think you’re ever going to see this, Mom. I hope you don’t. But what I’m doing is going to make a lot of people try very hard to kill me, so better safe than sorry.” The Flying Man took a deep breath. “If you’re watching this, then the life-monitor woven into my suit has gone dark. And given that it’s right next to my skin, that means I’m probably dead.”
Mrs Allworth blinked. Something cold and dark passed over her features. A wave that had been waiting to break over her for years.
Arnold grabbed at Allison’s arm. “The Flying Man, dead? How?”
Allison had no answer. She just stared up at the ghostly hologram.
The Flying Man continued. “Unless I somehow managed to land myself a kid, Mom, Lyonesse is at your disposal.” He grinned rakishly. “And if I did, then Granny’s in charge till they learn some sense.” His smile softened. “I just want you to know, it was worth it. If I only ever saved one idiot, it was worth it. I don’t know what happens to my kind when we die. It’s not something we make a habit of. But I hope I wind up somewhere close to Dad.”
Mrs Allworth knew she was talking to a recording, but that didn’t stop her from saying, “But Joe—”
Joe pointed upwards. “Aside from… well, everything else, your bequest is up in the garden.” The corner of his lip quirked. “One of Dad’s begonias. First thing I ever got growing up there. Also a vial. Mostly it’s just some bio-restoratives I whipped up for you. I’m pretty sure what those will do. Also my tears. Those I’m less sure about. Whatever you choose to do with any of this, I know you’ll do great. I love you Mom.”
The lights brightened. Joseph Allworth vanished.
“Seven days ago, a nuclear detonation was detected in western Russia. At the same time, sir’s suit ceased transmitting his vitals. Sir has not been seen since, nor has he attempted to contact either us here at Lyonesse or the Physician’s starship. I’m sorry.”
Sarah Allworth did not weep. She did however fall to her knees. “Oh Joe…”
She sounded resigned. Like she had seen this day coming since she’d become a mother.
Allison stared at the space the Flying Man’s image had occupied.
They’d done it. The humans could kill the Flying Man. Now, they could kill all of them.
Conversation between the Watercolours and Sarah Allworth was sparse. She’d ignored most of their questions, merely confirming curtly that yes, she was the Flying Man’s mother. More or less. The old woman had headed directly to the uppermost part of Lyonesse: the garden. A green park beneath a diamond ceiling bathed in dappled sea-light. Pebbled pathways all led to a metal-wrought table at the centre of the garden. On it was a pink begonia in a brick pot, with a filigreed glass vial of something bright and golden leaning against it.
Mrs Allworth picked up the pot-plant and held it up to her face, breathing in deep. Then she lowered the flower and picked up the golden vial. It was warm to the touch.
“The heck is that stuff?” David asked, watching with the others from a healthy distance. “Doesn’t feel like there’s much water in it.”
“I don’t know,” said Allison, head tilted. “But it has a song…”
Sarah set down the vial. “You’re welcome to stay, kids,” she said without looking at the children.
The Watercolours emitted awkward murmurs of half-hearted appreciation, their illusion of invisibility broken. Aside from Billy. He was actually invisible.
For the rest of the day, the children conducted themselves towards Mrs Allworth like she was a great elephant: they kept a slightly awed distance from her. It was strange, being in the presence of a human grown up that didn’t want to kill, lock them up or worse.
Sarah confused Allison. Her song was full of janky, shaky notes of despair, but the woman herself seemed perfectly calm. Mostly, she wandered Lyonesse like it were a high-end art gallery, occasionally asking the caretaker for updates on schemes and endeavours her foster-son had going on.
“…But you’re saying the charity will keep going?”
“…Well, if I knew he was making that sort of painting…”
“…He always did like snakes…”
For the first time in many weeks, most of the Watercolours went to bed at a decent hour. Playing felt strange with Mrs Allworth around. Like running around in a nunnery.
Allison woke in the middle of the night.
Miri was scowling at the foot of the bed. “I was enjoying that dream! It had rainbow-pigeons!”
“Those were lorikeets, Miri,” Allison muttered groggily, rubbing her eyes. Despite Lyonesse practically being the standard against which “room temperature” was measured, her mouth was parched. Probaby overheating from sleeping next to Billy, at Miri’s insistence. “I’m getting a glass of water,” she said, gingerly lifting Billy’s clawed hand off her. “Then maybe we’ll get back to your rainbow-pigeons.”
Allison trod through Lyonesse’s darkened hallways, half her body bathed in the light of the moon-sodden sea shining through the glass wall. The kitchen’s bronze door slid open—
“Good to see you dressed, kid.”
Mrs Allworth was sitting at the long oak table in a dressing gown, nursing a hot mug of coffee while gazing melancholically at her son’s potted begonia.
Allison gulped. “Yeah. Pyjamas are nice… having trouble sleeping?”
“Yes. The coffee’s a kind of surrender.”
Allison held a glass under the sink tap.
“Would you like ice-water, mademoiselle?”
“Yes thanks,” said Allison. Who gives their tap a brain?
The girl drank the water gratefully. “Coffee tastes like ash.”
“Yes. But it keeps dreams away.”
“…I’m sorry about your son, Mrs Allworth.”
Sarah sipped her coffee. “It was my idea.”
“The Flying Man. I told him to do it. The costume, the White House—I got him started.”
“Really? I thought he just read too many Superman comics.” Allison’s shoulders went stiff as she remembered they were talking about a dead man.
“Joe never touched a Superman comic. Always said they were stupid! That superheroes were all stupid3.” Sarah let out a laugh like cracking ice. “I think he was embarrassed. Damn cartoons read like his memoirs. Not that Joe would ever admit it…”
“So you made him get rid of all the nuclear bombs?” Allison tried to imagine the Flying Man being bossed around by his mother.
Sarah sighed. “Oh, I don’t think he would’ve let us nuke ourselves. He liked the world too much. He just… he said he wanted to do it quietly. Let the reds and the Yanks think it was a miracle.” She slammed her coffee down. “But I said that wouldn’t work! That everyone would just blame everyone else if they didn’t have someone to blame! So I made him an overgrown Halloween costume, complete with a great big diamond target, right on his chest!” Sarah’s speech slurred slightly. Allison suspected there was more than coffee in her mug. “And now they’ve gone and murdered my boy! For not letting them blow up their own children!”
“You don’t know that,” said Allison, not believing her own words. “Maybe it was an accident…”
At least an accident wasn’t malicious. At least then they couldn’t do it on purpose.
“Bullshit!” Sarah snapped. “You couldn’t kill my son by accident. I bet the Russians put more thought into murdering Joseph than feeding their people in the last fifty years! And that’s just if they were working alone!” She pulled the gold vial out from her gown pocket. “Do you know what this is, girl?”
Allison mutely shook her head.
“Neither do I,” said Sarah. “But I can make a pretty good guess what it will do. It will turn me into a superwoman. Probably give me a whole new lease on life, too. I could continue my son’s work.”
Allison’s eyes widened. “Why haven’t you taken it already? Powers are great!” She hovered a few inches off the floor in demonstration.
Sarah’s face cracked like glass. “Because I’m scared, for Christ’s sake! Do you know what being super got my son? A lifetime of loneliness! Of being the odd one out everywhere he went! Of being murdered for trying to help folks. And now I’m too much of a coward to even pick up the torch I gave him! It’s Allison, right?”
“Here’s my advice Allison. Stay here. Hide. Because us? Human beings? We’re too scared and stupid to ever let you be free. And if we can’t chain you, we’ll kill you. That’s the only talent we have in the end…”
Sarah slumped her head against the tabletop. “My boys are gone…”
Her shoulders twitched. It took Allison a moment to realize the old woman was weeping softly. Shamefully, she left without a word.
Allison couldn’t go back to bed. She didn’t think she could sit still long enough to watch a movie, and smothering her discomfort with sweets meant going back to the kitchen, so she headed to the arcade.
To Allison’s surprise, someone had beaten her to it. David was playing the holographic shoot em’ up game, ducking and rolling from one side of the screen to the other as he blasted the fish into pixels.
David spun around and fired the toy gun at Allison, a green light briefly flashing over her chest. “Got ya!”
Allison smiled weakly. “Yeah, you did.”
David raised an eyebrow. Since when did Allison concede like that? “…What’s wrong?”
Allison exhaled. “I talked to Mrs Allworth a bit ago. She was sad. But weird sad.”
David shrugged. “Well, yeah. I mean. Her son just died.”
“I know, but…” She shook her head. “You had to be there.”
David glanced sidelong at her. “Why do you care?”
Allison frowned. “Why shouldn’t I?”
“Cuz she’s boring.” David said. “She’s just some random human who was around the Flying Man a bunch.”
“She was his mum!”
“Nope,” he replied. “He had a mum. We saw her. She was a magical space lady in a spaceship. That’s just some woman who made him breakfast a couple times.”
Allison’s nose wrinkled. “What did Mrs Allworth do to ya?”
David groaned. “Nothing! She just doesn’t matter!”
Allison tried to figure out when David had gotten so mean. Crap, was that when he started being fun?
Very quietly she said, “I think Alberto was right.”
“I was?” asked a very taken aback Alberto, roused to the surface. “About what?”
“He took over your body and tried kidnapping you into outer space,” said David flatly.
Allison rolled her eyes. “Not about that. I mean, taking the fight to the DDHA. Taking them down.”
“Why?” asked David. “Sounds like a lot of work.”
Allison was surprised by the question. Wasn’t it obvious? “Because they’re hunting us, David.”
“Yeah, but they’re not gonna get us down here.” He grinned like an angler-fish. “And if they do…” David spread his arms over his head. The sea rumbled. “…We have fun. We’re free, Allie. We don’t have to worry about Laurie, or the freak-finders, or even the Flying Man.”
How was he not getting this? “We’re fine, but they’re still going after people like us.”
“So what? They can take care of themselves.”
Alberto’s phantom was circling the water-sprite, nodding approvingly. He looked back over at Allison. “I never thought I’d say this, Allie, but I think I’m with Mealy. Should’ve broken his brain ages back…”
“Besides,” said David. “I’m not a super. None of my business.”
Allison folded her arms. “Oh, okay,” she said sourly. “You’re not a super. You’re just a water-god that can make tidal waves.”
David beamed and nodded, deaf to the sarcasm. “Exactly! That’s what Granddad told me. People like Arnold and Billy, they’re more like people who do extra-things.” He shrugged. “I’m the extra things without the people part.”
Allison scowled. “So, we don’t matter? Us extra-people.”
David cocked his head. “Of course you do. You’re my friends! And you’re almost a god, too.”
Allison stamped her foot. “Don’t you care? For crying out loud, David, they killed your mum!”
David glared at her. “Yeah, they did. And they paid for it. None of the rest of it’s got anything to do with me.” He huffed and turned back to the fish game, ready for another round. “Not like you’d get it anyways. Your parents aren’t even special.”
Allison slapped David in the face. Hard.
The boy stumbled backward, but recovered quickly, rubbing his cheek. “Jeez, Allie,” he said.
Allison was standing very still, the breath caught in her chest.
Allison kneed David right in the groin. He doubled over in pain, tears squeezing out of his eyes.
Alberto winced. “Low move, Allie. Even I never—”
David screamed and charged at Allison, barreling head first into her chest. They slammed into a glass porthole, both exploding in a splash of water and soaked PJs. They reformed on the other side of the glass in a plume of bubbles.
Allison kicked off against David’s chest, only for chains of ice to wrap around her wrists and start tugging at her arms hard enough to risk pulling them out of their sockets. Her rage became pure heat, melting her manacles and boiling the water around her4.
Alberto floated above them, silhouetted against the rippling moon. “Fight! Fight!”
Allison sent David spinning through the projection in a stream of superheated bubbles, ejecting him twenty feet into the night air. He hit the water hard, the sea freezing under his back into a solid plinth.
David scrambled to his feet, growling like an animal.
His grandfather rose behind the ice-platform. “Would you like help, child?”
“No!” David snarled. “I can handle—”
The ocean erupted under his feet, sending him flying as a titanic red sea-serpent straight from the Carta Marina reared its head towards the stars and roared.
Sitting atop its brow, Allison glared down at David, shouting, “Why are you being such a git.”
Much to his grandfather’s pride, David screamed and shot out his arms.
Promptly, the ocean parted out from under Allison’s serpent. The beast shrieked as it plummeted down onto the wet jagged, rocks below. Allison followed for a moment and a half, before remembering herself and sloughing off gravity.
Walls of water surrounded her on all sides, reaching down several miles to the exposed sea-floor. Allison spotted the tiny figure of David standing on the impossible crater. Even from that distance, he looked smug.
Allison’s eyes glowed bright. “You coulda killed me!”
The walls of water thrummed with the voice of a thousand boys. “You can fly, Allie.”
Allison lunged up through the air making a beeline for David. The tunnel’s watery walls strained and broke, collapsing inwards like falling skyscrapers.
Water hit Allison from all sides. She was thrown head over hills, up and down instantly becoming singular and meaningless.
When the bubbles cleared from Allison’s vision, David was floating in the water in front of her, arms folded with a thin grin on his face.
“And that’s me pulling my punches.”
Allison was shaking with rage. Why couldn’t David be like he used to be. No, that was horrible. Why couldn’t he be… just better?
And why did she have to pick a fight with him under the sea? Stupid, stupid—
The other Watercolours’ songs tickled Allison’s ears. If she let go of David’s whale-flute tune, she’d drown.
But if she could just grab another, even by the edge of its notes…
Glass harmonica and electric guitar.
Allison grinned vampirically. She thrust her hands out, sending out two smooth bubbles of mercury between her and David.
“Wait,” said David. “Since when—”
Allison’s eyes flashed milky white. Currents of water were shoved through the mercury, streaming out the other side viscous and sticky. The momentum spewed the stuff all over David, gluing his legs together and his arms to his sides.
He gawked between his bindings and Allison. “The hell—”
A pillar of ice shot up from the dark depths, forcing both children back up to the surface.
David writhed and thrashed like an impatient caterpillar, only for Allison to jump knee-first on his chest, knocking both the air and the water out of him.
She slapped the boy in the face again. “Say mercy!”
“But how did you—”
Allison twisted his ear. “Mercy!”
“Owe, owe, owe, okay, mercy!”
Allison nodded in acknowledgement, before straightening herself and falling sideways onto the ice.
Both children panted heavily on the ice, their breath almost harmonizing with the churn of the ocean. David just lay there, letting Allison’s water-glue dissolve around him.
“Wouldn’t it be nice?” said Allison. “You know, going back to how it was?”
“Like what was?”
“At the Institute.”
David grimaced. “No way!”
Allison grabbed his hand. “I mean after we showed Laurie who was in charge. It was fun, wasn’t it? Everyone being together.”
“It was,” David admitted. “But… Mummy was there, too.”
“Mine wasn’t,” Allison pointed out. “And she was special to me. Nobody else got their mum.”
“But the humans still ruined it.”
David felt Allison’s hand tighten around his. “There’s hundreds of supers just in Australia. If we were all together”—she smiled in the dark—“the humans couldn’t touch us.”
Allison stood up, white skin stark in the moonlight, her eyes like dragonfire. “I think you’re right, David. We’re the next best thing to gods.” She looked down at her friend. “And since when do gods hide?”
David sat upright. “Okay, ” he said, “I’m in.”
Sarah Allworth sat alone in her son’s study, essaying his invisible empire. The office didn’t have much in the way of papers or files. Instead, Joseph had chosen to store information in glass crystals inside a nebula skin desk, displayed on a screen set into it. If Joe were still with her, Sarah would’ve asked him why he hadn’t installed one of these in the shop.
The screen flickered. Sarah’s eyes raced over yet graphs and lines of text, before the old woman leaned back in the white egg-chair and sighed wearily.
Sarah had always known Joe kept busy. He made the papers everyday. But he’d never let on the true extent of it. Shell companies and byzantine investments. Contacts and informants all across the world, from ministers to bums to family services workers. He could have single handedly fueled the John Birch Society for a hundred years.
And the alter-egos! Sarah used to worry the Flying Man would swallow her son utterly, as it had in the end. But her son had lived under so many names. James Garret, New York PI. Fred Bradley, a scientist at the University of Chicago. Issac Grey, a rail-riding drifter. Tom the Tomcat, a children’s performer in Quebec. No wonder he only slept two hours a day.
Sarah rubbed her face, groaning under her breath. There was no way she could maintain this. Not even a fraction of a percent of it. Her son was gone, and so much of the good he did would wither on the fine. It was like his death was being prolonged by months and years.
Sarah glanced at the glowing vial next to the desk-screen. Then she looked up at the ceiling.
Most of Lyonesse gloried in its oceanic surroundings, but Joe’s study was an exception. Its ceiling was a perfect, real-time recreation of the North Atlantic sky. Black storm clouds drifted over stars, so thick the Moon was barely a haze behind them.
Did Joe like looking up and being reminded of where he came from, Sarah wondered.Of where he really belonged.
She tapped her fingers against the vial. She wasn’t worried about breaking it. Knowing her boy, it was probably really made of steel that just looked like glass, or something equally miraculous.
She got up and walked over to the centre of the room, laying her eyes on the oil-painting that took up much of the study’s left wall. Joe had painted it when he was seventeen, thereabouts. It depicted the family’s kitchen back in Neptune’s Chest. Sarah, Jonah, and Joseph were sitting down to dinner, happily greeting a tall, regal women in a glimmering white shift dress. Her eyes were royal purple.
Joe’s real mother, Sarah had never needed to be told. She’d always wished she could’ve spoken to the poor woman, if she even could be called a woman. Maybe she could have told Sarah what Joe needed. As if she were even capable of acting on any of her answers.
Sarah Allworth, inadequate stepmother of God’s own son. She and a certain other Joseph could’ve formed a club.
Sarah raised the vial up to her eye-level. Was this why Joe had given it to her? So she could measure up to his true mother?
I should drink it now, Sarah told herself. I could help so many people, like Joe did. Maybe even understand him.
But she wouldn’t die in her bed, either. That’s what they didn’t tell you about immortality. People who didn’t die didn’t get to “pass away.” Her son hadn’t. Even if she could make peace with that, did she really want to spend centuries mourning. To be a living memorial to her own son? Would Joe have wanted that for her?
Sarah looked past the vial, back at the painting. Every detail of her and Jonah had been rendered perfectly. Lovingly.
“Whatever you choose to do with any of this, I know you’ll do great.”
“Does this stuff have a shelf-life?” Sarah asked aloud.
“The bio-restoratives have a half-life of about six hundred years, ma’am,” answered the caretaker. “As for sir’s tears, it is no exaggeration to say they will be glowing long after the stars have dimmed.”
Sarah placed the vial back on the desk. “I want this put into storage,” she said. “For when it’s really needed.”
Sarah Allworth would fail. But she would try. And that was better than nothing. It was everything.
1. Though one could argue if the term “swimming pool” applies when pooling cannot occur. ↩
2. Mostly sourced from Throneworld via the Gatehouse. ↩
3. Joe’s autograph collection was his closest kept secret. ↩
4. Water being much thicker than air, this worked. ↩