Category Archives: The Long Winter: A Memoir

In the 22nd century, Eliza Winter sits down to tell us her story.

Chapter Thirty-Nine: Heal Thyself!

It can’t be put off any longer. It’s time to talk about the night Adam Sinclair died1.

John Smith2 had laid the facts bare for us. He shouldn’t have needed to. Literal small children had already figured out the cause of the power-loss afflicting the Institute. You must understand, we were hopelessly naive about the source and intent of superpowers. The idea that a super could have powers that opposed all other supers was practically satanic to us.

Not only that, John had issued us an ultimatum: hand over Adam, or be exposed. It was strange. Usually, John seemed so disconnected from us, so willfully ignorant of anything human, but he always knew just enough to bend or destroy us.

You might think he was offering us a way out, if you knew nothing about the Physician. And Lawrence had his own solution:

“You’re asking too much, Lawrence!”

I was weeping. What Lawrence had just suggested to me, I never thought I’d hear it from his lips.

“It’s pure necessity, Żywie.”

“You promised me I’d never have to hurt anyone again!”

Lawrence sighed. He’d been crying, too. “I know, and I am so sorry. But this is nothing like at the camps. The Nazis, they were windmill chasers. They aimed you at enemies that only existed in their imaginations, at problems they created for themselves. But Adam—through no fault of his own—is a threat to your entire race.”

I moaned. “He’s just one boy…”

“Today he might be. But what if the Physician figures out how to replicate…” He hesitated, like Adam’s powers were a demon he hardly dared name. He settled on, “…his affliction. Imagine if every asylum and prison camp in the country—the whole world even—had some device or stunted homunculus to suppress posthuman gifts.”

He moved closer to me, till I could feel the breath behind his words. “There is a reason the cells of McClare and Roberts mostly house children, or those with the gentlest talents. If they could restrain all of you, I have no doubt they would move from containment to extermination.”

“…Nobody’s talking about extermination.”

Lawrence ran his hands down his face, as though he were struggling to explain something to a child who ought to know better. “Żywie, when you were a little girl, did they ever talk about it?”

“Even if you’re right, John isn’t stupid. You think he won’t figure out what happened if Adam…” I couldn’t finish the sentence.

“I know the Physician, Żywie. He’s not like us. He doesn’t hold grudges. He won’t be happy, but he wouldn’t throw you away for revenge.”

Lawrence wasn’t being logical. If the Institute was shut-down, the children would just go into DDHA custody. If anything, John would have had even easier access to them3. But panic and fear left no space for reason, or what little there was to be found at the Institute.

Lawrence made for the office door. “Come with me.”

“I won’t do it!”

“We’re not going to see Adam, Żywie.”

Instead, we went to Hugo’s room.

“Just got the kids down to sleep,” he told us with a battler’s smile. “Still, a good night kiss won’t do them any harm.”

I tread softly into the dark room, over to the bed. David and Allison were clinging to each other like little castaways in the sea. The boy I delivered and the girl I changed. Even in that dim light, David’s skin had a grey tone.

I briefly brushed my hand over them. They were both swimming in stress hormones. Not even their dreams were an escape.

“It’ll be alright. I promise.”

Lawrence and I bid Hugo goodnight, and left him to tend to his charges.

“You can see it, can’t you?” Lawrence asked me in the hallway. “Children like them, cut off from everything that makes them special, everything that could let them fight back, clutching one another in the dark as they wait for the gas or the bullet. If they are even allowed that comfort.”

“Please, leave me alone, Lawrence,” I said. “I need to prepare.”

Hate can only destroy. But so can love.

I made my way to the Lorikeet Dormitory, late enough that dawn was pushing against the night. I hadn’t believed in God for a long time, but I still felt watched.

When I opened the door, I immediately saw two things. First was that Sheilah Brown was asleep. That was helpful.

Second was that Adam was awake.

The boy looked towards me. “Żywie?”

I am two hundred years old. I have had to forget more than most people ever experience. There are whole years—decades even—I only remember in summary. I can’t recall my mother’s voice, or the faces of my brothers and sisters.

I remember Adam’s, face, though. Every freckle, the muddy green of his eyes. Those eyes were sore red then. He’d been crying. “Is something wrong?”

Is something else wrong, he meant. “Can’t sleep, Adam?”

He shook his head. “It’s—it’s hot.”

“Certainly is. Would you like to come for a walk with me?”

He nodded.

We walked along the river. It was still writhing, frothing white in the moonlight as it tried to crawl out of its bed. I noticed it grew more torrid as we passed. An old god’s rage for his daughter and grandson.

We both mostly kept silent. Sometimes Adam would tell me how this or that child was coping with the blackout, and I would nod or tell him he was a big help, all the while wondering how I could do what I thought needed to be done. I was worried the sun would rise over us and burn away my resolve. God, I wish it had.

But then Adam said something:

“I’m not stupid, you know.”

I stopped. “Of course you’re not stupid, Adam. Why would you say that?”

“I’m the one making everyone’s powers not work, aren’t I?”

“Yes.”

Sobs. “I knew it. Everyone’s powers came back on when I was in that room, and—and—” Adam’s tears overwhelmed him. He threw himself into my side, clinging tight. “They’re gonna be so mad…”

This at least was something I knew how to handle. So many homesick, lonely, scared children. “Shhh, shhh, they won’t be. I know you’re not doing it on purpose.”

“I’m trying to make it stop, but it’s… big. Too big to listen to me.”

“It’ll be alright, Adam.”

“How?”

“I’m going to fix this.”

“You promise?”

My fingers found his neck. “I promise.”

I put him to sleep first. Like a boat on a dark shore, I pushed him out onto a deep, black sea.

I carried Adam back to his hammock. I’d carried so many sleeping children to bed before, but this felt different. Adam felt different. No breath. No rush of blood beneath his skin or subtle movement of bones. Dead weight.

I was ten years old again. Half asleep and numb. An old sepulchre full of a dead woman’s bones.

Lawrence was pacing in his office, as I knew he would be.

“Is it done?”

“Yes. He felt no pain.”

He embraced me close. “I’m proud of you, Żywie.”

People have been making excuses for me for centuries. They say my childhood couldn’t have taught me right from wrong. They talk about the sway Lawrence must’ve had over me. They say I did it for my family.

I was a grown woman. I had seen where fanaticism like Lawrence’s led. I could kill and reshape life with a touch. I should have been able to stand up to an old man.

I have to thank Timothy Valour for the exile he found for me and the babies. Better than I deserved, after I told him about what Lawrence and I had done. Gove Peninsula, the Northern Territory. It was probably the wildest place left in all Australia, and so unlike Western Australia. In the NT, the air was so saturated with humidity, you felt like you were drowning in a warm sea. The beaches and waterways were haunted by box-jellyfish and crocodiles, and clouds of mozzies swarmed any exposed flesh that wasn’t soaked in insecticide4. Even the dirt was a different vintage up there, less red than back home. There were only two seasons in the NT: wet and dry; three if you counted the build up. The sun burned too hot for anything more nuanced.

I was technically on attachment with a mission to the Yirrkala people, at least until I got tired of the Anglican busybodies and set up shop myself. It was not a good time for the locals, though little of the last three hundred years has been. In 1963, while the world was panicking about broken bombs, much of their land had been handed over to the Nabalco mining corporation for exploitation. The Yirrkala had sent two petitions framed in painted bark to the government, asserting their ancient claim to the land. It was the first time the Australian Commonwealth even acknowledged an Aboriginal system of law, but it did them no good5. For impoverishment, confiscation of territory and children, and dehumanization in the eyes of the powers that be, there was nothing super to be done. But at least I could help close the health gap just a little.

It was a week or so before Christmas, in the late evening. I was sitting on my porch, nursing a cup of tea and reading We of the Never Never, when I heard Old Bev calling my name.

“Miss Winter, Miss Winter!”

The old woman came running out of the dark, her long floral dress whipping around her heels.

I shot out of my chair. Bev was one of the first locals I had met in Arnhem Land. She was about seventy years old—not even she knew her precise birthdate—had spent much of her youth in mission schools and cleaning up after white folks, and seen three of her grandchildren taken by the government. She did not frighten easily. “What’s the matter, Bev? Is someone hurt? Sick?”

She took me by the arm, pulling me down the front steps. “No.” She shook her head. “Not yet, I mean. There’s a crazy flying white fella down on the beach6.”

“Flying—you mean a super?”

Bev rolled her eyes, her stride quickening. “Yes!”

“What do you want me to do about it?”

“He’s your mob! You can tell him to clear off. Or least not make any trouble.”

“…You think I’m a super?”

Bev smirked at me. “You are a very bad fake-doctor.”

To be fair, neither was my only competition in that area. I reminded myself never to assume I was smarter than these people.

Bev led me down to the edge of the beach. I spotted him immediately.

I imagine none of you reading will remember a sky without him. The marshal of powers, the man of steel, the first utopian.

There, on the sands, stood the Flying Man.

Eliza crept slowly towards the Flying Man, leaving Old Bev to watch from the trees. She couldn’t imagine he didn’t already know they were there, but she was hardly going to stroll up to him, was she?

She was a little surprised. She had always assumed on some level that the Flying Man would be gigantic, like Ralph Rivers, but he was simply… tall. Quite tall, but just tall. He wasn’t even bulky. His body was beautifully put together, she could see that, but it was a very Greek kind of beautiful. For a moment, Eliza was unsettlingly reminded of old propaganda about the Aryan ideal. Except… his hair was so curly. Like gold ringlets. And were those white bell-bottoms he was wearing?

“Good evening, ma’am.”

Eliza froze mid-step, like she was a cat-burglar from a bad cartoon caught in the act.

The Flying Man didn’t appear perturbed by the healer’s behaviour. If anything, his attention seemed mostly devoted to the dark waves pawing at the shore, and the distant lights of some ship straddling the horizon.

“Uh, hello? The Flying Man, right?” The nickname sounded like an insult as soon as it left Eliza’s mouth. “I’m sorry—I mean… what do you like to be called?”

The Flying Man smiled, extending a hand. “Joe.”

Despite herself, Eliza found herself smiling. “Joe? Why?”

“It’s just my name. Well, one of them. The other one would make your teeth hurt, sorry.”

He sounded American, but… off7. Eliza took his hand and shook it. She wondered if her power would work on him. It couldn’t be that easy, could it?

“Eliza Winter, pleased to meet you. So, what brings you to Arnhem Land?” She looked about the beach. “There isn’t a supervillain around, is there? Tidal wave heading our way?” She wasn’t sure if she was joking.

The Flying Man (Eliza couldn’t think of him as “Joe”) shook his head. “Far as I know, you’re good. I just got done pulling a submarine out of the ocean,” he said it like it was nothing, “thought it was time for a break. And Australia is very tectonically stable.” He tapped his purple booted foot in the sand. “It’s nice not feeling the earth move so much under your feet, you know?”

Eliza did not in fact, know that.

The Flying Man squinted at her. “You a super?”

Eliza found herself blushing. “How do people keep figuring that out?”

The Flying Man shuffled his feet, fingering the hem of his cape. “Oh, sorry. I can see… a lot.”

Suddenly, Eliza thought he seemed a lot more like a Joe.

It also seemed he couldn’t help himself. “Something to do with biology?”

She nodded. “I heal. Other things, too, but that’s what it boils down to.”

Joe sat down in the sand. “You the doctor around here?”

Eliza joined him. “That I am.”

“That’s very kind of you.”

“…What?”

“People around here don’t have very much. A lot of folks with powers like yours would only heal millionaires—people who could pay your worth. It’s good seeing a super use their powers this way.”

“No.”

“Pardon?”

“You don’t know me. It’s all fake.”

And so, Eliza explained herself. She explained Danzig, the camps, Mengele, the Institute and stirrupculture. She even explained poor Adam Sinclair.

By the time she was done, Eliza was heaving against the Flying Man’s diamond, his wine-coloured cape around her shoulders. There were tears she hadn’t noticed running down her cheeks.

She looked up into the Flying Man’s moss green eyes. She had been expecting to find anger there, or disgust.

Instead, Joe just looked sad.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Because you’ve suffered. Terribly.”

Anger rose in Eliza. She clutched at the white fabric of the Flying Man’s stupid costume, growling, “Weren’t you listening? All those things I’ve done. The people I’ve hurt.”

“Tragic, yes. But it still only made you miserable.”

Eliza stood up, walking away from the man. “But that’s the thing! Ever since I left, since I arrived here… I’ve been happy! I’ve made friends! I like my work! Even looking after five bloody babies! I don’t deserve it.”

She felt a hand on her shoulder.

“I’ve made mistakes, too, Eliza. I’m not going to disrespect you or Adam or any of the others you’ve told me about by saying they’re the same as yours, but I know what it feels like. To want to crawl into some dark hole and never be happy again. But I’ll tell you what, that helps no one. You’re out here, making people’s lives better. That’s a damn sight better than you rotting in a cell somewhere.”

“A few good deeds don’t make up for a life.”

“But one sin—even a thousand of them—doesn’t erase the good.”

Gently, the Flying Man turned Eliza around to face him. “Eliza, you told me you expected to live a long time. Looking at you, I believe it. You know what immortality means? It means a lot of chances to screw up. My advice, Miss Winter: keep doing what you’re doing. Grab onto whatever happiness you can find. You’ll last longer if you do—help more people. And you deserve a bit of that for you’re own sake.”

Eliza looked at that earnest young man’s face. “I’ll try,” she finally said. “If you make me a promise.”

“Anything.”

“Go to the Institute. Help those children. I can’t trust the state to do it. Not after what I’ve seen. Timothy Valour is a good man, but he’s up against politics. And Lawrence—I don’t know what he’s capable of anymore. I thought, maybe, if I wasn’t there to clean up for him, he might step back a bit, but I don’t know.” She took his hand. “Those children deserve better Joe.”

“You didn’t have to ask.” He started walking towards the sea. “Keep your kettle filled, Eliza. I expect I’ll be back soon.”

“Joe,” Eliza said. “Before you go, could I ask you one thing?”

He looked back at the woman. “All ears.”

“…What’s that diamond on your chest mean? I’ve been wondering that for years.”

Joe’s eyes darted down at his insignia, then back up at Eliza. He laughed. “Absolutely nothing. I thought it looked neat.”

He took off, the flutter of his cape like the beating of wings.

“Thank you.”

He was too late.


1. If you have taken any decent course in superhuman history, you will recognize his name. Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably heard of the park dedicated to Adam’s memory in Nova Australia. I’ve never been. Feels disrespectful.
2. That was what the Physician called himself when I was a young woman. I will admit, he left me with an unfair impression of the squishies that sadly went uncorrected till our official first contact in 2008.
3. Looking back, I can only assume John spared us out of whimsy. Or boredom.
4. The NT was where I first experimented with mosquitos as a vector for inoculation.
5. The bark petitions still hang in the house of the former parliament.
6. Ski Beach, to be specific.
7. Canadian, as I would later find out.

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Chapter Thirty-Eight: By These Hands…

A lot of you reading won’t be very familiar with Adolf Hitler. If you are, he’ll likely just be some old warlord trampling through your history books, no more present or real today than Genghis Khan or Napoleon. This is natural, and perhaps in some ways necessary. If every tragedy or atrocity remained fresh in the world’s memory forever, the weight of history would crush us all. But I can tell you now, such forgetfulness did not seem possible when I was young.

I met the man once. It was no great encounter. A diversion during a tour of the Greater Reich1.

He seemed so small. I had been hearing his speeches on the radio for years—like fire in broadcast form. Everything I had ever read of the man spoke of this great Wagnerian hero. But here he was, reeking of barbiturates, hands trembling by his sides, coddled by aides and doctors2. Stripped bare of his pomp and loudspeakers, the man was a ghost of his own persona3.

My minders had me turn a rose-bulb blue for him. A paltry trick to be sure, but more appropriate for an audience with the Führer.  

“A true testament to our strength and vigour.”

Even if that meant anything, he didn’t sound convinced. I can imagine why. I was a knobby-kneed ten year old girl, with frizzy brown hair that devoured combs and an awfully Jewish nose. I have to assume questions were raised about my ancestry.

“Pure German going back five generations, sir,” my father told the SS officer who took me away.

Maybe so—I was no more or less a mongrel than all other human beings—but still, I was never going to grace a propaganda poster. I was a tool—a scalpel whose edge Auschwitz and Dachau honed sharp.

I spent most of my life in the camps cooped up in the commandant’s quarters, trying to play or study under the wary eye of their wife or whoever else they set to watch me. I would try describing these women, but their features flow together in memory. Sometimes they wear my mother’s face, or even Mary Gillespie’s4.

Two or three times a day, guards would escort me to the camp’s clinic, where soldiers lay waiting for my touch. These were not the breaks and scrapes of everyday life I had made my bread and butter in Danzig, but the carnage of war. Bullet-shredded flesh, lungs rotted by mustard gas, eyes burnt out by flashbangs and ears blasted deaf by the endless chitter of gunfire.

But normalcy hadn’t completely abandoned me. Soldiers and guards still dropped things on their toes or came to me with coughs and colds. Men at Dachau would pay me penny-candy to rid them of the clap. The only things war cannot kill are common misfortune and carelessness.

All these I mended while men with white coats and clipboards slowly figured out what I had already told them. I feel like Allison Kinsey would have sympathised if I had ever told her of this.

Then there was what they had me do to the prisoners.

At first, I suspect those poor souls thought me a saviour. The Angel of Danzig’s legend had spread far throughout Poland and beyond by that point. Not only that, but those prisoners who were destined to meet me often received special treatment. Their barracks were kept free of filth and vermin, they were well fed, and were spared both hard labour and the harshest cruelty of the guards.

Disease, malnutrition, and injury would have tainted the results.

I remember the first boy I killed. He was a Polack, with curly brown hair and a port-wine stain on his shoulder. I’m not sure if I wish I knew his name. They laid him out on the examination bed, and the supervising physician pulled out a needle, its tip wet like a wasp’s stinger.

“Now this injection is to keep you safe from typhus.”

The boy looked at me, standing silent in the corner. “Couldn’t the Angel do that?”

The doctor was quick with an explanation. “Yes, she could. But she also wants people to be safe when she isn’t around. You can help her.”

The boy nodded, as if he had a choice.

And so, the doctor injected the boy right in the heart. The phenol made him gasp and shudder, and soon he was still.

I moved towards him, but the doctor held a hand up. “Not yet, dear.” He pulled out a stopwatch, and clicked.

For five minutes, we stood there and let nature do what it does to unpreserved meat.

After what felt like hours, there was a click.

“Alright, resuscitate him.”

That part was easy. Just restarting his heart and sparking his neurons.

He screamed like a newborn. No, less than that. It was a cry of animal suffering. His eyes darted around the room, uncomprehending. He was making noises I had never heard from a person.

The doctor strode over then and started poking and prodding the child, taking notes with one deft hand as he examined our handiwork. “Subject appears to suffer significant cognitive impairment after five minutes without oxygen flow to brain.”

The boy stared at me. I don’t know if he still recognized me, or if he simply was looking to the only person who wasn’t hurting him.

The doctor eventually pulled away from the boy, seeming to disregard him as soon as he wasn’t looking at him.

“Doctor, should I… turn him off?”

“Hmm? Oh, right, yes. Do try to preserve the brain, we’ll need it for autopsy.”

“Preserve” I thought was an odd word to use, after what we had done to him.

As gently as possible, I took the little boy’s hand. A few moments later, he was asleep. It seemed less cruel that way. Like a boat on a dark shore, I pushed him out onto a deep, black sea.

They had me infect Jews with typhus, or turn their women’s ovum cancerous. They poisoned, electrocuted, and drowned people, then had made me bring them back so they could give their testimony. Children were beaten in front of their mothers and fathers, while I kept them in states of chemical ecstasy. Autopsies were replaced by a brush of my hand.

I let myself sleep for a long time. It was the only way I could cope. Every experiment—every touch—reminded me how pointless it all was. The truth was imprinted on every poor soul’s cells.       

I first encountered another superhuman at Auschwitz. I had known for a long time that there were others like me, of course. The whole Wehrmacht was terrified of meeting the Crimson Comet, who they said could shrug off tank-fire like rain on his shoulders. As for our lot, we had Hel5 and Baldr: the man who couldn’t die6. But they were always distant, absent figures. And their deeds always seemed so far removed from mine. So much more noble.

He wasn’t one to start with. They had scheduled me for an experiment  involving… I want to say fertility7, and my subject was already strapped into the chair when I stepped into the clinic.

The old man was gagged, but I still heard his scream batter against the mouth guard when he caught sight of me. I had a new legend by then. The Angel of Danzig had become the Angel of Death.

The man thrashed and tried to tear his way free, but the metal chair and the leather-straps held tight. The guards on either side whipped him with the butts of their guns. They weren’t supposed to treat my “patients” so roughly, but guards at Auschwitz either crumbled, or more commonly, made cruelty a habit. Like smoking.

“Stay still!”

I held out a hand, walking towards the man. “It’s—it’ll be alright.” I don’t know why I still lied to them.

As I drew closer, I noticed something in the man’s eyes. They were wide, staring, but not at me. Like there was someone standing behind me…

I felt a cold wind whip at my back. The man was trying to say something I couldn’t make out. Though looking back, I think I can guess.

“There’s a man—”

A giant soap-bubble appeared in front of the man’s face. At least, that’s what it looked like. Once the guards were done shouting and swearing, they gawked and batted at the orb with something between awe and bemusement. One of them glanced in my direction.

“This you?”

The bubble slammed into the soldier, grinding his head against the wall till only a red stain was left. His comrade was luckier, only being shoved into the wall cabinets.

I was running for the door by then, but I tripped, my face slamming against something curved. A bubble had formed around me. And it was shrinking.

I scrambled around to face my captor. He was still strapped into the chair, still gagged. He couldn’t or hadn’t figured out a way to free himself. All he could do was lash out.

I was screaming, crying, imagining myself reduced to a slurry of broken bone and meat. I begged for my life, the way so many like him had begged me.

The man could’ve been a grandfather. How many of his family had passed through my hands? Or been consigned to the gas and the fire?

And odd look played on his face. Angry, but sad. Considering.

I think it was mercy. It was not something I had much experience with back then.

There was a bang, and the old Jew jerked forward. There was a hole in his head.

The bubble popped out from under me, sending me sprawled onto the ground. The surviving guard was breathing heavily, his still raised in front of him.

“The hell was that?”

I didn’t answer. For the first time in my life, I had faced death.

And I knew I deserved it.

In the dark, dead time between night and morning, Eliza Winter sat alone in her office, reading over her latest attempt at a letter. A ball of rejected drafts lay in the wastepaper basket. She didn’t know why she was bothering with tidiness at this point, but it was a reflex.

The healer set the paper down, smoothed it out, and sighed. It didn’t say nearly enough. But then, what could?

She slipped the latter inside an envelope, sealing it with the one of the Institute’s wax pebbles. The ones with the little finches Lawrence had custom made. Eliza used to enjoy them. Now, they just seemed pompous.

She had to move quickly.

Alberto had always preferred the night. Dreams were quieter than waking thoughts. Easier to get some reading done. And to wish they had a bloody television.

There was a knock on his bedroom door. The lack of lights behind it was a dead giveaway. “You might as well come in, Eliza.”

She did. “Evening, Alberto.”

“Oh, so we’re using people names tonight?”

“I suppose we are. Could I sit down?”

Alberto reached from his chair to pat his bed, hiccupping, “Might as well.”

Already drunk. That would make things easier.

As she sat down, Eliza asked, “What are you reading?”

Alberto looked at his book and jerked backwards, like he had forgotten he was holding it. “Oh, this? Odd John. It’s this book about a trumped up little superman telling us how great he is.” He chuckled. “It’s like finding a road-map for Bertie’s mind!”

Eliza nodded. “Yes, I remember Laurie suggesting that for my English class8. I thought it was a touch racy.”

“No shit, the kid sleeps with his mum.” Alberto threw his head back, his eyes closed. “What are you doing here, El? You been thinking about what I said.”

“I have.” Silence. “Alberto, have you been… manipulating us somehow?”

Eliza tensed her muscles, waiting for the esper to try and make a break for the door.

Instead, all he did was sigh. “Shit. I knew you’d figure it out sometime. Surprised it took ya this long, honestly.”

“You—you admit it?”

“Why not? Not like I was going to convince you otherwise. Hell, you’re the only person here I couldn’t convince otherwise.”

“How long?”

“What—”

How long?”  

“Pass me the wine.”

Almost automatically, Eliza obeyed. The psychic swigged from the bottle hard.

“Not at first. Bertie used to find the whole idea of me terrible. What I can do. That’s why he got poor old Hugo to get with Fran when Chen scarpered.” He frowned. “Old bastard was fine using me to get them in line, but he wasn’t going to have another of me in the world…”

Eliza’s eyes narrowed. “Let me guess, you weren’t happy about that.”

Alberto tilted his head at her. “What? You talkin’ about Ophelia? She was Bertie’s idea.” He shrugged. “I didn’t feel like arguing.”

“But you said—”

A cold, pale smile. “You can’t say Lawrence hasn’t gotten a bit wacky in his old age.” He went on. “I mean, first he just needed me to make Hugo and Fran think they were alright going to bed together—give or take bamboozling a customs agent or a reluctant parent.” He laughed again. “But then he got it into his head the kids needed to go forth and multiply. It wasn’t just them I needed to fiddle with! Mary was fine with the whole thing back when she thought it was all just consenting adults doin’ it for science or whatever. But kids…” A gulp. “That took some doing.”

Eliza just sat there, listening. Alberto was destroying what was left of her life like he was down the pub complaining about his boss.

“I’ll tell ya, it isn’t always easy. So many kids running around, so many reasons for them to pissed off. And Fletcher and Cormey! Everyone else I got to ease into it, but them—Therese was never Boudica or anything, but put it this way, she wasn’t always such a lush.” Alberto sighed. “Chen was always hard to bend. Maybe it was an alchemy thing, I don’t know.” A sad smile. “Fran used to be too, when we were little. Before we domesticated her. Davey-boy’s been getting harder since his eyes changed…”

Eliza finally spoke, “And what about me?”

Alberto snorted. “You’re not getting off that easy, El. I wasn’t lying when I said you were impervious to me. Even if you weren’t, do you think I was hiding under Mengele’s lab coat?”

And with that, the last strand of hope inside Eliza snapped.

“So, it’s all out in the open. If it’s any comfort, this whole shitshow will be over soon. Maybe I should’ve taken the Americans’—”

Eliza clapped her hand over Alberto’s mouth. The psychic thrashed, tried to pry the healer off of him, but his limbs were heavier than lead and riddled with twitching worms.

Eliza watched the panic in his eyes fade to drowsiness. He probably believed this was death, she thought.

Once he was under, she picked up the wine bottle, drank deep, and left Alberto to his dreams.

I should have killed him.

Before we go on, I must talk about one of my greatest sins as an educator—such that I was.

It was not long after Chen’s return, but before Adam Sinclair, before the end. I was in my office doing something the centuries have discarded from memory, when Hugo, Fran, and Mary came barging through my door.

“Hey, hey, hey! I thought we knocked here!”

It was Hugo who started, breathless, “It’s David.” He swallowed. “I mean Maelstrom—”

Françoise rolled her eyes. That pretty much knocked all the steam out of poor Hugo. Mary picked up for him:

“Maelstrom’s… having an episode.”

“What exactly is an ‘episode’?” I asked.

“David’s in the vegetable garden,” Fran said. “He’s screaming and blowing things up.” She paused, like she had to psyche herself up to keep talking. “He won’t let any of us near him. Won’t let me near him.” She sounded wounded.

“We were hoping you could calm him down a bit,” Mary said. “Preferably before Lawrence catches wind of this. I don’t think his reaction would be… helpful.”

Mary really was too good for us.

I could see why they asked me. David’s parents weren’t always reliable sources of comfort. Françoise was in many ways still a child herself. Or at least still learning how to be a person. As for Hugo, guilt and black moods kept him distant. So that just left me. Auntie Żywie.

In my ugliest, bitterest moods, I sometimes thought that made me more of a mother to David than anyone else.

I arrived in my garden to find David stomping around naked in the allotment. His eyes, still Barthe blue then, were blazing white. Storm clouds swirled over his head, while tears sizzled down his cheeks before freezing solid.

All around the boy, my pumpkins, melons and artichokes snapped and hissed, trying to launch themselves at him with their whipping, thrashing roots. Before they could even get close, they burst, their pulpy flesh and juices spraying over the grass. Our cow was mooing in fright.

“Shut up, Bessy!”

I hadn’t seen David this angry in years, but it wasn’t a great surprise. The boy was like a kinked hose. Years and years of bottled up rage and need. Usually it just trickled out in tears and night-terrors, but sometimes he erupted like a geyser. Not unlike his mother.

I approached him without fear. Even if I thought David could bring himself to hurt me, his powers couldn’t touch the water in my body9 “David, David, honey. What’s the matter.”

He swung around to face me. Somehow, his eyes managed to burn even brighter. “Liar!”

I stopped. “…What?”

“You lied to us!” He had his fists balled at his sides, and his teeth clenched like he was trying to keep something from escaping his throat. Then he screamed and made another cantaloupe explode.

“Lying about what, little one?”

He looked me right in the air. It was like being glared at by stars. “Your power works on you.”

All the times I had imagined someone saying that should have prepared me. “I—I—”

“Allie told me! She’s been doing stuff to herself for ages! Stuff she got from you!”

That woke up the doctor in me, and at least for that moment, she was stronger than the worst of me. I grabbed David by the shoulders, almost shaking him. “What’s she done? Is she alright?”

He threw his hands off me. “You just never wanted to have a baby, didn’t you?”

I think my face had all the answer he needed. His shoulders slumped slightly. The ice in his eyes melted. “Why didn’t you just tell Lawrence?”

I threw my arms around him, lifting him off his feet and weeping into his shoulder. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“Why didn’t you wanna make a baby? You’d be good at it.”

“David. I—people like me don’t deserve to be mothers. I’ve done… bad things to children10.”

“When?” David asked me. “You’re nice.”

“I—please. You can’t tell anyone about this.”

I felt him nodding against my cheek. “Okay.”

I had no doubt he would keep my secret. David had his father’s kindness. And he was used to keeping secrets. From new students, from inspectors, from the few outsiders Lawrence ever deigned to let into his presence. He kept secrets from Lawrence, too. And he kept himself a secret from everyone.  

I had put yet another burden on David’s shoulders. I had failed him. Just like every other adult in his life.

“You alright, mate?”

Except for one.

I turned to face Hugo, still holding David.

“He feeling better?”

I nodded.

“I am, yeah,” David said quietly. “Me and Miri sorta had a fight.”

Hugo took the boy gently from my arms. I suppose that was one advantage of his present state: his father didn’t have to worry about melting his clothes.

“You want to talk about it?”

“…Not yet?”

Hugo didn’t press. “That’s alright. You wanna go get dressed?” He smiled. “Maybe we can find something to eat?”

“That’d be nice.”

Hugo looked at me. “You’re a lifesaver, Żywie.”

“It’s no problem.”

I watched them walk back towards the house. The New Human Institute was a spider web of tragedies, and one of them was that Hugo so rarely let himself be a father. That we didn’t let him. He was the only one of us that didn’t ask anything of David.

That wasn’t what I was thinking about then, though. I was wondering how much he had heard.

I never found out.

“You were so loud when you were born. Hungry for life. I don’t know how we managed to keep you so quiet.”

Eliza brushed David’s hair, the sleeping child twitching at the touch. She knew she was being foolish. She ought to be putting as many miles between her and the Institute as she could before sunup. But she couldn’t leave without saying goodbye…

“I wish I could take you. Just a week ago I would’ve worried about you crying, or trying to stop me. But now, I think you wouldn’t leave unless we could take everyone. You’re strong, David. I’m glad you’ve finally realizing that.”

She leaned down and kissed him on the forehead. “You’re clean. Your father made sure of that.”

The healer looked around the dormitory. So many children. So many children she had mended, taught, and cared for. So many children she had hurt. Lawrence was right about one thing. These kids deserved the world. They deserved more than this farm, more than some old man’s fantasies.

“I love you. I love you all.”

When Eliza opened the door to leave, she found Artume standing on the steps.

“Oh, hi Żywie.”

Eliza froze. How could she have forgotten Artume? “Uh, good morning Artume. What brings you to the dorm.”

The girl shrugged. “Saw you come down here, thought something was up.” She bent sideways, trying to look past her teacher. “Is everyone alright in there?”

Eliza looked at Artume. She was so small, her blonde hair still so child-bright. She was also just starting to show.

“I am so sorry, Sheilah.”

“Wha—”

Eliza put her hand under the girl’s chin, catching her with the other when she fell asleep.

As she carried Sheilah to her hammock, she considered ridding the child of the pregnancy. It was early enough that it would take minimum fuss. She would feel no pain. Terminations were something she had much practise with from the camps.

No, she decided. Eliza had already taken away too many of her choices. And no doubt Lawrence would have had her go through it again.

As I finally left the dormitory, I found my eyes lingering on Allison Kinsey. Strange, strange little girl. All that knowledge, and yet none of it made her any less a child. With the bio-mods she copied off me, she might have been the closest thing to a daughter I will ever have.

I should’ve taken her. Far away from the Institute; far away from any other super.

I was twelve when Josef Mengele arrived at Auschwitz. My handlers had me meet him and his wife at the camp gates11. As soon as he saw me, he took my hand and kissed it.

“I’ve been very much looking forward to working with you, Miss Winter.”

I have no doubt he had. As I gathered over the months and years to come, Mengele’s assignment to Auschwitz12was something of a reward for the doctor. He was both a war-hero, and more importantly, a good Nazi.

Nobody took to Auschwitz like Mengele did. The atmosphere of ash and death drove most either into slumbers like mine, or warped them, made them crueler to the point of irrationality. In a rare few, it awoke bravery and kindness.

Mengele, though, always wore at least a faint smile. He sung and whistled while he worked, and was always asking for extra duties. He was like a fish permitted to swim for the first time.

He was also a terrible scientist. The experiments I had participated in before had been cruel, and often performed without full rigour, but they always at least had a clear point. To measure my talents, or to better figure out how to kill and rend. Mengele was more like a little boy taking a fly to pieces. He destroyed because the pieces amused him more than the whole. That was his great contribution to Nazi science. He provided thousands of samples to other researchers in the Reich. Calling him a butcher is more appropriate than some realize.

After his arrival, Mengele rarely let me out of his sight. He would talk to me like you would to a baby or a dog:

“What about this, Eliza?”

“Have you ever wondered, Eliza…”

“I think little Eva and her brother would react well to the drops, don’t you Eliza?”

Sometimes, Mengele even took me to the ramp.

The ramp was where the trains disgorged our victims. Jews, Roma, Slavs, and everyone else my people despised were herded out of the carriages, so the SS could decide who would immediately be destroyed, and who would be put to work fuelling the machine that would kill them. Children, the sick, and the very old were almost always disposed of quickly.

Even among the most callous, it was considered a stressful, trying duty. Not so for Mengele. He volunteered for the job.

He would lean down and whisper in my ear:

“So, who do we pick?”

I would look at the huddled, frightened, doomed people, the fathers trying to hold back tears as their families were led to the crematoria, the mothers clutching their children, and then I would choose.

I felt like God. I also understood why God does not walk amongst us.

Many of the children who lingered in the camps did so because of Mengele. They were the subjects of his own private kingdom. He had a kindergarten established for them in the barracks, even a playground. He would visit them with his pockets bulging with sweets, fuss over their health and the particulars of their lives, and a few hours later take a knife to them.

I find it baffling at the time. Less so in the years to come.  

The man had a fascination with twins. On a certain level, it made sense. In a world without ethics at least, identical twins are nature’s control group. Even fraternal twins share a fetal environment. But for Mengele, I think there was something more to it.

Once, he had me create him conjoined twins. Perfectly healthy children—sometimes of not even of the same sex—fused head-to-head or at the pelvis, down to their very blood vessels. It was gruesome, but at less so then when he did it himself. Another night, he had me stop the hearts of fourteen pairs of twins, and he stayed awake till dawn dissecting.

In some solipsistic way, I think he saw me as an extension of himself. His imagination made physical, maybe. But he used my power less than you might think. One of his most common experiments was injecting the children’s eyes with whatever chemicals he fancied, trying to turn them blue13. The children went blind, more often than not. I didn’t know why he didn’t have me do it. Even back then I could change pigmentation as I pleased14.

What confused me even more was why he would do such a thing. I even asked him as much.

“It’s a simple idea, Eliza,” he explained patiently. “If we can figure how to control eye and hair colour, and increase the incidence of multiple births among our women”—Fertility was yet another of his bugbears—“that’ll mean a lot more Aryan babies.”

“But blue eyes don’t see any better than brown ones.”

Mengele’s smile dimmed. “It’s a sign of superiority.”

“So if we did manage to turn a gypsy’s15
eyes blue, would they be more Aryan?”

He chuckled at that. “Of course not.”

It was like a drunk wizard’s logic. Eye-colour could mean nothing and everything at the same time. The entire Nazi-logic was like that. I knew what DNA was while Rosalind Franklin was still a university student. I knew a Jew and a German could be more similar to each other than their own neighbour. I could have told Mengele and his ilk exactly why some men were born brilliant, and others stupid. Why some were strong, and others sickly. I could have ensured every one of our children was born healthy. While they killed and burned cripples, I could have made them walk!       

But I said nothing. If Mengele had taught me one thing, it was that our masters did not value the truth. They didn’t even value skill, if it disagreed with them. Auschwitz and its brothers had rendered down plenty of brilliant men and women who did. And their families.

Reading this, you might wonder how Lawrence ever managed to win me over on his “stirpiculture” given what I had seen of eugenics. But the Nazis bred only for homogeneity, for a banal sameness of features, while destroying anything that did not match it. Lawrence promised to only add to the beauty of the world, taking nothing from it. And maybe those babies were beautiful. But he did not keep his second promise.

It had to end eventually, the camps. All fires burn themselves out eventually, or are drowned by the rain. By 1945, the Red Army was marching across Poland. Rumour had it the Anglos had lent them the Crimson Comet himself, and some strange, terrible magic that pulled the gold out of people’s teeth.

The killings sped up. Mostly I think out of a desire to destroy the evidence, but also I think as one last spasm of hate. Perhaps even just to feel like it had accomplished something. Me and Mengele were bundled into a truck bound for another concentration camp in Gross-Rosen. He brought with him two boxes of child-parts and the only records of his experiments to be spared the fire. His wife and son were in another truck. I feel this says something about the man.

I remember the bumps in the road. Mengele clutching his briefcase to his chest like his newborn. I think it was the first time I had ever seen him scared.

“They say we’re on the ropes.” He forced a smile. It looked strange on him. “Bah. We’ll go abroad, regroup. You and me? We’ll keep on going.”

I wondered if Josef thought I would be following him forever. He may have been one of the Reich’s favoured sadists, but there were plenty of those, and only one of me.    

There were screams from the front of the cabin. Mine and Mengele’s joined them, as something shot out of his mouth and pinged and whizzed around the truck-bed. We swerved, topped over. For a few seconds, the world spun around us.

When it stopped, the truck was upside down. I could hear the wheels still spinning, the engine sputtering.

Mengele was dead, his neck snapped and his head bent to the side. It was almost comical. If it had happened to anyone else, I’m sure he would have thought so.

Before I could process this, the side turned ceiling tore open. A giant was staring down at me.

I screamed, cowering in his shadow against the night. He was clad in red, his shoulders powdered with snowflakes, with one wing sprouting from his back. I knew him immediately. The terror of the Reich. The stormer of France. The Crimson Comet.

He watched me for some time as I whimpered and tried to shrink ever further into the corner. But there was no anger in those solid features. No hate. Eventually, my fear ran out of fuel. All that was left was a quiet ache. I didn’t even resist when he lifted me out of the truck.

He left Mengele where he lay.

The Comet carried me through the snow to a group of Red Army soldiers, the red on their shoulders standing out against the dull green of their uniforms. I shrieked at the sight of them, and they pointed their guns at me. A raised hand from the Comet lowered them again.

“Lawrence, I think this is the girl we’re looking for.”

The soldiers parted for a broad man in a SS officer’s coat, though his beard was redder than I’d ever seen on a German. At his side was a Chinese boy, about my age. I’d never seen an Asian up close before. I hope it didn’t show too much.

“G’day,” the boy said. “Sorry about the toss-about.”

The man said, “Could you please set her down, Comet?”

I didn’t speak English. I had no idea what either of them were saying, but the Comet lowered me to my feet.

Then, the man knelt, pulling off his gloves. His hands were crisscrossed with little white scars. Slowly, gently, he folded them around mine.

“I know what you are,” he said in German. “What you can do.” He squeezed my hands. “Hands that heal. It’s like something from the Bible.”

 Lawrence had to have been told that my powers worked by touch. He was so sincere, once.

“I can’t believe you did such things of your own free will. Someone born to heal wouldn’t think of it. Come with us. You can use your hands for what they were clearly made for.”

I nodded.

Herbert Lawrence gave me my life back. One day, I had to steal it back.

Eliza strapped the last of the babies into the back of the ute. There weren’t enough car-seats for all of them, so she’d have to hold Reverb’s still nameless daughter between her knees. At least Ophelia was practically indestructible. At least she could keep them all asleep for the time being.

It had been Therese Fletcher’s shift in the nursery. She didn’t put up much resistance, God bless her. Whatever happened, Eliza hoped she and Cormey wouldn’t go down with the ship.

She could do this, she told herself as she climbed into the driver’s seat. She had connections. Movers and shakers she had healed over the years, Timothy Valour, maybe even Ralph Rivers if it came down to it. Hell, the new queen still owed her a favour and a half for fixing up her father16. She even had money. Her salary was surprisingly generous for someone who rarely ever left the farm.

She could do this. She had to do this.

Eliza looked behind her. The babies were still sound asleep. There was a crack in the night. Soon tomorrow would spill out across the sky.

“I’ll come back,” she said to herself. “I don’t know what will happen then, but I will come back.”

And so, Eliza Winter left the Institute, and Żywie, far behind.


1. Contrary to what decades of movies and video games might have told you, Hitler took neither magic nor superhumans seriously. From what I’ve read, that was mostly Rosenberg and Himmler.

2. I sometimes wonder why they didn’t have me heal him. Paranoia, maybe, or perhaps they didn’t truly understand the breadth of my power. I’m eternally grateful they didn’t, though. I have enough to live with.

3. And that was before I even read his book.

4. Poor Mary.

5. I don’t think we ever pinned down what Hela’s powers were exactly. The hot theory is something like the St. George ultra-roar, although I personally find the psychic wail more convincing. Either way, it didn’t save her at Berlin.

6. At least until he became the first superhuman on record to be executed for war-crimes. They had to use a mortar shell for it to stick.

7. A safe bet. The only thing fascists think about as much as killing is breeding or stopping other folks from doing it.

8. Looking back, maybe the fact John and his friends went on to slaughter a whole island and then blew up should have been a warning sign.

9. No power can affect me directly. It’s certainly made the odd assassination attempt interesting.

10. I’ve thought a lot about motherhood over the years. Back then, I avoided it out of guilt. But guilt settles eventually, like dust. You either die—physically or in every other way that counts—or learn to live with it. Once I did, I found I still didn’t want children of my own very much. Great thing about immortality, I can change my mind whenever I want. But until then, I am content being every generation’s aunt.

11. Apparently I was Rolf Mengele’s godmother. I am still not sure how I feel about that.

12. More specifically Auschwitz-Birkenau, the sub-camp where Mengele was chief-physician. Over 90% of Auschwitz’ victims passed through there.

13. Mengele in general had a thing for eyes. A lot of poor heterochromatic bastards had theirs mailed to Berlin because of him.

14. That sort of cosmetic job has raised the clinic a lot of money.

15. I apologize for the slur, but it’s what I said.

16. It’s how I got me and Hugo declared British subjects. Surprisingly, the black boy had a harder time of it than the former assistant to Nazi doctors.

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Chapter Thirty-Seven: The Angel of Danzig

<Merry-Tree Publishing House is proud to present this excerpt of The Long Winter: a Memoir, the long awaited autobiography of long time WA resident and mother of superhuman medicine, Eliza Winter, available this Christmas in print, digital, and neural-pollen formats.>  

It is raining in the Heap. It pours down the solar-paneled roofs of the old Byzantine arcologies, off the shingles of the artfully restored pre-Cacophony homes that dot the hills overlooking the Swan River, and finally down into my streets. It runs through the gutters, slick with the faintest chemical rainbows. The city’s pollution, made beautiful.

I might have found it perverse, if I weren’t busy trying to shield my fish n’ chips order from the downpour. Mostly, I wish I’d brought an umbrella. At least the sun is still shining between the clouds.  

I make my way through the markets. Old men with animated tattoos and neon hair smile and greet me by name, just as their great-grandfathers had. Fruit-vendors hawk their organically grown produce a little louder when I walk past.

Unsubtle bastards.

A clutch of children—mechas, if the haze surrounding them is any hint—are dancing in the rain, catching it on their tongues and eating sunshine through their skin. I hope it’s filling. A busker in a battered top-hat juggles balls of fire behind an open guitar case with hardly any coins. I’m not surprised, the man’s obviously just a pyrokinetic. There is no art to that. Still, I flick a few dollars in.1

I turn off the street and into a grove of trees, heavy with fruit despite the winter air. Most would not recognize them, if they even bothered looking closely. As I walk along the path that cuts and weaves through them, I brush my hands against their trunks, looking for signs of rot, or parasites, or more hopefully, vaccine production.

Hiding behind the trees is what looks like a time-lost pagoda, complete with an artichoke-leaf roof to ward off evil spirits—or disease, I suppose. Blame the tastes of the architect. On the second story, a wide glassless window overlooks my tiny medicinal forest2. The stained glass front doors look painfully out of place, but they were a gift from my nephew: the only part of his house to survive the battle of Cacophony.

Above them hang the words:

Hugo Venter Memorial Clinic

I’m home.

The waiting room is empty bar Fisher (my receptionist) and Mrs. Suzuhara. Mrs. Suzuhara is about seventy if I remember right, with skin like old paper and long white braids that cover her leather jacket like a poncho.

She looks up at me from her knitting3. “Ah, Eliza!”

I hang my old travelling cloak on the coat rack. “Mrs. Suzuhara.” I frown. “Is your sciatica still flaring up? I thought I—”

The lady throws a hand up. “So old fashioned! I’ve told you, El, it’s Katie. And I’m fine.” She pulls a wine basket out from under her seat. “Just wanted to drop this off. Some of us clinic ladies chipped in for it. It’s your birthday this week, innit?”

I nod.

Mrs. Suzuhara smiles slyly. “How old?”

I sigh. “Two hundred.”

Mrs. Suzuhara walks past me, patting my shoulder. “Looking good, honey.”

I watch her got out the door. I’ve been treating her since she was a twelve year old social media influencer with scars on her wrists4.

I send Fisher home for the evening5. One member of his family or another has been working here for over forty years. It feels borderline feudal, but they are a constant. Finally, I head up to my apartment, feed the pumpkin-cat, and settle in with my soggy dinner.

“Open file memoir_1 for dictation.”

The computer console in the corner whirs to life6. No more procrastinating. It’ll already be long enough as it is.

“When you get to be my age, you must learn to live with your mistakes…”

“Two funerals in the same month,” Therese Fletcher muttered. “What’s happening to us?”

Żywie didn’t answer her fellow teacher. She was too busy watching Maelstrom at the other end of the crowd. Melusine had her arms around him, but if anything she looked more grieved than her son. Maelstrom… Maelstrom just looked confused.

He had only asked one question the day of the suicide:

“Where are we gonna bury Dad?

Mary Gillespie had fielded that one. Neither Lawrence nor Żywie could bring themselves to answer7.

Mary knelt so she was at Maelstrom’s eye-level. “A long time ago, honey, your father he—” She put her hand to her mouth, swallowing tears. “—He told us he didn’t want to be buried. Said he was worried about his… fluids affecting the soil. He was drunk, but it was a good point, and he didn’t have a will or anything written up, so we’re having him cremated. We’ll spread the ashes over the river.”

Maelstrom’s only response was to nod. “He’d like that. I’d like that.” He looked to his mother. “Then he can stay with us.”    

Melusine didn’t quite make eye contact with him. “Yeah, he can.”

Maelstrom left to try and comfort Phantasmagoria and Myriad. They were both crying more than him.

“I will say this,” Lawrence said when the boy was out of earshot. “He’s handing this very maturely.” The old man sounded almost impressed.

Żywie didn’t know what to think. Part of her wanted to shake Maelstrom by the shoulders and scream that his father was dead. Her Maelstrom—the boy she delivered, taught to read, and comforted when neither of his parents could—he wouldn’t have been so calm and collected.

But then, Żywie’s Maelstrom—Lawrence’s Maelstrom—was hardly ever happy. He took after his father that way. And what kind of woman would wish this emptying, dizzying grief on a little boy?

Mary asked, “Should we tell him what we found in Basil’s room?”

Aside from the noose, the only thing out of place in Basil’s room was a pile of half-melted stationary. On his desk was one abandoned letter:

Dav

A ruined biro lay next to it.

There was a new cenotaph next to Adam’s now: a chess knight carved from solid jade that came up to Lawrence’s waist. Żywie was just glad it wasn’t a serpent.

How many of those will line the river? She found herself wondering. And that name gilted in silver on the horse’s brow: Basilisk. It was like putting “eczema” on a man’s headstone.

Lawrence was giving his eulogy. “In many ways, Basilisk was the glue that held our community together. He was a teacher, an administrator, and our handyman. An impressive feat, given the sharp edge of his gift.”

Żywie was having a hard time remembering what the supposed point of Basil’s “gift” was. To her, it seemed more like a knife with no handle.

“But above all else, he was one of us. Our friend. And to the first child born to us, he was a father.”

Mostly without realizing it, gazes flickered like candle flames in the wind towards Maelstrom. To Żywie’s surprise, he did not shrink from the attention.

She tried to count all the times she’d heard David call Hugo “Dad.” Then she tried to remember the times Lawrence hadn’t chastised him for it.

“We’ll likely never know why Basilisk took his own life.”

Żywie had to flood her body with endorphins not to scream. It should’ve been obvious to anyone with eyes to see, or even just a heart that loved.

Lawrence’s words began to stumble. “I—I always knew intellectually that you children would have to deal with death someday. It comes for all of us. I just thought I would go first. That’s the the natural order of things. An old man shouldn’t outlive young, strong people.”

The old man started to weep. Żywie had no doubt his tears were genuine, just as they had been for Adam.

Were they being punished? They dispose of a boy out of inconvenience, and the fates take someone they loved?

Melusine went to gently pull Lawrence aside. “Shhh, it’s alright,” she whispered to her teacher. “We can let other people talk now.”

Unlike at Adam’s memorial, there was plenty of people who wanted to say something for the deceased. Tales of soothed homesickness and movie nights and maths made almost miraculously bearable. A few tacit apologies for some off-colour jokes. Even Tiresias got up to speak8:

“I’ve seen inside a lot of people’s heads over the years. Basil wasn’t the first who topped himself. A lot of religions, Catholics, Protestants, probably more, they say God punishes people who kill themselves. Calls them sinners, or weak. Well, that’s because dead people can’t tithe. I’ll tell you this, Basil never did anything to try and make another fella’s life worse. That’s more than I can say for most. If God feels like screwing around with Hugo because he wanted to stop hurting—and he was hurting for a long time—then he should go hang.”

Melusine didn’t speak. Żywie couldn’t bring herself to be angry right then. That could wait.

Myriad picked up from the psychic. “I was Basil’s assistant pretty much all the time I knew him, but he never bossed me around or didn’t let me play less than the other kids… he was just nice.”

By some unspoken agreement, David went last. Lawrence almost had to push him out front.

The boy looked around at his teachers and schoolmates. “I’m not sure what you want me to say. I’m sad. Of course I am. But… I’m glad my dad doesn’t have to be sad anymore.”

The Institute dispersed after that. There was a lot more that could’ve been said, but if it had the funeral would’ve gone on forever. Most funerals worth having are like that.

Żywie watched Tiresias slouch his way towards what she assumed was some secret boozy hideaway9. She started after him. Tiresias seemed to notice, his stride becoming herky-jerky and hurried.

Żywie was soon upon him, grabbing the thin man by the shoulders and spinning him around to face her. His face went pale.

“What the hell, Z?”

“You knew.”     

Tiresias blinked. “…Wait, you mean about Hugo?” He seemed relieved by something. “Yes, I did. Obviously.”

“You could have warned us!” Żywie roared. “Hugo’s dead and you could’ve stopped it!”

“You’re talking like he was murdered, or that an anvil fell on his head or something. But Hugo did it himself, Eliza. He wanted to go.” The esper shrugged. “Who was I to stop him?”

Żywie dug her fingernails into his arms, making him wince.

“He clearly wasn’t in his right mind!” She let go of Tiresias, going limp. “We could have helped him.”

Tiresias’ nose wrinkled. “Well, I’m sure you could have.”

“What are you saying?”

“Don’t be dense, Eliza. We all know you could’ve fixed Hugo.”

She shrunk back from him. “I told him I couldn’t! The structural changes!”

Alberto laughed joylessly. “You give pumpkins fucking teeth! You’re telling me you couldn’t have made Hugo sweat saltwater? Pull the other one.”

“Why wouldn’t I have helped him if I could?”

Alberto hissed, “Lawrence. What would he have thought about you removing his student’s ‘gift’? I mean, it made Hugo suffer all the time, but it made him a new human.”

He turned away from Żywie, continuing towards his wine stash. “I meant every word I said about Hugo, Eliza. Hell, I respect him. He and Chen had more guts than any of us.” He glanced back at the healer. “They left. They don’t have to rot here until Tim realises how much much of a pervert the bossman is and packs us off to Victoria Land to hang out with the penguins.”

Eliza’s heart skipped a beat, as if someone had wrapped their hand around it. “Have you been talking to someone?”

Another hard laugh. “Why the fear? You don’t think we’re doing something wrong, do you?”

“…You knew, didn’t you?” Eliza asked quietly.  “About Adam. What would happen if he came here.”

Alberto stopped again. “What you’d do to him, you mean?”

Eliza wasn’t even surprised he knew. She’d always suspected Lawrence’s mind was less secure than he claimed. “Why? Why did you tell us about him?”

“To be honest, boredom. And having a power-blocker walking around didn’t make me any more comfortable than it did Bertie.” He started walking again. “And you needed a reminder of what you’re capable of. You’ve been getting a bit high and mighty lately. Although, I’m pretty sure Adam got off easier than some of those Polish kids, Angel of Danzig.”

Tiresias left Eliza standing there, alone but for unwelcome memories. She tried to remember when that nickname hadn’t been so bitter.

I was born in a German city on a Polish shore. I think that most of all is what made monsters of us in the end. Today it is called Gdańsk10, but when I was a child, it was the free city of Danzig—not quite a part of Poland, not quite a nation itself—under the protection of the League of Nations, for all the good that did anyone11. A bit like Perth today, really.   

The city rested by the Baltic Sea. The clearest memory I have of my mother is her opening the kitchen window every morning to let in the salt-breeze. Apart from that, it was also the source of all our prosperity. Once, we were Poland’s greatest sea-port, all the ocean’s wealth and trade flowing through us into the country.

Once.

If any family in Danzig depended on the sea, it was the Winters. My father was a shipwright. You wouldn’t guess it from looking at him. Daniel Winter looked like a caricature of a psychiatrist, or maybe Lawrence standing sideways. He was thin, with a neatly trimmed philosopher’s beard and large, owlish spectacles, that in my memory always seemed to be fogging over. And yet, every night he came home reeking of sweat and sawdust, with wood chips and flecks of steel under his fingernails. It was like all his strength lived in his bones.

My father loved his work. Wedding wood and steel, he called it. Amouring ships against the scratching fingers of the sea.

“It’s not just building the thing that’s the victory,” he told me once. “It’s knowing how long it will last after you let it go.”

I like to think of medicine that way.

I’m not sure when I realised how unusual the degree of control I exercised over my body was. I can’t even remember how I discovered I could extend that control. I would guess flies or cockroaches, or maybe plants. I’ve always had an affinity for those. Françoise and the other girls at the Institute used to wear my Tudor roses in their hair12.

I won’t deny how much fun I had with with my power as a little girl. I used to terrify my brothers and sisters by slowing down my breathing and heartbeat till they thought I was dead.

It was surprisingly relaxing. Like sitting at the bottom of a cool, deep pool in the dead of night, with nothing but the sound of blood flowing in my ears to disturb me. It was the only time the dark did not frighten me. Maybe that was why I enjoyed it so much. Jasper or Isobel would be shouting at my faces or trying to slam my lungs back into working order, and it would be like someone dropping in pebbles far above.

Sometimes, though, I found myself wondering, would I be able to make it back to the surface? Would I forget which way was up? Would the water weigh me down and—

…Those were the times I hugged my siblings and meant it.

My other hat-trick was playing sick. Whenever the prospect of church or school was too much, I would stoke a fever inside myself, retch up my breakfast, maybe raise some hives if I was feeling dramatic, and spend the rest of the day reading or listening to the English pop-stations that strayed over the sea.

But that was the thing, I assumed everyone could do that. Maybe not as well as I could, but to some extent at least. I thought that illness was, essentially, a polite way of excusing yourself from the world for a little while. I think that was how I contextualized the scorn people around me heaped on the chronically infirm: they really just were work-shy. It would explain why Jesus sometimes seemed so impatient with the lepers and cripples who came to him13.  

What shattered that illusion was when my youngest sister came down with meningitis.

I don’t suppose many of you reading will be terribly familiar with meningitis. Most of your grandparents would have been genetically inoculated against the germs responsible, and for those who aren’t, there’s the swarms of my changed mosquitoes and horseflies and everything else that bites.

I must have seemed like the most callous child alive. Stomping around, wondering why my parents and the doctors they dragged into our apartment were fussing over Ella’s stupid cough. Why they all insisted on whispering. The air was tangling itself in knots and I didn’t know why.

“Papa,” I asked. “When will Ella get better?”

Oh, God, I sounded so impatient.

I remember my father being silent for a very long time. “God will look after Ella, Eliza.”

Good answer, I suppose.

I marched down the stairs, pushed and shoved past my brothers and sisters, and barged into the room they left my sister to die in.

My mother was leaning over my sister’s bedside. She had clearly been holding back tears, and the sight of me broke the damn. “Eliza, you can’t—”

“Ella won’t be contagious,” the doctor told her. “Not by now.”

“But she shouldn’t see this.”  

I ignored both of them, striding over to my sister’s side.

Her breath was shallow. Hollow sounding. Sweat glistened off skin marred by an almost royal purple rash. Her fingertips were turning black, and the smell of rot lingered around her.

I placed my hand on her brow. A lot of people tell me how my power feels to them. Worms or wires; being filled with hot or cold water. They rarely ask how it feels for me.

It was like Ella’s body was part of my own. I had two hearts, eight limbs, and four eyes. I could hear my own breathing, feel my own hand on her forehead. If Ella’s eyes had been open, I would have seen my own face.

I got to work. I made her sweat the filth from her blood, ordered the cells in her fingers to begin regenerating. I bullied the virus killing Ella into strengthening and fortifying her, to become a companion instead of a parasite.

My mother tried pulling me off Ella. She stopped when she saw the rash fade from her face, and the pink slowly return to her fingers.

“It’s a miracle.”

Yes, I suppose it was.     

After that, everything changed. My mother and father started spreading the word of their daughter’s healing hands. And people came. I mended the crippled and the asthmatics, the blind and the deaf. I banished consumption, vanquished polio, and lice-proofed a whole generation of Danzigers.

My parents charged, of course. It might have seemed exploitive, and maybe it was, but I loved the work. The people I healed were like pages in the greatest medical textbook ever written. They taught me the language of cells, of growth and heredity. They also taught me how rough a draft the human body was. In time, I would correct this.

Personal satisfaction aside, we also needed the money. The port was the heart of Danzig. Poland allowed us to exist entirely because of it. And yet, almost as soon as the free city came into existence, they started building a whole new port. By the time I was born, Gydnia was doing more sea-trade than us, but Poland still held tight to the rights they claimed from us.

My father would rant about it often. “Polack swine! Bloodsuckers!”

I’m sorry to admit that most of the people I treated in Danzig blur together for me. I remember them as torn spines, wet lungs, or novel genes. It’s a common vice among the medical profession. But there is one I remember very clearly.

It was noon when we they knocked on our door. By then my parents had started teaching me at home to fit more healing in14. My papa opened it to find the Wallachs standing in the hallway. Frau Wallach held a wan looking toddler in her arms.

“Your daughter, the healer. Can she help our Abhy?”

Herr Wallach was a clockmaker. I’d seen him and his wife around since I could remember. But besides glimpses on the street and the odd mindless greeting, they were strangers to my family. Mostly because they were screamingly Jewish.

Jews weren’t the most popular folk in Danzig. It was 1938: I’m not sure where they would’ve been back then. There was all the usual Christ-killing, usuraring, xenophobic nonsense. But on top of that, we were German. There were always people muttering about who exactly lost us the Great War…

Frau Wallach did not wait for my father to answer. “The doctors all say it’s Tay-Sachs.” The woman bit her lip, trying not to weep. “That they can’t do anything for her.”

Papa nodded slowly. “I see,” he said. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to discuss this with my wife.”

He and Mother retreated to the kitchen. Neither invited the Wallachs in.

I could hear them debating whether or not to let me heal the girl. I don’t doubt the Wallachs heard them, too. It is an odd trait of bigots to assume the people they hate are deaf. I like to think it made me uncomfortable even then, but that might just be my memory being charitable.

I do know that I lay sprawled on our couch, kicking my feet in the air as I examined the family with probably embarrassing intensity. I hate to imagine what it was like for that poor couple, being peered at by some ignorant gentile child while her parents decided their daughter’s fate.

It was Frau Wallach who broke the silence. “So you’re the Angel of Danzig?”

I don’t remember if that nickname came about on its own or from amateur marketing. “Uh huh. I mean, I guess so.”

Abhy Wallach twitched and jerked in her mother’s arms. She did that a lot.

“Honestly, we didn’t know if you were real,” Herr Wallach said. He was trying to sound embarrassed. Better than letting the pain bleed into his voice. “But then we saw Herr Gerber. He had new fingers!”

“Fingers are easy.”

My parents emerged from their deliberations. “Our daughter will do her best for you,” my mother said. “…Do you have money?”

Herr Wallach nodded sharply. “Yes, of course.”

My father smiled. “Of course, why did I even ask?”

It would be years before I understood the look that passed over the Wallachs’ faces.

They laid Abhy out on the sofa. She was a sweet looking little thing. Very blonde curls. I hope they were helpful to her.

Taking her hand in mine, I made her a part of myself. Not only did I have to mend months and years of neural damage, I had to instruct every cell in the poor girl’s body to change without making them give up and die. Today, it would’ve taken me fifteen minutes, and most of that would’ve been waiting for the kettle to boil. Back then, it took me hours, not that I was aware of time in that state.

Eventually, I found myself sprawled on the floor, hungry and exhausted. Frau Wallach was pulling me into a hug.

“God bless you, God bless you!”

Abhy was sitting up, looking around and blinking like a child risen from a very long sleep.

My mother soon separated us. “That’s enough of that,” she said, a little too quickly.

As she fussed over me, holding water to my mouth and checking my eyes for whatever reason, I watched the Wallachs. They were clutching their daughter like they’d just pulled her from the ocean.

They gave us a grandfather clock. It was a lovely piece of work, dark wood and gilded hands. Sometimes I wonder what happened to that clock. Sometimes I wonder what happened to the Wallachs.

Żywie sat with Lawrence in his study, gripping a tumbler of scotch like she was trying to shatter it. Normally, she could metabolize alcohol faster than it could reach her brain, but tonight she wanted to be numb.

Lawrence often invited the healer for after-dinner drinks, far more often than Melusine, or even Basilisk15.

When she’d been much younger, it had made her feel very important.

Lawrence had already drained his glass, and the one before that. “I think we ought to consider the November birthday party.”

Żywie sighed. One custom the New Human Institute borrowed from other Australian care homes was celebrating all a month’s birthdays with one party. As some of the children always grumbled, Lawrence was rich enough to throw a party for every student, but the headmaster liked the communal feel of it. Plus, somehow they had managed to acquire seven students whose birthdays fell in June, and that was just excessive.    

“Lawrence, after everything that’s happened, are you sure the children would even want a party?”

The old man raised his hand defensively. “I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous. Maybe even vulgar. But life must go on, Żywie. Our children are still living and growing. Basilisk wouldn’t want the children to deny themselves some joy on his count.” He closed his eyes. “Especially not Maelstrom.”

No, he wouldn’t.

Żywie nodded. “Maybe we do need this. Help the sun rise over this month.”

Lawrence went on. “I was considering barring Maelstrom from the party, given his recent behaviour, but with Basilisk’s passing…” The old man almost squirmed. “He’s been handling it so well.”

Żywie still wasn’t sure about that. When she looked at Maelstrom’s new eyes, she couldn’t tell if she saw acceptance, or repression hiding in the green. Still, she couldn’t argue the point tonight. “Yes, he has. I’m glad he can share the day with Myriad.”

“That reminds me. I was thinking. As important as maintaining normalcy for the children is, we also need to look to the future.” He took a deep breath. “Perhaps it’s time to talk to Melusine about having another child.”

Żywie suddenly found herself picturing a lilac triangle very hard. She sipped hard from her glass. “So soon after Basil?”  

Lawrence shook his head. “Not immediately, of course. But soon. If Basilisk’s passing can teach us one thing—”

Teach? Teach us what? He killed himself!

“…It’s that we must seize our opportunities while we have them.”  

Żywie tried to work out how to respond to that. She settled on a question. “Who would be the father?”

“I haven’t quite decided. It might be high time for us to see what she and Tiresias could produce.”

That image was bad enough, but Lawrence kept going:

“Of course, there’s also Linus. Or even Gwydion.”

“But—they’re so young.”

Lawrence tutted. “The age-gap between Linus and Melusine is less than ten years. And we’ve discussed this, Żywie. Those taboos don’t serve any purpose for your kind.” The man’s expression became solemn again. “I was also thinking about Panoply.”

Żywie felt something inside of her teeter, like a glass on the edge of the table. “Yes?”

“Could you, if you tried, remember that poor boy’s genetic code?”

Żywie nodded. She could have tapped Adam Sinclair’s genes out on Lawrence’s desk.

“Could you recreate it?”

“…Yes.”

“Well, perhaps then you could synthesize his… well, his seed.”

“…What would we do with it?”

“What better memorial to the boy than allowing him to contribute to the next generation? I’m sure Myriad would make an excellent mother for his child someday. I think we need to become more ambitious with our stirrupculture.”     

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we could be more creative with our couplings. And perhaps we’re too cautious? Fourteen, fifteen, yes, that’s a good baseline, but there are Amazon tribes where young women give birth at twelve without issue. I feel it’s important we think about how much our standards are still being influenced by cultural conditioning, you understand?”

The healer looked down into her whiskey glass, her reflection gazing up from the gold pool at the bottom. Żywie. Eliza.

“I think I do, Lawrence.” She got up from her chair. “I think I’ll head to bed now. Will you be alright here?”

Lawrence nodded. “Of course, my dear.”

Before she was out of the room, her teacher said one last thing:

“You’ve been very brave this last month. I don’t think I would have made it without you.”

She rested her hand on the doorframe. “Thank you, Lawrence.”

As soon as Eliza reached her bedroom, she locked the door behind her, dropped the needle on one of her old Billie Holiday records, buried her face in her pillow, and wept.

Bertrand Russell once said that hate was always foolish, and love was always wise. A beautiful sentiment, but one experience has not born out for me. Hate can only destroy, but unwise love, that can do far worse.

It can change you.

That was the night I realised what Lawrence’s love had done to us. Or maybe when I could finally admit it to myself. We weren’t his students anymore. I’m not even sure we were people. We were mules for DNA. Vessels for the power.

That was the night I realized I had to leave.


1. Poor boy. He might’ve attracted crowds even just sixty years ago.

2. Or at least it was glassless until I had the repulsion field installed. Meredith is a dear, but back then he designed with exclusively the impervious in mind. And people who didn’t need to sweep.

3. Old women were big into knitting when I was a girl. Funny how these things go in cycles.

4. This was before social media became self-aware and the Aegis had to kill it. Good riddance.

5. I technically have opening hours. Nobody has ever abided by them, nor will they ever.

6. I’ve never trusted those ocular implant set-ups, sue me.

7. May God have mercy on us both.

8. Alberto was brought up by Italian fascists. I’ve come to view their lot as being much like Lawrence: absolute believers in the filthy baseness of the world, bar a chosen few. Alberto, though, made no such exception. Not even for himself, I think.

9. I was right.

10. You readers might know it as the site of St. Dominic’s Fair for almost a thousand years. I still attend now and again. Once I had a needleless tattoo stall. Led to some interesting birthmarks in coming generations, I imagine.

11. The League of Nations was the predecessor to the United Nations, which in turn was collapsed during the Great Chaos. Geopolitics gets repetitive once you hit about a hundred.

12. And David, once.

13. Although, now that I think about it, I can see why how being asked to mend and heal every little thing could try the nerves…

14. Alright, that was probably exploitive.

15. For Alberto it would have just been a change of venue.

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