Chapter Five: Greetings, Fellow Humans!

 Allison was jerked awake by the same omnidirectional voice that had called everyone in for dinner. Her night-terrors meant she had never been much of a morning person, so she took some schadenfreude in the fact the PA-girl had clearly just been dragged out of bed herself. She also took a moment to appreciate that, thanks to Żywie1, she now knew what schadenfreude meant. German was such a versatile tongue.

The other children in her dorm were rising with widely varying degrees of enthusiasm. On top of the nightstand next to Allison’s hammock was a set of clean clothes, the expected hygiene supplies, and a bag containing a few notebooks and some stationary. She was only supplied with shorts. Her mother would have been appalled.

There was also a small stuffed bear, but that was there the night before. The Institute provided plushies for children young enough to still derive comfort from them. Allison had tried cuddling hers, but it could never truly replace Mr. Wuzzler back at home2.

The den-mother marched the children towards the shower block, carrying their kits. Allison could tell from her song that she was not a demi-human. Or new human, she supposed she should think now. Or was it New Human? She wasn’t firm on the capitalization yet. Although it wasn’t as if anyone would notice what she said in her own head. Hopefully.

Allison ran up to Mabel, who was still rubbing sleep from her eyes. “So, what do you do all day, here?”

“What?” she answered blearily.

She considered how best to put it. “I know this place is a school, but how much of a school is it really?”

This time Mabel seemed to understand the question. “We still have English and Maths and stuff. They did give you the timetable, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Then look at that, please. I can make it talk if you want.”

“Okay, okay, just asking.”  She decided to wait until they showered before trying to extract any more information out of Mabel.

Between the heat, Melusine, and Maelstrom, you could always count on hot water at the New Human Institute. Not that anyone sane would want a hot shower in that weather, of course. Allison was pleased to find that her hair had visibly grown since Żywie’s ministrations. The dark spots under her eyes had faded, too.

Breakfast was nice. More sedate than dinner, but still loud enough that something resembling a private conversation could be held. Before everyone tucked in, Lawrence relayed the kind of platitudes that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in any morning assembly, albeit with some vague allusions to evolution and the casual defiance of all known laws of physics thrown in.

Allison arrived a few minutes late. If anyone cared, they didn’t voice it. Arnold was wrapped up in a debate with Jumpcut over something or other, Lawrence was discussing lesson plans with Basilisk and Żywie, Melusine wasn’t there yet, and even if Tiresias were an option, he was engrossed in his paper, so she decided to sit with Mabel and Maelstrom, who were animatedly discussing future performances of the Watercolours.

“What do you think of this–Oh, hi, Allison. Budge over Maelstrom. So, I was thinking, since we haven’t done a proper tragedy yet–”

“You’ve done plenty from our end,” interrupted a teenage girl to Mabel’s left.

“Shut up, Stratogale! Anyway, we should do the sinking of the SS Koombana on the river! Imagine the drama, the spectacle, the raw emotion!” She was practically swooning at the prospect.

“Sounds neat,” opined Allison, scooping scrambled eggs onto her toast.

“Sounds gaudy,” countered Stratogale.

“Do you do stuff like last night a lot?” asked Allison.

Stratogale laughed scornfully. “Too much.”

“Lawrence likes them,” said Maelstrom, a little weakly.

“He’s too nice.”

“Or he just has refined enough tastes to appreciate our adaptation of the classic Men’s Adventure3 feature: ‘Nailed to a Killer Shark’4.”

Mabel was very proud of that one. It had been one of their earliest stagings, back when they still called themselves Blue Ultramarine Productions. Some detractors complained that being crucified on a great white would actually make it harder for it to devour you, but Mabel had held firm that what mattered was the hero’s emotions and pathos, rather than how much actual peril he was in. Or as a then six year old Phantasmagoria had put it, “Well, he doesn’t know that.”

“Why do you even need Mealy for this? We all know you can animate water fine without–” She looked queasy. “I’ve got to go.” She ran off in search of a bathroom.

The girls both looked at Maelstrom. He looked up from his eggs. “What?” he asked.

They looked at him harder. “…No, that wasn’t me! And she has a point, I mean, you’re kind of, um, artistically limited working with me. There always has to be water. Don’t you get bored of sea-monsters and mermaids and stuff?”

Mabel took his hand. “What would be the point without you? Besides, if I dumped you from the act, I’d be stuck calling myself Colour. What kind of name for an artist is that?”

“Didn’t she have a number one hit with ‘Love your Love5’ back in ‘59?” said Melusine.

Maelstrom brightened immediately. His mother squeezed in between the children. “So what are we talking about?”

Mabel’s expression darkened. “Stratogale was making fun of Maelstrom.”

“Was she now?” Melusine replied, a little too evenly.

Maelstrom put a hand on his mother’s arm. “It’s fine, really.”

“If you say so, droplet. Here, let me help you with that…” She started trying to cut up Maelstrom’s toast, to the obvious amusement of the other students.

“Mum!” He tried to scrunch up into as perfect a ball as possible without actually reverting to a liquid state. Lawrence gave Melusine a disapproving look. Allison couldn’t blame him. “I can cut my own food.”

“I’m just being helpful.”

“Would you do that for the other children, Melusine?” asked Tiresias, from across the table.

She put down her son’s cutlery, lips pursed. “So, what have we got to look forward to from the Watercolours?” she asked, a little too cheerily.

“We’re not sure,” said Malestrom, voice muffled a little by his legs.

I’m sure,” insisted Mabel.

He shrugged. “I’m worried we’ve reached the limits of what we can do with the medium.”

“Oh, don’t say that. Without you two, what would we do for entertainment around here?”

“Movies?” offered Allison. Some of the students sitting near them felt a pang of desperate hope.

Melusine wrinkled her nose. “Bah! Movies, anyone can make those.”

“It would be easier to come up with new acts if some of the other kids would chip in. Imagine if we had Reverb doing sound effects!”

“Reverb?” Allison whispered to Maelstrom.

“She does the announcements,” Maelstrom whispered back.

“Have you asked?” Melusine asked Mabel.

“Of course we have.”

Allison decided to interject. “I could copy her powers if you wanted.”

Mabel’s eyes glimmered with possibility. Melusine and Maelstrom’s eyes also glimmered, but it would have been more noteworthy if they didn’t. “You could, couldn’t you?”

“Yeah. I can only do one at a time. I think.”

Maelstrom looked uneasy. “Isn’t using someone’s powers without permission, I don’t know, mean? Unethical?”

“It’s not like I’d be taking anything from her.”

“Do you think you could get Arnold to work with us? The staging possibilities alone!”

Allison grinned. “I think so, if not, ”—she wriggled her fingers, Arnold’s green flames dancing beneath her skin—“we can work around that.”

His light and their laughter managed to catch Arnold’s attention. “What are you guys laughing about?” he called out from the other end of the table.

He was answered with more laughter.

“Come on, tell me!”

Whether or not the scrambled eggs Allison teleported into his hair constituted an explanation is a matter best left to philosophers, but it certainly didn’t satisfy him.

All in all, Lawrence was fairly forgiving of the resulting food fight. “First day jitters,” he said, chuckling. “Good to see that you didn’t leave your natural spontaneity at McClare. Still, try to temper it in future.”

Melusine and Maelstrom were quite the help cleaning up. As the former put it, a lot of things were mostly water when you came down to it.

The rest of the morning wasn’t quite as fun. Then again, Allison and school never got along well. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy learning, it was just that the Australian education system unfairly pandered to children who did so via the grossly inefficient method of watching and listening. It was like being forced to chew the same mouthful of food for a whole day. In spite of the earnestness and enthusiasm of its teachers, class time at the New Human Institute wasn’t much better. However, McClare had taught her that boredom came in many varieties, and this one was almost meditative.

Maths was by far the most tedious, not surprising given Mr. Kinsey’s profession as an accountant. It didn’t help that, like most maths workbooks, the ones used at the New Human Institute offered glimpses of a terrifying parallel universe6 where professional farmers couldn’t figure out how much fencing materials to buy without the help of small children.

Basilisk, bless his heart, did his best to inspire his under-tens on the subject. “Maths is like magic, except everyone can do it,” he insisted, with immensely dramatic hand gestures.

Being children who all regularly performed feats that less self conscious eras would call witchcraft7, this did not do much to impress them. As Mabel put it, magic that anyone could do was little better than a set of matches.

English was a little more engaging. Allison was surprised to find out that was mostly left up to  Żywie. She supposed it made some sense to assign her there rather than her actual area of expertise; there probably wasn’t yet a language on Earth with words for half of what Żywie knew about human biology. Not even German.

The healer presided over her class less like an English teacher, and more like the matron of a longstanding bookclub. Years of continual contact had worn away the expected distance between student and teacher at the New Human Institute.

“What I find most interesting comparing the Odyssey and the Aeneid is how each handles the character of Odysseus, or Ulysses if you prefer.”

Allison always found stories odd. They lived on the border between knowledge and memory. When she read a new book, she was often gripped by a sensation she imagined was much like how grownups felt when they reread something from their childhood. Something mostly forgotten, but still there.

That of course depended on her having met someone who’d read whatever she was reading. When she hadn’t, she almost understood what it was like to be any other person. She found she preferred the sourceless nostalgia, thank you very much.

“Both versions are essentially the same person: a wily trickster with a regrettable tendency to leave his comrades in the lurch. And yet one work lauds him, and the other heaps nothing but scorn on him, for all the same reasons. Of course—”

“Actually,” said Maelstrom, cheerfully. “Some Romans did like Ulysses. Caesar’s family liked to say they were descended from him.”

“Yes, very good, Maelstrom. As I was saying, the Aeneid was written by the losers. At least, the Romans assumed they were the losers, but everybody likes to think they’re secret Trojans. Mark my words, little ones, in a couple hundred years, they’ll be calling Captain Cook Brutus. In my village…”

Żywie rambled on like that for some time. Sometimes, it was even relevant to the sad aftermath of Troy. Mabel occasionally made the text on the blackboard dance, disordering a fiendishly complex genealogy of basically everyone in Homeric Greece, which Żywie in turn pretended not to notice. Allison was unsure if this was to avoid making a scene, or because Żywie found it amusing, but she suspected the latter. Meanwhile, Arnold was already turning into an inveterate note-passer.

It was during English that Allison heard it. It was a song. At least, she assumed it was a song, although its only meaningful similarity to any song she’d heard before was its peculiar transcendence of actual sound.

Music was nothing exclusive to human beings. Even the smallest, dumbest insects could boast at least a few notes. This meant that for Allison, silence was something that happened to other people. The songs of animals didn’t do much for her though. It wasn’t because they were less complex than a person’s, but that they had vastly different artistic priorities. You simply couldn’t describe the minds and talents of a human being and a bobtail lizard with the same musical language. And yet Allison would have felt more kinship with the lizard than whatever was creating this song.

It was like God, or whoever He had writing people’s songs, was playing a sick joke on her. The song built up expectation, only to break it and destroy whatever harmony it might have created. It changed and twisted as soon as she paid it any attention. It defied every idea she had of what a song was. And it hurt.

She covered her ears instinctively, but she knew it wouldn’t help. She always knew on some level that she would always be able to hear the songs, even if her eardrums burst. Until she heard this particular song, that had always been a comfort.

“Allison, is everything alright?”

She unscrewed her eyes to find Żywie standing over her desk. Everyone was staring at her.

“You were sort of… screamy,” said Arnold.  

There was no room in her for embarrassment. Not even for the fact she was weeping. “There’s-this-sound.

Żywie frowned. “Let me take a look.” She went to take Allison’s hand, when she heard a car pull up outside.

Visitors to the Institute were novel enough that the class all got up to huddle around the window, aside from Arnold, who was awkwardly trying to comfort Allison. Their disappointment when they caught sight of the Holden FX parked out front was clear.

Żywie stopped, looking out the window. Anger flashed across her face, tempered by an odd kind of relief. “Don’t fret, little one, I think I know what’s the matter. Just focus on my song, there’s a good girl.” She had no idea if that would actually help, but it felt like good advice.

It was, although Allison only took half of it. Beautiful as Żywie’s song was, the piano bits still bothered her. She instead latched onto Arnold’s. It was the first superhuman leitmotif she ever heard, although she hadn’t recognised it for what it was at the time. It was something she had years of familiarity with. Its strangeness was of a more wholesome species than what she was trying to block out.

Reverb’s voice filled the classroom. “Would Arnold Barnes please go wait for the Physician in his office.” She sounded shakier than they’d heard her before, not that either Arnold or Allison had much of a baseline to go on.

Everyone looked at Arnold, clear pity in their eyes. Or in Allison’s case, tears. “What?”

Żywie slumped into her chair. “It’s alright, Arnold. Just a checkup.”

“But you did your magic thing yesterday!” he whined.

She laughed without humour. “Ah, bureaucracy! Go along with it and you can have a coke with dinner.”

When Arnold left the room, and everyone was back in their seats, Żywie attempted to press on with some readings from the Odyssey, specifically the parts detailing Circe’s unique hospitality, but her students didn’t settle easily.

Allison listened intently, though. It was like her mum reading a bedtime story. And as conflicted as that made her feel, it was still better listening than the alternative.

Allison ran into Arnold on the stairs when it came time for her turn. He looked shaken. In in his hand was an unwrapped but clearly unlicked lollipop.

“How was it?” she asked, her voice wavering between sympathy and fear.

In lieu of an answer, he held out the lollipop. “Try this.”

She did. It tasted the way mildewy dishcloths smelt.

“Like that.” He continued on down the stairs and outside, or as he thought of it, further away from the Physician.

He looked normal when Allison walked into his office. Tallish, rail thin, well dressed without over doing it, blond hair fading to grey; not terribly handsome, maybe even a touch jaundiced, but nothing you’d demand hidden from the eyes of small children and pregnant women. If he hadn’t been at the centre of that awful noise, Allison wouldn’t have thought anything of him.

Then he moved. That spoiled the illusion a little.

“Miss Kinsey, I presume?”

Allison made a vaguely affirmative noise. She couldn’t place his accent. She might have guessed South African, but an actual Afrikaner most certainly wouldn’t have. It was unlikely anyone would’ve willing claimed it as their own8.

He glided across the office, wrapping his fingers around Allison’s left hand and jerking it up and down. They bent normally, but Alison couldn’t quite feel any of his knuckles. She had fortunately grown somewhat accustomed to the Physician’s song. It was still acutely unpleasant, but she was just managing to cope. “Hello, Mr…”

“John Smith.” He offered up the name cheerfully and without hesitation.

Silence.

“…We’re not buying that, are we?” He chortled. It sounded prerecorded, somehow. Like the laugh track from an American sitcom9. Aside from that, he seemed to experience none of the subtle bodily convulsions associated with laughter.  “Look at it this way, names are meant to help us identify a person, correct?”

She nodded, as though that needed clarifying.

“Well, you can identify me by the fact I am the only one in the room without one. If that doesn’t satisfy you, just call me the Physician. Everyone else does.”

She didn’t respond. She was too distracted by the Physician’s song. Now that its source was right in front of her, she was starting to unravel the underlying musical structure… Sort of. It conveyed many of the same themes as most songs—locomotion,  spacial awareness, deductive reasoning, ukulele proficiency—but employed a vastly different set of motifs and structures to do so. It was like looking at someone’s portrait, only to discover on closer examination that it was composed entirely of baby teeth.

“Right, let’s get started.” He beckoned Allison to lie down on the examination bed in the corner of the room. Not seeing any other option, she obeyed. “First off, heart rate.” He sounded more like he was reminding himself than informing her. He pulled a stethoscope out from under his jacket, briefly laying the diaphragm on her left breast before removing it again. “Ah, all fine.”

Allison knew enough about medicine to know that wasn’t how it was done. She also realised that she couldn’t tell how old the Physician was. Songs usually helped a great deal with that, but not this one. She had assumed from the hair that he was somewhere around Lawrence’s age, but his skin was completely smooth. He didn’t even look like he had pores.

He went through the motions of medicine for a while. And that’s what it plainly was: going through the motions. It was like when she and Arnold used to play doctors and nurses10. He tapped Allison’s knee with a reflex hammer, a little too hard; inserted a tongue depressor in her mouth, without bothering to look inside it, which did at least teach her that the Physician tasted strongly of crushed ants; he even ordered her to turn and cough for whatever reason.

Through none of it did he show concern, or better understanding of Allison’s physical health. If anything, he seemed bored, although he never let the broad smile he had been wearing since the beginning of the “check-up” waver. Maybe he was hoping if he kept it up as much as possible, it would eventually seem appropriate.

“Now,” he said, packing up what Allison couldn’t help but think of as his toys into a black bag11“On with the important stuff.” He moved over to a small table, where a set of odd looking metal instruments were laid out. In the middle of them was what resembled a large, fanciful silver sculpture of a starfish, with a large ruby embedded in its body. The Physician placed an index figure on the jewel, which glowed in response. “I know this looks a little funny, but just think of it as a tape recorder. Do you mind terribly if I test the playback?”

Honestly, Allison was a little relieved the Physician seemed interested in something. She had begun to wonder if this was all a practical joke being played on her by a student with shapeshifting powers; and really substandard ones at that. “Sure,” she said, sitting up on the bed.

The Physician took a deep breath and sung:

“Click go the shears boys, click, click, click,
Wide is his blow and his hands move quick,
       The ringer looks around and is beaten by a blow,
      And curses the old snagger with the blue-bellied Joe!12

Allison thought it sounded disturbingly like the rendition from a record her mother used to play for her. The starfish then played back the Physician’s singing with perfect fidelity, which she found genuinely impressive.

“Now, the translation!”

The room was filled with what sounded like a newborn baby being fought over by hungry gargoyles. If not for the Physician’s song, it would easily have won the title of the worst thing Allison had ever heard. And yet she thought she could detect notes of nostalgia in that howling.

When the starfish went silent again, and Allison had uncurled from her fetal position on the bed, she found the Physician facing her again, face devoid of any apparent emotion. Apparently he didn’t need to keep his finger on the jewel.

“Anomalous human study #128, February the 20th, 1965. Patient is—” he sniffed, “—prepubertal female, aged approximately one hundred and two months. Patient was referred to me by Herbert Lawrence as a ‘psychomimetic’.”

“That means ability copying,” clarified Allison. “Oh, sorry. Did I mess up the tape?”

The Physician’s grin returned, wider than ever. His lips were almost stretched thin. “Talk as much as you want. The recorder knows what to exclude.”

“How does it know that?”

“The same way I hope you know not to copy down the entire conversation when you’re taking down a message on the phone.”

She decided not to press the matter.

“Previous research indicates that Patient’s extranormal ability manifests as a form of auditory synesthesia, allowing her to perceive talent and skill as musical forms, and incorporate them into herself. Limited empathic capabilities. Anecdotal evidence suggests this is temporary in the case of superhuman ability. Will begin testing—”

“Did Lawrence tell you all that?” asked Allison.

“No, McClare forwarded me your file after he decided to have you.” Allison somehow doubted Lawrence would have phrased it that way. She hoped not, at least.

“Why’d they do that?” she asked warily.

“I’ve done some research for the DDHA. They’d be lost without me,” he said, with some pride. “Well, even more so.”

For the entire check-up, Allison had felt a little guilty. Surely, she thought, it was wrong of her to dislike a man just because he was unlucky enough to be born a little physically and very musically deformed. She was glad to suddenly have a more valid reason.

“I must say, if Lawrence hadn’t snatched you up, we probably would have met before long anyway. Your ability sounds fascinating. I’m surprised nobody in the department recommended you to him before the boy you came here with did.”

“Arnold.”

“Yes, him. I will admit, I’d never met an exclusively external teleporter before him. Now, as soon as I heard about you, I knew I had to come up with something special.” He spoke like a grandparent trying to drum up anticipation for a homemade birthday present, not realising disappointment was inevitable.

He reached for another instrument, allowing Allison to notice that his arm was about an inch too long for comfort. It was a stout copper tube, with a black knob on its side, and topped with a milky white, faceted dome.

“Tell me,” said the Physician, cooly. “Have you ever read a book called Slan?”

“No.”

“Probably for the best. Has anyone you’ve met ever read it?”

Her eyes narrowed in concentration. “…No.” She was pleasantly surprised.

By some dark and terrible magic, the Physician’s grin managed to tighten further. He turned the knob on his device.

There was a new song. Baseline through and through, but still unfamiliar.

“If you would be so kind, Miss Kinsey, please recite the first line of A.E van Vogt’s Slan.”

“…His mother’s hand felt cold, clutching his.”

The Physician practically shook with giddiness. “Oh, how I love that opening. It’s not quite Dawn Treader, but it’s close.”

“Um, thank you.”

“And Mrs. Joan Newark of Exmouth’s favourite colour was…?”

“…Pass.13

“Hmm. Tell me, if we were pretending the Mrs. Newark machine was an actual person, could you tell me how she’s feeling right now?”

She looked at the machine. “Not happy.”

“You win some, you lose some.” He turned the knob again, silencing Mrs. Newark’s song. “Could you show me one of your classmates’ powers? Doesn’t matter which, I am fairly familiar with all of them. ”

“Okay.”

Immediately, a party of tiny, airborne cowboys rode through the space between Allison and the Physician, valiantly attempting to drive their cattle across a raging river, all formed from fire.

“I commend your taste, Miss Kinsey. Given Eliza’s unfortunate tactile limitations, I would have picked Brian, too.”

“Brian? Eliza?”

“Ah, my apologies. You would have had them introduced to you as Snapdragon and Żywie.”

“Oh.”

It was an uncanny feeling, finding out what she supposed was Żywie’s old human name. It was like hearing your grade one teacher be referred to by their first name. Most likely because it was exactly like that.  

“I respect Lawrence’s sentiment, but the whole thing just feels like Halloween dressing up. Do you have Halloween down here? No? Shame, the Americans do it marvelously. I’d go back every year if I could manage it. But no, I just have to content myself with making the trees on my property change colour the right time of year…”

Allison wondered if the starfish had the same definition of relevant as the Physician.

Eventually, he resumed what Allison thought of as his serious business mode. He replaced the Mrs. Newark machine, picking what looked like a handheld mirror mated with an impossibly flat, double sided television screen.  “Examining Patient for Socii.”

“Socii?”

Allison should have known better than to summon the Grin back into our world. “You know, I do appreciate it when you children try to engage with me a bit. A lot of you just sit stock still and let me do whatever, like the boy before you.”

“Arnold.”

“Yes. Anyway, Socii are a kind of metaphysical component many superhumans possess. I suppose you could call it a visual analogue to your songs. Well, let’s take a look under the hood.”

He pushed a button on the mirror’s handle. The screen flickered to life. Allison gasped.

Her face was covered in glowing, intricate patterns, like the tattoos a tribe of computers might come up with. Not only that, they looked as though they were alive. Shades of red and green flowed into and interfaced with each other like naturally occurring clockwork. When she held her hands up to the mirror, they were similarly patterned. She felt her face. “Are these real?”

“…Patient is confirmed as Vincio. Yes, yes they are. Well, they’re not exactly here. They’re sort of in this tiny little dimension sandwiched between length and breadth, I think. They can tell you a great deal about a person’s powers, but I haven’t quite found the Rosetta Stone yet. Not all of you have Socii, mind you. The last boy didn’t, for instance. Neither do Alberto and Françoise.”

“Żywie?”

“She has one. Some supers can even see Socii. Like Alberto, oddly enough.”

“He said he smelt new humans.”

“He’s a liar. I think he’s hoping someone will start calling him the Witchsmeller. Much catchier than Tiresias. Hmm, judging by the complexity of these glyphs, you’ve had yours since just about birth, maybe prior. Rare, that.” She was almost certain the Grin had literally reached the Physician’s ears. “Tell me, Miss Kinsey, what do you dream about?”

She stared at her knees for a long while.

The Physician snapped his fingers in her face. “Come on, Miss Kinsey, don’t go all Barnes on me.”

Now he remembers, she thought. “It’s not a dream. Not really. It’s more like, I don’t know, a thought I get when it’s dark. A feeling I can’t make go away.”

“Oh?”

“It’s like the darkness isn’t just what’s left when the light goes. It’s heavy, like water. I feel like I can barely move, and everything’s so tight, and I need to get out into the light, but that’s even scarier. And if I get out of the dark, I’ll hurt someone real bad. Someone who’s the whole world. Someone I love.” She hugged her legs.

He was still grinning. Allison wondered if it hurt. She wondered if anything hurt the Physician.

“Patient describes symptoms dissimilar to Asteria presentation. Will require further study.”

After that, the Physician had many questions. Did her maternal ancestors tend more towards endogamy or exogamy? How young was the typical onset of what he called the cycle of blood in her father’s family. Could she remember her great-grandparents’ blood types? Was she an only child because of parental choice, or difficulty with further conceptions? Was she able to assume the powers of every student at the New Human Institute, or did some give her trouble? Could she copy the Physician himself?

Her inability to answer most of these questions clearly frustrated the Physician, which mainly meant that his lips were no longer in danger of tearing themselves apart. “I think we’re just about done here, Miss Kinsey. Before we finish, though, has Eliza looked you over yet?”

“Yeah.”

The Physician whipped out what could have been an overgrown, mechanical mosquito. Before Allison could react, he stabbed it into her right arm, drawing a thin beaker’s worth of blood.

“Gah!”

He pulled the contraption out of her, leaving no incision mark.“Patient was subjected to biological readjustment prior to sample extraction. I do wish Lawrence would hold his horses. Skews the data. Still, a sample’s a sample. Goodbye, Miss Kinsey.” He fished a purple lollipop out of his front pocket. “Here, take this, for being a good girl.”

Allison was backing away towards the door, rubbing her arm in spite of the lack of physical pain. “No, thanks,” she said, voice quivering.

“You have to take it, Miss Kinsey. That’s how check-ups work.”

She cautiously snatched it from his hand. If it bothered him, it didn’t show. He just kept smiling.

Before she left the room, Allison took one last look at the Physician. He had stopped moving. There was no need to do so at this moment.

“Physician?”

“Yes?”

“Are you a demi-human?”

He released more of that canned laughter. “Miss Kinsey, I can assure you I am nothing of the sort.”

She believed him.


1. She had actually picked the word up from Eduard Keller, but you will forgive her for forgetting.

2. Studies have shown that ducklings and baby monkeys have a remarkable ability to transfer their love to artificial substitutes. Allison proved that human beings are at least better than ducklings or baby monkeys.

3. Basilisk never made the mistake of letting Mabel get her hands on a copy of Men’s Adventure again.

4. Based on a true story.

5. She was actually thinking of “Loving Being Loved by Your Love. Love.”

6. Sadly, parallel universes as a whole were not yet part of most primary school curriculums in 1965.

7. Very few superhuman abilities are considered witchcraft under its thaumaturgical definition.

8. Except possibly a Welshman.

9. In many civilizations, canned laughter is considered a form of necromancy, due to it co-opting the amusement of the long dead.

10. Arnold never understood why his mother got so upset when she heard he was playing doctors and nurses. Allison did, and never told him.

11. Sold separately.

12. “Click Go the Shears”, traditional.

13. The answer was blue.

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