The workmen were quick to move the coal heaters, drinks, and refreshments down to what people quickly started calling the boathouse. Nobody wanted to tell their grandchildren that after riding in watercraft spawned from the earth itself and commanding the elements with borrowed divinity, they chose to sip champagne under a tent instead of the living cathedral created through sheer force of will. And of course, everyone was eager to congratulate its architect.
Myriad had basked in the attention at first. It was like her birthday, first holy communion, and confirmation had all come at once. For one halcyon moment, she and Maelstrom had bridged the gap between human and superhuman, and shown some of the most influential men in the country that their kind weren’t all fiends like Redcap1 or victims of their own powers like Isabelle Thope. Timothy Valour had even congratulated them, in the first unabashed display of enthusiasm the children had witnessed from the man, which was like a match in a blizzard compared to Lawrence’s reaction.
Her patience had started to thin when she realised, with mounting horror, that a grown up party was hitting full swing in her wooden playground. She felt much like a museum curator watching children climb all over the sculptures. And unlike the parties her parents had occasionally thrown back home, there was little chance of Myriad being able to steal away over to Elsewhere’s place. At least it would be a hell of a walk.
There was Maelstrom, but he was enjoying the party a great deal more than his friend. He was being approved of, something he always hungered for. To prolong this state of affairs, he had set up in a corner taking requests for ice sculptures. Myriad had thought about joining him, but she didn’t want to spoil his mood. That, and it reminded her too much of a clown making balloon animals.
“Make the Crimson Comet!” demanded the Governor-General.
Maelstrom grinned. That was one was easy; his mother had shown him pictures. “One wing or both?”
Richard Casey had only been appointed Governor-General that August, but this day had confirmed the excellence of the timing for him. “Are you mad, boy? One wing, clearly!”
The boy’s eyes shone. A silent flurry of snowflakes blew in through the entrance, carried by no perceptible breeze, like a blizzard holding its breath. They coalesced next to the Governor-General in the shape of a costumed, extravagantly muscled figure, a single angelic wing protruding from his left shoulder blade. His expression was solemn, maybe even morose, mostly because that’s how he looked in most of the photos Maelstrom had seen.
“My word,” said Casey, squinting at the statue’s wing, the corner of his moustache twitching in thought. “You can make out every feather.”
“Our Maelstrom’s an artist, Your Excellency,” boomed Lawrence, watching approvingly from the sidelines. “He’s not going to skimp on any details.”
Maelstrom beamed. Any other time, the praise might have caused him performance anxiety, but he was still riding high on a sense of accomplishment. “It’s not like carving. I just imagine what I want the the ice to look like, and… it does.”
“And how did you know what we wanted with the wands?”
“Just guessing, mainly. I did it for a friend once, a long time ago. She’d just come to the school and was kinda scared of her powers. So I let her use mine instead.”
If Maelstrom was talking about who Myriad thought he was, she found it very difficult to imagine. Mabel feared neither man, nor God, nor Lawrence, so why would she be scared of her own powers?
Maybe he was projecting, she mused, frowning as the psychological concept suddenly popped into her thoughts. That was the problem with her power. Sometimes, she didn’t know what she knew until the knowledge was suddenly relevant.
While Myriad’s creation outwardly resembled a church, its interior was substantially wilder. Dying winter sunlight filtered in through the great, thin leaves that covered the largest gaps in the trunks and branches that formed the walls of the place, supplementing the comforting glow of the heaters. The whole space was broken up by outgrowths that suspiciously resembled playground equipment. She had even managed to work in a decent staircase and loft, with a slide winding down from it. Myriad wasn’t sure if it was frictionless enough, and she hadn’t had the opportunity to test it. A couple of men were discussing the possibility of renovating the structure into a conference room.
“Missing the point,” she grumbled under her breath. How would you even wire the place up?
She passed Tiresias, who had been cornered by Agent Preston. His strong Midwestern accent was filled with the doubtless confidence Americans are so often blessed with. “You know, Mr. Moretti, the intelligence community could use a man like you. The applications of your talents in the Vietnamese conflict alone…” The spook smiled. “Well, I shouldn’t have to tell you that.”
The psychic swirled his champagne in its delicate glass. “Don’t you have Pendergast for interrogations?”
“We do,” Preston admitted. “But Colonel Pendergast’s methods are best employed on…” He searched for a tactful way of putting it.
“The predeceased?” offered Tiresias.
“Well, yes. An operative with the power to read living minds would be invaluable. And then there’s your precognitive abilities—”
Tiresias sighed. He had hoped Lawrence would have the sense to not go telling people about that.
“—As hard as I’m sure it would be leaving your students behind, I think it’s fair to say the US richly compensates its paranormal operatives.”
“Ah.” The prospect of not having to deal with children all day for the rest of his life appealed, and he could see clearly that Agent Preston was being truthful. And maybe it would be better than the last time a government had made use of him. He managed to convince himself for a moment that he was about to take the American up on his offer: an old trick of his for exploring the possible outcomes of a decision. He saw futures rich with wine, women and song; power and prestige… along with bamboo shoots under his fingernails. “I’ll think about it.” Best stay the course, he decided.
Leaving the telepath to his deliberations and Agent Preston’s continued pushing, Myriad weaved around the many examples of Maelstrom’s sculptory. He’d first demonstrated that aspect of his power using subjects he knew well. Basilisk and Żywie sat over one of their games of chess. With the absolute clarity of the ice, the only way you could determine who was winning was which way the pieces faced—or maybe the finely crafted look of exasperation on Żywie’s face. Off to the side of them was a likeness of Melusine so exact, you could be forgiven for thinking she was gatecrashing.
Moving on, one could find recreations of MPs’ grandchildren, alongside decidedly non-super heroes like Captain Cook and Don Bradman2; interspersed by rogues such as Pemulwuy and Ned Kelly—Australia’s first and still most infamous supervillain.
Myriad was admiring the texture of Blinky Bill’s frost wrought fur when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She looked up to find a sandy haired, hungry looking, grey suited young man with a press badge pinned to his front pocket, a No.2 pencil as sharp as anything that cuts hovering anxiously over his notepad. Myriad smiled immediately when she saw the other young man bringing up the rear, camera poised at the ready. She was representing her race, after all. And, if it ever came down to that, she had learned several new ways of living on a criminally small amount of money, like how to work virtually anything into an omelette.
“Comment for The Australian, young lady?”
No matter what they might tell you in journalism school, it is never advisable to open an interview by addressing a child as “young lady”3. Still, Myriad couldn’t hold it against the reporter. He was so nervous his song was skipping beats. He had probably only gotten the assignment because everyone comfortable with the heightened risk of exploding was already reporting from Vietnam, dodging bullets and searching for Walkleys.
“Sure,” she answered amiably. “You got questions for me?”
The reporter had them in great abundance. Lawrence had taken care to coach both his students in the event of such a barrage of questioning. He may not have been much help in devising a display of extranormal abilities, but journalism was well within his comprehension.
“What’s it like having powers?”
Myriad was tempted to ask the reporter what it was like being a human being, or a man, but instead stuck with Lawrence’s stock answer. “A real blessing. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
For his part, the reporter wasn’t sure he had ever heard a child that small call anything besides a sneeze a blessing. Still, he pressed on. “And what’s it like at this school of yours? Do you prefer being with your own kind? Do you miss being with regular children?”
Myriad bit her lip thoughtfully. She didn’t have to think about the answer, not really, but she thought it might soften the blow. “Not much,” she said, quite truthfully. Myriad had gotten along well enough with other children. Most of her classmates had liked her and she had nothing against them, but aside from her parents, the only person she’d really missed at McClare was Elsewhere. “It’s nice being with kids who’re the same kind of different as me.”
The reporter nodded carefully, scratching away at his pad. “Your teacher called you ‘Myriad’,” he said, smiling in a poor substitute for wryness. Or maybe it was supposed to be warmth. “I can’t imagine that’s your Christian name.”
“It isn’t. Lawrence likes to give us new names. Says the ones your parents give you don’t tell people much about you, except where your family might be from, I guess.”
The reporter laughed. After a few seconds spent trying to figure out if that was the right move or not, he spoke, “I guess Bob Jenkins doesn’t tell you much about me, does it? Not sure if it would work as well for us mere mortals, if I’m being honest. I mean, you’re not likely to stop being a super, are ya? Me, if this reporting thing doesn’t work out, would I have to stop calling myself…” He tried to think of a suitable moniker.
“Veritas?” Myriad offered. “It means truth.”
Bob had many more questions, ranging from the meaningful to the frivolous. Daily life at the Institute, the specifics of Myriad’s power, the inevitable tests of her knowledge, whether she envied any of her peers’ abilities (“They’re mine, too,” she told him), all peppered with some ill-considered jokes about her and Maelstrom making a cute couple which she charitably ignored.
Then he threw her a hardball. “How did you get to be at the Institute, anyway?”
As if you don’t already know. She answered anyway, “Lawrence took me from one of the asylums. McClare. It’s in Western Australia.”
Bob gave her a look of professional sympathy. “And do you ever feel angry at normal people for putting you there?” He then winced, as though he thought he might be reduced to a pillar of salt where he stood. He was in no such danger, of course. Even back at the Institute, Myriad could’ve at best smothered him in the stuff.
Myriad’s fingers hurt. She wanted to tell him, “Yes, all the time, forever,” but she knew how bad of an idea that was. Lawrence had been very clear: “You can’t ever—not even for a moment—let them think you bear a grudge.”
Very carefully, she recited, “I understand why they thought they had to.”
With some solemnity, Bob made one final note, before saying, “Thank you, Myriad. Do you think your little friend would mind speaking to us?”
Myriad looked back towards Maelstrom. The boy was working on a sculpture of Timothy Valour in his glory days4, complete with iconic aviator jacket, bomber hat, and goggles, while his current self looked on bashfully. She thought she understood why Basilisk had reacted so badly to her contradiction. “I think he’d like that,” she said.
Bob and his silent photographer were about to reassimilated into the crowd when Myriad remembered something. She rushed forwards and grabbed the reporter by the arm. “Are you going to use my picture in the article?”
Bob looked down at her, a little nonplussed. “…I can’t see why we wouldn’t. Not really up to me, though, or Sam.” He quirked his head towards the photographer, who nodded in confirmation.
“Well, if you do—”
“We’ll make sure to use the one of your good side, got it.”
Myriad frowned like Death. “If you do have a picture of me, I want you to write that I love my mum and dad very much. I’d tell you their names, but I’m not sure they would like that. They might not want more people knowing their daughter’s a—”
Bob’s marginal experience with children was more than enough to tell him that the girl was on the brink of tears. He put his hand on hers. “Me and Sam will make sure of it, don’t worry. Good of you to be thinking of them. I’m sure they’ll be very proud of you when they see the paper.”
Their reassurances made, the newsmen left Myriad alone in the crowd. Blinking her eyes shut very hard a few times, she continued her way towards the exit, hoping to get some fresh air.
A man stepped in front of her path. He was finely suited, his honey-blond hair slicked back with more brylcreem than even Elsewhere would have considered wise. “Myriad, wasn’t it?” He sounded British. Actually British—not Lawrence’s odd boarding school bred accent.
Another grownup wants to make me recite their favourite poet5 or something. “Yes?”
He flashed her a How to Win Friends and Influence People smile. “Bryant St. George,” he extended a hand for her, “Was watching your show earlier, you handed me one of those wands. Loved the design of those, by the way. Shame they don’t last.”
Myriad thought she might have heard the name before. She shook the proffered hand dutifully. “Thanks.”
“If it isn’t too much of an imposition, would you mind introducing me to your teacher. I think we have a lot to discuss.”
Myriad shrugged. Not a bad idea, really. Get all the adults together in one conversation and they might leave her alone.
“No, I didn’t plan their routine for them,” Lawrence was explaining to a rapt Prime Minister between bites of prawn. “I find that children growing up with abilities beyond the bounds of normal possibility can come up with ideas you and I wouldn’t even consider.”
Menzies nodded. “I have to say, Doctor, I was surprised you chose that foreign boy for the display—”
“He’s never been outside the country, Prime Minister,” Lawrence cut in flatly.
The Prime Minister frowned. “Oh.” He laughed. “Well, you wouldn’t think it hearing him talk. Still, I’ll give him this: there’s something very British in his bearing.”
Lawrence grinned. “His mother’s French.”
“Ah, well, I’m sure she’s a fine woman.”
There was a tug on Lawrence’s sleeve. He looked down to find Myriad staring up at him. “Lawrence, this man wants to talk to you. Says his name is Bryant St. George.”
Bryant St. George held up a hand. “Guilty as charged.” He smiled in Menzies’ direction. “Enjoying the evening, Prime Minister? So glad for the invitation.”
Menzies chortled. “You’ll have to thank Valour for that,” he said, pointing towards Timothy, who was patiently critiquing the accuracy of the sidearm Maelstrom had furnished his frozen counterpart with.
“Of course,” replied Bryant. He gave Lawrence and inquiring look. “Are you from the Cottesloe Lawrences by any chance?”
“That I am,” confirmed Lawrence. “And which of the St. Georges did you spring from? The Burmese? The Raj? Johannesburg?”
“Liverpool. We may be losing the Empire, but the sun still doesn’t set on the St. Georges. Me and the wife came down here to keep an eye on the mines after my uncle passed on. Found the climate agreed with us. Sorry she couldn’t be here, by the way. She gets nervous just reading about this sort of thing.” He beamed down at Myriad. “You can go now, dear. Thanks for the introduction.”
Lawrence didn’t approve of his students being ordered about, or being summarily banished from adult conversations like that, but it wasn’t as though Myriad seemed eager to participate.
She continued towards the outside, catching snippets of conversations almost as banal as the songs of those holding them:
“Clearly, the Flying Man is a wizard…”
“…Daughter’s reflection keeps winking at her…”
“…Oven’s still on.”
Finally, she escaped out into the cool dusk air; out of the herd of chatting adults and roving reporters and the cloudbank of cigarette smoke. Who smokes inside a giant treehouse?
Khí Cụ’s song was as welcome as the blast of fresh air. She was sitting at the edge of the jetty, looking out over the water, the hem of her gown spilling out from her coat like a mermaid’s tail. She looks too young for war, Myriad thought once more. It did not occur to her that many of the fighters in her war were no older; albeit usually male.
What Myriad did grasp, however, was the commonality between them. Khí Cụ was a new human, and still young enough she fuzzily registered as another child to the little girl. She sat down beside her.
“Enjoying the party?” Myriad asked in Vietnamese.
Without looking at the girl, the botanical super snapped at her, “Don’t—” She seemed to decide her tone was too hostile, and caught herself. “Don’t-don’t do that,” she said, a little more kindly.
Taken aback, Myriad switched languages “Why not?” she asked in English. “Just trying to be nice.”
“I don’t need to be catered to like that. And-and I don’t like you using my words at me.”
Myriad frowned. “Oh, nobody told me you invented Vietnamese. You and Tolkien should have coffee.”
Khí Cụ looked at the girl quizzically. “…I don’t know who that is.”
Myriad pulled her shoes and socks off, dipping her feet into the lake. With how cold the water was, Khí Cụ wondered if the child felt she had a surplus of toes and could afford to lose a few. Myriad jolted, before her eyes turned the shade of blue they had been for most of the demonstration. “Doesn’t matter,” she said, kicking the water. “But still, what did you mean?”
For some reason, Khí Cụ couldn’t help but think that the younger superhuman had everything she needed to recreate Noah’s Ark if it struck her fancy. “You couldn’t speak Vietnamese before you met me, right?”
Myriad nodded. “Nope.”
“Say something in it—a full sentence.”
“She sells seashells by the seashore.” The tongue-twister was of course ruined in the translation, but it was still the first thing that came to mind.
“You speak it exactly like I do,” the young woman commented, sounding troubled.
“So?” she asked. “Do you speak a dialect? Or have speech problems?”
She’s not trying to be rude, she’s just eight, Khí Cụ reminded herself while taking a deep breath. “Look, everybody talks a little differently. Doesn’t matter if they’re speaking the same language. You, though, you sound just like me. That’s not right.”
“Seems like a silly thing to be upset by,” Myriad remarked sourly.
Khí Cụ shrugged. “Maybe it is. How long have you been like this?”
“Had powers, you mean? Since forever.”
“…And you can learn whole languages and trades just by standing next to people?”
“Did you come out of the womb walking and talking?”
“No. Well, at least my parents never said anything about it. Seems like the kind of thing they’d notice.”
“Why do you think that was?”
Myriad tried to remember as far back as she could, before the start of her coherent memory, past the haze of home and school and Elsewhere, all the way to the earliest, fragmentary moments and feelings; vague and hyper-clear all at once. The gentle motion of the family sedan on some long forgotten bank holiday. Her father holding her in the ocean. The time she slashed her foot open on a broken beer bottle at a neighbourhood barbecue. That incident had left temporal evidence, a jagged white line on the ball of her heel, faded with time and growth. It was gone now, along with every other nick and scar on her body, probably ever since the first time she’d used Maelstrom’s power6.
Playing through all of them, though, was the music.
The songs had always been there, but she could dimly recall a time where she had yet to figure out how to incorporate them into her own. It was likely the last thing she’d ever had to learn. The thought stung at her for some reason. “I guess I wasn’t always all like this.” She decided she had earned a question of her own. “How old were you when you got powers?”
She was vaguely expecting a trancelike recitation of “There was a man,” but instead the girl answered, “Since birth. Just like you. They tell me the village produced enough rice that year to soak up the sea, but who knows. Only thing old men get better at with age is bullshitting.”
The only other born new humans Myriad knew were Maelstrom and maybe Elsewhere. Well, probably Ophelia and the other babies, too7, but they were hardly up to talk about it. And neither of the boys worked like she did; at least if the Physician were to be believed. That was a big “if”, but it was all Myriad had to go on.
“Are you scared of the dark?”
Myriad wasn’t sure if she should expect an answer. Teenagers could be such prideful creatures. She was almost surprised when Khí Cụ spoke:
“It’s like water, isn’t it? Thick and warm and pressing down on you from all sides?”
“I know, right?” said Myriad, elated to find someone who finally understood. “Why is it like that?”
The older girl shrugged. “My mother used to say I remember the womb. I always told her it was a stupid idea”—she smiled sadly—“but then she’d remind of whatever, dumb, impossible thing I’d done that morning.” Her smile flattened. “This wasn’t meant to be a working holiday,” she said, looking up at the moon, already drifting into sight from behind a curtain of clouds. “Your country is strange.”
That last statement was puzzling. “Is it because it’s summer in Vietnam?” Myriad asked. “Well, that’s because—”
Khí Cụ cut off the impromptu geography lecture. “The way it treats us, I mean.” She hoped the child thought she needed it because she was eight and not because she was white. “Your government can’t decide what to do with your lot. They lock you up, then they make you dance for them. Like letting tigers into your house. ”
“Is it different where you’re from?”
Khí Cụ laughed. “Might be, but it’s the Americans who decide what happens to me at the moment. They’re simple. They take what they love, and turn it into a weapon. It’s also what they do with what they hate, but the result’s the same. I think they’re even proud of the Flying Man.”
“…That doesn’t make sense.”
“Think about it. If the Flying Man was ever a little boy, what do you think he grew up reading? Who invented the word ‘superhero’? What would he have looked up to if he had come up in my village, or here, or in Russia?” She laughed, saluting mockingly. “The Flying Man is a menace, but he’s an American menace, goddamnit!”
Myriad was considering her argument when she heard Maelstrom’s song approaching. She made space for him to sit down. “What’s up?”
“Not much. Talking to Khí Cụ.”
Maelstrom waved at her, who reciprocated the gesture without looking at the boy.
“Done with the statues?” his friend asked.
Maelstrom quirked his shoulders. “I needed a break. I was starting to feel a bit like a clown doing balloon animals.”
Myriad giggled. “You’ve seen one of those?”
“Lawrence hired a clown for a February party once.”
“How was it?”
“The others… didn’t think he was very funny.”
Myriad would’ve laughed if she couldn’t see the expression of pained recollection on her friend’s face. “Oh. Did you?”
Maelstrom relaxed a touch. “He tried.”
They looked down into the lake, still clear as diamond from their display. The execution had been Myriad’s idea. Some of the grown ups had asked Maelstrom how they did it, but he had kept mum. It would only spoil the magic.
The water looked very inviting.
“Do you think…” Maelstrom began, then cast Khí Cụ a glance. “Nah. We’d get in trouble.”
“Yeah. And we probably don’t want the Prime Minister seeing… those parts.”
“What the hell are you two talking about?”
Neither child deigned to explain themselves.
“They don’t have to,” said Maelstrom. “We can always steam our clothes after.”
“Please keep your clothes on,” Khí Cụ said in a voice of increasing panic.
“You can see all the way to the bottom,” Myriad sighed, gazing at the water, then glancing back at the treehouse, the party still going full swing inside. “It can’t hurt, can it? As long as we aren’t too… over the top? I could really use a swim right now. It wouldn’t even be swimming, really. Just wading, except, all over.”
“Can’t see a reason why it would,” Mael answered evenly, “It’s not as if they don’t know we have powers. We haven’t exactly been told not to use them… Maybe we should ask Lawrence.”
That alone was enough to sway Myriad on the matter. She took a step forwards, the water splashing slightly around her foot. She closed her eyes, enjoying the feel of it between her toes, before turning back towards David, swinging her arms and, along with them, sending a splash of water up into his face.
“That was for earlier,” she grinned. “I told you it was too hard!”
For once in the boy’s life, enthusiasm seemed to overtake the need to look reserved, and he giggled, running forwards into the water to join her, the pristine leather of his dress shoes squeaking slightly on the snow that lined the bank, before hitting the water in a manner that would likely give most cordwainers a heart attack.
“What in the world…?” Khí Cụ muttered, watching the two children cackle by the water’s edge, wrestling in the shallows, before one of them got water on her dress. She growled, raising a root from the nearby shore to momentarily dunk both kids’ heads beneath the surface, not that either of them seemed to care. She eventually gave a little shrug, and raised a short wooden chair from the earth to sit on, nursing her champagne. She found watching the pair oddly relaxing. They reminded her of how her powers had seemed to her at first, when she was younger—before she became a gun. Back when the French were someone else’s problem. It was only now that she was beginning to recognize how much she missed that feeling. She sighed, and glanced down at her drink. She was going to need more champagne.
“Young miss?” called a man’s voice from behind her. “Do you… Do you have any idea what they’re doing?”
Khí Cụ glanced around at the man. It was one of the politicians from before. She graced him with one of her best scoffs. “I believe it is called ‘playing,’ sir, but I can understand how one could be forgiven for not recognizing it.”
If the man found the attempt at rudeness offensive, he paid it no mind. Perhaps deciding against starting an argument with a half drunk demigod. “It’s… a little odd, seeing them do that so casually, don’t you think?” he asked, taking a few steps closer and gazing at the pair. “God, I wish I was able to enjoy myself like that these days.”
Khí Cụ snorted. “Me too, old timer, me too.”
After a few minutes, she rose the man a chair, and they sat together, watching the children be children for however long they could.
Herbert Lawrence and Bryant St. George laughed together in a corner of what the former was finally willing to admit was a treehouse. Robert Menzies was still outside watching Maelstrom and Myriad frolic, and it would be ten minutes before Tiresias would unwisely seek shelter in it after tipsily making a pass at Khí Cụ.
Lawrence was honestly glad to be free of the Prime Minister’s company. He had known the man to be a parochial sort, but there was only so much ranting about the role of posthumanity in the fight against the “socialist panacea” he could take. Bryant, on the other hand, knew how to keep politics out of the conversation, and had somehow managed to procure them some decent beer.
“…And then she tried telling us the cow got on top of the house by herself!”
Bryant slapped the table in front of him with apparent amusement. Much as that story always cheered Lawrence himself, he thought that was a little excessive. He hadn’t even told the one about the time Stratogale had to go after Ophelia with a net.
“Oh, I don’t know how you manage it, Lawrence,” he said, wiping his eyes. “All those kids! My whole life would be spent under a desk with a bottle of wine. And that’s just if they were naturals! How do you keep your head about it?”
Lawrence smiled. “It’s not what you would think. Think about it for a moment. Is the majority of juvenile crime committed by children with extranormal abilities? No—like all other human sins, it’s our kind that bears the lion’s share. A new human may have taken the bomb from us, but I doubt he was the one who dropped it on Hiroshima.”
Bryant nodded solemnly. “I’ve read a fair bit about your Institute—at least—what reading there is available. The Northern Advertiser could have been kinder in its coverage of your work, I think.”
Lurid headlines on cheap, recycled paper made an unwanted return to Lawrence’s thoughts:
“DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR NEIGHBOUR IS?”
“FLYING GIRL SPOTTED OVER BAKER’S HILL”
“LOCAL WEATHER WITCH WELCOMES SON INTO THE WORLD8”
The recollection made him set his teeth grimly. He had told Żywie that putting in a birth notice for Maelstrom was a bad idea. Especially under that cradle-name his mother sometimes used. “That they could have, Mr. St. George, that they could have.”
“I did read your book, though. The New Child.”
Lawrence was genuinely surprised. He had written The New Child only a little after Maelstrom was born, and with the—for better or worse—lesser visibility of posthumans at the time, it had received little attention upon publication. Honestly, Lawrence wasn’t all that proud of a lot of what he had said in that book. He had only personally known a handful of posthumans at that point in his life, and had yet to even meet the Physician. Even the Namings back then were more of a lark than the tradition they would grow into. Still, it was nice to know he wasn’t writing for the void. “Did you now? What’d you think of it?”
St. George gave Lawrence an impassioned look. “I think you were dead to rights on how we should be handling these children, Lawrence. As things are now, well, best case scenario: we waste something truly wonderful. Worst case: we’re all dead before the year 2000.” He shook his head gravely. “It’s something of a personal concern, you see.”
Lawrence’s eyes lit up. “How so?”
Bryant graced the older man with a half smile. “My son is… well, he’s more like those two children playing out there in the lake than you and me.”
Lawrence needed no further prompting to start interrogating the man. “What can he do exactly? Was he born with his abilities or did they come in later? How old is he?”
St. George threw his hands up. “Slow down, old boy. Billy’s turning eight in March, and he’s always been… that way. His first cries broke all the windows.”
Sonic manipulation, thought Lawrence. Sounds a little cruder than Reverb, but you can’t expect her to set the standard.
“That’s the thing, though. All the supers I’ve ever heard of—not that’s many, mind you—have either only been able to do one extra thing, or they’re all… themed, I suppose is how you you might put it? But what does breaking glass with your voice have to do with turning invisible.”
That’s a bit of a cheap trick. Wonder if he does it by bending light or meddling with perceptions directly.
“—And I don’t even know what to make of that mercury trick of his.”
…That I’ll have to see.
“It’s been a hard life for him, Doctor. Even before the Flying Man, he never really got to be like the other kids. We’re lucky to have even kept him this long, but, well, we have an arrangement with the DDHA, you understand.”
Lawrence nodded. He had no doubt that someone with the St. Georges’ kind of wealth could “persuade” the DDHA to leave their child be. That was, essentially, how he had kept the Institute from being dismantled when the panic first started. Probably cost the government less than housing the children themselves, after all. “I can imagine the pressure it’s put on you and your wife, Mr. St. George.”
“I appreciate the thought. Well, me and Cecilia have talked it over, and we’ve decided that our boy might be happier at your school, with his own kind.”
Lawrence tried not to make his pleasure at the news obvious. “That’s a commendable decision, Mr. St. George. It takes a big man to be able put their child’s welfare over their proximity to them. I can swear on my life, though, that Billy will be accepted into our family with open arms.”
Bryant suddenly looked uncomfortable. “That’s very kind of you to say…” He seemed to hesitate before belatedly adding, “There is one other thing I should mention, Doctor. About Billy.”
Lawrence did not fail to notice the man’s disquiet. Leaning in slightly, he asked, “And that is?”
St. George pointed towards the treehouse’s entrance. “Those two out there, you would say they were handsome enough specimens, right?”
Lawrence’s smile returned. “That’s our Żywie’s doing. She regularly checks to make sure the children are growing up into their best selves. Trims away negative recessives, fixes environmental damage, that sort of thing. She’s a refiner of living things.”
Bryant tapped his fingers on the table, his lips pursed, before fumbling in his pocket for his wallet. “Then I send her my admiration. But more to point, whatever difference there may be between supers and regular people, it’s usually invisible, yes?” He opened the leather wallet, passing it to Lawrence. “Well, not so much with our Billy.”
Aside from far too much cash and a few club cards, the wallet also contained a photo. Lawrence’s eyes widened at the sight of it. He decided that Bryant St. George was probably being honest when he said his son was more like Maelstrom and Myriad than either of them. The way mammals resemble each other more so than reptiles.
He looked back up at Bryant, his face pale. “Is-is this purely physical?”
“He’s no retard, if that’s what you’re asking.” With a trace of guilt, he admitted, “At least, that’s what his nanny tells us.”
Averting his eyes, Lawrence slid the wallet back towards its owner. “Mr. St. George, I’m not sure you grasp what you’re asking me to do. I don’t know how my students will respond to… I don’t need to say it, do I?”
Bryant slumped in his chair, looking exhausted. “Billy has never been to school, Lawrence. He’s never even played with another child. Those two out there play on the bottom of lakes like they were parkland. When you come down to it, is there any real difference between them and my son?”
“I think you know the answer to that, Bryant.” Lawrence stood up from the table. “I do not enjoy parting children from their parents in the best of circumstances. You and your wife seem to have young Billy’s care in good stead. I wish him the best.”
The feeling that Bryant St. George experienced in that moment surprised him. After over seven years, he thought he had grown numb to shame. “I’m willing to write a cheque.”
1. Prominent Perthite supervillain, infamous for his ability to telekinetically influence human blood, even within an individual’s body.↩
2. Though some might argue that understanding the rules of cricket qualifies as a power.↩
3. Especially if the interviewee is a boy. ↩
4. Why the period of his life he spent alternatively killing or nearly being killed should be considered his “glory days” sometimes puzzled Valour.↩
5. In this particular individual’s case, anyone except William Blake. ↩
6. Which made it rather confusing that she still had a navel.↩
7. Elsewhere had suggested scenarios involving careless mothers and open vats of toxic waste, but Myriad had written off those as fairly unlikely.↩
8. The people of Northam and its surrounding environs were always a little vague on what Melusine actually did.↩