Case file: Spiderbitch  – unlawful use of powers, disturbing the peace, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, unpaid parking tickets – memo

Attention all staff: this is currently and will remain an open file. Crimes listed will reflect those with outstanding warrants or scheduled court dates, not those in which she is a suspect. Files for closed cases will be sent to Parallel Action Taskforce and redacted. All legal action will be taken through Parallel Action Taskforce.

Addendum: because if you want that paperwork filled out, you’re going to have to do it yourself! Enjoy talking to the fair representation for parallels initiatives, that should be fun. Stop asking stupid questions, people.

Note: All agents are reminded not to refer to Spiderbitch as a vigilante in public or while operating in any official capacity.

 

Guidelines for interviewing witnesses:

  • Always make sure to familiarize yourself with their home protocols and customs (especially as regards law enforcement)
  • When they claim something is a point of etiquette, double-check
  • If the witness is being threatening, be sure to tell them explicitly. If they continue to be threatening, remind them that you will defend yourself, and be clear on the penalties for assault and destruction of property. Remember: the witness is not a suspect, so explain things politely.
  • Be sure to use the broad-spectrum suppression fields. If necessary, requisition a magic suppression field. Magic suppression fields are required for all magical witnesses.
  • Do not comment on the witness’s clothes, possessions, or body language. Parallel experts or espers will analyze these. Notes on such are discouraged.
  • Do speak slowly and literally. We can understand each other if we try!

 

Guidelines for interrogating suspects:

  • Know their body language. Learn to mimic it.
  • Know their culture. Dress accordingly. Use props as necessary.
  • Know their language quirks. Be able to identify tones, formality, sarcasm, subtle distinctions in meaning or intent.
  • Always double-check all safety precautions. If you’re not sure whether you need a safety precaution, sign it out anyway.
  • Always work with an expert in that culture unless you or your partner is a relevant esper. If one (or both) of you is a relevant esper, don’t forget to request an observer!

 

Guidelines for public statements:

  • Do not use loaded language. (See list of Words and Phrases to Avoid)
  • Do not treat parallel immigrants as a unit. Do not suggest or encourage the interpretation of them as in any way working together or conspiring.
  • If an interviewer continues to insist they’re conspiring, refer them to PAT.
  • Do not acknowledge parallel vigilantism as vigilantism. Stress the idea that the subject in question comes from a culture where the law and enforcement of the law may not be the same, and that they may not know they’re committing crimes. Do not suggest the subject is not responsible for these crimes. Be careful not to condone or excuse any vigilante actions.
  • Do work closely with Parallel Houses and activist groups. Do show and encourage positive feelings towards these organizations.
  • Do not make statements of fact. If asked directly, use hedging language such as “I think” or “I’d guess”, or attribute the information to an outside source.

 

Remember, Spiderbitch is from:

  • A world that does have extranormal abilities. While typically gained through unregulated means, they are generally carefully regulated. While she has provided us with a partial profile, licensing and regulation of extranormal abilities is a point of contention on her world. It’s best not to threaten legal action.
  • A world that does not have magic. Spiderbitch does not have magic. She may sometimes claim she does; she’s attempting to scare you or throw you off balance.
  • A world that has a higher level of technology than our own. Spiderbitch has access to a lot of unique tools and weapons and can create more given sufficient time and equipment. Be wary of any inventions she claims to have, but be aware she is still constrained by the laws of physics.
  • A world that is extremely sensitive to touch. Always ask Spiderbitch before touching her.
  • A world that finds lack of eye contact very rude. Make sure to always look Spiderbitch in the eye, before and during any interaction with her. Lack of eye contact may make Spiderbitch refuse to talk to you. Do be aware that prolonged eye contact may still be regarded as unsettling or otherwise creepy.
  • A world that has taboos on a large subset of words/topics. (See list of Words Not to Use around Spiderbitch, Topics Not to Use around Spiderbitch, Words and Topics Similar to those Spiderbitch Finds Distressing) Make sure to avoid using or even referencing them. She will probably disengage, but may become angry and confrontational. Particularly, be careful not to remark on her clothing or emotional state.
  • A world where dating and romance are not acceptable. Do not flirt with Spiderbitch. She will be shocked and offended.
  • A parallel America. She’s used to a certain number of freedoms, and does not take kindly to freedoms she perceives as being infringed on. Watch for her at protests. She has been known to hire out her protection for demonstrations and events.
  • A city. She won’t get lost easily, and she knows how to evade. She can hide or disguise herself in under a minute and easily disappear into a crowd. Do not attempt to track Spiderbitch if she does so; it’s a waste of time and resources.
  • The same world as Scarlet Woman. Do not try to pit them against each other; do not try to use them as bargaining chips on each other; do not try to use them as examples of role models for each other. They are aware of each other and in fairly steady contact. If you have trouble getting in touch with one, they may be able to pass messages to each other.

 

The media and Spiderbitch:

  • Again, do not publicly refer to her as a vigilante.
  • Spiderbitch is known to do interviews. These are all scheduled through parallel representatives, and are thus subject to a whole legal mess. Unless she is currently engaged in violence against another person, do not interrupt an interview, even with a warrant. If you disregard this advice, know that the agency won’t represent you in any civil suit, or any criminal suit less than a felony. If at all possible, don’t appear anywhere near the interview area, or anywhere else she may be audio recorded. Consider arranging a meeting through her representatives.
  • Spiderbitch does not appear on her TV show. She is neither one of the actors nor one of the stunt doubles. If you have to execute a warrant, do so politely. They do not know her; they cannot contact her; try not to interrupt the filming.
  • If you see someone dressed as Spiderbitch, do not engage. Various performance arts and social movements have taken to dressing as her and posing around various cities. If they are currently engaged in crimes, feel free to apprehend. In that case, it’s probably not actually Spiderbitch. Addendum: make sure to mention that it’s a copycat to any news crews, whether you think it is or not. You don’t need your face all over a scandal. Note: if it is actually Spiderbitch, make sure you contact a parallel representative immediately. Check the roster to see who’s on call.

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Comfort Food

“There’s some soup left, if you want it,” Darren says, hanging upside on the couch.

“Shouldn’t you be asleep already?” I ask him.

“It’s honestly not even that late, Fox,” he says, grinning. Still upside-down.

“What kind of soup?” I ask.

“Tomato. Not your horrible kind. The good kind. From the cans. And grilled cheese. With real American cheese.” He shrugs, which looks about as weird as it always does upside-down.

“This,” I say, “this is what you send Jen to the store for.”

“She was there already,” Darren says. “And, anyway, I have to send someone you haven’t gotten to with your organic local mind control. You don’t even feed me. I don’t know why I stick around.”

“I feed you better things than this crap,” I tell him.

“Not my fault your comfort food is bunnies in orange glaze or something.” Darren shakes his head. That one kind of throws me, because it looks normal upside-down.

“I’m not going to eat bunnies,” I tell him, with a half-hearted glare.

“No, but you’re about to say something that sounds even more ridiculous,” he tells me.

“Man, you’re the one who wanted a crepe-maker in the first place. I told you, as long as you’re careful, you can cook them in a regular pan just fine,” I retort.

He snorts into a giggling fit. “Right, like I have enough energy to be careful about breakfast. That thing is like magic, asshole, and you’re just jealous because you wake up at lunchtime now.”

“Crepes are a lunch food,” I say.

He shrugs. “Only if you fill them with weird things that aren’t Nutella.”

“Everything that isn’t Nutella is weird now?” I ask.

“To put on dessert? Yes,” he says, going back to his TV.

“It’s not dessert,” I say, but sit down next to him, instead of pursuing the thought, upside-down and all. “What are we watching, anyway?”

“Some sort of documentary,” he says.

I stare at it. “What sort?”

“Could not figure that out. Figured it couldn’t make any less sense from this direction,” Darren tells me, waving his arms, I don’t know to indicate what.

“This is one of those conspiracy theory things, isn’t it,” I say.

“I think so,” he agrees. “It had aliens a little while ago. And it’s wildly historically inaccurate.”

“Since when do you know enough about history to even guess at that?” I ask.

“Parting gift from Copypasta.” Darren points at yet another thing that’s inaccurate – no aliens this time, though – and scoffs. “Apparently, Ripcord? Total history buff.”

“You had masks going over those things with you?” I ask.

“We had, like, a dozen teams, which was why we needed Copypasta’s support in the first place, you know,” Darren says, “so yeah, I mean, a couple, the ones who’re just subbing in for whoever.”

“A lot of teams,” I say.

“You’re telling me,” Darren agrees. “They’ve got four shifts of surveillance teams, people walking around plainclothes, and research out the wazoo.”

“Bigger than it looks like?” I ask.

“I sure as hell hope so, because otherwise we’re wasting a lot of manpower,” Darren tells me. “Your tax dollars at work.”

“PLC?” I ask. “They’ve been quiet, lately.”

Darren shrugs. It almost looks normal from this angle. “Could be. I mean, you get people going missing, maybe it’s because they’re gearing up for something, who knows.”

I grin. “What’d Copypasta get off you?”

Darren laughs. “A bunch of old O-chem facts, apparently. I didn’t even know I remembered them, but hey, there you go, don’t seem out of place in my head at all.”

“O-chem, really?” I ask, “you nearly failed O-chem, how do you still remember any of it?”

“Flashcards,” Darren says. “No, I don’t know, most people are busy being annoyed by the inundation of baseball stats from, like three different people.”

“Are they friends now?” I ask.

“They’re friends now,” he confirms. “No one’s admitting to the black metal lyrics, though.”

“Oh, well, that’ll be useful before it fades,” I say.

Darren laughs. “Shut up, dickface, you don’t get to pick the music if you insist we’re going to listen to podcasts or something. I want music in my music, not talking heads.”

“Should’ve picked a shorter commute if you wanted music-music,” I say.

“Oh, the commute’s my fault, now, is it?” he says, raising (dropping) a hand to his chest in horror and outrage.

“Admit it, you miss it now that you can play all the incomprehensible screaming you want,” I tell him. “You’re probably on the verge of listening to podcasts of your own volition.”

“Never!” Darren says. “You will not sway me with your sugared lies! You listen to audiobooks and plays and talk radio in your own car. Incomprehensible screaming forever!”

“That would make the worst battle cry,” I tell him.

Darren grins. “For Queen and alt-country!”

“Not there yet,” I say.

He stops to think for a moment, kicking his feet against the top of the couch. “Rock out with your crockpot out.”

“I don’t think that’s a battle cry,” I say, “and, anyway, it’s probably fine if you like crockpots, or whatever the end goal you’re using the crockpots to achieve is.”

“Cheese,” he says, defiantly.

“Doesn’t count if it’s one word,” I remind him. “You can find lots of words it would be weird to run into battle screaming. You’d be hard pressed to find many that aren’t.”

“Let’s steal all their trees!” Darren cries.

I laugh. “They store their morale in the chartreuse tents!”

“I was promised tie-in marketing!”

“Would you like fries with that?”

“Can you hear me now?”

“A stitch in time saves nine!”

“There are plenty of fish in the sea!”

“Are you a dog person or a cat person?”

“Study hard, be evil!”

“Until we get bored!”

“I can has battle cry?”

“Holy battle cry, Batman!”

“Tonight we sup in hell!” Darren says, and falls off the couch laughing.

I see he’s remembered to take his meds.

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Surveillance

I don’t get written up. When Baxter sees me, instead of passing on any kind of formal reprimand, he just gives a sympathetic nod. And then I get to go up to the rooftop again and just kind of wait while I stare at a warehouse. The same warehouse. Hotel’s back up here with me. Instead of Hunch, Apogee joins us.

“We have to stop meeting like this,” I say.

She shrugs. “They had to clear my schedule all day to fit in teaching. What was I supposed to do with the rest of it?”

“Something more interesting than filming a warehouse, I’d think,” I tell her.

“Could be,” she says, “but this is where my good friend Teke is supposed to be right now, have you seen him around by any chance?”

I roll my eyes. “Darren asked you to keep an eye on me.”

“He’s fine,” she says, “he’s playing video games. I need the surveillance hours. And, anyway, I had to do a favor for Bartok, after she let me borrow her suit for that thing.”

Hotel’s eyes widen. “That thing where you raced Potato Cannon?”

“Look, whatever,” Apogee says, “obviously they are designed to be intuitive, after all, aren’t they? Better engineer my ass.”

“No, I just mean, I saw the clip,” Hotel explains. “I never figured out what you were doing there, but the look on his face was priceless.”

“I was showing him up in his very latest design,” Apogee says.

“No, I mean, yeah,” Hotel says, “I figured that out with the footage of the flight, sure, I just didn’t think you were flight crew qualified.”

“I’m not,” Apogee says, “that was sort of the point of putting me in the suit. Even a newbie could fly a suit better than that cocksure moron.”

“Is Bartok going to get in trouble for that?” I ask.

“No, she signed it out under ‘recreational use’,” Apogee explains. “Do you know they’re allowed eight hours a month? It seems ill advised.”

“Still have to pay if you damage it,” Hotel tells her. “I know, I used to have interesting equipment to sign out from time to time.”

I almost look over to see what expression he’s making when he says that. Of course, right then someone comes out the side door, and I have to aim the camera, but they scurry back inside before I can figure much out. After a nice long look, but with the shadows facing the wrong way to be much help. Apogee tells the team. It turns out to be a smoke break.

“That’ll make people be careful for sure,” Apogee says. “Anyway, I know that part; Bartok picked me for my quick reflexes. You know, so I wouldn’t destroy the suit.”

“Where is Bartok, anyway?” I ask.

Apogee gives me a sidelong look. “None of your business.”

I shrug. I guess I’ll have to ask her next time I see her.

“She had a concert, dumbass,” Hotel tells me.

Apogee laughs slightly. “Oh, god, for a minute there I was concerned she hadn’t said anything to anyone, and I was like, what, wow, really?”

“It’s a charity event,” Hotel adds, “a bunch of masks are going to play some classical music and stuff, do you not read your memos?”

“What,” I say, “the memo we got three, four months back about something that cost $800 a plate? Yeah, I’m definitely wasting my night on one of those.”

Hotel grumbles, “well, she is your teammate, I thought you might be invested.”

Oh, right. “She wasn’t then; I’ve been on this team for, like, a week.”

“Bartok can play the violin,” Apogee tells me as she tries not to laugh.

“That explains the name,” I admit.

“Does it?” Apogee asks. “I haven’t exact figured out your naming schema.”

“Well, I’m just named for my specialist position, then numbered,” Hotel says.

“That one I got,” Apogee tells him. “Teke’s just named for his power, too.”

One of the garage doors on the side of the warehouse opens up, and I tense a little, hoping we’ve caught a truck, but, no, it’s just a little car. Probably not a shipment, but, still, a lead. I snap stills of the license plate as fast as I can, hoping one of them will resolve legibly. It speeds away. I send off the number (two good photos, actually) and go back to watching the building through the closing door.

“I think she meant real names,” I tell Hotel. “First names. Last names. Middle names, maybe.”

“I don’t know, the middle names are kind of the same,” Apogee says. “I mean, they aren’t special, are they? They’re just, you know, picked from the set of first names union last names.”

“Not special,” I agree.

“Could be special,” Hotel disagrees. “Like Danger or Justice or something.”

“I think Justice may actually be a name,” I tell him.

“Is it?” he asks, “I’ve never met anyone named Justice.”

“Have you ever met anyone named Eunice?” I ask.

“Point,” he agrees, at the same time Apogee says, “wait, Eunice, too?”

“Oh, that one you have, though,” Hotel says, sighing dramatically.

“Anyway, I’m perfectly well aware of special case names, thank you,” Apogee informs us. “What, you think we never had hippies trying to go all naturiffic?”

“There aren’t rules to names,” I tell her, “at least not in English. I don’t know about other languages. Some of them must have rules.”

“Can I tell you,” Apogee says, “can I just tell you, how weird it is to go to an alternate universe and no one can give you concrete facts about the rules of the universe and its inhabitants.”

Hotel laughs. “You read way too many science fiction books.”

“And yet, you can immediately tell what I mean,” Apogee says. “Because everyone everywhere expects other people’s planets to be arranged by any metric at all. Really. Any. At all.”

“There’s always geography,” I comfort her.

“That’s true,” Apogee says, “we can always rely on geography. Say, why are people going around inventing new countries?”

“Well, even if they change the names,” Hotel says, “at least everyone’s inside some country.”

“Yup,” Apogee agrees, “good thing you guys got rid of international waters. That sure would’ve made things confusing.”

“Well, you can always categorize by the old standby,” I say, “douchebag/not a douchebag.”

“Convenient,” Hotel says.

“Wow,” Apogee sighs, “our cultures aren’t so different after all!”

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Lecture

“Sorry I’m late,” Jenny says, tossing her coat on the table, leaving her in just her unitard. She quickly pulls her hair up into a bun and yanks her mask down. Not great practice, especially in front of the kids (and the cameras), but it’s not like everyone in the world doesn’t know exactly who she is, so.

“No worries,” I say, my voice not sounding strangled at all, “got it all under control.”

“Uh-huh,” Apogee says, patting me on the shoulder. “Like a take two on that, Teke?”

“Oh, god, rescue me, rescue me from this madness,” I say, “Apogee, help!”

Enigma Machine and FiendPuncher are in the air grappling and occasionally kneeing each other, Jailbait’s going head to head with the other manipulator, trying, as far as I can tell, to make each other projectile vomit, Gatling’s trying to shoot at them all, and Caffeine’s doing actually a pretty decent job yanking bullets out of the air, which means I have to catch very few of them.

They’re all smack-talking at the top of their lungs while they do it.

Apogee just rolls her eyes, shares a look with me, and puts her fingers to her mouth. I have just enough warning to slam my TK against my ears and block off as much of the sound as I can.

Enigma Machine abruptly loses control and slams into the ground, or would, if I’d caught him an inch later. FiendPuncher trips in the middle of the air, which is intensely confusing to watch. Caffeine trips in the middle of the ground, almost landing him a bloody nose that I have to prevent before I’ve even managed to let go of his classmate (I guess he must have been looking in a different direction when she took that deep breath). The other three have their hands tucked behind their backs and guilty expressions on.

“You know,” Apogee says amiably, “on my homeworld you’d all be beaten soundly.”

They scramble into their seats.

“Really?” FiendPuncher pipes up, eventually, just after the silence turns oppressive.

I gratefully take my own seat, behind the table, and pull out a sandwich, because fuck if dealing with these idiots doesn’t make me hungry.

Perry is right; I super hate children.

“Not really,” Apogee says, with a laugh, “my world is almost exactly the same as yours. Does anyone know what that’s called?”

“Divergent history, we’re not children,” Gatling snaps.

Apogee just raises an eyebrow at him. He sinks back into his seat. “Actually, no, many points of pre-history and even early history are different.

“I share your DNA, your language, most of your major historical events, and, yet, my world has a much more involved seafood industry, much heavier use of ceramics and glass, and a choral tradition.”

“And bears,” Caffeine adds.

Apogee chuckles at him. “And domestic bears. And pickle-scented cleaners, and magnetic shoelaces, and, apparently, lots more carrot-based desserts than you guys.”

“Convergent history,” Psybeam says, softly.

“That’s exactly right,” Apogee tells him, with a grin.

“Boring,” Gatling mutters, but then pulls up some game on his phone, which should keep him occupied, and I pretend not to notice and also not to sigh in relief.

Jailbait, who’s had this lecture at least twice before, tugs at a loose thread in her cuff and bites her cheek, probably only because she doesn’t want to be caught doing anything he’s doing, but if she pulls out her phone, too, I’m not going to say anything.

The others half pay attention, either because they know it already or because they don’t care.

FiendPuncher has a glitter pen with a burst of pink feathers on the top and is taking notes. I bet the notebook has kittens on the cover, too.

“Now,” Apogee says, brightly, and I wonder if it’s painfully obvious to the students that she’s being sarcastic, “how many alternate worlds are there?”

“Infinite,” Jailbait says, half-asleep.

“Sure,” Apogee says. Then, with a grin, “how many with aliens?”

FiendPuncher bites down so hard on her lip that I’m surprised she hasn’t already blurted out the answer, and one or two of the others look like they’re trying hard to remember.

“108 recorded,” Apogee answers for them, “109 including the latest refugees from Mars.”

“Dumb bitch,” Gatling says, “Mars isn’t Earth.”

“Yes,” Apogee says, “the aliens there definitely didn’t also attack Earth.”

“Well, we didn’t get any fucking refugees from Earth, did we?” Gatling demands.

Apogee stares at him for a minute, then says, “because Earth conditions tend to be more similar than Mars conditions within a history cluster. Who wants to define a history cluster for me?”

“Nobody cares what a history cluster is, Apogeegirl,” Gatling explains to her.

“Oh my shitting motherfuck, will you shut your hate-hole, Todd?” I scream at him, almost before I’ve even looked him in the eye, and certainly before I have a chance to think it through.

Don’t look at the cameras, Travis. Don’t look at the cameras.

After a moment of stunned compliance, Gatling pouts and says to me, “you’re not supposed to call me Todd.”

I drop my head into my hands, knowing for sure they’ll scrub his name off the tape, and really hoping that means they’ll scrub my whole outburst.

“Anyone want to guess how many alternates have magic?” Apogee proposes.

FiendPuncher lets out a gasp and an honest-to-fuck giggle (yeah, figures she’ll find it acceptable to seem interested in sparkly lights and unicorns) and says, “51.”

“Right you are,” Apogee says, and starts going on about hoping we can get a magic user in to lecture us, even though Diviner Ward is massively agoraphobic and won’t leave Gates. Jenny is an eternal optimist and/or con artist, really.

“The interesting thing about magic,” Apogee continues, “is that we haven’t yet found a case where a magical individual’s magic ceases to work in this world.

“It happened sometimes in mine, but here, it doesn’t, even though we have yet to find any evidence of native magic users.”

“What about the kids of all the magical people?” FiendPuncher asks, wide-eyed.

Apogee gives a tense grin. “Except for some of the descendants of magical immigrants, that’s true, although the way magic passes is the topic of a different lecture.”

“Wow,” FiendPuncher breathes.

“So magic works here, by almost the same rules people are used to,” Apogee moves on, “even though any of the 51 worlds has different rules. We call this the thaumatic harmonic.

“Does anyone want to take a guess what that has to do with the extranormal harmonic?”

“She has nice tits, though,” Gatling says, to the kid next to him, apropos of, as far as I can tell, absolutely nothing at all.

Psybeam shoves him to the floor.

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Photographs

“Are they going to do that every week?” FiendPuncher asks me.

I definitely do not drop anything I’m carrying, or jump, even a little. I turn around, slowly and calmly. And then I kind of don’t know what to do, because instead of the normal sweatpants and t-shirt she’s been wearing, there’s some sort of awful thing that looks like it came out of a cartoon, with a shirt that seems like it would get her denied service in a lot of restaurants (although I guess she makes up for it in the amount of shoe?), and a skirt I’m not even sure won’t get her arrested for indecent exposure.

And she has some sort of tiny ribbons with rhinestones dotted around her curls.

“Teke,” FiendPuncher says, crossly, “I asked a question.”

“Right,” I say, “uh, what?”

“Are we going through testing like that every week?” she repeats, exasperated.

“Yes, every Monday, they’ll reassess your abilities and study them, research, see if you need accommodations, that stuff,” I say, “what the hell are you wearing?”

“My costume,” she says. “The website didn’t mention this. Why every Monday?”

“That’s your costume?” I say, about to add something a little more harsh than that, when she interrupts me.

“Look, Teke, this is what sells,” FiendPuncher tells me, gesturing to herself. “Do I want to wear it? No. Do I feel comfortable wearing it? Also no. But someone’s coming to photograph the team today.”

Which is the first I’ve heard of it, and I know that should probably tell me to worry about something or other, but instead, I just say, “look, if you don’t want to wear it –”

“I don’t. I want to sell action figures, though,” she says. “It’ll put me through college. Now will you answer why every Monday before everyone else fucking gets here?”

“FiendPuncher,” I say, because someone’s coming to photograph the team today, “if you have memetic abilities you have until you’re eighteen, but I’m obligated to report any technopathic –”

“You’re going to turn me in?” she asks, head cocked.

“Uh, no,” I say, “no, but be careful with those, because you’re technically legally mandated –”

“Testing,” she says. “Every Monday.”

“Uh,” I say, as I go to unwrap the dozens of layers of plastic on a tray of sandwiches. “Because your powers may change dramatically from week to week at your age? Plus, again, research.”

“We’re guinea pigs,” she says, with a snort, and takes a sandwich.

“Well, no, they’re not allowed to do anything to you without parental consent,” I tell her, “you’re case studies.”

“So they’re only allowed to experiment on Gatling?” FiendPuncher asks, with a smirk.

“I wish,” I mutter, and then look over at her, wide-eyed, to see if she heard.

She heard, alright. She’s giving me the world’s biggest shit-eating grin. Then she turns to give a stunning smile, I’m sure at exactly where the camera is, and takes dainty bites of her sandwich. And probably vegetables again instead of chips. Because, vegetables or not, last week she was drinking soda, and today she has a water bottle – one branded with our logo. Okay. Girl has a plan.

I really hope she doesn’t grow up to go villain.

“Yo, Teke,” Enigma Machine yells at me, staggering in from the locker room, “why’d you tell me to bring the suit again today? More tests?”

Go with it, my phone tells me, immediately, and not even signed. Thanks, guys.

“Just thought you should practice with it,” I say.

“Oh,” he says. Stops to think for a minute. “Cool.”

The others filter in shortly. For a minute, I think Jailbait’s in costume, too, but, no, trick of the light. It’s the normal catsuit she wears to practice, and not the glitter one at all. Because some people obviously do consider them everyday wear (or, at least, she wants to get used to wearing them?) and don’t mind just hanging out in them. Gatling’s still wearing his jeans (and I know I’m not the first person to ask him to wear appropriate clothes, or the first to get a fuck-off-whatever). Caffeine’s wearing racing-striped trackpants and a sweatshirt with an outline of Minnesota on it today, which I think is probably a joke, but may be an homage. They’re all wearing big enough masks, at least.

Psybeam looks a little more put together than I expected him to, but I have no idea why, and struggling to remember if he dressed any differently last week is giving me a migraine. I file it away, instead, under the other student who might have known this was planned. Couldn’t say why.

Unless Caffeine’s little joke is set up to look good on camera.

Can’t think about this anymore. This is too confusing, and it’s not going to do me any good to know who had advance warning or how.

I wish they’d given me advance warning. Now I’m going to be acting weird all class, knowing I’m being filmed. Which is quite possibly why they didn’t tell me.

Fuck it, Travis, pretend you don’t know they’re there. You can’t even see them.

I snap open a box of cookies, instead.

“Food first,” I say, reflexively, pointing at the sandwiches, when Gatling goes to take one.

He flips me off and takes two, but at least he’s quiet while he does it.

“So,” I say, as they pick at their sandwiches. “How was testing?”

They all shrug pretty much in unison.

“Anyone get any new powers?” I joke.

Headshakes.

“Alright,” I say. “Anyone get a jump in power, or…?”

“If I stay still long enough, I can almost go invisible,” Psybeam says, quietly.

“They love the new laser attachment,” Enigma Machine says, pointing it up at the ceiling and pressing the back of his glove.

Aware of the cameras, I carefully don’t flinch, but he’s cautiously only got it set to laser pointer mode, right now, so nothing happens.

Or he just attached a laser pointer to his suit and that’s all it’s supposed to do.

“I can fly so fast now!” FiendPuncher says, with a giggle.

“I can almost fly, if I aim my jumps right,” Caffeine offers.

“They’re having me do exploding bullets now,” Gatling brags.

Jailbait, whose powers haven’t changed in a year, looks kind of jealous.

“Anyone,” I say, trying to figure out how the hell to word it, and knowing it’s being recorded for posterity doesn’t help, “having any trouble with their powers?”

More headshakes all around.

“Okay,” I say, “let’s do some warmups and then we can get to practicing with them.”

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Breakfast

I find myself at work early, more than a little bit thrown by the fact that I haven’t eaten anything yet and I’m already here. I make my way to the cafeteria. Why Perry can’t tell me more than fifteen minutes beforehand that she doesn’t plan to show up when it was her idea in the first place and I was going to actually get decent food and now I’m stuck with crap, I have no idea. (Note to self: write angry email to Perry, delete angry email to Perry.) I head toward the coffee, staring at my phone. Old case files do nothing for either my hunger or my annoyance, but a little something for my lack of company, and I could swear there was something I was trying to find.

“Travis!” a familiar voice calls out, and I wince, expecting to see all the old team when I turn.

They aren’t there. Just Amos and Jenny (not even in costume) eating together.

“You look like you just woke up,” Jenny tells me.

I half-heartedly glare at her. “I did just wake up.”

“You look like you woke up on the wrong side of the insert-bizarre-noun-here, too,” she says.

Amos beckons for me to sit. “Breakfast or lunch?”

“Coffee,” I say, and drop my head onto the table.

Amos laughs. “Same old Fox.”

“Poor baby,” Jenny croons, patting my hand.

I scowl at her. “I’m just hungry and decaffeinated.”

“And dealing with all of Darren’s bullshit,” Jenny says.

“Yes, well, that’s not new,” I tell her.

Jenny gets interrupted by Amos handing me a coffee and a cinnamon roll, and handing her a smaller coffee and a slice of carrot cake. I eye it, expecting her to make some sort of joke.

“What?” she says.

“You’re not going to say something about how carrot cake surprised you or something?” I ask.

She glances down at it. “Why, is carrot cake weird?”

“You claim everything is weird, Jenny,” I say, and drain most of my coffee in one gulp.

Jenny laughs at me. “What else are you supposed to do with carrots?”

I shrug.

“No, this is actually a good one,” Amos says. “I’ve been convincing her we do it, too.”

“Do what?” I ask.

Amos grins at me. “Use carrots in all our desserts.”

“Is this a game?” I mutter. “I’m not awake enough for games yet. Give me an hour.”

Jenny glances between us, frowning while she tries to decide which of us is joking and how much and what about. Finally, she says, “I give up, what’s funny about carrots?”

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “What desserts does your home planet make with carrots?”

She shrugs. “Normal ones?”

I roll my eyes.

“Oatmeal-carrot cookies,” she says, “carrot candies, if that counts, I guess, it’s usually artificial, orange pie, carrot cake, macaroons, carrot ice cream, um, chocolate covered carrots, I guess?”

“Chocolate-covered carrots!” Amos repeats.

“I mean, if you like that sort of thing,” Jenny says, “you know, organic candied fruits with dark chocolate or whatever, I don’t know, you know the thing I’m talking about, right, Travis?”

“No,” I say, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a candied carrot.”

She stares down at her carrot cake in consternation.

“It’s not nice to make fun, Amos,” I tell him. “Carrots are horrible.”

“They’re just carrots,” Jenny says. “What the hell do you put in your desserts?”

“I thought she was joking, actually,” Amos says, crossing his arms, “I was just playing along. For ages. It can be hard to tell, you know.”

“I hear that,” Jenny says, shaking her head.

“Your planet’s weird, Jenny,” I tell her.

She chuckles. “I think it’d be easier if it were. It’s the little things that get you.”

“Raisins,” I say.

She makes a face. “Who the hell goes, ‘ooh, our grapes went bad, let’s eat them’?”

“I often feel that way,” I tell her. “About almost all dried fruit, actually.”

“I like grapefruits, though,” Jenny adds. “I mean, not dried, just, we don’t have those.”

“We’ve been going over major points of history,” Amos explains, then pauses. “Actually, I don’t remember how it came up. But most of our history lines up, except the bear-dog thing.”

“That’s not history,” Jenny says, “that’s pre-history.”

“Probably,” Amos agrees. “But it affects history, doesn’t it?”

“Does it?” I ask.

“What, all these famous figures walking around bears?” Amos asks me back.

I shrug. “I mean, if they’re normal, normal to them, wouldn’t it just look a little different?”

“Dali kept wolves,” Jenny tells us.

We both stare at her.

“Salvadere Dali,” she says, “the filmmaker.”

“Yeah, we know who you’re talking about,” I tell her, “it’s just a weird image.”

“Well, that’s what I thought, but you people keep insisting they’re friendly,” she says.

I shake my head, grinning. “Have you ever even met a dog, Jenny?”

“You keep saying that word like it’s normal,” she tells me, “and no, not up close.”

“I will introduce you to Cheese Toasties,” I say.

“Already had some,” she says, “kind of the same as back home.”

“No,” I tell her, “Cheese Toasties the domesticated wolf, not Cheese Toasties the food.”

“What the hell kind of name is that for a wolf?” she asks. “Shouldn’t you name them, I don’t know, Deerstalker, or like, Killer, or Bitey, or something?”

“Cheese Toasties is a beagle,” I say.

“I have no idea what that means, Travis,” Jenny says, exasperated.

“It’s a breed,” Amos tells her, “it’s a breed of dog.”

I look them up on my phone and hand it over.

“Oh my god,” she says, laughing, “it’s adorable, how the hell do you get that from a wolf?”

“That’s exactly what I’ve always said,” Amos says to me.

“I agreed with you,” I protest.

Amos considers that for a moment. “No, that’s true, I think you’re the only one who ever did.”

Jenny hands me my phone back. “Darren’s better today?”

“Lots,” I say, and then text him to remember to take his meds.

“I’ll check on him after work,” Jenny says. “But, if you left him alone, I’m sure he’s fine.”

“I’m not that overprotective,” I tell her, but I’ve got to be mostly joking about that, because at the same time, I get a response from Darren that just says Yes, Mother.

“Are they being stingy with the pills?” Amos asks. “It’s the new regs on recreational use of powers; they’ve got to remind you how bad it is so you know the consequences of frivolity.”

“Wouldn’t it work just as well to just hand over the pills for sanctioned use, and let everyone who was playing around suffer?” Jenny asks. “But what would I know; I’m not from your planet.”

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Case File: Odin

Independent – Criminal – Individual – Low Engagement Risk

‘Odin’ a.k.a. ‘Dietram Sommer ’

Legal name: USA-32°28’38.6″N100°14’40.9″W-2h29m14s-7Γ-X

Caucasian male, blue eyes, blond hair, 6’1”-6’3”, 22-27 years

Active 5-10 years, San Salvador

First appearance 7 years ago during the 32°28’38.6″N, 100°14’40.9″W portal event (see incident report 1 for details) – 7 individuals, assorted artifacts (mostly broken electronic equipment), no engagement

(see incident reports 2-5 for first contact incidents)

(see incident reports 7-36 for incidents prior to arrival in San Salvador)

 

Known powers: strength, moderate invulnerability, moderate regeneration, minor precognition/perception (reaction or combat)/probability manipulation, animal communication (ravens, extrapolates to all corvids, possibly all birds)

Suspected powers: some sort of memory enhancement, possibly eidetic memory

Odin has a range of several miles when communicating with his trained birds; the range is shorter when communicating with birds he’s had no previous contact with. Perception (or precognition, probability, etc.) powers seem to work within line of sight. Other powers are limited to his person.

It’s unclear whether Odin has the ability to control animals (birds). His birds do not exhibit behavior ravens are incapable of performing, although they do frequently exhibit behavior atypical of wild ravens. They are definitely trained; ravens removed from Odin’s influence have retained a high degree of friendliness and familiarity with various equipment and tricks, and have been able to respond to commands corresponding to behavior previously exhibited (commands must be given telepathically or in German). It may be a combination of treat-training (the ravens expect treats) and communication, or there may be some component of control or at least suggestiveness towards ravens included in Odin’s powerset. He has been seen causing or convincing unfamiliar crows and other corvids to do things very quickly, although this may be a product of the ability to communicate rather than a separate trait. (See incident reports 39, 50, and 81, and The Raven Reports.)

Odin’s strength is about ten times human normal (as commensurate with his acknowledged heavy musculature), although either variable or with unconscious forces moderating it; he’s never been observed damaging people or property through accidental use. Odin cannot fly, but he has been observed to use his strength to jump extreme heights or distances; he can jump higher or longer than average, but not statistically significantly more than others who use their enhanced strength for this purpose. Odin is in the 99th percentile for non-speed extranormally-enhanced running. Both of these are probably due at least in part to training. (See notes and proposed situation of his home Earth.) (See notes and speculations on his history and training.)

Odin’s invulnerability is proposed to be physically based, rather than any kind of shield; certain projectiles have managed to injure him, although it’s unclear whether this is due to size, speed, or number (at once or over time); injuries are less grievous than expected and often begin to heal immediately. Regeneration seems faster with internal injuries, which may heal within hours; cuts and scrapes have been observed to heal as slow as human normal and have the most variable healing periods of any of his injuries. No scarring has yet been observed.

Odin seems to be able to predict what people will do in a combat situation, up to and including those individuals who have been trained to evade precognitive powers, and even those who exhibit true randomness (both programmed and as a facet of their powers, see incident reports 40-43, 70-81). At least some of this may be training (his cohorts seem to exhibit this to some degree as well), or an ability to judge people on their personalities or training; some of it has to be some sort of extrasensory ability, possibly including a probability perception ability. He may be able to influence outcomes somehow. (Programmed numbers have been checked and do not exhibit any patterns, even as a whole, even across both his and Freya’s. – patterns)

Odin seems to learn quickly and is unlikely to repeat mistakes; even those made due to cultural expectations early on were corrected after the first error. He makes references to previous interactions very specifically (and correctly, checking against video evidence); this may be cultivated to intimidate. He also remembers obscure facts. These are mostly not useful and may be used to confuse opponents. (See incident report 81 for the really weird one.) He is privy to other information through his birds.

(Note: he also knows a lot of information about birds.)

 

Equipment: standard, bird-keeping equipment, situationally useful equipment

Odin keeps an assortment of small equipment, including the standard array of lockpicks, ball bearings, duct tape, etc., but also manages to produce unexpected equipment when necessary. This may or may not be related to his precognitive powers; if not, it may indicate access to extradimensional space, of a small to moderate size. It is extremely unlikely that he can manifest the equipment, as he does not typically produce the most useful item for a task, and in many cases jury-rigs equipment together to achieve his goals.

He can also be observed frequently carrying bird-keeping equipment, including temporary perches he may clip to things, falconry gloves, and bird food (treats?). Birds themselves may be equipped with trackers (and are capable of attaching these to things), notes, small explosives, or bits of ribbon or metal (decorative?). Birds are usually wearing trackers themselves. Birds may appropriate equipment from opponents, or acquire it from teammates and deliver it. Be aware that any birds captured may be able to use the equipment they carry to escape, and whether they do or not will likely attempt to steal objects from apprehension and research personnel.

 

Current threat level: green (NSA: 2) (CIA: under observation) (DEA: peripheral, very low priority) (FBI: low probability contact with neonazi groups) (ICE: kill+) (Interpol: under observation) (PAT: +)

 

In case of incursion incident: NO

(note: DO NOT SUGGEST USING HE USE HIS BIRDS. He does not care if he’s a safe distance away, he does not want to be involved.)

(addendum: NO, REALLY, DO NOT THREATEN HIS BIRDS.)

 

Deaths directly attributable:

Confirmed: Odin (White Superpower) (3), Odin (Norse Dakota)

(See list – Confirmed: non-mask personnel and EAOs)

Implicated in the deaths of Frey (7) and Freya (2) (White Superpower)

(See list – Suspected)

 

Odin comes from an alternate world that is decades divergent from ours, probably sometime during or shortly before World War Two. (Note distressed reactions to various groups of people in early videos; see Interviews.) He and his cohorts were in their mid to late teens when they came through and did not speak English, although all seven seem to have adapted. Odin does not usually speak with an accent. Odin may not always be familiar with local customs; some crimes may be attributable to this. He operates independently and is unlikely to be engaged in violent crime of any sort, including armed robbery, although he does associate with people who do.

His most likely crimes include theft, usually petty, and some drug crimes. He will sometimes hire himself out as a bodyguard. This may be legal work under one or more false identities. He is unlikely to fight civilians, except in self-defense, but may be extremely violent under threat of arrest. Apprehension is restricted to extranormal apprehension officers and extranormal law enforcement units. Apprehension is NOT RECCOMENDED for those without enhanced strength and durability themselves.  Due to his low engagement risk, Odin is a low priority fugitive.

He has been approached five times and refuses to register.

(See list of warrants)

(See list of open cases)

(See list of closed cases)

 

Known associates:

  • Brawn (San Salvador)
  • Bucephalus (Alexander the Greatest)
  • Captain Damnit (inactive or deceased)
  • Commander Salamander (missing)
  • Corvus brachyrhynchos
  • Corvus corax (vigilante)
  • Corvus frugilegus
  • Corvus monedula
  • Corvus ossifragus
  • Fricatrix
  • Headshot (San Salvador)
  • Klepto
  • Lavender Lad
  • Road to Hell
  • San Salvador Fixer
  • Satyr (San Salvador Nymphs)
  • Via Appia
  • Vigilante 9 (4)

(See Portal Event Registry contact)

(See Interpol contact)

(See list of contact with parallel houses)

 

See also:

  • USA-32°28’38.6″N100°14’40.9″W-2h29m14s-7Α-X (Loki)
  • USA-32°28’38.6″N100°14’40.9″W-2h29m14s-7Β-X (Frey)
  • USA-32°28’38.6″N100°14’40.9″W-2h29m14s-7Δ-X (Baldur)
  • USA-32°28’38.6″N100°14’40.9″W-2h29m14s-7Ε-X (Hodur)
  • USA-32°28’38.6″N100°14’40.9″W-2h29m14s-7Ζ-X (Freya)
  • USA-32°28’38.6″N100°14’40.9″W-2h29m14s-7Η-X (Hel)

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Stakeout

“Teke!” Hunch says, “you made it!”

“Yeah,” I agree, “finally got Darren to sleep, they told me you were up here alone.”

(Of course he was. Precog’s always the safe bet.)

Hunch looks back into his binoculars. “How is he?”

I pull out my own, pointing them at the exact same warehouse where nothing is going to happen all night. “He’s doing better. He didn’t sleep all the way through the night, though.”

“Not good,” Hunch says.

Before he says anything else, the other guy on the roof (who I can’t feel at all with my field even after I unfurl it, even though I know he’s inside it – I could probably shove him around if I wanted to grab at him blindly, but maybe not, depending, I should look up his file) turns to me and asks, “your kid?”

I must make a kind of horrified face, because his eyes widen comically.

Hunch clears his throat.

“Sorry,” the guy says, “Null Hotel.”

“Worst band name ever,” I tell him. “Teke.”

“Would have gone with ‘Null November’,” he suggests.

I consider it. “More pretentious, less surreal.”

Hunch laughs. “Not ‘Null Quebec’?”

“More like a political party,” Hotel says.

“I like ‘Null Whisky’,” Hunch adds, “sounds like some kind of space drink.”

“We don’t have a Whisky,” Hotel reminds him.

“We should find one,” Hunch says. “Darren’s sedatives not working? Because I can authorize a higher dose if you need one.”

“You know,” Hotel says, “there’s probably something fucked up about doctors recommending a dose and you doling it out as you see fit.”

He’s not wrong, but it’s irrelevant right now, especially because I think he’s at the max dose anyway. “Sedatives are working fine, it’s keeping him unconscious all night that’s the problem.”

“Huh,” Hunch says, “that’s a new one.”

“Not that it’s that big a problem after tonight, but he does use them to sleep the rest of the time, too,” I say. “I hope he hasn’t acclimated that quickly, he only just upped the dose.”

“Powers?” Hotel asks.

“No powers,” I say. “He’s just on the normal stuff.”

“That’s good, at least,” Hotel tells me, “when I first got mine I was up at two twelve every morning puking. It took me until after my refill to find the warning.”

“I love that one,” I say. “Ooh, let’s make it a big X through a slightly smaller X, that’s not hard to read at all.”

Hunch laughs.

“Didn’t need them so much, after, though,” Hotel adds, “blissfully quiet inside my skull. Couldn’t hear a peep out of my neighbor.”

“He was inside your head?” Hunch says, followed by a very similar sound to the ones Darren made at each and every noise that happened this afternoon.

I shudder, too. “You didn’t report them?”

“Report what?” Hotel says. “It’s some poor claustrophobic nut, all he wants to know is whether we’re taking his mail or something.”

“Still,” I say, because I don’t think I could live in that apartment.

“I’m sure he doesn’t mean anything by it,” Hotel says, “I don’t even think he’s doing it on purpose, and I don’t think he ever talks to anyone enough to share anything private, so.”

“Still illegal for him to be in there,” Hunch says, but with very little conviction.

“It may not be conscious thought access, if it helps any,” Hotel says, defending his crazy neighbor, “I think it’s a checklist system of some kind, that’s all.”

“Yeah,” I mutter, “you’d definitely feel him rooting around your head if it were just that.”

Hotel sounds distinctly amused when he responds to me. “I can feel value-judgement powers running around my head. I was psi-ops for years, you know.”

“Yeah?” I say, watching a light flick on and tapping the binoculars to record, “How good a telepath can you keep out?”

“Military grade, if they’re not trying to listen in,” he says.

The light winks out. “And if they are?”

“Well, I can use the equipment without hallucinating or breaking down into paranoid delusions,” Hotel defends himself. “Well, now I can keep them all out, obviously. What’s your point?”

“Eh,” I say, “just wondering what sorts of powers you block.”

“Anything memetic, anything psychoactive, most kinds of espers, or at least the generalized ones, precognition, sometimes sensory enhancements,” he says, “for the most part.”

I make some kind of disgruntled noise, not just because it’s a long list.

“Don’t worry,” Hotel tells me, patting me on the shoulder, “it’s only things focused at me. Hunch can use his powers all he wants even from inside the bubble.”

“On anything outside the bubble, anyway,” Hunch clarifies, “you stepped inside the safe zone, Teke, go ahead and plot my overthrow now.”

I laugh.

Someone walks up to the building and does a complicated knock, and all three of us start recording. Someone else – two somesones else show up to let the person in.

Checking to make sure we’re watching, Hotel excitedly yells, “database search!” and starts tapping at the computer, trying to run image recognition.

Hunch leans over and taps a few keys, pulling up the list of people we know work at the warehouse, and picks out one of the someones. Neither of us got a good shot of the other one. The group moves deeper into the building while Hotel tells the rest of the team what we found and Hunch and I watch and record, and then they’re out of view of the window.

“How’d you get your powers?” Hotel asks.

“High school,” Hunch says, “I thought someone was plotting something.”

“Were they?” Hotel asks.

“They were,” Hunch confirms.

Hotel nudges me. “You?”

I laugh. “I rescued a cat.”

“A cat,” Hotel repeats.

“Yup. Professor Fluffernutter and I were up a tree, conducting mad research on mad control groups,” I explain. “Professor Fluffernutter fell, I reached out, kitty floated down to safety.”

“Professor Fluffernutter,” Hotel repeats, to much laughter from Hunch, who’s heard this before.

“Only a Professor while we were conducting mad experiments,” I clarify. “Well, a mad case study, anyway.”

“Who the hell names a cat Fluffernutter?” he sputters.

“I did,” I say. “You can blame the neighbor for letting me name the cat, but you’ve got to blame me for the name.”

“How old were you?” he asks.

I snort trying not to laugh. “When I got my powers, or when I named the cat?”

“Either,” he says, “both. I don’t know. I feel like I’m missing part of this story.”

“Six when I named the cat, eight when I got my powers,” I say. “Fluffernutter was one of those poofy white cats, real good for holding up to the light while you screamed ‘SCIENCE’ at people.”

“Wow,” Hotel says, “and yet, you didn’t go into mad science.”

“Nah,” I agree, “I figured I ought to at least give myself the chance to say, ‘halt, evildoer’.”

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Treats

There’s a knock at the door. It startles me awake, but at least it doesn’t bother Darren, who already was awake, just sulking a little, trying to hide the tremors under the blankets. There’s another knock, and I realize that I need to answer it to make it stop. I shake myself into alertness.

“Treats!” Jenny says, when I open the door.

“Yes,” Darren calls out, “you are a godsend, Jenny, give it here.”

“Darren,” I say, “did you wait until I was asleep and text Jenny?”

“No,” Darren says, drawing it out. “Anyway, you should have bought banana, then.”

I wave her in, and take her grocery bags to start putting them away. “I don’t know why you don’t just invite her to take care of your demanding ass all day. I could’ve gone to work.”

“Monday,” Jenny says. “Kids are in testing all day.”

“See?” I tell Darren, “she knows that.”

“Yeah!” she agrees, “I get to give an alternate universe lecture tomorrow!”

I groan.

“Yeah, well, it’s an important part of the curriculum, and I wish they would teach it in school, it’s not like everyone shouldn’t know.” Jenny peels open a banana ice pop and hands it over.

“I love you, Jenny,” Darren says.

“You owe me fifty bucks for all that, asshole,” Jenny says, and pats him on the head.

“Darren,” I say, “did you text Jenny and demand she go shopping?”

“No,” Darren says, sullenly, “she was already at the store when I texted.”

Jenny laughs. “It’s okay. I still haven’t gotten over supermarkets. They’re like department stores for food! Amazing.”

“She’s lying,” Darren says, “everything out of her mouth is a lie. They totally have supermarkets where she comes from.”

“Well, you’ll never know, will you?” Jenny says, “it’ll be decades before anyone can replicate conditions, assuming they’re even trying.”

“You made Jenny do our shopping,” I accuse him.

“You only buy hippie crap,” he accuses me, eating his ice pop. “Jenny buys the good stuff.”

“If you keep eating the shit you make Jenny buy you, you’re going to get sicker,” I say.

“Jenny’s right here,” Jenny says, “and Jenny expects you to return the favor if Jenny’s ever indisposed due to Top Secret Shenanigans. And Jenny bought you maple sugar, anyway, Travis.”

I look in the bag and pull out the box of candies, and grin. “Thank you, Jenny.”

“It’s not that secret,” Darren says, “I’ll tell you all about it if you get Watkins off my back.”

Jenny laughs. “I’ll get Harvey to scare some sense into him, how’s that? What are you watching? Back on my home planet we don’t have any channels devoted to puppies.”

“Jenny, stop trying to sound like an alien,” I tell her, “you keep scaring the interns.”

“That’s because you don’t have puppies back on your home planet,” Darren says.

“Who steals a wolf?” Jenny says, “oh, look, a vicious scary predator, let’s kidnap it!”

“You domesticated bears,” Darren says.

Jenny grins. “Oh, did we?”

“Better not have been a lie,” Darren mutters, “that was the best documentary ever.”

“It really was,” Jenny agrees, “they had me working with animators for a year. The head animator had me out to lunch every single day trying to get me to sign onto her freelance project.”

“Was it about bears?” I ask.

“Nope,” Jenny shakes her head. “No idea why she wanted me. My top contenders are: name recognition, secretly an evil plot, and secretly a sexy plot.”

“Not that last one,” I tell her, “she’s a friend of a friend and strictly dickly.”

“Aw,” Jenny says, “I thought she liked me. I was going to get her to jumpstart my film career.”

“Well, if you’d rather, the friend she’s a friend of wants to do a World War Two thinkpiece and needs big names,” I tell her.

“That’s right,” Jenny says, “Jenivere Marstotter, saving the world, educating the public, making pretentious-ass films about how everything changes but everything stays the same.”

She likes you,” I tell her.

Jenny fans herself. “Likes-me likes me?”

“Oh my god, what are we, in eighth grade?” Darren says, “oh, who do you have a crush on, Darren, oh, Isabelle, for sure, shh, don’t tell her.”

Jenny cracks up. “I’m going to tell her you said that.”

Darren looks her right in the eye and says, “I just told you not to tell her.”

“You better not tell,” I joke, “he’s going to get fired for sexual harassment.”

“For fuck’s sake, Travis, I don’t actually like her!” Darren snaps.

“Uh-oh,” I joke, “now he’s going to get fired for gender discrimination.”

Darren throws his popsicle stick at me. “Go to hell, fuckface.”

“I don’t see why you don’t like Isabelle,” Jenny teases, “she’s the only one on your team who can manage not to leave dead links everywhere.”

“Look, that’s why we have Ben, okay?” Darren says, “we have a lot of things to do and he gets paid to clean up all the things and make things legible.”

“Mm-hmm,” Jenny says. “You know you don’t need to double-check if you do it right the first time? Like the saying goes, if you cut right, you never have to measure.”

“Are you saying I don’t know how to run my team?” Darren grumbles.

“Are you saying you believe that’s a real phrase?” Jenny shoots back.

“I’ve learned to ignore all your ‘common phrases’, Jenny,” Darren tells her, solemnly. “Your people and mine are alike in our hearts, and that’s all that matters.”

“This,” I say, “this is the alien stuff again.”

“Oh, come on, it can’t scare them that badly,” Jenny protests.

“What, after the refugees off Invasion Mars Twelve?” I ask her.

Jenny rolls her eyes. “Those aren’t even our aliens. Hell, that wasn’t even an Earth.”

“There was an Earth,” Darren says, still solemn, “there was.”

“Oh, that was tasteless,” Jenny says, and shoves his legs over so she can sit.

“Well, it’s not like I’m doing stand-up at a Parallel House, is it?” Darren asks, then shivers, and pulls the blankets up. “Shouldn’t have had that ice pop.”

I put on some more tea, the kind with flowers mostly, not lemongrass.

“What, after you made me go all the way to the store to get them?” Jenny asks, but she pats his leg when she says it.

“Well, you know,” Darren tells her, “like they say back on your home planet, if you can’t put in the time, don’t try to solve crimes.”

She shakes her head at him and clicks her tongue. “That means the time for detectiving, Darren, not the time for wandering through themed food hallways.”

“No, no,” I tell him, handing over his cup of tea, “the one you’re looking for is, an apple a day means shopping anyway.”

“A pomegranate,” Jenny corrects. “We don’t have your strange pineless apple-fruits.”

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