“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.