Cinnamon

Cinnamon peers at me from around the doorframe, blinking slowly. I blink back. I have no idea where Nutmeg went, but at least I can eat my salmon in peace – Cinnamon isn’t the type to try to beg food, just to lazily observe from the corner. I think Nutmeg is off napping somewhere, and won’t hear, but I try not to touch my fork to my plate, anyway. Just in case.

“Pris,” Perry says, softly, staring into her tablet.

This is not effective, because Priscilla isn’t even in the same room as us.

Perry looks up, blinking, and seems to realize this fact. “Pris!”

Still no answer. Huh. Okay, maybe she went out for groceries, or…?

“Priscilla,” Perry screams at the top of her lungs (not really, it’s just that I’m sitting right here woman let me get earplugs or something), and puts down her tablet.

I surreptitiously scoot farther away in case she yells again.

Which, a second later, she does. “Morgan!”

“For fuck’s sake, Perry, I am busy! Get it yourself!”

Okay, I guess she’s not out shopping, then.

“I don’t want anything,” Perry shouts back, “I found that video of the dog you were looking for! The LARPing one dressed like a wizard!”

Yay! More dogs.

Priscilla appears like three seconds earlier, suddenly standing between us, the tablet in her hands, whispering, “theonethatshootsfireballs?”

Okay, now I have to see this video.

Pris sets it up on the table and starts playing it, to awed silence from all three of us. A few seconds in, the dog does, indeed, spit out a fireball.

This would probably be more impressive if I hadn’t had a whole class full of them today.

Pris pumps her fist in the air. “This is it! This is the one! Watch.”

Ha! Like she could stop me.

The dog continues to bark fireballs at people – either they don’t really do much, or the people have some kind of protective gear or powers, because nobody catches fire when they hit – and brings down a fair number of opponents, culminating in what is actually an impressive feat of either cinematography or careful editing, because the dog leaps higher than any dog has a right to leap, and the camera manages to follow the entire arc with the dog centered perfectly in the frame, and without any camera wobbles either. The dog triumphantly pins…someone in a crown, I don’t know, I think the dog wins, even though its wizard hat fell right off.

“Amazing,” Priscilla says, then abruptly leaves the room.

“Wait, what the fuck, where are you going?” Perry asks.

“I told you,” Pris says, giving Cinnamon an ear scritch, “I’m busy, Perry, I was in the middle of doing something. Now I’m going back to doing it.”

“Doing what?” Perry says.

“I’m not explaining this again!” Pris calls from inside her office.

“Look, all you said was that – oh!” Perry says, turning to me, “speaking of explaining!”

“What?” I say, sharing a knowing look with Cinnamon, only she’s left, and I have no one to commiserate with in my confusion.

“We finally got an explanation for the Mesopotamian thing!” Perry says.

“I,” I say, “um, congratulations?”

Perry claps her hands, and finds something else on her tablet. “You know, the reference about those things, with the…you know, Mesopotamian superpowers.”

“The Lightning Plates?” I ask, because I can’t possibly think of anything else she could be referencing, and I don’t know why she’s suddenly interested in them.

“Yes! The,” she pouts at me. “You know about them already.”

“Perry, if you could’ve got through my major without learning about the Lightning Plates, you’d deserve to have a degree in whatever subject you wanted through sheer talent at cheating,” I say.

“Oh, right, I’ve suddenly remembered why I refused to talk to you all through college,” she tells me, “check out this video anyway.”

I watch it for a while. I mean, the information isn’t bad, “what is this in reference to?”

Perry sighs heavily. “Like three chapters ago, Copperbadge said something about Mesopotamia and we were all wondering if he was trying to introduce one of the museum villains –”

“Wait, is this the one where not-really-me is having graphic sex with the guy who attacked my kids on the roof a week ago, because I’m not really sure I want to hear about that,” I tell her.

“Okay, first, I’m not even sure this is technically set in our reality, and second, I thought you were happy that never made the news,” Perry says, “anyway, we haven’t gotten to the sex yet.”

“Well, that’s fine then,” I say.

“Is this,” Perry frowns, “sorry, I didn’t think that through. Here, let’s watch something else.”

“No, I mean,” I shake my head, “at least finish the story, will you?”

Perry grins. “So, no, it was not foreshadowing. Apparently, in looking up some things for the story, he got really into the Mesopotamian stuff?”

I stare blankly at her, wondering what exactly I’m missing.

Perry laughs. “So he decided to go full on Indiana Jones with Teke, and now he’s going to be a professor of this stuff, that’s amazing, right?”

“Eerie,” I say.

Perry cocks her head. “What, just because he’s studying something a little too close to your nerd interests? Come on, this is so much more fun than the standard narrative.”

I shrug. “Well, as long as he doesn’t end up getting a visit from the Men in Black.”

Perry grimaces at me. “Please tell me that’s not actually a worry.”

“I mean, hopefully he doesn’t accidentally write in other features of, you know, actual me, and I’m sure he’ll be fine,” I say, “he doesn’t happen to have reality warping powers, does he?”

“Not as far as I know,” Perry says, “but given the character crossover, I’m sure it’ll muddy the waters enough no one can actually find you, anyway.”

“Oh, no question,” I agree, “let’s just hope upstairs doesn’t get too antsy about it.”

“I hope he’ll still give you that puppy sidekick, anyway,” she adds.

“I,” I say, “what? Where did you hear about that?”

“We have our ways,” she says, mysteriously, and then hands me a press release with, wow, the mock-up looks even better now. Artists terrify me. “The dog’s named Chic, for the rhyme.”

“Okay,” I say, “not what I would’ve gone with, but fine.”

“I think it’s kind of cute,” she says. “Might end up a little embarrassing for everyone involved, but, damn, you’re going to get them to let you do the photoshoot personally, right?”

“Hell yes,” I say, “I saw maybe three dogs in costume today despite the fact that they had every excuse, come on, what is that? No way in fuck I’m passing up that chance.”

Perry grins at the picture. “I hope you get collector’s set action figures out of this.”

prev

Pepper

“How’s your day going, Teke?” Apogee asks.

“Haven’t got much done,” I tell her, “nobody has, I don’t think. You?”

She grins the widest I’ve ever seen her grin, although she doesn’t usually grin particularly wide, so I don’t know if it’s actually a particularly wide grin, or whether it just seems completely unfamiliar on her face. Either way, it makes me slightly nervous.

“Guess what,” she says to me.

“What?” I say, far more apprehensive than I typically have to be inside this building (or, at least, away from medical or the gyms).

“I got a dog,” she says.

I blink at her repeatedly for at least several minutes.

“Would,” she says, suddenly nervous, “would you like to meet my dog?”

“Um,” I say, looking around her, where there’s a conspicuous absence of dog, “yes?”

“Pepper!” she calls, and a huge Newfie – huge for a Newfie – comes bounding down the hall, ramming straight into my stomach and wagging her tail in every direction.

“Oh, hello!” I say, and then the rest of what I say devolves into nonsense, because I’m playing tug-of-war with my own sleeve at that point.

“She’s great, right?” Apogee asks.

“I thought you were afraid of dogs,” I say, although, yes, she is great. I scratch her ears, and she gives me a happy toss of her head.

“Okay, first, Cheese Toasties cured me of that,” Apogee says, “also, how could you be afraid of this big lump? She looks exactly like the beshy I had as a kid, look at that face!”

“Oh,” I say. “Okay.”

Apogee beams at me.

“When did you get a dog,” I ask her.

She laughs. “Well, I ‘always like’ to try to fit in, and it seems like a great way of doing that – you know, seeing new places, meeting new people – is to take your dog out.”

“That’s probably true,” I say.

She nods. “So, I thought, well, I’ll go pick one up from a shelter, right, they’re already housebroken, some basic training – I don’t really get how to train a dog, you know.”

“I imagine it can’t be that different,” I tell her, “I think it works the same on all animals.”

She nods agreeably. “Maybe so. Well, I get there, and this floof is staring me in the face, all friendly like, and they asked me was I sure I could handle a dog this big?”

I laugh. “You, really?”

“I know!” she says, “I picked her up and held her over my head to prove my point.”

I give her a skeptical look. “What, and she just let you?”

“Oh, sure,” Apogee says, demonstrating for me, “she’s actually very calm.”

Pepper turns her head to me, legs dangling casually on either side of Apogee, and gives me a soft huff of, what is that, is she humoring Apogee? Pepper’s tail wags several times.

“But, of course I had to bring her today,” Apogee says, “for your most important state holiday of Bring Your Dog to Work Day.”

I stare at her. I’m never clear whether Apogee’s joking.

“Anyway, the timing worked out pretty well, because they finished my paperwork over the weekend, and so Pepper’s getting used to everyone now,” she says, setting the dog down with a quick kiss on the nose.

Pepper yawns. I give her a pet on the head.

“This is Travis, Pepp!” Apogee says, followed by something that might be meaningful, or might not, I mean, Apogee speaks at least one more language than I do, and Pepper doesn’t speak any, so I doubt it’s particularly meaningful either way.

Pepper sniffs me curiously, investigating what particular scents I might have, and licking my hands a few times for good measure.

“Aw, she likes you!” Apogee boops me on the nose. “She’ll remember you for sure.”

“Remember me?” I repeat.

“Yes!” Apogee claps her hands together. “I’ve been training her to find people based on their names – it’s going pretty well. Pepper is such a good dog.”

“Who can she find?” I ask.

“So far, me, reliably, regardless of who tells her to find me,” Apogee says, fluffing the dog’s ears, “and Amos, and Kitty, and Chocolate more reliably than her, and sometimes Emma.”

“That’s pretty effective for just a couple days,” I tell her.

She laughs into her hand. “Since this morning, you mean? It’s a great trick, right? I had no idea that dogs could do all these things.”

“Um,” I say.

“What?”

“I mean, they can,” I tell her, “but not usually this fast – are you sure you don’t have some sort of dog training power mixed up in there?”

“Hmm,” she says, and adds nothing.

“Really?” I say.

She shrugs. “I could. I used to get along with certain kinds of domesticated animals, I mean, birds mostly, but I could train them pretty fast. Could be the same thing.”

“Is this,” I say, staring, “is this normal for your people…?”

She shakes her head, tips it, and nods slightly. “I don’t know, really. It was never a big enough deal for most people to make anything of it? I guess it’s a pretty common secondary.”

“Huh,” I say.

Apogee waves a hand. “It’s probably something to do with the extra senses, you know, you can use them for intuition or something. Boosting communication, but as a side effect.”

“Yes,” I agree, “that’s probably it.”

She rubs her neck, grimacing slightly. “Well, I don’t know, I’ll mention it to someone next time I’m down for testing and see if it means anything.”

“I doubt it’ll cause problems,” I tell her, “it’s just that I’ve never heard of it except as an outlier power. Mostly it really is parallels that have it.”

Apogee nods vaguely. “I don’t know. Pepper can do a lot of great tricks. Ask her anything.”

“Uh, Pepper, sit,” I say.

Pepper sits happily.

Apogee glares. “Something better.”

“Roll over?” I offer.

Pepper rolls onto her back, letting me scratch her belly.

Apogee makes a discreet sort of spinning gesture with her finger.

“Pepper…spin?” I say.

Pepper spins in a circle several times before stopping to grin at me.

prev | next

Many More Dogs

“Well, okay,” I say to Sensei Domino, “you get some dogs after all.”

Standing in front of us, neatly lined up, are six smiling faces next to six equally happy doggy grins. One of them barks. (A dog. Not a kid.)

Anyway, at this point, I have to mention that Pulis are my favorite breed of dog. Which is not to say that I don’t love all other dogs, because I do, but just mentioning that it’s the dog that’s my favorite; I’m not playing favorites with my students. I mean not that anyone could do anything about it if I were, but still, it’s not really the kind of environment you want to foster, is it?

The point: FiendPuncher has a Puli.

We race toward each other in excitement, meeting in the middle, and I get many licks on my hand as I try to engage in headpats. The kids laugh at me. I super don’t care. I mean, it seems good-natured enough, anyway – but I have more important concerns. (It’s a Puli.)

No, the incredible thing is that every single dog seems to have a power that corresponds to the student. I have to wonder which of them trained their dogs into it, and who picked out dogs who could do the exact same thing they could.

Well, no, Enigma Machine’s Dalmatian doesn’t seem to have any powers at all, other than knowing not to lick electronics, which I have to assume isn’t actually a power. I mean, service dogs know way better tricks than that? And show dogs can stand still for hours or something getting their picture taken, so that’s weird. Anyway, yes, Bran doesn’t have powers. Probably. Or at least they aren’t very good if they are.

Oh, yeah, the Puli, a very dark brown with a sort of lightish brown nose (not very light, really, just a little bit lighter) is named Horseradish, which is an adorable name for a dog.

Horseradish can float. And is floating, right now. What a good dog.

Caffeine has…a dog. I don’t know. I’ll figure out what kind once they stop running around the gym, this is – couldn’t he have waited until the end of roll call even, I don’t?

Psybeam has – oh my god I was looking at this dog a second ago – I turn back to the dog, who tilts curiously to examine me, tail happily thumping against the ground. A Puggle. It looks like a Puggle, anyway. I look away for a second, promptly lose track, and have to stare at the puppy continuously before the name stops blanking out in my head: Poffin. The effect is extremely pervasive and a lot stronger than Psybeam’s – or I’m just used to him, maybe. I don’t know.

Gatling, however, has given his dog a terrible name. Or maybe his parents have. I don’t know; I don’t know how you tell the difference. Sausage. I mean, not that it isn’t a terrible name in general (probably worse for a pig, I’d think), but particularly for a Dachshund, that’s not great, right? I might be overreacting. The little guy’s captivating, though; with every bark, a percussive sound wave slams against me, and I think if they could be aimed they could do a lot of damage.

Okay, I’m aware that’s not actually the same power as Gatling’s, but it’s surprisingly close for, you know, a dog.

Jailbait has a squat little bulldog radiating affection and a need for scritchies, which I know is not just how much I love this dog, but some sort of extranormal aura, because goddamn is that stronger than my usual feelings towards dogs, which are always affectionate as hell. Her name is Pecan Sandy, and both the humans and the other dogs gravitate toward her unconsciously. Her ears perk up and her tongue lolls out every time she greets someone. Proud mom Jailbait keeps feeding her crackers.

Horseradish floats to a stop in front of me, apparently jealous. I oblige with many ridiculous puppy-talk noises, and at least one kiss on the nose, which there’s no way any of the class missed, but they’re polite enough not to say anything.

Caffeine and company finally come to a halt. The dog is smaller than I expected – I thought I caught a glimpse of a medium to large sized dog – and sits patiently, white except for the curly brown fur around the eyes and ears, apparently not at all tired from their run. Caffeine grins, informing me the dog is named Ginger, which seems a fitting enough name for a Cav. I didn’t think they were usually about running, but, hey, a lot of dogs like to run, probably not this much, but some.

After the initial moments of stunned silence, Sensei Domino rushes over to the dogs, too, and I don’t think we’re handling chaperoning all that well. I mean, we’re supposed to be the responsible adults in this situation, right? Having…authority…and teaching…and stuff. Not – playing with everyone’s dogs, I don’t know, everyone actually seems to be getting along for once, and what do you do with dogs during a lesson?

Do they go sit in the corner? Do you set up a pen or a play area, or something? Do they need some sort of Dog Whispering teacher to help them use their powers? Or are we just keeping them next to each individual, or whoever’s lap they end up on, and letting them distract everyone for the whole class so nothing gets done, like we do in the meetings?

Because that last one definitely seems like the direction we’re going in.

And I think the dogs might be about to use their powers on each other.

With a sigh, I resign myself to giving them a half-listened-to lecture while they ignore me in favor of telling endearing tales of their dogs’ adventures, and Sensei Domino is absolutely no help, because I’m pretty sure he likes dogs even more than I do. Also, if I don’t step in, he might try to teach them karate, which, while hilarious, would probably not end well.

I launch into a discussion of how dogs manifest, and what kind of extranormal distribution you get there, and why it’s different from humans. No one bothers to tell me where any of the dogs got their powers, even though that’s the one dog story that would actually be relevant to the lesson. Horseradish senses my frustration, though, and repeatedly licks my hand while I talk.

prev | next

You don’t have a dog?

“You don’t have a dog?” Sensei Domino says in disappointment.

I shake my head.

“Aw,” he says, frowning. “I was hoping there’d be a dog.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I think I’m getting a dog sidekick in the webcomic?” I say, “or, at least, we have the mockup for one.”

“Ooh,” he says, “that’s fun. They won’t let me be in it.”

I make a confused face at that.

He shrugs. “I don’t know, they say it’s a security issue, I think it’s just because I’m not cleared for the field and they don’t want to explain who I am to the general public.”

“I mean…why?” I say, “it’s not like people don’t know we have instructors hanging around.”

“Right?” he says, “every now and then they do a shoutout to support personnel, but not in particular, just in the general.”

“Except for Sid,” I say.

“Oh, well, that’s different.” Domino shakes his head. “I think that’s because Sid knew the artist – one of the artists – he got someone to do it on short notice, who wrote him in as thanks.”

“He doesn’t show up that often, anyway, so I guess it’s fine,” I say.

“You’d be surprised,” he tells me.

“How often Sid shows up?” I ask.

He shrugs expansively. “I mean, I don’t follow it? But I have a couple friends who do, and apparently he’s a fan favorite, I can’t tell if he has his own side comic, or, I don’t know, maybe it’s a fan thing? But, yeah, he shows up a lot, and he acts nothing like Sid, also, so that’s weird.”

“Ooh,” I say, “your friends didn’t start a letter writing campaign, did they?”

“Thank god, no,” he says, “they managed to send off one note telling them to put me in the comic – you can guess how that turned out – but I got to them before they started a petition.”

“Hey, Domino?” I say.

He raises an eyebrow at me.

“We’re friends, right?” I ask.

“Uh,” he says, “weird that you didn’t use my real name if you’re going to ask a question like that. But, sure, okay.”

“Jeff,” I say.

He laughs. “You don’t have to use it, it doesn’t bother me or anything, but I kind of – are we about to have a heart to heart? Should I get hot chocolate or something?”

I sigh. “How do you feel about having people at your place?”

“In general?” he says, eyes narrowing slightly.

“In specific,” I say.

“Uh,” he taps his fingers against his desk. “I kind of – I have a personal policy against getting involved with coworkers. Sorry.”

“Wait, what?” I say.

He crosses his arms. “What, not overnight?”

“I mean, yes, overnight,” I say, “not like – I mean, I need somewhere to stay tonight.”

He frowns. “Short notice. Why?”

“I know, I know it is, sorry, I just,” I sigh. “Darren’s – well, he was mad at me, I assume he still is, since I haven’t had a chance to talk to him, what with all the dogs.”

“Oh, that’s why so many people are missing,” he says.

“What?” I say.

“Dog allergies, right?” he says, “or, I guess phobias or whatever.”

“Uh, sure,” I say.

“Sorry, I just realized – wow, that was, uh, sorry, go on.” He grins sheepishly.

“I, um, haven’t seen him? So I have to assume he’s still mad at me,” I say.

“What, since yesterday?” Domino asks me, “where did you stay last night?”

“With a friend,” I tell him, “I’m just worried I’m wearing out my welcome, or will soon, I don’t know, I thought maybe I should line up somewhere else I could go.”

“Oh,” he says, drumming his fingers again. “I mean, yeah, that’s reasonable, but my place is tiny. Like, I have a couch, but not one big enough to sleep on.”

“Oh,” I say.

“Sorry,” he says.

“No,” I tell him, “this is entirely on me. It was not a fight I should’ve started.”

Domino clears his throat. “Uh, okay, this may be overstepping my bounds, but, I mean, if you’ve decided we’re friends, and of course, can’t get more awkward than our failed flirting, so tell me if – well, do you…maybe want to talk about it? Or?”

“Why does everyone want to talk to me about this?” I snap, then clap my hand over my mouth.

“Wow,” he says, eyes widening, “sorry.”

I shake my head vigorously. “No, sorry, it’s not you. It’s. Okay, I don’t know, I’m bad at discussing things, that’s on me, I just don’t want to talk about it, nothing about you at all.”

“You sure?” he asks. “Kind of sounded like it was maybe aimed at me.”

“Oh my god can we discuss something a little less difficult,” I say.

He coughs into his hand. “You should’ve brought a dog. We could discuss the dog.”

“I could go get a dog,” I say, “almost the entire rest of my team has them, I could, I could get one right now, do you want me to get a dog.”

“At this point, almost,” he says.

“Fuck,” I say.

“Yeah,” he agrees.

“Let’s, uh,” I say, “maybe start with something less –”

“Fraught?” he offers.

I sigh in agreement.

“That’s probably a better idea, uh – do you prefer Travis or Fox, because I hear both.”

“Either is fine,” I tell him.

He frowns slightly.

“My name is Travis. I mean, my legal – whatever, you have my file.” I run my fingers through my hair. “Fox is a nickname I’ve had since I was little, and it catches on easy.”

“Is there a story behind that?” he asks, with a slightly tilt of his head.

“Yes, but it’s boring,” I say.

“Oh, well,” he says, getting up to get a cup of coffee. “I have time, if you want to tell it.”

“It’s not long,” I say, “it’s just boring.”

“Well, then, there should be plenty of time,” he says, with a shrug. “Or I have paperwork.”

I sigh. “My uncle has the same name I do.”

“Travis?” he says.

I nod. “When I was little, I got upset that we both had the same name, you know how kids get, so they had me pick a new name. I liked foxes. That’s literally it.”

He takes a sip of his coffee. “Are you named after your uncle, or are you both named after the same person?”

“No, I’m named after him,” I say.

“Huh,” says Jeff. “I’m named after my uncle, too.”

I nod.

He laughs. “You suck at small talk.”

“I do not suck at small talk,” I tell him, “you’re the one who assumes people are hitting on you when they so much as ask a question – fine. What’s your favorite book?”

prev | next