Part 6

48. Derek Charles

I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. In just a couple of days I’ll be seeing my mother again for the first time since I was seven years old! It’s going to be a bit creepy because she’s younger than me, but I’m still excited. I had to go out for a jog just to work off the energy.

As I approach the warehouse I notice movement. I hope it’s not another creep trying to do a drug deal. That would be the second one in as many months. People seem to think that just because a building is abandoned they can use it for whatever purpose they want. I slow down and approach cautiously.

One of the Plasbots is there, which makes me even more suspicious. He can’t be seen from the street, but I still don’t like it. Despite Nineteen’s software passing every loyalty diagnostic I could think of, I don’t quite trust him. He made no mention of the Safe Houses until Twelve let it slip. Nineteen’s excuse was that they weren’t ready for occupation and he didn’t want to report on them until they were. I wonder what else he’s hiding from me.

The other person is a middle-aged man who’s just starting to go to weight. He has dark hair and a Tom Selleck moustache and is dressed in a sweatshirt and faded dress pants. He’s handing something about the size of kids’ lunch box to the robot.

As the robot heads down to the basement I know which one it is. Nineteen. His right leg actuator doesn’t take power properly so he walks with a limp. Meanwhile the man walks over to an unremarkable spot on the floor and stands, looking down and waiting.

“Hey! You know this is private property!”

“I am fully aware of that, Mister Charles. Have you considered putting a marker here?”

“A marker? What for?” I start walking over to him.

“This is where he fell. The last honourable super villain.”

“What are you talking about?”

“This is where his body was. The Insidious Doctor Plasma, your father.”

“How do you know that?”

“I was there. October 19, 2000. Thirteen years ago today.”

“You were there? Were you a witness?”

“After a fashion. Guardsman, Hawk, and the Cosmic Ego were present. They had just foiled his scheme to replace the Mayor and all of City Council with advanced plasbots. Everyone had been rescued except Nancy Jacks. She was here with Plasma, trying to talk him into using his genius to help people. She’d just got some major concession or other out of him when the heroes arrived, and the two were shaking hands.”

“You can guess what Hawk thought of that. He’d already started his ‘total solution’ of the villain problem by then, and his reckless disregard for bystanders was becoming more obvious every day. Four talons went into Nancy’s back. Plasma caught her as she fell and called out to them to stop. He took out a satchel and began digging in it, putting up his force field and totally ignoring the heroes.”

“Guardsman charged in and started hammering on Plasma’s force field; that’s how he got those burn scars on his hands. Eventually the shield collapsed but Guardsman was too badly burned to continue, so Hawk fired about a dozen talons into him. Meanwhile Ego grabbed Councillor Jacks and headed for the nearest hospital. She died enroute.”

“When Ego got back to the warehouse Plasma was dead too. The stupid part is that the satchel he took out was a first aid kit. He was trying to save Councillor Jacks while Guardsman and Hawk were trying to kill him. That was when the Cosmic Ego quit the Justice Sentinels.”

“It wasn’t long before the villains figured out the new rules. Pretty soon everyone was playing for keeps, just like the Sentinels had been warned when they’d started down that path. Ego watched and waited, knowing the system couldn’t sustain itself. It’s taken over a decade, but things are finally falling apart.”

I looked at him, trying to find a trace of anyone I might have heard of. “What part did you play in this, then?”

“I am – was – the human host for The Cosmic Ego. He needed a human anchor to hold him to this plane of reality. He put together some kind of plan to redeem the heroes, make them heroic again, but it ran into a snag.”

“What kind of a snag?”

“Protocol killed him.”

“Look, whatever your name is, …”

“Doug.”

“Sure. Look, Doug, what are you doing …”

“Talking to your robot? I was dropping off Ego’s Interface Core. It’s what allowed him to interact with this reality. Your robot is going to store it in the vault in case it’s needed again.”

“You’re storing things in my lair?”

“Yes. Ego had a deal with Plasma, since he had the most secure vault on the planet. After Plasma died I just kept using it. Didn’t you wonder about finding Gravitas’s bands here when he died after you went to the orphanage?”

The idea had never even occurred to me, but I’m not going to tell him that. “I just assumed the robots salvaged it.”

“The robots you reactivated after almost thirteen years of downtime.”

“Look, if you’re done here would you mind getting the hell off my property?”

“Actually, I’m not done. I have to meet with a hero. You’d better go and get Sexy Beast and Mirror Maid ready.”

“Mirror Maid?”

“Just a guess. She has the Human Mirror’s power orb in her.”

“But he’s not dead!”

“Yes he is. Last month. AIDS. Apparently his power couldn’t protect him from his own immune system.”

“That’s harsh.”

“What’s harsh is that it didn’t even make the news. He played the game, he died, and nobody cares! He’s just another number in the body count. Anyway, you’d better go. Paragon will be here in…” He looks at his watch “…just over a minute. Unless you want to test yourself against someone with Guardsman’s powers writ large.”

I don’t. “Whatever. Just go away when you’re done.” I head downstairs grumbling. This guy thinks he can use my home for his secret rendezvous. Maybe I should fix up that Megadroid in the hangar and send it out on a rampage. That’d show him.

49. Protocol

I enjoy an evening dusting the Trophy Room. The Ectoplasmic Dissipater looks lovely in its display case. Too bad it’s a fake; the real one is sitting in the workshop ‘for cleaning’. Of course none of the Sentinels knows the difference. That’s why I haven’t bothered killing them yet. They’re sitting ducks; it’s too easy. Nobody but Hawk is properly paranoid anymore, and Hawk’s the one that hired me. If I’d known the job would take this long I’d have asked for more, but it has given me a luxury hideout that nobody would ever suspect.

There’s a new batch of supers coming up. I already know of four: Artificial Gravity, Emo, Paragon, and Sexy Beast. Oh, and Hawk’s little toy Peregrine is finally getting out of his shadow. I know there’s more, I just can’t see them yet. From what I’ve seen this batch isn’t going to play by the rules. But then I don’t precisely play by the rules either.

I stop and stare at one particular item with a sense of nostalgia. The Ladykiller’s umbrella sword, all pink and frilly but still razor sharp after all these years. I resist the temptation to take it out and swing it around a bit. Faking your death means you have to leave the old life behind. And anyway, I have a whole new set of toys to play with now.

50. Paragon

It takes me most of the time that the Cosmic Ego gave me to get back into town. The building he directed me to is an old abandoned warehouse down by the railroad station. I’d call it a dump but there isn’t that much garbage strewn around; it’s more of a ruin. Like my life right now.

I don’t dare go home. Dad would hand me over to the police for aiding and abetting a fugitive, and they’d lock me up on his word alone. I don’t think anybody’s laid any real charges yet, but that doesn’t matter. After all, Guardsman’s the head of Capital City’s number one super team.

The scary part is that being taken in by the police is the best option. Too many super fights these days end up with somebody leaving in a body bag. My best bet is to stay in hiding and find some way to straighten this out. Hopefully this Cosmic Ego character has some ideas.

He’s waiting there when I arrive. At least I assume it’s him. He looks like a guy about Dad’s age; no super suit, no power manifestations. He could just walk down the street and nobody would recognize him. I actually envy the guy.

“Are you the Cosmic Ego?”

“Not any more; Ego’s dead. I’m Doug.”

“I thought the Cosmic Ego was some kind of ghost.”

“He was a spirit being; they’re hard to kill but not impossible. Protocol took him down last night with some kind of ectoplasmic blaster; now he’s abstract art in Justice Sentinel HQ. I don’t even know why he went there given that he hasn’t been a member for years.”

“Must be something in the building that he wanted. I really don’t care right now. Where are Leandra and Sandy? Are they okay? Is there anything I can do to help?”

“They’re at my base, restrained and under supervision. They each took a full dose of Hawk’s nightmare toxin; it’s a mix of LSD and fear gas. They should pull through eventually, but it’s not safe to be near them right now. As for what you can do, I’m open to suggestions. Ego didn’t share his plans with me, so I’m totally in the dark here.”

“Well, let’s look at what Ego did. He went to the base; there isn’t much there aside from the personal quarters, the trophy room and the archives. Everything else is accessible online, unless he really wanted to work out in the Hazard Simulator.”

“So what’s in the trophy room?”

“Souvenirs from various dead super villains and major cases. Big stuff, like the power core from the Armageddon Machine and the cabin of the Phantom Hand’s airship, but most of it’s more portable. A whole bunch of signature weapons – hero and villain. Some WMD’s like the Black Hole Seed, the Imagination Machine, Hauptmann’s Sturmanzug, and the Doomsday Clock. But everything is stored in an inactive state, usually with some key piece missing.

“Okay, how about the personal quarters?”

“Not much; Protocol’s the only person that actually lives there, so there’s not even primary personal effects. I doubt he’d want to go after Lightning Lady’s spare toothbrush.”

“Good point. The archives?”

“Well, the case files are all online, so the only major data stored are the detailed log files from all the Justice Sentinels’ missions. There’s sure to be important stuff in there, but it would take eons to search it.”

“Unless you knew what you were looking for. Thanks, kid. I think I know where to start looking for Ego’s plan now. And I can let you in on a secret. The Cosmic Ego wasn’t as powerful as he let on.”

“What do you mean? What about all that cosmic stuff?”

“He was basically a talking spectre; he couldn’t affect the world enough to use a toothpick. He relied on fancy devices, misdirection and reputation to take people down. Don’t get me wrong, he did have that cosmic pattern sense and could even predict the future to some degree, but otherwise he really wasn’t that super. That’s where I came in.”

“I kind of wondered about that.”

“Yeah. I carried his Interface Core – the thingy that let him actually touch stuff – as well as the battery for his psychic blasts and the focusing unit for his force field projector. And I ran his base. Built over half the thing, too. And most of the time he was active I provided a body for him to walk around in. We had to make an arrangement about that, especially after he caught Rhonda in the shower.”

“Why are you telling me this? It sounds like a little TMI.”

“Because we’re teleporting to the base.”

The only other teleporter I’d ever been through was Doc Future’s. It was all Star Trek, with lights and waves and musical chords. This time everything simply changed. We were suddenly in a lounge with several doors leading off it.

“Infirmary’s that way, kid. The woman’s name is Rhonda.” He took off through a different door.

I ran into the infirmary; Leandra and Sandy were both strapped to hospital beds while a woman watched them from the doorway. I ran over to Leandra’s bed.

“Wait…!”

I touched her and everything exploded at once. Anger, fear, tenderness, nausea, contentment, frustration … each feeling hit like a hurricane, only to be replaced by another one. On top of that I felt an incredible desire to climb onto the bed with her and weather the storm in her arms.

A hand pulled me backwards.

“I guess it’s too late to tell you not to get too close.”

I turned and looked at the hand’s owner. She was a little older than Mom, no more than fifty, with brown hair carrying hints of gray, and bright blue eyes. She was wearing faded pink sweats that showed just enough of her figure to confirm that she still had one.

While I was pulling my act together she continued. “The two of them have been out for nearly an hour; they’re seriously strung out. In Emo’s case her powers are also running out of control; getting too close to her has side effects, and touching her exposes you to a full on attack from her powers. Ask me how I know.”

“What can we do?”

“Not a damned thing except watch. If you have a religion that doesn’t involve worshipping yourself, prayer’s a good option too.”

51. Tyler Morrison

Callisto has dragged me and Mom to an old boarded up electronics store in the industrial district. We’re here to confirm that this is actually a door to the Aerie, Hawk’s base of operations.

“Not very aerial, is it Sister?” Mom insists I call her Sister and I’m not ready to start that fight. “I mean, shouldn’t it be in a skyscraper or something?”

“If it were up high it would be fairly obvious. Who is going to look for something called the Aerie at ground level?”

“Why call it the Aerie then?”

“Because hawks live in aeries. If he were the Burrowing Owl I’d expect him to call it the Burrow, and knowing him it would probably be on top of a tall building. Hawk is like that. Now could you perhaps be quiet so we leave at least a few of his proximity sensors untriggered?”

I have an idea, so I whisper it. “Would you like me to cast a spell to make us quiet?”

“That would be helpful, Tyler. But we will still need a way to communicate.”

I think about that and construct the spell. “donis oso nuvit”. How’s that? The words appear in a white bubble above me with an arrow pointing to my head.

Clever, boy. Now we shall go in. We see the little click as she opens the car door silently.

Soon we’re all out of the car and sneaking in, our feet leaving little floating exclamation points with each step. Callisto does something and steps through the front door, leaving a little mvmm behind her. We follow into the darkened building.

She finds the stairs to the basement and examines them carefully. Not down there. She moves past the stairs and further into the passages at the back. Every now and then a small creak rises from the floorboards. Finally she finds what she wants and heads up a metal staircase, leaving a trail of pat pat pat as she goes.

At the top of the stairs is a door which slides open with a hiss as she approaches it. Mom pushes me into the doorway. A shadow of a word bubble appears above her but I’m too distracted to look; Hawk is staring right at us.

A bubble forms above Hawk’s head. Drop the cartoon act, boy. NOW! His shout shatters my will and sound returns to the world. “Good. Thank you, Heather. Is this really Sister Callisto?”

“Yes it is, dear. Enrec lylesti. And I assume you recognize your son?”

What? I turn to Mom and try to say something, but nothing comes out. I touch my throat and stare the question at her.

“I didn’t want you trying any of that pesky sorcery. And if you’re counting on Sister Callisto, don’t worry. She’s been blinded, which makes her Mystic Vision useless.”

Sister Callisto speaks without turning. “Heather, why have you done this?”

“A girl has to live, Sister. When you vanished I needed someone. Dearest Hawk contacted me as part of his investigation and we hit it off. And since I didn’t have to practice that stupid Way of the Virgin with you gone, it was only a few years before my precious Tyler was born. I’ve been working with Hawk ever since.”

“And what to you plan to do now, traitor?”

“Actually, it’s Hawk’s show now. Though I have worked out a spell that might give him some ideas. Avoreg helasu!”

Everyone in the room changes; I can feel myself shrinking, and I see it happen to Sister Callisto. Mom and Hawk aren’t so visibly affected; Hawk loses some bulk and his early-fifties wrinkles vanish, while Mom drops about ten pounds and a bra size and loses some of her stern look.

“There. I feel like a woman half my age; I guess the rest of you feel younger too. The effect will only last a couple of hours, Hawk, so if you want to take the kids for a test drive we’d best get started.”

My jaw drops as I stare at Mom.

“Oh don’t look so shocked, Tyler. It’ll be just like when you were younger! Except I won’t bother to erase your memory this time.”

I run towards Sister Callisto. At least our clothes changed size with us. I end up grabbing one of her hands and Hawk grabs the other. As hard as I pull, he just drags us both. Mom walks behind us, smiling.

He drags us to a side room that I do remember. I’ve seen it in nightmares, and now the memories that spawned those nightmares come flooding back. Awful things have been done in this room, to girls and to boys, including me. There’s no way I’m going back in there.

I let go of Sister Callisto and grab Hawk’s wrist. A part of my mind says this worked once before. I bite the base of his thumb with all the force I can muster. I feel something shift and I can taste blood.

“Tyler, no!” That’s what Mom said last time.

Hawk screams an “aargh” and lets go. I grab Callisto and run, kicking Mom in the shin then pushing her into Hawk while she’s off balance.

As I run with Callisto she starts bawling loudly. I never realized she was such a crybaby. But I guess when you’re eight years old and blind and have no idea what’s happening, crying is a reasonable reaction. I tow her to the door and out of the Aerie.

As soon as we’re through the door the waterworks stop like she turned off a tap. “We have to get out of here, Tyler, as fast as we can. I can’t see, so you’ll have to lead me. Quickly!”

I wrap an arm around her guide her down the stairs. Once at the bottom I take her hand and jog, carefully avoiding patches of uneven floor. It’s tricky because she tends to stumble a lot, but we seem to be making it. It seems like forever but we get outside. I can hear the sounds of pursuit.

“Tyler, can you cast anything? Sorcery is word-based. You don’t have to say it, you can even write it out if you concentrate.”

That would be great if I had a piece of paper, which I don’t. But I can talk silently. In school we were all forced to learn a bit of American Sign Language; I didn’t keep much more than the alphabet, but that’s exactly what I need here. I start signing while concentrating as hard as I can. M-E-K-L-O-N C-H-I-T. A momentary glow surrounds the shop and the warehouse behind it, along with an audible snap. It feels like the spell should last for a few hours, or until Mom figures out the magic phrase and counters it.

I lead Callisto to a nearby warehous bay. It’s closed, but there’s plenty of corners to hide in even around the outside. My only worry is that it’s going to be cold out tonight, and there’ll be homeless people around most of the heat vents. I don’t know how well two kids can defend themselves from that.

I find us a place near a big warehouse. It smells like car exhaust, but it’s warm and nobody else is around.

“Tyler, you know you can reverse a spell if you know the words by saying them backwards. I think your mother said something like ‘inreck wylesti’ to shut you down. Can you reverse it?”

I can try. I start by trying to take my name out; ineck wsi. Winesick, newsicki, kis winec, siwecken. Nothing is coming to mind. Maybe she’s got the words a little wrong. Winesick, sinewick, siewinck. Oh, crap. Silence! The ‘C’ goes soft. And she got the ‘W’ wrong, it was an ‘L’. I set to work reconstructing the sound in an anagram.

Reversing the word order, I get it down to either ‘lylesti enrec’ or ‘lyleste inrec’. I better not get this wrong or I add my own silence spell to hers. Well, here goes. I spell out L-Y-L-E-S-T-I E-N-R-E-C.

“Did it work?”

I cough, and sound comes out. She wraps her arms around me. “Yes, it worked. Now if only we could get your sight back.”

“No time for that. They’re going to start searching once they get out. We need to get some stuff from the house and get away. You’re going to have to continue to be my eyes, Tyler. Can you conjure up a car?”

“A car out of thin air? That’s a bit more than I can handle, I think. Anyway, I couldn’t see over the dashboard at this height. But I have another idea. Elcybic!” A bicycle appears, a three speed chopper with a banana seat and long handlebars.

“Did you get what you planned for?”

“Of course. Step onto my chariot.” I guide her as she climbs onto the back, then get on myself. “Now, put your arms around me and lift your feet up. I hope I still know how to do this.”

Like they say, once you learn how to ride a bike you never forget. We take off to the rhythmic buzz of the playing cards in the spokes. When I was little I pretended it was a motorcycle, now it just sounds like half a deck of cards taped to a bicycle wheel. But it does the job. About twenty minutes later we’re home.

There’s no sign of activity, so I ditch the bike around the side. We go in the back door just in case, but the place is definitely empty. “Okay, what do we need?”

She starts listing off items like a pro. Flashlights, medical supplies, money, toiletries, a change of clothes for each of us, a small towel, a portable sewing kit, the space blanket from our emergency survival stores, some garbage bags. The list goes on.

“Sister, have you done this before?”

“Yes. I trained as a witch, which isn’t exactly popular in most places. That’s where my Mystic Vision comes from; sounds better than the Evil Eye, doesn’t it?” She’s right about that.

We’ve got the backpack full when headlights in the driveway shine into the house. “Time to go! Come on!” We retreat out the back door while Mom and Hawk come in the front. We get back on the bike and I whisper a spell “Conger beads!” The playing cards vanish and we take off silently.

52. Andrea Chu

Mother calls me to the front room in agitated Chinese.

«Why is there a boy here to see you at this time of night?»

«I don’t know, Mother! I’ll go down and talk to him.»

«No you will not! You will bring him up here where we can watch you! You are not sneaking off into the dark and getting pregnant!»

«Mother! I don’t do that!» Not that I don’t want to. I push the button. “Hello, this is Andrea.”

“Andrea, it’s Tyler. From the mall today. We need your help.”

“Um, okay. Come on up.” I wonder what he wants. He did come back just as I got off shift and we did share a double-mint milkshake in the food court, but I never suspected this. Maybe there’s something wrong with the second spell he put on my breasts. This one has lasted longer, but I don’t see anything wrong.

When he gets up to the door I open it with the chain on. Mother is standing behind me looking too. It’s Tyler all right, and he has a girl with him. I’m tempted to slam the door right there.

“Andrea! Thank God. This is my cousin Callisto and we really need your help.”

I suppose it’s kind of a plausible story, even though the girl doesn’t look a bit like him. I decide to let him in. Mother is watching both of them like a hawk. I bring them into the living room; father looks up from the football game and then returns to it. Marco and Ming look too, but since the strangers aren’t carrying presents they return to their Legos.

“How did you get my address?”

“It’s on your Facebook profile. Well, not directly, but the map zooms in to the building level. You should have copied the map rather than linking to it.”

“Okay, I’ll have to fix that I guess.” Whatever it means. “What kind of trouble are you in?”

“My Mom’s under the influence of a super villain and the two of them tried to hurt us. We got away from them, and they don’t know where we are, but …” He looks around at the apartment and seems to be counting the occupants. “…anything you can do to help us would be appreciated.”

“How were you blinded, girl?” Mother is addressing his cousin.

“It was an attack. I think it was some kind of chemical.”

“Hmph. Looks more like magic. But we can fix you up.” She starts rummaging in her herb stash. Until this afternoon I thought she was a bit crazy for believing in magic. Now my slightly tingly and pleasantly firm chest provides a pretty good argument otherwise.

I lean over and whisper to Tyler. “If it’s magic, can’t you fix it?”

“I’d have to know the spell.”

“Stop whispering! If that boy is not going to be your husband he can stop sucking on your ear.”

Tyler’s mouth opens and closes like a fish. He’s not used to Mother, so I kind of understand it. I notice Mother is taking out the needles, so I decide to distract him. I pull him in and kiss him.

He looks totally shocked, but goes along after a half-second or so. I wish he would tickle my new chest, but it’s probably better that he doesn’t.

“Father! Your daughter is making out with a boy in the living room! Tell her to stop, I’m concentrating!”

“It’s the two-minute warning, dear, and the game is tied. I’ll stop them when it’s over.”

This is actually kind of exciting. He’s letting me lean right into him while he holds my hips nervously. I keep half an eye on Mother. She’s got the needles in and the tea appears ready. I have to keep Tyler distracted until she takes the needles out.

“Breathe deeply girl, then drink this slowly and reverently.”

Drink very slowly, girl. This ‘distracting Tyler’ gig is way too much fun.

Eventually the girl’s done drinking her tea and Mother is pulling out the needles. “Can you see now?”

“Yes, Mrs. Chu. Thank you very much. May all the blessings of nature be upon this family and this house.”

Father shuts the TV off and turns to me. “The game is over, Andrea. Stop kissing that boy now, you’ll make a mess on the rug.”

Tyler is breathing heavily. “Wow. Not that I mind, but what was that for?”

“My mother was doing acupuncture on your cousin and I know a lot of westerners are disturbed by the sight. So I distracted you.”

He looks around eagerly. “Is there anything else you want me not to see? Please?”

“Stop that, boy, or I’ll get my broom!”

The girl concentrates and a wash of energy passes through the room. “There. That should protect us if your mother tries to use her sorcery to find us.”

Mother is looking at the girl intently. “Who are you really?”

The girl sighs. “I am Sister Callisto. I’ve been away a long time and Tyler is helping me deal with some old business. He’s an apprentice sorceror.”

Mother looks from her to Tyler and back, then starts talking in fast Chinese. «Sister Callisto! I am a great fan of yours. Travel has made you younger.» She smirks. «You will sleep in husband’s and my bedroom. We will sleep in Andrea’s room. Boy will sleep in the twins’ room, and Andrea will sleep on the sofa. Does everyone understand?”

Father and I and Sister Callisto answer in the affirmative. Tyler is looking around confused.

“Did I miss something?”

“Sleeping arrangements. You’re staying with us tonight. You’ll be sleeping in the twins’ room with them.” Then I lean over and whisper. “Until I shine the flashlight under your door.”

“No whispering!”

53. Leandra Moon

I suddenly find myself awake. Or am I? I can’t move. I’m held to a table by restraints, but that’s not it. I seem to be paralyzed. I can’t even open my eyes. I take an inventory of my senses. Sight: nothing. Hearing: a quiet room; I can hear someone, maybe more than one, breathing heavily like they’re asleep. Smell: a trace of antiseptic; is this a hospital? Taste: Nothing. Touch: My wrists and ankles are strapped, I’m dressed, and there’s a thin blanket over me.

I can feel other things, too. Someone nearby is scared; at first I think it’s me but the terror is mixed with loathing and determination that I’ve never really felt. And there’s another set of emotions: somebody is having a steamy erotic dream – about me! I can feel myself turning red while a part of me wants to join him – Jake. Jake! Why is it always Jake? Does he think of me as a set of sexual organs? No, not if this dream is right; he thinks of me as someone he wants to be with forever, with sexual organs. It would be touching if it weren’t so creepy.

I can feel some kind of wall inside my mind. It’s solid and it’s thick, and it hurts to even consider its presence. But it’s real. I hate walls. I lean against it and push, and it aches. I strike it with imaginary fists, causing more pain to myself than to the wall I’m certain.

I can’t break through, and that’s okay. I get the feeling there’s a very bad person behind that wall. What I can feel through it is regret. She’s destroyed minds and lives, and only too late learned the value of innocence. Learned that it is entirely possible to kill a person without raising a finger, just by destroying their self-respect and their will to live. She was so infatuated by pleasure that she didn’t realize she wasn’t feeling it, just taking it away from others.

And there was one innocent life entwined with hers. A son. She shielded him from the worst of herself, tried to teach him to value life. To take without destroying. That was what was offered to her; a chance to prevent her son from falling into her trap. She jumped at the offer. She loathed herself, what she had become, so much that she gave it all up for another chance.

She gave herself entirely to the future, to me. To become me. I hope I can live up to it. With that thought I return to blessed sleep.

54. Sister Callisto

I know the place in the dream; I’ve been here before. I haven’t seen the Garden since I was kicked out of it twenty years ago for a transgression that wasn’t even mine. I suppose this means it’s time for the Judgement.

“Callisto. It is good to see you again.” It’s the Hare. I notice he didn’t call me Sister; not a good sign. The others are coming out: Rat, Snake, Tiger, Ox, Rooster, Goat, Horse, Pig, Dog, and Monkey. All of them greet me and make the signs and forms of friendship. I feel at peace, even though I know what’s coming.

Dragon makes his appearance in a flamboyant manner, as expected. I never quite understood Dragon; he was always quick to act and slow to think, things I’m not particularly fond of. He’s flying, and I can hear the joyful scream of the person he’s carrying on his back as he swoops and loops and whirls out of the sky. Finally he touches down and addresses me.

“Greetings, Callisto. Have you met the new girl?”

I look at the girl climbing down off his back. She’s about my age, my current age that is, and I have met her. “Hello, Andrea.” There’s a fire in her eyes, the silent burning of one who craves experiences. “Or should I say Sister Andrea?”

“I guess. Godzilla here has been explaining the rules to me. I get the mystical power to change the world in whatever way my heart desires, but I have to give up ownership of everything and everyone. And no sex.”

I laugh. “That’s a little oversimplified, but it sums up the salient points. Of course, your power is limited by your will, so you can’t just reshape reality on a whim. For example, a hot fudge sundae is a lot easier to conjure up than world peace.”

She giggles and conjures up a hot fudge sundae with two spoons. “You’re right. Would you like some?” She nudges the other spoon in my direction and I accept. We end up sitting on the grass eating a sundae with the animals gathered around.

Eventually the pig speaks up. “As idyllic as this is, there is a reason for this gathering. Sister Andrea, you must pass judgement on the fate of Callisto.”

“And if I don’t want to?”

“Then the decision will be made by the Bureaucracy. Their judgement will be fair and honest, but as it isn’t human there won’t be any mercy or compassion, either.”

“And I can ask for whatever sentence I want?”

Rooster speaks up. “Within limits. Willingly or not, she has transgressed the rules of her vocation. There must be a punishment, a duty she has to fulfill. The severity of that punishment is up to you. But it cannot be ‘none’.”

“Callisto, do you have any ideas? I’m at a loss here. I’ve never had to decide someone’s fate before.”

“Well, is there something I can do for you? Servitude is not an uncommon punishment. I invoked five years’ service on my predecessor, which would have worked if Germany hadn’t invaded Poland.”

“Just how old are you?”

“Ninety-three. I was born in 1920. You don’t age normally when you’re the Sister of All Creation.”

Rat looks impatient. “Come on, Sister Andrea. We haven’t got all millennium. Especially not with Him lurking about.”

Andrea looks puzzled. “Him?”

I put my hand on her shoulder. “Don’t bother. He can’t be named or discussed. He and Rat don’t get along, though I’ve spent a lot of time with Him recently and found Him to be a relatively sociable companion.”

“Do you like Him?”

“I don’t think ‘like’ is quite the perfect word, but we do get along fabulously.”

“Okay, here’s your judgement. You have to stay with me for at least two years as my mentor, to show me what the heck I’m doing. The rest of the time you work with Him.”

Monkey is aghast. “You can’t mean that! That’s like giving Him leave to enter the garden at will!”

Dog chimes in. “No way! I’ll bite Him myself if he gets anywhere near here!”

“I’ve heard He eats Snakes. Let him try!” Snake hisses and tastes the breeze with his tongue.

I look Andrea in the eye. “Are you sure you want to do this? The Animals don’t seem to like it much.”

“Well I don’t like seeing anybody pushed around just because of what they are. I think it’s time for them to learn to be nice to people who are different.”

The Dragon’s voice booms. “Very well! It shall be done as Sister Andrea says! Let He Who Is Not Named come forth and be told.”

A small voice from the wooded verge speaks up. “No need to be so bloody melodramatic.” He struts out, tail in the air, yellow eyes shining, and multicoloured fur glistening in the garden light. He turns to Andrea. “I am Cat. My name is Luna, because all cats are named Luna at one time or another. Perhaps this is a first step toward healing the animosity between Mystics and Witches. And thank you for choosing my avid and talented student as your teacher.”

Dragon makes another pronouncement; he’s like that. “The torch has been passed. May the gods help us all.”

Contents - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - [ Part 6 ] - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9

(c) 2013, Tim Smith. All rights reserved.