Perry glanced at the cannister full of dehydrated shit.
It had a smiling cartoon unicorn giving a thumbs up. Ignoring that logical impossibility, Perry glanced at the back of the cannister.
Meet Dave The Unicorn. Dave is a humble unicorn from the Eldwylds. With nothing but a shoestring budget and a desire to deliver his produce onto the doorsteps of as many humans as possible, Dave has turned Dave’s Magical Gardening Supplies into the go-to place for exotic, high quality magical ingredients for even the most demanding gardening projects.
- Contents generously provided by Ko’berath The Trembling
Growth spell (Neophyte Difficulty)
Ingredients: Unicorn dung, glowstone
3 dung to one glowstone ratio by mass, powder each ingredient until fine, mix until homogenous.
Invoke the name of the owner of the dung to activate dung’s receptiveness to essence. Continue invoking as you bathe the mixture in sunlight – Ultraviolet? Perry’s question was written into the margin of his mother’s spellbook beside the instructions – to activate the glowstone. Stir well to ensure the entire mixture has been exposed to sunlight. After the ritual is complete, sprinkle the dust on any plant to cause rapid growth. Magical effect of dust will fade within two hours, best used immediately.
“Okay…” Perry looked back at his mixture. It was brown with hints of gold and bits of glimmering light where the sun caught tiny pieces of powdered glowstone.
It wasn’t gonna get any more mixed than that.
Perry glanced up at the sun. Directly overhead. No better time to give this a shot.
“Ko’berath, Ko’berath, Ko’berath, Ko’berath,” Perry said, as clearly as he could while he carefully folded the dust, making sure all of it caught the sunlight.
The mixture began to glow more and more vibrantly as the glowstone activated until it shone bright gold.
Is this it!?
Once the brightness plateaued, Perry took a pinch of the dust and sprinkled it on the seedling waiting nearby in its pot, his heart pounding in his ears.
The seed sat there, covered in a fine dusting of the golden poop-glowstone hybrid, trembling in the gentle breeze. Mocking him.
“Is something supposed to happen?” Heather asked, kicking her heels as she watched. Heather was the daughter of one of dad’s co-workers. They lived nearby, and they’d been hanging out almost as long as he could remember. The slender girl was wearing a white t-shirt and loose jean shorts, the brilliant sunlight making her curly hair seem like it was on fire.
“Yeah,” Perry said, scratching his chin as he checked the back of the two thousand dollar tin of dehydrated shit. They couldn’t have gotten the name wrong, could they have? It was a simple matter of collecting unicorn shit in an appropriately labeled bucket, after all.
“Maybe it takes a while?” Heather asked.
“I saw mom do it in the garden.” Perry said, shaking his head. “It was really fast. Really fast.”
The strawberry blond girl approached from her seat in the lawn chair and read the back of the canister. “Maybe you need to say the whole name?”
“’The Trembling’ is just a moniker, not the unicorn’s true name.”
“Well, then maybe they got the name wrong?”
“No, it’s guaranteed,” Perry muttered. “I’ve seen mom do it a hundred times and it’s never failed. This is supposed to be one of the easiest rituals in existence. She even used this cannister last week!”
Perry was checking the glowstone mother for impurities when a sudden, horrifying thought occurred to him. There was only one variable he hadn’t considered: Himself. He closed the lid on the plastic barrel of light-reactive salts, ice running through his veins despite the summer heat.
“You do it,” he said, turning to his classmate.
“Do what?” she asked.
“Say the unicorn’s name while stirring the dust,” Perry said, grabbing Heather by the shoulders and steering her towards the table, prompting a squeak of surprise from her.
“O-okay, take it easy, Perry,” Heather said, picking up the spatula and watching him warily. Perry merely watched expectantly.
“Ko’berath,” Perry corrected.
“Right. Ko’berath, Ko’berath, Ko’berath, Ko’berath,” Heather spoke, stirring the dust, which rapidly regained its brilliance as sunlight was re-introduced to the glowstone.
Once it had reached the peak of its vibrancy, Perry reached out and grabbed a handful of the glowing dust, throwing it on the seedling.
Heather squeaked and scrambled backward through the grass as the terra cotta pot exploded outward, roots searching every which way.
The cheap plastic table collapsed under the sudden weight of the tree, dropping the questing root system to the ground where they immediately buried themselves in the earth. The trunk of the oak tree shot into the sky, towering above Perry’s suburban two-story house.
Perry wanted to rage. He wanted to cut down the tree out of spite and light the stump on fire. But none of that anger could make it past the all-encompassing hollowness he felt inside.
Even the simplest magic was barred from him.
Forget about following in his mom’s footsteps and becoming a Cape, he couldn’t even become a gardener. He was as Dull as they came. According to Mom, anything alive and cognizant could complete that ritual, so either Perry was a machine and didn’t know it, in a coma, or he was some kind of…magical insulator.
None of which allowed him to pursue his dream.
The last door on his ambition of being like his mom had just slammed shut in his face.
“Wow, that was awesome!” Heather said, climbing back to her feet and craning her neck to view the top of the tree. “I bet we could see Nexus from the top of it!”
With the enthusiasm of youth, Heather grabbed onto one of the lower branches and began scaling the monument to Perry’s inadequacy.
“I’m…I’m gonna go lay down.” Perry said, barely holding back a sob.
Can’t cry in front of a girl.
“Are you okay?” She asked, dropping off the branch. “Do you think your dad will be mad?”
“Probably,” Perry choked as he staggered toward the sliding door leading into his dad’s house. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Heather’s voice was cut off as he slammed the sliding door behind him, his stagger turning into a sprint as he flew into his room, locked the door behind himself and dove straight into his bed.
***Five years later***
Perry stared out the window of the school bus. There wasn’t much else to do. Sometimes he caught an extra fifteen minutes of sleep before arriving at the George Carlin High School for the Overprivileged, but today he wasn’t sleepy.
There was a rumble as Hurricane flew overhead, causing all the kids in the armored transport to smoosh their faces up against the bulletproof glass to get a better view of the cape flying overhead, flirting with the sound barrier.
Must be something exciting going on, Perry thought, glancing up at the superhero before he disappeared over the horizon. Or maybe he just wanted to flex for some kids.
Mr. Rogers had clearly stated in the superhero Ethics & Law course that flying heroes were not allowed to break the sound barrier unless there were extenuating circumstances: I.E. an emergency.
Only problem was, there were more emergencies for capes than there were non-emergencies. It could reasonably be assumed that anywhere they were going was the site of an emergency.
So if Hurricane wanted to buzz a school bus…nobody would bother to look twice.
Perry looked away.
The rest of the ride was uneventful. And they made it to their classes without anything unusual happening. Pretty standard, given The Tide was out.
School was...fine. Perry laughed with his friends, slept through half his classes, avoided Heather as best he could, given the two were in the same grade and shared a couple classes.
P.E. and Ethics.
It made sense. People with a higher probability of Triggering and adopting ‘the lifestyle’ Were fast-laned into the Ethics courses.
Given that Perry’s mom was Hexen, he had been forced to attend every Ethics course since pre-school. It didn’t matter to them that he’d taken the class eleven times already, nor did it matter to them that he was as Dull as they come.
It was a fairly common occurrence that a cape or cowl’s offspring would gain powers, although, the how of it was the subject of much speculation.
Whether it was because of their environment, genetic disposition, higher than average kidnapping rate, or the super parent’s mucking about with their children’s genome, it was statistically evident that a super’s kids had a one-in five chance to Trigger, as compared to about a one-in a million chance for the average Joe.
So Perry spent his life under the microscope. Of course, now that he was in his senior year, he did appreciate the convenience of having a class he was guaranteed to be able to nap through.
“Anyone wanna tell me what Turbo did wrong? Mr. Z.”
Perry lifted his head with a snort, blinking the gum out of his eyes.
“Guh?” He asked.
“What did Turbo do wrong in this scenario?” Mr. Rogers asked, pointing at the projected wall of text.
“He moved a kid who was too young to be subjected to speedster force,” Perry said, yawning. “The rules for a speedster moving civilians are the same as those on an airbag. Nobody under the age of thirteen unless it’s the only option.”
“And how often is it the only option?” Mr. Rogers said.
“About eighty-three percent of the time,” Perry said, laying his head back down and resting his eyes for a moment.
“Alright hotshot, how about this next one?” Mr. Roger’s voice barely registered in his daydreaming.
“If by ‘next one’, you mean the next slide, then Captain Hope messed up by assuming his tactile telekinesis would apply to the inside of the ice-cream truck, which it did not, smearing the passenger.”
Click, click, click.
Perry heard the projector click three times.
Three more clicks forward is the one about Darklight and the hacker holding a million pensions hostage. She used mind-control to get him to step away from the computer.
“How about this one?” Mr. Rogers asked.
“Mind-control in a non-combat setting is illegal no matter how bad the other guy is,” he said, eyes still closed, head still resting on his desk.
Scattered snickers echoed through the class, but Perry didn’t really care.
“Mr. Z, see me after class.”
“Sure,” Perry muttered, drifting off.
“Mr. Rogers, Why did you ask me to stay after class? I’m not in trouble like this waste of space.” Heather said, motioning to Perry.
“Obviously I’m failing you two as your teacher,” Mr. Rogers said, his fingers laced as he looked up at Perry and Heather, who deliberately stood as far apart as their teacher’s desk would permit.
“Failing, but I’m getting straight A’s!?” Heather demanded, leaning over the desk, her animosity towards Perry temporarily forgotten.
“No,” Mr. Rogers said, taking off his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose. “I am failing. As your teacher.”
“Oh,” Heather said, mollified.
“You’re both getting straight A’s, and Heather, you do a much better job of hiding it, but you’re just as bored as Perry over here.”
Perry and Heather glared at each other.
“As an educator, it’s my duty to make sure that the two of you are actually learning something, rather than just waiting for the bell to ring. I’m going to change your grade for the semester from the tests, to a project.”
“But...but…” Heather protested, unable to come up with a reason why she should be excluded.
“But you like the easy ‘A’ every year to pad your GPA?” Perry guessed.
“At least I’m not sleeping through them,” Heather retorted.
“And it’s going to be a group project.” Mr. Rogers said, with calm, measured menace.
“What!?” Perry and Heather demanded in unison.
“You heard me.” Mr. Rogers said. “Your grade for the year is going to depend putting your differences aside for half a year.”
“Is that the project?” Perry asked. “Because being in the same room as her without turning to stone is a pretty heroic task.”
“No-“ Mr. Rogers started but Heather talked over him.
“You think I wanna smell your funk? Heather demanded. “If I’m lucky I’ll Trigger to survive the smell alone!”
“I suppose you thought it was funny handing me a heart-shaped bar of deodorant for Valentines?” Perry asked. Her vapid friends had tittered about it for weeks.
“It was freakin’ hilarious.” Heather said, her jaw set.
“What’s hilarious is that I use it,” Perry said with a faint smile, “I use the present you touched with your bare hands…everywhere.” He drew out the last word, loading it with meaning.
“CHILDREN!” Mr. Rogers said, standing from his chair, his face crimson red, and darkening fast.
Perry and Heather’s lips clamped shut.
“I don’t know what kind of baggage the two of you have, but you better stow that shit.” Mr. Roger’s ex-soldier was peeking through his sweater-wearing mildness.
“The project is-“
“We have to interview some capes and write an essay about their experiences.” Perry blurted.
Mr. Rogers stood there, his jaw hanging open, face approaching a shade of purple.
“I mean, it’s an ethics course, telling us to go out there and muck around in the world of supers would be dangerous and unethical, can’t do a practical project without risking the lives of your students. Can’t interview Cowls for the same reason, so it’s pretty much gotta be an interview and essay, right?”
Perry turned and snatched his emergency essays out of his backpack.
“I interviewed Shockwave during the break, I also interviewed Killjoy, on the off-chance you wanted an imprisoned cowl interview.”
Mr. Rogers drew a deep, calming breath.
“That’s not what he was gonna say,” Heather said.
“It totally was,” Perry said. “I had an overachiever like Mr. Rogers three years ago.”
“Oh, Ms Swanson?”
“Yeah,” Perry nodded.
“I liked her,” Heather said, nodding.
“Because she was a ditz.”
“I was going to assign an interview and essay,” Mr. Rogers said, deflating. He’d lost the battle, but Perry could see the malicious glint reforming in the man’s eyes.
The man intended to win the war.
“But…looking at how well the two of you get along, I’ve got a much better idea.”
“Let me hold the super-baby,” Heather said, making clutching motions in the air in the general direction of the soulless lump of plastic in Perry’s arms as they walked through the halls.
“That was not the deal,” Perry said. “The deal was, I take care of the super-baby during the day, you take care of it at home.”
“But that was before I realized how cute it was!” she said, snatching it away from him. “Besides, school’s over, so I get her.”
The doll’s eyes glowed bright green.
“Laser eyes,” Perry said, grabbing Heather’s hands and tilting the baby’s face away from hers.
They had about a second to tilt it away from any people, then the camera in the baby’s eyes would take a picture. If the camera identified any people in the shot, they would lose points.
Same with the baby bursting into ‘flame’ and ‘flying’ and ‘shrieking’ each of which proscribes a specific reaction to minimize damage the ‘baby’ might inflict.
“Nice reflexes,” Heather said, looking up at him, her hair shining red-gold in the cheap fluorescent lights.
Perry let go of Heather’s hand as soon as he recalled they were mortal enemies.
“I fail to see how a glorified game of ‘bop it’ will help us learn Ethics,” Perry said as he tried to ignore the people in the hall staring at them. They looked like a prospective couple taking the ‘parenting’ course, and Perry HATED it.
“I fail to see why you insisted on pushing Mr. Roger’s buttons. In what fantasy world did he just give up and let you slack off the rest of the year? The way I see it, you got us into this mess…”
She bounced the baby at him.
“Take responsibility for knocking me up!” she said, loud enough for everyone in the hallway to hear it, causing more than a few people to crane their necks in surprise.
Perry stood there, his mouth agape. The thought had never occurred to him, but now that she mentioned it…Heather was pretty cute. Green eyes, beautiful frizzy hair that looked like a mantle of spun gold…and that was before puberty had filled out her frame.
The girl was a work of art and she knew it. Part of the reason they didn’t get along.
Heather froze as her brain caught up with her mouth, her eyes wide. For a second, it felt like a bolt of lightning was flowing between the two of them.
Then they were back to the regularly scheduled jibes.
“On second thought, you’re not the father, you’re just the step-dad in this scenario. Also a eunuch.” She gave him a haughty look.
“Good to know,” Perry said. “Baby’s on fire.” He nodded at the orange-glowing piece of plastic.
“Shit,” Heather muttered, setting the baby on the tiled floor and stepping away.
“Daddy’s gonna go buy some cigarettes,” Perry said, throwing his backpack over his shoulder as he turned toward the main entrance, where the busses were waiting. “I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t you dare! You’re not leaving me alone with this!” Heather waited impatiently for the baby to stop being ‘on fire’ before she scooped it up and chased after him, her copper-gold hair floating behind her as she ran.
“Whoah, what happened to your room?” Heather asked, scanning the clutter of torn apart computers, chemistry stations, bubbling vials and tanks of weird fluids.
“Dad happened,” Perry said with a shrug. The natural evolution of his desire to measure up to his parents. If he couldn’t use magic, then maybe he could be a Tinker.
Sadly, while Perry could be considered gifted, he wasn’t a Tinker. A Tinker could twist a bit of wire into a CPU. How? Fuck you, that’s how. Tinker Twitch altered physics just enough to make their hairbrained stuff work, even when it really shouldn’t.
The difference between a prodigy and a Tinker?
Perry could probably make a super-suit, given several million dollars in funding and years of fabricating and assembling the parts.
A Tinker could make one out of a Buick in a week. Once that defied the laws of physics, with some kind of Buick ray, that turned things into…tiny Buicks.
There was no comparison.
Still, Perry did like the science. Putting things together just so gave him a visceral level of satisfaction. He might not have got the Tinker Twitch from his dad or the magic from his mom, but he enjoyed working with tech.
“Put the baby on the desk,” Perry said, plopping down into his chair.
“What’s this?” Heather asked, tapping on Terry’s tank. The octopus changed shape to hide inside his tank, much to Heather’s delight.
“That’s Terry, a magical octopus from my mom’s homeworld,” Perry said, eager to divert her attention away from his ‘pet’ project. “Also don’t tap on his tank.”
“Sorry, jeez,” Heather said, putting the baby on the table.
Perry tore open the baby’s stomach, bypassed its security features with a plastic knife, then plugged it into his computer.
“What are you doing?” Heather asked.
“Cheating.” Perry said with a shrug. “I’m downloading the images from a few hundred other people who’ve done the project in our school, then using AI to do a face swap for the appropriate pictures.”
“Well, if you’re gonna cheat, make sure we get a believable score.” She said, leaning over his shoulder.
“Eighty seven percent?” He asked, glancing up at her. Her hair tickled his cheek.
“Yeah, then we can beg and plead our way up to an A with one of your pre-canned essays as extra credit. He won’t suspect we got a high B on purpose.” Heather said.
“Sounds good,” Perry said, typing a few parameters into the algorithm. “Aaaand, we’ve passed the Ethics class.”
Click. Perry hit the Enter key and the program started.
“By cheating?” Heather asked, raising an eyebrow.
For a moment, they stared at each other, until they couldn’t contain it any longer. The two of them devolved into gales of pure laughter as the baby lit itself on fire.
When they finally calmed down, Heather wiped tears from her eyes and seemed to sober up, her gaze settling on the pristine heart-shaped bar of deodorant on his desk.
“Well, this has been fun, but I gotta go before you infect me with your brand of lame.” Heather said, turning away.
Say something, you idiot! Perry’s heart began rattling around in it’s cage like a wild animal.
“Um, Heather?” He asked, his voice breaking unintentionally.
Perry half expected her not to stay and now that she was pointing those vibrant green eyes at him, he didn’t have any smooth lines prepared. So he just went with the truth.
“I’m sorry. That time when we were thirteen, I was pissed at life, and I took it out on you. I…messed up. It’s my fault.”
Heather’s eyes narrowed for a moment.
Then she disappeared, closing his door behind her.
“Jesus,” Perry gasped as his heart tried to burst out of his chest. He was short of breath like he’d just gone ten rounds toe-to-toe with Brutus.
Perry took a deep breath and tried to calm his heartbeat, but it didn’t work.
If anything, his heart started beating HARDER, booming in his ears like some kind of manic drummer.
She’s gone now, you can calm down! Perry thought, but his body had other plans.
His heart sped up further, his breathing coming quicker and quicker, his vision began to turn white as his body dumped unnecessary oxygen into his brain. His chest began to hurt as he collapsed on to his bed.
Is this a heart attack!?
Perry almost laughed at the idea of dying from teenage heart-ache and pinning it on Heather, but it was a lot less funny as it was happening.
Right now, it just hurt. A lot.
He tried to call for help, but his voice was gone, and his phone was across the room, which might as well be on the other side of the city.
At least I got to apologize for being an ass before I died. That’ll totally make her feel awful for not saying anything back. Hah. Take that Heather.
Then the weird stuff started happening as text began scrolling past his eyes.
User has reached minimum acceptable Maturity.
Beginning boot process….
Trimming causal branches to fuel System V.01…
Trimming extreme sexual deviancy. Trimming extreme violence to self. Trimming unresponsive branches. Trimming Claudette’s Hippie Bullshit. Trimming Claudette’s Hippie bullshit…
Error: Claudette’s Hippie Bullshit running counter-operations…
Claudette’s Hippie Bullshit has lodged itself in Causal Branch Prime. Further attempts to trim Claudette’s Hippie Bullshit will result in damage to User.
Error: Damage to User runs counter to prime directive.
Diplomacy.exe engaged with Claudette’s Hippie bullshit.
Coming to terms.
Accommodating Claudette’s Hippie bullshit within The System.
Trimming complete. Building infrastructure to receive and process harvested causal energy. Designing class choices.
ERROR: Due to Claudette’s Hippie Bullshit not being trimmed, there is not enough harvested Causal Energy to grant level one. Casual energy has defaulted into HP. Class Selection placed on hold.
Paradox Zauberer (Perry Z.)
XP to next level: 1000
Current Quest: Do your homework