our planet, from far far away
rating: +4+x

CW: Disassociation.

There is a chubby but muscled Chinese looking girl sitting in the coffee shop, and Quetzal is looking at her like she just pointed a gun at the four of you. All she did was look up from the laptop at the sound of people walking into the Sixteenth Shade.

She doesn’t seem particularly anomalous, in comparison to the transparent older man standing behind the counter with tattoos that move sluggishly across his form or the younger… someone sitting at a counter, whose head is made of fire. You’re not sure how they eat, but they’ve got an in progress croissant on a plate in front of them. This girl’s black hair is pulled up into a ponytail with a bright teal scrunchie, revealing a small tattoo of some letters— you can’t quite make them out— beneath her ear. Her blazer, a similar teal and white, shows the Deer College logo over her heart.

You look to Kate. She’s been guiding you this entire trip. This is her home. She should know this. These are her friends— she’s known Quetzal for much longer than you and longer than either of you have known Casey. She should know the look on their face, and she does seem to know some. More than you do. But she doesn’t open her mouth to speak, not before Quetzal is over there taking a seat, and she’s closing the laptop.

You think that they’re going to fight, and this is going to be the sort of issue they warned you about, enough to get the Bookburners down on your back, but they’re talking. Just talking, albeit fast and with Quetzal’s hand gestures. The sort they use with you, their team. Their family. Although you’re relieved this isn’t an enemy, you can’t help the jealousy that rises to see them so comfortable with a stranger. It’s sharp, sharper than with Esther who you’d met for the first time today as well. It’s sharp enough for you to feel yourself leave your body and leave another you in your place.

“We should order,” Casey says, breaking the silence between the three-ish of you. “We’re being impolite.”

Kate moves next, and you both follow her. You scan the menu, and its got an asterisks on non-anomalous items, the same way it marks the non-dairy options but in a different color. You’ve seen that a hundred times around already, but it’s still surprising you. You’ve seen proud anomalies for almost half a year now, and that’s still surprising you. Both to see it at all— the word impossible has not fully escaped your vocabulary — and to see it out of contained. The interrogator in you is revolted and afraid. The worst girl tries to forget. She pretends she’s used to it now.

You order yourself a simple latte. Well. You tell Kate what you want with your hands, and she orders it for you. Casey brushes your shoulder with their non-metal hand and asks with their tilted eyebrows and lips if you’re okay. You look back to Quetzal and the girl. You ask who she is.

“Probably Allison Chao,” they say, after some hesitation. You give them a skeptical look, sharper than the worst girl would. You haven’t gotten the whole story, but you’ve heard the way Quetzal talks about the rest of the Hand. You’ve heard them talk about the worst factions. The libertarians, the centrists, the authoritarians, the wannabes of all affiliation, and if Quetzal is to believed, Allison Chao’s the anomalous Lenin, if Lenin had daddy issues and was a six foot two sexy transbian with admittedly decent taste in music. She was supposedly basically invincible, invisible at will, and probably an assassin who’d saved the world twice. The girl Quetzal is talking to now doesn’t seem weak— her biceps put yours to shame— and her nose has definitely been broken a few times, but she’s not… that.

You ask if it’s safe as you wait for your drinks, looking back to Quetzal and the maybe Allison. Casey stretches their metal arm, making clicking noises and activating one of their smaller magics. They respond only after the slight flicker between the metal fingers lights up green — no one’s listening. You would’ve guessed all of the customers were paying more attention to their drinks and snacks after the initial disruption, but it’s good to be safe. Always.

“I don’t have the whole picture. Allison, she’s complicated. She has a lot of secrets. Secrets Quetz knows but doesn’t tell me. I don’t tell them everything about the madmen.”

You ask if they mean the madmen or Anya. Because Allison Chao is also Quetzal’s ex-girlfriend, and you thought that relationship was more ended than Casey’s is.

“It could put her in danger,” they say in way of elaboration, which doesn’t elaborate anything at all. You want to ask who, but you slip.

You slip back into yourself as Kate hears her name called. She smiles at the younger girl, who is as transparent as the man you think might be her father or grandfather who took your orders, as she puts the drinks down. For a moment, you’re surprised at what you’ve ordered. Then you’re relieved, you suppose. It’s simple. Casey’s is similarly mundane at first glance, just a black coffee, though you think you see movement inside unprompted by any vehement swirling. Kate’s looks like she plans to drink lava, and the fourth one might be bubble tea, if the bubbles that cluttered the bottom of the cup were stars and the tea the night sky.

“We’ve been here before and Quetz always gets the same thing,” Casey explains before you work up the nerve to ask. You have to put it into words; you can’t just say it with your hands like the stranger can. You know how, but your hands shake when you do. They know you, more so than anyone else does. They fit you. It is not romantic love, this affection that most of you holds dear, but it fills you nonetheless. It fills you when nothing else does.

You all find your way back to the same table Quetzal is at. Kate takes the seat across from maybe Allison, Casey takes the seat next to Quetzal, and you take the one next to Kate, across from Quetzal. You wait until they’re both done.

“Hi, guys,” maybe Allison says with a smile, and you see she’s missing a tooth. You also see the tattoo in closer detail. L.S., in a fancy script. She notices you looking, and just like that, it’s gone. You blink. You wonder what you’re looking for in her neck. There’s some sort of stain there, but you pay it no mind. “Any friends of Sparrow’s Quetzal’s is a friend of mine.”

“I’m not her anything,” Quetzal snarks under their breath, before they eagerly take the drink Casey offers. It’s hard to look irritated with a straw in between your lips. Probably Allison looks unconvinced, and Quetzal doesn’t do their best to argue. You’ve heard them when they disagree with a moniker. Their face has curled harmlessly.

“You’d be?” Kate asks, skeptical.

“The local. This is actually my timeline. Sparrow’s somewhat of an overbearing neighbor. I don’t make a fuss out of it, since it means the collective forces leave me more or less alone.” Seeing your expression and Kate’s, she looks to Quetzal. “Did you tell them anything?”

“Casey knows the important parts.”

“And not her?” Allison points to you. You blink, point to yourself, and wonder what you have to do with anything. You’re used to being the weird tagalong, a curiosity, but she seems to focus on you. Her tone makes your lack of knowledge a grievous oversight, and you want to apologize.

“I didn’t tell Ally— Sparrow— anything about Eve,” Quetzal says. “She’s spying on us?”

“Don’t take it personally, she spies on everyone. But — that’s an Eve Monroe.”

She says your name with some reverence, as if it means something.

As if you’ll ever be anything more than a number, your interrogator says, and you breathe in at the words. You breathe into silence and stillness, your body stiff as if the lack of movement would make you invisible. Casey listens to you like there’s something worth listening to, but this is more than that.

“You’ve for your Library cards, you’ve got to have seen more of her around,” she says to your equally confused peers. Kate nods, though this is the first you’re hearing of this. “There are some people that the multiverse likes to make again and again. Something about our pattern it likes. Allison Chao one of them, myself and all my little sisters.” You see the tattoo again. You think you’re stupid for having forgotten about it before. “Like Sparrow, this one’s ex.”

“Are you sure this is safe?” Casey asks, glancing at Quetzal’s suddenly concerned expression. “I was under the impression talking about this was dangerous.”

“Maybe if I were a tankie. But our Veilkeepers know enough about me not to waste their time. I do roller derby and a couple of misdemeanors. Maybe a felony once a year.” You’ve never heard that nickname, but you can guess it refers to the cluster of associations with a vested interested in keeping anomalies private. Then again, you aren’t sure how far that goes— the madmen don’t want to give up their position in international politics to competition and MC&D are the same with the economy, but are they really keepers of the Veil like the jailers? It’s ambiguous enough that you see why it hasn’t caught on, even if the Hand types tend to like pretentious nicknames for their enemies.

“You should be a Gamer,” Kate says with a smile, clearly warming up to this Allison some. She’s the only one of your team who calls the Gamers Against Weed their actual name, instead of jesters. You tried at first, but you couldn’t help but giggle whenever you tried.

“I lurk in the chats every now and then, Firebug69, I know the slang, but I’m not, how’d JJ put it? Terminally online enough to really fit in. Though I know a couple of them from derby.” She pats her nose and gestures at Kate. “Your girlfriend got me good.”

“What about me?” you ask eventually.

“Oh, right. Sorry, I like to talk. You’re like us. You’re in a lot of places. More than even some of the big shot doctors at the Foundation, your Gears, your Clefs, your Brights, and they make a lot of noise. I’ve run into seven of you and all have been the quiet type, most with your own crew.” She’s as animated now as she was with Quetzal. You feel something sinking in your gut— this doesn’t match what you know about her at all. About Sparrow. She’s smiling without anger at names you’ve heard tossed around as fairy tales and threats alike. You think you would prefer the anger.

You understand rage, the sort of rage that you thought was universal in Allison Chao’s DNA. You’ve buried your own for long enough. You buried it until it grew teeth. You understand distance. There’s only so much any one human or human-ish organism can process. But she speaks the names of the monsters at the end of the only stories you were told for years with wicked mischief.

You wonder what felonies she was referring to. You know that your friends have lists associated with their names, littered with all sorts of crimes. Breaking and entering, all purp. Petty theft, scattered from business to business. Grand theft. Inexplicable frauds. Murder.

“Seven? Checkers, you said you didn’t hop worlds much.” Quetzal is a bit aghast. You figure this is probably a lot. You don’t have a reference point. You think you’ve known two of Allison, if you’ve been keeping track right, but when most of your journeys take you to space or magical realms, anywhere but home, you have no idea who might and might not have been a version of this girl before you.

“Yeah, see what I mean! There’s definitely more, much more, but I haven’t poked around in our files on you much. I can see if I can get enough consensus to share with you.”

You don’t like the idea that she— they— have files on you.

Casey sees that and adds, “It’s not personal. They do that for basically everyone and everything.”

You wonder if you’re an everyone or an everything.

“I really didn’t expect you guys to show up. I’m always happy to catch up with Quetzal, of course, anyone annoyed by someone who annoys me is someone I’m fond of by default. It’s always fascinating to meet another caught up in a similar shitstorm.”

You don’t want to be fascinating.

You want someone else to slip into your skin now, but you feel stuck to it. It’s too tight around you, colored marks keeping you in place like sharp pins on a dead butterfly’s wings. You are a specimen. You only see white as your hand takes a sip of the coffee for you. It’s too cold.

She doesn’t smile with teeth. Her good cheer is genuine, as far as you can read, and maybe that’s what scares you the most.

“We should go,” Casey says, turning to Quetzal. Their shift in tone isn’t subtle, and Allison seems taken aback. You’d be taken aback, if you didn’t feel lost. No, not lost. You think you know exactly where you are. It follows you. “We planned to grab these and run. It was nice running into you.”

“Oh,” she says, and then she tries, “I’m sorry for anything Sparrow or my other sisters have pulled recently, by the way. They’re not half as clever as they think they are.”

She says, like she's different.

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