by Jason Sanford
We be toppers. Toppers we be. Hanging off Empire State as cement and limestone crumble and fall. Looking down the lines and pulleys strung between nearby buildings. Eyeing the green-growing plants and gardens on the tall tall roofs.
And below, the mists. The ever-flowing mists. They wait, patiently. As if time is theirs alone to worship.
I was born in a slug, an insulated bag of canvas strung to our highrise’s limestone façade by people without the power to live inside. Momma always said life in a slug was the closest we toppers came to being free, and I believe that. But too much freedom is also bad, so Momma stitched our slug with care, making it last when others fell during winds or storms.
Momma was good. Even though she’d opened herself to the mists while pregnant with me, she resisted their siren call. Kept me safe and near-fed until I was old enough to climb.
One day, like a true topper, she announced her time had come.
We climbed the stairs to Empire’s old observation deck and stood there among the vegetable gardens and potato bins. As the gardeners eyed us to ensure we didn’t steal their precious food, I begged Momma not to go.
Momma hugged me tight. She whispered how her father had visited Empire State when he was a child, back before the city left the Days-We-Knew. He’d climbed to this very spot and saw the cities and oceans and lands of that now-gone time.
“He claimed it was the most beautiful sight he’d ever witnessed,” Momma said.
I leaned over the railing and watched the mists rolling into the city from the flat, endless horizons. No matter what my grandfather believed, nothing could look prettier than the mists on a sunny day. I told Momma this.
Momma kissed me on the cheek before jumping over the railing and disappearing into the mists below.
Instead of the thump of her body hitting ground I heard a contented sigh rising on the wind.
As comfort, the gardeners gifted me with a tiny potato and a sickly carrot.
Blessed be the mists.
Curse their ever-waiting grasp.
That was then. This is me in the morning of now, the sun warming the slug’s canvas and waking me to dreamer-happy thoughts.
“Hellos,” I say, leaning over the slug’s canvas siding and facing the mists far below.
Hellos to you, Hanger-girl, the mists whisper back. Will you join us today?
“Might . . . if the Super sticks me on another shit detail.”
The mists circling Empire giggle at my joke—they know I’ll never willingly join them. For a moment my momma’s voice rises above the others, whispering her love for me. I smile, glad a piece of her is still around.
“Who’s she babbling to now?” Old Man Douger mutters from the slug next to mine. I hush, angry that he heard me. No one else in Empire hears the mists’ words or knows they talk. If the oldies like Douger suspected I talked with the mists, they’d toss me over the edge. Oldies hate the mists. They remember what it was like to live on the ground with trees and grass and cows that mooed as you cut them into hamburger.
Not that we don’t have burgers. But oldies always moan for cows, saying squirrel and rat don’t taste the same. READ MORE
by James Alan Gardner
At 10:04 a.m. on a Thursday in November, Jason Foote slipped something into Matthew Stein’s beaker during Grade 10 chemistry. No one ever figured out what the substance was, but the result was an earsplitting bang.
At the next lab table, Julia Boudreau was startled enough to drop a test tube. It hit the floor and shattered, spreading glass and dilute acid over the tiles. Other students shrieked or swore, but the most extreme reaction came from Tamara-Lynn Eubanks: she grew nine feet tall, sprouted tree-bark all over her body, and smashed a hole through the wall of the classroom. She ran through the hole at the speed of a sports car and was not seen again until two years later, when she was caught on video fighting Blue Mechathons during the Rainbow Invasion.
Everyone in the class understood what had happened: Tamara-Lynn’s DNA must have included the so-called “Spark gene.” The shock of hearing the bang had pumped the girl full of fight-or-flight hormones. The adrenaline flood in Tamara-Lynn’s bloodstream had combined with the glandular turmoil of being a teenager, and had “sparked” the gene out of dormancy. Every cell in the girl’s body underwent spontaneous mutation; in the blink of an eye, Tamara-Lynn Eubanks joined the ranks of Earth’s superhumans.
She was the fourth teen in Canada to transform so publicly. Many more were assumed to have “supered up” in private, but under similar circumstances—a girl or boy on the metabolic roller-coaster of adolescence got propelled even higher by a jolting moment of stress. Result: sometimes unmistakable traits like Tamara-Lynn’s; sometimes a kid who looked completely normal but could juggle Buicks, read minds, or turn to steam.
Sparking up never happened in children—the gene couldn’t activate until puberty established the basic biochemical conditions. And spontaneous transformation had never been observed in anyone older than sixteen; after that, either you didn’t have the Spark gene at all, or else your glands had settled down from Peak Crazy, thereby losing the chaotic strength to kick the gene awake. Conventional wisdom said that from age seventeen on, you could only acquire superpowers through supreme flukes of luck . . . like falling into a vat that contained exactly the right combination of weird chemicals, or getting hit by the right glowing meteor.
What were the chances of ridiculous things like that? One in a hundred million. But spontaneous Spark mutation happened to teens exactly like you.
* * *
Liam Lee attended the same school as Tamara-Lynn Eubanks. He hadn’t known her, except as a face in the crowd—Liam was in Grade 12 and his life didn’t intersect with Grade 10s. As it happened, however, Liam was in the classroom next door when Tamara-Lynn crashed through the wall. He was sitting by the window, so he had a clear view of Tamara-Lynn’s tree-like body as she raced into the distance.
Liam had never seen anything so beautiful.
And Liam was no stranger to Sparks. Like 90 percent of young males in the civilized world, he had that poster of Tigresse taped up in his bedroom. He watched the Spark channel . . . followed a dozen Spark-oriented tumblrs . . . befriended Facebook pages that tracked superbattles, superscandals, supertech. Once, he had stood on the beach near his house and watched as five superheroes fought a gigantic monster far off in Toronto harbor.
But Tamara-Lynn Eubanks was the first Spark he’d seen for real, up close. She was awesome. She was like magic. She was everything Liam wanted to be.
On the day Liam Lee saw Tamara-Lynn change, he was a week away from his seventeenth birthday.
Almost too late. READ MORE