Morty knows he shouldn't be screwing around with multidimensional shit. It's dangerous, it's impractical, it's blah blah blah. But it's a potential key to unlimited energy, how does nobody see that? He's built a dimensional siphon (it kind of looks like a cardboard box with a funnel and a TI-84 taped to it, but it damn well works), keyed in the dimensional coordinates to a random plane, and by God he's going to use it.
He flips the switch and waits for the energy bar to fill up.
It does! It fills up very rapidly. Then it explodes, along with the box. There's rather more smoke than there should be, and once the smoke clears someone is standing there.
"Whoops?" Morty says faintly.
Morty knows he shouldn't be screwing around with multidimensional shit. It's dangerous, it's impractical, it's blah blah blah. But it's a potential key to unlimited energy, how does nobody see that? He's built a dimensional siphon (it kind of looks like a cardboard box with a funnel and a TI-84 taped to it, but it damn well works), keyed in the dimensional coordinates to a random plane, and by God he's going to use it.
Morty jumps backwards and hits his head on the corner of his bunk bed. He falls over, then jumps back to his feet, hits his head on the bedframe this time, falls over again, and elects to remain seated until he is quite sure the scenery will stop attacking him.
You- you're a telepath? he manages. I wasn't trying to, um, anything. Can you hear my thoughts?
The back of Morty's head comes to rest on the wall behind him with a thunk.
Well, I've got bad news and I've got good news. The bad news is that you're in an alternate universe and Hartford is going to have me thrown off a cliff by wild horses. The good news is that people who aren't me occasionally know what the fuck they're doing. So they might be able to put you back. After having me thrown off a cliff by wild horses.
He waves a hand. Yeah, but they still sound like it. American culture's pretty new to magic and mutants and shit, all that's still sci-fi as all hell. He looks thoughtful. You'd think a hundred years would be enough to get used to that kind of thing, but that's humans for you, I guess.
Oh, yeah, alternate universe. Nobody really knows what happened, but about a hundred years back folks started cropping up with Powers That Science Could Not Explain*. So now you get psychics, blasters, wizards, Devisors... But when you haven't had that kind of stuff for the rest of your history it still seems kinda fake. Like, my roommate is literally full of dog ghosts. And he's growing extra nipples. The fuck is up with that, right?
*The communication of unnecessary capitalization through telepathy may or may not be one of these.
Um. Well, science is using the fact that most things work in basically the same way to figure out how our world is set up, right? And we'd been using it for a really long time, so we had most of the rules figured out. But then there's all these wizards, and they're turning teacups into frogs and shit, and it doesn't work in the same way as anything else. (Or at least it didn't seem to at the time, the really advanced physicists and theoretical gadgeteers are making some headway on making mutant powers make some damn sense in the context of the rest of everything. More power to them, I guess.)* But we hadn't really run into anything science Could Not Explain before then. So it was kind of fucked-up.
*Mortimer Halliwell is not aware of his ability to think in parentheses, or for that matter footnotes. It probably wouldn't surprise him, though.
Morty looks slightly affronted!
Science still works, you know. We thought lightning was God throwing spears at us for thousands of years, and now we make it in our houses and use it instead of candles. Just because there's some hocus-pocus we can't account for yet doesn't mean it can't be accounted for.
He thinks for a moment.
I can't actually dispute that. But it's being pretty nice about it, if so. There's mutations that are literally "be good at science," so I don't think it's trying to discourage us too hard. If mutants are the world fucking with us, I don't mind its style too much.
Morty sobers somewhat. Yes, that. Um, I don't know exactly, but I think you get put back as soon as they can manage, and... I think you get a gift basket of advanced medical technology? Or comparable magical or technological goodies. Except if you'd rather stay they'll let you immigrate and give you a bunch of apology money to start living with. They like to stress the "we're very sorry you got kidnapped, here's free stuff" angle.
My universe isn't as friendly as yours. It doesn't hold with understanding things through the power of science or any of that sci-fantasy wishful thinking. If I bring home science fantasy technology of any kind I will be lucky if the only thing that happens is it all spontaneously melts.
I mean, that works, but it's the- science is like social mobility for an entire species, you know? With enough work you can make everything better, for good, you can win. Like, hey, anybody get polio lately? No? Fuckin' great! That's because we killed polio! With science! And anyone can do science.
He pauses. If they're smart and got a good education and they don't need a real job, I mean. But it's the principle of the thing.
I mean, you can check, there's like three psis on this floor. Parents not wanting to leave... Maybe somebody could set up a two-way communicator or something? Hell, I could set up a two-way communicator, I'm a mad hypergenius! If I could just figure out the coordinate error, and...
He fiddles somewhat manically with the bit of cardboard, which folds in implausible ways. "Need more cardboard," he mutters.
Everybody with powers has a codename, pretty much. If you're going to go around superheroing or supervillaining you don't want to mix it up with your personal life, and if you aren't, you can still use it for the strength of your brand, or whatever. He scratches his head. Plus, y'know, tradition.
...Sort of? The villains do things because they're jerks and they want more power so they can be bigger jerks, the heroes try to stop them from doing that. I think without the villains there'd be a lot less heroes. But there's still a big contingent of the mutant community that just, like, does things. Like strength guys working construction, teleporters doing courier work, gadgeteers selling inventions... Not superheroes or supervillains, just superfolks. My dad knew a real estate agent with the lower body of a snake. They just do stuff.
Um. Pretty much. Some mutants don't really look human, but they're closer to it than anything else. And the magic guys say there's fairies and stuff but they mostly just stay in the spirit world or wherever they live. I mean, demons and ghosts and all that sometimes pop up to murder people, but mostly everything that isn't human keeps to itself.
More like, uh, if elves sometimes had babies that came out looking like dwarfs. Or could breathe fire. But were still elves, in... many ways? Genetics is fucked.
He scrunches his face in confusion. Wait, why am I assuming you guys have orcs? Stop generalizing Tolkien to Fantasy Hellworld, Morty.
Yeah, me trying to explain genetics was pretty hopeless. I'm an engineer. To whatever extent I'm actually an engineer instead of some bizarro technowizard. But mutants are, like... Sort of a neighbor species. It's not apples to oranges, but it's not apples to apples either.
Same here, really. People are just more familiar with devisors just sort of... doing stuff? I guess? Everybody takes gadgeteer vitamin supplements or lives in a hypersteel apartment complex or something, so it's sort of become an everyday thing, but wizards don't do as much in the public eye.
He shrugs. Less mass-production capability? If Algernon invents a new computerized ocular implant or something, he can make a factory to make more. Even if it's a true Devise, the kind that can only be built by hand by the one guy who came up with it, he can just do that as many times as he wants and sell it to as many people as he wants. Wizards are working from a finite source of energy. I think. That's what they say, at least. So they're not going to be flooding the market with enchanted backscratchers, they're going to save up for their own shadowy ends or whatever it is wizards do.
With palpable dread, he picks up the phone.
"Ms. Hartford! Um. How- yes, okay. Could I- yes. Could I speak to Mrs. Carson? I- yes, but- Code 8236? ...no, that's- dimensional summons. Accidental. Yes. Thank you."
He puts the handset down as gently as he can, much as one might a venomous snake. Well, she's in fine form. An administrator will be here in a minute or so, apparently.
He shrugs. Minimally intrusive brain scan? They might want to do that anyway, but I don't think they'll stress the point, you don't seem very cagey. We're not, like, lizardperson racist, it's just easier to read people when they look more like us, and the folks in charge want to be sure when they're dealing with potential interdimensional shit. And if you had tentacles or something you might have your movements restricted a bit so the normies didn't see you and freak out, but that's just a practical concern.
Uh, psychics aren't supposed to read people or poke their brains without consent, but around campus it's... not as well enforced as you might want? If you're worried I'd go to Fubar and have him shoot some probes at you. He's, I think the most powerful psychic in the world? And he can probably do something like testing you against a Psi-1 and a Psi-2 and so on up the scale. He can't keep himself from getting a low-power impression of everyone around him, but pretty much any amount of shielding can keep that out, so I wouldn't worry.
Yeah. Fringe benefits of turning into a horrible fish-monster, I guess. ...no, wait, actually he was psychic before he turned into a horrible fish-monster. Scratch that.
There is a knock at the window. Morty sighs and opens the blinds, revealing Mrs. Carson hovering in the air bearing a glowing platinum scepter.
Morty helps! The window opens sufficiently for Carson to swoop through.
"She doesn't speak English, but she's a telepath, so you can-"
"Thank you, Mr. Halliwell, that will be all," she says sharply. He wisely shuts up.
Hello. My name is Elizabeth Carson; I apologize for all of this, and promise that I will do everything in my power to set it right. Do you have any pressing needs?
Isabella Swan, ma'am. If it's at all convenient I'd like my parents not to be too alarmed about my disappearance; they'll probably think I did something really stupid and got eaten either literally or metaphorically, otherwise. I don't know how long I'll be staying but I haven't seen anything that makes it look like I have locally unusual needs, since I'm a human. Morty suggested that I get my shields tested against local psi, which sounds like a good idea.
Carson sighs. It would not be strictly impossible, but the effort involved in getting a message across the dimensional border would be almost as much as getting you across, so we would probably prefer to just get you home. Unless you'd like to stay here for longer than a few weeks, in which case arrangements can be made. If you're identical to local humans, that does simplify accommodating you somewhat. We can test your shields at your convenience, though there are some more urgent matters, such as vaccinating you against various local illnesses and making sure you aren't carrying anything serious yourself.
It sounds to me from what Morty's told me that you have a very friendly universe which lets you get away with a lot of science and doesn't kill you, just occasionally drops novel sorts of magic on you to give you a new challenge. Where I'm from, vaccinations are a science fiction thing and anybody trying a stunt like that in real life is lucky if all that happens is they get the disease they were trying to ward off and find it mysteriously resistant to ordinary magical healing.
Would that still apply to a disease with no equivalent in your world? she asks. We can waive the standard flu shots and such on practical grounds, but what we're really concerned with is airborne Ebola, hyperplague, that sort of thing. Profoundly lethal, extremely quick onset, and only existing due to very specific events in our universe. Do you think your... world... would object to that?
I don't know, we haven't met socially, I just live there, but it's not the sort of thing you want to guess on if you can avoid it because the last time somebody decided to exploit the tendency of mockdragon handlers not to get pleurisy half the population of the Glorious Mountains died.
I don't know, is it normal magic or science magic of some kind? I mean, frankly I'm not sure my universe won't decide I've been hanging around bad company and squish me the moment I go back no matter what I do. I'm very tempted not to return and just live here in Science Fantasy Plane.
We can arrange that. Long-term parental contact is proportionally less of a problem than short-term; the textbooks we can probably manage using you as a dimensional anchor, or if we're very lucky we might find them in the Great Library; and generally continuing to exist is quite feasible and would be generously subsidized by the Academy by way of apology for putting you in this position in the first place.
...Difficult to explain. A few decades back an unusually unhinged Devisor created a building which... structurally resembles a library, is apparently infinite in volume, and contains, to all appearances, all of the books that have ever been written in any universe. The only problem is that every book is placed completely at random, scrying is very difficult in the stacks, and going too deep can lead through pockets of badly distorted time. There are people with the talent or skill to reliably check books out of the Library, but their services are expensive and always in high demand. Our main hope is that the books you need would crop up in the front thousand shelves or so, which occasionally rearrange their contents and can be scried.
Okay. Depending on how dramatic my vanishment looked on the other end I might not be missed for a day or two, and then the school will probably put a token effort into finding me again before bothering my parents, so there's no need to have a message to them ready to go particularly soon.
It's probably not worth the risk to go back and pursue a career path I was mostly picking as a default anyway, given this nice science fantasy universe to live in and a way to write my parents a letter. I am going to ask them to empty their savings accounts to get me books if your library doesn't have them, though, since it sounds like you will want them all in one batch.
I mean... yeah, pretty much. If there is any stuff you haven't gotten your science all over and which the universe doesn't consider inherently valuable and therefore inappropriate to conjure, I'm all ears, but they'll probably just have to take it out of not having to pay what of my tuition wasn't covered by scholarship, anymore.
Just... be really thorough. The story is almost certainly safe, but no science paper, no science ink, etcetera. And don't send too many. The universe doesn't have a known opposition to plagiarism per se but it doesn't like too much cheating. They can probably get away with like... one author apiece.
I'm finding myself more and more thankful for it, yes, Carson thinks drily. Faculty will under no circumstances attack you, unless possessed or something to that effect. Students may, infrequently, but almost always nonlethally, and it is technically illegal for them to do so. So you can report them to faculty, who will punish them accordingly, or retaliate in kind, which is frowned upon but a legitimate response for those more comfortable with it.
Morty looks very slightly horrified. Mrs. Carson seems to be finding a sort of black comedy in this whole affair despite herself.
Just knocking them out is not only appropriate but highly encouraged. Knives are generally frowned upon, since they're easier to accidentally kill someone with; however, if someone with mental shielding assaults you, your best effort at nonlethal self-defense will be fine. Though I might recommend pepper spray or a shock wand, instead, as a matter of personal preference.
Mrs. Carson raises an eyebrow. "Speaking of which: Mortimer, before I forget, you'll be retaking Interdimensional Threat as a tutored course, detention in Hawthorne for a month, and I want you back with your therapist until you can work out some way to stop yourself from doing idiotic things when you're having an episode. If that means getting Mr. Conway to physically pin you to the ground every time you get near an Allen wrench unless you can explain what you're doing with it, then you do that. Are we clear?"
Morty grimaces. "Yes, ma'am."
"Well, don't let me detain you," she says, and steps out the window to sail back towards her office. (The window shuts itself with a wash of blue light.) Once she's safely out of sight, Morty resumes breathing.
He nods. "We don't really have all that many psychics. You can train for it even if you don't have the talent, but a trained baseline can't even approach the kind of power you get as a mutant, so most of them don't bother trying. Plus, we were doing psychology before psychics were even a thing. Force of habit, I guess."
"They come at you with a little needle full of a clear liquid, it stings like a bastard when they jab you, and it feels like somebody slugged you in the arm for a couple hours afterwards. And then you don't get hyperplague. I've never had a bulk vaccination, though, so that might be different." He declines to contribute the mental image of about fifteen hypodermic needles sticking out of Bella's arm, suspecting that it would be unhelpful.
Morty makes a sour face. "The mental disorder of choice among mutants, especially Devisors. Characterized by fits of egomania, along with regular mania, plus a tendency towards obsessive and antisocial behaviors. Most of the time I'm pretty much alright; when I'm in a fit, I'm Doctor Insano. I was having a fit when I built the machine that summoned you, for reference. I'm pretty sure I actually said the words 'I'll show them, I'll show them all!'" He shakes his head in disgust. "What a fucking tool."
He shrugs. "The therapy thing isn't really for treatment, anyway; that's all about how the wires in my brain line up, nothing much they can do about it. It's mostly just to keep me from feeling too shitty or not shitty enough about the stuff I do when I'm riding the crazy train."
"Depends on my stress levels, really. It averages out to about once a week, with a really bad attack every month or so. I'll get little flickers of it if I get too worked up about something I'm making, but that can be headed off pretty easily by distracting me with something shiny. Fred- my roommate, he's gotten really good at that."
He laughs uncomfortably. "No, this is a one-strike kind of deal. If it became a habit, I would be in a lot more trouble than I am. Usually what I end up doing is accidentally blowing something up, but that's what blast shields are for. And yeah, Fred's the one with the dog ghosts. Real good guy. We're in the same basic combat class."
"Um, probably that we don't stab each other? Mandatory combat classes are all unarmed. And you can take weapon training if you want to for some reason, like you have the power to manifest a sword or you're training to be a big-league super or something. But otherwise it's just aikido and tae kwon do and stuff, unarmed nonlethal combat. Half of it's just so we get some exercise."
"There are older students! Most people manifest in their teens, but it's been known to happen in the twenties, and if you come to Whateley to learn to use your powers, you enroll as a freshman regardless. It's a special arrangement, but there's usually a few of them in every year."
He perks up a bit. "Yeah! Especially since you're sort of starting from zero, there really is probably nowhere better than Whateley to get yourself up to speed on science stuff. And the local magic- well, I never really got anywhere with it, but you could see if your experience with your kind makes it any easier to understand? Or something?"
"Some of them do exist? Or at least it seems that way, like, there's an Avatar of Ganesha and it seems like that'd imply there is a Ganesha to be an Avatar of. But they don't smite anyone on their own. Supposedly they used to smite people thousands of years ago, but these days I feel like they're worried someone might smite them right back."
"...That's weird. I mean, people sometimes get into fights with gods at home, if they're epic enough - I think attempted deicide is a formal crime in the Imperium, even - huh. I don't know what to think about that. But talking about them any which way is definitely safe?"
"I mean, I'm sure that killing Zoroaster or someone would be frowned upon. They might be subject to murder laws, even. All I'm saying is that a particularly thunderbolt-happy deity might end up being classified as a supervillain and Thwarted. And yeah, god-bothering's 100% safe. I mean, don't do it to their faces, but that's rude anyway."
As she speaks, locks of her hair seek out and arrange objects including vials of unclear liquid, hypodermic needles, and a wand of some strange material tipped with metal. Very esoteric.
"Well, you don't need to relax completely, just trust that I'm not poking you for no reason. But I am comfortable being read, as long as you can stay within a small area - not that I'm worried about your control, you understand, but some of my memories are hazardous to psychics, so I'd want you to be safe."
Wielding several hypodermics in several different portions of her mane, she gives Bella a few jabs on each shoulder, then intones something. "That'll reduce the swelling, keep it all circulating through you instead of staying in your arms. Now, I can also take the opportunity to give you a basic physical checkup, which you'll need to get eventually; would you like that now?"
The lady rummages around in a drawer, then hands Bella a small stack of papers attached to a clipboard. "Just fill these out and we can get you all set up."
Some of the questions on the forms are relatively normal (name, age, blood type, sexuality, a broad selection of genders), while some are less normal (date of manifestation, list of powers [tentative], alterations to body by mutation). "Some of these won't apply to you," the woman says, "being that you're not a mutant. Just fill out what you can."
Bella is named Isabella Mariel Swan and she's 19 and straight and female and doesn't know her blood type or what a blood type is. She provides the date she was diagnosed with subtle artistry in the Pax calendar but assumes this will not be very helpful and lists her powers as "7/10 subtle arts, 101 level arcana" and her alterations to body as "none".
The secretary takes the form back and nods. "We can get your blood type from the medical exam, no trouble. I've got no idea what the powers mean, but I'm not a powers testing type, am I."
She fiddles with a machine on her desk, which spits out an ID card for Isabella Mariel Swan complete with a photograph that was never taken of her. She hands this to Bella, along with a laptop, another card with some silvery heraldry on the front - "that's a debit card for monetary needs, you've got a generous stipend since we accidentally summoned you" - and a thick Student Handbook. "There we have it, you're good to go. Mortimer, are you providing the tour?"
"I'll open the Homer Gallery for you, then."
The wall of a small nook opens, revealing a set of stairs leading downwards.
"There'll be a card reader at most establishments, you just let them scan it and that's that."
Morty shows her down the stairs into the Homer Gallery, which contains a large painting of a patrician man standing next to a weird-looking bust, a large pile of gold bullion, several strange devices behind glass, and a few wax figures wearing brightly colored costumes. "Welcome to the Homer Gallery! You have absolutely none of the cultural context required to find any of this impressive except maybe the gold, but we are contractually required to show it to you anyway! Especially the painting of Lord Paramount, who made himself ruler of a small country in Eastern Europe by singlehanded mutant strength and thinks you should find this very impressive."
"Uh, let's see. This one is Professor Ripper's Quasar Gun, it shoots highly destructive bolts of plasma at incredible rates. This one is the Tartarus Projector, which traps its target in a bubble outside conventional time and space forever, or probably actually until they die of thirst, which takes like three days. And these are the dowsing rods used by Ideomotor to diagnose mutant powers back when the Academy was first founded. The weapons are trophies various superheroes took in battle from defeated enemies, which is, uh, kind of barbaric? But also kind of cool."
"No. It's really strong. Some really high-tier mutants could break it, but also this place is really well fortified and locks from the outside really comprehensively. Also it's right under Mrs. Carson's office, and she can kick the ass of basically anybody in the world. It would be a phenomenally bad idea to try to take any of this stuff."
"Currency here is dollars, a hot meal is ten to thirty dollars, you have I think it's ten thousand of them right now, that's a lot because you have to start a new life here et cetera and, again, being very nice. You can reasonably purchase pretty much anything in this store without having to worry about it. Prices should be listed."
"Thanks." She tries it on. "Why does everything I try on fit?" she asks, coming out in her original extraplanar jeans and t-shirt and tossing the dress in the basket. "I assume if I tried on the stuff that obviously isn't my size it won't, but anything that looks about right if I hold it up is perfect!"
"Oh! You have magic computers, that's... strangely charming. Also very convenient. We call those 'computers,' the secretary gave you one, it's the rectangular plastic box? We have an internet instead of an ethernet, ethernet's just a way of connecting to the internet, it's confusing, but otherwise it sounds pretty much the same. The Whateley-issued laptop is all-around decent and pretty much indestructible but not top-of-the-line in any other way, plus it's firewalled so you can't get to, uh, certain sites, so if you want a better computer they are over here." He shows her to the computer section.
"Rectangular box is convenient because - uh, electronics 001, the way we do things without magic is usually that we bind electricity to complicated pieces of metal? And the complicated pieces of metal are flat, so, rectangular box full of complicated pieces of metal, plus a screen you see things on. We have, um, video games? Ether gazing sounds like maybe it's video games. Whateley laptop can't handle most of them, and you're technically not allowed to download games onto it anyway."
"Oh. Instead of ether gazing we have keyboard and mouse - not a literal mouse it's just called that - and you do things with your hands to tell the computer what to do. You're probably going to be put into the Computer Literacy class, they'll explain it way better than I can. We don't have Island Nations Four but we probably have something similar, I think most of video game space has been explored at this point."
"Okay. I don't think I'll get a fancy computer till I know how to operate a computer at all. Island Nations Four is a game where you control a bunch of settlers on an empty island and then you sometimes have to manage conflicts with neighboring islands but mostly you customize your society and expand to more islands."
"Room comes with two desks, two lofted beds, two closets, and a sink. You will need a pillow. Also pillowcases, but I think that's in the sheet set. Um, dorm checklist... You'll want an alarm clock and a wastebasket and a laundry basket, and I think that's all you're missing. Unless you want, like, snacks, or posters. They've got some nice posters."
"Yeah, only seniors get singles. I mean, seniors and Hawthorne kids, but with the Hawthorne kids it's because they might accidentally kill them."
Posters are available in many varieties! Some denote affection for a band or singer. Some are reproductions of presumably famous works of art. Some are just nature scenes or pretty patterns. One is of a cat hanging on to a branch with the caption HANG IN THERE!
"Hawthorne's the dorm for kids with uncontrolled or otherwise dangerous powers. There's a boy who can't be looked at directly because he drives people insane with his beauty, a little kid who's the involuntary host of an ancient demon, a girl who projects her own emotions so strongly that she gives people aneurysms... It's nasty all around."
And Morty shows her to Melville so she can drop off her purchases in her dorm room!
"I'm gonna have to leave you here - the Melville housemother or fixer's gonna take over now that you're in their territory. It was nice meeting you! Even given the, uh, circumstances."
"Hi! I'm Bella and I was accidentally summoned here from another plane, which is terrible anyway so I'm not going back. I'm told you're the person to ask about wearing my magic boots in martial arts class. Without them I routinely trip while walking at a sedate pace on level surfaces."
This world: has some history. This particular book, despite being ostensibly world history, focuses disproportionately on a continent called Europe, apparently because they beat everyone else up and took their things. Then they slowly stopped doing that, in fits and starts. At the time the book was written, everything seemed to be going okay.
The dining hall is expansive and beautiful! It has many buffet lines, each of which is denoted by a charming legend! There's a carrot, a piece of cheese, a steak, a cow, a baguette with a line through it, a geode, a banana, and a cake.
(If she looks at the people frequenting each line, she can probably rule out the cow and geode lines, because they're populated by people who do not look very human.)
Isaac smiles broadly. "We're glad to have you."
Ethan speaks up, leaning forward. "You come from a world without science, right? I'm worried that you may not have gotten the best first impression of the field from Morty. Science is usually very reliable, very carefully experimented with, and does not involve cardboard in any way, shape, or form."
"I'm not the first person to ever make a mistake while building a new invention," Morty sulks.
"That's true. However, if making mistakes while building inventions was a field of study, you would have a Nobel Prize," Ethan says.
"Even I don't do 'real' science," Ethan admits. "Science as it's done by baseline humans is agonizingly slow and tedious. But I have a power that allows me to skip past a lot of that. I have an instinctual understanding of many of the steps involved in what I'm doing, and so I don't have to experiment nearly as much before coming up with something like a superstrong variety of grass to weave a costume out of, or a flower that creates sleep-inducing pollen."
"And I just do something that seems to make sense to me, and then it either turns out fine or explodes," Morty says cheerily.
"First thing I ever made was a derby car that ran at something like 150 miles an hour. Since I got to Whateley I've made about twenty different power sources, all of which exploded after at most a few weeks; a handful of ray guns as proof of concept, most of which exploded but one of which still works; a quantum entanglement communicator, which worked perfectly but then exploded after a month; and, as a test of general principles, a grenade. Which failed to detonate."
Morty looks like he's trying to find something to say to that and failing.
Isaac raises his eyebrows. "Morty, be honest: have you personally offended Zoroaster?"
Morty shakes his head slowly. "I... my dad has a story about how my great-grandpa... offended an old woman once? And she told him something about her curse being upon him for seven generations? And he was rich before that, and then he lost it, and we're still kind of poor? But I really don't think-"
"Jesus Christ, Morty!" Ethan says.
Isaac nods vigorously. "That is essential backstory information."
"No," Morty says, at the same time as Ethan says "Apparently!"
Isaac stands up. "I'm getting Arjun."
"Don't get Arjun, Arjun hates me," Morty argues. "I really don't think an old family story is-"
"You have not taken Intro Magic," Isaac says. "We both have. You are cursed. I am getting Arjun." He strides off.
"He's this kid who says he's the Avatar of Ganesha."
"Not Avatar, Paladin," Ethan corrects. "Ganesha's this big Hindu god, so Arjun's a really powerful wizard. Specializes in blessings."
"And he thinks I'm a danger to myself and others and should be locked up," Morty says. "So I'm not thrilled Isaac's bringing him over."
Isaac comes back over with a blue, four-armed boy with very large ears. "-a mysterious old woman."
Arjun furrows his brow. "Really?" He looks at Morty seriously. "You really should have mentioned this earlier."
Morty glares at him. "I'm sorry that I don't consider weird stories about why my family's poor to be vital information."
Arjun ignores him, and all four of his hands start tracing patterns in the air as he mutters.
Isaac responds. "He's doing a magical analysis. Most mutant wizards can see the flows of magic naturally, but this curse is hiding somewhere inside Morty. So he needs to look a little closer."
Arjun finishes waving his hands and chanting. He squints at Morty for a few seconds, then nods. "Cursed. Very cursed. I can probably remove it, but I want to check with Circe first. And I want to bring you with me."
"Why?" Morty whines.
"Because if I fuck up you might die."
"...valid," Morty admits. He stands up reluctantly.
Isaac nods. "Alright, then you're good on math unless you want to go for calculus. Obviously you're going to need to start from the bottom up on science, but fortunately, Whateley also gets kids who don't know anything about science from this planet, so there's remedial classes that go pretty deep. Same for history. You might want to take a Lit class, get a look at our culture; on the other hand you might not. Morty mentioned you were interested in magic, that means Intro to Mystic Concepts. Then you've got one two more optional slots, depending on if you took Lit. You can either keep those as free periods, or pick something else to go there, like Home Ec or an art class."
"Home Ec might be useful since I assume you have completely different kitchen appliances. I can postpone art for when I know more about what-all the fuck. Probably you don't have any classes about subtle arts or my kind of magic, though honestly there's enough going on here that I wouldn't be astonished..."
"He's the only psychic on the team," Isaac explains, "but he keeps dividing his attention between psi and magic and gadgets and everything else he gets into for like five minutes. -it's a really weird team anyway though, they're all gadgeteers or devisors who just happen to have other abilities. They're gonna get trashed when they go up against a team that wasn't just thrown together by the sorting algorithm."
Ethan sticks his tongue out at Isaac. (It's also green.)
Ethan speaks up. "Oh, yeah, they're one of the really old legacy teams. Been around since the 80s. They're the scrappy kids with shitty powers - the kind of thing that rates maybe a 1 or 2 on the power scales. They're surprisingly good actually, usually if they're angry enough to be on the combat team they're dedicated enough to really hone that one little thing they can do. There's also an Underdogs social club, the social club is bigger than the combat team because most of them don't want to fight people with their shitty powers."
"Yeah," Ethan says. "We've gone up against the ones who do in the sims, though, and they're surprisingly vicious. Nothing says just because you can't bench-press a pickup truck you also can't pack a handgun."
Isaac raises his eyebrows. "Who the fuck on the Underdogs carries a handgun?"
"Hazzan. He's all happy-happy in person, but the son of a bitch shot me in the leg during capture-the-flag."
"Damn. Note to self, don't fuck with Hazzan."
"Oh, those are sprites - little magical pollinators, basically. Since my hair's made of plants they sort of stay in there, and I've got a familiar bond with them where they get nectar from my flowers and drink a little bit of my blood and in exchange I get control over nonmagical plants. Not very strong control, mind you, but I can make them grow quicker and in certain patterns and such."
"Ah. The way we do it you're basically pinching off a bit of your soul and popping it into a nonsapient animal or spirit - or in my case a eusocial hive of mystical insects - and you reinforce the bond by giving something up to the familiar in exchange for some gift from the familiar itself. From then on you get a sort of feedback loop that makes you a bit more powerful, you get the familiar's gift, and you get a friend."
"Pretty common, yeah," Isaac says. "A little less so among full-time supers; no matter how useful they can be, they introduce a serious point of vulnerability. Ethan mostly bypasses that with his technique of having a bunch of bugs and storing them in his hair, but if you've got a rat or something and somebody gets ahold of it, you're kind of screwed."
Ethan winces. "You lose the bits of your soul that went into the familiar, and there's a lot of mystical and emotional trauma associated with that. But if an enemy mage has access to your familiar it can get a lot worse than that, they can torture you from a distance or drain your essence or all kinds of bad stuff."
"That's more about money," Isaac says. "Whateley kind of has more money than they know what to do with and a policy of 'high pay gets better work', so they pay the chefs as if they were a decent-quality restaurant, which means they get really good chefs even though it's line cook work."
"How do you know all this stuff?" Ethan wonders. "I just know the food is good."
"I talk to people, Ethan."
Breakfast is available, including Kharoline frybread, which is presumably called something different here but is not labeled.
Nobody she knows seems to be breaking their fast at the moment, though a blonde girl floating several inches off the floor is peering at her thoughtfully.
Ariel, carrying her own tray of frybread and various syruped meats, leads Isabella over to a table containing a handful of other people: a dark-skinned girl covered with swirling purple tattoos, a couple of skinny white boys, and a living marble statue with feathered wings sitting next to a boy wearing a techy-looking visor thing. "Hey guys! This is Bella, she's new and from another universe."
Most of the table nods to her. Visor boy looks up sharply. "Interesting. I do hope you realize the fact you're recognizably human flies in the face of the laws of evolution."
He frowns. "Even worse. Though I suppose an intelligent designer could have been working from an existing template."
"If you don't have evolution, can you still breed horses and dogs and all that?" one of the white boys asks. "-Xan, by the way, is my name, I'm Xan. The sciency one is Hakim, the statue's Sky, my boyfriend is Leo, the girl with tattoos is Sally."
Hakim nods. "You've got evolution, then, wherever your humans came from. Though I suppose you could have inheritance without that implying evolution per se... hmm. -I'm an engineer, why am I going on about biology."
"Because you're a nerd," Sky says fondly. "Nice to meet you, Bella. What kind of powers do you have?"
"Oh, interesting - kind of a Martian Manhunter situation, powers unexceptional for the home world but incredible anywhere else," Sky says thoughtfully.
"And you call me a nerd," Hakim scoffs. "Did I hear that right - you learn magic in high school?"
"We're learning magic in high school," Xan points out.
"Public high school, then," Hakim says impatiently.
"Ooh, if you can show us a spell that'd be cool. Mostly I just meant like, what's the natural aptitude they're testing when they test whether or not you're good enough to take the class? Like, for us that'd be your willpower and ability to control your own mind. And how flexible is it, but I guess you're saying it's very flexible."
"It was more of an intelligence test, but it was architected specifically to check if you'd be able to do all the steps of learning to read scroll notation. I know almost twenty spells, they're not all suitable for a cafeteria demo but I don't want to list them all, should I just pick something or is there anything in particular you wanna see?"
"You're welcome! I'm also kind of curious to see how relatively easy, accessible magic might affect baseline society. I've always thought more baselines should be encouraged to try our kind of magic, too, but with our kind it's sometimes hard for the untrained eye to pick out the real stuff from the New-Age hippie bullshit. Not that the hippies didn't have magic."
"It might be hard to separate what effects that had from what effects all the other differences had. We use magic for a lot of things you do with science stuff. Also a lot of people aren't human, so we're not what you might be thinking of as a baseline society, even in majority human areas."
"Now I'm curious about your world in general," Sally comments. "What kinds of species of people do you have? We've got humans, Sidhe, various kinds of spirits and gods, werewolves, vampires, demons, and the creatures of the Mythos, and I don't think I'm missing anything but I wouldn't be shocked if I was."
"We have more kinds than that including all of those, or things that translate that way, except whatever creatures of the Mythos are unless they just aren't translating generously enough. Plus lots more, some of which I would absolutely forget if I listed them because no one has ever written a comprehensive mnemonic poem. There are elves and dwarves and sylphs and orcs and ogres and mermaids and nymphs and dragons and goblins and hobgoblins and stuff."
"Wow," Sally breathes. "That's- a lot. Um, I think we used to have dragons but they're extinct now if we ever did. Creatures of the Mythos are various flavors of horrible monster from outside our reality that disagree with our existence. They're thankfully quite rare."
"Ah. We don't have one of those, but there are defenses in place, hence their relative rarity. -oh, I knew I was forgetting someone and it turned out to be me. We have golems, though they're very uncommon. I'm technically one, hence my general, ah, metallic appearance, but I was transformed into one rather than being constructed."
"Where do I fucking start," Xan snorts. "Uh, the Crystal of Sa'Koresh is on display in the New York Museum of Natural History, instead of somebody using it to kill Deathlist or something. Same with thousands of other powerful artifacts scattered through the museum collections of the world, but the Crystal particularly gets me because they know how useful it could be and they still don't want anybody using it because they think it's too powerful to be in the hands of any one person. That's kind of - not the root problem but it points at it?"
“Maelstrom and Tearaway were big-time mutant terrorists back in the 50s. Maelstrom was a psi and a blaster, Tearaway ate people. They were seriously bad news. Then they got captured by the Mystic Six and tossed in a black cell, where to the best of my knowledge they remain to this day.”
He smiles. "Good to meet you. Let's see, we're going to be in Lab E - just follow me."
They pass by a couple of different labs on their way to Lab E, including one with a treadmill on the ceiling. Lab E turns out to be a medium-sized room containing weights, a computer, and a more conventionally floorbound treadmill. It also contains a middle-aged gentleman in a tweed coat, who waves as they enter. "Hello! I'm Louis - I'm the psychic test."
Louis gives Dr. Duncan an unimpressed look.
"She's from another universe, it's not like she's gonna cold-read me," Dr. Duncan argues.
Louis pinches the bridge of his nose. "Alright. Pop culture references aside - I'll put up a rudimentary shield. Should stop a baseline psychic, but any mutant above Psi-1 would have no trouble. Darren, think of an actually random number this time."
It stands firm.
Louis eventually nods. "Well, the disparity between defense and offense is a bit odd, but oddity is to be expected from an interdimensional visitor. I'll take the shielding off, and we can start on the fun stuff."
Fun stuff includes: "zapping" Dr. Duncan's brain so that he loses his train of thought, causing him to see a vase of flowers floating in midair, temporarily preventing him from saying the phrase "I am an elephant," causing sudden inexplicable feelings of fear/happiness/irritation, and making him raise his left hand above his head.
"Um, a lot of this stuff is stuff I could do but would normally not do without someone around to fix it if I screwed up in some unfortunate way, are you pretty confident you can handle all of that?" she asks Louis. "Bearing in mind that my mistakes may be weird in some way compared to local psi mistakes."
"Okay then. Some of this would be easier if I'd thought to bring my textbook but if you're playing safety net I should be able to work it out from first principles." She wants verbal consent from Dr. Duncan again, and then she can... do everything on the list just like that.
"I can't keep doing this all day," she mentions. "If you need to know what I can do when I'm at full capacity and there's a lot more to come, I might have to come back later."
"I mentioned I can knock people out. I can do a coffee-like thing. I was using arts for translation till I got this spell done. I have minor teekay I might train up. I can lucid dream? Uh, separately I have some arcane magic, I don't know if that counts as part of the same test."
"Knocking people out from a standing start is actually quite high-power by our standards, usually you'd see that as a psychic knack rather than a principled technique. Coffee-thing isn't something I've heard of but I wouldn't be shocked if it's out there, it sounds handy. Psychic translation is a thing, telekinesis is a separate test, lucid dreaming is not considered a superpower, and arcane magic is another separate test."
"Excellent!" Dr. Duncan says, clambering back to his feet.
Louis claps his hands together. "Alright. Ordinarily, ranking is easy, because defense, oppositional power, and versatility scale together in psis from our world, but obviously in your world they don't. Offensively you've got some punch but no penetrative power, defensively you're a fortress, and utility-wise you're more versatile than anyone I've seen since Sahar - she was a student a few years back whose knack was the ability to appropriate and use the knacks of others. If it was accepted practice I'd recommend a split rating, but it isn't, so I'm going to recommend a rating of Psi-3 with a knack for high-level shielding." Darren nods and marks something on his clipboard. "Any questions?"
"Few and far between," Louis says. "It will be displayed on your official MID - the Mutant ID card, which before you ask does in fact get issued to nonmutants who attend Whateley - when you receive one. You can use it when explaining your powers to disambiguate them, though this particular rating will only serve to ambiguate them further because it's hacky and weird. I honestly can't think of any other implications of the rating."
"If you get a high rating you can brag about it," Darren mentions.
The test is fairly long. There are sections on memorization (increasing strings of numbers, skimming and immediately reciting paragraphs or pages of text), spatial reasoning in up to eight dimensions, and an absolutely brutal strategy game like a cross between Go, 3D chess, and the Game of Mao. There are also, as Dr. Duncan mentioned, straight math and grammar and science sections. She probably doesn't know enough science to recognize how bizarre the science section gets toward the end.
"You can keep them on, we'll just record that you're using an assistive device."
There are tests of speed, deadlift capability, endurance, et cetera. Breaks are at regular intervals, including drinks and snacks.
One of the later tests appears to be another test of speed. She is placed on a treadmill and set to go at a certain rate.
Abruptly, out of the console pops a boxing glove on a spring, moving faster than aerodynamics should allow it to.
"Ah, alright, that's TK-1a. We'll just verify that and move on, then."
He verifies this with a small array of weights between 0.5 and five pounds, then moves on to categorizing her magic. "This obviously isn't going to translate into a conventional WIZ rating, since you're not using our kind of magic, so I'll just be asking you a few questions about your level of ability with your own system. Do you have any special advantages or intuition for your magic?"
He makes a so-so hand gesture. "Not really? That's why I say Circe's officially a Wiz-0, if we counted training time I think she'd be a Wiz-5 easy. But all the Mystic Arts people claim there's no reason to count that kind of thing. For this situation specifically I think if you had like ten years of training under your belt I'd be tempted to put you at a 1 or 2, because you'd have kind of an advantage despite not being inherently talented."
“You’re going to have to be tutored for basic background knowledge in history and science, for obvious reasons, so you’re not going to be able to select anything in those departments this semester. You’re covered on your math requirements, so math classes aren’t going to be suggested automatically, but if you want to take statistics or something, the option is open. As far as powers go, you seem basically compatible with our psi, at least enough so that you could get something out of the psychic track; I'd recommend starting with Intro to Psychic Disciplines so you can get a feel for how the two systems differ. Other than that, go wild. And you'll get your MID in November, you have to have an interview with a government agent about what goes on it."
"Occasionally! We get students from all sorts of backgrounds, and some of those backgrounds are 'no formal education whatsoever'. You're notable for simultaneously falling into that category and the 'already graduated high school' category, depending on the subject. Usually you just get one or the other."
Ms. Dennon is ready and willing to assist!
Required classes for Bella's first semester are Powers Theory (Powers Lab is, unusually, not automatically highlighted), History Tutoring, Science Tutoring, Word Processing and Technological Literacy, and Basic Martial Arts.
Recommended classes include Introduction to Psychic Disciplines, Introduction to Mystic Arts, Home Economics, World Literature, and Statistics 101.
"Not my first semester. I imagine I'll want to spend a lot of time on self-study about stuff from home once my books come in - I can probably make some progress even without - and I don't know how the workload here compares to what I'm used to yet and if I do get bored I can always read things."
There's a couple different bins of quartzes of various grades; the very nicest is a lovely piece of rutilated amethyst, which costs noticeably but not bank-breakingly more than a simple chunk of rock crystal. There are helpful signs indicating the differences between the various types of crystal (this one helps with clear thought, apparently), and clarifying specifically that any of these stones will be acceptable for Intro to Mystic Arts.
Her books, gi, and quartz are rung up and she's free to go.
"When it comes to magic, kind of? Like, I'm not scared of Arjun, I just know he's good at what he does. But Circe's super old and powerful and she kind of has this air of- not scariness per se, just 'I saw the civilizations that birthed your ancestors rise and fall, and I'm still going to be alive centuries after you die, and I'm allowing you to talk to me'? I guess I'm kind of conflating the scary part of that with the respectable part of it."
"I mean, sort of? Maybe a weight lifting off of my shoulders, a veil falling from my eyes. Some kind of object changing its position relative to my body, probably vertically. Instead I got Arjun waving his hands at me for fifteen minutes with a very intense Greek woman standing by in case he waved his hands wrong, then both of them nodding decisively and sending me on my way. It was like getting an MRI, or something. That's a kind of medical scan, you lie down inside a big machine and it makes loud noises and then they have a picture of your brain. Anyway, supposedly my inventions will stop exploding now, except the workshop's not open until school starts back up, so I can't even verify that. It just feels weird."
"Most people don't like killing things, way more people than you'd think looking at the stats on vegetarianism or whatever. -I know I'm kind of harping on vegetarianism but it is genuinely kind of weird that we're so willing to let animals die for our food when we wouldn't kill animals in person and it'd be really easy to go vegetarian, but like, chicken is delicious and vat meat is expensive and I guess I don't care that much about being a good person when there's an actual cost to me. Like I said, it's weird to think about."
"Vat meat is - meat without involving an animal, basically, you make chicken or beef out of a vat of proteins instead of a bird or a cow. It's more ethically consistent than meat you have to kill things for, but we can't make it without Devisors or Gadgeteers yet, so it's way more expensive than real meat. It's mostly a thing in California, I think, they're really big on caring about their ethics."
"Gadgeteers follow the laws of physics. Like, if a Gadgeteer makes something, then theoretically somebody else could've made it, the Gadgeteer just did it faster and better and without needing to look up the science behind it or waiting a hundred years until science got to that point. Devisors, on the other hand, don't have to follow the laws of physics, we just have to be internally consistent. Powers Theory folks say it's a kind of Warper ability, that we believe in something so hard that we create pockets of unreality where the things we make can actually work. Like, the stuff I make out of cardboard - cardboard is just a kind of paper, really, but I've got this intuition in my head saying that it can do pretty much anything if I just give it a chance, and what do you know, it does. Historically most of what it does is explode, but. Anyway, most Devisors aren't as obvious as I am about it, they do things that seem to make sense unless you actually know something about the field they're working in."
"Nah, it is in fact a weird hybrid of high school and college. Other schools have AP classes, but usually only a few, and no other college-level courses. Hell, some of the higher sciences are graduate-level. Typically they're reserved for Exemplars or Gadgeteers, though. I'm going to see if I can get into a couple of them, though. The more I know about the laws of physics, the more efficiently I can break them."