Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Fiction

See DANGEROUS EARTH-POSSIBLES!

You are fifteen when you get the brochure.

See DANGEROUS EARTH-POSSIBLES! Become a Hero!

The ad blinked at you online, between the x-ray glasses and the grainy picture of how to lose fourteen pounds and get real wings, and you gave them your father’s address, because your stepfather opens your mail. It means it is longer to get the brochure, but it also means it is there waiting for you that Saturday that your father is finally home and not off being brave in Mogadishu or Detroit or wherever it is he’s not allowed to say.

You answer questions like:

Fill in the attacker that could be stopped with a:

baseball bat

vaccination

silver bullet

gram of kryptonite

baseball bat

and you get all of them, though you’re confused by the second baseball bat and you accidentally fill in your stepfather, but then you leave it.

There’s an essay question, too, about what you would do if you were sent to the future where invasive warthog flu has brought down most of the American Pacific Northwest, and you have to defend a senior citizen center from a band of nudists, with only some artisanal pine toothpicks at your disposal (answer: Tape the toothpicks into a long jabbing stick and poke their naughty bits from a safe distance.)

You send it back through snail mail with five dollars for postage, and you wait another month while your father hunts bad guys in San Pedro Sula and St. Louis and then you find the shoebox, stuck on the back porch by the postman, now damp and smelling of earwigs. You open it to find your DANGEROUS EARTH-POSSIBLES activation kit: a folded rubbery mat that looks like a game of Twister and smells like a new car.

You place your left foot as they tell you. Your right foot. Your ten fingers and your chin and your black eye, and then with your nose you press the ACTIVATION button. Everything spins around you like an uppercut (not the one given to you; more like the ones your dad is out there giving the bad guys), and then you find yourself in one of the EARTH-POSSIBLES. You know it’s one of the EARTH-POSSIBLES because there are tiny zombie chipmunks lurching around your backyard, and there weren’t before.

A man appears from the backyard, tired and sore and covered with chipmunk bites. He looks a little like your father, as you remember him from when you were eight and all living together and he was still only with the local police force and not with the things he couldn’t tell you about. As the man douses his bites in rubbing alcohol, he tells you that if you pass the chipmunk world, you can join his squad and do battle on all the known EARTH-POSSIBLES. He tosses you a baseball bat.

You had never thought you could harm a chipmunk. But they storm your ankles and one gets its teeth in and oh—that’s going to leave a mark. It will match the marks on your wrist from when your stepfather challenged you to a no-holds-barred wrestling match (just to see if you were as tough as your father.) You find that you can put the rabid chipmunks down after all, and you do, one at a time, till your shoulders shake and you are weeping.

The man puts his arm around your shoulders and offers you the alcohol. One of these worlds is going to be our future, he says, and it needs to be made safe. Heroes like you have been recruited from all countries and times.

You listen while you sear your wounds. And you know that all you really want is that EARTH-POSSIBLE where your father comes home from Peshawar, and does battle with your stepfather (hands, feet, teeth), and then takes you away with him to be a Hero too.

And so this seems like the next best thing, and you nod. You join the other Heroes-in-Training in another EARTH-POSSIBLE, in an abandoned police station there, and you learn how to go to other worlds and kill more things—sometimes with silver bullets, sometimes with regular ones.

Some nights you think about your father, and how he travels around being a hero. And sometimes you think about your stepfather, and how strange it is that he is part of the police force too. And meanwhile, while you’re thinking, you pick up your baseball bat and battle for your future.

Tina Connolly

Tina Connolly

Tina Connolly lives with her family in Portland, Oregon. Her stories have appeared in Lightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Her first fantasy novel, Ironskin (Tor 2012), was nominated for a Nebula, and the sequel Copperhead is now out from Tor. She narrates for Podcastle and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake, and her website is tinaconnolly.com.