Note: read “Far Out”, “The Magical Quarter” and “Star Road” first.
Hey, it’s me! Cal! Boy, things have been intense lately, haven’t they? Between the Oldmans, and Floris, and working with the Foundation, and all the other things that have been going on, we haven’t really had a chance to just kick back and relax.
So, we decided to do just that. Right now, we’re having a big barbecue party at the School. All our friends, family and fluffies are here.
We’re not serving any veggies at this barbecue, though. For some reason, after the whole thing with the Forces of Nature, a lot of vegetarians and vegans in the city are taking a break from that kind of thing. Some of them are having nightmares about the veggies coming to life and attacking them.
On the other hand, other people have started eating more veggies, just to spite Demeter and Floris.
So, balance has been maintained.
Victor’s in charge of manning the grills. I did tell you that he can cook.
There’s a lot of people here, so there’s a lot of grills. Anyone who’s got experience with this kind of thing is welcome to pitch in, Drake and Diablo are doing just that.
Victor, despite being an über-badass tough guy, at least on the outside, doesn’t give two tugs if you like your meat well done.
He’s wearing a custom made apron that says:
KILL THE COOK
NO REALLY, GIVE IT A GO
MAYBE YOU’LL GET LUCKY
Even his apron is badass.
“Hey, you’re the one eating it, Cal. What matters is that you enjoy it. It’ll take a bit longer though.”
Victor takes pride in his ability to please any palate.
“I’ll tell you this, Cal: for a man, good cooking is the way to his heart. But for a woman, it’s the way to her bed.”
“Vic, you are a cad.”
“Well, that’s not untrue. But you know damn well that I’m right.”
“Where’d you even learn to cook, Vic?”
“Pretty much everywhere. I’ve got a lot of free time, you know that. I’ve picked up a lotta skills in my long life, just to pass the time. And not all of them are used for murdering people, Cal. Though I did once kill a guy with a knitting needle.”
“You stabbed him in the–”
“I stabbed him in the eye, yes. But he had it coming, Cal! He had a little barbecue too. And you don’t wanna know what they were cooking.”
“This is the part where you say or rather, who, isn’t it.”
“A lot of your stories end like that, Vic.”
“Is it my fault that there’s so many assholes out there, Cal?”
“Nah. It ain’t.”
I decide to walk around, and see all the goings on, while I wait for my food to be ready.
While I’m doing this, let me fill you in on what’s been going on since the whole giant fluffy tree monsters thing.
As I walk over to the table Andre, Seth, Harry and their fluffies are sitting at, Andre sits down with a plate of thick, juicy sausages.
“Aw, nuts. I forgot the sauce.”
Instead of getting up, he just stretches his arm over to a table several feet away, and grabs a bottle of barbecue sauce.
Andre’s new battle suit looks great. Guess what colors he picked out. Here’s a hint: look at his fluffy. Or, rather, go to the character bios and look at Magic’s description. Any character whose physical appearance isn’t described in these stories is probably described there.
Jesus, there’s not a whole lot left of that fourth wall, is there? I know Dave can break it too, but he doesn’t know that I know. So shush, don’t tell him.
“Magic, you want some too?”
“Yus, daddeh. Nu tuu much. Dat it. Fank yu, daddeh.”
Magic, sitting in a chair next to Andre, tucks into his sausages.
Seth has gone shirtless, which, unlike Andre going naked, I can live with. At least Seth’s tattoos are tasteful.
“Phew! It’s a scorcher today. Am I glad I can do this now.”
Seth points a finger at his own face, and cools himself off with the refreshing breeze coming out of his fingertip, his mint green hair blowing in the wind.
Harry raises an eyebrow.
“I’m still not used to that. But, I’ll admit, it’s pretty… do kids still say on fleek?”
Ah, Harry. He likes acting like a stereotypical cranky old man who doesn’t know what’s cool anymore, but deep down, he’s a softy. He’s been giving the blipper another go, too. We’ve got a tablet for the blipsickness, and Harry gets a free supply. We gave him an incentive to give it another try. Nobody can resist the siren’s song of free shit.
And yeah, Seth is X-Positive now too, meaning our gang is officially normo-free. Unless you consider fluffies normal. I mean, they’re normal to us. Seth’s an aerokinetic like Gus and Breezie, so they’re training him. And he’s still got time to go be a goddamn rock star. Zephyr’s gone platinum. The band’s all here, too, they’re sitting with Seth and Andre. You don’t need to spend weeks in a tour bus when you can just blip to the venue. I think they’ll be playing some of their songs later.
“Daddeh, Caiwum am wawm tuu.”
“Oh, dang. Sorry, sweetie. Here.”
Seth points at Caelum, and cools her off with a gentle breeze as she giggles. Then, she gets back to her plate of tiny hamburgers.
Victor makes those just for the fluffies.
I smile at Seth.
“You’re really getting the hang of it, Seth.”
“Thanks, Cal. You liking our latest album?”
“I’ve been listening to it non-stop since it came out, so you tell me.”
Seth looks really happy to hear that.
Zephyr still performs at Harry’s Place when they can. They haven’t forgotten where they came from.
Harry smiles at Seth too.
“Son, when you first told me you wanted to be a rock star, I never thought you’d make it this far. I know I’ve already said it, but you’re making me proud. And your mother Up There? I’m damn sure that she’s prouda you too. Come on, don’t start crying, I know you’re happy to hear that, but those sausages are salty enough.”
Harry isn’t that good at expressing his feelings, so this is a big moment for him.
Harry smiles at me as well.
“And I’m prouda you too, Cal. Not gonna lie, when I first met you, I thought you were just… um…”
“A deadbeat stoner?”
“Hey, you said it, not me. But look at you now. You’re a father, and a goddamn superhero. And now, my boy’s a superhero, too.”
“I’m still a deadbeat stoner, though.”
We all laugh at that.
“But thanks, Harry. I’m prouda you too. I’m gonna go see what else is going on, okay?”
I walk into the tent we designated as the, ah, smoking section, and damn, I can barely see through the smoke. They’re hotboxing the shit out of this tent.
We put the tent up because there’s kids here.
“Coo-ee, our Cal!”
I walk over to where Annette, June, Tommy and Maria are sharing a few atomicas. Scarface, Greebo, and Woodstock are slumped together and giggling their asses off.
“Hiya, Nanny! Annie. Good to see you two here. Yo, Tommy. Yo, Maria.”
We’ve got a big playpen for the babies, and Deston summoned some angels to keep an eye on them. Angels are the best babysitters. The only person Down Here who can hold a candle to them is June.
Samuel and Gabriel are here too. They weren’t summoned, they just showed up because they like us. And for the food. They can manifest food with their angel powers, but Victor’s cooking is just that damn good. I think he’ll be let in Up There just so they can enjoy his cooking. Victor promised to teach Samuel his recipe for angel food cake. He never does that.
I’ve been to the UK to meet the Baron family, that’s June’s last name, and, I was right, they’re all really nice. It’s a big family, too. They’re here as well, and it was worth the effort to blip them all here. I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a bunch more people blipping into living rooms, soon.
But June, Annette and Tiff have gotten the hang of blipper etiquette, and if June tells the Barons to stop blipping into the living room, they’ll stop blipping into living rooms.
Tommy passes an atomica to me, and after taking a big hit, I pass it to June.
“Ooh, ta, luv.”
After taking a hit, June passes it to Annette, and then takes a swig from a hip flask.
Oh God, I know that smell. It smells like apples. Well, mostly apples.
“Is that the stuff Dave distills?”
“Dave? I was makin’ this stuff before Dave’s granddaddy was born. I’ve tried the stuff Dave makes, it’s apple juice compared to this.”
Dave and Slayer walk over.
“Yeah, June’s been teaching me a thing or two about the fine art of making booze. And Annie’s been teaching me about the fine art of growing weed. She knew about the fluffy shit thing for ages. God, I feel like such an amateur. Hey, Cal, watch this.”
He holds up a raw sausage, spits out a stream of fire, and cooks it to perfection.
Don’t worry, the tent is fireproof. Damn near everything is fireproof at the School.
Then Dave bites off one half, and gives the other half to Slayer.
“um num Fank yu num num daddeh.”
“om nom You’re nom nom welcome nom nom Slayer.”
Robert sticks his head into the tent, grinning.
“Guys, don’t talk with your mouth full. I know we’re half-demons, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have manners.”
Dave and Slayer swallow.
“Sowwy, mistah Wob.”
“Ah, don’t sweat it. Damn, look at all this smoke. I almost thought I was Down There.”
Well, I’ve been meaning to ask…
“What’s it like Down There, Rob?”
Robert gestures at the smoke.
“Like this, Cal, but with more fire, more demons, and more screaming. And a lot of red. I’ve only been there on business, I wouldn’t live there.”
June offers the atomica to Robert.
“Ah, fuck it, why not. Hey, anyone got a light? Ha, just kidding.”
As he sits down and starts chatting with the witches and hippies, I decide to leave the tent, see what else is going on.
I walk over to where Judy is sitting with our fluffies, and some of the Barons, and showing off the fruits of her lessons with her dad. Some other fluffies are here too.
I should add that “our fluffies” now also includes little Wario. I ended up taking him home. We’ve got a big saferoom at home, so there’s space for him, all our fluffies love him, and the hat and mustache I gave him, and he can visit his family at the Foundation whenever he wants.
Judy teleports into my path, and I almost walk right into her.
“Woah! Oh, sorry hun.”
“It’s alright. Dad says, look before you cast. I’m still learning that. Where is Dad, anyway?”
I point at the tent.
“And before you say he should act his age, June and Annie are in there too. He’s sharing an atomica with them and the Fondas.”
“But the lessons are going well? I haven’t had time to ask, I’m sorry.”
“Nah, it’s alright Cal. You’ve got a lot going on too. Here, watch this. Levis!”
Judy hovers up into the air, turns upside down, and kisses me like that one scene in the first Spider-Man movie.
Then we both laugh, as Judy comes back down to Earth.
“Look at us, Jude! The superhero and the wizard! They won’t find a stranger couple than us!”
“Ha, tell me about it! We’re an unusual family, aren’t we Cal?”
“Oh yeah. Superheroes, rock stars, wizards, witches, robots, cyborgs, and half-demons? Shit, and people thought fluffies were weird!”
Marley looks at me.
“Wut am dat sup-post tu meen, daddeh?”
A certain blue fluffy speaks up, pausing from his plate of tiny burgers.
“Bwuebewwy knu how fwuffies wewe made, mistah Piewwe teww Bwuebewwy, an mistah Caw am wite. Fwuffies awe weiwd. Nu wook at Bwuebewwy wike dat, Mawwey. Ow yu, Piccowo. Bwuebewwy am nu sayin dat am bad fing. Weiwd nu am bad. Wook whewe we awe. Manee weiwd hoomins, manee weiwd fwuffies, but awwa dem awe gud. Dam, dees buwgew nummies am gud, tuu. Yakko, twy wun. See, dey gud nummies, wite? Woah, save sum fow daddeh. Whewe Wakko? Oh, Wakko guin tu tentsie.”
Yes, even the Fluffy Cartel is here. We blipped the whole herd here too. Hey, we’ve got room for all these guests. The dodos stayed at home, though. There’s an AI in Pierre’s cabin, she’s taking care of them, so if any more Dutch sailors show up, the drones will scare them off.
Prometheus, who was listening in, walks over, kneels down, and gently pets Blueberry.
Prometheus doesn’t have to stomp. He’s freely admitted that he does it in battle for dramatic effect.
“Well said, Blueberry. We’re all children of this beautiful Earth. Even fluffies. You were created by human hands, but you were created using the DNA of many naturally occurring species. And I was created by human hands too, but I’m made of metal. Where does metal come from, Blueberry?”
Blueberry grins, because he knows this.
“Fwom unda da gwound. Fwom da Uwf.”
“Exactly, little guy. We’re all part of this big wonderful world. We all belong here, whether we were born or made. That’s what Demeter and Floris failed to understand. I will always be happy to fight on humankind’s behalf. And I will always be happy to fight on fluffykind’s behalf, as well.”
I nod in agreement.
“Wise words, Prommy. Val did good when she made you.”
“Thank you, Cal. I’ll always be happy to fight on your behalf, too.”
We share a fistbump, and then I decide to see what else is happening.
Damn, that food’s taking a long time.
As I make my way to my next stop, I pass by the playpen to check on our Quin. He’s doing just fine. The angels are in their human forms, so as not to scare the babies, and Samuel’s eating a steak.
The meat Victor cooks is all sourced from farms that humanely slaughter their livestock, so the angels can live with the animals being butchered. They understand that we do it out of necessity, so as long as the livestock are treated well, they don’t like it, but they can tolerate it. And, again, Victor’s cooking is that damn good.
Samuel seems to enjoy it.
“I’m talking to the Boss after this. I don’t know when, or if Victor is ever gonna go, but if he does, I’m not letting this gift go to waste Down There. I can’t believe it. He cooks better food than we can manifest.”
Haaaaaa! Called it!
I wave to Samuel as I pass by, and he waves back.
We run into each other a lot at the Foundation.
I also run into Miles, who is sitting with his family and Branca, who has gotten fluent enough in English to actually talk to him. And she’s gotten comfortable enough around him to do so instead of constantly blushing.
I think, when they’re both old enough, they’d make a good couple.
At the next table, I see the Oldmans, minus Chris and James, obviously, and Prometheus is talking to Lavender now.
Then I make it over to where Pierre, Deston, and their family, sans Annie, are seated, along with a few ChaotiX and Tiff. Valerie is talking to Susan and Xavier, while Pierre and Valerie’s fluffies talk to each other.
Pierre beams at me.
“Ah, Cal. Come, sit. We just opened a bottle of champagne. And we’ve got sparkling apple juice for the kids, Tiff. No, you and Sorcie can’t have any champagne, you’re both far too young, and Annie would kill me.”
Tiff pouts, and then goes back to her conversation with Sorcie. They’re pretty much best friends already. I think they both needed it.
Yeah. The Deaths aren’t the only people who can get away with bossing fucking Pierre around.
Speaking of, some of the Deaths are here too, eating at another table. They’re letting everyone see them, which they don’t usually do. I see the Death of Humans, the Death of Fluffies, the Death of Demons, and… is that a fucking Death of Tyrannosaurus Rexes? Are his teeth scythe blades? Holy shit! That’s fucking metal!
“Guys? Hold on one second.”
I run over to the table Andre and Zephyr are sitting at, ask Seth to come with me, walk over with him to where the Deaths are sitting, and gesture to the Death of Tyrannosaurus Rexes.
Everyone hears what I say next.
“Look, Seth! There’s your next album’s cover!”
Everyone laughs, even the Deaths.
Then, once everyone stops laughing, Seth and I walk back over to were we were.
“I think the Death of Tyrannosaurus Rexes will be honored, Cal. Levis.”
A bottle of champagne pours itself into a glass, which floats into my waiting hand. I sit down.
“Thanks, guys. Des, if you’re looking for Annie, she’s in the tent with June, the Fondas, and our half-demon friends. But, uh, if you’re heading that way, I’d leave Sorcie and Tiff here if I were you.”
Tiff turns to me.
“Why? What are they doing in the tent, Mister Cal?”
Ah, Tiff. She and Sorcie are a clever pair of girls, but they’re both a bit naive.
“Let me put it like this, Tiff: you know that smell you two smell on me?”
Both girls nod.
“Well, when they come out, they’ll all be smelling like that too.”
Neither of them gets it. Ah, bless 'em.
Victor calls to me.
“Yo, Cal! Your grub’s ready!”
“Ah, finally! I’m coming, Vic! Be right back, guys.”
As I head back to the grills, I have a big smile on my face.
Honestly, right now, I feel really happy. I’m surrounded by friends.
No, fuck that.
I’m surrounded by family.
Every one of the people gathered here today has my back. Every one of them cares about me. I think even the Deaths like me.
And I’ve got their backs, too. I care about them, too. They’re my tribe.
Everything I do, I do for them.
For all of them.
Meanwhile, in the depths of space, aboard the Prodigal Son’s personal spacecraft…
“Look at them. Eating and drinking and smoking and chatting without a care in the world.”
“They don’t know that this is the calm before the storm, Master.”
“And what a storm it’s going to be.”
“How much longer, Master? When will we get there?”
The son of Pierre smiles, looking out of a window, at the massive fleet of warships coming with him and his servant.