Jack Jetstark travels the universe to seek out the descendants of superpowered freaks created long ago by VesCorp scientists. The vibrations encoded in a particular song transform the members of Jack’s crew into a firebreather and an angel, a wildman and telepathic conjoined triplets, so they hide the truth of who they really are with the theatrics of a carnival.
The song plays every night through the receptor Jack carries with them, but when one night it has a different ending and their temporary powers become permanent, Jack believes the change is a signal from the woman who sent him on this quest in the first place. He and his freaks must navigate a universe at war to protect the love of his life.
But does the ruler of VesCorp really need protecting?
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Author Jennifer Lee Rossman is a disabled and autistic freak, and proudly so. Her work has been featured in many anthologies and her debut novella, Anachronism, was published by Kristell Ink in 2018.
She blogs at http://jenniferleerossman.blogspot.com/ and tweets @JenLRossman.
“First thing you’ve got to know,” I said, brushing my hair from my face as the wind began to pick up, “is that we’re all freaks. Everyone in the whole universe, for one reason or another. Most try to hide this fact. A few of us embrace it, not so much because we want to but because there’s nothing else for us. So we show people the terrifying and unseemly parts of us no one wants to see, and we charge ’em good money to see it.”
Lily stepped forward and knelt to display her shoulders and back, all bare, featherless skin down to the dangerously low neckline of her sequined dress. “See? No wings.”
“But you flew,” Cara insisted. “If it isn’t costumes and harnesses, then what?”
I held up the receiver, a small wooden box the size of my hand with a speaker on one side and images of galaxies and solar systems carved into the others. Not the most advanced technology, but I wouldn’t have anything else.
I checked the time. Soon.
I debated how much to tell her. No matter how many times I tried to explain it, it never sounded remotely plausible, but I had to warn her. Seeing the end result was one thing; seeing it happen before your eyes was another matter entirely, though the complete truth was an ancient burden none of them deserved to be saddled with.
“The music plays,” I said. “Same song, same time every night, and it triggers something inside us. That feeling you had, like you were made of magic? That’s what it feels like when your DNA recognizes a song, even if you’ve never heard it before.”
She stared at me in eager anticipation, nodding slowly. Whether she actually believed me or was just humoring me, I couldn’t say, but it was a nice change from the usual interruptions of “that’s impossible” and “science doesn’t work that way.”
I cast a sideways glance at Theon, who had given me more trouble than the others, and continued. “Makes you feel alive, like there’s a purpose to your existence and you can do the impossible, and that ain’t just in your mind. We’re all freaks, but we—” I motioned to my crew. “Well, we’re different. Our bodies hear that song, and it triggers our genes to change, to grow into… I don’t know, the true selves that live in our heart or some sentimental crap like that.”
“How poetic,” Lily said with a laugh. She looked up at Cara. “I know it’s hard to understand. It happens to me every night, and I still have no idea how it works, but I can fly, Merulo becomes the feral wildman, Parthen and the boys really can read each others’ minds and feel each others’ pain… Jack breathes fire and gains the ability to give impassioned speeches without sounding like an uninterested jerk.”
I checked the time again.
“So what changed in you?” Pneuman asked with earnest interest. “During the music, I mean?”
Cara hesitated, almost like she was afraid of hearing the absurdity out loud.
“I turn into a wild beast,” Merulo pointed out quietly. “And these three grow into one, psychic organism. Whatever you’re about to say will probably be the most normal thing we’ve heard in months.”
After another moment’s thought, Cara rolled up her sleeves. Her arms, though pale peach and freckled like her face, gleamed in the diminishing sun.
I reached out to touch her. Cold, almost metallic. That explained how she opened the lock.
“You’re a cyborg,” I said, tapping my nail on her forearm to hear the clinking sound. They just couldn’t get the texture right, no matter how hard they tried.
Her moon didn’t seem like the type of place to have a neurologist trained in bio implants, and I doubted anyone there could afford to travel to see one.
“Fancy. Who wired it into your brain?”
“I did it all myself.” She held up a hand and demonstrated the various functions and attachments installed in her fingers, glossing right over the fact that she had just admitted to performing brain surgery on herself. She yanked her sleeves down. “And I’m not a cyborg,” she clarified. “I’m just good with electronics and I like gadgets. My dad says it’s bad to be a cyborg.”
“Well, I tell you what, kid. You can’t make a person change by pointing out their flaws, but you can be the one person who doesn’t try to.”
“I’ve always had a connection to electronics,” she said, shyly extending a hexagonal wrench from her forefinger, “like I could talk to them. But when I heard the music… something happened.”
I checked my watch. Not long now. “Yeah, something always happens. What matters is what happened to you, kid.”
“They… talked back.” Her words came slow at first, her reluctance to being different still holding her back, but as she talked, she grew more excited, more animated. “I could hear the messages stored on the phones of everyone around me, could see the last videos that played on their contact lenses. I could see the blueprints of your ship in my head. She’s an Aldebaran cargo ship, Highwire model. Superluminal capability, more weapons than she came out of the factory with, and she has a capacitor that should be repaired soon. And I felt like, if I wanted to, I could touch any source of power on the ship and control everything remotely.”
“Ready to feel that way again?” I asked, holding out the transmitter as showtime approached.
It was time, but the music didn’t play. The music didn’t play.
Why didn’t the music play?