Nicole and I made it back to base after a short hunt in the sewers. We weren't very successful, likely because the nessies had claimed the area in a several mile radius and scraped the walls clean. Still, walking and talking seemed to cheer Nicole up, enough so that she wasn't completely adverse to what Mikey and Cindy had in store.

We were going on an outing.

"I don't know about this guys."

"It'll be fine, Nicole. We won't go anywhere you aren't comfortable with," replied Cindy. I could tell she was quite confident in her plan, as she'd already changed her voice using her inhaler in preparation.

"Still, wasn't there that lockdown? Wouldn't it be safer to stay in for a while?"

"I think we'll be fine," said Mikey. "The super vampire is dead, and Tofu handled the smaller ones fine."

"Oh, I'd heard about that from... Wait, you were there?"


"Yeah, we were in E12 for a job yesterday and got caught up in it. Didn't you tell her, Tofu? While you were out, uh, hunting?" he said, turning to me.

"He didn't!" said Nicole, giving me an exasperated look. "We talked about waffle irons and brunch history the entire time."

I shrugged, to which everyone rolled their eyes.

"Anyways," continued Cindy, "That's exactly why now is the perfect time to go out if we don't want to run into a lot of people. No one's going to want to be out after sundown when there was a lockdown caused by vampires."

"I guess... okay, let's do it."

"Woo!" whooped Mikey, pumping his hand in the air. "Finally get to use my license for something that isn't a getaway."


We headed for the garage, where Cindy and Mikey had reserved a large van ahead of time. It took a bit of finagling, but Nicole managed to fit into the rear compartment. It was a good thing we were doing this now, as Nicole probably wouldn't fit with another few days of growth. If I couldn't shift my own organs around, it might have been very uncomfortable sitting beside her.

"Are you sure you're alright sitting like that, Tofu?" asked Nicole. "You look a bit, uh, cramped."

"I'm fine, Nicole."

"So, where are we headed anyways?" asked Mikey. "Did you hash anything out with Tofu?"

"Oh, I'm okay with anywhere... uh, except the zoo. Sorry, Tofu, I'd rather not go there."

"The zoo?" questioned Mikey. He and Cindy both turned questioning looks towards me.

"Lucas recommended it."

"Tofu, Lucas is a little kid," said Cindy. "Of course he'd want to go to the zoo."

"But, I made sure to research it online. See? It even has baseline animals from before the first Odd Summer." I held up my phone with the website advertisement displayed.

"Dude, trust me. Even for E13 that zoo is a complete junk pile," said Mikey. "The animatronics barely worked even back when I was a kid, and I doubt they've fixed them up since."


"Uh, like the robots and stuff?"


"...Tofu, they don't have real animals at the zoo. It's all machines and holograms and stuff that are supposed to look like the animals."

"But the website said..."

"It's just advertising, dude. They do that to get the, ahem, kids excited."


The internet lied to me.

*cough* "Well, how about we just get on the road and decide from there?" Mikey said, as he started the van.

"Maybe you can go there later, Tofu?" offered Nicole.

"That's okay, there isn't any value in observing fake animals."

"Aw, it's not that bad. There are better zoos in other sectors if you really want to see them."

"There are? With animals? Would you want to go to one of those instead?"

"Er, no, no real animals. Even if there were, I'm afraid my time at Tartarus kinda soured me on the concept of animals in cages."

"They sent you to Tartarus!?" interjected Cindy.

"What's Tartarus?" I asked.

"It's a detention center where they lock up category four mutants. I can't believe they'd send you there, Nicole!"

"It was the only place I could go to get the resources I needed after my mutation. I didn't really have anywhere else to go," Nicole shrugged. Then she frowned. "Although, they definitely didn't seem too keen on letting me leave. I checked myself out after one of the, uh, permanent residents caused a commotion."

"Those assholes," spat Cindy.

Tarturus added to priority list.

I might need to pay a visit there later. It definitely sounded interesting. More than the fake robot zoo at least.

Mikey drove the van towards the garage exit ramp while Cindy and Nicole discussed alternate places to go. But, before we could leave, a figure in a mask I didn't recognize came out of the stairwell and ran towards us, waving their arms frantically and nearly tripping over several pieces of equipment.

"Oh no," muttered Cindy. "Um, hold up for a sec, Mikey. That's Murphy, one of mo-, er, Hellion's acquaintances. We should see what she has to say."

Mikey halted the van, and Murphy nearly collapsed as she reached the side window. She was a thin human in a tracksuit, and she wore a strange white mask that mimicked a person's face. It was inscribed with mathematical formulas. To my surprise, I was able to recognize and understand all of the represented math. Normally, when I looked at higher level mathematics there was always an included formula or two that threw a logic error. Not this time.

"Wait," *gasp* "Cindy, you-" *gasp*cough* "-slow down... fuck, my head."

"Deep breaths, Murphy, we'll wait. Is something bad going to happen? I haven't seen you in months," said Cindy.

"Not how it works," gasped Murphy. Slowly, her fitful breathing subsided, although it seemed her head was troubling her quite a bit. She kept moving her mask to clutch at her temple.

"Woo, thought I wasn't going to be able to catch you," said Murphy. She pulled her mask properly into place, and stood up straight. "Now then, my name is Murphy, owner and operator of the Red Dragon Casino and subsidiaries. And you must be Cindy's friends? Mention her for a two- no, five percent discount on your first chip exchange over ten K... Sooo, you all were headed out somewhere?"

"Oh no. Is something bad really going to happen?" asked Cindy.

"Nice to see you too," responded Murphy, flicking Cindy's forehead. "And no. I was doing some work for Hellion yesterday and was in the area, so I thought I'd offer my services to any interested parties."

"Oh. Thanks, I guess, but doesn't that usually cost a lot?" asked Cindy, rubbing her forehead with a slight frown.

"Usually... but this one's a cheapo."

"Um, excuse me, but what exactly are we talking about?" asked Mikey.

"Murphy can sense and control luck," answered Cindy.

"Oh please, Cindy, you make it sound so banal. We're talking about the karmic scales, the grand roulette, the universal math, happenstance and divine providence, and if you want, I can be your guide down the path to the biggest payout," responded Murphy, sweeping her arms in grand gestures and ending with a pose. I wondered if she and Trebla knew each other.

"You pay money for luck, Murphy," Cindy deadpanned.

"You used to run around my casino in your underwear."

"HEY! No I- I was only two years old!" said Cindy, her ears turning red as she threw glances at us.

"Annnyways. Theatrics aside, I noticed you all heading out to cause teenage trouble right after the next sector over had a small vampire apocalypse and thought, 'hey, why not make sure Cindy's mom doesn't have a heart attack'. Real cheap too, a bargain barrel price."

Cindy narrowed her eyes at Murphy. "Okay... and how much would that be?"

"Say, oh I dunno, about ten K."


"Per person."

"Oh, come on! We were just gonna get some food and go to a drive-through movie or something! Was it going to go that badly?"

"How would I know? I don't see the future, Cindy, but I do see odds, and a van full of people of interest to law enforcement tends to stack them against you. Heck, this guy here still has his minion helmet on," she said, pointing at me.

"I was going to take it off..."

Murphy tilted her head at Cindy.

"Ugh, fine! We'll pay it."

"Cindy, I don't have that kind of money," said Nicole.

"I'll cover you guys, don't worry."

"What?! I can't ask you for that!"

"I'm with Nicole, that's way too much," replied Mikey.

"How about one hundred thousand per person, Murphy?" I asked.

The conversation abruptly halted, and everyone turned their heads to me.

"What? It stands to reason that if we can buy luck, we should buy as much as possible. I can cover it."

"Oh-ho, it seems we have a big spender here," said Murphy, rubbing her hands together.

"A hundred thousand..." muttered Mikey.

"Tofu, you can't!" protested Nicole.

"Tofu, how do you even have that much money?" asked Cindy.

"Hazard pay. And Hellion had a bounty on the rat-stitcher. I've been stockpiling what I earn."

"Tofu, that's way too much just for this," said Nicole, while pulling on her ponytail.

"Is it? Like Murphy said, most of us are wanted by the authorities, and they will likely be on alert after the lockdown. If using money can guarantee a safe outing, then it seems worthwhile."

"But four hundred thousand?!"

"Alright, alright everyone, quiet down, you're aggravating my headache," said Murphy. She tapped her finger against the lips of her mask. "I can see that money is an issue, so how about a little trade instead. I've got a little job that requires a professional touch, and you happen to be professionally employed. How about you help me out, and it'll be worth the price of making sure your little joyride goes well. Deal?"

We exchanged glances before Cindy turned back to Murphy.

"Saying it is... what do you want us to do?"

The first thing Murphy wanted us to do was drive her to a pharmacy to pick up more pain relief medicine for her headache. The second thing? Well, it seemed we would be going to the museum today.

"You want us to rob a museum?" asked Nicole, incredulously.

"Not rob. Burglarize," clarified Murphy.

"That's hardly better!"

"What's it matter? You're a minion. It's just some light theft."

"I'm a mechanic! I wasn't hired for this!"

"You work for HH, I'm sure some of it has rubbed off on you. You'll be finnne. It'll be like riding a bicycle."

Nicole glared, and waved a hand at her legs. All two dozen of them.

*cough* "Right. Well regardless, without you the odds of this going off without a hitch drop dramatically. Sure you want to let your friends go without you?"

"Murphy! Don't guilt trip her! " said Cindy. "Nicole didn't sign up for minion work. If she doesn't feel comfortable, she doesn't have to go."

"...I'll go."

"Nicole, you really don't have to. We can handle this."

"It's fine. I just need to turn off the alarms, right? I've got one of Socket's kits, so it should be simple enough..."

"That's the spirit," said Murphy, "and don't forget your mask." She held out a black domino mask to Nicole.

"You're joking."

"Them's the rules."

"Ugh. Fine."

Nicole snatched the mask from Murphy, then began the careful task of extricating herself from the van. With Murphy riding along it had been a very tight fit. Myself, I started unloading the rest of Nicole's 'disguise' from the supplies we'd brought with us. Nicole's hesitance about this endeavor was understandable, as she had been mistaken for a category four mutation multiple times in the past, and humans tended to respond unpredictably when confronted with the more drastic mutations. An encounter with law enforcement, or worse, private citizens with illegal firearms, could go badly. To that end, I'd procured some additional deterrent to avoid mix-ups.

Namely, twenty-eight armbands for Nicole to wear. Four for her arms and claws, and twenty-four for each of her legs.

"I feel ridiculous."

"I think it looks fine, but more importantly it is safer. No one will be able to claim ignorance in the event of an altercation this way. Have you thought of a code name?"

"I think I'll be fine as Nicole."

"Hey, that means you can join the real-name club with me and Tofu," joked Mikey. He extended his fist for a bump, to which Nicole gave a half-hearted smirk and returned the fist bump. Then Mikey turned to Cindy. "Speaking of which, did you want us to call you Ifrit, or did you have something else since you're wearing a domino mask?"


"Uh, well did you want us to use your real name too or... Oh! Shit! Were you trying to keep that under wraps? I thought Tofu and Nicole already knew, uh..."

Cindy shook her head. "No no, they already knew. I wasn't really trying to hide it. It's just, good policy to try and keep work and home life separate, y'know?"

Mikey let out a sigh of relief. "I get that. So..."

"Eh, I guess for today I'm joining the real name club," Cindy said, with a grin.

"Right on."

"Hey! Loyal minions!" called Murphy from the van. "Get a move on, nighttime's burning!"

Cindy rolled her eyes, but all of us finished up grabbing our equipment for tonight and started heading across the parking lot to the museum.

"Anyone else feel like maybe we were bamboozled?" said Mikey.

"Yeah, that's definitely a possibility," said Cindy with a sigh, "but Murphy... she tends to see important things. She once called my mom to tell her to throw a box of donuts out the window. It turned out the donuts had been laced with C4 by an HH competitor, and then they landed on Kandor who happened to be patrolling outside. The heroes wound up going after that guy over the incident. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if her entire offer was all a ruse to get us out here."

"Oof, office life in the supervillain sector, am I right?"


"Anyways, I think that's the administration building over there?" Mikey pointed across the parking lot, and we headed towards the building.

E13's museum was a series of three buildings that differed in architectural style from the surroundings, seeming to favor stark white rather than the base gray colors of cement. There was the main display hall, the small administration hub, and an intake hub which was out of sight behind the display halls when looked at from the front. The display hall took up most of the allotted space, with large, forward facing windows, and thick columns holding up an overhang. There were advertisement posters for the displays inside hanging from the columns, and one such poster was hung up in front of a window that had been boarded shut due to damage. There was also a lot of litter in the surrounding parking lot. And a lot of potholes, and cracks on the building itself where more decorative embellishments had been damaged and never repaired. There was a lone statue on the roof which appeared to depict a winged mutant looking out into the parking lot, the others having been removed or destroyed. It gave off a very neglected feel. But, it seemed some artists had tried to liven the place up a bit by covering the reachable areas in symbols and depictions, one of which was a notably large and embellished HH tag. 'Graffiti' was a common decoration in all areas of E13, and I found that I quite liked it. Gang tags were useful in denoting which factions frequented an area, and the varied colors and patterns tended to act as a sort of pseudo-camouflage, helping the profiles of passerby to not stand out so starkly against gray concrete.

We made our way around to the administration building, which was more like an offshoot of the main gallery which linked it to the intake hub. It hadn't been made with the same aesthetic in mind, being squat and concrete gray. The windows were high up the sides and too small for a human to enter, even not factoring in the bars. The lights were off, and the building seemed empty. Nicole approached the door with some trepidation, clutching the bag of tools to her chest and looking back and forth across the parking lot. Several times she glanced straight up at the sky and quickly turned away again. I sympathized. The sky was unpleasant to look at. So much empty space was unnerving.

"Woo, haven't been out in a while," muttered Nicole. Upon reaching the door, she pulled open her pack. "So I just, open it? Anything I should know?"

"It might have a silent alarm," replied Cindy. "We'll keep watch, so take your time."

Nicole pulled various tools from the bag, fiddling with and double checking each before taking a deep breath and getting to work. She used only two of the tools before the door lock clicked, surprising her.

"It's already open? And I think I got the silent alarm? That seemed too easy," said Nicole.

"If you got the silent then that's probably it. E13's museum is... yeah. I think people stopped robbing it decades ago. They don't even accept cash for admission, they only take chits and cards now."

"That explains the lack of guards," I mentioned. The small parking lot had been completely empty, and the grounds looked deserted.

"No point in guards if the only thing they'll do is get hurt. We just need to wipe the cameras."

We all headed into the offices, Nicole being especially careful not to bump her legs into desks and trash bins. We walked through the front area which held a few desks, stacks of paper, a few desktop computers which Nicole declared to be 'ancient', and a lone wireless security camera with its red light blinking. Nicole pulled a device from her pack and used it to trace where the camera was sending its footage. We followed the signal into the back area.

The back area wasn't any more interesting, composed mainly of filing cabinets and several neglected office desks covered in stacks of forms and old take out boxes. I helped Nicole move a cabinet that was sitting in front of a closet door with power warnings pasted to it. Inside was the fuse box for the building and a few metal boxes with wires leading into the walls. Nicole popped the lids on some of them open, and after fiddling with them a bit declared, "Uh, the recording isn't stored here. It looks like someone jury rigged it to send it through a landline to somewhere else."

"Bleh, it's probably in another building. Make sure your masks are secure in case we can't find it."

"That doesn't really help me!" squeaked Nicole as she nevertheless fussed with her mask to make sure it was secure.

"I'm sure we'll find it, Nicole. They probably just changed it after the, um, last time something like this happened," Cindy finished sheepishly. "We'll check other cameras while we get what Murphy wanted."

We made our way to the intake hub through a corridor that connected them to the offices. The door separating the two buildings wasn't alarmed, though Nicole double-checked it anyway. Inside, the intake hub was composed of several rooms attached to a central hallway, reminding me a bit of a school, or the lab I was made in, except that there was also a large garage attached to the end of the hall. Most of the building looked like it was being used as storage for various displays.

"Alright, first on the list is, 'Anything valuable from tinker Nummum. The lucky number is 347'... Real specific there Murphy. Okay, probably best to see if we can find an inventory somewhere," said Cindy, eyeing the displays and random objects that were piled in the hallway itself. It seemed the museum had a large backlog.

It took a while, but we eventually managed to find the desk where someone did inventory, placed randomly in one of the rooms. It was all in physical paper logs, which took some deciphering before we could understand them. Whoever worked here had some really sloppy handwriting. I managed to speed things up by flipping quickly through the manifests until I detected the number 347.

"Here. It says that some personal effects were part of an intake that was placed in room five, intake three forty seven. It hasn't been sorted yet."

"Good enough place to start as any."

We found the corresponding room, and we went to work looking through the piles of crates for the one labeled with the correct intake number. Most of the crates were in order, but there were some large gaps and mixups in the numbering scheme. The box we were looking for wound up being at the back of the room, behind a large cardboard cutout of a hero giving a speech. The speech bubble was ripped in half, and Mikey only noticed the box behind it because he was trying to make out the missing words.

"Hah. That was lucky," said Mikey. I think it might have been a joke, but it only got an eye roll and smirk from Cindy. Nicole was too nervous to react beyond being interested in the box. Hopefully I could find something to make this outing enjoyable for her. Minions usually bantered and had some fun on small jobs like this.

"Oof, tough crowd. Well, let's see what we got."

The small crate was nailed shut, so I pried the top off carefully. Inside were various objects, some I didn't recognize and some I did.

"Okay, so we have... a pair of fuzzy dice, some very old, used train tickets, a rusty stapler, a broken cold iron, some old picture frames, and... a pair of heavily modified sneakers? Careful!"

"It's fine. Those are just Tinberboks, some new fashion trend," said Nicole. "They're junk... according to what I read online."

"Huh. Was the cold iron Nummum's, maybe?

"No way. It's old, but only like, thirty years old? I've used parts from one with that logo before. Nummum has been dead for... oh gosh, over a hundred years ago?"

"A hundred and fifty three years ago according to his wiki page," I supplied. "But I'll need to double check that later." Couldn't have a repeat of the zoo ad. Those liars.

"Wow, what a bunch of junk then," said Mikey. "Maybe the numbers were a dud?"

"There weren't any other items with the labeling three forty seven," I answered. "I don't think the rooms or displays go up that high."

"Hmm, must be something here..."

Mikey ruffled through the items, pulling out a few more bus tickets. Flipping through the frames revealed a few pictures of heroes with signatures on them. They were old enough that they might be worth something, but not old enough that they were something Nummum could have owned. It was when Mikey picked up one of the shoes that we found what we were looking for. A roll of coins fell out of it.

"It's filled with half-dollars," said Mikey, unwrapping the roll. "That's Nummum right? He made money?"

"Yeah. We can check with Murphy before we leave, but this is definitely what her 'instructions' point to," said Cindy.

"Huh. Seems like a lot of trouble for... twenty-five bucks in change." Mikey shrugged his shoulders and picked a coin out of the roll, holding it up to the light. "Looks normal... oh! It says twenty-one, sixty-two. Look." He passed the coin to Nicole, who suddenly looked quite interested, and pulled another coin out of the roll. "Twenty-one, fifty-seven." He passed it to Cindy and started handing out the coins so we could all look through them. All of the coins were printed using the old A.D. format, as opposed to the current O.S. format.

"Wasn't the timeline format switched to O.S. in the twenty-first century? Not the twenty-second?" I asked. While the internet was suspect, I was pretty sure I would have noticed such a large discrepancy in my research. To my knowledge, the A.D. format ended with 2018, the year of the first Odd Summer.

"It's because of Nummum," said Nicole, excitedly. "I've read up on him a bit. He was a tinker from Ireland who the Architect hired to do all the tamper proofing on the city's money. But rumor has it Nummum hated the new O.S. labeling, and would switch the mint machines back to A.D. whenever people weren't looking. Because no one could replicate his tamper-proofing, he never got fired for it. They recalled a bunch of them, but he lived a long time, so there were a decent amount floating around out there.

"And this mislabeling makes these coins special?" I asked.

"Yep. Some people collect them, and Nummum's machines have started to break down, so they've gotten pretty valuable. There's fifty coins here, so that could be a few hundred, or even a few thousand dollars or so. I don't know what the individual dates are worth."

Hm. The wiki mentioned a special A.D. print of coins in honor of Nummum after his death, but not the information of Nummum's character or his minting eccentricities. Not technically an inaccuracy, but still a lack of information which could result in inaccuracies. Adder had taught me inaccuracy had its place, but that was during combat, and only to introduce an element of randomness to your attack pattern. Who was the wiki trying to attack? Even stranger to me, the money printed with inaccurate information was worth more than its actual numerical value.

Humans were just, so weird sometimes.

"Well, we've found the Nummum stuff Murphy wanted. What's next on the list?" asked Mikey.

"Says to be on the lookout for anything labeled sixty-seven or with the word 'Winter', take anything that looks especially valuable or 'casino themed', leave a taunting note, and to... avoid waffle irons?" replied Cindy.

Everyone looked at me.

"I didn't bring any."

"Uh-huh. Well, then I guess we just finish this up, then. And find the security footage," she added, with a nod to Nicole.

We set about looking through the rest of the storage rooms while Nicole tried to track down the security footage. Crate number 67 was filled with paper mache superhero masks, apparently made by a local elementary school and awaiting display in the gallery. My friends unanimously decided to leave those where they were. Apparently taking them would have been 'mean'.

As for 'Winter', we found several different references and objects. One was a small piece of costume for a hero named Long Winter. Supposedly it was all that was left of him after he was vaporized. Another was a book, "Odd Summer and the Long Winter: a Mathematical Explanation for the Nine Year Gap," First Edition by Ectos.

Its pages were filled with skittering numbers, letters, and patterns that made me feel... sick? It was like, like, ekil a so... 13711676f7f2z6e6n7f2z6t7n2z612z7f7t7f6t6B2z676F2z7f6F2z6n736f6B616n2z6e6f617s6f6E.




"Close it! Close it!" cried Mikey, repeatedly.

"I've got it, I've got it!" cried Cindy, slamming the book shut. She was holding the book, which was weird, because I had been holding it.

"TOFU! Tofu, are you okay!?" Nicole was grabbing me by the shoulders and trying to look into my mask.

"I'm fine? I... did something happen?"

"Tofu, it looked like you were having a seizure! Your arm melted!"

"Oh." She was right. My left arm was mush and leaking out of my suit, and there were multiple points of failure across my entire body. Signal interruption; the micro units self-destructed. One such point was in my brain, so I had indeed been having the equivalent of a stroke. I began repairing the damage, Nicole hovering over me and asking questions to confirm my mental state. Cindy and Mikey looked like they had also had some difficulty, as Mikey was retching into a trashcan, and Cindy was holding the closed book at arms length and leaning unsteadily on a nearby crate.

"Cindy, can you please burn that book?" I requested.

"With pleasure. I can't believe someone just left this thing lying around. Let's take it outside, it'll set off the fire alarms." Cindy's phone rang. She glanced at the number. "It's Murphy. One sec."

When she answered her phone, the sound of Murphy yelling not to destroy the book came through loudly.

"Calm down, Murphy. Stop yelling, I haven't... Well because it almost killed Tofu!... No, he's fine now... No, we're more or less fine... It's not?... It's what!?... Oh... Fine... Fine! Jeez..." Cindy hung up. "Murphy wants the book."

"After what it did to Tofu?! Why?"

"It's part of a set apparently. Written by a guy who tried to predict Odd Summers."

"So he was insane is what you're saying."

"Yeah, but Murphy wants to read it. Says it can be used for other things... and she also said she would give us bad luck if we destroy it."


Cindy shrugged, half-heartedly. "Yeah, but that's working with Villains for you. Honestly, I've, never heard her talk like that to me. Maybe the book is really that important. Look, I'll run it out to her and then we can go when you find the security footage. Tofu, are you feeling better?"

"Yes, I'm fine...but I may need to borrow that trash can, Mikey." I had to expel some waste. Too many micro units self-destructed.

"Alright. I'll be back in a bit."

Disappointing. I wanted that book destroyed, but I wasn't willing to anger Murphy to do it. The thought that some writing in a book could disable me just by looking at it was stressful, but making an enemy of Murphy would have rather terrible long-term repercussions, especially if I was understanding the full implications of her power. I could perhaps just kill her. I'd have easy access to her on the ride back, and she seemed worn out from using her power. I was pretty sure if I stabbed her brain it would halt her power from working... but she was a friend of Hellion. And Cindy. And my friends would probably react very poorly to me murdering Murphy right in front of them. I liked that my friends were overall non-violent, it was one of the main reasons I was friends with them, but I had to admit it was sometimes a chore to work around the fact. I'd have to set a hard reflex to avoid looking at strange math books, and test the resulting behavior, and formulate excuses in case someone watched me flinch away from a textbook, and set the contingencies so if I did need to look at a strange book it wouldn't cause a hiccup if it was during a fight, and create a better error bypass, and designate adequate paradox buffering, and etc.

Sigh. The things I do to avoid murder.

Oh well.

"Man, that book really hit you hard, huh," said Mikey as I finished 'throwing up'.

"Yes, but I'm fine now."

"Wonder why it was so bad for you. I just got really nauseous... and it felt like I was failing a math test really hard. Did you feel anything, Nicole?"

"Not really. I couldn't read it, but it was like I couldn't because it was too high level, or in another language maybe."

"I suspect it's because of the benedicci reaction phenomenon," I said. "I'm the only one of us without Benedicci bacteria."

"What's that got to do with it?" asked Mikey.

"Benedicci seems to help with power-based math."

"Oh, I kinda remember hearing about that. So I guess it was like trying to fly a jet when you're still learning to ride a bike, then. I guess that explains why I threw up. My reaction is pretty low if I remember right. Guess that's why I didn't do so well in math class."

"High school math is well below the requirement of needing benedicci, Mikey."

"Ah, shut it you." He grinned and bapped his fist against my shoulder. "Since you're obviously feeling better, let's go find that footage."

Finding the security footage amounted to us following Nicole around while she tracked the signals emitted from the wireless security cameras. By the time Cindy got back to us, Nicole had determined that the storage wasn't in the intake building.

"This one is a dud too," Nicole sighed, closing the metal box bolted to the wall. "Excellent wiring, though."

"Then I guess it's somewhere in the museum proper," said Cindy.

We crossed over to the main museum from the intake building through some doors that were cleverly disguised from the gallery side as some kind of... actually, I wasn't sure what this was.

"Is this a church?"

"It's supposed to be a temple. Egyptian maybe?... Oh, Mesopotamian. The sign is over there."

Mikey pointed to a plaque. It described the temple room as a "recreation based on one of the oldest known to humanity, as identified by Retrocognitionist Abdul-Ajax. While the creation of the glass desert resulted in the destruction of countless thousands of such sites, retrocognitionists and archaeologists have managed to recreate many of them to near-pristine conditions for your viewing pleasure. Sponsored by New Dawn Inc."

Huh. New Dawn Inc. Interesting.

We exited the 'temple' and emerged into an area of the museum that seemed dedicated to human history. Primitive history. There were pots, musical instruments, and tools from all over the world, all labeled as replicas and all from the 'iron age' at the earliest. Nothing even close to humanity's current technological level. Interestingly there were even masks, although none were labeled with the name of the person who had worn them, only the factions, or 'tribes' as humans called them, that made and used them. Apparently masks used to be communal before the beginning of Odd Summer? At least, it did not appear that their heroes wore them often. All depictions of individuals like Hercules, or King Arthur didn't have them, at least. The ones who looked like they might be wearing a mask, like Wukong or Anubis, instead turned out to be mutants? Or gods? I wasn't sure what the distinction between a god like Zeus and a super like the Guardian was. Zeus could shapeshift and throw lightning, but the Guardian could fly and block fireballs with his bare hands. There was no real difference beyond 'one's a super and the other isn't'. Trying to understand how humans separated the two was confusing at best. I needed help beyond the unreliable internet. Luckily, I could ask my friends.

"Okay so basically," explained Cindy, "every super power you hear about before the first Odd Summer, back in two-thousand eighteen, is completely made up."

"All of them?"

"Yep. Like don't get me wrong, there were probably people who were pretty amazing, but at best it was exaggerated big time. There isn't a single recorded instance of superpowers before Odd Summer that can be verified with evidence."

"What about supers like The Avengers, or Batman?"

"Completely made up. Before Odd Summer it was all stories. Think of it like this, the stories aren't based on real superheroes, real superheroes modeled themselves off of those stories."

"Oh. So people like Hercules and Jesus didn't actually exist?"

"Ye- er, that last one... I mean, some of them might have been real people."

"So was Anubis a real person? And Santa Claus? Chuck Norris? Sarah Connor? What about the Easter Bunny?"

"I mean, I doubt they were all fake..."

"Is this why I haven't seen any churches or temples? Those gods are all made up?"

"Whoa, hold up, hold up. I'm uh, that is to say, I'm not an expert on this kinda, stuff. I don't know about all those people, Tofu, but there are some churches and mosques and stuff over in W10. It was the designated culture district back in the day. There just aren't any in E13. Overlord was a 'my way or the highway' kinda guy, and he didn't have much patience for non-critical infrastructure. E13 never really picked up religion after his death... unless you count the Waller cult, and nobody does."

"I see. Isn't knowing which of these people is real important, though? Isn't it... dangerous, to not verify these things?"

"Ohhhh. Is that what's been bothering you?" asked Mikey. "Dude, you're not gonna get jumped by Anubis, or Santa Claus or whatever. Not unless some yahoo dressed like them is doing it. It's not worth worrying about ghosts and goblins of Christmas past when there's real supervillains around. You'll worry yourself silly."

"But, you said that your grandma would hit me if I didn't bring food."

That caused all three of my friends to pause, and the girls turned incredulous looks to Mikey.

"...I what now?"

"From beyond the grave. You said she'd hit people who don't bring food when visiting. Lots of mythological beings have such rules."

"Oh, Jesus." He slapped his forehead. "Dude, I promise, my grandma will never, ever hit you."


"Really, really. You don't have to follow any mythological rules. If we did, half this city would be smote, and the other half would be smote'd even harder."

"Okay... then I have a follow-up question."


"Can I steal some of these obsidian knives?" They had a set of five in a case which the plaque claimed were exact replicas of sacrificial daggers used in the worship of a south american 'loa'.

"...Go for it."

Nicole disarmed the case alarm for me, which was nice of her considering she didn't really approve of stealing. Cindy told me more history about loas, and with Mikey's assurance, I could enjoy my new knives without worrying that I wasn't a priest of the deity they were intended for.

My friends are great. Well worth the effort of avoiding murder.