I was born to death.
I was born to the memory of a dead woman, forty weeks to the day after Paradox Maverick died, and I was told so, in whispers and glances and blasted macaroni and cheese on my birthday every year. I was born, it seemed when I was younger, to echo her back to my mother’s companions, to look like her in every way I could.
Sometimes I think that she did it on purpose, Paradox, tinkered with my genetics in the womb to put them off the scent, as it were, to make them keep looking in the wrong place and never think to look where they should have. I wonder, if she did that, if she had any idea how well she would succeed?
Here I am, now, exactly what they created, exactly what I created, and not what they would have had me be. Nothing, nothing, I might add, like Paradox Maverick, may she rot in a cold cell in the darkest corner of Hell.
I am Order. And today is my eighteenth birthday.
There will be macaroni and cheese. There will always be macaroni and cheese. And my mother will buy me a pretty dress, and I will wear it. It will be the last thing I wear that I did not choose myself. And it will be the last time I eat macaroni and cheese. Today, I am going to start my plans. Today, I am going to begin my empire.
“Bit serious, are you?”
The window was open. The window was not supposed to be open. Marciana looked up, frowned, and then felt her frown deepen from mere irritation to true anger.
“You don’t belong here.”
“Oh, but let’s be honest, neither do you.” The girl in the window was green, her hair blue, her wings – she had wings, humans did not have nor need wings – purple. She looked like she’d been dropped in a tye-dye pot. “You know it. All those tidy little notes in your journal. Didn’t anyone tell you that the primary flaw of villains is monologuing? Get in the habit and they’ll never stop. I’m Arsenic, by the way.”
“Lovely villain name. And I’m not a villain. I’m a hero. See,” she gestured at the tower they were in. “The Tower of Truth? Heroes live here.”
“Heroes and their kids. And Arsenic isn’t my villain name, it’s my given name.”
“Who names their kid Arsenic?” Because she was a kid, as much as Marciana was, maybe-eighteen, probably-less.
“Who names the daughter of two heroes Marsha?”
“It’s Marsha with a flourish. Seriously. They knew they were going to let you grow up in the public eye. They knew they were already thinking of little Parry when you were born. Why in the world would they name you Marsha? Did they want you to turn evil?”
It was too much like her own thoughts. She squinted at the tye-dyed fairy. “Are you another one like Szec Mzip Wrisverhmersl?”
“Szeccie? Little pink goblin? No, Marsha, I’m not reading your mind. I’m not a mirror of your conscience – not like that, at least.”
“Then what are you? I mean, other than a green intruder.” She should be hitting the panic button. She should be calling in the Truth Troops. But she wasn’t panicked, and she didn’t want to see the Troops. Not now. Not with what she was planning.
“I’m you.” She waved both hands, making a blur and whirring noise like a flying bug. “Not like that. Not like Szeccie or any of the mirror-universe imposters.”
“Nevermind that. You people in the Truth Tower are awfully bad at telling truth, that’s all I have to say on the matter. No, I’m what you were supposed to be.”
It only took a second. Marciana was bright, after all, and her entire life had been haunted by the specter of what she was supposed to be. “You’re Paradox Maverick.” Her hand was on her blaster before she finished the sentence.
“I was. I’m Arsenic right now.” The green girl shrugged, looking entirely undisturbed. “Did you get any powers?”
“I did.” She didn’t want to admit that. “You know I haven’t told anyone else?”
“Neither have I. Of course, I haven’t told anyone I’m their enemies’ favorite troublemaker, either. You think I ought to?”
“Will they believe you? Nobody believes that I’m not.”
“Which is funny, all things considered. They think I’m…well, half of them think I’m Szeccie’s kid. Including my mother.”
“Wait, your mother thinks you’re a world-shifter’s kid? Your mother…?”
“I might be. It would suit my other me. Look, are you going to shoot me or what?”
“Your other you, what?” She set the blaster down but kept her hand on it.
“I’m not all Peri. I’m Arsenic, but there’s this little voice in the back of my head that is, or used to be, Paradox. I mean, sometimes it’s the other way around and she takes over. But for the most part, I’m me. Sennie.”
“Well, ‘Arse’ is a stupid nickname, isn’t it? Marsha?”
“Marciana. Yeah.” She was smiling. When was the last time that had happened? “So… why are you here?” Quick, think about business.
“Well.” She sat down on Marciana’s clean desk, one foot on the journal, leaving a smudge of dirt over Marciana’s declaration of self-hood. “Half of me was homesick. The rest of me was sick of being there, not being what they wanted. Watching their confused faces…”
“While they try to figure out who this cuckoo in their nest is, what she’s planning, why she doesn’t fit in.” The words tumbled out. She was half-standing. She sat down again, mortified. “Oh, Fillzbot.”
“No, no, you’re right. Exactly. They know about you. They think you’re me, too. Or sometimes they think you’re her, one of theirs, that died.” She paused. “Are you?”
“As far as anyone can tell – and everyone has looked – there’s nobody in here but me. It might have been easier if I really was the enemy.”
“Well… my folks are the agents of world domination, and yours want to protect truth and light. How do we go about being enemies of both?”
“Well, who else have we got?” The green girl’ smile was pink, very, very pink. “And maybe if you have someone to talk to, you’ll stop monologuing.”
“So we become…” She thought about it for a moment. “Chaos and order. Paradox and reason. We’re monkeywrenchers. We’re the ones who tell them when they’re all being stupid. We crash wild schemes and stupid plans and bad press conferences.”
“Awesome.” She held out one long-fingered hand. “You have a deal, partner.”
I was born to defy expectations.
We were. We were born to be nothing our parents wanted. We were born to be trouble in their sides. We were born to legends we didn’t ask for, habits we didn’t have. We were born to ask questions. All the questions.
We are Order and Chaos. We are Madness and Reason. We are the Wrench in the Machine, and today is our eighteenth birthday.
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