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Origin Stories

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You have eight new messages.

“Partridge, it’s Sally. Call me back.”

“This is Sally. I’ve got big news that I probably shouldn’t try to fit into a voicemail, so get back to me as soon as you can.”

“It’s Dr. Grissom. Sally Grissom. You know, your best friend? Former lab partner? Is that ringing any bells, or have you just forgotten I exist?”

“Partridge. Partridge. Partridge. Partridge.”

“If you’re teaching a class right now, it’s fine to just leave early. The kids’ll love that. Give them all a break for once!”

“Seriously, Anthony. I need you. Please call me, or—you know what, actually, I’m taking a few days off from work. I’ll come visit you.”

“I’m at the airport. Flight’s leaving pretty soon. Last chance to pick up your phone, or you’ll be stuck with me in person.”

“Sally again. I’m in your office. Where the hell are you? If you’re not here in fifteen minutes, it’s going to be my office. I’ll rearrange all of your diplomas. Or should I say...MY diplomas.”

By the time the last message had finished playing, Anthony Partridge was almost back to his department building. He flung open his door to see a woman, her feet up on his desk as she habitually clicked about five of his pens at once in one of her hands. The other hand was holding a cell phone.

Anthony’s ringtone sounded just as the woman looked up. He answered, staring at her, and uttered a single “ why ” before hanging up.

“That one actually wasn’t me,” Sally said, with a grin that was partially apologetic but mostly amused. She flipped her phone around to show the screen, and Anthony watched an animated car that swiveled to crash into another car as she took her finger off of it. Swearing, Anthony looked at his own phone, but before he could see who he had just hung up on Sally was pulling him fully into the room and closing the door.

“What is this about?” he demanded, irritation and concern fighting for control of his tone (as they so often did when he spoke with Sally Grissom). “Why are you here? In New Mexico? At my university? And how did you even get here so quickly? Are you dying? Is the world ending?”

“Not exactly.” Sally took a deep breath, opened her mouth, closed it, spun around as she searched for the words. “Okay, so here’s the thing. Something happened at the SSC. An accident. And I...well, it was my fault really, but...”

Anthony took her hand, phone call forgotten entirely. “Those bastards ! They fired you? I know you’ve turned it down before, but the university would love to have you, and I think you could make a great professor—”

“What? No! To both me-as-a-professor and the them-firing-me bit. No, nothing like that. It’s more of...you know what, we’re both scientists. People of action, or whatever. It’ll be easier if I show you.”

“Show me what ?”

In response, Sally pushed the pens into his hand and drew back.

“What am I supposed to—” He blinked. The pens were gone.

Sally clicked them in unison.

“Alright, that’s a neat party trick, I’ll grant you that. But what does that have to do with—oh, hell!” He stumbled backwards, watching with wide eyes as Sally flung the pens forcefully at the wall and then—somehow, impossibly, moving so quickly he almost couldn’t see her—plucked them out of the air before they hit.

All except for one, with stuck like a lawn dart out of a framed award. Anthony approached it with trepidation, pulling it out cautiously as though it might come alive. “Sally,” he began softly, “what exactly is it that you do for the SSC, again?”

 


 

“So the generators started up when you where still in the room, and now you can control time ? What kind of sense does that make?”

Sally shrugged. “Hey, it’s not the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me in the pursuit of science.”

“Really?” Anthony laughed a helpless, empty sort of laugh. “Because it’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’m only witnessing the results! Don’t tell me you’re not curious about all of this, because I know you.”

“Of course I am. That’s part of the reason I came to you. I need to go over everything that happened, and it’s not exactly as though I can ask my team at work for their help.”

He stopped, surprised. “They don’t know?”

“Nobody knows. Except for you, now. That’s how this sort of thing is supposed to work.”

“I’m touched. Really, I am. I know that lately, we haven’t—well, we’ve both been busy with work, and there’s the distance, but it’s not like—hang on. ‘This sort of thing?’ What is that supposed to mean?”

Sally, who had cleared off Anthony’s desk so that she could sit on it fully without breaking anything, tilted her head innocently. “Well, like I said, I’d appreciate your help figuring out how this happened. And I really did just want to tell you, too. But that’s not...entirely...what I’m here to ask you for.”

“You already have my Netflix login. What more could you possibly want from me?” He walked towards the door, walked back again. Already pacing, and something told him that the worst was yet to come.

“Your honest opinion on a potential new career path.” She leaned forward, earnesty incarnate. “This is...big. Life-altering. Not just my life, either. There’s an opportunity here, to really do something. When I started working at the SSC, they said we’d change the world. And maybe we will. Maybe this is how.”

“Cut to the chase.”

By way of response, she turned over and leaned back to the piles of paper she had moved from his desk to the floor, sitting up again with a newspaper in her hand. She snapped the pages open. “Armed robbery, Tuesday. The homeowner was injured, and they think it’s connected to a string of similar crimes. Yesterday a warehouse burned down. Two people died. Last week that kid was shot, and he’s still up at the hospital in critical condition. Everytime something happens, people stand together and say not again , but—it always happens again anyways. This city is broken, Partridge. So is mine. Most places are, I guess, but they say you should start making a difference on the local level, right? What if...what if we could? Directly, I mean.”

Pressing the paper closed again, she held it out so that they could both see the front page. The headline read LIGHTING THE WAY TO “DAWN .” Beneath it was a photograph of the eponymous hero, silhouetted on the roof of a building in downtown Polvo.

“So.” A little nervous, a little breathless, but dedicated—the same voice she’d used back in college any time she was about to sneak onto the roof of the student union building. “That’s the plan. Fighting crime in a cape with someone directing me from in front of at least three computer monitors—and I know you’ve got at least three computer monitors. Are you in or are you out?”

The door slammed behind Anthony as he stormed into the hall, a rather more corporeal response than Sally had expected. But she knew him. She waited.  And sure enough, nearly six minutes later:

“Damn it all to hell, Grissom. Okay. Where do we start?”