Casca was aware from a very early age that the Powers That Be were paying em a great deal of attention at all times.

It started simply; in infancy, Casca's needs were always met, as could be expected. Once Casca could express eir own agency and wishes to some extent, however, it seemed that the universe would always flex in subtle ways to respond to these wishes. A momentary craving for ice cream would unfailingly summon an ice cream truck directly to the street where Casca lived, no matter what season or weather conditions. Casca's adoptive parents found it very odd when the truck arrived at 2:00 AM in the middle of February, parking directly in front of the house and playing its jingle, which happened to be Greensleeves... but they bought Casca a rocket-shaped popsicle, nonetheless, and ey gummed it happily, soothing the sore spot where a formerly-loose tooth had been.

The PTB's attention was not always pleasant, of course; it had an apparent sense of nearly-karmic justice, and any time Casca was terribly naughty, out of eir parents' view, the universe would still set the child straight: here a paper cut obtained after throwing a picture book across the room, there a scraped knee after pulling a playmate's hair during a game of tag, later a finger smashed in a door and a nasty sunburn after tormenting an ant colony with a magnifying glass and aggressive stomping. The more intentional and malicious Casca's actions toward other living beings, generally, the more similar the nature of such later vindictiveness. The PTB seemed to care a great deal about small, relatively harmless creatures and their suffering, at least in cases where Casca inflicted it on them. Casca learned very early not to kill nonthreatening spiders or yank on a puppy's ears.

While Casca figured out quickly that mischief yielded trouble, and simple wants were granted with a quickness, it took em quite a long time to figure out the exact parameters for this perpetual universal attentiveness. The benign solipsism of a toddler had little precedent for understanding one's effects on others. The natural zealous inquisitiveness of a seven-year-old was most oriented toward exploiting this ability to avoid delayed gratification. It was not until Casca turned eleven that ey began taking an experimental, empirical approach to define the exact limits and utility of having the PTB at one's beck and call.

It took more than a little personal courage to test these limits, of course; by this age, Casca had learned that human beings are mostly benign toward each other in direct interaction, but that anybody could withhold kindness from anybody else, for any reason, including if a person asks them for too much more than they are willing to give. Casca was frightened that ey would someday find the PTB's solicitous gift-giving would wear out, perhaps due to boredom or frustration, or simply because Casca might get too demanding, too curious, too wishful. Ey also feared ey would just outgrow the Powers' care, and that once ey reached some arbitrary age, the PTB would abandon em for another needier or more interesting child.

Because of this polite caution, Casca began the experimentation in small, steady increments, always spacing each wish apart from the previous wish by a week or longer. Ey already knew that craving a specific food would definitely make that food available, no matter how obscure the food, as long as Casca did genuinely desire it. It was quickly established through testing with food requests that insincere wanting would never yield anything at all, and that requesting something Casca actively disliked would in fact bring forth a superabundance of the disliked thing, a retaliation against impudence, perhaps. Casca only had to eat Brussels sprouts for three consecutive weeks at every meal, before deciding not to try that again.

Casca figured out that ey needn't worry about asking for things too often; it was far riskier to abstain from requesting things. After going an entire month of not asking for anything, in preparation to make a rather large wish (an Xbox 360, when eir birthday was still a long way off), Casca found emself persistently annoyed by literally hundreds of harmless but extremely frustrating minor events: swimming pools closed for cleaning just as ey arrived at them, bananas never ripe quite when ey wanted one, misplaced keys and toys, perpetually untied shoelaces, trash bags always opening from the wrong end, and USB drives that always needed turned three times before they would insert correctly. Casca tentatively suspected that the universe was pouting at em for ignoring it this long, and ey made a point to ask for lots of little things, especially after the Xbox arrived.

Already knowing that the PTB would punish deliberate harm against others, Casca took care not to wish for anything that intrinsically required another person to suffer. Ey was not always flawless at this, however; a school bully became a pressing issue for Casca and eir best friend, and when Casca wished fervently one night for the bully to get his comeuppance in a particularly graphic way, ey spent the rest of that night quaking in fear over what might be the outcome, and just as insistently wishing for no such wicked thing to happen. Casca was unsure what ey feared more: that the bully actually get attacked by a swarm of hornets and die, or that the PTB retaliate proportionately against Casca for even making that wish. It was with great relief that Casca found eir bully physically unharmed the following morning, upon returning to the playground, and later that day, the bully approached Casca with a sheepish expression and his hands held up in a peacemaking gesture.

"Hey, Cas, uh... can I talk to you?" he asked.

"Um. Sure, Max. What's going on?" Casca still kept eir distance, but ey knew that whatever was happening here, the PTB had orchestrated it, and Casca was either about to be punished for last night's ungracious and unmerciful wishing, or else something very interesting was going to occur, and ey would not want to miss it.

"I've been a real douchebag to you and Jennifer. I didn't even realize you're adopted, too. Things are rough at home, and I guess I took it out on you for a long time, because you seem like you got everything good in life, for no reason. It's not fair for some people to have it better than others." Max' lower lip quivered a bit; still a child, himself, only a little older than Casca, this speech had been difficult to make, and it was obvious he had rehearsed it a few times to get the words right.

"Maybe I'm just kinda' lucky?" Casca said, "but it's not all the time. Bad stuff happens to me, too. Just most of the time, nobody's around to see it when it happens, so it looks like I'm... immune, or something, I guess."

"Yeah, and I'm 'bad stuff,' and of course I don't pick on you in front of other people who could stop it." Max grumbled. His shame became more apparent with each passing moment, and Casca finally recognized that it was shame, and not simple lingering hostility.

"Well... uh... maybe if you could make nice with Jen, too, then you could hang out with us? If I've got some special luck or whatever, maybe it rubs off on other people." Casca felt dishonest saying this; ey already knew with certainty that eir luck was not completely transferable, but that ey could definitely wish for things to be easier and nicer for other people, a little bit at a time.

Experimentation had proven that if Casca went for very long without asking something for emself, the proxy-luck would fade from everybody else in Casca's effective luck-radius. The radius itself was also very fixed; Casca had already wished multiple times for the end of world hunger, without success. Anybody sufficiently far away just couldn't be helped, despite Casca's earnest efforts to the contrary. Regardless the constraints, Casca still recognized that the PTB were solving eir bully problem in a decidedly copacetic way, so ey was determined to play along and not piss the Powers off, lest they change their mind about it.

It was also clear that luck was not a substitute for effort and practice; failure to study always meant failure to perform well on exams. Failure to rehearse guaranteed poor results at piano lessons and language classes, but Casca used these opportunities to get very good at thinking fast and improvising eir way through challenging situations where ey felt unprepared. Adaptivity became a second facet of Casca's strange luck, one that ey could control directly, and ey was very good at picking up new skills and knowledge.

Puberty was a different kind of challenge than everything previous; Casca's emotional range expanded, but so did eir emotional volatility. After a three-month streak of ever-worsening hideous luck, Casca was in a genuinely foul mood toward everything and everybody, and ey started for the first time to feel a profound, visceral spite toward the Powers That Be. It had never occurred to em to test if the PTB could respond to silent, nonverbal wishes and emotional states; in all prior cases, Casca had always verbalized what ey wanted, if only in a whisper or a written format, and any ill luck that befell Casca seemed to result directly from Casca's outward actions, rather than eir emotional state at the time. Casca started to ask silently, Do You even know me? Are you punishing me for my outward attitude, without knowing how I actually feel inside? Ey could tell that something was very wrong with eir brain chemistry, and eir parents' marriage was on the rocks. More months passed this way, with everything only worsening steadily: cumulative physical injuries, illness, what Casca would later learn was depression, parental divorce and a custody battle that lasted well past Thanksgiving and forced Casca to choose which half of the family to visit that year, and which half to snub.

By the time Casca was seventeen, ey had a truly adversarial relationship toward the universe in general, and the PTB in particular. No longer did ey fear the withdrawal of their goodwill; as far as ey was concerned, the PTB's kindness throughout eir childhood was merely buttering em up in preparation to drop em on eir ass during later years. Jennifer had moved away halfway through high school, and Max was Casca's only friend during that awkward, frustrated time, but he was supportive and a good listener, having dealt with more than his share of domestic unpleasantness. Casca stopped making wishes for a long time, and in the moments of stillness when ey could feel the universes's attention most acutely, ey would mentally grumble, You can just fuck right off, you useless celestial bastards. Ey resented them for limiting the range of luck ey could impart on others, for making em aware of large-scale human suffering but incapable of personally resolving it, for withdrawing their gentleness but perpetually inflicting their undivided attention upon em and leaving em with this pervasive feeling of always being watched, judged, evaluated, praised or shamed by Somebody against Whom there was no possible recourse.

Casca grew up. Ey attended law school and made a name for emself as an advocate for kids stuck in the foster care system. Ey was really good with kids, despite not wanting any of eir own, and most likely not being able to have any. The children ey worked with could trust and rely on em, and ey offered them a source of total stability and calm, when their lives were at their most traumatic and stressful. Max became a cop in the same city, and through the countless domestic calls and courtroom encounters that kept the two thirty-somethings in proximity to each other's lives, their friendship survived everything that life threw at either of them, including Jennifer's return to town, her brief flirtation with Max, her even briefer marriage after a long engagement to Casca, and the breast cancer that killed her before their first anniversary. When the disease was first discovered, Casca's pride wouldn't allow em to wish for her recovery. No. This is just like you entities, to put something horrible like this in my life, to try to persuade me to play your game along with you. I won't do it. I refuse. She's a human being, goddammit; don't bring her into whatever you insist on doing to me. By the time it metastasized, Casca was ready to change eir mind about the issue of praying to questionably-benevolent invisible persons, but neither wishing nor medical science was adequate to the task. Ey lost her, and ey resolved not to marry anybody else, if only to guarantee that no other person could again be used as leverage against Casca's free will in such a way.

The years had shown Casca so much beauty, in the presence and absence of other people, even if ey didn't feel like ey frequently got to partake in it, much less keep what beauty ey found. The antagonistic relationship toward the universe evolved into the litigious, critical attitude ey had acquired in law school. The PTB were no longer an enemy; they were, in Casca's belief, little more than playful, well-meaning, naive children who didn't fully understand the true consequences of their actions, much less adult emotions and suffering. Sometimes Casca would see some minor misfortune befall a hapless stranger, and ey would scold the PTB, and in some of these moments, Casca felt as though the universe did have an atmosphere of apologetic contrition. It seemed like the universe tended to play a little nicer with its toys, after such chastisement.

Other times, Casca would give the universe much more credit for its finer works, and much more blame for its errors and inadequacies. Come on, guys. I know you can do better than this. I've seen your artistry. Why are you holding back? Humanity deserves nothing less than your best work, and even if nobody else can call you out on this half-assed bullshit, I'm still gonna' hold you to the mark. Show some real standards, for fuck's sake.

Sometimes, the universe would throw a punishing streak of ill-fortune Casca's way, usually depending on eir performance in the courtroom. Sometimes Casca agreed with the judgment; ey knew when ey could have done better. Other times, ey would spend that evening muttering curses to the PTB, denouncing their pettiness and the arbitrary, sometimes ignorant nature of their attempts at justice. I worked my ass off for those kids, and you could have done something more for them than I could, but you didn't, so you can just leave me the fuck alone. I don't want your attention, anyway, and just because you force yourselves on me against my wishes, doesn't mean I have to believe you're right all the time.

At their ten year high school class reunion, Max asked Casca about eir religious beliefs.

"Cas, I think God might be kind of a dick."

"It took you that long to figure it out, Max? Are you shitting me?" Casca scowled around a clove cigarette as they sat beneath the football bleachers behind the high school.

"No, I mean... I always figured He was good for some people, but just kinda' ignoring me, like I was always off His radar, or something. I was never big on the religion thing, growing up; too many foster homes with too many different crazy fundy foster parents. I was never in one household long enough to get a strong sense of faith or whatever."

"My parents weren't religious. And I don't think God is just a dick for the sake of being a dick. I think He's a kid, and He doesn't know what he's doing all the time, and there aren't enough people around who He'll listen to, and take suggestions from, or... learn from, I guess." Casca took another drag on the cigarette. "He's impulsive and has a really twisted sense of humour, but His definitions of 'right' and 'wrong' are pretty infantile and underdeveloped. He seems pretty lonely, too, and needy for attention. It's just like the kids I work with every day, but instead of being helpless, He's got all the power there is, and a huge playground, but no little friends to share it with, except us, and we're more like His action figures, probably."

"Maybe God's adopted." Max frowned at Casca's smoke. "You know those things are bad for you."

"I like having control over one of the bad things," Casca said, shrugging. "Better than not having control over any of them. As for you being off God's radar, maybe that's true... but the grass isn't greener on the other side, okay? I think maybe I don't really wanna' talk about this any more right now, if that's alright with you."

"Yeah, okay. Sorry. I know you're having a bad year."

The conversation ended on a somber note, but it had given Casca an idea, and that night, for the first time since before high school, ey made a sincere, emphatic wish.

Iron Noder 2015, 05/30

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