8FOLD/HCC: Journey Into # 19, "Wobblies on a Train!"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Jun 29 11:00:28 PDT 2014

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            ~BY TOM RUSSELL~

- Kate Morgan, DR. METRONOME II.
  Can phase through matter.
  Piano tutor, aged 23 in 2008.
  Outlaw due to the Fitzwalter Rule.
- Bethany Clayton, KNOCKOUT MOUSE.
  Controls the density of her right hook.
  Graduate student, aged 25 in 2008.
  Lying due to the Fitzwalter Rule.

Chicago Union Station, September 2008, Simon Morgan's thirteenth birthday.
   "We're going on a train," he says flatly.
   Kate knows her brother well enough to know that this is what counts
as enthusiasm for him. A normal kid his age would be singing in an
annoying voice, We're-going-on-a-train doo-doo we're-going-on-a-train.
(Certainly that's what their younger sister would be doing if she
wasn't spending the weekend with the Prousts.) But a normal kid his
age wouldn't be spending his birthday going on a train ride; he'd be
spending it scarfing down pizza and soda with his friends while
playing arcade games.
   But Kate resolved herself long ago to the fact that Simon was not a
normal kid, that he did not have or make friends, that he liked
trains, and that sooner or later, she would have to spend an otherwise
wonderful weekend riding a train with her preternaturally humorless
sibling. Kate used to spend a lot of time worrying about Simon and all
the time he spent watching train DVDs and talking about gauges. But
then she realized that it made him happy, or as happy as he ever got
anyway, and she was okay with that. She'd settle for that.
   It might not be the best parenting strategy, and some nights she
wonders if she's screwing them up. But then she'll close her eyes and
think about that afternoon when her mother tried to drown her, and
she'll ask herself, Am I doing better than that? Yes? Then I guess
it's fine. I'll take it.[*]
   [*- Way back in JOURNEY INTO # 1.]
   Round-trip to Ann Arbor costs about the same as a riotous
pizza-soda-arcade afternoon, but is less likely to induce a migraine,
so she'll take that, too. After the week she's had-- in both
identities-- she is perfectly content to spend six hours today and six
hours tomorrow being bored out of her gourd. No villains to chase
after, no heroes to chase after her thanks to the Fitzwalter Rule.
Just a normal weekend, or as close to normal as it gets with Simon.
   Of course she spoke too soon. The metronome belt not only pulls her
atoms apart whenever she needs to slide through solid matter, it also
makes her incredibly sensitive to the presence of other people whose
powers, whether natural or technological, allow them to defy the laws
of physics for fun and/or profit. As she and Simon board the train,
she can feel something big and wrong and dangerous tickling about her
   "Who is it?" whispers Simon. He can always tell when something's
up. Observant little bugger. (He was also the first one to suss out
her secret identity.)
   "Not sure yet," says Kate warily. "Probably nothing," she lies.
   He isn't fooled.
   "Nothing I can't handle, anyway," says Kate. "C'mon, birthday brat.
Let's find our seats."

Bethany is a little surprised by the number of people in the station.
An airport, she would understand. Maybe even a bus station. But a
train? Who rides a train these days?
   (Well, she does, for one, but that's only because her uncle works
for the railroad and could get her a free ticket.)
   So, a lot of people. Bethany doesn't do so well with crowds in
either identity. It's not so much the people-- that is, the actual
peopleness of them-- as their physical presence, the crush and the
   At least when she's in costume, people acknowledge that she exists.
They make room for Knockout Mouse, try to move around her, give her
space. Outside of costume, it's like they're trying to move through
her. Like she isn't even there.
   OOF! A fortyish man bumps into her, and she falls right on her ass.
   "Sorry," she mumbles. She knows she shouldn't apologize. He's the
one that ran into her. But her first instinct is always to apologize.
   He clearly doesn't feel the same way. Indeed, he seems furious that
she dared to impede his path. "What's done cannot be undone," he
huffs. He doesn't even help her up.
   And now she's not sorry. Now she's good and pissed off.
   Lucky you're not a robot, buster. If you were a robot I'd knock
your block off. With robots and demigods she doesn't have to worry
about killing them with a punch. (Demigods she has to worry about
killing her with a punch, so generally she prefers fighting the

An hour into the ride, and the weird power source that the belt is
picking up hasn't gone anywhere. So it's definitely on the train, and
didn't get left behind at the station.
   There's a black girl towards the other end of the car, about her
age, maybe a little older. Looks like she's trying not to be noticed:
hood up, hair all over half her face. Her body language is tight and
drawn in (nervous?). She doesn't look at anybody, but stares at her
hands. Hands are gloved.
   Kate saw the girl, saw that she wasn't trying to be seen, and she
felt something tug at her waist. And as she looks at her, the
something tugs harder. So, it's her. The question is, what is she up
   "Simon," she says.
   "You're going somewhere."
   "Going to make a friend," says Kate. "Or not-a-friend. Stay put."
   He nods.

The white woman that's been staring at Bethany for the last ten
minutes is moving towards her now. Something weird about her. She
doesn't like this.
   "Hello," says the woman. "Riding alone?"
   "Then you won't mind some company."
   "Actually, I, uh, I, I prefer."
   The woman either didn't hear her (happens a lot) or is ignoring her
(also happens a lot). She sits down in the seat across from her.
"What's your name?"

"Oh, cool," says Kate. "My best friend is named Bethany."
   Bethany doesn't shrug, doesn't roll her eyes, doesn't do anything.
A blank slate. Difficult to get a read on her.
   "So, you from Chicago?"
   "Going to Ann Arbor?"
   Got to get her talking. "Whatcha got planned?"
   She mutters something.
   "Pardon? I didn't catch that."
   "I said I was going to a concert!" She's sharp. Hiding something.

"Whatcha got planned?"
   "I, um, I'm going to a concert."
   "Pardon? I didn't catch that."
   "I said I was going to a concert," she says, flustered. Bethany
hates it when she has to repeat herself, and hates herself for having
to do it so often.
   "Really," says the woman flatly. Sarcastically. Like a challenge.
   "Yes, really," says Bethany. Who is this bozo?
   "Which one? Which concert?"
   Bethany shifts uncomfortably in her seat. What if this is some kind
of trap? Some kind of identity theft scam? She's already given this
stranger her name, where she's from, where she's going...

"Which one?" asks Kate. "Which concert?"
   Bethany doesn't answer right away; probably wasn't expecting
someone to pry into her story. Then, finally: "I don't know why you're
asking me all these questions."
   The tingling of the belt about her waist intensifies; whatever it's
picking up on is getting stronger. Kate rests her left hand on the
buckle of the belt; first sign of trouble, and she'll phase out of
harm's way.
   "I'm just trying to be friendly," says Kate. "To socialize. That's
what public transportation is about, right? You meet people, you get
all sorts of people together, you mix it up."
   "Maybe for you," says Bethany. "I don't. I'm not good at. With
strangers. Meeting people. I."
   Kate smiles good-naturedly. "None of what you just said was a sentence."
   "I just want to be left alone!" The energy signature spikes up like
crazy. Much more powerful than she had imagined. Careful, Kate. Be

The woman smirks smugly. "None of what you just said was a sentence."
   "I just want to be left alone," Bethany blurts out.
   The woman stares at her for a moment, like that's the weirdest
thing she's ever heard. Like it's horrifying that someone doesn't want
to tell complete strangers about their life. This is nothing new. Over
the years she's endured countless attempts to "bring her out of her
shell" by people who don't understand that she's happy in her shell.
Happy as a clam.
   Quietly, Bethany asks her to leave.
   "Let's talk about your glove."
   "Ex. Excuse me?"

"Could you leave now? Please." Her voice is calmer now. So is the
energy signature. But Kate still doesn't know if Bethany is a danger
to the people on the train. Especially with the way the power
fluctuates with her emotional state.
   Kate brings her voice down an octave, speaking matter-of-flatly.
"Let's talk about your glove."
   "Ex, excuse me?"
   "On your right hand, under the outer glove, is another glove. Or a
ring. Or a bracelet. It's giving off an energy signature. Which just
flared up again, just now. So I know I'm right. Please. Calm down."

"I am calm," says Bethany. She relaxes the density of her hand,
dialing it down to a feather's kiss.
   "Obviously, in Chicago, that kind of thing is illegal," says the woman.
   Blackmail? Is she threatening to turn her in to the FCL? Does she
know who Bethany really is? She must be a black cape.
   "You're getting agitated again," says the woman, patronizingly.
"And I'm really not trying to agitate you."

"Obviously, in Chicago, that kind of thing is illegal." The moment she
says it, Kate regrets it. The belt starts dancing with her atoms,
overwhelmed by the energy from Bethany's glove. Bethany gets real
jittery, nervous. Guilty. God, she must be a black cape.
   But maybe Kate can stop this from getting out of hand, at least on
the train. "You're getting agitated again," she says softly. "And I'm
really not trying to agitate you. I just, look. I picked up on the
signature, and I wanted to make sure that you're okay. I mean, are you
a good witch, or a bad witch?"
   Bethany stares at her, searching. Angling. "Which are you?"
   Kate smiles. "Not going to work that way, honey. Whichever one I
pick, you'll pick. Which means I have my answer."
   "Do you?" The energy is slowly cranking up again. Great. A fight
scene. Just what she didn't want.
   "I do," she says, turning on her belt.

"Which means I have my answer."
   "Do you?" says Bethany. As a precaution, she incrementally
increases the density of her fist. Don't want to cave in her skull
when the inevitable fight scene begins. Why is it she never gets to
fight robots?
   "I do," says the woman.
   Suddenly, the train sways violently left-to-right and back again.
Bethany grips the seat to stay in place. When she turns back, the
woman is gone.
   The train is still swaying, and suddenly there are strange peals of
fright and wonder from the other passengers. Outside the windows pass
streaks of queer black energy, like sideways bolts of lightning
erupting from some cloud just ahead of the engine car.
   Bethany scrambles unnoticed to the bathroom. A moment later,
Knockout Mouse emerges, and comes face to face with the woman who was
annoying her. Who is also wearing a union and domino. "You!"
   "You're Knockout Mouse. Makes sense now."
   "Dr. Metronome, right?"
   "Kate," she says quietly. "Only fair. Sorry about all that. I thought..."
   Bethany dismisses it with a wave of her Singularity Gauntlet. "Team-up?"
   "After you."
   They head into the next car.

The passengers are muttering, crying, and screaming. All except one.
The man who had knocked Bethany down at the station. He stands at the
head of the car, perfectly still despite its violent swaying. Weird
crackles of energy, identical to that streaking outside the windows,
pop out of his eyes.
   "Oh brave new world," he hisses with contempt, "that has such...
people in it."
   "I have a feeling he's our problem," says Bethany.
   "You're right," says Kate. "I'm picking up some bad vibes from him."
   "You didn't pick it up before?"
   "Your glove was shouting it down."
   The man takes note of them now, and stretches out his fingers in
their direction. "How now, wool-sack, what mutter you?"
   Five ebony finger-bolts rip through the air. Kate's body is already
coming apart at the atomic level, allowing the bolts to pass
harmlessly through her. "Mouse!" she shouts.
   "On it," says Bethany. Her super-dense fist collides with the
bolts, and they bounce harmlessly into the side of the train, punching
a hole through it. Well, okay. Not harmlessly.
   But Kate is already on it, pulling passengers away from the howling
hole. Bethany does the same, and in that instinctive moment of
altruism, the madman makes his escape, leaping straight up through the
   "Um," says Bethany.
   "Oh, cool," says Kate. "We get to fight on top of a train."
   "That's not... not necessarily the word I would use."
   "C'mon," says Kate. "Give me a boost."
   Bethany helps her up so that she can touch the ceiling. Vibrating
her atoms, she passes through it, climbs up, and then sticks her hand
back down. Bethany takes her hand and then feels her own body coming
slightly apart at the seams. She feels the steel of the train and the
rush of the wind passing through her body. It feels a little bit like
her "blinking", back when the Wrinkle Belt was working. [*- The
Wrinkle Belt was broken in the now-classic JOLT CITY # 20.]
   "There we are," says Kate.
   "So," says Bethany, crouching low to try to keep herself from
falling. "This is being on top of a train. 'Cool' still isn't the word
I'd use."
   "Well, he seems to be enjoying it," says Kate.
   The madman is standing on the next car, seemingly impervious to the
wild sway of the train. He holds his hands above his head, cradling a
ball of black energy.
   "All lost! to prayers, to prayers! All lost!" He throws the black
ball arcing through the air.
   "You got this?" says Kate.
   "Yeppers." Bethany slams her fist against the ball. To her
surprise, the impact sends her bouncing back. In the space of a
breath, Bethany can see herself colliding with the swaying train and
rolling right off.
   That doesn't happen, though. Kate leaps towards her and for a
split-second Bethany feels Kate's hand on her leg, then feels her
atoms shimmering again. She sinks into the car, then Kate pulls her
back up.
   The villain is forming another black ball between his hands.
   "Don't know if I should try that again," says Bethany as they leap
to the next car. "Packs more of a punch than those rays did."
   "And those rays did a lot of damage to the train," says Kate. "I
don't know what one of those will do if it connects."
   "Then we don't let it connect," says Bethany.
   As if in response, the man unleashes a small underdeveloped little
black snowball. Bethany figures this one is safe enough to swat away,
and so she does. It smacks into a tree, causing it to explode into
   "Nothing can come of nothing," says the man, boiling up another
ball of pitch lightning from the air. "Speak again."
   "That's King Lear," recognizes Kate. "Everything he said has been
   "Blue Boxer fought a villain who only spoke in Shakespeare,"
remembers Bethany. "Hotspur." [*- JOLT CITY # 19.]
   "Here comes another," says Kate. "I have an idea." She grabs
Bethany by the arm, and with her free hand, touches the car. Suddenly
everything is vibrating: Kate, Bethany, the car itself, its
passengers, all a blur of atoms. Everything, that is, except Hotspur,
who sinks into the train. The ball of energy stays in midair, passing
through Bethany and tasting slightly of mint.
   Bethany turns to see the ball dissipate and unravel. Then,
suddenly, both she and Kate are sinking into the car.
   Kate doubles over.
   "Are you alright?"
   "A lot of strain," says Kate. "I'll be fine. How's our man?"
   Hotspur is staggering to his feet. Sparks are flying from his joints.
   "Oh, Hotspur's not a man," says Bethany. She tightens her fist with
glee. "He's a robot." She punches him with the force of a waterjet
   "This is the chase: I am gone for ever." (He dies.)
   "I love problems I can solve by punching them," says Bethany.
   "Not sure if that solved it," says Kate, catching her breath.
"Still got the weird lightning thing going on."
   "You good for travel?"
   "Yeah, sure," says Kate. "Let's do this thing."

They make their way to the head car.
   "So," says Bethany, "big machine with freaky black lightning
leaking like a colander. Thinking that's our widget?"
   "Question is, what to do about it?" says Kate.
   "I'm thinking if I punch it, it might explode," says Bethany. "Do
you think you could, I dunno, vibrate it into another dimension?"
   "Belt doesn't work that way, unfortunately," says Kate. "Speedsters
occupy other dimensions when they're phasing through matter. My belt
vibrates the atoms and pulls them apart, lets the other atoms squeeze
   "So, no on that, then," says Bethany.
   "It'd be a lot easier if we had any idea what it's supposed to be
doing," says Kate. "Unfortunately, speaking only in Shakespeare quotes
doesn't really give the villain a great way to explain his plan or his
doohickey. Who're you calling?"
   "Friend of a friend," says Bethany.

"So, my lovelies," says Dr. Fay over the speaker phone, "what you've
got here is a Hopper Bomb."
   "Which is...?" says Bethany.
   "Have you seen the 1994 film SPEED, winner of two Academy Awards?"
   "Um... yes?"
   "Stellar. A Hopper Bomb works a little, but not exactly, like that.
As it accelerates, it generates unstable wobblies."
   "You discover stuff, you get to name it," says Dr. Fay. "So, the
wobblies build and build as it keeps accelerating, and then when it
slows down below a certain threshold, it explodes. The faster it goes,
the bigger the boom."
   "So how do we disarm it?" says Bethany.
   "You'd need to disrupt the core."
   Kate pipes up. "Could I just phase my hand in it, make it solid?"
   "The problem is that while it won't explode, it will implode.
Inside your hand. So unless your hand is..."
   "How about mine?" says Bethany. "If she can phase me in there, I
make my fist dense as a white dwarf?"
   "That'll do her," says Fay. "Metronome?"
   "I think I could do it," says Kate.
   "Think?" says Bethany. "I'm not super-thrilled with 'think'."
   "It's easy to have complete control over my body," says Kate. "I'm
a little clumsier with other people. If we don't want a bunch of
shrapnel in your arm..."
   "Still not super-thrilled. Would you be comfortable lying to me?"
   "I am completely confident in my ability to do this."
   "Works for me," says Bethany.
   Kate grabs hold of her elbow and works her magic. Only her arm
starts phasing; the rest of Bethany stays put. It is a weird and
supremely disconcerting feeling. She tries not to dwell on it. Best to
get this over with.
   She sticks her hand into the machine, feeling the wobblies twisting
about in the sinews of her arm.
   "Ready?" says Kate.
   Bethany nods.
   Her fist snaps back in step with the universe, while her forearm
remains fuzzy-wuzzy. There is a slight burning sensation as the core
of the bomb collapses in between the atoms of the Singularity
Gauntlet. The wobblies in the air and outside the train fizzle and
   Kate vibrates Bethany's whole arm again, and she pulls it out, safe
and sound.

The two heroines spend the next hour signing autographs and avoiding
awkward passes. Photos are taken. Bethany's still not really
comfortable with that, but Kate seems even less so.
   "Are you okay?" asks Bethany once they have a moment alone. "I
thought you'd like all the attention. Or at least be used to it.
You're a little more... outgoing than I am."
   "I'm also an outlaw, thanks to Fitzwalter," says Kate. "I'm a
little worried about what kind of reception is going to be waiting for
me once we hit Ann Arbor."
   "I'm not a fan of Fitzwalter myself," says Bethany.
   "I bet." Kate stares at the Singularity Gauntlet. "Secret's safe
with me, of course. Yeah, I think I'm going to skip the whole
trying-to-evade-the-authorities thing. I'll be getting off the train
now. Do me a favor?"
   "My brother, Simon. He was sitting next to me. Get him off the
train, keep an eye on him? I'll meet you in Ann Arbor. Grizzly Peak
Brewery? You can drop him off, we'll have a bite to eat?"
   "Sure," says Bethany. "That'd be great."
   With that, Kate sinks beneath the train. It passes over her and
through her, and leaves her behind.

Dr. Metronome created by Tom Russell & Jamie Rosen.


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